Discovering life in awa playgrounds
Local children used to having summer fun in North Taranaki's estuaries now have a new appreciation for this special environment through a health study of their awa (waterways).
Students from Urutī, Mimi and Urenui primary schools are discovering the hidden lives of the many creatures in the estuaries where they enjoy swimming and playing, in a project that’s assessing the health of the Urenui and Mimitangiatua estuaries.
The tamariki are used to having summer fun in the waterways but are now getting a new appreciation for their environment, says project lead Ann-Maree McKay from Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Mutunga.
“The children have spent a lot of time in and around the estuary. This work helps for them to realise how important it is and what impact all these uses have on them.
“They underestimate how much life is happening down there. Seeing all the little shellfish that are in the estuary encourages them to look after it for the future.”
As part of the mahi they gathered information about people’s experiences of the estuaries through a community survey, laid sediment plates to capture depth changes over time, surveyed awa using quadrats, and took core samples that show the mud and sediment layers.
Measurements of the water included pH (acidity) and temperature.
Community sees shellfish decline
Ann-Maree says community feedback was that people felt they were seeing fewer shellfish in recent decades than previously in both the Urenui and Mimitangiatua estuaries.
“People remember collecting many tuangi (cockles), pipi and other shellfish when they were young, particularly in the 1960s and 70s. Now there are only a few there in isolated pockets.”
Surveys were carried out to check the variety and number of shellfish present.
However the good news is that the children are still finding a wide range of shellfish including pūpū (cats eye) and tuangi, and others surveyed believed the estuary health was improving in recent years, she says.
Ann-Maree says they plan to continue quadrat surveys, measuring small rectangular areas (quadrats) along a 10m transect in the estuaries so that numbers and movement can be known and identified.
A sediment plate is a ceramic tile that is buried 30m deep in the estuary. Sediment depths are measured with rods regularly to detect changes in sediment depth over a long period of time.
“The sediment and mud rivers in our system seem to move a lot. When we have looked at other estuary projects around the country they are saying that sediment should only slightly build up over time.
“We are hoping to measure the sediment over time and see if it changes. We don’t know if sediment movement affects the health of the estuary. We are literally just starting to create a baseline, one that we can use in the future.”
Tamariki loving hands on science
Ann-Maree says after learning about the life of the estuaries in the classroom first, the children loved getting out in the mud to find shellfish, footprints and do water testing.
They also enjoyed seeing the results of the core sampling, where 50cm of sediment is extracted in a tube showing the different levels of sand and mud. “They were really interested in that as you could see the different sediment layers – we will do more of this.”
The group also discovered the presence of E. coli - a type of bacteria found in human and animal faeces - in the Urenui estuary, which has storm water flowing into it. The samples have been sent to a lab for further testing and once those results are known, the group will investigate further to see how this can be fixed.
Looking to the future, Ngāti Mutunga is continuing to work with the schools to monitor and improve the health of the estuary, while teaching the children about the diversity in their awa playground.
The clarity of the water was also measured as an indicator of health.
About the project
This project is led by Ngāti Mutunga in partnership with Taranaki Regional Council Clifton Community Board and Urutī, Mimi and Urenui Schools, with support from the Taranaki Participatory Science Platform via Venture Taranaki.
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