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  • Scientists and hapū are investigating whether kina (a New Zealand sea urchin) can become our next high-value nutraceutical, functional food product. A nutraceutical is a food or part of a food that provides health benefits in addition to its nutritional value. For example, green-lipped mussel oil is used to promote joint movement and mobility.

    Rights: Matt Miller, Cawthron Institute

    Kina flesh and roe

    The flesh and roe inside the kina are edible. The shells may one day be used to produce bioactives.

    Kina (Evechinus chloroticus) are part of the sea urchin family Echinometridae. These spiny sea creatures are endemic to New Zealand and are found in shallow waters around much of the country. Although kina flesh and roe (the reproductive organs or gonads) are valued locally, there is little demand for it globally.

    Kina’s bioactive health properties

    A team working in the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge think there is potential to export health-promoting kina bioactives. Their research is focused on using bioactives from kina shells for treating diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and other serious conditions.

    There are three kina bioactives of interest:

    • Pigment 1 – contains antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and chelating abilities.
    • Pigment 2 – has anti-inflammatory properties and may alleviate diabetes and obesity.
    • Bioactive oil – like many fish, kina contain omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit heart health and reduce arthritis, diabetes and asthma. However, kina oil is likely to have enhanced anti-inflammatory properties compared with standard fish oil.

    The kina bioactives have been identified using a series of different assays. The team are developing methods to quantify the bioactives by solvent extraction (separating compounds based on their solubilities) and using liquid chromatography mass spectroscopy or gas chromatography mass spectroscopy.

    Rights: Matt Miller, Cawthron Institute

    Kina (Evechinus chloroticus)

    Kina are valued by Māori and many others as kaimoana. Most kina is wild harvested and consumed within New Zealand.

    A blend of experts

    The project is led by Dr Matthew Miller, a technical consultant at the Cawthron Institute. Matt’s science team are experts in extracting marine bioactives. They are collaborating with Hikurangi Enterprises and hapū from Te Tairāwhiti (East Coast of New Zealand) to use mātauranga contained in oral histories and traditional practices as well as local knowledge of kina growth, distribution and harvesting.

    A high-value product with reduced waste

    Nutraceuticals are one of the fastest-growing sectors of the global food industry. New Zealand has a worldwide reputation for producing safe, sustainable high-quality food products. Research also shows that consumers are willing to pay top prices for products that are gentle on the environment.

    The potential to develop high-value nutraceuticals and functional food ingredients from the marine environment would contribute to a blue economy – a sustainable use of ocean resources. By using the non-edible shell rather than the edible flesh, the team is examining how to reduce the amount of waste from harvested kina.

    Almost all kina are wild harvested by divers who hold their breath (10% are caught by dredging in the Marlborough Sounds.) Diving causes minimal damage to the kina’s habitat, and there is no bycatch. Kina are an underutilised resource in Te Tairāwhiti region. In 2016, records show that only 25% of the total allowable commercial catch was harvested.

    Rights: Leigh Tait, NIWA

    Kina habitat

    Kina live in a variety of habitats around New Zealand – from rocky seafloor areas to sandy seafloors to the southern fiords.

    Huataukīna tō iwi e

    The title of the project – Huataukīna tō iwi e – is a line from the waiata Hikurangi, composed by Kuini Moehau Reedy. It is based on an old Ngāti Porou phrase: When the kaimoana is abundant and the hapū have strings of kina, whānau are prosperous and healthy.

    One of the research aims is to stimulate the blue economy in Te Tairāwhiti region.

    The challenge is ongoing

    This project is all about producing baseline knowledge. The teams have harvested kina during the different seasons and are now testing the various oil extracts. They have questions regarding location, seasonality and efficacy of the bioactives. In addition, the teams will need to explore how they can scale up the extractions to meet future commercial needs.

    Nature of science

    Nutraceuticals come from a wide range of food sources, from fruits and fish to spices. Understanding the roles they play in human health and the science behind their efficacy can be quite complex. Rigorous scientific research, like that carried out in this project, helps to inform and protect consumers.

    Related content

    Find out more about the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge.

    Want to find out more about kina and how noisy they are?

    Milk proteins have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory bioactive properties that help with acne.

    The commercialisation topic has articles that feature innovative ideas that add value to New Zealand’s primary products, including extracting bioactives from mussels.

    Sustainable Seas collection

    See the range of content that we have developed using resources from the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge in this handy collection. Learn how to create, use and share collections here.

    Useful links

    The Hikurangi Huataukina Trust builds and supports commercial enterprises in the wider East Coast area. They are investigating the commercial opportunities associated with kānuka and kina.

    The Sustainable Seas Challenge has created a set of cards that introduce key elements of kaitiakitanga. The 11 Hui-te-ana-nui: Kaitiakitanga cards are available to download here. If you would like hard copies of the cards please contact Sustainable Seas notes that the content included in the summaries remain under the guardianship of the original knowledge sources.


    This article has been developed using resources from the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge.

    Rights: © Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge

    Sustainable Seas Challenge

    The Sustainable Seas Challenge is one of 11 National Science Challenges funded by MBIE.

      Published 18 January 2019 Referencing Hub articles
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