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Samara Nicholas

Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust

Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust inspires people to protect ocean and freshwater environments, through first-hand experiences in our oceans, rivers and lakes. This leads to better understanding of local marine and freshwater issues, and helps to foster kaitiakitanga (guardianship) of these natural taonga (treasures).

1. Why do you do what you do?

There is an urgent need for marine and freshwater conservation in New Zealand. We see examples of ecological decline right throughout the country. Experiences in marine reserves can be extremely powerful and we love sharing this with people.

2. What drives you to work for the good of the community/environment?

I totally believe in what we do. It is extremely important for our schools and communities to be connected with their marine or freshwater environments. The Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) programme gives kids and their parents the chance to see for themselves the vast beauty and magic of marine reserves. We provide the equipment and expertise, but it’s what they experience under the ocean that ignites their enthusiasm for marine biodiversity and transforms the way they think and feel about protecting marine habitats and ecosystems.

There are fantastic opportunities for young people and their whānau to see both rare and abundant sea creatures and environments. This gives them greater understanding of the issues, and challenges their thinking in a way not otherwise possible.

3. Have you always been interested in making a difference?

My interest in the marine environment began as a young child when my dad introduced me to snorkelling on the East Cape. When I was a teenager my family moved to Whananaki in Northland and I attended Kamo High School. My geography teacher took our class snorkelling at Motukaroro Island in Whangarei Harbour and soon I was hooked. I saw seahorses, colourful anemones and other marine life. I was extremely impressed. It gave me a feeling of belief in the marine reserve proposal that other students at Kamo High School had begun in 1990. I wanted to make a difference, and realised that I could!

Further inspiration came when I was a student visiting the Goat Island Marine Reserve with Whananaki School, when I was buddied up with two children. The look on their faces when they saw a huge snapper inspired me to capture that experience in an education programme. Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) was born!

4. Did you come from a family where giving to the community/environment was important or encouraged?

I come from a family where experiencing the natural world was encouraged. I learned to swim under the water before swimming on top. For the last 19 years I have lived in a small community where giving time comes naturally to people.

5. What does giving mean to you and why is it important?

I give my time because I believe in what I do.

6. How do you feel when you realise you have made a difference to someone else’s life/to our country for the better?

Making a difference to someone’s life or the environment is a true measure of success.

We provide the equipment and expertise, but it’s what they experience under the ocean that ignites their enthusiasm for marine biodiversity and transforms the way they think and feel about protecting marine habitats and ecosystems.

7. Who inspires you?

My six-year-old son Blaze has a great, balanced view towards the future of our ocean. He loves fishing, but also loves to go snorkelling in marine reserves. We can’t walk anywhere without him picking up rubbish. My team of EMR coordinators and fellow trustees also inspires me, as I always feel refreshed and energised after meeting with them.

8. Who have you learned from and what is one key thing they have taught you?

I learned from some fantastic marine gurus such as Dr Bill Ballantine, Dr Roger Grace and Wade Doak. Wade said to me in the early days of my career that if you are passionate the money will come. My involvement with the Sir Peter Blake Trust has taught me a great deal about leadership.

9. What challenges have you faced along the way?

Working for a charity can mean that you have so many roles — accounting, administration, marketing, leadership, health and safety, and task-specific skills. My greatest personal challenge has been getting my organisation through adventure activity accreditation so that our practice and community engagement events in the marine environment are as safe as possible. Funding our programmes remains one of our greatest challenges.

10. And what keeps you going?

Bringing children and their parents together to share a magical snorkelling experience is the best reward. To hear that the day was “life changing”, see kids discover the joy of understanding snorkel speak (talking and squealing with joy through the snorkel), or hear them saying “That was the best day of my life” — you know you are in the right career!

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