The term 'algae' covers a large group of aquatic organisms. It is estimated that there are more than 72,500 algae species.  Algae provide habitat, food, reproductive areas and shelter to species from different levels of the food web. They contribute to important coastal ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, removal of dissolved nutrients and coastal protection.  The production of algae is an important component of the blue bioeconomy. It includes:
- Macroalgae, also commonly known as seaweeds, which have been part of East and South-East Asian citizens’ daily diet for centuries. Nowadays, they are becoming increasingly popular in Europe too for many purposes other than food, as a source material for use in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, nutrition or energy (biofuel).
- Microalgae which are microscopic organisms, typically found in freshwater and marine systems, living in both the water column and sediment. Harvesting, cultivating, or processing algae to create high-value products can make an invaluable contribution to a cleaner and healthier environment.
Macroalgae biomass production is increasing worldwide and reached 33 million tonnes (wet weight) in 2016.  European Union algae biomass production contributed only 0.28% to global production in 2016.  At the global level, algae biomass is mostly supplied by aquaculture (96.5 % in 2016). In Europe, harvesting from wild stocks contributed in the same period to 98 % of the total algae production volume.  The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre has recently released a new section on their ‘Knowledge for Policy’ pages, specifically dedicated to algae which provides information on algae production, related research projects and relevant publications. 
The abundance of several commercially exploited species in Europe has decreased in some regions due to multiple stressors such as global warming, herbivory, excessive harvesting, a decline in water quality and the introduction of non-native species. Therefore, it is necessary to ensure that algae resources are exploited in a sustainable way.  In 2022, the European Commission will present a new strategy to promote the sustainable production and consumption of algae.  The potential of algae is recognized in the European Green Deal’s Farm to Fork Strategy and Circular Economy Action Plan. A recent public consultation organized by the European Commission showed a broad interest for algae. Responses to the consultation confirmed the relevance of five priorities to unlock the potential of the European Union algae sector: improving the regulatory and governance framework, supporting functioning of the market, improving the business environment, increasing social awareness and acceptance and closing knowledge, research and innovation gaps. 
Curious to know more?
- Learn about research carried out on microalgae and cyanobacteria for potential cures for disease;
- Learn about seaweed as a food;
- Explore the Map of the Week to see where algae production facilities are located and click on the facilities to learn more!
The data in this map are provided by EMODnet.