Is seaweed farming ethical?

3 min read

Fact: if we all switched from using plastic travel minis to seaweed capsules, this would eliminate 103 million travel beauty minis each year, in the UK alone.

Carrageenan seaweed farming has improved the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and fishermen that live in coastal communities in some of the most breathtakingly beautiful areas of the world.

Lots of seaweed farmers live in developing countries and seaweed farming has been a successful method of creating economic opportunities in these areas. Seaweed is relatively simple to farm, requires low levels of capital and material inputs and has short production cycles.

We use seaweed to make the capsules that hold our skincare. It's an amazing material because it's natural, biodegradable, and a carbon sink.Yet as we know, finding sustainable solutions is extremely complex, it doesn’t just involve environmental factors, but social ones too. So, is seaweed farming ethical?

In many ways, yes. Seaweed farming contributes to local employment and livelihoods of (often poor) coastal communities, as well as offering these communities social benefits, such as increased sense of community, access to education and training, whilst also providing skills in entrepreneurship and businessfor many local farmers.

Women are particularly active in planting, harvesting and sowing the seeds. In the United Republic of Tanzania, a female seaweed farmer has succeeded in becoming a wholesaler, selling seaweed to a buyer with a 20% margin. (Who run the world?)

Many of the areas where seaweed is farmed are also key fishing areas. However, overfishing can create real problems: when an area is overfished, it means that fish and other marine life cannot grow and reproduce quickly enough to keep up with demand. Eventually, overfishing depletes levels so much that fishing ceases to provide enough for families to live on. In these circumstances, seaweed farming can provide additional (and a diversified) income, which increases financial stability for local families.

Yet the industry is by no means perfect and there is still work to be done. Similar to other farming methods, complications such as cold and wet weather conditions and disease outbreaks can destroy a seaweed crop and puts the seaweed farmers in a difficult position when they have nothing to sell.

Thinking about the whole seaweed supply chain also shows some of the problems with seaweed farming. Seaweed cultivation and harvesting relies on many small-scale producers who then sell their crop on local collectors or consolidators. These middlemen sell to larger traders and then to the processors who turn the crop into a refined or semi-refined product that can be used in commercial products. This means that between the end consumer of a seaweed product and the person growing it there are lots of different steps and, ultimately, people extracting value along the way. Like chocolate and coffee, farmers should be protected in some way (e.g. fair trade laws) to ensure that they are getting their fair share – which sadly, does not always happen.

So, is seaweed farming ethical? It can be.

When socio-economic aspects of seaweed farming are ignored, this can make seaweed farming unsustainable and therefore, unethical. Similarly, when human lives and other crucial factors are ignored, seaweed development projects are likely to fail, affecting farmers and stakeholders.

Seaweed farming must offer a similar, if not better income and livelihood for families, for the same effort and risk involved as other methods of employment, while simultaneously taking into account business and social elements.  

When executed correctly with the right policies and infrastructure, seaweed farming can be a valuable occupation for coastal communities.However, this is not universal, and there is more progress to be made within the industry to ensure that all seaweed farming is sustainable economically, environmentally and ethically.

This is possible. When suppliers commit to improving the lives of seaweed producers and their communities, positive change can happen. These measures need to involve paying a fair price for the crop, working with seaweed farmers to develop safe and effective harvesting practices, providing producers adequate training and tools, and enforcing environmental measures to conserve marine biodiversity.

When managed properly, seaweed farming can provide livelihoods for families in developing areas of the world, whilst offering a sustainable alternative to single-use plastic in the beauty industry.

To learn more about blue carbon and why seaweed is a natural carbon sink, click here.

Seaweed farmers in Zanzibar harvesting the crop.

Children of seaweed farmers in The Philippines.

Kelly Washington

Kelly is a London-based freelance Fashion, Arts and Social Media journalist. She has an MA in Fashion Communication from Central Saint Martins and a BA in English Literature and Linguistics from the University of Manchester. She has written for Hunger Magazine, TANK, Miuse and Fashion Unfiltered covering a range of topics including fashion, music, youth culture and art. For copywriting and commissions email

Kelly Washington - Bolt Beauty

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