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Environmental Management Students Volunteer With Aquavan

Aquavan’s latest trip to Southland is receiving a boost in hands-on helpers, thanks to a proactive collaboration between Thriving Southland and students from the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) Environmental Management programme.

Thriving Southland Catchment Coordinator, Sarah Thorne is excited to see some strategic local networking come to fruition with a new connection to SIT Environmental Management (EM) students. “I’m hoping that more doors may open up because of the opportunities for further collaboration within SIT” says Mrs Thorne.

Run by the NZ Marine Studies Centre, the University of Otago’s Marine Science department, Aquavan provides learning opportunities and engagement with marine life by bringing live marine critters and touch pools to schools and communities. Mrs Thorne describes the Aquavan as an “amazing” educational resource, giving school children and the community hands-on experiences with marine life.

This months’ trips will engage around 700 year-5 to year-8 school children in Gore and Invercargill through the programme over two weeks. The aim of the current project is to create awareness and understanding of the connectivity between river health and the coastal environment.

The focus will be on understanding of catchments, indigenous biodiversity, interconnection of waterways, ecosystem services and the ecological and cultural values of fresh water and coastal marine environments.

SIT EM students will be present at each of the Invercargill days, and will be paired with an Aquavan , Environment Southland or Thriving Southland staff member, giving them the opportunity to be involved in the activities with the children, ensuring each student gets a chance to be hands-on and assisting in teaching.

Dr Christine Liang, Programme Manager for Environmental Management said partnering in a community project like Aquavan provides many benefits for EM students.

“It teaches them to engage with the community around environmental awareness and they get to apply what they’ve learned through the EM course by passing on that knowledge to the next generation”.

She added the students are also in a position to learn both new environmental knowledge and how to raise community awareness around environmental issues, from Aquavan, ES and Thriving Southland team members.

Dr Liang said there was an overwhelming response when they put out the call for volunteers to attend the Aquavan sessions, and due to the high level of interest, a dozen students have been selected to help out with the Invercargill sessions.

“It was great to see so many of them interested in environmental education and passionate about coastal and freshwater environments”.

Dr Liang said they’re already in talks with Thriving Southland over possible student research projects and other ways the two groups can help each other.

“We are always keen to hear about any learning opportunities for our students and ways that they can give back to their community”.

Mrs Thorne said Aquavan will be returning in Term 2, with a focus on the Central Southland area. In the meantime she said she’s full of ideas on the possibility of further collaboration.

“I am really chuffed this has worked so well and these new links have been created. It is a small world here in Southland, and I would love to continue the relationship with SIT in the future. We’ve been talking about options for next year, and can see potential involvement with other SIT programmes as well. Watch this space!”

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