Project identifies potential of seaweed

A five-year research project has identified new ways to farm and use seaweed in the Pacific nations of Fiji, Kiribati and Samoa as well as open the door to job opportunities and healthy diets.

A recently concluded project led by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research [A.C.I.A.R.] aimed to make local seaweed industries more productive, lucrative, and resilient and supported diversification of the industries in the Pacific island countries.

The A.C.I.A.R. Project leader, Professor Nick Paul, said in a statement that many Pacific coastal communities rely on seaweed farming for a significant portion of their income as it’s increasingly cultured and harvested for food and industrial products.

Furthermore, seaweed’s health benefits have long been understood as it is a good source of fibre, vitamins, and minerals, including iodine which supports thyroid function and is also a valuable additive to fertilisers, animal feed and cosmetics. 

But technical, cultural and economic challenges have held some communities back from modernising and expanding their seaweed industry.

Professor Paul said there is potential to expand the seaweed industry by introducing new products and applications.

“Activities conducted during the project included creating seaweed compost to grow crops, feedstock and identifying the value chain of edible seaweed,” he said.

The sea grape fishery in Fiji alone is valued at AU$52,000 per year according to Professor Paul and the project supported the industry by developing methods to preserve sea grapes using brine.

A.C.I.A.R. Research Program Manager for Fisheries, Professor Ann Fleming, added that seaweed farming in the Pacific region generates employment opportunities for both men and women who live in coastal areas. 

“The focus on traditional seaweeds increases the involvement of women because they are leaders across the entire wild harvest supply chains in each country,” Professor Fleming said.

Seaweed farming communities in the Pacific region are now better equipped to explore new export markets for their products.

“The goal is to shift the focus of seaweed production in the Pacific region from a low-value export to domestic use as food for health,” added Professor Fleming.

The project was a partnership with government fisheries departments, university researchers, community groups and the private sector to research seaweed production and evaluate potential bioproducts. 

The project had three significant outcomes: improved the productivity and post-harvest quality of Kappaphycus [elkhorn sea moss] in Fiji and Kiribati; advanced production and post-harvest strategies for Caulerpa [sea grapes] in Samoa and Fiji; and assessed opportunities for new seaweed bioproducts.

The potential for the seaweed industry in the Pacific region is significant. The project partners are currently collaborating with A.C.I.A.R. and government partners to support longer-term policies for seaweed industries in the Pacific region.

The A.C.I.A.R. project was led by the University of Sunshine Coast in partnership with the national governments of Fiji, Samoa, and Kiribati.

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