The seaweed farming of eucheumoids in East Africa is solely based on introduced South East Asian (SEA) haplotypes of the carrageenophytes Eucheuma and Kappaphycus. As overexploitation of natural seaweed resources lead to a decline in harvest and export, commercial seaweed farming was started using highly productive SEA strains of the same genus introduced from the Philippines to Zanzibar in 1989. Initially, productivity was high, the sector grew rapidly and seaweed farming soon became an important livelihood. Today, the industry faces various challenges such as decreased productivity and high rates of diseases and epiphytic infestations. Continuous introduction of foreign stock for cultivation vitalization might not be the solution, as escapees of SEA Eucheuma denticulatum have been found spreading into natural environments around Zanzibar with uncertain ecological consequences. We suggest that indigenous haplotypes of E. denticulatum and Kappaphycus alvarezii should be re-evaluated for farming potential, for increasing the genetic diversity and hence resilience within stocks.
This study is a first step towards a reassessment of farming potential of East African (EA) haplotypes. Molecularly identified haplotypes of E. denticulatum and K. alvarezii were tested in in-situ farming conditions in Zanzibar, and growth rates, grazing and epiphytes were compared between EA and SEA haplotypes. Results show, except for an overall decreased growth compared to previous studies, that growth rate was site dependent and that SEA Eucheuma haplotypes have a higher growth rate (1.3 ±1.8 - 3.6 ±1.9% per day) compared to EA haplotypes (0.2 ±1.0 - 2.0 ±0.4% per day). No significant differences were found in grazing rate between native and introduced Eucheuma haplotypes, while native Kappaphycus was more prone to grazing.
In conclusion the farming potential for native E. denticulatum, is not rejected but underlines that there is an urgent need of continued search for native East African seaweed resources and a further identification of their desirable traits. If successful, this would enable East African seaweed industry to further expansion and secure its ecological and economical sustainability.