Georgia correspondent Daryl Weinhoff is blogging about her study abroad experience in New Zealand this summer.
When the Maori people arrived to the South Island of New Zealand approximately 700 years ago, the land was covered in over 85 percent of forests. However, as time went on, this number decreased to 53 percent in 1840 and 25 percent in 2000. The pre-historic Maoris greatly exploited the land of New Zealand.
The Maori people used the land to their advantage and were not cautious of the fact they were killing off lots of species in order to live. They did this mainly from their food gathering techniques, which relied heavily on the hunting of moa as a main source of food. When they first arrived, there were approximately 1.5 million moa; however, throughout the next few hundred years, the Maoris drove the bird into extinction. The hunting done by the Maori people "eliminated 26 species of endemic land birds and four of the endemic sea birds" (Craig 2000). Along with these birds, the Maoris also caused the endangerment of tuatara and loss of seals and sea lions. To hunt their food, they would set large forest fires to drive the animals out of woods in order to capture them more easily.
Through the Maori exploitation of the land on the South Island, many ecological changes took place, both good and bad. According to Craig, "native grasslands initially increased from 1.5 million hectares to 8 million hectares," however, after the Maoris arrived, this number decreased drastically. This damage was not only done through the use of fires, but also from over-sowing with pasture grasses. The use of fires for farming and hunting also relapsed a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, therefore burning lots of nutrients in the soil.
The arrival of the Europeans and the building of many towns and cities, which overtook the farmland, also contributed to the tarnishing of the environment.
The next maltreatment to the land came with the arrival of dogs, rats, pests, etc. In order to control the numbers of these creatures, the Europeans introduced possums and ferrets, which are now seen as greatly overpopulating the land.
In order help fix problems of the past, many people in the last few decades have tried to make up for harming the environment. In 1887, New Zealand got its first National Park, a notable step toward helping to preserve the forests. New Zealand also established the Soil Conservation and Rivers Act in 1941 as well as the formation of the Wildlife Service. Another attempt to preserve New Zealand, and certainly not the last, was the establishment of the Conservation Act in 1987 that protects national and historic resources.
Photos: Daryl Weinhoff