Early settlers named the whitebait species 'Galaxid', after the galaxy, as they thought that the spots on their backs looked like stars in the night sky.

Whitebait catch consists primarily of the young of three species: inanga, koaro and banded kokopu; inanga is by far the most commonly caught species.

Giant kokopu, short-jawed kokopu and smelt are also occasionally present in the whitebait catch along with the young of many other fish such as eels, bullies and trout.

Most whitebait species spend part of their life cycle in fresh water and part in the sea.  However, some have adapted to being landlocked in lakes and no longer have to migrate to the sea to breed e.g. dwarf inanga.


In late winter and early spring whitebait migrate back up rivers and streams, finally settling and growing in bush covered streams and swamps. The start of the migration is thought to be influenced by river flows (i.e. shortly after floods) and phases of the moon.


Mature inanga adults migrate downstream to lower river sections and estuaries to spawn in grasses covered by water during spring tides. The eggs remain in the grass until the next spring tide covers them again when the young hatch and are carried out to sea. The spawning habits of other whitebait species are not well known.


The five galaxiid species are found in many different habitats from lowland swamps to rocky streams. Their presence appears to be closely tied to overhead cover and waterside vegetation.


Giant kokopu live in swampy and heavily vegetated streams, often in pools over a mud bottom. Short-jawed kokopu, banded kokopu and koaro prefer fast flowing rocky or boulder bottomed streams with forest cover. Inanga are less "fussy" but are generally found in lower catchment waters.


One of the major problems affecting the whitebait fishery is the destruction of habitat for egg laying or adult fish. As whitebait adults tend to live in natural swamps and bush covered streams it is in the best interest of whitebaiters to ensure that adequate areas of these habitats remain.


The Department of Conservation has been active in identifying whitebait spawning habitat and arranging for its protection. Protection has involved seeking the co-operation of landowners to have spawning areas fenced off from stock. The Department sees the protection of whitebait spawning habitat as playing a major role in enhancing the lasting viability of the fishery.


Another major problem is barriers that stop young fish from getting to adult habitat.


Please note that whitebait are native fish and the giant and short-jawed kokopu are under threat in many areas!


Your assistance in keeping the whitebait fishery healthy not only benefits you, but the health of New Zealand's natural living systems. Don't take more than you need.





Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust (MTSCT) www.mtsct.marinenz.org.nz/

Trust Documents (Click on the links below to view our trust documents):

2014 annual report

Strategic Plan - our guiding document

Health & Safety Policy

MTSCT programe structure diagram 

National Expansion Model

2014 Chaiperson's Report

In the vision of our Trust, the biodiversity of our ocean, coastal areas, our streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands is respected as a taonga (treasure). We view these systems as a whole with no boundaries. Restoration of any part of the system supports the whole. Ours is a special generation, we have the opportunity and obligation to reverse past trends of exploitation of the natural world. We feel there is an urgent need to halt continued degradation of the natural systems and biodiversity upon which all life ultimately depends. In the social and cultural realms there are positive paths forward which we will work to develop and support.

The Northland-based Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust was established in 2002, as a charitable umbrella and support organisation for the Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) marine education and Whitebait Connection (WBC) freshwater education programmes.  These are both  leading models in education for sustainability in New Zealand and now available nationally.

In addition to EMR and WBC  we have developed a range of supporting projects, resources and services such as community guided snorkel days, community events for Seaweek & Conservation week, DVD’s, the MarineNZ website, and the Drains to Harbour and Mangrove Discovery programmes.  A diagram of the structure of the trust and its programmes can be viewed by clicking on the link at the top of this page.

The Trust recognises the Treaty of Waitangi and will strive to honor the principles of this founding document. The partnership between the cultures challenges us to learn from and respect the knowledge and wisdom underlying the tikanga (tradition) of our indigenous culture. Empowerment and restoration of the kaitiakitanga (guardianship) is a critical challenge and an even greater opportunity in today's society.

The Trust sees education as a vital part of society and central to all environmental restoration. We will support the community in every way possible to develop environmental education that is based on experiential learning and engagement in real environmental challenges and opportunities facing communities.

The Trust works from a vision that sees communities ultimately holding the solutions and resources to tackle the environmental problems that we face today. The Trust will strive to work in ways that builds community involvement, fosters equity, and works toward a shared vision of ecological sustainability as the basis of all community.

The continued development of the Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust brings together an extensive array of professional skills and diverse capabilities. Within our group of six trustees there is a balance of youth and experience, scientific, social scientific, leadership and educational accomplishment. Our trustees include marine biologist and photographer Dr Roger Grace, an environmental public relations specialist Sioux Campbell, biologist and marine conservation campaigner Vince Kerr, businessman and commercial diver Hilton Leith, environmental social entrepreneur Samara Nicholas, environmental educator Kim Jones and Maoritanga enthusiast Nicki Wakefield.

We embrace a philosophy of experiential learning and fostering community engagement in education for sustainability and action.  Our work is unique in its simple yet powerful principles and robust scientific foundation.  Through this we deliver solutions to some of New Zealand’s most pressing environmental challenges.

An inspiring blend of community based social marketing, education for sustainability and community engagement principles, combined with demonstrated passion and leadership from our trustees, consultants and co-ordinators provides us with a special ability to motivate change.



Hilton Leith is our current chairperson. Hilton sees life as an opportunity to continually learn and change. Hilton has been fortunate to spend half of his working life free diving for rock lobster, paua and sea urchin. The balance was spent in real estate. He saw both of these as wonderful opportunities to learn about himself and his connection with his surroundings. Hilton is a PADI Rescue Diver and a knowledgeable businessman. He believes our future is linked to how we treat our environment today. Hilton continues to add value to the trust in the areas of financial processes and strategic vision as a non-consulting trustee. Hilton has responsibility for advising on any issues and supporting consulting trustees.

Contact: Email: handm@xtra.co.nz 

Vince Kerr is a biologist with a background in environmental education, forestry, horticulture and conservation management. Vince is an advocate for marine conservation.  Vince played a key support role in the Kamo High School marine reserve campaign.
Vince is the driving force behind our Trust community marine information website




Programme Director and MTSCT Treasurer

Samara Nicholas (nee Sutherland) is the MTSCT Treasurer and Programme Director which includes being the EMR national coordinator. She has responsibility for the overall management of the EMR programme; liaison with funders & partners; milestone and financial reporting; and some delivery. She was recognised in 2005 in the Sir Peter Blake Leadership awards as one of New Zealand 's Emerging Leaders. She has a Bachelor of Applied Science degree from AUT and is a graduate of Northland Polytechnic's Diploma of Environmental Management, and was a co-founder of the EMR and Drains to Harbour programmes. Samara is also a graduate of Kamo High School , where she was Head Girl and played a key role in the Kamo High School marine reserve proposal. Samara is a PADI Divemaster and registered assessor for unit standards in snorkeling.
Other Achievements include: Whangarei Young Person and Young Leader Award, 2004, IUCN-sponsored youth attendee at the International Marine Protected Areas Conference in Geelong, Australia, 2005, Northland Conservation Award, 2005, Northland Seaweek coordinator, 2005, 2006 & 2007, NZ representative at International Youth Development Exchange Programme, Japan, 2006, attendance at the  University of Auckland Fundraising for Not-For Profit organisations and Motivation & Leadership short course, 2007 and DOC-sponsored Youth Voice delegate at Digital Earth, Berkley, USA, 2007


Whitebait Connection National Coordinator and MTSCT Secretary

Kim Jones (nee Boyle) is the trust's secretary and the national coordinator for the Whitebait Connection (WBC) programme.  She has responsibility for the overall development and management of the WBC programme; strategic planning; liaison with funders & partners; milestone and financial reporting; training and supporting the national delivery team; and some delivery.  Kim has delivered and helped shape all of the trust's programmes including co-founding the Drains To Harbour stormwater awareness campaign and Mangrove Discovery Programme.   She has been a keen diver since High School and now holds PADI DiveMaster certification and SFRITO Snorkel Instructor status. She is a graduate of the Diploma in Environmental Management and Conservation at Northland Polytechnic and received the Golden Bay Cement student scholarship in 2005 in recognition of her achievements whilst studying, which has helped fund her education and provided her with experience working within the environmental management industry.  She has a National Certificate in Business Administration and Computing.  Kim was a selected member of the youth delegates at the 2006 Digital Earth symposium on sustainability and is also a committee member of the New Zealand Association for Environmental Education, Northland Branch. Kim has been involved with the trust since 2003 and has been a trustee and coordinator since 2006. Kim is the Chairperson of the Whangarei Harbour Marine Reserve Advisory Committee and member of the Whangarei Harbour Catchment Group.  Kim is also the Director of Oceandiversity Sea Adventures - a dive charter business she runs with her husband Blair out of Omaha.

Sioux Campbell has a long association with environmental education, promotion and sustainability initiatives stretching back to her early days as a journalist at the start of the 1980s.  Providing local coverage of the 245T and Think Big Programme issues in Taranaki was the beginning of a life-time commitment to engaging others in environmental protection.  Sioux's professional background as a reporter, feature writer, public relations practitioner, educationalist and regional manager brings a range of skills to the trust and mixes well in her current work as  both a senior conservation officer and environmental public relations consultant.  She is also a keen diver, open water swimmer, triathlete, kayaker and community participant.

Nicki Wakefield (Ngapuhi, Ngai Tahu, Te Arawa) holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Waikato. Throughout her study, which ranged widely from marine and terrestrial ecology to study of the Resource Management Act, Nicki gained many skills. Since completing her degree in 2007 Nicki has undertaken genetic research on plant and animal species endemic to New Zealand (Giant Wire Rush and the Auckland Tree Weta) and began learning the EMR programme and it's kaupapa in 2008. Nicki is a Programme Coordinator in Northland and is currently focussed onthe developemnt of our native plant nurseries in Whangarei.





Dr Roger Grace is a well known marine biologist and professional photographer. Roger is an active campaigner for marine conservation in New Zealand and internationally. He has played a role in many of New Zealand’s marine reserve campaigns and is a frequent contributor of articles on marine conservation to popular magazines. Roger was involved as a supporter and biologist for the Great Barrier, Tiritiri and Mimiwhangata marine conservation projects. Roger is a regular contract photographer on the Greenpeace vessel "Rainbow Warrior".  He received the Queen's Service Medal for public service in 2005. Roger is a PADI rescue diver and OSH certified for scientific, photographic and tourism diving.