Supporting island life with jobs for nature

1 Apr 2021 by Andy Kenworthy

On Waiheke Island, The Sustainable Business Network (SBN) is supporting people in the local community with environmental employment. This is also helping to safeguard local tourism operators. With the help of SBN, the Waiheke Resources Trust (WRT) has so far received a total of $595,000 funding from the Government’s Jobs for Nature Fund. The Fund is administered by the Department of Conservation. It was created to respond to pandemic-driven regional unemployment and the declining health of New Zealand’s waterways and landscapes. It's had a significant effect on Waiheke's tight-knit community.

Kristin Busher is WRT’s Waterways Lead. “When people think of Waiheke, they think of the beautiful beaches. They don’t necessarily think of the wetlands and waterways that connect with those beaches. They are lifelines that need to be restored. 

“Last year we were fundraising in the community to extend crucial restoration work, so the Jobs for Nature partnership was a game-changer. We had a fantastic response from people looking for work. The applicants ranged across all stages of life. Each with a different experience of how the impact of Covid-19 had affected them.

“We’ve employed people who have lost their jobs. We’ve been able to offer more security to people in public-facing roles like cafes, who just don’t feel so safe doing that all the time. And we’ve been able to assist local tourism operators that have staff on standby when there are tours, who can work with us when they don’t have clients.”

It's an innovative approach to filling in the employment gaps left by the pandemic. It has extended the work of WRT, meaning it can reach more people in the local community. The project has grown from six full-time and part-time Waiheke employees to 27. It now operates five days a week, rather than just one.

Kristin says: “The environment, the community and the island as a whole are benefitting immensely from the sheer volume of work that is being achieved. People are excited about the project, especially in the more public areas, including down by the ferry terminal, where we are restoring important  and wetland habitat. Our team is getting great feedback from passers-by.” 

WRT is also an incubator for skills in restoration work, something the funding has also helped with. WRT is working on more ways to pass on knowledge from its more experienced staff to Jobs for Nature participants. This will provide a long-term boost to participants’ conservation career paths.