Te Rarawa Noho Taiao, a marae-based experience aimed at providing opportunities for young iwi members to engage with the taiao (environment), is a finalist for this year's WWF-New Zealand Conservation Innovation Awards.

It was one of 35 chosen from 47 entries, from the Far North to Dunedin.

Paul White said in the application that the programme would expose participants to iwi environmental issues and leaders, and lift their understanding of kaitiakitanga.

"It links them to the environmental practices of their tupuna," he said.

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"Run by a collective of iwi volunteers, including teachers, environmentalists, scientists and local experts (hau kainga), the noho [place] aims to excite rangatahi, and show them how they will become the environmental leaders for their hapu and iwi in the future. It will stimulate their thinking, and they can take some fresh ideas with them back to school for projects during the year.

"We can also build a library of curriculum ideas and resources for our teachers."

The specific problem that the project was designed to address was a lack of community awareness about environmental issues, and the need for catchment-wide solutions and new leadership at hapu and iwi level.

"In the rohe of Te Rarawa we still have some wonderful areas of ngahere (bush), repo (wetlands) and awa (waterways).

However, this is against a backdrop of several hundred years of environmental degradation, including removal of native timber resources, erosion, siltation of harbours, rampant exotic weeds, numerous destructive pests etc," he said.

"Unless we take an intergenerational approach we are doomed to fail in our efforts to rejuvenate our environment.

"We need to engage with young people so they take ownership in the future. Each new generation needs to be brought up to speed, and empowered to make a difference. Environmental rejuvenation is an intergenerational challenge and will only be successful if we can win the hearts and minds of our rangatahi.

"We are planning a four-day noho for around 30 teenagers in January, which will focus on sand dune, native bush and estuarine ecology. We will look at the science alongside the Matauranga Maori, and we will have fun.

"The tai tamariki will leave with new knowledge, and will hopefully become eco-warriors for their hapu and iwi as they grow up. Participants will be encouraged to consider tertiary study and a focus on science and the environment."

The award winners will be announced in Wellington on November 22.