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Auckland Museum And Watercare To Partner On Exciting New Discovery - Māngere Kaawa Formation Fossils

Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Auckland Museum has partnered with Watercare's Central Interceptor project and is in conversation with the Mana Whenua Kaitiaki Managers Forum, to collect, identify, care for and research fossils recently discovered during the excavation of the Central Interceptor main shaft at Greenwood Road, Māngere.

The Central Interceptor is the largest wastewater infrastructure project in New Zealand history and will transport stormwater and wastewater via a giant underground tunnel running from Grey Lynn to Māngere Wastewater Treatment Plant. The tunnel will help prevent wet-weather overflows and greatly improve water quality in Auckland’s waterways.

The fossils were found in a five-metre-thick shell bed layer in the geological Kaawa Formation, some 35 metres below the Earth’s surface. Although the bulk of the sediment consists of sand and crushed shell fragments, the layer has yielded more than 200 different species of molluscs and other fossils to date, many of which are in very good condition. Most importantly, a number of these species are new, previously unknown to science, including two fossil flax snail species.

The Ghella Abergeldie Joint Venture (GAJV)*/Watercare partnership have agreed that any unique or important material unearthed during the excavation of the Central Interceptor shaft will be lodged with Auckland Museum where, in phase one of this project, the Museum will collect, identify and accession the Māngere Kaawa Formation fossils into the collection.

“We are very excited to be in a position where we can contribute to the further studies of ancient environment and to leave a legacy for Tamaki Makaurau. It is not common for infrastructure projects to come across such precious taonga. Hence, we felt that it is important to invest and create opportunities for learning and help show case what our world used to be like. We look forward to working with Auckland Museum and mana whenua and sharing the story of our journey together,” says Bernice Chiam, Watercare Central Interceptor sustainability and community outcomes manager.

Similar molluscan fossils were recovered in the 1940s from a well sunk by the then-Waitemata Brewery at their site at Ōtāhuhu. Its manager, Mr Morton Coutts, contacted scientists to evaluate the spoil heaps and consequently fossil specimens representing at least 60 new species were lodged with Auckland Museum, Auckland University and the New Zealand Geological Survey (now GNS Science).

The number of fossil species found in the sediments excavated at Māngere exceeds the number found at Ōtāhuhu. To date, they appear to be more complete and better preserved. The spoil continues to yield new species and the Māngere material therefore presents a unique opportunity to shed further light on the story of Auckland’s geological history. It will substantially enhance knowledge of the fauna that inhabited the region’s seas and forests 3.5 million years ago.

Wilma Blom, Curator of Marine Invertebrates at Auckland Museum, says, “We are privileged to receive this very unexpected treasure, which will be a very valuable resource for stakeholders well into the future. We would like to acknowledge Watercare and partners in this project for their foresight in retaining the fossils and providing the opportunities to collect fossils from the site.”

With funding from Watercare, two collection technicians, Nathan Collins and Thomas Stolberger, have been recruited to the Museum providing an opportunity to enhance our knowledge of these taonga, as well as providing valuable training and development for these recruits. The specialised collection technicians are using their museum practice and academic knowledge to carry out further field collecting, processing, identifying, housing and archiving of fossils into the Museum’s collections. They are working with Auckland Museum staff who are delivering project oversight, leadership and assisting with fossil processing and archiving, publication, and will establish access for mana whenua and the scientific community.

Tuini Tuwha, Makaurau Marae says “As a descendent of Te Ahiwaru Waiohua, Makaurau Marae Ihumaatao - It was overwhelming seeing physical evidence that supports the stories told to us by our tūpuna. Our tūpuna always said that our moana Te Mānukanuka o Hoturoa (Manukau Harbour) was bountiful in terms of kaimoana. It was their pataka kai (food cupboard) and never went hungry.”

“Seeing part of the stingray tooth and holding it in my hand was amazing. I've grown up with the story of our tūpuna Hape coming to Ihumaatao on the back of a stingray - our tipua Kaiwhare. I wish I could have shared this with my whānau at Ihumaatao,” Tuini Tuhwa continues.

The identification of the some of the fossils will require a visit to GNS Science in Wellington for expert advice and access to comparative material. The specimens will then be divided between the Auckland Museum collection and mana whenua.

Tuini Tuwha says “We hope in the near future to work with both the Auckland Museum and Central Interceptor to create education resources for our whānau.”

David Reeves, Director of Collections & Research, says “Auckland Museum is excited about the potential of this project. Not only is there opportunity to learn more about our environment through scientific research and connections to mātauranga Maori, there is also the opportunity to share the collection and learnings with the broader public via online databases and education programmes. These newly-found specimens are an extraordinary addition to the richness of the collections cared for by Auckland Museum.”

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