Inbox and environment News: Issue 394

February 24 - March 2, 2019: Issue 394

Environment, Safety And Traffic In Palm Beach To Be Impacted By Off Leash Dog Trial

Photo: Volunteers from Palm Beach Protection Group - supplied.

February 19, 2019: Media release - Palm Beach Protection Group 

A proposal to allow dogs to roam off leash on the Pittwater side of Palm Beach would increase ocean pollution, threaten bird life and marine life; and would increase the risk of dog attacks on families and visitors, according to a new grassroots community group.

Volunteers from the Palm Beach Protection Group came together on the weekend to letterbox flyers and discuss the impact of the proposed trial at Station Beach, where dogs would be allowed to run off leash. 

Palm Beach Protection Group’s Richard Kovacs said allowing dogs to roam off leash on the beach is completely in conflict with the family-friendly nature of the beach. 

“Station Beach is one of the most child and family friendly beaches on the peninsula and we are particularly concerned about safety and potential dog attacks on the young and old,” said Robert Constable who has lived on Station Beach for more than 35 years. 

“Not all dogs are dangerous off leash, but there were nearly 700 dog attacks across Sydney in the first half of last year, including 38 on the Northern Beaches. 

“The proposed trial times and area is totally incompatible with the current usage of the beach – dog owners already ignore existing signage and no amount of signage will be able to enforce where dogs are allowed to be off leash,” Mr Kovacs said. 

A similar trial to allow dogs off leash on Station Beach in 2008 was rejected by the then Pittwater Council due to environmental concerns. 

“These concerns remain today – the seagrass is a vital for our fragile eco-system including seahorses that are endemic to NSW. The pollution from dog faeces presents an issue for the environment and human health. There would also be nothing to stop dogs roaming onto the adjacent golf course, across the road and onto the ocean side of Palm Beach,” said Mr Kovacs. 

“Added to this, since 2008, there has been a further increase in visitors and tourists to Palm Beach. The completion of the Barrenjoey Walkway in 2018 has increased visitor numbers and the beach has remained vulnerable since the June 2016 storms,” Mr Kovacs said. 

“This trial will dramatically increase traffic and parking congestion, with a similar trial at Wanda Beach in the Sutherland Shire in 2004 attracting up to 2,000 dogs per day on weekends,” Mr Kovacs said. 

The Wanda Beach trial was abandoned after three weeks due to two serious dog attacks, limited enforcement resources, dogs being off leash in prohibited areas and dog faeces being left on the beach and in the sand dune area. 

Station Beach is on the Pittwater side of Palm Beach, next to the Boathouse café, in front of the Palm Beach Golf Course and a short distance from the Barrenjoey Lighthouse which sits within the Ku-ring-gai National Park.

Other major beachside Councils in Sydney do not allow dogs on their beaches – including Waverley (Bondi and Bronte) and Randwick (Coogee, Clovelly and Maroubra). 

“Our group supports off leash areas, but there are already 28 off leash dog parks in the Northern Beaches Council area. Dogs don’t belong on beaches where the environment is impacted and where families, children and important wildlife gather,” said local resident Diana Hrdina. 

“We believe this trial would create a dangerous precedent whereby all beaches on the peninsula could become open to off leash dogs. 

“We’re asking people who care about our beaches to vote ‘No’ to the proposed trial on the Council’s website before public submissions close on Thursday 28 February,” said Mrs Hrdina. 

For more information, visit, and follow the Palm Beach Protection Group on Facebook:

To vote ‘No’ to the trial, visit the Council’s website:

Overhaul For Pittwater's Commercial Fishing Rules 

Friday February 22, 2019: From Office of Rob Stokes, MP for Pittwater 

Commercial fishing changes are being introduced in the Pittwater estuary. 

Through the cooperation of the small number of commercial fishing operators who work in the estuary, changes have been voluntarily agreed to amend the areas and methods permitted to be used for commercial fishing activity in the Pittwater. 

Key changes include:
  • Prohibiting commercial hauling south of a line between Sand Point at Palm Beach and The Basin
  • No mesh netting during daylight hours
  • No mesh nets to be set and left unattended
  • Modifying traps and nets to reduce by-catch
  • Better identification of floats to reduce navigational risks

“The Pittwater is one of our most important and impressive natural assets,” Rob Stokes said today. 

“The environmental and economic sustainability of the estuary has benefits for our whole community. 

“These changes reflect a positive plan to ensure the ongoing health and functionality of the waterway. 

“There has been long-standing concern about conflict between the different users of the waterway and the need to strike a better balance into the future. 

“This is an encouraging example of government, industry and the community working together to deliver an outcome that will have wide-reaching benefits,” Rob Stokes said.

Turimetta Beach Clean Up

ON: Sunday, February 24, 2019 at 10 AM – 12 PM
Come and join us for our February clean up at Turimetta Beach. We'll meet in the grass area close to Narrabeen Park Parade at the northern end - see map in our event. 

We have gloves (only a few kids gloves - sorry), bags and buckets. We'll clean up this area to try and catch all the litter before it enters the ocean. We're trying to remove as much plastic and rubbish as possible  - of course it's ok if you need to leave earlier - we're happy for any help! 

It's the first time the crew is at Turimetta Beach so this will be exciting. 

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

Parking on the streets close by. Message us here or on Instagram if you are lost. All welcome - the more the merrier. Please invite your friends too.

Friends Of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment February 2019 Forum

7pm Monday Feb 25 2019 
Coastal Environment Centre, Pelican Path,  
Lake Park Road, Narrabeen  
Possums, Gliders and Fauna Surveys 

Jayden Walsh and Brad Law will shine a light on the behaviour of our native animals — particularly possums  (including the endangered pygmy possum) and gliders. 

Brad Law, who is an expert on Eastern Pygmy Possums,  will also give some insights about local fauna surveys. 

Make sure you put February 25 in your diary and , so that you don’t miss out, book your ticket early by emailing Judith Bennett at -

Bush Regeneration  
Belrose area - Thursday mornings  
Belrose area - Weekend mornings  
Contact: Conny Harris 0432 643 295 
Wheeler Creek - Wed mornings 9-11am 
Contact: Judith Bennett 0402 974 105 

Waterbirds Of The Northern Beaches Talk

Saturday, 9 March 2019 - 2:00pm to 4:00pm
A presentation by Russell Beardmore, local bird expert, of the waterbirds to be found in the Northern Beaches followed by afternoon tea.

Pricing: FREE - no bookings required
Stony Range Regional Botanic Garden
810 Pittwater Rd
Dee Why NSW 

Clean Up Australia Day 2019

Business Clean Up Day – Tuesday 26 February 2019
Youth and Schools Clean Up Day – Friday 1 March 2019
Clean Up Australia Day – Sunday 3 March 2019

Local Clean Ups - By Postcode

Coasters Retreat, Pittwater
Sunday 03rd March 15:00
Meeting Point: Fire brigade fire shed
Site Supervisor: Wilma Taylor

Kiddies Corner, Palm Beach
Sunday 03rd March 09:00
Meeting Point: On the beach, southern end of Palm Beach off beach road.
Site Supervisor: Carmen Bolton

William Street, Avalon Beach
Sunday 03rd March 08:30 - 11:30
Meeting Point: Eastern end of William St, near track through mangroves.
Site Supervisor: Julie Bennett

Newport  beach
Sunday 03rd March 10:30 - 12:00
Meeting Point: Bert Payne Park bear the surf club
Site Supervisor: Matt James

Elvina Bay, Pittwater 
Saturday 02nd March 12:00
Meeting Point: Elvina Park
Site Supervisor: Melinda Broughton

Fitzpatrick Avenue, Scotland Island
Sunday 03rd March 09:00 - 13:00
Meeting Point: Cargo Wharf
Site Supervisor: Cass Gye

Lowanna Street, Scotland Island
Sunday 03rd March 09:00 - 13:00
Meeting Point: Eastern Wharf
Site Supervisor: Cass Gye

Harold Avenue, Scotland Island
Sunday 03rd March 09:00 - 13:00
Meeting Point: Carols Wharf
Site Supervisor: Cass Gye

Vivian Street, Scotland Island
Sunday 03rd March 09:00 - 13:00
Meeting Point: Bell Wharf
Site Supervisor: Cass Gye

Elizabeth Park, Scotland Island
Sunday 03rd March 09:00 - 13:00
Meeting Point: Cargo Wharf
Site Supervisor: Cass Gye

Pitt View Street, Scotland Island
Sunday 03rd March 09:00 - 13:00
Meeting Point: Tennis Wharf
Site Supervisor: Cass Gye

Pittwater Road, Church Point
Sunday 03rd March 09:00 - 13:00
Meeting Point: Church Point Ferry Wharf
Site Supervisor: Cass Gye

Bayview Scout Hall and surrounds
Sunday 03rd March 09:00 - 11:00
Meeting Point: Bayview Scout Hall - come inside, sign up and collect a bag and gloves.
Site Supervisor: Jenny Hermann

Mona Vale Beach, Mona Vale
Sunday 03rd March 10:00 - 12:00
Meeting Point: Meet at the northern end of The Basin on the grass area next to beach.
Site Supervisor: Tina Mollema

Warriewood Beach
Sunday 03rd March 09:30 - 10:00
Meeting Point: Meet at the small timber platform next to the power pole, on the beach beside the car park.
Site Supervisor: Bruce Kelly

Sanctuary Island, Wimbledon Avenue, North Narrabeen
Sunday 03rd March 09:00 - 12:00
Meeting Point: Park at end of Wimbledon Avenue
Site Supervisor: Rick Shires

A Survey On Ticks And Wildlife In The Northern Beaches

The University of Sydney is conducting a study to better understand how residents and their pets are encountering ticks and wildlife in their backyards. We invite all Northern Beaches residents to participate in our survey.

Coastal bushland remnants and other green spaces across the Northern Beaches are home to a variety of native plants and animals. They also provide a place for residents to enjoy their favourite outdoor pastimes. Paralysis ticks (Ixodes holocyclus) are common in the Northern Beaches and feed on a wide range of animal hosts during their life cycle. Understanding the complex relationship between ticks and their host species is an essential part of our research. The information we gain will contribute to our growing knowledge of ticks and will guide future research efforts.

We aim to identify:
  • Areas where people are encountering ticks more than others (tick 'hotspots'),
  • Backyard and landscape features that may influence tick presence, and
  • Wildlife using backyards and how this might or might not influence tick occurrence
To meet these aims, it is important for you to provide a street address. If you would prefer not to, we ask that you provide your street name and nearest cross street. It is important for us to create a map of tick encounters to understand what landscape features might influence tick presence and where to target future research.

All identifying information will be removed from any data presentations.

The survey should only take approximately 10 minutes to complete and is voluntary. 

If you have any questions about the project, please contact PhD candidate Casey Taylor on 02 9351 3189 or This project is being undertaken by the University of Sydney in association with Northern Beaches Council.

Your participation is greatly appreciated.

This research has been approved by the University of Sydney Human Ethics committee. (Approval no: 2018/157)

Archie's Pittwater Clean Up

My name is Archie Mandin 
I am a Seabin Ambassador, I started this campaign because I want to take a stand against ocean plastics!

My goal is to raise enough money to bring a minimum of 20 Seabins to Pittwater NSW as I want to give The Northern Beaches the opportunity to reduce its plastic pollution impact on the ocean. Its amazing how much accidental rubbish comes down our creeks and into our waterways 

I need your help to raise money to buy the Seabins a revolutionary ocean cleaning technology which is essentially a floating rubbish bin that operates 24/7 catching all floating debris in the water.

The Seabin helps clean the ocean of floating debris which in turn creates cleaner oceans and we all benefit from this in one way or another. I mean, who really wants to swim in pollution? Not me that’s for sure!

Did you know that 300 million tons of plastic are produced in the world every year, half of which is for single use products, from this more than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year. We need to do something about it and now with the purchase of a Seabin we can all participate and make a difference! 

Join me and my campaign to help ensure cleaner oceans!

What’s a Seabin? 
The Seabin is a floating rubbish bin that is located in the water at marinas, docks, yacht clubs and commercial ports.

The Seabin can catch an average of 3.9kgs of floating debris per day which adds up to 1.4 tons per year. (depending on weather conditions and debris volumes) The Seabins is catching large plastic bags, bottles, plastic straws, coffee cups, food wrappers, surface oils and micro plastics down to 2 mm small. 

How can a Seabin contribute to cleaner oceans?
The Seabin contributes to cleaner oceans by removing 1.4 tons of floating debris per unit per year. The location of the Seabin in marinas is ideal and where it matters most, close to the source of entry for floating debris. Ports and Marinas are perfect locations to stop floating debris from entering the open ocean and ocean plastics are also brought in by wind and currents.

Are the Seabins a danger to marine life?
The fish According to the team at Seabin, stay away from the surface of the water where the Seabin sucks in the water. They are deterred by the force of the water current. If there are swarms of jellyfish or bait fish it is recommended that the Seabins are turned off until the swarms pass. If a fish was to accidentally go into the Seabin, it would be caught in the Seabin and stay submerged in water until the marina staff retrieve the filter and throw the fish still alive back into the water.

How does it work? 
Water is sucked in from the surface and passes through a catch bag inside the Seabin, with a submersible water pump capable of displacing 25.000 LPH (liters per hour). The water is then pumped back into the marina leaving litter and debris trapped in the catch bag to be disposed of properly.

Who is responsible for the Seabin?
This is the best part of it all, the marina will be the one responsible for the upkeep of the Seabins and also they will be paying for the energy consumption of the Seabin which is around $2 - $3 a day.

The marina enjoys a cleaner marina and the rest of us and the marine life enjoy cleaner oceans with less floating debris polluting our oceans!

Seabins part of a whole solution
Seabins whole solution is Technology, Education, Science, Research and Community. The reason for this is that Technology alone is not the solution to stopping ocean plastics, education is the real solution.

Great! Can our local community be involved also?
Yes! The team at Seabin have interactive programs and lessons designed for schools, community and youth to interact with the Seabins and have over 2000 school students engaged around the world, this is something that we can do locally also with support from the team at Seabin Project.

What will we be doing if we participate in these programs?
You would be joining an international community contributing important data and feedback on ocean plastics to the Seabin central data base. Renowned scientists, universities and environmental agencies are all a part of the programs also.

The lessons range from identifying ocean plastics to data collection of what the Seabins are catching weekly. The data collection is a very easy activity and where we can all see the measurable impact of debris the Seabins are taking out of the water in all weather conditions.

It’s as simple as counting how many plastic bags, plastic particles, food wrappers and then noting it down on a spreadsheet or app. Weather conditions and location information is also entered into the data base.

How can you help our campaign and make a difference in the world?
Every contribution to this crowdfunding campaign helps, be it $1 or $50 dollars, it all adds up and bring us closer to our goal.

Even if you cannot afford a donation, please help by sharing this campaign with your friends and family on social media. The more people that know about the campaign the better!

Thanks everyone for taking the time to check out our campaign!



Seabin Project FAQs

Q: Can someone pay out the crowdfunding campaign goal?
A: Yes! We need help! The more money we can raise, the more Seabins we can buy. 

Q: Why crowdfund a Seabin?
A: Until now, the Seabins were not for the everyday person to purchase because marinas ports and yacht clubs are the target market for Seabin Group. This is a way where everyday people can give something back to the oceans.  

Q: How do Seabins work in tidal areas?
A: Seabins at present are designed for floating docks and pontoons. The Seabins move up and down with the tide on the floating dock.

 Q. How are the pumps run? 
A. The pumps are currently electric, and around $2-$3 a day to run.

Q: When are the Seabins available?
A: Depending on your countries location, Seabins will be available Feb 2019.

Q: Do any fish get sucked into the Seabins? What about smaller marine life?
A: There is a possibility of fish to enter the Seabins, however in the last 2 years of development, the Seabins have only caught a handful of small bait fish. Most of which have been thrown back into the water alive. The fish simply stay away from the flow of water entering the Seabin and with the current fine tuning of the Seabin, the risk is now minimal.

Q: I don’t have any money to donate, how can I help?
A: Don’t worry! Your amazing anyways and thanks for even contacting us. We need help to share this project around with any media we can. Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, websites, bloggers. Also with newspapers, magazines, tv, radio and journalists. Also friends and family!

Proximity To Land Determines How Coral Reef Communities Respond To Climate Change Events

February 22, 2019
Severe weather and environmental disturbances, such as cyclones or thermal coral bleaching, affect specific areas of coral reefs differently, new research has shown.

A new international study has found that the marine wildlife that live amongst the coral are affected differently by devastating climate change events, depending on how close to the mainland they are found.

The research, co-authored by Laura Richardson from the University of Exeter, studied the effect of the natural disasters on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) -- which is home to more than 1,500 species of fish including clownfish, parrotfish and lionfish.

The research studied three specific areas of the GBR -- the inner reefs closest to the mainland, middle-shelf reefs, and outer-shelf reefs, where the continental shelf drops off into the Coral Sea. Surveys of fish and coral reef habitat were made both five years before and six months after two severe cyclones and a mass coral bleaching event.

While those environmental events caused substantial and widespread loss of coral across all reefs, the numbers of herbivorous fishes remained stable (inner-shelf reefs) or even increased (middle- and outer-shelf reefs).

Dr Richardson, a marine biologist at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus said: "After widespread loss of corals due to large storms or severe coral bleaching events, herbivorous reef fish are vital for removing seaweed that starts to grow over the dead corals, so that new corals can grow, and surviving corals can recover.

"Understanding how these herbivorous fish respond across the continental shelf highlights where reefs may be more vulnerable and possibly slower to recover.

"The increased number of herbivorous fish on some reefs in this study is highly promising as they can help prevent the proliferation of seaweed after these huge disturbances."

Importantly, however, the study showed that the number of herbivorous fish species decreased following the environmental events.

"The loss of species is of greatest concern, affecting the functioning of these reefs and their capacity to respond to future disturbances. It may be setting these reefs up for future ecological surprises" said Dr Hoey from James Cook University in Australia.

The researchers believe the study -- the first of its kind -- offers a pivotal insight to allow for better conservation and management of coral reefs found worldwide, particularly those reefs exposed to land-based sources of pollution and sedimentation.

The lead-author of the study, Eva McClure from James Cook University, said: "On coral reefs, it is common to find distinct communities of coral and reef fish living together at different locations across the continental shelf.

"But until now, we haven't known whether these different communities respond in the same way to environmental disturbances or whether specific local conditions might result in different community responses whether close to the mainland or further from shore."

Coral reefs are made up of thin layers of calcium carbonate (limestone) secreted over thousands of years by billions of tiny soft bodied animals called coral polyps. They are amongst the world's most diverse marine ecosystems and are home to thousands of species of plants and animals.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef, stretching along the northeast coast of Australia, from the northern tip of Queensland, to just north of Bundaberg. However, the biggest differences in coral and fish communities tend to occur from east to west across the Great Barrier Reef.

For the study, conducted by the University of Exeter and James Cook University in Australia, the researchers looked at coral reefs in three distinct positions across the breadth of the continental shelf to compare how the marine life and habitat were affected by the loss of coral following severe environmental disturbances.

While each region was impacted by the disturbances, the research showed that the number of seaweed-eating fish increased on the middle and outer shelf areas, but not in the areas closest to the coast.

The researchers believe that the study not only offers a unique insight into how the reefs are impacted by severe environmental conditions, but also the potential for recovery shown by each specific region.

Coral bleaching.  Credit: Laura Richardson

Eva McClure, Laura Richardson, Alexia Graba-Landry, Zoe Loffler, Garry Russ, Andrew Hoey. Cross-Shelf Differences in the Response of Herbivorous Fish Assemblages to Severe Environmental Disturbances. Diversity, 2019; 11 (2): 23 DOI: 10.3390/d11020023

World's Biggest Bee Found: Wallace's Giant Bee Has Been Rediscovered In Indonesia

February 22, 2019: University of Sydney
Last seen in 1981 and thought lost to science, a team of scientists and conservationists, including Honorary Professor Simon Robson, has found Megachile pluto, the world's largest bee, in the forests of Indonesia.

Wallace's giant bee rediscovered
An international team of scientists and conservationists has announced the finding of what many consider to be the ‘holy grail’ of bee discoveries – Wallace’s giant bee.

The bee (Megachile pluto) is the world’s largest, with a wingspan more than six centimetres (2.5 inches). Despite its conspicuous size, the bee has been lost to science since 1981.

In January, a search team that set out to find and photograph Wallace's giant bee successfully rediscovered the species in the North Moluccas, an island group in Indonesia. The find resurrects hope that more of the region’s forests still harbour this very rare species.

A member of the team, Honorary Professor Simon Robson from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney, said: “Amid such a well-documented global decline in insect diversity it’s wonderful to discover that this iconic species is still hanging on.”

Dr Robson and Dr Glen Chilton, an honorary professor at Saint Mary’s University in Canada, joined with Eli Wyman from Princeton University and Clay Bolt, a conservation photographer from Montana, to successfully rediscover this bee. The team was supported by Global Wildlife Conservation, an Austin, Texas, based organisation that runs a Search for Lost Species program.

'Flying bulldog'
“It was absolutely breathtaking to see this ‘flying bulldog’ of an insect that we weren’t sure existed anymore,” said Clay Bolt, a natural history photographer specialising in bees, who took the first photos and video of the species alive after spending years researching the right habitat with collaborator and team member, Eli Wyman from Princeton University.

“To see how beautiful and big the species is in real life, to hear the sound of its giant wings thrumming as it flew past my head, was just incredible. My dream is to now use this rediscovery to elevate this bee to a symbol of conservation in this part of Indonesia.”

The female giant bee makes her nest in active arboreal termite mounds, using her large mandibles to collect sticky tree resin to line the nest and protect it from invading termites. In hot and humid conditions, and sometimes during torrential downpours, the team observed dozens of termite mounds over the course of the search.

It wasn’t until the last day of a five-day stop in an area of interest that the team found a single female Wallace’s giant bee living in an arboreal termites’ nest in a tree about 2.5 metres off the ground.

The bee is named after Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer alongside Charles Darwin of the theory of evolution through natural selection. Wallace, a British entomologist, discovered the giant bee exploring the Indonesian island of Bacan. He described the female bee, which is about the length a human thumb, as “a large black wasp-like insect, with immense jaws like a stag-beetle”.

The bee wasn’t seen again until 1981, when entomologist Adam Messer rediscovered it on three Indonesian islands and was able to observe some of its behaviour, including how it uses its mandibles to gather resin and wood for its nests. Since then, other teams have looked for the bee, with no luck.

This is Simon Robson, honorary professor of biology at the University of Sydney and Central Queensland University in Australia, with Wallace's giant bee (Megachile pluto). Credit: © Clay Bolt:

“Messer’s rediscovery gave us some insight, but we still know next to nothing about this extraordinary insect,” said Mr Wyman. “I hope this rediscovery will spark research that will give us a deeper understanding of this unique bee and inform any future efforts to protect it from extinction.”

Although little is known about the bee, the species depends on primary lowland forest for resin and the nests of tree-dwelling termites, Mr Bolt said. In Indonesia, forest destruction for agriculture, however, threatens the habitat for this species and many others. Between 2001 and 2017, Indonesia lost 15 percent of its tree cover, according to Global Forest Watch.

The team has already started conversations with Indonesian collaborators to look for Wallace’s giant bee in other locations – with the hope of eventually working together to develop a plan to strengthen conservation measures for the bee.

A documentary film, In Search of the Giant Bee is now being produced by Vanessa Dylyn of Matter of Fact Media, in association with Glen Chilton.

Global Wildlife Conservation
GWC conserves the diversity of life on Earth by safeguarding wildlands, protecting wildlife and supporting guardians. We maximize our impact through scientific research, biodiversity exploration, habitat conservation, protected area management, wildlife crime prevention, endangered species recovery, and conservation leadership cultivation. Learn more at

The Search for Lost Species
The Search for Lost Species, a Global Wildlife Conservation initiative, is the largest-ever global quest to find and protect species that have not been seen in the wild in decades. In collaboration with more than 100 scientists, GWC has compiled a list of 1,200 species of animals and plants that are missing to science. From this list, GWC has teased the top 25 “most wanted” species in the world. Quirky, charismatic and elusive, these species are global flagships for conservation. Learn more at

Preserved Leaves Reveal 7000 Years Of Rainfall And Drought

February 15th, 2019:  University of Adelaide
A study by University of Adelaide researchers and Queensland Government scientists has revealed what south-east Queensland's rainfall was like over the last 7000 years -- including several severe droughts worse and longer lasting than the 12-year Millennium Drought.

The study -- published in Scientific Reports -- used preserved paper-bark tea tree leaves from North Stradbroke Island's Swallow Lagoon that have been collecting in the sediment for the past 7700 years.

The leaves -- analysed for chemical variation -- provided a wealth of information on the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and how it was impacted by major climate changes over the millennia, including the Little Ice Age from about 1450 to 1850.

Researchers found a generally wet period about 5000 to 6000 years ago -- indicating a more consistent La Niña-like climate.

"This changed to a more variable and increasingly drier climate about 3000 years ago -- highlighting a strengthened El Niño phase,'' says Associate Professor John Tibby from the University of Adelaide's Geography Department.

"There were substantial droughts during this phase, drier than the Millennium Drought which south-east Australia experienced from 1997-2009. In fact, from what we can ascertain, the probability of a drought worse than the Millennium Drought is much higher than the current prediction of one in 10,000 years.

"Our rainfall reconstruction suggests that it may be as much as 10 times more likely."

Associate Professor Tibby said the Little Ice Age, which ended about the time south-east Queensland was settled, was unusually wet.

The study was possible because Swallow Lagoon contains a continuous sequence of leaves from a single species of tree. Variations in the chemistry of these leaves allowed scientists to reconstruct past rainfall.

"Finding leaves preserved in lake sediments of this age is rare, and they can tell us a lot about the environment. For instance, the carbon isotope composition -- or chemistry -- of the leaves can tell us about the degree of moisture stress experienced by the plants when the leaves were growing,'' says Dr Cameron Barr from the University of Adelaide.

"So, in effect, we can use leaf carbon isotope composition to infer rainfall through time. Since North Stradbroke Island is in a part of Australia that is very sensitive to ENSO, our study is able to document ENSO history."

C. Barr, J. Tibby, M. J. Leng, J. J. Tyler, A. C. G. Henderson, J. T. Overpeck, G. L. Simpson, J. E. Cole, S. J. Phipps, J. C. Marshall, G. B. McGregor, Q. Hua, F. H. McRobie. Holocene El Niño–Southern Oscillation variability reflected in subtropical Australian precipitation. Scientific Reports, 2019; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-38626-3

This is a sediment core sample from Swallow Lagoon. Credit: John Tibby, University of Adelaide

From Vibrations Alone Acacia Ants Can Tell Nibbles From The Wind

February 15th, 2019: Cell Press
Acacia trees are a prominent feature of the East African savannah. They're also a classic example of the long-standing and complex relationships between plants and insects, in this case acacia ants. The acacias provide food in the form of nectar and accommodation in hollow thorns for the ants. In return, the ants defend the acacias against nibbling elephants, giraffes, or other animals that would eat them.

Now, researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on February 14 find that the ants are tipped off to the presence of herbivores by vibrations that run throughout the trees when an animal gets too close or begins to chew. As a result, the insects begin patrolling the acacia's branches more actively. Remarkably, the researchers show, the ants don't react when the trees' movements are caused only by the wind.

"The vibrations that occur when a mammal plucks a leaf are so powerful that they spread across the whole tree and are perceived by the ants," says Felix Hager of Ruhr University Bochum, Germany. "As a result, the ants are alerted within a fraction of a second and promptly orient toward the attacker."

Hager and study co-author Kathrin Krausa began to suspect that vibrations were important while working in the Kenyan savannah. "We often inadvertently touched the acacia branches and backed off because of the very fast and disruptive attacks of ants that swarmed on us," Krausa says. "It struck us that it was assumed that odors associated with plant damage alert the ants. As biotremologists studying vibrations, we felt that this is only half of the story."

Hager and Krausa thought that vibrations might be a more immediate and reliable information source for the ants. To test this, the researchers first measured vibrations in acacia induced by the wind and a by browsing goat. Then, they devised a mechanical device calibrated so as to reproduce the movement associated with a chewing, four-legged mammal.

Their studies show that acacia ants respond to vibrations associated with a simulated herbivore, but not to the wind. They could respond to vibrations originating at some distance away. In almost every case, the ants also responded by heading toward the source of those vibrations. In other words, not only did they feel the vibrations, but they could tell based on them which way to go.

"If an ant detects vibrations due to an elephant nibbling at its tree, it needs to find the attacker as soon as possible and decide in which direction to go," Krausa says. "We were impressed by the ants. Spread all over the tree, they made the right decision and walked toward the vibration source to fight back against the attacker almost every time."

Hager says that this is just the beginning of studies to explore the vibration sense. "We've just started to understand this mode of communication," he says. "There is a lot of work waiting for us!"

Felix A. Hager, Kathrin Krausa. Acacia Ants Respond to Plant-Borne Vibrations Caused by Mammalian Browsers. Current Biology, 2019; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.01.007

This photograph shows acacia ants on their host tree (Crematogaster mimosae, Acacia zanzibarica). Credit: Felix A. Hager and Kathrin Krausa

'Seeing' Tails Help Sea Snakes Avoid Predators

February 15th, 2019: University of Adelaide
New research has revealed the fascinating adaptation of some Australian sea snakes that helps protect their vulnerable paddle-shaped tails from predators.

An international study led by the University of Adelaide shows that several species of Australian sea snakes can sense light on their tail skin, prompting them to withdraw their tails under shelter. The study has also produced new insights into the evolution and genetics of this rare light sense.

The researchers found that olive sea snakes (Aipysurus laevis) and other Aipysurus species move their tail away from light. They believe this is an adaptation to keep the tail hidden from sharks and other predators.

"Sea snakes live their entire lives at sea, swimming with paddle-shaped tails and resting at times during the day under coral or rocky overhangs," says study lead author Jenna Crowe-Riddell, PhD candidate in the University of Adelaide's School of Biological Sciences. "Because sea snakes have long bodies, the tail-paddle is a large distance from the head, so benefits from having a light-sense ability of its own.

"The olive sea snake was the only reptile, out of more than 10,000 reptile species, that was known to respond to light on the skin in this way."

The researchers tested for light-sensitive tails in eight species of sea snakes, but found that only three species had the light-sense ability. They concluded the unique ability probably evolved in the ancestor of just six closely related Australian species.

"There are more than 60 species of sea snake so that's less than 10% of all sea snakes," says Ms Crowe-Riddell. "We don't know why this rare sense has evolved in just a few Aipysurus species."

The researchers used RNA sequencing to see what genes are active in the skin of sea snakes. They discovered a gene for a light-sensitive protein called melanopsin, and several genes that are involved in converting light into information in the nervous system.

"Melanopsin is used in a range of genetic pathways that are linked to sensing overall light levels around us. It is even used by some animals, including humans, for regulating sleep cycles and in frogs to change their skin colour as a camouflage," says Ms Crowe-Riddell.

Lead scientist Dr Kate Sanders, ARC Future Fellow at the University of Adelaide, says: "We've confirmed the ability of olive sea snakes to sense light in their tails and found the same ability in two other species. We've identified a shortlist of genes that are likely to be involved in detecting light. But further study will be needed to target these genes before we can really understand the genetic pathways involved in this fascinating behaviour."

Jenna M. Crowe-Riddell, Bruno F. Simões, Julian C. Partridge, David M. Hunt, Steven Delean, Julian G. Schwerdt, James Breen, Alastair Ludington, David J. Gower, Kate L. Sanders. Phototactic tails: Evolution and molecular basis of a novel sensory trait in sea snakes. Molecular Ecology, 2019; DOI: 10.1111/mec.15022

Mosquito Trapping Identifies Ross River Virus

February 22, 2019: NSW Health
Sydney residents are being reminded to protect themselves against mosquito bites, as mosquito trapping at Deepwater Park, Bankstown and Sydney Olympic Park has identified mosquitoes carrying Ross River virus. 

It is particularly important for people enjoying outdoor activities, such as camping or fishing, in areas with high mosquito numbers take precautions to avoid being bitten. 

NSW Health Director of Environmental Health Dr Richard Broome said while Ross River infection was relatively rare in Sydney, high numbers of mosquitoes at this time of year mean people should be cautious. 

“There is no treatment for Ross River Virus. The best way to protect yourself is to avoid getting bitten,” he said. 

Symptoms include tiredness, rash, fever and sore and swollen joints, typically within three weeks of being bitten. They can subside after several days but some people may experience them for weeks or even months. 

“People should see their doctor if they experience these symptoms,” Dr Broome said. 

“NSW Health continues to monitor notified cases of Ross River and other mosquito-borne virus infections to determine the number of cases and whether the infection was acquired locally or elsewhere.” 

Simple steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes include: 
  • Avoid being outside unprotected at dusk, when mosquitoes are commonly active and cover up as much as possible with light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing and covered footwear. 
  • Apply mosquito repellent regularly to exposed areas. Repellents containing Diethyl Toluamide or Picaridin recommended. Repellents containing oil of lemon eucalyptus can also provide adequate protection. 
  • Don’t 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.
  • Eradicate mosquito breeding sites around the home, including containers that hold water. 
  • Use flyscreens on windows and doors of houses and keep them in good order. 
  • When camping, use flyscreens, or sleep under mosquito nets. 
Each summer, NSW Health routinely monitors notified cases of mosquito borne illness and monitors mosquito populations for viruses in strategic locations.

End-Of-Life Care Should Focus On Quality Of Life, Not Prolonging It

February 20, 2019: UNSW - written by Lachlan Gilbert
A UNSW Sydney study calls for a reorganisation of health care priorities that focus on quality of life rather than prolonging the life of older people with terminal illnesses.

Terminally ill, older adults would prefer to receive higher quality supportive care rather than aggressive end-of-life treatments to prolong their lives, a UNSW Sydney study has found.

In an article published recently in the journal Health Expectations, the authors interviewed 24 older adults in NSW who were either terminally ill or cared for a person faced with advanced or irreversible disease, to determine whether their end-of-life (EOL) care needs were being met. The researchers were then able to identify a list of common themes that patients or their caregivers expressed about their health care experience.

The seven themes were identified as follows: quality as a priority; a desire for a sense of control; living a life on hold; the need for health system support; a preference for being at home; talking about death; and dealing with competent and caring health professionals. An underpinning priority throughout the seven themes was knowing and adhering to patient’s wishes.

To date, much of the research concerning consumer preferences around end-of-life care has been undertaken in the oncology setting. But according to lead author of the study, UNSW School of Public Health and Community Medicine’s Ebony Lewis, the latest findings look at older terminal patients with a range of chronic conditions beyond cancer, as well as including caregivers.

Ms Lewis says the study found that older terminally ill health care consumers and caregivers have a strong community-based preference for less aggressive EOL treatments and higher quality supportive care in line with their personal values. But despite this, many older Australians are still spending their last weeks of life in hospital.

“While the government recognises the importance of providing high-quality and safe end-of-life care, and has developed guiding principles for its provision, our consultation found that ‘real life’ alternative options for end-of-life care outside the acute hospital may not be available,”Ms Lewis says.

“Urgent strategies are needed to support terminal care outside the acute hospital as well as tools to give health care professionals the ability to deliver more skilled end-of-life communication that incorporates the patients’ personal values.”

Ms Lewis says such action would address this gap in services as well as the unmet care needs of older adults and relatives caring for dying patients, which ultimately affects everyone in society.

“The general community is also affected by the traumatic experiences of their elders whose suffering and dying processes are prolonged without gains in quality end-of-life. This can leave families with great regret and can cause dissatisfaction with health services.”

Ageing population
The fact that the proportion of those over 65 in the Australian population is expected to double in the next 30 years is also a pressing concern for Ms Lewis.

“Our growing ageing population will have an impact on the efficiency and workload of emergency services and hospitals. Our health system needs to start getting ready to face this challenge.” Ms Lewis says.

“An increase in demand for services will end up contributing to the escalating cost of non-beneficial intensive care or surgical treatments. Doing everything that is technically available for older people dying of natural causes is not necessarily appropriate and leads to inequities of access available to the rest of the general population.”

Rather than persisting with care guidelines that have evolved out of top-down delegation of health policy and practice, Ms Lewis and her co-authors call for a community-based approach for terminal care services.

This would require better communication between medical staff and patients and between patients and their families to ensure expectations are met in palliative and supportive care.

“Much work remains in the area of increasing public awareness of the need to hold the conversations with their family and GP about what people consider unacceptable and what they are prepared to go through in the event of a health crisis when they cannot speak for themselves,” says Ms Lewis.

The research authors also call for the development of planning tools for medical staff enabling them to identify earlier those people who are near the end of life and whose end-of-life care needs have not been articulated.

“We’re working on improving shared decision-making to facilitate advance care planning,” Ms Lewis says. “We hope that using these in routine clinical care may offer a valuable strategy to reduce both unnecessary hospitalisations and low-value care.”

Huge Boost To Support Student Welfare And Mental Health

February 19th, 2019: Media release - NSW Government
In a first for NSW, every public high school will have two dedicated experts to ensure students have access to vital mental health and wellbeing support.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian today announced that the $88 million  investment will ensure every public high school student in the State has access to a highly-qualified mental health professional they can confidentially speak to, as well as greater support for bullying, anxiety, stress, and any other difficult issues they may face at school.

“This will make it easy for young people to access help when they’re going through a tough time and also give teachers the support to deal with challenges faced by students,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“We know from teachers and principals – and the students themselves – what an impact this has on reducing stress and improving academic performance, as well as how much the students embrace the extra support.”

Up to 100 additional full-time school counsellors or psychologists, as well as 350 student support officers, will be employed  across NSW public high schools. Importantly, these experts will have the ability to refer students who require greater assistance to mental health services.

Education Minister Rob Stokes said the program will help normalise speaking up and seeking help when it comes to mental health, as well as train teachers to be able to have these conversations with students and their families.

“It is critical that parents, teachers and students know there is always someone they can turn to for support,” Mr Stokes said.

“We’ll also partner with mental health organisations  to bring their expertise and experience to school communities.”

Mental Health Minister Tanya Davies said about 14 per cent of children between four and 17 years old experience a mental illness – and this figure is expected to rise.

“If issues are not addressed quickly and at a young age they can develop into lifelong problems,” Mrs Davies said.

“Getting help early can prevent young people from falling into crisis and also avoid longer term interventions as an adult. Schools play a critical role in getting this support to young people sooner.”

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro visited Griffith High School today to talk with students and teachers about how the boost will help in regional NSW.

“By offering mental health support in schools, we can identify kids who need help early, and make sure they’re looked after.

“With the ice epidemic and youth suicide major issues in regional NSW it is important that our kids have access to life-saving support services no matter where they live.”

Since elected, the NSW Government has increased funding for student wellbeing by more than $200 million, with an additional 236 school counselling positions  funded over the past three years, bringing the total full-time counselling positions to 1081.

New Heated Tobacco Device Causes Same Damage To Lung Cells As E-Cigs And Smoking

February 11, 2019
A new study that directly compares new heated tobacco devices with vaping and traditional cigarettes shows that all three are toxic to human lung cells.

The study published in ERJ Open Research suggests that the new device, which heats solid tobacco instead of an e-liquid, is no less toxic to the cells than ordinary cigarette smoke.

Researchers say the study adds to evidence that these newer electronic nicotine delivery devices may not be a safer substitute for cigarette smoking.

The study was led by Dr Pawan Sharma, a researcher at the University of Technology Sydney and the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, Sydney, Australia.

He said: "Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death, and with the introduction of e-cigarettes in the last decade, the trend of nicotine uptake is not going to slow down in the near future. If the current trend continues, tobacco use will cause more than eight million deaths annually by 2030 around the world.

"The latest addition in this emerging trend is the planned and vigorous introduction of heated tobacco devices. They are commonly called next generation or heat-not-burn products. We know very little about the health effects of these new devices, so we designed this research to compare them with cigarette smoking and vaping."

Researchers tested the effects of all three nicotine sources on two types of cells taken from the human airways: epithelial cells and smooth muscle cells. In healthy lungs, epithelial cells act as the first line of defence to any foreign particles entering the airway while smooth muscle cells maintain the structure of the airway. However, smoking can lead to difficulty in breathing primarily by hampering the normal functions of these cells.

Dr Sharma and his team exposed the cells to different concentrations of cigarette smoke, e-cigarette vapour and vapour from a heated tobacco device, and measured whether this was damaging to cells and whether it affected the cells' normal functions.

The researchers found that cigarette smoke and heated tobacco vapour were highly toxic to the cells both at lower and higher concentrations while e-cigarette vapour demonstrated toxicity mainly at higher concentrations. Researchers say that these concentrations represent the levels of nicotine found in chronic smokers.

Dr Sukhwinder Sohal, a researcher at the University of Tasmania, Launceston, Australia, and leading author on the study, said: "We observed different levels of cellular toxicity with all forms of exposures in human lung cells. What came out clearly was that the newer products were in no way less toxic to cells than conventional cigarettes or e-cigarette vaping."

Dr Sharma added: "Our results suggest that all three are toxic to the cells of our lungs and that these new heated tobacco devices are as harmful as smoking traditional cigarettes.

"It took us nearly five decades to understand the damaging effects of cigarette smoke and we don't yet know the long-term impact of using e-cigarettes. These devices that heat solid tobacco are relatively new and it will be decades before we will fully understand their effects on human health.

"What we do know is that damage to these two types of lung cells can destroy lung tissue leading to fatal diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and pneumonia, and can increase the risk of developing asthma, so we should not assume that these devices are a safer option."

Dr Sharma hopes his results will stimulate more research on heated tobacco devices and he plans to continue this work by studying the effects of nicotine devices on more sophisticated models of lung tissue and in mice.

Professor Charlotta Pisinger is Chair of the European Respiratory Society's Tobacco Control Committee and was not involved in the research. She said: "These new heated tobacco devices are marketed as producing 95% lower levels of toxic compounds because the tobacco is heated, not burned. However, the first independent studies have shown that combustion is taking place and toxic and carcinogenic compounds are released, some in lower levels than in conventional cigarette smoke, others in higher levels. A review of the tobacco industry's own data on these devices has shown that, in rats, there is evidence of lung inflammation, and there is no evidence of improvement in lung inflammation and function in smokers who switch to heated tobacco.

"The introduction and vigorous marketing of new devices is very tempting to smokers who want to stop smoking and mistakenly believe they can switch to another harmless tobacco product. It is also opening another avenue for attracting young people to use and become addicted to nicotine. This study adds to evidence that these new devices are not the safe substitute to cigarette smoking they are promoted to be."

Sukhwinder Singh Sohal, Mathew Suji Eapen, Vegi G.M. Naidu, Pawan Sharma. IQOS exposure impairs human airway cell homeostasis: direct comparison with traditional cigarette and e-cigarette. ERJ Open Research, 2019; 5 (1): 00159-2018 DOI: 10.1183/23120541.00159-2018

Indigenous Hunters Have Positive Impacts On Food Webs In Desert Australia

February 17th, 2019: Penn State university
Australia has the highest rate of mammal extinction in the world. Resettlement of indigenous communities resulted in the spread of invasive species, the absence of human-set fires, and a general cascade in the interconnected food web that led to the largest mammalian extinction event ever recorded. In this case, the absence of direct human activity on the landscape may be the cause of the extinctions, according to a Penn State anthropologist.

"I was motivated by the mystery that has occurred in the last 50 years in Australia," said Rebecca Bliege Bird, professor of anthropology, Penn State. "The extinction of small-bodied mammals does not follow the same pattern we usually see with people changing the landscape and animals disappearing."

Australia's Western Desert, where Bird and her team work, is the homeland of the Martu, the traditional owners of a large region of the Little and Great Sandy Desert. During the mid-20th century, many Martu groups were first contacted in the process of establishing a missile testing range and resettled in missions and pastoral stations beyond their desert home. During their hiatus from the land, many native animals went extinct.

In the 1980s, many families returned to the desert to reestablish their land rights. They returned to livelihoods centered around hunting and gathering. Today, in a hybrid economy of commercial and customary resources, many Martu continue their traditional subsistence and burning practices in support of cultural commitments to their country.

Twenty-eight Australian endemic land mammal species have become extinct since European settlement. Local extinctions of mammals include the burrowing bettong and the banded hare wallaby, both of which were ubiquitous in the desert before the indigenous exodus, Bird told attendees at the 2019 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science today (Feb. 17) in Washington, D.C.

"During the pre-1950, pre-contact period, Martu had more generalized diets than any animal species in the region," said Bird. "When people returned, they were still the most generalized, but many plant and animal species were dropped from the diet."

She also notes that prior to European settlement, the dingo, a native Australian dog, was part of Martu life. The patchy landscape created by Martu hunting fires may have been important for dingo survival. Without people, the dingo did not flourish and could not exclude populations of smaller invasive predators -- cats and foxes -- that threatened to consume all the native wildlife.

Bird and her team looked at the food webs -- interactions of who eats what and who feeds whom, including humans -- for the pre-contact and for the post-evacuation years. Comparisons of these webs show that the absence of indigenous hunters in the web makes it easier for invasive species to infiltrate the area and for some native animals to become endangered or extinct. This is most likely linked to the importance of traditional landscape burning practices, said Bird.

Indigenous Australians in the arid center of the continent often use fire to facilitate their hunting success. Much of Australia's arid center is dominated by a hummock grass called spinifex.

In areas where Martu hunt more actively, hunting fires increase the patchiness of vegetation at different stages of regrowth, and buffer the spread of wildfires. Spinifex grasslands where Martu do not often hunt, exhibit a fire regime with much larger fires. Under an indigenous fire regime, the patchiness of the landscape boosts populations of native species such as dingo, monitor lizard and kangaroo, even after accounting for mortality due to hunting.

"The absence of humans creates big holes in the network," said Bird. "Invading becomes easier for invasive species and it becomes easier for them to cause extinctions." 
The National Science Foundation and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology supported this work.

Why Does Your Work Matter? Research Summit Asks Global Thought Leaders To Answer The Big Question

February 22, 2019: UNSW - written by Larissa Mavros

The Times Higher Education Research Excellence Summit: Asia Pacific at UNSW Sydney challenged university leaders and researchers to better showcase how they are tackling the world’s major challenges.

"Academics and university leaders must be proactive in sharing their stories": UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs opens the summit. Photo: Maja Baska

More than 200 of the world’s brightest minds converged on UNSW Sydney this week for the 2019 Times Higher Education Research Excellence Summit: Asia-Pacific to explore powerful ways universities and researchers are addressing some of the planet's most pressing issues. The event underscored the need for higher education institutions to outwardly champion the value and significance of their research.

UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs led that charge when he implored higher education leaders to continue to fight for research in the public interest and to work better together, during his remarks at the opening gala dinner.

One of the challenges university leaders were facing, Professor Jacobs said, was lagging enthusiasm for public funding for universities and research. Countries such as Australia and the UK had to fight for funding and recognition of the value of universities and research, he said.

'What we do a very good job of is telling it to ourselves ... If we’re going to actually change that conversation, then that conversation has to have had engaged the public in a meaningful dialogue about what it is we do, why we do it and why it’s of value to them.' – Mark Searle, Executive Vice-President and University Provost at Arizona State University

“Academics and university leaders must be proactive in sharing their stories and emphasising the link between universities and the research that, ultimately, advances society,” said Professor Jacobs. “We have to make our communities care enough to champion our work and influence the government to care as well.”

Sharing the message
During a session chaired by UNSW Science Dean Professor Emma Johnston titled 'How does research achieve public good in the 21st century context', Mark Searle, Executive Vice-President and University Provost at Arizona State University – one of UNSW’s partners in the PLuS Alliance – said higher education institutions did a poor job in helping the public understand the value-add from universities and research.

“What we do a very good job of is telling it to ourselves; the job that we do and how well we do it,” said Profressor Searle. “If we’re going to actually change that conversation, then that conversation has to have had engaged the public in a meaningful dialogue about what it is we do, why we do it and why it’s of value to them. We have a responsibility to construct the research designs in ways that actually lead down that path.”

Collaboration was needed between universities, government development partners, aid agencies and philanthropies to help inform government development priorities.

John Gill, editor of Times Higher Education, said negative media coverage in some places around the world had contributed to the disconnect between universities and the public. In Australia, for example, the government introduced a “national interest test” to decide what research it would fund.

However, 2018 Australian of the Year and quantum computing pioneer UNSW Professor Michelle Simmons said that in her experience traveling across Australia, the public’s response to her research had been positive and supportive.

"It has been a fabulous year and people are curious, they want to know what it is we really do": 2018 Australian of the Year and quantum computing pioneer UNSW Professor Michelle Simmons in discussion at the event. Photo: Jacquie Manning

“I have been really reassured that science is something that is highly valued, innovation is highly valued,” Professor Simmons said. “One of the things that I see is that things reported in the media are not reflective of what I meet on the ground. It has been a fabulous year and people are curious, they want to know what it is we really do.”

Sir Fraser Stoddart, the 2016 Nobel Laureate for Chemistry who recently joined UNSW, said he was a great advocate for supporting people, not projects.

“My whole career has shown that project-driven research is not good value for money,” Sir Stoddart said. “The best value for money comes from giving people that are likely to have great ideas, free rope, free rein, and to just go out there and explore. This is when serendipity visits, when you’re in this land of ‘we’re having fun, we’re just doing this for the sheer love of it’.”

A changing world
Another complicating factor was the complex geo-political context the world had entered, one in which some researchers said advancement of knowledge was no longer seen as a global good.

“When one nation got better at doing things, the entire world benefitted. Geo-politics in the last decade has unfortunately moved away from that thinking and we need to be sensitive to this,” said Danny Quah, Dean and Li Ka Shing Professor in Economics at the National University of Singapore, during a speech on research and the road to prosperity in the Asian century.

Raina MacIntyre, head of the biosecurity program at the Kirby Institute and Professor of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology at UNSW. Photo: Jacquie Manning

“There are parts of the west, Donald Trump’s America for one, that believe the world is now locked in a zero-sum competition for leadership. Whether it’s leadership in technology, in 5G technology, in quantum computing, in encryption, in artificial intelligence and a range of the latest technologies. We need to build bridges, we need to work together.”

The need to build bridges was crucial in alleviating the healthcare burden of emerging economies, many of which were located in the Asia-Pacific Region, the summit heard. During the session 'What’s killing us? The age of resistant diseases', chaired by Raina MacIntyre, Head of the biosecurity program at the Kirby Institute and Professor of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology at UNSW, experts said more collaboration was needed between universities, government development partners, aid agencies and philanthropies to help inform government development priorities.

Making a real difference
During disciplinary-focused sessions, panellists and speakers delved into the real-world impacts of research. In 'Water of the future: facing the challenges', chaired by Professor Ana Deletic, UNSW Pro Vice-Chancellor of Research, experts considered the contributions of research to water resources challenges in the Asia-Pacific region.

Microfactory revolution: Professor Veena Sahajwalla, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology at UNSW. Photo: Jacquie Manning

Professor Veena Sahajwalla joined ABC journalist Sarah MacDonald for a conversation titled 'How to waste the future', which considered the need for alternative recycling practices to deal with the world’s growing waste challenge. Professor Sahajwalla revealed how the microfactory located on the UNSW campus was transforming coffee grounds and glass into new materials.

Australia's Chief Scientist Alan Finkel led a panel discussion with leaders and pioneers in the energy sector about a number of pressing challenges related to energy including the future of coal-generated energy, the renewable energy revolution and how policy and government played a role in shaping the energy sector.

What future coal? Australian Chief Scientist Alan Finkel. Photo: Jacquie Manning

UNSW Professor Martin Green, Director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics, said figures published recently by the International Renewable Energy Agency on the amount of materials required to install each megawatt of solar photovoltaics showed renewables would create opportunities for the traditional resource exports.

“It turns out that you more than make up that $2.3 billion loss in our coal export, if you look at the same methodology for the other components that I mentioned, specifically you’ll need steel for the mounting structures, you’ll need aluminium for the frames, you’ll need copper for the wiring,” said Professor Green. “If you look at the corresponding impact upon the Australian export industry in terms of the boost you would get, it turns out in the first year you would get $7.4 billion extra export from that boost. That’s a hypothetical situation, of course.”

A revolution in exports: UNSW Professor Martin Green, Director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics. Photo: Jacquie Manning

Experts from three of the leading countries in the artificial intelligence space, including UNSW Professor Toby Walsh, shared their perspectives on AI research and how different nations were tackling the challenges and opportunities.

In his closing remarks, Professor Jacobs said delegates and speakers discussed how research translated into a public good in multiple ways from massaging baby rats to understanding how what threatens us is changing – from old threats like infectious diseases to new threats, and potential threats, such as those brought on by political crises such as Brexit or technological frontiers such as the development of AI.

“We have reinforced the value of fundamental discovery research. We have reinforced the importance of linking our research and educational efforts more closely,” Professor Jacobs said. “And we have formed a consensus in the room, that the research produced in our part of the world has enormous potential yet to be tapped.”

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.