Taking the Long View with Gord Stewart

Biodiversity and nature conservation in New Zealand

Biodiversity hotspots.


These are regions containing significant reservoirs of biodiversity threatened with destruction by humans. By definition, they are areas with a high portion of plant and animal species found nowhere else and having lost at least 70 percent of original habitat.

There are twenty-eight such hot spots on Earth. They include the Madrean pine-oak woodlands in the highlands of Mexico, the Atlantic forest region of South America, and the Horn of Africa. And New Zealand – all of it, actually, including our marine ecosystems and the vast ocean spaces around us. So we have a particular responsibility to address biodiversity loss and to protect what still remains.

How are we doing? One shining area of success is community conservation and nowhere is the story better told than in the wonderful new book Paradise Saved. Replete with beautiful photographs, the book details the origins of conservation efforts in New Zealand and features the many wildlife sanctuaries around the country that are helping to stem the tide of extinction.

Tiritiri Matangi may be one of our best known sanctuaries and with good reason. A short ferry ride from Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf, the island now hosts some 30,000 visitors each year. It has been a long journey to the present day open sanctuary from 1971 when just six percent of original forest cover remained. Farming leases were revoked at that time and Tiri, as the island is known locally, was designated a recreation reserve.

Release of red-crowned parakeets on the island in 1974 drew the attention of two young scientists from University of Auckland. An initial interest in studying the bird and plant life led to a large-scale planting programme to kick-start forest regeneration.

brK7816ITUACsR_awOumQ5cpk_xyPX3GanYC5F96zuU,eDQnMkc57ChnQEe3JOS5Hljy38pHfalklBmMKnD10o8 Gannets courting on Motuora Island PHOTO: TOBY STANLEY

The trials and experiences at Tiri created a template for community-driven habitat restoration that would spread throughout the country. This is all well documented in Paradise Saved, with chapters on island and mainland sanctuaries both open and fenced. Their success is a tribute to visionary leaders and the host of volunteers doing countless hours of work on the ground.

These sanctuaries – “islands” of protection and abundance – are absolutely essential in our fight to stem biodiversity loss, but they are not enough. Not if they are mere pockets in an increasingly degraded broader landscape. This is where Vanishing Nature, an important new book from the Environmental Defence Society, comes in.

002 Fur seal Angela Simpson Baby fur seal – Our marine environment, home to fur seals, is the mostly poorly served by protective legislation PHOTO: ANGELA SIMPSON

With detailed chapters on managing public conservation land, protecting biodiversity on private land, and safeguarding both freshwater and marine biodiversity, the book confirms that New Zealand has one of the highest rates of species extinction in the world.

“Biodiversity and healthy ecosystem services underpin human prosperity,” notes Chapter 1. From climate regulation and pollination services to high-quality freshwater and healthy oceans our well-being is indivisible from the fate of the natural world. Problem is these ecosystem services are almost never factored into economic decision-making. This is what’s known as “market failure” and identified in Vanishing Nature as one of the two key drivers of biodiversity loss.

The other is “agency capture” by powerful development interests (e.g. agriculture and fisheries), which can preclude or weaken some regulatory initiatives and constrain enforcement. “We need to align divergent interests,” says Marie Brown, lead author of Vanishing Nature. “When they clash, nature loses.”

While the situation may be dire and the causes difficult to overcome, this book is not short on solutions. It offers some twenty-nine (strategic, tactical and practical) solutions in all and recommends public mobilisation to elicit leadership and vision. We need more of the public to take a stand for nature conservation and against biodiversity loss – to become a political force so the government of the day properly addresses the issue.

We need a Government that considers nature conservation an investment not a cost. A Government that will enact stronger legislation and more supportive policies. One committed to effective implementation and monitoring. One that will properly fund the efforts. In short, one that truly cares.

“Biodiversity loss is not inevitable,” says Marie Brown. “We are choosing to lose it. It is quite within our reach to make the changes we need.”

Gord Stewart is an environmental sustainability consultant. He does project work for government, industry, and non-profit organisations.

Paradise Saved book coverVanishing Nature Cover FINAL

Great Reads Paradise Saved: The remarkable story of New Zealand’s wildlife sanctuaries and how they are stemming the tide of extinction, Random House New Zealand, $55.00 (www.randomhouse.co.nz) Vanishing Nature: Facing New Zealand’s biodiversity crisis, Environmental Defence Society, $45.00 (www.eds.org.nz) Both books can be purchased through your local bookstore or directly from their publisher. Check out your library, too. [PHOTOs provided – suggested captions, PHOTO CREDITS ALSO NOTED] Trouson Kauri Park path – A track in Trouson Kauri Park, Northland Gannets –

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