DOC praises pupils' cleanup of island

TIDY KIWIS: Geraldine High School pupils clear rubbish from Duck Creek during their latest trip to Stewart Island.
TIDY KIWIS: Geraldine High School pupils clear rubbish from Duck Creek during their latest trip to Stewart Island.

Geraldine High School students are making it their business to keep Stewart Island as clean and green as possible.

For the past 15 years students have embarked on a tramping expedition to the island, with their most recent trip being dedicated to protecting the environment.

In November a group travelled to the island to help clear rubbish that had washed up on the beach.

Their efforts are appreciated by the Department of Conservation (DOC), which regards the school's latest endeavours as "fantastic conservation work".

The tramp has been an annual event for the school's outdoor education programme since the 1990s.

Their latest trip involved a two-night stay at Mason Bay and a busy couple of days clearing the beach of rubbish, which had been dumped by the wind and ocean currents.

Everything from rope to light bulbs accumulates on the beach, "fracturing" the quality of the dunes and estuary. It also puts wildlife at risk.

The latest efforts by the students involved clearing the beach of old gloves, plastic bottles, pieces of fishing net, buoys and many other objects, which do not break down.

A DOC spokesman said rubbish washed up on all of Stewart Island's western beaches and in the past had included a "startling array" of items, including a child's plastic lawnmower and toothbrushes.

Mason Bay is a nationally significant dune system and is the focus of weed control work by the Stewart Island DOC team.

Biodiversity ranger Al Check made the most of the latest school trip to take the opportunity talk to students about dune management.

"It's great to be able to talk to these kids out in the field. They can see what a difference our work and theirs, makes.

"The work is ongoing as both weeds and flotsam (rubbish) are perennial problems that are unlikely to disappear in the foreseeable future." Mr Check said the students did a fantastic job, but there is still more work to be done. "The issues at Mason Bay and elsewhere aren't going to go away any time soon and we're working closely with the fishing industry to partner a wider Stewart Island cleanup."

Geoff Love, of Geraldine High School, travels with the students each year.

He said last year's participants were "very keen" to participate in the cleanup. "They were keen to volunteer, which may be partly the result of our year 10 challenge programme (a separate programme), which encourages community service."

He said the Stewart Island tramp had become an "institution".

"The students are challenged physically, emotionally and socially. They carry all personal gear, food and tents on their backs for eight days tramping over some well developed tracks and some very rough muddy ones.

"They learn to use strengths that they may not be aware they have, learn to tolerate others, develop a love for the amazing wild places of New Zealand and, above all, have fun in each other's company and in giving service. They always say afterwards that it was tough but it was one of the best things that they have done."

The Timaru Herald