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Department of Ecoscience

Seaweed can help to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals

In an article just published in the prestigious journal Nature Sustainability, an international research team offers new perspectives on the benefits of seaweed. The study underlines that the cultivation and use of seaweed can be a useful tool in the fight against climate change. But that’s not all: seaweed cultivation can also contribute to more sustainable production of bioresources (food, feed and materials), create jobs and even have a positive effect on the marine environment and biodiversity, provided that seaweed farms are set up and managed with care.

Cultivation of seaweed can prove extremely valuable in future initiatives in response to many different challenges (Photo: Michael Bo Rasmussen, Aarhus University)

In a new scientific article, biologists from Aarhus University show that seaweed could be a highly potent solution to a number of problems related to human-induced climate change, and at the same time bring us closer to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

This may sound too good to be true, but it’s not, explains Annette Bruhn, senior researcher at the Department of Ecoscience and one of the Danish authors.

“Sustainable seaweed production can be seen as a technology utilising anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and nutrients to create new raw materials. In this way, seaweed cultivation supports the circular bioeconomy. But if we want to make a real difference, we need to think across the food, environmental and climate sectors, and promote collaboration between research, businesses and public sector authorities."

Six goals within reach - and far more in the long term

The research team behind the article come from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia and the Department of Ecoscience at Aarhus University, where Senior Researcher Annette Bruhn and Professor Dorte Krause-Jensen have contributed extensive experience and research-based knowledge.

In the article, the group concludes that seaweed can help to achieve at least six of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: End hunger around the world, and at the same time promote public health, improve the climate and marine environment, and support responsible production and industrial innovation.

"In addition to providing solutions to the climate crisis and being healthy to eat, seaweed can contribute to a wide range of products, from medicine over plastics to fuel. One of the reasons for the many different uses of seaweed is its wide genetic diversity, with species that are genetically as different as mushrooms and elephants," says Professor Dorte Krause-Jensen.

Seaweed cultivation calls for innovation

Seaweed cultivation is a relatively new industry in the Western world. Therefore, translating the many prospects into reality calls for political commitment and cross-sectoral thinking. Today, seaweed cultivation covers an area of approx. 2,000 km2 globally, whereas classic crops on land cover an area of 60 million km2. The researchers estimate that up to 4 million km2 of marine areas could be used for sustainable seaweed production in the future.

Both researchers emphasise that scaling up seaweed cultivation should be based on knowledge of the carrying capacity of different marine areas and should be

accompanied by development of certified sustainability standards in order to achieve the desired positive effects.

The scientific article: A seaweed aquaculture imperative to meet global sustainability targets, is available on the Nature Sustainability website via this link.

Contact:
Senior researcher Annette Bruhn,
Department of Ecoscience,
Aarhus Universitet,
Mobile: 29638034
Email: anbr@ecos.au.dk

Professor Dorte Krause-Jensen.
Department of Ecoscience,
Aarhus Universitet.
Telephone: 87158799
Email: dkj@ecos.au.dk

Additional information
Research type

Litterature study. Opinion based article

External Partners

Dorte Krause-Jensen: none.

Annette Bruhn: Climate Feed: Ocean Rainforest, DLG Vilofoss, Teknologisk Institut. Tang.nu: Danmarks Tekniske Universitet, Fødevareinstituttet og Institut for Akvatiske Ressourcer, Roskilde Universitet, Kattegatcentret, Fødevarestyrelsen, Bisserup Havbrug, Nordisk Tang Ingen eksterne partnere har bidraget til, set eller kommenteret artiklen.

External funding

Dorte Krause-Jensen: DCE (Danish Center of the Environment) and EU H2020 (FutureMARES, contract #869300)

Annette Bruhn: Tang.nu (VILLUM FONDEN og VELUX FONDEN) og Climate Feed (Innovationsfonden)

Conflict of interest

None

Læs mere: Grundregler for forskningssamarbejde med eksterne parter. 
Link to scientific article https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-021-00773-9