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SMC Heads-Up: Census, Rena report, nail nibbling natives

Issue 260 6 - 12 Dec 2013

Impact from Rena oil spill - reports

Two years of monitoring show few signs of long-term environmental damage from the Rena disaster.

Initial results from a long-term programme of environmental monitoring in the Bay of Plenty region following the Rena oil spill were released in a substantial report this week, alongside a separate independent review into maritime response in the wake of the disaster.

Comprehensive monitoring of environmental effects in the first two years following the Rena grounding and oil spill in October 2011 has found little evidence of long-term, negative impact on beaches, reefs and fisheries.

However the environment has not yet returned to its 'pre-Rena state', the report says.

University of Waikato Chair in Coastal Science Professor Chris Battershill said initial concerns that oil would have a long-lasting and negative impact on beaches and fisheries could mostly be put to rest.

"While there is still some evidence from time to time of heightened Rena-sourced contaminant levels in kaimoana species on some of the beaches, and northern parts of Motiti, the vast majority of kaimoana and other species have survived, and no evidence has been found of any catastrophic die-off," he said.

A second report released on Tuesday detailed the findings of an independent review into the effectiveness of Maritime New Zealand's response to the disaster. It highlights several shortcomings in response to the unprecedented scale of incident, and recommends increased resourcing of the agency to allow a more coordinated response and better preparation for a future major maritime disaster.

You can read more about the report and its findings on the Science Media Centre website.

What was big in science news this week...

Male contraceptives, thalidomide settlement, shark celebrity, female drinkers and Christchurch gets sensitive.

Warning over kaka's taste for lead

A spate of lead poisonings in the native New Zealand parrot has Wellington conservationists worried.

A successful kaka breeding programme at the Zealandia predator-free reserve has seen a burgeoning population of the native parrots spilling out into the surrounding Wellington suburbs.

However the spread of the native bird into suburbia is not without its problems. Birds attracted to local backyards have been eating lead nail heads and flashings, leading to lead poisonings in a number of birds.

"Lead is a highly toxic heavy metal that is reported to have a sweet taste - especially to parrots." said Zealandia conservation manager, Raewyn Empson in a media release.

"Kaka are extremely intelligent birds and they are known for their inquisitive nature. They will often chew on lead nails and flashings that are common on the roof fixtures of older houses."

One way that Wellington residents can reduce the number of lead poisoning cases is by not feeding the kaka.

"We have heard of large flocks of kaka arriving in some backyards to wait for their evening feeds and this is when they're getting their fix." said Empson.

Locals that do choose to feed the birds are strongly encouraged to ensure that their backyards are lead free. Empson noted that one Wellington family had gone as far as removing all the lead nails from their roof in a bid to protect kaka visitors.

Zealandia's warnings echo concerns raised last year regarding kea in the South Island where lead building materials in back country huts were believed to be poisoning the mountain parrots.

You can read more coverage from the Manawatu Standard and and 3 News.

Policy news and developments

Oil & gas permits: Ten new oil and gas exploration permits (5 on-shore, 5 off-shore) have been announced from Block Offer 2013.

Maritime preparation: Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee has announced a $2 million package to help Maritime New Zealand improve New Zealand's wider maritime response capability.

Eels advice: Results from an international advisory panel set up to review evidence on NZ freshwater eel fisheries have been released.

Plain English: Stats NZ and the EPA have won category awards in the WriteMark Plain English awards.

Census data highlights change

Swathes of census data released this week provide the first comprehensive look at how New Zealand has changed since the last census in 2006.

So who makes up the newly calculated 4,242,048 residents of New Zealand?

As Stats NZ puts it, if New Zealand were a village of 100 people:

• 51 would be female, 49 male.

• 70 would be European, 14 Maori and 11 Asian.

• 24 Would be have been born overseas

• 21 would have a tertiary qualification

• 4 would be unemployed.

• 4 would earn over $100,000

Looking at trends over time, census data also reveals that the population is getting:

Older: the median age of New Zealanders has increased to 38 (from 36 in 2006).

Smarter: The percentage of adults with a bachelor's degree or equivalent as their highest qualification increased (13.6 percent of adults in 2013 compared with 11.2 percent in 2006). Of those with a bachelor's degree or equivalent as their highest qualification, 42.2 percent were men and 57.8 percent were women.

More diverse: The percentage of the usually resident population who were born overseas increased. In 2013, 25.2 percent of people were born overseas, compared with 22.9 percent in 2006. Asian ethnic groups have almost doubled in size since 2001. Reflecting this, Hindi is the fourth most-spoken language (behind English, Te Reo and Samoan).

It will be another five years before we get another accurate account of the makeup of New Zealand, but in the meantime the 2013 information will be used to inform research and important decision regarding projects such as hospitals, schools and transport.

You can access more information about the census including detailed reports, on the Stats NZ website.

Congratulations is also due to Stats NZ for winning the WriteMark Plain English Award - the same day as the census release!

Quoted: New Zealand Herald

"If they think it's not in line with what's considered healthy, people will not mention a Mars bar or the fact they had McDonald's on the way home from work."

Prof Cliona Ni Mhurchu, University of Auckland, on under-reporting in diet surveys.

New from the SMC

Experts Respond:

Wireless concerns: New Zealand experts vet recent claims regarding links between wireless, cellphones and cancer.

Sex differences: Do gender stereotypes reflect physical differences in men's and women's brains? UK scientists respond to a widely reported study.

Reflections on Science:

PISA Survey: Writing in the NZ Herald, education researcher Dr Fiona Ell reflects on our ranking in the latest international education survey.

In the News:

Rena report: Two years of monitoring show few signs of long-term environmental damage from the Rena disaster, according to a new report.

Japan quake: A thin layer of slippery clay was major contributor to the fault rupture that generated Japan's 2011 quake and tsunami, according to new research.

Sciblogs highlights

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:

Small hitchhikers - Brendan Moyle takes us into the tiny world of the pseudoscopion.

Chthonic Wildlife Ramblings

Inside Story On Our Gang Nation - Clinical Psychologist Dr Nick Wilson reviews The History of Gangs in New Zealand by Jarrod Gilbert


How does agriculture affect New Zealand's water quality? Bob Wilcock wades into what has been a heated topic of late.


NZ's PISA rankings slip, & the soul-searching begins - Fixing NZ eduction problems is no easy task, writes Alison Campbell.


Research highlights

Some of the major research papers that made headlines this week.

Please note: hyperlinks point, where possible, to the relevant abstract or paper.

Peeling the onion's internal clock: Onions, the third largest vegetable crop in the world, form a bulb in response to lengthening days, however the molecular mechanisms controlling this response were not previously known. Now, new research has identified the gene controlling bulb development, the first step in discovering genetic markers that can be used as tools to create new onion varieties tailored to grow in specific conditions.

Nature Communications

Suicide attempts a marker for lifelong troubles:
The latest research from the long running Dunedin Cohort study has found that individuals who attempted suicide before age 24 suffered more health and psychiatric issues and had more economic difficulties later in life than their peers. In their 30s, these people were twice as likely as their peers to develop metabolic syndrome and have significantly higher levels of systemic inflammation, both markers of higher risk for heart disease.

JAMA Psychiatry

Japan quake the fault's fault: Further data from seabed drilling of the coast of Japan has revealed more about the 2011 Tohoku quake, which surprised seismologist due to its ferocity and shallow location. Scientists from the Japan Trench Fast Drilling Project, including a New Zealander, have now shown that a thin an weak fault zone was behind the earthquake. A thin layer of clay (just millimetres thick at some points) is identified as playing a critical role in the slipping of the fault.


Antarctic fiords teem with life: During a recent expedition, US scientists for the first time studied the seafloor communities of glacier dominated fiords along the west Antarctic Peninsula, a region undergoing very rapid climate warming. The scientists expected to find very little sea life in the area but to their surprise, bristle worms, anemones, sea spiders, and amphipod crustaceans abounded in their seafloor photographs, along with a number of sea cucumbers, deep ocean jellyfish and other species.


Upcoming sci-tech events

For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.

International Conference on Frontiers of Polymers and Advanced Materials - 8-13 December, Auckland.

Biology of Marine Mammals - 20th Biennial Conference - 9-13 December, Dunedin.

Passing the Mother Test - Prof Philip Baker Inaugral Lecture - 10 December, Auckland.

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