Exploring Opportunities under the Sea; Thanks to Newcastle University, the International Community Is Well Aware of the North East's Expertise in Marine Research. However, a New Facility off the Coast of Northumberland Hopes to Strengthen Its Status as a Place for Marine Experts to Develop Businesses. JOHN HILL Looks at the Thinking Behind the New Astec Aquaculture Business and Science Centre on Lyne Sand

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WE'VE all heard the fanciful stories about the things that lurk under the sea. Scary robot sharks patrolling the coast of Amity. Giant squid monsters called the Kraken splatting ships full of sailors around Norway. There's even a cartoon mermaid down there singing reggae songs with a crab. But what of the other jaw-dropping mysteries hidden in the murky depths, the organisms that could help us to discover the secrets to healthier lives, cleaner energy and more effective engineering? Fishing for food is a long- established and continuously-growing industry. However, there's more to aquaculture than just catching cod. For years, scientists have been developing breakthroughs by painstakingly analysing aquatic life, from algae and sea cucumbers to the fish themselves. Students fascinated by the potential for undersea exploration have been in the North East for a while, studying at Newcastle University's internationallyrenowned School of Marine Science and Technology. The school is regarded as one of the best of its kind in Europe, but all too often graduates armed with expertise in offshore engineering, marine biology and coastal management found themselves putting their skills to use elsewhere. "We were training all these great marine biologists and scientists up here, but they were leaving to go all around the world to get jobs", says aquaculture businessman Kevin Haddrick. "One North East was looking to create hi-tech clusters that would bring people into the region, rather than just see them come into study and then leave again.

" It was from this thinking that the Astec Aquaculture Business and Science Centre emerged. Jointly funded by Go Wansbeck and One North East, the centre provides a potential home for start-ups and study in the aquaculture field, and hopes to become a "world-class" destination for seawater research and business. Kevin Haddrick is the chief executive of the facility, which is based on Lyne Sands on the Northumberland coast. He says: "We want to create the UK's centre for aquaculture here. What we're aiming to do is gradually expand the centre out and attract more and larger businesses. We expect a mix of start-ups and established businesses here. "We've got a series of labs and offices and outdoor spaces available to rent, as well as strong back-up support for businesses. Start-ups might have the scientific knowledge, but need help with business itself, so this will provide them with the physical facilities as well as the technical support in areas such as marketing and handling cash flow." The Astec centre has been in development for several months, and will be showcasing what it has to offer at an open day from 9am to 11am today. Laboratories are private and customisable, but the people behind the project also want to set up a community of "like-minded experts who can share experiences and ideas". The facility's location means it has access to the seawater that kisses the Northumberland coast, but it can also offer an unusual side benefit to more specialised researchers. Haddrick says: "The Alcan Lynemouth power station next door draws in seawater for heat exchange. When it comes out, it's warm, so it's pumped through to us via a pipe. We cool it a little with some ambient water, and put it through a specialist filtration system. …