Te Papa is collecting relics and other items from a South Pacific nation at risk of being swamped by rising tides as climate change takes its toll.

A group from the museum, including curators, has geared up to travel to Tokelau on Tuesday to bring back items that tell a story about the environmental issues faced by locals, as part of the new co-collecting project.

Curator of pacific cultures Rachel Yates said the objects, being donated to Te Papa by seven everyday Tokelauans, could be anything from a traditional carving to plastic bottles washed up on the beach or a sticker from a solar panel.

"Rather than Te papa deciding 'this is what we want to get, we know this is going to work with audiences' [the locals] are encouraged to tell their stories and their own truth, which is what I really like about it," Yates said.


"It will be interesting to see what comes back. We've really encouraged them to think outside the box - everyday items can tell big stories."

The collecting was based around three themes: innovation, traditional knowledge and everyday life.

These would help demonstrate how Tokelauans were being innovative in their response to climate change such as through the use of solar panels, what they have been doing for generations to sustain themselves and what everyday life looks like.

Yates said the ultimate goal of the project was to share the stories with Kiwis and the wider world, by hopefully putting the items on display at Te Papa.

"I think a Tokelauan voice can be so valuable to not just the wider New Zealand society but globally.

"In regards to climate change [Tokelauans] have got something really valuable to say.

"These people have been living in a harsh environment for generations."

She said New Zealanders could learn a lot from how Tokelauans have survived the effects of climate change. This included their traditional custom of inati, or sharing, which has helped locals ration resources that are commonly in short supply, by dividing them equally.

Tokelau is made up of three small atolls, which are no more than 3m above sea level.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research's (Niwa) manager of pacific activities, Doug Ramsay, has visited Tokelau several times.

He said the atolls were affected by conditions such as drought, cyclones and king tides, which could be exacerbated by climate change in the future.

Tokelauans have worked to protect themselves from changing environmental conditions by doing things such as thinking about where they build their houses and putting water tanks under them to raise the floor level, Ramsay said.

He said Te Papa's project seemed like a good idea, which would take the issue of climate change to a more personal level by showing how it affects communities and individuals.

"It's a different way of raising awareness to some of the climate change impacts that are experienced on small atolls like Tokelau."

A photographer was also set to travel with the group from Te Papa, to get images of places and items that are important to Tokelau's fight against climate change.