A USC researcher has established a laboratory at Bribie Island to explore a potentially lucrative new aquaculture industry off the Queensland coastline – seaweed production.
Associate Professor of Aquaculture Nicholas Paul, a phycologist (seaweed scientist) who joined USC in 2017 from James Cook University, said Queensland was ripe for a new ocean-based industry that was beneficial to people and the environment.
“Seaweed is the largest aquaculture crop in the world but none is grown commercially in Australian waters,” said Dr Paul, who spent five years working on seaweed culture in the Pacific Islands and South East Asia with funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.
“I’ve been inspired by what I’ve seen overseas, where seaweed is farmed as a traditional food and as a global commodity that is worth billions of dollars annually.
“Two of my long-term projects investigated the types of seaweeds to grow, how to farm them and what they can be used for. There were some unusual outcomes – seaweed salads, jellies, pickled food, compost, cosmetic creams and even weight loss options.
“Seaweed has gained mainstream interest in Australia, where it is touted as a superfood or a key extract in cosmetic and health products. People may not know of its ability to produce oxygen, absorb nutrients and reduce carbon dioxide, potentially helping to address climate change.
“Queensland is the perfect setting, with the clean water of the Pacific Ocean, unique species including the prized red seaweed, and aquaculture facilities at the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries’ centre on Bribie Island. Now we need to be smart and do the research to create an industry that works here.”
Dr Paul, of Buderim, said seaweed could be grown in commercial quantities in the sea, starting with seedlings tied in clusters to lines along the seabed.
“My team will investigate intensive culture methods, targeting high-value Australian native species and aiming to develop further land-based facilities to support offshore production.”
Dr Paul’s previous research in Far North Queensland, which used seaweed to clean wastewater for fish and prawn farms, helped prompt fledgling land-based seaweed farming in Australia.
DAF’s Bribie Island Research Centre, on 15 hectares at Woorim, is home to DAF, CSIRO and now USC science teams conducting aquaculture and fisheries research with direct, industry-wide application. It has a specialist biotechnology laboratory for a range of molecular techniques, wet labs, good quality seawater supply, filtration and aeration systems, nursery, ponds and tanks.
DAF’s Dr Warwick Nash, Science Director of Fisheries Aquaculture and Sustainable Intensive Livestock Systems, said it was great to have the new USC research team at the Bribie Island Research Centre.
“The presence of the USC team at Bribie will add to the range of skills and experience of the DAF and CSIRO science teams already here, and will expand the capability of the Centre to develop new, sustainable aquaculture industries for Queensland,” Dr Nash said.
Dr Paul said he was excited by the recently-released book, Sunlight and Seaweed, written by renowned Australian environmentalist and conservationist Professor Tim Flannery.
“It describes the potential for seaweed to create positive environmental change at grand scales,” he said.
Dr Flannery, the 2007 Australian of the Year, was awarded an honorary doctorate by USC for his exemplary leadership.