Imagine a world where there are fewer or no carbon emissions and more carbon sinks, a world where there is minimum carbon concentration or no carbon concentration at all, a world where climate conditions are perfect! The good news is, that is not far-fetched; it could be real! It turns out that seaweed is one of nature’s climate warriors, and cultivating it at a large-scale could help soak up carbon and combat local impacts of ocean acidity. This could assist with the problem of climate change and loss of biodiversity, and help restore the ecosystem. But that’s not all, it can also be a money-making tool for us as a nation. According to Global Market Insights, the commercial seaweed market size could surpass US$85billion by 2026. It is not a new market but out there, the demand for seaweed is about to boom, according to experts. What is stopping us as a nation from tapping into this gold mine? I call it ‘the seaweed mine’!
Seaweed versus land-based plants
Seaweed is known to be the world’s fastest-growing plant – growing 30 to 60 times faster than land-based plants, and soaking up to five times more carbon dioxide. Unlike land-based plants, this precious plant will even grow in ocean ‘dead zones’ and will remarkably improve the environment in which it flourishes. Seaweed is indeed a miracle plant and I dare say it is definitely what the world needs right now! Yes, it could even be what Ghana needs in these times of economic downturn.
Seaweed is edible, used as a vegetable, and used in sushi and other traditional meals; but it’s used in more than just sushi, you may not know this but we all use products that contain this miracle plant. Think baby food, almond milk, beer, paint, lotion, and even ice cream; the world market out there is booming as farmers are investing in this industry.
The beauty of it is that unlike other plants, seaweed requires no soil, no fertiliser, no fresh water nor pesticide to grow. However, it is proven that seaweed takes in carbon dioxide in the same way that land-based plants do, therefore increasing seaweed production in the ocean could lead to a surge in the sequestration of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide – the primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activities. Researchers have estimated that if nine percent of the world’s ocean surfaces were used for seaweed farming, we would be removing 53 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year from the atmosphere. Hopefully, when this is done, a look at the ocean will not bring despondency as it does now; the ocean will no longer be viewed as an aquatic desert, but will once again thrive with life. Think of two sides of the same coin; inasmuch as it could boom a country’s economy, it will also help reach the 1.5oC carbon emission target set by the Paris Agreement, an agreement that was adopted by some 196 parties at COP 21 in Paris, of which Ghana is a party. According to the World Bank data on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, world carbon dioxide emissions increased to 34,344,006kt in 2019 from 20,625,273kt in 1990, a 66.5 percent increase in less than three decades. Consequently, Ghana’s carbon dioxide emission increased from 2,790kt to 20,040kt within the same period, which is a 62 percent increment in less than three decades. Meaning, Ghana – a small country of 0.4 percent of the world population that is so big on imports rather than exports – has contributed an average of 0.41 percent to the world’s carbon dioxide emissions within this period. Why not use the growing and exportation of seaweed to level up these emissions?
Growing and cultivation methods
There are various ways of growing and cultivating this miracle plant in large quantities all over the world, and researchers are coming out with interesting ways of doing this on a large scale. One that caught my eye is the ‘marine permaculture’ technology developed by the Climate Foundation team. It involves the building of floating platforms that use wave energy to restore nutrients, upwelling to pre-global warming levels – a process where surface water is pushed offshore and replaced by bottom water, which is much different in temperature, nutrient content and chemical composition than that of surface water. Here, not only will the nutrients encourage seaweed growth, but the platform will provide a structure onto which the seaweed will attach and grow into seaweed forests to form some sort of a mini-ecosystem. These seaweed forests will in turn provide a habitat for forage fish, which will feed off it. This way, Seabirds and marine mammals are not left out of the equation; they will then eat these forage fish and up the food chain the cycle goes through to tuna and even big fish such as sharks. This technology might sound complicated but there are other simple ways, one of which is to attach pieces of seaweed to rope lines or nets that are suspended in the sea, often near the coast.
A carbon neutralising mechanism
I call this God-given plant a miracle plant because of its natural ways of absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. In addition to adding much-needed vitamins to the human diet, they are also an amazing carbon sink; they draw more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by area than land-based rainforests. This is a win-win situation when I think of taking positive steps to save the planet from greenhouse gases, to which Ghana subscribes. Actually, Ghana is said to be the first country in the world to include Short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) and other air pollutants in its fourth Official National Greenhouse Gas Inventory to the UNFCCC – a very bold step that proves Ghana’s commitment to this cause.
The excitement does not end there, there are other numerous uses for the miracle plant; it’s been proven to be a source of biofuel, feed for cattle, and could even provide food security for millions of people. Between 85 percent and 90 percent of seaweed is water, which means it is very suitable for biofuel-making methods like anaerobic digestion to make biogas, and fermentation to make ethanol. Using seaweed as cattle feed will decrease methane produced directly from fermentation by cattle, which means cattle will now contribute less to climate change. Everywhere you look, this plant’s amazing characteristic is ginormous! I’m particularly astonished about the fact that the plant provides a rich and sustainable source of macro and micronutrients to the human diet, particularly in countries like Japan, China and the Republic of Korea, where seaweed is known to contribute significantly to regular meals since pre-historic times. Although these countries are known to be the largest consumers of seaweed, it is also consumed by upper echelons in many traditional European societies, such as Iceland, western Norway, the Atlantic coast of France, northern and western Ireland, Wales, and some coastal parts of South West England. It’s found to be a rich source of protein, vitamins, and minerals like calcium, iron, folic acid, vitamin K and numerous other vitamins. Research has proven significant health benefits to eating seaweed, including reduced blood pressure and improved digestive health. It also helps with thyroid function, diabetes, weight loss, supports gut health, and protects the heart by controlling cholesterol levels. Essentially, this is an amazing plant; no need to look too far for financial stability, neither is there a need to stretch ourselves so thin for climate change solutions as a nation – the miracle plant is here! How do we tap into this miracle?