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Hunger strike protestors update

Friday 3rd September

Hunger strike protestors update

A long week is coming to an end for Fiona Gibson and Rob Cadmus. Since last Sunday night, they have been sitting 25 metres up a pine tree overlooking the West Coast, braving the winter weather, and eating nothing. The pair have been on hunger strike since to highlight the suffering that global climate change causes around the world. “Coal burning heavily contributes to climate change. New Zealand has signed the Kyoto protocol, and yet we are not taking our responsibility seriously. Coal just shouldn’t be an option as an energy source.” said Fiona. “What we are doing may seem extreme - it is a shame that disgusting ongoing pollution of a beautiful river doesn’t make the news, but people starving themselves does.” she added.

The action has generated interest from around the country, including National Radio.

“To brave the cold, wind and rain at this time of year, from 25 metres up in a tree on the side of a hill is admirable, especially without the energy provided by food.” said Sophie Williams, an Ecology Student from Otago University.

“They haven’t eaten since Sunday night. That’s quite a feat.” said Mara Nydegger, one of the support crew. Fiona was too weak to make it back up into the tree unaided after the pair were brought down by their support crew earlier in the week due to lightning strikes and high winds. She was taken back up into the tree by a system of pullies. Safety was imperative at all times. Despite her physical weakness, Fiona is in good spirits.

“Last night the tree was moving a lot, it was really windy. There’s gorgeous weather today - a beautiful view, you can see the waves rolling in on the beach, the wonderful forested hills and the mist. It is a great day to come down, the contrast to the weather earlier in the week is amazing” said Rob. He admitted that he is feeling the effects of no food. Matt Scott, a PhD botanist at Otago University, who has been supporting Rob, said “Rob is definitely finding it hard. He doesn’t always recognise the people standing below the tree, and he is weak.” The pair have been drinking juice to maintain their fluids, but are looking forward to coming down from the tree tonight for a light meal.

Mara Nydegger is one of the 5 protestors who has been camping underneath the tree: “They are both shattered. They have really needed the support crew around them. The weather and rain hs taken its toll.”

From their vantage point, the impact of the nearby Stockton coal mine was clear: “We could see the filthy water pouring out to sea from the Ngakawau River, contrasting the black discharge against the waves.” said Rob. “Solid Energy constantly breaches environmental standards at the nearby Stockton mine. The Buller Regional Council just doesn’t seem interested in monitoring their discharge adequately. We don’t believe that the proposed Happy Valley Mine will be any different, and are completely against the destruction of this wonderful and unique place.”

FURTHER INFO: Media notice (released earlier this week)

Hunger strike to Save Happy Valley

For immediate release August 30th 2004

A hunger strike has been undertaken today by two South Island students, who will confine themselves to a small platform suspended from a tree in Waimangaroa, on the West Coast, in protest of the proposed “Cypress” mine in Happy Valley.

“What we are doing may seem dangerous, but the dangers posed by the Cypress Mine are far greater. Scientists have shown that global climate change is a reality, and it is likely to cause famine and displacement to millions of people. Our use of coal is contributing to this danger. We want to illustrate the hunger and suffering that global climate change can cause, to empathise with those who have no voice in the world.” stated Fiona Gibson, one of the hunger strikers. She has assured that to minimise the danger of the action, the platform has been set up by experienced rock climbers and that safety is the number one priority.

The students chose the site of their protest for the visibility to mining and road traffic. A number of protesters from around the country have concurrently occupied the site of the proposed “Cypress” mine in Happy Valley, 25km from Westport, to see first hand the uniqueness of the area, what is at stake from the proposed mine, and from coal mining in general. Protesters include those that occupied the site over Easter of this year.

“We’re showing our support for local groups and individuals that are trying to save Happy Valley, and show those on the West Coast that people all over New Zealand are against this mine” says Rob Cadmus, one of the hunger strikers.

Happy Valley is a unique and diverse ecosystem, a large part of an area marked out as the most Recommended Area for Protection (RAP1) by a 1998 DoC survey of the Ngakawau Ecological District (1). “In the recent resource consent hearings in May , the director General of DoC requested that the consents for the mine be declined (2). I think this reflects the importance of the area.

The Happy Valley mine proposal has sparked outrage from around the country because of the nature of the mine, the range of native habitat that will be destroyed because of it, and because of the shocking record of Solid Energy in monitoring the damage caused by their current mines (not considered by the resource consents committee).

We are particulalry opposed to this mine because it is pristine habitat, home to the threatened Great Spotted Kiwi, endangered Powelliphanta ‘patrickensis’ giant land snails, etc etc. “Open cast coal mining is the most destructive form of mining. The top of the land is scraped off, horrific pollution and acid mine drainage is created, and local rivers are stripped of fish and invertebrates. No amount of rehabilitation effort will restore it within our, or our childrens lifetimes.” said Mr Cadmus.

It goes against what the government hopes to acheive with the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy (3). New Zealand is rated as one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world, but that status is threatened by blatent acions such as the Cypress mine. Solid Energy has proposed a range of mitigations for the damage caused by the mine, but this hs raised serious doubts from DoC (4).

“We want people to realise that their electricity is not pulled out of thin air. It is produced by destroying habitat and polluting the environment. New Zealand maintains an excessive lifestyle, exceeding Americans in wastage per capita (as reported in the ODT this year). Simple changes could increase environmental conciousness in this country and stem wastage of energy.”

“We are very against the Happy Valley mine, it will destroy a unique ecosystem, wipe out endangered kiwi and land snails, pollute rivers and streams and increase the effects of global warming” stated Fiona Gibson.

“The mine is just not worth it: there are alternatives. New Zealand has the potential to become more efficient in its use of electricity, develop wind and solar power, reduce demand, etc. By heading down the coal road we are ignoring the potential for these alternatives. For example, we drove to Westport in a van that runs off used “waste” vegetable oil... Alternatives exist - we just need to use them!” says Rob Cadmus.

The hunger strikers are part of the Save Happy Valley campaing. The action is taken in solidarity with others from around the country who are camping out in Hppy Valley this week. The strike is intended to be peaceful and non-confrontational. It will last approximately a week, but weather, safety and health will be deciding factors on when to end the strike.


Fiona Gibson and Rob Cadmus are students of Ecology at the University of Otago. They have chosen to spend their mid-semester break on this action. They have been joined by 35 protestors from around the country, including Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Blenheim, Palmerston North and Auckland.


1 Ngakawau Ecological district Survey report for the Protected Natural Areas Programme, DoC

2 Dean Van Milo - Director General (DoC) submission against proposed “Cypress” mine

3 New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy. sponsored by DoC, MfE, MAF,

4 Philip Knightbridge, DoC, submission on proposed “Cypress” mine


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