One of the stand-out moments of my kayak trip around the Waitemata was our stop in Okahu Bay to meet up with Ngati Whatua. Their ambitious plans to clean up the Bay and restore it to health evoke the spirit of so many of the projects we visited.
Back in 1912 the City Council built an outfall that pumped raw sewerage onto Ngati Whatua’s shellfish beds at Okahu Bay. A 2.5m-high concrete pipe ran the length of the foreshore leading to the outfall, blocking the papakainga which at that time could only be reached by boat. The pipeline also blocked the stream and turned the village into a swamp.
It wasn’t the only such crime. In 1952 authorities forcibly removed the hapu from their homes at Okahu Bay. The marae and houses were burnt to the ground in order to get rid of an “eyesore” before the Queen’s visit. These events and more are well written up in the Waitangi Tribunal’s reports on Ngati Whatua’s successful settlement claim.
Today Ngati Whatua of Orakei are in post-settlement mode. They are landlords, investors and developers, charting a new pathway for the hapu. But the Bay, such a central and important part of Ngati Whatua’s sense of place, is degraded and lifeless. The mussel beds are long gone. Pipis and cockles, plentiful a few decades back, are almost non-existent. Water quality is poor.
Enter Richelle Kahui-McConnell who manages the Okahu catchment ecological restoration plan. Richelle began researching the bay while studying for a bachelor of resource management at Unitec in 2007.
“For years Ngati Whatua had been saying the bay has been under pressure. It was losing its mauri (life force) and that it was making people sick.”
Richelle began an annual survey of shellfish, now carried out by students from the local school, and has established an internship programme with Auckland University’s engineering school to test water quality. Results showed high levels of sedimentation, with zinc and copper contamination.
The hapu have big plans. They want to restore the Bay’s catchment, “daylighting” streams that are now buried in concrete pipes and culverts, re-establishing wetlands and planting natives. It is the only way to properly filter the stormwater before it enters the sea, and will re-establish habitat for native fish and other species.
They are working with the manager of the nearby marina with the aim of reducing pollution from anti-fouling used on boat hulls.
The hope is that by cleaning up the water quality and reducing the sediment, the pipis and cockles will come back. They even want to re-seed the mussel beds.
Water you can swim in with confidence. Abundant shellfish that are safe to eat. It’s restoring Ngati Whatua’s taonga tarnished by 170 years of colonisation and urbanisation. But I think it is a vision all Aucklanders can share.
Donna Tamaariki of Ngati Whatua, PT, and Richelle Kahui-McConnell at Okahu Bay.