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What is seaweed ?

Seaweed is a plant that grows in the sea. There are thousands of different kinds of seaweed all over the world. Like plants that are grown on land, some seaweeds are also farmed to give you both food and money.

For example sea grapes, known as Nama, is farmed in the Philippines. In Taiwan, glassweed, Lumiwawa, and maidenhair, Lumicevata, are the most commonly farmed seaweeds.

One seaweed species is particularly well known in Fiji. Its name is Eucheuma.

In Fiji, Eucheuma has been farmed now for several years by coastal villagers. Some of them have been successful and are cultivating seaweed as their main source of income.

What does Eucheuma seaweed look like ?

As you can see from the figure below, Eucheuma has a very characteristic shape.

Photo of a mature Eucheuma plant. Note its size compared to that of a cigarette packet

Eucheuma seaweed can grow in different colors. You can find some plant to be either green or brown. Despite their different colors, these plants give the same end-product.

Eucheuma seaweed has no roots but some of its branches can attach to corals and grow. Even though seaweed grows in all directions, most of its branches grow up toward the sea surface. The branches can grow in many different forms depending where the seaweed is planted. Do not be surprised to see your seaweed looking different during the year.

In the warmer months, your seaweed might grow thick with a few branches only, whereas in the cooler months, you might see plenty of shoots growing. This is because of the lower sea water temperature during winter, together with a moderate water movement and increased amount of plant food in the water.

How fast does seaweed grow ?

Seaweed grows better and faster during the winter season, but it can be successfully grown all year around. Just to give an idea of how fast seaweed grows, imagine that the weight of your seaweed can become 10 times heavier in 6 to 8 weeks. In other words, if you have a 150 gram plant to start, after 6 to 8 weeks that plant will weigh about 1.5 kilograms. Thus, Eucheuma seaweed has a very fast growth; a clear advantage for the farmers!

Photo of a seaweed seed on the left and of a mature plant after 8 weeks growth on the right.

How does Eucheuma seaweed reproduce ?

In the seas where seaweed grows naturally, waves and strong currents occasionally break seaweed branches. These branches, drift away and eventually settle between corals or on sandy sea bottoms. Here, they anchor and start to grow again. A new seaweed patch has been formed. In this way seaweed has spread to many parts of the world.

Because of the way this seaweed reproduces, it is easy for the farmer to cultivate it. The only thing you have to do to grow your seaweed, is to cut the young branches, and re-plant them.

What will be the benefit of farming seaweed for my village ?

Farming seaweed is a new job opportunity for you and your fellow villagers. It will bring money and give you the possibility to improve your standard of living. At the same time, farming seaweed will not stop you from performing other activities such as fishing or cutting copra. You still have plenty of time for those.

If you compare seaweed farming with other activities, you will find out that seaweed can assure you a continuous and constant earning all year around. What other jobs can give you this?

Your wife and the other women of your village will be also benefitting from farming seaweed, in fact for them, working in a seaweed farm will be a rare chance to earn money. Your kids can also participate by helping you prepare the lines, cut raffia strings, tie seaweed seeds, etc. All easy jobs. In other words you will be able to work with your family and enjoy your work.

We would like to bring to your attention another important point. Seaweed farming is not harmful to the environment. Different kinds of fishing have already caused serious damage to the sea. Remember when beche-de-mer were everywhere? Today it seems difficult to find a place with plenty of them. The same happened for a lot of marine species. Seaweed farming will not take away anything from the sea. You are just cultivating it. In fact, places where seaweed is farmed, become a sheltered area for other valuable marine organisms such as beche-de-mer, cockles, sea snails, small fish and many others. So your farming activity will be of benefit to the sea as well.

Are there any laws I should know about seaweed farming ?

No. Unlike other fishing activities which have size or volume restrictions, seaweed farming is free from any limitations. You can plant and harvest as much as you want. However, you should know that there are some customary traditions concerning the use of land and sea resources.

In Fiji, as in other Pacific island countries, the land and sea rights are held by the local villages. In other words, you cannot plant your seaweed anywhere.

If you have intention to start cultivating seaweed, we suggest you seek written permission from the customary owners or whoever holds the rights for the use of the area you have selected. This is very important to avoid friction amongst villages or individuals. We want to work in peace!

In some cases, however, it might happen that you need to settle some disputes with your neighbouring village. The local authority and the Native Fisheries Commission can help you to discuss problems and find solutions.

Please, try your best to avoid unpleasant situations. Find out who holds the rights on the area you choose before you take any step.

How seaweed is used by food and other industries ?

Through industrial processing of the seaweed you cultivate, many edible and non-edible items can be made.

The most important component of seaweed, in terms of industrial use, is a substance called carrageenan also commonly known as seaweed flour.

From your dried seaweed, about 25% of the weight is carrageenan. This can be extracted through a complicated industrial process.

Carrageenan, in its semi-refined or refined form, is used to manufacture food items, both for human and animal consumption.

To give you an idea of what can be done with carrageenan, this substance is used in the manufacture of ice cream, chocolates, custards, cake topping and fillings, milk shakes, yogurts, dessert gel, canned foods, fish gel, sauces, and many others. As you can see, it has a large number of applications for a sole chemical substance. But that is not all!

Carrageenan is also used in the manufacture of waterbased paints, toothpastes, lotions, shampoos, and beer. You will also find carrageenan to be an essential component in several pharmaceutical products as well.

In some overseas countries, such as Indonesia and Philippines, Eucheuma seaweed is also eaten raw. People like to eat it fresh in salads. Why don't you try it? But remember, the main reason for you to cultivate seaweed is not to eat it, but to make money!

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