Three generations of volunteering in Otūwhero

Department of Conservation —  25/06/2021

By Sue Bateup, Volunteering Advisor

This year’s National Volunteer Week theme is ‘Recognise, Connect, Reimagine’ and we are celebrating all those amazing people who volunteer for nature throughout Aotearoa.

The Otūwhero Trust are a community group in Marahau at the entrance to the Abel Tasman National Park. This staunch group of people have dedicated countless hours to protect and enhance the Otūwhero area, which has significant cultural, ecological and landscape values.

The Otuwhero valley and wetlands in 2016. 📷: Dave Buckton

Core members of the Trust are Terry and Naomi Stanbridge (now in their 70’s) who live above the Otūwhero wetland. Not content to sit and watch the ebb and flow of the tides, they are out in the wetland working nearly every day. Three generations of their family are now involved in the work. Over the years they have roped in their children, and now their grandchildren, to monitor, weed, plant and check the predator traps.

In 2017, Naomi and Terry’s daughter Tena (who works our Nelson Office) and her son Matthew were concerned about the erosion-prone geology of the hills above the wetlands, so began measuring the depth of the sediment in the Otūwhero River.

Three months later ex-Cyclone Gita struck. The disastrous flooding brought a huge amount of debris and sediment downstream, raising the riverbed and undoing much of the hard work of the Otuwhero Trust volunteers.

(L) Otūwhero River the day after Gita, showing the debris that came from the hills above in the headwaters of Otūwhero River (looking upstream). 📷: Terry Stanbridge.
(C) The raised height of the riverbed under the bridge in March 2018 showing how much sediment came downstream during Gita (looking downstream). 📷: Tena Stanbridge.
(R) The height of the riverbed under the bridge in November 2017, before Gita (looking downstream). 📷: Terry Stanbridge

This prompted Terry (an ex-science teacher) and his grandson Matthew to extend the breadth of the wetland monitoring. Every couple of months they counted the animals, tested the water quality in the river, recorded the sediment depth and measured the distance from the bridges to the riverbed.

During this time, Matthew used his sediment data to enter the 2018 and 2019 Cawthron Scitec Expos, winning top environmental and conservation awards and a week at the Otago University ‘Hands on Science’ programme. This year he has started studying environmental engineering at Canterbury University.

Matthew’s brother Connor (11) now joins in with his MM2 (Marine Metre Squared, an Otago University Citizens Science Project) monitoring of the animals in the wetland, and Lara (15) has been monitoring the mud snails and their recovery post-Gita.

The monitoring data that the family has collected before and after ex-Cyclone Gita has been crucial to help the Tasman District Council with the future management of the area. The wetland has changed extensively after the impact of Gita, but the monitoring by the Stanbridge family is showing some improvement, giving hope that this special area will one day, with lots of voluntary support, be able to sustain the rare flora and fauna it once did.

It is heartening to see how Terry and Naomi have worked closely with their community and have immersed their family in caring for the environment in which they live.

So, as you get outdoors and explore Aotearoa, celebrate all the volunteers for nature that are working together to protect and enhance our amazing country. If you are travelling to the Abel Tasman National Park, look around and you might see this dedicated family out there working together in the wetland that they and many in their community have spent years restoring.

National Volunteer Week 2021

National Volunteer Week runs from the 20 – 26 June 2021. It’s a chance to celebrate and thank all the volunteers and community groups who take action for conservation. We’ll be sharing stories throughout the week about the amazing work of those volunteers who generously give to ensure Papatūānuku thrives.