Forests play a clear role in offering a sustainable source of food and energy, as well as helping slash carbon emissions that contribute to climate change and environmental woes today and in the future. But it is not widely known how seaweed in the ocean assists in the fight against climate change by absorbing and locking away huge quantities of carbon dioxide — even more effectively than trees!
Seaweed plays an important role in the ability of oceans to absorb greenhouse gases such as CO2. It in fact performs better at absorbing carbon emissions than trees do. Kelp, a type of seaweed, is currently being developed for its nutritional contribution in this undertaking. Seaweed also addresses food insecurity by being a valuable source of protein for humans and livestock.
How Are Seaweeds Sustainable?
Seaweed has a long ancient history of use among humans. In Japan, the first cultivation of these sea plants began in the 1670s, with commercial farming taking off in the 1950s. Today seaweed is widely incorporated in human diets, including in sushi, soup, and salads.
Seaweed farming has long grown into a multibillion dollar industry in Asia, and this is fast spreading in other regions of the world. The momentum is in part due to a growing awareness of its ability to fight climate change and offer high nutritional value. Furthermore, seaweed is affordable, easy to harvest, and has great availability worldwide.
Kelp is a widely farmed variety of seaweed. Found in cold, coastal marine areas, it grows very quickly without the need for fertilization or weeding. Another fast-emerging superstar is sea moss, which is commercially produced as a gel or nutritional supplement for its wondrous health benefits.
So where does seaweed’s magic lie?
Like plants found on land, seaweed uses photosynthesis to absorb carbon dioxide and grow biomass. Coastal marine systems are able to absorb CO2 at rates up to 50 times higher than terrestrial forests. Around the world, seaweed is believed to sequester almost 200 million tons of CO2 annually, which can be as much as the yearly emissions of the entire New York state. When the algae dies, a majority of the carbon locked up in the tissues is brought to deep oceans.
Seaweed Farming and Industry Targets
Seaweed farming is thought to have great potential in addressing climate change and feeding the constantly growing world population sustainability. According to World Bank estimates, its cultivation could drive up the global food supply by 10% if the sector can increase its harvest by 14% annually by year 2050.
Seaweed farming helps compensate for the inherent limitations of traditional farming, potentially supplanting some pressure at lower costs.
Today there’s research exploring how seaweed could help make cattle farming more “green” or sustainable. Preliminary findings show that adding a tiny amount of red seaweed called Asparagopsis taxiformis to cows’ diet significantly reduced their output of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.
In the seaweed industry, there’s an overarching vision to be a high-tech, high-value, sustainable industry supporting thriving oceans and coastal communities. It maintains 2025 and 2040 goals to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for Life Below Water.
There are seaweed startups worldwide that are at the forefront of replicating “green” practices across the world for the benefit of people and the planet. One startup in Canada has offshore farms and has built its own seed nursery. It grows four types of seaweed and plans to expand into more varieties eventually, increasing jobs in indigenous communities along the British Columbia coast.
The Australian Seaweed Institute is developing a biofilter network to remove nitrogen and CO2 from the embattled Great Barrier Reef.
Keen to know more about the great seaweed and its types including sea moss? Keep posted for more news and research on this blog!