Pongakawa students enjoy wetland lesson

Supplied photo.

Not many schools have their own wetland but Pongakawa School does.

At the edge of the school grounds lies 1.5 ha of restored wetland, planted with native vegetation. In late June the students were treated to a special experience learning about wetland ecosystems.

The lesson was carried out by ecologist Dr Jenn Sheppard with support from the Western Bay of Plenty District Council which is contributing to the restoration of the wetland.

Jenn led the students through activities on water quality, fish, macroinvertebrates and birds. Students also set nets and caught eels in the wetland’s ponds.

Recognising that many of the students were third generation at the school, Council’s Environmental Development Officer Glenn Ayo, asked Jenn to teach the kids about the wetlands. “The community have been caring for this wetland for generations – one family has been at the school 129 years. We want to empower the kids at Pongakawa School so they feel a sense of ownership and connection to the whenua.

“By investing in these kids, we’re helping to create guardians for the future, while also progressing the District’s vision for a clean, green and valued environment.”

Corrina Dibley, Year 3/4 Team Leader at Pongakawa School says that this term their school have focussed on Mana Whenua. “We recognise how fortunate we are to have a wetland so close because it becomes an extension of our classroom. The team have been looking at kaitiakitanga - how we can look after our immediate environment so that we can enjoy the benefits for years to come.”

“Our students have developed a clear understanding of the wetland ecosystem and that our actions have consequences for the invertebrates, birds, and other wildlife living within it.”

Initial restoration at the site began over 40 years ago with plantings on what was the edge of a soggy paddock. Since then, wetland restoration has been a community effort, and long time volunteers Maggy and Karl Buhler were on hand during the lesson to see the students enjoy the fruit of their many years of hard work. Past and present students from Bay Conservation Cadets were also there to help out.

An ecological report undertaken by Jenn found that the school wetland is home to at least 16 species of birds, but only one species of native fish (shortfin eel) and a small variety of macroinvertebrates.

Council is overseeing the next steps of wetland restoration including the installation of fish passage that will allow fish to move from connected streams into the wetland.

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