Hikurangi's black mudfish might be small and slimy, but the endangered native species has gained a group of passionate supporters composed of an all-girls digital classroom at Hikurangi School.
Teacher Helen Moore said the class of Year 7 and 8s discovered the plight of the black mudfish or waikaka "in [their] own backyard" while learning about native freshwater fish earlier this year.
Once the largest area of wetland in the Southern Hemisphere, the Hikurangi Swamp has been shrinking over the years, making space for farmland and housing developments.
Now the diminished wetland provides little protection for the waikaka and other freshwater fish in the area.
Moore and her class of 14 are headed for Wellington in two weeks to present a petition to Parliament in a plea to protect the black mudfish and their remaining habitat outside of Department of Conservation reserves, including Hikurangi Swamp.
"There are 54 species of freshwater fish," student Riley Bishop explained.
"Seventy-five per cent of them are endangered, and they could be gone by 2050 if we don't do anything."
The class is flying out of Whangārei on November 18 and will meet Northland-based Labour MP Willow-Jean Prime on the steps of Parliament the following day to present their petition.
The class also hope to watch members of Parliament discuss their proposition from the public gallery.
As part of their learning experience, the students learnt how to conduct thorough research, launch an online petition and also went on a field trip in search of the elusive mudfish.
"This petition is the culmination of our year's work," Moore said.
"The girls have researched and spoken to experts and, in doing so, have found out more about the taonga."
Moore said the fish's ability to survive as their habitat dries out was fascinating, and they deserved to be saved.
Mudfish are remotely related to whitebait. Five different kinds are living in New Zealand, with Hikurangi's black mudfish spreading across the northern part of the North Island.
What makes this inconspicuous, nocturnal fish fascinating is their habitat adaption.
During the dry season, the mudfish aestivate where they slow down their metabolism and fall into a dormant state which is the opposite of hibernation for the wintertime.
"The mudfish can go out of the water into the mud and survive there for weeks [or even months]," student Simom White said.
She said they could breathe through their skin and wouldn't require a high amount of oxygen during the aestivation.
Student Rawinia Tewhata-Ashby explained the mudfish are shaped like an eel with a slimy, dotted skin and no scales, which makes it easier for them to move through the mud. They are small, about160mm long.
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Since 90 per cent of New Zealand's wetland has dried up, areas for mudfish to live have become scarce, and worse, invasive species like mosquitofish and catfish are causing an additional threat.
Dr Olivier Ball is a senior tutor at NorthTec which has been surveying Hikurangi's black mudfish since 2006 to learn more their habitat requirements.
He explained mudfish weren't a widely spread species with a small population living in Australia. He, too, said their uniqueness made them a taonga for New Zealand.
"Their population is very fragmented around the country. However, Hikurangi's population has significant numbers."
Ball said since their survey started, several steps had been taken to protect the endangered fish, including the installation of a fence to keep cattle away from the wetland.
Yet, the group Hikurangi girls believe more must be done to keep up population numbers.
"The mudfish are ours, and we want to keep them here [in Hikurangi] and protect them," student Destiny Rumbai said.
To learn more about the students' mission and sign the petition, visit chng.it/MT57xnfv.