Pakiri horse mussel beds

For the last eight years I have been working on restoring green-lipped mussel (perna canaliculus) beds in the Hauraki Gulf. The main reason we started with that species was that there is a commercial supply. However there is a bigger native mussel that has even more potential than green-lipped mussels, both as a habitat and water cleaner. 

Horse mussels / Hururoa (atrina zelandica) are huge pumps, they are more than twice as big as green-lipped mussels (up to 400 mm in length) but have fragile shells which are vulnerable to fishing gear. They also  don’t move (unliked green-lipped mussels) and are sensitive to changes in substrate.

Last century horse mussel beds were some of the best fishing spots in the Hauraki Gulf. I regularly ask divers about horse mussels; Where did you see them? How dense was the bed? etc. There are spots with horse mussel in the Gulf but I don’t know of any significant beds left, if you do, please let me know about them.

I was recently sent these images of a stunning horse mussel bed in Pakiri.  They are from a report titled “Mangawhai – Pakiri Sand Study, Module 2: Technical Report, Marine Sands” by NIWA 1996. They show a large and dense horse mussel bed that has since been destroyed by sand mining. The beds ran the whole length of the embayment in depths of 15 -20m. I am posting them here to show the kind of seafloor we could have, if we treated it better.

We don’t yet understand the horse mussel lifecycle or what species / substates might attract juveniles. It’s interesting to note: presence of finger sponge and branching red algae, the hard edge to the bed and the way some of the shells align.

Overseas there have been attempts at restoring similar species (photos below). Seachange called for the “Initiation of a horse mussel restoration programme, with an initial focus on the Mahurangi and Whangapoua harbours.” But we could look at restoring any of the sites with historic beds. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we stopped smashing the seafloor, and bought back these giant pumps to clean the water, and create homes for fish.