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Let’s see how our reef has changed in 15 years

Locals with children and babies, Otaraua hapū elders and scientists headed out to Waitara Reefs in March 2016, to count seaweed, snails, fish, pāua, kina and more.

These locals knew exactly where to go and what to do because their project, called 'Titiro tui muri, haere whakamua - look backwards to move forward', was a repeat of a survey carried out 15 years ago.

Surveys like this, which look for changes in the quantity and variety of sea life in an area, are an important way to check on the health of an ecosystem.

A team effort

Dr Victoria Metcalf, National Coordinator for the Participatory Science Platform, went along for the day. “The key difference between this survey and the 2001 survey is that the wider community were involved this time, not just a single scientist. It was a humbling experience to go out with the team and to see both the empowering and connecting impact it had on those who were involved”, she said.

Planning and action

The survey required many months of planning and test runs before the event could take place.

“Assembling all the gear and planning the detail of which group would do what was a big job. The day itself involved a considerable amount of walking over uneven ground, wading through water and clambering over super-slippery rocks!”

“Once we reached our survey area at the southern edge of one reef, we found the previous plot points using GPS and put down a quadrant (a square frame). We counted and wrote down what we saw inside each quadrant – even the youngest children helped by peering into the pools.”

Community and science came together

Victoria says a highlight was observing traditional knowledge and science coming together, through scientists meeting and talking to people who have a long history and deep love for the reefs.

“Trevor Dodunski is a passionate advocate for Waitara and a lifelong resident and member of the local community board. He’s spent years collecting kaimoana from the reefs and seems to know every rock! To him the reefs are quite simply paradise. Being part of Trevor’s team was highly entertaining and informative. We found large crabs, pāua, kina, sea slugs and even a white nudibranch (a type of sea slug)."

Lucy Graydon of Venture Taranaki spoke of her experience working with the survey team, “I have been blown away by the wonderful spirit of this community and how they have supported the project.” Project leader Vicky Dombroski says she wants to change the local perception that Waitara and science have nothing in common.

Robyn Martin-Kemp, a member of Otaraua Hapu volunteered her time to coordinate the kaimoana (seafood) survey. She says the survey is supporting the development of strong community bonds, “All the work we do, from start to finish, creates relationships”.

Future plans

The team is aiming to make the survey an annual event, but first the hard work of analysing the data must be completed. A pop-up exhibition will showcase the cultural history and the survey results later this year, to encourage people to own and care for the environment around them.

Hear more

Listen to Our Changing World podcast from RNZ National about the survey.

About the project

The survey was led by members of Otaraua Hapu and the not-for-profit community organisation, Waitara Alive. It is a Taranaki Participatory Science Platform (PSP) project. Vicky Dombroski, the project leader, is Community Development Advisor at Waitara Alive

Scientists and locals collaborating around a table

Participatory Science Platform

The Participatory Science Platform supports collaborative projects that bring together communities and scientists or technologists on research investigating a locally-important question or problem.

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