A Hidden Resource

By Emily Kian

It’s been almost a year since we first installed our seaweed farm off the coast of Sea Level, NC, but I am still struck by the beauty and wonder of the sea vegetable.  As I’ve come to understand, the plant has the potential to radically shift our relationship with the natural world. Indeed, applications in biodegradable plastics, cosmetics, and personal hygiene products make the plant one of the most underutilized resources on the planet.

In its purest state, seaweed plays a key role in the marine environment. Many types of seaweed offer nursery habitats that protect fish and other marine species. Seaweed also improves the quality of surrounding marine habitats by removing agricultural pollutants that contaminate coastal ecosystems through agricultural runoff. Traditional agricultural practices heavily depend on nutrients, specifically phosphorous and nitrogen. By virtue of its growth process, seaweed absorbs these nutrients – effectively helping improve marine ecosystem health.

Seaweed is also a transformative strategy to our planet’s worsening climate crisis. Seaweed has the ability to remove carbon dioxide five times more efficiently than any terrestrial plant. Each seaweed farm can act as a carbon sink to offset a significant portion of human-related carbon emissions. As explained by climate scientist, Tim Flannery, “’If you cover 9% of the world’s oceans in seaweed farms, you could draw down the equivalent of all our current emissions — more than 40 gigatons a year.’”

Seaweed may also be the reason many other environmentally conscious folks and I begin to eat meat again, Asparagopsis taxaformis, a species of red seaweed, need only be sprinkled on cattle feed to reduce its methane emissions by up to 99%!  While not all seaweed species prevent methane emissions to quite this degree, many species show a 60-99% reduction. Given that the dairy and beef industries are among the greatest contributors to global warming (Gabbatiss, 2018), seaweed feed supplements could present a powerful strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change. Furthermore, seaweed contains anti-inflammatory compounds that make it an effective and natural replacement for antibiotic injections. This not only helps farmers to comply with increasingly strict regulations, but also improves animal health.

As if the narrative for the plant couldn’t get any better, seaweed cultivation activities can dramatically support social justice. In many villages in East Africa, for example, seaweed cultivation promotes women’s empowerment. The unconventional business strategy has offered them a new sense of financial independence, as well as helped disrupt gender-based power dynamics. In Zanzibar, women are often confined to their home and restricted in their independence. When women in these communities initially began seaweed farming, many of their husbands threatened them with divorce. Over time, however, they’ve come to accept the practice largely in light of the economic opportunity. Although this story rings true for a variety of nations, a recent story on the BBC brought new inspiration and excitement for our work – propelling us further along in our journey of marine innovations and entrepreneurship. 

Although we are still early on in our exploration of the plants potential, we are humbled and thrilled to have the opportunity to support the development of this industry. In the months ahead, we look forward to continuing to share our investigative journey into this plant.

Bookmark this page to join us in our exploration and stay up to date on our progress!