A group of Kamo High School students didn't know science was breeding "fat-as fish" until they visited Niwa and learnt about the many opportunities aquaculture offered in Northland.
Niwa (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) aquaculture technician Sarah Congdon and Moana New Zealand site manager Ryan Lanauze recently took time to educate the Year 10 students about the work the Crown research institute does at its Ruakākā base, including the breeding of blue pāua.
"I didn't know that science could be breeding fat-as fish!" a student exclaimed.
The students were told that with the right attitude, there were so many learning opportunities to do onsite training and develop a career in aquaculture, as university was not for everyone.
Congdon said the facility was involved in cutting-edge international research on climate change alongside James Cook University, among other research projects.
These included breeding hāpuku, developing contraceptives for catfish and growing asparagopsis – algae – that could be used to feed cows and decrease methane levels.
Skills learned at Niwa's facility were easily transferable, she said.
"We could be farming kingfish out in the bay at some point too – and I know it's controversial but in uncertain times it's great to be able to feed people and provide jobs if we really need to."
Lanauze explained that it was not just about university degrees or the research.
"It's one thing to build a shed and put pāua in it. It's quite another to then fill it with water and run electricity through it. The tradies and technicians who work here can work anywhere in the world."
School principal Natasha Hemara said accessing learning in the community was important to empower students to access pathways to success.
"We really value connections with our community and look forward to continuing mutual relationships with Niwa and other businesses in Northland."
In the 1970s, a power station was built where the Niwa station currently sits - but global oil shocks made opening the former uneconomic and ultimately unfeasible.
Niwa scientists recognised about 20 years ago that the 2m-high water pipes, built to pump water in to cool the power station, could equally be used for building an aquaculture site.
Moana New Zealand came on board and pioneered pāua kahurangi (blue pāua) farming, which turned out to be difficult and very different to farming pāua in other places around the world.
After many false starts and thanks to ingenuity, Moana New Zealand is now exporting from Northland a tonne of high-quality pāua, mainly to China in its peak-demand period.
Within the next few years, supported by Niwa's recent $6 million investment from the Provincial Growth Fund, with an equal investment from Northland Regional Council, the site will export 600 tonnes of kingfish per year.
Flow-on opportunities will likely include research into the breeding of fish, as well as jobs in harvesting and processing.