Invasive seaweed refined as soil stimulant in New Zealand

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Waikaitu, a New Zealand company, has developed a refined and concentrated seaweed biostimulant from the brown algae ‘wakame’ (Undaria Pinnatifida).

Wakame is a non-native/invasive species of seaweed found in the Marlborough Sounds in the Tasman. When added to soil, a biostimulant assists and improves the nutrients in the soil, which in turn improves the health, strength and growth of plants and improves their nutrient content.

“This was a great opportunity to help solve two problems we have in the world – reduce the pressure on our marine ecosystem and to help build long term fertility in our soils” Alexander Pressmen, CEO of Waikaitu, said.

Waikaitu (2016)

According to Pressmen, wakame is one of the most effective and ecologically responsible organic plant nutrient suspensions available. The team mixes the freshly harvested wakame with healthy bacteria to form the organically certified nutrient suspension.

When applied to the soil, plant health is improved through increased soil microbial activity. It stimulates plant growth and assists plants during stressful times such as drought, frost or pest pressure.

Wakame has been tested in the US-based Natural News Laboratory against 17 different edible seaweed based products and was found to have the lowest level of heavy metals of them all.

Pressmen believes this is because Marlborough Sounds, where it is harvested, has a low population and no heavy industry locally, making the waters there cleaner and less polluted than in other areas where seaweed is harvested. Removing wakame assists the environment, as it is an invasive species, while providing a product to assist in feeding humans and animals, making it a sustainably viable process with multiple benefits.

Wakame is also being harvested and processed for human consumption. Pressmen says that his aim is to produce a food source and diet supplements which are nutritionally beneficial to human health and able to be produced in a sustainable manner. He believes that much of the food we eat is stripped of nutrients and that incorporating wakame in our diet will provide us with “a storehouse of antioxidants, omega three oils, more than 71 nutrients, including magnesium, iodine, calcium, iron and vitamins, and complex sugars that helped gut bacteria”.

Simon Billing, Principal Sustainability Advisor for Forum for the Future, says with protein critical for human health and nutrition, the search is on to find a way to “provide protein for 2 billion or more people by 2040, which is affordable, healthy and sustainable”.

“We’re really excited about the opportunities around seaweed, as demonstrated by Waikaitu, as providing multiple solutions right across the protein system. From feeding humans, to feeding animals to supporting plant growth and soil health, which really underpins the health of the entire system."

For human consumption, wakame is processed at sea shortly after harvesting using a traditional Japanese method of blanching, cooling then salting. It is currently being sold directly to restaurants and on Amazon, where is in the top 1% of food products being sold on the site.

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