Sharing the seaweed love

December 8, 2022

Imagine the blue belt of Wellington sustaining a healthy and vibrant ocean forest, able to absorb more carbon than trees, improving water quality and providing habitat for thousands of marine creatures. These forests have helped our oceans thrive. Now they need our help.

In 2020, Mountains to Sea Wellington launched the Love Rimurimu education project. The goal is to immerse young people and the wider community in the world of seaweed, building their knowledge of its importance and supporting them to carry out restoration work with the support of experts.

Our long-term vision is for the community to have a much greater understanding of the vital ecosystem services provided by rimurimu (seaweed) and to work together to pilot seaweed forests restoration activities in Wellington’s marine area.

A national first, this project has been enthusiastically supported by world-leading experts and an active group of technical advisors from NIWA, Victoria University, Department of Conservation and the Wellington Underwater Club. The project has developed a wide range of new resources and experiences for schools and communities.

Since its first year, the project has seen seven Wellington region schools take part in the year-long enquiry. More than 320 students and their close whānau were directly immersed in the world of seaweed. Even more, our popular community snorkels had a seaweed focus, introducing all participants to the wonders of rimurimu.

We think Wellington is the perfect place to lead innovation and sustainable restoration of our ocean forests. Next year we hope to trial restoring areas where these critical habitats have been lost.

This education programme wouldn't have been possible without the generous funding support from Unlocking Curious Minds, WWF New Zealand and Wellington Community Trust.

What's so cool about seaweed?

Seaweed (rimurimu) provides a wealth of ecosystem services and opportunities:

  • Enhances biodiversity by maintaining vital food webs and habitat
  • Improves water quality
  • Rebuilds marine ecosystems
  • Provides innovative & traditional solutions to many modern day challenges including food, textiles, materials and medicines.
  • Fights climate change by absorbing carbon (and a potential tool for long-term carbon sequestration)
Child looking at seaweed

It starts with knowledge: the seaweed spark

The Mountains To Sea Wellington team is working with students across Wellington to explore the diversity of our local seaweeds, their role in the oceans and their connection with climate change.

It’s intended that these young people will also be piloting restoration in Wellington with support from scientists, iwi and local government, pending approval and ensuring best practice. They will then go on to share their learning with others in the community.

The schools involved in the Love Rimurimu education programme are Mana College, Scots College, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngā Mokopuna, Koraunui School, Te Ara Whānui Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Awa Kairangi, Whareama School, Wellington East Girls' College and Rongotai College.

This project is widely supported with leading experts from the Department of Conservation, Experiencing Marine Reserves, Te Aho Tū Roa, Victoria University of Wellington, NIWA, Wellington Underwater club and many others. These fantastic experts shared an amazing wealth of knowledge with the students, from history and uses, to even sharing some pickled Neptune's Necklace with cheese and crackers.

Throughout the year, students are immersed in learning about seaweed biodiversity and distribution, structures and importance of their ecosystems and habitats, and the three different groups of seaweed; Browns, Greens and Reds. The students tested the ability of seaweed to create oxygen with photosynthesis experiments measuring oxygen production and carbon dioxide absorption.

Through field trips, students identified samples of seaweed on land before snorkeling in their local Taputeranga Marine Reserve. Diving beneath the waves they were able to explore the amazing habitats that the seaweed forest creates and the animals that live in them.

“A completely new kaupapa for us. This is exciting for me as a teacher to be doing new learning and the excitement and enthusiasm rubs off on our rangatahi. The engagement of whanau in the learning. Not just immediate family but wider community from both our kura and wider Stokes Valley. – Dianne Christenson, Teacher at Koraunui School

Once these young experts knew everything they needed to know about seaweed biology, we investigated human impacts affecting rimurimu. In collaboration with seaweed experts from around Aotearoa, who shared their research and experiences working with seaweed, students were taught how to protect at risk species from impacts such as sedimentation, pollution, overfishing, global warming and ocean acidification.

As a result, some of the students have started taking action for the environment. The Mana College students adopted Titahi Bay as a new Litter Intelligence Project site to periodically clean and audit all rubbish found in a set transect area. Koraunui School organised an event for whānau, friends and the general public. Everyone was invited to gather and celebrate seaweed. This time the students acted as seaweed experts. They showcased all that they had learnt through games, workshops, science and kai.

Both the kura kaupapa have been working with Love Rimurimu education for a couple of years now. They have been tightly linked to the restoration component of the project and are participating in the decision-making process around selecting restoration sites around the harbour. Lately, they have been focused on mapping the physical, chemical and biological factor in Te Whanganui-a-Tara that might affect seaweed health. This data will inform what sites might have seaweed forests successfully regenerated.

Sparking community interest

Our community snorkel events over the last few years have bee a great opportunity to starting talking to people about - and showing them! - the amazing native seaweeds we have in Wellington Harbour. We had seaweed experts from NIWA, VUCEL, Wellington Underwater Club and the Friends of Taputeranga Marine Reserve Trust to support the seaweed conversations at these events. It provided people with a chance to check out seaweed samples, identify them using guides, and make use of an on-shore virtual reality tour of Taputeranga Marine Reserve.

What comes next?

We want to see our marine environment thrive. To achieve this outcome active restoration and management in the marine environment is needed.

Our vision: “Wellington harbour and the blue belt has a flourishing ocean forest, cared for by our local communities. Our seaweed forests are valued for their beauty and ecosystem services – absorbing carbon, steadily improving water quality and as a home to an increasing abundance of marine life”

Want to get involved? Find out more on www.loverimurimu.org or come along to one of our summer events to talk all things seaweed.

Jorge
Jimenez
Project Manager - Marine
Calm and collected, whatever the situation, Jorge remains the coolest of cucumbers. Bringing a seemingly endless dedication and an easy-going charm to all the work he does.
For more of everything Mountains to Sea, follow us on social media!
⮐ Back to stories home