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New facilities a huge step forward for environmental science

New Zealand’s largest independent science organisation, Cawthron Institute, today marked another milestone in its 95-year history with the opening of a new marine and freshwater research centre at its Nelson campus.

The $5 million ‘EnviroTech Wing’ was formally opened by Hon Dr Nick Smith MP for Nelson.

Today’s event marks the beginning of another exciting phase for the organisation, Cawthron Institute Chief Executive Professor Charles Eason says.

“This is the most significant laboratory upgrade we have had on our Nelson campus in 40 years.”

Cawthron’s total staff numbers have grown about 25 percent in the last seven years alone, and the new two-storey building provides much-needed breathing space for scientists. Housing marine, freshwater, molecular, biosecurity and ecotoxicology experts, it includes specialist laboratories, offices, meeting rooms and staff facilities. The building is also the new home of Cawthron’s internationally-significant living collection of microalgae cultures and includes state-of-the-art containment facilities for marine biosecurity research.

Cawthron marine scientist Dr Chris Cornelisen describes the new facility as "something of an R&D think-tank" and says it will transform the way he and his fellow scientists work.

“It's going to help staff do the best science they can do, while fostering integration among the teams, and bringing people together.”

Cawthron Institute Chairman Ian Kearney says the building is a “bold step” for the charitable trust, “but we have learned in our 95-year history that to be successful, boldness and creativity are crucial”.

“These new laboratories are a huge step forward that will enable new levels of science, expansion of our environmental research and services, and provide our clients and research partners with the world-class science they demand.”

Cawthron is a unique science organisation in New Zealand, in that it is independently-owned, based in regional New Zealand and does not have access to the Crown for capital projects – unlike most other large research institutes.

“Yet, from our Nelson base we provide science to support a wide range of New Zealand’s industries,” Mr Kearney says. “We’ve developed environmental standards for monitoring the impact of the offshore oil industry, are closely involved in the assessment and restoration of New Zealand’s freshwater systems, are providing important analytical services to the dairy industry and designing new systems and technologies to help us better understand what’s happening in our marine environment.”

“Our science is also in demand internationally. Analytic methods we’ve developed have been adopted by the European Union and USA as the standard for shellfish safety. Cawthron’s expertise in areas like algae extractions, toxin detection and environmental monitoring is sought-after internationally. We have scientists working in Australia, France and Japan, and our analytical services’ staff have provided training to government laboratory staff in Fiji, the Cook Islands and Singapore.”

Professor Eason says the new building and laboratories are just one example of change and growth in Cawthron’s capabilities since its establishment in 1919.

“We are also focused on strengthening the science and technical skills of our researchers, and recruiting young dynamic scientists who work shoulder to shoulder with our industry, government and research partners.”

“I am proud to say we attract a special breed of scientists at Cawthron who have strong empathy with our clients and the industries we work with, and can link high-quality academic research with commercial needs and realities.”

Around 200 people from throughout New Zealand attended today’s celebration, including Cawthron staff, management, directors and trustees, as well as industry, local and central government and research partners and clients from throughout New Zealand.


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