Paua to the People

Ahh paua. Used to make shimmering blue-green eyes in the most beautiful Maori carvings.  A classic Kiwi icon in art, jewellery, and is of course used to make the tackiest souvenirs. Image

Wikimedia Commons

Fred and Myrtle’s Paua house at Bluff was always a must-see attraction until the shells were taken away.  They’re now in the Christchurch museum which doesn’t have quite the same charm as the real house, but it’s still kitsch Kiwiana at it’s best! Image

Photo from here

Paua also make a good feed. Personally I think they taste like cooked jandals, but apparently that’s because I either have no taste, or I didn’t tenderise them properly (you mean 30 minutes of bashing them with a wrench isn’t enough???).  If you’re still confused as to what they actually are, they’re big marine snails, also known as abalone. Image

Wikimedia Commons

There has been an outcry recently about a proposal for Otago’s protected coastline to be opened up to commercial fisheries, because this is prime paua collecting territory. A group called Paua to the People (geddit!) was formed in opposition to the proposal. They say that if commercial divers are able to harvest these paua, then they will take them unsustainably and leave none for the little guys. They might be right.

500km of Otago’s coastline is already open to these companies, and they have pretty much screwed it up big-time. They’ve taken too many big paua, leaving very little to collect later. But rather than coming up with a way to manage their areas sustainably, they want to open up some of the remaining 165km of coastline for commercial harvesting.

Naturally, recreational divers, and everyone else with a bit of common sense and no monetary interests in paua has said that this is a terrible idea, because this solves nothing in the long term. There is nothing to stop the companies harvesting these areas unsustainably too, and once these paua are gone – some say this will only take a week or 2 – then they’ll be in the same predicament as before.

But you know what, that’s capitalism kids. I’m no expert on economics, but it seems that the big businesses reap the short-term rewards, and then wonder what to do once they run out of stuff to sell.  I suppose it adds insult to injury that the commercially harvested paua are sold overseas too.

Submissions on this proposal have already closed, so I guess all there is to do now is hope that the Pauas that be (sorry, terrible pun) choose to do the right thing.

A river that runs backwards

So we all know that New Zealand is unstable. Literally. As anyone from Christchurch will assert. So it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that with all this up-ing and down-ing and to-ing and fro-ing of the land, that a river has changed direction. No, I don’t mean there is a river that runs uphill, but rather that the land under a river has shifted enough to make it turn around. That’s pretty crazy stuff. Like, at some stage in our geological history, the Nevis River has just stopped and then carried on in the other direction. Cooler still is that it is part of this river system: (Although the pillars of the Kings weren’t there the last time I checked).  Image

Picture from here

So how do we know this?

It’s thanks in part to these guys who I wrote about in my last blog:


This story involves 3 rivers:

–       The Nevis (which changed direction)

–       The Kawarau (which the Nevis now runs into)

–       The Mataura (which the Nevis used to run into)

(and I suppose I should mention that the Nokomai stream is the part of the Nevis which continued flowing the same way)


And the story involves this fish: Image

Photo from here

If there were an award for the best naming of a species, this would certainly be a contender: Galaxias gollumoides , aka the Gollum fish. There is even another very closely related species called the Smeagol fish.

Zoologists at the University of Otago have found that the Gollum fish in the Nevis have relatives in the Mataura River (to the south) but not in the Kawarau River, which the Nevis currently flows into. This supports the geologists’ evidence that in the Pleistocene (2 million-ish years ago) the Nevis used to run south through a valley between the Garvie Range and the Remarkables Range (the jagged mountains behind Queenstown).

As the mountains on either side grew, they pinched off the valley the Nevis was in. At the same time, erosion blocked off the Nevis, and caused it to run back the other way.  This isolated the Gollum fish in the Nevis from the Mataura river where it used to run. The Nevis population has since diverged from the Mataura population, but is still closely related. Image

Species that today are found in the Kawarau are not found in the Nevis, yet are found in other tributaries to the Kawarau.

P.S. If you want a closer look at the Nevis River, then this is a good way to do it!Image

Photo from here