Jobs at DOC: Sjaan Bowie, Freshwater Technical Advisor

Department of Conservation —  23/06/2017

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

To celebrate National Volunteer Week today we’re profiling Sjaan Bowie, wearing her ‘volunteer’s hat’ in Christchurch.

What do you do as a volunteer?

I take children, families and teachers outdoors to discover our amazing streams, wetlands and lakes. Experience our cool fish and bugs, and learn about their habitats. I’ve been involved in:

World Fish Migration Day – 2016 Christchurch event
Bioblitz, Lincoln
Mother of all Clean Ups for the Opawaho Heathcote River with West Spreydon School and Cashmere Technical Football Club
• Freshwater community education days including Okuti Valley stream on Banks Peninsula
• Helping children discover the history and values of their local streams such as the Waimokihi, that flows into the Opawaho Heathcote River

Getting up close with eels at Mother of all Clean-Ups

What motivates you to volunteer?

West Spreydon School, Mother of all Clean-Ups

I just love doing education stuff. I probably should have been a teacher in some ways! I’m always surprised how few people know about our native fish and stream life.

For me, I have a real passion to let people know. When I took part in the Mother of all Clean Ups, we didn’t just do a rubbish collection which was the aim of the day. I wanted people to have a connection with why they were collecting rubbish, so I set some fish nets in the stream and showed them some photos of what happens when rubbish gets into our waterways, oceans and wildlife. I got the kids to identify what was living in their stream and told them about our eels amazing lifecycle. All 140 kids got to touch an eel so they learnt that our eels are amazing gentle creatures that we should not be afraid of or think are ‘gross.’

Kids love hearing about the longfin eel and how it’s endangered, how it swims all the way to the Tongan Trench and that some of the big eels are the same age as their grandparents!

If I can convince or educate even one child or parent about our amazing fish and habitats they will then tell one person, and you never know, they could be the future freshwater person looking after our waterways. They need to be interested enough to help make a difference, and together we can help.

Sjaan’s happy place, with fish!

Sjaan having fun with eels. Photo: Chris Price

Do you have a funny story about volunteering?

At the Mother of all Clean Ups we found some crazy things in and along the river. Where we were collecting rubbish, we found lots of gumboots and shoes, old glass bottles, jerseys, balls, tools, cans, pens, straws, a toaster, skateboard and tons of plastic bags. We even found a stolen bike and the kids learnt about reporting this and taking it down to the local police station. At other sections along the Opawaho Heathcote River people found old TVs, used nappies, and a dead sheep wrapped up in tarpaulin.

I also picked up a plastic bag and found a live eel in it. Sadly, the eel was using that as its cover. Kids were asking why the eel was there. It brought on a bigger conversation about how eels were using plastic for their cover in streams, and what was missing from our streams that they had to use the bag.

Do you have any words of volunteering wisdom?

Being realistic about what you can achieve, and saying no sometimes – I am not very good at that!

Take the small wins. Whether a few people turn up to help volunteer, or hundreds come, either way its good and we are doing something to help. Being willing to help is what matters.

Everyone’s got something to offer, even if it’s an insight into something they can do or something they can change for the better.