• Academic publication

Ngā tohu o te taiao: Observing signs of the natural world to identify seastar over-abundance as a detriment to shellfish survival in Ōhiwa Harbour, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Paul-Burke K, Ngarimu-Camron R, Paul W, Burke J, Ransfield T, Aramoana W, Cameron K, O’Brien T, & Bluett C (March 2022)

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Tohu are a fundamental expression of kaitiakitanga or active guardianship and are based on the primal instinct of survival and recognising that in order to survive, one must pay attention to natural signs and signals thoughtfully, so as to manage our mahinga kai (food harvesting area) and ourselves into the future.

This article considers the example of the over-abundant eleven-armed seastar (pātangaroa, Coscinasterias muricata; hereafter ‘seastar’) predating on culturally and ecologically important shellfish populations in a traditional mahinga kai of Ōhiwa Harbour in the Bay of Plenty region of Aotearoa New Zealand. The over-abundance of seastars was considered a contemporary tohu of a degrading harbour. It was deemed imperative by iwi (tribe) members that a trial using quantitative methods to investigate predation pressure of seastars on the green-lipped mussel (kuku or kūtai, Perna canaliculus) population be conducted in the harbour.

Between September 2018 and February 2019 field trials were undertaken that prioritised mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) alongside marine science to assist with a better understanding of the degrading harbour. It was hoped that the research would help and promote recovery, in particular but not limited to, the once abundant but now severely reduced mussel reefs in the soft-mud-bottomed harbour.