New Zealand's coastline is known for both its outstanding scenery
and its unique wildlife and fauna. What is less well known is
the environmental degradation that is taking place along New Zealand's
shores. On a daily basis, it and other nations are doing little
to stop the indiscriminate slaughter of wildlife and its associated
habitat along the coastline.
Among the victims of this environmental plight are the Hector's dolphins. Native to New Zealand, Hector's are the smallest dolphins in the world. These playful creatures are also among the rarest, having declined in numbers to just 3,000 to 4,000.
The Hector's dolphin has come to represent New Zealand's most recent effort to protect all coastal wildlife. A national campaignwas mounted by Earthtrust New Zealand in 1992-3, with assistance from New Zealand organization Down To Earth, to save New Zealand's coastal environment and highlight the plight of the dolphins.
A key element of the campaign was a New Zealand-designed and built microlight plane. The aircraft was fitted with pontoons and could land on water, snow or grass. Nicknamed "The Hector Protector," it could fly for three hours at speeds up to 100 km/h, making it perfectly suited for its mission: an 18-month video survey of the New Zealand coastline, filming above and below water.
The plane was not only to be used to count coastal mammal populations (with particular emphasis on the threatened Hector's dolphins), it was also designed to provide video documentation of the state of marine life along New Zealand's coast. Like many of Earthtrust's other activities, this undertaking combined research with active campaigning. In terms of campaigning, it was Earthtrust's intent to incorporate school visits and educational outreach programs to inform the public about the damage being done in their own neighborhoods.
The research component included a national count of Hector's dolphins which will attempt to indicate the effectiveness of protective measures already in place, measure mortality rates through net entrapment and determine the extent and impact of human activities on these and other dolphins.
Unfortunately, after only a few test flights, the Hector Protector was sabotaged by unknown parties, and its promise was never fully realized.