Marine biologist's award funds research in Spain

00:30, Oct 29 2011
Zoe Hilton has won a Unesco-L'Oreal International Fellowship for Young Women in the Life Science
MARINE BIOLOGIST: Zoe Hilton has won a Unesco-L'Oreal International Fellowship for Young Women in the Life Science

Zoe Hilton is bracing herself for the number of times people are going to tell her "the world is your oyster".

Having just landed a plum award which will see the Nelson marine biologist head to Paris and then Spain to further her study into the captive breeding of oysters, she knows it's inevitable she'll hear the cliche.

Dr Hilton, 33, has won a Unesco-L'Oreal International Fellowship for Young Women in the Life Sciences.

Her award is one of 15 offered to outstanding young women scientists and is part of an international programme administered by Unesco and designed to enable international exchanges for research projects in some of the world's best laboratories.

She will receive her award during a week-long event in Paris in March, then in 2013 will undertake research at the Institute for Food and Agricultural Research and Technology, a public corporation of the Catalan government in Spain.

"It was so competitive I didn't think I would have a chance, but my manager who knew how much I wanted to get more overseas experience encouraged me to apply and I am so glad she did," said Dr Hilton, who has worked at the Cawthron Institute in Nelson for nearly a year focusing on the biochemistry of green-lipped mussels.


She is the third New Zealander to have won the fellowship. The others, Allison Haywood and Jenny Smith, also worked at Cawthron when they received their awards.

Cawthron chief executive Gillian Wratt is pleased not only that another of its rising stars has won such a prestigious award but also for the opportunity to build a new collaboration.

"Not only will it be extremely beneficial in Zoe's career development and in the transfer of knowledge between the two institutions, but the results will have far-reaching impacts in the development of sustainable aquaculture for these iconic oyster species," she said.

Dr Hilton will investigate larval nutrition and the brooding environment in the European flat oyster, Ostrea edulis.

IRTA director Dr Delores Furones, who visited Cawthron this year, said both institutes had areas of common interest in shellfish aquaculture, pathology and food safety, and she could see benefits for both in sharing knowledge through the sharing of staff.

Fortunately Dr Hilton speaks Spanish, thanks to the advice of her teacher at Karamea who suggested she learn by correspondence. She became fluent when she spent a year in Costa Rica when she was 18 and it was there that she became interested in marine biology.

"I went snorkelling and the tropical reefs were amazing but there was also really bad pollution and you could see the problems happening," she said.

NZ National Commission for Unesco secretary-general Elizabeth Rose said overfishing, pollution, disease and climate change had severely depleted native flat oyster stocks all over the world.

"Dr Hilton's pioneering research focuses upon the brooding cycles of flat oysters in a bid to restore wild oyster stocks and also initiate successful farming methods.

"Dr Hilton is an extraordinary New Zealander and an inspiration to other young women aspiring to a career in science. She is someone whose work is already helping to tackle global issues facing global communities."

The Nelson Mail