Mahuru Robb loves her job as a researcher specialising in freshwater ecology – not only because it’s “really relevant” to today, she says, but because it also includes the concept of mātauranga Māori in its programmes.

That’s working with Māori communities and using their traditional knowledge to help Māori communities manage their natural resources and environments, explains this 30-year-old Masters graduate who shifted nine years ago to Raglan where her mother Allison Green lives.

Mahuru’s one of only half a dozen Māori researchers at Landcare Research or Manaaki Whenua in Hamilton. “We do work all over the country,” she says, “and spend a lot of time travelling.”

But at the moment she’s fully occupied close to home on the ‘Living Water’ project which – in collaboration with DOC and Fonterra – aims to increase the health of lowland lakes Ruatuna and Rotomanuka in Ohaupo, and Areare in Taupiri.

It involves working with three hapū groups, Mahuru says, to improve water quality and biodiversity while developing the approach appropriate to mana whenua.

Taking Māori values into consideration to manage and increase the health of New Zealand’s fresh water is really relevant work, she insists. There’s been lots of pressure over the years on the country’s waterways through human impact, waste disposal, urban development, agricultural intensification, invasive pests and loss of habitat such as wetlands and streams.

Mahuru told the Chronicle she feels “so happy I am living here and doing this work”, which fits with the Master of Science degree she completed at Waikato University two years ago.

“I feel like I’m contributing to something wider than myself,” she adds referring to both working with the environment and mana whenua groups who get an opportunity through various collaborative projects to co-manage local resources.

Mahuru in fact first came to the job at Landcare Research through the thesis she did for her Masters, which involved working closely with Mōtakotako Marae – Ngāti Whakamarurangi, Tuirirangi, Ngāti Haua, Ngāti Whare, Ngāti Hourua, Ngāti Naho – in Phillips Road.

Her thesis was around the way mātauranga Māori and science work together to assess the health of wetlands.

“I needed a supervisor and contacted Landcare Research … who put me in contact with Shaun Awatere and Garth Harmsworth who developed the wetland cultural health index,” says Mahuru. From that connection Mahuru all but stepped into the job at Landcare once she’d finished her studies.

“It was perfect timing,” she says.

Mahuru had worked previously, for five years, as a consultant with Kessels Ecology in Hamilton. “I loved working with the environment but for me personally there was something missing.”

And that, she can see now, was the “lack of opportunity for Māori participation in environmental decision-making … and the wairua or spiritual connection in my work.”

At Landcare Research – one of New Zealand’s Crown Research Institutes – the development of monitoring and decision-making tools that help Maori communities manage their environment fits with her own ethos and ancestry.

“I whakapapa to Ngāti Awa and Ngāti Ranginui,” she says.

Outside of the job Mahuru is still very interested in contributing to the Mōtakotako Marae area she tackled for her thesis, and is looking at developing a collaborative restoration project – co-led by the marae – at the Toreparu wetland.

“I want to contribute to our community,” she explains, “and (ultimately) to my own iwi in Whakatane and Tauranga.”

Edith Symes