Sargassum Seaweed

Photo and copyright: Collecte Localisation Satellites | https://www.cls.fr/en/monitoring-sargassum-europe-moves-into-operational-mode/

Description and Characteristics

Sargassum is a kind of brown seaweed characterized by having brown leaves (blade), stem (stipe/axis), floats (air bladders), and holdfast. It has numerous stems-like structures called stipe/axis but it lacks true roots and a vascular system. It usually floats in island-like masses because of the round, berry-like air bladders called “pneumatocysts” which are filled mostly with oxygen, adding buoyancy to the plant structure allowing it to float on the surface. Though their ancestors were attached to the substrate by its root-like structure called “holdfast”, they spend their entire life free-floating with nothing keeping them in one place. Sargassum acts as a floating habitat for various marine life like fish, shrimps, crabs, and turtles providing food, refuge, breeding and nursery ground.

Sargassum’s ability to reproduce sexually becomes unsuccessful once it breaks away from the seafloor, allowing it to reproduce only by fragmenting, which is similar to rooting a plant from a cutting. They divide, grow, and form large floating rafts that usually go with the current and reach the beach. Once it loses its buoyancy while on the sea, it sinks to the seafloor and decomposes, providing energy in the form of carbon to fishes and invertebrates in the deep sea. Currently, there are 300 known species of Sargassum and only a few studies regarding its habitat because of its difficulty to sample. 

**Additional information:

Seaweeds or macroalgae are generally grouped into three taxa: green, brown, and red algae.

Parts of Sargassum Seaweed. Photo and copyright: TE ARA | https://teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/4583/the-different-parts-of-seaweed

Location and Sources

Sargassum is abundant in the ocean and is widely distributed throughout the temperate and tropical regions of the world. Study also showed that it is continuing to explode in size and can now be located in areas it hadn’t reached before. The team from University of South Florida – College of Marine Science who has studied Sargassum using satellites said that based on their data from years 2000-2018, Sargassum was mainly found floating in large volume around the Gulf of Mexico and Sargasso Sea before 2011, but in the following years, the seaweed growth started to explode in areas it hadn’t, like the central Atlantic Ocean. Sargassum are naturally washed ashore as carried by the wind, waves, and current. Large volumes of washed Sargassum are found in the beaches of the Bahamas, Caribbean islands, Florida, and Mexico which has become problematic as they occupy most areas and not just covering the aesthetic of the beach but also emitting foul scent and adding material that the residents of the area need to get rid of.

Large volume of Sargassum seaweeds that’s washed off to the shore.  Photo and copyright: SARGANICO via Instagram | https://www.instagram.com/sarganico_/?utm_source=ig_embed

In the Philippines, the seaweed industry is mainly developed in the Mindanao region but the brown seaweed Sargassum is a resource that can be found in tropical waters of almost, if not all islands of the country. Based on the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), there are 28 species of Sargassum that have been verified present in the country. They can be seen floating on the ocean or washed on the seashore depending on the season and environmental condition of the area.

Application and Product Output

Contrary to most assumptions that Sargassum are just unworkable and impractical ocean wash offs, this brown algae also has its list of importance and applications. Aside from its ecological significance as a habitat for many marine organisms, Sargassum are also collected for animals on land to be used as animal feed supplement. Furthermore, it is also converted into compost, crop protection, and mushroom growth substrate.

Since large masses of Sargassum are washed off to the shore, researchers and entrepreneurs thought of ways on how to utilize them practically and efficiently. Through time, different usage of Sargassum have been developed and one of which is to create different kinds of products and innovations for commercial purposes. SARGANICO, a company in Mexico which was established last March 2019, specializes in the development of various paper and cardboard products made out of Sargassum. The company produces eco-friendly products such as notebooks, menu holders, folders, coasters, business cards, boxes, and many more. Other companies and private entities that develop sargassum-based paper products include Sargazbox, Salgax, Golden Tide project, Sargasse Project, Sargazbox, and The Marine Box. One notable product output are coffins using cardboard made with sargassum which was developed by The Marine Box. Furthermore, Sargassum is also used as fertilizer and has been produced by different companies such as Salgax

SARGANICO manufactures sargassum-based products including notebooks, papers, and cardboards that can also be used for packaging and crafts.  Photo and copyright: SARGANICO via Instagram | https://www.instagram.com/sarganico_/?utm_source=ig_embed

One of the most remarkable innovations of seaweed is the development of shoes with soles made out of Sargassum. Jorge Castro Ramos of Guanajuato founded Renovare, the company who developed eco-shoes made with recycled plastic and sargassum. The fabric of the shoe is made out of PET bottles while the sole is made out of sargassum. Aside from being an environmentally-friendly product, the shoes are also water-resistant with an estimated lifespan of up to two years, after which the shoes can be returned to Renovare for recycling. And as the demand for natural cosmetics grows, Sargassum is now also used in cosmetics and skin care products. OASIS Laboratory and its flagship brand OCEAN by OASIS which was established last 2018 is said to be the first in the world to use sargassum in this manner. Armed with their love for the ocean and science & technology, they developed four novel bath bars which are made out of sargassum and other natural ingredients. On the other hand, Algopack is a French startup company that headed the development of a new generation of bioplastics by manufacturing bio-based materials made from brown algae such as Sargassum. Currently, they focus on office products but they also want to target all the major consumers of plastics across all sectors — agro-food, cosmetics, packaging, glasses, and signal panels to name a few.

RENOVARE manufactures eco-shoes with soles made from recycled Sargassum seaweed. Photo and copyright: am Eidicion Nacional | https://www.am.com.mx/noticias/Eco-zapatos-Empresa-guanajuatense-fabrica-calzado-con-sargazo-20190629-0039.html
Photo and copyright: Oasis Laboratory via Instagram |
https://www.instagram.com/oasislaboratory/?hl=en

In 2018, Blue Green México company founder Omar Sánchez Vázquez astonished the world when he began constructing homes out of bricks that are made out of the unwanted sargassum which are mostly stranded in the beaches of their state. Probably one of the best uses of Sargassum as this reduces the total cost of building homes by up to 50% making houses more accessible and affordable especially for people with no proper shelter and low income. The house was built by mixing Sargassum with adobe making it earthquake and hurricane-resistant. The first two-bedroom house that Sánchez built was done in just 15 days. It was also reported that Sanchez plans to build a hotel in the municipality of Tulum in Mexico with the same materials, though the exact location and date are not yet disclosed.

Sargassum house in Quintana Roo. Photo and copyright: Mexico News Daily | https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/beaches-sargassum-free-by-year-end/

Efforts to find a use for the washed off Sargassum have led to different product development and innovations. To present, various studies and research are still being done to produce not just eco-friendly but also safe, affordable, and capable product outputs. And so far, areas that are highly affected by unwanted Sargassum influx are the first to develop innovations and applications of it.

Production and Sustainable Consumption 

In most cases at present time, there’s no need for humans to upturn the production of the raw material Sargassum because it naturally comes to the beaches whether they like it or not. With its undeniable and uninvited influx that usually comes in large volumes, consumption of Sargassum for the manufacture of different commercial products is a very sustainable and helpful way of getting rid of it. Unlike most of the productions and manufactures wherein the harvesting of raw materials becomes an environmental issue in the long run, the manufacture of sargassum products is providing a solution to an already existing and damaging environmental problem in areas where it has a destructive influx. In fact, in her paper entitled Sargassum Uses Guide: A resource for Caribbean researchers, entrepreneurs and policy makers, Anne Desrochers presented the findings, issues and concerns brought about by the Sargassum influx in the Caribbean and the various work around that can be done and develop out of it. 

Diagram showing crude Sargassum Biomass Index to illustrate the relative product yields that could potentially be produced from one metric tonne (1000 kg) of fresh sargassum. Photo and copyright: Anne Desrochers | Sargassum Uses Guide: A resource for Caribbean researchers, entrepreneurs and policy makers | https://www.cavehill.uwi.edu/cermes/projects/sargassum/docs/desrochers_et_al_2020_sargassum_uses_guide_advance.aspx

These developments and product outputs that were made possible through scientific and technological innovation mostly in areas that are highly affected by  large masses of Sargassum influx, are not just eco-friendly but also sustainable. In the case of Renovare’s shoes made out of PET bottles and sargassum, its production not only prevents the plastic bottles from being a possible ocean-pollutant but it also helps in  cleaning up the Mexican coast from thousands of meters of sargassum. As for the house bricks, the construction of real estate is very acceptable and profitable for the region aside from addressing one of their pressing environmental issues. In the Philippines, though the influx is not as big as that of other countries, Sargassum wash offs is also a pressing issue in some areas as it becomes unpleasant to the eyes and it releases a foul odor. In the Mindanao region, locals are farming other seaweeds for its application in the culinary industry such as production of agar-agar. Knowing the fact that Sargassum is an available resource in the Philippines and with the developments and innovations from other countries, maybe this can provide our locals with ideas and references on how to deal with Sargassum especially that it is a very promising resource for which most products are scalable, with some even up to the global market. 

Supported by the Connections Through Culture programme of the British Council, our Materials Library Expansion Project is the first collaboration between UNESCO Creative Cities of Design #Cebu and #Dundee#MATIC #CreativeDundee #BritishCouncilPh #BritishCouncilCTC

Works Cited

“42: Seaweed to shoes”. 366 Solutions, Oct. 2020, https://366solutions.com/12-/10-/2020/42-seaweed-to-shoes/. Accessed 16 March 2021.

“As authorities prepare for sargassum, entrepreneur prepares to build hotel”. Mexico News Daily, Feb. 2019, https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/authorities-prepare-for-sargassum/. Accessed 16 March 2021.

“As authorities prepare for sargassum, entrepreneur prepares to build hotel”. Mexico News Daily, Feb. 2019, https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/authorities-prepare-for-sargassum/. Accessed 16 March 2021.

“Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) No. 250-2 Series of 2018”. Republic of the Philippines, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, https://www.bfar.da.gov.ph/files/img/photos/FAO250-2.pdf. Accessed 15 March 2021.

“Fisheries Community Roadmap: Seaweed”. Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, https://www.bfar.da.gov.ph/files/img/photos/roadmapseaweeds_wdcorrction2008.pdf. Accessed 16 March 2021.

“Practical and creative uses of sargassum seaweed in the Caribbean”. VILLA DEL PALMAR website, https://www.villapalmarcancun.com/blog/destination/practical-and-creative-uses-of-sargassum-seaweed-in-the-caribbean. Accessed 16 March 2021.

“The Secret Life of Sargassum”. Blue Tube, https://www.bluetubebeach.org/blog/the-secret-life-of-sargassum/. Accessed 15 March 2021.

“These eco-shoes are made with sargassum seaweed and plastic bottles”. Mexico News Daily, Mar. 2019, https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/eco-shoes-are-made-with-sargassum-seaweed/. Accessed 16 March 2021.

“What is Sargassum?”. Ocean Exploration and Research, https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/sargassum.html. Accessed 15 March 2021.

Aguirre, Eduardo et. al. “Footwear Company Dedicated to the Elaboration of Ecological Shoes”. Aim2Flourish, https://aim2flourish.com/innovations/footwear-company-dedicated-to-the-elaboration-of-ecological-shoes. Accessed 16 March 2021.

Burton, Rebecca. “Sargassum: Seaweed or Brown Algae”. Florida Museum, https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/earth-systems/blog/sargassum-seaweed-or-brown-algae/. Accessed 15 March 2021.

Desrochers, Anne et. al. “Sargassum Uses Guide: A resource for Caribbean researchers, entrepreneurs and policy makers”. Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies, Oct. 2020, https://www.cavehill.uwi.edu/cermes/projects/sargassum/docs/desrochers_et_al_2020_sargassum_uses_guide_advance.aspx. Accessed 16 March 2021.

Foie, Nicolas Sainte. “Meet the French Seaweed Startup rethinking Bioplastics”. LABIOTECH.eu, Dec. 2016, https://www.labiotech.eu/interview/algopack-seaweed-algae-bioplastic/. Accessed 16 March 2021.

Phillips, Laura. “Bajan chemists tap into beauty industry with sargassum skincare line”. Loop Jamaica, Jul. 2020, https://www.loopjamaica.com/content/bajan-chemists-tap-beauty-industry-sargassum-skincare-line-2. Accessed 16 March 2021.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: