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Whitebait Connection - a freshwater community conservation education programme

Otamatea High School, Maungatoroto, Northland

OHS wetland area unfenced 2004 small

Case Study on 'what has made a group of year 10 students and their teacher decide to restore their stream and wetland’?

By Ira Seitzer (Former WBC Northland/National Coordinator)

A model group of dedicated Year 10 boys and their teacher, Stella Clyde, from Otamatea High School (OHS) in Maungatoroto, Northland and their natural stream/wetland restoration project, is the subject of the case study to be presented.

This project has received past and present support from numerous local individuals and organisations. They have included:

Students, staff and parents of Otamatea High School
Otamatea Country Club
National Waterways Project
Whitebait Connection Programme
Northland Regional Council
Kaipara District Council
Fonterra (Maungatoroto)
Bill Worsford (horticulturalist)

It is while in my role as ‘NWP/WBC’ facilitator for Northland, that I have had the privilege of being part of the support network for this project.

As mentioned above, the focus of the project sits with Otamatea High School and the wetland and tributary that enters the estuary in the upper Kaipara Harbour.

Back in 2002 science department staff at OHS contacted the Whitebait Connection Programme with a request for freshwater education and technical support. The year 11 and 12 students became involved in learning about the technical and practical aspects of freshwater monitoring and habitat assessment and collating data for the Kaipara District Council.

The schools keen interest and acknowledgement about freshwater issues, environmental education and a willingness to provide their students with valuable learning experiences outside the classroom prompted on-going commitment to this important curriculum area.

An exploration study of a nearby stream took place with several Year 7 and 8 classes in 2003 which resulted in the wonderful discovery of good populations of adult whitebait (inanga).

Not surprisingly, considering the stream flows from a wetland area close by before it enters the Kaipara estuary.

Appreciating the importance of these native fish and understanding the threats to their habitat was enough to generate interest and commitment from an emerging group of talented Year 9 students.

Otamatea downstream of wetland smallThe students responded to an invite from teacher Stella Clyde to form their own ‘environmental focus group’ to design and initiate a plan to improve the biological health of the stream, wetland and estuarine area.

This has resulted in a committed and well-managed team effort most often guided by their equally passionate teacher, Stella Clyde. During 2004-2005 the following project aims and actions have been successfully implemented:

Gather site data and research – historical, present, future
Conduct biological assessments (EE focus group, Yr 11 EE students)
Design and present powerpoint slide show and project plan at public meetings
Present powerpoint show and project plan to other classes at OHS
Create a support network
Source and secure funds from Kaipara district council for fencing, plants
Explore other funding/sponsorship opportunities
Fence, propagate natives and plant wetland area with help from OHS ‘Workskills’course and Senior Horticultural classes
Attend and represent OHS at Youth Environmental Summit

OHS wetland fenced websiteHow many students do you know that would spend their holiday break fencing off the local school country club wetland and planting natives in the pouring rain?

Think: Otamatea High School students.

OHS have a unique group of environmentally-focussed boys who make the most of opportunities. They have no doubts about making a phone call to the Mayor or writing a letter to Fonterra to ask for support!

The group goal is to rehabilitate the wetland – stream – estuary and have walkways around the site which showcase the project work and promote environmental awareness and appreciation of the area.

It takes dedication and vision to remain motivated and encouraged when working on projects such as these.

The school and students have counted on the support of external organisations and community members to provide advice and offer assistance with field work, resources and project planning.

Positive communication and support is often an underestimated ‘key’ in the success of school and community projects.

With teachers and students already undergoing enormous pressure to meet work and school demands, it is vital as environmental educators that we are able to continue to offer and provide quality assistance and resources for the duration of the project.

"We are meeting again next Tuesday and would love to have your input if possible. Please can you get back to me asap. I am inviting 2 local people - Bill Worsfold (re trees to plant and how it improves farm land) and Peter Yardley who has just recently taken a group of politicians around the Kaipara (by boat - to look at the possibility of getting trees planted around the edge of waterways etc.)
I really need your expertise and input to make sure this works and to keep me on track.
Thanks
Stella"
(Stella Clyde, Teacher, Otamatea High School)

OHS EE group websiteThe future is looking great with plans for the hort students to continue propagating many more natives for planting season next year and to fence the lower stream reaches.

There are also short-term plans to teach the students how to undertake a habitat inventory so they may record and collect relevant site data.

The boys have played with the idea of designing their own project website too! an ideal way to promote their project and encourage ideas and feedback.

You’ll be hearing a lot more about Otamatea High School and their EE group, I’m sure!

Ira Seitzer

NWP/WBC facilitator

Northland

September 2005

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