A Raglan-based marine science business is making its name on the international stage for sustainable coastal development.
A shared passion for the ocean, rivers and water quality has led to a successful international business for six friends.
eCoast Marine Consulting and Research is a small, independent marine and freshwater research consultancy based in Raglan on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island.
As well as being life-long and passionate surfers and ocean enthusiasts, the company’s directors and employees all hold PhDs or other postgraduate qualifications in coastal science, oceanography, engineering, marine biology and physics.
Since it began five years ago, eCoast has begun to make its mark, both in New Zealand and internationally, with its work in a number of areas, from sustainable coastal development and coastal erosion to surf break monitoring, management and tsunami modelling.
They provide advisory services and technical expertise to clients in New Zealand, Australia, the Pacific and around the world.
About 50 per cent of their current work is international, says co-director and oceanographer Dougal Greer. That means a fair amount of Skype meetings and some travel, with field work to sometimes remote locations.
In the Pacific, a lot of work is around coastal erosion and the impact of development on the ocean.
“Water quality is an issue,” says Mr Greer. “Although there is good political will for change, and often environmental law similar to our Resource Management Act, many small island developing states don’t have internal capacity to put robust systems in place to protect water, as we do in New Zealand.”
They are often called on by regional councils, NGOs and other groups to do research into coastal areas, estuaries and waterways.
“We are scientists and we are there to give a scientific point of view,” says Greer. [For more on eCoast’s work, see side bar]
The eCoast team includes environmental scientist and managing director Dr Shaw Mead, and a team of four directors – oceanographer and surf scientist Ed Atkin, coastal engineer Jose Borrero, marine ecologist Tim Haggitt and Dougal Greer, and senior consultant and civil engineer David Phillips.
“One of the things that bonds us all as a team is water quality – coming from the land, through the rivers and estuaries, and to the sea,” says Greer. “Water quality is an extremely valuable resource in New Zealand, and it’s under a lot of pressure in many places. It is a taonga to protect.”
“We are all passionate about water quality as a topic – it’s not just business for us,” says Greer. “We all enjoy the water – surfing, sailing, fishing and scuba diving – and we understand how important it is to people.”
Growth of the business
eCoast began in 2012, and Greer admits that the early years of business were hard.
“You are always busy,” he says. “In the early years of a business you are often caught in the trap of needing to be IN the business and DO the work, but you are also LOOKING for business.”
When they were able to hire their first new employee it took the pressure off, he says.
Raising awareness and communicating what they did was also a challenge.
“When you start you are known as individuals, but your brand is not known, and that’s a big challenge, so getting out and getting in front of people and letting them know what you do is important,” he says.
The eCoast team attend a lot of conferences and meet with people to “make opportunities”. As they become better known, word-ofmouth has helped.
Part of that is delivering on their word, and being reliable.
“We don’t produce a widget you can sell; every job is different. So for us it’s about building relationships and trust with people, and part of that is getting work and doing it on time and on budget.”
eCoast has benefited from business support and funding over the years – receiving a number of grants to pursue key research projects.
Waikato Innovation Park’s Business Growth team has played a role in assisting eCoast – supporting them to apply for Callaghan Innovation funding.
Key projects Mapping Waikato estuaries
For more than 10 years eCoast has been modelling water quality on the Waikato’s west coast. The project has involved working with local communities and the Waikato Regional Council, and creating computer models to simulate the movement of water and
contaminants from land to the marine environment.
“We have been able to simulate how freshwater comes into the harbours and how the tides and winds move it around, and we could see how any contaminants get flushed out of the harbours,” says Mr Greer, who currently leads the project.
He says the issue of how harbours are affected by pollution from rivers, sewage spills and other sources of contamination is a concern for councils around New Zealand.
“Estuaries are extremely important areas. They are highly productive, and are breeding and nursery grounds for many marine species, so healthy estuaries are really important from that point of view,” he says. “They are also incredibly sensitive, they are the culmination of everything you do on the land. For some people estuaries are in the ‘too hard basket’ — they are not rivers but they are not the sea — they are something in between, so they haven’t got a lot of attention. There is a change in thinking about estuaries now, and that’s really exciting.”
Planning for tsunamis
The team from eCoast have been studying tsunamis for a number of years, including computer modelling of worst-case tsunami events for the Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions, and for New Zealand more broadly, for responding to tsunami events. Detailed computer modelling can identify areas in a port or harbour which are particularly vulnerable to tsunami induced currents, and help councils and authorities plan accordingly.
Protecting surf breaks
As surfers, the eCoast team is interested in sustainably managing surf breaks and coastlines.
Recently, eCoast talked about the company’s research into how surf breaks work, and how they should be managed. Five cameras are being mounted at key surf breaks around New Zealand, including Raglan’s Manu Bay, Piha, Whangamata, Lyall Bay in Wellington and Wainui Beach in Gisborne, with more data coming from cameras at Aramoana and Whareakeake, Otago. Measuring, modelling and monitoring is ongoing, setting another precedent for New Zealand on the international stage.
Other international work
“We’ve done lots of work relating to climate change in the islands — Fiji, Tonga, Kiribati, Mauritius, the Seychelles and the Marshall Islands. One thing about climate change and the sea level rising is that people are experiencing it as erosion, and with each storm the waters come up higher and there is more erosion.”
Gathering field data on the west coast just outside Awakino Estuary.
eCoast co-director and oceanographer Dougal Greer.