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Lessons from Kaikoura’s deep seabed

If agriculture is the bread of our economy, then tourism is our butter. Or perhaps the icing on the top of a very large dairy cake.

Among the many benefits of a tourism sector which is finally showing signs of genuine growth, is the lovely bundles of foreign currency bought here by people from all four corners of the globe.

We don’t have to send anything anywhere in a container. The product is already here, just waiting to be experienced, photographed, consumed and admired.

Sure, it helps to have a few clever, eye-catching advertising campaigns and the occasional delegation at a world expo or similar, but the ‘export’ is largely conceptual. All we have to do is look after the goods.

Easier said than done.

Our mountains and coastlines, our rivers and green rolling hills make for effective slow-motion promotion of a country you would just love to visit. We know all too well how different that image can be.

It would seem that Mother Nature is not buying the New Zealand brand just now. She might have a stake in another part of the world and is dumping on us to improve her chances elsewhere.

Whatever the reason, we have taken quite a battering in recent times. Throw in a pandemic, complete with closed borders, and convincing travellers to come all the way down to the South Pacific has been a big ask, as they say.

Steps to better protect our unique environment and the inhabitants within are crucial if we want to attract the eco-tourist dollar. And, while the forces of nature can sometimes be cruel, they can do much more to help heal than we mere mortals can.

Kaikoura is known for its abundant wildlife and its sperm whale population, and its seabed is showing promising signs of recovery after a devastating earthquake in 2016.

The Kaikoura Canyon, in the Hikurangi Marine Reserve, was among the most biologically productive deep-seabed environments on the planet, but the 7.8 magnitude earthquake almost wiped out some of its ecosystems.

However, scientists say the area is showing astonishing examples of resilience. The earthquake, in effect, reshaped the canyon floor and disturbed a mind-boggling 850 metric megatons of sediment, destroying almost all of the marine life in New Zealand’s only deep-sea marine reserve.

Seabed images taken shortly after the earthquake showed that the “canyon flushing event” had been catastrophic for anything that called the seafloor their home. Almost unbelievably, many of the marine organisms have returned, with some parts well on the way to being fully recovered, scientists say.

While the latest scientific data is encouraging for the long-term health of the reserve, we should exercise some caution.

A family trip to Kaikoura about 15 years ago is still discussed today. The whale tales, the dolphins jumping in and out of the boat’s wake and the pristine condition of the water left lasting memories.

This contrasted sharply with a visit to the Great Barrier Reef a few years later. Australia is paying a hefty price for not addressing pollution issues decades ago.

Kaikoura jealously guards its environment. We would do well to follow its example.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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