January 2

Maine seaweed may be protected as value rises

The growth of the rockweed harvest for a variety of products brings proposals to manage the shoreline resource.

By North Cairn ncairn@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Rockweed, which covers rocks along Maine’s coast, is processed for use in pharmaceuticals, nutritional supplements and other products.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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To respond to that growth will require a strong knowledge base and prudent management, industry and state officials agreed.

Some unanswered questions about rockweed are being explored under a nearly $100,000 state grant to the Maine Maritime Academy.

The money will fund research into which organisms feed on two species of rockweed and how they fit into and contribute to the near-shore food web and the ecosystem as a whole, said project director Jessica Muhlin, associate professor of marine biology at MMA.

The research will focus on the times and places rockweed undergoes reproduction, Muhlin said.

Because the reproductive processes take place outside the organisms rather than within, a huge amount of material – eggs, sperm, fertilized eggs and mucilage – is spewed into the water and serves as food for some of the estimated 150 species of animals that live in or rely on the canopy of rockweed, she said.

The research will track when and where that material travels within the larger food web, Muhlin said.

It may offer clues to understanding of rockweed that now are lacking but sorely needed to avoid trouble in these intertidal-zone species before it starts.

“They’re not imperiled but they’re ecologically very important,” Muhlin said.

“It’s a wonderful renewable resource,” said Zitske, the Audubon ecologist. “But like anything, I’m glad there’s a management plan that people are thinking about for it.”

North Cairn can be reached at 791-6325 or at:

ncairn@pressherald.com

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