Fire on Browns Island

Just after the fire was put out on Browns Island I kayaked over to check on the shorebirds. I went for a short walk and was quite upset by the damage done to the reptiles.

I found so many burnt corpses. In places near the edge of the fire (where I think it was less hot) there was a native skink corpse (I checked the head scales) every meter or so. While sad it is nice to know so many lived on the island.
I found so many burnt corpses. In places near the edge of the fire (where I think it was less hot) there was a native skink (I checked the head scales) corpse every meter or so. While sad it is nice to know so many lived on the island.
This rare moko skink survived despite having her tail badly burnt. While other surviving skinks can live of the fat reserves in their tails while their habitat recovers this one will have to work harder.
This rare moko skink has survived despite having her tail badly burnt. While other surviving skinks can live of the fat reserves in their tails (while their habitat recovers) this one will have to work harder.
Although it was sad to see these golden bell frogs roasted alive, they are are not native. I was surprised to see them in multiple spots high up on the crater rim. Some seem to have survived under the rocks.
Although it was sad to see these golden bell frogs roasted alive, they are are not native. I was surprised to see them in multiple spots high up on the crater rim. At least one survived under a rock in the crater.

The rest of my photos here. Hopefully some good comes out of it.

Six weeks later the grass has largely rejuvenated, however without the smothering grass, many seeds that lay dormant in the soil have germinated. Most of the new arrivals are invasive weeds, I saw wooly nightshade, apple of Sodom boneseed and moth plant. However the center of the crater is more interesting. From under the rocks bracken has emerged (how long could it have waited there?) and I think the reptiles will enjoy the extra cover.

Bracken now dominates the crater
Golden bell frog
Moko skink with re-generating tail

Pure New Zealand

I love James Cameron’s 2010 TED talk which has been used in the latest 100% Pure New Zealand campaign.

Like Cameron, I too grew up reading and drawing science fiction and exploring nature. This year my ‘journey of discovery’ took me deep into the Waitakeres for my own Avatar experience.

Bioluminescence Avatar

There, in the moonlight, I crouched in the middle of a small stream prodding and splashing away like a child. Like Jake Sully I was enchanted with tiny animals that (unlike glowworms who glow for hours) release a bright burst of bioluminescence. The limpets I was teasing are called Latia and they release bioluminescent slime as a defensive mechanism.

You won’t find these alien limpets anywhere else in the world and you also will no longer find them in most New Zealand streams. They need clean water, and we have filled our lakes and rivers with too much sediment for them to survive. Our waterways are far from 100% pure. Most of the rivers that are pristine are high in the South Island where it is too cold for Latia to survive.

Our government wants to treat our streams and rivers like drains. The legislation they have proposed sets extremely low standards for our waterways. I agree with the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment – sediment is one of the three big issues affecting our waterways. Yet our Government has not included sediment as an attribute in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, and we can’t manage that which we do not measure.

In the 100% Pure ad James Cameron tells us that ‘curiosity is the most powerful thing we own’. My curiosity has changed the way I see the New Zealand environment. It has altered my enjoyment of the New Zealand wilderness. Where before I just saw bush, now see invasive plants. Having heard the morning chorus in our wildlife sanctuaries I am let down by our silent mainland forests.

So a few years ago I started a personal project about the positive stuff – the things that make New Zealand unique. is a website showcasing what we can celebrate about New Zealand, how to experience those things and most importantly how to keep them. It’s a lot more honest than the 100% campaign but it’s still advertises New Zealand.

We can grow tourism and the economy by growing, protecting and restoring our wilderness. But to do it we need more, James Cameron; more curiosity, more imagination, more vision.

Let’s at least try for 50% pure. Let’s focus on the quality not the quantity of our exports. Let’s start doing restoration at an industrial scale and let’s really invest in our scientists who dream of a predator free New Zealand.

Like the narrative arc of James Cameron’s blockbusters we have tasks to master, battles to win and transformations to witness. The New Zealand story must have our unique environment at its heart.
James Cameron ends his Ted Talk with ‘‘No important endeavour that required innovation was done without risk.” – “Failure is an option, but fear is not.”

MOST New Zealand

I have been working on this project for the last few years.

It has been a lot of fun to make, the video work was challenging but also the most rewarding. There are 20 pages with an additional 11 fun facts, but there are so many more I want to add. Most of them involve going to remote locations and sitting quietly for a long time, so I have done the easier ones first. If the site proves popular I will add more pages. I wish it did not have ads but if the site makes money then I can easier justify working on it more.

My hope is that New Zealanders who experience the site better understand how special the New Zealand environment is and thereby value it more. If it proves popular the site may increase domestic and international tourism to wildlife destinations. I think this would be a good thing because growing our economy via tourism means better protection and investment in our natural assets. Where as growing our economy via primary industries means more industrial scale environmental degradation.

Here is the press release.

I think my favourite fact is probably the one with the worst video New Zealand has the most nosy bird was so much fun to shoot. I spent a few nights wondering around looking for kiwi after helping with the kiwi monitoring count at Tawharanui regional park. I had never before seen kiwi in the wild and given its slow metabolism and the cold night I was expecting a quiet, slow and shy bird. But were so fast – hooting off through the bush if I surprised them and so noisy – snorting away like pigs! I hope I get to spend lots more time in the wilderness with these birds and all the other creatures I captured on camera.

Bioluminescent limpets

Last night I found myself standing in the middle of a bubbling bush clad stream. The full moon danced on the water, I turned my headlamp off and suddenly the stream banks came to life with glow worms. But the best bit was when I looked back down at where I had been walking. You see I had heard this was a great place to see the only bioluminescent limpets in the world. I was blown away by how bright they were, when disturbed the limpets release a bright green slime – so my footprints were lit up like a Michael Jackson video. My wonder was not displaced by my guilt for disturbing them and I proceeded to disturb more in order to document the behaviour (sorry guys). We need stronger bottom lines for fresh water quality if we are to keep wonderfull little creatures like these for future generations.

Latia (probably Latia Neritoides). Opanuku Pipeline Track, Auckland, New Zealand
Latia (probably Latia Neritoides). Opanuku Pipeline Track, Auckland, New Zealand

How to be wild and free

“No!” This is how we teach restraint, over time the child masters the rules and becomes a functioning member of society. But he finds pleasure in the quiet places where no one can yell “No” at him, places where the rules don’t apply, where he can be wild and free.

There is a huge psychological transformation that occurs when you’re outdoors and find that you are no longer alone. Every imaginable cultural judgement can be projected in just a single person. They are not just changing our behaviour they are changing how we think, making us self conscious.

Some people feel this more than others, but perhaps this is why humans bleat and stomp about environmental rules. Because when we are in the wild with all those wild things, we feel wild too. We feel free from all those rules and judgements, those “No”s. So we fight those that tell us “don’t go there”, “don’t kill that” or “leave that alone”. Because they are reducing our freedom, which is true. But unfortunately we live in a world of human expansion and decreasing environmental resilience, our choices now have a greater cost than those of previous generations. We are slowly learning we can longer afford to be wild, we have to share our freedoms, not just with this generation but the next one too.

The reason the human population has grown so fast is because we are so adaptable and culture (our behaviours and technology) has evolved and will continue to evolve much faster than our genes. Those that are following the rules, participating in restoration, conservation, trash removal, pest eradication, citizen science and moving from eating to recording wildlife are developling a new culture. This new culture is already growing fast and with it some of our wilderness is coming back, building resilience and expanding our freedoms. We are finding a new way to be wild and free.

Why we need to do something to fix our freshwater

NZ Herald

Grave warning for NZ’s freshwater life

NZ’s ‘clean environment’ under threat

Water pollution – we can fix it

Most rivers in New Zealand too dirty for a swim

Dairy conversions still hurting our lakes and rivers – commissioner

Dairying’s environmental harm a ‘zero sum’ – study


Many NZ rivers unsafe for swimming

Dairy continues to damage water quality

Explainer: 98% Pure NZ

Cooking oil the tip of the iceberg for polluted Canterbury waterways

New Zealand’s ‘high risk’ beaches for water quality

Manawatu River ‘among worst in the west


NZ water quality getting worse – report

Completely backwards step for freshwater – expert
Is New Zealand really clean and green? A new report suggests we’re not

‘Massive intensification of dairy farming’ is killing freshwater fish – expert


Water quality getting worse – report

Labour: Govt failing on water quality

Lake water quality deteriorating – Smith

Cities urged to act on water quality

Kiwis too optimistic about water quality

NZ walk to raise water quality awareness

Changes to land use bad for water quality – Commisioner

Some farmers refuse to comply with water quality standards

Dairying blamed for damaging South Island water quality

Labour criticise Govt’s three year delay on water quality laws

Radio NZ

Public ‘misled’ over river water quality

Farming damaging environment – report

Environment report depressing – opposition

Deadline to fix Canterbury rivers missed

Freshwater species disappearing rapidly

No prosecution over Tukituki River pollution

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment

Environment Commissioner warns water quality is “not out of the woods yet

Water quality: Nutrients

Water quality: Vulnerability & mitigation

Water quality: Changing land use

Water quality: Policy

Managing water quality: Examining the 2014 National Policy Statement

Thanks to Tom for the links