National | Conservation

Myrtle rust devastating East Coast ngahere: 'We're basically watching a species vanish'

The rapid devastation that the fungal disease myrtle rust is causing to East Coast forests is laid bare in a new documentary, which highlights the already precarious state of threatened native species, such as ramarama.

Myrtle rust kills plants from the myrtle whānau, including some of Aotearoa's most famous like pōhutukawa and mānuka - and is destroying the ramarama shrub.

The nine-minute documentary, Mate Tipu, Mate Rākau, follows Department of Conservation ranger Graeme Atkins (Ngāti Porou, Rongomaiwahine) as he reveals the distress and urgency felt by environmental kaitiaki as the airborne fungal disease ravages the East Coast ngahere.

"In three years, basically all the ramarama on the East Coast has gone," Atkins says in the documentary. "We're basically watching a species vanish."

"Knowing how fast we lost our population at home, inside three years hundreds of thousands of ramarama have vanished, and so I'll say the same thing is going to happen with this population. Our last healthy East Coast ramarama," Atkins says of ramarama located at the southern end of the Raukumara, in the Mōtu district.

"Really, really sad," he says.

Source / Mate Tipu, Mate Rākau

Atkins says he feels quite helpless about the situation.

"If I'm truthful, yes, because I don't see a national response, and trying to maintain a positive demeanour gets pretty hard when I've witnessed what's happened here pretty much by myself."

Source / Mate Tipu, Mate Rākau

He says he is trying to keep the community positive and engaged and find ways they can play a part.

"A load shared is a load halved," Atkins says.

The documentary is produced and directed by Fiona Apanui-Kupenga (Ngāti Porou) and her team at Te Amokura Productions. It is one of the first creative projects by Toi Taiao Whakatairanga, which is commissioning Māori artists to develop new public artworks through creative engagement with iwi, hapū and community across areas impacted by kauri dieback and myrtle rust.