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Strange and interesting changes in environment

Friday 9 September 2005

Strange and interesting changes in environment

Long-time Bay of Plenty residents may have noticed strange and interesting changes in the natural environment over the past few decades. Now, one of New Zealand’s top climate change experts wants to hear their stories.

Environment Bay of Plenty has asked environmental scientist Dr Gavin Kenny to study the potential effects of climate change on the region’s natural environment, especially plants and animals. As part of the job, Dr Kenny is gathering anecdotes from local people to see what might already have happened in recent years.

“Some people who have lived in the region for a fair while will have observed changes. They might have noticed an influx of a bird that didn’t use to be around here, such as the eastern rosellas that have been in the news lately. They might have noticed a weed flourishing where it once struggled to establish. Maybe they’re puzzled because a favourite native plant seems to have faded from the landscape.”

Though climate change may not be the only or main factor, people’s stories help to build up a picture of what is going on in the region. “As the climate changes, so will the Bay of Plenty’s environment – for better or worse,” Dr Kenny says. “However, it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s just a challenge for us to work out how to positively and proactively address this new future.”

Climate change scientists are predicting warmer weather, with the possibility of more droughts and floods, in the Bay of Plenty over the next century. Dr Kenny says the hotter climate has implications for native plants and animals. It could also allow new pest plants and animals to establish here.

Woolly nightshade, for example, is sensitive to frost so is often restricted to coastal areas. “Because of that, it’s not such a problem in Rotorua – but that may change as the weather warms up.” The subtropical grasses, paspalum and kikuyu, thrive so well in Northland that farmers no longer try and control them. Eventually, this could be the case here, Dr Kenny says.

Dr Kenny says Environment Bay of Plenty is one of the most proactive regional councils in New Zealand in working to engage with the community to deal with predicted climate changes.

It has funded a number of studies to build up a localised picture of climate change trends. It is already putting the results into action, for example with river management and flood control operations. Others areas of responsibility affected by climate change include civil defence and emergency management and regional planning.

Dr Kenny points out that increased mobility, both within New Zealand and internationally, provides more opportunities for introducing new pest animals and plants.

ENDS

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