Funding secured for Whakaki Lake tuna/eel food safety monitoring project

Photo: Cawthron Institute

The Whakaki 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.

To address this issue, the Whakaki Lake Trust and the New Zealand Food Safety Science and Research Centre has received funding through MBIE’s Vision Matauranga Capability Fund to implement community-led monitoring for cyanobacterial toxins (cyanotoxins) at Whakaki 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 Whakaki 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 McLeod says the project will empower the local community to protect their lake and themselves.

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

The Vision Matauranga 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 Whakaki Lake and the tuna that reside in the world-famous lake.


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