Bales of hay staked in place with yellow topped waratahs dot the streambanks in Whangarei’s Mair Park, looking strangely out of place as the river meanders past.
The bales are serving a remarkable and unusual purpose; they are artificial spawning habitats and egg nurseries for one of the nation’s most loved and at-risk native fish, Inanga (whitebait species).
Adult Inanga wriggle their way between the bales to lay their eggs during spring high tides and the bales keep them safe until the next spring tide when they hatch, and the larvae washes out to sea to grow into juvenile fish typically known as ‘whitebait’.
The hay bale experiment is one of many projects involving the Whitebait Connection – winners of the ‘water quality’ category at the recent Northland Regional Council Environmental Awards.
The nationwide freshwater education programme for schools and communities focuses on the health of our waterways and has captured the imagination and enthusiasm of thousands of New Zealanders.
School children especially love the action-based, hands-on experiences the programme offers says Whitebait Connection’s national coordinator, Kim Jones from Whangarei.
“If we look after our water from the mountains to the sea, it will look after us. It is our life force,” Kim says.