Algae: New Source Of Omega-3 Saves Oceans From Overfishing

 Algae in its natural state: Conversion of algae into omega-3 could alleviate overfishingAlgae in its natural state: Conversion of algae into omega-3 could alleviate overfishing

 

Omega-3s and antioxidants are highly touted by nutritionists and dietitians everywhere these days. They are both found naturally in a variety of food sources and thought to be beneficial to human beings for a number of important reasons. The word "thought" instead of "known" is used because science is always changing its mind every so many years and declaring that what was once considered good for us is no longer good for us and then years later doing an about-face and saying, "Oops, we were wrong, it's good to go again."

Both nutrients work at a cellular level to alleviate, reduce or ward off damage to our bodies, but omega-3s are found in high concentrations predominantly in fish rather than in vegetables and fruit, like antioxidants.

Overfished Oceans


Overfishing of the world's oceans is a real problem that will one day come to a head and leave us with a serious problem on our hands if we don't do something about it. The seas surrounding places like Scandinavia and Japan are or were regularly picked clean by local fisherman trying to earn a living. After centuries of this activity many species of fish have significantly dwindled in number, and some of them aren't even the fish these ocean trawlers are/were looking for.

It used to be whales everyone was on the lookout for in order to harvest their blubber and other usable parts for use in cosmetics, household products and as a fuel source. Now it's predominantly fresh, cold-water fish such as cod, salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and other fatty fish due to their huge surge in popularity in recent decades. This has to do with the fact they're high in omega-3s, the essential fatty acids we're told are so good for us.

 

Algae can be produced in different forms in greenhousesAlgae can be produced in different forms in greenhouses

 

Algae


Whether people are consuming omega-3s through fresh fish or supplements made up of fish oil, sooner or later there is the distinct possibility that we will fish ourselves dry in order to meet our demands. That's where algae is coming into play. Besides being used as an alternative energy source for industrial applications, algae is now under investigation as a viable source of omega-3. A Swedish agri-startup called Simris Alg is hoping to alleviate the problem of overfishing with a more sustainable omega-3 produced from algae.

Fredrika Gullfot, CEO and founder of Simris Alg, is behind the charge for this change noting that it takes 600 sardines just to make one bottle of 500mg omega-3 health supplements. Gullfot believes that if the public is "faced with increasing amounts of easily available alternatives, people will be more inclined to switch from fish oil," which is possibly true — if they are convinced they're ultimately getting the same quality of product and it's eco-friendly.

 

Greenhouses are used for the production of algaeGreenhouses are used for the production of algae

 

Algae Greenhouses


So, how easy is it to produce algae and convert it to omega-3? A lot easier than you'd think. Apparently, all it takes is sunlight and carbon dioxide to convert it into fuel and nutrients. It's important to mention that not all algae is created equal. Gullfot is adamant about not using funghi-like algae, which require sugars to live and breed. Her company is growing algae that are like plants in a greenhouse, which comes with some major benefits. Gullfot says, "For each kilo of algae we produce, we consume 4kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere."

After taking a small greenhouse and turning it into Sweden's first algae farm for oil production, she is now expanding with the addition of a 2,000 square meter greenhouse and believes productivity of the omega-3 product will increase from just a few thousand bottles to a quarter million by year's end. While the numbers are still low, this is an encouraging start and a step in the right direction to alleviating a growing global problem.

Sustainable Energy

As more and more enterprising young scientists like Fredrika Gullfot continue on this tack of searching for and producing renewable alternatives to formerly traditional sources, we should begin to see promising changes in industry and how we view the future. For more information on Simris Alg and Sweden's blooming algae industry, click here.