Expert warns of global warming threat to seaweed industry

Carrageenan (seaweed) is a hydrocolloid used as a thickening, gelling, and stabilizing agent in a variety of industries but usually in food and pharmaceutical products. Photo/Provincial Livelihood Project Management Unit

The warming temperature of sea water is taking a toll on Palawan’s seaweed industry, according to the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist (OPA).

OPA aquaculturist Edgardo Zabala Jr. said two of Palawan’s commercially cultivated seaweed species – cottonii (K. alvarezii) and sacul (K. striatum) – are affected by “ice-ice,” a disease characterized by “bleaching” and “hardening” of seaweed’s tissues.

Zabala noted studies that revealed the seawater warming’s effects on seaweed farms around the world and is linked to the drastic increase in ocean temperature, one of the effects of climate change.

An abnormal condition caused by the warming of the planet, human-induced climate change is due to the emission of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide that goes into the atmosphere.

With the sea surface temperature continuing to rise since the 20th century, Palawan’s seaweed industry, being the country’s top carrageenan-producing province, might suffer significant production loss due to “ice-ice.”

He warned this may affect around 5,000 families spread across the province that are highly dependent on this industry introduced as part of the provincial government’s livelihood program. He added it is also poised to affect the global carrageenan production, considering the Philippines is a top producer, followed by Indonesia and China.

Using new techniques and other innovations in seaweed farming, Zabala is optimistic that the province’s seaweed industry is in a position where it can grow and thrive despite the uncertainties associated with climate change.

Another intervention, he added, is the introduction of new seaweed propagules like F1 generation propagules which are resistant to ice-ice and other diseases, although commanding a high price of P18 per piece.

He said these high breed seaweed propagules are produced from the laboratories of UP Marine Science Institute and South East Asian Development Center.

While seaweeds are sensitive to high ocean temperature, its ability to help in addressing ocean acidification, another climate change impact, in which seawater takes in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, is a bright spot.

“Seaweeds help address the acidification of seawater. Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that mix with the seawater is consumed by the seaweeds for its photosynthesis,” Zabala said.

He added that “may this reason be equated to bigger funds of the provincial government and continuity of the seaweed program.”

“This is a good opportunity, another good reason to plant seaweed. Planters earn money from seaweed farming while at the same time helping the environment,” he said.

Seaweed farmers are undergoing trainings to enhance their skills and knowledge on adapting to the age of climate change.

“Farmers should adapt to the changing environment without compromising the quality of the harvested seaweeds,” he said.

Currently, seaweeds are grown in more than 5,698 hectares across 20 towns, with Agutaya, Cagayancillo, and Balabac occupying the top three spots. The provincial government is gearing towards the potential expansion area of 7,171 hectares.

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