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Exploring marine reserves

Two Gisborne primary school students won the opportunity to explore Poor Knights Islands as part of the Exploring Marine Reserves programme.

They were part of a group of 32 students from around the country that took part in the experience.

Awapuni School student Maddisyn Hollamby and Wainui School's Zoe Kluiters won the chance to explore the island, 23 kilometres off New Zealand's Tutukaka Coast.

The 19th annual Exploring Marine Reserves (EMR) Poor Knights competition trip took place on Friday, December 11.

The trip was organised by EMR and made up of students from schools in Northland, Auckland, Gisborne, Taranaki, Coromandel, Nelson, Wellington and Rakiura (Stewart Island).

In Gisborne the EMR programme is provided by He Awa Ora, He Tai Ora, Healthy Rivers, Living Sea Education Trust and delivered by EMR regional co-ordinators Amy-Rose Hardy, Joe Palmer and Murray Palmer.

The snorkel site this year was the Gardens at Maroro Bay, part of the Poor Knights Islands that have been protected by no-take status since 1981.

Opera singer Kawiti Waetford also joined the group on the trip to help energise and inspire the rangatahi. They were treated to opera inside Riko Riko, the world's largest sea cave.

Maddisyn described it as a great experience.

“I dived down almost to the bottom of the marine reserve. I was known as “The Fish”. I think this programme should go for another 19 years,” Maddisyn said.

“I had a great experience and I learned lots of new things about different marine life. If I could go again I would go 100 times over. I liked the snorkelling. I was in the water for the longest out of everyone and I saw lots of fish and learned about snappers and jellyfish. The part that I most enjoyed was swimming with the schools of fish in the caves,” she said.

Maddisyn's mother Sam Hollamby also went on the trip to supervise.

“I found the experience absolutely amazing. It was even more amazing that I got to experience it with my daughter and see her light up when she was teaching me about the marine life,” Ms Hollamby said.

“It was something that I probably wouldn't have experienced if not for the trip that EMR founder Samara Nicholas and all the sponsors make happen. It is amazing to see these kids with such passion for making sure marine life is protected for future generations to enjoy,” Ms Hollamby said.

Zoe Kluiters was delighted that she got to do something she had always wanted to do. “I had never been on an experience like this before. I'm still smiling about it. It was a highlight of my life,” she said.

The EMR programme that Amy, Joe and Murray deliver in Gisborne involves learning about marine biodiversity in the classroom, learning how to snorkel in the pool, and investigating the local marine environment before snorkelling within Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve and taking action with regards to marine conservation in their communities.

This is one Learning Experience Outside The Classroom (LEOTC) programme that He Awa Ora, He Tai Ora, Healthy Rivers, Living Sea Education Trust deliver in Gisborne.

Students were selected based on their action projects and enthusiasm they showed when studying and experiencing the marine environment.

Zoe participated in the full EMR action programme with her class.

They produced letters to the Department of Conservation and the Friends of Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve Committee outlining their advocacy towards the marine reserve to remain a protected environment when it comes up for review in five years.

She also completed some of her own artwork and posters for the community.

She showed a great amount of enthusiasm and interest in the programme.

Zoe was selected as the winner by her teacher, Lorna Yeo, supported by Amy-Rose Hardy.

Maddisyn was chosen to explore Poor Knights Island after participating in the EMR programme where she snorkelled the reef at Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve along with students from her school syndicate.

She completed a piece of artwork that represented the protection of marine biodiversity and conservation which stood out among the rest as her message was clear that she acknowledged the importance of marine reserves for the wider marine environment.

Ms Nicholas said she was impressed with the amazing action projects and passion the students demonstrated for protecting the marine environment.

“Students were involved in a variety of projects that address local marine issues such as educating the wider community about marine reserve boundaries, writing letters to support marine conservation, creating an educational mural and increasing online awareness of marine reserve locations,” Ms Nicholas said.

The competition trip started in 2002 with the support of Dive Tutukaka with just three students from three Northland schools. Over the years, 466 students have been taken on the annual trip.

The participation of EMR representative students from the regions is thanks to the Bobby Stafford-Bush Foundation, including flights, transfers and accommodation in Tutukaka for the entire weekend.

The national expansion of EMR in the regions is supported by the Tindall Foundation.

In addition to the opportunity to represent the school or region for the EMR ACTION prize, they offered the Bobby Stafford-Bush — EMR Ocean Art prize.

The Bobby Stafford-Bush Foundation supports this special prize for young Kiwis that have experienced the marine environment with EMR and display that passion and experience through art.

“This is the second year we have offered the Darren Shields free diving representative prize, for a male Northland high school student that shows talent for free diving. The inaugural prize was won by Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Tonga o Hokianga student Croatia Rudolph and Te Ariki Flavell was the representative for 2020. Both Te Ariki and Croatia assisted on this year's trip as snorkel guides,” Ms Nicholas said.

UNDERWATER EXPLORATION: Students who went on the trip were able to dive to see what underwater life is like. Picture by Sophie Journee
WHANAU FUN: From left, Sam and Maddisyn Hollamby, and Zoe and Anne-Marie Kluiters.
NEW EXPERIENCE: Two Gisborne students along with 30 other school students from around New Zealand explored Poor Knights Islands as part of the Exploring Marine Reserves programme earlier in December. Pictures by Sophie Journee