Position: Principal Scientist Field: Marine benthic ecology Organisation: NIWA

Dr Ashley Rowden grew up in a coastal town in Wales, where he developed an interest and love of the sea. After school, he followed his desire to understand and work in the natural environment by studying for an environmental science degree at the University of London. After a brief stint working as a technician in a geotechnical laboratory, he moved to Plymouth to work as a volunteer at the Marine Biological Association undertaking field surveys and measuring heavy metal levels in estuarine animals and water.

After taking an opportunity to help out sampling seafloor communities from a ship in the North Sea as part of a large national research project, Ashley was stimulated and encouraged to develop his own research study as part of a PhD. This work set Ashley up with a continuing interest in the relationship between disturbance and biodiversity and the implications of this relationship for environmental management.

Ashley then took up a Royal Society fellowship at the University of Otago’s Portobello Marine Laboratory, where he studied whether the burrowing activities of stalk-eyed crabs influence the tidal communities. During his time at Otago, Ashley was greatly affected by the beauty of the land and seascape and the way of life in New Zealand. After his fellowship ended, he vowed to return some day.

We have an obligation to document our biodiversity, to find out what biodiversity we have as a step towards trying to protect and conserve that biodiversity.

After 6 years of lecturing at the University of Plymouth and researching the influence of seagrass as a provider of structural habitat, the opportunity for Ashley to return to New Zealand came via an appointment at NIWA in Wellington. At NIWA, his responsibilities for research shifted offshore and into the deep sea. This not only satisfied his love of the sea but gave Ashley an opportunity to work on a number of international projects that used NIWA’s research vessel Tangaroa. The most recent of these involved a voyage of exploration and discovery that documented for the first time the composition of communities found at a number of cold-seep sites along New Zealand’s Hikurangi Margin.

“All of the findings about the communities in these and other deep-sea habitats will contribute to our understanding of the vulnerability of seafloor organisms to disturbance from human activities such as fishing and potential mining,” says Ashley.

This article is based on information current in 2012.

    Published 28 September 2012