Seaweeds are marine algae generally classified as plants. But they do not have roots, stem and leaves like normal plants. They are a very important part of the marine ecosystem acting as not only the primary food source but also as habitat for a whole range of marine organisms. Seaweeds are found in the oceans and seas of the world and none are known to be poisonous.
Seaweeds have become a very versatile product widely used as food for direct human consumption since ancient times. The Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos and Hawaiians consider seaweeds as a food of great delicacy and have been using it in their diets for centuries.
Green seaweeds like Ulva, Caulerpa and Codium are often eaten as fresh salads or cooked as vegetables with rice. Porphyra, Laminaria and Undaria are used as ingredients in fish curry, meat dishes and soups.
Seaweeds have plenty of essential nutrients, especially trace elements and several other bioactive substances. The protein in seaweed is of very high quality and has all the essential and non-essential amino acids. The lipids, present in very small amounts, are unsaturated and thus can provide protection against cardiovascular pathologies. Seaweed has abundant vitamins, including beta-carotene, which is the precursor of vitamin A; the vitamins of the B group, including B12; vitamin C; D; E and K. The very high levels of enzyme activity in seaweeds help assimilation of all these vital elements. This is why seaweeds are considered the super food supplement of the 21st century. Even diabetic patients can consume seaweed.
Seaweeds are valuable as raw materials for bio-chemicals, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. It has been applied and recognised widely as alternative medicine in Japan, China, Thailand and Korea for decades.
Because of these reasons, seaweed farming has been developed in countries like Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Some 221 species of commercially important seaweeds are found in South-east Asia. According to FAO, in 2003, the estimated amount of global seaweed production was six million tons per annum, the value of which was around US $ 5.0 billion. The value has increased more than three times till now! East and South-east Asian countries contribute almost 99 per cent of cultured production, with half of the production (three million tonnes) supplied by China.
Bangladesh has a coastal zone of 480 kilometres with a huge population living along this coast. This coastal area with sandy and muddy beaches, estuaries and mangrove swamps provide substrate and habitats for seaweed cultivation. But the sector is still at a budding stage. It is not widespread due to socio-economic and technological constraints along with lack of awareness.
The government can consider the potential of production and export of seaweeds in and from the country. If it finds it feasible, a mass awareness campaign can be implemented to make seaweed production popular among the coastal communities.
Noakhali Science and Technology University
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