According to a report published by the FAO, seaweed production is a diverse industry, with production levels reaching 32 million tonnes in 2018 (FAO Sofia, 2020). Seaweed yields have tripled over the past 10 years and algae production has long ceased to be a niche industry, with Asia playing the leading role. The most commonly grown seaweed species is the macro algae Eucheuma ssp. which is bred for use as a natural gelling and thickening agent known as carrageen.
The methods of seaweed farming are as diverse as the number of those 800,000 micro and macro species that are being grown. Nearly all algae need nothing but sunlight and CO2 to generate biomass, which they do at a remarkable pace. Some algae blooms are so intense that they make for colourful satellite photos of the oceans. Consequently, it comes as no surprise that algae play a significant role in the supply of oxygen and sequestering CO2.
There is an increasing demand for algae in the food and feed industries and also as ingredients for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. They are even used for the manufacture of degradable packaging. In some regions of the world, such as in Normandy and Brittany, seaweed has as long tradition of use as a soil conditioner and fertiliser.
Algae are also increasingly valued for their nutritional content and are marketed as food supplements, as they contain antioxidant bioactive substances. The food technology and pharmaceutical industries are still some way off having exhausted the full potential of the health-promoting qualities of macro algae.
We look forward to Seagriculture 2021 as a learning event on aquatic biomass, such as sugar kelp (Laminaria saccharina), bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus) and sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca).