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‘Velvet’, a gargantuan tapestry of our endangered native longfin eel, will be on display on the fourth floor of the Dunedin City Library throughout the New Zealand International Science Festival.
The tapestry has travelled around New Zealand and the Pacific Islands for over two years, and has been proudly displayed at ‘The Beehive’ and Te Papa in Wellington, as well as countless schools. At each stop, another length has been added to her long appliquéd body. Now measuring over forty metres in length, local Enviroschools organisers plan to wrap as much of the display as possible around the walls of the Dunningham Suite, which will be a hub for children’s science workshops throughout the week.
The tapestry started out as the brainchild of an Arizona based artist and science educator, Stephanie Bowman, after she came on holiday to New Zealand, lured by our ‘clean green’ image. While here, she heard about the plight of our unique longfin eels, which can live for over 100 years in our rivers before travelling thousands of kilometres to breed, just once, in the deep sea trenches of Tonga, before they die.
During their lives, they brave natural predators, as well as man made pressures, including commercial fishing, pollution and obstacles to their migration such as dams. These difficulties combined with their solitary mating opportunity have made their future survival precarious. Bowman’s imagination has been spurred into producing this touring piece of artwork, as a tool for raising awareness of the eels’ plight, and to support various other initiatives, including a petition calling on the New Zealand Government to halt the commercial fishing of the longfin eel, until the sustainability of the practice can be established.
Jenny Neilson, Enviroschools Regional Coordinator from the Dunedin City Council, is responsible for bringing the tapestry to Dunedin. “A huge amount of knowledge building, understanding of environmental issues and aroha has gone into this exquisite appliquéd work. It’s stunning.”
It is hoped that families visiting the City Library will enjoy exploring the variety of hard work that has made this piece what it is today, and that it will inspire young minds to appreciate how unique and precious New Zealand’s wildlife truly is, regardless of whether it flies through our skies, walks through our forests or swims through our waters.