A study published last week is showing how seaweed farming could be beneficial to the globe for a variety of reasons, but some concerns may still remain.
The new kind of farming could create a situation in which greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced, as well as cut back on the need for crops that are grown on the earth, according to the study, published in Nature Sustainability.
The study noted that the researchers have estimated that around 650 million hectares of ocean around the world could sustain seaweed farms. The biggest regions would be in Indonesia and Australia, per The Guardian.
“Cultivating seaweeds for food, feed and fuel within even a fraction of the 650m hectares of suitable ocean could have profound benefits to land use, emissions reduction, water and fertiliser use,” the authors reportedly wrote, per The Guardian.
Seaweed grown in this large area of the ocean can be used as food for human beings, as well as for livestock like cattle. It can also be used for alternative energy resources, according to the study, per The Guardian.
The researchers indicated that reducing methane emissions by using red Asparagopsis seaweed on cows could cut back 2.6 billion tons of CO2-equivalent each year by the year 2050. Giving dairy cows seaweed, such as Asparagopsis taxiformis, to eat can aid in bringing down the levels of methane that they produce when they burp. The methane is known as enteric methane, which is a greenhouse gas.
The researchers also noted that if humans start to eat more seaweed, and it makes up 10% of their diets, then it could save up to 110 million land hectares, which is 272 million acres. The Guardian pointed out that this size is twice as large as the country of France.
“In one scenario where we substituted 10% of human diets globally with seaweed products, the development of 110 million hectares of land for farming could be prevented,” Ph.D. Candidate Scott Spillias of the University of Queensland, discussed, per Food Ingredients First.
“People around the world are looking at the ocean as this big ‘untapped’ resource and asking if we should be using more of it,” Spillias said.
The specialists also reportedly noted that seaweed farming could be bad for ocean creatures, so that will have to be examined and evened out with the good that could come from a worldwide seaweed farming initiative.
“Converting even a few million hectares means a huge amount of development,” Spillias said. “We are modifying habitats and introducing materials to places where we haven’t before. A lot of seaweed farming now is using plastic ropes and nets and we know the impacts of plastic on the ocean. If this is done on a large scale we need to find better materials.”
“Marine industries do not have a great reputation on human rights and if we’re farming seaweed largely out of sight, then we need to think of the people in these industries and make sure they’re being fairly treated,” he said.
There could also be a health question when it comes to the food. A 2019 study published by the National Institute of Health found that edible seaweeds have health benefits and nutritional properties. However, it noted, if such food is going to aid in future food security for the entire world, “legislative measures to ensure monitoring and labeling of food products are needed to safeguard against excessive intakes of salt, iodine, and heavy metals.”