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Te Kura Moana: gems of the sea

Rangatahi (youth) in Te Ūpoko o te Ika a Māui (Wellington region) are deepening their understanding of kaitiakitanga (guardianship) through exploring local marine environments.

Girl holding a paper nautilus shell found while snorkelling

Tauira (students) at Kura Kaupapa Māori (Māori language immersion schools) and kura kāinga (home schools) are forging strong foundations in mātauranga Māori (Indigenous knowledge) and science to shape future actions around protecting our taiao moana (seascapes).

The rangatahi are doing this through Te Kura Moana, a year-long programme delivered entirely in te reo Māori that ties together oral histories, cultural mapping, mātauranga and science through hands-on experiences and kura-driven research.

Tauira identifying marine wildlife

This project is co-run by Te Kawa Robb (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Awa) at Mountains to Sea Wellington, Te Atawhai Kumar (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa) at Te Aho Tū Roa, and four kura kaupapa Māori: Te Kura-ā-Iwi o Whakatupuranga Rua Mano, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Rito, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngā Mokopuna and Te Ara Whānui Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngā Kōhanga Reo o Te Awakairangi.

“We co-developed Te Kura Moana with the kura, instead of just saying, ‘here’s a plan we already made, do you want to do it?’” Te Kawa explains. “The purpose is to have a ground-up approach rather than just translate science into te reo Māori. Each kura has its own kaupapa [approach] and levels, which we adapt to – so all the kura are defining what Te Kura Moana means to them and taking ownership of it.”

Te Atawhai adds, “Ngā Mokopuna has taken a whole-school approach with all subjects at all levels being interlinked with Te Kura Moana, while Te Ara Whānui are using waka navigation and Matariki to build their connections with the sea.”

Te Atawhai showing tauira how to monitor the beach

Learning experiences have included dissecting kuku (green-lipped mussels) and kahawai along with exploring coastal wildlife in Maraenui (Seatoun), Te Motukairangi (Miramar Peninsula), Pukerua Bay and Kāpiti Island,

Tauira also recorded the tides and linked them with maramataka (Māori lunar calendar) practices, observed underwater life through snorkelling, and measured and compared the richness of wildlife in marine reserves with that in unprotected areas.

Ko tā Jade te Hira, tētahi tauira o Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngā Mokopuna, “Ko te mahi pārekareka ki au e pā ana ki ngā mahi a Te Kura Moana ko ngā mahi ruku ngongo hā nō te mea ka taea e au te kite i ngā momo hua ora me ngā uri ā Tangaroa, me tana hauora hoki.”

Jade te Hira, a student at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngā Mokopuna, says, “I really enjoyed the snorkelling experience in Te Kura Moana, and seeing all the different species of Tangaroa in an ecosystem that looks pretty healthy.”

Students snorkelling

The project involves local Māori scientists, especially experts such as kaumātua (elders) and pakeke (parents) from their hapori (community), for tauira to build relationships with and learn from.

In one class at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngā Mokopuna, Dr Ocean Mercier (Ngāti Porou) from Victoria University of Wellington helped tauira apply their knowledge of te reo Māori to uncover significant place names and their meanings on some of the earliest maps of Maraenui, where their school is located, and across Wellington Harbour.

Ocean Mercier with tauira

Ānei ko tā Manaia Ringiao, he tauira anō, “I tirohia mātou ki runga i tēnei mahere [i Te Whanganui-a-Tara] me te kimi i ngā kupu hou kāore mātou ka mōhio, ā, me te ohorere ō mātou ki te kite i ngā wāhi rerekē.”

Another student Manaia Ringiao says, “[In class] we looked at this map [of Wellington harbour] and identified all the place names that we didn’t know about – it was surprising to see so many different places within this space.”

Te Kawa Robb with tauira

Tauira and kaiako (teachers) also carry out actual research as part of the project, including investigating different methods of marine management and protection, and assessing and documenting the current state of their local environment.

“I haere mātou ki te tātahi ki te kimi i ngā rāpihi ririki me ngā pāpaka kaumātua,” te kī a Manaia.

“We visited our local beach to collect micro-plastics, as well as observe giant crabs,” Manaia says.

Tauira conducting coastline research in Pukerua Bay

Ānei ko tā Hamuera Va’a, he tauira anō hoki, “I haere te akomanga tau teina tau tuākana ki Kirikiritātangi ki te tiki i ngā mea ka whakamāuiui i ngā tamariki ā Tangaroa, i ngā uri ā Tangaroa – pērā ki ngā tohorā me ngā mea e tino pai ana ki a Tangaroa. I kitea ngā ngongo, me ngā kai, me ngā kirihou me te kōata, pepa hoki. I āhua pōuri, nā te mea he mea kore i te pai ki te moana, ki ngā tamariki ā Tangaroa hoki.”

Hamuera Va’a, also a student, says, “The junior and senior classes visited Kirikiritātangi to collect objects that are polluting the waters of Tangaroa and impacting on his children – like the whales, for example.  We collected straws, food packets, plastics, paper and glass. We were saddened at how damaging this is for our moana, and for Tangaroa and his children.”

Te Atawhai and tauira collecting rubbish from the beach

The kura intend to keep using the tools and framework that Te Kura Moana has given them to explore other ways to look after te taiao (the environment). One on-going project, for instance, is focused around Waitī - the star in the Matariki constellation representing freshwater - and īnanga (whitebait).

Kura are also sharing their experiences with the wider community, inspiring other locals to care more for te taiao moana, while Te Kura Moana intends to run professional development training for kaiako in Te Ūpoko o te Ika a Māui to take ownership of the programme for long-term sustainability.

Tauira from Te Ara Whānui after snorkelling in Taputeranga Marine Reserve

Photos: Te Kawa Robb/Mountains to Sea Wellington.

About the project

Te Kura Moana is a kaupapa Māori experiential programme run by Mountains to Sea Wellington in partnership with Te Aho Tū Roa, with support from WWF, Henderson Trust, Friends of Taputeranga Marine Reserve, Greater Wellington Regional Council and the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund. 

Te Kura Moana acknowledges the many experts and holders of knowledge that donated time and energy to support the kaupapa and learning of tauira within Ōtaki, Te Awakairangi and Pōneke.

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