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Dancing Sea Monkeys Bounce From The Briny

28 September 2001

Their zip and bounce has given the tiny artemia brine shrimps the endearing name of sea monkeys, but they're about to play a big role in the aquaculture industry, thanks to research carried out by a Marlborough company.

Eggs laid by the salt-water -loving shrimp are in big demand as a fin fish food, but until now there has been little research done to develop a New Zealand sourced product that could provide an alternative to the high cost imported product.

Recently the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology funded a Belgian expert to help Burkhart Fishery acquire the international technology to grow and harvest the tiny shrimp. Those early results encouraged the company, based in the tiny town of Ward, just south of Lake Grassmere, to continue this scientific research. Technology New Zealand then provided $148,500 in funding through its Technology for Business Growth scheme to enable the company to work alongside research partner NIWA.

Lins Kerr, of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, says Burkhart's research has followed a classical model. "They took it one step at a time, getting the best international technology and advice, then continued on to do larger scale research and development based on that information. Technology New Zealand's funding can support companies at a range of levels and in this instance, the business is seeing a benefit in careful step by step progress."

The company's core business is lobster processing and a previous research project looking at the feasibility of lobster farming alerted the company to the potential of farming the food source rather than the lobster itself.

Larnce Wichman of Burkharts describes the process to commercialisation as a long road. "At present we're still working with NIWA to carry out the testing and look at a range of technical aspects, then once we have a product that fits the grade we need to take it to Belgium for accreditation. It's this international certification that could put the seal of approval on a busy little industry, made possible by natural resources such as high saline lakes.," he says

Mr Wichman believes migratory birds from South America originally carried artemia shrimps here. The tiny cysts remain dormant until put in water and take 8-10 days to grow to adults, with the resulting bounce and bubble giving rise to the name. He says they are great little 'pets' for children, as they can take home a package of the dormant eggs, put them in water and watch them grow into little shrimps.

-ends-

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