Students help guard harbour

16:00, Jan 23 2014
Donna Tamaariki
SUSTAINABLE APPROACH: Donna Tamaariki (left) and Richelle Kahui-McConnell fill Labour MP Phil Twyford in on the Okahu catchment ecological restoration plan. 

Around Auckland there are people working hard to try and maintain the jewel in the city's crown - our harbour.

A visit by MP Phil Twyford this week brings their work into the spotlight.

"The harbour and the wider gulf is this extraordinary treasure. The sailing and the beaches are such a part of our lifestyle," Mr Twyford says.

But the science shows the harbour is suffering, he says. Run-off and the development of the dairy industry in the Waikato and the Firth of Thames, along with the effects of several decades of intensive urban development are having an impact.

One of the projects Mr Twyford visited this week is the Okahu catchment ecological restoration plan.

Richelle Kahui-McConnell is manager of the project and is of Ngati Maniapoto descent.


Her research into the bay began while studying a bachelor of resource management at Unitec in 2007.

"For years Ngati Whatua had been saying the bay has been under pressure. It was losing its mauri (life force) and that it was making people sick."

Mrs Kahui-McConnell set up an annual survey of the seafood in the bay. Results show stocks have increased slightly from 150 to about 300 pipi and cockles over the past seven years.

This is in stark contrast to the way things used to be. Kaumatua (elders) recall that right up until the 1980s you couldn't see the beach for the bums in the air collecting seafood, Mrs Kahui-McConnell says.

For the last three years the survey has been the responsibility of Orakei School.

Sixty per cent of the students are of Ngati Whatua descent and it's important to keep young people interested in science, she says.

She set up an internship programme with the engineering department at the University of Auckland to test the health of the bay. Results found high levels of zinc, copper and heavy metal loads as well as more silt and mud than there should be.

Upcoming restoration plans include returning Okahu tidal creek and several original streams to their natural state.

Mussells, which are believed to have been abundant in the bay in the 1960s and 1970s, will also be reinstalled this year.

Donna Tamaariki, who is the founder of Orakei Water Sports and is of Ngati Whatua o Orakei descent, is a keen supporter of the plan.

"When Ngati Whatua were gifted the title back, the first thing we did was to gift it back to all of Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland. It's important that we share it with everyone."

The project has been a really long time in the making and it's exciting to see it coming together, Mrs Tamaariki says.

"It's not something that's going to change overnight but what other option do we have?

"At least if we abate the impacts then it will come back. Just leaving the bay is not an option," she says.

East And Bays Courier