Mak­ing waves

A Raglan-based marine science busi­ness is mak­ing its name on the in­ter­na­tional stage for sus­tain­able coastal de­vel­op­ment.

Waikato News - - FRONT PAGE -

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.”

Photo /Sup­plied

Gath­er­ing field data on the west coast just out­side Awakino Es­tu­ary.

Photo /Sup­plied

eCoast co-di­rec­tor and oceanog­ra­pher Dou­gal Greer.

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