Seaweed success: sustainability in aquaculture

The seaweed farming industry is today worth an estimated $6.4billion worldwide The seaweed farming industry is today worth an estimated $6.4billion worldwide Badins
10 Nov
2016
The seaweed industry is booming, and winning plaudits for its relatively environmentally-friendly production. Can this sustainability be maintained?

Researchers from the UN University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health, and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), have recently felt the need to issue warnings about the future of seaweed farming, based on lessons learnt from negative practices associated with other types of agriculture. This includes preventing the introduction of non-indigenous pests and disease (something that happened between 2011 and 2013 in the Philippines), and establishing cooperative planning in order to anticipate and resolve conflicts between competing interests jostling over finite coastal marine resources.

The past few decades have been extremely good for the seaweed industry, as the rapid expansion of aquaculture cultivation has seen exponential growth in seaweed production. From worldwide sales of just 3.8 million tonnes in 1990, it had escalated to over 25 million tonnes by 2014, with the whole industry worth an estimated $6.4billion. Over half of this production (12.8 million tonnes) comes from China, with Indonesia contributing roughly a quarter, and significant contributions coming from places such as South Korea and the Philippines (with small but growing industries in northern Europe, East Africa, and Canada). Primary usage for seaweed remains human consumption, including indirectly as a fertiliser or in animal feed. However, it has also experienced a boom in various pharmaceuticals and antimicrobial products, to the extent that seaweed can nowadays be found in such products as toothpaste, cosmetics, and paint.

The seaweed industry must be developed in a sustainable way that maintains the highest biosecurity standards to prevent the introduction of pests and disease

‘Rapidly increasing seaweed cultivation globally will be good for commerce and open up a range of new products, but we must also try to minimise any negative effects that this industry may have on coastal marine environments,’ emphasises Dr Elizabeth Cottier-Cook, the head of SAMS. ‘The seaweed industry must be developed in a sustainable way that considers not just how to maximise profits, but also maintains the highest biosecurity standards to prevent the introduction of pests and disease. It will also be crucial to develop new indigenous disease-resistant strains of seaweed, wherever possible.’

Booming seaweed production is being heralded by environmentalists, thanks to its relatively sustainable production, due to a non-reliance on external feed or fertilisers, making it an extremely benign form of agriculture. Additionally, small-scale aquaculture has taken off in several places where destructive fishing practices, such as dynamite fishing, have decimated local fishing industries. Switching attention to seaweed has enabled many people, particularly women, to create livelihoods where few options previously existed. It has also eased pressure on overfished regions of the ocean, such as those off Tanzania.

This was published in the November 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Wildlife

Nature reserves and protected areas in Germany have lost 76…

Oceans

An investigation into shark fins and ray gills sold in…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Wildlife

The rapid spread of Asian hornets is likely to make…

Energy

Europe provides more than €112billion (£97billion) in subsidies to fossil…

Oceans

A study of various fish populations has found dramatic reductions…

Geophoto

The seasonal changes of September promise much photographic potential for…

Oceans

Shipping traffic can increase lightning strikes, according to a pioneering…

Polar

New documentary travels to remote Antarctica to unpack the complex…

Oceans

The deaths of these majestic creatures had remained an unsolved…

Wildlife

Over a two-year period, a new species of plant or…

Wildlife

As part of New Zealand’s plan to cull millions of…

Oceans

A project to map the ocean floor is raising concerns…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Wildlife

Dismay as a Spanish baby dolphin becomes the latest victim…

Polar

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Oceans

The effect of plastics on the world’s oceans is posing…

Geophoto

Camera technology may have come a long way since the…

Energy

The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn…

Wildlife

Despite their high profiles, most of the world’s national animal…