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Alaric McCarthy is one of Cawthron's many phD students
25 November 2016

Cawthron hosts a diverse range of PhD students

With joint New Zealand and Kiribati heritage, Alaric McCarthy’s career in marine biology has special meaning for him - he wants to use it to help the people of his homeland.

“For generations my ancestors have been living off the land and sea, and now they’re coming to a point where population growth, climate change and resource availability are becoming  issues,” he says. “Because of this, I was always going to be interested in marine science and some aspect of sustainability.”

McCarthy is one of hundreds of PhD students who have developed their careers at Cawthron, at the same time contributing to deeper research.

After a masters in marine science, McCarthy conducted research at the University of Otago’s Centre for Sustainability, and then decided to study for a PhD in sustainable fisheries through Cawthron and the University of Auckland.

His project, for which McCarthy received both a University of Auckland and Todd Foundation scholarship, will help inform alternative methods of fishing for scampi, using pots or traps instead of environmentally-damaging and energy-intensive bottom trawling.

Listen to Alaric talk about scampi research

“I have strong Kiribati heritage and when I go back to visit my family I see some of the pressures they’re under,” he says. “My ultimate goal is to help them in some capacity. Because they’re surrounded by water and don’t have much land, one of the best ways for me to help is with management of their marine resources, if they want my help.”

“The project is saying ‘How can we turn potentially one of the least sustainable fishing industries in New Zealand into something marginally sustainable?” McCarthy says. "If we can do that it sets a benchmark for every other fishery. So we’re going for one of the trickiest fisheries first, due to its depth and distance offshore. We’re going to try to revolutionise part of that rather than carry on business as usual."

McCarthy’s co-adviser, Cawthron aquaculture monitoring team leader Dr Dave Taylor, says PhD students add a lot of value to the institute.

“They can be focused on this all the time, where some of the researchers have other things going on. This programme is pretty innovative and groundbreaking; we’re trying stuff that’s never been tried in New Zealand before.”

Dr Taylor, Aquaculture monitoring team leader

Suong Thao Nguyen is another Cawthron PhD student, studying apicomplexan - “X” (APX), a parasite associated with the flat oyster Ostrea chilensis in New Zealand, and which may be associated with increased host vulnerability to the infectious disease bonamiosis.

Born in Viet Nam, Nguyen studied at the University of Agriculture and Forestry in Ho Chi Minh City before gaining a MSc degree from Ghent University, Belgium. She then worked for some years in aquatic animal pathology at the Research Institute for Aquaculture No. 2 in Ho Chi Minh City. She was awarded a New Zealand-ASEAN Scholarship to study for a PhD at the University of Auckland, based at Cawthron.

“Cawthron has a very well-equipped molecular lab and wet lab which is very convenient for conducting my research,” she says.

She was supervised first by Dr Andrew Fidler, and now by senior scientist Dr Jonathan Banks. “He's excellent and very helpful; he's always willing to help and always there giving me many precious lessons. I have to say without his brilliant supervision, enthusiastic guidance, I would probably get lost in my PhD.”

Suong was awarded a New Zealand-ASEAN Scholarship to study for a PhD at the University of Auckland, based at Cawthron

Dr Banks says “Suong is extremely motivated, showing great persistence to troubleshoot a complicated molecular-probe based technique to find the location of the APX inside the oysters, and so validate her novel DNA assay to measure APX infection in oysters.”

Nguyen says studying at Cawthon is a great opportunity for her career. “I have learnt a lot from a professional working environment,” she says. “Especially, as an international student, I know more about the working and science cultures in New Zealand. Seminars and science talks are regularly organised, which are interesting and provide me novel ideas.

“Moreover, surrounded by many talented scientists has deepened my knowledge and ability to cooperate with others in the future.”