When it comes to food, fibre and climate change New Zealanders tend to look inland, but the biggest opportunity is to turn 180 degrees and look at the ocean, according to Cawthron Institute chief executive Volker Kuntzsch.
Speaking at the E Tipu IFAMA 2023 World Conference in Christchurch in June, Kuntzsch encouraged Kiwis to look to the ocean for big opportunity.
“Big ocean, big opportunity, big responsibility,” the former chief executive of Sanford said.
“The oceans could hold the answers to some of our greatest challenges.”
With the ocean covering 70% of the globe, absorbing carbon dioxide and acting as a carbon sink, absorbing excess heat and energy released from rising greenhouse gas emissions trapped in Earth’s system, the ocean is key to a sustainable and eco-friendly planet.
“Only 3% of our GDP is marine so there is unrealised opportunity,” Kuntzsch said.
“A $1 billion investment into the ocean for a climate-positive future within one generation would have the sweet scent of the ocean remain.”
Growing up in the dry climate of Namibia and focusing his Master’s of Science in Zoology on the behavioural ecology of bat-eared foxes in South Africa didn’t exactly set Kuntzsch up for an ocean-related career.
But his life took an unforeseen turn that kickstarted his journey across five continents over the next 30 years working for seafood companies around the globe in jobs ranging from quality assurance and production management to leading organisations in Namibia, the United States and New Zealand.
His current role as chief executive of the Cawthron Institute, NZ’s independent research institute, connects his professional background with his passion for the world’s oceans.
Kuntzsch said he applies world class science and mātauranga Māori to bring a better future for aquatic environments and the communities that surround them.
“The ocean is under threat due to intensification of human activity, plastics, forestry slash, effluent, climate change events, floods and more CO2 in the air.
“This is a stark reminder the ocean, the lifeblood of our planet, is not too big to fail.”
Kuntzsch believes NZ can make a difference.
“With the research we are doing and the ecosystem-based management for our ocean taking the holistic approach, we can have a very dynamic environment as a first in the world.
“We have 270 scientists and technicians from all over the globe with the common understanding that solutions are at our fingertips.”
It will take a shift in mindset.
“Kiwis need to go from looking at the land to look at the sea.
“It will take huge investment into science and innovation to improve the impact of fishing and shipping.
“It will need investment into harvesting seaweed. There are more than 1000 species of seaweed in NZ; we only look at about 10 of them.
“There is lots of opportunity to be had to mitigate methane emissions in some seaweeds – seagrass meadows to sequester carbon, there is great potential.
“We should all be expanding sea grass meadows.”
There is huge opportunity, but funding is the stumbling block.
“There is an opening for it, we should go for it but we don’t have the funding for the science to develop the ocean better to our advantage.
“We need to work together across the biodiversity of the ecosystem to find solutions with high value creation, not just NZ but globally, it’s one ocean of the world.”
It’s about a mindset shift, science and innovation, kaitiakitanga, global connectivity and collaborative models.
“We say it too often but we need to do it for the sweet scent of the ocean to remain,” Kuntzsch said.