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The relentless tide of invasive species
A new global report paints a gloomy picture of invasive species gone rampant. What’s New Zealand’s secret biosecurity superpower?
Kia ora, welcome to Future Proof. I’m Ellen, thanks for joining me this week.
If I say “biosecurity”, maybe you think of airport declaration forms and strict rules about fruit. But biosecurity is also scrubbing your shoes at a bootwash station on your hike to prevent kauri dieback. It’s checking your backyard rat trap. It’s pulling weeds in your garden.
For me, last week, biosecurity was handpicking every grass seed out of my socks ahead of a trip to Ahuahu Great Mercury Island. While there, biosecurity was volunteering as part of Argentine ant eradication efforts. This invasive ant species can form super colonies capable of eating lizards, eggs and even newly hatched chicks – not to mention other invertebrates like the island’s unique species of tusked wētā.
Globally, more than 37,000 species have found their way to places they shouldn’t be, a tally growing by roughly 200 species every year. When alien species become invasive, the impacts can be huge: to the tune of NZ$720 billion annually, according to a new report by the IPBES – the biodiversity equivalent of the IPCC.
Invasive alien species are one of the five key drivers of biodiversity loss, contributing to 40% of all known animal extinctions – an impact we’re all too aware of in New Zealand, where our native wildlife has been decimated by the likes of introduced rats, possums and mustelids.
The Predator Free 2050 goal sets New Zealand apart on the world stage – not many countries have such an ambitious biosecurity policy, if any at all. We’re pretty good at this biosecurity stuff: we eradicated red fire ants and have (so far) kept out a few nasties like brown marmorated stink bugs.
“These successes and our hardline attitude towards biological invasions have established Aotearoa New Zealand as a global leader in biosecurity,” says Philip Hume, one of the report’s lead authors and a distinguished professor at Lincoln University. “But our world-leading successes should not lead to a complacent attitude with myrtle rust, fall armyworm, and the Asian clam slipping through our border controls.”
We’re too obsessed with lists of particular invasive species, says Hume. “We should try to see biosecurity as more like a human immune system, with capacity to respond to any threat.”
If an invasive species does weasel through our border, our reaction can be a bit slow to respond or even notice the presence of an interloper. (For example, Asian gold clams were likely hanging out in the Waikato river for a couple of years before they were noticed in May 2023.)
But the solution lies with us. “I think building community trust, involvement and support over a reasonable time scale is the best way forward for dealing with these post-border issues,” says Hume.
That means busting weeds, trapping pests and keeping your eyes peeled for strange critters and plants when you’re out in nature – because we have some pretty special nature here in Aotearoa, and it feels good to care for it. And satisfying to pull out that pesky moth plant.
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Climate financing conundrums
National’s “climate dividend” – repurposing money from the ETS for tax cuts – has gone down like a lead balloon. Cathrine Dyer from The Kākā chats to ETS expert Christine Hood about what a real climate dividend might look like, drawing on an example from Canada.
Research skewering “worthless” carbon offsets has finally been peer reviewed and published, showing unequivocally that credits for not cutting down trees haven’t delivered on promised carbon savings – nor have they reduced deforestation as much as expected. These Aussie scientists have come up with four ways to fix the broken carbon offsets system.
Solar farms flare
Solar farms are cropping up across New Zealand as our quest to double power generation by 2050 ramps up. George Driver explores the solar boom: are large-scale solar farms our decarbonisation saviour, or just more development at unacceptable environmental cost? Meanwhile, this North Canterbury farmer is forging ahead with a solar panel installation that could power up to 30,000 homes, without disrupting farming operations too much.
A predator-free New Zealand by 2050 is a goal within our grasp
Kākāpō were once so abundant you could shake a bush and the chunky green parrots would fall out like apples, according to a West Coast surveyor from the 1980s. Today, there are less than 250 kākāpō – it’s a species pushed to the brink by introduced predators, along with many other native species. But we can turn things around for our feathered friends, writes Toby Morris, in this comic illustrated by Ezra Whittaker.
Dunedin council plans to gradually buy properties in flood-prone South Dunedin as part of its climate adaptation strategy.
Climate-fuelled droughts in Mexico are (partially) behind a sriracha shortage.
The EU is preparing to push for a global deal to phase out fossil fuels at COP28 later this year, according to draft negotiation documents seen by Reuters.
Auckland’s continued focus on road-based travel is a “critical risk” to hitting climate targets, a new report finds. Christchurch and Wellington are streets ahead in the cycle network department, too.
Tiny forests planted using the Miyawaki method are taking off worldwide, boosting urban biodiversity and cooling urban hotspots.
Budget cuts threaten gains made on pest plants and animals, The Detail podcast reports.
Climate change is now a core issue: “rather than worrying about bumming people out, we should all be talking about climate change even more.”
To finish this issue, here’s a neat little video profiling some of the efforts of Pest Free Banks Peninsula – from protecting the country’s southernmost nīkau palm forest from voracious possums, to boosting skinks and geckos along the unique dune system of Kaitōrete Spit. The video also features a very cute hedgehog detection dog in action.
Hope this week prickles your fancy,
Got some feedback about Future Proof or topics you’d like covered? Get in touch with me at email@example.com