What You Need to Know About South Korea's Seaweed Farms

Seaweed farming on the southern coast of South Korea
(Photo: Jesse Allen/NASA Earth Observatory)

In this strangely beautiful satellite image captured by the NASA Earth Observatory, large-scale seaweed farms are visible through the clear water of South Korea's southern coast.

From many miles above, the seemingly neat and orderly "fields" are uncannily reminiscent of blurred blocks of text that you might find inside a book. About 90 percent of all seaweed that is consumed globally is sourced from farms like these. Continue below to get a close-up view:

Seaweed farming off the coast of South Korean island
(Photo: Jesse Allen/NASA Earth Observatory (above)

Photos: Jesse Allen/NASA Earth Observatory (above); Jean-Marie Hullot on flickr and Jmhullot on commons [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Wikimedia Commons (below at right)

Harvesting seaweed

According to NASA science writer Alex Voiland, "the south coast of South Korea produces about 90 percent of the country’s seaweed crop, [and] since 1970, farmed seaweed production has increased by approximately 8 percent per year." This should come as no surprise when you consider that seaweed is an important component of many dishes in eastern Asia (and beyond).

One of the most common methods for cultivating seaweed in this aquatic region of South Korea is simply letting it grow on ropes that float near the surface of the water by tethered buoys (see below).

"This technique ensures that the seaweed stays close enough to the surface to get enough light during high tide but doesn’t scrape against the bottom during low tide," Voiland explains.

Although many large-scale agriculture operations can put undue stress on the environment and natural resources, seaweed farming boasts an exceptionally light environmental footprint. In many cases, seaweed farming promotes a healthier ecosystem by preserving and even increasing diversity in coral reefs as well as facilitating nutrient bioextraction, which is a process that helps remove nitrogen and other excessive nutrient pollutants from the water.

Seaweed farmer
(Photo: badins/Shutterstock)

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