A freshwater spring is being "thrashed" by visitors discovering the spot on social media, a young local says.
Whakatāne wahine Rangipare Belshaw-Ngaropo is calling for out-of-towners to stop "geo tagging" at Te Wai ū o Pukemaire, also known as Braemar Springs, on platforms such as Instagram.
She said online locations attached to photos on social media were drawing people from outside of the district - who did not understand the cultural significance of the site.
Tangata whenua have witnessed visitors freedom camping, letting their dogs swim in the water, washing themselves with soap and shampoo in the water, dumping furniture and leaving rubbish behind including sanitary items and beer bottles, she said.
She has raised concerns with the Whakatāne District Council and forwarded photos of some incidents, including freedom campers she had witnessed.
"It is getting thrashed," Belshaw-Ngaropo said.
"Platforms like Instagram have made all our wāhi tapu [sacred places], all our wāhi in general, just so accessible to anyone ... My generation, when people see something aesthetically beautiful, they want to get the 'Insta shot'."
The site is of particular significance to Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Rangitihi and Ngāti Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau and some of Belshaw-Ngaropo's whānau live at Irāmoko marae nearby.
The water comes from an underground aquifer.
When the Rotorua Daily Post met with Belshaw-Ngaropo a dog was swimming in the water and the rubbish bin was full of fast-food packaging and overflowing with bottles.
"I don't think it's ignorance, it's more a lack of understanding of the importance of this place and how we can be responsible guardians. You don't have to be Māori to be that."
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Belshaw-Ngaropo is in her mid-20s and remembers people drinking from the spring when she was younger.
She also remembers seeing an eel in the spring and lots of dragonflies.
"I used to hate them when I was little ... But my koro, who has since passed away, told me they were a good measure of the air and water quality. That the ecosystem was thriving.
"But even the dragonflies, I don't really see them anymore ... It's drastically changed. There were lots of eels in my koro's time."
She said monitoring the species "might not be Pākehā science but it's mātauranga Māori."
"Maybe we need to go backward to go forward."
Belshaw-Ngaropo hopes her future children will be able to have the same experiences she has had at the site and has contacted the Whakatāne District Council multiple times this summer with concerns and photos.
In a written statement to the Rotorua Daily Post, Whakatāne District Council manager of three waters Tomasz Krawczyk said there were "a number of special places in the district that are unfortunately mistreated from time to time by visitors and locals alike".
"As is usually the case, a few people spoil things for the majority. Council has installed signage at the springs to prohibit certain activities. Constant monitoring of this site, though, is not within our financial capabilities."
He said when the council received complaints and service requests "we investigate these and deal with them as appropriate".
"Generally this means educating visitors on-site and/or collecting rubbish. The most common complaints would be for rubbish, graffiti vandalism or behavioural issues."
It said this time of year was the busiest for visitors.
"A recent inspection found the springs area to be in generally good condition. However, this can change quickly, depending on who is visiting. Council will continue to monitor the situation."