What we do

Our vision is that Aotearoa New Zealand has healthy marine ecosystems that provide value for all New Zealanders

Credit: Dave Allen NIWA

There are many and growing uses of Aotearoa New Zealand’s marine environment – some of which are competing. Our research addresses the question:

How can we best develop our marine economy, while protecting the taonga of our marine environment?

To help achieve this, our research focuses on:

  1. Improving marine resource decision-making and the health of our seas through EBM
  2. Transforming New Zealand’s ability to enhance our marine economy into a blue economy

All forms of knowledge are important. Our interdisciplinary research includes biophysical science, economics, mātauranga Māori, social science, and policy.

We are in the second half (Phase II) of our 10-year programme. Our Phase II (2019–2024) strategy and core research portfolio detail how research priorities were co-developed using a 'theory of change' towards long-term outcomes.

Working with others

Our goal is ambitious – research in isolation is not enough. Engagement with, and participation from, all sectors of society is critical to success.

We have worked with stakeholders and Māori partners to identify what tools are needed for EBM, and which spiritual, cultural and social values matter to New Zealanders – and how they can be best considered.

All of our Phase II (2019–2024) research projects are being co-developed with stakeholders and Māori partners.

Credit: Laura Hope Coast Funds

What do we mean by ‘value for all New Zealanders’?

Our Marine Environment, a 2019 report by the Ministry for the Environment and StatsNZ, highlighted the impact of ecosystem decline on New Zealanders’ non-economic marine values.

Economic benefits such as employment opportunities are an important consideration in marine environmental planning, policy and decision-making, but are not the only ones that need to be incorporated. However, intangible values are often not properly considered, or even recognised, until they are already irreparably damaged or lost.

Marine values

We need better ways to identify and consider the importance of ecological, social, cultural and spiritual values as part of New Zealand’s marine management.

We have:

  • Investigated ways to assess the ecosystem services and non-monetary benefits provided by marine ecosystems
  • Investigated ways to identify and assess the values New Zealanders hold for the marine environment
  • Developed a framework for including non-monetary values in decision-making

We are:

  • Investigating the degree to which personal, cultural and sectoral perceptions of risk differ, and how this affects decision-making
  • Developing tools to improve understanding and communication of the consequences of risk and uncertainty in decision-making

Find out more about our research into marine values.


The Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge was established in 2014, with the objective of: enhancing utilisation of our marine resources within environmental and biological constraints.

It is one of 11 Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment-funded Challenges aimed at taking a more strategic approach to science investment. Funding for the National Science Challenges was allocated for 10 years in two 5-year periods.

  • Phase I (2014–2019) $31.3m on 40 projects
  • Phase II (2019–2024) $39.8m on around 30 projects (exact number will depend on the Innovation Fund) 
Key documents

Synthesis plan (20222024)

Phase II (2019–2024) strategy

Phase II (2019–2024) core research portfolio

Phase II (2019–2024) core portfolio, blue economy

Key performance indicators: Phase II (2019–2024)

key performance indicators: phase I (2014–2019)

Research and business plan (sept 2015)

Credit: Dave Allen NIWA