Edited by Soeren Petersen (COO, Mana Impact)
Image: Greenwave Aotearoa
Seaweed has long had an important role in the Asia-Pacific region both culturally and culinarily. At Mana Impact, we have been investigating the power of seaweed not only as a food ingredient but also a potential material, a potent input of nutrients, and a key player in providing ecosystem services for local bodies of water.
We are delighted to be working with the Greenwave Aotearoa (New Zealand) team, which is an ambitious project that seeks to harness the full benefits of seaweed while also kick-starting a whole new industry in New Zealand.
We had the opportunity to interview Rebecca “Bex” Barclay and Mawae Morton, who lead the Greenwave Aotearoa project.
Can you please tell us about how the Greenwave Aotearoa project came about?
Mawae: It started during Ocean Week in 2019. We had been looking for interesting projects around the world that could be applicable to New Zealand. We decided to approach Greenwave at the event because we were impressed by their model to bring farmer-led seaweed projects to coastal areas in New Zealand, after seeing how other marine industries were not always putting farmers at the center. I was particularly struck by their dedication to working with various Indigenous groups and getting them involved in seaweed farming. I reached out to Greenwave to see if they would be interested in conducting a feasibility study in New Zealand.
How is the pilot project going?
Bex: It is basically a proof-of-concept of the effectiveness of Ecklonia farming around the North Island of New Zealand. The pilot is looking at a variety of factors associated with offshore farming, including the pure operational aspects of farming (e.g., timing of outplanting, the correct machinery). We also strive to learn more about the nutrient and sediment loading; optimal temperatures for growth; and other factors that would determine the best location for future farms.
The project has also secured funding from the New Zealand government which is particularly interested in the ecosystem services that have the potential to bring about tremendous impact both environmentally and socially.
What is the timeline for the pilot and what do you hope to achieve after the pilot?
Bex: The pilot will run until at least the end of 2024 as we are still making many learnings on our sites.
Having been inspired by Greenwave located in the United States of America, we plan to set up local “reefs” that seek to support the local supply chain by centralizing the purchasing of the seaweed farmed and allowing it to scale and be used further downstream in the supply chain. We really want to avoid any monopoly situations in the supply chain, so the reefs would be placed in strategic areas. With this structure the reefs are also motivated to enter into offtake agreements that are advantageous to the farmers.
What were some of the initial challenges you identified for New Zealand, and how did you address them?
Mawae: We quickly realized that one of the challenges is the fact that we were introducing a new type of seaweed to Greenwave, Ecklonia Radiata (brown kelp). One of the top challenges that will continue to remain our focus, is to ensure there are trained farmers and hatcheries to provide seedlings for the farmers to start growing the kelp. As such, we started working with some of the key seaweed companies, research institution, universities, and the government to ensure we learn as much as possible.
What is the social impact of this project?
Bex: One of the interesting features of GreenWave Aotearoa is that it seeks to generate positive impacts on coastal communities, including and particularly the Iwi (Māori Community).
Working with our Iwi partners, we are focused on revitalizing the mauri | lifeforce of our oceans and communities. The partnership with such local communities is also a question of generating a logical partnership that results in generating social impact (jobs, training) as well as economic opportunities. We believe that involving these communities in the project, farming and other parts of the future supply chain would eventually trickle to support family levels as well.
We are currently partnered with North Island Iwi including Ngati Pukenga and Ngai Tai Ki Tamaki, who bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the project. We have also started conversations with the Iwi of the South Island.
Read more about Greenwave Aotearoa’s work here.