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Swarthmore College

Publication Date

Fall 2018

Program Name

Australia: Sustainability and Environmental Action


Seaweed is a critical part of natural marine ecosystems. In addition to supporting the marine environment, seaweeds are a significant global resource with nutritional, industrial and pharmaceutical applications. Seaweed also has the capacity to remediate excess nutrients in the water caused by agricultural or aquacultural waste of other organisms. Seaweed has demonstrated large potential as a remediation tool in land based polyculture and offshore Integrated Multi Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) systems.

Seaweed is already worth over US$7 billion as a global industry, but as of 2013 over 93% of global seaweed is produced in Asia (Lorbeer, 2013, p. 718). Australia imports millions of dollars of seaweed each year, indicating that there is already a substantial market that could be shifted towards nationally produced local products.

There has been interest in seaweed cultivation every Australian state and territory. However, because this form of aquaculture is quite new, most state governments are less certain about how to handle seaweed cultivation compared to most other primary industries. The goal of this study was to answer the question, “what is the relationship between the growing seaweed industry and the government at the state level, and what structures are in place to allow for the sustainable development of this industry?” I sought to identify the current structure of - and projections for - the seaweed industry and corresponding state legislation in Australia.

Over four weeks I completed a desktop study to define the structure and outline the differences and similarities in policy between states. I also interviewed a selection of professionals at the forefront of Australian seaweed development to understand the general perceptions of Australian seaweed, as well as to identify any significant differences between states. I interviewed six governmental representatives - one from each state or territory - and four seaweed biologists, commercial cultivators or both from Tasmania, New South Wales or South Australia. While state governmental structures vary, each state has aquaculture legislation that is robust enough to direct new seaweed aquaculture projects. Financial support of research and industry development from the government or other commercial enterprises will be important in filling the knowledge gaps in commercial native seaweed cultivation to scale production up. The impetus for development may come from perceived environmental benefits or from consumers who understand the health and nutrition benefits of seaweed, but ultimately Australian consumers will be one of the most significant factors shaping the future industry.


Agricultural Economics | Agriculture | Environmental Sciences | Natural Resource Economics | Sustainability


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