Young Blake Expedition sets sail

Issue: Volume 95, Number 1

Posted: 25 January 2016
Reference #: 1H9cye

This summer, Freyberg High School science teacher Cherie Fenemor will don gumboots and thermal underwear, and accompany 14 adventurous young Kiwi students to one of the most remote and untouched spots on the globe; the Subantarctic Auckland Islands. She wants teachers around the country to know that their classes can get involved by following the expedition online.

Those embarking on this epic voyage will be travelling to a windswept archipelago deep in the Southern Ocean complete with penguins, sea lions and royal albatross; a place occupied by more shipwrecks than humans. In fact, there are no full-time human residents on the Auckland Islands.

This is no holiday at the beach. The intrepid party’s goal in the Subantarctic is to experience science first-hand and increase their knowledge of our precious Southern Ocean environment, which they can then pass on to their peers.

From secondary schools throughout the country, the group of students have been recognised as aspiring leaders and adventurers. They are part of the Young Blake Expedition, a programme established by the Sir Peter Blake Trust to encourage young New Zealanders to follow in the intrepid footsteps of the Trust’s late patron and New Zealand icon.

Breaking down walls

Cherie Fenemor is the expedition’s environmental educator. It’s a totally new role for the 26-year-old Palmerston North-based teacher, who’s used to working within a four-walled classroom. But it’s not a new passion – Fenemor has been fascinated by the outdoors and caring for the environment since she was 13 years old, trapping rats in the Kahurangi National Park.

She is the 2016 recipient of the Sir Peter Blake Environmental Educator Award – a partnership between the Trust and the Ministry of Education which, each year, provides a New Zealand secondary school teacher with a unique opportunity to be “an educator at sea”, leading a Young Blake Expedition, and spend a term developing learning resources for schools.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to get out of the classroom, complete some science in the field, and hopefully instil my passion for the environment in a new generation,” says Cherie.

All aboard HMNZS Otago

The expedition to the Auckland Islands in February, on board HMNZS Otago, will be a learning experience for everyone involved. 

Data collected by the students, alongside a team of New Zealand scientists, will be used to strengthen submissions to the Department of Conversation – who administer the Auckland Islands – that will hopefully result in permission to construct a proposed scientific research centre – Blake Station – which could become one of the most important research stations on the planet.

A climate and ocean research base in the rich biodiversity of the Subantarctic zone will increase our understanding of the role that Antarctica and the Southern Ocean play in determining New Zealand’s climate and future environment.

Setting up Blake Station in such a sensitive spot on the globe will allow year-round monitoring of changes in the oceans, atmosphere and ecosystem, which could help answer questions as to how New Zealand, and the rest of the planet, will cope as the planet warms.

Leading the Blake Station project is Professor Gary Wilson, director of the New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute. Along with the Sir Peter Blake Trust, the supporting partners include the NZARI, the Department of Conservation, the University of Otago, NIWA, Ministry of Education, Ministry for Youth Development and the Royal New Zealand Navy.

Professor Wilson, a Blake Leader who has made more than 25 expeditions to the Antarctic and Subantarctic, says the goals of the proposed research programme on the Auckland Islands are twofold: to create policy and management plans to take care of the Subantarctic’s unique environment; and to carry out long-term observations of living species in the region, to detect changes and impacts on southern New Zealand.

Auckland, but not as we know it

The Auckland Islands ecosystem makes for perfect conditions for study of this kind. The islands are on the margin where Antarctica interacts with the rest of the world. It is the junction where the Antarctic circumpolar current begins to mix with water from the Tasman Sea, and directly above the islands is the core of the westerly wind belt that circles the globe over the Southern Ocean.

“The Auckland Islands are the only landmass occupying this unique position and [provide an] opportunity to monitor atmospheric and ocean conditions as climate warms,” says Professor Wilson.

It’s a hot spot of biodiversity: the land, dominated by ground tussock, scrub and ‘megaherbs’ – 
a group of herbaceous perennial wildflowers growing in the New Zealand Subantarctic islands, characterised by their great size, an adaptation to the harsh weather conditions on the islands – has the southernmost occurrence of rata forest. The offshore islands are home to a wealth of birdlife – yellow-eyed penguins, albatross, petrels, shags, skua, terns, teal, rail, snipe, parakeets and dotterel.

Nearly 90 per cent of the breeding population of Hooker sea lions are found on Enderby and Dundas islands, but a rapid population decline over the last decade has made them nationally critical. On a positive note, the New Zealand fur seal and the southern right whale are making slow recoveries from exploitation by man in the 1800s.

Intrepid expeditioners

This year’s Young Blake expeditioners, aged between 16 and 18, will focus their efforts on what’s happening in the ocean. The students will help a team of scientists complete a sea floor survey, using an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) in Smith Harbour, where the proposed Blake Station will be built, and the neighbouring Norman Inlet, to compare different sea floor types.

They will also collect plankton and take a long sediment core from Norman Inlet, to create a picture of the geological history of the area. Soil samples from the Blake Station site will also be taken to analyse historical development of plants and wildlife, while the weather station at the site – erected during the 2014 expedition – will be repaired so scientists can continue recording temperature and rainfall.

Because it matters

Back in 2014, students conducted a survey of the proposed station site, and took 5,000-year-old sediment samples from fiords and lakes. It wasn’t all work – they mingled with wildlife, explored waterfalls, played cricket on the beach, and swam with sharks in Post Office Bay.

“Why bother doing all this, you may ask. Well, as Sir Peter Blake said: ‘Because it matters’,” wrote then 17-year-old Jessica Jenkins, from Paraparaumu College. “For some, the experiences we have encountered on this expedition may have been enough, but speaking on behalf of my fellow voyagers I sense that with newly fuelled pride and passion, this is only just the beginning.”

The Subantarctic has certainly left its imprint on the minds of the young expeditioners. 

Mitchell Chandler, from Nelson’s Nayland College, wrote of his amazement at how “special and relatively untouched” the islands are. “We can walk 10 metres inland from the beach and be in dense, twisted, rata forests with ferns and moss covering the floor and bellbirds singing overhead. If that’s not something that we want to work to protect, then I don’t know what is.”

Last year’s environmental educator, Nick Kingston, the head of science at Birkenhead College, travelled to the Auckland Islands on board RV Polaris II. One of his highlights was working with scientists from the University of Otago and GNS Science, and furthering his understanding of climate change.

“It wasn’t just the destination that appealed. It was being exposed to environmental issues, and working alongside the totally dedicated and driven experts who work on these issues full-time,” he says. “The students on the Blake Youth Expeditions are clever and motivated, and getting to work with these experts extends their knowledge and pushes them further. They then take that knowledge back to their schools and friends, and have a new confidence to make a difference in their communities.”

Youth Enviroleaders

The 14 students on this year’s expedition are no strangers to the objectives of the Sir Peter Blake Trust. They’ve all been part of the Youth EnviroLeaders Forum, one of the Trust’s programmes involving more than 50 secondary school students from across New Zealand discussing environmental issues and developing strategies to address them. YELF participants are eligible to apply for positions on a Young Blake Expedition.

Many of the students hope their voyage to the Auckland Islands won’t be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As Mitchell Chandler wrote before his expedition’s end: “I will be coming back here. I think all of us are hopeful that, one day, we will be able to come back and work in the research station that we helped build.”

The Sir Peter Blake Trust

The Sir Peter Blake Leadership Trust strives to honour Sir Peter’s leadership, love for the environment and dedication to young people.

Launched in June 2004, the Trust’s intention was to continue the extraordinary leadership legacy of round-the-world sailor and environmentalist, the late Sir Peter Blake. Today, the aim of the Sir Peter Blake Trust is to help shape the next generation of Kiwi leaders, adventurers and environmentalists, through a number of initiatives. Among them are:

Leadership Awards: Leaders are recognised and celebrated annually – from the Sir Peter Blake Leadership Awards, honouring New Zealand’s great leaders across all fields and pursuits, through to the Young Leader Awards, celebrating promising young leaders in primary and intermediate schools.

Leadership Week: Around July each year, Leadership Week encourages schools, businesses and organisations to develop leadership capability and motivate future leaders, through themes like “dream big” and “believe you can”. The week includes Red Socks Day, celebrating Sir Peter’s iconic socks from his successful 1995 America’s Cup campaign; and the Dream Team, where 300 inspiring Kiwi leaders visit schools.

Blake Ambassadors
: Beginning in 2007, the ambassador programme has young New Zealand leaders working with national environmental organisations here and in Antarctica. Two young leaders go to Antarctica each summer to work in scientific, environmental and heritage conservation projects on the ice. NIWA and the Department of Conservation now also offer annual ambassadorships.

Young Leaders: Around 50 young leaders (year 11–13) represent their schools at a week-long Youth EnviroLeaders Forum (YELF) to address topical environmental issues facing New Zealand. YELF students can also apply to go on a Young Blake Expedition, adventures which aim to show young people the global significance of their environment.

Be part of the adventure

Classrooms throughout the country can follow the adventures of the Young Blake Expedition team, ask them questions and sign up for updates at (external link)

Not for the faint-hearted – the Sir Peter Blake Environmental Educator Award

Nick Kingston readily admits not all teachers would be happy spending 48 hours on a fishing trawler trundling across the Southern Ocean. But a voyage to the Subantarctic appealed to his sense of adventure and his hankering for scientific learning.

Kingston was the second New Zealand teacher to travel to the Auckland Islands as a recipient of the Sir Peter Blake Environmental Educator Award. The first, Saint Kentigern College science teacher Bernard Potter, who happened to know Kingston, encouraged him to apply for the educator’s role after seeing Kingston’s work restoring the ecology on Kawau Island.

“When I looked further into it, I realised it was me to a tee,” says Nick, enticed by the remoteness, the adventure and the chance to discover more about the effects of climate change.

The latest environmental educator, Cherie Fenemor, found the role promoted on a post on the New Zealand Science Teachers’ Facebook site. “I was excited about the opportunity. My passion is for the environment, and now that I am a teacher, environmental education,” she says.

During her time as an “educator at sea”, Fenemor is looking forward to experiencing life on the ocean, witnessing wildlife close-up, and hopefully seeing the breathtaking Aurora Australis – the Southern Lights. “I am also looking forward to meeting new people and working with the students, the Sir Peter Blake team and the scientists,” she says.

The aim of the Sir Peter Blake Environmental Educator Award is to promote science and connect New Zealand schools and classrooms with scientists and the remarkable Subantarctic region. It also encourages leadership within the teaching profession, providing challenging once-in-a-lifetime professional development opportunities for inspiring and motivated teachers.

Among the environmental educator’s responsibilities are:
  • Developing learning resources and units of work based on their experiences in the Subantarctic and as an educator at sea.
  • Act as a mentor for students involved in Sir Peter Blake Trust programmes.
  • Promote the award and their experience in their school, community and the media.
  • Engage with other teachers, the Ministry of Education and members of New Zealand’s education community to build environmental education networks.
Candidates need to be in at least their third year of teaching the New Zealand secondary school curriculum, with a background in science, geography or other environment-related fields. They also need to be fit and healthy and have a passion for the environment.

Nick Kingston found his involvement in the programme has enhanced his teaching skills and altered how he mentors and connects with students. “The science of the Subantarctic pops up in a lot of different topics. When you’re talking to kids and you have first-hand experience, you can’t help but be more enthusiastic about it. And that enthusiasm naturally rubs off on them.”

More information on applying for the Sir Peter Blake Environmental Educator Award can be found at
(external link)

BY Suzanne McFadden

Posted: 7:54 pm, 25 January 2016

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