Dynamic Seas

We investigated how human activities and environmental change can affect marine ecosystems.

We investigated how ecosystems work, are connected and how they respond to change, to help provide an evidence base for EBM. Understanding the biophysical response to stressors from human activities and natural events is key to developing robust ecosystem-based management tools for Aotearoa New Zealand waters.

Our research explored how marine ecosystems are connected, from coastal waters to deep offshore canyons. We collected high resolution oceanographic data and examined ecosystem connectivity through the movement of contaminants, nutrients and sediment. Using novel biochemical tracking techniques, we unravelled marine food webs, identified sources of organic matter and investigated how contaminants are processed. This research informed the extent or ‘footprint’ that stressors have on the oceans.

This work also helped our understanding to predict when an ecosystem might lose its ability to cope with multiple stressors and reach a ‘tipping point’ at which rapid transformation occurs. Tipping points can lead to a loss of valuable marine resources and ecosystem services. We are addressed three key questions:

  • How do nutrients and sediments from the land contribute to tipping points?
  • When is a marine ecosystem likely to reach a tipping point?
  • How does seabed disturbance and sedimentation affect coastal organisms and reefs?
Led by Conrad Pilditch (University of Waikato), this programme:
  • Developed new modelling approaches for determining ecosystem connectivity and contaminant dispersal.
  • Enhanced knowledge of marine food webs and responses to human stressors and environmental change.
  • Improved our understanding of tipping points in coastal ecosystems.
  • Provided information for decision-makers to support and inform ecosystem-based management of marine environments.