Creating greater value from a marine-based blue economy is among 40 Sustainable Seas projects receiving multi-million dollar Government funding.

That project, led by Auckland University’s Dr Nick Lewis with a budget of $1.135 million, has identified several activities that are helping the country transition to a blue economy.

They include the innovative precision seafood harvesting trawling method, harvesting of seaweed and industry commitment to a sustainable future that is embodied in Seafood New Zealand’s Promise campaign.

Identifying other possibilities and fostering regional initiatives are part of the project.

Sustainable Seas is one of 11 National Science Challenges that aim to address some of the country’s biggest science-based challenges.

They have received a staggering level of investment - $680 million over 10 years, delivered in two five-year tranches.

The marine-based fund received $71 million of that total.

It aims to support ecosystem-based management for the marine environment, which its NIWA-based director Dr Julie Hall defines as managing competing uses and demands on marine resources while also incorporating people’s values.

A total of 222 researchers from 36 organisations are involved in 40 marine projects.

They include the development of an ecosystem-based approach to managing the health of the Tasman and Golden bays seafloor, which has been heavily impacted in some cases by sedimentation due to poor land management.

That study, led by NIWA’s Dr Judi Hewett, has been allocated $400,000 to trial several modelling tools to help predict how animals and plants respond to different scenarios.

A related project, led by NIWA’s Dr Sean Handley costing $300,000, is estimating effects from sedimentation and fishing in Tasman Bay.

Tasman and Golden bays once supported productive green-lipped mussel, oyster and scallop fisheries but these have been in severe decline for the past 10 years.

The study is measuring sediment structure to see how much has accumulated and where it has come from, including before human disturbance by carbon dating shells from the base of selected core samples.

Means of mitigating ocean acidification around mussel farms is another project under way, led by Prof Cliff Law across NIWA and Otago University with a budget of $300,000.

Two techniques are being tested – the first involves using waste mussel shells, which could raise pH and dissolved carbonate as they break down.

Mussels are less healthy and do not grow as well at lower pH in more acidic waters.

The second approach is strategic aeration of farm waters at night, when oxygen and pH are naturally lower.

Cawthron Institute’s Ben Knight has a $450,000 budget to develop forecasting of contamination risk for shellfish harvest and beach use.

And another Cawthron scientist, Dr Lincoln Mackenzie, has $300,000 to trial two innovative technologies to detect and monitor harmful algal blooms in coastal waters.

The possible generation of electricity from the strong tidal currents within Cook Strait is being investigated by MetOcean Solutions’ Brett Beamsley.

He has $300,000 to determine the best locations and size required for a tidal turbine farm that could generate 1000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power a major city like Auckland.

The wider National Science Challenges is bringing together thousands of researchers, encompassing projects as varied as freshwater hazards to healthy aging and nutrition.

Total funding is projected to reach as much as $1.6 billion.

While this effort is welcomed, the New Zealand Association of Scientists – and Seafood NZ – are among those to raise questions about a perceived lack of rigour in transparency around projects and robust monitoring of their effectiveness and outcomes.

That may be the ultimate national science challenge.