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Poor Knights Annual Competition Trip

Thirty two rangatahi and their whanau from all around Aotearoa rewarded with Poor Knights snorkel experience! 

The 19th annual EMR Poor Knights competition trip took place on Friday the 11th December. The trip was organised by Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) and made up of representative students from each school that participates in the programme from Northland and Auckland, as well as 2 representatives from the other 6 regions EMR is operating including Taranaki, Coromandel, Gisborne, Wellington, Nelson and Rakiura (Stewart Island). 

On board the vessel ‘Perfect Day’ our snorkel site this year was the stunning ‘Garden’s at Maroro Bay, part of the Poor Knights Islands that have been protected by no-take status since 1981,  so we were delighted to see massive schools of trevally, huge snapper and plankton eating two spot demoiselle. Kawiti Waetford also joined us on the trip to help energise and inspire our rangatahi and we were treated to opera inside Riko Riko Cave! This adventure  is just as special for the adults on board, as it is for the students, with an adult caregiver to accompany each student.

“To hear squeals of delight from the kids through their snorkels as they were seeing all the amazing species of fish, cracked me up. To swim with and through a school of trevally was a memory I won't forget for awhile” Sean Barrett (parent)  

Being able to experience this and see the joy my daughter has plastered all over her face was magical!  Myles Hussey (parent) 

The competition trip started in 2002 with the support of Dive Tutukaka with just three students from three Northland schools, this year we had another 25 schools represented  from 8 regions, 27 students, 25 parents, 5 rangatahi, 4 EMR crew and 5 sponsors participate. Since 2002, we have taken representatives  from 326 schools, totalling 466 students on this annual trip.  

The participation of EMR representative students from the regions is thanks to the Bobby Stafford-Bush Foundation, including flights, transfers and accommodation in Tutukaka for the entire weekend. 

Students were selected based on their action projects undertaken and enthusiasm they show when studying & experiencing the marine environment. The EMR programme involves leaning about marine biodiversity in the classroom, snorkelling in the pool, and investigating the local marine environment before experiencing a marine reserve and taking action with regards to marine conservation in their communities. The national expansion of EMR in the regions is supported by the Tindall Foundation.  

“I’m so impressed with the amazing action projects and passion these students have to protect  the marine environment for future generations. Students were involved in a variety of projects that address local marine issues such as educating the wider community about marine reserve boundaries, writing letters to support marine conservation, creating an educational mural and increasing online awareness of marine reserve locations!  says EMR founder Samara Nicholas.

In addition to the opportunity to represent the school or region for the EMR ACTION prize, we offered the Bobby Stafford-Bush – EMR Ocean Art prize.  The Bobby Stafford-Bush Foundation supports this special prize for young kiwis that have experienced the marine environment with EMR and display that passion and experience through art.

“This is the second year we have offered the Darren Shields free diving representative prize, for a male Northland high school student that shows talent for free diving, the inaugural prize was won by Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Tonga o Hokianga  student Croatia Rudolph and Te Ariki Flavell was the representative for 2020. Both Te Ariki and Croatia the former representative were assisting on the trip as snorkel guides!



One of the best underwater experiences I’ve had in my life time! - Brooke, Tindall Foundation

The korerō about the island was really good. I would recommend this experience to anyone. The Kaupapa about marine conservation is really beautiful. This gave us memories for life - Marama Nepe (William’s adult)

My highlight of the trip was actually seeing all the kina ariki – so many different types! - Pou

Seeing the enjoyment on all the kid’s faces has been my highlight, as well as seeing all the families from different backgrounds be able to participate in such a great and unique experience - Brian, Bobby Stafford Bush

I really enjoyed going into the cave and seeing all the fish. I also really liked seeing a stingray and going under the arch - Jackson

The island and its magnificent ecosystem . Absolutely beautiful . Kau mau te wehi - Marama Nepe

The cave! Incredible What an eye opening experience Thank you! Emma Alaalatoa Dale


It was awesome to be part of something that involved everybody from one end of the country to the other. Adam, Whangarei Heads

It was one of the best snorkel trips I’ve been on. So much to see, beautiful fish, beautiful water. The boat rise was pretty enjoyable too! Trinity, Whangarei Heads

Getting to be a snorkel guide for the first time was a really cool experience - Te Ariki


I was excited but a little bit scared when I saw the stingray. I saw snapper and triplefin, the fin of a sunfish and there were lots of kingfish - Valentina

We saw a shark in the water before we got in which was cool. I really liked snorkelling. It was really fun! Teah

It was great! My highlight was seeing all the fish - Alex, Pamapuria 

It was my biggest highlight for 2020 and I will never forget that! It has inspired me to be a marine biologist when I am older. Thank you! - Eva Whyman

EMR has influenced me to help save the ocean and the marine life below the surface. I will do more and more actions to make the ocean a better place and to teach everyone about the creatures in it. Eva Whyman (student at Bay of Islands International Academy)

My highlights included going into the cave on the boat, swimming into the cave with a small entrance which opens up big, the friendly staff and the history lesson from Kawiti - Wayne

I liked seeing the sunfish for the first time. The snorkelling was a great experience for me. I loved listening to uncle Kawiti Waiata  in Riko Riko Cave - Pane Oriwa Waru Terewi (Herekino) 

Thank you for this experience, we loved it. - Teah Hagen


Everything seemed like it was live, even the sea floor – the way the kelp moved, and all the colours! Ben, Taranaki

What an incredible experience for our Rangatahi. I’ll always be so grateful to have been a part of it. Liz, Taranaki

The trip was amazing and the best part was when I went to go on a bike ride and my show fell off. The water seemed cold at first but I saw 3 baby squid! - Lilith, Taranaki


It was the most mind-blowing experience! I saw schools of trevally and an eel and one of the many highlights was learning to paddle board. Thanks everyone! Amelie

Connecting with families from all over Aotearoa ., Seeing the children joy and enthusiasm for nature, the sea, our environment. I particularly appreciated the honouring of Maori culture throughout this event; the legends and history enriched the experience hundred fold. So inspiring for our youth, empowering them to be better guardians for our planet. Fantastic work, thank you Benne Bonnin, Coromandel


My highlight was the snorkelling and duck diving down. I was stripy fish, blue fish, spotted fish, kelp and lots of other things. Oh and I saw a kina and it was amazing Elise

Something I enjoyed was that I got to see and meet lots of different people. My highlight is that I got to see different fish like the moray eel - Sienna, Nelson


I had a great experience. I dived down almost to the bottom of the marine reserve. I was known as “The Fish”. I think this programme should go for another 19 years.


I got to do something I always wanted to so in a place I had never been before. I still have not stopped smiling. Highlight of my life! Sam, Gisborne

Seeing and swimming with a school of fish! - Maddisyn Hollamby


Thank you to the EMR team, Bobby Stafford-Bush Foundation, Dive Tutukaka, Darren from Wettie, and the Tindall Foundation for making this fantastic programme possible. The snorkeling was out of this world. Being able to experience this and see the joy my daughter has plastered all over her face was magical!  Myles, Wellington (Meadow dad)

Paddle boarding was my highlight. I was kina, black fish, black and white fish, kina, seaweed - which helps to fight climate change and without seaweed there would be no fish - Rebecca

The snorkelling trip to the Poor Knights Islands with EMR was magical . words can't quite describe the experience. The trip to the Poor Knights Islands/Tawhiti Rahi , the good company of new friends and absorbing new knowledge from experts around the tamariki have been formative experiences . It will provide the children with a deeper appreciation of the beauty and complexity of the marine environment and the need for determination to protect it so it can survive and thrive. Our daughter has gained many new skills plus a kete of special  memories that will last a lifetime. Many thanks to EMR, Dive Tutukaka, the Tindall Foundation and the Bobby Stafford-Bush Foundation  - Nga Mihi, The Press Family, Lower Hutt

Stewart Island 

It was really good. My highlight was seeing all the fish! Molly

I liked seeing all the different fish and the cool caves that you wouldn’t normally see. I also liked seeing all the schools of fish - Moby, Stewart Island

Student representatives for 2020:


Jordan Johnson -  Kohatu School Holiday Programme 

Alana Busby

Pamapuria - Alex

Mangawhai Beach School - Valentina Hill

Bay of Islands International Academy - Eva Wyman

Oromahoe School - Teah Hagen

Herekino - Pane

Portland - Mia Pugh

Kokopu - Amelia-Rose Hape

Whangarei Heads - Trinity Anderson

Rangatahi representatives 

Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Rawhitiroa - Te Ariki Flavvel and Croatia Rudolph


Mangere area - Odette and Jaeda Ala'alatoa-Dale

Mangere Bridge - Jackson Pinique

Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Piripono - Perera Tepono and William Popata


Koraunui School - Rebecca Press

Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Ngā Mokopuna - Meadow Hussey


Awapuni School - Maddisyn Hollamby

Wainui School - Zoe Kluiters


Coromandel Area School Trieste Newton

Colville Amelie Bonnin Bank


Dovedale School.Sienna  Barrett

Appleby School- Elise Dallimore

Stewart Island/Rakiura 

Halfmoon Bay School Molly Conner

Halfmoon Bay School Moby Cave


West End School - Lilith Morris

Opunake School - Ben Gasson

For more information contact Samara Nicholas (MNZM) 09 433 8205 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 


Experiencing Marine Reserves website

Facebook album for the event -

bsbf 70Department of Conservation 75dive tut 75fn logo 100Tindall Foundation 75wettie 120 WSNZ logo RGB small



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