The Curious Case of the Curious Minds project in the restoration of the Waokauri Stream

Last Updated : 19 Jun 2023

The ambitious Curious Minds project of Aorere College’s Year 9 students laid the groundwork for the restoration of a nearby stream.

As part of the Enviroschools programme (supports children and young people to plan, design and implement sustainability actions) and the creation of two passionate teaching staff at Aorere College, funding for the Curious Minds project was made possible by the Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board.

Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board chair Apulu Reece Autagavaia says, “This local board sees the importance of protecting our environment and ensuring our young people are at the forefront on how to solve the issues we face today and into their future. We are proud to support our Enviroschools initiatives that provide these opportunities for our young people.”                                                                                                                                       

The Curious Minds project promotes the clean-up of a polluted section of the Waokauri Stream, 10 minutes away from the school.

“The real-life application of what students may have learnt in the classroom is invaluable. The tangible impacts and outcomes can expand students' interest and provide impetus to continue to learn and problem solve”, adds Apulu.

The hope is to see the local taonga species repopulate and thrive there. Current restoration efforts to date have dramatically improved the stream.

Aidan Kiely, HOD of Science at Aorere College and one of the three staff members who advocated for the project, was given the chance to work with Auckland Council and learn about a variety of environmental projects across Tāmaki Makaurau. He saw an opportunity to incorporate eDNA testing, a scientific method, into the restoration effort.

The ‘e’ in eDNA stands for environmental and Aidan explains, “you run the stream water through a filter which traps pieces of DNA; this DNA then gets extracted and sequenced. The DNA provides a good barcode for what species live in the stream.”

This method allows Aidan and his students to estimate a species' abundance within an ecosystem and encourages the students to explore any curious findings.

Year 9 students at Aorere College collecting and analysing water samples of their local awa

Year 9 students at Aorere College collecting and analysing water samples of their local awa

The class discovered a lot of unexpected species present in the stream with one student Haereata-Rose saying, “we found some taonga species – kōkopu and long-finned eels – which you wouldn’t expect to see in a stream that looks like ours.”

There were also traces of ducks, possums, sheep, and invasive mosquito fish in the stream.

This encourages open discussions amongst ākonga to look into and critically think about environmental issues and how their actions affect them.

The school then pass on their findings to Auckland Council who in turn help identify streams for wider conservation efforts.

“The goal is to help students get more future-proofed and into successful careers,” says Aidan. “However, even if they don’t pursue a pathway, we want them to realise they can make a difference.”

Cate Jessep, Sustainable Schools Advisor says, “Aidan spent part of his time with our Sustainable Schools team in Auckland Council where he learned about e-DNA testing. He wanted to involve students in a local community project through the curriculum. Another key teacher Jenny Scott suggested nearby Self Park which is situated on a section of the ancient Portage route and this is woven into the curriculum and is guided by an ecological restoration plan created by Auckland Council’s Adopt a part Programme.”

Next steps are to extend the restoration efforts further up-stream with the help of Aorere Kindergarten.

The kindergarten is collaborating with Aorere College and is an Enviroschool that has recently received Curious Minds funding, having been inspired by Aorere College students at local Enviroschools clusters.

The Curious Minds project was spotlighted in The Gazette, read more here.


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