The future looks bright for school visits to Orokonui, thanks to a group of local corporate sponsors stepping up to fund the Ecosanctuary’s beloved environmental education programme.
Port Otago, Wenita Forest Products, Pioneer Energy, and Viridian Glass have all made multi-year commitments to support the programme, which delivers enriching wildlife experiences for more than 6,000 students, from early childhood to tertiary level, each year.
Orokonui Ecosanctuary General Manager Amanda Symon says the funding means the ecosanctuary can continue providing accessible experiences to schools at a subsided rate and complements an existing sponsorship with Oceana Gold which provides free entry and transport to the ecosanctuary for 500 students each year. “We’re so pleased to have multi-year sponsorship agreements in place with these organisations. It gives the programme certainty for the future and allows us to focus on connecting young people with the environment, rather than worrying about money.”
The education programme at Orokonui Ecosanctuary was established in 2009 and more than 75,000 young people have participated in hands-on conservation experiences since then. In 2022, long-term funding for the programme from the Ministry of Education unexpectedly ceased, leaving the programme hanging in the balance. “We were really disappointed by that, particularly in the light of the biodiversity and climate crises that we’re facing. It’s more important than ever to ensure young people are connected to nature and empowered to care for the environment. They’re our next generation of conservation heroes.”
Port Otago Chief Executive Kevin Winders says getting in behind the education programme is a good fit for the company, given its focus on supporting local community activity, particularly those involving young people, and awareness around climate change. “The education team at Orokonui do a fabulous job – and on the smell of an oily rag. Our contribution helps them get out with the students, delivering their highly valued programme to our local schools.”
For David Cormack, Wenita Forest Products Chief Executive, the new sponsorship is a great addition to the local environmental initiatives that the company already supports. “Wenita’s sponsorship of the Orokonui education programme reflects our commitment to backing local biodiversity initiatives and environmental education – it’s a natural fit.”
When the opportunity to support Orokonui arose, Pioneer Energy CEO Fraser Jonker felt that it aligned well with their vision. “Our goal is to create a better future through sustainable energy. We look to achieve this not only by developing sustainable energy assets but by feeding profits back into our communities through our owners the Central Lakes Trust. Our focus is on long term benefits, and this starts with investing in our youth and our communities.”
Viridian Glass has contributed to the wider work of the sanctuary for several years now, but GM Matt Kearsley says he is happy to focus their sponsorship on education, where the funds were currently needed most. “We are happy to be a part of such a valuable place that offers amazing learning opportunities for our tamariki and whānau. We want to see Orokonui Ecosanctuary prosper for many years to come.”
Ms Symon said that while the ecosanctuary covered a significant portion of its conservation work from visitor revenue, it was still reliant on grants, donations, and local sponsorships to fund the remainder. “As a not-for-profit organisation, we are extremely fortunate to have such strong support from our local community. They believe in what we do, and we’re humbled by their generosity, every day.”