Research updates and news

Read the latest research updates and news from the George Mason Centre for the Natural Environment.


A healthy underwater scene from 1995: a dense bed of horse mussels off the Coromandel coast with seaweeds, fan worms, sponges and soft corals living on the shells. The bed has now been destroyed. Photo ©Simon Thrush
A healthy underwater scene from 1995: a dense bed of horse mussels off the Coromandel coast with seaweeds, fan worms, sponges and soft corals living on the shells. The bed has now been destroyed. Photo ©Simon Thrush

Urgent action to save marine beds

Shellfish beds are our most endangered marine habitats. Professor Simon Thrush says urgent action to save these vital ecosystem must be a priority, as they provide many tangible and deep benefits.

Read Simon's opinion piece for Newsroom.

Older news

GMCNE request for proposals open now | 17 September 2018

Funding is available to seed projects and support students to enhance the aims of the George Mason Centre for the Natural Environment (GMCNE). Applications must be recieved by 12 noon, Tuesday, 23 October 2018.

Inaugural funding for environmental research | 26 October 2017

Three University of Auckland-based environmental research projects have been awarded funding of more than $1 million from the new George Mason Centre for the Natural Environment. Read more and see details about the funded projects below.

Partnership with Foundation North | 5 September 2017

An important partnership between The University of Auckland’s George Mason Centre for the Natural Environment and Foundation North was sealed in July. Read more.


Research updates

2017 marked the inaugural funding round for the George Mason Centre for the Natural Environment.  The following projects were funded:

  1. Plastic pollution and solutions
    Primary investigators: Kevin Simon, Gavin Lear
  2. Hilltop to Oceans: processes of change and mitigating impacts
    Primary investigators: Emily Douglas & Luitgard Schwendenmann, Caitlin Blain, Jenny Hillman
  3. Building public understandings of ecosystems
    Primary investigator: Maria Armoudian

Funding was also awarded to the following three seed projects:

  1. Advanced sensor technology for tracking woody debris
    Primary investigator: Heide Friedrich
  2. Developing metagenomics for pathogen surveillance in a threatened endemic bird
    Primary investigator: Alexander Knight
  3. Tackling global warming: methane emission from ruminant animals
    Primary investigator: Ivanhoe Leung

Research profile

Jenny Hillman | Postdoctoral Research Fellow working on a Hilltops to oceans project for the George Mason Centre for the Natural Environment
Postdoctoral research fellow, Jenny Hillman.

GIFT grant supports research for Hilltops to the Ocean project

A Gulf Innovation Fund Together (G.I.F.T, a Foundation North initiative) grant of $150,000, awarded earlier this year to the George Mason Centre for the Natural Environment, is contributing to shellfish habitat restoration research on the Hilltops to the Ocean project.

The grant is funding the work of Jenny Hillman, a postdoctoral research fellow in Marine Science at the University of Auckland.

Jenny’s project aims to develop new technologies and techniques that communities in the Hauraki Gulf can use to successfully restore shellfish beds.

Coastal marine ecosystems have high cultural, social, economic and environmental value in New Zealand. Shellfish beds, once extensive, make a significant contribution to the health and resilience of coastal ecosystems.

Jenny is focussing on the endemic Green Lipped Mussel (Perna canaliculus), and building on current and planned restoration projects to improve the health, productivity, mauri and resilience of the Hauraki Gulf coastal ecosystem.

Her project will provide the underpinning science needed for successful restorations of shellfish beds, communication to the wider public of the multiple benefits of restoration, and novel low-cost techniques to assist future restoration efforts

“I'm hoping to develop some new ways to measure the services provided by these beds, and possibly innovative, accessible monitoring techniques,” she says.

She will be working with Professor Simon Thrush and Professor Andrew Jeffs from Marine Science; Associate Professor Patrice Delmas from Computer Science; Dr Heide Friedrich from Engineering; Professor Conrad Pilditch from the University of Waikato; Dr Drew Lohrer from NIWA Hamilton and a number of community and iwi groups.

Jenny says iwi and communities are increasingly keen to engage in marine restoration, particularly of shellfish beds.

“There are already reseeding projects underway, such as that of the Mussel Reef Restoration Trust in the Hauraki Gulf. But community-lead projects often lack the scientific knowledge and practical tools needed to support their good intentions, and the risk of failure is typically high.

“International research has also shown the need to define the ecological role shellfish play in the wider ecosystem so that the full benefits from restoration can be realised. For example, oyster restorations in the USA greatly enhance sediment denitrification rates, a previously undervalued role that benefits ecosystem services by reducing eutrophication.”

Jenny’s work forms part of the larger Hilltops to Ocean project, which received a substantial grant from the George Mason Centre to investigate the role of mitigation in natural ecosystems and the potential for enhancement through restoration.

“There are four of us on the Hilltops to Ocean project,” Jenny says. “While my colleagues are looking at the movement of key functions (carbon and nutrients) from the land to estuaries, and rocky reefs and kelp, I am looking at how human restoration of shellfish beds influences key functions and the provision of services. So our projects are all linked spatially as we study the flow from the land to the sea.”

Associated information