School of Biological Sciences

Dr Sonja Miller

Postdoctoral Research Fellow
School of Biological Sciences

Phone: 04 470 9252
Location: CEL003, 396 The Esplanade

Dr Sonja Miller

Ko Taranaki te maunga

Ko Waiwhakaiho te awa

Ko Tokomaru te waka

Ko Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Pākehā (Ngāti Kotirani, Ngāti Airani) ngā iwi

Ko Ngāti Te Whiti te hapū

Ko Sonja Miller ahau 

He Kairangahau ahau kei Te Toka Tū Moana o Te Whare Wānanga o te Upoko o te Ika a Maui.  Ko Te Rōpu Āwhina Pūtaiao tōku whānau kei te whare wānanga.  Nō reira…

Ni sa bula vinaka, Kia orana, Malo e lelei, Talofa lava, Namaste, Mauri, Taloha ni, Halo ola keta, Ia orana, Fakaalofa lahi atu…  ngā mihi mahana ki a koutou katoa.

My research interests focus on applied marine ecology that will directly benefit communities in New Zealand and the wider Pacific region.  I am committed to mentoring up and coming Māori and Pacific Nations’ marine scientists to directly increase the research capability within iwi and Pacific Nations’ communities. 

The science capability of Te Rūnanga o Toa Rangatira is being directly built through the ongoing involvement of one of their rangatahi with my current research.  I am also a longstanding member of Te Rōpu Āwhina whānau at Victoria University.   Both my PhD and Postdoctoral research have been funded by the Foundation for Research Science and Technology (now the Ministry of Science and Innovation).

Memberships / Positions held

  • Member: Te Rōpu Āwhina Pūtaiao, Faculties of Science, Architecture, Design and Engineering, Victoria University of Wellington
  • Te Rōpu Āwhina Representative: Faculties of Science, Engineering, Architecture, and Design, Equity Working Group
  • Trustee, Puke Ariki Land Trust, a whenua topu trust for the Ngāti Te Whiti hapū, New Plymouth.

Reports to iwi / hapū organisations

  • Supervisor for an Āwhina undergraduate student’s summer research report: Te Ropu Āwhina Pūtaiao Summer Research Project: The effects of suspended sediments on fertilisation success in kina (Evechinus chloroticus).  A report to Te Rōpu Āwhina Pūtaiao, Te Rūnanga ō Toa Rangatira, and Te Puni Kokiri.


  • Te Amorangi National Māori Academic Excellence Award

Research Interests

Land-based effects on coastal invertebrate fisheries of cultural and economic significance

With increasing development on land (mining, deforestation, dairy conversion) resulting in increased sediments making their way to the coastal marine area, the effects of sedimentation may reduce the resilience of paua and kina populations to fishing.  My current research investigates a range of responses (fertilisation success, growth, mortality, feeding behaviour) to sedimentation across various life-history stages for paua and kina, and will also investigate changes in morphology that may occur in response to sedimentation (e.g., morphological changes in feeding structures).  This work will ultimately increase understanding of the effects of sedimentation on paua and kina, identifying life-history stages that may be more vulnerable to sedimentation than others, and ultimately have implications for both fisheries and catchment management.

The effectiveness of marine protected areas

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are widely used as tools for both conservation and fisheries management.  However assessments of many MPAs may be confounded by differences in habitat between ‘Impact’ (ie, MPA) and ‘Control’ sites, leading to erroneous conclusions regarding MPA effectiveness.  I conducted a simultaneous assessment of six Ra’ui (traditional marine protected areas) in the lagoon of Rarotonga, Cook Islands, and developed a new approach incorporating habitat differences between ‘Impact’ and ‘Control’ sites into MPA assessments.  My work will aid better design of monitoring programmes and facilitate improved MPA design.


Osenberg, C.W., Shima, J.S., Miller, S.L, and Stier, A.C. (In press). Assessing effects of Marine Protected Areas: Confounding in space and possible solutions. In Marine Protected Areas: Effects, networks and monitoring – A multidisciplinary approach, J. Claudet. Ed. Cambridge University Press - Ecology, Biodiversity and Conservation Series.

Shortis, M. R., Miller, S., Harvey, E. S. and Robson, S. 2000. An analysis of the calibration stability and measurement accuracy of an underwater stereo-video system used for shellfish surveys. Geomatics Research Australasia 73: 1-24

Theses and Reports

Miller, S. L., Abraham, E. R. (2011). Characterisation of New Zealand kina fisheries. New Zealand Fisheries Assessment Report 2011/7.

Miller, S.L. 2009. A quantitative assessment of Ra’ui (a traditional approach to marine protected areas) on the fishes and invertebrates of Rarotonga, Cook Islands : a thesis submitted to the Victoria University of Wellington in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Marine Biology. 228p.

Miller, S.L. 1999. A comparison of water-lift sampler and stereo-video for estimating biomass of Tuatua (Paphies donacina) at Kaikai Beach, Otago, New Zealand : a thesis submitted for the degree of Master of Science in Marine Science at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. 140p.

In Review

Miller, S.L., Shima, J.S., and Phillips, N.E. (In review). Effects of microhabitat availability on estimates of density of a reef fish: Implications for assessments of marine protected areas. Special issue on habitat complexity, Hydrobiologia.

Miller, S.L., McDonald, S., Williams, B. (In review). Benthic invertebrate monitoring at the Ngā Motu / Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Protected Area 2001-2003, Department of Conservation.