A specimen of Laurencia karachiana, the newly discovered seaweed specimen, preserved in the herbarium of Centre of Excellence in Marine Biology at Karachi University.
A specimen of Laurencia karachiana, the newly discovered seaweed specimen, preserved in the herbarium of Centre of Excellence in Marine Biology at Karachi University.

KARACHI: A new seaweed species has been discovered along the Karachi coast by a team of experts including researchers from Karachi University (KU), an international journal has recently reported.

Named ‘Laurencia karachiana’, the species was jointly discovered by Pakistani and Brazilian scientists — Dr Munawwar Rasheed, his students Rabia Bibi and Shahnaz Rashid from KU’s Centre of Excellence in Marine Biology (CEMB) and Dr Valeria Cassano and Rosangela da Silva Medeiros from the Institute of Biosciences at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil.

The study was published in Phytotaxa, an international journal of plant taxonomy.

The species, according to researchers, was first found in the rocky shores of the French beach and later a small population of the species was identified near the Hawkesbay beach.

“It’s beautiful with varied hues ranging from pinkish red, purple and reddish brown and is cartilaginous in texture,” said Dr Munawwar Rasheed of CEMB.

‘Seaweeds are also cultivated on a commercial scale for use in different industrial products’

He said an estimated 6,131 species of red seaweeds had so far been discovered worldwide. Of them, 150 red seaweed species are found in the marine waters of Karachi and this newly discovered species is an addition to the global database of red seaweed.

About the total number of seaweed species discovered so far in Pakistan, he said it was hard to give the exact number since in many cases detailed scientific description required to define a species had not been done (by researchers).

About the role of seaweeds in marine environment, Dr Rasheed explained that they helped maintain marine ecosystem by consuming huge quantities of carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen during the process of photosynthesis.

“Marine plants are thought to produce about half of the oxygen present on the planet. Seaweeds are very primitive plants thought to have evolved 2.4 billion years ago with no proper roots, stems, and leaves in contrast to land plants, thought to have evolved from the seaweeds.”

The huge biomass of seaweeds and their greater diversity in the ocean, he said, was a sign of its vigorous environment.

“They are the primary source of marine food chain and served as food, nursery and shelter for millions of marine animals. They are also consumed as food in many countries, particularly the people living around the Asia-Pacific region and countries in the Far East.

“Minerals, which are found in seaweeds, are consumed as supplements. In harsh environments, seaweeds synthesise some unique chemicals, which are currently used as natural products.”

In addition, he pointed out, numerous chemical constituents were isolated from seaweeds and were exploited for different medicinal and pharmaceutical purposes as antibacterial, antiviral and anti-cancer substances.

“They are also an important source of biofuel. Some chemical constituents of seaweeds are used as bio-pesticide since they have the potential to control pests like dengue mosquitoes. Seaweeds are also cultivated on a commercial scale for their use in different industrial and commercial products.”

On Pakistan’s wealth of seaweeds, he said these plants were generally considered marine debris and waste.

“Educational and research institutes are supposed to provide the knowledge and awareness about the seaweed to the new generation and the government needs to support institutions involved in research.”

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2020