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About the employer

NIWA, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, is a Crown Research Institute established in 1992. It operates as a stand-alone company with its own Board of Directors and Executive.

What is a Crown Research Institute?

Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) are Crown-owned companies established to undertake scientific research and related activities in accordance with the Crown Research Institutes Act 1992. Ownership is held equally between two shareholding Ministers appointed by the New Zealand Government and governed by a Crown-appointed Board of Directors. CRIs are subject to the Crown Entities Act 2004, the Crown Research Institutes Act 1992, and the Companies Act 1993.

Key requirements for CRIs include:

  • Ensure that research is undertaken for the benefit of New Zealand
  • Pursue excellence in all their activities
  • Comply with applicable ethical standards
  • Promote and facilitate the application of the results of research and technological developments
  • Be a good employer
  • Exhibit a sense of social responsibility
  • Maintain their financially viability.

Operating Framework

CRIs are stand-alone companies with a high degree of independence. Each year, the shareholding Ministers lay out their expectations for the Crown Research Institutes in an 'Operating Framework'. Amongst other things, this defines how CRIs should interpret their obligation to maintain financial viability. Shareholding Ministers assess NIWA’s performance and actions against the expectations in this Operating Framework. MBIE Institutional Performance, assisted by The Treasury, monitors CRIs on behalf of shareholding Ministers. 

Read about MBIE's monitoring role on the MBIE Science and Innovation website

Composition of the NIWA Group

Parent Company

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd (NIWA). Sometimes referred to as NIWA Science.


  Principal activities Ownership & voting interest
NIWA Vessel Management Ltd Vessel charters for scientific research; owns RV Tangaroa, RV Kaharoa, & survey launch Pelorus; operates marine mechanical & electrical workshops for maintenance on the NIWA fleet 100%
NIWA Natural Solutions Ltd Commercialisation of NIWA products 100%
NIWA Australia Pty Ltd Scientific research & consultancy services, Australia 100%
NIWA Environmental Research Institute Not-for-profit scientific research & consultancy services, USA 100%
NIWA (USA), Incorporated Scientific research & consultancy services, USA 100%
Unidata Pty Ltd Supplier of environmental technology products 80%
EcoConnect Ltd Non-trading shell company; intended to deliver environmental forecasting services 100%

Joint ventures

The Group has a 50% participating interest in Riskscape NZ, an unincorporated joint venture of equal interests with Geological Risk Limited (a wholly owned subsidiary of the Institute of GNS Science). The joint venture is funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology to develop the Regional RiskScape Model, a support tool for decision makers which simulates regional natural hazards and produces estimates of damage in dollars and likely casualties.

Visit the RiskScape website 

A brief history of NIWA

1992: Crown Research Institutes Act passed and NIWA created as part of a government initiative to restructure the science sector. NIWA personnel largely came from the break-up of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) and the Meteorological Service of the Ministry of Transport.

1995: MAF Fisheries Research Division transferred to NIWA

1996: NIWA Vessel Management Ltd established as a wholly owned subsidiary to own and operate NIWA’s major research vessels, Tangaroa, Kaharoa, and Pelorus. The vessels are available for third party charter.

1999: NIWA establishes the first High Performance Computing Facility in New Zealand.

2000: NIWA’s Māori Research and Development Unit, Te Kuwaha, established.

2000: NIWA establishes two wholly owned subsidiaries in the USA. NIWA (USA), Incorporated concentrates on providing commercial consultancy services, whereas NIWA Environmental Research Institute (ERI) is a not-for-profit organisation specialising in multidisciplinary, public good research.

2001: NIWA opens the wholly owned subsidiary, NIWA Australia Pty Ltd.

2002: NIWA’s Bream Bay Aquaculture Park (near Whangarei) opens, with commercial partners also on-site. The park aims to bridge the gap between small-scale research into new high-value aquaculture species and their commercial-scale production.

2004: NIWA Natural Solutions Ltd created as a wholly owned subsidiary to commercialise NIWA’s science.

2004: NIWA purchases 80% of shares in Unidata Pty Ltd, an instrument manufacturing company based in Perth, Australia. This secures the future supply of instruments for NIWA’s scientific research, as well as providing a platform for the development of environmental monitoring and telemetry systems.

2004: EcoConnect established to deliver environmental forecasts, initially as a joint venture with UK Met Office.

2006: NIWA acquires a 50% stake in CRL Energy Ltd, an energy research and consulting business half-owned by the Coal Association of New Zealand.

2008: NIWA sells its share of CRL Energy Ltd.

2009: Official opening of NIWA’s new Head Office near Auckland’s Viaduct Basin. Its laboratories and work-spaces are purpose built for science.

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