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Meet a Pest Free Hero – Izzy Mackenzie

Published: 19 July 2018
Winning students on Motutapu Island adventure. From left to right: Ben (pilot from InFlite), Michael Ashby (teacher at Mt Albert Grammar);  Lucia and Izzy Mackenzie from (Mt Albert); Hilary Atkinson and Olivia Airey (Marist), and Amelali Vaka (Botany Downs).

This month, we hear about pest-free work from the mouth of the hero herself – Izzy Mackenzie from Mt Albert Grammar.

Izzy and her sister Lucia won Auckland’s moth plant collecting competition – to help eradicate the noxious weed. Auckland Council’s Sustainable Schools team flew the Mackenzie’s and other top-collecting students to Motutapu Island (courtesy of In Flite helicopters) to learn more about conservation work.

More Mt Albert Grammar students and staff are heading back to Motutapu to do some volunteer planting days on 5 August and 2 September.

Izzy tells us about the competition and her adventure.

Unforgettable flights

From one thing to the next, this year’s regional moth plant competition saw my sister and I soaring in a helicopter over Auckland harbour!

The news of my adventure was first delivered to me by MAGS teacher and environmental advocate Mike Ashby.

“Have you ever been on a helicopter before?” He asked me casually one school day and smiled at my confusion.

Mere days later my sister and I; the other top moth-plant collectors; the winner of the Botany regional competition and Mr Ashby were climbing into a helicopter for an unforgettable ride to Motutapu Island.

Along the Auckland isthmus we flew, as a miniature city of houses, fences, roads and cars unfolded beneath the cockpit windows. Soon the islands of Tamaki Makaurau came into view – humps of land encompassed by a blanket of blue ocean. Our pilot aimed straight for the iconic Rangitoto; as we circled above the mount we were suddenly tilted on what seemed a right angle turn, staring into the centre of the ominous crater!

In what seemed like no time we arrived at Motutapu Island and disembarked with exhilarated smiles and bright eyes. What an experience!

Meet a Pest Free Hero Izzy Mackenzie 2
Izzy and Lucia MacKenzie with their 1st place 2600 pods

Green thumbs and plant nurseries

From here, Motutapu Restoration Trust hosts Ken and Nanda took us on a bush walk through the island. On the way the distinctive chirp of saddlebacks added a poignant mood to our footsteps trekking through the forest. The view of the harbour was beautiful and the pockets of forest, planted by the hands of many determined volunteers, was awe-inspiring.

Despite the pest-free, clean and green policy of the island I was appalled to see the return of my “notorious friend” the moth plant. Yes, even in this utopia, the evasive moth plant has not been entirely eradicated. Working together we rushed to remove the pods.

It was a great feeling to have made a small contribution to making Motutapu pest-free!

After lunch, we brought out our green thumbs for a ceremonious planting of several young trees to mark our fantastic day on the island.

In the afternoon, we piled into the back of the jeep and headed up to the islands plant nursery. Here we met perhaps the most devoted volunteer of them all – Trevor, who showed us how to treat a plant before planting it on the island.

It was so strange to consider how a tiny sapling with a trunk merely the width of a blade of grass could mature into a full-grown tree with a trunk so large I could scarcely put my arms around it.

The nursery was a magical place and it truly made me appreciate the wonder of nature; from something so small as a seed, comes a tree of gargantuan size in the passing of time!

Pest Free Green

Saying goodbye

After an action-packed day, it was time to say goodbye. Back into the jeep we climbed and travelled the asphalt roads of Rangitoto to the ferry terminal. With disappointed glances but also a sense of a great pride and achievement, we grudgingly left the island to embark on our journey back to the mainland.

The day was an unforgettable adventure I will cherish for the rest of my life. Thank you, to Auckland Council and all the other sponsors of the school moth plant competition, for making such a day possible; also Mike Ashby who was quite literally at the roots of the moth plant competition.

My experience is one example of how getting involved in your community can open new doors. If someone had told me where my moth plant adventure would lead me, I would have laughed ‘if only!’

I’m so grateful for having participated in this competition and have been overwhelmed by the privilege I’ve received. I would encourage other individuals to get involved in their own communities.

Find out how to get rid of moth plants.

To get involved with conservation work yourself, check out Pest Free Auckland 2050, a community-led conservation programme facilitated by Auckland Council or find a community group near you at Nature Space.