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A Guide to the Common Edible and
Medicinal Sea Plants of the
Pacific Islands

Dr Irene Novaczek

C ommunity Fisheries Training Pacific Series 3A
S upplementary Guide to Sea Plants: Pacific Series 3
USP Marine Studies Programme / SPC Coastal Fisheries Programme: Training Materials for Pacific Community Fisheries

The University of the South Pacific

Secretariat of the Pacific Community

Canada-South Pacific Ocean Development
New Zealand Official Development Assistance
Australian Agency for International Development
International Ocean Institute - Pacific Islands



SPC Library
Bibliotheque CPS

A G uide to the C o m m o n Edible and Medicinal Sea Plants of the Pacific Islands

© USP Marine Studies Programme / Secretariat of the Pacific Community 2001 All rights for commercial / profit reproduction or translation, in any form, reserved. The USP and SPC authorises the partial reproduction or translation of this material for scientific, educational or research purposes, provided that the USP, SPC and the source document are properly acknowledged. Permission to reproduce the document and/or translate in whole, in any form, w hether for commercial / for profit or non-profit purposes, must be requested in writing. Secretariat of the Pacific Community Cataloguing-in-publication data Novaczek, Irene

A Guide to the Common and Edible and Medicinal Sea Plants of the Pacific Islands/Irene Novaczek ( Community Fisheries Training Pacific Series / University of the South Pacific, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, 3A)

1. Marine Plants-Oceania. 2. Nutrition-Oceania.
3. Medicinal Plants-Oceania
1. Title 2. University of the South Pacific 3. Secretariat of the Pacific C ommunity 4. Series
6 41.303
ISBN 982 - 203 - 835 - 6
Project Leader
Tony Chamberlain
Marine Studies Programme
The University of the South Pacific
P OBox 1168
Email: [email protected]
Project Team
SPC Noumea Coordinator - Lyn Lambeth
USP Suva Coordinator - Samasoni Sauni
CETC Coordinator - Nu'ufou Petaia
Project Advisers - Gabriel Titili, Irene Novazcek
Editors - USP: Fred Mills, Karen Chamberlain; SPC: Kim Des Rochers Cover design and layout - Pasifika Communications
Printed by Star Printery Limited
Photos by Irene Novaczek and Tony Chamberlain

C ommunity Fisheries Training Pacific Series - 3A


A G uide to the C o m m o n Edible and Medicinal Sea Plants of the Pacific Islands

Preface to the Series
The majority of Pacific Island countries rely on the sea as a major source of food. While women are not involved in offshore deep sea fishing, they are active in collecting and gleaning shellfish and other edible sea species from the nearshore areas and inside the reef. Women also prepare fish either for sale or home consumption. In this preparation process, women are involved in cleaning, gutting, cooking and selling various seafoods. In many atoll countries, women are also involved in the preservation of seafood by drying or smoking. In view of women's role in fisheries activities and the importance of seafood in the region, it is vital that women learn not only the correct handling methods for seafood, but also how to use marine resources wisely for the future.

This manual is part of the Community Fisheries Training Series, and is designed to meet the wide need lor community fisheries training in the Pacific, particularly for women. The series was originally developed for the SPC Commumty Education Training Centre (CETC). The fisheries course at CETC began in 1999 as a joint effort with the USP Marine Studies Programme. It was a response by the Centre to meet the needs of women in the region to improve their skills in small-scale tisheries activities. The USP Post Harvest Fisheries Project was also working to provide post harvest fisheries training lor men and women in the region; hence the joint venture between the two institutions in f 9 99. The two groups of women who have since been through the course have lound the training interesting and useful. Since its inception in 1999, the course has been taught jointly by the USP Marine Studies Programme staff in Fiji Islands and the SPC Community Fisheries Section staff based in New Caledonia. Funding has come from Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the International Ocean Institute - Pacific Islands.

I wish to acknowledge the assistance of and major contribution by Tony Chamberlain, Lecturer of the USP Marine Studies Programme/Post Harvest Fisheries Project; Patricia Tuara, previous SPC Community Fisheries Adviser; Lyn Lambeth, SPC Community Fisheries Officer and other trainers in previous years.

I am grateful to the Marine Studies Programme technical staff who have given their time to training women and also the USP lor facilities and equipment used during the course. I acknowledge Dr Jimmie Rodgers, Senior Deputy Director-General of SPC in Suva and the SPC Management for supporting CETC, by providing facilities and resources towards the implementation of the Fisheries course. We hope you enjoy this manual in the series. Best wishes for a successful fisheries training programme.

Nu'ufou Petaia
SPC Community Education Training Centre (CETC) Narere, Fiji Islands March 2001

C ommunity Fisheries Training Pacific Series - 3A


• »*K J '

A cknowledgments
H ow to Use This Book


I ntroduction

v ii

Sea Plants Listed by Species Name




















Eucheuma and






























W ords and Their Meaning


R elated Resources


C ommunity Fisheries Training Pacific Series - 3A

A G uide to the C o m m o n Edible and Medicinal Sea Plants of the Pacific Islands

T hanks to all those who helped in developing this supplementary resource manual, especially:
Prof. Robin South and Posa Skelton, Marine Studies Programme, USP, for advice and access to sea plant collections and the library;
J ope Lesavu, Post Harvest technician, MSP, USP lor assistance with testing recipes; Tom Dunn, Vilitati Dawainavesi and Wana Sivoi for assisting with field collections and i nterviews;
T he people of Nakalawaca, Namara and Ucumvanua villages, lor providing valuable i nformation and helping to develop and test recipes; and
F red Mills, Samasoni Sauni and Tony Chamberlain, Marine Studies Programme, USP for e ditorial and technical assistance.
Cover picture - Salarietta Bolobilo with Euchcuma, by Irene Novaczek.

C ommunity Fisheries Training Pacific Series - 3A

A G uide to the C o m m o n Edible and Medicinal Sea Plants of the Pacific Islands

A Guide to the Common Edible and
Medicinal Sea Plants of the
Pacific Islands
Community Fisheries Training - Pacific Series 3A

How to use this book
This book is presented in the form of a supplementary resource to the manual, Sea Plants, Community Fisheries Training Pacific Series - 3. It can be used to identify and learn about the common edible and medicinal sea plants of the South Pacific. It is accompanied by the resource book "Sea Vegetable Recipes for the Pacific Islands". If, when using this book, you discover the local names for some plants, find a new edible sea plant, or develop a new recipe, we would love to hear from you and include your information in a future edition. Please contact Tony Chamberlain, Marine Studies Programme, USP, Suva, Fiji Islands.

C ommunity Fisheries Training Pacific Series - 3A

A G uide to the C o m m o n Edible and Medicinal Sea Plants of the Pacific Islands

S eaweeds, or algae, are marine plants that form the basis of a complex food web involving all t he organisms living within a marine ecosystem. Seaweeds are eaten by fish, molluscs, and c rustaceans, which in turn are eaten by other, usually larger animals. In addition, seaweeds c onvert sunlight and dissolved nutrients into energy-rich organic compounds that other o rganisms can eat. They also produce oxygen that all animals need to breathe, and provide s helter and protection for many organisms.

In this guide seaweeds are referred to as sea plants, or, when they are edible, as sea vegetables. Sea plants are used by humans for food, medicine, body care products, animal feed, and fertilizer for agriculture. There are more than 500 sea plants in the Pacific Islands, and perhaps over 100 of these are recognized, either locally or in Asia, as being edible. There are three main g roups of sea vegetables: red, green and brown. The red ones are the trickiest to identify. G rowing in a sunny place they can appear green or yellow, but growing in darker places they l ook purple, brov/n or even black. Look carelully at the tips and at the base of a sea plant - ll y ou can see a little pink or red, then it belongs to the red group. Brown sea plants are always b rown, greenish brown or yellowish brown. Green sea plants are always green unless bleached w hite by the sun.

T he following guide describes twenty-six genera of edible sea plants, and provides advice on w here and when to collect them. Some ol these g enera c ontain more than one edible species, a nd each species varies in appearance and preferred habitat. I have tried to provide d escriptions that will capture the more common edible species, and to indicate where there are wide differences in appearance, as lor example in the g enus Caulerpa. I have indicated briefly how they can be prepared as food, as well as some ol the known medicinal uses of each p lant. For more detailed sea vegetable recipes, see the companion volume in this series, "Sea Vegetable Recipes for the Pacific Islands" by I. Novaczek and A. A thy. I nformation on the geographical distribution of sea plants has been drawn from scientific p ublications, the marine plant herbarium collection of the University ol the South Pacilic, and from interviews with local experts. Gaps in our knowledge of distribution are common. II a p lant has not been reported from a country such as Tonga or Tuvalu, it does not necessarily m ean it does not occur there; more likely it means that it hasn't been scientifically recorded. A lmost all of the sea plants featured in this guide can be assumed to occur throughout the r egion; however, suitable habitat is a critical factor. Sea plants that grow only on volcanic rock, for instance, will not be found on coral atolls. Similarly, coral reef sea plants will be absent from i slands that lack reefs.

W hen this guide was prepared, a number of sea vegetables were out of season and so couldn't b e photographed. We hope to add more sketches and pictures in future editions of this guide. It is important to acknowledge that there are gaps in our knowledge of local names for many sea plants, and some also lack common names in English. Sometimes one general name is used locally for a number of different s pecies (for instance, vutua in Fiji is used for many different small brown sea plants). In other cases, one plant may have several different names in different villages of the same country. On occasion, I have taken the liberty of giving a sea vegetable a d escriptive name, where I could find none in the literature. Alice Athy has also coined several n ames in Bislama.

C ommunity Fisheries Training Pacific Series - 3A

A G uide to the C o m m o n Edible and Medicinal Sea Plants of the Pacific Islands

Folklore concerning medicinal effects of sea plants is common in many countries, and, in recent years, science has begun to prove the basis for these traditional remedies, as well as discovering new active components in sea plants. More information on medicinal value and agricultural use of sea plants can be found in the main volume, "Sea Plants" by I. Novaczek. This training guide also provides advice on safe and sustainable harvesting, preservation methods, ideas for small business products based on sea plants and a guide for developing community workshops.

Irene Novaczek, PhD
March 2001


C ommunity Fisheries Training Pacific Series - 3A

A G uide to the C o m m o n Edible and Medicinal Sea Plants of the Pacific Islands

Sea Plants Listed by Species Name

Acanthophora (ay-kan-tho-fer-ah)

v ,..->/

Common name: spiny sea plant
Pacific names:

kirokiro (Vanuatu) lumi karokaro or lumi karo




Throughout the Pacific Islands: Fiji, New
C aledonia, Tonga, Samoa, Solomon Islands,
Kiribati and elsewhere in Micronesia.


20-30 cm tall, stem 2-5 mm wide; greenish, golden
or purplish brown; slightly stiff, brittle and easily
b roken; stem is covered in tiny spines (rough to the
touch); branches are narrow and arching at the
tips, spirally arranged around the stem.


Available all year round; abundant on reefs and in
tidal pools, river mouths and lower intertidal areas
with fine silt; grows in small clumps attached to
coral rubble, shells or stones.
Spines get entangled with other small plants, which
often grow on top of Acanthophora. The cleanest
plants are found where there are currents.
Look for large, clean plants and pinch off the upper
portion; leave the base behind; swish briskly in
water to shake off dirt and small animals.

Health benefits:

Eat fresh or cooked; makes a soft pudding, but not
a firm jelly; high in calcium and iron; contains both
agar a nd carrageenan; h elps lower blood
cholesterol and prevent blood clots.


Eat fresh with vinegar or lemon dressing; boil
briefly in lemon water or coconut milk; makes
sweet or savory puddings; add to soup or stew as a


Other uses:

Mulch or fertilizer; animal feed; makes beautiful
pressings on paper - elegant on plain or painted \backgrounds.


Acanthophora drying on (in.

Keeps several days in the shade wrapped in taro
leaves or inside a sugar sack; sundry or freeze for
longer storage; if refrigerated, or if frozen and
thawed, the plant wilts, turns dark brown and
develops a richer flavour.

C ommunity Fisheries Training Pacific Series - 3A


A G uide to the C o m m o n Edible and Medicinal Sea Plants of the Pacific Islands

Asparagopsis (as-para-gop-sis)
C ommon name: supreme limu
Pacific names:

limu kohu (Hawai'i)




Probably can be found throughout the region. It is
small and uncommon in Fiji except around Kadavu
where it grows large in summer. Also recorded
from Samoa (uncommon), Hawai'i, New Caledonia, Tahiti, and Micronesia. It is particularly a bundant in Kiribati.


In the water this sea vegetable looks like a forest of
tiny pink trees, about 10-20 cm tall. Sometimes the
colour can be yellowish red or dark red. There is a
creeping base with rigid upright branches. Each
upright branch is covered in many fuzzy, soft,
branchlets that get shorter towards the top.


Asparagopsis is often found on reef edges in water 1
m deep or more. It prefers clean and well flushed
waters. Sometimes it is covered in sand and is hard
to clean. This plant grows well in the hot season
(i.e. early in the year).

Asparagopsis sketch.

To harvest, pinch off the uprights and leave the
base to regrow. Shake in seawater to remove dirt
and sand. This plant is e...

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