Volunteers devastated by mass death of eels

Showing some of the eels found dead during a clean up of the Low Burn stream is volunteer and...
Showing some of the eels found dead during a clean up of the Low Burn stream is volunteer and Hokonui whānau member Luka Finn on Thursday. Photo: Supplied
Volunteers have been left devastated after the death of several thousand eels in Southland.

Thousands of tuna (eels) were found dead in Low Burn stream near Brydone, south of Gore.

Hokonui Rūnanga kaiārihi taiao (environmental lead) Riki Parata said he was saddened by the event.

‘‘It’s devastating. We work daily with the tuna in this area, so to see this is very confronting.’’

Mr Parata said his team found 400 dead tuna while cleaning a 500-metre stretch of the Low Burn stream

He said he was not sure what killed the tuna, but Environment Southland was investigating the cause.

“It’s quite emotional for us,’’ he said.

Mr Parata said some of the volunteers cleaning the stream were from the Hokonui Rūnaka wai Māori team.

The team monitored tuna for research and had been trapping and transferring juvenile tuna from the Mataura Falls in the Mataura River Mātaitai.

The falls were set up to protect taonga species, including tuna, he said.

‘‘This is a tragic event. I want to appeal to people to treat our waterways with more respect.

‘‘They’re not drains. We need to look after our awa (river) — it’s precious.’’

He thanked the Te Ao Mārama and Environment Southland volunteers for their efforts in cleaning and providing updates on the stream.

For Ngāi Tahu and Hokonui Rūnaka, tuna are an important taonga species for a number of reasons.

They are essential to the continuation of mahika kai — the customary take right for Māori events.

Tuna are used by some iwi as an ecological health indicator to assess water and habitat quality.

There have been countless waiata, stories, and artefacts dedicated to them, proving just how important tuna are to Māori.