Opoutere Welcomes EcoQuest Students during “Keep NZ Beautiful” Week.

Since the 1990’s undergraduate students from the University of New Hampshire have visited Aotearoa to study with the EcoQuest Education Foundation. Part of this study involves a field trip to Opoutere where the students engage with our environment not just in a learning capacity but in a directly beneficial way. Next week’s visit coincides with “Keep NZ Beautiful” week and the EcoQuest team will be conducting clean ups as they are visiting various locations around Opoutere.

Ric Balfour, a lecturer at the EcoQuest Education Foundation would like to formally introduce his team and what they do when they are in Opoutere:

“Field studies for EcoQuest students in and around the Wharekawa estuary

The EcoQuest Education Foundation is a Private Training Establishment and a Registered Charitable Trust, based in Whakatiwai on the Kaiaua Coast. The Vision of the Foundation is: “Catalysts for sustainability through education and research”. EcoQuest has a long-standing partnership with the University of New Hampshire, and provides semester and summer programs for undergraduate students from the US. Current programs are focused on applied field studies (ecology, restoration and environmental policy) and research (www.ecoquest.unh.edu  ; https://www.facebook.com/pages/EcoQuest-Education-Foundation  ).  Semester students are in Aotearoa for 15 weeks.

During the mid-late 90’s, one of the EcoQuest co-founders (through personal friends in Opoutere) got involved with the ORRA and represented the ORRA at resource consent hearings and the Environment Court on several occasions.  EcoQuest recognises the special nature of the Wharekawa estuary, and the unique challenges that Opoutere residents and ratepayers face in maintaining their environment while catering for the needs of people and wildlife.  Opoutere is very much a second home for the EcoQuest team: we have brought students to Opoutere twice a year since 1999!  Over the years, people from Opoutere have always extended a warm welcome to EcoQuest, and we have learnt a lot from the residents and ratepayers – who have always been generous with their time and energy toward us.  We spend four days in Opoutere, based at the YHA, studying estuarine ecology, and investigating challenges related to managing natural resources for multiple uses.  The field work focuses on various aspects: the estuary and associated wetlands, and effects of landuse in the catchment on the estuary and its biota. Once a year (February) we carry out a shellfish survey as part of the Hauraki Gulf shellfish monitoring programme.  During our field trip in September of this year, we will be out in the estuary, kayaking (and on foot at low tide), in order to:

– learn about the ecology of estuarine wetlands and associated habitats

– carry out a vegetation mapping exercise (estuarine vegetation communities)

– interpret the environment at a landscape level

– carry out field investigations in order to gain an understanding of resource management for multiple uses (residential, recreational, wildlife protection and primary industry)

– Learn about the role of the RMA related to development in the coastal zone

Through practical field work our students learn how to investigate and assess biophysical patterns and processes. During this week, students also have a chance to investigate related topics; they work in small teams and we conclude the week with peer- teaching sessions in the Opoutere Hall.

Since it is officially “Keep NZ Beautiful” week (http://www.knzb.org.nz/ ), EcoQuest will be going the extra distance to help clean up  areas in which we are studying and working.  Service learning and engaging with community are important parts of the experiences of our students while they study with us in New Zealand. We are often involved in planting days (some of the pohutukawa by the Kapakapa stream were planted by EcoQuest students more than 10 years ago), releasing seedlings, or with monitoring activities. All our research projects have scientific and societal relevance, and help to improve our understanding of natural resources, restoration activities and how science and policy interact.

Ric Balfour is one of several faculty at EcoQuest, and he and three other staff will accompany the EcoQuest team this week (Sep 15-18).  If you want to know more about EcoQuest, you can contact Ric (ric@ecoquest.co.nz ) or the EcoQuest Director Jono Clark (jono@ecoquest.co.nz ).”

Say hi to the team if you see them around, we are honoured to have them keeping an eye on our precious neighbourhood.

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