Can Seaweeds Rescue a Gluttonous Planet? The Interest in Harvesting Sea Vegetables Has Burgeoned
Can Seaweeds Rescue a Gluttonous Planet? The Interest in Harvesting Sea Vegetables Has Burgeoned
Entrepreneurs building seaweed farming businesses focus on prized marine plants for their nutritional value, high-protein content, and health benefits.
By Mark Zuleger-Thyss
If you don't mind working with dark, curly substances that are slippery to the touch and smell like the salty sea ... And if wearing shorts and flip-flops while working all day is your thing, seaweed farming might be your ticket to making it rich.
Seaweed is increasingly seen as a solution to many of the world's most pressing problems. And interest in cultivating and gathering it has become big business.
Seaweeds are the Swiss army knife of aquatic vegetables, with the potential to solve some of the planet's most distressing concerns. Sea vegetation offers enormous possibilities with many potential applications, including fertilizers, foods, textiles, and human and animal supplements. What other substance provides so much potential?
Aquatic vegetables come in all types, colors, and forms—as diverse as the plants you see on land. They have entirely unique properties and are grouped into reds, greens, and browns, depending on the species and where they live.
As you can see, if you are interested in trying your luck harvesting seaweeds, understandably, you cannot be colorblind.
Working as an aquatic farmer or harvester, you'd be on the cutting edge of helping the planet with some of its most pressing issues:
- Boosting protein and nutrients in food products
- Providing extra health benefits in new therapeutics
- Soaking up excess nutrients in wastewater
- Creating new materials such as bioplastics, packaging, and textiles
- Capturing and storing carbon dioxide, and
- Reducing methane production in cows and other ruminants such as goats, sheep, and their relatives
Help Wanted: Seaweed-Preneurs
Those with trichromatism need only apply. Ability to recognize dulse, bull kelp, ribbon kelp, and sugar kelp. Experience in hand cutting, hand gathering, and mechanical harvesting is essential.
GreenWave training and education are a plus. A startup costs around $20,000 with a boat. Farmers can expect $37,000 in profit in the first year. A valid license issued by the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is required.
According to Zip Recruiter
36 seaweed jobs ($45–$74/hour) from companies with openings that are hiring now.
Wonder Plants of the Earth's Oceans
Seaweeds are wonder plants, the new renewable source of food, energy, and medicines with various nutritional, industrial, biomedical, agricultural, cosmetic, and personal care applications.
As a medical food, seaweed components are used as laxatives, for making pill capsules, for cancer and bone-replacement therapies, and in cardiovascular surgeries. Seaweed extracts are beneficial in human nutrition products to boost immunity, and their production is an exciting opportunity.
Farming seaweed is a resource-neutral technology that does not require land, freshwater, fertilizers, or pesticides.
Edible Seaweeds ~ Immune Boosters and Immune Defense Support
We know nutrients are lacking in our foods. And dietary seaweeds are a great way to fill this nutritional gap.
- Edible seaweeds are a nutrition boost, rich in vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, including zinc, necessary for a healthy immune system. A lack of zinc can make a person more susceptible to disease and illness.
- Seaweeds are excellent for gut health, protecting the lining of the esophagus from stomach acid and encouraging beneficial gut bacteria.
- Seaweed is a splendid source of fiber, mostly soluble fiber, which turns into a gel, slowing down the digestive process and thus inhibiting the absorption of sugars and cholesterol.
- Seaweeds provide antioxidants, amino acids, and vitamins A, B, C, and E. These antioxidants protect your body from cell damage.
- Consuming seaweeds can support a weight-loss regime. They limit the body's ability to break down and absorb the dietary fat consumed during a meal, which could make it easier to lose weight.
- Lastly, seaweeds contain the micronutrient iodine, which is hard to come by today in many foods.
Looking at our shared experience of the COVID-19 pandemic in retrospect, there is evidence for the hypothesis that dietary seaweeds have contributed to the limited severity of the pandemic in Japan.
The per-person consumption of dietary seaweed in Japan is among the highest in the world. Edible seaweeds have been shown to have numerous health benefits, which derive from their antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral effects.
Cutting Methane Emissions is a Worthy Challenge
Adding red seaweed to livestock diets has markedly reduced methane production in cattle.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. It accounts for 20–30% of all greenhouse gas emissions associated with livestock production.
According to a report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, any significant reduction in methane production “would have a rapid and significant effect on atmospheric warming potential.”
Intensive agriculture is another area where seaweed can be of value. Seaweeds are highly effective biostimulants, providing viable alternatives to synthetic fertilizers.
Human health and medical benefits are seen as commercially viable. Seaweeds are tasty alternative protein sources. Some seaweeds can contain 10–30% protein, comparable to soy protein levels. One exciting natural advantage is that they contain relatively high levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (brain food), which are not naturally found in land sources.
Scientists are discovering seaweeds with anticoagulant, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, and antiviral properties. And certain species of kelp have been shown to promote a favorable immune response.
There is the potential to markedly improve production and other outcomes on farms with seaweed supplements in animal feeds. Adding seaweed components to feed has been shown to enhance gut and digestive health in animals.
Competition from Asian Seaweed Farming Operations
Some Asian countries operate sprawling aquatic farms, and American entrepreneurs must compete with new business models, farming methods, and technologies and designs that incorporate environmental sustainability.
Much of the world's seaweed is produced in large sea-based farms off the coasts of China, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan.
The Global Market Value of Seaweed Business is more than $12 billion
As the world population grows and interest from businesses and development organizations in using seaweeds for food and energy increases, sea vegetables show much promise. They grow rapidly and efficiently and provide plant-based proteins.
The World Bank's most recent data in 2012 showed yearly seaweed production of 3 million tons dried. And another report in 2016 estimates that, per year, global seaweed production could reach 500 million dry tons by 2050.
Reaching this 500-million mark would boost the world's food supply by 10% from the current level and create 50 million direct jobs. Using seaweed as a biofuel could replace about 1.5% of the fossil fuels used to run vehicles.
This transformational change in global food security is what the planet needs right now. We must change the way we view and use the oceans.
The world population in January 2023 was estimated at 7,942,650,000. We have countless mouths to feed especially if we reach 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100.
Seaweed farming on the western coast of the U.S. (the Pacific Ocean and the coastal areas of California, Oregon, and Washington) is almost nonexistent. However, over a dozen have been created on the East Coast recently.
Without realizing it, we use products containing seaweed every day. It can be found in toothpaste, cosmetics, beer, ice cream, and paints. On an industrial level, it is used as a green fuel, in fertilizer, and in animal feed. Seaweed has become a staple ingredient in our food and an alternative to salt. It is known for its umami flavor, and restaurant chefs have embraced edible seaweeds as an exotic addition to ocean-inspired plates.
Seaweed is high in protein, omega-3 oils, vitamins, and minerals. Our health-conscious society increasingly understands why seaweeds have grown in popularity. East Asian people have long included seaweeds in their diets for nutrition. It's time for Americans to follow suit and enjoy what the cultures of coastal communities have embraced for centuries.
Entrepreneurs building seaweed farming businesses focus on edible marine plants for their nutritional value, high-protein content, and many health benefits.
Some seaweeds can contain 10–30% protein, comparable to soy protein levels.
Edible seaweeds are a nutrition boost, rich in vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, including zinc, necessary for a healthy immune system. Dietary seaweeds have been shown to have numerous health benefits, which derive from their antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral effects.
As the world population grows and interest from businesses and development organizations in using seaweeds for food and energy increases, sea vegetables show much promise.
Seaweed extracts are beneficial in human nutrition products to boost immunity and producing them offers exciting opportunities. Without realizing it, we already use products containing seaweed every day.
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