This grassy green marine plant is well known within the rockpools and beaches of our coastlines, but did you know about the additional benefits this plant can provide? We’ve taken a deep dive (excuse the pun) into how seaweed is helping us turn the tide (sorry, I’ll stop now…) on climate change in a variety of curious ways….
Seaweed as an important component of a healthy marine ecosystem
It doesn’t just sway sassily under the sea. Seaweed, seagrass and kelp are all vital components of a functioning marine ecosystem. Seaweed acts as a natural purifier of water, removing toxic levels of nitrogen as well as reducing levels of ocean acidification. It can also provide a valuable nursery for aquatic life, such as rare seahorses and fish we love to farm such as Atlantic Cod. One study showed a 73% increase in species numbers where seaweed was present in comparison to the surrounding sea. Its presence also helps in reducing deep-sea water trawling – a destructive fishing technique that can decimate aquatic ecosystems.
Seaweed as a carbon sink
Seaweed’s real benefit is in carbon sequestration – removing carbon from the air, or, more commonly, the water. As well as absorbing and transforming carbon into organic compounds that can be consumed by ocean wildlife further down the food chain, seaweed has been found to also play a significant role in locking away carbon in the long-term within the ocean shelf as a deep carbon store. They are our planet’s often-forgotten, incredibly important carbon sink, with habitats such as seagrass, mangrove and salt marsh shown to be able to store twice as much carbon as their terrestrial counterparts!
The potential of seaweed in carbon sequestration is so great that it is now a significant focus for growth and investment for blue carbon strategies – building resilience of the marine environment to, as well as reducing the impact of, climate change.
Seaweed as an alternative food source for animals
This is cool (if I may say so myself)! Seaweed in animal feed can provide a bunch of important nutrients that support animal growth in farming. MOST EXCITINGLY – it has also been found to reduce methane released by ruminants (cows, sheep, goats etc) by over 97%! As well as being a sustainable source of food, it could also have a dramatic impact on the impact of other favourite food sources!
Seaweed as a new food source for humans
Seaweed has been consumed by humans for thousands of years, and it does add a satisfying texture and salty tang to sushi rolls and laverbread! However, there are many other foods this plant can be added to, and it is a great source of protein, iodine, magnesium, iron and lots of other important vitamins and nutrients. Win win?! This company have even managed to make burgers out of it – we at Curious Earth are certainly curious to sample them!
Seaweed as an alternative to plastic
A slightly more left-field opportunity for this beloved grass is its potential use as an alternative to petro-chemicals and plastic-based products. The membrane and chemicals present within the plant have been found to be incredibly effective as alternative packaging, with the added benefit that they are biodegradable within a couple of months! Check out the Be Curious section below for more information on companies already capitalising on these incredible characteristics….
Seaweed as an alternative fuel
With the caveat that economies of scale currently make this concept uncompetitive in comparison to other fuel sources… seaweed could play a vital role as an alternative form of energy! Large scale farming of seaweed would deliver the benefits discussed above AS WELL AS reducing pressure on terrestrial sources of biomass and carbon-intensive fossil fuels. The exact potential of this is still to be fully explored, but the US Department of Energy has estimated that its cultivation could produce energy equivalent to 23 billion gallons of petrol/gas – not insignificant!
In summary, seaweed may be one of the most underrated, promising plants that can help provide nature-based solutions to tackling climate change and moving forwards into a climate-resilient future. Look out for it in your supermarkets, packages and local coastlines soon!
- Check out the Blue Carbon Initiative to understand more about why seaweed (and other marine habitats) are so crucial for our planetary wellbeing!
- Also have a look at SweetGreen – an exciting collaboration led by chef David Chang to demonstrate the possibilities of food using seaweed.
- Have a look at Notpla – one of the new, UK-based seaweed packaging companies promoting a plastic-free alternative to packaging solutions.
- Read about the possibilities of seaweed as animal feed and associated reduction methane emissions here and here – but bear in mind that it may not be the silver bullet to tackling climate change
- Support campaigns such as Help our Kelp, aiming to provide a space for kelp to thrive on English shores
Support this campaign and business proposition, aiming to create t-shirts made from fabric containing seaweed fibre and invest in seaweed farms in the UK – pretty cool!