A new aquaculture centre at Bay of Plenty Polytechnic will help fuel a growing push by local councils and industry players to harvest the ocean's bounty.
Two months ahead of the centre's official opening on October 29, a handful of dignitaries including Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee, Tauranga MP Simon Bridges, Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby were last week given a sneak peek.
Launched to meet a growing need in training and education in aquaculture and animal production, the centre is being developed in tandem with Bay of Plenty's regional aquaculture strategy.
"The centre underpins development of the industry by meeting education and relevant research requirements regionally in partnership with industry, stakeholders," programme coordinator Dr Andrew Morgan said.
"It will also house knowledge and expertise into the future, hosting both staff and student based projects in undergraduate and post graduate research."
In recent years, Environment Bay of Plenty has been a driving force behind developments regionally in aquaculture, namely the formation of the Regional Aquaculture Organisation.
The polytechnic's Department of Marine and Environment had assisted EBoP with environmental projects for some time, Dr Morgan said.
"A growing relationship exists in aquaculture, that includes the incorporation of this institute's capability in this area into a much wider vision for regional economic development in key industries, of which aquaculture is one."
The centre has been welcomed by a range of major industry players including Eastern SeaFarms, North Island Mussel Producing, Whakatohea Fisheries and Chinese seafood firm Oriental Ocean, as well as representatives from EBoP and the Opotiki District Council.
"These are our clients and we want to represent their best interests and meet their needs moving into the future," Dr Morgan said. "Of course with any other potential aquaculture developments regionally, it is essential we exist in partnership with them as well.
"As a tertiary provider it is also important that we lead industry as well as respond to it. Being innovators, we encourage new research to solve old or new problems that others may not think about.
"That is the advantage of a tertiary institute hosting an aquaculture research and development centre of expertise."
To better do this, the centre boasts two tank buildings, one containing six 1.6 tonne recirculation systems with full filtration and temperature control, and the other housing a pair of massive, 25-tonne fish broodstock tanks, three tray systems for conditioning and breeding, egg and larvae hatch cones and rearing tanks. A live feed production area also comprises two culture rooms for algae, rotifers, and artemia.
The entire complex its supplied by a 60-tonne storage tank system and is ventilated by a continuous air supply system.
Although the centre will transform Bay of Plenty's capabilities for marine research, the area is hardly new to the polytechnic.
"Essentially the polytechnic has always taught the fundamentals of aquaculture as part of the Diploma in Marine Studies," Dr Morgan said. "It includes aquaculture systems and design and a second course on growth feeds and nutrition. These courses are run alongside staff-led research projects for clients and staff-led research interests."
Each course could take up to 40 students. "We are currently designing a third aquaculture course on production and rearing that will enable students to round off their knowledge base by working with staff to breed species of interest.
"Dr Simon Muncaster has also now joined us after returning from Norway doing a PhD developing the breeding of a species of fish."
So what are the hopes for the centre's future? "We have plans to expand infrastructure if and when industry demands and funded research partnerships mean we need to," Dr Morgan said.
A further small live feed production building, and one or two grow-out buildings for fish and invertebrates were already on the cards.
"We work with a few key species as identified by industry, including fish and sea cucumbers," he said.
"However, the potential exists to work with other species and is currently being done so as part of internal institutional staff led research programmes.
"We are also working towards hosting and supervising post-graduate research and associated programmes.
"We have an important partnership with the University of Waikato that will assist in making this educational and research pathway a reality for the Bay."