Dreaming of conservation in 2029

10 years ago today, I was further east than anyone else in New Zealand, barring anyone fishing out at sea, watching the dawn rise. My workmates were asleep in the hut, and I know that no one was on the Fourty Fours that night. I was on Rangatira Island, also known as South East Island, sitting on a rock at my favourite place in the whole world — Whalers Bay. That summer I had fallen precipitously in love, with the island, with nature, and with conservation. Today I’m still in love, and conservation has become what I do every day, though mostly now at home with a cup of tea and the dog asleep beside me.

I reckon that the 2020s are going to be a huge for conservation. They have to be, as we have such a lot of work that needs to be done. But here are two things that I know that we can achieve in this next decade.

Imagine, if you will, that it’s New Year’s eve in 2029 and we’re looking back over the past decade…

Number 1:

All conservation decisions, plans and dreams are based on Te Tiriti o Waitangi. No ifs, buts or maybes and no correspondence will be entered into.

Number 2:

It’s been a decade of plants, which is surprising as at the opening of the decade was all about removing introduced species. But Predator Free was never this nation’s moon shot. It was a means to an end, and that end is fewer species that need conservation attention. And, although it has taken a decade of incredibly hard work, in 10 years we have managed to halve the number of conservation dependent species from 4000 to 2000!

We’ve done this in by carefully restoring ecosystems. The plants that we’ve planted grow rapidly due to fewer browsers, and are capturing carbon dioxide as they grow. We are beginning to understand the health benefits of spending time in nature. People are learning to tell one plant from the other and we’re starting to see plants as important organisms in their own right rather than just as part of the scenery or food for more interesting animals.

We’ve widened our conservation horizons to more than just the traditional terrestrial ecosystems. We’re restoring our rivers and lakes, saltmarshes, seagrass beds, wetlands, sand dunes, mangroves — all of the edge areas that can get overlooked just because they are at the margins.

Conservation still uses a lot of volunteer labour but we’re doing this more ethically. We know that looking after the flora and fauna with which we share our home is everyone’s responsibility and privilege, so we make it possible for everyone to be involved. There is space in conservation for all New Zealanders, including new citizens, disabled New Zealanders, visitors. There are local companies that put their money and might behind the conservation of creatures other than just the charismatic ones. We have fewer species that are data deficient as we are funding the scientific research that needs to be done. There is more nature in our cities and towns, where locally sourced plants are planted when it’s possible, and animals are carefully reintroduced, or, excitingly, reintroduce themselves. Rather than there being just patches of suitable habitats, we’ve created corridors that connect habitat patches. There has also been huge conservation wins in places that most of us never get to visit. Pigs, cats and mice have been successfully removed from Maukahuka or Auckland Island in the sub Antarctic Islands, and the biodiversity benefits of this are only now being appreciated.

Because of all of this habitat restoration, organisms that were endangered in 2020 now have suitable habitats in which to live and we’re taking hundreds of them off the threatened species lists every year. We know that 2000 conservation dependent species is still too many, but we have a very cunning plan for the 2030s to reduce this even further and a tonne of momentum, good will and expertise to keep this work going.

We’re a nation of smart, talented, hard-working, and, above all, kind humans. Shall we do this?

Ngā mihi o te tau hou.

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