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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!’

Students checking out a fish under the microscope.

Checking out a fish

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.

A sample collected from the wetland.

From the wetland

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.

Experiencing Marine Reserves Coordinator, Camellia Nielsen being interviewed.

Coordinator, Camellia Nielsen, being interviewed

“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.

Showing the children how to make things from natural materials that grow around the lake.

Whaea Betsy and Whaea Jane show the children how to make things from natural materials that grow around the lake

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.

Whaea Betsy with the poi and waka she made.

Whaea Betsy with the poi and waka she made

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.

By Trish Irvine, Ranger Community Relations

After humble beginnings in January 2009 with only 22 Auckland youth, this year, MAD (Make A Difference) Marine launched its 5th year with a record 48 secondary school students from 25 schools across Auckland.

Marine debris found by the MAD Marine team.

Marine debris

The three day leadership hui held on pest-free Motutapu Island kicked off city-side, at the Voyager Maritime Museum, with a welcome and blessing from iwi, a presentation by marine guru Roger Grace, and a talk about marine rubbish from Sustainable Coastlines. The students explored nearby city streets to identify and photograph rubbish-filled drains.

MAD Marine students working in the Motutapu Restoration Trust nursery.

MAD Marine students working in the Motutapu Restoration Trust nursery

Once all the gear and food had been inspected for potential stowaways, we set off for Rangitoto Island which is linked by a causeway to the much older, Motutapu Island. On arrival, we walked in the sunshine to Motutapu Restoration Trust’s (MRT) nursery where students carried out various tasks to help the Trust.

Later, at our base (the Motutapu Outdoor Education Camp), there were presentations about marine mammals and ecological restoration on the island, followed by a night walk to see the freshwater ecology.

Day two began with a dawn walk up the hill to the WWII battery, and after breakfast, a beach clean-up led by the Watercare Harbour Clean Up Trust.

The groups really began to bond with each other and the natural environment during the rocky shore id session … “Aaah look at that tiny cushion star … There’s a cat’s eye … Do you see the half crab? … Who wants to hold the kina? … Can you feel its tube feet?”.

Students participate in a beach clean-up.

Beach clean-up

Kayaking proved to be challenging for some students but they determinedly overcame their fears. Snorkeling in the bay’s unofficial marine reserve revealed an underwater world that was less familiar but full of surprises—snapper up close. Auckland Council’s Waicare team introduced some science and the marine planning session encouraged student’s creativity. In the evening, student leaders inspired everyone with the actions they had taken in their schools and communities, outlining the support they experienced, and the barriers they faced and overcame to “make a difference”.

Did we mention the food? Each year, with great leadership from Cate Jessep Auckland Council, we provide food from scratch, with the help of the students. There’s pizza, French bread, pasta, sushi, salad dressings, stewed plums and biscuits!

The students make pizza.

Interactive pizza making

On the summit of Rangitoto, students looked across to the city and contemplated their actions for 2013. Back down the hill, Marian from the Rangitoto Island Historic Conservation Trust shared a glimpse of a simpler time, showing students the (award winning) restored Bach 38 museum; how people connected with the land, re-used and salvaged materials to build these humble baches that are now an icon. After hilarious skits from each group we journeyed home exhausted and inspired.

One student kicked off her actions the following day with this blog – Ignore that jellyfish costume! One student’s article was even published in Element Magazine.

And aside from the formal evaluations filled in by students we’ve had some fantastic unsolicited feedback:

Another student:

“It was such an inspiring atmosphere to be amongst. Being surrounded by such motivated and change-making adults as well as young people made me feel a great sense of hope for years to come.

“In a society that focuses so much on the negative and so-called ‘dead-end’ state of the environment around us, it is refreshing to see people not only with the aspirations to make a change, but the motivation to follow through.

I hope to FINALLY implement a successful and efficient recycling system, beginning with a rubbish audit, upon my return to school. Although something more revolutionary would be more likely to fulfil my desire to make a change, I figure it’s best to start with baby steps.”

A parent’s feedback:

Please accept our thanks for providing such a fun and educational excursion. It sounded like it was full on but my daughter returned home with a fresh and perceptive understanding of why it is so important to look after the waterways.

“She has been treated to a rich experience in marine education and I hope this will manifest itself into becoming a responsible and assertive caretaker for the future.”

MAD Marine snorkelling and kayaking.

MAD Marine snorkelling and kayaking

The challenge for students who attend MAD Marine is to take their learning and inspiration back to their schools and communities and “make a difference”. This is just the start of the journey, which is ongoing—with catch up events planned each school holiday where students share knowledge successes and challenges with each other, and participate in another volunteer event.

MAD Marine is a partnership between DOC and the Auckland Council. We share the enormous amount of planning and resourcing that makes this annual event such a success.

A ground-breaking new youth leadership programme is bringing our national icon – the kiwi – up close and personal to 19 senior South Island secondary school students.

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