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Want a side of algae with that? Hawaiian farmers sell seaweed by the seashore

Although a yearning to surf was what first drove native Tucsonan Edward Glenn to Hawaii, what keeps him going back is his life-long interest in marine agronomy. Now, instead of hanging out in the waves, Glenn spends his time on the leeward side of the island of Molokai, working with the local community on sustainable aquaculture projects for the ancient fishponds that dot the island's south coast.

Rather than growing fish, Glenn, Stephen Nelson and their colleagues are focusing on the edible red seaweed, Gracilaria parvispora. The alga, known as "long ogo" by the Japanese, is eaten by people in Hawaii, Asia and the Pacific and is also a source of agar, a common thickening agent in Japanese cooking. This month the team received a grant to develop new markets for Hawaii long ogo products.

Long ogo was once the most important edible seaweed on Hawaii's reefs. In the past, people would go out to the reef and yank the seaweed off the rocks or even take the whole rock, Glenn says. Ultimately, the reef populations of seaweed declined. People started to grow another species of seaweed in tanks on land, but the replacement just wasn't as good.

"This particular seaweed is the one that people desire the most, and it has become overharvested on the reefs of Hawaii," says Glenn, a professor of soil, water and environmental science in the University of Arizona's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). "Our scientific challenge was to find a way to put the seaweed into a practical aquaculture system. People have been trying for years to grow this particular species, and they haven't been able to do it."

However, Glenn and his colleagues have done it. The group, which includes researchers from the department of soil, water and environmental science's Environmental Research Laboratory (ERL) and others in Hawaii, has developed a way to grow the complete life cycle of long ogo without needing to harvest starter plants from the ocean. Glenn says
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30-Jan-2004


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