Our Changing World

Thursday 29 January 2015, with Alison Ballance, Ruth Beran & Veronika Meduna

On This Programme

Kiwi-safe Dogs

By Lisa Thompson

"The best way to keep dogs away from kiwis is actually to keep them away from kiwis.  On a lead is great because you know where he is; on the end of your arm."  Department of Conservation ranger and kiwi dog aversion trainer Karl Fisher

Department of Conservation Ranger Karl Fisher with his stuffed training kiwi Roger.  Roger, an adult Project Kiwi male, was hit by a car in 2013.  He sits on a tray of freshly scented kiwi litter, which had been gathered from another Kuaotunu kiwi currently being raised by Kiwi Encounter in Rotorua.

Department of Conservation Ranger Karl Fisher with his training kiwi Roger. Roger, an adult Project Kiwi male, was hit by a car in 2013. He sits on a tray of freshly scented kiwi litter, which had been gathered from another Kuaotunu kiwi currently being raised by Kiwi Encounter in Rotorua.

Photo: RNZ / Lisa Thompson

Project Kiwi Trust is a kiwi conservation initiative saving North Island brown kiwi in one of its last strongholds on the Kuaotunu Peninsula, on the Coromandel's east coast.

For Paula Williams, a manager of the trust, summer-time on the peninsula means vigilance. The trust looks after about 600 kiwi spread across 2,800 hectares of private and conservation-controlled land. Most of the year, the Thames-Coromandel District population is about 27,500 residents but in the peak summer season this number swells to upwards of 100,000 as holidaymakers flock to the area, many bringing their pet dogs.

Kuaotunu resident Leanne Quest and her rescue dog Louis after they completed the aversion training.

Kuaotunu resident Leanne Quest and her rescue dog Louis after they completed the aversion training.

Photo: RNZ / Lisa Thompson

On the Coromandel Peninsula, stoat trapping has been so successful, that dogs now pose the biggest danger to wild kiwi. “Kiwi do not have a breastplate, so even for a fox terrier to grab a kiwi and give it one shake is enough to kill it,” says Paula. “When we lose our adult kiwi the loss is huge because of what they can potentially contribute in terms of reproduction to the population, but also because it may take the remaining adult of a pair quite some time to establish another pair.”

In an effort to protect its kiwi stronghold on the peninsula, Paula and the Project Kiwi team recently challenged the local community to change its thinking around dog ownership via a call to action on the trust’s Facebook page. “If our resident dog owners were to become our greatest kiwi conservation advocates, a large part of the battle for survival would have been won.”

Not only are residents being encouraged to keep their dogs on leads and muzzle them if going into the bush, they’re also being urged to take part in kiwi avoidance training. “If we can recruit our locals then they can recruit their friends who holiday with them over the summer,” says Paula. “And it is that change in psyche that we need.”

And it seems the call is being heeded. In January 41 dogs received free training from Department of Conservation ranger Karl Fisher, with many coming from the local Kuaotunu area.

Set up throughout New Zealand about six years ago, aversion training is helping to reduce the threat dogs pose to wild kiwi with the aid of an electric collar. If a dog shows interest and goes within half its body length of a stuffed scented kiwi planted in nearby bush, Karl will issue a short shock to the dog via a remote controller.

“I don’t want to do it, but I have to,” says Karl. “The dog has to learn that kiwis bite and they quickly learn that kiwis are something to stay away from.“

Sheila and Chris Westley, pictured in the middle with their dog Missy who has undergone the aversion training, keep a clear sign at the entrance to their property. On the right, Coromandel holidaymaker Adele Anderson takes her Ridgeback dog Rocky through the training.

Sheila and Chris Westley, pictured in the middle with their dog Missy who has undergone the aversion training, keep a clear sign at the entrance to their property. On the right, Coromandel holidaymaker Adele Anderson takes her Ridgeback dog Rocky through the training.

Photo: RNZ / Lisa Thompson

“There’s no pass or fail, it’s just constant training and reinforcing. We have dogs that we’re interested in and want to see again and again and again and then there are some super dogs that get it straight away.”

However, owners are asked to bring their dogs back for a refresher course in 12 months, in order to cement the training. “People say it’s cruel but it’s not,” says Karl. “A dog doesn’t need much time or effort to kill a kiwi. Unfortunately, the effort in us protecting that kiwi is far greater. So all I ask is that you keep your dog on a lead and under control at all times.”


A Joint Effort To Look After Arthritic Joints

By Alison Ballance

“It’s wonderful as a clinical researcher to see the fruits of your research translated into practise. That’s the most wonderful thing – and unfortunately it’s kind of rare in clinical research.” Haxby Abbott, Department of Surgical Sciences, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago.

Skeleton showing how osteoarthritis can occur in a number of joints. Mobility can be impaired when it occurs in the hips, knees and ankles.

Osteoarthritis can occur in a number of joints, and mobility can be impaired when it occurs in the hips, knees and ankles.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Milorad Dimic MD CC BY-SA 3.0

Haxby Abbott is a physiotherapist interested in managing musculoskeletal conditions, such as osteoarthritis, through exercise and manual therapy rather than drugs or surgery. In mid-2012 his research led to the creation of the Joint Clinic at Dunedin Hospital.

“We set up the Joint Clinic, which is a multi-way pun,” says Haxby. “Hip and knee joints. Also a joint effort between physiotherapy and orthopaedic surgeons, and a joint effort between the University of Otago and the District Health Board.”

The Joint Clinic began when then-GP Liaison Officer for Dunedin Hospital, Anne Worsnop, heard Haxby give a seminar about the MOA or Management of Osteoarthritis Trial. In the MOA trial 206 participants were divided into four groups: usual GP care plus exercise therapy, usual GP care plus manual therapy, usual care plus manual and exercise therapy, and just usual care. The patients were followed up over five years.

“The results have been very good, and both exercise therapy and manual therapy provided significant benefit over and above usual care from a GP,” says Haxby. “Manual therapy had a stronger effect for both the economic evaluation, as well as the clinical pain and dysfunction measures. Exercise therapy had a stronger effect in terms of the physical performance measures, so the patient’s ability to get up from a chair, walk quickly across the room, turn around and walk back again, to step up and down stairs – those physical strength and agility and performance measures were stronger in the exercise therapy group. And, interestingly, quality adjusted life years.”

The MOA trial led to another trial, carried out in both the United States and New Zealand, which looked further at the effect of combined manual and exercise therapy. The results from the New Zealand participants showed a clear benefit, and it was this, along with a strong economic evaluation of the effectiveness of the two therapies in managing osteoarthritis, that led to the creation of the Joint. Clinic.

What Anne Warsnop had identified was a gap in available treatment at Dunedin Hospital. Patients with severe hip and knee osteoarthritis were being sent to the hospital by their GPs to be assessed for possible joint replacement surgery. However, a lack of orthopaedic consultations meant 40% of these people were being sent back to their GP without seeing an orthopaedic surgeon.

Now, these patients are referred to the Joint Clinic, where they are assessed by an orthopaedic nurse and a physiotherapist who take a ‘whole of life’ approach. Medications and diet are reviewed, aids such as walking sticks supplied as necessary, and then the patient is referred to the physiotherapy department at the hospital for a course of exercise and manual therapy. After 8 weeks of this the patients are sent back to their GP, but with an ongoing exercise prescription. If necessary, the Joint Clinic staff can refer people on to an orthopaedic surgeon.

Haxby Abbott is currently reviewing the effectiveness of the Joint Clinic, but patient Sybil Kirkwood is more than happy with the results. Her osteoarthritis was making it difficult to maintain her fitness following a triple heart bypass, and it was also preventing her from playing her favourite sport, lawn bowls. The Joint Clinic provided her a stick to help her balance, and the exercise class has helped with her balance, coordination and strength. Sybil says the main thing is that she is now more confident about walking, and she’s looking forward to getting back to playing bowls.

In 2014 Haxby Abbott was co-recipient of the University of Otago’s Carl Smith Medal and Rowheath Trust Award. In 2012 he received a University of Otago Early-Career Award for Distinction in Research.


Crossing Planetary Boundaries

by Veronika Meduna

‘We’ve now become a biogeophysical planetary force. Human beings, our economies, our technologies, are driving all sorts of changes to what we call the Earth system. We are becoming future eaters, weather makers, biodiversity destroyers, how ever you want to put it, we’ve become a planetary force.’ _Will Steffen

An international team of scientists has issued a warning that human activity is pushing Earth into critical mode. Earlier this month, the team published research that shows that we have now transgressed four out of nine planetary boundaries, and that most of the damage occurred since the 1950s, in step with global economic growth.

Lead author Will Steffen, at the Australian National University and the Stockholm Resilience Center at Stockholm University, says we have about five years left to make policy decisions to stabilise conditions and to keep Earth hospitable.

 This diagram defining planetary boundaries for human activities shows the areas of caution in yellow and those of greatest risk in red.

This diagram defining planetary boundaries for human activities uses a traffic light analogy to illustrate increasing risk.

Photo: Stockholm Resilience Centre

The loss of biological diversity, fertiliser use, climate change and land use have now all gone beyond a point of "safe operating", says Will Steffen, increasing the risk of disrupting complex interactions between the land, ocean, atmosphere and people.

The definition of planetary boundaries is based on nine processes that together describe how the Earth functions. As a baseline, the team uses the conditions Earth has been experiencing during the Holocene, a geological period that spans roughly the last 12,000 years. “This has been an unusually stable period and the only period during which humans have been able to develop agriculture, cities and civilisations,” says Will Steffen.

Modern humans emerged about 250,000 years ago, but is was only about 10,000 ago that we developed agriculture after the world came out of the last ice age into a relatively warm period. “The Holocene is the only state of the Earth system that we know for certain can support modern human societies, so that’s our baseline. What we do is we take those nine processes and assess them against the Holocene conditions, and then we see how far we can push them before we get out of the Holocene envelope of variability.”

Research shows that some of these processes, climate change for example, have thresholds, or tipping points when the Earth system flips. Will Steffen says the planetary boundaries were defined upstream of any thresholds “to give us time to react when early warning sign are observed”.

The latest boundary we have transgressed is land use, or the amount of forest lost. In two of the other three crossed boundaries - climate change, biodiversity loss and nitrogen/phosphorous pollution - the team says we have now entered the red zone.

One is what the team calls biosphere integrity, or the ability of the living part of the planet to provide the services we need. Will Steffen says one component of this is "functioning", which provides all sorts of services from the pollination of crops to the replenishment of soils.

'The other is the longer-term genetic information bank that allows the biosphere to adapt to long-term change, to cope with abrupt change and to evolve as the geophysical part of the planet changes. We think that we’re losing that capability at a much faster rate than we should be. The extinction rates are today a hundred or even a thousand times more than the background rate, and the science tells us that’s too high.'

The other red-zone boundary is the cycling of nitrogen and phosphorous, associated with fertiliser use. “This is concentrated in four major zones around the Earth, in big areas of intensive agriculture in the central US and Canada, in western Europe, in northern India and northern China – and in all of these the application rate is far too high and leading to local environmental problems … but also planetary-scale implications.”

Climate change, says Will Steffen, is still in the yellow zone, but because changes in climate affect all other planetary processes, it has been declared as a core boundary, together with biosphere integrity.

In another publication, the team shows that most of the damage through human activity has occurred since the 1950s, supporting arguments that we are living in the Anthropocene, a geological period which will be viewed as one largely influence and shaped by our impact.

There are two sets of graphs, one looking at how humanity has developed over the last 260 years since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and the other at how the Earth system has changed.

This graphic illustrates how human activities and environmental impacts have changed since the 1950s.

This graphic illustrates how human activities and environmental impacts have changed since the 1950s.

Photo: International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme/Steffen et al. 2015/F. Pharand-Deschênes/Globaia

Will Steffen says that the data show clearly that human activity didn’t increase much initially, until about 1950. “But then you see an explosion of the human enterprise. All of those indicators shoot up at a quite remarkable rate, so we’ve given the nickname to this post-1950 period as the great acceleration.”

On the right side of the diagram, 12 indicators track the functioning of the Earth. “Here you see that many of these are shooting up, moving in lock step with the human indicators."

'This to me is the most convincing evidence that we have indeed entered the Anthropocene, because when you look at those Earth system indicators, they are virtually all outside of the bounds of variability that we see over the last 12,000 years in the Holocene. It has all happened within one lifetime.'

Will Steffen says while it’s impossible to reverse the trend completely, the goal has to be to stabilise the Earth in a Holocene-like state. “There is a chance, although the door is closing. We’ve got about five more years to make the right investment decisions … to stir us on a trajectory that will deliver a stabilised climate system by mid-century, but the decisions to achieve that have to be made in the next five years.”


Wellington's Little Penguins

By Alison Ballance

“We discovered that nest boxes made the little penguins feel better. More comfortable, more secure. And they took to them quite easily. In the study area, which is 170 nests, 158 of those are in boxes, and only 12 are natural nests.” - Little penguin volunteer researcher Mike Rumble on Matiu-Somes Island.

Ali Hull holds a juvenile little penguin which has just begun to produce its first adult feathers, on the top of its head.

Ali Hull holds a juvenile little penguin which has just begun to produce its first adult feathers, on the top of its head.

Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

In 2007, ornithologist Reg Cotter and seabird expert Graeme Taylor, from the Department of Conservation, began a small study of little penguins – or little blue penguins, as they are often known – on Matiu Somes Island, in Wellington Harbour.

They were investigating the possible effects of flipper bands on the health and breeding success of little penguins, as research on other penguin species was suggesting that drag from the flipper bands was an issue. To make the work easier the team of volunteers, which included Mike Rumble and Ros Batchelor, began to put out nest boxes for the penguins to use. These provided a secure, dry nest site, with a long tunnel that prevented predatory black-backed gulls reaching the chicks, and with an opening lid it was easy for researchers to get birds in and out for weighting, measuring and marking. The boxes also provided an ideal site for the penguins to moult – they undergo a catastrophic moult, losing all their feathers in January and February, and they require a dark quiet spot for a few weeks while their new feathers grow.

Stage one of the little penguin study showed that flipper bands were not having any negative impact on the birds on Matiu Somes. During stage two, the team added to the number of nest boxes on the island – there are now more than 350 – and continued to band birds, using tiny web tags that are attached to the web on one foot. The study has now come to an end, but the team believe it would make a great site for future research, as the birds and the nest boxes are all marked, and their breeding histories are well-known.

Little penguins on Matiu Somes Island lay their clutches of eggs - usually two - between early July and late November. Eggs are incubated for a month, and chicks take nearly two months to fledge.

Little penguins on Matiu Somes Island lay their clutches of eggs - usually two - between early July and late November. Eggs are incubated for a month, and chicks take nearly two months to fledge.

Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

Geoff de Lisle holds an adult little penguin.

Geoff de Lisle holds an adult little penguin.

Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

The study has shown that the population of little penguins on predator-free Matiu Somes Island is thriving, with about 1.5 chicks produced per nest box per year; more than 90% of those fledge successfully. The population is growing – the team found 360 birds in the first year of their study in 2007, and by 2011 this had increased to 590 birds.

Research on the foraging behaviour of Matiu Somes Island’s little penguins by University of Auckland student JingJing Zhao produced some interesting results. She attached GPS locators to eight birds. Those from the eastern side of the island foraged along the Eastbourne coast, while those from the west foraged alongside the Hutt Road and in Evans bay. Several birds swam out of the harbour to forage near the mouth of the Wainuiomata and Orongorongo rivers. Ros Batchelor noted that those that had the furthest to swim left the earliest, and returned the latest, while those with a short foraging commute tended to sleep in.

“They’re very, very good swimmers,” says Ros.” We’ve had a very limited number of recoveries of birds we’ve marked on this island, and one was found in Hawke’s Bay and one was found in the Marlborough Sounds. The shape of their body is like a torpedo, and their flippers – which are really strong – just propel them through the water.”

Alison Ballance recorded a story in 2010 with Reg Cotter and Graeme Taylor about the early days of the little penguin study on Matiu Somes Island.

Little penguins on Matiu Somes Island have been banded with tiny web tags, on their feet. More than 300 nest boxes have been placed around the island and are well used.

Little penguins on Matiu Somes Island have been banded with tiny web tags, on their feet. More than 300 nest boxes have been placed around the island and are well used.

Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

Listen to the story about little penguins on Matiu-Somes Island or download a podcast below:


Saving Antarctic Heritage

Captain Scott's hut at Cape Evans is one of three historic buildings to be restored by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Captain Scott's hut at Cape Evans is one of three historic buildings to be restored by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Photo: Alasdair Turner Photography

by Veronika Meduna and Alison Ballance

This summer, the Antarctic Heritage Trust completed an ambitious 10-year project to conserve three historic huts and thousands of artefacts used by Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton during their Antarctic expeditions a century ago.

The project involved 62 specialist conservators from 11 countries, working year-round in an unprecedented effort to protect the huts and 18,202 individual artefacts left behind by the heroic-era explorers and their men.

Candles at Shackleton's huut at Cape Royds.

Candles at Shackleton's huut at Cape Royds.

Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

The prefabricated huts built to accommodate the early-20th-century expeditions have weathered massive storms and harsh conditions and, although their decay was slowed by Antarctica’s dry air, there was growing concern about their future as snow and ice encroached on the buildings.

Our Changing World has followed this project from the beginning. In 2006, Veronika Meduna joined the trust's project manager Al Fastier and conservator Rob Clendon during the restoration of Shackleton’s hut, built at Cape Royds for his 1908 expedition aboard the Nimrod.

Shackelton took ponies and dogs to Antarctica, and his goal was the South Pole, but he famously turned his men around about 100km short of his target when he realised that food rations were running low and they would be unlikely to make the return journey. 

Images from inside Shackleton's hut at Cape Royds.

Images from inside Shackleton's hut at Cape Royds.

Photo: RNZ / Veronika Meduna

The restoration project involved repair work, recladding of the roof and the meticulous conservation of many artefacts, including food supplies and equipment. In this feature, you can join the team working in the hut as well as in a purpose-built mobile conservation laboratory.

Restoring Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royds ( 12 min 14 sec )

At Captain Scott's hut at Cape Evans, Veronika sees first-hand the amount of effort conservators put into the restoration project.

Before the restoration project began, Captain Scott's hut at Cape Evans was exposed to snow drift, which pushed ice underneath the building.

Before the restoration project began, Captain Scott's hut at Cape Evans was exposed to snow drift, which pushed ice underneath the building.

Photo: RNZ / Veronika Meduna

Captain Lawrence 'Titus' Oates - best known for his last words 'I am just going outside and may be some time' - used this bunk in the hut at Cape Evans.

Captain Lawrence 'Titus' Oates - best known for his last words 'I am just going outside and may be some time' - used this bunk in the hut at Cape Evans.

Photo: RNZ / Veronika Meduna

The main problem at this site was snow drift, which almost buried the hut and pushed snow and ice under it. The team used electric blankets to help them lift the lino and floorboards so that the ice beneath the hut could be removed. Each tack that had held down the lino was number coded so that it would eventually be returned in its original position.

Restoring Scott's Hut at Cape Evans ( 12 min 53 sec )

Alison Ballance visited Shackelton’s Hut at Cape Royds in the summer of 2010-11, when the Antarctic Heritage Trust was nearing the end of its multi-year effort to restore the 1908 hut and its contents.

Restoring Shackleton's Hut in Antarctica ( 13 min 14 sec )

Images from inside Captain Scott's hut at Cape Evans.

Images from inside Captain Scott's hut at Cape Evans.

Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

During the conservation work, some spectacular discoveries have been made, most famously some crates of Scotch whisky and brandy at Shackleton’s historic base, unseen photographs and a notebook from Scott’s historic hut at Cape Evans. The trust will now begin conservation work on the first building on the Antarctic continent at Cape Adare and, if funding can be secured, the original building, built for the Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1955-58, at New Zealand’s Scott Base.

Coming Up - Thursday 5 February

We're heading south: Alison Ballance joins an expedition to Antipodes Islands and Veronika Meduna finds out about whale research in the Southern Ocean.