National | Science

Iwi to be taught how to test shellfish for toxins

The Cawthron Institute’s mission to keep people safe from paralytic shellfish toxin (PST) just got $250,000 easier.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has approved a funding grant to the independent marine research institute, which monitors food for shellfish toxins and aims to eliminate the risk of iwi consuming kaimoana with PST.

Ngā Kāhui Kaitiaki Kaimoana lead researcher Dr Tim Harwood told Te Ao Māori News 70 percent of the funds will go to their iwi partners involved in the project, Te Arawa ki Tai, Te Whānau a Tauwhao te hapū, and Te Ātiawa o Te Waka a Māui.

“I think for the whole team, those three partners and the wider rōpū, to have this funding in place to create these opportunities to engage, to talk about food safety, not just about PST but other things as well.

“I think it’s going to be a massive win, so we’re just super stoked to have the funding. It’s just such great news.”

The coalition government’s fiscal belt tightening has added pressure, with jobs and projects on the chopping block at MBIE, including the team that funds these science projects, which is to lose almost 300 of its staff.

“On the backdrop of a really tough science funding environment at the moment, we’re hearing a lot of bad news in the science funding system. So to get a little nugget of good news is terrific,” Harwood said.

“We are focusing in on shellfish and we’re focusing in on a class of marine toxins known as paralytic shellfish toxin.

“We are aware of some coastal Māori communities who are more at risk of gathering contaminated shellfish and being at risk of potential serious illness from the presence of these toxins.

“We hope to use this project to talk more openly about what other food safety risks exist at [the] gathering of shellfish and other types of seafood whether they’re marine toxins or bacteria or viruses,” Harwood told Te Ao Māori News.

Raewyn Bennett from Te Arawa Ki Tai Trust joined the project after a colleague of hers had brought the programme to the trust′s attention and asked them to join.

“Not long before, [I had] met a wahine from Pikiao at a kapa haka place and she had started talking to me about getting paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) at Little Waihī Estuary from the pipis.

“When I heard her story, I said I’m going to do something about it, because she was a young māmā with kids who was hospitalised with paralytic shellfish poisoning,” Bennett said.

With the funding, the iwi partners involved will receive “the best commercially available kit” for testing and will be given training on how to use it and ensure iwi can continue harvesting seafood.

“Over the moon”

Bennett said she was “over the moon” when she received the news about the project receiving funding.

“When we heard [we] just couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe it, you know, I said I have to come to work and make sure I am reading it on the screen.

“We were dealing with it on a voluntary basis and it was stop-start and you know how it is you can do the best you can,” she said.

Harwood had found out they received the funding a few days before it was made public, news he quickly and elatedly shared with iwi partners.

“We’ve been talking about this for some months now in anticipation that it would be funded and we’d be able to get the wheels moving.

“We’re absolutely delighted that we’ve got the funding tick.

Harwood’s long-term outcome for this project is for Māori to assess the safety of their kaimoana with confidence to feed their whānau and friends.

“It’s about empowering those communities to have that knowledge and tools to be able to do things themselves and make decisions.”

Bennett agreed with Harwood about wanting to extend iwi knowledge of PSP.

“The best thing would be to get rid of it but it doesn’t look like we can. It would take a long time if it is possible.

“We need to be able to manage it so that we can look after our people better,” she said.

Where’s the money?

The funding comes from the latest round of the government’s Te Pūnaha Hihiko: Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund.

A sum of $3.8 million has been distributed among 16 projects for the next two years.

The cash is intended to improve the relationship between Māori and Western science, and increase understanding of how research can contribute to the aspirations of Māori organisations and deliver benefits for Aotearoa.

In a statement, MBIE director Māori research, science, and innovation Dr Willy-John Martin said strengthening the link between science and Māori goals boosted research impact and showcased New Zealand’s distinct interests and talent.

“Māori success is New Zealand success. It is exciting to see these research projects funded, that will develop greater connections between science skills and Māori capability, including for rangatahi, kaumātua, and Māori organisations.”

MBIE contestable investments manager Alan Coulson said the projects chosen focused on significant problems affecting communities across New Zealand.

“Projects selected through this latest funding round aim to reduce illness, improve wellbeing, and prepare for future extreme weather events. These are subjects that impact all of us and I look forward to seeing the outcomes and benefits of this work for our economy, environment and people nationwide,” he said in a statement.

What other projects are being funded?

There were two connect scheme projects and a placement scheme project

Below is a table of connect scheme projects.

Project titleContracting OrganisationPartner organisationsFundingTerm
Te Horo i Whakakotahi a Pūtōrino e Rua: Discovering the past, present and future impact on land, water and people caused by the Pūtōrino landslideMassey UniversityTe Rūnanga o Ngāti Hauiti, Te Rūnanga o Ngā Wairiki - Ngāti Apa, inSite Archaeology, Horizons Regional Council, Massey University$250,0002 years
Ka Tū Te Rā: A Toi Māori and Science innovation to return woven sails to voyaging waka in AotearoaTe Pūkenga – New Zealand Institute of Skills and TechnologyToi Māori$149,9451 year
Toheroa ki uta ki tai o Te Oneroa a ToheTe Runanga o Ngai Takoto TrustThe Cawthron Institute$250,00020 months
Te Pūtake o Papatūānuku: Reviving Indigenous knowledge of wellbeing led by the community of Papaptūānuku Kōkiri MaraeUniversity of AucklandPapatūānuku Kōkiri Marae, Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi$249,64418 months
Carving New Knowledge in Construction TechnologyUniversity of AucklandTe Rūnanga o Ngāti Irapuaia$250,0002 years
Tāne i te wānanga: Ngāti Rangi herbariumNga Waihua O Paerangi TrustMassey University - Te Kuenga Ki Pūrehuroa$250,0002 years
He Wai Koi Ora, He Iwi Ora – Thriving Environments, Thriving CommunitiesInstitute of Environmental Science and Research LimitedTe Rūnanga o Ngāti Toa Rangatira$250,0002 years
Tikanga for Awa PlansTakarangi LimitedNgāti Kawa, Pohangina Environmental Consulting, Ko Waitangi Te Awa Trust$250,0002 Years
WaiTiaki ki Uta, WaiTiaki ki Tai - Water Quality and MaramatakaTe Pu-a-nga MaaraDigital Sensing Limited, Leonie Jones$250,0002 Years
Ngā Hua o Waitā - Mātauranga and climate changeTokomaru Research Centre LimitedNational Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd, Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology - Te Pukenga, Cawthron Institute$250,0002 years
Ngatirua te taiao aromatawai: ngahereTau Iho I Te Po TrustLandcare Research New Zealand Limited (Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research)$150,0001 year
Kāore te ngahere, ka mate te whenua: Innovating carving practices to reduce the burden on totaraScionTe Taonga Ltd$250,0002 years

Below are the placement scheme projects:

Project titleContracting OrganisationPartner OrganisationsFundingTerm
Te Āwheto Kai PaengaTahuri Whenua Tapui LimitedBioprotection Aotearoa$250,0002 years
Whakaaetanga Whakapai - Aotearoa Research Compliance with International Standards on Access & Benefit Sharing for Indigenous PeoplesKānuka Charitable TrustTe Kotahi Research Institute – University of Waikato, The New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research Limited$250,0002 years
Kia mau tonu ki te mana me te mauri o te whenua i roto i ngā tikanga o tātou tūpuna, tuku iho ki ngā uri - The prestige and life force of the land is enhanced beneath the mantle of our ancestral traditionsOwhaoko B & D TrustMassey University Body Corporate, Palmerston North$250,0002 years