Sargassum: a precious natural gift from Quang Ngai province

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Seaweed harvesting in Binh Châu commune, Quang Ngai province (Centre).
Photo: CTV/CVN

To It dawn, hundreds of fishermen from the coastal towns of the province of Quang Ngai, in the Center, sail on their coracles towards the sea to harvest a gift of nature bestowed on their native land: sargassum seaweed.

Containing many vitamins and minerals, including iodine, iron and calcium, sargassum is increasingly appreciated due to its high nutritional value and original taste.

For the locals, besides onions and garlic, this “vegetable from the sea” is another plant that provides them with an important source of income.

The seaweed harvesting season begins in early July when clumps of seaweed appear in abundance on the rocks and coastal coral reefs. According to local fishermen, this plant grows and thrives from mid-April to July every year.

Dive of 2 5m under the sea

Sitting in his boat, Nguyên Hùng, 52, from the village of Châu Thuân Good, commune of Binh Châu, points to the bubbles on the surface of the water, explaining: “Some villagers dive in this area to cut the seaweed”.

Emerging from the transparent blue water is a young man wearing a diving mask, swimsuit and snorkel. After resting for a few minutes, he continued to dive between 2 and 5 m deep. Another fisherman on the boat hastily uses a long pole or paddle to fish for the seaweed and stores it on a nearby raft or basket. If they are too slow, the water can push the algae out of the net, making it more difficult to collect them.

According to Mr. Hùng, seaweed harvesting usually begins around 5:00 a.m. and ends in the late afternoon. Many fishermen bring food for lunch by the sea. A day of diving can harvest 400 to 500 kg of fresh seaweed. After drying, each ton of wet seaweed will reduce to 300-350 kg, depending on its age.

Large families often invest in specialized equipment like oxygen cylinders and rafts, and divide the different tasks between family members. Those on a budget can wait until the tide has gone out in the late afternoon to pull in their rafts and collect seaweed along the shore until dark.

Exploitation combined with protection

Fresh seaweed is dried naturally in the sun for three to five days before being consumed.
Photo: CTV/CVN

For fishermen in coastal towns such as Binh Hai or Binh Châu, Binh Son district, this season is successful because the market demand is high. Traders buy immediately all fresh seaweed.

“In the past three weeks, my family has been able to earn about 1.5 million VND ($64) per day thanks to algae. The price of one kilogram last year was only 6,000 VND compared to 9,000 VND this year, so locals are happy to go to sea no matter how hard the job is.”shares Nguyên Van Phung, originally from the village of Phu Quy, commune of Binh Chau.

However, according to Mr. Phung, harvesting seaweed is arduous. It is an aquatic algae that grows on the sandy bottom about 1m-1.5m below the water surface. Therefore, divers are always young men, they must be healthy to withstand the sun, the wind and to be able to dive underwater for a long time.

The seaweed harvesting season runs from June to the end of August. At this time, most anglers focus on harvesting seaweed rather than seafood. They say this year’s season may end earlier than usual.

After harvesting, the seaweed is first processed to remove waste and rocks still clinging to the root. Then they should be dried naturally in the sun for three to five days before being eaten.

It is cooked in many simple, delicious and nutritious dishes like soups or salads, so the plant has become increasingly popular.

Harvesting seaweed brings income to the inhabitants, and reduces the pollution caused by old plants drifting on land. However, overexploitation has seriously affected aquatic resources.

Among the varieties of algae, sargassum, which grows mainly on coral reefs, is a source of food and creates an environment where other species can shelter and reproduce. It also creates an environment favorable to the development of dozens of species of coral.

To avoid any negative effects, for several years, the provincial authority of Quang Ngai has specified the time of exploitation. The harvesting, trade and transport of seaweed are prohibited in the province of 1er December to the end of April of the following year, except for research work approved by the authorities.

Local fishermen are allowed to harvest the seaweed after the 1er May of each year. They must not uproot the plant but cut at least 10 cm from the root and must not exploit more than 75% of the algae surface so that aquatic species have shelter to live and reproduce.

At the same time, they must avoid trampling or anchoring ships in the algal zone so as not to damage the coastal coral reefs. The regulations are based on the growth characteristics of the plant, specifying its growth standards and preserving spawning grounds for aquatic species.

“Thanks to seaweed collection, local fishermen have a decent income to live on”, informs Pham Câu, vice-president of the People’s Committee of Binh Hai commune. It now has around 400 households practicing this profession.

“Local authorities have encouraged proper exploitation of seaweed alongside preservation. Harvesting the plant should be done in the right season, otherwise it will affect the growth of fish and shrimp. Local fishermen are well aware of its importance and strictly adhere to the regulations”he says.

Huong Linh- ĐO Quyên/CVN

Sargassum: a precious natural gift from Quang Ngai province