Look at a topographic map of the water catchment in your area. Decide from the map where the wetlands might be. The students work together to identify the geological processes that formed the wetlands in their area.
Make a model of a river catchment system in a sand box. Cover the sand with a sheet of plastic and shape the rivers with a finger. Pour water over the upper slopes of your catchment with a watering can to simulate rain and watch how the water rushes down the river.
Smooth areas into flatlands along the rivers of your model watershed and place pieces of sponges into them. These are wetlands. Now pour water over the model from the rain can and watch how the sponges absorb and hold the water.
Discover where the old wetlands were in your area. This is a very important quest as today, information on local wetlands is scarce. This is a real detective job. You might obtain the newly published Directory of Wetlands in New Zealand from the Department of Conservation and find out what is known about wetlands in your area. Then look up the oldest topographic map you can find of your area and compare this with a modern one. Are there any wetlands marked on the old one missing from the new one? The bottom of most valleys would have had wetlands. If you go to these areas you might find the wetlands have dried up, having been drained with ditches or pipes. Pasture land grasses will have invaded the old wetland and you will see deep muddy tracks from livestock (or from yourself).
Conduct a survey to determine if any farmers or authorities in your area have retired pasture and helped wetlands rebuild. This is also a very important quest for information as we need to have information on where this was done, how well it worked, and what is happening now.
Make a Wetlands Map of your area showing the filled in wetlands, any existing wetlands, and restored wetlands. Be sure to include your name, the name of your school, the school address, dates of your survey, and the map number you used for your reference. Photocopy this and send it to Dr. Neil Mitchell, University of Auckland. East Tamaki Campus Private Bag 92019, Auckland.
Help rebuild a wetland near your school or home. In many cases all that is needed is to close off the drainage from the wetland and allow the area to refill with water. If you wish to make it an effective wetland, so it can purify agricultural run-off and trap sediment, plant native wetland plants such as Flax, Raupo (bullrushes), or other rushes, such as Baumea. These grow rapidly and are very effective.
Students research the history of a community improvement group established to improve wetlands. Present a report evaluating the impact of the group's activities.
Visit an artificial wetlands in your area. Enquire at your Regional or District Council for the nearest location. Students in the Auckland area can visit the Beachlands Maraetai Sewage Treatment Plant Artificial wetlands. This experimental programme has proved highly successful in yielding pure water from sewage water run off.