The Hauraki Māori Trust Board and the Cawthron Institute are collaborating in this research project which stems from a spate of dog deaths on the beaches of Tīkapa Moana (the Hauraki Gulf) in August 2009. The dogs died from the poison tetrodotoxin (TTX) and this poison was present in sea slugs that had washed up on beaches. It became apparent research was needed to determine the poisoning risk associated with kaimoana from Tīkapa Moana.
The first step in this process was the Trust Board investigating historical reports, recordings of kaumātua mātauranga (elder knowledge) and kōrero, and current knowledge around toxic events in Tīkapa Moana. The conclusion was the poisoning events in August 2009 appear to be a new phenomenon – there was no historic record of this happening previously. The research team is taking monthly samples of kaimoana species to monitor TTX risk. Samples are tested for TTX presence in the Cawthron laboratories in Nelson, with more than 200 samples tested to date. Preliminary screening has shown that TTX could be present in a few samples at very low concentrations. The team undertakes detailed analysis of these samples to confirm whether TTX is actually present, and if so, at what exact concentration. The next step is the development of a mitigation framework to allow local marae to manage any potential risks associated with TTX and kaimoana in Tīkapa Moana.