PM’s Chief Science Advisor on Climate Change.

I have been planning on blogging on this for a few weeks but uni work has got the better of me.

A few weeks ago Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor released a report on Climate Change in NZ.

Please read the full report but the key details that got me were:

Global warming does not mean that every part of the globe changes temperature to the same degree or rate.

Hence NZ has just experience one of the coldest June months on record, but the warmest ever August.

Measuring global temperatures over time is complex, but there is a general agreement that the world is experiencing an overall warming trend (with year-to-year fluctuations superimposed). The warming trend over the past 50 years is nearly twice as great as that over the previous 100 years. These escalating temperature changes have been reflected in a number of environmental and biological changes. These include rises in globally averaged sea level, shrinking of summer Arctic sea-ice extent, losses from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, retreat of mountain glaciers, poleward and upward shifts in the range of some plant and animal species, and earlier timing for some species of spring events such as leaf-unfolding, bird migration and egg-laying. That this is happening is not contentious.

That last statement is pretty powerful. This is no longer a contentious issue. This is reality. Get with the program dude.

For New Zealand is a small emitter by world standards – only emitting some 0.2% of global greenhouse gases. So anything we do as a nation will in itself have little impact on the climate – our impact will be symbolic, moral and political.

However just because anything we do may be just political is no reason for not doing it. And regardless like anything else every little bit helps. So whatever we do will make a difference. No matter how small that difference is.

A similar debate occurred about AIDS, where a minority of scientists maintained for a long time that the disease was not caused by a virus. This view was manifestly wrong in the eyes of most scientists, but nevertheless some distinguished scientists, albeit usually not experts in virology, took different views until the science became irrefutable. The political consequences of this denialism had tragic results in some African countries.

On Rapanui (Easter Island) there were no trees left by the time the first European explorers arrived, and the Rapanuians had thereby lost the ability to make canoes and to fish, except from the shore. Their lifestyle and indeed their sustainability were forever radically altered.

The Easter Island story is a fantastic study of what can happen if we change our environment too quickly. The only problem is we are not doing this on a global scale. It really is time to turn the corner. Accept climate change is real. Get with the program and sign on to reduce our emissions. The future of the world depends on it.

Coddington on the Cringe Factors

From the Herald on Sunday:

Deborah Coddington: Journeys afar highlight cringe factors at home

Home to this beautiful country after five weeks overseas and why does it feel like someone inserted a crummy made-for-television movie in the nation’s main channel and pressed constant replay?

MPs know the public hates pettiness yet they’re still throwing their toys out of the cot and calling each other puerile names.

Calling Hide a Buffoon was great though. It was great to see a politician say it as he saw it, honesty at its best.

For crying out loud – Henare, Hide and Harawira are supposed to be on the same side of the House. These boys need to get out more.

Here’s a question for the Act Party: If its leader would sacrifice his ministerial portfolio for his “one law for all” policy, why does this party of principle advocate a different law for children when someone accused of perpetrating violence against a child comes before the court?

Deborah Coddington used to be a MP for the ACT Party so it is interesting to see such a public smack down of ones own party.

I cringe when I read overseas headlines proclaiming that despite New Zealand’s dreadful reputation for child abuse, we want to defy international trends and bring back pro-smacking legislation.

How to explain why we’d do this, especially if you talk about child murders like James Whakaruru or Nia Glassie?

Commentators who sneer Sue Bradford’s law change hasn’t saved a child from death miss the point.

It’s illegal to hit an adult but that doesn’t stop adults from murdering each other. Perhaps a smartypants will start a petition to permit reasonable force against wives who don’t cook their husbands’ eggs. We could call it “Jake’s Law”.

Oh can someone please start the petition. It would be fantastic just for a laugh.

The rest of the story continues on about NZ’s reputation overseas – it is a must read. Unfortunately the wake up call is probably falling on the wrong ears.

Porters 09

On the weekend I headed to Christchurch for a short holiday. While there I went skiing at Porters Ski Area. Awesome is an understatement. It rocked. Beyond Rocked.

The road to Porters/Arthurs Pass
Looking up the right side of Porters from the base area.
Looking up the right side of Porters from the base area.
Looking down from the top of T1 nice wide open slopes.
Looking down from the top of T1 nice wide open slopes.

There were a few things that made Porters really special. The first was the atmosphere. Until 2007 it was a club field, and despite turning commercial it still has a really friendly feel to it. The second is the lack of people, because it has T-bars rather than chairs there are fewer people so you have more space to yourself. Finally the terrian just simply rocks. No dodging rocks or narrow runs. The beginners have plenty of space at the bottom of the field. The intermediates have some good runs down the 1km long T1 and there is expert terrain to die for. I didn’t get to go out on Big Mama because the vis was poor. But I did go down Bluff Face twice which was such an awesome experience. Would definitely rival my run down the waterfall at Turoa the other week.

The view from the top of Bluff Face
The view from the top of Bluff Face
Me sitting comfortably at te top of Bluff Face laughing in the face of danger.
Me sitting comfortably at te top of Bluff Face laughing in the face of danger.
Bluff Face as seen from the base area. 38 degree slope. Pure awesomeness.
Bluff Face as seen from the base area. 38 degree slope. Pure awesomeness.
The 2008 2.4L Toyota Camery Rental Car I took up the mountain. A dream to drive.
The 2008 2.4L Toyota Camery Rental Car I took up the mountain. A dream to drive.
The access road to Porters 6km of gravel. Was resonably wide and good, much shorter than the 15km Mt Hutt road
The access road to Porters 6km of gravel. Was resonably wide and good, much shorter than the 15km Mt Hutt road

As I sit here and post these photos it makes me want to go again, it was that good. Next year I will go for a week (maybe – if I can afford it).

Finally this was a cool inscription at Christchurch Cathedral.

2009-08-24 10.03.36

BREAKING NEWS: VSM back on Agenda

No right turn is reporting that Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill (Roger Douglas) has been drawn from the ballot this morning:

10 months. That is how long National has been in power for before this issue came up again. I sure as hell hope National do not support it. Everything they have said so far is that they support the current law. So leave it as it is.

More to follow later.

A Library on a Hill.

I walked to uni this morning because it was a nice day and I am sick of not being able to get a park when driving. On the way I took a few photos of the new Library under construction at uni. It is huge. By far the largest building on campus. It is a bit of a pity that I may longer be a student by the time it is open.

The Library as seen from afar dwarfing the other buildings on the campus
The Library as seen from afar dwarfing the other buildings on the campus
The library as seen from behind.
The library as seen from behind.

Massey have also created a photo slideshow of progress on the building:

Beach Toxin Issue Gets Serious

This morning the Herald is reporting that the beach toxins affecting the Auckland Harbour could kill a human in an hour:

Experts have added a grim warning to the poison beach scare in Auckland, saying the toxin that killed dogs is deadly enough to paralyse humans in seconds and kill them within an hour.

Test results have shown that tetrodotoxin, a poison found in puffer fish, is responsible for the deaths of two dogs, birds and sealife on Auckland beaches.

Touching a dead animal on the beach could be enough to endanger human life, said Cawthron Institute algae specialist Paul McNabb.

He said that warnings for people to keep away from beaches were not extreme, because of the effects the toxins had on humans.

“People can die from this,” Mr McNabb said.

“If you put a slug in your mouth, you’d be vomiting and your entire body would be tingling.

“Within minutes you’d be paralysed. Your heart and lungs would shut down and you’d be dead within the hour.

“Or if you touched it and it was all over your hands and you went and ate a sandwich …”

Mr McNabb said anyone who came down with symptoms including vomiting and drowsiness, after being at a beach, should see a doctor.

This is bad news for the City of Sails, I would be avoiding going near the beaches or the sea at the moment, and avoid eating anything seafood caught in the Hauraki Gulf until this situation is under control.

Conspiracy Anyone?

Okay so first a grumble about the fact that NZ news media never seem to pick up the big international news stories… at least not for a few days anyway.

Has anyone seen the news that there is a missing Russian Ship in the Atlantic? Yes a cargo ship has vanished into nowhere. And now there is about 5 Russian warships hunting for it. And no this is not the plot from The Hunt for Red October this is reality.

The MV Arctic Sea is a timber-carrying cargo ship that disappeared between late July and early August 2009. It is owned by the Malta-based company Arctic Sea Ltd. and is operated by Solchart Management AB of Helsinki, Finland. On July 24, 2009, it was allegedly boarded by a group of men wearing police uniforms off the coast of Sweden, between the islands of Öland and Gotland. They left after about twelve hours, having searched the ship, removed some items and assaulted a few crew members. The incident was not immediately reported, and the ship continued to sail towards its destination in Algeria. However all contact with the ship was lost between July 30 and 31, and it never arrived in Algeria. On August 14 the ship was reportedly located near Cape Verde, but remains missing. Finnish Police stated on August 15 that a ransom, amounting to a “considerable amount”, has been demanded, but did not specify who is being extorted – the ship’s owner claims they have not received any ransom demand.

Okay now you have the back story, I have a question, and so does The Telegraph (UK) Newspaper:

How on earth has the ‘Arctic Sea’ vanished?

In the age of satellite technology, the disappearance of a 4,000-ton cargo ship raises more questions than it answers, reports Andrew Alderson

IT is nearly 100 metres long, more than 17 metres wide and weighs almost 4,000 tonnes. Yet, even in a hi-tech world of satellites and Google Earth, the Arctic Sea has vanished without trace in busy European shipping lanes.

A possible sighting of the Turkish-built “ghost ship” off the Cape Verde Islands was dismissed, meaning the disappearance of the cargo vessel has, in the words of one insurance expert, left “far more questions than answers”.

A huge international search is under way this weekend for the vessel, which vanished more than two weeks ago amid fears that pirates, similar to those now operating off Somalia, had seized the 15 Russian crew and its timber cargo valued at £1.3 million. Finnish police said they had received a ransom demand for a “large sum” of cash, but declined to give further details or say whether the demand was authentic.

Okay so story sounds okay so far, a little odd but okay.

The Arctic Sea set sail from Finland on July 23 and had been due to arrive in northern Algieria on August 3 or 4. However, there were unconfirmed reports that it had been boarded in Swedish waters by armed and masked men on July 24, although this was not said to have been notified to the authorities for several days.

So you get boarded but tell no one for a few days… odd.

The crew are known to have made contact with Dover coastguards on July 28, but at this point there had been no international alert over the “attack” and so there was no hunt for the ship. Two days later, the Arctic Sea was spotted in the Bay of Biscay and at 1.30am on the same day its AISLive gave off its last signal in the same area.

And then just continue as per normal…

However, shortly afterwards, the ship appears to have changed direction, apparently bearing towards the western Atlantic rather than Algiers.

And then vanish…

Solchart, the operator of the merchant vessel which flies under a Maltese flag and is based in Valetta, has blamed piracy for the ship’s disappearance. “My view is that it is most likely that the vessel has been hijacked,” said Viktor Matveyev, the director of the Finnish company.

Mikhail Voitenko, the editor of Russia’s Sovfracht maritime bulletin, has suggested that the ship might have been hijacked because it was carrying a “secret shipment”, such as drugs or arms, unknown to its crew or owners. “The only sensible answer is that the vessel was loaded with a secret cargo apart from timber,” he said.

Now that is starting to sound a little more believable given the circumstances.

Nato has reported that armed gangs have already seized 29 merchant ships this year and carried out 114 attacks – more than in the whole of last year.

However, Mr Davis, the British maritime security expert, thinks piracy on the high seas is unlikely. “I suspect this is either some sort of ‘inside job’ involving the crew, or it’s some sort of insurance or commercial dispute.”

So is it piracy or is it not piracy?

Mr Davis believes that the ship will be traced within days, and thinks its most likely destination is west Africa. “The vessel had just under 300 tonnes of fuel and it burns 13 tonnes of fuel a day. So it had sufficient for 40 days steaming. It would probably have had 30 to 60 days of food on board.”

He expects the ship to turn up, possibly as far south as Cameroon, in the next “48 to 100 hours” and that it will then be boarded by a foreign navy or police force. “The odds are it will have headed for somewhere like Sierra Leone,” Mr Davis said.

He speculated that it would be difficult for the vessel to be retrieved from such a remote, lawless area, where it might be kept until the financial, or other, demands of those controlling the ship were met.

Well if that is the case then my bet is it is piracy.

The ease with which large ships can travel around the world undetected has raised fears that al-Qaeda, or another terrorist group, could use a vessel packed with high explosives to mount a terrorist attack on a Western country, such as Britain or the US.

Dmitri Medvedev, the Russian President, is said to have “the situation under control,” according to his spokesman. He has ordered Anatoly Serdyukov, the Defence Minister, to take “all necessary steps” to find the ship and, if necessary, to free its crew.

All necessary steps? Makes it sound like it isn’t piracy but something much more sinister.

According to a state-run Russian news agency, the ship’s owners have not filed a claim with its insurer, Ingosstrakh. Vladimir Kleimenov, a spokesman for the insurers, said of the ship’s disappearance: “There are far more questions than answers.”


On Friday, French officials were responsible for reports that the ship had been seen about 520 miles off the Cape Verde islands, a former Portuguese colony off Africa’s westernmost coast. However, Russian sources were dismissive of those reports yesterday.

Double odd. They don’t know where it is but are claiming that it has not been sighted? Weird.

To add to the puzzle, the Arctic Sea’s tracking system was reported to be broadcasting signals from the Bay of Biscay off France yesterday, according to the Russian maritime website, Sovfrakht. It said the signal appeared on a tracking service at about 8.30 am but added that it was not known if the AISLive equipment was still actually on the ship.

The Royal Navy has said that it has not been asked to get involved in the search. Source say its rules of engagement for international waters mean it could act only if there was evidence that the ship was about to be hijacked, or pirates were endangering lives on board.

But before it was being said it was pirates.

One senior shipping source said: “There is obviously lots of speculation. The fact that a ship is late is in itself not a huge story, but added to the fact that the vessel was ‘attacked’, and yet at the same time the owners are saying ‘don’t worry, it is sorted’, it is very odd. It is an old fashioned mystery.”

Conspiracy one thinks… I think there is a lot more to this then meets the eye. And I doubt it was just timber on board.

I will leave the final quote with Wikipedia:

The Jakobstad fire department conducted radiation measurements on August 14 at the departure pier of the ship, but the investigation was stopped by the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, stating that there was no reason to conduct measurements.

Auckland Hauraki Gulf Beach Toxins FAQ

Hat Tip: Auckland Blog – Cr Aaron Bhatnagar

Hauraki Gulf Marine Toxin Response
A selection of frequently asked questions – FAQ’s

1. What organisms are affected

Our testing confirms a toxin present in vomit of one of the dogs from Narrowneck Beach, North Shore Auckland, and from a single grey side-gilled sea slug (Pleurobranchaea maculata).

2. What are these sea slugs, are the native and where are they found.

Adult grey side-gilled sea slugs reach up to 100 mm in length. They are a soft sea slug with no shell. The body is smooth to touch but covered with minute puckers and folds. Colour is pale grey, densely patterned with short, brownish-black lines. The feathery gill is partly hidden under the right side and extends further when the animal gets stressed. The slug is not usually common in the Auckland region but its population can very widely depending on favourable breeding conditions and diet. They live in all habitats from inter-tidally in harbours and to depths of 250 m off open rocky coasts. They are fast, active hunters eating sea anemones, marine worms and molluscs.

3. What else has been tested for toxins

Cawthron has analysed organic and inorganic samples collected from North Shore and Eastern Suburb Beaches. These include jelly fish, seaweed, pilchards, algal mats, mussels, seawater, sediment/sand, sponges, limpets, and other sea slugs. All were negative for known toxins.

3. What has affected the sea slugs?

Cawthron Institute has identified a high concentration of tetrodotoxin (TTX) in the sea slug and lesser amounts in the dog vomit. This is an unusual finding as it has not been previously described in New Zealand.

4. Are other toxins involved?

Not conclusive but analysis by Cawthron has eliminated the usual suspects normally associated with shellfish poisoning and blue-green algal blooms.

5. Does the presence of TTX explain the clinical symptoms displayed by the sick dogs

Partly, TTX poisoning could explain the symptoms exhibited by the dogs affected at Narrowneck beach; they died rapidly typically within an hour without evidence of central nervous system agitation or seizures, but symptoms observed in other dogs affected beyond Narrowneck suggest another, as yet, identified cause. Further review is underway by the National Poisons Centre.

6. Is the sea slug naturally toxic

No, such a situation has not been previously described in this species although these types of organisms can have chemical defences to protect themselves from predators but not in a known association with TTX.

7. Can we say conclusively how the sea slug got TTX in such a concentration and potency

No. Multiple pathways are possible. TTX is most likely to have been inadvertently ingested by the sea slug. There is no evidence of host-specificity between TTX and the sea-slug, i.e. we do not consider this to be a symbiotic/parasitic relationship due to the mortality of juvenile sea slugs observed at Narrowneck beach

8. Were sea slugs found beyond Narrowneck?

The survey of Auckland North Shore and Eastern beaches located about 120-150 individuals at Narrowneck Beach and a single specimen at Cheltenham Beach. No sea slugs beyond these two areas. The bulk of the sea slugs present along the length of Narrowneck Beach were collected at the time. The animals were all found in the area of Narrowneck beach between mid and low tide amongst clumps of seaweed that were washed up on the shore The bulk of the animals were found dead, with only 4 larger individuals found alive. The animals ranged in size from about 30mm to 80mm with the bulk in the 30-50mm range.

9. Do sea slugs wash up normally?

Yes, it is quite common to see dead individuals washed up on the beach. This in itself is not unusual and not normally a cause for concern. The sea slug is an annual species and adults die after reproduction. It is less common to see dead juveniles on the beach. The cause of their death is not known, TTX could be a factor but multiple other causes are also possible.

10. Are the dead sea slugs hazardous?

It is best to be cautious and avoid contact with them. We currently know that one individual from Narrowneck beach tested positive for TTX and that this has been found in the vomit of one dog. Results from further tests of sea slugs found beyond Narrowneck pending.

11. How long are the sea slugs hazardous?

Assuming that the toxin is present in more than the one individual, it is really difficult to know how long the toxicity will persist. If the ingestion of TTX was from a single discrete source then the hazard should abate but if ingestion was from multiple continuous sources then the hazard could remain. It is best to remain cautious until the source has been identified or future samples are clear of the TTX. Most factors point to a natural, albeit very rare event perhaps associated with climatic patterns.

12. Where does TTX come from?

It can be found in common, naturally occurring marine bacteria. The association between these bacterium and TTX is known from tropical regions, sometimes found in a symbiotic or parasitic relationship with higher order animals. Symbiosis is not considered likely in the sea slug and other mechanisms including absorption or ingestion through inadvertently consuming an infected prey item is suspected. The relationship of TTX with a NZ marine bacteria has not been previously described and further investigations are required. We do not believe this is indicative of any immediate change in the health of the Hauraki Gulf rather this is the first time that a link has been found between the death of a dog, a sea slug and the presence of a common toxin. Most factors point to a natural, albeit very rare event perhaps associated with climatic patterns.

13. What about the penguins and pilchards? Are they related?

Ecologists do not believe this to be the case. Isolated incidences of pilchard and penguins deaths at this time of the year are not ordinarily unusual and natural causes of death are considered a likely scenario. Many of the penguins examined were in poor condition and showed signs of starvation; a not uncommon situation for this time of the year. The cause of the pilchard mortality is still being investigated but is not believed to be related to the dog deaths.

14. What does this say about the health of the Hauraki Gulf

We do not believe this is indicative of any immediate change in the health of the Hauraki Gulf rather there has been a series of isolated, localised, probably natural events. It is the first time that a link has been found between the death of a dog, a sea slug and the presence of this toxin. The toxin has only been identified at a single, specific location. There is no evidence to indicate that it is more widespread than this. At this stage, the deaths of other marine organisms have not been linked in any way to this toxin.