Inbox and Environment News: Issue 384

November 18 - 24, 2018: Issue 384

Logging Laws Will Destroy Thousands Of Hectares Of Forests And All That Lives In Them

November 16, 2018: NSW Conservation Council

New logging laws released by the NSW Government today will destroy large areas of publicly owned native forests and make them unfit for native species, according to the NSW National Parks Association, NSW Nature Conservation Council and leading scientists[i].

“The new logging laws released by the Berejiklian government today will destroy large areas of publicly owned native forests and quickly render them unfit for native species,” NSW Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said.

“These measures will trash many of the last refuges on earth for an astonishing array of species. Premier Gladys Berejiklian has effectively signed a death warrant for thousands of forest-dwelling animals like koalas, quolls and owls.”

The new Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals will:

  • Increase logging intensity throughout public native forests, including legalising[ii] high-intensity clearfell logging in 140,000ha of forests between Taree and Grafton, enabling clear-felling of areas up to 45ha in one go. This will convert biologically complex, natural forests into monocultures and destroy 43% of the mapped high-quality koala habitat on state forests.
  • Open previously protected old-growth forest to loggingby ‘remapping and rezoning’ these high-conservation-value areas. Old-growth forests are rare, harbour the last big old trees and provide vital refuges for threatened species, including large owls and gliders.
  • Remove the requirement to look for koalas before logging on the North Coast and implement utterly inadequate tree retention rates practically guaranteeing koalas will die in logging operations and hastening their slide towards extinction.
  • Allow the logging of giant trees up to 160cm diameter(five metres circumference) so the big trees made available from reduced stream buffers and rezoned old growth can be exploited.

NSW National Parks Association CEO Alix Goodwin said: “The government has made the astonishing choice to implement an intensive harvesting zone that will kill koalas and destroy their habitat, rather than create the Great Koala National Park[iii] that would protect their habitat and allow their numbers to recover. That choice will not be forgotten easily.

“Little wonder a comprehensive community survey, leaked to the press this week[iv], showed strong public opposition to native forest logging throughout Australia.

“An industry that is clearfelling koala and glider habitat and wants access to protected forests is an industry nobody wants or needs.”


[i]See comments from Brian Tolhurst (EPA) and NPWS in the Threatened Species Expert Panel Review:

[ii]So-called ‘Heavy Single Tree Selection’ (Heavy STS) has been practised by Forestry Corporation since 2010 outside the scope of the previous laws. The new laws legalise this practice as a result of the Natural Resources Commission’s acceptance of Heavy STS as a legitimate logging technique. 

[iii]There is significant overlap between the intensive harvesting zone and the Great Koala National Park. Find out more on the GKNP here:

[iv]SMH: Bush turns its back on native forest logging: https://www.smh./bush-turns-its-back-on-support-for-logging-native-

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.

Commencement Of The Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval 

November 16, 2018: EPA Media Release
On 16 November 2018 the NSW Minister for the Environment and NSW Minister for Lands and Forestry updated the rules for how forestry operations must be carried out on State forests and other Crown-timber lands in coastal NSW.

The new Coastal IFOA improves the practicality and effectiveness of regulating native forestry. It provides greater enforceability and certainty of environmental outcomes, including protection of habitat and listed species, while reducing the regulatory burden on the forestry industry.

Further information about the new Coastal IFOA can be viewed here.

Feedback from public consultation 
From 15 May to 13 July 2018, the NSW Government undertook public consultation on the draft Coastal IFOA, including convening a series of regional workshops with peak stakeholder groups and inviting written submissions. 3,148 written submissions responding to the draft Coastal IFOA were received via post, email and the NSW Government’s ‘Have Your Say’ web portal.

The EPA led the review and analysis of submissions and engaged an independent consultant to prepare a report summarising feedback received. The Consultation Summary Report integrates information received at the workshops and in written submissions. The published submissions and further information about the development of the Coastal IFOA can be viewed here.

The NSW Government carefully considered all feedback received and made changes to the Coastal IFOA to improve its clarity and operability. Other substantive changes increased protections for certain headwater streams, nectar trees and winter-flowing eucalypts, and hollow-bearing trees. Further changes relate to the management of biosecurity risks (pathogens and weeds), the management of ground protection zones, burning provisions and fire management, and the management of debris and damage to retained trees. A summary of the NSW Government response to key feedback received on the draft Coastal IFOA can be found here. The Coastal IFOA can be viewed here.

The commencement of the Coastal IFOA, and other reforms, are key components of the NSW Government’s forestry reform agenda and fulfil commitments outlined in the 2016 NSW Forestry Industry Roadmap.

The Coastal IFOA delivers on the NSW Government’s undertaking to not erode environmental values or have a net change to wood supply and it will be further supported by work undertaken by the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) to reassess old growth on State forest. Further information about the NRCs work can be viewed at 

From Consultation Summary Report:
Forestry industry submissions raised concerns that the conditions and protocols in the draft IFOA would have a detrimental impact on timber supply. They felt that there was an imbalance in protecting environmental values over and above sustaining the forestry industry

Industry stakeholders also expressed significant concern that a rigid application of threatened fauna species protections would place too many restrictions on harvest yields. Industry submissions noted that currently mapped sensitive environmental zones are likely to be inaccurate and include forests that could be used for timber harvesting.  

The need for flexibility in enforcing the IFOA provisions was raised by industry in relation to operational matters such as the management of debris around retained trees. They also commonly raised operational boundary mapping, GPS error and the transferral of operational risks associated with forestry operations from FCNSW to contractors as key issues. This was seen as particularly important due to enforceability of the draft IFOA provisions, and the increase in Penalty Infringement Notice (PIN) amounts up to $15,000 for errors in maintaining exclusion zones. 

Campaign submissions by forestry industry employees and family and friends of forestry industry employees highlighted the importance of maintaining a sustainable industry for regional employment and for providing timber to the Australian market. Their submissions contended that the forestry industry maintains the social and economic fabric of rural and regional towns and employs up to 22,000 people in NSW. 

Environmental stakeholders predominantly raised issues with respect to reduction of habitat protections for key species such as koalas, gliders, the Regent Honeyeater and the Swift Parrot

Other key concerns were:   
» Potential increased harvesting of environmentally sensitive forests due to proposed remapping/ rezoning of high conservation protection zones. There were significant concerns that new mapping would reduce old growth forest by 78% and rainforest by 23%. 
 » Loss of giant and hollow-bearing trees due to harvesting prescriptions.  
» Impact of doubling the intensity of forestry operations [by 50%] in the ‘selective harvesting zone’ on habitat complexity and connectivity, as well as lack of adequate monitoring and mitigation measures. 
» Potential for increased soil erosion, water pollution and weed growth due to allowing forestry operations on steeply sloping land (up to 30 degrees) and reducing stream buffers to 5m 

Environmental Defenders Office New South Wales (EDO NSW)  
The EDO NSW was the only peak environmental group to participate in the draft IFOA briefing sessions. Other peak environmental groups declined to attend and queried the authenticity of the consultation process. 
The EDO NSW conveyed the concerns about the lack of genuine consultation with broader community groups, including environmental organisations on the development of the draft IFOA. EDO NSW expressed the view that community groups have been excluded from meaningful discussions and their only opportunity for input is to comment on decisions that have already been made. Even then, there was the feeling that there is little evidence of the Government responding or changing proposals based on feedback received during consultation processes.  

The perception among the environmental stakeholders is that the forestry agenda is being driven primarily by industry. It was noted that this appeared different to how the original IFOA was developed 20 years ago when there was widespread consultation with environment groups in developing the documents. 

As part of the draft IFOA, the NSW Government has incorporated the NRC proposal to undertake remapping of old growth forest with new technology to identify if it can be reclassified to support additional timber harvesting. If there is to be a remapping process, the EDO believes there should be input from environmental stakeholders into developing and reviewing the maps. There is significant cynicism among environmental stakeholders about the remapping process, with the view that it will lead to the harvesting of old growth forests and rainforests. Prior to the remapping process, the EDO believes that there should be a conversation about the potential areas that could become available for the forestry industry to obtain additional timber, and whether industry will receive wood supply from elsewhere, if the remapping process determines that areas of old growth forests are more extensive than currently mapped.It was EDO NSW preference that this discussion is had now.  

The EDO commented that the environmental groups they work with are of the view that native forestry practices are unsustainable and there should be a greater focus on plantation timber to supply market needs. Other issues raised by the EDO were the need to have all current and future koala protection initiatives fully accommodated within the new Coastal IFOA. In noting this it was emphasised that species protections were a much broader matter than the IFOA and requires additional consideration by the NSW Government. 

Australian Government Must Act As Japanese Whalers Leave Port For Whale Hunt And Kill

November 13, 2018: AMCS

The Japanese whaling fleet has left port and is on their way to the Southern Ocean to again kill whales in the name of ‘science’. With the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe due to visit Australia this week, we call on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to urgently step up action against Japan.

In previous years it has taken the whaling fleet 3-4 weeks to reach the Southern Ocean where 333 minke whales are in the harpoon firing line, including pregnant females, as part of a 12 year program of ‘research’ that will kill almost 4,000 Antarctic minke whales.

"It is unconscionable that the Japanese whalers are once again planning to kill hundreds of whales in the name of ‘science’,” said AMCS CEO Darren Kindleysides.

“In September, the International Whaling Commission rejected Japan’s outrageous attempt to end the global ban on commercial whaling.

“The international community has spoken. Whaling is a cruel, outdated and unnecessary industry which has has lost its social license on a global scale, yet Japan is dead set on killing whales under the thin guise of ‘scientific research’.

“Australia must stop Japan hunting Antarctic whales in breach of international law.

“Our government must act decisively to stop the hunt. When Prime Minister Scott Morrison meets his Japanese counterpart this week he must tell him to bring the whaling fleet home immediately.

“The government must also take further legal action against Japan through the international courts to challenge their ‘scientific’ whaling.

In 2014, in a case brought by the Australian government, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan's ‘JARPA II’ Antarctic whaling program was illegal and must stop. However, in 2015, the Japanese Government introduced a new Antarctic whaling program and continues to send its whaling fleet to the Southern Ocean for an annual whale hunt.

Mining Industry Rips Off Queenslanders, Enshrines Toxic Legacy

November 14, 2018: Lock the Gate

Mining industry success in weakening mine rehabilitation laws this week will cost Queenslanders dearly, according to Lock the Gate Alliance.

Communities will be left with vast unfilled coal pits and polluted water after mining, and will miss out on the new jobs and investment that mine rehabilitation brings.

“The mining industry has strong-armed the Queensland Government to allow existing mines off the hook from properly cleaning up their mine sites” said Rick Humphries, Coordinator of Lock the Gate’s Mine rehabilitation Reform Campaign

“Mining giants will make fat profits for overseas shareholders and then leave regional communities to live with the mess in perpetuity.

“The mining industry already plans to leave 218 coal pits un-rehabilitated, many of which will drain groundwater permanently and will leave vast, deep scars on the landscape.   

“We pushed the Government hard to phase in similar laws that have been in place in the US since the 1970s requiring all pits to be backfilled.”

“Instead, this back down from the Government will not only impact the environment, it will cost jobs and investment in regional Queensland.”

“The Queensland Resources Council is playing Queenslanders for mugs - expecting us to live with their toxic legacies permanently and squibbing on the rehabilitation jobs and investment that would flow from back-filling."

Recent polling in the electorates of Herbert, Capricornia and Dawson revealed a massive 91% of voters wanted mining companies to backfill the coal pits.

Lock the Gate welcomed other aspects of the legal reforms, including improvements to mine planning and reporting and the application of binding targets for progressive rehabilitation.

The community group also welcomed today’s announcement by Deputy Premier Jackie Trad committing the Government to considering the establishment of a Mine Rehabilitation Commissioner.

“We strongly support a Commissioner being appointed, and we sincerely hope the Government follows through on this initiative. This is a glimmer of hope. The Commissioner must have the power to protect the interests of Queenslanders over that of mine shareholders,” Mr Humphries said.

“The Commissioner must have the legislative grunt to ensure the industry is delivering best practice mine rehabilitation at all mine sites.

“If the Government delivers on a Commissioner it would provide an opportunity to drive increased investment and job creation from improved mine rehabilitation in Queensland.”

Sonic Sea Screening At Avalon Cinema

Living Ocean has initiated a GoFundMe campaign to hire Avalon Cinema for a screening of Sonic Sea.

LO have initiated this campaign to raise awareness that seismic testing is mooted for early next year off our coastline and the public needs to be made aware asap to realise what is at stake.

They will have a balanced panel of experts to discuss the movie and also the issues for all life in the area from any effects of the testing. Also the reality of offshore gas fields and how it could impact fishing, tourism, whale watching plus the hazards that failure of any equipment resulting from the industrialisation of rigs just offshore could produce.

Living Ocean successfully campaigned with NOPSEMA against 2D testing offshore scheduled for peak northern migration of Humpback whales last year. However small scale 2D testing went ahead anyway early this year.

Please share and donate or if you wish to sponsor the screening please contact us.
We have charitable tax deductible status.

$10 Million For Greener More Inclusive Open Spaces

November 12, 2018: Media Release - Hon. Anthony Roberts, Minister for Planning, Minister for Housing, Special Minister of State

Minister for Planning and Housing, Anthony Roberts, today welcomed the start of construction on a new inclusive play space in Sydney’s west, funded by a $1.5 million NSW Government grant.

Inspecting the site of the future play space in Parramatta Park, Mr Roberts launched two new grants programs, totaling $10 million that will continue to help councils deliver greener and more inclusive spaces that everyone in NSW can enjoy.

“Today I’m delighted to announce that we will be supporting councils across NSW create better places for residents and visitors to play and relax, with $4 million in funding available to upgrade existing or create new play spaces across the state, as part of our Everyone Can Play in NSW initiative,” Mr Roberts said.

“A further $6 million will be available to councils throughout Greater Sydney to green the city and help us reach our target of five million trees by 2030.

“This funding demonstrates our strong commitment to work with our colleagues in local government to support healthier, more resilient and more inclusive communities,” he said.
Councils will match NSW Government funding dollar for dollar, to create and improve open and inclusive spaces across Sydney and the state.

Member for Parramatta, Dr Geoff Lee said: “This funding will ensure everyone in Parramatta can enjoy attractive, safe and accessible parks and outdoor spaces.

“It will build the places our communities want and need - places that are a part of everyday life.

“It will also help make our open spaces wonderful places to come and play and explore,” he said.

Commissioner of Open Space and Parklands, Fiona Morrison said green infrastructure, such as parks, trees and wetlands, makes our cities more connected, cooler and healthier places to live.

“Open space is one of our State's greatest assets. Our national parks, harbours, coastal walks, waterfront promenades, playgrounds and reserves are integral to the character and life of NSW,” Ms Morrison said.

Applications for both grant rounds are open from November 12 2018 to December 21 2018 and successful applications will be announced in early 2019.

For more information visit:

New Light Cast On Fishing Throughout History

November 12, 2018: Australian National University
A new study from The Australian National University (ANU) has revealed new insights into ancient fishing throughout history, including what type of fish people were regularly eating as part of their diet.

The study looked at fish bones unearthed in an archaeological dig on the Indonesian island of Alor -- home to the world's oldest fish-hooks ever found in a human burial site, dating back to about 12,000 years.

Lead archaeologist Dr Sofia Samper Carro of the ANU School of Archaeology and Anthropology said on the study identified a shift in fishing behaviours about 7,000 years ago.

"People on Alor people were fishing for open water species about 20,000 years ago, then about 7,000 years ago they started to fish exclusively for reef dwelling species," she said.

Dr Samper Carro said a similar pattern was identified on the nearby island of Timor, indicating that the change in behaviour was due to environmental circumstances.

"It seems to be due to changes in sea levels and environmental conditions, although human-induced changes cannot be ruled out," she said.

The results were made possible through the use of an analysis method traditionally used in biology to identify fish habitat in archaeological material. Dr Samper Carro said she was forced to experiment with a new approach due to the difficulty in determining the difference between the very similar looking bones of the area's 2,000 known species of fish.

"This study is the first time researchers have been able to reliably determine fish habitat using vertebra through this method, and represents a significant step forward in being able to track human behaviour throughout history," Dr Samper Carro said.

"Most of the bones you find in archaeological sites are vertebra, which are very complicated to identify to species and all look very similar.

"If we don't know the species, we don't know their habitat.

"In Indonesia you have more than 2,000 species of fish, so to be able to know which bones belong to which species you would need 2,000 species of fish in your comparative collection.

"I spent probably five months trying to match each fish vertebra to a species and I think I got through 100 out of 9,000 bones, so I needed to find another method."

Dr Samper Carro instead turned to geometric morphometrics, a process that looks at slight differences in size and shape of physical objects. Using more than 20,000 digital images and plotting 31 points on each bone, she was able to digitally identify the likely habitat from each vertebra.

Sofía C. Samper Carro, Julien Louys, Sue O'Connor. Shape does matter: A geometric morphometric approach to shape variation in Indo-Pacific fish vertebrae for habitat identification. Journal of Archaeological Science, 2018; 99: 124 DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2018.09.010

This is the dig site at Alor Island. Credit: ANU

Creative Recycling Solution Turns Coffee Cups Into Kerbs

November 13, 2018: NSW EPA
A recycler aiming to take 11 million coffee cups and turn them into bench seats, kerbing and car parking stoppers just got a boost from the NSW Government.

“The next time your car hits a bump stop in a car park, you may well be ‘using’ recycled coffee cups,” Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said.

“Recycling coffee cups is high visibility issue we are working to resolve,” she said.

“The more coffee cups we recycle, the less that are littered – and that’s a good thing for everyone,” Ms Upton said.

Coffee cup recycler Closed Loop Environmental Solutions Pty Ltd will use $115,000 in NSW Government funding to expand its Simply Cups coffee cup recycling program.

“They aim to divert 110 tonnes, or approximately 11 million cups, from landfill within a year,” she said. 

Simply Cups collects used coffee cups in Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong from commercial buildings, caterers and 7-Eleven stores.

“Making useful products from waste or recyclable materials is one of the ways NSW is working to be ahead of the game in its response to China’s National Sword policy, which has effectively closed the Chinese market to Australia’s recyclable waste,” Minister Upton said.

“The Simply Cups program is one of several projects to benefit from the more than $510,000 awarded in this year’s Circulate grant program, with money also going to projects that: recycle plastic milk bottles, use mushroom biotechnology to divert textile waste from landfill; and a project researching the possibility of using paper mill waste to rehabilitate sulfidic mine dams.

In the past five years the NSW Government has awarded $407 million to over 1,160 projects that are now recycling 2.39 million tonnes of waste each year.

The Circulate grants are made through Waste Less, Recycle More; an $802 million NSW Government initiative to keep waste out of landfill, increase food and garden waste collections, boost business recycling and invest in new infrastructure.

For more information visit:  

Spring In Pittwater

Late Spring in Pittwater: November 17, 2018

Angophoras are now in flower as well as shedding bark, a cheeky Sulphur-crested cockatoo atop a sign, two Butcher Bird fledglings pretend to feed each other while waiting for mum and dad to bring back MORE FOOD and White Faced heron fishing - Birds spotted in Careel Creek environs and restored by bushcare thoroughfare.

Iceland’s Banned TV Christmas Advert... Say Hello To Rang-Tan. 

Published by Iceland Foods
You won't see our Christmas advert on TV this year.
But we want to share our 'No Palm Oil' story with you this Christmas. 
Say hello to Rang-tan.

DPI Science Leaders At Inaugural Symposium

November 12, 2018: NSW DPI
The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) is holding its inaugural senior scientist symposium at the world class Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute (EMAI) this week, celebrating excellence and planning for the future.

NSW DPI Deputy Director General, Research Excellence John Tracey said he is delighted to welcome DPI’s leading scientists from across all divisions to this meeting of minds.

“NSW DPI plays a leading role in meeting the challenges facing primary industries in NSW and across Australia and our science underpins the growth, sustainability and biosecurity of all NSW primary industries,” he said.

“Since our inception in 1890, we have worked with industry and other research organisations making vital contributions to Australia’s economic growth in primary industries, the sustainable use of our natural resources, and our competitiveness internationally.

“Today, we are the largest provider of science and research services within the NSW Government, and indeed the largest agricultural research institute in Australia. Our research is ranked in the top 1% of institutes globally in the fields of agricultural and plant and animal sciences, as well as environment and ecology.”

The group of scientists will hear from keynote speaker, Chief Scientist Hugh Durrant-Whyte as well as discuss future research directions, aimed at meeting some of the mega trends identified globally.

Topics for discussion include:
  • Synthetic biology and genetics
  • Nanotechnology and sensor technology - early detection and even treatment of plant and animal diseases
  • Robotics, machine learning - eg drone swarms to identify and treat weeds
  • Big data - large datasets and latest technologies to collect store and analyse data to improve the management of our agricultural and environmental systems
“This is a time of unprecedented disruption and opportunity — globalisation, urbanisation, demographic shifts, climate change, and internet proliferation are all factors shaping NSW primary industries the 21st century,” Dr Tracey said.

“In the face of these disruptions and opportunities, we must be visionary if we are to ensure NSW remains a leader in primary industries.

“I have every confidence that this group of science leaders, together with our entire science group of over 700 people, will strive to maintain and enhance our research capacity and culture of innovation to deliver improvements in primary production and natural resource management, and science based solutions to industry and policy.”

Scientists at the Symposium - photo courtesy NSW DPI

Biology Experiment Helps Historic UNSW Fig Trees Put Down New Roots

November 14, 2018: Ivy Shih, UNSW
A group of students, staff and researchers are applying some creative thinking to preserve iconic fig trees on UNSW Sydney’s Kensington campus.
University students, staff and researchers have found a possible solution to protecting the heritage listed fig trees on the campus.

Visitors to the University in the past year might have noticed a curious cluster of white plastic pipes at the base of some fig trees on campus.  The pipes are the work of the UNSW community to encourage the growth of the ‘aerial’ roots of fig trees – thin roots which grow down from branches and ultimately reach the ground to become new trunks.

The Moreton Bay and Port Jackson Fig trees at Kensington – estimated to be older than the University at up to 120 years old – are more than 30 metres tall, with a canopy stretching more than 35 metres.

The trees line one of the lower campus roads, forming a leafy backdrop to University landmarks such as Fig Tree Lane and Fig Tree Theatre. 

UNSW students and staff gather to analyse results of their botanical research into the campus fig trees.

The fig trees have been part of the grounds since it was a racecourse. This photo was taken in the 1890s. Photo: UNSW Archives

UNSW Estate Management had noticed that the large branches appeared to be developing faults, putting them at risk of falling.

In a bid to stop further deterioration, workers installed slings and harnesses around some of the branches, much like protection used for a broken arm.

Then, a year ago, Grounds Manager Mark Clark approached UNSW plant ecologist Professor Angela Moles to see if she could help.

An expert report suggested a solution was to target the trees’ aerial roots, their natural built-in support system, which grow down from branches and anchor in the soil. Over five to 10 years they strengthen to become new trunks that help prop up the branches.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for collaboration with the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences to set up a trial to see the best method to assist the ongoing maintenance of the fig tree population on campus,” Mr Clark said.

“We wanted a plan to nurture these ‘veteran’ trees through their twilight years.”

Professor Moles said it was the perfect opportunity for her second-year flowering-plants biology class to gain fieldwork experience and see how scientific method operated.

With some branches 30 metres above the ground, encouraging the aerial roots to grow and reach the ground wasn’t going to be easy.

“We looked into how we can do this – and the thing is that there is almost nothing in scientific literature on encouraging that,” Professor Moles said.

The main idea was to make the trees feel at home by creating tropical rainforest-like conditions of increased humidity and moisture, which would presumably encourage root growth.

Students encased the aerial roots in PVC pipes to give a one-way highway to the ground.

They filled the pipes with one of three ‘treatments’: potting mix to increase intake of nutrients; sphagnum moss to retain moisture; or swaddling the roots in sphagnum moss with an additional funnel to increase rain capture. 

The control group of aerial roots was left to grow naturally.

The fig tree with the experiment installed. You can see examples of the aerial roots hanging off the branches not encased in PVC pipes.

Professor Moles, Mr Clark and the current flowering plants class returned a year later with cherry pickers and secateurs to peel back the PVC pipes and reveal the results.

The students measured the increased length of the roots and total root diameter at the merging point with the soil, finding that the roots had responded wonderfully to all three treatments.

Professor Angela Moles, UNSW staff and students gather to remove the plastic pipes and analyse results. Photo: Angela Moles

Not only had the aerial roots reached the ground, they had intertwined and anchored into the soil to form a firm foundation.

Interestingly, the root length of the control group remained unchanged.

“So many undergraduate practical classes involve students running through exercises for which the answers are already known,” Professor Moles said.

“It was awesome being able to break out of that mould and use a class exercise to address a real-world problem and discover something totally new.”

Biology student Suzanna Gooley was part of the original class that set up the experiment and returned to the site.

“It’s really exciting, as it suggests that maybe our idea was correct and it was actually the humidity and the water that helps the roots reach the ground,” said Ms Gooley, who is in her final year of study.

“Some of the roots were two metres off reaching the ground and have grown to the soil in the 12 months since, so that’s absolutely amazing. Especially when comparing to ones which have had no treatment.”

The experiment gave Ms Gooley a new-found appreciation for the Moreton Bay and Port Jackson Fig trees, which have the botanical names Ficus macrophylla and Ficus rubiginosa.

“Honestly, I always thought the fig trees were nice but I never thought too much about them,” Ms Gooley said.

“Now I feel like I know these trees better and I appreciate the amount of effort that goes into keeping them on campus and keeping them safe.”

The class will submit the results to a peer-reviewed journal.

A year since the experiment began, the fig tree aerial roots successfully grew and anchored firmly into the ground, when ‘treated’ with potting mix (left) and spaghnum moss (right).

Migration Critical To Survival Of W.A. Dolphin Populations

November 14, 2018: UNSW
An analysis of dolphin genes has revealed information about their past migrations, showing just how crucial migrants might be for other populations.

A new study by an international team of researchers found that one Western Australian dolphin population was once an important source of migrants – that is, dolphins that support nearby populations.

The researchers analysed the genetic variants in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) to find out about past dolphin migration.

“These dolphin migrants from Bunbury were likely important in supporting the stability of nearby populations,” says lead author Dr Oliver Manlik, Conjoint Associate Lecturer at UNSW Sydney, who is also an assistant professor at the United Arab Emirates University.

“Dolphins have no borders, and persistence of animal populations often depends on a ‘rescue effect’, a scenario in which a declining population is ‘rescued’ from extinction by immigrants from other populations,” he explains.

That’s why it is important for scientists to identify ‘source’ populations, populations from which individuals emigrate, and ‘sink’ populations who receive the migrants.

“These coastal dolphins do not go on any migration ‘journeys’, like some whales and offshore dolphins do,” Dr Manlik says.

“Rather, they disperse, which means that some dolphins move from one population to another and reproduce with individuals of the other population, and leave their offspring and genes behind—that’s how we detected this pattern.”

Worryingly, a previous study had shown that the Bunbury dolphin population may decline because they were not producing enough offspring.

“If that is now true, then the Bunbury dolphins may no longer be able to continue supplying emigrants to support other populations, putting these other dolphin populations at risk as well,” explains Dr Manlik.

'We now know that we need to focus on the Bunbury dolphins, and especially on their reproductive rates, to protect several dolphin populations.'

The previous study also showed that reproduction is key to the persistence of the Bunbury population, and, if undisturbed, it is possible that the Bunbury dolphins produce more offspring again.

“In that case, the Bunbury population might be OK, and will be able to support its neighbouring populations again,” Dr Manlik says.

Dr Delphine Chabanne of Murdoch University, a co-author on the study, has been studying these dolphins in Australia for more than a decade.

“For the conservation of these dolphin populations, it is important to monitor them closely, and in particular, to keep a close eye on the reproduction of the Bunbury dolphins,” she says.

Co-author Professor Bill Sherwin from UNSW adds: “Genes are information. They can tell us whether populations are isolated or connected, and shed light on migration patterns of the past – important information for wildlife conservation.

“We now know that we need to focus on the Bunbury dolphins, and especially on their reproductive rates, to protect several dolphin populations.”

The new study, published in the journal Marine Mammal Science, is an illustration of how modern genetics can use information from genes to gain a glimpse into the past, unravelling past migration patterns of animals, and therefore help inform the future.

Bottlenose dolphins of Bunbury, Western Australia. Credit: Delphine Chabanne, Murdoch University

Article information

Manlik O, Chabanne D, Daniel C, Bejder L, Allen SJ, Sherwin WB. 2018. 'Demography and genetics suggest reversal of dolphin source-sink dynamics, with implications for conservation', Marine Mammal Science, doi:10.1111/mms.12555.

The previous article mentioned above:

Manlik O, McDonald JA, Mann J, Smith HC, Bejder L, Krützen M, Connor RC, Heithaus MR, Lacy RC, Sherwin WB. (2016) 'The relative importance of reproduction and survival for the conservation of two dolphin populations', Ecology and Evolution 6(11):3496-3513, doi: 10.1002/ece3.2130.

Business As Usual For Antarctic Krill Despite Ocean Acidification

November 13, 2018: University of Tasmania
While previous studies indicate some life stages of Antarctic krill may be vulnerable to ocean acidification, the research published in the Nature journal Communications Biology found that adult krill were largely unaffected by ocean acidification levels predicted within the next 100-300 years.

The study's lead author, IMAS PhD student Jess Ericson, said the long-term laboratory study was the first of its kind.

"Our study found that adult krill are able to survive, grow and mature when exposed for up to one year to ocean acidification levels that can be expected this century," Ms Ericson said.

"We reared adult krill in laboratory tanks for 46-weeks in seawater with a range of pH levels, including those in the present day, levels predicted within 100-300 years, and up to an extreme level.

"We measured a suite of physiological and biochemical variables to investigate how future ocean acidification may affect the survival, size, lipid stores, reproduction, metabolism and extracellular fluid of krill.

"Our results showed that their physiological processes were largely unaffected by pH levels that they are expected to counter over the coming century.

"The adult krill we monitored were able to actively maintain the acid-base balance of their body fluids as seawater pH levels decreased, thereby enhancing their resilience to ocean acidification."

Ms Ericson said the finding was important because krill are a key link in the Antarctic food chain.

"Ocean acidification caused by anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions is predicted to occur most rapidly at high latitudes, such as in the Southern Ocean.

"Krill are a major prey item for marine mammals and seabirds, and any decrease in their abundance as a result of ocean acidification could result in significant changes in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic ecosystem.

"Increasing ocean acidity is known to have negative effects on a range of marine invertebrates, causing decreased mineralization or dissolution of calcium carbonate shells, decreased or delayed growth, increased mortality and delayed reproduction or abnormalities in offspring, including embryonic development of Antarctic krill.

"Our finding that adult Antarctic krill appear resilient to such conditions is therefore an interesting and significant result.

"However, the persistence of krill in a changing ocean will also depend on how they respond to ocean acidification in synergy with other stressors, such as ocean warming and decreases in sea ice extent," Ms Ericson said.

Jessica. A. Ericson, Nicole Hellessey, So Kawaguchi, Stephen Nicol, Peter D. Nichols, Nils Hoem, Patti Virtue. Adult Antarctic krill proves resilient in a simulated high CO2 ocean. Communications Biology, 2018; 1 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s42003-018-0195-3

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill's Dramatic Effect On Stingrays' Sensory Abilities

November 13, 2018: Florida Atlantic University
It has been almost a decade since the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill. Described as the worst environmental disaster in the United States, nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil oozed into the Gulf of Mexico, severely degrading the marine ecosystem immediately surrounding the spill site and directly impacting coastal habitats along 1,773 kilometers of shoreline. About 10 million gallons remain in the sediment at the bottom of the Gulf and may continue to cause severe physiological damages to marine life, including impairment of sensory systems.

Marine fishes rely on the effective functioning of their sensory systems to survive. Despite the obvious importance of their olfactory (sense of smell) system, the impact of crude oil exposure on sensory function remains largely unexplored.

Researchers at Florida Atlantic University are the first to quantify the physiological effects of whole crude oil on the olfactory function of a marine vertebrate -- the Atlantic stingray, Hypanus sabinus, an elasmobranch fish. Results of the study, published in Scientific Reports, confirm that exposure to crude oil, at concentrations mimicking those measured in coastal areas following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, significantly impaired olfactory function in the Atlantic stingray after just 48 hours of exposure. These findings suggest that exposure to crude oil could detrimentally impact fitness, lead to premature death, and cause additional cascading effects through lower trophic levels.

"Elasmobranchs are renowned for their well-developed sensory systems, which are critical to alert them of the presence of predators, prey, mates, and unfavorable environmental conditions. Any impairment of these sensory systems could have a damaging effect on their survival and fitness," said Stephen M. Kajiura, Ph.D., co- author, a professor of biological sciences in FAU's Charles E. Schmidt College of Science and director of the Elasmobranch Research Laboratory at FAU.

The work was conducted by Eloise J. Cave, as part of her master's degree in Kajiura's lab. Cave, who is now a Ph.D. student at the Florida Institute of Technology, employed an electro-physiological assay to test olfactory responses from stingrays held under clean water and oil-treated water. She found the oil exposed animals exhibited a smaller response, with a slower onset and longer duration.

"Unlike other sensory systems in which the receptor cells are not in immediate contact with the environment such as the eye, inner ear, lateral line, and electroreceptors, the chemo-sensory cells of the olfactory organ are directly exposed, through the mucus, to the seawater," said Kajiura. "As a result, environmental pollutants have the ability to directly damage the receptor cells and affect olfactory function."

Although this study focused on a shallow water, coastal species, deep-water elasmobranch species may be highly susceptible to crude oil exposure. The researchers caution that deep-sea benthic species like skates -- a type of cartilaginous fish that develop for prolonged periods in egg cases on the seafloor -- in particular, could be continuously exposed to high concentrations of crude oil in the sediment throughout sensitive developmental periods. Also, because the metabolic rate of marine organisms declines significantly with temperature, and hence depth, deep-sea elasmobranch species have a much slower metabolic rate than shallow water species and therefore might metabolize crude oil much more slowly. This prolonged exposure could manifest as different or more severe results.

"Under field conditions, animals are likely to encounter variable exposure concentrations, which may be higher or lower than the concentration used in our study," said Kajiura. "This acute exposure has the potential to induce other physiological responses, potentially compounding the adverse effects of the altered olfactory function. Even if the oil does not cause immediate or direct death, sub-lethal effects could still reduce fitness or contribute to premature death."

Crude oil contains many complex organic and inorganic compounds including heavy metals such as aluminum, manganese, cobalt, copper, zinc, and mercury. Heavy metals can block sodium and calcium ion channels in the olfactory systems of teleosts -- a diverse group of ray-finned fishes -- resulting in reduced olfactory responses. In addition, water-soluble fractions of crude oil have caused hyperplasia, necrosis, and lesions on the olfactory epithelium. All of these physical insults may result in reduced olfactory sensitivity to chemical stimuli.

Eloise J. Cave, Stephen M. Kajiura. Effect of Deepwater Horizon Crude Oil Water Accommodated Fraction on Olfactory Function in the Atlantic Stingray, Hypanus sabinus. Scientific Reports, 2018; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-34140-0

The Atlantic stingray, Hypanus sabinus, an elasmobranch fish, is renowned for its well-developed sensory systems, which are critical to alert them of the presence of predators, prey, mates, and unfavorable environmental conditions. Any impairment of these sensory systems could have a damaging effect on their survival and fitness. Credit: Stephen M. Kajiura, Ph.D./Florida Atlantic University

Two New Cases Of Mesothelioma Diagnosed Every Day In Australia

November 13, 2018: AIHW
Over 700 Australians were diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2017—equating to 2 cases diagnosed per day—according to the latest data released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Mesothelioma in Australia, is the first report on the subject since the AIHW took over management of the Australian Mesothelioma Registry (AMR) in 2017.

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer in the mesothelium—the protective lining on the inside of body cavities and the outside of internal organs, such as the lungs, heart and bowel. Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer, and its primary cause is exposure to asbestos.

‘Before being banned in Australia in 2004, asbestos was used in more than 3,000 products in the construction industry, in industrial plants and equipment, and in ships, trains and cars,’ said AIHW spokesperson Dr Lynelle Moon.

A large amount of asbestos still remains in buildings and other infrastructure, and thousands of different products containing asbestos are still in use today.

Dr Moon said that Australia has one of the highest incidence rates of mesothelioma in the world, with between 700 and 800 people diagnosed each year.

‘In 2017, 710 Australians were diagnosed with mesothelioma, with most cases—592—among men,’ she said.

‘This is largely due to the higher proportion of males working in industries where asbestos exposure may have occurred in the past, such as construction.’

Of the people with mesothelioma who provided details of their occupations and residence since the AMR was established in 2010, 93% were considered to have experienced some level of exposure to asbestos during their lives. For men, most exposure was considered to be occupational, while for most females it was non-occupational (such as exposure while living in a house where asbestos was present). 

Among states and territories for which data was available, the rate of mesothelioma was highest in Western Australia, with 4.9 cases diagnosed for every 100,000 people. It was lowest in Tasmania, at 1.5 cases per 100,000 people.

While the AMR has only been in operation since July 2010, the AIHW has been able to bring together other data sources (such as national cancer incidence data) to give longer-term insights into this issue in Australia. These data shows a marked increase in the number of new cases of mesothelioma, rising from 157 cases in 1982. To date, the highest overall number of new cases was in 2014, with 770 cases reported.

'This rise could be due to a number of factors such as increased awareness and improvements in diagnosis. Further, Australia used asbestos extensively until the mid-1970s, and mesothelioma has a delayed onset of 20-30 years from exposure,’

‘Sadly, mesothelioma has a very poor prognosis. It is often diagnosed once it has reached the advanced stages, as early symptoms can go unnoticed or be mistaken as symptoms for other, less serious conditions,’ Dr Moon said.

Mesothelioma survival rates are very low and this has not changed over time.

‘Since the mid-1980s, the 5-year relative survival rate for mesothelioma has averaged 5.4%. For comparison, the 5-year relative survival rate for all cancers combined was 69% in 2010-2014,’ Dr Moon said. 

The average time between diagnosis and death is around 11 months according to analysis of all mesothelioma diagnoses and deaths recorded in the Australian Mesothelioma Registry (AMR).

The report was produced in collaboration with the Monash University Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health and an expert advisory group, including representatives from the Bernie Banton Foundation. The Australian Mesothelioma Registry is funded by Safe Work Australia.

Stealth-Cap Technology For Light-Emitting Nanoparticles

November 13, 2018
A team of scientists from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), in collaboration with researchers from Monash University Australia, has succeeded in significantly increasing the stability and biocompatibility of special light-transducing nanoparticles. The team has developed the so-called "upconverting" nanoparticles that not only convert infrared light into UV-visible light, but also are water-soluble, remain stable in complex body fluids such as blood serum, and can be used to store medications. They have created a tool that could potentially make the fight against cancer significantly more effective. The researchers recently published their results in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

Nanoparticles are tiny structures, typically less than 100 nanometers in size, which is about 500 to 1000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair. Such materials are receiving increasing attention for biomedical applications. If equipped with appropriate properties, they can reach almost any tissue in the human body via the bloodstream -- turning into perfect body probes.

It has been known for some years that the distribution of nanoparticles in the body is essentially determined by their size and surface properties. Dr. Tanmaya Joshi at HZDR's Institute for Radiopharmaceutical Cancer Research says, "Upconverting nanomaterials are of great interest for biomedical imaging." "When stimulated with infrared light they can send out bright blue, green, or red signals. If we succeed in navigating such nano-probes to diseased tissues, it can be particularly useful for cancer diagnosis," the team's photochemist, Dr. Massimo Sgarzi, added.

However, these light upconverters show poor solubility in water or tissue fluids -- a must to have feature before any diagnostic or therapeutic use could be imagined. For the HZDR team this was not a hindrance, but rather a challenge: "We used a unique polymer mixture to cover the particles," says Dr. Joshi, who joined HZDR in 2017 from Monash University, as a Humboldt Fellow. Adding this protective cover makes the light-transducing nanoparticles biocompatible. The biologist Dr. Kristof Zarschler adds: "The upconverters are now water-soluble and even have a neutral surface charge. Our research shows that this new cover can almost completely prevent the body's own substances (present in the blood serum) from binding to the particles. In other words, the nanoparticles now seem to wear an invisibility cloak. This, we believe, will help to avoid their recognition and elimination by phagocytes of the immune system. "

In order to keep the new nano-probes stable for weeks in a complex biological environment, the scientists photochemically link the components of the protective shell with each other: "We simply irradiated our nanoparticles with UV light. This creates additional bonds between the molecular components constituting the protective cover -- much alike sewing together the individual parts of the cloak of invisibility with the help of light, "explains the PhD student, Anne Nsubuga. She further adds, "This shell is only a few nanometers thick, and may even be used for hiding other substances, for example, cancer drugs, which could be later on released in the tumour and destroy it."

Following this breakthrough, the team now intends to validate their current results in living organisms: "For this, we first have to carry out strictly regulated and ethically acceptable experiments on animals. Only when our stealth-cap technology works on these without any side effects, their medical potential will be explored in detail and their application on the patients can be considered," explains the group leader Dr. Holger Stephan cautiously.

Anne Nsubuga, Kristof Zarschler, Massimo Sgarzi, Bim Graham, Holger Stephan, Tanmaya Joshi. Towards Utilising Photocrosslinking of Polydiacetylenes for the Preparation of “Stealth” Upconverting Nanoparticles. Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 2018; DOI: 10.1002/anie.201811003

Friend Or Foe: Insects And Spiders In Your Home Survey: Macquarie Uni

Do you love or loathe your creepy-crawly house guests? Are you an insecticide at the ready kind of person? Or do you take a more live and let live approach?

Researchers from Macquarie University and the University of Sydney want to know about the insects and spiders living in and around your home, how you feel about them, and what you do to control them.

By taking part in their survey, you will help them develop guidelines for people to effectively and safely manage insects and spiders around their homes.

“With summer just around the corner, it’s the time of year you may start noticing more insects and spiders around your house and garden,” says urban ecologist and research leader Dr Lizzy Lowe from Macquarie University. “There are many different ways people deal with these critters. They may not bother you or you might hate the sight of them!”

“We want to know what spiders you’re spotting, and what insects have invited themselves to your place,” says entomologist Dr Tanya Latty from the University of Sydney. “By taking part in our survey, you will be providing us with valuable data we can use in our research, and helping us build a picture of how people around Australia are keeping the bugs at bay.” For example, what insects do you notice around your home and in your garden? And how do you choose which methods you use to deal with them?

“We will use the results of the survey to publish guidelines about which insects and spiders are a risk around the home, and how to control them in a safe way,” says ecotoxicologist Dr Scott Wilson from Macquarie University.

Take part in the survey by going to

It will only take 10 to 15 minutes to complete, and everyone who finishes it will also have the option of going into a draw to win a $100 Bunnings gift voucher. The survey will be open until the end of summer.

“And if you’re curious about the insects and spiders living around your house, you also have the opportunity to volunteer your household for a biodiversity survey conducted by researchers from Macquarie University,” says Lizzy. “Your help is vital in helping us better understand our urban environments and how we live alongside the insects and spiders in our cities.”

Don’t Let Mosquitoes Ruin Your Holidays

November 14, 2018: NSW Health
NSW Health is reminding people to protect themselves against mosquitoes when spending time outdoors.

Dr Cameron Webb, Medical Entomologist at NSW Health Pathology, said the warmer weather is a time for increasing mosquito activity and it is important to prepare against the diseases carried by them such as Ross River and Barmah Forest virus.

“The incidence of Ross River and Barmah Forest virus infections increases over hotter months, especially with people spending more time outside,” Dr Webb said.

“Although these diseases are usually found in mosquitoes in rural and bushy areas around Sydney, people should still take precautions against mosquito and insect bites.

“Symptoms usually develop in around seven to 10 days and can resemble the flu, with aches and pains in muscles and joints. There can also be a rash associated with them, and a general feeling of feeling weak or unwell.

“Most people recover in a few weeks, some will continue to experience symptoms like joint pain and fatigue for many months,” Dr Webb said.

NSW has robust system around the notification of mosquito-borne disease that includes the trapping of mosquitoes to monitor their abundance and the activity of viruses that causes diseases.

There is currently no vaccine for either disease so preventing them means avoiding the bites of mosquitoes that spread them.

People are being urged to take the following steps to avoid mosquito bites.
  • Avoid being outside unprotected, particularly during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
  • When outside cover up as much as possible with light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing and covered footwear.
  • Apply mosquito repellent regularly to exposed areas (as directed on the container). Repellents containing Diethyl Toluamide (DEET) or Picaridin are best.
  • Do not use repellents on the skin of children under the age of three months. Instead, use physical barriers such as netting on prams, cots and play areas for babies.
  • Screen all windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out.
  • When camping, use flyscreens, or sleep under mosquito nets.
  • Limit the number of places around your home for mosquitoes to breed by getting rid of items that hold water or by emptying the containers.
For more information see the NSW Health Mosquitoes are a Health Hazard factsheet -

'Strongest Evidence Yet' That Being Obese Causes Depression

November 12, 2018: University of South Australia
New research released today from the University of South Australia and University of Exeter in the UK has found the strongest evidence yet that obesity causes depression, even in the absence of other health problems.

The research, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, shows that the psychological impact of being overweight causes depression, rather than associated illnesses such as diabetes.

Researchers looked at UK Biobank data from more than 48,000 people with depression, comparing them with a control group of more than 290,000 people born between 1938 and 1971, who provided medical and genetic information.

Hospital data and self-reporting were used to determine whether people had depression.

Director of the Australian Centre for Precision Health, UniSA Professor Elina Hypponen, who co-led the study, said the team took a genomic approach to their research.

"We separated the psychological component of obesity from the impact of obesity-related health problems using genes associated with higher body mass index (BMI), but with lower risk of diseases like diabetes," Prof Hypponen says.

"These genes were just as strongly associated with depression as those genes associated with higher BMI and diabetes. This suggests that being overweight causes depression both with and without related health issues -- particularly in women"

At the other ends of the BMI spectrum, very thin men are more prone to depression that either men of normal weight or very thin women.

"The current global obesity epidemic is very concerning," Prof Hypponen says. "Alongside depression, the two are estimated to cost the global community trillions of dollars each year.

"Our research shows that being overweight doesn't just increase the risks of chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease; it can also lead to depression," Prof Hypponen says.

Jessica Tyrrell Anwar Mulugeta Andrew R Wood Ang Zhou Robin N Beaumont Marcus A Tuke Samuel E Jones Katherine S Ruth Hanieh Yaghootkar Seth Sharp William D Thompson Yingjie Ji Jamie Harrison Rachel M Freathy Anna Murray Michael N Weedon Cathryn Lewis Timothy M Frayling Elina Hyppönen. Using genetics to understand the causal influence of higher BMI on depression. International Journal of Epidemiology, 2018 DOI: 10.1093/ije/dyy223

Adults On The Autism Spectrum Prescribed Mental Health Drugs Without Diagnoses

November 14, 2018: Lachlan Gilbert, UNSW
Adults on the autism spectrum are being prescribed mental health drugs in instances where there is limited supporting evidence to do so.

This was one of the findings of a UNSW-led study that looked at the use of psychotropic medication – or medication for mental health problems – by adults on the autism spectrum.

The research, which used data collected by The Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC)’s Australian Longitudinal Study of Adults with Autism (ALSAA), found that 14 per cent of mental health medications were being taken by adults on the autism spectrum without a relevant diagnosis.

First author on the study, Dr Rachael Cvejic from UNSW Medicine’s School of Psychiatry, said that in these cases it is “likely that mental health medications were being used to manage behaviour”.

“This is concerning, because there is little evidence to support the use of mental health medications to manage behavioural features of autism spectrum disorders, and this practice exposes people to potential harms,” Dr Cvejic said.

Mental illness

The research, which surveyed 188 adults on the autism spectrum and a control group of 115 people without autism, compared rates of mental illness diagnoses and rates of psychotropic drug prescription in both groups.

While higher rates of mental health issues were reported among adults on the autism spectrum, the higher rates of mental health medication used in this group was not completely explained by the presence of mental health or other neurological diagnoses.

According to the study, published online today in BJPsych Open, the most common types of medications taken without a relevant diagnosis were antipsychotics, antiepileptics, and propranolol (a beta-blocker).

Dr Cvejic said these medications are often used ‘off-label’ to manage behaviours such as aggression, but the reasons behind such prescription could be varied.

“There is no one cause of this phenomenon,” Dr Cvejic said.

“Clinicians may be having difficulties with making an accurate psychiatric diagnosis in adults on the autism spectrum, or there could be potential difficulties with communication.

“Other reasons could be that there is difficulty accessing appropriate non-pharmacological therapies to support behavioural issues, or inadequate education about potential non-pharmacological therapies.”


Dr Cvejic and her fellow authors believe the findings highlight the need for accessible and specific training for clinicians to support responsible prescribing to people on the autism spectrum.

“It is very important that people on the autism spectrum weigh up the potential benefits and risks of a medication with their clinician and establish whether non-pharmacological therapies may be a potential option,” Dr Cvejic said.

For this to happen, clinicians would need to have access to autism spectrum-specific education and training in assessment and management of mental health disorders.

The research paper identifies a number of priorities for training including improved communication strategies, a greater understanding of neurodiversity, the ability to identify physical and mental health comorbidities (additional diseases or conditions) and better knowledge of non-pharmacological therapies where necessary.

Julianne Higgins is on the autism spectrum and acts as an advisor to ALSAA researchers. She said if clinicians had a better understanding of neurodiversity, medication may be used more sparingly.

“I feel that the existential autistic experience of living would be better understood if clinicians had an appreciation of autism within the context of neurodiversity,” Ms Higgins said.

“A familiarity with this perspective may obviate the recourse to medicate as often, particularly in regard to treating co-existing conditions and those arising from autistic difficulties in communication.”

She added that many concerns of people on the autism spectrum would not go unrecognised if “medical training addressed autism in adulthood as well as in children, with attention given to gender and the corresponding manifestations of different autistic traits”.

Action needed

Dr Cvejic said there has been a push to embed such training in programs for all health practitioners in the UK, but flagged the lack of action in Australia as a concern.

“We currently have no way to ensure that all future health practitioners are equipped to meet the needs of people on the autism spectrum,” she said.

While there are resources available that can assist doctors working with adults on the autism spectrum, such as those provided by the Autism CRC Health Hub, new training should target both established doctors and medical students, Dr Cvejic said.

“Embedding autism spectrum-specific content in the medical curriculum would help to ensure future doctors are equipped to meet the needs of this group,” Dr Cvejic said.

“Enhancements to training would likely have a positive impact on doctors’ confidence and attitudes when working with people on the autism spectrum as well.”

Autism CRC Chief Research Officer Andrew Whitehouse said while health care providers were very diligent in working with people on the autism spectrum, he welcomed moves to give clinicians improved tools and training to better identify, diagnose and treat mental health issues that people on the autism spectrum might present with.

"This very important study highlights the urgent need for more educational programs for health professionals in the area of autism and mental health. These will be critical to offering optimal healthcare and promoting the wellbeing of the significant number of Australians on the autism spectrum," Professor Whitehouse said.

The ALSAA is now in its second wave of data collection and Dr Cvejic and her fellow researchers will use this information to see how mental health and medication use might change over time.

Blockchain Trial Could Lead To Smarter Money

November 13, 2018: CSIRO
A new type of smart money, powered by blockchain, has been successfully trialled by CSIRO's Data61 and the Commonwealth Bank (CBA).

The trial has demonstrated that smart money, also known as programmable money, could be used to help manage insurance payouts, budgeting and the management of trusts and charities in Australia.

The technology was trialled with 10 participants and carers in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) using a prototype app.

The prototype app shows how smart money could give participants more choice and control over their disability support services, while cutting administration costs, removing paperwork and reducing the risk of fraud or accidental misspending.

The findings of the 'smart money' proof of concept were released today in a new report titled 'Making Money Smart'.

The report examines the design benefits and limitations of the blockchain-based 'smart money' system for the NDIS and identifies other use cases for the technology.

The NDIS prototype app aimed to test the functionality of smart money enabled by a blockchain token solution that could integrate with Australia's New Payments Platform, which are new technology developments that have progressed considerably since the NDIS was first envisaged in 2011.

"This has been an important research project for understanding the benefits and limitations of blockchain technology in the context of conditional payment environments, such as the NDIS," Dr Mark Staples, Senior Principal Researcher in the Software and Computational Systems program at CSIRO's Data61, said.

"Our use of blockchain added new kinds of programmable behaviours to the smart money in the prototype system. This automation and flexibility could reduce friction and enable greater innovation in many payment environments and unlock network-effect benefits.

"This could include more directly connecting citizens to public policy programs, empowering people to optimise their spending through things like smart savings plans and smart diets, and reducing costs for businesses, including through the potential for self-taxing transactions."

The prototype app was tested by 10 NDIS participants and carers in the CommBank Innovation Lab as well as a small number of medium-sized disability service providers.

Participants and carers estimated that the prototype app could save them one hour to 15 hours per week, while service providers estimated potential annual cost savings as a percentage of revenue of 0.3 per cent to 0.8 per cent.

CBA modelling indicates that - even if these estimates were applied conservatively across the NDIS ecosystem - the economic benefits would equate to hundreds of millions of dollars annually, if the proof of concept was developed and implemented as part of a full-scale solution across Australia.

"We're excited by the potential to enable NDIS participants to exercise greater choice and control over their disability support services, while streamlining budget management and removing the need for paperwork," Commonwealth Bank's Head of Government and ADIs Julie Hunter said.

"The results also show potential to reduce administration costs for disability service providers and the risk of fraud and accidental misspending.

"The trial has also highlighted that the technology could have wide application across the government, business and not-for-profit sectors.

"We look forward to exploring these opportunities with our partners and clients across Australia."

The smart money proof of concept benefited from advice and feedback from a Reference Group of government and industry leaders, including the Digital Transformation Agency, National Disability Insurance Agency, Department of Social Services, Department of Human Services, The Treasury, Reserve Bank of Australia, Disability Advocacy Network Australia, Ability First Australia, National Disability Services, New Payments Platform Australia, Australian Digital Commerce Association and FinTech Australia.

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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.