Is the Department of Conservation allowed to exchange conservation land for farmland?
Is the Department of Conservation allowed to exchange conservation land for farmland?
How many moa were there before the human settlement of Aotearoa? “We don’t know,” came the emphatic answer from the experts consulted for this issue. Estimates ranged from thousands of moa, to millions—though the higher end of the range was dismissed as “bollocks” in the carefully chosen words of one scientist. Why do whales strand? “Well… it’s complicated. There’s a range of contributing factors.” Simple questions can have complicated answers, and the popular image of science as a realm of orderly ideas and binary responses usually underestimates the complexity and tangled nature of problems that modern researchers are attempting to solve. Sometimes, there are thousands of variables, not the single cause-and-effect relationship of Newtonian physics. Which is what makes the Earth System Model—described by Naomi Arnold in this issue—such an audacious idea. It’s founded on the principle that every natural system and relationship can be described mathematically, and if you have rules that describe all of them—and a super-computer at your disposal—you can construct the perfect model of the planet, and demonstrate order within the apparent chaos. Not every process of this planet is fully understood, but the model will also serve to highlight those gaps in our understanding—the Southern Ocean being the largest missing piece in our region—and gradually resolve and refine it. Ultimately, this mathematical world will become the researchers’ play-thing. Like setting up a model train set, they will be able to re-route the tracks, build new tracks, and determine the route of the model train in order to understand how the real train might behave given different scenarios. Making sense of a complex world is the work of an Earth System Model, and for 55 issues editing New Zealand Geographic, asking simple questions and presenting the complicated answers in a compelling way has been my job too. For more than half of that period I have also been the magazine’s publisher, and now the moment has come to spend more time setting the direction of the title, and doubling-down in our efforts in the digital realm. I will still be involved with the print edition as a photo editor, but from next issue the editor’s torch will be passed to Rebekah White, currently deputy editor, award-winning former editor of Pro Photographer and frequent feature writer for this magazine—including in this edition. She is only the fourth in New Zealand Geographic’s relay of editors, and I know that she will bring the freshness of a new runner—a vibrant new voice and a new approach as the magazine approaches its third decade. Occupying this chair is a role I have cherished. Working with contributors to imagine a story, being the first person to read a freshly minted text, or receiving the first samples of a photographer’s work—sometimes sent direct from the field—has been a sublime privilege. Witnessing the magic moment when the text first touches the pictures on the designer’s screen, and watching the visual and textual narratives become entangled has probably been my greatest reward. And I trust this position will afford Rebekah as much satisfaction as it has me; even as she works to deliver insights and delights to you, in print and online. As for me, my mission remains the same—to give readers experiences that allow them to see New Zealand in a new way; to shed old mind-sets and build new notions of what this country is and could be. For the large and growing number of readers of this title, the future is full of possibility.
Seismic engineering is failing to anticipate the complexity of earthquakes.
Every other week I go for a long run through bush close to our house in the Auckland suburb of Birkenhead. Much of it is dominated by towering macrocarpas, but as I scramble up the trail that runs along the edge of Duck Creek, the thin understorey of ponga becomes more dense and diverse, the natives become larger, and at the head of a valley in the comparatively new suburb of Chatswood, I find myself surrounded by giants. Four kauri form a copse, rising like Apollo rockets from the undergrowth. I can get my arms about half way around the trunks of three of them, the other, not even close. I lean back on a perfunctory wooden seat and stare upward, the trees tilting toward a common vanishing point high above. Tūī clatter and whirr through the canopy. A core sample taken by University of Canterbury researcher Dave Norton suggests that the largest—1.7 metres in diameter—is about 475 years old. That’s not particularly old as large kauri go, but it pre-dates the arrival of Tasman by a century. It stood here throughout the tumultuous period of European settlement, and survived the kauri timber industry that enabled the construction of the colony. While its brethren were felled to provide the weatherboards and floors for my house, built some time before 1900, the Armed Constabulary were sacking Parihaka—a story of injustice barely mentioned in the public history of this country, but now recounted in detail in this issue. But these trees can do better than stand mute in the presence of history; they are living barographs of natural events, as Kate Evans investigates in her feature ‘Buried Treasure’. Ancient kauri provide a continuous climate record back 4500 years, and a more disconnected record back to the limit of radiocarbon dating 60,000 years ago. Ironically, the science benefits directly from the commercial extraction of swamp kauri, a resource being exported as ‘tabletops’ and ‘temple poles’ to international buyers, echoing the complex politics that has divided Northland. Is swamp kauri worth more in the ground or out of it? Are our remnant forests more valuable dead or alive? How do we begin to value these things when our sense of value is coloured so greatly by our perspective? This is the same question posed by ecologist Jamie Steer, profiled on page 28, who is being accused of conservation heresy. His suggestion that introduced species are as valuable and relevant a part of our ecosystem as natives has raised the ire of those whose focus is on eradicating them. He’s not committing scientific treason, he says, simply forwarding an opinion that “opens up the conversation”. What can we learn from controversial conservation ideas? What can we learn from logs buried for aeons in metres of peat? What can we learn from the long-obscured story of Parihaka? For Andrew Judd, former mayor of Taranaki, learning about the events at Parihaka was life-changing. When he was elected, he had “no knowledge of the Treaty, no true knowledge of our past, no understanding or empathy towards Māori. I was wrong, I was ignorant and arrogant,” he said in a candid interview on RNZ recently. New Zealanders pay lip service to the Treaty and are blind to its privilege, he said. “We do a haka at a rugby match, we sing the national anthem in both languages and think we’ve hit the mark . . . It’s archaic, and it has to change, because it’s not working.” New perspective is powerful. It can recalibrate one’s sense of reality, even reset the course of a nation. Like Judd, facing history’s inconvenient truths, acknowledging nature’s evolving complexity, reconciling the relative values of temple poles and taonga are among those difficult processes that are tempting to ignore, but in addressing them we will start a new and enlightening conversation for everyone.
Chemtrails, 9/11 “truthers”, lizard people. It’s like the Renaissance never happened.
A parcel arrived today, one that I had ordered so long ago I had nearly forgotten about it. Inside, nestled within volumes of packing material, was a single feather. It’s black, and broad, and the top quarter of the feather is brilliant white to the tip. Except that it’s not a feather. It’s made of ceramic, a giant-sized plaster replica of a feather belonging to a huia, a bird that was hunted to extinction more than a century ago—a bird gone so long that the shape and shade of its plumage are now a totem that powerfully signifies all that modernity abandoned and destroyed in this archipelago. For me, however, it also represents everything that makes New Zealand unique, and everything that still remains here. Kākāpō, for instance, a bird that probably should not be here at all. The mechanisms of its absurd mating behaviour, and lack of success therein, should have been at odds poor enough to guarantee its relegation to the annals of pre-history. The kākāpō’s unique lack of preparedness for mammalian predators should have sealed its fate completely, if it were not for the precipitous hanging valleys of Fiordland, and the rugged outcrop of Stewart Island. At one point in the 1990s, the total population was barely 50 individuals. On this tender genetic thread hung the future of the entire species. For four decades, conservationists have focused on the fortunes of the remaining individuals, increasing the population to 155. Today, as deputy editor Rebekah White reveals in this issue, scientists have turned their attention back to that frail genetic thread, analysing it in cross-section to reveal the fabric of the kākāpō genome, and the specific genes of every kākāpō in the population, to breed the population back to health. The new knowledge has already led to one of the most successful breeding seasons ever, which researchers hope will be enough to ensure the kākāpō won’t go the way of the South Island kōkako, which may now be lost forever, despite the ongoing search detailed in the May–June issue. (North Island kōkako, too, had a close shave, with only the intervention of vigilante conservationists to save them in 1978—examined in Andrea Graves’ new Currency column on page 21.) It was all too late, however, for the huia—though it may yet be saved, even a century after the fact. In a 2002 paper published in the journal Common Ground, palaeobiologist Jeffrey Yule mounted a philosophical argument to restore species using genetic cloning of viable DNA that meet a very narrow band of criteria—that they were driven to extinction by humans; that the extinction occurred very recently; that the habitat is present to support a wild population; and that scientific effort in cloning extinct species does not distract from the effort to conserve species still extant. Yule singled out New Zealand’s huia, Australia’s thylacine and North America’s passenger pigeon as examples that fit the criteria for ‘ethical’ cloning. (He even quoted a—now defunct—international university project to revive the huia that had already secured the support of the manawhenua, Ngāti Huia.) So while the plaster feather now swinging from a nail on my wall echoes a distant past, it may also represent a distant future. “Cloning could provide the means to not only correct specific past mistakes,” writes Yule, “but also the opportunity to demonstrate to a too-often-dispirited public that it is still within our power to repair some of what we have so carelessly broken.” Genetic technology is rapidly bringing us into a brave new era of conservation biology, for better or for worse.
A new report reveals how 12 companies profited from pollution using fake carbon credits from Russia.
For students at a Northland school, a story about “their place” became a chance to think differently about “my place”.
Ten years ago, even the most visionary conservationists thought ridding New Zealand of predators was a pipe dream. Now the PM says, “Let’s do it.”
The government’s failure to consult the Maori fisheries agency over the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary was bad politics and bad conservation.
Since the first search engine, ‘Archie’ crawled through cyberspace in September 1990, the world has been enthralled with searching—for information, for images, for ideas—within the vast library of the internet. Today, the search engine Google is the world’s second-most valuable company, and easily the most visited website. Searching is actually more popular than any of the search results served. It has always been the way. A pilgrimage is an end unto itself, and the notion of enlightenment as a journey of self-discovery is the foundation of many religions. For some, the journey is to a holy site, but for most, the end point is irrelevant—devotees seek out inspiration in the desert, in the mountains, in the wilderness. The journey is the destination. In his essay on wilderness areas in this issue, Carl Walrond quotes American author and ecologist Aldo Leopold, who believed that wilderness is a “counterpoint to the ennui of the modern world, a tonic against striving ‘for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life and dullness’.” Like those seeking spiritual enlightenment, we go into the wilderness for a more primal experience. The journey embodies “remoteness, discovery, challenge, freedom and romance,” to quote the lyrical wording of the Wilderness Policy 1985. It’s probably no coincidence that these values match the unstated ideals of New Zealand identity: independence, egalitarianism, adventure, self-sufficiency, an affinity with nature and the ability to withstand hardship. Rhys Buckingham knows something about hardship in the outdoors: he has spent the better part of his life chasing the echo of a lost song through the forest, looking for a bird that had been considered extinct for nearly half a century. He believes he has heard the sad, lilting call of the South Island kōkako in the forests of Murchison, Otago and South Westland. He’s detected what he thinks are signs of their browsing on the forest floor, and even believes he’s seen the shimmering slate-grey plumage of the bird soaring through the forest canopies of Stewart Island and Fiordland. He knows that the probability of finding kōkako in the South Island is small, but is adamant that it is not zero. On the balance of evidence, the Department of Conservation seems to agree, and in 2013 changed the bird’s designation from ‘extinct’ to ‘data-deficient’. History would agree too—searchers found the takahē, the kākāpō, the New Zealand storm petrel; all believed extinct at the time they were rediscovered, against tremendous odds. In a sense, Buckingham is not looking for a lost bird at all, but a lost world. “One of the tragedies is that most New Zealanders walk through the bush and think that what they see and hear is normal,” South Island Kōkako Trust chariman Euan Kennedy told the author of our story, Kate Evans. “All of us in our trade know that it is far from normal—that what were once great cathedrals of song, are now deadly silent.” Yet they're not about to give up, perhaps acknowledging that the search itself has a meaning of its own. Looking for that lost world, anticipating a better ending, wishing for a more complete New Zealand is surely the first step to achieving it. Will we find the South Island kōkako? I don’t know, but like Buckingham, I’d prefer to believe that’s still there, haunting our forests, avoiding human contact, singing its siren song, to be heard only by those who go in search.
Revelations about widespread illegal fishing highlight another failure of free-market policy to protect our environment and common assets.
Our decades of indulgence have cost the planet, and Nature just dropped off the bill. Who’s going to pick it up?
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