Australian seaweed’s untapped potential

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NEXT time you get caught up in a mass of seaweed at your local beach these summer holidays, take some comfort in the fact you might be swimming through a potential export earner for the Australian agriculture industry.

NEXT time you get caught up in a mass of seaweed at your local beach these summer holidays, take some comfort in the fact you might be swimming through a potential export earner for the Australian agriculture industry.

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A new report published today by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) highlights a number of local seaweed species that could be commercialised and marketed to overseas and domestic buyers.

Australia’s local seaweed industry represents only a fraction of the $US6billion global seaweed industry.

Around 15 million tonnes of cultivated wet seaweed are used each year by international seaweed manufacturers for products such as nutraceuticals and traditional Asian foods.

‘Seaweed cultivation pilot trials’ concludes there is untapped potential in smaller, high product value markets for nutritional and health applications that Australian seaweed producers could potentially take advantage of.

“Australia has a number of advantages when it comes to the development of a local seaweed industry,” RIRDC Managing Director, Craig Burns said.

“For example, our long and unpolluted coastline is very well suited to the production of high quality health and food products.

“Australia has the capacity and potential to undertake cutting-edge screening and development of healthy seaweed products, in particular, products with nutraceutical and anti-cancer applications.

“And, a potential Australian seaweed industry could be integrated into broader aquaculture industry markets such as abalone feed, or as an ingredient in nutritionally enhanced fish foods.

“Such integration has been shown overseas to be both technically and economically feasible, and sensible from an environmental perspective.

“The development of seaweed cultivation technology in coastal areas could also pave the way for new crops in large areas of saline affected agricultural land.

“Coastal communities in particular could benefit from the development of a local seaweed industry, particularly areas which have experienced reduced productivity in their fishing industries.”

Mr Burns said that whilst the report paints a positive picture for an Australian seaweed industry, it also identifies a number of challenges facing commercial production of seaweed.

For example, technology in Australia is still in its infancy and requires significant investment to take it to the next stage.

The report’s authors were Dr Pia Winberg, Dr Danielle Skropeta and Alex Ullrich.

Seaweed cultivation pilot trials is available on the RIRDC website www.rirdc.gov.au .

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