It was like giving the National Aquarium of New Zealand another arm and a leg when earthquake research project East Coast LAB was launched on Thursday night.

It's aimed at improving the resilience of communities on the East Coast of the North Island to natural hazards associated with the Hikurangi plate boundary, which is regarded as potentially New Zealand's largest source of geohazard.

As part of the project East Coast LAB gathers a research team to look at the Hikurangi Trough, just off New Zealand's east coast and thought to be one of the least understood subduction zones in the country.

The boundary is between the Australian plate and the Pacific plate. The Hikurangi tectonic plate boundary is a convergent boundary, which means the two plates are pushing against each other.


The Pacific plate is an oceanic plate and the Australian plate a continental plate. When they meet, the denser oceanic plate moves under the continental plate, creating a deep oceanic trench.

LAB (Life at the Boundary) aims to foster new research to increase the understanding of the plate boundary and associated natural hazards, such as earthquakes and tsunamis, and will also encourage the public to engage in science so they understand the risks of living at the boundary.

The LAB at the aquarium is a newly developed interactive education space at the aquarium, carrying on some of the traditions of Napier such the aquarium's own marine life, the Holt Planetarium and the Kiwi House, all once linked to the Marine Parade visitor playground.

The new attraction will be used for school groups, research talks and functions, will be part of the general aquarium precinct open to the public and will include a tsunami wave tank demonstration, up-to-date earthquakes in New Zealand and a practice area for the "Drop, Cover, Hold" drill.

The public will also be able to become part of the science projects taking place.

Hawke's Bay Civil Defence emergency management adviser for hazard reduction, Lisa Pearse, said the project stemmed from a desire to better understand the Hikurangi plate boundary, in conjunction with the national and international scientific research.

Research ships from throughout the world will be visiting the Hikurangi plate boundary in world-first studies involving scientists from at least eight countries.

The research will be able to be presented at the aquarium LAB.

She said the project brought together scientists, emergency managers, experts and stakeholders from throught the East Coast and the world.

National Aquarium of New Zealand manager Rob Yarrall said "it makes sense" to house the LAB at the aquarium, alongside existing education programmes.

While the 1931 Hawke's Bay Earthquake and its tales and images continued to profile the risks and dangers 85 years after the event, there has been a more recent experience for Napier couple Mike and Sally Adye, who were at Lalomanu Beach in Samoa when one of the biggest quakes of recent times struck the region seven years ago - a dawnbreaking 8.3 on the Richter scale, at about 7am on September 29, 2009, followed by tsunamis.

At Thursday's launch, Mrs Adye recalled the day the couple almost joined the 140 who lost their lives and said: "Mike actually saw the waves that stopped breaking on the other side of the reef, at which point he said 'run' and we ran for the hills.

"It's like all these things, you don't think they're going to happen to you. It's like in the movies, but it's real."

Current lack of knowledge around the Hikurangi Trough made forecasting potential hazards unreliable, said GNS geophysicist Laura Wallace, and Mr and Mrs Adye had to act on instinct.

They scrambled up a hill but there was no official warning.

Local organisations in the partnership are The National Aquarium of NZ, Hawke's Bay Regional Council, Napier City Council and Hawke's Bay Civil Defence and Emergency Management Group, joined by The Natural Hazard Research Platform, GNS Science, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), Earthquake Commission (EQC), Massey University, Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, QuakeCoRE, Gisborne District Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council, Manawatu/Wanganui Civil Defence and Emergency Management Group, and Auckland University.