Credit: Leigh Tait/NIWA

Posted on 01 November 2021

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 species growing along our coastlines.

Previous research from our Building a seaweed sector project shows our country could gain huge benefits, the seaweed sector is still in its infancy as New Zealand currently only harvests wild seaweed.

According to two new reports from the research team, developing aquaculture farms using an ecosystem-based management (EBM) approach and with co-ordination between industry, iwi/hapū and regulators could grow Aotearoa New Zealand’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 species are generally underdeveloped in regard to their commercial potential and there is 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 Building a seaweed sector.

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 New Zealand 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 that knowledge generated through Aotearoa New Zealand research is publicly accessible. This enables farmers to ‘give it a go’ using approaches that are appropriate for the Aotearoa New Zealand situation.”

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

Media contact

Emma Williams 021 837 966

Available for interview
  • Serean Adams (Cawthron Institute) – Project Leader
  • Jonah Svenson (Cawthron Institute)
  • Dana Clark (Cawthron Institute)
  • Shaun Ogilvie (Cawthron Institute)
Accompanying infographics
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 in mātauranga Māori and policy from across Aotearoa New Zealand. It is funded by MBIE and hosted by NIWA. 

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About the National Science Challenges

Sustainable Seas is one of eleven National Science Challenges that are funded 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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Related projects & activities

Building a seaweed sector
Credit: Leigh Tait/NIWA
Building a seaweed sector

Developing a seaweed sector framework for Aotearoa New Zealand.