New wave of Kiwi kids to become ocean advocates

fur seal swimming under water
© Darryl Torckler
Press Release

At the beginning of the year WWF-New Zealand teamed up with former Ironman World Champion Sebastian Kienle to help instil a love of nature in the next generation.

WWF-New Zealand announced 2 November 2023 that the funds raised as part of Kienle’s Ironman New Zealand race will go towards three community-led projects to educate young Kiwis on the marine environment.

The projects will see youngsters get up close and personal with sea life in some of New Zealand’s marine reserves and take part in hands-on conservation work like planting seaweed forests.

WWF-New Zealand CEO Dr Kayla Kingdon-Bebb said the two-year grants would help to inspire Kiwi kids on why the ocean matters, and the threats it faces.

“Young children are the future kaitiaki of our ocean, which is why it’s so important we teach them about caring for and protecting the precious wildlife that depend on it.

“Aotearoa’s marine environment is under threat from overfishing, climate change and pollution, and many of our native marine species are in serious trouble if we don’t take action. 

“Precious taonga like the Antipodean Albatross or the Māui dolphin need our help – and building a love of the ocean at an early age is a great place to start.”

One of the initiatives receiving funding, ‘Young Ocean Explorers’, runs school holiday programmes for 8-13 year-olds in the Hauraki Gulf to teach them about the marine environment. 

The funding boost from WWF-New Zealand will help them scale up their activities – including educational sessions and tours at Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium; using virtual reality technology to show youngsters the threats facing the marine environment; and visiting the Goat Island Marine Reserve to teach kids about the importance of protecting marine habitats and species.

Dave Robertson, General Manager of Young Ocean Explorers, said:

“We’re thrilled about WWF’s sponsorship, making marine environments more accessible to young people in the next two years. 

“We’ve seen that when young people get their heads in the water, or explore our amazing shorelines, it sparks their inspiration and commitment to safeguarding these environments for the future”. 

Funding will also go to Mountains to Sea Wellington’s ‘Love Rimurimu’ education project, which is working with young students to build seaweed regeneration sites and educate them on these vital underwater forests. 

The students will be involved in planting rimurimu (seaweed) in the Wellington harbour, which will help to absorb carbon, improve water quality, and provide a habitat for thousands of marine creatures.

Love Rimurimu Project Lead, Zoe Studd, said: 

“The additional funding helps us to achieve one of the most important parts of our work - that of connecting young people and community to our underwater forests. 

“Seaweed ecosystems are fascinating and critical places, and under serious threat. Giving young students the opportunity to both explore and restore them has been at the heart of the project from the beginning.”

Funding will also be allocated to Project Jonah, a charity which helps to protect New Zealand’s marine mammals through a range of rescue, action and protection programmes.

Alongside rolling out more of their marine education toolkits to schools, the funding from WWF-New Zealand will enable a Project Jonah educator to visit more schools and kindergartens and teach over 12,000 new children about the importance of nurturing the ocean and the animals that call it home.

Communications and Volunteer Manager at Project Jonah, Louisa Hawkes, said:

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with WWF to expand our marine education programme. We believe that if people understand marine mammals they will respect them, and if they respect them they will be less likely to cause them harm.

“Education is fundamental to building understanding and working together with WWF we’ll be able to reach thousands of tamariki and empower them to make a difference.”

WWF-New Zealand funding for these projects will run for a two-year period. 

The funds were raised for WWF by German triathlete Sebastian Kienle, who used his last year competing professionally to give back by supporting projects around the world. 

He auctioned off his original SCOTT Plasma 6 triathlon bike, used in his Ironman New Zealand race in March, with the proceeds going to WWF-New Zealand through charity platform VIPrize.