Seaweed farmer working in remote areas. (Photo: BFAR)
Valuable seaweed under threat from habitat loss
Tuesday, May 17, 2011, 02:10 (GMT + 9)
The rare seaweed porphyra may soon vanish from the Northern Cagayan town of Santa Praxedes in the Philippines. Once plentiful in the area, its numbers have been receding as a result of destructive harvesting techniques.
Dr Evelyn Ame of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and her team of researchers explained that locals in Santa Praxedes collect porphyra with knives and other sharp objects to scrape thalli from the seaweed. This method, Ame warned, will result in habitat loss.
“If the practice continues, it may take years before the habitat will be restored,” she said.
Although the town’s council members have been considering a ban on the use of sharp objects when gathering gamet, as the seaweed is locally known, it would be difficult to monitor the activities of those individuals because fishers work in remote areas, commented Mildred Aguinaldo, private secretary of Mayor Esterlina Aguinaldo.
Ame said people in the northern province of Cagayanos would be able to profit from the multimillion dollar porphyra industry if stakeholders worked together and helped the government explore the sector’s potential abroad.
Arguably the most valuable seaweed of all lucrative species found in the country apart from Eucheuma, porphyra turns into reddish black in color once dried, which may have prompted its moniker as the Black Gold of the sea. At least three species flourish in the coasts of Cagayan and Ilocos.
It is estimated that porphyra production worldwide hits 1,500 tonnes per year, most of which is farmed in Japan.
But in the Philippines, the porphyra sector remains severely underdeveloped, as the seaweed is mainly gathered from the wild and dried in the sun. Still, it provides a livelihood to fishers in the Ilocanos of Santa Praxedes, Santa Ana and Calayan towns in Cagayan and Pagudpud in the Ilocos province during the monsoon season.
“Fishing is impossible and looking for an alternative source of income is rather nil during the season,” Ame clarified.
A key problem is that, according to the findings of Ame’s team of researchers, the increased pressure on porphyra stocks from gathering activities and other natural and man-made threats warrants effective management methods to ensure a sustainable and continuous supply.
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By Natalia Real