A heart in winter
July in the Maniototo
July in the Maniototo
This issue of New Zealand Geographic contains a small cluster of marine-oriented articles, one on sea surface organisms, another on marine biologist John Morton and his new book on Pacific shores, and a Viewpoint by Bill Ballantine on marine reserves. It is a focus I am happy with. We live embedded in vast oceans and, in some ways, the most distinctive thing about New Zealand is its universal proximity to the sea and our diverse and rich coastline. The sea has an impact on many of our lives. In my own case, were it not for marine life, I would not be editor of New Zealand Geographic. As an eleven-year old, I became fascinated by shells and an avid collector. Spring tides and interesting shorelines determined our family holidays for years. I enrolled at Auckland University for a history degree, but was still under the spell of shells. In my first year I discovered a peculiar little bivalve living down shrimp burrows on Cheltenham Beach. The shell—translucent, half the size of a small fingernail with a distinctive notch in the edge—had been found once or twice previously, but the animal that inhabited it was unknown. It proved to be most unusual, more like a small crawling snail than a pipi. Professor John Morton encouraged me to write up the discovery in a scientific paper. I remember apprehensively taking my carefully handwritten manuscript into his dark office and him absently murmuring, “This is nice, this is nice”—the animal, not my text—while scrawling all over it. To my chagrin, that process was repeated four or five times before it was deemed fit for publication. It was my first encounter with editing and I wasn’t won over. John Morton persuaded me to do some zoology, and after completing the history degree I went onto science. Eventually, via science, I came to Geographic. Without Mort’s nudge, I would never have embarked on science. Ex-editor Kennedy Warne also learned zoology from Morton and indeed, became acquainted with his wife-tobe on a Morton marine biology course in Fiji. It was on another Morton field course at Whangarei Heads that I first met Bill Ballantine—then Director of the Leigh Marine Lab. Bill has since invested more than 30 years in advocating the establishment of no-take marine reserves, not just in New Zealand but worldwide. The United Nations recognised the importance of his work when it awarded him a Goldman Environmental Prize in 1996. Bill finds it disappointing that 30 years after the first marine reserve was established, every additional reserve involves traversing the same fiercely-contested arguments—despite the fact that the Goat Island Bay reserve is a prodigious success by every measure. Visitor numbers are an embarrassment, weekend parking impossible. As Bill asks in his Viewpoint, what is so hard to understand about marine reserves? On land we have little trouble with the concept of reserves. Thirty percent of the country’s land area enjoys the protection of reserve status. Few fail to appreciate our 14 national parks. They run from beaches to alpine summits and take in as wide a range of forests and other native environments as possible. In national parks, animals and plants cannot be taken or molested. We could base a large native timber milling enterprise around the forests in national parks, and from it earn overseas income. Why don’t we follow such a course? Because most of us value trees and native forests more than we value the wood and money that could be gained by harvesting those forests. Forests have intangible value to us. They tower over us, out-live us, sprawl hugely across the land, are often quite alien for us. Yet they help put our petty human pursuits in perspective. According to Morton’s just-published book we have 15,000 ha of sea in marine reserves around mainland New Zealand—0.1 per cent of our extended economic zone. Only that miniscule fraction is free from the grind of the bottom trawl and fishing pressure. Only in that drop of our ocean are fish and the constellation of other marine creatures free from human predation. In the sea we allow the more-or-less universal harvest of creatures that we eschew on land. Is the only thing we really value about the ocean the taste of a dead sea creature in our mouth? That and, of course, the opportunity to personally kill/catch it! As for the intangibles—perhaps only an unobstructed sea view counts? Marine reserves threaten to limit—in a quite modest way—the simple human pleasure of capturing and eating seafood. If Bill had his way, perhaps 10 or 20 per cent of the coast and adjacent sea area would become unavailable for fishing. Recreational fishers—of whom there are well over a million in the country, most of them voters generally oppose marine reserves. So do commercial fishermen. Here the arguments are more complex. By law the Quota Management System (QMS) is supposed to manage fish stocks sustainably, matching allowable catches with stocks. Fishermen pay large sums for the right to harvest prescribed amounts of fish, and that quota tonnage is a property right. They also pay for the administration of the QMS. One of the arguments used to support marine reserves is that fish will move out of the reserves into areas where they can be caught by fishermen. “We don’t need that,” say the commercial fishermen. “By law, our fisheries are managed sustainably. All marine reserves will do is reduce the area over which we can fish, making it tougher for us to catch our quotas and earn a living.” The commercial fishing sector employs 10,000 and generates sales of well over $1 billion annually. It is a big player in the economy and its voice is influential. That Maori are major stakeholders in the fishing industry with Treaty of Waitangi-mandated fishing rights does nothing to diminish the tensions inherent in creating more reserves. A weakness in the commercial fishers’ argument is that we are probably not harvesting all fish stocks sustainably. Over time, I suspect, more quotas have gone down than up. Part of the problem is that determining accurate age structures and biomass for fish stocks is extremely difficult and the QMS depends on such data. But we can be sure of some things. Creating marine reserves will not harm fish stocks. At the least for fish, and maybe fishers, they would be a useful insurance. Despite our preoccupation with fish, marine reserves are not primarily about them. Marine reserves are about protecting all the creatures and plants in whole ecosystems and seeing what happens when we do that. According to Bill Ballantine, the results have so far been completely unexpected, both in terms of how the communities of organisms in reserves have changed without human predation and how people have reacted. Nobody guessed busloads of school children would arrive every day nor that the general public would visit in such numbers. Although adopting Bill Ballantine’s manifesto will require political courage, within a few years the politicians who show that courage will be regarded as prescient and we could once again show the world the way.
About the time that England’s King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, a band of Polynesians, probably in a double hull waka with a woven triangular sail, was pounding through the windswept Southern Ocean far to the south of New Zealand. No one knows if they were hopelessly lost at sea, blown off course during an inter-Pacific island journey or exploring. All we know is that they made it safely to Enderby Island, the most northerly of the Auckland Island group 460 kilometres south of Bluff, and spent at least one summer season there. On a trip to the Auckland Islands with the Department of Conservation in 2003, archaeologist Atholl Anderson investigated two of their campsites and carbon dated the contents of several earth ovens at between the 12th and 14th centuries. Burnt hangi (earth oven) stones and charcoal from the surrounding rata and other subantarctic brushwood were mingled with the bones of sealions, fur seals, albatross and several petrel species. There were also the bones of coastal fish and mussel shells, indicating the people were well supplied with local food sources but did not venture far from the island for deep sea fish species. They had made tools, fish hooks and scrapers from local materials and marks on some seal bones showed they had been gnawed by a dog. As the rata, a superb firewood, could have been several hundred years old before burning, only the charcoal of other wood was used for carbon dating. No one knows where in the Pacific Ocean they came from, although the nearest known settlements at the time were on Stewart Island or possibly the Snares, where an adze of archaic type has been recovered. They may not have been the only Polynesians to venture into the unforgiving vastness of the Southern Ocean, as at least one group appears to have returned to tell the tale. The people of Rarotonga tell a story of an explorer named Ui Terangiora who took his waka Te-Ivi-a-Atea far to the south, where they encountered huge white rocks and white powder on a bitterly cold sea. While the story could be a combination of an ancestral legend with imaginative European additions, a similar tradition is known in New Zealand. When the waka Te Awatea Hou was under construction in Marlborough for the 150th celebration of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1990, kaumatua from several tribes were asked for advice on the carvings to adorn the new craft. They insisted an ancestor called Hui Te Rangiora, who was credited with sailing to the ice cap and back in mythical times, should be included. There is nothing to indicate if the people who landed on Enderby Island died there, were eventually able to return to wherever they came from or perished at sea trying to get back. To date no Polynesian burials have been discovered, but they were certainly in an established camp about 500 years before any other humans even knew about the subantarctic islands. Captain William Bligh aboard the Bounty was the first European to discover land south of New Zealand. He was on a mission from England to Tahiti in search of breadfruit in 1788 just nine years after Captain Cook’s first trip to New Zealand and added “a small cluster of rocky islands” to his chart of the Southern Ocean, which he named the Bounty Isles after his ship. In 1806 the British whaler Ocean was sailing under a grey windswept sky searching for whales when the lookout yelled a warning of land in sight. Captain Abraham Bristow named the group of islands the Auckland Islands after a family friend, Lord Auckland. Glowing reports of this rich, uninhabited land in the Southern Ocean convinced Charles Enderby of the British whaling company Samuel Enderby and Co. to establish a new settlement in the relative shelter of Port Ross at the northern end of the main Auckland Island in 1849. His new colony was to be called Hardwicke after the Earl of Hardwicke, governor of the company. On arriving, they were astonished to find they were not alone. A combined group of Maori and Moriori from the Chatham Islands had been living on Enderby Island for about eight years, eking out a miserable existence. The Ngati Mutunga chiefs Matioro and Ngatere from Taranaki were part of the group which had conquered the Chatham Islands in the late 1830s, enslaving the surviving Moriori. In 1842 the two chiefs, fearing retribution following a bloody encounter with a French whaling ship, chartered another whaling ship, Hannah, to take them, their immediate families and about 30 Moriori slaves to the safety of the Auckland Island where they intended to establish a new settlement. On arrival, they were alarmed by the rough seas, bitterly cold winds and the bleak environment, but before they could change their minds, the Hannah weighed anchor and abandoned the anxious immigrants to their fate. During the following eight years they established a settlement on Enderby Island, which had the warmest climate, a good sandy beach for launching small boats, fresh water, rata for firewood and a plentiful supply of birds and seals for food. It was nonetheless a harsh place to live, with almost constant wind, hail storms at any time of the year, temperatures rarely above 7°C, long freezing winter nights and poor soil for the few seedlings they brought with them. They had no idea that on the same beach not far from their cooking fires another band of Polynesians had survived for at least one summer about 500 years earlier. Their cooking methods and preferred food species were almost identical. The hopeful settlers of Hardwicke and the Maori group worked well together but crop failures and a lack of whales caused the venture to fail. It was finally abandoned in 1852. Some settlers returned to England leaving behind sad and lonely graves, among them little Isobel Younger who was born at Hardwicke and died there two months later one of a very few native Auckland Islanders. Some of the Maori and Moriori people stayed on for a few more years and eventually migrated to Stewart Island and then back to the Chatham Islands about 14 years after they left. Other attempts at settlement came and went, each leaving an impact on the islands. On Enderby, cattle and rabbits changed the landscape, obliterating signs of human habitation, but a Department of Conservation survey team in 1989 found some archaeological remains of unknown age, which they thought might have been prehistoric. These included a one-piece fishhook, later determined to be of seal ivory, some chert flake-tools, and a possible midden deposit of mussel shell. The remains were similar to material in the Museum of New Zealand which had been picked up on Enderby Island by Captain J. Bollons in November 1914; some worked shell, bone “prickers” and a one-piece fish-hook almost identical to the specimen recovered in 1989. In his report, Anderson says it had been assumed that the material had been left by Ngati Mutunga and Moriori between 1842 and 1856, perhaps including some material from sealers or from the mid-19th century European settlement in Port Ross. Sandy Bay had been a favoured recreational area for the Hardwicke settlers. A 1998 Department of Conservation project at Sandy Bay on Enderby Island took earth cores along the entire fore-dune, and excavated three areas. At one site were found sparse remains of shell and bone midden and, directly behind them, part of a Polynesian oven exposed by a dune blowout. Radiocarbon dating on charcoals from both features suggested that people had been there at some time between the 12th and 14th centuries AD. Another expedition led by Anderson in 2003 proved beyond doubt that Polynesians were on Enderby Island 600–700 years ago. Although they found places where a combination of good shelter and access to a range of resources might have made them favourable to pre-European Polynesians, no other signs of early human occupation were found. It is tantalising to speculate that Anderson and the Department of Conservation team may have stumbled on the campsite left by Ui Terangiora and his people, but that is far too long a bow for any scientist to draw. It would also be nice to hope that the early explorers did not end their days, dying one by one, on a cold and lonely subantarctic island far from any other humans and the gentle warmth of their Pacific home. Speculation and hope, however, often have little to do with harsh reality.
In among the classy new cafes and scenic waterfront sections along the Waimea Inlet at Mapua, west of Nelson, is an innocuous-looking area of wasteland sitting behind a high wire mesh fence. Mottled with patchy scrub and toetoe, and dotted with small heaps of soil and rubble, all it seemingly needs is a tidy-up from a few bulldozers and it could be the start of a new subdivision. Except this sad and barren land is a highly toxic waste area laced with agricultural poisons strong enough to kill the hardiest plague of insects. Lying empty and abandoned since 1988 when the Fruitgrowers Chemical Company (FCC) finally closed after 56 years of manufacturing a cocktail of toxic agricultural chemicals and pesticides, the site has sat unused and unusable. Testing was carried out in the early 1990s to determine the extent of contamination in the area, including on the adjacent foreshore. A serious degree of organochlorine, heavy metal and sulphur contamination was found in the ground, in nearby marine sediments and, to a lesser extent, on neighbouring properties. It is considered the site most polluted by pesticide chemicals in the country. Back in the heyday of Nelson’s buoyant apple growing years, the FCC factory was in an ideal situation. Dozens of chemicals were manufactured and the soil still contains unhealthy concentrations of the organochloride insecticides DDT, DDE, DDD, dieldrin and aldrin. In the 1960s, when these chemicals’ toxicity and resistance to breakdown in the environment were discovered, their use was discontinued. Yet by then they were well established in the food chain, accumulating even in humans through the consumption of fish, birds, shellfish and the very fruits the sprays were used on. The difficulty of how to deal with the FCC site has been hanging heavily over the Mapua community and the Tasman District Council (TDC) for many years now. With the demise of the FCC company, responsibility for the clean-up was taken on jointly by TDC and the Ministry for the Environment. Neither, however, accept any liability for the contamination itself. In 1996 TDC gained ownership of the 3.42 hectare site to avoid legal complications that may arise from combined ownership during the clean up. An adjacent 1.6 hectares of neighbouring waterways and seabed will also be treated. Clay has been used to cover and seal some parts of the site to reduce discharge of contaminated run-off, but the idea of sealing the whole site with clay has been rejected as it would limit future use of the potentially valuable block to parkland. After eight years of investigation and deliberation, a decision has been made recently to use a newly-developed mechano-chemical dehalogenation (MCD) process for the site decontamination. This process involves cleaning and treating the contaminated soil and sediment on-site, to a point where it reaches acceptable standards for the land-use options expected by the community. In this case, with its prime seaside situation, TDC and the Mapua community hope the land can be made suitable for a mix of residential and commercial property with the fringes set aside as coastal reserve. How does MCD work? Precise details seem to be secret, but general principles are known. Mechanical energy—provided by a ball mill—breaks down all particles of soil into very fine material, increasing the surface area for chemical reactions and bringing newly-exposed reactive faces into intimate contact. At the collision point of the ball bearings, a localised triboplasma forms, providing energy for chemical reactions to occur. In the 1990s, researchers at the University of Western Australia found that 12 hours of ball mill treatment in the presence of calcium oxide destroyed all organic materials, including DDT. Much of the chlorine reacted with calcium to form calcium chloride. More generally, it seems that when base metals like alkali and alkaline-earth metals (but also aluminum, zinc and iron) are mixed with certain hydrogen donors (like alcohols, ethers, hydroxides, hydrides) in a ball mill containing contaminated materials, then even very stable toxins such as PCBs are converted to harmless products. It matters not whether the pollutant is present at high or low concentration. Before the discovery of the omnipotence of the ball mill, deactivation or removal of soil-bound pollutants had been problematic. The unwanted chemicals bound very tightly to soil particles where they seemed inaccessible to many normal chemical reactions. At the Mapua site, Auckland firm Environmental Decontamination Ltd is providing the new on-site MCD treatment technology. With resource consents now granted, the initial estimated cost is $6.5 million, though this depends on just how much contaminated soil needs treating once it is dug up. TDC has pledged $2 million towards this cost, and the government will provide the remainder from its Contaminated Sites Remediation Fund and manage the final stage of the contract works. Proof of performance testing of the MCD technology has just been completed on the site, and the full-scale excavation and treatment work is expected to take around 18 months to complete. Only then will the locals be able to breathe easy and enjoy an area that has been seriously contaminated for the last 70 years. Mapua has the distinction of being one of the first large-scale trials of this approach to decontamination anywhere in the world, and as such is attracting considerable international interest.
In new zealand , we have discussed marine reserves for 40 years. We established the first reserve at Leigh nearly 30 years ago. We now have 19 reserves scattered round the country. We know that they are practical, and that once established, they are popular and successful. We have carried out enough trials and tests. I want my grandchildren to inherit a full system of marine reserves, just as we inherited a system of reserves on land. To get these we need a clear policy based on principles that everyone can understand. Early this year, the United Nations experts on marine biodiversity (who met in here in 2001 and 2002) presented their final report, which provides the necessary principles. Last month the world’s first book on marine reserves was published, which details the scientific evidence for these principles. The following manifesto is my interpretation of New Zealand’s experience in this matter, the expert’s views and the detailed scientific data, translated (with the help of my grandson) into plain English. 1 There are many kinds of marine life (species diversity) that occur in many different habitats and communities, and they interact in many ways. Marine life existed before people became active in the sea, and it maintained itself. 2 This natural marine life is abundant, varied and complex. It occupies 70 per cent of the planet. It carries out many processes that are important to the planet. Marine life is far more than a set of things directly useful to people, but we are only dimly aware of how the whole system operates. 3 Despite increasing rates of study, we are still very ignorant about marine life. Less than half the species have been described, few regions have had their habitats mapped, and we only know some examples of the natural processes. We do not know how much of anything is necessary to sustain the whole in a healthy state, but it is clear that the natural processes are critical to all life on the planet. 4 Many human activities in the sea (fishing, dumping, dredging, etc) can kill or degrade marine life and its habitats. The range and intensity of human-induced damage has increased over the years; has already caused multiple and widespread changes to marine life; and now threatens its sustainability. 5 Our existing ways of planning and managing human activities in the sea are useful and necessary, but they are not sufficient to prevent or adequately control this damage. Existing management mostly tries to solve problems, but the problems (e.g. damage) have to occur and be noticed before action is taken (reactive management). 6 More positive action is also needed. Setting aside areas of the sea (marine reserves) which are protected against all direct human interference will help maintain (or restore) the full natural biological diversity. 7 These marine reserves will have many additional benefits. They will make it easier for people to appreciate and understand natural marine life. They will help us recognise the changes our activities have caused, and distinguish these from natural variation. Marine reserves will help us measure these changes, and show how we could adjust our activities sensibly. Marine reserves are important to science, management, education and recreation, as well as essential for conservation. 8 Marine reserves are a new, different and additional form of management. They do not aim to solve particular problems, simply to maintain the natural biodiversity. They do not depend on particular information (e.g. identifying damage)—all potentially disturbing activities are excluded on principle. Problem-based, data-dependent planning and management will continue in the rest of the sea. 9 Standard planning will steadily improve. The introduction of zoning is one such improvement. When zoning is adopted in a region, marine reserves will be included as the first and most important zone.Indeed reserves will help lead to this form of management. 10 All these points are universal. They apply everywhere, and are independent of climate, the marine life that occurs, what people are doing to it, or who is in charge. In order to maintain (or restore) the full natural marine life, marine reserves are needed in all regions. In each region the reserves must form a system which is sufficiently large and comprehensive to be self-sustaining (i.e. independent of human activities in the rest of the sea). 11 Each region requires a policy which should include the following principles: A. The reserves are fully protected. All potentially damaging human activities are banned on principle, as far as is practical and sensible. These rules are efficiently enforced. B. The reserves are permanent. The basic reasons for reserves are valid for the foreseeable future, and the benefits and values of reserves ac¬cumulate over time. C. Each reserve aims for the ability to maintain itself. Single reserves cannot be totally self-sufficient un¬less enormous, but each should aim for a reasonable degree of ecological viability (i.e. capacity to maintain itself). D. Examples of all major habitats are included in reserves. Different habitats have different marine life, so all must be represented. E. There are several spatially separate examples of each habitat. There are many reasons for spatial replication, includ¬ing an insurance against local accidents (such as cyclones or oil spills) and a representation of the natural range of variation. F. The reserves are spread throughout the region (a net¬work). There are many reasons for a network design, including encouraging the interchange of drifting eggs and larvae, and spreading the benefits (and any inconvenience). G. Public interest is actively encouraged. For all reserves active measures are taken to provide visual material (photo¬graphs, video, etc) and written information (maps, articles, web sites, etc). Where it can be arranged with minimal damage, direct public access to reserves is actively encouraged. H. More information about the marine life is actively sought and made available. These efforts will include surveys, research and monitoring in the reserves, and comparisons with the exploited areas outside. The information will be freely dis¬tributed to scientists, managers and the general public. 12 Those in authority (e.g. governments) will adopt this policy to ensure that action occurs. But in each region, there will be many arrangements of reserves that conform to the policy and its principles. Precise decisions will include the full democratic process. Anyone interested can become involved at the detailed level. Marine reserves are not a cure-all. Detailed and general marine management must continue outside the reserves, and steadily improve. Marine reserves do not protect marine life against damage caused by things that float or flow into the reserves (e.g. water borne silt or pollutants) or atmospheric changes (e.g. global warming), but reserves are necessary to distinguish these effects from direct damage and to measure both. The matter is urgent; safeguarding our children’s future requires action now. The policy and its principles provide the necessary guidelines for practical action. Existing information is sufficient for action in all regions. The government is currently seeking your viewpoint on these matters in two specific cases. The Department of Conservation has made a formal application for a marine reserve off the north-east coast of Great Barrier Island, and has issued a public submission document on a proposed reserve at Mimiwhangata (halfway between Whangarei and the Bay of Islands). Information and submission information can be found at: http://www.doc.govt.nz/Conservation/Marine-and-Coastal/ Marine-Reserves/400~Aotea-(Great-Barrier)-Marine-reserve-application/index.asp
In 1968 The New Zealand Sea Shore by John Morton and Michael Miller was published, and it quickly became the cornerstone of marine biology in this country. In September 2004 a successor to that volume—Seashore Ecology of New Zealand and the Pacific, by John Morton, is being released. To mark the occasion, we offer a brief sketch of Morton, a man who has made a difference in an unusual range of fields.
Late winter and early spring often bring some of the most destructive storms New Zealand experiences, storms which bring the full gamut of severe weather conditions and can last for the best part of a week. One such storm began on the weekend of August 14–15, 2004, when an intense trough of low pressure crossed the country. Strong humid north-west winds blew over the Tasman Sea and into the Southern Alps ahead of the trough. Forced to rise over the mountains, the air dumped heavy rain into the headwaters of the West Coast rivers, bringing them into flood. Squeezed over the mountains and through Cook Strait the north-west wind reached severe gale force in many eastern areas from Wairarapa to North Canterbury where one blast tore down a garage in the town of Oxford. In Wellington, gusts in excess of 160 km/h occurred but damage was slight. In Taranaki, however, a severe tornado descended from a thunderstorm cloud, completely destroying a house near Waitara and killing two of the occupants. Striking just before dawn, the tornado lifted the house from its foundations and tore it to pieces as well as flattening nearby trees and power poles. Debris was strewn across half a kilometre of farmland, and one of the survivors was dropped 150 metres away. Several farm sheds were also destroyed, killing 70 calves that were housed in one of them. Power was cut to about 1200 homes. This was one of the worst tornados to hit New Zealand and the first to cause fatalities since 1991, when a man was killed by flying debris in Albany near Auckland. On that occasion, a band of thunderstorms swept across North Auckland spawning a number of tornadoes. Although destruction was widespread the storm was notable for several miraculous escapes. A hall occupied by more than 100 people attending a tangi south of Dargaville was destroyed by one tornado, yet the worst the occupants collectively suffered was a few broken bones and cuts and bruises. Another building at an outdoor pursuit centre near Albany held a primary school class when it was destroyed. As the roof blew away and the walls fell out, the children were swept onto the ground next to the foundation without serious injury. The worst tornado strike in New Zealand history was in the Hamilton suburb of Frankton in 1948. Around 150 houses were wrecked and 3 people killed. Some debris was carried as far as Cambridge. Tornados are just one of the fatal hazards associated with severe thunderstorms. Flash floods and lightning are the others. Indeed, in New Zealand the chance of being hit by lightning is probably greater than the chance of being caught by a tornado. As the trough of low pressure swept across the country, it was followed by very cold air originating from near Antarctica. Snow fell to sea level in Southland, Otago and Canterbury and to very low levels in the North Island making this one of the most notable snowstorms in decades. Many roads were closed, from the Napier Taupo road in Hawke’s Bay, down to the Milford Road in Southland. Farmers had plenty of warning and had moved stock to shelter or to lower altitudes where possible. Lambing had not yet started in the far south but was underway in some North Island areas, including some unscheduled lambing in the Manawatu where damage to fences during the February floods had allowed rams to pay social visits to neighbouring farms. The snow closed airports and made driving hazardous, contributing to a number of minor accidents. But the snow was good news for the ski fields, although it increased the backcountry avalanche risk. Visitors in the hotel at Milford Sound could hear the roar of avalanches back up the valley during the night. Several tourists were injured when a party of heliskiers was caught in an avalanche in the Humboldt Mountains near Glenorchy. The avalanche risk had already been high for some weeks. Another avalanche, the day before the storm began, caught two mountaineers climbing Mt Pallisade in Marlborough. One broke a leg and the other an arm as they were tumbled hundreds of metres down the mountain. Inspired by the recent survival movie Touching the Void, they helped each other climb down the mountain to safety. Once the cold southerly had swept over the whole country, the storm unleashed its last trick. A low developed in the trough just north of Auckland, deepened rapidly, and became slow moving east of Hawke’s Bay on Wednesday the 18th. As the central pressure in the low fell to 975 hPa, pressures rose over the South Island in response to a ridge spreading east across the Tasman Sea. This produced an intense pressure gradient over central New Zealand causing one of the strongest southerlies in decades. Wind gusts reached 178 km/h on Mt Kaukau, 160 km/h at Brothers Island in Cook Strait and 132 km/h in Kelburn. Trees were blown down all over Wellington, many houses lost parts of their roofs and some windows were blown in. Wellington Airport was closed when part of the terminal roof was torn off. Heavy swells battered the east coast of the North Island and waves of over 10 metres were recorded on the Wellington south coast. Cook Strait ferries ceased operation and waves breaking over the railway lines stopped trains reaching Wellington. As warm air wrapped around the low centre and over the North Island, the snow turned to heavy rain causing flooding in Wairarapa and Wellington. Over 100 mm of rain fell in the Rimatuka Ranges in less than 12 hours. Sixty roads throughout the Wairarapa and Tararua districts and another 40 in the Manawatu were closed by floods and slips. A woman postal worker was drowned near Masterton when her car was swept away by floodwaters. There are several reasons why this time of year is conducive to these storms. Firstly, as the long polar night is ending, the sea ice surrounding Antarctica has nearly reached its maximum extent. This means the journey for the cold air from the ice to New Zealand is at its shortest. Secondly, the northern hemisphere monsoon is at its maximum activity. At high levels, rising air from the monsoon spills over into the Southern hemisphere. As this air moves away from the tropics towards mid-latitudes it moves closer to the Earth’s axis of rotation but retains its equatorial momentum. Consequently, the air speeds up, relative to the Earth’s surface, thereby strengthening the winds in the subtropical jet stream to speeds of 350km/h or more. When a wave runs along the jet stream, large amounts of cyclonic vorticity are generated and carried downwind—a situation favourable for the rapid deepening of a surface low. However, there is some consolation to be had in the fact that these lows usually track further east of the country than this one did. New Zealand’s weather would be much worse if we were located 500 km further east.
Iain Anderson has been diving since the early 1970s but only took up underwater photography nine years ago. Although it was not long before he photographed his first jellyfish, most of the images reproduced in Life at the top (pages 62–75) were captured in the last two or three years. “In the early days,” he says, “many of the surface shots were taken while snorkelling during rests between dives. Now one of my principal dive destinations is the surface.” Photographing the organisms found there has not been easy. Most of the creatures living near the surface are transparent to a greater or lesser extent. Anderson continues, “They don’t show up well in natural light and light from your strobe goes right through them. I shudder when I think of all my wasted rolls of underexposed film. I’ve found that ‘nuking’ the creatures with strobe set to full power is the most reliable way of getting a worthwhile image. It is sometimes even possible to make them fluoresce. “Bobbing up and down at the surface is bad for your photography, not to mention your stomach. It is hard to keep a small animal in focus when both you and the animal are moving relative to each other. I found that one solution was to get down a metre or two below the surface, however it is difficult to maintain your depth. You are always slowly accelerating up or down. Then you have to get the animal down to you also. Sometimes I could get a jellyfish or ctenophore to descend with me by creating downward water currents with my hand. Other times the disturbance I set up in the water when I descended was like the wake of a sinking ship, not infrequently sending the animal off in the wrong direction towards the surface. “Bubbles from my single hose regulator are also a real nuisance, especially when trying to photograph while looking up. The noise they make is annoying too. One of these days I will invest in a quiet rebreather or buy a reconditioned two-hose regulator.” Has Anderson had enough? “No, no, no. I keep learning things that astonish me and this keeps up my interest. Looking at surface creatures has led me to do things out of the ordinary, including diving outside normal hours. A typical day-tripper dive boat usually departs between 8 and 9 am and returns around 4 pm. Although I do plenty of day dives, I’ve learned that the best time to visit the surface is at night when most other divers are at home or in bed—the time when all the critters come up to eat.”
The surface of the ocean is a place we associate with waves and weather rather than life, yet those top few metres are the key to the sea’s great food web. A wealth of creatures—some small like this 30 mm leatherjacket, others long salps that resemble 10 metre plastic bags—drift through this vast light-filled domain, seeking to devour smaller organisms and avoid being devoured by larger.
As a hopeful world waited for an end to hostilities late in 1918, an influenza epidemic of unparalleled ferocity swept the globe, killing tens of millions in just a few months. Inhalations of zinc sulphate were a popular public health preventative, although the practice would find little favour today.
“We are now on the eve of the second transit of a pair, after which there will be no other till the twenty-first century of our era has dawned upon the earth, and the June flowers are blooming in 2004. When the last transit season occurred the intellectual world was awakening from the slumber of ages, and that wondrous scientific activity which has led to our present advanced knowledge was just beginning. What will be the state of science when the next transit season arrives God only knows. Not even our children’s children will live to take part in the astronomy of that day. As for ourselves, we have to do with the present ...” William Harkness, 1882
A group of Masai in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area take a break from pastoral duties. VSA launched its Tanzanian programme in 1987 and has since placed some 63 volunteers in the country, working on everything from agriculture to health and local government. Over the last 42 years, VSA has mounted programmes in 32 countries. As VSA’s manager for Africa (1988–1996) and external relations (1999–2003), Trevor Richards is well placed to examine the changing face of VSA, aid and development.
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