Issue 527, 21 Jun 2019


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In the News: Councils declaring climate emergencies

Expert Reaction: Dolphin protection plan

In the News: Post-earthquake tsunami warning confusion 

New from the SMC global network

Cat scat starts dolphin spat

The risk cat poo poses to dolphins, outlined in an official dolphin protection proposal this week, has caused a stir between scientists and commercial fishers.

The discussion document, released on Monday, includes proposals to extend the boundaries of the West Coast and Banks Peninsula marine mammal sanctuaries and identifies threats to the dolphins, including toxoplasmosis, which is spread via cat faeces. According to the report, the disease posed a greater risk to dolphins than commercial fishing.

The document outlines a plan to reduce bycatch by significantly expanding the area that's free of set net and trawl nets - a move fishers say will be terrible for the industry.

But dolphin expert Professor Liz Slooten told RNZ the theory that cats posed a greater risk to dolphins than fishing nets was tenuous at best. She said DOC and Fisheries NZ were warned by a panel of experts about this ahead of the release of their proposed plan.

"The expert panel told them don't do this. [They said] Put a couple of pages in your report explaining what you know and what you don't know about toxoplasmosis but don't go comparing it directly, the numbers of toxoplasmosis deaths with the number of bycatch deaths, you don't have enough information to pull that off."

University of Otago marine expert Steve Dawson went as far as to call the figures on taxoplasmosis "extremely misleading".

The concern was in the way the data was collected: It came from necropsies carried out on 31 dead dolphins found washed up on beaches, in which a cause of death could be established, Stuff reported.

Massey University Associate Professor Karen Stockin said the acknowledgement and discussion of broader threats beyond just fisheries bycatch was a "much-needed step" but hoped the government would more widely analyse toxoplasmosis.  

"In many mammalian species including marine mammals and humans, we know that toxoplasmosis is often a secondary disease, present within organisms (sometimes without consequence) until such a time when a primary disease and/or elevated or cumulative contaminant burden suppresses immunity."

The SMC gathered expert reaction on the proposal.

Quoted: Stuff

"Whatever height they build that sea wall, in time it will inevitably fail."

Deep South National Science Challenge's Belinda Storey on the proposed Westport airport sea wall.

Tsunami warning confusion

An official tsunami warning that followed Sunday’s magnitude 7.0 quake in the Kermadec Islands has prompted questions around why Civil Defence sent the alert, only to cancel it eight minutes later.

The star shows where a magnitude 7.4 earthquake struck in the Kermadec Islands. Credit: Pacific Tsunami Warning Center

The warning – issued for coastal areas around New Zealand at 11.37am, was based on the best information at hand at the time, the Ministry of Civil Defence told RNZ.

Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management director Sarah Stuart-Black said the initial warning was based on information from GNS Science that it was a 7.4 magnitude earthquake at 10km deep, which would have been a much more serious earthquake than a magnitude 7 quake at the same depth.

She told RNZ they later received information from a gauge near Raoul Island, one of the Kermadec Islands, which confirmed that the wave that had been generated was less than 10cm high.

But GNS Science duty seismologist Sam Taylor-Offord told Stuff it appeared the ministry had put out its warning message based on information from the NOAA-owned Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre while GNS was having a phone meeting about the risk was still going on.

“My understanding is they wanted to get something preliminary out while we were finalising things. And we want to make sure what we tell the ministry is reliable and we can stand behind it.

“It was just coincidence that, around the time we were telling them of our thoughts, they were sending out their preliminary thoughts.”

A second earthquake struck near the Islands shortly before 5.30pm on Sunday, the NZ Herald reported.

“There is no tsunami threat to New Zealand following the M6.6 Kermadec Islands region earthquake,” MCDEM said on Twitter, in a tweet posted at 5.43pm.

The Ministry’s emergency processes have just undergone a rigourous review, after they were called into question following the November 2016 Kaikōura earthquake.

At the time, Toby Manhire wrote in the NZ Herald, “this was a stress test of the system, and the system failed”. A NZ Herald editorial wrote that there could be “no room for confusion or second-guessing” when it came to emergency information.

Since then, the agency has established an emergency mobile alert system and pushed the message: “Long or Strong, Get Gone,” saying people should assess the natural signs and not wait for an official warning before evacuating.

Councils' climate declarations

Wellington City is the latest council to declare a climate change emergency, but many are sceptical on whether the declarations go beyond a headline.

The capital joins several other local or regional bodies, including AucklandNelson, Canterbury, and Christchurch, that have already made the declaration. Hamilton and Southland are also set to consider joining the list.

However critics say in many cases those councils aren’t doing anything more than they’ve already been doing, and they’re not funding their decisions. The exception is Nelson, where $750,000 has been set aside, including money for a ‘climate champion’, according to the podcast, The Detail.

When Auckland made the declaration earlier this month, the council voted to require officials to assess all policy proposals for their impact on climate change, the NZ Herald reported.

Auckland councillor and environment committee chair Penny Hulse said, starting next year, the city’s 10-year budget would need to be structured differently. “Do we think we’ve got the action plan, so we’re done? We’re so not.”

The day before the Wellington vote, the council heard that just 44 per cent of people consulted on the council’s carbon neutral plan thought the city will actually take action.

“Are we trying to have our cake and eat it too and have somebody else’s as well?” Wellington city councillor Andy Foster asked.

Victoria University Professor James Renwick told Stuff there was uncertainty around whether the capital would ever move to a completely electric bus fleet, and also many years of uncertainty surrounding a light rail system.

“We need to get that message across that stakes are really high.”

What's coming in SAVVY 

Our flagship two-day media training course returns to Wellington and Auckland for two final rounds for 2019.

August 29-30

November 21-22  

Our experienced facilitators provide a supportive environment for researchers to consider their work from different perspectives and find new ways to describe the value of their research to the public. 

These workshops are ideally suited for researchers with previous media experience seeking further development of their skills, as well as beginners anticipating media interest in their work. 

Apply now

Policy news & developments

Firearms buyback: Details on the rate of compensation for illegal firearms has been released, and the fund has increased to $200m. 

Voting changes: At next year's general election, voters will be able to gain the right to enrol on election day and ballot boxes will be allowed in supermarkets and malls.

Landfill cleanup: DOC will replace Westland District Council as the lead agency coordinating the clean-up of the riverbed and coast downstream of the Council’s Fox River landfill.

Oranga Tamariki under review: The terms of reference have been released on a review into the agency's handling of the case of a Hawke's Bay mother and baby.

Smoking in cars with kids: The Smoke-free Environments (Prohibiting Smoking in Motor Vehicles Carrying Children) Amendment Bill was introduced to Parliament this week.

Insurance Tribunal: The Budget allocated $3.4 million to establish a Canterbury Earthquakes Insurance Tribunal that aims to resolve long dragged out insurance claims relating to the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

Prisoner mental health: Increased funding for mental health services for prisoners and those reintegrating into the community hopes to reduce reoffending and help with rehabilitation efforts. 

Productivity Commission board: AUT's Gail Pacheco and consultant Andrew Sweet have been appointed to the Productivity Commission board for three-year terms. 

Farm debt: A new debt mediation scheme will help farmers in financial distress deal with their lenders.

Biosecurity Awards: Nominations for the 2019 Biosecurity Awards are now open. There are nine categories, including ones for science, innovation, Māori, and emerging leaders.

This week on the NZ Conversation.

Proposal to mine fossil-rich site in New Zealand sparks campaign to protect it
Nic Rawlence, University of Otago

With climate change likely to sharpen conflict, NZ balances pacifist traditions with defence spending
David Belgrave, Massey University

Why the Australasian Health Star Rating needs major changes to make it work
Jessica Lai, Alana Harrison, Hongzhi Gao, and Samuel Becher, Victoria University of Wellington

See more NZ-authored content on the New Zealand homepage.

What we've been reading

With an abundance of news stories to read, watch and listen to, it can be hard to find the gems. Here we highlight some of the stories that caught our attention this week.

The foul-smelling bugs threatening NZ wine
Newsroom's Farah Hancock reports 25 stink bugs in 16 kilograms of grapes is enough to make your red wine taste like it's been decanted through a sweaty sock.

Consent sought to spill wastewater into pristine South Island lakes for decades
Some of New Zealand's cleanest and most scenic lakes could be on the receiving end of wastewater overflows for several decades, writes Stuff National Correspondent Charlie Mitchell.

These Influencers Aren’t Flesh and Blood, Yet Millions Follow Them
Companies like KFC and fashion label Balmain using virtual influencers who never have a bad hair day and can work 24 hours a day, writes Tiffany Hsu for The New York Times.

A twenty-four-thousand-mile walk across human history
Paul Salopek is six-and-a-half years into his project to walk from Africa's Rift Valley to Tierra del Fuego tracing the path of Homo sapiens - and he's not even halfway. He writes about his journey so far for The New Yorker

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
The future of volunteer work

To mark National Volunteer Week, Dave Heatley reflects on his experiences and what the future of work might mean for volunteering.
The robot strikes back

No-one seems to have much trouble with robots fighting each other, but a new video with a robot hitting back at humans raises interesting questions.

Minister right to be wary of gene editing

The Minister of Conservation’s recent direction to put the brakes on research into gene editing for predator eradication has proven a bone of contention with some.
So Shoot Me

Murchison and geology

Duncan Steel takes a break from space to write about Scottish geologist Sir Roderick Impey Murchison.
Out of Space

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details. 
  • Night lights: 21-23 June, Auckland. Explore MOTAT aglow with artistic installations designed by up-and-coming NZ artists inspired by items from the museum's collection.
  • Commercial health: 24 June, Wellington. Martin McKee will discuss health areas where commercial determinants are most obvious, such as alcohol, tobacco and nutrition.
  • Allergies: 24 June, Auckland. Franca Ronchese will discuss work to understand what happens when we're first exposed to allergens.
  • Predicting GDP: 25 June, Auckland. Gross Domestic Product may not be a very sexy topic, but Teo Susnjak hopes predicting GDP using machine learning might change that.
  • Frontal lobotomies: 25 June, Dunedin. As part of the Thirst for Knowledge series of pub talks, Mike Colombo will discuss the surgical horror story that was frontal lobotomy.
  • Indigenous studies: 26-29 June, Hamilton. The Native American and Indigenous Studies Association conference will be hosted outside of the USA for the first time.
  • Black hole reflections: 26 June, Christchurch. Roy Kerr will reflect on the discovery of gravitational waves and the recent image of a black hole, which proved predictions he made in 1963.
  • Understanding family violence: 26 June, Wellington. Bronwyn Morrison and Marianne Bevan will present recent research talking to the perpetrators of family violence.
  • Electricity deregulated: 26 June, Wellington. Geoff Bertram will talk about the lessons of deregulation for New Zealand's electricity sector.
  • Medicine during war: 26 June, Dunedin. Maxillofacial surgeon Colonel Darryl Tong will talk about medical innovations during WWI and how modern trauma medicine has evolved over 100 years.
  • Environmental DNA: 26 June, Auckland. Neil Gemmell will discuss environmental DNA to monitor aquatic systems for fisheries, conservation, biosecurity, and the occasional monster hunt.
  • Guns in NZ: 28 June, Wellington. Hera Cook and Marie Russell will discuss gun policy in New Zealand after the Christchurch mosque shooting.
  • Apocalypse cow: 28 June, Wellington. Peter Fraser will explore why the one-stop dairy shop dream of Fonterra is over and what an industry reset should look like.

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