My move from New Zealand to Victoria is always received with a similar response: “Canada is like New Zealand on a larger scale”, “British Columbia really reminds me of New Zealand” and one of the more creative “Canada is like New Zealand on steroids”.
Now being based in Victoria I can see the resemblance: the plethora of wildlife, the ever-visible snow-capped mountains, the friendly people. It got me thinking about the factual similarities between my new home of Vancouver Island and New Zealand. Not the size, New Zealand eclipses the island by more than 8.5 times. Surrounding oceans are similar but different, South West Pacific vs. North East Pacific. Parallel hemispheres. And then it hit me, the most common denominator: they are both islands.
Island ecosystems create unique environments for a variety of wildlife with some species endemic to those landmasses. For example, here on Vancouver Island we have the Vancouver Island Marmot. As a naturalist in New Zealand it was imperative to convey the conservation importance of the ecologically rich and isolated land.
New Zealand is a whole country filled with flora and fauna that have evolved in isolation for millions of years. About 85 million years ago the landmass that became New Zealand broke off from the then super continent of Gondwana. When it went, no land mammals were transported in the process. The only species of mammals native to New Zealand are those that could fly there (bats) or swim there (seals).
Birds, reptiles, insects and bats never developed proper defense mechanisms because they simply did not have to. They lived in a predator free land where birds laid their eggs on the ground and became poor fliers (or in the case of the kiwi flightless!). Their evolutionary effort to protect themselves only went as far as being green and brown in color to camouflage themselves from other avian threats.
When the Polynesian and European settlers arrived, not only did they bring with them their cultures, language, and way of life, but they brought their pests: rats, stoats, rabbits, and possums to name but a few. These animals decimated the populations of native species rendering some extinct and others seriously endangered.
It has been a constant battle to control the pesky pests using trapping, poisoning, and baiting with an ambitious aim to get rid of all predators by 2050. It really emphasizes how the actions of humans, even those that are seemingly small, can have a drastic effect on the wildlife we share this planet with.
We have seen this here on Vancouver Island. The whaling era, seal and sea lion hunting, overfishing, and pollution have had huge consequences for the wildlife that inhabit the waters of the North East Pacific Ocean.
However, community efforts through volunteer projects, increased understanding, and general awareness continue to make positive steps towards improvement.
Islands are fragile and our impacts are perhaps even more magnified than on the mainland. If anything, we have a larger duty of protection. Us islands have to stick together!
Book a trip on our covered vessel to discuss this post with Emma in person or stayed tuned on our Blog for more information on what it was like to be a naturalist in New Zealand.