Red X iconGreen tick iconYellow tick icon

Facilitating Discovery of the Marine Environment

The New Zealand Marine Studies Centre ( NZMSC ) is the public face of Marine Science at the University of Otago.   We explain and explore marine science, current research and conservation issues. We offer hands-on marine education programmes for all ages and are responsible for inspiring many future marine scientists!  Our mission is to foster understanding and appreciation of New Zealand's unique marine environment and responsibility towards its conservation.


Sally Carson , NZMSC Centre Director

TBC, NZMSC Educator  (Secondary Education)

Hannah Drury, NZMSC Educator (Primary Education)

Glenis Paul, NZMSC Educator (Nelson and Marlborough region)

Aaron Heimann, NZMSC Curator

Rob Lewis, NZMSC Educator (Participatory Science)

Current Projects

Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom ( LEOTC )

An authentic science learning environment is provided to champion science learning for primary and secondary school classes from across southern NZ at the Department of Marine Science's Portobello site.

Students experience marine science through field trips to local marine habitats, boat journeys, and practical sessions in a specialist marine science teaching laboratory. Access to seawater aquaria, live marine species, a range of scientific equipment and scientific expertise create learning opportunities not available in a classroom. During the programmes students develop science skills and understanding of marine issues, learn about science careers, participate and contribute to scientific research and engage in environmental action and stewardship (kaitiakitanga). Our programmes link to The NZ Curriculum and focus on the Nature of Science strand, support achievement for a diversity of students, including Māori and Pasifika, and are tailored to meet specific learning outcomes. Research focuses on the outcomes for both students and teachers.

Science extension and enrichment programmes

A series of multiday / residential marine science programmes, aimed at different levels, provide an authentic research context, a unique learning environment (laboratory, research vessel), a range of learning experiences and opportunities to engage with experts to extend and challenge gifted learners. These programmes support student's knowledge building and shared learning through multidisciplinary connections and challenges. The programmes emphasis the multidisciplinary and multidimensional nature of marine science and the Nature of Science with an overlay of cognition and team work practices. Some programmes have a specific Māori / Pasifika focus. Research is focused on both student outcomes for post-graduate research students who mentor the school students to carry out in-depth practical inquiry.

Aquavan, developing our coastal connection

The Aquavan, equipped with chilled re-circulating seawater tanks and a mobile touch tank, transports marine life to classrooms, community halls and show grounds across Southern NZ. Through fun, hands-on workshops, all ages are engaged in learning more about local marine species and their importance in the ocean food web, as kai moana and as indicators of change. Encounters with live marine provide a focus for discovery learning and stimulus for discussion about environmental issues and responsibilities. Community events and field days  provide opportunities to develop networks, share good practice and develop knowledge and skills for environmental action.

Citizen science

The NZMSC has developed citizen science projects to encourage communities to get involved in long term monitoring of the coastal environment and contribute valuable data about the diversity, distribution and abundance of coastal species. The development of protocols and collection of data over time allow communities to assess change of their local shoreline and supports stewardship and restoration projects. Social media, web sites, resources (print and video) and workshops have been developed to engage, train and support participation across NZ. This  project helps build a picture of the biodiversity, distribution and abundance of seashore animals and plants in New Zealand's marine environment. It enables students, families, community groups and iwi to participate and contribute to a meaningful, future-focused, environmental study that encourages ecological sustainability and community engagement at both a local and national level.

Marine Metre Squared

Marine Metre Squared is a national project looking at long term monitoring of the NZ seashore. Case study research highlights how the project has been used to address local issues (e.g. impact of dredging in Otago Harbour), contribute to long term data collection and habitat assessment (e.g. monitoring of Marine Reserves) and address the issue of data quality.

Shark Spy

Shark Spy is involving schools and the wider community to help monitor sharks along the Otago coastline. They are contributing valuable information about species diversity and seasonal abundance of sharks and their prey species, as well as learning about shark ecology and the science process. Research has focused on the development of science capabilities through their involvement in the project.

Marine Science educational resources

The NZMSC publishes a range of educational resources for  primary and secondary schools, families and interest groups. These online and published resources guide teachers to use the local coastal environment to teach science in the classroom.  From photographic seashore identification guides to activity books on rocky shore food webs, educational posters on the lifecycle of a crab, seashore etiquette and a key to identify the diversity of shells, to name a few.  More than 50 resources have been produced for primary and secondary school level.

For a full list of resources visit the following websites:


Ministry of Education

Supports the school programmes through a LEOTCcontract and Opportunities for Gifted Learners contract.

Ministry of Business, Industry and Employment

Supported the Aquavan programme through an Unlocking Curious Minds contract and citizen science initiatives have been supported through the Otago Participatory Science Platform.

Ministry for the Environment

Supported the development of the Marine Metre Squared project through the Community Environment Fund.

Department of Conservation

Supported the development of the Marine Metre Squared project through their Community Fund.

Royal Society

Through the Science Teaching and Leadership teacher fellowships the NZMSC has had both primary and secondary teachers working alongside our staff on a variety of these projects.

NZ Association of Environmental Educators ( NZAEE )

The NZMSC works alongside NZAEE on Seaweek and the Hauraki Gulf Monitoring Project.
For more information on Seaweek

Mobil Oil New Zealand

Many of our seashore resources have been made possible through their support.


Sharing your research

Engaging with the community is an important part of being a marine scientist at Otago. Through  the NZMSC there are opportunities for University of Otago students and staff to interact with schools and the wider community in a variety of ways. Contribute to a school programme or community event, help in the development of educational resources, share your research activities with teachers or other interest groups, share your marine science experience through social media. Please contact the NZMSC Community Engagement Coordinator, Tamlyn Somerford, if you are interested in finding out more.

Join the NZMSC email list

This email list is for people interested in news and events from the NZ Marine Studies Centre. You will receive updates on research news, events, projects and cool facts about marine critters.

Sign up for the newsletter

Visit the NZMSC website for the collection of recent newsletters

Selected publications and resources

  • Bolstad, R., Bull, S., Carson, S., MacIntyre, B., Spiller, L. 2013. Strengthening Engagements between schools and the science community. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education. 94 pp.  Appendix A – Case Study: New Zealand Marine Studies Centre.
  • Carson, S., Cutler, S., & Rosin, V. 2016. Creatures, costumes, cryptic creations: Integrating creativity in a secondary science gifted program in marine science. In M. K. Demetrikopoulos & J. L. Pecore (Eds.), Interplay of creativity and giftedness in science. (pp. 281-297). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.
  • Carson, S and Morris, R. (2017) Collins Field Guide to the New Zealand Seashore. Harper Collins Publishers (New Zealand) Ltd. 416 p.
  • Carson, S.F. & D. Page. 1995. Seashore Secrets. Hodder Moa Beckett, Auckland, 48 pp.
  • Carson, Sally and Rosin, Victoria. 2013. Oceans of discovery, supporting science primary schools (online). Journal of Educational Leadership, Policy and Practice. Vol. 28. No. 2, 2013: 28-41.
  • Carson, S., Rosin, V. 2013. Oceans of discovery: Supporting science in primary schools [online]. Journal of Educational Leadership, Policy and Practice. Vol. 28, No. 2, 2013: 28- 41.
  • Coyle, L., J. Rock and S. Carson. 2019. Mapping water, and the interface of science and society. In, Waterlines: Confluence and Hope through Environmental Communication, The Conference on Communication and Environment, Vancouver, Canada, June 17-21, 2019.
  • Cutler, S., Riley, T., MacIntyre, W., Bicknell, B. 2010. Mentoring: A symbiosis putting new life into learning. Australian Journal of Gifted Education. 19(2), 49-58.
  • Imuta, K., Scarf, D., Carson, S., & Hayne, H. (2017). Children's Learning and Memory of an Interactive Science Lesson: Does the Context Matter? Developmental Psychology, 56(6), 1029-1037.
  • Riley, T, Cutler, S, MacIntyre, B & Bicknell, B. (2010) Diving in and exploring curricular frameworks: the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre programme. Gifted Education International 2010 Vol. 26, p 234-248.
  • Rosin V, Cutler S, Carson S. 2016. 'Seaing' the difference. Turning Policy into practice in a secondary science Gifted programme in Marine Science. Chapter in “Policy and Practice in Science Education for the Gifted: Approaches from diverse national contexts.” Ed Dr, Manaby Sumida and Dr. Keith Taber.
  • Smith, A (2019) Assessing Citizen Science in the Marine Environment. University of Otago MSc Thesis.
  • Smith, A. M., Lamare, M. D., Sander, S. G., Carson, S., the White Island Blitz Team. (2016). The White Island Blitz: Investigating a Southern Hemisphere temperate vent system. Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World. Retrieved from
  • Tolich, M., Shephard, K., Carson, S., Hunt, D. 2013. Co-managing the sustainability of University internship programmes in brownfield sites. New Zealand Sociology, 28(1), 156.
Back to top