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A Deep Dive into Mountains to Sea

Nga Maunga ki te Moana Conservation Trust - CC23406

Early days of EMR

From the Mountains to the Sea

The Northland-based Nga Maunga ki te Moana Conservation Trust (now Mountains to Sea (MTS) Conservation Trust) was established in 2002, as a charitable umbrella and support organisation for the Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) marine education and Whitebait Connection (WBC) freshwater education programmes. 

One of the founding members, Stefan Seitzer, suggested the name Ngā Maunga ki te Moana Conservation Trust for the Trust, based on the need to be bilingual and also incorporating the kaupapa and vision held within the Trust deed objectives and flagship programmes EMR and WBC. The connection  between the  Mayfly to Marlin in relation to WBC was captured within NMKTM and is still relevant for MTS today.

The Trust saw (and continues to see) education as a vital part of society and central to all environmental restoration. 

The Trust works from a vision that sees communities ultimately holding the solutions and resources to tackle the environmental problems that we face today. The Trust will strive to work in ways that builds community involvement, fosters equity, and works toward a shared vision of ecological sustainability as the basis of all community.

In the vision of our Trust, the biodiversity of our ocean, coastal areas, our streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands is respected as a taonga (treasure). We view these systems as a whole with no boundaries. Restoration of any part of the system supports the whole. Ours is a special generation, we have the opportunity and obligation to reverse past trends of exploitation of the natural world. We feel there is an urgent need to halt continued degradation of the natural systems and biodiversity upon which all life ultimately depends. In the social and cultural realms there are positive paths forward which we will work to develop and support.

We embraced (and continue to) a philosophy of experiential learning and fostering community engagement in education for sustainability and action.  Our work is unique in its simple yet powerful principles and robust scientific foundation.  Through this we deliver solutions to some of New Zealand’s most pressing environmental challenges.


The founding Trustees were

The late Dr Roger Grace -  marine biologist and professional photographer. 

Vince Kerr - ecologist

Samara Nicholas - environmental social entrepreneur 

Stefan Seitzer - freshwater ecologist


Our original deed

A Charitable Trust is hereby established for the purpose of achieving the following outcomes.

  1. Environmental educational strategies, programs, resources and community engagement activities will be created, fostered and offered to the community. 

  2. Advocate directly within communities and with Government for the establishment of a system of conservation measures and biodiversity protection areas. 

  3. Support and create opportunities for young environmental professionals to work and engage with schools and communities in environmental education and ecological restoration and conservation management. 

  4. Foster and support the pursuit of scientific research, understanding and traditional knowledge of aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity. Ensure that the results of the research are disseminated in the community. 

  5. Provide technical, scientific assistance to the community, schools and environmental advocacy groups for the purpose of furthering the aims of the Trust.

A 2003 agreement between the Department of Conservation and MTSCT made EMR and WBC available to other parts of NZ. The Tindall Foundation supported the trusts national expansion from 2006 - 2023

In 2006 we changed our name, (with the rationale that we could more easily market the name Mountains to Sea), we got a new logo and started thinking much more long-term.


 The Trust’s vision statement 2006

The biodiversity of our ocean, coastal areas, streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands is respected as taonga and viewed as a whole system without boundaries. We will strive to honour the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, and work in ways that build community involvement, foster equity and work towards a shared vision of ecological sustainability as the basis of all community. 


The Trust recognised the Treaty of Waitangi from the onset  and continues to  strive to honor the principles of this founding document. The partnership between the cultures challenges us to learn from and respect the knowledge and wisdom underlying the tikanga (tradition) of our indigenous culture. Empowerment and restoration of the kaitiakitanga (guardianship) is a critical challenge and an even greater opportunity in today’s society.


The direction of the trust around 2007 was to engage with and provide technical support for schools, community groups and government departments working on marine conservation initiatives. We produced resources, including the “How-to’ create a marine reserve proposal  resource. We facilitated events, hui (meetings) and community awareness and involvement activities and created opportunities for young environmentalists to work in marine and freshwater conservation.

Our 2003  celebrate the sea event for Seaweek engaged Pitch Black to play in the largest sea cave in the world. This event had wide exposure and involved a representation of community members from all over the North, this event helped people meet people and contributed to building relationships between the Department and Iwi. Ngatiwai’s involvement in this event was both positive and significant at the time. The Minister of Conservation attended the event and ‘Big Day Out’ musicians Pitch Black played in the sea cave, in the name of marine conservation. This event generated publicity locally and on student radio (95b fm with Mikey Havoc and Jeremy Wells).


MTSCT has been facilitating wānanga since 2006 for each of our programmes, then in 2010 we combined resources to run the EMR and WBC annual coordinator training events as one and invite a wider range of people – making it a mountains to sea focus, always with a different theme.

In 2006 we held our first wananga at Leigh and the following years at Whananaki.


In 2009 we delivered what is believed to be a world first engagement event forming a human chain to celebrate the Whangarei Harbour Marine Reserve Marine Reserve Human Chain

Compliance and community buy- in are often challenging for new marine reserves.  This was the case at Motukaroro, part of the Whangarei Harbour Marine Reserve. The Experiencing Marine Reserves Programme supported by DOC Whangarei Area Office came up with a bold and innovative approach involving over 1000 students, community members and a helicopter. The world's first human chain around the world's first student driven marine reserve was achieved on the 16th September, 2009. The human chain was formed around the landward boundary of the reserve. Many advised us that logistically this exercise was too hard. We committed ourselves, our community also committed and it all happened. This bold adventure in community engagement featured on the front page of regional papers, was televised on One News, Te Kaea, Maori Television, Channel North and featured in DOC’s publication ‘Conservation Action’.


In 2012, EMR partnered with the Sir Peter Blake Trust and travelled to one of New Zealand’s most remote and spectacular marine reserves, the Kermadec Islands, as part of the Young Blake Expeditions. It was a fascinating experience to be immersed in one of our most unique marine environments, surrounded by new life forms and to have shared that experience with thirty students and crew made heading to the remote Kermadec Marine Reserve the ultimate! EMR’s mission is to get as many people as possible to learn from and experience marine reserves, even if it is from your classroom, many Northland schools could tell you all about the marine biodiversity at the Kermadec’s now!

In 2018 we were honoured to be invited again.


Our goal and aspirations

Both EMR and WBC involve young people, their parents and the wider community. Our programmes reinforce simple concepts such as the uniqueness of our freshwater and marine biodiversity and provide an active focus on conservation of these environments through education and action.

Our goal is  to empower and support communities to achieve marine and freshwater conservation through science based experiential programmes, resources, projects and community engagement. 

The continued development of the Mountains to Sea  brings together an extensive array of professional skills and diverse capabilities. Within our group of trustees there is a balance of youth and experience, scientific, social scientific, leadership and educational accomplishment.

People came and went (some are still very much involved)  but the essence of the trust remained…

Former trustees 

Late Dr Roger Grace 

Samara Nicholas 

Vince Kerr

Stefan Seitzer

Ira Seitzer

Sioux Campbell

Kim Jones

Eden Hakaraia 

Hilton Leith 

Manuel Springford 

Nicki Wakefield 


Our whakataukī was gifted to us by Manuel Springford  (Te Rarawa Ngāpuhi, Ngāi Tahu)

Whakamana te maunga, Whakamana te wai, 

He mauri o ngā tangata.

 Ngā mea katoa he pai. 

If we look after the water from the mountains to the sea,

it will look after us. 

It is our life force.


Manuel Tehira-McManus Springford

Te Rarawa Ngāpuhi, Ngāi Tahu

Manuel Tehira-McManus Springford

As part of an ongoing journey into te ao Māori Manuel is able to utilise mātauranga and tikanga to help assist the trust to evolve the connection it has between tangata whenua and the environment. His involvement came about through a campaign to help revitalise Te reo Māori and its use. Working with hapū and iwi especially around the wai is a big part of the ongoing mahi the trust is doing.

Manuel, along with others, is able to help tātai all these elements together to build and uphold the mana of Mountains to Sea Conservation trust and the mahi they are doing. 


Our team

Our team has grown and expanded in many ways since 2002 and currently has 8 trustees, 2 co directors and a team of over 100 coordinators delivering EMR and WBC around NZ. 

The team at the 2021 Wānanga
The team at the 2021 Wānanga

Current trustees, directors and team can be found here



These kids are the future users and guardians of Tangaroa. With awareness of what natural abundance looks like and how far we have come from it, they’re better placed to care for it throughout their lives. We think the conservation education work Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust is doing is invaluable, long may it continue. Dean Wright (Fish Forever) – Supporter

The practical science approach that the Whitebait Connection apply to their work is readily  understood and appreciated by landowners who are able to see a direct connection between what they do on their land and the effects on inanga and other wildlife. Kevin Adshead (The Forest Bridge Trust) - Supporter


By 2022 the key values had evolved to

  • Collaboration 

  • Empowerment and innovation 

  • Honouring Te Tiriti O Waitangi 

  • Integrity & Aroha

  • Fun & passion 

  • Community centred conservation 

  • Connecting people to te taiao

  • Let our mahi tell our story 

  • Pono 

  • Open source 

Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) was created by Samara Nicholas in 2001, with the support of Vince Kerr. Samara and Vince were excited about getting people involved in the ocean. Samara thought back to a time when she went snorkelling at Leigh Marine Reserve with the local primary school, and was buddied up with two young kids. The look on their faces when they saw a huge snapper swimming by inspired Samara to capture that experience in an education programme, and the EMR concept came to life.

The first EMR school wrote submissions for the successful implementation of the Whangarei Harbour marine reserve.

The Whitebait Connection programme began in Northland in 2000 and has spread to various areas of New Zealand with the support of the Department of Conservation (DOC) and other sponsors.  The programme is linked to the Drains to Harbour (DTH), Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) and Mangrove Discovery (MD) programmes, promoting a whole ‘mountains to sea’ catchment focus.

Mountains to Sea Catchment Care has been integrated into the trusts mahi over the years and sets the goal of inspiring and linking communities for catchment restoration, through providing information, meaningful experience, followed by facilitated or community lead actions within the local catchment. Community and conservation outcomes are recordable and linked with sound scientific monitoring programmes. The resulting data has meaning and value to all recipients of the programme.

All stakeholders  with interests in a catchment area are informed, engaged  and inspired to participate in freshwater environment conservation  and restoration actions,  creating a future where shared responsibility and environmental outcomes are celebrated by all.

In 2022 the trusts long term catchment restoration vision came to life through the MTSCT Wai Connection project  announcement. The Wai Connection programme is part of the Ministry for the Environment’s Essential Freshwater Package and will see MTSCT assisting Regional Councils to successfully implement the Essential Freshwater Reforms in partnership with the community. This project will support further expansion of MTSCT across Aotearoa. 

The ‘Wai Connection - Tatai ki te wai’ name has been gifted to MTS by Manuel Springford (Te Rarawa Ngāpuhi, Ngāi Tahu).

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