Save our taonga

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Kia ora koutou te whānau, ko Helen Moore ahau. I have the privilege of teaching the Year 7/8 girl’s class at Hikurangi School. We are a small rural kura north of Whangarei in Northland and last year I was a participant teacher on the Science Teaching Leadership Programme run by the Royal Society Te Apārangi. My placement was with the Northland Regional Council and it was there that I learned about our native freshwater fish and the plight that many of them are in. Learning about our many species of freshwater fish (not just the inanaga and tuna we all know about in New Zealand) became the focal point in our class this year and led us to discover the incredibly unique mudfish struggling to survive in our own Hikurangi backyard. This petition is the culmination of our year’s work - the girls have researched and spoken to experts and in doing so have found out more about the taonga which is the mudfish and so important to their iwi in the past. The class is determined to make a difference so we are taking this petition to Parliament in November. Below is the transcript of what the girls have put together in their video:

This petition is about saving one of our native freshwater fish. I bet that most of you seeing this don’t know that in New Zealand we have 58 species of native freshwater fish including bullies, eels and torrentfish. Around 74% of our native freshwater fish are threatened with extinction. If we don’t do anything about this now then by 2050 then all of them will be gone forever. New Zealand’s largest group of freshwater fish are galaxiids which include kōkopu, kōaro, inanga and mudfish. The main focus of this petition is the black mudfish which we have here in our Hikurangi Swamp because not only are they ours but they are totally amazing.

Did you know: That our black mudfish is from the family of galaxiidae.There are 6 different species of mudfish in the world and 5 of them live only in New Zealand. They are found only in swamps and wetlands. Mudfish can grow around to 165mm and probably live five to ten years. The Māori name for the black mudfish is waikaka. The black mudfish is so unique and amazing because it can survive out of water sometimes for several months. It is able to slow it’s metabolism right down so that it can burrow into mud and hibernate when there is not much water around. The mudfish can also breathe through its skin when their wetland habitat dries out over summer as long as they are kept moist by burrowing under tree roots, mud or damp leaf litter they are ok. 

The black mudfish we have around Hikurangi, as well as the very rare Northland mudfish have the most specialised habitat requirements of all NZ mudfish. They need clean clear water and the acid soils which come from our volcano Te Hiku o Te Rangi and the swampy wetlands which come from the Hikurangi Swamp. They can survive when the water level goes down over the summer but really struggle when their habitat is drained by us for whatever reason. The Hikurangi Swamp used to be the largest area of wetland in the Southern Hemisphere before it was drained. New Zealand wetlands are the most endangered in the world, 80 - 90% have been lost since the arrival of the European settlers. It’s a wonder we have any native freshwater fish left.

Black mudfish live in swamps and wetlands because they need the soggy mud to stay nice and moist when their waterways dry out in the summer. There used to be  a big swamp in Hikurangi but over the years most of it has been deliberately drained out and dried up so that is why habitat loss is such a big threat to our Hikurangi mudfish. There are many reasons why our freshwater fish are threatened with extinction. The main ones which affect our mudfish habitat in Hikurangi are pollution of waterways from farming and land development, drainage of our swamp and pest fish.

Pollution of waterways is a major threat to our native New Zealand freshwater fish especially our Mudfish. Manufactured fertilizers are used to increase grass growth on dairy farms so that the cows produce more milk. Unfortunately, when it rains,  the chemicals from the fertilizer go down into the Hikurangi stream which causes algae to grow. Even a small increase in nitrate levels can kill our native fish. In the summer the sunlight and the extra nutrients in waterways causes an explosion in algal growth. This algae uses up the oxygen in the water making it harder for our freshwater  fish to breathe. When it rains hard, the grass can’t stop the mud and sediment getting washed into our waterways. Too much sediment can cause the water flow to slow down, making it hard for our fish because even though they’re called mudfish they need clean water to live in. Pesticides are used for eliminating pests but they also degrade water quality as when it rains the chemicals are carried by storm water into the nearest waterway killing our freshwater fish . 

The Hikurangi Swamp used to be the largest area of wetland in the Southern Hemisphere. For years our swamp has been drained for farming and to prevent flooding and we want  to change this to save our native freshwater fish especially our black mudfish. Because of draining swampland our black mudfish have smaller and smaller areas to live in, no way to find each other because the waterways are being closed off and then when they have babies there is not enough food which means no more babies and then extinction. People drain out swamps without realising how much damage it would cause to the black mudfish habitat. Farmers drain out swamps and fill them in with dirt and grass to make more room on their fields for their animals. Builders drain out swamps and fill them in to flatten out the area to give room for housing, buildings and factories. When people drain out swamps they are taking the black mudfish homes away and then the mud gets all dried up so their skin doesn’t stay moist. You can't find them anywhere else in the world, so if we don’t start protecting them they will all be gone forever 

Hikurangi black mudfish are especially vulnerable to pest fish. Gambusia or mosquito fish are a small but really aggressive fish which were imported into New Zealand in an effort to control mosquitoes. This failed spectacularly and is now an environmental disaster especially around Hikurangi. They are the biggest predator of black mudfish and will eat their babies and attack adults. They also compete with our mudfish for the same food sources. 

We would like the Government to amend the Wildlife Act of 1953 to fully protect our native mudfish and their remaining habitats outside of DoC reserves. We don’t want our mudfish to get protection too late, like the grayling which has been extinct for over half a century but continues to be the only freshwater fish protected under New Zealand law. PLEASE SUPPORT OUR PETITION.