Posted on 27 October 2020

Catching the wave: new Innovation Fund projects to grow our blue economy

Following a high level of interest, we are pleased to announce the projects that will be funded by the Innovation Fund 2020. 

“The Innovation Fund is about introducing new approaches and ideas to build a blue economy in Aotearoa New Zealand,” says Director Julie Hall.  

Sunscreen made from algae, sea-star collagen, using native plants to collect baby mussels and bringing back the iconic toheroa are just a few of the ideas that are being funded. 

These projects are collaborations with researchers, industry and Māori partnersand are guided by the needs of people and communities. They are: 

  • Pātangaroa, bioactive potential of New Zealand sea-stars  
    Investigating the economic potential of collagen and bioactives from 11-armed sea-star to manage overpopulation. 
    Led by: Matt Miller (Cawthron), Kura Paul-Burke (University of Waikato), Mathew Cumming (Plant and Food Research)
  • Kohunga Kutai 
    Creating a sustainable supply of seed mussels using mātauranga Māori. 
    Led by: Andrew Jeffs (University of Auckland), Nicola MacDonald (Ngati Rehua & Ngāti Mahuhiri) 
  • Seaweed sun defence 
    Preventing sun-induced skin damage with New Zealand algae-derived bioactives.
    Led by: Mike Packer (Cawthron), Tom Wheeler (Cawthron) 
  • Whakaika te Moana 
    Indigenous aquaculture practices to explore a hapū based blue economy. 
    Led by: Te Rerekohu Tuterangiwhiu (Cawthron) 
  • Developing community-based toheroa aquaculture
    Thinking outside the can: engineering a sustainable future for toheroa aquaculture in Taitokerau. 
    Led by: Phil Ross (University of Waikato), Taoho Patuawa (Te Roroa)
  • A novel approach to aquaculture in Aotearoa New Zealand
    Developing a disruptive business model to allow small whānau-owned aquaculture farms of pātiki totara yellowbelly flounder. 
    Led by: Simon Muncaster (University of Waikato), Steve Bird (University of Waikato), Kura Paul-Burke  (University of Waikato), Jason Murray (Ngai Te Rangi), Aubrey Te Kanawa (Ahikōmako), Dickie Farrar (Whakatōhea), Tim Coltman (University of Waikato)
  • Kia tika te hī ika: Exploring fisheries tikanga and mātauranga

    This project is investigating the tikanga of ICP Iwi Partners as it relates to commercial fishing practice.
    Co-led by: Maru Samuels (Iwi Collective Partnership) & Irene Kereama-Royal (Ngā Wai A Te Tūī Māori & Indigenous Research Centre)

  • Quantifying seafloor contact

    This project is investigating and reducing interactions between commercial fishing gear and the seafloor in the Hawke's Bay. 
    Led by Oliver Wilson (Fisheries Inshore New Zealand)

These projects are part of the Blue economy research theme led by Nick Lewis from the University of Auckland.  

Innovative businesses and the wider community have argued for several years that we need to do economy differently,” says Nick. 

The pandemic has added a new urgency to their call and given us the opportunity to make genuine change. With a focus on marine activities that support social, ecological and cultural well-being, building a blue economy in Aotearoa may just be the answer. 

“These Innovation Fund projects are exciting examples of how to go about building a new future and offer us a glimpse of what it might look like.”  

More information will be available at

Notes to editors 

About the Innovation Fund – The Innovation Fund enables research projects that will contribute directly to building a blue economy in Aotearoa New Zealand. We define blue economy as being comprised of marine activities that generate economic value and contribute positively to social, cultural and ecological well-being. The $2 million fund invests up to $250,000 in projects for up to 2 years. 

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 scientists, social scientists, economists, and experts in mātauranga Māori and policy. It is funded by MBIE and hosted by NIWA.  

About the National Science Challenges – Sustainable Seas is one of 11 National Science Challenges. 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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A novel approach to aquaculture in Aotearoa New Zealand
Credit: Matakana Island © Shellie Evans
A novel approach to aquaculture in Aotearoa New Zealand

Growing community wellbeing with pātiki tōtara/yellowbelly flounder

Kohunga Kutai
Credit: Ngati Manuhiri Settlement Trust
Kohunga Kutai

Creating a sustainable supply of seed mussels using mātauranga Māori

Pātangaroa hua rau: the bioactive potential of sea stars
Credit: Kura Paul-Burke
Pātangaroa hua rau: the bioactive potential of sea stars

Investigating the economic potential of collagen and bioactives from 11-armed sea-stars to manage overpopulations

Seaweed sun defence
Credit: iStock/Ruslan Dashinksky
Seaweed sun defence

Investigating the potential of algal bioactives to prevent and improve the outcomes of sunburn

Thinking outside the can: Engineering toheroa aquaculture
Credit: Ripiro Beach © Taoho Patuawa
Thinking outside the can: Engineering toheroa aquaculture

Developing sustainable, community-based aquaculture in Te Taitokerau

Whakaika te Moana
Credit: Lamprey and eel weir Whanganui River taken by James McDonald © Alexander Turnbull Library
Whakaika te Moana

Exploring traditional aquaculture practices to inform a hapū-based blue economy