Dr Julie Hall, a marine and freshwater biologist, is a regional manager at NIWA as well as Director of the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge.
She describes her director role as a part time job but a full time occupation. Curious Minds caught up with her over a coffee in Wellington to find out more about what’s involved.
It’s very exciting! The challenge is an opportunity to start from scratch and build a whole research programme, pulling in the people with such different expertise you need to get every project in the challenge going.
It’s also a chance to do something really positive and unique for New Zealand by improving the management of our marine resources and increasing the value of our marine economy.
It’s very varied. I have a lot of meetings where I’m talking to people about science, about projects and about their involvement. It’s building relationships and links between scientists and a wide range of stakeholders such as community groups, industry, the Ministry for Primary Industries, the Department of Conservation, regional councils and environmental groups. I’m on a steep learning curve!
As a very small child. I’ve always had an association with the sea. My father used to say that if he had a dollar for every rock on the shore he had turned over (so I could investigate what was under it), he would have been a very rich man!
My Honours and PhD degrees were studying the really small algae and microscopic animals that are the base of the food web. By the time you get to anything you can see with the naked eye, you might have gone through three to five steps of the food web. I studied the animals initially in freshwater, but the processes are similar to those in the marine environment, which I gradually moved into.
One goes back to my high school days when I had a chemistry teacher who encouraged me into a Royal Society project around the pollution of a local stream in Invercargill. That led to an award that gave me three weeks working in a research institute. I went to DSIR in Taupō, then worked there for a summer at the end of my 6th form year. This gave me a great insight into research, which I found I loved.
I had always been very involved in environmental issues, but after experiencing research I knew immediately that my contribution to good environmental management was going to be through the science, so that’s where I went.
I really enjoyed leading an international programme to investigate the impact of global change on the world’s oceans for eight years. (I was the chair of the Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry and Ecosystems Research (IMBER) research project.) We developed a research plan to investigate the impacts of changes on the biology, chemistry and physical processes in the ocean. I liked the challenge of working with scientists from many different cultures and disciplines.
One thing is the power of the ocean. I feel it when I stand on the beach in a big storm – the unknown and the diversity of it. It’s also a place of reflection and solace for me. I grew up in Southland close to Oreti Beach, which is 30 miles long. Lyall Bay beach, near the city, doesn’t do it for me, but if I go up to Pekapeka on the Kāpiti coast, I can just walk and walk. It’s very special.