Chatham Island Albatross – New Beginnings

•January 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Lots of species are threatened with extinction around the globe, those found only in one small area, usually referred to as ‘point endemics’ are especially vulnerable – one chance event or disaster doesn’t just cause a fluctuation in a single population, it can threaten the existence of an entire species. So it is with the Chatham Albatross (Thalassarche eremita), also known as the Chatham Mollymawk.

Chatham albatross chick (Thalassarche eremita) photo: James Reardon
Chatham albatross chick (Thalassarche eremita) photo: James Reardon

With this concern in mind the Taiko Trust (taiko.org.nz) who have already secured the future of another critically endangered species, the magenta petrel, have set out on a bold venture to establish a second colony of these oceanic wanderers. The logistical challenge, technical demands and sheer nerve required to pull off such an operation in a remote environment like the Chathams deserves recognition. Look them up on facebook and lend some support after you’ve had a look at the work involved:

Edge of the World – Chatham Islands

•January 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

It a commonly used phrase when out of your own culture and environment, to tell the folks back home that you feel like you’re as far away as it’s possible to get. So it’s with surprise and excitement that I find such a feeling whilst still being only a few hours flight from my home on the shores of lake Te Anau, NZ. I’m on the Chatham Islands,  a mere 800km east of New Zealand. This little archipelago of islands nestled deep in the South Pacific was one of the last places on the planet to be reached in our species radiation. It remains home not only to a fascinating human history to which the contemporary inhabitants are still inextricably linked but also to species found nowhere else and a fragile island ecology requiring our care to persist. The species here rely on isolation from threat for their very existence. Albatross are a perfect example of this. Why do they only nest on remote islands nestled in the roaring forties or furious fifties? Because on land they are hopelessly vulnerable to the predators that are common on all continents and also because without a stiff breeze these birds struggle to get into the air. Stiff breezes are no rare thing down here.

These islands are amongst the most important bird islands in the Southern Hemisphere. Photo: James Reardon

These islands are amongst the most important bird islands in the Southern Hemisphere. Photo: James Reardon

But that’s only part of the story, the tiny islands surrounding the Chathams and Pitt Island are the scene of some remarkable conservation stories, the black robin the most notorious, but several others equally fascinating. Is it impossible to recover a species that has declined to a single female? Pioneering conservationists and the black robin itself say no.

Pitt Islands only current albatross, a Northern Royal patiently awaiting it's mate. Photo: James Reardon

Pitt Islands only current albatross, a Northern Royal patiently awaiting it’s mate. Photo: James Reardon

The community on these islands know the value of their home, both as a rich and diverse playground, as a larder and as a farm. The desire to see wildlife prosper along-side their farming and fishing enterprises is an inspiration. I’m privileged to be here making a film on this community and the way it relates to that environment and it’s history. It’s not without its challenges but the hard won rewards are more than worth it. Here’s a tiny clip to give you a wee taste of the conditions.

Abi Yanga – meeting a dinosaur

•November 24, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I’m finally over the inevitable snowdrift of emails any trip away guarantees and starting to find a few moments to work with the stills and film captured in PNG during October. Being a herpetologist I usually go straight to the frog, snake and lizard images, diving into Lightroom and the literature but this time I went straight for something a little different. My love-affair with herpetology stems in a large part to my childhood obsession with dinosaurs. As any evolutionary biologist will tell you, we still coexist with dinosaurs, but not the lizards that my childhood mind made the logical connection to, but birds. The problem is, birds are generally small flitty things that fly and are delicate. That’s not very dinosaurish really. For the most part, that’s true but there are exceptions and for me the best extant example is the cassowary. Not only do they live in the deepest rainforest, but they are big, gloriously menacing at close quarters and simply exquisite.

Head thrown forward and apparently every air-sac in it's body inflated the dwarf cassowary calls. Photo: James Reardon

Head thrown forward and apparently every air-sac in it’s body inflated the dwarf cassowary calls. Photo: James Reardon

No encounter with wildlife is without some effect on most of us, but having the opportunity to meet animals that are both shy, elusive, and a little bit dangerous, on their own terms is a special privilege indeed.

The dwarf cassowary (Casuarius bennetti) of New Guinea is a near threatened species of large ratite, so the same family as the ostrich of Africa, rhea of South America, emu of Australia and little kiwi of New Zealand. Standing at a little over a meter at the shoulder these are birds that genuinely look you in the eye, and whilst they are a widely hunted species across New Guinea, their powerful legs equipped with a long defensive claw means they’re quite able to defend themselves from potential predators, meaning man.  Just look at them: they’re dinosaur feet.

Dinosaur feet looked just like this, it's as simple as that. Photo: James Reardon

Dinosaur feet looked just like this, it’s as simple as that. Photo: James Reardon

Meeting one is, as I keep saying,  like meeting a small dinosaur and an experience that will stay with me. They’re also critical to forest health performing a function that no other species can achieve. Without cassowary, the forests of New Guinea would not be as they are. I hope you enjoy this little sequence of footage, which will eventually become part of a larger project for the Wildlife Conservation Society and the people of Ikundi in PNG.

https://vimeo.com/80171843

Support the (extremely challenging) conservation efforts to secure the future for cassowary and other threatened species in PNG at: http://www.wcs.org/where-we-work/asia/papua-new-guinea.aspx

Progress for Protestors

•November 23, 2013 • Leave a Comment

At last, a reasonable decision by the Russian judiciary. Phil and most of his fellow Greenpeace activists have been granted bail. They will still be restricted in their movements and don’t have their passports but the whole situation has moved to a far more reasonable state. The Arctic 30 still face their hooliganism charges but the profile of their situation and the facts of the matter make clear that they are of no risk or threat to anybody, thank goodness. No doubt Phil will now enjoy a decent skype catch-up with his little family, and a beer with his colleagues. Hooray.

Phil Ball, emerging from prison, now, rightfully on bail. photo: Greenpeace

Phil Ball, emerging from prison, now rightfully on bail. photo: Greenpeace

Thank you if you took the time to contact your local MP to raise the matter, or if you signed the Greenpeace petition.  It makes a difference to make your views known.

 

Papua New Guinea – a post too far

•October 4, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I’m currently working in PNG, assembling the equipment and supplies for a few weeks in a fairly remote area with my Wildife Conservation Society colleagues. I’ve tried uploading a few pictures but the Goroka internet bandwidth is still a bit skinny. So there might be a bit of a quiet few weeks on the site before I’m able to give an update. Hopefully I’ll have a few tales to tell..

PNG - wildife and humanity at it's richest, photo James Reardon

PNG – wildife and humanity at it’s richest, photo James Reardon

This is Why

•September 29, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Basically it’s a game, but a game with significant consequences. International Law, pitched against Russian Federation Law, pitched against the ability of the media to promulgate a sense of responsibility and reaction in the masses in response to the reporting on actions such as those of the Arctic Sunrise, against the overwhelming media noise of shock and outrage at the latest military action, social injustice, sickening crime or lotto win. Species go extinct on a daily basis and the Arctic Ice and glacial retreat tell us significant forces are in motion on planet earth. Whilst governments the world over keep their focus firmly fixed on economic growth and GDP at the exclusion of all other factors influencing current and future well-being for ourselves and those we share the planet with, we spin ever closer to a dark future.  We are now seven billion humans trying to survive and persist on this small planet and change is coming whether we like it or not.  It won’t be an apocalypse, it will be the slow but steady accumulation of social and environmental impacts and economic stressors we are already seeing.

A cuttlefish watching me watching him. Photo James Reardon

A cuttlefish watching me watching him. Photo James Reardon

 

 

Battle for the Arctic

•September 28, 2013 • Leave a Comment

We all sit at our computers reading the latest information on the state of the world and to some degree feeling despair. The only way we’re going change the status quo is through action. It’s my privilege to be a close friend of one Phil Ball, who is most certainly a man of action for the future of our planet. Phil was among the crew of the Arctic Sunrise, a vessel of the organisation Greenpeace that has recently been attempting to draw attention to the expansion of drilling for oil into highly sensitive Arctic waters. It would seem that the evidence for climate change is little hindrance to economic ‘progress’.

Phil and the rest of the Arctic Sunrise crew now find themselves in Murmansk being held on a possible charge of piracy. Such a charge is entirely without justification when considering the peaceful protest protocols of organisations such as Greenpeace, and when it comes to my friend Phil, hardly could there be a man less inclined to violence or theft, both surely the essential foundations of any charge of piracy.

If you have the time and inclination to read this then you have the time to go to http://www.greenpeace.org/freeouractivists and lodge your concerns with the local Russian Foreign Representative.

Phil Ball Greenpeace, held in Murmansk

Phil Ball Greenpeace, held in Murmansk

Phil is a kind and gentle family man and I’d like to see him back with his partner and children as soon as possible. Thanks for your help.

 
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