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Sep 4, 2023

Cultivating Hope: Belize’s Seaweed Farming Industry Takes Root

A four-day training funded by The Nature Conservancy and facilitated by the Belize Women Seaweed Farmers Association ended on Friday. The training focused on seaweed farming, and more than a dozen participants learned how to cultivate seaweed. Seaweed offers more than meets the eye. It promises alternative livelihoods for fishermen. It’s a great value-added component. Beyond its economic value, seaweed plays a crucial role in combating ocean acidification and climate change by acting as a carbon sink and safeguarding coastlines.

Hipolito Novelo reports.


Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

Located off the coast of Placencia, near Ray Caye, is a seaweed farm, and hard at work are seaweed farmers. About fourteen of them split into two groups. One dives into the sea to clean the farm, while the other begins to prepare the seaweed to be planted. They tie branches of seaweed to a fifty-foot-long rope.  It looks easy, but there is a technique to it. It’s a lot of hard work, and it’s time-consuming. And it has to be done right.


Melissa Cabral

Melissa Cabral, Director, B.W.S.F.A.

“It is a lot of work. I mean, if you love the ocean and you love what you do, you don’t look at it like a lot of work. But it is for people who probably do not have the experience.”


And with the training funded by The Nature Conservancy and in collaboration with the Belize Women Seaweed Farmers Association, the participants of this seaweed farming training now have much more experience.


Melissa Cabral

“They were taught how to set up a farm, and not just how to set up a farm, but site selection, which is very important. In doing that, you have to know exactly the location where you are going to set your farm up as in away from corals, not over too much sea grass beds, not to close to mangroves and also not too close  where fish grazers are. So, it is very important to teach them the right away and the right style to create your own farm.”


That’s one of the goals: to have the participants create and maintain their own seaweed farms. But you might be thinking, Why seaweed? Well, why not seaweed? It offers an alternative livelihood for fisher folks. Seaweed offers numerous benefits. It’s rich in nutrients and can be a beneficial value-added product. Ask Reena Usher-Ordonez. She is the owner of Southern Queen Products, which she founded in 2020. Her products rely heavily on seaweed as a value-added component.


Reena Usher Ordonez

Reena Usher Ordonez, Owner, Southern Queen Products
“I make it in the powder form and I also use it as a gel and I do the infused sea mask as well. I use it in three different ways, making hair, skin and face products. So I have like serums and the face mask that helps to clear up your skin. I have the infused hair oil. I have the hair treatments that help to strengthen your hair and grow your hair.”


And that’s just seaweed as a value-added product. Globally, the seaweed mariculture industry is huge, and it’s fast expanding and evolving. The sector is dynamic. It’s worth billions of dollars. The B.W.S.F.A. recognises this and sees potential in the industry in Belize.


Jalima Gold

Jalima Gold, President, B.W.S.F.A

“Here in Belize, we have very high quality. We are a non-industrialized country, and so our seaweed is, we think, cleaner and has more nutrients than let’s say something that comes from Indonesia. Right now, on the market, Belize seaweed is about thirty to forty Belize dollars per pound. The nutrients that it holds, it has traditionally seaweed, for us it has been a man’s drink. Your uncle’s, your grampa’s and everyone else drinks seaweed. Seaweed punch. Put it back, there is some truth that because of the minerals. It is not a joke but there is some truth to that, the narrative at least for me to change is that it is really good for women as well. It is the only natural form of vegetable based collagen which is really for hair, skin nails, anything you want.”


Seaweed has substantial applications in various industries, such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, bio-energy, nutraceuticals, and alternative packaging. Seaweed farmers in Belize have moved from harvesting wild seaweed to cultivating seaweed. But beyond that, seaweed plays a significant role in combating ocean acidification and addressing climate change. Seaweed is a carbon sink. It absorbs and stores carbon dioxide (CO2). This helps reduce the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, mitigating global warming and ocean acidification.


Seaweed can help stabilize coastlines and protect against coastal erosion by reducing the force of waves and tides. By doing so, it indirectly contributes to the preservation of coastal habitats. Seaweed can absorb excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, from coastal waters. These nutrients often lead to harmful algal blooms and dead zones. While seaweed cultivation and restoration can provide valuable ecological and climate-related benefits, it is essential to manage these activities sustainably to avoid unintended environmental consequences. Proper monitoring and regulation are necessary to ensure that seaweed farming practices do not harm native ecosystems or lead to other environmental problems.


Saleem Chan

Saleem Chan, Seaweed Mariculture Project Coordinator, TNC

“The regulation/ legislation would create the necessary guidelines to then expand and further develop the industry. I believe that if we work collectively, we work together, both private sector, government, NGOs like The Nature Conservancy and other NGOs that are co-managing marine protected areas in this country, we can be successful. I say again time and time again in the training that we do, we need to work together. If we work together we will succeed and not working against each other.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Hipolito Novelo.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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