PIA Winberg from the University of Wollongong believes the South Coast of NSW is in an ideal position to become a world leader in aquatic cultivation.
Dr Winberg said aquatic industries such as algae and seaweed cultivation had a range of applications, from sustainable seafood and medical implants, to fuels such as diesel or ethanol.
“The South Coast is home to some of the most unique seaweed in the world,” Dr Winberg said. “We have hundreds of miles of coastline and the water is clean and clear. We are in an ideal position to take advantage of this technology.
“Aquatic cultivation is a $5 billion industry worldwide, yet Australia hardly contributes to that at all.”
On Tuesday Dr Winberg co-hosted the fifth Congress of the International Society for Applied Phycology, which was held in Australia for the first time.
The congress brought together experts from around the world to debate the viability of using algae and seaweed as an alternative source of food and biofuels.
Per hectare, algae produces 20 times more biofuel than corn, and can be used to make biodiesel, not just ethanol.
Indeed, algae was recognised as a viable alternative fuel source as early as 1976 by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the US Department of Energy estimates that algae would only require a seventh of the area used to grow corn, and it could replace all petroleum used in the US with biofuels.
The use of seaweed as a food alternative was also debated, and although some of our favourite foods, including ice-cream and soft cheeses contain seaweed gel, Dr Winberg said western countries needed to be more open to the idea of seaweed as a food source.
Seaweed is one of the most nutritionally dense plants in the world, as well as being one of the most abundant sources of minerals.
It contains 10 times the amount of calcium as milk, and alkalises the blood, neutralising the over-acidic effects of our modern diet.