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What Is Marine Algae?

A nutrient-rich microorganism typically found in oceans and seas, seaweed has long served as a food for some populations.
Marine algae is more commonly known as seaweed.
Marine algae as seen through a microscope.
Most marine algae consists of red algae, which has 6,000 species.
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  • Written By: Sara Schmidt
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2014
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Many people are familiar with marine algae as common seaweed. It is a multicellular organism and includes both green and brown varieties of algae, as well as red marine algae. The plant is considered the oldest organism in the plant kingdom. Some varieties of seaweed that people may be most familiar with include kelp, phytoplankton, and gulfweed.

Unlike the weeds found among garden plants, seaweeds do not consist of typical flowers, roots, or other plant parts. Though it contains chlorophyll, marine algae reproduces through spores. The size of seaweed can vastly vary. Some samples may be microscopic while others can be hundreds of feet or meters long, as many people with oceanic experience may attest to witnessing.

The majority of marine algae are red varieties, which make up 6,000 species of organisms. Brown algae accounts for another 2,000 species. Green varieties include 1,200 species of the seaweed.

Several countries, such as Japan, regularly use marine algae as a nutrition source. It was considered a delicacy in ancient China. Seaweeds are complete proteins, high in both carbohydrates as well as fatty acids, such as omega-3s. Red algae in particular is also considered an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. Many people in Western nations recognize these benefits and actively campaigned for a more widespread use of seaweed as a sustainable protein source.

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Seaweed extractions are another benefit humans receive from the organism. Ingredients used in cooking, such as agar, are extracted from seaweed. Carrageenans extracted from red seaweeds are a popular ingredient in vegan alternative foods, such as gelatin. Cosmetic companies sometimes employ the use of seaweed extracts, as do insecticide manufacturers.

In addition to being used as a food source, seaweed is a popular base for several medicines. People take it as a nutritional supplement for an immunity boost and treating herpes. Some manufacturers claim that seaweed can help support weight loss; hence, many consumers purchase it for this reason as well.

Marine algae has some more surprising uses as well, including employing it as a fuel, livestock feed, or as fertilizer. Some farmers note, however, that when laying hens are fed a diet including marine algae, their yolks may exhibit discoloration. Seaweed is also used as a stabilizer in many products, such as ice cream and milkshakes.

Some types of marine algae are considered a nuisance. Fish tank owners, for example, often take special care to ensure that their tanks do not become overgrown with the organism. This can be done by feeding marine animals properly, installing a quality water purification system, and including organisms that feed on the algae in the tank.

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