National Algae Research Centre Opens in New Zealand

New Zealand Prime Minister Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern (center) at the opening of the National Algae Research Centre.

New Zealand’s Cawthron Institute is celebrating the official opening of its new National Algae Research Centre, which will enable the expansion of its algae research and further the industry in New Zealand.

The first stage of the Centre was officially opened by Prime Minister Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern on May 27, 2021, two years after $6m of funding was provided by the government’s Provincial Growth Fund. Cawthron also contributed $2m towards the Centre.

Cawthron Institute Chief Executive Volker Kuntzsch says the Centre will support researchers in their existing expertise as they meet the growing global demand for algae-based products and solutions. “From the extraction of bioactive compounds for high-value pharmaceutical products, through to ‘methane busting’ seaweed, there are enormous possibilities for a thriving New Zealand algae sector,” said Mr. Kuntzsch.

“Cawthron’s algae expertise, along with our strong history of being at the forefront of emerging opportunities for New Zealand, means we are well placed to act as the bridge from science to industry, connecting with commercial entities that are investigating valuable algae consumer products,” he added.

Based at Cawthron’s Aquaculture Park near Nelson, the first stage of the Centre will predominantly focus on macroalgae, which is poised to become the third pillar of the New Zealand aquaculture sector, alongside shellfish and finfish. 

“We know that globally seaweed represents almost a third of aquaculture production, with a value of US$14 billion. However, the New Zealand seaweed sector is still in its infancy, so we have this fantastic opportunity to use the National Algae Research Centre as a hub of seaweed innovation for New Zealand,” said Kuntzsch. 

Cawthron Algae and Bioactive Group Manager Dr. Johan Svenson said there was already some potentially game-changing research underway. “We’ve been looking at how to grow native red seaweed Asparagopsis armata at scale, which could dramatically reduce methane emissions when added to livestock feed, and we are also investigating the nutritional properties of another native red seaweed Karengo.”

“But if we’re going to help create a successful seaweed sector it’s clear that reliance on wild and beach harvest is not sustainable to meet market demand for potential products. Cawthron’s research has helped to revolutionize the mussel industry through the development of selective breeding and sustainable aquaculture farming methods, and our aim is to do the same with seaweed,” said Dr. Svenson. 

The second stage of the National Algae Research Centre will see a separate facility constructed as part of the new laboratories at the proposed Science and Technology precinct in Nelson.

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