Thursday, March 31, 2011

under threat from pollution

I reprinting this open letter published on Frogblog.

Kia ora koutou,
I am writing this message with a heavy heart. I am also aware that the tragedy I refer to is far outweighed by recent events in Christchurch. Nonetheless I felt compelled to write it.
As many people know, our family sources rimurapa/bull-kelp for pōhā from Kaka Point. We pack preserved tītī/muttonbirds into these every April and May. We have visited Kaka Point for this purpose every year since the late 1970s. Before then we mostly got our kelp from the back beaches of Omaui, north-west of our hometown Bluff, until it died from pollution being washed down and dumped in the New River Estuary. The last year that kelp was got from Omaui, it looked fine to the naked eye and to the touch. It was thus opened, inflated and hung to dry as normal. However, when it was softened, it started to break down and rot. It started with little spots that grew and grew until the whole bag deteriorated. As a child, Tiny’s grandparents had warned him—in great detail—what happened when kelp got polluted. Everything they said came to pass, including its localized extinction: the following year every rock at Omaui was bare. It has never returned. The year before the kelp died at Omaui a significant community source of mussels also died there. The area’s Mussel Beach is no longer aptly named. Moreover, when kelp was got that last time at Omaui, the family observed a mass of dead shellfish that included cockles and bubus.
On Saturday 19 February, my poua/grandfather Tiny Metzger and myself, and my brother-in-law Michael “Bob” Bowen, along with Corey Bragg, Thomas Aerepo-Morgan and Delaney Ryan met at Kaka Point and got a large load of kelp. We got more kelp than usual and bigger bags than usual because Thomas and Delaney and some of their Bluff peers were helping Tiny to complete and launch a waka-pahi he had built, which was to be buoyed with large inflated kelp bags.
The kelp looked in really good condition. That said, we observed a large number of dead shellfish, including cockles and bubus. A few days later Tiny remembered the only other time he had seen such a thing. In any event, we sourced kelp from two bays at Kaka Point. The first one was our favoured location until the year 2000 when much of the kelp we cut from there rotted when it was softened, as had happened with the kelp from Omaui two decades earlier. Since then, even though kelp still grew there, we have pretty much got our kelp from a few bays over, nearer to Nugget Point, and further away from the burgeoning township of Kaka Point and where the Clutha River meets the sea. This other bay was the second bay we got kelp from this year.
Once back in Bluff, my Mum, Barbara Metzger, and sister, Lara Stevens, helped Tiny and Bob open and inflate the bags that we needed for this season’s muttonbirding. Although struck down by illness Tiny worked hard inflating, hanging and trimming the bags: they don’t wait for you; they have to be dealt with immediately. Unfortunately, almost all of the kelp from the first bay, and much of it from the second bay, started to show the same signs of pollution. Amazingly though, and even more depressing, it did not break down when it was being softened, but prior to this, when it was still hanging on the line. It was rotting before Tiny’s very eyes. This implies that the pollution that fouled it is recent, and possibly worse than any we’ve encountered before. Tiny has thus now resigned himself to believing that the kelp at Kaka Point is going to die too.
Society at large won’t care. We’re just a bunch of silly Maoris living in the past, right? But given that this kelp provides habitat and food for shellfish such as paua that many in the community have a taste for, more people should care. I’m not going to speculate about what the source or sources of pollution are at this point in time. Prior experience tells me that they probably won’t be investigated, or that if they are, they’ll be determined to be in “acceptable” quantities, or unfortunate but too difficult to do anything about. Whatever would “we” do if rivers and the ocean couldn’t be treated more or less as open sewers?
In the short-term our family is faced with the dilemma of not having any pōhā come off of our tītī island this year. This would be the first time in hundreds of years that that has happened. In the medium-term we are faced with having to try and get kelp from marginal places like Waipapa Point, a long drive to and from the likes of Shag Point, or a boat trip to and from Rakiura. In the long-term we are faced with not having anywhere left to go. Presumably, we can’t keep ahead of pollution forever. The alternative? Plastic buckets. Yay for petrochemicals. It probably doesn’t matter anyway. Compelling data suggests that the tītī population is an overall decline, and many of the reasons for this lie far beyond New Zealand. Soon enough we might all have nothing to worry about.
I’m not going to sign off with a famous pithy quote, a declaration about humanity going to hell in a handcart, or a call to arms. I’m just sad for my Poua; and my kids.
Michael J. Stevens, BA(Hons) LLB PhD (Otago)
Rangaputa – Postdoctoral Fellow
Te Tumu, School of Maori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies; School of Business, University of Otago
A powerful, heartbreaking kōrero. This is a tragedy unfolding in front of our eyes; the pollution that we spew everywhere. This Ngāi Tahu whānau, and the traditions they have maintained, must be supported and the kelp protected. It starts with demanding higher pollution standards and penalties - make them pay so much their eyes widen - when we find them discharging cow shit or industrial waste - make them pay. But it is too easy to blame 'them', the truth is it is up to each of us to reduce consumption and not buy in to their game. I am not sure what we can do to help - any ideas greatfully recieved.

Hat tip - Frogblog


robertguyton said...

Marty - I feel the same despair as you do over this letter from Michael, but it's nothing new. Look at where the rimurapa beds were i nga wa o mua and look again now - all but gone. Hearing that they are diseased is no surprise - it's what we do. I've met Tiny at a wananga on making poha titi and have been down to the moutere titi to see for myself what it's all about and I can tell you that if those far flung isles are suffering from this sort of global deterioration we are is serious tutae. You've written about the protests over Petrobas in the North. The same threat hangs over all of the titi islands down here, with the oily money men eyeing up the Basin to the south and no doubt weighing up what they think they can get away with. As for finding the outlets that are spewing sh*t into the coastal waters - good luck with that. Most point source pollution has been stopped and its the non-point, the general ooze that comes from production of all sorts that is quietly poisoning te moana, nga awa me nga whenua hoki.

Zia Wolf-Sun said...

This post makes me both sad and angry at the same time.
"When all the trees have been cut down,
when all the animals have been hunted,
when all the waters are polluted,
when all the air is unsafe to breathe,
only then will you discover you cannot eat money."

Cree Prophecy

Mankind is heartless destroyer of worlds...we forget the simplicity of life in the rat race for oil and money, determined to destroy our environment just as is happening in the increasingly radio active seawater in Japan. I hope this environmental destruction that you speak of here can against all the odds, it would seem, be turned around...

"I watch the lonely truth of starlight
the lonely beat of my own heart
knowing my life is limited and short,
but in the time that is left
the reality of life, earth, this-
this is all that matters - to see galaxies in a grain of sand
and the fragile loss of time in a flower;
to see
how salmon colored sea stars cling to wet mussels   
where whales spout mist over the aboriginal sea."

Evelyn Cook said...

Ka nui te pouri me te mamae.

Ka maumahara i te whakatauki

Ka ora te marae a Tane
Ka ora te marae a Tangaroa
Ka ora ai te iwi

Mehemea Ka patua i te marae a Tane
Ka patua i te marae a Tangaroa
Ka mate te iwi

Ka nunui te aroha ki te whanau Metzger i tēnei wā.