Dolphins, volcanoes, islands and geckos

– Jayne Workman

As we get closer and closer to Cop26, Jayne Workman shares an update on what’s to come from the New Zealand arm of 26Habitats.

When the initial call for 26 Habitats went out back in March, November felt a long way away. Now, with Cop26 almost upon us and finally in the headlines, it feels like a useful marker – showing how quickly time passes, how much has changed and yet how little. 26Habitats feels more urgent than ever.

Kāpiti Coast Wetland

The seed for a sister project here in Aotearoa New Zealand was planted soon afterwards, when John (Simmons) suggested that, rather than take part, we launch our own version. What better way to show the devastating scale of the issues than by exploring habitats on both sides of the world?

First, we had to find our own partner, the excellent Forest & Bird, who came back with an enthusiastic ‘yes’. Forest & Bird (www.forestandbird.org.nz) is New Zealand’s leading independent conservation organisation and has been for nearly 100 years. It relies entirely on donations from members and supporters to carry out its work to protect and restore wild places and wildlife all over the country. By speaking up for nature, it has, for example, helped put an end to logging in native forests and prevented species such as kākāpō (NZ’s flightless parrot), kōkako (a native wattlebird), and whio (the rare NZ blue duck) from becoming extinct.

There were other points of difference – our habitats. Thanks to Caroline Wood and the rest of the Forest & Bird team, we soon had our own list of unique New Zealand habitats, each with its distinctive features, beauty and challenges: freshwater, marine, wetland, alpine, estuaries, offshore islands, forest, drylands.

Next, it was our writers. We reached out through our networks to invite New Zealand-based writers, adding to the small community of NZ 26ers established during Dear 26, initiated by Auckland’s Paul White. In a further divergence, we asked our 17 nature-loving writers to work with an artist. They chose talented photographers, illustrators and painters as well as a jeweller, calligrapher and glass artist. Each pair was randomly allocated a habitat, and then, with advice and on-the-ground contacts from Forest & Bird, chose a location.

Brief in hand, ours also included a 26-word pledge and visual response, our writers and artists travelled to islands and volcanoes, rainforests, rivers (one now famously classed as a legal person) and caves twinkling with glow-worms. They caught sight of dolphins and geckos, wētā (NZ’s unique giant flightless crickets) and tī kōuka (NZ’s endemic ‘cabbage tree’) to examine the plight of their chosen habitat.

Kāpiti Island, artwork by Rachel Walker: Offshore Islands habitat

Despite the differences and distances, the vast oceans and mountain ranges between us, what it has shown is how much we actually share and how connected we are. Many of us made an almost spiritual connection with the places we visited, saw with clarity their power to restore, inspire and save us. These glorious discoveries served only to intensify our understanding of the heartbreaking losses already made, the damage still being done and the future threats that are so plain to see.

They also showed that there can be hope. 26Habitats NZ will weave in and around Cop26, as we send our words out into the world from November 1st-17th and wait to see how they will land – and how the words of leaders will translate into action.

Thank you to everyone who has taken part and so generously given their time and creativity to a crucial project at a crucial time. Many drops make the ocean.

Look out for the Forest & Bird’s launch post on their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/forestandbird on 31st October and follow 26 on Instagram and Twitter.

– Jayne Workman

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