EcoQuest New Zealand
Why Study in New Zealand?
Aotearoa, New Zealand is a dynamic country that harbours an array of wonderful creatures, some of which are relics from Cretaceous times. 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 (weta; Deinacrida spp). The habitats of these creatures are unique and varied. The New Zealand native biota is characterized by an extremely high degree of endemism: around 90% of New Zealand’s insects and marine molluscs, 80% of trees, ferns and flowering plants, 25% of bird species, 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. Many of these species and their habitats, however, have the dubious distinction of being endangered or vulnerable. Control of 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. New Zealand has considerable commitment at government level for sustainable management of its 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. The Department of Conservation and Ministry for the Environment have written a comprehensive Biodiversity Strategy and an Environmental Indicators Programme which is well advanced. New Zealand’s protected and conservation areas stretch off-shore with the beginning stages of a network of Marine Reserves and Marine Protected Areas.
The New Zealand landmass was the last significant landmass on earth to be settled by people. New Zealanders trace their ancestry to a variety of cultural backgrounds. The first settlement of New Zealand is thought to have taken place between 800-1000 AD. These settlers came from central Polynesia. By 1500, a distinct Maori society had emerged. There are records only of one European ship having made it to New Zealand in the mid 1600’s but it was not until the late 1700s that European explorers arrived in any numbers in New Zealand. By the early 1800s, European missionaries, sealers and whalers were well established.
Following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi -a treaty between the British Crown and Maori, which is considered to be the founding document of the nation- in 1840, Europeans arrived in large numbers. A tumultuous century followed, marked by land-wars and ‘boom and bust’ industries. Timber merchants and gold miners came and went, and farming became the dominant land use. Despite the fact that more than 80% of New Zealanders live in urban environments, New Zealand still relies on primary production (e.g. dairy, meat, wool, and other export industries such as tourism). The current population of New Zealand totals 4.2 million, 15% of which is Maori. The majority (68%) is of European extraction and the remainder is made up of people from the Pacific (7%), Asia (9%), and ‘other’ (1%). You may wish to look up information about New Zealand’s people, her governance system, and resource and environmental management at: www.newzealand.govt.nz
EcoQuest semester programs provide an exciting opportunity to be part of a vibrant learning community for 15 weeks and to be involved in local research. Students will experience living and working closely with a dynamic team of peers, faculty and staff. Our established network of scientists, policy makers, planners, resource managers, and community members throughout New Zealand provides for buoyant learning and interactions in the framework of the program.
EcoQuest students, from a diversity of disciplines, are immersed in a rigorous field-based program with a focus on practical skills and conceptual thinking, and opportunities to contribute to local conservation and resource management initiatives. Each semester, our team will explore terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems at a variety of locations in New Zealand and examine the unique natural history and environmental impacts first-hand. New Zealand provides an ideal context for multi-faceted studies in ecology: the unique geology and ecosystem diversity make for a natural laboratory, superbly suited to applied field studies. Along with rich cultural traditions and innovative policy, New Zealand has considerable commitment to – and lively debate on - sustainable management of natural resources at several levels of government. Program delivery sites may vary among semesters, but the core curriculum / course content is fixed.
Three courses (NR660-NR662) are tied together through lectures and field exercises (up to 15 per semester). You will learn about the forces and influences (geological and cultural) that shaped New Zealand as we know it today, and gain an understanding of topical resource management issues (from restoration ecology to extractive industries). We build on this knowledge with field exercises and field investigations in a variety of settings. Teamwork is an important component of the field exercises. Each week has a theme or case study to which learning opportunities and outcomes are tied.
The first week of each semester is dedicated to orientation, operating procedures, and introduction of course material. We often take an introductory hike during the first week. During the following weeks, ecology in action – from the mountains to the sea – is the main pursuit. We explore nearby coastal / marine ecosystems, influences of land-use on catchments, restoration ecology, wildlife management issues, and marine ecology. You will learn about participation by communities in the achievement of conservation goals. We have at least one overnight stay on a marae during each semester, which allows a glimpse into Maori culture and traditions. Each semester includes a 3-week program component, which is delivered in the South Island. The two important themes for this part of the program are ‘ecology of alpine and montane environments’, and ‘eco-tourism and sustainability’. In addition and often tied in to one of the two aforementioned themes, we explore mainland islands, environmental education, and catchment management.
The final four and half weeks of each semester are reserved for the Directed Research Projects. In close consultation with faculty, students focus on projects that explore specific aspects of ecology and resource management. Students carry out field investigations and, guided by faculty, analyse and interpret results. A written project report and an oral presentation of your findings are the final learning outputs for the semester. All projects offered by EcoQuest have scientific and societal relevance. Directed Research Projects contribute information relevant to on-going ecological monitoring and research, restoration and resource management initiatives of local importance.
5 Weeks, 3 Islands, 8 Credits: an unforgettable Summer Program in Aotearoa New Zealand
Our five-week summer program provides an unequalled opportunity to gain academic credits while working toward sustainable solutions for the management of natural resources. All learning opportunities offered by EcoQuest are packaged into a curriculum framework which addresses ecology and environmental policy pertaining to the real-life case studies which span the full spectrum of restoration opportunities on offshore islands in the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand's largest marine embayment. Since 1999, Tiritiri Matangi Island and Ponui Island have been core destinations for the Summer Program. Motuihe and Motutapu islands are relatively recent additions to ecological restoration of offshore islands in New Zealand, and their potential conservation value is extremely high. In 2006 EcoQuest was invited to contribute to ecological restoration efforts on Motuihe, and since 2010 we have extended out efforts to include Motutapu.
At a conceptual level, many of the issues facing New Zealand are not dissimilar to those in the United States. Our coursework is designed with this in mind and students will develop excellent field skills that can be applied back home (or elsewhere in the world). Learning activities centre around several core topics, including plant and animal pest management, native revegetation and habitat enhancement, endangered species translocations, ecological monitoring of native flora and fauna, and the role of the wider community in restoration initiatives. Political frameworks for resource management in New Zealand as well as current policy pathways are an integrated part of the curriculum.
Restoration and conservation on islands has traditionally been a huge part of New Zealand ecology and wildlife management. Islands have served as offshore “arks” where species that were vulnerable to predators could survive. Starting in the 1970s, techniques were developed to eradicate mammalian pests from offshore islands. This, together with translocation of rare and endangered species, has allowed many off-shore islands to become safe-havens for wildlife. They are now stocked with native and endemic plants and animals.
Most islands in the Hauraki Gulf have a long history of human occupation. The islands were among some of the first areas settled by Maori. Many of the Gulf islands were highly sought after by Europeans once they arrived in New Zealand. Both Maori and Europeans used the islands extensively for agriculture.
In the Hauraki Gulf, mammalian pests have been eradicated from a number of islands in recent years. EcoQuest contributes to ecological restoration efforts on several of these islands, including Motuihe and Motutapu. We have incorporated these two islands as exciting options in the summer program. Motuihe and Motutapu complement the island destinations that have been part of our summer programs since 1999: Tiritiri Matangi Island and Ponui Island.
Due to long-standing and successful involvement with a number of partners, including the Department of Conservation, the Auckland Council, private land owners and several island restoration trusts, EcoQuest is able to offer students the opportunity to experience and contribute to a significant part of the spectrum of restoration opportunities on offshore islands in the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand's largest marine embayment.
Ponui Island is the eastern-most of the Inner Hauraki Gulf Islands and is privately owned. The island has been farmed for more than a century, but a large tract of broadleaf/kauri forest remains. Following successful establishment of North Island brown kiwi in the 1960's, Ponui now supports the most dense wild population of this species of kiwi in New Zealand. Students learn about the ecology of kiwi and carry out kiwi call surveys. They explore in-depth the role that private landowners can play in maintaining biodiversity, the provisions for supporting landowners to do this successfully, and the resource management issues that may help or hinder in this process. Research on several aspects of ecology of kiwi is carried out by Massey University graduate students, under supervision of Dr. Isabel Castro (lecturer in ecology at Massey), one of the EcoQuest research associates.
Tiritiri Matangi (Tiri) is considered one of the most successful ecological restoration projects in the world. There is evidence of extensive Maori settlement on Tiri. The two main tribes that occupied Tiri at different times were Kawerau and Ngati Paoa (our local iwi at Whakatiwai). Maori occupation of Tiri ended in the late 1850’s, and already at that time Europeans were farming sheep and pigs on the island. Tiri fell into Crown ownership in the early 1940’s. 120 years of farming saw this 220-hectare island stripped of all but about 5% of the remaining native coastal broadleaf forest.
An initiative by faculty from Auckland University in 1979 saw the development of a proposal to develop / use Tiri as habitat for endangered flora and fauna. The Department of Conservation, together with many volunteers from the wider Auckland community, have eradicated all introduced mammalian pests, planted the island with native species, and reintroduced native wildlife.
Following more than 25 years of restoration efforts, the island provides a safe haven for many threatened species and serves as one of the best examples of what parts of New Zealand were like before the introduction of mammalian predators and competitors. On Tiri, students experience first-hand a highly successful restoration project and we explore the role of this island in education for sustainability.
Motuihe Island is a relatively recent addition to ecological restoration of offshore islands, and its potential conservation value is extremely high. This is due, not in the least, to the fact that important remnants of native coastal forest are still present on the island. In addition, the island contains a variety of small streams and freshwater wetlands, sheltered sandy beaches, rich fertile soils, and several threatened species. The island is now considered free of mammalian predators. Already translocations of endemic species have taken place and more are expected. Motuihe is only 15 minutes from downtown Auckland with excellent visitor facilities, and fantastic views of the Hauraki Gulf. EcoQuest students have been involved in monitoring of vegetation, reptiles, invertebrates and birds.
Motutapu (“sacred island”) is joined to Rangitoto (see below) by a causeway constructed in the 20th Century, but the two islands are completely different. Geologically, Motutapu is a continental remnant that dates from when New Zealand was still part of Gondwana; it is in fact older than much of mainland New Zealand, although it has been overlaid by the ash of numerous volcanic eruptions (including that of Rangitoto – see below). Motutapu has been settled since people arrived in the area some 800 years ago, and has at various times been fortified, cleared, farmed and grazed. Motutapu Island is classed as a Recreation Reserve under the responsibility of the Department of Conservation. A highly organised and active community-driven restoration group is currently working to replant parts of Motutapu in native vegetation. EcoQuest students are involved in the revegetation efforts on this island.
Rangitoto Island is a basalt cone formed by the most recent eruption of Auckland’s volcanic field (600 year ago). This gives it not only its distinctive shape, but its status as “one of the newest bits of New Zealand”. The ecology and current forest type on Rangitoto reflects the fact that it was quite recently (and still is, in places) bare volcanic rock (both lava flows and scoria). The succession process on Rangitoto is extremely unusual, since one of the first colonising species was pohutukawa. Pohutukawa are unusual early-successional species that grow into large, long-lived trees, which form a closed forest canopy. Rangitoto Island is currently managed by the Department of Conservation as a Scenic Reserve. Students visit Rangitoto when they stay on Motutapu.
On these islands, students may participate in revegetation programs, or in long-term ecological monitoring programs designed to assess the response of native plants and animals to the restoration processes (which typically include eradication of mammalian pests, weed management, native revegetation, and translocation of endangered species).