Seaweed art to highlight potential of Blue Bio-economy

A community art project that shines light on South Australia’s unheralded natural marine resources has received a $10,000 grant to engage Limestone Coast students with leading marine scientists at Flinders University and create collaborative artworks.

Out of The Blue is a project being driven by Niki Sperou, who has been artist in residence at Flinders University’s Medical Biotechnology since 2006, who developed the concept with support and scientific knowledge from Professor Wei Zhang, director of the university’s Centre for Marine Bioproducts Development.

The collaborative artworks that will be overseen by Niki are designed to highlight the properties and value of abundant local marine algae and seaweed that Flinders University researchers believe has the potential to stimulate a valuable new Blue Bio-economy for Australia.

South Australian marine algae are abundant, representing 15% of the world’s recorded brown and red algae diversity, with 70 per cent of these not growing elsewhere – which represents four times as many species as there are corals on the Great Barrier Reef.

Flinders is leading a current Federal bid for a Marine Bioproducts and Biotechnology Cooperative Research Centre, supported by $54 million from 45 research and industry partner organisations. It aims to develop many high-value products from farmed seaweed material and other marine products in Australia, influencing such products as nutritious health foods, prebiotics for gut microbiome health, pharmaceuticals, industrial thickeners for foods (especially desserts and ice cream), cosmeceuticals and bunker biofuels.

To help build community awareness about this new marine bioproducts opportunity, Out of the Blue aims to promote critical community thinking about marine algae’s value for both environmental science and industry applications.

The art project will be using seaweed collected at Beachport in July (excess material from scientific research currently being conducted at Flinders University), with STEM ambassador Linda Cooper and Niki Sperou conducting science/art workshops at several Limestone Coast schools to produce cyanotype handmade photographic prints (the process also used to produce blueprints) onto fabric, coupled with creative writing of novel stories and future scenarios for seaweed.

The images and creative writing produced by up to 120 participating Year 6 and Year 7 students from Victor Harbor Primary School, Allendale East Area School and Glenburnie Primary School, with input from Flinders Biotechnology scientists, will be stitched together as a series of collaborative story telling ‘quilts’.

“Engaging narrative in this way promises an exciting but also productive endeavour for both art and science communication,” says Niki. “Workshop participants from the region will be informed about environmental science, sustainability issues and technological applications of marine algae.

“Successful collaborations between scientists and communities can inspire and inform the community about natural resources and their application, and encourage regional industry and job creation.”

The collaborative quilts being made by Limestone Coast children and Flinders University scientists during 2018 and early 2019, will be exhibited during March 2019 at Signal Point Gallery, Goolwa, and Riddoch Gallery, Mount Gambier, thanks to the support of Arts and Cultural Development officers Leah Grace and Dr Melentie Pandilovski.

Project partners Inspiring SA, Flinders University Centre for Marine Bioproducts Development, The State Herbarium of SA, STEM Ambassadors Program.


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