Future-proofing aquaculture: Ōpōtiki rescue sends a wake-up call to adapt to worsening climate change 

The dramatic helicopter rescue  of four workers from a stranded dredging barge in Ōpōtiki on Tuesday underscores the pressing need to make aquaculture operations more resilient to increasing climate risks. 

“While thankfully no one was injured or worse, the incident serves as a reminder that extreme weather events from climate change are already impacting our rohe and will only get worse,” said Chris Karamea Insley, technical working group lead on aquaculture for the collective Iwi of Waiariki. 

“For more than two years, our collective has been researching how to adapt aquaculture to these growing climate threats. 

“We have formed an extensive partnership with leading universities and research institutes like Auckland University of Technology, University of Waikato, New Zealand Plant & Food Research, Cawthron Institute, NIWA, and Scion to support this mahi. 

“We are currently working with engineering and marine science experts to design and build robotics solutions specifically aimed at offsetting the risks to our whānau. By using robotics to do the dangerous and menial task to keep our whānau safe, we can avoid another situation as experienced in Ōpōtiki. 

“We have partnered with the Cawthron Institute to do multi-year research on options to adapt to the changing climate in terms of our management of aquaculture, the operations and the types of technologies we will need as climate impacts worsen. 

“We also have multi-year research confirmed with New Zealand Plant and Food and Genetics NZ to explore the role of genetics to offset issues like the warming of sea temperatures that have seen the closure of Salmon farming in the Marlborough region. 

“Our collective iwi is considering an application to the multi-billion dollar EU Horizon research fund. If successful, it could accelerate the implementation of global best practices to build a world-leading, sustainable aquaculture industry better equipped to withstand climate pressures into the future and grow our whānau. 

“As Tuesday’s event showed, turning this vital vision into reality can’t come soon enough,” Insley said. “Through these collaborative partnerships, science, technology, and innovation we can future-proof our industry against climate risks and protect our people’s safety.” 

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