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Revolutionising ocean forecasting project launches

Whakatōhea Māori Trust Board, all of NZ’s Oceanographic institutions, with technology partner Zebra-Techand funders Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. Photo by Simone Magner.

A bold new project that will revolutionise New Zealand’s ability to comprehensively measure, monitor and predict the state of our oceans, has been launched.

New Zealand’s leading experts in oceanography joined MetService and Eastern Bay of Plenty iwi Whakatohea for the launch of the Moana Project at Omarumutu Marae in Opotiki.

MetService’s chief executive Peter Lennox says the launch marks the initiation of the $11.5 million, five year research project, which is funded through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Endeavour Fund.

The project, which was spearhead by MetService’s oceanography division MetOcean Solutions, will greatly enhance New Zealand’s understanding of our changing oceans.

“We’ll be creating a number of tools that will make New Zealand a world leader in ocean forecasting. To make this happen, we’ve brought together all of New Zealand’s oceanographic research institutions and will be combining their expertise and research with indigenous knowledge.”

General manager MetOcean Solutions Dr Brett Beamsley says New Zealand’s ocean are very poorly understand, and with rising ocean temperatures this is compounded.

“As an island nation New Zealander’s derive wellbeing and wealth from the oceans that surround us. To protect these benefits for future generations, we need to better understand our marine environment.

“The Moana Project will greatly advance understanding of marine heatwaves, ocean circulation, and connectivity, enabling us to better protect and manage the marine environment and its resource,” says Brett.

The Moana Project’s programme director and MetService’s head of research partnerships Professor Moninya Roughan says New Zealand sits in a hotspot of ocean warming.

“The Tasman Sea is warming at one of the fastest rates on Earth, up to three times the global average. The research from the Moana Project will help understand the impact this has on our kaimoana and in terms of species movement and abundance.”

This project combines matauranga Maori with science. Iwi partners Whakatohea will bring their traditional and contemporary oceanographic knowledge and aquaculture experience to the project.

Whakatohea Maori Trust Board, chair Robert Edwards says the Whakatohea iwi has been living in the Opotiki area for approximately 900 years and has built its indigenous knowledge systems around the land and sea over generations.

“With the development of our off-shore mussel farm in Whakatohea rohe moana, we take responsibility for ensuring we know as much as we can regarding future issues that could impact the water space to enable our role as kaitiaki.

“The sea temperatures are rising, and this project will help all, Maori and non-Maori, understand the impact it will have on our kaimoana now and into the future,” says Robert.

MBIE manager contestable investments, Dr Max Kennedy says this impressive project combines cutting-edge science and innovation, with Matauranga Maori that will be applied to provide tools that protect the wellbeing of New Zealanders.

“Our seafood sector alone is worth more than $4 billion annually to New Zealand’s economy and its resources are directly threatened by rising ocean temperatures and marine heatwaves.

“The project will shed new light on how to safeguard the sustainability of our blue economy. In doing so it will allow for informed evidence-based decision making to made across a whole range of economic, environmental and social applications,” says Max.

The project will partner with the seafood sector to develop low-cost sensors that will revolutionise ocean data collection.

The sensors created by Nelson company Zebra-Tech, will be deployed throughout New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone with support from the commercial fishing sector’s fleet.

“This has never been done before. It’s like crowdsourcing but to get a huge amount of ocean temperature data,” says Moninya.

The ocean forecasting model developed through the Moana Project will bring in historical and new data focused on New Zealand waters.

“To date ocean forecasters and industries have had to rely on models and satellites operated by other countries. We’ve been missing fine-scale resolution, and these models haven’t been attuned to New Zealand coastal ocean characteristics,” says Moninya.

“Through the Moana Project we will fill that huge gap and make the results accessible to everyone – through an open access tool.”

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