Inbox and Environment News: Issue 357

April 29 - May 5, 2018: Issue 357

Mona Vale Beach Clean Up

Sunday, April 29 at 10 AM - 12:30 PM
At Mona Vale Beach

Come and join us for our first clean up in Mona Vale. We'll meet at the area between toilet block and cafe as it’s in the middle of area to target. Some can head north through the basin and others south around cafe/ clubhouse and lawn area or down onto main beach. 

We have gloves, bags and buckets. We'll clean up this area to try and catch all the litter before it enters the ocean. We're trying to remove as much plastic, cigarette butts and rubbish as possible. 

We're a friendly group of people and everyone is welcome to this family friendly event. It's a nice community - make some new friends and do a good deed for the planet at the same time. 
Message us here if you are lost.

World Environment Day 2018 - Beat Plastic Pollution: If You Can’t Reuse It, Refuse It

Beat Plastic Pollution”, the theme for World Environment Day 2018, is a call to action for all of us to come together to combat one of the great environmental challenges of our time. Chosen by this year’s host, India, the theme of World Environment Day 2018 invites us all to consider how we can make changes in our everyday lives to reduce the heavy burden of plastic pollution on our natural places, our wildlife – and our own health.

While plastic has many valuable uses, we have become over reliant on single-use or disposable plastic – with severe environmental consequences. Around the world, 1 million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute. 500 billion disposable plastic bags are used worldwide every year. In total, 50 per cent of the plastic we use is single use.

Nearly one third of the plastic packaging we use escapes collection systems, which means that it ends up clogging our city streets and polluting our natural environment. Every year, up to 13 million tons of plastic leak into our oceans, where it smothers coral reefs and threatens vulnerable marine wildlife. The plastic that ends up in the oceans can circle the Earth four times in a single year, and it can persist for up to 1,000 years before it fully disintegrates.

Plastic also makes its way into our water supply – and thus into our bodies. What harm does that cause? Scientists still aren’t sure, but plastics contain a number of chemicals, many of which are toxic or disrupt hormones. Plastics can also serve as a magnet for other pollutants, including dioxins, metals and pesticides.

If you can’t reuse it, refuse it
This year’s World Environment Day provides an opportunity for each of us to embrace the many ways that we can help to combat plastic pollution around the world. And you don’t have to wait until 5 June to act.

There are so many things that we can do – from asking the restaurants you frequent to stop using plastic straws, to bringing your own coffee mug to work, to pressuring your local authorities to improve how they manage your city’s waste. Here are some other specific ideas:
  • Bring your own shopping bags to the supermarket
  • Pressure food suppliers to use non-plastic packagin
  • Refuse plastic cutlery
  • Pick up any plastic you see the next time you go for a walk on the beach
What else can we do to tackle this problem? Share your ideas on social media using the hashtag #BeatPlasticPollution.

Fracking Moratorium Lifted - Strict Laws To Be In Place Before Exploration Or Production Can Occur 

17 April 2018: Media release - Michael Gunner, Chief Minister of the Northern Territory

Chief Minister Michael Gunner today announced the Northern Territory Government had accepted all 135 recommendations of the independent fracking inquiry.

Mr Gunner said implementation of the recommendations of the Final Report of the Inquiry would now begin so that Territorians could benefit from the creation of new jobs while protecting our unique natural environment for generations to come.

“We promised to be a Government that restores trust, listens to the community and creates jobs,” Mr Gunner said.

“We promised an independent, scientific inquiry after which we would either ban fracking or allow it in highly regulated circumstances in tightly prescribed areas.

“We have kept our promise.

“We have accepted the key finding of the report – that if all the recommendations are implemented the risk from fracking can be reduced to an acceptable level.

“We have also accepted the Inquiry’s advice about no go zones and coupled with areas where there is no petroleum potential, 49% of the Territory will be frack free, including in National Parks, Conservation Areas, Indigenous Protected Areas, towns, residential and strategic assets, and areas of high cultural, environmental or tourism value.

“In the remainder of the Territory, strict new laws and regulations will be put in place to ensure that when fracking takes place, we protect the environment, the cultures and lifestyles that rely on it, and the many tourism, pastoral and agricultural jobs that depend on it.

Some of the key elements of these new laws and regulations include:
  • Ensuring all Environmental Management Plans for fracking must be assessed by the EPA and signed off by the Minister for the Environment;
  • Strict new requirements that must be met before exploration approval is granted including codes of practice for well integrity and well decommissioning, development of wastewater management frameworks, the requirement for gas companies to obtain a water license;
  • Strict new requirements that must be met before production can take place including the development of robust and transparent monitoring strategies, discussions with industry and pastoralists regarding land access requirements and compensation, and release of all environmental management plans for public comment;
  • Broad standing to seek judicial and merits review of statutory decisions;
  • Broad new powers to sanction non-compliance, civil enforcement proceedings and increased criminal penalties for environmental harm.
An independent officer will be appointed to oversight the implementation of all 135 recommendations.

“We understand that many Territorians are concerned about increased greenhouse gas emissions from fracking and as recommended by the inquiry, I have written to the Prime Minister and the Federal Leader of the Opposition seeking their agreement to partner with us in offsetting all additional emissions,” Mr Gunner said

“In addition, this Government will soon be seeking comment on draft Climate Change and Environmental Offset policies which we want to finalise before the end of the 2018.”

“These reforms will require significant additional resources and we have approved $5.33 million over three years to implement the 135 recommendations. This will ensure that our unique environment is protected while much needed new jobs are created – particularly in remote and regional parts of the Territory.

“In line with the recommendations of the report, the Government will be ensuring industry pays its fair share through an appropriate cost recovery model.

“I understand that many Territorians feel passionately about fracking and were hoping for a different announcement today.

“I want to assure all Territorians that we will faithfully implement all the recommendations of the report and I encourage those who are passionate about protecting our precious natural environment to stay engaged through this process of reform,” Mr Gunner said.

Work on a detailed implementation plan for the 135 recommendations of the Final Report will begin immediately and be completed and released to the public in July this year.

As part of the ongoing implementation a community and industry reference group will be created to ensure Territorians continue to have a formal voice in the process.

Further information on the Government’s response to the Final Report of the Inquiry and fact sheets can be found at

Remarks Upon Delivery Of Final Report
Honourable Justice Rachel Pepper:

Moments ago, the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory handed its Final Report (Final Report) to the Government and released it to the public, thereby fulfilling its Terms of Reference.

The Final Report is the culmination of over 15 months of work by the Inquiry, during which time the Panel:
  • met 12 times;
  • held 52 community forums - including 37 in regional and remote areas, and 15 in urban centres;
  • conducted 151 public hearings;
  • published 31 Community Updates;
  • received 1257 submissions; and
  • published four reports.
The Final Report makes no recommendation as to the retaining or lifting of the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing currently in place in the Northern Territory. As I have reiterated throughout this Inquiry, that is a matter for the Government.

Rather, what the Final Report does is make recommendations to mitigate to acceptable levels the identified risks associated with any onshore shale gas development in the Northern Territory, if the Government lifts the moratorium.

These risks have been analysed having regard to the best and most current available relevant scientific evidence. This has included theevidence received from stakeholders and the public during the Inquiry’s extensive consultation process.

These risks have been analysed having regard to the best and most current available relevant scientific evidence. This has included the evidence received from stakeholders and the public during the Inquiry’s extensive consultation process.

Where it has been determined that insufficient data exists to analyse those identified risks, the Panel has had no hesitation in making this finding and in recommending that the information be obtained.

The overall conclusion of the Panel may be summarised as follows. That risk is inherent in all development and that any onshore shale gas industry is no exception. However, if the recommendations made in this Final Report – all 135 of them - are adopted and implemented in full, those risks may be mitigated or reduced – and in some cases eliminated altogether – to acceptable levelshaving regard to the totality of the evidence before the Panel.

Hydraulic fracture stimulation: moratorium and public inquiry
On 14 September 2016 the Northern Territory (NT) Government announced a moratorium and independent scientific inquiry into hydraulic fracture stimulation in the NT.

The moratorium is in effect as of this date and the Minister will not approve applications for hydraulic fracture stimulation of unconventional gas until the government has thoroughly considered the recommendations from the independent scientific inquiry.

Betrayed By NT Gunner Government's Fracking Decision

April 17, 2018: Media release - NT Seed Mob Org.
The Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network has slammed NorthernTerritory Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s decision to allow fracking companies to frack over half of the NT, destroying land, water and our climate.

Seed National Director Amelia Telford said “Territorians will not stand down until the NT government bans dangerous gas fracking for good.

“The Gunner Government has betrayed the people of the Northern Territory and Aboriginal communities by allowing fracking companies to poison our water, land and climate.

“What this decision shows us is that the NT Government are willing to risk the health, climate and culture of Aboriginal communities and Territorians who are the most threatened by fracking. There is not one place in the world where fracking hasn’t ended badly. The Gunner government has made a grossly irresponsible decision today in allowing gas companies to act on plans for polluting fracking gasfields across the NT.

“No regulations can stop the dangerous greenhouse gas pollution that will warm our climate and make the Northern Territory virtually unliveable in decades to come.

“From severe heat waves to rising sea levels the NT is already experiencing the impacts of climate change. This decision will only exacerbate these consequences for the Territory,” said Nicole Hutton, Garawa woman and Seed Campaigns Director.

Michael Gunner chose to listen to the bullies in the gas lobby over the people that elected him.

“We’ve seen over the last three years that fracking has no social license to operate. This government has a responsibility to listen to the people of the NT.

“Over half of the NT will be fracked, yet we know that any amount of fracking is too risky and today the Gunner Government has thrown the Territory under the bus.

“Despite today’s disappointing announcement, communities across the NT will continue to fight dangerous fracking to protect country, culture and water.” concluded Ms Hutton

Nominations Open For 2018 NSW Green Globe Awards

Sustainability leaders and innovators can now be nominated for the 19th annual Green Globe Awards, Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton announced today (April 17, 2018).

Ms Upton said the environmental awards honour people and projects across all sectors in NSW, with past winners setting the standard for a sustainable and clean NSW.

“The Green Globe Awards are a fantastic way to showcase the sustainability leaders who are inspiring environmental action and making a real difference in our communities,” Ms Upton said.

“I really encourage everyone to nominate leading sustainability initiatives out there – whether you’re a tiny social enterprise or a large organisation and everyone in between.”

The Green Globe Awards invite a diverse range of entries for 10 categories of awards, including business and community leadership, resource efficiency, Young Sustainability Champion and the ‘Best of the Best’ Premier’s Award for Environmental Excellence.

“You can nominate yourself or others working in sustainability in any sector – from fashion to food, built environment to biodiversity,” Ms Upton said.

“Last year we saw amazing finalists from micro-breweries to floating solar farms, from sustainable food education initiatives to seaweed research.”

Luke Menzel, Lead Chair of the Green Globe Awards judging panel, said that judges are impressed every year by the high standard of applications.

"The energy and enthusiasm we see in Green Globe Award candidates is always inspiring, and we're looking forward to another great showing in 2018," Mr Menzel said.

The Awards will be judged by a panel of independent experts and presented at a gala awards night on 4 October 2018.

Nominations are now open until 5pm on 8 June 2018. For more information and to nominate visit Green Globe Awards.

Even Familiar Birds At Risk Of Extinction, New Study Finds: 2018 State Of The World's Birds Report

April 23, 2018: By Margaret Sessa - BirdLife International
The 2018 State of the World’s Birds report, which provides a comprehensive look at the health of bird populations globally, has found that the extinction crisis has spread so far that even some well-known species are now in danger.

This is the chief conclusion of State of the World’s Birds 2018, a new report from BirdLife International which looks at the health of bird populations worldwide. Instantly recognisable and beloved bird species including Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus, Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica, and European Turtle-dove Streptopelia turtur are all now globally threatened with extinction.

The report, which was five years in the making, is BirdLife International’s flagship science publication. The major global assessment uses the health of bird populations to “take the pulse of the planet”. Unfortunately, the global picture painted in the report is a dire one for many birds around the world. Overall, it shows that 40 percent of the world’s 11,000 bird species are in decline, and one in eight bird species is threatened with global extinction.

These statistics aren’t just bad news for birds, they are also warnings for the planet as a whole. The health of bird species is a good measure of the state of ecosystems in general. Because birds are so widespread, being found in nearly every type of ecosystem, and one of the most studied groups of animals, they are excellent indicators of the state of the environment.

“The data are unequivocal. We are undergoing a steady and continuing deterioration in the status of the world’s birds,” said Tris Allinson, BirdLife’s Senior Global Science Officer, and Editor-In-Chief of the report. “The threats driving the avian extinction crisis are many and varied, but invariably of humanity’s making.”

One of the greatest of those threats, according to the report, is agriculture. The expansion of agriculture, as well as its intensification, impacts 1,091 (74 percent) of globally threatened birds. One example of how agriculture is negatively impacting birds can be found in the neurotoxic insecticides known as neonicotinoids or ‘neonics’. A recent study from the USA found that migrating White-crowned Sparrows Zonotrichia leucophrys exposed to neonicotinoids lost a quarter of their body mass and fat stores. The neurotoxin also impaired the birds’ ability to navigate while migrating.

In addition to these worrying trends, though, the report also contains numerous findings that encourage hope. It finds that at least 25 bird species would have gone extinct in recent decades were it not for conservation interventions. Birds that were once Critically Endangered but have now been downlisted to Endangered include Red-billed Curassow Crax blumenbachii (Brazil), Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri (Mauritius), and Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor.

 “Although the report provides a sobering update on the state of birds and biodiversity, and of the challenges ahead, it also clearly demonstrates that solutions do exist and that significant, lasting success can be achieved” said Patricia Zurita, BirdLife’s CEO.

In order to help ensure this success, the report outlines actions and changes that need to occur for birds and biodiversity to be better conserved. This includes restoration of habitats key to birds, eradicating and controlling invasive species, and targeting the most vulnerable bird species in order to protect them. To read more about how these changes could be enacted as well as how birds are doing globally, read the complete State of the World’s Birds 2018 reporthere (PDF: 8.97MB).

Interactive Map: Explore The World’s Most Threatened Bird Paradises

April 20, 2018: By Margaret Sessa - BirdLife International
The latest data gathered by the BirdLife Partnership reveals that over 240 areas globally important for the conservation of birds are in imminent danger of being lost forever. Explore some of the most imperiled sites, and discover the threats they face, with our updated IBAs in Danger Story Map.

Christmas Island, Australia, which is an IBA in Danger - Photo; Sea Cliffs, Christmas Island, credit Inger Vandyke

It might be impossible to save every field and forest on the planet, but by identifying the places that are of great significance to the conservation of the world’s threatened birds, we might be able to save enough to secure the future of all the world’s 10,000+ extant bird species.

That’s the thought process behind BirdLife’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) programme, which since the 1970s has strived to identify and document the world’s most vital sites for birds. Today, the list of IBAs stands at over 13,000  - over both land and sea.  If we protect these sites, we can secure the long-term viability of all the world’s birds. Since its inception the IBA inventory has helped to determine national priorities, and inform the designation of hundreds of sites. But unfortunately, many are in grave danger.

An IBA is considered to be in danger when it is determined that, unless something is done to preserve it, it will soon be lost. Since 2013, BirdLife has published a list of IBAs in Danger based on information gathered from BirdLife Partners through Local Conservation Groups, volunteers and experts. The most recent update finds that 241 IBAs are in imminent danger of being wiped out.

By far the biggest danger to IBAs is dams and water management. Nearly one fifth of all IBAs in danger – 47 – are affected by dam building or other water management works. Agriculture development also remains a big danger, threatening 39 IBAs, while irresponsible hunting and trapping affected 23.

When it comes to countering threats and protecting IBAs, BirdLife has seen some noted successes recently. In March, we announced that Lake Natron, world famous as a breeding ground for Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor, now looks to be safe after the Government of Tanzania declared it would abandon plans to open a soda ash mine at the site.

Sticking with the flamingo theme, Mar Chiquita in Argentina, although still under pressure from a number of threats, is on its way to becoming a new National Park due to the perseverance of Aves Argentinas (BirdLife Partner in Argentina). And BirdLife Australia, using the power of its members and other interested people, has been campaigning hard to save several of their most endangered IBAs, including Christmas Island, threatened by mining, and Moreton Bay, which is under pressure by coastal development.

Unfortunately, giving an area protected status doesn’t always guarantee its safety. Of the 241 IBAs in Danger more than half -- 137 -- are at least partly covered by protected areas, including 59 Ramsar Sites (wetlands of international importance). This is why it is vital that we continue to monitor their status. While some of the sites on the IBAs in Danger list,, such as Doñana in Spain, the Everglades in the United States and Sierra de Bahoruco in the Dominican Republic are the veterans of IBAs in Danger having been on the list since its inception (and have been threatened for much longer), others are relapsing, coming back to the list after some years of relatively hassle-free life. One of these is Tana river delta in Kenya, whose status was improved after years of intensive efforts by Nature Kenya (BirdLife Partner in Kenya), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, BirdLife in the UK) and others. However, it now finds itself re-listed again after the announcement of the Kenyan government to dedicate large parts of it to agricultural production.

You can find the full list of IBAs in Danger and what BirdLife is doing to try to preserve them on the BirdLife Data Zone as well as an interactive map with case studies on the IBAs in Danger Story Map.

Community Group Gets Say In Court Review Of Gloucester Coal Mine

Monday 23 April 2018 - EDO NSW
The Land and Environment Court has agreed to our client, community group Groundswell Gloucester, participating in legal proceedings which will determine the fate of the Rocky Hill Coal project, a greenfield open cut coal mine at Gloucester.

During a full-day hearing on Friday last week, Gloucester Resources Limited strongly opposed Groundswell Gloucester’s application to join the case, arguing the Court should not hear from climate science and social impact experts in considering whether to approve the mine.

“The Environmental Defenders Office is pleased that our client has the opportunity to raise the critical issues of climate change and the social impact of this mine in the Court”, said EDO NSW CEO David Morris.

“Our client is allowed in to Court, and they are allowed to bring in climate science experts to present evidence on the mine’s contribution to climate change; they are also allowed to present expert evidence of the mine’s detrimental impacts of dust and noise on the community, as well as how it will fracture the social fabric of Gloucester”.

“Our client Groundswell Gloucester has been fighting this mine proposal for 12 years. This appeal in which they will now play a key role, is the next step in this long journey..”

The mining company appealed to the Court after the NSW Planning Assessment Commission in December 2017 found the mine was not in the public interest because of its proximity to the town of Gloucester, significant visual impact and because it directly contravened the area’s zoning plans.

Jenolan Caves To Receive $8.5 Million Facelift

April 24, 2018: Media release - NSW Office of Environment and Heritage
Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW, Small Business and Skills John Barilaro, and the Member for Bathurst Paul Toole today toured Jenolan Caves to announce $8.5 million in funding to give the ancient cave system and tourism hot spot a modern facelift.

Mr Barilaro said the funding from the NSW Government’s Regional Growth – Environment and Tourism Fund would give tourists an even more spectacular view of the caves and the incredible surrounding scenery. 

“A trip to Jenolan Caves is simply mesmerising,” Mr Barilaro said.  

“For people young and old across Australia a lesson on stalactites and stalagmites is not complete without a visit to Jenolan Caves.

“It’s easy to see why Jenolan Caves captures the hearts and attention of so many people, and we want to make sure visitors continue to flock to this incredible spot.

“That’s why we are funding the long overdue renovation of Jenolan Caves which will not only improve the grand entrance to the caves, but will also build and upgrade nearby walking tracks to give tourists unique access to the amazing landscape, lake and wildlife that surrounds the ancient caves system.  

“Jenolan Caves is often the first stop for tourists travelling west over the Blue Mountains into regional NSW, and today’s announcement will guarantee we capture the attention of visitors with a much needed facelift of this world class tourist destination,” he said.     

The funding will go towards three key projects - upgrading the Blue Lake area, construction of the Binoomea Track and Inspiration Point lookout, and the Jenolan Caves Gateway Centre - and will create economic benefits by delivering additional jobs in the regional location.

The projects are expected to generate at least an extra 40 jobs in the region during the construction phase, and an extra 50 jobs in the local community well into the future.

Minister for the Environment, Local Government and Heritage Gabrielle Upton said with the construction of the new facilities and walking tracks, there will be more activities for visitors to experience and enjoy outside of a tour of the caves, encouraging more overnight visitors to the Blue Mountains and Central West region. 

“Every year Jenolan Caves attracts over 230,000 visitors and once the new facilities are complete, it’s estimated there will be an increase of 160,000 day visitors to the Caves each year,” Ms Upton said. 

“Once delivered, the new visitor facilities will include upgraded walking tracks, boardwalks and observation platforms to the Blue Lake area allowing visitors to get up close to the lake for platypus viewing, environmental education and recreation purposes.

“This is a truly fantastic announcement for one of NSW’s most precious tourism jewels,” she said. 

Member for Bathurst Paul Toole said the renovations will entice more tourists out of Sydney, over the mountains and into the Central West. 

“The renovations announced today will not only transform the visitor experience at Jenolan Caves but turn Jenolan Caves and the surrounding towns into a gateway for tourists travelling to the Central West,” Mr Toole said. 

“These vital upgrades will mean close to 400,000 people will be able to visit the caves every year. 

“That is a lot of people spending money eating in local cafes and restaurants, shopping at local businesses and staying overnight in local accommodation. 

“This is another example of the NSW Liberals and Nationals Government investing in regional NSW and growing our local economies,” he said.     

Director of Jenolan Caves Jodie Anderson said the $8.5 million investment in Jenolan Caves, which sits within a state, national and world heritage listed reserve, will provide new and revitalised experiences for tourists and immerse visitors in the magic of the natural and cultural wonderland of the unique natural landscape.

“The funding will not only increase both international and domestic tourism to this area by an estimated 160,000 visitors per year, but also increase overnight stays by an estimated 14,000 visitor nights,” Mrs Anderson said.

“Additional benefits will include strengthening the tourist pathway to country NSW, increasing regional employment opportunities and economic growth, and providing additional environmental education and health and fitness opportunities in the region.”

Construction is expected to begin by December 2018, with works completed by December 2021.

Call To Southern Highlands And Tablelands Landholders To Help Save The Glossy Black-Cockatoo

24 April 2018: Media relesae - NSW Office of Environment and Heritage
Local landholders and community members from Bullio, Mandemar, Canyonleigh, Paddys River, Wingello, Penrose, Marulan and Bungonia areas are invited to join an information session about the new Glossies in the Mist project, which aims to save the Glossy Black-Cockatoo in The Great Western Wildlife Corridor.

The information sessions, hosted by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), will feature interesting talks from Glossy Black-Cockatoo experts Matt Cameron (OEH) and Karleah Berris (the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources) as well as talks from local Southern Highlands project partners about the aims of the project and how local landholders can get involved.

The three information sessions are/were to be held

Friday 27 April: Wingello Mechanics Institute Hall, 3–5pm
Saturday 28 April: Canyonleigh Community Hall, 10am–12noon
Saturday 28 April: Mandamar RFS shed, 3–5pm

Simon Tedder, Community Engagement Officer at OEH said we are calling on local landholders who reside in the Great Western Wildlife Corridor, which traverses Bullio to Bungonia to be involved in the project.

“We need local community support for this project which aims to save these magnificent birds which have sadly experienced local decline due to habitat loss. Glossies are now listed as vulnerable in NSW and as endangered by the Australian Government,” said Mr Tedder.

“Glossy Black-Cockatoos require corridors of native vegetation with tree hollows for nesting and feeding habitat to move across the broader landscape.

“The Great Western Wildlife Corridor is an important landscape connection for the Glossy Black-Cockatoo and the only vegetated habitat between the Southern Blue Mountains and Morton National Park.

“We are looking for local landholders to learn more about the species and get involved in the program by reporting Glossy Black-Cockatoo sightings, mapping nesting hollows, identifying key feeding trees and planting she-oak trees on their properties, the birds’ most important food source.  

“So, get on board and attend an information session to learn more about the plans to save this species, and receive free locally-sourced she-oak tubestock, to improve foraging habitat for Glossies on your property,” said Mr Tedder.

The program is funded by the NSW Government’s Saving our Species program and Wingecarribee Shire Council’s Environment Levy. The NSW Government is investing $100 million over five years in the Saving our Species program, with the aim of securing as many threatened species as possible in the wild for the next 100 years.

Find out how you can contribute to the Glossies in the Mist project by heading to Glossies in the Mist.

Third Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit

21 April 2018: Media release - The Hon. Josh Frydenberg MP, Minister for the Environment and Energy
Tomorrow, I will travel to Yogyakarta, Indonesia, to represent Australia at the third Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit.

The Summit is part of the Australian Government-initiated Asia-Pacific Rainforest Partnership which establishes a dialogue between leaders in government, research, community and the private sector to progress action against deforestation and forest degradation in South-East Asia and the Pacific Islands.

The Paris Climate Change Agreement highlights the importance of forests in combating climate change, with many countries in our region making commitments to decrease deforestation and forest degradation.

Building on the success of the first Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit, held in 2014 in Sydney, and second, held in 2016 in Brunei, the Summit will provide a platform for collaboration and focus on helping countries in the region achieve their Paris Agreement commitments.

As part of the Summit, I will deliver a keynote address that highlights the action Australia is taking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Consistent with the Summit’s theme, Protecting Forests and People - Supporting Economic Growth, Australia has set its goal not only to meet our international commitments to reduce emissions, but also to do so while ensuring our international competitiveness, jobs growth and energy security and affordability are maintained.

At the Summit, I will also meet with representatives from government, research, community and the private sector to discuss and promote action on the sustainable management of forests.

Rainforest conservation is a critical and practical step that we can take to improve environmental resilience and mitigate the effects of climate change. At the global level, we know that tropical forests store 25 per cent of world’s carbon and the Asia-Pacific region has some of the most significant tracts of rainforest in the world.

About one billion tonnes of CO2 is released each year in our region as a result of deforestation and land degradation, contributing to an estimated 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is nearly double the amount of emissions Australia produces annually from every sector of the economy combined.

Australia has worked in close partnership with Indonesia to organise this year’s Summit and our relationship has strengthened as a result. I look forward to working with all our Asia-Pacific neighbours at the Summit to protect our region’s rainforests and lower global carbon emissions.

Further information is available at: 

More Than 1,200 Participants From Asia-Pacific Share Their Commitment To Preserving Rainforests For Climate

Yogyakarta (Indonesia), April 23, 2018: Media release - Center for International Forestry Research
More than 1,200 participants from over 40 countries across Asia-Pacific are meeting this week in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, to foster cooperation and share best practices to avoid deforestation and promote sustainable growth. At the 3rd Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit (APRS 2018), representatives of academia, civil society, companies, governments and research institutions are discussing the role of forests in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and other commitments made by each country under the Paris Agreement in 2015.

The Indonesian Government, with the support of the Australian Government and in partnership with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), is hosting this event.The opening sessions included the participation of ministers and other high-level speakers.

“More than 450 million lives depend on the sustainable management of forests,” reminded Indonesia’s Minister of Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya Bakar. “Last year Indonesia took major measures to promote social forestry, setting a target to allocate 12.7 million hectares of land to social forestry by 2019.” 

She also highlighted the progress the country has made in fighting deforestation and future commitments. “In the last three years, we have managed to reduce the deforestation rate from 1.09 million hectares to 0.61 million hectares. We have a projected target of 0.45 by 2020 and 0.35 by 2030.”

Australia’s Minister for the Environment and Energy, Josh Frydenberg, celebrated the progress made in reducing emissions from forests and emphasized the importance of regional collaboration. 

“With the collected and concerted efforts in our own countries and through our international partnerships, we are making progress. The hard work we have done together is starting to bear fruit,” Frydenberg said. “We need to maintain this momentum and step up the pace of change if we are going to protect our forests and people, while securing economic growth,” he remarked.

Regional best practices on rainforests and climate
APRS is a key regional event held every two years. Its goal is to generate practical action on forest conservation and to help achieve sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific region.

In this edition, APRS is showcasing national experiences and best practices in the areas of Community forestry; Ecotourism and conservation of biodiversity; Forest finance, investment and trade; Forests in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs); Mangroves and blue carbon; Production forests; and Restoration and sustainable management of peatlands.

In addition to the sessions on stage, government officials from countries across the region held a multilateral meeting and multiple bilateral meetings to discuss the ways in which they can cooperate.

The first day of the Summit was also broadcast online and followed by more 100 online participants.

Opening session of the 3rd Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on April 23, 2018. From left to right: Vegard Kaale, Ambassador of Norway to Indonesia; Amy Khor Lean Suan, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources of Singapore; Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Ali Bin Ali Apong, Minister of Primary Resources and Tourism of Brunei; Josh Frydenberg, Minister for the Environment and Energy of Australia; Siti Nurbaya Bakar, Minister of Environment and Forestry of Indonesia; KGPAA Paku Alam X, Prince of Pakualaman and Vice-Governor of Yogyakarta; Osea Naiqamu, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forests of Fiji; Ricardo L. Calderon, Assistant Secretary for Staff Bureaus of the Phillipines; and Robert Nasi, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). (Photo: Ulet Ifansasti for CIFOR)

International Recognition For Victorian Wetlands

23 April 2018: Joint media release - The Hon. Josh Frydenberg MP, Minister for the Environment and Energy and The Hon. Lisa Neville MLA, Victorian Minister for Water

Glenelg Estuary and Discovery Bay has become Australia’s 66th Wetland of International Importance under the internationally recognised Ramsar Convention, ensuring greater protection of the unique area now and into the future.

Located in Victoria near the border of South Australia and stretching more than 22,000 hectares, the Ramsar site comprises the western part of Lower Glenelg National Park, most of the Discovery Bay Coastal Park and the Nelson Streamside Reserve.

The area is known for its rare peatlands and dunes which support a hugely diverse range of waterbirds, fish and plants – a number of them threatened species. Listing the site under the Ramsar Convention means it will be managed to the highest possible standard, mitigating threats to its ecological character, such as invasive plants and animals.

Glenelg Estuary and Discovery Bay is Australia’s first listing since 2013.

“I acknowledge the efforts of the community, traditional owners and governments who have been involved over many years to help us deliver this wonderful outcome,” Minister Frydenberg said.

“The internationally recognised listing will not only help protect the natural and cultural heritage of the area, but also potentially provide a boost for tourism, including sightseeing, walking, camping and recreational fishing.

“Australia was one of the first countries to sign the Ramsar Convention – and the Northern Territory’s Cobourg Peninsula became the world’s first Wetland of International Importance in 1974.

“Today, 66 Australian wetlands are listed under the Convention, covering approximately 8.1 million hectares – an area greater than Tasmania.”

“This listing of this important site is great news for Victoria and will mean that this wonderful sanctuary will be internationally recognised and protected for future generations,” Minister Neville said.

“We’re focused on improving the health of this magnificent wetland and its local wildlife and protecting our waterways and catchments.”

Glenelg Estuary and Discovery Bay provides a home for 95 waterbird species, 24 of which are listed under international migratory bird agreements, including the endangered eastern curlew and curlew sandpiper.

The Glenelg Estuary also supports at least 14 species of fish that migrate between habitats for parts of their lifecycle, including mulloway which recent tagging activity indicated may have migrated up to 400 kilometres from the Estuary to the Murray Mouth to spawn.

The site has great cultural significant to the Gundjitmara Indigenous people who have a living association with this landscape, part of their Koonang (sea) and Bocara Wooroowarook (river forest country).

The Victorian Government has committed $215,000 over the next three years to help manage the Ramsar site.

Glenelg Estuary And Discovery Bay Ecological, Cultural And Recreational Significance

Published on 22 April 2018 by Glenelg Hopkins CMA (Catchment Management Authority)
So why is this area so special? A brief insight into the outstanding importance of birds, animals and plants of this dynamic coastal area.

NSW Government Assessment Of The Narrabri Gas Project Proposal Update

23.04.2018: Departmental Media Release
The Department of Planning and Environment has received Santos’ formal Response to Submissions (RtS) for the Narrabri Gas Project, shifting the proposal into the next phase of NSW Government assessment.
The Department’s Director of Resource and Energy Assessments, Mike Young, said the public can access Santos’ RtS on the Department’s website.
“The Department placed the Narrabri Gas Project Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on an extended 90-day public exhibition in February 2017 and invited the community to share its views,” Mr Young said.
“We received more than 23,000 public submissions – which is the most submissions of any project the Department has ever assessed – and then asked Santos to consider the public feedback and reply with a formal response.
“Santos’ RtS will now be thoroughly and carefully considered, alongside the EIS and all submissions from the public, government agencies and community groups.”
Mr Young added that the Department assesses all applications on their merits under planning legislation and clear NSW Government policies and guidelines.
“Community consultation is an integral and important part of the planning assessment process,” Mr Young said. “We have consulted broadly on this application from the beginning, including holding public information sessions in the local area during the exhibition period, and establishing an independent water expert panel.”
The Narrabri Gas Project proposal involves a coal seam gas field with up to 850 new gas wells to be developed progressively over 20 years, and gas processing and water treatment facilities.
Under NSW planning laws, any major project that receives more than 25 objecting submissions will be determined by the Independent Planning Commission. The Department will make its assessment information publicly available when finalised.

North West NSW Residents: Santos Response To EIS Submissions Weak, Inadequate

April 23, 2018: Media release - Lock the Gate
The Santos Response to Submissions for the Narrabri coal seam gasfield EIS fails to address the many problems that experts and community groups have raised, leaving major data gaps that increase environmental risks.

The report provides a detailed breakdown of the submissions, confirming that over 23,000 people made submissions, with 98% of submitters objecting to the project and only 1% supporting it.

Coonabarabran resident Jane Judd said, “This response from Santos is woefully inadequate, especially when it comes to water.

“They have point blank refused to conduct the extra baseline data collection on groundwater dependent ecosystems recommended by the Independent Expert Scientific Committee.

“What is the point of having an expert water group to review gas mining proposals if Santos is free to just ignore them? It’s just not good enough.

Rohan Boehm from Narrabri said, “Despite extensive submissions from the community calling for Santos to reveal exactly where they planned to place their gas wells, they have not done so.

“The community still has no way of knowing where the 850 gas wells and associated roads, pipelines, compressor stations and other infrastructure will be located – Santos are basically asking the government to give them a blank cheque.

“It’s clear from the overwhelming number of submissions objecting to this project, including two thirds of submitters from the Narrabri region, that this project should never be approved” he said.

Local ecologist David Paull said, “Santos have refused to conduct any further research on the Koala population in the project area, despite admitting that it is in severe decline.

“The Office of Environment and Heritage had acknowledged concerns about the Koala and referred to the usefulness of an additional expert report to assess potential impacts, but Santos didn’t deliver.

“The Narrabri Gas Project will do extensive damage to the Pilliga Forest, the largest temperate woodland left in eastern Australia, as well as clearing endangered ecosystems and putting unique threatened species like the Pilliga Mouse at risk” he said.

UNEP-WCMC 2020 Biodiversity Strategic Planning Timeline Tool Launched

April 25, 2018: United Nations
UNEP-WCMC and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity have launched the 2020 Biodiversity Strategic Planning Timeline tool – an interactive timeline of initiatives and milestones leading up to the development of a post-2020 strategy for biodiversity.

2020 will be a critical year for biodiversity. The current Strategic Plan and UN Decade on Biodiversity 2011-2020 will come to an end, and a new strategy is anticipated to be agreed at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 15th Conference of the Parties in Beijing.  

In the lead-up to this meeting, a huge number of events, meetings and initiatives are emerging that will inform and drive the development of a new strategy for biodiversity.

The 2020 Biodiversity Strategic Planning Timeline tool will provide an online, chronological reference of these events and their outputs. Users can filter events and meetings by organiser, category or the relation to the core post-2020 process of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

By helping the international biodiversity community to navigate the complex array of meetings and other events and outputs, the timeline tool will allow efforts to be more coordinated and coherent, reduce duplication of effort, and support the best possible planning process towards a post-2020 biodiversity strategy.

Neville Ash, Director, UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre said: “Whether at the national, regional, or international level, the 2020 Biodiversity Strategic Planning Timeline will be an extremely useful resource for anyone involved and contributing to the development of the post-2020 strategy for biodiversity.”

Planning Management For Ecosystem Services – An Operations Manual

Report: Released April 24, 2018: UNEP-WCMC 
On behalf of ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development) UNEP-WCMC produced an Operations Manual to support planning to provide multiple ecosystem services for local people and wider society. 

It presents six steps, and supporting information, for working at individual sites and wider landscapes. Central to its approach is a practical methiod for understanding and working with the environment as an ecosystem. This is achieved through producing simple and practical descriptions of current and desired ecosystem functioning to supply ecosystem services. This also helps to analyse and address natural resource management problems, such as reduced water supplies, declining species, or the spread of invasive species, and to identify options to increase ecosystem resilience to climate change. 

The Manual has primarily been designed to support the ecosystem management work of ICIMOD and its partners in the eight countries of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH), but it is of wider relevance across terrestrial environments of the world.

This Manual helps to reduce the gap in understanding, planning and managing the environment for ecosystem goods and services. The Manual also helps site managers to analyse and address natural resource management problems, such as reduced water supplies, declining populations of species, or the spread of invasive species, and to identify options to increase environmental resilience to climate change.

Following a training session on the Manual, a participant from Himachal Pradesh Forest Department concluded:

I now see the forest as an ecosystem, not just as timber, and can use this in planning management with local communities.

ISBN: 978 92 9115 519 4 (PRINTED) 978 92 9115 520 0 (ELECTRONIC) - Download (PDF: 18.58 MB)

Wetland Nightlife Walk

Hosted by Coastal Environment Centre
Saturday, May 26 at 5:30 PM - 7:30 PM
Our local wetlands are a unique environment supporting a great diversity of native animals. The wetlands are a wonder by night with many of our nocturnal creatures coming out to play. 

Come and join us after dark for an exciting evening looking for some of these nocturnal creatures. This spotlighting activity is suitable for children aged five and over.

BOOKINGS ESSENTIAL - ONLINE or Phone: 1300 000 232

Bushcare in Pittwater 

For further information or to confirm the meeting details for below groups, please contact Council's Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367

Where we work                      Which day                              What time 

Angophora Reserve             3rd Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Dunes                        1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Golf Course              2nd Wednesday                 3 - 5:30pm 
Careel Creek                         4th Saturday                      8:30 - 11:30am 
Toongari Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon (8 - 11am in summer) 
Bangalley Headland            2nd Sunday                         9 to 12noon 

Winnererremy Bay                 4th Sunday                        9 to 12noon 

North Bilgola Beach              3rd Monday                        9 - 12noon 
Algona Reserve                     1st Saturday                       9 - 12noon 
Plateau Park                          1st Friday                            8:30 - 11:30am 

Church Point     
Browns Bay Reserve             1st Tuesday                        9 - 12noon 
McCarrs Creek Reserve       Contact Bushcare Officer     To be confirmed 

Old Wharf Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      8 - 11am 

Kundibah Reserve                   4th Sunday                       8:30 - 11:30am 

Mona Vale     
Mona Vale Beach Basin          1st Saturday                    8 - 11am 
Mona Vale Dunes                     2nd Saturday+3rd Thursday     8:30 - 11:30am 

Bungan Beach                          4th Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
Crescent Reserve                    3rd Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
North Newport Beach              4th Saturday                    8:30 - 11:30am 
Porter Reserve                          2nd Saturday                  8 - 11am 

North Narrabeen     
Irrawong Reserve                     2nd Saturday                   2 - 5pm 

Palm Beach     
North Palm Beach Dunes      3rd Saturday                    9 - 12noon 

Scotland Island     
Catherine Park                          2nd Sunday                     10 - 12:30pm 
Elizabeth Park                           1st Saturday                      9 - 12noon 
Pathilda Reserve                      3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon 

Warriewood Wetlands             1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 

Whale Beach     
Norma Park                               1st Friday                            9 - 12noon 

Western Foreshores     
Coopers Point, Elvina Bay      2nd Sunday                        10 - 1pm 
Rocky Point, Elvina Bay           1st Monday                          9 - 12noon

Glenelg Estuary Listed As 12th Victorian Ramsar Site

Monday, 23 April, 2018: Media release - The Hon. Lisa Neville MLA, Victorian Minister for Water
Glenelg Estuary and Discovery Bay has been approved for listing as the state’s 12th Ramsar site – an international accolade that will ensure this important wetland is protected into the future.

Minister for Water Lisa Neville said the listing was a great accomplishment of local agencies and communities that have invested in the conservation of the site.

Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance listed by Australia under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The listing was confirmed on 29 March, following a nomination submitted to the Commonwealth in November last year.

The area listed stretching more than 22,000 hectares and includes part of the Lower Glenelg National Park, Discovery Bay Coastal Park and the Nelson Streamside Reserve. It is known for its rare dunes that home a variety of threatened species including plants, waterbirds and fish.

The Labor Government has provided around $215,000 to help manage the site over the next three years, through the $222 million Water for Victoria initiative to improve the health of waterways and catchments across regional Victoria.

The site meets five of the required Ramsar criteria by supporting unique wetlands and providing habitat for 95 birds – with 24 species migrating from Russia and China.

The site has three main systems, including the freshwater wetlands of Long Swamp, Bridgewater Lakes and Swan Lake, the Glenelg Estuary, Oxbow Lake and the dune fields, as well as beach along 50 kilometres of the Discovery Bay Coastal Park.

Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority conducted extensive consultation that included local landholders, government agencies, Nelson Coastcare and Traditional Owners.

Parks Victoria is the land manager and has been very supportive of the proposed Ramsar listing and the international recognition and tourism opportunities it will bring the region.

The Gunditjmara people are one of the primary guardians, keepers and knowledge holders of Aboriginal cultural heritage of the area and supported the nomination by providing information on cultural values.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Water Lisa Neville 
“This listing of this important site is great news for Victoria and will mean this wonderful sanctuary will be internationally recognised and protected for future generations.”

“We’re focused on improving the health of this magnificent wetland and its local wildlife and protecting our waterways and catchments.”

Quote attributable to Member for Western Victoria Gayle Tierney
“This is a great outcome for an iconic waterway that will recognise and protect the site for future generations.”

Great Barrier Reef Coral Predicted To Last At Least 100 Years Before Extinction From Climate Change

April 19, 2018
A common Great Barrier Reef coral species has enough genetic diversity to survive at least 100 years before succumbing to global warming predicts Mikhail Matz of the University of Texas at Austin and colleagues. They report these findings in a new study published April 19th, 2018 in PLOS Genetics.

A warming climate, ocean acidification and destruction of coral habitats have all taken a significant toll on coral populations along the Great Barrier Reef. Previous studies offered hope that corals can adapt to warming conditions but no one knows if they can outpace climate change. Matz and his colleagues developed a model to estimate the ability of the common coral species Acropora millepora to evolve by redistributing existing heat-tolerance genes, taking into account the coral's present-day genetic diversity and how far its larvae migrate before settling down. The model predicts that the coral will become more sensitive to temperature swings, which will cause occasional die-offs, but that coral populations will successfully adapt to temperatures along the Great Barrier Reef and survive at least another century. Whether corals will be able to adapt any further is uncertain and depends on several currently unknown parameters of coral genetics.

Great Barrier Reef coral predicted to last at least 100 years before extinction from climate change. Credit: Mikhail V. Matz and colleagues

This study of a common inhabitant of the Great Barrier Reef is a rare optimistic contribution to our understanding of how a species can adapt to changing climate conditions. The findings show that recent catastrophic coral bleaching events do not necessary signal imminent coral demise and can also inform reef management strategies, suggesting that interventions that help reshuffle coral genetic diversity among reefs will likely increase the coral's odds for survival in the near future.

Mikhail V. Matz, Eric A. Treml, Galina V. Aglyamova, Line K. Bay. Potential and limits for rapid genetic adaptation to warming in a Great Barrier Reef coral. PLOS Genetics, 2018; 14 (4): e1007220 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1007220

Human Impact On Sea Urchin Abundance

April 25, 2018
Sea urchin populations are more sensitive to human activities than previously believed, according to a half-century observational study. Researchers found that changing water temperature and algal blooms strongly affected sea urchin populations and even caused some abnormal development of their larvae. The research is published in the journal Ecological Indicators.

Continuous long-term monitoring is important for detecting ecological changes and understanding their causes. Sea urchins are ecological drivers that can affect the dynamics of whole communities, thanks to their extensive eating of seaweed and large population fluctuations. They are also commonly found in shallow water and therefore subject to human influences, yet few long-term studies focus on their population health.

Between 1963 and 2014, researchers studied the dynamics of three common species of sea urchins in a fixed area off Hatakejima Island, a marine reserve in southern Japan, making this the longest running study of its kind. Each year they conducted a survey of the area, and between 1983 and 2008, six surveys were taken of the entire coast. The three species showed similar overall trends, with large numbers in the 1960s and 1970s, abrupt declines in the late 1970s or early 1980s, and a recovery toward the late 1990s.

The team from several Japanese institutes, found that red tide -- another term for algal bloom -- along with warm winter ocean temperatures, and current are related to the abundance and species richness of these three commonest sea urchins. Each species was affected by different factors, and in one, red tides were linked to abnormal development, providing a rare connection between larval and post-larval ecology of an intertidal animal -- one that is in water at high tide and out of water at low tide -- over a long term.

Professor Tomoyuki Nakano, from Kyoto University said: "Our study is the longest of its kind into sea urchin populations, and demonstrates the importance of monitoring impacts of environmental stressors and addressing the mechanisms of changes in the abundance of not only sea urchins but other marine creatures."

The team conclude that because human impacts will continue to affect marine invertebrates, long-term studies like this one will be invaluable in understanding ecological changes. Combining these observations with experimental approaches will shed light on relationships between environmental factors.
Shun-Ichi Ohgaki, Tetsuya Kato, Naomasa Kobayashi, Hidetomo Tanase, Naoki H. Kumagai, So Ishida, Tomoyuki Nakano, Yoko Wada, Yoichi Yusa. Effects of temperature and red tides on sea urchin abundance and species richness over 45 years in southern Japan. Ecological Indicators, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2018.03.040

Arial view of Hatakejima Island, Wakayama, where the study took place over 50 years. Credit: Kyoto University / Nakano Lab

Deep Water Aquifer Acts Like Natural Bio-Reactor, Allowing Microbes To Consume Carbon

April 24, 2018: Harvard University

Just about all life on Earth -- from the jumbo-jet-sized blue whale to tiny microbes -- use carbon in one form or another.

In the deep ocean, though, all carbon is not created equal.

While some, like sugars and proteins, is quickly gobbled up by the micro-organisms that call the ocean home, some -- the chitin found in fish scales and marine exoskeletons -- is far harder to consume. Scientists have long believed relatively little of that so-called "refractory carbon" is eaten. Much of it simply falls to the ocean floor and helps make up deep-water sediment, although some small refractory molecules stay suspended in the ocean and float along with currents for thousands of years.

But a team of researchers, led by Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Peter Girguis and Suni Shah Walter, then a post-doctoral fellow in Girguis' lab, has shown that underground aquifers along the mid-ocean ridge act like natural biological reactors, pulling in cold, oxygenated seawater, and allowing microbes to break down more -- perhaps much more -- refractory carbon than scientists ever believed. The study is described in an April 23 paper published in Nature Geoscience.

"This has the real prospect of reshaping the way we think about carbon cycling in the deep ocean," Girguis said. "Instead of setting up a tiny reactor here in the lab with maybe ten liters of water and pumping it around to get some result, this is a natural lab.

"At the end of the day our community wants to know what happens to carbon," he continued. "We know it is produced at the surface by photosynthetic algae. We know fish eat some of it. We know some of it sinks. We can account for that, but we have some giant holes in our budget."

While the study begins to close those gaps, it also helps illuminate a part of the deep-ocean carbon cycle that had been a mystery.

"We don't know where all of that old carbon goes, and underground aquifers are part of the answer," Shah Walter added. "The majority of fluids that circulate through the crust might look like this, we just didn't know much about what was going on in them before."

"This work shows that the vast subseafloor community of microbes could be fed by seawater circulating through deep ocean crust," said Michael Sieracki, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences, which funded the research. "In turn, these microbes change the composition of the seawater that then circulates back into the ocean."

At the heart of the system, Girguis said, is the mid-ocean ridge, a massive chain of undersea mountains that circle the globe.

Microbes in a sub-seafloor aquifer feast on carbon in fluids flowing through the permeable rock. Credit: National Science Foundation

A key part in the development of the theory of tectonics, in the deep ocean the ridge system acts like a convection cell -- water seeps into cracks and fissures on either side of the ridge and is heated as it gets closer to the axis, where magma is close to the surface. As that heated water rises, cold, oxygenated seawater is pulled into the rocks, creating a massive undersea aquifer.

For scientists -- like Girguis -- working to understand ocean carbon cycles, the aquifer represents a rare chance to study the ocean under virtually ideal conditions.

"Our understanding of where carbon goes in the ocean is pretty rudimentary," he said. "This gives us an opportunity to go to this natural laboratory and for the first time...take a measurement at point A and a measurement at point B and talk about what happens between them. That's a rare opportunity in the deep sea. There is nowhere in the deep ocean that we can do that in the water column -- it's impossible because it's too well-mixed."

To get those measurements, Girguis and colleagues targeted a site in the mid-Atlantic they dubbed the "North Pond."

In 2011, an international team of researchers drilled a series of wells into the seafloor at the site and collected water samples to identify which microbes call the aquifer home and whether they were capable of consuming carbon.

"We wanted to tap into this and collect pristine water and microbial samples," he said. "When you look at these mid-ocean ridge systems and think about the water that is circulating through them, it looks as though a lot of the ocean is circulating through this cold, oxic environment...we wanted to know what's going on there with the microbes and what's happening with the carbon they get."

"Why do we care?" he continued. "We care about the fate of carbon because the carbon cycle is extremely important, not just for climate change, but for helping us to understand how the oceans work."

But when the team began collecting samples from the aquifer, Shah Walter said, they were in for a surprise.

"When the team pulled the fluids up from the aquifer, they didn't expect it to be as similar to seawater as it was," Shah Walter said. "All the planning was for fluids that looked more like other hydrothermal fluids (which can show high levels of methane and lower levels of oxygen.) They were prepared to measure methane, for example. But at first glance North Pond fluids looked chemically very similar to seawater, so that's when I got pulled in, because my work has focused on the open ocean. So the fact that this was a unique environment, that we could use this natural incubator, that became clear to us after the samples came up."

While Girguis and colleagues were able to show microbes in the aquifer could eat carbon, it remained unclear how active they were.

"With the limited data we have, we have been able to show that water comes in with a certain oxygen concentration, and as it drops, the carbon goes down in direct proportion," he said. "That gives us a high degree of confidence that microbes are eating it and using oxygen."

In fact, Girguis said, it's possible that microbes are eating carbon at an impressive rate.

"The number we found was that about 50 percent of the carbon is consumed, but it's important to realize that number is very conservative," he said. "If you consider how little we know about this begs the question of what happens to this water as it continues to flow through here. It's not hard to imagine that we might eventually find that the majority of the carbon being eaten."

In later tests, Girguis and colleagues showed as water moves through the aquifer over nearly 3,000 years, the easy-to-eat carbon is consumed quickly -- within just a few hundred years. More importantly, they also found signs that refractory carbon was also being eaten.

"What's exciting is that for a long time -- and even today -- there have been debates about how quickly (refractory carbon) can be eaten," Girguis said. "But this natural laboratory has showed us that not only is this being degraded biologically, but the time over which it's being eaten."

Ultimately, Girguis said, the study highlights the way in which understanding the deep ocean can lead to a better overall understanding of the ocean.

"We think that the entire ocean circulates through this mid-ocean ridge system every 100,000 to 200,000 years," Girguis said. "If the entire ocean is circulating through this aquifer, we think this is probably the best representation of a typical microbial-seawater interaction as it moves through that system.

"Until we had these data there was a big gap in our knowledge," he added. "We thought water gets pulled in here, and all the action happens when it gets hot. But we don't think that's true anymore, especially because these microbes are eating this difficult-to-eat carbon."

Going forward, Girguis and colleagues hope to better quantify how much carbon is consumed as seawater moves through the aquifer, and whether the minerals in the basalt rock may contribute to microbe's ability to consume refractory carbon.

Ongoing studies, Shah Walter said, are testing the aquifer in other locations, and to test whether microbes are also consuming particulate matter in the aquifer.

"The majority of fluid that circulates through the crust is cool like this, and so far this is the only place we're looking at, so we definitely need to look in other spots," she said. "But there is also still a hole in our carbon budget. We have an idea that one missing piece of the puzzle is that we weren't looking at the particles in the water. We think we can close this hole by accounting for the carbon metabolism that's happening on those particles."

"This started with the intent of saying...let's figure out what the microbes are doing in this cold, oxygenated aquifer, and we can add those data to our understanding of the carbon cycle," Girguis said. "But in looking at the data, we were rather astonished by the results, which tell us that, not surprisingly, this easy-to-eat carbon is consumed first, but then we began to see signs of the consumption of this refractory carbon.

"That is a big deal," he added. "One way to think about this is that all creatures depend on carbon, and there's this cycle where carbon is produced and consumed...but studying that in the water column is impractical. But take that water and pump it through an underground, oxygenated aquifer and you suddenly have an opportunity to take a closer look at these processes."

This research was supported with funding from the German Science Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the WHOI Postdoctoral Scholar Program and the NSF Cooperative Agreement for the Operation of a NOSAMS Facility, The Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations and The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Sunita R. Shah Walter, Ulrike Jaekel, Helena Osterholz, Andrew T. Fisher, Julie A. Huber, Ann Pearson, Thorsten Dittmar, Peter R. Girguis.Microbial decomposition of marine dissolved organic matter in cool oceanic crust. Nature Geoscience, 2018; DOI:10.1038/s41561-018-0109-5

Single-Use Plastic Has Reached The World's Deepest Ocean Trench

April 20, 2018: United Nations Environment
A new study has revealed that human activities are affecting the deepest part of the ocean, more than 1,000 kilometers from the mainland.

Plastic pollution is emerging as one of the most serious threats to ocean ecosystems. World leaders, scientists and communities recognize the urgent need for action, but the impacts of plastic pollution are not well understood.

To raise awareness of the far-reaching effects of plastic pollution, ocean scientists - including those from UN Environment's World Conservation Monitoring Centre - crunched numbers from the Deep-sea Debris Database. The Global Oceanographic Data Centre of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology launched this database for public use in 2017. It contains over 30 years of photos and videos of debris that have been collected by deep-sea submersibles and remotely operated vehicles.

The data revealed that, from 5,010 dives, more than 3,000 pieces of manmade debris – including plastic, metal, rubber and fishing gear – were counted. Over a third of debris found was macro-plastic, 89 per cent of which was single-use products. In areas deeper than 6000m, over half of debris was plastic, almost all of which was single-use.

The study - Human footprint in the abyss: 30 year records of deep-sea plastic debris - also reveals that single-use plastic has reached the world’s deepest ocean trench - a plastic bag was found in the Mariana Trench, 10,898m below the surface. The ubiquitous distribution of single-use plastic, even to the greatest depths of the ocean, reveal a clear link between daily human activities and the remotest of environments.

Once in the deep-sea, plastic can persist for thousands of years. Deep-sea ecosystems are highly endemic and have a very slow growth rate, so the potential threats from plastic pollution are concerning. There is growing concern that deep-sea ecosystems are already being damaged by direct exploitation of both biological and non-biological resources – through deep-sea trawling, mining and infrastructure development, for example. The results of this study show that deep-sea ecosystems are also being affected indirectly by human activities.

Reducing the production of plastic waste seems to be the only solution to the problem of deep-sea plastic pollution. A global monitoring network is needed to share the limited data on deep-sea plastic pollution, and impact assessment surveys should be prioritised for biologically and ecologically important areas with high concentrations of plastic debris, and to use ocean circulation models to identify how plastic is travelling from land to the deep-sea.

#BeatPlasticPollution is the theme of World Environment Day 2018

Learn more about our work on oceans and seas.

This article was originally published by UNEP-WCMC.

Record Concentration Of Microplastic In Arctic Sea Ice

April 24, 2018
Experts at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) have recently found higher amounts of microplastic in arctic sea ice than ever before. However, the majority of particles were microscopically small. The ice samples from five regions throughout the Arctic Ocean contained up to 12,000 microplastic particles per litre of sea ice. Further, the different types of plastic showed a unique footprint in the ice allowing the researchers to trace them back to possible sources. This involves the massive garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean, while in turn, the high percentage of paint and nylon particles pointed to the intensified shipping and fishing activities in some parts of the Arctic Ocean. The new study has just been released in the journal Nature Communications.

"During our work, we realised that more than half of the microplastic particles trapped in the ice were less than a twentieth of a millimetre wide, which means they could easily be ingested by arctic microorganisms like ciliates, but also by copepods," says AWI biologist and first author Dr Ilka Peeken. The observation is a very troubling one because, as she explains, "No one can say for certain how harmful these tiny plastic particles are for marine life, or ultimately also for human beings."

The AWI researcher team had gathered the ice samples in the course of three expeditions to the Arctic Ocean on board the research icebreaker Polarstern in the spring of 2014 and summer of 2015. They hail from five regions along the Transpolar Drift and the Fram Strait, which transports sea ice from the Central Arctic to the North Atlantic.

Infrared spectrometer reveals heavy contamination with microparticles

The term microplastic refers to plastic particles, fibres, pellets and other fragments with a length, width or diameter ranging from only a few micrometres -- thousandths of a millimetre -- to under five millimetres. A considerable amount of microplastic is released directly into the ocean by the gradual deterioration of larger pieces of plastic. But microplastic can also be created on land -- e.g. by laundering synthetic textiles or abrasion of car tyres, which initially floats through the air as dust, and is then blown to the ocean by the wind, or finds its way there through sewer networks.

In order to determine the exact amount and distribution of microplastic in the sea ice, the AWI researchers were the first to analyse the ice cores layer by layer using a Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer (FTIR), a device that bombards microparticles with infrared light and uses a special mathematical method to analyse the radiation they reflect back. Depending on their makeup, the particles absorb and reflect different wavelengths, allowing every substance to be identified by its optic fingerprint.

"Using this approach, we also discovered plastic particles that were only 11 micrometres across. That's roughly one-sixth the diameter of a human hair, and also explains why we found concentrations of over 12,000 particles per litre of sea ice -- which is two to three time higher than what we'd found in past measurements," says Gunnar Gerdts, in whose laboratory the measurements were carried out. Surprisingly, the researchers found that 67 percent of the particles detected in the ice belonged to the smallest-scale category "50 micrometres and smaller."

Ice drift and the chemical fingerprint offer clues to pollutants' regions of origin

The particle density and composition varied significantly from sample to sample. At the same time, the researchers determined that the plastic particles were not uniformly distributed throughout the ice core. "We traced back the journey of the ice floes we sampled and can now safely say that both the region in which the sea ice is initially formed and the water masses in which the floes drift through the Arctic while growing, have an enormous influence on the composition and layering of the encased plastic particles," relates Ilka Peeken.

The team of researchers also learned e.g. that ice floes, which are driven in the pacific water masses of the Canadian Basin, contain particularly high concentrations of polyethylene particles. Polyethylene is above all used in packaging material. As the experts write in their study, "Accordingly, we assume that these fragments represent remains of the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch and are pushed along the Bering Strait and into the Arctic Ocean by the Pacific inflow."

In contrast, the scientists predominantly found paint particles from ship's paint and nylon waste from fishing nets in ice from the shallow marginal seas of Siberia. "These findings suggest that both the expanding shipping and fishing activities in the Arctic are leaving their mark. The high microplastic concentrations in the sea ice can thus not only be attributed to sources outside the Arctic Ocean. Instead, they also point to local pollution in the Arctic," says Ilka Peeken.

The researchers found a total of 17 different types of plastic in the sea ice, including packaging materials like polyethylene and polypropylene, but also paints, nylon, polyester, and cellulose acetate, the latter is primarily used in the manufacture of cigarette filters. Taken together, these six materials accounted for roughly half of all the microplastic particles detected.

According to Ilka Peeken, "The sea ice binds all this plastic litter for two to a maximum of eleven years -- the time it takes for ice floes from the marginal seas of Siberia or the North American Arctic to reach the Fram Strait, where they melt." But conversely, this also means that sea ice transports large quantities of microplastic to the waters off the northeast coast of Greenland.

The researchers can't yet say whether the released plastic particles subsequently remain in the Arctic or are transported farther south; in fact, it seems likely that the plastic litter begins sinking into deeper waters relatively quickly. "Free-floating microplastic particles are often colonised by bacteria and algae, which makes them heavier and heavier. Sometimes they clump together with algae, which makes them drift down to the seafloor much faster," explains AWI biologist and co-author Dr Melanie Bergmann.

The observations made by researchers at the AWI's deep-sea network HAUSGARTEN in the Fram Strait lend additional weight to this thesis. As Melanie Bergmann relates, "We recently recorded microplastic concentrations of up to 6500 plastic particles per kilogram of seafloor; those are extremely high values."

Ilka Peeken, Sebastian Primpke, Birte Beyer, Julia Gütermann, Christian Katlein, Thomas Krumpen, Melanie Bergmann, Laura Hehemann, Gunnar Gerdts. Arctic sea ice is an important temporal sink and means of transport for microplastic. Nature Communications, 2018; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-03825-5

An AWI scientist is preparing an Arctic sea-ice core for a microplastic analysis in a lab at the AWI Helgoland. Credit: Copyright Alfred-Wegener-Institut/Tristan Vankann

How Do Marine Mammals Avoid The Bends?

April 26, 2018: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Deep-diving whales and other marine mammals can get the bends -- the same painful and potentially life-threatening decompression sickness that strikes scuba divers who surface too quickly. A new study offers a hypothesis of how marine mammals generally avoid getting the bends and how they can succumb under stressful conditions.

The key is the unusual lung architecture of whales, dolphins and porpoises (and possibly other breath-holding diving vertebrates), which creates two different pulmonary regions under deep-sea pressure, say researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the Fundacion Oceanografic in Spain. Their study was published April 25, 2018, in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"How some marine mammals and turtles can repeatedly dive as deep and as long as they do has perplexed scientists for a very long time," says Michael Moore, director of the Marine Mammal Center at WHOI and co-author of the study. "This paper opens a window through which we can take a new perspective on the question."

When air-breathing mammals dive to high-pressure depths, their lungs compress. That collapses their alveoli -- the tiny sacs at the end of the airways where gas exchange occurs. Nitrogen bubbles build up in the animals' bloodstream and tissue. If they ascend slowly, the nitrogen can return to the lungs and be exhaled. But if they ascend too fast, the nitrogen bubbles don't have time to diffuse back into the lungs. Under less pressure at shallower depths, the nitrogen bubbles expand in the bloodstream and tissue, causing pain and damage.

Marine mammals' chest structure allows their lungs to compress. Scientists have assumed that this passive compression was marine mammals' main adaptation to avoid taking up excessive nitrogen at depth and getting the bends.

In their study, the researchers took CT images of a deceased dolphin, seal, and a domestic pig pressurized in a hyperbaric chamber. The team was able to see how the marine mammals' lung architecture creates two pulmonary regions: one air-filled and the other collapsed. The researchers believe that blood flows mainly through the collapsed region of the lungs. That causes what is called a ventilation-perfusion mismatch, which allows some oxygen and carbon dioxide to be absorbed by the animal's bloodstream, while minimizing or preventing the exchange of nitrogen. This is possible because each gas has a different solubility in the blood. The terrestrial pig did not show that structural adaptation.

This mechanism would protect cetaceans from taking up excessive amounts of nitrogen and thus minimize risk of the bends, says lead author Daniel García-Parraga of the Fundacion Oceanografic.

However, he said, "Excessive stress, as may occur during exposure to human-made sound, may cause the system to fail and increase blood to flow to the air-filled regions. This would enhance gas exchange, and nitrogen would increase in the blood and tissues as the pressure decreases during ascent."

Scientists once thought that diving marine mammals were immune from decompression sickness, but a 2002 stranding event linked to navy sonar exercises revealed that 14 whales that died after beaching off the Canary Islands had gas bubbles in their tissues -- a sign of the bends. The researchers say the paper's findings could support previous implications of decompression sickness in some cetacean mass strandings associated with navy sonar exercises.

The team says further research will require the development of tools to analyze how lung blood flow and ventilation patterns change with various stressors during diving.

This work was supported by funding from the Fundacion Oceanografic and the Office of Naval Research.

Daniel Garcia Párraga, Michael Moore, Andreas Fahlman. Pulmonary ventilation–perfusion mismatch: a novel hypothesis for how diving vertebrates may avoid the bends. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2018; 285 (1877): 20180482 DOI:10.1098/rspb.2018.0482

Deep-diving whales and other marine mammals like these Pacific white-sided dolphins can get the bends--the same painful and potentially life-threatening decompression sickness that strikes scuba divers who surface too quickly. Credit: Photo by Lance Wills, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Record Number Of Nurse And Midwife Graduates

April 24, 2018: NSW Premier, The Hon. Gladys Berejiklian
Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Health Minister Brad Hazzard visited Royal Prince Alfred Hospital today as some of the State’s latest nursing recruits were put through their paces in a mock emergency.

This year 2400 new nurses have joined the ranks of the nurses and midwives in NSW Health, bringing the total to 51,000 - a record high.

“This year we’ve seen a record number of graduate nurses and midwives join the public health system in NSW,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“Our nurses and midwives’ commitment and passion, combined with their clinical skills, contribute to the health and wellbeing of all people in NSW.”

Mr Hazzard said the NSW Government had allocated additional resources to boost the nursing and midwifery workforce and support them through their early careers.

“Statewide, this investment will help recruit 55 more specialist nurses and midwives, 10 mental health clinical nurse educators to support new graduates and undergraduates, and 30 clinical support officers for nursing and midwifery services,” Mr Hazzard said.

“Today at RPA we are seeing a training drill aimed at strengthening the skills and confidence of this hospital’s 153 nursing and midwife graduates.

“Building the number and capacity of nurses at RPA is just one example of what our Government is doing across NSW to improve frontline health services.

“Since elected, we have added 6700 nurses and midwives across NSW – something the former Labor Government could have only dreamed about as it did not have the strong economic management that has allowed the NSW Liberals & Nationals Government to employ and train more frontline health staff.”

The Premier and Minister witnessed first-hand RPA nurses participating in a simulation exercise specifically designed for new graduates to gain confidence in responding safely and effectively in emergency situations.

As part of their induction, RPA’s new graduate nurses attend a full day of practical training with lectures and hands-on practice in a simulated environment. During the practical component, the “patient” goes into cardiac arrest and the nurse instigates basic life support and defibrillation.

While visiting the hospital, the Premier was also able to meet and chat with some of the new recruits, including Rebekah Bunter, 21, from Gilgandra, who is fulfilling her lifelong dream to be a nurse through a rotation on RPA’s neurology and neurosurgery ward.

It’s DNA, But Not As We Know It

April 24, 2018: GARVAN MEDIA
In a world first, Garvan researchers have identified a new four-stranded 'tangled knot' structure that comes and goes in the DNA of living human cells.

In a world first, Australian researchers have identified a new DNA structure – called the i-motif – inside cells. A twisted ‘knot’ of DNA, the i-motif has never before been directly seen inside living cells.

The new findings, from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, are published today in the leading journal Nature Chemistry.

Deep inside the cells in our body lies our DNA. The information in the DNA code – all 6 billion A, C, G and T letters – provides precise instructions for how our bodies are built, and how they work.

The iconic ‘double helix’ shape of DNA has ca­ptured the public imagination since 1953, when James Watson and Francis Crick famously uncovered the structure of DNA. However, it’s now known that short stretches of DNA can exist in other shapes, in the laboratory at least – and scientists suspect that these different shapes might play an important role in how and when the DNA code is ‘read’.

The new shape looks entirely different to the double-stranded DNA double helix.

“When most of us think of DNA, we think of the double helix,” says Associate Professor Daniel Christ, Head of the Antibody Therapeutics Lab at Garvan and and a conjoint Associate Professor in UNSW Medicine, who co-led the research. “This new research reminds us that totally different DNA structures exist and could well be important for our cells."

“The i-motif is a four-stranded ‘knot’ of DNA,” says Associate Professor Marcel Dinger, Head,of the Kinghorn Centre for Clinical Genomics at Garvan, who co-led the research with Associate Professor Christ.

“In the knot structure, C letters on the same strand of DNA bind to each other – so this is very different from a double helix, where ‘letters’ on opposite strands recognise each other, and where Cs bind to Gs [guanines].”

Although researchers have seen the i-motif before and have studied it in detail, it has only been witnessed in vitro – that is, under artificial conditions in the laboratory, and not inside cells.

In fact, scientists in the field have debated whether i-motif ‘knots’ would exist at all inside living things – a question that is resolved by the new findings.

To detect the i-motifs inside cells, the researchers developed a precise new tool – a fragment of an antibody molecule – that could specifically recognise and attach to i-motifs with a very high affinity. Until now, the lack of an antibody that is specific for i-motifs has severely hampered the understanding of their role.

Crucially, the antibody fragment didn’t detect DNA in helical form, nor did it recognise ‘G-quadruplex structures’  - a structurally similar four-stranded DNA arrangement.

With the new tool, researchers uncovered the location of ‘i-motifs’ in a range of human cell lines. Using fluorescence techniques to pinpoint where the i-motifs were located, they identified numerous spots of green within the nucleus, which indicate the position of i-motifs.

“What excited us most is that we could see the green spots – the i-motifs – appearing and disappearing over time, so we know that they are forming, dissolving and forming again,” says Dr Mahdi Zeraati, whose research underpins the study’s findings.

The researchers showed that i-motifs mostly form at a particular point in the cell’s ‘life cycle’ – the late G1 phase, when DNA is being actively ‘read’. They also showed that i-motifs appear in some promoter regions - areas of DNA that control whether genes are switched on or off - as well as in telomeres, the 'end sections’ of chromosomes that are important in the aging process.

Dr Zeraati says: “We think the coming and going of the i-motifs is a clue to what they do. It seems likely that they are there to help switch genes on or off, and to affect whether a gene is actively read or not."

Associate Professor Christ says: “We also think the transient nature of the i-motifs explains why they have been so very difficult to track down in cells until now."

Associate Professor Marcel Dinger says: “It’s exciting to uncover a whole new form of DNA in cells – and these findings will set the stage for a whole new push to understand what this new DNA shape is really for, and whether it will impact on health and disease."

Garvan researchers used fluorescence techniques to pinpoint where tangled DNA structures called i-motifs were located in the nuclei of human cells, visible as green dots. Credit: Chris Hammang

Children Are As Fit As Endurance Athletes

April 24, 2018
Children not only have fatigue-resistant muscles, but recover very quickly from high-intensity exercise -- even faster than well-trained adult endurance athletes. This is the finding of new research published in open-access journal Frontiers in Physiology, which compared the energy output and post-exercise recovery rates of young boys, untrained adults and endurance athletes. The research could help develop athletic potential in children as well as improve our understanding of how our bodies change from childhood to adulthood -- including how these processes contribute to the risk of diseases such as diabetes.

"During many physical tasks, children might tire earlier than adults because they have limited cardiovascular capability, tend to adopt less-efficient movement patterns and need to take more steps to move a given distance. Our research shows children have overcome some of these limitations through the development of fatigue-resistant muscles and the ability to recover very quickly from high-intensity exercise," say Sébastien Ratel, Associate Professor in Exercise Physiology who completed this study at the Université Clermont Auvergne, France, and co-author Anthony Blazevich, Professor in Biomechanics at Edith Cowan University, Australia.

Previous research has shown that children do not tire as quickly as untrained adults during physical tasks. Ratel and Blazevich suggested the energy profiles of children could be comparable to endurance athletes, but there was no evidence to prove this until now.

The researchers asked three different groups -- 8-12 year-old boys and adults of two different fitness levels -- to perform cycling tasks. The boys and untrained adults were not participants in regular vigorous physical activity. In contrast the last group, the endurance athletes, were national-level competitors at triathlons or long-distance running and cycling.

Each group was assessed for the body's two different ways of producing energy. The first, aerobic, uses oxygen from the blood. The second, anaerobic, doesn't use oxygen and produces acidosis and lactate (often known by the incorrect term, lactic acid), which may cause muscle fatigue. The participants' heart-rate, oxygen levels and lactate-removal rates were checked after the cycling tasks to see how quickly they recovered.

In all tests, the children outperformed the untrained adults.

"We found the children used more of their aerobic metabolism and were therefore less tired during the high-intensity physical activities," says Ratel. "They also recovered very quickly -- even faster than the well-trained adult endurance athletes -- as demonstrated by their faster heart-rate recovery and ability to remove blood lactate."

"This may explain why children seem to have the ability to play and play and play, long after adults have become tired."

Ratel and Blazevich explain the significance of their findings. "Many parents ask about the best way to develop their child's athletic potential. Our study shows that muscle endurance is often very good in children, so it might be better to focus on other areas of fitness such as their sports technique, sprint speed or muscle strength. This may help to optimize physical training in children, so that they perform better and enjoy sports more."

Ratel continues, "With the rise in diseases related to physical inactivity, it is helpful to understand the physiological changes with growth that might contribute to the risk of disease. Our research indicates that aerobic fitness, at least at the muscle level, decreases significantly as children move into adulthood -- which is around the time increases in diseases such as diabetes occur.

"It will be interesting in future research to determine whether the muscular changes we have observed are directly related to disease risk. At least, our results might provide motivation for practitioners to maintain muscle fitness as children grow up; it seems that being a child might be healthy for us."

Anthony Birat, Pierre Bourdier, Enzo Piponnier, Anthony J. Blazevich, Hugo Maciejewski, Pascale Duché, Sébastien Ratel. Metabolic and Fatigue Profiles Are Comparable Between Prepubertal Children and Well-Trained Adult Endurance Athletes. Frontiers in Physiology, 2018; 9 DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2018.00387

Einstein's 'Spooky Action' Goes Massive

April 25, 2018
Perhaps the strangest prediction of quantum theory is entanglement, a phenomenon whereby two distant objects become intertwined in a manner that defies both classical physics and a "common-sense" understanding of reality. In 1935, Albert Einstein expressed his concern over this concept, referring to it as "spooky action at a distance."

Nowadays, entanglement is considered a cornerstone of quantum mechanics, and it is the key resource for a host of potentially transformative quantum technologies. Entanglement is, however, extremely fragile, and it has previously been observed only in microscopic systems such as light or atoms, and recently in superconducting electric circuits.

In work recently published in Nature, a team led by Prof. Mika Sillanpää at Aalto University in Finland has shown that entanglement of massive objects can be generated and detected.

The researchers managed to bring the motions of two individual vibrating drumheads -- fabricated from metallic aluminium on a silicon chip -- into an entangled quantum state. The objects in the experiment are truly massive and macroscopic compared to the atomic scale: the circular drumheads have a diametre similar to the width of a thin human hair.

The team also included scientists from the University of New South Wales Canberra in Australia, the University of Chicago, and the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. The approach taken in the experiment was based on a theoretical innovation developed by Dr. Matt Woolley at UNSW and Prof. Aashish Clerk, now at the University of Chicago.

'The vibrating bodies are made to interact via a superconducting microwave circuit. The electromagnetic fields in the circuit are used to absorb all thermal disturbances and to leave behind only the quantum mechanical vibrations,' says Mika Sillanpää, describing the experimental setup.

Eliminating all forms of noise is crucial for the experiments, which is why they have to be conducted at extremely low temperatures near absolute zero, at -273 °C. Remarkably, the experimental approach allows the unusual state of entanglement to persist for long periods of time, in this case up to half an hour.

'These measurements are challenging but extremely fascinating. In the future, we will attempt to teleport the mechanical vibrations. In quantum teleportation, properties of physical bodies can be transmitted across arbitrary distances using the channel of "spooky action at a distance",' explains Dr. Caspar Ockeloen-Korppi, the lead author on the work, who also performed the measurements.

The results demonstrate that it is now possible to have control over large mechanical objects in which exotic quantum states can be generated and stabilized. Not only does this achievement open doors for new kinds of quantum technologies and sensors, it can also enable studies of fundamental physics in, for example, the poorly understood interplay of gravity and quantum mechanics.

C. F. Ockeloen-Korppi, E. Damskägg, J.-M. Pirkkalainen, M. Asjad, A. A. Clerk, F. Massel, M. J. Woolley, M. A. Sillanpää. Stabilized entanglement of massive mechanical oscillators. Nature, 2018; 556 (7702): 478 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0038-x

This is an illustration of the 15-micrometre-wide drumheads prepared on silicon chips used in the experiment. The drumheads vibrate at a high ultrasound frequency, and the peculiar quantum state predicted by Einstein was created from the vibrations. Credit: Aalto University/Petja Hyttinen & Olli Hanhirova, ARKH Architects.

To See The First-Born Stars Of The Universe

April 25, 2018
About 200 to 400 million years after the Big Bang created the universe, the first stars began to appear. Ordinarily stars lying at such a great distance in space and time would be out of reach even for NASA's new James Webb Space Telescope, due for launch in 2020.

However, astronomers at Arizona State University are leading a team of scientists who propose that with good timing and some luck, the Webb Space Telescope will be able to capture light from the first stars to be born in the universe.

"Looking for the first stars has long been a goal of astronomy," said Rogier Windhorst, Regents' Professor of astrophysics in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration. "They will tell us about the actual properties of the very early universe, things we've only modeled on our computers until now."

Windhorst's collaborator, Frank Timmes, professor of astrophysics at the School of Earth and Space Exploration, adds, "We want to answer questions about the early universe such as, were binary stars common or were most stars single? How many heavy chemical elements were produced, cooked up by the very first stars, and how did those first stars actually form?

Duho Kim, a School of Earth and Space Exploration graduate student of Windhorst's, worked on modeling star populations and dust in galaxies.

The other collaborators on the paper are J. Stuart B. Wyithe (University of Melbourne, Australia), Mehmet Alpaslan (New York University), Stephen K. Andrews (University of Western Australia), Daniel Coe (Space Telescope Science Institute), Jose M. Diego (Instituto de Fisica de Cantabria, Spain), Mark Dijkstra (University of Oslo), and Simon P. Driver and Patrick L. Kelly (both University of California, Berkeley).

The team's paper, published in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement, describes how the challenging observations can be done.

Gravity's magnifying lens
The first essential step in the task relies on the infrared sensitivity of the Webb Telescope. While the first stars were large, hot and radiated far-ultraviolet light, they lie so far away that the expansion of the universe has shifted their radiation peak from the ultraviolet to much longer infrared wavelengths. Thus their starlight drops into the Webb Telescope's infrared detectors like a baseball landing in a fielder's mitt.

The second essential step is to use the combined gravity of an intervening cluster of galaxies as a lens to focus and magnify the light of the first generation stars. Typical gravitational lensing can magnify light 10 to 20 times, but that's not enough to make a first-generation star visible to the Webb Telescope. For Webb, the candidate star's light needs boosting by factor of 10,000 or more.

To gain that much magnification calls for "caustic transits," special alignments where a star's light is greatly magnified for a few weeks as the galaxy cluster drifts across the sky between Earth and the star.

Caustic transits occur because a cluster of galaxies acting as a lens doesn't produce a single image like a reading magnifier. The effect is more like looking through a lumpy sheet of glass, with null zones and hot spots. A caustic is where magnification is greatest, and because the galaxies in the lensing cluster spread out within it, they produce multiple magnifying caustics that trace a pattern in space like a spider web.

Playing the odds
How likely is such an alignment? Small but not zero, say the astronomers, and they note the spider web of caustics helps by spreading a net. Moreover each caustic is asymmetrical, producing a sharp rise to full magnification if a star approaches from one side, but a much slower rise if it approaches from the other side.

"Depending on which side of the caustic it approaches from, a first star would brighten over hours -- or several months," Windhorst explained. "Then after reaching a peak brightness for several weeks, it would fade out again, either slowly or quickly, as it moves away from the caustic line."

A key attribute of the first stars is that they formed out of the early universe's mix of hydrogen and helium with no heavier chemical elements such as carbon, oxygen, iron, or gold. Blazingly hot and brilliantly blue-white, the first stars display a textbook simple spectrum like a fingerprint, as calculated by the ASU team using the open software instrument Modules for Experiments in Stellar Astrophysics.

Another object potentially visible by the same magnifying effect is an accretion disk around the first black holes to form after the Big Bang. Black holes would be the final evolutionary outcome of the most massive first stars. And if any such stars were in a two-star (binary) system, the more massive star, after collapsing to a black hole, would steal gas from its companion to form a flat disk feeding into the black hole.

An accretion disk would display a different spectrum from a first star as it transits a caustic, producing enhanced brightness at shorter wavelengths from the hot, innermost part of the disk compared to the colder outer zones of it. The rise and decay in brightness would also take longer, though this effect would likely be harder to detect.

Accretion disks are expected to be more numerous because solitary first stars, being massive and hot, race through their lives in just a few million years before exploding as supernovas. However, theory suggests that an accretion disk in a black hole system could shine at least ten times longer than a solitary first star. All else being equal, this would increase the odds of detecting accretion disks.

It's educated guesswork at this stage, but the team calculates that an observing program which targets several galaxy clusters a couple of times a year for the lifetime of the Webb Telescope could find a lensed first star or black hole accretion disk. The researchers have selected some target clusters, including the Hubble Frontier Fields clusters and the cluster known as "El Gordo."

"We just have to get lucky and observe these clusters long enough," Windhorst said. "The astronomical community would need to continue to monitor these clusters during Webb's lifetime."

On beyond Webb
Which raises a point. While the Webb Space Telescope will be a technical marvel, it will not have a long operational lifetime like the Hubble Space Telescope. Launched in 1990, the Hubble Telescope is in low Earth orbit and has been serviced by astronauts five times.

The Webb Space Telescope, however, will be placed at a gravitationally stable point in interplanetary space, 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) from Earth. It has been designed to operate for 5 to 10 years, which might with care stretch to about 15 years. But there's no provision for servicing by astronauts.

Accordingly, Windhorst notes that ASU has joined the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization. This is a consortium of universities and research institutions that will build its namesake telescope on a high and dry mountaintop at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. The site is ideal for infrared observing.

Upon completion in 2026, the GMT will have a light-collecting surface 24.5 meters (80 feet) in diameter, built from seven individual mirrors. (The Webb Space Telescope's main mirror has 18 sections and a total diameter of 6.5 meters, or 21 feet.) The GMT mirrors are expected to achieve a resolving power 10 times greater than that of the Hubble Space Telescope in the infrared region of the spectrum.

There will be a period during which the Webb Telescope and the Giant Magellan Telescope will both be in operation.

"We're planning to make observations of first-generation stars and other objects with the two instruments," Windhorst said. "This will let us cross-calibrate the results from both."

The overlap between the two telescopes is important in another way, he said.

"The GMT's operational lifetime will continue for many decades into the future. This is unlike the Webb Telescope, which will eventually run out of thruster fuel to maintain its orbit in space."

When that happens, contact with the Webb Telescope will be lost and its mission will come to an end.

Said Windhorst, "One way or another, we are confident we can detect the first stars in the universe."

Rogier A. Windhorst, F. X. Timmes, J. Stuart B. Wyithe, Mehmet Alpaslan, Stephen K. Andrews, Daniel Coe, Jose M. Diego, Mark Dijkstra, Simon P. Driver, Patrick L. Kelly, Duho Kim. On the Observability of Individual Population III Stars and Their Stellar-mass Black Hole Accretion Disks through Cluster Caustic Transits. The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, 2018; 234 (2): 41 DOI: 10.3847/1538-4365/aaa760

The galaxy cluster Abell 2744 lies at a distance of about 3.5 billion light-years and contains more than 400 member galaxies. The combined gravity of all the galaxies makes the cluster act as a lens to magnify the light from stars beyond including, the team hopes, the first stars to form in the universe. Credit: NASA/ESA/Arizona State University (R. Windhorst and F. Timmes)

Mandatory Vaccine Programs To Curb Aged Care Influenza

April 23, 2018: Media release - Joint Media Release; The Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health and The Hon Ken Wyatt AM, MP, Minister for Aged Care
The provision of influenza vaccination programs to all staff in residential aged care homes will be compulsory, as the Turnbull Government moves to maximise protection for senior Australians ahead of this year’s this flu season.

Health Minister Greg Hunt and Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt announced the Government will mandate flu vaccines for aged care workers and today released results of a survey showing a significant link between increased staff immunisation and lower aged care influenza outbreaks.

“It will now be mandatory for every aged care provider to offer the flu vaccine to every single worker”, Minister Hunt said. 

“Already we have made two new ground-breaking flu vaccines available to over three million Australians aged 65 years and over - free of charge.

“Today we are taking further steps to ensure those seniors are protected even more, ahead of this year’s flu season.” 

Minister Wyatt said: “Last winter, aged care homes with only a quarter of their staff vaccinated had a 25 per cent higher rate of flu outbreaks than those with three quarters or more of their staff vaccinated.

“This is why we are taking strong action to ensure the safety of senior Australians in aged care.”

Last year, just over 1,100 influenza-associated deaths were reported in Australia, with people aged 65 years and older accounting for more than 90 per cent of these.

Minister Wyatt ordered the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency to review two aged care homes in Victoria and Tasmania, where 18 people died.

“Alarmingly, in these two locations, well under half of the staff had been vaccinated,” Minister Wyatt said. “Infection control was further compromised as dozens of staff were struck down with the flu, compounding a deadly situation.

“What this policy will do is offer every person a flu vaccination.”

The subsequent national survey of the 2,609 homes revealed:
  • Only 3.5 per cent had the recommended staff coverage of 95 per cent or higher to gain herd immunity
  • 35.9 per cent had the recommended resident coverage of 95 per cent or higher
  • 43 per cent reported at least one influenza outbreak in the previous year 
Those providing in-house staff vaccination programs had higher coverage than those who only encouraged staff to go to an external immunisation provider

In the lead up to the 2018 influenza season, the Quality Agency undertook an extensive awareness campaign within the aged care industry, targeted vaccination records of residents and staff and implemented practices that have been shown to increase vaccination uptake.

“Vaccination is imperative for staff and residents in aged care, where the flu can spread quickly and have devastating consequences,” said Minister Wyatt.

“I urge all Australians to have their flu shot, especially those who regularly visit loved ones living in aged care homes.

“Every one of us has a responsibility to reduce the chance of spreading the virus among some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

Linking People With Disability To The Community

23 April, 2018: NSW Govt. Dept. of Family & Community Services
Minister for Disability Services, Ray Williams today announced more than $40 million for Ability Links, a program helping people with disability connect to the community.

Mr Williams said ensuring people with disability are supported in the early stages of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is a priority for the NSW Government.

“This Government takes its responsibility of supporting some of the most vulnerable members of our society seriously and will continue to fund Ability Links over the next year,” Mr Williams said.

“Ability Links is a fantastic program, empowering people with disability, their families and carers to achieve their goals and build their future.”

“Staff, known as Linkers, work with people with disability to connect them to a number of opportunities including employment, volunteering and education.”

Under the program, there will be 295 Linker positions across NSW including 74 Aboriginal-specific Linkers.

Bankstown local, Abrahim Darouchie, has Neuromuscular Dystrophy and joined the Ability Links program as a result of social isolation.

“Ability Links has allowed me to gain new social networks, connect with the community and use my skills to advocate on behalf of people with disability,” Mr Darouchie said.

“With the help of my Linker, I have not only been able to build my own confidence, but have put myself in a position where I can help and mentor others.”

Since 2013, thousands of people with disability, their families and carers have benefitted from the program, providing more than 129,000 service connections and more than 1 million community connections.

9 Facts You Didn't Know About The University Of Sydney's Carillon

April 24, 2018: Uni. of Sydney
90 years ago, the carillon bells arrived on our shores and were transported through Sydney to their new home at the University. To celebrate this milestone, we look at nine facts you might not know about the carillon.

This week marks the 90th anniversary of the carillon at the University. To celebrate, the University is hosted a special recital featuring our carillonists on Tuesday 24 April.

The University of Sydney War Memorial Carillon was dedicated on Anzac Day in 1928 to commemorate those in the University of Sydney community who died during the First World War.

The recital starts at 4.30pm as the sun goes down, and in the morning we will remember the Anzacs at our annual Dawn Service. All are welcome to this free recital.

The carillon bells arriving at the University and being installed. Image reference: the University of Sydney archives.  

1. It’s a crowdfunded memorial
The University of Sydney War Memorial Carillon was dedicated on Anzac Day in 1928 to commemorate the 197 undergraduates, graduates and staff who died in the First World War.

In one of our earliest crowdfunding projects, money for the memorial was donated by families, individuals, organisations and faculties across Australia. By 1924, £17,397 had been raised (around $2.25 million in today’s money) and building commenced.

2. Rings a bell
Carillons are the largest musical instruments in the world. Consisting of a series of fixed bells, sound is made when they are struck by clappers.

Originally our carillon was made up of 49 bells, however in 1973, the carillon was rebuilt and currently consists of 54 bells and a range of four and a half octaves.

3. You may have been spelling it wrong
Despite the deceptive pronounciation of carillon that rhymes with 'million' – the word carillon is actually descended from the French 'quadrillon' which translates to 'four bells'. 

4. Heavy metal
The bell weighs 4,250kg – the equivalent of an average adult hippopotamus.

The carillon travelled to Sydney by boat from the United Kingdom. The image above is of the bells being transported via George Street to the University. Image reference: University of Sydney archives. 

5. Made in England
The 23 lower bells were cast by the Taylor bell-foundry of Loughborough, England. The upper 33 treble bells were cast by the Whitechapel bell-foundry of London. 

6. Family ties
Venture to Canberra and you’ll find the National Carillon, which was dedicated in 1970 as a sister carillon to the one sitting in the Quad. These are the only two carillons in Australia.

7. Meet the carillonist
The woman behind the music is our carillonist Amy Johansen, who plays in more than 60 graduations per year, as well as recitals and special events.

She leads an enthusiastic team of 10 honorary carillonists who share the playing duties. 

8. Pump up the jukebox
Song requests for special occasions are not uncommon, and our talented carillonists are always keen to give it a whirl. Highlights include the Game of Thrones and Harry Potter themes, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and everyone’s favourite Valentine’s Day tune: Love is in the air.

9. Who could forget Sandstorm?
In October of 2015, in response to a memorable April Fool's Day hoax, the University’s radio group, SURG FM, in a mission to raise money for youth mental health initiative Headspace, stormed the clocktower to finally have Darude's 'Sandstorm' played on the carillon.

Hadley Park Given State Heritage Listing

Hadley Park, one of the oldest farming estates in Australia, will be listed on the NSW State Heritage Register, Minister for Heritage Gabrielle Upton announced 17 April, 2018.

The property was once home to Charles Hadley, a pardoned convict who settled in the Castlereagh area and began building his estate within 20 years of the first fleet arriving. It has had a long association with the Hadley family who, until recently, occupied Hadley Park for around 200 years.

Ms Upton said the property on the floodplain of the Nepean River is one of Australia's oldest farming estates and an example of one of the earliest European land grants.

"Charles Hadley's residence, surrounding dwellings and farmhouses were some of the first of their kind built in the area," Ms Upton said.

"Today they contain rare and intact evidence of some of the earliest colonial building methods in Australia."

Minister for Planning and Housing, Anthony Roberts, and the National Trust of Australia (NSW) each nominated the listing.

Mr Roberts said the listing of Hadley Park ensured protection for the significant property into the future.

"This is one of the oldest early colonial properties in NSW and now generations to come will be able to learn from an important part of our history," Mr Roberts said.

Member for Penrith Stuart Ayres welcomed the addition of Hadley Park to the State Heritage Register.

"It's only right that such an important part of Penrith's history is properly protected and placed on the State Heritage Register," Mr Ayres said.

"Hadley Park's rich history will now be secured for future Western Sydney generations."

As well as its colonial history, the Heritage Council of NSW recognised the potential for a range of archeological features and deposits related to Aboriginal occupation of the area. Hadley Park will be gazetted on Friday 20 April.

Long-Sought Structure Of Telomerase Paves Way For New Drugs For Aging, Cancer

April 26, 2018: University of California - Berkeley
More than 30 years ago, when University of California, Berkeley researchers discovered telomerase -- an enzyme that lengthens chromosome ends and prevents them from fraying enough to kill a cell -- speculation ran wild about its role in aging and cancer, setting off a full-court press to produce drugs to activate or block the enzyme.

While neither telomerase-based anti-aging drugs, touted as a "fountain of youth," nor anticancer drugs have yet appeared, the publication today by UC Berkeley scientists of the first detailed picture of the molecular structure of human telomerase should jump-start that effort, allowing more targeted drug screens and intelligent design of new drugs.

"It has been a long time coming. It took a lot of persistence," said Kathleen Collins, a UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology who has worked on the enzyme for 26 years.

Collins and Eva Nogales, also a professor of molecular and cell biology, are the senior authors of a paper describing the 3-D molecular structure of the human telomerase enzyme published this week in the journal Nature.

One bottleneck has been obtaining pure samples of this complex molecule, which is composed of an RNA backbone decorated by six types of protein that move around as they add DNA to the ends of chromosomes. Labs around the world have debated whether the enzyme operates singly or as conjoined twins, and how and how many proteins decorate the RNA backbone.

Without consensus on these questions, it has proven difficult to design a drug to target the molecular machine and either destroy telomerase activity -- which could stop a cancer that has boosted its telomerase levels -- or restart telomerase, perhaps to prime the body for rapid cell division after a bone marrow transplant.

The newly revealed structure still lacks fine detail, but combined with knowledge of the gene sequence of human telomerase, it provides enough information to start thinking about potential targets for drugs, said first author Thi Hoang Duong "Kelly" Nguyen, a Miller Institute postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley.

"The best previous images of human telomerase had a resolution of only 30 Ångstroms; we were able to get about 7 to 8 Ångstroms resolution using cryoelectron microscopy," Kelly said. "When I got to the point where I could see all the subunits -- we had 11 protein subunits in total -- it was a moment of, 'Wow, wow, this is how they all fit together.'"

Nguyen, Collins and Nogales are actively working to improve the resolution to 3 or 4 Ångstroms -- about the size of two carbon atoms -- which is sufficient for drug design.

Telomerase tops up the telomeres
Telomeres were first detected at a molecular level in the late 1970s by Elizabeth Blackburn, then at UC Berkeley and now president emerita of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. Working with the ciliated protozoan Tetrahymena, she and colleagues showed that the ends of the chromosomes are capped by repeating sequences of DNA. Armed with knowledge of telomere sequence, researchers then showed that telomeres in tissues of multicellular organisms grow shorter each time a cell divides. The telomeres protect the DNA strands from fraying and getting damaged at their ends, much like the plastic tip on the end of a shoelace. The fact that they drop off with each cell division is thought to protect us from cancer, when a cell is hijacked and proliferates continually.

In 1985 at UC Berkeley, Blackburn and then-graduate student Carol Greider discovered telomerase, an enzyme that adds DNA back to the ends of chromosomes, lengthening them and extending the lifespan of the cell. Blackburn, Greider and another colleague, Jack Szosak, shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of telomerase.

Scientists have since found that, in humans and other multicellular organisms, telomerase is expressed only in the embryo, not in most adult cells. That means that most cells at birth have a predetermined ability to grow and divide, after which they die. Many scientists believe that depleted telomeres are a major cause of aging.

Collins has been trying to determine the structure of telomerase ever since the first human telomerase protein was discovered in 1997, and she and her colleagues have discovered and extensively characterized many of the proteins in the large enzyme, as well as the broken-up hairpin structure of the RNA backbone of telomerase. Yet how they all fit together was an enigma because of conflicting results from many different labs.

Nguyen was able to isolate the active enzyme and purify it much better than anyone had before, and employed a new, state-of-the-art cryoelectron microscope to determine the structure of the active telomerase unambiguously. Cryo-EM is a technique for determining molecular structures of compounds that cannot be crystallized and imaged with X-rays, and its developers won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Once the UC Berkeley team had the structure, Nguyen said, it became clear why genetic mutations in some of the proteins in telomerase interfere with the enzyme to cause disease. In 1999, Collins discovered the first known human disease caused by a telomerase mutation: a mutation in a telomerase protein called dyskerin that is responsible for a rare disease called dyskeratosis congenita. Patients develop anemia as well as skin and gut problems, and most frequently die from bone marrow failure.

The reason, Collins says, is that there are two dyskerin molecules bound to the RNA backbone that have to not only reach out to the network of other proteins but also touch one another, and disease-causing mutations prevent these linkages, crippling the ability of the RNA backbone to survive in cells. Some children with dyskeratosis congenita have telomerase levels about 25 percent of normal and a lifespan of less than two decades. Those with half the normal level of telomerase typically reach a health crisis in mid-life.

Collins is ecstatic to finally have a definitive structure for telomerase and looks forward to learning more about the intricate assembly process of one of the most complex enzymes in the body: a polymerase as complicated as the ribosome, which reads RNA to produce proteins.

"I didn't think it would be this complicated when I decided to study this molecule," she said. "I became curious about how telomerase works in 1991, when I was just finishing as a grad student, and I was looking for a really simple polymerase system in which to understand nucleic acid interactions. And I thought, my god you can't be simpler than this. That was super naive."

Thi Hoang Duong Nguyen, Jane Tam, Robert A. Wu, Basil J. Greber, Daniel Toso, Eva Nogales, Kathleen Collins. Cryo-EM structure of substrate-bound human telomerase holoenzyme. Nature, 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0062-x

Shown is the space-filling model of human telomerase holoenzyme structure determined by cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). Telomerase catalyzes the synthesis of telomeric DNA (green) at the ends of chromosomes (blue) to compensate for the loss of telomeres during genome replication. The structure comprises two lobes with distinct functionalities: the catalytic core (purple) responsible for DNA synthesis and an H/ACA ribonucleoprotein lobe (cyan, teal and light green) important for telomerase biogenesis and localization to the Cajal body (red dots and lower left in closeup). Given that telomerase regulation is implicated in cancer and aging, this first architectural visualization of human telomerase represents an important breakthrough in the telomerase field and telomerase-based therapeutic design. Credit: Janet Iwasa

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.