Learning about freshwater through The Whitebait Connection

06 Jan 2022

A contribution by The Friends of Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve Trust

Students from Te Rerenga School, Whenuakite School, Mercury Bay Area School and Tapu School have towards the end of last year participated in The Whitebait Connection, an experiential learning programme about freshwater conservation and catchment restoration.

It was the third year the programme has been offered by The Friends of Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve Trust. Whitianga resident, Amber Boyd, delivers the programme to schools in the Coromandel Peninsula/Hauraki Plains area.

The trust would like to thank Waikato Regional Council’s Environmental Initiatives Fund for their funding of the programme. With this funding, the programme can be offered at little cost to the participating schools. 

The programme consists of a PowerPoint presentation which teaches about freshwater systems, how to monitor freshwater, what rivers need to be “healthy” and everything about whitebait. The students get an understanding that taking juveniles out of a lifecycle means that the species, long term, cannot survive. The best part of the programme is getting the children out to the rivers to test the water health - “bug hunting” being the favourite part of this for many children.  

Through the programme, students from age 4 to Year 8 receive freshwater conservation education along with their teachers and parents/caregivers. The programme utilises an inquiry framework of learning that enables the students to focus on a variety of freshwater topics best suited to their community. As part of their learning, the children also formulate an action plan that does something for the freshwater environment in their community based on the knowledge they have gained during the programme.

The following action plans are underway in Mercury Bay:

  • Te Rerenga School has a wetland project that they are working on continuously.
  • Whenuakite School is working on a stream restoration project behind the school. Amber has been supporting them and helping with the work.
  • Mercury Bay Area School is working on planting and restoration of a wetland at the Whitianga Bike Park. Amber and the students did water testing and progressed the planting schedule last year. The students are also looking to develop their Trees for Survival programme (a charitable trust-run programme aimed at the growing and planting of native trees along waterways and erosion-prone hillsides) to tie in with The Whitebait Connection and Waikato Regional Council.

Other great outcomes include rubbish picked up at every water testing site, removal of pest weed around river/stream edges, clearing of drains going into streams, the children learning how important fresh water is to not only us but the entire world and the teachers receiving information on how to start their own water testing projects within class/school.

When asked if they felt their attitude towards the need to care for the freshwater has change since doing The Whitebait Connection programme, one student said, “I feel like we learnt more about what makes a good river and the importance of fresh water.”

The Whitebait Connection programme is available to any school in the Coromandel Peninsula/Hauraki Plains area thanks to funding provided Waikato Regional Council’s Environmental Initiatives Fund.  Other schools looking to participate this year are Waimata, Tairua, Hikuai and Opoutere.

Amber gets a lot of satisfaction from delivering the programme to schools. She loves being able to teach the children about the environment which we all rely on so much. Our children are our future and we need them to love and respect the environment that we are so lucky to have.

If you would like more information or to register your school’s interest in The Whitebait Connection, please email Amber at amber@whitebaitconnection.co.nz.

Pictured: The Mercury Bay Area School students who won a freshwater animal scientific drawing and printmaking competition in partnership with Amber Boyd from The Whitebait Connection. From the left: Celine Yim, Amber Boyd, Isabelle White and Jackson Goodall. Each student received a $25 book voucher.