Supporting a Seaweed Industry in the Pacific
As custodians of the biggest ocean on the planet, Pacific Island nations are on the front-line of the Blue Economy challenge and rely on healthy ocean ecosystems for economic growth, food security and natural capital. In fact 99% of the Pacific Islands Development Forum’s member countries’ territories is ocean and provides USD 2.193 billion per annum in marine and coastal ecosystem services across Kiribati, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Tonga alone (http://macbio-pacific.info/). Despite these benefits, ocean ecosystems in the Pacific are being degraded and lost at an unprecedented rate, risking increased vulnerability to rising sea levels and the impacts of climate change. Blue Economy initiatives can improve biodiversity conservation, sustainable economic growth and local livelihoods. These results would contribute to the achievement of the SDGs, especially SDG 13 through climate change mitigation and adaptation and SDG 14 through sustainable use of marine resources.
Current Uses of Seaweed production
- Seaweed for use in the cosmetic industry
Currently there are a number of Pacific communities farming Kappaphycus alverezii for this industry. Demand for this product is high. The private sector can export between 5000 mt – 500,000 mt per month but the supply has been low and irregular. Any future involvement in this sector needs to ensure countries can meet the minimum demand of 5000 mt dry weight. Local production of agar should also be explored for both the cosmetic and culinary industries.
- Seaweed for the culinary industry
The most successful cultivation/wild harvesting seaweed species in this sector has been Caulerpa racemose (sea grapes). There is a need to explore how production of this product can be scaled up and bring new species and innovative technologies into this sector.
Seaweed production diversification
- Seaweed for use as organic animal feed
There are already instances in the Pacific where seaweed is used as animal feed for the poultry industry. This can be extended to other animal feeds particularly since studies have shown that including seaweed in animal feed will drastically reduce methane production by livestock (especially cattle), contributing to climate change mitigation efforts as methane is a potent Greenhouse Gas. The PGBC proposes trials of some of these feeds to study their contributions to reducing methane production by livestock.
- Seaweed for use as organic fertiliser
Liquid seaweed fertilizer is rich in minerals, vitamins and enzymes. It is highly effective, cheap and easy to produce and is organic. The PGBC proposes trials on the use of various types of seaweed at different concentrations with different agricultural produce in an effort to develop indicative guidelines on the use of seaweed as organic fertiliser.
- Seaweed for production of sustainable fuels
In an effort to both reduce GHG emissions and dependency on expensive imported fossil fuels, the PGBC proposes trials of the production of both bio-gas and bio-diesel from seaweed. For bio-diesel, trials would focus mostly on the brown seaweeds with high oil content. The bio-gas trials will use a 12 chamber digester ensuring minimal GHG production in the process.
- Seaweed for production of compostable plastics
Successful trials of production of compostable plastics from agar in Indonesia could guide research work in this area. The PGBC aims to successfully produce compostable plastic and initiate production as an alternative to current use of single use plastic.
- Seaweed for production of bio-epoxy
Using technological advancements made by some small private sector companies and by partnering with them, the PGBC proposed to trial the production of bio-epoxy through seaweed and other algae with the aim of establishing a local production of a superior sustainable non-carcinogenic epoxy for local use and export.
Seaweed and ecosystem services
Seaweed is also important for provision of ecosystem services. The PGBC initially will focus on the following ecosystem services:
- Carbon sequestration
With the Pacific’s emphasis on Climate Change this becomes an important aspect of the initiative. The PGBC will promote ways to include seaweed production in blue carbon calculations and its potential to earn tradable carbon credits.
- Reduction of Ocean Acidification & Bioremediation
Seaweed has been found to contribute to both the reduction of acidification and bioremediation. Acidification is responsible for the decline of biodiversity in particular sections of the marine ecosystem. The introduction of seaweed could help to restore these areas. Seaweed also contributes to bioremediation, the reduction of contamination in the marine environment contributing to the restoration of sites.
- Integrated multi-trophic systems
Seaweed farms tend to create a perfect habitat for a number of other marine fauna, including fish. In fact communities can gain as much, or even more, from the increase in fishery, as they do from the seaweed harvest itself. The PGBC will support studies on this aspect as a side-benefit of seaweed production.
Economic viability of the Seaweed industry in the Pacific
The economic viability of the industry and its competitiveness is probably the principle consideration of any further development of the industry. The PGBC will explore a number of seaweed initiatives, running them as a for-profit business, primarily to ensure economic viability before encouraging the private sector to invest effort and capital in the different seaweed sectors.