Waitara students' high-flying marine research

Students from Waitara High School are carrying out leading-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.

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

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 students are doing a great job. Seagrass is an incredible plant," says Taranaki Regional Council Education Officer Emily Roberts. "It’s sensitive to sedimentation and slow to recover once damaged. As a community, we need look after it!"

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