Source to sea: the wellbeing of water
Youth in rural Dunedin are using augmented reality, Māori knowledge, mapping software and water quality tests as part of their mission to look after the health of local watercourses.
Pūrākaunui School students are learning how to take care of Pūrākaunui Creek.
Rural North Dunedin school children stepped into the world of university science as part of their project to learn about their local watercourses and make plans for sustainable action to enhance and monitor the catchments in the future.
Called Source to Sea and run by the Halo Project initiative, this project involved Pūrūkaunui, Waitati and Warrington Schools studying the Pūrākaunui Creek, Don’s Creek and Carey’s Creek respectively.
The study aimed to give students ‘hands-on’ learning opportunities in science and included investigations of history, Māori connections with the catchment, recreation, changes in land use, water quality testing and surveys of fish and invertebrates.
Waitati students found kōura (crayfish) at Don's Creek.
Project co-ordinator John Fisher says a highlight for the children was working with University of Otago School of Surveying fellow Aubrey Miller, water quality and stream life presenter Taylor Davies-Colley from Orokonui Ecosanctuary, and Brendan Flack (Kāi Tahu, Kai Te Ruahikihiki) from Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki, who gave a Māori perspective of the area.
“The children related to the experts we had really well. They could clearly see their passion and expertise.”
The project had access to a custom Geographic Information System (GIS) provided by the University, which is a mapping system used to identify spatial patterns in a landscape, such as tracking vegetation changes through time with aerial imagery.
Aubrey designed a web-based GIS which the students could use on their tablets. “This way the students could engage with lots of different spatial data in an easy to use environment.”
The students learnt what physical landscapes make up a catchment, how data is measured and captured so that changes can be assessed, and how changes affect what can grow and live in a stream.
Aubrey says the students really enjoyed the mapping work which showed catchment changes over time. “From conversion of native bush to exotic forest or pasture there will be changes to the soils and water run-off. We’re able to give them tools to enable them to see how these things are related.”
And students were eager to use the technology to find change in things they could relate too. “They’d go and look at their house and might find that some time ago it was somebody’s paddock.”
Digital mapping showed the extent of Warrington (red), Waitati (green) and Pūrākaunui (blue) Schools' catchments.
During a visit to the university, the students used an augmented reality sandbox that can replicate a catchment in 3D by altering the sand level.
“They could see and get a feel for the Pūrākaunui catchment, and then model what would happen if you changed the height of sand in a particular area to see how steeper slopes, for example, would impact the flow of water,” Aubrey says.
John says it was exciting for the students to work with Aubrey and the university. “The opportunity for the students to get into the university environment and do real science in the GIS lab was something you are not going to get within a normal school setting.“
The augmented reality sandbox was a highlight for the students.
Aubrey says he loved working with school students. “They are experienced already because they have grown up in this catchment. Being able to provide tools that enable them to engage deeper with their catchments and communities was really rewarding.”
He says that it is important to provide young students opportunities in science. “We need young people to be interested in this sort of thing. It is about science and how to get students to engage in technology. That’s what they will be working with in the future.
“I was impressed that over the course of two terms they covered a lot of material that was very important, and also from their specific area about their own backyards.”
The students looked at how land use can affect the health of catchments.
The students also enjoyed a session with the University of Otago Department of Marine Studies's Aquavan, seeing its stream flow model showing what a catchment is. The Otago Regional Council, Waitaki District Council, and Ryder Environmental provided instruments and resources for field trips to the catchments.
John says the project achieved its goal of providing ‘hands-on learning’ opportunities in science.
The students have developed action plans for each catchment area with recommendations that include riparian planting, further water quality monitoring, removal of rubbish and a walking track. They all shared their learning journey, findings and action plans at three well-attended community gatherings.
About the project
Source to Sea is run by the Halo Project in partnership with the University of Otago, Waitaki District Council, Otago Regional Council, Ryder Environmental and Orokonui Ecosanctuary with support from the Otago Participatory Science Platform.
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