December 15, 2018
Day 23: Malcolm Clark, NIWA, New Zealand
So, here we are. On an Australian vessel, off the Australian coast, with a complement of 39 Australian scientific staff-and one New Zealander. However, the trans-Tasman connection is much deeper than this situation suggests.
Links in deep-sea research between the two countries are strong and date back to the 1980s-early 1990s when assessing the size and status of orange roughy stocks was a key research issue for both NIWA and CSIRO. Independently, researchers in the two institutes developed research programs in the late 1990s on seamounts, with an initial focus on the potential impacts of fishing, as deep-sea fisheries for species such as orange roughy and oreos targeted seamount features. However, Australasian seamount research took on a much more international flavour in 2005 when the global Census of Marine Life initiative started a field program on seamount biodiversity. The program was led from New Zealand (NIWA-Malcolm Clark, Mireille Consalvey, Ashley Rowden), but the Steering Committee and working groups included several Australian scientists (Thomas Schlacher USC, Alan Williams CSIRO). This created an excellent working relationship that has continued to the present, and this survey.
Scientists from both countries cooperated in the original application for vessel time back in 2016, because these types of time-series surveys to assess changes over time and potential recovery in deep-sea ecosystems are very rare globally. Australian scientists carried out surveys on the Tasmanian seamounts in 1997 and 2007, and similar work on seamounts off New Zealand was conducted by NIWA in 2001 and 2006. These surveys led to the publication of a joint paper in 2010 (by the CSIRO-USC and NIWA teams including five members of the current Investigator survey) indicating that recovery of corals would be very slow in such deep-sea environments.
Since then, New Zealand has added two further surveys (2009, 2015), and these results can combine with the 2018 Investigator survey to provide scientists in both countries with complementary data from seamounts in different locations to compare and evaluate the generality of patterns over time. This in turn can give managers in Australia and New Zealand greater confidence in the underpinning science for assessing the efficacy of management approaches to balance conservation of seamount habitat and exploitation of fishery resources. Results are also of interest to the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation, as many seamounts in its jurisdiction outside the Exclusive Economic Zone of countries across the South Pacific have been trawled for orange roughy and other deep-sea species.
So, it is no coincidence that this survey has brought together an experienced group of researchers from Australasia, and was always intended as a trans-Tasman collaboration. Although the lone kiwi scientist onboard is heavily outnumbered, cooperation among the team on the ship is excellent and there is only limited talk about rugby, bowling styles in cricket, or sheep!