Based in Goa, India, The Good Ocean is a pilot project working to build a more sustainable and ethical seaweed supply chain.
“In the future, I hope the Good Ocean will set up a new seaweed supply chain in India wherein we don’t overharvest and undervalue our community,” Gabriella D’Cruz, founder of The Good Ocean, tells Food Tank. As a young marine conservationist, D’Cruz recently received the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Global Youth Champion Award in 2021.
As part of her pilot project, D’Cruz designed a bamboo raft system that co-cultivates mussels and seaweed. According to research from the University of Gothenburg, these two species can create a mini ecosystem when grown together. Mussels filter out particles and allow more sunlight to reach the seaweed, encouraging growth. Mussels also can create ideal nutrient conditions that make seaweed more resilient to the decreasing salinity of the sea, one of the effects of climate change.
Through the program, D’Cruz hopes to make seaweed farming a viable income source for herself. D’Cruz tells Food Tank that many young people move away from Goa due to lack of economic opportunity—an issue exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Her hope is to become financially dependent on her business and encourage women and young entrepreneurs inspired to address climate change to join the field.
“How you build trust and communicate new ideas with people is by showing them it works for you,” D’Cruz tells Food Tank. “Instead of selling our seaweed for very little, we want to get our communities access to higher value markets such as restaurants, beauty companies, and nutrition companies that are willing to pay a premium for ethically sourced seaweed.”
According to the World Bank, farming seaweed in just 0.1 percent of the world’s oceans can create 100 million jobs. And the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that in just .03 percent of the world’s oceans, seaweed can bolster the global food supply by up to 10 percent.
Seaweed cultivation can also be effective at mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change. Research published in Nature found that globally, seaweed has the potential to sequester about 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year—equivalent to the total emissions from New York state, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Seaweed is fast growing and does not require fresh water, fertilizers, or arable land. It can also help reduce ocean acidification, regenerate ocean ecosystems, and absorb the energy of storms to reduce damage to coastal communities, research in Nature Climate Change finds.
Around the world, projects are working with seaweed as a sustainable crop including the Blue Food Assessment, GreenWave, and Running Tide. In 2020, The U.N. Global Compact published The Seaweed Manifesto highlighting the potential of seaweed to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.
A versatile plant, seaweed has applications in numerous markets: as a sustainable and nutritious food source, an ingredient in a wide range of products from lotions to nutritional supplements, and a source of bioplastic, biofuel, and natural fertilizer.
In 2020, the global seaweed market reached US$11.5 billion and a 2021 market forecast finds that the food industry accounts for the largest segment of the global seaweed market.
Although the growth of the seaweed industry is an exciting prospect, D’Cruz argues that it must be managed responsibly. “The current industry is low value, highly extractive,” D’Cruz tells Food Tank. “Somewhere along the supply chain, someone is being undervalued. And that usually ends up being in the farming communities.”
One of D’Cruz’s aspirations is to transform the market and make seaweed perceived as a high-value product with versatile potential.
D’Cruz tells Food Tank that she hopes to build a supply chain with “safeguards on how much seaweed is harvested” to prevent overharvesting. D’Cruz also emphasizes the importance of data to inform policies on how much and what species of seaweed can be harvested. She also hopes to connect with new markets in the beauty and restaurant industries that are willing to pay a premium for the sustainable product.
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Photo courtesy of Oleksandr Sushko, Unsplash