Hi! I’m Anna George and I’m a CEEDS MacLeish Field Station Intern. In the spring semester of 2016, I had the opportunity to study abroad in New Zealand on the Frontiers Abroad Earth Systems program. With twenty-five other students, I traveled to the Cook Islands and to the North and South Islands of New Zealand before I enrolled in a semester at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. While I was there, I had the opportunity to extensively study New Zealand’s unique focus on conservation and ecology.
In New Zealand, conservation is a necessity. The country is host to a diverse group of endemic species found nowhere else because it has been separated from all other landmasses for the last 65 million years. The unique creatures include frogs that give birth to live young and giant flightless birds. However, there is one group that is mostly absent: mammals. The only living native New Zealand land mammals are two species of bat which were likely blown over from Australia. There are no native mammalian predators, only those introduced by humans: rats, possums, weasels, and stoats. Most native species were not accustomed to persistent predation and have been in slow decline since the mammals’ introduction by Polynesians and Europeans between the 1500s and 1800s.
However, all is not lost. The New Zealand government has been working to protect their threatened species by setting up pest-free conservation land, doing large-scale poison drops, and educating citizens on how they can get involved. The public has responded enthusiastically. Many individuals have taken it upon themselves to set up traps or hunt on their land for the invasive predators. Others work with nonprofits to protect native habitat. The concerted and united conservation efforts have been more successful for some species than others; however, I think there’s still hope for most New Zealand wildlife, in large part because of its citizens’ dedication.
Exploring New Zealand’s geology and culture was just as exciting as learning about their conservation efforts. When abroad, unlike at college or at home, I felt as if I could actually take advantage of opportunities to see the gorgeous places around me or go to exciting local events. It was my only chance to see a New Zealand rugby game or go to a Chinese lantern festival. With this in mind, I threw aside laziness or even, on occasion, homework, as excuses and enthusiastically explored the country. I visited an active volcano, hot springs, Hooker Glacier, and Mount Sunday (home of Rohan from Lord of the Rings). I stood in a hobbit hole, stayed at a Maori pa (community center), and dipped my feet in a glacial lake. After five months, I felt as if I had done an excellent job of seeing New Zealand. There are still places I missed—Lake Wanaka, Stewart Island and others—that I would definitely visit if I ever return, but, as my plane took off from Auckland Airport, I felt satisfied with what I had seen. I was ready to go home and perhaps apply the same philosophy of seizing opportunity to more familiar places.