Sam Judd

Comment on the environment from nzherald.co.nz columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: Another kettle of fish, mice and conventions

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Member states of the United Nations spend millions of dollars and burn tonnes of jet fuel so that politicians can travel to meetings, talk about environmental issues and sign pieces of apparently important paper.

In 1992, along with a range of other commitments, Rob Storey (our then minister for the Environment) signed the International Convention on Biodiversity. But talking the talk about how important international environmental law is to New Zealand and walking the walk through action is another kettle of fish.

It will be difficult to see our supposedly clean country actually meet any of the commitments made 20 years ago. A recent World Wildlife Fund report says that we have failed miserably so far.

But who do we blame for this? We can't rely on government to do everything conservation related. Community action and clean tech investment could achieve much if this was made a priority.

Perhaps we would do better if more commitments were investigated as economic opportunities rather than the costly bane of a government that is trying to balance the budget in the middle of a financial crisis and recovery from disaster.

Among other things, we agreed to protect 10% of our exclusive economic zone from fisheries by 2020. However only 0.3% of our waters are protected and we have less than eight years to meet our commitment.

This is despite the potential we have to protect species, develop economic opportunities and enjoy better fishing (through the spillover effects of marine reserves).

Plenty is said about how successful marine reserves are in New Zealand. They are good for fishing and the economy - one need only head out to explore the Poor Knights Islands with the award-winning Dive! Tutukaka to learn about the incredible abundance of life and see a successful business in action.

We have also seen successful examples of Iwi-led rahui- which are locally-managed fishery systems. It seems to me that people who have lived in an area for hundreds of years and care deeply about it would spend less to police it and ensure the sustainability of supply. Could a network of rahui be a way for us to do better?

Most of our protected areas are in far away uninhabited islands with little in the way of policing to ensure that illegal fishing is not carried out.

Another promise made in 1992 was adhering to the Convention on Biodiversity, which is aimed to protect important species. But over these 20 years as a nation, we have been blowing it - as I have pointed out before - and our list of threatened species is four times the size it was when our nation committed to reduce it.

This is not an exercise of pointing the finger at any one administration - various governments have known about these agreements and left the issues by the wayside, often to focus on what they see as the most important issue to get them reelected: economic growth.

But not everyone is blowing it and there is hope. There are some fantastic examples of conservation work in New Zealand, on the mainland and important offshore islands. Much of the conservation work we sign agreements about actually opens up opportunities to create more jobs and tourism dollars.

The problem is, it is very expensive to remove predators and maintain an area pest-free, so that native species can be re-established and we cannot rely on government funds to get these jobs done.

First, we need to raise awareness of the issues of protecting our species through education. Then the community will understand what needs to be done, corporate sponsors will see the value in aligning with the effort (like Bank of New Zealand has with the kiwi) and people will turn up and muck in to get the necessary work done.

Sometimes a bit of innovation, a good adventurous story and a catchy name for a campaign will help. Gareth Morgan has set his sights on the Antipodes Islands - New Zealand-administered sub-Antarctic islands which are classed as a UN World Heritage Site - and embarked on an ambitious mission to eradicate introduced mice.

To start with Morgan filled up a Russian icebreaker ship with people to explore the area and spark thoughts for a good yarn. Now he has pledged to match donations dollar for dollar through a drive called Million Dollar Mouse and is raising awareness about the fact that these important islands exist by making educational resources and running presentations around the country (click here to see the tour dates).

What is interesting about this campaign is that Department of Conservation experts will use the money raised by Morgan to protect the Antipodes, because they have the experience and a tourism company - Heritage Expeditions is covering much of the travel costs because they can see the opportunity to make money if these unique islands were pest free. So this is collaborative community fundraising paying for something that would traditionally be a government conservation expense and with a kick up the arse from the outspoken Morgan, they are nearly at the halfway mark in a short time already.

So if it doesn't make sense to rely on the government - who recently flew a very apologetic Amy Adams over to Rio De Janiero - to protect our natural resources, then it is time for community groups to step up, take the reins and work with government on innovations that will stop our environmental statistics from continuing this embarrassing slide.

If you have an example of successful community leadership in conservation work, please put a comment in below, or email me.

- NZ Herald

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