By SHELLEY TOPP
A study on water quality and its effects on fresh water fish, fauna, mahinga kai (traditional food) and wider ecosystems is to be undertaken at the Tutaepatu Lagoon in the Tuhaitara Coastal Park at Woodend Beach.
The two-year study is a collaboration between the administrators of the park, the Te Kohaka o Tuhaitara Trust, the Te Ngai Tu Ahuriri Runanga, Mahaanui Kurataiao Limited (a charitable resource and environmental management advisory company), the University of Canterbury and the University of Hawaii.
Work will begin in September.
The collaboration with the University of Hawaii came about during a visit to the Tuhaitara park by a Hawaiian University academic, Dr Kiana Frank, who is assistant professor at the university’s Pacific Biosciences Research Center while she was on sabbatical at Canterbury University.
The study seemed a good fit with work Dr Frank was doing in Hawaii to restore the depleted number of loko i’a (native fishponds) in the Hawaiian Islands, says Greg Byrnes, manager of the Te Kohaka o Tuhaitara Trust.
The fishponds have huge cultural, religious and economic significance for native Hawaiians and have provided an important food source for many years.
It is believed that 488 loko i’a were in use at the turn of last century but only 14 remain today.
Dr Frank says the sharing of knowledge across the Pacific will “enhance our capacity to develop innovative management practices that are both culturally grounded and scientifically supported.”
The Tuhaitara Coastal Park project was made possible with funding from the 2017 Te Punaha Hihiko: Vision Matauranga Capability Fund, a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) initiative, which was established to grow skills and capacity for Maori participation in science and innovation and support outcomes that benefit New Zealand.
The MBIE described the Tutaepatu Lagoon project as a robust proposal including useful international connections with a strong approach to the development of people, relationships and skills, including intergenerational aspects.
“This area is of major significance to local Maori, for mahinga kai (food gathering place) and its association to the wider landscape and its association with Kaiapoi Pa.”
Nigel Harris, of Kaiarahi Maori Research at Canterbury University, and deputy chairman and secretary of the Te Ngai Tu Ahuriri Runanga, says the project will investigate how the Tutaepatu Lagoon’s water quality changes over time and space and how that impacts on taonga species of importance to local hapu (Maori community), such as tuna/longfin eel (anguilla dieffenbachii) and shortfin eel (anguilla australis), which includes tuna/freshwater eel recruitment and health.
The study will also look at how tuna stock density affects water quality and other taonga (highly prized natural resource) species.
“We also intend to analyse data in the context of traditional practices, traditional stories, generate new stories and management concepts from the data we will gather and compare with available data trends of Hawaii loko i’a,” he says.
The project is about infusing old and new systems to create a better way of doing things, he says.
“It is about whole communities and quite a few people coming together and actually showing that these different knowledge systems can work.
But also drawing upon what he have got now to go into the future to get a really diverse and sustainable productive system.”
“What we have now is quite a few different threads of the university coming out here so we are building upon what we have got but to be able to draw upon those new alternative technologies (research, science, and technology), infused by different knowledge systems we are going to get a much richer way of looking at how we can go about things.”
Mr Byrnes says the project will reinforce the trust’s perspective that education is the “intergenerational connect” for us.
“Because the park was gifted to the people of Aotearoa New Zealand, that is everyone, and this just adds to that thread of the community guiding the outcomes.”