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Broad-ranging aquatic research

30 June 2005

Broad-ranging aquatic research

New Zealand's oceans, lakes, estuaries, wetlands, native fish and birds will benefit from over $120 million of research investment announced today by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

This announcement completes the Foundation's reinvestment in research to protect and enhance New Zealand's ecosystems.

Three significant long-term research programmes will be funded as well as a number of shorter-term projects.

The Foundation's General Manager Investments, Dr John Smart, says the scope of the different ecosystems that will be studied is wide. "Research will focus on environments as diverse as the Ross Sea in Antarctica, ocean peaks in New Zealand's economic fishing zone, tidal estuaries, lakes and wetlands."

The large number of proposals the Foundation received for aquatic research, which included over 70 project bids, means many excellent research proposals could not be supported by the Foundation, says Dr Smart.

"This is disappointing, but it means that the research we have been able to invest in is first class and will bring great benefits to New Zealand's water-based environments."

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) will lead two long-term research programmes, called Outcome-based investments. The first addresses biodiversity and biosecurity issues in marine environments. It will add to national collections of marine organisms and will describe processes for restoring and protecting marine species. It will also employ modelling and monitoring of biodiversity status to guide selection of Marine Protected Areas and develop new monitoring and treatment methods for pests.

The second programme, worth almost $60 million over 12 years, investigates New Zealand's coasts and oceans. It is a world first in bringing together experts in climate, oceanography, animal ecology, remote sensing, fisheries, social science and economics.

Researchers seek to understand all the factors that influence the health and productivity of New Zealand's oceans. This will enable design of management approaches to allow sustainable fishing and aquaculture and mitigate the negative impacts on ocean health and biodiversity from urban expansion and reclaimed land.

Many state-of-the-art technologies, including satellite imaging, will be used to determine the factors that control the health and productivity of the ocean from the bottom of the food chain upwards. This knowledge will allow researchers to forecast productivity, such as where the best sites for aquaculture development are. Ultimately, this research will ensure ocean resources are managed in a way that best meets the needs of all New Zealanders.

The University of Waikato will lead a 10-year, $10 million research programme on freshwater restoration. Many of New Zealand's fresh water lakes are in decline, with pest fish out-competing native species and producing conditions that favour harmful algal blooms. Increased nutrient run-off from intensifying land use is also tipping the balance in favour of invasive weeds, pest fish and algal blooms. Researchers will develop methods for reducing biodiversity loss in lakes by understanding algal blooms and developing methods to eradicate pest fish.

Developed technologies will be integrated into a programme of outreach and education on water quality, biodiversity and pest fish impacts on lake ecosystems. Various regional councils, the Department of Conservation and Fish and Game New Zealand, among others, are involved in this programme to ensure its research findings quickly translate into measurable benefits to New Zealand's lakes.

Having end-users involved right from the start is a key feature of the long-term research investment model the Foundation has been using in the natural ecosystems area.

A number of shorter-term projects put forward by NIWA will also receive investment for four years. They are focussed on assessing estuary health, groundwater ecosystems, sustainable aquaculture, marine recreation, sustainable seamount fishing, and Antartica's Ross Sea.

Landcare Research is involved in a project that seeks answers on how to maintain and restore wetlands - important given that 90% of original wetlands have been destroyed in New Zealand.

A project by Massey University seeks to describe and quantify the value the Ngati Raukawa hapu gain from natural ecosystems. This will allow the identification of practical pathways for protecting, restoring and enhancing natural ecosystems in the hapu's tribal area. This work is likely to focus on wetlands, dune lakes, streams and forest remnants. Mechanisms will be developed to facilitate best practice uptake amongst other iwi and projects in coastline restoration specifically in Horowhenua and Manawatu with wider application throughout New Zealand.

In order to better protect iconic native fish, such as white bait, researchers at the University of Canterbury will map the habitats native fish require through their lifecycles to determine the critical habitats (those needed for successful spawning, egg laying or development). Understanding the linkages between river, estuary and coast habitats is a key feature of the research.

Agribusiness advisers Nimmo-Bell & Company Ltd will develop policy management tools for New Zealand government agencies. These will allow rapid and accurate evaluation and ranking of projects to protect New Zealand's indigenous wildlife from exotic pests and diseases on a cost-benefit basis.

Annual reports on these projects will be available on the Foundation's website (www.frst.govt.nz ) from mid 2006.

ENDS

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