World Environment Day 2022: Our stories

To celebrate World Environment Day 2022 we’ve gathered some inspiring stories for you – featuring visionary UoA academics and students, and guest-stars that include sharks, chickens, and even maggots. We hope you enjoy this brief but broad selection of articles and videos.

Shark Man!

Dr Riley Elliott, University of Auckland Marine Scientist and host of Discovery Channel’s Shark Academy

Dr Riley Elliott, University of Auckland Marine Scientist and host of Discovery Channel’s Shark Academy

Shark Man, Dr Riley Elliott, is in his element when mingling with sharks in their briny, sun-dappled home. Not a pastime that attracts many enthusiasts. But Riley happily swims against the instinct to swiftly vacate shark-infested waters. He also swims against the tide of public opinion – as he grapples with the complicated PR problems that bedevil the most fascinating yet terrifying of fish.
Few of us would willingly go for a dip with a shark. But plenty of armchair adventurers welcome them into their lounge on a frequent basis. In a benign but enthralling widescreen format, sharks have a massive fan base. And Riley capitalises on the public’s fascination to shift their core beliefs.
Because the facts are plain: in a fatal shark encounter it’s almost never the human who dies.

Kami: World leaders in digital collaboration

What would we see if we could visualise the global spread of trillions of note pads, photocopies, post-its, printouts, and other documents? One pattern would clearly emerge. Enormous quantities of paper gush into the education sector – churn for brief periods and then gather in massive sagging drifts. You’re probably not far from one yourself.
In 2012 three students on the Velocity Programme at the University’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship had a very, very bright idea. They conceived a digital collaboration tool for their studies. Replacing paper with pixels they hoped to cut down on waste, enhance their efficiency, invigorate their communication, and boost their grades. They later established a plucky little start-up called Kami, the Japanese word for paper.
The rest is history – and you’re reading it on screen.

Alliv Samson, COO, Jordan Thoms, Chief Technology Officer, and Hengjie Wang, CEO

Alliv Samson, Hengjie Wang, and Jordan Thoms, co-founders of Kami, named by Time Magazine in 2022 as one of the World’s 100 Most Influential Companies


The ups and downs of R n D: Storing energy in the ocean deep

Velocity programme alumnus Tim Hawkey used to be “a cynical, twenty-something student who thought everything taught in business schools was about exploitatively maximising profits.” Then he came to realise that business is actually about solving real, and really challenging problems. He knew then that he’d found his calling. He later founded Energy Bank, which envisions moving building-sized blocks of iron-ore back and forth between the ocean floor and surface as a sustainable way to store and release energy.

Into the future

Sustainable space travel is on the horizon – and may soon be high above us, with Zenno Astronautics’ fuel-free satellite control and propulsion system. Established by UoA alumnus Max Arshavsky, Zenno pioneers the use of super-magnets in sustainable space exploration. Their propulsion system, powered by solar panels, could keep satellites in space indefinitely.

A lovely bunch of flours

Associate Professor Silas Vilas-Boas and Ninna Granucci, co-founders of Greenspot Technologies

In 2017, the University’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship helped Associate Prof Silas Vilas-Boas and PhD candidate Ninna Granucci to establish Greenspot Technologies. Fruit and veggie pulp is usually discarded as waste, or at best composted, but these two visionaries have concocted sophisticated methods for converting it into super-nutritious flours for all uses. In the last 5 years, Greenspot Technologies have received substantial investment, made the move to France, and won multiple international awards for innovation.

A short tale with happy end dung

There once was a hen that ate a maggot. After a short while, the maggot (that was) had made its way right through the hen’s alimentary tract – and popped out the other end with a little plop that you’d need to be very tiny to hear. Not much of a story really. But don’t click away just yet! Because there’s a prequel…
The maggot hadn’t randomly hatched on some low-nutrient smear of sustenance, desperately hoping to make it to flyhood. No. It had been raised like the Lord of Larvae, fed on the juiciest and most select of food wastes. The big juicy maggot was such a fine specimen that it qualified to star in a sequel. The chicken pooh that it eventually became was top grade – of such superior quality that PhD student Neil Birrell scooped it up and processed it into fertiliser.
Repeated thousands upon thousands of times, this little tale adds up to an awesome initiative to reduce waste and increase horticultural productivity in rural India.

A maggot farm in rural India

A thriving maggot farm in Kerala


Eyes in orbit

Morgan Dolfing, CEO Delta Waterways

Morgan Dolfing, CEO of Delta Waterways

Watch Morgan Dolfing crouch on the gnarly banks of the Waikato River, stooping to nab a jar of water. You’ll soon realise two things. Morgan does a very good job for the camera, but is probably better suited to other tasks. Also, sampling waterways by hand is tricky, very time consuming for expert analysts, and therefore prohibitively expensive on a routine basis. Delta Waterways is a start-up founded by students from the University of Auckland and AUT. They’re deploying hi-res satellite technology and sophisticated data analysis to remotely monitor waterway health. And that’s a much better task for Morgan.

How does your garden grow?

Soilsafe Aotearoa is a vibrant citizen-science initiative, launched in 2021 by Drs Emma Sharp and Melanie Kah from the School of Environment. “We encourage the nation’s gardeners to get involved and send soil samples. We test them for metal contaminants, like lead, so that the public knows what’s in their soil. We’ve already received more than 1500 samples from 340 homes!” Two things are clear. People are very interested in their soil. And there can be rather a lot in it.

Drs Emma Sharp and Melanie Kah

Dr Emma Sharp and Dr Melanie Kah


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