Abstract||Rakiura Maori continue a centuries old harvest of titi chicks (sooty shearwater, Puffinus griseus) which is governed primarily by Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). The sustainability of titi harvesting is of high cultural, social and ecological importance. Some commentators view contemporary use of TEK as insufficient to ensure sustainability because it is no longer intact, too passive, and/or potentially inadequate to meet new ecological and technical challenges. Such assertions have been made in the absence of detailed description of TEK and associated social mechanisms. This thesis describes Rakiura Maori TEK practices and management systems that are in place and asks whether such systems are effective today, and whether they will remain effective in future.
Ecological, social and cultural factors are intertwined in cultural wildlife harvests so the methodology used was a combination of quantitative ecological methods and semi-directive interviews of 20 experienced harvesting elders. The research also used ecological science to evaluate potential harvest monitoring methods and to determine what sets the limits on harvest. These ecological studies focused on harvesting by four families on Putauhinu Island in 1997-1999.
Harvest is divided into two parts. In the first period (’nanao’) chicks are extracted from breeding burrows during daytime. In the second period (’rama’) chicks are captured at night when they have emerged from burrows. Nanao harvest rates only increased slightly with increasing chick densities and birders’ harvest rates varied in their sensitivities to changing chick density. Although harvest rates can only provide a general index of population change a monitoring panel, with careful selection of participants, may be the only feasible way to assess population trend and thereby harvest sustainability or the resource’s response to changed management.
Rakiura Maori harvesting practice constitutes common property resource management based on birthright and a system of traditional rules. Protection of island habitat and adult birds, and temporal restricitions on harvest are considered most important. Legislation and a belief system of reciprocity and connection to ancestors and environment aid enforcement of the rules.
Ecological knowledge is learnt through observation, hands-on experience and storytelling. Younger Rakiura Maori now spend less time harvesting which puts pressure on the transmission of knowledge. Paradoxically, use of modern technology for harvesting aids transfer of essential skills because it is easier and faster to learn, thereby contributing to the continuance of a culturally important harvest.
Limits on harvest are passive, with the numbers of chicks taken determined by the time spent harvesting and processing. Processing is more limiting during the rama period. Future innovations that decrease the time to process each chick during rama could greatly increase the total number of chicks caught. Recently introduced motorised plucking machines decrease the time required to pluck each chick. However, on Putauhinu Island, use of plucking machines did not increase the number of chicks harvested, indicating social mechanisms were also limiting. Elders identified changing values between the generations, which may reduce the future strength of social limitations on harvest pressure.
Global climate change may reduce the predicability of traditional knowledge. Rakiura Maori have identified this risk and sought to examine ecological science as a tool to complement traditional knowledge for monitoring harvest sustainability. Climate change, declining tītī numbers and potential changes in technology or markets all threaten the effectiveness of current social limits to harvest. Rakiura Maori have previously shown the ability to adapt and must look to add resilience to their institutions to ensure we keep the titi forever.