Caulerpa lentillifera

Caulerpa lentillifera
Description 

Caulerpa lentillifera resembles bunches of little shiny grapes. The color of this seaweed ranges from bright green to bluish and at times olive green.  The plants are small and branches are erect.  The grape-like tiny spherical beads are tightly packed together on vertical stems to form a sausage like shape, which arise from long horizontal stems that creep over the ocean floor like strawberry runners.  These are able to grow quite long and produce many plants. The distinctive characteristic of Caulerpa lentillifera when compared to other Caulerpa species is that the stalk and globose tip (grape) are both constricted where they meet.  Caulerpa lentillifera grows quite well in a variety of environments, usually on substrate composed of coral rubble or rocks to over 50 meters deep, but also common in shallow, muddy lagoons.  It is generally found on sandy to mussy substrates on reef flats that are not exposed during low tides and where the water is generally calm.  It may form extensive beds or meadows in exceptionally good habitats.  Caulerpa lentillifera is stenohaline and cannot thrive in areas where salinity is less than 25%.  Salinities lower than 30% would already result in crop loss.  Growth of natural stocks in habitats where water becomes brackish during the rainy season, or those cultured in ponds, is highly seasonal. Caulerpa lentillifera cannot survive in fresh water.

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closeup photo of Caulerpa lentillifera seaweed by Nicholas and Sherry Lu Aldridge / Minden Pictures

underwater photo of Caulerpa lentillifera seaweed by Ria Tan

 

Names 

ararosip, ararusip, arurusip, green caviar, Kumejima Umibudô, lato, lelato, raisins de la mer, sea grapes, umi-budō, umibudou, 海ぶどう

Phylum Classification 
Chlorophyta
Geographic Distribution 

Caulerpa lentillifera is native to tropical areas of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, though it is found as an invasive species in other parts of the pacific such as the California coast and Hawaii.  Caulerpa lentillifera is mainly available in Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, and Papua New Guinea. It is also distributed along the east coast of Africa (South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania, Kenya, Mauritius, Somalia).

Uses 

Caulerpa lentillifera is high in minerals, vitamin A, C, and several essential unsaturated fatty acids.  It is also reported to have antibacterial and antifungal properties, and to be used to treat high blood pressure and rheumatism.  There are many species of the genus Caulerpa, but Caulerpa lentillifera and Caulerpa racemosa are the two most popular edible ones.  Both have a grape-like appearance and are used in fresh salads and as vegetables.  Caulerpa lentillifera is one of the most popular edible species of Caulerpa because of its soft and succulent texture.  In the Philippines, the seaweed is eaten fresh as a salad, or salted so it can be eaten later.  It is exported to Japan from the Philippines and Vietnam. It is also eaten in Malaysia and Indonesia.  Caulerpa lentillifera tastes like sea water; it somewhat tastes like other algae, it is slightly salty, and is said to taste refreshing.  It has created waves in the international food market because of its high nutritional value. Caulerpa lentillifera is a popular form of delicacy in Japan and Philippines, and is said by some to be an upcoming popular product in the seafood industry.  This species is also used as food for livestock and aquaculture fish.

Harvesting 

Caulerpa lentillifera is farmed commercially in the Philippines, Japan, and Vietnam.

Harvesting Techniques 

Caulerpa lentillifera is both wild harvested and cultivated. Of the Caulerpa types, Caulerpa lentillifera is the species best adapted to pond culture, although some strains of Caulerpa racemosa also give good yields. Caulerpa lentillifera is sensitive to changes of salinity, so pond areas must be placed away from any freshwater sources, and in the wet season in the Philippines surface drains are placed around the ponds to remove freshwater. The seaweed can tolerate a salinity range of 30-35 parts per thousand. Successful cultivation depends on good water management and the ponds must be designed so that tidal flows can be used to change the water in the ponds every second day. Water temperature can range between 25° and 30°C.

Planting is done by hand, and are pushed into the soft bottom of muddy aquaculture ponds in mangrove areas at 0.5 to 1 meter intervals. Sometimes broadcasting is used (tossing small plants into the aquaculture pond by hand) but this is not as efficient, the plants are loose on the bottom and can be moved by water motion induced by wind action on the surface.  Pond depth should be about 0.5 meters, and areas of about 0.5 hectares are usual.  Key factors controlled during growth are water exchange, weeding of other species of seaweed that would otherwise compete with the Caulerpa lentillifera, and fertilization.  Harvesting can commence about two months after the first planting; the seaweed is pulled out of the muddy bottom, but some of the plants are left as seed for the next harvest.  Depending on growth rates, harvesting can then be done every two weeks.  The harvested plants are washed thoroughly in seawater to remove all sand and mud, then inspected, sorted.

In Vietnam, one grower uses a different method. The Caulerpa lentillifera stock is planted in plastic trays rather than commonly cultivated in ponds or open lagoons or in cages since these two methods are not as practical in Vietnam due to higher required investment and lower productivity. A net is used as a portable roof to adjust the sunlight and temperature of the seawater. The seaweed can absorb the nutrition in the trays without being mixed with impurities. This method meets the need of Caulerpa lentillifera to be far from pollution sources.

Ecosystem 

Caulerpa lentillifera grows extremely quickly, and has become an invasive species in the Mediterranean.