Māori-led Research on Climate Adaptation Could Safeguard Marae

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Māori-led Research on Climate Adaptation Could Safeguard Marae

Indigenous populations have been identified as vulnerable to climate change through a substantial body of work. The vulnerability stems from a history of social, economic, political, and cultural marginalisation they experienced through colonisation, remnants of which continue until today.

The Māori people are New Zealand’s indigenous people with historical and territorial rights over the land. While the country is already feeling the impacts of climate change from recent extreme weather events like Cyclone Gabrielle in February 2023, which caused widespread floods and landslips in the upper regions of the North Island, the ability to adapt and cope with climate change varies significantly across the country. Māori communities, in particular, face increased risks because of their geographic locations and socio-economic circumstances.

Research conducted by Māori brothers Haukapuanui and Sonny Vercoe aims to bolster the Marae’s resilience against climate change effects such as flooding, landslides, and other natural hazards.

A marae is a meeting ground for Māori and a focal point of their culture. It is a fenced-in complex of carved buildings and grounds where Māori hold their most significant cultural gatherings, such as meetings, funerals, celebrations, and other important tribal events. Hence, climate change’s impact on them is a serious concern.

The Vercoe brothers, Haukapuanui and Sonny, are not just researchers but Māori themselves, deeply rooted in their community. They were raised and educated in Te Reo Māori speaking schools in Rotorua, and both are now doctoral students in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Auckland. Beyond academic achievement, they want to focus on research that could deliver for their people and community.

Their research, conducted in partnership with the Te Arawa Lakes Trust, a local iwi organisation in their hometown of Rotorua, showed alarming results. Using a geospatial hazard analysis of 869 maraes nationwide to assess how natural hazards could impact them, they found that hundreds of maraes around the country are exposed to natural hazards like flooding and landslides.

Their findings show that one in three maraes is at risk of flooding, one in three is situated in landslide-prone areas, one in five is in tsunami evacuation zones, and two in five are susceptible to liquefaction in the event of an earthquake.

The brothers also find that many of the Marae, 80% in Rotorua, for example, are unprepared for a natural hazard and unaware of their region’s Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Plan. Despite their pivotal role in supporting communities during natural disasters such as the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes, none of the Marae receive emergency safety resources from the government.

The study recommends several strategies for mitigating risk, including developing emergency response plans for different disaster scenarios, providing adequate training and resources, and relocating building structures where necessary.

According to the brothers, maraes around the country play an essential role in supporting the community during natural disasters. Still, maraes’ infrastructure is also in dire need of repairs and upgrades, and they face heightened risks from climate change. It is recommended that the government provide them with adequate funding and resources.

Inspiring more Māori youth to make a difference

“Outside of studies, I am incredibly passionate about inspiring more rangatahi (youth) into tertiary education, especially prospective students who come from Kōhanga Reo (Māori-language pre-school) and Kura Kaupapa Māori (Māori-language immersion school) backgrounds. I believe the new generation raised with tikanga, kawa and values intrinsic to te iwi Māori, who can navigate seamlessly between Māori and Pākehā worlds, will be the changemakers of Aotearoa,” says Haukapuanui Vercoe (Natural Hazard, 2022).


Hundreds of Marae exposed to natural hazards. (2024, March 6). University of Auckland. Retrieved from https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/news/2024/03/06/hundreds-of-marae-exposed-to-natural-hazards.html

Riki, M. (2024, March 5). PhD student uncovers marae vulnerability to natural hazards. Te Ao. Retrieved from https://www.teaonews.co.nz/2024/03/05/phd-student-aims-to-make-marae-safer-in-natural-disasters/

Natural Hazard Recognition & Vulnerability of Marae Infrastructure. (2022, December 6) National Science Challenges. Retrieved from https://resiliencechallenge.nz/student-profile-haukapuanui-vercoe/

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