Scholarship enables Marlborough student to pursue marine conservation 

17 April 2023

A biologist who found her passion through a school project that won a Cawthron Marlborough Environment Award is nearing the end of a 20-week scholarship working on sea grass research and restoration around Nelson’s estuaries.

Demi Fearn is one of seven tertiary students who gained a place on Cawthron’s 2022/23 summer scholarship programme.

“About half way through last year as uni was coming to an end, I was figuring out what I wanted to do next and I saw the scholarship advertised. I thought ‘wow – this is so me’.”

Demi’s scholarship saw her mentored by scientists from Cawthron’s Restoration Ecology Team, working on a seagrass restoration project that aims to fight climate change and improve ecosystem health with seed-based retoration.

This involved surveying seagrass at three different study sites around Nelson, picking the flowers at an optimal time, designing systems for seed extraction and storage and trialing germination.

“We got 10% germination in the first trials which is very postive. It shows there is potential for seed based restoration within New Zealand.’’

The chance to work on seagrass restoration appealed to Demi because it combined her affinity for the marine environment, conservation and her interest in plants.

Five years earlier Demi was part a Marlborough Girls’ College Year 13 sustainability class that proposed special legislation to better protect the Marlborough Sounds marine environment. They presented it to council and government ministers, including Hon Jacinda Ardern, Hon David Parker and Hon Eugene Sage.

“Everyone was super excited and keen but like a lot of things in government, it never came to anything.”

It provided ”a massive learning curve” and saw Demi’s group win the marine category in the 2019 Cawthron Marlborough Environment Awards.

“That’s when I first heard about Cawthron and how cool it was.”

Demi says she didn’t excel in high school and was “here and there” about science until she found her passion in her Year 13 sustainabilty class. This led her to gain an Untouched World Scholarship which “solidifed” her decision to do a Degree in Biology at Canterbury University.

“I did way better there than I ever did at school. I really suprised myself.”

The scholarship programme at Cawthron had taken that learning to next level, she said.

“It’s been really good to be able to work in an environment where actual science is taking place. It enables you to put what you’ve learned in lectures into a real world  situation.’’

Demi doesn’t know what the future holds. The last three years have been “pretty crazy” so she’s planning to take some time before determining her next move.

But there’s one thing she is sure of. “I’ll definitely be looking for oppotunities in environment and conservation areas.’’

And she has some advice for other high school students who aren’t sure what they want to do in life.

“Just go with what you’re passionate about, even if you’re not the best at it.”



woman surveying seagrass in estuary

Image: Alison Ballance. Demi Fearn surveys a seagrass study site in Nelson estuary.

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