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Conservationists estimate the orange-fronted parakeet population has likely doubled. Department of Conservation

Up until 25 years ago, New Zealand's orange-fronted parakeet, or kākāriki karaka, was believed to be extinct. Now, it's having one of its best breeding seasons in decades, NPR reported Thursday.

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Aerial of farmland and mountains near Seaward Kaikoura Range in New Zealand. David Wall Photo / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images Plus

By Jordan Davidson

New Zealand's pristine image as a haven of untouched forests and landscapes was tarnished this week by a brand new government report. The Environment Aotearoa 2019 painted a bleak image of the island nation's environment and its future prospects.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Kiwithing / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Supermarkets around the world should be commended for banning plastic bags, but there's another single-use foe on the environmental radar: produce packaging.

For eco-conscious shoppers, one of the most frustrating things about the grocery store is seeing things like a lone potato spud shrink-wrapped in plastic.

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Mass pilot whale stranding at Rakiura/Stewart Island. Department of Conservation / YouTube

As many as 145 pilot whales are dead after beaching themselves on a remote beach in Rakiura, or Stewart Island, in southern New Zealand.

A "heartbreaking decision" was made to put down half of the animals due to their poor condition and the difficult-to-access location, a Department of Conservation (DOC) official said Monday in a media release.

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French Pass, Marlborough, New Zealand. Thomas / Flickr / Public Domain

Incredible news in New Zealand, as it has banned new permits for offshore oil and gas exploration in efforts to tackle climate change.

The Crown Minerals (Petroleum) Amendment Act passed its third reading in Parliament on Wednesday with 63 votes in favor and 55 against, New Zealand Herald reported.

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lauwen66 / Flickr

New Zealand will no longer offer new permits for offshore oil and gas exploration, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Thursday.

"The whole world is going in this direction," Ardern said. "We all signed up to the Paris agreement that said we're moving towards carbon-neutrality, and now we need to act on it."

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The yellow-eyed penguin is found only in New Zealand. travelwayoflife / Flickr

Nearly half the breeding population of endangered yellow-eyed penguins on the island sanctuary of Whenua Hou (Codfish Island) in New Zealand have vanished, according to a recent survey.

The animals—also known as "hoiho" in Māori—are known as the world's rarest penguins and are only found in New Zealand.

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Paradise, New Zealand

New Zealand's next prime minister Jacinda Ardern has set ambitious environmental policies to confront a warming planet.

"I do anticipate that we will be a government, as I said during the campaign, that will be absolutely focused on the challenge of climate change," said Ardern, whose Labour party has signed a coalition agreement with the New Zealand First party.

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Environmentalists in New Zealand are increasingly angered that bottled water companies are extracting and exporting the country's pristine and finite freshwater sources for private profit—and paying very little for this privilege.

As the Guardian reported, Coca-Cola, "which has an annual revenue of over $60bn, last year paid NZ$40,000 to the local council for the right to extract up to 200 cubic meters of water a day" from Blue Spring in Putaruru, which is considered a national treasure.

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The Whanganui River is New Zealand's third-longest river and has special importance to the region's Maori community. Photo credit: Wikimedia

As the Trump administration works to dismantle environmental regulations protecting American waterways, New Zealand has recognized the Whanganui River as a legal person.

On Wednesday, New Zealand Parliament passed the Te Awa Tupua Bill which states that the river is "an indivisible and living whole," making it the world's first river to be given this special designation.

The river has been granted the ability to represent itself through human representatives, one appointed by the Whanganui Iwi (Maori people) and one by the Crown (government of New Zealand), Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson explained to Newshub.

"I know some people will say it's pretty strange to give a natural resource a legal personality, but it's no stranger than family trusts, or companies, or incorporated societies," Finlayson added.

Similarly, New Zealand's Te Urewera national park also has "all the rights, powers, duties and liabilities of a legal person," thanks to the Te Urewera Act.

More than 200 descendants of the Whanganui Iwi witnessed the bill's passage. Songs were sung and tears were shed after Parliament's third and final reading of the bill.

The decision marks the end of New Zealand's longest-running court case, as the Whanganui Iwi have long fought for the recognition of their authority over the river.

"Since the mid-1850s Whanganui Iwi have challenged the Crown's impact on the health and wellbeing of the river and those who lived on it, and have fought to have their rights and their relationship with the River recognized," said Gerrard Albert, Whanganui Iwi spokesperson, in a statement.

"Eighty years ago Whanganui Iwi started what was to become the longest running court case in New Zealand history over who owned the bed of the river. It has been a long, hard battle," he continued. "We have always believed that the Whanganui River is an indivisible and living whole—Te Awa Tupua—which includes all its physical and spiritual elements from the mountains of the central North Island to the sea."

The Whanganui River in the North Island of New Zealand is the country's third-longest river and a culturally and spiritually important entity to the area's tribes. According to a government website:

"The tribes of Whanganui take their name, their spirit and their strength from the great river which flows from the mountains of the central North Island to the sea. For centuries the people have travelled the Whanganui River by canoe, caught eels in it, built villages on its banks, and fought over it. The people say, 'Ko au te awa. Ko te awa ko au' (I am the river. The river is me)."

The bill includes $80 million (about USD$56 million) financial redress payment and another $30 million from the Crown to "promote the health and well-being" of the river.

Albert said that the Whanganui Iwi looks forward to working closely with other Iwi, local government, the Crown and other parties with an interest in the future of the river.

"It has taken us a century-and-a-half to get to this point. We will take a steady, calm and methodical approach to the next steps," he said. "While today we close the book on this part of our history, tomorrow we start writing a new one."

More than 500 volunteers flocked to a remote bay in New Zealand in response to a devastating mass stranding of pilot whales.

Around 416 pilot whales beached near the base of Farewell Spit in Golden Bay overnight, of which 250 to 300 were already dead when the whales were discovered, the Department of Conservation announced in a Feb. 10 media release.

A witness told The Washington Post that the whales were "crying and sighing" as they lay stranded on the beach.

Friday's incident was the third largest whale stranding ever recorded in New Zealand and the largest known whale stranding in the country since 1985, when 450 were stranded in Auckland, Reuters reported.

Rescuers tried to refloat the remaining cetaceans during high tide on Friday morning but only had partial success. Around 50 whales had swum out of the bay but 80 to 90 had re-stranded on the beach by the afternoon.

Andrew Lamason, Department of Conservation operations manager for Golden Bay, told The Guardian it was common for whales involved in a mass stranding to re-beach themselves because they are very social animals who like to stay in close proximity to their pod.

"We are trying to swim the whales out to sea and guide them but they don't really take directions, they go where they want to go. Unless they get a couple of strong leaders who decide to head out to sea, the remaining whales will try and keep with their pod on the beach," he said.

The rescue team has been pouring water over the re-stranded whales to try and keep them cool before floating them out at the next high tide. Children also sang songs to keep the creatures calm.

"I've never seen anything like this," a volunteer named Petra Dubois told Stuff.co.nz. "It's just so unbelievably sad to see all these bodies; so many lives gone and so many that might not survive. Just so devastating, I really don't know what to say."

Lamason explained to The Guardian that many volunteers were working around the clock in chilly temperatures and mentally traumatic conditions.

"It is cold, it's wet and some of us have been in and out of the water for nine hours now. We can only cope with robust volunteers, not ones that are going to break down, which happens quite often," he said.

According to RadioNZ, the effort to refloat the remaining 80 to 90 whales will resume Saturday. The whales will be kept comfortable and can survive for several days as long as they are kept cool and wet.

The cause of the stranding is unclear. However, Lamason said that the bay was prone to mass strandings due to the area's shallow waters that can confuse the mammals' sonar and find it difficult to get back out.

New Zealand is known to have the highest rate of whale strandings in the world, according to the marine environmental organization Project Jonah.

Still, the latest event came as "a shock," Project Jonah manager Darren Grover told Reuters.

In an interview with RadioNZ, Otago University zoologist Liz Slooten ruled out seismic blasting as a cause since the last survey in the area was done nearly a week ago. The blasting of seismic testing can potentially disorientate whales.

She added that the cause of the latest mysterious stranding may never be known.

According to Project Jonah, "strandings are complex events and there are many reasons why dolphins and whales may strand. In most cases the exact cause is unknown but any one of the following factors, or a combination of them, can be the cause."

Pilot whales are not considered to be endangered even though they are depleted in some areas. The American Cetacean Society stated, "There are likely to be almost a million long-finned pilot whales and at least 200,000 short-finned pilot whales worldwide."

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