Global hunger and changing climate, are the two most consequential stumbling block, standing in our way. For a long time, we have pondered upon solutions, but some recent studies on a specific type of algae are grounding hopes for a long-term solution. The answer we have been searching for was thriving on the beds of our seas and oceans in form of, seaweed cultivation.

How can seaweed cultivation be our one-stop solution for ending hunger and tackling the climate crisis? What are the potential challenges and how can the world reap benefits from cultivation undersea?

Seaweed: the one-stop solution

Seaweed is being used for medicinal purposes in several parts of the world for a very long time. Though it was not much known before, countries like Japan, Korea, and China have been using it in their dishes for centuries.

Seaweed, a generalized name allocated to copious types of marine plants and algae which grows in sea, rivers and other saltwater bodies. This immensely nutritious underwater macroalga holds gigantic potential and in this here and now, it is showing us the road towards ending hunger.

The demand for this miraculous, nutrition-rich macroalgae has increased in recent years; but not much in the food production sectors. Pharmaceutical, scientific and cosmetic laboratories need seaweeds for research and production purposes. These macroalgae are mainly used for manufacturing agar which is a jelly-like substance.

Globally, seaweed cultivation has become one of the most sprightly-growing food producing industry, exponentially growing by 8% every year. There are thousands of different types of seaweeds growing naturally on shores around the world, but the maximum of them are not edible.

How can seaweed cultivation help in combatting climate crisis?

When the usual sea creatures and habitats die; their bodies decompose releasing all their carbon content into the water, which pollutes the water. But since everything in nature is balanced, this pollution is not substantial enough to create much harm.

One problem that would have arisen when a huge amount of seaweed would be cultivated, is when it would decompose; carbon content thus released would not be negligible.

But the recent studies of huge quantity of seaweed settling on the seabed (by seaweed ecologist Dorte Krause-Jensen and colleagues at Aarhus University, Denmark); have revealed great news in this regard. It is found that most of the seaweed lefts are swept away by the ocean; while those sinking into the bed, lock the carbon into the sediments.

Seaweed cultivation will therefore also help in minimizing carbon into the water bodies and hence mitigating the climate crisis. This macroalga is also an essential part of the ocean-ecosystem, so cultivation would further provide food and habitat to numerous marine animals.

Seaweed Cultivation: Socio-economic impacts

Pamban Island, a short-region in the southern state of Indian peninsular is one of the largest cultivators of seaweed. The native fish folk have been collecting various types of macroalgae for centuries, but the intended cultivation of seaweed sparked in 1987.

Kappaphycus alvarezii, a Philippines’ native seaweed was obtained by the Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI). After a decade of laboratory researches and trials, the macroalgae was introduced in the region; only 5g of seed was sown. After 27 years the 5g seed have propagated and have stretched into the underwater cultivated farm of 100km.

AquAgri was the first Indian firm to start commercialized cultivation of seaweed. Today, the firm cultivates seaweed in 18 different sites, providing jobs to more than 650 fishers; mostly women.

Muthulakshmi Namburajan, a woman who has been cultivating seaweed for more than 38 years, says; she feels financially independent. Her daily job is to clean and dry 50kg of seaweed each day, she says, “I prefer being close to the shores spending my time catering to the rafts”.

Seaweed cultivation has had a positive socio-economic impact on the fishers who are indulged in cultivating it. It is making women in the area economically independent. Along with the coasts of Tamil Nadu, the southern Indian state, about 12,00 families are involved in the sea-farming business. One raft yields 200kg of seaweed of which 50kg is stored for next cultivation, each day.

What is the future?

According to a report by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation; the fastest-growing global seaweed market has a turnover of $6bn yearly. But as with everything seaweed cultivation have its own downsides. Cultivating seaweed a lot will take over the coral environment in the area, research to stop that from happening is being done.

Vincent Doumeizel, senior advisor on the ocean-based solutions at the UN global Cmpacts says, “There is a lack of space to grow underwater forests near shorelines, and it can be difficult to get a license to grow them off-shore. We need to learn from oil companies, which have a lot of experience in dealing with strong ocean currents and waves”.

If utilized correctly seaweed industry holds great potential in the future food production sector as well as tackling climate crisis.