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Dune plant research wins NRC award

0800 002 004 | www.nrc.govt.nz Putting Northland first

Date: 03 September, 2012

Dune plant research wins NRC award

A 15-year-old Kerikeri High School student’s study into dune plant growth has earned her this year’s Northland Regional Council ‘Excellence Award’ at the Top Energy Far North Science and Technology Fair.

Melanie Jones’ project ‘Spinifex on the Coastal Dune’ was one of 147 science fair entries involving 196 students from 12 Far North schools.

The science fair – which began in 1978 - was held over three days recently (subs: August 29-31) at the Turner Centre in Kerikeri and is organised by Far North science teachers.

The Northland Regional Council prize contributes $1000 towards the cost of the winner’s university studies and must be used within three years.

Melanie, a Year 12 (sixth form) student from Russell, plans to use her award in 2014 to study at the University of Auckland towards becoming a doctor or medical researcher. She hopes to initially study biomedical science, then move on to study medicine or biomedical research.

She also won a science fair gold award recognising outstanding achievement in her class level group (Year 11 to 13).

Melanie’s research investigated the impact of fertiliser on the growth rates of spinifex – New Zealand’s main native dune-forming plant – at popular Long Beach on the Russell Peninsula.

Dune plants such as spinifex play a critical role in sand dune health. They are specially adapted to living on the constantly moving dunes, trapping sand to help build and maintain dunes. ‘No plants no dunes; no dunes no beach’ is a common dune care motto.

Melanie’s research came out of her growing concerns over coastal dune erosion at Long Beach, which can be visited by hundreds of people daily. “I’ve been walking there for most of my life and seen the erosion getting worse,” she says.

The erosion threatened the foreshore road and potentially, nearby houses. Ancient pohutukawa trees on the foreshore were also in danger of being washed away.

Melanie’s 10-month research project saw her plant 60 spinifex plants on Long Beach foreshore dunes on Far North District Council reserve land. She monitored the comparative growth of 16 spinifex plants in the planted area – eight put into the ground with a slow-release fertiliser tablet and eight that weren’t.

She found the fertilised plants grew significantly better than their non-fertilised counterparts, with double the number of new shoots per plant grown over the duration of the research project.

Melanie carried out her in-depth research project “come rain or shine”, heading to Long Beach every two weeks between September last year and last month.

Her science research monitoring was carried out on Sundays, as her daily three-hour round trip by ferry and bus from her Russell home to Kerikeri High School leaves little time for such work during the school week.

“It was great to be working with something real and making a lasting impact on the beach,” Melanie says.

Her idea came after looking at the success of the Tapeka Ratepayers’ Group’s community coastal dune regeneration work at nearby Tapeka, also on the Russell Peninsula.

Melanie says replanting the Long Beach foreshore with dune plants was important as without the dunes, the nearby foreshore road was in danger of washing away, which could in turn affect houses.

There are only two remaining areas of natural spinifex on the Long Beach foreshore, she says.


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