Of seaweeds and climate change

Climate change is a global problem that needs immediate attention. Its worsening effects are imminent and can no longer be ignored. However, it’s not too late to do something. 

Scientists and researchers all over the world have tirelessly worked together to come up with innovative solutions to mitigate the worsening effects of climate change. But the action isn’t just limited to the international community. 

Dr. Largo tends to Sargassum cultivars on a floating culture line.

The University of San Carlos, especially its researchers like Dr. Danny Largo, has also been doing its part to contribute to the resolution of this global threat. As a researcher and an advocate of climate change mitigation, Dr. Largo’s work focuses on the use of seaweeds as carbon sinks. Seaweeds, like other plants, absorb carbon which helps control the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. 

Aside from this, Dr. Largo is also known for his works on ice-ice disease of the red seaweeds, Eucheuma and Kappaphycus. These red seaweeds are the main sources of carrageenan that are used in the food and beverages, pharmaceutical, biomedical, and nutraceutical industries, among others. 

His works earned him recognition as an Outstanding Young Scientist in the field of Aquatic Environmental Science in 1999 given by the National Academy of Science and Technology of the Republic of the Philippines. 

After finishing his Ph.D. degree in Aquatic Environmental Science from Kochi University in Japan, Dr. Largo served as Chair of the Department of Biology and then as Director of the Office of Research and Manager of the Innovation and Technology Support Office (ITSO).

These administrative duties, however, did not prevent Dr. Largo from continuing his love affair with seaweeds, this time venturing into the more practical application of these marine plants in aquaculture.

Prof. Danny Largo with his Sargassum “babies” in a land-based hatchery tank.

With funding from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), he pioneered the research on Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) in the Philippines in the use of seaweeds as extractive species for inorganic pollution caused by fed aquaculture, and his work on developing the culture techniques for the mass propagation of local species of Sargassum

By developing a land-based hatchery system to which he has a pending patent for the artificial mass production of seedlings, and culture manuals translated into ten Philippine dialects, he is ready to roll out the possible use of his techniques in the open sea cultivation of Sargassum in the Philippines, both for fishery stock enhancement and for harvestable crop for industry applications.

Sexually developed Sargassum seedlings on an artificial substrate in a hatchery set up.

The local species of Sargassum, aside from Eucheuma and Kappaphycus, are potential sources of high-value products and services in the Philippines, which could push further Dr. Largo’s advocacy of promoting seaweeds as a tool for climate change mitigation, for which he participated as Philippine representative in the Asian Network for Using Algae as Carbon Sink, pushing the seaweed agenda in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Sargassum cultivars at harvestable size after deployment in the open sea.

With more than 50 scientific publications in algae-related topics to his credit including several edited seaweed culture books and book chapters published internationally, he is consulted by non-government and government organizations including the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO-UN), which commissioned him to conduct an assessment of the seaweed farms in Zanzibar, Tanzania for the understanding of the ice-ice disease and epiphyte infestation problems in this East African country. Currently, the BFAR is pilot implementing his IMTA technology in Sorsogon.

Dr. Largo is looking for inter-departmental and inter-institutional collaborations which could promote the beneficial uses of local species of seaweeds, and looking forward to the future of more Filipinos learning and appreciating the use of seaweeds—not only as a source of functional foods and of primary and secondary metabolites for health and wellness but, most importantly, the use of wide-scale seaweed farming as an important carbon sequestration measure against global warming and climate change.

by Syrine Gladys Podadera

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