General news

Clean, safe freshwater will be a key focus for Cawthron Foundation. Photo: Darryl Torckler
20 November 2015

Cawthron Foundation launched to address environmental challenges

Cawthron Institute has launched a charitable foundation to help solve New Zealand's leading environmental challenges.

Cawthron Foundation will raise donations, bequests, and endowments for public-good science, and scholarships for talented emerging scientists.

The Foundation is overseen by an independent trust board chaired by Dr Morgan Williams – current chair of World Wide Fund for Nature in New Zealand and former Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

"Combining the expertise of top scientists at Cawthron with philanthropic support ensures essential research on land and in fresh water and marine environments is maintained as support from other sources waxes and wanes according to political priorities. The health and wealth of our natural environment, communities, business and region ultimately depends on it," Dr Williams says.

"I have a great interest in how people think about the natural world and how they can influence the political, social and economic management of the natural capital we all depend on. Cawthron Institute nurtures talented scientists who focus on research to improve the health of the environment and the natural resources that sustain all New Zealanders – essential work, close to my heart, that I'm committed to foster."

Water clean enough to swim in

One of the challenges the Cawthron Foundation aims to tackle is improving the quality of New Zealand's freshwater to ensure future generations can swim in, and fish and drink from it. A leading freshwater scientist, Cawthron Institute's Dr Roger Young, says degradation of freshwater is New Zealand's top environmental issue.

"Water is without doubt our most precious resource. You can live without oil or gold, but you can't live without water," Dr Young says.

A landmark state of the environment report released last month – Environment Aotearoa 2015, identified declining water quality as one of the areas of greatest concern.

"The Cawthron Foundation aims to address key environmental challenges such as this by using science to help maintain healthy ecosystems, reverse any damage already done and prevent the problem getting worse," Dr Williams says. "Ultimately, we want to leave New Zealand in better shape than we found it."

Continuing the legacy

Philanthropy is not new to Cawthron Institute. New Zealand's first science organisation, it was established in 1919 after the death of Nelson businessman Thomas Cawthron who left the bulk of his fortune to establish a science institute in his name. His belief that science held the key to solving New Zealand's environmental and primary production problems is a legacy that continues to this day.

Today, Cawthron Institute employs 200 staff who specialise in the areas of marine and freshwater ecosystems, sustainable seafood and aquaculture, biosecurity and food safety. Owned by a charitable trust, Cawthron Institute is New Zealand's largest independent science organisation. Around 60 percent of the Institute's revenue is from private companies and organisations, and 40 percent from contestable Government grants.

"The Cawthron Foundation will enable our scientists the flexibility to do important research that has non-commercial outcomes and is independent of Government or industry priorities, for the benefit of all New Zealanders," Cawthron Institute Chief Executive Charles Eason says.

Working together

Dr Williams says the model of the Cawthron Foundation is very similar to what is used by most major universities and other research institutes in New Zealand.

"We invite the public to partner with the Cawthron Foundation to ensure the issues that matter to us all are addressed – whether it's having enough clean water to swim in or drink, or ensuring healthy ecosystems for fish to thrive, these are things New Zealanders care deeply about, and it's important to us that they are given a strong focus."

How to get involved with the Cawthron Foundation:

  • Donate to one of our scholarship funds
  • Support a research programme
  • Leave a gift in your will
  • Create an endowment
  • Make a donation

Find out more:

Listen to Dr Morgan Williams interview with Kathryn Ryan on Radio New Zealand's Nine-to-Noon programme 

Go to or download the Cawthron Foundation brochure