The following article was originally published in the October 2000 Nati Link.
Research of the Waiapu River has revealed some of the worst sediment pollution levels in the world. The Waiapu Research Project, a joint venture between Te Whare Wananga o Ngati Porou and Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research (a Crown Research Institute) has found sediment pollution levels are higher than some catchments in Asia and Europe and the USA’s Mississippi River. This is particularly concerning because the Mississippi catchment area is 100 times larger than the Waiapu.
Researcher Tui Te Hei-Warmenhoven says the sediment build-up and subsequent pollution of the sea is largely due to forest clearing conducted around 100 years ago to prepare land for farming. The region’s high rainfall levels and unstable rock formations have also contributed.
“Currently the Waiapu is in a state of ill-health, both spiritually and physically. We have to look at our human inaction and exploitation of our river to see how we can look after it for future generations.”
The project includes coverage of the main tributaries of the Waiapu- the Mata, Maraehara, Tapuaeroa, Poroporo, and Mangaoporo rivers. The aim of the project is to utilise Ngati Porou knowledge of the Waiapu area and its history, and western science to determine ways to enhance the health of the catchment system.
Since the project began two years ago, researchers have interviewed 35 pakeke, conducting half the interviews in Te Reo Maori. They have also researched Maori Land Court records, and analysed moteatea and whakatauaki (proverbs). “Moteatea explain landmarks and allude to places where hunting, gathering, gardening and birds were snared. Hapu histories relating to pa sites, maara kai and eeling sites have also been looked at.”
Researchers have gathered oral and written information on pre-European settlement to the
present day. The results will be used to formulate a catchment management and restoration strategy to improve the health of the river. This will involve the community and could involve reafforestation and less excavation of the river.
“We will also probably have to directly collaborate with stakeholder groups, forestry agencies, Runanga, the Gisborne District Council and others to take more responsibility with the care of the river.”
The project combines scientific expertise and cultural knowledge and encourages community involvement through open days where the public can view research results and contribute to the project. A management committee of Rei Kohere, Vianney Douglas and Mark Iles oversees the project which will conclude in 2002.
“The difference between this project is that it’s not driven by the Gisborne District Council or a government department – it’s community driven.”
An art competition was held for East Coast primary, secondary and intermediate schools during October to promote the cultural and spiritual significance of the river.Children drew or painteda picture based on the Ngati Porou pepeha “Ko Waiapu te awa,Ko Hikurangi te maunga, ko Ngati Porou te iwi”. The grand prize was $500 worth of books for the winner’s school.