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Can Seaweeds Help Save The World?

Can Seaweeds Help Save The World?

Are you familiar with seaweeds? Those green, red, brown and dark plants that grow in the sea and other water bodies? If not, you have to familiarize yourselves with it as evidence has shown that these unassuming plants have the power to actually save the world.

In a recent TV documentary, Australian Professor Tim Flannery identified three major functions of seaweeds:

  • it can be used as the food of the future,
  • it can help clean up pollution from waterways, and
  • can mitigate the effects of climate change.

Seaweed can help to mitigate climate change by helping to store carbon

Seaweeds as food

Seaweeds are considered a superfood. BBC reports that the many different types of seaweeds are full of nutrients, pumped with minerals, proteins, Vitamin K and more. In fact, research has traced the longevity of the Japanese people, particularly the Okinawans, to a diet that is mostly composed of seaweeds and other vegetables. The report reveals that seaweeds contain fucoidans, a molecule that improves health and life expectancy, and boosts immunity and cardiovascular function. In addition, Huffington Post notes that seaweeds are extraordinary sources of iodine, vital in ensuring a healthy thyroid. The Guardian also lists various other nutritional benefits which include: high fibre content which is important for digestive health, low calories, detox properties and the capability to regulate hormones to aid in cancer prevention.

Seaweed is considered a superfood and sustainable food

The important thing to note about seaweeds is that it can be considered a sustainable food. In 2050, aquaculture scientist John Forster forecast that there will not be enough food to feed the estimated 9.1 billion population due to the lack of arable land and other resources. As such, we will need to turn to other sources of food. Forster postulates that only one percent of the Earth’s oceans will be needed to grow an amount of seaweed equal to all the plants currently farmed on land through a process he termed as marine agronomy. This means that seaweeds can become the primary staple crop in the future.

Seaweed farming may play a big role in creating a sustainable future

Seaweeds as pollution-control

The more pollution and carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere, the more that the world’s oceans become more acidic. This is due to the fact that when carbon dioxide dissolves in water, it turns into carbolic acid. In an article by Quartz, it has been found that ocean acidity has increased worldwide by 30 percent. This is alarming because it affects the coral reefs as well as the development of sea animals, especially shell fish. Acidic water tends to have less calcium carbonate needed to build skeletons and shells.

Fortunately, research has shown that seaweeds can help remove acid from water. In fact, in experiments in the Yellow Sea in northeastern China where the seaweed Laminaria japonica are grown, it was shown that seaweeds absorb carbon dioxide in the water through photosynthesis. This has enabled the area to nurture shell fish and similar creatures, including healthy coral reefs. This is an important discovery in reversing the effects of water acidity.

Seaweeds act as pollution control allowing the flourising of coral reefs and marine life

Seaweeds as climate change fighters

In Canada, a farmer revealed that his cows which ate washed up seaweed were healthier and had longer mating cycles. This was verified by Canadian researchers Rob Kinley and Alan Fredeen who also noted the reduced methane levels of the cattle studied.

A team of researchers from James Cook University in Queensland, Australia also found that sheep which consumed at least two percent of seaweed in their diet reduced their methane levels by 50 to 70 percent. The same study also discovered that cows with a normal diet of grass, along with a small amount of seaweed, can reduce their methane emissions by 99 percent.

A research study discovered that cows with a normal diet of grass, along with a small amount of seaweed, can reduce their methane emissions by 99%

In line with this, Irish farmers across the pond hailed the discovery and called on Irish scientists to investigate the possible replication in Irish soil. Irish politican Michael Fitmaurice was quoted as saying that there are huge possibilities with regard to the seaweed industry in Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine should look into this further.

With all of the research studies, the future looks bright indeed not just for the seaweed industry but also for the environment.

Are you aware of other possible potentials of seaweeds in saving the planet? Let us know.

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About the author

Polly Michelle Cunanan

Polly Michelle Cunanan

Polly Michelle Cunanan is a results-driven media and communication expert with over 15 years of experience and proven track record in working with the Philippine Government and donor agencies such as the USAID, World Bank, UN-FAO, ADB, European Union (EU) and media. Political and strategic communication, messaging and campaigns are among her expertise. She spearheaded the communication program on the Bangsamoro peace process which led to a conducive environment for the signing of the historic Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. She is a graduate of BA Broadcast Communication from the University of the Philippines and has completed the academic requirements for MA Communication Research from the same university. She is a UK Chevening scholar currently studying MA International Public Relations and Global Communications Management at Cardiff University.

1 Comment

  • Wow this poses some exciting new possibilities for the future – provided that people can get used to the idea of incorporating seaweed into their diet. I would like to point out though that seaweed, although it photosynthesises, is not considered a plant, but an algae.

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