Inbox and Environment News: Issue 317

June 18 - 24, 2017: Issue 317

Beach Clean

Hosted by The Green Team (formerly called Av. Green Team)
Sunday June 18: 9 to 10 am
Palm Beach - Pittwater side (Station Beach)
Come join us for a beach clean!

It has been estimated that we will have more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050...These beach cleans are aimed at reducing the vast amounts of plastic from entering our oceans before they harm marine life. 

Anyone and everyone is welcome! If you would like to come along, please bring a bucket, gloves and hat. Kids of all ages are also welcome! Meet near the Boathouse.

Hope to see you there!

The 2017 ORRCA Whale Census

Members and Friends, this is your Invitation to;
Go Wild About Whales with ORRCA on Sunday 25 June 2017 at five selected locations along the NSW coastline from Byron Bay to Sydney. 
It’s a great day out. Simply pick your favourite headland and call or email the hotline to register your location so we know where you will be. Make sure you print off some marine mammal sighting log sheets from ourwebsite

Then on the day, pack a picnic and your supplies; Binoculars, camera, a pen/pencil for recording details, a chair/rug to sit on, warm waterproof clothes and off you go and enjoy the sights that unfold in this great whale migration. Remember to record your sightings!

Finally, at the end of the day, please report your findings back into the ORRCA hotline (02 9415 3333) and post/email your log sheets

This year, NPWS guides will be on hand at selected locations to assist visitors observe passing whales and other marine life, while explaining the work of ORRCA. To get involved, download the NPWS Wild About Whales app and contribute to the live feed of whale sightings; or ring the ORRCA hotline with your sightings on 02 9415 3333. 

This major wildlife event can be enjoyed by the whole community as you watch the whale count tally rise with every passing marine mammal. Our NPWS guides will provide information sessions and interactive fun activities, including prizes for the children.

See below for more details:

Come along to our annual whale census this season and help NPWS and ORRCA spot the whales and record their behaviour as they travel by North Head, Sydney Harbour National Park.

Price: Free
When: Sunday 25 June 2017, 10am–2pm
Where: North Head, Sydney Harbour National Park

Consultation Opens For Marine Estate Regulation

14 June, 2017: Media Release - NSW Department of Primary Industries
The NSW Government is encouraging the community to have their say on the draft Marine Estate Management Regulation 2017, which is open now for public consultation.

Dr Geoff Allan, Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Fisheries Deputy Director General, said the existing Marine Estate Management Regulation 2009 has been reviewed as part of the Government’s marine estate reforms.

“There are four proposed changes to the regulation that are intended to lead to better management and protection of marine parks and aquatic reserves, and a regulation that is easier to understand and implement,” Dr Allan said.

“These changes include extending some powers that are currently available for managing marine parks, such as the ability to remove illegally placed property, to aquatic reserves; and improving the way applications for permits in marine parks are considered.

“The proposed amendments are likely to have little or no negative impacts on stakeholders or the general community; while tourists, businesses and other Government agencies will benefit from the clarity and logic these changes provide.”

Extensive consultation with the community and interest groups continues to be an essential step in informing the future management of marine parks and aquatic reserves.

“As we finalise the regulation that will support the Marine Estate Management Act, we’re asking the community to provide feedback on how the proposed changes will affect them to help us develop the regulation in a way that best suits all interested parties,” Dr Allan said.

“Availability to comment on the draft regulation will close on Sunday 9 July 2017, so we encourage all stakeholders to make a submission as soon as possible.”

Dr Allan said it is important to note that the proposed regulation will not change the zones, zone objectives or management rules for marine parks.

“A separate project, piloting a new management planning approach for marine parks, will look at the zones and management rules for marine parks, starting with the Solitary Islands and Batemans marine parks,” Dr Allan said.

More information
The information package is also available through marine park offices and fisheries offices.
The draft Marine Estate Management Regulation 2017 is available for comment until 9 July 2017.

Proposed Pesticides Regulation 2017

The Environment Protection Authority is seeking comments on the draft Pesticides Regulation 2017 and Regulatory Impact Statement.

The Pesticide Regulation 2009 is due to be repealed on 1 September 2017.

The Regulation supports the operation of NSW’s principal Act for managing risks associated with the use of pesticides.

The EPA is seeking comments on the draft Pesticides Regulation 2017and Regulatory Impact Statement.

A majority of the provisions are remaining the same, however there will be a few key changes:
  • streamlining of record keeping requirements for non-licensed pesticide users
  • alternatives for retraining for agricultural users
  • new licences categories
  • updated licence fees
  • including universities in definition of public authorities required to have a pesticide use notification plan
  • updated penalty amounts.
Have your say

There are three ways you can submit your feedback:

Mail: Manager, Chemicals Policy
Environment Protection Authority
PO Box A290
Sydney South NSW 1232
Have your say by 7 July 2017.

Have Your Say On NSW Government's Biodiversity Reforms 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017: Media Release - The Hon. Niall Blair, Minister for Primary Industries, Minister for Regional Water, Minister for Trade and Industry and The Hon. Gabrielle Upton, Minister for the Environment 
The NSW Government will undertake one more round of public consultation before its improved and simpler land management reforms take effect.

NSW Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair said the new system would provide strong environmental safeguards, while ensuring routine farm work was exempt from regulation.

“These landmark reforms will allow our farmers to produce the food and fibre that we need and increase their productivity, while also producing better outcomes for our environment,” Mr Blair said.

“I am proud we will very soon deliver on an election commitment we made to farmers to repeal the unfair and ineffective Native Vegetation Act.”

This package is the final stage of the NSW Government’s land management and biodiversity conservation reforms.

NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said the reforms were backed by an unprecedented investment of $100 million in the Saving Our Species program, as well as $240 million over five years, and $70 million each year after that, for private land conservation.

“These reforms also put in place strong protections for native plants and animals including threatened species,” Ms Upton said.

The regulations, codes and guidelines and other documents released for public comment are:
Facts sheets and guides that provide detailed information on key topic areas are also available to assist you in making a submission.
Consultation closes on 21 June and the reforms will commence on 25 August 2017. how to Make a submission here
For more information, visit

Lendlease Engineering Pty Ltd Fined For Iron-Laden Water Discharge At Barangaroo

Media release: 14 June 2017
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has fined Lendlease Engineering Pty Ltd $15,000 after 5,000 litres of iron-laden water was discharged from a stormwater tank at Barangaroo Reserve into Nawi Cove, Sydney Harbour in May 2016.

The discharge resulted in a large orange plume being visible in Sydney Harbour near Nawi Cove, which is adjacent to Barangaroo, for several hours.

EPA Chief Environmental Regulator Mark Gifford said the discharge resulted from works on water management infrastructure at Barangaroo Reserve.

“The discharge of a large volume of highly visible foreign material into Sydney Harbour is a serious matter, which is why the fine was issued,” Mr Gifford said.

“The orange plume was the result of naturally-occurring iron precipitate in groundwater, and did not pose a significant risk to human health or the environment.

“The water that was discharged is usually used for irrigation on Headland Park or lawfully pumped to sewerage for disposal.

“The Barangaroo Delivery Authority reported the incident to the EPA immediately and, while the risks were low, our officers attended to ensure appropriate management of the incident.”

Once it completed its investigation into the discharge, the EPA decided not to proceed with a penalty notice previously issued to the Barangaroo Delivery Authority for this incident.

Penalty notices are one of a number of tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance. The EPA takes in a range of factors into account before delivering a proportionate regulatory response, including the degree of environmental harm, potential health impacts, compliance history, public interest and best environmental outcomes.

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

NSW Budget: $1 Billion Delivers Safe And Secure Regional Water 

Thursday, 15 June 2017: Media Release - The Hon. Gladys Berejiklian, Premier, The Hon. John Barilaro, Deputy Premier, The Hon. Niall Blair, Minister for Regional Water
The Upper Hunter is among the communities that could soon benefit from the NSW Government’s historic $1 billion to fund local water infrastructure through the Safe & Secure Water Program.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the Scone Water Treatment program is among an initial eight projects shortlisted to share in the funding that will be announced in the NSW budget.

“Everyone in NSW deserves access to reliable and high-quality water and the Safe & Secure Water Program has been established to enable communities to reach their potential,” Ms Berejiklian said

“We have already committed $500 million to construct our flagship Murray River to Broken Hill pipeline project, and we are now getting on with delivering critical local water and waste water infrastructure elsewhere in the state,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“Through our asset recycling program and sound financial management, this Government has delivered the funding for a stronger regional NSW through our Safe & Secure Water Program.”

The NSW Government also confirmed $1.5 million for the Scone to Murrurundi Pipeline as part of the Regional Waste Water and Backlog water program.

Deputy Premier, John Barilaro said NSW communities depend on access to clean, reliable and affordable water, and waste water infrastructure that meets environmental and health standards.

“With over 1.9 million people living in more than 500 regional NSW communities, it is vital we continue to invest in priority local infrastructure, and this is what our Safe & Secure Water Program is all about,” Mr Barilaro said.

“Whether it’s a new water treatment plant for Bemboka or replacing the out-dated waste water treatment plant at Junee to accommodate the expanded correctional centre, our Safe & Secure Water Program will make a real difference to local communities all over NSW.”

Regional Water Minister, Niall Blair said the Program will prioritise key water infrastructure projects – from local drought backup systems through to new or upgraded dams to secure water supplies for our regions.

“I encourage water authorities in regional NSW to work together and bring their best ideas to the table, because the Safe & Secure Water Program guidelines will be released shortly, with funding to be determined on a competitive basis,” Mr Blair said.

“The NSW Government will draw on an innovative new catchment-wide framework to guide the prioritisation of projects, based on security of supply, health and infrastructure risks and emerging issues that can impact on supply and demand.”

The initial eight projects will now go through the project assessment and assurance process to secure funding under the Safe & Secure Water program.

Safe & Secure Water Program guidelines will be released when expressions of interest open in July.

Queensland Budget Funds Fracking In Western Rivers; Breaches ALP Election Promises

June 15, 2017: Media Release - Lock the Gate
Lock the Gate Alliance has accused the Queensland Government of blatantly breaching its 2015 election promises after $3.6M was allocated in the budget this week for unconventional gas drilling in Western Rivers regions, which Labor had previously promised to protect.

In January 2015, Shadow Environment Minister Jackie Trad committed to “Working with traditional owners, stakeholders and communities to legislate protections for Queensland's pristine rivers from large-scale industrial operations."

However, since the election the Queensland Government has released vast areas of the Western Rivers for gas exploration.

Queensland Labor are now subsidising new gas exploration in the very areas they promised to protect, including the pristine rivers and floodplains of the Georgina River Basin which flows into Lake Eyre.

"This is a flagrant breach of the Queensland Governments promises to protect the pristine rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin," said Ellie Smith, a coordinator with Lock the Gate Alliance.

"This funding puts at risk some of the last intact desert rivers in the world and a vibrant export beef industry.

"Subsidising shale gas companies to frack our pristine rivers is a shameful step from a government that promised us they would do better.

"This is a backflip of Campbell Newman proportions – it’s a terrible abdication of responsibility because Qld Labor have still not delivered the legal protections they promised, and now they are pushing full steam ahead to support the expansion of the gas industry.

"The Queensland Government needs to urgently change direction, and deliver what they promised – the preservation of outback rivers, our Queensland farm business and our high quality food production," she said.

Department Seeks Community Input On Hume Coal Project Proposal

30.03.2017: Departmental Media Release -Department of Planning and Environment
The local community in the Southern Highlands is encouraged to give feedback on an application for an underground coal mine that will go on public exhibition today.

The Department of Planning and Environment is exhibiting the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) application for the Hume Coal Project for an extended period of 90 days, beginning today until 30 June.

Clay Preshaw, Director of Resource Assessments, said members of the community are encouraged to give feedback as part of the community consultation process.

“Every submission is read and considered as part of the Department’s assessment of the EIS,” Mr Preshaw said. “We are seeking feedback from the public and a wide range of stakeholders. We encourage any landowner, individual or group to share their views on the Hume Coal Project and Berrima Rail Project with us.

“There is a high level of public interest in these applications and we understand the EIS is a lengthy document - that’s why we are going above and beyond in seeking community input.”

Mr Preshaw said the Department had arranged public information sessions, giving the local Southern Highlands community a chance to meet with Department representatives in person.

“Information on the assessment process will be provided and department officers will be able to answer any questions the public may have about the planning process,” he said. “We will also meet with special interest groups during the exhibition period.
“The Department assesses all applications on their merits, in accordance with the planning legislation and all relevant NSW Government policies and guidelines.”
Mr Preshaw added that the Department will apply a rigorous, scientific approach to the assessment of the proposal and seek the best advice available from independent experts.
“At this stage, the Department will seek advice from experts in the fields of groundwater, mining, subsidence, and economics. We will also be seeking expert advice from specialist government agencies.”
The Hume Coal Project proposals involves a new underground coal mine extracting up to 3.5 million tonnes of coal a year over 19 years. The associated Berrima Rail Project involves the extension of the Berrima railway line to connect the proposed mine to the Main Southern Railway.
For more information please visit the Major Projects website

Container Refund Scheme And Plastic Bag Ban A Step Closer

Wednesday, June 14, 2017: Media Release QLD Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection and Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef, The Honourable Steven Miles
Queenslanders can look forward to cleaner neighbourhoods and a healthier environment thanks to two litter busting initiatives introduced by the Palaszczuk Government in Parliament today.

Environment Minister Steven Miles said a container refund scheme and a ban on single use plastic bags would get rubbish out of our environment and waterways and help people to recycle.

“Queenslanders are sick of being the litter capital of the country.

Right now supermarkets are handing out a billion plastic bags a year in our state and many of those end up polluting our waterways and oceans and killing our fish and turtles.

More than 23,000 Queenslanders told us they wanted a ban on single use plastic shopping bags.

“We’ve heard them loud and clear. A plastic bag ban will make it easier for people to recycle and protect our environment from plastic pollution,” Mr Miles said.

Mr Miles said the amendments to the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011 introduced today also included a Container Refund Scheme.

“We’re also introducing a container refund program which will make it easier for people to recycle and give community groups a chance to make some extra money from their clean up days.

“To make the program as simple as possible, refunds will be available from reverse vending machines or at designated container refund points," Mr Miles said.

“We even have bipartisan support in Parliament, reflecting the overwhelming community support for both the refund scheme and the plastic bag ban.”

Toby Hutcheon of the Boomerang Alliance and Wildlife Queensland said the container refund scheme and the ban on plastic shopping bags would have enormous positive impacts on the environment.

“These two measures can reduce litter volumes particularly plastic litter by at least 50% in Queensland.

“This package represents the most significant policy on litter reduction in a generation.

“And it doesn’t help that we also have one of the country’s lowest recycling rates at around 44 per cent.

“Drink cans and bottles dominate litter in our parks, beaches and public areas, while we use almost a billion lightweight single-use plastic shopping bags in Queensland each year, none of which are recycled.

“Today’s announcement will help give local communities the ability to stem the massive waste of plastic polluting our playgrounds, parks, rivers and beaches.”

Director of Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation, Trevor Long, said the legislative changes were positive steps to protect marine wildlife.

“We rescue and rehabilitate hundreds of sea birds, marine turtles, and dolphins, seals and other animals after they have ingested litter,” Mr Long said.

“If you’ve ever seen a turtle fight for life after swallowing a plastic bag, or struggling to swim after becoming entangled in a thoughtlessly discarded fishing line, you’ll know the damage that marine debris can do to our marine wildlife.

“I welcome these changes and hope it raises more awareness in the community about the health and conservation of our incredible marine wildlife, and the effects our litter has on them.”

Mr Daryl Scott, Chief Commissioner of Scouts Queensland, said the introduction of the Container Refund Scheme offered a fantastic triple bottom line for not-for-profits, the environment and the community.

“Scouts all over the world value and care for the environment,” Mr Scott said.

“By engaging with the container deposit scheme, just as we’ve done in South Australia, this will help Scout groups to fundraise – and provide a significant environmental benefit at the same time.”

Under the container refund scheme most drink containers between 150ml and 3 litres will be eligible for a 10 cent refund, although some containers are exempt, such as containers for plain milk, wine and pure juice.

South Australia and the Northern Territory have been operating similar schemes for many years, with New South Wales to bring in a refund scheme at the end of this year. 

Similarly, bans on lightweight single-use plastic shopping bags are already in place in other parts of the country including South Australia, the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania.

In Queensland, the container refund scheme and shopping bag ban will start on 1 July 2018.

The Palaszczuk Government is working closely with beverage manufacturers, retailers, local government, the waste and resource recovery industry, and the community on both proposals to ensure a smooth transition and operation of the initiatives.

More information on the container refund scheme and the lightweight single-use plastic shopping bag ban in Queensland is available

Boomerang Bags Workshop

Tuesday June 27: at 6 pm
Sew Craft Cook
Polo Avenue, Mona Vale 

Hey guys following on from the last workshops enthusiasm, the Boomerang Bag ladies have kindly enough offered to host another night for us. Everyone that came down last time had fun whether they were sewing, stamping, ironing everyone was contributing, with the help of the ladies some sewed their own bag from start to finish (some wonkier than others). So join us on the 27th no matter what your sewing skill level is for a 2 hour session of rewarding fun.

For those who can't attend but want to help you can donate any old material, Doona covers, Bags, sheets etc. that can be used to make more bags, that we will happily collect from you. For anymore details feel free to direct message The Green Team

Guarding The Galilee Screening

Friday June 30: 6 to 8 pm
Avalon Public School
Old Barrenjoey Road, Avalon

The Green Team, in collaboration with other local community groups, is hosting a screening called 'Guarding the Gailee' in response to the Adani Coal Mine that has just been approved to be built in Northern Queensland. The aim of the evening is to spread awareness about the detrimental effects this mine will have on our environment. We hope to have a number of speakers from the community and Parliament as well as some food stalls. We would love to see you all there! All we ask for is a small donation at the door to go towards funding events.

Free Admission 

EPA Commences Prosecution Against AGL

Media release: 13 June 2017
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has commenced a prosecution in the Land and Environment Court against AGL Upstream Investments Pty Ltd after waste water allegedly escaped during the June 2016 floods.
The Nepean River flooded in June 2016 following heavy rain. This led to the inundation of, and damage to, equipment at AGL’s Camden Gas Project, including in the Menangle Park area.

The EPA alleges that three produced water tanks, which were about the size of a household rainwater tank, were washed away during the flood event and the tank contents, which were in total about 7,000 litres of produced water, escaped into the flood waters.

There is no evidence suggesting that the incident caused harm to the environment.

The EPA will allege that knowing a flood was likely, AGL did not take steps prior to the flood to move the produced water tanks to higher ground or to empty the produced water tanks.

The matter is listed before the Land and Environment Court on 14 July 2017.

It’s Time To Shine And Lead The World In Shark Management

June 14, 2017: Media Release - NSW Department of Primary Industries
The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has called on the world’s best minds to develop innovative projects to help protect beachgoers from shark attacks.

The Shark Management Strategy Grants Program invites technology developers, researchers, organisations, educational institutions, businesses and individuals to apply for funding for a range of technologies, in particular personal protective devices.

DPI Director of Fisheries Research, Dr Natalie Moltschaniwskyj, said this is the second round of $200,000, which is available to support projects that reduce the risk of shark interactions and minimise the impact on other marine life.

“We already lead the world when it comes to shark management and this will only ensure we continue to do so with both national and international applicants encouraged to apply,” Dr Moltschaniwskyj said.

“We have more data and research on sharks than we’ve ever had and I look forward to seeing what other ideas can be brought to life.”

Key areas for funding which align with the NSW Shark Management Strategy are:
  • Personal shark deterrents such as protective wetsuits, small electrical and magnetic devices and area-based shark deterrents.
  • Shark detection methods such as sonar technologies and shark recognition software.
  • Shark biology relevant to interactions with humans like sensory systems.
  • Socio-economics of shark-human interactions for example how changes in human behaviour and perceptions following the implementation of particular approaches.
Joint applications are encouraged and proposed projects should be one year in duration.
To apply for a grant, applicants will first need to complete an Expression of Interest (EOI) form.

EPA Invites Comments On NSW Noise Control Regulation Changes

Media release: 13 June 2017
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is inviting the community to have their say on the draft Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation 2016 and the accompanying Regulatory Impact Statement.  

“The proposed changes will bring the NSW Regulation in line with international best practice and standards, while also adding clarity and simplicity,” said David Fowler, EPA Director Regulatory Reform and Advice.

“This Regulation has and will continue to be critical to managing neighbourhood noise. It controls noise from motor vehicles and marine vessels and reflects community standards by setting use limits on appliances such as intruder alarms, music amplifiers, air conditioners and powered garden tools.

“It’s used by a number of organisations, including councils, NSW Police, the EPA and Roads and Maritime Services to control noise.

“We recently reviewed the current Regulation and found it to be working well. These proposed changes simply add clarity to the 2008 Regulation, without significantly altering its content. While the changes are small, it’s a great chance for the community to have their say on noise in NSW,” he said.

The changes in the proposed Regulation aim to:
  • Improve compliance by aligning labelling and limiting provision for noisy equipment to international best-practice and standards
  • Reduce red tape by aligning existing NSW provisions for heavy vehicles to the Heavy Vehicle National Law
  • Simplify the Regulation by making minor amendments to the definitions and removing the bulk of technical procedures and placing them in a new, separate document; and
  • Formalise existing assessment procedures for shooting ranges. 
To have your say on the proposed changes to the NSW Noise Control Regulation, visit the EPA’s website at 
The consultation will close on 7 July 2017 at 5pm.  

If Victoria Can Ban CSG, NSW Can Too!

By The Wilderness Society
Coal seam gas (CSG) threatens our water, our health and our climate. Many jurisdictions around the world are permanently banning this dangerous industry, most recently Victoria. We do not need or want risky coal seam gas in NSW. 
It’s clear that the industry has no social licence in our state, yet vast and critical areas—as well as human health—are still under threat from CSG across the state.

Call on the new Premier Berejiklian and the new Planning Minister Roberts to follow Victoria's lead and ban this harmful and risky industry in NSW. 

Draft Vegetation SEPP

NSW Department of Planning & Environment
The NSW Government proposes to introduce a new land management State Environmental Planning Policy.
The new State Environmental Planning Policy (Vegetation) (SEPP) will safe-guard native vegetation in urban areas and land zoned for environmental protection by providing a consistent approach to clearing in NSW. 
Land to which the Vegetation SEPP will apply
Land within the following Sydney metropolitan local government areas: Northern Beaches
This proposed SEPP will ensure the biodiversity offset scheme ­– established under the Land Management and Biodiversity reforms – will apply to all clearing of native vegetation that exceeds the offset thresholds in urban areas and environmental conservation zones that does not require development consent.

The Explanation of Intended Effect (EIE) provides an explanation of what the proposed Vegetation SEPP will do, the intended outcomes and the reasons for the proposed policy approach. The Department of Planning and Environment is now seeking submissions on the proposed policy approach explained in the EIE.

Have your say until 21 June 2017
Or write to:
Land Management and Biodiversity Conservation Reforms Office
PO Box A290, Sydney South NSW 1232

We will publish your submission unless you tell us not to. Published submissions will usually include your name and the name of any organisation on whose behalf you may be writing. We will remove contact details such as email addresses, postal addresses and telephone numbers. At our discretion we may not publish certain submissions (or part of submissions) due to our assessment of length, content, appropriateness or confidentiality. 
We look forward to your feedback.

Review Of Complying Development In Greenfield Areas

The NSW Government is seeking your feedback on the Background Paper - A Review of Complying Development in Greenfield Areas and Explanation of Intended Effect (EIE) for a proposed new Greenfield Housing Code. 

We’re committed to speeding up the delivery of new homes in new land release (greenfield) areas to meet the needs of NSW’s growing population and improve housing affordability. 

Complying development is a streamlined planning and building approval which allows the construction of one and two storey homes and associated development, such as swimming pools and balconies, provided they comply with the pre-determined development standards in State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008 (Codes SEPP). 

In 2014/2015, complying development certificates were issued on average in 20 days. Promoting the fast-tracked complying development approval pathway saves homeowners time and money. 

• recommendations to overcome barriers to using complying development in greenfield areas (for example delays with obtaining other approvals and the inability to carry out complying development on unregistered lots); 
• guidance on well-designed subdivisions for greenfield areas; 
• simplified and tailored development standards for complying development under a new Greenfield Housing Code. 

The proposed Greenfield Housing Code, is detailed in the EIE and will form part of the State policy for exempt and complying development. The simplified standards have been tailored to suit the requirements in greenfield areas, accommodating narrower lot widths, simplifying setbacks for ground and upper levels and allowing double garages on 10m wide lots. 

A simplified and tailored Greenfield Housing Code will make it easier and cheaper for people to find or build homes to suit their lifestyles, and help grow the economy by providing a boost to the housing industry and the wider NSW economy. 

The Code also ensures greenfield areas are leafier and more environmentally friendly by including landscaping requirements for complying developments. 

The Department also proposes developing a set of master planning and subdivision guidelines for greenfield areas to be used by councils to inform their own Development Control Plans and by applicants to provide details on developing well-designed subdivisions and masterplans. 

We welcome your feedback on the proposed Greenfield Housing Code, and in which new release areas it should apply.

Submissions can be made until 16 June 2017: 
• by email to: 
• by mail to: Director, Codes and Approval Pathways, NSW Department of Planning and Environment, GPO Box 39, Sydney, NSW 2001 

Key dates and other information
Exhibition Commences          16/05/2017
Exhibition Concludes          16/06/2017

New Wildlife Reserves To Put Queensland Ahead Of The Nation In Conservation

Wednesday, June 14, 2017: Media Release QLD Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection and Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef, The Honourable Steven Miles
The State Government’s new Special Wildlife Reserves will enable donors from around the world to fund safe havens for Queensland’s native wildlife.

The Bill to create the new category of protected area was introduced to the Queensland Parliament today by Environment Minister Steven Miles.

Speaking in Parliament, Mr Miles said Queensland would become one of the first places in the world to allow private funds to be used to safeguard habitat on privately owned land.

“A Special Wildlife Reserve will essentially let private landholders and conservation groups manage their land like a national park, with an equivalent level of protection,” Mr Miles said.

“And just like our immensely popular national parks, these new reserves could become great tourist attractions.

“Whether it’s koalas or wombats, platypus or birds or even entire ecosystems – this new class of protected area will protect them and their habitat into the future from incompatible activities including mining.

“It’s also an excellent incentive for people to invest in Queensland’s protected areas because a Special Wildlife Reserve provides a level of private land protection which doesn’t exist anywhere else in Australia.

“Philanthropic land trusts like Bush Heritage Australia and Australian Wildlife Conservancy do amazing work protecting parts of Queensland which we just could never have the resources to make National Parks.

“But BHA and others said to us they could do even more, and attract more funds in particular, if we could offer National Park level protections to their privately managed sanctuaries.”

Mr Miles said the new category offered a higher level of protection than the enormously successful Nature Refuges program, which he predicted would continue to be a popular option for conservation-minded landholders.

“Queenslanders want to protect native habitat, that’s why we already have 499 Nature Refuges across the state that cover almost 4 million hectares,” he said.

“But some existing Nature Refuges meet the international criteria for national parks and should have that level of protection.

“A great example is Bush Heritage Australia’s 56,000-hectare Nature Refuge on Pullen Pullen Reserve which they set up to look after the endangered night parrot.

“Another is the Steve Irwin Reserve in Cape York, which is recognised for its ecological significance.”

Australian Wildlife Conservancy Chief Executive Atticus Fleming welcomed the move.

“This Bill highlights the national leadership shown by the Queensland Government in promoting effective conservation of private land,” Mr Fleming said.

Queensland Trust For Nature General Manager Nerida Bradley said it was important for landholders who wanted to protect ecologically important parts of their land to have a range of tools to choose from.

“The new category of Special Wildlife Reserves means owners of particularly significant areas can access protection like that offered to national parks without handing that land over to the State,” Ms Bradley said.

“The introduction of this legislation reflects that there are many areas critical to Queensland’s biodiversity which are owned by private families, organisations or individuals.”

Bush Heritage’s Chief Executive Gerard O’Neill said he was confident the new Special Wildlife Reserves would help to boost fundraising efforts in Australia and overseas.

“This will give private funders absolute certainty that the conservation efforts they are supporting will be defended in perpetuity,” Mr O’Neill said.

Native Title Law Now Tainted By Adani: Traditional Owners Slam Passage Of Native Title Amendments

June 15, 2017: Media Release - by Wangan Jagalingou
Traditional Owners fighting Adani’s proposed coal mine have expressed profound disappointment at the passage of Attorney General Brandis’ amendments to the Native Title Act, stressing that while Mabo’s legacy has been diminished they will continue to fight for their rights.

Senior spokesperson for the W&J Traditional Owners Council, Adrian Burragubba, says, “Adani’s problems with the Wangan and Jagalingou people are not solved this week. The trial to decide the fate of Adani’s supposed deal with the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners is scheduled for the Federal Court in March 2018.

Our people are the last line of legal defence against this mine and its corrosive impact on our rights, and the destruction of country that would occur.

“Senator Brandis has been disingenuous in prosecuting his argument for these changes to native title laws, while the hands of native title bureaucrats and the mining lobby are all over the outcome.

“This swift overturning of a Federal Court decision, without adequate consultation with Indigenous people, was a significant move, not a mere technical consideration as the Turnbull Government has tried to make out.

“It is appalling and false for George Brandis to pretend that by holding a ‘workshop’ with the CEOs of the native title service bodies, he has the unanimous agreement of Traditional Owners across Australia. No amount of claimed ‘beseeching’ by the head of the Native Title Council, Glen Kelly, can disguise this.

“The public were not properly informed about the bill, and nor were Indigenous people around the country, who were not consulted and did not consent to these changes.

“We draw the line today. We declare our right to our land. There is no surrender. There is no land use agreement. We are the people from that land. We’re the rightful Traditional Owners of Wangan and Jagalingou country, and we are in court to prove that others are usurping our rights”, he said.

Spokesperson for the W&J Traditional Owners Council, Ms Murrawah Johnson, says, “Whatever else this change does, we know that the Turnbull Government went into overdrive for Adani’s interests.

“Brandis’ intervention in our court case challenging the sham ILUA was about Adani. Most of what Senator Matt Canavan had to say in arguing his ill-informed case for native title changes was about Adani. The Chairman of Senate Committee inquiring into the bill, Senator Ian McFarlane, referring to the native title amendments as “the Adani bill” was about Adani. And the PM telling Chairman Gautam Adani that he’d fix native title was about Adani”.

“We are continuing to fight Adani in court and our grounds are strong. If anyone tells you this is settled because the bill was passed, they are lying”, she said.

Adrian Burragubba says, “The Labor Opposition seems to understand this, even though they supported passage of the bill. Senator Pat Dodson went so far as to say this bill does not provide some kind of green light for the Adani mine, as some suggest.

“Pat Dodson acknowledged that W&J have several legal actions afoot against Adani and we are glad that in the midst of this dismal response to the rights of Indigenous people some MPs, including the Greens who voted against the bill, recognise the serious claim we have to justice.

Mr Dodson said in the Senate that: “most of this litigation will be entirely unaffected by the passage of this bill. In particular, there are very serious allegations of fraud that have been made against Adani regarding the processes under which agreements with the Wangan and Jagalingou people were purportedly reached. And those proceedings, which may impact on the validity of any ILUA, will only commence hearings in March next year. Other legal action is also underway, including a case challenging the validity of the licences issued by the Queensland government.”

Unfinished Business: Adani, The State And Indigenous Rights

June 12, 2017: University of Queensland
University of Queensland researchers have released a report into the uncertainty and contest surrounding the future of the proposed Carmichael coal mine, highlighting “unfinished business” between Adani, the State and the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Council.

School of Social Science Associate Professor Dr Kristen Lyons released the report at an event attended by Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Council spokesperson Murrawah Johnson.

“The report raises issues that are of immediate relevance, with Parliament meeting to discuss, for a third time, amendments to the Native Title Bill,” she said.

“This has been widely described as a rushed process, by a Government apparently determined to push through their ‘Adani Bill’ and support the go-ahead of Adani's proposed Carmichael mine. 

“Our report describes ‘unfinished business’ between Adani and the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Council, with the Council's legal campaigns – set to run until at least 2018 – offering the last legal line of defence against the go-ahead of the mine.”

Dr Lyons said the report described the resistance of the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Council to the proposed mine on the basis that it would cause irreversible destruction to their country.

The Wangan and Jagalingou are centring their Indigenous rights in the transition to a low carbon future.

Members of the W&J Traditional Owners Council outside the Federal Court

Earth Justice organisation Managing Attorney Martin Wagner, who wrote the report’s foreword, said the story of the Wangan and Jagalingou fight against government and corporate power was an important cautionary tale highlighting the implications for Australian society of the unfinished business between the State and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The report, available here, was written by Dr Lyons, School of Political Science and International Studies Senior Lecturer Morgan Brigg, and  School of Economics Professor John Quiggin.

Shelf Sediments Reveal Climate Shifts Through The Eons

June 11, 2017: University of Queensland
Climate change around Antarctica can severely affect Australia’s rainfall and even influence the distribution of wet and dry zones across southeast Asia, an international study has revealed.

Chelsea Korpanty of The University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences worked on the study, which was led by Dr Jeroen Groeneveld from the Center of Marine and Environment Sciences at the University of Bremen, Germany.

Ms Korpanty said global climate underwent significant change about 14 million years ago when the Antarctic ice sheet expanded.

“The new study presents shallow-marine sediment records from the Australian continental shelf, providing the first empirical evidence linking high-altitude cooling around Antarctica to climate change in the subtropics during the Miocene era,” she said. 

“Our data is consistent with the inference that expansion of sea ice around Antarctica resulted in a northward movement of the westerly winds.

“In turn, this may have pushed tropical atmospheric circulation, shifting the main rainfall belt over large parts of Southeast Asia.”

The study used sediment cores drilled along the west coast of Australia during International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 356 with the research vessel JOIDES Resolution, providing a long-term history of how rainfall and aridity changed on Earth from 16 to six million years ago.

Ms Korpanty worked aboard the JOIDES in 2015 as a sedimentologist alongside scientists from 29 different international institutes and with expertise across paleontology, sedimentology, and physical geological properties.

The results of the expedition, and the data published in the paper, provided an unprecedented climate record for western Australia, capturing when and how Antarctic climate changes affected Australian climate conditions.

Dr Groeneveld said the new study had the enormous advantage of using a complete and thus continuous sediment record which had not been influenced by potential drilling disturbances.

“Today the climate in western Australia varies from north to south - in the north the seasonal monsoon brings pronounced dry and wet seasons, farther south the climate is dry throughout the year, and in the south the westerly winds bring rain during the Australian winter,” he said.

Expedition 356 aimed to determine how this climate gradient developed over longer time periods, especially in the Miocene and Pliocene (16-six million years ago).

Dr Groeneveld said that over longer timescales, tectonic changes played an important role, such as in the closing of the Indonesian Gateway and the northward movement of Australia away from Antarctica.

“Global climate during the Miocene era was much warmer than today, and at the end of the middle Miocene a large part of Antarctica became glaciated and continued to cool the Southern Ocean into the late Miocene.”

The researchers used the natural gamma-ray data acquired with downhole logging during the expedition to reconstruct variations in river runoff and dust and relate these to a history of precipitation and aridity for western Australia.

The findings are published in Science Advances (Australian shelf sediments reveal shifts in Miocene Southern Hemisphere westerlies doi:10.1126/sciadv.1602567)

The research vessel JOIDES Resolution, photo by John Newcombe. Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Australia Post Gives Green Thumb To Aussie Succulents With New Stamps

14th June 2017
Australia Post celebrates Australian succulent plants with a new stamp issue out in post offices across the country from Tuesday 20 June.

Australia Post Philatelic Manager, Michael Zsolt said, "Many Australians have a passion for the great outdoors and for gardening. We believe these stamps will pique the interest of nature-lovers and gardeners alike, providing a window onto some of our amazing native succulent species".

Succulents occur through most regions in Australia and the term "succulence" or "succulent" refers to a plant's capacity for holding water. Besides water-storing capacity, two criteria for determining this group are a plant's ability to withstand long periods of dry without severe leaf loss and the ability to not only survive but continue to grow with minimal food, water and care, making them a popular choice of plant for gardens and courtyards.

The four domestic base-rate ($1) stamps were designed by Melbourne-based Janet Boschen Design and feature the following species:

  • Portulaca cyclophylla is found throughout central Western Australia. This species of the Portulaca genus is unusual in having large, showy blooms of up to 3.5 centimetres in diameter, with an extended central stigma.

  • Tecticornia verrucosa is found in north, central and south-western central Western Australia; western Northern Territory; and north-western South Australia. This unusually formed plant is blue-green and fleshy; the stems turn a purplish-pink as the plant matures and develop a thin interior woody core.

  • Calandrinia creethae is found in central Western Australia and is commonly known as Jelly Beans, named for the clusters of smooth, globular succulent leaves that comprise this plant. Traditionally, species in the Calandrinia genus have been important to Aboriginal people, who gathered its seeds to ground into meal.

  • Gunniopsis quadrifida is distributed in south-western Western Australia; southern Northern Territory; northern South Australia; south-western Queensland; and north-western New South Wales. This perennial low-growing shrub has rounded linear, greenish leaves and its fleshy flowers open up, with four leaf-like outer "petals" and white to cream centres.

The products associated with this stamp issue are a first day cover, stamp pack, set of four maxicards, four gutter strips of 10 x $1 stamps with design, roll of 100 x $1 self-adhesive stamps and a booklet of 10 x $1 self-adhesive stamps.

The Australian Succulents stamp issue is available from participating Post Offices, via mail order on 1800 331 794 and online from 20 June 2017 while stocks last.

Visit the Australia Post Collectables website and stay up-to-date with new Australian stamp issues. The Australia Post Collectables website is a central resource for stamp collectors and philatelic enthusiasts across the globe.  

World's Largest Marine Pollution Project

June 8, 2017: CSIRO
CSIRO is undertaking the world’s largest marine pollution survey, working with countries across the globe to help them assess and reduce the amount of litter entering the oceans.

Some of the world's top 20 polluters will take part in the project including China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam and the United States, plus other countries including Australia, South Korea and Taiwan.

CSIRO senior scientist Dr Denise Hardesty said the project would provide hard numbers on the amount of litter entering the ocean by using real data collected on coastlines and cities across the globe.

"Up until now we've been relying on estimates from 2010 World Bank data, so this will be the first time anyone has brought together a group of countries to look at exactly how much litter is entering the oceans," Dr Hardesty said.

"We will be able to see where the hotspots lie by looking at how people, wind, the shape of the land and storm water moves rubbish into the ocean and then give advice on how to improve this based on science-based interventions."

Representatives from five partner countries will meet next week in Korea for the project's first training workshop.

Our Seas of East Asia Network's Dr Sunwook Hong will lead South Korea's involvement in the project and said taking a global approach was essential to tackle the problem.

"By coordinating our approach we will be able to achieve some quick wins and know where to set our sights for more long-term goals," Dr Hong said.

The project was announced two months after Dr Hardesty presented to the world’s first G20 summit on marine pollution, and on World Ocean Day which in 2017 is focused on plastic pollution.

"We know that almost all litter starts off in someone’s hand, and from there it finds it ways from land to the ocean, where it breaks up into smaller pieces," Dr Hardesty said.

"This means if we can stop the rubbish from entering the ocean, we can make real headway in resolving the problem.

"Along with causing marine and environmental problems, things like plastic bags can also cause storm water drains to become blocked, leading to significant localised flooding and serious health risks for local people."

The project follows years of marine debris research led by Dr Hardesty and her team which has published significant findings including quantifying the amount of litter on the entire Australian coastline and reporting on the number of seabirds and other wildlife eating plastic.

The project is a collaboration between CSIRO, the Oak Family Foundation and Schmidt Marine Technology Partners.

Ocean pollution choking parts of Port Moresby.  ©Sustainable Coastlines

Hydroelectric Dams May Jeopardize The Amazon's Future

June 14, 2017: University of Texas at Austin

Map depicting the Amazon's 19 sub-basins and the existing or under construction (green) and planned (yellow) hydroelectric dams.
Credit: Illustration by Edgardo Latrubesse

Hundreds of built and proposed hydroelectric dams may significantly harm life in and around the Amazon by trapping the flow of rich nutrients and modifying the climate from Central America to the Gulf of Mexico. These findings, published in Nature, emerge from a multidisciplinary, international collaboration of researchers from 10 universities, led by scientists at The University of Texas at Austin.

To meet energy needs, economic developers in South America have proposed 428 hydroelectric dams, with 140 currently built or under construction, in the Amazon basin -- the largest and most complex network of river channels in the world, which sustains the highest biodiversity on Earth. The rivers and surrounding forests are the source of 20 percent of the planet's fresh water and valuable ingredients used in modern medicine.

While these hydroelectric dams have been justified for providing renewable energy and avoiding carbon emissions, little attention has been paid to the major disturbances dams present to the Amazon floodplains, rainforests, the northeast coast of South America and the regional climate, the researchers said.

Rivers in the Amazon basin move like a dance, exchanging sediments across continental distances to deliver nutrients to "a mosaic of wetlands," said Edgardo Latrubesse, UT Austin geography and the environment professor and lead author of the study. Sediment transported by rivers provides nutrients that sustain wildlife, contribute to the regional food supplies and modulate river dynamics that result in high habitat and biotic diversity for both aquatic and nonaquatic organisms.

"People say 'oh another dam, another river.' It's not. It's the Amazon," said Latrubesse, who is a faculty affiliate of the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies. "We have to put the risks on the table and change the way people are looking at the problem. We are massively destroying our natural resources, and time urges us to find some rational alternatives for preservation and sustainable development."

In the study, Latrubesse and collaborators introduced the Dam Environmental Vulnerability Index (DEVI), which was developed to determine the current and potential impacts of dams on rivers and their ecosystems in the Amazon basin. DEVI values quantify on a scale of 0 to 100 an area's vulnerability to potential land use change, erosion, runoff pollution, trapped sediment and overall changes to river systems due to dams.

"To not have an integrated approach is to deny how nature works in the Amazon basin," said Victor Baker, University of Arizona Regents' Professor of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences and co-author of the study." Our role is to show how nature works and that nature is integrated."

Researchers found that many of the existing dams are located in areas of high sediment yield, such as the Andean Cordillera, which provides more than 90 percent of the detrital sediment to the entire system.

The Marañon and Ucayali rivers are the most vulnerable in this area (DEVI of 72 and 61, respectively), with 104 and 47 dams planned or constructed dams on each river, respectively. The researchers estimated 68 to 80 percent of the area upstream of the lowermost planned dam in these rivers will remain unprotected from dam influence, modifying the rivers' dynamics, altering the creation of oxbow lakes and branches, decreasing floods and floodplain sediment storage, and putting thousands of species of birds, fish and trees at risk.

The Madeira River, which accounts for about half of the Amazon River system's total sediment transported from Bolivia and Peru and is home to the most diverse fish population in the Amazon, has the highest DEVI values (greater than 80) and faces extreme risks of potential land use change, erosion, runoff pollution and trapped sediment. Here, two huge dams were recently constructed, the Santo Antônio and Jiaru dams, which led to a 20 percent decrease in the average sediment concentration in the Madeira despite unusually high flood dischargesNature in 2014 and 2015. Researchers expect a greater amount of the nutrient-rich sediment to soon be trapped by the additional trapping effect of 25 dams planned further upstream.

Other large rivers in the central highlands of Brazil are also being impacted, the researchers said. Investigation of the Tapajós River -- where the main riverstem has not yet been directly disrupted, but 28 dams were recently constructed in its major tributaries -- showed that the river and all its major tributaries will be impounded if developers move forward with 90 proposed dams and deforestation continues at its current rate.

"Think about putting dams in the Mississippi connecting artificial lakes from Memphis to New Orleans," Latrubesse said. "It would be a scandal because it wouldn't be sustainable. But this is what is proposed for the Tapajós River."

Baker stressed that the Amazon is "the most important river basin on the planet. It's a microcosm of our issues of today involving environment, energy and health of the planet."

Amazon sediments nourish the largest preserved mangrove region of South America, along the coastline of northeast Brazil and the three Guianas, and past research has shown the sediments affect rainfall and storm patterns from the Amazon basin to Gulf of Mexico, Latrubesse said.

"The dimension of the impacts can be not only regional, but also on an interhemispheric scale," Latrubesse said. "If all the planned dams in the basin are constructed, their cumulative effect will trigger a change in sediment flowing into the Atlantic Ocean that may hinder the regional climate."

Edgardo M. Latrubesse, Eugenio Y. Arima, Thomas Dunne, Edward Park, Victor R. Baker, Fernando M. d’Horta, Charles Wight, Florian Wittmann, Jansen Zuanon, Paul A. Baker, Camila C. Ribas, Richard B. Norgaard, Naziano Filizola, Atif Ansar, Bent Flyvbjerg, Jose C. Stevaux. Damming the rivers of the Amazon basin. Nature, 2017; 546 (7658): 363 DOI: 10.1038/nature22333

Large Canadian Arctic Climate Change Study Cancelled Due To Climate Change

June 13, 2017: University of Manitoba
The Science Team of the Canadian Research Icebreaker CCGS Amundsen has cancelled the first leg of the 2017 Expedition due to complications associated with the southward motion of hazardous Arctic sea ice, caused by climate change.

This regrettably postpones the much-anticipated Hudson Bay System Study (BaySys) involving 40 scientists from five universities across Canada. Timing was key for this $17 million, four-year, University of Manitoba-led project.

The need to deal with extreme ice conditions in the south meant the ship would arrive too late on site to meet research objectives.

The Arctic deployment of the Canadian Research Icebreaker CCGS Amundsen is undertaken through a long-standing collaboration between the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) and University-led Arctic science in Canada.

The research icebreaker CCGS Amundsen. Image courtesy of University of Manitoba

This productive partnership has been providing Canadian researchers and their international colleagues with the ability to monitor and understand the impacts of climate change and resource development on Arctic marine and coastal ecosystems and northern communities since 2003.

This year the Expedition Logistics and Science Teams accelerated the mobilization of the 2017 Arctic Expedition to permit departure of the Amundsen six days ahead of schedule.

This would allow CCG to carry out critical marine safety and security operations in the unusually severe ice conditions in the Strait of Belle Isle and along the northeast coast of Newfoundland before beginning the Science Mission.

Unfortunately, the conditions required much more extended support than anticipated. Fleet management issues and inadequate alternative ships forced the cancellation of the science program due to significant safety concerns.

This decision to cancel the BaySys 2017 program was not made lightly. Although the cancellation was due to circumstances beyond control of the Expedition Team, every effort was made to develop a viable option to allow this valuable work to proceed.

The decision to terminate the 2017 program has significant impacts on partners and the large number of graduate students involved.

"Considering the severe ice conditions and the increasing demand for Search And Rescue operations (SAR) and ice escort, we decided to cancel the BaySys mission. A second week of delay meant our research objectives just could not be safely achieved -- the challenge for us all was that the marine ice hazards were exceedingly difficult for the maritime industry, the CCG, and science," says Dr. David Barber, Expedition Chief Scientist and BaySys Scientific Lead.

Dr. Barber and his team of experts were able to use the state-of-the-art equipment onboard the Amundsen to confirm that a significant proportion of the sea ice present originated from the high Arctic.

He noted that, "Climate-related changes in Arctic sea ice not only reduce its extent and thickness but also increase its mobility meaning that ice conditions are likely to become more variable and severe conditions such as these will occur more often."

The Sea Ice Research Team collected a comprehensive dataset on the physics of the ice, ocean and atmosphere in the area and these data will contribute to the understanding of these events and assist Canada in preparing for climate change driven increases in marine ice hazards.

"This extremely unfortunate event is not expected to affect the remainder of the 2017 Amundsen Expedition resuming on July 6. We believe that the oceanographic studies will proceed as planned and do not anticipate an impact on the Nunavik Inuit Health Survey, says Dr. Louis Fortier, Scientific Director of the Amundsen and ArcticNet Science programs. "The Amundsen Science Team is committed to working with Canadian Coast Guard and our industrial partners to plan a 2018 BaySys program."

The research of our scientists clearly indicate that climate change is not something that is going to happen in the future -- it is already here. Research results from scientists onboard the Amundsen and innovative Networks like ArcticNet show the impacts of climate change in Canada's Arctic and Arctic Ocean affect not only northern ecosystems and communities, but also the environments and people living in the south of Canada -- as so dramatically seen off the coast of Newfoundland.

The provision of the best information possible is essential for proper planning, decision-making and adaptation to the realities of climate change.

This experience, and climate change conditions currently affecting Churchill, Man., clearly illustrates that Canada is ill prepared to deal with the realities of climate change.

Plastic Made From Sugar And Carbon Dioxide

June 13, 2017: University of Bath

This is a graphic showing how sugar and carbon dioxide is converted to plastic. Credit: Georgina Gregory
Some biodegradable plastics could in the future be made using sugar and carbon dioxide, replacing unsustainable plastics made from crude oil, following research by scientists from the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) at the University of Bath.

Polycarbonate is used to make drinks bottles, lenses for glasses and in scratch-resistant coatings for phones, CDs and DVDs
Current manufacture processes for polycarbonate use BPA (banned from use in baby bottles) and highly toxic phosgene, used as a chemical weapon in World War One
Bath scientists have made alternative polycarbonates from sugars and carbon dioxide in a new process that also uses low pressures and room temperature, making it cheaper and safer to produce
This new type of polycarbonate can be biodegraded back into carbon dioxide and sugar using enzymes from soil bacteria
This new plastic is bio-compatible so could in the future be used for medical implants or as scaffolds for growing replacement organs for transplant
Polycarbonates from sugars offer a more sustainable alternative to traditional polycarbonate from BPA, however the process uses a highly toxic chemical called phosgene. Now scientists at Bath have developed a much safer, even more sustainable alternative which adds carbon dioxide to the sugar at low pressures and at room temperature.

The resulting plastic has similar physical properties to those derived from petrochemicals, being strong, transparent and scratch-resistant. The crucial difference is that they can be degraded back into carbon dioxide and sugar using the enzymes found in soil bacteria.

The new BPA-free plastic could potentially replace current polycarbonates in items such as baby bottles and food containers, and since the plastic is bio-compatible, it could also be used for medical implants or as scaffolds for growing tissues or organs for transplant.

Dr Antoine Buchard, Whorrod Research Fellow in the University's Department of Chemistry, said: "With an ever-growing population, there is an increasing demand for plastics. This new plastic is a renewable alternative to fossil-fuel based polymers, potentially inexpensive, and, because it is biodegradable, will not contribute to growing ocean and landfill waste.

"Our process uses carbon dioxide instead of the highly toxic chemical phosgene, and produces a plastic that is free from BPA, so not only is the plastic safer, but the manufacture process is cleaner too."

Dr Buchard and his team at the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies, published their work in a series of articles in the journals Polymer Chemistry and Macromolecules.

In particular, they used nature as inspiration for the process, using the sugar found in DNA called thymidine as a building block to make a novel polycarbonate plastic with a lot of potential.

PhD student and first author of the articles, Georgina Gregory, explained: "Thymidine is one of the units that makes up DNA. Because it is already present in the body, it means this plastic will be bio-compatible and can be used safely for tissue engineering applications.

"The properties of this new plastic can be fine-tuned by tweaking the chemical structure -- for example we can make the plastic positively charged so that cells can stick to it, making it useful as a scaffold for tissue engineering." Such tissue engineering work has already started in collaboration with Dr Ram Sharma from Chemical Engineering, also part of the CSCT.

The researchers have also looked at using other sugars such as ribose and mannose. Dr Buchard added: "Chemists have 100 years' experience with using petrochemicals as a raw material so we need to start again using renewable feedstocks like sugars as a base for synthetic but sustainable materials. It's early days, but the future looks promising."

This work was supported by Roger and Sue Whorrod (Fellowship to Dr Buchard), EPSRC (Centre for Doctoral Training in Sustainable Chemical Technologies), and a Royal Society research Grant.

Georgina L. Gregory, Gabriele Kociok-Köhn, Antoine Buchard. Polymers from sugars and CO2: ring-opening polymerisation and copolymerisation of cyclic carbonates derived from 2-deoxy-d-ribose. Polym. Chem., 2017; 8 (13): 2093 DOI: 10.1039/C7PY00236J 

Funding NSW Budget: Record $100m Palliative Care 

13 June 2017: NSW Minister for Health, The Hon. Brad Hazzard 
The NSW Government will provide record funding for palliative care across NSW to support people suffering terminal illness and their families.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and Minister for Health Brad Hazzard said the upcoming NSW Budget will invest an additional $100 million in palliative care services over the next four years.

“From additional nurses in frontline palliative care to funding for 24-hour community care services, this is a package of funding that will have a powerful and tangible impact across the State,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“At a time in people’s lives where every moment is incredibly precious, this investment is about providing the care options to lessen the strain on them and their loved ones.”

Palliative care aims to improve the quality of life of patients with an active, progressive disease that has little or no prospect of a cure.

Mr Perrottet said: “I am incredibly proud that this Budget includes the most serious commitment of any government in NSW history to give people at the end of life’s journey, and their families, the peace, comfort and support they deserve.

“We have an obligation to honour the dignity of everyone in our community to the very end, and this funding demonstrates our Government’s commitment to meeting that obligation.”

Mr Hazzard said the initiative includes a range of professional training measures.

“This package includes training for 300 nurses and allied health staff, 300 scholarships for rural and regional staff to enhance palliative care skills and 30 additional nurses in hospitals, homes and nursing homes,” Mr Hazzard said.

“We have listened to communities at palliative care roundtables across the state and the message from Broken Hill to Sydney, from Griffith to Lismore is that we need to expand our palliative care resources and choices at a local level.”

“We want the community to have confidence and choice in their end-of-life care and this Budget is a giant leap towards that outcome.”

The 2017-18 State Budget includes funding for:
  • palliative care training for 300 nurses and allied health staff ($900,000)
  • 300 scholarships for rural and regional staff to enhance palliative care skills ($300,000)
  • an additional six palliative care specialists in rural and regional areas ($2.4 million)
  • two specialist positions to provide relief to other specialists in rural and regional areas ($795,000)
  • an additional 30 palliative care nurses providing care in hospitals, homes and nursing homes ($5 million)
  • community-based palliative care services in Western Sydney, including a 24 hour, seven day a week on-call specialist palliative care service at home ($6.9 million)
  • the development of comprehensive and integrated palliative care services, in line with community expectations and need ($1 million in 2017- 18 as part of a $22 million investment over four years)
  • community pharmacy initiatives to improve medication management for palliative care patients ($200,000).

NSW Budget: $217 Million For Preschool Fee Relief

9 June 2017: Media Release - Minister for Early Childhood Education, The Hon. Sarah Mitchell

The NSW Budget is backing our youngest learners and making early childhood education more affordable for families with an additional $217 million for the successful Start Strong program.

To ensure affordability is not a barrier for families, NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said the investment in the 2017-18 Budget extends Start Strong to 2021.

"This is an unprecedented investment in early childhood education by the NSW Government and delivers on our commitment to reinvest our economic success into supporting families," Mr Perrottet said. 

"My eye is firmly on the future in this Budget and with this additional funding, community preschools and long day care services will continue to be funded through Start Strong to 2021.

"Every single preschool across NSW will benefit from this ongoing funding – which means this Government continues to back our kids and their families." 

Minister for Early Childhood Education Sarah Mitchell said we know the success of a child's education on their last day of school is determined by their very first day of school.

"This investment builds on the NSW Government's commitment of $115 million to make it easier for families to access affordable, quality preschool programs no matter where they live," Mrs Mitchell said. 

"Start Strong links needs-based funding to 600 hours of enrolment in quality education in the year before school to ensure more kids participate because we know how important it is.

"To ensure this increase in funding has a real impact upon service affordability; community preschool services must pass on at least 75 per cent of the increased funding to parents.

"NSW has a diverse early childhood education sector, and this Government is ensuring there is choice when it comes to quality services that meets individual needs." 

Since the launch of Start Strong in January this year, more than half of all community preschools in NSW have changed their business model in response to the new funding program.

Museums Victoria Leads World-First Research Voyage To Uncover Life In Australia’s Eastern Abyss

An international team of 40 scientists embarked on a pioneering deep-sea research voyage to uncover the mysterious life that inhabits the abyss off eastern Australia a month ago – an almost unexplored habitat 4000 metres below the surface.  

Called Sampling the Abyss, the voyage on the Marine National Facility research vessel Investigator brings together scientists from Museums Victoria, CSIRO and other Australian and international museums and research agencies. The voyage departed Bell Bay (Launceston, Tasmania) on 15 May and visited seven Commonwealth marine reserves (CMRs) – from the Freycinet CMR off eastern Tasmania to the Coral Sea CMR off central Queensland – before finishing in Brisbane on the 16th of June.

This is the first time the biodiversity of these abyssal areas has been explored and the scientists are expecting to discover many new deep-sea species.

Dr Tim O’Hara, Museums Victoria’s Senior Curator, Marine Invertebrates and Chief Scientist of Sampling the Abyss said: 
“The abyss is the largest and deepest habitat on the planet, covering half the world’s oceans and one third of Australia’s territory, but it remains the most unexplored environment on Earth.”

“We know that abyssal animals have been around for at least 40 million years, but until recently only a handful of samples had been collected from Australia’s abyss.”

Dr Tim O’Hara stands on Investigator’s rear deck amongst nets and sleds used by the scientsists. Image Matthew Newton/Marine Biodiversity Hub

The abyss is a world of crushing pressures, no light, little food and freezing temperatures. Research in other parts of the world has found that the animals that live there have evolved highly unique ways to survive.

At these huge depths it is so dark that creatures often have no eyes or produce their own light through bioluminescence. As food is scarce, animals are often small and move slowly. Many are jelly-like and spend their lives floating about, while others have ferocious spines and fangs and lie in wait until food comes to them.

What lies in wait in the deepest parts of Australia’s ocean for us to discover? And why is it so important to understand? 

Dr Tim O’Hara explains:
“The data gathered on this trip will be crucial to understanding Australia’s deep-sea habitats, their biodiversity and the ecological processes that sustain them. This will assist in its conservation and management and help to protect it from the impacts of climate change, pollution and other human activity.”

The research team used a high-tech multi-beam sonar to map the structure of the seafloor, and cameras, nets and sleds to sample habitats 2500 and 4000 metre depths. In the deepest parts of the ocean it takes seven hours to lower and raise this equipment from the seafloor.  

Scientists caught a blobfish at a depth of 2.5 kilometres off the coast of New South Wales. Supplied: Robert Zelugaro

Scientists expected to find a range of animals, including new species, of fish, starfish, molluscs, crabs, sponges, marine worms and sea spiders. 
Back in the lab, scientists will map patterns of biodiversity and evolution across the seafloor, and analyse the chemistry and DNA of tissue samples to reconstruct deep-sea food webs and discover links between deep-sea populations.

The team have brought the Australian deep-sea alive though photography and video on ‘Blogging the Abyss’ and Museums Victoria, CSIRO and the Marine Biodiversity Hub social media.

The Sampling the Abyss voyage is being led by Museums Victoria, with support from the CSIRO Marine National Facility and National Environmental Science Programme’s Marine Biodiversity Hub.

Visit Blogging the Abyss and have a look at what they’ve been up to in the last month at 

Phoebe Lewis of RMIT University prepares the manta net to sample microplastics in surface waters beside the CSIRO RV Investigator. Image: Asher Flatt

"We've done about 50 different small net tows on the bottom and every one of them has brought up a piece of rubbish," Dr O'Hara said.

The array of litter includes old bottles, wire, ropes and plastic and burnt coal residue — known as clinker, dumped from old steam ships (the ships that were on the seas a century and more ago).


Wednesday, 14th June 2017 by Surfing NSW
From September 23 Australian beaches will host the cream of the crop in junior surfing, as the 2017/18 Rip Curl GromSearch Series presented by Flight Centre gets underway. 

The prestigious National series will feature five stops in the key surfing regions of Jan Juc (VIC), Maroubra (NSW), Trigg /Scarborough (WA), Yorke Peninsula (SA) and the Sunshine Coast (QLD). Participants can look forward to activities, giveaways and the chance to meet surfers from all over the country at each event, as well as hone their skills in the water. 2017 sees the introduction of a “priority system” in several divisions across the series, allowing athletes to gain valuable experience with the same system used across all elite surfing events. 

Professional surfer and current WSL world number five Matt Wilkinson commented… “I loved the GromSearch series as a kid. Travelling to different places, meeting new crew and having a good time on your holidays is what every grom wants to do. Then throw in the chance to surf the National final to try and represent Australia… it’s unreal!"

The Australian series allows surfers from around the country to compete against their contemporaries in a fun and engaging environment. Each result in the five-event series is awarded points that count towards a surfer’s GromSearch National rating, giving participants across the country the opportunity to compare their performances against their peers. After the last event in Queensland, the top ranked surfers qualify for the Rip Curl GromSearch National Final (in their respective divisions), where they then compete for the chance to become the Australian GromSearch Champion. The National Champion then represents Australia at the Rip Curl GromSearch International Final, held at a new location around the globe each year, against the best junior surfers in each participating country.

With parallel Rip Curl GromSearch Series in over 10 countries, it has become a crucial stepping-stone in the development of junior surfers. The list of previous GromSearch winners illustrates the prestigious history of the series, with World Surf League (WSL) competitors Gabriel Medina (Brazil), Tyler Wright (Australia), Owen Wright (Australia), Matt Wilkinson (Australia), Jordy Smith (South Africa), Kolohe Andino (USA) and Sally Fitzgibbons (Australia) among the list of former competitors and GromSearch International Final Champions.

Working in conjunction with Surfing Australia, the Rip Curl GromSearch includes divisions in 16-and-under, 14-and-under and 12-and-under, for both boys and girls.
Entry details, event format and further information on entry procedures will be available in the coming weeks.
2017-18 Rip Curl GromSearch Series Dates:
RCGS - EVENT 1 - Jan Juc, VIC - Sept 23 - 25, 2017  
RCGS - EVENT 2 - Maroubra, NSW - Sept 30 - Oct 3, 2017  
RCGS - EVENT 3 - Trigg / Scarborough WA - Oct 6 - 8, 2017 
RCGS - EVENT 4 - Yorke Peninsula, SA - Nov 4 - 5, 2017 
RCGS - EVENT 5 - Sunshine Coast, QLD - Dec 11 - 15, 2017
RCGS - National Final - NSW coastline - Jan 15 - 17, 2018
The 2017 Rip Curl GromSearch Series is presented by Flight Centre.

Image: Ed Sloane / Rip Curl

Providing $400,000 Life-Saving Drug To Australian Kids With Rare Disease

15 June, 2017: Media Release - The Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health, Minister for Sport
The Australian Government will provide a life-saving treatment to Australian patients who have a rare medical condition known as Morquio A Syndrome, at no cost.
Vimizim® (elosulfase alfa) will be available under the Life Saving Drugs Program from 1 August.

With treatment costing around $400,000 each year, many Australian children suffering from Morquio A have been unable to receive treatment as it has simply been out-of-reach. 

It’s an awful disease that cruelly affects children. Having access to Vimizim will be life-changing and indeed life-saving for some of our youngest Australians.

Morquio A Syndrome, or mucopolysaccharidosis (MPS) type IV A is an inherited metabolic condition, with Vimizim the only available treatment. 

People born with the syndrome are either missing, or don’t have enough of, a crucial enzyme needed to break down long chains of sugar molecules. As a result they have abnormal development and a possible early death.

Before accessing this new drug, patients will need to undergo a clinical assessment and then yearly checks to ensure Vimizim treatment continues to be effective and appropriate for their condition. 

Adding medicines to the Life Saving Drugs Program is rare and Vimizin is only the 13th medicine to be added. 

It will cost of $44 million over five years to treat 20 children. We are able to make this life-changing listing today because of our responsible financial management of the cost of medicines. 

Since coming into Government, we have added over 1400 new and amended drug listings to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to improve the health of Australians. 

Unlike Labor, we are adding medicines recommended by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee without fear or favour. Labor delayed the listing of seven vital drugs.

Australia’s PBS is one of the foundations of our universal health care system and is the envy of many countries.

The Turnbull Government has a rock solid commitment to Medicare and part of this commitment is ensuring people have access to medicine when they need it. 

For further information go to the Life Saving Drugs Program website. 

Muscle Growth Finding May Assist With Cancer Treatment

June 14, 2017: Monash University
Monash University's Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) researchers have collaboratively developed a therapeutic approach that dramatically promotes the growth of muscle mass, which could potentially prevent muscle wasting in diseases including muscular dystrophy and cancer.

The approach, jointly developed with Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute scientists, combines -- for the first time -- molecules that inhibit three proteins which in turn repress muscle growth.

Published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists found that inhibiting activin A, activin B and myostatin resulted in skeletal muscle mass increase by as much as 150 per cent in preclinical models.

Myostatin has long been recognised as the body's major negative regulator of skeletal muscle mass, helping to maintain muscle homeostasis in the body, but creating molecules to target all three related proteins together was a novel approach.

"As a result of the study we can now more precisely regulate -- and increase -- muscle mass in the setting of disease," co-lead author from Monash BDI, Dr Craig Harrison, said.

Dr Harrison said the study, the culmination of many years of research with the Baker Institute's Dr Paul Gregorevic, was aimed mostly at developing a way of preventing muscle loss in the wasting condition cachexia, in cancer.

Dr Harrison said cachexia, observed in the end stages of cancer, was thought to contribute or directly cause 20 to 30 per cent of all cancer-related deaths. Palliative care is currently the only treatment for cancer cachexia. The condition is also seen in other diseases including diabetes, AIDS, and in heart and kidney failure.

The paper showed that the combination treatment could prevent muscle wasting in a cancer cachexia model as well as in muscular dystrophy. It could also potentially be used after clinical development in healthy and in ageing individuals undergoing a slow wasting of muscles, Dr Harrison said.

Activins and myostatin belong to the transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) family of proteins, which both researchers have been investigating for a number of years.

Further pre-clinical research is proceeding.

The findings were recently corroborated by a similar study by US scientists, although those experiments did not target activin B and did not demonstrate as great an effect, Dr Harrison said.

The research was supported by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.

Justin L. Chen, Kelly L. Walton, Adam Hagg, Timothy D. Colgan, Katharine Johnson, Hongwei Qian, Paul Gregorevic, Craig A. Harrison. Specific targeting of TGF-β family ligands demonstrates distinct roles in the regulation of muscle mass in health and disease. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017; 201620013 DOI:10.1073/pnas.1620013114

Bacteria From Cystic Fibrosis Patient Could Help Thwart Antibiotic-Resistant TB

June 14, 2017: American Chemical Society
The number of drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) cases is rising globally. But a newly discovered natural antibiotic -- produced by bacteria from the lung infection in a cystic fibrosis patient -- could help fight these infections. Lab testing reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society shows that the compound is active against multi-drug resistant strains.

Starting with the famous first discovery of penicillin from mold, scientists have continued to search for natural sources of antibiotics. And as pathogens develop resistance to once-reliable medicines, the search has taken on a new urgency. By 2040, more than a third of all TB cases in Russia, for example, could show resistance to first-line drugs currently used to fight the disease, a recent report published inLancet estimates. 

Among potential new drug sources are species of the bacterial genus Burkholderia that thrive in a wide range of habitats, from soil to the human lung. One way these microbes have adapted to these diverse environments is by making potent antibiotics to take out their competition. In light of the growing threat of drug-resistant bacteria, particularly among TB strains, Gregory L. Challis, Eshwar Mahenthiralingam and colleagues wanted to see if Burkholderia might produce a promising anti-TB compound.

The researchers discovered that one species, Burkholderia gladioli, which was isolated from the sputum of a child with cystic fibrosis, produces an antibiotic called gladiolin. The compound belongs to the same structural class as etnangien, another antibiotic that has been investigated for its ability to jam bacterial cell machinery. But etnangien is highly unstable. The researchers found that gladiolin is much more stable than etnangien, and could therefore potentially be a better drug candidate. Lab testing also showed that gladiolin blocked the growth of four drug-resistant TB strains.

Lijiang Song, Matthew Jenner, Joleen Masschelein, Cerith Jones, Matthew J. Bull, Simon R. Harris, Ruben C. Hartkoorn, Anthony Vocat, Isolda Romero-Canelon, Paul Coupland, Gordon Webster, Matthew Dunn, Rebecca Weiser, Christopher Paisey, Stewart T. Cole, Julian Parkhill, Eshwar Mahenthiralingam, Gregory L. Challis. Discovery and Biosynthesis of Gladiolin: A Burkholderia gladioli Antibiotic with Promising Activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2017; 139 (23): 7974 DOI:10.1021/jacs.7b03382 

Gluten-Free Beer From Witkop Teff Grains

June 14, 2017: American Chemical Society
For celiac patients and others on gluten-free diets, it seems like gluten is everywhere -- cakes, cookies and breads. It's even in most beers. But now, one team reports in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that beers made with Witkop teff grains may be a good alternative to traditionally brewed barley beers.

Gluten based sensitivities impact millions of people each year, leading to a dramatic rise in gluten-free food products on grocery store shelves. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, one percent of the global population has celiac disease, which results in the immune system attacking the small intestine when gluten is consumed. Currently, no medicinal treatments are available, and the only option is to follow a strict, gluten-free diet. As a result, breweries have been exploring alternative grains, such as corn, rice and buckwheat, to replace barley in the malting and brewing process. Teff, a small cereal native to Ethiopia that doesn't contain gluten, is another possibility that researchers have tested. Now, Valeria Sileoni and colleagues wanted to examine, for the first time, the potential of a variety of teff called Witkop as a raw material for malting and brewing.

The researchers examined the Witkop teff malting process, in which grains are steeped, germinated and dried, to determine the optimum conditions. Witkop teff took longer to malt than barley, and the team found that the teff had different enzymes to break down sugars than barley. The researchers concluded that Witkop teff grains have potential as a raw material for beer production but would likely require custom malting equipment on an industrial scale.

Lidia Di Ghionno, Ombretta Marconi, Eung Gwan Lee, Christopher J. Rice, Valeria Sileoni, Giuseppe Perretti. Gluten-Free Sources of Fermentable Extract: Effect of Temperature and Germination Time on Quality Attributes of Teff [Eragrostis tef (zucc.) Trotter] Malt and Wort. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2017; 65 (23): 4777 DOI:10.1021/acs.jafc.7b01717

Disability Employment Services Reforms Underway

14 June 2017:  Joint Media Release with: Minister for Social Services, The Hon. Christian Porter and  Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services, The Hon Jane Prentice MP
The Australian Government has released an industry information paper that provides essential information for those delivering Disability Employment Services (DES) from 1 July 2018.

Minister for Social Services, the Hon Christian Porter MP, said the paper is the next step in implementing the Government’s $3 billion plan over the next four years to strengthen DES.

“I want to ensure a smooth transition from the current arrangements to the new DES program, and to provide certainty and clarity for the sector,” Minister Porter said.

“We are continuing current provider contracts to 30 June 2018 and ensuring a new DES provider panel is in place to support jobseekers and employers from 1 July 2018.

“The industry paper is essential reading for current providers and for organisations that would like to apply to deliver DES.”

Assistant Minister for Disability Services, the Hon Jane Prentice MP, said existing providers may be offered an ‘invitation to treat’ after they have registered their interest.

“Making it easier for existing providers that are already delivering services to an acceptable standard to continue, will help stabilise the DES market and provide continuity for job seekers and employers,” Mrs Prentice said.

“The industry information paper also outlines the revised funding model for DES providers, offering stronger incentives for them to achieve sustainable employment outcomes for participants that may require more support than others.

"In addition, the Government will provide more than $300 million over the next 10 years to index funding to DES.”

Industry information sessions will be held in capital cities and selected regional areas from 20 June to 25 July 2017, and an online information session will also be available.

To read the industry paper, and register for an information session,

Dawn Of Humanity: Neanderthal-Homo Sapiens Transition

June 14, 2017: Australian National University
Archaeologists at The Australian National University (ANU) and the University of Sydney have provided a window into one of the most exciting periods in human history -- the transition between Neanderthals and modern humans.

An archaeological dig in a cave in the Moravian region of the Czech Republic has provided a timeline of evidence from 10 sedimentary layers spanning 28,000 to 50,000 years ago. This is the period when our modern human ancestors first arrived in Europe.

The dig, in a cave near the Czech border with Austria and around 150kms north of Vienna, has unearthed over 20,000 animal bones as well as stone tools, weapons and an engraved bone bead that is the oldest of its kind in Central Europe.

A stone tool thought to be a speartip made from radiolarite sourced over 100km to the east of the cave. Credit: Miroslav Kralík

ANU archaeologist Dr Duncan Wright said the project was so important because it gives some of the earliest evidence of modern human activity in the region. This was a period when humans were moving substantial distances and bringing with them portable art objects.

"In the early layers the items we've found are locally made flakes, possibly used by small communities living and hunting in the vicinity to kill animals or prepare food, but around 40,000 years ago we start to see objects coming from long distances away," Dr Wright said.

"Dating from this same time we unearthed a bead made from mammal bone. This is the oldest portable art object of its type found anywhere in central Europe and provides evidence of social signalling, quite possibly used as a necklace to mark the identity of the wearer.

"So between these two periods, we've either seen a change in behaviour and human movement or possibly even a change in species."

Archaeologist Ladislav Nejman of the University of Sydney said one of the biggest questions is the beginnings of human exploration of this landscape by Homo sapiens who arrived in this area for the first time. "We've found that somewhere between 40-48,000 years ago people became highly mobile," Dr Nejman said.

"Instead of moving short distances near the cave where they lived, they were walking for hundreds of kilometres quite often. We know that because we found various artefacts where the raw material comes from 100-200 kilometres away.

"The artefacts were also made of different materials from different regions. Some from the North-West, some from the North, some from the East."

However in layer 10, which represents an earlier time period between 48-45,000 years ago, all the recovered stone artefacts were made using local raw material, which indicates that the high residential mobility came later.

Dr Nejman said the study also revealed valuable new information about the climate of the region.

"We haven't had such a long sequence of sedimentary layers before that we could test," he said.

"The climate changed quite often from warmer to colder, and vice versa, but at all times it was much colder than the interglacial period that we have lived in for the past 10,000 years."

Samples from the site have been sent through for analysis using a new technique, called ancient sediment DNA analysis. This is the first scientific method that can detect which species were present even without the bones of these species. It tests remnant DNA preserved in the sediment.

Dr Wright said the results will shed new light on a period of transition between two species of humans and also give clearer evidence about the activities of our modern human ancestors in a period and region where little is known.

"We can tell by the artefacts that small groups of people camped at this cave. This was during glacial periods suggesting they were well adapted to these harsh conditions" Dr Wright said.

"It's quite possible that the two different species of humans met in this area."

The study was initially funded by a grant from SoMoPro program with a financial contribution from the European Community within the Seventh Framework Programme. The study has been published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

L. Nejman, R. Wood, D. Wright, L. Lisá, Z. Nerudová, P. Neruda, A. Přichystal, J. Svoboda. Hominid visitation of the Moravian Karst during the Middle-Upper Paleolithic transition: New results from Pod Hradem Cave (Czech Republic). Journal of Human Evolution, 2017; 108: 131 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2017.03.015

Solar Paint Offers Endless Energy From Water Vapor

June 14, 2017: RMIT University
Researchers have developed a solar paint that can absorb water vapour and split it to generate hydrogen -- the cleanest source of energy.

The paint contains a newly developed compound that acts like silica gel, which is used in sachets to absorb moisture and keep food, medicines and electronics fresh and dry.

But unlike silica gel, the new material, synthetic molybdenum-sulphide, also acts as a semi-conductor and catalyses the splitting of water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.

Lead researcher Dr Torben Daeneke, from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, said: "We found that mixing the compound with titanium oxide particles leads to a sunlight-absorbing paint that produces hydrogen fuel from solar energy and moist air.

"Titanium oxide is the white pigment that is already commonly used in wall paint, meaning that the simple addition of the new material can convert a brick wall into energy harvesting and fuel production real estate.

"Our new development has a big range of advantages," he said. "There's no need for clean or filtered water to feed the system. Any place that has water vapour in the air, even remote areas far from water, can produce fuel."

Watch the video:

His colleague, Distinguished Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, said hydrogen was the cleanest source of energy and could be used in fuel cells as well as conventional combustion engines as an alternative to fossil fuels.

"This system can also be used in very dry but hot climates near oceans. The sea water is evaporated by the hot sunlight and the vapour can then be absorbed to produce fuel.

"This is an extraordinary concept -- making fuel from the sun and water vapour in the air."

Torben Daeneke, Nripen Dahr, Paul Atkin, Rhiannon M. Clark, Christopher J. Harrison, Robert Brkljača, Naresh Pillai, Bao Yue Zhang, Ali Zavabeti, Samuel J. Ippolito, Kyle J. Berean, Jian Zhen Ou, Michael S. Strano, Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh. Surface Water Dependent Properties of Sulfur-Rich Molybdenum Sulfides: Electrolyteless Gas Phase Water Splitting. ACS Nano, 2017; DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.7b01632

Making Art Activates Brain's Reward Pathway

June 13, 2017: Drexel University
Your brain's reward pathways become active during art-making activities like doodling, according to a new Drexel University study.

Girija Kaimal, EdD, assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, led a team that used fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy) technology to measure blood flow in the areas of the brain related to rewards while study participants completed a variety of art-making projects.

"This shows that there might be inherent pleasure in doing art activities independent of the end results. Sometimes, we tend to be very critical of what we do because we have internalized, societal judgements of what is good or bad art and, therefore, who is skilled and who is not," said Kaimal of the study that was published The Arts in Psychotherapy. "We might be reducing or neglecting a simple potential source of rewards perceived by the brain. And this biologocial proof could potentially challenge some of our assumptions about ourselves."

For the study, co-authored by Drexel faculty including Jennifer Nasser, PhD, and Hasan Ayaz, PhD, 26 participants wore fNIRS headbands while they completed three different art activities (each with rest periods between). For three minutes each, the participants colored in a mandala, doodled within or around a circle marked on a paper, and had a free-drawing session.

These are examples of the doodling activity. Picture Courtesy of Drexel University

During all three activities, there was a measured increase in bloodflow in the brain's prefrontal cortex, compared to rest periods where bloodflow decreased to normal rates.

The prefrontal cortex is related to regulating our thoughts, feelings and actions. It is also related to emotional and motivational systems and part of the wiring for our brain's reward circuit. So seeing increased bloodflow in these areas likely means a person is experiencing feels related to being rewarded.

There were some distinctions between the activities in the data collected.

Doodling in or around the circle had the highest average measured bloodflow increase in the reward pathway compared to free-drawing (the next highest) and coloring. However, the difference between each form of art-making was not statistically significant, according to analysis.

"There were some emergent differences but we did not have a large-enough sample in this initial study to draw any definitive conclusions," Kaimal said.

It was noted and tracked which participants in the study considered themselves artists so that their results could be compared to non-artists. In that way, Kaimal and her team hoped to understand whether past experience played a factor in triggering feelings of reward.

Doodling seemed to initiate the most brain activity in artists, but free-drawing was observed to be about the same for artists and non-artists. Interestingly, the set coloring activity actually resulted in negative brain activity in artists.

"I think artists might have felt very constrained by the pre-drawn shapes and the limited choice of media," Kaimal explained. "They might also have felt some frustration that they could not complete the image in the short time."

Again, however, these results regarding artists versus non-artists proved statistically insignificant, which might actually track with Kaimal's previous research that found experience-level did not have a bearing on the stress-reduction benefits people had while making art.

Overall, though, the finding that any form of art-making resulted in the significant activation of feelings of reward are compelling, especially for art therapists who see art as a valuable tool for mental health.

In fact, in surveys administered to the participants after the activities were complete, respondents indicated that they felt more like they had "good ideas" and could "solve problems" than before the activities. Participants even said they felt the three-minute time spans for art-making weren't long enough.

"There are several implications of this study's findings," Kaimal said. "They indicate an inherent potential for evoking positive emotions through art-making -- and doodling especially. Doodling is something we all have experience with and might re-imagine as a democratizing, skill independent, judgment-free pleasurable activity."

Additionally, Kaimal felt that the findings of increased self-opinion were intriguing.

"There might be inherent aspects to visual self-expression that evoke both pleasure and a sense of creative agency in ourselves," she said.

Girija Kaimal, Hasan Ayaz, Joanna Herres, Rebekka Dieterich-Hartwell, Bindal Makwana, Donna H. Kaiser, Jennifer A. Nasser. Functional near-infrared spectroscopy assessment of reward perception based on visual self-expression: Coloring, doodling, and free drawing. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 2017; 55: 85 DOI: 10.1016/j.aip.2017.05.004

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.