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Biodiversity credits take flight
While the Government mulls its own biodiversity credit scheme, a carbon trading company creates credits to back whio conservation.
Kia ora, welcome to Future Proof. I’m Ellen, thanks for joining me this week.
Image credit: Hamiora Gibson / @sam_the_trap_man
When Sam (Hamiora) Gibson and his mates were young, kiwi were everywhere in the Waioeka Gorge, located between Ōpōtiki and Gisborne. Whio blue ducks filled the streams too. But when they returned years later as adults, they were surprised and concerned to find silent forests and empty streams. “This ecosystem has been supporting my family for at least three generations with food and wellbeing. So when it's been that long, I feel a real responsibility to the place,” says Gibson. In 2020, he and six of his mates founded the Eastern Whio Link, a project led by hunters, fishers and tangata whenua. With a generous donation of 250 traps, they trapped along 25 kilometres of river around the last four remaining whio pairs in the Waioeka.
That first breeding season, 20 whio chicks fledged. The next season, there were 26 chicks. And the volunteer base grew quickly too, ballooning from the seven founders to more than 100 volunteers today. Gibson says that hunters and fishers are natural conservationists. “All of our hunters have individual relationships with each whio pair. They know them all by name, they know their territories. They hang out and sit with them for a while, and have conversations, watch them raise their kids, watch their domestics.” But up until now, the Eastern Whio Link have had to pay for their efforts out of their own pocket, with funding for projects like this thin on the ground. Could biodiversity credits offer a solution?
The Eastern Whio Link has teamed up with carbon trading company CarbonZ to offer a new CarbonZ Biodiversity Action Credit. One credit, priced at $200, buys trapping protection across 100m of whio habitat. Finn Ross, founder of CarbonZ, says that rather than putting a price or ownership on nature itself, “you own the impact that contributes to additional biodiversity”. After the upfront cost, there’s an annual maintenance cost to ensure the traps continue to be serviced.
The voluntary credit is aimed at New Zealand businesses seeking to be nature positive, but individuals can purchase credits too. Upon launching last month, seven businesses were onboard. Ross says that Eastern Whio Link’s “strong results” over the last couple of years made the project a clear choice for CarbonZ’s first biodiversity offering. “After the devastating flooding impacts over the last six months, both the people and the biodiversity on the East Coast need funding more than ever.”
Putting a price on nature
Another local outfit, Ekos, launched the Sustainable Development Units Programme – a voluntary biodiversity market pilot – last year, with the first transaction funding conservation management across 83 hectares in Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari.
The Ekos and CarbonZ models are substantially different to state-run biodiversity schemes in Australia, which have attracted strong criticism for their reliance on offsetting and failure to deliver positive biodiversity outcomes. (It feels rather bizarre to say a koala is (as of writing) worth $450 in New South Wales – the price a developer will pay for destroying a koala’s habitat.)
In New Zealand, the government released a discussion document on biodiversity credit systems last month, outlining all sorts of different paths we could go down – including using biodiversity credits to offset “development impacts”.
But in the meantime, Gibson sees schemes like CarbonZ’s credits as a solution to dwindling funding for back-country conservation. “My son is four. He’s out fishing on the project and he just thinks whio are normal. And that’s exactly how we want it to be.”
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Left: Kauri dieback detection dogs Mawhai (on rock) and Pip (on grass). Middle: the newest kauri dieback detection dog, Marty. Right: Holly the native frog detection dog with handler Debbie Bishop. Image credits: Auckland Council and University of Otago.
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A round of a-paws for these good boys and girls,
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