Weaving together traditional knowledge, science and aquaculture, mussels have been returned to Ōkahu Bay as part of a world-first environmental project by the bay’s kaitiaki, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. Steered by restoration ecologist Richelle Kahui-McConnell (Ngāti Maniapoto), the launch last month of woven flax ropes, or taura, seeded with mussels, into the Ōkahu waters was the latest stage in a project launched three years ago to return the mauri (lifeforce) and improve the health of the bay, which suffered from sediment build-up, run-off and sewage pollution for decades.

Research by Kahui-McConnell had found 500 tuangi (cockles) per m2 in the bay — healthy waters should have around 4500 per m2, and mussel beds once flourished at Ōkahu. Mussels do an excellent job of filtering high quantities of water, says Kahui-McConnell, and mussel reefs provide habitat for fish, all part of a healthy marine environment.

“The challenge was that in aquaculture, mussels hang under buoys, but you can’t have aquaculture in an urban setting. But we realised we had vertical surfaces with the pylons on the wharf.

“The methodology comes from the voyaging waka from Hawaiki — there’s stories that the waka trailed taura of mussels. This combining of mātauranga, science and aquaculture is the first of its kind in the world, and it shows a dual-world process.”

“Protection of our waters and providing a future for our whanau is paramout for us.”

The taura were created by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei weavers, using flax gathered from their land. The mussels for the seeding were donated by the Coromandel Mussel Kitchen, and the project was supported by the University of Auckland, the Outboard Boating Club, the Ōrākei Local Board, Ōkahu Landing, and the NZ Underwater Association, whose volunteer divers wound the taura around the wharf pylons. The taura will be monitored monthly and it’s hoped that within a year the transplanted mussels will be seeding in the bay.

The mussel taura is one part of a 15-year environmental project by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, which includes planting 220,000 trees. “Protection of our waters and providing a future for our whanau is paramout for us,” says Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei descendant, Donna Tamaariki. “Our daily connection with our moana recognises our ancestors and their kaitiakitanga.”

* This article was first published in The Hobson magazine. For more stories like this, visit The Hobson’s online magazine browser at Issuu.

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