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Source: University of Otago

Tim Currie (Marine Science Masters student), Blake Hornblow (Marine Science Masters student), Millie Mannering (Masters graduate Marine Science), Katie Nelson (Masters student Marine Science), Gretchen McCarthy (Marine Science PhD student), Dr Anna Wood, Professor Steve Wing, Yuta Tamberg (Marine Science PhD student) and Joe Curtis (Marine Science PhD student) on the Portbello Peninsula.
Scientists have planted their first tree in a project which focuses on ecological teaching, research, and environmental management of the small peninsula near Portobello in the Otago Harbour.

“The ecological vision of this innovative project is to protect the ecosystems and biodiversity of this land and will help restore the mana of the Peninsula and the Portobello Laboratory.”

From 2022 the Portobello Peninsula will act as a hands-on field laboratory for the flagship Ecology Programme paper ECOL111: Ecology and the Conservation of Diversity, which introduces students to a wide range of environmental science and transferable skills in the scientific method.
Project leads, Professor Steve Wing and Dr Anna Wood, who coordinate the lecture and practical aspects of the paper respectively, say the new initiative involves teaching, research, and habitat restoration and are all connected and central to the overall vision.
“The Peninsula provides the perfect interface for teaching and research across terrestrial, marine and atmospheric spheres, as ecology and understanding the impacts of climate change is all about understanding and measuring these types of connections,” Professor Wing says.
The Peninsula’s wider environmental values have provided impetus for the new field-based teaching curriculum, with the long-term science goal to create an exemplar of valuable field experiments and long-term environmental and ecological datasets that capture landscape scale ecological dynamics.
Ecology Professor Steve Wing and Dr Anna Wood.
The University of Otago has been associated with the Portobello Peninsula since 1951 including research and teaching at the Portobello Marine Laboratory and, from 1997, outreach from New Zealand Marine Science Studies Centre (NZMSC).
The Portobello Marine Laboratory oversees management of the surrounding 19ha of leased land from the Portobello Libraries Trust which has stewardship of the Crown land, and teaching and habitat restoration plans will be focused on this section of the Portobello Peninsula.
The project will augment long-term work by the Otago Peninsula Biodiversity Group and Save the Otago Peninsula who support coastal biodiversity at the site.
Plans for planting up to 1,200 trees and shrubs per annum over the next two years will focus on re-establishing a continuous habitat corridor between existing stands of native vegetation, and expanding the area of Coprosma dominated habitat across the Peninsula.
Trees and support have been provided from the Departments of Marine Science and Botany, the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust, the Town Belt Kaitiaki, the Dunedin City Council Biodiversity Fund and Aurora Energy Ltd.
Head of Department of Marine Science Professor Miles Lamare says the Portobello Peninsula is an iconic site and one of cultural and community significance in the Otago Harbour basin.
“The ecological vision of this innovative project is to protect the ecosystems and biodiversity of this land and will help restore the mana of the Peninsula and the Portobello Laboratory,” Professor Lamare says.
Marine Science master’s graduate Millie Mannering planting.
The project, which received funding from a University of Otago committee for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching grant to Professor Wing and Dr Wood, seeks to ensure sustainability and science goals based on inter-disciplinary approaches are at the core of long-term planning and implementation of the range of initiatives.
Professor Wing says the generation of useful long-term environmental data has the potential to provide an exemplar of how science-led education can contribute to long-term goals supporting the country’s biodiversity and environment.
The Portobello Marine Laboratory hosts New Zealand’s longest-running time series of ocean temperature from 1953 to present and provides a valuable opportunity to study the connections between a changing ocean and coastal ecosystems.
Off the nearby coast of Otago Peninsula, the Department of Marine Science also hosts New Zealand’s longest-running oceanographic transect, the ‘Munida’ transect, which is a valuable dataset of the ocean’s response to climate change.
With plans for the establishment of a permanent weather station at the Portobello Marine Laboratory, these collective datasets will provide opportunities to develop new understandings of land, marine and climate interactions.
The new ecology teaching and research will also add to the current community and outreach activities undertaken by the NZMSC, as well as to the Department of Marine Science and the Ecology Degree Programme’s sustainability indicators.
“The project will facilitate additional educational and community benefits including incorporating Mātauranga Māori and working alongside local community groups such as the Otago Peninsula Biodiversity Group,” Dr Wood says.
Recently planted Coprosma propinqua.
“Our ecology students are very active in the local community with involvement in activities like planting and pest control and we hope this project will give them further opportunity to develop their skills and contacts.”
Dr Wood, who has developed field-based ecology teaching exercises to date, says this year’s fourth-year cohort of students have helped shape the new 2022 field-based curriculum for the 100-level paper.
“The students have provided topical perspectives for enhancing research-based teaching with a view from the inside, and offer relevant ideas on current environmental issues ranging from food production to conservation.”
One of these postgraduate students, Ms Katy Rossiter who is supervised by Professor Wing and Dr Matt Larcombe from the Botany Department, will be using the site for a long-term field experiment on the influence of nutrients brought from the ocean by sea birds on the diversity and productivity of native plants.
The research emphasises the importance of land-sea connections for maintaining coastal biodiversity and how connectivity among ecosystems is facilitated by critical species such as sea birds. New Zealand is a world hotspot for sea bird diversity highlighting their key role in the coastal ecosystem.
Professor Miles Lamare says the project’s long-term focus on sustainability also means it will be of huge benefit long after we are gone, so the “opportunity to get started with it now is just fantastic”.

Students will use a Geographic Information System (GIS) to compile and analyse data collected during the field components of the Ecology paper. The GIS will allow students to see their data alongside other information about the Peninsula, including the topography and land cover in an interactive digital environment.
School of Surveying Professional Practice Fellow Aubrey Miller says a GIS can be helpful to build long-term datasets and visualise change through time.
“When data collected in the field are viewed alongside both recent and historic imagery, for example, students appreciate how much landscapes change and how the work they are doing can leave a lasting legacy on the land.”Explore the Portobello Peninsula in this interactive WebGIS. Click through the slides to take a tour of the Peninsula and some of the information students will be working with. For the full experience, click here.

Kōrero by Guy Frederick, Sciences Communications Adviser