The Manawatū River will once again be a safe haven for tuna (eel), after a rāhui was placed on the awa as part of the opening of Urban Eels.
Urban Eels is a platform on the Turitea Stream just metres from the entrance to the Manawatū River.
The platform, which is reached by walking part of the He Ara Kotahi pathway, is made from recycled concrete pads that were used during the construction of the Turitea Bridge on the pathway.
People will be able to stand on the platforms and watch and feed the eels and learn why they are so important to Māori and the health of our waterways.
Ancestral records show tuna lived in abundant numbers in the Manawatū River and some long-finned eel weighed as much as 40kg.
While tuna still inhabit some of our local streams, their populations are declining and tuna bigger than 10kg are a rare find.
This decline is largely due to the historical destruction of tuna habitat from swamp drainage, pollution, loss of feeding grounds and the deterioration of riparian margins.
Pressure from commercial fishing and the presence of in-stream barriers, such as dams and culverts that can prevent tuna migration and breeding, continue to negatively affect tuna populations.
At the dawn blessing earlier this week, a rāhui, was placed on the stream and surrounds of the Manawatū River, meaning no one is allowed to catch or consume the tuna.
This means the waterways become a sanctuary for the tuna and allow them to thrive again.
Horizons councillor Fiona Gordon worked in partnership with Rangitāne on developing the plans for Urban Eels.
"Urban Eels is a very special place, for tuna and for us.
"At the very heart of this project is community collaboration and together we have managed to create a truly inviting space, where everyone can reconnect with nature.
"It has been such an incredible journey to get to this point.
"I am so grateful and feel extremely privileged to have been allowed the opportunity to work in partnership with Tanenuiarangi Manawatū Incorporated.
"My hope now is that visitors to Urban Eels will walk away with a renewed sense of the important relationship between man and tuna, all through the expression of the Māori world view."
Chris Whaiapu from Rangitāne says tuna, are He taonga tuku iho; a gift from the gods, and an important traditional food source for Māori.
"Maori have long had extensive knowledge of the timing of their upstream and downstream movements with their annual 'heke' or migrations back to Tonga in the South Pacific, as well as an ecological observation mechanism in understanding the quality of the water.
"It's great to see them in the Turitea sanctuary where it will provide for an abundance of tuna to repopulate our waterways and be enjoyed by our future generations."
Palmerston North Mayor Grant Smith, says this project was an obvious one for council to support.
"Our Manawatū River Framework Strategy is all about there being more things for people to see and do at our awa each year.
"We're working with a number of partners to bring this side of the river alive.
"That started with He Ara Kotahi, this project will add to that, and then next year we will begin work constructing the lookout on the Turitea Pa site.
"More people enjoying our river will ultimately mean we have more guardians looking out for it, and that will have significant environmental benefits."
Urban Eels is a partnership project led by Tanenuiarangi Manawatū Incorporated and Gordon Consulting, in collaboration with Ngati Hineaute Hapu Authority, Te Rangimarie, Palmerston North City Council, Horizons Regional Council, Te Manawa Museum of Art Science and History, Massey University, Palmerston North City Environmental Trust and the Manawatū River Leaders Accord.
The project was funded by Palmerston North City Council with support funding of $32,550 from the Manawatū River Leaders Accord Community Grants and Freshwater Improvement Fund, and funding from the Palmerston North City Environmental Trust and in-kind contributions from project partners.
Some tips for taking care of tuna and yourself.
Please do not try to hand feed the eels. Eels can occasionally bite.
Eels are carnivores, so if you want to take some food along, meat is best.
Eels are generally nocturnal, so your best chance of seeing them is around sunrise or sunset.
Be careful on the concrete platforms if the stream or river has been high as it may be slippery.
A rāhui is in place - that means no eels can be caught.