Awarua Algae

Photo credit: Estelle Leask.

Awarua Wetland is a mahinga kai area of importance to Ngāi Tahu. In undertaking this project we aim to benefit Māori and wider New Zealand society through economic development, using biotechnology in a mahinga kai context.

The project is being led by Te Rūnanga o Awarua and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu in partnership with Landcare Research, University of Canterbury and Callaghan Innovation.

The aim of this research project is to determine the commercial potential of an micro alga found in the Awarua wetland. High values of EPA found in the alga mean that it may offer an alternative to the health supplement fish oil. While this project is still in its early phase, the aim is to determine the whether growth and extraction can be extended sufficiently to ensure commercial feasibility of the process.

Product analysis and recovery will be undertaken using methods established at Callaghan Innovation.

Two workstreams have been progressed during the 2016-17 summer period. The first was a detailed field study of the pond at Awarua Wetland from which our algal strain was isolated. The goal of this study was to determine the conditions favoured by the species in nature, to guide the design of laboratory experiments. Estelle Leask, an Awarua researcher from Bluff, and her niece Indiah Mitchell were subcontracted to carry out the field work. This consisted of maintaining data logging equipment, making measurements of physical variables such as light, water depth and rainfall, and collecting algal and water samples to send to Landcare Research, Lincoln, for analysis. The field work was completed in February, and the analysis of the samples is still underway.

The second workstream is the development of laboratory culture facilities. The strain is currently being grown in two 1 litre airlift photobioreactors – large concentric cylinders of glass in which light, temperature, gas flow and composition, and aeration rates are all controlled. The tight control available in this system allows us to characterise the growth preferences of the strain by changing conditions and measuring the strain’s response, and is a springboard to growing it in larger volumes. The “large green tubes” have become a talking point in what is otherwise a lab for molecular biology.

Photo credit: Gabriel Visnovsky (University of Canterbury).


Te Waipounamu


[email protected]

Lead organisation

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu

Lead rūnanga

Te Rūnanga o Awarua

Partners & Collaborators

Landcare Research

University of Canterbury

Callaghan Innovation


Food supplement sourced from Southland wetland