Hooked on marine reserves

Last updated 05:00 06/06/2012
Sarah Foy/Fairfax NZ

Fish friend: Megan Corbett, 10, of St Pius school, is a marine reserve champion after a prizewinning snorkelling trio to the Poor Knights Island.

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A marine reserve "tour" has converted a 10-year-old girl into a marine reserve advocate.

Megan Corbett said she's convinced of the biodiversity and wonder of a fishing-free zone after joining 37 students from around the country in a snorkelling trip to the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve.

She was the only Taranaki student on the May 23 trip, which she won through her outstanding work over two years. A year 5 student at St Pius in New Plymouth, her interest in marine reserves began with a school project last year.

She and a fellow student created a rock pool using cardboard, sand and polystyrene, as well as researching the creatures inhabiting the pool and noting their adaptations.

Last year she took part in a school trip to Goat Island, the country's oldest marine reserve, and this year there was another school trip to Wellington to stay at Island Bay and visit the Kapiti marine reserve.

Landing this most recent snorkel experience came as a surprise. Her teacher, St Pius deputy principal Pat Swanson, rang her parents and when Megan found out she "ran around the house screaming because I was so excited".

"This year Mr Swanson asked us to think about the way we can help make more marine reserves. At first I didn't understand but now I've had these trips I can understand why we need them."

Her day at the Poor Knights involved snorkelling and kayaking around Maroro Bay in the islands. There were caves to explore including the largest sea cave in the world, Rikoriko, which is renowned for the way light shimmers on the roof of the cave as well as its clear water.

Up next, hopes Megan, is a spot of snorkelling in Spain. Her family is planning to visit Britain and while there she's aiming to do a dive.

"As it's hot there I would like to see some tropical fish, whereas here it's cold so we don't have as many."

St Pius was one of four Taranaki schools taking part in the Experiencing Marine Reserves programme, with the others being Mimi, Ahititi and Manukorihi Intermediate.

In Taranaki the EMR programme is run by The Nga Motu Marine Reserve Society, the Conservation Department, and the teachers involved.

Funding from DOC, The Tindall Foundation and Origin Energy allowed the schools to study their local marine environment, learn about marine biodiversity and learn to snorkel and dive as a class in a marine reserve.

Three Taranaki classes travelled to Goat Island this year while St Pius had its Wellington trip in February.

Mr Swanson said giving children outdoor classroom experiences helps them value marine reserves so they "ultimately become advocates and be involved in helping to look after them".

There are other trade-offs from the programme, including getting children from a range of academic abilities engaged in learning, he said.

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