13 Feb 2019

World renowned experts set to be made redundant by Te Papa, insider says

9:06 pm on 13 February 2019

A taxonomy expert says Te Papa museum will be worse off if it makes two of its world renowned experts redundant.

Te Papa Tongarewa Museum.

Te Papa's restructure was met with a backlash among the science community last year. Photo: PHOTO NZ

A Te Papa insider says mollusc expert Bruce Marshall and fish expert Andrew Stewart are set to be made redundant in the museum's restructure.

The pair, who were both collections managers at the museum, have until Thursday to appeal the decision.

Both had applied for other jobs at Te Papa, but had not got them, the source said.

News of the restructure caused a backlash among the science community both in New Zealand, and overseas, when it was revealed last year.

Now, the news the pair could lose their jobs signalled a dark day for New Zealand natural history, and museums, Otago University lecturer Dr Nic Rawlence said.

It would mean staff left behind were massively overstretched.

Andrew Stewart, Collection Manager of Sciences at Te Papa

Andrew Stewart, Collection Manager of Sciences at Te Papa Photo: Te Papa/Norm Heke

"They're going to be dealing with collections outside their expertise, you're losing all of this institutional knowledge. The collections are, you can think of them as living, breathing entities, its not just the specimens in a jar of alcohol or bones in a box, it's all the knowledge that's in the collection manager's or curator's head."

Both were world-renowned experts in their fields, and across the world the science community had been left flabbergasted, he said.

Mr Marshall had described more than 500 new species of mollusc, while Mr Stewart had built up the fish collection, Dr Rawlence said.

An international review of the museum's functions was done last year, after concerns were raised by the science community about the restructure.

It found Te Papa needed more staff, and those on the panel were not told of the museum's plan to restructure.

Te Papa board chair Evan Williams said he would not comment on individuals while they were part of the employment process.

It was strengthening its research base with more curators than before, he said.

The changes that were being made would ensure vital taxonomic research could increase, both by Te Papa scientists and external researchers, both in the collections and through digital access, he said.

The changes being made had been carefully considered, with expert input, he said.

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