Inbox and Environment News Issue 230 

 September 6 - 12, 2015: Issue 230

 Habitat Stepping Stones project now in Pittwater!

Create a Habitat Stepping Stone

Our local wildlife are doing it tough! You can create a habitat stepping stone to help them out. It’s easy – just add a few beautiful habitat elements to your backyard or balcony to create a valuable wildlife-friendly stopover. 

How it works

1. Discover: Visit the website below to find dozens of beautiful plants, nest boxes and water elements you can add to your backyard or balcony to help our local wildlife. 

2. Pledge: Select three or more elements to add to your place. You can even show you care by choosing to have a bird appear on our online map. 

3. Share: Join the Habitat Stepping Stones Facebook community to find out what’s happening in the natural world, and share your pics, tips and stories. 

What you get

 .Enjoy the wonders of nature, right outside your window

 .Free and discounted plants for your garden

 .A Habitat Stepping Stone plaque for your front fence

 .Local wildlife news and tips

Become part of the Pittwater Habitat Stepping Stones community

Get the kids involved and excited about helping out!

No computer? No problem!

Just write to the address below and they’ll mail you everything you need. 

Habitat Stepping Stones, Department of Environmental SciencesMacquarie University NSW 2109

This project is assisted by the NSW Government through its Environmental Trust and supported by Pittwater Council.

More information at:

 Rare chance to see NSW's very own secret garden: Muogamarra 

Media release: 4 September 2015 - With spring just around the corner, Muogamarra Nature Reserve has opened its doors to the public until 20 September 2015, showcasing an amazing collection of botanical treasures and native plant species. 

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Area Manager, Michele Cooper said Muogamarra Nature Reserve is the Secret Garden of NSW.

“Home to more than 900 species of native plants as well as the remnants of an ancient volcano, it is the perfect place to visit coming into spring,” Ms Cooper said.  

“The Muogamurra Nature Reserve is located on the western side of the Pacific Highway, 3.35 kilometres north of Cowan Station.

“Muogamarra is open to the public for only six weekends per year to allow its illustrious flora and fauna to flourish and to preserve its fragile ecosystems and Aboriginal cultural heritage.

“Visitors can expect to see a vast range of Australian wildflowers such as native orchids, the towering Gymea lily, purple Boronia, eriostemon and old-man Banksia.  

“There are several walking tracks in the reserve that provide outstanding views of the Hawkesbury, Aboriginal rock engravings and convict built roads.

“One of the guided walks leads people down to Peat’s Crater, which is an unusual volcanic structure called a diatreme that is not found in many parts of Australia.

“Other tracks wind through rainforest and past historic relics of an early farm settlement.

“By joining a guided walk you will see and learn all the secrets of the reserve that you might miss by going on your own.

“NPWS looks forward to opening Muogamurra Nature Reserve so that the public can enjoy glorious carpets of colour and curious blooms for six weekends of the year,” she said.

In 2015 Muogamarra Nature Reserve will be open to the public every Saturday and Sunday until 20 September 2015.

Bookings are essential for guided walks and can be made by calling the Kalkari Discovery Centre on 9472 9300 or visiting the NPWS website.

Entry costs $10 for adults, $5 for children and $25 for families.


Cooee! Environmental Newsletter - September/October 2015

Did you know that Pittwater Council’s Coastal Environment Centre has its own facebook page? It’s a great way to keep up to date with environmental news and events happening in the area. Whether it’s a rock platform walk, the Kids on the Coast holiday program or environmental videos by local schools – there’s something for everyone.

Like us at:

Sustainable House Day 2015

Sustainable House Day, onSunday 13 September 2015, is an international event where people who own houses that are doing good things with materials, energy, water and food, are opened up for any interested visitor to have a good long look at – to poke around, ask questions, and see for themselves.

It started in Australia, and has been going for about ten years, and over that period, tens of thousands of people have been inspired to ‘go and do likewise’. This is probably the most powerful tool we know of for educating and motivating people who know they want to do something, but are not quite sure what. And it’s something we all do – we see what somebody else has done, and say to ourselves “Hey – I can do that!”

THE TREEHOUSE North Narrabeen, NSW

The owners of this award winning house wanted a sustainable home that would cater for their growing family and a separate granny flat for overseas visitors, all with a tree house feel. Lots of established trees, and steep land sloping away from the road contributed to the challenge of providing universal access to the main living […]


Many sites have limited solar access, and are often written off as unsuitable for a low-energy high-comfort house. This should not be. This site in Neutral Bay, like many urban sites, had significant shading to the north, but we took advantage of one ‘window’ of north sun at ground level, and then ‘borrowed’ the rest from […]


Originally a fishing shack dating back to the 1950s, there have been extensions in the 1960’s, 1970’s, and then a deck replacement in 2011. A primary goal for the 2011 renovation was to make the house more sustainable. This ongoing project has involved insulating both internal and external walls, while fibro (asbestos) cladding is removed and […]

You can see all the available houses at:

 Katandra Sanctuary Open Days 2015

Katandra opens to the public every Sunday in July, August, September and October, from 10am to 4pm. The first will be Sunday July 5th with entry by donation.

See: Katandra Sanctuary Open Days 2015 by Marita Macrae

 Online Service puts NSW Biodiversity Data at your Fingertips 

Monday, 31 August 2015  - A new biodiversity web service launched today by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage will provide easy and direct access to information on species sightings held within the BioNet Atlas of NSW Wildlife. Environment Minister Mark Speakman said anyone from government, ecological consultants and app developers would now be able to access more than seven million NSW biodiversity data records and integrate them into their own systems. 

“The new BioNet web service was the first of a series of open data standard web services that would progressively make NSW biodiversity data more easily accessible,” Mr Speakman said. “This service would enable better decision making by allowing planning and assessment tools used by local and state government agencies to automatically draw upon the latest NSW biodiversity information for NSW. In the past, users relied on data requests and manual downloads to keep up-to-date but now they have a trusted source of truth for their biodiversity data.” 

Mr Speakman said it would reduce barriers for non-developers as well by adopting an international open data standard called OData.

“Anyone with access to Microsoft Excel could easily create their own visual maps and ‘mash up’ the biodiversity data with other information sources,” Mr Speakman said. Businesses and app developers which create web based tools can now create applications using the biodiversity data to meet user needs. The BioNet Web Service project is part of a wider OEH Native Vegetation Information Strategy aimed at making data more open and more accessible. 

Below: Office of Environment and Heritage NSW Government- Heat map of all Bandicoot sightings in Sydney and Surrounds

 Mining Policy Reform to help restore balance

31.08.2015: Ministerial Media Release;  The Hon. Rob Stokes MP, Minister for Planning

Planning Minister Rob Stokes today announced the State’s mining policy will be changed to ensure economic, environmental and social considerations are appropriately balanced when considering mining projects.

The proposed reforms were on exhibition in July and received more than 2,400 submissions, 98 per cent of which supported the proposed amendment.

Mr Stokes said the community overwhelmingly supported the reform.

“Mining plays an important role in the NSW economy, however we must ensure that our policies reflect the importance of balance in assessing the likely impacts of mining developments,” Mr Stokes said. 

“A crucial pillar of our planning system is that decision makers consider environmental impacts on both the natural and built environments, and social and economic impacts in their assessment of development applications.

“As with all development, it is critical that there is a balanced consideration of all impacts of developments on local communities, broader regions and the State.”

The policy will come into effect on Wednesday 2 September. A report outlining the amendment to the Mining SEPP and the submissions that were made will be published online on the same day.

Details of the policy can be found

 Improving mining regulation in NSW: Stage 2

Media Release: Department of Planning and Environment

The Department of Planning and Environment today released a number of guidelines for public feedback, which provide clear and consistent requirements for State significant mining development in NSW.

The guidelines are part of the broader Integrated Mining Policy, and include:

Independent Audit Guidelines – to ensure that independent audits of State significant developments in NSW adopt a consistent approach and meet minimum standards.

Web-based Reporting Guidelines – to encourage operators to apply a consistent approach to the publication of information regarding mining operations and make more information available to the public.

Annual Review Guidelines – to assist operators of State significant mining developments to prepare annual reviews.

Water Regulation and Policy – to provide an overview of the current policies and regulations in relation to possible water impacts from mining and petroleum developments in NSW.

Planning Agreement Guidelines – to assist councils and mining companies in negotiating planning agreements for State significant mining developments.

A spokesperson said this was the second stage of the Integrated Mining Policy’s exhibition and gave the community and industry a chance to provide feedback on the draft documents.

“These Guidelines and policy documents will help major mining projects operate safely and comply with their approval conditions,” the spokesperson said.

This is part of a suite of mining policy reforms. The first stage of the Integrated Mining Policy, focussing on applying stringent, clear and consistent requirements to mining applications was released in May for public comment. The Department is currently considering feedback.

In addition, the NSW Government also released a draft amendment to the state policy governing mining in NSW – the State Environmental Planning Policy (Mining, Petroleum Production and Extractive Industries) known as the Mining SEPP.

The draft amendment would remove a provision making the significance of the resource the principal consideration under the Mining SEPP when determining mining projects. It was on exhibition for public feedback this month and the Department is currently considering the feedback.

The exhibition of the Integrated Mining Policy Stage 2 is openuntil 7 September.

To give feedback visit


Direct link: 


Marsupial Night Stalk

11th Sep 2015: 7pm - 9pm

Help celebrate Threatened Species Week!

Come and join us after dark for an exciting evening looking for some of the nocturnal creatures that live in Pittwater. In recognition of Threatened Species week, Pittwater Council will join with participants from all over Australia to take part in the Perth Zoo's annual night stalk!

This walk is suitable for children aged 5 and above.

Where: Meet point provided on booking. Cost: Free!

Bookings: OnlineIn person: Coastal Environment Centre, Lake Park Road, North Narrabeen, Phone: 1300 000 232 (Reception - Option 1)

Bushcare's Major Day Out! - North Narrabeen Headland Reserve

13th Sep 2015: 8:30am - 12pm

Bushcare's Major Day Out is a national day designed to encourage us all to take part in the restoration and maintenance of our remaining bushland. 

Bushcare's Major Day Out is a day specifically designed to give us the opportunity to find out what is being done and what can be done in our own neighbourhood. It's a fun day where you can work alongside and learn from experts and experienced volunteers. There are a range of activities depending on the location; walks, planting, weed removal, photography workshops as well as native plant identification and well celebrated morning teas.

Where to meet: At the walking track at the end of Peal Place, Warriewood

What to bring: Wear clothes that you don't mind getting dirty and are safe and suitable for weeding and planting activities e.g. long trousers, long sleeves and sturdy shoes or boots (no thongs). Remember to bring you hat and sunglasses! Water is available but you may prefer your own supply.

Morning tea will be provided.

For more information visit the Bushcare's Major Day Out website

To register your interest please contact Council's Bushcare Officer, Helena Dewis 9970 1367 or 

North Bilgola Beach Native Plant Giveaway

19th Sep 2015: 8am - 12pm

Free native plants for local residents!

Protect our coastal environment by planting local native species adapted to the local climate. Find out about the Biodiversity Restoration of the Bilgola Creek catchment project. 

Receive free native plants, advice on weed control and help to identify native species.

Where: North Bilgola Beach on grass area at the end of Allen Avenue. 

This event is being supported by Pittwater Council and the Sydney Coastal Council Salty Communities grant to help restore the Bilgola Creek catchment. For further information please call Council on 9970 1363 or 9970 1390.  

Dog Day by the Bay

20th Sep 2015: 10am - 3pm

An annual day out of fun and learning for dogs and their owners

This year, Pittwater Council will host their popular Dog Day by the Bay at Rowland Reserve Bayview on Sunday 20 September 2015.

Dog Day by the Bay will again be including agility demonstrations, education talks, competitions with great prizes to win, including the very popular Canine Fancy Dress Parade and children’s activities in kids’ corner.

All proceeds donated to the Animal Welfare League

Mark your calendar now!

Wildlife Adventures Talk with John Young

26th Sep 2015: 3:30pm - 5:30pm

Come and join us for an afternoon of epic Wildlife Adventures with John Young. 

As a cinematographer and naturalist John Young has been filming and photographing Australia's wildlife for over 20 years. His principle area of interest is Australian birdlife and he's one of Australia's leading authorities on the subject. Over the last 20 years, he's been involved with numerous projects for television, film, books, periodicals, university studies and conservation.

In May 2013, after an incredible 15 years of searching, John rediscovered the endangered Night Parrot which was thought to be extinct. John was the first person to obtain film and photographs of a living specimen. Further research is currently being performed to learn more about the biology of this mysterious bird.  

Where: Mona Vale Memorial Hall (next to Mona Vale Library)

Cost: Free!

Bookings Essential! Online In person: Coastal Environment Centre, Lake Park Road, North Narrabeen Phone: 1300 000 232 (Reception - Option 1)

Headland Grass Restoration - Community Planting Day

27th Sep 2015: 1pm - 4pm

Come and get your hands "dirty"!

Please help protect the endangered native grasslands of our coastal headlands. 

Fill your nostrils with salty air, enjoy the superb view and assist us to replant the native grass community. Tools, equipment and a delicious afternoon tea will be provided.

Please wear comfortable clothes and closed shoes and bring a hat and water bottle.

Meet: South Bilgola Headland lookout on the coastal walkway. Parking available at the Serpentine parking area or Allen Avenue.

This project is being supported through the Sydney Coastal Council's Salty Communities Grant for the "Biodiversity Restoration of Bilgola Creek Catchment" during 2015 and 2016.

For further information please call 9970 1363 or 9970 1390.

Native Bee Workshops: Two sessions on offer - morning or afternoon

10th Oct 2015: 9am - 4pm

Do you want to learn more about native bees? Pittwater Council will be holding workshops on native bees and how to keep them. Native bees are a fantastic part of our natural environment and are very seldom seen. Learn about how these communities of native bees live, breed and forage for food. Find out how and what they pollinate in your garden and what you need to do, grow and avoid in your garden to ensure a healthy hive. Can you tell the difference between a fruit fly and a Stingless bee?

Tim Heard a native bee expert will be presenting his very popular workshop on keeping native bees. You will learn how to identify and keep native bees as well as how to extract honey from the hives. 

Two sessions of the same workshop are being held. Please choose either Session 1 - 9am to 12noon or Session 2 - 1 to 3pm. 

Where: Coastal Environment Centre  

Cost: $20 (this includes a copy of Tim Heard latest publication) 

Bookings Essential! Online In person: Coastal Environment Centre, Lake Park Road, North Narrabeen Phone: 1300 000 232 (Reception - Option 1)

Ingleside Escarpment Walk

18th Oct 2015: 9am - 12pm

Come and join us for a spring walk through Ingleside Chase Reserve.

Ingleside Chase Reserve is Pittwater's largest continuous piece of bushland. It contains many beautiful plant communities and threatened fauna. Spring is an outstanding time to experience our bushland come alive with wildlife and flowering plants. 

The walk will commence at Irrawong-Epworth Reserve and climb to Ingleside Park. At the park we will have a morning tea break and then head back down. The track is 1.5km one-way and is a little steep in parts so although we will be taking it at a gentle pace a reasonable level of fitness is required.

Where: Ingleside Chase Reserve (meeting point provided on booking).

Cost: Free!  Bookings Essential! Online In person: Coastal Environment Centre, Lake Park Road, North Narrabeen Phone: 1300 000 232 (Reception - Option 1)

Caring for Mullet Creek

Saturday 31 October, 8:30am – 12noon

Bushcare planting day at Irrawong Reserve. Come and join us for a fun family morning and help plant a tree. It’s a great opportunity to get involved with this positive environmental project. 

This six year project, now in its 4th year, aims to protect the biodiversity of Mullet Creek and tributaries from Elanora Heights down to Warriewood through Ingleside Chase and Irrawong Reserves. 

Where: Meet at the end of Irrawong Road near the main walking track. 

Please bring a hat, water bottle and wear enclosed shoes. Morning tea provided. No bookings are required for this activity. 

Wetlands to waterfall walk 

Saturday 31 October, 9 – 11am

Come and join us for a spring walk through the Warriewood Wetlands. Spring is an outstanding time to experience our wetlands come alive with wildlife and flowering plants. With a range of native vegetation communities this area provides significant habitat for many larger fauna species now lost in the Sydney region. This is a great opportunity to discover more about our amazing plants and wildlife from our expert guide. If interested you can also be part of the bushcare planting day. 

Where: Warriewood Wetlands and Irrawong Reserve (meet point provided on booking) Bookings Essential! 

Online: In person: Coastal Environment Centre, Lake Park Road, North Narrabeen. Phone: 1300 000 232 (Reception – Option 1)

 Draft Report Solar Feed-in Tariffs for 2015-2016

31 August 2015 - The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) has today released its Draft Report on solar feed-in tariffs.  IPART’s draft decision is that the benchmark range for voluntary solar feed-in tariffs in 2015-16 is 4.4 to 5.8 cents per kilowatt hour (c/kWh).

Electricity retailers in NSW have the flexibility to set their own feed-in tariffs. IPART sets a benchmark range each year as a guide for retailers and solar customers on the likely value of electricity exported to the grid from solar PV units.  The voluntary benchmark does not affect the rates paid to consumers who are part of the Solar Bonus Scheme.

IPART Chairman, Dr Peter Boxall, said IPART’s draft decision on the benchmark range for 2015-16 is lower than last year due to lower and less volatile wholesale spot electricity prices.

“High spot prices during the day generally increase the value of PV exports.  In recent years, spot prices have been fairly low and flat during the day, and this has contributed to the lower value of PV exports,” Dr Boxall said.

“Solar customers should consider feed-in tariffs as part of an overall electricity contract package and shop around for the best deal that takes both their electricity consumption and solar exports into account,” Dr Boxall said.  “Feed-in tariffs are only one component of a retailer’s market offer and the retailer with the highest feed-in tariff may not provide the best deal overall.”

“We encourage customers to look for the best overall deal for their own situation, which includes usage rates, and other terms and conditions as well as the feed-in tariff.  The Commonwealth Government’s Energy Made Easy website is a good place to start.”

IPART has also made a Draft Determination that the mandatory contribution from electricity retailers to the NSW Government should be 4.9 c/kWh of PV electricity exported by Solar Bonus Scheme customers in 2015-16.  The retailer contribution is also lower than last year due to lower and less volatile spot electricity prices.

IPART’s decisions do not affect customers in the Solar Bonus Scheme who will continue to receive a subsidised feed-in tariff of either 20c or 60 c/kWh until the scheme ends on 31 December 2016.

IPART’s draft report and accompanying documents are available on IPART’s website. Here

 Citizen scientists needed to help save sick wombats

As wombats fight for survival against a deadly skin disease that kills in months, University of Western Sydney scientists are asking Australians to help take a census of wombats using an innovative new app.

WomSAT, launched by the University of Western Sydney, allows everyday citizens to report wombat sightings and record the animal's health.

Chief investigator on the project, Associate Professor Julie Old, says wombats across the country are under threat from a parasitic mite which causes sarcoptic mange.

The mites initially burrow into the skin causing the wombats to become itchy. In the longer term, they are likely to become blind, deaf and die due to the secondary effects of the infestation. Early physical signs of the infestation include missing patches of fur and scratching.

"Wombats across eastern and southern Australia are dying in the thousands because of this deadly disease," says Associate Professor Old, a biologist from the UWS School of Science and Health.

"To fully understand the challenges facing wombats and ensure their future survival, we need to take a comprehensive census of wombat numbers, their distribution and their health."

"And the best way to adequately monitor the vast and often remote habitat of wombats is through the eyes and phones of millions of Australians."

UWS is calling on everyone around the country to join the fight by using WomSAT, a new website and app allowing anyone to easily record the exact location of a wombat using a phone's inbuilt GPS.

The app and website have images and text to guide people on how to identify the wombat and how to visually diagnose mange.

"Wombats severely affected by mange suffer painful skin infections and are often seen during the day," says Associate Professor Old.

"It's likely these wombats are venturing out during the day to spend more time foraging to compensate for the energy used scratching."

"By taking the time to log onto WomSAT every time a wombat is spotted, Australians can participate in science and help monitor the population and alert experts about changes and threats to the population."

WomSAT is supported by Emirates Airlines and Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley.

The WomSAT website is hosted by the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Get involved here:

 Sunday Morning Birdwatching with PNHA

Would you like to know more about our local birds? Our guides can help you discover the birdlife in these wonderful bushland reserves.

20 September, Irrawong Reserve, Warriewood

15 November, Warriewood Wetlands, Warriewood

Our birdwalks start at 7.30 or 8am and last for a couple of hours. Bring binoculars and morning tea for afterwards if you like. Older children welcome.

Contact us to book and get details for each walk. Email or ph: 0439 409 202 / 0402 605 721. 

 Have Your Say - Integrated Mining Policy

Environmental Defenders Office NSW (EDO)

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 second stage  on exhibition until 7 September 2015. In this second stage the following items are on exhibition:

Planning Agreement Guidelines;

Post-approval Guideline - Annual Review;

Post-approval Guideline - Web-based reporting;

Post-approval Guideline - Independent Audits; and

Water Regulation and Policy (summary document)

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).

We made a submission during the first stage of consultation. You can read this submission on our website.

Submissions on stage 2 are invited until 7 September 2015Read more and have your say.

Top: Warkworth coal mine near Bulga in the NSW Hunter Valley by John Krey

 Have your say on modifications to the Bengalla Mine Continuation Project

20.08.2015: Media Releases; Department of Planning and Environment

A proposal to make modifications to the Bengalla Mine Project will be on exhibition from today for community feedback.

The Department of Planning and Environment is keen to hear the community’s views on the application which seeks to:

• set out additional locations for the approved explosives storage facility

• move earth from the construction of Clean Water Dam 1 to a new location

• change the approved water management system, by

o adding a temporary dirty water storage dam

o relocating a dirty water discharge point

o revising two dam locations.

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.” 

To make a submission or view the statement of environmental effects (SEE), visit Submissions can be made from Thursday 20 August 2015 until Monday 7 September 2015.


Direct link:

 Update on action to protect Australia's environmental laws: Have Your Say

Friday, August 28, 2015 - BirdLIfe Australia

Last Thursday, the Federal Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation  Amendment (Standing) Bill 2015 was introduced into Parliament where it was referred for Senate inquiry and report.

I am writing to advise that the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications is now accepting submissions on this Bill. The closing date for submissions is Friday, 11 September 2015. 

BirdLife Australia will join the Places You Love Alliance in making a submission to this inquiry and is encouraging others to do the same. For further information on why maintaining Section 487 of the EPBC Act (1999) is critical to ensuring a robust environmental legal framework, see this EDO Explainer.

Samantha Vine

Head of Conservation - BirdLife Australia

 Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standing) Bill 2015

A Bill for an Act to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and for related purposes

The Parliament of Australia enacts:

1  Short title

This Act may be cited as the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standing) Act 2015.

2  Commencement - (1) Each provision of this Act specified in column 1 of the table commences, or is taken to have commenced, in accordance with column 2 of the table. Any other statement in column 2 has effect according to its terms.


The whole of this Act - The day after this Act receives the Royal Assent.


Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

1  Section 487

Repeal the section.

2  Application of amendment

The repeal of section 487 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 by this Schedule applies in relation to any application made under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 after this item commences (whether the decision, failure to make a decision or conduct to which the application relates occurs before or after this item commences).

House of Representatives

20 Aug 2015 Introduced and read a first time

20 Aug 2015 Second reading moved

Referred to Committee (20/08/2015): Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee; Report due 12/10/2015

Documents Relating to available


Thursday, 27 August 2015 - Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair, has confirmed the first great white sharks have been tagged and successfully released as part of the NSW Government’s North Coast Local Waters Shark Tagging Project. Two 2.2-metre female great white sharks have now been tagged and will be tracked by scientists, who will look at their movements over coming months to gain a better understanding of behaviour patterns. 

“This program will provide vital information about sharks and their movements on the North Coast – the more information we have, the better equipped we are to implement measures to reduce the risk of further attacks,” Mr Blair said. “We are determined to make our beaches safer that’s why we are investing $250,000 in a suite of measures, including this crucial research program, a review of new technologies and a targeted awareness campaign.” 

Researchers from the Department of Primary Industries and CSIRO will continue the tagging program in coming days if weather conditions are favourable. In addition to the tagging program, DPI fisheries vessels have been deployed to conduct on-water surveillance and the NSW Government will shortly be launching a comprehensive public education campaign, in partnership with Surf Lifesaving NSW. 

The NSW Government will also fast-track applications for the lookout towers funding from the Towers Grant Program and is maintaining strong linkages with the Ballina Shire Shark Mitigation Advisory Group. In addition to this, the outcomes of an independent review into available shark deterrent technology are expected late next month and will inform any future trials to be conducted in NSW waters, including on the North Coast. 

Below: Footage of the tagging program: Ballina tagged shark_release

 Applications Open for Environmental Restoration and Rehabilitation Grants

Wednesday, 26 August 2015  -  Environment Minister Mark Speakman has invited community organisations and councils to apply for a share of the NSW Government’s $5.3 million Restoration and Rehabilitation Grants Program. Mr Speakman said the Environmental Trust Grants Program aimed to help community organisations, local councils and other groups run projects that would prevent or reduce environmental degradation at a local level. 

“These grants will help communities and organisations conduct important environmental work in relation to vulnerable ecosystems,” Mr Speakman said. 

“The government has set aside $5.3 million for this year’s grants program for projects working to conserve and restore our natural environment.

“There is $2 million available to community and not-for-profit organisations, $2 million for government entities and a further $1.3 million is available for owners and managers of NSW State Heritage Register listed properties.” 

Applications for grants of $5,000 to $100,000 close on Friday, 18 September 2015. Grants are available for projects where work is carried out over a period of up to three years. To apply or for more details visit: 

 Have your say on modifications to Hera Gold Project

Media Release: Department of Planning and Environment

A proposal to make modifications to the Hera Gold Project will be on exhibition from today for community feedback.

The Department of Planning and Environment is keen to hear the community’s views on the application which seeks to:

 increase annual ore extraction from 355,000 to 505,000 tonnes

 increase the total amount or ore processed over the life of the mine from 1.9 to 3.2 million tonnes

 extend the completion date of mining operations for two years, until 2022

 construct an area for waste rock

 construct a car park

 extend existing hardstand (a paved area for parking heavy vehicles) and stockpile areas

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.”

To make a submission or view the environmental impact statement, visit Submissions can be made from Wednesday 19 August 2015 until Wednesday 9 September 2015.

Written submissions can also be made to:

Department of Planning & Environment, 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

Cobar Shire Council, 36 Linsley Street, Cobar

Bogan Shire Council, 81 Cobar Street, Nyngan

Hera Mine Camp, Camp Reception, Berthong Road, Nymagee

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



 Expanding the Port of Abbot Point

August 20, 2015: QLD State Government

Consultation is Open - Runs from 20 Aug 2015 to 18 Sep 2015

The Queensland Government is committed to expanding the Port of Abbot Point in a responsible and sustainable manner.

The government is proposing to dredge an area needed for a new export wharf and place the dredged material on unallocated industrial land, next to the existing operational coal terminal.

View a map of this proposal. (Above)

This is the most sustainable option for expanding the port. Importantly:

no dredging will occur in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

no dredged material will be dumped in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park or World Heritage Area

dredged material will not be dumped in the Caley Valley Wetlands.

Queensland taxpayers will not pay for costs associated with approvals or dredging for this project. Galilee Basin project developers Adani and GVK Hancock will meet these costs.

Approval for the Abbot Point Growth Gateway Project which includes dredging and the construction of dredged material containment ponds is now underway. The Queensland Government is conducting a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this project.

The Queensland Government has launched public consultation on the draft Environmental Impact Statements for the proposed Abbot Point Growth Gateway Project. View the Environmental Impact Statement and have your say.

Abbot Point Growth Gateway Project

Proposed Abbot Point Growth Gateway Project (EPBC2015/7467)


The Director-General of the Queensland Government Department of State Development is proposing to dredge berth pockets and aprons, construct dredged material containment ponds, place dredged material onshore and manage the material including its removal and beneficial reuse within the Port of Abbot Point, North Queensland. The proposed works are adjacent to the existing Abbot Point coal terminal infrastructure, located 25km North of Bowen.

The proposed action is a controlled action under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and is being assessed by Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The controlling provisions for assessment are:

World Heritage properties (sections 12, 15A)

National Heritage places (sections 15B, 15C)

Listed threatened species and communities (Sections 18, 18A)

Listed migratory species (sections 20, 20A)

Commonwealth marine areas (sections 23, 24A)

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (sections 24B, 24C).

In accordance with Section 103, the draft EIS will be available for viewing and public comment for a period of 21 business days.

How to comment:

1. Read the Environmental Impact Statement online

The documents can also be viewed electronically

or visit the following display locations to view printed copies of the Environmental Impact Statement from Friday 21 August:

The State Library of Queensland, South Bank, Brisbane

Mackay City Library, Gordon Street, Mackay

Townsville Library, Flinders Street, Townsville

Bowen Library, Herbert Street, Bowen.

If you have special communication needs, please phone 07 3452 6921.

2. Send your submission to one of the following:

Post: Abbot Point Growth Gateway Project, Department of State Development, PO Box 15009, City East Qld 4002

OR Email:

OR Fill out the online survey (link below) : HERE

Known as the Abbot Point Growth Gateway Project, dredging and construction works for T0 are a key component of the Abbot Point port expansion.

If approved, this project will allow the construction of a second trestle at the Port of Abbot Point, increase the port's capacity from 50 to 120 million tonnes per annum. This will ensure it can meet export requirements from the Galilee Basin.

Project overview

The Abbot Point Growth Gateway Project involves dredging 1.1 million cubic metres in situ of seabed. Adani's proposed dredging area is approximately 61 hectares of seabed within port limits, outside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

In comparative terms, the proposed dredging footprint is tiny compared to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park's nearly 35,000,000 hectares.

The proposed dredging site is 19 and 30 kilometres away from the nearest coral communities (945 KB). Scientific modelling has found that sediment will be highly localised to the dredging site and will not impact these coral communities.

This dredged material will be placed on vacant industrial land (  3.6 MB) at the port, next to the existing coal terminal. This industrial land has been previously disturbed and used for port development purposes.

On-the-ground studies and investigations have been undertaken and the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is now available for review and comment.

Project status

On 17 April 2015, the Queensland Government lodged an application with the Commonwealth Department of the Environment to begin the approval process for the Abbot Point Growth Gateway Project.

The Commonwealth Government has considered this application under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and determined that a full Environmental Impact Statement is required for the project.

As part of this process, the draft Environmental Statement is available online, and the state government is now inviting public comment on this information.

Adani, not Queensland taxpayers, is meeting the costs of the approval and investigation processes.

For the latest information on the Port of Abbot Point, visit us on twitter @abbotpoint.

Last updated on 20 August 2015

Like Father Like Son: helping fathers manage aggressive behaviour in their sons


Low participation by fathers in parenting programs must be turned around to prevent violence and anti-social behaviour among future generations of boys, leaders of a new UNSW program say.

With the participation rates of fathers in parenting programs non-existent in some parts of Australia, UNSW researchers are leading a $2.6 million effort to engage and support fathers to help manage aggressive behaviours in their sons.

Lead project investigator, UNSW professor of psychology Mark Dadds, says low participation by fathers in parenting programs must be turned around to prevent violence and anti-social behaviour among future generations of boys.

“Disorders of violence, aggression and antisocial behaviour occur most commonly in males and often begin early in life, however responsibility for treating these problems often falls to mothers,” Professor Dadds says.

“If conduct problems are caught early they can be treated relatively inexpensively using evidence-based parent-training programs. We also know that outcomes are vastly improved when fathers participate."

Research suggests Australian fathers’ participation in existing parenting programs ranges from 0 – 70%. So what is preventing fathers from participating? UNSW researcher and senior project leader, Dr Lucy Tully believes there is a range of reasons.

“Existing parenting programs were originally developed with mothers in mind so at the moment programs aren’t tailored for Australian fathers,” Dr Tully says.

“Many clinics only open 9 to 5 which makes it hard for working fathers.

“Some fathers may also feel this is ‘mother’s business’ or may be struggling with their own health and psychological problems,” Dr Tully says.

UNSW researchers are now calling on fathers to share their views on what would make them more likely or would stop them from participating in parenting programs.

This information will be used to develop the world’s first online parenting program to help fathers learn advanced parenting strategies to manage their child’s aggression and antisocial behaviour.

Fathers aged over 18 with a child aged 2-16 years are invited to participate in the first ever Australia-wide online survey of fathers and/or in a father focus group.

Clinicians and therapists who deliver parenting programs or treat child conduct problems are also invited to share their experiences of working with fathers by completing this survey

Like Father Like Son, a National Approach to Violence, Antisocial Behaviour and Mental Health of Men And Boys, is funded by the Movember Foundation. The project includes researchers from the University of Sydney, the Australian Catholic University and the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.

For more information visit:

 New era for rare treasures: James Cook University Collection Goes Online

2nd September, 2015 - James Cook University’s library is sharing North Queensland’s cultural riches with the world, with the launch of its new digital archive.

The Online Special Collections Repository contains rare and fragile materials of cultural and historical significance to North Queensland that have been digitised and made available on the NQHeritage website (nqheritage@jcu).

On display at the library will be a wide variety of rare materials from the nine different special collections, including historical photographs, original artist sketchbooks, important business records, and the personal records of significant North Queenslanders.

A particular highlight is the photographs taken by the Reverend Frederic Charles Hall which date from 1902, and 39 sketchbooks by Atherton Tableland artist Val Russell. A carved writing desk with personalized silver and glass accessories dating from the 1900s used local Townsville personality Marjorie Green will also be shown.

Special collections librarian, Bronwyn McBurnie said the material available today was just the start. The vast bulk of some 45,000 early photos of North Queensland are still to be digitised and published.

She said NQHeritage marks the beginning of a new era for JCU Library Special Collections.

“It will allow us to provide a window into our many collections regardless of where you might be in the world. Through the new repository we can showcase the treasures we hold and where copyright law allows, unlock the digital copies we have for viewing via the Internet.”

Guests from around Australia, including family of people who have donated items to the collection and the Emeritus Bishop of Carpentaria, Tony Hall-Matthews, will gather to see JCU Vice Chancellor Sandra Harding perform the official launch.

“There is great interest in the history and heritage of North Queensland and the tropics and from today students, academics and researchers around the world will be able to see and learn more about our home,” Professor Harding said.

“The repository is a confident declaration that the Library and the University has its gaze firmly fixed on the future and is committed to exceptional scholarship through discovery, access and preservation of rare and fragile materials of cultural and historical significance.”

Ms McBurnie said there was a large amount of unpublished material such as original manuscripts of individuals and business records that could not be made available for viewing online, because they were subject to an unlimited copyright period.

She said efforts were underway with the federal government to try and have the law changed.

Top: Single person crossing a deserted street in Croydon, North Queensland. 1902-1909. Photographer - Reverend Frederic Charles Hall.

 Oxygen oasis in Antarctic lake reflects Earth in distant past

September 1, 2015 - At the bottom of a frigid Antarctic lake, a thin layer of green slime is generating a little oasis of oxygen, a team including UC Davis researchers has found. It's the first modern replica discovered of conditions on Earth two and a half billion years ago, before oxygen became common in the atmosphere. The discovery is reported in a paper in the journal Geology.

The switch from a planet with very little available oxygen to one with an atmosphere much like today's was one of the major events in Earth's history, and it was all because some bacteria evolved the ability to photosynthesize. By about 2.4 billion years ago, geochemical records show that oxygen was present all the way to the upper atmosphere, as ozone.

What is not clear is what happened in between, or how long the transition -- called the Great Oxidation Event -- lasted, said Dawn Sumner, professor and chair of earth and planetary sciences at UC Davis and an author on the paper. Scientists have speculated that here may have been "oxygen oases," local areas where was abundant before it became widespread around the planet.

The new discovery in Lake Fryxell in the McMurdo Dry Valleys could be a modern example of such an ancient oxygen oasis, and help geochemists figure out what to look for in ancient rocks, Sumner said.

Sumner and collaborators including Ian Hawes of the University of Canterbury, New Zealand have been studying life in these ice-covered lakes for several years. The microbes that survive in these remote and harsh environments are likely similar to the first forms of life to appear on Earth, and perhaps on other planets.

The discovery occurred "a little by accident," Sumner said. Hawes and Tyler Mackey, a UC Davis graduate student working with Sumner, were helping out another research team by diving in Lake Fryxell. The lakes of the Dry Valleys typically contain oxygen in their upper layers, but are usually anoxic further down, Sumner said. Lake Fryxell is unusual because it becomes anoxic at a depth where light can still penetrate.

During their dives below the oxygen zone, Hawes and Mackey noticed some bright green bacteria that looked like they could be photosynthesizing. They took measurements and found a thin layer of oxygen, just one or two millimeters thick, being generated by the bacteria.

Something similar could have been happening billions of years ago, Sumner said.

"The thought is, that the lakes and rivers were anoxic, but there was light available, and little bits of oxygen could accumulate in the mats," she said.

The researchers now want to know more about the chemical reactions between the "oxygen oasis" and the anoxic water immediately above it and sediments below. Is the oxygen absorbed? What reactions occur with minerals in the water?

Understanding how this oxygen oasis reacts with the environment around it could help identify chemical signatures preserved in rocks. Researchers could then go looking for similar signatures in rocks from ancient lake beds to find "whiffs of oxygen" prior to the Great Oxidation Event.

Dawn Y. Sumner, Ian Hawes, Tyler J. Mackey, Anne D. Jungblut, Peter T. Doran. Antarctic microbial mats: A modern analog for Archean lacustrine oxygen oases. Geology, 2015; G36966.1 DOI:10.1130/G36966.1

Top: Lake Fryxell, Antarctica is permanently covered in ice, and the waters at the bottom are oxygen-free but still receive some sunlight. Scientists have discovered a thin layer of oxygen created by photosynthetic bacteria at the bottom of the lake. This could be a model for conditions on Earth 2.4 billion years ago, before oxygen became common in the atmosphere. Credit: Tyler Mackey, UC Davis

 Fossil specimen reveals a new species of ancient river dolphin

September 1, 2015 - The careful examination of fossil fragments from Panama has led Smithsonian scientists and colleagues to the discovery of a new genus and species of river dolphin that has been long extinct. The team named it Isthminia panamensis. The specimen not only revealed a new species to science, but also shed new light onto the evolution of today's freshwater river dolphin species. The team's research was published Sept. 1 in the scientific journal PeerJ.

The fossil, which dates from 5.8-6.1 million years ago, was found on the Caribbean coast near the town of Piña, Panama. It consists of half a skull, lower jaw with an almost entire set of conical teeth, right shoulder blade and two small bones from the dolphin's flipper. In comparison with other river dolphins--both fossil and living--the shape and size of these parts suggests that the full specimen may have been more than 9 feet in length.

Today there are only four species of river dolphins -- all living in freshwater or coastal ecosystems and all endangered, including the Chinese river dolphin, which is likely now extinct. Each of the modern river dolphin species show a common solution to the problem of adapting away from marine to freshwater habitats by converging upon a body plan that includes broad, paddle-like flippers, flexible necks and heads with particularly long, narrow snouts--all the better to navigate and hunt in winding, silty rivers.

But fossil evidence suggests that river dolphins' ancestors were widespread around the globe. I. panamensis was clearly one of them, and its fossil remains have helped the team understand something less clear: When in their evolutionary tract did river dolphins transition from the saltwater of the ocean to the freshwater of rivers?

"We discovered this new fossil in marine rocks, and many of the features of its skull and jaws point to it having been a marine inhabitant, like modern oceanic dolphins," said the study's lead author Nicholas D. Pyenson, curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. "Many other iconic freshwater species in the Amazon, such as manatees, turtles and stingrays have marine ancestors, but until now, the fossil record of river dolphins in this basin has not revealed much about their marine ancestry. Isthminia now gives us a clear boundary in geologic time for understanding when this lineage invaded Amazonia."

Other fossilized animals found at the same site as I. panamensis were marine species, indicating that unlike river dolphins living today, I. panamensis lived in the salty waters of a food-rich Caribbean Sea, before the full closure of the Panama Isthmus.

"Isthminia is actually the closest relative of the living Amazon river dolphin," said study co-author Aaron O'Dea, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. "While whales and dolphins long ago evolved from terrestrial ancestors to fully marine mammals, river dolphins represent a reverse movement by returning inland to freshwater ecosystems. As such, fossil specimens may tell stories not just of the evolution these aquatic animals, but also of the changing geographies and ecosystems of the past."

The Smithsonian's Digitization Program Office collaborated with the scientific team to create a high resolution 3-D scan of the fossil, allowing the scientists to create 3-D prints of the delicate specimen, whose bones are too fragile to be molded and casted by traditional approaches. A 3-D print of the fossil is on permanent display at Panama's BioMuseo--the original specimen will remain in the Smithsonian's collection at the National Museum of Natural History.

The name of the new genus, Isthminia, recognizes both the Panama Isthmus and the fossil specimen's living relative, the Amazon river dolphin, Inia geoffrensis. The study's authors chose the species name, panamensis, to recognize "the Republic of Panama, its people, and the many generations of scientists who have studied its geological and biological histories."

Nicholas D. Pyenson, Jorge Vélez-Juarbe, Carolina S. Gutstein, Holly Little, Dioselina Vigil, Aaron O’Dea. Isthminia panamensis, a new fossil inioid (Mammalia, Cetacea) from the Chagres Formation of Panama and the evolution of ‘river dolphins’ in the Americas. PeerJ, 2015; 3: e1227 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.1227

Top: This is an artistic reconstruction of Isthminia panamensis, a new fossil dolphin from Panama, feeding on a flatfish. Many features of this new species appear similar to today's ocean dolphins, yet the new fossil species is more closely related to the living Amazon River dolphin. The fossils of Isthminia panamensis were collected from marine rocks that date to a time (around 6 million years ago) before the Isthmus of Panama formed and a productive Central American Seaway connected the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Credit: Julia Molnar / Smithsonian Institution

 Landmark conference a boost for Australian data science

September 2nd, 2015 - UTS

If government and industry needed assurance of Australia's capacity to take a leadership role in the expanding field of data science, an international conference hosted recently by UTS and its Advanced Analytics Institute (AAI) provided all the necessary evidence according to Professor Longbing Cao.

"The conference demonstrated Australia's world-class leadership and expertise in big data analytics and the strong organising capabilities of the host in the global big data analytics communities," said Professor Cao, the general co-chair of the 21st ACM SIGKDD Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (KDD2015).

KDD2015 was the first Australian edition of the largest international conference in data analytics and only the second time it had been held in the Asia-Pacific region.

"In 2013, when I put my hand up to bid for KDD2015 in Sydney, some executive committee members of ACM SIGKDD worried about the high risk of moving the conference from the US to Australia, due to high costs, distance and small population of data analysts in Australia," Professor Cao said.

In the end it was second largest KDD conference with 1192 registrations, had the largest technical program and poster session, gained the highest amount of sponsorship and the highest level of support from local government, with the participation of the NSW Premier and Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation.

A co-located event, the 2015 Big Data Summit (BDS2015), also chaired by Professor Cao, attracted 450 registrations, making it the largest big data forum in Australia, bridging gaps between academia, industry and government. BDS2015 also featured two interesting forums: Big Data in China and Data Science in India.

Three international panels with KDD2015 and BDS2015, on data-driven science, bringing data analytics into the mainstream and big data in Asia, brought together world-leading scientists and practitioners as moderators and panellists.

"The successful organisation of KDD2015 and the 2015 Big Data Summit in Sydney will substantially lift the international leadership of the Australian community and boost potential applications, collaborations and interactions between Australia and regional and global users, designers and policy-makers," Professor Cao said.

"In 2005, when I started to talk about data science, nobody in Australia had heard about it or believed data science could become such a big thing today."

In the past 10 years Professor Cao has led work with many federal and state government and industry organisations showing the ways of undertaking advanced analytics to address critical business problems and inform evidence-based decision making, saving hundreds of millions of dollars per annum for society.

Professor Cao said that Australia has been playing an international leading role in initiating and promoting data science and analytics research, education and development, as well as professional activities including task forces, conferences and publications.

Led by Professor Cao since its founding in 2011, AAI has been widely recognised as a leading Australian group in data analytics, creating two world first degrees: a Master of Analytics (Research) and a PhD majoring in Analytics in 2011.

Related: Big data, big future

 How the mind sharpens the senses: Meditation

August 27, 2015 - A study conducted with experienced scholars of Zen-Meditation shows that mental focussing can induce learning mechanisms, similar to physical training. Researchers at the Ruhr-University Bochum and the Ludwig-Maximilians-University München discovered this phenomenon during a scientifically monitored meditation retreat. The journal Scientific Reports has now published their new findings on the plasticity of the brain.

Participants of the study use a special meditation technique

The participants were all Zen-scholars with many years of meditation practice. They were scientifically escorted during a four-day Zen-retreat in the spiritual center “Benediktushof”, Germany. The retreat was held in complete silence, with at least eight hours of meditation per day. All participants practiced their familiar meditation, which is characterized by a non-specific monitoring of thoughts and surroundings. Additionally, some participants applied a special finger-meditation for two hours per day, during which they were asked to specifically focus on their right index finger and become aware of spontaneously arising sensory percepts in this finger. Subsequent assessment of the group that practiced finger-meditation showed a significant improvement in the tactile acuity of the right index and middle finger. A control group that had maintained their familiar meditation practice for the whole time, showed no changes in tactile acuity.

Data show significant improvement of the sense of touch

In order to assess the sense of touch quantitatively, researchers measured the so-called “two-point discrimination threshold”. This marker indicates how far apart two stimuli need to be, in order to be discriminated as two separate sensations. After the finger meditation, the performance improved on average by 17 percent. By comparison, tactile acuity of the visually impaired is 15 to 25 percent above that of typical sighted individuals, because their sense of touch is used so intensively to make up for the reduced visual information. Hence, the changes induced by meditation are comparable to those achieved by intense long-term training.

Meditation induces plasticity and learning processes as active training or physical stimulation

It is known for long that extensive training induces neuroplasticity, which denotes the ability of the brain to adapt and restructure itself, thereby improving perception and behavior.  Recently, the group of neuroscientists of the Neural Plasticity Lab headed by Hubert Dinse has shown that these processes can be initiated even without training by mere exposure to passive stimulation, which was translated only recently into a stimulating glove, which is used as therapeutical intervention in stroke patients. The fact that merely mental states without any physical stimulation can improve perception has now been shown for the first time. “The results of our study challenge what we know about learning mechanisms in the brain. Our concept of neuroplasticity must be extended, because mental activity seems to induce learning effects similar to active stimulation and physical training,” Dinse suggests.

Sebastian T. Philipp, Tobias Kalisch, Thomas Wachtler, Hubert R. Dinse. Enhanced tactile acuity through mental states. Scientific Reports, 2015; 5: 13549 DOI: 10.1038/srep13549

 Health benefits of dog ownership explored in new research node

31 August 2015 - New Charles Perkins Centre node to unleash the physical, psychological and social effects of owning a dog

Man’s best friend is set to become his lab partner, with the launch of a research node on the health effects of dog ownership at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre.

Associate Professor Manos Stamatakis hopes the new node will reveal the effects of dog ownership and the mechanisms behind them. [Image: Sydney Alumni Magazine, Victoria Baldwin]

In collaboration with the RSPCA NSW, the dog ownership node brings together experts in public health, physical activity and exercise, disease prevention, behaviour change, health psychology, human-animal interactions, and canine health. 

Researchers hope the node will shed light on not only how dog ownership influences human health, but also on how these benefits could be harnessed as part of the health care system.

“Fragmented research has indicated the benefits of dog ownership on health, and in particular on physical activity through dog walking, but it has so far failed to provide a body of evidence on the extent of these benefits, and how and why they occur,” said node leader Associate Professor Manos Stamatakis, from the Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Health Sciences.

“We know that dogs can be not only a catalyst for physical activity, which is a major health issue in our society, but dog ownership can also address social isolation; the lack of connection between humans.

“What we want to understand is why these benefits occur. Is it because of the ownership itself, or because there is another mechanism that mediates this, like walking or companionship?”

The node is one of the world’s first coordinated, comprehensive research efforts in the field, and is the first to make interventions in human health its top priority.

With one of the world’s highest rates of dog ownership, Australia is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the health benefits of owning a dog.

Thirty-nine per cent of Australian households own a dog, and of these around two-thirds are estimated to be under-walked. Interventions designed to increase dog walking could therefore have a marked impact on human health.

Along with physical activity, researchers will also explore the psychological and psychosocial benefits of dog ownership, which are becoming increasingly important as the population ages.

“We know that with older age comes increasing isolation, and with that comes loneliness. It’s a major cardiovascular disease risk factor, it’s a major cancer risk factor, and it’s a major risk factor for depression,” Associate Professor Stamatakis said.

“One aspect of human isolation can be addressed simply by owning a dog, because of their companionship, unconditional acceptance and love that humans often do not get from other people.

“The second aspect is that the dog can be a catalyst to tighten human social connections and increase networks.”

According to Brendon Neilly, RSPCA NSW’s Executive Manager of Animal Care Services, the data produced by the Charles Perkins Centre’s dog ownership node could be used to make significant advances in human and animal health, with a potential path cleared for dogs to be used as part of the health care system.

“We could say to people like health care providers, public transport providers, rental accommodation owners, local governments, nursing homes and community groups that it’s not just anecdotal and it’s not just about letting people keep pets,” Mr Neilly said.

“If we can demonstrate a physiological measure, a genuine value, we can make real improvements to quality of life. And that’s for both owners and pets.”

 New support for carbon capture and storage R&D

31 August 2015 - The Australian Government is investing in the advancement of carbon capture and storage technologies, through a research fund designed to facilitate industry investment and research, Minister for Industry and Science Ian Macfarlane said.

The $25 million Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Research Development and Demonstration Fund will focus on transport and storage projects.

“Australia has a diverse energy mix, made up of traditional energy sources such as coal, through to gas and renewables.  The diversity of this mix will continue to underpin Australia’s economic future,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“Australia’s energy resources are one of our most significant competitive advantages.

“Just as we are using science to boost our key economic sectors, investment in research for carbon capture and storage technologies will be important as the coal and gas industries continue to develop both for our domestic use and for export.

“As Australia and our major trading partners continue to use our valuable resources responsibly, further research and development in low emissions energy sources will further strengthen Australia’s role as an energy superpower.

“Industry has a critical role to play in developing CCS technologies and investing in its own future, through the application of science and research in this field.”

The programme will address research priorities in CCS including subsurface knowledge and mapping, transport infrastructure, whole of chain integration and development of international collaboration and partnerships.

Activities under the Fund will be principally based in Australia to ensure national expertise on transport and storage is expanded however, the Fund will also provide support to leverage international expertise where advantageous.

For more information, visit

 We've all got a blind spot, but it can be shrunk

August 31, 2015 - You've probably never noticed, but the human eye includes an unavoidable blind spot. That's because the optic nerve that sends visual signals to the brain must pass through the retina, which creates a hole in that light-sensitive layer of tissue. When images project to that precise location, we miss them. Now researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on August 31 have some good news: this blind spot can be effectively "shrunk" with training, despite the fact that the hole in our visual field cannot be.

The findings raise the possibility that similar methods might improve vision in people with age-related macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in Western countries.

"We did not confidently expect to see much reduction in functional blindness, as you can never develop photosensitivity within the blind spot itself," says Paul Miller of The University of Queensland in Australia. "You can only enhance sensitivity at the blind spot periphery, but this proved sufficient to bring about a ten percent reduction in functional blindness."

The researchers trained 10 people for 20 consecutive weekdays on a direction-discrimination task in which they were presented with a drifting sinusoidal waveform in a ring centered about the physiological blind spot of one of their eyes. The size of the ring was adjusted such that participants could correctly gauge the direction of movement about 70% of the time.

At the end of the training, those individuals showed improvements in the ability to correctly judge both the direction and the color of the waveform. Training on one eye did not transfer to the blind spot in the untrained eye, suggesting that the improvement wasn't simply a matter of practicing the task. Rather, the researchers say, the data are consistent with the notion that training enhanced the sensitivity of neurons with receptive fields that partially overlap, or abut, the physiological blind spot. As a result, they say, the eye apparently becomes more sensitive to weak signals originating primarily from within the region of blindness.

If training protocols can reduce blindness associated with the physiological blind spot, they might prove similarly effective in other cases of blindness. Such training protocols might also be used to assist in the recovery of vision along with other developing technologies, such as the bionic eye or retinal stem cell therapy.

Miller says they plan to further optimize their training protocol in normally sighted people around the physiological blind spot and to then test its use in people with age-related macular degeneration.

Paul A. Miller, Guy Wallis, Peter J. Bex, Derek H. Arnold. Reducing the size of the human physiological blind spot through training.Current Biology, 2015; 25 (17): R747 DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2015.07.026