Credit: Ellery Sterling Unsplash

Posted on 21 May 2024

AI-powered tool Tohorā revolutionises New Zealand marine science

The Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge has joined forces with technology and creative studio Daylight to develop Tohorā. This innovative AI-powered search tool aims to revolutionise the science sector in New Zealand. Tohorā stands out as a pioneering endeavour, being the first of its kind in the nation’s science community.

Established in 2014, the Sustainable Seas initiative aims to foster world-leading, cross-disciplinary research to enhance the management of New Zealand's marine environment. Sustainable Seas is one of 11 National Science Challenges funded over a decade and will conclude in June 2024.

Over the past ten years, the programme has engaged 450 professionals from various fields, including ecologists, community researchers, kaupapa Māori researchers, experts in mātauranga Māori, economists, lawyers, social scientists, and marine environment practitioners. Their collective research has primarily focused on Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM), the Blue Economy, and integrating te ao Māori, the Māori worldview.

Tohorā, Sustainable Seas' latest endeavour, leverages artificial intelligence to search an extensive research repository. This tool processes a vast amount of scientific work and swiftly distils the key findings into clear, concise summaries. By doing so, Tohorā facilitates the compilation of research and information spanning different subjects, making marine science more accessible to New Zealanders, regardless of their prior knowledge.

Tohorā's primary objective is to provide crucial insights that can guide policy-making, influence sustainable business practices, and empower community groups to undertake significant real-world actions. By simplifying complex scientific research, Tohorā aims to bridge the gap between vast academic endeavours and practical, actionable information that can benefit society at large.

Dr Julie Hall, Director of Sustainable Seas, and Lizzie Robson, Managing Partner at Daylight, were instrumental in developing Tohorā. They believe the tool's AI functionality is essential for distilling complex scientific information, making it more accessible and actionable for a broader audience. 

Dr Julie Hall said, “Over the past decade, Sustainable Seas has facilitated crucial research conducted by 450 ecologists, community researchers, kaupapa Māori researchers, experts in mātauranga Māori, economists, lawyers, social scientists and other marine environment practitioners."

“The aim of Tohorā is for this decade of extensive research to remain accessible to researchers, policymakers, councils, iwi, communities and businesses alike. By doing so, we can ensure the knowledge created during the Challenge continues to inform decision-making, enhance ecologic health, and shape marine management practices and policies in Aotearoa, particularly within the blue economy."

Lizzie Robson commented, “Tohorā is designed to be conversational and approachable, helping people discover more about our oceans and marine ecosystems. This is achieved through the Tohorā natural language search functionality, document summarisation and key insights features.”

Linda Faulkner, Sustainable Seas Manahautū, Deputy Director Māori, shared, “A significant legacy left by Sustainable Seas is the creation of space for iwi, hapū and Māori research and approaches that reclaim, revitalise and restore our connection as iwi taketake (indigenous people) to the Moana."

“Through Tohorā, we continue to showcase how a transdisciplinary approach to marine management that is guided through a te ao Māori lens can be remarkably successful in managing and restoring environments, communities and livelihoods across Aotearoa.”

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