Beauty scale

SunLive – Algae planting “historic moment” for aquaculture

New Zealand’s first hatchery-grown seaweed planting in Coromandel waters could be the start of a new sector for the aquaculture industry.

Over the past year, marine ecologists have grown wild-harvested Ecklonia radiata algae at a hatchery in Tauranga as part of EnviroStrat’s $5 million regenerative ocean agriculture pilot project.

Seaweed has many health benefits and can be used in everything from pharmaceuticals and beauty products to wound care and plastics.

Today, about 220 meters of tiny native seedlings were planted in the waters off the Coromandel Coast in the Hauraki Gulf, with more to be planted in the coming months.

It’s a historic moment that could lead to the creation of a billion-dollar industry in New Zealand, says EnviroStrat CEO Dr Nigel Bradly.

“This is the first time in New Zealand that Ecklonia has been grown in a hatchery and put on a farm.

“What we’re seeing now is hopefully the start of something really exciting, where we’re able to build a supply chain for existing marine agriculture.”

Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge​ estimated that the global seaweed industry is worth nearly $20.5 billion.

Seaweed production has tripled over the past two decades and now accounts for one third of all aquatic agriculture.

University of Waikato researchers Dr Rebecca Lawton said it was really exciting that they were at the planting stage after years of research.

By creating an economically viable seed-to-harvest model for growing seaweed, Bradly said, New Zealand has the ability to produce “premium seaweed products” at scale for the international stage.

The three-year pilot project is led by natural resources sector project developer EnviroStrat, in collaboration with Ngāti Pūkenga, Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki, seaweed product developer Premium Seas, the universities of Waikato and Auckland and seaweed processor AgriSea.

It will end up seeing a total of 36km of seaweed planted in Tauranga and Coromandel over the next year “piggy backing off muscle farms”.

Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge​ estimated that the global seaweed industry is worth nearly $20.5 billion.

Brown kelp is an important species in the ecosystem and has never been harvested from the wild until now, says University of Waikato marine ecologist Dr. Rebecca Lawton.

The tiny plants, wrapped around strings, will hang six meters above the surface and eventually grow to their full size, she says.

“We will be planting monthly for an entire year…including 24 km in Coromandel waters.”

From this pilot, they will be able to determine the best time to plant algae and maintain it in hopes of “taking it to another level,” says Rebecca.

It could also lead to the development of machines that can mechanically wrap the seaweed around the rope instead of people doing it by hand.

“What’s really exciting for us is that we all see so much potential in what algae can do for the environment and our economy, so it’s really exciting to get to a stage where we’re not talking not just, but let’s actually take the next step.”

Premium Seas CEO Lucas Evans says the opportunities will be endless for the industry, with one of his own products being used in a L’Oreal face cream.

He left Australia 10 years ago to support the emerging seaweed industry in New Zealand and now owns one of New Zealand’s largest seaweed manufacturers.

The seaweed rows will be planted in the same area as the Coromandel muscle farms.

“It’s a pinch moment for everyone involved,” says Evans.

Although still in its infancy, he said, the pilot project proves that large-scale farming can be done in New Zealand.

“It’s really important for the growth of the seaweed industry in New Zealand and once we have established this species we can move on to the other species.”

“People can be involved at many levels within the sector, from farmer to process to traders and retailers.

-Sharnae Hope/Stuff.