Moana Project team improves New Zealand’s ocean understanding

Moana Project marine scientists from New Zealand have gathered virtually to review their progress in the $11.5 million five-year research project to revolutionise the understanding of Aotearoa’s oceans and the ability to forecast ocean behaviour.

In less than two years since being awarded the funding through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE’s) Endeavour Fund, the project – spearheaded by MetOcean Solutions, the oceanographic division of MetService, has already delivered results.

MetOcean’s Moana Project director & science lead João de Souza said: “With the enhanced ocean knowledge this project will provide, New Zealand will be better prepared for the changes in our oceans and the impact of warming seas on our coastlines and marine environments. It will also enable our role as kaitiaki and can help ensure the sustainably of our kaimoana and the livelihoods generated through the blue economy which generates $4 billion annually.

“We’ve made great progress already based around a number of building blocks to achieve this ambitious and holistic project.”

Under the project scientists are developing innovative methods to observe ocean temperatures.

We’ve already developed a high-tech low-cost smart ocean temperature sensor that will transform our ability to collect vast amounts of ocean temperature data. The sensors created by Nelson company Zebra-Tech have completed a small-scale trial and we’ve been extremely impressed with the results. Following a bigger trial incorporating additional vessels over a broader area, they will be deployed throughout New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone with support from the commercial fishing sector’s fleet. The result will be an unprecedented amount of subsurface ocean data that we’ll be able to assimilate into our models,” said Julie Jakoboski, one of the Moana Project’s team leads.

The team is also developing computer algorithms to model Aotearoa’s ocean dynamics such as circulation, currents and sub-surface temperatures. The ocean forecasting model developed through the Moana Project brings in historical and new data focused on New Zealand waters to give detail on the many aspects of ocean dynamics.

We’ve gathered historical ocean data and used it to improve our newly developed ocean model of NZ’s coastal and ocean shelf regions called the Moana Backbone. The 25 year hind-cast is an incredibly valuable dataset that is now freely available to researchers and the broader community. We’re also currently developing several models based on our team’s research that look closely at our coastal waters – namely the Kaikoura canyon, the Bay of Plenty, and the Marlborough Sounds.  Marine heatwaves are a contemporary issue and the team’s research into identifying their drivers within New Zealand and the Tasman will be vital to identify and mitigate risks and help us forecast future events” said João de Souza.

In addition the team is conducting research to gain a greater understanding of the kaimoana namely kuku (mussels), koura (crayfish) and pāua. Where they come from, how they travel and where they end up is all crucial information that isn’t well understood in Aotearoa.

Furthermore, the scientists are learning from iwi about their oceanographic knowledge. Māori are the first oceanographers and this project combines mātauranga Māori and science to enhance future marine management. Eastern Bay of Plenty iwi Whakatōhea are partners in the Moana Project and their coastal rohe and aquaculture mussel farm will be a key case study throughout the project.

“One of our PhD students is researching the effects of changes in our marine climate on traditional waka navigation. Impacts of marine changes are also being looked at for a number of iwi fisheries and we will be applying a system for indigenous data labeling to ensure communities rights and interests to their data is maintained throughout the research process,” said Maui Hudson one of the Moana Project’s team leads.

MBIE senior investment manager Dr Carolyn Walker said: “The Moana Project is an exciting and ambitious project with a meaningful Vision Mātauranga-centred approach to research. It brings together a diverse range of highly skilled people and innovative ideas. The Project is one of MBIE’s high-performers, having made exceptional progress in its first two years.”

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