Polystyrene is a significant contributor to ocean plastic (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Parliament hears dire data on ocean plastic

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Parliament hears dire data on ocean plastics, Provincial Growth Fund to spend millions for 3 jobs, and minister Clare Curran on personal leave.

The spread of microplastics in New Zealand’s coastal waters is increasing, to the point where 80% of samples taken in a study were contaminated, reports Radio NZ. Microplastics are basically bits of plastic that have broken down into smaller bits, but not disappeared completely. Ministry for the Environment officials told Parliament that they couldn’t be sure exactly how much plastic was in the sea around NZ. (NOTE – Link now automatically redirects to a Radio NZ story that doesn’t include earlier reporting of statistics) 

However early evidence suggests what is there is having a toxic evidence on wildlife. In the past, Newshub has reported that plastic pollution has a serious effect on New Zealand seabirds, because of their unfussy eating habits. From the air, plastic and fish don’t look all that different.

It is something that the government has taken some action on, with a ban on microbeads coming into force in June this year. Experts warned at the time that it wasn’t likely to have much more than a token effect on the amount of plastic entering the ocean. And the ban on plastic bags that will be phased in over the next year is being pushed in part because of the negative effects they have on coastal areas.

The thing is though, that even if New Zealand acts decisively on this, the problem is global. The Samoa Observer reports that plastic pollution in the Pacific is endemic in fish species –  97% of all fish species tested in the seas around Samoa were contaminated with plastic. Fish is a hugely important source of protein for people in the Pacific Islands, and yet their ocean is also home to a floating garbage patch which could be as large as Russia. It should go without saying that Pacific Island nations themselves have played very little part in creating the pile of rubbish in their backyard.

There are pretty much only two outcomes that could happen from here. There could either be global action to immediately stop more plastic getting in the water. Or, the oceans could end up extinct of life – a situation outlined in this feature from The Monthly, which is worth sharing again given the subject. Is it all too late? The NZ Herald’s Jamie Morton tackles that question in this article.


A Provincial Growth Fund project in Kawakawa, Northland, is getting short shrift from Newshub, who have revealed that a $2.4 million spend will create 3 jobs. The cultural centre is intended to leverage off the success of the public toilets in attracting tourists to the area. Officials recommended the funding be declined for a range of reasons, not least because it wasn’t exactly clear how the project would stimulate the economy. Over and above the 3 jobs of course.


Broadcasting minister Clare Curran is on personal leave, reports the NZ Herald. It comes immediately after a bumbling performance in Parliament, under questioning over her use of a personal Gmail account. That as well comes a few weeks after she was sacked from her other portfolios, over failing to diary a meeting she had with entrepreneur Derek Handley, a candidate for a big government job.


Ministerial expenses for the quarter have finally been released, and Stuff have a breakdown on who spent what. In total ministers spent just under $1.5 million on travel and accomodation over the quarter. Green ministers spent the least out of that, but then again, they don’t have the foreign affairs, trade, or PM portfolios, which is where the big numbers typically get racked up.


Sir Ray Avery is back in the news. This time Newsroom has a story about him making a legal threat in an attempt to suppress a clinical study into a product he was promoting. The product was an IV drop controller, which was found to be no more accurate than a standard 50c roller clamp. When asking for the trial findings to be retracted, he reportedly told one researcher “you really don’t want this from a career perspective”.

Speaking of Sir Ray Avery, one of his other products – the LifePod incubator – is the focus of this piece by Amy McDaid on The Spinoff. McDaid writes that infant mortality isn’t necessarily a technology problem – it’s an education problem. McDaid has looked into what is called Kangaroo Mother Care – a method of caring for premature babies that is simple, highly effective, and free. It’s a very interesting piece.


If you’re in the Hawke’s Bay, keep safe out there over the weekend. Heavy rain has been smashing the area, reports Hawke’s Bay Today, and there’s more to come today. The stormwater system has really struggled with the volume of rain coming down, and the rain has also caused serious slips.


House prices have fallen, but don’t expect them to plummet. That’s the view of this Stuff opinion piece, which jumps off the QV data which shows a 1.6% slide in house values over the quarter. Susan Edmonds says there’s a range of economic, infrastructural and cultural reasons why that’s not a sign everything is about to crash.

Meanwhile, petrol prices just keep getting higher and higher, reports Radio NZ. I know a lot of Bulletin readers are public transport commuters, but for the drivers out there, times are tough. Nationwide, 91 is now at $2.30 a litre, which is a 30-year high, but in some parts of the country it’s even higher than that again.


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Should you watch the All Blacks or the Warriors this weekend?

Right now on The Spinoff: James Ting-Edwards argues that New Zealand’s privacy laws need a reboot for the internet age. Red Nicholson hits out at MPs doing well-meaning but ultimately insulting stunts with wheelchairs. And Russell Brown talks to Moira Lawler of Lifewise, which is doing very interesting, non-judgemental work in getting the most vulnerable into houses.


Here’s something to read for anyone interested in the billion trees programme. Published in Nature, it’s an article about forest regeneration in areas that have lost their trees. That applies to a lot of New Zealand’s farmland and hill country, which will likely be reconverted back to forestry. But it’s an easy thing to get wrong, as plenty of examples around the world have shown. Here’s an excerpt:

“When people think of reforestation, they often think of planting trees. But some ecologists argue that the best way to repopulate a forest is to leave it alone. In the 1980s, Daniel Janzen and his partner Winnie Hallwachs, both biologists at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, developed a plan to reforest a small national park in Costa Rica that had been carved out of a former ranch. It was covered in African grasses that were intentionally burned during the dry season.

The pair, along with partners including the government, employed local people to stop the fires and help guard the land. Over time, what had resembled overgrown African savannah became a tropical forest with rain trees (Samanea saman), guanacaste (Enterolobium cyclocarpum), hog plums (Spondias mombin) and other native trees. And with the help of donors and local workers, it grew.”


The question dominating sports discussion on Newstalk ZB was very simple this morning. What to watch this weekend – the All Blacks vs Argentina, or the Warriors NRL playoff against the Panthers? Fortunately, I’ve assessed that question for The Spinoff, and I reckon have come up with a conclusive answer. Go the boys.

New Zealand could pick up the services of a top Australian track cyclist ahead of the 2020 Olympics, reports Newshub. Former world champion Jordan Kerby is deeply disgruntled with the Australian setup, and has NZ heritage through his mother, so has switched allegiances. It could be a serious boost to the competitiveness of the endurance race teams, which already include some fairly handy cyclists.

And if you’ve been following the story around the alleged Harness Racing fixing, you might have been wondering – how would one actually do the fixing? This piece from Stuff tackles that question. A reminder – at this stage, it’s all hypothetical and alleged, none of the charges have yet been proven.


From our partners, Vector’s Beth Johnson writes that if you get a cheque in the mail, no, it isn’t a scam. It’s just the Loss Rental Rebate system in action.


That’s it for The Bulletin. If you liked what you read, and know other people who would find it useful, pass on this signup form to them.


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