Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) – Te Kura Moana 

 Media Release 

Images by Sophie Journee 

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 a while” 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 info@emr.org.nz 

Experiencing Marine Reserves website www.emr.org.nz

Facebook album for the event – https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?vanity=emr.mtsct&set=a.4173501899330058

Images by Sophie Journee 


Background information:


Background info:

Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) – 19th Annual Poor Knights Competition 

Thanks to Dive! Tutukaka and the Bobby Stafford-Bush Foundation 

The national delivery of the EMR programme is made possible thanks to the Tindall Foundation. Participation in Northland and Auckland is thanks to Foundation North. Snorkel equipment is provided by Wettie. 

The EMR programme involves investigating marine biodiversity and local marine environments before venturing to a fully-protected marine reserve. After this experience, students are able to compare unprotected and protected areas and are supported to put their knowledge into action within the community. The action component of the EMR programme is an essential factor in the students learning process and one which helps us to assess the effectiveness of the programme at meeting the projected learning and conservation outcomes.  Students need to be able to decide on, plan and take effective action on marine environment sustainability issues that concern and motivate them. The action is aimed at addressing a relevant marine issue. Teachers connect the students EMR experience and growing understanding of the issue to achievable things they can do that will make a difference for the future and put their idea into action.

By encouraging students to undertake action that is based on their own experience, EMR aims to empower students and encourage support for marine conservation.

Since its introduction in Northland in 2002, programme uptake has continued to increase throughout the country.  This competition offers the students added incentive to produce projects and positive actions towards marine conservation within their community.  It also gives the students with their parents or guardians a chance to experience the magical Poor Knights, which is a new opportunity for most. This competition trip is sponsored by the Bobby Stafford-Bush Foundation and Dive Tutukaka, with support from the Tindall Foundation and is offered to students (number depends on number of students involved/spaces on boat and quality of action projects) from each school participating in the EMR programme from Northland and Auckland (up to 20 schools every year) and 1 representative from each other region participating in EMR (Taranaki, Coromandel, Gisborne, Wellington, Nelson and Stewart Island).  Based on our criteria, representatives from each of the participating EMR schools/regions were chosen by an EMR regional coordinator.

In addition to the opportunity to represent the school or region for the EMR ACTION prize, we introduced a new prize in 2015, the Bobby Stafford-Bush – EMR Ocean Art prize.  A Living Inheritance – Bobby Stafford-Bush was young but he was passionate about the sea, marine life, art, technology, inventing and making things. He also liked to help people. He was a very capable young man who had his life ahead of him when he was so tragically killed in a car accident at 16 years of age in 2001. Some time has passed since Bobby died and the family have decided that the formation of a charitable trust would in a sense be a living document to Bobby and in essence be an extension of what if he had lived. Accordingly, the Family decided to create a “living inheritance”.