Antonio Vergara, a teacher in Tarifa’s Adult Education Centre, has been known as ‘the seaweed master’ since 2011, when he began to set up plans and educational projects to put the seaweed from Bolonia (near Tarifa) to good use in an environmentally friendly manner. So much so, that the Centre, with its fantastic laboratory on municipal premises in Tarifa, is the only one of its kind in Spain.
Over a two-year period, students, grouped into two units, are taught to handle off-shore brown seaweed to make cosmetics, using a production manual created in 2016.
The process which leads to the production of the seaweed-based cosmetics is extremely complex and requires the mostly female groups of entrepreneurs to pay for the process to the extent that they want to achieve results.
Moreover, and under suitable supervision, the students will need to undertake a complicated administrative process to be able to create cosmetic products which they will own and be able to sell in street markets – and then go on to create a company, since the Centre provides commercial, industrial and intellectual rights to the registered products to the entrepreneur.
Although, as Antonio Vegara admits, four out of every nine students will leave during the first month, it is true that there are also success stories like that of Mariluz Caballero who created ‘Caminando entre algas’ (Walking among the sea weed), a group of women entrepreneurs from the Asociación de Alumnos Algas Marinas (Seaweed Students’ Association) which aims to offer trails along the coast where the seaweed is harvested. Caballero joined the company Soceamb SL owned by Antonio Avilés and started to set up workshops so she asked the Centre for teaching materials.
The aim is to give the students a chance to transfer their acquired knowledge to the creation of mini local companies as a way to sell their products, so that they not only learn to harvest and mix algae, but are also taught indispensable parallel skills such as social media savvy and marketing.
Even so there are no adequate facilities for outsourcing so they turn to a laboratory in Orense (in north-west Spain), who are shown the method employed, and the type and percentage of each ingredient. In the Galician city they produce the technical dossier so that later, with the permission of the Agriculture Department, the product can be labelled and a guarantee is produced to the effect that it is in a perfect condition to go to market.
Invasive algae and its exploitation
“Rugulopterix okamurae” is an Asian seaweed that originates from the dumping of untreated ballast water by ships in the ports of Algeciras and Tangier and which is spreading aggressively in our seabed.
This seaweed has colonised great expanses and its presence is defined by experts as an environmental and financial disaster. Nevertheless, and as this association admits “Since the Northwest Pacific seaweed, ‘Rugulopterix okamurae’, arrived in the Straits of Gibraltar the Sección de Educación Permanente Tarifa started to research in order to use it and recover this new marine raw material by a system of waste recovery.”
“We had different news items published by the Museo del Mar de Ceuta (Ceuta Museum of the Sea), dating their first sighting to autumn.”