Ngāti Kuri using science and cultural practice to inform predator free concept

A survey of the plants and species at the very top of the country will help inform plans for a Jurrassic Park-like predator-proof fence at Te Paki.

The biological audit is being run this week by New Zealand’s northernmost iwi, Ngāti Kuri, with the help of about 30 scientists and science students from the likes of Auckland Museum and Unitech.

Since 2018, Ngāti Kuri has held long-term plans to create a large-scale predator-free area, with the 8.5km fence keeping pests out from Te Paki, including Cape Rēinga (Te Rerenga Wairua) and Cape Maria van Diemen.

The biological audit will show what high-value biodiversity should be in this area and the pests that shouldn’t be there, said Sheridan Waitai, executive director of Ngāti Kuri Trust Board.

“It will include genetic testing as we’re seeing some of our plants hybridising to build resilience.”

The predator-free concept will be informed by both science and mātauranga Māori (traditional Māori knowledge), she said.

Ngāti Kuri’s rohe at the top of New Zealand is experiencing the impacts of climate change possibly more than in other areas of the country, including having a cyclone season and seeing introduced species like turtles, Waitai said.

The iwi will soon install its own climate station so it can gather its own weather data, she said.

Waitai and trust board member Toka Maaka went to Suva, Fiji, last week, where the World Wide Fund for Nature held a summit for Pacific indigenous leaders to share their experiences of accelerating climate change, plus ocean and nature crises.

The Oceania First Voices Regional Forum featured nearly 100 representatives from New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

The message from those attending was clear: the voices of indigenous communities will be key to solving the climate and biodiversity crises – but only if these voices are heard.

Waitai said it was sad to hear the firsthand experiences of climate change across the Pacific, but there were inspiring examples of communities taking action grounded in traditional knowledge and cultural practice.

“I learnt, essentially, that what we’re doing at a community level really matters, because if we’re doing something and that’s scaled up collaboratively, that makes a difference.”

Ngāti Kuri recently received a $6.6 million grant from Foundation North to increase and sustain its restorative work in the Far North.

But the iwi had a setback last week in its conservation efforts in its rohe, with the Government saying it will not establish the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.

Waitai said there are plenty of decisions that are outside the control of communities and indigenous people, and that is what the Oceania forum was all about.

“Out of the some $460 billion spent on conservation, indigenous people get to see only 2 per cent of that amount, yet we’re the ones being impacted first and cleaning up the mess.”

Ngāti Kuri recently partnered with the Girringun Aboriginal peoples of Queensland to learn traditional fire practices, to protect the environment by preventing wildfires spreading.

Both Waitai and Maaka say they hope the forum in Suva will result in similar knowledge-sharing and advocacy projects in the future.