Goodbye New Zealand…

Today was our last day. After spending a few morning and afternoon hours in Auckland, Scratch came to pick us up and take us to the airport. We said our goodbyes to Scratch, checked our bags and started our long journey back home. The day of December 30th, which we lost on the journey to New Zealand was made up on our way back home. Our travel day of January 20th turned out to be over 36 hours long.

Although sad to have left New Zealand and all our new friends behind, we were relieved to be back home, reunited with our friends and families.

We left for New Zealand with expectations and curiosity. We came home with new knowledge and ideas of sustainability from our experiences and group discussions.

New Zealand Goodbyes

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Today we went to the volcanic island of Rangitoto near Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf. We took a ferry at 7:30. When we arrived we started a tour with Mr. Andrew Needham, our geologist guide, to the summit of Rangitoto. He said that the volcano has erupted twice. The first time was 650 years ago during which the volcano erupted out in the Hauraki Gulf. This eruption had a rock formation of larger rocks dispersed with small fragments. The second time happened 50 years after the first eruption. This time the volcano erupted from the shallow. This eruption had rock formations had proportionally larger rocks. Mr. Needham was able to tell us this information because on the top of the summit there was an adjacent island, Motutapu, where he did his research, drilling soil cores from low-land swamps. From the sediment core he could tell that there were two volcanic eruption and he was able to tell when the volcano erupted by carbon dating twigs and organic matter. From this information, Mr.Needham was able to trace Rangitoto’s origins.

The adjacent island Motutapo also has significance to Maori people because this is where their original settlement occurred. When the volcano initially erupted the very volatile combination of magma meeting water caused a massive explosion. The second stage was calmer, as the lava flows built the island. It flowed from the source kilometers under the earth and it took a couple weeks to a month for the lava cycle to take place.

As a group we trekked our way to the top of the summit where we saw a triangulation point. This outpost was designed for defense against a Japanese attack which never happened. There were also minefields in the harbor for the same purpose.

The top of the summit had breathtaking views, so we stopped to eat lunch and relax before visiting the lava caves that were formed from the base of the magma. Overall it was a great day filled with different adventures.

On Rangitoto

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The Botanic Gardens

In 1982 the Auckland Botanic Garden was built about 30 minutes outside of the city center. The garden plays an important role in demonstrating and preserving both local and introduced plant species. Here, there are native vegetation gardens, rose gardens, and a student teaching garden. Also, there are Gondoras plant reserves, nursery and sediment ponds inside. Our guide took us on a walk around the garden and showed us the especially sustainable features of the site. The garden aims to improve sustainability with three trails. The first is the water trail, which is already constructed, and the green gardens and energy trails are planned for construction in the future. Similar to Maryland, storm water management is emphasized in several ways by reducing imperious area. The Low Impact Design tools include rain gardens, bio-retention swales, sediment forebays and greenroofs. The sediment pond has the capacity to collect stormwater runoff from parking load, pathway further up stream, nursery and residential houses nearby. Stormwater flows into the forebay through riparian plants on the bank and settle down to the bottom. Cleaner water then slow flows to the lake. The riparian zone also works as an example for farmer’s who would like to build a similar zone in their local river bank. The botanical gardens have also implemented green roofs for collecting rainwater. These reduce the area of impervious surfaces that increase stormwater runoff. Native plants of New Zealand are the main focus of the gardens and pesticides are not used; however, herbicides are sometimes applied by discretion.

After the water trail tour, we had our last group discussion for the trip. Instead of having a conversation specifically geared towards an activity, we discussed our views of New Zealand before and after the trip. Many of us were surprised by the cleanliness of the cities and the simple sustainable practices installed in hotels and restaurants. Outlets with on and off switches and toilets with flush size options are everywhere here and we all agree that they could easily be implemented in the United States. We each stated what we thought was the most poignant experience of the trip. Many of us were inspired by what we learned there and especially by Dan’s philosophies of sustainable agriculture as well as spreading sustainable ideologies. Kapiti Island was also enlightening because they were able to successfully revert the detrimental impacts from humans. This was inspiring because we learned that it is possible to restore the environment to pristine conditions. Overall, we learned a lot here in New Zealand and hope to take what we’ve learned back to America to spread ideas of sustainability.

Tree Fern at Botanical Gardens

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Auckland, NIWA and Wynyard Quarter

Today we went t the NIWA (National institute of Water an Atmospheric Research), its Maori name being Taihoro Nukurangi which translates to “where the water meets the sky”. Our first speaker was Ken Becker, the regional manager of the institute. He works mostly with CRI’s, Crowned Research Institutes founded in 1992. These institutes are crown-owned and must be financially viable. NIWA has 650 employees, 600 being science staff and 50 for support services. Being a crown-owned institute NIWA also acquires national environmental monitoring networks, national significant collections and databases. Ken presented several key national sciences centres: Atmospheric, National hazards, coasts, climate, biodiversity/biosecurity, Maori development, and energy.

The first topic expanded upon was the atmosphere; New Zealand reduces emissions of Green House Gases, ozone-depleting materials, and methane emitted from farm animals.

Climate wise, New Zealand is well prepared for and adapts efficiently to the impacts and opportunities afforded by our current climate and future climate variability. New Zealand is powered by sustainable and secure energy, 70% coming from hydroelectric energy. The use of wind energy is slightly more tricky, since the areas with the most potential for harnessing wind does not match with the places with the densest population or highest energy needs. New Zealand has adopted a large-scale goal of using 90% renewable energy by 2025.

Mr. Becker explained the importance of New Zealand’s freshwater, coasts, and oceans. Freshwater resources are wisely allocated and have measurably improved quality and ecosystem health. Common challenges to the preservation of freshwater is the growing industry of foresting. The increase of tree harvesting has dramatically increased the erosion of sediment and chemicals to the surrounding waters. This has also impacted the local eel habitat. Since New Zealand is an island, most of the population live near the coasts thus it is vital to those residents that the coast is kept healthy.

In New Zealand, aquatic biodiversity is understood, conserved and sustainably managed. Biosecurity systems reduce arrival of undesirable aquatic species and those that are here are detected and effectively controlled. The importance of managing biodiversity has been a reoccurring theme in our studies. New Zealand however, has a more unique problem of biosecurity since most of the animals have been introduced. In places such as Kapiti and Blue Duck Lodge we learned of the extensive measures and even had first hand experience with the hard work put in to rid the land of harmful alien species.

New Zealand fisheries revolve around the strictly enforced Total Allowable Catch System. This system protects any one species of fish from being over harvested. There are two main native fish of New Zealand that contribute to the aquaculture is the King fish and Hafpocker. The local economy is also stimulated by the Paua shell that is often used for jewelry and other tourist directed souvenirs.

The natural hazards found in New Zealand’s history and future as well as the Maori development was further explained in the second presentation given by Mr. Darren King.

The second presentation by Mr. Darren King concentrated more on the Maori community and its adaptation to climate variability and change. More specifically, examining the risk, vulnerability and endurance with Kati Huirpa (a sub-tribal group) at Arowhenua Pa. Few studies have been conducted with specific populations in Aotearoa to understand the contextual nature of the climate change risks. The objective was to gather Maori stakeholders across the country to discuss such issues. The population of Arowhenua Pa is 90% Maori, and this is significant because they are the natives of New Zealand and share a special connection to the land and its management. Mr. King asked what is the benefit of this type of work? The answer was summed up in two parts. First, the community relevant basis for considering and pursuing action to address constraints of new opportunities. Second, reward was the gained knowledge of success for the Maoris future developments.

After our presentations at NIWA, Ms. Robyn Simcock of Landcare Research, another CRI, showed us around Wynyard Quarter, a great example of mixed use sustainable development. Years ago, military, business, and industry polluted the waters with copper and zinc, affecting fish, plant, and human life in the area. But recently, there has been a strong push for sustainable development. Now, the area contains the longest continuous rain garden in the world. It collects storm water and filters it through layers of plants and gravel to filter it before it ends up back in the ocean. This low maintenance, cost effective is a huge step up from impermeable surfaces such as concrete. We passed buildings under construction with light control panels and other renewable features. Large playgrounds in the area offer lessons in environmentally friendly activities like planting trees. It seems like the attitude in Auckland is much more environmentally friendly and sustainability oriented than in the States. There seems to be a serious effort to use urban space in an environmentally mindful manner as well as educate the future generations about the importance of conservationism.

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The Glow Worms Caves

Today we travelled from Taupo to Auckland via bus. We stopped at the Waitomo Caves. These caves are famous because there are glowworms which provide a spectacular visual display. The feces of the glowworms glow green-blue which attract mayflies and other insects. The glowworms are in the larvae stage for about eight months during which they feed on insects that get caught in their acidic silk strings; the pH of the strings is about 3, which is close to the pH of stomach acid. The glowworms are actually maggots. Today we visited a dry cave and a damp cave which had water flowing through it; the damp cave had significantly more glowworms because they like the moist environment. The caves are located in sinkholes, which provide a source for runoff to collect from the high ground. These sinkholes are typically forested and were generated from deforestation to make way for farmland. The dry cave that we visited had a cathedral room, which contained high ceilings.

In the dry cave, we also observed bones of dead animals, such as the goat, sheep, and cave moa which were hunted to extinction in 50 years by the Maori people. When we were on the raft, the glowworms had the illusion of a 3D effect with varying intensity of light, which is determined by the maturity of the glowworms as they reach adulthood. The walls are formed by natural formations that take thousands of years to take shape, so caution to not touch the cave walls was emphasized to minimize the disturbance of the cave’s natural shape. The dry cave was halted abruptly as the rest of the cave lead to a limestone quarry on another farmer’s property for industrial purposes.

Between the two caves, we took a caffeine break to recharge.

At the next cave, the entrance was near the stream that feeds into the cave. In the stream were New Zealand famous eels. They typically live 100 years and are an important endemic species to New Zealand. One eel in particular has grown accustomed to human contact and responded well to feeding and human contact.

After feeding the eel we walked into the glowworm cave. We were instructed to turn off our headlamps to experience the illumination of the glowworms without disruption. Because of this, we were encouraged to take pictures without flash such that there would be minimal interference between camera flashes.

The caves were privately owned, and the path was created by engineers after the farmers who owned the land decided that there was commercial potential for opening up the caves to tourists. We ended the cave tour with a scenic walk through the countryside as we chased down sheep. During the carried back, our guide gave us information on how the caves were situated in a vulnerable area between fault lines, making the caves susceptible to earthquakes. We also observed tree farms that after 25 years would sell for $50-$80/kg as the trees indigenous to Canada can be grown quickly in the New Zealand environment.


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Geothermal Energy

From Blue Duck we headed to Taupo and the Wairakei Geothermal Fields. Geothermal Energy makes up approximately 13% of New Zealand’s Energy production. The Taupo Volcanic Zone is a large geologically active area which contains a super caldera, similar to Yellowstone which is actually a super volcano in which one of the largest eruptions in recent geologic history occured around 25,000 years ago. The Taupo Volcan Zone is the most highly developed geothermal energy areas, with around 750 MWe (electrical energy) being produced.

Upon entering the Wairakei area, we first noticed a smell of cooked eggs and then steam coming from out of the ground. A network of large pipelines could be seen over the landscape. These pipes move hot water from the ground to the energy generating plants.  We visited the Te Huka electric generating plant. Some interpretational signage made it clear as to how they havest energy. Heated water is harvested then used to volatilize an organic liquid which powers turbines.

This is one of many sources of alternative and sustainable energy production that New Zealand has exploited.

Geothermal Energy

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Lending a Hand at Blue Duck

Today we participated in restoration projects at Blue Duck Station. We were broken up into 3 groups and each group had different tasks to complete at the Station. One group went with Wendy and worked on re-baiting and setting traps for mice, rabbits, rats, stoats, and other small predators that endanger the existence of Blue Ducks. Dan Steele, the owner of Blue Duck Station, feels that he can be doing more to help the survival rate of the Blue Duck by controlling predator populations so we set up these traps with bait all along the path. The group also performed maintenance on the trails, clearing paths, cutting branches, and pulling weeds. A second group was tasked with setting up possum traps around the property. This was an interesting project because it was the first time the traps had been utilized by Blue Duck Station. These traps were used by government contractors 5-6 years ago and then were abandoned. The initial bait is not toxic in order to lure the possum to the trap and make them comfortable with the traps. Dan will return in a few weeks to put poisonous bait into the traps in order to control more possum. The third group searched for a bird that had been relocated on Blue Duck and had not been spotted on the Station in quite some time. The group was unable to find the bird but helped the second group set up additional possum traps for the rest of the afternoon. Completing these projects helped us realize what enormous effort goes into the conservation goals of Blue Duck Station. These operations require day to day maintenance and monitoring. After we finished our restoration projects, we spent the afternoon swimming in the river and exploring Blue Duck Station.

In the evening, we had a group discussion. Dan joined us and offered his input into the conversation, which was a great added perspective to the discussion. The discussion started off with the cons of large-scale agriculture. Dr. Ristvey asked the group what we believed were some drawbacks of factory or large scaled farming. It was apparent by the answers that increasing the size of a flock of sheep or herd of cows beyond the carrying capacity of the farm may produce an immediate greater profit but in the long term, the degradation of resources from large scaled operations will eventually lead to a decrease in yield and profits. Dan relayed to the group his belief in small-scaled sustainable farming and the difficulties he has faced with trying to convince other farmers not to succumb to pressures of larger corporations and remain small-scaled operations. Dan believes that a combination of agrotourism and sustainable farming will enable farmers to maximize profits and avoid the large-scaled farming treadmill.

We also discussed the three ways to build up legitimacy for sustainability in order to encourage sustainability to become a “norm” and not a fringe movement. We can do this by incorporating core values into beliefs, believing it’s the right thing to do, and by embedding these beliefs into culture. This will make sustainability something we do because we are “supposed to” and make sustainable behavior a second natured norm.

Finally, our discussion revolved greatly around the concepts of “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches. Top-down implies that change comes from above – i.e. powerful people and government organizations who institute change. Laws and regulations are examples of this. “Bottom-up” can refer to grassroots movements or personal efforts. The group essentially came to the conclusion that change, i.e. more sustainable behavior, needs to come from a combination of both “top-down” and “bottom-up approaches” but that top-down approaches are more influential because it forces behavioral changes rather than relying on individual decisions.

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“Conservation – Preservation – Exploration” ~ Blue Duck Station

Today was our first full day at Blue Duck Station. It was a packed and exciting day that included a tour of the station, some free time for people to relax, and a mock debate in the evening. In the morning, we had an informative discussion with Dan Steele, the owner of Blue Duck Station about the importance of conservation to New Zealand and the conservation efforts here at Blue Duck Station. Dan firmly believes that conservation is key for New Zealand. He notes that conservation is a mindset, rather than a political belief.

New Zealand has followed the rest of the world in commercial farming, attempting to get as much as possible out of the land. Dan has set up Blue Duck Station as a place to take care of and conserve the land, instead of following blindly other countries’ mistakes. Blue Duck Station once consisted of several farms, but the older farmed areas have been left to re-grow native fern trees and manuka to begin restoration of the forest. It was difficult for Dan to set up this area because there is little government funding for sustainability; however, he understands that conservation is critically important and has committed his life to this effort.

Blue Duck Station is named after the endemic species of blue duck, which is one of the most endangered species in New Zealand. It is an indicator species and requires some of the most pristine environments of any bird. They are also very territorial, taking up a kilometer of stream per pair. There are only twelve pairs of blue ducks at Blue Duck Station and only 200 total breeding pairs left in the world.

During our tour of the station, we saw a pair of blue ducks. They have rubber-like tips at the end of their beaks that are used for picking out small insect larvae off rocks. The conservation of their habitat includes exterminating harmful predators. The Maori and the Europeans brought over mice, rats, feral cats, possums, and stoats. Blue Duck Lodge specializes in trapping and killing these pests by poisoning and hunting them. By doing this, they are clearing the land of the most harmful invasive species.

The traps number in the thousands around the land and some are even sponsored by Stray . A fellow University of Maryland student named Kate set up the sponsor program. She was so moved by her experience at Blue Duck Lodge that she returned for five months to help out with the conservation projects.

We took an eco-tour on all terrain vehicles that included kayaking through Blue Duck Falls and viewing the most beautiful site of all. The teapot track took us up to the top of a hill where no man-made structures were in view.

The station is for beef and sheep grazing and we learned that sheep HAVE TAILS! That was extremely exciting! These grazing areas are open, which is better for the environment compared to confined feeding and commercial farming. This is something that Dan “the man” is working against. This brings us back to the main point of the Blue Duck conservation project. Dan believes that sustainability and preservation of this area is key and hopefully others will follow.

“Not a bad office…Good as wood”
-Dan the Man-

After a free afternoon, we met in the evening for a mock debate, which we have spent the last few days preparing for. In our given situation, a special superconductor called “Scratchite” has been found in the Umawakapura River near a fishing town. The town supplies a third of the country’s delicacy, whitebait, and the river is the sole home to the flightless bird, the “Peekapoo”. The government wants to build a hydroelectric dam to supply energy for the mining, which would destroy the natural habitats. Harnessing the Scratchite reserve would satisfy the world’s present needs for efficient energy transmission. So, the issue surrounds energy, eco-tourism, and important species’ habitats.

We were split into six groups to debate the four main issues of this scenario: Scratchite mining, whitebait habitat, Peekapoo habitat and tourism, and the hydroelectric dam. Each side, representing a different party involved in the situation, presented their argument to the jury. People brought up various important points. All of the groups spoke about tradeoffs and the important points of environment, economy and equity. We are still awaiting the jury’s decision.

At the top of Blue Duck

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Kapiti Island to Blue Duck Lodge

We were all sad to leave Kapiti Island this morning. However we have many things to look forward to because we are on our way north to Blue Duck Lodge. On the drive we stopped at Te Apiti wind farm. This was the first wind farm Meridian energy constructed in New Zealand, built in 2004. There are more than 55 wind turbines in the farm covering 115 hectares. Each turbine is 70 meters tall and has a rotational velocity of 425 meters per second or 90 kilometers per hour. The blades spin and move a shaft which in turn moves magnets through copper coils in the generator producing electricity. Each generator produces 1.65 megawatts of power, which is enough to power up to 900 average homes. Te Apiti wind farm is connected to the national power grid. Its relative contribution is about 1.12 percent of the country’s electricity use. This is a good example of a renewable energy source.
One problem with wind power is that they it is location dependent which can make energy transport a big issue. For example, off shore winds have had mixed results because the wind patterns tend to be more inconsistent and the energy transmission to the mainland can be complicated. Environmentalists are concerned that wind farms will also disturb bird and bat populations. In the U.S. citizens want wind turbines because they fulfill energy requirements without depleting or destroying natural resources, but they are not willing to have them in their backyards.
We continued our drive north and stopped to look at Mt. Ngauruhoe. This was the volcano used in the movie Lord of the Rings as Mt. Doom. We were all very excited to see some of the scenery that was used in the movie that we love.
Then we finally arrived at Blue Duck Lodge. The lodge is not as sustainable as the other places we have stayed at. One reason we believe this is because there is electricity in every room at all times of the day and night. However there is locally grown food, which we have not seen in other places. For dinner we had lamb casserole. The lamb was from 2 paddocks over, which is a good sustainable practice.

Sheep and Turbine

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Kapiti Island and the kiwi

Today we left Wellington to visit Kapiti Island – a small island off the mainland of New Zealand. Before we were allowed to board the water taxis, we were required to do a “self-search” for mice, rats, or other rodents that might be within our luggage. We made our way to the island and were greeted by John, a Maori man who lives on the island. We did a second “self-search” upon our arrival. Initially, we did not understand the significance of these searches. However, once John spoke to the group, their importance became extremely apparent. The presence of even one rodent could affect the bird and plant populations and therefore ruin the many years of hard work dedicated to preserving the species on the island.

Kapiti Island is a designated “Nature Preserve”, a classification reserved for very few places in New Zealand. It’s the highest classification and most protected land by the Department of Conservation. Before humans inhabited New Zealand, 80 percent of the plants found on the island were endemic to the nation. According to John, introduced plants and predators are now the number one environmental concern of New Zealand. The purpose of the Kapiti Island project is to restore the island to pre-human conditions while offering a sanctuary for the nations birds, especially the endangered Kiwi. In order to do this, all predators have been eradicated from the island – hence the reason for the “self-searches” we had to conduct. If a rat or mouse were to ever be introduced, either accidentally or intentionally, it could have disastrous repercussions for the restoration progress of the Island.

Before the Department of Conservation designated the island as a Nature Preserve, it was used for sheep and cattle farming as well as whaling. The government reclaimed the land from these practices in 1897. The land was allowed to undergo natural succession. From here, the seeds that were left dormant were allowed to germinate and grow into the young forest that currently exists today. The area of the island we were allowed to explore, about 1% of the entire island, is 60 years younger than the forests on the rest of the island.

John mentioned that there is no timeline for the restoration of the island. He stated that restoring the island to true pre-human conditions could potentially be a 500+ year job as there are currently too many non-endemic plants right now.

John also spoke of the delicate nature of the Kapiti Island project. He noted that environmental management issues such as Kapiti Island often fall second to other government funded operations such as education and the economy. This project can only continue so long as the federal government wishes to continue to fund the Department of Conservation. Another issue complicating this restoration is the relationship between the Maori people and the federal government. The Treaty of Waitanga required the federal government to give the native Maori people some sort of ownership over Kapiti Island. The Maori people operate a small ecotourism business on the island but it is the most highly regulated tourist operation in the country. The Maori people and the federal government meet every 10 years to discuss the conditions of their contract, so the accessibility of Kapiti Island is not a guarantee. Fortunately, the Maori people value the environment and the coexistence of humans and nature.

John also spoke about the “cultural sustainability” of the Maori culture. The English colonist, according to John, had a significant impact on Maori culture, especially religion, as Christianity distorted traditional Maori beliefs. The language and traditional practices of the Maori were also marginalized and the government outlawed many practices, such as medicinal healing. In an effort to restore the lost culture, educational establishments, such as Maori University and grade schools, have been established throughout the country. Through these institutions, the Maori people hope to encourage their people become global citizens while still remaining true to their traditional Maori culture like protecting the Maori language, which is currently at a real risk of being lost.

Later that evening, we were taken out to find the elusive Little Spotted Kiwi. It seemed hopeless, as we could hear them, but none would reveal themselves. It was not until we converged back to the lodge when one Kiwi bird made itself known and finally, all of us were able to catch a quick glimpse of our quarry.

Kapiti Lookout

this is the fondest of my wishes
the last leaf shaken from the tree
sew the south wind with my ashes
to fall like tears on Kapiti”

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