Waitā is a whetū in the Matariki cluster. It is the star connected with the oceans and marine conditions and represents the many types of food gathered from the sea.
Aotearoa New Zealand’s Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ have produced Environment Aotearoa 2022 as part of its environmental reporting series. Environment Aotearoa 2022 has a unique approach that uses Te Kāhui o Matariki as the guiding framework for the report. Learn more about this approach in the article Environment Aotearoa 2022 – introduction.
In Environment Aotearoa 2022, Waitā represents our dependence on the ocean for our livelihoods and wellbeing and how these are being affected by pollution, climate change and resource depletion.
Waitā is comprised of two words, wai (water) and tā (salt). Waitā is linked to three atua: Kiwa, controller of the ocean; Hinemoana, the mother of all marine sentient beings; and Tangaroa, the great atua of the ocean.
Environment Aotearoa 2022
Our connections to the sea
Our connections to the sea are strong. More than 75% of New Zealanders live within 10 km of the coast.
For many Māori, the ability to gather kaimoana is an important indicator of the mauri of the ocean and is reflected in the extent to which mahinga kai can be practised. This is linked to other aspects of life and tikanga Māori, which include manaakitanga, the ability to host manuhiri (guests) at marae and oranga – sustaining the health and welfare of whānau. Many iwi have a system of pātaka, where kaimoana is collected and distributed to iwi members for cultural purposes.
Beaches are central to our leisure culture. There are many physical and wellbeing benefits to ocean recreation. People and whānau form deep attachments to particular coastal sites, and they are special places for connecting with nature and forming communities. Our ability to interact with the moana through recreational activities is also an indicator of its mauri.
Another key connection is through marine-related industries. The total value of the marine economy in 2017 was $7 billion. Most of this comes through shipping, fishing and aquaculture, and mineral extraction. We’re also finding new ways to sustainably grow Aotearoa’s blue economy.
The state of Waitā
Te taiao is truly interconnected. Freshwater and marine environments are directly affected by our activities on the land. When we pollute our freshwater environments with eroded sediments and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, the rivers carry the pollutants to the sea. Estuaries generally have poorer water quality than the open coast – especially those that are downstream from cities or major agricultural areas.
Increased sediment in seawater affects many species. Mussels, cockles, pipi and scallops feed by filtering food from the water. Sediments clog their gills and mean they cannot feed efficiently. High nutrient levels in estuaries or coastal areas can be toxic or lead to algal blooms that can kill marine life by depleting oxygen levels.
Plastic pollution in the ocean is an enormous problem globally. Microplastics are pieces of plastic less than 5 mm long, and they are an issue for the waters around Aotearoa. Research shows that the fish in our moana are commonly ingesting microplastics.
Climate change is having profound effects on our moana. Two particular areas of concern are ocean acidification and the warming of the surface-water temperatures. Acidification means shellfish may not be able to create new colonies or grow their shells properly. Marine heatwaves can affect marine life in several ways – including tropical species moving into local waters and displacing indigenous species less able to adapt to warmer water.
Species depletion is another issue for marine species. When shellfish beds have been emptied, it can take a long time for them to recover. We see examples of this with toheroa and kuku/mussel populations.
Impacts on mātauranga Māori
When our marine environment is unhealthy, traditional kaimoana species are put at risk. Their disappearance, whether localised or across the country, can also mean the loss of mātauranga Māori and traditional practices relating to these species and their collection. Mana moana, which includes the inherent right of iwi to harvest kaimoana within their rohe, is unable to be exercised, and customary practices of harvesting at specific times of the seasons and maramataka fall out of use. Environment Aotearoa 2022 touches on mātauranga Māori protocols and the holistic view of Waitā. Download this section of the report as a PDF.
Taking action to help our precious moana
Our actions can help improve the state of Waitā. The first action we can take is to learn about some of the stresses we put on the marine environment:
- Threats to marine habitats – interactive
- Identifying marine stressors – interactive and activity
- Hubbub Estuary – activity
- Modelling marine stressors and tipping points – activity
Individual actions that everyone can take include making sustainable choices when purchasing seafood. Forest & Bird (NZ) publishes the Best Fish Guide, which is a helpful place to start. Reducing the amount of single-use plastic items will also make a difference. A virtual simulator shows where plastic is likely to end up once it’s made its way to the sea. Community actions include citizen science projects like Litter Intelligence and local clean-up and restoration events.
Find out how the Mauri Model Decision Making Framework is being used to restore mauri after the sinking of the MV Rena, off the coast of Tauranga.
We’ve curated marine resources (articles, activities and media) under the following topics:
- Estuaries – a context for learning – PLD article
- Biodiversity – estuaries and marine ecosystems – collection
- Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge – collection
- Mātauranga Māori and the moana – collection within our Seaweek resources curation
The Science Learning Hub team has curated a collection of resources to support Matariki and Environment Aotearoa 2022. This collection provides additional context and pedagogical insights. Log in to make this collection part of your private collection, just click on the copy icon. You can then add additional content and notes and make other changes.
Stats NZ and the Ministry for the Environment report on different aspects of Aotearoa’s environment every 6 months. Access their reports here.
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This resource has been produced in collaboration with the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ.