Studying contaminants in edible seaweed from the Salish Sea

How safe is wild-harvested seaweed to eat?

Seaweeds are a nutritious source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. The harvest and consumption of various species of seaweed has historically been, and continues to be, important for the Coast Salish, and is gaining in popularity with non-tribal citizens interested in wild foraging.

Unfortunately very little data are available on the levels of contaminants in local seaweeds, leaving native and non-native consumers of this food source in the dark about whether they are harvesting healthy nutritious food or are being exposed to potentially harmful contaminants.

A new SeaDoc Society study, funded by generous private donations, will test for the presence and concentration of three classes of contaminants:

  • heavy metals
  • organochlorine pesticides and pollutants (like DDT, PCBs, and PBDEs)
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)

Samples will be collected from sites considered safe and those considered potentially hazardous. They will be analyzed at the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory at UC Davis.

Results will be shared with volunteers, tribes, and the Washington Department of Health.

Jennifer Hahn, author of the famous wild foraging book Pacific Feast (also an Adjunct Professor at Western Washington University) and SeaDoc's Joe Gaydos are collaborating with Robert Poppenga, a toxicologist at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, on this project.



Banner photo: Bull kelp by Dan Hershman via Flickr Creative Commons 2.0