Since 1969, Gloriavale Christian Community has set itself apart from New Zealand society. Over the past six years, nearly 100 people have left or been expelled from the 550-strong group on the South Island’s West Coast. Gloriavale leavers know only the communal lifestyle, religious rules and conformity demanded by their former leaders. For them, Timaru might as well be a foreign country.
Yan Zhang starts work when most photographers put their cameras away. Rather than rely on the sun, Zhang uses moonlight, starlight and the frail beams from climbers’ headlamps to illuminate his landscapes, capturing a rare and ghostly vision of our high places.
New Zealand has only one endemic gull, the tarāpuka, and it’s more endangered than the takahē, the hoiho and all five species of kiwi. Its survival depends on the preservation of the South Island’s unique braided-river ecosystems.
What became of the ship that charted New Zealand and Australia in the 1770s? For Great Britain, Endeavour expanded the map of the world; for Aotearoa, it brought abrupt and devastating change. Now, one of the world’s great maritime mysteries is on the cusp of being solved. The Endeavour’s bones lie in American waters, awaiting final identification. Meanwhile, the only organisation permitted to investigate the ship—a volunteer marine archaeological group—is lacking funds for the next stage of work and rejecting offers of collaboration. What does the future hold for the Endeavour wreck?
Here’s a story: a naval vessel arrives in a foreign land, scopes it out, stakes a claim. Its crew is armed. They murder some of the local people and steal their goods.
We would usually call this an act of war. In New Zealand, we call it an encounter.
On October 6, 2019, it will be 250 years since Royal Navy Lieutenant James Cook first sighted Aotearoa, and commemorations of his visit will be taking place throughout the year. The government will spend $13.5 million on marking this through a program called Tuia Encounters 250, and a further $9 million will be provided for community events through the Lotteries Grants Board.
Using the word ‘encounters’ to describe the first meetings of British and Māori is a euphemism—a poor substitute for the enormity of what took place.
We need to find better words to describe what happened. We need to be honest about the nature of the Endeavour’s mission—to take possession of land and expand the British Empire—and the impact that it had. We have the text of the secret orders that Cook unsealed in 1769, after observing the transit of Venus near Tahiti. (In summary: “Go find Australia, see if it’s got anything valuable, and claim any islands you stop at on the way.”)
This obfuscation discredits New Zealanders. It treats Pākehā as though they are too fragile to cope with remembering the violence that accompanied British migration. Māori don’t have a choice whether to remember this violence or not—the ripples of it are still part of people’s lives. The bloodless word ‘encounter’ turns us away from what we have a duty to face.
When I spoke to Tina Ngata about the symbolism of the Endeavour, she pointed out that remembering Cook’s visit in this manner promotes a false sense of reconciliation and unity, and furnishes the idea that we’ve put all those misunderstandings in the past. (We haven’t—just look at the way Pākehā speak about Māori on social media if you’re not sure.)
Ngata is Ngāti Porou—her ancestors were among the first Māori to meet the British—and is a lone voice calling for plain speaking.
“Those kinds of truths really need to be told,” she says. “It’s not about attacking [Cook], it’s not about attacking anyone—it’s about telling the full truth of the project of imperial expansion.”
I’ll admit that it’s uncomfortable to imagine Cook as the tool of a military, to see his visit as the first stage of an invasion. I much prefer the story where he’s a hero—the story that’s all about daring and scientific discovery and exploration. That’s the one I was taught.
But this is an opportunity to recognise that we’ve only been recounting the Pākehā story for the last 250 years. I’d like to hear the one told by the descendants of the Māori who met Cook. But we need to quieten down the first one in order to listen.
As this issue went to press, Ngata was installing an exhibition at Gisborne’s Tairāwhiti Museum. It’s about Cook’s visit, from the point of view of the people who were already here, and involves art, performances, lectures and workshops. It’s called He Tirohanga ki Tai, A View from the Shore. It wasn’t funded by any of the government-sponsored grants.
Many of these event-organising bodies use the word ‘celebration’. But I think that to celebrate this occasion is an insult to the people for whom Cook’s visit was a harbinger of disease, disenfranchisement, and death.
We should be clear: the Endeavour is the backdrop for the opening scene of a tragedy. It symbolises something that we, as a people, never want to do again. The words we should use for its 250th anniversary are ‘lest we forget’.
Māori have a whakataukī, a proverb, that I think of often: Ka mua, ka muri. ‘Walking backwards into the future.’ We move forward, but the only thing we can see is the past.
We are not, as a nation, looking our past in its face. And we cannot take steps towards a unified future until we do.
The wombat is the only species in the world capable of organically producing cubes. Thanks to the varying elasticity of its intestinal walls, wombats poop cubes, which they then stack up to mark their territory and attract the attention of other wombats. How they produce droppings in this shape has long been a biological mystery, solved only when Patricia Yang, a postdoctoral fellow in mechanical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, studied the digestive tracts of roadkill wombats from Tasmania. Cubes are rare in the natural world. “We currently have only two methods to manufacture cubes: We mold it, or we cut it. Now we have this third method,” said Yang in a presentation of her research. “It would be a cool method to apply to the manufacturing process—how to make a cube with soft tissue instead of just molding it.”
Ninety-five per cent of common dolphins have a unique ‘fingerprint’ of pigmentation on their dorsal fin that lasts a lifetime. Scientists hope machine learning could use the dolphin photographs taken by people all around New Zealand to track where the dolphins travel.
Common dolphins occur around the globe, and it was thought they were too numerous and similar to tell individuals apart—there are thousands that swim in the Hauraki Gulf alone. Currently, dolphins are told apart by the nicks and notches on their dorsal fins—scars received socially or from boats or fishing lines. These accumulate over a dolphin’s lifetime. Bottlenose dolphins are very social and may acquire many scars, but 50 per cent of common dolphins have no scars at all.
Scientists from Massey University and NIWA used 240,000 photos of nicks and notches to manually identify 2083 individuals in the Hauraki Gulf. Then they demonstrated that over ten years, the pigmentation on common dolphins’ dorsal fins doesn’t change, making it a reliable mark of identity.
Lead researcher Krista Hupman is now developing an algorithm that will identify dolphins, and hopes that photos of individuals taken by recreational boaties and tourism operators could be used to get a better understanding of how many dolphins there are, where they go, and how they behave.
In a storeroom in Mt Albert, Auckland, there stood large steel filing cabinets, which hadn’t been opened for decades. Their drawers were filled with fine sheets of glass, each in its own paper sleeve, filed alphabetically—photo negatives from the 1950s and earlier documenting work of the government research institute that’s now Plant & Food Research. When staff were moving premises in 2018, photographer Wara Bullot discovered the trove of images—documentation made by her science-photography colleagues long ago—and recognised their importance. Many of the glass-plate negatives had hand-written labels detailing the subject, its purpose and location. Others could only be guessed at.
Before Kodak revolutionised film in the mid-1950s, glass-plate photography was the go-to process for documenting science, as it was more chemically stable than film available at the time. The glass-plate process was cumbersome and time-consuming, but has a unique finish—a softness and a wide range of tones.
“I can only admire the skill of the people who worked in this challenging medium and used it so well to capture images that tell compelling stories,” says Bullot. “Some of these photographers, like Steve Rumsey, were phenomenal at their time. They were highly skilled and had great patience and a deep understanding of their craft.”
Bullot has co-curated a selection of photographs, which will be exhibited at Alberton from January 16-27. More details and some of the images can be viewed online at scienceinthedarkroom.nz.
A study analysing the climate-change goals of various nations has ranked New Zealand among the worst performers. Along with China and Russia, New Zealand’s climate change polices would propel the world to five degrees of warming by the end of the century, says the study, published in November in the journal Nature Communications. Researchers looked at different countries’ climate-change policies and determined the temperature rise that would ensue if all other nations followed their example. The United States and Australia are ranked slightly better, but their policies would lead to more than four degrees of warming. Recently, the World Meteorological Organization’s 2018 Climate Report found the world was not on track to meet the climate-change targets determined in the Paris Agreement. Similarly, a United Nations report published in November found that emissions of carbon dioxide rose in 2017, the first increase in four years. To meet the Paris goals, emissions must peak by 2020.
Zebra finches exposed to the sound of traffic appear to age faster than those in quieter environments. In a study published in Frontiers in Zoology, birds were found to have shortened telomeres, which indicates accelerated ageing, if they were played recordings of street traffic once they had left the nest. The birds heard the noise from the age of 18 days until 120 days. But if birds were exposed to noises only while in the nest, their telomeres were of normal length. The authors suggest the birds are more sensitive to noise between 18 and 120 days of life—the time when they are learning song.
Could abandoned jetties and oil platforms help marine species? Much research focuses on how ocean structures negatively affect marine ecosystems—jetties, platforms, wrecks and pipelines can change habitats with sound, pollution, and the introduction of invasive species.
But they can also provide support for endangered species of fish, coral and seals by acting as stepping stones between coral reefs, providing outposts of food and shelter. New research suggests leaving some of these structures in place may be beneficial.
In the Gulf of Mexico, protected deep-sea sponges grow on the legs of oil and gas platforms, and in a study published in Scientific Reports in August 2018, University of Edinburgh scientists modelled how the larvae of a protected coral, Lophelia pertusa, could disperse around the North Sea from oil and gas rigs. They could travel between oil-rig coral populations, which would provide refuges and genetic diversity, and arrive at distant reef populations that they would not otherwise reach.
“We clearly don’t need more human structures in the ocean,” says lead author Lee-Anne Henry, “but if development is to happen—and it needs to in some places sometimes—then we should consider the positives and negatives of the infrastructure together.”
One of the downsides, she says, is that these structures also facilitate the dispersal of non-native species and invasive species.
The Australasian gannet forages by plucking fish from the sea, then regurgitates food for its young—and sometimes its meals are interrupted by researchers studying gannet nutrition. A team of Australian and New Zealand scientists took a close look at what the gannets were providing their chicks. They found that the fish and squid they were eating had a lower ratio of healthy fats to protein when the sea was warmer than the 10-year average. In addition, GPS trackers showed the birds worked harder to get enough nutrition, increasing their foraging area by more than 200 square kilometres and their time spent feeding from more than 13 hours in duration to more than 21 hours. Study author Gabriel Machovsky-Capuska says the right proportion of healthy fats to proteins is crucial to gannets for good body function and healthy chicks.
Lonesome George was the last of his species, a Galápagos giant tortoise from the island of Pinta. Though he died in 2012, he continues to inform scientific research—his genome was sequenced and more than 3000 genes thought to be involved in ageing and cancer were analysed by an international team of researchers. Galápagos giant tortoises are among the longest-lived species, reaching up to 200 years, and it’s thought they have evolved mechanisms for preventing cancer. The researchers identified variants in several genes previously unassociated with ageing, opening up avenues for further research.
You don’t need a PhD to find a new species, unearth a rare fungus or name an asteroid. New Zealanders with no specialist training are contributing to scientific research by monitoring streams, spotting rare plants, counting the birds visiting their back gardens, and putting GPS trackers on their cats.