The first part of the centre was officially opened by Jacinda Ardern, two years after a $6 million investment by the government’s Provincial Growth Fund. Cawthron contributed $2 million.
Based at Cawthron’s Aquaculture Park near Nelson, the first stage of the Centre at this site will predominantly focus on macroalgae (seaweed), which is poised to become the third pillar of the New Zealand aquaculture sector alongside shellfish and finfish.
“We know that globally seaweed represents almost a third of aquaculture production volume, with a value of US$14 billion. However, the New Zealand seaweed sector is still in its infancy, so we have this fantastic opportunity to use the National Algae Research Centre as a hub of seaweed innovation for New Zealand,” said Cawthron chief executive, Volker Kuntzsch in a press release.
Cawthron algae and bioactive group manager Dr Johan Svenson said there was already some potentially game-changing research underway.
“We’ve been looking at how to grow native red seaweed Asparagopsis armata at scale, which could dramatically reduce methane emissions when added to livestock feed, and we are also investigating the nutritional properties of another native red seaweed – Karengo.”
“But if we’re going to help create a successful seaweed sector it’s clear that reliance on wild and beach harvest is not sustainable to meet market demand for potential products. Cawthron’s research has helped to revolutionise the mussel industry through the development of selective breeding and sustainable aquaculture farming methods, and our aim is to do the same with seaweed,” said Dr Svenson.
Kuntzsch said the new facility will enable the institute’s researchers to build on their existing expertise to meet growing global demand for algae-based products and solutions.
“From the extraction of bioactive compounds from microalgae for high-value pharmaceutical products, through to ‘methane busting’ seaweed, there are enormous possibilities for a thriving New Zealand algae sector,” said Kuntzsch.
“Cawthron’s algae expertise, along with our strong history of being at the forefront of emerging opportunities for New Zealand, means we are well placed to act as the bridge from science to industry, connecting with commercial entities that are investigating valuable algae consumer products”.
Aquaculture is an increasingly important source of safe, nutritious, and sustainable seafood for people worldwide. Globally, aquaculture production must double by 2030 to keep pace with demand. These increases in demand for aquaculture products, food security considerations, and job creation have generated an increased need for skilled workers.
The second stage of the National Algae Research Centre will see a separate facility constructed as part of the new laboratories at the proposed Science and Technology precinct in Nelson to continue Cawthron’s specialist work in extracting high-value bioactive compounds from microalgae.