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  • Kōura (freshwater crayfish) are a taonga species for Māori, a keystone species for ecosystem dynamics and an indicator species for ecosystem health. They are also a species that have been difficult to monitor using conventional scientific methods such as baited traps.

    Rights: Dr Ian Kusabs

    Constructing a whakaweku

    Constructing a whakaweku (bracken fern bundle) for catching kōura includes collecting and binding bracken fern fronds.

    Sourced from Te Reo o Te Repo – The Voice of the Wetland.

    Te Arawa iwi have used a traditional trap known as tau kōura for hundreds of years. Tau kōura use whakaweku (bundles of bracken fern) that are lowered into waterways. They create hiding places for kōura. When the whakaweku is lifted, kōura living within the fern bundles are shaken onto a net.

    In this activity, students learn about tau kōura history and design, and how to build whakaweku to monitor kōura.

    Tau kōura

    Tau kōura is an ancient method for harvesting and rebuilding kōura populations. Dr Ian Kusabs explains how it is now used as a method for monitoring kōura.

    Select here to view video transcript and copyright information.

    By the end of this activity, students should be able to:

    • discuss what is meant by the terms taonga, keystone and indicator species when referring to kōura
    • discuss why the tau kōura design is fit for purpose
    • build a whakaweku from rarauhe/bracken fern fronds
    • use whakaweku to monitor kōura in a local waterway.

    Download the Word file (see link below).

    Nature of technology

    The tau kōura design is fit for purpose in its origins as a means to store and harvest kōura and in its more recent use to monitor kōura. Iwi developed and tested a number of other methods – pouraka (baited traps), hīnaki (funnel nets), pae pae (dredge nets), rama kōura (hand nets) – but tau kōura was the preferred method for harvesting large quantities of kōura by Te Arawa iwi.

    Related content

    The articles Monitoring kōura and Wetland animals have more information about this special freshwater species.

    Discover more about Kōura and explore food and resource-gathering traditions practised by Ngāi Tahu whānau in Te Waipounamu, this is part of the Mahinga kai – natural resources that sustain life interactive.

    Counting kākahi is a Connected article that investigates another threatened freshwater species – kākahi (freshwater mussels).

    Related activities

    Have a go with other monitoring activities:

    Useful links

    This article provides more in-depth information about kōura, tau kōura and its role in repo restoration: Kōura – the ancient survivor by Ian Kusabs (Te Arawa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa)

    ‘Counting kōura’ is an article in the 2007 level 1 Connected journal. It contains information about kōura and using tau kōura to collect and monitor them. Visit this website for information about the Connected journal series.

    NIWA has information on monitoring kōura and tau kōura.

    The Department of Conservation has information on the two species of kōura that are endemic to Aotearoa – northern kōura (Paranephrops planifrons) and southern kōura (P. zealandicus).


    Thank you to the editors and contributors of Te Reo o Te Repo – The Voice of the Wetland for permission and support to adapt this publication, and funding from Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research and MBIE’s Unlocking Curious Minds initiative.

    Rights: Crown Copyright

    The Voice of the Wetlands

    The handbook Te Reo o Te Repo – The Voice of the Wetland forms the basis of the collection of resources funded by Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research and MBIE’s Unlocking Curious Minds initiative.

      Published 19 November 2020 Referencing Hub articles
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