Revolutionising ocean forecasting

Researchers from Victoria University of Wellington have joined with MetService in a five-year multi-disciplinary research project—known as the Moana Project—to comprehensively measure, monitor, and predict the state of Aotearoa New Zealand’s oceans.

“As a nation we are trying, for the first time, to really understand the impact of marine heatwaves on New Zealand’s marine realm, and in particular on kaimoana—both aquaculture and fisheries,” says Professor Jonathan Gardner from the School of Biological Sciences. “This project will deliver real benefits to New Zealand, to iwi, to marine-related industries, and to New Zealand at large.”

Professor Gardner is the lead primary investigator for one part of the project focusing on pāua, greenshell mussels, and rock lobsters and how ocean changes will affect the gene flow of these important species.

This part of the project involves collaboration between several researchers, industry partners such as the NZ Pāua Industry Council, and Ōpōtiki iwi Whakatōhea, who have a significant stake in the greenshell mussel industry. It will provide information on how to manage the effects of climate change on New Zealand’s oceans, as well as data on how to manage commercial fisheries interests in a sustainable way.

Dr Ocean Mercier, head of the University’s Te Kawa a Māui, is also leading a section of the Moana Project.

“We will be exploring how ocean science and knowledge can enhance iwi management of coastal and ocean ecosystems in their rohe, learning from the Whakatōhea example,” Dr Mercier says. “Ocean temperature has a critical influence on how fish, shellfish, crustaceans and other marine life populate the waters, but even basic things such as how temperature varies with depth from one place to another is not well known.”

“By bringing together leading Māori researchers, postdoctoral researchers, PhD, Masters and undergraduate students, this project builds on the legacy of Māori as oceanographers,” Dr Mercier says. “It is also important to support iwi rangatiratanga (sovereignty) over their coastal resources. Mātauranga is not widely known or used in this space but could significantly refine our knowledge of ocean behaviour.”

Postdoctoral researcher Kimberley Maxwell will also be working with iwi, bringing together the findings from the whole project to create an Iwi Marine Plan and Tool, which will assess the impact of ocean changes on iwi interests.

“We have significant gaps in our biophysical ocean knowledge and filling those gaps through mātauranga and science will help support iwi interests, including fisheries and aquaculture.”

The Moana Project focuses on better data collection, developing new user-friendly platforms for exchanging ocean data and knowledge, and finding and connecting various data sources for public use, Dr Mercier says.

“Alongside Professor Moninya Roughan, the Moana Project’s programme director and the lead researcher from MetOcean Solutions on this project, we plan to build an ocean knowledge exchange platform that benefits from different kinds of knowledge and data,” Dr Mercier says.

The Moana Project is funded through the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment’s Endeavour Fund and run by MetService’s oceanography division MetOcean Solutions. Partners in the research include other national and international universities, research institutes and the Ōpōtiki iwi Whakatōhea. More information about the Moana project can be found at