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New Zealand Bans New Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration

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

World's Rarest Penguin Population at Its Lowest in 27 Years

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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Climate
Paradise, New Zealand

New Zealand Government to Plant 100 Million Trees Yearly

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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Food

Bottled Water Companies Pay Next to Nothing to Siphon Freshwater From Pristine Lake

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

World's First River Given Legal Status as a Person

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."

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Hundreds of Pilot Whales Die in Devastating Mass Stranding in New Zealand

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."

Trump Watch

5 Reasons to Consider Moving to New Zealand Post-Trump

On election night, as the electoral map turned increasingly red, a swarm of Americans frantically searched the Internet for ways to flee Donald Trump's future presidential reign. So many of us visited Canada's immigration site that it actually crashed. At the same time, the Guardian reported that the number of hits on New Zealand's immigration website also dramatically jumped from its daily average of 2,300 visits to 56,300 in a 24 hour period. While we love our neighbors to the North, here are some reasons why you might want to get much further away.

1. Smart, respected people are also considering citizenship.

Before Trump was elected, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told the New York Times that she and her husband were looking to join New Zealand's tiny population of 4.4 million people should the former Apprentice host win the highest office in the land.

"Now it's time for us to move to New Zealand," she said.

Richard Dawkins, also submitted a (joke?) letter to New Zealand. The English biologist, who went through a similar populist shake-up with Brexit earlier this year, wrote that New Zealand could be the "Athens of the modern world" if it decided to offer citizenship to the top minds in the U.S. and the UK.

He wrote via Scientific American:

"There are top scientists in America and Britain—talented, creative people, desperate to escape the redneck bigotry of their home countries. Dear New Zealand, you are a deeply civilized small nation, with a low population in a pair of beautiful, spacious islands. You care about climate change, the future of the planet and other scientifically important issues. Why not write to all the Nobel Prize winners in Britain and America, write to the Fields medalists, Kyoto and Crafoord Prize and International Cosmos Prize winners, the Fellows of the Royal Society, the elite scientists in the National Academy of Sciences, the Fellows of the British Academy and similar bodies in America. Offer them citizenship. The contribution that creative intellectuals can make to the prosperity and cultural life of a nation is out of all proportion to their numbers. You could make New Zealand the Athens of the modern world."

2. Kiwi politicians care about climate change, unlike Trump who thinks global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese.

Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer said in an interview with Newstalk ZB that climate change is his biggest worry about a Trump presidency.

"The Paris Agreement, if that doesn't work ... we'll have a revival of the petrochemical and fossil fuels industry, and that spells disaster for stopping climate change," he said.

Metiria Turei, a New Zealand member of parliament and the co-leader of the Green party of Aotearoa, explained why she refused to congratulate Trump on his election win, a customary practice for the lawmakers.

"Donald Trump will almost certainly never hear about what I said in parliament yesterday or, for that matter, give a flying toss. In that sense, our position may seem futile," she wrote for the Guardian. "However, it is unconscionable that the Green party of Aotearoa New Zealand—which has a proud record of promoting tolerance, inclusiveness and peace—would send our best wishes to a man who has spouted misogynistic, racist, xenophobic and climate change-denying views."

Fun fact about New Zealand. In 2006, the country's highest positions were all held by women: the Queen, the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Chief Justice.

Watch Turei's speech here:

Even New Zealand's Dominion Post newspaper thinks Trump's win is bananas.

3. Just look at it.

This is the land of The Shire, after all. New Zealand's official tourism Instagram is so unbelievably beautiful that I couldn't decide which photo to post so I chose several.

4. People really respect their land.

"New Zealand weather and climate is of paramount importance to the people of New Zealand, as many New Zealanders make their living from the land," says the tourism website. "New Zealand experiences relatively little air pollution compared to many other countries, which makes the UV rays in our sunlight very strong during the summer months. In order to avoid sunburn, visitors should wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats when they are in direct summer sunlight, especially in the heat of the day (11 am - 4 pm)."

New Zealand's total primary energy supply comes mostly from renewables. In 2013, a total of 75 percent of electricity generation came from renewable sources, mostly geothermal. The country also doesn't have any nuclear power stations. Meanwhile, Trump's "drill, baby, drill" platform caused a surge in fossil fuel stocks.

5. There's plenty of space for us.

According to a Buzzfeed post, "only 5 percent of New Zealand's population is human, with the rest being animals." That sounds pretty wild but even the government calculated there's a sheep-to-person ratio of six to one.

Following the election, New Zealand film director Taika Waitit sarcastically tweeted:

"Don't even think about moving to New Zealand. You shat the bed, now you have to deal with the mess," since "America is worth fighting for."

I, of course, agree. However, his later tweet that the country has nothing but nature and beer is only rubbing it in.

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Animals

Octopus Slips Out of Aquarium, Escapes Down Pipe to Ocean

The National Aquarium of New Zealand didn't know it had an escape artist on its hands.

When Inky the octopus slipped through a gap in his enclosure—left open by maintenance workers—and made his way across the floor to squeeze into a drain and make a break for it, staff members were surprised and a little hurt."He managed to make his way to one of the drain holes that go back to the ocean," aquarium manager Rob Yarrall told Radio New Zealand. "And off he went. And he didn't even leave us a message."

The only sign he left were suction cup prints.

Inky made his escape a few months ago, but the news only came out Tuesday. He was cheered on by New Zealanders and strangers around the world.

The National Aquarium had been Inky's home since 2014 when he was caught in a crayfish pot. His body was scarred and his arms were injured from his accident.

Kerry Hewitt, the aquarium's curator of exhibits, said Inky was "getting used to being at the aquarium," but staff would "have to keep Inky amused or he will get bored," the Washington Post reported.

I guess Inky got bored.

Watch Inky before his famed escape:

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