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Going back to the Chatham Islands By Debbie Eddington, Youth Engagement & Education Advisor

The opportunity to visit the Chatham Islands in a youth engagement and education capacity for Environment Canterbury was one I couldn’t turn down, despite my fear of flying that comes from original trips to the Island on the Bristol Freighter many years ago.

I was invited to join members of the Environment Canterbury biosecurity team; Steve Palmer, Jemma Hippolite and Terry Charles.

Reconnecting with the locals

It was the trip of a lifetime for me. Having lived on the Island during the ‘boom years’ (the crayfishing boom of the late 60s/early 70s), it was wonderful to reconnect with people who remembered my family, and in downtime, wander the old haunts, retracing my horseback rides to school (which is now closed), beach combing and exploring the rockpools in front of our old family home right on the beachfront near Owenga.

Lots of beautiful places to visit

Raising awareness of pest management

The main purpose of my visit was to connect with schools and scope opportunities for education and raising awareness of Environment Canterbury’s role in pest management and biosecurity on the Islands.

I was welcomed into classrooms at both Te One and Kaingaroa schools, where I was able to spend time explaining my role and discussing with students the unique environment they have; there being far less pest species than in mainland New Zealand.

Debbie working with students from Te One School

A message I wanted to give students was that everyone can be a biosecurity officer, and by being vigilant and aware of potential threats, everyone can help prevent biosecurity incursions on the Island.

Through a variety of activities, I addressed pests already established there and the impact they have on their local flora and fauna. Feral cats were identified as an issue, particularly for the native bird populations.

This segued nicely into a visit to the temporary vet clinic set up annually to de-sex cats. This is jointly funded by Environment Canterbury, Aorangi Veterinary Services Ltd., and the Department of Conservation to reduce cat numbers. The vets explained their role and students had the opportunity to observe the vets at work and ask any questions they had.

Glenda and Sally (Aorangi Veterinary Services Ltd) at work in their temporary clinic

Biosecurity on the Island

The students also met Kerri Moir (biosecurity officer) and her dog Moki who is trained to seek rats that might have stowed away in any incoming freight, vehicles etc.

Moki and Kerri

Coincidently as our team arrived on the Island there was a suspected rat find on Pitt Island where there are currently no rats. Kerri and Moki were ferried to Pitt Island to investigate and to everyone’s relief, it was found to be a large mouse.

Top left: Terry and Jemma watching Kerri baiting a line for Moki Top right: Jemma checking crab pots for invasive marine species as part of the Chatham Islands Marine Surveillance Programme

Kaupapa of Kaingaroa School

My visit to Kaingaroa, which is an Enviroschool, involved a long, early morning commute with four of the students to a more remote, beautiful fishing community at the north-eastern end of the Island.

Road to Kaingaroa

The school is in a lovely setting, a stone’s throw from coastal dunes and abundant rock pools. The students gave me a guided tour of their grounds, sharing the environmental initiatives and sustainable practices they incorporate into school life. I was impressed by their pride in their heritage and strong connections with this.

They have established firm links with the kaupapa of Enviroschools. Very recently, the principal, students and parents visited Environment Canterbury in Christchurch to reflect at achieving bronze status on their Enviroschools journey; I was pleased to be able to share in their success.

Kaingaroa wharf and rock formations

I had plenty of opportunities to re-establish connections with several locals who were only too happy to have a conversation with me about the past and about my work in the schools.

Interestingly, on sharing my experiences and endless photos with Dad, neither of us remember gorse being an issue back then – such a shame it has become the huge problem to the Island that it is. Environment Canterbury continues to help fight the good fight on this one, thanks to Steve Palmer and his team for their efforts.

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