Taking the leap to head down to the southern hemisphere for
four months was the best decision I have made in my life so far. I was very fortunate
in getting accepted in the EcoQuest New Zealand program, Fall 2012. EcoQuest
was formed by The University Of New Hampshire in 1999. EcoQuest is an applied
field studies program in ecology, resource management, and environmental
policy. The 25 other students I lived with for 15 weeks became more to me than just
my ?whanau? which means family in Maori. The program was 15 weeks long, each
week was a theme and we traveled on the North and South island for the best-fit
environment for learning this theme.
For one of my favorite weeks (hard to pick because they were all my favorite) we learned about Eco-Tourism and stayed at a marae in Kaikoura. Since we were learning Eco-Tourism we took the role of tourist and we went swimming with wild Dusky Dolphins in Kaikoura. We were privileged to meet and talk with the owner of Dolphin Encounters. We learned about the permits in place when it comes to interacting with marine life and how protection efforts for marine life are enforced. Another week that was very memorable to me was the Marine Ecology week. We stayed in dorms at the Auckland University Marine center and snorkeled in two marine reserves. One of which was the first marine reserve protected in the world. For our classes we would use quadrants on bare rock and seaweed areas to see what effects Snapper fish had on the kina (sea urchin) population. The other reserve we snorkeled at was Poor Knights. Poor Knights is one of the top 10 dive sites in the world!!
The last four
weeks of the EcoQuest program were our DRP?s (Directed Research Program). My
directed research was based on the translocation of Shore Skinks (similar to a
lizard) to Motuihe Island. For a week my awesome research team, (Laynie
Saidnaway, Annie Fuller and Olivia Cushing) and I worked out in the field baiting
and checking pitfall traps for skinks. These traps were 5L buckets dug into the
ground so that the top of the bucket was ground level and had a wooden cover on
the top. We baited our traps with pear or fish-based cat food that did not smell
too pleasant at 5:30 am. Our objective was to see if the release of the Shore
Skinks was positive. We wanted to see if this particular skink species could
become self-sustaining after the release. This was by far my favorite part of
the EcoQuest program because it was hands on, out in the field working with a
small group, and extremely fun.
The memories and adventures I took away from New Zealand will stay with me forever. I was able to come home with more of an open mind, not just about the educational part of the experience but on a personal level as well. Everyone would tell me it would be a life changing experience and I was wondering if that just met it would hit me one day while I was there, but that was not the case. Through out the entire program I grew personally and was fortunate to grow with the help of my 25 other students who became my family. I learned more about New Zealand?s environment, and living in a close nit community. It was honestly the best experience I have encountered. I would highly recommend this particular program if you don?t mind getting close with 25 amazing students with similar interests as you and getting down and dirty!