Scientists imagine marine future for New Zealand


By 2050 New Zealand will have a fleet of ocean gliders undertaking scientific measurements, an aquaculture industry powered by marine energy operating far offshore and weather forecasts available 18 months in advance.

At least that is the scenario advanced by two NIWA marine physicists in a paper published in the latest edition of the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand called When the Holiday is Over: Being Clever in New Zealand’s Marine Domain.

Drs Craig Stevens and Joanne O’Callaghan have blended science fact and science fiction to create a picture of a New Zealand in 2050 that is an ocean-focused society.

They describe an imaginary scenario in which New Zealand “faces the ocean” – or has become a marine culture, embodying a sense of place within the ocean, rather than seeing it is a barrier.

“For New Zealand it is a culture, society , economy and mind-set that has come to terms with being within the largest ocean of a planet two-thirds covered by ocean.

“We are not masters of the marine domain and furthermore, because of its remoteness and its sheer physical ferocity, our part of the global ocean is one of the least understood,” they write.

“We suggest that to be knowledgably using our maritime space for the national’s economic and environmental wellbeing in 35 years’ time, we must start the process now.”

While recognising that New Zealand occupies a unique niche, they say that Norway offers a useful comparison with a similar population size, renewable energy supply, water, latitude and fjords.

“Over the past 50 years, the country has made the transition from a fishing nation to a socio-economic powerhouse. The present day Norwegian activities in oil and gas, aquaculture, fisheries, shipbuilding, ferries, coastal tourism and environmental services all connect with their strong marine education focus.

“We suggest that to be knowledgably utilizing our maritime space for the nation’s economic and environmental wellbeing in 35 years’ time, we must start the process now.”

The scientists say New Zealanders are happy to maintain complex infrastructure on land such as highways, water and sewerage but question why this does not happen offshore.

“We are also largely happy to have shared amenities on land; agriculture/exploitation is balanced with conservation and a growing understanding of the value of that conservation. Will society choose to see the marine space in the same way, instead of a polarised view?”

Drs Stevens and O’Callaghan say to achieve this vision, imagination is critical.

Looking ahead 35 years, they outline a world facing great challenges, including changing climate, difficulties with water, energy, and food supply and ask how New Zealand’s marine future meet these challenges.

They depict coastal cities that have adapted to rising sea levels, technology that provides better prediction of damaging events, and farmers – on land and at sea – adapting their production cycles to match the changing weather patterns.

In the oceans, acidification has altered the balance between species but their vulnerabilities are better known and therefore can be integrated with exploitation pressures that minimises stress on ecosystems.

New ocean-based infrastructure, such as a fleet of ocean gliders, will supply vital information that drives climate, weather and ecosystem prediction simulators – the cost supported by a radical reappraisal of the ocean’s worth.

The scientists conclude by posing a question: “Can a revitalised awareness of the marine environment facilitate entire new avenues of endeavour to sustain and enhance all our lives?”

To read the paper visit:


Principal Scientist - Marine Physics