Arie Spyksma maps the seafloor to figure out how the underwater environment is changing.
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Arie Spyksma maps the seafloor to figure out how the underwater environment is changing.
Health geographer Jesse Whitehead has been mapping New Zealanders’ access to healthcare, whether it’s the distance they have to travel to a vaccination clinic, or whether it would be more equitable to ensure vaccines are available at schools or GP clinics (it turns out that schools offer better coverage). These maps show the distance people must travel to the nearest metropolitan hospital (located in major cities, with a wide range of services) or regional hospital (with less capacity and fewer services).
From trophies to traditional medicine, the illegal trade in bear parts is driving some iconic species to extinction—and New Zealand is one destination in the $2 billion global market for smuggled bear products. In the ten years to 2018, New Zealand authorities made 412 seizures of smuggled bear parts and bear-derived products. More than 80 per cent of the seizures related to traditional medicines—often bear bile or gall bladder extract—but some also included bear parts and trophies.
One spring, Annette Lees was given a bat monitor for her birthday—a black and olive plastic gadget with knobs for adjusting volume and frequency and a speaker to announce when a bat was nearby. It is hard to think of a present that you could do less with. Nevertheless, Lees set it to 40 kilohertz and stepped out into the night. Within minutes, the monitor started clacking. “I looked up and saw the quickest flick of something sooty, something fleeting and heart-stopping,” she remembers. In that moment, After Dark was born. The book is Lees’ highly personal and delightfully discursive celebration of a world that is foreign to most of us, and full of “suspense, lawlessness, hazard, sensuousness and awe”. Chapter by chapter, hour by hour, she traces the goings-on in day’s mirror realm as Earth rolls into its own shadow, plunging land and sea into deepening darkness. Lees, a conservationist, ecologist, and life-long night walker, is a reliable and informative guide. There are three grades of twilight, we are told early on: civil, nautical, and astronomical. Each begins in turn as the sun sinks lower beneath the horizon, with true night arriving when the sun has sunk so far that none of its light escapes to obscure the faintest stars and galaxies. In After Dark we encounter a great deal of the natural world, of course, from “the first cak cak cak of an echo-locating night-flying Cook’s petrel travelling east into the raised night”, to the synchronised rhythm of glow-worm lighting, and the urban feeding forays of bats in Auckland’s Waitākere Ranges. And here are practical tips: walk a dim forest trail by following the slight gap between leaves in the canopy above (called “crown shyness”), and—this from the 1880s—avoid mosquitoes by eating while wreathed in woodsmoke. The social history, too, serves up surprises. A woman hunting snails by torchlight is reprimanded for breaking wartime blackout regulations; an appearance of the ghost of Hooker Hut; the eerie seismological silence of Auckland during the national COVID-19 lockdown. With no machinery banging away, no traffic growl, no real activity of any sort, the sprawling metropolis had ceased generating what seismologists call “cultural noise”. Thanks to its confessional frankness, After Dark is also an absorbing and at times poignant memoir. Whether Lees is being discovered while attempting to creep past a couple on their rural veranda, getting dangerously disoriented in the bush, or reflecting on the death of her young son, she has the rare skill of vividly encapsulating the moment. Above all, After Dark reminds us of how detached from natural processes we have become, and at what cost. In the early years of street illumination, lamp lighting was linked to the moon’s behaviour—off when the moon was full, on when it was absent. Now, the ubiquitous LED, with its bluish light, “shouts ‘Daytime!’ even in the dead of night”, with disastrous consequences for insects, birds and other wildlife. And with the night sky brightening by two per cent every year, light pollution is increasingly recognised as a global concern. As a corrective, Lees invites us to experience “the company of night animals and insects, the glassy light of stars, the floating moon”. And if you missed the show last night, she says, “Don’t worry, the chance will come again in just a few hours, as it has 4.6 billion times before.”
The Nelson area is one of New Zealand’s richest for minerals. Here, obsessives comb rivers for unusual and precious rocks. Yet despite these people’s shared passion, friction abounds within the community, raising questions: who owns the precious stones that tumble down rivers in the public estate? Can anyone take them? And, if so, can they sell them? Should they?
You can’t see them with the naked eye, but they’re in the Orion constellation, about where the hunter’s head would be: three stars locked together in a triple system known as GW Orionis, around 1300 light years from Earth. Now, evidence is mounting that this system is home to the first known planet orbiting three suns. The planet, thought to be a gas giant like Jupiter, hasn’t been directly sighted. But astronomers have observed a halo of dust, gas and debris encircling the stars, called a protoplanetary disk. These disks form around new stars before coalescing into planets—first the big, hot gas giants, and then the smaller terrestrial planets like Earth. Images of the star system show concentric dust rings encircling the gravitationally bound stars, like a cosmic bullseye. There is a curious gap between the first and second rings, and the first ring is fractured and tilted. New modelling suggests this misalignment is most likely due to one or more planets carving out their orbit. While Earth has just the one sun, several planets orbiting two stars—like Luke Skywalker’s home planet, Tatooine, in the Star Wars movies—are already known. But the existence of a planet orbiting three stars suggests that planets form more easily than we thought, and in unexpected places. If the triple-star planet does indeed exist, what would you see in its sky? Just two suns would appear, because two stars in this system are so close together that they appear as one. As the planet rotated, the stars would rise and set in patterns hard to imagine for Earthlings accustomed to the concept of night and day. Further observations of the GW Orionis system from telescopes in Chile are expected in the coming months, which may offer further proof of the potential planet.
Off the east coast of the North Island, one tectonic plate slipping could lead to the same kind of quake that caused devastating tsunami in Japan in 2011 and Southeast Asia in 2004. Thanks to a suite of seafloor instruments and new underwater observatories, scientists are discovering more about this plate boundary and how it behaves.
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
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