Seaweed is one of the unsung heroes of the ocean. The ocean, through seaweeds and phytoplankton, is responsible for producing over half of the oxygen we breathe.

Marine plants like seaweeds produce >50% of our oxygen

Carrageenan market is valued at US$ 1 billion and growing at 8% per year

Bioplastics market forecast to reach US$13.1 billion by 2027

Seaweeds are the most productive plants on the planet, capturing carbon more efficiently than tropical forests, reversing ocean acidification and eutrophication, and helping to build up depleted fish stocks. The particular species that we currently focus on, eucheumatoids (Kappaphycus spp and Eucheuma denticulatum), which produce a versatile texturiser known as carrageenan, are the most cultivated seaweeds globally and can be found in products that many people use on a daily basis, including food, pet food, cosmetics, household products and pharmaceuticals. The carrageenan market is valued at US$ 1 billion and expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 8%. What’s more, seaweeds provide a far more efficient and sustainable feedstock for bio-based and biodegradable plastics than terrestrial plants. The bioplastics market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of over 15% to reach US$ 13.1 billion by 2027.

Over 85% of global eucheumatoids are produced by small-scale fishers in the Philippines and Indonesia living at or below the poverty line and using rudimentary seaweed farming practices that are key factors in seaweed being capable of delivering significant social and ecological outcomes. This is a key resource for some of the poorest people on the planet and in the shallow water coastal zones where it is needed most to combat the effects of ocean acidification and eutrophication. Seaweed farming is part of a diversified livelihood and often used to buffer the effects of declining fish stocks. Seaweed farming is also a key occupation for gender equity in coastal communities. Seaweed farming has never been as important as during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst the price of fish has halved and cost of commodities has increased, the seaweed value chain has remained relatively resilient and provided coastal communities with a lifeline.

However, small-scale producers are using strains of seaweed and seaweed farming practices that have not been updated for over 40 years. Outdated seaweed practices are responsible for more than 50% of the marine plastic pollution generated by their communities and in many cases directly drive declines of coral reefs. Opaque and inefficient value chains mean that they do not have access to developments in farming methods and strains or the critical services that are normally considered essential for primary producers, and seaweed farmers receive a poor price for their crop. As a result, productivity is declining, the carrageenan industry is struggling with access to reliable and high quality sources of seaweed, small-scale producers are increasingly returning to unsustainable fishing practices and remain trapped in poverty, and declines of coral reefs are being exacerbated. Overall, this represents a substantial missed opportunity for seaweed to support the recovery of our oceans and climate whilst providing a valuable livelihood for marginalised coastal fishing communities.

Coast 4C fulfils a critical gap in the value chain for seaweeds to restore productivity and ensure social and environmental sustainability within the supply chain. Through the use of established behaviour change methods and the best latest world class research and expertise, we identify and provide technical support and services to small-scale producers that are needed to sustainably increase seaweed production levels, eliminate damage to coral reefs and marine plastic pollution, and ensure that seaweed farming helps the recovery of our oceans. This technical support and services include access to new and improved seaweed strains and sustainable seaweed farming methods through to access to financial services such as crop insurance. We set up efficient and transparent value chains that aggregate producers by establishing special purpose cooperatives and leveraging the latest available technology, enabling seaweed producers to capture a higher share of the value. We implement rigorous quality control mechanisms and provide training for participants to meet social and environmental conditions that ensure the seaweed is produced ethically and sustainably.

Key to this improved value chain is the experience and capacity that Coast 4C has in building relationships and working with small-scale seaweed farmers over a large and growing number of communities to drive behaviour changes and outcomes across the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. Coast 4C’s income comes from the trading of seaweed between our partner communities and responsible global markets. We shorten the supply chain and increase efficiencies. This means that the more sustainable and high quality seaweed that we can support our partner communities to supply us, the greater impact we can deliver across the 4Cs. All of these activities and improvements are made possible as a result of the wonderful expertise available to Coast 4C through our team, Advisory Board and partnerships and collaborations with organisations at the leading edge of innovation in this space.

In the longer term, Coast 4C is working with research partners to develop the technology to process seaweed for new markets including bioplastics. The first of these technologies is on track for implementation in the next 18-24 months, with subsequent technologies targeted for 2024.

Find out more about the research that informs our approach, our partnerships and collaborations and the latest news from the field in our blog and about us pages.

Eucheumatoid seaweeds are currently grown for the carrageenan market, and can also be used as seedstock for bioplastics

Coast 4C solution

Increasing sustainable and equitable supply from a growing network of small-scale farmers across the Philippines and beyond

Selling seaweed to responsible global markets through efficient and transparent value chain

Developing and implementing technology to process seaweed for new markets such as bioplastics

Video courtesy of C3, University of Technology Sydney

Old fishing nets

Old fishing nets are one of the most deadly and prevalent forms of marine plastic pollution. Many are made of Nylon 6 which, with the right knowledge, can be diverted from the ocean to generate important additional income and inspire community action.

1 kg of Nylon 6 mesh = 930 metres of fishing net

Fishing nets are one of the deadliest forms of marine plastic pollution

Recycled plastics market is growing at 6.4% per year to reach US$ 50 billion by 2022

Old fishing nets are regenerated into Nylon 6 yarn for fashion and flooring, significantly reducing carbon emissions of those industries and preventing ghost fishing

Coast 4C solution

Establishing community-based supply chains to divert and remove old fishing nets from the Ocean

Buying nets from coastal communities to generate additional income and reinforce behaviour change

Selling nets into the circular economy through responsible global markets

Fishing nets, particularly monofilament gillnets, are essential fishing equipment for small-scale fishers globally, and sit alongside seaweed farming as an important part of a diversified livelihood in coastal communities of Southeast Asia. However, abandoned, lost and otherwise discarded fishing nets contribute an estimated 46% of plastic items documented in the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ and have been identified as one of the most deadly forms of marine plastic pollution. The world is on a trajectory towards one tonne of plastic in the ocean for every three tonnes of fish by 2025, making tackling the issue of abandoned, lost and otherwise discarded fishing nets a key priority. On average, one kilogram of plastic mesh makes 930 metres of fishing net within the small-scale fisheries where we operate, and small-scale fishers replace the mesh of their nets every 6 weeks. Coastal communities in the Philippines do not have access to solid waste management mechanisms, so the majority of old fishing nets are discarded directly into the ocean. Without solutions such as ours, the impact of old fishing nets in coastal communities is therefore substantial.

Nylon 6 has a high tensile strength and low visibility underwater, making it an ideal material for gillnets. Most fishing nets in the Philippines are made from Nylon 6. Nylon 6 is also an engineering grade plastic with the highest recycling value thanks to technological developments made by companies like Aquafil SPA with their Econyl┬« regeneration system. Recycled Nylon 6 can then be integrated into products that have a negative carbon footprint and can be fed into the circular economy thanks to innovative initiatives such as Interface’s ReEntry┬« scheme. The global recycled plastics market is expected to be worth US$ 50 billion by 2022, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 6.4%, whilst the global Nylon market is expected to reach US$ 30 billion by 2026 growing at a compound annual growth rate of 3.3%.

Coast 4C establishes a value chain within coastal communities that diverts old fishing nets from the ocean for recycling. Leveraging the special purpose cooperatives that we establish in each community for both seaweed and nets, we provide technical support and outreach programmes to encourage fishers to sell nets at the end of life, and to encourage community action to collect nets from the beaches and the sea. Whilst we have found that the main driver for community engagement in the supply chain is the desire to clean up their community and tackle ghost fishing, the value of the nets helps to reinforce these actions and provides a valuable additional income that has been found to be particularly important during times of need, such as after the Bohol Earthquake, Super Typhoon Haiyan, and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Coast 4C buys the old fishing nets from our partner communities, and processes it for sale into responsible global markets. Some of the biggest challenges in delivering this supply chain has been the efficient processing of nets for shipping to recycling facilities, leading us to co-innovate on baling technology and supply chain logistics that has provided invaluable experiences, systems and technology for application in the seaweeds value chain. Additionally, the set up of the fishing net value chain acts as a very powerful entry point to building strong relationships within local communities and act as a stepping stone for systems change within coastal communities.

Improved Marine Protected Areas

Larger and more effective community-based marine protected areas (MPAs) are essential tools for maintaining marine biodiversity and replenishing fish stocks, and can be integrated with seaweed farming for mutual benefit.

Only 2% of marine protected areas are fully effective in Southeast Asia

Marine protected areas must be scaled up in size to be effective

The Philippines have legislated for protecting 15% of municipal waters

MPA guardhouses are modified to become shared assets for seaweed farming, providing a drying platform and watch tower

Coast 4C solution

Appropriately integrating seaweed into MPAs supports habitat and fish stock recovery

Increasing size and effectiveness of MPAs through our iMPA model

Leveraging iMPAs to increase sustainable seaweed production and income

Marine protected areas are a key tool for replenishing fish stocks and marine biodiversity. The Philippines contains over 1,500 marine protected areas. With an average size of 16 hectares they are too small to meet national and international conservation targets. One of the most recent assessments found that only 2% of marine protected areas in Southeast Asia are classified as fully effective due to an overdependence on philanthropy and entry fees. Most marine protected areas in the Philippines are focused primarily on coral reefs and do not cover other critical habitats such as mangroves and seagrasses that many fish move between at different life stages. Additionally, marine protected areas in the coastal zone where the greatest marine biodiversity is located can be undermined by coastal eutrophication, climate change-driven ocean acidification, and marine plastic pollution. It is estimated that over US$ 200 million was spent on coastal resource management in the Philippines in the 1990s, with marine protected areas the primary focus. New models are required that enable a greater number of coastal communities to implement larger and more effective marine protected areas covering a wider range of habitats and leveraging available resources for coastal management to greater effect. Marginalised coastal communities are particularly constrained by their high dependence on fishing and by lack of resources for enforcement and implementation.

Coast 4C has developed a model that leverages the synergies between seaweed farming and marine protected areas to mutual benefit. Supporting seaweed farmers to increase their production and income helps to reduce dependence on fishing, and enables coastal communities to set aside larger areas of the sea. On average our improved MPA model (iMPAs) are 800 hectares in size, greater than 50 times the national average size. Integrating seaweed farming in an appropriate zoning system within marine protected areas benefits both seaweed farmers and marine protected areas. Integration helps address issues of tenure and secures appropriate seaweed farming areas for the local community. Enforcement assets are used to protect both the seaweed farms and the marine protected area from poaching. Ecological seaweed farming zones are located over appropriate habitat, ensuring that sensitive habitats such as coral reefs are not impacted by seaweed farms. Having seaweed farms within marine protected areas also affords additional protections. Ensuring a constant presence in the marine protected area through seaweed activities helps to increase compliance rather than needing to depend on voluntary patrols. Seaweed farms locally mitigate eutrophication and ocean acidification and provide habitat, therefore supporting rehabilitation of the habitats and marine biodiversity. The marine protected area in return provides a healthier environment for seaweed to thrive.

Coast 4C provides technical support to communities in coordination with relevant local authorities and government to implement larger and more effective marine protected areas, based on decades of experience that has seen successes and failures in marine protected areas and the latest available research. Ultimately, our research has shown that unless seaweed farming is linked to direct conservation measures such as marine protected areas, it has tended to subsidise fishing effort and exacerbate fishing pressure. In turn this also has a negative effect on seaweed productivity as people turn to unsustainable fishing practices such as cyanide and blast fishing that can kill seaweed. Marine protected areas are therefore not about Corporate Social Responsibility or philanthropy – but is instead about good business and underwriting the sustainability and productivity of the seaweed farming. Additionally, by increasing the size of marine protected areas and the habitats coverage, we also create new business opportunities, opening up access to resources earmarked for meeting national and international targets in marine protection, and also creating the possibility of valorising ecosystem services such as blue carbon from mangroves.