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An artist and researcher, Dr Smith is head of the school of art at the college of creative arts at Massey University, Wellington, and has been involved in one of the largest Maori-led research projects into climate change.
She is principal investigator into recent research collaborations with Horowhenua coastal Maori iwi and hapu.
Prof Smith said there was an increasingly urgent need to develop adaptation strategies around the impacts of climate change in Horowhenua.
"The more people dilly-dally, the less gets done. We need some serious action on the ground."
She and her associates worked with landscape architects, environmentalists, ecological economists and scientists to look at the impacts of climate change in the region and determine what changes were already evident.
They also worked with Maori land and farm-owners, and used their "whakapapa and korero tuku iho [ancestral knowledge]" to encourage a better community understanding of climate change and develop adaptation strategies in artistic and design formats.
"We used creative art and design responses to climate change."
The project was part of the Deep South Challenge Vision Maatauranga science programme, which included seven science projects looking at how climate change would affect Maori primary industries, tourism and taonga.
One of the key concerns was how to best relay the information and encourage community interest and involvement.
"Our first project was about the creation of a series of maps within the adaptation tool kit or kete, with iwi and hapu who had coastal landholdings," Dr Smith said.
"The best way to get people thinking is through detailed imagery in maps, large-scale aerial photography or kapowai [drone] camera flights."
As a result, several art/design exhibitions were created, showing messages and information on climate change and what it meant for the coastal Maori communities and all residents in the region.
"We were able to create scenarios and bring Maori knowledge and local knowledge together in the same place."
The designers and landscape artists worked on themes of resilience and what scenarios might look like.
"These are critical concerns, as climate change is happening now. It is also going to be worse in 20 years and it is going to look a lot different in 100 years, unless we get something in place."
Coastal areas were likely to be affected by more extreme weather events, due to warmer atmospheric and ocean temperatures, increasing ocean acidification, rising sea levels and more coastal erosion.
They were experiencing more flooding, more coastal surges, more water coming from the estuary and wetter paddocks due to increased spring rainfall. In 2017, Horowhenua had 141% more rainfall than in 2015, she said.
Previous research also recorded dwindling populations of shellfish, such as the toheroa/tohemanga.
As well as encouraging master’s students at Massey to respond to the problems, design students from Victoria University came up with design ideas for inter-generational, adaptive housing as solutions to the impacts of climate change.