What is algae?
Our love for marine algae may come at no slimy surprise. Algae is extremely underrated. We’re about to tell you why we should all start loving this green hero. After all: it could help save our planet.
This diverse organism is more than just a plant (sorry M&S). The Latin term alga effectively refers to seaweed. Algae are complex multicellular organisms like the giant kelp. Studies show that some algae species have indicated that they do not have specialised tissue present in land plants. The absence of these cells is why most types of algae have adapted to thrive in wet watery habitats.
“Algae have existed in the world over a long period with some fossils discovered in the Vindhya basin being close to 2 billion years old. Scientists have extensively studied the distribution patterns of algae as they are found in a significant number of areas around the world where they perform several vital functions.” – Worldatlas, 2020
What’s the ecological impact of marine algae?
So what’s all the fuss about? One of the most important environmental roles played by algae is its production of oxygen. This is generated as a by-product in the photosynthesis process – just in case you need a refresh from your school biology class!
Photosynthesis: when plants and some other organisms (our friends algae) use sunlight to synthesise nutrients from carbon dioxide and water. Oxygen is created as a by-product which is then released into the atmosphere. “In summary, through photosynthesis, algae (and plants) remove CO2 from the atmosphere – and there’s a fair amount of it in there, thanks to us and our machines – while gifting the world O2 in exchange.” – theface.com
Due to the large amount of algae in the world, it is responsible for the production of more than 30-50% of the oxygen that land animals rely on for their survival. Pretty impressive, right?
How can marine algae save our environment?
One of the biggest contributors to climate change is our use of fossil fuels. We’ve been frantically trying to find an alternative for years, and it looks like seaweed could be our saving grace! Algae biofuel is a bio-based fuel which offers a carbon neutral combustion and could be a turning point for our overall CO2 emissions. This means that it releases the same amount of carbon as it produces. Which means we can have access to fuel without having such a massive impact on the environment. “Even if we consume high levels of it, then neutrality of its existence means we would cut emissions based on what they are today.” – greengarageblog.org
It’s completely renewable as a product, because when we want additional amounts of it we simple grow more. Growing more doesn’t have the same impact as other biofuel sources, because it can be grown in water rather than taking up arable land that could be used for crops. This is the opposite of the fossil fuels we use today, which are totally unsustainable – it takes more than a few years to make a fossil! Nevertheless, biofuel does have its downfall: the production is a lot slower, which makes it a lot less desirable in terms of cash profit. Capitalism, eh?
Algae produces natural polymers which means it’s a great resource for bioplastics. As we all know, plastic pollution is causing severe damage to our planet. Since bioplastic created from seaweed is completely biodegradable it offers an amazing environmentally-friendly alternative to single use plastics.
Algae has already been used to make biodegradable water bottles. An example would be the bottle created by Ari Jónsson. “The bottle keeps its shape whilst full of water, but will start to decompose when empty. Liquids stored in the bottle are entirely safe to drink, and the bottle itself can even be eaten!” -medium.com. Definitely substance over style with this one, but how cool!
What are the health benefits of marine algae?
Omega-3 fatty acids
There are plenty of health benefits of algae, mainly omega-3. Our omega-3 is extracted straight from the source: deep sea algae. Cutting out the middle man (fish) is kinder to our marine life and as algae can be sustainably farmed, it lowers our carbon footprint too.
Algae sourced from omega-3 is also better for you, too. While the algae works its way through the food chain, the fish take up contaminants from the ocean including heavy metals like mercury, which is toxic at high levels. Read more about omega-3 here!
Essential amino acids
Algae is also a great way to obtain your amino acids. They are super important for your health and all nine can be found in both spirulina and chlorella. These include: isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, histidine, and valine. Fatty acids like this contribute to healthy tissue repair, nutrient absorption, muscle building and supporting your body in recovery from an injury.
Promotes healthy skin
Superfood spirulina helps to facilitate healthy cell production, which helps your skin recover from rashes and acne breakouts. It basically helps support the healing of broken skin. Despite this, it’s not proven to completely eradicate skin conditions. Everyone is different after all!
Chlorella also contains nutrients that are vital to collagen synthesis. This helps keep your skins tone and elasticity healthy. “The chlorophyll in chlorella is even thought to help the body reverse radiation damage, as noted in this 2016 study.” – thebeet.com
What are the downsides to algae?
Sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. It’s true that algae has a lot of positive benefits we can make use of. Nonetheless, in high saturation it can become extremely toxic, turning water blue, green, brown or red. This becomes classified as HABs: Harmful Algal Blooms. “This can occur for multiple reasons, although scientists believe climate change (with more CO2 for algae to feed off and warmer temperatures to hasten growth) and certain farming practises – like when fertiliser containing nitrogen and phosphorus (aka algae food) runs off fields into freshwater – lie behind the surge.” You could argue that we, as humans, are the blame for this toxicity.
Depending on the species of algae, exposure to these HABs can cause a wide range of symptoms. Contamination from blue-green algal bloom, which is common in the UK, can cause anything from rashes or eye irritation to vomiting and fever. In animals such as wildlife, livestock and pets it can even cause death. This is why is extremely important to keep animals away from contaminated water.
Can marine algae save the planet?
You might say algae, in many ways, is already saving the planet with it being a powerful source of oxygen and CO2 absorption. It could very well play a large part in lowering CO2 emissions and have a pivotal role in reversing climate change. However, it’s not going to solve all of our problems and it’s not an entire solution. Algae is a living organism and should be treating accordingly. Therefore we must not exploit its properties, but find ways in which it can benefit us as well as continue to thrive itself. If we manage to build a safe relationship it most certainly could help provoke real (positive) environmental change.