Farming in the Seas
Photos by Jürgen Freund
 
 

Ever think about how much you rely on the oceans for your basic needs and desires, besides that seafood craving or desire for the ultimate dive trip and beach getaway? Every time you eat your favourite ice cream, swallow your daily dose of vitamins or prescriptive medicines, buy fertilizer to help your garden grow, or purchase organic products, you’re taking bits of the ocean inside of you through the main ingredient used to create your favourite products – seaweed.

The growing demands of development and consumption are increasingly taking a toll on the planet’s natural resources. This is clearly evident in ocean habitats, especially those with large concentrations of varied species and ecosystems, such as those found in the Sulu Sulawesi Seas bordered by the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The Sulu Sulawesi Seas are abundant in marine life. Tens of millions of people rely on these ocean resources as a source of food and income.

Ocean exploitation

The growing demands of development and consumption are increasingly taking a toll on the planet’s natural resources. This is clearly evident in ocean habitats, especially those with large concentrations of varied species and ecosystems, such as those found in the Sulu Sulawesi Seas bordered by the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The Sulu Sulawesi Seas are abundant in marine life. Tens of millions of people rely on these ocean resources as a source of food and income.

Human activity, however, is increasingly causing a heavy strain on marine resources. Illegal and unregulated fishing practices such as the use of dynamite, fine nets, and overharvesting are a persistent problem, particularly in developing countries such as the Philippines. The enforcement of fishery laws alone will not stop the overexploitation of the resources. As part of awareness campaigns on illegal fishing methods, aid organizations must provide alternative options for income if existing patterns of fishing are to be stopped. The pressure being exerted y these populations on the resources can be reduced or dissipated by directing their energies o engage in environment friendly and productive livelihood activities such as seaweed farming.

The seaweed solution

The use of seaweed as food has been traced back for centuries in Japan and China, back to the time when production in these countries was dependent on the harvest of wild stocks. The development of culture techniques in the 1970s led to the commercial cultivation of seaweeds species such as Gracilaria, Eucheuma and Kappaphycus and adapted in the Philippines. Since hen, seaweed farming has spread to other countries, most successfully Tanzania, Indonesia, Vietnam and Kiribati. Today, production of seaweeds through culture is one of the most productive forms of livelihood benefiting thousands of coastal dwellers in developing tropical countries.

Seaweed is used in the production of common materials we use in our daily lives such as medicine, food and beverages, textiles, and make-up. Many types of seaweed are consumed directly as food while others serve as raw material in the production of industrial phycocolloids – agars, carrageenans and alginates.


Seaweed farming in the Philippines

The history of seaweed farming in the Philippines can be traced back to the late 1960s when Dr.Maxwell S. Doty of the University of Hawaii conducted ecological surveys of seaweed grounds round the Philippines. Studies using different seaweed farming techniques were then conducted, which formed the basis for the commercial farming trials in different parts of the country.

The first experimental seaweed farming trial took place in Caluya Island in the province of Antique. This operation was later transferred to Ilin Island in Mindoro due to the low productivity of the area. Subsequent search for productive areas for farming was conducted in Sacol Island in Zamboanga and Tapaan Island lagoon in Siasi, Sulu, where the first successful commercial arm was established in 1972.

The successful introduction of farming spurred the development of commercial farms in Danajon Reef in Northern Bohol where several seaweed companies established their farms. After several years of operation the seaweed companies changed their approach from company farms to a small family farms due to the high cost of labor. They divided their leased area into mall one-hectare size farms and engaged the local fisherfolk to farm these areas through contract farming. Thus, developed what is now known as “family farms”. Since then seaweed arms proliferated throughout central Visayas, Western Mindanao and all over the Philippines, s well as other parts of Southeast Asia.

Benefits of seaweed farming

As a key part of integrated coastal management (ICM) projects, seaweed farming has long been incorporated into many integrated coastal management projects and fisheries management initiatives implemented by several international development assistance projects in tropical developing countries and promoted as alternative livelihood option for coastal communities aced with unsustainable fishing practices and resources exploitation. Conservation International’s Sulu Sulawesi Seascape Program is working with other organizations such as the UP Marine Science Institute to assess the viability for seaweed farming in the southwestern region of the Philippines.

There is considerable evidence that seaweed farming is a profitable venture for coastal households. It does not require intensive capital; family members are gainfully employed and the product is marketed both in the domestic and international outlets, given the quality of products produced. It is one of the sea farming commodities that require low capital investment and has a rapid rate of return. In part this evidence is provided by the fact that seaweed farming has increased dramatically in the Southern Philippines and Indonesia since the late 1960s.

Seaweed farming is a way of improving family income of the village fisherfolk. In areas with good seaweed crop potential such as in Balabac, Palawan, farmers can earn up to about PhP50,000 a year (at a cost of PhP25 per kilogram). Seaweed farming also creates employment opportunities especially in the rural areas, and can promote the expansion of industrial production based on locally available, renewable raw materials, and increase in foreign exchange earnings through export of these raw materials and/or industrial products derived from them. These make seaweed farming important to rural development in the Asia-Pacific region.


Photos by Jürgen Freund for Conservation International.