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Photo essay: Environmental impacts

Friday 22nd August 2014

New Zealand is renowned for its natural environment – beautiful beaches, movie-set mountains and pristine national parks. But though it makes for a good postcard, it doesn’t show the full picture of how we interact with our environment or the risk we run of ruining it for future generations. 

As part of our theme of Impact, The Wireless looks at seven environmental threats the country faces: overfishing, waste, water degradation, fracking, air pollution, pests and erosion. 

Overfishing 

Commercial fishing boats in Tasman Bay, Nelson
Commercial fishing boats in Tasman Bay, Nelson

The Wireless

The fishing industry contributes an average of over $1.3 billion in export earnings to the New Zealand economy each year and 424,693 tonnes of fish were caught commercially in 2009. Commercial fishing and trawling are thought to have the greatest overall impact on New Zealand’s marine resources and, if unmonitored, have the potential to impact habitats and deplete fish populations.

Tasman Bay in Nelson suffered from major over-fishing in the late 1970s when vast numbers of spawning snapper were taken by pair trawlers in the bay. The region has implemented tight restrictions to prevent this occurring again. 

Waste

Landfill site in Rotorua
Landfill site in Rotorua

Photo NZ

In New Zealand, land filling is the most common method of solid waste disposal with the most recent annual figure of 3.2 million tonnes of waste being sent to municipal landfills. Programmes to minimise the impact of waste disposal in New Zealand’s focusses on the ‘5Rs’ of reduce, reuse, recycle, recover, and manage residual waste.

Water degradation  

Waiwhetu stream
Waiwhetu stream, Lower Hutt – the most contaminated stream in New Zealand.

Diego Opatowski / Radio New Zealand

The degradation of rivers and lakes has potential risks for New Zealand’s ecosystems, for the economy, for food gathering and for the country’s international reputation. There have been strong increasing trends in phosphorus and nitrogen, particularly in catchments predominantly in farm land. 

WATCH: We asked your opinions on the quality of water in New Zealand’s rivers. 

Approximately $500 million of government and community money is currently committed to the clean-up of lakes, rivers and streams in New Zealand. 

Fracking 

Drilling site in Taranaki region
Drilling site in Taranaki region

Rob Tucker

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves the injecting of chemicals into the earth at high pressure to extract previously inaccessible oil and gas. The practice is controversial, with polarised views about its impact on the natural environment.

In New Zealand, the practice is mostly used in Taranaki and the amount of gas and oil extracted using the method is rising. Exploration has occurred in the Waikato region and could spread to other parts of the country if oil is discovered in significant quantities, though the Christchurch City Council voted unanimously to declare it a fracking-free zone.   

Air pollution

Traffic in Wellington central
Traffic in Wellington central

Radio New Zealand

In New Zealand cities, air contaminants are attributed to a high dependence on private vehicle usage and inefficient heating. Higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere contribute to greater health problems, including respiratory problems, asthma attacks and reduced immunity.  

Pests

Researcher using a burrow scope to look in on a nesting Westland Petrel
Researcher using a burrow scope to look in on a nesting Westland petrel

Jason Blair/Katabatic

Stoats and rats pose a growing threat to New Zealand’s native bird population. This year, between $9 million and $12 million will be spent on the largest ever pest control programme covering 700,000 hectares.

The nesting Westland petrel are at high risk of predation and only around 4,000 birds exist in the Punakaiki area of the South Island’s West Coast. Te Papa researcher Susan Waugh is studying the birds and how the deomgraphics are changing over time. 

 

Erosion 

Erosion damage in Central Hawkes Bay
Erosion damage in Central Hawkes Bay

Photo NZ

The Ministry for the Environment says accelerated erosion is “the most serious and the least reversible of soil degradation problems”. Many forms of erosion exist in New Zealand including mass movement due to heavy rain and storms, surface caused by wind detaching soil particles from the surface and streambank that occurs when banks have been cleared of tree cover. 

This content is brought to you with funding assistance from New Zealand On Air.

Cover image from Photo New Zealand.