Creating more Mauao guardians

Kia Maia Ellis and her 7-year-old son Ohomairangi check pohutukawa trees on the flanks of Mauao ahead of next week’s Tauranga Moana Biosecurity Capital week. Photo: Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media.

A team of Mauao kaitiaki (guardians) will offer free training to help keep a damaging fungus off the Mount Maunganui landmark.

Pohutukawa trees that encircle the beachside mountain are susceptible to myrtle rust, as are resident manuka and kanuka. The fungal disease can affect flowers, shoots and leaves, maiming and sometimes killing the plant itself.

On October 20, from 10am-midday, Tauranga Moana iwi and other conservationists will help show the public what to look for and what to do if they find infected plants. The Manaaki Mauao event is part of a week-long series of biosecurity-related activities, co-ordinated by a new Tauranga-based biosecurity group.

Tauranga Moana Biosecurity Capital (TMBC), which launches on October 16, brings together local and national government, iwi, businesses and other organisations to tackle biosecurity threats in the region. It is the first group of its kind in New Zealand.

Kaitiaki Kia Maia Ellis, who is co-ordinating the two-hour myrtle rust education event at Labour Weekend, became involved after realising what could potentially happen to her beloved mountain.

“Some of those big pohutukawa on Mauao are hundreds of years old,” she says.

“Without those trees, there would be erosion issues causing land slips, and that would lead to sedimentation of the harbour.

“It would damage archaeology, not to mention the danger to the public and the aesthetics – we all love to see our maunga covered in crimson blooms each summer.”

Kia Maia is determined to build awareness of myrtle rust, to help stop its spread on Mauao as well as in parks, forest and back yards, on everything from manuka plants to feijoa trees. But her focus is largely on the Mount Maunganui icon, which she says is rich in history and tradition.

“Mauao is sacred to tangata whenua, he is part of our identity and our whakapapa here in Tauranga Moana,” she says.

“Our ancestral links to Mauao leave us the inherent responsibility to look after him as he looks after us. It is about kaitiakitanga and passing on this knowledge to our children.”

Both of her children have helped plant trees on Mauao, and seven-year-old Ohomairangi knows how to identify myrtle rust.

“A lot of people litter and smoke cigarettes on this maunga. I don’t think they would do that if they understood what a privilege it is to have access to Mauao and how important it is to respect a maunga tapu of this status.”

All are welcome to attend, and people will gather at the Pilot Bay end of the camping ground, close to the public toilets.

For more information about Manaaki Mauao and other biosecurity week events, visit: www.tmbiosecurity.co.nz