Innovative solutions by our blue economy industries could be key to finding a sustainable path forward in a warming world, says Cawthron Institute Chief Executive Volker Kuntzsch.
In his address to the recent Animal and Plant Health Conference in Nelson, Kuntzsch explained some of the research and development the Cawthron Institute is doing to help mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
He explained that the organisation’s goals are to restore and protect aquatic environments, realise the potential for algae and secure safe and sustainable food for the future. The Institute focuses on preserving New Zealand’s unique freshwater and marine environment and the communities around them, contributing to the country’s economic growth and solving the problems of the day.
Specifically, there is research underway that aims to support climate resilient salmon and shellfish aquaculture, seaweed cultivation and the restoration of coastal habitats that have the potential to store carbon.
“Shellfish are an extremely important feature of Aotearoa New Zealand’s food production system as they are a sustainable source of protein, but if the ocean is more acidic, mussels can’t develop a shell. The answer is to breed them on land before releasing them to the wild.”
“In addition, Cawthron Institute research in partnership with New Zealand King Salmon has confirmed that the industry can breed for thermotolerance – an important finding that supports the industry in its efforts to prepare for the impact of warming oceans.”
Another challenge we face in mitigating climate change is how to reduce methane emissions, and seaweed may provide an answer.
Aside from being a source of alternative protein, it can be used to inhibit methane emissions from livestock, making it an important tool for the agricultural industry.
“Studies show that Asparagopsis armata reduces livestock emissions by up to 98% when added to supplementary feed. It is a native red seaweed that grows throughout New Zealand waters and reduces methane due to the bioactive compound it contains – bromoform – which has been found to inhibit microbial activity in the cows’ stomachs that cause them to burp methane.”
There are still some challenges to work through to establish a reliable supply chain for Asparagopsis. This includes developing methods and standards to ensure predictable levels of bromoform in the final feed product.
With Government support, Cawthron has invested into seaweed research through its National Algae Research Centre in Nelson for a rapidly growing algae sector.
On the back of a recent discovery of flowering sea grass by Cawthron researchers, Cawthron has launched a collaborative seagrass restoration project called ‘Restore the Meadows’ that aims to develop cultivation methods that will support seagrass meadow restoration and enhance how the ocean captures carbon.
Sea grass covers 0.2 percent of the bottom of the ocean but captures about 10 percent of all carbon. “We previously thought that seagrass flowering was extremely rare, but now we know that there is a lot of seed, we have been able to collect them and work on the development of cultivation methods that will enable widespread restoration efforts”. The Institute now seeks funding for a project to replant seagrass meadows in Nelson. “We hope that this collaboration between science and industry in Te Tauihu will lead to much wider opportunities and outcomes that improves our environment,” says Kuntzsch.
The Institute was officially established in 1921 thanks to philanthropist Thomas Cawthron, who bequeathed the equivalent of more than $100 million in today’s value to establish and maintain a technical school, institute, and museum.
To extend on this work and identify opportunities for Aotearoa New Zealand’s seaweed sector, a Seaweed Industry Association has recently been established to bring together industry, science and Iwi.
- Animal and Plant Health NZ represents the New Zealand animal health and crop protection industries as well as rural retailers. The industry association promotes the benefits of safe, effective, quality products and services for the health of animals (including pet care) and crops. Its members are committed to the responsible use of products from research to disposal.
The association was formerly called Agcarm.