New years honours: Barry Searle

By Lindy Laird

When Barry Searle changed from toheroa consumer to conservationist he helped create a culture that sees the protected shellfish now thrive where they were once endangered.

Mr Searle has been named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his 25-plus years researching, protecting and increasing the toheroa population on Ripiro Beach on Northland's west coast.

"I'm very humbled to think a group of people have got together and put my name forward for this honour," Mr Searle said.

With Jim Te Tuhi, his old army mate and neighbour, Mr Searle led a programme transplanting toheroa spat to different locations along the 100km beach, helped forge a kaitiaki - or guardianship - protocol, educated many through community initiatives and, in partnership with Auckland University, mentored students researching toheroa for their marine science degrees, through to doctorate and masters levels.

Ironically, before he moved on to saving toheroa, he commercially harvested them for a local canning factory. That factory's closure alerted Mr Searle to how degraded the once plentiful resource had become.

He is a strong advocate for the customary rights process. "Done properly, that's the answer - local controls and conservation."

Mr Searle and his wife Robyn were previously honoured at the Kaipara District's 2009 Citizens' Awards. A Pakeha, Mr Searle has also been honoured by local iwi for his unpaid work.

Mr Searle has been station manager for Te Kopuru Fire Service, was a founder of Northland Motor Caravan Association, is a past-president of Northern Wairoa Civilian Maimed Association and a Life Member of Dargaville Museum.

Despite chronic ill health, the 75-year-old still supervises youth sentenced to community service. He sees that work as "mentoring" rather than supervising, and a chance to teach young people to grow into kaitiaki themselves.

But his bad health means the Dargaville resident now only manages about one day a week on his beloved beach.

- Northern Advocate

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