Bluewashing at the Edge of Extinction, at the End of the World.


If the word of 2020 was ‘unprecedented’, and here we are in Lockdown again, does that mean the word of 2021 is precedented? Still, I’d rather be here than anywhere else, and that was the case before Covid 19. It sure is the case after it. But it’s not just Covid 19 that’s on my mind this week. Because I get a sense of déjà vu and business as usual when it comes to – well, business as usual, at the edge, and the end, of the world.

Climate change bites, we’re in a mass extinction event, the pandemic changes the way the world works but the maxim of capitalism to socialise costs and privatise profits continues to hold true. We’re in the stage of the macroeconomic cycle where state intervention follows, sustains and mitigates the effects of neoliberalism.

After years of a fossil fuelled boom, in Fox township hotel chains and tourism companies clamour for support to keep afloat, though its star attraction, the glacier, retreats at around 4m per year. (Come and see it before it’s gone?” ‘last chance’ tourism – there’s a market in that). Councils in the North take a punitive approach to freedom camping when locals are the only visitors they can get. As a born and bred freedom camping Kiwi, that feels like theft of the commons. Meanwhile, in a greater crime, coastal land is carved up for holiday homes, whose owners’ cars and dogs kill kiwi.

Unbelievable pollution and contamination of New Zealand is exposed by the media, but consumers barely bat an eyelid. It’s consumer demand that generates and sustains this pollution after all, and who wants to own that? New Zealand’s ‘trusted brands’, family favourites, pour shit, animal processing products and toxins into underequipped municipal ‘wastewater systems’ or straight into the river or sea. Other primary industries are subsidised with air freight, despite the obvious unsustainability of both their natural resource extraction and the flights themselves. Market decisions are more powerful in determining responses to climate change than incremental and modest government attempts.

But there was a classic display of business green – or blue-washing successfully executed late last week, a real PR coup especially in that it had the Prime Minister’s blessing. The media celebrated uncritically, the launch of a drone project to track endangered Māui dolphins. Māui dolphins are NZ’s most urgent conservation issue according to scientists, so their drone project is good news you’d think. They’re one of the rarest dolphins in the world. The headlines read ‘Maui drone project launched to bring Māui back from the brink’, “launched with the Prime Minister’s support’!!’ (RNZ); ‘How a drone could save our rarest dolphin’ (Stuff); ‘Drone project to aid protection of Māui dolphin’ (Sunlive), and so on. I even found reports on the project at and USNewsandWorldReport. That will be helpful for New Zealand’s reputation, its seafood export brand, and its credentials in the US court case taken by Sea Shepherd who seek an injunction against NZ imports because of the Government’s failure to deal with dolphin bycatch.

All that news coverage was great publicity for the noble collaborators – WWF who get funds from the fishing companies and the public; the fishing companies who get endorsed by WWF; and the Government for looking like it’s doing something tangible –“saving dolphins”. But the project, backed by the PM, also takes the heat off Sanford just fined $36,000 and ordered to forfeit a $20million boat for fishing illegally in a Benthic Protected Area, twice.

The Government’s Ministry for Primary Industries is contributing $500,000 to the drone project. At Friday’s launch, Minister of Oceans and Fisheries David Parker said “we are committed to saving this treasure”. He didn’t say, “but we still don’t have cameras on fishing boats and we are still waiting for the further consultation on extra measures to keep small Hector’s dolphin populations in the South Island safe from displaced, concentrated fishing pressure, which was promised after the launch of the Threat Management Plan last year”.

None of the media releases and news reports explored how these exciting new drones, (“technology!!”) would actually save Māui dolphins. Many scientists, including International Whaling Commission experts, argue that habitat and distribution is already well known. These are well studied dolphins after all. MPI and their consultant scientists have been accused of ignoring sightings and distribution data in the past. Gathering more data is interesting, but is no substitute for genuine action and responses to knowledge we already have, which show the dolphins further offshore than current protections cover.

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The only way these drones could ‘save’ Māui dolphins is if they prove the dolphins are outside current protected areas, and those areas then get closed to fishing. Do you think a project supported by fishing companies is likely to do that? Apparently, the plan “will help inform decisions by Seafood companies such as Moana New Zealand and Sanford”, but this is still a voluntary approach. Nothing compels the fishing companies to do anything. It’s the fishing industries who will determine what, if any action is taken.

This ‘species-saving’ drone is only expected to operate once a month, though that’s an increase on current DoC surveys, which apparently only occur for three weeks every five years (for this valued ‘treasure’!?). There’s the risk that if the drone doesn’t show dolphins during its twelve flights a year, the fishing companies take that absence of proof as proof of absence and argue against current and future fishing regulations that should otherwise keep dolphins and other marine life safe.

While almost anything that adds to the science and understanding of the dolphins is a good thing, even if it’s the result of an unholy alliance*, its use and application is what matters.

Drones won’t save dolphins, only protection from threats will. With only around 63 adult Māui dolphins left, to say and do otherwise is bluewashing – at the edge of extinction and end of the world.


*I say unholy alliance because WWF & the fishing companies banded together at the close of the TMP with their own Option Five which undermined the NGO/science consensus that full habitat protection was essential.



  1. Great article Liz. This Govt is quick to jump at anything superficial that creates the illusion of ‘decisive action’. Drones, websites, slogans, data collection…that sort of thing. As long as it makes them look good. However, when it comes to taking a tough stance, which means sometimes unpopular governing (eg ‘you will install cameras on your trawlers now!)…well, that’s just not Jacinda’s style. Is that what we voted for? A leader who doesn’t lead?

  2. We know corporations and banks are profit-seeking organisations, and that the government is captured by corporations and banks. Therefore, we can expect nothing other than platitudes and proposals to ‘solve’ environmental predicaments that are ineffective or counter-productive or both ineffective and counterproductive.

    As we continue to move down the food chain -from large high-value fish to smaller low-value fish, and pay more and more for lower quality and lower quantity, the point will be reached where most people will not be able to afford nutritious foods at all and will be dependent on brain-addling factory foods supplied by corporations; we are about halfway down that path at the moment; hence so many addled brains.

    The final phase would be the ‘Soylent Green’ solution, if the economic system were to hold together that long. However, the ongoing collapse of the economic system suggests the end of commercial fishing, along with factory farming, is coming sooner rather than later, and we are more likely to see ‘The Road’ solution to food scarcity than the ‘Soylent Green’ solution.*

    Industrialism and population overshoot are a deadly combination, industrialism having facilitated the population overshoot. And now industrialism is required to service the population overshoot…until it can’t.

    The continuing Planetary Meltdown and increasing Ocean Acidification indicate all species of dolphins are doomed, and there is plenty of evidence humans are also doomed, since industrial nations will not give up the fossil fuels teat. Indeed, the NZ Government plans to keep messing up climate systems and keep lowering the pH of oceans until it can’t.

    Daily CO2
    Feb. 27, 2021 = 416.51 ppm
    Feb. 27, 2020 = 413.47 ppm

    *For the benefit of those unfamiliar with those depictions of the future:

    Soylent Green: old people put to sleep and their bodies recycled into food biscuits for the impoverished masses swarming in the streets.

    The Road: scavenging and cannibalism.

    • AFKTT, great movie, but wasn’t just old people who CHOSE to be put to sleep because their lives had become meaningless and unbearable. The dog biscuits (people biscuits) was a big secret factory.

    • Unsurprisingly, it just goes up and up and up.

      Daily CO2 (
      Mar. 1, 2021 = 417.86 ppm
      Mar. 1, 2020 = 414.25 ppm

  3. What else could I possibly add Christine? As disruptive as the Covid19 pandemic is it pales in comparison to loss of biodiversity. Biodiversity destroyed by business as usual: pollution of water, land, and air and the exploitation of natural resources for profit. Surely there must be a better way of organising economic activity. Our very existence, as one species among many, depends on it.

    It surely is an irony that ours is a civilisation astonishing in the degree to which it appears to see and know. Never before in history has there been elites – experts if you like – with such huge amounts of knowledge. This success story dominates our lives. And where the application of this knowledge has not yet becomes an economic success we are told ‘trickle down’ is the answer. Yet the possession, use and control of this knowledge has become the raison d’être of these modern elites. This is what neoliberalism entails. Power depends not only on the use that knowledge but on the effectiveness with which the elite control its use. Voltaire’s bastards – the process-minded ‘experts’ now in positions of power, and whose rational systems are bereft of meaning and morality – have no real answers. I suspect that is what you mean by saying: Drones won’t save dolphins, only protection from threats will.

  4. Jacinda is just a placeholder for the next PM. The rich elites know this and are taking full advantage to get much further ahead. Useless puppet. We would be better off with no PM than a plastic PM.

  5. Well, I guess it’s a ‘passive’ measure? One that makes drones acceptable? Less military-like…the good side of droning something?

    Who knows what they’re smoking now? Probably the good stuff from the medicinal cannabis stock.

    This neo-liberal latte government is big on hyperbole and well short on delivery unless you’re a property speculator where they will give you a hand up onto the wealth ladder into a higher tax bracket.

    But as for the environment, it’s all window dressing, feel good about the perception that we’re all in it together. The team of the ignorant 5 million sheep.

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