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They strand on our shores in greater numbers than any other species of whale. Scientists believe they know why, but there is much about these animals that remains an enigma, and the strandings continue to happen.
Nail and string art.
Invasive koi carp now writhe through wetlands from Auckland to Marlborough, displacing native species and destroying freshwater habitats. For 25 years, bowhunters in Waikato have ministered their own brand of pest control, the World Koi Carp Classic, resulting in prizes, and 70 tonnes of puréed fish.
At the sight of the first Endeavour, the natives of New Zealand were amazed and afraid, describing the vessel with its yards of flying canvas as a "bird of great size and beauty" and "a houseful of divinities." Astonishment quickly gave way to curiosity—the same emotion which drew thousands to wharves around the country this summer to inspect a sailing replica of one of history's greatest ships of discovery. For volunteer crew—here shortening sail in a freshening blow—the work of hauling rope and climbing shrouds was a chance to taste 18th century exploration and to relive momentous events in this country's history.
Fish and colouring flowers...
A year spent in search of kiwi among the ranges of the West Coast.
Plants have been used continuously as medicines for 60,000 years and 80% of the world’s population uses plants for health care and natural remedies. Dr Sandra Clair, the founder of Dunedin-based company Artemis, is keeping the knowledge, skills and experience of traditional plant-based medicines alive and believes they are as relevant for health care as they have ever been. betterancestors.org
Edible plants grow throughout our towns and cities: in verges, margins, berms, parks and empty sections, along driveways, pavements and hedgerows. The trick is knowing what to look for.
The health of the soil plays a crucial role in water quality, food quality and carbon sequestration but the pressures placed on it from industrial agriculture and excessive fertiliser use means it's currently not in the best shape. There are some farmers who see a return to nature as the smartest approach, however, both to create a more efficient business and to reduce their impacts on the environment. As Nicole Masters of Integrity Soils says, if we want to feed the world and still have a habitable planet, the only way to do it is through regenerative agriculture. www.betterancestors.org
The Darran Mountains lie deep in the marrow of northern Fiordland—a chunky, perplexing range of diorites and sandstones, gneisses and granites. This is a land of extremes, with the country’s most remote summits, the greatest rainfall and the longest, hardest-to-climb alpine rock walls. Adventurers have been coming here since William Grave and Arthur Talbot in the late 1800s, to test themselves and forge new routes through this vertical landscape.
Whether it's climate change, microfibres in the ocean, or loss of biodiversity, the impacts of human activity are also being seen in Antarctica. Scientists, researchers and organisations like Greenpeace are monitoring these changes in an effort to create a baseline but, as University of Exeter marine scientist Kirsten Thompson says: "It's time we put conservation first. Seems obvious to me." www.betterancestors.org
Mountainous, densely forested and bounded by cliffs and boulders,Little Barrier Island (Hauturu) crouches in the outer reaches of the Hauraki Gulf, a relic of a wild New Zealand now largely vanished. Set aside as a nature reserve over a century ago, the island houses a matchless cargo of wildlife inhabiting an unusual diversity of forest types.
Beautiful art created from naturally fallen trees.
Lightweight, inflatable boats are changing backcountry travel. Easier to paddle than a whitewater kayak, and more forgiving of mistakes, packrafts are opening up river sports to a wider audience.
Build your own twig raft!
The plants and animals that are native to Aotearoa have evolved away from large landmasses, which means we have some of the highest numbers of endemic species on earth. Unfortunately, the sometimes accidental and sometimes deliberate introduction of tens of thousands of exotic plants and animals has pushed many of our unique species to the edge of extinction. With the widespread destruction of ecosystems, the ecological requirements for endemic species often no longer exist, but by nurturing and propagating at-risk species and making nursery plants available to restoration projects, Jeff McCauley is helping to turn things around at the Native Plants Nursery in Piha. www.betterancestors.or
Sometime in the mid-1950s a young boy asked “Would you like to come for a ride in my boat?”, and the world has been saying yes ever since. The jet boat’s unrivalled performance in the shallowest of rivers revolutionised water transport and remains a quintessential New Zealand invention, perhaps our greatest contribution to the world of engineering. And the man who perfected it, in a farm workshop of a remote high-country station, was our original “bloke in a shed”, an inspiration and a role model for generations of Kiwi tinkerers, inventors and innovators.
Build your own jet boat!
How artificial intelligence can fight species extinction.
Chatham Islanders treasure their independence, but they have been forced to rely on the government to survive. Can they find a path to a self-sufficient economy?
Tania de Basin's mission to show primary students the link between responsibility and sustainability.
The South Island kōkako is widely believed to have died out a half century ago, but some committed bird experts are convinced there are signs a few remain: disturbed moss, glimpses of grey wings and orange wattles, an occasional haunting call. Yet despite decades scouring southern forests, the kōkako has remained elusive—a single feather is the closest the searchers may have come to proving the bird still exists.
A vegan pest-control trapper finds the beauty in his work.
One of the world’s smallest nations is transforming its economy from subsistence to sustainability. Will Niue’s brave new plan work?
Adrienne and Robert Scott of Reclaimed Timber Traders (RTT) in Palmerston North lead a team pioneering a sustainable business model that not only repurposes our precious timber resource but also provides employment opportunities and a sense of purpose for those who are disadvantaged or struggle to find a role in the system.
Lake Taupo lies in the caldera of an active supervolcano, the site of the world’s most violent eruption of the last 70,000 years. Just 10 km beneath it sits another lake of molten rock 50 km wide and 160 km long. With a growing need for alternative energy sources, plans for tapping this latent reservoir are hotting up.
Curling requires perfect weather conditions for its national tournament, the bonspiel, to take place. For the first time in 84 years, the frosts aligned and New Zealand’s gathering of curlers returned to the Central Otago town where it all began in 1879—Naseby.
Without water there is no life and yet across Aotearoa and beyond exploitation of water for profit is accelerating. But Aotearoa Water Action provides support to communities who are battling to protect water security in their region and shows the power of a community coming together, resourcing and supporting each other to confront a massive problem. As Aotearoa Water Action's Peter Richardson says, we've had decades of unconstrained capitalism focused on short-term growth, but the wheel is turning and "the more people who get involved, the quicker that will happen". www.betterancestors.org
The idea of minimal living, an international fad, has fallen on fertile soil in New Zealand, thanks to our national housing crisis and shifting ideas about the way we want to live. For some people, a tiny house is the only home they will ever afford to own. Others are stepping off the treadmill of modern life to ask: How much space does a person really need?
Antarctica’s fragile ecosystem is a barometer for the warming and acidification of Earth’s oceans. Over the last decade, NIWA scientists have been diving under the ice as part of Project IceCUBE to gauge just how the ecosystem might cope with these threats.
Some species just like it cooler. Others have withdrawn little by little to higher altitudes, making new homes where it’s too cold for their enemies to follow. But warmer seasons allow predators and diseases to gain ground and advance above the bushline—meaning that the alpine zone is no longer the refuge it once was.
In the foothills of the Southern Alps, Staveley Camp provides inspiration for regeneration.
Learn about the changing environment, and paint some bowls!
Gaza, Beetle, Lily and Jaq, Inky, Tootle, Shrek and Skippy—every town and community has them. They style themselves as ordinary people but their lives and service are anything but ordinary. Unpaid and unheralded, they are our first line of rescue in 65,000 emergency calls a year, routinely saving the lives and assets of people they don’t know.
Inside Xtreme Zero Waste's collaborative success in Raglan.
With predicted increases in sea level of a metre or more by the end of this century, present-day problems of coastal erosion, flooding and salt-water intrusion into groundwater are going to get much worse. As world leaders gather in Paris to seek a political solution to climate change, it’s timely to ask how we in New Zealand are responding to the challenge of rising seas.
In Aotearoa, only 3% of decorative timbers used in our buildings are sourced from our own country. But John Dronfield of Forever Beech and Robin Curtis of Health Based Building are trying to change that. When it comes to timber, they believe it is possible to harvest sustainably from a forest and build homes that are not only genuinely sustainable but are beautiful, healthy spaces in which to live. www.betterancestors.org
In the heart of the Waikato there’s a multimillion-dollar industry based on a gnat. Glowworms are big business, attracting well over half a million people a year to Waitomo and prompting some to shift from working the land above ground to commercialising the creatures below it. But keeping the caves and their thousands of tiny performance artists in good health requires round-the-clock care.
New Zealand is at a tipping point. The cumulative adverse impacts of our land use and the impact of synthetic fertilisers and industrial agriculture are harming our freshwater ecology, driving species to the brink of extinction and impacting human health. But we have the capacity to change and now is the time. If we can respect our unique natural world; if we can change the way we farm, reduce the number of animals and our dependence upon synthetic inputs; and if we can reclothe the land with appropriate plants and stop sedimentation, we will give the natural world the opportunity to heal. www.betterancestors.org
Hospital for birds, and make your own noughts and crosses game.
Parininihi consists of 2,000 hectares of coastal and inland forest in Taranaki and Conrad O’Carroll has committed his life’s work to caring for it and its resident kōkako population by managing introduced predators and teaching the next generation of kaitiaki / guardians. Ngāti Tama are tangata whenua and kaitiaki of Parininihi and these lands hold great cultural, historic and spiritual significance to Ngāti Tama, who strive to maintain the health of Parininihi. Kōkako (Callaeas wilsoni) are of the genus Callaeidae, Wattle Birds, and very distant relatives of the crow. They were previously widespread in Aotearoa. However, populations have been decimated by the predations of mam
Diseases can take a huge toll on wild animals and hasten rare species towards extinction. In New Zealand, scientists, vets and conservation volunteers are teaming up to try to beat the viruses, parasites and fungi threatening some of our rarest bird species.
Brushtail possums are a protected species in their native Australia. Across the Tasman, they have established themselves as New Zealand's most voracious and intractable pest, attacking simultaneously the beauty of our forests and the good name of our farming products.
The fashion industry is one of the world's biggest polluters. But Samantha Fay and Bridget Allen are doing their bit to reduce its impacts through Stitch-o-Mat, a community service that helps people improve their sewing skills - and provides a hands-on way to recycle fabric and develop creativity. In New Brighton, Christchurch, sewing machines are available for people to use for their own sewing projects or to sew for a community project. People pop in, work away and learn new skills. An important co-benefit is the development of a sense of community and support for one another. As Samantha explains, a great choice we can make in terms of minimising harm to the environment is to repair
Learn about possums, and paint some designer shoes—like, you're the designer!
New Zealand’s largest city sits atop an active volcanic field that has erupted at least 53 times in the past 250,000 years. The catastrophic blasts felled forests and set the Auckland isthmus alight. The fire-fountaining cones and lava flows rode roughshod over the land. Scientists are not wondering if it will happen again, but what it will cost Auckland in lives and infrastructure when it does.
Lampreys have done without bones—even jaws—for 360 million years, making do instead with a mouthful of rasps designed for shredding. But those teeth are no match for a new and invisible enemy. Are pesticides killing the lampreys? Scientists are scrambling to find out.
Brendan Linnane began his journey into the world of fungi with a chance reading of Mycellium Running by Paul Stamets. In the book, he speaks of the importance of fungi as "the grand recyclers of our planet - as the interface organisms between life and death and life again". Inspired by his writing, he created Foggy Dew Fungi and learned to appreciate fungi as our teachers. All living creatures are connected, but most connections are invisible to us unless we learn to perceive things in new ways. Perhaps by slowing down and taking time to sit quietly, to look and listen carefully, we can learn from the natural world. www.betterancestors.org
Buried in the soil are the lattices and networks of another kingdom of life, one that’s inextricably connected with what grows above the ground. Fungi determine the types of trees that thrive, and change the quality and health of soil. So, what exactly are they up to down there—and what powers do fungi have that humans could harness?
During winter, dozens of seabird species take flight from New Zealand on epic migrations across the planet—and recent advances in tracking technology mean we can now follow them. What we’re learning has upended scientists’ ideas about the lengths animals will go to in order to raise a family.
Read about birds, make some bird paintings with your hands!
New Zealand is unique in the world. With the exception of bats, Aotearoa has no native land-based mammals. Our bird populations have adapted to this – some, like the kiwi, are flightless, and others nest on the ground. Into this environment introduced predators like stoats, cats, possums and rats have wreaked havoc, pushing populations of our precious taonga towards the precipice of extinction. Humans also exact a mighty toll. But the South Island Wildlife Hospital in Christchurch, which is operated by volunteers from the Wildlife Veterinary Trust, is doing its bit to help by treating and rehabilitating injured and sick native birds and reptiles. www.betterancestors.co.nz
Frequently feared, but mostly misunderstood, spiders have a dazzling repertoire of behaviour, and engineering skills which are unmatched in the animal world.
Read about spiders, make a spider, or a turtle out of rocks and paint...
By re-purposing second-hand fabrics, using eco-printing and dyeing techniques Seonaid Burnie reveals art from within nature.
Last century, southern right whales were hunted until there were none left—none that we could find. A small group of these whales, also called tohorā, hid from the harpoon. Deep in the subantarctic, the survivors birthed and nursed their young. Now, tohorā are returning to the coasts of New Zealand. Are we ready for them?
Read some stuff, make some stuff, watch some stuff...
Aotearoa / New Zealand has one of the world’s highest rates of whale strandings, and hundreds of whales can beach themselves at one time. During these strandings, it is the highly skilled volunteer medics, trained by Project Jonah, who offer the best care possible. By directing the public on how to help and maintain personal safety, these volunteers are able to keep stranded whales from overheating and, if possible, return them to the water. Through the disruption of migratory routes by shipping, habitat threat from commercial fishing, pollution of ocean ecosystems and changes to water chemistry, whales face multiple severe obstacles to their survival. So if we truly wish to help the
Ricardo Christie and Jo Holley call themselves guardians of the ocean. And they're calling on more New Zealanders to do the same; to learn about the immense pressure being placed on our marine ecosystems and exert some pressure of their own on politicians so we can protect what remains. www.betterancestors.org
A thousand kilometres north-east of the mainland, the Kermadec group basks in a subtropical environment and two decades of marine protection. In May this year, scientists scoured this untouched world to catalogue, collect and expand the list of species found there, and discovered an ecosystem unlike anything else in the country.
Make your own school of fish using whatever you have around the house.
The Mokohinau stag beetle is one of the world’s most endangered species, occupying less than an acre of scrub on a rocky tower in the middle of the ocean. Its habitat is so precarious that Auckland Zoo and DOC are hoping to safeguard a population of beetles on the mainland as a form of insurance—that is, if there are any left.
At Auckland Zoo there’s an elderly primate whose unobtrusive presence and minimalist surroundings understate her significant role in our history. Isolated from the other chimps, she looks lonely, but this is her choice. She doesn’t get along with her fellow primates and prefers her solitary enclosure to their park-like surroundings. When her longtime friend, Bobbie, died four years ago, Janie, 58, became the last of the famous tea party chimpanzees.
We've changed our minds about zoos should be over the past generation. Let's visit Auckland Zoo to figure out what we've learned...
Experience tigers in a completely new way as four cubs grow up to become part of a rare kind of family at Australian’s Dreamworld.
In 1845 Governor George Grey set aside 80 hectares of central Auckland for a park. On the crest of an ancient volcano, it is a memorial, a recreation space, a green heart for the city and its citizens.
Let's learn about something close to home—at the centre of our city.
The fantail is one of our commonest native birds, loved for its flamboyant tail, acrobatic flight and inquisitive friendliness. Yet life is no bed of roses for these charming little birds. Between August and February each year they pour their energy into reproduction, only to have almost all of their infant offspring devoured by rats and other predators.
Seabird scientists are creating a fake home for shags on the Noises, an island group off the coast of Auckland, in the hope that the Hauraki Gulf’s rapidly diminishing spotted shag population will be fooled into thinking it’s a great place to start a family.
In a succession of difficult postings—South Australia, New Zealand, South Africa—the energetic George Grey proved himself one of the British Empire's most able governors. Yet when he returned to New Zealand in 1861 for a second term, the magic was fading. The colony was on the brink of civil war, and local politicians were unwilling to allow Grey his former power. As an escape from the increasing pressure and frustration of public life, Grey purchased Kawau Island, building a grand house there amid exotic gardens and filling it with treasures. On the centenary of the death of Sir George Grey—soldier, statesman, explorer, philanthropist—we pay a lingering visit to Mansion House.
Many Aucklanders know Kawau Island, but how many know it's truly weird history?
Sea turtles survived a meteor that killed the dinosaurs, millions of years of predator attacks, even the slow warming of the seas, only to be threatened by nylon fishing lines and plastic bags. Those that wash up in New Zealand almost always need the help of humans.
Here's a lockdown life-hack... wear your home on your back like a turtle and you can travel anywhere!
The fascinating secrets of the South Atlantic Ocean’s only atoll have remained hidden from humankind… until now.
Josh James reinvents adventure and manhood on the West Coast, with the world watching.
The spade brigade, as they were dubbed, planted 280,000 seedlings—a city of trees—into which a host of rare birds and reptiles were released. Within sight of New Zealand's largest city, Tiritiri Matangi is now a template for island restoration and endangered species management.
Our ground-based native bird species would be lost on the mainland, but have found safety in lockdown on offshore islands.
It may look like a subterranean soft toy, but a prowling peripatus is anything but cuddly. The "velvet worm" is a voracious predator with a startling method of catching prey, and one of the forest's more unlikely denizens.
Rolling a fresh cigarette, Bill Ballantine gives a sardonic laugh as he recalls the headline in the local newspaper when New Zealand’s first marine reserve was opened in 1977—“Nothing to do at Goat Island Bay any more.” He had fought for 12 years to protect five square kilometres of marine habitat on the Northland coast. That protection was finally in place. To Ballantine it was the start of a new era. To the newspaper, voicing community opposition, it was the end of one.
Let's learn about marine protection, and the making of Goat Island.
Enter the mysterious world of spinner dolphins and discover how and why they perform the complex aerial activities, unique to their kind.
Here we are, back in lockdown. But before we go out of our minds, let's delve into the many minds of the octopus.
New Zealanders have become accustomed to sea freight slipping silently in and out of the country’s ports without incident. But on October 5, that impression of well-oiled efficiency foundered on Astrolabe Reef, and our coastlines suddenly seemed acutely exposed. What went wrong?
Nearly ten years ago the Rena slammed into Astrolabe Reef. What can we learn from that tragedy?
Pushing through a field of brash ice, an intrepid New Zealand expedition closes in on the bottom of the world. Their goal: the Antarctic Circle. Their route: wherever wind, wave and ice permit a passage along the western shore of the Antarctic Peninsula. Their means: three fibreglass kayaks and a fair measure of grit.
Enjoy the antics of two orphaned baby gorillas as they journey through their first year of life.
The sun powers our planet and provides us life. It’s as simple as that—though the processes can be mysterious and the applications surprising. In December last year, a bunch of Kiwis with a budget of less than $40,000 proved that it was possible to drive the length of the country using nothing but sunlight.
New Zealanders boast one of the highest dog ownership rates in the world—one third of households own at least one dog and 300 kennel clubs across the country run hundreds of dog shows a year. The competition will always be fierce, but there can only be one Best in Show.
Only two more days in alert level 2, four more days of home-schooling. Love it or hate it, our time Together at Home is drawing to a close. Let's go to the dog show...
The epic journey of the world’s most arid continent has driven the evolution of its bizarre pouched mammals, until Australia became the realm of marsupials.
For stargazers, the clear skies over Tekapō afford a remarkable view of the heavens.
In fading light, a fairy prion returns to its roost on Mana Island as a host of nocturnal creatures are just beginning their day. After concerted conservation efforts, the island is now a hive of activity after dark.
In the world of Extreme Animals, meet the Babies! From the cute and the seemingly helpless, to the weird and sometimes downright creepy, get ready for a top ten countdown of the world’s most extreme animal infants.
OK, it's weird to think about how we eat... but let's think about how we eat.
In our rush through modern life, we leave behind a mountain of rubbish that gets a little higher every year. The problem starts in our homes—so does the solution.
By night, a menagerie of species rises to the surface of the ocean—rarely glimpsed, and in some cases never photographed.
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.
Perched way out in the Pacific, Rangatira Island is pockmarked with thousands, maybe millions, of seabird burrows. Its forest remnants and rocky platforms also shelter some unique and critically endangered birds. But even endangered birds can make a tasty snack and, on a crowded island, there might not be enough room for everyone to rear their chicks.
Although he is best remembered for the Underwater World on Auckland's waterfront which still carries his name 22 years after his death, that project was just the last in a life brimming with adventure, discovery, originality and zest.
Would you like to be a pioneer? What would it feel like to explore a world no one else had seen?
So, you don't have any legs. What do you do? You build some new ones that are even more awesome.