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Young Kiwi conservationists go wild

Young Kiwi conservationists go wild

A passion for the local environment has earned two Kiwi teenagers a nine-day adventure trip to discover the ecological wonders of the South African wilderness.

Max Hardy of Wellington High School and Holly Dransfield of Waihi College have won the Cathay Pacific International Wilderness Competition in association with Auckland Zoo, with two heartfelt essays on New Zealand environmental issues. The winning teens will experience an action-packed camp with around 50 other international students at the expansive Entabeni Game Reserve, known as The Place of the Mountains, in South Africa’s Limpopo Province from 20-29 July.

Max’s essay explores the effects of mussel farming in East Bay, Marlborough Sounds, an ‘untouched’ special place where he has holidayed with his family since he was six months old. Max writes, “it all began in mid 1999 when we opened the mailbox and found it full…there were 18 applications for mussel farm licences in East Bay...the council asked us if we had any objections.”

Unsatisfied with the local council’s research into the placement of mussel farms, Max joined the newly formed East Bay Conservation Society (EBCS), which led their own investigations into the ecological effects of the farms. This included scuba diving expeditions around the Bay. Max’s essay documents the group’s findings, offers his own solutions to the problem and calls for more research into the effects of mussel farms and where they should and should not go.

Competition judge, University of Auckland professor of environmental management Dr John Craig, said of Max’s winning piece: “The reader is taken through a range of options that have been well researched and substantiated. It is matter of fact rather than emotional in its pleas and moves toward a rational solution.”

Fellow winner Holly Dransfield impressed the judge with her emotive and visionary piece on the preservation of New Zealand’s Native Birds, “Imagine having Kaka in your back yard”. Holly observes the declining population of natives and warns, “We are in danger of losing our most precious inhabitants…the issue of extinction...is an issue of the present.” Holly condemns destruction of bird habitats through logging, and the killing of birds by introduced predators, including our own pets.

However she maintains that not everything is a sad story and praises the recovery success of the Black Robin and offshore and inner island sanctuaries, the latter of which she would like to see developed on Union Hill in her home town of Waihi.

Dr Craig commented: “Holly draws on her own experiences to substantiate the possibility of her dream. The essay is positive and focused on success. The writing is mature with some excellent twists such as ‘a bird in the hand is worth more in the bush’.”

Dr Craig, a third time judge of the New Zealand entrants in the international competition, said there had been a noticeable increase in the standard of this year’s entries.

Said Dr Craig: “Most of the essays have moved from presentation of doom stories to an acceptance that people have a place in nature and that the key is to encourage people to act in ways that encourage nature to thrive. Only a minority of the entrants see that it is someone else’s (usually government’s) job to solve the problems that they see.”

The 12,000ha Entabeni Game Reserve forms the northern extreme of the Waterberg Biosphere. The bushveld, unspoilt ravines and wooded hillsides are haven to a large variety of antelope and other wild animals, including the Big Five (elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo and leopard), more than 80 species of mammals and more than 300 bird species.

Students are guided by qualified instructors on an exploration of the natural, unspoiled environment to help them further understand the impact humans have on the delicate ecological balance of the earth. They will also take part in cross-cultural activities that will enable them to understand the diverse cultures and traditions of the world.

Leigh Wither, education manager of the Auckland Zoo, will travel with the students to South Africa.

Says Ms Wither: “Auckland Zoo has been delighted to support this magnificent opportunity for two New Zealand ‘eco warriors’ to travel to South Africa. I am sure that they will have a renewed appreciation of their own culture and environment when they return from this once in a lifetime experience.”

Cathay Pacific has sponsored hundreds of specially selected young people to take part in the Cathay Pacific International Wilderness Experience since 1994. The programme aims to provide education and knowledge on environmental issues, to expose students to other cultures and to help build confidence and self-awareness.

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