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Sustainable Seas, a National Science Challenge

Curious Minds was created alongside 11 National Science Challenges, which are tackling New Zealand’s big science-based issues. Sustainable Seas is looking at how to boost the long-term health of our oceans.

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Research in the Sustainable Seas challenge is helping build new systems to improve the management of our marine resources and to increase the value of our marine economy.

NIWA’s Dr Julie Hall, who directs Sustainable Seas, says the challenge is an opportunity to look at our marine management and marine economy in a completely different way.

“At the moment we deal with everything separately – a polluting discharge over here, a fishing quota or a tourist business over there – but we never look at it as a whole. We want to develop a framework for that to happen, which includes all the uses of the marine environment alongside the value of the sea to New Zealanders,” she says.

The new approach considers everything that’s going on in the water – all the interactions between plants, animals and people. This holistic approach has been used internationally in small areas, but never at such a large scale.

“There’s potential to do something really new and interesting here – we have an opportunity to lead the world. That’s why a lot of people are excited about it.”

An ambitious goal

But it’s no simple or straightforward task. Achieving such an ambitious goal needs a range of people with expertise in lots of different fields to work together. Julie says that at last count, 18 different parties were involved in Sustainable Seas, ranging from individuals to crown research institutes and universities to local and central government.

“This isn’t business as usual for science. We can’t get there without involving lawyers, managers, iwi and of course the public, whether that’s a new immigrant or a sixth generation Kiwi.”

Our Seas

One challenge is made up of a number of project and programmes. One project, Our Seas, is focussed on how best to engage people and communities in marine planning and decision making. Social scientists (people who study human behaviour) are providing this piece of research, based on questions like, who needs to be involved, and how do you find out what they value?

“The lack of community buy-in to proposed new activities (such as mining) in the sea can become evident quite late in a planning process. If we had better ways of finding out what people wanted and valued at the start, we could be a lot more efficient about consenting the new things we collectively decided are OK to do.”

Learning from each other

Julie says public outreach and communication are built into all the challenges, but are more than simply telling people about the research that’s going on.

“There must be a two way conversation. We’re looking at using non-traditional ways such as art, to involve people who wouldn’t normally get engaged in science. We also recognise the need to be active in bringing in youth ­– you need the younger to challenge the older – they will bring new ideas and challenge the established way of doing things.”

Curious Minds and the challenges

This element of the National Science Challenges is shared with Curious Minds, which supports innovative projects that engage the New Zealand public with science and technology, especially young people.

Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor chaired the National Science Challenges Panel. He argued that for the challenges to be most effective, efforts should be made to create better pathways and opportunities to bring scientists and the public – especially young learners – together. The strategic plan ‘A Nation of Curious Minds’ was jointly launched in response, by the Minister of Science and Innovation, the Minister of Education and Sir Peter in 2014.

“We recognised that there were some big challenges confronting us”, says Sir Peter.

“There was a need to connect science and society in deeply meaningful ways. We needed the public to be able to engage with science, but also for scientists to step up and play a more public role. The projects under the Curious Minds umbrella are aimed at closing these gaps.” 

Read more about Dr Julie Hall and her love of the sea.

About the challenges

The National Science Challenges are 11 different research-focused science initiatives that take a strategic approach to the government's science investment. The challenges focus science investment on issues that matter to all New Zealanders. The cross-disciplinary, scientist-led programmes tackle big science-based issues and have ambitious goals, which would have major and enduring benefits for New Zealanders. They bring together New Zealand’s leading experts from different institutions and areas, who work with other experts around the world.

The challenges provide an opportunity for collaboration between researchers from universities and other academic institutions, crown research institutes, businesses and non-government organisations, to create sustainable and long-term research plans and activities.

Read more about the challenges on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website, which also includes links to the individual challenge websites.


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