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Master of Environmental Science and Management: Master's Group Project

Understanding and Mitigating Seaweed Forest Losses Caused by Environmental Change in New Zealand/Aotearoa

Seaweed forest surrounded by blue water

Group Members: Kyle Burt, Jessica Copeland, Caroline Edmonds, Natalie Mayer, Shane O'Brian

Faculty Advisors: Chris Free

Client: Cawthron Institute




Kelp forests are essential habitats for marine life. However, anthropogenic ecosystem perturbations such as marine heatwaves (MHWs), increased sedimentation in coastal areas, and overharvesting are destroying these habitats at an alarming rate. This destruction occurs globally and reduces the spatial distribution and biodiversity of kelp forests, as well as coastal communities' access to fisheries resources. These impacts are significant in New Zealand (NZ, known as Aotearoa in te reo Māori, the Māori language), where groups such as the Māori have depended on kelp forests for thousands of years. It is crucial to prevent the future destruction of kelp forest habitats in NZ by analyzing past and current distributions of kelp across the North and South Islands.

Data analysis and laboratory experimentation will be combined with mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) to develop strategies to conserve and restore NZ kelp forests. The anticipated outcomes include a comprehensive report on kelp decline across time and space, the development of innovative restoration techniques, and policy recommendations to the NZ government to preserve these critical marine ecosystems. All of these outcomes will be met through consideration of Māori priorities.

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