is a marine biologist who has become one of New Zealand's
best science and education writers and illustrators. He
is a contributor to New Zealand Herald, including the weekly
Education Page column "Nature Watch" as well as
special feature articles.
John is a major
contributor to New Zealand Geographic and authored Nature
Watching at the Beach and many environmental pamphlets
and booklets. He lectures for the University of Auckland
Contributing Education courses and is a biological and eco-tourism
consultant. He produces educational material for the Science
Advisory Services of the Auckland College of Education and
conducts teacher training courses on effective science teaching
techniques. His educational software "Fountains of
Fire" presents a fascinating look at Auckland's volcanoes.
It was featured in the Auckland Museum's display on Volcanoes
and Giants. He also produced a Rocky Shore computer Programme.
When I was very
young, my parents used to holiday on a rocky coast. I spent
long, happy hours fascinated by hermit crabs and sea anemones
in the rock pools. I could not get much enthusiasm for seaweeds,
but found coastal plants held a special interest for me.
Later, in high
school, the way zoology was taught, meant you had to dissect
all kinds of animals. I did not like doing that, especially
when it came to animals that were killed just so that I
could dissect them, such as frogs. So I became more and
more interested in plants, especially plants growing naturally,
because I did not like dissecting plants either! To me,
life was a very special and precious mystery and it seemed
somehow wrong to destroy life in order to study it.
I went on to
university where over a period of years I was able to work
for degrees in botany and then ecology. After that I took
my present job as a lecturer in plant ecology at Auckland
University. I teach students about how plants live and,
together with some of my students, I study New Zealand's
plants to find out more about them. Over the years, my research
into natural systems made me realise our native environment
had been severely damaged. Many of the important native
societies of New Zealand plants and animals were dying.
They need help if they are to recover and survive.
My life as a
research scientist and teacher allowed me the privilege
of visiting special places and seeing wonderful natural
secrets. I wanted others to appreciate their own natural
heritage. This was how I got into restoring Tiritiri Matangi
Island. This small island definitely needed help if any
of the natural systems were to survive. It was also a special
place, one that people from the community could easily get
to and help with the work of restoration.
Of all the natural
systems that need out help here in New Zealand, wetlands
are the most urgent, and perhaps one of the most important.
Wetlands are very special places both for their biology
but also because they are nature's own cleaning system,
especially cleaning up water before it reaches the sea.
When the English
colonists arrived in New Zealand wetlands were seen as unproductive
areas. Yet they were flatlands and the soil was rich and
fertile. In a surprisingly short time, industrious farmers
drained and filled over 90% of New Zealand's wetlands. Most
of it was converted to pasture. Ecologically, this was a
catastrophe, and I now dedicate much of my time to helping