Venus Shell Systems - proudly Shoalhaven
A Shoalhaven seaweed farm is not only producing healthy food and skin products, it’s also helping to reduce the carbon footprint of local industries.
Dr Pia Winberg, who describes herself as a “seaweed farmer with a science degree”, is the driving force behind Venus Shell Systems, based at Bomaderry.
She is a passionate supporter of the health benefits of what she terms “bush tucker from the sea” and is excited to be growing one of Australia’s newest crops.
“Seaweed is a $6 billion global crop, yet Australia’s girt by sea and doesn’t grow any of it,” she said.
“It’s new in Australia and we’re using a unique species of seaweed that’s only been found in Australia.
“Seaweed can inject the nutritional factors missing in most western diets. Its trace elements and Omega 3 assist with dietary fibre for good gut health and helps to reduce cholesterol and inflammation.
“We’re trying to get seaweed into products that are really familiar to people and make seaweed accessible and easy to eat in a range of products.”
These products include pasta and corn chips, both of which have been enthusiastically received.
Venus Shell Systems is using seaweed in a range of skin products, as seaweed gel is very similar to the connective tissue in humans, as well as in supplements to help boost a lack of dietary fibre.
“There are a whole platform of technologies we’re looking at, but the most important things we’re focusing on are food and nutrition,” Dr Winberg said.
Although the company itself has only been operating since 2014, Dr Winberg has spent more than 20 years researching marine ecosystems and aquaculture.
She was director of the Shoalhaven Marine and Freshwater Centre at the University of Wollongong from 2008-2013 and is an Honorary Fellow at UOW.
“The idea was born through making aquaculture more sustainable. Aquaculture and the blue revolution happened in the late 20th century and was seen as the future of food, but so much damage was done to the environment,” she said.
“All we need is nutrients - and it doesn’t matter where it comes from – carbon dioxide, sea water and sun.”
And that’s where Venus Shell Systems is helping reduce the region’s carbon footprint. It works with the Manildra group in Bomaderry to capture the CO2, nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients in its food grade waste water and feeds it directly to the seaweed.
Dr Winberg has lived in the Shoalhaven for about 20 years and said it was the lifestyle that initially attracted her and her husband to the region.
“From a lifestyle point of view the Shoalhaven is an exciting place to be, but from a clean, sustainable, marine-based industry, it’s really exciting,” she said.
“It’s the best of both worlds - we’re close to urban markets and we have nice, clean catchments and coastlines with no contaminants or pollution.
“The Shoalhaven is in a transition period, moving away from the older, traditional forestry and fishing bases and is open to a range of new industry opportunities. The resources here are incredible and if you’re an entrepreneur there are so many opportunities to create something.”
Dr Winberg praised the work of the Shoalhaven Professional Business Association (spba) in bringing together and opening the lines of communication between like-minded businesses.
“There are so many opportunities here which can be harnessed when everyone is aware and communicating. The spba has been vital in strengthening those connections and helping us grow much faster than we otherwise would have done.
Venus Shell Systems is a Blue BioTech Shoalhaven founding member.Blue BioTech was formed by a number of local businesses that each could contribute to aquatic biotechnology product development and innovation.Members include researchers, growers, processors and manufacturers working together to get value products to market.
“Our products go from sun to bottle with 10km - we capture the sun and CO2 in our seaweed, we process it here and we take it down the road to a pharmaceutical company to manufacture our skincare products. We can do all of that and have the product ready to post to the consumer, right here in the Shoalhaven.”
Dr Winberg is confident about a bright future for both her company and the region and is keen to offer learning opportunities for locals at both skilled and unskilled levels.
“We especially want to offer opportunities for indigenous people who are saltwater people, to help them learn the technology of the industry,” she said.
“We have a strong relationship with the University of Wollongong, which has been a real game changer for the region. Industry, the university and the community will grow together, side-by-side.
“The seaweed industry is an industry beyond our company. The space where we can grow and harness sustainable future industries is in the ocean.”
Contact: Dr Pia Winberg
Phone: +61 429 338 846