Dried Seamoss - Trinidad, Blanchisseuse

Name: Dried Seamoss
Producer organization: Blanchisseuse Environmental Art Trust (BEAT)
Product location: Blanchisseuse, Trinidad.
Global distribution: Gelidium is also known to occur on the coastlines of Venezuela and South Africa.
Name of species and ecosystem: Gelidium serrulatum is found in Trinidad and has not been documented anywhere else in the English-speaking Caribbean.
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Additional information about Dried Seamoss

Rare, nutritious seamoss is dried in the sun by local residents of fishing villages in Trinidad. Seamoss-based drinks are a tradition in Blanchissuese. Mixed with milk and local spices, the seamoss is drunk with Sunday meals and by new mothers to increase their nutrition for breastfeeding. What makes these drinks unique is their characteristic consistency created from the high agar content. The species of seamoss featured here, from the Blanchisseuse area of Trinidad, has the highest quality of agar (a gelatinous extract of red alga) of any commercial species in the region. The species is found only on a limited stretch of coastline within the coastal communities on the north coast of Trinidad, between Las Cuevas in the northwest and Toco at the northeastern tip of the island. Its limited distribution and superior quality make it particularly vulnerable to overexploitation thus, making sustainable seamoss cultivation and management critical. In recent times, community members have adopted sustainable harvesting techniques that involve cutting the seamoss stems rather than the roots (a practice that prevented the natural reproduction of the species). When harvested, the dried seamoss, unlike other species, appears dark red, and when cleaned, cream colored. The seamoss is then washed to remove all the foreign organisms and salt. It is finally bleached with diluted lemon juice and dried in the sun. Due to the rarity and importance of this species of seamoss, Blanchisseuse Environmental Art Trust (BEAT), a small group of residents, primarily women, realized that something must be done to inform and educate fellow villagers. BEAT educates on, promotes, and collects seamoss; their work includes teaching residents about sustainable collecting and drying methods. Traditionally, Blanchisseuse was a fishing and agricultural village that depended mainly on its natural resources for its livelihood. As in most of the other coastal communities in Trinidad, fishing remains one of the primary sources of income for local residents. Blanchisseuse was traditionally a French Creole community. After the abolition of slavery, settlers coming to reside in Trinidad were sent to this most remote area where there were no roads and they had to travel by boat to and from the wharf in Port of Spain. The name “Blanchisseuse” is the French Creole word for washerwoman. It was so named after the person conducting the first population census saw women washing clothes below a bridge. Seamoss is harvested mainly during the dry season (January–May), when the sea is much calmer. Usually the seamoss takes approximately five days to process and is stored for use in the rainy season (June–December), when the seas are rough and harvesting becomes difficult. Due to the high agar content of Blanchisseuse’s seamoss, this product would benefit from further research on what products can be derived from it. There is great potential for it to be used in the production of a wide range of products, including foods such as ice cream, medicinal products, beauty products, and cosmetics.

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