Credit: Lyttelton Harbour

Posted on 04 July 2023

Te Au o Te Moana – Voice of the Ocean: Matt Rout

  • 6 Minutes to read

Matt’s speciality can be broadly defined as indigenous socio-economic development and environmental sustainability, focusing on creating theoretical frameworks grounded in context and designed to deliver practical progress. This involves adapting a diverse array of concepts and insights from different disciplines to develop tailored, workable solutions to the unique issues faced by indigenous peoples in the (post) colonial world. In particular, Matt’s work focuses on the nexus between worldview, culture, institutions, identity, and psychology, seeking to find the best interface between Indigenous and Western societies.

Published July 2023
Interview by Desna Whaanga-Schollum


In Matt's words...

I did my PhD in political science on a topic totally irrelevant to what I have ended up doing, though luckily, the critical and analytical skills I learnt can be applied to pretty much anything. I have worked at the Ngāi Tahu Centre at the University of Canterbury for about a decade. I actually got the job in the most quintessential Kiwi way, meeting John [Reid] at the local rugby club as both our kids were on the same team. Over that time, we have been involved in a number of different projects focused on indigenous social and economic development, which always emphasises sustainable outcomes.  

I was involved in the first phase of Sustainable Seas, on a project called Whai Rawa, Whai Mana, Whai Oranga, where we explored how to create an indigenous blue economy. I really enjoyed that mahi so when it came to developing a proposal for the second phase, I was excited to be involved.  

Akaroa Salmon Sea Cages. Source: Akaroa Salmon 

On being connected to the moana… 

I grew up in Governors Bay, at the head of Whakaraupō (Lyttelton) Harbour, so the moana has always been part of my life. Most of the photos of me as a, and I stress very young, kid are naked on the local beach. My dad had a 24-foot clinker built sloop that we use to go out sailing on all the time. I still sail, racing every Wednesday night during summer with a bunch of mates in the most clapped out old dunger of a boat, but we have the most fun out of the fleet. I am lucky enough to have dived around the world, I have swum with the mola mola sunfish in Bali, wreck dived in Malta, and been swarmed by stingrays in Thailand. I have also just learnt to surf, which is probably my most tangible connection to the moana as I have swallowed a lot of sea water in the process.  

“As a kid, I remember leaning out over the bowsprit of dad’s boat watching the Hector’s dolphins playing in the wake. The harbour has very opaque muddy water, so to see these beautiful sleek shapes bursting from it was a powerful reminder that this was more than just a body of water, it was alive.”  

What motivates you to work for better moana management, what do you think is worth protecting and saving?  

It might seem like a strange answer, but I am motivated by a weird mix of anger and shame. As a Pākehā, I am appalled by my collective ancestors’ attitude to the ocean. I remember reading an article where it mentioned that early European explorers were kept awake at night aboard their ships because the whale songs were so loud. Hundreds of these majestic animals filling the bay, yet all they saw was a resource to plunder. Unfortunately, that attitude lives on, embedded in our core economic institutions.

The moana is functionally infinite in most calculations and is seen as only having instrumental value, which is just the most stupid and selfish way of viewing it. This leads me to what I think is worth protecting and saving in the moana: everything! Oceans and all the life in them have their own intrinsic worth, ideally, we would protect and save everything. Obviously, we need to eat and get other resources from the oceans, but for too long, that has been done without any thought or care for the oceans themselves.  

That is where Te Ao Māori is so powerful. It provides a way of seeing and relating to the moana that balances humanity’s wants and needs with the needs and wants of the moana.  

What is your favourite Moana-related word or phrase? 

While I should perhaps quote an apt whakataukī, it is probably ‘three sheets to the windas there is nothing quite like a beer or two out on the water.   

How would you describe the current state of our Moana in Aotearoa, New Zealand? 

At a crossroads. In the last few decades, there have been some amazing positive shifts but we are fighting an uphill battle. Decades of rampant pillaging and pollution mean that the mauri of the moana is severely depleted, and we now face the hyperobject of climate change and all that brings. I’d like to be more optimistic but I am worried that through our collective avarice, ignorance and arrogance over the past few centuries we will face a range of cascading crises across our oceans in the coming years that will be beyond our ability to control.  

“There are a few challenges I could highlight but I think the most critical is that we still have such a fragmented and reductive approach to marine management. Species are managed in isolation and valued in dollars. Different entities with different mandates manage different aspects of the ‘marine estate’ as dictated by different pieces of legislation. We need a more holistic approach, one that places the intrinsic worth of the moana at its foundation.”   

What is one action New Zealanders can take to support the Moana? 

To be ethical, informed consumers. Buy sustainably sourced fish, preferably local. Consumers actually have a lot of influence, particularly if there are enough of them asking for the same thing. We are working with Māori fishing companies to help them tell their stories, communicating the environmental, social and cultural benefits that come with purchasing their products. Hopefully in the coming years, the majority of the kaimoana sold in Aotearoa is local and sustainable, not only enhancing the mauri of the moana but also the mana of our communities.  

Akaroa Salmon Sea Cages - Drone shot. Source: Akaroa Salmon

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