Tuna are the gold of the ocean—and, because certain species are so sought-after, they’ve become synonymous with overfishing and modern slavery. But in some areas, populations that were teetering on the edge of total wipe-out seem to be making a tentative comeback. Are things finally turning around for these fisheries?
“Whales have become wildlife, but tuna remain food,” writes author and fisher Paul Greenberg.
As Kate Evans recounts in this issue’s cover story on tuna, whales shifted from ‘food’ to ‘wildlife’ not because people discovered an environmental conscience, or a new appreciation for the animals’ intelligence, but because the market for whale oil had collapsed. The oil was used to fuel lamps, to lubricate engines, and as an ingredient in an array of products as diverse as rope, soap, face moisturiser and margarine.
What counts as wildlife, pets or food changes across time, place and culture.
It seems like an innate quality of cats that we don’t eat them, and cows that we do, but the opposite applies elsewhere in the world.
“Food comes first, then morality,” says fisheries expert Francisco Blaha, quoting playwright Bertolt Brecht. Our understanding of what is wildlife and what is food is determined predominantly by necessity. New Zealanders are not necessarily more enlightened than the communities that still hunt whales for their meat, but we’re wealthier than almost all of them. Not everyone is in the position to turn food into wildlife or pets—or building materials into forests, for that matter.
This was epitomised when I approached Ngātiwai tohunga Hori Parata for a story on kauri dieback. His response boiled down to: “Why do you want to talk about a tree disease? We’re trying to deal with racism here.”
The question of protecting tuna—a challenge which spans cultures and nations—strikes at the heart of this issue. A fishery cannot simply be closed when a great part of the livelihood of several nations comes from that fishery.
The international cooperation that has seen the fortunes of southern bluefin reversed from dire to optimistic charts a path forward.
Less positive is New Zealand’s perspective on our Pacific neighbours: seen as a temporary labour force that can be hired and dismissed at will. During the immigration crackdown on Pasifika people in New Zealand in the 1970s, a brief amnesty was granted to Tongan workers—not because it was the right thing to do, but because the mass deportations threatened to shut down Auckland’s factories.
The government is about to apologise for holding and enforcing this view, but in some ways, this perspective remains. The seasonal migrant worker scheme operating today involves bringing Pacific islanders to New Zealand to fill job vacancies, but without granting them the rights of New Zealand residents.
This issue of New Zealand Geographic has a number of stories that encourage a shift in perspective. Is a forest made of trees and plants? Or is the real forest underground, in the soil, where a different kingdom of life acts as a subterranean control room, determining what grows above the surface?
Do human beings require jobs, communities, homes, possessions to be happy? Nomadic couple Miriam Lancewood and Peter Raine are on a decade-long experiment to find out where the edges are—and where the search for independence meets the need for social participation.
This is the purpose of a magazine such as New Zealand Geographic: to point out that the world around us isn’t on the default setting. That the views we hold don’t represent the natural order of things. Our perspectives have been sculpted by the forces surrounding us, and they can be reshaped—but only once we recognise our that our perspective is a limited view of reality.
The mantis shrimp subdues its prey by punching it with a blow that’s strong enough to crack a glass aquarium and generates enough heat to boil water. So when do baby mantis shrimp develop this super-smash prowess?
To find out, Duke University researcher Jacob Harrison headed to Hawai‘i with a high-speed camera in search of Gonodactylaceus falcatus larvae—one of the world’s 450 species of mantis shrimp.
First, he had to catch a four-millimetre-long larva. “It can be incredibly challenging to sift through a bucket teeming with larval crabs, shrimp, fish and worms to find the mantis shrimp,” says Harrison.
Then he had to position the larva in front of his high-speed camera—a task that ended up taking a year to perfect (and involved supergluing the larva to a toothpick).
But the effort was worth it. The high-speed footage revealed the mantis-shrimp punch in action: the limb bending back like a spring, before a tiny latch is released that flings the appendage forward with impressive acceleration and speed—around 38 centimetres per second. While the larva was slower than full-grown adults, the jabs were still five to ten times faster than the swimming speed of similar-sized organisms, and 150 times speedier than their prey.
After raising some larvae from eggs, Harrison observed that they first began to hunt with their forelimbs between the ages of 9 and 15 days.
Although young mantis shrimp go through six to seven transformations from hatching to fully grown, Harrison’s footage showed that the spring-and-latch mechanism is the same in young and old. And while the larva’s punch may be scaled down, the transparent exoskeleton of larvae revealed remarkable detail previously unseen: the tiny muscles contracting as the mantis shrimp wound up for another devastating blow.
Kea are the mischief-makers of the mountains, but a genome study shows they are not tied to alpine areas. As rising temperatures shrink their habitat, they could return to lowlands—if they can find suitable places to live.
Fossils suggest that kea once occupied low-lying areas throughout the South Island and even in the North Island. In fact, there’s nothing “to stop kea from living at lower altitudes”, says University of Otago evolutionary geneticist Michael Knapp.
The research scoured the genomes of kea and its sister species kākā, which is adapted to life in the forest, for any genes known to be involved in adaptation to life in the mountains.
The commonly held theory was that kea and kākā went their separate ways about two or three million years ago, when the Southern Alps were still rising and opening up new alpine habitats. But Knapp says an ice age was redrawing the landscape at the same time, reducing forests in its wake.
“For the ancestors of kea and kākā, their forest habitat shrank, and that made it more likely that some populations ventured into new habitats. That’s what distinguishes them—the kea is the species that went into the open.”
The kea’s later retreat to alpine altitudes may have had more to do with avoiding people—including a bounty-hunting scheme that lasted more than a century, from 1867 to 1970, and killed some 150,000 birds. Thankfully, the genome doesn’t show a genetic bottleneck, which suggests the bounty-hunting period was short enough to avoid denting the birds’ genetic diversity, says Knapp.
But the study has found a significant difference between the two parrot species. Kākā respond quickly to improved living conditions. When forest cover expanded in the past, so did kākā populations. In contrast, the kea population remained relatively constant, regardless of habitat changes. “Is the kea better at buffering bad habitats, or not so good at responding to good conditions?” asks Knapp.
Both species may struggle to adapt to a warming world, says University of Otago PhD candidate Denise Martini. “If native forests begin to suffer from warmer conditions, it is very likely that kākā will suffer, too. Kea might be able to adapt to new conditions, but that depends on whether new conditions are available in the first place. My recommendation for conservation programmes would be to focus on restoring and preserving as much of the existing habitat of both species as possible.”
In the summer of 2015, in a remote valley of Fiordland National Park, two scientists discover fossil poo fragments underneath a limestone overhang. Analysis suggests the fragments are from moa and are thousands of years old, so a team returns—three years later—to excavate.
What they find is a rich deposit of moa poo—called coprolites—that accumulated over a period of two millennia, probably between 6800 and 4600 years ago.
But what use is old poo? Scientists can carefully examine the pollen, seeds, DNA and plant microfossils in coprolites to determine what kind of food fuelled the nine moa species that roamed the country.
The team determined that these nuggets of dietary information were from little bush moa (Anomalopteryx didiformis), a mid-sized species between 50 and 90 centimetres tall and weighing 26 to 64 kilograms that inhabited lowland forests. This made it an exciting find. “Until now, only five little bush moa coprolites have previously been identified, all from Central Otago,” says lead researcher Jamie Wood from Manaaki Whenua–Landcare Research.
The poo contained very few seeds, suggesting that little bush moa were not important seed dispersers. But the fossils were rich in ground-fern spores and fronds, suggesting that fern foliage played an important role in this species’ diet, and that the moa spread the plants around.
Because the coprolites were deposited over a period of 2000 years, the researchers were able to trace how the plant matter contained within changed over time. This revealed a shift in the prevailing vegetation from conifers such as miro, mataī and tōtara to the silver beech trees that dominate today.
The emergence of a new coronavirus is not a question of if, but when and where—and a new study has answered the latter by mapping global regions most likely to produce the next outbreak.
The research used horseshoe bats as a model, because they carry several coronaviruses from the same group that caused COVID-19, SARS, and a pig disease known as SADS. The study then connected the dots between several details: where the bats lived, forest fragmentation caused by expanding farmland, human population growth, and increasing numbers of livestock. Where all these things overlap, they “form a nexus where you might have really high risk”, says David Hayman, a Massey University infectious disease ecologist who was part of the international research team.
The map—a swathe of horseshoe bat habitat from Spain in the west to the coast of Australia in the east—identifies China as a global hotspot, as well as Bhutan, east Nepal, northern Bangladesh and Thailand, all places where the next spillover event is most likely to transmit a virus from animals to people. In host animals, such viruses usually cause no harm; in other species, such as humans, the viruses can lead to severe and highly contagious disease.
We know that if people encroach on wildlife, the risk of spillover increases, says Hayman. Our best chance of preventing such animal-human transmissions from growing into major outbreaks is to increase disease surveillance in high-risk areas. Heightened surveillance could also help contain outbreaks of existing spillovers, such as Ebola, which now re-emerges almost annually.
But with a viral universe that likely includes millions of different strains, we need to think beyond pandemic preparedness. “If we really want to reduce the risk, then we need to look at the bigger things—what is causing forest fragmentation, and should we be putting another intensive farm with livestock in this area,” says Hayman, “because the same things that increase the risk of disease emergence also contribute to biodiversity loss and climate change.”
Nearly 50 years on from the systemic and racially targeted deportations of Pasifika New Zealanders, the scars and shame of this experience linger—as the government prepares to formally apologise for its actions of the past.
The world has a big COVID-19 problem. But just how big? Each infected person carries between one billion and one hundred billion virus particles at the peak of infection. This equates to no more than 0.1 milligrams of virus per infected person—about the same as a single poppy seed. Multiplying by the number of infected people around the world, researchers estimate that our COVID-19 problem can be chalked up to between 0.1 kilograms and 10 kilograms of virus.
Miriam Lancewood and Peter Raine have lived off the grid, on the road or in the wilderness for much of the last decade. For them, freedom means being untethered, possessing only the minimum they require. This life of solitude and simplicity has given them a unique perspective on themselves and on the world.
Over the past year, at least 46 countries have recorded outbreaks of the bird flu strain H5N8 among both poultry and wild waterfowl. As a result, millions of birds across Europe, Asia and Africa have been culled.
In December 2020, the first H5N8 infections in humans were recorded, with seven Russian poultry workers testing positive for the virus. Although the people did not display any symptoms, the chickens did not fare so well. More than 100,000 from the 900,000-strong flock died.
Bird flu comes in a variety of different subtypes, with H5 and H7 particularly concerning due to their potential to affect humans and other animals (there was an outbreak of H5N1 bird flu in captive tigers in 2004).
Although rare in humans, bird flu can be deadly. Since 2003, there have been 862 cases of H5N1 bird flu worldwide. More than half of the people who caught H5N1 died.
Fortunately, human-to-human transmission has occurred in only a handful of cases. Most infections arise from contact with sick birds. But the ease with which influenza viruses can mutate means that the threat of a bird-flu pandemic looms large.
In June, China reported the first confirmed human infection of H10N3 bird flu, a rare strain. Scientists are calling for increased surveillance of poultry farms and wild birds—to find strains with pandemic potential, before they find us.
Buried in the soil are the lattices and networks of another kingdom of life, one that’s inextricably connected with what grows above the ground. Fungi determine the types of trees that thrive, and change the quality and health of soil. So, what exactly are they up to down there—and what powers do fungi have that humans could harness?
Many people in Aotearoa inhabit places far from the main centres. This map highlights New Zealand’s most remote areas and the communities who live there. Accounting for roads, terrain, land cover and waterways, these places have the longest travel times from a major urban area.
This map shows places with the longest travel time to a city of at least 75,000 people. These communities have between 30 permanent residents (Bruce Bay) to nearly 400 (Oban). Although some of these places are tourist destinations that attract many more visitors throughout the year, their permanent populations are as small as they are remote.
Research on the Alpine Fault suggests there’s a high chance of a magnitude-8 event occurring within the next half century. This will cause significant damage in the area, but just as the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake had a significant impact on Wellington, it is also likely to be widely felt across the lower North Island.
Some 30,000 residential chimneys in Christchurch toppled or caused damage during the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes. Most were unreinforced concrete masonry or brick, which are common in pre-1970s homes.
Chimneys are just one feature of a home we can make safer for future earthquakes. The Earthquake Commission has assembled a quickfire list of those features most likely to fail, and what can be done to mitigate damage and danger to occupants.
For more information visit the Earthquake Commission website: eqc.govt.nz/be-prepared