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A part of nature

Our greatest sin is that we see ourselves apart from nature, not a part of nature.

This morning, I took our dog Benji for a walk. Benji is an extremely handsome Golden Retriever-Border Collie cross. Close to our home is a large natural reserve, characterised by a collection of streams and creeks channeling rainwater out to the upper Waitemata harbour. Benji was in his element, fetching sticks and swimming away, true to the nature of his breed. Birds sang and crickets chirped. I felt the worries of the world lift as I walked beneath the harbour of the tree canopy.

Benji in his element

Soon after, I was on my way back home in a civilization characterized by grey concrete roads, combustion vehicles, high density housing and the ever-present sounds of sirens. While driving home, I stopped to help a sparrow that was alive but had been hit by a car and was too shocked to move. As it sat on the road, I watched in frustration and anger as two cars hit it in quick succession, sealing its fate moments before I was able to save it.

The metaphor was not lost on me. We often act in clear disregard to the natural world around us. But the tragedy is that we are so too killing a deep and inherent part of ourselves.

I’ve been fortunate enough to grow up in New Zealand, a country that has long been proud of its natural endowments. I grew up playing in a bush that was quite literally in our backyard, making huts out of foliage and sleeping in them overnight, fighting imaginary foes, and cooking marshmallows next to a creek garnished with glow-worms. This, believe it our not, was all in a part of central Auckland.

Milford track

Milford track in the South Island provides a glimpse into life before man

The love for the ocean that I carry today also grew out of my childhood, where we spent many summers on Great Barrier Island, blessed with experiences of rich and abundant marine life. I remember one night, we were returning to Karaka Bay after a long day on the boat. The night was thick and the moon high and bright. Dad dropped a line of soft bait into the bay and what seemed like hundreds of fish danced in the water around it, carving through the thick bioluminescence and leaving a trail of water-bound stars in their wake. The movie Avatar isn’t far from what life can be.

But as far as generations before are concerned, the experiences I have had are ones of depravity. I met with Peter Blackwell last year, a member of one of the founding families of Great Barrier Island. Peter talks in his book about how, as a child, he would gather food for dinner by going out on the rocks and shooting snapper with a shotgun, so abundant they were. Sue Neureuter, one of the custodians of the Noisies Islands in Tikapa Moana (Hauraki Gulf), talks about how her dad would catch metre long kingfish from the shore of the island using a hook and orange peel as bait.

Try doing that today.

I’m concerned that the leaders of this country will only continue to lead us on a path of separatism from nature. Shane Jones, the current Minister for Resources and Minister for Oceans and Fisheries, made clear the government’s intentions in an early address during the new government’s term: “If there is a mineral, if there is a mining opportunity and it’s impeded by a blind frog, goodbye Freddy.” This sentiment combined with the proposed Fast-Track Approvals Bill, which proposes to provide Ministers with disproportionate power to approve projects which may have environmental impact, does not bode well for New Zealand’s conservation priorities.

Our relationship with nature risks becoming one solely of short-term extraction, rather than one of long-term harmony. A Native American proverb comes to mind: “Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realise we cannot eat money.”

There are glimpses of hope, though. The Hauraki Gulf Marine Protection Bill is currently going through the Select Committee review process. With any luck, the Bill will be passed into legislation by next summer, lifting marine protection from a woeful 0.3% to approximately 6% (not including so-called cable protection areas). This is a far cry from the science-backed 30% target, but it is a start nonetheless. I have it on good authority that Christopher Luxon, current Prime Minister, is on record at the recent Bluegreens national conference stating that he will support the Bill.

Before this post devolves into a political diatribe, I want to come back to the original intent of this writing. We are closer to our true nature as humans when we are in connection with the natural world. That it is our being immersed in nature that leads to deep fulfillment in a way that the infinite search for “more” will not.

My fear is that we realise this too late.

My hope is that we, collectively, rise to the occasion.

My intent is to be a voice for the voiceless and to fight for what matters.


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