NIWA Scientists to head to Antarctica to research Ross Sea

By Talisa Kupenga

A group of NIWA scientists leave for Antarctica tomorrow onboard research vessel Tangaroa for a voyage of discovery.

The team will explore the newly created Ross Sea Marine Protected Area, which is the largest in the world.

If all goes to plan the Tangaroa will be enroute to Antarctica tomorrow.

Voyage Leader Dr Richard O'Driscoll says, "It's a really exciting trip to be going on and we're really looking forward to getting away hopefully tomorrow, some of our gear is still to clear customs in Auckland hopefully that will be on the plane this afternoon."

Twenty-one scientists, supported by 19 crew, will study ocean, atmosphere and ecosystem processes in the Southern Ocean and establish monitoring programmes for the Ross Sea Area.

Project Leader Dr Matt Pinkerton says, "We're trying to look at a lot of different parts of the system, everything from the tiny plankton that goes in the water all the way up to the meter-and-a-half long toothfish which are the targeted by the fisheries and all the bits in between including the plankton and all the small fish.

Dr O'Driscoll says, "I always like to think that I'm going to see something that I've never seen before, and going down there it's almost guaranteed that you will catch something or see something on the video and go 'wow! what is that!?' so that's always exciting that discovery."

The team will also research whether or not Sperm Whales still visit the Ross Sea.

"Looking back at the old records the Ross Sea was quite a hot spot for Sperm whales but for the last ten years with the fishing industry down there no one reports seeing those Sperm Whales there so we're really interested in whether Sperm Whales are still in the area and if they are, what they're feeding on." 

While there are no Māori scientists on-board for this trip, NIWA and some iwi have been working together on establishing what possible connections Māori have to Antarctica.

Dr Pinkerton says, "We've got quite a large Māori component to the project so we're trying to explore Māori connections and aspirations for the Antarctic. So we're working with Ngai Tahu and Ngāti Wai with landcare as well as trying to look through the history and the connections that those iwi have within the Antarctic and we hope to open it up to a hui of national significance to get input from all iwi in New Zealand."

The team will be away for six weeks and will return mid-February.