The Youth Enviro Leaders Forum (YELF) is a program run by the Sir Peter Blake Trust in partnership with the Ministry for the Environment
I was lucky enough to attend this program in the first week of the April school holidays. This program is designed to bring together 55 students (years 11-13) from all around New Zealand, who share a passion for the environment.
YELF 2018 was held in the beautiful region of Taranaki, with a strong focus on climate change. We learnt about many topical environmental issues which are currently facing not only Taranaki, but also New Zealand as a whole. Our days on YELF were jam packed full of exciting and interesting activities. On the first day we had a massive scavenger hunt around New Plymouth, to familiarise ourselves with the area and with one another. Following that, we were welcomed onto Ōwae Marae, where we heard from the local iwi’s perspective on the environmental issues that Taranaki is facing. We were also lucky enough to be treated to a delicious hangi!
The next morning, we were up bright and early, off to have an epic day at TOPEC (Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits and Education Centre). We had a full- on day learning about applying leadership skills and working together as a team, while getting to do some awesome activities like high ropes - and rafting too! The remainder of the week consisted of interesting speakers, and workshops to expand our knowledge of climate change. We visited Parininihi Ki Waitotara, a farm with a vision of “sustaining and growing our people through prosperity”. It was very insightful to hear the farmers perspectives, and to get shown their plans for managing sustainable farming practices while still earning a profit. We also got to hear people from Methanex talk about alternate energy, learn about pest control at the Mt Taranaki Visitor Centre, and discuss the future of New Plymouth with regards to sea level rise, in an urban planning workshop. The Ministry for the Environment facilitated interactive policy related workshops, including a mock debate on the Zero Carbon Bill - which was actually a whole lot more fun than I anticipated!
My personal highlight of the week was travelling out to the Sugar Loaf Islands by boat and collecting plankton samples which we took back to the lab to examine. We conducted experiments into the way sea snails react to different pHs, and looked into the effects that ocean acidification is having on plankton. Observing and identifying all of the amazing kinds of plankton under the microscopes was incredible (fun fact - phytoplankton are super awesome and provide approximately 70% of the Earth’s oxygen! Way more than trees!!). What was very shocking and sad to see, however, was the extremely high number of tiny plastic particles we saw when looking at our samples through the microscopes.
Through this forum I have met the most amazing and inspiring people, whom I still keep in very regular contact with. Together we share our ideas on ways we can take our knowledge and leadership skills gained from this experience, and use that to make positive changes in our schools and communities. We’ve started a petition demanding that NZQA reconsider the plastic wrapping of exam papers. Totally unnecessary and there are alternative ways to package. You could read about it and sign it here: https://www.toko.org.nz/petitions/end-plastic-wraps-on-nzqa-exams .We can all help make a difference. YELF was a truly incredible experience which has opened up many doors for me, and continued to ignite my passion for ensuring a sustainable future for our country and planet.