Fisheries & Aquaculture News

Seaweed, the Carbon Negative Fuel, Food, and Supplement

Although seaweed has been a staple piece of Asian cuisine for millennia, it has only begun to attract attention from the rest of the world, though not for its culinary appeal.

Recent studies have revealed an array of environmentally sustainable opportunities that seaweed can provide beyond solely being an exotic food source. Scientist, governmental institutions, and multinational corporations have shown genuine interest through yearly increases in investment within the aquaculture industry as seaweed is proving to be one of the few products that can give more to the environment than it takes.

Improvement in local water quality

Humans have now altered the innate chemical balance of nitrogen and phosphorus beyond what Johan Rockstrom has coined the ‘planetary boundary’. We produce more reactive nitrogen than the natural world where Anthropogenic activities have been responsible for the emergence of the oxygen depleted ocean dead zones through the process of eutrophication.

Seaweed absorbs large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus, subsequently acting as an effective countermeasure to anthropogenic eutrophication. The cultivation of Seaweed in eutrophic areas would thereby allow oxygen to be replenished and subsequently bringing life back to dead zones. The World Bank computed that 500 million tons of seaweed would absorb 30% of nitrogen and 33% of Phosphorus that enters the ocean globally.

The cultivation of seaweed also contributes to the ocean carbon sink, being an effective carbon sequestering tool as it photosynthesizes 5 times more efficiently than terrestrial plants.

Source of Biofuel

Research has identified the relatively sustainable potential of seaweed as a source of biofuel. Although biofuels present a promising alternative to climate engendering fossil fuels, most biofuels are produced with food crops. As global attempts to meet climate obligations intensify, demand for biofuels to mitigate carbon emissions simultaneously drives up food prices as complimentary demand for food crops grows. Subsequently, reduced dependency on fossil fuels is unfortunately being met by the unintended consequence of rising hunger.

Cultivating seaweed does not require land, fertilizer, or fresh water. The plant grows remarkably fast (harvested up to 6 times a year) and needs little attention. Therefore, biofuels which are derived from seaweed would not contribute to rising food prices and would prove to relieve large amounts of land to be used for food. With greater amounts of land, there would be less need for intensive agriculture allowing viable land sharing opportunities and with it rejuvenated biodiversity in areas of previously prominent monocultures.

Source of methane reduction

The global livestock industry is responsible for emitting more anthropogenic greenhouse gasses than the entire transport industry. One major component of these emissions is derived from enteric methane produced by cattle, where methane exhibits a greenhouse effect 30x stronger than carbon dioxide.

Scientist have recently discovered that by supplementing cattle feed with miniscule amounts of the red seaweed Asparagopsis, methane production can be reduced by a staggering 82%. Concerns of the supplemented feed being less efficient for weight-gain have also been refuted as cows in the studies surprisingly displayed an increased feed conversion ratio of up to 20%.

Another study also tested possible differences in taste between seaweed supplemented and conventional feed, where no distinctive difference was found. Seaweed supplemented feed thereby provides an environmentally friendly and economically attractive alternative with no consequential quality degradation.

Source of nutrition & cosmetics

Seaweed is a highly nutritious aquatic plant-based food source. It is high in protein, iron, fibre, vitamins A, B, B12, C and K. As meeting nutritional requirements becomes further environmentally endangering with industrial farming and monocultures, seaweed may pave the way for not only safeguarding food security worldwide but doing so at zero environmental cost.

In China, Korea and Vietnam, seaweed is also being used as a product of cosmetics and skincare products.

Conclusion

Though 95% of global seaweed production currently takes place in Asia due to its culinary cultural presence, it is expected that the rest of the world will soon follow suit given the environmentally harmonious opportunities.

Clearly seaweed has remarkable potential, being convenient to cultivate, carbon negative, ecologically beneficial, and showcasing a variety of uses. However, the seaweed industry remains in its infancy thereby remaining a high-cost alternative and subsequently not attracting much attention.

Nonetheless, speculative attention is rapidly accumulating as urgency to meet climate obligations manifest and multilateral pressures grows. Shifting consumer preferences have materialized in the wake the climate emergency and companies are subsequently increasingly seeking climate friendly alternatives to adhere to shifting values.

Friend of the Sea Contribution

Friend of the Sea is a global certification standard for products that respect and protect the marine environment. With seaweed recognized as a substantially environmentally friendly product, Friend of the Sea has developed a specific certification intended to appreciate and promote companies producing seaweed whilst maintaining an environmentally friendly approach in the production processes.

Through this certification Friend of the Sea aims to ultimately promote the production of seaweed, spread awareness of its unparalleled environmentally friendly attributes and garner further attention to this promising aquaculture industry.

On the 12th of July this year, Friend of the Sea certified seaExpert as adequately utilizing sustainable techniques that have the absolute minimum impact on the environment in their cultivating process.

SeaExpert is based in the Azores archipelago and supplies clients with algae biomass for various uses, including cosmetics, supplements, livestock feed and for scientific research. SeaExpert’s sole motivation for producing seaweed reside with combatting climate change by supplying this environmentally friendly substitute. They have a lengthy catalogue of different species of seaweed, including the methane reducing Asparagopsis.

By Sean Dean Lewis

ECO Magazine is a marine science publication committed to bringing scientists and professionals the latest ground-breaking research, industry news, and job opportunities from around the world.

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