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From class to crayfish: science gets real

Students in Gore are testing water quality and identifying native manu (birds) with their predators to help locals make their farm environmentally sustainable.

Ākonga (students) in Years 9 and 10 at Gore High School are not only discovering the science behind the world around them, but applying what they learn through a unique partnership with Hokonui Rūnanga Ngāi Tahu, who need the students' help.

Students checking the clarity of the water

The project called Science Around Us is run by Amy Christie, Assistant Head of Science at Gore High School and alumnus of the Science Teaching Leadership Programme.

“What we’re doing brings the things that the students do in the classroom out into the real world, where they can actually see the impact they can have when applying what they’ve learnt,” Amy explains.

“I also wanted to make some links with Ngāi Tahu, especially for our Māori students, as it can make such a difference when local communities work together on problems.”

Taking the water temperature

Students at the rūnanga, checking which animals live in the water

This isn’t just a few days of fun for the rangatahi, though. The students are developing long-term scientific skills and knowledge, which they will use in monitoring the water and wildlife at the repo (wetlands) that hosts a new kōura (crayfish) farm at Hokonui Rūnanga Ngāi Tahu.

Over the course of a year, the students will monitor the kōura farm’s environment once a month, which will help the Rūnanga make the farm environmentally sustainable.

Richard Twinning, Ngāi Tahu Representative on the Otago Fish and Game board, is a volunteer at the Rūnanga. He says that if it wasn’t for Amy making connections with the Rūnanga last year, he would have struggled to monitor the kōura farm’s pond and wildlife, since the scientist who helped them set up the kōura farm had moved away.

“Why get involved with teens? Well, I need help and they need help to carry out their field work, and we are both local so why not combine the both of us together?” Richard says. “The Rūnanga has the subject and Gore High has resources to assist. Education works both ways. So we both benefit.”

Students at the rūnanga

So far, the students have checked the health of the awa (river), carried out manu (bird) counts and identified pests at Dolomore Park just outside Gore.

In the river session, the ākonga learnt how to measure the speed, depth, acidity (pH), temperature, oxygen levels, and clarity of the water, as well as identify the creatures that call it home.

“I really liked catching and looking at all the wildlife in the water,” says 14-year-old Zoe.

Classmate Ryan, 13, adds, “I thought it was cool catching the yabbies [kōura/crayfish]”.

Feona, 13, agrees: “I really liked looking at what was in the water – and I had no idea there were crayfish there!”

Measuring river depthPat with students looking at wildlife in the waterKōura (crayfish) being held by a student

Amy co-ran these sessions with Pat Hoffman, Education Officer at Environment Southland. Pat says that this project is a first because it is initiated and organised by Amy rather than by Environment Southland staff.

“Amy taken it upon herself to make all this happen, and I can see that she's become more confident and empowered as a result,” Pat says. 

“The best part for me is that she and the students are actually doing research that's benefiting the community. Citizen science is only just taking off here in Southland – so this project represents a key moment because they're leading the work & creating all the connections and partnerships in the community.”

In another session at Dolomore Park, the teens headed into thick bush and did five-minute bird counts, to get a starting point on the number and types of native birds living there.

Students doing the bird counting

Not all the sessions have been environment-focused, however. One trip was to a local museum that shared the story of Hokonui moonshine – a strong alcohol once made illegally in the Hokonui Hills but now considered a special whiskey. 

The students were able to see how scientific concepts, such as evaporation and condensation, are used every day by distilleries to create their products.

Students at the distillary

The next step for Amy and the students is to put tracking tunnels in Dolomore Park in the spring, which will reveal which bird predators live there. These tunnels contain an ink pad flanked by long sheets of white card, which capture the predators’ footprints after they've eaten the bait.

“Once we are experts, we will put our tracking tunnels out at the Rūnanga to advise them of what pests they have and what they need to do about pests and plants to encourage native wildlife on their site,” Amy says.

The students will also give research-based recommendations to Gore District Council, including which pests to target so that more native birds will thrive in Dolomore Park, as part of Aotearoa’s national goal to become Predator Free by 2050.

Students with pH test results

Photo credits (rūnanga wetlands, bird count, distillery): Amy Christie.

About the project

Gore High School logoNgāi Tahu logoScience Around Us is run by Amy Christie/Gore High School in partnership with Hokonui Rūnanga Ngāi Tahu, with support from Environment Southland and the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund.

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