Our Researchers represent some of Aotearoa’s top academic institutions. Listed below are Principal & Associate Investigators.

Professor Neil Gemmell

University of Otago

Neil Gemmell is Distinguished Professor and holds the holds the Chair for AgResearch Centre for Reproduction and Genomics at the University of Otago. He has pioneered research in genomics and environmental DNA, provided advice on conservation strategies on whīo, kakī, kakapo, New Zealand sea lions, and native frogs, and has an outstanding record of scientific achievement and science communication. Neil is a Fellow of the Royal Society of NZ, has received numerous national and international awards, and is Acting Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor in the Department of Anatomy. He heads the e-DNA aspects of the programme.

Professor Stephen Wing

University of Otago

Stephen Wing is Professor of marine science at the University of Otago : Ōtākou Whakaihu Waka. He is a specialist in environmental chemistry, stable isotope analyses, and flux modelling, with an outstanding publication record. He leads environmental chemistry and stable isotope aspects of the research, with expertise in stable isotope analysis, mass balance models to refine resolution of organic matter and nutrient pathways

Associate Professor Mads Thomsen

University of Canterbury

Mads Thomsen is a marine ecologist at the University of Canterbury. He specialist in invasive species effects and effects of heat waves on coastal ecosystems, and is internationally known for combining experiments, surveys, analysis of long-term dataset, modelling and meta-analysis, to test how patterns in biological communities are generated and maintained worldwide.

Dr Jenni Stanley

University of Waikato

Jenni Stanley is a Senior Lecturer in marine science and aquaculture at the University of Waikato. Her specialist field is underwater acoustics. She was a research scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and a research associate at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. She will lead a project on underwater sounds, such as in detected particular reef communities and sea urchins through underwater soundscapes.

Dr Leigh Tait


Leigh Tait is a marine ecologist at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. He is skilled in developmental work on drone and ROV technology and machine learning for assessing macroalgal and shellfish beds, and the use of satellite imagery for assessing the light environment for primary productivity modelling. He pioneered research on photophysiology and primary productivity. A recipient of an Outstanding early career award at NIWA, he heads the UAV, ROV, and satellite imagery aspects of research. for resolving species composition and changes.

Dr Shane Orchard

Consultant – Waterlink

Shane Orchard is a Research Fellow at the University of Canterbury and the Oceania Regional Chair for the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management. He works as independent consultant specialising in water resource management and the impacts of environmental change across connected systems. His recent work centres on the development of frameworks and indicators for assessing the status and condition of natural resources at large spatial scales using a combination of remote sensing, field survey and community-based data sources.  He brings a wealth of experience in linking science with community and incorporating values into management frameworks. He will be leading our work on land-water linkages and connectivity strategies for disaster recovery and risk reduction.

Shawn Garrity

University of Canterbury

Shawn Gerrity is field team leader in marine ecology at the University of Canterbury. He specialises in field surveys, monitoring, and is an expert in species identification from his years of monitoring work. He has been a stalwart in monitoring the recovery of the Kaikoura coast after the 2016 earthquake. He is also doing a part-time PhD in the recovery of pāua populations, which were devastated by the earthquake, and the effects of recreational fishing. Shawn brings a wealth of practical experience to the research of the programme, as an outstanding diver and outdoors person.

Caine Taiapa

University of Waikato

Caine is a Māori Environmental Researcher based in Tauranga Moana in the Bay of Plenty. His interest is in reclaiming and reframing mātauranga with a goal of cultural and environmental well-being. [His work within Tauranga Moana and other areas within New Zealand has led him to work very closely with hapū and assist in identifying goals for hapū research aspirations within their respected environments.

Early Career Researchers & Students

Dr. Spencer Virgin

University of Canterbury

Spencer Virgin is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Canterbury. He recently completed a PhD on limpet ecophysiology and has a background in coastal habitat restoration, larval ecology, ecophysiology, and spatial and demographic modelling. He specializes in experimental ecology and combining ecological and physiological markers of stress to better understand how species may respond to a changing environment.

Francois Thoral


Francois Thoral’s research investigates the availability of light reaching the seabed for coastal ecosystems around Aotearoa New Zealand, and in a multi-stressor context, such as changes in water clarity and increasing marine heatwaves. To pursue it, he combines satellite remote sensing, optical modelling of underwater light and algal physiology. His skills will be crucial in this project to better our understanding on how different land uses affect coastal water clarity, marine ecosystem productivity and health.