Inbox and Environment News: Issue 256 

 March 20 - 26, 2016: Issue 256

Sisters of Mercy: UN Address - Human Rights on Fracking

Published on 3 Mar 2016

UN Human Rights discussion on Fracking and the Chinchilla region of QLD, and in NSW, Australia

CSG on Western Downs reported to UN Human Rights Council

This month, during the 31st Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, CSG and its impact on the Western Downs were raised twice for the attention of the UN and the Australian Government.

On 17 March during Australia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the Sisters of Mercy: Mercy Global Action at the UN, the NGO Mining Working Group, Franciscans International, and Food & Water Watch joined the Western Downs and Wider Unconventional Gas Group (WDWUGG) of Chinchilla and made an oral response to Australia’s Report urging the Government to heed the testimony of the community in Chinchilla at the recent Senate Inquiry on this issue to inform domestic legislation and policy. Also referenced was Australia seeking a seat on the Human Rights Council in 2018, and the need for the Government to show leadership by addressing the human rights impacts of coal seam gas mining on its citizens.

The UPR response can be viewed here: (Chapter 21)

Reponses to Bill passed this week restricting the Right to Protest and Fracking Concerns in Chinchilla QLD begin at 46.37: International Service for Human Rights(Joint statement), Ms. Theresa Louise McEvoy Statement in PDF and Sisters of Mercy of the Americas(Joint statement), Mr. Budi Tjahjono at 48:53 Statement in PDF

On Thursday, 3 March, the same group, delivered an oral intervention at the United Nations Human Rights Council. The statement concerned the increasingly urgent and widespread issue of unconventional gas impacts on human rights and particularly the issues faced on the Western Downs.

The intervention can be viewed here: 

Western Downs resident, and spokesperson for the WDW UGG, Shay Dougall, said “This historic intervention to the UN Human Rights Council by the Sisters of Mercy was a pivotal moment for Australians, particularly those of us in the Western Downs of Queensland, but also those in NSW and the NT who are trying to prevent they type of impact that Queensland is suffering.

We have been fighting for our rights and highlighting governmental failures at every level to heed peoples’ concerns and prevent human rights violations related to coal seam gas mining”.

The Intervention and UPR response drew attention to the recent Senate Inquiry into Unconventional Gas Mining, in which human rights violations caused by unconventional gas mining, including “damage to potable water; refusal to offer protection from the hazards of unconventional gas mining; refusal to allow for the proper complaint process and participation; failure to carryout study and testing to monitor the safety of food grown in the area and atmospheric and environmental damage,” have been brought to the attention of the Australian government.

The Intervention and response was made following on from the Sisters Of Mercy’s visit to the Western Downs in October 2015. Also as a result of their visit, a cooperative of groups and interdisciplinary individuals have gathered as the Western Downs and Wider Unconventional Gas Group (WDW UGG). This group has formed with the mandate to hold an Australian Tribunal into the Human Rights Impacts of Unconventional Gas. 

“To date the fight against the unfettered government support for the growth of the unconventional gas industry at the expense of affected communities has been frustrating and damaging. 

“Therefore, we are calling upon the international conventions to address the human rights violations happening right now in the Western Downs as a result of Unconventional Gas” Ms Dougall said.

See also:

Protect our families from CSG Alliance

Published on 14 Feb 2016

Find out what it's like to live in a gasfield. Support these 

National Party exposed as farmers sold out for big mining, NSW anti-protest laws passes

March 16, 2016: Lock the Gate Alliance

The National Party has this week irrevocably taken the part of big mining giants over farmers and rural communities, as they moved ahead to pass anti-protest in the NSW Parliament that will mean landholders could face 7-year jail terms for locking their gates to miners.

In just over a week, more than 20,000 people from across NSW have signed a petition opposing the Baird Government’s controversial anti-protest laws, and the NSW Bar Association and the Law Society have both spoken out about the damaging effect it would have on civil liberties.

Despite the vast opposition, the bill was rushed through Parliament without being referred to a Committee, and without any public consultation.

The Bill was passed through the Lower House and debated in the NSW Upper House late last night, where it was supported by the National Party, Shooters and Fishers party and Christian Democrat Fred Nile, but was opposed by Labor and the Greens.  The Bill is likely to be passed today, after consideration of amendments.

Phil Laird, Spokesperson for Lock the Gate Alliance, said the community does not accept people being silenced in favour of mining and coal seam gas interests.

“The National Party have today nailed their colours to the mast of the mining industry.  We expect this to have massive implications for the result in the New England electorate in the upcoming Federal election” Mr Laird said.

“How could the National Party ever justify a seven-year jail term for a landholder who doesn’t want mining on their land and locks their gate?

“The National Party have turned against their own constituents, and they don’t deserve to be re-elected in key rural seats in the upcoming Federal election.

“For years, farmers and landholders have been calling on the NSW government and the National Party to protect their water and land from the worst of the mining industry, never could they have imagined losing basic freedoms over their property instead.

“The National Party and the Baird Government has well and truly lost the community debate, now it has stooped to intimidation and winding back rights to push ahead with mining.

“The basic role of government is to act in the best interests of the community, not enlist the police in silencing communities on having a say on their future” he said.

Pittwater Councils Environment Newsletter - Cooee March/April 2016

A Compilation of current local Environment News and upcoming Events issued bi-monthly

HERE (PDF - 2.65 MB) - Subscribe to receive HERE

A few Important Extracts from the Current - March/April edition:


Native to tropical America and member of the Asteraceae family, Singapore Daisy (Sphagneticola trilobata) is a vigorous ground cover with lush glossy green leaves in pairs up the stem, usually three lobed (hence the species name) but mostly with irregular toothed margins. Yellow to orange-yellow single daisy flowers about two centimetres across are produced from spring to summer and although variable amounts of seeds are produced, it is mainly spread vegetatively by cuttings via slashing and pruning.

Singapore Daisy colonises rapidly with stems rooting at the nodes, forming thick spreading mats up to two metres in length and 70 centimetres high that smother native groundcover, shrubs and seedlings.

Sphagneticola trilobata - photo by Wedelia

This garden escapee is already a declared Class 3 noxious weed in Queensland and well established in a variety of different environments including riparian areas, drains, roadside, wetlands and rainforest edges. However, in NSW Singapore Daisy has only recently been documented in a drainage area in Wyong Council and most recently in Pittwater, colonising a section of native groundcover in the Bush to Bay reserve, Careel Bay. This first known local incursion is highlighted for control as soon as funding is available to halt spreading.

If you think you have seen Singapore Daisy and certainly before commencing weed control, please contact Council’s Noxious Weed Officer on 9970 1111 to ensure that you have correctly identified this new weed as there are a few similar native daisy plants includingEnhydra fluctuans and Melanthera biflora that may be mistaken for this aggressive weed species. 



Come along and give the local community volunteers a hand to restore the coastal heath at the northern area of Bilgola Beach. This project is part of a Federal Government funded Salty Communities Grant for the ‘Biodiversity Protection of Bilgola Creek Catchment’.

The aim is working to restore and repair weed infested coastal bushland to a healthy viable state. Bush regeneration and weed control works are being undertaken along the walkway from Allen Avenue up to the Serpentine.

The morning event will help to replace weed infestation with local native coastal heath species. Can you give an hour or two on this morning? Want some more information about the project? Please contact the Bushland Management Officer on 9970 1390.

When: Monday 21 March, 8 – 11am

Where: Meet at the end of Allen Avenue, Bilgola Beach (northern end).



Sunday 3 April, 9 – 11:30am

Come and join us for a walk through Ingleside Chase Reserve, Pittwater’s largest continuous piece of bushland that contains many beautiful plant communities and threatened fauna.

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.


Sunday 10 April, 7 – 9am

Come for a morning with the birds. We will take you for a fantastic guided walk to learn more about our feathered friends. Our birding mornings are guided by local experts and are a great opportunity to get a better look at our local bird life. A great activity for those people interested to learn more as well as passionate birdwatchers. It’s a great morning out for everyone!


Saturday 23 April, 9 – 11am

Come and join us for a tour of the headlands of Narrabeen and Warriewood. This is a spectacular walk suitable for the whole family. Discover new places and secret beaches.


Saturday 14 May, 9 – 11am

Avalon. Meeting point provided on booking.

Join us for a relaxing morning walk taking in the beautiful views and coastal bushland of Bangalley Head.

Bangalley Head stands as the highest point and one of Pittwater’s largest bushland reserves on its clifftop coastline. This – together with the great variety of native plants and beautiful ocean views – makes Bangalley Head a haven for bushwalkers and wildlife alike. Native birds and marsupials – such as ringtail possums, honeyeaters, spinebills, finches and wrens – feed, breed and shelter among the dense thickets of coastal scrub and pockets of rainforest plants.

This is a fun walk for all the family and a great opportunity to learn more about our amazing flora and fauna!

Bookings essential for all events!

Online -

In person: Coastal Environment Centre, Lake Park Road, North Narrabeen Phone: 1300 000 232


Would you like to know more about our local birds and explore our bushland reserves? Then join us on one of our bird walks:

17 April, Deep Creek Reserve, near Narrabeen Lagoon

21 August, Chiltern Track, Ingleside (birds and wildflowers)

25 September, Irrawong Reserve, North Narrabeen

27 November, Warriewood Wetlands

Most walks start at 7.30 or 8am and last a couple of hours. Bring binoculars and morning tea for afterwards if you like. for details of each walk.

Wild Things Talk At Warriewood: Get Native Bee Hives, Nest Boxes For your Own Backyard

Thursday 21 April, 7:15pm

Nelson Heather Centre, Banksia Room, 5 Jacksons Road, Warriewood

If you are passionate about our wildlife and their presence in our local areas – why not get help in your own backyard?

The Wild Things program, based at Ku-ring-gai Council, aims to protect urban wildlife and create suitable habitat in our backyards to encourage the return of wildlife. Wild Things work with Permaculture Northern Beaches and supply native bee hives. They also supply native fish, nest boxes as well as promote swimming pool conversions to aquaponics.

For more information please contact

Report illegal dumping

NSW Government

The RIDonline website lets you report the types of waste being dumped and its GPS location. Photos of the waste can also be added to the report.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA), councils and Regional Illegal Dumping (RID) squads will use this information to investigate and, if appropriate, issue a fine or clean-up notice.

Penalties for illegal dumping can be up to $15,000 and potential jail time for anybody caught illegally dumping within five years of a prior illegal dumping conviction.

This is the first time RIDonline has been opened to the public. Since September last year, the EPA, councils, RID squads and public land managers have used it to report more than 20,000 tonnes of illegally dumped waste across more than 70 local government areas.

The NSW Government has allocated $58 million over five years to tackle illegal dumping as part of its $465.7 million Waste Less Recycle More initiative. NSW Premier Mike Baird has also committed to reducing the volume of litter by 40%, by 2020 to help keep NSW's environment clean.

Elvina & Fredericks Tracks - an Aussie flora wonderland in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

Bird In Backyards TV: Published on 16 Mar 2016

This photo collection features the beauty and diversity of plant species in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. The photos were taken during the months of February and March 2016, and show many of the plants in flower.

Protect the Pilliga Forest and the Great Artesian Basin

Pilliga Push Video: Published on 15 March 2016

Santos’ plans to build gasfields across the Gunnedah Basin of North West NSW are being met with fierce community opposition. Their Narrabri Gas Project is Santos’ plan to drill 850 coal seam gas wells through the Pilliga forest, the largest inland forest left in Eastern Australia.

Santos’ risky quest for coal seam gas in the Pilliga so far has met disastrous results – with over 20 pollution scares, including groundwater contamination, waste spills, and continuing leaks from evaporation ponds.

The Billarrga is one of very few significant recharge zones for the entire Great Artesian Basin (GAB), which extends over 22% of Australia and maintains base flows to countless wetlands, streams and rivers. This land is an incredibly sacred water sink, where the water cycle enters the largest underground water reservoir in the world, as well as contributes significantly to the head of pressure that helps drive the underground water flows.

This head of pressure created beneath the Billarrga enables the release of water back to the surface in more arid zones in Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and NSW, through natural springs and bores.

This process also helps hydrate the Murray Darling Basin and contributes significantly to the base flows of the Darling River.

Coal seams act as landscape filters, and the extreme water pressures deep below the ground have locked in hundreds of millions of years of accumulated salts and toxins, including volatile organic compounds, heavy metals and radioactive particles.

To release the gas from the coal seams Santos need to de-water and de-pressurise them, the process plans to remove 46 Gigalitres of water from our underground reserves. The decrease in water pressure within the coal seams will impact significantly on the head of pressure driving the GAB, as well as release the salts and toxins.

In short, this campaign is about saving Australia’s future water security, food security and economic prosperity. ‘Water Is Life’, and once we destroy the water, there is no longer an economy, community or ecology.

Have your say on Illawarra Coals application for further Subsidence Management Plan approval

Date: 14.03.2016 Type: Departmental Media Release  Author: Department of Planning and Environment

The Department of Planning and Environment is seeking community feedback on Illawarra Coal’s application for further approval under the Subsidence Management Plan (SMP) for Area 3B of the Dendrobium Coal Mine, west of Wollongong.

The existing SMP was approved in 2013 and covers all underground mining within Area 3B, including Longwalls 9 to 19. However, the conditions of the SMP allowed only for extraction of coal from Longwalls 9 to 13, and specifically required further assessment and approval to be granted for extraction from the remaining longwalls.

The current application from Illawarra Coal seeks approval for extraction of coal from Longwalls 14 to 18. 

A spokesperson for the Department said the Department is aware of community interest in the project and is encouraging everyone to take a look at the plan and have their say.

“Community consultation is an integral part of the planning process and the applicant will have to respond to the feedback we receive,” the spokesperson said.

“Feedback from the community and other government agencies will be carefully considered by the Department during its assessment.”

To make a submission or view the policy, visit 

Submissions can be made from Monday, 14 March until Monday, 11 April 2016.

Written submissions can also be made to:

Department of Planning and Environment, Attn: Executive Director – Resource Assessments & Business Systems, GPO Box 39, Sydney NSW 2001

The application and EIS are also available to view in person at:

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

Wollongong City Council, 41 Burelli Street, Wollongong

Wingecarribee Shire Council, 68 Elizabeth Street, Moss Vale

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

Direct Link:

Seagrass at Perth’s Rottnest island (Australia) has paid a terrible price for the island’s popularity among tourists and day-trippers

March 15, 2016

Photography shows the loss of seagrass in bays around Rottnest Island off the coast of Perth. Credit: ECU

Seagrass covering 48,000sq m has been scoured from the sands of Rottnest Island (Western Australia') by almost 900 mooring chains used by recreational boats according to research from Edith Cowan University and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB).

The research published in the journal Nature: Scientific Reports surveyed the 'scars' created by mooring chains in the bays around one of Western Australia's iconic tourist destinations.

Dr Oscar Serrano led the research with Professor Paul Lavery and Professor Pere Masque from the Edith Cowan University (ECU) and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB and Department of Physics UAB), and said the movement of the chains scraped seagrass off the seafloor.

"As moored boats drift with the currents, wind and waves they drag a heavy chain across the seafloor and that chain acts just like a razor across the skin removing the seagrass," said Oscar Serrano.

"But unlike a 5 o'clock shadow -- in this case the seagrass doesn't grow back.

"Unfortunately these protected, calm bays favoured for boat moorings are also prime habitats for seagrass."

Efforts to preserve seagrass meadows by using seagrass friendly mooring lines in some areas is resulting in the recovery of seagrass in some areas of the Island however overall seagrass covers is decreasing.

That's because the size of mooring scars in Stark Bay on the Island's north coast has increased about 500 per cent from 2,000sqm in 1980to 9,000 sqm today due to erosion of the already scarred areas by wave action.

"Once the mooring chains have started the process of scouring, waves will likely continue spreading those scoured areas.

"In Stark Bay, we've seen the scarred areas join up to become large areas devoid of any seagrass."

The destruction of the seagrass meadows has important implications for the ecosystems of Perth's favourite marine playground.

"Seagrass is an important habitat for many species of fish as well as a food source for dugong and turtles," he said.

"More importantly in a global sense, seagrass absorbs carbon dioxide at more than 40 times faster than tropical rainforests.

"What that also means is that when the seagrass meadows are wiped out the carbon dioxide which has been absorbed over hundreds of years, is released back into the atmosphere."

As part of this project, core samples were taken in the scarred areas and where seagrass still existed.

Those sample showed on average more than 75 per cent of carbon absorbed in those seagrass meadows was lost increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Dr Serrano said it is important steps are taken to protect the seagrass meadows around Rottnest Island and the rest of Australia.

"These older style moorings have started to be replaced on Rottnest Island, but that needs to continue here and in other popular mooring sites," he said.

Fast facts on seagrass:

• Seagrass meadows cover about 90,000 sq km of seabed off Australia's coast -- that's about the same size as Tasmania.

• Seagrass absorbs CO2 about 40 times faster than rainforests and could be a valuable way to offset carbon emissions.

• But as seagrass meadows die off due to climate change and the effects of human development, that CO2 will be released.

• It is notoriously hard to propagate seagrasses and replace meadows lost due to human influences.

Serrano, O. et al. Impact of mooring activities on carbon stocks in seagrass meadows. Scientific Reports, 2016 DOI: 10.1038/srep23193

Draft Joint Management Agreement for the Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program - Have Your Say

What's this about?

The Department of Primary Industries and the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) have reviewed the 2009 Joint Management for the Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) program and drafted a new agreement, which is now on public exhibition.

In accordance with the Joint Management Agreements, those agreements from 2009 have been reviewed after five years, which recommended numerous amendments to the agreements, including consolidating the two agreements into one draft agreement  and updating the Management Plan.

Before entering into a Joint Management Agreement, the Minister for Primary Industries and the Chief Executive of the Office of Environment and Heritage must give the public an opportunity to make submissions on the draft agreement. All written submissions received before the closing date must be considered prior to finalising the Joint Management Agreement. The draft agreement may be amended to take into account any submissions received.

For more information visit the NSW Department of Primary IndustriesShark Meshing Page

Have your say

Submit your feedback by 5pm Thursday 31 March 2016 via email or post to:

JMA Review Submissions, NSW DPI, Locked Bag 1, Nelson Bay NSW 2315

Fertilizer applied to fields today will pollute water for decades

March 14, 2016

Dangerous nitrate levels in drinking water could persist for decades, increasing the risk for blue baby syndrome and other serious health concerns, according to a new study published by researchers at the University of Waterloo.

Nitrogen fertilizer applied to farmers' fields has been contaminating rivers and lakes and leaching into drinking water wells for more than 80 years. The study, published this week in a special issue of the journal Environmental Research Letters, reveals that elevated nitrate concentrations in rivers and lakes will remain high for decades, even if farmers stop applying nitrogen fertilizers today.

The researchers have discovered that nitrogen is building up in soils, creating a long-term source of nitrate pollution in ground and surface waters.

"A large portion of the nitrogen applied as fertilizer has remained unaccounted for over the last decades," said Nandita Basu, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Civil and Environmental Engineering. "The fact that nitrogen is being stored in the soil means it can still be a source of elevated nitrate levels long after fertilizers are no longer being applied."

Their paper presents the first direct evidence of a large-scale nitrogen legacy across the United States' Mississippi River Basin.

Forced to invest millions of dollars to upgrade their water treatment plants, Des Moines Water Works, Iowa's largest drinking water utility, is currently suing three upstream counties for failing to address harmful surface-water nitrate levels that are more than twice the US federal drinking water standard.

Such nitrate concentrations are likely to remain stubbornly high, according to the Canadian research team.

Professor Basu and her group analyzed long-term data from over two thousand soil samples throughout the Mississippi River Basin to reveal a systematic accumulation of nitrogen in agricultural soils. In many areas, this accumulation was not apparent in the upper plow layer, but instead was found from 25-100 cm beneath the soil surface

"We hypothesize that this accumulation occurred not only because of the increased use of fertilizers, but also increases in soybean cultivation and changes in tillage practices over the past 80 years," said Kim Van Meter, a doctoral student in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the Faculty of Science.

Their modeling results suggest that this nitrogen legacy could still be leaching into waterways more than three decades after nitrogen is no longer being applied to fields.

Similar to phosphorus, nitrogen is a limiting nutrient for plants and when applied as fertilizer helps increase crop yields.

Unfortunately when too much nitrogen is added, the excess enters waterways, causing hypoxic conditions such as the Gulf of Mexico's massive dead zone and threatening drinking water quality. Exposure to excessive nitrate in drinking water causes serious health problems, including Methemoglobinemia or blue baby syndrome in infants.

Since the 1970s, farmers and policymakers alike have worked hard to reduce the amount of fertilizer leaking from agricultural fields to groundwater and nearby lakes and streams. Yet in some rural areas, nitrate levels have been found to be more than ten times the drinking water standard.

"The presence of this legacy nitrogen means it will take even longer for best management practices to have a measurable benefit," said Professor Basu, also a member of the Water Institute. "If we're going to set policy goals, it's critical we quantify nitrogen legacies and time lags in human impacted landscapes."

Basu and other researchers at the University of Waterloo are currently exploring nitrogen legacies across North America as well as at the global level.

K J Van Meter, N B Basu, J J Veenstra, C L Burras. The nitrogen legacy: emerging evidence of nitrogen accumulation in anthropogenic landscapes. Environmental Research Letters, 2016; 11 (3): 035014 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/11/3/035014

Spotlight On Sustainability Of Pittwater Estuary

29 February 2016

Member for Pittwater Rob Stokes today announced the NSW Government is commencing consultation on the future of commercial fishing within the Pittwater estuary.

The NSW Marine Estate Management Authority has put forward a range of management initiatives to help improve marine conservation and maximise community benefits in key coastal areas.

The Pittwater estuary has been identified due to evidence of resource-use conflict between commercial net fishing and other user groups and the threats posed to the estuary’s long-term environmental sustainability and social value.

“The Pittwater estuary is our community’s most valuable natural asset,” Rob Stokes said today.

“Boating, fishing, kayaking, sailing and swimming are key parts of our community’s lifestyle and are all supported by this incredible waterway.

“Countless marine based businesses, tourism operators and retail providers also heavily depend on the estuary’s attractiveness and sustainability.

“Managing risks and conflicts is vital to help protect this valuable community asset and the continuation of commercial netting is now squarely under the spotlight.

“Various controls such as closures to commercial netting on weekends have been implemented but concerns still remain.

“For the first time an extensive threat and risk assessment has been undertaken and our community is now being asked to have our say on the future of commercial netting and the best ways forward.

“Community feedback will help inform further evaluation of the management responses and final recommendations to the NSW Government later this year.

“Copies of the report, and details on how to provide feedback, are available by visiting .

“Submissions close on 24 April – so I encourage everyone who uses and enjoys the Pittwater to get involved and have their say,” Rob Stokes said.


Hawkesbury Shelf marine bioregion assessment

Have your say

The NSW Government is inviting your comments on suggested management initiatives to enhance marine biodiversity in the Hawkesbury Shelf marine bioregion while achieving balanced community outcomes, including opportunities for a wide range of recreational and commercial uses. These initiatives are described in the Marine Estate Management Authority’s Discussion Paper.

The Discussion Paper (4.8 MB, PDF) summarises the outcomes of community engagement, the findings of the threat and risk assessment and presents eight suggested management initiatives being considered to address the priority threats.

Supporting the discussion paper are seven background reportsincluding the Hawkesbury Shelf Marine Bioregion Threat and Risk Assessment (TARA) Report. A series of frequently asked questions are also available.

The feedback you provide will help inform the final package of management initiatives that MEMA will present to the NSW Government in mid-2016.

You can also provide new evidence about the threats that affect your use and enjoyment of the bioregion. New evidence could include scientific data, research outcomes or reports, including unpublished data.

Online submissions are welcome from 28 February 2016 until Sunday 24 April 2016.

Hard copy submission forms are also available at NSW DPI Fisheries offices and completed forms can be posted to:

Submission - Hawkesbury Shelf marine bioregion initiatives

NSW Department of Primary Industries, Locked Bag 1, Nelson Bay NSW 2315

If you would like to receive newsletters or notifications on the project, please email with your name, email address and postcode to be included on our mailing list.

Hollows as Homes Citizen Scientist Project: Sydney and NSW

Launched March 3rd, 2016: Royal Botanic Garden Sydney and University of Sydney

With the help of the community this project aims to assess the availability of tree hollows and their use by wildlife across the Sydney region. The Hollows as Homes team wants you to report tree hollow(s) in your backyard, street, park and/or paddock through

Find out more and Register at:

Facebook page

Participants will take measurements of the hollow-bearing tree and periodically conduct monitoring and report wildlife using the hollow(s). Training is available through workshops and the website.


Around 300 animal species rely on tree hollows in Australia, including birds, possums, gliders, microbats, frogs, lizards, snakes, insects and spiders. Changes to the landscape from urbanisation and agriculture not only reduce the amount of trees and homes for animals, but also create big gaps between the remaining trees and bushland. In New South Wales, of terrestrial vertebrate species that are reliant on tree hollows for shelter 40 species are listed as threatened with extinction.

Why does tree hollow loss matter?

Tree hollows are so important to our native wildlife, that their loss has been classed as a Key Threatening Process to biodiversity in New South Wales. It can take decades for a tree hollow to form. In Australia, there are no animals that are able to create tree hollows (e.g. wood pecker), thus hollow creation is a slow process that relies on fungus to eat away at the tree. What can we do to help?Cities and agricultural areas provide habitat for endangered animals and plants. We can encourage animals to share our cities, suburbs and farms by retaining:

Large, hollow bearing trees

Remnant patches of bushland that surround these trees which make it easier for them to move through the environment

Dead trees which provide important habitat whether they are standing or on the ground.

Top: Lorikeet in Angophora, McKay Reserve, Palm Beach

Turandot on Sydney Harbour

 Set Designer Dan Potra's design for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour — Turandot Image courtesy of Opera Australia. 

The countdown is on for the most spectacular production of Puccini’s Turandot ever staged 

Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour 2016 

Monday 14 March 2016

Opera Australia tonight unveiled the magnificent stage for this year’s Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour production of Turandot, the biggest and most ambitious to date with two huge feature pieces dominating the over-water stage. 

A giant 9m high and 60m long dragon incorporating the Great Wall of China and an 18m high illuminated pagoda will tower over the stage and set the scene for one of the most spectacular productions of Turandot ever staged. 

As the soaring notes of the world’s most famous aria, Nessun Dorma rang out over the waters of Sydney Harbour for the first time, Opera Australia’s artistic director Lyndon Terracini is counting days to opening night on Thursday 24 March. 

“We really have raised the bar this year,” said Terracini. “All the elements are coming together beautifully. We have some of the most talented artists in the world working on this event, from our director Chen Shi-Zheng and designer Dan Potra, through to our incredible cast and crew and all the supporting craftsmen and women who are working tirelessly to pull this together, it is going to be our most spectacular to date. 

“We want everyone to come to Turandot. It’s the perfect opportunity for people who have never been to an opera, and if you know Turandot already, then you’re going to be amazed by this production,” Terracini said. 

Puccini’s Turandot is a fantasy opera of poetry and myth, set in an exotic world where fear and love go hand in hand and death is always just around the corner. When Pavarotti sang out the top B in Nessum Dorma across a huge crowd at the 1990 FIFA World Cup, the world collectively held its breath. A generation of football fans were learning what opera was all about – music that can transport you to another world, another place, a place where emotion wells up inside you at the sound of a single note.

Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour Turandot runs from 24 March to 24 April 2016 and is proudly supported by the NSW Government through its tourism and major events agency Destination NSW. Bookings: Tickets from $70 + booking fee. Opera Australia Box Office (02) 9318 8200 


Famous for the wonderful aria ‘Nessun dorma’, Turandot has plenty more gorgeous music. Here’s everything you need to know.

Eastern Yellow Robin in Bobbin Head rainforest habitat

Published on 17 Mar 2016: BIRDS IN BACKYARDS TV

This video was filmed in March 2016 and shows an Australian Eastern Yellow Robin in rainforest habitat. The rainforest is located in Bobbin Head, part of the Kur-ring-gai Chase National Park.

$1.4m donation to UNSW will help train GPs in the roll out of new hepatitis C cures


From L-R: Professor Greg Dore (Kirby), Mrs Jenny Alison (niece of Dr Joseph), Mrs Anne Orban, Dr Tanya Applegate (Kirby), Mr Scott Alison, Mr Frank Orban and Ms Janet Hall (UNSW).

The Kirby Institute at UNSW has welcomed a $1.4 million gift from the late Dr Lynn Joseph that will help transform the lives of Australians living with hepatitis C.

The World War II and Kokoda Track veteran practised medicine as a general practitioner for more than 60 years, before passing away in 2013 at the age of 94.

Dr Joseph’s relatives, including his nieces Jenny Alison and Gai Stanton, officially presented the bequest to the Kirby Institute yesterday.

The philanthropic donation will initially be used to support training to upskill general practitioners, who will be pivotal to the roll-out of new, highly curative hepatitis C therapies.

The new medicines were listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) on 1 March, making them accessible and affordable to the approximately 230,000 Australians living with chronic hepatitis.

Australia is a world leader in facilitating patient access to the life-saving hepatitis C treatments and the inclusion of general practitioners as prescribers.

The Kirby Institute’s Professor Greg Dore will lead a team to investigate the best ways to engage general practitioners in the management of hepatitis C and provide training for administering the new treatments.

“Dr Joseph’s commitment to holistic care for patients and the crucial role of community marks a profound alignment with the values and work of the Kirby Institute,” Professor Dore said.

“His gift will have a real impact on our ability to transform the lives of people living with hepatitis C in Australia. With broad access to these game-changing new treatments and general practitioner management, Australia will truly lead the world in the treatment of the virus, and Dr Joseph’s legacy of care will continue through this work”. 

Ecology redefined in game-changing nutrition research

17 March 2016: University of Sydney

New research from the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre will create a seismic shift in the study of ecology, transforming one of the fundamental concepts of the field with cutting-edge nutrition research.

Published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, the study merges modern nutrition research with niche theory, a core concept used by scientists to understand the range of circumstances in which an animal can survive and thrive. The breakthrough will have a major impact on conserving threatened species, predicting and managing the spread of invasive species, and understanding evolution.

Niche theory - in which animals are classified either as generalists, which can thrive in a wide variety of circumstances, or specialists, which can only survive in specific circumstances - is central to environmental management, particularly in the face of global climate change.   

"This research is vitally important, and we believe it will become foundational for the field of ecology," said Dr Gabriel Machovsky-Capuska, from the University's Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Veterinary Science.

"At the centre of ecology and evolution is the niche concept, and at the centre of the niche concept is diet. 

"Ecologists had looked almost exclusively at the foods animals eat or their energy content, rather than the mixtures of nutrients and other compounds they contain." 

Humans are a prime example of the flaws in dietary niche theory. Having thrived all over the planet in often extreme environments, they are considered the ultimate generalist species. However, what has allowed humans to spread is not physiological flexibility, as niche theory would have it, but the advancements in culture which have allowed them to exploit a wide range of food sources. Other animals may appear to survive on a wide variety of diets, but this may be because they need a variety of foods to fulfil very specific nutritional needs.

"The argument of niche theory historically went as far as saying that all animals are trying to do is get a certain amount of energy," said co-author Dr Alistair Senior from the Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Science.

"We have known for a long time that nutrition is much more complex than that - just think of how much we know about human health or animal production - but this had not been considered as part of niche theory.

"Under the previous framework, researchers would look at a species that eats four or five different food types and say they are a generalist. They are clearly capable of catching fish or predating other animals or chewing through pinecones, but do they do that to very carefully regulate their overall diet balance or are they actually able to tolerate a wide variety of diet compositions?"

The study builds on pioneering research into nutritional ecology led by Charles Perkins Centre academics Professor Stephen Simpson and Professor David Raubenheimer, which has changed our understanding of animal and human nutrition by conceptualising diet as a multidimensional balance of macronutrients, rather than the a one-dimensional intake of food or energy.

Charles Perkins Centre researchers are now reapplying the fundamental ecological concepts used to research wild animals, about which very little is known, to humans, for whom there is an overabundance of information.

"This research will help us manage our relationships with the other species with which we share this earth," said Dr Machovsky-Capuska.

"Whether we like it or not, we are all reliant on the natural environment, and the more we can understand about it, the more we can predict and manage the impacts we have on that environment." 

New way to harvest stem cells better for donors

March 15, 2016: CSIRO Australia

Australian scientists have developed a new method for harvesting stem cells, which is less invasive and reduces side effects for donors.

For bone marrow transplantation, stem cells are routinely harvested from healthy donors and used to treat patients with cancers including leukemia.

Current harvesting methods take a long time and require injections of a growth factor to boost stem cell numbers. This often leads to side effects.

The discovery, published today in Nature Communications, reduces the time required to obtain adequate numbers of stem cells, without the need for a growth factor.

The method, developed by a team of CSIRO researchers working within the manufacturing arm of CSIRO with the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) at Monash, combines a newly discovered molecule (known as BOP), with an existing type of molecule (AMD3100) to mobilise the stem cells found in bone marrow out into the blood stream.

CSIRO researcher Dr Susie Nilsson said her team was able to demonstrate that combining the two molecules directly impacts stem cells so they can be seen in the blood stream within an hour of a single dosage.

"Current treatment requires the patient to have growth factor injections for several days leading up to the procedure," Dr Nilsson said.

"Using the new method eliminates the need for this, meaning a procedure that once took days can be reduced to around an hour."

Until now AMD3100 has only been effective in increasing stem cell numbers when combined with the growth factor.

"But the growth factor can cause unpleasant side effects like bone pain and spleen enlargement for some patients," Dr Nilsson said.

"Other patients simply don't respond well, and their stem cell count never gets high enough for a successful transplant."

The scientists found that combining the two small molecules not only eliminates the need for the growth factor, but when the harvested cells are transplanted they can replenish the entire bone marrow system, and there are no known side effects.

Professor Peter Currie, ARMI Director, said a major benefit of the discovery is that harvesting stem cells will become more efficient and effective, considerably reducing the stress for donors.

"We're looking forward to seeing patients benefit from this discovery," Professor Currie said.

So far successful pre-clinical studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of the treatment.

The next step is a phase 1 clinical trial assessing the combination of BOP molecule with the growth factor, prior to the eventual successful combination of the two small molecules BOP and AMD3100.

Benjamin Cao, Zhen Zhang, Jochen Grassinger, Brenda Williams, Chad K. Heazlewood, Quentin I. Churches, Simon A. James, Songhui Li, Thalia Papayannopoulou, Susan K. Nilsson. Therapeutic targeting and rapid mobilization of endosteal HSC using a small molecule integrin antagonist. Nature Communications, 2016; 7: 11007 DOI:10.1038/ncomms11007

National suicide toll reaches tragic high

Lifeline Australia- March 2016

2864 suicides. Almost 8 per day. 1 every 3 hours.

Australia is facing a growing national suicide emergency with Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data released today showing that 2864 people took their own lives in 2014 – an increase of almost 13.5 per cent from 2013.

Lifeline Australia CEO Pete Shmigel said it was now time for the Federal Government to formally acknowledge the national suicide emergency and take urgent action to stop more unnecessary deaths.

“Devastating is the only way to describe the increase in deaths by suicide in Australia,” Mr Shmigel said. “We cannot forget that behind these numbers are tragic stories of trauma and heartache for mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends, colleagues and whole communities.

“It’s perhaps even more devastating when we consider that the number of suicides can be reduced. With positive and practical steps, many of these are preventable deaths.

“Between 2002 and 2013, for example, Scotland implemented a 10-year national strategy and action plan that achieved an 18 per cent reduction in suicides. Over the same period, Australia saw a 20 per cent increase.

“The data released today shows that our country is heading in the wrong direction, with the suicide rate growing from 10.9 deaths by suicide per 100,000 Australians in 2013 to 12.0 deaths in 2014. It’s time for bold but achievable action from our Government and community leaders, particularly as we await the release of the upcoming 5th National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Reform Plan.

“We as a community cannot accept this needless loss of life and, to this end, Lifeline will launch a campaign later this week calling on the Federal Government to double funding for suicide prevention.”

Mr Shmigel said that if you or someone you know if feeling overwhelmed or thinking about suicide, help is available. He urged all people in distress – or concerned about another – to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 (24/7) or via the national charity’s nightly online Crisis Support Chat service.

To view the ABS Causes of Death 2014 data, click here

For crisis or suicide prevention support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit

'Fairy circles' discovered in Australia

March 15, 2016

A large fairy circle with a hardened top-soil layer that prevents the growth of grass. Australian fairy circles have mean diameters of 4 meters but some may exceed 7 meters. Credit: Dr. Stephan Getzin

The circular, barren patches of land, forming a highly regular pattern over the dry grassland of Namibia, were thought to be the only ones of their kind anywhere in the world. But a new study in the journal PNAS shows that they are not. Working with Israeli and Australian colleagues, researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig have now discovered the baffling structures in the uninhabited Australian outback too. Investigations carried out there have also provided new evidence that these fairy circles result from the way plants organise themselves in response to water shortage.

The researchers were alerted to the natural phenomenon in Australia by the photo taken by an Australian colleague, who sent them an aerial shot of the region surrounding the town of Newman. The photo showed plant patterns that were very similar to the fairy circles which had only ever been found in southern Africa.

There are various theories in the world of science as to how these barren circles edged with grass come about. Some researchers have explained them away using termites or ants. The theory goes that these insects nibble away at the roots of the grasses, killing them. Other scientists believe that toxic carbon monoxide gas rises up from the interior of the Earth under the circles and kills the vegetation. And a third camp thinks that the barren areas simply arise of their own accord under certain conditions. The amount of water available at the transition between desert and grassland isn't enough for continuous vegetation cover. So the individual plants compete for the precious water and therefore organise themselves in this characteristic grass carpet with holes in it.

Fairy circle expert Dr. Stephan Getzin from UFZ has for years supported the third theory. Aerial views of the landscapes have contributed to this conviction. In earlier studies, he analysed the precise location of the barren patches. "The interesting thing about fairy circles is that they are spread with great regularity and homogeneity, even over vast areas, but they occur only within a narrow rainfall belt" he explains. He believes that this pattern, which resembles the six-sided structure of honeycombs, most probably results from competition for water. He and his co-authors Hezi Yizhaq and Ehud Meron from Ben-Gurion University of Negev in Israel have also confirmed this appraisal with computer simulations. "For a long time, ecologists weren't convinced that plants in dry areas could organise themselves because the theoretical principles for these processes lie in physics," says Stephan Getzin and points to the laborious preparatory work undertaken by his two Israeli colleagues. "But it has since become increasingly clear how important this process is."

Some colleagues remain sceptical despite this. One frequently heard objection is that if such a mechanism were responsible for them, there would have to be similar structures in other dry areas on Earth. After all, the grassland of Namibia is by no means the only place where plants compete for water. And in fact, it is known that drought causes interesting vegetation patterns in other places too. But barren patches in grassland with such a regular six-sided structure don't appear anywhere other than in Namibia.

This explains why Stephan Getzin was so excited to receive the aerial shot from Australia in 2014. To investigate the phenomenon more closely, Getzin and his Israeli colleague Hezi Yizhaq went to Australia. The scientists measured the barren circles, compared their surface temperatures with those of vegetated areas and charted indications of ants and termites in four parts of the almost uninhabited region. They observed how the water drained away in these areas and took soil samples to analyse later on in the lab. To this, they added aerial image evaluations, statistical analyses of the landscape patterns and computer simulations. Since then they have become convinced that they are actually genuine fairy circles with the same patterns as those 10 000 kilometres away in Namibia.

The researchers have also found new evidence supporting their theory of how the barren patches arise. While in Namibia there are usually two to three species of termite or ant scuttling around in or on the fairy circles and opening up scope for speculation, the situation in Australia is clearer. "There we found in the majority of cases no nests in the circles and unlike in Namibia, cryptic sand termites do not exist in Australia," reports Stephan Getzin. "And the ones we did find have a completely different distribution pattern to the fairy circles." For him this is a clear indication that the barren patches are not produced by animal activities but the way in which the plants organise themselves. This theory is also supported by the fact that the dominant grasses of the Triodia genus found in the direct vicinity of the fairy circles also form other typical drought patterns such as stripes, labyrinths or spot patterns with individual plants surrounded by bare earth. Especially stripe and labyrinth patterns form preferentially on hard soil layers with overland-water flow, as is commonly observed with lined up trees along mountain slopes.

Following their investigations on the ground, the researchers have also gained insight into how the soil and vegetation interact in this region. If the Australian loamy soil isn't protected by vegetation, its surface doesn't just get extremely hot. It bakes to a hard crust that water finds almost impossible to penetrate. Water which does fall in the rare rain showers flows away over the surface, resulting in extremely bad conditions for germinating plants so that the bare areas remain barren. Things are different in places where the first grasses are growing. The plants keep the surface cooler and the soil looser so precipitation finds it easier to seep in. This allows other plants to colonise the area and the conditions again improve slightly -- it's a small-scale, self-perpetuating process which results in the grass carpet with gap pattern we see covering large areas.

"In Namibia, the sandy soils of the fairy circles are much more permeable and precipitation can drain away with ease," says Stephan Getzin. So reservoirs form under the barren areas, supplying the surrounding grass with moisture via diffusion processes in the soil. "The details of this mechanism are different to that in Australia," he explains. "But it produces the same vegetation pattern because both systems of gaps are triggered by the same instability."

Stephan Getzin now wants to follow up the phenomenon even further. He believes that it is likely that there are as yet unknown fairy circles in other dry and sparsely inhabited regions of the world. The age of discovery is far from over.

Stephan Getzin, Hezi Yizhaq, Bronwyn Bell, Todd E. Erickson, Anthony C. Postle, Itzhak Katra, Omer Tzuk, Yuval R. Zelnik, Kerstin Wiegand, Thorsten Wiegand, Ehud Meron. Discovery of fairy circles in Australia supports self-organization theory.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016; 201522130 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1522130113

Free public lecture: Professor Lyn Craig on balancing work and family

15 MAR 2016:  WENDY FREW

Introduced by journalist Annabel Crabb, UNSW Professor Lyn Craig, an internationally renowned expert in time-use research, will talk about women, carers and modern workloads. 

Balancing work and family commitments remains a critical challenge for many people but few public policies acknowledge the economic worth and time demands of carers.

In the latest of the ‘So What?’ lectures held by UNSW’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, internationally renowned expert in time-use research Professor Lyn Craig talks about modern workloads and time pressures, the involvement of the older generation in child care and the outlook for young people.

The work and family policy spotlight is usually on the paid workforce, says Professor Craig, who is the Director of the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW.

“Less attention is paid to work done within the family, such as housework, child or elder care,” she says.

“Yet if we really want to understand people’s lives we have to take account of both. Otherwise, we end up with policies that don’t fit with how we actually live and work.”

They do most of the unpaid work on which our social system depends and they have lower lifetime earnings

Professor Craig says Australia’s superannuation system is just one example of poor policy because it was designed to reflect unbroken full-time work patterns.

“Most Australian women move in and out of the workforce over the course of their life,” says Professor Craig.

“They do most of the unpaid work on which our social system depends and they have lower lifetime earnings. But the government can provide less extensive care services. Is it too much to expect a retirement income policy that is designed for women too?”

Author, ABC TV journalist and popular political commentator Annabel Crabb will introduce the lecture, which will be held at the UNSW Kensington campus.

What: So, What? Lecture Series, Professor Lyn Craig: Bad Timing: Balancing work and family in the 24/7 economy

When:  30 March, 6pm – 7.30pm

Where: Tyree Room, John Niland Scientia Building, UNSW Kensington Campus

To book for the free lecture, go here.   

PICA 'Powers up' To Improve CO2 Capture

18 MARCH 2016: CSIRO Media Release

CSIRO and industry partners today launched a two-year research program to improve efficiency of carbon dioxide (CO2) capture.

CSIRO, AGL Energy (AGL), Brown Coal Innovation Australia and Japan's IHI Corporation are partnering on the PICA post-combustion capture research project which will evaluate innovative processes using gases drawn from AGL Loy Yang brown coal-fired power station in south-eastern Victoria.

While CO2 is already being captured at large scale around the world, cost and efficiency challenges remain an impediment to wide-scale commercial implementation.

This research program is targeting a 40 per cent reduction in energy use of current capture processes in order to overcome these challenges.

Throughout the two-year program, researchers will examine the energy efficiency of CO2 capture configurations, the effectiveness of two new solvents into which CO2 will be absorbed, and measure the total amount of CO2 removed.

Right: PICA post-combustion capture project against AGL Loy Yang brown coal-fired power station.

The PICA (derived from first letters of PCC, IHI, CSIRO, AGL) research plant is 21 metres high and was built by IHI in Japan and transported to the Latrobe Valley where it will operate around the clock, capturing 150 to 200 tonnes of CO2 each year.

CSIRO Energy Director Dr Peter Mayfield said CSIRO was excited to embark on the PICA research journey as part of its support of mitigation research efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure Australia's energy security.

"CO2 capture can be applied to both energy generation and industrial processes," Dr Mayfield said.

"This research will complement our research in CO2 storage, and it's a great example of globally-coordinated R&D on emissions management."

AGL's Executive General Manager, Group Operations, Doug Jackson said AGL had committed to decarbonisation by 2050 and technology innovation would be critical in the transition to a lower carbon emissions energy sector.

"The new age of power generation will require a range of innovative technologies," Mr Jackson said.

"AGL recognises that support for technology innovation is critical - this is true of both renewable and thermal generation.

"We are pleased to work with our PICA project partners to continue research into the potential for viable CCS."

BCIA Chief Executive Officer Dr Phil Gurney said to meet Australia's commitment to limit dangerous climate change, emissions of CO2 from the use of coal must be reduced.

"BCIA has invested heavily in research and development to improve the efficiency of brown coal power generation and reduce the costs of carbon capture technologies," Dr Gurney said.

"The PICA project is a major step forward and will make a significant contribution to the broader roll-out of CCS for power generation and the manufacturing sector in the longer term."

IHI Corporation's Executive Officer, Vice President of Energy and Plant Operations, Mr Yahagi also noted the importance of CO2 capture for continued operation of coal-fired power plants.

"Without doubt, this PICA project will be a great catalyst for the future of low-emissions technologies in both the Australian and Japanese coal and energy industries," Mr Yahagi said.

"IHI would like to continue the technical development in collaboration with CSIRO and AGL under BCIA R&D funding."

Additional information:

Carbon capture is the first step of the carbon capture and storage (CCS) process, whereby large quantities of CO2 are prevented from being released into the atmosphere.

PICA builds on CSIRO's existing PCC program at Loy Yang, which began operation in 2008. CSIRO personnel will also run the new PICA plant.

In 2008 at Loy Yang power station, CO2 was captured from a power station flue gases in a post combustion capture pilot plant for the first time in the Southern Hemisphere.

The $5.3M PICA project is partly funded by a $650,000 research and development grant from Brown Coal Innovation Australia (BCIA).

PCC technology can be retrofitted to existing power plants or integrated with new infrastructure to achieve a range of CO2 reductions, from partial benefit to full capture capacity.

It is expected the PICA plant testing and evaluation campaigns will be completed by the end of 2017.

Billion Dollar Dubbo Rare Metals and Rare Earths Mine An Economic Boon

Monday 14 March 2016: Media Release - Anthony Roberts; Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy and Troy Grant; Deputy Premier of NSW, Minister for Justice and Police, Minister for the Arts, Minister for Racing

Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy, Anthony Roberts, today announced that a billion dollar project in the State’s central west to mine rare metals and rare earths has now passed its final hurdle and will go ahead.

“The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has granted an Environment Protection Licence to Alkane Resources after the company had already been granted a Mining Lease last December after it had met a rigorous government approval process.

“Known as the Dubbo Zirconia Project, the mine will produce up to 30,000 tonnes of specialty metals and rare earths per year which are highly sought after to support modern technology and life as we know it today.

“The Dubbo Zirconia Project will provide enormous benefits locally, to the State and indeed Australia,” Mr Roberts said.

Currently, China produces more than 90 per cent of the world’s supply of rare earths and is increasing its output with about 70-80 per cent of the world’s zirconium production.

“The Dubbo Zirconia Project has significant potential to stimulate not only local industry but also NSW manufacturers, Australian industry and exports across the globe.

“Customers from around the globe - the United States, Japan and a number of European nations – consider the products of this project to be a critical and strategic importance,” Mr Roberts said.

Deputy Premier and Member for Dubbo, Troy Grant, has welcomed the enormous investment in the region and the effect it will have on the local economy.

“More than $1 billion will be invested in the project and about $50 million spent in the Dubbo region each year.

“About 450 people will be employed during construction of the project and more than 250 when it is operating.

“This project is very exciting and will not only be a boon for Dubbo, but the state and country as well,” Mr Grant said.

The rare earth and metals elements are highly valued because of their diversity of applications in modern and green technologies including production of computer and mobile device components, hybrid cars, emissions minimisation and lighter, stronger steel. It also has medical and transport uses.

The Dubbo Zirconia Project will produce zirconium, hafnium, niobium, light rare earths and heavy rare earths.

Rare metals elements can also improve the safety of next generation jet aircraft by helping them travel through volcanic ash clouds.

The metals can be used as a thermal barrier coating added to alloys in turbine blades and engine components. This allows the blades to withstand extreme heat and prevent metal deterioration (crystal creep) due to foreign materials or external stresses, as well as increasing efficiency in high temperatures.

“The Dubbo Zirconia Project is a prime example of what discoveries may be made in NSW. During the past decade, junior explorers have been punching above their weight and are responsible for 81 per cent of deposits unearthed in the State,” Mr Roberts said. 

Defenceless against artificial intelligence

16 March 2016: Sydney University

Artificial intelligence must be kept under human control or we may become defenceless against its capabilities, warn two University of Sydney machine learning experts.

Professor Dong Xu, Chair in Computer Engineering from the University of Sydney’s School of Electrical Engineering and Information Engineering says the defeat of the world champion Go player has raised fresh concerns about the future role of artificial intelligence (AI) devices.

The Professor, whose research interests include computer vision, machine-learning and multimedia content analysis, says the question now is how much we should control AI’s ability to self-learn.

“The scientists and technology investors have been enthusiastic about AI for several years, but the triumph of the supercomputer has finally made the public conscious of its capabilities. This marks a significant breakthrough in the technology world,” Professor Xu says.

Supercomputers are more powerful than the human mind. Competitive games such as Go or chess are actually all about rules – they are easy for a computer. Once a computer grasps them, it will become very good at playing the games.”

Professor Xu says: “The problem is that computers like AlphaGo aren’t good at the overall strategy, but they are good at partial ones because they search better within a smaller area. This explains why AI will often lag behind in the beginning but catches up later.

“A human player can be affected by emotions such as pressure or happiness, but a computer will not.

“It’s said that a person is able to memorise 1000 games in a year, but a computer can memorise tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands during the same period. And a supercomputer can always improve – if it loses one game, then it would analyse it and do better next time.

“If a super computer could totally imitate the human brain, and have human emotions such as being angry or sad, it will be even more dangerous." 

Currently, AI is good for the labour-intensive industries and can work as human substitutes to serve the public interest. They can clean, work as agricultural robots in the fields, or probe deep underground.

"Another challenge is that AI needs a more intelligent environment. For instance, self-driven automobiles often can’t recognise a red light, so if the traffic lights could send a signal to the cars and they could sense them, it would solve the problem. Singapore is making an effort to build an area with roads that are friendly or responsive to self-driven vehicles."

Professor Xu believes it is crucial for companies such as Google and Facebook to set up “moral and ethics committees” to take control to ensure scientific research won’t head in the wrong direction and create machines that act maliciously.

Dr Michael Harre, a senior lecturer in complex systems who spent several years studying the AI behind the ancient Chinese board game, says:

“Go is probably the most complicated game that is commonly played today. Even when compared to chess, which has a very large number of possible patterns, Go has more possible patterns than there are atoms in the universe. 

“The technology has developed to a point that it can now outsmart a human in both simple and complex tasks. This is a concern because Artificial Intelligence technology may reach a point in a few years where it is feasible that it could be adapted to areas of defence where a human may no longer be needed in the control loop: truly autonomous AI."

Historian uncovers secrets of the Reformation hidden in England’s oldest printed bible

March 15, 2016: University of Queen Mary London

Researchers have used complex image analysis to uncover annotations that were hidden for nearly 500 years between the pages of England's oldest printed bible.

The annotations were discovered in England's first printed Bible, published in 1535 by Henry VIII's printer. It is one of just seven surviving copies, and is housed in Lambeth Palace Library, London. The secrets hidden in the Lambeth Library copy were revealed during research by Dr Eyal Poleg, a historian from Queen Mary University of London.

"We know virtually nothing about this unique Bible -- whose preface was written by Henry himself -- outside of the surviving copies. At first, the Lambeth copy first appeared completely 'clean'. But upon closer inspection I noticed that heavy paper had been pasted over blank parts of the book. The challenge was how to uncover the annotations without damaging the book" said Dr Poleg.

Dr Poleg sought the assistance of Dr Graham Davis, a specialist in 3D X-ray imaging at QMUL's School of Dentistry. Using a light sheet, which was slid beneath the pages, they took two images in long exposure -- one with the light sheet on and one with it off.

The first image showed all the annotations, scrambled with the printed text. The second picture showed only the printed text. Dr Davis then wrote a novel piece of software to subtract the second image from the first, leaving a clear picture of the annotations.

The annotations are copied from the famous 'Great Bible' of Thomas Cromwell, seen as the epitome of the English Reformation. Written between 1539 and 1549, they were covered and disguised with thick paper in 1600. They remained hidden until their discovery this year. According to Dr Poleg, their presence supports the idea that the Reformation was a gradual process rather than a single, transformative event.

"Until recently, it was widely assumed that the Reformation caused a complete break, a Rubicon moment when people stopped being Catholics and accepted Protestantism, rejected saints, and replaced Latin with English. This Bible is a unique witness to a time when the conservative Latin and the reformist English were used together, showing that the Reformation was a slow, complex, and gradual process."

The annotations were written during the most tumultuous years of Henry's reign. The period included the move away from the Church of Rome, The Act of Supremacy, the suppression of the monasteries, and the executions of Anne Boleyn, Thomas More, and John Fisher, as well as the Pilgrimage of Grace, which moved Henry to a more cautious approach.

Dr Poleg was also able to trace the subsequent life of the book, after the point at which Latin Bibles had definitively fallen out of use. On the back page he uncovered a hidden, handwritten transaction between two men: Mr William Cheffyn of Calais, and Mr James Elys Cutpurse of London. Cutpurse, in medieval English jargon, means pickpocket. The transaction states that Cutpurse promised to pay 20 shillings to Cheffyn, or would go to Marshalsea, a notorious prison in Southwark. In subsequent archival research, Dr Poleg found that Mr Cutpurse was hanged in Tybourn in July 1552.

"Beyond Mr Cutpurse's illustrious occupation, the fact that we know when he died is significant. It allows us to date and trace the journey of the book with remarkable accuracy -- the transaction obviously couldn't have taken place after his death," said Dr Poleg.

He added: "The book is a unique witness to the course of Henry's Reformation. Printed in 1535 by the King's printer and with Henry's preface, within a few short years the situation had shifted dramatically. The Latin Bible was altered to accommodate reformist English, and the book became a testimony to the greyscale between English and Latin in that murky period between 1539 and 1549.

"Just three years later things were more certain. Monastic libraries were dissolved, and Latin liturgy was irrelevant. Our Bible found its way to lay hands, completing a remarkably swift descent in prominence from Royal text to recorder of thievery."

The above is reprinted from materials provided by University of Queen Mary London. 

Ancient Denisovan DNA excavated in modern Pacific Islanders

March 17, 2016

The archaic Denisovan and Neanderthal DNA that persists in modern individuals from the Pacific islands of Melanesia could be a source of new information about early human history, according to a report published this Thursday in the Early Release edition of Science.

Equally as informative, according to Joshua Akey, a UW Medicine expert on human evolutionary genetics, are regions where DNA from extinct, human-like species has vanished from the genome and has been replaced with sequences unique to people.

Denisovans are related to, but distinct from, Neanderthals. This prehistoric species was discovered less than a decade ago through genetic analysis of a finger bone unearthed in northern Siberia. Named for the mountain cave where that fossil, and later, two teeth, were found, Denisovans became a new addition to our ancient cousins on the evolutionary tree.

Substantial amounts of Denisovan DNA have been detected in the genomes of only few present-day human populations so far. They are all living in Oceania, thousands of miles away from that Siberian cave.

"I think that people (and Neanderthals and Denisovans) liked to wander," said Benjamin Vernot, a UW postdoctoral student in genomic sciences who led the project. "And yes, studies like this can help us track where they wandered."

"Denisovans are the only species of archaic humans about whom we know less from fossil evidence and more from where their genes show up in modern humans," Akey said.

Denisovan DNA could make up between 2 percent to 4 percent of the genome of a native Melanesian. Lower levels of Denisovan ancestry, other recent studies suggest, may be more widespread in the world.

Akey, a University of Washington professor of genome sciences, and Svante Paabo, of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, oversaw the Melanesian genome project. It was a collaboration with researchers in medicine, anthropology, statistics and biotechnology from several other universities.

Many recent studies have tried to understand when and where archaic hominins and our modern ancestors co-existed and interbred. Most of this research has been intent on cataloging Neanderthal gene sequences remaining in the genomes people of European or Asian descent.

According to Vernot, "Different populations of people have slightly different levels of Neanderthal ancestry, which likely means that humans repeatedly ran into Neanderthals as they spread across Europe."

Where the ancestors of modern humans might have had physical contact with Denisovans is debatable. The best guess, Akey said, is that Denisovans may have had a broad geographic range that extended into East Asia. Early humans with both Denisovan and Neanderthal ancestry could have traveled along South East Asia.Eventually, some of their descendants arrived on the islands north of Australia.

"Little is known about the organization and characteristics of Denisovan DNA in modern humans, which is why we wanted to study genome samples from Melanesians," Akey said.

"We developed an approach to identify DNA inherited from multiple archaic hominin [human-like] ancestors, and applied it to whole-genome sequences from 1,523 geographically diverse individuals," the authors wrote in their paper. The analysis included the genomes of 35 individuals from 11 locations in the Bismarck Archipelago of Northern Island Melanesia, Papua, New Guinea.

With this study, Vernot explained, researchers advanced the understanding of archaic DNA in people beyond a single species of hominins. Previously, researchers had located large regions of the genome where no humans carried any Neanderthal sequences.

"We now know that some of those regions are also devoid of Denisovan sequences, " he said. Vernot referred to those regions as "archaic deserts" that strengthen the argument that something there is uniquely human. The size of those regions might mean that selection against archaic sequences -- or other reasons for gene depletion -- was strong, maybe stronger than one might expect, Vernot said.

Those same regions on the modern human genome contain hundreds of genes, many of which have been linked to language, the brain and its development, and brain cells signals.

"These are big, truly interesting regions. It will be a long, hard slog to fully understand the genetic differences between humans, Denisovans and Neanderthals in these regions and the traits they influence," Akey noted.

The research team also identified genes inherited from Neanderthals and Denisovans that conferred advantages to the ancestors of modern Island Melanesians. Five of these regions have immune-function genes that may have protected against local pathogens unfamiliar to recently arrived humans.

This study team also developed new, rigorous methods for labeling which archaic DNA sequences were Neanderthal, Denisovan, or of uncertain origin.

"The classification is tricky and not a trivial exercise," Akey said, "Mislabeling could lead to erroneous conclusions."

The authors also emphasized that no one study can tell a complete story. This project, Akey said, helps realize the influence of hybridization with other species on the trajectory of human evolution.

"Some of the sequences modern humans inherited from Neanderthals and Denisovans helped our ancestors survive and reproduce," Akey said.

This type of study gives perspective on human expansion across Eurasia, and possibly what sort of conditions those humans encountered on their way, Vernot said. He also mentioned that the work "demonstrates how we can learn about human history, and our archaic relatives, by studying ancient and modern DNA."

By Benjamin Vernot, Serena Tucci, Janet Kelso, Joshua G. Schraiber, Aaron B. Wolf, Rachel M. Gittelman, Michael Dannemann, Steffi Grote, Rajiv C. McCoy, Heather Norton, Laura B. Scheinfeldt, David A. Merriwether, George Koki, Jonathan S. Friedlaender, Jon Wakefield, Svante Pääbo, Joshua M. Akey. Excavating Neandertal and Denisovan DNA from the genomes of Melanesian individuals. Science, 2016 DOI: 10.1126/science.aad9416

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