Inbox and Environment News: Issue 383

November 11 - 17, 2018: Issue 383

Bush2Beach Rugby Gala

Published November 5th, 2018 by NSW Office of Sport
The Sydney Academy of Sport at Narrabeen hosted the Bush2Beach Rugby Gala over last weekend to raise money for registration, insurance and running costs of clubs in drought affected communities.

The event not only provided an invaluable link between beaches and country clubs, but also raised over $15,000.

Check out our video wrap of the day & donate now:

Frog ID Week: Citizen Scientists Needed

The 9th of November to 18th of November, is FrogID Week - Australia's biggest frog count. The count will provide Aussie scientists with valuable information on what's happening to our frogs.

To get involved, all you need is a smartphone and a keen ear. All around Australia, people are recording frog calls (with 37,245 calls already submitted, to be precise!) This information has been useful in helping researchers track the Cane Toad and identify where frogs are thriving, and where they aren't.

When it comes to #SavingSpecies, we all have a role to play in the fight against extinction, and this is a fantastic yet simple way in which we can all help out.

To find out more and to download the app, visit:

Did you know Australia has over 240 species of frog?

Pictured: Southern Corroboree Frog (Image Credit: Steve Wilson)

Mandalong Coal Mine

Modification 6 to Mandalong Southern Extension Project
Modification of State Significant Development SSD-5144 to allow for the temporary controlled release of stored water from the Mandalong South Surface Site Sediment Dam following significant rainfall events. Additionally, Centennial Mandalong is seeking the ability to transport the sediment and material collected at the Mandalong South Surface Site to the Cooranbong Entry Site. 

Exhibition Start: 02/11/2018
Exhibition End: 16/11/2018

Dairy Code Consultations Kick Off

November 5, 2018: Federal Minister for Agriculture, The Hon. David Littleproud
Dairy code consultation locations and dates announced
Consultations are being held across major dairy regions

Stakeholders encouraged to shape Australia's first mandatory dairy code
Dairy farmers, processors and representative organisations are encouraged to take part in important regional consultations to help shape Australia's first mandatory dairy code.

Speaking in Forrest, WA, Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud said consultations are planned across major Aussie dairy regions.
"The dairy industry came to me and said they wanted a mandatory code of conduct, so let's get on with it," Minister Littleproud said.

"Consultations are the first step in the process, and staff from the Department of Agriculture will be on the ground in dairy regions from 8 November 2018.

"This process is the first part of making dairy sustainable in Australia. A mandatory code between farmers and processors can help make contracts fairer, more transparent and enforce a dispute resolution process.

"It's not a silver bullet but it's a good first step. There will be more structural reform to come.

"I want all dairy farmers, processors and interested stakeholders to get involved and get the most out of this code."

A mandatory code could improve contract negotiations between dairy farmers and processors and include an effective dispute resolution process. The ACCC would regulate a mandatory code.

You can now share your ideas on a mandatory code. In particular, what should be included in a code and how best to address issues, such as:
  • cooling off periods when entering and terminating contracts
  • dispute resolution processes
  • enforcing a mandatory code of conduct
  • limiting exclusive supply clauses between processors and farmers
  • prohibiting retrospective step-downs
  • terminating contracts.
To have your say:
  • read the Mandatory code – Key consultation issues paper
  • read the Dairy industry code of conduct – farmer to processor transaction document
  • talk with our representatives in your region 
More information about the code and consultations can be found on the have your say website 

People can register online, email or phone 1300 044 940.

WWF Living Planet Report 2018: Koalas Declining Even Faster

Global wildlife populations have fallen by 60% since 1970, but koalas are now declining at an even faster rate. 

The worldwide species decline is revealed in Living Planet Report 2018, WWF’s comprehensive study of the health of the planet and a grim reminder of the pressure we exert on Nature. 

It indicates that global populations of vertebrate species have, on average, declined by 60% in just over 40 years – a rate of 13.6% per decade. 

But koalas in Eastern Australia are declining at a rate of 21% per decade.* 

Shrinking koala numbers are largely explained by another statistic in WWF’s flagship report: Eastern Australia is named as one 11 global deforestation fronts. Australia is the only developed country on the list. 

WWF calculates that by 2050, koalas could disappear from the wild in New South Wales, after the axing of forest protection laws by the state government. 

Clearing for livestock is listed as the primary cause of Eastern Australia’s forest loss with unsustainable logging an important secondary cause. 

“It is a wakeup call for our east coast to appear alongside notorious forest destruction hotspots such as the Amazon, Congo Basin, Sumatra and Borneo,” said WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman. 

The plight of koalas is matched by alarming declines for many other uniquely Australian species who are losing their forest homes. 

“The NSW government needs to urgently reverse its recent axing of laws that has led to a tripling of koala habitat destruction in north west New South Wales. 

“Buying land is welcome but will only save a fraction of koala habitat – stronger forest protection laws are crucial,” Mr O’Gorman said. 

  • The report includes the latest findings measured by the Living Planet Index tracking 16,704 populations of 4,005 vertebrate species from 1970 to 2014
  • The Living Planet Index indicates that global populations of vertebrate species have, on average, declined in size by 60 per cent in just over 40 years.
  • The biggest drivers of current biodiversity loss are overharvest of wild populations and destruction of habitats for agriculture, both linked to continually increasing human consumption.
  • Ecosystems such as forests play an important role in reducing disaster risks, and thus mitigate some of the most acute effects of climate change.
  • Runaway human consumption is severely undermining nature’s ability to power and sustain our lives, societies and economies: globally, nature provides services for humanity worth around US$125 trillion a year.
  • Given the interconnectivity between the health of nature, the well-being of people and the future of our planet, WWF urges the global community to unite for a global deal for nature and people to reverse the trend of biodiversity loss.
“Nature has been silently sustaining and powering our societies and economies for centuries, and continues to do so today,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International.

“In return, the world has continued to take nature and its services for granted, failing to act against the accelerating loss of nature. It is time we realized that a healthy, sustainable future for all is only possible on a planet where nature thrives and forests, oceans and rivers are teeming with biodiversity and life,” added Lambertini.

“We need to urgently rethink how we use and value nature - culturally, economically and on our political agendas. We need to think of nature as beautiful and inspirational, but also as indispensable. We - and the planet - need a new global deal for nature and people now,” he said. 

The Living Planet Report 2018 highlights the unparalleled yet rapidly closing opportunity the global community has to protect and restore nature leading up to 2020, a critical year when leaders are expected to review the progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Living Planet Report 2018 suggests a roadmap for the targets, indicators and metrics the 196 member states of the CBD could consider to deliver an urgent, ambitious and effective global agreement for nature, as the world did for climate in Paris, when they meet at the 14th Conference of the Parties to the CBD in Egypt in November 2018. 

The CBD CoP14 will bring together world leaders, businesses and civil society to develop the post-2020 framework for action for global biodiversity and thus marks a milestone moment to set the groundwork for an urgently needed global deal for nature and people. 

*The Federal Government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee assessed that, in Queensland and NSW, koalas went from 326 400 in 1990 to 188 000 in 2010, a 42% decline in two decades.

Call For Partners To Manufacture And Supply Curiosity® Feral Cat Bait

November 6, 2018: Media Release - Department of the Environment and Energy 
The Department of the Environment and Energy is seeking a partner to manufacture and supply a new humane bait that will help fight extinction by tackling the threat of feral cats.

This will be the first broad-scale bait targeting feral cats to be made commercially available in Australia. The Australian Government is seeking partners to commercialise this new and innovative feral cat management tool and is encouraging interested parties to submit an Expression of Interest.

Curiosity® feral cat bait uses a meat-based sausage containing a small hard plastic pellet to deliver a humane toxin. The pellet is designed to dissolve in the feral cat’s stomach and deliver a rapid dose of para-aminopropiophenone.

Threatened Species Commissioner Dr Sally Box said Curiosity® represented a very significant opportunity to save Australia’s wildlife from harm.

“Feral cats have contributed to the extinction of more than 20 mammal species since European settlement, and continue to wreak havoc on our unique native wildlife like our frogs, mammals and birds” said Dr Box. “We need new tools, approaches and partnerships to limit their impact,”.

“Traditional methods of feral cat control such as shooting and trapping is often time consuming, labour intensive and expensive”.

Dr Box also stated that “Curiosity® offers an effective alternative to traditional management techniques, especially across southern and central Australia where current management options are limited”.

Development work for the bait—including years of laboratory, cage trials and field trials across Australia—is already complete. The product is now undergoing assessment with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority before it can be sold. 

Curiosity® is the result of a long-term collaboration between the Department of Environment and Energy; the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research); the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions; and Scientec Research Pty Ltd.

More information on Curiosity® and details on how to submit an Expression of Interest can be found at:

These Two Koalas Lost Their Mothers To Deforestation

I call on you to urgently end the deforestation and land-clearing crisis by making potential koala habitat, threatened species habitat, and other high-conservation-value areas off limits to clearing, and by repealing the land-clearing codes.

I also urge you to invest in a restoration and conservation fund and deliver the world-class mapping, monitoring, and reporting the community expects.

Living Ocean Join AUSMAP Program: Call For Volunteers

Living Ocean's No Plastic Please team attended a workshop to be accredited as team leaders for the AUSMAP program. Sensational work group with many attendants including Humane Society International Australia & Surfrider Foundation Northern Beaches.

Thanks to the brilliant dedication of Michelle Lemon Blewitt & Scott Wilson and Total Environment Centre for developing the program.

Please contact us here at Living Ocean if you would like to be part of our new 'citizen science' program for the northern beaches.

This will target certain areas for Pittwater/Broken Bay/Brisbane Waters and the ocean beaches.

We will be studying and monitoring certain beach and bay locations in these locations for micro plastics and the data will be peer valid for study as part of a global web to understand and control plastics in our marine environment.

This is great 'stuff' and huge move forward. Its fun, rewarding and empowering.

The Living Ocean Team.

CCAMLR Meeting Of Antarctic Experts Comes To A Close

November 2, 2018: CCAMLR
Today sees the close of the Thirty-seventh Meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Hobart, Australia.

Early in October, scientists met to review the status and trends of fish stocks regulated by CCAMLR. The Scientific Committee subsequently reviewed the outcomes of that meeting, and the outcomes of  several other specialist working groups responsible for monitoring ecosystems in the Southern Ocean. These meetings concluded in the first week of November with the Meeting of the Commission, CCAMLR’s decision-making body.

Research and monitoring plans for existing MPAs, as well as proposals to establish three new MPAs – in East Antarctica, in the Weddell Sea, and in the Western Antarctic Peninsula – were the subject of much discussion. Members will continue to work intersessionally on proposals for these MPAs before they are again considered at next year’s meeting.

The Scientific Committee reporting the lowest seabird mortality in CCAMLR’s history, and likewise the lowest recorded incidences of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The Commission agreed a new satellite surveillance project sponsored by France and the EU which will contribute to ability to detect future IUU activity.

The Commission agreed that seven new vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) will be included on the CCAMLR VME registry – four sites in the western Antarctic Peninsula and three sites in the South Orkney Islands. The Scientific Committee also further developed its approaches to managing data limited fisheries.

The report of the CCAMLR Independent Stock Assessment Review for Toothfish, conducted earlier in the year, considers CCAMLR to be a world leader in tag-based stock assessments. CCAMLR’s approach and knowledge on tagging studies is of much interest to the broader stock assessment community.

The Commission renewed MOU Arrangements with several Regional Fisheries Management Bodies and agreed increasing practical cooperation with these organisations in respect of toothfish science and the operation of the Catch Document Scheme.

The Commission has agreed to hold a Capacity Building Workshop during 2019 which will examine ways of strengthening CCAMLR by improving the participation of Members in CCAMLR’s work and their contribution to the achievement of the Convention’s objectives.

The Commission has agreed a new Strategic Plan for the Secretariat to cover the years 2019 to 2022, which will strengthen the Secretariat’s capacity to support the work of the Commission.

CCAMLR is a consensus-based organisation consisting of 25 Members (24 countries and the European Union). We thank outgoing Chair, Dr Monde Mayekiso (South Africa), for the past two years of service and wish him well for the future.

Next year, the Commission meeting will be chaired by Mr Fernando Curcio Ruigómez (Spain), who currently holds the position of Ambassador of Spain in New Zealand. We look forward to working together.

What is CCAMLR?
  • The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources
  • Established by an international treaty in 1982
  • Its objective is the conservation of Antarctic marine life while providing for rational use
  • 25 Members and a further 11 countries have signed the Convention
  • The Secretariat (international Headquarters) is at 181 Macquarie Street, Hobart, Australia
  • Further information, including a five-minute video outlining the work of CCAMLR, is available on the CCAMLR website

CCAMLR Fails To Deliver Increased Protection For Fragile Antarctic Ecosystems

November 5, 2018: WWF
The international commission which decides on conservation plans for the oceans surrounding Antarctica has once again failed to deliver increased protection. This disappointing result comes just days after the release of WWF's Living Planet Report 2018 that warns of the serious state of the planet and the critical need for greater action by governments worldwide to protect nature globally. 

The 37th meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) wrapped up tonight after considering proposals for marine protected areas in the Antarctic Peninsula, Weddell Sea and East Antarctica. Yet, the 24 nations plus the European Union (EU) which make up CCAMLR could not agree on any of them, leaving these important marine areas and the species inhabiting them vulnerable to further damage. 

“This highlights a lack of commitment towards conservation of the region,” said Chris Johnson, Senior Manager, WWF Antarctic programme. 

“This week WWF’s flagship Living Planet Report highlighted concerning climate impacts on penguins in Antarctica. 

“We’re in a race against time to protect these waters before it’s too late. 

“Antarctica and its iconic wildlife are showing signs of stress. The creation of a network of marine protected areas is crucial to help safeguard Antarctic wildlife for years to come and help increase the resilience of marine ecosystems to climate change,” said Johnson. 

In July 2018, WWF welcomed the pledge by krill fishing companies to voluntarily stop fishing in parts of the peninsula near penguin colonies in the upcoming fishing season and their support for the creation of an MPA. 

Even with these voluntary closures, krill fishing still overlaps with humpback and minke whales feeding in the peninsula. 

“Leaders in the krill fishing industry and environmental groups support marine protected areas. It’s extremely disappointing that governments can’t deliver,” added Johnson.

FOI Documents: Adani River Scheme Could Have Significant Impact On Water

November 7, 2018: Lock the Gate
Freedom of Information documents obtained by Lock the Gate Alliance show that the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources said Adani’s North Galilee Water Scheme (NGWS) could have a significant impact on water resources.

A submission from the department states unequivocally that 'The department considers the proposed action could have a significant impact(s) on a water resource, in relation to coal seam gas development and large coal development, protected under the EPBC Act'.

Despite that advice, the Department of Environment and Energy went ahead and ruled the NGWS was not likely to have a significant  impact on water resources and an environmental impact assessment was not required.

A second FOI document shows Geoscience Australia found that Adani failed to consider Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems in their referral on the NGWS, despite a large number of GDEs being mapped in the project disturbance area.

Ellie Smith, spokesperson for Lock the Gate Alliance said: “These documents reveal Adani has been given a free run to dodge crucial water assessments against the advice of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.  

“This raises massive questions over the decision by the Department of Environment last month to allow Adani to take 12.5 billion litres of river water to run their mine, without any environmental impact assessment.

“What is the point of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources making a submission if it can just be completely ignored?

“We’re calling for the Minister for Environment to step in now, in light of these documents, and reverse the decision on the North Galilee Water Scheme and instead require a full environmental impact assessment in light of this new information.

“We also want to see an urgent inquiry into how and why it is that advice from these two crucial agencies was effectively ignored,” she said.

Lock the Gate was initially refused access to these documents under FOI by the DoEE, but submitted an internal review of that decision, which led to the documents being released.

Principal Solicitor of EDOQ, Sean Ryan said "These new documents raise serious questions as to why the water impacts of this project are not being thoroughly assessed under federal laws.

“The water trigger contained in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act was specifically designed to deal with actions involving large coal mining projects with a significant impact on a water resource.

“It’s there to protect Australia’s precious water resources, and make sure that coal projects that impact them are thoroughly assessed at a federal level.

“It is concerning that, in these circumstances, the Department of Environment and Energy has decided that the project, and its water impacts, do not require thorough assessment through an Environmental Impact Statement,” he said.

Copies of FOI documents are available here.

Narrabri Marches Against CSG

November 5, 2018
A large crowd has marched through the streets of Narrabri to protest Santos’ coal seam gasfield, as the company faces tough questions from the state agency responsible for water resources over its groundwater impact modelling.

Residents of Narrabri were joined by people from around the North West and beyond to highlight the results of recent door-knocking in Narrabri town that demonstrated overwhelming support (97%) for renewable energy in the region and majority opposition (55%) to Santos’ proposed CSG gasfield.

The event comes after the agency responsible for managing water in NSW criticised Santos’ groundwater assessment for the Narrabri Gas Project, and asked for extensive further work to be done to understand the impact of the project on groundwater.

Commenting on Santos' response to submissions about the gasfield, the Department of Industry - Water has said Santos’ modelling “cannot be relied upon for detailed impact prediction” because it “has not demonstrated an adequate understanding of baseline information and has not proposed a suitable approach to monitoring, modelling and management should the project be approved.” (

Great Artesian Basin Protection Group Vice President, Coonamble farmer Anne Kennedy, said the Department’s response was a confirmation of the community’s fears that Santos had been trying to cut corners in its assessment.

“For us in Coonamble, it’s all about the water. That’s why we’re fighting this coal seam gas project tooth and nail: we can’t afford to compromise our precious groundwater. I’m delighted that the Government agencies are starting to ask Santos the hard questions,” she said.

“We’re marching with our friends in Narrabri to show Santos and the NSW Government that all of us in the North West are in this together, for our water, our communities and our kids’ futures.”

Boggabri farmer Sally Hunter said the doorknocking results showed Santos and the Government had misread sentiment in Narrabri, “We kept hearing that people want CSG, but what they want is jobs. The door-knocking results show people in Narrabri are far more eager for renewable energy than Santos’ risky gasfield. We can have energy, jobs and prosperity without CSG.”  

Lock the Gate North West Coordinator Meg Leathart said Santos’ proposed project presented an unacceptable risk of long-term damage to the environment and the social fabric of the Narrabri region.

“Santos has been caught out trying to cut corners in the assessment of the impact coal seam gas will have on vitally important water resources,” she said.

“CSG is not needed or wanted in North West New South Wales, and is certainly far too risky in the precious Pilliga forest.”

The protest march is supported by participants of the“Spring into Pilliga” event - a three day gathering in the forest that is expected to draw dozens of people from around the state in support of the local campaign against CSG.

Nature Writing Prize 2019

Calling all nature writers!
The Nature Conservancy Australia is delighted to open the fifth biennial Nature Writing Prize.

The winner of the best essay (3,000 – 5,000 words) in the genre of ‘Writing of Place’ will receive a $5,000 award and will be published as an online multimedia essay by Griffith Review – Australia’s leading literary quarterly publication.

The prize will go to an Australian writer whose entry is judged to be of the highest literary merit and which best explores their relationship and interaction with some aspect of the Australian landscape.

Entry costs $30.00. The deadline for submissions is 1 February 2019 and the winner will be announced in May 2019. The prize is open to Australian citizens and permanent residents. 

Drug Pollution Concentrates In Stream Bugs Passes To Predators In Water And On Land

November 6, 2018: Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Sixty-nine pharmaceutical compounds have been detected in stream insects, some at concentrations that may threaten animals that feed on them, such as trout and platypus. When these insects emerge as flying adults, they can pass drugs to spiders, birds, bats, and other streamside foragers. These findings by an international team of researchers were published today in Nature Communications.

Pharmaceutical pollution is present in surface waters globally. Drugs enter the environment because most wastewater treatment facilities are not equipped to remove them from sewage. Septic tanks, ageing pipes, and sewer overflows contribute to the problem.

Emma Rosi, an aquatic ecologist at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and a coauthor on the paper, explains, "Stream life is swimming in a mixture of pharmaceuticals. Our study is the first to show that this chronic drug pollution can concentrate in aquatic insects and move up food webs, in some cases exposing top predators to therapeutically-relevant doses."

Surveying pharmaceuticals in streams
The team sampled six streams in Melbourne, Australia for 98 pharmaceutical compounds -- the most exhaustive screening to date. Pharmaceuticals measured included common drugs like antibiotics, antidepressants, antihistamines, and NSAIDs. Study sites were selected along a gradient of wastewater contamination that included a site downstream of a wastewater treatment plant and a site in a national park.

Aquatic insects and riparian spiders were collected. Erinn Richmond, a freshwater ecologist at Monash University in Australia and lead author on the study, explains, "We focused on riparian spiders because they build their webs over streams and feed on adult aquatic insects as they emerge from the water."

Erinn Richmond collects aquatic invertebrates to test for pharmaceuticals in Brushy Creek in Churnside Park, Victoria, Australia. Credit: Keralee Browne.

Bugs on drugs
Tissue analyses detected up to 69 different pharmaceutical compounds in aquatic insects and up to 66 compounds in riparian spiders. Drug concentrations were the highest in invertebrates collected downstream of wastewater treatment facilities or in heavily populated areas with potential septic tank leakage. On average, pharmaceutical concentrations at these sites were 10 to 100 times higher than less contaminated sites.

Coauthor Jerker Fick, a chemist at Umeå University in Sweden, analysed the insect and spider samples. "Insect tissues had drug concentrations that were orders of magnitude higher than concentrations measured in surface waters. We also found a diverse suite of drugs in spiders, indicating that drugs are passed from the water to prey to predator, thereby exposing other animals in the food web to drugs."

"Pharmaceuticals were present in every insect and spider we tested -- including those collected in Dandenong Ranges National Park," Richmond notes. "Even this seemingly pristine site was contaminated, likely because people live in the park's drainage area and visit the park."

Top predators are at risk
In the streams studied, platypus and brown trout also feed on aquatic insects. By pairing concentrations of pharmaceuticals found in stream insects with known dietary needs of platypus and trout, the team was able to estimate their drug exposure.

Rosi explains, "A platypus living in a creek receiving treated wastewater effluent could receive the equivalent of half of a recommended human dose of antidepressants every day -- just by eating its normal diet of stream insects. This intake is likely to have biological effects."

Starting with filter-feeding insects, pharmaceutical compounds in stream water accumulate in aquatic organisms' tissues. This means that animals that eat aquatic insects, like platypus, get a dose of pharmaceuticals with their meals. Credit: Denise Illing.

Next steps
The caddisfly, a globally common aquatic insect, was among those tested in this study. Richmond says, "Similar insects are found in freshwaters all over the world. This isn't a problem specific to Australia; it's representative of what's likely happening wherever people take drugs. And it's likely an underestimate. We only tested for 98 pharmaceutical compounds -- there are thousands in circulation."

Rosi concludes, "Pharmaceutical use is increasing worldwide. It's clear that the drugs we take are entering freshwaters and being passed up the food web. We don't know the ecological consequences of exposure to this pollution. What does it mean to be a platypus or trout with more than 60 drugs in your tissues? Are there synergistic effects? More research is needed on the extent of food web contamination and the effects of these compounds on fish and wildlife."

Erinn K. Richmond, Emma J. Rosi, David M. Walters, Jerker Fick, Stephen K. Hamilton, Tomas Brodin, Anna Sundelin, Michael R. Grace. A diverse suite of pharmaceuticals contaminates stream and riparian food webs. Nature Communications, 2018; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-06822-w

NSW DPI Helps Save Endangered Turtles

November 6, 2018: NSW DPI
Scientists from NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) have identified a virus which threatened to wipe out the only existing population of a critically endangered native species of freshwater turtle – the Bellinger River snapping turtle.

NSW DPI virologist, Peter Kirkland, said positive identification of the novel nidovirus could help protect these turtles.

“What we now call the Bellinger River virus was discovered following the deaths of more than 400 turtles in 2015,” Dr Kirkland said.

“It’s a great concern as the viability of the severely reduced wild turtle population is under an extreme threat.”

Working with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and the Taronga Conservation Society of Australia, who conducted a field survey, collected samples and confirmed an infectious agent was present, NSW DPI was able to identify the virus.

Staff at NSW DPI’s Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute employed complex scientific procedures to isolate the virus in cell culture from a range of turtle tissues.

DNA sequencing, known as nucleic acid sequencing, was then used to identify the complete genome of the virus.

Dr Kirkland said the DNA analysis showed the Bellinger River virus was different from all other recognised nidoviruses.

“The closest related nidoviruses were recently detected in the lungs of pythons and lizards, in contrast the turtles’ kidneys were most affected,” he said.

“Once we knew we were dealing with a novel virus, NSW DPI staff quickly developed a new test, polymerase chain reaction assay (PCR), to examine additional tissue and confirm the presence of the virus.

“Electron microscopy and other tests revealed high concentrations of virus in affected tissues which indicated the virus caused the turtle deaths.”

The PCR assay is helping monitor a quarantined colony of virus-free adult turtles and their offspring at Taronga Zoo as part of a reintroduction strategy and in regular river surveys to test other species of turtles, which may also be under threat from the Bellinger River virus.

A paper detailing identification of the virus was recently published and is available online, at:

Healthy Bellinger River snapping turtles at Taronga Zoo. Image courtesy of Amy Russell

Baw Baw Frog Breeding Breakthrough

October 28, 2018: by Zoos Victoria
This is HUGE. This is exciting. This is the kind of thing that all Victorians should be celebrating!
After seven years of trying, our team of legends at Melbourne Zoo has bred Baw Baw Frogs in captivity - a world first!

More Affordable And Effective Conservation Of Species

November 5, 2018: Stanford University
No one had reported seeing the strange creature -- a cross between a bear and a monkey -- since before the Great Depression. Then, this past summer, an amateur biologist stumbled upon the presumed-extinct Wondiwoi tree kangaroo while trekking through Papua New Guinea. The revelation underscored how little we still know about the natural world -- a major obstacle to conservation.

A Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo, Australia. Until this past summer, no one had reported seeing its relative, the Wondiwoi tree kangaroo, since 1928. (Image credit: Erik Veland / Flickr)

A new Stanford-led study supports one approach to protecting all species in an area -- the ones we know about and the ones, like the tree kangaroo, scientists don't even know need protection. That conservation scheme focuses broadly on what are known as ecoregions. These are geographically unique regions, such as deserts and rainforests, that contain distinct communities of plants and animals.

Scientists have long debated how well ecoregion borders separate species communities. If the borders are strong, protecting an ecoregion, like a rainforest, would effectively protect all of the species within. If not, each species would need to be managed separately -- a much more uncertain undertaking, especially when we don't even know some species are there.

The new study, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, provides compelling evidence that ecoregions do meaningfully divide plant and animal communities. This opens a path to new conservation approaches that more affordably and effectively protect little-known species, such as the tree kangaroo, and valuable natural services such as disease control and water filtration.

"Environmental conservation is limited by a lack of funding and other resources," said study lead author Jeffrey Smith, a Stanford graduate student in biology. "Ecoregions give us a way to effectively allocate that limited funding."

Bridging the knowledge gap
Robust, scientifically based conservation depends on in-depth information about species, their habitats and their population numbers -- a level of detail absent for the overwhelming majority of species and places around the world. Looking for a way to bridge the gap, Smith, Daily and their coauthors did a deep dive into plant and animal biodiversity data from sources such as the U.S. Forest Service and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, a clearinghouse for data from citizen scientists, museums and researchers.

From that, they unearthed support for thinking about all species -- even highly mobile animals -- as being clustered together in ecoregions around the globe. These results go far beyond previous work, which primarily characterized ecoregions by plant communities alone.

"These are crucially important findings," said study coauthor Gretchen Daily, a Stanford biologist. "They illuminate where and how to invest in conservation and restoration for people and nature."

The future of Earth's life-support systems hinges on vast yet little studied regions of the planet. Establishing that ecoregions meaningfully divide different types of communities allows scientists and decision-makers to think more critically about conservation plans for these realms. This holistic approach to protecting biodiversity ensures we can better safeguard natural services, such as crop pollination and pest control, that are made possible by diverse ecosystems of plants, insects, fungi and small vertebrates.

The authors argue that ecoregions are one of many factors that should be considered when developing a cohesive conservation strategy. It's an approach already in play at some major global conservation organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy and WWF, as well as federal agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"As long as environmental conservation is limited by a lack of funding and other resources a key scientific and practical question is how to most effectively allocate limited funding to maximize conservation gains," Smith said.

Jeffrey R. Smith, Andrew D. Letten, Po-Ju Ke, Christopher B. Anderson, J. Nicholas Hendershot, Manpreet K. Dhami, Glade A. Dlott, Tess N. Grainger, Meghan E. Howard, Beth M. L. Morrison, Devin Routh, Priscilla A. San Juan, Harold A. Mooney, Erin A. Mordecai, Thomas W. Crowther, Gretchen C. Daily. A global test of ecoregions. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0709-x

A 1936 illustration of a Wondiwoi Tree Kangaroo. Until this past summer, no one had reported seeing the creature since 1928. Credit: Zoological Society of London

Winter Ticks Killing Moose At Alarming Rate

October 2018: University of New Hampshire
As winter in New England seems to get warmer, fall lingers longer and spring comes into bloom earlier, areas like northern New Hampshire and western Maine are seeing an unusual continued increase in winter ticks which are endangering the moose population. Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have found that the swell of infestations of this parasite, which attaches itself to moose during the fall and feeds throughout the winter, is the primary cause of an unprecedented 70 percent death rate of calves over a three-year period.

"The iconic moose is rapidly becoming the new poster child for climate change in parts of the Northeast," said Pete Pekins, professor of wildlife ecology. "Normally anything over a 50 percent death rate would concern us, but at 70 percent, we are looking at a real problem in the moose population."

In the study, published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology, researchers outline the screening of 179 radio-marked moose calves (age nine to 10 months) for physical condition and parasites in the month of January over three consecutive years from 2014 to 2016. They tracked new calves for four months each winter and found that a total of 125 calves died over the three-year period. A high infestation of winter ticks was found on each calf (an average of 47,371 per moose) causing emaciation and severe metabolic imbalance from blood loss, which was the primary cause of death.

Most adult moose survived but were still severely compromised. They were thin and anemic from losing so much blood. The ticks appear to be harming reproductive health so there is also less breeding.

The researchers say winter tick epidemics typically last one to two years. But, five of the last 10 years has shown a rare frequency of tick infestations which reflects the influence of climate change. They point out that right now these issues are mostly appearing in southern moose populations, but as climate change progresses they anticipate this issue to reach farther north.

"We're sitting on a powder keg," said Pekins. "The changing environmental conditions associated with climate change are increasing and are favourable for winter ticks, specifically later-starting winters that lengthen the autumnal questing period for ticks."

Fall is considered "questing" season for winter ticks. They climb up vegetation and look to attach to a host. Once they attach, they go through three active life stages (larvae, nymph, and adult) by taking a blood meal and feeding on the same animal. The ticks will feed and remain on one host during their subsequent moults until spring when adult females detach and drop to the ground. Their preferred hosts are moose and other mammals, including deer, elk, caribou, and occasionally horses and cattle. Winter ticks rarely bite and feed on humans.

Henry Jones, Peter J Pekins, Lee Kantar, Inga Sidor, Daniel Ellingwood, Anne Lichtenwalner, Matthew O'Neal. Mortality assessment of calf moose (Alces alces) during successive years of winter tick (Dermacentor albipictus) epizootics in New Hampshire and Maine. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 2018; DOI: 10.1139/cjz-2018-0140

Known as “ghost moose,” this adult moose illustrates typical hair loss associated with high loads of winter ticks. Photo credit: Dan Bergeron, N.H. Fish and Game Dept. 

Supervising Scientist Annual Technical Report 2017-18

November 7th, 2018: Department of the Environment and Energy, 2018.

Supervising Scientist’s Overview
2017-18 –was a busy and productive year for the Supervising Scientist Branch (SSB) with significant progress in a number of areas, and ongoing focus on the rehabilitation of the Ranger uranium mine.

Our environmental monitoring programs were successfully completed to the usual high standard and continue to show that people and the environment in the Alligator Rivers Region remain protected from the effects of uranium mining. Water quality in both Magela and Gulungul Creeks continues to improve compared to previous years, with no exceedances of the statutory water quality guidelines recorded in either creek during the reporting period. Our field monitoring team overcame some significant safety challenges associated with the increasing risk of crocodile attacks. However, in some cases this has driven advances in our monitoring techniques, such as the move from visual observation to videography methods for fish monitoring.

Our Revegetation and Landform team made significant progress in the development of leading-edge vegetation monitoring techniques using unmanned aerial vehicles. These techniques use hyperspectral cameras and laser scanners to measure a range of vegetation characteristics at a landscape-scale, capturing significantly more information than is possible with ground-based techniques. This technology will assist with the development of revegetation closure criteria, and provide the platform for monitoring to assess their achievement.

Progressive rehabilitation activities at Ranger mine continued through-out the year, including the backfill of Pit 1 and the transfer of mine tailings from the tailings storage facility to Pit 3. We worked closely with Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) and the regulatory agencies throughout the year, with a focus on tailings deposition in Pit 3. We commissioned an independent expert review of the process and are now contributing to the development of a new tailings deposition method that is expected to be implemented some time in 2018-19.

A key milestone in the rehabilitation process was the development and submission of ERA’s Ranger Mine Closure Plan. We completed an assessment of the draft Plan in July 2017 and provided feedback to ERA and other members of the Ranger Minesite Technical Committee. ERA subsequently published a revised version of the Plan on 5 June 2018, which was still under assessment at the end of the 2017-18 reporting period.

To support our assessment of the Ranger Mine Closure Plan, we are developing a series of Rehabilitation Standards that quantify the rehabilitation objectives for Ranger mine. These Standards are non-binding, but will form the basis of the Supervising Scientist’s advice on the closure criteria proposed by ERA and in time, on the success of rehabilitation. It is planned that the standards will be published at the same time as the Supervising Scientist’s Ranger Mine Closure Plan Assessment Report in the second half of 2018.

Reflecting our continued focus on mine rehabilitation, the membership of the Alligator Rivers Region Technical Committee (ARRTC) was reviewed to better align the Committee with rehabilitation-related requirements. We were fortunate to appoint a number of new members renowned for their expertise in each of their relative disciplines.

The SSB and ERA research programs are guided by a set of Key Knowledge Needs (KKNs) that are based upon a comprehensive risk assessment process. The KKNs were reviewed and consolidated during 2017-18, and projects aiming to address each of them have been scoped and scheduled. As the required research is completed and endorsed by ARRTC, the KKNs will be progressively closed-out.

To enhance the research and technical assessment capability within our Branch, we have established a network external collaborators. Long-term agreements have been put in place to help ensure that key research and assessment outcomes are delivered within required timeframes. This includes the Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation at the University of Queensland, the CSIRO and Charles Darwin University who is undertaking three Ranger-related projects through the National Environmental Science Program.

The peer review and external communication of our work remains a priority for the Branch. A number of staff presented at national and international forums and conferences throughout the year, with some staff contributing to the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by attending expert missions. Additionally, we participated in a number events hosted by the IAEA and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, met with officials from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the International Council on Monuments and Sites and conducted technical exchange meetings in Germany with Wismut GmbH which is undertaking the world’s largest uranium rehabilitation project. Locally, we once again hosted a stall at the Mahbilil Festival in Jabiru and continue to connect with local Aboriginal people through the staff at our Jabiru Field Station and ongoing engagement with the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation and the Northern Land Council.

Finally, I would like to thank all of the staff of SSB for their professionalism, dedication and hard work during 2017-18. Our achievements over the last year are a credit to all of them.

Keith Tayler
Supervising Scientist

First Study Of Humpback Whale Survivors Of Killer Whale Attacks In The Southeastern Pacific  

November 6, 2018: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Humpback whales bear stark battle scars from violent encounters with orcas, also known as killer whales. Analysis of rake marks on more than 3000 humpback whale tails or flukes suggest that attacks on these undersea giants may be on the rise, according to a new study in Endangered Species Research.

“We set out to discover where, when and at what age humpback whales in the Southeastern Pacific are attacked by orcas,” said Hector M. Guzman, marine ecologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Orcas, Orcinus orca, like humans, are apex predators. Although they can feed on more than 20 different species of cetaceans, they usually prefer sea lions, fur seals, fish and sea birds.

“Because the chances of observing rake marks on young, vulnerable whales increased in the last 20 years, we think that killer whale attacks on humpback whales may be more common now than they were in the past, perhaps due to the recovery of whale breeding stocks in the Southeast Pacific after hunting was prohibited,” said Juan Capella, lead author and marine biologist from Whalesound Ltd. in Chile.

This extraordinary international team studied photos of whales at shallow, warm-water breeding grounds in Panama’s Las Perlas Archipelago, Gorgona Island and Malaga Bay in Colombia and Salinas and Machalilla in Ecuador and at cold water feeding grounds in Chile’s Magellan Strait and the Gerlache Strait off the western Antarctic Peninsula. They found that 11.5 percent of adult whales and 19.5 percent of calves carried battle scars, numbers similar to those reported from the North Pacific, the North Atlantic, eastern Australia, Tonga and New Caledonia.

“The number of scars borne by an individual whale didn’t seem to change from year to year, suggesting that orcas primarily attack calves during their first migration,” said Fernando Felix, marine biologist from the Pontifica Universidad Catolica and the Whale Museum (Museo de Ballenas) in Ecuador. They carry their scars for the rest of their lives.”

Because young whales at feeding grounds had more scars than young whales at breeding grounds, researchers suspect that orcas prefer to attack young whales. Scarred female whales who were attacked by orcas as calves arrived at Magellan feeding areas with a higher number of calves than non-scarred females, suggesting that maybe they were better at evading orcas and defending their young from attack because they had survived an attack in the past.

“We want to underscore the importance of transnational studies to better our understanding of marine environments and their inhabitants as we recommend policies that work both for the health of the ocean and for the beneficiaries of its wealth,” Guzmán said.

Author affiliations also include: Fundación Yubarta, Colombia, and Instituto de la Patagonia, Chile.

JJ Capella, F Félix, L Flórez-González, J Gibbons, B Haase, HM Guzman. Geographic and temporal patterns of non-lethal attacks on humpback whales by killer whales in the eastern South Pacific and the Antarctic Peninsula. Endangered Species Research, 2018; 37: 207 DOI: 10.3354/esr00924

Humpback whales travel to shallow tropical waters to give birth and then return to their feeding grounds in cooler ocean waters. Researchers think that most orca attacks on humpback whales involve calves in their first year of life. Credit: Eduardo Estrada

Air Pollution Linked To Autism

November 5, 2018: Monash University
The study of children in Shanghai, from birth to three years, found that exposure to fine particles (PM2.5) from vehicle exhausts, industrial emissions and other sources of outdoor pollution increased the risk of developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by up to 78%. The study included 124 ASD children and 1240 healthy children (as control) in stages over a nine-year period, examining the association between air pollution and ASD.

The study, published today in Environment International, is first to examine the effects of long-term exposure of air pollution on ASD during the early life of children in a developing country, adding to previous studies that have already linked prenatal air pollution exposure to ASD in children.

"The causes of autism are complex and not fully understood, but environmental factors are increasingly recognised in addition to genetic and other factors," Associate Professor Guo said.

"The developing brains of young children are more vulnerable to toxic exposures in the environment and several studies have suggested this could impact brain function and the immune system. These effects could explain the strong link we found between exposure to air pollutants and ASD, but further research is needed to explore the associations between air pollution and mental health more broadly."

Air pollution is a major public concern and is estimated to cause up to 4.2 million deaths (WHO) every year globally. Outdoor pollutants contribute to a high burden of disease and pre-mature deaths in countries including China and India, especially in densely populated areas.

Even in Australia where concentrations are typically lower, air pollution from burning fossil fuels and industrial processes causes about 3,000 premature deaths a year -- almost three times the national road toll and costing the economy up to $24 billion.

Associate Professor Yuming Guo, from Monash University's School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, says global air pollution is rapidly becoming worse and there is no safe level of exposure.

"The serious health effects of air pollution are well-documented, suggesting there is no safe level of exposure. Even exposure to very small amounts of fine particulate matter have been linked to preterm births, delayed learning, and a range of serious health conditions, including heart disease."

The study examined the health effects of three types of particulate matter (PM1, PM2.5, PM10) -- fine airborne particles that are the byproducts of emissions from factories, vehicular pollution, construction activities and road dust. The smaller the airborne particles, the more capable they are of penetrating the lungs and entering the bloodstream causing a range of serious health conditions.

PM1 is the smallest in particle size but few studies have been done on PM1 globally and agencies are yet to set safety standards for it.

"Despite the fact that smaller particles are more harmful, there is no global standard or policy for PM1 air pollution."

"Given that PM1 accounts for about 80% of PM2.5 pollution in China alone, further studies on its health effects and toxicology are needed to inform policy makers to develop standards for the control of PM1 air pollution in the future."

Zhiling Guo, Heidi Qunhui Xie, Peng Zhang, Yali Luo, Tuan Xu, Yiyun Liu, Hualing Fu, Li Xu, Eugenia Valsami-Jones, Patricia Boksa, Bin Zhao. Dioxins as potential risk factors for autism spectrum disorder. Environment International, 2018; 121: 906 DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2018.10.028

World-Class Westmead Health And Education Precinct Comes To Life

November 5, 2018: NSW Minister for Health
The University of Sydney has partnered with the NSW Government to establish a second campus as part of a leading international health, education and research precinct in Western Sydney.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said bringing the top-tier university to the heart of Western Sydney would attract more than 25,000 students and further drive its vision for a world- leading health and education precinct.

The NSW Government announced it would be working with The University of Sydney after a three-month market sounding process.

“The University of Sydney has the academic and reputational excellence to anchor this world-class education precinct, which will inspire and work hand-in-glove with co- located health facilities and ground-breaking medical research,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“This will further support the NSW Government’s vision for a world-class health and education precinct at the geographic heart of Sydney - fully integrated with the Parramatta Light Rail and Sydney Metro West, as well as medical, sports, arts and creative industries, and affordable housing.”

New primary and high schools will also be included in the precinct planning.

Over the next 30 years, the NSW Government’s vision for the precinct is expected to create more than 20,000 new jobs, inject more than $13 billion to the NSW economy and generate $3 billion in exports.

“The precinct will attract the best and brightest to Westmead and continue the jobs boom in Western Sydney,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the NSW Government’s $1 billion Westmead Hospital Redevelopment – one of the biggest health projects in NSW – will transform health care in Western Sydney and beyond.

“When completed in 2020, Westmead Hospital will ensure Western Sydney’s growing population continues to enjoy world-class health care close to home and will further boost jobs and pioneering medical research and education opportunities.

Vice-Chancellor of The University of Sydney, Dr Michael Spence AC, said the campus would have more than 25,000 students and 2500 staff by 2050 and provide affordable accommodation for key workers and students.

“Over the next 10 years, the campus would create 450 science and research jobs at the University and 3500 jobs in healthcare, education, biotechnology, manufacturing and other high-value industries. It will also enable hundreds of millions of dollars in third-party investment in local research and development,” Dr Spence said.

Member for Parramatta Dr Geoff Lee said he was delighted with this vision for Western Sydney.

“This will not just be a world-leading medical, education and innovation precinct, but it will create a wonderful, dynamic and vibrant place – a place that also preserves and showcases our heritage,” Dr Lee said.

Health Infrastructure NSW and UrbanGrowth NSW Development Corporation will now jointly lead a 24-month exclusive negotiation period with the University and community feedback will be sought during the master planning process.

How Clear Speech Equates To Clear Memory

November 5, 2018: Acoustical Society of America
Some conversations are forgotten as soon as they are over, while other exchanges may leave lasting imprints. University of Texas at Austin researchers Sandie Keerstock and Rajka Smiljanic want to understand why and how listeners remember some spoken utterances more clearly than others. They're specifically looking at ways in which clarity of speaking style can affect memory.

Keerstock, a UT Austin doctoral student, and Smiljanic, an associate professor and linguist who heads UTsoundLab, will describe their work at the Acoustical Society of America's 176th Meeting, held in conjunction with the Canadian Acoustical Association's 2018 Acoustics Week in Canada, Nov. 5-9 at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, Canada.

In one experiment, 30 native and 30 nonnative English listeners were presented with 72 sentences, broken down into six blocks of 12 sentences each. These sentences -- such as "The grandfather drank the dark coffee" or "The boy carried the heavy chair" -- were alternately produced in two different styles: "clear" speech, in which the speaker talked slowly, articulating with great precision, and a more casual and speedily delivered "conversational" manner.

After hearing each block of a dozen sentences, listeners were asked to recall verbatim the sentences they had heard by writing them down on a sheet of paper, after being given a clue such as "grandfather" or "boy."

Both groups of listeners, native and nonnative, did better when sentences were presented in the clear speaking style. This is in line with their previous study in which clearly spoken sentences were recognized better than casual sentences as previously heard by both groups of listeners. The UT Austin researchers offer a possible explanation for these results: When a speaker is talking faster or failing to enunciate as crisply, listeners have to work harder to decipher what's being said. More mental resources, consequently, are drawn toward that task, leaving fewer resources available for memory consolidation.

Clearly produced speech could benefit students in the classroom and patients receiving instructions from their doctors, Smiljanic said. "That appears to be an efficient way of conveying information, not only because we can hear the words better but also because we can retain them better."

In their next round of experiments, she and Keerstock will focus on the speakers rather than the listeners to see whether speaking clearly affects their own memory. "If you're rehearsing for a lecture and read the material out loud in a hyperarticulated way," Keerstock asked, "will that help you remember better?"

Trial Finds Diet Rich In Fish Helps Fight Asthma

November 4, 2018: La Trobe University
A clinical trial led by La Trobe University has shown eating fish such as salmon, trout and sardines as part of a healthy diet can reduce asthma symptoms in children.

The international study found children with asthma who followed a healthy Mediterranean diet enriched with fatty fish had improved lung function after six months.

Lead researcher Maria Papamichael from La Trobe said the findings added to a growing body of evidence that a healthy diet could be a potential therapy for childhood asthma.

"We already know that a diet high in fat, sugar and salt can influence the development and progression of asthma in children and now we have evidence that it's also possible to manage asthma symptoms through healthy eating," Ms Papamichael said.

"Fatty fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids which have anti-inflammatory properties. Our study shows eating fish just twice a week can significantly decrease lung inflammation in children with asthma."

Co-researcher and Head of La Trobe's School of Allied Health, Professor Catherine Itsiopoulos, said the results were promising.

"Following a traditional Mediterranean diet that is high in plant-based foods and oily fish could be an easy, safe and effective way to reduce asthma symptoms in children," Professor Itsiopoulos said.

Associate Professor Bircan Erbas, from La Trobe's School of Psychology and Public Health, is an expert in asthma and allergies, who co-supervised the trial.

"Asthma is the most common respiratory disease in young people and one of the leading reasons for hospitalisations and trips to emergency for children," Associate Professor Erbas said.

"Unfortunately, the rate of asthma worldwide remains high. It is imperative that we identify new therapies that we can use alongside conventional asthma medications."

The clinical trial involved 64 children from Athens in Greece, aged 5 to 12 who had mild asthma. Researchers from Australia and Greece divided the children into two groups and instructed around half to eat two meals of cooked fatty fish (of at least 150 grams) as part of the Greek Mediterranean diet every week for six months. The remaining children followed their normal diet.

At the end of the trial, they found the group who ate fish had reduced their bronchial inflammation by 14 units. Above 10 units is significant under international guidelines.

M. M. Papamichael, Ch. Katsardis, K. Lambert, D. Tsoukalas, M. Koutsilieris, B. Erbas, C. Itsiopoulos. Efficacy of a Mediterranean diet supplemented with fatty fish in ameliorating inflammation in paediatric asthma: a randomised controlled trial. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 2018; DOI: 10.1111/jhn.12609

NSW Seniors Festival: Love Your Life In 2019

November 8, 2018: NSW Family and Community Services
Communities across NSW will come alive with music, art, sporting and health events for seniors this February, as more than 100 organisations prepare to host events and activities to celebrate the 2019 NSW Seniors Festival.

Minister for Ageing Tanya Davies today announced 120 organisations will receive NSW Government funding to support their events, and revealed the 2019 festival
theme will be 'Love Your Life'.

"Valentine's Day has been the inspiration for the festival theme, a playful take on the traditional celebration of love at this time of year," Mrs Davies said.

"There's so much to love about life at any age and there's so much to love about the NSW Seniors Festival this February."

"The NSW Government wants to celebrate seniors and create exciting opportunities for older people to get out in the community, kick up their heels and meet others while
sharing new experiences," Mrs Davies added.

Grant recipients will host events and activities in Sydney as well as regional and remote locations across NSW, from special twilight cinemas for seniors in Sydney's west to modified sporting events for seniors in Dubbo.

The highly anticipated Premier's Gala Concerts and Seniors Expo will once again be held at the International Convention Centre, Darling Harbour, with dates and tickets to be announced soon.

"I want to encourage seniors to make the most of the festival, visit the Expo in Darling Harbour and get involved in as many local events as possible happening right across the State."

NSW Seniors Festival 2019 is the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and runs from Wednesday 13 February until Sunday 24 February. Local events and activities will be listed online soon at

Older Drinkers Falling Through The Cracks

November 8, 2018
Older adults are now one of the fastest growing populations of hazardous drinkers, yet health systems are failing to identify them and address their needs until their condition is critical, according to new research.

A review of international survey data, including US National Surveys on Drug Use and Health and the Australian Department of Health National Drug Strategy Household Survey, found growing epidemiological evidence that hazardous drinking was a major public health concern in older populations.

Estimates for the number of older people drinking at risky levels varied widely, from one to just over 20 per cent.

An Australian national survey found older adults drank more frequently than younger age groups, albeit at lesser levels. New data from Victoria found the greatest increase of all ambulance attendances involving alcohol intoxication was in those aged over 50.

In New Zealand, up to 40 per cent of older adults were hazardous drinkers, with the over-50s drinking more frequently and more on each occasion than older adults in nine other countries, including England, Russia, the United States, Mexico and China.

The research was presented by teams from Massey University, University of Auckland, and the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Australia at this week’s Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs (APSAD) Scientific Alcohol and Drug Conference in Auckland.

“Baby boomers worldwide are drinking more than previous generations of older adults and many are drinking at harmful levels,” said Dr Andy Towers of Massey’s School of Health Sciences. “We need to take action now to cut the rate of hazardous drinking in this group, maintain their health and reduce reliance on care.”

Older drinkers presented unique challenges, particularly for clinicians and health professionals. Older adults had higher physiological sensitivity to alcohol, more co-morbid health conditions and use of medications that alcohol could interfere with, a higher risk of alcohol-linked mental health issues, and a greater likelihood of alcohol-related injuries and death.

Research from Australia also established alcohol-related dementia to be the leading cause of young onset dementia (onset of symptoms before age 65), accounting for nearly 20 per cent of cases.

Troublingly, a recent French data linkage study involving more than 30 million participants put this rate even higher, at 40 per cent.

“There is increasing evidence that alcohol is an important, modifiable risk factor for cognitive impairment and should be a target for dementia prevention campaigns. Alcohol is a risk to brain health that we simply cannot ignore any longer,” said lead researcher Dr Adrienne Withall, from the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at UNSW Australia.

“Many older people in our research expressed that they would like their doctor to give them more information about alcohol use and services,” she said.

“We need to get the message out there that older people should ideally limit their drinking to one standard drink a day, with two alcohol free days per week. Unfortunately, we believe that there is no safe level of drinking for people with dementia.”  

Despite seeing their GPs frequently, many older drinkers were missed because health professionals often lacked specific training on identifying key risks and the use of inappropriate screening tools that neglected key health-related risk factors.

“Many older adults and their GPs feel uncomfortable discussing alcohol use, many do not understand what a standard drink is nor what the low-risk guidelines are, and many labour under the assumption - now seriously in question - that a bit of alcohol is good for you,” said Dr David Newcombe, Director of the Centre for Addiction Research, University of Auckland.

Labor Must Drop Franking Credit Policy

November 8, 2018
Ordinary older Australians fear Labor’s scrapping of franking credit refunds will force them onto the Age Pension and penalise them for saving for retirement, according to leading independent advocacy group National Seniors Australia.

National Seniors is urging the federal Opposition to scrap the policy, which its members have said betray retirees’ core values of self-reliance and self-sufficiency.

In its submission to the federal Parliamentary Inquiry into the Implications of Removing Refundable Franking Credits released today, National Seniors says the Labor policy was viewed by its members as a means of ‘milking’ self-funded retirees as a revenue source.

Chief Advocate Ian Henschke said the submission expressed the views of National Seniors members who responded to a call out on the franking credit refund issue.

“Because the majority of self-funded retirees own shares, hundreds of thousands of people will be affected by this proposed policy,” Mr Henschke said. “The policy will hurt ordinary Australians, and not just the wealthiest as Labor claims.

“Members told us the proposal would financially hit those who had worked and saved hard under the existing tax rules, which have been in place since 2000, to self-fund their retirement.

“Unlike Labor’s negative gearing policy, there are no plans to grandfather this change. This means seniors who, in good faith, planned for their retirement under existing rules will not be spared. It also discriminates against self-funded retirees and in favour of those in industry superannuation funds.”

Mr Henschke said input received from National Seniors members showed older Australians were sick of constant changes to retirement and superannuation policy. One member wrote:

In light of your policy on imputation credits, what do you suggest I should do? Should I sell my share portfolio, draw down my SMSF and spend up big on a more expensive home, a luxury car and expensive holidays? In the process there is every likelihood I would become eligible for an age pension and the benefits that come with it. I … have voted Labor for most of my life. If you proceed with this draconian policy you can be assured I shan’t be voting Labor at the next election and shall preference Labor candidates behind all others.”

Mr Henschke said National Seniors was not opposed to fair and considered reform to the retirement income system.

“However, the proposed Labor changes will severely impact lower income self-funded retirees who have worked hard and planned their retirement within the prevailing rules,” he said.

“This proposal will damage the retirement funding and hopes of ordinary older people. Australians don’t support policies that rob seniors of their economic independence or that unfairly discriminate. It destroys faith, not just in the superannuation system but in the political system itself,” Mr Henschke said.

Celebrating Great Ideas In Health Care

November 6, 2018: NSW Health
A volunteer who has worked tirelessly for 20 years to improve services and facilities for people with mental illness in South West Sydney, and a project to deliver healthy outcomes in aboriginal communities have been recognised at the annual NSW Health Awards.

Minister for Health Brad Hazzard has tonight announced the 11 winners of the awards which are now in their 20th year.

The Secretary of NSW Health Elizabeth Koff has congratulated the winners and finalists on their creativity and commitment.

”The 2018 Awards recognise the outstanding innovations in the state’s health system,” Ms Koff said.

“The winning projects demonstrate the depth of talent and creativity that runs through NSW Health.

“The entries represented a wide range of focus, from client-led recovery in mental health, to innovative initiatives in hospitals and clinical settings.”

Another highlight of the awards this year was the development by South Western Sydney Local Health District of a peripheral catheter program which significantly reduces patient pain and complication rates by improving cannula insertion.

This is achieved through the use of ultrasound vein location and an insertion algorithm which has seen 80 per cent of cannulas inserted successfully on the first attempt with many remaining in place until treatment is complete, and with zero infections.

Minister Hazzard paid tribute to the winners and finalists, commending them for their efforts.

“Each project focusses on the improvement of patient care, which is at the heart of everything we do.”

In 2018-19, the NSW Government is investing a record $25 billion in health.

This includes $19.2 billion towards improving services in hospitals in NSW this year.

Full descriptions of the projects in each category are available at:

Care Urged In Thunderstorm Asthma Season

November 6, 2018: NSW Health
Forecast thunderstorms for much of NSW today has prompted a call for people prone to respiratory conditions and hay-fever to take extra care.

NSW Health’s Director of Environmental Health, Dr Richard Broome, said late spring saw high levels of pollen in the air, which could trigger asthma and respiratory conditions, especially during thunderstorms.

“Even if you don’t have asthma, you should take extra care because pollen is at its highest level now and may spark breathing difficulties in some people,” Dr Broome said.

“Thunderstorms cause pollen grains to explode and release fine particles which can be inhaled deeply into the lungs, causing even more people to wheeze and sneeze.”

In Melbourne in 2016, about 3,600 more people than usual presented to hospital and nine died from asthma attacks after a severe thunderstorm.

“While Sydney hasn’t had a major event like Melbourne, thunderstorm asthma events have been significant in rural areas of NSW and while unlikely, we can’t rule out  a similar event happening in Sydney,” Dr Broome said.

“Anyone with diagnosed asthma should carry their asthma medication with them at all times during this high-risk period.

“If you have asthma, make sure you have an asthma action plan and are proactively managing your symptoms.

“It’s also important for people to know Asthma first aid, so they can help family and friends when they need it,” Dr Broome said.

The four steps to remember are:
  • sit the person upright
  • give four separate puffs from their reliever puffer
  • wait four minutes and if there’s no improvement, give four more puffs
  • if there’s still no improvement, dial 000.
Breathing difficulties can be life threatening. In the event of an asthma emergency dial triple zero (000) immediately.

A Stronger My Health Record

November 7th, 2018: The Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health
The Australian Government will introduce further legislative amendments to ensure the safety and privacy of health information in the My Health Record system.

We have examined the recommendations from the Senate Inquiry, we have listened to concerns raised by a range of groups and My Health Record users and will move the following amendments to Labor’s original legislation to further strengthen the My Health Record Act:
  • Increase penalties for improper use of a My Health Record:
Maximum criminal penalty increasing from 2 years to 5 years jail
Increase of maximum fines for individuals from $126,000 to $315,000
  • Strengthening provisions to safeguard against domestic violence. The proposed provisions will ensure that a person cannot be the authorised representative of a minor if they have restricted access to the child, or may pose a risk to the child, or a person associated with the child. In cases where there may be a risk to a person’s life, health or safety then the amendments will remove the requirement for the Australian Digital Health Agency to notify individuals about certain decisions.
  • Prohibiting an employer from requesting and using health information in an individual’s My Health Record and protecting employees and potential employees from discriminatory use of their My Health Record. Importantly, employers or insurers cannot simply avoid the prohibition by asking the individuals to share their My Health Record information with them.
  • No health information or de-identified data to be released to private health insurers, and other types of insurers for research or public health purposes.
  • The proposed amendments also reinforce that the My Health Record system is a critical piece of national health infrastructure operating for the benefit of all Australians, by removing the ability of the System Operator to delegate functions to organisations other than the Department of Health and the Chief Executive of Medicare.
Furthermore, the Government will conduct a review looking into whether it is appropriate that parents have default access to the records of 14-17 year olds.

Currently a young person aged 14 and over can take control of their My Health Record at any time by removing their parents access to their record.

These proposed amendments are in addition to the amendments announced in July, which have already passed the lower house. They include that law enforcement agencies can only access a person’s My Health Record with a warrant or court order and anyone who chooses to cancel a record at any time will have that record permanently deleted.

While these changes are in response to the Senate Inquiry calling for additional safeguards, neither the legislative nor the reference committee inquiries identified any actual cases of such concern despite 6 years of operation and 6 million users.

Those that wish to delete their record after the November 15 opt-out date can do so at any time throughout their lives and their record will be deleted forever.

More than 6.1 million Australians already have a My Health Record and over 13,000 healthcare professional organisations are connected, including general practices, hospitals, pharmacies, diagnostic imaging and pathology practices. There has never been a reported security breach of the system.

The legislation to enable My Health Record to become an opt-out system passed the Parliament unanimously in 2015 and received the unanimous support of both houses and the strong endorsement of Labor.

In addition all State and Territory Health Ministers unanimously reaffirmed their support as recently as the August COAG Health Council.

Melanoma Death Rates: Australia Is Highest 

November 4, 2018: National Cancer Research Institute
The rate of men dying from malignant melanoma has risen in populations around the world, while in some countries the rates are steady or falling for women, according to research presented at the 2018 NCRI Cancer Conference.

Researchers studied worldwide data on deaths gathered by the World Health Organisation, focusing on 33 countries with the most reliable data. They found that melanoma death rates in men were rising in all but one country.

They say more research is needed to understand the reason for this trend, but in the meantime, more public health efforts targeted at men may be needed to raise awareness of the disease and of sun-smart behaviours.

The work was presented by Dr Dorothy Yang, a junior doctor at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, UK. She said: "The major risk factor for melanoma is overexposure to ultraviolet radiation, either from sun exposure or from using sunbeds. Despite public health efforts to promote awareness of melanoma and encourage sun-smart behaviours, melanoma incidence has been increasing in recent decades. However, some new reports have identified signs of stabilisation and decline in melanoma death rates in places like Australia and Northern Europe.

"We wanted to conduct an up-to-date analysis of recent melanoma mortality rates across the world to try to understand these patterns, and whether new diagnosis, treatment and prevention strategies are having any effect."

The researchers studied age-standardised death rates in the 33 countries between 1985 and 2015. These rates take into account the effects of some countries having an aging population and others having a younger demographic. They extracted the rates for malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. They compared the rates for men and women and looked at trends over time.

In all countries, the rates were higher in men than in women. Overall, the highest three-year average death rates for 2013 to 2015 were found in Australia (5.72 per 100,000 men and 2.53 per 100,000 in women) and Slovenia (3.86 in men and 2.58 in women), with the lowest in Japan (0.24 in men and 0.18 in women).

The Czech Republic was the only country where the researchers found a decrease in men's melanoma death rate, where there was as estimated annual percentage decrease of 0.7% between 1985 and 2015. Israel and the Czech Republic experienced the largest decreases in mortality rates in women, 23.4% and 15.5% respectively.

Dr Yang added: "More research will be needed to explore the factors underlying these trends. There is evidence that suggests men are less likely to protect themselves from the sun or engage with melanoma awareness and prevention campaigns. There is also ongoing work looking for any biological factors underlying the difference in mortality rates between men and women."

Dr Yang says she and her colleagues will continue to examine the data to see whether they can identify any possible factors that help explain the differences.

Poulam Patel is Chair of the NCRI Skin Cancer Clinical Studies Group, Professor of Clinical Oncology at the University of Nottingham, and was not involved with the research. He said: "This research shows that death rates for melanoma are stabilising or decreasing in some countries, particularly for women, but in almost all countries there was an increase in death rates over the past 30 years in men. This is an important finding that requires further scrutiny.

"These results also suggest that melanoma will continue to be a health issue over the coming years, and we will need to find effective strategies to accurately diagnose and successfully treat patients."

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.