News and stories

Know your marine organism


15 October 2018

The Marine Invasive Taxonomic Service

The Marine Invasive Taxonomic Service (MITS), funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and run by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), is responsible for identifying and managing collections of all marine samples so that we know what’s out there and what it looks like.

They use this information to identify specimens found from vessel biofouling, surveillance and survey work, border intercepts and public observations. You can access this data through the Marine Biosecurity Porthole.

We spoke to Dr Serena Cox, Marine Biologist at NIWA who manages the MITS and collection of invasive marine species on behalf of MPI.

“We receive around 300-600 samples every year, and often there’s more than one specimen in a jar so the total number of identifications we confirm is a lot higher than that,” says Serena. “The largest number of samples usually come through MPI’s Marine High Risk Site Surveillance Programme (MHRSS).”

Once a sample is received it’s sent to a taxonomist, a research scientist who specialises in certain things, like crustaceans, and they confirm what it is, report back to NIWA and the submitter of the sample.

“If it’s identified as a new organism, we notify MPI through their 0800 80 99 66 pests and disease number and an incursion investigator will pick it up and report back to the person who found it. If it’s something native and we know what it is, there’s no further action taken,” says Serena.

Marine Invasive Species Workshops

New Zealanders spend a lot of time on and under the water, so Serena and MPI are keen to upskill ‘public surveyors’ to be able to spot anything suspicious.

“We run Marine Invasive Species Workshops about three times a year in various locations around New Zealand.

“We try to base workshops at the same locations as ports which are surveyed for the MHRSS program so that local stakeholders have an opportunity to attend and understand what is found in their local marine environment. The next session is schedule to be held in Whangarei and Opua at the end of the year, or early January," says Serena.

People from all walks of life attend the full day workshops.

“We see commercial divers, boaties, fishermen, recreational divers, regional and local councils, university students, defence force, police dive squad, NIWA staff, Cawthron Institute staff, DOC and MPI staff, marina operators, dry dock operators, pretty much anybody who’s interested in marine biosecurity.

"The more eyes there are in the water who can identify invasive species, the better! And that fits nicely with the Biosecurity 2025 goal of building a biosecurity team of 4.7 million,” says Serena.