GABRIELLA D'CRUZ 05th Jul 2021
Goa has rich potential for cultivating seaweed along its coast. But it also urgently needs to take care of its coastal water quality and ensure the sector is smartly regulated to avoid excessive exploitation.
Young marine conservationist Gabriella D'Cruz, who has a Master's in biodiversity from Oxford, said this at a seminar on seaweed organised by the Collaborative Learning Cafe-Goa. D'Cruz has also worked to restore reefs in Thailand and has spent 4-5 years on seaweed.
Tamil Nadu's Gulf of Mannar national park has a huge seaweed industry. India seaweed mainly comes from TN and Gujarat, and a little from Maharashtra. But Indian operations of harvesting are "quite unsustainable", she said and added that the sector employs many women often under trying conditions.
"Most of us don't think we've eaten seaweed, yet we consume it almost every day," she explained. "Carrageenan is a seaweed-based gel used in your toothpaste. Next time you're brushing your teeth or eating ice cream, remember you're using or eating a product with seaweed," she added.
It goes into making gels or agar-agar China grass, toothpaste, pastes, ice-cream, certain alcohols and is a vegetarian gelling agent.
Goa has 145 species of seaweed, and India, around 800. Even Baga has a lot of marine life "not just tourists", she said.
She spoke about identifying seaweed, its reproducing, seaweed not needing any land or fertilizer to grow, and it being the "most climate-smart algae". "You need open ocean and sunlight, and we have a lot of that in Goa," she added.
"Besides overseas, India is a growing market -- the beauty industry, organic food, and seaweed as a biofertilizer (as done in Goa too earlier)," she said. Farming seaweed is much like farming land, but with different skills. It can be harvested in six months, and grown on rafts. Goa has potential given its 100 km coastline, D'Cruz noted.
She voiced concern about Goa lacking a scientific and fair policy to ensure that seaweed was not over-exploited. "There is no clarity on the paperwork required, no information on whom to contact, and no understanding on where along the coast you are allowed to grow seaweed," she said.
Integrated farming between mussels (xinnanio) and seaweed could work well in Goa or with fish farms and shrimp farms. "Seafood is so important for our local culture, and for tourism," she noted. Seaweed is "very regenerative, as it acts as a breeding ground for marine life, captures carbon and is very planet-smart," she said.
She advocated working closely with coastal communities, ensuring coastal waters are clean ("Goa actually has very poor water quality, with a lot of e-coli and pollutants coming in"), and bridging the "huge gap in policy".
She said she was "very excited" to try out the field, though it was a "very slow process". Other countries' experiences need to be learned from, over nutritious food products and superfoods.
D'Cruz ended her session with a detailed Q&A on training available, traditional seaweed recipes (Goa lacks these), why the Goan fish-based cuisine matches seaweed, salinity levels needed to grow seaweed, how it gets affected by pollutants, and which seaweed markets pay more.
She modestly shrugged off the title of "Goa's seaweed queen", saying others like SXC-Mapusa Prof Dr Maria Fonseca, who has studied it academically deserve it more.
"We're really lucky to live in Goa and to have the ecosystems and culture that we have," D'Cruz said, but felt there was "not enough conversation happening around getting jobs for young people, especially the types they would like to do."
She noted that there was growing concern over ecological issues such as Mollem, the CZMP (coastal zone management plan), and heritage structures. She noted that the CZMP maps being currently reviewed "make no mention of seaweed or seagrass forests".
D'Cruz herself spent almost a decade working on reef ecosystems, seaweed forests, and with whales and dolphins.