The discovery of old grave stones used as fill along the Onerahi foreshore has shocked Whangarei Maori who say the desecration dishonours the dead and endangers the living.
Ngati Kahu representative William Pohe said he noticed the headstones while he was working with Whangarei District Council (WDC) contractors who are planning to repair the Onerahi sea walls.
The piles of old headstones, which are thought to be from the Kioreroa Cemetery, have been uncovered by recent erosion along the foreshore.
The council said it is aware of the headstones and is committed to putting things right and plans to move them to another site.
The recent discovery confirmed local anecdotes over the years that there were headstones somewhere along the Onerahi foreshore.
The use of headstones as landfill was a complete desecration, Mr Pohe said.
"People go down there and take shellfish. That's just like putting a toilet there and crapping into the water.''
The presence of the headstones had rendered the site tapu, Mr Pohe said, and taking food from a tapu site was looking for trouble.
"You're heading for disaster, in other words you could become very very ill,'' he said.
"One solution is we bring in all the tohunga, kaumatua and have a big prayer up and then fence that off, but we can't guarantee the safety of people further on that might walk past there.''
As a result, Mr Pohe said the best option would be for the council to dig the headstones up and re-bury them somewhere appropriate.
Local Maori may take it upon themselves to remove the headstones if the council did not, he said.
However, it seems that the council already has plans to remove the headstones.
WDC infrastructure and services group manager Simon Weston said the council would like to relocate the stones to a special memorial at Kioreroa Cemetery.
Mr Weston said the council first became aware of the headstones about three years ago.
"Records gave no information about where exactly the broken headstones at Onerahi came from, but it was suspected they came from Kioreroa. They could have come from a number of cemeteries that we know were damaged over 50 years ago.''
The council's roading and parks departments have been in the process of applying for permission to repair and extend the Onerahi sea walls.
"During this work, they have worked with local iwi and the Historic Places Trust because of the headstones in the sea wall, and it is expected that special provisions will be built into any resource consent given, to ensure the way to deal with the headstone fragments is resolved to the satisfaction of all parties,'' Mr Weston said.
"It is certainly not council's practice to level cemeteries when they are closed and to remove headstones and reuse them as fill.
"This happened a long time ago, before many of us were born, and before this council existed.
"We are committed to putting things right.''