As he prepares to join other volunteers to monitor toutouwai/robin on the Mounga, Hoani Eriwata reflects on the importance of teaching our young people about the importance of being environmental guardians.

Releasing toutouwai/North Island robin on Mt Taranaki was an environmental wake-up call, according to Hoani Eriwata.

“It was a spiritual moment – a family connection,” admits the Te Atiawa iwi representative. “The closest thing we can do to get back to nature is introducing species to the Mounga.”

Hoani travelled to Pureora Forest (Ngati Rereahu) to help catch 50 birds that were released on the lower eastern flanks in April this year. It is the first time in more than 110 years that robins have lived in Egmont National Park. “I wanted to get more involved at a personal level and concentrate on the environment,” says Hoani.

Next month he will join fellow Rotokare Scenic Reserve Trust volunteers to locate robins to see how many have survived before their first breeding season on the Mounga. “To play catch-up requires a lot of patience. That’s why we need to teach the next generation to tell if we’re successful or not.”

Hoani’s passion for protecting the environment started at primary school when nature study was part of the curriculum. He now teaches North Taranaki school children and hãpu about the importance of protecting their local river catchment through the educational group Te Whenua Tōmuri. “It’s a big thing being a guardian of the environment. We look at good sustainable environmental practices through planting trees and organic gardening.”

Later this year, Hoani is co-ordinating an environmental project Curious Minds with Otaraua Hapu that works with Waitara High School students who will monitor watercress and whitebait populations on the Waitara River. “We want to get our communities and iwi involved to improve the environment.”

It is this belief that has inspired DOC Senior Biodiversity Ranger Emily King.

“Hoani has a strong connection to the forest and he appreciates other people who do to. What I admire about him is he shares his knowledge openly and has a calming influence while in the bush. He’s a beautiful person,” says Emily.

For more information about how to volunteer with Taranaki Mounga click here

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Hoani at the toutouwai/robin release in April