The sea is our taonga. Our connections to it are strong. More than 75% of New Zealanders live within 10 km of the coast, and the sea is an important part of our Kiwi lifestyle – whether we use it for recreation, harvesting food and other resources or for spiritual wellbeing.
The Ministry for the Environment reports that we have over 15,000 marine species in oceans around New Zealand, with around seven new species identified each fortnight. Scientists estimate there may be another 35,000 species yet to be discovered! Many species are endemic to New Zealand – they are found nowhere else on Earth.
Our marine estate is also important for our economy and supports industries such as tourism, aquaculture, shipping and communications (submarine fibre-optic cables). Our seas are rich in resources including fish, oil and gas, and minerals. New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone is 4 million square kilometres – more than 20 times the size of our land area! New Zealand governs this area and decides who can use the resources.
As a country, we face conflicts between the different uses of our marine environments. We are also aware that old ways of managing our seas are in need of a rethink. The Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge is tasked with helping New Zealand enhance the value of our marine resources while ensuring they are safeguarded for future generations.
Synergies between classroom pedagogy and real-world collaborations
The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) has a vision for all young people:
- to be connected to the land and environment
- to contribute to the country’s social, cultural, economic and environmental wellbeing
- to understand the importance of balancing rights, roles and responsibilities
- to be informed decision-makers as a result.
Student-centred collaborative learning within classrooms is developing the skills required for future informed, participatory citizens. This mirrors the vision and objectives of the Sustainable Seas Challenge. It too recognises that social, cultural and environmental values are important. When decision-making is informed and collective, decisions about the use of marine resources are more likely to be accepted by Māori, industry, communities and the public as a whole.
The Sustainable Seas Challenge is a real-world model of the types of engagement and action envisioned by the NZC. Its research projects provide modern contexts for exploring all strands of the nature of science, including socio-scientific topics, for example:
- What are the non-monetary values of coastal and marine ecosystem services?
- Why do we need to consider culturally appropriate ecosystem approaches?
The Sustainable Seas Challenge is working with Māori, stakeholders, scientists, social scientists, economists and policy experts to collectively develop a better way to manage our marine resources through ecosystem-based management (EBM). A key component of EBM is participatory decision-making. It is an inclusive way for decision-makers to involve diverse interest groups – a change from the old ‘top down’ decision process.
Our goal is ambitious. Research in isolation is not enough – engagement with, and participation from, all sectors of society is critical.Dr Julie Hall, Director, Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge
The Challenge is developing EBM as a tool to improve the way we (society) manage the competing uses of our marine environment. EBM is an approach that recognises the many interactions that occur within an ecosystem – including humans – rather than looking at single species or issues in isolation. Developing EBM is at the heart of all of the Challenge’s research. EBM is further explained in the article Looking at EBM.
New frameworks for participation
The Sustainable Seas Challenge’s vision is for New Zealand to have healthy marine ecosystems that provide value for every New Zealander. To do this, the Challenge has set up seven research themes.
This theme is investigating the best ways to increase engagement and participation in decision-making from all sectors of society. One aspect is to investigate social licence – the public acceptance of a commercial activity.
This is investigating the values that New Zealanders have for our marine environment, including social, environmental and cultural values as well as economic.
Māori have long-standing ancestral and other connections with the sea. This theme is developing innovations that enable Māori to participate as partners in marine management, provide for the practice of tikanga and support the Māori marine economy.
This theme is investigating how marine ecosystems work and are connected, using techniques like eDNA to measure biodiversity, and researching marine tipping points and the effects of multiple stressors on an ecosystem.
Managed Seas is the Challenge’s ‘tool box’ – it is developing models and interactive tools to support decision-making and indicate the effects of management decisions. One component is simulation models for Tasman and Golden Bays that will explore ‘what if?’ scenarios.
Vision Mātauranga underpins each of the Sustainable Seas research themes (and the other 10 National Science Challenges). This theme is working with Māori to capture the needs and aspirations of all sectors of society, and unlock the potential of Māori knowledge, resources and people.
This theme is investigating the potential of New Zealand’s current marine legislation and decision-making to implement EBM. The Sustainable Seas Challenge is trialling EBM in a case study in Tasman and Golden Bays.
Nature of science
Each of the National Science Challenges deals with a key socio-scientific issue affecting New Zealand. Experts from many fields are working together to gather relevant information in order to draw evidence-based conclusions and to take action on their related issues.
Visit the Sustainable Seas Challenge website.
This article has been developed using resources from the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge.