by Mount Aspiring College


This week we turn the spotlight on geography, a subject that explores the processes, connections and interactions between the physical (natural) and human environments.

Here at MAC, geography is an exciting and interesting subject exploring the processes, connections and interactions between the physical (natural) and human environments.

This term, our Level 3 geography students are being exposed to many valuable real-life learning experiences to help inform their geographic research projects in our local community.

To achieve their Level 3 standard (five credits), our students must work in groups and collect primary data about a research topic of their choice.

Visiting speakers

To help stimulate our students’ thinking, a number of speakers have visited the college this term to share their geographic research with our students:

  • Marine scientist and PhD student at the University of Auckland Veronica Rotman discussed her research into microplastics in local freshwater environments.

  • University of Otago graduate Emma Borck, an intern with Wāi Wanaka over the summer, presented her research into microplastics in our drinking water in which she compared drinking water from Lake Wānaka with water from Lake Hawea.

  • Current Otago University student Georgie Burdon presented her research into diversification in farming and its impact on our waterways.

Research topics

This year, our students have chosen to research a range of topics, including:

  • Water quality: how clean is our lake?: Students will test conductivity, pH levels, clarity and water temperature at a range of sites.

  • What is in our stormwater? Students will compare the stormwater drains at MAC with sites in the Wānaka township

  • How does the hydrology of the Cardrona River change along its course? Students will measure the width, depth, velocity and sediment size at different sites along the Cardrona River.

  • Urban stream health: What is the water quality like at Bullock Creek? Students will determine if there are variations along the course of the stream.

  • Microplastics: Are there microplastics in the Cardrona and Hawea Rivers? Students will work alongside WAI Wānaka and marine scientist and PhD student Veronica Rotman.

  • Plants: Why are there variations in plant health and growth rates at Ely point? Students will work alongside Loran Verpillot from the Te Kākano Aotearoa Trust.

  • Plants: What are the variations in plants with altitude gain on Mt Grandview? Students will measure variables in soil moisture, light, altitude and temperature.

  • Light: What is the difference in light pollution between urban and rural areas and how does this affect the view of the ‘dark sky’ of Wānaka and Hawea?

  • Cats as predators: What are the trends in rural stray vs feral cats? How do we perceive and manage cats as predators? Students will work with data from Petrina Duncan from Southern Lakes Sanctuary.

Some student perspectives

Year 13 students Olivia Rudhall and Lulu Pettit say they both enjoy conducting real-life research as part of their study of geography.

“I really enjoy that we get to spend some time outdoors conducting field research,” says Olivia.

“Geography also helps us understand how humans interact with our environment which is essential knowledge for the running of our society.”

Lulu says meeting university students who are completing research projects as part of their courses was fascinating.

“Veronica really inspired me to learn more about the potential microplastics in our local rivers and to understand their impact on aquatic life.

“Our group has chosen to research the concentration of microplastics in the Clutha River, the Hāwea River and Luggate Creek because we are interested to see if the waterways in this area are as clean as they are thought to be.

“This type of research has never been done in our rivers before, meaning the data we collect will be scientifically meaningful and relevant to our community. Our findings may further help address environmental issues we are facing and the widespread impact they are having on our society, such as the impact of plastic pollution on our planet.”

Olivia says her group will research how many cats are distributed across the Wānaka area and what their impact could be on native wildlife.

“There is very little information and research on this subject and yet it’s something that impacts all people in Wānaka as the cats are everywhere.

“Our research will provide insights into how many birds and native species are being hunted and killed by stray and domestic cats and the community will be able to use our findings to make informed decisions on what regulations we should or should not have regarding management of domestic cats.”

Next steps

Once our students have collected their data, they will analyse the data and document their findings in a report or presentation.

These projects offer our students an opportunity to research meaningful local projects and deliver findings that can benefit our understanding of our local environment. We are very grateful to the many experts who help inspire our students and we look forward to seeing the outcomes of these fascinating projects.

More information

If you have any questions about our Level 3 geography courses, please contact Lana Whipp on To learn more about our Social Sciences learning area, please view our course guide:

Image by: Mount Aspiring College
Image by: Mount Aspiring College
Image by: Mount Aspiring College