Commericial potential of rare South Westland rock investigated

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Aotea, a rare rock containing the blue mineral kyanite (shown here), is found only in the Makaawhio River. Photo / iStock
Aotea, a rare rock containing the blue mineral kyanite (shown here), is found only in the Makaawhio River. Photo / iStock

A rock which is rarer than pounamu and found only in South Westland is to be investigated to see if it can be sold commercially.

GNS Science has been awarded funding of $100,000 in the 2016 round of the Government's Vision Matauranga Capability Fund, which invests in programmes that help iwi development for the benefit of New Zealand.

Aotea, a rare rock containing the blue mineral kyanite, is found only in the Makaawhio River, where local iwi Ngati Mahaki ki Makaawhio have cared for, gathered, traded and gifted it for generations.

Aotea is distinctive in appearance and is potentially of value to science as a tracer of river erosion as it is washed out in river gravels during flood events. It also has cultural and commercial value to Ngati Mahaki. The iwi, a sub-tribe of Ngai Tahu, wants to understand sustainability of the resource before making any business plans.

Aotea forms part of the pounamu legends for the West Coast and as a stone it is rarer than pounamu, although it has a similar origin, being formed deep in the Earth's crust. It is treasured for its ornamental value and is carved and worn. It is a softer rock than pounamu, so has not been used as a traditional tool.

Project leader Simon Cox, of GNS Science, said the programme would bring together both traditional Maori and scientific knowledge to inform wise and sustainable management of the resource.

"The project will do this through a series of wananga (education), field excursions, and fieldwork hui during the next two years," Dr Cox said.

"It will also encourage rangatahi (young people) to develop interests in both scientific and traditional knowledge," Dr Cox said.

"This project will build iwi capacity in natural hazards and enable more informed engagement with the local council on civil defence and hazard planning matters."

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce said the funding would "grow Maori researcher skills" and further develop links between Maori and research organisations.

Nationally, $3.97 million is being invested in 33 new programmes under the Vision Matauranga Capability Fund.

- Greymouth Star

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