Kiwis believe native biodiversity in good shape despite 2800 species in decline
New Zealand has more than 900 native species approaching extinction and another 2800 declining or at risk, Ged Cann looks at why Kiwis don't seem worried.
Seventy per cent of the public felt the state of the country's native plants, animals and fish was adequate or doing well last year, according to Lincoln University.
But the co-author of the research and environmental economist Ross Cullen, described this perception as "totally wrong".
Cullen believes the misunderstanding likely boils down to a focus on a dozen or so "charismatic species" - the tuis and kiwis of the world - where conservation efforts are concentrated and which are heavily covered by media.
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"They read stories in the paper about another kaka chick saved or another sanctuary that has opened, and they seem to take that as information that the general state of our biodiversity is safe – it's not," Cullen says.
"We have 2800 species on the threatened and endangered species list. We have some of the highest proportion of threatened or endangered species than just about anywhere else in the world."
"We have got about 90,000 species in total, only about 50,000 have been named, classified, etc."
Cullen says this put New Zealand as one of the worst on the planet for endangered animals.
While Cullen applauds volunteer groups, charities and the government for their efforts to turn the tide, it is only succeeding in "bits and pieces", and too often only for a small number of targeted species.
Environment Minister Nick Smith says: "There are some differences between New Zealanders' perceptions of our environment and the reality".
The Environment Reporting Act, introduced in 2015, aims to improve this through regular and accurate reports on our environment from the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics NZ, Smith said.
Forest and Bird chief executive Kevin Hague says dispelling the myth that New Zealand was protecting its biodiversity was one of the organisation's biggest challenges.
"If very few people vote on [an environmental] basis, political parties don't have to make commitments," he says.
Forest and Bird shines the spotlight on six forgotten species.
Hutton's Shearwater seabirds only breed in Kaikoura and can sometimes be seen around Cook Strait.
The Hutton's Shearwater Charitable Trust estimates between 20 and 40 per cent of burrows were lost in the November earthquake.
"However, we've heard less about them than the earthquake impacts on fur seals and whales," Forest and Bird spokeswoman Amelia Geary says.
"Unfortunately, as the quake occurred during breeding season, adult birds as well as eggs would have been swept away."
Since 2005, chicks have been moved to an alternative site on the Kaikoura peninsula and the trust has raised money to build a predator proof fence at the new site, named Te Rae o Atiu.
Duvaucel's gecko is NZ's largest gecko, growing up to 30cm.
Despite once being widespread, introduced mammals have drastically reduced their numbers. "They now survive on a range of off-shore islands including in Cook Strait," Geary says.
Duvaucel's were reintroduced to the mainland at the end of 2016 when 80 animals were released in the Tawharanui Open Sanctuary on the Tawharanui Peninsula.
"Being a large gecko, they make a pretty great meal for a predator and are less able to hide in nooks and crannies like our smaller geckos can."
North Island weka was once widespread, but now the only natural population exists in the hills between Opotiki and Motu.
"They have been reintroduced to a small handful of other sites including offshore islands, but they occupy a tricky conservation niche as they can prey on other native species, making relocations problematic," Geary says.
Whitebait is the juvenile form of five different native freshwater fish species.
Four of the five species are in decline due to habitat loss, degraded waterways and pressures from commercial and recreational harvesting.
"The only one that isn't – banded kokopu – is declining according to anecdotal reports," Geary says.
Black-billed gulls are the most threatened gull species in the world, classified as nationally critical in 2013.
The population is thought to have dropped 75 per cent in 30 years.
"We want to see better protection and pest control on their braided river habitat, which is becoming degraded due to commercial pressures," Forest and Bird canterbury regional manager Jen Miller says.
Long-tailed bats alongside short-tailed bats are the only two remaining New Zealand species, with the third, the greater short-tailed bat, already extinct.
"Long-tailed bats are predated on by rats, stoats and cats. Because they roost in old trees, they are losing their habitat due to clearance of forest remnants in places like South Canterbury," Miller says.
NUMBER OF TIMES IN THE NEWS IN THE PAST SIX MONTHS
Blue Penguin: 282
Maui dolphins: 99
Hutton's Shearwater: 64
Duvaucel's gecko: 11
North Island weka: 4
Banded kokopu: 34
Black-billed gulls: 42
Long-tailed bats: 68
Source: Mediamine Ltd