The cool waters of Nelson's Cable Bay have been a window on the wonders of marine reserves this week for more than 50 aspiring young environmental leaders.
Horoirangi Marine Reserve, which extends the bay's headland, was one of several sites around the region in which the New Zealand students, and a few from the Pacific, put their earth studies to practise.
The 13th annual Sir Peter Blake Youth EnviroLeaders' Forum was held in the region for the first time at the invitation of Environment Minister and Nelson MP Nick Smith.
Some of the students had never snorkelled, but specialist marine reserves educator Jude Heath conducted a safety briefing which included advice on what not to do if face to face with a stingray. She explained the reserve was still young and yet to flourish.
Ms Heath is the top of the south educator for the nationwide programme, Experience Marine Reserves, which puts together courses for experimental learning on marine life in New Zealand.
Horoirangi was relatively young, having been established in 2006, and was yet to flourish, she said.
"They will see that it's slow in the growth and development and that will show them the difference between a marine reserve that's new in the South Island compared to Poor Knights or Goat Island," she said as the students prepared to get into the water.
Some of the students, including Claire MacLennan of Auckland, had been at Cable Bay earlier in the week on a kayak expedition, and got a big surprise when an orca family popped up. The experience of two adult orca and a baby swimming beneath the kayaks was incredible, she said.
The Sir Peter Blake Trust, formed in honour of the yachtsman and explorer, encouraged environmental awareness and leadership development in those seeking to make a positive difference to the planet.
Environment programme manager Jacob Anderson said Nelson's three surrounding national parks set it apart as a classroom for environmental studies. Project Janszoon in the Abel Tasman National Park was a leader nationally for the work it was doing on enhancing biodiversity.
"It's amazing for the students to visit and see that sort of leadership in action. It's not just the Department of Conservation staff or the volunteers, but actually getting the whole community engaged in some of these big issues like pest eradication in New Zealand," he said.
Gisborne student Georgia Watson was in her final year at high school, and hoped to study environmental science at Victoria University. The week had convinced her she was on the right track.
"Being surrounded by so many more people passionate about the environment just makes me even more...happier, and knowing there's other people out there who want to make a difference. It's motivating - yeah, I love it."
South Auckland trades student Tupou Charlie said the experience had been life changing. He was not used to the outdoors on such a scale and said the region was perhaps how New Zealand might have been long ago.
Tupou said he had a special interest in sustainable construction materials, and finding ways that the industry could work with them in the future.
This was the first year the forum was open to students from Pacific nations. The trust said it aimed to create a network of connected leaders across the Pacific, because collaboration would be part of future environmental solutions.
Omar Ubedei from the Caroline Islands studies marine biology at Palau Mission Academy, and said the forum programme itself had impressed him. He planned to develop aspects of it back home, and start a club at school focused on the environment.