Dynamic Seas

Fisherman onboard a boat overseeing a fishing trawl in the ocean

Using biophysical science to investigate how ecosystems work, are connected and how they respond to change; and providing an evidence-base for effective ecosystem based management (EBM).


We are tracing the fate of water and sediments from land through coastal food webs, evaluating connections between coastal and deep sea habitats, and identifying the effects of key coastal developments (for example, aquaculture) on food web connectivity.  

Tipping points are a rapid transformation that happens when an ecosystem loses its capacity to cope with change. To understand how they manifest in New Zealand waters, we are doing the first national marine experiment in estuaries, harbours and rocky reefs, to identify tipping points, risks and how systems respond to change.

We are defining the ‘footprint’ of materials that stress marine ecosystems, such as contaminants, nutrients and sediment. We are using the latest in marine observational technology to collect data – including drifters and ocean gliders – and building better mathematical models to understand water flows within the region.

New Zealand’s deep submarine canyons vary in shape, physical characteristics and ecological productivity. To investigate what is behind this difference in productivity, we are using forensic chemistry to track the chemical ‘signatures’ of land- and coastal-derived plant material in the canyon’s sediment and food webs.

We are investigating the effects that suspended sediment from human activities, such as mining and fishing, have on the health and survival of important deep-sea species in the South Taranaki Bight. These innovative laboratory experiments will help us understand how resilient species are, and how quickly they can recover.

We are developing an innovative, high-throughput and cost-efficient way to quantify marine biodiversity using environmental DNA extracted from marine water samples. In our initial study, we identified the presence of around 60 species in the test areas, and could clearly distinguish species from neighbouring but distinct habitats.

Latest news and updates

Eureka! Is ocean farming the future?

Jonathan Chan, from Auckland Grammar School, has won the Eureka Award Gold Scholarship sponsored by NIWA for the most innovative and creative science, technology and/or engineering solution that addresses issues at the core of the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge.

Coastal tipping points talk at EDS conference

Prof Simon Thrush gave an invited presentation about our national estuaries experiment, and opportunities for management and governance agencies to address sudden unexpected changes in marine ecosystems.

Cumulative effects project kicks off

Managing the cumulative effects from natural events and human activities is one of the most urgent and complex problems facing our coastal and marine ecosystems. The many agencies responsible for managing these spaces are working together to address this challenge.