Algae-Based Food Goes Global: Scaling Up Marine Aquaculture

Algae-Based Food

Microalgae food supplement cultivation facility along the Kona Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island. Image provided by Cyanotech

While terrestrial agriculture has long provided the backbone of the world’s food production system, a new opinion article makes the case for increased investment in algae-based food and aquaculture systems as a means of meeting nutritional needs while reducing the ecological footprint of food production.

Authored by Charles H. Greene at University of Washington, Friday Harbor, Washington, and Celina M. Scott-Buechler at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, the article was published in the open-access journal PLOS Biology on October 17.

Detrimental impacts on climate, land use, freshwater resources, and biodiversity would result from increasing agriculture and fisheries production to meet consumer demand. In their article, the authors argue for shifting the focus of marine aquaculture down the food chain to algae. This could potentially supply the growing demand for nutritious food in addition to reducing the current food system’s ecological footprint.

Microalgae could provide high amounts of nutritional protein and essential amino acids, in addition to other micronutrients, such as vitamins and antioxidants. Moreover, a marine microalgae-based aquaculture industry would not require arable land and freshwater or pollute freshwater and marine ecosystems through fertilizer runoff. The article, however, does not address the potential for a new algae-based aquaculture industry to be culturally responsive, how large-scale microalgae production would affect local foodways, or how algae tastes.

According to the authors, “The financial headwinds faced by a new marine microalgae-based aquaculture industry will be stiff because it must challenge incumbent industries for market share before its technologies are completely mature and it can achieve the full benefits of scale.

“Financial investments and market incentives provided by state and federal governments can help reduce this green premium until the playing field is level. The future role of algae-based solutions in achieving global food security and environmental sustainability will depend on the actions taken by governments today.”

“Agriculture provides the backbone of today’s global food production system,” says Greene, “however its potential to meet the world’s nutritional demands by 2050 is limited. Marine microalgae can help fill the projected nutritional gap while simultaneously improving overall environmental sustainability and ocean health.”

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