For the people of Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan Islands, just off the coast of Bali in Indonesia, seaweed is the backbone of their economy. Most of the inhabitants of these tiny islands rely on seaweed farming to survive. The karst type soils of Penida and Ceningan do not retain surface water, making terrestrial farming difficult, since it is so dependent on capturing rainfall.
The origins of seaweed farming here go back to 1984 when a businessman from Surabaya was successful in developing seaweed cultivation in Jungut Batu, a neighboring island of Nusa Penida. The people of Nusa Penida, seeing that the industry could be profitable, decided to follow suit. At present, about 30km of Nusa Penida's shoreline from west to east has been divided into lots for seaweed cultivation. The seaweeds they grow are of the spinosum (eucheuma spinosum) variety and of katoni (eucheuma cottoni) kind. The spinosum is usually used as a food ingredient in China whereas the katoni is processed into flour for different industries such as cosmetics, medicines, and foods.
When the tide is low, they wade into the sea to plant or harvest the seaweed. Of course, low tide changes constantly, so they might find themselves working in the blazing Midday sunshine or getting up in the middle of the night to tend to their crop. Once harvested, the seaweed is dried first before being sold. The farmers sell the dried seaweed to brokers who ship it to the industrial town of Surabaya in Java, where it is further processed before being exported. The brokers set the price at between Rp3,000 and Rp5,000 per kilogram for the spinosum, depending on quality, and around Rp7,000 per kilogram for the katoni. That's less than US$1 per kilo - not a huge amount considering the work involved, though the market price does fluctuate.
Still, seaweed farming is an important livelihood option in the Coral Triangle. Many communities that have traditionally relied on fishing have seen stocks fall dramatically in their ancestral fishing grounds and industries like this, if well managed, can offer a sustainable alternative.