September 2, 2007

Lembongan Seaweed Farming
Jungutbatu (Nusa Lembongan), Indonesia

In Nusa Lembongan you either make a living from the tourists, or from the sea. Although the surfing outfits came at no surprise, the sight of seaweed farming certainly did.

In order to farm seaweed you need clean ocean water, relatively shallow and sheltered from the ocean swells. A fragile crop, the fields of seaweed must remain covered in water at low tide, and must not be subjected to extreme fluctuations in water temperature or salinity.

The farming plots look like a giant patchwork quilt as the tide recedes. During cultivation the offshoots are taken from the parent plant and attached to lines which are anchored to the ocean floor by bamboo stakes. The new seedlings are then able to be harvested in approximately four to six weeks, and every 45 days thereafter.

After harvesting they are laid out to dry, usually for several days, before being sent to market to be sold. The seaweed farmers receive between 600 rupiah (US$0.07) to 3,500 rupiah (US$0.39) per kilo, depending on the type of seaweed and the market value of the day.

Two substances are obtained from the seaweed: Carrageenan, which is used in cosmetics, and agar, which is a vegetable gel. Carrageenan is a thickener used in hand lotions and shampoos, and interacts with human carotene to give soft skin and silky hair.

Locals in remote areas on Bali and the surrounding islands used to rely on salt production, which meant the laborious task of filling wooden containers with ocean water and waiting for the water to evaporate. Seaweed farming is more lucrative, and is a huge economic boost for the region.

Now, if only they could do something about the smell of rotting sea plants that permeates the air here… gag.

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