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Hauora Moana

Community Based Monitoring of Local Marine Ecosystems

(Published in Focus Magazine November 2018)

Summer is on its way and our beautiful coast will soon be host to throngs of holidaymakers keen to enjoy the sun, surf and sand. But it’s also the time when our coastal ecosystems come under increased pressure from an ever-growing number of fishers and divers intent on filling their catch bags with crayfish and hooking their daily limit of fish. The question is: can our coastal ecosystems handle the pressure?

Do we even know what state of health our reefs, harbours and estuaries are in and whether they can handle the increased demands we are making on them?

These questions are part of the motivation behind the Hauora Moana (Healthy Ocean) Community Monitoring Initiative, developed by Te Wairua O Te Moananui – Ocean Spirit Charitable Trust. The Trust’s vision is a healthy Ocean in which coastal ecosystems and human communities thrive in a harmonious, respectful and mutually beneficial relationship that includes the recognition of the Ocean’s mauri (life-force) as a living being, critical to the healthy functioning of the planet. So, of equal importance to getting reliable and accurate ‘real-time’ feedback as to the state of health of the survey sites, the other aim of the Hauora Moana Initiative is to identify and acknowledge the complex web of relationships that contribute to the bio-diversity and resilience of our coastal ecosystems, as well as encouraging the deep spiritual connection to the Ocean’s mauri, so fundamental to our own wellbeing.

Although at first glance reefs all look similar to each other, there are many factors that make each reef slightly different, such as exposure to wind, waves and currents, proximity to rivers and estuaries, shoreline and underwater geography and many other factors. All of these factors influence the reef and determine its natural, or normal state, including what types and how much seaweed and kelp will grow and the populations of fish and invertebrate species that will live there. All of this gives every reef its own particular qualities, the things that make it different and unique from other reefs.

With the Hauora Moana survey method we use our intuitive sensing skills to tune in to the reef’s individual qualities so that we can better understand what is normal and natural for a particular reef and how healthy it is. Rather than counting or measuring, we aim to get a sense or feeling for the overall wellbeing of the reef. To help us do this we use a range of health indicators, including overall abundance and diversity, some important fish and invertebrate species, as well as potential impacts, such as nutrient indicator algae, kina barrens and sedimentation.

Survey Sites and Results

To date we have four coastal survey sites: Parangarahu (Horseshoe Bay), Waipouri (northern side of Middle Gable), Kukutauwhao (northern side of Tutukaka Harbour entrance) and Rauhomaumau (Dolphin Bay).Survey satelite image

Surveys were conducted during the summer months with additional surveys conducted in the autumn. In keeping with the intuitive and qualitative nature of the survey method there are no percentages or numbers to interpret. Instead we use a colour coded Health Index system, based on the ecological understanding that a healthy and resilient ecosystem (represented by a Green zone) will have a high degree of bio-diversity and abundance and minimal negative impacts. All living systems – including us – have a greater ability to deal with disease, stress or other external perturbations when in a state of optimal health. But as negative impacts accumulate, the ability to “bounce back” decreases unless we change the conditions that are causing the negative impacts in the first place. A Yellow “caution” zone represents this “sliding scale” of opportunity to return to optimal health. A Red area represents the danger zone where the ability to recover from impacts becomes extremely difficult unless drastic action is taken.

Survey Site comparrison 2018

Our surveys show that none of our survey sites are in optimum health. All are in a state of decreased ability to deal with further local negative impacts, such as overfishing, siltation, sedimentation and eutrophication caused by land activities in the Tutukaka/Matapouri catchment. Two very important health indicator species – snapper and crayfish – are in the red danger zone at all sites. Besides being important to us as favourite kai moana, they have a critically important ecological role as the main predators of kina. Overfishing of both is causing severe ecological imbalance. There are also external impacts such as warming sea-surface temperatures – the cause of the Ostreopsis outbreaks over the warm summer months.

With summer coming we will continue to monitor these, and other sites, to see how they are coping with the summer influx. If you are interested in donning mask and snorkel and joining us please get in touch. Everyone is welcome!

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