Cawthron scientists welcome Vision Mātauranga funding for tuna (eel) food safety monitoring project

21 April 2022

The Whakakī Lake community near Wairoa treasure their mahinga kai, and in particular their tuna/eel population. However, a deterioration in lake health has resulted in cyanobacteria blooms that are poisoning the tuna and threatening the health of people who eat them.

Cawthron scientists are thrilled with the recent announcement that the Whakakī Lake Trust and the New Zealand Food Safety Science and Research Centre has received funding through MBIE’s Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund to implement community-led monitoring for cyanobacterial toxins (cyanotoxins) at Whakakī Lake and better understand the risks posed by the toxins in the lake.

The collaborative research team will include members of the Food Safety Centre and the Whakakī community, as well as Cawthron Institute’s Dr Tim Harwood (aquatic toxins expert and Manager of Food and Bioactives) Dr Jonathan Puddick (toxic cyanobacteria specialist and Team Leader for Aquatic Molecular Ecology) and Dr Cath McLeod (formerly director of the Food Safety Centre and now Cawthron Institute’s Chief Science Officer).

Dr Cath McLeod says the project will empower the local community to protect their lake and themselves.

“We’re thrilled to see this project funded as it will build local community capability to protect themselves and their lake for generations to come, and we’re privileged to be working closely alongside the community and local iwi to deliver science outcomes that support the community’s aspirations,” Cath McLeod says.

The science team will work with Richard Brooking the Chair of the Whakakī Lake Trust, the Whakakī community, and local iwi (Ngāti Hinepua, Ngāti Hine and Ngai Teipu).

The Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund project will extend on work already begun to measure cyanobacteria and toxin levels in the lake. Alongside increasing the frequency of the monitoring, new lake-side monitoring will be introduced so the community can begin to make their own decisions on whether tuna harvested from the lake are safe to eat. The research team will swap information with the locals to help them become experts in cyanobacterial biology and water health monitoring, whilst also learning about Whakakī Lake and the tuna that reside in the lake – world-famous in Aotearoa!

The collaborative research team at Whakakī Lake
(L-R): Nigel French (NZFSSRC), Hohepa Kahukura (Whakakī Lake Trust), Richard Brooking (Whakakī Lake Trust), Andy Hicks (Hawkes Bay Regional Council), Wendy Newport-Smith (NZFSSRC), Cath McLeod (Cawthron), Angie Smith (Whakakī Lake Trust), Jonathan Puddick (Cawthron), Tim Harwood (Cawthron).
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