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FST Research: Using Science to tackle the challenge of Sargassum

Every year since 2011, Sargassum seaweed has blanketed the coastlines of Caribbean islands, posing significant challenges for the fishing and tourism sectors. Countries try to deal with the problem by raking the Sargassum and disposing of it in landfills, especially before it decomposes. This is however very expensive, estimated to be about USD $210 million in 2018. Yet, if the current commercial applications of other brown algae is anything to go by, Sargassum seaweed may have the potential to be transformed into other useful things. Some potential uses being explored include for bioremediation, as texturing agents for the food industry, as nutraceuticals, biofuels, fertilisers, animal feed and cosmeceuticals.

In a study published recently in “Science of the Total Environment” researchers from the Department of Chemistry, The UWI (Doleasha Davis, Sanjay Campbell, Melissa Marston and Winklet Gallimore) along with colleagues from the University of York, UK explore the composition of the Sargassum seaweeds found in the Caribbean in an attempt to inform potential valorisation pathways. The researchers undertake a detailed biochemical and elemental analysis of three types of pelagic Sargassum. They highlight similarities and differences amongst the Sargassum seaweed types which they suggest can serve as a guide for potential future usage. In general, the relatively high arsenic content of the pelagic Sargassum limits its potential use for nutritional purposes. Relatively low yields of alginate, compared with brown algae, further limit their use as a viable source of commercial alginates. Alginates have a number of industrial applications including, for example, as an ingredient in various pharmaceutical preparations. Importantly, the study suggests the need for even more research to ensure safe usage of the Sargassum seaweed in any future by-products.

To read the study check out:

Davis D, Simister R, Campbell S, Marston M, Bose S, McQueen-Mason SJ, Gomez LD, Gallimore WA, Tonon T. Biomass composition of the golden tide pelagic seaweeds Sargassum fluitans and S. natans (morphotypes I and VIII) to inform valorisation pathways. The Science of the Total Environment.


To learn more about research done in the Department of Chemistry:

Published on 18 Feb, 2021

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