Indigenous | Environment

Indigenous method used for freshwater fish conservation efforts

In a recent conservation effort at Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne, a traditional Māori method known as whakaweku proved successful in collecting freshwater fish for relocation.

Using bundles of rārahu/bracken fern, this method facilitated the collection of 139 toitoi/common bully (Gobiomorphus cotidianus) from Kōhangapiripiri in the Parangārahu Lakes area during late April and early May.

Integrating indigenous wisdom

Following the collection, Zealandia, in collaboration with mana whenua Taranaki Whānui ki te Ūpoko o te Ika, the local indigenous partners began the release of the fish into the Wellington ecosanctuary after a quarantine period.

The significance of toitoi in the freshwater ecosystem was emphasised, with Zealandia conservation and restoration general manager Jo Ledington saying, “Toitoi are an important species for freshwater as they aid with the reproductive cycle of kākahi, the freshwater mussel.”

500-year conservation plan

This initiative is one of many that will contribute to an ambitious 500-year restoration plan by Zealandia Te Māra a Tane, which boasts an impressive 225 hectare sanctuary of forest, wetlands, and stream that is home to indigenous wildlife.

Lead ranger Terese McLeod says it is also a place of learning. “I think of it as kōhanga, a kura, a waananga, essential. I think of it of a large rongoā cabinet.”

Moving towards sustainable conservation

“The 2024 translocation aimed not only to bolster the population within Zealandia but also to explore the efficacy of employing traditional Māori methods,” McLeod says.

Whakaweku, traditionally used for capturing kōura/crayfish, showcased its effectiveness in sampling and collecting small-bodied bottom-dwelling fish such as bullies.

Another translocation of toitoi into Zealandia waters is planned for 2025 as part of the larger Kia Mauriora Te Kaiwharawhara Sanctuary to Sea project, reflecting a commitment to long-term environmental stewardship and the integration of indigenous knowledge into conservation practices.