The news that in 2021 the UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow has left many, whether climate change activists or members of the general public, wondering what innovative ideas will be presented to fight climate change as the point of no return for our planet draws nearer. For years, the same generic approaches have been put forward, namely cutting our reliance on fossil fuels and planting trees. But in a world where up to 80% of oxygen is produced by oceanic plankton – a combination of drifting plants, algae and certain bacteria, a new and dynamic solution is needed. And the answer lies in a somewhat neglected and overlooked carbon absorbing powerhouse – seaweed.
Every year, roughly 200 million tons of carbon is sequestered (stored) by macro algae, which is the same amount of carbon as the annual emissions of the state of New York. This astounding statistic alludes to the boundless importance of seaweed and macro algae as a whole and how it may hold the key in reversing the effects of a warming world. Seaweed plays a much bigger role in your day to day life than you might expect, it is found in everything from toothpaste to skincare creams, industrial fuels and fertilisers. As such, humans have the means to farm seaweed on a large scale, and unlike other land based crops which are heavily reliant on our wavering water supply, seaweed only needs a stretch of the ocean in which it is grown on rope just like mussels and oysters. Furthermore, these crops provide a vital habitat for a wide array of marine life, and for the people who farm the seaweed, it creates vital jobs for small communities. The bulk of current seaweed farming takes place on the coast of southeast Asia, and in many regions, it supplies a much needed alternative to fishing and gives jobs to those who are in desperate need of a stable income.
However, seaweed farming isn’t contained only to the tropical waters of southeastern Asia and it’s grown in the arctic in the seas of Lofoten, Norway. There are a select few businesses with the dynamic role of farming seaweed, and one, Lofoten Blue Harvest, is “developing an exciting new marine industry in the clean arctic seas”. The company claims that their seaweed can be used in many new and exciting ways, “from restaurants to a new source of pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, textiles and biochemicals”. It seems that the genius of seaweed farming knows no bounds, and not only can it help store carbon and reverse climate change, but it can be used to make plastic alternatives and ultimately lift the burden plastic pollution has on our world’s oceans.
In order for climate change to be tackled by seaweeds, it is paramount that the endeavours of these small businesses are rewarded, and you can play your part in this by buying their products and encouraging your friends and family to adopt new, eco-friendly habits. A situation as dire as climate change doesn’t command expensive new lifestyle routines or space-age technology, in fact all it needs is for the general public to take responsibility for their carbon footprint and for the farming sector to be headed by a humble and unassuming sea algae – seaweed.