There is an exciting and promising new industry in its infancy in Southern Belize. Sustainable and ecologically beneficial farms, not on land, but out to sea, are being constructed to cultivate different species of marine algae. The burgeoning business of seaweed farming is one to watch as Belize is taking an ethical and science-based approach to developing its mariculture industry. What was once just an ancillary pursuit for fisherfolk is now becoming its own mainstream enterprise. Here is what you need to know about Belize’s coolest new crop: seaweed.
Seaweed Farming: An Industry Rooted in Sustainability
Today, Placencia has become famous for its influx of sustainable seaweed farming initiatives, which in turn, are creating new carbon sinks and helping to restore the region’s diverse marine life.
-Julia Eskins, BBC
Conservation and preservation of our incredible natural resources have been a top priority for Belize even before we shook the shackles of colonization and became an independent country in 1981. With astounding biodiversity, both terrestrial and aquatic, Belize is a world leader in protecting our ecosystems. We have roughly 95 terrestrial and marine reserves that protect critical habitats for the wealth of wildlife that call the country home. As participants in the groundbreaking “Blue Bonds for Ocean Conservation” project, Belize has restructured a portion of its sovereign debt and secured long-term sustainable financing for the management of our invaluable natural resources.
We’ve committed to designating 30% of our ocean territory as a protected area. We’ve also committed to developing and implementing a new Marine Spatial Plan that will focus on balancing use and impact on our underwater ecosystems. While tighter restrictions to protect against overfishing and damaging the coral reef are implemented, fisherfolk are finding an attractive alternative to their livelihood in the collection and cultivation of seaweed.
Seaweed farming is a sustainable, low-impact form of mariculture that has the potential to transform Belize’s Blue Economy. Currently being treated as a research project and not a full-fledged industry, farms can only operate under a Marine Research Permit. All sites must be approved by the Fisheries Department. The success of past and current projects, however, is paving the way for new legislation and a framework of sustainable standards for mariculture. Belize’s seaweed farms use no chemicals in either the growth or harvesting process. And, the farms actually have a positive impact on water quality while providing shelter for juvenile fish and crustaceans. A true win-win!
Shakes, Haircare, and More
Traditionally, Belizeans have used seaweed as a nutritious and delicious ingredient in smoothies and as a thickening agent in soups or puddings. The primary variety cultivated and used in Belize is Eucheuma isoforme. Dense in nutrients and fairly neutral in taste, this red algae is a versatile superfood.
Calorically low, seaweed is surprisingly packed with protein, soluble fiber, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iodine. Historically, locals have enjoyed seaweed in fortifying shakes made from blending seaweed gel with milk and sugar, nutmeg and vanilla, cinnamon and perhaps peanuts. Today, seaweed is finding its way into a bunch of different products and its potential is only beginning to be realized.
Expanding from use in cuisine to use in cosmetics, seaweed is an excellent ingredient in moisturizers, masks, and exfoliants. With its high mineral content and hydrating properties, seaweed is said to rejuvenate the skin, improve elasticity, and brighten complexion. At this time, the industry is still in its infancy. With only a few small-scale farms established, production is mainly for the local market as opposed to export. So, look for seaweed products in specialty shops and boutiques throughout Belize.
In Placencia, Taste Belize carries convenient quantities of dried seaweed for home use. They also carry a wonderful selection of products made with seaweed. Hydrate and define curly hair with Ikooma, the line of natural hair care products made with high-quality seaweed plucked just a few miles off our coast.
Don’t miss your daily dose of delicious while visiting the peninsula, either. Have a silky-smooth seaweed shake at Brewed Awakenings Coffee Shop. Or, try the “vegan ceviche” at The Shak which uses seaweed as a seafood replacement. Support the surprising new, sustainable industry sweeping the scene- sensational seaweed!