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 OtagoA 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