Waikato University student takes first place at coastal symposium in Tauranga

28 January 2014

Treasuring the Bay

Treasuring the Bay Coastal Economic Symposium: From left, University of Waikato Chair in Coastal Science Professor Chris Battershill, masters student and research-in-3 winner Sam McCormack, Libby Evans-Illidge from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, and Dr Nigel Calder from the University of Waikato.

A University of Waikato student researching the pharmaceutical properties of sea sponges in the Bay of Plenty marine environment won the Research-in-3 session held today as part of the University of Waikato’s Treasuring the Bay Coastal Economic Symposium in Tauranga.

Sam McCormack is a Masters student whose research involves classifying and categorising different species based on their chemical makeup, which will help form part of a marine organism inventory for the Bay of Plenty.


Symposium organiser Dr Nigel Calder said the Research-in-3 session is always a highlight of the day-long research event. Science students have three minutes to outline their summer research projects as part of their Masters and PhD programmes.

“Students are taking part in a diverse range of valuable research in and around the Bay of Plenty marine environment and this forum gives them an excellent opportunity to present their projects to an engaged audience,” he said.

As well as University of Waikato students, the Research-in-3 session included students from Bay of Plenty Polytechnic and Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi.

Key research fixture for Tauranga

Over 100 people attended today’s event and Dr Calder said the symposium has now become a key research fixture for Tauranga, where people can engage with and learn from ‘top-class’ scientists and economists. Libby Evans-Illidge, Manager of the Bioresources Library at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in Queensland and Director of the AIMS at James Cook University postgraduate research alliance, gave the keynote presentation.

Ms Evans-Illidge’s work has included developing a library of bioresources from 2000 sites around Australia, to look for bioactive compounds which could potentially lead to commercial drug development. She said while many years of bioresource research does not always lead to commercial success, there are numerous non-commercial benefits that make the research worthwhile and important.

“Through our research we now have indepth knowledge of more than 20,000 marine organisms, including the discovery of many new species. This work has also helped to facilitate training and employment opportunities and commercial aquaculture development in remote indigenous communities,” she said.

Future opportunities for marine biodiscovery

Waikato University’s Professor Chris Battershill discussed how the ideas put forward by Ms Evans-Illidge could be incorporated into future opportunities for marine biodiscovery in the Bay of Plenty region.

“The Bay of Plenty marine environment is diverse, with shallow estuaries, rocky reefs and even an offshore volcano yet it has never been surveyed for bioresources. It is highly likely we will find organisms with potentially useful chemical properties, which could especially be valuable for agricultural use.”

Other presentations during the day included updates on agribusiness in the Bay of Plenty and the Rena environmental monitoring programme, research into youth volunteering during crisis events and an introduction to the recently established House of Science, which is a new science resource facility in Tauranga aimed at enriching science education across the community.

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