Waitara students’ high flying environmental research

Students from Waitara High School are carrying out cutting-edge research on a meadow with a difference.

Combining drone imagery with traditional scientific survey methods, they’re making an in-depth study of what is Taranaki’s largest seagrass meadow, at Orapa Reef just off the Waitara coast.

Records of all species, including this pāpaka matimati pango (iron crab), were recorded in CoastBlitz Waitara

Seagrass meadows are a vital marine ecosystem, providing nursery habitat for native fish including snapper and flounder, as well as a feeding ground for birds. They also help to improve water clarity and stabilise the seabed.

Working with the Taranaki Regional Council and Drone Technologies NZ, the students obtained quality baseline data of Orapa Reef.

While students recorded the cover of different reef habitats on the ground, Ben Plummer from Drone Technologies NZ mapped seagrass from the air, providing impressive spatial coverage of the reef.

Healthy karepō on Orapa Reef

Year 9 students at Waitara High will now further investigate the significance of the reef by researching reef food webs and links between tikanga and ecology, working with local hapū and community champions.

Taranaki Regional Council education officer Emily Roberts says as well as giving students the benefit of practical learning, the project provides baseline data for future monitoring and will enable more informed decisions around protection of the valuable habitat.

The drone obtained excellent spatial coverage and high resolution footage

“The students are doing a great job,” she says.

“Seagrass is an incredible plant. It’s sensitive to sedimentation and slow to recover once damaged.

“As a community, we need look after it.”