An historic fishing spot for tangata whenua in the Manawatu has been opened to the public in an effort to halt declining eel numbers and educate people on the importance of sustainability.
Locals and visitors will soon be able to get up close with both long fin and short fin eel, with the official opening of the He Ara Kotahi bridge.
Paul Horton, Te Ao Turoa Environmental Officer at Tanenuiarangi Manawatu Incorporated (TMI), said once upon a time tuna (eel) thrived there, but the longfin and shortfin eel numbers had declined steadily due to loss of habitat.
Numbers were in steady decline due to the historical destruction of habitat from swamp drainage, water pollution, loss of feeding grounds and modification of riparian margins, he said.
The joint project between Tanenuiarangi Manawatu Incorporated and Gordon Consulting will mean a space along the Turitea Stream is created, once an historic customary fishery for tangata whenua Rangitane.
Horton said the project has brought a renewed focus to the Manawatu River and this was a way of celebrating the special place of tuna within Maori culture.
It is called Urban Eels: Our Sustainable City and once built, the project will be easily accessed by users of He Ara Kotahi.
"Maori language, art, spiritual and cultural perspectives are a means of transferring cultural values between generations," he said.
"Urban Eels provides us a space to help protect this taonga and improve tuna stocks through engagement and education."
Horton said with Urban Eels placed under a fishing rahui (protective exclusion) it will become a place of relative sanctuary for tuna, with good habitat and reliable food sources.
"Halting their decline is hugely important," he said.
Manawatu River is integral to Rangitane iwi tribal identity. The river's mauri (life force) sustains the wellbeing of the iwi, hapu and whanau and in a practical sense, historically it was the main route for travel, communication and a key source of obtaining food (mahinga kai).
Tuna was a gift from the gods, with a special whakapapa (genealogy), he said.
Planned features include a giant eel sculpture, art work, planting and an eel feeding platform, with the aim of educating and reacquainting people with customary fishing practices, ritenga (customary practice), tikanga (correct procedure) and Rangitanenuiarawa (kaitiakitanga or guardianship undertaken in a Rangitane way).
"We need to create many more opportunities like this, especially in urban areas," Fiona Gordon, Director of Gordon Consulting, said.
"Sharing Maori cultural world views and values, in this case about tuna, plays a crucial part of working towards sustainable development in New Zealand," she said.
Gordon hopes that it would cure any phobias people may have of tuna.
"Anyone who thinks tuna are a bit scary will walk away from the Urban Eels experience appreciating them for the wondrous creatures they are."
Urban Eels partners and sponsors include 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 Manawatu River Leaders Accord.