Cawthron Institute’s National Algae Research Centre to advance seaweed research

30 November 2020

Cawthron Institute is set to advance its world-leading algae research with construction of its National Algae Research Centre now underway.

Thanks to $6m of funding from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund, the Centre will enable Cawthron to expand its internationally recognised work in the rapidly growing algae sector and create value for existing and new partners.

Based at Cawthron’s Aquaculture Park at the Glen, the National Algae Research Centre at this site will predominantly focus on macroalgae (seaweed).

“Seaweed cultivation is the world’s fastest growing aquaculture sector, with the global seaweed industry worth more than US$6bn per year. There are many species that have the potential to be transformed into a range of commercial products as well offering environmental benefits to counteract climate change,” said Cawthron Chief Executive Prof. Charles Eason.

“We see the Centre as a bridge from science to industry, connecting R&D to commercial application. This facility will allow our scientists to further explore the economic and environmental value of different seaweed species.”

“We believe our seaweed research, alongside our other aquaculture research, could significantly contribute to achieving the government’s target of aquaculture becoming a $3bn industry by 2035. Last year alone New Zealand’s aquaculture sector generated over $600m in revenue, employing over 3000 kiwis, and we believe our science will help to grow the sector further.”

Global and national interest in seaweed is high with much of the focus on red seaweeds. The farming of brown and green seaweeds has already been established internationally, so there is strong commercial interest in New Zealand red seaweed species Asparagopsis armata and Karengo.

For the past year Cawthon has been looking at how to grow Asparagopsis, which has been proven in overseas trials to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in livestock by up to 90 percent when used as supplementary feed.

“Our aim is to help industry develop economic seaweed farming systems for the future, so our research has been looking at how to generate a sustainable supply of juvenile Asparagopsis for seeding out on farms,” said Cawthron Algae and Bioactives Science Lead Dr Johan Svenson.

“Asparagopis is native in New Zealand, but there is not enough of it to meet the potential demand from farmers which could be thousands of tonnes each year. Red seaweeds are generally more complex to grow and especially at scale, so having this facility to carry out more lab-scale experiments will help expedite this type of research.”

Cawthron is also investigating the nutritional properties of Karengo, a seaweed long known to Maori as a traditional source of food. Through the High-Value Nutritional Science Challenge, the aim of the research is to determine Karengo’s potential as a high-value food for aquaculture.

A separate facility will be constructed in 2021 to continue Cawthron’s specialist work in extracting high-value bioactive compounds from microalgae, which will also form part of the National Algae Research Centre.

“We already work with a range of commercial partners to optimise the growth of healthy algae strains for successful aquaculture and increasingly to identify algal species, like Asparagopsis, with the potential to produce high-value products, said Prof. Eason.

Mark Rawson, Chief Executive of the Nelson Regional Development Agency, says the National Algae Research Centre will support Nelson Tasman’s successful ocean economy. “Cawthron Institute is well known as one of our region’s clever businesses, delivering science that has real-world impact particularly in our aquaculture sector. This Centre will play an important role in supporting our aquaculture, food, and nutraceutical industries to develop innovative new products and will assist in attracting high-calibre talent to the region”.

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Cawthron Institute’s National Algae Research Centre to advance seaweed research