Seaweed is having a moment – and Tasmania is leading the way
Farming seaweed makes perfect sense for Australia, argues the legal eagle behind Tasmanian brand SeaQuo.
Forget salmon: Tasmanian aquaculture could soon be all about seaweed.
Already, the cool waters along the island’s eastern coast are home to vast fields of wakame, which is endemic to Japan but has somehow taken hold in Tassie.
Now, two Australian companies are exploring how Tasmanian-grown wakame might help with a wide range of chronic health conditions, from eczema to cardiovascular problems.
The focus of their attention is a slimy substance known as fucoidan, which protects the wakame plant from disease and environmental damage.
Already consumed in parts of Japan, the compound seems to have remarkable benefits, possibly contributing to long life expectancies in those areas.
Of particular interest to researchers are fucoidan’s anti-inflammatory properties and immunity-boosting potential, both of which could benefit healthy individuals as well as sick ones, making fucoidan both a treatment and a preventative measure.
Olivia McTaggart, co-founder of the seaweed-supplement company SeaQuo, believes the substance could be of use to almost anyone with persistent health issues.
The lawyer-turned-entrepreneur calls herself a “convert” to seaweed.
“I was a barrister for many years, and eventually I developed voice and sinus problems that I couldn’t get rid of,” she explains.
When her father told her about Marinova, a local biotech company that had begun harvesting seaweed for medical research, McTaggart was sceptical.
But curiosity got the better of her, and she acquired a small quantity of fucoidan extract.
“That was 20 years ago, and I haven’t been sick since,” she says. “The voice issues disappeared, and the throat issues, and the seasonal allergies.”
McTaggart became so convinced of fucoidan’s benefits that she began to recommend it to friends, who told her they were achieving similar results.
Then her daughter Sara developed chronic tonsillitis at university. “The excesses of university life took their toll, and the tonsillitis became almost permanent,” McTaggart says.
However, fucoidan seemed to give Sara’s immune system the boost it needed. “She was on the verge of having her tonsils out, but within a couple of months, the issue resolved itself completely.”
Mother and daughter realised that Marinova’s raw ingredient had great commercial potential and, in 2020, they founded SeaQuo.
McTaggart admits that she doesn’t yet understand all the science that underpins Marinova’s extraction activities, and she knows that consumers may want to learn more about SeaQuo-branded products before taking the plunge.
“Many studies into the benefits of seaweed have been conducted over the years, but outside Japan there is a lack of consumer understanding, which seems to have held back the market,” she says.
However, she is convinced that seaweed harvesting in Tasmania is here to stay.
“It’s an ideal environment,” she says, noting that Marinova’s ingredients are all certified organic. “The ocean here is pristine and the seaweed grows freely, without intervention.”
Once the wakame is harvested, fucoidan is isolated using a proprietary extraction process that doesn’t involve chemicals, solvents or high temperatures.
The result, says Marinova, is a portfolio of extracts with sector-leading bioactivity.
Already, the company has emerged as the world’s most significant provider of fucoidan to medical-research teams. Globally, studies into the compound are multiplying, with a particular focus on fucoidan’s effects on gut health.
“Tasmania has an opportunity to lead the world in this area by producing a gold-standard ingredient,” says McTaggart.
And Australians could reap the rewards of fucoidan production close to home. “From a consumer standpoint, it’s only just the beginning,” McTaggart adds.
SeaQuo exhibited on Stand A43 at Naturally Good 2022 earlier this month. Find out more about the benefits of seaweed and why you should consider their products on your shelves. View their exhibitor profile here.