Firefighting foam contamination has been found above safety trigger points in some samples around Whenuapai airbase in Auckland.
A small number of fish samples have PFAS chemicals in them at food safety levels that should trigger further investigations, the Auckland Council said.
Two out of 12 surface water samples exceeded the recreational water guidelines for health.
Surface water, groundwater and sediment testing in most cases has the contamination at levels under the safety guidelines.
"No drinking water is affected," a council statement said.
"PFAS compounds are not present in deep bores, those between 200-300 metres in depth, that might be used as local water sources. In addition, drinking water in the area comes from the town supply and is not affected."
As for the fish, though Food Safety Australia and New Zealand trigger values were exceeded, "these levels are below the Ministry for Primary Industries PFOS food safety risk consumption guidelines for fresh or marine fish".
Twelve properties neighbouring the airbase have had tests.
No testing has taken place at the nearby Hobsonville Point housing development although firefighters say wastewater from Whenuapai was dumped there over the years.
The results of tests at Devonport naval base are expected by the end of the year.
Earlier tests at the base showed some very high levels of contamination in monitoring wells, and low levels in the mudflats and in Ngataringa Bay.
The results follow six weeks of tests at Auckland sites led by the Defence Force as part of nation-wide investigations into contamination from PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS - compounds that are long-lasting, accumulate in the body over time, and have been linked - so far inconclusively - to cancer and other conditions.
"The Defence Force is currently undertaking further analysis of sediment and biota results," the council said.
RNZ has requested the Defence Force release the whole report.
The helicopter that crashed on Thursday in Wanaka was carrying two Department of Conservation staff members on a tahr control operation. Both DOC workers and the pilot Nick Wallis died when the leased Hughes 500 helicopter came down shortly after take-off. Eugenie Sage is the Minister for Conservation and talks to Guyon Espiner from Wanaka.
Wanaka helicopter crash a huge loss for DOC – Eugenie Sage
Goat Island marine reserve needs to be expanded to stop crayfish numbers dwindling to an all-time low, say Auckland University scientists.
Laboratory senior lecturer Nick Shears said the first research into crayfish numbers, when the reserve opened in 1975, showed there were 10 per 500 square metres.
As the 518ha reserve became more effective, that figure grew to around 40.
But due to more intensive fishing on the reserve border, numbers have dropped back to just 10 - wiping out more than 40 years of conservation efforts.
"The reserve boundary extends 800m offshore, but the sand flats where the crayfish feed are beyond this," Dr Shears said.
"The reserve needs to constantly protect its marine life, which isn't happening, and this means we could soon have less crayfish than when the reserve first opened."
Relevant agencies are aware of the issue and a Sea Change Plan, designed to enhance the Hauraki Gulf, proposes to extend the boundary a further 2.2km to 3km.
However, no time frames have been set for when the proposal might come into effect.
In August, the university approached Auckland Conservation Board with its concerns.
Board chairperson Lyn Mayes shares the university's concern.
"The board supports the call by researchers to extend the boundary of the reserve to a minimum of 3km offshore."
The board could not comment on any action it may have taken to try to get the boundary extended.
Rodney MP Mark Mitchell said he would be right behind any proposal to expand the reserve.
"I'm a huge fan of marine reserves and I can't see any downsides to expanding the one at Goat Island," Mr Mitchell said.
"It serves our researchers, is a good learning facility and a great tourist attraction."
Leigh resident and honorary Department of Conservation ranger, Tony Enderby, said he supported a boundary expansion, but had concerns about opposition.
"It's a great idea, but I have doubts it will happen because a lot of fishermen are opposed to the idea," he said.
Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage said she could not comment on the specific proposal to expand the reserve, but government agencies were working out the best way to progress the Sea Change Plan proposals.
Meanwhile, marine life in local reserves is having to face the additional challenge of sea pollution.
Earlier this month, Goat Island Dive and Snorkel owners Stone and Tine Meharry-Roland found a set net drifting near Tawharanui Marine Reserve full of dead fish.
"People set these nets and then don't monitor them closely. They drift off and catch all sorts of marine life that gets in their way," Mr Meharry-Roland said.
"The nets are often made of nylon so can easily last 30 years in the water."
The pair regularly do clean-ups around the coastline and find a lot of rubbish.
"We pick up everything from tyres to fridges, bikes, crayfish pots and, most commonly, plastic waste."
Goat Island sees around 350,000 visitors each summer. Mr Meharry-Roland said beachgoers and anglers needed to be mindful of rubbish and the damage it did.
Auckland University operates the Leigh Marine Laboratory, and the Cape Rodney-Okakari Point (Goat Island) Marine Reserve was originally set up for scientific research purposes. It is administered by the Department of Conservation.
- SunLive/ RNZ
The Department of Conservation will begin its cull of Himalayan Tahr from the Southern Alps this week but it will be less than what they originally wanted.
DOC said it aims to remove six thousand of the wild goats from conservation land between now and mid-November.
A larger cull of 10,000 had been planned, but the hunting sector objected, threatening legal action against DOC. They argued Tahr were a prized hunting trophy and that plans for the cull were based on inadequate knowledge of the species.
As a result, DOC has agreed to reduce the number of Tahr to be killed between now and November after a meeting between DOC and stakeholders earlier this month.
The Minister of Conservation said DOC will then assess what further action is needed to reach the 10,000 animal target by August 2019, in consultation with a stakeholder liason group.
"The target of controlling 10,000 Himalayan tahr over the next eight months remains," Eugenie Sage said.
"DOC has been consulting hunters and other stakeholders on the draft operational plan and how to best undertake the control operation. Their input has been appreciated," Eugenie Sage said.
DOC will start aerial control from this Thursday weather permitting.
Ms Sage said even after this control work was done, there would still be thousands of tahr available for guided Himalayan tahr hunting and hunting tourist ventures.
New Zealand's first carbon credit investment fund is being planned for ordinary investors and the stock market.
Salt Funds Management spent years creating an investment fund for carbon credits which greenhouse gas emitters, such as power and fuel companies, buy to offset their emissions.
The managing director of Salt Funds, Paul Harrison, said the cost of carbon in New Zealand was expected to increase - possibly five-fold from $25 to $125 a tonne - as the Paris Accord 2030 target neared.
Investors and consumers could use the fund to offset the increasing cost of carbon, which would likely be passed on in higher fuel and power bills, he said.
"In terms of offsetting the potential for the carbon price to go up. It's going to give people the ability to hedge out the potential for that," Mr Harrison said.
The carbon fund would invest in New Zealand and international carbon credits, which could cost about $40 a tonne in some countries, he said.
The minimum initial investment in the fund would be $5000.
The fund is labelled as high risk and needs approval from the Financial Markets Authority before it can be listed on the NZX main board and sold to the public.
Department of Conservation (DOC) will permanently close 21 tracks to prevent the spread of kauri dieback.
Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage announced the closures in addition to partial closures of another 10 tracks.
The closures will affect tracks in Kaitaia, the Kauri Coast, Whangārei, on Aotea/Great Barrier Island, in Hauraki, Waikato, and Tauranga, and will be monitored.
For the 10 partially closed tracks, a section will be permanently closed while the rest of the track is upgraded to eliminate wet and muddy sections.
"As there is currently no proven cure for kauri dieback, the best way to protect our kauri is to slow and stop the disease from spreading," Ms Sage said.
"I appreciate some people may be disappointed by the closure of a favourite track but I strongly encourage everyone do the right thing and respect the track closures to reduce the risk to kauri forests."
The decision was made after public consultation, which showed most favoured closure.
"Closures may be reconsidered in the future if additional science and other information provide certainty that public access would not cause any risk to kauri," Ms Sage said.
DOC is working with iwi to establish the next steps for the remaining tracks on kauri land that have not yet been upgraded.
Farmed snapper could be on our tables in just a few years, according to an award-winning scientist.
Associate Professor Maren Wellenreuther from Plant and Food Research and the University of Auckland has been awarded the 2018 Hamilton Award, an Early Career Award, for developing snapper as an aquaculture species.
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Dr Wellenreuther’s research has involved bringing snapper into tanks, getting them to spawn and successfully rearing the eggs and larvae to breeding maturity at three years old.
She says that although commercially farming snapper is still five to ten years away, she is pleased with progress so far.
“For the early life stages of snapper we were able to double the growth rate already, so we are quite confident that we can get them to grow to, say, 700 grams or one kilogram much faster.”
Dr Wellenreuther and her colleagues have also developed a novel way of identifying individual snapper, which is like a visual fingerprint and can be used instead of tagging.
“We take an image of the fish, and using that image we can actually identify each individual in our hatchery,” she says.
“And I’m talking about thousands of different fish. With a very high accuracy – 99 percent accuracy. So the colour pattern of snapper, we’ve found, is absolutely unique to each individual and it’s also stable over time.
Using DNA to understand one of the greatest human migration events in history has earned Professor Lisa Matisoo Smith, a biological anthropologist at the University of Otago, the 2018 Mason Durie Medal for social science.
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Prof Matisoo-Smith uses DNA to understand human migrations, especially the great migration of Polynesians across the Pacific.
She says she began working with DNA from animals such as kiore, or Pacific rat, which people took with them as they migrated.
Once she had gained the trust of local people, she began collaborating with Polynesian communities across the Pacific, and with iwi in New Zealand.
The parallel genetic histories of humans as well as kiore, chickens and pigs showed that human migration into the Pacific began in South-East Asia and moved in waves across the Pacific. New Zealand was the last major landmass to be settled, about 750 years ago.
Prof Matisoo-Smith has worked closely with Rangitane o Wairau iwi at Wairau Bar, near Blenheim, where some of the first Polynesians in New Zealand settled about 700 years ago.
“We were able to obtain the first complete mitochondrial genomes from the first New Zealanders, and that was pretty exciting,” she says.
“But we were able to combine it and sample Rangitane members today and look at their mitochondrial DNA, and then provide the genetic connection between the population of Rangitane today and their tipuna from Wairau Bar.”
In her Africa to Aotearoa project, Prof Matisoo-Smith collected DNA from more than 2000 people in diverse communities across New Zealand.
“This has been a very exciting project,” she says, “which has included both interesting science and community engagement.”
“What we found was that all of the major mitochondrial lineages that exist, all of the branches of the human family tree … are found here in Aotearoa.”
Prof Matisoo-Smith says she is increasingly looking at the implications of the genetic history of Pacific peoples on issues they are facing today, such as health.
“We’re integrating an evolutionary and anthropological approach to understanding human health.”
A history of Our Changing World interviews
Prof Matisoo-Smith has appeared on Our Changing World on a number of occasions, talking her research.
In 2009, she spoke about ‘Tracing the great Pacific migration.’
In 2012, she discussed the ‘Genetic map of the first settlers.’
On 2014, she featured in several stories about her ‘Africa to Aotearoa project’, which included a visit to a Gisborne iwi to collect DNA for National Geographic’s Genographic Project.
Later in 2014, we heard about the first results of ‘New Zealanders’ ancient genetic ancestry’, and followed this up in 2016 with a report on how super-diverse New Zealand’s genetic legacy is.
And in 2016, we visited Wairau Bar, to hear about one of the first settlement sites in New Zealand.
Science commentator, Dr Malvindar Singh-Baines has more on new research into irregular heartbeats and dementia. Also how too much sleep could be just as bad as too little, and how the neural patterns could help people with memory disorders. Dr Malvindar Singh-Baines is a neuroscientist from the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland.
How do we cook, eat, clean and parent without hurting our environment? Wendyl Nissen has been searching for answers for these questions for fifteen years and has compiled them into a new book, The Natural Home.
It's packed with with recipes, ideas and tricks to make the home sustainable. She joins me now in the Auckland Studio.
A marine mammal expert is casting doubt on a report that says a rare dolphin most likely died from blood poisoning.
The pathology report in to the death of what is believed to be a critically-endangered Māui dolphin, was released just over a week ago by the Department of Conservation.
It said a still-born foetus found inside the mammal most likely resulted in the mother developing blood poisoning.
But Otago University professor Liz Slooten said the report did not delve in to detail on whether the animal could have drowned in a fishing net, something she thought was a distinct possibility.
"We can't be sure that it has been caught in a net but we can't be sure that it has not. Only half of dolphins caught in gill nets have those kinds of markings so we can't rule it out."
Professor Slooten, who had carried out about 120 autopsies on dolphins, noted the mammal was healthy, indicating it had not been hungry or sick in the weeks leading up to its death.
She said Maui dolphins were teetering on the brink of extinction and wanted the government to implement the recommendations of the International Whaling Commission from three years ago.
This asked for fishing nets to be banned less than 20 nautical miles from shore from Northland to Whanagnui.
"It's really sad in this case to have these two deaths because with this very small population of Maui dolphins of only about 55 individuals one year and older only half of those would be expected to be females, so that's about 28...and half of those would be expected to be mature. So we are talking 14 breeding age females...so to lose one, especially one that was pregnant is really really bad."
A Department of Conservation spokesperson said there were no signs the Gibson Beach dolphin was entangled in a net and this was not something it was looking at.
Consumer advocates have produced guides offering clarity to stop shoppers paying extra for products that aren't as environmentally friendly as these seem.
This practice is called greenwashing and some warned the problem was only going to get worse, as shoppers look to make more sustainable choices with their wallet.
Since 2013, two companies have been fined through the Commerce Commission for making unsubstantiated environmental claims.
Waste management body WasteMinz chief executive Paul Evans says greenwashing can take many forms.
"There are products which heavily use the colour green, to infer some environmental standard, they use tag lines, or logo which suggest there's an environmental benefit, some have cute little creatures on them.
"There's certainly a number of products out there, in my opinion the average consumer would look at that and think this has got a really good environmental benefit to it," he said.
Mr Evans said there was now a working group creating advertising guides for companies, so they met consumers' expectations.
The guides will be ready by the end of the year, but if that did not work the group would take the matter further.
"In the first instance we will be contacting a number of manufacturers asking them to substantiate their claims, where they're not able to substantiate them, we'll look at gathering the data required to see if that needs to go to the Commerce Commission," he said.
RNZ contacted company Bonson SavPac who was using a green tree and brown paper for their food containers.
On their website it said the product meets the increasing demand for environmental-friendly food packaging options.
However chief executive David Tsui told RNZ the packaging can't be recycled or composted in New Zealand, due to its plastic lining.
"We're from the angle, it was made from renewable resources, from trees, so we interpret that as an environmentally friendly product," he said.
Mr Tsui said they are now looking at changing the wording on the website and alternative linings, so it can be recycled.
Lyn Mayes from the Packaging Forum said some companies had been tripped up by the changes in how New Zealand dealt with its rubbish.
"Things have changed with the impact of the China swords, that has really changed the markets for a lot of products that were once recyclable because we sent them off shore.
"With those markets drying up its a lot more difficult to find viable markets here in New Zealand or even off shore," she said.
She said some companies are now setting-up collections to make sure their products can be disposed of in the way they are advertised.
Consumer NZ spokesperson Jessica Wilson said greenwashing could become a growing issue as the market increases for sustainable goods.
"We do need in this area around packaging better standards around what companies can and cannot claim, rally if they're making claims they can't substantiate then that is a potential breech of the fair trading act, and they could be prosecuted by the commerce commission," she said.
In the meantime, Ms Wilson said there were ways consumers could protect themselves from paying extra for a faux environmentally-friendly product.
"Our advice is to be sceptical about environmental claims, if the manufacturer isn't providing good information to back them up.
"If it can't tell you for example where you can get rid of your compostable material, than avoid doing business with them," she said.
It's the biggest day of the year for birds, with the winner of Forest and Bird's 2018 Bird of the Year about to be revealed. Has the Kea retained its title or has it been defeated by the flightless Kakapo, the esteemed Kereru, or the sleek black stilt? This year saw the highest voter turnout on record, one cheeky bird turning up on Tinder, and almost 2000 fraudulent votes that had to be plucked out. Forest and Bird's Megan Hubscher is in the studio.
Icy storms in Antarctica are delaying scientists travelling to Scott Base for the summer season of research. The wild winds and heavy snow have closed the McMurdo Sound airfields. That's delayed New Zealand and American scientists for two weeks - the longest delay in more than 30 years. Simon Trotter is the General Manager of Operations at Antarctica New Zealand.
Icy storms delay research at Antarctica’s Scott Base
Five rare kiwi chicks will be released back into their Southland home now they are heavy enough to fight off stoats alone.
The Haast Tokoeka Kiwi is the rarest kiwi, with a wild population of between 400 and 500 birds.
The chicks were raised in a kiwi creche on predator-free Rona Island in Lake Manapouri.
Department of Conservation South Westland senior ranger Inge Bolt said the island had kept the birds safe from stoats, which would kill most kiwi before they became adults.
"Only Haast tokoeka, which have reached a weight of 1.6kg, will make the final move back to their place of birth. At this weight, they are better able to fend off attack from stoats."
It took many people, organisations and volunteers to raise kiwi to an age where they could be returned to their home.
Without their work, the wild population of Haast Tokoeka kiwi would be significantly lower, Ms Bolt said.
"It's a really important thing that we step in and do what we can at this stage, we're trying to find out more as we go so that we can better understand the species, and the more that we understand them, the better we can help them."
The chicks will be released next week.
Petrol prices have hogged the headlines this past week. Much coverage has been about what’s affordable in the short term, not what’s sustainable in the longer term. It often is when the price spikes and things get political.
Last Monday the PM revved up the petrol price media coverage by telling reporters she had been in part prompted by the media.
“I am hugely concerned. There has been reporting in recent days on the price of fuel - and with good reason,” she said. She wants to pass a law ASAP to compel fuel companies to force the fuel industry to co-operate with a study of the petrol market by the Commerce Commission.
The “pain at the pump” cliche was rolled out on TVNZ and Newshub in the six o clock TV news that night and on the Herald’s front page the following morning - a familiar phrase for what's become a familiar story over recent years.
Ten years ago, the headlines warned of $2 petrol by Christmas. It didn’t happen, but the barrier was crossed soon after.
Three years later, retailer Gull pulled the price down below $2 just before Christmas - or even cheaper with a supermarket discount voucher.
By Christmas 2014, the AA was hailing another price plunge below $2.
However, what goes down can come up.
Four years on - the media are now softening up the public for the prospect of $3 a litre petrol by next year.
On Newshub Nation this weekend, NZME head of business Fran O'Sullivan said a four-year "sweet spot" of lower crude oil prices and a high dollar had ended just as the government's latest excise hikes came into effect.
But there's an extra political factor now too.
The opposition seized on the higher than expected financial surplus announced this week to demand reversal of petrol tax hikes, while the AA demanded GST be stripped to save motorists money.
“The Government would be wise to take heed, tolerance of petrol taxes may be reaching the limit,” said the Herald.
Meanwhile, Stuff’s political reporter Henry Cooke reminded readers using the $5.5b surplus to cut fuel taxes would undercut the ring-fenced funding system for transport, hurting motorists in the long run.
On Tuesday The Herald canvased the cheapest and most expensive places to fuel up in New Zealand; TVNZ broke down the cost of a litre, Newshub compared New Zealand and overseas prices and Stuff checked out how rising fuel taxes will be spent.
Newstalk ZB reckoned women could miss out on critical pregnancy care because of petrol, especially in Northland - though as host Mike Yardley pointed out, petrol prices are actually lower there than in many other regions.
Newsroom asked: are petrol retailers profiteering?
A bit like last year’s inconclusive in inquiry, the answer was that it’s hard to say how effectively competition is functioning.
Meanwhile under the headline; New Zealand is busy bickering about petrol prices while the world burns, Stuff correspondent Charlie Mitchell said all this was going on against the backdrop of the IPCC's new report into the waning possibility of limiting warming to 1.5C by the end of the century.
"Within an hour of the report's release, the Prime Minister was talking about fossil fuels at her post-Cabinet press conference," he wrote.
"Jacinda Ardern wasn't talking about how to stop using them – which the IPCC report made abundantly clear needed to happen rapidly – but how to burn them more cheaply," he added.
The clanging contrast was obvious in Monday’s TV news bulletins.
Having lead with petrol prices, TVNZ 1News segued into the warning of sacrifices required to save the planet - off the back of the rising costs of holiday roadtrips.
“Maybe the climate change advocates have cried wolf so often and now so loudly that bit by bit people aren’t listening,” said Andrew Dickens on Newstalk ZB.
“I find my inbox full of pseudo scientific rants from listeners about all the reasons why the perceived human effect on climate change is a fiction,” he said.
On Newstalk ZB, that’s no surprise.
Several of its top hosts have told their listeners over and over down the years not to listen to climate science.
Stuff’s Charlie Mitchell said our reliance on fossil fuels should have been the issue on Monday, not lowering the petrol price - and journalists should take some blame.
They could have had the IPCC report since last weekend, he said, to set the agenda.
It's not just the PM and the politicians who have awkward ‘optics’ on this issue.
The Herald's online stories about the issue on Monday were often broken up by adverts promoting a supermarket chain’s petrol discounts with Z Energy.
On Wednesday, Stuff app users were offered a “today-only” 10c-a-litre Fly Buys discount and urged to tap the app to find the closest station.
And The Herald’s editorial on Tuesday which said “petrol may be a prime source of climate-changing carbon emissions and higher prices may be the most effective antidote” carried a promo for sister radio network ZM giving away free petrol every 15 minutes.
"Petrol has reached an all-time high in NZ and it’s making a massive dent in Kiwi’s wallets…but we’ve had a great idea… FREE FUEL FOR EVERYONE! The best bit? It’s easy, just DIAL 0800 ZM - and $100 worth of sweet, sweet Petrol is yours. YASSSSSSSS . . . . . "
The ZM website also directs users to the cheapest petrol around the country.
In Friday's Herald, the paper's former economics editor Brian Fallow said fuel prices are now too low, not too high.
"Consumers of petrol and diesel, and other fossil fuels, need to get used to the idea that the price of these things will have to keep on rising to the point where we no longer consume any. The only question is how long it takes for commerce and government between them to deliver the alternatives we need for that to be feasible, and how much planetary damage is inflicted in the meantime," he wrote.
One event overshadowed in the media by the petrol price issue was the Environmental Defence Society's business and climate change conference in Auckland this week.
"To the armchair experts who've googled their way into dismissing the science of climate change, the message is clear: You don't have to believe in it to plan for its impacts," wrote one of few to report back from it, Business Desk editor Pattrick Smellie.
"To do otherwise is to have your head in the sand on a beach with a rapidly rising tideline," he said.
A message the media needs to get along with all the others.
A new research centre at Nelson's Cawthron Institute aims to improve the resilience and productivity of farmed fish.
The $8 million addition to the Cawthron's aquaculture park was launched yesterday.
The Finfish Research Centre will focus on selective breeding and how fish might adapt to changing environmental conditions.
Cawthron Institute aquaculture group manager Dr Serean Adams said the new centre will enable improved stock management, breeding and husbandry and support the development and growth of the aquaculture industry.
Senior aquaculture scientist Dr Jane Symonds said it would also conduct research for the aquaculture industry, and help them advance research already underway.
"It really expands our capability to do large-scale research. We've been doing salmon research on the site for a few years now, but this will expand that with more tanks and more environmental control.
"We can look at four different temperatures at the same time for example, and we can test in fresh water and in salt water," Dr Symonds said.
Dr Symonds said the research applied to areas wider than the Marlborough Sounds, which had experienced warmer than usual water temperatures in recent years.
"We're working with all the industry in the South Island, from Stewart Island to the Marlborough Sounds. They have unique temperature ranges so it's also interesting to look at colder temperatures as well as warmer temperatures."
The research centre was fully funded by the Cawthron, but no direct support had come from the industry.
Dr Symonds said the industry did, however, play a key role in its development.
"It's been a journey with the industry - we have an industry advisory group and all the major salmon farmers are involved, and the feed companies. We meet every six months or so to revisit what we're doing and show them what we're doing and get their input.
"We learn about their priorities and answer some of their key questions, and provide solutions and knowledge."
Dr Adams said feed was the largest cost of farming fish so knowledge about food conversion efficiency and the underlying biological processes that determined it was "extremely important."
Dr Symonds said the new centre would draw on the expertise spread across Cawthron's more than 200 employees, but would have a dedicated team of specialists, including international collaborators and five new technical staff working at the centre.
by Ellie Jay
A Raglan zero waste scheme is discovering plastics placed in its commercial composter aren't always as compostable as they claim to be.
A lack of regulation around product packaging means consumers are being duped into buying things which aren't nearly as green as they seem, say waste management companies.
The number of different symbols on products and a lack of clarity over terms like "biodegradable" and "compostable" has meant that without the infrastructure in place to sort or process these products, a lot has ended up in landfill.
One enterprise trying to tackle this problem is Xtreme Zero Waste, a Raglan community enterprise that has started a trial of compostable plastics in its commercial composter.
Everything the town's 5000 inhabitants throw away is taken here. At the moment they divert 75 percent of waste from landfill and are hoping the composter will help them divert another 19 percent.
"We've become plastic addicts," the company's organics team leader Liz Stanway said.
"With China saying we don't want to have the world's recycled plastic that we really need to look at how we use plastic packaging."
When RNZ visited, plastic bottle caps, single use bags and fruit stickers were still whole and contaminating compost even six weeks into the composting process.
The composting unit is a concrete trough 40 metres long and 4 metres high with a sliding roof. When it rolls back you can see piles of food and garden waste in various stages of composting. Each pile is a different week's worth of the town's waste.
Amanda Moxey is a researcher looking at single use plastics. She is adding plastic products to the compost that claim to be "certified compostable" to see if they do break down, as advertised.
The trials involve plastic certified to international composting certifications and the initial results were promising.
New Zealand does not have a certification process of its own.
But Ms Moxey said this was not a problem; international standards were stringent enough.
However, labelling products did need to become clearer, she said.
"We need to adopt some form of labelling like we have for recycling that would have a very clear logo," Ms Moxey said.
Most products that claimed to be compostable were actually only compostable in commercial facilities, she said.
Without proper processing, compostable plastic items most likely ended up in Landfill.
After the 12-week process the final compost product looks just like freshly dug earth, with no signs of plastic or the food waste.
There are plans to scale up the composting machine and the design can be replicated across the country.
Despite this, Ms Stanway warned against thinking certified compostable plastic as a silver bullet.
"I look in the supermarket shelves and think, 'If all of that was compostable what would the impact be?' The impact would be the mountains of plastic we see on TV not being able to go to China would suddenly become a compostable challenge."
A new drug testing regime of our waste water will reveal what drugs are being used in our towns and cities, and in real time. Wastewater testing is set to be rolled out across New Zealand, with the expansion of the Police and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research's wastewater pilot programme. 38 sites across the 12 police districts will be covered by the end of this month, capturing 80% of New Zealand's population. The ESR Chief Executive, is Keith McLea.
Banded dotterels are small, dumpy shorebirds. They breed on South Island braided riverbeds, as well as on beaches around the country.
At Eastbourne, near Wellington, a small population of dotterels is closely watched by curious locals, including George Hobson, an enthusiastic 15-year-old birder.
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A brisk wind ruffles the water of Wellington harbour into a froth of whitecaps, and scours across a wide flat expanse of grey pebbles, chunks of driftwood and a scattering of low scrubby plants at the back of the beach.
Binoculars in one hand and a small remote-triggered trail camera in the other, George climbs over the seawall separating the houses of Eastbourne from the beach.
Fifteen-year old George is a home-schooled bird enthusiast, and a keen pohowera or banded dotterel minder. He is out here every week, making regular checks on the four pairs of dotterels that turn up each spring to breed.
George is more than a casual observer. He’s part of a group of like-minded birders who are involved in a banded dotterel nesting study, organised by local environment group Mainland Island Restoration Operation, or MIRO for short.
This is the third year of the study, and already this season the four resident dotterel pairs have laid eggs, only to have their nests fail shortly afterwards.
George doesn’t know what caused the nests to fail – predators such as rats, hedgehogs and neighbourhood cats might be to blame, or it could be that they were disturbed too many times by off-leash dogs.
But, undeterred by failure, the plucky birds are already re-nesting.
Fellow banded dotterel watcher, Joan, walks on the beach every day, and the previous day she reported finding a new nest.
George’s task is to install a remote-triggered trail camera near the new nest; he hopes it might shed light on what is happening at the nest. That’s not as easy as it might sound.
First, he has to find it. There is not much to look for – a simple scrape in the gravel, and speckled eggs that bear an uncanny resemblance to the small rocks around them.
George heads to where he thinks the nest might be, and hears a distinctive high-pitched ‘pink’. It’s the call of a banded dotterel, and out the corner of his eye he catches a movement.
It’s a male banded dotterel, darting briskly around as it searches for insects.
Another ‘pink’, this time from a slightly different direction, gives away the female bird.
George knows that the adults are deliberately drawing attention to themselves, and that suggests they have something to hide. He’s confident he’s in the right part of the beach, but he still can’t find that elusive nest.
A quick phone call and Joan appears to guide him to it.
Joan describes herself as a complete amateur, but admits that she is a keen bird spotter who is “getting quite good at finding nests.”
“These are such sweet birds,” she says. “They’ve got a special character.”
The nest they find holds three green eggs, speckled with black spots. Perfectly camouflaged, they are nestled amongst rocks and bits of driftwood.
The adult birds will take turns incubating the eggs for up to 28 days, relying on stealth and the camouflage of their brown backs to hide them from predators.
The problem is that the birds are expecting aerial hunters like harrier hawks that hunt by sight during the day. But in modern New Zealand they have to contend with mammalian predators that hunt by smell at night. And a nesting dotterel is a beacon of scent in a barren desert.
George quickly deploys the motion-triggered camera, which can work in the dark as well as during the day, and he and Joan move away to allow the parents to return to duty.
As they watch through binoculars, Joan identifies which birds they are. Each bird has a small flag on one leg with a unique lettered code, and she manages to read the letters on the female’s band: PCC.
“She’s paired up with PCA,” she says, “This is a couple from last year who’ve paired up again this year. They’re old friends”
A couple of minutes later, PCC slips back onto the nest and tucks the eggs under the warmth of her brood patch. The male feeds quietly nearby.
All going well, the chicks will hatch in a few weeks. George says the grey chicks are “basically little balls of fluff with legs. And within a couple of hours they are up and off the nest, running around and feeding themselves.”
The self-sufficient chicks stay with their parents for six-or-so weeks, before becoming independent.
George says that come the end of summer the dotterels will head a few kilometres south to the Pencarrow Lakes.
While the Eastbourne birds don’t seem to travel far, birds from other parts of the country make longer migrations over winter. Many North island birds migrate to harbours in the Far North, while birds from the South Island’s braided rivers head across the Tasman to Australia.
But all this is many months in the future. In the meantime, George, Joan and the other dotterel watchers will spend the summer following the progress of ‘their’ birds.
They will keep reminding the local dog walkers to keep their dogs on leashes or to stay well away from the nesting area at the front of the beach.
If they can work out what is destroying the nests, they will deploy the right kind of trap and hopefully get rid of any predators.
And by the end of the breeding season they’ll have some more information to add to their growing body of knowledge about their feathered neighbours.
Bird of the Year
George is campaign manager for banded dotterel in the 2108 Bird of the Year competition. Voting closes 4pm Sunday 14 October 2018.
In 2018, George was awarded the A.T. Edgar Junior Award by Birds New Zealand.