Why conservation is not sustainable
In the last few months I’ve been working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life. Longer hours, busier, physically more active, and it’s been interesting to see how the body – it turned 62 during this unscheduled burst of activity – has coped.
The place that inspired all this activity is a perfect showcase for the difference between conservation and sustainability, two very different things which are often confused.
Lochmara Lodge does conservation and conservation education very well. It’s a café/bar/motel in the Marlborough Sounds with art work and quirky things throughout its path-laced 4ha spread.
They’re also very conscientious. No bottle leaves the place – they are all ground up fine enough to pave those myriad walkways – cardboard is allowed to rot back into the ground, and there’s a reasonable effort made to recycle everything else. You can see long-finned eels being fed, right after you’ve watched the kunekune devouring yesterday’s kitchen scraps. What the pigs leave – which isn’t much – the chickens clean up, and the staff get to eat their free-range eggs.
There is a kakariki breeding programme and you can have tame ones eat right out of your hand. Kids love it, and hopefully learn from the experience.
Then there’s the reef boat, a static glassbottomed boat with an attached seabed, all at eye-level. Touch-tanks and an outdoor classroom complete the abovewater learning experience, while hundreds of old mussel-floats have been adapted to become essentially an artificial reef below. Stingrays come to be hand-fed, fish do night-time u-turns outside the window, and while you can’t see them, their outline and progress are marked by lingering phosphorescence.
The entire property is a bold and impressive effort aimed at educating folk, particularly youngsters, about our precious marine ecosystems. For a private, non-ngo, non-doc effort, Lochmara rates up there with the best.
But every bit of luggage, every bottle of beverage, every bite of food, all the laundry and every visitor, comes in by boat. There are commercial taxi boats, private vessels of all sizes, outboard motors by the dozen, with numbers like 200 and 300 written in large letters.
Then there’s the bottled gas, a fossil fuel in itself, all delivered by the same fossil-powered boats. There’s too much of it for everyone to move to a non-fossilfuelled replacement.
I spent days watching them arrive in droves and met hundreds of people, mostly nice people, and mostly a joy to meet. But I spent the whole time wondering if any of these people know how short a window we have left of this indulgence? I can report that I met a few – a very few – who had the kind of thought processes that ‘got’ the growth problem and with whom you could have a conversation about it.
While working, I had a bet with the owner (a visionary who came up with the reef-boat concept) that tourism as we know it will be dead by – I played it safe – 2025. That’s about the same timeline that West Coast politicians are predicting they’ll need to double bed numbers in. Double the tourists? Double the aeroplanes? Double the fuel usage per day? Someone should take them to Las Vegas where it’s well known that if you keep doubling the ante, the house alwaysy wins.
Education conservation servation was once a valid option, when we had time e on our side. Now, we don’t. If we don’t quit our unsustainable lifestyle there won’t be anything left worth conserving.
While I was standing on the end of the wharf, I tried to imagine the time it would take to replace all those outboard motors, or for everyone to change to easier-driven hull-forms – in other words, for a complete change of infrastructure. I couldn’t.
Yet if that isn’t done, no amount of feel-good conserving can cancel out the damage done by the profit-taking side of business – any business. This tells us that the public-private partnerships so lauded by DOC are inadequate at best and ‘greenwashing’ at worst.
One morning I thought I saw the answer, resting quietly on the beach. It was a recreational rowing boat, a Frenchmade Virus (www.virusboats.com). What a great concept. Maybe the coffees should be discounted for those arriving by nonfossil-fuelled craft. Discounted more for those in boats made from sustainably-harvested timber. Free for swimmers? Then if we heat the coffee with firewood from the same wood source? Better still, specialise in selling locally-grown fruit juices instead of imported coffee.
By the time you read this we’ll be sailing again, trying not to earn or spend, trying to travel lightly. Our life is not truly sustainable either, but closer for trying than for not bothering.
I suspect those outboards will continue to roar until they are silenced, to the probable bewilderment of their owners.
I do wonder what you can recycle one into?