Five years following the hapū decision to lay a rāhui over Maitai Bay, a visible return of marine life is being celebrated alongside the anniversary.
The conservation initiative preventing all fishing and gathering of kaimoana (seafood) and seaweed was initiated by Te Whānau Moana me Te Rorohuri, whose focus on education over enforcement continues.
On December 17, the anniversary was marked at an early-morning celebration featuring karakia led by the Rev Robert Urlich, a delicious breakfast, and the official launch of a website dedicated to ongoing education.
According to the website, rahuimaitaibay.nz, “the rāhui is there to restore the mauri (life force) of Maitai Bay, and to ensure our tamariki (children) and mokopuna (grandchildren) will still be able to enjoy the natural taonga (treasure) in the future”.
The no-take zone covers Maitai Bay, south to Waikato Bay, and extends out from the mouth of the harbour.
Although the Ministry for Primary Industries supports the initiative, it does not enforce the ban.
Hapū members take turns handing out pamphlets and talking to boaters, while the Department of Conservation distributes pamphlets to campsite visitors. Signs have also been installed at beach access points.
Kataraina Rhind (Ngāti Kahu), one of seven trustees at Te Rangi-i-taiāwhiaotia Trust — which was formed to support the rāhui — described the journey of restoring traditional practices as difficult but invaluable.
“We’re blown away by what has happened in the last five years,” Rhind said.
“There was much kōrero (discussion) and many huis (meetings) to arrive at the decision to do this to rejuvenate the bay, and to make sure that in seven generations our mokopunas will have food.”
Rhind said it wasn’t easy at the start, with pushback from visitors and even whānau, but it wasn’t worth getting into ugly arguments.
“Education is the only sensible way that we can get the message out, and has been the best tool we have.”
“The website has been designed to ensure positive information is shared.”
Rhind described the changes to marine life she has witnessed, and said the availability of kaimoana in the bay had been compromised for the past half-century.
“We’re seeing kingfish there now. I haven’t seen that in over 50 years.”
She said the education kids experience from diving around the reserve was incredible, and it worked well for the hapū to collaborate with DoC and Experiencing Marine Reserve (EMR) to hold events in the bay.
Haina Tamehana, heritage and visitor ranger for DoC’s Kaitaia office, said DoC continued to support the hapū to reverse the evident depletion of marine life through education and advocacy to campers and day visitors.
“It’s worth noting the first couple of years were met with some resistance, but that has now switched to support,” Tamehana said.
“People now come up to the campground office and let us know if they see anyone fishing in the rāhui, which is testament to the value they see from having it in place.
“And families that have been coming camping for years now speak with excitement at the quality snorkelling experience they get out in the bay.”
A free community snorkelling day promised the opportunity to experience the rāhui’s impact this week, but has been postponed due to poor visibility caused by recent turbulent weather and another storm on the horizon.
The snorkelling day is EMR’s biggest community event of the summer, and will take place on Thursday, January 26.
Ceara Wallace, Northland programme co-ordinator at Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) / Te Kura Moana said EMR had been hosting snorkel days at Maitai Bay since at least 2003, and this year’s would be the first since Covid.
Wallace has spent the past year as part of the team working for the hapū to survey the rāhui, and said there were some positive signs of rejuvenation and exciting observations.
“Usually on the coast, you don’t really see snapper. They’re quite flighty,” Wallace said.
“Since the rāhui, they’re a lot more friendly, which is a natural response to not fishing.
“Through underwater camera footage, and surveys, we’re also seeing bigger snapper returning to the area.”
Wallace said five years was a short time to see an impact, but described the increase in many species as “slow and steady”.
“We are seeing a gradual improvement.”
“EMR have been bringing people to snorkel at Maitai Bay long before the rāhui, and it’s obvious when we jump in the water that there is a greater number and diversity of fish life than before.”
Wallace said EMR, which falls under the umbrella of the Mountains to Sea Conversation Trust, endeavoured to facilitate people engaging with marine life in a safe and encouraging way. She described community snorkelling days as a perfect introduction for those lacking confidence or experience in the water.
Participants of all ages will explore a rocky reef with an experienced guide, and spot wildlife such as kokiri (leatherjackets), tāmure (snapper) and koura (crayfish).
Masks, snorkels, fins and wetsuits will be provided and safety procedures will be in place. It’s required that children under 15 be accompanied by an adult beach observer. Pre-registration via facebook.com/emr.mtsct or emr.org is highly recommended, but participants are welcome to just turn up.
The event will run from 10am to 3pm, and koha (donations) are welcome.
More event-day volunteers would also be valued. The option of spending the night at the DoC campsite exists for those travelling far to attend. Contact EMR to register and share dietary requirements for lunch, which will be provided: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the rāhui, and the story behind the pou, go to: rahuimaitaibay.nz