The rōpū was brought together by research collaboration Better Border Biosecurity (B3). B3 Co Director Māori Alby Marsh (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngai Te Rangi, Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Hine and Te Rarawa) says while international tourism has many benefits for New Zealand, it is also a pathway into the country for the introduction of pests and diseases that can seriously affect plants.

New information from Biosecurity New Zealand shows more than 400,000 international visitors came to New Zealand in June 2023, compared with just over 200,000 in June the previous year.

Marsh says Māori tourism operators are often intrinsically connected to the environment and see changes or tohu that may indicate a pest or disease is present. B3’s role is to share information with the tourism ambassadors about high-risk biosecurity threats and ways of identifying or reporting things that seem out of the ordinary.

“These biosecurity ambassadors are the eyes and ears on the ground and the knowledge they have and anything B3 shares can then get passed on to others in the tourism industry,’’ Marsh says.

The cultural biosecurity ambassadors group includes owners of and representatives from regional tourism operations, cultural tour and trek operators and food production companies from around the country.

One of the ambassadors and rōpū leader Simon Phillips (Waikato, Ngāti Maniapoto me Taranaki) says Māori tourism operators have a direct connection with the land, plants and manuhiri, enabling them to play a key role in early identification of changes that might negatively affect te taiao. Myrtle rust and Kauri die-back – both of which have had serious impact on Aotearoa taonga and the economy – are examples of diseases that can be identified from changes to the plant.

Kapiti Island Nature Tours is one of the ambassador organisations. Director John Barrett (Ngāti Raukawa, Te Āti Awa and Ngāti Toa Rangatira) says biosecurity is crucial to the business and to whānau as guardians of the island.

“It took a massive amount of mahi to get the island to its current predator-free state, but maintaining it is just as challenging. Kapiti Island Nature Tours can be ‘sharers’ of information to advance the biosecurity kaupapa and inter-Māori and inter-iwi kōrero is fertile ground for progress.”

Lee-Anne Jago (Ngāti Māhuta, Ngāti Pou, Ngāti Raukawa) and her husband Todd (Ngāti Raukawa) run Waka Abel Tasman – which offers waka experiences within a cultural framework of Māori tikanga and world view. When COVID prevented them running tours with international visitors they focused on schools in the region. Jago says this was an opportunity to share cultural education with teachers and students. This education – in the environment on the waka –now increasingly includes biosecurity tips and understanding. And as international visitors again become frequent manuhiri, this knowledge is passing to them too.

Jago says there is opportunity for visitors moving around the country to learn more about biosecurity and how to be environmentally responsible from a connected network of tourism providers.

Find out more about Better Border Biosecurity (B3)