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Emerald hope (I/II): How seaweed can transform ASEAN's coastlines and combat climate change

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By Alex Hong

· 12 min read

I. Introduction

The cradle of life on Earth, our seas, are threatened by a myriad of interrelated issues. Our marine ecosystems are severely impacted by plastic pollution, with whirling gyres of microplastics building up in the most distant areas of the ocean. Large-scale, oxygen-free aquatic dead zones are produced when toxic algal blooms are fuelled by an excess of nutrients from agricultural runoff. In the meantime, the threat of climate change is ever-present, as rising sea levels endanger coastal communities and ocean acidification puts the basic basis of marine food webs in jeopardy.

Although the vastness of our oceans may seem unbeatable, the picture painted by these growing difficulties is unsettling. The repercussions for humans are serious since the delicate balance of marine ecosystems is on the verge of collapse. In addition to supplying most of the oxygen we breathe, healthy seas are also an important source of food, control our climate, and supply necessary materials. Their decrease is a serious threat to both our own health and the wellbeing of our world.

A ray of optimism does, however, surface amid this tsunami of environmental problems. A robust and adaptable solution, seaweed farming has the potential to both promote a thriving blue economy and lessen the negative consequences of pollution and climate change. Through the utilisation of this uncommon marine plant's amazing qualities, this "emerald hope" has the potential to drastically alter the coastlines of ASEAN.

In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the multifaceted benefits of seaweed cultivation. We will explore its remarkable ability to combat pollution, sequester carbon, and enhance food security. We will showcase successful projects across ASEAN that demonstrate the transformative power of seaweed in action. Finally, we will discuss how innovative technologies can be harnessed to optimize seaweed cultivation practices and unlock its full potential.

By embracing this emerald hope, ASEAN nations can embark on a transformative journey towards a more sustainable future. Let us unlock the power of seaweed and chart a course towards healthier oceans, a more stable climate, and a thriving blue economy for generations to come.

II. ASEAN: A seaweed powerhouse

ASEAN is closely related to the narrative of seaweed cultivation and its capacity to change the environment. This area is the world's top producer of seaweed known as carrageenan, which is used as an essential component in many different industries. Leading producers of this product are Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia, with astonishing numbers:

  • Indonesia: the greatest producer of carrageenan seaweed in the world, growing more than 2 million tonnes of the algae yearly on more than 600,000 hectares.

  • Philippines: The second-largest producer, with more than 200,000 hectares dedicated to the yearly cultivation of over 1 million tonnes of carrageenan seaweed.

  • Vietnam: A prominent player with expanding acreage, yearly production of carrageenan seaweed is estimated at 500,000 tonnes across more than 100,000 hectares.

These numbers demonstrate the established seaweed cultivation capabilities of ASEAN, establishing the region as a leader in using the potential of this marine resource.

II. The power of blue carbon

Beyond its economic importance, the concept of "blue carbon" made possible by seaweed cultivation is extremely important in the fight against climate change. The term "blue carbon" describes the carbon that is sequestered and retained by marine and coastal ecosystems, such as seagrass beds and mangroves. Large tracts of these ecosystems may be found throughout ASEAN, and they are thought to store millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide yearly:

  • Mangroves: Research indicates that the mangrove ecosystems in ASEAN absorb a remarkable 17.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

  • Seaweed: Seaweed has the capacity to trap up to 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide per acre yearly, though estimates vary based on species and production methods. The potential for total carbon sequestration is substantial due to the vast regions of seaweed production in ASEAN.

The Paris Agreement's aggressive climate change targets can be effectively pursued by ASEAN with the help of this blue carbon storage capability. ASEAN countries have the potential to make a substantial contribution to worldwide efforts to sequester carbon dioxide by endorsing sustainable methods of cultivating seaweed and safeguarding the world's mangrove habitats. In a future when carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are reduced and our world is protected for future generations, picture the beaches of ASEAN acting as a net sink for carbon dioxide.

Beyond only storing carbon, blue carbon has other uses. It provides access to cutting-edge funding options like blue carbon credits. By providing ASEAN countries with a new source of funding for environmentally friendly coastal management techniques, these credits encourage the preservation and restoration of blue carbon ecosystems. By concentrating on blue carbon, ASEAN can both mitigate the effects of climate change and open up new economic prospects for its coastal populations.

Blue carbon credits: A catalyst for change

Seaweed farming has transformational potential that goes beyond its environmental advantages. Blue carbon credits are the key that opens up a new economic horizon. By preserving and restoring blue carbon habitats like mangroves and seagrass meadows, these credits provide as a tradable measure of confirmed carbon dioxide removal or storage. Blue carbon credits are a strong economic motivator for ASEAN countries, encouraging sustainable behaviours and opening up new sources of income.

Incentivizing sustainability: The power of blue carbon credits

A strong market-based mechanism to encourage ethical environmental behaviour can be established by implementing blue carbon credit schemes. They can encourage sustainable seaweed farming in the following ways:

  • Quantifiable carbon sequestration: To calculate how much carbon dioxide seaweed farms sequester, cultivation methods may be closely observed and confirmed. The quantitative data serves as the foundation for the issuance of blue carbon credits.

  • Rewarding sustainable management: Seaweed farmers that implement sustainable practices, like minimising nutrient runoff from farms and utilising eco-friendly materials for farm structures, can be recognised and rewarded through the creation of blue carbon credit systems. This encourages ethical farming methods that optimise the advantages to the environment.

  • Pilot projects leading the way: The potential of blue carbon credits is being investigated by several fascinating pilot projects in ASEAN. One example of a leading initiative in the creation of a blue carbon credit system that is tailored to seaweed farming is the Nusantara Carbon Project in Indonesia. The purpose of this initiative is to show that seaweed farming is a feasible source of blue carbon credits and to open the door for greater regional adoption.

Unlocking economic benefits for ASEAN

Several economic advantages can be realised in ASEAN through the use of blue carbon credit systems:

  • Job creation: It is predicted that the creation and administration of blue carbon initiatives, such as the cultivation of seaweed for carbon sequestration, will significantly increase the number of jobs available in coastal towns. According to studies, each hectare of restored or sustainably managed blue carbon ecosystem can support up to 10 jobs thanks to blue carbon programmes. This implies that thousands of new jobs might be created throughout ASEAN, especially in rural coastal areas.

  • Revenue generation: ASEAN countries can create new sources of income by offering verified blue carbon credits to businesses looking to reduce their carbon footprint. These grants can be used to support sustainable development and the empowerment of local communities by funding coastal conservation initiatives. By 2030, the global market for blue carbon credits is expected to grow to a value of USD 50 billion, with ASEAN predicted to play a significant role.

  • Attracting sustainable investments: Private businesses and foreign organisations looking to aid in the mitigation of climate change may make large investments in blue carbon credits. The growth of ethical seaweed farming methods throughout ASEAN can be helped by this inflow of sustainable capital.

A sustainable future beckons

The advent of blue carbon credits offers ASEAN a special chance to move towards a more sustainable future. Through the utilisation of its blue carbon ecosystems, which include seaweed farms, ASEAN countries may generate new economic opportunities for their coastal populations and make a significant contribution to global decarbonisation efforts. Imagine a time when the coasts of ASEAN become a bustling centre for projects involving blue carbon, bringing in money, bringing in jobs, and building a strong blue economy. This future is achievable, but it will take cooperation from local communities, corporations, NGOs, and governments. 

Through the adoption of ethical methods, innovation, and the leverage of blue carbon credits, ASEAN has the potential to harness the potential of seaweed production and steer towards a more affluent and healthy future for the globe.

IV. Island innovation: Learning from ASEAN's pioneering projects

Seaweed farming has real promise, not just theoretical. A flurry of creative initiatives is showing how this "emerald hope" can change lives throughout ASEAN. Other coastal countries, especially Small Island Developing States (SIDS), can learn a lot from these projects as they address issues like resource scarcity and climate change.

Singapore's Ocean Purpose Project: A beacon of innovation

One notable example for SIDS is the Ocean Purpose Project (OPP) in Singapore. OPP, which was founded in the centre of Pasir Ris (North East of Singapore), uses offshore seaweed farms to solve a variety of environmental and financial issues. Their creative method demonstrates the adaptability of seaweed farming:

  • Improving water quality: The seaweed farms owned by OPP serve as organic biofilters, drawing impurities and excess nutrients from coastal waters. According to OPP's studies, the water clarity around their farms has improved by 30%, improving the marine life's habitat.

  • Carbon sequestration: Through the cultivation of seaweed, OPP hopes to sequester 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide per acre yearly. This helps to promote a more sustainable future and mitigate the effects of climate change.

  • Generating economic opportunities: By generating jobs in seaweed cultivation and other processing industries, OPP strengthens the local economy. In order to support economic diversification and provide revenue for coastal communities, their goal is to create 100 tonnes of seaweed biomass a year.

A Tapestry of Innovation Across ASEAN

Beyond Singapore, ASEAN is home to other prosperous seaweed farming projects.

  • Indonesia: Community-based seaweed farming initiatives in Nusa Tenggara tackle issues of food insecurity. By giving women a reliable source of wholesome food, these initiatives empower women and, according to estimates, may reduce childhood stunting rates in participating areas by 20%.

  • Philippines: The Philippines is a prime example of seaweed's potential for producing biofuel. Projects investigate the process of turning biomass from seaweed into bioethanol, which provides a sustainable and renewable alternative energy source.

  • Vietnam: Large-scale seaweed farms in Vietnam provide carrageenan, a vital component used in many different industries. These farms show that growing seaweed is a profitable endeavour and emphasise the significance of adopting ethical methods to reduce their negative effects on the environment.

The variety of techniques used throughout ASEAN highlights how adaptable seaweed farming is to various local conditions. These innovative projects demonstrate the transforming power of seaweed by boosting food security, creating jobs, and improving water quality and carbon sequestration. Through assimilation of these achievements and promotion of regional cooperation, ASEAN may establish itself as a worldwide frontrunner in sustainable seaweed production and its many advantages.

V. The science behind seaweed's superhero status

Growing seaweed has advantages beyond the economy and society. It has a strong scientific base and many environmental benefits that help create cleaner oceans and a more sustainable future. Let's examine the research in more detail to see why seaweed is considered a superhero:

1. Combating pollution: A biofilter for cleaner waters

Seaweed efficiently removes excess nutrients from coastal waters, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, by acting as a natural biofilter. Some seaweed species may be able to absorb nitrogen annually up to five times their weight, according to studies. The process of absorbing nutrients is essential in the fight against harmful algal blooms (HABs). Seaweed farming helps stop these oxygen-depleting events from spreading by eliminating excess nutrients; in certain places, this can reduce red tide occurrences by up to 30%.

2. Improving water quality: Crystal clear and healthy oceans

Seaweed filtering enhances the general quality of water while simultaneously reducing nutrient contamination. Water clarity increases as a result of seaweed's ability to remove suspended particles from the water. Better light penetration is the result, and healthier marine environments and photosynthetic species reap the benefits. Seaweed also has the ability to absorb organic toxins and heavy metals, which helps to keep coastal waters cleaner.

3. Sequestering carbon dioxide: Mitigating climate change

Seaweed stores carbon dioxide in its biomass by absorbing it from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Certain seaweed species are thought to be able to absorb up to 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide per acre every year. The ASEAN countries may make a substantial contribution to lowering their carbon footprint and combating climate change by encouraging large-scale seaweed farming.

4. A Natural fertilizer: Nourishing the marine ecosystem

As seaweed breaks down, vital nutrients are released back into the water column. This supports a healthy ecology and feeds marine life by acting as a natural fertiliser. The long-term viability of seaweed farms is guaranteed by this nutrient cycling, which also improves the general health of coastal waters.

5. Providing animal feed: A sustainable and nutritious option

For aquaculture, seaweed provides a wholesome and sustainable source of feed. It is a great supplement to diets that include fish and prawns because of its high protein content and availability of vital vitamins and minerals. This can encourage a more sustainable aquaculture sector by lowering reliance on traditional fishmeal, which fuels overfishing. It can also be used (after the removal of salt content) as feed for cows to reduce their organic methane emissions. 

6. Generating oxygen: Breathing life into our oceans

Seaweed uses photosynthesis to create oxygen, much like all other plants. This creation of oxygen supports marine life and enhances the general health of the ecosystem, making the marine environment healthier.

7. Enhancing food security: A nutrient powerhouse

A great source of protein, vitamins, and minerals is seaweed. Iodine, vitamin A, vitamin C, and B vitamins are very abundant in it. Because of this, it is an essential food supply for coastal communities, particularly for the most at-risk groups of people—women and children. Consuming seaweed has been linked in studies to decreased rates of childhood stunting and enhanced cognitive performance.


The scientific data is in: growing seaweed provides a diverse range of solutions to numerous environmental problems. Through the utilisation of its exceptional biofiltration qualities, capacity to sequester carbon, and capacity to improve food security, ASEAN countries can take a revolutionary step in the direction of a healthier planet. We shall look at how state-of-the-art technology can be used to maximise seaweed farming methods in the following part and realise the full potential of this "emerald hope."

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Alex Hong is a Director at AEIR (Singapore), part of Sync Neural Genesis AG, spearheading innovations in wireless energy. He serves as the Ambassador of Southeast Asia for the Global Blockchain Business Council and chairs blockchain initiatives at the Global Sustainability Foundation Network. Appointed as LinkedIn’s Top Voices (Green) since 2022, Alex is a leading ESG thought leader. Additionally, he is the Chief Sustainability Coordinator at YNBC, advisory board member for the Green Computing Foundation and the European Carbon Offset Tokenization Association (ECOTA) Expert.


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