Sea Keeper Profiles

Dr. John Walsby and Dr. Neil Mitchell



18 KB photo of John Morsby

John Walsby, B.Sc.(Hons) Ph.D. (Lond)

John Walsby is a marine biologist who has become one of New Zealand's best science and education writers and illustrators. He is a contributor to New Zealand Herald, including the weekly Education Page column "Nature Watch" as well as special feature articles.

John is a major contributor to New Zealand Geographic and authored Nature Watching at the Beach and many environmental pamphlets and booklets. He lectures for the University of Auckland Contributing Education courses and is a biological and eco-tourism consultant. He produces educational material for the Science Advisory Services of the Auckland College of Education and conducts teacher training courses on effective science teaching techniques. His educational software "Fountains of Fire" presents a fascinating look at Auckland's volcanoes. It was featured in the Auckland Museum's display on Volcanoes and Giants. He also produced a Rocky Shore computer Programme.

Dr. Neil Mitchell

School of Marine and Environmental Science, Auckland University

When I was very young, my parents used to holiday on a rocky coast. I spent long, happy hours fascinated by hermit crabs and sea anemones in the rock pools. I could not get much enthusiasm for seaweeds, but found coastal plants held a special interest for me.

Later, in high school, the way zoology was taught, meant you had to dissect all kinds of animals. I did not like doing that, especially when it came to animals that were killed just so that I could dissect them, such as frogs. So I became more and more interested in plants, especially plants growing naturally, because I did not like dissecting plants either! To me, life was a very special and precious mystery and it seemed somehow wrong to destroy life in order to study it.

I went on to university where over a period of years I was able to work for degrees in botany and then ecology. After that I took my present job as a lecturer in plant ecology at Auckland University. I teach students about how plants live and, together with some of my students, I study New Zealand's plants to find out more about them. Over the years, my research into natural systems made me realise our native environment had been severely damaged. Many of the important native societies of New Zealand plants and animals were dying. They need help if they are to recover and survive.

My life as a research scientist and teacher allowed me the privilege of visiting special places and seeing wonderful natural secrets. I wanted others to appreciate their own natural heritage. This was how I got into restoring Tiritiri Matangi Island. This small island definitely needed help if any of the natural systems were to survive. It was also a special place, one that people from the community could easily get to and help with the work of restoration.

Of all the natural systems that need out help here in New Zealand, wetlands are the most urgent, and perhaps one of the most important. Wetlands are very special places both for their biology but also because they are nature's own cleaning system, especially cleaning up water before it reaches the sea.

When the English colonists arrived in New Zealand wetlands were seen as unproductive areas. Yet they were flatlands and the soil was rich and fertile. In a surprisingly short time, industrious farmers drained and filled over 90% of New Zealand's wetlands. Most of it was converted to pasture. Ecologically, this was a catastrophe, and I now dedicate much of my time to helping restore wetlands.


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