Turning Pollution into Solutions- Opp & Fairprice Group’s first Seaweed and Mussel bioremediation
Updated: Jul 19, 2022
Discover how Singapore’s largest Supermarket chain FairPrice Group supported OPP’s vision of seaweed and mussels as nature’s filters of Pasir Ris, keeping the waters clean for local marine ecosystems.
Starting in 2022, Ocean Purpose Project (OPP) partnered with FairPrice Group in a first of it’s kind landmark project collaboration between a Singaporean supermarket chain and a Pasir Ris NGO to focus on the development of nature based solutions of using native seaweed and mussels to protect fish farms from chemical pollution at sea and eventually turn such materials into a new form of bioplastics.
This partnership is part of Ocean Purpose Project’s Bioremediation & Bioplastic pillar as part of 3 strategic thrusts to combat ocean pollution in all forms- plastic, chemical, harmful algae bloom and others through a combination of NGO, indigenous and traditional fish farmers, scientific research back by James Cook University Singapore and Australia campuses and OPP’s community of diverse volunteers who live work and take action in the beach town of Pasir Ris, Singapore. Such a partnership is in line with FairPrice Group’s Making Lives Better sustainability strategy of supporting livelihoods and wellbeing while promoting a circular and low carbon economy- moving the objective of the supermarket chain towards nourishment of not just the nation but of the environment in which Singapore’s produce grows.
A seaweed mussel line along Uncle Heng’s off-shore kelong along Pasir Ris’s shores (Source: Ocean Purpose Project)
The OPP Bioremediation seaweed and mussel project
What colour do you think of when “ocean” is mentioned. Blue? Green? How about pink? Pink seas were exactly what was encountered in Sentosa Cove in 2021 when a phenomenon called Harmful Algae Bloom occurred and released toxins like Trichodesmium, a water soluble toxin when the water stagnates. The toxins depleted the dissolved oxygen in the water leading to mass fish kills and a sulphur like smell while possibly jeopardising the well-being of humans with anecdotes of OPP volunteers living in Sentosa having severe itching when they were exposed to the water.
Sentosa Cove experiencing the “Pink ocean water” phenomenon due to an algae bloom along its coast (Source: TodayOnline.com)
Studies have found that seaweed and mussels have the potential to deter algal bloom and sequester carbon and through the years of research and data collection, Ocean Purpose Project has found native species in Pasir Ris to be highly effective in bioremediation of waters with high nutrient load such as phosphates and nitrates. Mussels and seaweeds are nature’s biofilter and have abilities to filter out toxins from the water, decontaminating them. Mussels are able to consume the algae, bacteria and smaller organic particles while seaweeds absorb excess nutrients, nitrates and ammonia in chemical waste within its cell wall. Pasir Ris species of seaweeds such as ulva lactuca and gracilaria are able to compete with algae for nutrients, deterring its growth and reducing the chances of subsequent algae blooms. They also act as carbon sinks for carbon sequestration to abate the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The exact mechanism for recording this carbon data is currently being developed by Ocean Purpose Project as we build knowledge bases for how Asian species of seaweeds and molluscs can become carbon sinks and become the foundation for blue economy and blue financing models in the region. Naturally, as an NGO with limited resources, this is a massive undertaking that requires support from the public and private sector to realise the vision of small holdings and traditional fish farmers pivoting to regenerative farming that improves ocean ecosystems. Having FairPrice Group as a partner with the vision and foresight to realise the importance, support and publicise Ocean Purpose Project’s work in this field is a vote of confidence to ensure Singapore meets the challenges of 30 by 30 objective to locally produce thirty percent of its nutritional needs by the year 2030. It is vital that the nation’s supermarket sees, supports and promotes a healthy marine ecosystem for local aquaculture as Singapore’s national strategic resilience in a country of over 5 million inhabitants that imports almost 90 percent of its food.
Early stages of the mussel- seaweed lines (Source: Ocean Purpose Project)
With FairPrice Group’s support, OPP has planted 210 seaweed and mussel lines at 2.5m in length around the perimeter of a local offshore fish farm (kelong) belonging to Uncle Heng. The seaweed and mussels latch onto the ropes, creating a curtain of natural filters to absorb the toxins in the water before it flows into the fish farm. This secures a stable environment for the fish to thrive and safeguards consistent livelihood of these kelong fish farmers. OPP conducts regular water quality tests to monitor the kelong’s water quality for its pH, nitrate, nitrite, ammonia and carbon levels. This is to collect data about how the seaweed mussel lines are working to filter out toxins and keep the water in the kelong safe for the fish.
Uncle Heng putting up the sign marking FairPrice Group’s partnership with OPP (Source: Ocean Purpose Project)
FairPrice Group and their efforts in sustainability efforts
FairPrice Group is the leading supermarket retailer in Singapore serving more than half a million shoppers daily through a network of over 390 outlets. The company is aligned with the Singapore Green Plan 2030, a whole-of-nation movement to advance the national agenda on sustainable development. Being one of the leading food retailers in Singapore, FairPrice Group aims to inspire bold actions to make a distinctive difference for this current generation and those to come.
To do so, the company has set sights towards 2030 with 3 key pillars under their Healthier Lives, Healthier Planet plan - Serving our Customers, Supporting Livelihoods & Well-being, Promoting a Circular & Low Carbon Economy. Each of these pillars with its overarching goals and specific targets, form a blueprint for actions across their businesses in four strategic focus areas: Health & Nutrition, Food Resilience, Packaging and Carbon Footprint. Under these focus areas, FairPrice proactively championed efforts such as the “No Plastic Bag” initiative and “FairPrice-CSR Food Waste Reduction Programme”. To reduce their carbon footprint, they have also adopted energy-saving features at their stores and facilities.
Why is there a need for this partnership?
Due to the industrial nature of the food production industry, more land and resources are required to sustain the production process, inevitably causing environmental damage. Oftentimes, agricultural land use devastates native ecosystems such as land reclamation, removal of forests, release of methane from rearing of livestock, overconsumption of water for irrigation and which include the use of artificial chemicals like pesticides and fertilisers which leech from soils into groundwater and evident in Pasir Ris, into ocean ecosystems.
Soy harvesting with a combine harvester (Source: theecologist.org)
By partnering with FairPrice Group, Ocean Purpose Project was able to take one step closer towards understanding how nature can help restore ecosystems destroyed by human activity and explore forms of regenerative ocean farming through investigating the effectiveness of mussel seaweed lines for bioremediation.
Investing in nature based solutions
With impacts of climate change and global pollution on the rise, the need for more sustainable and nature-based solutions becomes vital to prevent further palpable damage to the environment. This may seem like an insurmountable problem; however, our vision for sustainable development is possible with the likes of more companies like FairPrice Group who are championing sustainability objectives in Singapore.
Nature-based solutions involve protecting, restoring and sustainably managing ecosystems to ensure that it will not be used at a rate faster than it can be replenished. By adopting nature-based solutions, companies can continue providing products and services for human consumption while not damaging the environment - a win-win for both humans and nature! Examples of sustainable and nature-based solutions for food production include IMTA or integrated multi-trophic aquaculture that promotes native seaweed growth, afforestation, fishing only in limited zones and set up protected areas, and opting for nature-based fertilisers.
A breakdown of nature-based solutions and its challenges (Source: IUCN)
The Food & Beverage (F&B) industry
The F&B industry likewise generates environmental problems analogous with the food production industry. The F&B industry inevitably generates food waste which results in the indirect wastage of resources, such as water and energy, put into producing food. The F&B industry also uses non-eco-friendly packaging from the food production industry, and hence contributes to this climate crisis. OPP’s Bioremediation solution is not just about protecting marine life from harmful chemicals and algae blooms at sea, but taking one step further to create 100% biodegradable materials from these bio-filters. Ocean Purpose Project hopes to produce bioplastics from the seaweed grown in Pasir Ris creating a regenerative industry around single use 100% biodegradable seaweed & mussel plastics while decreasing fossil-fuel based plastic consumerism and multi-contaminant pollution into our seas and waterways.
This partnership enables FairPrice Group to extend their sustainability efforts up its value chain as well as empower OPP’s projects to take flight! Together, every little effort can help to save Mother Earth. Singapore’s “pink '' ocean waters can be tackled by OPP’s solutions powered by visionary corporate partners such as FairPrice Group- protecting Singapore’s food security by working together with local fish farmers from low, mid and high tech to care for their ocean environment that provides seafood sustenance for a nation. Aside from the obvious UN SDG or United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Under Water, this partnership also realises the 17th goal under the UN SDG “Partnerships for the Goals” by starting at a local, community scale built upon a shared vision with Mother Nature as the common denominator.