New $500,000 research scholarship offered to study of Taranaki's ecosystems

Taranaki philanthropist George Mason has long championed research into natural environments

Taranaki philanthropist George Mason has long championed research into natural environments

A Taranaki philanthropist has teamed up with one of New Zealand's tertiary institutions to give away $500,000 towards an ambitious post graduate research programme.

George Mason, 86, and the University of Waikato will each donate $100,000 a year over five years for research into conserving the region's marine, freshwater and land-based ecosystems.

The George Mason Charitable Trust has donated millions of dollars in the past 15 years to support students, with links to Taranaki, to undertake environmental research of the region's natural environment.

The trust donated $5 million to Auckland University in 2016 to establish the George Mason Centre for the Natural Environment for research study.

Mason also recently announced funding for the use of an underwater drone, which will allow Victoria University researchers to explore sponge ecology off the coast of North Taranaki in the Parininihi Marine Reserve.

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The latest plan aimed to provide a coherent approach to research in an often neglected part of the country, Waikato University deputy vice-chancellor research professor Bruce Clarkson said.

The George Mason Trust had long been a supporter of the university, funding scholarships and research projects, he said.

Clarkson said the research topics would range from studying seabirds' connection to the sea and land, and streams and estuaries as corridors linking the sea and the land.

"The topics are varied, but the objective is to restore connectivity between the ocean, the land and freshwater, and in some cases it will be necessary to explore pre-human plants and marine life."

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The research would use start of the art micro-chemical and isotopic techniques, such as long-term chemical records of key forest areas to show the historic connection of marine productivity to freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems in the region, Clarkson said.

The university would make available a stable isotope unit, radio carbon dating lab, and lake monitoring expertise to scientists for research.

"It's important to understand the pattern, process and functioning of Taranaki's present-day ecosystems," he said.

"To do that we need as our baseline, the pre-human condition, that will tell us the nature and extent of change and what might be needed to maintain and conserve the original character of these ecosystems."

Taranaki had missed out on cutting-edge research in recent years, he said.

The postgraduate scholarships would be advertised late 2017.

 - Taranaki Daily News

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