A physicists last message takes us
back to the heart of our land.
Sir Paul Callaghan’s body was weak from
cancer – at the start of his Zealandia lecture in Wellington he asked
the audience for their patience as he may become weary and have to sit
and rest, but he reassured them that if he could not continue another
speaker would complete the lecture.
Surprisingly the content of this, his
final lecture was not a discussion of his chosen field of nuclear
magnetic resonance, nor was it of his vision for a NZ economy propelled
by hi-tech entrepreneurs. No, it was a subject clearly heartfelt — an
audacious vision, a “crazy vision” his last word to us all.
Sir Paul proposed that we take our
existing and world-leading expertise in eradicating introduced predators
and apply it to the big picture, our big picture, the New Zealand
mainland, the supposedly impossible task.
He proposed creating a dozen 100,000ha
restoration zones, about 15% of the current conservation estate. Taking
advantage of the halo effect, each zone would have a fenced core of
1000ha, inside which all pests are eradicated. Outside, a further ring
of up to 10,000ha could be managed with intensive trapping. An outer
halo, taking each zone up to 100,000ha, could be managed with 1080
drops, without which “we don’t even have a chance of turning this thing
around”. Callaghan said we could do this in 12 places – in forested
areas like the Orongorongos near Wellington and the Whirinaki Forest in
the Urewera – for $20 million a year, 20% of DoC’s existing biodiversity
But then Callaghan suggested a “mad” idea,
the New Zealand equivalent of the Apollo space programme, which he
called the Zealandia programme. “Let’s get rid of the lot. Let’s get rid
of all the damn mustelids, all the rats, all the possums, from the
mainland islands of New Zealand. And we start with Rakiura (Stewart
Island). And we work our way up.”
As Callaghan said at the end of his
February lecture, “It’s crazy and ambitious but I think it might be
worth a shot.”
Visionary thinkers lead the way, and in
this case leave us with a future pathway – an intellectual inheritance
for others to carry forward and a template for those who dare to make
things happen. Can we do it?