At first glance, seaweed seems like the perfect aquaculture product. It's easy to grow, requires no fertilizer and reaps economic benefits for producersÂ and health benefits for consumers. Seaweed also helps combat global warming by soaking by carbon dioxide from the air.
It's no wonder business is booming, with China, South Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines leading the seaweed surge. Around 27.3 tons of seaweed was produced onÂ farms in 2014, making the crop worth $6.4 billion.
But a new report from the U.N. University, lead by Elizabeth Cottier-Cook, says global seaweed production needs tighter regulations to avoid further economic and ecological damage.
The report shows little regulation in many nations and growing concern for the spread of pests and pathogens that disrupt ecological balance.
"You can take a plant from the Philippines and plant it in East Africa. There are pests, there are pathogens that can go along with that plant," Cottier-Cook says. "There is no quarantine."
One bacterial disease, known as ice-ice, spread to Mozambique and Tanzania by way of red seaweed from the Philippines. Losses from ice-ice are estimated at $310 million in the Philippines alone from 2011 to 2013.
The U.N. University report recommends several measures to help curb the negative effects of seaweed farming, like preserving seaweed stocks, seed banks, and government-sponsored insurance to abate natural disasters like typhoons.
- Seaweed farming, a sudden slimy success, needs greener rules: U.N. (Reuters)
- Red Tape Slows Bloom of Seaweed Farming's Green Revolution (NBC News)
- UN seeks to regulate seaweed farming (Taipei Times)