Teens drive creek care in Ōtara
A project led by two sisters in Ōtara is bringing the community together to clean up the Ōtara Creek Reserve and improve their local environment.
Sisters Jahnah and Reggae Cameron are involving friends, whānau (family) and the wider community in their quest to clean up the area, prevent rubbish and waste entering the awa (river), and reduce the noxious koi carp population in the creek.
Jahnah is the coordinator of the project Kaitiakitanga O Tara, which is run through non-government organisation Accelerating Aotearoa and focusses on improving the aquatic environment of the awa through a series of ‘Geek Camps’ undertaking student-led research.
Jahnah says the work was spawned when she and her friends noticed that the awa was dirty. “We never used to go near it. We just started wanting to clean it up because we could see it was dirty and there was rubbish there.”
Kaitiakitanga (guardianship) O Tara is focussed on measuring the koi carp population at the park, a trapping programme to reduce the population, and determining the impact on water quality. The first phase was to explore water quality testing and koi population counting techniques and set baseline measurements.
The most challenging part has been finding a reliable method to count the fish. “They may go past again and you count them twice, or are hidden in the bloom, or because of the dirty water you might not see them,” says Jahnah.
However that didn’t stop the student teams persevering. They researched how to successfully count koi carp populations, and built three types of rafts to allow them to monitor the fish.
Finding a good method is still a work in progress, but they’ve had success with a range of techniques and tests measuring the water quality in Ōtara Creek.
They tested the water oxygen levels which indicated it had consistently high levels of oxygen and that the water was “pretty dirty,” Jahnah says.
Other tests showed acidity levels were consistently too high, being “well over what it should be. It is not all the fault of the koi carp. There are other factors like pollution and a lot of rubbish in the creek.”
In May the team shared their new skills and findings at South Tech Week in Auckland. They demonstrated to around 1000 students how to test water quality and build a koi counting raft, and shared how they are working to improve their community environment.
For almost a year, the sisters have been involved their local community in regular awa clean ups and riparian tree planting and now there's less rubbish in the area, Jahnah says. “It makes me feel good that it is actually working and it is motivating to continue with the work.”
Recently Jahnah event-managed a mass planting of 2000 donated trees.
“These girls have planned, then gone out and brought the community together to make this happen. It’s hard to explain that magic,” says Accelerating Aotearoa’s Chief Executive, Judy Speight.
“If you look at the work they have done to engage the community with the kaitiaki [environmental caretakers], it is huge. They have even got their mum involved in making the food and whānau on the barbecue for all the helpers.”
Jahnah says it’s important to educate the community and she enjoys speaking at community meetings. “I share it with the meeting and their families come along too, and all the people that live around the creek. They all help and everyone gets to know each other.”
And she says she’s on a mission to keep raising awareness so that the next generation can carry on the work.
The next stage of the project is to develop options for trapping and disposal of koi carp - to reduce populations and explore that impact on local water quality.
About the Project
Kaitiakitanga O Tara is run by Jahnah and Reggae Cameron through Accelarating Aotearoa, with support from the South Auckland Participatory Science Platform.
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