Life on a warming planet
A few short weeks ago, in the midst of a drought, it was dehydrated kiwi coming out during the day that we had to worry about. Now, as rain buckets down across New Zealand, it’s black petrel chicks drowning in their burrows.
But that’s life on a warming planet.
For the past week, Northland, like Auckland, Coromandel and other northern parts of the country, has been awash, receiving, on average, 150mm to 200mm of rain in just five days.
To put that in perspective, the 216mm that fell in Kaitaia over those five days is 267% of the town’s usual rainfall for the whole of March.
The deluge came on the heels of a drought in Northland which was so bad that kiwi were coming out in the daytime in a desperate bid to find food and water. Kiwi get most of the water they need from their food. But when the ground is baked dry during a drought, they can’t get their beaks in to feed and quickly become dehydrated as well as hungry.
Weather extremes like these are what we can expect more of as the planet warms. And it’s not just us people who are affected; nature pays the price as well.
All sorts of things happen during storms like the one that lashed us over the past week. Rain falling on parched ground washes rubbish (especially plastic) and other contaminants like oil into the ocean, poisoning wildlife.
It also causes erosion, carrying valuable soils from the land into the rivers (where it clogs stony bottoms which are the habitats of many of our native fish) and ultimately to the sea, making it too murky for little penguins and other shorebirds to feed, and often leading to starvation.
The storm might also have affected the migration of other birds to the Northern Hemisphere, and hence their ability to breed this year.
And an image that is particularly haunting is the prospect of young burrowing birds, such as the black petrels on Great Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf, drowning in their flooded burrows.
It’s important we all start thinking about what climate change will do to New Zealand’s special species and places, and what we need to do now to protect them.