Beyond the Barrier

by Des Casey


The Oceans’ Rubbish Tips:
Floating rubbish tips pollute the oceans as millions of tonnes of plastic and other forms of human throw-aways accumulate at speed. These tips collect in concentrated patches across the globe and one example, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, stretches for hundreds of kilometres. It is estimated (NZ Herald 13/06/14) that even if we all stopped adding to the collection now it will take hundreds of years for these “dumps” to stop growing.

There is a move to stop the rot. Using 50km floating barriers positioned strategically to move with ocean currents there is hope that these will catch and collect the rubbish in tight, concentrated areas where it can be picked up.
If it works, great! But that’s at the bottom of the cliff. Ending the input is a place we can all contribute to stopping the rot. Thinking globally and acting locally might see Great Barrierites making our coastline and beaches pristine – there’s always something lying on a beach that can be picked up, something to ensure goes to a controlled collection system and not out to the sea, some chemical we don’t really need that goes seawards down the sink or wash-tub.

That RMA:
The NZ Herald of 26/05/14, in its editorial, told us “ ….. to the heart of the question: which is more important, the environment or the economy?” PM, John Key, had acknowledged he did not have the numbers to make certain changes to the Resource Management Act that would involve removing its present status giving priority to the environment. National and Act say they should be on equal terms; others, including Peter Dunne and the Maori Party, say no.

The time-delays, costs and bureaucratic obstacles surrounding the RMA need a significant tidy-up, but natural and physical resources need protection. The rest of this century is going to emphasise fast-growing attention to environmental restoration and protection or, like the floating ocean rubbish tips mentioned above, humanity will be awash in a revolving circle of loss and decay.

The RMA, in its present form, goes some way to protect the nation’s coasts, lakes, rivers and wetlands, ecosystems and their inhabitants, natural amenities and habitats, historic sites and the resources that feed the natural world and ourselves. This needs strengthening, not under-mining. Given that most people think economy (money) before environment, placing them officially on equal terms would be dangerous. Failure to recognise that the natural environment is the fundamental and primary economic resource we have on the planet is a major disconnect in human thinking.

Saving Bees with spider venom:
Technology has always had a Jekyll and Hyde ring to it. From the industrial revolution to many of today’s amazing creations, the swing from exciting advance to environmental damage goes on. Take pesticides for example. Popular neonicotinoid pesticides are now believed to be the basis for the serious decline in honeybee populations world-wide (NZ Herald 5/6/14). These pesticides attack bees’ nerve centres, interfering with their ability to find their way home to the hive. Most plants rely on bees for pollination, and their decline has big implications for food production.

Australian funnel web – venom source for a new pesticide

But technology has come up with a new pesticide (Hv1/GNA) which has no negative effect on bees. Research in Britain has produced a “bio-pesticide” that has no such negative effect. It is made from the combination of the venom of the Australian funnel-web spider and lectin from snow-drops. Australia, look after your funnel-webs!


Elephant bird
The Kiwi is not an Auzzie after all:

This time last year we were swallowing research suggestions that a very long time ago the kiwi found its way to NZ from Australia. We were struggling. This on top of attempts to nick Phar Lapp and pavlova. But now we learn that the kiwi originated elsewhere. Its only near ‘relative’ is the extinct 2.3m-tall elephant bird of Madagascar. It seems they separated with the separation of the southern continents over 130 million years ago, and don’t have the links to the large ratites of emu, moa and ostrich as previously thought. Researchers now believe that the kiwi and elephant bird originated from a small bird which flew from a resource population on the then more friendly Antarctica continent, some ending up here and some on Madagascar. Once there its evolutionary development into a large bird was made possible because there was no other bird com-peting for the top-of-the-chain herbivore role. So it just kept on growing to ensure the spot. Its claim was similar to that of the emu and ostrich in other places. But in New Zealand the moa already had the jump for top spot, and so the kiwi settled for being smaller, insectivorus and nocturnal, at the same time developing a long beak to reach food ‘no-one’ else could get to. The wonders of evolution when left to do its thing!

Climate Change – Again
I hear you saying: “Not another call telling me that climate change is in the air”. Unfortunately the evidence is not going away. More and more scientists and meteorologists are becoming more convinced about it, so too many people in general. Even a few politicians and governments appear to be catching on. But progress is slow. At leadership level we are stuck and unwilling. There are some head-scratching conclusions and decisions being made. For example, New Zealand has vowed to reduce emissions by 5% by 2020, yet the Government estimates there will be a 25% rise. Who’s doing the maths?

If government and politicians have nous and commitment on this issue they will drop the political party approach and get talking. That is, lead. Give it a war-zone status. Come on you younger bright lights – Nikki Kaye, Jacinda Ardern, …… there are a lot of you, and start looking at what you can do together. Drop your party focus once a month, get round a table and nut out a united strategy and programme, and lead this nation. Others will latch on. Talk and act as if you are on a war footing. Catastrophic outcomes may well be more imminent than we are prepared to admit. This is not idle, alarmist thinking any more. Growing evidence is that if radical solutions are not taken by countries’ leaders very soon the economic, social and environmental fall-out of climate change will make the Japanese tsunami, Bhukett and the world’s worst earthquakes, Gallipoli, Flanders and present day Syria or the West Bank look like a practice run. I’m picking you don’t wish that to be the political, social, economic and environmental legacy you leave your and my grandchildren.

Environmental News Issue 33 2016