The Whitebait Connection Project

Connections and collaboration at the heart of freshwater action in Te Upoko o Te Ika a Māui.

Over the last three years Mountains to Sea Wellington was funded by the Ministry for the Environments’ Community Environment Fund to deliver the Whitebait Connection Project – Wellington. The CEF provides funding so New Zealanders are empowered to make a positive difference for the environment and it aims to support projects that strengthen partnerships, raise awareness and encourage participation in environmental initiatives in the community.

The Whitebait Connection Project was focused on strengthening the way communities connect to, and care for,  our rivers, streams, wetlands and catchments.  The dedicated funding and partnerships helped us to strengthen so much of what we do, and to create tools, resources and know-how to better help our community.

Without a doubt, the strongest outcomes of this project come from the thousands of volunteer hours put in by people across Aoteroa. We are so proud of the mahi and achievements of community, as they connect and work toward rebuilding the mana of our local freshwater places. Your work is invaluable and it’s been a privilege to help on your journey.

Over the course of the last three years :

  • Over 118 community groups and schools have taken part in the WBC freshwater education programmes,

  • Over 30 freshwater action plans have been created and undertaken,

  • 21 freshwater focused community events have been held,

  • 70 community groups trained in freshwater biodiversity, water quality, and habitat monitoring,

  • Regional and national Toolkits for monitoring freshwater fish, water quality and habitats.

Monitoring Freshwater Fish – Wellington
Freshwater Monitoring – Online National Training Program

The knowledge gained by schools and community groups through these programmes aims to be a  springboard for the community to identify, initiate and take ownership of ecological restoration opportunities in the community.


We’ve come a long way in these three years, building invaluable partnerships, gaining precious insights into community needs, growing the skills and knowledge of communities and our team, and having a whole heap of fun getting gumboots-deep into science, mātauranga, and action for freshwater. Take a moment with us now, to reflect on the highlights of our events, education programs, restoration mahi, and scientific monitoring workshops.

Networking, sharing experiences, expert kōrero and assessing what’s working in the region – participants gather around map at MTSW’s regional Community Freshwater Hui, hosted in 2019.


Our team have collaborated on a huge range of fun community events! From getting out in the community with pop-up stalls to showcase what lives beneath the surface of the water, speaking at conferences on biodiversity issues, to after dark soiree’s sharing pro-tips on the mating rituals of īnanga. Through the project we have co-hosted a whopping 21 freshwater focused public events, engaging more than 2,800 people.

Kids checking our the giant kokopu that live in Kenepuru Stream, Porirua, at the annual community blackberry harvest in Bothamley Park.

“I feel that we take part in our freshwater streams with our daily lives and that affects the river, so we need to work together to help the streams and rivers.”

– Yr7 Student, Kapakapanui School

Along with events, the freshwater education programmes have been a central pillar of our engagement, and over the last three years we’ve had the joy of bringing the wonders of freshwater biodiversity to more than 2,625 students from kura all across Te Upoko o Te Ika a Māui. The programmes have incorporated a wide range of kaupapa, from īnanga rearing, measuring environmental DNA, to assessing fish passage barriers and looking at the impacts of habitat loss and pollution. We’re stoked to be helping reconnect young people to nature and foster guardianship.

Wellington East Girls College students clearing weeds from their planting site on te Awa Māhanga / Kaiwharawhara in Karori Cemetery.

Taking Action

Following involvement in our education programs, students are often inspired to take action based on their experiences with their local waterways. We’ve been able to support the development and roll out of 13 long-term and 17 short-term meaningful action projects created and lead by schools and community groups.

All of our connected restoration projects have been working hard turning their plans into reality and taking action for freshwater. Check out their amazing collective achievements.

All of these groups deserve a special mention so check out some of the other stories below or on our Guardianship Projects page.


Monitoring restoration is an important way gain insights into how effective your actions are, and if you’re still following the right path toward your goals. It’s also valuable for assessing impact of human disturbances, understanding the changes occurring in your waterway, planning for the future, or even engaging young people in freshwater biodiversity.

We’ve loved building and sharing our community science training programmes over the last three years, connecting to and supporting a rapidly growing number of groups engaged in restoration through our practical fish and water monitoring workshops. We’ve had the opportunity to advocate for community-based science and cultural health monitoring programmes both in council and with other wider partnerships and empower community groups to independently do the mahi. In reaching the milestone of 3 years of WBC project funding, it feels like we’ve only just scratched the surface, as communities become engaged in their waterways and want to have a lead role in their restoration.

“It was some of the best training I have received in all my time of going on professional development programmes at Council and schools! I hope the training can be made available to more adults as sometimes I think that the school kids get all this wonderful training that the post school population tend to miss out on.”

– Richard Witherford-Smith, Mexted Stream Care Group.

Through our resources and training programmes created during the WBC Project, MTSW have been able to share our expertise in a partnership with the National Advisory Group for NZ Freshwater Citizen Science (NAG) to expand our training programs nationally to help build a network of 20 coordinators who are now supporting community groups across Aotearoa.


And of course none of this work would be possible without the phenomenal partnerships we’ve had over the years. Through their in-kind support, time, and expertise. We are excited for the future of collaborations with all of them and to restoring the mana to our local precious freshwater places.

The national network of freshwater trainers, supporting communities across the motu.

  • Greater Wellington Regional Council
  • Porirua City Council
  • Wellington City Council
  • Hutt City Council
  • Department of Conservation
  • Ministry for the Environment
  • Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne
  • Porirua Harbour Trust
  • Wildlands Ltd
  • NIWA
  • ATS Environmental
  • Stella McQueen
  • Fab Feathy
  • National Advisory Group for NZ Freshwater Citizen Science
  • Pukaha to Kawakawa
  • Te Rūnanga o Toa Rangatira
  • Kahungunu ki Wairarapa
  • Pae Tū Mokai o Tauira
  • Enviroschools
  • Forest and
  • Partners Porirua
  • Rangitāne ō Wairarapa
  • Taranaki Whānui – Te Tini o Hākuturi
  • Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust
  • National WBC provider network
  • Conservation Volunteers New Zealand
  • Sustainable Coastlines
  • Te Aho Tū Roa

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