$5m for Massey University ecological health researchers

A Massey University research project is aiming to improve the ecological health of Tauranga Harbour (above).

Professor Murray Patterson

Professor Andrew Shilton


Massey University research projects aimed at improving Tauranga Harbour's ecological health and finding ways to remove nutrients from wastewater have been awarded more than $5 million by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Empowering iwi, improving ecological health

Professor Murray Patterson, from the School of People, Environment and Planning, leads a project that focuses on empowering iwi and hapū to be strong partners in the co-management of estuaries in the harbour.

It will involve collecting an oral history of local iwi and hapū knowledge, gathering ecological knowledge including indicators of estuarine ecosystem health, resilience and functioning and developing a new hybrid geographic information systems model that integrates environmental, economic, cultural, land use and estuarine ecology information.

Professor Patterson says no such tool exists, resulting in piecemeal planning with sub-optimal outcomes.

“This tool will significantly improve quantitative analyses of ecological problems and solutions for estuaries. We estimate for Tauranga Harbour estuarine seagrass restoration will increase ecosystem services value by $135 million per annum after 10 years.

“We’re also strengthening our connections with tangata whenua. Involvement in a project like this will enhance mana for the participating iwi and hapū – this is an outcome that is beyond quantification.”

The project is in partnership with the Manaaki Te Awanui Trust, the Cawthron Institute, the University of Waikato, and two companies, WakaDigital and Market Economics, along with Bremen University in Germany providing sophisticated ecological monitoring.

An additional $2 million is being provided by end-users including from local and central government and iwi sources.

In 2009, Professor Patterson and his team were awarded $6.6 million by the Foundation of Research, Science and Technology for the protection, restoration and enhancement of natural ecosystems along the Horowhenua coast and in Tauranga Harbour.

Treating the 'only line of defence' between wastewater and the environment

Professor Andrew Shilton, from the Institute of Engineering and Advanced Technology, and his team have been awarded $693,000 to develop suitcase-sized modules that aim to remove harmful solids, phosphorus and nitrogen from algal waste stabilisation ponds. These ponds are often the “only defence” between wastewater and the environment.

Professor Shilton says while these ponds successfully remove most pollutants, their "Achilles heel" is they are poor at removing nutrients, like phosphorus and nitrogen, that lead to excessive weed growth.

He says operators of these stabilisation ponds, such as local councils, are caught between intense pressure by environmental regulators to upgrade treatment and a ratepayer base that struggle to fund the capital expenditure needed.

“These new modules offer an innovative, research-led solution – potentially providing a simple, low capital cost technology enabling markedly improved effluent quality and easy recycling of the nutrients back to land. 

“Our environmental engineering group here at Massey University has a great team, that also includes Professor Benoit Guieysse and Dr Nicola Brown, working on many aspects of algal based environmental technologies. As we complete two three-year Marsden Funded algal projects, we look forward to the refocus from fundamental to applied research in this new Smart Ideas project in close collaboration with industry groups.”

The full announcement of this year's Science Investment Round is here.

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