Science Festival 2019: Seaweed as Food, Biomaterial, Cleanser of Polluted Seas & Oceans


Seaweed is abundantly available in coastal areas of different countries across the world. In oriental cultures of China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Indonesia and among other tropical countries in southeast Asia seaweed is in used as food especially as part of salad or food-dressing or wrapping such as one finds in a sushi restaurants. According to Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, “The use of seaweed as food has been traced back to the fourth century in Japan and the sixth century in China. Today those two countries and the Republic of Korea are the largest consumers of seaweed as food and their requirements provide the basis of an industry that worldwide harvests 6 000 000 tonnes of wet seaweed per annum with a value of around US$ five billion.”

Sweden is catching up with the Asian countries in seaweed usage, education and research. Emphasis is also laid on cultivating seaweed as popularity for seaweed-based food gains importance as an alternative for red-meat and as another choice for vegans. In this direction, there is a Centre for Sea and Society at the University of Gothenburg where there are lot of activities related to the sea and marine & maritime education leading to research, education and commercial exploitation of seaweed.

Seaweed is a macroscopic marine algae and includes thousands of species in various shapes and colours from red to green and to brown and black. It usually grows in rocky shorelines of seas.

During the Science Festival 2019, Professor Henrik Pavia from the Department of Marine Sciences from the University of Gothenburg shared the information on seaweed with the audience at Nordstan – one of the venues for public event related to science. He shared the information surrounding seaweed in societies ranging from historicity to utility in different cultures, and where Sweden is heading and progressing in seaweed cultivation and commercial exploitation. The department has established a Centre for Sea and Society (2015) in collaboration with other institutions. The centre has two field stations at Tjärnö and Kristineberg, and several small and a large vessels where teaching, research and social cooperation are carried out in an integrated manner.

The research is encouraging seaweed cultivation on seas as seaweed is increasingly used in food and in the manufacture of biomaterials. “In a way we are far behind if you compare with Asian countries that have been doing this for decades,” said Henrik Pavia. “With the sort of on-going initiatives we are catching up, we arranged international symposium in 2018 – research cultivators from leading countries were impressed with the progress Sweden has made.”

Seaweed as Pollutant Cleanser:

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, USA, eighty percent of pollution to the marine environment comes from the land in various forms a result of runoff from septic tanks, cars, trucks, oils from millions of motor-vehicle engines (small amounts of oil drop onto roads and parking lots) and makes its way to the sea in addition to plastic. How can we clean the pollution out of seas and oceans?

Henrik Pavia believes there are different types of seaweed, and one species of algae can be used to clean up the pollutants from the marine ecosystems. “There are many many coastal areas that are very suitable … on the Swedish Westcoast there are also algae that can be used to clean and absorb pollutants but of course they should not be used for food and they can be used to reduce pollution in the oceans.”

With pollution on the rise in the oceans and global population increasing with various needs, the research of the scientists and policies of the political parties coupled with public awareness are the ways to confront climate change locally or nationally.