The Salt Ecology Team

Salt Ecology Principal Scientists Leigh Stevens and Barrie Forrest

Leigh Stevens - Senior Scientist

BA Psychology, MSc (1st Class Hons) Env. Science and Zoology

Leigh is one of NZ’s leading experts in shallow estuary monitoring and management with over 25 years multidisciplinary regulatory, research and consulting experience. He spent 10 years as a marine and freshwater consultant at the Cawthron Institute, followed by 12 years as principal and senior scientist at Wriggle Coastal Management. He works in a variety of local and central government roles, is a core part of national policy development relating to estuaries, and has specialist skills in GIS-based habitat mapping, environmental monitoring, ecological risk assessment, oil spill contingency planning and response, and science communication. He has a proven track record of providing independent, unbiased expert ecological advice, and for effective liaison with stakeholders, Councils, industry, and government agencies. 


My science career started off by accidentally doing a degree in Psychology and languages. Fun though it was, while travelling overseas I realised that ever since I was a kid I had loved mucking about in the natural environment and in boats. It didn’t seem to make sense to stop doing what I loved, so after discovering this passion coincided with a new Environmental Science masters course, I was off on a new career path. Barrie was one of the first people I met during my studies and we have remained close friends and work colleagues ever since, our working life commencing in 1995 when we formed the coastal consulting team at Cawthron.

Over the years since then I have been involved in a diverse array of marine and freshwater projects including sampling 350+ estuaries throughout NZ, managing and undertaking 250+ commercial projects, and becoming an internationally recognised expert in oil spill response and impacts. At the core of my working life has been a commitment to getting wet and dirty in the field, by far the best way to see what makes our ecosystems tick. This deep connection and understanding of the environment I work in has enabled me to work effectively at a site-specific forensic scale, while my diverse background enables me to readily work at national and international levels, and I gain a lot of satisfaction in being able to contribute meaningfully in all of these areas.

Away from work you will find me outside. I am an active relaxer, keen sailor (qualified coastal skipper), mountain biker, tramper, and recently retired footballer (because there just isn’t time for everything!). You might also occasionally hear me on the airwaves dusting off the vinyl and waxing lyrical about NZ music.

In 2017, the time was right to establish Salt Ecology. This was driven by a desire to focus my energy on work areas where I feel I can really make a difference. Salt Ecology has quickly assembled a great team of people who share my passion for sustainability through community-driven environmental stewardship and are committed to practical and collaborative approaches to solving ecological issues.

Barrie Forrest - Senior Scientist

BSc Zoology, MSc (1st Class Hons) Env. Science and Zoology), PhD Marine Biology

Barrie has a PhD in marine biology, backed up by over 30 years of related multidisciplinary experience in aquatic and environmental sciences, and specialist expertise in marine biosecurity and biofouling. His work history includes local government and industry, and a career as a senior scientist at Cawthron Institute. He has a practical approach when it comes to environmental management, underpinned by strong technical and science skills. He has had various science advisory and expert witness roles, especially on matters relating to marine biosecurity, and the ecological effects of aquaculture and other human activities. Barrie’s diverse background and skills make him uniquely placed to work across the resource management space, and to understand the challenges that face management agencies and the stakeholders affected by their decisions.


I started my professional life conducting production and quality testing on newly-drilled oil and gas wells in Australia. It was a Master’s degree in Environmental Science in my mid-20s that landed me a job in the wastewater and water quality space at Otago Regional Council, and paved the way to the future.

Although I loved Dunedin, a phone call led me to an environmental science role at a gold and silver mine on the Coromandel. Despite a perception that I had gone to the ‘dark side’, the mine operation remains the best example of environmental management that I’ve ever encountered. Nonetheless, I was lured down to Nelson by another phone call offering me a science career in marine ecology at Cawthron Institute, and eventually a PhD.

I spent many years at Cawthron running consultancy projects in coastal, estuarine and freshwater environments, most related to resource consent applications. At the same time, I was developing a research career that led to science management and leadership roles on programmes relating to the aquaculture of Undaria (wakame), biofouling management for the marine farming industry, and aquatic health and disease risk. About 150 consultancy reports and 50 science publications later, I decided it was time to move away from meeting rooms and get back to the ‘sharp end’, so in 2018 joined Leigh at Salt Ecology.

My playground is the great outdoors. In my spare time you’ll find me lugging a pack in the back country, rock climbing in Golden Bay, mountain biking Nelson’s awesome trails, surfing Nelson’s occasional waves, or hunting and gathering seafood. As in my personal life, my work goals are about seeking balance. By that I mean finding the middle ground between protecting my playground, the natural environment, with the needs of people and industries that rely on it. This is no easy task, but Salt Ecology provides the blend of people with the smart thinking and right tools to help.



Bringing together ideas and expertise enables Salt Ecology to offer a dynamic and creative range of services

Data & Data Visualisation

Hayden Rabel


Hayden has a diverse background in applied math and software development with a keen interest in environmental applications. He graduated with a BSc in Mathematics and Statistics from the University of Canterbury in 2014 and has spent the last five years honing his skills as a Data Scientist, Statistician and Software Engineer.


My areas of specialist expertise include:

  • Machine learning on data big and small in R, Python, Scala and Apache Spark.
  • Mathematical and statistical modelling in Python, R and C++.
  • Data visualisation in R, Python, and JavaScript.
  • Front end web development in React, D3 and Leaflet.
  • Back end web development in Node.js and Python.
  • Database development in PostgreSQL, MySQL and Microsoft SQL Server.
  • DevOps with Git, Docker, Kubernetes, AWS, Google Cloud and a whole lot of Bash scripting.

Work outputs include developing an application for the Centre for Space Science Technology to detect illegal fishing in the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area and New Zealand’s EEZ; Big data recommendation systems for Sainsbury’s customers in the UK; Customer analytics tools for CVS Health, SpartanNash, Æon Group, Migros and other large scale retailers; Algorithms and tools to improve Stats NZ survey accuracy and optimise sample needs; and data visualisation and machine learning apps for Cawthron Institute to:

  • Monitor salmon farm impacts on water quality and benthic health.
  • Simulate ocean waste dispersion in Cook Strait.
  • Forecast blue mussel abundance to mitigate mussel farm biofouling.
  • Classify NZ freshwater river quality.
  • Forecast cyanobacteria coverage in Southland rivers.
  • Assess the impact of dams on downstream fish populations.

Away from the computer, I am a keen surfer and swimmer, hopeful fly fisherman and enjoy a tough hike or mountain bike. These and numerous other outdoor pursuits motivate and drive my work at Salt Ecology to protect and sustain our environment.

GIS Mapping & Spatial Data

Megan Southwick


Megan provides high level of GIS expertise with a strong focus on data management and automation and optimisation of work streams. She is experienced in spatial analysis, imagery manipulation, map production, and story map outputs. Megan has a bachelor's degree in Geological Sciences from Tufts University; a masters degree in Geological Sciences from Indiana University, and a GIS Certificate from the University of Utah.


I have over fifteen years post-graduate experience developing GIS solutions within a wide range of fields including ecology, carbon forestry, land management and development, regional planning, geotechnical consulting, mining and reclamation.

Having the opportunity work in such a diversity of fields and with organisations ranging from small consulting firms in New Zealand to large government agencies overseas has given me the opportunity to see the power of GIS from many different angles. I enjoy bringing this experience to new projects, exploring spatial data, letting patterns emerge and optimising the delivery of key information through smart and effective visualisation tools.

I believe that the value of GIS is in helping people to do their work better, gain new insights and communicate what they know with the people that rely on their knowledge to make informed decisions.

I strive to balance work with my keen interest in mountain biking and skiing.

Facilitation & Engagement

Peter Lawless

Peter Lawless mugshot.jpg

Peter has a first class honours degree in Ecology and is a Certified Professional Facilitator with the International Association of Facilitators and has a wide professional practice facilitating community processes engaged in developing strategies to deal with the future, and providing technical advice on environmental management, biodiversity and biosecurity.


I offer first class group facilitation combined with an enormous depth of experience in enabling organisations to work better. I have over 20 years of experience in the environmental and conservation management public sector of New Zealand, including holding senior roles in the Department of Conservation until the end of 2004.
In terms of recent work experience, I am the independent facilitator for the ongoing processes of the Nelson Biodiversity Strategy, and the Te Korowai o te Tai o Marokura of the Kaikoura Coastal Marine Guardians. In 2015 the Kaikoura Coastal Marine Guardians won the Department of Conservation and Ministry for the Environment Green Ribbon Award in the Coastal and Marine category. I have recently authored the Kotahitanga mo te Taiao Strategy setting priorities for 6 councils, 5 iwi and DOC in the Top of the South Island, and am the Coordinator for marine biosecurity in the Top of the South. I am also currently the workstream lead for natural heritage recovery for the area affected by the 2019 Tasman fires, and am engaged with the development of an over-arching Bio-Strategy for Tasman.

Dive and Vessel Support

Thomas Scott-Simmonds

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Thomas has a Bachelor of Applied Science with Auckland University of Technology focussing on marine, freshwater and terrestrial sciences. He is an ADAS accredited SCUBA diver and MNZ commercial skipper and worked as an aquarist and technical advisor with the Department of Conservation Taupo Trout Fishery team before establishing TC Environmental in 2017 to provide specialist survey, monitoring and research services.


I have a wide range of skills and a multi-disciplinary understanding of aquatic science. My experience ranges from small field-based data collection contracts to full project management services. I specialise in scientific diving and boat work, operating at a high level of competency and have been involved in a diverse range of freshwater and marine projects including:

  • Significant marine site surveys & long-term monitoring programmes (Marlborough Sounds)
  • Marine biosecurity hull fouling surveys
  • Baseline surveys for proposed marine activities – aquaculture, marina facilities, contaminated marine sites
  • Environmental impact assessments
  • Invasive aquatic species management e.g. Lake Taupo: Bullhead catfish; Fiordland: Undaria seaweed
  • Broad scale estuary habitat mapping & biological monitoring
  • Annual marine reserve monitoring (Horoirangi, Tonga Island and Kokomuhua) in collaboration with Department of Conservation and Davidson Environmental Ltd.
  • Species-specific management (Department of Conservation Trout Fishery) – Drift-dive surveys, juvenile tagging programme, creel surveys, electric fishing, smelt monitoring, & annual reporting

I am an avid hunter and fisherman, spending most of my free time chasing fish on my kayak or exploring the remarkable wildlife around New Zealand.

Technical Reporting and Dive Support

Courtney Rayes


Courtney has a Bachelor of Applied Science from Auckland University of Technology and a Masters in Biological Science from the University of Waikato, researching molecular techniques to investigate invasive marine species. An ADAS accredited SCUBA diver, and Our World Underwater Scholarship recipient, Courtney travelled the world working on a diverse range of marine projects before establishing TC Environmental in 2017 to specialist survey, monitoring and research services.


I have a diverse background in marine research, consulting and science communication including annual marine guiding & lecturing throughout Melanesia, and Russia (2019). I value and maintain a high commitment and focus on workplace safety standards, and while a core part of the work I do is dive based, I have strong reporting skills. My work portfolio includes:

  • Significant marine site survey & monitoring programme (Marlborough Sounds)
  • Biological surveying & reporting of aquaculture consents
  • Baseline surveys & reporting for proposed marine activities – aquaculture, marina facilities
  • Contaminated marine site monitoring & reporting
  • Literature reviews
  • Environmental impact assessments
  • Annual marine reserve monitoring (Horoirangi, Tonga Island and Kokomuhua) in collaboration with Department of Conservation and Davidson Environmental Ltd.
  • Invasive aquatic species management – Lake Taupo Bullhead catfish; Fiordland Undaria
  • Biological monitoring

Laboratory and Field Support

The Salt Team

Salt Ecology macroinvertebrate sorting team

Our regular team of laboratory and field assistants are the heart and soul of the business and provide fantastic support and technical expertise. Equally at home in the lab sorting macroinvertebrates or up to their knees in mud collecting samples, the ‘Amphi-squad’ can turn their hands to most things and fill the work environment with lots of laughter.