Wednesday, 27 May 2015

World economic collapse predocted by HSBC

So much for John Key's 'rockstar economy.'


Mainstream news - Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the Telegraph, no less.


Mind you he predicted the imminent collapse of Russia's economy last year.

HSBC fears world recession with no lifeboats left

The world authorities have run out of ammunition as rates remain stuck at zero. They have no margin for error as economy falters


By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard



26 May, 2015

The world economy is disturbingly close to stall speed. The United Nations has cut its global growth forecast for this year to 2.8pc, the latest of the multinational bodies to retreat.

We are not yet in the danger zone but this pace is only slightly above the 2.5pc rate that used to be regarded as a recession for the international system as a whole.

It leaves a thin safety buffer against any economic shock – most potently if China abandons its crawling dollar peg and resorts to ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ policies, transmitting a further deflationary shock across the global economy.

hsbc_lombard_yuan_3316486c

The longer this soggy patch drags on, the greater the risk that the six-year old global recovery will sputter out. While expansions do not die of old age, they do become more vulnerable to all kinds of patholыogies.

A sweep of historic data by Warwick University found compelling evidence that economies are more likely to stall as they age, what is known as “positive duration dependence”. The business cycle becomes stretched. Inventories build up and companies defer spending, tipping over at a certain point into a self-feeding downturn.

Stephen King from HSBC warns that the global authorities have alarmingly few tools to combat the next crunch, given that interest rates are already zero across most of the developed world, debts levels are at or near record highs, and there is little scope for fiscal stimulus.

The world economy is sailing across the ocean without any lifeboats to use in case of emergency,” he said.

hsbc_fed_rates_3316421c


In a grim report – “The World Economy’s Titanic Problem” – he says the US Federal Reserve has had to cut rates by over 500 basis points to right the ship in each of the recessions since the early 1970s. “That kind of traditional stimulus is now completely ruled out. Meanwhile, budget deficits are still uncomfortably large,” he said.

The authorities are normally able to replenish their ammunition as recovery gathers steam. This time they are faced with a chronic low-growth malaise – partly due to a global ‘savings glut’, and increasingly to a slow ageing crisis across most of the Northern hemisphere. The Fed keeps having to defer its first rate rise as expectations fall short.

hsbc_past_rate_cut_3316425c

Each of the past four US recoveries has been weaker than the last one. The average growth rate has fallen from 4.5pc in the early 1980s to nearer 2pc this time. The US fiscal deficit has dropped to 2.8pc but is expected to climb again as pension and health care costs bite, even if the economy does well.

The US cannot easily launch a fresh New Deal. Public debt was just 38pc on GDP when Franklin Roosevelt took power in 1933, and there were few contingent liabilities hanging over future US finances.

Fiscal stimulus – a novel idea at the time – may have been controversial, but the chances of it working to boost economic activity were quite high given the healthy starting position. Today, it is much more difficult to make the same argument,” he said.

hsbc_us_debt_3316430c


The great hope – and most likely outcome – is that the recent monetary expansion in the US and the eurozone starts to gain traction later this year. Broad ‘M3′ money data – a one-year advance indicator – has been growing briskly on both sides of the Atlantic. But nobody knows for sure whether the normal monetary mechanisms are working.

JP Morgan estimates that the US economy contracted at an rate of 1.1pc in the first quarter, far worse than originally supposed.

The instant tracking indicator of the Atlanta Fed – GDPnow – shows little sign that America is shaking off its mystery virus. Growth was just 0.7pc (annualised) in mid-May. It is becoming harder to argue the relapse is a winter blip or caused by temporary gridlock at California ports.

Hsbc_Atlanta_Fed_3316431c

Over 100,000 lay-offs across the oil and gas belt seem to have taken their toll. The Fed thought the windfall gain of cheaper energy for everybody else would weigh more in the balance, but this time Americans have chosen to salt away the money.

Net saving jumped by $125bn to $728bn in the first quarter. There was no pick-up in April. Retail sales were flat.

It is now more likely than not that US economy has dropped through the Fed’s stall-speed threshold of two consecutive quarters below 2pc growth. Exactly how far below is unclear. The Fed uses its own growth measure – gross domestic income (GDI) – and this data has not yet been published.

The stall speed concept is soft science but not to be ignored. “Output tends to transition to a slow-growth phase at the end of expansions,” said a Fed research paper.

hsbc_past_recessio_3316476c

Much now depends on China, where the economy is starting to look “Japanese”. Dario Perkins from Lombard Street Research says the Chinese economy is in a much deeper downturn than admitted so far by the authorities. It probably contracted outright in the first quarter.

Electricity use has turned negative. Rail freight has been falling at near double-digit rates. What began as a deliberate move by Beijing to choke off a credit bubble has taken on a life of its own, evolving into a primordial balance-sheet purge.

hsbc_lombard_rail_3316441c


It was inevitable that China’s investment bubble would lead to vast inventory of unsold property. The country produced more cement between 2011 and 2013 than the US in the 20th Century –

Mr Perkins said China is now in a “classic debt deflation spiral” as excess capacity holds down prices. Factory gate inflation is now minus 4.6pc. This in turn is tightening the noose further by pushing up real borrowing costs.

The Chinese authorities have so far resisted the temptation to flood the system with fresh stimulus, fearing that this would store up even greater trouble.

hsbc_china_lombard_3316483c

They have taken steps to offset a clampdown on local government spending and avert a “fiscal cliff” that might otherwise have occurred. They have loosened policy for banks just enough to offset the contractionary effects of capital flight. But they have not yet come to the rescue.

This matters enormously. Andrew Roberts from RBS says China accounted for 85pc of all global growth in 2012, 54pc in 2013, and 30pc in 2014. This is likely to fall to 24pc this year. “If there is only one statistic that you need to know in the world right now, this is it,” he said.

The effects are being felt across Asia. Japan keeps disappointing. Its exports to China have fallen 15pc over the last year. Korea is flirting with recession.

hsbc_roberts_china_3316442c
Russia, Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela are all contracting sharply, casualties of the China-driven commodity bust. The UN says the growth rate for the emerging market nexus (ex-China) has dropped to 2.3pc from an average of 6.5pc in the glory years of 2004-2007.

Europe is doing better but it is hardly a boom. The eurozone is contributing little to global demand. The region has displaced China and to become the world’s “saver of last resort” – or its biggest black hole in the view of critics – exploiting the weaker euro to rack up a current account surplus of $358bn.

It is far from clear whether Europe can act as an engine of world recovery. The composite purchasing managers index (PMI) for services and manufacturing slipped in May, and new orders fell. Oxford Economics thinks the “sugar rush” from quantitative easing may be wearing off.

HSBC’s Mr King says the global authorities face awful choices if the world economy hits the reefs in its current condition. The last resort may have to be “helicopter money”, a radically different form of QE that injects money directly into the veins of economy by funding government spending.

It is a Rubicon that no central bank wishes to cross, though the Bank of Japan is already in up to the knees.

The imperative is to avoid any premature tightening or policy error that could crystallize the danger. As Mr King puts it acidly. “Many – including the owner of the Titanic – thought it was unsinkable: its designer, however, was quick to point out that ‘She is made of iron, sir, I assure you she can’.”

Source: The Telegraph



India's heatwave

Heatwave claims over 1,100 across country; relief after monsoon hits around May 31

A man applies water to his face to cool himself on a hot summer afternoon. (AP Photo)

26 May, 2015

An unrelenting heat wave has killed more than 1,100 people across the country over a fortnight with southern neighbours Andhra Pradesh and Telangana bearing the brunt, as torrid temperatures melted roads in the national capital and have forced people indoors.

Authorities said on Tuesday most of the victims were construction workers, the elderly or the homeless, as the weather office predicted the mercury will continue to soar this week with substantial relief expected only when the southwest monsoon hits the Indian mainland around May 31.

The death toll due to severe heat wave sweeping Andhra Pradesh has risen to 852 with the scorching weather claiming 202 lives in Prakasam district alone, officials said.


At least 266 deaths have been reported in Telangana where a maximum temperature of 44.5°C was recorded in Ramagundam city. Jangameswarapuram in Andhra was two notches higher at 46.4°C, though the absence of power cuts came as huge relief for residents of the two states who chose not to venture outside during the hottest part of the day. 

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2015/5/heatwave1.jpg
An auto rickshaw driver rests on a hot summer day in Hyderabad (Reuters Photo)

The meteorological department issued “red box” warnings for Odisha, Jharkhand and coastal Andhra Pradesh, signalling high chances of heatstroke, dehydration and fatality with temperatures inching upwards of 45°C and conditions worsened by constant dry, sweltering winds.

A sizzling sun baked large parts of Punjab and Haryana as maximum temperatures settled at a few notches above normal in most areas. Karnal in Haryana recorded 44°C, four degrees above normal, while searing heat swept Ludhiana in Punjab at 42.6°C.

As if the sweltering conditions were not enough, stifling humidity levels compounded the problem for people in Uttar Pradesh’s capital Lucknow, as the city recorded a maximum temperature of 43.5°C with relative humidity at 70%. Agra was the hottest part of the state with the mercury hitting 46.1°C.

The heat wave was mainly triggered by an abrupt end to pre-monsoon showers and missing storms. A brewing cyclonic weather pattern in the Arabian Sea two weeks ago lost steam quickly, while depressions, or rain-causing systems, in the Bay of Bengal headed off towards the northwest states which are getting plentiful rains.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2015/5/heat1.jpg



Odisha continued to reel with Titlagarh in Balangir district clocking the highest temperature of 47.6°C, while authorities said they received reports of 67 deaths in the past week.

Delhi recorded a maximum temperature of 45°C, marginally cooler than May 25 which was the season’s hottest day, though zebra crossings at some places melted under the glare of a scorching sun.

Sporadic rains cooled down the eastern state of Jharkhand as the maximum temperature dropped to a comfortable 35°C in capital Ranchi, while it also drizzled in parts of neighbouring West Bengal including its power centre, Kolkata.

Temperatures hovered between 41 and 45°C in Rajasthan, weather officials said, as streets and markets in major cities and towns wore a deserted look during peak hours.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2015/5/Heat-12.jpgPeople rest near a hoarding of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi. The blistering sun didn’t spare the Capital too, which recorded its hottest day of the season so far at 45.5 degrees Celsius, five notches above normal. In Uttar Pradesh, temperatures hovered around the 45 degrees Celsius mark with Allahabad recording a high of 46.4 degrees. The met office predicted isolated dust storms and thunderstorms on Tuesday but said the heat wave would continue. (PTI Photo)

Officials recorded seven deaths in Gujarat’s capital Ahmedabad this month with the civic body issuing an “orange alert”, indicating a prolonged heat wave, expecting temperatures to shoot up to 43 to 45°C Celsius over the next seven days.

Authorities advised people to stay indoors and consume plenty of fluids and experts warned no let-up in the heat wave would lead to large-scale power outages in several parts of north India, bringing back memories of a horrific blackout in 2012 that affected nearly 600 million people.

(With inputs from PTI)



Beat the heat: A ready-reckoner on keeping cool

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2015/5/Heat-1.jpg
A rickshaw-puller rests under the shade of an overhead bridge on a hot summer day in Hyderabad. Andhra Pradesh recorded 76 deaths on Monday, even as the number of deaths due to heat stroke came down in Telangana. (AP Photo)


Maximum/minimum weather reached in each city on Tuesday 

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2015/5/india-weather-map.jpg






























An interview with Guy McPherson

Capitalism threatens all life on the planet 

- Interview with Professor Guy McPherson





by Dylan Murphy


26 May, 2015

"Let's be honest. The activities of our economic and social system are killing the planet. Even if we confine ourselves merely to humans, these activities are causing an unprecedented privation, as hundreds of millions of people-and today more than yesterday, with probably more tomorrow-go their entire lives with never enough to eat. Yet curiously, none of this seems to stir us to significant action. And when someone does too stridently point out these obvious injustices, the response by the mass of the people seems so often to be . . . a figurative if not physical blow to the gut, leading inevitably to a destruction of our common future." -Derek Jensen, The Culture of Make Believe

Tomorrow you will wake up and may well have a hot shower to start your day. Then you will go to your kitchen and use a variety of electrical devices to prepare breakfast. If you are lucky enough to have a job then you will travel to work in a car or use public transport. All of this activity requires the use of finite energy resources while producing varying amounts of carbon dioxide. According to the people at the World Wildlife Fund I alone need 2.19 planets to sustain my lifestyle. http://footprint.wwf.org.uk/.

The unsustainable lifestyle that people lead is based upon the ever increasing consumption of finite resources which is destroying the natural world at in increasing rate of knots. The extinction of 200 species a day is just one manifestation of how capitalism and the industrial civilization it has spawned is killing the planet.

Critics may well say why are you so pessimistic? All we need to do is improve energy conservation and introduce renewable energy sources on a mass scale and everything will be fine and we can keep on enjoying our turbo consumerist lifestyle. Tim Garrett an associate professor of climate sciences at Utah University has exposed this belief as nothing short of wishful thinking:

"Making civilization more energy efficient simply allows it to grow faster and consume more energy," says Garrett. "I'm just saying it's not really possible to conserve energy in a meaningful way because the current rate of energy consumption is determined by the unchangeable past of economic production. If it feels good to conserve energy, that is fine, but there shouldn't be any pretense that it will make a difference."

Professor Garrett makes the controversial point that carbon dioxide emissions, which are a major cause of runaway climate change, can only be stabilized by a complete collapse of the global industrial economy or society builds the equivalent of one nuclear reactor per day.

"Stabilization of carbon dioxide emissions at current rates will require approximately 300 gigawatts of new non-carbon-dioxide-emitting power production capacity annually - approximately one new nuclear power plant (or equivalent) per day," Garrett says. "Physically, there are no other options without killing the economy."

Every week new scientific reports are published that note how industrial civilization is driving us towards catastrophic climate change. Last week the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, announced that March was the first month to surpass global carbon dioxide levels of 400 parts per million since measurements began. This is driving us towards the 2 degree rise in temperature that is seen by many as the upper limit for the planet. In the same week anew study was published in Nature Climate Change which reveals that sea level rise rates are speeding up. This poses a threat to the one billion people who live along shore lines around the world.

Runaway climate change is already having a massive impact all over the world. California is experiencing its worst drought in 1200 years. Professor Jay Famiglietti, from the University of California, Irvine, has revealed how California has only one year of water supply stored in its reservoirs and needs to start immediate water rationingч.

Corporate politicians all over the world are beholden to their big business paymasters and so keep on glossing over or ignoring the issues. Meanwhile, the corporate media tries to lull the population into a false sense of security with its endless stories full of hopium that science and technology will save the day.

I spoke to Guy McPherson who is professor emeritus of natural resources and the environment at the University of Arizona, where he taught for twenty years. He is the author of a dozen books and has had hundreds of articles published on the consequences of our fossil fuel addiction: catastrophic climate change leading to near term human extinction. Guy lives in an off the grid straw bale house where he practices sustainable organic farming and working with members of his local community where a gift economy is in operation.

1) Many people believe that catastrophic climate change can be averted if we adopt the following measures as a matter of urgency on a global scale: energy conservation measures, stopping the use of fossil fuels and nuclear together with the mass use of renewables. Would such measures help avert catastrophic climate change?

No, they would not, for many reasons. First and foremost, civilization is a heat engine, as pointed out in Tim Garrett's work. In addition, as I've written here, the notion of a Third Industrial Revolution is seriously flawed: http://transitionvoice.com/2013/11/hopium-for-the-masses-renewable-energy-edition/


2) Is geo-engineering a possible solution to global warming?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) admits global warming is irreversible without geoengineering in a The IPCC is among the most conservative scientific bodies on the planet, and theirclass="Apple-converted-space" reports are “significantly ‘diluted’ under political pressure.” On 22 April 2014, Truth-out correctly headlines their assessment, “Intergovernmental Climate Report Leaves Hopes Hanging on Fantasy Technology.” Time follows up two days later with a desperate headline, “NASA Chief: Humanity’s Future Depends On Mission To Mars” (first up: greenhouses on Mars). As pointed out in the 5 December 2013 issue of Earth System Dynamics, known strategies for geoengineering are unlikely to succeed (climate geo-engineering cannot simply be used to undo global warming“).Attempts to reverse the impacts of global warming by injecting reflective particles into the stratosphere could make matters worse,” according to research published in the 8 January 2014 issue of Environmental Research Letters. In addition, as described in the December 2013 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, geoengineering may succeed in cooling the Earth, it would also disrupt precipitation patterns around the world. Furthermore, “risk of abrupt and dangerous warming is inherent to the large-scale implementation of SRM” (solar radiation management), as pointed out in the 17 February 2014 issue of Environmental Research Letters. About a week later comes this line from research published in the 25 February 2014 issue of Nature Communication: “schemes to Finally, in a blow to technocrats published online in the 25 June 2014 issue of Nature Climate Change, a large and distinguished group of international researchers concludes geo-engineering will not stop climate change. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences piles on with a report issued 10 February 2015, concluding geoengineering is not a viable solution for the climate predicament. As it turns out, the public isn’t impressed, either: Research published in the 12 January 2014 issue of Nature Climate Change “reveals that the overall public evaluation of climate engineering is negative.” Despite pervasive American ignorance about science, the public correctly interprets geo-engineering in the same light as the scientists, and contrary to the techno-optimists.

3) In your work you talk about feedback loops that have already been set in motion that will have very detrimental effects upon the planet. Could you explain how feedback loops will have a devastating effect upon the living planet?

These self-reinforcing feedback loops, or "positive feedbacks," feed upon themselves. For example, methane released from the Arctic Ocean heats the region, hence the ocean. As a result, methane is release more rapidly from the ocean. The process continues until a negative feedback overwhelms the process.
Many of these feedback loops have been triggered. They are contributing to a rapid rise in global-average temperature. The relatively slow rise in global-average temperature to date has outstripped the ability of organisms to keep up: The rate of evolution trails the rate of climate change by a factor of 10,000, according to paper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters. If plants cannot keep up with the ongoing, gradual rate of change, we can only imagine the destruction of the living planet now that abrupt climate change has been triggered.

The Sixth Great Extinction is proceeding very rapidly. We're on track to exceed the rate of extinction during all prior events, including the Great Dying from about 250 million years ago. During that extinction event, more than 90% of the species on the planet were driven to extinction.

4) When the issue of near term human extinction arising from catastrophic climate change is raised with many people they get very defensive. Reactions range from ridicule suggesting that you are crazy to outright hostility. Why do you think people often react this way?

I suspect they are afraid. We've grown up during a time of enormous privilege. The technology surrounding us is astonishing: It seems we can fix anything with a simple app on our cell phones!

The race for technology has overwhelmed the living planet. Already, according to an August 2010 report from the United Nations, the rate of extinction is 150-200 species per day. Industrial civilization allows us to foul the air, dirty the water, and erode the soil into the ocean while communicating in real time across the globe.
The race for technology has overwhelmed our sense of humanity. Most people I know love civilization, which destroys life on Earth. And they especially love industrial civilization and the resulting toys.

5) It is clear that the capitalist class across the globe have neither the intention nor the intention nor the knowledge of how to stop catastrophic climate change. The pursuit of hydraulic fracking, tar sands, nuclear energy, geo-engineering all reveal how the capitalist system is blind to the pursuit of profit at all costs. We cannot place any faith in corporate politicians of any stripe to help ordinary people cope with the effects of climate change as it gets worse and worse. Who should ordinary people turn to for help in coping with climate change?

The corporate governments and the corporate media are not interested in we, the people. They are interested in profits for the corporations.

As individuals and as a species, I doubt we have much time left on the planet. I recommend passionately pursuing a life of excellence rooted in love. Identify what you love. Pursue it, with passion. Throw off the shackles of a culture gone seriously awry. Along the way, you'll be viewed as insane. Most professional psychotherapists, embedded in an omnicidal culture, will provide little help.

Find your tribe. Spend time with those you love. Love the ones you're with.

6) Tim Garrett of Utah University has done some very valuable research into runaway climate change. Could you summarize the research of Professor Garrett and explain its implications for us all?

Garrett's work is published in refereed journal articles, the "gold standard" of science. His research points out that only collapse of civilization prevents runaway greenhouse. It does not point out that collapse of civilization triggers the catastrophic meltdown of the world's nuclear facilities.

7) Many people sign petitions, send letters, organise lobbies of politicians and regulators in the hope of stopping the destruction of the environment. Is this type of resistance enough to stop capitalist civilization from destroying the planet?

Apparently not. This type of work has been proceeding for decades, and the 150-200 species are still driven to extinction each day.

8) You recently published a book with Carolyn Baker called Extinction Dialogs. How should we prepare for the extinction of all life on the planet?

By living with death in mind. By loving what is, not what should be. By identifying what we love, and pursuing it. By pursuing excellence in our lives. By doing what is right, without attachment to the outcome. All of which applies even if we live forever.


New Zealand's Maui dolphins

The answer, in short, is no while we have a government that places oil exploration head of conservation and basically couldn't give a shit. 

Also, take into consideration abrupt climate change, warm oceans, acidification and loss of phytoplankton and the prospects look bleak.


Maui dolphin numbers hit all time low



16 May, 2015

A new warning has sounded for the world's smallest dolphin, with a researcher now reporting there are less than 50 Maui's dolphins left.

Dr Barbara Maas of the NABU International Nature Conservation Foundation and Otago University's Professor Liz Slooten are presenting new research during discussions with 200 leading cetacean scientists at the International Whaling Commission's Scientific Committee in San Diego.

Research by Dr Maas reports the numbers of the critically-endangered Maui's dolphin, endemic to our waters, have sunk to an all-time low of between 43 and 47 individuals, and just 10 to 12 adult female Maui's dolphins.

She warned that unless the level of fisheries protection was increased significantly, the critically-endangered dolphins could become extinct in just 15 years.

The subspecies of Hector's dolphins, found in shallow coastal waters up to depths of 100 metres off the North Island's west coast, have become a symbol for environmentalists challenging gill netting and trawling by commercial fishers, and Government oil and gas exploration block offers in habitat areas.

Earlier this year, Auckland councillors voted to oppose oil exploration in a sanctuary home to the dolphin, but stopped short of following Christchurch City Council and opposing any exploration, while a survey suggested Kiwis would be happy to pay for greater protection for the dolphins.

Population numbers - which environmentalists have generally put at 55 and the Department of Conservation has estimated at between 48 and 69 - had dropped 97 per cent as a result of fishing since the 1970s, NABU International Nature Conservation Foundation said in a statement.

The group stated the numbers had dropped from 111 in 2004 to 59 in 2010/11, and claimed the absence of man-made deaths, such as dying in fishing nets, would set the dolphins back on the road to recovery and allow numbers to grow to 500 individuals in 87 years.

Because Maui's dolphins could only cope with one human-induced death every 10-20 years, immediate conservation measures are urgently required, NABU said.

There has been debate around figures surrounding the dolphin's population and its extinction deadline.

Last year, a Ministry for Primary Industries spokesperson told the Herald that while there was no debate numbers were at a "very low level", the Government had not seen any analysis or evidence that supported research suggesting existing protection measures would lead to the Maui dolphin's functinal extinction within the next two decades.

Dr Maas said the new figures were an "unmistakable wake-up call", arguing New Zealand had to stop placing the interests of the fishing industry above biodiversity conservation.

Presently, the Government has in place a range of set net, trawling and drift net restrictions throughout the dolphins' habitat, while there are also restrictions on seabed mining and acoustic seismic survey work within the boundaries of the West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary, which was extended in 2013 to include more of the Maui dolphin's range in the Taranaki area.

The Government was also reviewing a threat management plan already in place for the dolphins, with the programme to be informed by a marine research and advisory group of scientific and stakeholder experts.


See video HERE

Can we pull Maui’s dolphins from the brink of extinction?
Conservationists and scientists are urging greater protections for Maui’s dolphins, a small, rare species found off the coast of New Zealand.

By Jessica Mendoza


The smallest and rarest marine dolphin in the world could be extinct within 15 years if protection is not stepped up, new research suggests.

25 May, 2015

The world’s smallest and rarest dolphin species is on the verge of extinction.
New research suggests that the population of Maui’s dolphin, native to the waters off New Zealand's North Island, has fallen to an all-time low of fewer than 50 individuals, with only 10 to 12 breeding females left. Scientists and conservationists are once again urging the New Zealand government to expand measures to prevent dolphins from dying in fishing nets – the main reason the population has declined by 97 percent since the 1970s, according to the German conservation group NABU.

"It's a wake-up call, it's shocking," says Dr. Barbara Maas, NABU's head of endangered species conservation. The new figures, she adds, are a result of what she says is the New Zealand government's inadequate management response to what scientific research has for years been urging it to do.

New Zealand has to abandon its current stance, which places the interests of the fishing industry above biodiversity conservation, and finally protect the dolphins’ habitat from harmful fishing nets, seismic airgun blasts, and oil and gas extraction,” Dr. Maas told the BBC.

Otherwise, the dolphin’s extinction would be “a matter of when, not if,” she told the British news service.

Maui’s dolphin, scientific nameCephalorhynchus hectori maui, is a subspecies of Hector’s dolphin and is found in coastal waters up to a depth of 100 meters on the west side of New Zealand’s North Island. Solidly built, with a sloping snout and a rounded, or “mickey mouse shaped,” dorsal fin, the dolphin is the smallest in the world, measuring about 4 to 5 feet in length and weighing a little over 100 pounds as an adult, according to the WWF.

Females have a low reproductive rate, breeding just fast enough to replace those dolphins that die naturally — which explains why the species is struggling to recover from human-induced deaths, the WWF noted. In 2013, the species was listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Today, Maas estimates there are 43 to 47 individuals, a distinct drop from 59 dolphins in 2010. 

If allowed to become extinct, she says, Maui's dolphin would mean the loss of an important predator in the local ecosystem, which would affect the rest of the food chain.

Maui's dolphins ... are building blocks of biodiversity," Maas says. "They are not ornaments that are just there and can be removed.” 

Maui’s dolphin faces a number of risks, including pollution, tourist activity, and seismic testing, conservationists have said. The last has been heavily debated by marine mammal advocates and oil and gas companies, who employ seismic surveys to determine whether oil and gas reservoirs exist beneath the ocean floor.
Groups such as the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand have said that their methods are tested and regulated, and do little, if any, harm to the environment. Conservationists, on the other hand,have argued that seismic testing causes temporary or permanent hearing loss in dolphins, which in turn leads to stranding or death.

But the biggest problem Maui’s dolphin faces are trawl fishing and gillnetting, both popular commercial and recreational enterprises in New Zealand. These activities employ large, fine nets to trap fish – nets responsible for more than 95 percent of Maui’s dolphin mortalities, according to a 2012 study by a panel of experts appointed by the New Zealand government.

It’s a very fine nylon mesh, and the dolphins can’t detect this net, so they get tangled in it and drown,” Milena Palka, a marine advocate for WWF New Zealand, told the New Zealand Herald.

In response to the Maui’s dolphin crisis, the New Zealand government in 2007 developed the Hector's and Maui dolphin threat management plan, which sought to restrict the movement of commercial and tourist vessels and to establish sanctuaries in the species’ natural habitat. The plan would bolster New Zealand’s 1978 Marine Mammals Protection Act, which gave the country’s Department of Conservation the mandate to protect and administer marine mammals and their sanctuaries.

Critics, however, have said that the government’s efforts are inadequate.
In her latest study, to be presented at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) Scientific Committee meeting in San Diego this week, Maas wrote that New Zealand had promised to increase conservation efforts in response to last year's IWC recommendations. The committee had urged the government to expand protected waters, ban trawl fishing and gillnetting throughout the species’ habitat, and commit to specific timelines and targets with regards to the dolphin’s conservation.

The committee reiterates its extreme concern about the continued decline of such a small population as the human-induced death of even one dolphin would increase the extinction risk for this subspecies,” according to the IWC. 

But the dolphins' continued decline reveals a lack of political will on the part of the New Zealand government, and represents the problem that conservation as an issue faces on a global scale, Maas says. It says much about humans as a species if, in a country like New Zealand, we can't save as charismatic an animal as the dolphin even after decades of research telling us what to do, she adds.

She compares the survival of the world's ecosystems to the block game Jenga: “We pull out one, we pull out another ... eventually, we crash.”

The deadline for the dolphins’ extinction has been debated, but NABU, the German conservation group, has said that if the status quo is maintained, the species could be gone by 2031. If concrete steps are taken, however, and human-caused deaths are cut to zero, the dolphins’ numbers could be up to 500 individuals within about 90 years.

They are not doomed to extinction,” Dr. Maas told the BBC in 2013. “Genetic variability is still high [and] they can bounce back, but saving them is a race against time.”

Maui's Dolphins on '60 Minutes'