Dave Rastovich returned to his birthplace in New Zealand’s largest city to complete an epic 350km lone paddle on a surfboard. Dave is among those raising awareness of the plight of the world’s rarest dolphin. Alison Smith was on the beach at Piha to greet him.
Near Port Waikato just south of Auckland, David Rastovich had been paddling in no wind for four hours, an exhausting mechanical movement toward journey’s end, when the sound of short, delicate breathing woke him from the trance of monotony.
A pod of eight Maui dolphins – a seventh of the planet’s remaining population – had appeared at his side. As if keeping vigil over this lone human in an increasingly treacherous stretch of ocean, for 35 minutes they rode the bow of Rastovich’s board, darting off to play in nearby waves before returning to him.
He later said: “These dolphins are so amazing. They take short, delicate little breaths and they’re really fun. I’ve paddled alongside Blue Whales, and they’ll breathe and let off great clouds of water into the sky. They’re so different to the big whales. They’re cute, and so gentle.”
As Dave approached Manukau Harbour off the coast of Auckland, unruly 6-8ft waves crashed toward him from north and south in raw, chaotic power. “I’ve surfed some big waves but you really appreciate just how powerful this coast is,” he recalled. “hese dolphins were like little seeds squeezed out of your hand, going off to surf the waves and then coming straight back over to me.
“It was incredible that this creature that has been so harmed by us still had the trust to be by me. I just feel so privileged to have met these dolphins, and the first thing that came to my mind was apologies. I said, ‘I’m so sorry, you have lost your families, your aunties and uncles’. Here I was with eight of them – a seventh of their entire population – and yet they were still somehow so trusting of a human that they came up and surfed with me.”
As quickly as they came, the world’s smallest, rarest dolphin then disappeared. “This was their zone. It was chaotic out there, and that was where they turned back. The waters on this coast are the equivalent of any Tahitian or Hawaiian water, and these dolphins should be left alone to it. To be there with them was easily one of the most amazing days of my life.”
Unlike previous paddles undertaken in waters off America, Dave wanted no-one alongside him in the treacherous coast and completed much of the journey alone.
In the safe harbours of coastal communities along the way, however, he was joined by surfers, children and supporters mobilising action against an expected application to the New Zealand Government for the annual dredging of 50 million tonnes of sand for iron ore.
Little is known about the cumulative effect of this dredging but it’s certain that with the top 10m layer of the seabed being effectively vacuumed up, nothing will be left alive. The entire west coast from Wanganui to Cape Reinga is under either a prospecting or exploration permit for iron sand. This happens to be a stretch of coast that’s home to the world’s rarest and smallest dolphin – the Maui’s Dolphin, or Popoto.
With fewer than 15 breeding females, Maui dolphins are among the rarest and most endangered of all mammals.
Researchers claim fishing has progressively decimated numbers from around 1800 individuals in the 1970s to just 50, and the death of more than one individual every 10-23 years will have devastating consequences for the entire population.
New Zealand’s Department of Conservation estimate there are just 55 Maui dolphins over the age of one. Explains WWF Marine Advocate Milena Palka: “Maui's are in perilous waters; the number one threat to their survival is fishing with gillnets and trawling but now sandmining poses a new, looming threat on the horizon. We can’t lose a single one in the next 10 to 23 years. We need a unanimous message from the people that these dolphins are Taonga (treasures), they are important to them, they deserve to be here, and we must all act now to save them.”
The plight of this playful little dolphin has brought together people of all backgrounds and talents to oppose the mining of black sand on the west coast. The people all share a connection to the coast and a sense that allowing minimal economic benefit to drive a unique species of marine mammal to extinction would bring shame to New Zealand.
Among those supporting efforts to save the Maui dolphin is Jean-Michel Cousteau, whose Facebook page states: “New Zealand has one final chance to put this right. But it needs to act now and remove gillnets and trawl nets from the dolphins’ habitat immediately. Failure to do so means that New Zealand is wilfully allowing this unique cetacean species to become extinct. Such an act will not only damage the reputation of New Zealand’s fishing industry forever but destroy the country’s environmental reputation.”
Freesurfer David Rastovich is using his surfing profile, passion for environmental causes and oceanic skills to help this species balanced on the knife-edge of survival.
On the black sands of Piha, a crowd of 200 or so people were scanning the horizon for the lone surfer. As he appeared around Nun Rock, the deep whirring sound of a Maori traditional instrument and Maori call brought him to shore. The crowd whooped and cheered as Rasta landed and took a momentary pause with hand on his heart before speaking.
“This is very humbling for me. It’s a beautiful culture you belong to. Thank you for your warm aroha and hospitality. No-one on this trip wants seabed mining on this coast: farmers, fishermen, grommies, surfers – we want some sort of action. We’ve put faith in Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) to urge everyone to join their email list so you can oppose seabed mining when it comes up, but you have to make a lot of noise. The world is watching New Zealand right now.” - as published in the Tropicsurf Annual 2015.
Yesterday, after having had the honour of spending several hours with a man whose ancestors sailed here 1000 years ago, I captured this photo over Tairua river. There is a saying in the book I'm reading by Rev. Maori Marsden; Illumination is from above, a revelation gift from God. When it occurs, it acts as a catalyst integrating knowledge to produce wisdom. Will there be mauri - life force - left in this river if we carry on treating our earth as we do? This is the sort of question I ask when I consider the policies of those I can choose to vote for tomorrow, rather than asking 'what's in it for me?'. It would be so sad to think that on my generation's watch, a place with this kind of beauty could be reduced to a lifeless body of water.
I'm absorbed right now in writing a 10 page feature about the district of Thames on the Coromandel NZ, and the town's 150 year celebration marking the day its goldfields were proclaimed open.
I've been called upon to write lots about heritage in recent years - probably because I love it. If you love researching something, you'll generally do a good job and get more of that kind of work.
Thames has many great writers and historians, and their generous help is humbling.
I particularly enjoyed reading this post from David Wilton on The Treasury Thames website, about William Hall. Hall was a pharmacist with a passion for botany, and he was alarmed at the rate of deforestation taking place as thousands of miners swarmed the hills of the newly formed town, using ancient, towering kauri and other noble forest giants wantonly.
His arboretum on the hills of Thames is now a tiny sanctuary of tranquility amid suburbia.
Here's a snippet from David's story, on the Treasury site www.thetreasury.org.nz;
Hall was a pioneer conservationist in a colony, and at a time, when exploiting resources to gain economic advantage was considered to be of paramount importance.
That was the fundamental reason for European nations to seek remote colonies in the 18th and 19th centuries - to harvest resources for the Industrial Age, which was then well under way.
For an individual to advocate restraint, and protection of endangered species, was somewhat akin to heresy. However, that didn't seem to bother Hall. His Letter to the Editor of the Thames Star in 1883 was the first of many.
'It is much to be regretted that a well-organized arboretum for indigenous trees and shrubs has not been established in each of the great centres of population. The extensive, and frequently wanton, destruction of the native bush has been going on at such a pace that it will soon be difficult, if not impossible, to get sight of some of the rarer species. And, unfortunately, the planting of our beautiful New Zealand trees has not generally been adopted, perhaps from the mistaken idea that they are difficult of culture. Partly to disprove this, but principally because I had a great liking for the occupation, I some thirty years ago, began a plantation on a piece of land at Parawai, Thames. ... One object in making these plantations was to induce the visits of our rapidly disappearing native birds. The frequent visits of' the riro-riro, the piwakawaka, and the kotare, with occasional incursions of the ruru, the tui, and the pipiwharauroa, and still more rare appearance of the kaka, kukupa, kohoperoa, weka, and miromiro, have amply repaid my expectations. In conclusion, let me express a hope that these few cursory remarks may induce others to attempt the cultivation of our indigenous flora.'
Today the Thames branch of Forest and Bird continue Hall’s work at the William Hall Arboretum.
John and Mary Hall's grave is in Shortland Cemetery, Thames. It is probable that John planted the exotic trees near his wife’s grave after the death of Mary in 1898.
On the headland that anchors one end of my local beach, there’s a sign on a resident’s house that says “Pen-Yr-Angor”.
As a journalist I can’t give my opinion. As a blogger, I’m going to share with you something that arrived in my inbox and made me bash my keyboard in frustration. Here's what it said (anything in brackets is mine):
On 3 August 2017, the Decision-making Committee (of our Government’s so-called Environmental Protection Authority) granted consent subject to conditions for Trans-Tasman Resources Limited to extract and process iron sand within the South Taranaki Bight.
Here’s what’s going to happen now.
The Consent Holder will extract up to 12.5 million tonnes of seabed material per 3-month period, and 50 million tonnes of seabed material during any year for the term of these consents. That’s all the creatures that make up what’s known as benthic communities in that area of seafloor.
And here’s what I’ve read about them;
Macrofauna are important components of estuarine and coastal ecosystems, because they serve as critical links between a variety of primary producers and organic matter sources (e.g., phytoplankton, benthic microalgae and macroalgae, detritus) and economically, ecological, and recreationally important fish and crustaceans. They are important components of aquatic food webs and they affect transport and cycling of nutrients and toxicants.
I’ll come back to what’s expected to happen when this company, TTRL, has finished mining the seabed of its life (in order to get iron).
But here is what else the EPA’s decision acknowledged from experts.
There is a ‘whale pathway’ in the area to be mined.
This mining is going to take place in “an important whale nursery or feeding area where certain whale species visit at various times of year during their life span.”
Blue whale vocalisations have been detected on 89 per cent of days.
That’s not all. The Māui dolphin is one of the three most threatened small cetaceans in the world and it lives here.
The latest Māui dolphin population estimate reported by the Department of Conservation puts the population at 63 dolphins over the age of one.
For critically endangered species like the Māui dolphin, even very small effects can be biologically meaningful.
Professor Liz Slooten, who gave evidence to the hearing, considers that any noise pollution, including seismic surveys and mining, risks displacing the Māui dolphin into high risk areas – such as areas where commercial fishing takes place.
There is already overlap between Māui dolphins and fisheries in the area. She thinks it likely that this overlap, and its attendant risks, will be intensified due to habitat displacement caused by the mining area and its sediment plume.
All of the above came directly from the EPA’s decision report.
Sightings of the dolphin appear to be rare in the Sth Taranaki Bight (no surprises, when there are only an estimated 63 of them left) but there were seven sightings, with one occurring about 9 km inshore of the mining area and another about 55 km to the east near Whanganui. The furthest offshore was 49 km.
The fishing threat to Māui dolphins still exists, as three to four members of the species are killed per year (New Zealand wide). A sustainable level would be one dolphin every 10 to 23 years.
As pointed out by the EPA’s own Maori advisory committee, Ngā Kaihautū Tikanga Taiao, there was no bond mechanism demanded, or insurance cover towards environmental restoration, should something go wrong.
New jobs are unlikely to significantly reduce unemployment levels (from the independent Social Impact Assessment).
But back to what the EPA says should happen so that it’s all good to mine the seabed.
Five years following the completion of all seabed material extraction: “The Consent Holder shall be required to demonstrate that recovery of the macroinfauna benthic community at that location has occurred.”
This recovery is defined as when the macroinfauna communities at a specified location are within 15 per cent of the average pre-mining total abundance, biomass and species richness.
That sounds, well, not too bad right? But if annual monitoring shows that’s not likely to happen?
Get Consent Holder to highlight this to us at the EPA; find a duly qualified benthic ecology expert to tell the EPA possible reasons why recovery is not on track; and potential measures to ‘enhance’ it. Then explain how, as Consent Holders, they can demonstrate that recovery of the macroinfauna benthic community has occurred.”
Suck it and see, then.
I'm posting this from Devonport in Auckland, where the kids and I have just returned from getting this close to the America's Cup homecoming parade. What a great shot I got huh? It was a different experience to the last America's Cup parade I was at, as a young reporter for the New Zealand Herald. I remember the atmosphere like it was yesterday; so many cheers, smiles, a rainbow of tape being thrown about and bags of rice being emptied from buildings on Queen St. Today it was pouring with rain when the main men came past, but the rain (according to Team NZ boss Grant Dalton) is a good omen. Sometimes I miss daily news - when you get to chase around the one person that everyone wants to speak to on the day. But today I had just as much fun doing that from the sidelines. It was a buzz to see the reaction of my two young sons - who have always lived in a coastal town of just 1600 people - as they stood wide-eyed in awe at the crowds and the atmosphere. Our local school in Tairua celebrates the value of "innovative and creative thinkers". So we wagged school for the day to celebrate some of the best examples of innovation and creative thinking that New Zealand has seen in a while. Go Team New Zealand.
I’ve taken the current State of Emergency status in our town today as a chance to torture myself with completing a tax return, which of course means I am cleaning the top of the kitchen cupboards.
It’s a delay tactic until alcohol can appear at my side at a socially acceptable hour.
On the plus side, I may at last be able to put my surname to my very own species of newly discovered Chytridiomycota (Google it). I’ll call it Kitchendetritus Smithsonii and become famous in academic circles, somewhere.
Meanwhile my children have piled up their mammoth collection of dirty clothes in my office, in a half-hearted attempt to prove that they have nothing to wear and need new clothes.
They’re now zombiefying themselves with WIFI, glancing up bleary-eyed only long enough to send a nerf bullet hurtling past my head.
My 15-year-old is on her way to a party through rising flood waters 10km from here. We drove through town past NZ Army trucks and Police vehicles as I ranted about her not appreciating the severity of the risk I was taking to get her to her sleep over.
Fortunately, she realised she’d forgotten to bring something. So I was able to U-turn the people mover in the driving rain and return home to hand over responsibility to my husband and his high wheelbase ute.
This is the third severe storm in four weeks (after a summer drought) and it’s getting a bit shit.
It’s what we should expect from climate change. Rising sea levels. More frequent extreme weather events – such as droughts (especially in the east of New Zealand) and floods. A change in rainfall patterns – with increased summer rainfall in the north and east of the North Island and increased winter rainfall in many parts of the South Island.
What are the effects of climate change on human health? A warmer climate is expected to increase the risk of illnesses and death from extreme heat and poor air quality. Climate change will likely increase the frequency and strength of extreme events (such as floods, droughts, and storms) that threaten human health and safety.
I am sometimes accused of being flippant but it’s only because my own personal safety has not been compromised a great deal so far (due to a well-built, new house and the decision to hand my teenager over to the spouse when essential travel was required).
Health, however, may be a different story. The first glass of Sauvignon Blanc has been consumed, and it’s a little past 3pm on a Thursday.
Well I guess we could just deny it, enjoy the alcohol and go for a pleasant walk to the beach now couldn’t we Donald?
(Written for you in Kauai Laurel!)
It's a really enjoyable challenge to be working with imagery and only very limited space for words, like with this post for a funeral director for whom I'm working. Twentymans Funeral Directors are among those incredible professionals who look after our dead (and the grieving people left behind). It's a tough and thankless job sometimes. Thankyou to elemental environments in Thames for the lovely background image that I used here.
I found my name and number in the latest edition of the telephone directory today and felt an immediate sense of comfort at being listed among the dwindling flock of locals.
Where once us Smiths would take up whole columns, we numbered just eight, though I know our town is not shrinking in population.
My experience of telephones has changed greatly since - according to my kids - the ‘olden days’ when I was their age.
Back then we used to cycle to the post office and make phone calls without any coins, using a swift technique of flicking the receiver catch up and down according to the number you needed to dial. If the number had lots of zeroes in it, you could almost work up a sweat.
Then came the push button phones of the eighties, and wow were they design masterpieces for the times (did anything else come out of the eighties that was worth saving?).
Occasionally I’ll still find a telephone table at the recycle centre or an antique shop and these make me wish I had lived when they were a standard piece of furniture in every posh home. To perch on this neatly-designed personal zone of social interaction, and natter away in the privacy of your hallway to any of a multitude of friends, all-the-while tethered to the wall...
The anchor point prevented any multi-tasking and of course there was no expectation that you would answer a phone if you were outside interacting with actual flesh-and-blood people, or nature.
My dad was probably one of the first purchasers of the ‘mobile phone’ – a beast of a unit that would probably be the right size today to operate as an outer space communication device (oh wait, our phones do that now).
My early years at The New Zealand Herald newspaper involved the excitement of filing a story from the road on a similar contraption – and the thrill was knowing there existed someone as junior as you, doing the typing while you ‘dictated’ from your shorthand notes.
Multi-tasking on this sort of occasion was about trying to read whilst stemming the nausea, as the photographer lurched through gears around hairpin bends on the way back to the office (all photographers drive like wannabe race car drivers, it’s in their DNA).
I think we gained certain freedoms with the invention of the mobile phone but we lost even more.
For example, usually my children only respond to me when I first switch off the WIFI in our home.
The pop!-ping! call to attention of snapchat and messenger is an ever-present diversion from whatever real-life, eye to eye contact or form of creative flow (or household chore) might be happening at a given moment. Actually you know? it sucks.
But then, neither do I miss the much more regular shrill of the telephone ringing in the evening, and the dread of knowing I must flirt with a boy on the end of the line while my brother, sister, mum and dad were also in the room.
So, maybe, like so many memories faded, the old telephone wasn’t such a mythical bird said by ancient writers to breed in a nest floating at sea at the winter solstice, charming the wind and waves into calm...
I suppose it’s no coincidence that I woke thinking of my friend Pete this morning. A year ago today we lost him – he, having given up on the world he inhabited and leaving those who loved him shocked and searching for answers.
There is a seat now for Pete at the edge of the point break where we all surfed with him, so Pete has a presence always in a place that he found peace. It is dark, solid, hand-carved wood, with knots and lines from the tree that once breathed life into a forest around it.
As I get older, I have lost more friends and acquaintances this way and talked to friends who have been scarred by such losses too. Later in the year the community I live in lost another Pete, one whose heart for conservation was bursting with a need to give and to help. It was such tragedy that nature could not help him, when he did so much for the natural world that so needed him.
When reporting the news, you learn that you are allowed only to type a simple phrase to describe the chaos that would have swirled inside this person, and the void they leave behind.
There were no suspicious circumstances.
That we should know how and when we will die, when we have no say in how and when we are born…
But then, death is never easy for those left behind and we can only wonder how it is for those gone.
Today became an opportunity to dance in view of the wooden seat overlooking the sea, Pete’s seat.
Wisdom of a 100 year old
Jean Thrupp has lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. She has voted around 25 times, fought cancer that doctors said would see her dead within a year, and raised six children - five aged under five.
When she turned triple digits on Tuesday, the red carpet went everywhere she went – including inside the cockpit of a Flystark airplane. Jean crossed another thing from her bucket list as she flew on a sightseeing tour of the Coromandel to celebrate 100 years on planet Earth.
“It was wonderful,” she enthused after landing at Pauanui Airfield from uninterrupted blue skies over a canvas of glinting sea. “I can see a lot of the islands from land but I can only see the outline of them, and from up in the air I could see them all so clearly and all the different colours of the water. I thought ‘what a beautiful place New Zealand is’.”
Jean now lives at Tairua Residential Care, where other residents had gathered outside to watch and wave at Jean’s plane, teary-eyed with excitement when she had left for Pauanui.
Some of Jean’s children joined her on the Flystark scenic flight and many more joined her for lunch in Tairua afterward, but it was just some of the partying Jean has done to celebrate her century.
“I had a big do on Labour Weekend at Whangamata and it was all go, go go. There were 71 people at the luncheon and they came from Australia, America and some came out from Thailand. I went down the Friday and came home the Tuesday and I kept going the whole time.
“Every birthday my family organise something but last year was the worst because I was having jolly scans in hospital. There’s a bit of wear and tear - It’s just amazing that I’ve lived this long,” Jean says.
Jean was born November 9, 1916 in Dunedin, and lived by St Kilda Beach. Her father worked for an Electric Power and Lighting company and was responsible for switching on the streetlights. Most of her school life was spent at Milton, south of Dunedin.
“When you left school everybody went to work at the Bruce Woollen Mill, and I worked on the looms. Mum and dad shifted to Palmerston South and that’s when things weren’t too bright, I stayed down there when they shifted and then the depression came. That’s when the rot set in.”
Her parents were born in Tasmania and her Scottish father lived until age 97. “My mother was English and my father was Scotch. He was brought up very strict and was a bit hard to communicate with but my mother was very easy to talk to. She was lovely. We didn’t take any notice of him, you know what kids are like.”
Jean’s father was made redundant and after a short time back with her parents in Palmerston South, she returned to Dunedin to work as a nanny so that she had somewhere to live. “I was only 16 then. Things were bright again. I earned 13 and four pence a week and oh I thought I was made!”
Always keen on sightseeing, Jean saved up and “wandered all over the South Island”. “Down at the glaciers was amazing, I went waitressing. I used to go somewhere that I could get a roof over my head and a meal. I wanted to be a hairdresser but it cost too much.”
Marriage was still far from her mind. “I wasn’t interested. I was out to enjoy myself. I’m very much an outdoor person, I would hike for miles and do bush walks.”
Jean joined a bush walking club later on when living in Otorohonga and would do long bush walks with the group up until she was about 90. Her other sport was outdoor bowls which she took up in 1968 and played for 26 years, travelling for the sport.
She survives her husband, Frank. “His mother introduced me to him. I had just come back from overseas to Wellington, where I was working during the war years. I was in this rooming house and his mother was managing it, and he came home and didn’t know anybody. He was a handsome man.”
They had three children under five when Jean went to the doctor and was told ‘congratulations, you’re having twins Mrs Thrupp’.
She now has 11 Grandchildren and 25 Great Grandchildren and each and every one gets a birthday card every year with a $5 note inside. She can name names but can’t put faces to them all now.
“It’s good I’ve still got my marbles. There’s nothing wrong with my marbles,” she says. Jean does crosswords and reads a lot, but doesn’t bother with the regular exercise classes held at Tairua Residential Care, preferring to do her own exercises.
During our interview, Activities Manager Trudy Lewis pops her head in to offer refreshments and, catching the tail end of the conversation, asks Jean to demonstrate her flexibility. Quick as a flash from her seat in a lazy boy chair, Jean grabs one leg by the ankle and holds it stretched up to her face.
I ask her for tips on longevity. “Don’t take any medicine doctors prescribe. Avoid them like the plague,” she offers.
“I think a lot of it is your lifestyle and your eating habits. Do you know what the best vegetable you can eat is? Parsnips. When I was 82 I had this horrendous operation because I had cancer, and they said that I only had a 50/50 chance of surviving and it’s just to give me another 12 months.
“I had a cancer book given to me and everything was steamed, nothing fried and a lot of parsnips. I followed the diet for 12 months, and when I was 83 I was back up laughing again. When you’re in a rest home you take what’s going but if I think it’s something that doesn’t agree with me I just leave it. I can live on veges, chicken and fish.”
Our conversation turns to the cards crowding Jean’s side table, including one from the Queen whom she adores, others from MPs, the Prime Minister, a hand-written card from Helen Clarke signed former Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party, and a letter from the Leader of the Opposition.
“To me Andrew Little isn’t really in a position to have a personal card but he wrote a letter and it was very thoughtful. I never thought I would get all these important cards.”
Jean has never missed a vote and she has voted Labour all her life. “I’ve got a lot to thank Labour for. The Depression, when Michael Joseph Savage came into power it completely changed our life. We got a more liveable wage and they got more people into work. I think they did a lot of good.
“I think John Key is more out of the country than he is here and I don’t know if he’s spending the tax money to pay for all these trips rather than getting on with things here. There’s a lot to be sorted out here. I would say charity begins at home. I just don’t understand the housing problems. In Tauranga we moved into a brand new state house as a big family, and we lived in a state house in Wellington. Returned servicemen got state houses, but now…”
If you're spending a lot of your day in bare feet, then chances are you have found the kind of balance that Hook & Arrow writer Alison Smith has found in life.