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Otago scientists work to help reinstate local communities as marine guardians

Friday 19 September 2014 12:57pm

Paua seeding
L- R Foreground is Dr Chris Hepburn, then Shaun Cunningham (MSc graduate Otago) and Peri Subritzky in the background.

A University of Otago scientist has gained $180,000 in funding for a placement within Ngāi Tahu to conduct scientific surveys of marine species in customary protection areas.

This project continues the research partnership between the University and Ngāi Tahu developed through the research programme Te Tiaki Mahinga Kai.

Recent Otago Marine Science MSc graduate Mr Peri Subritzky will travel around the country undertaking stock assessments for key marine species (e.g. abundance, size and pollution) and determinations of key environmental and habitat characteristics. He will be mentored by Dr Chris Hepburn (Marine Science) and work in partnership with scientists and environmental managers from Ngāi Tahu’s customary fishery unit.

The programme is being funded through the Government’s Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund, which, among other goals, aims to develop people and organisations undertaking research that supports achieving environmental sustainability through iwi and hapū relationships with land and sea.

The work aims to provide tangata whenua, Kaitiaki (guardians) and Customary Management Areas (CMA) committees with training, tool kits and baseline information to support management decisions within their rohe moana (coastal area).

Dr Hepburn says that Mr Subritzky’s position represents a key link between the University and tangata whenua and an opportunity to expand the strong relationship developed with Ngāi Tahu with northern iwi and Hapū.

“Ngāi Tahu is building its own scientific capability to provide the best information possible to manage local fisheries. Our graduates are forming the core of this team and I believe science graduates from our University will find themselves working for Māori organizations more and more”

“Experience shows that scientific data is key in allowing CMA managers to make decisions and convince other stakeholders, for example fisheries industries and Government, that change is required. Importantly, science can be guided by and build on mātauranga Māori allowing for better decision making and restoration of the sustainability of coastal fisheries,” he says.

In the first year of the programme, the survey design will be deployed within the Ngāi Tahu Takiwā (tribal area); and in the second year it will be expanded to include the North Island.

A simplified surveying regime will be developed for tangata whenua to independently assess trends in stock densities over time and provide feedback for management committees thus supporting Māori communities and kaitiakitanga in a way that is specific to each rohe.

Dr Hepburn says the programme provides a unique opportunity to draw together a specific set of skill to develop a comprehensive understanding of the marine environment at many locations within New Zealand.

“This will help reinstate local communities as guardians of their marine environment,” he says.

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