Olga Pantos

Olga is a research scientist in ESR's Food, Water and Biowaste group.

Her research includes assessment of the potential impacts of contaminants on the safety of wild-caught seafood for human consumption and ecosystem health, and the identification of ways in which these impacts may be reduced.

Her background is in marine biology, having completed her undergraduate degree in Marine and Environmental Biology at St Andrews University in Scotland and her doctoral studies at The University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. Olga's PhD focused on characterising the microbial communities associated with healthy and diseased tropical corals, with the ultimate aim of identifying the causal agents of three coral diseases and coral bleaching, which together have been responsible for the mass mortality of corals around the world.

After completing her PhD, Olga took up a post-doctoral position at San Diego State University in the US, where she continued her research on coral health and disease. In that position, she focused more on the associations between environmental factors, microbial communities and Caribbean coral reef ecosystem health. Olga was also part of a team that carried out a research cruise along the Northern Line Islands in the Central Pacific, from Kiritimati to Kingman Reef. The team investigated the impacts of human populations on water quality and on organisms at all levels of the oceanic food web, from microbes to sharks.

Picture of coral

From 2006-2016, Olga worked at the University of Queensland (UQ), Australia. Her research projects during this time included determining how anthropogenic stressors such as land-based pollution and rising water temperatures affect coastal ecosystems (including coral reefs and lagoons). In that project, Olga assessed the impact of the stressors on the microbial communities associated with the organisms and their habitats. She was also part of a project examining the impacts of ocean acidification on sea cucumbers, and the important ecosystem services they provide. 

Olga undertaking fieldwork

Areas of particular interest

The impact of microplastics on coastal marine species, and how this pollutant consequently affects humans.

Microplastics are small particles (less than 5 mm in diameter) that are either manufactured at that size or result from the physical breakdown of larger plastic pieces. While there is a lot of evidence of the detrimental effects of large plastic items on animals and ecosystems, knowledge of the amount and distribution of microplastic waste and its impacts on organisms (including species that are food sources for humans) and ecosystems is still lacking. However, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that they can have a significantly negative impact on the health of the organisms that ingest them, and therefore an indirect impact on ecosystem health. By identifying the origin and distribution of microplastic pollution, it will be possible to develop management strategies to combat its impact on human, animal and ecosystem health.

Read about Olga's research project on microplastics.

Olga is also involved with New Zealand's Centre for Integrated Biowaste Research on the risk and management of plastic pollution in our communities(external link).

Kai moana mahinga kai (marine natural resources)

The gathering and eating of coastal shellfish including a number of different bivalves, gastropods (including the iconic pāua/abalone), koura (lobster or crayfish) is a common recreational activity and has significant cultural importance in New Zealand. Contamination of the water within the coastal zone may render this wild-caught food unsafe for human consumption. Health risks may result from both chemical and microbial contamination resulting from human activity. For example, leaking septic tanks or overflowing wastewater treatment plants during extreme rain events, which result in the introduction of human pathogens into the gathering waters. Routine monitoring of microbial contamination within the gathering waters can help alert people to potential risk, and which allow the identification of the source of contamination can aid the management and elimination of the risk. 

Picture of mussels


Olga's ResearchGate profile(external link)