Inbox and Environment News - Issue 185 

 October 19 - 25, 2014: Issue 185

 National study reveals how and why teenagers sext

16 October 2014 - The majority of sexting by young Australians takes place in the context of a romantic relationship, according to a national study of more than 1400 teenagers.

The University of Sydney study of young people aged mostly between 13 and 18 found sexting is not a marginal behaviour. A significant proportion of young people have sent a sexual image of themselves by the time they are 13-15 years old.

In only a small minority of cases, teenagers reported sending an image on to a third party without consent. About six per cent of those who had sent a sext had ever sent an image on again. Most young people send sexts to very few sexting partners, the study found.

Some 61 per cent of 13-18 year olds who have sexted did so with one person or less in the past 12 months.

"Most sexting by young people takes place in the context of a romantic relationship," said research lead Dr Murray Lee, an Associate Professor in Criminology at the University of Sydney.

"Only very small numbers of girls report being coerced or pressured into sending an image, ­even though the perception amongst young people is that pressure is a strong motivator. Rather, most report they sext to be 'fun and flirty', 'as a sexy present', or 'to feel sexy and confident'," he said.

Key findings include:

some 47 per cent of those surveyed have sent or received a sext

just under 40 per cent of 13-15 year olds have sent a sexual image

50 per cent of 16-18 year olds have sent a sexual video

males overall were likely to send to more sexting partners than females

males aged 13-15 were most likely to have sent images and videos to more than five people

The study has a number of significant implications for policymakers, said Dr Lee.

For example, education campaigns must be nuanced enough to recognise that most sexting occurs safely within relationships. Abstinence messages are unlikely to be successful, while there is a need for the development of sexual ethics around sexting.

 Winning the war? Nature Video- Published on 15 Oct 2014

In 1971, the then president of the United States, Richard Nixon, declared ‘war’ on cancer. Since then, billions of dollars have been poured into cancer research worldwide, but a cure for the disease is still a long way off. In this Nature Video, reporter Lorna Stewart marks the scientific milestones of the past four decades. She explores cancer genetics with Nobel laureate Michael Bishop, vaccines with fellow laureate Harald zur Hausen, and two young researchers tell Lorna about some of cancer research’s greatest success stories.

 Bushfires one year on: Finding your own path to recovery - by University of Western Sydney

14 October 2014 - With the one year anniversary of the October 2013 Blue Mountains bushfires approaching next week, many of the families and individuals who lost homes and possessions or were affected in some way by the fires, find themselves still struggling to come to terms with their losses.

Everyone finds their own path to recovery and there is no one-size-fits-all approach that works for every person, says David Mutton, Forensic Psychologist in the UWS School of Social Sciences and Psychology.

"If you asked each survivor of last year's Blue Mountains bush fires what they have done to aid in their recovery, each of them would give you a different set of strategies that works for them. This is the nature of recovery from trauma – we all find our own unique roads to recovery," he says.

David Mutton says that some people find that talking about it to whoever will listen is the best way to come through; others find that getting involved in other activities and not talking or thinking about it helps them. Still others will refuse to be beaten and rebuild their homes in the exact same location; others will need to move far away and set up their homes in a different location. 

"All of these strategies will have the capacity to assist the survivors. However, we have learnt that there are no absolute right or wrong ways to move on. Nevertheless, there are some strategies that are more likely to help than others," he says.

Allow people –  but not to force them – to talk about their experiences

Make sure you are not intrusive, and respect their decision not to talk about it if that is their preferred way

You need to give people time: some will bounce back fairly quickly whereas others may take longer to get back to normal functioning

There is no exact time frame –  recognise that recovery from psychological injury, like physical injury, may take more or less time depending on the affected individual

Participation in commemorating events, such as the Recognition Day and Thanksgiving Service, can help heal the wounds and to bring people together in a spirit of community and support

Some may find that the psychological wounds are still too raw to be able to attend such gatherings – this needs to be respected as well

"Don't be shy about seeking professional help," says David Mutton.

"If you find that you are still struggling to function day by day as a result of your experience in the fires, then it would be a good idea to consult with your GP with the view to gaining assistance from a trained professional.  They can help you deal with distressing memories, images or thoughts that are still overwhelming you."

 Men, money, moustaches ... and mental health

October 2014 - The Handlebar, the Dali, the Freestyler, the Fu Manchu … UNSW would like to thank all the moustaches, scant or grand, for the $5.5 million in grants to support UNSW expertise and research in men’s mental health.

The Movember Foundation has awarded a $2.9 million grant to UNSW Professor Sam Harvey, who is based at the Black Dog Institute, for his Men@Work project. It’s a world-first mental health intervention fixed firmly in the digital age and aimed at men working in male-dominated areas of the workforce, such as mining, construction and emergency services.

“One of the biggest obstacles to tackling men’s mental health is the difficulty many have in asking for help or starting conversations about mental illness,” says Professor Harvey. “The Men@Work project will allow us to develop state-of-the-art mobile phone and internet technology, which should help us navigate around this issue.”

“We know that work and workplaces can be sources of strain but they also have great potential as sources of support. One of the most exciting things about this project is that it is a collaboration involving 14 different academic, industry and union partners from around the country. Having such a diverse range of researchers, health professionals, employers and employees all working together is very novel and should give us the best chance of success.”

Like Father Like Son, a project led by UNSW professor of psychology Mark Dadds, has been awarded $2.6 million. Subtitled “A National Approach to Violence, Antisocial Behaviour and Mental Health of Men And Boys", it encourages fathers to take a more active role in the management of aggressive behaviours in their sons.

“Disorders of violence, aggression and antisocial behaviour occur most commonly in males and often begin early in life. If left untreated, they signal a high-risk factor for mental disorders in adulthood,” says Professor Dadds.

“But if conduct problems are caught early, they can be treated relatively inexpensively using evidence-based parent-training programs. And outcomes are vastly improved when fathers participate."

Read more about Professor Dadds’ Like Father Like Son projecthere.

UNSW Professor Helen Christensen, also based at the Black Dog Institute, is providing mental health expertise and support for a sports-based mental health intervention, led by the University of Wollongong, that has been awarded $1.9 million by the Movember Foundation.

This comprehensive study will investigate the role of sport in helping adolescent boys identify and overcome mental health issues. Research has shown that adolescents who drop out of organised sport are 10 to 20% more likely than their peers who don’t drop out, to be diagnosed with a mental health problem in the following three years.

The Movember Foundation is a leading global organisation committed to changing the face of men’s health. It challenges men to grow moustaches during the month of November to raise funds and awareness for prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health.

 Energy drinks may pose danger to public health, researchers warn

October 14, 2014 - Increased consumption of energy drinks may pose danger to public health, especially among young people, warns a team of researchers from the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe in the open-access journal Frontiers in Public Health. Energy drinks are non-alcoholic beverages that contain caffeine, vitamins, and other ingredients for example, taurine, ginseng, and guarana. They are typically marketed as boosting energy and increasing physical and mental performance.

João Breda, from the WHO Regional Office for Europe, and colleagues reviewed the literature on the health risks, consequences and policies related to energy drink consumption.

"From a review of the literature, it would appear that concerns in the scientific community and among the public regarding the potential adverse health effects of the increased consumption of energy drinks are broadly valid," write the authors.

Energy drinks first hit European markets in 1987 and the industry has since boomed worldwide. In the US, sales increased by around 10% per year between 2008 and 2012, and almost 500 new brands hit the market in 2006. The European Food Safety Authority estimates that 30% of adults, 68% of adolescents, and 18% of children below 10 years consume energy drinks.

High Caffeine in Energy Drinks

Part of the risks of energy drinks are due to their high levels of caffeine. Energy drinks can be drunk quickly, unlike hot coffee, and as a result they are more likely to cause caffeine intoxication. In Europe, a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) study found that the estimated contribution of energy drinks to total caffeine exposure was 43% in children, 13% in teenagers and 8% in adults.

Studies included in the review suggest that caffeine intoxication can lead to heart palpitations, hypertension, nausea and vomiting, convulsions, psychosis, and in rare cases, death. In the USA, Sweden, and Australia, several cases have been reported where people have died of heart failure or were hospitalized with seizures, from excess consumption of energy drinks.

Research has shown that adolescents who often take energy drinks are also more likely to engage in risky behaviours such as sensation seeking, substance abuse, and binge drinking.

Mixing Energy Drinks and Alcohol

Over 70% of young adults (aged 18 to 29 years) who drink energy drinks mix them with alcohol, according to an EFSA study. Numerous studies have shown that this practice is more risky than drinking alcohol only, possibly because these drinks make it harder for people to notice when they are getting drunk.

According to the National Poison Data System in the United States, between 2010 and 2011, 4854 calls to poison information centers were made about energy drinks. Almost 40% involved alcohol mixed with energy drinks. A similar study in Australia demonstrated a growth in the number of calls about energy drinks. Breda and colleagues say a similar investigation would be useful in Europe.

Energy drinks can be sold in all EU countries, but some countries have introduced regulations, including setting rules for sales to children. Hungary introduced a public health tax that includes energy drinks in 2012. In Sweden, sales of some types of energy drinks are restricted to pharmacies and sales to children are banned.

Way Forward

"As energy drink sales are rarely regulated by age, unlike alcohol and tobacco, and there is a proven potential negative effect on children, there is the potential for a significant public health problem in the future," the authors conclude.

They make the following suggestions to minimize the potential for harm from energy drinks:

• Establishing an upper limit for the amount of caffeine allowed in a single serving of any drink in line with available scientific evidence;

• Regulations to enforce restriction of labelling and sales of energy drinks to children and adolescents;

• Enforcing standards for responsible marketing to young people by the energy drink industry;

• Training health care practitioners to be aware of the risks and symptoms of energy drinks consumption;

• Patients with a history of diet problems and substance abuse, both alone and combined with alcohol, should be screened for the heavy consumption of energy drinks;

• Educating the public about the risks of mixing alcohol with energy drinks consumption;

• Further research on the potential adverse effects of energy drinks, particularly on young people.

João Joaquim Breda, Stephen Hugh Whiting, Ricardo Encarnação, Stina Norberg, Rebecca Jones, Marge Reinap, Jo Jewell. Energy Drink Consumption in Europe: A Review of the Risks, Adverse Health Effects, and Policy Options to Respond.Frontiers in Public Health, 2014; 2 DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2014.00134


16 OCTOBER 2014 - Australian biomedical research and businesses that utilise in-house research will receive a major boost thanks to $17.9 million in funding from the Science and Industry Endowment Fund, for two major collaborative efforts that will connect SMEs with researchers, Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane announced in Melbourne this week.

The first brings together CSIRO, Monash University and 20 industry players in a consortia worth approximately $46m to focus on developing biomedical products from the bench to prototype, and through industry partners to market.

The Biomedical Materials Transformation Facility will be led by Monash University and CSIRO based at their joint Clayton precinct in Melbourne with partners MIMR-PHI and ANSTO.

The SIEF investment has leveraged $10 million respectively from CSIRO and Monash, and the rest invested from emerging industry partners, and has a particular focus on the '3Ds' - materials and IP for delivery, diagnostics and devices - applied to the diagnosis and treatment of key chronic diseases - cardiovascular, cancer and ophthalmic diseases.

The Clayton precinct is developing as a manufacturing centre for the future and area of strength for Australia.

"This is a major collaborative effort between CSIRO, Monash and 20 emerging industry players and will build on Australia's global competitiveness," CSIRO Chief Executive and Science and Industry Endowment Fund Trustee Dr Megan Clark said.

"The innovation led by this facility will foster rapid progress in materials and biomedical sciences and assist in commercialising the next generation of medical devices, diagnostics and cell therapies," Monash University's Professor Ian Smith, Vice-Provost (Research and Research Infrastructure) said.

Minister Macfarlane also announced a further $7.9 million over five years for a SIEF STEM+ Business Fellowship Program, which places science, technology, engineering and mathematics early career researchers as researchers-in-residence in Australian business and industry.

The program aims to build deeper connections and collaboration between researchers and SMEs, accelerating the adoption of new ideas and technology, and helping SMEs grow into larger and more profitable organisations. It will also create a cohort of developing researchers capable of addressing national challenges.

With co-investment from participating organisations this program has the capacity to deliver $17 million of research projects with Australian SMEs.

"Companies such as Anatomics, Textor and Universal Biosensors have seen the benefit of having researchers embedded in their business and we look forward to building on these successes and delivering similar benefits to other companies," Dr Clark said.

SIEF has asked CSIRO to run this program through its SME Engagement Centre, drawing on the Centre's experience and depth of engagement with Australian SMEs.

These project are fully aligned with and support Minister Macfarlane and the Prime Minister's call for research and industry to work closely together for the future of Australia.

The monies have been awarded from the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF), founded in 1926 to fund innovation in Australian research. SIEF was reinvigorated with a $150 million gift in 2009 from CSIRO out of the proceeds of fast wireless LAN licensing.

 NASA prepares its science fleet for Oct. 19 Mars comet encounter

October 13, 2014 - NASA's extensive fleet of science assets, particularly those orbiting and roving Mars, have front row seats to image and study a once-in-a-lifetime comet flyby on Sunday, Oct. 19. Comet C/2013 A1, also known as comet Siding Spring, will pass within about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) of the Red Planet -- less than half the distance between Earth and our moon and less than one-tenth the distance of any known comet flyby of Earth.

Siding Spring's nucleus will come closest to Mars around 11:27 a.m. PDT (2:27 p.m. EDT), hurtling at about 126,000 mph (56 kilometers per second). This proximity will provide an unprecedented opportunity for researchers to gather data on both the comet and its effect on the Martian atmosphere.

"This is a cosmic science gift that could potentially keep on giving, and the agency's diverse science missions will be in full receive mode," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "This particular comet has never before entered the inner solar system, so it will provide a fresh source of clues to our solar system's earliest days."

Siding Spring came from the Oort Cloud, a spherical region of space surrounding our sun and occupying space at a distance between 5,000 and 100,000 astronomical units. It is a giant swarm of icy objects believed to be material left over from the formation of the solar system.

Siding Spring will be the first comet from the Oort Cloud to be studied up close by spacecraft, giving scientists an invaluable opportunity to learn more about the materials, including water and carbon compounds, that existed during the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

Some of the best and most revealing images and science data will come from assets orbiting and roving the surface of Mars. In preparation for the comet flyby, NASA maneuvered its Mars Odyssey orbiter, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the newest member of the Mars fleet, Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN), in order to reduce the risk of impact with high-velocity dust particles coming off the comet.

The period of greatest risk to orbiting spacecraft will start about 90 minutes after the closest approach of the comet's nucleus and will last about 20 minutes, when Mars will come closest to the center of the widening trail of dust flying from the nucleus.

"The hazard is not an impact of the comet nucleus itself, but the trail of debris coming from it. Using constraints provided by Earth-based observations, the modeling results indicate that the hazard is not as great as first anticipated. Mars will be right at the edge of the debris cloud, so it might encounter some of the particles -- or it might not," said Rich Zurek, chief scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The atmosphere of Mars, though much thinner that Earth's, will shield NASA Mars rovers Opportunity and Curiosity from comet dust, if any reaches the planet. Both rovers are scheduled to make observations of the comet.

NASA's Mars orbiters will gather information before, during and after the flyby about the size, rotation and activity of the comet's nucleus, the variability and gas composition of the coma around the nucleus, and the size and distribution of dust particles in the comet's tail.

Observations of the Martian atmosphere are designed to check for possible meteor trails, changes in distribution of neutral and charged particles, and effects of the comet on air temperature and clouds. MAVEN will have a particularly good opportunity to study the comet, and how its tenuous atmosphere, or coma, interacts with Mars' upper atmosphere.

Earth-based and space telescopes, including NASA's iconic Hubble Space Telescope, also will be in position to observe the unique celestial object. The agency's astrophysics space observatories - Kepler, Swift, Spitzer, Chandra - and the ground-based Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea, Hawaii - also will be tracking the event.

NASA's asteroid hunter, the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE), has been imaging, and will continue to image, the comet as part of its operations. And the agency's two Heliophysics spacecraft, Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) and Solar and Heliophysics Observatory (SOHO), also will image the comet. The agency's Balloon Observation Platform for Planetary Science (BOPPS), a sub-orbital balloon-carried telescope, already has provided observations of the comet in the lead-up to the close encounter with Mars.

Images and updates will be posted online before and after the comet flyby. Several pre-flyby images of Siding Spring, as well as information about the comet and NASA's planned observations of the event, are available online at:

The California Institute of Technology manages JPL for NASA.

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This artist's concept shows NASA's Mars orbiters lining up behind the Red Planet for their "duck and cover" maneuver to shield them from comet dust that may result from the close flyby of comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) on Oct. 19, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Hawk Takes Down Drone 

funny pictures

 How the fruit fly could help us sniff out drugs and bombs

October 14, 2014 – A fly's sense of smell could be used in new technology to detect drugs and bombs, new University of Sussex research has found. Brain scientist Professor Thomas Nowotny was surprised to find that the 'nose' of fruit flies can identify odours from illicit drugs and explosive substances almost as accurately as wine odour, which the insects are naturally attracted to because it smells like their favourite food, fermenting fruit.

Published today (15 October 2014) in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, the study brings scientists closer to developing electronic noses (e-noses) that closely replicate the sensitive olfactory sense of animals.

The hope is that such e-noses will be much more sensitive and much faster than the currently commercially available e-noses that are typically based on metal-oxide sensors and are very slow, compared to a biological nose.

Professor Nowotny, Professor of Informatics at the University of Sussex, led the study alongside researchers from Monash University and CSIRO in Australia. He said: "Dogs can smell drugs and people have trained bees to detect explosives. Here we are looking more for what it is in the nose -- which receptors -- that allows animals to do this.

"In looking at fruit flies, we have found that, contrary to our expectation, unfamiliar odours, such as from explosives, were not only recognised but broadly recognised with the same accuracy as odours more relevant to a fly's behaviour."

Professor Nowotny and his collaborators recorded how 20 different receptor neurons in fruit flies responded to an ecologically relevant set of 36 chemicals related to wine (the 'wine set') and an ecologically irrelevant set of 35 chemicals related to hazardous materials, such as those found in drugs, combustion products and the headspace of explosives (the 'industrial set').

By monitoring the 'firing rate' of each neuron, they were able to assess which smells elicited the strongest reactions from the flies. They then used a computer program to simulate the part of the fly's brain used for recognition to show that the receptor responses contained enough information to recognise odours.

Of the wine set, 29 out of the 36 compounds elicited clear excitatory responses in at least one receptor neuron. They were surprised to find, however, that the flies also responded to 21 out of the 35 substances related to drugs and explosives.

Professor Nowotny adds: "The long-term goal of this research direction is to 'recreate' animals' noses for technical applications. As well as the detection of explosives, chemical weapons and drugs, there is a broad array of other possible applications, such as measuring food quality, health (breath analysis), environmental monitoring, and even geological monitoring (volcanoes) and agriculture (detecting pests).

"And, of course, the fly's success in identifying the 'wine set' might prove useful for those in the winemaking industry.

"But it would be quite difficult to recreate the entire nose; even adopting all sensors would be too difficult. One may be able to do five or maybe 10, out of 43 in the fruit fly or hundreds in the dog. So the question is, which 10 should we use and would it work? In this paper we show that it could work with as little as 10 fruit fly receptors and we identify the most likely candidates to use."

Thomas Nowotny, Marien de Bruyne, Amalia Z Berna, Coral G Warr, Stephen C Trowell. Drosophila olfactory receptors as classifiers for volatiles from disparate real world applications.Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, 2014; 9 (4): 046007 DOI:10.1088/1748-3182/9/4/046007 

Photo: The "nose" of a fruit fly can identify odors from illicit drugs and explosives almost as accurately as wine odor. Credit: Andre Karwath

 It’s official: Electric car world record smashed by UNSW Sunswift

14 October 2014 - A team of UNSW engineering students has been officially recognised as the new world record holders for the fastest electric vehicle over a distance of 500 kilometres.  The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), world motorsport’s governing body, updated its official record with the new mark of 106.966 kilometres an hour set by team Sunswift in July (pdf). The previous record of 73 kilometres an hour stood for 26 years.

Preparing the car for the world record challenge (Photo: Daniel Chen)

“It's not often you can confidently say you made history before you even graduated,” Sunswift’s project director and third-year engineering student Hayden Smith said. 

Sunswift is Australia’s top solar car racing team. Its current vehicle eVe is the fifth to be built and raced since the team was founded in 1996. More than 100 undergraduate students contributed to Sunswift’s successful world record attempt over the past two years.

“If there is one thing we've learned, it's that you're never too young to make an impact,” Smith said.

UNSW Engineering Dean Professor Graham Davies congratulated the students for what he called “another exceptional feat”.

Earlier versions of the Sunswift car have been used to set a world record for the fastest solar powered road trip from Perth to Sydney, and a Guinness World Record for the fastest solar car.

“For a student project to achieve a new world record for electric vehicle speed and endurance is truly remarkable,” Professor Davies said. 

“It goes to show what exceptional students we have here at UNSW.”

With the world record now official, the team is set to embark on its next major challenge – modifying the eVe to meet Australian road registration requirements.

“eVe will now be taken off the road for a few months to begin the transformation,” Smith said, adding that the car could be registered and on city streets within a year. 

“We've always wanted to keep pushing the cultural change towards electric vehicles, and this is another big step in that direction.”

 Ancient fossils confirmed among our strangest cousins

October 15, 2014 - More than 100 years since they were first discovered, some of the world's most bizarre fossils have been identified as distant relatives of humans, thanks to the work of University of Adelaide researchers. The fossils belong to 500-million-year-old blind water creatures, known to scientists as "vetulicolians" (pronounced: ve-TOO-lee-coal-ee-ans).

Alien-like in appearance, these marine creatures were "filter-feeders" shaped like a figure-of-8. Their strange anatomy has meant that no-one has been able to place them accurately on the tree of life, until now.

In a new paper published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, researchers at the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Museum argue for a change in the way these creatures are viewed, placing them with the same group that includes vertebrate animals, such as humans.

"Although not directly related to humans in the evolutionary line, we can confirm that these ancient water creatures are among our distant cousins," says the lead author of the paper, Dr Diego Garcia-Bellido, ARC Future Fellow with the University's Environment Institute.

"They are close relatives of vertebrates -- animals with backbones, such as ourselves. Vetulicolians have a long tail supported by a stiff rod. This rod resembles a notochord, which is the precursor of the backbone and is unique to vertebrates and their relatives," he says.

Although the first specimens were studied in 1911, it took until 1997 for the fossils to be described as a group on their own: the vetulicolians. These fossils have now been discovered in countries all across the globe, such as Canada, Greenland, China and Australia.

The latest insights into vetulicolians have come from new fossils discovered on Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia, which the researchers namedNesonektris (Greek for "Island Swimmer").

"Vetulicolians are further evidence that life was very rich in diversity during the Cambrian period, in some aspects more than it is today, with many extra branches on the evolutionary tree," Dr Diego Garcia-Bellido says. "They were simple yet successful creatures, large in number and in distribution across the globe, and one of the first representatives of our cousins, which include sea squirts and salps."

The research involved collaboration between the University of Adelaide, South Australian Museum, University of South Australia, the Natural History Museum, London, and University of New England.

Diego C García-Bellido, Michael S Y Lee, Gregory D Edgecombe, James B Jago, James G Gehling, John R Paterson. A new vetulicolian from Australia and its bearing on the chordate affinities of an enigmatic Cambrian group. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 2014; 14 (1): 214 DOI: 10.1186/s12862-014-0214-z

Top: A 500-million-year-old fossil used by Australian researchers to make their discovery about vetulicolians. These marine creatures had a rod through their tail similar to a backbone, which places them as distant cousins of vertebrate animals. Credit: University of Adelaide/South Australian Museum

Draft emissions reduction methods for industrial facilities, wastewater and transport released for consultation

Media release - 15 October 2014: The Australian Government has released three more draft Emissions Reduction Fund methods for public consultation. 

The Emissions Reduction Fund is the centrepiece of the Australian Government's efforts to tackle climate change. It's a cost-effective, practical and simple approach to reduce our national emissions without a multi-billion dollar carbon tax.

Emissions reduction methods set out the rules for estimating emissions reductions from proposed activities.

The draft methods cover projects in large industrial facilities, wastewater treatment and transport. 

The draft facilities method will credit verified emissions reductions achieved at facilities that report emissions under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme and produce a saleable product. 

Facilities that could potentially use this method include cement and aluminium production facilities and minerals or gas processing plants. The facilities method allows project proponents to apply the method to a wide variety of emissions reduction activities, encouraging innovation in project design.

The draft wastewater treatment method will cover projects where wastewater is currently treated in deep anaerobic lagoons, such as those used by the meat, poultry and paper industries. 

Under this method lagoons would be replaced by anaerobic digesters, with most of the methane in the resulting biogas being destroyed. ERF support for these projects presents a practical incentive to clean up wastewater treatment plants and contribute to Australia's emissions reductions. 

The draft transport method supports projects that reduce the emissions intensity of transport - across road, rail, air, sea and mobile equipment. 

Activities contributing to a reduction in emissions intensity could include installing, upgrading or retrofitting existing vehicles with new technologies; switching to less emissions intensive fuels; and improving operational or management practices.

The Government is consulting on a number of priority methods across a range of sectors to ensure methods are ready for use when the Emissions Reduction Fund begins. The first five draft methods were released for public consultation in September 2014.

Businesses, community organisations and individuals are invited to make submissions on the draft methods by 5pm AEDT on 12 November 2014.

Further details about the draft methods and how to make a submission are available at


Tuesday 14 October, 2014: Minister for Resources and Energy Anthony Roberts today said he has informed Leichhardt Resources Pty Ltd that its three NSW Petroleum Exploration Licences (PELs) have been cancelled. 

Mr Roberts said the licences were cancelled under the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991 on the basis that Leichhardt Resources Pty Ltd had contravened or failed to fulfil specified conditions of the licences. 

“On 30 April 2009, Leichhardt Resources was granted three petroleum exploration licences (PELs),” Mr Roberts said.

“These licences are PELs 469 near Nowra, 468 near Rylstone and 470 near Moree. 

“On 8 February 2013 these titles were renewed for five years with set conditions to be met including a need to engage with the community in relation to the planning and conduct of its prospecting operations. 

“On 7 August 2014 the company was issued a Show Cause Notice in relation to the proposed cancellation of the licences. The allegation of not complying with the requirement for community engagement was raised in relation to all three licences.”

The allegation of not complying with its work program obligations was also raised in relation to PEL 470.

It is critical that titleholders abide by their work programs to ensure they adequately explore for the State’s resources and to provide certainty for the community.

Mr Roberts said the NSW Government announced on 26 March 2014 that it would target operators who have not met the conditions of their PELs. 

“The Government takes compliance with licence conditions seriously,” he said. 

“The NSW Government, in line with the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer’s recommendations, is supportive of a safe, sustainable gas industry that adheres to best practice standards within a regime of strong regulation, compliance and enforcement.” 


Rob Stokes MP, Minister for the Environment, Minister for Heritage, Minister for the Central Coast, Assistant Minister for Planning

Environment Minister Rob Stokes today welcomed the announcement of Federal Government funding for new environmental science research hubs, and urged NSW universities and research institutions to apply for the programme.

The National Environmental Science Programme will provide $102 million over four years to fund six research hubs focusing on:

 Clean Air and Urban Landscapes

 Earth Systems

 Marine Biodiversity

 Northern Australia Environmental Resources

 Threatened Species Recovery

 Tropical Water Quality

Mr Stokes encouraged NSW institutions to apply for funding through the programme, which has been established to help policy makers protect Australia’s environment with world-class class biodiversity and climate science.

“These research hubs will play a vital role in protecting and preserving our marine life, our threatened species and making sure we keep our air clean,” Mr Stokes said.

“The Clean Air and Urban Landscapes hub in particular will complement the NSW Government’s ongoing efforts through the NSW Environment Protection Authority.

“NSW has one of the largest air quality monitoring networks in Australia, and the Government has opened new monitoring stations in the Hunter, Central Coast and Western Sydney.

“The network now totals 43 monitoring stations located in strategic areas and towns across the state.

“I encourage all NSW institutions to throw their hat in the ring to host these hubs.”

The programme will be implemented through a competitive process in which groups of research institutions will apply to form research hubs. The hubs are planned to commence operating early next year.

For information go to close November 5.

 Sharks that hide in coral reefs may be safe from acidifying oceans

October 15, 2014 – A study published online today in the journalConservation Physiology has shown that the epaulette shark (Hemiscyllium ocellatum) displays physiological tolerance to elevated carbon dioxide (CO₂) in its environment after being exposed to CO₂ levels equivalent to those that are predicted for their natural habitats in the near future. Atmospheric CO₂ levels have increased by almost 40% in the last 250 years, and the world's oceans have absorbed more than 30% of the additional CO₂. The resulting rise in seawater CO₂ and associated reduction in pH - known as ocean acidification - is a significant threat to marine organisms and ecosystems.

The epaulette shark was already known to be remarkably tolerant to short periods of hypoxia (low oxygen levels in the environment), as this species frequently hides deep within the crevices of coral reefs where oxygen levels can reach very low levels. Given these challenging microhabitats, epaulette sharks may be able to tolerate short periods of elevated CO₂ as well, but nothing was known about the species' response to prolonged exposure.

A team of researchers mainly based at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, exposed epaulette sharks to either control (390 µatm), medium (600 µatm), or high (880 µatm) CO₂ treatments for 60-90 days and then measured key aspects of their respiratory physiology. They measured resting oxygen consumption rates to see if elevated CO₂ increased the sharks' basic maintenance costs. They also measured the sharks' sensitivity to low oxygen to see if exposure to elevated CO₂ affected this trait, as it may be important to their reef-dwelling lifestyle. Neither attribute was affected by the long-term exposure to the CO₂ treatments. So, the team investigated further by looking at blood parameters associated with uptake and delivery of oxygen as well as a metabolic enzyme responsible for energy production.

Dr. Jodie Rummer, corresponding author of the study, comments: "Our findings suggest this reef-inhabiting animal is indeed making some physiological adjustments to cope with elevated CO₂, and these may be linked to maintaining oxygen transport, energy, and balancing ions and pH, but at no obvious cost to the animal."

The authors emphasize the important link between environment, lifestyle, and physiological tolerance to changing environmental conditions. Dr. Rummer says, "investigating animals that are already experiencing challenging conditions in their environment may help us understand which species will fare well under future climate change conditions. Although the epaulette shark is not an apex predator, it plays an important role in balancing food webs and the overall health of coral reef ecosystems. The next obvious step is to examine predator species that live in the open ocean, as they may be more susceptible to future ocean acidification conditions."

Dennis D. U. Heinrich, Jodie L. Rummer, Andrea J. Morash, Sue-Ann Watson, Colin A. Simpfendorfer, Michelle R. Heupel, and Philip L. Munday. A product of its environment: the epaulette shark (Hemiscylium ocellatum) exhibits physiological tolerance to elevated environmental CO₂. Conservation Physiology, 2014 DOI: 10.1093/conphys/cou047

Photo: Epaulette shark. Credit: M Heupel

 Work underway to clean up Tasmania's Tamar River

Joint media release - 10 October 2014: The Coalition Government is delivering on its election commitment to clean up the Tamar River and improve the local environment and economy in Tasmania.

Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt and Federal Member for Bass Andrew Nikolic today visited the Tamar River to inspect the important work underway as part of the Federal Government’s $3 million Tamar River Recovery Plan.

The Tamar River Recovery Plan is part of the Australian Government’s Coastal River Recovery Initiative, an important component of the National Landcare Programme, which is providing $9.4 million over four years to improve the environmental health of five targeted urban and peri urban coastal waterways around Australia.

“Silt deposits have been a long-term problem in the Tamar, affecting the river’s health, local tourism, business and recreational use,” Minister Hunt said.

“The Tamar River Recovery Plan will help to improve water quality by tackling sediment problems, reducing nutrient run-off and improving wastewater management.”

“Last year I visited the Tamar River to announce the $3 million funding commitment. Today I’ve had a chance to see the work being undertaken to address the problems and restore the Tamar’s health.”

“This funding has come about due to the strong advocacy of Andrew Nikolic on behalf of the Launceston community.”

The project involves a sediment raking program, riparian fencing and revegetation, and riverbank erosion stabilisation at priority locations along the river. Monitoring the water quality of the Tamar Estuary will also be carried out.

“The people of Tasmania care deeply about the health of this important waterway,” said Mr Nikolic. 

“They value the economic, environmental and recreational services the Tamar provides to the community and have been concerned about how silt is affecting the river’s health, local tourism and business.”

“The investment in managing the siltation of this important waterway will go a long way to improving the local environment and economy in northern Tasmania.”

This investment in the Coastal River Recovery Initiative is an important part of the Government's total investment in natural resource management which totals more than $2 billion over four years.

Further details on the National Landcare Programme is available

 Strategic Plan sets Tasmania as gateway for Antarctica

Joint media release - 10 October 2014: The Australian Government is today releasing the 20 Year Australian Antarctic Strategic Plan, which provides a blueprint for Australia’s future engagement in the region and options to expand Tasmania’s role as a leading Antarctic science and logistics hub. 

Australia has a long and proud history in Antarctica and we must ensure that role continues.

The report, which delivers on an election commitment, examines the challenges ahead and provides recommendations on how the Federal and State Governments, working with business, researchers and the wider community can achieve that outcome.

The Government commissioned Dr Tony Press, former Director of the Australian Antarctic Division and former CEO of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, to critically assess Australia’s national interests in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

Minister Hunt thanked Dr Press for his work and encouraged the community to read the report. 

“Dr Press’ report gives a frank assessment of the current situation and makes a number of recommendations as to how Australia can remain a leader in Antarctica - a position we have maintained for more than 100 years,” Minister Hunt said.

The preparation of the report involved a comprehensive review of Australia’s Antarctic interests and extensive consultation with experts, stakeholders and the general public. 

The report outlines an ambitious vision for Australia to work towards over the next 20 years.

The report contains recommendations on a range of key issues, including:

Protecting Australia’s national interests in Antarctica;

Supporting and leading national and international Antarctic science;

Building economic benefits for Tasmania as an Antarctic Gateway city;

Australia’s future Antarctic station operations, transport and deep field traverse capabilities and support for large field-based research campaigns; and

Effective administration of the Australian Antarctic Territory. 

Some key specific recommendations include:

Australia should work to ensure that the Antarctic Treaty System remains strong and stable.

Australia should establish Hobart as the world’s leading Antarctic gateway by, among other things, entering into agreements with other Antarctic Treaty Parties to base their operations out of Hobart.

Australia should continue to engage in, promote and facilitate international collaboration in Antarctic science and governance.

The Australian and Tasmanian Governments should work together to build Tasmania’s capacity to be a leading global gateway to East Antarctica.

The Government’s Senate Leader Senator Eric Abetz said Tasmania already has very strong links to Australia’s Antarctic program.  

“There are opportunities to expand this even further and to encourage other nations to use Hobart as a hub for their Antarctic research and logistics,” Senator Abetz said  

“This report reveals exciting possibilities for further international collaboration in Antarctic science, centred in Hobart.”

“The Federal Government is keen to work with the Tasmanian Government to explore these options.”

Australia has always been a leader in Antarctica and we are committed to maintaining and expanding Australia’s well regarded status in Antarctic science, operations, policy and diplomacy.

The report also recommends the acquisition of a new icebreaker to replace the aging Aurora Australis. Indeed, the Government has made the most significant investment in infrastructure for Antarctica, with the decision to purchase the new icebreaker. The Request for Tender process is currently underway.

“This investment is critical for our long term strategic interest in Antarctica remaining a place of peace and science, and it is fundamental to our ability to carry out research and work cooperatively with other Antarctic nations,” said Minister Hunt.

The Government has already made $87 million in commitments to Australia’s Antarctic interests, including: funding for the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre ($25 million over five years); creating an Antarctic Gateway Partnership involving the Australian Antarctic Division, the University of Tasmania and the CSIRO ($24 million over 3 years); and the Hobart Airport runway extension ($38 million).  

The Government will now consider the report in detail and consult widely on the recommendations before providing a formal response in the coming months.

We are confident that we can build on Australia’s proud history of Antarctic leadership and set us on a positive path for the next 20 years of Australian Antarctic endeavour.

The 20 Year Australian Antarctic Strategic Plan is available to download

Top: Environment Minister Greg Hunt speaking at the press conference, with (L-R) Dr Tony Press, Matthew Groom MP, and Eric Hutchinson MP behind (Photo: Kristin Raw)

Renewed funding continues work on bores

Joint media statement - 16 October 2014: REMOTE communities will benefit from the Australian Government’s announcement of $15.9 million to extend the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative (GABSI) for a further three years.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Warren Truss said the program provides funding support to repair uncontrolled bores that threaten the long-term viability of the Great Artesian Basin.

“The Great Artesian Basin is Australia’s most significant underground water resource, directly supporting more than 180,000 people in more than 120 towns and 7,600 enterprises in regional and remote Australia,” Mr Truss said.

“Uncontrolled bores continue to threaten secure access to water across a range of communities, pastoralists, irrigators, and mining and extractive industries, as well as the health of important groundwater dependent ecosystems.

“I would like to thank local members Mark Coulton, Bruce Scott, Ken O’Dowd and Rowan Ramsey, along with state Water Ministers Andrew Cripps and Kevin Humphries, and community and industry representatives in their efforts in advocating for future funding for GABSI.”

Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment Simon Birmingham said the Initiative was one of the most significant environmental projects in the nation.

“Since 1999, the Australian Government has invested nearly $115 million to repair 650 uncontrolled artesian bores, saving 200 billion litres of water annually,” Senator Birmingham said.

“GABSI has been an incredible example of a practical environmental policy that is delivering real and meaningful improvements to one of our most valuable water resources.

“Despite this track record, the Labor Government axed all future funding from the GABSI Programme in a desperate attempt to prop up their failing budget.

“Our Government has reinstated the Programme for an additional three years through to 2017. We will use this opportunity to work with industry and communities to develop a possible private sector model for delivery in the future, to ensure a sustainable future for the Great Artesian Basin.

“Continuation of the program is anticipated to provide further water savings of around 13 billion litres a year, improving water pressure in the Basin and delivering broader improvements in water and land management, which is particularly timely given the severe drought conditions being experienced in large parts of the Basin.

The Australian Government will now work with the New South Wales, Queensland and South Australian Governments on the continued provision of matched funding for the programme.

“The Australian Government will also work with the states and the Great Artesian Basin Community Committee to develop a new Strategic Management Plan for the Basin,” said Senator Birmingham.

“The Plan will include full consideration of the future threats and pressures facing the Basin, as well as how ongoing water management aligns with the principles of the National Water Initiative.

Further information on the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative is located at

 Illegal fishers caught out on the Macquarie

13 Oct 2014: NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) fisheries officers have issued fines totalling $5,200 to a group of fishers after they were found illegally fishing on the Macquarie River in the State's Central West

DPI Acting Director Fisheries Compliance, Tony Andrews, said fisheries officers conducted a targeted operation on the Macquarie River, downstream of Narromine.

"Fisheries officers located a camp being used by a number of fishers downstream of Narromine," Mr Andrews said.

"A number of fisheries offences were detected including the use of 41 unattended lines that were set and left unattended, possession of fish illegally taken, the use of 31 live finfish as a lure or bait to take fish on inland waters, the use of a gaff to take fish on inland waters and a master of a boat not preventing a serious fisheries offence taking place.

"Seven people were apprehended by fisheries officers and admitted to the offences when interviewed.

"Officers seized 41 set lines, 2 gaffs and 31 European carp and fines totalling $5,200 and a number of written cautions were issued to the members of the camp.

"Unattended lines and other illegal fishing gear are prohibited for a reason as their use poses a very real risk to the sustainability of our native fish populations and other protected fauna."<

A maximum of two attended fishing lines are permitted in NSW inland waters. Attended lines must be within 50 metres and in the line of sight of the person who is using the line.

The use of live finfish as bait is prohibited in NSW as it presents biosecurity risks to our waterways through the potential spread and transmission of noxious aquatic diseases through the transfer of fish from one body of water to another.

Mr Andrews reminded fishers that fisheries officers regularly patrol waterways to detect illegal fishing activity.

"Fisheries officers are targeted in their operations and if you are doing the wrong thing it is only a matter of time until you are caught," Mr Andrews said.

"Members of the public can also report any suspected illegal fishing activity to the Fishers watch hotline on 1800 043 536 or directly to your nearest Fisheries office."

 20 Million Trees launched with first grants round now open

Media release: 2 October 2014 - The Australian Government is inviting communities across the country to get involved in the 20 Million Trees Programme with the first competitive grants round now open for applications.

The 20 Million Trees Programme was a key Coalition election commitment and is a vital part of the Australian Government's National Landcare Programme. The Government is investing $50 million over the next four years to re-establish Australia's green corridors and urban forests through the 20 Million Trees Programme.

It's an important part of the Government's total investment in natural resource management which amounts to over $2 billion over the next four years.

20 Million Trees projects can be undertaken in urban and regional Australia, on both public and private land, providing community and environmental benefit at the local level.

Communities, groups and individuals are invited to apply for grants between $20,000 and $100,000 to help set up their own 20 Million Trees project. Funding can be used to re-establish native vegetation, and create greener spaces to improve the liveability of local communities while increasing and improving habitat to support our threatened species.

A wide range of groups, organisations, and individuals in the community are encouraged to apply. This includes community groups, schools, landholders, landcare and conservation groups and local councils.

Applications for projects are now open and will close on 30 October 2014.

Project guidelines for the competitive grants round provide individuals and organisations with the information they need to apply for funding to start a tree planting project in their community.

As well as the grants, the Australian Government will also be running a tender process for Service Providers to undertake large-scale tree plantings. More details on the National Service Provider process will be available over the coming months.

More information about the 20 Million Trees programme is available at

 Impact of mesophyll diffusion on estimated global land CO2 fertilization

October 14, 2014 - In C3 plants, CO2 concentrations drop considerably along mesophyll diffusion pathways from substomatal cavities to chloroplasts where CO2 assimilation occurs. Global carbon cycle models have not explicitly represented this internal drawdown and therefore overestimate CO2 available for carboxylation and underestimate photosynthetic responsiveness to atmospheric CO2. 

An explicit consideration of mesophyll diffusion increases the modeled cumulative CO2 fertilization effect (CFE) for global gross primary production (GPP) from 915 to 1,057 PgC for the period of 1901–2010. This increase represents a 16% correction, which is large enough to explain the persistent overestimation of growth rates of historical atmospheric CO2 by Earth system models. Without this correction, the CFE for global GPP is underestimated by 0.05 PgC/y/ppm. This finding implies that the contemporary terrestrial biosphere is more CO2 limited than previously thought.

Biological Sciences - Environmental Sciences: Ying Sun,  Lianhong Gu, Robert E. Dickinson,  Richard J. Norby, Stephen G. Pallardy, and Forrest M. Hoffman. Impact of mesophyll diffusion on estimated global land CO2 fertilization. PNAS 2014 ; published online ahead of print October 13, 2014, doi:10.1073/pnas.1418075111 

 Improving Great Barrier Reef Water Quality in the Wet Tropics

Joint media release - 13 October 2014: The Australian Government is working hard to protect the Great Barrier Reef with the opening of the $5 million Reef Trust Tender to improve water quality in the Wet Tropics. 

“This competitive tender from the Coalition’s $40 million Reef Trust will provide financial incentives to sugar cane farmers in the Wet Tropics to improve their nitrogen use efficiency and farm sustainability,” said Mr Entsch.

“The program builds on the positive work sugar cane farmers have already taken to work together on improving the Great Barrier Reef.”

Terrain Natural Resource Management (NRM) has successfully bid to act as service provider for this two-stage competitive tender, commencing now with an expression of interest round for sugar cane farmers which closes on 18 December 2014. 

“Terrain NRM will work with interested cane farmers in the Wet Tropics to help reduce nitrogen runoff into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon,” said Minister Hunt. 

“Nitrogen runoff from farms is a major factor affecting the health of the Great Barrier Reef and is linked to outbreaks of the damaging crown-of-thorns starfish.”

“The recently released Water Quality Report card shows a significant improvement in water quality over time, but more work is required. This project will deliver further improvements.” 

Following the expression of interest stage, a market-based competitive tender will be run from 19 January to 19 February 2015 for sugar cane farmers to submit bids to support improvements to their nitrogen use efficiency and farm sustainability. 

Terrain NRM will be holding workshops in early December to fully inform interested sugar cane farmers of the competitive tender’s objectives and requirements.

“Sugar cane farmers who are successful in the competitive tender will receive an initial payment in 2015 and then annual payments over three years from 2015-16,” said Mr Entsch.

“Participation in the project is voluntary and sugar cane farmers will determine their own nitrogen use efficiency targets and cost-effective means of achieving those targets.”

Further information online at: or from Terrain Natural Resource Management

 National Heritage Listing for Koonalda Cave's outstanding Aboriginal heritage

Joint media release - 15 October 2014: Today the Australian Government placed the Nullarbor Plain’s Koonalda Cave on the National Heritage List in recognition of its rare Aboriginal archaeology and heritage. 

“I am delighted that Koonalda Cave has been given Australia’s highest heritage honour,” Mr Hunt said.

“Aboriginal people have long inhabited the harsh environment of the Nullarbor Plain, but it wasn’t until the study of Koonalda in 1956 that contemporary Australians really started to comprehend the extreme age of Aboriginal occupation in this part of Australia.”

“With its well preserved finger markings and unique archaeological deposits, Koonalda Cave gives us a glimpse of life on the Nullarbor tens of thousands of years ago.”

“The discovery caused a sensation and forever changed the then accepted notions about where, when and how Aboriginal people lived on the Australian continent,” Minister Hunt said.

Koonalda Cave was the first place in Australia where Aboriginal rock art could be reliably dated to 22 000 years ago during the Pleistocene. This transformed our understanding of Australian and World prehistory, which had held that Aboriginal people had been in Australia for about 7000 years.

Koonalda Cave is a tangible link to the past and a place that continues to hold special significance for the Mirning people today.

The enigmatic ‘art’ of Koonalda Cave involves two styles of rock markings. 

Commonly referred to as finger flutings (marks made by drawing fingers down the soft surface of the limestone caves) they cover two large sections of the cave deep beneath the earth. These distinctive hand markings are moving reminders of the ice age people who once lived in this region. 

The second set of markings are lines made by a sharp tool cut into harder limestone sections of the cave. Patterns of horizontal and vertical lines carved in a v-shape are widespread.

The complex and abstract nature of these markings has led some archaeologists to compare the finger fluting with early prehistoric markings in southern France and northern Spain.  

The Federal Member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey MP said the finger markings and associated archaeological evidence make Koonalda Cave unique as one of the few arid sites used by Aboriginal people during the Pleistocene period and represents their long and rich cultural connection with the landscape.

“Koonalda Cave is just one example of the rich and diverse heritage and history of the Nullarbor Plains,” Mr Ramsey said.

“National Heritage listing for Koonalda Cave recognises its place in Australia’s history and ensures this long and rich connection of Aboriginal Australians with the Nullarbor landscape is protected and celebrated for future generations.”

Koonalda Cave is the 102nd place on the National Heritage List.

For more information go

 Comment on Threatened Species listing assessments

You are invited to provide public comment on the below items to assist the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (the Committee) with its assessment of whether the items are eligible for inclusion in an EPBC Act list of threatened species, key threatening processes or ecological communities and, if eligible, the category in which they are eligible to be included.

Listing Assessments open for public comment


Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis) -  until 14 November 2014

Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) -  until 14 November 2014

Antechinus bellus (fawn antechinus) NT until 18 November 2014

Callistemon megalongensis (Megalong Valley bottlebrush) NSW- until 18 November 2014

Eucalyptus aggregata (black gum) NSW, ACT, VIC until 18 November 2014

Ecological community nominations

Central Hunter Valley eucalypt forest and woodland complex EndangeredNSW until 29 October 2014

Posidonia australis seagrass meadows of the Manning-Hawkesbury ecoregion Endangered NSW until 5 November 2014

* The Australian Government has partnership agreements with the states and territories to share information and align threatened species lists where appropriate. Through these agreements, species that are endemic to (i.e. only found in) a particular state or territory are assessed first in that state, prior to them being assessed nationally under a streamlined assessment process.

If you wish to comment on any of the above nominations, please send your comments,  by mail, fax or email to the appropriate address listed


Aussie Backyard Bird count - Coming Soon to your Backyard


After spending the summer breeding and feeding in the Arctic, the shorebirds are now making their long, arduous journey back to Australian shores just in time for spring. The coming months are the perfect time to head outside and welcome them back. 


We’ve got just the thing to get you into the great outdoors and make their home coming count. From 20-26 October 2014, duringNational Bird Week, BirdLife Australia is encouraging every Australian to head out into their ‘backyard’, no matter what shape or size, and take part in the very first Aussie Backyard Bird Count.


We have specially designed an Aussie Bird Count app, featuring a Field Guide with almost 400 Australian birds to help you identify what you are seeing, do your 20-minute count on the spot in your favourite patch, and submit your checklist immediately. The app is a freely available in app stores.


We are setting a national community challenge for Australian’s to spot a total of 100,000 birds and we would like to count you in. Not only will you get to know your feathered friends, but you’ll be contributing to a vital pool of information from across the country that will help us see how Australian birds are faring. Birds are unique indicators of environmental health. If they are doing well, then so are we.So get your friends and family together, head out into nature and start counting! Check out for loads more information and FAQs

Katandra Sanctuary Open

Katandra opens to the public every Sunday in July, August, September and October 10am - 4pm.

New Trustee appointments The Lands Department has appointed a new Trust for the next 5 years which includes three of the current trustees: Jenny Talbot, Lyn McDougall and David Seymour; and four new trustees: David James, Lachlan Laurie, Marita Macrae and Tim Thurston. Many thanks to the outgoing trustees, Margaret Seymour, John Gale, Ros Andrews and Garry Hewitt.

 35-year plan for a healthier and more resilient Great Barrier Reef released for Comment - Feedback

A new long-term sustainability plan to protect and manage the Great Barrier Reef for the next 35 years has been released for comment by the Australian and Queensland governments. 

Queensland Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection Andrew Powell said the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan satisfied a longstanding requirement by UNESCO. 

"This has been a collaborative effort from key organisations, scientists and industry groups including Agforce, Australian Institute of Marine Science, Ports Australia, Queensland Conservation Council, Regional Natural Resource Management Groups and World Wildlife Fund," Mr Powell said. 

"As we promised we have done more than any other government to ensure the Great Barrier Reef remains an iconic World Heritage site now and into the future. 

"Its release is another illustration of meeting UNESCO's requirements and continuing the great work we have been doing in ensuring the Great Barrier Reef remains an iconic world heritage site." 

Mr Powell said the plan brought together a range of existing initiatives under the one umbrella to ensure greater efficiency and effectiveness. 

"While the management of the Great Barrier Reef is a collective responsibility, and a matter of global interest, the fact remains this icon is a part of Queensland and it is vital that it is protected and managed now and into the future," Mr Powell said. 

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan was an overarching framework for managing the Reef from 2015 to 2050. 

"This Reef Plan is the Queensland and Australian Governments' commitment to working with industry and the community to improve the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef for future generations," Mr Hunt said. 

"The plan sets out targets and actions to help safeguard the Reef against threats such as poor water quality and crown-of-thorns starfish; improve its resilience to challenges like storms and cyclones; and conserve species such as turtles and dugongs while supporting existing sustainable activities including tourism, agriculture, shipping, fishing and more. 

"Maintaining and protecting this iconic World Heritage Area, while considering the needs for long-term sustainable development, is a critical priority. 

"I now encourage people to read the plan and take this opportunity to help shape the long term future of the Reef." 

Visit to download the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, and make a submission online, by email or post. Supporting information to assist people to make a submission will also be available on the website.

The Australian and Queensland government has released the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan for public comment for a six week period until 27 October 2014

Common Myna Control Campaign 

Have you noticed myna birds invading your neighbourhood? 

Do you want to do something about them?

The Pittwater Natural Heritage Association is seeking expressions of interest from members who would like to be involved in setting up a Pittwater Myna Control Group. 

There are a number of strategies that can be employed to control the spread of these pests and a number of towns and cities around Australia have been able to reduce the numbers of myna birds in their localities. 

If you are interested please email David Palmer

 New world record for silicon quantum computing by UNSWTV

Published on 12 Oct 2014

Research teams working in the same laboratories at UNSW Australia have found two different ways to solve a critical challenge and greatly accelerate the realisation of super powerful quantum computers.

The teams created two types of quantum bits, or “qubits” – the building blocks for quantum computers – that each perform quantum operations with accuracy above 99 percent.

The UNSW teams, part of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation & Communication Technology, were first in the world to demonstrate single-atom spin qubits in silicon (reported in Nature).

Now the team led by Dzurak has discovered a way to create an “artificial atom” qubit with a device remarkably similar to the silicon transistors used in consumer electronics. 

Post-doctoral researcher Menno Veldhorst, lead author on the paper reporting the artificial atom qubit, says it's amazing that we can make such an accurate qubit using pretty much the same devices as we have in our laptops and phones.

Meanwhile, Morello’s team has been pushing the “natural” phosphorus atom qubit to the extremes of performance. Dr Juha Muhonen, a post-doctoral researcher and lead author on the natural atom qubit paper, says The phosphorus atom contains in fact two qubits: the electron, and the nucleus. With the nucleus in particular, we have achieved accuracy close to 99.99%. That means only one error for every 10,000 quantum operations. With the nuclear spin, the team has also established the new world record of “quantum coherence time”, that is how long the quantum information can be preserved on the qubit: they stretched it to an astonishing 35 seconds, which is an eternity in the quantum world.

With these new records, the Australian teams have laid the foundations to build truly scalable silicon quantum computers, where information can be processed over long time scales, and errors are so rare that they can be entirely eliminated using quantum error correction.

Sculpture Made from Recycled Tyres 


Enter The Nature Conservancy Australia Nature Writing Prize today!

Calling all nature writers.  The Nature Conservancy Australia is delighted to open the third biennial Nature Writing Prize. The $5,000 award is for an essay between 3,000 and 5,000 words in the genre of ‘Writing of Place’ and the winning essay will be published in the Australian Book Review. The prize will go to an Australian writer whose entry is judged to be of the highest literary merit and which best explores his or her relationship and interaction with some aspect of the Australian landscape.  The competition’s judges are Jesse Blackadder, award-winning author of Chasing the Light and Paruku The Desert Brumby, and Robert Gray, renowned poet, critic, and freelance writer.

The prize has been made possible thanks to a generous donation from The McLean Foundation, which is keen to promote and celebrate the literature of nature in Australia. The deadline for submissions is December 24, 2014, so get out your pens and start writing! Click here to learn more about the prize and review the terms and conditions for entering.

Health Papers published this week:

Chemical derived from broccoli sprouts shows promise in treating autism

October 13, 2014 - Results of a small clinical trial suggest that a chemical derived from broccoli sprouts -- and best known for claims that it can help prevent certain cancers -- may ease classic behavioral symptoms in those with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). The study, a joint effort by scientists at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, involved 40 teenage boys and young men, ages 13 to 27, with moderate to severe autism.

In a report published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during the week of Oct. 13, the researchers say that many of those who received a daily dose of the chemical sulforaphane experienced substantial improvements in their social interaction and verbal communication, along with decreases in repetitive, ritualistic behaviors, compared to those who received a placebo.

"We believe that this may be preliminary evidence for the first treatment for autism that improves symptoms by apparently correcting some of the underlying cellular problems," says Paul Talalay, M.D., professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences, who has researched these vegetable compounds for the past 25 years.

"We are far from being able to declare a victory over autism, but this gives us important insights into what might help," says co-investigator Andrew Zimmerman, M.D., now a professor of pediatric neurology at UMass Memorial Medical Center.

ASD experts estimate that the group of disorders affects 1 to 2 percent of the world's population, with a much higher incidence in boys than girls. Its behavioral symptoms, such as poor social interaction and verbal communication, are well known and were first described 70 years ago by Leo Kanner, M.D., the founder of pediatric psychiatry at The Johns Hopkins University.

Unfortunately, its root causes remain elusive, though progress has been made, Talalay says, in describing some of the biochemical and molecular abnormalities that tend to accompany ASD.

Many of these are related to the efficiency of energy generation in cells. He says that studies show that the cells of those with ASD often have high levels of oxidative stress, the buildup of harmful, unintended byproducts from the cell's use of oxygen that can cause inflammation, damage DNA, and lead to cancer and other chronic diseases.

In 1992, Talalay's research group discovered that sulforaphane has some ability to bolster the body's natural defenses against oxidative stress, inflammation and DNA damage. In addition, the chemical later turned out to improve the body's heat-shock response -- a cascade of events used to protect cells from the stress caused by high temperatures, including those experienced when people have fever.

Intriguingly, he says, about one-half of parents report that their children's autistic behavior improves noticeably when they have a fever, then reverts back when the fever is gone. In 2007, Zimmerman, a principal collaborator in the current study, tested this anecdotal trend clinically and found it to be true, though a mechanism for the fever effect was not identified.

Because fevers, like sulforaphane, initiate the body's heat-shock response, Zimmerman and Talalay wondered if sulforaphane could cause the same temporary improvement in autism that fevers do. The current study was designed to find out.

Before the start of the trial, the patients' caregivers and physicians filled out three standard behavioral assessments: the Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC), the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) and the Clinical Global Impressions-Improvement scale (CGI-I). The assessments measure sensory sensitivities, ability to relate to others, verbal communication skills, social interactions and other behaviors related to autism.

Twenty-six of the subjects were randomly selected to receive, based on their weight, 9 to 27 milligrams of sulforaphane daily, and 14 received placebos. Behavioral assessments were again completed at four, 10 and 18 weeks while treatment continued. A final assessment was completed for most of the participants four weeks after the treatment had stopped.

Most of those who responded to sulforaphane showed significant improvements by the first measurement at four weeks and continued to improve during the rest of the treatment. After 18 weeks of treatment, the average ABC and SRS scores of those who received sulforaphane had decreased 34 and 17 percent, respectively, with improvements in bouts of irritability, lethargy, repetitive movements, hyperactivity, awareness, communication, motivation and mannerisms.

After 18 weeks of treatment, according to the CGI-I scale, 46, 54 and 42 percent of sulforaphane recipients experienced noticeable improvements in social interaction, aberrant behaviors and verbal communication, respectively.

Talalay notes that the scores of those who took sulforaphane trended back toward their original values after they stopped taking the chemical, just like what happens to those who experience improvements during a fever. "It seems like sulforaphane is temporarily helping cells to cope with their handicaps," he says.

Zimmerman adds that before they learned which subjects got the sulforaphane or placebo, the impressions of the clinical team -- including parents -- were that 13 of the participants noticeably improved. For example, some treated subjects looked them in the eye and shook their hands, which they had not done before. They found out later that all 13 had been taking sulforaphane, which is half of the treatment group.

Talalay cautions that the levels of sulforaphane precursors present in different varieties of broccoli are highly variable. Furthermore, the capacity of individuals to convert these precursors to active sulforaphane also varies greatly. It would be very difficult to achieve the levels of sulforaphane used in this study by eating large amounts of broccoli or other cruciferous vegetables.

1. Kanwaljit Singh, Susan L. Connors, Eric A. Macklin, Kirby D. Smith, Jed W. Fahey, Paul Talalay, and Andrew W. Zimmerman. Sulforaphane treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). PNAS, October 13, 2014 DOI:10.1073/pnas.1416940111

New cancer drug to begin trials in multiple myeloma patients

October 13, 2014 - Scientists at Imperial College London have developed a new cancer drug which they plan to trial in multiple myeloma patients by the end of next year. In a paper published today in the journal Cancer Cell, the researchers report how the drug, known as DTP3, kills myeloma cells in laboratory tests in human cells and mice, without causing any toxic side effects, which is the main problem with most other cancer drugs. The new drug works by stopping a key process that allows cancer cells to multiply.

The team have been awarded Biomedical Catalyst funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC) to take the drug into a clinical trial in multiple myeloma patients, scheduled to begin in late 2015.

Multiple myeloma is an incurable cancer of the bone marrow, which accounts for nearly two per cent of all cancer deaths.

Professor Guido Franzoso, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, who led the research, said: "Lab studies suggest that DTP3 could have therapeutic benefit for patients with multiple myeloma and potentially several other types of cancer, but we will need to confirm this in our clinical trials, the first of which will start next year."

The new drug was developed by studying the mechanisms that enable cancer cells to outlive their normal lifespan and carry on multiplying. In the 1990s, a protein called nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB), which plays an important role in inflammation, and the immune and stress response systems, was discovered to be overactive in many types of cancer, and responsible for switching off the normal cellular mechanisms that naturally lead to cell death. This enables the cancer cells to survive.

The pharmaceutical industry and scientists around the world have invested heavily in research into NF-kB inhibitors, but such compounds have not been successfully developed as therapies because they also block the many important processes controlled by NF-kB in healthy cells, causing serious toxic side effects.

The Imperial researchers took a different approach, looking for target genes downstream of NF-kB that might be responsible for its role in cancer specifically.

By studying cells from multiple myeloma patients, they identified a protein complex, named GADD45β/MKK7, that appeared to play a critical role in allowing the cancer cells to survive.

Searching for a safe way to target the NF-kB pathway, they screened over 20,000 molecules and found two that disrupted the protein complex. Further refinements led to the experimental drug, DTP3, which tests showed kills cancer cells very effectively but appears to have no toxicity to normal cells at the doses that eradicate the tumours in mice.

"We had known for many years that NF-kB is very important for cancer cells, but because it is also needed by healthy cells, we did not know how to block it specifically. The discovery that blocking the GADD45β/MKK7 segment of the NF-κB pathway with our DTP3 peptide therapeutic selectively kills myeloma cells could offer a completely new approach to treating patients with certain cancers, such as multiple myeloma," Professor Franzoso said.

A spinout company, Kesios Therapeutics, was formed to commercialise DTP3 and other drug candidates based on Professor Franzoso's research, with support from Imperial Innovations, a technology commercialisation company focused on developing the most promising UK academic research.

"The significant progress made by Professor Franzoso in multiple myeloma is one of the many cancers we believe his signal transduction research could be applied to. To help develop this ground-breaking research further, Imperial Innovations created the spin out Kesios Therapeutics," explained Dayle Hogg from the Healthcare Ventures team at Imperial Innovations.

1. Laura Tornatore, Annamaria Sandomenico, Domenico Raimondo, Caroline Low, Alberto Rocci, Cathy Tralau-Stewart, Daria Capece, Daniel D’Andrea, Marco Bua, Eileen Boyle, Mark van Duin, Pietro Zoppoli, Albert Jaxa-Chamiec, Anil K. Thotakura, Julian Dyson, Brian A. Walker, Antonio Leonardi, Angela Chambery, Christoph Driessen, Pieter Sonneveld, Gareth Morgan, Antonio Palumbo, Anna Tramontano, Amin Rahemtulla, Menotti Ruvo, Guido Franzoso. Cancer-Selective Targeting of the NF-κB Survival Pathway with GADD45β/MKK7 Inhibitors.Cancer Cell, 2014; 26 (4): 495 DOI: 10.1016/j.ccr.2014.07.027

Greater rates of mitochondrial mutations discovered in children born to older mothers

October 13, 2014 - The discovery of a "maternal age effect" by a team of Penn State scientists that could be used to predict the accumulation of mitochondrial DNA mutations in maternal egg cells -- and the transmission of these mutations to children -- could provide valuable insights for genetic counseling. These mutations cause more than 200 diseases and contribute to others such as diabetes, cancer, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease. The study found greater rates of the mitochondrial DNA variants in children born to older mothers, as well as in the mothers themselves. The research will be published in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on October 13, 2014.

Mitochondria are structures within cells that produce energy and that contain their own DNA. "Many mitochondrial diseases affect more than one system in the human body," said Kateryna Makova, professor of biology and one of the study's primary investigators. "They affect organs that require a lot of energy, including the heart, skeletal muscle, and brain. They are devastating diseases and there is no cure, so our findings about their transmission are very important."

The multidisciplinary research team set out to learn whether maternal age is important in the accumulation of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations, both in the mother and in the child as a result of transmission. Collaborating with Ian Paul, a pediatrician at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, they took samples of blood and of cells inside the cheek from 39 healthy mother-child pairs. Because mtDNA is inherited only maternally, paternal mtDNA was not a factor in the study. Studying healthy individuals gave the researchers a baseline for future studies of disease-causing mutations.

Through DNA sequencing, they found more mutations in blood and cheek cells in the older mothers in the study. Maternal age of study participants ranged from 25 to 59. "This finding is not surprising," Makova said, "because as we age, cells keep dividing, and therefore we will have more mutant genes." But finding greater rates of mutations in children born to the older mothers did come as a surprise. The researchers believe a similar mutation process is occurring both in the cells of the mothers' bodies and in their germ lines.

The study led to another important discovery about egg-cell development. Although it was known that developing egg cells go through a "bottleneck" period that decreases the number of mtDNA molecules, scientists didn't know how small or large this bottleneck is. "If the bottleneck is large, the genetic makeup of the mother's mitochondria will be passed to her children," Makova explained. "However, if it is tiny -- if there is a severe decrease in mitochondrial molecules during the egg-cell development -- then the genetic makeup of the child might differ dramatically from that of the mother. What we discovered is that this bottleneck is indeed very small."

This finding is especially important for mothers who have a mitochondrial disease. For many mitochondrial diseases, 70 to 80 percent of molecules need to have the disease-causing variant for the disease to manifest itself. But for others, only 10 percent of the mtDNA molecules with the variant are needed to cause disease. "If the bottleneck is very small, as we've found in our study, these percentages can change dramatically," Makova said. "Knowing the size of the bottleneck allows us to predict, within a range, the percentage of disease-carrying molecules that will be passed on to the child."

Knowledge about both the maternal age effect and the bottleneck size is useful in family planning. "We have some predictive power now and can assist genetic counselors in advising couples about the chances of mitochondrial diseases being passed to the next generation," Makova said. "Everyone is concerned about Down syndrome because that is a common genetic problem. We have now added another set of genetic disorders that also might be affected by the age of the mother. It is good for couples to have this knowledge as they make family-planning decisions."

1. Boris Rebolledo-Jaramillo, Marcia Shu-Wei Su, Nicholas Stoler, Jennifer A. Mcelhoe, Benjamin Dickins, Daniel Blankenberg, Thorfinn S. Korneliussen, Francesca Chiaromonte, Rasmus Nielsen, Mitchell M. Holland, Ian M. Paul, Anton Nekrutenko, and Kateryna D. Makova. Maternal age effect and severe germ-line bottleneck in the inheritance of human mitochondrial DNA. PNAS, October 2014 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1409328111

An end to needle phobia: Device could make painless injections possible

October 13, 2014 - Imagine no tears during infant vaccines and no fear of the needle for those old enough to know what's coming. Such painless injections could be possible with a device that applies pressure and vibration while the needle is inserted in the skin, according to a study presented at the ANESTHESIOLOGY™ 2014 annual meeting.

"As many as 1 in 10 people experience needle phobia, which may have negative consequences, such as decreasing the rate of vaccinations and blood donation," said William McKay, M.D., lead author of the study and a professor of anesthesiology in perioperative medicine and pain management at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada. "Our early research suggests that using a device that applies pressure and vibration before the needle stick could help significantly decrease painful sensations by closing the 'gate' that sends pain signals to the brain."

Researchers studied the use of pressure, vibration, and cooling or warming in 21 adults poked in the shoulder by a plastic needle that doesn't break the skin but produces needle-like pain. They tested different levels of pressure, vibration and temperature to determine the amount that provided the most benefit. The perception of pain was significantly decreased when a specific amount of pressure and vibration was applied to the site for 20 seconds prior to using the plastic needle. The addition of heat added a small benefit, but it wasn't significant. The study should be repeated in children, who may experience pain differently, said Dr. McKay. The addition of heat or cold might be more beneficial, he said.

While commercial devices that include some of these features are available, they could be improved by incorporating the additional features tested in this and other studies, he said. They could be used to prevent pain prior to providing intravenous (I.V.) treatment, the drawing or donating of blood, or administering vaccinations.

The concept likely works by distraction as well as employing the gate-control theory of pain, in which these sensations (pressure, vibration and potentially temperature) close the gate that allows the brain to register pain.

The above story is based on materials provided by American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA).

Disclaimer: These articles are not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Pittwater Online News or its staff.