Unlocking the Untapped Potential of Seaweed: A Global Resource for the Future
Seaweed: Earth’s Greatest Untapped Resource
Vincent Doumeizel, a senior adviser at the United Nations Global Compact on Oceans, recently highlighted the untapped potential of seaweed as one of Earth’s most promising resources. Despite its abundant availability and extensive applications, seaweed’s potential remains largely underutilized, prompting a call to the global community for its comprehensive exploration and utilization.
Seaweed: A Sustainable Food Source
Today, our land-based food systems contribute to global warming and biodiversity loss, while over 800 million people worldwide are faced with starvation. Interestingly, the oceans, which cover more than two-thirds of our planet, contribute less than 3% of our total food calories. This paradigm can be significantly shifted with increased cultivation of seaweed.
Seaweed is super-fast-growing, requires no land, pesticides, or watering, and is packed with protein, nutrients, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Dried seaweed retains these nutrients, making it a nutritious product with a long shelf life that doesn’t require cold storage on its journey to the consumer. This promotes sustainability, especially in emerging economies where refrigeration during transport is not always available, and reduces carbon emissions associated with preserving perishable produce.
Seaweed: A Global Delicacy
Seaweed has been a staple in Asian cuisines for centuries. However, thanks to its nutritional benefits and sustainability, it is gaining popularity worldwide. From seaweed bagels in Portland, US, to seaweed sourdough in Washington DC, and even seaweed-infused banana bread and gingerbread cookies, seaweed is becoming a versatile ingredient in global cuisines.
However, the current seaweed market is predominantly concentrated in Asia, which accounts for 98% of the 35 million metric tons of seaweed sold worldwide. To establish a resilient seaweed market globally, the world needs to embrace seaweed as a food. A study led by the University of Queensland in Australia suggests that seaweed could be farmed across an ocean area almost the size of Australia and provide enough food for 10% of human diets by 2050.
Seaweed: More Than Just Food
Seaweed offers several benefits beyond food production. It can be used as a natural biostimulant for plants, replacing fertilizers, and as feed for animals, potentially reducing the amount of planet-heating methane emitted by cattle. It has been used to create alternatives to plastic packaging that are biodegradable, compostable, and even edible. Some companies are using seaweed as an alternative textile to cotton, a plant that significantly drains land, water, and pesticide resources.
Seaweed: A Solution for Climate Change
Seaweed also holds potential as a nature-based solution for tackling climate change. As it grows, seaweed absorbs carbon dioxide at an astonishing rate. One study suggests that seaweed habitats sequester as much carbon as all the world’s seagrass meadows, saltmarshes, and mangroves combined. Beyond its carbon sequestration properties, seaweed can help restore and regenerate our oceans by absorbing pollutants and providing a critical habitat for marine life.
Challenges in Harnessing Seaweed’s Potential
Despite its vast potential, there are challenges to harnessing the full power of seaweed. These include the need for global safety measures, the difficulty of large-scale seaweed cultivation and harvesting, and the need for improved seaweed processing capabilities. However, with increased awareness, advocacy, and investment, these challenges can be overcome, turning seaweed into a game-changer for global sustainability.
The Future of Seaweed
Considering the growing recognition of seaweed’s potential, the future looks promising. Plans to grow vast underwater forests of giant kelp seaweed off the coast of Namibia are underway. This initiative aims to address the world’s food crisis, remove substantial amounts of harmful greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, alleviate ocean eutrophication, and create hundreds of thousands of jobs. As such, we are only beginning to understand how this naturally occurring product can help solve pressing global issues.
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