Important questions about reading and writing for Karen Denyer and Monica Peters

Life in the Slums, Massey University Press.


Life in the Slums, Massey University Press.

Karen Denyer has worked as an ecological consultant for over 20 years, primarily in wetland ecology. Monica Peters has a PhD in the ecology of community environmental groups. Together they wrote Life in the Shallows: New Zealand’s Aotearoa Wetlands.

Why wetlands?

KD: I’ve always had a soft spot for outsiders and to me wetlands are our ecological outsiders, our most abused and misunderstood ecosystem.

MP: These are intriguing places – it’s not just the glimpses of open water, but the wet expanses that harbor plants that couldn’t survive without “wet feet” seasonally or year-round.

* Tairāwhiti Pharmaceuticals admits to altering Te Whare wetlands
* “Significant Bloody” wetland area drained by excavator during Alert Level 4
* Mātauranga Māori “necessary” to help tackle the global biodiversity crisis

Karen Denyer: I've always had a thing for outsiders, and wetlands are our ecological outsiders.

Craig Cook/Supplied

Karen Denyer: I’ve always had a thing for outsiders, and wetlands are our ecological outsiders.

Your most exciting swamp moment?

KD: Spotting a pūweto (spotless crake) for the first time. These shy little birds are actually quite widespread but are so secretive and enigmatic that they are rarely seen. I worked in wetlands for about 15 years before I finally saw one.

MP: Visiting the Kopuatai peat dome in the middle of the Hauraki plains and the surreal experience of standing on a ladder among the mighty clumps of Sporadanthus ferrugineus (giant cane rush) and feeling as if the wetland covered the whole landscape.

Monica Peters: Wetlands are intriguing places.


Monica Peters: Wetlands are intriguing places.

This book is a celebration of scientists. Why this approach?

KD: New Zealand is good at idolizing our talented athletes, but many of our academic heroes – who also put Aotearoa on the map – receive very little attention at home. We thought, let’s write a book not just about wetlands, but about wetland scientists, the people who literally dig their way into the shallows to unlock their secrets.

We write about some of their hairy moments in the field (exploding lentil stew), their lateral thinking (building fish hotels), and the social obstacles they’ve overcome (the schoolteacher who talked them out of taking subjects STEM, or the dad who said “you’re never gonna get a bloody job watching birds”).

Q&A courtesy of Massey University Press. Life in the Shallows (Massey University Press), out July 14. RRP $65.

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