What does the Supreme Court decision mean for the rest of New Zealand?
What does the Supreme Court decision mean for the rest of New Zealand?
Why did an Antarctic explorer carry with him a painting he'd made in Switzerland a decade earlier? And how did it end up on the western edge of the Ross Sea, 700 kilometres north of where he travelled?
This issue’s cover posed a challenge: to present cannabis in a way that was recognisable, but that didn’t immediately call to mind a number of associations. An image of a cannabis leaf has layers of meaning attached to it. We wanted to make it possible for readers to take a fresh look. We are, as a nation, taking a fresh look at cannibis. Last year a survey found that nearly two-thirds of us didn’t have a problem with people using it for fun, and even more people thought it should be available for medical purposes. As with alcohol, we seem to be happy to leave the risk calculation up to the individual. (I think my dad summed up the views of those two-thirds of New Zealanders quite well: “You should be free to misuse your body however you like.”) In another survey, most people said that of all New Zealand’s environmental features, rivers and lakes were the worst-managed—and two-thirds of people believed dairy farming to be the culprit. In other words, we shouldn’t be free to misuse land however we like. We shouldn’t be allowed to spread certain substances on the nation’s pastures. Less management of cannabis, please, and more of freshwater. Our social views change slowly enough that the government ought to be able to keep up. On these issues, it hasn’t. As we begin to value things differently, the costs of them change, too. Since European settlers arrived in New Zealand, the nation’s waterways have been treated as a pre-fabricated sewage network—put it in the river, and the river carries it away. We don’t want to use our rivers in this manner anymore, but the primary sector has been caught by surprise at the change—not to mention the need to invent a brand-new nationwide nutrient-drainage system from scratch. As Kennedy Warne describes in his story on rivers, agriculture and environmental tipping points on page 36, a large group of scientists are working on this problem, but the solutions aren’t free or easy. Animal-derived foods cost more than the price we pay for them, and our waterways pay the difference. We can remove this cost from our lakes and rivers if we take it on ourselves, but the size of the issue means that it can’t be left to individual decision-making—regulation is required. Meanwhile, our other value change is looking better for the nation’s bottom line. Treasury has already done the maths on the revenue it stands to gain via GST and company taxes on legalised cannabis—and it’s in the hundreds of millions. Not to mention the potential savings to police of no longer enforcing prohibition. Costs, returns, values—it is a complex public equation, but I invite you to open this issue and make a fresh calculation with an open mind.
Fifty years after Auckland Regional Council acquired land at the tip of Whangaparāoa Peninsula for a park, little spotted kiwi have been released to form the nucleus of a new mainland population.
Somewhere, maybe, the South Island kōkako is calling in the bush. One avid pursuant reckons he's recorded it.
When it rains, it’s very quiet on Tiritiri Matangi, except for the white-noise pattering on the canopy. When the shower passes over, there’s a pause in the forest, like a singer taking a breath before her first note, and then it begins: the fluting of korimako, the buzz of a stitchbird, the propeller-like whirr of a kereru flapping heavily through the canopy. Ahead of me, there’s an unfamiliar chuckling, and a heavy grey shadow on a branch. I’ve walked hundreds of kilometres through New Zealand’s national parks and visited some of the country’s remotest spots, but I’ve never seen a kōkako. There are two right here—a minute’s walk from the wharf, an hour’s ferry ride from the middle of Auckland city—gently murmuring at each other, hopping from tree to tree. The black mask over their eyes makes them look like old-fashioned bank robbers, or guests at a masquerade ball. I grew up on one side of the Waitematā, and now I live on the other. I’ve spent almost my entire life in Auckland, but this is my first visit to Tiritiri. The island is, according to TripAdvisor, Auckland’s number one tourist attraction. I’m delighted that it hasn’t been developed by a tourism company, but rather by an army of weekend warriors who have spent the last couple of decades planting hundreds of thousands of trees, transforming the island from empty farmland to a well-stocked bird sanctuary. Volunteers still do most of the work. The weekend I visit, a group is rebuilding a washed-out trail, and another dozen are tour guides, explaining the ecology and history of the island to small groups of visitors. The tour fee goes towards the island’s upkeep. Our volunteer guide, Trish, has a demonstration photo book, so that she can show us kororā when the nesting boxes turn out to be empty, kohekohe flowers when the tree turns out not to be in bloom, and a little bag of pohutukawa seeds so that we can see how tiny they are. When my friend asks her about the difference between mānuka and kānuka, she’s thrilled, and whips out a botanical illustration. Some tourists, she says, book their Tiritiri tour before their flights to New Zealand, and it’s the first thing they do—an early-morning arrival at the airport and they’re on the island by 10.15am. Tiritiri is the first impression we make. Nowadays we’re used to hearing about the environment in a state of perpetual decline, but Tiritiri is an example of the opposite: we came, we saw, we conquered, we regretted, we restored. In some places, we’re getting closer to the end of the trajectory than the start. There are so many Archey’s frogs—an IUCN Red List species—in a six-kilometre-square area of Whareorino that researchers have to be careful not to stand on them during monitoring. When urban streams are ‘daylighted’ in Auckland—opened to the air, rather than funnelled through concrete pipes—eels return as the streams’ health improves. And in those places where restoration and recovery are not within the Department of Conservation’s budget—as Tiritiri wasn’t—they remain within our capability to improve, as Tiritiri was. Someone had to stick the first spade in the ground at Tiri, plant the first plant, release the first bird.
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.
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