Credit: Charlotte Panton

Posted on 07 May 2021

Tauranga schoolkids helping create a giant rope artwork about marine science

From 10–14 May, daily workshops will be held with 450 local students from 7 Tauranga schools looking at the tides, kai moana species and historical land reclamation in the Tauranga Moana. The children will use rope to ‘draw’ what they learned.

Each rope drawing will then be added to The Unseen – a giant community artwork made from rope that will be unveiled at Tauranga Art Gallery with a free public talk at 11am on Saturday 22 May. The speakers will be artist-researcher Gabby O’Connor, who led the creation of this collaborative artwork as part of her PhD research, and Associate Professor Karen Fisher, Gabby’s PhD supervisor and a research theme lead at the Sustainable Seas Challenge.

Gabby 's associated research has shown that The Unseen successfully uses art to communicate the relationship between our marine environments and the risks of environmental and climate changes. Gabby is a PhD student at the University of Auckland and NIWA, funded by the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge.

Since 2017, Gabby has hosted workshops with more than 2,000 school students and 200 community members from Nelson, Marlborough, Wellington, Lower Hutt, Christchurch, Auckland – and now, Tauranga.

“At its heart, The Unseen is an art-sci collaboration that provides opportunities for people and communities to participate directly in making art and accessing scientists and scientific research,” says Gabby.

Karen agrees.

The Unseen helps to build trust and connect people with the science in a way that is meaningful to them. It is especially compelling when it’s relevant to their local area.”

The Unseen grows with every workshop, and this latest iteration of the artwork – incorporating the latest rope drawings created by Tauranga school kids – will be exhibited at the Tauranga Art Gallery from 22 May until 14 September.

“When you see this massive intricate artwork and you know that you’ve been part of that – you are a little piece in the puzzle. That helps you relate to your place in the world and how you engage with your local marine environment and the wider ecosystem,” says Karen.

More than 700 workshop participants have provided feedback so far and 96% of respondents mention the science concepts.

“This is astounding from a research perspective. Having such a high percentage shows that art is an impressive medium for growing community engagement with our marine environment and the science that supports it,” says Gabby.

Gabby is now taking this growing collaboration on a final exhibition tour around New Zealand. It was exhibited in Wellington earlier this year.

Local schools involved in next week’s workshops:

Students from Otumoetai Intermediate, Matua School, Omanu School, Pillans Point School and Ohope School will attend workshops held at Tauranga Art Gallery. Two workshops will be held at Bethlehem and Aquinas College.

Image description: People interacting with The Unseen on the opening night at The Engine Room for the Wellington exhibition.

The Unseen (Tauranga)

Public talk: 11am, Saturday 22 May, Tauranga Art Gallery

Date: 22 May – 14 September 2021

Time: 10am – 4pm daily

Location: Tauranga Art Gallery, 108 Willow Street, Tauranga


Resources for journalists:
Media contact:

Emma Williams 

About the research:

For the past seven years, the Sustainable Seas Challenge has been investigating ways for people to be engaged in marine management and the future of Aotearoa New Zealand’s vast marine world. The Unseen is part of the Navigating marine social-ecological systems project. Led by Karen Fisher, this project aimed to identify and/or improve our understanding of institutional, social and cultural factors that need to be incorporated into ecosystem-based management for it to be successfully used to manage Aotearoa New Zealand’s marine resources.

About Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge:

The vision of Sustainable Seas is for Aotearoa New Zealand to have healthy marine ecosystems that provide value for all New Zealanders. It brings together around 250 ecologists, biophysical scientists, social scientists, economists, and experts in mātauranga Māori and policy from across Aotearoa New Zealand. It is funded by MBIE and hosted by NIWA. 

About the National Science Challenges:

Sustainable Seas is one of 11 National Science Challenges. These align and focus Aotearoa New Zealand's research on large and complex issues, bringing together scientists and experts from different organisations and across disciplines to achieve a common goal.

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Navigating marine social-ecological systems
Navigating marine social-ecological systems

We aimed to identify and/or improve our understanding of institutional, social and cultural factors that need to be incorporated into EBM fo…