Norman Ragg

Norman Ragg

Norman Ragg

Job title and place of work

Research Scientist (aquaculture and physiology), Cawthron Institute, Nelson

What is your role in the CARIM project? What work package are you contributing to?

I lead Research Aim 5 (or RA5: Selection of coastal species for resilience to low pH); I am a key researcher in both RA4 and 5.

My broad role is to apply high resolution biological tools to provide a deeper practical understanding of health and performance in commercially valuable shellfish. For CARIM this involves integrating my work with the selective breeding of Greenshell mussels and laboratory methods to better understand the specific effects of coastal acidification changes.

My focus here is upon the performance of larvae and the energy investment choices made by growing juvenile and adult mussels. The story is completed by exploring  what we call ‘trans-generational resilience’. This is where we go beyond Darwinian evolutionary theory and explore the potential for breeding mussels that have been exposed to coastal acidification stress to then impart resilience to their offspring.


What do you do on an average work day?

This is a rapidly evolving job, to cope with a rapidly changing world… there is no average day. In spring you might find me working in the shellfish hatchery, studying fertilization (the genesis of life) and the critical first few hours of development in the unprotected embryos.

By autumn I may have followed the growing shellfish to a point where individuals can be handled safely, moving them into the physiology lab to study metabolic performance and feeding.

The rewards and frustrations of data analysis are a big part of my life, culminating in the most critical step: interpreting and communicating findings to our commercial, environmental and community stakeholders.

Why is studying coastal acidification important?

Understanding ocean acidification is critical for our role within the global community; however, coastal acidification research specifically explores the challenges and opportunities in our own back yard.

The coastal environment is, by definition, influenced by the land it surrounds. Understanding coastal acidification dynamics and the implications for key ecological and commercial species allows us to make informed, proactive management decisions – not only about the way we operate within the coastal zones, but also the catchment areas that influence those zones.

What study did you do at high school? And after high school?

I didn’t do well in the constrained learning environment of high school. However the academic freedom of university suited me very well. I followed my passion, studying marine biology at the university of Wales. I  then turned this learning into practical research skills, completing a master’s degree in commercial shellfish biology.

This subsequently spring-boarded me into a career in aquaculture research. A desire to learn more about the detailed functioning of the animals I studied eventually led me to NZ and a PhD studying the physiology of the magnificent pāua.  

What outcomes from CARIM do you think there will be?

This is an innovative, multi-disciplinary programme that explores uncharted research questions. It is far too soon to guess what we might find.

What we will NOT do is simply present another hopeless image of the future. A key component of the CARIM programme will be to emphasise the options available to allow adaptation, mitigation and management of acidification in the coastal zone.

What excites you about working on this project?

The programme is holistic. For the kai moana species we focus on, the project examines the entire life cycle and the food chains that support them.

Shellfish are not treated as passive victims to a changing environment - rather we will specifically learn from their ability to adapt and to evolve. All of this requires a world-class, multidisciplinary team working in close collaboration using cutting-edge techniques.

Who wouldn’t be excited by that?