Project Leader

Alice Rogers

Alice Rogers

Who I am

I grew up in central England, relatively far from the coast, but was always drawn to nature and to the sea. I studied zoology as an undergraduate at the University of Sheffield (also far from the sea) and while studying I learned to scuba dive. For the next four years I spent most of my weekends and holidays travelling up and down the country exploring the UK’s amazing wrecks and reefs. After graduating, I knew that marine biology was my future, so I spent the next couple of years gaining skills and experience, diving and volunteering in exotic locations, including Honduras and French Polynesia.
In 2011 I completed my PhD at Imperial College London, focusing on the population dynamics of a sea urchin in the Caribbean – a keystone species essential for the health of coral reefs. I gained valuable quantitative skills, but also discovered that it was applied science, capable of informing and improving management, that was my passion. I left the UK in 2012 and spent five and a half years at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, where I was part of an amazing research group working on projects in the Caribbean and South-East Asia, trying to predict the impacts of climate change on coral reef fisheries and designing spatial management plans to improve outcomes for local communities.
In 2018 I moved to Wellington, New Zealand, to take up a permanent position as a lecturer in fisheries science. I now lead the Marine Ecology and Ecosystem Modelling group and my research has expanded to understanding how climate change and other stressors impact coastal ecosystems in warm and cold waters and how management can be improved to ensure that these ecosystems survive and thrive for future generations.

Where I work

Fiordland is located at the south-western corner of the South Island of Aotearoa, New Zealand. It is an iconic and breathtaking place, a national park and a World Heritage Site. Its remoteness, ruggedness and heavy rainfall create an atmosphere I have never felt anywhere else in the world. Above the water, steep cliffs, low cloud and so many waterfalls are mesmerising, while below the surface the dark, clear, deep waters feel spooky and a truly alien place to be. The life that inhabits and utilises the region is equally breathtaking – some of New Zealand’s rarest and most iconic birds survive here and the waters are home to humpback whales, seals, dolphins, penguins, numerous oceanic and coastal fish, amazing and diverse sea-floor animals and, of course, sharks – including white sharks, bronze whalers and the prehistoric sevengill.
Fiordland has a rich cultural history. It was well known to Māori, and legend tells that the demigod Tuterakiwhanoa carved the rugged landscape from formless rock. Few Māori were permanent residents in the fiords, but seasonal gathering camps are linked to well-worn trails around the region.
When not on expedition in Fiordland, I am based at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand’s capital city, situated at the southern tip of the North Island. Wellington is a vibrant and friendly capital, and it is often said that ‘you can’t beat Wellington on a good day’. Being based in Wellington offers many benefits. The university is close in proximity and connection to the Department of Conservation, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and the New Zealand government.

What I do

This project will combine field expeditions (1–2 per year) with time in between at Victoria University analysing data and samples. Working in the fiords, and especially in the remote reaches of southern Fiordland, always feels like a privilege and an adventure from the moment a trip begins. Accessing the charter vessel, MV Pembroke involves an initial 20-minute helicopter flight from Te Anau, on the eastern shore of Lake Manapouri, into Supper Cove, which lies at the innermost reach of Dusky Sound, close to the mouth of the Seaforth River. The helicopter lands on a small pebble beach where the tender meets us to take all our equipment and food onto Pembroke.
For us, a typical day in the fiords involves every kind of research activity – when you visit such a remote location, you really have to maximise your time. We’ll often start the day with scuba diving, taking images for the long-term monitoring of benthic communities, conducting fish surveys or deploying or changing temperature loggers. We’ll then spend surface intervals deploying other equipment: a CTD to measure conductivity, temperature and depth from the surface to the sea floor, baited underwater cameras to record fish in the deep, water samples to measure primary production and, of course, our Boxfish ROV. ROV dives take a couple of hours, collecting high-resolution video for sea-floor and fish surveys and deploying and retrieving equipment. While the ROV battery charges, we’re back in the water for more diving.
When we begin our work with the sevengill sharks, both scuba and ROV will be used to deploy and retrieve acoustic loggers. We will conduct manual tracking of tagged animals from the boat, and dawn and early dusk will be the prime time to spend fishing, when sevengills are most active.

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