Experiential learning at the heart of our work
“At the heart of A Rocha’s environmental education is experiential learning,” believes Dr Andrew Shepherd, National Co-Director, A Rocha Aotearoa New Zealand. In late 2017 A Rocha Aotearoa New Zealand had the opportunity to model experiential environmental education with leaders from other Christian organisations in a unique setting: the longest undammed river in Aotearoa NZ – the Clarence / Waiau-toa.
Together with Scripture Union and Adventure Specialties, A Rocha runs E3 wilderness expeditions for senior school students. With the November 2016 Kaikoura earthquake radically re-shaping the Clarence landscape, the river had to be checked for safety prior to the December 2017 Canterbury expedition. So, over Labour weekend, staff and Board members from the three organisations and E3 funders joined together for five days to navigate the length of this mighty river.
Amongst the A Rocha participants was trustee and fresh-water scientist, Richard Storey, with equipment for monitoring water clarity and benthic macroinvertebrates. One of the changes to the river, post-earthquake – due to landslides and rock-falls – is an increase in water turbidity. Richard explains, “Birds in this habitat rely on seeing below the surface to catch aquatic prey and we are hypothesising that they may be affected by the extremely low clarity further downstream – down to 10cm near the end of our trip. Monitoring water quality and birds will help us see if the decreased water quality is impacting on bird populations.” Participants also used light-traps each evening to capture adult insects. This data could be used to extend the known range of some species. The intention is to repeat these exercises on future E3 expeditions with data being passed onto scientists at NIWA (National Institute for Water and Atmospherics).
Participants were struck by the ecological & theological dimension that A Rocha contributed to the trip. Mark Johnston from Adventure Specialties Trust wrote: “I was impressed and think this is a partnership that would be valuable for churches to follow up on. [A Rocha] have great resources to empower us to make a difference both from a practical and theological view point.”
Fellow Adventure Specialties instructor, Anna Squires, was on the Clarence River trip and later instructed on the Otago E3 December 2017 expedition. Anna commented: “One of my 2017 highlights was rafting down the Clarence and furthering my understanding of river ecosystems. Instructing on Otago E3 and sharing this newfound knowledge with others was an amazing opportunity. I loved seeing the wonder on students’ faces as they experienced God’s minute creation in the riverbed! I’m excited about incorporating such activities into my role as a full-time outdoor instructor.”