Connections and collaboration at the heart of freshwater action

For the last three years, the Mountains To Sea Wellington team have been delivering the Whitebait Connection Project, which connects communities to rivers, streams and wetlands and teaches them how to care for them. Freshwater manager Liz Gibson reflects on the mahi.

The Whitebait Connection Project (WBC) was focused on strengthening the way communities connect to, and care for, our rivers, streams, wetlands and catchments.  The dedicated funding and partnerships helped us to strengthen so much of what we do and to create tools, resources and know-how to better help our community. 

Without a doubt, the strongest outcomes of this project come from the thousands of volunteer hours put in by people across Aotearoa. We are so proud of the mahi and achievements of community, as they connect and work toward rebuilding the mana of our local freshwater places. Your work is invaluable and it’s been a privilege to help on your journey. 

Kids checking our the giant kokopu that live in Kenepuru Stream, Porirua, at the annual community blackberry harvest in Bothamley Park.

Over the last three years: 

  • More than 118 community groups and schools have taken part in the WBC freshwater education programmes
  • More than 30 freshwater action plans have been created and undertaken
  • 21 freshwater-focused community events have been held 
  • 70 community groups trained in freshwater biodiversity, water quality, and habitat monitoring
  • Regional and national toolkits for monitoring freshwater fish, water quality and habitats have been developed

The knowledge gained by schools and community groups through these programmes aims to be a springboard for the community to identify, initiate and take ownership of ecological restoration opportunities in the community. 

We've come a long way in three years, building invaluable partnerships, gaining precious insights into community needs, growing the skills and knowledge of communities and our team, and having a whole heap of fun getting gumboots-deep into science, mātauranga, and action for freshwater.

Our team have collaborated on a huge range of fun community events! From getting out in the community with pop-up stalls to showcase what lives beneath the surface of the water, speaking at conferences on biodiversity issues, to after-dark soirees sharing pro-tips on the mating rituals of īnanga. Through the project we have co-hosted a whopping 21 freshwater focused public events, engaging more than 2,800 people.

"I feel that we take part in our fresh water streams with our daily lives and that affects the river, so we need to work together to help the streams and rivers" - Year 7 student from Kapakapanui School

Along with events, the freshwater education programmes have been a central pillar of our engagement, and over the last three years we've had the joy of bringing the wonders of freshwater biodiversity to more than 2,625 students from kura all across Te Upoko-o-Te-Ika-a-Māui. The programmes have incorporated a wide range of kaupapa, from īnanga rearing, measuring environmental DNA, to assessing fish passage barriers and looking at the impacts of habitat loss and pollution. We're stoked to be helping reconnect young people to nature and foster guardianship. 

Konini Primary Students monitor the life in the Wainuiomata River through eDNA sampling, in partnership with Wilderlab and the Environmental Protection Authority of New Zealand.


Following involvement in our education programmes, students are often inspired to take action based on their experiences with their local waterways. We've been able to support the development and roll out of 13 long-term and 17 short-term meaningful action projects created and lead by schools and community groups. 

All of our connected restoration projects have been working hard turning their plans into reality and taking action for freshwater.


Monitoring restoration is an important way gain insights into how effective your actions are, and if you're still following the right path toward your goals. It's also valuable for assessing impact of human disturbances, understanding the changes occurring in your waterway, planning for the future, or even engaging young people in freshwater biodiversity. 

We've loved building and sharing our community science training programmes over the last three years, connecting to and supporting a rapidly growing number of groups engaged in restoration through our practical fish and water monitoring workshops. We've had the opportunity to advocate for community-based science and cultural health monitoring programmes both in council and with other wider partnerships and empower community groups to independently do the mahi.

In reaching the milestone of three years of the Whitebait Connection, it feels like we've only just scratched the surface, as communities become engaged in their waterways and want to have a lead role in their restoration.

Through our resources and training programmes, Mountains to Sea Wellington have been able to share our expertise in a partnership with the National Advisory Group for NZ Freshwater Citizen Science (NAG) to expand our training programmes nationally to help build a network of 20 coordinators who are now supporting community groups across Aotearoa. 


The Whitebait Connection was funded by Ministry for the Environment's Community Environment Fund over the last three year. The CEF provides funding so New Zealanders are empowered to make a positive difference for the environment and it aims to support projects that strengthen partnerships, raise awareness and encourage participation in environmental initiatives in the community.

As well as vital funding, none of this work would be possible without the phenomenal partnerships we've had over the years. Through their in-kind support, time, and expertise. We are excited for the future of collaborations with all of them and to restoring the mana to our local precious freshwater places.

  • Greater Wellington Regional Council
  • Porirua City Council
  • Wellington City Council
  • Hutt City Council
  • Department of Conservation
  • Ministry for the Environment
  • Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne
  • Porirua Harbour Trust
  • Wildlands Ltd
  • NIWA
  • ATS Environmental
  • Stella McQueen
  • Fab Feathy
  • National Advisory Group for NZ Freshwater Citizen Science
  • Pukaha to Kawakawa
  • Te Rūnanga o Toa Rangatira
  • Kahungunu ki Wairarapa
  • Pae Tū Mokai o Tauira
  • Enviroschools
  • Forest and
  • Partners Porirua
  • Rangitāne ō Wairarapa
  • Taranaki Whānui – Te Tini o Hākuturi
  • Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust
  • National WBC provider network
  • Conservation Volunteers New Zealand
  • Sustainable Coastlines
  • Te Aho Tū Roa

If you'd like to learn about freshwater monitoring online, sign-up to our Make Ripples stream here.

Freshwater Manager
A powerhouse in freshwater conservation and a driving force within WBC. Always both a teacher and student, Liz leads the way for so much meaningful mahi within both education and community spaces.
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