Ross Sea Region Research and Monitoring Programme

The Ross Sea Region Research and Monitoring Programme (Ross-RAMP) is a five-year research programme funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and run by NIWA to evaluate the effectiveness of the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area.

The programme’s full name—the “Ross Sea Research and Monitoring Programme: is the world’s largest MPA effective?” —highlights the intent of the work.

The marine protected area (MPA) was originally championed by New Zealand and the United States and was agreed to by the 25-member states of the Commission for the Conservation of Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). This significant effort in global marine protection balances environmental protection, sustainable fishing and science interests. It came into effect in December 2017, based on more than ten years of research and global diplomacy.

Read more about the MPA.

The Ross Sea MPA sets out to conserve the area’s ecology, mitigate threats to ecosystems from fishing, and provide a reference area to better gauge the effects of fishing and climate change over time. The MPA will cease in 2052, and proof of the effectiveness of the MPA is needed for it to continue beyond this 35 year period.

NIWA’s science will establish how the impacts of the MPA can be demonstrated.

Our Ross-RAMP research

We are focussing on 10 components of the Ross Sea region ecosystem and, for each, our research will:

  1. characterise the baseline (i.e. what is the ecosystem like now?)
  2. develop and apply methods which can measure any change in the long term; and
  3. create new analysis/modelling approaches to evaluate the effect of the MPA.

The ten components under research are:

  • physical and chemical environment and oceanography;
  • “bio-regions” (representative areas);
  • phytoplankton, oceanic primary production and energy flow through the microbial system;
  • keystone species (including krill, silverfish, lanternfish and zooplankton);
  • krill predators (Adélie penguins and emperor penguins);
  • predators of Antarctic toothfish (Weddell seals and sperm whales);
  • deep-sea fish species that are the prey of Antarctic toothfish (rat-tails and icefish especially);
  • Antarctic toothfish (the target of the Ross Sea longline fishery);
  • bycatch species (skates);
  • vulnerable benthic ecosystems (structure-forming benthic invertebrates such as corals).

The four main research methods

Research voyages

A research voyage to the Ross Sea region was carried out in February 2018 and a second voyage departed for the Ross Sea on 8 January 2019.

Antarctic fieldwork

This work is supported by Antarctica New Zealand and is carried out on Weddell seals, emperor penguins and Adelie penguins.

Fishing vessels

Research is based on information provided by fishing vessels in the Ross Sea region, especially on toothfish, skates, rat-tails and icefish.

Computer modelling and satellite remote sensing of the climate-oceanographic system, phytoplankton and microbial processes.

The main scientific challenges

At over 1.55 million km2 in size, tracking change and evaluating the conservation value of the Ross Sea MPA is a highly complex, technical and unprecedented scientific challenge. The region is enormous, remote, inhospitable, complex (both physically and biologically) and varies on time-scales of days to decades.

Our research users

In New Zealand, the research will primarily benefit the lead Government agencies in charge of New Zealand’s commitments for stewardship of the Antarctic: MFAT (Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade), with technical support from (MPI) Ministry for Primary Industries and DOC (Department of Conservation). Non-governmental conservation agencies (including WWF, ECO) and the fishing industry are also interested in our results.

The cost and who’s involved

Ross-RAMP has funding of NZ$11.4 million over five years and is funded by MBIE through the Endeavour Fund.

The programme is run from NIWA (Wellington) and includes researchers from Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research (Lincoln).

Iwi partners (Ngāi Tahu and Ngātiwai), Ross-RAMP will explore Māori values and aspirations for future management of the Ross Sea region. The “Vision Mātauranga” part of the programme includes a whakairo (carving) project in the 2018-19 Antarctic season at Scott Base supported by Antarctic NZ.

Ross-RAMP and the New Zealand Antarctic Platform will work together to anticipate the effects of climate change in the Ross Sea region and help inform appropriate management.

We also have a range of international collaborators from countries including USA, Australia, Korea, China, Japan, UK, Spain, France and Italy.

Our research users

In New Zealand, the research will primarily benefit the lead Government agencies in charge of New Zealand’s commitments for stewardship of the Antarctic: MFAT (Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade), with technical support from (MPI) Ministry for Primary Industries and DOC (Department of Conservation). Non-governmental conservation agencies (including WWF, ECO) and the fishing industry are also interested in our results.

Further information

Ross Sea region Marine Protected Area - New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT)

Antarctic Fisheries Research publications - NIWA

Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)

Adelie penguins research - Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research.