Environment Aotearoa is the first major environmental report in four years, and its findings on the state of New Zealand’s environment has painted a bleak picture of catastrophic biodiversity loss, polluted waterways, and the destructive rise of the dairy industry and urban sprawl.
75 animal and plant species having gone extinct since human settlement. The once vibrant bird life has fared particularly badly, with 90% of sea birds, and 80% of shorebirds threatened with or at risk of extinction.
Almost two-thirds of New Zealand’s rare eco-systems are also under threat of collapse, and over the last 15 years the extinction risk worsened for 86 species, compared with the conservation status of just 26 species improving in the past 10 years.
The scale of what is being lost is impossible to accurately gauge, as only around 20% of New Zealand’s species have ever been identified and recorded.
Kevin Hague from conservation group Forest and Bird said the report was chilling reading and captured the devastating affects of “decades of procrastination and denial”.
“New Zealand is losing species and ecosystems faster than nearly any other country,” he said. “Four thousand of our native species are in trouble … from rampant dairy conversions to destructive seabed trawling – we are irreversibly harming our natural world.” Hague said the reality was far worse as the report missed “dangerous marine heatwaves” and the inadequacy of marine protections, with less than half a percent of New Zealand’s sea area protected by marine reserves.
A massive rise in the country’s dairy herd over the last 20 years has had a devastating impact on the country’s freshwater quality. The report found that groundwater failed standards at 59% of wells due to the presence of E coli, and at 13% of the wells due to nitrates. Some 57% of monitored lakes registered poor water quality, and 76% of native freshwater fish are at risk or threatened with extinction. A third of freshwater insects are also in danger of extinction.
Forest and Bird said the main culprits for worsening freshwater quality were the intensive use of fertilisers, irrigation and cows.
“We must not waste any more time in fundamentally changing the way we interact with nature,” Hague said. “We need an economy that nurtures and restores our environment, not one that trashes it.”
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