Posted on 25 February 2019

Monitoring for tipping points in the marine environment

Councils are welcoming new research from Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge that recommends monitoring regimes for detecting tipping points in Aotearoa New Zealand’s marine environment.


Tipping points are sudden dramatic and often unexpected changes in an ecosystem. In the recent article, Professors Judi Hewitt (NIWA/University of Auckland) and Simon Thrush (University of Auckland), review previous studies of tipping points and have developed guidelines to detect when a tipping point is likely to be occur (or has already occurred) in a marine environment.

“This paper gives regional council marine ecologists a lot to think about regarding their marine monitoring programmes,” says Dr Lesley Bolton-Ritchie, Senior Scientist at Environment Canterbury.

“While council resourcing i.e. staffing and budget, influence the monitoring programmes that are carried out, we do need to have programmes in place that will be fit for the purpose of assessing for tipping points.”  

For Aotearoa New Zealand, the researchers recommend regular monitoring and sampling that incorporates integrated and holistic knowledge about the underlying ecosystem. Improved monitoring regimes will lead to better preparedness, and the ability to make decisions and take appropriate action. The guidelines will be of use to regional councils, marine planners and organisations monitoring marine ecosystems.


Journal article 

Hewitt JE & Thrush SF (2019) Monitoring for tipping points in the marine environment. Journal of Environmental Management 234: 131-137 DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2018.12.092

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Related projects

Tipping points in ecosystem structure, function and services
Tipping points in ecosystem structure, function and services
  • Completed project

We investigated how marine ecosystems respond to change, and identified tipping points, risks and ways of managing them.

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