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Bob Brockie has been writing for the Dominion Post for years as the paper’s science columnist and regularly delivers up entertaining comment on the state of science and what is filtering out of the peer-reviewed literature.

He also creates his own cartoons which adds a nice personal touch. Bob is a biologist, one of a small handful of columnists writing for the mainstream media who do in fact have a science background. But Bob’s Dom Post column today goes seriously off track. Have a read yourself… (its not online, but I’ve excerpted it below).

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Bob may well be right in his claim that we have not lost a single native plant or animal species since 1992. There may well have been an overall increase in the number of known and identified species in New Zealand’s territory – an expedition to the Kermadec Islands last year uncovered some fish species that are thought to be novel – and further international examination will determine so.

But this really is a simplistic way of looking at the state of biodiversity in New Zealand. Surely the health of our various species is as important  as the number of them and on that count, there is plenty of evidence to suggest many are under threat and in the case of some, such as Maui’s dolphin, populations are at critically low levels. Bob completely misses the point that overall, the health of our biodiversity is in decline and further pressure on the environment exacerbates this issue. It’s not like it is a disputed trend – countries the world over are struggling with this!

When the WWF released its report looking at how well New Zealand had done in honouring its original Rio pledges, we approached a wide range of scientists to run their ruler over it and see if its conclusions were supported by the science. On the issue of biodiversity, there was little dispute:

Assoc Prof John Craig, School of Environment, University of Auckland:

’New Zealand has a real biodiversity crisis as the Report states and as a country there is a need for serious debate about policies and mechanisms that leads to effective change if there is going to be a more positive WWF Report after the next Earth Summit.’

Assoc. Prof Dianne Brunton, Ecology & Conservation Group, Massey University:

The Department of Conservation (DoC) 2011 annual report from which these findings originate states that ’Most changes result from improved coverage of groups previously not assessed, and improved knowledge and changes in definitions of categories’ the DoC report goes on to state that ’57 species have declined sufficiently to trigger a change to a more severely threatened category, and 7 species have recovered under management sufficiently to move to a less severely threatened category. i.e. 50 worsened.’

Prof David Hamilton, Professor in Lake Restoration at Waikato University:

‘Beyond Rio’ leaves us with no doubt that NZ must urgently rectify its broken promises from the 1992 Earth Summit or else become a case study for some of the highest rates of biodiversity loss on the planet in recent times.

Ironically, Bob’s column is published two pages away from a write-up on the Pure Advantage report “Green Growth for Greater Wealth” which argues, among other things, that our biodiversity is under threat and needs preserving, which use of greener energy sources would go some way to help achieving.

Bob is right in that the Department of Conservation should be commended for the work it has done in bringing back several species from the brink of extinction and sheltering many others from pests and disease. But to suggest that biodiversity in New Zealand is in better health than ever goes against the science. The number of species in an ecosystem gives you no accurate indication of the health of those species and those who work in the field suggest the overall state of biodiversity is deteriorating. Come on Bob, you should know better!