About this project

Ira Moana – Genes of the Sea

The Ira Moana Project is enabling a collaborative network of scientists to deliver a searchable metadatabase for our genetic and genomic data (from both old and next-generation sequencing techniques, for terrestrial and marine critters, as well as environmental samples).

The metadatabase will ensure the kaitiakitanga of our data, linking sequences with sample information – such as location, habitat, and date of sampling events – creating opportunities for data synthesis, managing data re-use, and informing our future research directions.

Why do we need the Ira Moana Project?

The Ira Moana Project is founded in concern for our marine environment. New Zealand is a marine nation – we have one of the largest exclusive maritime economic zones in the world, sustaining our lucrative marine and tourism industries, and providing significant recreational and social benefits for New Zealanders. Nationally, and as a global citizen, we are under increasing pressure to make informed decisions regarding commercial and recreational activities, and how they can be balanced with the protection of our marine ecosystems. Such decisions of environmental, economic, and societal impact need to be transparent and based on robust information, including knowledge about biodiversity that stretches from ecosystems to genes.

For decades New Zealand scientists have been collecting DNA samples and genetic data for hundreds of our marine species, informing population management and biodiversity assessments. These data could now be used to inform multispecies spatial conservation planning and thereby the sustainable management of our marine resources. Synthetic analyses of these data, however, are not yet possible because there has been no concerted effort toward the curation and stewardship of this valuable data resource. While funding agencies and publishers advocate deposition of genetic data in open-access repositories, they do not require the deposition of standardised metadata such as the number of individuals sampled, habitat, sampling location, and date and timing of sampling event. This ‘metadata gap’ means that information essential for multispecies analyses, and spatial conservation planning is not readily available.

Providing the where, when, who, what and how of genetic data

The Ira Moana Project is addressing the metadata gap. Our goal is for the Ira Moana Database to be the most comprehensive national database of marine (and hopefully also terrestrial) genetic data in the world, creating novel opportunities for quantitative data synthesis and spatially explicit conservation approaches. Furthermore, the Ira Moana Database will enable our scientists to share information regarding DNA samples and genomic resources, so that critical research gaps may be evaluated, and valuable future research directions informed.

What does Ira Moana mean?

The Māori phrase ‘Ira Moana’ could be interpreted as meaning ‘ocean genes’ or ‘dot in the ocean’. Both seem appropriate when thinking about the scale of DNA in the vastness of the ocean. The use of te reo resonated with us as our project is uniquely New Zealand, as is the Māori language. Yet, ‘moana’ is used to describe the ocean by many Pacific nations, reminding us of the connections our biodiversity has with the wider Pacific region. Although the name alludes to a marine theme, the project is open to all things freshwater and terrestrial. Arguably, all genes that reside in New Zealand have had to pass over, or through the oceans, at some point – we are truly an ocean nation.

Still have questions or some suggestions?

See our FAQs, provide feedback, or contact the Project Coordinator.

Join us

We’re building the database – you can contribute too.


The Ira Moana Database structure is based on the latest international standards for biodiversity and genomic data. Our approach builds on the success of the Diversity of the Indo-Pacific Network (DIPnet) – the largest population genetic/genomic database in the world – and uses the infrastructure provided by the Genomics Observatory Metadatabase (GEOME) – a web-based database purpose-built to capture the metadata associated with biological samples.

Contributing to the Ira Moana Database

If your research has, or will, generate genetic or genomic data for natural populations of New Zealand, you can show your support for the Ira Moana Project and become part of the network by organising the relevant metadata for your genetic samples and uploading this into the Database. To get started, see contributing to the Ira Moana Database.


We are always looking for new network members who are committed to uploading their data and associated metadata to the Ira Moana Database, or want to make other contributions to the Project.

What does being part of the Ira Moana Network mean?

Being part of the network is being ‘on-board’ with the things that the Ira Moana Project is trying to achieve for New Zealand, and the metadata standards that GEOME is accommodating for researchers worldwide. This may mean adding metadata to the Ira Moana Database or supporting the project initiatives in some other way. Operationally, you will be added to the list of network members and we will keep you informed regarding what is happening in the Ira Moana Project. As a network member you will be acknowledged on all research outputs. The ‘Ira Moana Network’ is a consortium name that will be used in the list of authors to acknowledge the research contributions of all Ira Moana Network members.

See our network membership and authorship guidelines for more information.

Join the Ira Moana Network

If you would like to join the Ira Moana Network, contact the Project Coordinator


New Zealand team

Dr. Libby Liggins, Massey University Auckland

Dr. Shane Lavery, University of Auckland

Prof. Mary Morgan-Richards, Massey University Manawatū

Prof. Hamish Spencer, University of Otago

AProf. Peter Ritchie, Victoria University of Wellington

AProf. Ceridwen Fraser, University of Otago

Prof. Jonathan Gardner, Victoria University of Wellington

International team

Dr. Eric Crandall, DIPnet co-ordinator, California State University

John Deck, GeOMe developer, University of California Berkeley

AProf. Cynthia Riginos, University of Queensland

Dr. Eric Treml, Deakin University

Dr. Maria Beger, University of Leeds

Dr. Peter Cowman, James Cook University

Dr. Michelle Gaither, University of Central Florida

Prof. Rob Toonen, University of Hawai’i

Network members

A full list of Ira Moana Network members

+ you?

Partners and supporters

The Ira Moana Project is supported by: a Catalyst: Seeding fund provided by the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and administered by the Royal Society Te Apārangi; and a Massey University Research Fund. We work alongside The Diversity of the Indo-Pacific Network (DIPnet), the founders and maintainers of the Genomics Observatory Metadatabase (GEOME), Genomics for Aotearoa New Zealand (GFANZ), the Massey Geoinformatics Collaboratory, the New Zealand Molecular Ecology group, and several New Zealand and International research institutions.






The Ira Moana Network is on Slack – JOIN IN!

One of the outcomes from our Early Career Workshop in April was a plan for what we’d like to improve in terms of genetic and genomic research in New Zealand, and the practice of molecular ecologists in our nation. This ‘prospectus’ is still being honed for publication (we’ll keep you posted!), but one of the areas we wanted to improve was community and communication among early career researchers interested in genetic and genomic research.

If you feel the same, and want to stay up-to-date and in touch with other researchers in the field, feel free to join us on Slack. Contact the Project Coordinator to get involved.

World Data Systems Data Stewardship Award – WE WON!

The World Data System (WDS) of the International Science Council (ISC, formerly ICSU) supports long-term stewardship of quality-assured scientific data and data services across a range of disciplines. Each year a WDS Data Stewardship Award is awarded to an early career researcher for exceptional contributions to the improvement of scientific data stewardship through their engagement with the community, academic achievements, and innovations. The Ira Moana Project coordinator, Dr. Libby Liggins, is the 2019 recipient!

Find out more here.

Initiative to maintain indigenous rights to genetic resources – FUNDED!

Through collaboration with Local Contexts and Te Mana Rauranga (the Māori Data Sovereignty Network), the Ira Moana Project and GEOME are now beta-testing the capacity for researchers to add a Traditional Knowledge Notice (TK Notice) and new Biocultural Labels as metadata. Our latest Catalyst Seeding Funded project ‘Te Tuākiri o te Tāonga: Recognising Indigenous Interests in Genetic Resources’ looks to develop pilot use-cases for a ‘Biocultural Labelling’ system that will make visible the provenance and ethics of genetic resources, outlining community expectations about appropriate use of these resources, thereby maintaining relationships to the data over time and the recognition of indigenous rights. The implementation of a TK Notice and Biocultural Labels using GEOME’s infrastructure is a first for a biological resource and for genetic data, establishing new ethical standards in this research community.

Find out more here.


Browse past and upcoming activities of the Ira Moana Project