Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi cannot predict the potential outcome of the felling of two pou at Tauroa, but he assured whoever was responsible that the iwi "won't be very forgiving."

The pou had been erected almost a decade ago to mark the boundaries of the rahui declared to protect paua beds from what seemed then to be inevitable extinction. Monitoring by the iwi had revealed that 3500 permits had been issued for the taking of paua in one month, so the ancient custom of tapu was instituted to protect what remained.

"It's lasted well for 10 years. I think it will continue to last well, and we'll have to just replace the pou. But it's not the pou that have been damaged, it's the heart of the people and the relationships that arise from it," Mr Piripi told Māori Television.

The iwi had been working for a long time to establish its own tikanga in terms of conservation and marine conservation management. The pou were part of that, and had been observed, their importance recognised, not only by Māori and locals, but even by foreign tourists.

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"So it's particularly painful to have such a thing happen," Mr Piripi said.

"Why all of a sudden somebody would want to do something so terrible is beyond us. But we know the rahui has been installed with a form of sacredness and tapu that can't be averted.

"It's a law of the universe that for every action there's a reaction, and that's what we have installed into these pou. The action of chopping them down will inevitably result in a reaction. We're not quite sure what that will be, but one thing's for sure, we won't be very forgiving about it."

He was unable to speculate whether the vandalism was a reaction to the iwi's erection of fences to keep vehicles off the nearby sand dunes, which had been "a little controversial" but widely supported by the community.

"If it that was the reason then it's probably someone from outside the area who has come in and wanted to joy ride around on our beach and sand dunes in a way that is destructive and detrimental to the taku tai moana," he added.

"We've been busy trying to protect it, and ... we've established quality relationships with our local community, Māori and Pakeha, action and conservation groups.

"What this will do is not damage the pou, but it will damage the relationships. And that will in itself set the conservation movement in our area back a considerable way."

He did not know what the consequences might be for the vandal, but did not imagine that they would be nice.

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"It's the nature of these sort of things that when you transgress you expect a reaction of similar ilk. Goodness knows what that will be, but I'm sure its already beginning to brew in the minds and hearts of the people concerned." he said.

There was little the iwi could do until the culprit was identified, but when they were it would be pursuing every legal recourse available.

"We're not going to take this sort of thing lying down. We've sacrificed so much ourselves as a Māori community to share this resource with other community members in the interests of conservation and environmental integrity.

"We're not going to be daunted by acts like this because there's so much to be done in the area of environmental sustainability. We can't stop the bus for them.

"I hope that the local community in Ahipara and the surrounding area get behind us, and support us, and together we approach this issue as a common issue and find a common solution that will be empowering for all of us, mana-enhancing for all of us."