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Moana mysteries draw a keen crowd

Measuring kakahi mussels at Lake Wairarapa. The data will be analysed and added to the kakahi monitoring programme. PHOTOS/PETER MONK

For anyone not previously familiar with Lake Wairarapa, their first discovery during an event on Sunday would have been how utterly beautiful the area is.

Supported by a glorious day, Lake Wairarapa was a picture postcard as it played host to “Mysteries of the Moana” at Lake Domain on the lake’s northern tip.

An initiative by the Wairarapa Moana Wetlands Project, the aim of the day was to raise awareness about the importance and significance of the lake and its surrounding wetlands.

Around 200 people visited, experiencing first-hand some of the mysteries that lie both beneath and above the Moana.

Wairarapa Moana is one of the largest remaining wetland complexes in New Zealand.

Nine organisations, many of them NGOs, who are working to restore Wairarapa Moana to its former glory, held stalls with engaging displays. Participants had the opportunity to test what they had learnt by completing a Mystery Trail of questions.

One of the event’s organisers, Greater Wellington Regional Council biodiversity adviser Micheline Evans, says the large turnout was very satisfying and could signal similar events in the future.

She hopes it will help more people better connect with Wairarapa Moana and give them the opportunity to explore what’s often hard to see.

“The wetlands support an amazing array of life, but much of it is under the water, or difficult to spot if you don’t know where to look,” Evans said.

Carys Gibbs [left] and Joanne Sharpe digging for kakahi at Lake Wairarapa on Sunday.
Experiencing this first-hand were the citizen scientists who waded in to help with the kakahi count, part of an on-going monitoring programme.

In shallow lakes, the native freshwater mussels play an important role in regulating the populations of algae in the water by consuming them through filter-feeding.

Once found in large numbers in Lake Wairarapa, according to oral history, they are now under threat and in decline.

Freshwater biologist Amber McEwan, who runs the programme, says it is still too early in the study to draw any conclusions, however the mean shell length recorded indicates that the population’s average age is increasing, which is not necessarily a good thing.

“Ideally, we want to see more juvenile [smaller] kakahi as well,” McEwan said.

For 12-year-old Bryn Gibbs the kakahi count has become an annual pilgrimage for his family.

“It’s really exciting digging around in the mud with your feet and seeing what comes up,” he said.

His keen interest in kakahi would have made for easy pickings in the first question on the Mystery Trail: How do baby kakahi move around? [Answer, they hitch a ride on passing fish].

Back on terra firma, an undoubted show-stopper was the dung beetle.

An introduced species, dung beetles are seen as a potential way to reduce the levels of nitrates from animal manure which leach into the water contributing to the poor water quality in the lake and the surrounding wetlands.

Regional council land management adviser Kolja Schaller says there are around 30 farmers in South Wairarapa trialing the dung beetles on their properties.

Relative to their size, dung beetles are the strongest living creatures on earth, which brings us to another question on the Mystery Trail: How much dung can one dung beetle bury in one night? [Answer, 250 times its body weight.]

The Wairarapa Moana Wetlands Project is a partnership between the Department of Conservation, GWRC, Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Rangitane o Wairarapa, South Wairarapa District Council and Papawai and Kohunui marae.

Also present on Sunday were: Mountains to Sea Wellington, Predator Free Martinborough, South Wairarapa Biodiversity Group, Sustainable Coastlines, Sustainable Wairarapa and the Pukaha to Palliser Alliance, as well as Featherston Rugby Club, which ran the sausage sizzle.

To find out more visit www.waiwetlands.org.nz

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