An education in tuna with WAI Wānaka

Community Wellbeing


Healthy Ecosystems

Risks to our Catchment

Aaliyah Pakau-Timoti is studying for a Bachelor of Animal Science at Massey University in Palmerston North, majoring in breeding and genetics. This summer she has been working as an intern at WAI Wānaka.  
Aaliyah at the Butterfield wetland with a female tuna (native NZ longfin eel)

Through the Pūhoro STEMM Academy, Aaliyah had the opportunity to participate in an internship that furthered her studies and gave her relevant work experience. Pūhoro organise internships all around the country, however this is the first internship that has been done in the Otago region. 

One of Aaliyah’s elective papers is environmental science so the internship at WAI Wānaka, which involves using new eDNA (environmental DNA) technology to understand where tuna are located in the Upper Clutha Basin, was particularly relevant.  

Tuna (in this case the NZ longfin eel) are an endangered species of freshwater eel endemic to Aotearoa New Zealand. They are critical to the function of a healthy aquatic environment as apex predators and hold cultural significance for iwi. In the Upper Clutha basin tuna are under growing pressure from dams on the Mata-Au (Clutha River) that reduce an eels ability to migrate to and from spawning grounds in the South Pacific.

Eel spotting with a group of kids from Riverside Educare

Aaliyah, originally from Manawatu, says:

“Having the opportunity to take part in this WAI internship has been an amazing experience.

I had to run my own project and all the work done was my own – this has increased my confidence and I feel better prepared for taking a job post-university. WAI offered a supportive environment with an experienced team to assist my work.”

Giving students a chance to experience working within a community organisation and giving them a meaningful project to complete is important to WAI Wānaka chairperson, Mandy Bell.

‘It’s a wonderful two-way exchange of knowledge and opportunities for the intern and WAI Wānaka,’ says Mandy. ‘For the intern, it’s a chance to take ownership of a project within a business environment. The WAI office is a hive of activity and an open plan set-up where all our planning and implementation takes place, so our interns get a very open book experience of office life. For WAI, we get the fresh enthusiasm and perspective of young people from different tertiary institutes – this opens further doors for ongoing collaborations and relationships.’ 

Internships are just one part of the WAI Wānaka education plan. Jose Cranfield, WAI Wānaka’s Education & Outreach Coordinator, also runs primary and secondary programmes with schools around the Upper Clutha, as well as engaging the wider community at events such as Matariki celebrations and the Wānaka A&P Show. 

WAI Wānaka offers a number of summer internships across various fields including business, science and education.

Pūhoro STEMM is an organisation that supports Maori and Pacific secondary students in preparation for tertiary study in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and mātauranga. This support is then extended through tertiary studies and into the workplace.

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