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NZ to join billion-dollar seaweed industry

NEW ZEALAND - Seaweed is a billion-dollar industry worldwide and it's used in everything from sushi to toothpaste. Now, New Zealand is getting in on the act. Scientists from Industrial Research in Lower Hutt have spent 20 years studying seaweed and 10 years of that working out the best way to grow it. The IRL team led by Ruth Falshaw found out science is often more a case of trial and error than is sometimes expected. Early attempts to grow seaweed spores in small culture cabinets in a laboratory were unsuccessful because the seaweed preferred to be in open water. After trying to grow seaweed in Wellington, most of IRL's seaweed is now grown in the Marlborough Sounds. Dr Falshaw said New Zealand was well placed to grow seaweed commercially. It had clean, open waters, and it already had the infrastructure within existing mussel and salmon farms. New Zealand also has about 700 varieties of seaweed, many that are rare elsewhere in the world. Source: Stuff.co.nz

NZ to join billion-dollar seaweed industry - NEW ZEALAND - Seaweed is a billion-dollar industry worldwide and it's used in everything from sushi to toothpaste. Now, New Zealand is getting in on the act.

Scientists from Industrial Research in Lower Hutt have spent 20 years studying seaweed and 10 years of that working out the best way to grow it.

The IRL team led by Ruth Falshaw found out science is often more a case of trial and error than is sometimes expected. Early attempts to grow seaweed spores in small culture cabinets in a laboratory were unsuccessful because the seaweed preferred to be in open water.

After trying to grow seaweed in Wellington, most of IRL's seaweed is now grown in the Marlborough Sounds.

Dr Falshaw said New Zealand was well placed to grow seaweed commercially. It had clean, open waters, and it already had the infrastructure within existing mussel and salmon farms. New Zealand also has about 700 varieties of seaweed, many that are rare elsewhere in the world.

IRL is trying to commercially grow just one variety at present, a red seaweed called Gigartina atropurpurea, which is found in the North Island and upper South Island.

It has a broad leaf, so yields a lot of seaweed from each plant and can be easily harvested by cutting. Seaweed farming would give aquaculture farmers a chance to diversify.

Though a lot of seaweed was grown to be eaten, Dr Falshaw said IRL was looking at it as a value-added product for items such as additives to food and pharmaceuticals. It is widely used as a thickening agent in ice-cream to stop large ice crystals forming. It makes chocolate milk creamier and holds the cocoa in suspension. It is also used in toothpaste and face creams. Worldwide the business is estimated to be worth US$1 billion (NZ$1.6 billion).

Dr Falshaw said a conservative estimate was that it would be worth between $2 million and $4 million a year to New Zealand in export earnings in the early stages, but that was still some years away, as New Zealand production was small.

She is currently working with aquaculture farmers, processors and end-users to try to build a commercial market for New Zealand seaweed.

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