Take 10 with... Darren Parsons

Dr Darren Parsons from the Institute of Marine Science and NIWA, gives us 10 minutes of his time to discuss how fish interact with the environment and his work gathering data inputs for fishery assessments.

Dr Darren Parsons, Institute of Marine Science and NIWA
Dr Darren Parsons, Institute of Marine Science and NIWA

1.  Describe your research topic to us in 10 words or less.

Fish ecology and fisheries research (mostly on snapper).

2.  Now explain it in everyday terms!

My research has two main components. The fish ecology side of things where I work to understand how fish interact with the environment and the human induced stressors they might encounter.

This spans topics such as how ocean acidification impacts fish larvae, why some juvenile fish are associated with ‘nursery habitats’, and tagging fish to understand their movement behaviour.

The other component of my research is more directly applied, and involves gathering data inputs for fishery assessments. This includes sampling fishery catches to estimate population age structure or analysing fishery catch rate data to estimate changes in population abundance.

3.  Describe some of your day-to-day research activities.

Most of my day-to-day research activities are now office-based. I work with people to organise logistics, so that data is collected and written up; and I get to analyse data and write some of those reports myself, as well as writing proposals and reviewing manuscripts.

When I am lucky, I get to spend time sampling from tank experiments that we might be running. Or I will get out in the field working from small boats and setting cameras, or nets, to observe or catch juvenile fish in relation to different habitat elements.

4.  What do you enjoy most about your research?

There are probably two really satisfying aspects. The first is being a part of a team of people working together. It’s pretty satisfying (and a relief) to see a project - potentially with a huge amount of logistics that may have taken years to put together - come off and deliver a result.

The other aspect I and other researchers (I would guess) find satisfying is being able to conduct research to satisfy your curiosities. Essentially the drive to understand and solve an unknown is strong, so it’s pretty exciting when you actually get to the point of having answers.

5.  Tell us something that has surprised you in the course of your research.

In a recently conducted experiment we have an early indication that the direct effects of ocean acidification might actually increase the survival of the fish larvae we investigated. This result is the opposite of what most previous studies have found and what we expected, and just goes to show that we shouldn’t let our preconceptions drive our results.

6.  How have you approached any challenges you’ve faced in your research?

If I am stuck on something, getting a second opinion, asking for advice, or working in a team is generally the way to go. Why suffer alone when someone may be willing to help, or provide a view from an angle you would never have thought of on your own.

7.  What questions have emerged as a result?

For me team work has provided just as many solutions as new questions. However, the team of collaborators I am involved with in the ocean acidification project (mentioned above) have introduced a number of questions about the response of fish sensory systems and physiology to acidification.

8.  What kind of impact do you hope your research will have?

I conduct mostly applied research, so I really hope that my research results will be used by environmental managers to sustain or improve the marine environment for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

9.  If you collaborate across the faculty or University, who do you work with and how does it benefit your research?

At the moment I am collaborating with Dr Brendon Dunphy (School of Biological Sciences and Institute of Marine Science) and Dr Neill Herbert (Institute of Marine Science). They both bring physiology skillsets to the table, which provide new ways for us to address questions about nursery habitat association and ocean acidification effects on fish.

10.  What one piece of advice would you give your younger, less experienced research self?

Having a variety of skills and working hard to be productive is important, but building strong relationships with other researchers is essential for so many reasons.