Inbox and Environment News: Issue 410

June 23 - 29, 2019: Issue 410

Barrenjoey Seal Colony Growing

Jools Farrell, local ORRCA lady extraordinaire, reminds us that at present the Australian Fur Seal Colony at Barrenjoey is growing. In mid May there were 3 but there will be a lot more as we had up to 20 last year.

This behaviour is called thermoregulating which is normal seal behaviour to regulate their body temperatures.

Please remember that legally you must stay a minimum of 40 metres away from seals, especially if they come ashore on the estuary beaches or ocean beaches to rest.

Also please keep an eye out for them if you are out in a boat as they do venture out of this spot to feed on the estuary or around Barrenjoey Headland. In recent years they have been seen everywhere from Barrenjoey to Clareville and Church Point.

Please do not attempt to feed them as they get plenty of food here in Pittwater. Please also do not attempt to swim with them, Jools asks.

If you do see a seal in distress, please contact ORRCA on their 24/7 hotline: 9415 3333.

ORRCA Whale Census Day 2019 At Bilgola's A J Small Lookout

Next Sunday, June 30th, is ORRCA 2019 Whale Census Day  when we can all contribute to counting whales!

Jools Farrell, who is 2nd Vice President at ORRCA, will be up at Bilgola's A J Small Lookout from sunup to sundown and will need as many hands as possible to help out. 

This will be the 20th Whale Census so let's all help out and pop by for an hour or two and get involved - maybe even take Jools a hot drink!

Above Barrenjoey Seals - Photo courtesy of Mark Farrell.

Increase Of Bell Miners At Warriewood And Ingleside A Cause For Concern

Pittwater Online News has received reports of the presence of Bell Miners being heard and seen in Warriewood and Ingleside in greater numbers over the past months. Although the Bellbird's tinkling call is beloved by people many may not be aware of its effect on other birds and forests. 

They arrived in the Warriewood area about 7 years ago and seem to be flourishing. If they stay long enough in one area, because they don't destroy the scale insects that produce high energy food they like, these insects weaken and may kill the trees.The Bell Miners just harvest the high energy secretions of the insects. 

Birds such at Pardalotes and other Honeyeater species that eat the whole insect, thus benefiting the trees, are excluded by BMs in defending their territory. At this stage the effect on local trees and bird colonies is unmeasured through any surveys or studies by ecologists. 

Bell Miners have been heard at Ingleside and near the Uniting Church in Warriewood.

The bell miner (Manorina melanophrys), commonly known as the bellbird, is a colonial honeyeater endemic to southeastern Australia. The common name refers to their bell-like call. "Miner" is an old alternative spelling of the word "myna" and is shared with other members of the genus Manorina. 

The birds feed almost exclusively on the dome-like coverings, referred to as "bell lerps", of certain psyllid bugs that feed on eucalyptus sap from the leaves. The psyllids make these bell-lerps from their own honeydew secretions in order to protect themselves from predators and the environment.

Bell miners live in large, complex social groups. Within each group there are subgroups consisting of several breeding pairs, but also including a number of birds who are not currently breeding. The nonbreeders help in providing food for the young in all the nests in the subgroup, even though they are not necessarily closely related to them. 

The birds defend their colony area communally aggressively, excluding most other passerine species, the insect-eating birds that would eat the whole of the bell lerps. Whenever the local forests die back due to increased lerp psyllid infestations, bell miners undergo a population boom - although, as they only harvest the secretions, they may also contribute to and even spread the problem.

Bell Miner, Manorina melanophrys - photo by Benjamint444

Ingleside Biobanking To Go Ahead: Great News For The Ingleside Chase Reserve

In March 2019 an announcement that Council had prepared a a Biobanking Application for Ingleside Chase Reserve was welcomed and supported by Pittwater bushcare groups and local environment groups. 

A biobanking site is an in-perpetuity agreement between a land manager (Council in this instance) and the State government – and provides funding for the ongoing management of the biobanking site for conservation purposes.

Such conservation purposes in Ingleside Chase Reserve include improving habitat value and conservation of threatened flora and fauna species, reducing the impact of weeds and feral animal pests, and reducing human impacts to improve water quality in the Narrabeen, Fern and Mullet Creek catchments. 

The biobanking agreement would hugely supplement the funds Council needs to spend in the reserve to achieve proper conservation.

What is biobanking?  
BioBanking is a market-based offset scheme that allows developers to buy ‘biodiversity credits' to counterbalance the loss of biodiversity resulting from their development.

'Biodiversity credits' are generated by landowners who commit to enhance and protect biodiversity values on their land through a biobanking agreement. These credits can be sold, generating funds to manage the site. Buyers include developers, conservation and philanthropic organisations and government. 

On Wednesday this week, June 19th, Council announced it has entered into a biobanking agreement with the State Government to help fund the ongoing conservation of the ecologically-important Ingleside Chase Reserve.

The biobanking agreement is the first of its type for Council.

Negotiated with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, the agreement means a biobank site is established at Ingleside to help manage the land for conservation.

Ingleside Chase Reserve is a 70-hectare bushland reserve owned and managed by Council and is located on the Warriewood Escarpment between the suburbs of Warriewood, Ingleside and Elanora Heights.

Mayor Michael Regan said the arrangement will enable Council to continue its important work conserving the Reserve.

“Ingleside is home to many endangered species of threatened plants and animals. The Reserve is critical to the region’s biodiversity and it is vital it be maintained, but this does require significant ongoing funding.

“The biobanking agreement provides an opportunity to secure a substantially larger budget to continue to manage the Reserve.

“Apart from protecting threatened plants and animals, Council’s work at Ingleside includes reducing the impact of weeds and feral animals, and minimising the human impact to improve water quality in the Narrabeen, Fern and Mullet Creek catchments.” Mayor Regan said.

A male Spotted Pardalote at Ingleside - A J Guesdon photo

New Aquatic Boardwalk For Narrabeen Lagoon Trail Raises Concerns Over Construction During Black Swan Breeding Season And Water Turbidity 

In March 2018 a community consultation commenced on the proposal to install a boardwalk into the Narrabeen Lagoon. The consultation followed on from a March 2017 Aquatic Boardwalk Design.

As Background, Council stated that;
'since completion of stage 2b of the Narrabeen Lagoon Trail (NLT) in 2015 the recreational trail has enjoyed high popularity with the community and the Trail is considered a success in promoting a healthy lifestyle while also providing sustainable access to the natural environment.

Council has developed a safe solution for the northern side of the lagoon where the trail is adjacent to the Wakehurst Parkway. This narrow section of trail is a potential hazard for bike riders and pedestrians.

This existing path is in an environmentally sensitive area. The embankment is too unstable to construct a cantilevered structure and would require removal of all vegetation along this part of the riparian zone.'

The underlying basis for this option is stressed as 'This is the only alternative route for the trail around the constraints of the Wakehurst Parkway.'

To address the constraints and risks noted Council developed a boardwalk that crosses the bay. 

The Proposal outlined:
The boardwalk has been design to follow an alignment that has minimal environmental disturbance and the methodology for construction has been specified to ensure there is no impact on surrounding sea grass beds.

The benefits of this aquatic boardwalk are that it eliminates the risks involved with a land based solution and:
  • Preserves the Aboriginal heritage items on the shore
  • Provides a consistent level of service with rest of the NLT
  • Resolves safety hazards
  • Enables the remediation of the riparian zone (included in the scope of the project)
  • Provides a much better experience being well removed from major arterial road.
The key features of the design include:
  • Turpentine piles to ensure there is no leaching of harmful chemicals from concrete or treated pine piles into the waterway
  • 2.5m width of boardwalk to comply with shared path requirements
  • Inbuilt pockets in the boardwalk abutments to provide habitat opportunity
  • The alignment and construction methodology has been determined by the current bed of dead seagrass to ensure that living beds of seagrass are protected.
Pittwater Online News received emails from distressed residents and environment groups opposed to any boardwalk jutting into the lagoon during the consultation period. Comments closed on May 6th, 2018.

In response to community engagement on the boardwalk project, Council revisited two options for terrestrial location of the walkway parallel to the Wakehurst Parkway and compared them to the proposed aquatic boardwalk.

In December 2018 the aquatic boardwalk alignment as exhibited was accepted as the final design for the following reasons:
  • best practice safety for pedestrians and cyclists
  • minimal environmental impact
  • diversity of recreation experience on the trail
  • aesthetically pleasing outcome from the waterway
  • ability for Council to undertake riparian and foreshore revegetation and restoration of the degraded lagoon edge along the Parkway
On Friday, May 17th, 2019 Council announced that work will commence on May 20th on the new section of the popular Narrabeen Lagoon Trail, creating an overwater boardwalk on the northern side of the lagoon.

'An upgrade is essential to ensure public safety and to provide the community with a unique experience via relocating the trail away from the Wakehurst Parkway.' the statement said

'The new boardwalk will also enable Council to restore the riparian zone and habitat corridor along the northern foreshore of the lagoon.

The Trail, used by thousands of locals and visitors each week, is a great way to keep fit and also provides sustainable access to the spectacular natural environment around the lagoon.'

Northern Beaches Council Mayor Michael Regan said the aquatic boardwalk would be an important and picturesque addition to the Trail.

“We have all seen in recent years just how much the Northern Beaches has enjoyed what the Narrabeen Lagoon Trail has to offer.

“Be it keen runners, bike riders or those enjoying a leisurely stroll, it offers something for everyone.

“Not only will this upgrade improve safety, it will provide a lovely view across the lagoon as well as protect, restore and enhance the local environment,’’ the Mayor said.

Construction is set to continue over the next few months with some temporary closures on weekdays. 

Soon after the works commenced former Mayor of Pittwater David James OAM raised concerns over the construction being done during what is the recognised breeding season for the black swans that have returned to the lagoon in recent years.

Earlier this week Pittwater Pathways' John Illingsworth sent in the video that runs below which raises some questions into how the works are being carried out, how the aquatic birds that were gathering are now being dispersed, and reiterates a dislike for the encroachment into the lagoon of any structure.

Narrabeen ward Councillor Vincent De Luca OAM also advised Pittwater Online News that he has submitted the following Question with Notice for this Tuesday's, June 25th, 2019, Council Meeting:

A. Can Council staff please review the video at of Emeritus Mayor David James OAM, in which he raises numerous concerns as to non-compliance with standards for barges, engineering and threats to bird life in relation to the raised cycle/walk way around Narrabeen Lagoon and respond to those concerns?
B. What measures are being implemented to ensure there is no turbidity from the works?
C. What monitoring will Council staff undertake to ensure compliance during the works?
D. What action has Council taken and will continue to take to protect the Black Swans and other bird life?

Black swans are legally protected in NSW. The birds are monogamous breeders, meaning that each breeding pair stays together for life and shares incubation and cygnet rearing between them. Right now, Winter, is their breeding season.

Completion of the walkway is scheduled for October 2019.

NSW Upper House Inquiry Into Koala Populations And Habitat In New South Wales

This inquiry was established on 20 June 2019 to inquire into and report on koala populations and habitat in New South Wales.

1. That Portfolio Committee No. 7 – Planning and Environment inquire into and report on actions, policies and funding by government to ensure healthy, sustainable koala populations and habitat in New South Wales, and in particular:
(a) the status of koala populations and koala habitat in New South Wales, including trends, key
threats, resource availability, adequacy of protections and areas for further research,
(b) the impacts on koalas and koala habitat from:
(i) the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals and Regional Forest Agreements,
(ii) the Private Native Forestry Code of Practice,
(iii) the old growth forest remapping and rezoning program,
(iv) the 2016 land management reforms, including the Local Land Services Amendment Act 2016 and associated regulations and codes
(c) the effectiveness of State Environmental Planning Policy 44 - Koala Habitat Protection, the NSW Koala Strategy and the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016, including the threatened species provisions and associated regulations, in protecting koala habitat and responding to key threats,
(d) identification of key areas of koala habitat on private and public land that should be protected, including areas currently at risk of logging or clearing, and the likely impacts of climate change on koalas and koala distribution,
(e) the environmental, social and economic impacts of establishing new protected areas to conserve koala habitat, including national parks, and
(f) any other related matter.
3. That the committee report by 15 June 2020.

Committee membership
Ms Cate Faehrmann MLC The Greens (Chair)
Hon Mark Pearson MLC Animal Justice Party (Deputy Chair)
Hon Mark Buttigieg MLC Australian Labor Party
Hon Catherine Cusack Liberal Party
Hon Ben Franklin MLC The Nationals
Hon Shayne Mallard Liberal Party
Hon Penny Sharpe MLC Australian Labor Party 

Make a Submission Online HERE. Submissions close August 2nd, 2019.

NSW Budget: Environment Allocations

Allocations of 1.9 billion in 2018-19 towards 'valued and protected environment and heritage initiatives': 
  • $632.3 million for national parks, public parklands and gardens to grow tourism and improve liveability and sustainability. This includes: 
  • $17.2 million for the Snowies Iconic Great Walk
  • $9.9 million for the Thredbo Valley Track Extension 
  • $7.9 million for the Light to Light Great Walk 
  • $3.6 million for the Murramarang South Coast Walk
  • $3.0 million for the Port Stephens Koala Hospital and Tourism Facility. 
  • other Government commitments include: 
  • $11.0 million towards Murray River Experience 
  • $8.5 million for the Jenolan project 
  • $6.3 million towards the Scone Aviation Visitor Attraction centre
  • $5.0 million towards the Wagga Wagga Riverside Precinct Rejuvenation 
  • $4.6 million for the Winnie Bay Clifftop Walk. 
  • $102.1 million (part of a five-year $1.4 billion program) to deliver outcomes that help communities and businesses adapt to a changing climate
  • $89.4 million ($345.0 million over four years) for the Biodiversity Conservation Trust of New South Wales to deliver private land conservation outcomes across priority areas
  • $59.5 million to move the National Herbarium from its current location in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney to Mount Annan, creating 350 new jobs. The new, purpose-built Centre of Innovation in Plant Sciences will be the nation’s premier botanic science research facility
  • $36.8 million to protect threatened species across NSW by maximising the number of threatened species secured in the wild, by investing $11.9 million to implement the Koala Strategy and $24.9 million through the Saving our Species program
  • $20 million over five years for the creation and upgrade of inclusive playspaces to improve the liveability of NSW communities as part of the Everyone Can Play in NSW program 
  • $9.5 million in 2018-19 ($37.5 million over four years) partnering with community, councils and business to increase the average tree canopy across Sydney as part of the Five Million Trees for Greater Sydney by 2030 program.
The 2018-19 Budget also includes $42.9 million infrastructure investment in National Parks to increase tourism in New South Wales. This includes:
  • $7.7 million over four years for the Tweed Hinterlands Walk, Byron to Border Ranges
  • $10.7 million for the Great Southern Nature Walk- Southern Gateway
  • $7.5 million for the Macleay Coast Trial Bay precinct upgrade
  • $7.1 million for the Tomaree Coastal Walk in Port Stephens
  • $9.9 million for the Sydney Harbour Scenic Walk.

NSW Budget Neglects Climate And Extinction Emergencies

June 19, 2019
The urgent need to protect species, slash climate pollution and ramp up clean energy in NSW have been largely overlooked in today’s state budget, according to the NSW Nature Conservation Council.

“After her re-election the Premier said she wanted to make the environment a new focus for her government but judging from this budget it is just more of the same,” CEO Kate Smolski said.

“The Treasurer didn’t mention a single significant new clean-energy project in his speech, nor did he announce any significant new funding for nature conservation.

“Spending on renewables is only $142 million, which is just 0.15 per cent of the state’s $93 billion expenditure on infrastructure. That’s pathetic.

“The government boasts it is spending $300 million from the Climate Change Fund but does not say on what.

“In the past the government has misdirected these funds to projects like raising the Warragamba Dam wall that don’t reduce climate pollution and actually harm the environment.

“While NSW is gripped by drought this government’s response to the climate crisis is to talk about building dams.

“There is not enough water to fill the dams we have because climate change has made rainfall less reliable and droughts will continue to get worse unless we act urgently to cut our pollution.

Building dams won’t make it rain. The best hope we have to address the crisis is to revegetate the landscape, stop burning coal and gas and slash our climate pollution.”

Ms Smolski welcomed modest funding for a new national park in south-west Sydney, $150 million for urban parks, and money for national parks infrastructure, all of which had been announced before the election.

“While new funding and a new park is always welcome, this government still has the worst record on national parks creation since the NSW network began to be built in the 1960s,” Ms Smolski said.

“We have barely half-built the reserve system we need to ensure the long-term survival of the unique native wildlife species and landscapes that make NSW such amazing place.

“Premier Gladys Berejiklian has added less to the parks estate than any Premier ever.”

[1] $30m for the Emerging Energy Program; $64.5m for the Empowering Homes Program; $18m over three years to accelerate the roll-out of solar panels on government buildings; and $30m for the Regional Community Energy Fund.

Whale On!

During the past few weeks Readers have reported sighting humpback whales, southern right whales and even minke whales off our coasts, whether spotting them from the shores or from boats while out on the water.

It may be early but the ORRCA Whale Census Day is scheduled for June 30th this year and this will be the 20th Whale Census.
For those of you who like spotting whales, this may be an activity you would like to get involved in. Visit HERE.

Catch A Glimpse Of A Humpback Whale

Visit a coastal NSW national park to spot a humpback whale, as they start their annual migration north.

From May to November 2019, over 30,000 humpback whales will migrate from the cold waters of Antarctica to the warmer waters off north east Australia to mate and give birth before heading south again.

Vantage spots for whale watching include national parks with lookouts, headlands and foreshores.

Southern right and minke whales may also be spotted off the NSW coast during migration season.

Keen whale-watchers can download the free Wild About Whales mobile app, which helps users find the best locations for spotting whales, get real-time notifications of nearby sightings, and record their sightings.

Environment Minister Matt Kean said the app is a great tool for the whole family to learn more about whales, while also contributing to a citizen science project.

“Citizen science volunteers and other organisations such as ORRCA do an amazing job of monitoring the number of whales migrating along the NSW coast each season,” Mr Kean said.

Find whale watching vantage points

Learn about approaching marine mammals in NSW

Narwhals And Belugas Can Interbreed

June 21, 2019: University of Copenhagen
A team of University of Copenhagen researchers has compiled the first and only evidence that narwhals and beluga whales can breed successfully. DNA and stable isotope analysis of an anomalous skull from the Natural History Museum of Denmark has allowed researchers to confirm the existence of a narwhal-beluga hybrid.

For nearly thirty years, a strange-looking whale skull has gathered dust in the collections of the Natural History Museum of Denmark. Now, a team of researchers has determined the reason for the skull's unique characteristics: it belongs to a narwhal-beluga hybrid.

A Greenlandic hunter shot the whale in the 1980's and was puzzled by its odd appearance. He therefore kept the skull and placed it on the roof of his tool-shed. Several years later, Professor Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen of the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources visited the settlement and also immediately recognised the skull's strange characteristics. He interviewed the hunter about the anomalous whale he had shot, and sent the skull to Copenhagen. Since then, it has been stored at the Zoological Museum, a part of the Natural History Museum of Denmark.

"As far as we know, this is the first and only evidence in the world that these two Arctic whale species can interbreed. Based on the intermediate shape of the skull and teeth, it was suggested that the specimen might be a narwhal-beluga hybrid, but this could not be confirmed. Now we provide the data that confirm that yes -- it is indeed a hybrid," says Eline Lorenzen, evolutionary biologist and curator at the University of Copenhagen's Natural History Museum of Denmark. Lorenzen led the study, which was published today in Scientific Reports.

Using DNA and stable isotope analysis, the scientists determined that the skull belonged to a male, first-generation hybrid between a female narwhal and male beluga.

Bizarre set of chops
The hybrid's skull was considerably larger than that of a typical narwhal or beluga. But the teeth were markedly different. Whereas narwhals have only one or rarely two long spiralling tusks, belugas have a set of uniform conical teeth that are aligned in straight rows. The hybrid skull has a set of long, spiralling and pointed teeth, that are angled horizontally.

The hybrid's teeth are very different from those of a narwhal or beluga. Photo: Mikkel Høegh Post

"This whale has a bizarre set of teeth. The isotope analysis allowed us to determine that the animal's diet was entirely different than that of a narwhal or beluga -- and it is possible that its teeth influenced its foraging strategy. Whereas the other two species fed in the water column, the hybrid was a bottom dweller," according to Mikkel Skovrind, a PhD student at the Natural History Museum and first author of the paper.

The researchers do not know what prompted the two species to mate, but it suggests a new phenomenon:

"We have analysed the nuclear genomes of a narwhal and a beluga, but see no evidence of interbreeding for at least the past 1.25 million years of their evolutionary histories. So, interbreeding between the species appears to be either a very rare or a new occurrence. To my knowledge, it has not been observed or recorded before," says Eline Lorenzen.

Illustration: Markus Bühler

Gems among the museum collections
Lorenzen points out that she and her colleagues used novel analytical methods that have only recently been developed.

"There are some true gems in the world's natural history collections that can provide us with key insights into the evolution and diversity of life on Earth. It is incredible when material -- such as this skull, which has been stored in our collection for decades -- can be revisited with new methodologies to gain novel biological insights" says Eline Lorenzen.

Mikkel Skovrind adds: "It would be interesting to find out if similar hybrid whales have been spotted elsewhere."

  • By extracting DNA from the anomalous whale skull and comparing it to a genetic reference panel of narwhal and beluga, researchers established the whale's genomic affiliation.
  • Researchers analyzed reference stocks of narwhal and beluga for stable isotopes and compared these with isotope values from the hybrid skull. By measuring bone carbon and nitrogen concentrations, researchers were able to discern whether the whale's diet consisted of food from the water column or from the sea floor. The isotopes demonstrated that the hybrid whale's dietary choices were very different than those of either narwhal or beluga.
  • Narwhals and belugas are the only toothed whales endemic to the Arctic region. While they are each other's closest relatives and roughly equal in size, the two species differ in their morphology and behaviour. The narwhal is characterized by its long, spiraled tusk and has a greyish-brown, mottled pigmentation, whereas belugas have two rows of uniform teeth, and adults are completely white. Narwhals are specialists when it comes to dietary choice, and belugas are generalists.
  • The research is a collaboration between the Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen, the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources and the Department of Anthropology, Trent University (CA).
  • The research is supported by the Carlsberg Foundation, the Villum Fonden Young Investigator programme and the Canada Research Chair programme.

Illustration of a narwhal and a beluga, its closest living relative from "White Whale, Narwhal" illustration from "British Mammals" by A. Thorburn, 1920

Mikkel Skovrind, Jose Alfredo Samaniego Castruita, James Haile, Eve C. Treadaway, Shyam Gopalakrishnan, Michael V. Westbury, Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen, Paul Szpak, Eline D. Lorenzen. Hybridization between two high Arctic cetaceans confirmed by genomic analysis. Scientific Reports, 2019; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-44038-0
A pod of narwhals (Monodon monoceros) off Greenland. Note the long single tusks on many of these small whales. Photo by Dr. Kristin Laidre, Polar Science Center, UW NOAA/OAR/OER - NOAA Photolib Library

Memo To The Environment Minister: A River Does Need All Its Water

June 20, 2019 
by Paul Humphries
Senior lecturer in Ecology, Charles Sturt University
R. Keller Kopf
Research fellow, Charles Sturt University

Given her new role as federal environment minister, one of Sussan Ley’s comments in an interview with Nine Newspapers was eyebrow-raising, to put it mildly. She said:

Sometimes the environment doesn’t need all its water but farmers desperately do need water.

This is inaccurate and concerning, but not all that surprising, given the attitude to water and rivers of some in the community and federal government.

Protecting rivers is a crucial part of Sussan Ley’s brief as environment minister. 
In this age of water sharing and trading, and storing water in dams, it is easy to lose sight of what water is to a river, and how every drop of water that enters (or should enter) a river defines the character and function of that river.

Ultimately, the community – not scientists or even river managers – decides how much water a river should get. But it’s essential to be honest about the effects these decisions have on rivers and the ecosystems they support. This is vital for long-term environmental sustainability, upon which all our industry, agriculture and indeed our society are based.

Crises and concerns
Recently the Murray-Darling river system has suffered several crises, including fish kills, hypoxic water, acid-sulfate soils, and algal blooms. These are all wake-up calls that the way we manage rivers are not working.

Read more:  Damning royal commission report leaves no doubt that we all lose if the Murray-Darling Basin Plan fails

But besides these disastrous incidents, there are many other ways in which river ecosystems are changing, that are not as obvious to the general public.

Contraction of native species’ ranges, local extinctions, success of invasive species and the “need” to stock non-native recreational fish species are just a few of the insidious symptoms of a general malaise.

Water to a river is like air to a balloon. Let out a little air and the balloon is still balloon-shaped, albeit less taut than before. But let out more air and there comes a point, which is hard to predict exactly, when the balloon suddenly collapses. By this analogy, the Murray-Darling Basin is very deflated indeed.

The point is that if we take water out of a river, or change the patterns of its flow, we inevitably change the nature of that river. Irrigators undoubtedly need water. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that we’re not altering the river and its ecosystems by allowing them to take it.

Do we want healthy rivers?
Our job as river scientists is not to say what type of river the community wants. Our job is to inform people on what the actions of changing river management will do to a river and its life.

We already have seriously degraded river ecosystems. Restoring them is exceedingly unlikely under current demands and management. But if we take even more of a river’s water away, we need to acknowledge that the river will become yet a different river, and in some cases, one that we hardly recognise.

The public backlash following the fish kills earlier this year suggests that the community has decided that further degradation of our rivers is not acceptable.

Read more:  5 ways the government can clean up the Murray-Darling Basin Plan

This article was published first in The Conversation, republished under a Creative Commons licence.

Country Music Stars To Join Farmers And Supporters In Big Bash In The Bylong Valley

June 18, 2019
Hundreds of people passionate about saving the picturesque Bylong Valley and its water resources are set for a special performance by country music stars Sara and Greg Storer.

The gig will be held in Bylong to help the local farming community, who are under threat from multinational mining giant Kepco.

KEPCO has plans to build a damaging new coal mine in the valley which, if approved, would ravage high quality farmland and drain underground water aquifers in a previously unmined rural valley adjacent to the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

The combined open cut and underground mine would produce 6.5 million tonnes of thermal coal for the export market, and would create more than five times the carbon emissions than the now scrapped Rocky Hill mine, which was rejected in the Land and Environment Court in February in part due to the greenhouse gases it would produce.

Bylong sheep farmer, Phill Kennedy said, “This valley is gorgeous and so productive. It would be a crime to ruin it with a dangerous coal mine, putting water resources and the Bylong River under strain.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming the Storers and hundreds of people from across NSW to Bylong and showing them why this valley is too precious to plunder for coal.”

Greg Storer said, "Farming is hard work and a gamble a lot of the time, so why the powers that be want to make the odds even longer for people on the land and in our farming communities by jeopardising our precious water resources is baffling.

“Hope to see you all in the beautiful Bylong Valley on the 7th of July. Save the Bylong Valley Food Bowl."   

The Bylong coal mine is currently being assessed by the NSW Independent Planning Commission, and a decision could be made at any time.

Where: Bylong campground (opposite the Bylong General Store)

What: An open-air concert in the centre of Bylong featuring Sara and Greg Storer, plus tours and information about the agriculture, beauty and heritage of the Bylong Valley. The concert will feature performances by 21-time Golden Guitar and ARIA award winner Sara Storer and her brother Greg.

When: 7 July - concert starts 1pm

Why: The Bylong Valley is a beautiful and productive agricultural district threatened by plans for a new open cut and underground coal mine. Local landholders have been fighting to protect the precious groundwater of the Bylong River and a decision on the mine by the Independent Planning Commission is imminent.

Santos Must Stop Ducking Scientific Scrutiny At Narrabri

June 20, 2019
Gas giant Santos is playing politics when it should be sticking to science and proper process, according to Lock the Gate Alliance.

In response to comments made by Santos chief executive Kevin Gallagher during the Credit Suisse Australian Energy conference in Sydney, LTGA spokesperson Georgina Woods said the company had shown an arrogant disregard for existing laws, communities, and the environment during its push to build its controversial Narrabri gasfield.

“The NSW Government gave Santos a 12 month timeline to fast-track its controversial coal seam gasfield five years ago, but Santos failed to submit its environmental assessment on time and has failed to meet the standards of NSW environmental assessments ever since,” Ms Woods said.

“From Santos’ comments at the Credit Suisse event, it sounds as if it has lobbied the Premier and Treasurer directly, but neither of those politicians have the power to make a decision about this gasfield.

“In NSW, that’s done via an independent commission to avoid precisely this kind of inappropriate political interference.

“Santos has failed to comply with the NSW assessment process. It has twice refused reasonable requests for more information from the Department of Planning and Environment, the EPA, Narrabri Council, and the Rural Fire Service.

“It has refused an RFS request to not operate flares in the flammable Pilliga forest on extreme fire danger days, and refused the EPA’s request to assess the capacity of landfill facilities to accommodate their huge volumes of CSG waste.

“It’s a bit rich for Santos to throw the blame around now and try to use politics to duck environmental law and scientific scrutiny, especially when there is a gas import terminal which is well ahead of Santos’s project and properly going through the assessment process.

“Santos is the key architect of the gas price crisis in eastern Australia. It led the charge to build the export terminals at Gladstone in Queensland, linking us to the international market and driving up costs.

“Pulling up a small amount of gas at high risk and high cost from Narrabri will do nothing to reduce the price of gas for manufacturers.”

Notorious Whitehaven Fined For Environmental Vandalism

June 21, 2019
Whitehaven’s flagrant disregard for environmental laws at its Narrabri underground coal mine is further evidence the company has little respect for the community it operates in, the Lock the Gate Alliance stated this week.

The company was recently penalised by NSW’s Environment Protection Agency for two incidents, one of which caused several fires to break out at the Narrabri tip.

According to the EPA, Whitehaven disposed more than 100 canisters used in breathing apparatus of workers at the nearby tip, and the canisters subsequently ignited.

The company was issued with a clean up noticed and were required to dispose of the canisters properly.

The miner was also fined $15,000 after large plumes of black coal dust were observed at its Narrabri Mine.

Neighbour of the underground mine and Narrabri farmer Stuart Murray said the local community had been left in the dark over the incidents.

“Whitehaven appears to have made no effort to contact neighbours or tell locals about these two troubling events,” he said.

“How can we have any faith in this company when we only find out about these serious environmental violations weeks or even months after they have occurred?”

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said the miner’s actions showed it cared little about the environment and the surrounding community.

"These two separate pollution incidents demonstrate a disdain for the effects of the mine on the public and the environment,” she said.

"The EPA has fined Whitehaven for not operating its mine in a competent manner. That seems to us a pretty serious breach of the public trust.

"It's actually the second time this year that Whitehaven has been chipped by the EPA for carrying out mining in a less than competent manner - they also admitted doing so at the company's Rocglen mine in the Land and Environment Court three months ago."

National Tree Day 2019

National Tree Day started in 1996 and has grown into Australia's largest community tree-planting and nature care event.
It’s a call to action for all Australians to get their hands dirty and give back to the community. ​​​

While every day can be Tree Day, we dedicate celebration of Schools Tree Day and National Tree Day to the last Friday and last Sunday in July. In 2019 Schools Tree Day is Friday 26th July and National Tree Day is Sunday 28th July.

Australia’s Energy Exports Increase Global Greenhouse Emissions, Not Decrease Them

June 19, 2019 
by Frank Jotzo
Director, Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University
Salim Mazouz
Research Manager, Crawford School of Public Policy; and Director at EcoPerspectives, Australian National University

When unveiling government data revealing Australia’s rising greenhouse emissions, federal energy minister Angus Taylor sought to temper the news by pointing out that much of the increase is due to liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports, and claiming that these exports help cut emissions elsewhere.

LNG exports, Taylor argued, help to reduce global emissions by replacing the burning of coal overseas, which has a higher emissions factor than gas. In reality, Australian gas displaces a mix of energy sources, including gas from other exporters. Whether and to what extent Australian gas exports reduce emissions therefore remains unclear. Meanwhile, Australia’s coal exports clearly do increase global emissions.

The way Australia can help clean up world energy systems in the future is through large-scale production and export of renewable energy.

Read more:  Here's how a 100% renewable energy future can create jobs and even save the gas industry

In a statement accompanying the latest quarterly emissions figures, the Department of Environment and Energy stated:

'Australia’s total LNG exports are estimated to have the potential to lower emissions in importing countries by around 148Mt CO₂-e [million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent] in 2018, if they displace coal consumption in those countries.'

In truth, the assumption that every unit of Australia’s exported gas displaces coal is silly. The claim of a 148Mt saving is wrong and unfounded. The real number would be much smaller, and there could even be an increase in emissions as a result of LNG exports.

For the most part, exported gas probably displaces natural gas that would otherwise be produced elsewhere, leaving overall emissions roughly the same. Some smaller share may displace coal. But it could just as easily displace renewable or nuclear energy, in which case Australian gas exports would increase global emissions, not reduce them.

How much might gas exports really cut emissions?
Serious analysis would be needed to establish the true amount of emissions displaced by Australian gas. It depends on the specific requirements that importers have, their alternatives for domestic energy production and other imports, changes in relative prices, resulting changes in energy balances in third-country markets, trajectories for investments in energy demand and supply infrastructure, and so forth. No such analysis seems available.

But for illustration, let’s make an optimistic assumption that gas displaces twice as much coal as it does renewable or nuclear energy. Specifically, let’s assume - purely for illustration - that each energy unit of Australian exported LNG replaces 0.7 units of gas from elsewhere, 0.2 units of coal, and 0.1 units of renewables or nuclear.

Australia exported 70 million tonnes of LNG in 2018. A Department of Environment and Energy source told Guardian Australia that this amount of gas would emit 197 million tonnes of CO₂ when burned. We calculate a similar number, on the basis of official emissions factors and export statistics.

Under the optimistic and illustrative set of assumptions outlined above, we calculate that Australia’s LNG exports would have reduced emissions in importing countries by about 10 million tonnes of CO₂ per year. (See the end of the article for a summary of our calculations.)

They might equally have reduced emissions by less, or they might in fact have increased these countries’ emissions, if more renewables or nuclear was displaced than coal. But whatever the the actual number, it’s certainly a long way short of the 148 million tonnes of emissions reduction claimed by the government.

We also should consider the emissions within Australia of producing LNG. The national emissions accounting shows that the increase in national emissions of 3.5 million tonnes of CO₂-e compared with the year before is mostly because of a 22% increase in LNG exports. This means that LNG production in Australia overall may be responsible for 16 million tonnes of CO₂ emissions per year.

A full analysis of global effects would also need to factor in the emissions that would be incurred from the production of alternative energy sources displaced by Australia’s LNG.

Read more:  Whichever way you spin it, Australia's greenhouse emissions have been climbing since 2015

Coal exports unambiguously raise emissions
The picture is more clear-cut for coal. If there was no Australian thermal coal (the type used in power stations) in world markets, much of this would be replaced by more coal mined elsewhere. The remainder would be replaced by gas, renewables or nuclear. As for the case of gas, the precise substitution effects are a matter of complex interactions.

The crucial point is that all alternative fuels are less emissions-intensive than coal. In the substitution of Australian-mined coal for coal from other sources, there could be some substitution towards coal with higher emissions factors, but this is highly unlikely to outweigh the emissions savings from the substitution to nuclear, renewables and gas.

So, removing Australian coal from the world market would reduce global emissions. Conversely, adding Australian coal to the world market would increase global emissions.

Australia exported 208 million tonnes of thermal coal in 2018, which according to the official emissions factors would release 506 million tonnes of CO₂ when burnedOn top of this, Australia also exported 178 million tonnes of coking coal for steel production.

If a similar “replacement mix” assumed above for gas is also applied to coal – that is, every unit of coal is replaced by 0.7 units of coal from elsewhere, 0.2 units of gas, and 0.1 units of renewables or nuclear – then adding that thermal coal to the international market would increase emissions by about 19% of the embodied emissions in that coal. As in the case of LNG, this is purely an illustrative assumption.

So, in this illustrative case, Australia’s thermal coal exports would increase net greenhouse emissions in importing countries by about 96 million tonnes per year.

This figure does not consider the coking coal exports, nor the emissions from mining the coal in Australia and transporting it.

The real opportunity is in export of renewable energy
Thankfully, there actually is a way for Australia to help the world cut emissions, and in a big way. That is by producing large amounts of renewable energy for export, in the form of hydrogen, ammonia, and other fuels produced using wind and solar power and shipped to other countries that are less blessed with abundant renewable energy resources.

Even emissions-free production of energy-intensive goods like aluminium and steel could become cost-competitive in Australia, given the ever-falling costs of renewable energy and the almost unlimited potential to produce renewable energy in the outback. Australia really could be a renewable energy superpower.

Such exports will then unambiguously reduce global emissions, because they will in part displace the use of coal, gas and oil.

Once we have a large-scale renewable energy industry in operation, the relevant minister in office then will be right to point out Australia’s contribution to solving the global challenge through our energy exports. In the meantime, our energy exports are clearly a net addition to global emissions.

Summary of data and calculations
LNG emissions and displacement - illustrative scenario

Emissions inherent in Australia’s LNG exports of 69.5 million tonnes (in calendar year 2018) are 197 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide, based on emissions factors published by the Australian government.

If the same amount of energy was served using coal, emissions would be:

197Mt CO₂ + 148Mt CO₂ = 345Mt CO₂

Emissions under the mix assumed for illustration here would be:

0.7 x 197 (LNG) + 0.2 x 345 (coal) + 0.1 x 0 (renewables/nuclear) = 207Mt CO₂

That is 10Mt higher than without Australian LNG.

Coal emissions and displacement - illustrative scenario

Australia’s thermal coal exports were 208Mt in calendar year 2018. Emissions when burning this coal were 506Mt CO₂, based on government emissions factors.

Assuming typical emissions factors for fuel use in electricity generation of 0.9 tonnes of CO₂ per megawatt-hour (MWh) from black coal and 0.5 tonnes of CO₂ per MWh from gas, the emissions intensity of electricity generation under the mix assumed for illustration here would be:

0.7 x 0.9 (coal) + 0.2 x 0.5 (gas) + 0.1 x 0 (renewables/nuclear) = 0.73 tonnes CO₂ per MWh

This is 19% lower than the emissions intensity of purely coal-fired electricity, of 0.9 tonnes CO₂ per MWh.

19% of 506Mt CO₂ is 96Mt CO₂.

This article was published first in The Conversation, republished under a Creative Commons licence.

Organics Collections Grants Now Open

Applications are now open for Round 7 of the Organics Collections grants.

This eight-year, $27 million program funds new or improved local council household kerbside collection services for food and garden organics, including collection systems for garden only, food waste, or a combination of both.

How to apply
Grants of up to $1.3 million are available for bins, kitchen caddies and education for councils (or groups of councils) to introduce new food and garden waste collection services. Funding is also available for trials and system roll outs for source separated organics collections in multi-unit dwellings.

Businesses and councils with projects that involve collection of food waste from businesses are also eligible for funding, with up to $500,000 available for 50% of the cost of collection vehicles, bins and expert advice.

A webinar detailing how to apply for will be held on Wednesday 15 May 2019 at 2.30 pm. Register for the webinar.

Applications close at 3pm on 27 June 2019.

More information, the application form and guidelines are available from the NSW Environmental Trust.

Grassroots Sport Honoured At Prestigious NSW Community Sports Awards: Avalon Beach SLSC Named The Community Club Of The Year

Sport NSW Community Club of the Year 2019 was awarded to Avalon Beach Surf Life Saving Club this week. 

Club President Ashley Cardiff said  "Another great night.  We were the only Surf Life Saving nominee to be successful on the night."

The Sport NSW Community Club of the Year Award makes it a fantastic trifecta year for Avalon Beach SLSC, having won both State and National SLSA Surf Life Saving Club of the Year earlier.



Newport Breakers Rugby Club Ladies Day 2019 At Porters Reserve

Newport Breakers Rugby Club held their Ladies Day and Tackling Violence Round at their home ground, Porters Reserve, on Saturday June 15th.

Ladies Day is one of the most popular annual events on the Newport Breakers Rugby Club Calendar.  This year’s Ladies Day proceeds raised will go to the Northern Beaches Women’s Shelter. 

Tickets included drinks, food and entertainment. A mega raffle ran throughout the day with great prizes and to raise yet more funds. Huge thanks to Bec Hamilton and her team for organising yet another great Ladies Day for Newport rugby Club.

Four games resulted in the Newport Breakers undefeated season at home continuing to a 16th game with 1st Grade defeating Hawkesbury Agriculture  43 to 24.

In the earlier games

2nd Grade: Newport 12 - Hawksebury 7
Colts: Newport 45 - Hawkesbury 14
3rd Grade: Newport 65 - Hawkesbury 0

Sam Carson was a welcome special guest during the earlier matches. Sam, after whom the Sam Carson Cup is named, played 100 club games for Norths as a halfback before sustaining a severe brain injury in 2009 from a balcony fall. His family (Norths Life Member Peter Carson) established the Fresh Tracks Foundation to define fresh pathways for people involved in acquired brain injuries.

Rugby Director Chris Hall, who was instrumental in establishing the Sam Carson Cup in 2012 said “One of the main reasons behind the idea was that we wanted to create an identity and culture within colts which reflected mateship, respect, and love for both Norths and rugby."

While later on, younger ladies led  from Newport Juniors led 1st Grade out on the field.

At the half way point of Season 2019 all 4 Newport sides are sitting in the top 4 of their respective competitions. Newport are sitting in 2nd place on the Club Championship table. Our Colts are smashing it; undefeated with a 231 points differential. There are only 3 more home matches this Season: 

  • Saturday 22nd June vs. Old Ignatians 
  • Saturday 13th July vs. Beecroft, Back to Breakers & Mo Day
  • Saturday 3rd August vs. Redfield College, Sponsors and Broken Breakers Day

Make sure Mo Day / Back to Breakers Day is in your diary as we’ll be celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Newport’s historic 1999 Kentwell Cup win. 

To find out more about Newport Breakers Rugby Club and get involved, please visit:

After the 4 wins on the home ground some members joined the ladies in the clubhouse to celebrate. Newport member Cameron Greaves shares some of that great community spirit from this year's Newport  Breakers Rugby Club Ladies day 2019 - HERE.


Winter In Pittwater 2019

Winter Solstice 

The June Solstice (Winter Solstice) was on Saturday, June 22, 2019 at 1:54 am in Sydney. In terms of daylight, this day is 4 hours, 31 minutes shorter than on December Solstice. That means those frosty morning conditions will be around for a little while yet - but we shall wing above them and enjoy the fresh clean coldness, certain that we are now heading back towards days of longer light!

Photo: Narrabeen Pelican over Narrabeen Pool just after dawn - by Joe Mills

Narrabeen Pool - currently warmer in than out! photo by Joe Mills

Narrabeen-Turrimetta-Warriewood Dawn Photographers, waiting for the light - photo by Joe Mills

                               Narrabeen-Turrimetta-Warriewood Dawn - enjoying the light - photo by Joe Mills

Silver- Grey Winter Mornings at Narrabeen and Turrimetta this week (Tuesday June 18, 2019) - photo by Joe Mills

Silver- Grey Winter Mornings at Narrabeen and Turrimetta this week (Thursday June 20, 2019) - photo by Joe Mills


Join CSIRO To Celebrate The Apollo 11 Moon Landing At 'The Dish'

For those of us who were knee high to a grasshopper when made to watch this by mum and dad, on an old PYE television in our case, this will be of interest - Received from CSIRO, June 21st, 2019:

To mark the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 Moon landing, CSIRO – Australia's national science agency, will be celebrating with open days at its Parkes radio telescope on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 July.

At 12.56pm on 21 July 1969 (AEST), humankind took its 'one giant leap' onto the Moon's surface and the incredible images were broadcast to 600 million people around the world.

While it was NASA's moment, it was Australia's too: sending astronauts to the Moon and sharing the momentous occasion couldn't have happened without the pivotal role Australia played.

The initial TV pictures from the Moon and Neil Armstrong's first steps on the lunar surface were broadcast through NASA's Honeysuckle Creek tracking station near Canberra.

After a few minutes, the higher quality television signal received by CSIRO's Parkes radio telescope was relayed around the world.

Crowds gather around a television set in the window of the Bank of New South Wales in Sydney to watch the the broadcast of American astronaut Neil Armstrong becoming the first man to land on the moon, July 21 1969. Picture: SMH Staff

On 20 and 21 July, you're invited to join CSIRO for the open days at 'The Dish' and take the rare opportunity to enjoy a tour inside the telescope.

As well as tours of the telescope, CSIRO will be offering plenty of fun-filled activities including the chance to drive the telescope to detect pulsars in real time.

Visitors will also have the opportunity to hear from representatives from the Australian Space Agency, as well as Australian-born NASA astronaut Dr Andrew Thomas, who will be in attendance thanks to support from the U.S. Embassy in Canberra.

"The Apollo 11 Moon landing inspired humanity to dream bigger and even imagine solving the impossible using science and technology," CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall said.

"This too is CSIRO's purpose, solutions from science and our science-driven national challenges and missions of today will inspire our children to solve the challenges of tomorrow, knowing no boundaries but their own imaginations, dreaming as big as space itself."

There will be a special treat for visitors on the Saturday evening, with a screening of the movie 'The Dish', to be introduced by one of the movie's stars – Roy Billing, who played the Mayor of Parkes in the movie.

CSIRO has also partnered with ABC Radio for a live broadcast during both days of the event, and Parkes Shire Council to ensure everyone visiting the open days has a fantastic visit to the region.

For more information about the open days visit

NB: NSW Winter School Holidays: Saturday, 6 July 2019 to Sunday, 21 July 2019

We acknowledge the Wiradjuri people as the traditional owners of the CSIRO Parkes Observatory site.

Buzz Aldrin with the Passive Seismic Experiment Package (PSEP). Credit: NASA

30 Years Since Australia First Connected To The Internet, We’ve Come A Long Way

June 21, 2019
by Justin Zobel
Pro Vice-Chancellor, Graduate & International Research, University of Melbourne

This article is part of The Conversation's occasional long read series Zoom Out, where authors explore key ideas in science and technology in the broader context of society and humanity.

When Australia joined the global internet on June 23, 1989 – via a connection made by the University of Melbourne – it was mostly used by computer scientists.

Three decades later, more than 86% of Australian households are connected to the internet.

But it was a slow start. At first, network capacity was limited to very small volumes of information.

This all changed thanks to the development of vastly more powerful computers, and other technologies that have transformed our online experience.

One of those technologies is probably in front of you now: the screen.

Look at how you view the web, email and apps today: not just on large desktop screens but also handheld devices, and perhaps even an internet-connected wristwatch.

This was barely imaginable 30 years ago.

Today you can get share price updates on your internet connected Apple Watch.  Flickr/Shinya Suzuki, CC BY-ND

Connected to the world

By the time Australia first connected, the internet had been developing for 20 years. The very first network had been turned on in the United States in 1969.

Australia too had networks during the 1980s, but distance and a lack of interest from commercial providers meant these were isolated from the rest of the world.

This first international link provided 0.5 megabits of national connectivity. Just half a megabit for the whole country! Today that would only only be enough for, in total, four Australians to simultaneously access music from an overseas streaming service (encoded at 128kbs), or for just one movie to be transferred to Australia per day.

But at that time digital music, video and images were not distributed online. Nor was the internet servicing a large community. Most of the users were academics or researchers in computer science or physics.

With continuous connection came live access. The most immediate impact was that email could now be delivered immediately.

At first, email and internet news groups (discussion forums) were the main traffic, but the connection also gave access to information sharing services such as Archie (an old example here) and WAIS, which were mostly used to share software.

There was connection too, in principle at least, to the newly created world wide web, which in June 1989 was just three months old and largely unknown. It wouldn’t become significant for another four years or so.

An early version of the first web page.  CERN/Screengrab

This turning-on of a connection was not a “light in a darkened room” moment, in which we suddenly had access to the resources that are now so familiar to us.

But it was a crucial step, one of several developments maturing in parallel that created the technology that has so drastically transformed our society, commerce and daily lives. Within just a few years we were surfing the web and sending email from home.

The technology develops

The first of these developments was the internet itself, which was and is a cobbling-together of disparate networks around the globe.

Australia had several networks, ranging from the relatively open ACSNET (now called AARNET) created by computer science departments to connect universities to, at the other extreme, proprietary, secure networks operated by defence and industry.

When Melbourne opened that first link, it provided a bridge from ACSNET to the networks in the United States and from there to the rest of the world.

Just as important were developments in the underlying technology. At the time, the capacity of the networks was adequate - just. As the community of users rapidly grew, it sometimes seemed as though the internet might utterly break down.

By the mid-1990s bandwidth (the volume of digital traffic that a network can carry) increased to an extent that earlier had seemed unimaginable. This provided the data transmission infrastructure the web would come to demand.

Another development was computing hardware. Computers were doubling in speed every 18 months, as had been predicted. They also became much cheaper.

A Macintosh desktop computer from 1985.  Flickr/Luke Jones, CC BY

Computer disks were also growing in capacity, doubling in size every year or so. The yet-to-appear web would require disk space for storage of web pages, and compute capacity for running servers, which are applications that provide a door into a computer, giving users remote access to data and software.

In the 1980s these had been scarce, expensive resources that would have been overwhelmed by even small volumes of web traffic. By the early 1990s growth in capacity could – just – accommodate the demand that suddenly appeared and homes were being connected, via dial-up at first.

A new operating system

But it is a third concurrent development that is, to me, the most remarkable.

This is the emergence of the UNIX operating system and of a community of people who collaboratively wrote UNIX-based code for free (yes, for no charge). Their work provided what is arguably the core of the systems that underpin the modern world.

UNIX was created by Dennis RitchieKen Thompson and a small number of colleagues at AT&T Bell Labs, in the US, from 1970.

Ken Thompson and Dennis Richie with DEC PDP-11 system running UNIX.  Wikimedia/Peter Hamer, CC BY-SA

At that time, operating systems (like iOS on today’s Apple phones) were limited to a single type of computer. Code and programs could not be used across machines from different manufacturers.

UNIX, in contrast, could be used on any suitable machine. This is the reason UNIX variants continue to provide the core of Apple Mac computers, Android phones, systems such as inflight entertainment and smart TVs, and many billions of other devices.

The open source movement

Along with UNIX came a culture of collaborative code development by programmers. This was initially via sharing of programs sent on tape between institutions as parcels in the mail. Anyone with time to spare could create programs and share them with a community of like-minded users.

This became known as the open source movement. Many thousands of people helped develop software of a diversity and richness that was beyond the resources of any single organisation. And it was not driven by commercial or corporate needs.

Programs could embody speculative innovations, and any developer who was frustrated by errors or shortcomings in the tools they used could update or correct them.

A key piece of open source software was the server, a computer system in a network shared by multiple users. Providing anonymous users with remote access was far from desirable for commercial computers of the era, on which use of costly computing time was tightly controlled.

But in an academic, sharing, open environment such servers were a valuable tool, at least for computer scientists, who were the main users of university computers in that era.

Another key piece of open source software was the router, which allowed computers on a network to collaborate in directing network requests and responses between connected machines anywhere on the planet.

Servers had been used for email since the beginnings of the internet and initially it was email, delivered with the help of routers, that brought networked desktop computing into homes and businesses.

When the web was proposed, extending these servers to allow the information from web page servers to be sent to a user’s computer was a small step.

What you looking at?

The last component is so ubiquitous that we forget what is literally before our eyes: the screen.

The Macintosh Plus had a screen resolution of 512x342 pixels.  Flickr/raneko, CC BY

Affordable computer displays in the 1980s were much too limited to pleasingly render a web page, with resolutions of 640x480 pixels or lower, with crude colours or just black and white. Better screens, starting at 1024x768, first became widely available in the early 1990s.

Only with the appearance of the Mosaic browser in 1993 did the web become appealing, with a pool of about 100 web sites showing how to deliver information in a way that for most users was new and remarkably compelling.

How things have changed.

The online world continues to grow and develop with access today via cable, wireless and mobile handsets. We have internet-connected services in our homes, cars, health services, government, and much more. We live-stream our music and video, and share our lives online.

But the origin of that trend of increasing digitisation of our society lies in those simple beginnings - and the end is not yet in sight.

Up Close With Divine Diamond Firetails

Published June 20, 2019 by BIBY TV

Most of this Diamond Firetail (Stagonopleura guttata) footage was collected during a mid February and mid March 2019 visit to the Capertee Valley, NSW. It’s always a thrill to see these stunning little birds, especially as they are listed as “vulnerable” in NSW. Sadly, both numbers and range have declined. But they appear to be thriving at the filming site – a private property that has undergone habitat restoration since 1994. Indeed, we have seen several species of finch here: Diamond Firetail, Zebra Finch, Double-barred Finch, Red-browed Finch and Plum-headed Finch. The grassy eucalypt woodland (natural and replaced) and paddocks with a mix of grasses (and protective shrubs) are ideal for our video stars and the other finch species. Diversity in grass species, particularly native ones, means that food is available across the seasons. Nonetheless, conditions are sometimes especially favourable. Late summer and autumn were boom times for seed eaters due to exceptional rain in January. Moreover, the summer storms filled dams and various ground depressions. Seed-eaters generally have a high need for water due to their fairly dry diet.

An earlier production showed Diamond Firetails using the main dam on the property, which was the only consistent water supply during a drought-affected 2018. This year (so far) they have four waterholes (and two bird baths) to choose from, albeit slowly receding after some dry months. Luckily for us they were still attracted to the in-ground bird baths near our accommodation. A small portable bird hide clearly did the job as they seemed quite relaxed during filming. Their preening behaviour near the bird baths and elsewhere was also captured. 

Note that the footage of the adult Diamond Firetail holding the grass stem was a late irresistible inclusion (filmed in June). Males use grass stems for courtship displays. 

Record $10.1 Billion Health Infrastructure Spend

19 June 2019: NSW Government
One of the largest health projects in NSW is on track to deliver world-class care to local communities for decades to come following the 2019-20 Budget’s commitment to a record $26.7 billion investment in health.

This includes a $2.7 billion spend on health infrastructure in 2019-20, up 27 per cent on last year. This brings the Government’s health capital spending over the next four years to a record $10.1 billion – a 25 per cent increase on last year’s Budget.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian joined Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and Minister for Health and Medical Research Brad Hazzard at Westmead to mark a major milestone for the Central Acute Services Building.

“This redevelopment is just one of 200 health projects completed or in progress since 2011 that the Liberals & Nationals Government has funded, and the 2019-20 Budget will ensure the cranes keep moving,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“This Government has a strong track record when it comes to delivering new and upgraded hospitals and health facilities, and this year’s Budget is no exception.”

Mr Perrottet said the building, due for completion in 2020, was an investment in the future health of the people of NSW.

“The $1 billion-plus Westmead precinct redevelopment provides NSW with a cutting- edge health, innovation and education precinct,” Mr Perrottet said.

“When the NSW Liberals & Nationals Government promises to deliver world-class health services we do it and our record speaks for itself.”

Mr Perrottet said $10.1 billion, including hospital redevelopments and lease acquisitions, will be invested over four years to continue current works and commence upgrading and building a further 29 health infrastructure projects.

Within the next term, funding will ensure the delivery of four new hospitals on greenfield sites for communities at Maitland, Macksville, Mudgee and in the Tweed.

Mr Hazzard said the record investment in health infrastructure mirrors the never- before-seen funding in services and the frontline health workforce, with 8,300 additional frontline staff over the next four years.

“Whether you’re in the Tweed or in Tumut, Westmead or Wyong, Macksville or Mona Vale, all across NSW, direct and indirect jobs are being created through health builds,” Mr Hazzard said.

“We are future-proofing the health system to ensure no matter where you live in this vast State, you and your loved ones have access to care and support close to home.”

The record $2.7 billion health infrastructure investment in 2019-20 will enable the following works:
  • Commencement of new works John Hunter Hospital ($780 million), the Children’s Hospital at Westmead ($619 million) and Tumut Hospital ($50 million)
  • Continuing works at Griffith Hospital, Goulburn Hospital, Hornsby Hospital and Mona Vale Hospital
  • New hospital car parks at Liverpool, Shellharbour and Wagga Wagga
  • Planning for major projects including Sutherland Hospital, Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network at Randwick and the Comprehensive Children’s Cancer Centre, and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
  • Other highlights of the health capital works investment for 2019-20 includes continuing work on the Nepean Hospital and Integrated Ambulatory Services redevelopment, the Randwick campus reconfiguration and expansion, the Concord Hospital upgrade and the Campbelltown Hospital redevelopment.
The new Westmead building, a collaboration between Westmead Hospital, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and the University of Sydney, will transform healthcare in western Sydney and provide a base for ground-breaking health research to benefit every Australian.

Key features of the new building include:
  • Two new emergency departments – one for adults and one for children
  • Digital operating theatres
  • Expanded imaging, pharmacy and logistics
  • Additional patient rooms, and
  • Education, training and research embedded into every floor.

Record $26.7 Billion To Get It Done In Health

18 June 2019: NSW Government
Delivering for families, jobs in the community and boosts to health services in regional NSW are the top priorities for health in the 2019-20 NSW Budget, Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and Minister for Health and Medical Research Brad Hazzard announced today.

A massive $2.7 billion will be invested in capital on top of $24 billion in recurrent spending over the coming year – taking the total 2019-20 health budget to $26.7 billion.

“This record $26.7 billion health budget shows the NSW Liberals & Nationals Government is committed to improving services in the regions, supporting families and boosting jobs in regional and rural communities,” Mr Perrottet said.

“The recurrent funding investment will focus on families with additional funding providing an extra 8,000 paediatric operations and 10,000 cataract surgeries over the next four years.”

Mr Hazzard said this record Budget will see the first stage of an unprecedented boost to the frontline workforce with an extra 8,300 staff over the next four years under a $2.8 billion commitment – 45 per cent of staff to go to the regions.

In addition, the second tranche of paramedics and call centre staff will be deployed from the record 750 boost to workforce announced in last year’s Budget.

“The NSW Liberals & Nationals Government is investing in our greatest health asset – the amazing staff who care for our patients,” Mr Hazzard said.

“This record Budget will ensure patients, their families and those in regional communities already doing it tough in drought-affected areas continue to get timely, world-class care, no matter where they live.”

Health highlights in the Budget include:
  • $2.8 billion to recruit a total of 8,300 frontline health staff over four years.
  • $10.1 billion over four years to invest in NSW’s health infrastructure to continue current works and commence upgrading and building a further 29 hospital and health facility projects, as well as ensure compliance with new leasing standards.
  • $70 million over four years to provide 35 new free mobile dental clinics allowing access to dental checks and basic dental care for up to 136,000 primary school children in Western Sydney, Mid North Coast and the Central Coast each year.
  • $42 million over four years to provide women with greater choice around IVF services and a partnership with the University of NSW for the first state-wide fertility preservation service for young cancer patients at The Royal Hospital for Women.
  • $76 million over four years to boost elective surgery, focusing on children and cataract patients, with delivery of an additional 8,000 paediatric operations and 10,000 cataract surgeries in addition to the investment in frontline staff.
  • $27.1 million to employ 221 paramedics and call centre staff (second tranche of record 750 workforce announced last year) to improve response times, reduce paramedic fatigue and support safety.
  • $23.5 million for mental health to expand the capacity of Lifeline and Kids Helpline over four years.
  • $45 million over four years in palliative care for 100 palliative care nurses, Aboriginal health workers, digital health solutions and the refurbishment of existing facilities. This is in addition to a $100 million package for palliative care that was announced as part of the 2017-18 Budget.
  • In 2019-20, the Government will invest $2.9 billion in the Health capital program, which includes $148 million from the Ministry of Health’s recurrent expense budget and $78 million for lease acquisitions.
The extra 8,300 frontline health staff over four years includes:
  • 5,000 nurses and midwives, including mental health and palliative care nurses;
  • 1,060 medical staff including doctors, psychiatrists and specialists; and
  • 880 allie​d health staff including pharmacists, social workers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and psychologists.

100th Service NSW Centre Opens

June 18, 2019: NSW Government
The 100th Service NSW Centre has opened in Nyngan in the state’s Central West.

Since the first opening 2013, Service NSW has assisted more than 174 million customers in store, by phone and online. Over 4.3 million MyServiceNSW Accounts have been created.

Hundreds of government services are accessible through Service NSW, including driver’s licences, NSW Seniors Cards and birth certificates.

Customers can also make an appointment with a Cost of Living specialist and potentially save hundreds of dollars. Two Service NSW buses also service remote areas that don’t have access to a centre.

Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello said Service NSW has transformed how the customer interacts with government, by creating a one-stop shop for registrations, licences and cost of living savings.

“Gone are the bad old days of waiting in long queues and rushing all over town to get things done. The customer is now front and centre of service delivery and we have more to do,” Mr Dominello said.

Find out more about the government services accessible through Service NSW.

More Service NSW centres planned
The NSW State Budget 2019 secures funding for 10 new Service NSW centres in Sydney's growth suburbs:
  • Engadine
  • Revesby
  • Glenmore Park
  • Roselands
  • Northmead
  • Schofields
  • Prestons/Edmondson Park
  • Randwick
  • North Sydney
  • Merrylands.
In addition, four Service NSW buses will travel for up to 46 weeks a year and reach 14 Local Government Areas where Service NSW has no existing physical presence.

The buses will help more than 220,000 people in NSW living five or more hours away from their nearest service centre.

Distant Processes Influence Marine Heatwaves Around The World

June 17, 2019: University of New South Wales
The frequency of marine heatwave days increased by 50% over the past century but our ability to predict them has been limited by a lack of understanding around the key global processes that cause and amplify these events.

Now, an international team, led by Australian researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes (CLEX) and the Institute for Marine and Antarctic (IMAS) studies, has published in Nature Communications the first global assessment of the major drivers of marine heatwaves.

They found that known climate phenomena, like the El Niño -- Southern Oscillation or the North Atlantic Oscillation, with their centre-of-action in one ocean basin can increase the odds of marine heatwaves in other regions thousands of kilometres away.

"Scientific understanding of marine heatwaves is in its infancy but the damage these events do to marine ecosystems, fisheries and tourism can be immense and makes them an important area of study," said lead author of the study, IMAS Professor Neil Holbrook.

"Given marine heatwaves are increasing in frequency and this trend is expected to continue, our team wanted to set a baseline for our understanding of the physical mechanisms that drive them. Also, we were interested to get a sense of whether the likelihood of marine heatwaves may be increased or decreased based on climatic influences."

The assessment considered marine heatwaves and their drivers in 22 regions across four ocean and climate zones, based on published papers since 1950.

The team also further examined relationships between marine heatwaves and nine known climate ocscillations/patterns, and whether marine heatwave likelihood might be enhanced or suppressed by these factors. Finally, the team estimated the intensities, duration and extent of the reported marine heatwaves over the satellite observing period since 1982.

The researchers found that marine heatwaves may be influenced by several factors in combination, where processes may be both local and remote to the events.

"The El Niño -- Southern Oscillation not only influences marine heatwaves in the Pacific Ocean but also in the Indian Ocean and played a leading role in the extreme marine heatwave known as the Ningaloo Niño in Western Australia in 2011," said CLEX co-author Dr Alex Sen Gupta.

"We also found that other climate phenomena such as the Indian Ocean Dipole and North Atlantic Oscillation influence marine heatwave probabilities."

The global assessment also revealed some startling extreme marine heatwave records.

The researchers found the largest area affected by the heatwaves occurred in the northeast Pacific where, in 2015, a marine heatwave covered an area almost twice as large as other previous reports around the globe.

The most intense heatwave they found was in the northwest Atlantic Ocean during 2012, where the temperature peaked at 10.3°C degrees above average for that time of year.

While the records are remarkable, the baseline knowledge from this study regarding the important drivers of marine heatwaves across the globe will be invaluable to researchers.

Neil J. Holbrook, Hillary A. Scannell, Alexander Sen Gupta, Jessica A. Benthuysen, Ming Feng, Eric C. J. Oliver, Lisa V. Alexander, Michael T. Burrows, Markus G. Donat, Alistair J. Hobday, Pippa J. Moore, Sarah E. Perkins-Kirkpatrick, Dan A. Smale, Sandra C. Straub, Thomas Wernberg. A global assessment of marine heatwaves and their drivers. Nature Communications, 2019; 10 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-10206-z

The Evolution Of Puppy Dog Eyes

June 17, 2019
New research comparing the anatomy and behaviour of dogs and wolves suggests dogs' facial anatomy has changed over thousands of years specifically to allow them to better communicate with humans.

In the first detailed analysis comparing the anatomy and behaviour of dogs and wolves, researchers found that the facial musculature of both species was similar, except above the eyes. Dogs have a small muscle, which allows them to intensely raise their inner eyebrow, which wolves do not.

The authors suggest that the inner eyebrow raising movement triggers a nurturing response in humans because it makes the dogs' eyes appear larger, more infant like and also resembles a movement humans produce when they are sad.

The research team, led by comparative psychologist Dr Juliane Kaminski, at the University of Portsmouth, included a team of behavioural and anatomical experts in the UK and USA.

It is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Dr Kaminski said: "The evidence is compelling that dogs developed a muscle to raise the inner eyebrow after they were domesticated from wolves.

"We also studied dogs' and wolves' behaviour, and when exposed to a human for two minutes, dogs raised their inner eyebrows more and at higher intensities than wolves.

"The findings suggest that expressive eyebrows in dogs may be a result of humans unconscious preferences that influenced selection during domestication. When dogs make the movement, it seems to elicit a strong desire in humans to look after them. This would give dogs, that move their eyebrows more, a selection advantage over others and reinforce the 'puppy dog eyes' trait for future generations."

Dr Kaminski's previous research showed dogs moved their eyebrows significantly more when humans were looking at them compared to when they were not looking at them.

She said: "The AU101 movement is significant in the human-dog bond because it might elicit a caring response from humans but also might create the illusion of human-like communication."

Lead anatomist Professor Anne Burrows, at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, USA, co-author of the paper, said: "To determine whether this eyebrow movement is a result of evolution, we compared the facial anatomy and behaviour of these two species and found the muscle that allows for the eyebrow raise in dogs was, in wolves, a scant, irregular cluster of fibres.

"The raised inner eyebrow movement in dogs is driven by a muscle which doesn't consistently exist in their closest living relative, the wolf.

"This is a striking difference for species separated only 33,000 years ago and we think that the remarkably fast facial muscular changes can be directly linked to dogs' enhanced social interaction with humans."

Dr Kaminski and co-author, evolutionary psychologist Professor Bridget Waller, also at the University of Portsmouth, previously mapped the facial muscular structure of dogs, naming the movement responsible for a raised inner eyebrow the Action Unit (AU) 101.

Professor Waller said: "This movement makes a dogs' eyes appear larger, giving them a childlike appearance. It could also mimic the facial movement humans make when they're sad.

"Our findings show how important faces can be in capturing our attention, and how powerful facial expression can be in social interaction."

Co-author and anatomist Adam Hartstone-Rose, at North Carolina State University, USA, said: "These muscles are so thin that you can literally see through them -- and yet the movement that they allow seems to have such a powerful effect that it appears to have been under substantial evolutionary pressure. It is really remarkable that these simple differences in facial expression may have helped define the relationship between early dogs and humans."

Co-author Rui Diogo, an anatomist at Howard University, Washington DC, USA, said: "I must admit that I was surprised to see the results myself because the gross anatomy of muscles is normally very slow to change in evolution, and this happened very fast indeed, in just some dozens of thousands of years."

Soft tissue, including muscle, doesn't tend to survive in the fossil record, making the study of this type of evolution harder.

The only dog species in the study that did not have the muscle was the Siberian husky, which is among more ancient dog breeds.

An alternative reason for the human-dog bond could be that humans have a preference for other individuals which have whites in the eye and that intense AU 101 movements exposes the white part of the dogs eyes.

It is not known why or precisely when humans first brought wolves in from the cold and the evolution from wolf to dog began, but this research helps us understand some of the likely mechanisms underlying dog domestication.

Juliane Kaminski, Bridget M. Waller, Rui Diogo, Adam Hartstone-Rose, Anne M. Burrows. Evolution of facial muscle anatomy in dogs. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 17, 2019; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1820653116

Good Viruses And Bad Bacteria: A World-First Green Sea Turtle Trial

June 19, 2019: James Cook University
Researchers at the JCU Turtle Health Research Facility have conducted a first-of-its-kind study using what's known as phage therapy as an option for bacterial infections in green sea turtles.

Phage therapy uses so-called 'good viruses' (bacteriophages) that occur naturally in the environment and kill bacteria.

"Green turtles rely on 'good bacteria' in their gut to extract nutrients from food," said Dr Robert Kinobe, one of the researchers involved in the study.

"This creates a challenge when it comes to treating bacterial infections because if we administer antibiotics, it can destroy the 'good bacteria' and make the turtle's health worse."

Researchers at the JCU Turtle Health Research Facility applied 'good viruses' to green sea turtles and found that it was successful in eliminating the targeted 'bad bacteria' without hampering the non-targeted 'good bacteria'.

"This shows that phage therapy can be safe and effective enough to manipulate or treat targeted bacteria in green sea turtles," said Dr Kinobe.

A further complication, previously identified by the JCU Turtle Health Research Facility, is the existence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the guts of green sea turtles, which are found in several locations along the Queensland coast.

"Antimicrobial resistance is one of the most critical issues we face, which is why this finding of an alternative to antibiotics is so important," said co-author Dr Lisa Elliott.

"Bacteriophages and phage therapy have already been suggested as an alternative for antibiotics in humans, but we also need to investigate its scope for treatment in animals."

The research has been published in the Journal of Environmental Microbiology and opens the door for future applications of phage therapy as an alternative to antibiotics in treating bacterial infections in turtles and other marine animals.

Md. Shamim Ahasan, Robert Kinobe, Lisa Elliott, Leigh Owens, Jenni Scott, Jacqueline Picard, Roger Huerlimann, Ellen Ariel. Bacteriophage versus antibiotic therapy on gut bacterial communities of juvenile green turtle, Chelonia mydas. Environmental Microbiology, 2019; DOI: 10.1111/1462-2920.14644
Photo: Bethany Keats, JCU Media

Leaving Microbes Out Of Climate Change Conversation Has Major Consequences

June 18, 2019: University of New South Wales
More than 30 microbiologists from 9 countries have issued a warning to humanity -- they are calling for the world to stop ignoring an 'unseen majority' in Earth's biodiversity and ecosystem when addressing climate change.

'Scientist's warning to humanity: microorganisms and climate change' was published today in the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology. Professor Rick Cavicchioli, microbiologist at the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences at UNSW Sydney, has led the global effort.

With their statement, the researchers are hoping to raise awareness both for how microbes can influence climate change and how they will be impacted by it -- calling for including microbes in climate change research, increasing the use of research involving innovative technologies, and improving education in classrooms.

"Micro-organisms, which include bacteria and viruses, are the lifeforms that you don't see on the conservation websites," says Professor Cavicchioli.

"They support the existence of all higher lifeforms and are critically important in regulating climate change.

"However, they are rarely the focus of climate change studies and not considered in policy development."

Professor Cavicchioli calls microbes the 'unseen majority' of lifeforms on earth, playing critical functions in animal and human health, agriculture, the global food web and industry.

For example, the Census of Marine Life estimates that 90% of the ocean's total biomass is microbial. In our oceans, marine lifeforms called phytoplankton take light energy from the sun and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as much as plants. The tiny phytoplankton form the beginning of the ocean food web, feeding krill populations that then feed fish, sea birds and large mammals such as whales.

Sea ice algae thrive in sea ice 'houses'. If global warming trends continue, the melting sea ice has a downstream effect on the sea ice algae, which means a diminished ocean food web.

"Climate change is literally starving ocean life," says Professor Cavicchioli.

Beyond the ocean, microbes are also critical to terrestrial environments, agriculture and disease.

"In terrestrial environments, microbes release a range of important greenhouse gases to the atmosphere (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide), and climate change is causing these emissions to increase," Professor Cavicchioli says.

"Farming ruminant animals releases vast quantities of methane from the microbes living in their rumen -- so decisions about global farming practices need to consider these consequences.

"And lastly, climate change worsens the impact of pathogenic microbes on animals (including humans) and plants -- that's because climate change is stressing native life, making it easier for pathogens to cause disease.

"Climate change also expands the number and geographic range of vectors (such as mosquitos) that carry pathogens. The end result is the increased spread of disease, and serious threats to global food supplies."

Greater commitment to microbe-based research needed

In their statement, the scientists call on researchers, institutions and governments to commit to greater microbial recognition to mitigate climate change.

"The statement emphasises the need to investigate microbial responses to climate change and to include microbe-based research during the development of policy and management decisions," says Professor Cavicchioli.

Additionally, climate change research that links biological processes to global geophysical and climate processes should have a much bigger focus on microbial processes.

"This goes to the heart of climate change, so if micro-organisms aren't considered effectively it means models cannot be generated properly and predictions could be inaccurate," says Professor Cavicchioli.

"Decisions that are made now impact on humans and other forms of life, so if you don't take into account the microbial world, you're missing a very big component of the equation."

Professor Cavicchioli says that microbiologists are also working on developing resources that will be made available for teachers to educate students on the importance of microbes.

"If that literacy is there, that means people will have a much better capacity to engage with things to do with microbiology and understand the ramifications and importance of microbes."

Ricardo Cavicchioli, William J. Ripple, Kenneth N. Timmis, Farooq Azam, Lars R. Bakken, Matthew Baylis, Michael J. Behrenfeld, Antje Boetius, Philip W. Boyd, Aimée T. Classen, Thomas W. Crowther, Roberto Danovaro, Christine M. Foreman, Jef Huisman, David A. Hutchins, Janet K. Jansson, David M. Karl, Britt Koskella, David B. Mark Welch, Jennifer B. H. Martiny, Mary Ann Moran, Victoria J. Orphan, David S. Reay, Justin V. Remais, Virginia I. Rich, Brajesh K. Singh, Lisa Y. Stein, Frank J. Stewart, Matthew B. Sullivan, Madeleine J. H. van Oppen, Scott C. Weaver, Eric A. Webb, Nicole S. Webster. Scientists’ warning to humanity: microorganisms and climate change. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 2019; DOI: 10.1038/s41579-019-0222-5

Two Hours A Week Is Key Dose Of Nature For Health And Wellbeing

June 13, 2019: University of Exeter
Spending at least two hours a week in nature may be a crucial threshold for promoting health and wellbeing, according to a new large-scale study.

Research led by the University of Exeter, published in Scientific Reports and funded by NIHR, found that people who spend at least 120 minutes in nature a week are significantly more likely to report good health and higher psychological wellbeing than those who don't visit nature at all during an average week. However, no such benefits were found for people who visited natural settings such as town parks, woodlands, country parks and beaches for less than 120 minutes a week.

The study used data from nearly 20,000 people in England and found that it didn't matter whether the 120 minutes was achieved in a single visit or over several shorter visits. It also found the 120 minute threshold applied to both men and women, to older and younger adults, across different occupational and ethnic groups, among those living in both rich and poor areas, and even among people with long term illnesses or disabilities.

Dr Mat White, of the University of Exeter Medical School, who led the study, said: "It's well known that getting outdoors in nature can be good for people's health and wellbeing but until now we've not been able to say how much is enough. The majority of nature visits in this research took place within just two miles of home so even visiting local urban greenspaces seems to be a good thing. Two hours a week is hopefully a realistic target for many people, especially given that it can be spread over an entire week to get the benefit."

There is growing evidence that merely living in a greener neighbourhood can be good for health, for instance by reducing air pollution. The data for the current research came from Natural England's Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey, the world's largest study collecting data on people's weekly contact with the natural world.

Co-author of the research, Professor Terry Hartig of Uppsala University in Sweden said: "There are many reasons why spending time in nature may be good for health and wellbeing, including getting perspective on life circumstances, reducing stress, and enjoying quality time with friends and family. The current findings offer valuable support to health practitioners in making recommendations about spending time in nature to promote basic health and wellbeing, similar to guidelines for weekly physical."

Mathew P. White, Ian Alcock, James Grellier, Benedict W. Wheeler, Terry Hartig, Sara L. Warber, Angie Bone, Michael H. Depledge, Lora E. Fleming. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Scientific Reports, 2019; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-44097-3

Researchers Lay Out Plan For Managing Rivers For Climate Change

June 19, 2019
New strategies for river management are needed to maintain water supplies and avoid big crashes in populations of aquatic life, researchers argue in a perspective piece published today in Nature.

The scientists say a fresh approach is necessary as the climate warms, which has led to historic die-offs like the January 2019 event in the Murray-Darling Basin of Australia that saw severe water shortages bring hardship to residents and kill millions of fish.

"The world's rivers are facing tough times," said the editorial's lead author, Jonathan Tonkin, who just completed a post-doctoral appointment in Oregon State University's College of Science. "Iconic species like the Murray cod, the largest freshwater fish in Australia, are in danger of vanishing. In a 2018 heat wave in Germany and Switzerland, thousands of fish died. The multiyear drought in California has restricted water supplies and wreaked havoc on wetlands, riparian forests, fish and other aquatic life."

Tonkin and his co-authors outline a four-part plan for an "adaptive" approach to river management -- moving beyond simply monitoring ecosystems to understanding the biological mechanisms at play.

"We need to develop forecasting tools that project how key species, life stages and ecosystems respond to environmental changes," said co-author David Lytle, professor of integrative biology in the OSU College of Science. "We can't just track things like species diversity and population abundance and compare them to historical averages -- often by the time negative trends are detected, it's too late to turn them around."

The answer, the authors assert, is developing "process-based" models that can track and predict how ecosystems change when conditions -- like smaller river flows -- change. The models can be tailored to life stages of populations, whole communities of species and sequences of events, enabling tipping points to be identified.

"For example, a drier future with fewer and smaller floods has been projected to reorganize and simplify the interactions between riparian plant species in the dryland river systems of the American Southwest," said Tonkin, now at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. "The projected changes could reduce communities' resistance to climate change and ability to ward off invasions by non-native species. Knowing that, managers can intervene before a problem takes hold."

Building effective models entails a long-term funding commitment to gather more data on the basic biology of riverine species, which means years of field monitoring. Until the data store is built up, keeping the models more simple, and finding ways to make connections across gaps in data, might help.

"Species with similar life histories or characteristics possibly respond in similar ways to changing river conditions, so it's possible that studies of one species could inform models and management elsewhere," Tonkin said.

But ultimately the construction of the best models requires more information, which is why the authors argue that data collection is the top next step for river scientists and managers.

The other three steps are:
  1. Describe key processes in models. Scientists need to better articulate the relationships between ecosystem attributes and water flow patterns.
  2. Focus management on bottlenecks. Intervene in ways that keep populations from crashing during extreme flows while focusing on the most vulnerable life stages, not just population abundance.
  3. Be clear about uncertainties. Quantify the level of trust that can be placed in models' predictions, and update models regularly as new data become available.
"Freshwater biodiversity is disappearing," Tonkin said. "Climate change is magnifying the pressures on river ecosystems brought on by urbanization, invasive species and pollution. As the crisis worsens, we need to change how we study, model and manage rivers to safeguard the services they provide to humanity and all of the planet."

Jonathan D. Tonkin, N. LeRoy Poff, Nick R. Bond, Avril Horne, David. M. Merritt, Lindsay V. Reynolds, Julian D. Olden, Albert Ruhi, David A. Lytle. Prepare river ecosystems for an uncertain future. Nature, 2019; 570 (7761): 301 DOI: 10.1038/d41586-019-01877-1

New 'King' Of Fossils Discovered In Australia

June 13, 2019: University of Adelaide
Fossils of a giant new species from the long-extinct group of sea creatures called trilobites have been found on Kangaroo Island, South Australia.

The finding is adding important insights to our knowledge of the Cambrian 'explosion', the greatest diversification event in the history of life on Earth, when almost all animal groups suddenly appeared over half-a-billion years ago.

Trilobites, which had hard, calcified, armour-like skeletons over their bodies, are related to modern crustaceans and insects. They are one of the most successful fossil animal groups, surviving for about 270 million years (521 to 252 million years ago). Because of their abundance in the fossil record, they are considered a model group for understanding this evolutionary period.

"We decided to name this new species of trilobite Redlichia rex (similar to Tyrannosaurus rex) because of its giant size, as well as its formidable legs with spines used for crushing and shredding food -- which may have been other trilobites," says James Holmes, PhD student with the University of Adelaide's School of Biological Sciences, who led the research.

The preservation of trilobite 'soft parts' such as the antennae and legs is extremely rare. The new species was discovered at the Emu Bay Shale on Kangaroo Island, a world-renowned deposit famous for this type of preservation. The findings have been published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology by a team of scientists from the University of Adelaide, South Australian Museum and the University of New England.

The new species is about 500 million years old, and is the largest Cambrian trilobite discovered in Australia. It grew to around 30 cm in length, which is almost twice the size of other Australian trilobites of similar age.

"Interestingly, trilobite specimens from the Emu Bay Shale -- including Redlichia rex -- exhibit injuries that were caused by shell-crushing predators," says senior study author Associate Professor Diego García-Bellido, from the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Museum.

"There are also large specimens of fossilised poo (or coprolites) containing trilobite fragments in this fossil deposit. The large size of injured Redlichia rex specimens and the associated coprolites suggests that either much bigger predators were targeting Redlichia rex, such as Anomalocaris -- an even larger shrimp-like creature -- or that the new species had cannibalistic tendencies."

One of the major drivers of the Cambrian explosion was likely an evolutionary "arms race" between predators and prey, with each developing more effective measures of defence (such as the evolution of shells) and attack.

"The overall size and crushing legs of Redlichia rex are a likely consequence of the arms race that occurred at this time" says James Holmes. "This giant trilobite was likely the terror of smaller creatures on the Cambrian seafloor."

Specimens of Redlichia rex and other Emu Bay Shale fossils are currently on display in the South Australian Museum.

Image: An artists impression of a Redlichia trilobite on the Cambrian seafloor. Artwork by Katrina Kenny

James D. Holmes, John R. Paterson, Diego C. García-Bellido. The trilobite Redlichia from the lower Cambrian Emu Bay Shale Konservat-Lagerstätte of South Australia: systematics, ontogeny and soft-part anatomy. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, 2019; 1 DOI: 10.1080/14772019.2019.1605411

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.