More spent on soft drinks than saving species

MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 13/10/2012

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We'll spend $60 billion on drinks such as Coca-Cola and juice in the next 50 years, but for less than 10 per cent of that, we could save 617 endangered species from extinction.

A worldwide report published this week in Science journal says New Zealand would have to spend $226.9 million in initial costs and $97m annually until 2062 to meet United Nations targets for preserving endangered species.

That would mean $5b over 50 years to save at-risk species - including newly named Bird of the Year the New Zealand falcon, the Stewart Island kiwi, Hector's and Maui's dolphins, and several rare varieties of moss.

The study shows it would cost $97b a year for 50 years to save the world's threatened species - less than 20 per cent of the global annual spend on soft drinks.

The study, co-authored by Conservation Department ecologist Richard Maloney, estimates it would cost $92.8b to expand and manage protected areas for endangered species and up to $4.76b extra a year to avoid extinctions and improve the conservation of all known threatened species.

Stuart Butchart of BirdLife International in England, one of the study's authors, said the $97b global total was half of the $190b given as bonuses at major banks last year, or a fraction of world defence spending of $2 trillion.

DOC deputy director-general of science and technology Kevin O'Connor said the same logic could be applied in New Zealand, where $1.2b was spent on non-alcoholic drinks annually.

"If you look at what the nation values and spends on other items it gives you food for thought."

The government spends $155m a year on natural heritage protection - $40m of that on saving threatened species.

Mr O'Connor said although the study was only an indicator, it backed up important conservation themes. New Zealand's economy depended on a healthy eco-system.

"Think of an eco-system as natural capital - in order to keep that asset you've got to maintain it. In a business sense, if you don't do that it will go down the gurgler."

Increasingly, businesses, communities and private citizens were becoming involved in conservation in both a hands-on and a financial way, he said.

New Zealand is a global leader in conservation and extinction modelling and is one of a handful of countries to have catalogued all its species.

Mr O'Connor said the study's recommendations were possible to achieve if government, business and private investors got on board.

"We could actually make quite a big difference quite quickly - it's not daunting, it's quite do-able."

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United Nations reports show the world faces the worst extinction crisis since dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago.

Threats include pollution, climate change and the clear felling of forests.

617 NEW ZEALAND SPECIES IN JEOPARDY

The Conservation Department lists 617 priority threatened species tagged as being in decline.

The top 10 include little known plants, mosses and moths regarded by ecologists as canaries in the coalmine signalling an ecosytem on the ropes.

More well-known species on the list include the recently crowned bird of the year - the New Zealand falcon (karearea) - as well as the kokako, New Zealand fairy tern, stitchbird, saddleback, kakapo, Stewart Island kiwi, mohua, black petrel, katipo spider, Hector's and Maui's dolphins, great white shark, Hamilton's frog and short-tailed bat.

ANIMAL AND BIRD EXTINCTIONS IN THE PAST 50 YEARS

Between 1962 and 1963 rats caused the extinction of the Stewart Island snipe, Steads bush wren and the greater short-tailed bat.

The South Island kokako was thought to be extinct but has since been reinstated to "data deficient" - recent evidence, yet to be backed up, suggests a relic population exists but the official last record of a bird was in 1967.

- The Dominion Post

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