Erica Mather

Erica has a Bachelor's degree in Biochemistry and a Postgraduate Certificate in Science Communication. She has a passion for knowledge and discovery and a drive to communicate emerging science stories to wider audiences.

Scientists scope out suitable habitats for New Zealand sea lions - News

Jul 02, 2016

A recent study identifies promising new breeding sites on the Otago Peninsula and the Catlins coast for New Zealand sea lions. Researchers have prioritised the identification and protection of potential breeding habitats for recolonisation along the South Island coast. The subantarctic islands are home to the only three breeding colonies of the New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri, formerly known as Hooker’s sea lion). There has been evidence since 1993 for recolonisation of mainland New Zealand, although the coastline of which the sea lions have returned provides unevenly distributed potential habitats for this threatened endemic species due to coastal urbanisation and development. Researchers from the University of Otago and Department of Conservation recognised that recolonisation was occurring in selective parts of the South Island mainland. They questioned what made some locations more preferable than others and set out … Read More

The consensus on coffee and cancer - News

Jun 22, 2016

There is no conclusive evidence that drinking coffee causes cancer, but experts report that drinking very hot beverages ‘probably’ causes cancer of the oesophagus. The specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO) – the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), held a press call last week where they released the results of a thorough investigation of the scientific literature on drinking coffee, maté and very hot beverages. After 25 years the cancer causing potential of drinking coffee has been re-evaluated. According to a group of 23 leading international experts, drinking coffee is “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans.” There is not enough evidence to describe it as hazardous, but neither has it been proven safe. Drinking coffee has been linked to bladder cancer in the past and IARC classified it as as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” … Read More

Be careful who you trade with – New Zealand’s biosecurity threat vectors - News

Jun 17, 2016

There is an increased likelihood that invasive species arrive in New Zealand from countries with poor regulation and low political stability, according to research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Research released this week from Victoria University of Wellington reveals that a country’s level of governance and development has a strong impact on their risk of exporting exotic species.  The findings suggest that by choosing international trading partners more carefully, New Zealand could reduce the costs of tackling invasive species outbreaks. New Zealand receives imports from all around the world accompanied by unwelcome invasive species.  The invaders arrive from some countries more frequently than others.  Researchers set out to investigate the relationship between trading partners and the threat they pose to New Zealand biosecurity, as invaders are a leading cause of extinctions and a consequential loss of biodiversity. Read More

Southern NZ lakes congested with algal snot - News

Jun 10, 2016

Three iconic South Island lakes – Wanaka, Coleridge and Wakatipu, are being clogged with a particular type of algae that produces floating mucous or ‘lake snot’. The alga called Cyclotella, or recently renamed by algologists as Lindavia intermedia, is related to the ‘rock snot’ alga didymo. The recent appearance of lake snot is associated with the emergence and dominance in Cyclotella, according to a team of scientists from the University of Otago, Landcare Research and Université Laval (Canada). Lake snot is impacting on local water filtering systems, recreation and commercial fishing operations, particularly in Wanaka. Queenstown Lakes District Council are continuing investigations into a water treatment system to remove the slimy mucous. Lake snow or snot The unusual slime was first noticed accumulating on fishing lines and lures by people fishing in Lake Wanaka around 2004. In 2008, Tina … Read More

NZ scientists join ambitious search of the cosmos - News

Jun 08, 2016

Scientists from the University of Auckland have signed up to join the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) project, one of the most ambitious astronomy projects ever undertaken. The LSST is a purpose-built telescope equipped with the world’s largest digital camera at 3,200-megapixels, which is able to take snapshots of the night sky the size of 40 full moons. The telescope will be used to take repeated snapshots to image most of the Southern sky every few days, mapping tens of billions of stars and galaxies. This will provide scientists with a wealth of information – from identifying exploding supernovae at the edge of the visible Universe, to asteroids that could impact Earth. The inside of the dome and the night sky provide a backdrop for this artist’s conception of a close-up view of the telescope. The LSST will … Read More

Newly identified magma chamber explains Bay of Plenty earthquakes - News

Jun 07, 2016

A combination of satellite images, GPS data and survey information from the 1950s have enabled scientists to uncover a magma chamber under the Bay of Plenty coast, which they link to thousands of small earthquakes here between 2004 and 2011. Until this finding, published in Science Advances, the reason for the earthquake ‘swarm’ was thought to be tectonic. Now scientists believe the movement of magma, about 9km below the ground, triggered the swarm. The magma moving in the sub-surface weakened the surrounding rock, causing it to deform and split. This was felt as small earthquakes between magnitude 2.0 and 4.0. The combined data reveal that the area of land around the small town of Matata, about 400 square kilometres with half offshore, has risen about 40cm since 1950. Molten or semi-molten rock has been pushed up due to the … Read More

Extensive seafloor investigations to begin off NZ coast next year - News

Jun 02, 2016

The world’s largest geoscience programme has confirmed after years of planning that a series of unprecedented investigations of the seafloor will take place off New Zealand’s coast between 2017 and 2018. Hundreds of scientists from 26 countries including New Zealand form the International Ocean Discovery Programme (IODP) who announced this week that JOIDES Resolution , a research ship with specialised ocean drilling equipment will undertake five back-to-back research voyages around New Zealand and Antarctica starting in August next year. The US-based research ship will drill beneath the seafloor at multiple sites to extract cores that will provide a range of information including earthquake and tsunami risk. The team plan to investigate four locations off New Zealand’s coast, and one in the Ross Sea. All projects encompass themes of global significance and contribute to the advancement in understanding … Read More

Medicinal cannabis collides with e-cigarettes - News

May 27, 2016

Swiss researchers reveal that the vaporisation of cannabis oil, termed ‘cannavaping’ is a less hazardous way to administer medicinal cannabis compared to smoking, as published this week in Scientific Reports. Vincent Varlet and colleagues used butane gas to extract the psychoactive constituents (cannabinoids) from cannabis, producing butane hashish oil concentrate, which was then atomised using e-cigarettes. By analysing the gases generated, the authors found significantly lower levels of the toxic contaminants released during the combustion of regular cannabis cigarettes – including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbonyls. The authors suggest cannavaping as an alternative to smoking marijuana for therapeutic purposes as a “gentle method” of delivering the mind altering substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).  They reject the possibility that recreational cannavaping will become popular; the poor solubility of the oil in commercial liquid refills makes it difficult to attain concentrations that generate … Read More

Lessons from our worst oil spill - News

May 20, 2016

As thick heavy fuel oil washed ashore in the wake of the Rena grounding on the Astrolabe reef, smothering beaches and birds along the Bay of Plenty coast, public outrage mounted. Intense media coverage put pressure on environmental managers to answer difficult questions: what was the extent of the impact? How long would it take for the marine environment to recover? Almost five years ago, the MV Rena grounding resulted in the most severe oil spill to have ever occurred in New Zealand history. A special collection of papers has been newly published in the New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, forming a body of research that investigates the effects of oil, contaminants and debris during the aftermath of the Rena grounding on the 5th October 2011. This collection is the product of a research partnership, made … Read More

New report: NZ’s marine fisheries catch massively under-reported - News

May 16, 2016

The findings from a re-analysis of marine fisheries catches from New Zealand waters between 1950 and 2010 suggests the actual catch was 38.1 million tonnes, which is 2.7 times higher than the reported catch statistics for this 61 year period. The incomplete statistics are largely accounted for by the omission of unreported industrial catch and discarded fish, the report authors note.  The unavoidable problem of bycatch – where unwanted fish are caught along with the target species is common. Undesirable fish are routinely dumped at sea because they are under-size, or have no perceived economic value. This is rarely reported. Despite efforts to improve reporting by introducing a Quota Management System (QMS) in 1986, the total catch since then is estimated to be 2.1 times higher than reported. The report describes how the QMS in New Zealand … Read More