Inbox and Environment News: Issue 263 

 May 15 - 21 2016: Issue 263

'Pack Your Trunks' and Head out to the Western Plains Zoo' this Summer

So stated Environment Minister Mark Speakman this week when announcing a brand new baby elephant will arrive in November this year!:


Thursday, 12 May 2016

A mini baby boom of maximum proportions is coming to the state’s zoos with NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman today announcing another elephant calf is on the way, this time to Taronga’s Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo.

The announcement of Asian Elephant Thong Dee’s pregnancy came a month after Mr Speakman announced Taronga Zoo Sydney elephantPak Boon was pregnant, with a calf due in April 2017. Thong Dee is due in November 2016.

Thong Dee - photo by Rick Stevens

“This is a very exciting time for the entire team at Taronga, with two elephants due within six months of each other,” Mr Speakman said.

“It will be the first time an elephant has been born at Taronga Western Plains Zoo and demonstrates the success of Australia’s conservation breeding program.”

Deputy Premier and Member for Dubbo Troy Grant said Taronga Western Plains Zoo was a major tourism drawcard for regional NSW, presenting wildlife in an engaging and educational way.

“A baby elephant on the way is the perfect reason for visitors from other parts of the state to pack their trunks and head to the world-class Taronga Western Plains Zoo.”

The announcement also marked the one-year anniversary of the transfer of four Asian Elephants, Thong Dee, Porntip, Luk Chai and Pathi Harn from Taronga Zoo Sydney to Taronga Western Plains Zoo.

Pathi Harn and Luk Chai - photo by Rick Stevens

Taronga Western Plains Zoo’s Director Matthew Fuller said a conservation breeding program run across NSW and Victoria had been tremendously successful with three calves already born at Taronga Zoo Sydney and four at Melbourne Zoo.

“The program’s milestones have included bringing the elephants from Thailand to Australia, establishing a viable breeding program and developing conservation education and in situ projects with elephants across Asia,” Mr Fuller said.

World conservation agencies estimate there are as few as 33,000 elephants left in Asia. At the current rate of decline, Asian elephants could be extinct in the wild within 20 years. 


A Few Facts About Asian Elephants

The Asian or Asiatic elephant (Elephas maximus) is the only living species of the genus Elephas and is distributed in Southeast Asia from India in the west to Borneo in the east.  Asian elephants are the largest living land animals in Asia.

In general, the Asian elephant is smaller than the African elephant and has the highest body point on the head. The back is convex or level. The ears are small with dorsal borders folded laterally. The distinctive trunk is an elongation of the nose and upper lip combined; the nostrils are at its tip, which has a one finger-like process. 

Tusks serve to dig for water, salt, and rocks, to debark trees, as levers for maneuvering fallen trees and branches, for work, for display, for marking trees, as weapon for offense and defense, as trunk-rests, and as protection for the trunk. They are known to be right or left tusked. 

The gestation period is 18–22 months, and the female gives birth to one calf, only occasionally twins. The calf is fully developed by the 19th month, but stays in the womb to grow so that it can reach its mother to feed. At birth, the calf weighs about 100 kg (220 lb), and is suckled for up to three years. 

Asian elephants are highly intelligent and self-aware. They have a very large and highly convoluted neocortex, a trait also shared by humans, apes and certain dolphin species. Elephants have a greater volume of cerebral cortex available for cognitive processing than all other existing land animals, and extensive studies place elephants in the category of great apes in terms of cognitive abilities for tool use and tool making. They exhibit a wide variety of behaviours, including those associated with grief, learning, allomothering, mimicry, play, altruism, use of tools, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness, memory, and language. Elephants are reported to go to safer ground during natural disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes, although there have been no scientific records of this since it is hard to recreate or predict natural disasters.

Elephants are crepuscular. They are classified as megaherbivores and consume up to 150 kg (330 lb) of plant matter per day. They are generalist feeders, and both grazers and browsers, and were recorded to feed on 112 different plant species, most commonly of the order Malvales, and the legume, palm, sedge and true grass families. They browse more in the dry season with bark constituting a major part of their diet in the cool part of that season. They drink at least once a day and are never far from a permanent source of fresh water. They need 80–200 litres of water a day and use even more for bathing. At times, they scrape the soil for clay or minerals.

Asian elephants inhabit grasslands, tropical evergreen forests, semi-evergreen forests, moist deciduous forests, dry deciduous forests and dry thorn forests, in addition to cultivated and secondary forests and scrublands. Over this range of habitat types elephants occur from sea level to over 3,000 m (9,800 ft). In the Eastern Himalaya in northeast India, they regularly move up above 3,000 m (9,800 ft) in summer at a few sites. In China, Asian elephants survive only in the prefectures of Xishuangbanna, Simao, and Lincang of southern Yunnan. In Bangladesh, only isolated populations survive in the Chittagong Hills.

Three subspecies are recognised—E. m. maximus from Sri Lanka, the E. m. indicus from mainland Asia, and E. m. sumatranus from the island of Sumatra.

the Sri Lankan elephant occurs in Sri Lanka;

the Indian elephant occurs in mainland Asia: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Laos, Malay Peninsula, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam;

the Sumatran elephant occurs in Sumatra.

The Borneo elephant occurs in Borneo's northern and northeastern parts. In 2003, mitochondrial DNA analysis and microsatellite data indicated that the Borneo elephant population is derived from stock that originated in the region of the Sunda Islands. The genetic divergence of Borneo elephants warrants their recognition as a separate Evolutionarily Significant Unit.

Asian elephant. (2016, May 9). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

 Thong Dee - photo courtesy and by Rick Stevens

66 arrested during Newcastle coal protest - Operation Stellway

Sunday, 08 May 2016 04:17:42 PM - NSW Police

Police have arrested 66 people during a large civil disobedience protest on Newcastle Harbour today.

About 8am (Sunday 8 May 2016), police spotted a man suspended by rope from a conveyor belt above a ship at Kooragang Island.

The 41-year-old was arrested and charged with enter enclosed lands and destroy or damage property.

About the same time, three females abseiled from Stockton Bridge at the Port Waratah coal facility.

Two women, aged 26 and 27, were arrested and charged with remain on enclosed lands and destroy or damage property.

A 22-year-old woman was arrested and charged with remain on enclosed lands.

A woman has been arrested after scaling a coal carrier’s mooring lines at Mayfield.

The 25-year-old has been charged with climb on or attach to vessel without authority and not comply with direction by authorised officer.

A 35-year-old man who allegedly dropped the woman at the location by boat has been charged with assist person climb on or attach to vessel without authority.

A third person, who was a passenger on the inflatable boat, was arrested and later released pending further inquiries.

A 39-year-old man has been charged with malicious damage and enter enclosed lands after allegedly attaching himself to a ship loader at Mayfield and a 50-year-old man has been arrested and charged with allegedly operating a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) within 30 metres of an unassociated person at Kooragang Island.

All have been granted police bail and are due to appear in Newcastle Local Court on June 9.

In addition, 57 protesters who occupied a rail bridge, blocking coal trains, at Sandgate have been arrested and issued with Field Court Attendance Notices (FCANs) for remain on enclosed lands.

Around 200 kayaks symbolically blocked Newcastle Harbour as part of the anti-fossil fuel protest by about 1,500 people.

Police conducted Operation Stellway during the protest.

Officers from the Newcastle City Local Area Command, the Public Order and Riot Squad, the Police Air Wing, the Police Transport Command, the Operations Support Group, Police Rescue and other commands were deployed to ensure a peaceful and lawful demonstration.

The Marine Area Command deployed 20 vessels to control activity on Newcastle Harbour.

Operation Commander, John Gralton, said police respect the right to protest but unfortunately some demonstrators set out to flout the law and put themselves and others at risk.


Pittwater residents in their early 20's who attended this rally/protest report that it was 'very peaceful - nice vibe' with 'good music'. - Held on Mother's Day, May 8th, 2106 - none of them were arrested.

Photo: Anti-coal protesters on Newcastle Harbour- Supplied:

Northern Beaches forum - New land clearing laws for NSW

WHEN: Thursday, 19 May 2016 from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM

WHERE: CEC Coastal Environment Centre - Pittwater Council - Pelican Path Lake Park Road, North Narrabeen.

The Biodiversity Conservation Bill 2016 and Local Land Services Amendment Bill 2016, which will replace the Native Vegetation Act and Threatened Species Conservation Act, are currently on public exhibition and submissions close on 28 June. 

The forum will include a presentation on the contents and impacts of the draft legislation, with a focus on how individuals and community groups can take action to maintain and improve long-term protections.

Learn more and register here!

Not Kidding Around On Weed Control

Friday, 13 May, 2016

A team of hungry goats has been deployed to eat through three hectares of invasive African OIive in the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan in a novel, environmentally-friendly weed reduction trial, Environment Minister Mark Speakman announced today.

The 22 de-sexed goats have been delivered to the gardens under strict controls, and would be contained in a fenced grazing pasture under the watch of a full time goat handler during the four-week trial.

“African Olive is a particularly challenging problem at the Australian Botanic Garden and the surrounding Macarthur region, and while a spraying and clearing program has resulted in a steady reduction of the weed, we are looking at a range of innovative solutions to the problem,” Mr Speakman said.

“To ensure this trial met all environmental standards a number of measures have been put in place to keep the goats together, focused on weed removal and not escape.”

The African Olive, a dense-crowned tree, was introduced into Australia for horticulture in the mid 19th century.

In recent decades the weed has invaded native bushland and created a dense, shady canopy that has excluded the growth of native understorey plants.

The trial started last week and will be completed within four weeks.

More information is available

A serious backwards step for biodiversity laws

By EDO NSW Policy and Law Reform Director Rachel Walmsley: 3 May 2016

The NSW Government’s proposed biodiversity legislative and policy package removes many of NSW’s long-held environmental protections, and represents a serious backward step for environmental law and policy in New South Wales.

As part of its biodiversity legislation reform process, the NSW Government has today publicly exhibited a new Biodiversity Conservation Bill, a Local Land Services Amendment Bill, and information about proposed land clearing codes. This new legislative package is designed to replace the Native Vegetation Act, Threatened Species Conservation Act, the Nature Conservation Trust Act and parts of the National Parks & Wildlife Act.

The proposed law and policy is a serious retrograde step, as it involves removing many of NSW’s long-held environmental protections. Our key areas of concern include greatly increased land clearing under self-assessable codes, no requirement to maintain or improve biodiversity, water quality, soil and salinity, an increased reliance on flexible (and indirect) offsets, wide discretion of consent authorities to apply the results of the Biodiversity Assessment Method (BAM), reduced public transparency, and unclear responsibility for who will actually do any compliance and enforcement.

The resourcing and expertise of Local Land Services to administer native vegetation regulation is also in question. Not only are legal protections significantly weakened, but any potential biodiversity gains are dependent on funding decisions and not guaranteed in legislation.

The package will be on public exhibition for the next eight weeks, and submissions close on Tuesday 28 June 2016. During this time community members are able to make submissions. We will be publishing a preliminary analysis of the draft Bill shortly. We’ll also be running workshops and seminars across NSW in June and providing resources to help communities have their say. If you’re interested in making a submission and getting involved, please sign up to ourweekly eBulletin.

Our resources and updates will feature on our web page dedicated to the reforms.

Planning Information Day for Middle Head

Media release: 11 May 2016 - NSW Dept. of Environment and Heritage

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust (Harbour Trust) will be hosting a Planning Information Day on the future of Middle Head on Sydney Harbour, which the public are invited to attend on Sunday 22 May from 10am-2pm.

NPWS Deputy Chief Executive Michael Wright and Harbour Trust Acting Executive Director Susan Culverston said that the two separate agencies are aiming to manage Middle Head as one landscape.

"In recognising that the headland is one landscape, NPWS and the Harbour Trust are working together to coordinate planning for the future of this important part of Sydney," Mr Wright said.

"This is NPWS's first step in the process of creating a master plan for the Middle Head precinct in Sydney Harbour National Park that will guide its management over the next 20 to 30 years.

"In considering what our vision for this area should be, we first want to hear what the community's views are on safe and sustainable ways to enhance visitor enjoyment and protect the area's outstanding natural features.

"The Planning Information Day is about hearing what is important to the community about the parkland and how we can continue to make the area an attractive public space for the enjoyment of everyone."

Harbour Trust Acting Executive Director, Dr Culverston said at Middle Head, both agencies are striving to create a unified urban parkland experience.

"We rely heavily on public input to inform our planning for sites like Middle Head," Dr Culverston said.

"The Planning Information Day is an opportunity to hear about our respective planning processes and get a good understanding of what happens in the park now, how we will work together in the future and what themes will be covered in our planning.

"In planning for the site we will consider matters such as current activities, access and circulation, operational requirements, uses for buildings and opportunities for improved public access and interpretation.

"Our planning outcomes will be coordinated to maximise public access and protect the environmental and heritage values of the site so the community can continue to enjoy it well into the future," she said.

Both agencies are preparing planning documents for the land they are responsible for, and are seeking to ensure they effectively integrate their site planning with each other. The feedback from the Planning Information Day will help to inform the drafting of these plans. Once written, these plans will be formally exhibited for public comment.

The Planning Information Day will be held at Middle Head, Mosman.

Regional Forest Agreements are a failed model for forest management

May 11, 2016 - National Parks Association of NSW

The evidence is clear - Regional Forest Agreements are a failed model for forest management.

Over the last few months we have conducted a systematic review of NSW's RFAs. Launched this morning our new report clearly demonstrates this framework for public forest management has failed to achieve not just one, but all of its top-line aims.

Have a read for yourself. The evidence speaks for itself. (PDF: 8.01MB)

Review of evidence concludes Regional Forest Agreements a failed model for forest management

May 12, 2016: - Nature Conservation Council of NSW

The Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) that have been the framework for public forest management in NSW for 20 years have failed to achieve any of their top-line aims, a new study has found.

The Agreements, which were the centrepiece of the peace deal that ended the “Forest Wars” of the 1980s and 1990s, were supposed to lead to:

• Creation of a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of forest reserves;

• Implementation and enforcement of ecologically sustainable forest management practices;

• Development of a viable, ecologically sustainable timber industry;

• Ongoing research into ecological, economic, and social aspect of forest management.

The review of the Agreements and their performance by the NSW National Parks Association (NPA) found none of these aims has been achieved.

Dr Oisín Sweeney, Senior Ecologist with the NPA said: “The RFAs have completely failed to deliver the ecologically sustainable forest management that was the centrepiece of the Agreements and are therefore a failed model for forest management.

“The RFAs expire in NSW from 2019. Failing to heed the huge volume of evidence illustrating their failure would be tragic for Australia’s unique forests and the wildlife that they support.

“The RFAs failed from the kick-off: timber volumes were overestimated, and to meet the unrealistic targets our forests have been plundered with an increasing intensity over the past 20 years.

“Far from achieving ecologically sustainable forest management, the RFAs have permitted the wholescale destruction of public forests with impunity—because logging under the Agreements is not subject to scrutiny by Commonwealth law.

“The result is our forests are in a worse condition now than when the agreements were struck two decades ago. Carbon stores are decreasing and populations of forest species are in freefall.

“Our report shows that ecologically sustainable forest management is just not compatible with the production of cheap wood. Logging kills forest animals like gliders and possums and drives key threatening processes like the loss of tree hollows.

“We are calling on the government to end logging in our public native forests once and for all following the expiry of the RFAs from 2019.

“Our forests are much more valuable for nature conservation—the key driver of regional tourism—for fighting climate change by storing carbon, and as sources for clean, reliable water supplies.”

This report comes just weeks after an economic report by The Australia Institute showed a long-term decline in demand for native forest wood, driven by declining overseas demand and competition from cheaper wood. The report found jobs in native forest logging were as low as 600 state-wide.

Kate Smolski, CEO of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, said:

“Unprofitable native forest logging costs taxpayers millions of dollars every year in subsidies, and it is driving our koalas and other native wildlife to extinction.

“A report by The Australia Institute recently found losses from native forest logging cost taxpayers $79 million over the past seven years.

“The Institute also found taxpayers would be better off if the Forestry Corporation stopped logging native forests and managed them as carbon stores and recreation reserves.

“The sooner the Baird government commits to ending the subsidies and transitioning to sustainable management of our great forests the better.”

Department to assess response to PAC review of Drayton South proposal

13.05.2016: Departmental Media Release - Department of Planning and Environment

Anglo American has responded to the independent Planning Assessment Commission’s review report on the Drayton South Coal Project.

The response will be rigorously assessed by the Department of Planning and Environment alongside the Commission’s review and all public submissions under strict NSW Government rules and policies.

Once the Department has finalised its assessment report, it will be referred to the independent Commission for final decision.

The response is now available for public view on the Department’s website.

For more information please visit the Major Projects

Direct link to Anglo American's Response

Coral mass spawning triggered by seasonal rises in ocean temperature

May 10, 2016

Acropora assemblage from Okinawa, Japan. Credit: Andrew Baird

Scientists have discovered rapidly rising seasonal sea temperatures are the likely trigger for coral reproduction allowing them to predict when mass spawning will occur.

Mass coral spawning is considered to be one of nature's most spectacular phenomena with dozens of coral species releasing eggs and sperm into the sea, on a few nights each year.

The event attracts divers to ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef to witness the corals in action. Up until now, what drives the release has been a mystery.

An international study published in the journal of Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that spawning coincided with the largest month-to-month increase in sea surface temperature. Wind speed also contributed to the timing, although to a lesser extent.

The paper's lead author, Assistant Professor Sally Keith from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate in Copenhagen says, "There would appear to be no optimum temperature for spawning, at least beyond the scale of the local coral population. We found corals on Lord Howe Island, off the eastern coast of Australia, spawn when the sea water is 22 degrees Celsius, whereas in the Persian Gulf the same species spawn when the temperature is 32 degrees Celsius. So the most important thing seems to be for corals to spawn together to maximise fertilization success."

The research was conducted over 16 years with samples from more than 80,000 colonies collected from 34 eco-regions in the Indo-Pacific, from Kenya to French Polynesia and from Lord Howe Island to the Persian Gulf.

Co-author Professor Andrew Baird from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies says knowing when corals are ready to spawn is a game changer.

"It should be a huge advantage to dive tourism and allow for more effective management of coastal development," says Baird. "It means processes that are known to affect the early life stages of corals, such as dredging, can be stopped when the corals are spawning."

The authors hope their research will finally lay to rest a common misconception that all corals on the Great Barrier Reef spawn on one night of the year.

"On the Great Barrier Reef there are corals spawning every month from September to March. Mass spawning is only one piece of the reproductive puzzle," says Keith.

Another area of concern is the potential for climate change to disturb coral reproduction. Many organisms, such as fish, rely on the event to power their own reproductive efforts. A change in the timing of spawning, could have deleterious flow-through effects in the ecosystem.

"Sea temperature increases are greatest in the periods just before summer," says co-author Jeff Maynard from the research institute CRIOBE, in French Polynesia. "Our on-going research using climate models suggests summer in many reef areas will come earlier and last longer in the future. The effect this might have on coral reef ecosystems is an important area for further research."

Sally A. Keith, Jeffrey A. Maynard, Alasdair J. Edwards, James R. Guest, Andrew G. Bauman, Ruben van Hooidonk, Scott F. Heron, Michael L. Berumen, Jessica Bouwmeester, Srisakul Piromvaragorn, Carsten Rahbek, Andrew H. Baird. Coral mass spawning predicted by rapid seasonal rise in ocean temperature.Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2016; 283 (1830): 20160011 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0011

Managing Wild Horses in Kosciuszko

Sunday, 1 May, 2016

NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman today invited the community to have its say on the Draft Wild Horse Management Plan for Kosciuszko National Park, now on public exhibition.

Mr Speakman said while wild horses would always be part of the cultural heritage of Kosciuszko National Park, current numbers were unsustainable and the horses were damaging the park’s fragile alpine and subalpine environment.

“The draft plan outlines how the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) proposes to reduce the overall population of wild horses in the park using a range of humane and cost effective methods that will see numbers reduced from 6000 to approximately 3000 in the next five to 10 years,” Mr Speakman said.

The draft plan responds to the complex issue of wild horse management by proposing a range of humane control methods including trapping, rehoming, mustering, ground shooting, fertility control and fencing. Aerial shooting, ‘brumby running’ and ’roping’ have been ruled out.

The draft plan proposes reducing wild horse population numbers over the next 20 years to a permanent population of around 600, and identifies three locations in the park that could carry this smaller population with less environmental impact.

“Wild horse management is an emotive and complex issue. There are diverse opinions in the community and often deeply held views which polarise stakeholder groups,” Mr Speakman said.

“It is clear, however, that the broader community values the unique environment of Kosciuszko National Park and looks to NPWS to protect it.

The Draft Wild Horse Management Plan for Kosciuszko National Park and details on how to provide feedback can be found 

The draft plan will be on public exhibition from 1 May 2016 to 8 July 2016 and during this time the community is encouraged to provide feedback.

NPWS will also host a series of open days in the Snowy Region. Please visit the Office of Environment and Heritage website for details.

Save the bilby – Keep the Kimberley frack-free

Published on 3 May 2016: By Wilderness Australia

The Kimberley is one of Australia’s last refuges for endangered bilbies...

… it also has the largest underground store of fossil fuels in the southern hemisphere. 


In cities, flooding and rainfall extremes to rise as climate changes

May 9, 2016: UNSW

Cities face harsher, more concentrated rainfall as climate change not only intensifies storms, but draws them into narrower bands of more intense downpours, UNSW engineers have found. This has major implications for existing stormwater infrastructure, particularly in large cities, which face higher risks of flash flooding.

In the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters, doctoral student Conrad Wasko and Professor Ashish Sharma of School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of New South Wales show the first evidence of storm intensification triggering more destructive storm patterns.

"As warming proceeds, storms are shrinking in space and in time," said Wasko, lead author of the paper. "They are becoming more concentrated over a smaller area, and the rainfall is coming down more plentifully and with more intensity over a shorter period of time. When the storm shrinks to that extent, you have a huge amount of rain coming down over a smaller area."

Wasko and Sharma, working with collaborators at the University of Adelaide, analysed data from 1,300 rain gauges and 1,700 temperature stations across Australia to see how air temperature affected the intensity and spatial organisation of storms.

They found that atmospheric moisture was more concentrated near the storm's centre in warm storms than in cooler ones, resulting in more intense peak rainfalls in those areas. The storms were clearly shrinking in space, irrespective of the amount of rain that fell.

Although the data is sourced from Australia, this has global implications, said Sharma. "Australia is a continent that spans almost all the climate zones in the world -- Mediterranean, tropical, temperate, subtropical -- everything except the Arctic or Antarctic. So the results hold a lot of value -- we are finding the pattern repeating itself over and over, happening around Australia and around the world.

"Look at the incidents of flooding in Mumbai or in Bangkok last year -- you see urban streets full of water," he added. "You see it now in Jakarta and Rome and many parts of Canada. That's because the stormwater infrastructure cannot handle the rain, and part of the reason there's more rain is the increase in global temperatures."

Most urban centres have older stormwater infrastructure designed to handle rainfall patterns of the past, which are no longer sufficient. "The increase is especially noticeable in urban centres, where there is less soil, unlike rural areas, to act as a dampener," said Sharma. "So there is often nowhere else for the water to go, and the drainage capacity is overwhelmed. So the incidence of flooding is going to rise as temperatures go higher."

Wasko, lead author of the paper, said scientists have long suspected that the intensity of rainfall would be boosted by climate change, as the warming air raises the carrying capacity of moisture. But while extreme rainfall has been rising, little was known about the mechanisms causing it. The latest study shows that storms are changing in spatial terms.

It follows a study by the same authors in Nature Geoscience in June 2015 showing that storms were also changing their 'temporal pattern' -- that is, getting shorter in time, thereby intensifying. When it comes to flash flooding, the amount of rain that falls over a period of time is much more important than the total volume of rainfall that a given storm delivers. This study was the first to show that climate change was disrupting the temporal rainfall patterns within storms themselves.

If both spatial and temporal changes in storms continue, as they are likely to do as the world warms, there will be more destructive flooding across the world's major urban centres.

In their Nature Geoscience paper, the duo calculated that floods in some parts of Australia would likely increase by 40%, especially in warmer places like Darwin. "If you add the spatial pattern from this latest paper, you will probably increase this 40% number to maybe 60%," said Sharma.

Earlier this year, a pivotal framework for infrastructure maintained by the Institution of Engineers, the Australian Rainfall and Runoff national guidelines, were updated for the first time since 1987, a process that took three years. It's now clear, said Sharma, that these will need to be adjusted, as the safety and sustainability of Australian infrastructure adapts to a warming climate.

And there are still unknowns to contend with, he added.

"When we say that the storms are shrinking in space and shrinking in time, and we say floods will increase, we are making an assumption that the volume of water coming down is not changing," said Sharma. "That assumption is very conservative, because you would expect the air to hold more moisture. If you factor in that in as well, there'll be even more rainfall, and more floods."

Conrad Wasko, Ashish Sharma, Seth Westra. Reduced spatial extent of extreme storms at higher temperatures. Geophysical Research Letters, 2016; DOI: 10.1002/2016GL068509

New Era In Land Management and Conservation

Tuesday, 3 May 2016: NSW OEH Media Release

The NSW Government has released its consultation package to overhaul ineffective, complicated environmental laws and create a new system that improves both environmental outcomes and farmers’ productivity.

Under the new system, routine farm work would be exempt from regulation, farmers would be able to plan for the future to improve their productivity, and the government would provide farmers with incentives to conserve native plants and trees on their land.

The reforms would also protect and enhance the environment with an historic investment of $240 million over five years in private land conservation, $70 million in each following year and $100 million dedicated over five years to the “Saving Our Species” program.

Deputy Premier Troy Grant said the NSW Government was delivering on its commitment to repeal the Native Vegetation Act and create laws that both protect the environment and give farmers a fair go.

“For too long the burden of these laws has rested on the shoulders of farmers – and I am

proud we are one step closer to repealing this legislation and delivering on the independent panel’s recommendations to reform land management in this state,” Mr Grant said.

Environment Minister Mark Speakman said the new laws would take a strategic approach to conservation and would complement the Commonwealth’s biodiversity protections.

“We are delivering a simple and effective way to use and protect land that is backed by record government investment to build a network of conserved lands on private property.

“We have tough measures to protect endangered ecological communities supported by Commonwealth protections that will conserve our biodiversity for future generations.”

Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair said the reforms would give farmers an opportunity to make informed choices on what works best for their land.

“Our farmers are our frontline environmental custodians and it makes sense to give them the flexibility to manage and protect the land that is the lifeblood of our regional communities.”

The reform package will:

• Ensure land clearing is assessed under a single set of rules, simplifying the task of farmers in managing their land

• Conserve biodiversity at a bioregional level

• Give landholders incentives to conserve biodiversity on private land

• Reverse the historical decline of biodiversity in NSW

Drafts of the new Biodiversity Conservation Act and amended Local Land Services Act are on public exhibition and open for submissions for the next eight weeks. Details:

Have Your Say: 

Members of the public are invited to submit their feedback on the proposed biodiversity conservation reform package.

• Draft Biodiversity Conservation Bill (PDF, 755KB) 

• Draft Local Land Services Amendment Bill (PDF, 394KB) 

The submission guides provide detailed information for members of the public to provide constructive feedback. The guides contain specific consultation questions that can help to inform the development of the reforms.

• Simplifying Land Management submission guide

• Native Vegetation Regulatory Map submission guide

• Ecologically Sustainable Development submission guide

• Protecting Native Plants and Animals submission guide

• Private Land Conservation submission guide

Written submissions can be submitted online using the form on this page or posted to:

Biodiversity Reforms - Have Your Say, Office of Environment and Heritage, PO Box A290, Sydney South. NSW 1232

The public consultation period ends on 28 June 2016 at 5pm.

Environment groups welcome EPA’s Prosecution of Clarence

May 10, 2016 - Nature Conservation Council of NSW

Colliery Conservation groups today welcomed the Environment Protection Agency’s top level prosecution of Centennial Coal for its coal fines pollution of the Wollangambe River near Lithgow. 

The Wollangambe is the most popular canyoning river in NSW and flows through the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

“Centennial Coal can’t keep out of court,” Keith Muir director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness said. “This company is a serial polluter and environmental abuser of the wonderful Gardens of Stone region. 

“Yesterday Centennial was in court for its Springvale mine allegedly polluting the Coxs River, today proceedings commence for a massive pollution event at its Clarence Colliery on the Wollangambe River.

“The Clarence Colliery allowed a massive spill of coal fines into the Wollangambe River in fine weather on July 2, 2015.  The mess in the river is disgusting and covered over 8 kilometres inside the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park,

“Conservation and bushwalking groups have called for prosecution regarding this major spill of coal fines into the Wollangambe River since July last year. 

“They have mapped the spill and collecting samples and reported their findings to the EPA. In particular, Alex Allchin, Vice President of Bushwalkers NSW, has systematically recorded the accumulations of the coal fines in the river enabling targeted removal of these deposits.”

Toxic mine waste discharges to the World Heritage Area must stop

“For decades Centennial Coal has been dumping millions of litres of mine water effluent into the Wolangambe River from its Clarence Colliery,” NSW Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said.  

“Independent university research has revealed the impact these discharges are having on the once pristine river. [1] The Office of Environment and Heritage has confirmed damage identified by the university was caused by the mine effluent. [2]

“The Wollangambe is dead for 15 kilometres downstream of the discharge point compared to unaffected tributaries or the river upstream from the coal mine. Most macro-invertebrates were gone, salinity was up, temperature was up and there were 'potentially lethal' levels of heavy metals such as Nickel.  We call for the complete removal of this massive discharge as well as the coal fines”.


[1]  Impact of a coal mine waste discharge on water quality and aquatic ecosystems in the Blue Mountains World Heritage area HERE 

[2] Krogh M., Edge K. and Miller J., 2015, Clarence Colliery Discharge Investigation, Office of Environment and Heritage, Sydney,  - See more at HERE

EPA commences Tier 1 prosecution against Clarence Colliery

Media release: 10 May 2016 - EPA

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has commenced a prosecution in the Land and Environment Court against Clarence Colliery Pty Ltd, alleging a Tier 1 offence relating to the discharge of coal fines from the Clarence Colliery, near Lithgow, last year. 

Tier 1 offences are the most serious under the Protection of Environment Operations Act 1997 and come with a maximum penalty of $2,000,000 for a corporation

The EPA will allege that on about 1 to 2 July 2015 a spill incident occurred at the colliery, which resulted in hundreds of tonnes of coal material dispersing into the surrounding environment. Coal fines slurry also entered the Wollangambe River within the Blue Mountains National Park which is a part of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

“This was a major environmental incident so in response the EPA has lodged the highest level tier 1 offence with the Land and Environment Court,” said EPA Chair and CEO, Barry Buffier.

Since the incident, the EPA has been monitoring the company’s extensive clean-up operation that has involved the removal of the coal fines from the river by hand. The coal fines have been placed in bulka bags and removed from the remote and rugged terrain using a helicopter.

The EPA has completed a total of 42 inspections, of the drainage line above the Wollangambe River and along the river itself. The EPA is satisfied with the progress of the rehabilitation of the drainage line and the re-growth of plants and rootstock.

The EPA has required the company to undertake a second cleaning of the section of the River where coal fines had accumulated. As of 2 May 2016 a total of 208 tonnes of coal fines had been removed by hand from the River. As the second clean-up continues the EPA has stressed to Clarence Colliery Pty Ltd of the need to progress with care, removing coal fines where this can be done without damaging the river environment.

 The National Parks and Wildlife Service has also commenced a prosecution against Clarence Colliery related to the incident. For the details of this prosecution 

For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy:

Slys Quarry to produce more sandstone 

09.05.2016: Departmental Media Release - Department of Planning and Environment

Slys Quarry near Maclean will expand and produce more sandstone after a Department of Planning and Environment approval.

Newman Quarrying Pty Ltd’s approved application proposes to increase the existing quarry pit by 11.1 hectares and extract an extra 4.6 million tonnes of sandstone at an increased rate of 500,000 tonnes a year.

The key issues addressed during the Department’s assessment include traffic and transport changes due to quarry truck movements, biodiversity and water impacts.

The Department has approved the expansion application after close consideration of these issues and applied the following conditions in response:

• preparation of a Traffic Management Plan

• preparation of a Drivers Code of Conduct

• preparation of a Soil and Water Management Plan

• preparation of a Biodiversity and Rehabilitation Management Plan and Biodiversity Offset Strategy.

As part of the Biodiversity Offset Strategy, the applicant will conserve and enhance a much larger area of land of up to 1.35 square kilometres for a range of threatened flora and fauna species, including the Bordered Guinea Flower. 

“Public consultation is enshrined into the process for assessing projects like these and the Department has addressed the issues raised,” a spokesperson for the Department said. 

“The site will be subject to on-going audits and inspections by the Department’s compliance officers to ensure Newman Quarrying Pty Ltd is adhering to its strict approval conditions. 

The materials are proposed for use in the construction of the Pacific Highway upgrade between Woolgoolga and Ballina. 

A Department spokesperson said the application was thoroughly assessed on its merits and would continue to provide a source of construction materials for projects in the local region.

“Ongoing employment of the existing three person team will be ensured as a result of the expansion,” a spokesperson said.

“Potential for an additional five jobs during peak operation could potentially double the workforce for a period of time.

“The application was publicly exhibited by the Department during May and June 2015.” 

More information can be found at

Community feedback sought on Gunlake Quarry Extension Project

Department of Planning and Environment

A development proposal by Gunlake Quarries to increase production and extend the life of its quarry on Brayton Road in Brayton will be on exhibition for community feedback.

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

increase the maximum annual production rate from 750 000 tonnes to two million tonnes

increase the maximum number of daily truck movements from 320 to 690

extend the quarry from approximately 45 hectares to approximately 99 hectares

construct an additional emplacement area for waste rock

crush quarried rock for up to 24 hours per day

use blasting up to twice per week

allow quarrying operations to continue for an additional 30 years.

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 Gunlake Resources will have to respond to the feedback we receive,” the spokesperson said.

“This feedback is taken into consideration when we develop our recommendations.

“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 modification request,

Submissions can be made until Friday, 20 May 2016.

2016 Eco School Grants Program open for applications

Media release: 26 April 2016 - NSW Office of Environment and Heritage

Eighty grants of $3,500 each are available to support a range of environmental projects and learning opportunities for students, teachers and school communities under the NSW Environmental Trust's Eco Schools Grants Program.

Terry Bailey, Chief Executive, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and Trust Secretary said the grants will help provide curriculum-based environmental education, awareness and knowledge to children.

"This Government investment aims to develop students' passion and commitment to protecting the environment," Mr Bailey said.

"The program recognises the important work of the community, no matter how old or young, in environmental conservation projects and I encourage educators and school communities to apply for one of the eighty grants.

"Twenty-five of the grants will be awarded to projects that work primarily with students with special needs.

"Seventy-eight schools were awarded Eco School grants last year and their projects help enhance the environment of NSW. Pennant Hills Public School used their grant funds to plant more small shrubs for their Small Bird Haven project.

"The additional shrubs provide much needed sanctuary for small birds to nest, feed and take shelter from predators. The project also taught students about environmental monitoring," Mr Bailey said.

All NSW primary and high schools, registered with the Sustainable Schools NSW program, can apply for funding, however please see the Program Guidelines for specific eligibility requirements.

Grant applications can be submitted until Friday 17 June, 2016.

Visit the Environmental Trust's website for further

Court Stops Coal Explorer from Accessing Properties in Southern Highlands; Precedent Set for NSW

May 10, 2016 - from Lock the Gate Alliance

The Chief Justice of the NSW Land and Environment Court has this afternoon overturned a previous court decision and found in favour of 5 landholders in the Southern Highland who have been fighting to prevent a coal company from exploring on their properties.

Peter Martin from Coal Free Southern Highlands said “This is an incredibly significant decision for myself and 4 other landholders.  It means that we have the right to reject coal exploration which will damage significant improvements on our land.

“We have been fighting for six years to prevent our highly developed farms and the vital water resources that lie beneath them from being destroyed by coal exploration and mining.

“This decision today is a body blow to the South Korean-owned company, Hume Coal, which no longer has the right to enter our lands if they are going to impinge on significant improvements on our properties. 

“We believe this will be the death knell for their ill-considered mining project, which is completely inappropriate in a key part of Sydney’s drinking water catchment and one of the most historic and picturesque parts of NSW.

“This decision finally restores a semblance of balance to a planning system which gives big miners special treatment and which bullies and intimidates landholders into giving access.

“We’d like to thank our Senior Counsel, Mr Bret Walker, and our full legal team for their extraordinary hard work and commitment to deliver this outcome” he said.

Phil Laird from Lock the Gate Alliance said “The decision today by Justice Preston sets a vital and long-awaited precedent for landholders across NSW. 

“Coal miners no longer have a god given right to unrestricted access to your property – there are some legal constraints and you can prevent miners from impacting on significant improvements on your property” he said.

Background Facts

• Hume Coal is proposing to use an experimental underground mining plan called ‘Pine Feather’ if approval is given.

• The company’s own documents concede it will draw down water from the pristine aquifer system underlying the area by up to 90 metres and affect an area of over 300 square kms, draining landowners’ bores in the process. Hundreds of landowners and many businesses in the area will be affected.

• The company plans to pump toxic mining rejects in a slurry back into the mined out voids, right under the aquifer itself. This risks polluting the groundwater for generations to come and creates a potential health hazard.

• A massive coal stockpile will be within 4kms of the historic township of Berrima, creating health risks for residents from dangerous coal dust.

• Hume Coal has been running an aggressive legal campaign for over four years, attempting to force landowners in Sutton Forest to allow them to drill on some of the most highly developed properties in NSW.

Photo: Kate Ausburn - Southern Highlands Blockade; Residents of the Southern Highlands are stopping Hume Coal (70% owned by Korean steel giant POSCO) from accessing a property in Sutton Forest, the site of a proposed underground coal mine.

2016 Annual World Oceans Day Oceanic Photo Competition

New York, USA: United Nations 

24 March 2016 - 20 May 2016

Photography is a powerful medium of expression that can be used to communicate strong positive messages about a subject. This open and free photo competition seeks to inspire the creation and dissemination of such positive imagery, which conveys the beauty and importance of the ocean and humankind’s relation to it.

CLICK HERE to enter contest 

The photo competition has five thematic categories open for photographic submissions:

 - Underwater seascapes

 - Underwater life

 - Above water seascapes

 - Human Interaction: Making a Difference

 - Youth Category: open category, any image of the ocean (above or below the surface)

(Youth is defined as under 16 years of age as of 1 April 2016)

The entries must be submitted electronically through the World Oceans Day Photo Competition portal in accordance with the competition guidelines and subject to the competition rules. Winning images will be recognized at the United Nations on Wednesday, 8 June 2016 during the United Nations event marking World Oceans Day 2016. 

Winning images and finalists will form part of an information exhibit in which the photos will be paired with narratives explaining the importance of the oceans to humanity and relating humankind’s positive relationship with the ocean.

Information and more HERE

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.

How the spectacular Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain became so bendy

May 11, 2016: University of Sydney

This is a Hawaii-Emperor seamount chain. Credit: University of Sydney

The physical mechanism causing the unique, sharp bend in the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain has been uncovered in a collaboration between the University of Sydney and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

Led by a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney's School of Geosciences, researchers used the Southern Hemisphere's most highly integrated supercomputer to reveal flow patterns deep in the Earth's mantle -- just above the core -- over the past 100 million years. The flow patterns explain how the enigmatic bend in the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain arose.

True to the old adage -- as above, so below -- the Sydney-US collaboration found the shape of volcanic seamount chains (chains of mostly extinct volcanoes), including Hawaii, is intimately linked to motion near the Earth's core.

The findings of PhD candidate Rakib Hassan and fellow researchers including Professor Dietmar Müller from the University's EarthByte Group, are being published in Nature.

Mr Hassan explained: "Until now, scientists believed the spectacular 60° bend in the Hawaiian seamount chain -- not found in any other seamount chains -- was related to a change in plate motion combined with a change in flow direction in the shallow mantle, the layer of thick rock between the Earth's crust and its core.

"These findings suggest the shape of volcanic seamount chains record motion in the deepest mantle, near the Earth's core. The more coherent and rapid the motion deep in the mantle, the more acute its effects are on the shape of seamount chains above," he said.

Although solid, the mantle is in a state of continuous flow, observable only over geological timescales. Vertical columns of hot and buoyant rock rising through the mantle from near the core are known as mantle plumes. Volcanic seamount chains such as Hawaii were created from magma produced near the surface by mantle plumes. Moving tectonic plates sit above the mantle and carry newly formed seamounts away from the plume underneath -- the oldest seamounts in a chain are therefore furthest away from the plume.

"We had an intuition that, since the north Pacific experienced a prolonged phase where large, cold tectonic plates uninterruptedly sank into the mantle, the flow in the deepest mantle there would be very different compared to other regions of the Earth," Mr Hassan said.

One of the most contentious debates in geoscience has centred on whether piles of rock in the deep mantle -- to which plumes are anchored -- have remained stationary, unaffected by mantle flow over hundreds of millions of years.

The new research shows the shapes of these piles have changed through time and their shapes can be strongly dependent on rapid, coherent flow in the deep mantle.

Between 50-100 million years ago, the edge of the pile under the north Pacific was pushed rapidly southward, along with the base of Hawaii's volcanic plume, causing it to tilt. The plume became vertical again once the motion of its base stopped; this dramatic start-stop motion resulted in the seamount chain's sharp bend.

Using Australia's National Computational Infrastructure's supercomputer Raijin, the team created high-resolution three-dimensional simulations of mantle evolution over the past 200 million years to understand the coupling between convection in the deep Earth and volcanism.

Mr Hassan said the simulations were guided by surface observations -- similar to meteorologists applying past measurements to predict the weather.

"These simulations required millions of central processing unit (CPU) hours on the supercomputer over the course of the project," he said.

Professor Müller concluded: "Our results help resolve a major enigma of why volcanic seamount chains on the same tectonic plate can have very different shapes.

"It is now clear that we first need to understand the dynamics of the deepest 'Underworld', right above the core, to unravel the history of volcanism at Earth's surface," said Professor Müller.

Rakib Hassan, R. Dietmar Müller, Michael Gurnis, Simon E. Williams, Nicolas Flament. A rapid burst in hotspot motion through the interaction of tectonics and deep mantle flow. Nature, 2016; 533 (7602): 239 DOI: 10.1038/nature17422

 Plains-Wanderer Joins Koala on Iconic Species List 

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The endangered plains-wanderer, a small grassland bird similar in appearance to a quail, joins the koala and the brush-tailed rock wallaby on the state’s list of six iconic species, Environment Minister Mark Speakman announced today.

As part of the listing, the plains-wanderer will be given priority investment under the NSW Government’s $100 million Saving our Species program in an attempt to prevent its declining numbers. The program aims to maximise the number of threatened species that can be secured in the wild in NSW for 100 years.

Mr Speakman also announced the first successful zoo bred plains-wanderer in more than 30 years under a joint Office of Environment and Heritage and Taronga Zoo partnership.

“The plains-wanderer is so discreet that only a handful of farmers, scientists and avid bird enthusiasts are likely to lay eyes on it in the wild,” Mr Speakman said.

“A pair of birds held at Taronga Zoo have mated and produced eggs and so far five healthy chicks have hatched and are thriving.

“In the past decade plains-wanderer numbers have dropped 80 to 90 per cent due to habitat loss – there are as few as 200 remaining in the wild.”

The Office of Environment and Heritage is working with Riverina farmers to help protect the plains-wanderer through careful management of grazing in areas of key habitat.

Ideal habitat has roughly equal parts bare ground and low vegetation, and the birds thrive where light to moderate grazing delivers these preferred conditions.

The five species currently listed as iconic are the brush-tailed rock-wallaby, the koala, the southern corroboree frog, the malleefowl and the Wollemi pine. They are listed as iconic for their social, cultural and economic importance.

For more information on NSW’s iconic species, visit: 

Photo of plains-wanderer chick courtesy Taronga Zoo


The plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus) is a bird, the only representative of family Pedionomidae and genus Pedionomus. It is endemic to Australia. The majority of the remaining population are found in the Riverina region of New South Wales.

The plains-wanderer is a quail-like ground bird, measuring 15–19 cm. It is such an atypical bird that it is placed in an entire family of its own, Pedionomidae. The adult male is light brown above, with fawn-white underparts with black crescents. The adult female is substantially larger than the males, and has a distinctive white-spotted black collar. They are excellent camouflagers, and will first hide at any disturbance. If they're approached too close, they will run as opposed to flying, which they are very poor at. Females lay four eggs, which the male then incubates.

This bird is listed as an endangered species on the 2007 IUCN Red List.

Plains-wanderers are listed as vulnerable on the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC). Their conservation status also varies from state to state within Australia. For example:

• The plains-wanderer is listed as threatened on the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988). Under this Act, an Action Statement for the recovery and future management of this species has been prepared. 

• The plains-wanderer is listed as endangered on Schedule 1 of the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.

The plains-wanderer is likely to change status to nationally endangered under the EPBC Act 1999.

Plains-wanderer. (2016, March 9). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved  from

Environmental Impact of Poor Eating 

May 10, 2016: CSIRO

Australians have long been encouraged to eat green for a healthy lifestyle, however a new survey hopes to examine the environmental impact of the nation's diet.

CSIRO will use data from the country's largest diet survey, the Healthy Diet Score, to look at the role food consumption contributes to our environmental footprint, as well as providing people with a score indicating the nutritional quality of their eating habits.

Improving the national diet can achieve both health benefits and environmental benefits, such as minimising harmful greenhouse gases via reducing processing, packaging and transport requirements.

CSIRO research has found that reducing overconsumption of kilojoules and eating whole foods at the levels recommended in the National Dietary Guidelines could cut the greenhouse gas contribution of the average diet by 25 per cent.

People across Australia are being asked to participate in the online survey again this year. Last year more than 70,000 people took part in the Healthy Diet Score, providing researchers with a detailed picture of the country's eating habits.

The survey evaluates diet based on food variety, frequency and quantity of the essential food groups, as well as other attributes to calculate greenhouse gas emissions related to food consumption.

This is the first year that the Healthy Diet Score will use survey data to measure the broader environmental impact of poor eating and the findings will be released later this year.

The 2016 edition of the Healthy Diet Score also tracks special diets for the first time, such as vegetarian and gluten free, offering tailored advice for people who struggle to meet the Dietary Guidelines.

Professor Manny Noakes, CSIRO Research Director for Nutrition and Health and the co-author of the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet, said the impact of poor eating habits reaches further than just an individual's waistline.

"Obesity and poor nutrition habits negatively affects the broader community," Professor Noakes said.

"This year's Healthy Diet Score will help us better qualify the environmental footprint from individuals eating habits.

"The new survey will provide researchers with an updated snapshot based on current eating habits and revised environmental modelling data."

In addition to overeating kilojoules, the CSIRO estimates that junk food is one of the highest contributors to food related greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for up to 27 per cent of the 14.5 kilograms of diet-related greenhouse gas emissions produced by the average Australian each day.

Last year the country's diet quality was given a rating of 61/100 using the scientifically validated survey which assesses people's diet quality against the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

Australia's underwhelming performance in last year's Healthy Diet Score was driven by the country's addiction to junk food.

The 2015 survey found that junk food intake was three-times higher than the recommended daily limit.

The CSIRO Healthy Diet Score is a free 10-minute online assessment which evaluates diet quality and identifies areas of improvement and gives your diet a score out of 100.

"The online assessment provides Australians with a simple and trusted way of self-assessing the quality of their diet and how they compare to others of the same age, gender, generation, profession, as well as people from the same state and across the country," Professor Noakes said.

"The assessment will also allow us to better quantify the impact of how much and what we eat on our environment.

"We would encourage people to take the test regularly to ensure they are improving their eating behaviour and overall health and wellbeing."

For more information or to take the free Healthy Diet Score please visit

World's oldest axe fragment found in Australia

May 10, 2016: University of Sydney

World's oldest axe fragment, seen here under a microscope, is the size of a thumbnail. Credit: Australian Archaeology.

Australian archaeologists have discovered a piece of the world's oldest axe in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia.

The axe fragment is about the size of a thumbnail and dates back to a Stone Age period of 45,000 to 49,000 years ago -- at, or very soon after, the time humans arrived on the continent, and more than ten millennia earlier than any previous ground-edge axe discoveries.

The University of Sydney's Professor Peter Hiscock is the lead and corresponding author of a new analysis of the fragment published in the journal Australian Archaeology. He said the axe revealed that the first Australians were technological innovators.

"Since there are no known axes in Southeast Asia during the Ice Age, this discovery shows us that when humans arrived in Australia they began to experiment with new technologies, inventing ways to exploit the resources they encountered in the new Australian landscape," he said.

The axe fragment was initially excavated in the early 1990s by lead archaeologist Professor Sue O'Connor from the Australian National University (ANU)among a sequence of food scraps, tools, artwork and other artifacts from Carpenter's Gap, a large rock shelter known to be one of the first sites occupied by modern humans.

"Nowhere else in the world do you get axes at this date. In Japan such axes appear about 35,000 years ago. But in most countries in the world they arrive with agriculture after 10,000 years ago," Professor O'Connor said.

In 2014, as further study was being carried out on the objects dug out of the site, Professor Hiscock's team discovered a small fragment of a polished axe, recovered from the oldest levels of the site.

New studies of the fragment have revealed that it comes from an axe that had been shaped from basalt then polished by grinding it on another rock until it was very smooth.

The fragment came from the polished edge when it was later re-sharpened. The team believes the axe was most likely carried away to be used elsewhere, leaving the fragment behind.

"Polished stone axes were crucial tools in hunter-gatherer societies and were once the defining characteristic of the Neolithic phase of human life. But when were axes invented? This question has been pursued for decades, since archaeologists discovered that in Australia axes were older than in many other places. Now we have a discovery that appears to answer the question," said Professor Hiscock.

Professor O'Connor said evidence suggests the technology was developed in Australia after people arrived around 50,000 years ago. "We know that they didn't have axes where they came from. There are no axes in the islands to our north. They arrived in Australia and innovated axes," she said.

Professor Hiscock said the ground-edge axe technology specifically arose as the dispersing humans adapted to their new regional landscapes.

"Although humans spread across Australia, axe technology did not spread with them. Axes were only made in the tropical north, perhaps suggesting two different colonizing groups or that the technology was abandoned as people spread into desert and sub-topical woodlands," he said.

"These differences between northern Australia, where axes were always used, and southern Australia, where they were not, originated around the time of colonization and persisted until the last few thousand years when axes began to be made in most southern parts of mainland Australia."

The team's latest discoveries are published in this month's issue of the journal Australian Archaeology.

Peter Hiscock, Sue O’Connor, Jane Balme & Tim Maloney. World’s earliest ground-edge axe production coincides with human colonisation of Australia. Australian Archaeology, 2016 DOI:10.1080/03122417.2016.1164379

World Sailing map out two-year governance modernisation plan

Monday May 9, 2016

World Sailing has laid out a draft two-year roadmap for continued good governance based upon a consultation with member national associations and stakeholders at its Mid-Year Meetings in Lausanne, Switzerland.

World Sailing members approved this weekend a number of changes to its constitution and regulations, which mark the start of the implementation of the modernisation plan.

• World Sailing's Constitution concerning non-discrimination is now in line with the Olympic Charter. World Sailing will promote the sport of sailing in all of its branches regardless of colour, gender, physical ability, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth of other status;

• The Executive Committee will now be referred to as the Board of Directors of the Federation;

• The Secretariat will now be called the Executive Office;

• The Chairman of the Athletes' Commission is now a permanent voting member of the Board of Directors;

• Future venues of the Annual Conference and Annual General Meeting will be determined via a bidding process and vote by members at the AGM;

• Strengthened procedures for identifying and managing conflicts of interest.

The governance of International Federation's (IFs) has recently received widespread media coverage and as a result, remains in the public eye. Following an Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) governance review, a Governance Task Force (GTF) was established in November 2015. The GTF recommended five key governance principles to each IF in February 2016 to be embraced in their activities, decisions, processes and regulations.

These key principles are:

1. Transparency

2. Integrity

3. Democracy

4. Sports Development & Solidarity

5. Control Mechanisms

These are further broken down under 50 simple and measurable indicators which can be applied as appropriate to the particular circumstances of each IF taking account of the size, development and history of each.  

World Sailing's two-year road map will focus on meeting ASOIF's standards and will be broken down into three stages. In consultation with the Constitution Committee and Board of Directors, straightforward changes to the Constitution and Regulations will be proposed at the 2016 Annual Conference in Barcelona, Spain.

Further consultation with World Sailing's Members will follow, resulting in a detailed study. Based on the study moderate changes will be proposed at the 2017 Annual Conference before the wider, complex, submissions in 2018.

Addressing World Sailing's Council in Lausanne, Carlo Croce said, "I can't remember a time when the international media and public spotlight has been so concentrated on world sport and the way it is run and governed. At the same time, the IOC and the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations are both clear that change and progress are needed in this area. And they are right.

"Our goal is to become a benchmark for International Federations. These measures will enable World Sailing to become more professional, efficient, effective and better able to drive the global growth of Sailing in all its forms.

"As I look ahead I am encouraged and optimistic as we aim to protect and grow our sport and enter a new era with confidence and a willingness to be creative and develop.”

World Sailing's Chief Executive Officer, Andy Hunt, added, "World Sailing has a real opportunity to be a leading and progressive International Federation and as a consequence become more professional, efficient and effective in its approach.

"World Sailing already meets many of ASOIF's key principles but the two-year road map will ensure we continue to meet and exceed the governance standards to become best in class.”

By Daniel Smith, World Sailing

About World Sailing

World Sailing is the world governing body for the sport of sailing.

World Sailing is made up of 141 Member National Authorities (MNAs), who are its principal members, and responsible for the decision making process that governs the sailing world.

There are currently more than 100 World Sailing classes, ranging from the small dinghy classes for young people up to 60 foot ocean racers.

For more information about World Sailing please go to

Where you are is who you are: How enclosed and open spaces affect cognition - Good built environments are fundamental for our well-being

May 9, 2016

A recent study suggests that who we are might be more integrated with where we are than previously thought. Demonstrating how architects and urban planners might take guidance from disciplines like neuroscience, philosophy and psychology, a paper published in Frontiers in Psychology, reveals that a good built environment might promote well-being and effect our decisions.

Contrary to the idea that we are separate from what we experience, the study claims that we ought to think about how the environment we create might, in turn, be used to create us. With this in mind, the scientists investigated how the way we interact with space defines how we identify ourselves and our capabilities.

"The built environment can restrict or promote spatial cognition, which can influence one's self-hood," the researchers explain. "Our spatial coordinates and our 'selves' are intertwined."

According to the researchers, we understand our environment differently depending on our experience of it. For example, learning your way through a space using a map gives a different understanding than through learning your own route. In a mapped environment, the tendency is to think of objects in relation to one another, whereas finding your own way might lead to thinking about the space in terms of its relation to you.

"The greater familiarity one has with a place increases the knowledge one has of different perspectives and orientations," they said. Similarly, the amount of time we are in our environments can change our understanding. This also suggests that having unrestricted movement in the space can over time allow us to experience multiple paths and perspectives.

The researchers say social perspectives also change spatial perspectives. An example of this is language. "Our language reveals how social relationships are mapped onto spatial ones -- for example a close friend versus a distant relation. This reveals that spatial reference frames are the fundamental way that the locations of objects, people and oneself are understood," they explain.

Envisioning a more inclusive future, the scientists explain that well-built environments are important for well-being. A relationship to the space we're in is a fundamental human experience and so it is evident that built environments need to address everyone's needs.

"Recently, architects and urban planners have started to consider the abilities and reference frames of those using the space to optimize the design of the built environment," they said.

But it goes beyond creating a building space. The fact that experience can shape individual differences, which in turn can affect the quality of spatial and social cognition a person, suggests that growing up in certain built environments can have detrimental or beneficial effects on their cognitive ability. This brings up questions such as whether raising children in enclosed spaces versus open spaces will result in differences in spatial and social cognition.

More research also needs to be performed on how spaces might affect decision making in town halls and parliaments, and the extent to which these spaces, in interaction with individual differences, can help foster more effective policy making. "Where we are, might mould who we are, but given our ability to shape the environment, we can play an active role in the development of the self," they said.

Michael J. Proulx, Orlin S. Todorov, Amanda Taylor Aiken, Alexandra A. de Sousa. Where am I? Who am I? The Relation Between Spatial Cognition, Social Cognition and Individual Differences in the Built Environment. Frontiers in Psychology, 2016; 7 DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00064

Early Earth's air weighed less than half of today's atmosphere

May 9, 2016

The layers on this 2.7 billion-year-old rock, a stromatolite from Western Australia, show evidence of single-celled, photosynthetic life on the shore of a large lake. The new result suggests that this microbial life thrived despite a thin atmosphere. Credit: Roger Buick/University of Washington

The idea that the young Earth had a thicker atmosphere turns out to be wrong. New research from the University of Washington uses bubbles trapped in 2.7 billion-year-old rocks to show that air at that time exerted at most half the pressure of today's atmosphere.

The results, published online May 9 in Nature Geoscience, reverse the commonly accepted idea that the early Earth had a thicker atmosphere to compensate for weaker sunlight. The finding also has implications for which gases were in that atmosphere, and how biology and climate worked on the early planet.

"For the longest time, people have been thinking the atmospheric pressure might have been higher back then, because the sun was fainter," said lead author Sanjoy Som, who did the work as part of his UW doctorate in Earth and space sciences. "Our result is the opposite of what we were expecting."

The idea of using bubbles trapped in cooling lava as a "paleobarometer" to determine the weight of air in our planet's youth occurred decades ago to co-author Roger Buick, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences. Others had used the technique to measure the elevation of lavas a few million years old. To flip the idea and measure air pressure farther back in time, researchers needed a site where truly ancient lava had undisputedly formed at sea level.

Their field site in Western Australia was discovered by co-author Tim Blake of the University of Western Australia. There, the Beasley River has exposed 2.7 billion-year-old basalt lava. The lowest lava flow has "lava toes" that burrow into glassy shards, proving that molten lava plunged into seawater. The team drilled into the overlying lava flows to examine the size of the bubbles.

A stream of molten rock quickly cools from top and bottom, and bubbles trapped at the bottom are smaller than those at the top. The size difference records the air pressure pushing down on the lava as it cooled, 2.7 billion years ago.

Rough measurements in the field suggested a surprisingly lightweight atmosphere. More rigorous x-ray scans from several lava flows confirmed the result: The bubbles indicate that the atmospheric pressure at that time was less than half of today's.

Earth 2.7 billion years ago was home only to single-celled microbes, sunlight was about one-fifth weaker, and the atmosphere contained no oxygen. But this finding points to conditions being even more otherworldly than previously thought. A lighter atmosphere could affect wind strength and other climate patterns, and would even alter the boiling point of liquids.

"We're still coming to grips with the magnitude of this," Buick said. "It's going to take us a while to digest all the possible consequences." Other geological evidence clearly shows liquid water on Earth at that time, so the early atmosphere must have contained more heat-trapping greenhouse gases, like methane and carbon dioxide, and less nitrogen.

The new study is an advance on the UW team's previous work on "fossilized raindrops" that first cast doubt on the idea of a far thicker ancient atmosphere. The result also reinforces Buick's 2015 finding that microbes were pulling nitrogen out of Earth's atmosphere some 3 billion years ago.

"The levels of nitrogen gas have varied through Earth's history, at least in Earth's early history, in ways that people just haven't even thought of before," said co-author David Catling, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences. "People will need to rewrite the textbooks."

The researchers will next look for other suitable rocks to confirm the findings and learn how atmospheric pressure might have varied through time.

While clues to the early Earth are scarce, it is still easier to study than planets outside our solar system, so this will help understand possible conditions and life on other planets where atmospheres might be thin and oxygen-free, like that of the early Earth.

Som is CEO of Seattle-based Blue Marble Space, a nonprofit that focuses on interdisciplinary space science research, international awareness, science education and public outreach. He currently does astrobiology research at NASA's Ames Research Center in California.

Sanjoy M. Som, Roger Buick, James W. Hagadorn, Tim S. Blake, John M. Perreault, Jelte P. Harnmeijer, David C. Catling. Earth's air pressure 2.7 billion years ago constrained to less than half of modern levels.Nature Geoscience, 2016; DOI: 10.1038/NGEO2713

'Hammerhead' creature was world's first plant-eating marine reptile

May 6, 2016

A fossil of Atopodenatus unicus is alongside a reconstruction showing what it would have looked like in life. Credit: © Nick Fraser

In 2014, scientists discovered a bizarre fossil--a crocodile-sized sea-dwelling reptile that lived 242 million years ago in what today is southern China. Its head was poorly preserved, but it seemed to have a flamingo-like beak. But in a paper published today in Science Advances, paleontologists reveal what was really going on--that "beak" is actually part of a hammerhead-shaped jaw apparatus, which it used to feed on plants on the ocean floor. It's the earliest known example of an herbivorous marine reptile.

"It's a very strange animal," says Olivier Rieppel, Rowe Family Curator of Evolutionary Biology at The Field Museum in Chicago. "It's got a hammerhead, which is unique, it's the first time we've seen a reptile like this." Rieppel co-authored the study with colleagues at National Museums Scotland and China's Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology and the Wuhan Centre of the China Geological Survey.

The reptile's name, Atopodentatus unicus, hints at its muddled past--it's Latin for "unique strangely toothed." But newly discovered fossils make it clearer how its "strange teeth" were actually configured. Its wide jaw was shaped like a hammerhead, and along the edge, it had peg-like teeth. Then, further into its mouth, it had bunches of needle-like teeth.

"To figure out how the jaw fit together and how the animal actually fed, we bought some children's clay, kind of like Play-Doh, and rebuilt it with toothpicks to represent the teeth," says Rieppel. "We looked at how the upper and lower jaw locked together, and that's how we proceeded and described it."

The verdict: Atopodentatus unicus used its bizarre jaw to help it eat plants. "It used the peg-like front teeth to scrape plants off of rocks on the sea floor, and then it opened its mouth and sucked in the bits of plant material. Then, it used its needle-like teeth as a sieve, trapping the plants and letting the water back out, like how whales filter-feed with their baleen," explains Rieppel.

Not only does this discovery solve the mystery of the strange-toothed animal, but it also provides us with an example of the first herbivorous marine reptile. "The jaw structure is clearly that of an herbivore," says Rieppel. "It has similarities to other marine animals that ate plants with a filter-feeding system, but Atopodentatus is older than them by about eight million years."

Atopodentatus also helps tell a bigger story about the world's largest mass extinction 252 million years ago. "Animals living the years surrounding the Permian-Triassic extinction help us see how life on earth reacted to that event," says Rieppel. "The existence of specialized animals likeAtopodentatus unicus shows us that life recovered and diversified more quickly than previously though. And it's definitely a reptile that no one would have thought to exist--look at it, it's crazy!"

L. Chun, O. Rieppel, C. Long, N. C. Fraser. The earliest herbivorous marine reptile and its remarkable jaw apparatus.Science Advances, 2016; 2 (5): e1501659 DOI:10.1126/sciadv.1501659

Deep-water seaweed evolved into a multi-cellular plant more than 540 million years ago

May 10, 2016

A sample of green algae collected from the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: Image courtesy of The University of Alabama

The discovery of a deep-water seaweed that evolved into a multi-cellular plant more than 540 million years ago has added a new branch to the tree of life, according to a biologist at The University of Alabama.

Dr. Juan Lopez-Bautista, professor of biological sciences at UA, co-authored a study of algae collected from the Gulf of Mexico that revealed a significantly different cellular structure than first believed. The finding, published Monday in Scientific Reports, details the unique order, known as Palmophyllales, examined by Lopez-Bautista and post-doctoral researchers at UA and how it diverged to create its own lineage.

"For many years, more than a century, there was speculation that the primordial green algae were single cells, like phytoplankton," Lopez-Bautista said. "And in our work, these very strange groups of algae that live deep in the oceans, they're not single cells -- they actually aggregate inside of a jelly. It gives us an idea of how the most ancient green plants will look like.

"When you try to figure out how things evolve, now we have a point of comparison. This is the first group that evolved, and they have these specific features, and now all green plants (sea and land-based) will be compared to them. At the same time, we discovered this is the deepest branching of the tree of life, and this is a group that hasn't been recognized, so we created a new class for it."

Lopez-Bautista was principal investigator in a large National Science Foundation project designed to discover and describe various types of green algae. Lopez-Bautista's lab, Phycolab, in Mary Harmon Bryant Hall, received $600,000 of the $2.76 million NSF grant to determine where algae fit in the evolutionary chain. The funding was used to hire post-doctoral researchers and map the genomes of the algae collected from the gulf. Additional samples and phylogenetic software allowed for more comparisons to other algae and plants and helped researchers pinpoint when Palmophyllales branched off from related plant species.

Lopez-Bautista spotted the bright, green algae while taking an oceanographic cruise a few years ago. He said there were existing studies of an ancient group of algae but no clear answer to where it belonged in the tree of life.

"I knew we had the technologies at our lab at The University of Alabama to answer that question," he said. "And the techniques and software used to map chloroplast genomes advanced over the last few years, cutting down the time for analysis from weeks to days.

"We are going to the edge of science."

The discovery has opened many new questions about why the algae diversified nearly 540 million years ago. Lopez-Bautista said there are many findings to compare and habitats to explore to and that he'll continue to pursue funding for bio-diversity research.

He plans to present findings from the study in Italy, Mexico and Colombia in the coming weeks.

"I've been a reviewer on NSF panels many times," Lopez-Bautista said. "And when I've asked what will it take for NSF to fund our research proposal, what I was told always sticks with me: 'is it research that will change our textbooks?' To do that, it has to be highly significant. I think this will rewrite the history of the green plants."

Frederik Leliaert, Ana Tronholm, Claude Lemieux, Monique Turmel, Michael S. DePriest, Debashish Bhattacharya, Kenneth G. Karol, Suzanne Fredericq, Frederick W. Zechman, Juan M. Lopez-Bautista.Chloroplast phylogenomic analyses reveal the deepest-branching lineage of the Chlorophyta, Palmophyllophyceae class. nov.. Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 25367 DOI:10.1038/srep25367

Major global study identifies a safer treatment of acute stroke

May 10, 2016

The safety of a controversial clot-busting drug has been investigated by researchers, who have shown a modified dosage can reduce serious bleeding in the brain and improve survival rates.

It is hoped the findings from the trial of more than 3,000 patients in 100 hospitals worldwide could change the way the most common form of stroke is treated globally.

Intravenous rtPA (or alteplase) is given to people suffering acute ischaemic stroke and works by breaking up clots blocking the flow of blood to the brain.

However, it can cause serious bleeding in the brain in around five per cent of cases, with many of these proving fatal.

The study was conducted by teams at the George Institute for Global Health, and the University of Leicester's Department of Cardiovascular Sciences. The UK arm of the trial was funded by the Stroke Association.

National Coordinator of the study in the UK, Professor Tom Robinson of the University said: "This trial was a randomised controlled trial, which is the gold standard for determining whether a medicine actually has the desired effect.

"The results provide important information when discussing clot-busting treatment with patients and their families.

"Most patients who have a major stroke want to know they will survive but without being seriously dependent on their family. We have shown this to be the case with the lower dose of the drug.

"Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the UK and the leading cause of adult neurological disability. There are over 150,000 strokes each year in the UK, one in four of whom are in people of working age.

"Currently, approximately 11 per cent of stroke patients receive thrombolysis treatment for stroke in the UK."

Professor Craig Anderson, Lead Author of the study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, said: "At the moment you could have a stroke but end up dying from a bleed in the brain. It's largely unpredictable as to who will respond and who is at risk with rtPA.

"What we have shown is that if we reduce the dose level, we maintain most of the clot busting benefits of the higher dose but with significantly less major bleeds and improved survival rates. On a global scale, this approach could save the lives of many tens of thousands of people.

"There is a trade off with the lower dose in regards to recovery of functioning, but being alive is surely preferable to most patients than suffering an early death."

Dr Dale Webb, Director of Research and Information at the Stroke Association, said: "We've known for a while that giving stroke patients alteplase carries the risk of bleeding in the brain which can be fatal.

"However, an independent review in the UK concluded last year that the benefits outweigh the risks. This new study will be welcome news for clinicians and patients, because it suggests that we can reduce the risk of bleeding with a lower dose of alteplase, whilst retaining most of its benefit."

These differing effects meant that the trial was unable to show conclusively that the low dose was as effective as standard dose rtPA in terms of survivors being free of any disability.

rtPA is used to dissolve clots that block a blood vessel in a patient's brain within the first few hours after the onset of stroke symptoms.

Yet, because many people with stroke arrive at hospital after this crucial time window, only around five per cent of eligible people currently receive this therapy in most countries.

Concerns over the risks of bleeding on the brain associated with rtPA have prompted independent reviews of the research evidence in Australia and the UK.

Professor Tom Robinson is also from the NIHR Leicester Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit.


Compared to standard dose (0.9mg/kg body weight), the lower dose (0.6mg/kg) of rtPA reduced rates of serious bleeding in the brain, known as intracerebral haemorrhage (ICH), by two thirds.

After 90 days, 8.5 per cent of patients had died after receiving low dose rtPA, compared to 10.3 per cent who received the standard dose.

The survival benefit was offset by a slight rise in the amount of people suffering residual disability. For every 1000 patients treated, low dose rtPA, compared to the standard dose, 41 more people had physical disabilities, such as needing help dressing or walking, but 19 fewer people died.

The George Institute for Global Health

The George Institute for Global Health is improving the lives of millions of people worldwide through innovative health research. Working across a broad health landscape, the Institute conducts clinical, population and health system research aimed at changing health practice and policy worldwide. The Institute has a global network of medical and health experts working together to address the leading causes of death and disability worldwide. Established in Australia and affiliated with The University of Sydney, the Institute today also has offices in China, India and the United Kingdom, and is also affiliated with Peking University Health Science Centre, the University of Hyderabad and the University of Oxford. The Institute has been ranked among the top 10 global institutes for impact for the last several years.

Martin B. Leon, Craig R. Smith, Michael J. Mack, Raj R. Makkar, Lars G. Svensson, Susheel K. Kodali, Vinod H. Thourani, E. Murat Tuzcu, D. Craig Miller, Howard C. Herrmann, Darshan Doshi, David J. Cohen, Augusto D. Pichard, Samir Kapadia, Todd Dewey, Vasilis Babaliaros, Wilson Y. Szeto, Mathew R. Williams, Dean Kereiakes, Alan Zajarias, Kevin L. Greason, Brian K. Whisenant, Robert W. Hodson, Jeffrey W. Moses, Alfredo Trento, David L. Brown, William F. Fearon, Philippe Pibarot, Rebecca T. Hahn, Wael A. Jaber, William N. Anderson, Maria C. Alu, John G. Webb. Transcatheter or Surgical Aortic-Valve Replacement in Intermediate-Risk Patients. New England Journal of Medicine, 2016; 374 (17): 1609 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1514616

Further clues in the fight against chronic fatigue syndrome

May 10, 2016: Griffith University

This is professor Sonya Marshall-Gradisnik. Credit: Murray Rix

New findings regarding the pathology of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) are bringing Griffith University researchers closer to identifying the cause of this disabling illness.

This is the news from a team at the National Centre for Neuroimmunology and Emerging Diseases at the Menzies Health Institute Queensland.

Professors Marshall-Gradisnik and Don Staines and their research team have identified significant impairments in cellular function of people with CFS.

CFS -- sometimes known as ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) -- is a complex illness characterized by impaired memory and concentration, metabolic, cardiac, gut and immune dysfunction and debilitating muscle pain and fatigue on exertion (also known as neuroimmune exhaustion).

It is estimated that the prevalence rate of CFS/ME worldwide is between 1 and 2 per cent.

"While the patho-mechanism of CFS/ME is unknown, these recent findings by NCNED researchers provide further evidence for the pathology of this illness," says Professor Sonya Marshall-Gradisnik, who speaks as we approach International CFS Awareness Day on Thursday May 12.

Published in the Journal of Translational Medicine, the results report significant differences in intracellular signalling of cells with CFS patients.

"In this group, we see that dysfunctional signalling may contribute to impaired cell activity. These findings are consistent with our previous findings and align with the presentation of symptoms in patients," says Professor Staines.

The current research findings build upon recent discoveries including novel identification of key genetic changes in cells of the immune system.

The NCNED -- internationally recognised for research into CFS/ME -- will present a seminar on current research findings on this disease on International CFS/ME Awareness Day, Thursday May 12 at Griffith University, Gold Coast Campus, commencing 1pm, location G17, Lecture theatre 3.

Griffith University will also be illuminating the Griffith Health Centre in blue to further help raise awareness for CFS/ME.

Teilah Kathryn Huth, Donald Staines, Sonya Marshall-Gradisnik.ERK1/2, MEK1/2 and p38 downstream signalling molecules impaired in CD56dimCD16 and CD56brightCD16dim/− natural killer cells in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis patients. Journal of Translational Medicine, 2016; 14 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12967-016-0859-z

Experimental therapy halts treatment-resistant brain tumors in mouse model

May 9, 2016

Researchers report in the journal Cancer Cell an experimental therapy that in laboratory tests on human cells and mouse models stops aggressive, treatment-resistant and deadly brain cancers called glioblastoma and high-grade gliomas.

A multi-institutional team led by researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center publishes their results on May 9.

Testing a multi-step therapeutic strategy, the scientists found a way to use a gene therapy to shut down a gene long-implicated in the formation of high-grade gliomas called Olig2. The protein encoded by Olig2 is expressed in the majority of gliomas. Removing the Olig2 gene halts tumor growth, while elimination of Olig2-producing cells blocks tumor formation.

"We find that elimination of dividing Olig2-expressing cells blocks initiation and progression of glioma in animal models and further show that Olig2 is the molecular arbiter of genetic adaptability that makes high-grade gliomas aggressive and treatment resistant," said Qing Richard Lu, PhD, lead investigator and scientific director of the Brain Tumor Center at Cincinnati Children's. "By finding a way to inhibit Olig2 in tumor forming cells, we were able to change the tumor cells' makeup and sensitize them to targeted molecular treatment. This suggests a proof of principle for stratified therapy in distinct subtypes of malignant gliomas."

The current study may apply to high-grade brain gliomas and a fatal brainstem tumor called DIPG (Diffused Intrinsic Pontine Glioma), which expresses Olig2 and is inoperable because of its location in a brain region controlling vital functions. Even if these cancers do initially respond to a specific targeted treatment, they adapt by finding genetic/molecular workarounds, evade treatment and continue growing.

Researchers caution the experimental therapeutic approach they describe requires extensive additional research and remains years away from possible clinical testing. Still, Dr. Lu said the data are a significant research breakthrough. The current study finds a potential chink in the molecular armor of these stubborn cancers that -- even after an initial round of successful treatment -- almost always relapse and kill the patients who get them.

The cancers form from precursors of supporting brain cells called oligodendrocytes, which help generate insulation for neural connections. Olig2 appears at the early stages of brain cell development. Through extensive analysis of human brain cancer cells and mouse models, the researchers observed Olig2 expression in early-stage dividing and replicating cells in tumors.

Olig2 contributes to the transformation of normal precursor cells into abnormal malignant cells that divide uncontrollably. In the context of cancer cell formation, the researchers saw Olig2 drive molecular processes that allow forming glioma cells to be highly adaptable and susceptible to the tumor-promoting effects of additional genetic changes.

Researchers then decided to eliminate Olig2-positive dividing cells during tumor formation. To use an approach more rapidly translatable from the laboratory bench to clinical bedside, they successfully tested a gene therapy that uses an engineered herpes simplex virus (viral vector) to deliver a suicide gene into replicating Olig2-positive cancer cells. They next administered an anti-herpes drug already in clinical use, ganciclovir (GCV). The Olig2-deleted tumors were not able to grow.

Researchers also found that after Olig2 was inhibited, the forming brain cancer cells switched directions and molecular composition- going from the cells resembling oligodendrocyte precursors to assume astrocyte-like brain cell characteristics. They continued to form tumors, however these newly formed astrocyte-like brain cancer cells produce the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene at high levels.

EGFR is a common and effective target for chemotherapy drugs used clinically to treat tumors such as breast cancers. In repeated tests in mouse models, Olig2 inhibition prompted the glioma-forming cells to transform into EGFR-expressing astrocyte-like cells. Then, in subsequent and repeated testing on the transformed human and mouse model astrocyte-like cancer cells, the researchers treated the cells with an EGFR-targeted chemotherapy drug called gefitinib. The treatment stopped the growth of new tumor cells and tumor expansion.

Dr. Lu said that with additional testing, verification and refinement the experimental therapy could be especially helpful in preventing a recurrence of brain cancer in patients who have undergone an initial round of successful treatment. He added the new treatment approach would likely be used in combination with other existing therapies like radiation, surgery, other chemotherapies and targeted molecular treatments.

The scientists continue their research with additional testing in human cell lines and "humanized" mouse models of high-grade glioma. The mouse models are engineered to grow brain tumors derived from the tumor cells of specific patients whose families have donated biopsy samples for research. This allows researchers to test different targeted drugs in their therapeutic protocol that may best match the genetic makeup of tumors from specific individuals.

Funding support for the study came in part from the National Institutes of Health (R01NS078092, R01NS075243).

Fanghui Lu, Ying Chen, Chuntao Zhao, Haibo Wang, Danyang He, Lingli Xu, Jincheng Wang, Xuelian He, Yaqi Deng, Ellen E. Lu, Xue Liu, Ravinder Verma, Hong Bu, Rachid Drissi, Maryam Fouladi, Anat O. Stemmer-Rachamimov, Dennis Burns, Mei Xin, Joshua B. Rubin, El Mustapha Bahassi, Peter Canoll, Eric C. Holland, Q. Richard Lu.Olig2-Dependent Reciprocal Shift in PDGF and EGF Receptor Signaling Regulates Tumor Phenotype and Mitotic Growth in Malignant Glioma. Cancer Cell, 2016; 29 (5): 669 DOI:10.1016/j.ccell.2016.03.027

International collaboration for genome analysis leads to clues about rare cancer

May 9, 2016

Researchers from across the globe have joined together to improve understanding about one of the most rare -- and lethal -- types of cancer.

Teams from 39 institutions in Europe, North America, South America and Australia collected and analyzed 91 samples of adrenocortical carcinoma. They performed a comprehensive genomic analysis as part of The Cancer Genome Atlas Research Network.

The results of this collaboration, published in Cancer Cell, newly identify several genes that drive adrenal cancer. In fact, the analysis uncovered double the number of genetic drivers already known to fuel adrenal cancer.

"This data has implications for diagnosing and predicting outcomes of adrenal cancer. It also allows us to probe deep into the biology of the disease to understand how these new gene mutations contribute to adrenal cancer progression and formation," says senior author Gary D. Hammer, M.D., Ph.D., the Millie Schembechler Professor of Adrenal Cancer at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Collaboration was key to this project. Adrenal cancer affects only two in every million people worldwide. Because it's so rare, one institution just won't see enough patients to generate meaningful research.

"We've been working on an adrenal cancer network around the world since 2003," Hammer says.

That's why when TCGA first announced its rare cancer projects, Thomas Giordano, M.D., Ph.D., instantly pushed adrenal cancer. Giordano, the Henry Clay Bryant Professor of Pathology at U-M, was co-chairing TCGA's thyroid cancer analysis. He knew that with some of the common cancers represented in the project, the teams were struggling to find enough samples. And he also knew that the adrenal cancer research community could pull it off.

"It speaks to the power of collaboration with rare cancers. It's very difficult to do advanced genomics without collaboration, especially in a disease in which the number of patients is so small," says Giordano, senior author on the paper.

A new understanding

The study revealed several interesting findings. One of the most exciting mutations is in ZNRF3, which the researchers found to be lost in up to 20 percent of the adrenal cancers studied. The study also confirmed that mutations involved in benign adrenal disease play a role in adrenal cancer.

Another key finding was that many adrenal tumors undergo whole genome doubling -- a phenomenon in which each chromosome in the gene replicates and creates a second copy. This reflects instability of the cancer genome, which is particularly prominent in adrenal cancer.

"We suspect that understanding the biology of how that happens and the consequences of that event will ultimately help us define and discover new therapies," Hammer says.

Researchers identified three distinct subtypes of adrenal cancer based on their molecular alterations. The subtypes were linked to different outcomes, suggesting a way to use molecular biomarkers to identify those patients likely to have more aggressive disease, and to more precisely match therapy with disease biology.

"Our results represent the most complete characterization of adrenal cancer tissues and many indicate a key to successful targeted therapy for this disease," says senior author Roeland Verhaak, Ph.D., associate professor of bioinformatics and computational biology at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Future treatment advances

The Cancer Genome Atlas is a federally funded project to understand the molecular characterization of various cancer types. The project has published numerous landmark papers in breast, colon, ovarian, lung and thyroid cancers.

The complete data set from each project is published so that any researcher can identify potential new ideas to better understand and better treat cancer.

This is especially crucial for adrenal cancer specialists. Adrenal cancer survival rates are dismal, in part because it's often diagnosed in late stages of the disease. No new treatment options have been developed since the 1970s.

"We're very excited about the potential to begin to translate these findings. The conclusions drawn from this paper will help fuel discovery in adrenal cancer as well as in other types of cancer. Observations from rare cancers often inform us about more common cancers," Giordano says.

Siyuan Zheng, Andrew D. Cherniack, Ninad Dewal, Richard A. Moffitt, Ludmila Danilova, Bradley A. Murray, Antonio M. Lerario, Tobias Else, Theo A. Knijnenburg, Giovanni Ciriello, Seungchan Kim, Guillaume Assie, Olena Morozova, Rehan Akbani, Juliann Shih, Katherine A. Hoadley, Toni K. Choueiri, Jens Waldmann, Ozgur Mete, A. Gordon Robertson, Hsin-Ta Wu, Benjamin J. Raphael, Lina Shao, Matthew Meyerson, Michael J. Demeure, Felix Beuschlein, Anthony J. Gill, Stan B. Sidhu, Madson Q. Almeida, Maria C.B.V. Fragoso, Leslie M. Cope, Electron Kebebew, Mouhammed A. Habra, Timothy G. Whitsett, Kimberly J. Bussey, William E. Rainey, Sylvia L. Asa, Jérôme Bertherat, Martin Fassnacht, David A. Wheeler, Gary D. Hammer, Thomas J. Giordano, Roel G.W. Verhaak. Comprehensive Pan-Genomic Characterization of Adrenocortical Carcinoma. Cancer Cell, 2016; 29 (5): 723 DOI:10.1016/j.ccell.2016.04.002

Infants swaddling for sleep associated with sudden infant death syndrome

May 9, 2016

The risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) appears to increase when infants are swaddled while sleeping on their stomachs or sides, new research has found.

The analysis, carried out by the University of Bristol, looked at four studies, which spanned two decades and covered three diverse geographical areas, including regions of England; Tasmania in Australia; and Chicago, Illinois.

Review lead author Dr Anna Pease, from the School of Social and Community Medicine, said: "The focus of our review was not on studies about swaddling -- a traditional practice of wrapping infants to promote calming and sleep -- but on studies that looked at Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). We tried to gather evidence of whether there was an association between swaddling for sleep and SIDS.

"We only found four studies and they were quite different, and none gave a precise definition for swaddling making it difficult to pool the results. We did find, however, that the risk of SIDS when placing infants on the side or front for sleep increased when infants were swaddled."

Despite the studies' limitations, the analysis indicates that current advice to avoid placing infants on their front or side to sleep may especially apply to infants who are swaddled. The risk associated with being placed in the side position almost doubles among swaddled infants.

The risk of SIDS was also higher in infants who were swaddled and found on their fronts. The risks were higher for older infants who were swaddled during sleep. The studies suggest that the majority of those found on their stomachs moved into this position.

Dr Pease said: "We found some evidence in this review that as babies get older, they may be more likely to move into unsafe positions while swaddled during sleep, suggesting an age is needed after which swaddling for sleep should be discouraged. Most babies start being able to roll over at about 4-6 months.

"On a practical level what parents should take away from this is that if they choose to swaddle their babies for sleep, always place them on their back, and think about when to stop swaddling for sleep as their babies get older and more able to move."

A. S. Pease, P. J. Fleming, F. R. Hauck, R. Y. Moon, R. S. C. Horne, M. P. LHoir, A.-L. Ponsonby, P. S. Blair. Swaddling and the Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: A Meta-analysis. PEDIATRICS, 2016; DOI:10.1542/peds.2015-3275 

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