Dr Mark Orams

Head of School - Sport & Recreation
Associate Dean of AUT Millennium

Dr Mark Orams

Dr Mark Orams fell in love with the sea when he was very young.

“I developed a real passion and curiosity about the ocean that led me to want to study it and to do things that would help us look after it.”

Mark has completed a Bachelor of Environmental Sciences and Resource Planning from Massey University, a Bachelor of Natural Resources and Environmental Planning (First Class Honours) at California State University in Los Angeles, a Master of Science at Florida International University and completed a Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Queensland School of Marine Science in Brisbane.

Mark is an avid sailor - he holds over 20 New Zealand titles, four World Masters Championships and is a former crew member on Sir Peter Blake’s around the world race team. He says that as someone who has been a competitive sportsperson and a recreational user of the sea, he is passionate about looking after it.

Making an impact

In 1999, Mark began the piece of research that he is most proud of.

Mark headed to Vava’u, the Northern Islands of the Kingdom of Tonga, with hopes of assessing the industry of whale-watching.

This research coincided with a visit to Tonga from members of the World Council of Whalers, who were there to advocate for Tonga to return to whaling.

Mark’s research assessed the value of the whale-watching industry and concluded that the whales were more valuable to Tonga alive as a tourism attraction than dead as a food source. His report claimed that the industry had the opportunity to grow and become a significant economic generator of income for the islands.

“The end result of that piece of research was that the King of Tonga reaffirmed his royal decree protecting whales in Tongan waters,” says Mark, “so now the whale population has continued to recover and make a comeback and support a really important industry in the Kingdom.

“It wasn’t the greatest or most complex piece of science ever, but it had an important impact. If research doesn’t have an impact or make a difference then what's the point? It’s applied science that makes a difference and what I am really passionate about.”

An ongoing study

Mark admits that in his current roles and positions, he now tends to live vicariously through the students he supervises.

For example, Vice Chancellor Doctoral Scholarship student, Lorenzo Fiori, is building on Mark's research form 1999, and is set to go back to Vava’u to use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones) to monitor and record humpback whale behaviour and to assess the effects of human activities in association with those whales in Vava’u.

“We want to understand the effects of whale watching and swim-with-whales activities so that we can ensure that the activities are sensitive to the potential consequences for the whales. If we understand the effects then we can advise and assist the operators to conduct their operations so they are both good for their customers and not detrimental for the whales, which is what everybody wants.”

“I’ve grown up in this isolated archipelago of islands, Aotearoa, surrounded by the greatest ocean on our planet: the Pacific. All of our ancestry comes from people who came here from over the seas and I feel a deep-seated connection to Te Moana, the ocean.”