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The University of Otago is consulting staff about its marine science department, due to concerns about an operating deficit.
The department has the vessel Polaris II and runs the Portobello Marine Laboratory and the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre.
It also has residential research facilities in Stewart Island and Fiordland.
Sciences division pro vice-chancellor Prof Richard Barker said the university would be discussing ways to put marine sciences in a financially sustainable position.
He did not respond to questions about possible staff cuts.
"There will be no further comment until the consultation is complete and a proposal to remedy the situation has been formulated and put to staff in coming months,'' Prof Barker said.
Tertiary Education Union regional spokeswoman Kris Smith confirmed consultation was under way and she was expecting a proposal within a few weeks.
Until the proposal was released, she could not make any further comment.
The whole department - administrative as well as academic staff - were involved in the consultation, she said.
Marine science department head Prof Steve Dawson could not be contacted for comment yesterday.
The department offers subjects from Antarctic science to marine biology, marine ecosystems and ocean physics.
It sits within the division of sciences, which had an operating surplus of $16,334,000 in the year to July 31, according to the university's latest financial report.
The operating deficit amount for the marine sciences department was not available before deadline.