Nature’s silent signal

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The Star continues its series of election “big issues” and this week focuses on the environment. We’ve asked key figures in the city about what they see as the important environmental issues facing Dunedin. Their answer: climate change, sea-level rise, water quality, and the loss of biodiversity.

A landscape without birdsong – silently signalling a loss of biodiversity – is one of several environmental challenges for Dunedin, advocates say.

Other key issues include climate change, sea-level rise and water quality.

Dunedin environmentalist and author Neville Peat and environmental advocate Jinty MacTavish have been disappointed with the lack of focus on environmental issues in the election campaign.

“It is regrettable that both [televised] leaders’ debates haven’t picked up on the environment,” Ms MacTavish said.

Mr Peat and Ms MacTavish, both former Dunedin city councillors, are looking for more of a focus on the environment in the coming weeks.

When The Star spoke to Ms MacTavish, she was preparing to chair last night’s candidates’ forum hosted by Sustainable Dunedin City, Forest & Bird, and Wise Response.

Climate change was to be one of the main topics of discussion, including how the new government would give effect to the Paris Accord, and whether it would commit to climate neutrality by 2050, in line with the United Nations recommendation.

The impact of sea-level rise on South Dunedin also needed “a whole lot more focus”, Ms MacTavish said.

“This includes the fact that government budgets needs to start taking account of climate change – this is around infrastructure and adaptation.”

In the midst of researching a book examining the impact of climate change on New Zealand’s coastline, Mr Peat believes sea-level rise poses a significant threat.

“We are a maritime nation and, of our 78 councils in New Zealand, 63 are coastal,” Mr Peat said.

“Central government has to get itself a lot more tuned in to how big an issue sea level rise is – we have time to plan a response, but we must face up to it soon.”

Mr Peat and Ms MacTavish also expressed concern over water quality, New Zealand’s steadily diminishing biodiversity, and the chronic underfunding of the Department of Conservation.

“For a department tasked with looking after 30% of New Zealand’s land area, Doc simply doesn’t have enough money to do the work,” Mr Peat said.

It was bizarre that tourism was ranked “right at the very top” among government departments, while Doc had a lowly ranking.

“It is hard to understand how this is the case, when so much of our tourism is based on the beautiful places of the Doc estate.”

As a member of the South-East Marine Protection Forum, Mr Peat was also focused on the future of a 350km stretch of coastline from Canterbury to Southland.

Otago Peninsula Biodiversity Group project manager Dr Ursula Ellenberg said sustained funding for pest control was a major issue. Large-scale predator control could not be achieved with grants of “$5000 here and $7000 there”.

If the goal of predator-free New Zealand was to be realised, “any government has to put its money where its mouth is and help us achieve it”.

There were many places in New Zealand which “might look pretty on a post card but the soundscape is missing”.