Celebrating half a century of marine science
The University of Auckland’s Leigh Marine Laboratory marked its 50th anniversary last week with a two-day event to celebrate its contributions to marine science.
Former staff and students working in marine science were invited to speak about Leigh as a source of knowledge in their area of expertise. As well as reflecting on the ways Leigh has influenced work in their field, it was an opportunity to reconnect with people now working around New Zealand and the world. “This is a chance to connect with our alumni and invite them to reflect on the influence of Leigh over the last 50 years, and to contribute to on-going discussions about its future,” said Dean of Science Professor Grant Guilford who opened the event.
The anniversary came after a major redevelopment of the Leigh Marine Laboratory, including construction of a new Discovery Centre that aims to connect the laboratory with its communities, including local people, school students and visitors to the Goat Island marine reserve. Professor Guilford explained that the redevelopment also reflects the university’s commitment to marine science. “Over the next 50 years we expect marine science to become an increasing focus for New Zealand, as we move to take advantage of the opportunities the marine environment provides and address its challenges,” he said.
The Leigh Marine Laboratory was established in 1962 by scientists in the then departments of botany and zoology. Its staff played a critical role in the establishment of the Cape Rodney to Okakari Point (Goat Island) marine reserve. The reserve was the first fully protected marine area in New Zealand, and almost certainly the first in the world. It has allowed research in an undisturbed environment, in which both the natural world and scientists’ work are protected from human interference. In addition to other areas, research at the laboratory has since made a major international contribution to international understanding of how marine protected areas can aid conservation.
Each of the speakers at the anniversary event is writing about the contributions of Leigh in their field over the last 50 years, in articles to be published in a special issue of the New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. Their talks summarised this work, addressing the role of Leigh in everything from the identification of new species to research on the biology of fish, crayfish, sponges, and plankton, to marine ecology and the impact of marine reserves. Looking forward, they also identified opportunities for Leigh to address current questions in marine science, making use of its unique facilities, expertise, and position within the marine reserve, and surrounding Hauraki Gulf.
“The anniversary was a welcome opportunity to reflect on, and celebrate the very significant contributions the laboratory has made over the last 50 years,” says Head of the Leigh Marine Laboratory Professor John Montgomery. “It was also a chance to look to the future, and the exciting opportunities our redevelopment provides in research, teaching and engagement with our many communities.”