Schools newsletter October 2016

In today's world, where the use of acronyms seems to be part and parcel of modern-day living, SHMAK (Stream Health Measurement and Assessment Kit) is just one you possibly have heard of.

Education Officer Kevin Archer.

Education Officer Kevin Archer.

This issue of SITE (another acronym - it stands for Schools in the Environment) explains  how and why the SHMAK programme originated, how we have adapted it to use in our streams and rivers and how we can support you, if you wish to use it with your senior science classes.

Elements of a SHMAK.

(Stream Health Measurement Assessment Kit)

The SHMAK was originally designed by NIWA (The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) in Christchurch, primarily to assist dairy farming landowners in  Canterbury to monitor the 'health' of the streams that flow across their land.
The SHMAK is not used extensively in Taranaki as the Taranaki Regional Council does extensive monitoring of the water quality in our streams through our State of the Environment and other programmes.

SHMAK testing

Eight years ago, we extensively tested SHMAK in a number of our rivers and streams with the aim of making it available to use with Year 12/13 science classes in our region. We believed that its use at that level would assist students as a part of their Scientific Investigations of the Living World.

Following the tests, we adapted the kit to Taranaki conditions, modifying the method of identifying and counting the macroinvertebrates found in the water. SHMAK enables us to build on the skills of the hundreds of primary and intermediate students in our region who have been involved in water quality studies over a number of years.

What does 'stream health' actually mean?

'Stream health' refers to the condition of the whole waterway. Monitoring stream health involves looking at the water quality and checking out the physical features of the stream and the plants and animals that live there.

What does 'monitoring' mean?

Monitoring is about checking and keeping records of the results so they can be compared over time.

What role does the assessment have?

Assessment means giving scores to each monitoring activity and using them to access the condition of the stream at any given time.

New Plymouth Boys' High School science students.

New Plymouth Boys' High School science students.

Schools studying local streams

Our water quality programme, prior to the introduction of SHMAK, focused on finding and correctly identifying as many invertebrate species (taxa) as possible, with their presence or absence providing us with valuable information as to the water quality. We also used relatively simple activities such as water clarity testing and water temperature readings to support our results.

This programme is still operating and is very popular with primary, intermediate and Years 9-11 secondary classes.

Checking water temperature.

Checking water temperature.

SHMAK stream habitat and biological sampling

Under the heading of 'stream habitat', SHMAK uses water clarity testing, water temperature reading , measuring the water velocity, recording the water pH and the water conductivity, assessing the composition of both the stream bed and the bank vegetation and identifying any loose deposits on the stream bed. While some of these activities are relatively straightforward, others, particularly the assessing the streambed composition and the vegetation on the streambank, are more difficult. It can take time and practice to achieve accuracy.

The biological component involves finding and correctly identifying as many species of macroinvertebrates as possible.

SHMAK suitability

The SHMAK is designed for use in all types of streams, from those with mainly stony streambeds through sandy and silty streambeds.

Council support

For teachers using SHMAK with their classes:

  • Kevin can run an after-school or if needed, a weekend training session for teachers at your school. This training involves a PowerPoint presentation about SHMAK followed by a practical session at a local stream. This session usually takes about three hours and teachers attending would then be welcome to borrow our SHMAK for a day.
    There is no cost involved.
  • Kevin can work with a class and its teacher for a day following the same programme.
  • Download the SHMAK study unit from this page.

Download the full newsletter in PDF format:

SITE newsletter 79 - October 2016 [PDF, 762 KB]