The Gauntlet

11th April to 16th April

After a day of relaxation and reorientation to the settlement, Block 4  -the final and last leg of our journey in New Zealand- has kick started and is in full motion. The group will be heading out for their final adventure to Marlborough Sounds in about two weeks but there are multiple academic obstacles standing between the group and their last adventure. Armed with coffee, cough medicine, and instant-spicy-Thai-ramen, the group is ready to take on the work!

The natural history journals and the narrative reflections have already been left behind. But those were a mere warm up for what’s in front of us: the final semester paper for Peter Frost. The paper is an in-depth analysis about one of the environmental issues faced by New Zealand. To give you a better understanding here are some of the topics the fearless students have chosen:


Gabe is writing about the ecosystem services in New Zealand. These services are directly and indirectly provided by the ecosystem to humanity. They basically support our quality of life and survival.

Malia is writing about the effect of grazing on land. NZ has a huge agriculture and dairy industry and grazing is one of the activities that can affect these industries. Malia is comparing the healthy protected forest with the forests of Waitahinga, which is considered a ‘dead’ forest with no regeneration because of grazing. This comparison will help her evaluate the gravity of the situation and possibly discuss some solutions.

Alex is interested in single species conservation. This is a highly debated topic in NZ. Do we expend all our time, energy, and resources to save one single species because of the very high rate of extinction or do we invest in conserving the ecosystem as a whole? To evaluate the answer of such a ‘wicked problem’, Alex is studying the successes and failures of captive breeding, reintroductions, and other form of species conservation. He is also trying to come up with possible solutions and strategies that DOC could adopt given their budget and time constraints.

Akul is dwelling deep into the controversy surrounding the use of 1080. There is  a lot of public misconception about the nature and effects of 1080 in the public and there are all sorts of sides to be taken. But what is the truth?? Akul is evaluating the perceived risks associated with 1080. He is addressing this issue from a toxicology and risk assessment model, specifically looking at the biological impact of 1080 on the water supply, native birds, and soil.  

Nathan is studying the conflicting ecosystem services. Specifically, he is comparing provisioning ecoservices (like farming, cattle, crops, etc), support based system (like clean water, flood control), and cultural based systems (like national parks or any system that holds a recreational value to the community). He is cross analysing these systems to evaluate their respective necessities. Furthemore, he is trying to understand the wider implications they have to the environment as a whole. For this study Nathan will dig through multiple government reports, public records, and economic reports.

Woody is all about minimal interference management. The philosophy behind such a method is that there is no need for human interference with the habitat in order to conserve it, the habitat  will eventually repair itself. Different conservationists have different opinions and views about such a method. In order to evaluate the efficiency and practicality of this method, Woody will look at various studies, experiments, and experiences which have compared the different strategies.

Truman narrowed his focus to New Zealand’s policy on ecotourism. Ecotourism is a branch of tourism that uses the appeal of the natural environment create economic stimulus, opportunities for environmental education and incentives to conserve ecosystems. However, some feel that developing a market-based framework of the environment will ultimately lead to its exploitation. New Zealand prides itself on its “100% Pure” image and are working towards a form of sustainable ecotourism that promotes economic growth, environmental education and indigenous culture preservation.

Glynnis took a whole bunch of ideas we’ve talked about throughout the semester and wrapped them up in one paper! She went through a variety of species and land conservation methods that we’ve seen all have their benefits and disadvantages. What are the ethical, biological and economic issues that New Zealand deals with when deciding which invasive species to control and how to control them? Is there a style of land management (minimal interference, active management, offshore islands or fenced-in sanctuaries) that works the best for species and habitat conservation? These are all problems without a definitive answer and it’s always helpful for us to keep discussing them with an open mind!

Brianna’s paper also focused on conservation methods specifically looking at them from an economic perspective. Fenced-in sanctuaries can be seen as a quicker way to go about reintroducing native species but is labor-intensive and highly expensive. Minimal interference management is slow but also proven to be effective. Either way, how can New Zealand incentivize the general public as well as policy-makers to care about these natural spaces? Is it through ecotourism and focusing on ecosystem services? Or do we look at the environment and see it for its intrinsic value and invite people to volunteer their time to maintain the environment.

Regan is studying the positive and negative impacts of ecotourism in New Zealand. During our South Island adventure we were able to see places like the Heaphy Track and Kaikoura which are two very different types of ecotourist hotspots. There are many positive effects of ecotourism like the influx of revenue into local communities and its minimally-impactful ecological footprint when compared to extractive industries like agriculture. However, ecotourism also brings with it an increased pressure to develop infrastructure and a tendency to disrupt small communities. Regan finished his paper by stating that tourism as a global industry is inevitable but that the positive effects will always come out on top.

In Kaikoura we had the opportunity to hear about the Hutton shearwater (an endangered New Zealand bird) and the conservation efforts of a grassroots organization to save it. Hutton shearwaters are notorious for falling out of the sky (especially at night) and often sit on the ground until they run over or picked up as juvenile shearwaters can only fly with a running start off a downslope. Eliza’s paper focused on the single species conservation of the Hutton shearwater which includes building artificial coops, monitoring migration patterns and keeping a very close eye on the numbers which are increasing year-by-year!

Rachel has taken her whole semester of field experiences and put them into one paper that examines the different conservation strategies New Zealand is currently employing. These strategies include: the fenced-in sanctuary, offshore island, actively-managed open land, and tramping areas such as Kahurangi National Park. Kahurangi is notable for the fact that it hosts the Heaphy Track (one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks) yet still manages to dedicate nearly 99% of its land to conservation that is untrampled by the masses. Conservation is what our teacher, Peter Frost, calls a ‘wicked problem’. A wicked problem is a problem with no certain solution But that’s one of the reasons we all came to New Zealand; seeing wicked problems and understanding them is just one of the things we will do as stewards of the environment later on.

We’ve seen that many students have looked at the diverse range of conservation methods that New Zealand currently employs. Kelsey’s paper took to analyzing the cost and benefits of one conservation method: predator-proof fencing for use in sanctuaries. This method is one that is considered both labor-intensive and costly while providing some protection to whatever native species it is protecting. Bushy Park would be an example of a conservation area that is reliant on its predator-proof fences and the humans that maintain them.

Thanks for reading through all of that and hopefully you noticed that we are all using this semester to influence our own personal and educational interests differently. This paper has been a good ending to our academic experiences in New Zealand and now it’s onto Jay’s independent research paper!


Truman and Akul

Because there aren’t many photographs from this week, we’ll grace you with a few more front the South Island — they are beautiful and why not?!


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