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Six Rimurimu/seaweed Species Could Put Aotearoa New Zealand On The Map

Rimurimu/seaweed should be a natural contributor to Aotearoa New Zealand’s blue economy because there is a wealth of diversity of rimurimu/seaweed species growing along our coastlines.

Although recent research shows our country could gain huge benefits, the seaweed sector is still in its infancy, with New Zealand currently only harvesting wild seaweed.

According to two new reports released by the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge, developing aquaculture farms using an ecosystem-based management (EBM) approach and with
co-ordination between industry, iwi/hapū and regulators, we could grow Aotearoa’s seaweed sector safely, significantly and effectively.

The Species characteristics and Te Tiriti o Waitangi considerations report has reviewed six seaweed species groups identified for commercial development: karengo, Asparagopsis, agarophytes, lamanarians, fucoids and green algae.

“Our seaweed species are generally underdeveloped in their commercial potential. We have an opportunity to produce and sell seaweed products that are different from those in other parts of the world,” explains Serean Adams, project leader of the Building a seaweed sector project.

But targeting high-value markets requires specific information on each species. “Current knowledge of seaweed species is mostly focused on their ecology. Information about the biology and how to cultivate the species is sparse and scattered through scientific literature. This makes it difficult for those interested in developing a seaweed sector to access.”

That’s why the research suggests one approach may be to build from our already existing bio stimulant and fertiliser market. These markets could then be used as a platform to move into higher value products. For example, extracts as functional foods, food ingredients and health supplements or cosmeceuticals.

The report helps highlight the cultural importance of seaweed species to Māori and to support the role of Māori kaitiaki rights in the emerging seaweed sector.

“Māori have a particularly unique whakapapa relationship with flora and fauna and we need to acknowledge and respect that in the process of developing this sector,” says Andy Elliot, Research and Business Development Manager from Wakatū Incorporation, a whānau-owned organisation involved in seaweed research. “For example, karengo is considered a taonga.”

Practical experience in growing, processing and marketing seaweeds and seaweed products in Aotearoa is limited. This could be an opportunity for iwi/hapū to be supported to create sustainable seaweed businesses founded on their vision and values.

The other report, Environmental effects of seaweed wild-harvest and aquaculture, recognises why an EBM framework is vital. There may also be potential for seaweed farming to improve ecosystems because seaweed can help with nutrient removal, shoreline protection, regenerative opportunities, and offers the potential for carbon sequestration.

However, this report shows that many of the benefits (and risks) are site and scale specific and there is associated uncertainty as a result.

“No matter what species are chosen, the development of commercially-viable farming systems is probably the most pressing hurdle to overcome,” explains Dr Adams. “This can be best achieved through leveraging overseas expertise, and by ensuring knowledge generated through Aotearoa research is publicly accessible. This enables farmers to ‘give it a go’ using approaches appropriate for the Aotearoa situation.”

The time is right for Aotearoa to take advantage of this growing industry and expand our budding seaweed sector by using the suitability of our environment for seaweed aquaculture.

Accompanying resources:

Report: Species characteristics and Te Tiriti o Waitangi considerations

Report: Environmental effects of seaweed wild-harvest and aquaculture

Figure: Map showing areas ecologically suitable for seaweed aquaculture. Credit: adapted by Revell Design for the Sustainable Seas Challenge with permission from Froelich et al (2019)

Infographic: Possible ecosystem services and negative environmental effects associated with seaweed aquaculture in coastal environments. Credit: Sustainable Seas Challenge, Revell Design

Infographic: Carbon cycle within seaweed farms. Credit: Sustainable Seas Challenge, Revell Design

BACKGROUND

About Blue Economy

The Sustainable Seas Challenge defines a ‘blue’ economy as being made up of marine activities that generate economic value and contribute positively to social, cultural and ecological
well-being.

About the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge

The vision of Sustainable Seas is for Aotearoa New Zealand to have healthy marine ecosystems that provide value for all New Zealanders. It brings together around 250 ecologists, biophysical scientists, social scientists, economists, and experts inmātaurangaMāori and policy from across Aotearoa New Zealand. It is funded by MBIE and hosted by NIWA. 
www.sustainableseaschallenge.co.nz | Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

About the National Science Challenges

Sustainable Seas is one of elevenNational Science Challengesfunded by MBIE. These align and focus Aotearoa New Zealand's research on large and complex issues, bringing together scientists and experts from different organisations and across disciplines to achieve a common goal.

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