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Chinnapaalam is a small fishing hamlet near Pamban. The menfolk are countryboat fishermen while the women go to nearby islands like Krusaddai to collect seaweed. They go on coracles to the islands.

In Thangachimadam, Pamban and Mandapam, seaweed is grown for commercial use. “We collect mainly marikozhundu seaweed from the islands for which we are paid Rs 20 a kg if the weed is wet. For dried seaweed we get three times as much,” says M Nambu.

Nambu says it is possible to earn up to Rs 8,000 a month through seaweed. “The forest department is stopping us from going to islands saying our activity is a threat to corals. So we are forming self-help groups to grow the seaweed in our villages,” says A Sakunthala.

The seaweed is growing on a bamboo frame that floats on the sea. It takes some 45 to 60 days to grow the seaweed.

Collecting seaweed from nearby islands has come down a lot these days. “We don’t allow people to go for this near the islands. If the seaweed is destroyed, it affects the biodiversity of the sea. But the fishermen are free to grow the seaweed on the shore,” says D K Ashok Kumar, Ramanathapuram district forest officer.

The seaweed grows in shallow waters on rocks and corals. They come in green, red, bluish green as well as ivory colours. They are rich in proteins and nutrients like iodine, salts, vitamins and so on. They are known to boost immunity. Spirulina, a form of seaweed, is available in capsule form too, commercially.

The Gulf of Mannar is an ideal place to grow seaweed, says D Sitrarasu, professor of marine resources at Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, adding that where the sea is rough like in Kanyakumar, it is impossible to grow seaweed.

Nutritionist Stalin Babu lists the benefits of consuming seaweed. “They are rich in fibre and can be used in low-calorie foods. They can help in weight loss and boost estrogen in women. Seaweed can cure thyroid deficiency and protect against breast cancer,” he adds.

During summer and fasting, seaweed can help to reduce acidity. They can be consumed with water or milk.

Seaweed has become a healthy and important supplements in many food recipes such as in the making of soup, cakes and ice-cream. Seaweed is also used to make fertilizers and skincare products.

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