Inbox and Environment News - Issue 219 

 June 21 - 27, 2015: Issue 219

IWC Scientific Committee reports humpback whale recovery, developments in management of aboriginal whaling, and new work on endangered Maui dolphins and the vaquita

June 19, 2015 - IWC Scientific Committee

Recovery of humpbacks in the Southern Hemisphere, progress in the management of aboriginal whaling, a collaboration with New Zealand on Hector’s and Maui dolphins, and new management  information for the critically endangered vaquita are just some of the developments recorded by the Scientific Committee of the IWC in its annual report, published today. 

The report is the work of approximately 200 experts who form the IWC Scientific Committee and meet each year.  Over two weeks, a broad, ongoing programme of work is first evaluated and then developed.  This incorporates fieldwork conducted all over the world, and complex computer modelling to understand the status of the world’s cetacean populations and their sustainability in the face of many threats.  The implications of whaling (both indigenous and under special (scientific) permit), environmental concerns like climate change and chemical pollution, and direct human impacts such as ship collision were all on the agenda at the 2015 meeting in San Diego.

Evidence of the continued recovery of humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere was one of the highlights of this year’s meeting.  An eight year review of their status was completed and showed total numbers of around 97,000, contrasting with a low due to whaling of around 7,000, and a pre-whaling total of around 140,000.  Different patterns of recovery have been observed in different populations, with those  off the east coasts of South America, Africa and the west coast of Australia almost fully recovered, whilst those off Brazil and in the Oceania region are still recovering, but more slowly.

Developments were also reported in management of aboriginal whaling.  The Commission continues to regulate a number of small-scale, indigenous hunts and the Scientific Committee has been developing long-term, safe and precautionary ways to estimate sustainable catches for each one.  The aim is to complete this complex task by 2018, when each hunt quota will be considered for renewal by the Commission.  This year the Committee completed the task for the Greenlandic bowhead whale hunt, the sixth of eight hunts, and reported that it’s on track to complete the final two (Greenlandic fin and common minke whale hunts) ahead of the 2018 deadline.

The Scientific Committee also provides advice to member governments on conservation issues concerning small cetaceans (dolphins and porpoises).  Particularly serious concerns remain over the survival of the vaquita in Mexican waters, and the Hector’s dolphin (especially the Maui dolphin sub-species) of New Zealand.  For both species, the major problem is by-catch in fishing gear. 

For Hector’s dolphins, some progress was made this year with an expert group established by the Committee to work with local scientists. This collaboration will re-analyse existing data and produce an agreed abundance (population) estimate for the Hector’s and Maui dolphins which it’s hoped will help inform policymaking.

Having heard that a continuing decline means there may be as few as around 100 vaquita left, the Committee commended the Mexican government for its recent introduction of a two year ban on gillnets in the vaquita’s range. However it stressed that the ban should be made permanent and enforcement strengthened.  It also urged the USA and China to do all they can to stop the illicit trade in totoaba, the endangered fish targeted by an illegal fishery whose gillnets accidentally catch the vaquita.  The swimbladder of the totoaba is smuggled out to fetch extremely high prices in China. 

Attracting some media attention at this year’s meeting was the issue of special permit (scientific) whaling and Japan’s proposal for a new special permit programme in the Southern Ocean, known as NEWREP-A.  An Expert Panel had already met to assess this proposal in February.  Their report and Japan’s response to it were examined by the Scientific Committee at the meeting in San Diego. 

It was not possible for the Scientific Committee to reach a consensus view of the overall programme and so the report contains a summary of the discussion, highlighting areas of agreement where they existed (all recognised the value of the Expert Panel’s report) and concise statements of the differences of opinion where agreement did not exist; some scientists believed that the additional information provided by Japan was sufficient to allow the programme to go ahead as planned and others did not. All recognised the importance of continuing to work on additional analyses.

In total, the thirteen sub-committees of the Scientific Committee considered more than 100 research and working papers during two weeks of parallel sessions and plenaries.  This is just a flavour of the breadth of work covered, more of which will be highlighted on the IWC website over the coming weeks.

To read the Scientific Committee report click here.

 Proposed landscaping and park structures at the Platypus site, Neutral Bay

17 June 2015: Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust is inviting submissions from the public regarding proposed landscaping and park structures at the northern end of the former HMAS Platypus site in Neutral Bay. The proposal comprises landscaped terraces, plazas, paths, lookouts, wharf improvements and a spiral walkway that interprets the site’s historical use.

The proposal would complete the remediation of contaminated ground in the northern part of the site, in line with the outcomes identified in the Harbour Trust’s Comprehensive Plan. It marks the final stage of the below-ground remediation works and the beginning of the vision of moving Platypus towards becoming a new Urban Park on Sydney’s lower north shore.

The proposal is on public exhibition from Thursday 18 June to Wednesday 15 July 2015 and submissions are invited until 5pm on Wednesday 15 July 2015.

See this page for more information: HERE 

 This is an open letter calling on parliamentarians to commit to zero carbon pollution in Australia by 2050.

Jun 16, 2015 

Dear Australian Parliamentarians,

We are a diverse group of 51 leading civil society organisations, representing a broad cross section of Australians. We encourage our leaders to take on the responsibility to do more to cut Australia's carbon pollution and do our fair share to limit global warming.

Climate change brings grave risks for the health and wellbeing of Australians, our environment, jobs, our economy, our prosperity, our poorer neighbours and ultimately our children’s future.

Cutting carbon pollution not only helps prevent further dangerous climate change but puts us on a pathway to create a clean economy and better future for the people and places we love.

As world governments prepare to commit to new pollution reduction targets at the United Nations meeting in Paris, December 2015, we call on you to commit to carbon pollution reduction targets for Australia that:

• are in line with limiting global warming to the globally agreed upon goal of less than 1.5-2°C above pre-industrial levels. 

• reduce emissions by at least 40 per cent below 2000 levels by 2025 , at least 60 per cent by 2030, and to lay out a clear pathway for Australia to achieve net zero carbon pollution as soon as possible, by mid-century at the latest. 

A net zero carbon pollution pathway to 2050 is achievable, affordable and desirable.

Australia is one of the most vulnerable developed countries to climate change: The world is currently on track for a 4 degree temperature rise. This will result in more severe and frequent extreme weather such as droughts, floods, heatwaves, storms, as well as higher sea level rise . Climate change poses significant risks to human health, lives, food production, the environment, infrastructure, business, regional stability, rural and remote communities, and our economy. The impacts of climate change are exacerbating existing inequalities in Australian communities as low-income households and disadvantaged communities are disproportionately impacted. Climate change presents many health risks to Australians. The impacts of heatwaves, droughts, fires and floods include death, injury and illness, displacement, trauma and mental ill-health. Climate change also heightens international inequities. It is a major threat in the fight against poverty and hunger and is jeopardising hard‐won development gains worldwide.

Reducing carbon pollution will modernise the economy: A pathway to net zero carbon pollution is an opportunity to modernise the Australian economy and build a sustainable, prosperous future. Economic modelling shows that under a low carbon pathway the economy will continue to grow to 2.5 times its current size by 2050 , and not only will all industries continue to grow, some like agriculture will actually do better. Emissions reductions are becoming cheaper due to advances in technology. But if we delay action it will cost the economy more to transition through the lock-in of carbon intensive infrastructure and less competitive industries, shifting the burden to the next generation and jeopardizing our future international competitiveness.

Australia has a responsibility to do our fair share to solve the global problem: Australia is the 13th largest emitter globally and is one of the highest per capita emitters in the world. Australia is also a wealthy country with enormous capacity to cut our carbon pollution and help other countries. But Australia is currently not doing enough to cut carbon pollution and is not lifting our weight globally. We cannot expect poorer nations to do more of the heavy lifting; this is not the Australian way.

Australia and Australian people stand to lose so much from the impacts of climate change; it is in our national interest to be among the leading nations to ensure the world limits warming to well below 2 degrees. A zero carbon pollution future is possible, and it is all of our responsibility to make that future a reality for our children, and their children.

Signatories to the letter include: 1 Million Women, Australian Fire Fighters Climate Alliance, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Foundation, ACOSS, the Australian Conservation Foundation,, the Australian Marine Conservation Society, the Australia Wind Alliance, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Ballarat Renewable Energy And Zero Emissions, Curtain's CASE, Climate Change Australia, Climate Action Monaro, Climate Change Balmain-Rozelle, the Conservation Council of Western Australia, Environmental Defenders' Office – ACT, Environment Tasmania, Edmund Rice Centre, Friends of the Earth Australia, Environment Victoria, Greenpeace Australia Pacific, Lighter footprints, National Parks Association of NSW, National Toxics Network, Nature Conservation NSW, Pacific Calling Partnership, Queensland Conservation Council, South Australian Conservation Council, The Climate Institute, Wodonga Albury Towards Climate Health, Wilderness Society, WWF, ACFID, Care Australia, Caritas Australia, Oxfam Australia, Plan, Save the Children, Environmental Farmers Network, Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC), Common Grace, Quakers Australia, the Australian Health Promotion Association, Australian Institute of Health Innovation (AIHI) at Macquarie University, the Australian Medical Students Association, Australian Physiotherapy Association, Australian Women's Health Network, the Climate and Health Alliance, Doctors Reform Society, Public Health Association of Australia, Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health (SARRAH), Melbourne City Mission.

 Bulldozers and chain clearing at Olive Vale late May 2015

Published on 9 Jun 2015

This is shocking footage of land clearing by bulldozers & chain at Olive Vale on Cape York, taken in late May 2015. We thought we had seen an end to images of bulldozers dragging long chains – with links as big as cars – to clear native trees. But we are now witnessing the return of large scale clearing in Queensland, a return to the bad old days.

Olive Vale in Cape York is just one example out of many clearing permits currently in the pipeline. Despite findings that the clearing in this area was improperly approved – and with 32,000 hectares of native bushland on the chopping block – the clearing here continues. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Several threatened bird species will be affected and agricultural runoff is likely to affect important turtle and dugong habitats in the Great Barrier Reef.  

The Queensland Government promised to put a stop to this senseless clearing, but is yet to act! Together, we can stop the destruction of hundreds of thousands of hectares of bushland across Queensland.


Petition by Land Water Future: Tell Minister Roberts you want a say about coal seam gas in our water catchments

Dear Minister Roberts,

Three of four coal seam gas exploration licences covering our drinking water catchments have been cancelled. Only Petroleum Exploration Licence 2 (PEL 2) remains. PEL 2 is a massive coal seam gas exploration licence that stretches from the Southern Highlands and Illawarra in the south, across south west suburban Sydney and extends to the Central Coast in the north. PEL 2 covers residential areas including urban growth areas in Sydney's south west as well as water catchments that provide drinking water to millions of people.

The CSG licence was first granted by the NSW Government back in 1993. Since then it's been renewed twice — first by Eddie Obeid, then by Ian Macdonald. But the public haven't had a chance to comment. 

AGL have been given until 10 July 2015 to give the government documentation about why this licence should be renewed. We're calling on you as Minister for Energy and Resources to also accept submissions from the general public, because it's time we got the chance to have a say about coal seam gas exploration in our communities and water catchment areas.

PS: You could always just buy-back PEL 2 under the scheme your government introduced, you have until June 30.

Sign: HERE

 Great Koala Park

June 18, 2015 - National Parks Association of NSW

The Great Koala National Park is a grand but achievable plan to secure the future of eastern Australia’s koalas before they disappear forever.

Located in the Coffs Harbour region of eastern Australia, the 315,000 ha park would ensure the protection of almost 20% of the state’s remaining koalas, as well as the area’s World Heritage forests and the threatened species that share their home, such as the Spotted-tailed Quoll and Powerful Owl.

As a strong voice for nature since 1957, we know what is involved to get new national parks proclaimed and have the capacity to in-act change but we need your help.

Please pledge your support today at

 Call for community feedback on Orica Kooragang Island Facility

Media Release: Department of Planning and Environment - 

11 Jun 2015

A proposal to increase limits on the amount of ammonia produced at the Orica Kooragang Island facility is on exhibition for community feedback.

The Department of Planning and Environment is keen to hear the community’s views on Orica Australia’s application which seeks to increase the annual production limit of ammonia by 25,000 tonnes.

A spokesperson for the Department of Planning and Environment said the local community always has an opportunity to share their views.

“Community consultation is an integral part of the planning process and the applicant will have to respond to the feedback we receive and this is taken into consideration when we develop our recommendations,” the spokesperson said.

“It’s easy to participate by going online and we encourage everyone to take a look and have their say.”

The application will be assessed against strict, consistently applied environmental criteria.

To make a submission or view the environmental impact statement, visit

Submissions can be made until Tuesday 23 June.

Written submissions can also be made to:

Attn: Planning Services

GPO Box 39

Sydney NSW 2001

The EIS is also available to view in person at:

Department of Planning and Environment, 23-33 Bridge Street, Sydney

City of Newcastle Council, 282 King Street, Newcastle

Nature Conservation Council, Level 2, 5 Wilson Street, Newtown


Direct link to NSW Planning & Environment  webpage:- 

Orica Ammonium Nitrate Upgrade - Modification to 08_0129 Orica Ammonium Nitrate

 Organics Market Development Grants Now Open

Media release: 11 June 2015 EPA

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) announced today the opening of a new grants program designed to grow the market for recycled organics in NSW.

For the first time, councils, businesses, government and community groups can apply for funding of up to $500,000 for any project that promotes or develops recycled organics.

Amanda Kane, Organics Manager, NSW EPA, said, “The new grant program complements the work the EPA is doing to increase kerbside collections and processing capacity for organics in NSW. Now we’re looking for industry and local government to work with us to close the loop by developing new and innovative ways to increase demand for the recycled product.

The new Organics Market Development grants are available under two streams:

Stream 1: Product Quality – Grants of between $10,000 and $50,000 are available to contribute to projects that will improve product quality and/or understanding of the benefits of quality recycled organic products.

Stream 2: Market Development – Grants of between $50,000 and $500,000 are available to contribute to projects that will develop new markets or expand existing markets for recycled organics.

Interested applicants have the opportunity to attend one-of-three information sessions to find out more about the new grants and the application process.

The first session will be held on 25 June Skillset Flannery Centre, 341 Havannah Street, Bathurst between 10am to 1pm. Parking is available on-site.

The second session will be held on 29 June at the Holiday Inn, Marsden Room 18-40 Anderson Street, Parramatta between 10am to 12pm.

A webinar will also be held on 30 June between 10-11.30am Webinar 30 June 10-11.30 am 

Registration for each session is essential using the following links:

Bathurst information session 25 June 10am-1pm 

Parramatta information session 29 June 10am-12pm 

Webinar 30 June 10-11.30am

Visit the EPA website to download the Organics Market Development grant application form and guidelines and to register for an information session.

 Integrated Mining Policy

The NSW Government is proposing a new whole-of-government approach to mining applications

Feedback is sought on the Integrated Mining Policy. The Policy proposes to:

• require information from mine applicants earlier in the assessment process, including the requirement to show how they arrived at their preferred project designs;

• provide one whole-of-government set of Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements for mining applications; and

• clarify Government policies so they are easier for the community to understand and industry to navigate, including policies around biodiversity offsets, impacts to endangered swamps, water regulation and voluntary land acquisition.

Community and industry consultation is happening in two stages, with the first stage now on exhibition until 9 July 2015. In this first stage the following items are on exhibition:

• Standard Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements FOR STATE SIGNIFICANT MINING DEVELOPMENTS - MAY 2015   (SEARs) : PDF 1.5 mb  HERE 

 Mine Application Guideline - Specific development application requirements for State Significant mining and extractive industry developments under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979  : PDF 678.11 kb HERE

• Policy Framework for Biodiversity Offsets for Upland Swamps and Associated Threatened Species - IMPACTED BY LONGWALL MINE SUBSIDENCE  MAY 2015: PDF: 360.39 kb HERE

The second stage of consultation will involve exhibiting the remaining Integrated Mining Policy documents and will occur in coming months.

The Integrated Mining Policy will apply to all State significant mining developments, including coal and mineral mines. It does not include petroleum operations or coal seam gas proposals, or any exploration activities, and it does not change existing legislation (further coal seam gas reforms are being developed as part of the NSW Gas Plan). 

Submissions are invited until 9 July 2015Read more and have your say


Improving mining regulation in NSW

Media Release: Department of Planning and Environment

A proposed whole-of-government approach applying stringent, consistent requirements to mining applications is on exhibition for community and industry feedback.

The improvements would mean better information for communities living near proposed mines and are part of the wider plan to improve mining regulation in NSW.

“The community and industry have raised concerns that the system is too complicated and difficult to navigate,” a Department spokesperson said.

“That’s why we want their feedback on this Integrated Mining Policy, which would introduce clear policies on important mining issues, would make information more accessible for the community and reduce costly duplication for industry.”

The Integrated Mining Policy (IMP) would maintain the existing high standards that minimise the impacts of mining, while: 

requiring information from mine applicants much earlier in the assessment process. This includes showing how they arrived at their preferred project designs so community members can better understand why planning decisions are made.

providing one, whole-of-government set of Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements for mining applications. This will be clearer for applicants to comply with and easier for the community to understand.

clarifying Government policies so they are easier for the community to understand and industry to navigate, including policies around biodiversity offsets, impacts to endangered swamps, water regulation and voluntary land acquisition.

“Mining is vital for NSW. It provides jobs for tens of thousands of people and helps unlock the state’s economic potential,” the spokesperson said.

“We want the community to be armed with better information to help them understand the impacts of mining and how mining companies are working with the Government to reduce them.”

Community and industry feedback will be essential to establishing the final shape of the IMP. Consultation is happening in two stages, with the first stage now on exhibition until Thursday 9 July 2015, consisting of the:

IMP overview

new standardised Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements

Swamp Offsets Policy

Mine application guidelines

To view the documents and provide your feedback,

The second stage of consultation will involve the remaining IMP documents will occur in coming months.


Direct link to documents: 

 2015 Environment Minister's Award for a Cleaner Environment

Media release: The Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for the Environment

I am delighted to mark World Environment Day 2015 with a call for nominations for this year's Environment Minister's Award for a Cleaner Environment.

This award aims to recognise outstanding contributions by Australians towards achieving a cleaner, healthier environment and a more resilient and sustainable Australia.

The Australian Government's plan for a Cleaner Environment plan rests on the pillars of Clean Air, Clean Land and Clean Water and national heritage protection.

I want this award to recognise Australians taking practical, direct action under one or more of the three environment pillars - air, land and water. I know how many groups and individuals across the nation are working locally to achieve great things, not only for their own communities but for environmental health of the nation.

The Minister's award is part of the 2015 Banksia Sustainability Awards programme and is open to individuals, businesses or community organisations working towards a cleaner environment.

Projects that demonstrate how they have contributed to the Government's Clean Air, Land and Water environmental pillars are eligible for consideration. Projects need to address at least one or more of the pillars.

Clean Air entries could involve projects including revegetation and land management, energy efficiency, pollution control and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, recycling and waste management.

Clean Land entries could include work to protect threatened species, eradicate weeds and reduce fuel in bushland reserves, protect beaches from erosion or rehabilitate coastal foreshores.

Clean Water entries may be stabilising riverbanks and reducing weed density to promote healthy local waterways or taking action to help marine species in our oceans.

For more information on the Environment Minister's Award for a Cleaner Environment, including a nomination form, go to

Nominations close on 4 September 2015.

 Draft National Recovery Plan for the Southern Bent-wing Bat Miniopterus schreibersii bassanii

Linda F. Lumsden and Micaela L. Jemison, 2015

Public comment

You are invited to comment on this draft recovery plan in accordance with the provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The public comment period closes 1 July 2015.

If you wish to comment on this draft plan, please send your comments, quoting the title of the plan, to:


Mail: Terrestrial Threatened Species Section, Protected Species and Communities Branch, Wildlife, Heritage and Marine Division, Department of the Environment, GPO Box 787, Canberra ACT 2601

About this document

This document constitutes the draft National Recovery Plan for the Southern Bent-wing Bat Miniopterus schreibersii bassanii. The recovery plan sets out the research and management actions necessary to stop the decline of, and support the recovery of, the threatened Southern Bent-wing Bat. The Southern Bent-wing Bat is listed as critically endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), listed as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 in Victoria where it is considered critically endangered and listed as endangered under theNational Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 in South Australia. It is also listed as endangered in the Action Plan for Australian Mammals 2012, under the revised taxonomic name of Miniopterus orianae bassanii. The long-term recovery objective is to ensure that the Southern Bent-wing Bat can survive, flourish and retain its potential for evolutionary development in the wild.

Documents at HERE

 Pittwater YHA Backpacker Hostel - Nature & Wildlife Heaven

Pittwater YHA hostel is nestled on the hillside of Morning Bay in Ku-ring-gai National Park. This hostel is an easy escape from the busy city life of Sydney and ideal for groups. 


Restoring natural immunity against cancers

June 17, 2015 – Scientists at the Institut Pasteur and Inserm have successfully increased the infiltration of immune cells into tumors, thus inducing the immune system to block tumor growth. In an article published in Nature Immunology, the scientists show that, in combination with existing immunotherapies, this process efficiently destroys cancer cells.

Chemokines are small molecules that can attract immune cells towards inflammatory tissues, acting for example during tumor development or upon infection, in order to support migration of lymphocytes into diseased tissues. However, these molecules may be degraded by enzymes, a process that limits the influx of immune cells. For example, the chemokine CXCL10, which induces the recruitment of T lymphocytes into pathological tissues, is rapidly degraded by the enzyme dipeptidylpeptidase 4 (DPP4).

The Dendritic Cell Immunobiology Unit, led by Matthew Albert (Institut Pasteur and Inserm), had previously shown that increased levels of DPP4 and the degraded form of CXCL10 in hepatitis C patients correlate with patients' inability to respond to interferon treatment. Following these results, the scientists predicted and have now confirmed that inhibiting this enzyme could improve the efficacy of immune responses, in particular antitumor responses.

In a recently published study, Rosa Barreira da Silva, Matthew Albert and their colleagues showed that oral administration of a specific DPP4 inhibitor (sitagliptin) slows the development of several types of cancer in mice. In addition, the authors demonstrated that DPP4 inhibition increased the infiltration of T lymphocytes into tumors, and that the combination of this innovative treatment with existing immunotherapies eradicated the tumor.

Since health authorities have already approved DPP4 inhibitors for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, the conclusions drawn from these studies may quickly translate into clinical studies in humans. In fact, Matthew Albert's team, in collaboration with clinical colleagues, has already submitted a proposal for a phase I clinical trial, to evaluate the impact of sitagliptin treatment in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma.

The cross-disciplinary nature of the projects undertaken by the teams at the Institut Pasteur and Inserm, along with collaboration between scientists and clinicians, allows clinical observations and scientific discoveries to be rapidly applied for the management of human disease.

Rosa Barreira da Silva, Melissa E Laird, Nader Yatim, Laurence Fiette, Molly A Ingersoll, Matthew L Albert. Dipeptidylpeptidase 4 inhibition enhances lymphocyte trafficking, improving both naturally occurring tumor immunity and immunotherapy. Nature Immunology, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/ni.3201

 New online carers register helps protect children

June 15, 2015: NSW Govt. - A new online system that helps protect children by allowing government agencies to share information about carers has been introduced throughout NSW.

The NSW Carers Register is a secure, online system that identifies and prevents unsuitable people from having children placed with them and ensures carers and adult household members in a fostering family have undergone the necessary checks, including the Working With Children Check.

Minister for Family and Community Services Brad Hazzard said the new online system helped welfare agencies better safeguard vulnerable children. 

"Agencies can share information about existing and prospective carers - this cross-checking is an important safety check for protecting children in care as it helps prevent unsuitable carers from moving between agencies," he said.

Under the new register agencies can access information regarding:

• its own carers and their household members

• carers who apply to the agency for authorisation as a carer

• anyone who become a household member of an agency carer.

Individuals can access their own information in the register and request any corrections through the Office of the Children's Guardian

More information

Visit the NSW Carers Register

 Fossil of huge 'walking' bat discovered in New Zealand

16 million years ago, giant bats walked on four limbs

June 17, 2015 - Fossilised remains of a new bat species, which lived 16 million years ago, walked on four limbs and was three times larger than today's average bat, have been discovered in New Zealand.

The fossils were found near Central Otago on South Island, in sediment left over from a vast prehistoric body of water known as Lake Manuherikia, which was part of warmer subtropical rainforest during the early Miocene era, between 16 and 19-million-years-ago.

The new species, Mystacina miocenalis, was described today in the journalPLOS ONE, and is related to another bat, Mystacina tuberculata, which still lives in New Zealand's old growth forests.

"Our discovery shows for the first time that Mystacina bats have been present in New Zealand for upwards of 16 million years, residing in habitats with very similar plant life and food sources," says lead author and vertebrate palaeontologist, Associate Professor Suzanne Hand from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia.

New Zealand's only native terrestrial mammals are three species of bat, including two belonging to the Mystacina genus -- one of which was last sighted in the 1960s. They are known as burrowing bats because they forage on the ground under leaf-litter and snow, as well as in the air, scuttling on their wrists and backward-facing feet, while keeping their wings tightly furled.

These bats were believed to have an ancient history in New Zealand, but until now, the oldest fossil of a Mystacina bat in New Zealand was from a cave in South Island, dating to 17,500 years ago. This latest discovery forces a rethink of when these peculiar, walking bats first crossed the ditch, arriving from what is present-day Australia.

"This helps us understand the capacity of bats to establish populations on islands and the climatic conditions required for this to happen," says Associate Professor Hand.

"Bats are important pollinators and seed dispersers that keep forests healthy. Understanding the connectivity between the bat faunas of different landmasses is important for evaluating biosecurity threats and conservation priorities for fragile island ecosystems."

The new species has similar teeth to its contemporary relative, suggesting a broad diet that included nectar, pollen and fruit, as well as insects and spiders. Limb bones found in the deposit also showed similar structures specialised for walking.

Where they differ is body size: at an estimated 40 grams, the fossil bat is roughly three times heavier than its living cousin, and the average weight of more than 900 living bat species.

"The size of bats is physically constrained by the demands of flight and echolocation, as you need to be small, quick and accurate to chase insects in the dark," explains Associate Professor Hand. "The unusually large size of this bat suggests it was doing less in-flight hunting and was taking heavier prey from the ground, and larger fruit than even its living cousin."

The team also found a diverse array of plant, animal and insect fossils at the site, which shows that the 16-million-year-old subtropical ecosystem bore resemblance to the more temperate one that exists today.

"Remarkably, the Miocene ecosystems associated with the fossil bat contain the kinds of trees used today by Mystacina for its colonial roosts," says Associate Professor Hand. "Most of its food plants are also represented, as are terrestrial arthropods including a variety of beetles, ants and spiders, which these bats continue to hunt on the ground."

The Lake Manuherikia site has been a treasure trove for palaeontologists over the years, producing New Zealand's oldest frogs, lizards and land birds, as well as its only crocodiles and terrestrial turtles.

Associate Professor Hand led the research along with Associate Professor Daphne Lee from the University of Otago, and Dr Trevor Worthy from Flinders University in South Australia.

Suzanne J. Hand, Daphne E. Lee, Trevor H. Worthy, Michael Archer, Jennifer P. Worthy, Alan J. D. Tennyson, Steven W. Salisbury, R. Paul Scofield, Dallas C. Mildenhall, Elizabeth M. Kennedy, Jon K. Lindqvist.Miocene Fossils Reveal Ancient Roots for New Zealand’s Endemic Mystacina (Chiroptera) and Its Rainforest Habitat. PLOS ONE, 17 Jun 2015 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0128871

Top: Mystacina tuberculata foraging on South Island, New Zealand.  Picture Credit: Rod Morris


Wednesday, 17 June 2015: Media Release

Environment and Heritage Minister Mark Speakman has announced Sydney’s historic houses will benefit from a major funding boost to upgrade and preserve some of our most important heritage buildings. The $12.7 million funding boost will be part of the 2015-16 state budget. 

“This is the largest investment in the agency’s 35 year history”, Mr Speakman said. “It is specifically designed for the conservation and preservation of significant heritage properties, such as Elizabeth Bay House, Hyde Park Barracks Museum and Rouse Hill House and Farm,” he said. 

These properties are important to the state and the community as a lasting link with our past. The first project to be undertaken will be Elizabeth Bay House and the Museum of Sydney will be the second, with improved exhibition spaces and public areas. The works will enhance public safety and amenity and improve infrastructure across the historic houses that the Trust administers, which include: 

Hyde Park Barracks Museum; Museum of Sydney;  Justice and Police Museum;  The Mint;  Vaucluse House;  Elizabeth Bay House;  Elizabeth Farm; Rouse Hill House and Farm;  Meroogal; and  Rose Seidler House. Mr Speakman said the increased funding would allow the government to preserve these heritage buildings for future generations.

 Scale-free gives humans a competitive edge

17 June 2015

Right: Professor Mahendra Piraveenan and Dharshana Kasthuriratne work has advanced knowledge of scale free networks

Humans arrange themselves into scale-free networks to give themselves a competitive edge according to research published this month in Nature: Scientific Report. The work conducted by University of Sydney researchers expands on the work done by famous game theorist John Nash by considering the limitations to human logical thinking and modelling human societies as networks.

Dr Mahendra Piraveenan, senior author on the paper "Emergence of scale-free characteristics in socio-ecological systems with bounded rationality"   says scientists have known for a decade that human interact in patterns, both online and offline resembling scale-free networks, but researchers are just now asking why and how.

"Understanding why scale-free networks evolved in human societies is important to understanding how to affect better decision making processes at community level " says Dr Piraveenan a complex systems scholar.

Being arranged in scale-free networks has given societies a competitive advantage in situations like war, competition for food and other resources, or natural disasters, and the like.

It makes the society relatively more rational, and is so doing more robust and sustainable. This may be an explanation why so many scale-free structures are found in social systems," Piraveenan states.

"Scale-free networks include many "well-connected" nodes, hubs of connectivity that shape the way a network operates. The nodes within this network aren't necessarily random or evenly connected. But the ratio of well-connected nodes to the number of nodes in the rest of the network remains the same regardless, even if the network changes in size " he explains.

"Humans may have evolved into scale-free structures to provide more rational responses to emergencies such as infection epidemics or natural disasters. When a society is structured as a scale-free network it responds more rationally to threats even when individuals in the society have not had time to gather information about a disease or disaster," Dr Piraveenan explains.

The paper 's co-authored by Ph.D. candidate Dharshana Kasthuriratne says scientists have discovered that networks of human interactions, whether in online forums such as Facebook or LinkedIn, or offline networks such as friends in a school, or a network of people in a certain business show this 'scale-free' feature.

Piraveenan and Kasthuriratne 's study simulated the decision making process of communities of thousands of people inside large distributed computing systems, such as computing clusters.

" We applied 'evolutionary pressure ' to these initially random interaction networks, by rewarding participating communities if they showed higher systemic rationality, and the random interaction networks were allowed to re-wire while keeping the total number of links constant, " says Piraveenan.

"Results of the simulation showed scale-free networks emerging from initially random networks of people, Dharshana says.

"Scientists know that many real-world socio-ecological systems display the 'scale-free ' feature, and our work provides an explanation of why these networks are so prevalent."

"We believe that humans organise themselves into free-scale networks so they can interact more effectively.

It has been vital to our survival as a species. It is possible to argue that those human societies which organise themselves into scale-free structures have had an advantage over the societies which did not," suggests Dharshana.

 A new look at surface chemistry

June 17, 2015 - For the first time in the long and vaunted history of scanning electron microscopy, the unique atomic structure at the surface of a material has been resolved. This landmark in scientific imaging was made possible by a new analytic technique developed by a multi-institutional team of researchers, including scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

"We've developed a reasonably direct method for determining the atomic structure of a surface that also addresses the very challenging problem of buried interfaces," says Jim Ciston, a staff scientist with the National Center for Electron Microscopy (NCEM) at the Molecular Foundry, a DOE Office of Science User Facility. "Although surface atoms represent a minuscule fraction of the total number of atoms in a material, these atoms drive a large portion of the material's chemical interactions with its environment."

Ciston is the lead and corresponding author of a paper describing this new analytical method in the journal Nature Communications.The article is titled "Surface Determination through Atomically Resolved Secondary Electron Imaging." Other co-authors are Hamish Brown, Adrian D'Alfonso, Pratik Koirala, Colin Ophus, Yuyuan Lin, Yuya Suzuki, Hiromi Inada, Yimei Zhu, Les Allen, and Laurence Marks.

Most materials interact with other materials through their surfaces, which are often different in both structure and chemistry from the bulk of the material. Many important processes take place at surfaces, ranging from the catalysts used for the generation of energy-dense fuels from sunlight and carbon dioxide, to how bridges and airplanes rust.

"In essence, the surface of every material can act as its own nanomaterial coating that can greatly change its chemistry and behavior," Ciston says. "To understand these processes and improve material performance it is vital to know how the atoms are arranged at surfaces. While there are now many good methods for obtaining this information for rather flat surfaces, when the surfaces are rough most currently available tools are limited in what they can reveal."

"The beauty of this technique is that we can image surface atoms and bulk atoms simultaneously," says co-author Zhu, a scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory. "Currently none of any existing methods can achieve this."

Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) is an excellent technique for studying surfaces but typically provides information only about topology at nanoscale resolution. A highly promising new version of scanning electron microscopy, called "high-resolution scanning electron microscopy," or HRSEM, extends this resolution to the atomic scale and provides information on both surface and bulk atoms simultaneously, retaining much of the surface sensitivity of traditional SEM through secondary electrons.

Secondary electrons are the result of a highly energized beam of electrons striking a material and causing atoms in the material to emit energy in the form of electrons rather than photons. As a large portion of secondary electrons are emitted from the surface of a material in addition to its bulk they are good resources for obtaining information about atomic surface structure. However, the surface selectivity of HRSEM has never been fully exploited.

"Even though powerful instruments have been available for several years, progress in materials science applications has been slow due to an inability to directly interpret the surface and bulk components of HRSEM images independently," Ciston says. "This difficulty stemmed from the lack of a fully-developed theoretical framework to understand SEM image formation at the atomic scale."

Existing secondary electron image simulation methods had to be extended to take into account contributions from valence orbitals in the material, he says, and also the effect of dielectric screening on the efficiency of generating signal from those valence orbitals.

To verify the effectiveness of their new theoretical framework, Ciston, Allen, Marks and their colleagues collected and analyzed in detail a series of HRSEM images of a particular arrangement of atoms at the surface of strontium titanate. These experiments were coupled with careful secondary electron image simulations, density functional theory calculations, and aberration-corrected high resolution transmission electron microscopy.

"Conventional transmission electron microscopy images are well-understood and were needed to confirm that we actually had the correct structure and that the new HRSEM theory was on the right track," Ciston says. "Taken collectively, the analysis enabled us to unambiguously reference surface information to information from the bulk crystal."

The excellent agreement between calculations and experimental results showed that HRSEM is a highly promising tool for surface structure determination, including the challenging topic of bulk/surface registration. From their demonstration, the collaboration discovered that previously reported atomic surface structures for strontium titanate with a "6x2 periodicity" are wrong, having failed to detect an unusual seven-fold coordination within a typically high surface coverage of titanium oxide groups.

"We started this work by investigating a well-studied material, but new technique is so powerful that we had to revise much of was already thought to be well-known," Ciston says.

Co-author Allen, a scientist with Melbourne University in Australia, who led the theoretical and modeling aspects of the new imaging technique, adds: "we now have a sophisticated understanding of what the images mean."

Perhaps the first target for applying this new HRSEM surface analytic technique will be the study of surface structures on the facets of nanoparticles. The surface structures of nanoparticle facets are extremely challenging to image in the plan view (seen from above) using electron microscopy, a deficit that needs to be corrected as Ciston explains.

"Plan view geometry is important because surface structures will often develop multiple domains, and we need to be sure we're not projecting through multiple structures and orientations," he says. "This is a very challenging problem since scanning probe techniques cannot usually address nanoparticle surfaces at atomic resolution, and surface X-ray diffraction requires large, single crystal surfaces."

Says co-author Marks, a professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University, "We are also quite excited by the possibilities of applying these to corrosion problems. The cost to industry and the military of corrosion is enormous, and we need to understand everything that is taking place to produce materials which will last longer."

J. Ciston, H. G. Brown, A. J. D’Alfonso, P. Koirala, C. Ophus, Y. Lin, Y. Suzuki, H. Inada, Y. Zhu, L. J. Allen, L. D. Marks. Surface determination through atomically resolved secondary-electron imaging. Nature Communications, 2015; 6: 7358 DOI:10.1038/ncomms8358

Top: A highly promising technique called "high-resolution scanning electron microscopy," or HRSEM, extends scanning microscopy to the atomic scale and provides information on both surface and bulk atoms simultaneously. Credit: Courtesy of Jim Ciston, Berkeley Lab

 JCU welcomes boost for Northern Australia

18 June, 2015

James Cook University has most warmly welcomed the release of theWhite Paper on Developing Northern Australia.

As Australia’s leading tropical research university, JCU strongly supports the paper’s emphasis on developing the tropical north, and the importance it places on research to drive innovation and growth.

James Cook University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Sandra Harding said developing Australia’s north will deliver tremendous benefits for the entire nation.

“There is great untapped potential in Northern Australia, and I believe the white paper is a giant step towards enabling the development of our northern regions.”

Professor Harding said JCU is a leader in many areas of research affecting Northern Australia and the tropics, including tropical medicine, agriculture, and environmental sciences.

She said the sustainable development of Northern Australia is closely aligned with the University’s goals, as is the need for a new perspective on how Australia regards the north.

“A new idea of Australia is required. That new idea is that the development of the north and the Tropics around us holds the key to Australia’s future prosperity.”

“The State of the Tropics 2014 Report, convened by James Cook University, also confirms the critical importance of the Tropics for the world’s future.”

“There is great value in explicitly identifying northern Australia with the Tropics, as it clearly situates Australia in one of the most dynamic regions of the world.”

“James Cook University aims to create a brighter future for life in the Tropics world-wide through graduates and discoveries that make a difference, and the development of Northern Australia will help achieve this.”

As part of the white paper, the Federal Government has announced it will invest $75 million in a new CRC for Developing Northern Australia. The CRC will build on the growNORTH proposal, which JCU has been heavily involved in developing.

JCU also welcomes the white paper’s emphasis on expanding research into tropical medicine. The Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine, based at James Cook University, has world-class expertise in tropical health and medical research.

Professor Harding is a member of the Federal Government’s Northern Australia Advisory Group.

 UQ tops Nature index

18 June 2015

The University of Queensland has again shown its global leadership credentials, ranking as Australia’s top institution and within the global top 100 of the prestigious Nature Index.

UQ was one of only two Australian universities in the leading 100 of the global index, which is associated with the Nature publishing group and was released today (18 June).

The index rates institutions and countries according to the number and quality of research publications.

Australia placed 12th, with UQ leading the charge ahead of Monash University.

UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said Australian universities had performed particularly well in the life sciences, with UQ being the strongest performer.

“This is a credit to our researchers and collaborators, and is also reflected in the increasingly successful commercialisation of UQ’s biomedical research by the leading commercialisation company, UniQuest,” Professor Høj said.

“UniQuest has raised more than $500 million to take university technologies to market, and has established more than 70 start-ups associated with UQ research.

“We call that ‘excellence-plus’ and it is evidenced by products such as the cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil and spin-out companies including Spinifex, Vaxxas, Dendright and Protagonist.”

Professor Høj said the index also showed a large amount of UQ research was collaborative, with more than 70 per cent of published findings involving at least one collaborating institution.

“This demonstrates the importance of building and enhancing relationships with our national and international counterparts and is illustrated by our recent establishment of the Queensland Emory Drug Discovery Initiative with one of the world’s foremost developers of therapeutic agents, Professor Dennis Liotta of Emory University. 

"Professor Liotta is one of the inventors of 10 drug combinations currently on the market, and it is estimated that over 90 per cent of current HIV patients have used one of these combinations.  

“UQ has many excellent life scientists who advance health benefits that improve the wellbeing of entire communities.

“By partnering with other great minds with diverse ideas and perspectives, they can produce even greater benefits for global society.

“Their success fits with UQ’s vision of knowledge leadership for a better world.”

 More information is at

 UC-Vision to sound out world’s best song

16 June 2015: The world's songwriters won't have to wait until next year's Eurovision song contest to produce/write a song that hits the right note.

To give a voice to the world's best original song, the University of Canberra will launch its international UC-Vision Song Contest TODAY, offering musicians the chance to win $10,000 AUD for their tune.

Individuals or groups from anywhere in the world and all genres are invited to write, perform and submit a video of their original song that is within a four-minute duration.

Songs will be judged on musical quality, appeal and originality by a prestigious judging panel including Tom Busby of Busby Marou. They will not consider the quality of production of the music and video.

All songs submitted to the contest will also be open to the public for voting through the contest's website and the most popular entry will be awarded a $1,000 People's Choice Prize.

UC Music program director and organiser of the competition, Rasa Daukus, said this is a competition designed to showcase/celebrate the power of a good song.

"This may be the first time an Australian university has run a worldwide song contest, and it shows the University is serious about music. It's not just a gimmick, we really want to uncover and celebrate what makes a great song, particularly in regard to popular music.

"A lot of talent competitions these days are about the artist and their voice – we want to take this contest one step further and make it all about the song," Ms Daukus said.

"There are a lot of hidden songwriters out there and we hope to uncover some of those exciting talents."

Entry is open to anyone in the world with the exception of the judges themselves and University of Canberra staff.

The entry period will be from today 16 June to 15 September. Voting for the People's Choice award will commence on 15 September. Winners will be announced on 30 October 2015.

To learn more about the UC-Vision Song Contest,

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.