Skip to Main Content

MHS Library | Our Fragile Environment

Engaging writing - openings

  • Rank these openings in order of appeal and engagement.
  • Consider what kind of opening would make you want to read on. Identify the language features.
  • Which one was Chat GPT generated? Why do you think this?

1. Rewilding the Galápagos can be a model for a new way to coexist with nature 

 There are few places in the world as majestic and full of wonder as Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands. From the rosy-hued pink iguanas on the northern rim of Wolf Volcano to the iconic Pinzón giant tortoise on Pinzón Island to the black-tipped reef sharks feeding off Floreana Island, we have both found boundless inspiration in exploring the islands that led Charles Darwin to develop his groundbreaking theory of evolution nearly two centuries ago. 

We have both also witnessed a more recent rapidly evolving process in the Galápagos based on a shared vision of restoring the profusion of life that the archipelago is renowned for. This process is rewilding, a positive reframing for nature conservation. There is an idea that rewilding involves restoring nature at the expense of people, but we believe it is all about effectively integrating ourselves within the ecosystems that sustain us – to work with, rather than against, nature to create thriving and resilient ecosystems for the benefit of all. 

In short, modern rewilding is the revolutionary act of bringing together people and the planet for people and the planet. It does not require any futuristic technology, relying instead on our scientific understanding of wildlife and ecosystems, combined with the traditional knowledge and wisdom of local communities and Indigenous peoples, who are consistently the most effective custodians of Earth’s biodiversity. In the truest sense of the word, it redresses our balance with the wild. 

2. Glaciers in New Zealand 

New Zealand is a land of stunning natural beauty, boasting breathtaking mountain ranges, crystal-clear lakes, and picturesque coastlines. One of the most impressive natural features of this island country is its glaciers. New Zealand's glaciers are located in the Southern Alps, a range of mountains that run down the western side of the South Island. In this essay, we will explore the characteristics of New Zealand's glaciers, their importance, and their future.  

3. Characteristics of New Zealand's Glaciers 

New Zealand's glaciers are known for their unique characteristics. Unlike most glaciers, which are formed by snow accumulation at high elevations, New Zealand's glaciers are formed at lower elevations due to the maritime climate. The glaciers are made up of snow and ice that has been compacted over time, forming dense layers of ice. The ice is then pushed downhill by gravity, creating slow-moving rivers of ice that flow through the valleys. 

 There are over 3,000 glaciers in New Zealand, but the most well-known are the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers on the South Island's west coast. These glaciers are easily accessible and attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are unique in that they are some of the fastest-moving glaciers in the world, with speeds of up to 4 meters per day. They are also some of the most accessible glaciers in the world, with hiking trails and helicopter tours available for visitors. 

4. On birds — feathered messengers from deep time 

When I experienced a great loss in in my early forties — almost a year to the day after another — I went to see my mother in the family home. She wasn’t a hugger or giver of advice, so instead we fed the birds. As she had when I was a child, she stood behind me in the kitchen with her shoulder propped against the back door, passing slices of apple and small balls of minced meat into my hand. 

Each bird, apart from the snatching kookaburras, was touchingly gentle in the way it took food from my fingers. The white cockatoos ate daintily, one-legged. The lorikeets jumped onto the sloping ramp on both feet, like eager parachutists, to quarrel over the apple and press the juice from the pulp with stubby tongues. 

Lined up on the veranda rail, the magpies cocked their heads to observe me before accepting meat precisely in their blue-white beaks. They had a beautiful, carolling song, with a chorded quality in the falling registers. But the bright-eyed butcher birds had the most lovely song of all: a full-throated piping, which I’ve heard compared to the Queen of the Night’s aria in Mozart’s Magic Flute. 

Over decades, a family of these little blue-grey birds, had come to stack their hooked meat-eaters’ beaks with mince, which they flew to deliver to young somewhere in our neighbour’s garden, though we had never bothered to try to work out where they lived. This afternoon, when my mother and I opened the door, they landed by our side as they always had, having spotted us from their watching places. For a brief moment, surrounded by these vital creatures, I felt as if I might still want to be alive. 

5. Pilot races to photograph melting glaciers as climate clock ticks 

Chunks of ice float in milky blue waters. Clouds drift and hide imposing mountaintops. The closer you descend to the surface, the more the water roars — and the louder the “CRACK” of ice, as pieces fall from the arm of Europe’s largest glacier. 

The landscape is vast, elemental, seemingly far beyond human scale. The whole world, it seems, lies sprawled out before you. Against this outsized backdrop, the plane carrying the man who chases glaciers seems almost like a toy. 

“No one’s there,” the man marvels. “The air is virtually empty.” 

This is Garrett Fisher’s playground — and, you quickly realize, his life’s work. 

He is traveling the world, watching it from far above, sitting in the seat of his tiny blue-white “Super Cub” aircraft. It’s here that he combines his two longtime passions — photography and flight — in a quest to document every remaining glacier on the face of the Earth. 

On one level, the 41-year-old Fisher does it for a simple reason: “Because I love them.” 

But he does it, too, because of weightier things. Because the climate clock is ticking, and the planet’s glaciers are melting. Because Fisher is convinced documenting, archiving, remembering all of this serves a purpose. 

Because, in the end, nothing lasts forever — not even ancient glaciers. 

Glaciers aren’t static. In a world that’s getting warmer, they’re getting smaller. 

“In 100 or 200 years, most of them will be gone or severely curtailed,” Fisher says. “It is the front line of climate change … the first indication that we’re losing something.” 

6. Secrets of the ice: unlocking a melting time capsule 

Back in August 2018, archaeologists William Taylor and Nick Jarman were scrambling around a snowy, scree-strewn slope in the Altai mountains in northwest Mongolia at the end of an exhausting day. A few hundred metres above Jarman, Taylor and his colleagues were surveying the site, a disappearing ice field that local reindeer herders said had not melted in living memory. Now, each summer, it disappears almost completely. 

Taylor, an assistant professor and curator of archaeology at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, looked down the mountain and saw his methodical colleague dancing and hollering, hopping from rock to rock. Thinking he was injured, Taylor headed down the mountain. 

“Every time people hear you’re an archaeologist, they want to know the best thing you’ve ever found,” says Jarman, an archaeologist at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. “I knew what I had found rewrote all those anecdotes.” 

There, in crumbling snow, was a perfectly preserved arrow shaft. It was delicately decorated with ochre markings, its carving and features completely protected by the ice even though it was 3,000 years old. Normally, organic items such as this are destroyed by exposure. Jarman instantly found a piece of another arrow shaft. “You can feel when you’re in a hotspot – where everything has come together to allow stuff to be preserved,” he says. 

Convinced he would find the arrowhead nearby, Jarman quickly swung his metal detector over the snow. It beeped. “I brushed back 2 inches of snow and I saw this copper-coloured point. It resolved itself into a bronze arrowhead. It had little scraps of animal sinew still tied around it. It had somehow worked itself free from the shaft, and had just dropped off right there. I yelled and just started laughing and jumping about,” he says. The arrow and its shaft had lain undisturbed, packed deep in the ice since the Bronze Age, more than 3,000 years ago, when it was lost, dropped or shot. It is a totemic thing to see; it shivers with a swift, elegant menace. 

Things to read and consider when writing about the natural world