Two decades ago, Dr Masayuki Tatsumi (BAppSc (ME) Hons 2012, PhD 2019) left Osaka, Japan, during his school summer break to visit his uncle in Launceston. Masayuki’s uncle was working on exchange as a researcher at the Australian Maritime College (AMC).
“It was a huge adventure for me,” Masa said. “That’s why I decided to come back after college.”
He has since completed all his tertiary education, including several AMC courses, at the University of Tasmania. During his studies, he did a scuba diving course, and that decided his future direction – marine science.
Masa studied the ecological impacts of climate change as well as the rehabilitation and conservation of marine environments at the University’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), before working at IMAS on cultivating giant kelp (Macrocystis) to restore Tasmania’s kelp forests.
Now, Masa is the Head of Research and Development at Sea Forest, a Tasmanian environmental biotechnology start-up with big ambitions. Headed by ex-clothing designer and passionate environmentalist Sam Elsom, Sea Forest, based at Triabunna on the State’s east coast, is making waves in reducing greenhouse emissions to combat climate change.
Masa explains that the seaweed being researched and cultivated at Sea Forest, Asparagopsis, shows enormous promise as a supplement to be added to livestock feeds, reducing methane emissions by up to a staggering 98 per cent. It’s the sort of figure that makes people all around the world sit up and pay attention.
“It’s a huge impact,” Masa said.
“Even people who are not interested in science think – wow.”
And only a minuscule amount, as low as 0.2 per cent, of animal feed, needs to contain the seaweed supplement to reap the benefits. With agriculture Australia’s third biggest contributor to greenhouse emissions after energy and transport, it’s big news. This is particularly the case for methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
“My main work at Sea Forest is determining how we can optimise the cultivation of Asparagopsis,” Masa said.
Indeed, Sea Forest aims to fight climate change by being the first in the world to cultivate Asparagopsis at a commercial scale.
“Our product, Asparagopsis, has the potential to decrease methane from livestock by up to 98 per cent – this is a huge impact.”
Results so far are positive.
“It’s looking so good; they are growing so fast we are running out of space quickly,” Masa said.
Sea Forest has a marine lease off Triabunna, once used for growing mussels, plus land-based facilities, which have recently expanded to Swansea, forty minutes’ drive north. As well as cultivation, Sea Forest processes the seaweed into a product that can be incorporated into livestock feed.
Masa says it is rewarding to be working in an applied research field that will have such a positive impact on the environment.
“For Australia to meet its 2030 goals, we need to reduce emissions from the agriculture sector,” he said.
As Head of R&D at Sea Forest, Masa is also involved in a second stream of research, the focus of the Sea Forest Foundation: restoring giant kelp forests, which have reduced by 95 per cent along Tasmania’s east coast as a result of climate change.
And he still supervises students at the University.
“When I give advice to students, I say that it’s not just about research, you have to look to the applications,” he said.
Masa’s role at Sea Forest also sees him in discussions with business people and investors, explaining his research to them in the language they speak, and needing to develop an understanding of how they think. It’s a part of the job he calls “translational science”.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to inspiring others about what each individual can do to reduce our impacts, and how we are part of the environment.”
“It’s about increasing awareness, while we make change.”
A day in the life of Masa may see him out on the ocean or in the laboratory on-site, where he is the first to arrive, checking on the facilities and operations. The same day will see him managing research staff and talking to people outside science about the benefits of Sea Forest’s research.
“It’s a good balance, and no single day is the same,” he said.
So how does he feel about making the move from Osaka, Japan’s second-largest city? He hasn’t looked back.
“In Osaka, and other big cities, we don’t get this experience, to be close to nature. In Tasmania, we can go from snowboarding in the morning to scuba diving in the afternoon. There are not many places in the world where you can do that,” he said.
Written by Katherine Johnson for Alumni Magazine Issue 53, 2022.
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Top of page: Dr Masayuki Tatsumi in the Sea Forest Laboratory. Image: Adam Gibson.