A longfin eel (Image: Supplied by DOC)

The Bulletin: The warning in mass deaths of eels

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Warnings about waterways in mass eel deaths, government funding approved for Christchurch stadium, and two Covid-19 tests come back negative.

Frankly, this is one of the most visually horrifying environmental stories I’ve ever seen. Farah Hancock at Newsroom has looked at the extreme pressure being put on waterways in parts of the Hauraki Plains, with ducks and eels especially dying in vast numbers. Algal blooms, botulism and extreme heat have combined to create absolute killing fields for species that depend on the waterways for survival. It’s a combination of direct and indirect human intervention causing the problems basically. And I’m being genuine here – some of you really won’t want to see the pictures in the story, they’re very sickening.

It’s another in a series of stories recently that shows how tough it is right now for eels to survive. Sometimes it is because of direct human intervention. There was a story last month about thousands near Hāwera in Taranaki dying in a chemical spill – Te Ao News reports the ammonia ended up in the water as a result of a burst valve at a Silver Ferns Farms plant, which couldn’t be contained. One aspect that story goes into is that a mass-death event like this does serious long-term damage to populations that can’t easily be repaired, because eels are generally slow and infrequent breeders. Eel numbers have not recovered after a similar spill in a Canterbury stream in 2018.

I’d also like to share this correspondence from a reader, who brought up a case in his backyard. Waipawa farmer Doug wrote last week to say “in the current dry spell a stream that runs through our property dried up, shortly after the Waipawa River dried up. In the period between the two events, our stream filled up with eels, I believe, as they sought water to survive in. When the stream also dried up they became trapped and consequently died. I’m talking about eels in the high hundreds, possibly into the thousands.” It may be the same case as has been reported here by (paywalled) Hawke’s Bay Today – more worryingly, it may be one of several cases in the region.

With the drought continuing to dry up waterways all over the country, there are some groups trying to save eels. Te Karere had a report recently on East Coast kaitiaki Tina Ngata and her whānau, who have been catching eels to move them to safer rivers. Many Māori consider the species a taonga, so the deaths are heartbreaking on that level. But it should also be taken as an extreme warning sign of the health of the waterways generally. Canaries used to die in coal mines, when the air became dangerous – it’s fair to say eels right now are giving the same signals about the water.


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$220 million worth of government funding has been approved for a new sports stadium in Christchurch, reports Star News. It’s by far the biggest share of a $300 million package, which also includes some much greener developments. The goal is to get it all finished by 2024.

I’d imagine there’ll be a fair bit of a carbon emissions belch in getting it built, so it makes sense to follow the stadium news up with this story. The carbon footprint of the Rugby Championship will be marginally reduced under a revamped structure. That’s an intriguing point buried in this NZ Herald (paywalled) article about the new structure, which will include alternating year two-game tours to South Africa and Argentina, rather than annual home and away games. I was only aware of this point because it was picked out as an angle by Newstalk ZB’s sports news yesterday afternoon. But it does rather make you wonder – shouldn’t all sports be doing everything they can to cut back on their emissions?


Tests on two people who potentially had the Covid-19 coronavirus have come back negative. As Radio NZ reports, it means there is still just one confirmed case in the country. The likelihood of a community outbreak is still considered low, but either way – how good has all that extra handwashing been recently? Let’s keep doing that anyway. Meanwhile, Jihee Junn reports there is some serious price gouging going on, with people trying to take advantage of the situation financially.


The top editors in New Zealand’s biggest commercial media companies have hit out at an ad campaign by Radio NZ. Duncan Greive has reported on the campaign for The Spinoff, in which the state-funded broadcaster has attacked both the business models that allows commercial media organisations to exist, and in more oblique terms attacked their quality. In fairness, one of the ads simply notes that RNZ is more than a radio station. There’s a direct reference to NZ Herald Premium in there, and managing editor of NZME newsroom Shayne Currie said it was “disappointing and disingenuous for taxpayer-funded Radio New Zealand to somehow suggest New Zealanders are not paying for RNZ journalism or journalists.” I’d also note – while RNZ is generally a very high quality source of news – the vast majority of investigative journalism in New Zealand comes out of commercial newsrooms.


A bill to remove abortion from the Crimes Act has passed a second reading, reports Newshub. It went through 81-39, so a slightly narrower margin compared to the first reading, but still quite comfortable. There will be further debate on the bill in the House before the third reading. Last night, a protester was ejected from parliament for shouting at Green MP Jan Logie over the matter.


NZ First MP and cabinet minister Shane Jones is refusing to back down on comments about international students from India. He went on Radio NZ and defended himself, despite the PM previously saying the comments were “loose and wrong.” Green co-leader James Shaw, meanwhile, came out and said they were racist remarks, reports Newshub. It’s a pretty difficult position for Ardern, given how blithely her displeasure has been ignored. But it has at least led to some good satire – the fictitious PM took a much stronger line on Jones in this joke-post on The Civilian.


In an interview with Critic Te ArohiLabour MP Clare Curran has admitted to have been charged and fined for marijuana in the distant past. She said she used it for period pain, so it sounds a lot more medicinal than recreational. It was quite an open admission, though Curran will be retiring at the next election.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

For whatever reason this picture seemed like a good metaphor (Getty Images)

Right now on The Spinoff: Korey Te Hira analyses the big moving day coming up in the Democratic Party primary, known as Super Tuesday. Community development expert Anneleise Hall explains the importance of building up local networks to face threats like Covid-19. Liam Hehir gives a step by step guide to how compulsory anonymity in political donations might work. Sarah Austen-Smith warns of the meme blizzard that is coming for voters ahead of the election. And Catherine Woulfe looks at the list of Ockhams book award finalists, and notes two works that are weirdly missing.


For a feature today, a last message from one of this country’s great modern heroes. Sir Rob Fenwick, environmentalist, businessman and philanthropist, is dying. He wrote one last clarion call for action in The Listener on what is truly important and worth protecting. Here’s an excerpt:

I am also facing extinction. For five years, I have danced with cancer. I refuse to call it a struggle or a battle – I am dancing with the disease. We swing, we twist, sometimes we lift, and too often we step on each other’s feet. But my determined dance partner will end our dance before I’m ready. Time is running out for me, and it is with profound sadness that I consider that time is running out, too, for our precious environment.

Although my doctor has exhausted all the options, we as a nation have not exhausted ours when it comes to saving these species. This is a crisis. Time is running out for the treasures of nature that we love, and it is worth using every last breath, all of our collective energy, to save our land and secure our future.


Sporting events are being held without spectators in Japan, to combat the spread of Covid-19, reports AP News. Some of the pictures are pretty eerie and weird, but it makes sense as a protection. The Sunwolves have also moved their home Super Rugby games out of the country for the time being. It’s not looking particularly good for the Olympics later this year, which probably can’t be moved or postponed, and so may just be cancelled outright.

And a big result for squash player Paul Coll. The ODT reports he’s taken a rare win off World no.1 Mohamed El Shorbagy, in the quarterfinals of a World Tour tournament in Chicago. Coll, from Greymouth, said after the match that he was “seeing it like a beach ball.” New Zealand’s top women’s player Joelle King fell early in her draw of the tournament in an upset loss in the second round.


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