Can seaweed save the world? Well, it will possibly actually assist in some ways, says researcher

Can seaweed save the world? Well, it can certainly help in many ways, says researcher

Credit: Cayne Layton, Author supplied

Seaweed is more and more seen as an answer to most of the world’s most urgent issues. Interest in farming seaweed has exploded.

There’s such a variety of functions, from fertilizers to meals, bioplastics, textiles, dietary supplements and carbon sinks. It’s exhausting to think about one other substance with a lot potential.

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Can seaweed save the world? It’s a query being posed this weekend on the WOMADelaide world music competition Planet Talks. I’m on the panel and the reply, I believe, is a particular perhaps!

I’ve studied seaweeds as ecosystem well being indicators for years. I grew to become thinking about utilizing seaweed to wash up vitamins in our coastal techniques. Now on the Marine Bioproducts Cooperative Research Centre, my eyes have opened to the massive variety of Australian seaweeds and their many wonderful functions.

A wonderful multitool

Seaweed is a catch-all time period for marine vegetation. These are the first producers in our marine and aquatic techniques.

In some ways, they’re as numerous because the vegetation you see on land. Many are foundational species that act like forests underwater, however they arrive in many differing types and kinds. We group them into reds, greens and browns. And they’ve very totally different properties, identical to terrestrial vegetation, relying on the species and the place they stay.

It’s true that seaweed has big potential to deal with a number of the most depraved issues going through the planet. If we have been to think about seaweed as one of many instruments within the toolbox, they’d be the multitool or Swiss military knife with a variety of potential functions, together with:

  • decreasing methane production in cows and different ruminants comparable to goats and sheep

  • capturing and storing carbon dioxide

  • boosting protein and vitamins in food products

  • offering additional well being advantages in new therapeutics

  • absorbing extra vitamins in wastewater

  • creating new supplies comparable to bioplastics, packaging and textiles.

Another factor that blows me away with seaweed is that one plant can truly faucet into a number of of those market alternatives. So you could possibly be rising it as a nutraceutical complement, a fiber for textiles and as a fertilizer, all of sudden. That’s actually thrilling as a result of it is not one thing a lot of our conventional farming approaches have been capable of do.

Not with out its challenges

Early research instructed that scaling up seaweed aquaculture might make an enormous distinction to climate change by capturing carbon dioxide emissions. But it seems it is not as simple as that.

Verifying whether or not the carbon dioxide fastened by seaweeds via photosynthesis will be locked up long-term is extraordinarily complicated. There are variations between species and ecosystems. And analysis has to issue within the interactions of the assorted organisms that stay on and round seaweed communities, in addition to the prevailing environmental situations.

In some conditions, seaweed ecosystems produce more carbon than they will capture.

However, seaweeds should have a contribution on this space via carbon offsets. As they can be utilized to make new merchandise to switch different supplies which have bigger carbon footprints. This consists of new meals, new supplies comparable to materials, and new constructing provides designed to store carbon in the long term.

Cutting methane emissions and different advantages

The native Australian crimson seaweed Asparagopsis has been proven to markedly scale back methane manufacturing in cattle, when added to their diet.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gasoline that contributes to global warming. It accounts for 20-30% of all greenhouse gas emissions, a lot of it related to livestock manufacturing.

Any vital discount in methane manufacturing “would have a rapid and significant effect on atmospheric warming potential”, in accordance with a report from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

At the latest international local weather assembly, COP26, it was clearly famous that present nationwide local weather commitments won’t be sufficient to keep away from exceeding 1.5℃ of warming. So we’d like new and radical options. If Asparagopsis farming lives as much as its potential, it might make a really significant distinction.

Seaweed can enhance intensive agriculture too. As extremely efficient biostimulants, they supply viable alternate options to artificial fertilizers.

Seaweed can be used to recuperate and recycle extra vitamins comparable to nitrogen and phosphates from wastewater. So when you’ve got massive human populations, intensive land-based farming or aquaculture services releasing vitamins into our coastal techniques, generally is a very efficient manner to answer that. Seaweed farms can do higher when grown in areas with larger nutrient ranges, comparable to alongside fed finfish production facilities.

Human well being and medical advantages lengthen past commercially viable and engaging different protein sources. Some seaweeds can include 10-30% protein, which is comparable with soy protein ranges. But additionally they have the added pure benefit of comparatively excessive ranges of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (mind meals), that are not naturally found in terrestrial food sources.

Increasingly we’re discovering seaweeds with anticoagulant, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticarcinogenic and antiviral properties. Several sorts of kelp have been proven to advertise a beneficial immune response.

Seaweed dietary supplements in animal feeds have additionally been proven to supply benefits comparable to improved intestine well being and digestive effectivity. This has the potential to markedly improve yield and different outcomes on farms.

Let’s get on with it

There are nonetheless challenges to beat, and there could also be extra points to deal with down the monitor. But if we assist coordinated and applicable analysis and improvement, targeted on fast-tracking the advantages that seaweed has to supply, Australian seaweed actually can play an enormous half in saving the world.

It’s value mentioning right here, a number of initiatives and funding our bodies which can be at present supporting seaweed analysis and improvement in Australia. Most notably the Marine Bioproducts Co-operative Research Center (MBCRC), the Blue Economy CRC, AgriFutures Australia, the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) and the Australian Sustainable Seaweed Alliance (ASSA).

And it is actually encouraging to see broader group engagement on this dialog together with the panel dialogue on the WOMADelaide Festival Planet Talks sequence. It’s nice to have an opportunity to speak brazenly in regards to the challenges whereas showcasing the alternatives. It’s sophisticated, nevertheless it’s thrilling. Let’s get on with it.

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Can seaweed save the world? Well, it will possibly actually assist in some ways, says researcher (2023, March 10)
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