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Scientists Set Sail On Northland Ocean Research Expedition

A team of 15 scientists, artists and students will embark on a 14-day expedition between Auckland and Opua, stopping for outreach events in Leigh and Whangarei.

By collecting microplastics and biosecurity data, the interdisciplinary team hopes to learn more about the ocean’s health, using innovative surface and water sampling techniques, eDNA metabarcoding and on-board analysis, a promising approach for marine non-indigenous species (NIS) detection, enabling effective identification of emerging biosecurity risks and timely response.

Aboard Far Out Ocean Research Collective’s S/V Manawanui and led by skipper Jochen Zaeschmar (Bay of Islands), this expedition aims to collect environmental samples along regional shipping routes and marine habitats of high ecological and cultural value.

This collaboration between ocean nonprofit Blue Cradle Foundation, the Cawthron Institute, the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), and Algalita South Pacific under two nationally significant MBIE programmes will kickstart Aotearoa New Zealand’s participation in the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030).

Focused on “people, solutions and stories”, the 2-week cruise will be Blue Cradle’s inaugural expedition, an organisation set up during lockdown by Edmund Hillary Fellow James Nikitine and based in Ōtautahi/Christchurch. One of its main objectives will be to set in motion an ambitious nation-wide programme to build a collaborative platform to monitor the ocean’s health and respond to important challenges, while inspiring people along the way. 
James Nikitine, Founding Director of the Blue Cradle Foundation and expedition leader says:

“This expedition is the true spirit of Blue Cradle. We bring together amazing people, who work on solutions, and we tell their stories. Our goal is to inspire as many as possible to marine science, conservation, and the necessity of safeguarding a healthy ocean, while building bridges across sectors, fields of expertise, and cultures. In bicultural Aotearoa New Zealand, working together across public and private institutions, nonprofits, community groups and iwi is key to secure a healthy ocean for future generations. We need everyone involved. That is our kaupapa.”

Olga Pantos, Senior scientist, principal investigator, microplastics lead at ESR:

“Those very same properties that have made plastic such a popular material, including its cheap price, light weight, high resilience and malleability for instance also make it a huge problem in both aquatic and terrestrial environments.”

“Plastics of all sizes pose a potential threat to the environment: across all ecosystems, all taxa and taxonomic levels. The risks they pose range from physiological to microbiological, and from the organism level to the ecosystem level.”

“Although research has been going on for the last couple of decades or so, we really are still in the infancy of understanding the impacts of plastics. The more we learn, hopefully the closer we get to finding solutions. And the more we can share our knowledge by doing activities like these, the more we share with communities why things need to change. "

Dr Anastasija Zaiko and Associate Professor Xavier Pochon, of Nelson’s Cawthron Institute, will be joining the expedition in their capacity as senior researchers in the national Marine Biosecurity Toolbox Programme.

Zaiko says the expedition’s goals align perfectly with the Marine Biosecurity Toolbox’s mission to “develop science-based tools and technologies that empower governments, tangata whenua, industry and the public to effectively mitigate biosecurity risks”.

“The Marine Biosecurity Toolbox Programme aims to educate and inspire the public, but it’s also about empowering a wide range of people to protect New Zealand’s marine environment from biosecurity threats by putting easy-to-use environmental DNA (eDNA) monitoring tools in their hands,” Pochon says.

“We are really looking forward to collecting important data from the vessel and coastal areas throughout Northland, and sharing these transformative tools through schools outreach, end-users workshops and public events along the way.” 

Raquelle de Vine, Director, Algalita South Pacific:

“Having sailed over 18,000 nautical miles to both the North and South Pacific Gyres researching plastic pollution it is paramount we understand the presence and nature of it in our own waters to enable real solutions.”

“This expedition will be invaluable to Aotearoa’s journey towards mitigating plastic pollution, as it not only enables the gathering of data to truly understand it but it also provides the platform of connection for relationships to form and strengthen. I am particularly excited about providing the opportunities to upcoming scientists and educators to come aboard”

Jochen Zaeschmar, Captain of S/V Manawanui, Director, Far Out Ocean Research Collective:

“This is an important and timely project that addresses issues of growing concern. One of Far Out's key objectives is to maximise conservation outcomes through support and collaboration, and we are excited to provide the platform for this expedition.”

Journalists and the greater public will have the opportunity to meet the expedition team during a public launch event at Sustainable Coastlines’ flagship on Saturday 12th June 5pm (RSVP: link)

Another outreach event is planned for Leigh’s Discovery Centre and a technical workshop in Whangarei with Northland institutional and iwi partners.
The expedition is supported by sponsors Hansaworld Ltd and Greenhill Seltzers.

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