Sam Judd: Will algae save the world?

[Global] Most of the time that I talk about algae – it is something negative.

At this time of year water flows are down and we are hitting peak summer temperatures, which – when combined with waterways that are polluted by nutrients – creates the ideal conditions for toxic algal blooms.

Right now for example, algal blooms have closed popular swimming spot Lake Tutira North of Napier.

And does anyone remember when paralytic shellfish poisoning meant that a massive area of the Bay of Plenty and Coromandel couldn’t be harvested for over 18 months? Again, that was algae.

Algal blooms are a naturally occurring phenomena, but when we disrupt the ecosystem by adding non-natural quantities of nutrients, such as animal feces or fertiliser run-off, we increase their occurrence.

The really scary part is when too much algae spews out into the ocean and causes a ‘dead zone’ – which is essentially, a human-cased ecological disaster.

So it is fair to say that as a fishermen and someone who likes swimming in rivers during hot summer months, that I had rather a dislike for algae.

But the other day, I saw something that totally redeemed these tiny organisms so much that I almost felt bad for hating on them.

Austrian architects have designed a new building façade with bioreactors – where algae grows – and it generates the power for the building and cleans the air.

There are also scientists that are adamant that algae is going to be a key living tool for creating biofuels and feeding the world.

Algae can make ethanol (a key ingredient for biofuel) 50 times faster, while using far less land and not competing with food crops as it can be done in the ocean.

Also – have you ever heard of Spirulina? This of course is algae too. A highly nutritious edible alga in fact.

So perhaps instead of spending billions drilling for oil in the ocean, we should put it towards research and development for something like algae?


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