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23rd Annual Poor Knights Competition trip - Connecting whānau and the environment

Participants getting ready to dive in to Pupukemoana - Sophie Journee
All the students with their whānau on the bow of Perfect Day at the Poor Knights marine reserve - Lorna Doogan.

Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) - Te Kura Moana ran their 23nd annual Poor Knights competition trip on Friday 17th May, sponsored by Dive! Tutukaka and The Bobby Stafford-Bush Foundation.  EMR is a programme of the Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust. The day started with a minute's silence to show respect and aroha to our late sponsor Brian Stafford-Bush whom was a huge EMR fan! 

Students came from as far north as Matauri Bay (Far North) and as far south as Canterbury to experience one of Aotearoa's oldest marine reserves. Students are selected based on action projects they have undertaken and the enthusiasm they show when studying & experiencing the marine environment. The national delivery of EMR is thanks to a network of provider organisations across the country.

EMR started in Tai Tokerau/Northland in 2001 with just three schools and the idea of comparing unprotected marine areas to fully protected marine areas with water safety messages embedded throughout the programme. Seeing huge tāmure/snapper swimming has inspired thousands of kids to take action for the marine environment and exercise kaitiakitanga - guardianship for their local beach or harbour.

Snorkeller Ari (10) helping EMR crew member Sophie check the gee minnow traps for fish - Sophie Journee
Diving in the archway to Maroro Bay on Aorangi Island - Lorna Doogan

For this year's trip we had 28 students and 26 guardians representing 25 schools from 7 regions of Aotearoa including Northland, Auckland, Taranaki, Gisborne, Wellington, Nelson/Tasman and Canterbury. Since 2002, we have taken representatives from 424 schools, totalling 591 students! Each student attends with a parent or guardian and its a chance to connect whanau to the environment 

“Action projects this year included monitoring rimurimu with the Love Rimurimu project in Wellington, eDNA monitoring, video projects to promote local marine reserve and nesting box monitoring for the little blue penguin says EMR founder Samara Nicholas.

In addition to the opportunity to represent their school or region for the EMR ACTION prize, we offer the EMR Ocean Art prize. The Bobby Stafford-Bush Foundation supports this special prize for young kiwis that have experienced the marine environment with EMR and display that passion and experience through art.

This is the sixth  year we have offered the Darren Shields Wettie Spearfishing & Wetsuits freediving representative prize, for a Northland high school student that shows talent for freediving. This year's winner was Danika from Whangarei Girls High School. 

We were also joined by two rangatahi from Te Waiariki, Ngāti Korora, Ngāti Takapari Hapū Iwi Trust to tautoko the day as well as Nakita and Belinda from EMS - Experiencing Marine Sanctuaries, our sister programme over in South Australia.

On board the vessel ‘Perfect Day’ our snorkel site this year was the stunning ‘Garden’s at Maroro Bay, part of the Poor Knights Islands that have been protected by no-take status since 1981. Participants were delighted to see many schools of blue maomao, black angel fish, tāmure/snapper galore and the friendly sandagers wrasse. A big highlight for many was exploring the caves and witnessing the bright blue glow of the water. With this being the first time most of the students and guardians had ever visited the Poor Knights!

Participants weaving ika/fish mobiles with kairaranga Shelley - Rhiannon Leddra
Marcus Taitua-Clark exploring shark fin cave - Lorna Doogan

Top quotes from the day:

“I really enjoyed snorkelling at the Poor Knights Islands and seeing how clear the water was and the amount of fish swimming there. It inspired me a lot to make sure I am doing what I can to keep the islands and other places clean. So that others like me can enjoy it too.” Katsumi Leonard (Highlands Intermediate)

“I really like going into the caves and seeing the school of fish swimming under us and it was really cool because I also saw heaps of things I wouldn’t see in Wellington.” Te Ao Rangi Tewhara (Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Nga Mokopuna) 

“Sinking into the quiet, clear moana to find myself surrounded by so many different schools of fish is something I will never forget. The piper fish were mesmerising and the colourful wrasse so curious! Listening to my daughter Penny sing her song in the beautiful Rikoriko cave gave me goosebumps and I felt very proud of her mahi. We are both leaving the Poor Knights feeling inspired and grateful. Thank you to all, especially Samara.” - Kelly Gill-Brydon (Guardian of Penny)

“This is a once in a lifetime experience, when I first put my head under the water at the Poor Knights I discovered a whole new kingdom. I loved seeing the schools of fish swimming around all the seaweed. Thank you to the EMR team for making this possible. “ - Gracie Dwyer-Tuiloma (Breens Intermediate)

If you would like to get your school involved in our programme and have a chance of going on this once in a lifetime trip please head to and feel free to get in touch with our awesome EMR coordinators around Aotearoa. Big thanks to our regional provider partners Mountains to Sea Wellington, Tasman Bay Guardians, Nga Motu Marine Reserve Society, He Awa Ora, He Tai Ora, Healthy Rivers, Living Sea, EOS Ecology

MTS crew and volunteers happy after a successful event! - Sophie Journee
Excited students ready to hop into the deep blue water of Maroro Bay from the boat Perfect Day - Sophie Journee


Student list 2024


Oromahoe School - Nichol Bergman

Whangarei Heads - Molly Kersel

Whangarei Primary School - Lucious Pickering 

Maromaku School - Marcus Taitua-Clark

Onerahi Primary Thomas Potter 

Whangarei Girls High School - Annabelle Tuato'o

Tikipunga High School (IHAD) - Lulu Badenhorst 

Matauri Bay - Delta Samuels-Thomas

One Tree Point - Jayden Bradburn

Whangarei Girls High - Danika 


Waterlea School - Hayden Hokke

Te Papapa School - Alex Tikonamaka

Howick Primary - Alex Sooalo

Christ the King School - Xarnder Sullings

St Thomas School - Emily Scott

Fruitvale Primary - Ronav Naidu

Waterlea School - Olive Hockley  

Stonefields School- Ethan Prestidge 


Highlands Intermediate - Imogen Sargent

Highlands Intermediate - Kasumi Leonard 


Makauri Asha Hughes

Wainui School - Beatrix Pauwels


Crofton Downs Primary School - Malachi Keach

Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Ngā Mokopuna - Te Ao Rangi Tawhara


Zephyr Ward Taylor

Penny Brydon


St Martins School - Alfie Smith

Breens Intermediate - Gracie Dwyer-Tuiloma



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