Fri, Apr 19, 2019 - Page 5 News List

NZ’s environment looks bleak: report

‘PURE NEW ZEALAND’:Unlike the pristine landscape promoted in its tourism campaign, the nation’s natural beauty is at risk with extinctions, polluted rivers and blighted lakes

The Guardian

A report on the state of New Zealand’s environment has painted a bleak picture of catastrophic biodiversity loss, polluted waterways, and the destructive rise of the dairy industry and urban sprawl.

Environment Aotearoa is the first major environmental report in four years and was compiled using data from Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry for Environment.

It presents a sobering summary of a country that is starkly different from the pristine landscape promoted in the “Pure New Zealand” marketing campaign that lures millions of tourists every year.

It found New Zealand is now considered one of the most invaded countries in the world, with 75 animal and plant species having gone extinct since human settlement.

The once-vibrant bird life has fared particularly badly, with 90 percent of seabirds and 80 percent of shorebirds threatened with or at risk of extinction.

Almost two-thirds of New Zealand’s rare ecosystems are under threat of collapse and over the past 15 years the extinction risk worsened for 86 species, compared with the conservation status of just 26 species improving in the past 10 years.

The scale of what is being lost is impossible to accurately gauge, as only about 20 percent of New Zealand’s species have been identified and recorded.

Kevin Hague from the conservation group Forest and Bird said the report was chilling reading and captured the devastating effects of “decades of procrastination and denial.”

“New Zealand is losing species and ecosystems faster than nearly any other country,” he said. “Four thousand of our native species are in trouble … from rampant dairy conversions to destructive seabed trawling — [we] are irreversibly harming our natural world.”

New Zealand Minister for the Environment David Parker said the report offered “no big surprises,” but reinforced the importance of cleaning up the waterways and becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

“If, with all our advantages, New Zealand can’t overcome its environmental problems, then the world won’t,” Parker said.

A massive rise in the country’s dairy herd over the past 20 years has had a devastating impact on the nation’s freshwater quality, a key area being targeted by the government for improvement.

During her election campaign, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pledged to make the country’s rivers and lakes swimmable again for the next generation.

That could prove challenging, with the report finding that groundwater failed standards at 59 percent of wells owing to the presence of, E. coli, and at 13 percent of the wells owing to nitrates.

About 57 percent of monitored lakes registered poor water quality, and 76 percent of native freshwater fish are at risk of or threatened with extinction. A third of freshwater insects are also in danger of extinction.

Forest and Bird said the main culprits for worsening freshwater quality were the intensive use of fertilizers, irrigation and cows.

Green Party coleader James Shaw, who is also the minister for climate change, said the environment was taking a further hammering with the effects of global warming starting to be felt, including sea-level rise, increasing land temperatures and warming ocean temperatures.

“All the issues in this report are made worse by climate change and that is why this government is so determined to take strong action,” Shaw said. “The introduction of climate change legislation, establishing an independent climate change commission to guide emissions reductions, and the just transition to a low emissions economy are vital.”

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