by Helen Martin
Born in Remuera, Rachel Griffiths learned a lot about the sea as a child during holidays in Whangamata, where her father and brother were lifesavers. Her mother kept horses in Kumeu and through visits there Rachel developed the desire to one day have her own place in the country, while her grandmother instilled in her a love of nature and birds. On leaving school she followed her interests in science and design by gaining two degrees, a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture. In 2009, she and her partner Peter moved to a 3-acre bock in Helensville, where they and their 3-year-old daughter Charlie are now enjoying the pleasures and challenges of caring for their sheep and chooks and their large, productive garden.
Rachel’s first council work was with the Rodney Council Parks Department as a customer liaison, where she built a network with community groups in Rodney, helping organise environmental campaigns in areas like waste, energy, climate change and water. As a contractor Rachel then worked on projects like the Learning Through Experience programme at Arataki Education Centre in the Waitakeres, Waste Wise in schools, supporting schools in reducing their waste and a schools planting programme. “With my interest in ecology restoration, when I moved into environmental education through Wai Care I really found my niche,” says Rachel. Wai Care, which was begun in Auckland in 2000, is a water quality monitoring, education and action science-based programme for community groups, individuals, businesses and schools across the Auckland region, aimed at everyone learning about and contributing to the care of local waterways and catchments.
Today, as the Auckland Council Senior Healthy Waters Specialist in the waterways planning team, Rachel’s projects include working with local boards in urban and rural catchments mitigating the damaging effects of land use on streams, supporting the Native Forest Restoration Trust in its Tupare wetland stream protection and restoration initiatives and water monitoring at Otakanini Topu, South Head. She also has a strong interest in the Kaipara Harbour and is working on a project to map the approximately 8km saline wedge where the salt water joins the fresh water in the river. “Inanga (whitebait) spawn somewhere within the length of the wedge. Finding egg sites and restoring and protecting them is a start to stream restoration,” Rachel explains. “What’s awesome about the research and restoration is that you can connect with people who love to eat whitebait fritters, then you can start talking about the need to protect spawning areas and habitat for the adult fish to allow them to complete their life cycle. Inanga are threatened, so it’s also about conservation.”
For Rachel, working with farmers, community and school groups with the Wai Care water testing project continues to be a favourite part of her job. “That tray of bugs is engaging on all levels. I love seeing the wonder when people, from the staunchest adult to the most un-tuned in child, see the invertebrates in the water. I love seeing how they become lost to the tray. Fish and bugs are so easy to fall in love with, each has their own cool story to tell, and it’s a great way to start the conversation about conservation. In rural areas it’s about fencing, planting and protecting waterways, and understanding how what you’re doing on the land effects what happens in the estuary and how that effects what happens in the harbour.”
by Helen Martin