Ask students in Dunedin how you snorkel a dune lake in the Far North without leaving home and they will tell you, ‘LEARNZ of course!’
What started as a way to link New Zealand school children with field work in Antarctica back in 1996, has now evolved into a chance for schools to take part in virtual field trips across the country via live audio link ups and an interactive website with video, a web board and ‘ask an expert’ posts.
In its fourth year, the Far North field trip focuses on wetlands, with a strong Tikanga Māori and Te Reo component.
This year the focus of the Far North field trip was World Wetlands Day, held at Lake Ngatu. Schools from as far away as Dunedin joined in via LEARNZ, while around 160 students from nine Far North schools, and homeschoolers, actively participating in activities including a guided walk; investigating what species live in the lake; and traditional uses for natural resources found around the lake.
Ahipara School student, Ruapounamu, gave the most common response from students when asked for their highlight of the day; “My favourite was snorkelling because it was cool to see all the fish and the species that live in the lake.”
Coordinator, Camellia Nielsen, whose team ran the snorkelling, says her goal was to help the children to appreciate their role as kaitiaki (guardians) of the wetland.
“It’s a hands-on demonstration of the value of wetlands as flood protection,” says Camellia.
When quizzed about what they had discovered, Paparore School students talked about wetlands as also being places for holding water and providing habitat for native animals.
This year is the first time that the classroom materials have also been available in Te Reo.
DOC Kaitaia’s Community Relations Ranger and key organiser, Denice Gilliespie, believes that the event showed the lake in a whole different light for the students.
“They see how important it is to look after it so it sustains us all now and forever, recreationally and culturally,” says Denice.
Lake Ngatu sits within the rohe of Ngai Takoto. Part of Ngai Takoto’s whakatauki (proverb) talks about the pioke (dog shark) being small in stature but still able to swim against the strong currents around it. For Te Runanga O Ngai Takoto’s Environmental Manager, Kaio Hooper, this is an important reminder in his role and commitment to ensuring that the lake is protected and cared for, despite increasing environmental pressures on the lake’s wellbeing.
Although still ranked as outstanding, environmental monitoring indicates a decline in Lake Ngatu’s water quality, and an increase in pest species. Kaio says this is a case for concern for Ngai Takoto, as the kaitiaki of the lake.
“For our people it’s not so much about scientific reports. They rely more on what they see, and they are noticing that the water is not as clear as it once was,” says Kaio.
Kaio says Ngai Takoto is looking at ways they can address their concerns. To start the conversation, Kaio set up an information stall where people were asked to complete a simple survey focussed on understanding people’s aspirations and concerns for the lake’s health.
“We’ve been watching the lake change over the past couple of years and it’s not good. We want to work alongside interested parties on a management plan, and the survey is a good starting point” says Kaio.
World Wetlands Day at Lake Ngatu was a two day event hosted by Ngai Takoto and DOC, with support from Bushland’s Trust, Northland Regional Council, Mountain’s to Sea Conservation Trust and Clean Stream Northland.
World Wetlands Day
World Wetlands Day is an annual event held every year on February 2 to promote the value and vulnerability of wetlands across the globe promoted by RAMSAR, an international agreement to protect wetlands.