People of SFU

Ranah Chavoshi wins first place in Ocean Wise Innovator Lab for solution to ocean plastics

August 08, 2022
SFU graduate student Ranah Chavoshi is creating a seaweed bioplastic. Her prototype recently took home first place in the Ocean Wise Innovator Lab.

SFU graduate student Ranah Chavoshi is devising a way to reduce ocean plastics by creating a seaweed bioplastic—and her recent prototype, developed as a personal project, has led to global recognition.

Chavoshi, a master’s student in SFU’s Department of Biological Sciences, recently took home first place in the Ocean Wise Innovator Lab for her project, which uses seaweed’s properties to create a bioplastic film to replace plastic, and biodegrades.

The Ocean Wise Innovator Lab is a global three-month project-based competition that amplifies youth-led innovations to ocean health solutions. The innovations are intended to create a positive impact and engage local communities in minimizing ocean plastics.

The urgency of the climate crisis motivated Chavoshi to join the Ocean Wise program. “I wanted to take action in my own way,” says Chavoshi, who also completed her undergraduate degree in the Faculty of Science at SFU. “The program was very aligned with my values for equity and sustainability and allowed me to gain mentorship from sustainability leaders from all over the world.”

Ranah Chavoshi pictured picking fucus.

Chavoshi’s background in aquatic toxicology and pollination ecology paired with the mentorship from ocean experts and entrepreneurs in the Ocean Wise program and led to the development of her seaweed-bioplastic. “Seaweeds have been cultivated by humans for thousands of years and have a variety of uses,” says Chavoshi. Working with different seaweed species through her graduate and undergraduate research, Chavoshi saw that some species have properties that make them ideal candidates for a plastic substitute.

Chavoshi began researching the viability of a seaweed-bioplastic and working on a prototype for a biodegradable and non-toxic bioplastic, without a petroleum-based plasticizer.

“Conventional petroleum-based plastic is ubiquitous in our environments due to overproduction,” says Chavoshi. Yet the most concerning aspect is that the plastic is breaking down into micro or nano-plastics. We do not fully understand how they interact with the environment or the human body.

“We need to reduce how much plastic we are producing. We need biodegradable alternatives that do not persist in our oceans.”

Chavoshi’s innovation will break down into compostable material to prevent plastics from lingering in marine environments and breaking down into harmful microplastics.    

Through using seaweed aquaculture and farming various seaweed species, Chavoshi hopes to work with local Indigenous communities to create a seaweed bioplastic. Seaweed aquaculture benefits the environment through carbon sequestration and its minimal impact on the environment.

For her efforts, Chavoshi is described as future changemaker who will lead the next generation in realizing a better future for ocean health.