The big bird ban
Six parrot species are set to be banned in the Auckland region due to the dangers they pose to native wildlife. Is this fair?
Six parrot species are set to be banned in the Auckland region due to the dangers they pose to native wildlife. Is this fair?
What does birdsong mean? Do other animals also sing? Or is song a uniquely human invention?
Mark Barber documents the construction of two multibillion-dollar railway tunnels.
One of the first sights that NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope observed was Stephan’s Quintet, a cluster of five galaxies in the constellation Pegasus. This picture, the biggest produced by the telescope so far, is a composite of about 1000 images. If you printed it out at its actual size, it would be about 700 kilometres wide. Scientists hope that looking at Stephan’s Quintet this closely will teach us more about how stars are formed by galaxies crashing into or moving past each other. The left-most galaxy, NGC 7320, is nearest to us—40 million lightyears away—and so it appears in the most detail. The other four galaxies are about 290 million lightyears away. One of them, NGC 7318B, is smashing through the centre of the cluster, while the top galaxy, NGC 7319, has a supermassive black hole at its centre that’s 24 million times as big as the sun.
They say money doesn’t grow on trees. But it does grow in forests.
The invasive seaweed Caulerpa brachypus was discovered in New Zealand just over a year ago, and it promises to ruin everything. On Aotea/Great Barrier Island, people are sacrificing their way of life in an attempt to contain the weed—and stop it reaching the mainland.
Finding patterns in cat behaviour would help us to stop feral cats from chewing their way through native bat roosts and bird life. And so a group of New Zealand researchers pored over 36 studies from around the world in an attempt to understand the size of feral cats’ home range—where they hunt, mate, and nurse their young. “Are there similarities between cats?” they asked. Surprising nobody, the answer is no. The study, published in the New Zealand Journal of Ecology, found no discernible patterns to the cats’ behaviour, even when taking into account the effects of season, habitat type, cat size, and competitor animals. One male cat roamed 3232 hectares, its home range the area of Gisborne. The most adventurous female cat roamed 2078 hectares; another stayed within 10 hectares. As any cat owner might tell you, every feline has a different idea of home.
His most recent exhibition at Auckland’s Two Rooms catalogues all 107 of New Zealand’s extinct birds.
Most of us think of catching up with friends as a way of showing care. University of Auckland aerosol chemist Joel Rindelaub sees it somewhat differently. What we’re doing, he says, is shooting a stream of dirty particles at their airways. As we speak, thousands of airborne droplets carrying COVID-19 virions catapult from behind his moustache towards me, then bounce off the Zoom window on his computer screen. He tested positive the previous day. Moreover, the risks of COVID transmission through conversation have been underestimated, according to a study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June 2022. In part, this is because of the words used in experiments. Previous studies have relied on participants counting to 10 in English or cheering on a university mascot, such as the University of Maryland’s Testudo the diamondback terrapin. This experiment tested a wider range of words, and researchers discovered the power of “P” to generate large numbers of spit and mucus droplets, thanks to the film formed between the lips and then broken. Meanwhile, vowel sounds produced continuous airstreams—currents which these droplets can float on. Combining these, the researchers identified a highly infectious word: “popeye”. The bawdy sailor’s name generated a burst of droplets followed by a puff of air to propel them. Volunteers pressed their mouths against a 4.5cm tube, which fed into a 100-litre steel chamber, as they repeated words or exhaled. Laser light scattering measured the size and quantity of droplets produced. The researchers found that saying “popeye” into the chamber four times over the course of an hour created 10 times more droplets than a person breathing over the same period of time. They also found that eating a small apple sharply increased the number of expelled particles. Rindelaub put this down to “a lot of salivating, so your mouth is producing a lot of extra particles”. Eating and talking around people who are also eating and talking could be among the most risky activities—and it’s exactly how Rindelaub contracted COVID himself.
Sharks and rays are considered to be strong, silent types—they possess no voice boxes, or other anatomical structures associated with vocal communication. Or so we thought. Then Spanish photographer J. Javier Delgado Esteban filmed a juvenile mangrove whipray (Urogymnus granulatus) while he was snorkelling off Magnetic Island on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. When Esteban approached, the ray made loud clicks. Each sound visibly coincided with a contraction of its spiracles—openings behind the eyes that rays use to aid breathing. Marine ecologist Lachlan Fetterplace saw the video on Instagram, contacted Esteban, and started investigating. They assembled anecdotal reports and two other recent videos from Australia and Indonesia showing an adult whipray and a cowtail stingray (Pastinachus ater) making similar tok-tok sounds. “These are widespread species, found off the coast in highly populated areas,” says Fetterplace. Yet researchers hadn’t noticed the sounds at all. Many mysteries remain: how the rays are making the clicks, exactly what they’re using them for, and how many other rays and sharks may also be capable of sound. “Is it a really widespread thing that they rarely do, or is it something that’s commonly done, but only in a few species?” says Fetterplace. He’s now questioning what else we might have missed—simply because we weren’t looking for it.
The Baton Valley, at the top of the South Island, was named after a young runaway sailor, Batteyn Norton, and it remains a place where life is isolated, physical, self-sufficient, and largely dictated by the weather. It hasn’t been much of a destination since an anticlimactic gold rush in the late 1800s—but the opening of a new cycle trail passing through the valley has put it on the tourism map. Now, its residents are wondering how to retain the identity of their home in the face of change.
Older people who have a canine companion are 50 per cent less likely to have a disability than non-dog-owning people of a similar age, according to a study of more than 11,000 people aged 65 to 84 years. People who own a dog and exercise regularly are even less likely to develop a disability. Adjusting for a range of demographic factors didn’t change the outcome: dog ownership was linked to a lower level of disability as people aged. Cat ownership, on the other hand, was not associated with any difference in disability risk.
The University of Canterbury’s Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours is a hands-on, transformative degree that empowers students to tackle some of the most urgent sustainability issues facing our world today.
Te Rōpū o te Matakite: the seers, the ones with foresight. That’s the name of the group that revered leader Dame Whina Cooper led on a 1000-kilometre march from the Far North to Wellington in 1975, protesting against more than a century of colonial laws designed to alienate Māori from their land.
People who wear sunscreen are also more likely to get sunburned—an issue for Aotearoa, which tops the world in deaths from melanoma. An international study of global melanoma rates published in JAMA Dermatology in March 2022 found that Australasia has the highest prevalence of these skin cancers, and in New Zealand, they’re most deadly. Researchers forecast a dramatic increase—50 per cent—in melanoma by 2040. Meanwhile, a study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health in April 2021 found that New Zealanders underestimate the risk of sunburn and are too optimistic about the level of protection that sunscreen provides. People regarding sunscreen as their main—or only—form of protection is the problem, says one of the study’s authors, Otago University senior research fellow Geri McLeod. In addition, a March 2022 report by Consumer found many sunscreens not delivering the protection they promise. Its tests found 13 of 21 sunscreens didn’t meet their SPF label claims. In September 2022, sunscreens will be regulated by a new safety standard, and not meeting it could result in a fine under the Fair Trading Act. But under the new rules, sunscreens will remain classed as cosmetics, so they won’t require regular testing to ensure they make the grade. Consumer NZ and the Cancer Society are calling for more scrutiny, saying sunscreens should instead be classed as therapeutic products under the Medicines Act. So, we may be slopping—but why aren’t we slipping, slapping and wrapping? Bronwen McNoe, who co-directs Otago University’s social and behavioural research unit, says government investment in melanoma prevention is lacking. The government’s Health Promotion Agency (now part of Te Whatu Ora–Health New Zealand) received $500,000 for skin cancer prevention over 2020 and 2021, while Waka Kotahi spent $2.4 million in 2021 on producing and running television and radio advertisements for its Safe Limits road safety campaign. Meanwhile, deaths from melanoma exceed the annual road toll. In 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, 503 New Zealanders died from skin cancer while 352 died on our roads.
Siren crews offer belonging and creativity as much as resounding treble or volume—all of which were on display at New Zealand’s first-ever national siren battle.
One thing about having a 33-year online archive of every New Zealand Geographic magazine—from issue 001 in January 1989 to this one, issue 177 in September 2022—is that it’s possible to see all the ways the magazine has evolved. If you haven’t yet explored the archive, it’s an interesting, occasionally infuriating place. There are original stories by Michael King and Keri Hulme; there are articles that would be better suited to an encyclopaedia than a magazine; there’s some excellent photojournalism, especially of the way we live; there wasn’t always the diversity of voices and viewpoints we strive for today. Some of these changes are simply because you, the reader, have needed different things from us over time. Now that you carry an information portal around in your pocket, our features are less completist: more like stories, less like Wikipedia pages. We face issues today that we didn’t think about much in 1989 (“Who does outer space belong to?” “How do we rehabilitate our rivers?”) but we’re also looking at the same things all over again from a new vantage point (“How do we protect the vulnerable?” “How do we honour the Treaty?”) Some of these changes are because journalism has evolved, and our ideas about how to tell stories responsibly have developed. These days, we want you to know a little bit more about the people who are writing and photographing the stories in the magazine. We want to acknowledge the perspectives they hold. That’s why there are now credit lines in stories describing our contributors a little more, and that’s why we’ve started listing the iwi of any Māori contributors or sources—so that others can pinpoint them in the web of networks and relationships that is te ao Māori. The unchanging part of the magazine—our magnetic north—is that we’re committed to learning. We don’t consider anything to be finished. Like the scientists we write about, we keep open minds, sift new evidence, listen to those who have a long history and connection with the whenua. And we start stories in the same way, a candle in a dark room, reaching towards something we feel is there. Most of the stories in this issue began as musings—a sixth-sense notion that there may be something worth bringing into the light, worth sharing with others. “I see a lot of rosellas these days,” I said to Auckland journalist Ellen Rykers. “Are they bad?” Our oceans journalist Kate Evans heard talk about an terrible seaweed on Great Barrier Island. “Is this even a story?” she wondered, and went there to find out. I asked Tulia Thompson to attend a siren battle and tell us what it was like and Kerry Sunderland suggested travelling up the remote Baton Valley to find out what life there is like. We start, always, in ignorance, and then we learn. After five years and one pandemic editing New Zealand Geographic—a job that is a bit like being an air traffic controller, where journalism and photography are the planes—I’m taking a sabbatical to learn more about journalism in the United States, with some help from Columbia University and Fulbright New Zealand. I’m planning to listen, to reconsider, and to return not with more certainty but more curiosity. The magazine’s next editor, Catherine Woulfe, is sitting right next to me as I type, and I’m excited to see what the magazine—this country, our lives—look like from her vantage point. You’re in good hands.
Penguins traded in their wings for flippers more than 60 million years ago, long before there were icesheets in Antarctica. But aeons of evolution turned them into supremely adapted marine hunters, capable of diving deep and withstanding extreme cold.
Booster’s Innovation Fund aims to get New Zealand capital to work for New Zealand by investing in promising local companies that are trying to solve global problems.
Friedensreich Hundertwasser spent his early years in Austria, and much of his adult life flitting about the globe, but in hindsight he seemed fated to set down his deepest roots in Aotearoa, a place he called the Promised Land. From his first visit in April 1973 until he was laid to rest 27 years later on his bush-clad property in Northland, Hundertwasser felt at home. He extended his first stay (for a touring exhibition) to four months, embarked on a road trip in a Morris Mini, and spent time living on Rakino Island in the Hauraki Gulf. While there, he began work on a painting that was to form the basis of his iconic poster for Conservation Week 1974. A stream of idiosyncratic work followed, including his gift to national identity, the striking koru flag, which took its cue from the spiral of a fern frond, and the landmark Kawakawa Public Toilets, with their playful pillars, irregular ceramic tiles, and “tree tenant”. What gave Hundertwasser’s varied work cohesion was his tireless exploration of new ways to coexist with the natural world. Andreas Hirsch’s Hundertwasser in New Zealand is an informed and sympathetic account of the artist’s life here, offering insights into his philosophy and his creative evolution. Hirsch is a former curator of the Hundertwasser Museum in Vienna and his book is generously illustrated with photographs and sketches, and with reproductions of Hundertwasser’s paintings and prints that seem to hang from the page like tropical fruit. Hundertwasser had a lifelong love of the sea—his original family name, Stowasser, means “standing water”—and in 1967, he purchased an old Sicilian salt freighter, which he renamed Regentag (“rainy day”). Explaining the name, he said: “On a rainy day the colours begin to glow… It’s a day when I can work.” Less prosaically, he added: “Each raindrop is a kiss from heaven.” All up, he lived on board for the best part of 10 years. [gallery columns="2" ids="464646,464645"] By 1975 Hundertwasser had bought a 200-hectare farm in the Kaurinui Valley, with access to the sea. It was here that he embarked on his most ambitious attempts to enact what he called “a peace treaty with nature”. Living off-grid in an old farmhouse that had been shipped there in the 1930s, he set about planting trees—100,000 of them—and, in an echo of Venice, built a system of canals connecting the land with the sea so that he could row Regentag’s dinghy right up to his house. He also experimented with a humus toilet and a plant-based sewage treatment system, and converted the old cowshed into the Bottlehouse—a grass-roofed building with translucent walls made from old glass bottles. As Hirsch notes, “recycling and self-sufficiency are two of Hundertwasser’s basic requirements on the way to restoring paradise”. Hundertwasser didn’t live to see the realisation of his greatest gift. Whangārei’s Hundertwasser Art Centre with Wairau Māori Art Gallery opened in February 2022, after years of controversy and delay. With its planted roof, golden onion dome, and exuberant tiled exterior, the building is vintage Hundertwasser, and one of only two museums in the world dedicated entirely to his work. More than that, it was conceived as a place to encourage independent creativity and to celebrate both European and Māori culture. “I want to show it is possible to live in a better world,” Hundertwasser told a journalist when Regentag first visited Auckland. Appropriately, it was raining at the time. [caption id="attachment_464649" align="alignnone" width="1600"] In tape-recorded letters he left at Kaurinui, Hundertwasser urged his students never to waste paint. “Without combatting the throwaway and consumer society, positive creativity is not possible.” In these photos, both taken in 1978, he is painting at Kaurinui and revelling in a stay at a commune on Kawakawa River.[/caption]
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