Human actions have caused measurable changes in the global ocean. The rate at which resources are being extracted and pollutants are being added is significantly impacting human health, global economic systems, and local cultural practices – and threatens to further degrade the world’s oceans. Many coastal communities are already struggling to cope with sea level rise, depleted fisheries, loss of habitat, and increased catastrophic storm effects. To understand how such changes occur we need to look not only at how natural systems work, but also at the histories, cultures, and policies of people who live on coasts and islands in different regions. This requires a place-based, multi-disciplinary approach, drawing from the humanities, sciences, social sciences and arts. Reciprocal interactions with diverse communities in ports of call and a real-world view of ocean issues from the deck of a sailing research vessel will offer a unique perspective on one of the most pressing environmental issues of the twenty-first century: the human impact on the environment.

New Zealand, called Aotearoa by the Maori, is our laboratory. As an island nation, the health of its ocean, land, and people are inextricably tied. With jurisdiction over a huge area of ocean and one of the largest Exclusive Economic Zones in the world, New Zealand’s marine ecosystems range from subtropical to subantarctic, deep trenches to shallow banks, and coastal mangrove forests to coral reefs. In 1993, New Zealand’s Tongariro National Park became the first UNESCO World Heritage cultural landscape site, acknowledging the spiritual links between the Maori community and their natural environment. Having made a national commitment to sustainable management of such resources, New Zealand’s innovative policy and conservation efforts at times compete with its desire for economic prosperity. 

Over the semester, we explored the unique environmental and complex cultural influences that have shaped these islands. They will also visit marine and coastal protected areas and various ports of call to examine the relationship between different cultural groups and the ocean environment that surrounds them.