Why study in Aotearoa New Zealand?

New Zealand was the last significant landmass on earth to be settled by people. Polynesians were skilled navigators who sailed, traded and journeyed across much of the Pacific Ocean. They established societies as far north as Hawai’i, and from Easter Island in the east, to the Solomon Islands in the west. Eventually, but not till 800-1000 AD, they reached the southern-most landmass in the Pacific: Aotearoa New Zealand. These settlers from central Polynesia founded Aotearoa’s indigenous Māori society. Over time, two-way travel between central Polynesia and Aotearoa New Zealand ceased. The north of the country, being warmer, was more populated, and the coast was a preferred area, probably related to the abundance of kaimoana (seafood) and the possibilities of transport (ocean and rivers).  By 1500 AD, a distinct Māori society had emerged.  It appears that only one European ship made it to New Zealand in the mid 1600’s and it was not until the late 1700s that European explorers arrived in any numbers. By the early 1800s, European missionaries, sealers and whalers were well established.

On February 6th, 1840 Te Tiriti o Waitangi [the Treaty of Waitangi] was signed between the British Crown and Māori. Following the signing, Europeans arrived in large numbers.  For well over a century, the Treaty was largely ignored by the pākeha (non-Māori) establishment. This era was marked by injustices and brutal land-wars in which Māori suffered significant losses of people, land and sovereignty. The steady stream of predominantly European arrivals included gold miners and timber merchants. Over time pastoral farming became the dominant land use and certainly many New Zealanders of European descent were relatively prosperous. Māori did not fare nearly so well in this emerging society. The Treaty of Waitangi Act was passed by Parliament in 1975, in response to the pressure on the government to honour the Treaty of Waitangi, to halt the continued losses of Māori land, to prevent the loss of Te Reo Māori (Māori language), to acknowledge Māori rights and to attempt to right the wrongdoings by the Crown since 1840.  A new era began, and there have been some changes in the political and social landscape of Aotearoa. Discussions on customary and traditional Māori knowledge and relationships with the whenua (land), awa (rivers) and moana (ocean) are becoming an increasingly powerful feature of our political discourse. However, discussions on Māori sovereignty, racial harmony, national identity and decolonisation remain hesitant / relatively undeveloped in the public sphere.

Although more than 80% of New Zealanders live in urban environments, the New Zealand economy is driven principally by primary production (dairy, meat, wool) and other export industries such as tourism.  The current population of New Zealand exceeds 4.8 million. New Zealanders trace their ancestry to a variety of cultural backgrounds:  15% is Māori, the vast majority (74%) identifies as being of European extraction and the remainder includes Tagata Pasifika (7.5%), and people from Asian descent (12%).  You may wish to look up information about New Zealand’s people, her governance system, and resource and environmental management by accessing the government’s website at: https://www.govt.nz/.

Aotearoa has considerable commitment at government level for sustainable management of natural resources. The Resource Management Act (1991) is legislation that is effects-based, promotes intergenerational equity, and considers the natural environment alongside the people, their culture, and their economic needs.  It alone, however, does not afford sufficient protection of natural resources in New Zealand. There are many other pieces of legislation that come into play.

Despite the massive impacts of human settlement on its flora and fauna, Aotearoa supports a wide range of unique ecosystems. The New Zealand biota evolved in isolation and in the virtual absence of terrestrial mammals. There is an array of wonderful creatures - where else would you find a flightless, nocturnal bird with nostrils at the tip of its beak (kiwi; Apteryx spp), a parrot, largely confined to mountainous areas, that is perfectly at home in the snow (kea; Nestor notabilis), or wingless crickets the size of mice (wētā; Deinacrida spp). 

The New Zealand native biota is characterized by an extremely high degree of endemism: around 90% of New Zealand’s native insects and marine molluscs, 80% of native trees, ferns and flowering plants, 87% of all terrestrial bird species that currently breed in New Zealand (and 44% of all seabirds that breed in New Zealand) , all ~60 species of reptiles, four species of frogs and two species of bats (the only native terrestrial mammals) are found nowhere else on earth.  However, many of these species and their habitats, have the dubious distinction of being endangered or vulnerable. Control of introduced (mammalian) pests and predators, manipulation of native species and their habitats, and the use of islands as wildlife sanctuaries are all part of managing natural resources in New Zealand. The innovative approaches and high success rates by New Zealand scientists and wildlife managers have earned New Zealand international recognition. EcoQuest offers students first-hand experience in these areas of science, research, and ecological monitoring.

Aotearoa’s protected- and conservation areas stretch off-shore with the beginning stages of a network of Marine Reserves and Marine Protected Areas.  Biodiversity on private land is met as a challenge by landowners and scientists alike.  Recent developments have seen a solid commitment from the current government for New Zealand’s climate change program, which will help make progress toward a climate resilient future for Aotearoa New Zealand.


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