International Waters learning Exchange & Resource Network

Blue Horizon: Ocean Relief through Seaweed Aquaculture

The project will work at the global, regional, and national level to strengthen and develop seaweed value chains. The project will work in the South China Sea,and will be aligned with the Strategic Action Plan. More specifically, the project will work in the coastal and marine ecosystems of Viet Nam and Philippines,where potential for the expansion of seaweed aquaculture and seaweed aquaculture value chains exists. Seaweed farming is growing as a lucrative businessin coastal provinces - farmed as a foodstuff and in food processing, as well as cosmetics and medical industries. The livelihoods of the people who live inthese coastal areas depend on the quality of water and habitat in these rich marine ecosystems.

Seaweeds can be grown with no external inputs, removing eutrophying nutrients from the water and turning them into valuable protein, oils, green chemical feedstock and a range of industrial products. Producing large volumes of seaweeds for human food, animal feed and additives, pharma & medical, fertilizer and food additives could represent a transformational change in the global food security equation. In 2012, global production of seaweeds was approximately3 million tons dry weight and growing by 9% per annum. Increasing the growth of seaweed farming up to 14% per year would generate 500 million tons dryweight by 2050, adding about 10% to the world’s present supply of food, generating revenues and improving environmental quality (see table 1). Assuming aconservative average productivity from the best operating modern farms of about 1,000 dry metric tons per km2 (1 kg per m2), this entire harvest could be grown in a sea area of about 500,000 square kilometers, 0.03% of the oceans’ surface area.

Additionally, seaweeds farming provides livelihood resilience for communities, ecosystem services for biodiversity enhancement and generates revenues foremerging countries in order to alleviate poverty. Seaweed can be integrated into multi-trophic systems which can strengthen economic resilience of coastalcommunities, all while providing benefits that will stabilize and strengthen the health of the surrounding environment.

A key to making the seaweed industry a driver of environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation, livelihood resilience and shared prosperity, is to add morevalue closer to the production areas, thus creating more and better jobs for low-income coastal communities. To this end, the proposed project is intended to:1) connect rapidly evolving, cutting edge science in the processing and use of seaweed to practical production technology; 2) create a forum for partnering technology to investors in developing countries; and 3) establish norms of operation to ensure that production systems remain among the mostenvironmentally positive economic activities.

Environmental problem and root causes
The literal erosion of the ocean’s foundation is occurring - coral bleaching destroys reefs, mangrove loss reduces key habitat, calcium carbonate to buffer the water’s pH is dissolving, nutrient pollution requires greater oxygen for decay of organic matter, suspended solids reduce photosynthesis, and rising temperature accelerates all of these processes. These impacts are most acutely observed in coastal and estuarine environments, and the stressors on these nearshore ecosystems are inhibiting ocean restoration interventions. In addition, the world population is growing, putting increasing pressure on arable landand fisheries. The challenge is to find ways of capturing the carbon as CO2 to reduce ocean acidity and allow for greater capacity of the ocean to slow the rate of climatechange. Moreover, the extraction of nitrogen and phosphorus, which are the key nutrients that cause eutrophication in marine environments, is necessary tolimit pollution and attempt to mitigate rising ocean temperatures. This is a global challenge and the solutions need to be tested and then scaled.

Barriers to scaling seaweed aquaculture include the following:

1. Limited coordination, knowledge sharing, and standards for seaweed value chains and seaweed value chain actors

2. Barriers related to Marine Spatial Plans and development plans to promote expansion of seaweed farms and offshore seaweed farming

3. Limited biorefinery solutions for new seaweed products, which constrains market uptake

4. Barriers related to seaweed farming

5. Barriers related to the seaweed value chain and socioeconomic benefits for seaweed farming communities

Baseline scenario and associated baseline projects

There is an active and growing seaweed sector. Total seaweed production globally by volume is at 12 million tonnes and is valued at US$6 billion. 85% ofseaweed production is used in food products, while extracts from seaweed make up 40%. Carrageenan, the most popular seaweed extract, is used in pet food,dairy industry, meat industry, and in pharmaceuticals (FAO 2018).

Asia contributes the majority of farmed seaweed, with China, Indonesia and the Philippines representing the top seaweed producing countries by volume(FAO 2018). The expansion of seaweed farming in tropical developing countries (Viet Nam and the Philippines provide an ideal opportunity for this project)could have large positive impacts on local poverty, ecosystem management and climate change mitigation. Considering the viability of seaweed in a range ofindustries, and the limited negative environmental externalities, there is a significant opportunity to develop and strengthen seaweed value chains and newmarkets.

Contribution to feed markets
Seaweed presents an opportunity for replacing fishmeal and oil alternatives without significant negative environmentalexternalities. Algae protein provides similar nutritional value to soy protein, while the lipid in seaweed can be used as a fish oil replacement for aquaculture (anexponentially growing industry) and animal feed. This would thereby reduce the pressure on fisheries.

Structural developments in global energy markets
. Private sector actors are increasingly looking for chemicals, plastics, textiles, fuel and electricity tocome from biomass rather than fossil fuels. Seaweed would be particularly desirable, as its production would not compete with terrestrial food production,and the inputs to seaweed production are limited. As such, there is a huge opportunity to develop seaweed’s contribution to biomass and global energymarkets, while ensuring limited environmental impact.

Monetization of social goods from production
Ocean forests hold the potential to become valued carbon sinks to mitigate climate change and support biodiversity. An opportunity exists to quantify seaweed climate mitigation potential, and recognize seaweed as a means to offset carbon, to foster private sector investment in seaweed value chain development.

Alignment with the South China Sea SAP, which clearly identifies unsustainable aquaculture as a key threat to the SCS region (for example, on mangroves and seagrass, as well as coastal pollution). The project addresses this by advancing sustainable seaweed production, which advances the capture of CO2 in order to help reduce salinity and other forms of harmful pollutants. In addition to this, it will be supporting fisheries resilience broadly, in terms ofreducing reliance of coastal communities on dwindling fish resources, supporting sustainable local food production.

Being able to produce enough biomass and protein for the growing and increasingly wealthy human population with no new land and freshwater expropriation for agriculture would dramatically reduce humanity’s ecological footprint relative to current trends and projections while aligning with national plans to meet the SDGs.

Other (not set)

South China Sea (LME)

South-Eastern Asia , Southern Asia

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Documents & Resources
General information
GEF ID 10573
Project type Full-Size Project
Status active (Project approved)
Start Date 01 Jan 2022
End Date 31 Dec 2024
GEF characteristic:
Focal Area International Waters
GEF Allocation to project USD 6 000 000
Total Cost of the project: USD 15 525 629
Philippines , Viet Nam , Regional

World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Project contacts
Rachel Kaplan GEF Lead Specialist, WWF