The view from the top of the Ruahine Range is a good one to wake up to.
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Anyone who’s spent a night in the forest knows that after dark the bush is a different and disorienting place. Distances seems greater, the air seems thicker, and sounds seems louder, as though nature dials up the volume knob after the sun sets. On a recent winter’s night, I went walking in Le Roys bush with Auckland ecologist Bella Burgess. We heard the rasping of wētā, the distant shrieks of pukeko from a nearby wetland, an animated conversation between a pair of ruru that we never managed to glimpse amidst the branches above. Beside the track, an exposed clay bank had become a galaxy of glow-worms, their tiny pale lights seeming to shine from an impossible distance. Then Bella switched on the ultraviolet torch she’d brought with her, and the bush came to life in a different way. Under ultraviolet light, tendrils of coral fungi lit up in neon. Lichens glowed silver. Mushrooms fluoresced bright yellow, orange and red, as though lit from within—and I was surprised how many I hadn’t noticed under the light of my headlamp. Some ferns had ultraviolet etchings on their fronds, while others of the same species didn’t. Was it a rust growing on them, perhaps? The way living things respond to ultraviolet light is poorly understood, but we do know that other animals—especially birds and insects—can see this extra colour. Our limited vision is the exception rather than the norm, and our animal and plant neighbours live in a world that looks quite different. One of the functions of this magazine is to show the world around us in a new light, and this issue, we’ve taken that literally, producing the first-ever ultraviolet-light photographs of a number of native bird species. These images are an attempt to approximate how birds see each other—not how humans see birds. It’s dizzying to look at, to glance up from the page and attempt to visualise what other species are seeing. What we can see has a impact on how we understand. “The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled,” writes the art critic John Berger in Ways of Seeing. “Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.” This issue of the magazine is about things that are hard to see, and about changes in sight. Nic Low writes about looking at a map of the South Island labelled only with Māori place names, the names that existed before Europeans arrived—so many names that the landscape shimmered with them like stars. He was struck by a sudden vision: the land wasn’t wilderness, as he’d always seen it. Rather, it was intimately known. At a more prosaic level, on page 76, Naomi Arnold learns that the view insurance companies take of the value of our homes may be quite different from ours. And on page 88, Dave Hansford grapples with the realisation that some trees might be... bad. Shifts of perspective are often prompted by religion, which photographer Cameron James McLaren investigates on page 58. Faith traditions give people a way of recognising and interacting with the unseen: the dignity of living things, the sacred nature of selfless acts, the invisible bonds of community and culture. McLaren’s photo essay offers a window into religious practice in our largest city, a look at how New Zealanders are approaching aspects of the human experience that can’t be photographed. With this being another issue finished under the protocols of a national lockdown, we’re all getting a new view of reality.
In our rush to plant more trees, are we creating an environmental nightmare?
Much of New Zealand’s coastal property has an expiry date, with its value set to be wiped off the ledger in as little as nine years’ time, well before sea levels rise and coastlines are redrawn. What will happen to marae and communities by the beach? And why are we still buying—and building—properties right in the danger zone?
Legend has it that the first person to cross the Southern Alps from Hokitika to the Rakaia was a woman travelling alone. The pass she discovered became an important route for war parties and trade. In this excerpt from a new book, Uprising, Nic Low sets out on foot to determine how Raureka found her way through the mountains.
In the middle of July, a deluge dumped 690 millimetres of rain on Westport in 72 hours—more than three times the West Coast town’s monthly average. Houses flooded waist-high. More than 2000 people had to be evacuated and at least 100 homes remain uninhabitable. The downpour was driven by an atmospheric flow—warm air saturated with moisture. It’s the kind of event that’s becoming more frequent across the world, according to the latest climate update by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in early August. It doesn’t make for cheerful reading. The report confirms that the world has now surpassed 1°C of warming since pre-industrial times, and that all emission scenarios will exceed 1.5°C sometime in the next 20 years. In the most optimistic scenario, warming will only surpass 1.5°C briefly, and temperatures will eventually drop back below 1.5°C later this century. To live in that scenario, we’ll have to bring carbon dioxide emission to net zero by mid-century, make deep cuts in methane emissions and then continue to strip carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The report also confirms that climate change is now obvious across all lands and oceans, and that it’s our own doing. In its most strongly worded statement of culpability yet, it describes human influence on Earth’s climate as unequivocal and unprecedented. It says that 98 per cent of the warming observed since 1979 can be attributed to our global emissions. Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are now higher than at any time in at least two million years. “Each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850,” it says. If temperature goes up, so will the world’s oceans, and the risk of extreme heat waves, rain and drought, the intensity of tropical cyclones, and the loss of ice, snow and permafrost. Sea level rise is one of a number of changes we can limit, but no longer reverse. Globally, we are committed to 0.4 metres by the end of this century, on top of 0.2 metres that have already happened, even in the best scenario. Beyond 2100, the process will roll on for centuries. For the first time, the report also includes regional updates. New Zealand is in line with global average trends and has warmed by 1.1°C, while Australia has warmed by 1.4°C. It’s perhaps no surprise that Australia can expect more intense and longer wildfires, but New Zealand, too, has recorded more days with extreme fire risk. The warming of the atmosphere is changing the global water cycle, with shifting storm tracks and wind patterns. One of the consequences for New Zealand is a strengthening of the weather divide: the West Coast will see more extreme wet weather like the Westport floods, while Northland can expect more drought and more intense ex-tropical cyclones. If there’s any consolation in the report, it’s the clarity with which it spells out what we need to do to stay close to 1.5°C of warming.
Richard Robinson chases a fish around New Zealand and the Pacific.
The world has a big COVID-19 problem. But just how big? Each infected person carries between one billion and one hundred billion virus particles at the peak of infection. This equates to no more than 0.1 milligrams of virus per infected person—about the same as a single poppy seed. Multiplying by the number of infected people around the world, researchers estimate that our COVID-19 problem can be chalked up to between 0.1 kilograms and 10 kilograms of virus.
“Whales have become wildlife, but tuna remain food,” writes author and fisher Paul Greenberg. As Kate Evans recounts in this issue’s cover story on tuna, whales shifted from ‘food’ to ‘wildlife’ not because people discovered an environmental conscience, or a new appreciation for the animals’ intelligence, but because the market for whale oil had collapsed. The oil was used to fuel lamps, to lubricate engines, and as an ingredient in an array of products as diverse as rope, soap, face moisturiser and margarine. What counts as wildlife, pets or food changes across time, place and culture. It seems like an innate quality of cats that we don’t eat them, and cows that we do, but the opposite applies elsewhere in the world. “Food comes first, then morality,” says fisheries expert Francisco Blaha, quoting playwright Bertolt Brecht. Our understanding of what is wildlife and what is food is determined predominantly by necessity. New Zealanders are not necessarily more enlightened than the communities that still hunt whales for their meat, but we’re wealthier than almost all of them. Not everyone is in the position to turn food into wildlife or pets—or building materials into forests, for that matter. This was epitomised when I approached Ngātiwai tohunga Hori Parata for a story on kauri dieback. His response boiled down to: “Why do you want to talk about a tree disease? We’re trying to deal with racism here.” The question of protecting tuna—a challenge which spans cultures and nations—strikes at the heart of this issue. A fishery cannot simply be closed when a great part of the livelihood of several nations comes from that fishery. The international cooperation that has seen the fortunes of southern bluefin reversed from dire to optimistic charts a path forward. Less positive is New Zealand’s perspective on our Pacific neighbours: seen as a temporary labour force that can be hired and dismissed at will. During the immigration crackdown on Pasifika people in New Zealand in the 1970s, a brief amnesty was granted to Tongan workers—not because it was the right thing to do, but because the mass deportations threatened to shut down Auckland’s factories. The government is about to apologise for holding and enforcing this view, but in some ways, this perspective remains. The seasonal migrant worker scheme operating today involves bringing Pacific islanders to New Zealand to fill job vacancies, but without granting them the rights of New Zealand residents. This issue of New Zealand Geographic has a number of stories that encourage a shift in perspective. Is a forest made of trees and plants? Or is the real forest underground, in the soil, where a different kingdom of life acts as a subterranean control room, determining what grows above the surface? Do human beings require jobs, communities, homes, possessions to be happy? Nomadic couple Miriam Lancewood and Peter Raine are on a decade-long experiment to find out where the edges are—and where the search for independence meets the need for social participation. This is the purpose of a magazine such as New Zealand Geographic: to point out that the world around us isn’t on the default setting. That the views we hold don’t represent the natural order of things. Our perspectives have been sculpted by the forces surrounding us, and they can be reshaped—but only once we recognise our that our perspective is a limited view of reality.
Tuna are the gold of the ocean—and, because certain species are so sought-after, they’ve become synonymous with overfishing and modern slavery. But in some areas, populations that were teetering on the edge of total wipe-out seem to be making a tentative comeback. Are things finally turning around for these fisheries?
Western and central Pacific tuna stocks are mostly healthy—for now. What about the people working to haul them from the sea?
Research on the Alpine Fault suggests there’s a high chance of a magnitude-8 event occurring within the next half century. This will cause significant damage in the area, but just as the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake had a significant impact on Wellington, it is also likely to be widely felt across the lower North Island. Some 30,000 residential chimneys in Christchurch toppled or caused damage during the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes. Most were unreinforced concrete masonry or brick, which are common in pre-1970s homes. Chimneys are just one feature of a home we can make safer for future earthquakes. The Earthquake Commission has assembled a quickfire list of those features most likely to fail, and what can be done to mitigate damage and danger to occupants. For more information visit the Earthquake Commission website: eqc.govt.nz/be-prepared
Could taking tiny, regular doses of psychedelic drugs enhance your mental health? Not any more than a sugar pill, according to the largest placebo-controlled study on “microdosing” to date. Microdosing involves taking substances such as LSD or psilocybin (the hallucinogenic compound in magic mushrooms) a couple of times a week, at around 10 per cent of a typical recreational dose. It has recently surged in popularity, as the dose is too small to cause hallucinations, but is purported to improve mood, creativity and psychological wellbeing. One hundred and ninety-one people volunteered for the study, administered by researchers in the United Kingdom. Over four weeks, the participants either took drugs or a placebo, without knowing which they were ingesting. After four weeks, those taking psychedelics reported significantly improved wellbeing and life satisfaction. So did the people taking inactive capsules. There were no significant differences between the two groups—both experienced the same positive effects. The researchers suggest the benefits of microdosing arise not from drugs, but from the power of our own expectations.
A study has found that dogs exhibit jealous behaviour and can imagine their owners’ ‘infidelity’ even when they can’t see it. Researchers at the University of Auckland recruited dog owners and placed a chest-high barrier between the humans and their furry friends. The owners had to wear noise-cancelling headphones and goggles to avoid giving any unintentional cues to their pets. The barrier was opened for long enough that the dogs could see there was either a social rival—a realistic-looking fake dog—or a fur-covered cylinder near their owner. The dogs pulled much harder on their leads when their owners were patting the fake dog compared with the control box—and significantly, they did this even when the barrier was closed and they could no longer see the fake dog, says study lead Amalia Bastos, a doctoral candidate at Auckland. “This is the first time that anyone has shown that dogs can actually imagine social interactions they can’t see—they’re sort of playing a little movie in their head.” No-one had ever tested whether dogs could do this before, Bastos says. “I think people tend to underestimate what dogs are capable of in terms of their social intelligence.” Other studies have been divided over what dogs’ jealous behaviour actually looks like, and therefore whether there really is any evidence for it—but these researchers took a lead from the science on jealousy in infant humans. Human babies and toddlers consistently tend to try to get closer to their mother when jealous of her attention going elsewhere—and the new study shows that dogs exhibit a similar response, says Bastos. “We’ve definitely shown jealous behaviour in dogs. But whether that means they’re subjectively experiencing jealousy in the way we do is a much harder question to answer.” The results give scientific weight to what many dog-owners have long suspected — surveys have shown that people believe their pets do get jealous. But Bastos hopes the findings may also help change attitudes towards animals and how we treat them. “They might be actually more similar to us than we give them credit for.”
Small-scale fisheries land half of the world’s catch—but not much is known about the 40 million people involved in them, or how many fish they’re pulling out of the sea. This means governments make policies based on inaccurate estimates of catch and consumption, which can lead to unsustainable fisheries. A group of international researchers, including Shaun Wilkinson from Victoria University in Wellington, have developed a free smartphone app using open-source software that fishers, government managers, and researchers can use to accurately track catches in real time. They tested the app in Timor-Leste between 2016 and 2018, co-designing aspects of it with fishers and local fisheries managers, and in 2019 the Timorese government adopted the app as its national fisheries monitoring system. Called PeskAAS—the name references the word for fisheries in Tetum, the national language of Timor-Leste—the app can be used to collect detailed data on species caught, fishing methods used, habitat fished in, time spent fishing, and the price of the fish. Since 2016, nearly 60,000 fishing trips in Timor-Leste have been tracked using the technology, with catches recorded for nearly 30,000 of them, and the data has been incorporated into new fisheries laws. The researchers hope the technology will be widely adopted by other countries—though they acknowledge that it is designed for boat-based fisheries, compounding the invisibility of women fishers, who often collect seafood near the shore and on foot.
This chart shows how population rankings for New Zealand settlements have changed over 130 years. Every place has its own rich story. The histories of Ōamaru and Hamilton, for example, are a study in contrasts. Ōamaru was a major agriculture service centre in 1891, with a population of 6294. This made it New Zealand’s eighth-largest urban area. The town grew through the first three-quarters of the 20th century, but at a slower rate than other towns. In 1974, the port closed and its population started to fall. In 2018, Ōamaru had 13,600 residents, down from a peak of 15,100 in 1976, and was the 28th-largest urban area. Hamilton was the country’s 17th-largest urban area in 1891, with a population of 2289. Many factors contributed to its rapid 20th-century expansion. Proximity to Auckland, its location on the main trunk line, and the Waikato River flowing through made it a major regional transport hub. The establishment of hospitals, government departments and a university, alongside the growth of Waikato dairying, further bolstered population growth. By 2018, Hamilton was the fourth-largest city in New Zealand, with a population of 205,505 people. Note that Napier and Hastings are counted as a single urban area due to their proximity.
Researcher, writer and activist Tina Ngata (Ngāti Porou) rethinks what’s portrayed as normal.
Summer is the season of dahlia shows. Every weekend, enthusiasts assemble in town halls around the country to compete for the top prize: Champion of Champions. But participation in these shows is dwindling, and now the country’s top growers are seeking to pass on their expertise to a new generation of gardeners. Meanwhile, dahlia breeders continue to explore the plants’ hidden genes, producing ever newer, stranger, more extravagant cultivars.
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