Our Changing World

Thursday 23 April 2015, with Alison Ballance, Ruth Beran & Veronika Meduna

On This Programme

Pateke - New Homes for a Rare Duck

By Alison Ballance

A family of pateke swimming on a specially created pond planted around the edges with shelter plants, and a shelter created in the middle of the pond to provide cover from harrier hawks that will predate pateke chicks.

A family of pateke swimming on a specially created pond planted around the edges with shelter plants, and a shelter created in the middle of the pond to provide cover from harrier hawks that will predate pateke chicks.

Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

George Wilson standing amongst mercer grass and some new wetland plantings at a recently-dug pateke pond. The rushes and other plantings will eventually shade out the grass.

George Wilson standing amongst mercer grass and some new wetland plantings at a recently-dug pateke pond. The rushes and other plantings will eventually shade out the grass.

Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

“Pateke used to be really widespread on mainland New Zealand – by around the year 2000 they went down to about 700 individuals, and they were categorised as Nationally Endangered”, says the Department of Conservation's George Wilson.

Fifteen years later, an intensive captive breeding programme, targeted cat trapping in key habitats and the creation of new wetland habitat has seen pateke, or brown teal, numbers climb to about 2500 birds nationally, with most of them occurring on Great Barrier Island or in Northland, east of Whangarei. They are now classified as recovering.

“Intensive predator control seems to be a factor in halting the rate of decline here in [Okiwi] basin,” says George. “Numbers seem to have stabilised and to be increasing slightly.”

An intensive study on Great Barrier Island in the early 2000s, using radio-tracking to follow the birds, not only identified predation by feral cats as a major cause of adult deaths, but it highlighted the problem that many young pateke were finding it difficult to get enough food in dry summers, when the ground is very hard. To solve this, the Department of Conservation have been creating a series of little wetlands on Okiwi Station, which the Department bought from Landcorp about 15 years ago specifically because it was a known pateke hotspot. By damming naturally wet areas on the farm, and then replanting native wetland plant species, DoC is slowly constructing a network of breeding ponds and nearby feeding areas. The planting has been carried out with the help of students from Hillcrest College and Otumoetai College.

Although once a forest duck, pateke have adapted well to farmland, and George says that at night the pastures of Okiwi Station – which are still grazed by cattle – are covered in pairs of ducks foraging in the short grass.

Pateke breed in winter, and pairs are quite territorial, which is why it is better to build a number of small breeding ponds rather than one large one. George says they are experimenting as they go, to find out how close together they can put the wetlands – and how many breeding pairs they can fit in.

In late summer and early winter pateke gather together in large flocks, prior to dispersing for the breeding season.

In late summer and early winter pateke gather together in large flocks, prior to dispersing for the breeding season.

Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

In late summer and autumn pateke gather in roosting areas, in large flocks. Whangapoua estuary on the edge of the Okiwi basin is home to the island’s largest pateke roost site. At low tide the birds come out to forage on the mudflats, searching for marine invertebrates.

Craig Mabey from the Department of Conservation has been running a predator-trapping programme for 15 years, focusing mainly on feral cats. He used to catch about 120 feral cats a year on Okiwi Station, and now that he traps mainly in winter, during the pateke breeding season, he is still catching about 70 cats a year.

Pateke occur all over Great Barrier Island, but in some other catchments, such as the Awana, the birds are not doing so well, probably because of the lack of predator-control.


A family of pateke foraging along the water's edge on Whangapoua Beach at dusk.

Pateke in the Okiwi basin on Great Barrier Island spend quite a lot of time foraging for marine invertebrates on nearby Whangapoua Beach and on the estuary's mudflats at low tide.

Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

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Treating Tendon Injury with a Laser

Anyone who has had an Achilles tendon injury knows how painful it is.

And the treatment - a twice-daily exercise programme which lasts for 3 months – seems to be just as much as a nuisance, with many sufferers failing to complete it. But new research has convinced a once sceptical physiotherapist that less exercise combined with laser treatment is an exciting, and more effective, alternative.

“It was only really by accident that I got into the laser research, and I’m sort of converted with regards to musculoskeletal problems anyway,” says Dr Steve Tumilty from the University of Otago. “Saying that I would never use it as a standalone treatment, and I don’t think any physio worth his salt would ever use the laser as a standalone treatment.”

Steve, who is the Associate Dean of Postgraduate Studies at the School of Physiotherapy has found a statistically significant improvement of anywhere between 10 and 15 point difference in the scores on a 100 point scale, when using the laser in addition to exercise.

A photo of Steve Tumilty uses a laser on Angela Spontelli Gisselman's tendon. They are both wearing glasses for safety reasons.

Steve Tumilty uses a laser on Angela Spontelli Gisselman's tendon. They are both wearing glasses for safety reasons.

Photo: RNZ / Ruth Beran

Currently, the gold standard treatment for Achilles tendon strains, or tendinopathy, is eccentric exercises.

Eccentric exercises work by shortening the muscle, then putting a load on it, and then lengthening the muscle through the load. So for example, standing up on tippy toes while lifting weight, then lowering the foot on the injured side back down again. There is some pain associated with the exercise but this is to be expected.

“The cells respond to the mechanical load you put on them, and they produce proteins and enzymes to help rebuild the tendon and improve its tensile strength,” says Steve.

The current recommended treatment requires people to do these eccentric exercises twice a day, seven days a week, for 12 weeks.

“When I first read that all those years ago, I thought I’m never going to get Kiwis to do that. And that’s basically what my research has shown over the past few years, when you look at compliance with the exercise regime very few will put up with that,” says Steve. “It’s quite awkward to be able to get to a gym just for ten or 15 minutes just to do these exercises.”

Steve has been trialling the use of a near infrared laser, before participants do these exercises. The laser is used to irradiate the tendon on three sides, the back, inside and outside of the tendon. The probe is run 10cm down the side of the tendon for a minute on each side. The laser is not strong enough to burn, it just creates some gentle heating.

"It's very mild heat, no pain, nothing," says Angela Spontelli Gisselman as she experiences the laser treatment. "Just a little bit of heat."

According to Steve, the laser enhances the exercises because the mitochondria in the cells absorb energy from the laser, prompting greater metabolism from cells. This leads to greater collagen production for the fibres of the tendon. It also gives a general boost to the immune system.

The laser in Steve’s clinic is applied for two sessions a week for four weeks, but the eccentric exercises would continue for at least another eight weeks.

In Steve’s recent trial he had four groups: two groups that compared the laser against placebo laser with eccentric exercise twice a week, and two groups that compared the laser against placebo laser with exercises conducted twice a day, seven days a week, for 12 weeks.

In terms of compliance to the exercise regime, Steve found that those who exercised twice a week had 100% compliance, but for those who did it twice a day, seven days a week compliance was only 55% or 65% of the required sessions depending on the group.

For those groups that received the laser, Steve found anywhere between 10 and 15 point improvement in the scores on a 100 point scale compared to the group that got the placebo.

“The group that had the combination of twice a week exercises plus laser the average score of that group, we’re talking about 20 people in each group, was 98.95. So almost a perfect score,” says Steve.

Also, the number of people in that group that did get a perfect score was much higher than the other group.

“As far as this trial is concerned, two major things came out of it, twice a week is just as good if not a little bit better than twice a day. And if you wanted to add laser to it, you can enhance the process even more,” says Steve.

However, finding a physiotherapist who uses laser treatment for people with tendinopathy might be difficult. Lasers are unfashionable in the profession, and the benefits, such as two weeks quicker recovery time, may not be justified given that a machine costs US$30,000.

However, Steve wonders why the professional sports teams aren’t using laser treatment. “Because those guys need to get the guy back on the field in a week,” he says.


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Peat, Pumice and Archaeological Mysteries

By Alison Ballance

Archaeologist Bruce McFadgen hopes that peat being dug up during large-scale road works will provide key pieces to the puzzle of historic Maori occupation along the Kapiti Coast – but so far all the peat has revealed is a new puzzle, in the form of a thick layer of pumice, which may – or may not – be evidence of a tsunami.

Archaeologist Bruce McFadgen with some of the pumice found in a thick layer in peat on the Kapiti Coast, which varies in size from 2 mm to 30 cm.

Archaeologist Bruce McFadgen with some of the pumice found in a thick layer in peat on the Kapiti Coast, which varies in size from 2 mm to 30 cm.

Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

Tsunamis are devilish difficult things to identify. We can have events that we know happened, yet they leave virtually no signature at all.

“Maori occupied [the Kapiti] coast and in the early period their settlements were very close to the sea,” says Bruce. “They were small hamlets with the odd house, flaking floor, shell midden, ovens, that sort of thing, where people had lived for a reasonable time. But in the later period that coastal occupation seems to have been abandoned and they settled along the rivers. So something was going on about 4-500 years ago that we would dearly like to know more about.”

Peat forms from partly decayed wetland vegetation that accumulates in wet, low oxygen conditions.

“Peat is a record of things like vegetation change,” says Bruce. “Sand dune movements, for example if sand has blown inland and got into the peat then we can see that. It may give us information about tsunamis … and uplift and subsidence, and what’s been going on seismically up and down that coast.”

Bruce McFadgen is an Honorary Research Associate in the School of Maori Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. His interest in the peat being exposed during the construction of the MacKays to Peka Peka highway on the Kapiti Coast follows a lifetime of archaeological research up and down the nearby coast. During that time he’s been collecting pieces of information that variously suggest that subsidence of the ground, or conversely uplift of the land, or the build-up of sand dunes might have been responsible for changing patterns of vegetation and Maori settlement seen over 600 or so years.

At an early archaeological site in coastal Manawatu he recorded a dryland ecosystem suddenly becoming a wetland, coinciding with the abandonment of a Maori settlement there. For about 50 years he thought that the sudden rise in the water table might have been a result of sand dunes building up nearby and blocking the drainage.

The discovery five years ago of about 100 large tree stumps on a farm at nearby Te Horo added a supporting piece of evidence to this idea, as the date when the forest there died and was replaced by a wetland because of rising water levels matched the date of the Manawatu site.

However, the discovery a couple of years ago of a series of old shore lines at Peka Peka raised the new possibility that instead of the water rising to meet the land, the land itself had subsided. This idea was supported by further evidence around Pauatahanui Inlet to the south, and a pattern of old shorelines south of the Otaki River.

So, what Bruce is hoping is that the peat might hold some more significant pieces of this puzzle. He is working with a group of Honorary Research Associates in the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington, who are each bringing a particular skill to the project. Margaret Harper is a world expert in diatoms, tiny marine organisms whose exact identity will suggest whether sand that might be mixed up in the peat comes from shallow coastal waters, or from offshore deeper water, which would suggest a tsunami.

To find out the changing composition of vegetation at the site Aline Home studies plant residues, Bill McLea looks at pollens, while John Carter studies phtyoliths, tiny bits of silica whose shape is unique to a species of plant and which often remain once all other evidence of the plant have disappeared.

Work is being to determine if this pumice came from a volcano on the Kermadac Arc, and if it might have washed ashore during a tsunami about 2000 years ago.

Work is being to determine if this pumice came from a volcano on the Kermadac Arc, and if it might have washed ashore during a tsunami about 2000 years ago.

Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

Also up for analysis is some mysterious pumice. There are several layers of pumice, up to 20-centimetres thick, containing pieces ranging from 3-millimetres to 30-centimetres in size. Bruce and his colleagues say the pieces are nothing like pumice from the Taupo eruption, and that at the moment “the idea is that they are from the Kermadec [volcanoes]. It’s older than 2000 years, because it’s inland from the Taupo pumice shoreline which is about 1800 years old, and my guess is its going to be around 3000 years – although we’ll have to wait and see.” There is another well-known layer of pumice, that originated about 600 years ago from the Keramdec Arc and is known as Loisels pumice, and is found on the east coasts of the North and South islands, but Bruce says while the new pumice shares some of its characteristics it is not exactly the same. The new pumice is currently being cut into thin sections at Victoria University and Bruce is hopeful that close analysis of the pumice might reveal more information about its source. Meanwhile, the information about sand grains and diatoms might also help decipher whether the pumice was washed ashore during a large tsunami event.


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Pulling Funds out of Fossil Fuels

By Veronika Meduna

As investors we have some clout actually, we have the capacity to make a difference on this issue. What are we doing with our money? Are we profiting from climate change? _ Matheson Russell

Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons

At a time when the New Zealand government is opening up large areas for exploration by oil and gas companies, some of the country’s institutions have decided to pull their investments out of the fossil fuel industry.

Globally, the idea of fossil fuel divestment – the deliberate withdrawal of funds from oil, gas and coal companies to help accelerate a transition to renewable energy sources – is beginning to have an impact, totalling about $50 billion in investments that have been moved out of fossil fuels. Recently, the Guardian newspaper joined the campaign, asking the world’s largest charitable foundations to divest their endowments.

In 2014, new installations of carbon-free renewable power plants, driven by a rapid expansion in developing countries, surpassed 100 gigawatts of capacity for the first time, according to the UN Environment Programme’s latest Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report (pdf).

In New Zealand, one of the first organisations to make a commitment to divest its funds was the Anglican Church of New Zealand, motivated largely by a sense of urgency to take action on limiting the impacts of climate change.

The Anglican Church represents almost 10 per cent of New Zealanders (according to the 2013 Census) and has large investments in property and shares. Matheson Russell, the convener of its climate action group in Auckland, says the church leadership has been concerned about climate change for a long time.

Back in 2006, the body of bishops and archbishops issued a statement where they said publicly that climate change presents a real and present danger to the environment and also to the human species and they urged strong action in response to climate change.

The first effort was on reducing the church’s own carbon footprint at the level of local parish churches to reduce “our complicity as consumers of fossil fuels”, but the divestment campaign has now added a new focus on investments. “As investors we have some clout actually, we have the capacity to make a difference on this issue. What are we doing with our money? Are we profiting from climate change?”

Matheson Russell says the Anglican Church has committed to a two-year time frame for its divestment, which it sees as an issue of social justice. “Every year at our regional assemblies, when we meet with our friends and colleagues in the Pacific Islands, they tell us about the effects of climate change they are already experiencing. Morally responsible organisations like churches need to take action swiftly and need to show moral leadership on these issues now.”

Victoria University of Wellington has moved out of fossil fuel investments.

Victoria University of Wellington has moved out of fossil fuel investments.

Photo: Photo NZ

A similar sense of urgency is one of the reasons behind Victoria University’s decision to divest. Last year, Victoria University became the first university in New Zealand to take this step, and joins several tertiary institutions worldwide.

Students’ Association president Rick Zwaan says he was motivated by his frustration with the slowness of international negotiations. In 2009, during his last year at school, he was a youth delegate at COP 15, the 15th annual meeting of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Copenhagen.  

Seeing what he describes as a “failure of world leaders to take action on climate change” motivated him to take action locally and to start campaigning for divestment at Victoria University, where he now studies geophysics, environmental science and politics.“It’s really heartening to see the university taking the lead on this. It was one of the moments when I was really proud of being a student at Victoria.”

Vice-Chancellor Grant Guilford says the university has already honoured the first step of its commitment by selling shares it held directly in fossil fuel companies. The next step, he says will be more difficult as fund managers are being asked to shift mixed portfolios to more sustainable funds. “That’s becoming easier. The world is moving quite rapidly on this and there are more and more sustainable investment funds available.”

Divestment campaigns have been used in the past, targeting a host of issues including sweatshop labour, tobacco advertising, and the Apartheid regime of South Africa. Grant Guilford says faith groups and universities are usually at the forefront of such campaigns, but larger funds tend to follow.

Sometimes, he says, they accept the moral and ethical duties that stimulate the faith groups, but sometimes there are more pragmatic reasons such as the increased risk in investing in what could become stranded assets.

“For example, the Norwegian sovereign fund has announced it’s out of coal companies. It was a risk-based decision for them because they see a high risk that coal will be affected by regulatory changes related to climate change.”

The main motivation for Victoria University’s decision was “that we should align our investment decisions with the public stance that we take on climate change, which in turn is derived from our research on climate change. There is no doubt in the university community that climate change is a major threat to the world and the people in it and the biosphere as a whole.”

In the meantime, however, the university maintains its Masters programme in petroleum geoscience.

'The world is still dependent on this industry. And the people in that industry are still doing a very valuable job to maintain energy supplies that the world needs. We’re not intending to vilify the people of the petroleum industry in New Zealand by this decision. What we’re intending to say is that this transition away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy sources needs to pick up pace if the world is going to be habitable in the future.
_ Grant Guilford

The Kennett Brothers - Paul, Jonathan and Simon - racing in the Karapoti Classic mountain bike event.

The Kennett Brothers - Paul, Jonathan and Simon - racing in style in the Karapoti Classic mountain bike event.

Photo: Kennett Brothers

The Kennett Brothers, New Zealand's leading publishers of cycling guide books and the pedalling force behind mountain biking events such as the Karapoti Classic, have decided to divest both their business and personal funds.

Jonathan Kennett says the first discussions arose when they were considering sponsorship for cycling events. "Our business has formed to promote healthy and environmentally aware lifestyles, and cycling is the biggest part of that. We decided pretty much from the word go that we wouldn't accept tobacco sponsorship. There a number of other things that we wouldn't accept sponsorship from and now we've added to that list sponsorship from the fossil fuel industry."

Divestment was the obvious next step.

We have control over our own lives, and we have responsibilities for our own actions. ... We want to take that responsibility seriously and avoid contributing to climate change where we can. There are a number of things that are relatively easy to do. Divestment is one of them. _ Jonathan Kennett


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Coming Up On Our Changing World on Thursday 30 April 2015