Seaweeds are vital for marine ecosystem functioning. Their habitats form some of the most productive ecosystems on the plants, supporting an immense biodiversity of marine organisms, providing a wide variety of ecosystem services and playing a critical role in mitigating climate change. Yet, wild seaweeds are predicted to lose up to 71% of their current distribution by 2100, either through overharvesting or climate-driven impacts, such as pollution, invasive species or pest and disease outbreaks. Despite their significant ecological and economic importance, wild seaweeds, receive minimal or no protection globally.
Seaweeds also support the livelihoods of over 6M farmers and their families in over 56 countries worldwide. Women are integral to seaweed cultivation in many of these countries. The industry is one of the fastest-growing of all aquaculture sectors and 95% of the cultivation is undertaken in developing countries, particularly in SE Asia. Yet, the industry is dependent on rapidly declining wild stocks and relatively few commercially grown cultivars. Many of these cultivars lack resilience to climate change and are, therefore, highly vulnerable to pest and disease outbreaks, which can devastate entire farms.
The industry and the wild stocks upon which it depends, currently faces significant challenges, both ecological and socio-economic. These were highlighted in a recent United Nations University Policy Brief led by GlobalSeaweed-SUPERSTAR’s Professor Elizabeth Cottier-Cook (read here), which highlights the high vulnerability of wild seaweed stocks amid the increasing demand from wild harvesting and cultivation industries, climate change and the lack of protection measures, legislation and stakeholder awareness.
GlobalSeaweed-SUPERSTAR plans to address the acute problem of lack of protection for wild seaweeds, by developing a global strategy (‘Seaweed Breakthrough’) that protects, conserves and restores wild seaweeds, whilst supporting the livelihoods of seaweed farmers and their local communities.