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Ahuroa School–18 September 2019

September 20, 2019

In April this year, all the students attending Ahuroa School came out to CUE Haven for a day of outdoor learning.  The students have been studying water quality at the stream near their school and today, teacher Kevin Sutherland brought a small group of his students to explore the stream at CUE Haven so they could to do more intensive study on water quality and aquatic animals and compare the health of different waterways.

The students have been working with educator Stephanie McLeod of Whitebait Connection, an environmental education group focused on the health of New Zealand’s streams and waterways.

Stephanie came out the evening before the students’ visit and set out some fish traps in the stream so the students would be able to see what larger creatures were living in the stream.  We went out to various points along the stream and set the traps.

Stephanie brought different types of traps to catch different fish.

We kept our fingers crossed hoping that there would be some fish in the traps the next morning!

The group arrived the next morning and accompanying teacher Kevin, were students Claudia, Emily, Maddie, Meisha, Moana, Paul, Rachel, Sanjana and Santhiya.  Additionally Katherine, a parent of one of the students, joined the group to help out for the day.  Also joining us was matua Lyall, our friend and neighbor.

Our friend, Rita, from Te Aroha Pa marae, teaches Maori culture at the Ahuroa School and knew the students and stopped in briefly for a visit and led the group in a short karakia before morning tea.

Stephanie then gave the students an overview of the plan for the day and a safety briefing and Thomas added some site specific safety briefing comments.

We then walked down to where Stephanie had set the first net and waited while Stephanie went into the bush to check the trap.

We were very happy to see that we had caught three big banded kokopu, a native New Zealand galaxid fish.

Stephanie took some time to tell the students a little about the fish and its habits and showed the students how to carefully study them.

We then moved to the next trap.

In that trap we found 18 whitebait and two adult inanga.  Whitebait is a generic term for immature fish which are too small to specifically identify and in New Zealand it refers to fish of the Galaxid family.   We were very happy to see all of the fish but especially the inanga which are a declining and at risk galaxid.

The group then moved to the next trap where we found the biggest (over 22 cm) kokopu yet as well as an eel approximately 80cm long.

The eel was in no mood to stick around to be studied and vanished as soon as Kevin and Stephanie got it out of the net.

The kokopu was surprisingly calm considering it had just spent the night stuck in the net with an angry eel.  But we were able to take the time to study it further.

We then took a short walk up to explore more of the CUE Haven stream and check the other traps on the way to where the students would be doing their water quality tests.

On the way, Stephanie pointed out features of CUE Haven and the neighbouring property that affected how water flowed to the stream and could affect water quality.

The students also got a chance to make friends with a weta in one of the weta hotels along the track.

Once we got to the testing site, Stephanie gave a short talk about water quality issues and explained the tests the students would be doing.  She also took a sample of water for testing.  Stephanie explained that the students would be doing three experiments—testing water quality for oxygen, pH and phosphates and nitratres, testing clarity of the water to assess silt levels and lastly examining water samples to identify macroinvertebrates—the tiny animals that live in streams.  The amount and diversity of animal life is an indicator of the health of the waterway.

She asked the students to serve as the data recorder so that the results of the tests could be kept for future reference.  She explained that the first step was to record the time and temperature of both the water and the ambient air.

Once the temperatures were recorded it was time to test the water clarity.  Water clarity testing involved looking through a tube filled with water and measuring the distance light can penetrate to see how much silt and other material is suspended in the water.  Many aquatic creatures cannot thrive in cloudy water.

Stephanie explained and demonstrated how the test works.

The students teamed up to conduct several tests and the results of the individual tests were averaged together.

The next test was measuring the pH of the water.  This involved using test strips and interpreting the colours on the strips after they were dipped in a sample of water.

The students recorded their results and also took notes on what they were seeing.

The next experiment was to test for dissolved oxygen in the water.  Stephanie explained that high levels of oxygen mean that the water can support lots of life.

She then demonstrated how the test is performed and the students interpreted the results.

We were very happy to learn that the oxygen level in the CUE Haven stream is very high!

The next test was for nitrates and phosphates in the water.  Unlike oxygen, we don’t want to see a high reading of either nitrates or phosphates as high levels can affect the freshwater aquatic environment.  The test involves comparing two samples, the test and the control so the students had a chance to learn about that experimental technique.

We were very happy with the results. The testes showed no significant level of nitrate. A very low level of phosphates was detected, but this was attributed to the decaying organic matter in the stream.

The last test involved collecting a sample of water and leaf litter from the bottom of the stream to identify the macroinvertebrates.  Stephanie showed the students a chart which would help them with the identification process.

The group then walked to a different location downstream to do another sample and to see if there were different creatures there.

At this location the stream was more accessible so Stephanie also trained the students how to collect the samples.

The students found a variety of macroinvertebrates including damselfly nymphs, rounded snails, mosquito larvae, pond skaters and a New Zealand water spider.  We were happy to see that some of the creatures the students found are sensitive to water quality and are not found in polluted streams.

It has been amazing to see how the water quality has improved since the CUE Haven restoration program began in 2008. Thanks to all the amazing volunteers who have assisted with planting thousands of trees at CUE Haven and restoring the land and waterways, the CUE Haven stream (Wai Matauranga), is now once again thriving with aquatic life.

At the end of the session, the students helped pack up all the equipment and we went back to the cottage for lunch.

We want to thank Whitebait Connection for enabling Stephanie’s visit and a huge thank you to Stephanie.  We really enjoyed working with you and you are great with the students.  We all learned a lot thanks to you sharing your knowledge and taking the time to explain things.  We hope to see you again soon at CUE Haven educating another group of students.

We’d like to thank Lyall and Katherine for joining us today and helping out. And also thank you to Katherine for taking great pictures!

A very special thanks to Kevin for his continuing interest in CUE Haven and for once again bringing his students out for a great day of learning.

And most of all we want to thank the great group of students and budding scientists.  We enjoyed seeing you again and we were very impressed with your curiosity and enthusiasm to learn. We hope you enjoyed the day as much as we did.  We hope that what you learned today will encourage you to pursue science studies and also make you better kaitiaki of our environment.  We look forward to having you all back for more educational visits at CUE Haven.

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