Coromandel Area School’s Fight for Whitebait

02 April 2019

Students at Coromandel Area School are fighting to save New Zealand’s declining whitebait population through extensive planting of natives and wetland plants.

Thanks to a $10,000 grant from TREEmendous, a joint initiative between Project Crimson and the Mazda Foundation, the school was able to create a ‘natural corridor’ alongside the spring that runs through the school’s grounds which will protect whitebait eggs, helping to preserve the species.

Previously neglected, the spring had become overrun by exotic and invasive weeds which were making it difficult for the precious native flora to grow.

After local elders explained that inanga, the smallest species of whitebait, used to travel up the spring from the estuary, the school was determined to revitalise the spring to help save the species which is at risk of extinction.

Over the weekend the school staff, local community members, the Mazda Foundation and the Project Crimson team worked together to create a ‘natural corridor’ along the border of the spring to help purify the water and allow aquatic animals to thrive once again.

Inanga is the only species of whitebait that can’t climb barriers, which means that creating an environment they can survive in is difficult. The ‘natural corridor’ will protect inanga eggs by acting as an umbrella during the day and a blanket at night.

Koren Hopoi, Principal at Coromandel Area School, says inanga hadn’t been seen in the stream for several years.

“The declining numbers of inanga means the species is at risk, so the possibility of seeing them return to our spring is really exciting.”

The school is actively transitioning into regenerative education with environmental, cultural and social responsibility at the core.

“We are actively weaving these skills and practices throughout our curriculum, as we recognise the importance of the environment to human health and well-being, particularly in young people. The TREEmendous event was a great way to show students first-hand the importance of taking care of our natural environment,” she says.

With the Aoraki Conservation Board estimating that New Zealand's whitebait population could be completely extinct within the next 15 years, Mazda Foundation Chairman David Hodge says it is inspiring to see young people taking action.

“From the number of people who turned up on the day to help out, it is clear that the whole community share’s the school’s passion for the environment. It’s always so rewarding to be a part of these events and I love getting stuck in and helping school students make a difference.”

As part of the TREEmendous event the students were treated to a visit by marine scientist Riley ‘The Sharkman’ Elliott, who explained the importance of conservation and gave the school some further tips for caring for their aquatic life.

Ruud ‘The Bugman’ Kleinpaste and his insect friends were also in attendance and spoke to the students about how inanga feed on bugs that fall into the stream.

After a hard day’s work which resulted in the planting of over 600 natives and other plants the whole crew was treated to a BBQ thanks to the local Four Square who kindly donated the sausages.

Coromandel Area School is the first school to be visited by the TREEmendous team this year, with Konini School (Wainuiomata), up next on May the 4th followed by Hukerenui School (Northland), Te Uku School (Raglan) and Aparima College (Riverton).

Applications are now open to become a TREEmendous School in 2020. For more information visit

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