Institute of Marine Science

The Leigh Marine Laboratory

The Leigh Marine Laboratory offers a field research base with access to a wide range of unspoiled marine habitats.

About the laboratory

An aerial photo showing Leigh Marine Laboratory by the sea

The Laboratory differs from many other marine labs in that it is, in effect, the University's "marine campus". Located about 100km northeast of Auckland City, it sits on the edge of New Zealand's first marine reserve. That reserve is formally named Cape Rodney-Okakari Point Marine Reserve, but the area is also known as Goat Island Reserve and the Leigh Marine Reserve.

The location offers students some unique advantages - marine access in almost all weathers, the benefit of a nearby large urban centre and access to the full resources of New Zealand's largest university. For Master of Science (MSc) students, the Laboratory offers the opportunity to live on-site while researching and writing-up their research projects. PhD students are encouraged to find local accommodation in the small coastal town of Leigh nearby.

The academic staff based at the lab coordinate and contribute to a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses at the University's main Auckland City campus. The 11 full-time and two part-time staff members also supervise postgraduate students based at the laboratory.

The laboratory offers a close-knit and vibrant research community of 25 PhD and MSc students, and about five postdoctoral researchers.


Research facilities

The 15-metre RV Hawere research vessel at Goat Island Marine Reserve
The 15-metre RV Hawere research vessel

The Institute of Marine Science provides purpose-build facilities for students undertaking research at the Leigh Marine Laboratory. 

Home to the largest boat fleet at any New Zealand University   

  • The 15-metre RV Hawere research vessel is available to support research operations for six people for up to a week at sea.
  • A fleet of smaller (<6m) outboard motor vessels for accessing the local coast is also available.  
  • A range of ocean going research vessels that our Postgraduate students can access through our work with NIWA; includes the deep water RV Tangaroa, the only vessel of its kind in New Zealand.

Leigh Marine Laboratory

  • Wet, chemistry and microscope laboratories for use by our students.
  • Small constant temperature room used for algal culture.
  • Tank rooms with large and small aquaria with both flow through and reticulated seawater capabilities.
  • An extensive seawater system for holding live animals and conducting experiments with living animals.
  • A coastal climate station with more than 30 years of records on coastal weather conditions and continuous monitoring.
  • A coastal and marine library reference collection.
  • Computer and software resources
  • Bunkroom accommodation for up to 24 students for field courses, four longer term student accommodation units, and a neighbouring cottage for visiting researchers.
  • Teaching laboratory and seminar room with remote video link to the city campus.
  • Fully equiped workshop with two full time technicians on staff.

NIWA research sites

Postgraduate students can also use facilities at NIWA research sites. Facilities students can access at NIWA include:

  • A range of ocean going research vessels including the deep water RV Tangaroa, the only vessel of its kind in New Zealand
  • The National Centre for Aquaculture and the Bream Bay Aquaculture park with a focus on breeding, nutrition, environmental interactions and training.



Information for academic visitors

Who to contact

Please contact one of our academic staff members or our Head, Professor Simon Thrush, regarding the possibility of being hosted at the Institute of Marine Science.

Those wishing to conduct diving research must have appropriate SCUBA qualifications and a medical report certifying them fit for diving.

This report must be provided by a physician trained in hyperbaric medicine from within New Zealand.


There is one self-contained cottage available for use by research visitors. There are 24 bunkroom bedspaces in 6 rooms available for use by students who use the communal kitchen and bathroom facilities. There are also accommodation options off site in Leigh, Warkworth and Matakana.

For bookings please contact:

Leigh Marine Lab
Phone: 09 422 6111

How to reach the lab

The lab is situated about 100 kilometres North of Auckland. From Auckland International Airport take a bus into Auckland City and get off at the Intercity Bus Terminal. Take the bus to Warkworth and ensure that you have made previous arrangements for transport to Leigh, as there are no bus services to Leigh. There is a mini-bus service, Warkworth Taxis 64 9 4250000, that can bring you direct to Leigh from the airport. This will need to be booked in advance.

Leigh Marine Laboratory location map

Student volunteers

The Marine Laboratory accepts volunteers when it is ascertained that it is of value to both the institution and the volunteer. Accommodation is provided by the Marine Laboratory but food and transport costs are to be met by yourself.

Internships where students are seeking placement while enrolled at another institution will incur fee charges on a pro rata basis with the standard University of Auckland schedule.

You will need to provide your own bedding (sleeping bags, sheets, pillows, blankets). Cooking facilities are available in a communal kitchen. Volunteers are encouraged to stay for at least 3 weeks in order to make an effective contribution to the Lab's programme as well as to provide a meaningful learning experience.

Those wishing to conduct diving research must have appropriate SCUBA qualifications and a medical report certifying them fit for diving. This report must be provided by a physician trained in hyperbaric medicine from within New Zealand. The Marine Laboratory can provide tanks and weight belts but not much other equipment.

Please consult the academic staff to enquire about current research areas.

Academic staff


Leigh Marine Laboratory video


Laboratory upgrade in 2011

An aerial shot showing the Leigh Marine Laboratory and Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre by the sea.
The new research Building (centre) was completed in July 2010 and the Discovery Centre (right) opened its doors in October 2011.

A $10 million upgrade completed in 2011 has created a more collaborative and integrated workspace for students and staff, and enabled the Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre to move into a new, purpose built facility.

The new, three-storey science building provides offices, breakout meeting spaces, an open plan office for graduate students and a dedicated plant room where the infrastructure for the entire facility is located. Student accommodation and workshops have been extended.

Advances in security procedures mean research work can be done with minimal interruption. Lab and office space has doubled to allow for growth in postgraduate numbers.

The Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre opened its doors in October 2011.The centre manages display structures, public interactions and communicates the University values of research and educational leadership in marine science to the public and schools. It shows processes within the ocean, exhibits marine research undertaken at The University of Auckland and provides hands-on tuition for school groups that interfaces with the NCEA curriculum.

The upgrade was funded by a donation of $4.6 million from the Edith Blackwell Winstone Trust, other donations from private donors and The University of Auckland.