Coastal Biodiversity Detectives

March 15, 2018 at 10:48 AM

As New Zealanders, we love our beaches, oceans and foreshores. Our coastal waters are New Zealand’s playground, sustaining us with access to seafood and providing areas for recreation on and off the water. However, as our urban environments increasingly encroach on the natural landscape and the competing use of the marine environment grows,   the impact from surrounding land use, along with global influences such as climate change, mean our coastal ecosystems are coming under increasing stress. 

To turn the tide, education about the delicate balance to sustain biodiversity on our planet is essential. For our Year 2 boys, a trip to the Omana Regional Park foreshore, as part of their ‘sustainable living’ unit, was a chance for them to learn more about respect for nature, the creatures that live there and caring for their natural environment – for one beautifully sunny morning, they became coastal biodiversity detectives. 

Omana Regional Park is stunning piece of coastal land retained for recreational use. Not far from here, the new sub-division at Beachlands is springing up. Our towns have an infrastructure that provide access to food and clean water, and provide services to deal with our waste and assist with our general well-being. Councils are set up to help regulate this. Marine ecosystems have similar services – they are delicate and complex, not so easy to see and don’t have a council to report to when things go wrong! 

Two park rangers were on hand to guide our boys through a morning that was split between a classroom under a pohutukawa tree and time spent exploring the rocky foreshore – with the tide well out, there was plenty to explore. 

The boys learnt that life in a rock pool is tough! Creatures are especially adapted to life in this environment where part of the day is spent immersed in water, part is spent battered by waves and another part is fully exposed to the elements – searing sun at the height of summer. Creatures of the rocky shore expend a lot of energy growing shells to protect their bodies – in much the same way as our boys are growing their own internal skeletons. The boys learnt that marine animals have unique features and needs and we have responsibility to respect that. Every time we take a shell away from the beach, we take away a potential home for a hermit crab; a creature that needs to constantly ‘move house’ to find a bigger shell as it grows. 

Sadly, the boys also learned about the developing problems in our world's oceans regarding plastic pollution and overfishing and discussed ways to protect the ocean, fish, seabirds and other creatures that live in and around the sea. They learnt that a third of the turtles taken to Kelly Tarlton’s for rehabilitation have either ingested or been caught in plastic. 

Their first foray onto the beach was to the ‘strand line,’ the high water mark where dead seaweed and shells are left behind. They discovered that sandhoppers eat the seaweed and in turn provide food for seabirds. With a magnifying glass in hand, they headed further to the rock pools, having heard that true detectives never disturb the scene, they learn more by observing the detail closely – just what the boys set off to do. 

Whilst the opportunity to spot whelks and crabs provided plenty of excitement, the highlight of the morning was an unexpected bonus when the boys found a dead juvenile hammerhead! Even the smell of decomposition didn’t deter their curiosity! 

The boys had a fabulous morning of hands-on learning. From as simple an instruction as not being tempted to turn over a rock, so the life beneath is respected and can stay undisturbed, the boys are beginning to learn that they too have a part to play in the future sustainability and biodiversity of our planet. 

Our sincere thanks to the park rangers and the parents who accompanied the boys to make this trip possible.


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