A local government initiative to revive seaweed farming off Bali comes amid growing interest in the crop’s promise to tackle environmental problems ranging from carbon emissions to plastic waste pollution.Cultivated at scale, seaweed can grow up to 60 times faster than land-based plants, making it an important carbon sink.Local startups are also exploring its potential to make bioplastic that is naturally degradable and even edible, for use in food packaging and other applications to replace plastic.For the new generation of seaweed farmers in Indonesia, the plant also offers revenue streams through ecotourism. BALI, Indonesia — It’s just after sunrise here in Bali, and a group of locals are preparing to sail their wooden boats out to a bay off Nusa Lembongan, a small island southeast of the tourism hotspot. They’re neither fishermen nor tour guides. They’re farmers, cultivating a watery crop that promises to be part of the solution to the increasingly urgent problem of marine plastic waste that’s become woven into the Bali experience for the millions of people who visit the island each year. “Algae cover a very broad area,” says Rama. “I am optimistic. We can develop ecotourism and use the algae in many ways — for example in our spa, where we scrub tourists with seaweed.” Rama, 17, is part of a new generation of Balinese hoping to carry on an age-old tradition of harvesting algae, or seaweed. He looks out at the calm and still waters of Lembongan Bay. The inlet is protected by reefs that absorb the waves some 100 meters (330 feet) off the shore. The water temperature hovers at 28° Celsius (82° Fahrenheit), salinity is at 30%, and the current flows in just the right direction. It’s the perfect place for what grows beneath the surface: Eucheuma cottonii, also known as macroalgae or red seaweed. (Despite its name, it comes in shades of red, brown and green.) The seaweed grows in straight lines, attached to ropes stretched between iron rods that run over the sandy bottom. A seaweed farmer lays out clumps of algae in rows in Lembongan Bay, Indonesia. Image by Jonas Gratzer for Mongabay. Rama’s father, Wayan Suarbawa, is one of Nusa Lembongan’s five seaweed farmers — the last remnants of an industry that employed most of the island’s 5,000 inhabitants during its heyday in the 1980s. The big blow came in 2014-2016, when the farms were hit by a bacterial infestation that hardened and whitened the seaweed. The disease was triggered by a rise in water temperature and changes in salinity and light conditions — the hallmarks of a changing climate. With their livelihoods devastated, most of the farmers sought out jobs in the tourism industry. Indonesia was the world leader in the production of E. cottonii before 2014, churning out more than 8 million tons a year. Today it’s No. 2, after China, but still supplies 38% of the global seaweed market. But the tide is turning once again in Nusa Lembongan. The local government wants to employ an additional 100 seaweed farmers in Lembongan Bay through a program that hands out 0.8 hectares (2 acres) per farmer to grow seaweed. The waters around Nusa Lembongan could potentially host up to 500 seaweed farmers. Prices are up, along with prospects for Eucheuma seaweed, which is used to make carrageenan, a thickener and stabilizer used in foods, cosmetics and industrial products. In countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, the macroalgae is also consumed as food. Suarbawa says he makes about 15 million rupiah (about $1,000) a month — six times the minimum wage in Bali — just from selling seaweed to visitors coming from the capital, Jakarta. Suarbawa is also involved in plans for an ecotourism initiative in Nusa Lembongan that will bring tourists to snorkel among the algae.