Meet the Boffa Miskell Ecology Team: Dr Tanya Blakely

9 March 2022

Dr Tanya Blakely is an expert freshwater ecologist based in the Ōtautahi Christchurch office and Technical Leader for Science.

Being in the outdoors and interacting with the natural world has always been a huge part of Tanya’s life. “My earliest years were spent in rural areas in the North Island and a short stint in a small town in Australia; I’ve always enjoyed being outside. My childhood experiences were filled with exploring rivers and rock pools, and biology was one of my favourite subjects at school. I think most ecologists have similar childhood stories, and we find a way to make that part of our career.”

It wasn’t until starting university that pursuing a career involving freshwater and invertebrate ecology became a clear direction. “Early on in my studies, I took some insect biology and freshwater ecology papers that had practical, field components. These really grabbed me, and I’ve built my career around this.”

Tanya’s career started in research at university, initially studying urban stream restoration in Ōtautahi Christchurch, then exploring invertebrate communities in the high canopies of the South Island’s temperate rainforests for her PhD research, before undertaking a post-doctoral fellowship on urban streams in Singapore. “But I’ve always been an applied scientist so, ten years ago, I leapt at the opportunity to join Boffa Miskell and build a career as a consulting ecologist, putting my research knowledge into practice.”

Those university research and teaching roots are not lost today. “Continued learning goes with the territory in the sciences, and that’s what keeps me interested,” she explains. “We can always grow our understanding and improve the way we do things and continue to minimise human-induced change on the environment.

“The great thing about working in a multi-disciplinary setting, and on the variety of projects that I’m involved with, is sharing knowledge. That’s one of the many reasons I love being out in the field – the interaction with the team, clients, and with other technical experts on the project.”

Working alongside planners, engineers and designers, particularly those who share her passion for freshwater, and finding creative ways to minimise adverse effects on the natural world, is one of the most satisfying parts of Tanya’s job.

“Every human activity has an environmental impact; but taking opportunities to re-connect people with the natural world can create changes in behaviour,” she says.

“In an urban context, we see this in naturalised or enhanced waterways.” Generally, you won’t find as much litter, shopping trolleys, computers – all the stuff that people often dump in ‘out of the way places’ – in a naturalised stream that is well planted, looks healthy, and is cared for. So while waterway enhancement can have a hugely positive outcome for the freshwater life, the impact on the people who interact with that stream is important, too. ”

Tanya’s projects include working with contractors to ensure that roading infrastructure doesn’t impact fish migration and freshwater habitats and life in general. “Working on infrastructure projects has been some of the most challenging and rewarding work I’ve done. This is a space that I’m really passionate about, and it reflects my love of sharing knowledge with others and doing all that we can to find solutions to protect and enhance the environment.

I love to learn from and share my knowledge with others. I get a real kick out of showing people the insects and fish that live in a stream, even those waterways that might, at first glance, look devoid of life!”

Even with a work life often filled with field work away from the office, some of Tanya’s spare time is also spent enjoying the outdoors – on foot or by mountain bike, and occasionally participating in adventure races.

In January, Tanya took on the role of Technical Leader for Sciences at Boffa Miskell. It’s a national role providing leadership, direction and oversight for the ecology and biosecurity disciplines.

“We have a lot of passionate early-career scientists, and many later-career consultants who hold a wealth of experience and knowledge.

“I’m really excited about working more closely with all these great people and championing growth in the capacity and capability of Boffa Miskell’s science team,” Tanya says.