Meet the Ter­mi­na­tors

The Northland Age - - Local News - By Peter de Graaf

A group of teenagers who are lead­ing North­land’s bat­tle against an in­va­sive weed are about to take their cam­paign against the smoth­er­ing plant pest to the world.

The Trades­cantia Ter­mi­na­tors, a group of Kerik­eri High School stu­dents who have al­ready won ac­co­lades for their work rid­ding a bush walk­way of trades­cantia, also known as wan­der­ing jew or wan­der­ing willy, will rep­re­sent New Zealand at next year’s in­ter­na­tional Fu­ture Prob­lem Solv­ing com­pe­ti­tion in Bos­ton.

The seven stu­dents are also plan­ning pub­lic work­shops to share what they have learnt about us­ing bi­o­log­i­cal war­fare to com­bat the weed, which chokes gar­dens and kills forests by smoth­er­ing na­tive seedlings.

The pro­ject be­gan two years ago when they no­ticed bush be­side the new Wairoa Stream track was car­peted in weeds. Trades­cantia spreads so eas­ily that weed­ing won’t get rid of it, and spray­ing wasn’t an op­tion due to the prox­im­ity of the stream, so they looked into bi­o­log­i­cal con­trol.

They found a tiny bee­tle that eats only trades­cantia — both are from Brazil — and which had re­cently been in­tro­duced to New Zealand. With ad­vice from the North­land Re­gional Coun­cil they found a pop­u­la­tion of the bugs in cen­tral Kerik­eri, made con­trap­tions called poot­ers to catch them, then re­leased them near the stream.

Within nine months they found trades­cantia cover had dropped from 100 to 59 per cent at one site and 100 to 46 per cent at an­other. The weed’s thick­ness had also re­duced from 59 to 22cm and 29 to 8cm. The stu­dents are con­fi­dent that cover will drop to 30 per cent this sum­mer, enough to give na­tive seedlings a chance of sur­vival.

The Trades­cantia Ter­mi­na­tors were one of six teams in­vited to com­pete in Auck­land ear­lier this month, where they set up a dis­play, gave a pre­sen­ta­tion (in­clud­ing a rap) to 200 peo­ple and were in­ter­viewed by a panel of judges. They won the se­nior com­mu­nity prob­lem solv­ing divi­sion, earn­ing them the right to com­pete at the world fi­nals next year.

Jeany Kim, 15, said at first they only aimed to re­duce the weed along the Wairoa Stream, but as more and more peo­ple asked for help tack­ling trades­cantia, the time re­quired to col­lect the bee­tles to meet de­mand made it un­sus­tain­able.

They had even been con­tacted by a man in London with a prop­erty at Wai­mate North.

Em­i­lie Jones, 14, said that prompted the group to change its goal to in­form­ing peo­ple about trades­cantia, and teach­ing them how to con­trol it.

Char­lie Pot­ter, 15, said the pro­ject had the po­ten­tial to make a dif­fer­ence not just in Kerik­eri, but na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally. Florida, Queens­land and South Africa had sim­i­lar prob­lems with trades­cantia, but New Zealand was the only place at­tempt­ing bi­o­log­i­cal con­trol.

The stu­dents will now start plan­ning how to raise the $7000 each they need to get to the US.

The full team is Char­lie Pot­ter, Char­lotte Gam­ble, Emilia Finer, Em­i­lie Jones, Faith Ho­hepa, Jeany Kim and Wil­son Hook­way. All are Year 11 ex­cept Emilia, who is Year 10.

■ The stu­dents will hold pub­lic work­shops on De­cem­ber 2 and Fe­bru­ary 9, start­ing at 2pm, to demon­strate how to make poot­ers, how to catch the bee­tles and how best to re­lease them. Email trades­cant­i­ater­mi­na­[email protected] with name, con­tact num­ber and choice of date to book a place. The Far North Dis­trict Coun­cil will cover the cost of ma­te­ri­als.

PIC­TURE / SUPPLIED

Char­lotte Gam­ble (left) and Char­lie Pot­ter us­ing “poot­ers” to col­lect bee­tles for bi­o­log­i­cal con­trol of the in­va­sive weed trades­cantia.

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