Young people turn local seaweed problem into a resource

This blog is guest-written by Ameyalli Rios Vázquez from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, a collaborator with the Museum on the Big Seaweed Search Mexico project.

After an amazing two years, the Big Seaweed Search Mexico collaboration is coming to an end. Previous blogs about this project described how the team in Mexico designed and delivered an inspiring programme of activity, for young people from Sisal, Yucatán, and Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo to collaborate with professional researchers from Mexico and UK in this community science effort to monitor seaweed. The seeds we planted in the young people through this collaboration needed time and care to grow, but finally, they are bearing fruit.

We have seen with great joy how the three training workshops and ten collections of seaweed on the beach, carried out within the framework of this project, have inspired the participants beyond our plans, motivating them to learn on their own. In this blog, we share the experiences of two participants from Puerto Morelos who had the initiative to use seaweed from massive to make fertilizer and agar powder – a natural protein used as a vegetarian alternative to gelatin and thickening agent in cooking.

Making a science project with Sargassum

Jonnatan is an 18-year-old high school student at the COBACH Campus Puerto Morelos. He attended our first training workshop and, on behalf of the Stephen Hawking Science Club at his school, invited us to deliver the third workshop. He joined us to collect seaweed five times throughout the year, more than any other participant. At home he likes to keep his house tidy, help his mother with her work, play video games and watch movies and television series. He thinks that one of his qualities is being observant, and he would like to study Physical Therapy.

Following his participation, as a school project, Jonnatan developed a homemade fertilizer made from Sargassum. Although he has not yet been able to remove the heavy metals absorbed in the seaweed, he believes massive strandings could become a very important resource for Puerto Morelos.

18-year-old Jonnatan, a student at a high school in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, holding up a clear plastic bag containing the seaweed he collected on the beach there.
Jonnatan collecting seaweed on the beach

Extracting homemade agar

Eder is a 14-year-old boy who studies at the Mario Molina Pasquel High School in Puerto Morelos. He took the second training workshop and collected seaweed on the beach on three occasions. In his spare time, he likes to hang out with his friends, walk through the local jungle, read and make homemade plant extracts. He likes to be in contact with nature and learn from it, which is why he has taken several courses and workshops on medicinal plants and fish. He would like to study Chemistry or Geology.

Knowing that agar is a compound used in industry to make various products and browsing the identification guide provided for this project, Eder learned that the red algae genus Gracilaria reaches the Yucatan Peninsula coasts and is used for agar production. On his own, he investigated how to extract it at home and took the opportunity to share with us his doubts and collect approximately 1kg of this species on the beach. Back home, he washed the fresh seaweed to remove the sand, let it drain, boiled it in water for half an hour, removed the seaweed and passed the water through a strainer to get the agar. He hoped to extract enough to make gummy sweets, but it was not possible.

Although he would like to continue extracting agar, Eder understands that Gracilaria is only abundant once a year so may not be a good use for seaweed in Puerto Morelos.

14-year-old Eder, a student at a high school in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, collecting seaweed on the beach there.
Eder collecting seaweed on the beach
14-year-old Eder, a participant in Big Seaweed Search Mexico, in the classroom, inspecting and identifying seaweeds he collected, with the help of Ameyalli, who is using a hand lens to take a closer look at the seaweed.
Eder and Ameyalli identifying the seaweeds back in the classroom.

Eder and Jonnatan’s initiatives are examples of the power of community science to develop participants’ sense of agency to transform a local problem into a resource. We hope this sense of agency continues to grow and bear fruit in better coastal management practices, and increased capacity-building and collaboration.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: