Position: Principal Scientist – NIWA Coasts and Estuaries, Freshwater.
Field: Coastal and Estuarine Physical Processes.
Andrew Swales is a scientist and group manager with NIWA. His work involves a variety of research and consulting projects for clients such as regional councils and central government agencies. He is working on a number of projects related to estuaries across the upper North Island including:
- investigating processes controlling mangrove-habitat expansion
- developing methods to predict water clarity and light penetration in estuaries
- improving our capabilities to determine the sources of catchment sediment accumulating in estuaries and coastal environments.
Andrew also led the development of Ngā Waihotanga Iho: Estuary Monitoring Toolkit for Iwi.
Andrew’s interest is in estuarine and coastal sedimentology and sediment processes. His research includes sediment processes in fringing habitats of estuaries (such as mangroves) and coastal marine environments.
Andrew has always had a keen interest in the natural world, even as a small child, which his mother in particular encouraged. At school, he enjoyed physical geography and science and carried this over to university study. Andrew also had an interest in aviation and gained a private pilot’s licence while in his second year at university.
He graduated with an MSc (with first class honours) from Auckland University in 1989. His thesis investigated the effects of catchment urbanisation on an estuary. The research was supported by the then Auckland Regional Council (ARC). Andrew discovered that he enjoyed the research process, which included consultation with New Zealand and overseas scientists.
After working at ARC for 12 months as a hydrology technician on the Manukau Harbour Action Plan, he departed for a 3-year OE, which included travel in South-East Asia, the Middle East and Europe. He managed to include some relevant work experience in the UK, working as an environmental scientist with a consultancy and a government agency.
Andrew’s real interests, however, were in coastal science and management, and after returning to New Zealand, he was fortunate to find his “dream job” with NIWA as a scientist.
In 2017 Dr Swales gained his PhD thesis from the University of Queensland. The work conclusively linked coastal sedimentation in the inner Hauraki Gulf and Firth of Thames coastlines to i in land changes like deforestration. Notably he was able to show it was not mangroves that had measurably increased the sediment levels in these areas. In the same year the Kudos Science Trust Awards named him as a joint winner of the Waikato Council Environment Science Award. The award recognised how his research has “enhanced our understanding of a controversial and pressing coastal management issue”
Key aspects of being a scientist that Andrew enjoys are discovering new insights about an environment or natural process, continuous development of knowledge and skills, the chance to collaborate with scientists in other countries, conducting research in interesting environments and the feeling that he is making a positive contribution to the understanding and sustainable management of New Zealand’s natural resources.
Andrew says, “Our planet is changing rapidly today, largely due to the activities of people. Many land and marine ecosystems are consequently under threat of irreversible adverse changes or permanent loss. It’s important that we develop skills in New Zealand so that we are ready to respond to a changing environment.” He is keen to see more young people trained in environmental science and engineering.
More than ever, New Zealand will need environmental scientists and engineers to respond to environmental changes that will impact on our society’s social and economic wellbeing.
Andrew enjoys most things related to the outdoors, in particular, mountain biking, tramping, camping holidays and scuba diving. He also enjoys growing native plants and doing yoga for some variety. He and his wife are also kept very busy supporting their children in their varied interests and activities.
This article is based on information current in 2014 and updated in 2022.
NIWA’s online toolkit for monitoring and managing estuaries: Ngā Waihotanga Iho – Iwi estuarine monitoring toolkit.
Watch the video from the Kudos website to learn more about Dr Swale’s award winning research on sedimentation in the inner Hauraki Gulf and Firth of Thames coastlines.