Issues, Concerns and Challenges on the Tawi-Tawi Seaweed Industry (Part II)

By Johnny R. Lee

The success of seaweed farming and the industry as a whole, which started in 1973,  may have seemed to be a perfect solution to the major problems that beset the people: poverty and, at the sideline, the violence that had been caused by the then secessionist movements. It could be said that it was a timely natural intervention in extinguishing the flame of insurgency in this part of southern Mindanao. 

Before the introduction of seaweed farming by the late Dr. Maxwell Doty, the province of Tawi-Tawi and practically the then 9 municipalities were a hotbed of secessionist movements the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). It’s people were gripped with fear and uncertainty; and movements to freely seek for their traditional source of livelihood like fishing and farming were restricted to the confinement of their homes. 

Thanks to Dr.Doty, seaweed aqua-ventures have transformed Tawi-Tawi and its people into a very productive source of world-class seaweed and its derivatives, the carrageenan. Its people, especially the Sama tribal group, who are mostly  coastal dwellers, have found a golden opportunity cashing on the novel venture which can be had right in their seawater backyards.

Just like any other ventures, seaweed farming has its own problems especially in relation to its environment. An ordinary farmer may not see this problem but in a larger perspective and to the keen eyes of a researcher and environmentalists, there is a looming threat and risks especially when the industry increases for a bigger share in the usage of ‘maritime space’ to meet a multi-million dollar demand for the products. 

There is the so-called ecological impact. In the propagation of seaweed farms, just like in the terrestrial or land area, there are numerous organisms, both macro & micro-organisms that are being ‘removed, deprived or totally deleted’ from where the ‘newly-introduced’ organisms like seaweed plants are being cultured. The original organisms mentioned form part of the larger ‘biodiversity’ responsible for the so-called ‘balance of nature’. 

Biodiversity, as defined, is all the different kinds of life you’ll find in one area—the variety of animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms like bacteria that make up our natural world. Each of these species and organisms work together in ecosystems, like an intricate web, to maintain balance and support life. Biodiversity supports everything in nature that we need to survive: food, clean water, medicine, and shelter.

In the case of seaweed farming, several organisms are being trampled upon, wittingly or unwittingly removed if only to maximize growth, production and the quality of finished product. A good example is the diminution of the seagrasses which is a vital component of an aquatic ecosystem that serves as shelters and breeding spots where a variety of fishes deposit/attach their eggs. (To be continued as Part III in the next issue).

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