Joint lagoon study strengthens bicultural connections

Te Kōhaka o Tūhaitara Trust has a 200-year plan to restore Tūhaitara Coastal Park’s indigenous coastal ecosystem. New joint research is enabling UC students and staff to play a key role in the rehabilitation journey.

Nigel Harris







(Above: Mr Nigel Harris, Kaiārahi Māori Research at UC with Park Manager Mr Greg Byrnes at the lagoon)

Freshwater quality and the health of taonga species are coming under the spotlight at North Canterbury’s Tūtaepatu Lagoon within Tūhaitara Coastal Park near Woodend. They form part of a joint study involving UC and a First Nations Partnership that extends across the Pacific.

This partnership – comprising Ngāi Tūāhuriri, Mahaanui Kurataiao Ltd, Te Kōhaka Tūhaitara Trust and the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa – grew out of a visit to the lagoon by University of Hawai‘i ocean researcher Dr Kiana Frank.

“We realised their approach to managing fish species and sustainability was very similar to ours, so we could see the potential for deepening our connections and learning more from each other,” says Mr Nigel Harris, Kaiārahi Māori Research within UC Research and Innovation.

Tūtaepatu was one of the first significant Ngāi Tahu Claim settlements with the Crown. Restoring the lagoon with indigenous vegetation that supports mahinga kai and historical values is a key goal. Yet only a little is known about current fish stocks and how water quality is changing and potentially impacting on that resource.

That is all about to change thanks to funding secured in June this year for joint research, following an application to the 2017 Te Pūnaha Hihiko | Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund.

From a UC perspective, it is opening up invaluable interdisciplinary opportunities for staff and students to connect with Te Kōhaka o Tūhaitara Trust, help meet its research needs and in turn deepen their understanding of Mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge).

“The really key objective for us is to gain comprehensive base data about the lagoon’s water quality and biota that we can then use in perpetuity,” says Park Manager Mr Greg Byrnes.

Research relationships between UC and the park are evolving across the board. For example, Dr Tammy Steeves, UC senior lecturer in Biological Sciences, is leading research into aquatic life cycles and genetic profiles of fish in the lagoon.

UC management students are assisting with a project involving red zone land coming into the park, while forestry students are studying changing coastal biodiversity. Geography students are exploring potential local impacts of rising sea levels and UC engineering students have been conducting disaster resilience research in the dune environment.

“We now have a link with UC that we think is fundamental to us being able to restore the park and become an integral part of the wider community. Our 200-year vision has not changed but it now has a lot of impetus behind it,” says Mr Byrnes.

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