NEWS

'Decades of denial': Major report finds New Zealand's environment in serious trouble

'Decades of denial': Major report finds New Zealand's environment in serious trouble

A nation known for its natural beauty is under pressure with extinctions, polluted rivers and destroyed lakes.

A report on the state of New Zealand's environment has painted a grim picture of catastrophic loss of biodiversity, polluted waterways, and the destructive boom of the dairy industry and urban sprawl.

Environment Aotearoa is the first major environmental report in four years, and was compiled using data from Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry of the Environment.

It presents a sobering summary of a country that is totally different from the pristine landscape promoted in the “Pure New Zealand” marketing campaign that attracts millions of tourists each year.

It found that New Zealand is now considered one of the most invaded countries in the world, with 75 species of animals and plants that have become extinct since human settlement. Once vibrant bird life has gone particularly bad, with 90% of seabirds and 80% of shorebirds threatened or endangered.

Nearly two-thirds of New Zealand's rare ecosystems are under threat of collapse, and in the past 15 years the risk of extinction worsened for 86 species, compared to the conservation status of only 26 species that improved in the past 10 years.

It is impossible to accurately measure the magnitude of what is being lost, as only about 20% of New Zealand's species have been identified and recorded.

Kevin Hague of conservation group Forest and Bird said the report was chilling to read and captured the devastating effects of "decades of procrastination and denial."

"New Zealand is losing species and ecosystems faster than almost any other country," he said. "Four thousand of our native species are in trouble ... from rampant dairy conversions to destructive seafloor drag - [we] are irreversibly damaging our natural world."

Environment Minister David Parker said the report offered "no big surprises" but reinforced the importance of cleaning up waterways and becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

"If, with all our advantages, New Zealand cannot overcome its environmental problems, the world will not," said Parker.

A massive increase in the country's dairy herd over the past 20 years has had a devastating impact on the country's freshwater quality, a key area the government aims to improve. During her election campaign, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed to make the country's rivers and lakes fit for the next generation again.

This could be challenging, as the report found that groundwater failed to meet standards in 59% of wells due to the presence of E. coli, and in 13% of wells due to nitrates. About 57% of the monitored lakes had poor water quality and 76% of native freshwater fish are in danger of extinction. A third of freshwater insects are also in danger of extinction.

Forest and Bird said the main culprits for the decline in freshwater quality were heavy use of fertilizers, irrigation and cows.

Green party co-leader James Shaw, who is also climate change minister, said the environment was suffering even more from the effects of global warming that were beginning to be felt, including rising sea levels, rising land temperatures and warming ocean temperatures. .

"All the problems in this report are made worse by climate change and that is why this administration is so determined to crack down on it," Shaw said.

"The introduction of climate change legislation, the establishment of an independent climate change commission to guide emission reductions and the just transition to a low-emission economy are vital."

Hague said that while the findings were alarming, the reality was much worse, as the report did not detect "dangerous marine heat waves" and insufficient marine protections, with less than half of New Zealand's marine area protected. by marine reserves.

"We must not waste any more time fundamentally changing the way we interact with nature," he said. "We need an economy that nurtures and restores our environment, not one that destroys it."

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