Contributed by Ronnie Anderson, Senior Community Ranger, Department of Conservation (originally published in the Wairarapa MidWeek)

One day soon when our daily routines are back to normal, you may notice something a bit ‘abnormal’ popping up around town in Masterton – ceramic mokomoko, also known as gecko.

It’s the work of Sam Ludden and the Mokomoko programme he has been running this year with Makoura College and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Wairarapa students.

“When I first heard about Mokomoko I was working at Greater Wellington and I thought it was the coolest programme,” says Sam. “I have an absolute passion for our waterways, and now I can stir up those passions with our youth. Best job ever!”

Mokomoko is run by Ngati Kahungugu ki Wairarapa and is based on the Collaborative Community Education Model (CCEM). DOC and Greater Wellington Regional Council provide funding, and conservation groups such as Wairarapa Pūkaha to Kawakawa (WAiP2K) and Enviroschools provide Sam with collegial support.

By connecting with children at college level the programme provides a pathway towards mahi in the environment. “They’re going to be in the workforce soon. I’m hoping they’ll want to carry on this work as katiaki of our natural environment.”

Sam says the programme has lots of elements. The students undertake river walks, monitor water conditions and fish numbers, learn about how the community uses and treats water, and hear the stories around our rivers.

“We do hands on ecoli testing on stream water using citizen science kits. Some of the results have blown the kids away. One week the water coming out of Henley Lake was cleaner than the water coming down the Ruhamahanga!”

With Sam’s background as an artist, it also makes perfect sense to build connections with the environment using art. His students have created around 70 ceramic mokomoko (gecko) they plan to install in Masterton’s public spaces as soon as they are able to.

“It’s about making art for the environment. Our pieces look great; but they’ll also raise awareness of biodiversity and what we might find is missing from our spaces in an urban setting if we don’t look after our environment.”

But we cover more than art in those lessons, says Sam. “At the same time as they are creating their mokomoko the kids learn about their life cycle, anatomy, and how they behave.

“Did you know mokomoko have no eyelids so they lick their own eyeballs to keep them clean. The kids were fascinated with that, and then they spent a bit of time trying to lick their own eyeballs. Who says learning can’t be fun?!”

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