Posted on 09 March 2020

1,800+ schoolchildren (virtually) explored marine science for Seaweek

Last week (3–5 March), schoolchildren from across New Zealand travelled with LEARNZ and the Sustainable Seas Challenge to discover what's threatening mussels/kuku or kūtai, a taonga species, in Ōhiwa Harbour, and how science and mātauranga Māori are being combined by local kaitiaki to understand – and address – the problem.

The days began with an ‘Ask the experts’ live web Q&A session, where students from around the country could directly engage with the researchers.

"The questions were so deep and some were pretty tough – in a good way! The kids had clearly done their homework,” said Sustainable Seas Challenge researcher Dr Kura Paul-Burke.

After the Q&A, Kura was joined by five tamariki from Kutarere School and the LEARNZ film crew at Ohope Wharf. The children learnt about pātangaroa (11-armed sea stars) and kuku/kūtai (green-lipped mussels) and how they’re interacting in Ōhiwa Harbour.

“The ecological balance is all wrong; the sea stars are like a zombie plague eating the mussels,” says Kura, who is a kaitiaki for the harbour and an Associate Professor of Mātai Moana/Marine Research at the University of Waikato’s Tauranga campus. “The harbour’s mussel beds have all but disappeared so we’re investigating the best way to restore this taonga.”

Ken Henry, principal of Kutarere School accompanied the tamariki on the field trip: “It’s been really neat to experience something that has both the pūtaiao (science) perspective and mātauranga Māori.”

“A lot of great things are going to come out of today. It’s the beginning of something bigger for the kura (school) and future tamariki as we’ve been looking at developing our own curriculum. And it’s been really inspiring for the next generation of Māori researchers.”

So far, at least 1,800 schoolchildren have participated in the trip as an activity for Seaweek (New Zealand's annual, nationwide celebration of the sea), and the online resources have already been viewed/downloaded almost 6,000 times. The field trip was free for students and teachers – and the field trips videos, interactive quizzes and background information all remain online and open access to support ongoing classroom activities. 

The third and final day of the trip focused on Dr Leigh Tait's work using drones to monitor coastlines in Kaikōura and how technology is helping scientists to gain a better understanding of marine ecosystems. The ocean is under-studied as is is vast and largely inaccessible. Traditional ways of collecting data for marine science are difficult and expensive, but drones and other technology are helping tackle this.

"The theme of Seaweek 2020 is Ko au te moana, ko te moana ko au – I am the sea, the sea is me, so this was the perfect time to learn about how we are connected to and manage our oceans,” says Shelley Hersey, the LEARNZ field trip teacher.

“Our oceans are definitely a hot topic for Kiwi kids. This is the third year running we’ve partnered with the Sustainable Seas Challenge, and every trip has been extremely popular. It's always exciting to be able to connect students with experts live on location and to see the quality of questions that students pose".

More information and multimedia teaching resources are available at

Notes to editors

About Dr Kura Paul-Burke’s research – Ōhiwa Harbour once had extensive mussel beds but they have been in decline for many years and have almost disappeared. To help restore the mussels beds, Dr Paul-Burke is researching how natural resources can help. Her team are growing mussels on four restoration stations around the harbour using mussel lines made from tī kōuka (cabbage tree fronds), instead of plastic-based industry lines.

About the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge – Our vision is for Aotearoa to have healthy marine ecosystems that provide value for all New Zealanders. Our research brings together scientists, social scientists, economists, and experts in mātauranga Māori and policy. To date, there have been more than 220 researchers from 37 organisations working on 41 projects. | Twitter @Sust_SeasNZ | Facebook SustainableSeasNZ

About LEARNZ – LEARNZ virtual field trips support students and teachers to access the inaccessible and engage directly with experts, digitally transporting them to remote locations all over Aotearoa, Antarctica and beyond. Their trips link to the NZ Curriculum and generate multimedia resources that teachers can use for classroom activities. 90% of NZ primary and intermediate schools are signed up. | Twitter @LEARNZ | Facebook LEARNZtrips

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