How East Coast iwi and individuals teamed up for a healthier environment and healthier people

How East Coast iwi and individuals teamed up for a healthier environment and healthier people

The iwi-led Uawanui Project is working to promote a healthy environment, and thus healthy people, on the East Coast of the North Island. It's a classic example of a community teaming up to support each other.

He Manawa Whenua - He Oranga Tangata means “a healthy environment means healthy people” in Te Reo Māori – and it’s the founding principal of the iwi-led Uawanui Project. The project seeks to integrate conservation efforts alongside economic, social and cultural development and education, and was a 2015 WWF Conservation Innovation Awards (CIA) winner.

Five years ago, the Tolaga Bay community asked the Allan Wilson Centre for evolutionary biology to help it clean up the area’s waterways and create a healthier, more collaborative community. Together, they set up the Uawanui Sustainability Project, which aims to restore the environment, economy and wellbeing of the area. Taking a whole-community approach to improving the environmental health of the Kaituna Estuary, the project works to manage activities in the catchment that impact on the Uawa River, and the estuary – a “mountains-to-sea” approach. Aside from the 2015 CIA win, the project took home the top prize in the Protecting Our Biodiversity category at the 2016 Green Ribbon Awards.

The Uawanui Project has received wide support throughout the East Coast community – including from local voluntary groups and businesses, the farming and forestry industries and the education sector. The $25,000 WWF Awards grant has helped the project develop training, capacity building and communication around the wider Uawanui Project.

Victor Walker, chair of the Uawanui Project Governance Group, said the CIA funding was “important and valuable in taking forward innovations.”

Centred on input from marae, iwi, individuals, businesses, primary industries, landowners and schools, Walker says the community help means it’s easier to manage the catchment, with direct benefits for community and environmental health. “Our activities have included trapping pests, weed control, planting and monitoring.”

Another key feature of the project is integration within schools. An Uawanui Sustainability class is provided through different levels at Tolaga Bay Area School, providing students with a practical pathway to future knowledge and cultivating people who might one day become leaders in fighting for a cleaner, healthier environment.

As interesting as the Uawanui Project is, that was last year. This year, entries are open for WWF-New Zealand’s 2016 CIA awards until 14 October. The awards are designed to seek out and reward innovation for those on the frontline of conservation, with the top three winning entries receiving $25,000. All ideas are welcome, and entries can be submitted at wwf-nz.crowdicity.com.