21 Jan 2022

Mountains To Sea Wellington educating future generations

From Summer Times, 10:26 am on 21 January 2022

Mountains To Sea Wellington is an organisation that delivers inspiring freshwater and marine education programmes for schools and communities. Their goal is to connect people to nature while building understanding through science and exploration.

Executive director Zoe Studd tells Summer Times its activities are a fun opportunity to appreciate part of New Zealand's unique biodiversity in the ocean over the fine summer months, and in rivers and streams during the winter season.

The organisation was formed well over a decade ago from humble beginings and has evolved since, now reaching children in up to 100 schools each year. 

Mountain To Seas Wellington snorkelling programme

Mountain To Seas Wellington snorkelling programme Photo: Supplied

“We began as a charitable trust 14 years ago in Wellington," Studd says. 

"When we first began we were doing a large national project called Experiencing Marine Reserves and that evolved out of Northland and that was all about connecting young people to marine environments and removing those barriers for being able to participate".

The Experiencing Marine Reserves programme concept came to life in Northland in 2001.

“We teach them about marine biodiversity, water safety and snorkel skills and the take them out and have a little snorkel in the marine reserve and at that stage it was just really beginning," Studd says. 

"That involved three schools that year. Now we would work for 90-to-100 schools every year and the marine and fresh water program, Mountains to Sea has also expanded into running a fresh water project called the Whitebait Connection and more recently into a restoration and education program around seaweed called Love Rimurimu. We love to make people fall in love with their seaweed forests a little bit more and get to understand their importance in the [same] way we understand the importance of our terrestrial forests.

“We think of ourselves as an organisation a bit like the Tinder of nature. Helping people to make that connection with their local environment.”

She says this not only benefits the environment, but also benefits us as well. The team’s own sense of wellbeing is enhanced while doing their job, she says.

“We think it’s an absolute privilege to enable people to have these experiences, and also you notice it in the people who come along, the laughter, the smiles, the excitement, the fear – all of those things. We really encourage people to dive in.”

In summer the group focus on the snorkel program. In winter the teams are out exploring the rivers and streams, providing opportunities to appreciate the biodiversity there.

She says there are three major areas of work – one is education, administered through their national network. The fresh water and marine restoration projects make up another strand, and then there’s support for science and citizens’ science work as well.

“There’s a passionate team of eight co-ordinators and a huge number of volunteers and they work from Wairarapa to Kapiti and through the Wellington region as well.

Volunteers include a significant number of marine science students, meaning people who go into the water during snorkel days are often directed and supervised by those with impressive expertise.

There are 2000 to 3000 students each year benefit from being involved in the organisation’s projects. The group also runs a series of community hui each year.

Studd got involved as a volunteer as a classroom teacher on one of the projects in Wellington, but felt a bigger pull to be outside in the open.

“I think that’s one of the things that really keeps me motivated. You give a huge amount of feedback from the kids, but we have some long-term relationships and partnerships with the schools and every year we take on another project when we see an opportunity. So the work of the trust continues to grow and expand.”

Those who want to involve themselves to Mountains to Sea projects can go to their website and find out more about scheduled activities, which include their free snorkel days.

These also include a paid-for trip to Kapiti Island and its marine reserve is also scheduled next month.