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Investigating Agar Extraction from Gracilaria salicornia

Presentation Abstract:

One of Hawaii’s most prized features are the beautiful reefs that surround our shores and serve as an integral part of marine life. Gracilaria salicornia, or Gorilla Ogo, is a highly invasive seaweed that is currently considered "the largest current threat to the health of reefs in Hawaii," according to botanist Celia Smith of the University of Hawai’i. It costs our government obscene amounts of money to remove and has no natural competition, leaving all eradication efforts up to humans. This project proposes that agar, a substance similar to gelatin, could be extracted from the species and sold. Agar has a market in the culinary, cosmetic, bioplastic and bacteriological industries. Through developing a process adapted from other agar extraction methods, our group has successfully extracted agar from Gorilla Ogo and devise that through using an underwater vacuum to gather the seaweed, we could make a profit of $2,500 an hour through selling agar. We plan to use the remaining plant material not used in the agar as fertilizer. Essentially, we've taken a very negative aspect of our reef life, and turned it into a product that can be sold in stable markets, creating an economic incentive to fund the seaweed's own eradication efforts with money left over to pay for manpower.