Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Past, Present, and Future of Tuna at Lake Moāwhitu: Drawing on the two knowledge baskets of Mātauranga Māori and Western Science

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posted on 2021-08-01, 23:35 authored by Parai, Russleigh

Knowledge generated through experience and understanding relies on the senses, one of which is listening. This thesis provides an opportunity to hear the diminishing voice of tuna utilizing paleolimnological techniques and our natural senses through traditional Indigenous methodologies in order to track the presence of tuna back in time.

This study provides historical environmental context of Lake Moāwhitu catchment (Rangitoto ki te Tonga) as a once significant mahinga kai site for manawhenua, Ngāti Koata. The strong connection to place is not lost on Ngāti Koata despite for many their geographic detachment to their turangawaewae. They hear the voice of tuna calling them back to sustain them as they have sustained Māori from the beginning of time. Now considered wāhi tapu due to significant degradation, Moāwhitu is currently undergoing remedial intervention by Ngāti Koata, DoC, Lakes380 and stakeholders to restore the mauri (life force) of the Lake and adjacent wetland ecosystem.

Drawing from two distinct knowledge streams of western science and mātauranga Māori, this study draws new (on-site) understandings about the anthropogenic impacts on tuna as well as their status and relationship as tuākana (older sibling) to Māori. Through this journey a ‘te ao Māori’ (Māori worldview) is explored, revealing a historically healthy and abundant tuna population and thriving tuākana-teina relationship up until recent decades. This information complements the environmental reconstruction derived from western science methods applied to a lake Moawhitu sediment core spanning the last 1000 years or so. Through a combination of palynology, hyperspectral scanning and bacterial environmental DNA metabarcoding, it is clear that lake water quality remained high despite various historical land cover and land use changes, until recent decades when deteriorating quality has accompanied a rise in cyanobacteria and toxic algal blooms. These changes appear to coincide with intensified pastoralism accompanying draining of the lake and fringing wetlands since the mid-twentieth century. How tuna have endured these recent human impacts and why their survival and sustainability is important to Aotearoa today is at the heart of this thesis which seeks to explore how two vastly different knowledge streams converge and navigate unchartered waters. The two knowledge baskets (with their respective world views) are held up for the reader to view and consider what an effective collaborative partnership looks like by recognising basic intrinsic values of respect, reciprocity and kindness. The challenge remains to draw out the very best of people (he tangata) as a way to bring about urgent regenerative solutions for our tuākana, tuna, and in turn humanity itself.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Environmental Science

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Science

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Alternative Language


Alternative Title

He Reo Nō Te Puehu - A Voice From The Dust

Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Newnham, Rewi