10-year project to restore Ōkahu Bay with kūtai reaches end, already helping water quality

Ōkahu Bay has experienced environmental devastation for more than 100 years, after Auckland's sewage was discharged into Ōkahu Bay in 1914.

Ngāti Whātua Ōrakei uri Moana Tamaariki-Pohe says the contamination led to her whānau being sick and diagnosed with typhoid.

"There are still whanau today that were down there and, you know, speak of the hurt," Tamaariki-Pohe says.

But the Tamaariki whānau has never lost their connection to the area or traditional mātauranga practices, taught to them by their father, Tamaiti Tamaariki.

"It was all around knowing what species of fish to catch at what period and in terms of tides, in terms of the maramataka, in terms of spawning season."

Tamaiti and other kaumātua had a vision for Ōkahu to be restored to full health, with ecologist Richelle Kahui-McConnell using kūtai or mussels to bring Ōkahu back to life.

Kūtai are called the 'kidneys of the sea' - they can remove heavy metals and harmful bacteria, clearing the water and stabilising the seafloor.

Once prolific in the Hauraki Gulf, kūtai are now virtually extinct here with around 1500 kilometres of mussel beds decimated by commercial dredging. 

But both Tamaariki-Pohe's father and Kahui-McConnell never lived to see the completion of the 10-year project and witness the final drop of more than 60 tonnes of kūtai shipped in from the Coromandel a few weeks ago.

The mussel drops are already having their desired effect on Ōkahu Bay's water quality.

"The water looks different, smells different, it tastes different and feels different," Tamaariki-Pohe says.

"The amount of people that you see on the beach now that come here to swim, you wouldn't have seen that a year ago."

Tamaariki-Pohe and Donna believe everyone has a role in being a kaitiaki, helping the Taiao to heal.

"Ōkahu is a really great example of what others can be doing elsewhere."