Zoe Hilton


Job title and place of work

Research scientist at Cawthron Institute.

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

I’m an ecophysiologist, working on RA 4 and 5, working on Greenshell mussels (GSM). 

We’ll also be contributing to RA 3 work on GSM larvae in mesocosms.

I’m helping with all of the experiments around screening mussel families from the selective breeding programme to see how much variation exists in the species that may allow them to adapt to ocean acidification. I’m also working on experiments investigating the mechanisms that cause resilience or susceptibility to ocean acidification, and investigating the inter-generational effects of ocean acidification. 

What do you do on an average work day?

Designing experiments, running experiments in the lab, analysing data, writing papers and communicating the results to stakeholders like the mussel industry and the public. 

Why is studying coastal acidification important?

It’s SO important. Coastal acidification may have major impacts on the functioning of our coastal ecosystems and our ability to grow and harvest seafood. It’s really important that we work out what is likely to happen, how these species and ecosystems may be affected and what we can do to avoid negative effects if possible. 

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

At high school, I did lots of music, Spanish, biology, calculus, chemistry, English.

After high school I did a student exchange to Costa Rica for 1 year, did volunteer work on leatherback turtles, worked in Wellington for one year to save money and then went to uni in Auckland. I did a BA in Spanish and Latin American studies and a BSc in Marine science, then an Honours degree in Biological Science. I really enjoyed doing research so I went on to do a PhD  looking at physiology and evolution in a family of NZ coastal fish species

What outcomes from CARIM do you think there will be?

Through our work we hope to discover whether these key, iconic NZ species will be able to evolve to handle the challenges of increased ocean acidification over the likely time-scales they will face. The wider project will give us an idea of the rates and time-scales involved.   This will tell us whether these animals and plants will have the capacity to adapt to an acidifying environment, or whether they will be unlikely to be able to cope. This should help inform what we can do to mitigate the effects of rising carbon dioxide on our marine environment and protect these ecosystems and the environment for future generations.  Another big part of the CARIM programme is the outreach, so as well as the science giving us interesting outcomes, I hope that one of the big outcomes is a better informed public so that people understand what is happening, and what they can do about it! 

What excites you about working on this project?

The scientific questions and the techniques that we’re using to answer them are exciting, but the thing that most excites me about this project is the chance to create new knowledge and get it out to a wide audience so that people can be more informed about what we’re doing to our environment, and how we can better care for and protect our coastal ecosystems for the future.