Indigenous | Mussels

Millions of kuku discovered on traditional mussel bed

Mātauranga Māori and western science have joined forces to rescue mussel beds in the Ohiwa Harbour in the eastern Bay of Plenty.

Leading the Awhi Mai Awhi Atu research group, Professor Kura Paul-Burke emphasises the collaboration with kaumatua as an integral part of the restoration process.

“Working with kaumatua allowed us to access the deep, intergenerational Māori knowledge of the harbour with people who have a lived connection with Ōhiwa as a mahinga kai.”

Between 2007 and 2019, the mussel (kuku) population at Ōhiwa Harbour plummeted from 112 million to a mere 80,000, according to Paul-Burke. She attributes this significant decline to Pātangaroa or seastars.

“Fifteen seastars per hectare is a balanced number, but we had 50,000 per hectare, identifying them as a primary factor in the kuku population decline,” Paul-Burke says.

Since 2019, the research group has experimented with mussel lines crafted from natural fibres.

A recent breakthrough for the research group occurred when they discovered over 16 million kuku thriving on a traditional mussel bed previously thought to be lost.

To safeguard the kuku population from further depletion, research leaders, iwi, and hapū are advocating for a temporary two-year closure to halt human harvesting. Paul-Burke underscores the need for protection against both human harvesting and seastar predation. This safeguarding is crucial to allow the kuku to mature, reproduce, and contribute to stabilising the bed for future generations.

In an innovative approach, Paul-Burke says the Pātangaroa will be used to create skincare products. Profits from these products will be directed towards restoring the harbour’s mauri, or life force.