A week of successes for Inspiring Stories

I met with Guy Ryan the evening before last (Tuesday), the CEO of the Inspiring Stories Trust. The organisation aims to get every young New Zealander acting for positive change.

Last week they wrapped up one of their summer programmes successfully, were told they would be getting $500k from the NZ government over the next two and a half years, and then to complete the hat trick Guy won the Young New Zealander of the Year award last night!

I am so chuffed for him and everyone involved in Inspiring Stories. What they are doing is so incredibly, well, inspiring! And not only that, they really are creating waves of change, only set to continue and grow. Watch Guy’s TED talk for a great overview here: http://youtu.be/V0A001CdtdY

And see under my profiles page soon for a written round up of what they do.

Kaikoura – marine life central

What an incredible day yesterday – we went on a whale watch in the morning and saw 3 sperm whales, a whole pod of VERY acrobatic dusty dolphins, and got some great views of wandering albatross and other seabirds galore. Definitely a trip to remember! I then got a free lunch thanks to a mix up with non-vegetarian sandwiches – bonus! In the afternoon we walked around the peninsula for absolutely stunning views of the coastline and more encounters with seals and seabirds.

The great thing about Whale Watch Kaikoura, the company running the tours, is the employment it has brought to the area. I really liked the fact that it is owned and run by Maori. The staff on our boat were clearly incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about the whales they take people out to see and admire.

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Wanaka wandering

Just left Wanaka after a one-night stay – definitely not long enough! It is gorgeous there. I heard about Wanaka Wastebusters but unfortunately didn’t get chance to visit them. However it sounds like a great group of people – they’ve been there since 2000 sorting out recycling for the community there. I particularly like the sound of their projects making it easier for visitors to recycle and highlighting best and worst examples of packaging on products either shaming or commencing the businesses in question. More info here: www.wanakawastebusters.co.nz

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How many species in a day?

The Otago Peninsula, just along from Dunedin, on the South Island of New Zealand, is a paradise for nature lovers. I had a field-day there yesterday, enjoying the spectacular coastline and the proximity you get to a huge variety of wildlife. Some of these are endangered species found only in limited geographical areas, of which this is one. It felt like a huge privilege to visit.

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It was about a half hour drive along windy roads hugging the coastline, although we took much longer, stopping to take photos of the beautiful views and figuring out what birds we were seeing along the way: there were various species of spoonbills, terns, gulls, skuas, ducks, herons, geese, swans, oyster catchers and all kinds of other waders. This was just whetting the appetite for what was next.

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The Taiaroa headland, or Pukekura, at the end of the Peninsula is home to the only mainland Royal Albatross colony in the world. I hadn’t quite appreciated the rarity of these birds or how huge they are – their wingspan can be over 3 metres in length! We saw 5 birds on nests and got a clear view of the 3-week-old chicks on the nearest two nests. We also watched a group of juveniles chattering away on the cliff edge like teenagers on a street corner, occasionally flying past the glass hut we were stood inside to give us great views of their huge wings and flying abilities.

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The icing on the cake was the knowledge and clear passion for the conservation of this unique place of our guide Mary. She is a direct descendant of the Maori who used to live on the headland. It made it even more special to be guided by her. The Pilots Beach below the headland, home of many fur seals, sealions and little blue penguins, has just been returned to the Maori. However, the headland remains in other hands. Her pragmatic take on it now, after many years of bitterness, is that as long as the place and all its diverse wildlife are being protected, it does not matter who is doing it.

After visiting the basking and sleeping fur seals down at Pilots Beach, we headed back round to Penguin Place. This is a private conservation scheme for the rare yellow-eyed penguin, found only on New Zealand’s South Island shores. It is fully funded by the tourists who come to visit. It began after a farmer living there in the 1960s got an interest in looking after them alongside his sheep farming. Fastforward to 1991 and it opened as a full tourism operation in order to fund the efforts being made to protect the species.

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Today, they have a whole network of tunnels and hides for tourists to see them at close proximity without causing disturbance to these very shy birds. They maintain a ‘test site’ on the other half of the beach which has no visiting tourists, monitoring both to ensure tourism is not causing any detrimental impact. Right now they have 4 nesting pairs on each, suggesting the 50,000+ annual visitors who come to enjoy them are having no negative effects – the sign of a very successful eco-tourism project indeed!

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The potential for positive change in New Zealand

I have been in New Zealand for a month and a half now and spoken to many people here, those involved in sustainability efforts and not. From talking to everyone and seeing some of the country, I have made a few observations. They might be a bit oversimplified and perhaps overly idealistic/optimistic but I really feel that here the potential for truly sustainable living is stronger than anywhere else I have been:

There are…

So many initiatives and passionate people
Strong connection to and care for the natural environment amongst Kiwis, based on Maori traditions and outdoorsy past-times
Just over 4 million people in the whole country – half the size of London – which means…
Only two degrees of separation between everybody living here i.e. if I dont know that person, someone I know will
= huge potential for cultural change towards sustainable living

Furthermore…

New Zealand has a reputation of being clean and green, but according to most people here involved in environmental work, this is a bit of a joke. However, the reference to this status continues, so as the cracks widen and become more apparent, something will have to be done to keep the clean green status in place.

The ‘number 8 wire’ ethos of Kiwis i.e. ingenuity, innovation and problem-solving abilities, is in full swing in the realm of sustainability as much as elsewhere – harnessing this to a greater extent could make New Zealand a leader in this field.

The Maori culture, promoted widely, has a tradition of reciprocity with and respect for nature – another aspect of New Zealanders’ cultural and social identity already here, alive and well.

There is talk of the increasing need to diversify into other industries besides agriculture and tourism, the main two money earners at the moment. Embracing a ‘green economy’ could be a great way to create more jobs.

As such a popular tourist destination, particularly amongst developed countries, the experiences and examples of sustainable living in New Zealand can spread to other countries to accelerate positive change elsewhere too.

It might not happen in the next couple of years with the current political party in power but I think that the strength of the efforts now and the forging of a pathway towards that vision will tip the balance towards that realm before the decade is out.

Reckoning on a positive picture for New Zealand’s future? I sure am!

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