Friday, July 30, 2010

Protecting NZ's biodiversity from the ground up

It was a nice break from the office yesterday as I had the opportunity to visit some community conservation projects taking place just North of Wellington. I organized an outing with a journalist from Radio New Zealand and the Manager of our Terrestrial program to check out a project that WWF-New Zealand has recently supported through our Habitat Protection Fund. For the past 10 years, WWF has been supporting over 200 community groups across New Zealand with one common goal - to protect nature in their own backyards.

We drove about an hour North through the mountains to a town called Greytown where a group has been working for the past four years on restoring their local stream. The group is involved with planting native trees to protect the Papawai stream from the nutrient runoff in surrounding farmland. The spread of invasive species like crack willows and sediment build up has caused the stream to change its course in a number of places and so the community has come together to ensure that this area is protected and well taken care of for future generations to enjoy. Everyone has gotten involved; landowners, the town council, local Maori, and students form the local schools. The project manager took us down to the stream to check out the beautiful clear water that has returned as a result of the fencing (to keep livestock out) and replanting (to help restore the banks and filter the runoff). While we were there some eels came and fed on some breadcrumbs that he dropped into the stream. They were massive! Easily 2 metres long. Based on their length he estimated that they were about 80 years old. And because of the hard work that they had all undertaken to restore this area, the eels were starting to return in abundance. I wouldn’t want to take a dip in there but it was nice to see the ecosystem returning to its natural state.

On our visit, we met with a local apple farmer who showed us how the restoration program has benefited his land, as the stream runs right alongside his orchards. A few students came out and showed us where they had recently done a big planting. And a land manager from the regional council joined us to talk about the importance of these groups working together to ensure a successful outcome for everyone.

We also had the chance to check out another reserve in the area - Fensham Reserve - and take a quick hike through its 50 hectare trails, situated right in the middle of kms of farmland. This area has been restored to its natural forest habitat and is now being managed by volunteers in the area.

We got some great interviews and met some fantastic people before returning to the WWF office. It was so inspiring to see people rolling up their sleeves and contributing to help protect their local streams and forests. That’s what it’s all about – helping protect your own backyard and the wildlife that call it home. Imagine how different the world would be if we all did that!

Pics below:
- Radio New Zealand interviewing the program manager of the Papawai Stream Restoration Project
- Students from Greytown high school who recently replanted along a section of the wetland
- A local eel comes to say hello
- A section of the stream that has been newly cleared of invasive weeds and replanted with native vegetation
- The local Papawai marae where the stream runs past. A marae is a sacred meeting place for the Maori.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A few more pics

It seems that with every posting I make, I can only upload a maximum of 5 images and so I am posting a second entry simply because 5 images do not capture the entire beauty, fun, and excitement of this past weekend. A few more are posted here for you:

- Visiting the Olympic Museum in Wellington where they had a great display on the Vancouver Games. They even had the map guide that Chris had designed – very cool. I was so proud :D

- Our favourite companion of the weekend (in all her 'bucked teeth' glory)!

- Stopping for a bit after one of our hikes (the Piller kids on the left side of the table are a real class-act!)

- Elena and I enjoying the yummy grub at Chow – an Asian Fusion (uber yummy) resto

- A lonely chimney sits in the middle of a farmer’s field. The sun was hitting it in such a stunning way that caused us to stop and turn around to capture the photograph!

Wining and dining our way thru Napier

The weekend has come and gone and the siblings have departed, but not without a number of adventures under our belt! The past four days have been filled with beautiful hikes, tasty wine tours, shopping, and some darned tasty dinners, brunches, coffees, breakfasts.

The weekend started with my brother picking up our rental car; a beast of a car with ivory handles and an engine that squeeled its disapproval for a solid 20 seconds to a minute whenever it was turned on. We named it rumble.

We set off for Hawkes Bay (along the Eastern shore of the North Island) stopping in towns and cafes along the way. The town of Napier was where we settled for the next two days and stayed in a lovely B&B called the Green House on the Hill. Cute place and definitely recommended if you ever find your feet wandering through this place.

The days were spent cruising the wineries and testing out their products. New Zealand wine is tasty! Apparently the Hawkes Bay region is known for its chardonnays and while I’m not a big fan of them, I definitely enjoyed testing them out.

On our way back to Wellington, our route took us through the mountains where we stopped for a few hikes along the way. Mother Nature was good to us the whole time too which meant stunning sunsets, rainbows, and clear views from mountaintops. I don’t know what horseshoes that brother of mine brought with him but I hope he left them behind!

On our last full day together, we were back in Wellington and spent the day exploring Somes Island, the patch of land situated in the middle of the Wellington harbour. Over the past 100 years, the island has served as a human and animal quarantine station, an internment camp, and a military defence position. It’s now managed by forest rangers and today you will still find remnants of old barricades and quarantine facilities peppered across the island.

As I write this, C+E are now on a plane headed back to the Great, not-so-white, North. I miss them already but I am so happy that they were able to make it down for a visit. Safe travel home kids and keep in touch!

Friday, July 23, 2010


What a week! Lots of exciting things to report. Spent the week working away on some exciting projects: putting together an itinerary for a trip to three conservation projects just North of Wellington with a reporter from Radio New Zealand, keeping supporters updated on our conservation work through our social media outlets, and preparing our communications strategy for the Living Planet Report coming out in the spring (or the fall, depending on what hemisphere you call home).

But enough about work. There have been far more exciting things on this week’s agenda! First and most importantly, my fantastic hubby arrived safe and sound on Thursday!! Sadly, he missed his connecting flight in Auckland due to baggage and customs issues but he caught the next plane out and arrived midday to an anxious and excited wifey with a flat white coffee! It wasn’t the nicest day to arrive into town but there will be many lovely days for us to enjoy in the year to come :D

We spent that evening cooking a nice dinner and getting him unpacked. The very next day, I reunited with my sibs who had spent the last week and a half touring the South Island. They covered 3,000 kms in 9 days and saw pretty much the entire island! Stunning pics and amazing stories. Beautiful mountains, adorable penguins, stunning architecture. I am so inspired for when we take our trip down there. There is just so much to see and do!

But the South Island will wait for another time. This weekend, it’s all about exploring Wellington and the North Island. Last night we went for drink-ee-poos and grub at a place called the Matterhorn. If you visit, we go! Everything was so great. The ambiance (beautiful wood ceiling, leather benches, fireplace, a living wall). We enjoyed scotches and martinis and moved on to ridiculously scrumptious steaks, lamb, and a cheese soufflĂ©. Delish!

Today, we are picking up a car and heading over to the East Coast of the North Island for some wine tasting, hiking, and… Who knows?! But I’m sure I’ll have some great stories to tell upon our return!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sunset = perfection

Had to share this ridiculous sunset from my deck with you. Enjoyed it while doing a bit of yoga. Absolute perfection. Please excuse the crappy self portrait.
A perfect end to a perfect weekend!
Thinking of you all!

Friday, July 16, 2010


Remember that spectacular view from the house that I wrote about in one of my first entries? Well, another rainy day has fogged it out completely! What a day. I literally can’t see past my deck!! I have a few errands to run and am psyching myself up to head out on the town.

Had a fun evening last night. Was invited to a sale at a store called Kowtow. Kowtow a Chinese term meaning the act of deep respect demonstrated by kneeling and bowing your head to touch the ground; a perfect name for this company. Run by a couple of artists (she’s a fashion designer, he’s a graphic artist), their main philosophy is to only use fair trade, organic materials and practices. Kowtow has done so well that they just recently moved to a larger studio and last night they hosted a cocktail party in their store and offered great discounts on their stuff. They also had photos of their recent trip to India where they visited the cotton factories and met some of the workers. An amazing pair with an inspiring philosophy. Plus, their stuff is a-may-zing!! Comfy, flattering cuts, and ethical. How could you go wrong? ☺

The rest of the weekend will be spent running last minute errands and getting stuff together for Pete’s arrival next week – woohoo!!

Now, if I can just get up the motivation to take on Mother Nature’s crabby mood...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My first visitors

What a special couple of days it’s been!! I had the pleasure of Chris and Elena’s company for the past two days and it’s been a blast! They arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed on Monday morning to a spectacular day of sunshine. It was so beautiful out one would think I’ve been lying about the crummy weather I have been putting up with!
We cruised into town and explored a few shops before enjoying a yummy meal at my favourite cafĂ© – Ernestos (remember stellar coffee, free range eggs, and local meats… Yummm!)

After that we visited Te Papa – NZ’s National museum where we spent hours learning about their native wildlife, traditional Maori paperskin mask making, the signing of the Waitangi Treaty, and the deep cultural and spiritual significance of New Zealand’s Pounamou (greenstone). What a place! The entire museum is free and it’s full of amazing stories and exhibitions. I am definitely going to go back, hopefully with each and every one of you ;)

The evening was spent cooking dinner and catching up. Poor C+E spent the evening huddled by the heater. That 35 degree weather back in T.O. has meant a little acclimatizing is required over here! A good night’s sleep and they were up and at ‘em again. Sadly, I had to work but they both had exciting days exploring the city; Elena visiting the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, Chris running 45k along the city trails and covering more ground than I’ve managed in a month! Crazy brother of mine…

After work, I went and met them at a restaurant called Chow – an Asian Fusion resto in downtown Welli. Super yummy and the company wasn’t bad either!
As I write this they are now headed Southbound on the Inter Islander ferry where they will spend the next week and a half exploring the South Island. I was half tempted to sneak myself into their suitcase but alas, I have responsibilities that I must attend to here…

I’m really looking forward to their return next week when we will take four days off and explore the North Island together. And (most importantly), Pete will be here by then!!! It will be fun gallivanting through the New Zealand wilderness with some of my favourite people!! Life is good.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

On a less serious note.

Ok, so my last entry was kind of heavy on the conservation tone. Today, I bring you a little entertainment. Having been here for a month now, I have started to catch a bit of kiwi fever!

I have a tendency to pick up dialects pretty easily. It’s not something I’m necessarily proud of but it’s a habit that I can’t seem to shake. I have spent a good part of several conversations comparing Canadian and Kiwi terminologies for various things. For instance, we wear toques in the winter while New Zealanders wear beanies. To me, a beanie was a cap with little helicopter blades whizzing around on top of it. I thought it was the kind of thing a clown wears. Clearly, I was wrong!

A few more to tantalize your linguistic tastebuds:

Sweet as: “cool” or “awesome”

How you going?: How are you?

Choice: Very good

Chips: French fries

Crisps: Chips

Fancy: Have a hankering for

Good on ya: Congrats, well done

Jumper: a woolly sweater (not a onesie, apparently!)

Many of these are clearly a nod to their UK influence, but others are unique to this part of the world and clearly reflect the laid-back lifestyle of this culture. The most common term I’ve heard to date, and this one I tend to use a lot myself, is “no worries”. You’re running late? No worries. You hit my car? No worries. You’ve run away and joined a cult? No worries! It’s quite impressive how little phases them! At home I’m constantly hearing about instances of severe road rage, and annoying residents making stinks about off-lead dog parks, and noisy kids who play too loudly in the streets. I realize that I’m generalizing here but you get the drift.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE Toronto and all its quirks. I’m proud to say that I live in one of the most multicultural cities in the world. But Windy Wellington has been a nice change from the high-paced, urban jungle that I call home. From the T dot to the Double Ewe. Sorry for the “punny” joke but I just had to throw it in there ;-)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The smallest dolphins in the world

Just like Canada’s majestic polar bear, the soaring hawk, or the graceful caribou, New Zealand has its own national treasure – the Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins. Nowhere else in the world will you find these beautiful marine mammals. The dolphins are among the world’s smallest cetaceans, easily recognised by their distinctive dorsal fin shaped like a Mickey Mouse ear (no, I did not come up with that analogy!). They are extremely playful and acrobatic. Hector’s dolphins are found around New Zealand’s South Island. One of its subspecies, the Maui’s dolphins, are only found in shallow coastal waters along the North Island’s western shores.

Today, I had the pleasure of meeting with WWF’s program manager for Maui’s dolphins. She's based in Auckland but is in Wellington this week for a marine sciences conference and took time out of her day to meet with me for lunch. The facts around Maui dolphins are staggering. Over the past thirty years, the population of these beautiful animals has declined by over 80%! Today their entire population is estimated at just 111 individuals putting them on the very edge of extinction. As a result, Maui’s dolphins are classified as the rarest marine cetacean in the world.

And Hector’s dolphins aren’t doing much better. Scientists estimate that more than 26,000 Hector’s dolphins lived around New Zealand’s shores in the 1970s. Today, it is thought that just 7,270 remain – less than one-third of the 1970s’ population.

So what’s causing this rapid decline? According to my fellow WWF’ers and marine specialists, the biggest threats are set net and bottom trawl fishing. These are fishing practices commonly used here in New Zealand that result in massive fish wastage, bycatch of unwanted fish species, as well as lost or abandoned nets which continue to fish, and, on occasion, catch seabirds or other marine mammals (including dolphins). A 2008 report by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) estimates that 110 to 150 Hector's and Maui's dolphins die in commercial set nets every year. Given that their populations are already sitting on extinction’s doorstep, these statistics are incredibly frightening.

The sad news is that these problems can usually be avoided. The catch and bycatch of set nets are determined mainly by the design and construction (particularly the mesh size) of the net, how it is set, and where it is set.

So what needs to happen? People need to start talking and working together. There’s a great group over here called Southern Seabird Solutions. They are “an innovative alliance that includes representatives from the fishing industry, government, Maori organisations and environmental groups that supports and encourages fishers in southern ocean fleets to adopt responsible fishing practices”. They have successfully reached sustainable fishing and management solutions in specific areas throughout the New Zealand marine ecoregion. With WWF’s help as well as active participation from the Department of Conservation and local fishing communities, there is still hope for these beautiful animals.

It’s because of us that they are on the brink of extinction. Now it’s time for us to fix our mistake. Hopefully, it’s not too late.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Who are New Zealanders?

Who are New Zealanders? That was the question of the day and when I met with our market research agency, it was the topic of their presentation. It was interesting to note that of the four of us in the room, only one was an actual kiwi! The other three were from France, Canada (me - obviously), and Australia, so there was some interesting insight that came out of the discussions.

The main message that was conveyed through their presentation is that New Zealanders are incredibly proud of their country. According to a poll run by the Gallup Organisation, they are ranked the 8th happiest country in the world. And so they should be. These little islands tucked away in the Southern Hemisphere have much to be proud of. If you don’t believe me, check out my previous blog postings!

While they may not always practice what they preach (environmentally speaking), they are often heard talking up their “greenness”, particularly to outsiders. Sadly, New Zealand was actually listed in the top ten least sustainable countries according to the 2009 Living Planet Report - WWF’s premiere publication on the state of the planet. That being said, much of this is not to be laid on the shoulders of individual kiwis but rather on their industry practices and governmental leadership (or lack thereof) in terms of environmental policy and accountability.

From what I’ve noticed, kiwis are generally friendly, outgoing, and pretty laid back. There is actually a book (that I have yet to read but have taken out of the library) called 8 Tribes. This book “calls an end to the myth of the typical New Zealander and gives us a new vocabulary to talk about New Zealand in the twenty first Century. While at first glance, it seems a bit too top-line for my liking, the online quiz is fun and it gives a good overview of each tribe. Plus, it’s interesting to see where you end up. Besides, who doesn’t like a little procrastination from work? Find out what kiwi tribe you belong to:

Friday, July 2, 2010

A sunny day makes up for two weeks of downpour!

What a glorious day! Woke up to sunshine beaming through my windows - a much appreciated change from the constant soggy rain and chilly wind. Grabbed my sunglasses and my camera and headed downtown for a walk along the waterfront. Some pics below. Popped into a cafe by the sailing club to enjoy a yummy coffee then off to run some errands.

Had a great time last night exploring a couple of bars. Went to an amazing Italian restaurant with my coworker and her friends. They make the pasta and pizza from scratch! YUM! I can't wait to take you there when you come visit. Yes - the use of the word "you" here applies to YOU! ;D
We then we went and saw a few bands perform at a bar called Happy. Now, how can you not enjoy yourself at a place called HAPPY?! Actually, the music wasn't all that great but I still had a good time!

Made it home in time to watch Djokovic choke in the Wimbledon semi-final. :( Too bad. It should be an interesting final though. Fingers crossed this is Nadal's year!

Over and out.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

NZ's underwater world.

Had another interesting meeting today! Met with our marine team and learned all about the initiatives they are currently working on as well as the plans for this coming year.

Just like their terrestrial landscape, New Zealand has a unique and particularly rich marine flora and fauna. There are roughly 65,000 known and unknown species and the level of endemism, at 44%, is particularly high, making the New Zealand marine region a hot spot of marine diversity worldwide.

Several ocean currents collide near the southern tip of the South Island of New Zealand as cold water from Antarctica mixes with temperate water from the western Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea. These conditions enable a diverse variety of species. Some penguins (yellow-eyed) nest in the rain forest here, and (as I mentioned in my previous posting) it is the richest area for seabirds in the world! Because of all this the Australasian marine ecoregion is on WWF-International’s Global 200 list. This is a science-based global ranking of the Earth’s most biologically outstanding terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitats and provides a blueprint for biodiversity conservation at a global scale. These regions have essentially been identified to ensure that WWF’s conservation efforts around the world contribute to a global biodiversity strategy.

Gotta cut this one short but hope you enjoyed it!