Congratulations to the 2014 winners of the Toroa Award in Coastal Otago.

Date:  19 November 2014

The Toroa Award is open to all schools and youth groups in Coastal Otago area, and recognises the work of students who engage their community in an environmental project.

Winner - Tahuna Normal Intermediate School

Over the last 5 years students from Tahuna Normal Intermediate School have been investigating the water quality of Tomahawk Lagoon, a shallow coastal lake at the base of the Otago Peninsula.

At least twice a term students collect water samples and do hands on chemistry testing for pH, conductivity, clarity, temperature and dissolved oxygen. As well, they note and record a range of biodiversity associated with the lake and each year do a 'Clean Up' with their School Council.

Tahuna Normal Intermediate School.
Tahuna pupils collecting water samples 

Tahuna Normal Intermediate School. Image: Roddy Scholes
2014 Toroa Award winners Tahuna Normal Intermediate School

The data they collect is uploaded to the Globe website for reference and retrieval and their findings are communicated through local media and the science community. A newsletter is planned for the Tomahawk community. The school enjoys great support from "experts" from Healthy Harbour Watchers, Otago Regional Council and the Department of Conservation and the students are currently organising access to data collected by Otago University.

The school is keen to expand on its interest in the Lagoon with plans to get involved in a meaningful riparian planting project. They're currently making their own healthy Tomahawk checklist for future groups of students who will carry on the good work. As teacher Roddy Scholes says "Tomahawk Lagoon needs people keeping an eye on it - hopefully we can contribute to this in some small way".

Runners up - Portobello Enviroschools Group and Weston School

Portobello Enviroschools Group have been involved in a pikao planting project at Allans Beach since 2009. Each year 600-800 pikao are planted in the dune near the walking track that leads to the beach, an area they first had to clear of weeds.

Over the years the plants have flourished and in so doing have helped build a viable local seed source that can be used for wider conservation efforts on the Peninsula. The group has worked with and received direction and assistance from many others including Spiralis Environmental Solutions, Save The Otago Peninsula (STOP), Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust and Department of Conservation.

The project has given the pupils an insight into the trials and tribulations of coastal management and a deeper understanding of the fragility and special features of this unique coastline.

Pupils at Weston School in North Otago have built a lizard-friendly garden to provide a safe refuge and protective habitat for local skinks. They recognised the need for this after noticing the loss of shrub and forest habitat occurring through housing development. They began by finding information on skinks, geckos, and tuatara and the types of habitats they occupy before selecting a suitable site in their school grounds. Pupils were also concerned about potential predators and set out tracking tunnels with ink pads. From these they identified the footprints of hedgehogs and cats.

A warm, sunny spot was chosen and this was planted in divaricating shrubs, tussocks and flaxes. To this were added walls of local limestone and rotten logs, as well as terracotta pots, tunnels and wire netting as hiding places for the skinks.

The project has been a real team effort with University of Otago Zoology staff and DOC staff providing advice, local quarry staff providing limestone, and parents delivering rotting logs and tussock plants. It's been a great learning experience and best of all the local skinks now have a safe haven with the school grounds.

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