A team of young conservationists will get to know every waterway in the Horizons Region during their next four years of Jobs for Nature funding.
In Ohakune on June 1 three could be seen stepping out of concrete culverts, wearing head torches and waders and carrying a drill.
One of them was Tessa Stevens, who has a degree in biological sicence and returned to New Zealand from her travels when Covid-19 hit.
She initially struggled to find a job, then picked up a four-year Jobs for Nature contract with Horizons Regional Council.
She's part of its fish passage team, moving across the region removing barriers such as the dams, weirs and culverts that prevent native fish from migrating the full length of waterways.
It's varied work - from initially walking each waterway to climbing into culverts and drilling plastic baffles into place to slow the current. In towns, people often stop to ask what the group is doing.
"We must look so funny," Stevens said.
In July last year a $3.5 million package of Government and Horizons Regional Council money was allocated to pay five full-time people across the four year project, with four others working part-time in the summers.
They started in October last year and are also monitoring the native species they find and recording the information in a database.
Stevens worked on a friend's dairy farm for two months before joining the fish passage team. Tui Wright was also travelling when the pandemic began. She has previously done lots of conservation work.
Sean Georgeson is working toward a masters degree in ecology, and is interested in fish behaviour. He's finding his watery new job "fulfilling".
The three were making a return visit to Ohakune on June 1. They trained there three months ago, and needed to finish work in on two tributaries to the Mangawhero River.
Removing their barriers would allow fish access to another 18km of stream in each.
Both streams were channeled through long culverts under roads. The three bolted plastic baffles in place to slow the current and give the fish a chance to rest in the swift current.
"Fish get tired quite quickly."
Returning last week, they found an eel had managed to get as far as the last baffle they put in - enabled by their work.
For culverts that are perched above the water they add mussel rope. Its furry fibres allow fish to climb against a current.
A lot of native species evolved with having to climb. Eels and koaro are the best climbers.
Where there is a steep ramp to a culvert the team may break it up and rebuild, with rocks sticking out to help fish fight their way upward.
During summer the team monitored 40 sites for native fish and kakahi (freshwater mussels), by electrofishing, trapping, spotlighting and reading DNA samples. They found huge koaro in the Ototoka Stream - because eels can't get past its waterfall.
There were "heaps of beautiful fish" around National Park. There were kakahi in the Tararua District, around Taumarunui and in Lake Waipu.
In winter they will monitor the mudfish consistently found at four sites in the region.
The team spent their first year mainly in Horowhenua's Waikawa and Ohau waterways. Next year they will walk every waterway in the Manawatū Catchment.
The Whanganui tributaries come in year three or four.
They also spend lots of time in an office at Kairanga, getting permissions to visit private land, mapping, planning and recording data.
Landowners are often supportive of the work, once they understand it. It doesn't usually affect them, Stevens said, and it has a lot of benefits.