General news

Cawthron Institute
8 May 2018


As you may be aware, Newsroom published a story on its website on Thursday, 26 April that contained suggestions which were of concern to Cawthron. The response below was sent to Newsroom on Monday, 30 April.



From: Charles Eason
Sent: Monday, 30 April 2018 17:25
Subject: Culture of silence or a cover-up?

Dear David,

I was sorry to read the story published by Newsroom on 26 April relating to the discovery of Bonamia ostreae and subsequent events. Cawthron Institute was named in this article and suggestions were made which concern us, so I feel obliged to draw your attention to some inaccuracies.


Regarding discovery, for example:

“Bonamia ostreae’s discovery in 2015 happened by chance. It wasn’t found by a diligent Government lab technician or uncovered by an observant border official, suspicious at finding a lesion-ridden, yellowing oyster. Rather, an Otago University PhD student found it while studying the other Bonamia, exitiosa, at MPI’s Animal Health Laboratory in Wallaceville, Upper Hutt.”

This is misleading. Cawthron has numerous monitoring programmes. The material used for the analysis was from oysters taken from farms in the Marlborough Sounds collected as part of one of these monitoring programmes. The student who undertook the testing was working with a Cawthron scientist and the MPI Animal Health Laboratory. Our monitoring and the use of sophisticated molecular tests enabled the discovery of this parasite in flat oysters for the first time. The finding was published in 2016 in a peer-reviewed scientific journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms (volume 118: 55-63), with our people as two of the three authors (see attached). The article was entitled “Bonamia ostreae in the New Zealand oyster Ostrea chilensis: a new host and geographic record for this haplosporidian parasite”. The organism is morphologically similar to Bonamia exitiosa and requires molecular technologies to distinguish it from other parasites. If we had not made and published this unexpected discovery, things could be far worse.

The article suggests that material may have been transferred from Cawthron to Big Glory Bay.

“Another jarring point was Fraser’s comment, made to Bluff oyster farmer Clark in March 2015, that “no movements outside the affected area have been permitted since the response started”. Gwyn tells Newsroom there was freedom of movement before June 2015, when the controlled area notice was imposed, so it’s possible that contaminated oysters were taken to Stewart Island legally.”

Cawthron has never sent flat oysters to Big Glory Bay. It is not possible to say how the parasite got in to New Zealand, Big Glory Bay or Marlborough. There are a number of ways it could have happened, e.g. unintentional dispersal via ship ballast water or biofouling on a vessel.

The story refers to a culture of silence or cover-up.

Cawthron communicated fully and collaboratively from the discovery of Bonamia ostreae onwards. Cawthron’s biosecurity response then and since has been appropriate, timely and robust. MPI has also communicated to the media and publicly on their website about the outbreak.

The article implies Cawthron has profited from the outbreak:

“... The bonamia ostreae biosecurity threat jeopardised years of Cawthron research, backed by millions of taxpayer dollars. The tap of Government money could turn off. Cawthron’s December 2016 presentation said it would “work with MPI to find way forward to enable research” and consider “new options for targeted research”.

Big Glory Bay presented that opportunity.”

Cawthron Institute is an independent, non-profit, community-owned research organisation with dedicated, highly ethical scientists working on environmental restoration, as well as supporting primary industries where we can help.

For example, when the globally ubiquitous Pacific oyster virus finally arrived in New Zealand several years ago, and devastated the Pacific oyster industry, our scientists responded and have bred oysters that are resilient to the virus just as kiwifruit have been bred for resistance to PSA.

The research funding and programmes referred to in the article are led and coordinated by Cawthron. However, all of the programmes mentioned are multicollaborative and typically involve Crown Research Insititutes, as well as NZ Universities and international collaborations. Resources and funding are targeted at world-leading collaborations and a “best team” approach. The new programme referred to in the article is aimed at working together to reduce the risk of disease outbreaks in aquatic organisms and minimise impact, should they occur, taking into account global environmental changes (warming, acidification, pollution) and increasing global connectedness.

The Bonamia ostreae outbreak was devastating for all affected.

Outbreaks such as these inevitably prompt our scientists to want to help and seek solutions to help industry to protect itself and people’s livelihoods for the future. This is what we do, as do most other scientific organisations – look to solve problems presented in the real world. Cawthron continues to strive to apply science for the betterment of New Zealand. Our focus is “world class science for a better future”.

The errors and tone in this article have upset many, including our dedicated researchers, who, like many New Zealanders, go the extra distance for the public good.

We have been reluctant to engage in a discussion which seemed to have been founded on preconceived ideas and have referred queries to MPI, and we would still recommend that course.

Nevertheless, I hope this information is helpful and will enable you to address and correct the matters we have raised.

Thank you.

Professor Charles Eason CRSNZ Chief Executive