Inbox and Environment News: Issue 304

March 12 - 18, 2017: Issue 304

Why we're marching for science in Australia

Stuart KhanUNSW

In late January this year, a group of mainly US-based Reddit users were discussing a recent report that all references to climate change have been deleted from the White House website. One user on the forum responded with the suggestionThe Conversation

There needs to be a Scientists’ March on Washington.

And thus the seed of a global movement was planted. Within hours, a proposed March for Science in Washington DC had a website, aFacebook page and a Twitter handle.

Within a few days, “sister march” sites began to appear from across the United States and around the world.

A diverse group of individuals initiated social media sites in cities throughout Australia. These included a university professor in Brisbane, a year 12 high school student in Western Sydney, a number of current postgraduate students in Adelaide, Perth and Townsville, and a recent PhD graduate in Canberra.

It occurred to me and others that it might be helpful to establish links between these disparate and diverse groups. Doing so would facilitate cooperation, hopefully leading to improved planning and a united voice.

By bringing together each of the groups planning March for Science events around Australia, we established March for Science Australia, which now has its own websiteFacebook page and Twitter handle.

We are now working cooperatively to organise rallies in support of science in cities including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra, Townsville, Hobart and Launceston. The list is growing quickly with local groups in more cities organising every week.

Guided By Science

As stated on our website, the March for Science celebrates the public discovery, distribution and understanding of scientific knowledge as crucial to the freedom, success, health and safety of life on this planet.

We are a nonpartisan group, marching to demand action in areas of literacy, communication, policy and investment.

Universal Literacy: A well-informed community is essential to a free and successful society. We support education to promote broad public knowledge and discussion of scientific work. As professionals, parents and community-engaged volunteers, we enthusiastically contribute our time and expertise to helping children and students of all ages engage with the physical universe and biological world.

Open Communication: Publicly-funded scientists have a responsibility to communicate their research and public outreach and accessibility of scientific knowledge should be encouraged. Communication of scientific findings and their implications must not be suppressed.

Informed Policy: Public policy should be guided by peer-reviewed evidence and scientific consensus. Public policy must enable scientists to communicate their publicly-funded research results, and must support literacy in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Stable Investment: A long-term, strategic approach to investment in scientific research and development is essential for driving true innovation. Government commitment to stable science funding policy will deliver solutions to complex challenges, promoting prosperity for all.

These are the core principles for which we march. A range of recent events have fuelled a sense of timeliness in the need to better promote the value of these principles in Australia.

In 2015, Commonwealth government funding for research and developmentdropped to the lowest it had ever been at just 0.4% of GDP. This placed Australia near the bottom of a list of 18 OECD countries, behind Portugal, Russia and Greece, but ahead of just Slovakia and Spain.

The abolition of key science-focused national bodies, including the Climate Commission in 2013 and the National Water Commission in 2014 were widely taken as a sign that the Australian government was no longer so interested to receive expert science-based advice on these issues.

Cuts to key climate science research programs at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) soon followed.

In efforts to publicly justify these cuts, CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall characterised internationally respected Australian scientists, who opposed them, as “the climate lobby”, stating “in fact it almost sounds more like religion than science to me” – a statement for which he subsequently apologised.

Such belittling and ridicule of Australian science and scientists does our society no favours. Research from the Australian National University in 2014 showed that when asked unprompted, Australians identified friends and family (12%) and CSIRO (also 12%) as the most commonly mentioned trusted sources of accurate information about science. A considerable number of the respondents (30%) either did not know who to trust (21%) or did not trust anyone (9%).

Physicist William Happer is in the running to be US President Donald Trump’s science adviser, although he doesn’t believe in anthropogenic climate change. Gage SkidmoreCC BY-SA

Failure to effectively promote trust in science and our scientific institutions may explain many of the gaps that exist between available scientific evidence and public attitudes.

One example is the gap between scientific findings on the safe use ofgenetically modified crops for food and public acceptance of these findings. A recent Australian study revealed that attitudes toward genetically modified organisms for food were significantly associated with trust in scientists and regulatory agencies.

Similar discrepancies between scientific evidence and public acceptance exist in Australia for the safety of drinking water fluoridation, the safety of community vaccination programs and the safety and other impacts of wind turbines.

There also appears to be an unwillingness to adopt science and evidence in the development of some areas of public policy in Australia. The most glaring and high profile example is the urgency with which societies must reduce fossil fuel combustion, thus reducing atmospheric emissions of carbon dioxide to limit global climate change.

Statements such as those by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott that “the climate change argument is absolute crap” and the promotion of fossil fuels as “good for humanity” reveal the lack of appreciation that some of our most high profile political leaders hold for this urgency.

This attitude may be contributing to the Australian government’s pursuit of new coal mines and coal-fired power stations, and lack of enthusiasm for the development of cleaner energy sources.

Global Cause

A greater appreciation for the benefits and opportunities of science could come from improved scientific literacy among Australian primary and high school students.

Unfortunately, the evidence is for a continuing long-term decline in science and mathematics enrolments in Australian high schoolsChallenges for science in Australian primary schools are considerable, with only around50% of primary school teachers having received training in teaching methods for science.

There is compelling evidence for the need to improve the standing of science in Australian society. However, the March for Science is a global movement and it has clearly been triggered by recent activities in the US.

Whether we’re taking a stand for science in Australia or science in the US, these are essentially the same thing. Science is a global pursuit of knowledge with high degrees of collaboration between countries. Research findings from different research teams build upon one another to continuously grow the global knowledge base.

When Australian climate science was observed to be suffering during CSIRO funding cuts, US scientists were quick to defend the work undertaken by their Australian colleagues. A leading scientist from NASA appealed to CSIRO to abandon any plans to cut a key monitoring program, arguing that it would undermine Australia and the world’s ability to monitor and predict climate change.

We live in a world where our major challenges are of a global nature, and science that offers our best opportunity to meet those challenges is equally global in its importance.

It is for all of these reasons that I have chosen to volunteer my time to help organise opportunities for Australians to March in support of Science. I hope you will join me and many others as we do so on April 22.

Stuart Khan, Associate Professor in Environmental Engineering, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Huge Hope For Tiny Turtles

Monday, 6 March 2017: Media Release - Gabrielle Upton, Environment Minister
The conservation effort to save the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle from extinction has received a huge boost after 21 tiny turtles hatched as part of a NSW Government captive breeding program, Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said today.

The turtles began to hatch on 19 January as part of the first ever breeding program for this critically endangered species.

“There could be as few as 200 Bellinger River Snapping Turtles remaining in the wild, so these hatchlings have a vital role to play in rebuilding this population,” Ms Upton said.

Taronga Zoo established the breeding program after a newly discovered disease wiped out up to 90 per cent of the local population of Bellinger River Snapping Turtles on the NSW mid-north coast near Bellingen in 2015.

A Government emergency response team was formed to investigate and coordinate the rescue of a group of healthy turtles to establish an insurance population.

Taronga Keeper Adam Skidmore said he was surprised at how quickly the turtles had settled into their new home, with four of the five females producing eggs this breeding season.

“We weren’t really expecting any hatchlings this year, so it was an amazing result to get four clutches of eggs. The team was very excited to see the first hatchlings push their way out of the eggs,” Mr Skidmore said.

Weighing 4-5 grams at birth, the hatchlings have begun eating and swimming and are being closely monitored by keepers in a special quarantine facility at Taronga.

A Bellinger River Turtle hatchling. Photo by Paul Fahy

The long-term aim of the breeding program is to raise and release hatchlings back into Bellinger River. Meanwhile, Australian Registry of Wildlife Health researchers continue to investigate the cause of the disease and monitor the remaining turtles and other wildlife in the Bellinger River catchment system.

Department Seeks Community Views On Narrabri Gas Project Proposal

20.02.2017: Departmental Media Release - Department of Planning and Environment
The Department of Planning and Environment will today place on public exhibition Santos’ Narrabri Gas Project Environmental Impact Statement and is inviting the community to share its views.

Given the high level of public interest in the proposal, the Department has extended the normal exhibition period to more than 60 days. It closes on April 24.

Mike Young, Director of Resource Assessments, said the Department will be consulting broadly on the proposal and is keen to hear from all individuals and groups interested in the proposal.

“We are making every effort to make sure people have an opportunity to hear about the project and give us feedback during this assessment,” Mr Young said.

“There will be a number of opportunities to provide feedback including community information sessions and meetings with local landowners and interest groups.

“We want to hear people’s views - farmers, landholders, locals, Aboriginal groups, industry groups, councils. Everyone is welcome to make a submission and all will be read and considered in our assessment.”

Mr Young said as part of the assessment the Department will be establishing a panel of eminent scientific experts to provide independent advice on the proposal.

“These experts will be an integral part of the assessment process. Much of the information is of a scientific and technical nature and we are keen to get the best independent advice possible in assessing this project,” he said.

“In addition, we will be working with other key NSW Government agencies and seeking advice from the Commonwealth’s Independent Expert Scientific Committee.

“Any issues raised in submissions will be looked at and taken into account.”

Given the high level of public interest in the proposal, the Department has extended the normal exhibition period to more than 60 days. It closes on May 22nd.

Following the exhibition period, the Department will comprehensively assess the submissions and the EIS.

The Narrabri Gas Project proposal involves a coal seam gas field with up to 850 gas wells to be developed progressively over 20 years, and a gas processing and water treatment facilities.

Santos’ Environmental Impact Statement is available on the Department’s website, and at all major centres in the region including Narrabri, Wee Waa, Gunnedah, Coonabarabran and Coonamble

Related information: 
  • Environmental Impact Statement for the Narrabri Gas Project
  • NSW Chief Scientist 2014 Coal Seam Gas Review
  • NSW Gas Plan
Narrabri Gasfield

Exhibition Start 21/02/2017
Exhibition End  24/04/2017

To attend one of the public information sessions, people should 
register their interest on 1800 616 493.

Location: Crossing Theatre, 117 Tibbereena St, Narrabri, NSW
Dates: Tuesday 7 March and Wednesday 8 March 2017

If media plan to attend they must register

The Final Push For The Pilliga

Published on 21 Feb 2017 by The Wilderness Society
Now is a critical moment in the campaign to protect the Pilliga forest. We need you to lodge a submission against Santos’ Narrabri Gas Project to help end CSG in NSW once and for all. 

Santos has filed its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) with the NSW Government and we now have just 60 days to voice our opposition. This is the last remaining CSG proposal in NSW, and it’s essential we make our powerful opposition clear. 

The local community of the Pilliga has spearheaded the campaign against this project for years—now is the time for all Australians to stand with them in the final push for the Pilliga. 

Anyone can make a submission and every submission will be counted. 
We have until 24 April 2017 to lodge as many submissions as possible

$1million Project To Help Save North Coast Threatened Species

Media release: 3 March 2017 - NPWS
A $1million NSW Environmental Trust funded project aims to secure the future of eight threatened species on the NSW north east border.

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Area Operations Coordinator Jenny Atkins said the Burning Hotspots – Gondwana Threatened Species and Fire Project is funded through the NSW Environmental Trust’s Saving our Species (SoS) Partnership Grant. 

”Already in its second year the collaborative program is achieving promising results,” Ms Atkins said.

“A survey for the Three-toed Snake Toothed Skink in Border Ranges National Park located two individuals of this large, yet elusive, burrowing lizard,” she said.  

“Surveys also found three new populations of the shrub Brush Sophora in Toonumbar and Richmond Range national parks and state forests where bush regeneration and weed control is helping save this delicate species,” Ms Atkins said.  

Other species benefitting from the project include the Red-legged Pademelon, Long-nosed Potoroo, Black-striped Wallaby, Parma Wallaby, Eastern Bristlebird and Native Jute, all priorities of the NSW Government’s Saving our Species (SoS) program.

Eastern Bristlebird - photo courtesy NSW Dept. OE&H

“The Burning Hotspots project covers different land tenures including national parks, state forests, neighbouring lands on the Richmond/Koreelah Ranges, and in and around World Heritage listed Gondwana Rainforests,” Ms Atkin said.

“For example, the Eastern Bristlebird habitat restoration covers 220 hectares on private property and Border Ranges National Park,” she said.

Ongoing projects include Southern Cross and NSW universities undertaking camera monitoring surveys at 280 sites on nine national parks and adjoining state forest.

“The aim of this research is to record populations and investigate appropriate fire regimes and predator impacts,” Ms Atkin said.

NPWS is coordinating the Environmental Trust’s (SoS) Partnership Grant with the Office Environment and Heritage, Southern Cross University, University of NSW, Northern Rivers Fire and Biodiversity Consortium, Forestry Corporation, and the Border Ranges Alliance.

“We are thrilled to be given the opportunity to work in partnership with key organisations to conserve these threatened species for the long term,” Ms Atkin said.   

The Environmental Trust supports research projects to generate new knowledge or information to facilitate local solutions to environmental problems.

The SoS program is providing $100 million over the next five years to help protect almost a thousand animals and plants threatened from extinction in NSW.

New Agreement On Non-Lethal Whale Research

8th March 2017: Media Release - Department of the Environment and Energy; Australian Antarctic Division

Australia and the Republic of Korea today signed a new agreement to promote scientific collaboration on non-lethal whale research.

The agreement, signed in Hobart by the Australian Antarctic Division and Korea’s National Institute of Fisheries Science, aims to promote non-lethal whale studies and improve methods to reduce the accidental capture of cetaceans by the fishing industry.

President of Korea’s National Institute of Fisheries Science, Dr Kang Joon Seog and Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, Dr Nick Gales, signing the agreement in Hobart (Photo: Glenn Jacobson)

Leading research techniques, such as satellite tagging and genetic mark recapture, will improve estimates of abundance, trends, movements and dispersal patterns of marine mammals in Korean coastal waters.

The agreement has three key focus areas:

Operational interactions: developing methods to reduce cetacean bycatch and interaction between cetaceans and fishing operations.

Ecological interactions: assessing how cetaceans may affect fisheries yields and developing tools to improve the understanding of this complex issue.

Socio-economic opportunities: exploring the development of whale and dolphin watching operations, consistent with the International Whaling Commission’s Five-Year Strategic Plan for Whale Watching.

The new agreement will gather data on cetacean-fishery interactions, ecosystem modelling, sighting survey design and marine mammal tourism which will be fed into the Commission’s Scientific and Conservation Committees.
Humpback whale (Photo: Dave and Fiona Harvey)

State Of The Environment 2016 Report Highlights Continuing Change In Antarctica

7th March 2017: Media Release - Department of the Environment and Energy; Australian Antarctic Division
The Antarctic environment is generally in good condition however it is showing clear signs of impact from climate change according to The State of the Environment 2016 Report, released today by the Department of Environment and Energy.

The chapter on the Antarctic environment co-authored by Australian Antarctic Division scientists, Dr Andrew Klekociuk and Dr Barbara Wienecke, says the rate of change varies, with some areas such as the Antarctic Peninsula changing faster than others.

The most important factors contributing to physical change are warming of the oceans and the lower atmosphere, both of which are associated with increasing greenhouse gasses, and cooling of the stratosphere, mainly from ozone depletion.

There is increasing evidence that the ozone layer is starting to recover as a direct consequence of international controls on the use of human-made ozone depleting substances.

The report says the rate at which the physical environment of the Antarctic region is changing appears faster than the rate at which organisms, especially those of the higher order, can adapt.

The composition and abundance of flora and fauna are expected to alter if the environmental change continues. Some species could be lost if they are not able to adapt.

Dr Klekociuk and Dr Wienecke say the report is an assessment of the state and trends of the Antarctic environment primarily as they relate to Australia’s interests in the region. They have distilled the opinion of experts in specific fields and where possible have used up-to-date environmental and management data collected in support of the Australian Antarctic Program.

It is largely an update of the 2011 State of the Environment report informed by peer-reviewed literature that has appeared in the last five years.

The Report’s key findings:
  • Antarctica continues to warm, with changes in atmospheric circulation brought about by the Antarctic ozone hole reducing the overall amount of warming, particularly in summer.
  • While the Antarctic ice sheet is losing mass overall, this is primarily occurring in West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula. The East Antarctic ice sheet remains close to neutral, or with a small gain in mass.
  • While there has been a small increase in the extent overall of sea ice, and length of the ice season, there are strong regional differences which remain under investigation.
  • The Southern Ocean continues to warm, with species from warmer waters increasing their range southwards.
  • Ocean acidification, increasing wind strength and changes in ocean circulation in the Southern Ocean may affect the base of Antarctic food webs.
  • Antarctic ecosystems are changing, especially where snowfall is replaced by rain.
  • Population trends of animals vary across Antarctica with populations decreasing in some regions and possibly increasing in others.
  • Sub-Antarctic islands continue to change, with a continued retreat of the glaciers at Heard Island. Areas affected by human activities in Antarctica continue to increase.
The Australian Antarctic Program, led by the Australian Antarctic Division, supports science that continues to build understanding of the likely impact of changes in the Antarctic region.  

The Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan, launched by the Australian Government in April 2016, outlines initiatives that will support key scientific endeavours, including a state-of-the-art icebreaker for research and resupply.

More information

Emperor penguins and fledglings at Auster Rookery (Photo: Chris Wilson)

Duck-Billed Platypus 

Past Profile of the Week and former Newport resident Dave Whiteman was Photographing waterfalls in the Blue Mountains recently when suddenly a photographer with him pointed to something coming down the rocks. 
“We were blessed to see up close, a young Australian Duck-Billed Platypus which played in the water around us for 20 minutes. Not something you see every day!” Dave said

Video by Dave Whiteman  March 5, 2017. 

State Of The Environment Report 2016 Shows Gains Made But Much Work Still To Do

7 March 2017: Media release - The Hon. Josh Frydenberg MP
Minister for the Environment and Energy
The Australian Government has today tabled the fifth edition of Australia’s State of the Environment Report which shows we have made significant gains in improving our environment, but there is still work to do.

The report has been compiled by leading scientists across the built environment, biodiversity, land and marine fields and has taken two years to bring together and provides the most comprehensive assessment of Australia’s environment since 2011.

The reporting system, which was first established as an initiative under the Howard Government, examines recent trends, management and the future outlook for the environment across Australia.

Consistent with 2011, the report shows that our marine environment and habitat, natural and cultural heritage areas, the Antarctic environment and the air quality of our cities are in generally good condition.

Since the last report, ozone levels have improved while sustainable diversion limits and water efficiency are having a positive impact on water bird and fish stocks as well as natural vegetation in the Murray Darling Basin.

Communities, landholders and individuals are playing an increasingly vital role in the management and protection of the environment while more than 17 per cent of our land is now being managed to protect species, up from 13 per cent in 2011.

However, our unique biodiversity remains under pressure. That is why we’ve complemented our protected and managed lands with a Threatened Species Strategy and appointed the first Threatened Species Commissioner, with an action plan focused on 20 birds, 20 mammals and 30 plants by 2020.

The report also confirms the challenges associated with coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef and the need to continue the implementation of our Reef 2050 Plan which will see on-ground action to improve water quality and the management of crown of thorns starfish over the next 30 years.

Arguably the most significant development since the 2011 report is Australia’s commitment under the Paris Agreement to reduce our emissions by 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels. This target is comparable with other advanced economies and will halve our per capita emissions making it one of the strongest targets in the G20.

Published on a new interactive digital platform for the first time, the report enables decision-makers, researchers and the public to explore and discover its findings in a variety of ways.

Information contained in the report will help guide and prioritise the Federal Government’s significant investment being made to protect the environment.

The Federal Government thanks all those who contributed to the production of Australia’s State of the Environment Report 2016.

The report can be located via:

Bird Walks And Talks 2017: PNHA

Come and see and hear some of our fantastic native birds, many of which you'll never see in your garden. Join in a Sunday guided bird walk with Pittwater Natural Heritage Association. All walks  start at 8am and end about 10am.

March 26, Irrawong reserve. Meet at corner Irrawong Rd and  Epworth Rd.
May 28, Warriewood Wetlands, meet at End of Katoa Close, north Narrabeen.
August 27 Chiltern Track. Meet at gate, off northern of Chiltern Rd Ingleside.
September 17 Irrawong reserve. Meet at corner Irrawong Rd and Epworth Rd.
November 26 Warriewood Wetlands. Meet end of Katoa Close, north Narrabeen. 

Bring binoculars if possible. Drink, hat and comfortable shoes.
More information contact or 
Ph Kerry on 0402605 721.

You don't need to book but if we know you're coming we'll watch out for you. Call if in doubt about weather as we won't go out if it's raining.

Join The Fight Against Foxes

27 February 2017: Media Release - Greater Sydney Local Land Services
Northern Sydney residents are being urged to join the fight against foxes in the lead up to an autumn baiting program in March.

Run by Greater Sydney Local Land Services in partnership with the Sydney North Vertebrate Pest Committee, National Parks and Wildlife Services and other land management agencies, the annual program coincides with fox cubs leaving the den and adults finding a mate for the winter breeding period.

Greater Sydney Biosecurity Manager Graham Wilson said coordinated, large-scale baiting programs had proven most effective in limiting the impacts of foxes in urban areas.

“Past experience has shown foxes are more likely to take baits in autumn but the support and cooperation of local residents is vital to the program’s success.”

Mr Wilson said there were simple things residents could all do to minimise the impact of foxes.

“Foxes are attracted to food scraps and domestic pets like chickens and rabbits. You can help by ensuring compost bins are properly closed, keeping household rubbish in a secure location, feeding domestic pets inside, ensuring food is not left outside and wherever possible, keeping pets inside overnight.

“Pesticide restrictions mean baiting can’t be undertaken on the average suburban block which is why coordinated programs like this are crucial to limiting the damage foxes can cause to native wildlife, infrastructure, livestock and domestic pets,” he said.

“Keeping yards in check by tidying gardens, weeding to reduce fox harbour and housing backyard chickens in secure, fox-proof enclosures rather than free ranging will also help.”

The Northern Sydney baiting program will be in place until the end of March. It is important for residents to keep their domestic pets away from sign-posted bait sites and walk their dogs on a leash during this time.”

The baiting will take place in The Hills Shire, Northern Beaches, North Sydney, Willoughby, Ku-Ring-Gai, Mosman and Hornsby areas.

For further information contact Greater Sydney Local Land Services on 1300 795 299.

Photo: Fox courtesy James Doumtsis Invasive Animals CRC

Environmental Planning And Assessment Amendment (EPlanning) Regulation 2017

February 15, 2017: NSW Depratment of Planning and Environment
Have your say on online development applications for homes and businesses

We welcome your feedback on changes that will allow people to lodge development applications for homes or businesses online. 

This will help to make it faster and easier to get the approvals you need, and also make it easier to find planning information.

Proposed changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000 (the Regulation) will support online lodgement of development applications by introducing consistent documents and technical requirements across NSW.

Currently, there are many variations in document requirements for development applications, which can cause delays in preparing and determining applications. The Regulation seeks to address this by introducing standards for online submission and lodgement.

Online lodgement through the Planning Portal will dramatically reduce the time and resources spent on producing and reviewing hard copy documents, making it faster and easier for NSW residents to lodge and track applications. It will also make planning information more accessible.

Proposed changes include:
  • standardising the documents required to lodge applications for development
  • replacing written consent with legally enforced declarations by applicants that they have permission from land owners to submit a development application
  • introducing new requirements for making and exhibiting Development Control Plans and Contribution Plans (financial contributions from developers towards infrastructure costs).
To ensure consistency, the Secretary’s Requirements for the Lodgement of Applications for Development (PDF: 2.85MB - 182 pages) provides a clear list of documents and technical requirements for different application types. This will replace requirements contained in Schedule 1 of the Regulation.

Details of the proposals can be found in the resources section below. 

Your feedback can play a vital role in further developing these updates to the Regulation. To make a submission, find out how to get involved.

How to get involved
You can make a submission until 15 March 2017 using the online form below, or by mail to:
Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (ePlanning) Regulation 2017
NSW Department of Planning and Environment 
GPO Box 39
Sydney NSW 2001

Documents and attachments available HERE:
Attachments and Resources

GBRMPA Governance Review

7 March 2017: Media release - The Hon. Josh Frydenberg MP, Minister for the Environment and Energy
The Australian Government is conducting a review of governance of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The Review will help ensure the institutions supporting the health and resilience of the Reef are strong and continue to evolve.

Governance arrangements for the Authority were last considered in 2006 as part of the review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and it is important these are examined to ensure they continue to serve the best interests of the Reef. The 2006 Review noted that governance arrangements for the Authority will be shaped by the changing needs of the Reef.

In October this year Dr Russell Reichelt will conclude his second five year term as Chairperson and CEO of the Authority. He is not seeking a third term. The Government acknowledges Dr Reichelt's significant contribution and leadership which has seen the Authority:
  • Complete the first ever Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report in 2009, and a second in 2014;
  • Develop the Great Barrier Reef Region Strategic Assessment;
  • Contribute to the development of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan; and
  • Continue to be a world leader in Reef management.
The Australian Government considers this provides an opportunity to review whether the arrangements governing the operation of the Authority's board and Chairperson/CEO continue to serve the best interests of the Reef.

The Authority is central to the Federal Government's commitment to protecting the Reef. It was established through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 to set up and manage the Marine Park, provide advice to the Minister, conduct research and provide educational, advisory and information services.

The review will be conducted by Dr Wendy Craik, who holds a PhD in Zoology specialising in fish biology, whilst also bringing extensive experience in both the public and private sectors. She is currently Chair of the Climate Change Authority amongst other roles. From 1992 to 1995 she was the head of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, before becoming the Executive Director of the National Farmers Federation from 1995 to 2000. She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2007 for her service to the natural resource sector and for her contributions to policies affecting rural and regional Australia.

It is timely that the review is conducted to look at the scope of responsibilities and functions of the CEO and the Board. The review will commence immediately and will be complete in May 2017. Consultation will include public submissions and targeted stakeholder meetings. Further information is available at 

Av. Green Team Back At Work

Youth-run, volunteer-based environment initiative from Avalon in Sydney. Trying to keep our area green and clean!

Keep up to date with and join in their next cleansvia their facebook page

Tours On Offer As Park Turns 50

Media release: 7 March 2017- NPWS
Kinchega National Park near Broken Hill, is kicking off celebrations for its 50 years as a national park with a tag along tour through some of its key sites.

NPWS Ranger Julieanne Doyle said the park had an amazing history that was still visible, from the hearths of the Traditional Owners, to the woolshed of its pastoral days to the threatened species now protected in the national park.

“Kinchega embodies so many things about the psyche of the Australian outback.

“It’s really a coming together of many of the aspects of Australian history and heritage and it is awesome to have it on the doorstep of Broken Hill.

“Kinchega was the first national park declared west of the Great Dividing Range and is a great showcase of how Australia has evolved.

“The tag along tours will explore all of these aspects of the park with plenty of interesting stops along the way.

“There is a cost per vehicle to enable visitors to have the knowledge and insights of a Traditional Owner and Ranger as they explore the landscape, including places not usually accessible for visitors.

The first tour will occur on Friday 17 March, with further tours being planned for later in the year.

“We know this is before the busy St Pats weekend in Broken Hill and we are hoping some of the many people who flock to the town for that weekend will come and discover, or re-discover the park.

“Visitors on the tour will have a chance to explore the historic woolshed, then journey through the back tracks of Kinchega to see the Threatened Purplewood Wattle. 

“We will stop for a cuppa by the edge of Lake Cawndilla before heading for the shade of the River Red Gums on the Darling River.

“The tour will take 4-5 hours and a high clearance vehicle is required.

“The tour is suitable for all ages and cost is per car, so fill it up and come and help us celebrate half a century as a park, but thousands of years of heritage,” Ms Doyle said.

For bookings please contact the Broken Hill NPWS office on 08 8080 3200 Monday to Friday.

If Victoria Can Ban CSG, NSW Can Too!

By The Wilderness Society
Coal seam gas (CSG) threatens our water, our health and our climate. Many jurisdictions around the world are permanently banning this dangerous industry, most recently Victoria. We do not need or want risky coal seam gas in NSW. 
It’s clear that the industry has no social licence in our state, yet vast and critical areas—as well as human health—are still under threat from CSG across the state.

Call on the new Premier Berejiklian and the new Planning Minister Roberts to follow Victoria's lead and ban this harmful and risky industry in NSW. 

Strengthening Sustainable Fisheries Management In The Pacific

9 March 2017: Media Release - Senator, The Hon. Anne Ruston, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources
Ministers from 17 Pacific nations have converged on the Solomon Islands to attend the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Ministerial Workshop, aimed at strengthening sustainable fisheries management in the region.

Speaking in Honiara ahead of the workshop, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Anne Ruston said it provided an opportunity to work with regional neighbours to maximise the economic and social benefits of the world's largest tuna fishery.

"The Western and Central Pacific tuna fishery is the largest in the world, with almost 60 per cent of the global catch of albacore, bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin caught in the region," Minister Ruston said.

"In 2015, the global catch of tuna totalled 2.7 million tonnes and was valued at around US$4.8 billion. Of this, almost half of the catch value was caught in the waters of FFA members."

Ministers attending the workshop will discuss a number of complex matters, including how to monitor, control and survey the fishery to stop illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the region, while ensuring the benefits goes towards fishers who do the right thing.

"This workshop will assist member nations to develop and manage the fishery to harvest, process and market tuna, at the same time creating jobs, generating income and supporting a thriving industry that will provide tuna now and in the future," Minister Ruston said.

The FFA's 17 Pacific Island members consist of Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

The FFA is an advisory body providing expertise, technical assistance and other support to its members who make sovereign decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional decision making on tuna management through agencies such as the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

​From May 2017, Australia will commence as chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee and will host the upcoming FFC Ministers in July 2017 in Canberra.

Myna Action Group 

Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA)
Indian Mynas - what a pest - like flying rats. 
Contact us on for more information and have a look at

Indian Mynas are displacing our native birds. 
They often nest in and around shops where their food source is. I took this one down this morning in Avalon (no chicks or eggs but I disturbed the female). There were literally hundreds of tiny bits of plastic in the nest which makes you think that all this plastic would be swilling down the stormwater drains into the sea.

Federal Senate Inquiry: The Rehabilitation Of Mining And Resources Projects As It Relates To Commonwealth Responsibilities

On 8 February 2017, the Senate referred the following matters to the Environment and Communications References Committee for inquiry andreport by 23 August 2017:

The rehabilitation of mining and resources projects as it relates to Commonwealth responsibilities, for example under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), with regard to:
  • the cost of outstanding rehabilitation obligations of currently operating projects;
  • the adequacy of existing regulatory, policy and institutional arrangements to ensure adequate and timely rehabilitation;
  • the adequacy and transparency of financial mechanisms, including assurances, bonds and funds, to ensure that mining and resources projects are rehabilitated without placing a burden on public finances;
  • the effectiveness of current Australian rehabilitation practices in safeguarding human health and repairing and avoiding environmental damage;
  • the effectiveness of existing abandoned mines programs, with regard to repairing environmental damage and safeguarding human health;
  • whether any mining or resources companies have engaged in conduct designed to avoid fulfilling their rehabilitation obligations;
  • the potential social, economic and environmental impacts, including on matters of national environmental significance under the EPBC Act, of inadequate rehabilitation;
  • the potential social, economic and environmental benefits of adequate rehabilitation, including job opportunities in communities affected by job losses in the mining and resources sectors;
  • international examples of effective rehabilitation policy and practice;
  • proposals for reform of rehabilitation of mining and resources projects; and any other related matters.
The closing date for submissions is 10 April 2017.

Draft NSW Marine Estate Threat And Risk Assessment Report Released

January 2017: Media Release - NSW DPI
The Marine Estate Management Authority has released the draft statewide Threat and Risk Assessment (TARA) Report for the NSW marine estate.
Authority Chair Dr Wendy Craik said the draft report summarises the first statewide evidence-based assessment of the threats to the social and economic benefits of the marine estate and the environmental assets that support them.

“The draft TARA report has been developed based on the best available scientific evidence and advice from experts, stakeholders and the community,” she said.

Dr Craik said the NSW community had helped identify the social and economic benefits our estuaries and coastline provide, and the importance of the environmental assets that underpin them, during a statewide survey in 2014.

“These benefits include recreational pursuits such as swimming or surfing at the beach, boating, fishing, and commercial and tourism opportunities such as shipping, commercial and charter fishing, SCUBA diving and others,” she said.

“Community members and stakeholders now have an opportunity to provide feedback on the draft report, which highlights potential threats to these benefits and the marine estate’s environmental assets.”

Dr Craik said short videos and an interactive tool are being provided to facilitate community feedback and discussion by presenting the report results in a user-friendly way.

“We are committed to managing our marine estate for the benefit of the community, and this report and the process is designed to support and encourage participation,” she said.

The final report will inform the ongoing management of the NSW marine estate through the drafting of a new 10-year Marine Estate Management Strategy.

It will also be considered in the creation of new management plans, starting with the Solitary Islands and Batemans Marine Parks.

The draft TARA report includes revised findings for the Hawkesbury Shelf marine bioregion, now called the ‘Central Region’.

The draft report delivers on a key commitment of the NSW Government, to provide evidence-based management of the NSW marine estate, and is a requirement of the Marine Estate Management Act 2014.

More information

The public comment period closes on Friday, 31 March 2017. Key marine estate stakeholders will be invited to participate in a series of workshops to be held along the coast in February and March

NSW Water Resource Plan Consultation 

Wednesday, 15 February 2017: Media Release - NSW Dept. of DPI
Minister for Regional Water, Niall Blair said the NSW Government is delivering on a key Basin Plan commitment with the release of eight Water Resource Plan Status and Issues papers to take place on Friday.

“These papers set out issues related to water availability, reliability of access and longterm sustainable use, particularly through times of drought,” Mr Blair said.

“I urge all members of the community, particularly water users, to comment on the relevant Status and Issues paper in their region, and submit any additional issues that should be considered in developing a Water Resource Plan.

“It is an opportunity to look at existing planning mechanisms and water sharing rules, to identify and resolve any shortcomings, and find ways to be more efficient and productive in the NSW Murray Darling Basin.

“The plans need to work for regional communities and economies, so it is important to balance cultural and environmental needs without constraining the productive use of water that underpins the world-class irrigated agriculture sector in NSW.”

Status and Issues papers will be released on Friday for consultation in the Barwon- Darling (surface water), Murray-Lower Darling (surface water), Murrumbidgee (surface water), Namoi (surface water), Border Rivers (groundwater), Gwydir (groundwater), Lachlan (groundwater) and Macquarie-Castlereagh (groundwater).

Stakeholder Advisory Panels have been established for each surface water plan area – a vital aspect for widespread and meaningful stakeholder and community engagement.

Copies of the Status and Issues Papers, together with other supporting information will be available at

The exhibition period will be open from this Friday until Friday 31 March 2017. All written submissions, from brief emails to full technical papers, are welcome. 

Wildlife Carers and Organisations in Pittwater:

Sydney Wildlife rescues, rehabilitates and releases sick, injured and orphaned native wildlife. From penguins, to possums and parrots, native wildlife of all descriptions passes through the caring hands of Sydney Wildlife rescuers and carers on a daily basis. We provide a genuine 24 hour, 7 day per week emergency advice, rescue and care service.

As well as caring for sick, injured and orphaned native wildlife, Sydney Wildlife is also involved in educating the community about native wildlife and its habitat. We provide educational talks to a wide range of groups and audiences including kindergartens, scouts, guides, a wide range of special interest groups and retirement villages. Talks are tailored to meet the needs and requirements of each group. 


Found an injured native animal? We're here to help.

Keep the animal contained, warm, quiet and undisturbed. Do not offer any food or water.

Call Sydney Wildlife immediately on 9413 4300, or take the animal to your nearest vet. Generally there is no charge. 

Find out more at:

Southern Cross Wildlife Care was launched over 6 years ago. It is the brainchild of Dr Howard Ralph, the founder and chief veterinarian. SCWC was established solely for the purpose of treating injured, sick and orphaned wildlife. No wild creature in need that passes through our doors is ever rejected. 


People can assist SCWC by volunteering their skills ie: veterinary; medical; experienced wildlife carers; fundraising; "IT" skills; media; admin; website etc. We are always having to address the issue of finances as we are a non commercial veterinary service for wildlife in need, who obviously don't have cheque books in their pouches. It is a constant concern and struggle of ours when we are pre-occupied with the care and treatment of the escalating amount of wildlife that we have to deal with. Just becoming a member of SCWC for $45 a year would be a great help. Regular monthly donations however small, would be a wonderful gift and we could plan ahead knowing that we had x amount of funds that we could count on. Our small team of volunteers are all unpaid even our amazing vet Howard, so all funds raised go directly towards our precious wildlife. SCWC is TAX DEDUCTIBLE.

Find out more at:

Think before you print ; A kilo of recycled paper creates around 1.8 kilograms of carbon emissions, without taking into account the emissions produced from transporting the paper. So, before you send a document to print, think about how many kilograms of carbon emissions you could save by reading it on screen.

 Australian Native Foods website:

New Program To Help Grow Commercial Fishing In NSW

February 27, 2017: NSW Dept. of DPI
A new subsidised share trading market will open, after an inquiry into the NSW commercial fishing sector. 
The NSW Commercial Fisheries Business Adjustment Programwill allow commercial fishers across the state to grow and invest in their businesses.

Following feedback from commercial fishers:
  • The government will establish an independent commercial fisheries sector advisory council to the Minister for Primary Industries - Commfish NSW
  • A Chair will be quickly appointed to oversee the establishment of the new Commfish NSW
  • The Office of the Small Business Commissioner is now available to help ensure small commercial fishing businesses are adequately supported during the reforms
  • Share linkages have been extended until December 2017
  • The subsidised share trading market will start in May 2017. Once this market has closed, fishing business owners will have five months to adjust their businesses before the linkages commence in December.
NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair said the recommendations in the Upper House inquiry report into the NSW commercial fisheries sector are an important step in improving the fishing industry’s economic viability.

“There is a clear signal from the report that it’s time to get on with the job at hand and at the same time assist the industry and individual businesses transition into the new arrangements,” Mr Blair said.

All commercial fishers are being encouraged to register for the subsidised share trading market to ensure they benefit from the $16 million adjustment package.

Flame Retardant Chemicals May Affect Social Behavior In Young Children

March 9, 2017: Oregon State University
Some chemicals added to furniture, electronics and numerous other goods to prevent fires may have unintended developmental consequences for young children, according to a pilot study released today.

Researchers from Oregon State University found a significant relationship between social behaviors among children and their exposure to widely used flame retardants, said Molly Kile, an environmental epidemiologist and associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.

"When we analyzed behavior assessments and exposure levels, we observed that the children who had more exposure to certain types of the flame retardant were more likely to exhibit externalizing behaviors such as aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, inattention and bullying," said Kile, the corresponding author of the study, which was published today in the journal Environmental Health.

"This is an intriguing finding because no one had previously studied the behavioral effects of organophosphate classes of flame retardants, which have been added to consumer products more recently."

Flame retardants are found throughout the built environment in furniture, mattresses, carpeting, electronics, vehicles and more. The chemicals are added to the products and are not bound in the material, which causes them to be released into indoor environments.

Manufacturers began adding flame retardants in 1975, in response to new legislation in California designed to reduce flammability in common household items. The state updated its flammability standards in 2014, and now allows furniture manufacturers to meet the standards without adding flame retardant chemicals to their products, but the chemicals are still widely used and they linger in the indoor environment.

There are growing concerns that some flame retardants may have unintended impacts on health and development in children, and this study contributes to that body of research.

The most common types of flame retardants found in the built environment are brominated diphenyl ethers (BDEs) and organophosphate-based flame retardants (OPFRs). OPFRs emerged as an alternative to BDEs in an effort to address some of the environmental health concerns posed by BDEs, which tend to remain in the environment for long periods.

Past research has shown that both BDEs and OPFRs are linked to poorer cognitive function in children. But less is known about the relationship between the flame retardants and children's social and emotional health, particularly during early childhood, a key developmental period for learning.

"The social skills children learn during preschool set the foundation for their success in school, and also for their social and emotional health and well-being later in life," said Shannon Lipscomb, an associate professor and lead of the human development and family sciences program at OSU-Cascades and a co-author of the study.

For this study, the OSU research team recruited 92 Oregon children between ages 3-5 to wear a silicone wristband for seven days to measure exposure to flame retardants.

The wristbands, developed by Anderson at OSU, have a porous surface that mimics a cell, absorbing chemicals that people are exposed to through their environment. When the wristbands are returned, Anderson can screen for up to 1,200 chemicals that may accumulate. The wristband is an easy and non-invasive way to sample children's chemical exposure.

The researchers had parents or primary caregivers complete questionnaires about socio-demographics and the home environment, and preschool teachers completed behavior assessments for each participating child. In all, researchers had complete data and wristband results for 69 children.

Their analysis showed that all of the children were exposed to some level of flame retardant. Children who had higher exposure rates of OFPRs showed less responsible behavior and more aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, inattention and bullying behaviors. Children with higher exposure to BDEs were seen as less assertive by their teachers. All of these social skills play an important role in a child's ability to succeed academically and socially.

"We detected these links between flame retardant and children's social behaviors while controlling for differences in family demographics, home learning environments and adversity," Lipscomb said. "This suggests that flame retardants may have a unique effect on development apart from the effects of children's early social experiences."

Further study is needed to better understand the links between flame retardants and children's social skill development, the researchers said. They plan to pursue funding for a new study that continues for a longer period of time and considers how other aspects of children's lives might affect the impact of flame retardants on their development.

"The results of this research to date have shown potential impacts for child health and warrant a more thorough investigation," Kile said."If scientists find strong evidence that exposure to flame retardants affects children's behaviors, we can develop strategies that prevent these exposures and help improve children's lives. This type of public health science is needed to figure out how to address the root causes of behavioral concerns that can affect children's school readiness and overall well-being."

Shannon T. Lipscomb, Megan M. McClelland, Megan MacDonald, Andres Cardenas, Kim A. Anderson, Molly L. Kile. Cross-sectional study of social behaviors in preschool children and exposure to flame retardants. Environmental Health, 2017; 16 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12940-017-0224-6

Cannabis Use In People With Epilepsy Revealed: Australian Survey

March 9, 2017: University of Sydney
People with epilepsy resort to cannabis products when antiepileptic drug side-effects are intolerable and epilepsy uncontrolled.

The first Australian nationwide survey on the experiences and opinions of medicinal cannabis use in people with epilepsy has revealed that 14 per cent of people with epilepsy have used cannabis products as a way to manage seizures.

The study showed that of those with a history of cannabis product use, 90 per cent of adults and 71 per cent of parents of children with epilepsy reported success in managing seizures after commencing using cannabis products.

Published in Epilepsy & Behaviour, the Epilepsy Action Australia study, in partnership with The Lambert Initiative at the University of Sydney, surveyed 976 respondents to examine cannabis use in people with epilepsy, reasons for use, and any perceived benefits self-reported by consumers (or their carers).

The survey revealed:

* 15 per cent of adults with epilepsy and 13 per cent of parents/guardians of children with epilepsy were currently using, or had previously used, cannabis products to treat epilepsy.
* Across all respondents, the main reasons for trying cannabis products were to manage treatment-resistant epilepsy and to obtain a more favourable side-effect profile compared to standard antiepileptic drugs.
* The number of past antiepileptic drugs was a significant predictor of medicinal cannabis use in both adults and children with epilepsy.

"This survey provides insight into the use of cannabis products for epilepsy, in particular some of the likely factors influencing use, as well as novel insights into the experiences of and attitudes towards medicinal cannabis in people with epilepsy in the Australian community," said lead author Anastasia Suraev from The Lambert Initiative.

"Despite the limitations of a retrospective online survey, we cannot ignore that a significant proportion of adults and children with epilepsy are using cannabis-based products in Australia, and many are self-reporting considerable benefits to their condition.

"More systematic clinical studies are urgently needed to help us better understand the role of cannabinoids in epilepsy," she said.

Co-author of the paper Carol Ireland, CEO of Epilepsy Action Australia, who was recently appointed to the Australian Government's new Australian Advisory Council on the Medicinal Use of Cannabis, said: "Cannabis products are often what people turn to when they have been unable to control their epilepsy with conventional medication."

"This highlights a growing need to educate consumers and health professionals on the use of cannabis by people with epilepsy, and to provide safe and timely access to cannabinoid medicine in order to lessen people's reliance on illicit black market products" she said.

Anastasia S. Suraev, Lisa Todd, Michael T. Bowen, David J. Allsop, Iain S. McGregor, Carol Ireland, Nicholas Lintzeris. An Australian nationwide survey on medicinal cannabis use for epilepsy: History of antiepileptic drug treatment predicts medicinal cannabis use.Epilepsy & Behavior, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2017.02.005

Dental Plaque DNA Shows Neanderthals Used 'Aspirin'

March 8, 2017: University of Adelaide

El Sidron upper jaw: a dental calculus deposit is visible on the rear molar (right) of this Neandertal. This individual was eating poplar, a source of aspirin, and had also consumed moulded vegetation including Penicillium fungus, source of a natural antibiotic. Credit: Paleoanthropology Group MNCN-CSIC

Ancient DNA found in the dental plaque of Neandertals -- our nearest extinct relative -- has provided remarkable new insights into their behaviour, diet and evolutionary history, including their use of plant-based medicine to treat pain and illness.

Published today in the journal Nature, an international team led by the University of Adelaide's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) and Dental School, with the University of Liverpool in the UK, revealed the complexity of Neandertal behaviour, including dietary differences between Neandertal groups and knowledge of medication.

"Dental plaque traps microorganisms that lived in the mouth and pathogens found in the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract, as well as bits of food stuck in the teeth -- preserving the DNA for thousands of years," says lead author Dr Laura Weyrich, ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellow with ACAD.

"Genetic analysis of that DNA 'locked-up' in plaque, represents a unique window into Neandertal lifestyle -- revealing new details of what they ate, what their health was like and how the environment impacted their behaviour."

The international team analysed and compared dental plaque samples from four Neandertals found at the cave sites of Spy in Belgium and El Sidrón in Spain. These four samples range from 42,000 to around 50,000 years old and are the oldest dental plaque ever to be genetically analysed.

"We found that the Neandertals from Spy Cave consumed woolly rhinoceros and European wild sheep, supplemented with wild mushrooms," says Professor Alan Cooper, Director of ACAD. "Those from El Sidrón Cave on the other hand showed no evidence for meat consumption, but appeared instead to have a largely vegetarian diet, comprising pine nuts, moss, mushrooms and tree bark -- showing quite different lifestyles between the two groups."

"One of the most surprising finds, however, was in a Neandertal from El Sidrón, who suffered from a dental abscess visible on the jawbone. The plaque showed that he also had an intestinal parasite that causes acute diarrhoea, so clearly he was quite sick. He was eating poplar, which contains the pain killer salicylic acid (the active ingredient of aspirin), and we could also detect a natural antibiotic mould (Penicillium) not seen in the other specimens."

"Apparently, Neandertals possessed a good knowledge of medicinal plants and their various anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, and seem to be self-medicating. The use of antibiotics would be very surprising, as this is more than 40,000 years before we developed penicillin. Certainly our findings contrast markedly with the rather simplistic view of our ancient relatives in popular imagination."

Neandertals, ancient and modern humans also shared several disease-causing microbes, including the bacteria that cause dental caries and gum disease. The Neandertal plaque allowed reconstruction of the oldest microbial genome yet sequenced -- Methanobrevibacter oralis, a commensal that can be associated with gum disease. Remarkably, the genome sequence suggests Neandertals and humans were swapping pathogens as recently as 180,000 years ago, long after the divergence of the two species.

The team also noted how rapidly the oral microbial community has altered in recent history. The composition of the oral bacterial population in Neandertals and both ancient and modern humans correlated closely with the amount of meat in the diet, with the Spanish Neandertals grouping with chimpanzees and our forager ancestors in Africa. In contrast, the Belgian Neandertal bacteria were similar to early hunter gatherers, and quite close to modern humans and early farmers.

"Not only can we now access direct evidence of what our ancestors were eating, but differences in diet and lifestyle also seem to be reflected in the commensal bacteria that lived in the mouths of both Neandertals and modern humans," says Professor Keith Dobney, from the University of Liverpool.

"Major changes in what we eat have, however, significantly altered the balance of these microbial communities over thousands of years, which in turn continue to have fundamental consequences for our own health and well-being. This extraordinary window on the past is providing us with new ways to explore and understand our evolutionary history through the microorganisms that lived in us and with us."

Laura S. Weyrich, Sebastian Duchene, Julien Soubrier, Luis Arriola, Bastien Llamas, James Breen, Alan G. Morris, Kurt W. Alt, David Caramelli, Veit Dresely, Milly Farrell, Andrew G. Farrer, Michael Francken, Neville Gully, Wolfgang Haak, Karen Hardy, Katerina Harvati, Petra Held, Edward C. Holmes, John Kaidonis, Carles Lalueza-Fox, Marco de la Rasilla, Antonio Rosas, Patrick Semal, Arkadiusz Soltysiak, Grant Townsend, Donatella Usai, Joachim Wahl, Daniel H. Huson, Keith Dobney, Alan Cooper. Neanderthal behaviour, diet, and disease inferred from ancient DNA in dental calculus. Nature, 2017; DOI:10.1038/nature21674

Hobart Posties First To Pilot New E-Vehicles

9th March 2017: from Australia Post
Hobart will be the first capital city in the country to pilot five new three-wheel electric delivery vehicles that will allow posties to deliver more small parcels than ever before.

From March 20 the new e-vehicles will service Bellerive, Howrah, Montagu Bay, Mornington, Rosny Park, Tranmere and Warrane. The new e-vehicles have three times the parcel carrying capacity of the current postie motorbike and can hold up to 100 small parcels and 1,200 letters at a time.

Australia Post's Head of Network Optimisation Mitch Buxton said Hobart serves as a perfect starting point to get the pilot underway with locals increasingly embracing online shopping.

"We know that residents in Hobart love online shopping. In fact the yearly growth rate in this area is above the national average, sitting at 13.8 per cent growth compared to 11.5 per cent," Mr Buxton said.

"Health and beauty products, fashion and recreational goods are the most popular purchases among local Hobart residents.

"Our parcels business generates over 70 per cent of our total revenue. Ten years ago parcels contributed less than 25 per cent of our revenue.

"As our business transforms so too are the jobs that our workforce are doing. A few years ago we equipped our posties so they can deliver small parcels and this latest initiative will allow them to deliver even more – helping to ensure their roles remain meaningful well into the future.

 "While letter volumes have nearly halved, this is another example of how Australia Post is looking at ways to keep our posties delivering for Australians."

The pilot comes off the back of Australia Post announcing a $197 million before-tax half-year profit, driven largely by a 5.7 per cent volume growth in the parcels business and postal losses reduced to breakeven.

The e-vehicles are already successfully used in Germany and Switzerland, with international postal authorities seeing benefits including greater carrying capacity, improved rider safety and lower vehicle emissions.

$100 Million Toward Zero Emissions In Smart City Properties

Joint media release
8 March 2017: - The Hon. Josh Frydenberg MP
Minister for the Environment and Energy
The Hon. Angus Taylor MP
Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation

The Turnbull Government, through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), is investing $100 million to help a portfolio of commercial properties achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

With an increasing focus on smart city innovation and energy efficient technologies, investors are looking at assets that deliver returns and demonstrate sustainable green credentials.

This investment, through the AMP Capital Wholesale Office Fund (AWOF), provides the opportunity to drive innovation in clean energy technologies, particularly to develop energy efficiency in Australia's commercial property sector.

The redevelopment of 50 Bridge Street and the wider Quay Quarter project in Sydney are the centrepiece of the investment. Sydney's Australian Technology Park, and Melbourne's Collins Place and 700 Bourke Street are among AWOF's 12 landmark portfolio properties also set to benefit.

Tapping into the CEFC's focus on delivering clean energy solutions in Australian cities, this investment will provide a benchmark for other urban property developments, using best practice energy efficiency technologies to deliver net zero carbon emission buildings.

A wide range of technologies can be used to achieve the efficiencies and emissions targets. They may include high-performance glazing and LED lighting, programmed occupant-sensing lighting control systems, sustainable sourcing of both building materials and furniture, rainwater harvesting and recycling, energy-efficient façade design, and internal staircases to reduce elevator use.

As part of the Turnbull Government's commitment to develop more sustainable cities, carbon reduction strategies are increasingly recognised as improving the health and wellbeing of building occupants and enhancing the value of commercial assets.

This new CEFC project will complement existing projects under the National Energy Productivity Plan (NEPP) framework which includes the expansion of the Commercial Building Disclosure program.

Improving Australia's energy productivity is the driver - a target has been set to improve Australia's energy productivity by 40 per cent between 2015 and 2030.

The Coalition Government's investment in low emission technologies will help to deliver reliable and affordable energy as we move to a lower emissions future.

Backing Programs That Boost Student Outcomes

06 March 2017
Prime Minister. The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull
Minister for Education and Training, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham
Turnbull Government funding for The Smith Family’s pioneering Learning for Life program is already delivering targeted interventions and support for 3,000 of Australia’s most disadvantaged young people.

The Prime Minister and Minister for Education and Training tonight met Learning for Life graduates at a ceremony in Melbourne to mark their achievements.

Learning for Life supports low-income and vulnerable families to help students stay at school, to finish Year 12 or an equivalent training qualification, and make the transition from school to work or further education and training.

The Turnbull Government is delivering $48 million for Learning for Life to help expand the program reach an extra 24,000 children each year who will benefit from the increased engagement of parents and carers in their education and bust the cycle of welfare dependency.

Learning for Life asks families to commit to ensuring their children attend school regularly and helping them with their education in return for:
  • Financial support to pay for school supplies such as uniforms, shoes, textbooks and excursions
  • A coordinator who works directly with the family and students to overcome barriers to school attendance and achievement, and to connect the family with other support services
  • Access to out-of-school education program focused on literacy and numeracy and career mentoring.
More than 84 per cent of Learning for Life students overcame often difficult hurdles in their personal and home lives to either enter the workforce or undertake further education a year after finishing the program. Learning for Life has also had significant positive impacts on school attendance rates and school completion rates and it is an example of a program that evidence shows is working.

The support for Learning for Life complements the Turnbull Government’s focus on backing measures that are proven to boost student outcomes.

The Turnbull Government is delivering record schools funding that will grow from $16 billion in 2016 to more than $20 billion in 2020 and that will be distributed according to need and tied to evidence-based initiatives, such as improving literacy and numeracy, increasing engagement with science and maths subjects, and enhancing teaching quality.

Immunotherapy Trial Cures Tasmanian Devils Of DFTD

March 9, 2017: University of Tasmania
An international study involving multiple institutions over six years has shown that immunotherapy can cure Tasmanian devils of the deadly devil facial tumour disease (DFTD).

The research was led by the University of Tasmania's Menzies Institute for Medical Research with input from the School of Medicine. It also involved the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, CSL Ltd, and the Universities of Sydney, Southampton, Southern Denmark and Cambridge.

Professor Greg Woods, the leader of the DFTD team at Menzies, said scientists used immunotherapy on devils with a golf-ball sized tumours and then observed the tumours gradually shrinking and disappearing over three months. "This is almost a Eureka moment for us because it's the first time we can say for sure that it was the immunotherapy that was making the tumour shrink," Professor Woods said.

Building a good understanding of the devil's immune system, which goes hand in hand with the development of a vaccine, involves years of painstaking laboratory work. The process is incremental, but with each step scientists are closing in on the disease. This breakthrough is the next step on from work published in 2015 that showed that the devil's immune system was capable of mounting an immune response to DFTD.

Professor Woods said the latest work underlined that the devil's immune system is its best ally against DFTD. "This is an important step along the way to developing a vaccine to protect against DFTD and potentially for immunotherapy to cure devils of established DFTD," he said.

Dr Cesar Tovar is the lead author on the latest paper. He said the results were very encouraging as they confirmed that it was possible to trigger the devil's immune system to recognise and destroy established DFTD tumours. "Our research shows that a DFTD vaccine is feasible. We are focusing our efforts on developing strategies to improve the devils' response to immunisation," Dr Tovar said.

The research was published in Scientific Reports. It was funded by the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the WellcomeTrust, with additional support from the University of Tasmania Foundation through funds raised by the Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal.

Cesar Tovar et al. Regression of devil facial tumour disease following immunotherapy in immunised Tasmanian devils. Scientific Reports, March 2017 DOI: 10.1038/srep43827

Crocodiles And Dolphins Evolved Similar Skulls To Catch The Same Prey

March 8, 2017: Monash University
A new study involving biologists from Monash University Australia has found that despite their very different ancestors, dolphins and crocodiles evolved similarly-shaped skulls to feed on similar prey.

Dolphins and crocodiles now live in rivers and oceans, but each evolved from land-based animals. Feeding in water has many new challenges. This new study shows that despite being separated by 300 million years, dolphins and crocodiles found comparable solutions to these problems, and evolved skull shapes that are remarkably similar.

"Our results suggest the remarkable similarity between some crocodilians and toothed whales is driven by what they eat rather than where they live," said lead author Mr Matthew McCurry from the Monash School of Biological Sciences.

Previously no rigorous attempt had been made to show how similar the head shapes of dolphins and crocodiles really are. It had been thought that aspects such shallow seas or rivers contributed to the similarity of the skulls of crocodilians (crocodiles and alligators) and toothed whales (dolphins, orca and relatives). But a study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences has debunked this long-held view.

Having a long, thin snout must have great advantages when trying to catch small fish, both for crocodilians and toothed whales.

"What is really important about this study is that it will help us predict the diet of extinct aquatic mammals and reptiles just from the shape of their skulls," said Mr McCurry.

The authors used medical CT and laser 3D scanning to digitally capture the skulls of museum specimens from around the world. Once digitised, the authors could examine the shape of the skulls in detail without having them in one location. Using sophisticated mathematical techniques to analyse 3D shape, the researchers could show how diet, habitat and prey size correlated with skull shape.

"Crocodiles and dolphins seem so different to us, but our study shows that many of them are in fact remarkably similar, and this is really down to how they catch their food," said study co-author Associate Professor Alistair Evans, also from the Monash School of Biological Sciences.

Future research will aim to uncover why specific skull shapes are better at catching certain prey using bioengineering computer simulations.

Matthew R. McCurry, Alistair R. Evans, Erich M. G. Fitzgerald, Justin W. Adams, Philip D. Clausen, Colin R. McHenry. The remarkable convergence of skull shape in crocodilians and toothed whales. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2017; 284 (1850): 20162348 DOI:10.1098/rspb.2016.2348

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