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Sustainable Seas - Kohunga Kutai



Kohunga Kutai is a collaboration of marine scientists, iwi and Māori aquaculture businesses that are using mātauranga Māori and western science to develop and test native plant fibres as an alternative to plastic Charlotte Panton ai i ngā maunga ki te moana/Mountains to the sea. Funded by the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge’s Innovation Fund, Kohunga Kutai is co-led by Andrew Jeffs (University of Auckland) and Nicola MacDonald (Ngāti Manuhiri Settlement Trust). This kaupapa was initiated in partnership with Ngāti Manuhiri and Ngāti Rehua, and is guided by kairaranga (master weavers) and a kaumātua who are matatau (expert) in the use of traditional plant fibre products.


Native plant materials such as muka fibre from harakeke (flax), kuta (swamp reed) and tī kōuka (cabbage tree) have a wide variety of traditional uses including anchor ropes and lashing waka components, fishing, and for holding live mussels. This research project is an example of mai i ngā maunga ki te moana (mountains to the sea) where the indigenous knowledge of the ngahere (forest) is informing better practices in the moana (ocean).

“We are guided by mātauranga Māori of the relationship between kutai (mussels) and plant fibres because kutai are known to have a strong affinity for these natural fibres when placed in the sea”, says MacDonald.

“This relationship is not surprising from a biological science perspective, given that the larvae of many mussel species, including green-lipped mussels, selectively settle on filamentous organisms, especially seagrasses and seaweeds”, says Jeffs. The research is guided by mātauranga Māori and tikanga, from informing the most suitable native plants through to how the research is conducted.


Sustainable Seas is a 10-year research programme with the vision that Aotearoa New Zealand has healthy marine ecosystems that provide value for all New Zealanders. It has funded more than 60 interdisciplinary research projects that bring together around 250 ecologists, biophysical scientists, social scientists, economists, and mātauranga Māori and policy experts from across Aotearoa New Zealand.

Earlier this year our team spent time with Tātai Aho Rau - Core Education to create a short webinar series for education providers throughout the country to utilise and learn about kohunga kutai and the importance of mussel restoration and protection.