An interview with… Yanika Reita

(Photo) Yanika pictured at her local beach.

An interview with… Yanika Reita

This month we chat to Yanika Reita who has recently completed her thesis at the University of Waikato, about how her findings will improve biosecurity preparedness and why we need to be careful not to overlook invasive pests in the marine environment..

Tell us a bit about what you set out to achieve with your thesis and why?
I set out to find the squirts impact our aquaculture farms, foul ropes and boat hulls and smother native communities, and they heavily foul much of the submerged substrate in the Tauranga Harbour. I found that non-indigenous sea squirts are more prevalent as larvae in the water of the Tauranga Harbour than native sea squirts, meaning they are highly invasive and can alter the biodiveristy of our native hard bottom communities.

How will your findings improve biosecurity preparedness and readiness
My findings help explain how and where invasive species of sea squirts settle in our harbours. It will also help managers and researchers understand what species of sea squirt we should watch out for, and the impacts they can have when they arrive and settle on native hard bottom communities in marinas, jetties and wharves in the Tauranga Harbour. (Didemnum vexillum the #1 bad guy!)

What’s next for you?
I have so many big goals and aspirations that I want to check off, but firstly I would like to gain some more work experience. I have the privilege of working as a Biosecurity Technician at the Coastal Marine Field station under Prof. Chris Battershill, working on an exciting new project with invasive colonial bryozoans and sea squirts.

How did you get involved in biosecurity?  
My fight for native species begun at a very young age. Protecting what makes New Zealand New Zealand has resonated with me since a young girl. I donated my pocket money every week from 6 years old to marine charities, with a drive to help vulnerable species and environments. I completed my Bachelor of Science in Hamilton at 21 years old, and then moved home to Tauranga to give back to the region I grew up in. I turned up to the Coastal Marine Field station one day and found Dr. Kaeden Leonard, the local biosecurity expert. He took me on as his first student and we began my exciting project in 2018.

What do you think are the biggest biosecurity challenges for Tauranga Moana?
I believe whilst the terrestrial environment is under threat from invasive species, the marine environment is often overlooked. As a moving and changing environment, the ocean is a much harder place to monitor, trap and locate non-indigenous species. Therefore, it’s a place in need of more resources and research. Regarding Tauranga Moana, our biggest challenges lie within the harbour. We have a large port and frequent vessel/shipping activity which are often the means of introduction and dispersal of pest species.

What activities do you see making a difference?
Education, education, education. Involving and educating people from all walks of life is the key to making a difference. Communicating scientific findings to the public will not only drive the change, but spark initiative in people so that they begin to think ‘perhaps that spikey looking crab’ they found on a walk should be reported. I also believe that much more needs to be done in the way of legislation and rules around shipping operations, we need to form a tighter and stricter line of defence against the introduction of non-indigenous species. As prevention is much more attainable than eradication.

When not working, how do you like to spend your time?
You will always find me at the beach. When I’m not there you’ll find me tackling some steep hills in the forest with friends, having a coffee at a local café in Mount Maunganui or taking weekend trips away to explore New Zealand.

What do you love most about Tauranga Moana? 
The unique native marine environment and the ties that the people have here to the ocean, and the love that we have as a collective community for the native flora and fauna that occupy the waters.

How do you think the TMBC network can be most effective?
The TMBC network is already ahead of the game, yet it would be exciting to see some more visual/digital advertisements of education spread online and on social media. This may help capture the younger generation and bring emotion and passion to the fight for our native species.