Dye flowed into the stream and onto the Manukau Harbour, endangering the wildlife using the waterway after escaping from a bulk container in an industrial area near Auckland Airport. 

While the incident was tragic particularly for the local Makaurau Marae, because the waterway is considered theirs, the SouthSci’s Oruarangi Stream project has more recently empowered the community including students from South Auckland’s Aorere College with scientific knowledge and practical solutions. 

Funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, SouthSci (as it is locally known) is the South Auckland pilot programme for the Participatory Science Platform (PSP). 

PSP is an initiative under the government's strategic plan to build science and technology engagement, A Nation of Curious Minds. 

Connecting communities with science, by supporting them to develop research projects around questions that matter to them is key to the initiative.

The project which was rolled out during the second half of 2015, aimed to set up five or six research projects in the community within South Auckland, around a topic of interest to the group running them. 

It involved community groups, schools and science education professionals working with youth. 

Up to $20,000 could be applied for each project which had to be South Auckland-based and every project had to be a collaboration between the community, science or STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) professionals, and youth.

Project manager for PSP: South Auckland Dr Sarah Morgan says the Oruarangi Stream project was a joint effort between Aorere College and Makaurau Marae, and drew in science experts from Wai Care, NIWA, Nga Pae o te Maramatanga and the Council.

The project investigated the science around and behind the restoration of mauri to the awa local to the marae rangatahi and Aorere College students, devastated by the industrial dye spill in 2013.

“Students involved included Year 9’s from Aorere College and some same-age-bracket marae rangatahi from various schools throughout the area,” Morgan adds. 

They looked at things like water quality and species diversity in and around the awa, of both flora and fauna.

Many benefits were gained from the project, Morgan says. 

“The awa is important to the marae community because it is theirs, and the dye spill was a complete tragic disaster. 

“So gathering a bit of data around the health status of the stream themselves, was more powerful with regards learning than just knowing the experts are taking samples and disappearing back off to their labs.” 

Friendships were fostered between the different groups of young people and the relationship between the school and the marae was strengthened. 

Students completed the project with an evening of presentations to the wider community, and were presented with certificates that listed the different skills and capabilities they had gained or experienced on their science journey. 

“The project also raised the issue of the health of the awa again in the whanau of the children, reminding everyone that it is their stream and there is still work to be done to restore it to its natural health status,” Morgan says. 

National Coordinator for the PSP Dr Victoria Metcalf says 16 projects were funded as part of PSP around the country – South Auckland, Taranaki and Otago. 

“All of the projects were amazing – I’m in love with what we are doing,” Metcalf says. 

Project topics included air pollution, alternative power sources and a bat roosting project. 

There has been positive feedback from both the education sector and from industry working alongside the educators – with both learning off each other. 

“Even educators who were ‘dragged’ into the project and resistant at first have said it has been a very powerful thing to be a part of.” 

Communities and schools have been empowered to reach their long-term goals. 

After the success of the pilots around the country, she is hopeful the initiative will continue and its future should be decided in the near future.