Among the best frames of 2021 were just a handful of winners, drum roll please...
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Among the best frames of 2021 were just a handful of winners, drum roll please...
Usually, the answer to this question is something along the lines of: Holding power to account. Informing the citizenry. Shining a light on what’s hidden. Facilitating democracy, which, according to the Washington Post, dies in darkness. Giving a voice to the voiceless. New Zealand Geographic has an extra role to play. Our features frequently point out the choices we have before us—especially those with inevitable consequences. The state of the Hauraki Gulf seems, on the face of it, like one of those inevitabilities. Things look very different from when my grandparents were my age. The spotted shags have gone, and most of the crayfish. The kelp forests are disappearing too, mowed down by kina that pattern the rocky seafloor like pox. It’s not the urchins’ fault—they’re not in good shape either, half-starved. Their world is out of joint because their predators disappeared. The top got lopped off their food chain. But that’s the price of development, isn’t it? The cost of 1.7 million people living around the gulf. You’ve got to expect some kind of environmental change, right? Yet the loss of crayfish and large snapper isn’t a condition of the city’s growth, nor a prerequisite to its people’s wellbeing. We could have both Auckland and crayfish on the coast. But there are so few crayfish, right now, that their absence is about to launch a cascade of unintended consequences. If the ecosystem gets far enough out of balance, it’ll tip over into something entirely different, and we won’t be able to resurrect the old version. Whether or not you like the taste of kina, few would want it to be the only kaimoana on the menu. This is a choice we’re on the cusp of making. We could act in time to reverse the chain of events. Or we could continue down the path we’re on. Inaction is a choice with consequences, too. If we don’t make decisions rooted in our values, we’ll end up in a place we never intended to reach. As we drain the last dregs of 2021, it’s easy to feel like nothing’s in our control, that we’re helpless in the face of governments around the world and the terrible lottery played whenever the virus replicates in our cells. But if the COVID-19 lockdowns have taught us anything, it’s that we can change our behaviour dramatically in order to fix a problem—even really big, complex problems. Especially when it’s a matter of life or death. New Zealanders agree on a lot of things. We want to be able swim in clean, unpolluted waters, whether we’re surfing or snorkelling or taking bone-chilling river dips. We want our oceans to be brimming with life, whether we prefer to look at it or hunt and eat it. It’s possible to make choices that will lead us to both of these things—albeit choices that are difficult in the short-term. If I have a motto for the stories in the magazine, it’s this: To show that the world around us isn’t on its default setting, that we have made it this way, and we could make it differently.
Tiny plastic motes suspended in the atmosphere have an impact on the global climate, according to research from a New Zealand team. As plastic degrades, weathered by the elements, it breaks down into smaller and smaller fragments. Microplastics are between five millimetres and one micron in size—one-hundredth the width of a human hair. They’re tiny, but they’re everywhere: from deep ocean trenches to remote Antarctic icescapes, and, closer to home, in our table salt and drinking water. They’re even airborne, floating in the air we breathe and transported far and wide on the wind. Airborne particles can absorb sunlight or scatter it “like tiny disco balls”, says the University of Canterbury’s Laura Revell, who led a study into the impact of microplastics on the global climate. Scattering has a cooling effect, while absorbing light warms the Earth. “They do both,” says Revell. The plastic particles are pretty good at reflecting sunlight back into space, but they can also absorb heat radiated from the Earth, contributing a tiny amount to the greenhouse effect. Revell estimates microplastics will have a “significant” effect as plastic waste grows. In another modelling study, researchers estimated the amount of microplastics in Waikato River drinking water, which Auckland uses. Their worst-case scenario had the concentration at around 65 particles per litre—about five to ten times less than similar cities around the world, thanks to our low levels of industrial activity, low population density, and advanced filtration methods.
For generations, Samoan healers have been using the plant matalafi to treat inflammation, and illnesses caused by spirits or ghosts. So when Seeseei Molimau-Samasoni returned to her home village to collect plants for her doctoral research into traditional medicines, she was sceptical about matalafi. But of the 11 plants she analysed, it was the most potent. Matalafi (Psychotria insularum) is a member of the coffee family and grows throughout the South Pacific, but its use as a traditional medicine has been documented only in Samoa. Molimau-Samasoni consulted healers about how they prepared and used the leaf juice and pulp, and back at her lab at Victoria University of Wellington, tests on cells and in mice found that matalafi has an anti-inflammatory effect similar to ibuprofen, and that it affects cells’ iron levels. Working with Helen Woolner, who is Cook Island Māori, Molimau-Samasoni identified two iron-binding molecules with anti-inflammatory properties. Iron is an essential element, with an important role in cellular processes. While people are perhaps more aware of iron deficiency, says Woolner, iron imbalance or overload is associated with several serious diseases. She hopes to investigate matalafi’s effectiveness in the treatment of certain cancers and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Molimau-Samasoni is back in Apia, working at the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa, where she leads a team looking into Samoan medicinal plants, soil microbes and marine organisms for any antibacterial, anti-gout or anti-cancer properties. “It is hugely important for Pacific people to lead research into Pacific traditional knowledge,” she says, “and Pacific natural or genetic resources.”
Something is nibbling at the heart of our ecosystems. As possums, rats and stoats disappear thanks to Predator Free 2050 operations, mouse numbers are expected to climb. Are we prepared? And since mice eat our wētā, beetles, geckos and skinks—rather than our charismatic birds—do we care enough to do anything about it?
Kurahapainga Te Ua, called Kura, on joining a top kapa haka team, Te Waka Huia, touring the world, and artistic expression that lasts for generations.
Land is owned, but the sea is shared. And we haven’t been sharing very well.
Barley and cranberries for breakfast. Spelt and seeds for lunch, with soft cheese and beer. If you were a European salt miner 2700 years ago, that is. Researchers took a close look at salt-cured faeces, preserved for thousands of years in an Austrian salt mine, to identify components of the Iron Age diet. One ancient poo contained the fungal species used to make blue cheese (Penicillium roqueforti) and to ferment beer (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), providing evidence of, perhaps, a cheeseboard and a bevvy. The faecal samples pointed to a carb-rich, plant-based diet: lots of cereals such as barley and spelt, supplemented with occasional broad beans, fruits such as crab apples and cranberries, and seeds such as opium poppy seeds. There was a little consumption of meat from cattle and pigs.
The Nelson area is one of New Zealand’s richest for minerals. Here, obsessives comb rivers for unusual and precious rocks. Yet despite these people’s shared passion, friction abounds within the community, raising questions: who owns the precious stones that tumble down rivers in the public estate? Can anyone take them? And, if so, can they sell them? Should they?
Hidden among damp leaf litter, rocks and tree roots, the nocturnal Hamilton’s frog (Leiopelma hamiltoni) leads a surprising social life. During the day, the frogs retreat to damp, cosy crevices—often accompanied by a flatmate. These flatmates aren’t chosen at random—some frogs preferentially hang out with specific frogs, and avoid others they don’t like. In other words, frogs have friends. To map these amphibian social networks, researchers at the University of Otago turned to a captive population of Hamilton’s frogs. PhD student Luke Easton had been keeping detailed notes of the frogs’ interactions over several years, tracking them with photo ID. Individual frogs can be differentiated based on their distinctive markings: the pattern of mottled brown-and-black blotches on their back, “sort of like leopard spots”, says the study’s lead author, Simon Lamb. “One of the individuals was called Mo, because he had a moustache pattern.” Lamb realised that the meticulous notes collected by Easton could be used in social network analysis—a fancy statistical way of examining social associations between individuals. “You build up a map of who likes to hang out with each other.” The analysis assessed the strength of the friendship between individuals—the frequency of their hang-outs—and the diversity of interactions across the network. Were the same individuals always choosing the same flatmates, or were they switching it up? Were there froggy feuds? “In one of the tanks, we had one female that only hung out with one male during the entire study and that male almost never hung out with other females in the tank—only, like, a couple of times.” The idea for the study was sparked by a frog friendship observed at Zealandia Ecosanctuary. There, Joseph Altobelli, also from the University of Otago, spotted two female Hamilton’s frogs in the open, locked in a damp embrace, one plopped directly on top of the other. Going back over frog census records kept since 2012, he realised that these two individuals had been spending time together for the previous eight years. “This got us thinking, maybe there’s something up here,” he says. “Everything we know about frog social interaction is kind of limited to breeding behaviour. But how do they associate on a day-to-day basis? “People have assumed that amphibians maybe don’t have these higher-level social interactions like mammals and birds, and I think that’s led to them being overlooked.” How do Hamilton’s frogs chat with each other? This ancient species doesn’t call—they don’t even have eardrums. “It’s still a bit of a mystery as to how they communicate,” says Altobelli. “They may be using chemical cues.” The next step involves exploring amphibian social networks in the wild by equipping the frogs with tiny radio backpacks. This will allow the researchers to precisely determine who is hanging out with who. “Having this little window into their social life is actually really important,” says Altobelli. “It tells us a lot about how social interactions may play into the frogs’ survival, and then that will help us with their conservation.”
Taking a dip in a freezing lake or an ice bath is a growing trend, with practitioners claiming a variety of health benefits. So, what happens to your body—and your mind—when you’re immersed in cold water?
Health geographer Jesse Whitehead has been mapping New Zealanders’ access to healthcare, whether it’s the distance they have to travel to a vaccination clinic, or whether it would be more equitable to ensure vaccines are available at schools or GP clinics (it turns out that schools offer better coverage). These maps show the distance people must travel to the nearest metropolitan hospital (located in major cities, with a wide range of services) or regional hospital (with less capacity and fewer services).
From trophies to traditional medicine, the illegal trade in bear parts is driving some iconic species to extinction—and New Zealand is one destination in the $2 billion global market for smuggled bear products. In the ten years to 2018, New Zealand authorities made 412 seizures of smuggled bear parts and bear-derived products. More than 80 per cent of the seizures related to traditional medicines—often bear bile or gall bladder extract—but some also included bear parts and trophies.
This four-bunk stone hut in the Ruahine Forest Park is unique and full of stories.
The concepts of kaitiakitanga and manaakitanga are embedded in Northland. Three tourism operators from the region reveal how they balance doing business with doing good.
Whether it’s native tree planting, energy efficient buildings or sensors to protect fragile cave ecosystems, Waitomo’s tourism businesses are deeply committed to sustainability.
Pedal power is one of the best ways to appreciate the natural beauty of Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua.
Beautiful landscapes, friendly locals and abundant wildlife are all waiting to be discovered on five self-drive road trips in Southland.
This map focuses on the top of the South Island, and shows some of Aotearoa’s oldest and youngest rocks. The Tasman region’s hills and mountains contain the country’s oldest geological features. Between Takaka and Karamea lie ancient blocks of crooked mountains and valleys. These rocks formed during the Cambrian period, when life was restricted to the seas. The youngest rocks are typically those found in coastal river valleys and floodplains. The Wairau and Awatere valleys are the most recently formed parts of Marlborough. Rivers have transported gravels down from the mountains and created substantial coastal floodplains. Along with a favourable climate, well-draining soils are the basis of the region’s extensive vineyards. How to read The palest tones represent the youngest landscapes. The darker the colour, the older the bedrock.
One spring, Annette Lees was given a bat monitor for her birthday—a black and olive plastic gadget with knobs for adjusting volume and frequency and a speaker to announce when a bat was nearby. It is hard to think of a present that you could do less with. Nevertheless, Lees set it to 40 kilohertz and stepped out into the night. Within minutes, the monitor started clacking. “I looked up and saw the quickest flick of something sooty, something fleeting and heart-stopping,” she remembers. In that moment, After Dark was born. The book is Lees’ highly personal and delightfully discursive celebration of a world that is foreign to most of us, and full of “suspense, lawlessness, hazard, sensuousness and awe”. Chapter by chapter, hour by hour, she traces the goings-on in day’s mirror realm as Earth rolls into its own shadow, plunging land and sea into deepening darkness. Lees, a conservationist, ecologist, and life-long night walker, is a reliable and informative guide. There are three grades of twilight, we are told early on: civil, nautical, and astronomical. Each begins in turn as the sun sinks lower beneath the horizon, with true night arriving when the sun has sunk so far that none of its light escapes to obscure the faintest stars and galaxies. In After Dark we encounter a great deal of the natural world, of course, from “the first cak cak cak of an echo-locating night-flying Cook’s petrel travelling east into the raised night”, to the synchronised rhythm of glow-worm lighting, and the urban feeding forays of bats in Auckland’s Waitākere Ranges. And here are practical tips: walk a dim forest trail by following the slight gap between leaves in the canopy above (called “crown shyness”), and—this from the 1880s—avoid mosquitoes by eating while wreathed in woodsmoke. The social history, too, serves up surprises. A woman hunting snails by torchlight is reprimanded for breaking wartime blackout regulations; an appearance of the ghost of Hooker Hut; the eerie seismological silence of Auckland during the national COVID-19 lockdown. With no machinery banging away, no traffic growl, no real activity of any sort, the sprawling metropolis had ceased generating what seismologists call “cultural noise”. Thanks to its confessional frankness, After Dark is also an absorbing and at times poignant memoir. Whether Lees is being discovered while attempting to creep past a couple on their rural veranda, getting dangerously disoriented in the bush, or reflecting on the death of her young son, she has the rare skill of vividly encapsulating the moment. Above all, After Dark reminds us of how detached from natural processes we have become, and at what cost. In the early years of street illumination, lamp lighting was linked to the moon’s behaviour—off when the moon was full, on when it was absent. Now, the ubiquitous LED, with its bluish light, “shouts ‘Daytime!’ even in the dead of night”, with disastrous consequences for insects, birds and other wildlife. And with the night sky brightening by two per cent every year, light pollution is increasingly recognised as a global concern. As a corrective, Lees invites us to experience “the company of night animals and insects, the glassy light of stars, the floating moon”. And if you missed the show last night, she says, “Don’t worry, the chance will come again in just a few hours, as it has 4.6 billion times before.”
In WWI, fighter pilots went down with their aircraft. Could a bag of folded silk save them? In 1917, a New Zealander jumped out of a plane to find out.
Mining the deep ocean is likely to begin in the next few years, as countries and companies look to exploit a previously untapped resource of cobalt and other minerals essential for technologies like smartphones, laptops, and electric car batteries. But scientists have raised concerns about the impacts deep-sea mining will have on ocean ecosystems. A recent study found that mining claims in the high seas already have significant overlap with important tuna fisheries—the skipjack, bigeye and yellowfin tuna that many Pacific Island nations depend on. Mining produces toxins as well as large amounts of sediment that will have to be released into the water, reducing visibility and affecting the jellyfish, squid, zooplankton and small fish that tuna eat, says lead author Jesse van der Grient from the University of Hawai’i. “They might die, they might not grow as fast, or they might not reproduce as well. It could mean the tuna have less food and therefore we have less tuna. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the fishing industry could take a significant hit if ocean mining goes ahead.” Setting appropriate restrictions before mining begins is crucial—but scientists were concerned that a meeting of the International Seabed Authority in Jamaica in December could rush through approvals before research has been done.
The Hauraki Gulf is in trouble. Dwindling fish stocks, water pollution and increasing sedimentation are damaging the world’s first marine park and sounding alarms for researchers studying the area.
Diversifying your skill set can help you gain an edge on the competition when looking for employment after graduation.
The cognitive benefits of exercise are no secret to anybody who has been for a good run, or spent an hour in the gym lifting weights. But research from the University of Auckland’s Brain Dynamics Research Lab suggests those same ‘brain gains’ can be made with a short burst of high intensity exercise, offering a new tool in the war against the mid-afternoon workday slump.
Visitors to the Ōamaru Blue Penguin Colony are helping to create a more sustainable tourism industry.
Have you ever found a cuttlefish bone washed up by the tide? You may also have seen one of the bleached, surfboard-shaped shells in a budgie’s cage, acting as a calcium supplement. These are actually neither bone nor shell, but function in a similar way, giving shape and buoyancy to cuttlefish. There are no cuttlefish in New Zealand waters, but their remains are washed here from Australia. So, which species were they? And what had killed them? Researchers at Te Papa Tongarewa set out to solve the mystery. They managed to extract DNA from the dorsal shield, the top layer of the cuttlebones, and discovered that those most commonly found belonged to the Australian giant cuttlefish, Sepia apama. This animal lives in seagrass meadows and rocky reefs around the southern coasts of Australia, and it can rapidly change colour, flashing through different shades like a neon sign. Next, the Te Papa team analysed the punctures, cuts, and scratches found on the cuttlebones to try to determine what had eaten them. Using animal skulls and teeth from the museum’s collections, they made indentations in Blu Tack, then matched up the bite marks with the patterns on the cuttlebones to find the culprits: albatrosses, sharks and dolphins.
Waiheke Island is a hotbed of experimental winemaking, but nowhere is this more evident than at the University of Auckland’s Goldwater Wine Science Centre.
Divorce is a possibility for any socially monogamous species, from humans to seabirds. Typically, birds split up after breeding failures, allowing them to find a more suitable match. In the case of albatrosses, new research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests that climate change may increase divorce rates in couples who otherwise would have stayed together, with population-wide ramifications. Starting in 2003, international researchers tracked the mating behaviour and breeding success of black-browed albatrosses on the Falkland Islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean. They found that the divorce rates varied considerably from year to year, ranging between 0.8 and 7.7 per cent, and were strongly correlated with warm sea surface temperature anomalies, increasing as the waters warmed and fish became less available. The authors suggest the environmental stress could cause migrating pairs to arrive at different times, or that in times of shortage, females blame their mates for the lack of food, and look for greener pastures. The researchers predict similar patterns may be seen in other species, too, and say the findings represent an overlooked consequence of global climate change that could have unforeseen effects on endangered populations.
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