Recently there was a letter to the editor of the local paper complaining about the harsh attitude of the management of our airport. It was from the mother of a couple of teenagers who had parked in a place reserved for airport staff. The letter sparked a flurry of responses from the general public, enough to fill half page of the weekend edition. Opinions were divided: many agreed that the airport manager was cruel and inhumane, while others felt that people needed to take responsibility for their own actions. But the whole saga reminded me of a time when a more relaxed attitude would surface (and, I suspect, there was less pressure on parking spaces).
At the very beginning of 93, I received a call from the airport manager asking if I knew the whereabouts of X. Yes, X was a scientist on our staff. Well, X had left their car on the two-minute parking in front of the airport entrance, two weeks ago! Thinking of the size of a possible fine, I hasten to explain that X had gone off to the far north, chasing the cause of New Zealand’s first-ever algae bloom.(see note below)
Perhaps the airport manager had seen X on TV? Yes, indeed he had. I was getting a little worried about X, I added, because this scientist had been working very long hours without a single break since leaving town. But (getting back to the issue at hand) could we help with the removal of the car? Oh no, that wasn’t a problem. X had left it unlocked with the keys still in it and the engine running! It was now parked in a secure place and if X would contact the airport manager upon their return to Nelson they would be happy to help. And no, of course there would be no fine, after all X’s work was really important for our mussel industry.
I love the layers in this little story. The incredible focus of a research scientist on a mission to uncover something new; the fact that most people in town knew about the algae bloom and that the Cawthron Institute was working hard to minimise its impact upon the marine farming sector, the feeling that everyone in the community was working together as a team.
Note: This event was really a big deal at the time. At its peak, almost the whole of the shellfish industry had been shut down, throughout the length of New Zealand. The media spoke of a ‘wave’ of toxic algae sweeping down the country, from the far north to the bottom of the South Island. Surveillance and monitoring programmes were set up, at a cost of $millions. Some years (and much hard work) later, it was shown by scientists at Cawthron and the University of Shizuoka that all but a very few cases around Northland were likely to have been false alarms. The wave was pure fiction.
On the bright side, it also lead to New Zealand developing the world’s best marine biotoxin management programme for commercial shellfish production, most of which is exported. That still provides a competitive advantage for a product where safety is so important.