Data for Change

One predator at a time

Imagine, just for a moment, that you could make a difference by doing something small in your neighbourhood. That’s what thousands of New Zealanders are doing all over the country by working together to trap invasive predators. New Zealand is a country of birds, but possums, rats, mice, hedgehogs, and mustelids (ferrets, weasels and stoats) have decimated the avian populations, and in many areas also damaged the native forests. New Zealanders are taking the country back, improving the world for birds, one predator at a time. All it takes is a little time, the right trapping methods, and enough neighbours.

Data for Change

Using birdsong to index the local health of New Zealand nature

The natural soundscape of New Zealand is ringing with birdsong. Unfortunately this natural wonder is currently confined to pockets of the country that are protected from introduced predators. The New Zealand government Department of Conservation (DOC) and community groups have embarked on an ambitious plan, called Predator Free New Zealand 2050, to rid as much of the country as possible of introduced predators that destroy the natural bird life and silence the soundscape. Neighbourhood groups contribute by trapping or poison baiting rats, mice, mustelids, hedgehogs, and brushtail possums to remove them from gardens and natural areas. In many cases the…

Stories from an exotic childhood

When we arrived in Sarawak in 1968 I had no idea what it would be like, but I was young, barely thirteen. We stayed at the government guesthouse, which was a spare, villa-like building on a small hill overlooking the town of Kuching. I recall the sound of chanting, the clash of cymbals, and strange wailing. Buddhist funeral processions seemed to be a common feature of the street below.

It was hot, and my mother wanted a shower after travelling. A commotion arose in the bathroom when a large, black scorpion crawled out onto the shower floor, tail raised. Help…

or why I should have been a botanist

Oceanographers by definition go to sea, but many don’t, or go to sea very seldom. Those include modellers, remote sensing scientists, palaeoceanographers, and lab-based experimentalists. For many oceanographers, going to sea means working on large research vessels, generally for weeks or months at a stretch, hundreds of kilometres offshore, out on the open ocean. It’s a different world out there in more ways than one.

My undergraduate training did not prepare me well for a career in oceanography. I was a marine biologist, well versed in the ecology of tide pools, capable of drawing a dissected dogfish, or preparing a…

Stories from an exotic childhood

Growing up on a small farm in Kenya my brother and I wandered freely through the bush, and down along a stream where there were taro fields. The forest on the other side of the stream was full of animal trails. The Africans set snares for bushmeat. Monkeys raced through the forest canopy, and tree hyraxes screamed at night. I could hear them from my bedroom as the old Grevillea trees outside the house cast shadows into my room. When my family bought the farm, my father agreed to keep the foreman on. He had a round mud wattle house…

The short answer is no.

When I was a brash young oceanography PhD student, forty years ago now, I walked into my supervisor’s office and stepped on some papers scattered on the floor. I bent down to pick them up, and was greeted by a terse “Leave them there!”. I asked what they were, and Carl eyed me balefully as he sat at his lab table. “It’s a rejection letter for a research grant”. He left the papers there for a day or two while students, colleagues, and visitors walked over them, leaving their footprints. It was a lesson in mental health.

In my career…

Stories from an exotic childhood

I grew up in a farmhouse full of books outside Nairobi, Kenya in a place that used to be called Karen, with the Ngong Hills in the distance behind a forested ridge. I loved my books of myths and legends, and especially the African tales where people could shape-shift into animals, and take on their character. Later in life I enjoyed African magical realism, especially West African writers where witchcraft and magic give powers to animal forms occupied by human spirits. Not far from our farm was the Rift Valley with the soda lakes and volcanoes. I’ve never forgotten the…

Stories from an exotic childhood

Hunting holds an irresistible attraction for many. As a boy growing up in East Africa, I was no different. I spent many days wandering our farm with an air rifle, a couple of dogs, and my brother. It was how I learned to watch the birds and other animals, to know their habits, and when and where they could be found. I learned to be quiet and patient in the bush, and to explore places that the animals went. It was a secret world that brought me closer to nature. Eventually it taught me a lesson that I have carried…

Sam McClatchie

Fisheries oceanographer. Former lead for the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations program at NOAA (2007-2018).

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