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Lincoln University research scientist Amanda Black, co-founder of the Māori Biosecurity Network, says the biggest concern is “creepy-crawlies” and disease being brought in by sea. Photo/John Collie

How Māori are bridging the gap in conservation

Māori are bringing their cultural perspective on conservation, from kauri dieback to marine biosecurity, to the policy table.

Amanda Black carefully negotiates her way through a maze of Duplo towers and Lego trains to make a small space for her cup of tea on an otherwise occupied dining-room table. “No one can touch this because it’s precious,” she laughs, gesturing at the toys. But the 42-year-old scientist, academic and mother of two young boys has another of her “babies” top of mind: the Māori Biosecurity Network, or Te Tira Whakamātaki, which means “the watchful one”.

Mandated to speak on behalf of 71 iwi, Black is giving Māori a voice to bridge the gap between te ao Māori and Western views on biosecurity. “Māori take a more inter-generational view, with a conservation lean,” she says. “They’re concerned about losing whole species that have a cultural connection.”

The network began three years ago when Black teamed up with political scientist Melanie Mark-Shadbolt and bio-protection expert Nick Waipara to launch a “tiny project” initially funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE). Now, it’s evolved into a multi-million dollar business model, taking on contracts from government-funded agencies.

“We were constantly being asked what Māori think about things like myrtle rust and kauri dieback, and we didn’t know,” Black says. “So we spent two years going around the country to capture their ideas.”

Read more: Kauri dieback, myrtle rust and the fight to protect Kiwi trees | Kauri headed for extinction through public apathy and stupidity

A co-director of the Bio Protection Research Centre at Lincoln University, specialising in soil health and biosecurity, Black (Tūhoe, Whakatōhea, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui) gives her time to the network for free, and there’s a lot to tackle. “The single biggest concern is marine biosecurity. We have all these foreign ships coming in, bringing new creepy-crawlies and disease on their hulls, but there is a void, nothing in place to deal with it. We are an island nation and the sea is a provider of food. Once you get an invasive marine pest, you can’t get rid of them. The concern is it could wipe out traditional harvesting for entire beds of kaimoana.”

The network has muscled its way on to government advisory boards and council groups, and manages research projects tackling anything to do with plant and insect diseases, as well as the possibility of introduced pests or disease that could disrupt our primary industries and exports.

Last year, Black was named as an Emerging Leader at the New Zealand Biosecurity Awards, after making headlines calling for kauri forests to be closed to protect remaining healthy trees (the winners of this year’s awards were announced on 4 November). She also won the Te Tupu-a-Rangi Award for Health and Science at the 2019 Matariki Awards, honouring Māori excellence, for her work to help combat kauri dieback.

Her vision now is to further develop the Māori Biosecurity Network and eventually look to the Pacific Islands, too. “My job is to do the deep thinking for society,” she says. “Science is not high up in most people’s thinking, so I have taken on the crusade.”

This article was first published in the November 2019 issue of North & South. Follow North & South on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to the fortnightly email for more great stories.