1 Mar 2019

Te Papa defends natural history team restructure

5:42 pm on 1 March 2019

Te Papa is defending the restructure which will make two leading scientists redundant as necessary to keep up with the rapidly changing fields of biodiversity and biosecurity.

Te Papa Tongarewa Museum.

Te Papa museum Photo: PHOTO NZ

In changes to the natural history team, mollusc expert Bruce Marshall and fish expert Andrew Stewart are set to be made redundant.

Te Papa director of strategy Dr Dean Peterson said the restructure was about being relevant to the science community and areas that government agencies need help with. He said the museum had agreed that Dr Marshall would stay on an extra six months.

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

In a signed letter, 30 international scientists last month warned the museum it would regret losing the staff in a new restructure.

Marine expert Steve O'Shea, famous for his work with Te Papa's colossal squid, described one of the scientists whose job is on the line, Bruce Marshall, as the world authority on molluscs.

Dr O'Shea said in light of what he'd heard about the restructure he was thoroughly disillusioned with management at Te Papa, to the point he no longer wanted to be associated with the museum, and asked for his name and any material featuring him to be removed from any exhibits.

"I simply do not understand why the museum would strive for mediocrity," he said.

Te Papa director of strategy Dr Dean Peterson rejected the suggestion it was aiming for mediocrity.

Dr Peterson said the museum was making changes to its natural history team to keep up with the fast-changing areas of biodiversity and biosecurity.

"We're doing that by changing some of the roles on the team. We're not actually changing the size.

"It is about expertise and it's also about relevance to the science community and to the government agencies that are dealing with all of this work.

"We really need some new people in there. We need to have a career path for these individuals and that's why we're putting together the structure we have."

Both Bruce Marshall and fish collection manager Andrew Stewart were incredible individuals, he said.

"This not about individuals, this is about a structure change and that's what a restructure's all about.

"At the end of it we will have a better system, and we're really looking forward to this because this will get us into areas that we're not in right now that we need to help the government with."

Te Papa has agreed that Dr Marshall will stay on staff for another six months, he said.

"That will give him an opportunity to finish his book and also mentor any new mollusc curators that we get in."

In a statement, a Te Papa spokesperson said that after the six months Dr Marshall would be able to stay on as a research associate; he would not be on staff and would not be paid, but would be welcome to continue to work on the collections.

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