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Wartime boffins planned to feed Britons with planktons during World War II

London , Thu, 23 Feb 2012 ANI

London, Feb 23 (ANI): A pair of eminent scientists had proposed to feed Britain's wartime population with plankton to ward off critical food shortages during the Second World War, newly uncovered documents have revealed.


The Second World War had been rampant for over two years, with rationing in force and mounting fears of a U-boat blockade.


Faced with the prospect of food supplies being cut off, the scientists planned to harvest tons of the microscopic creatures from Scottish lochs.


Secret wartime letters just discovered have disclosed that Professor Alister Hardy, a marine biologist at Hull University, told colleagues that plankton - the term for a range of drifting organisms found in fresh and sea water - were high in protein and could be 'tasty'.


He convinced Sir John Graham Kerr, an MP and regius professor of biology at Glasgow University, and they calculated that ten nets could catch enough plankton in 12 hours to feed 357 people, the Daily Mail reported.


In 1941 Sir John wrote to Richard Elmhirst, director of the Scottish Association for Marine Science, who appears to have been unconvinced: "It is simply silly to brush the matter aside as of no importance, when one remembers the sea off our coasts is often soup-like in its richness with nutritive material."


"No doubt you have tested for yourself the tastiness of some types of plankton."


Scientists estimated that nets anchored in Loch Fyne would cost 90,000 pounds and would catch over 26 tons of plankton each day.


Hardy proposed: "The plankton would be emptied into containers and conveyed to the nearest pier where it would stand ready to be conveyed by lorry or motor boat to the drying plant."


"Simple drying plants would be set up at convenient points along the coast and the resulting dry plankton dispatched in sacks to a headquarters factory for testing, sorting, mixing and final preparation into meal.


"The anchoring and inspection of nets would be done by motor boats which could also be continually cruising the area investigating the richest regions of plankton."


Trials went ahead in 1941, 1942 and 1943 but it was found that the season was too short for the idea to work.


By 1942 the first stockpiles had been harvested, but the plankton proved trickier to catch than the scientists expected, and the project was silently discarded.


The letters were discovered by Geoffrey Moore, emeritus professor in marine biology at the University of London, in the Association's archive.


"I know of only one person who has tried plankton and he found it rather fishy and gritty," he said.


"He wasn't terribly impressed, but I suppose it would depend on how hungry you were."


Richard Kirby of the University of Plymouth, the author of a book about plankton called Ocean Drifters - A Secret World Beneath the Waves, insisted that the idea of eating plankton is not so bizarre.


"The Germans had similar plans during the war, and there are still people trying to do this today," he said. (ANI)


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