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BSc (Hons.), MSc, D.Phil.
Originally from the South-West of France, I always had a passion for the ocean and in particular cetaceans, despite growing up inland. When I was in middle school, I was told by a carrier advisor that there were limited employment opportunities in biology. Rather than deter me, it motivated me even more and to increase my chances I went overseas to complete both my undergraduate and postgraduate studies overseas. After gaining my BSc Hons (Zoology) at the University of Leicester in the UK, I took another big plunge and this time headed to the land of the long white could to obtain my Masters (Environmental Science) at the University of Otago and then my PhD (Marine Science) at Massey University, Albany.
My main interest lies in the mitigation and management of the effects caused by human activities on marine mammals and the marine environment. Although my postgraduate research has focused on the endemic and endangered Hector’s dolphins and the effects of tourism activities, I also the opportunity to travel and work (including fieldwork) in various capacities within the Pacific Region, from NGOs, government agencies, and educational institutions over the past two decades. Moral of the story, no matter what people say, if your heart is set on it and you are motivated, you can make it happen.
I now have the chance to share that passion, interests, and drive with the students enrolled in the Environmental Management programme at NorthTec.
You can find the list of my publications here:
My challenge now is that I’m so invested in my studies that I have to remember it’s important to maintain a life...
“I had been living overseas for a lot of the last 10 years and have always been a massive advocate for New Zealand and our environment. When I came home a year ago, I loved being back and was inspired by the great work happening in Northland. In the process of re-discovering our amazing walks, I came across a lady surveying skinks on the Bream Head track, a summer job she had gained through work experience during this course. She was incredibly enthusiastic about all aspects of the programme and NorthTec, which was the final push I needed to start the enrolment process.”
“This course has a good reputation and the degree (through Auckland Unitec) is internationally recognised so it opens the door to working or volunteering abroad. It has helped me gain a much greater understanding and appreciation for our incredibly diverse environment.”
“I grew up in the Bay of Islands and always had a passion for the natural environment but it was mostly from a recreational point of view. I didn’t have a deep understanding of the functionalities or of just how special and unique New Zealand is on a world scale. My challenge now is that I’m so invested in my studies that I have to remember it’s important to maintain a life outside of the course too!”
“I started this course at a transitional point in my life, and it has given me the confidence to speak up on issues with an educated voice – something I wouldn’t have been able to do before. Also within our class some students are from dairy farms, or the bush, or hunting backgrounds so we’re all learning to appreciate different points of view. The tutors create a relaxed classroom environment and encourage us to interact and ask questions.”
“My degree will give me a lot more fulltime work options in an area I’m already passionate about. There are so many facets of conservation and environmental management, and New Zealand is at a pivotal point right now. I’m hoping the course will help me navigate the direction I want to go.”
I am dyslexic so I had convinced myself I’d never be able to study or get into uni, but there’s so much support here...
“If I’d known earlier how good this was, I would have done it sooner. I love being outside and I feel so happy when I'm in the bush knowing I am doing something positive for the environment.”
“I am dyslexic so I had convinced myself I’d never be able to study or get into uni, but there’s so much support here and with our small classes we get one-on-one time with the tutors. They put their personal support into our success and we all become a new family. I was very surprised at how well I did on my first year even with the computer assessments. ”
“This is such a change from my job at the check-out in the supermarket that I was doing before. I could see I would be packing groceries for the next 10 years unless I made a real choice. My cousin had done the tourism course here and felt really supported in her choice so that gave me the courage to sign up.”
“My initial thought was to do the diploma then leave and get a job but I love it so much that I’ll go on and do the degree. This has opened up heaps of doors for me that I wasn’t expecting. I thought I wanted to become a ranger but I’ve become fascinated by microscopic invertebrates after seeing them under the microscope. They’re so cute. I’d like to work in some way with them and their environments.”
“For those at high school not sure about what to do, NorthTec has some great options. You can get financial support plus heaps of personalized study support. ”
The step from year 12 to here (level 2 to level 5) is a challenge in self-discipline, but I’m so much more motivated...
“I went overseas with my family, and by seeing the extent of what needs to be done, I renewed and deepened my interest in conservation. I realised this was what I want to do and I was keen to start on that journey as soon as possible. By doing the certificate here straight from year 12, I kick-start my career a year earlier, it’s cheaper and more practical than uni, and I’ll have my degree by the time I’m 19.”
“The step from year 12 to here (level 2 to level 5) is a challenge in self-discipline, but I’m so much more motivated to learn. I also love that we have a small class with direct access to the tutors.”
“I’m from Waipu, so it also means we’re learning about our own region. Already I have a new-found appreciation for the inter-connectedness of the environment.”
“I know I want to be part of the change on the planet and I’m keen to travel more with my knowledge. I don’t have long term plan yet, but I know I’m in the right field, that this is what I want to learn, and that opportunities will present themselves as I go on.”
I’m keen to help the next generation spend more time outside and to serve as a role model for them in some way. We...
Lyndon was out of work as a dive instructor so saw the Hunting and Pest course as an opportunity to extend his outdoor skill set. “I love working outside and have always had an interest in conservation. This course will give me a land based qualification to add to my sea based background.”
“The tutors are hugely knowledgeable with years of experience and it’s great being with a range of students all interested in the outdoors. We’re covering the theory side of things at the moment, which I’m used to, but I’m really looking forward to being out into the bush and getting hands-on experience in that learning environment.”
“Conservation is my passion and I’ve always loved the idea of working with D.O.C. Hunting is simply a means of controlling pests.”
“The dream to me would be working in a place with both a bush and beach environment. I have a friend who works monitoring and looking after animal numbers at Mimiwhangata. Living and working somewhere like that would be the ultimate.”
“I’m keen to help the next generation spend more time outside and to serve as a role model for them in some way. We have this amazing natural resource in the north and I want to encourage youth to enjoy getting out amongst it.”
I love being amongst students who are keen to learn and tutors who are dedicated and enthusiastic about what they are...
“I’m fascinated with space and microbiology . I initially did business and administration here but science is far more my world and has unlimited potential for progress.”
“I started my science journey with foundation studies to get the basics, thinking I may go into nursing, but I realized it’s the science rather than the caring that interests me. One of the tutors then pointed me to lab work, and this applied science course gets me walk-in ready for that work.”
“I love being amongst students who are keen to learn and tutors who are dedicated and enthusiastic about what they are teaching. Our classmates come with backgrounds ranging from beauty therapy, to water treatment to the arts.”
“Running DNA gels and growing cultures are part of what fascinates me in this course. I love learning about microbes on the skin and the gut. Nature is amazing and we’re so limited in what we know about it yet. Discoveries are happening so fast that sometimes the tutors have to re-write the course content each semester.”
“I’d love to learn more about chemical properties and their correlating colours because this info relates to everything from marine biology to the stars. I’m clearly on my path now and it is a science path. I hope to go on do level 6 of this diploma when it is introduced.”
“And my dream is to aim for stars – literally. I want to be an astro-physicist.”
By doing this course I’m proving to myself that I can follow my heart and be successful. I can trust myself. Follow...
“Two mates and I have already started trapping possums but we decided we needed more knowledge so we’re all doing this course together. Before the possum trapping I was working in avocado and kiwifruit orchards but my heart wasn’t in it. I was keen to do something for myself.”
“One of the stand outs of the course is that we go on a nine day camp in the Uraweras hunting pigs and stags. We also go to the gun range and learn about other Health and Safety issues, plus we get our tickets for poisoning and touch on some business skills. This is all knowledge that will serve us well in our own business. It will give us confidence and make everything about it legitimate.”
“I’m no good at writing and note taking but the tutor really encourages us to just ask if we are struggling. He has so much knowledge plus he has a network of contacts that will be useful for us in the future.”
“I also want to show my kids that there is a different way to live. I want them to know that meat doesn’t just arrive in a plastic bag in the supermarket and I want them to learn survival skills. My son is only three and already he can’t get enough of learning about being outside.”
“After the course we’ll get back into working for ourselves but we’ll be doing it better and we might add other adventures to the business too.”
“When we started doing our own thing a few months ago, I questioned it. By doing this course I’m proving to myself that I can follow my heart and be successful. I can trust myself. Follow your heart because your head will follow that. It makes you feel so much better inside yourself.”
“I love the range of activity in this job and everything I did in my course is relevant.”
Brooke is one of six in the Biodiversity team working for the Northland Regional Council and her job is Biodiversity Advisor in Lakes. “We have programmes in place to remove excess nutrients and plants from Northland’s outstanding lakes including our dune lakes, and my job is to monitor water quality, raise awareness of the issues and the value of the lakes and their environments, and to help upskill Kaimahi amongst our youth and local iwi.”
Brooke finished her degree in the middle of this year. “I did my course practicum with the Puketi Forest Trust, then last summer got 15 weeks doing monitoring work with the State of the Environment Team at the Northland Regional Council. That ended in March, then this job was advertised in April so I applied and got it. I was able to start working just two days a week until I finished my degree in June.”
“At the moment I’m working in the office planning our summer field work which will be doing lake surveys and ecological monitoring. I’m finding that the tutors gave us all the experience I need for this. I use the biology, ecology and conservation from my courses daily, as well as things like the research skills, report writing and presentation skills. I use 100 per cent of what I learned at NorthTec.”
“I have gained so much confidence since starting work here. I work with some very experienced people, and I realise now that I do have the knowledge to keep up, understand and participate in the team. I know what they’re talking about and I can offer my input with confidence, and I’m really enjoying making a difference in the environment.”
“I know that conservation is my passion and I’ve just started my career, so I’m really interested to see where this job takes me.”
It has also given me the tools to think about how to use field data for useful applications. This is all directly...
“I get paid to spend my summer at the beach – and doing work I love. I always knew I wanted to work in conservation but I wasn’t sure about academic study, until I got addicted to it. I graduated with my Masters degree in Conservation Biology in 2016 and I’m now working a six month contract with DOC as seasonal Fairy Tern Ranger at Waipu Cove.”
“The work involves advocacy with beach visitors, schools, community groups and the surf club. I also monitor predator control by setting and checking 40 traps, and I monitor bird breeding and fence off areas where birds are nesting. My NorthTec training has been a real match for my work now.”
“I started at NorthTec with the Diploma in Environmental Conservation and loved the balance of practical and academic content so went on to do the degree. My degree research project was on the Bream Head skink which was a brand new species at that stage. This project gave me the experience to get an internship with an ecological consultancy in Wellington where I worked with lizard conservation for a summer after I graduated. While doing that I decided to do my Masters degree and the consultancy kept me on part-time time while I studied.”
“I came back up north when I was made redundant and landed my first contract as DOC Fairy Tern Ranger for five months. I loved it, did another contract as General Ranger for DOC Whangarei office working in the visitor asset and biodiversity departments, then in 2017 got my second contract as Fairy Tern Ranger. I have now secured a permanent position as a Biodiversity Ranger for DOC – this is my dream job!”
“Info gathering and process skills from my skink research project, and course field-based survey exercises, exposed me to a wide variety of species and habitats. It has also given me the tools to think about how to use field data for useful applications. This is all directly relevant to the work I do now. Our course work placement requirements also set up networks for both work opportunities and peer contact.”
“I’m realising that I like working with underdog species like the fairy terns and skinks rather than the high profile species, so I’d love for that work to continue. Meanwhile, back to work on the beach…”
“I love my job. I see parts of Northland that no-one else goes to, I meet and liaise with a lot of people connected...
“I love my job. I see parts of Northland that no-one else goes to, I meet and liaise with a lot of people connected to the land, and I get to work autonomously in the field.”
Ashlee Lawrence works as a Biosecurity Officer for Northland Regional Council, managing the Freshwater Pest programme for the region, as well as working on the biocontrol agent programme, in particular those that will assist with the control of wild ginger in Northland.
Ashlee’s introduction to working in biosecurity came while she was still studying for her diploma.
“In one of our papers we have ‘practicum’ where we volunteer for 80 hours at an environmental agency, so I rang the NRC and asked if they had any work. I was placed with the biosecurity team and allocated two pest plants to track down and eradicate. I was given a health and safety briefing then was sent out with another student with a truck and eradication gear. We had already completed a GrowSafe Certificate as part of our course so could use chemicals and spray equipment. When the 80 hours was up, I asked if I could continue to work as a volunteer and the rest has developed from there.”
Ashlee points to some specifics from her NorthTec training that have given her confidence in her work skills.
“Our course is the best training for conservationists in Northland. It is heavy on academic training with a focus on monitoring skills that are used by every environmental agency and are a benchmark for employers. That skill set sits against a backdrop of the study of New Zealand’s evolutionary history and why we are one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. We have so many special species here that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.”
Another key study subject that Ashley says dovetails with employment is Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which was recently introduced into NorthTec environmental training.
“Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a computer-based mapping system and it is becoming essential to employment in environmental work.”
Ashlee strongly recommends that students who are looking for work allied to their training, volunteer some time. “Approach an employer in your related field and offer your time so they get to see what you are capable of. Things unfold from there.”
“My dream is to someday work as a Biodiversity Asset Ranger in the South Island amongst our richly diverse environments down there."
Finding kiwi chicks, ferrying students to the island, building tracks, and measuring geckos are all part of a day’s...
Finding kiwi chicks, ferrying students to the island, building tracks, and measuring geckos are all part of a day’s work for Bernie Buhler. Bernie is the ranger on Limestone Island in Whangarei Harbour and the 93 acre island’s only resident. “This is a dream job for me. I had just graduated from NorthTec when I started here as the ranger in February 2013. I love the conservation work and I love the passion of the people I work with.”
But Bernie is relatively new to the world of conservation and wildlife. “I worked as a chef for twenty years, mostly in Whangarei, and was ready for a change. I have always liked the outdoors and looked into study options at NorthTec. Because I was out of the habit of study, I started with a year certificate course in Conservation Management. I surprised myself, did really well, got a scholarship for more study, and so went on to complete the Bachelor of Applied Science majoring in Biodiversity.”
Part of Bernie’s third year study project included field trips to Limestone Island so he got to know the then rangers, Ben and Jo Barr. Bernie - “After I finished my degree Ben contacted me because he required the services of a trapper. They later needed someone to island-sit while they went on summer holiday, and then they decided to leave and Ben became a tutor at NorthTec. I was appointed interim ranger and later was selected for the advertised ranger job from 93 applicants.”
The variety of Bernie’s island ranger work is a big part of his job’s appeal and he has plenty of physical and social support. “I can be introducing weta to kids, checking the predator traps, then weighing petrel, driving the barge, or helping volunteers build a track. We have a barge that holds 23 people and I bring school groups, retired people, or volunteers over here once or twice a week. We have a well attended volunteers’ day once a month and people are keen to help with making tracks, weeding, baiting traps, or building.”
Bernie attributes the NorthTec science degree tutors for turning him on to learning and onto conservation. “We had a week long camp when our course started and we were immersed in learning outdoors. The degree is a tough course but so worthwhile if you can hang in there. It gave me the skills and confidence to get this job.”
The Limestone Island Ranger position is now limited to a three year contract. Bernie – “I’m a year into it and loving it. When the time is up though, I’ll probably go on to something bigger and better, like Little Barrier Island, but I’m happy to go anywhere and I know I’ll enjoy whatever comes up.
Find out more about NorthTec's conservation courses
Public speaking is one of the most relevant course skills that I apply here. For a major assessment presentation we...
“The best part of the course was getting out and meeting people in the industry with initiatives like Project Island Song and Landcare groups. I had contact here at Kiwi North with my work placement for my practicum, and the natural fit of my passion and skills led to this part time work when I finished my degree in 2016.”
“Public speaking is one of the most relevant course skills that I apply here. For a major assessment presentation we had to put information across in an interesting and accurate way. The course also kept us up to date with current Northland conservation projects like the 1000 kiwi now living around Whangarei Heads due to a 30 year community and DOC initiative, and Golden Bay Cement’s environmental impact awareness monitoring project.”
“I love all aspects of my job here as part time Husbandry Officer. I take care of the tuatara, geckos and kiwi - including breeding insects for their food supply. The basic biology we learnt on our course is generic but each of our native species has their own adaptations. I also love the visitor host role here giving presentations on either New Zealand ecology in general, or kiwi in particular, depending on the group. I take visitors through the centre here, and get school groups involved out hunting for insects.”
“My confidence has grown hugely since working here so I now really enjoy talking to a whole range of different people. I like the environmental advocacy so much that my next step may be in teaching in either community, school or tertiary education contexts.”