A doctoral student at Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi in Whakatane has decided to focus her work on kaitiakitanga and the impact which the grounding of the container ship Rena has had on Maori communities in Bay of Plenty.
The ship ran aground on Astrolabe Reef off the coast of Tauranga in October 2011 and spilled oil and containers into the sea.
Kia Maia Ellis is part of a team studying the abundance and distribution of shellfish which at present is surveying a range of kaimoana in the Mataitai Reserve of Tauranga Harbour.
She said part of her research will include surveying locals, to build up an understanding of the cultural impact the Rena grounding has had on communities.
Ms Ellis said kaimoana is a huge part of Maori culture and nutrition, and the Rena disaster has highlighted the fact that many communities rely heavily on seafood being part of their diet.
It is hoped the results of the study will help Tauranga Moana Iwi Customary Fisheries Trust develop a management plan for the reserve, to officially recognise it as a traditional Maori fishing ground important for customary food gathering.