The islands of Whangamata known as the Tunaiti motu, Hauturu, Maukaha, Whenuakura and Rawengaiti hold a long and very important place in Maori culture and history.
Local hapu Uru Ngawera long ago occupied the islands until a tapu event. Along with another local hapu Ngati puu iti Oritia the islands are managed today with legend, taonga, whanau, kaitiakitanga and cultural links to the islands held by both. The islands also hold an important place in the practice of kai gathering for species such as oi, aka titi (muton bird). The cultural significance of this harvest is so important to maori that a rahui was placed on the practice locally by the hapu responsible for managing this resource a number of years ago, and remains in place to this day.
A little known fact about these particular islands was that they were actively used as an ‘escape pod’ by people who occupied this area and were it not for this final fall-back position in battle, some local hapu may have lost their legacy.
Humans are not the only ones to have an important history with the Tunaiti group of course. Tuatara, korora, many species of sea bird, keno, raukawa gecko, shore skink and dozens of passerine birds rely heavily on the islands for their persistence. The one notable species from that list that is today missing is sadly tuatara, but watch this space!
Management of the islands, their wildlife and the resources and attractions they provide cannot be managed by the hapu and their whanau alone. The local Whangamata community has a massive role to play in caring for these fragile, vulnerable and precious places. Species monitoring, rodent/pest eradications, reporting to Department of Conservation (island stewardship role), sourcing of data and research material has been on going on the islands now for around 40 years. A successful eradication of rodents from Hauturu was completed late in 2019, and rodent monitoring commenced on the remaining islands during 2020. All this has been achieved by volunteers.
However, as has sadly been seen by the disappearance of tuatara due to poaching in the late 1970’s and early 80’s the community engagement with the islands is critical to the protection of these life raft island taonga. Local residents raised the alarm around concerns of poaching about 1980, and it is believed some of the tuatara individuals that escaped the bounty hunters may have been uplifted to a safe haven, but this has yet to be confirmed.
In the mean time, while the hapu considered what further work is needed on the islands, we all have a stewardship role to play. Ensuring that people do not go ashore on Maukaha, Whenuakura and Rawengaiti which have had no-landing closed sanctuary status since 1954 is complied with by us, and visitors to our beautiful sanctuary. And on Hauturu, that while landing on the beach is permitted, we allow the hapu to respectfully and carefully guide people on this place, and educate people on its fragile environment, wildlife and huge cultural significance. Free walks are to be provided based on a koha system.
It is in roles like these, wardening, guiding, weed control, advocacy and kaitiakitanga that volunteers can play a fantastically important part in the islands.