I am in New Zealand for another week, now traveling on the South Island. There has been considerable publicity here concerning the hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague on Australia’s case (Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan: New Zealand intervening)) against Japan for whaling in the Antarctic in alleged violation of the International Whaling Commission’s moratorium on commercial whaling. Australia launched the proceedings in May 2010 and New Zealand intervened in the case in February 2013 to support Australia’s claim that Japan’s whaling is illegal. Japan claims that its whaling is legal under the exception for scientific research. It also argues that Australia is trying to impose its own cultural values on Japan and that Australia and New Zealand have no basis for complaining about what Japan does outside of their territorial waters. Japan has taken more than 10,000 whales in the southern hemipshere under the guise of scientific research. It currently allows 935 minke whales, 50 fin whales and 50 humpbacks to be taken, though only 18 fin whales and no humpbacks have been taken yet.
New Zealand media are reporting that Pacific leaders will be meeting tomorrow to discuss how to cope with rising sea levels and subsiding land in the Tongan island of Lifuka. More than 7,000 people live on Lifuka, which has lost many homes to rising sea levels and land sinking due to an earthquake fault. Leaders are debating whether to build an expensive sea wall to try to prevent further flooding in the future or to relocate the residents. Last week I was in Napier, New Zealand, where a February 1931 earthquake suddenly thrust land that had been under Hawke’s Bay two meters upward, creating dry land on which Napier’s airport was built. I also toured the Parliament building in Wellington, that has been “seismically isolated” by being sliced from its foundation and placed on special load bearing ball bearings that allow the entire building to move back and forth in the event of an earthquake.
While in Wellington I spent a morning hiking in Zealandia, a nature preserve in the hills above the city. The preserve represents an ambitious effort to restore 225 hectares of land to its natural state as part of a 500-year plan. Many rare species of birds have been attracted to the sanctuary. Since the reserve is built directly over an earthquake fault, one wonders whether anyone can confidently predict what it will look like in 500 years. Te Papa, the outstanding national museum of New Zealand located on Wellington’s waterfront, has several outstanding exhibitions on New Zealand’s fascinating ecological history and the severe harm invasive plant and animal species have caused to native flora and fauna.
Yesterday I traveled by ferry from Wellington on New Zealand’s North Island across the Cook Strait to Picton on New Zealand’s South Island. After the ferry entered Queen Charlotte Sound we observed a group of dolphins welcoming us. Today while taking a ferry from Picton to Ship Cove, the start of the Queen Charlotte Track, on which we hiked, we also observed dolphins in the Sound. These were not the endangered Maui’s dolphin, of which it is estimated there are only 55 remaining who are more than one-year old. They are located on the west coast of the North Island. Last September New Zealand was the only nation to vote against a resolution at the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in Korea calling for expanded protection of the Maui’s dolphin. On July 6, New Zealand’s Dominion Post newspaper revealed that New Zealand’s lone vote in opposition to the resolution was dict'ated by New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries over the opposition of the country’s Department of Conservation (DOC). New Zealand’s DOC had urged that the government at least abstain rather than opposing the resolution, according to documents obtaining by the newspaper. Matt Stewart, “Lack of Evidence” Behind NZ Vote Against Maui’s Aid, The Dominion Post, July 6, 2013, at A14.