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Waiau wetlands restoration a refuge to wildlife


A project to transform 5.3 hectares of salt marsh and grazing land near Athenree is underway, restoring the Taiao (natural environment) providing a refuge for inanga (whitebait) and native bird life.

Ma te hoe ngatai o te waka ka tutuki pai te Kaupapa | By way of rowing our waka together as one the outcome will be best achieved.

Local hapū of Te Whānau a Tauwhao are re-establishing their kaitiakitanga (guardianship) leading the ecological restoration of 5.3 hectares of wetland at Te Waiau awa (river) near Athenree, enhancing the mauri (life essence) of this once teeming environment.

The project has created a strong partnership between the hapū of Te Whānau a Tauwhao with the support from Ngāti Te Wai, Ngāi Tamawhariua and Pirirākau as well as Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, Te Papa Atawhai Department of Conservation, Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Western Bay of Plenty District Council.

Reon Tuanau, Te Whānau a Tauwhao, says the wetland is a waahi tapu (sacred place), with immense cultural significance.

“It’s steeped in history, my tīpuna (ancestors) when they first arrived in this area would settle right next to the waterways, which have provided sustenance for our people for hundreds of years. The benefits of what we are doing with this restoration are immense, I’m very proud of our hapū and all the partners that have come together for this common goal and long may it last. Mauri Ora!”

Riki Nelson, Ngāti Te Wai, Tuapiro Marae, says the initiative will leave a legacy for our future generations.

“We’d love to see this habitat with an abundance of native life in five years’ time. The cultural experience and involving our rangatahi is important, because over the generations we have lost some cultural connection and it’s important that we have this rejuvenation.”

Waiau has high ecological values and is special because it is where the salt water and fresh water meet at Te Waiau river, this is significant because it is where inanga thrive.

During Matariki, planting of harakeke (flax), taupata, kahikatea and manuka provided tamariki and whānau from Te Kōhanga Reo o Ōtāwhiwhi the opportunity to be involved and connect with the whenua.

The local hapū environmental team Kaimai Kauri will continue to support the project in partnership with the Department of Conservation, with planned work on the wetland to tackle pest management and fostering ecology in a space where it thrives.

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency Regional Manager of Infrastructure Delivery, Jo Wilton, says “Native species depend on ecosystems like wetlands to enable them to thrive, and we are thrilled to be able to support this initiative and partnership. It is heartening to see tamariki being part of the journey.”

Department of Conservation Biodiversity Ranger Karl McCarthy says, “It’s fantastic to see this project of creating more wetland go ahead. The critically endangered Australasian Bittern or Matuku hūrepo have already been observed using the site, which is incredibly encouraging to see.”

Western Bay of Plenty District Council, Resource Recovery and Waste Team Leader, Ilze Kruis says, “The Waiau wetland restoration is a really special project that’s brought people and organisations together to work for a common cause – the health of this beautiful wetland environment. We’re proud to be involved in this kaupapa which will provide homes for precious plants and animals – and enhance the overall health of Tauranga-Moana harbour. Ka rawe to everyone involved in the project for their mahi.”

The video (Youtube links below), was led by hapū and acknowledges the opportunity for partnership in this kaupapa, with tāngata whenua, government entities and local authorities working together to achieve a shared goal.