09 Dec 2016

Look after our rivers and save our whitebait was the message given to Christchurch City Council by a group of passionate young conservationists.

Three students from Opawa School and four from Waitakiri Primary School gave presentations at a council meeting on Thursday, helped by their teachers.

The children have been taking part in an Environment Investigators project for the past few months that is part of the Whitebait Connection programme, a scheme to increase awareness of whitebait (inanga) and their spawning habitat. This programme, and an associated science project Whaka Inaka, is led by local environmental consultancy EOS Ecology and involves 16 Christchurch schools.

Each child made a speech to the Councillors, and some of the children had created short movies to illustrate their point.

Their key requests were for Council contractors to stop mowing long grass around river banks which are important whitebait spawning areas, to plant more trees near rivers for insects to live in, and to introduce a day where everyone picks up rubbish to reduce pollution in waterways. They also asked for more rubbish bins along river banks, and for residents to be educated about not feeding bread to ducks “because it makes them poop a lot”, polluting rivers.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel thanked the children for their “incredibly professional” presentations. “We’re very grateful that young people are taking such an interest in species protection in our rivers.”

EOS Ecology scientist Siobhan Culhane said the children were very knowledgeable and passionate about having whitebait around in the future.

Inanga populations are declining throughout New Zealand and loss of spawning habitat is a major contributing factor. 

The Council has already introduced a trial where mowing on riverbanks is halted during summer and autumn, while spawning is taking place. It is working to educate the public about why the grass is being left to grow so long.

Council Land Drainage Manager Keith Davison said along with providing habitat for whitebait to lay their eggs, the longer grass would help reduce erosion and filter contaminants, stopping them from getting into waterways.