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Seaweeds: Commercial Significance, Seaweed Cultivation: Potential in India

PIB | Prelims + Mains | GS2 > Government Policies & Interventions for Development in Various Sectors

  • Context: PM talked of the recently launched 20K crore Matasya Samapada Yojna & Seaweed Farming.

About Seaweeds

  • Seaweed is the common name for countless species of marine plants & algae that grow in the ocean as well as in rivers, lakes, & other water bodies.
  • They are macrophytic which mean they live in water or moist land surfaces.
  • They generally grow in the shallow waters in the tidal zone.
  • Some seaweeds are microscopic, such as the phytoplankton that live suspended in the water column.
  • Some are enormous, like the giant kelp that grow in abundant “forests” from their roots at the bottom.
  • Seaweeds exhibit highest photosynthesis efficiency due to moist conditions.
  • They contribute to about 50% of all photosynthesis in the world.

Commercial Significance of Seaweeds

  • Seaweed is full of vitamins, minerals, & fibre.
  • Many seaweeds contain anti-inflammatory & anti-microbial agents.
  • They are known to process significant medicinal effects.
  • Certain seaweeds possess powerful cancer-fighting agents.
  • They are effective binding agents (emulsifiers) & are used commercial goods as toothpaste & fruit jelly, & popular softeners (emollients) in organic cosmetics & skin-care products.

Why Seaweed Farming?

  • Provide occupation for the coastal people.
  • Provide continues supply of raw material for seaweed-based industry.
  • Seaweed farming is eco-friendly.
  • It is a major tool to treat coastal pollution in the sea & reduce CO2 in global warming.

Seaweed Cultivation: Potential in India

  • India is among the 12 mega-biodiversity nations in the world.
  • India has an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 2.17 million km2.
  • The Indian coastline, with its different coastal ecosystems, supports luxuriant growth of diverse seaweed populations, having considerable economic importance.
  • About 844 seaweed species are reported from India which has a coastline of 7,500 km.
  • On the West Coast, especially in Gujarat, abundant resources are present on the intertidal & subtidal regions.
  • These resources have great potential for the development of seaweed-based industries in India.
  • Tamil Nadu, Gujarat coasts, Lakshadweep & Andaman & Nicobar Islands are abundant in seaweed.
  • Rich seaweed beds are also found around Mumbai, Ratnagiri, Goa, Karwar, Varkala, Vizhinjam & Pulicat in Tamil Nadu & Chilka in Orissa.
  • Gulf of Mannar is home to more than 240 seaweed varieties out of which at least 185 are edible ones.

Challenges to seaweed harvesting in India

  • Labour shortages during the paddy harvesting & transplanting season.
  • Lack of livelihood security due to low wages & during bad weather.
  • Lack of technology to improve processed products.
  • Lack of information on new & alternative sources of raw material.
  • Risky as they must be collected from depths of more than 25 to 30 feet to collect seaweed.
  • Over-exploitation: While India has a rich source of seaweed varieties, we have focused only on harvesting, not cultivation thus leading to over-exploitation.
  • Lack of awareness about health benefits acts as a hindrance to nutrition transition among the population.
  • Less market demand.
  • Lack of support from the government.
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