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Researchers diving deeper thanks to generous funding

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A Victoria University of Wellington research team will be among the first in New Zealand to use a state-of-the-art underwater vehicle, thanks to support from the George Mason Charitable Trust.

Dr George Mason recently funded Victoria’s marine ecology team to use the remotely operated technology, which is similar to an underwater drone, to explore the biodiversity of sponge gardens at the Paraninihi Marine Reserve in Taranaki.

Access to the technology means the researchers can explore sponge ecology that is beyond the range of divers.

The funding supports student Ben Harris, who has come from the United Kingdom to study for a PhD at Victoria in this research area. He’s investigating how these reefs function compared with shallow water sponge groups elsewhere and deeper water sponge groups in the Taranaki region.

Ben recently met with Dr Mason on his first trip to Taranaki.

"Our vision is that this research will support the need for the existing marine protected areas in Taranaki and even provide a case for extending their reach," says Ben.

"This work will be of national relevance to marine management and conservation. And, as the links between shallow and deeper water sponges have not been considered anywhere in the world, the results will also have international significance."

Associate Professor James Bell from Victoria’s School of Biological Sciences says New Zealand has more than 800 species of native marine sponges, but scientists currently know very little about them and most are not even named.

"The remotely operated vehicle will enable us to go further to explore depths that have previously been out of our reach, allowing us to share more information with the community about what can be found in New Zealand’s marine environment, and in particular, the vast species of sponges.

"Thanks to the philanthropic support of the George Mason Trust, this project will be the first of its kind in New Zealand and will enable students at Victoria to lead exciting cutting-edge research to inform marine management using state-of-the-art technology."

Since 2002, the George Mason Charitable Trust has supported postgraduate students who have links to Taranaki or who are researching Taranaki’s natural history, says Emma Lewis from Victoria’s Development Office.

"Dr Mason is committed to providing more opportunities for young people to realise their potential. Through the George Mason Trust, he has contributed significantly to protecting New Zealand’s environment for future generations to enjoy. This wonderful commitment will enhance Victoria’s research capability, helping us to ensure that local communities benefit from our research. This is a very valuable gift to our students, the University and New Zealand."

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