Westpac workers join Cawthron staff picking seagrass flowers

1 December 2023

It’s flower picking season – but not as you know it. This week a group of Westpac NZ employees got down and dirty to help Cawthron scientists collect hundreds of tiny seagrass flowers from the Waimea/Waimeha Estuary.

The mahi is part of a three-year project led by Cawthron to restore New Zealand’s seagrass meadows as a way of supporting biodiversity, improving water quality and combatting climate change.

The Westpac NZ Government Innovation Fund is one of several business, government, industry and environmental groups that Cawthron has partnered with to deliver the project. Now in its second year, the project is successfully developing restoration techniques using seagrass seeds – something that’s never been done before in New Zealand.

This all starts with hand collecting seagrass flowers, which then get transported to the Cawthron Aquaculture Park at Glenduan where they are put into specially developed aquaria dubbed “seagrass spas”. A few weeks later – when they’re ready – the seeds fall from the flowers and then they are stored until it is time for germination. Cawthron has already successfully germinated seeds and is ongrowing a seedling whilst developing the process last year.

Cawthron staff have been visiting the meadows several times a week during the last fortnight to gather flowers before the season ends in late December. They were glad to be joined by Westpac volunteers, representing the Nelson Agribusiness, Corporate, Business and Retail teams.

“It’s great to have our community sharing in our work and also having greater public awareness about the major environmental issues we face, and the science we’re developing to help restore the natural environment that has been impacted,’’ marine ecologist Dr Anna Berthelsen said.

All Westpac staff can take two days of paid volunteer leave to work in their community each year, often with causes that the bank has a direct association with.

“We’re trying to make a difference and take a lead as well,’’ Mike Laurie, Westpac Area Manager, Business, noted while painstakingly sifting through the seagrass. “It’s our job as a big business to do that. This is awesome – it’s a really good thing to get behind and support.”

The amount of carbon a seagrass meadow stores can vary depending on the species and the environment it is situated in, but overseas studies have shown that some meadows can sequester carbon 27 times faster than some forests.

Seagrass meadows are only found in shallow waters. They are in decline around the world due to human impacts such as worsening water quality from sediment and nutrients coming off the land and physical damage like vehicle movements across estuaries.

OneFortyOne Limited, Port Nelson, Friends of Nelson Haven and Tasman Bay, the Simplicity Foundation, University of Waikato and the Catalyst Fund also support Restoring the Meadows Aotearoa New Zealand. Cawthron also thanks mana whenua for supporting this project.

Help give seagrass the recognition it deserves by voting for it as your favourite New Zealand plant; https://tinyurl.com/4p3zsyvp


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seven students standing in a line in front of trees
seven students standing in a line in front of trees
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