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Science Deadline: SMC seeks a new director, coastal hazards

Science Deadline: SMC seeks a new director, coastal hazards report released, and NZ's ancient giant penguin

In this issue: Coastal hazards report released, NZ's ancient giant penguin, and the SMC seeks a new director.

Warning over sea level rise
A report from the Ministry for the Environment has warned that New Zealand lacks a coordinated plan to deal with future climate change, which threatens hundreds of billions of dollars of property and infrastructure.

The report, which had been withheld by the previous government, was leaked prior to the September election. Today, Climate Change Minister James Shaw formally released the report, which he said showed a clearer picture of the scale and urgency of climate change.
The Coastal Hazards and Climate Change guidance is a major revision to the 2008 edition and was published alongside a stocktake report from the Climate Change Adaptation Technical Working Group.
The stocktake found there was significant work required to adapt to climate change, there was a lack of coordination and agreed priorities between agencies and actions had generally been "reactive" after a climate-related event had happened, rather than preparing for future climate change.

Deep South National Science Challenge Principal Investigator Belinda Storey said the guidance was "an excellent piece of work" that suggested a new approach to decision making.

"At a minimum, we need to be thinking how we can avoid creating even more assets that are going to be stranded by sea level rise and increased storminess."

"One thing that the report is unlikely to resolve however is the ability of local governments to pay for these decisions," Storey said.

"Adapting to sea level rise is going to be expensive. Who pays for adaptation and how the costs of sea level rise are distributed across our communities is something we’re only just starting to seriously examine."
Earlier in the week, Newsroom's Eloise Gibson and Cass Mason wrote about the withheld report, saying that the Thames-Coromandel District Council had factored in a sea level rise of 1 metre in the absence of official guidance, despite advice from flood experts to consider seas 2m higher.

The Newsroom article was funded through the Aotearoa New Zealand Science Journalism Fund.

"Look before you leap; if the water looks discoloured, smells unusual, or if there is scum on the surface, swim or play somewhere else."
Waikato Regional Council Medical Officer of Health Dr Jim Miller
on potentially toxic algal blooms in Lake Taupō.

NZ's ancient, giant penguin
Kiwi and German researchers have described a new penguin species from a fossil found on an Otago beach.

G. Mayr/Senckenberg Research Institute

The new species - Kumimanu biceae - was described this week in Nature Communications. Kumimanu means 'monster bird' in Māori and biceae was given to honour Te Papa vertebrate curator Alan Tennyson's mum Bice.

Tennyson and Canterbury Museum's Dr Paul Scofield found the fossil in a boulder in 2004, which Tennyson said was "definitely one of the most exciting fossils that I've ever found".

"When we found it we didn't know what it was because it was completely encased in rock. But as soon as the extraction began, we realised that it was the remains of an enormous bird."

It took until 2015 before preparator Al Mannering began working to extract the fossil. All up they found flipper, body and leg bones, which indicated the bird would have stood 1.77 metres tall and weighed about 100 kilograms.

"It’s difficult to determine exactly what it would have looked like in life," Tennyson said, "but it would have been very impressive, as tall as many people, and a very solid, muscly animal built to withstand frequent deep dives to catch its prey".

"It would not have been the kind of bird that someone could catch alive, it would have been considerably more powerful than a person."

But its size alone is not the only interesting point about the big bird: it's estimated to be between 55 and 60 million years old, making it one of the oldest known penguins.

Ancient DNA expert Dr Nic Rawlence - director of the Otago Paleogenetics Laboratory - said this meant Kumimanu was around just 5-10m years after the dinosaurs became extinct, and that gigantism evolved rapidly in penguins, shortly after they became flightless.

"It may be penguins accepted a job vacancy in the ecosystem with the extinction of large predatory marine reptiles."

"So why does New Zealand have all these ancient species – Leiopelma frogs, tuatara, and Kumimanu? Well, part of the story might be that Zealandia (the continent that New Zealand is part of) started to separate from the supercontinent Gondwana around 80 million years ago," Dr Rawlence said.

"On Zealandia, the ancestors of these ancient species could evolve in isolation, some obtaining truly gigantic sizes. "

The SMC gathered expert reaction on the discovery.

Policy news & developments

Cattle disease in North Island: The Ministry for Primary Industries has confirmed that the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis has been found in the North Island, at a Hastings property.

Surgical mesh restrictions: Medsafe is taking action in New Zealand to limit the use of certain surgical mesh products used for conditions such as pelvic organ prolapse or stress urinary incontinence. It will not change mesh use for hernias.

Kaikōura road reopens: State Highway 1 north of Kaikōura has reopened to daytime traffic for the first time since the November 2016 earthquake.

Breast cancer treatment expanded: PHARMAC has expanded funding for zoledronic acid for post-menopausal women with early breast cancer.

Winter energy payments: The Government's Budget update includes $1.81 billion over the next four years to help superannuitants and beneficiaries afford to heat their homes during winter.

No rat on island: Concern last week that a rat had made it onto predator-free Whenua Hou has been allayed after DNA testing showed the suspect droppings came from a kererū.

Marine reserve fine: A Nelson man was fined $16,000 for commercial fishing in Kahurangi Marine Reserve.

SMC seeking new director
After nearly a decade, founding director Peter Griffin is moving on and we are on the hunt for a new leader.

This is a fantastic opportunity and a good time for potential candidates to reflect over the holidays on what they would bring to the role. See an excerpt from the job description below...

Playing a leading role at the heart of the New Zealand research sector where science meets the headlines

For nearly a decade the Science Media Centre has promoted evidence-based reporting of the big science-related issues facing society by helping journalists and scientists work more closely together.

We need someone who understands the changing media landscape, who is comfortable with complex science-related information and who has great networks in the media, the government and research sectors.

Most importantly, you'll need to be able to lead a small, hardworking team to help achieve our goal of improving and expanding coverage of science-related issues.

Experience in the digital space will serve you well and good relationship management - with funders and our host Royal Society Te Apārangi, our expert contributors and the journalists we serve, is a crucial skill. Managing online content platforms is an important part of the role and we have a major media and communications training aspect of our work that will need your oversight.

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