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A review submitted to National Working Group on Sargassum seaweed

Sargassum Seaweed and Extracts:


Evaluation of their potential use in Crop Production Systems in Barbados

Gloria Lavine
May 2015

An investigation into the potential use of the current influx of Sargassum seaweed to our sea shores
in Crop production systems in Barbados, with a view towards developing crop production
recommendations for farmers

A review submitted to National Working Group on Sargassum seaweed

Keywords
Sargassum, Seaweed, Bio-stimulant, Abiotic stress tolerance, Seaweed extract,
Seaweed Concentrate (SWC), Brown seaweed, Sodium exclusion mechanism,
Micronutrients, Water retention, Biodegradability, Plant microbe interactions

A review submitted to National Working Group on Sargassum seaweed


Introduction
The pursuit of a greener path to economic development is attractive to Barbados, especially
given its limitations in relation to size and dependence on natural resources and fossil fuels. A Green
Economy approach gives consideration to the level of its available natural resources and ensures that
they are used in a sustainable manner, and contribute to the maintenance and rehabilitation of
important ecosystems and ecosystem services (Moore & et al, 2012), one such resource currently
abundantly available to Barbados is Sargassum seaweed.
Marine algal species of seaweed are now in abundant supply on our shores leading to many
questions as to the potential for utilization in agriculture and other areas of economic activity.
Internationally seaweed is regarded as an underutilized bio-resource. Locally, anecdotal evidence
suggests that the application of seaweed enhances the growth of fruit and vegetable crops in a variety
of ways.
The term Seaweed is not a taxonomic term and is used primarily to describe large, benthic
marine algae. Seaweeds are broadly classified into three main groups based on their pigmentation
Phaeophyta (brown algae), Rhodophyta (red algae), Chlorophyta (green algae). Brown seaweeds are
the second most abundant and comprise the majority of seaweeds that reach our shores. Seaweeds,
especially brown seaweeds such as Sargassum species, have been used in farming systems in coastal
areas of the world since the twelfth century (Temple & Bomke, 1988)
Both the seaweed compost and meal serve as a slow release fertilizer and a soil conditioner,
improving aeration and aggregate stability. Generally unprocessed seaweeds have a similar nitrogen,
lower phosphorus, and higher potassium salt and micronutrient concentrations than animal manures
(Stirk & van Staden, 2006) . The weight of wet seaweed was a major deterrent to its widespread use
because of the inconvenience of transporting it for long distances away from the shoreline and so
extensive research has been done on the development of seaweed extracts. There are many examples
of seaweed being used fresh as well as collected, dried and added into the soil, or of being composted
before application (Stirk & van Staden, 2006).
In the Philippines seaweed is used wet in coastal areas but is sun dried when needed to be
transported inland. In Argentina green seaweeds have been composted and used in crop trials
Sargassum and other seaweeds are used as bio-fertilizers in agriculture (Hong, Hien, & Son, 2007)and
numerous studies have revealed a wide range of beneficial effects of seaweed extract applications on
plants (Khan, Wajahatullah, & et al, 2009).
There has been extensive research on the use of seaweed in the form of dry seaweed and seaweed
meal in farming systems but the use of raw seaweed is limited due to the transportation costs and to
the unpredictability of the availability of large quantities of seaweed at once in some areas. In all
cases, the addition of seaweed and seaweed meal increased water holding capacity and plant growth
and so to be able to use seaweed further inland from coastal areas, there has been a focus on the
production and use of seaweed extracts (McHugh, 2003)

A review submitted to National Working Group on Sargassum seaweed


Seaweed and seaweed extracts have been proven to:

Enhance soil health by improving moisture-holding capacity and by promoting growth of


beneficial soil microbes
Trigger the growth of beneficial soil microbes and secretion of soil conditioning substances
by these microbes
Promote root growth and development
Improve nutrient uptake by roots
Trigger early flowering and fruit set
Increase fruit yield
Promote rooting in cuttings
Elicit abiotic stress tolerance in plants
Enhance defense against pests and diseases
o Nematodes
o Fungal and bacterial pathogens
o Other pests

Current methods of application

Extracts
Mulches/Compost

The benefits of seaweed as sources of organic matter and as bio-stimulants has led to their extensive
use in agriculture and a number of commercial seaweed products are now available some of these are
Maxicrop (seaborn), Algifert (marinure), Goemar GA14, Kelpak G6, Seaspray, Seasol, SM3, Cylex and
Seacrop 16 (ref9) (Zodape, 2001)
Here in Barbados we can use seaweed both as mulch and in the form of extracts due to our small size
and proximity to coastal areas and therefore maximize the benefits of this abundance. One of the
most common concerns about the use of seaweed in farming systems in Barbados is the potential
negative effects on soil salinity. This article is a comprehensive review of the studies done on the
effects of seaweed and seaweed extracts with emphasis on the effects (of seaweed) on soil salinity
and on plant growth and development with a view to guiding farmers on the use of this renewable
bio-resource as part of the development of a Green Economy in Barbados

A review submitted to National Working Group on Sargassum seaweed


Investigation of the salinity of seaweed
Sodium is a micronutrient that aids in metabolism, specifically in regeneration and synthesis of
chlorophyll. The presence of salt in irrigation water by itself is not harmful to plants, the salts are
harmful when they reach a concentration too high for the optimum of plant growth and yield (Zhu,
2001)
Excess sodium in the soil limits the uptake of water due to decreased water potential, which may
result in wilting, enzyme inhibition, necrosis and chlorosis. One of the mineral elements that is
involved in the control of salt tolerance is calcium. If calcium is readily available, plants are better
able to maintain homoeostasis in saltier environments. Calcium ions also assist in mitigating ion
toxicity by maintaining potassium transport mechanisms and the selective potassium to sodium
uptake in areas of high salinity (http://www.plant-biology.com/Salt-Tolerance.php, n.d.)
Some contributing factors to the potential increase of soil salinity in Barbados are dry soils, excess
inorganic fertilizer application and inconsistent watering (leading to calcium deficient soils). Many
studies have shown that using washed seaweed reduces the levels of N, Na and P and Ca in seaweed
mulch
In a research study on Sargassum Beach erosion (Williams & Feagin, 2007), it was found that after
washing Sargassum seaweed and depositing it as mulch, the levels of N, Na, and P were significantly
depleted from the Sargassum and the beneficial effect on the plants was diminished. The rinse
water showed a significant increase in all nutrients analyzed (N, K, Na. Ca. Mg and P) when
compared to the standard tap water. The nutrients K, Mg and Ca and micronutrients were identified
as potential growth enhancers but were found to be unlikely to be responsible for the significant
differences between the washed and unwashed Sargassum treatments.
In another study (Sivalingam, 1978) bio-deposited concentration of elements such as Ca, K, Na Mg,
Mn and P showed high K and low Na in brown and red algae whereas high Na and low K were
recorded in green seaweeds. This indicates that red and brown seaweeds may survive in sea water
by operating the Na exclusion mechanism. The Na exclusion mechanism is active accumulation of K
in their cell sap against an osmotic gradient to lower the Na content below the equilibrium
(Sivakumar & Arunkumar, 2009). Sargassum seaweed therefore does not seem to have the
concentrations of Na to cause toxicity and can be, and has been used safely as mulch and in
composting systems in crop production systems.

A review submitted to National Working Group on Sargassum seaweed


Mineral content of seaweed
All the essential minerals are provided by seaweeds, these essential minerals may be sometimes
absent in fresh water and food crops grown in mineral depleted soils. Seaweeds contain 20-50%
minerals in their dry weight (Kazutoshi, 2002). The elements abundant in seaweed include

Potassium
Sodium
Calcium
Magnesium
Zinc
Copper
Chloride
Sulphur
Phosphorus
Vanadium
Cobalt
Manganese
Selenium
Bromine
Iodine
Arsenic
Iron
Fluoride

Seaweed, especially the brown seaweeds, are also rich in cell wall polysaccharides, vitamins and
protein (Mabdau & Fleurence, 1993).
Seaweed as a Growth promoter and Bio-stimulant
Seaweed products exhibit growth-stimulating activities and the use of seaweed products as biostimulants in crop production is well established. Bio-stimulants are defined as materials other than
fertilizers that promote plant growth when applies in small quantities and are also referred to as
metabolic enhancers (Zhang & Schmidt, 1997).
Seaweed extracts or seaweed concentrates (SWC) are bioactive at low concentrations (diluted as
1:1000 or more (Crouch & van Staden, 1993a). Many of the various chemical components of
seaweed extracts and their modes of action remain unknown, but it is possible that these
components exhibit synergistic activity (Fornes, Snchez-Perales, & Guadiola, 2002); (Vernieri,
Borghesi, Ferrante, & Magnani, 2005)

A review submitted to National Working Group on Sargassum seaweed


Many studies have shown that red and brown seaweeds are sources of a number of chemical
compounds that promote growth

Complex polysaccharides
o Laminarin
o Fucoidan
o Alginate
Growth hormones
o Cytokinins
o Auxins
o Betains
o Sterols

Soil structure and moisture retention


Seaweeds affect the physical, chemical and biological properties of soil and enhance the moisture
holding capacity which in turn influences plant growth and soil health. Brown seaweeds are rich in
polyuronides such as alginates and fucoidans. Alginates and fucoidans are hydrophilic
polysaccharides with gelling and chelating properties (Cardozo, et al., 2007). Salts of alginic acid
combine with the metallic ions in soil to form high molecular weight complexes that absorb
moisture, swell, retain moisture, and improve crumb structure. The result is better soil aeration and
capillary activity of soil pores which in turn stimulate the growth of the plant root system as well as
boost soil microbial activity (Eyras, Rostagno, & Defosse, 1998); (Ghandhiyappan & Perumal, 2001);
(Moore K. , 2004)
Soil microbes
Application of seaweed and seaweed extract (SWC) triggers the growth of beneficial soil microbes
and secretion of soil conditioning substances by these microbes. Alginates in seaweed affect soil
properties and encourage growth of beneficial fungi (Ishii, et al., 2000)

Nematodes
Seaweed extracts (SWC) were found to have an impact on the population of nematodes in
the soil (Wu, Jenkins, Blunden, von Mende, & Hankins, 1997). Plants treated with seaweed
extract exhibited a reduction in nematode infestation. The extract did not affect the
population of nematodes in the rhizosphere, neither did it cause direct nematicidal effect,
but it is possible that the reduction in infestation is due to alterations of the auxin:cytokinin
ratio in the plant (Featonby-Smith & van Staden, 1983a).

Fungal pathogens
Seaweed extracts (SWC) impart disease resistance in plants. It has been reported to eliminate black
spot in roses; turnip sprayed with seaweed extract recorded a reduction of mildew on the leaves;
mildew was also less prevalent in melons sprayed with seaweed extract; these conclusions were
observed in an experiment to investigate anecdotal evidence that seaweed extract reduced the
incidence of Botrytis infection in strawberries (Booth, 1966).
Hydrolyzed seaweed reduced the incidence of damping off in tomato seedlings by 50%, overhead
watering of plants with a 1:120 dilution of seaweed extract each week reduced the incidence of
infected fruit to 4.6 % compared with 22.5 % in the controls (Stephenson, 1966).

A review submitted to National Working Group on Sargassum seaweed


Foliar sprays of A. nodosum extract reduced Phytophthora capsici infection in Capsicum and
Plasmopara viticola in grape (Lizzi, Coulomb , Polian, & Coulomb, 1998).
Soil applications of liquid Seaweed extracts (SWC) to cabbage stimulated the growth and activity of
microbes that were antagonistic to Pythium ultimum, a serious fungal pathogen that causes damping
off disease of seedlings (Dixon & Walsh, 2002). Seaweeds are a rich source of antioxidant
polyphenols with bactericidal properties (Zhang, et al., 2006)
Sucking insects
Aphids and other sucking insects generally avoid plants treated with Seaweed extracts (SWC)
(Stephenson, 1966); (Hanskins & Hockey, 1990).
Hydrolyzed Seaweed extracts (SWC) sprayed onto apple trees reduced red spider mite populations,
and 2-3 years of seaweed extract application resulted in a level of control similar to that of acaricides
(Stephenson, 1966).
The use of seaweed extract on strawberry plants Fragaria sp reduced the two spotted red spider
mite Tetranchus urticae population (Hanskins & Hockey, 1990)
Root development and mineral absorption
Numerous studies have proven that seaweed and Seaweed extracts (SWC) cause an increase in root
size and vigor and a reduction in transplant shock in seedlings (Aldworth & van Staden, 1987).
Seaweed extracts (SWC) improve the absorption of nutrients through the roots causing additional
strong overall growth of the plant (Crouch, Beckett, & van Staden, 1990).
Seaweed products produce an auxin like effect in plants, auxins are important root promoting
hormone (Jeannin, Lescure, & Morot-Gaudry, 1991). An improved root system could be influenced
by endogenous auxins as well as other compounds in extracts (Crouch, Van Staden, Lewis, & Hoad,
1992).
When seaweed concentrate was applied to nutrient stressed wheat there was a significant increase
in root growth. Analysis of the leaves showed that phosphorus levels increased and nitrogen levels
decreased (Nelson & van Staden, 1984a). Beans treated with SWCs showed a decrease in elemental
nitrogen in shoot tissue (Temple, Bomke, Radley, & Holl, 1989)
Beneficial effects of SWC application improves nutrient uptake by plants. It is postulated that some
of the organic constituents in the SWCs chelate the trace elements, improving the efficiency of their
uptake (Stirk & van Staden, 2006)
Shoot growth and photosynthesis
Seaweeds and seaweed products enhance plant chlorophyll content (Blunden, Jenkins, & Liu, 1997)
Application of a low concentration of Ascophyllum nodosum extract to soil or on foliage of tomatoes
produced leaves with higher chlorophyll content than those of untreated controls. This increase in
chlorophyll content was a result of reduction in chlorophyll degradation, which might be caused in
part by betaines in the seaweed extract (Whapham, Blunden, Jenkins, & Hankins, 1993)
There are also some reports of SWC delaying senescence. This is beneficial to the crop as the leaves
remain photosynthetically active for longer. As a consequence of improved nutrition, SWC treated
plants often have more vigorous growth measured by an increase in root and shoot dry weights
(Stirk & van Staden, 2006)
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A review submitted to National Working Group on Sargassum seaweed


Crop Yield
Seaweed extract triggers early flowering and fruit set on a number of crop plants (Abetz & Young ,
1983); (Featonby-Smith & van Staden, 1987); (Arthur, Stirk, & van Staden, 2003).
Tomato seedlings treated with seaweed concentrates (SWC) set more flowers and set flowers earlier
than the control plants and this was not considered to be a stress response (Khan et al, 2009).
The more extensive root system of SWC treated plants will support more vigorous shoot growth and
ultimately flower and fruit production (Stirk & van Staden, 2006).
Seaweed extract (SWC) increased fruit yield when sprayed on tomato plants during the vegetative
stage, producing larger fruit (305 increase in fresh fruit weight over the controls) with superior
(Crouch, Van Staden, Lewis, & Hoad, 1992)
Application of SWC to lettuce enhanced harvestable yield (Abetz & Young , 1983) similarly a
substantial increase in yield was achieved in peppers (Arthur, Stirk, & van Staden, 2003) and a 24 %
increase in yield of beans (Nelson & van Staden, 1984a)
Vegetative propagation
A common form of plant propagation is by cuttings. Some species are more difficult to root than
others. Exogenous application of auxins often increases the rooting response and a similar response
is obtained from using seaweed concentrates (Stirk & van Staden, 2006).
Seaweed as an environmental stress alleviator
Abiotic stresses such as drought, salinity, and temperature extremes can reduce the yield in most
crops and limit agricultural production. Salinity and drought are becoming widespread in many
regions of the world with an estimated 50% of all arable lands possibly being salinized by 2050
(Flowers & Yeo, 1995).
Studies suggest that seaweed products elicit abiotic stress tolerance in plants and that the bioactive
substances derived from seaweeds impart stress tolerance and enhance plant performance. The
chemistry of bioactive compounds in the seaweed and the physiologic mechanism of action of the
compounds that impart this tolerance are mostly unknown. A number of reports do suggest
however, that the beneficial anti-stress effects of Seaweed extracts (SWC) may be related to
cytokinin activity (Khan et al, 2009), and betaine activity.
Exogenous applications of betaines increased chlorophyll retention, has a beneficial role in frost
resistance and fungal attack and alleviates the effect of water and salt stress in plants by acting as an
osmo-protectant and providing partial protection to enzymes against salt inhibition (Blunden, Cripps,
Mason, & Turner, 1986)and (Blunden, Jenkins, & Liu, 1997).
Seaweed extracts (SWC) can improve marketable yields of various crops when grown under
environmental stress conditions (Blunden, Cripps, Mason, & Turner, 1986) showed that betaines
which do occur in in SWCs are at least in part responsible for alleviating salt stress
SWCs improved yields in nutrient stressed plants (Beckett & van Staden, 1990) and Drought
stressed plants treated with a combination of humic acid and SWC had root mass enhanced by 2168% (Khan et al, 2009)

A review submitted to National Working Group on Sargassum seaweed


Seaweed as biodegradable material for nursery pots
In a recent study (Chbani, Mawlawi, & Zaouk, 2013) Padina pavonica was investigated as a potential
material for the design of biodegradable plant pots that can reduce the transplant shock in
seedlings, and to mitigate the wastage of discarded plastic nursery pots

Padina pavonica

Padina pavonica is a common seaweed found on our shores. The objective of the study was to
produce a horticulturally available nutrient support that does not require a large consumption of
water. The materials for the manufacture of the pots were Padina pavonica, Luffa aegyptica and
agar-agar.
The results of the study were that the combination of luffa and the brown seaweed had a water
holding capacity higher than the soil, and is equivalent to three and a half times its dry weight, and
this contributes to a decrease in irrigation water use.
The results lead to the conclusion that the seaweed and luffa create a growing medium that can be
planted along with the plant. The algae improve the biodegradability of the pot by supplying
nitrogen for the microorganisms responsible for bio-degradation, the pots therefore do not impact
negatively on the environment. Many of the brown seaweeds can be used for this purpose and this
could be something worth looking into manufacturing in Barbados

A review submitted to National Working Group on Sargassum seaweed


Seaweed and seaweed products are becoming more popular and more in demand in crop
production worldwide.
The mechanism(s) of action of seaweed are still mostly unknown, Blunden (1991) summarizes this
situation when he says there is sufficient body of information available to show that the use of
seaweed extracts is beneficial in certain cases, even though the reasons for the benefits are not
fully understood.
Seaweed and seaweed extracts on their own cannot be considered an alternative to NPK fertilizers,
but when seaweed is used in combination with organic sources of NPK less fertilizer is needed to
produce an increase in fruit and vegetable production. Also, with Barbados listed as a water scarce
nation and with water usage in crop production high, the use of seaweed as mulch and soil
conditioners can aid in the reduction of demand for irrigation water.
In the case of seaweed we can conclude that it can be a very useful addition to the current inputs
used in cropping systems in Barbados with the potential to mitigate salinity, salt stress, nutrient
stress and water stress problems in land plants and thus benefit the island by simultaneously adding
a useful organic fertilizer while solving an environmental pollution problem caused by previous
farming methods
Recommendations

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Farmers should make full use of the seaweed resource presently available for mulch, as
compost and as extracts
Field trials could be conducted on :
o the effects of seaweed and seaweed extracts on resistance to citrus greening in
citrus plants in Barbados
o the effect of seaweed extracts on the Asian citrus psyllid, the vector of citrus
greening
o the use of seaweed and seaweed extract as inputs for livestock production
o trials to investigate pest and disease response to the application of seaweed extracts
on a variety of crops currently growing in Barbados
o the use of seaweed extracts as a nutrient supply for hydroponic systems
o the use of seaweed extracts in tissue culture
o the use of seaweed meal as an additive to peat moss and other nursery potting
mixes and its impact on transplant shock and water retention
o the use of a seaweed+ luffa+agar combination to manufacture biodegradable
nursery pots
o investigation into the cultivation of Sargassum species for human consumption
o investigation into the use of seaweed as biomass for fuel

A review submitted to National Working Group on Sargassum seaweed

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