By Kiara Duke – Te Papa Atawhai Department of Conservation Summer Intern
On Wednesday the 26th of January 2022, whānau o Te Tai-o-Aorere (Tasman Bay) were invited to the Experiencing Marine Reserves snorkel day, delivered by Te Ātiawa o Te Waka-a-Māui Trust, Te Papa Atawhai Department of Conservation and Tasman Bay Guardians.
As I arrive at Kaiteretere Beach, whānau gather expectantly. We teeter across a narrow plank onto a Seashuttle boat, and I do a quick head count to thirty before we depart.
We head to Tonga Island Marine Reserve in the Abel Tasman National Park. It’s raining when we arrive, and we rush to set up two gazebos.
Waves of nerves hit every time I address the rōpū. This event is the culmination of my summer internship with Te Papa Atawhai Department of Conservation. Now it is happening, I realise my hands are shaking. I catch myself thinking, what makes you think you can lead this kaupapa?
Aue, no time to doubt myself as whānau enter the wai and I take up my watch from the sand. Tasman Bay Guardians snorkel guides lead the rōpū through the rocky, granite reef. I hear squeals of excitement as fins and snorkels pop up and shoot down. For many of us, this is the first time snorkelling in our mana moana, and for others, the first in a long time.
An hour passes and the first group of snorkelers exit the water. One tama runs toward me, trailed by water dripping from his wetsuit.
He shouts excitedly, “Whaea, I saw a pillow starfish!”
Together we search through all the starfish pictures and put a sticker on his pillow starfish. Scientists have called it a cushion starfish. But I think I’ll call it a pillow starfish from now on.
With every duck dive and ika sighting, whānau push their comfort zones and I fill with pride. Curious whai repo (eagle ray) swim right up and we all agree they are our kaitiaki for the day.
Between snorkel sessions, one māmā tells me her son has been counting down the sleeps for today like it’s Christmas. Another wāhine remarks,
“I keep telling my whānau in Australia, you can learn about anything you want here. Last week I went to a wananga about mushrooms… you can’t do this in Aussie.”
We connect instantly. Whānau and te ao Māori is what brought me home from Australia too, seven months ago.
The rōpū are surprised when Stew Robertson, the marine ranger from Te Papa Atawhai, tells us how unique this abundant habitat is to Te Tai-o-Aorere. Tonga Island Marine Reserve was created 29 years ago and is part of only 0.55 per cent of the bay protected from fishing.
As the activity finishes, tamariki reluctantly return their snorkels and fins. There’s a hum of happy stories on the boat as we head south to the pou whenua of Te Ātiawa rangatira, Hohaia Rangiauru. There is a kōrero about his fight as kaitiaki for Tenths Reserve whenua in Motueka and how he protected the mana of our people.
In observing the moana today, whānau too have acted as kaitiaki o Te Tai-o-Aorere. Mōu, mōku, mō ngā iwi katoa – for me, for you, for all of us.
This story is written by Kiara Duke (Te Ātiawa o Te Waka-a-Māui, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) who is completing her summer internship with the Marine Ecosystems and Motueka district office teams at Te Papa Atawhai Department of Conservation (DOC). In supporting the event, DOC aims to engage tangata Māori in a meaningful way and understand their aspirations for marine protection. Kiara hopes by supporting whānau/ hapū/ iwi in their role as kaitiaki with resources and training, DOC can encourage more rangatahi to pursue a marine conservation pathway.