By Alison Ballance
“The formula is – give them a bit of information, give them an amazing experience and then get them to put it into action in some way. And after they’ve done that the kids really can tell you a whole lot about what’s different inside and outside a marine reserve.”
Zoe Studd, Experiencing Marine Reserves co-ordinator, Wellington
Since 2002 the Experiencing Marine Reserves programme has been taking primary school students around the country to snorkel inside and outside marine reserves, so they can see for themselves how effective marine protection is. The kids snorkel first in an unprotected area, and they find this exciting as for many of them it is their first experience of snorkelling in the sea. But the biggest excitement comes when they open their eyes underwater in a marine reserve, and find it teeming with life. “We’re really lucky because we’ve got Taputeranga Marine Reserve right on our back door step,” says Wellington Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) co-ordinator Zoe Studd.
Teacher ‘Mr Matt’, as he is known to his class of year 5 and 6 pupils at St Anne’s School in Newtown, says he and his class “have been learning about marine reserves, and how we can protect our sea life so that there’s plenty around for generations to come.”
“We snorkelled last week at Worser Bay beach, which is an unprotected area. And even though for many of us it was our first time seeing the mussels, a little bit of seaweed and a couple of spotties, and it was really exciting, I’ve been fortunate to do it before and I know that what we’re going to see today [in Taputeranga Marine Reserve] is going to blow their minds, because there’s lots out there.”
Julian Hodge is Discovery Programme Manager for the Island Bay Marine Education Centre, which hosts the EMR programme at Taputeranga, and he says that the programme is a great way introducing adults, as well as pupils, to the concept of marine protection. For safety, each buddy pair of children go out in the water with an adult, who might be a marine biology student volunteer, or a teacher aide or parent from the school. “Not only does it help us with the supervision and the safety aspect but also we know the programme is reaching more than just the kids. It’s a double good for us when we get so many parents and aunties and uncles coming along as well.”
The St Anne’s School students I spoke to after the marine reserve snorkel were excited about what they had seen, including several large eagle rays and associated cleaner fish, as well as large paua, blue cod, spotties, kina, blue moki and other fish. They all commented on how much more they saw in the marine reserve than at unprotected Worser Bay.
One of the parent helpers said she had never done anything like it before.
“It was so cool. And it was amazing that it was so close to the actual beach – and there’s all that sea life that I didn’t realise was so accessible. I’m so pleased I took the day off work!”
The Experiencing Marine Reserves programme is time-consuming to run as each school takes part for about a week in total, over the course of a term. The programme begins with a class session learning about the sea. Then, learning to snorkel in a local pool, when students discover how a dive mask lets them see underwater, they experience breathing through a snorkel, and they learn about underwater safety. The safety essentials include sticking together with their buddy pair, signs to indicate that they’re okay, and understanding whistle signals from the shore.
After their snorkel in an unprotected area followed by one in a protected area the students work on action plans and creative projects. Zoe says a previous class made ‘Seed to Sea’ envelopes, containing seeds suitable to plant along streams and waterways, in an effort to prevent sediment running into the sea. Art works, songs and dance have also been used by the students to express their experience. One of the students from St Anne’s school, Enzo Rabino, won the Experiencing Marine Reserves Boddy Stafford Poor Knights Competition, which involved him in a snorkelling trip to the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve.
The Wellington Experiencing Marine Reserves programme worked with three schools during the first term of 2015. Houghton Valley School were also involved in an ongoing marine reserve monitoring programme. The programme provides all the wet suits and snorkel equipment for the students and adults.
As well as Experiencing Marine Reserves Zoe Studd is also involved in two other hands-on outdoor education projects: Healthy Harbours Porirua, and Whitebait Connection, which has previously featured on Our Changing World.