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Rethinking the Red Gold Rush

Overharvesting the popular gelatin alternative agar-agar puts the environment, and the harvesters, in peril.

Photo by Peter Southwood/Wikimedia Commons

In Morocco, where red seaweed is harvested off the coast of the port city of El Jadida, it is referred to as “red gold”—red seaweed is a 31-million-Euro industry in the North African country. The scarlet-hued algae are processed into agar-agar, a natural gelling agent used in drugs, cosmetics, and edibles like jelly candies. Demand for agar-agar, which is marketed as a plant-based alternative to gelatin, has risen dramatically in the past few years, and the natural commodity is becoming scarce.

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