EcoQuest Faculty, Staff and Academic Associates

"I cannot thank the entire staff enough for a wonderful semester. You all created a special, impactful, close-knit community of enthusiastic learners ready to apply environmental, political, ecological, and cultural knowledge in the real world.” 
                                                                                                                                         Isabel Lisle, University of Vermont, EcoQuest Fall 2018

Image: Maarten Holt, Fairfax Media

Image: Maarten Holt, Fairfax Media

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal


Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal is a researcher, author, and teacher of indigenous knowledge/mātauranga Māori, and a composer and performer of music and story. 
Charles' most recent research project, (2020-22), is called Te Kawa Waiora. It explored tangata whenua views of the Wairoa River, in Te Tai Tokerau, particularly regarding ways by which those communities may contribute to improving the health and wellbeing of this greatly degraded river. He is currently a member of a research team undertaking a new iwi-led research project concerning the health, wellbeing and mauri of the Hauraki Gulf: Pou rāhui, pou tikanga, pou oranga: reigniting the mauri of Tīkapa Moana and Te Moananui-ā-Toi  (2022 to 2027).
Charles is passionate about the creative potential of indigenous knowledge and communities, which he explores through research, teaching and advising, as well as through art. Charles established  Ōrotokare: Art, Story, Motion Trust in 2004, and began creating a modern version of the whare tapere (pre-European ‘houses’ of storytelling, music, games, puppetry, dance and other entertainment), which he achieved in 2010-14. He is working on creating a long term, sustainable whare tapere in his home community of Kaiaua-Wharekawa in western Hauraki.

Previously Charles was member of the Executive Leadership of Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand, Professor of Indigenous Development and Director of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga at the University of Auckland, and Director of Graduate Studies and Research, Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa, Ōtaki.

Charles belongs to Marutūahu, Ngāti Raukawa and Ngā Puhi.

B.Mus (Hons) Victoria University of Wellington (1989), MPhil Massey University (1991), PhD Victoria University of Wellington (1998). Former EcoQuest Trustee.

Rachael Cheeseman

General Manager

With a background in business management, Rachael has extensive experience in organisational leadership, strategic planning, project management and community engagement. Rachael has lead organisations through complex challenges enabling strategic goals to be realised.
Rachael is responsible for overseeing the overall operation of the EcoQuest Centre. In this capacity she provides leadership, direction and support to the team, ensuring everyone is aligned with our vision. Rachael plays a crucial role in risk management within the organisation. She prioritizes the health and well-being of both students and team members, creating a safe environment for all involved. 

Rachael's upbringing in rural New Zealand instilled in her a love for the outdoors and all things to do with food. Alongside her life partner they have built a garden which enhances biodiversity and supplies the family with delicious food, leading a more sustainable lifestyle.  Rachael is passionate about using her skills and knowledge to empower individuals and communities to adopt sustainable practices.

BSc in Zoology (1991) Auckland University

Ria Brejaart

Academic Director, Co-founder of EcoQuest , Executive Trustee
Ria is an ecologist and educator, with equal passion for both. Her engagement in education for sustainability led her to become one of the co-founders of EcoQuest.  Ria is responsible for program and curriculum development, and education outreach initiatives.  She supervises the EcoQuest academic team for the Ecology in Action and the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Aotearoa programs for international students. Together with the academic team, Ria is responsible for delivery of these programs, and for students' directed research projects.
She maintains relationships with academic and research associates and external collaborators in Aotearoa and the US. Ria is the contact person for the UNH-EcoQuest Academic Program Coordinator at the University of New Hampshire. 

Dip Parks & Recreation Management (1987); M.Appl.Sci in Ecology (1994) Lincoln University (with distinction). Co-founder of the Environmental Education Centre of New Zealand. 

Jono Clark

Transition Manager

Jono was one of the EcoQuest start-up team in 1999, and has been part of the EcoQuest management team since. He is the immediate past Director, a position he held for 20 years, until July 2023.  Jono brought to this role a deep personal interest in just societies, a life-time involvement in education, as well as development of community engagement and iwi-relations. Jono has extensive experience in student-directed learning.  Under his leadership, EcoQuest developed strong and mutually supportive working relationships with local iwi, schools, and our wider community of collaborators and stakeholders in Aotearoa. Jono is the current key person for the EcoQuest network for international education.  

BS (1979) Victoria University, Wellington; Dip.Teaching (1980), Christchurch College of Education. Specialised in program and curriculum development.  Co-founder of the Environmental Education Centre of New Zealand. Former Trustee on the EcoQuest Board.

Ecology in Action Faculty and Staff

Shelley Langton-Myers

Ecologist, Entomologist, Lecturer 

Shelley focuses on terrestrial ecology and is an invertebrate specialist. She is experienced in identifying insects in New Zealand and overseas. She spent two years working at Clemson University (SC, USA), where she collected and identified beetles for her research on Southern Appalachian beetle diversity. Shelley has been a part of the EcoQuest team since 2017. She represents EcoQuest on the Maungatautari Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel. Shelley has a passion for enabling everyone to take part in conservation. She designs and contributes to the delivery of education outreach activities, to increase STEM engagement in local schools.

Shelley represents EcoQuest on the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel,  frequently works with conservation trusts, and is a Member of the Waikato Conservation Board (appointed 2021).    

BSc (Hons, first class) in Zoology (2010) Massey University, Ph.D. in Biology (2014), The University of Auckland

Thomas Everth


Thomas is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Waikato. He obtained a master's degree in Physics in Germany. After an international career in the IT industry and several years in the USA, Thomas settled in New Zealand and became a teacher. He has been teaching Physics, Mathematics, IT and Earth and Space Science at high school. Thomas is currently undertaking PhD research in Climate Change Education and is especially interested in post-humanist ontology and the relationship of society with the more-than-human world.

Natasha Bansal

Kaiwhakaako Field Leader, Research Supervisor

Natasha worked as a wildlife vet in India and has worked more than eight years in wildlife rehabilitation and wildlife monitoring in India and USA. She worked with a multitude of animals, especially reptiles like snakes and turtles and mammals like tigers, leopards, bears and bats. Following this, Natasha travelled to New Zealand, where she completed her post graduate degrees and has worked with birds, in particular kiwi, looking at behaviour, health and parasites. She has also assisted with projects on Ruru and Tieke.
Natasha gained experience teaching courses in animal behaviour and behavioural ecology.  She has a passion for wildlife conservation and research, and believes that empowering communities to take a lead in conservation research and education is a key to success. At EcoQuest, Natasha shares responsibility for field exercises and extended field trips. She also supervises student’s directed research projects.

BVSc AH (2010), Maharashtra Animal & Fishery Sciences University, India, PGDip (Honours) (2013), PhD in Conservation Biology (2020), Massey

Jeff Pendleton

Kaiwhakaako Field Leader

Jeff has a wide range of work experience including outdoor recreation, ecological restoration, permaculture projects, ecotherapy, environmental education as well as being a keen gardener. The thread that weaves these together is Jeff’s personal interest in understanding and creating experiences which strengthen relationships between people and nature. At EcoQuest, Jeff shares responsibility for field exercises and extended field trips, as well as support for directed research projects. Jeff is also the student affairs coordinator/kairuruki manaaki.

BSc in Geography, Victoria University, Wellington (2012).

Matt Knott

Kaiwhakaako Field Leader

Matt specializes in shark ecology and is passionate about outdoor and in water activities. He is a scientific diver and ecologist, with experience working on large scale projects like the Global Finprint Project and the Crown of Thorns Starfish Control Program in Australia. Matt is passionate about conservation initiatives and education as a means to preserve natural areas. At EcoQuest, Matt shares responsibility for field exercises and extended field trips, as well as support for directed research projects.

BSc in Biology (2014) University of the Fraser Valley, Canada; MSc in Marine Biology and Ecology (2018) James Cook University, Australia.

Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Aotearoa Faculty and Staff

Willy Cameron

Lead Academic/Lecturer

Willy grew up in Wellington, where his family life included extensive vegetable gardens, which in part fuelled his passion for learning about food and cooking. A move to the Tasman district of Te Waipounamu the South Island led Willy’s focus to shift from conservation to sustainable agriculture: food / food systems, forestry and land management. His keen interest in learning processes led Willy to teaching, both in Aotearoa and internationally (International Honours Program – New Zealand, India, Mexico). Willy is well-connected to the growers and farmers in the Motueka catchment. Willy has a commitment to the sustainability of rural ecology, production and community. His experience with many aspects of sustainable agriculture and his passion for education led Willy to join the EcoQuest team. Willy is responsible for overseeing the delivery of the SAFSA program, he is the academic point person for several weeks of the semester, and he shares the responsibility of maintaining relationships with external collaborators and contributors to the program.

BSc in Genetics and Molecular Biology (1995), MSc (Hons) in Genetics and Molecular Biology (1998) Victoria University, Wellington.

Scott Williamson


Scott has extensive experience in central government policy and operations – specifically in fisheries and aquaculture (sustainable harvest levels, allocating catches and water space). Over the last decade Scott’s focus has been on sustainable entrepreneurship - primarily in the apiculture sector, mentoring small businesses, economics and teaching. He has a professional interest in developing ecologically and economically sound agricultural enterprises and food systems as well as collaborative models of rural social and community change. His personal interests include beekeeping and experimentation with diversified sustainable farming and conservation practices. Scott shares responsibility for delivering the SAFSA program, with an emphasis on farm and agribusiness placements, and local sustainable fisheries and aquaculture.

BScAg in Agricultural Economics (1988) University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada (Distinction); MAgSc, Natural Resource Economics (1990), Lincoln University (Honours).

Aneika Young

Ngāti Rārua, Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Koroki Kahukura, Ngāti Ruanui.


Aneika grew up in Motueka in Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka a Māui (Top of the South Island). Aneika began her career in Environmental Studies in the tourism industry. She currently works part time as an Environmental Scientist and Māori Cultural Advisor at the Cawthron Institute and is part of the Māori Business Development and Research team, building Māori capability and providing advice amongst staff. Aneika is an environmental consultant, and her research interests focus on the interface between Mātauranga Māori/Indigenous Knowledge and Western Science and how these two discourses meet to provide environmental solutions. Aneika is interested in restoration, conservation and ensuring natural resources and land use practices are sustainable moving forward, in particular the impacts of agriculture on freshwater catchments and how these practices can be mitigated. As a manawhenua representative Aneika has a variety of governance roles on multiple boards. At EcoQuest, Aneika shares responsibility for delivery of the SAFSA program, with an emphasis on Te Ao Māori iwi context and food systems, and indigenous farming practices. She is the point person for several program components and case studies.

BSc Environmental Studies and Māori Resource Management (2011), MSc in Environmental Studies (2014), Victoria University, Wellington.

Katy Hassall

Field Leader

In her role as field leader for the SAFSA program, Katy shares the responsibility to ensure the safety, smooth running, and enjoyment of life and learning at EcoQuest. She plays an important role in catering, and supports pastoral care and operations. 

Tom Ensor

Field Leader

Tom brings an enquiring attitude and local perspective. He follows a holistic approach to promote student engagement, wider learning objectives and positive experiences beyond the classroom. Tom has built on his previous business studies through management, leadership, and community-focused roles across a range of industries.
As Kaiwhakaako Tom shares the responsibility to ensure the safety, smooth running, and enjoyment of life and learning at EcoQuest. He plays an important role in catering and operations, and supports pastoral care.

When not at work Tom spends his time in the local maunga and moana - hunting, diving, and exploring.

Academic Associates

Kim Babbitt

UNH-EcoQuest Academic Programme Coordinator

Kim is the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, COLSA and Professor of Wildlife Ecology, DNRE, University of New Hampshire. Kim liaises with the EcoQuest Academic Director and Director. She supports collaborative research initiatives and programme development.

Ph.D., Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida; M.S., Wildlife and Fisheries Science, Texas A&M University; B.S., Wildlife Management, University of New Hampshire.

Peter Maddison MNZM, FRES

Academic Associate

Peter is an entomologist and ecologist. He is a gifted taxonomist who is frequently enlisted to identify species throughout the Pacific. Peter is a consummate advocate for maintenance of biodiversity. His career includes serving as Councillor for Waitākere City, teaching at various tertiary institutions, and managing an ecological consultancy service. Peter served as President of the Royal Forest and Bird Society of New Zealand for several years. In 2016, Peter entered the ranks of Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society, and in 2021 was awarded Membership of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his outstanding contributions to conservation. Peter has been with EcoQuest since 1999. He is a remarkable mentor, provides academic support for EcoQuest faculty and research activities, and is the taxonomic auditor for EcoQuest biodiversity work.

Ph.D., Applied Entomology, University of London; B.Sc.(Hons), Zoology, University of London.

David Clarke

Research Associate

David is a Bat Ecologist at Bat Conservation Ireland. He has over ten years’ experience working in environmental education and conducting research in a range of ecological fields. David was a lecturer at EcoQuest for seven years. During this time, he initiated and coordinated two research projects examining the presence and distribution of long-tailed bats in the wider Auckland region, a species classed as ‘Nationally Critical’ and needing urgent conservation action to protect remaining populations. Both projects involved active collaboration with communities, ecological consultants, local and regional authorities, as well as universities. In 2023 David returned to Ireland where he joined the Bat Conservation Ireland team.

He lives in Co. Mayo and enjoys fishing, hiking, and playing hurling.

B.Sc. Environmental Science (honours), University of Galway; Ph.D. in Acarology, University of Galway.

Isabel Castro

Research Associate

Isabel is a Professor in Wildlife Biology at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand. Her interests include animal behaviour, parasite-host interactions, anatomy, morphology, sensory biology, and conservation. Isabel’s research is on island species, particularly birds, but also introduced mammals and charismatic land snails. She has a passion for solving conservation problems, making new biological findings, and working with technology. Isabel was part of the start-up academic team for EcoQuest in 1999-2000. She supports ongoing collaborative monitoring activities with EcoQuest.

Ph.D., Behavioural Ecology, Massey University; M.S., Environmental Biology, Eastern Illinois University; B.Sc., Universidad de los Andes, Colombia. 

Bruce Burns

Research Associate

Bruce is an Associate Professor in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland.  Bruce is a Trustee of WWF-New Zealand, and a former president of the New Zealand Ecological Society. Bruce’s research interests broadly cover the field of plant ecology in seeking to understand determinants and mechanisms of plant persistence, distribution, and abundance. He has a particular interest in species-level positive feedback mechanisms. Bruce provides academic support for EcoQuest faculty and research activities.

Ph.D., Biogeography, University of Colorado; P.G. Dip., Natural Resources, Lincoln University; B.Sc. and M.Sc.(Hons), Botany, Auckland University.

Danielle Middleton

Research Associate

Danielle is a Molecular Ecologist (Biocontrol & Molecular Ecology) at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research. Her current research involves developing environmental DNA (eDNA) applications for population genetic and genomic analyses of kiwi and identifying genetic drivers of kiwi behaviour and how these link with the gut-microbiome through the gut-brain axis. Danielle is a former lecturer at EcoQuest, she supports collaborations and is a resource for EcoQuest faculty.

Ph.D., Ecology and Biodiversity, Victoria University of Wellington; M.Sc., Zoology (First Class Honours), Massey University; B.Sc., Zoology & Microbiology, Massey University.

Sean Weaver

Academic Advisor

Sean is founder and Executive Director of Ekos - a social enterprise focusing on market-based mechanisms for environmental protection and sustainable development, based in Christchurch. He is an expert in carbon markets and market-based mechanisms for environmental financing. He is a consultant to national and local governments, multilateral banks, small medium and large businesses/corporations, with a focus on sustainable land management, restorative forestry, climate resilience, and regenerative agriculture. He is a former senior lecturer in Environmental Studies at Victoria University of Wellington (9 years). Sean is also a Zen teacher in the Diamond Sangha Zen lineage and runs a compassionate environmentalism training programme called ‘Ekodo’. Sean contributed much to the final shape of the EcoQuest program and he provides academic support for the team and is involved in program delivery.

BSc Hons (1st Class) in Botany, PhD in Forestry.


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