Seaweed passion leads to crowd-funding research
Followers of education writing and/or interested in crowdfunding stories may have noticed this one pop up this week: a university academic, Dr Alecia Bellgrove, who is raising money to fund research into edible seaweeds growing along the Victorian southwest coast.
She happens to be one of my Deakin marine biology lecturers (who I plan to interview on this topic as it heads closer to its funding target) and here’s a brief explanation of the research:
At a time when over 60% of adults and 25% of children in Australia are obese or overweight and the world is experiencing an unprecedented increase in atmospheric CO2 and associated climate change, there is compelling evidence from both the health and sustainability literature that seaweeds should become a common part of global diets.
Seaweeds are incredibly nutritious and can significantly reduce obesity and associated illnesses. Regular consumption of seaweeds thus has the potential to enhance the health of societies now, and for generations to come.
Seaweeds are incredibly efficient at photosynthesising and have amongst the highest rates of carbon fixation per unit area of any plants on the globe. The production of seaweeds for food and other commercial applications thus represents part of a viable solution for climate-change mitigation without compromising the availability of agricultural land and water resources into the future.
Southern Australia has the highest diversity of seaweeds globally with approximately 70% endemic to this region. The unique diversity of seaweeds on our shores represents a treasure chest of potential health and pharmaceutical benefits waiting to be opened. “But seaweed? Does it really taste any good?” I hear you ask. Well, millions of people in Asia think so; but this is a great question, and really important to assess when we are talking about the potential for new food products from the Australian marine flora.
With the $5250 requested we will be able to assess the taste preference of local (Victorian) seaweeds compared with seaweed from other parts of the world. We will do this by recruiting tasters and then cooking up a storm of local and imported seaweed delights to tempt their taste-buds. Funds will be used to lease a commercial kitchen, purchase ingredients and pay a research assistant to assist with the data collation.
There are also other important aspects to consider such as the nutritional value of the seaweeds and ecological sustainability of harvesting.
With additional funding beyond that requested we can also
1) examine the nutritional quality of local seaweeds, with comparisons to commercially available species and
2) estimate the local biomass of high-value, edible seaweeds and prospects for sustainable harvesting of wild populations.