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Meet Regan Fairlie


Lead Researcher for Manaaki Te Awanui Trust.

Job description: 

Manaaki Te Awanui is a Māori Environmental Research Group based in Tauranga Moana in the Bay of Plenty. Currently the majority of my work is related to the National Science Challenge with Sustainable Seas. I’m assisting in the development of an online resource and training web application to help empower and enhance the expression of kaitiakitanga (guardianship/stewardship).

I also help monitor the Te Maunga o Mauao Maataitai Reserve (Hapu/Iwi managed kaimoana/shellfish gathering site), this includes SCUBA diving the reserve and counting and measuring the stocks of taonga species (Kina, Paua, Kutai/Mussel and Crayfish). This helps the Customary Fisheries team make better decisions around implementing bylaws for the sustainable use of the resource. Currently the two bylaws in action are, harvesting for commercial purposes is prohibited and the bag limit for green lip mussel harvest has been halved from 50 mussels down to 25 mussels.

Work background: 

My first degree wasn’t marine science at all, I graduated as a process engineer trained to set up manufacturing businesses and to have them running efficiently. I helped setup manufacturing systems in Wellington, Auckland, Australia and China, and worked with clients and colleagues in Sweden, America, Hong Kong and Singapore. My time in those countries helped me to understand that industrialisation was impacting the marine environment.

So, as you do, I quit that job and sailed across the Pacific Ocean from New Zealand to Tahiti, the Cook Islands and back again to look at (among many other things) the state of our environment. Upon my return I decided to pursue a career in marine ecology and biodiversity to do my part in helping our oceans survive the trouble it’s in right now.

Favourite part of job: 

The SCUBA diving is the best part of the job, having the opportunity to be underwater and appreciate the sea and all its beauty. This helps you to understand that the oceans are worth protecting and to push through when times get hard.

Least favourite part of job: 

I must admit that the long hours reading scientific reports and writing literature reviews aren’t my favourite part of the job, but actually SCUBA diving in winter isn’t the nicest, so being tucked up in the office, reading and writing with a cup of coffee and the heater on is quite nice.

What I am working on now: 

Apart from full time work, I’m currently doing a Master of Science in Ecology and Biodiversity. I’m focusing on the degradation of estuarine environments and the effect it has on taonga species (Pipi, Tuangi/Cockles).

A quick story about a job well done: 

Restrictions on the catch limit of green lipped mussel in the Maataitai Reserve has resulted in increased populations within the area. Sounds simple and easy but I’ve been assured that it wasn’t. I was only involved in counting the populations after years of restrictions… and it sounds like it was a lot of hard work to get the area protected and to put restrictions in place. Well done to all those involved.

A (humorous) story about a job that went badly and what you learned: 

We were late to work one day, when we finally got out on the boat and started setting up the buoys for our dives, a kayaker started to approach us. He started to point at our boat… and we finally realized he was following a pod of orca. The pod swam right under our boat and through the dive site… although I’m sure we would have been fine diving with orca around… I’m happy to have been late and to watch them from the boat. What did I learn… don’t rush to work!


Bachelor of Science and Technology (Major: Materials and Process Engineering) & Bachelor of Science (Major: Biological Sciences).

Interests outside work: 

I’m a huge surf fan and travel all over New Zealand following the waves. Every now and then I get to travel around the world surfing and sailing. I love to sail traditional sailing waka and navigate by the stars like our ancestors once did. Favourite surf destinations: The East Cape, Raglan and Whangamata. Favourite sail destinations: Southern Tahitian Islands. Favourite star: Uruao (Alpha Centauri), the closest sun to ours (4.4 light years away) and NASA plans to send a probe there to see if we can live within its system.

Regan Fairlie is the Lead Researcher for Manaaki Te Awanui Trust. Image: Manaaki Te Awanui Trust.