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Te Pōhā o Te Tītī - Traditional Harvesting meets the Modern World
Te Pōhā o te Tītī is an online tool designed to help whānau keep track of annual muttonbirding harvests, and look after future populations of the manu. (http://www.titi.nz/)
In an expression of the growing application of NPM projects into digital and online environments, the project Te Pōhā o Te Tītī was initiated in 2012.
Focused on realising sustainable customary harvesting of juvenile tītī (muttonbirds) within the rohe of Kāi Tahu this project was led by Corey Bragg from the University of Otago.
The traditional harvesting of muttonbirds from the breeding grounds on the ‘tītī’ islands, located next to Rakiura (Stewart Island), is an example of an extremely rare activity – a customary harvest which is almost entirely controlled by Māori.
Whilst the collection of tītī is restricted to just a small group of descendant whānau, there are no fixed limits or quota on the number of tītī that can be harvested annually, and in recent times the numbers being gathered by the participating whānau have been between 320,000 and 400,000 birds.
Amongst the many methods of self-imposed quota which they use, perhaps the most influential is setting the dates of the harvest, which can only occur for the few weeks between 15th March and the 31st May every year.
However, there has been an increase in numbers of birders engaging in the practice in recent years and an earlier study initiated by whānau members had expressed some concern at the stresses that might be occurring on the tītī population. Local whānau wanted to investigate the impacts of the harvest within a modern context and look at how this could be managed and controlled, thereby ensuring the sustainability of the resource long term.
The earlier study, Kia Mau Te Tītī Mō Ake Tōnu Atu, was collaboration between Rakiura Māori and the University of Otago and after more than 13 years of research and data collection made some key findings:
- By-catch from driftnet fisheries was a major killer of the adult tītī (the sooty shearwater, Puffinus griseus).
- Climate & environmental changes were beginning to have a large impact on the population.
- Introduced weka were impacting the tītī through predation of the young chicks and eggs – and so their removal was recommended
- Birding whānau possessed significant knowledge in written and other forms, that would be beneficial to future harvest management
Contextualising the information collected over the years of the study for whānau and affected communities was of paramount importance, in order for it to be useful for management purposes. But making sense of the vast amounts of data generated proved to be problematic.
The NPM study, led by Corey Bragg, stepped into this space and involved bringing together the muttonbirders and the researchers, as well as the findings of the previous study, to collaborate, build and test a computer-based decision support package which would allow the community to utilise optimal harvesting strategies on their whānau’s ancestral birding grounds.
The study tested whether or not the software tools they were developing would build an understanding of the consequences of current harvesting levels and whether it could change both the intended and observed harvesting behaviours of the community.
A prototype model that integrated science, software tools, mātauranga, including traditional harvest management, was created and shared first with the community and then with other iwi, as a potential guide to sustainably manage the customary harvest of other taonga species around the country.
A PC based application was then developed to predict and then customise a sustainable harvest level for whānau. This application allows individual members to explore the implications of various harvesting strategies and management options independently, adding to and enhancing their traditional knowledge and overall understanding of the harvest of the tītī. The application went through an extended period of testing with whānau, which was critical to the development of the tool.
It delivers three key outputs to the users;
- The total number of birds estimated to be on the islands each year
- The total number of chicks available to be harvested within each season
- The number of chicks estimated to be harvested each season
The model also allows the user to project their harvesting tallies forward by 50 years, as the researchers felt that this represented an approximation of a lifetime of birding by an individual.
An e-Diary feature has also been included, and is used to record the details of the harvest, to monitor and assess the impact of changes to the bird populations. This feature mimics to some degree the harvest diaries that many members of the community had already been keeping for decades, and in this way the entire community can keep a finger on the pulse of the tītī population. The e-Diary feature is flexible so that harvesters can record as much or as little information as they want.
In order to assist with the study and with the design of the e-Diary feature, the Tītī Research Project was gifted access to nine already existing diaries that spanned over 240 years of harvesting. The wealth of information in those diaries cannot be overstated; they provided significant data on historical patterns in harvest intensity and population trends.
After extensive trialling, and intensive workshops with the community, He Pukapuka Ako (the user manual) and Te Pōha o Te Tītī (the application) were refined to a point they could be launched in late 2014, and it is expected that all whānau will have access to it for the 2015 mutton birding season.
The project has delivered a series of key outcomes;
- A biological monitoring tool for the tītī population.
- A means of continuing existing ‘diary-record keeping’ practices.
- A method to assist with the development of policies and management decisions for the tītī islands.
- The delivery of an education resource for the local community, schools and wānanga.
- The potential to share a working model / prototype with iwi, hapū, industry, government and other stakeholders.
The project has successfully integrated mātauranga which has been generated over hundred of years with contemporary science, and then used the latest technology to create simple to use and sophisticated online tools which will enable whānau to sustainably manage their taonga and enable kaitiakitanga.
Te Pōha o Te Tītī complements conservation projects or work programmes for the islands, especially pest eradication, quarantine and education initiatives. Further research and development is underway so it can foster and enhance its value not only for the local community of the tītī islands, but also for all those iwi, hapū and whānau engaged in similar traditional harvesting around Aotearoa.
Central to this project was the delivery of the online application itself - Te Pōhā o Te Tītī. This is made available to the community and other interested parties through the associated Te Pōha o Te Tītī website at http://www.titi.nz/
Prior to completion of the application, multiple community meetings and hui were held to develop the application and test its effectiveness.
As well as this a final research report was completed for Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga in 2014 (Bragg, C. (2014). Te Pōhā o Te Tītī).
The project also delivered the user manual for the application - He Pukapuka Ako. (Bragg, C. (2014). Te Pōhā o te Tītī - User Manual. University of Otago).
In 2010, Corey (together with other authors) delivered a paper on the embryonic stages of the project for The Journal of Wildlife Management. (Corey Bragg, Sam McKechnie, David Fletcher, Jamie Newman, Darren Scott, & Moller, H. (2010). Modelling Harvest Intensity of Sooty Shearwater Chicks by Rakiura Māori in New Zealand. The Journal of Wildlife Managment, 74(4), 828-842.)