A taste of the Subantarctic

Issue: Volume 96, Number 22

Posted: 11 December 2017
Reference #: 1H9gnM

In November Tolaga Bay Area School teacher Richard Tuhaka braved the Southern Ocean in the name of environmental education. He talks to Education Gazette about yellow-eyed penguins, unrelenting seas, early-morning whale sightings and how it all links back to the East Coast.

They’re a long way from the East Coast, but the Subantarctic Islands hold a special place in Richard Tuhaka’s heart and mind.

The Tolaga Bay Area School teacher recently returned from a trip to the Auckland Islands, where he took part in the annual Yellow-eyed Penguin Survey and monitoring expedition, supporting a team that included this year’s Sir Peter Blake Trust (SPBT) Environmental Educator.

Richard had applied for the Environmental Educator role but this year the award went to Vaughn Filmer from Fiordland College, a Silver Enviroschool in Te Anau. Richard was invited along on the expedition in a support role.

A partnership between the Sir Peter Blake Trust and the Ministry of Education, the Environmental Educator Award promotes science, care for the environment, and professional development for inspiring and motivated teachers.

The 15-day adventure also links in to the Youth Enviroleader’s Forum (YELF), the delegates of which are eligible to join future Young Blake Expeditions as student voyagers.

Richard is passionate about environmental education and has combined teaching with sustainability work through the Uawanui Project, an initiative by Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti and the community of Uawa/Tolaga Bay to build a shared vision for the management of their Uawa catchment and coastline.

Richard’s role in the Uawanui Project has included building connections between Tolaga Bay Area School and sustainability work such as riverbank restoration, pest-trapping and tree-planting. Student projects in film-making and photography have also formed an important part of the project.

It’s this involvement in local work that encouraged Richard to apply when a colleague handed him a flyer about the Environmental Educator Award and, despite a very funny video outlining his fears that he made for his students before embarking on the Evohe vessel, he says it was a brilliant experience.

“Right from the word go, it was amazing,” he says. “I’ve never been in a small boat on such massive seas – they were unrelenting really.”

On the first night, the Evohe pulled into Port Ross and was promptly joined by a southern right whale, late in the season but well received by all those on board, including Richard, who managed to capture some film footage to show his students later.

Facilitated by the Department of Conservation, the Yellow-eyed Penguin Survey happens every year on 20 November, and it was to be the priority of Richard and the team.

“We had to be on shore by 4.30am, and dawn arrived at 5.30am. You could hear the penguins calling out to each other in the dark,” he says.

In order to count them for the survey, the penguins had to be seen getting in or out of the water.

“Sometimes it was a long wait because they were mucking around so much,” Richard laughs. “It was a good experience being up close like that, and they weren’t afraid of us – we were able to really see their little quirks.”

The wildlife and sense of isolation was really special, says Richard.

“It was a feeling that we were in a place with very limited human interaction,” he says. “Bellbirds and tomtits were everywhere, and seemed just as curious of us as we were of them.”

As well as penguin-counting, Richard visited an albatross colony and learned about current scientific work and the history of the region.

He’s looking forward to bringing a taste of the Subantarctic to his classroom at Tolaga Bay Area School.

“I made lots of videos and have shown them to my kids already. We’ll be using the Auckland Islands as a theme in science, and focusing on topics around species and biodiversity.

“It was just an unreal experience. You can see how New Zealand could have been before humans. You can also appreciate the hardship for early settlers, just thinking about how you would eat, or manage to get a fire going.”

It’s perhaps the sea lions that will stay in his memory though.

“Sandy Bay, in particular, was just riddled with them,” he says. “They came right up to us with a look like they understood us. You feel a fondness for their power and beauty.”

Visit http://sirpeterblaketrust.org/environmental-educator(external link) for more information 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:00 am, 11 December 2017

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