Editor’s note: Leane Makey is project coordinator of the Integrated Kaipara Harbour Management Group.

By Leane Makey

The indigenous Maori people of the Kaipara region in New Zealand’s Northland are spiritually and physically intertwined with their most sacred treasure – the Kaipara Harbour. To address ongoing environmental degradation to the health of the Kaipara, tribal elders have led the establishment of a multi-stakeholder partnership combining two approaches to environmental management: one indigenous and the other derived from western knowledge. This forms the basis for future research, planning, policy development, and management of the Kaipara ecosystems – harbor and catchment.

Catalysts for integrated EBM

There were several factors that contributed to implementing a system of integrated EBM based on traditional knowledge:

  • The spatial scale of Kaipara Harbour established it as an ideal place to practice and test integrated EBM. The Kaipara Harbour is New Zealand’s largest estuarine ecosystem (947 km2 with a catchment of 641,000 ha) and is the second largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
  • The complex Kaipara Harbour ecosystem was overlaid by a rudimentary environmental management structure. Governance was by multiple authorities resulting in a weak assortment of western-style legislation, policies, and planning instruments. This created conflicting management philosophies, conflicting management scales, and a highly fragmented legislative framework.
  • The indigenous people of New Zealand were recognized under the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840 between tribal chiefs and the Governor of New Zealand. The treaty is not a legal statute but is recognized under most of New Zealand’s environmental legislation. When the northern Kaipara tribe settled its historical grievances with the New Zealand government in 2002, statutory acknowledgements were provided requiring government agencies to partner with the tribe to manage its sacred resources.
  • Spatial conflicts between indigenous and commercial fishers, as well as a reduction in fish and shellfish populations, brought together the Kaipara Harbour community for the first time – fishers, landowners, government agencies, and conservationists.
  • The ecosystem-based concept was not new to the indigenous Maori people of Kaipara. Indigenous Maori have an established philosophy and practice concerning the human relationship with the natural world, particularly the relationship between tangata (humans, communities) and whenua (referring broadly to the natural world including sea, land, and sky). The model of integrated EBM is designed to connect and utilize, rather than co-opt, ancient indigenous management philosophy with modern western management philosophy.

Building an EBM framework

Despite the natural overlap of indigenous Maori resource management with the principles of integrated EBM, the blended approach represented a challenge for government departments and local land authorities. It was a tribal-led initiative, and it was founded on principles and concepts from outside the existing New Zealand paradigm of sector-based resource management.

To address these challenges, particular steps were taken:

  • A shared vision was developed by indigenous Maori in partnership with central government, local government, community organizations, tribal authorities, the research community, and non-governmental conservation organizations.
  • The problems – both environmental and management-based – were identified and agreed upon, using data on the environmental health of Kaipara Harbour and its catchment and identifying shortcomings of the existing New Zealand resource management system. The partners identified six long-term objectives to define the project: protecting and restoring biodiversity; restoring sustainable fisheries; protecting and restoring indigenous elements of nature; understanding climate change; promoting socio-economic opportunities; and integrated management and action.
  • The co-management partners agreed on the principles of the project: integrated ecosystem-based management, indigenous Maori knowledge (kaitiakitanga), respect (manaakitanga), and co-management. These are all consistent with an indigenous philosophy that seeks harmony in the world.

No single authority or non-government group holds legislative powers sufficient to advance the proposed paradigm of integrated EBM without the collaboration of partners. To confirm this agreement between collaborators, terms of reference were established that outlined leadership and partnership roles, responsibilities, and financing. The terms also set the conceptual structure of an Integrated Kaipara Harbour Management Group (IKHMG), which oversees the co-management.

Making change happen on the ground, with the ecosystem at the core of management, is the partnership’s vision. There is much work to do but small steps have been achieved through the use of this approach. The project’s biggest success so far has been the formation of the IKHMG, which has instituted a system of respect and trust with a local co-management approach. The project has also been instrumental in attracting central government research investment into catchment-harbor sediment and nutrient effects, as well as mapping marine habitats. These research programs are a partnership between the research agencies and the tribe. They are walking together on this journey.

For more information:

Leane Makey, Integrated Kaipara Harbour Management Group, Auckland, New Zealand. E-mail: lmakey@aut.ac.nz