Conservation in Aotearoa / New Zealand today

Our biodiversity is in decline. We need to understand the drivers of biodiversity loss to learn how to protect our environment for years to come.

Understanding the drivers of biodiversity loss in 21st century Aotearoa / New Zealand 

The human population increased substantially during the 20th century, resulting in urban expansion and increased economic activity. This has had a negative impact on the natural environment and the trend continues today. 

Contributing factors that have reduced the extent and viability of our natural habitat include:

  • land use changes
  • land development
  • commercial and industrial activity
  • primary production.

Human activities have also introduced pollutants and new invasive plants and animals, reducing the suitability of our terrestrial and marine environments to support native species. 

Future human activities must be carefully managed and monitored to ensure no new invasive species are introduced, and the harvesting of natural resources, such as fisheries, are sustainable.

These modern pressures and the historical impacts all need to be considered to understand and address the drivers of biodiversity loss in Aotearoa / New Zealand.

Why protect and restore our environment

Te taiao (our environment) sets Aotearoa / New Zealand apart from the rest of the world. It gives our culture its uniqueness and special richness, nourishing our well-being. 

Humanity depends on the diversity and stability of the natural world for long-term survival. If we ignore this, it will be at our peril. While indicators of biodiversity are often overlooked, it is these strands that we must monitor and protect so that we can preserve the fabric of the natural world as a whole.

In the 800 – 1000 years that humans have occupied Aotearoa, we've lost over 70 per cent of our indigenous landcover and 75 species of plant and animal have become extinct.

The majority of extinctions have been birds, losing almost 50 per cent of known species since human occupation. Jared Diamond, American ecologist, described our decimated birdlife by stating that “New Zealand doesn’t so much as have an avifauna, but the wreckage of one.”

Our biodiversity is still in decline. Nationally, the total area of indigenous forest and scrub, dune ecosystems and wetlands continue to decline and around 3700 indigenous plant and animal species are threatened or at risk of extinction. With the largest urban population and the high value of land, it is no surprise that Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland has the lowest proportion of indigenous landcover in the country at just 15 per cent.

In Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland, 308 vascular plants, 49 birds, 16 terrestrial reptiles, 11 freshwater fish species, two bats and one frog are thought to be regionally threatened or at risk of extinction.

Despite these enormous historical losses and contemporary changes in Aotearoa / New Zealand, we still hold some of most unique and extraordinary biodiversity on earth. We have endemic species that can only be found here such as:

  • kauri, tōtara and rimu
  • wētāpunga
  • tuatara
  • kiwi, kakāpō and kokako.

These species, along with many others, depend on us for their survival and future preservation.

As we continue to separate ourselves from the environment, we need to acknowledge past mistakes and learn to live with te taiao (our environment). We need to treasure and preserve it, only taking what is essential to sustain life.