There is more to Matariki than meets the eye. Use some of these resources to dig deeper.
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There is more to Matariki than meets the eye. Use some of these resources to dig deeper.
Melanie Burford, a New Zealand photojournalist in Norway, turns her lens on intangible subjects: her son’s autism, her family’s search for belonging.
Electric eels are living batteries that taser their prey with 860-volt jolts. Sharks use electricity like an extra sense to see fish and sneak up on them. Spiders fly using the atmosphere’s electric charge, and bumblebees and flowers communicate through their personal electric fields. How else does the natural world use electricity?
It’s the worst part of an officer cadet’s training, and it will haunt them for the rest of their Army career.
New Zealand’s geography makes it an appealing place for agriculture. It also makes this country a good place for launching rockets.
There’s a new holiday on the calendar: Matariki, the Māori new year. It’s the first indigenous celebration to be formally recognised in any colonised country. It brings with it a focus on the resurgence of the maramataka, the Māori environmental calendar. And it might just be the best thing that’s happened to New Zealand’s environmental conscience in years.
For one week in May, 21 photographers documented a small town at the confluence of history. What they found was beautiful.
Where do young sea creatures spend their first weeks? What’s at the root of oceanic food chains? Kelp forests are to Aotearoa what coral reefs are to other marine ecosystems. Or they used to be.
Could the types of materials we use in our home have an impact on the billions of microorganisms that exist there? A first-of-its-kind study aims to find out.
To take part in a celebration drawn from this land. To continue a tradition going back centuries. To feast on the summer’s bounty, to look for signs of the coming season. To consider time differently. To remember those who passed away; to say their names again, into the night, and to let them go. In Aotearoa, the new year begins in mid-winter with the rising of the constellation Matariki. This year, for the first time, we all have a day off to celebrate it together. What should we do? Nic Low spoke to Rangi Matamua, the guy responsible for it all, and a number of tohunga kōkōrangi, astronomers, about what Matariki was and is and could be. One of the themes that emerges is that Matariki offers an opportunity to look outwards rather than inwards. The lunar calendar, the maramataka, like the one included with this issue, is a way to start thinking about your relationship with the land, sea and stars. You can also start in your backyard. Go to nzgeo.com/local to read stories about exploring what’s around you. These are stories about what can be found on the rocky shore, what can be foraged and eaten among the weeds that grow on driveways and berms, and what species live in the mudflats that border urban motorways. These are reminders that the natural world isn’t out there in a national park: that the turning of the seasons can be marked by the flowering of onion weed (which is delicious) as much as by the migration of the godwits. Throughout Aotearoa, we’re lucky to have a good view of the stars. So: rug up and go outside for Matariki. As omicron continues to spread, as medical professionals predict a flu season to rival all flu seasons, spending time outdoors is a safe way to see others. In the past, our survival depended on our ability to closely observe the natural world. We no longer rely on these observations for our next meal, but they’re important to us in a different way. They counteract the abstracted fashion in which we increasingly connect with each other online, the fracturing of our attention spans by the communication devices in our pockets. Many of us participate in online communities, and the internet offers us a place of affirmation and connection. The internet can also make it harder for us to empathise with others and to be present in the physical world. The way to pull our minds out of the Cloud and back to earth is, literally, to concentrate on the earth, in ways that might seem, at first, to be pointless. In ways that are usually deemed unproductive. One of my favourite thinkers, Jenny Odell, dedicated a whole book to this, called How to Do Nothing. She writes: “I’m suggesting that we protect our spaces and our time for non-instrumental, non-commercial activity and thought, for maintenance, for care, for conviviality. And I’m suggesting that we fiercely protect our human animality against all technologies that actively ignore and disdain the body, the bodies of other beings, and the body of the landscape that we inhabit.” Matariki is a reminder that we inhabit an ever-changing place alongside ever-changing fellow humans, and that there’s something crucial in noticing these transformations.
Blue sharks swim in all the world’s oceans, and a new study reveals surprising stories about their migrations and behaviour. For his doctoral research at the University of Auckland, Riley Elliott carefully attached satellite tags to 15 blue sharks—11 males and four females—in the waters off northeastern New Zealand between 2012 and 2015. With limited funding available for the expensive tags, Elliott turned to community groups and individuals, the sponsors following the animals’ movements online. In some cases, the tag stayed attached for at least a year. One shark travelled more than 14,000 kilometres from New Zealand to the Pacific Islands and Indonesia and back. Another dived to more than 1364 metres below the surface—a record at the time for blue sharks—and a third swam all the way to the equator. “We were all kind of cheering for him,” says Elliott. “The scientific theory is they don’t cross the equator.” One kilometre from the line, as though the shark had sensed it, he turned and swam south. “Unfortunately, he went through a real hotspot of tuna fishing, and we stopped hearing from him.” These long-distance travellers were all males. The tagged females remained in and around New Zealand waters all year round—a surprise, given fisheries data had suggested there were few mature females here. In a shark fairy tale, Elliott tagged a male and a female off Aotea/Great Barrier Island in 2014. The female had fresh mating scars (shark romance is not gentle), and there were young pups close by. In late summer, the male swam north to the tropics, while the female stayed around Northland. The following spring, they reunited—returning to the same spot near Aotea at the same time. Blue sharks are declining almost everywhere, as they’re caught more often than any other shark in longline fisheries. In 2019, surface longline fishers in New Zealand caught almost as many blue sharks as they did southern bluefin, the species they were actually targeting. About three-quarters of the sharks caught were killed and processed for their fins or meat.
A study by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency of illegal, unreported and unregulated tuna fishing has found that the problem may not be as bad as was feared. It estimated that between 2017 and 2019, 192,000 tonnes of tuna worth more than US$300 million was caught each year in the Pacific Islands region by people not following fisheries rules—down from 300,000 tonnes in the 2016 estimate. “The assumption that unlicensed fishing is rampant has been proven false,” says Auckland-based fisheries consultant Francisco Blaha, who contributed to the report. Only five percent of the dodgy dealings involved unlicensed fishing boats. Most—89 per cent—involved licensed operators misreporting which fish they caught, or how many.
Dan Burgin was holding the flesh-footed shearwater chick when it vomited a hard white square of plastic—and stinky stomach oil—over Simon Lamb. The two ecologists, from the consultancy Wildlife Management International, were on predator-free Ohinau Island, off the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula, collecting data on the shearwater breeding season. They couldn’t help noticing the plastic scattered around the seabird colonies, especially near the shearwaters’ burrows. The rubbish wasn’t jettisoned by humans—Ohinau Island requires a permit to visit—but by the birds themselves. Seabirds perform a vital ecosystem role of bringing nutrients from the ocean to the land. Now, they’re transporting plastic, too. They’re even feeding it to their young. Burgin and Lamb autopsied 11 flesh-footed shearwater chicks they found dead in their burrows or on the ground, and found that they all had plastic in their stomachs. In one decomposing chick, they discovered 114 miscellaneous particles weighing 35 grams: five per cent of the body weight of a chick roughly the size of seagull, or the equivalent of a human swallowing three kilograms of the stuff. “To see plastics having such a tangible impact on this species was very hard-hitting,” says Burgin. “I had a very heavy heart coming off that trip.” Because of the complexity of ocean currents, the plastic could be coming from both local and international sources, he says. “The problem is probably more acute than we’re aware of.”
As this issue went to print, hundreds of kororā had been found washed up dead in separate events along Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē/Ninety Mile Beach and other beaches in the Far North, in what are called penguin wrecks. The Department of Conservation says little blue penguins are dying as a result of the summer’s marine heatwave, which makes it harder for them to find food. Read more at nzgeo.com/penguins
The steep underwater walls of Fiordland’s sounds are home to a lush ecosystem of sponges, corals, and algae in camouflage shades of green and brown. Last summer, divers in Te Puaitaha/Breaksea Sound working to control the spread of the invasive seaweed Undaria noticed something unusual: the Cymbastela lamellata sponges dotted all over the cliffs were bleached a bright white. “Once you see one, you just see them everywhere—as far as you can see,” says diver Millie Mannering. It’s the first time sponge bleaching has been observed in New Zealand, affecting millions or even tens of millions of individual animals. It’s likely the result of last summer’s marine heatwave, when ocean temperatures in Fiordland reached up to five degrees warmer than usual. By chance, sponge ecologists Francesca Strano and Valerio Micaroni from Victoria University of Wellington, who study the effects of climate change on sponges, were also on the trip, and were horrified by what they saw. “We were really worried they would all die,” says Strano. But when the pair returned to Fiordland in June to assess the damage, they found that most of the bleached sponges were still alive—even though the symbiotic green algae that live inside them were mostly gone. These algae give the sponges their colour and supply them with extra food. But there were enough algae remaining that the scientists are hopeful that the cooler waters over winter may allow them to regrow, and the sponges to recover.
He could have retired years ago, but there’s still so much to do.
Plans to mine a well of diatomite in Otago hit a snag when scientists pointed out that the site contains contains a wealth of perfectly preserved examples of prehistoric Aotearoa.
In Aotearoa, this constellation represents the crushed eyes of Tāwhirimātea on the chest of Ranginui. Elsewhere, the star cluster is known as the seven brothers who ran away, the sisters who share a husband, or the six faces of one god.
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