Over the years, we've done quite a few stories on Seaweed cultivation off the coast of Placencia.
It's a rising industry that's billed as an eco-friendly livelihood for fishers, and it's catching on. Now, the practice is migrating north, with fishers on Turneffe Atoll becoming the newest Seaweed maricultralists with the certificates to prove it.
Cherisse Halsall rode out to the island to get a firsthand look at the Atoll's Seaweed rafts.
Saturday was graduation day on glorious Turneffe Atoll with participants having completed a three-day training on Seaweed Cultivation. The Nature Conservancy's Selim Chan gave us a rundown on the course.
Selim Chan, SeaWeed Mariculture "We are the last day of a three days seaweed mariculture training so we've been tirelessly on the ground preparing the design, getting out into the water, planting it now it's an effort for us to then provide to our participants a certificate that they could say I've successfully completed the seaweed cultivation training course."
"They were an interesting bunch, they were quite engaging and throughout the training, we were able to accomplish a 50 by 50-foot square a seed bank that we hope will be used to then build out further farms here at Turneffe."
The training that was made available to those with a license for the Turneffe Atoll marine reserve. And while it was free, TASA operations manager Eliseo Coc says getting them there was still a challenge.
Eliseo Coc, Operations Manager, TASA "It's not that easy because those fishers are separated throughout the atoll. So, we have our team of officers on the ground which they have a daily contact with them so we pass on the message as much as we can in terms of them going to their camps on a daily basis and relay the message and we just try to make sure that we have everything for them so that they could be really focused and be able to grasp all this knowledge being brought to them and to be able to learn as much as they can so that they can do something different."
Valdemar Andrade, Executive Director, Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association "We have about 200 customer users that are here year-round and so the fishing pressure for Turneffe is high but the fishing contribution for Turneffe is also high. We have one of the highest productions of lobster and conch and finfish. We contribute up to 25% of the production of the national cooperative for example and so for us, it's looking at how we can diversify the revenue and employment source for our fishers and so this seaweed mariculture program is geared toward looking at minimizing the pressure on the regular commercial species like Conch and Lobster and ensuring that the fishers have another option that can also be environmental and conservation-friendly and help us in managing the protected area together."
Having completed the course the fishermen believe that the knowledge they've gained in seaweed cultivation will give them a leg up on the day to day challenges of their trade.
Mitchell Lewis, Senior Cooperative officer, Department of Cooperatives "It's a venture that a fisherman can actually think about as a livelihood. We all know of the challenges that we see now in that it's difficult to get fish now, they're scare, it's also that we're seeing that there are lower numbers of catch in Conch and lobster."
Joshua Mowry, Entrepreneur/ Commercial Fisher "One of the greatest constraints as a fisherfolk is the price of fuel and everything else that is currently going up and sometimes it is hard to get the product in order to clear our expenses and make a profit. Also one of our major challenges is the weather sometimes we come out here and our ice and our fuel is depleting and we don't have a chance to actually recuperate the funds that we've invested. This is a means that we could create jobs for ourselves. This is something that in the beginning we need to do as a collective effort in order for us to make it a sustainable industry."
"It's not only to get the certification but to actually see if it is viable and the only thing that would be of time constraint for us would be because it takes three months to get your first harvest and we need to put in the time as what they say you reap what you sow so we need to be able to be out here to maintain the farm and hopefully get a good cultivation or harvest from it."
Program alumni Jessica Gibson was the only woman to technically complete this go-around of training. And when she spoke to us, she shared her firm belief that Seaweed cultivation is a skill well suited to women.
Jessica Gibson, Fisherwoman "I would want to encourage more females to come out and take the training because it's a great opportunity in life. I've been through weather, you know bad weather, rain, sometimes we're fishing in the rain. I mean I dive too. I don't do it often but I do dive sometimes we're out there all 10, 11, 12 at night, the breeze is blowing hard I mean its rough for a female its rough for a female but I would still encourage them to come out because after, at the end of the day it pays off, it pays off. Sometimes when you go out there the lobsters aren't there or the fish aren't bitting so you know the seaweed comes in handy on the side for us to make a little extra."
Cherisse Halsall: "We heard that you brought your daughter out here for the training, how has she handled it and adapted to it?"
Jessica Gibson, Fisherwoman "Well to tell you the truth she is fourteen years old and she has been out here since she was a baby, she is my step-daughter by the way. She's been out here since she was a baby and to tell you the honest truth ina broad creole she badder than me ina diving, fishing, everything. She badder than me."
Eager Entrepreneurs in a budding industry, a sure indication of longevity for Seaweed cultivation in Belize.
Seaweed farms could become the next eco-tourism trend. Cultivators say that the farms double as ideal nurseries for juvenile fish and that a dive into a flourishing farm is like swimming in an aquarium.
A mariculture project was observed over the weekend and several persons were certified for engaging in the three-day training involving the use of seaweed. The media was escorted to Calabash Caye to witness the completion ceremony and the final product of the training. Our Reporter Alisha Valentine has the story.
Seaweed Farming – Is It a Viable Option for Fisherfolk?
Is seaweed farming the next big thing for fisherfolk in Belize? Well, the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the Belize Fisheries Department, wrapped up a three-day seaweed cultivation training on Calabash Caye over the weekend. The training, supported by the U.N.D.P. and Australian Aid was carried out under a project called “Creating Climate-Resilient Livelihoods for Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve Fishers through Sustainable Seaweed.” Fishers got the opportunity to learn about seaweed farming and the importance of it sustainability. As a part of the training, they also acquired skills in business management, best planting and cultivation practices and how to construction submerged seaweed structures and rafts. News Five visited Calabash Caye over the weekend to find out why seaweed is a viable option for fisherfolk. Here’s the story.
Jason Young, Workshop Participant
“This is a new method and there are procedures you have to go through to prepare the bedding and seedlings how to do it properly. Compared to how we know, it just grows in the wild and sits there and this you have to put time and invest into it.”
Andrea Polanco, Reporting
Fisherman Jason Young hopes that seaweed farming will become the next big thing for fisherfolk in Belize. He has been fishing for over twenty-years, and he like other fisherfolk in the Turneffe Atoll want to tap into this multi-billion dollar industry. But first they need to be able to produce commercial quantities that meet international standards. So, for three days Jason Young and fourteen other participants, mostly fisherfolk, gathered on Calabash Caye to learn the basics in sustainable seaweed cultivation. Lowell ‘Japs’ Godfrey was the lead trainer.
Lowell Godfrey, Trainer
“They are learning to set up the structure from which to plant and basically to care for the seaweed that they planted. The major part of seaweed planting is to prepare for planting; cutting the rope; splicing the rope; doing the cultivation lines; preparing anchors; the buoys. And planting the seaweed is a fast and easy process.”
…and that’s what the workshop participants did – cut and splice their ropes and set up their fifty by fifty submerged seed bank just off the Calabash Caye. There we found lines and lines of the macro-algae that will be ready for harvest in three months’ time. The Nature Conservancy is one of the partners leading the training session.
Celeem Chan, Seaweed Project Coordinator, The Nature Conservancy
“Our goal really is to see if we could get to five producing seaweed farms here in Turneffe and to boost the industry in Belize for us to get to a point where seaweed could become a supplemental livelihood for fishers and one day to become an alternative livelihood. Seaweed cultivation is just that and it is not taking them away from the sea. I believe that once a fisherman, always a fisherman or fisherwoman. I believe we have to find that alternative means of income just like seaweed that they are still in the water.”
…and that’s why seaweed cultivation is an ideal way to supplement the income for these fisherfolk. Fisherman William Johnson has been fishing out in Turneffe for forty years. His partner Jessica Gibson is also a fisher – and for this training their daughter tagged along to observe. This is their introduction to seaweed farming.
William Johnson, Participant
“It makes a lot of good products and I think that we will have a big industry in doing the seaweed farming. So, I am willing to work with it and see how much I can do with it.”
“From the training – what was your experience? How was it?”
“Well, I learned a lot from it. I can see that it can be really successful. I am going to try and do it as long as I could do it.”
Jessica Gibson, Participant
“Fishing is totally different from seaweed but at the end of the day I choose it because it is a great opportunity in life. It wah come in on the side because we do fishing and diving and sometimes the fishing and diving don’t work out or don’t pay off and so the seaweed that we do on the side will give extra to help us on the side.”
“Can you see yourself leaving fishing and going into seaweed solely?”
“I would say yes because it will get big in the future.”
Paige Johnson, Workshop Observer
“I think they are going to do well because it is easy for them to do. When I am watching them they work fast and it is easy for them. I think it will work well for them in the future.”
Illegal fishing; overfishing and other pressures have impacted the fish stocks so much so that fisherfolk no longer earn what they used to. They can now use seaweed to earn extra income. But researchers and managers of these sites know that the power of the seaweed goes beyond the dollar value.
Valdemar Andrade, Executive Director, TASA
“Also at the same time trying to take the pressure off the regular commercial specie like conch, lobster and fin fish thereby diversifying the resource base. So, what we are trying to do as well is to create climate resilience for the Turneffe fisher, so trying to look at something that will still perform under these climatic conditions that we have these days. In doing this process and looking at the technique, we have found that the seaweed is good nursery grounds because we have also found evidence of small finfish, juvenile lobsters, crabs and crustaceans. So it also has nursery value.”
…and so because the seaweed thrives in our waters – and it provides so many benefits and opportunities – the plan is to get the seaweed farmers organized so that Belize can start commercial exportation. And that is why the Department of Cooperatives is involved to help guide the development of this emerging industry.
Michel Lewis, Senior Cooperative Officer, Department of Cooperatives
“There is a market for Belize. The issue is that the market is just for the dry and in a gel form. It is a simple process. The Placencia Fishermen Cooperative has not really moved to that stage where they are really adding value to the product but we know that the potential is there for markets in terms of doing cosmetic products; hair products and food – you can use seaweed as food. The whole idea of this what we are looking at is that we want to supply the local market yes, but we feel that the real income is in the export market in terms of value adding. We are hoping that we can get not only the existing fishermen who are members of cooperatives but other fishermen who are independent. We are going to assist them to organize the groups and get them to work together.”
Seaweed sells for thirty-dollars on the local market – and on the U.S. market it sells for fifteen US dollars. Local experts say that the demand for seaweed and its by-products are growing. It is used for food; cosmetics; pharmaceuticals; industrial products and more. The Fisheries Department is now working on policies and regulations for this emerging mari-culture sector.
Felicia Cruz, Fisheries Officer, Fisheries Department
“The Department is presently drafting the policy and some regulations that would guide the application; the extraction; the monitoring; the exportation and overall development of the seaweed mariculture activities in Belize. We are still in that process and we are shifting now from research to commercialization. So, with this sensitization effort we hope to have something structured and guided for them sometime this year because we believe the opportunity is now.”
On Monday night we showed you fifteen participants, majority fisherfolk from the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, who became certified in an introduction to seaweed farming. Those fisherfolk want to supplement their income base and managers of the marine resources want to reduce the pressures on the fish stocks. So, they believe that seaweed has the potential to do just that. One resident of Placencia, Lowell Godfrey was able to successfully give up fishing and now makes his living solely on through seaweed farming. Here’s more.
Andrea Polanco, Reporting
Lowell ‘Japs’ Godfrey was a fisherman for more than forty years. But a couple years ago, he traded in his fishing gears for seaweed farming. And it’s paying off…
“I have completely turned my back on harvesting fish, lobster and conch to strictly harvesting seaweed.”
“So, you have been able to make a living from this?”
Lowell ‘Japs’ Godfrey
“Yes, ma’am and a pretty good one, I might say.”
So, when Godfrey saw a decline in fishery stocks he knew he had to do something – and the Placencia Producers Cooperative began to cultivate seaweed.
Lowell ‘Japs’ Godfrey
“As we see commercial species started to be depleted,
we know that we had to make a switch.
We were trail blazing – we had no precedence for what we were doing so we had to negotiate to get some of that.”
Every three months they harvest between eight hundred to a thousand pounds of seaweed. They package it and sell mostly on the local market. They have started small scale exportation to some states in the U.S.A. Godfrey says before they became successful, it was a lot of trial and error.
Lowell ‘Japs’ Godfrey
“It was a learning process because we had to go to Glover’s Reef where we got our seed stock – and just getting the matter of bringing the seed stock we lost ninety percent of what we brought. So, nurturing the ones that survived was like going back to school in the fields.
Piracy – number one. It is a hot commodity but people don’t want to invest in the cultivation and just want to come and take what’s cultivated. Sargassum is also another thing because it gets tangled in the cultivation.”
…and once it hit the international market – the demand grew, as the seaweed is described as high quality seaweed on the market.
Michel Lewis, Senior Cooperatives Officer, Department of Cooperatives
“Based on some minor exports that the cooperative has done to the US, we have a guy from the US who is very interested and he has expressed that the quality is good quality. I think that one of the main reasons is because they are doing it in the reserves.”
As the co-manager of the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve where some two hundred or so fisherfolk operate, for the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association it is important that seaweed farmers capitalize on the opportunities that exist in this global industry.
Valdemar Andrade, Executive Director, TASA
“So, what we are looking at are the value added niches, such as the super food industry and the cosmetic industry. So, in the super food industry they use it for drinks and they use as an additive to soups, and food; as an additive to salads. You can make shakes from it because our seaweed – what we know as Belizean gold – is a high value product in that it has a lot of high value proteins and vitamins. We are also looking at the controls because we also want to ensure that our seaweed is not just bought and rebranded somewhere and sold as something else. So, who do we sell to and what purposes do we sell for. So, the regulatory environment is very important, in that also you have to control the quality of what you are going to export, because if you get one bad batch of seaweed to anyone buyer we are selling to, it can create a market issue for us at the end of the day.”
…and to give the seaweed the best possible start, the farm sites are being constructed far away from the coast, where they can flourish in pristine waters.
Seleem Chan, Seaweed Project Officer, The Nature Conservancy
“So, we have habitats that are within those reefs that are quite calm and nice and well oxygenated; no pollutants from the coast; pure water. And so that is really where the seaweed is growing and it draws energy, nutrients from the water and in turn it will give you a pure product. That is what we have in Belize.”