Swannanoa students explore irrigation race biodiversity

Year 3 and 4 Swannanoa School students are captivated by the eels living in the irrigation raceway which runs through lifestyle block owner John Moss’s property.

A group of year 3 and 4 students from Swannanoa School learned about the connections between eels (tuna) and invertebrates during a recent school trip to lifestyle block inn Eyrewell Forest.

The biodiversity project is supported by Waimakariri Irrigation Limited (WIL) and focuses on protecting and enhancing areas of biodiversity throughout and adjacent to the area where the irrigation scheme operates. The trip helped students learn about the abundance of freshwater diversity supported by sections of the irrigation network.

Biodiversity project lead Dan Cameron says the students learned about the importance of eels (tuna) as the native apex predators of our waterways and how they rely on invertebrates as a food source. Practical experiments helped the students understand how a food chain works. The field trip was made possible through the generosity of landowner and eel expert John Moss who has become an integral part of the project.

“When we first arrived at the property, the eels which are mostly longfin swarmed out of their hiding place as John has taught them to respond to a foot stomp.

“We then learned more about how special eels are and how freshwater invertebrates form a key part of their diet as eels cannot eat larger prey until they reach a certain stage in their development.”

Swannanoa School teacher Julie Planner says the field trip was the culmination of a literacy group study into invertebrates and the practical experience was a particularly important part of the students’ learning process.

“Getting in the waterway and collecting samples from the stream then sifting through those to identify the invertebrates and linking that back into the overall lifecycle of the eels was a wonderful experience for the students.

“It was also important for them to learn that eels can only thrive in clean rivers and streams.”

Dan says the students enjoyed working together as a team on the science experiments conducted in the irrigation raceway.

“They worked as a team with some of them getting in the water upstream and swishing their feet around to release invertebrates from the bed of the irrigation race into a net being held by the other students.”

The students then used a science kit provided by Enviroschools Canterbury to examine and identify the types of invertebrates collected in their nets. Dan says the students found a range of species including mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies which indicated that the raceway is in good health.

The biodiversity project will continue next year with native seedling nurseries being set up at Swannanoa School, West Eyreton School, and Cust preschool to support local planting projects.