Credit: Dave Allen NIWA

Challenge Leadership Team

This team is responsible for the Challenge’s strategic direction, science quality, activities and management. They are supported by communication and engagement specialists, and administration and synthesis experts.

Julie Hall


Julie has extensive experience in biological oceanography, leading large multidisciplinary research projects, and in the management of people and projects. Her scientific background is in food web dynamics in both marine and freshwater ecosystems with a special interest in microbial food webs. As the international chair of the Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry and Ecosystem Research (IMBER) project she was responsible for leading the development and implementation of the multidisciplinary Science Plan that addressed the interaction of marine biogeochemistry and ecosystems and their response to global change. This is a wide-ranging project which includes experimental and observational studies and modelling of natural and social systems.

In addition, her involvement in a range of projects associated with the Global Ocean Observing System has given her a broad knowledge of marine observation systems, data management and the integration of observations and models. Julie also has extensive project and people management experience and has been a Regional Manager for NIWA Wellington for the past 7 years.

Linda Faulkner

Manahautū/Deputy Director Māori

Linda is of Ngāti Rangi and Whanganui descent from the southern central plateau region and the Whanganui River. She has worked for many years in the environmental management sector and has spent much of her career seeking to facilitate recognition and application of mātauranga Māori to mainstream environments.

Linda is currently the Director of Tutaiao Ltd., a private consultancy focusing on people, policy and planning. In her previous position she was General Manager Māori at the EPA, where she gained extensive experience in the area of environmental and cultural risk assessment and management. Linda has also served on several MBIE research investment panels and worked for Te Papa supporting the developing policy and process that ensured implementation of effective bicultural partnership. Linda was previously involved with the Challenge, as the Tangaroa Programme Leader in Phase I.

Shaun Awatere

Tangaroa Programme Leader

Shaun will be a very familiar face to many who have been involved in Sustainable Seas. We have been fortunate to have him involved in leading our projects since we began in 2014.

Shaun is a senior researcher from Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research and comes from a substantial research background across a broad range of issues. In particular, his interests lie in improving the way Māori values and knowledge are provided for in economic decision-making to ensure more kaupapa Māori attuned decisions. He also brings a sound reputation and broad array of connections to a range of Māori and government entities and agencies.

Chris Cornelisen

Theme Leader: EBM in action

Chris leads the coastal sciences group at the Cawthron Institute and has over 20 years research experience in physical biology, land-sea interactions, and source-tracking contaminants in the marine environment.

Earlier in his career, Chris addressed marine resource management issues as a US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fellow and spent several years as a marine educator. More recently, Chris and the teams he leads have been developing integrated frameworks for coastal monitoring and forecasting tools for aquaculture. He is also helping advance remote sensing methods and the design and deployment of ocean observing platforms.

Chris works extensively with Industry and resource managers at the coal face of resource management issues; this provides him with a big picture understanding of the challenges around growing the marine economy. Chris is passionate about the role science has to play in society, and envisions New Zealand becoming the world exemplar of ocean stewardship and sustainable use of marine resources. Chris was previously involved in the Challenge as the Managed Seas Programme Leader in Phase I.

Karen Fisher

Theme Leader: Enhancing EBM practices

Karen is a human geographer and Associate Professor in the School of Environment at the University of Auckland. She researches how knowledge is produced and used to inform environmental governance and management in New Zealand.

Her work is focused on transdisciplinary approaches to understanding marine social-ecological systems; accommodating different conceptualisations of, and knowledge about, rivers and river management; and the potential for indigenous knowledge to enable just and sustainable river futures.

Judi Hewitt

Theme Leader: Risk and uncertainty

Judi is Programme Leader Managing Marine Ecosystems, Coasts and Oceans Centre, NIWA, a docent in the Department of Marine Biology, University of Helsinki, Finland and a Professor in the Department of Statistics, University of Auckland. She is a statistical marine ecologist who has worked extensively in estuarine and coastal systems and has recently been involved in projects assessing ecosystem health and cumulative effects. She also has expertise in measuring biodiversity (species, functional traits and habitats), analysis of spatial and temporal variation in populations and communities, design and implementation of ecological monitoring programmes, and ecological risk assessment.

Judi has extensive experience in multidisciplinary research and interactions with stakeholders having completed many projects for commercial clients and has worked with stakeholder panels for her research projects. Judi was previously involved in the Challenge as the Valuable Seas Programme Leader in Phase I.

Nick Lewis

Theme Leader: Blue economy

Nick is an economic geographer in the School of Environment at the University of Auckland. His area of interest is the interplay of investment processes, policy and institutions in industry development. His research focuses attention on the importance of sector organisations, the value creating possibilities of provenance, the potential of collaborative research with industry, and the work of NZ Inc in shaping national economic development.

He is examining the creation of a blue economy in New Zealand. Nick is committed to building innovative conceptual and methodological platforms for transforming the way we understand and perform economy as a collective social process.

Conrad Pilditch

Theme Leader: Degradation and recovery

Conrad is Professor of Marine Science at the University of Waikato. His research interests focus on the dynamics of marine soft sediment ecosystems – a globally-extensive habitat that provides critical ecosystem goods and services for society, and which is amongst the most affected by human activities. He has worked extensively in both coastal and deep-sea environments. Recently he has focused on determining biodiversity and ecosystem function responses to globally important stressors (sedimentation, eutrophication and acidification) in our harbours and estuaries. Conrad’s bio-physical research interests provide critical links between field-based science and models of ecosystem processes that underpin marine management.

Conrad has worked collaboratively on large national and international multi-disciplinary projects throughout his career. He has assisted iwi with developing monitoring programs; developed strong relationships with regional councils, port companies and others, who have funded research to underpin better management decisions; and contributed to marine management, conservation and policy initiatives through expert opinion, peer review and workshops for regional and central government agencies. Conrad was previously involved in the Challenge as the Dynamic Seas Programme Leader in Phase I.

Caitlyn Shannon

Challenge Manager

Caitlyn has a scientific background in Marine Biology, with a particular interest in anthropogenic pollutants and their effects on the marine ecosystem. She received a First Class Master’s degree from Victoria University of Wellington, where her research focused upon the abundance and distribution of microplastics throughout the Southern Ocean, as well as within Wellington Harbour.

Following on from her MSc, Caitlyn took on an office management role at a local Wellington ferry company where she handled the day-to-day operations, event planning, and people management. The role of Challenge Manager for Sustainable Seas will utilise Caitlyn’s existing experience, as she draws upon her scientific background to inform the context of this Challenge, whilst applying her office management experience to the role.

Robin Wilkinson

Communications Manager

Robin has a BSc(Hons) in Genetics, an MSc in Science Communication and 17 years’ experience in communicating research, science and technological developments. She previously worked for the Department of Conservation and the Allan Wilson Centre.

Before moving to Aotearoa, she worked at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals, one of the most research-active NHS trusts in the UK, and at Proof Communication, a specialist science communication agency where she developed and delivered science communications strategies for UK research councils, European science collaborations, universities, and industry. Robin also has experience in public engagement, gained at the Science Museum in London and Manchester Museum.

The CLT is supported by:

Lisa Bragg

Challenge Administrator

Lisa has over 25 years’ experience in a wide variety of support roles, the last 10 of which have been with NIWA in various regional support positions. Lisa was appointed in May 2019 but has been involved in the Challenge for a number of years through direct support to the Challenge Director.

In her role, she works alongside the Challenge Director and Manager, as well as offering support and advice to the wider Sustainable Seas team with regard to their administration and reporting activities.

Gemma Couzens

Engagement Specialist – Policy & Government

Gemma is a Senior Policy Advisor at the Ministry of Transport, focusing on international and domestic maritime emissions. She has been involved with Sustainable Seas research since July 2017, particularly as a vital team member on the Interagency collaboration on cumulative effects project from Phase I and helping co-develop our new Blue economy theme.

Gemma has valuable industry, regulatory and policy experience. She previously worked in the offshore wind industry in the UK and Germany. Since moving to New Zealand in 2012 she has worked on Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) resource management and policy at the Environment Protection Authority and Ministry for Environment.

Martin de Beer

Engagement Specialist – Industry & Business

Martin is the Principal of consultancy SeaWolf NZ. He has more than 25 years experience of the seafood sector for both government and industry perspectives, as well as management experience for operations, projects, stakeholders and finance.

Martin’s fisheries and aquaculture experience began at MAF Fisheries (now MPI/Fisheries New Zealand) working on fisheries administration, operational policy, and compliance and monitoring, before becoming Regional Registry Manager (North). He moved into the private sector as a vessel manager, then industry liaison manager, at Sanford. Martin then worked overseas in the pharmaceutical industry before returning to Sanford as Pacific Tuna Manager to set-up and manage a new offshore fishing business unit, before becoming the Manager for Sales & Operations Planning.

Darcy Karaka

Engagement Specialist - Māori

Darcy brings a broad range of skills to the Māori engagement role through his experiences as a researcher working with Māori communities, and more recently through his roles in central government.

Darcy has extensive knowledge and experience working on Kaupapa Māori research and projects to provide support and guidance for iwi, hapū, and whānau. Moving into the final two years of the Challenge, Darcy is committed to supporting the strategic approach to delivering impact of the research syntheses through specific and targeted communications and engagement.

Ursula Rojas-Nazar

Synthesis Scientist

Ursula's previous role was at the Ministry of Education, where she was a Regional Analyst for Taranaki, Whanganui and Mānawatu. Her previous experience includes coastal and marine conservation, fisheries management, assessing sustainable economic value, as well as economic and social research for both government and non-government projects.

As part of her research into economic, social and biological coastal-marine projects in Chile and New Zealand, Ursula collaborated with fishing groups, local communities, businesses and government. Her PhD focused on the social, economic and biological impacts of New Zealand marine reserves. At the Ministry of Education she provided data analysis, cost-benefit analysis, and risk impact assessment and prioritisation.

Desna Whaanga-Schollum

Communications Advisor – Māori

Desna has a Master of Science Communication (Otago University 2018), and a B.Design (Unitec 1997). Projects include collaborating with a wide variety of communities, business and design professionals, artists and academics to achieve results that effect change in people, practice and place.

An Ambassador for Landscape Foundation NZ, Desna actively involved in indigenous discourse, stakeholder engagement and Kaupapa Māori leadership, strategy, research, design and communications. She has worked with, promoted, elevated, and connected Māori and indigenous professionals and communities continuously throughout her career. Her governance roles include: Chair, Ngā Aho Māori Design Professionals; Chair, Artspace Aotearoa; Trustee, Arts Foundation NZ; Board Member, Auckland Urban Design Panel.

Iwi: Rongomaiwahine, Pāhauwera, Kahungunu. Hapū: Ngāi Tahu Matawhaiti