By FILEMON G. ROMERO, Ph.D.
Tawi-Tawi is a major seaweed producer, contributing about 85% of the total seaweeds export of the country. Nine out of the 11 municipalities of Tawi-tawi are into the production of seaweeds. It is estimated that about 31,000 inhabitants are dependent in the seaweeds industry. The total area planted to seaweeds is estimated at 34,553 ha with a further potential area of about 20,750 ha. The total production of Tawi-Tawi was 327,635 metric tons (MT). Drying reduces the weight by close to 85%. The 327,635 MT would weigh about 49,145 MT after drying. At an average price of $4.45/kg the total value of the production of Tawi-Tawi of seaweeds is about US$ 218.7M a year.
There has been a decline in seaweed production in the Philippines and in 2012, in Tawi-Tawi there was a record of 14.12% decline in production. This was attributed to a lot of factors. The declining quality of seedling materials has been considered the major contributory factor in the decline in the volume of seaweeds produced. Low quality of seedling materials would translate to low growth performance, low biomass and low quality of carrageenan. Low quality planting materials are more prone to diseases such as “ice-ice”.
Since the beginning of the seaweed farming in the Philippines, the system of propagation has always been from cutting of the newly harvested mature seaweed plant and planting them. This way the planting material was a clone of the mother plant. So through the years the genetic characteristics of the seaweed planting material has declined.
In order to address this problem. the UP-Marine Science Institute, SEAFDEC developed a technology to develop quality seedling materials with support from the DOST PCAARRD. MSU Tawi-Tawi was one of the institutions implementing this technology under the leadership of Dr. Jumelita B. Romero, a nationally recognized seaweeds expert. She is ably assisted by Prof. Karen Serag. At present, it is being continued with the support from Protect Wildlife which is funded by the USAID. The objectives of this initiative are to improve quality and production of raw dried seaweeds and ho help farmers improve their living conditions.
The methods for the development of laboratory generated seaweeds cultivars include sporulation or sporelings development. This involves collection of cystocarpic or “buntis’ na seaweeds and allow them to release the spores or their anak in the laboratory. The other method is tissue culture. The other method is In micro-propagation either through tissue or branch culture where in the distinctive characteristics of the parent are perpetuated because genes are copied exactly at each cell division of the plant. From the laboratory, the cultivars re transferred to the land based nursery and then after several months to the sea based nursey. As soon as the plants are ready for out planting, seaweed farmer cooperators would be tapped so that they can take care of the cultivars for distribution later to other seaweeds farmers. With this innovative technology, the seaweed cultivars are expected to give better growth performance, higher carrageenan content, better resistance to “ice-ice” disease.
This pilot project contributes to the enhancement of capacity of the MSU to advance biodiversity conservation, education, research, monitoring, and innovation. This research envisions to enhance seaweed production of farmers through the cultivation of laboratory-generated cultivars which were found to have good growth performance. With the application of good aquaculture and post-harvest practices, the raw dried seaweeds of farmers could command good price, thereby increasing their income. DR. FILEMON ROMERO