Under the direction of Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) Fisheries Officer Tai George the students and teacher June Hosking covered around 900 square metres of lagoon, noting the numbers of rori (sea cucumbers), vana, avake (both sea urchins), and paua (clams), the paua being measured also.
This data is now being collated by Tai for a report going to MMR, Rarotonga.
With the sun searing from above and glaring from below, students most often bent over in deep concentration, so as not to miss a thing. This was no picnic day, and they knew it was a privilege to be trusted with such an important job.
Things got off to a slow start as the team learned a different way of surveying from what they had used for the beach debris survey. For that, the beach was combed in a grid of one metre squares so that information could be collected not only on the amount and size of debris, but on where it came to rest on the beach.
The lagoon survey method, a transect, required the gathering of data along one metre “lanes” perpendicular to the beach.
With a rope running from the beach to the reef, fastened at both ends, three pairs of students worked on each side of it. Each pair consisted of a “recorder” who kept a tally on waterproof paper and a “lines person” who used a one metre ruler to ensure they remained in their lane. Both kept their eyes peeled and concentrated on counting. Students understood the need for accuracy, that nothing be missed or double-counted. “It was great to see the group I worked with become a team,” says Hosking.
“At first pairs acted as though they were in a race. When the pupils were within a few metres of the shore I had to call in one pair who were way out of their lane and get the three pairs lined up to start again. Then a marvellous thing happened. Without instruction, the six boys began to cooperate, joining their one metre rulers to form a line. They all stopped when one needed to measure a paua and moved on together. They communicated as to who should record when something crossed a boundary line. I was so excited to see such efficiency and they knew it.”
Hosking is grateful for the opportunity to involve the students in purposeful real life learning and points out that the morning involved valuable lessons in maths and science. She hopes some students will catch a vision of themselves as scientists and one day turn it into reality.
“I say to the students, anyone who asks questions and attempts to find the answers is a scientist. Be it questions about nature, how people think, what makes things work or how to create a new recipe with a local ingredient, there are scientific discoveries to be made and methods of investigation that apply to all.”
Hosking points out that building baseline data for Mauke now is critical.
“It may be one of these students that end up examining today’s data in the future.
“I’ve heard some scoff as elders recall days past when they could paddle a paiere out to fish for just an hour and come back with 10 tuna (some bigger than the canoe), or collect sacks of koura from one small pool here in Mauke.
“Without written or photographic records there is no evidence to back up such claims and alarm bells refuse to ring. I trust that now ongoing comparisons of data collected will cause questions to be asked and answers to be sought.”
The 900 square metres covered by the survey represents only a small portion of what needs to be investigated to survey this one raui area, says Hosking.
“As George pointed out, the morning was for training. She hopes students will join her to complete the survey over the holiday break with Ngere and Gordon, Rarotonga-based MMR staff, who have offered to help whilst home for their holidays. “The plan is to carry out an annual survey to form a picture of the ongoing state of lagoon life. The students are optimistic that the paua will have grown next time they measure them because, in their words, “Mauke’s lagoon is healthy”.
“Our shallow lagoon has beautiful low coral growth and small paua show off their blue-green and brown-orange lips.
“Students were made aware that paua will be about 15cm wide before they begin reproducing. The biggest paua measured were around 13cm wide, so there are promising days ahead if all is left untouched.”