Inbox and Environment News: Issue 447

April  26 - May 2, 2020: Issue 447

Bird of the Month photography by Michael Mannington of Community Photography and Pittwater Online News Features Photographer.


Published April 20, 2020 by Pittwater Pathways
So we stand, me and my brothers, just the bones of ancient trees
  that have lined the riverbank since time began.
  In a bare and barren landscape, fed by red dust on the breeze,
  we’ve been ravaged by the careless hand of man.
  - David Campbell

Cleaning Up Our Act: Redirecting The Future Of Plastic In NSW

The NSW Government are seeking your feedback on the Cleaning Up Our Act: Redirecting the Future of Plastic in NSW discussion paper. The discussion paper provides details of the proposed comprehensive action plan to reduce plastic use and manage plastic waste and pollution in NSW.

Your views on the targets and priority directions proposed in the discussion paper are highly valued and will inform the development of the NSW Plastics Plan.

Our discussion paper, Cleaning Up Our Act: Redirecting the Future of Plastic in NSW lays the ground work for making NSW a national and global leader in the management of plastics. It sets targets to reduce the amount of plastic we generate, increase recycling rates, reduce plastic pollution and make NSW a global leader in plastic research and solution development.

The NSW Government is consulting with the community and stakeholders before finalising the NSW Plastics Plan. Your views on the targets and priority directions proposed in the discussion paper are highly valued and will inform the development of the NSW Plastics Plan.

We want to get your feedback on proposals to:

  • Phase out key single-use plastics
  • Triple the proportion of plastic recycled in NSW across all sectors and streams by 2030
  • Reduce plastic litter items by 25% by 2025
  • Make NSW a leader in national and international research on plastics

Redirecting the Future of Plastic in NSW
We are seeking feedback on our discussion paper. Have a read and tell us what you think.

Have your say
Public consultation on the discussion paper is now open.
Provide your feedback by completing one or both surveys here. You are not required to answer every question.
If you would prefer to provide feedback by email, send your submission to
We are seeking feedback on the issues paper until 5.00pm Friday 8 May 2020.

20-Year Waste Strategy For NSW

The NSW Government are seeking public feedback on the future of waste and recycling in New South Wales.

Why it matters
The management of waste and recycling is one of our most pressing environmental and social challenges. It is a service we all rely on each and every day. The sector is undergoing significant change due to shifts in domestic and global markets, as well as community expectation about what happens to their waste. There is an opportunity for NSW to lead the way in waste reduction, recycling and protecting our environment.

A conversation on the future of waste and recycling
The NSW 20-Year Waste Strategy is a whole-of-government initiative to provide a long-term strategic direction for communities, industry and all levels of government to work together to build resilient services and markets for waste resources.

The Future for Waste and Recycling
An issues paper Cleaning Up Our Act: The Future for Waste and Resource Recovery in NSW has been released for public consultation, to help shape the development of the 20-Year Waste Strategy.
Drawing on the evidence and stakeholder engagement to date, the issues paper sets out the case for action and outlines a range of options that could support the shift towards a circular economy.
We want to get your feedback on options to:
  • Generate less waste
  • Improve collection and sorting
  • Plan for future infrastructure
  • Create end markets
Have your say
Public consultation on the issues paper is now open.
We are seeking feedback on our issues paper. Have a read and tell us what you think.

Provide your feedback by making a submission here. You are not required to answer every question.
If you would like to provide feedback by email, send your submission to
We are seeking feedback on the issues paper until 5.00pm Friday 8 May 2020.

Mining Sector Key To Recovery From Drought, Bushfires And COVID-19 In Regional NSW

April 24, 2020: NSW Government
The NSW Government will defer payments and extend due dates to help the resources sector continue to support thousands of jobs, inject billions of dollars into the economy and provide the raw materials needed to power the state during the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

Deputy Premier and Minister responsible for Resources John Barilaro said with agriculture, retail and tourism being hit hard in the regions by COVID-19, bushfires and drought, the royalties, jobs and business opportunities delivered by the mining sector are more important than ever.

“The NSW mining sector is on track to deliver an expected $1.6 billion in royalities to this state this financial year, and with the current challenges caused by COVID-19, this injection into the state’s finances is vital,” Mr Barilaro said.
“Despite the virus we have so far managed to progress mining activities with limited disruption and it is important we take steps to ensure that continues. 

“We are relying on the mining industry to help lead us through to the other side of the COVID-19 crisis, which is why we are deferring payments for Exploration Licences and Assessment Lease Applications for six months and extending commencment dates for new licences.

“By extending payment periods for Exploration Licence Applications, we’re giving explorers the additional time they need to secure funding at a time where necessary social distancing and other restrictions are changing work practices.

“We’ve also just announced $2.2 million in drilling grants for explorers looking for new deposits of gold, copper and high-tech minerals like cobalt and platinum in regional NSW.”

Mining in NSW currently provides jobs for around 28,600 people directly and nearly 114,000 people indirectly, and delivers royalties that pay for critical community infrastructure and services like roads, schools and hospitals. 

“Coal mining is NSW’s largest export earner and also underpins the state’s energy needs, meeting around 80 per cent of NSW's supply requirements and ensuring all residents have access to secure and reliable energy as they reimagine or rebuild their lives and business,” Mr Barilaro said. 

“We are looking at new ways to reduce red tape and better support the industry so they can get on with the job of protecting the health and livelihoods of their employees and regional communities,” Mr Barilaro said. 

There are currently more than 40 major new mining projects being progressed in the state’s planning and approval system, representing a potential capital investment of around $21 billion and with the potential to directly create around 8,700 new jobs, the majority of which are in regional areas.

Planning Changes To Support Growth In Renewable Energy Projects

April 24, 2020: NSW Government
The NSW Government has today cut planning red tape to facilitate greater flexibility and innovation in the state’s growing renewable energy sector. 
Amendments to the State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2007 will allow larger-scale solar systems to be installed on homes and commercial buildings without council approval, enable utility providers to construct electricity storage as part of improvement works to transmission and distribution networks, and allow for large-scale battery storage systems to be built in permitted zones across NSW.

Planning and Public Spaces Minister Rob Stokes said the change was a further example of the NSW Government’s commitment to provide an affordable, reliable and sustainable energy network, and support the roll-out of cost-effective, low-emission technologies.

“Our planning system plays a key role in enabling investment in innovative renewable energy projects right across the state,” Mr Stokes said. 

“These changes ensure planning requirements are aligned with advances in technology, and enable emerging energy projects to progress through the planning system more efficiently.”

Energy Minister Matt Kean said the changes are great news for customers and the industry, and will help support new energy generation projects funded through the NSW Governments $75 million Emerging Energy Program.  

“NSW residents are embracing renewable energy with about 490,000 homes and small businesses saving money on their energy bills by installing small-scale solar, and these amendments will support this trend to continue,” Mr Kean said. 

“Over the past five years, wind and solar electricity generation has almost tripled. These planning changes are an important next step to help innovative electricity projects like big batteries, higher capacity solar and wind come online sooner and lower energy bills.”

Online Action - Stop Adani 

Monday, 27 April 2020 from 17:30-18:30
via: ZOOM
Hosted by Stop Adani Avalon, Stop Adani Warringah and Stop Adani Mackellar
Join our online action (via video-conferencing app ZOOM) where we will call on Marsh to insure our future, not Adani's mine!

Adani needs insurance to build their climate-wrecking coal project. They simply can’t progress critical work without it. Right now, insurance broker Marsh is shopping around the globe to find a company willing to insure this risky, destructive project.

Our movement has already pushed 65+ major companies to abandon Adani, including 16 insurance companies, the likes of Allianz, QBE, and Suncorp, just to name a few. Now it’s Marsh’s turn!
#StopAdani groups on the Northern Beaches are hosting an online rally calling on Marsh to dump Adani, ahead of their AGM.

On 21st May, Marsh will be having their Annual General Meeting, where they will be making key decisions.

A link to the ZOOM meeting will be posted on this event on the day
Event page at and by visiting:

Thank you for joining us
Stop Adani Avalon, Stop Adani Warringah and Stop Adani Mackellar

Birding At Home In Pittwater: April 2020

Some photos from the home grounds taken during the Autumn School holidays.

A reminder that BirdLife Australia is continuing its fight to stop extinctions and protect nature, even if many of us are doing this from our own homes. They need you now more than ever.

Thank you to everyone for staying at home as much as possible to stop the spread of the virus and save lives. We know self-isolation can be challenging and stressful at times so what we need right now is nature.

We can be so grateful that no matter where you live, you can still see birds and take comfort from them. 

Please visit their new Birding at Home page to find out how you and your household can continue to enjoy the beauty of our feathered friends.

You'll find activities to occupy kids while our movements are restricted, links to our Autumn Birds in Backyards survey and Bird Finder, and information on how you can act to protect birds forever.

To help everyone who is now Birding at Home, they are also kicking off a regular live series on Facebook where our bird experts will be taking questions and talking about what we love best - birds.

Even if you are an expert birder, we encourage you to join in for a chat – and please spread the word to all the bird and nature lovers in your life. 

BirdLife Australia Facebook

P.S. They'll be having new bird experts every week to talk about a new topic, including Amanda Lilleyman in the NT on shorebirds and Holly Parsons to talk about bird friendly gardens. Make sure you have liked them on Facebook to get notifications and join in the talks.

“Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.”  
― Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice

Curious Sulphur Crested Cockatoo Visits Pittwater Spotted Gum Tree Hollow

Hi - 
Is there anyone in here?
...Just us microbats....
oh - sorry to disturb your rest, I realise you're nocturnal and only come out at dusk
That's ok cockatoo - a very good day to you!
See you next time I visit.

The Kookaburra Family: Mid To Late April 2020

The triplets have grown and we see them less and less this week, we still hear them at dawn but their visits are far less frequent - obviously setting out and finding places to explore away from here as we have seen them over near Careel Bay and a little further north, on the hill between here and Whale Beach. They are now mostly finding their own food and spaces.
A few captures from recent Autumnal days of sunshine and rain as the season shifts.

Lorikeet Feasting On Flowering Pittwater Spotted Gums And Palm Blossoms

Port Kembla Gas Terminal Modification Approved

April 20, 2020
The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has today announced planning approval to increase capacity at the $250 million Port Kembla Gas Terminal.

The Department’s Executive Director Energy, Resources and Compliance Mike Young says the modification will allow the terminal to increase gas supply during the cooler months when demand for gas from domestic users is high.

“The project as originally proposed assumed a relatively steady demand for gas driven largely by an industrial customer base. However, the modification means that the terminal will now be better able to match gas supply with the seasonal demands in both the industrial and retail market, particularly during the winter time,” said Mr Young.

“The modification also includes an increase to the number of ships that can deliver liquified natural gas (LNG) to the terminal which will allow for more flexibility in the delivery schedule.

“This terminal will make the state of NSW more self-sufficient when it comes to energy and will create greater access to the global gas market.

“The project is a major economic boost for the local economy, with the creation of 150 jobs during construction and up to 50 jobs once the plant is operational.

“It also supports diversification, future growth and employment in Port Kembla and the Illawarra-Shoalhaven region, in line with the NSW Government’s strategic plans for these areas.”

The approval follows public exhibition of the modification application and consultation with key NSW government agencies including the Environment Protection Authority, Department of Primary Industries - Fisheries, the Port Authority of NSW and Wollongong City Council.

The Department approved the modification application subject to strict conditions to manage and minimise impacts on the marine environment and the amenity of the local community.

For more information, please visit the Planning Portal.

Stronger Protection For Sydney's Water Catchment Following Extensive Review

April 18, 2020: NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment
Better protections, stronger assessment and more environmental offsets will ensure Sydney’s drinking water supply is safeguarded, following an extensive review by an independent expert panel.

Planning and Public Spaces Minister Rob Stokes said the NSW Government had accepted all 50 recommendations of the expert panel led by the office of the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer.

“We want to ensure we have every measure in place to protect Sydney’s water supply for generations to come,” Mr Stokes said.

“We’ve accepted all of the recommendations from the panel and have established an interagency taskforce to implement a detailed action plan throughout this year.

“These actions will improve our existing comprehensive assessment and monitoring of underground coal mining while providing certainty for both Sydney’s water supply and thousands of jobs across NSW – particularly 5,000 workers in the Illawarra.”

The action plan includes:
  • Ensuring there is a net gain for the metropolitan water supply by requiring more offsetting from mining companies;
  • Establishing a new independent expert panel to advise on future mining applications in the catchment;
  • Strengthening surface and groundwater monitoring;Improving access to and transparency of environmental data;
  • Adopting a more stringent approach to the assessment and conditioning of future mining proposals to minimise subsidence impacts;
  • Reviewing and updating current and potential future water losses from mining in line with the best available science;
  • Introducing a licensing regime to properly account for any water losses; and
  • Undertaking further research into mine closure planning to reduce potential long-term impacts.

NSW Decarbonisation Innovation Study

In September 2019 the Minister for Energy and Environment requested that the Chief Scientist & Engineer undertake a study into the challenges and opportunities for meeting emissions targets and adapting to climate change, while generating economic development, prosperity and jobs growth in NSW.

Terms of Reference
Background and context
The NSW Government has a target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and to make NSW more resilient to a changing climate. One of the five policy directions in the NSW Climate Change Policy Framework is "Take advantage of opportunities to grow new industries in NSW". The shift to a net-zero emissions economy can create new opportunities in sectors where NSW has a competitive advantage, such as professional services, agriculture, advanced energy technology, property management and financial services. However, such a shift will affect established sectors of the NSW economy such as resources and commodities.

There may be an opportunity for NSW to become a global leader in innovative technologies and services that enable decarbonisation and adaptation to climate change. A decarbonisation innovation strategy could deliver economic and job growth, improve energy affordability and support a managed transition of the energy market from high to low emission energy sources. It could also catalyse change in the emissions profile of all major industry sectors. Innovation in decarbonisation and adaptation technologies and services could serve the dual purpose of addressing the NSW emissions and adaptation challenge and growing the NSW economy through economic diversification and export opportunities.

Scope of Review
The Chief Scientist & Engineer is to assess and provide advice on the challenges and opportunities for meeting emissions targets and adapting to climate change. This work will examine the benefits of decarbonisation and climate adaptation in generating economic development, prosperity and jobs growth in NSW, including a discussion of best practice approaches to transitioning industry, including skills development and market access.

The Chief Scientist & Engineer will report on:
  1. Technologies and services to reduce carbon emissions, adapt to or mitigate the impact of climate change in which NSW could have a competitive advantage
  2. The net value of these technologies and services for NSW in terms of both emissions reduction and economic growth
  3. Any barriers to the development of the technologies and services in NSW
  4. The role of the NSW Government in:
a.Addressing any of the identified barriers
b. Supporting the acceleration of the development/commercialisation of these opportunities, and
c. Ensuring that NSW takes advantage of carbon emission reduction technologies to maximise economic opportunities.

The Chief Scientist & Engineer will convene a panel with expertise in science and technology, business, economic and social insights. As needed, the Chief Scientist & Engineer will draw on additional sources of advice and expertise, undertake targeted consultation with stakeholders and commission or recommend papers or studies. The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment will provide support to the study as required.

Expert Panel
To assist with addressing the Terms of Reference, the Chief Scientist & Engineer has established an expert panel. The expert panel membership is:
  • Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte (Chair)
  • Professor Michael Dureau
  • Professor Frank Jotzo
  • Ms Meg McDonald
  • Mr Roger Swinbourne
Scoping Paper (March 2020)

The expert panel has developed a scoping paper that provides context on the pathways, opportunities and challenges of decarbonisation and climate adaptation in sectors relevant to the NSW economy. It also provides an overview of the technologies and services to reduce carbon emissions and to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate. Across these technologies and services, potential economic opportunities for NSW are identified based on NSW’s competitive advantages.

The final report will evaluate these potential opportunities in more detail and identify those that have the greatest potential economic and employment benefit for NSW, and those that are feasible, suitable, and technically and commercially viable. The final report will also identify potential actions to realise these opportunities.

The scoping paper captures some insights from initial consultations with stakeholders from industry, government and the community. In developing the final report, further engagement with stakeholders will occur, particularly those who have a role in addressing challenges associated with decarbonisation and climate adaptation.


Troubled Waters: WaterNSW Doubles Down On Criticism Of Dendrobium Expansion

April 20, 2020
Lock the Gate Alliance welcomes WaterNSW’s dogged determination to ensure South32’s Dendrobium coal mine does not further reduce water security for the Greater Sydney Region.

The Alliance also believes it is long past time for the NSW Government to make the Special Areas off-limits to further coal mining. 

In its latest public rebuttal of South32’s plans, WaterNSW reiterates its serious concerns that the proposed expansion would lead to increased surface water drainage, environmental damage, and could threaten existing water supply infrastructure.

The water authority first aired its concerns through a submission in October last year, but in its most recent response published last month, expressed its disappointment that South32 had failed to adequately respond to its concerns.

“WaterNSW remains strongly opposed to this project in its current form as none of its key concerns have been adequately addressed through the Response to Submission,” it wrote in its latest submission.

“(South32’s Response to Submissions) placed too much reliance on ‘post-approval’ management, rather than providing relevant information that would allow key issues to be properly assessed prior to a determination.

“Further, the RTS has not adequately considered or addressed the findings and recommendations from the Final Report of the Independent Expert Panel for Mining in the Catchment.”

Among WaterNSW’s most serious concerns with the Dendrobium expansion are:

  • The additional surface water losses from the expansion would be up to 5.2 ML/day. WaterNSW is concerned that these predictions by the company may be underestimating the full extent of surface water losses from the catchment. 
  • Nine major watercourses and approximately 100 smaller tributaries are expected to experience fracturing as a result of the expansion, including the Avon and Cordeaux Rivers, which are downstream of the reservoirs and feed into Pheasants Nest Weir - a major component of the water supply system.
  • Potential water quality impacts from the extensive stream fracturing that is predicted.
  • Setbacks from the two dam walls (Cordeaux and Avon) should be increased to at least 1,500 metres due to potential far-field differential movements. “Should any impacts occur to these dams, there is the potential that the risks and consequences could be extreme.”
Lock the Gate Alliance NSW Community Coordinator Nic Clyde said South32’s decision not to address WaterNSW’s concerns showed an arrogance and lack of respect for all who depended on the drinking water catchment area.

“WaterNSW hasn’t pulled any punches with its latest submission, because South32’s plans would negatively impact its core responsibility of delivering water to Greater Sydney’s residents,” he said.

“The Dendrobium mine has already caused serious damage in the region which has led to loss of surface water.

“In 2018, it was revealed six billion litres of water had been diverted from creeks feeding Sydney water catchments into underground coal mines in the Special Areas.

“We have only recently emerged from one of the worst droughts in history, yet South32 wants to put our water supply in further jeopardy.

“The government needs to declare the Special Areas off-limits to new coal mining."

Sydney Councils Vote To Send Anti-Fracking Message To Origin Energy

April 22, 2020
Origin Energy’s public licence to conduct its morally reprehensible fracking program in the Northern Territory has been dealt another blow, with multiple Sydney councils formally expressing their opposition to the company’s actions.

Four councils have now voted to request "that Origin Energy cease all plans to conduct fracking in the Northern Territory and elsewhere due to its impact on the climate, communities, environment and water, and commit to further investment in environmentally and socially sustainable renewable energy projects."

Inner West and Waverley councils voted to support the motion on Tuesday evening, after Ryde and Randwick passed the motion earlier this year. More councils in the Greater Sydney area are expected to support the motion in the coming months.

The added public pressure on Origin Energy comes after the company announced it would temporarily halt fracking operations in the Territory due to the impacts of the oil price crisis and Covid-19. However, the company still has a skeleton crew at its Kyalla Well in the Beetaloo Basin, and has indicated it has plans to recommence fracking later this year.

Randwick Deputy Mayor Philipa Veitch said, “Fracking will make climate change worse, yet Origin Energy, which tries to promote itself as having ‘good energy’ wants to frack the NT against the wishes of the majority of the population. A more suitable and positive alternative to shale gas fracking Origin should be considering is to further its investment in renewable energy and help  Australia become the world’s renewable energy powerhouse.”

Waverley councillor Dominic Wy Kanak said, “Fracking the NT would not only be one of the largest potential sources of carbon pollution in the world, but it poses huge threats to the lands, waters and rights of Aboriginal people to make decisions about what happens on their country.”

Lock the Gate Alliance Sydney spokesperson James Stanton-Cooke welcomed the councils’ decisions to pressure Origin to abandon its fracking projects.

“Origin’s fracking plans are not only a threat to communities and the environment, but they completely lack social licence from Traditional Owners and the broader Northern Territory population,” he said.

“It is terrific that these councils in Sydney, who are customers of Origin Energy, recognise the damage Origin is doing in the NT and are taking steps to stand in solidarity with Territorians opposed to fracking.

“The message is loud and clear, Origin customers do not want the company to continue to pursue dirty, fracked gas.

“Origin would do well to recognise this and immediately announce a permanent stop to its fracking project in the Northern Territory and other parts of Australia.”

Keelty Report Is A Balanced Response To Basin Dilemmas

April 17, 2020
NSW conservation groups welcome Mick Keelty’s report on water sharing and Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt’s commitment to implement all its recommendations.

“This report is a balanced response to the complex issues of water sharing in the Murray Darling Basin,” Nature Conservation Council CEO Chris Gambian said.

“In his report, Mr Keelty explodes the myth that environmental water holdings are treated differently to other types of water entitlement.

“He also dismisses the suggestion environmental water be given up for irrigation in times of drought. [1]

“The federal government should now act to restore the river to health by buying back water from willing sellers, which is the fastest, fairest and cheapest way.”

Inland Rivers Network spokesperson Bev Smiles said: “Mr Keelty’s report shows a key problem has been a dramatic drop in river inflows, not any increase in environmental allocations as some have claimed. 

“The health of basin rivers has seriously declined. They urgently need their share of water from the Basin Plan.  

“The Basin plan is currently 47.5 billion litres short of the legal water recovery target, a volume of water that could easily be bought using unspent money from the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

“For less than $100 million we could go a long way to reviving the river system that is the lifeblood for thousands of people and many regional economies.

“In the context of the billions now being spent supporting the community through the coronavirus pandemic, it is small change and the money has already been put aside.”

The Lifeblood Alliance, a diverse range of community interests including farmers, graziers, horticulturalists, irrigators and indigenous people from across the Murray-Darling Basin, is calling for urgent action to reinstate water buy-backs so the Basin Plan, legally activated in July 2019, has the agreed level of water recovery to revive our rivers.

Since the Lifeblood Alliance launched its buy-back campaign yesterday, tens of thousands of people have signed a petition calling on the Federal Government to act.   


[1] The report states: “In times of drought the delivery of environmental water is scaled back and focused on maintaining key refuges. This helps to maintain the environment’s resilience so that plants and animals can recover when more water is available.” Page 36

Palaszczuk Government’s Arrow Energy Admiration Misses The Mark; Condemns Farmers

April 17, 2020
The Palaszczuk Government’s public endorsement of Arrow Energy’s destructive Surat Gas Project is an insult to farmers and communities battling to grow food and fodder for Queenslanders, according to Lock the Gate Alliance.

The government has released a statement, gushing over the PetroChina and Shell joint venture, that will further pockmark the fertile plains of the Western Downs and threaten underground water relied on by farmers.

Lock the Gate Queensland spokesperson Vicki Perrin said the unconventional gas industry had already wreaked havoc across the Western Downs.

She said the Palaszczuk Government’s attempt to tie the destructive project to the Covid-19 crisis reeked of political spin.

“At a time when the world is oversupplied with gas, there is no reason to put Queensland’s precious agricultural lands and groundwater at further risk,” she said.

“The existing industry is already draining water bores on the Western Downs, and this project will only multiply farmers’ woes.

“Make no mistake, this temporary, destructive project poses a significant risk to the long term food security of Queensland.

“In particular, this project will damage the extremely valuable agricultural area around Cecil Plains, where farmers have resisted Arrow tooth and nail since at least 2010 in order to protect their food growing capability.

“This is why we need urgent changes to Queensland’s Regional Planning Interests Act, so vitally important food growing regions can be permanently protected from dangerous projects like unconventional gas exploitation.”

Last year, the Underground water impact report (UWIR) for the Surat Basin revealed that more than 100 farming bores had been drained due to CSG, with more than 500 bores expected to be impacted in the coming years as the industry expanded.

COVID-19 No Excuse To Open New Hope's Coal Mine

April 22, 2020
New Hope Coal’s shrill demands that the Palaszczuk Government ignore an ongoing legal challenge to its New Acland expansion is an insult to the farmers who are desperately trying to protect some of the most productive agricultural land in the state, according to the Oakey Coal Action Alliance.

OCAA is fighting to prevent the destructive New Acland Stage 3 from going ahead, and a decision on its application for the matter to be heard in the High Court is expected late next month.

Alliance secretary Paul King welcomed the decision by the Palaszczuk Government to continue respecting the legal process, despite New Hope’s attempts to use the Covid-19 crisis to pressure the government via the media today.

He said jobs would be lost if New Acland Stage 3 was approved.

“Businesses in Oakey and surrounds rely on these farms to keep going - if the farms go, so will the local economy,” Mr King said.

“We have taken this matter to the High Court in part because this coal mine expansion will kill farming jobs and threaten food production, including 10 million litres of milk, at a time when it is needed more than ever. 

"If the High Court finds in OCAA’s favour, the Stage 3 application may be referred back for a rehearing. By law the minister cannot approve a mining lease without a recommendation from the Land Court.

“The farming land around Oakey is classed in the top 1.5 per cent in Queensland. It is madness that it should be destroyed for the sake of a temporary coal mine.

"This project should never be approved. It will lower the water table for 300 years. The Darling Downs produces some of the best food in the world. Food and fibre is our future here.”

“New Hope has to play by the rules. New Hope appealed the original Land Court decision. It is up to the High Court now, so it is totally unfair for New Hope to call for approvals from the government. It would be irresponsible and wrong to pre-empt the court."

W.A. EPA Congratulated After Announcing Public Review For Gas-Seeking Seismic Surveys

April 21, 2020
The possibilities of people power have been proven, with Western Australia’s Environmental Protection Authority agreeing to hold a public review over planned seismic surveys in the Mid West.

There were 358 submissions in response to the Beach Energy plan, with 350 of those calling for a public review. 

The surveys may be searching for conventional gas, however Lock the Gate Alliance remains deeply sceptical because now that the fracking moratorium is lifted, there would be nothing to stop fracking if shale and/or tight gas is discovered.

“People power has been successful here in ensuring the EPA’s assessment of this massive gas survey across the Mid West region is open to public comment and review,” said Lock the Gate WA coordinator Jarrad Thomas.

“The public deserves the most complete information possible on what the gas companies are targeting here and how local communities will be impacted.

“We know there are shale and tight gas reserves here, and that companies would need to frack to extract those difficult to access gas reserves.

“Many communities in and around the northern Perth Basin near this proposed gas survey have declared themselves fracking gasfield free.

“Any company that tries to frack this part of WA will have a massive fight on their hands.

“Lock the Gate Alliance strongly welcomes the EPA’s decision to conduct a public review of this seismic survey, which itself could cause a considerable impact in the area, including the removal of about 1000 hectares of vegetation.”

These 5 images show how air pollution changed over Australia’s major cities before and after lockdown

Elena Sánchez-GarcíaUniversitat Politècnica de València and Javier LeonUniversity of the Sunshine Coast

Have you recently come across photos of cities around the world with clear skies and more visibility?

In an unexpected silver lining to this tragic crisis, urban centres, such as around Wuhan in China, northern Italy and Spain, have recorded a vastly lower concentration of air pollution since confinement measures began to fight the spread of COVID-19.

Sign up to The Conversation

Likewise, the Himalayas have been visible from northern India for the first time in 30 years.

But what about Australia?

Researchers from the Land and Atmosphere Remote Sensing group at the Physical Technology Center in the Polytechnic University of Valencia – Elena Sánchez García, Itziar Irakulis Loitxate and Luis Guanter – have analysed satellite data from the new Sentinel-5P satellite mission of the Copernicus program of the European Space Agency.

The data shows a big improvement to pollution levels over some of our major cities – but in others, pollution has, perhaps surprisingly, increased.

These images measure level of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere, an important indicator of air quality. They show changes in nitrogen dioxide concentrations between March 11 to March 25 (before lockdown effectively began) and March 26 to April 11 (after lockdown).

Why Nitrogen Dioxide?

Nitrogen dioxide in urban air originates from combustion reactions at high temperatures. It’s mainly produced from coal in power plants and from vehicles.

High concentrations of this gas can affect the respiratory system and aggravate certain medical conditions, such as asthma. At extreme levels, this gas helps form acid rain.

Coronavirus: nitrogen dioxide emissions drop over Italy.

Declining nitrogen dioxide concentrations across Europe in the northern hemisphere are normally expected around this time – between the end of winter and beginning of spring – due to increased air motion.

But the observed decreases in many metropolises across Europe, India and China since partial and full lockdowns began seem to be unprecedented.

Nitrogen Dioxide Levels Across Australia

Preliminary results of the satellite data analysis are a mixed bag. Some urban centres such as Brisbane and Sydney are indeed showing an expected decrease in nitrogen dioxide concentrations that correlates with the containment measures to fight COVID-19.

On average, pollution in both cities fell by 30% after the containment measures.

Like a heat map, the red in the images shows a higher concentration of nitrogen dioxide, while the green and yellow show less.


On the other hand, nitrogen dioxide concentrations have actually increased by 20% for Newcastle, the country’s largest concentration of coal-burning heavy industry, and by 40% for Melbourne, a sprawling city with a high level of car dependency. Perth does not show a significant change.


We don’t know why pollution has increased in these cities across this time period, as 75% of Melbourne’s pollution normally comes from vehicle emissions and most people are travelling less.

It could be because the autumn hazard reduction burns have begun in Melbourne. Or it may be due to other human activities, such as more people using electricity and gas while they stay home.

Pollution Changes With The Weather

Understanding how air pollution changes is challenging, and requires thorough research because of its variable nature.

We know atmospheric conditions, especially strong winds and rain, are a big influence to pollution patterns – wind and rain can scatter pollution, so it’s less concentrated.

Blue skies over Chinese cities as COVID-19 lockdown temporarily cuts air pollution.

Other factors, such as the presence of additional gases and particles lingering in the atmosphere – like those resulting from the recent bushfires – also can change air pollution levels, but their persistence and extent aren’t clear.

Read more: Even for an air pollution historian like me, these past weeks have been a shock

Changes Should Be Permanent

If the decrease in nitrogen dioxide concentration across cities such as Brisbane and Sydney is from containment measures to fight COVID-19, it’s important we try to keep pollution from increasing again.

We know air pollution kills. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates around 3,000 deaths per year in Australia can be attributed to urban air pollution.

Yet, Australia lags on policies to reduce air pollution.

Read more: Australia needs stricter rules to curb air pollution, but there's a lot we could all do now

COVID-19 has given us the rare opportunity to empirically observe the positive effects of changing our behaviours and slowing down industry and transport.

But to make it last, we need permanent changes. We can do this by improving public transport to reduce the number of cars on the road; electrifying mass transit; and, most importantly, replacing fossil fuel generation with renewable energy and other low-carbon sources. These changes would bring us immediate health benefits.The Conversation

Elena Sánchez-García, Postdoctoral researcher at LARS group, Universitat Politècnica de València and Javier Leon, Senior lecturer, University of the Sunshine Coast

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

While towns run dry, cotton extracts 5 Sydney Harbours' worth of Murray Darling water a year. It's time to reset the balance

Quentin GraftonCrawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

The rains have finally arrived in the Northern Murray Darling Basin. Hopefully, this drought-easing water will flow all the way down to the parched communities and degraded habitats of the lower Darling.

How much water goes downstream, however, does not just depend on how much it has rained.

It also greatly depends on how much is extracted and consumed upstream, and the rules and enforcement around these water extractions.

Simplistic or knee-jerk responses to water insecurity, such as banning irrigation for “thirsty crops” such as cotton, will not fix the water woes of the basin.

The harder and longer path is to deliver real water reform as was agreed to by all governments in the 2004 National Water Initiative and that includes transparent water planning enshrined in law.

Read more: The sweet relief of rain after bushfires threatens disaster for our rivers

Basin Cotton Irrigators Extract About Five Sydney Harbours’ Worth A Year

Irrigation accounts for about 70% of all surface water extracted in the basin.

Australia’s water accounts tell us that in 2017-18, basin cotton irrigators extracted some 2,500 billion litres (about five Sydney Harbours’ worth) or equivalent to about 35% of all the water extracted for irrigation.

Most of this water was extracted in the Northern Basin (covering southern Queensland and northern New South Wales). But increasingly cotton is becoming a preferred crop in the Southern Basin (southern NSW to South Australia).

Overall, the area of land in cotton and the water extracted for cotton increased by 4% in 2017-18 relative to 2016-17.

Cotton is a thirsty crop. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics cotton uses, on average, more than 7 million litres (or about three Olympic-sized swimming pools) per hectare.

At a global scale, the volume of water extracted by cotton irrigators to produce one kilogram of cotton fabric averages more than 3,000 litres.

Cotton is a thirsty crop. Shutterstock

Increased Water Efficiency: Good News For Some, Bad News For Others

Concerns over how much water cotton uses, and the high price of water in the basin, has incentivised cotton farmers to increase their cotton yield (in tonnes) per million litres of water extracted.

This has been achieved with improved genetics, management and more high-tech irrigation methods. According to Cotton Australia, much less water (only 19%) is flowing back into streams and groundwater from water applied to cotton fields than two decades ago, when the return flows were 43% of the water applied.

Increased irrigation efficiency is good news for cotton irrigators, especially those that received some of the A$4 billion in public money already spent to increase irrigation efficiency in the basin. But it is bad news for downstream irrigators, communities and the environment.

This is because a much greater proportion of the water extracted by cotton farmers now gets consumed as evapo-transpiration, and thus is unavailable for anyone or anything else.

We Need To Change The Rules Of The Game

Given these cotton facts, would banning the growing of cotton in Australia increase the water available? No – because the problem is not cotton irrigation per se, but rather the “rules of the game” of the who, how, and when water is extracted. These water sharing rules are determined at a state level in what are called Water Sharing Plans.

Proper water planning is the only way to ensure a fair deal, deliver on the intent of the 2012 Basin Plan and keep levels of water extraction at sustainable levels.

Water sharing plans are supposed to be consistent with the 2012 Basin Plan. But NSW has, so far, failed to provide its plans for auditing by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, missing the key July 1, 2019 deadline.

Following an expose of alleged water theft in July 2017, the NSW government created a specialised agency, the Natural Resources Access Regulator, that has greatly helped water monitoring and compliance in NSW. Despite its best efforts, there is still inadequate metering in the Northern Basin. And across the basin as a whole, most groundwater extractions are not properly monitored.

The actual rules about how much water can be extracted are substantially influenced by some irrigators in the consultation process before plans are implemented.

Such influence has resulted in some water sharing plans favouring upstream irrigators at the expense of downstream communities, such as Walgett and Wilcannia. These towns have been left high and dry despite the fact NSW law gives priority to town water supplies over other water uses.

According to the NSW Natural Resources Commission, the current Barwon-Darling Water Sharing Plan “effectively prioritises upstream water users” and also does not provide protection for environmental water from extraction.

The Natural Resources Commission also observed that extraction permitted under the plan:

has affected those communities and landholders reliant on the river for domestic and stock water supplies, town water supply, community and social needs.

A consultant’s report from 2019, written for the NSW government, also found no evidence in the Barwon-Darling water planning processes of reporting on performance indicators such as changes in stream flow regimes, ecological values of key water sources or water utility (for town supply) access requirements.

Sadly, the problem of poor water planning is not exclusive to the Barwon-Darling, but exists in other basin catchments in NSW, and beyond.

Holding Governments Responsible

Any effective solution to the water emergency in the basin must, therefore, hold governments responsible for their water plans and decisions. This requires that a “who, what, how and when” of water be made transparent through an independent water auditing, monitoring and compliance process.

Simplistic responses to water insecurity, such as banning irrigation for cotton, will not fix the water woes of the basin. The harder and longer path is to deliver real water reform as was agreed to by all governments in the 2004 National Water Initiative and that included transparent water planning enshrined in law.

Read more: Fish kills and undrinkable water: here's what to expect for the Murray Darling this summer

Three Things That Would Make A Difference

As a nation we must hold decisionmakers accountable so the rules of the game do not favour the big end of town at the expense, and even the existence, of towns.

We also need to:

  1. stop wasting billions on irrigation subsidies that reduce flows to streams and rivers
  2. monitor, measure and audit what is happening to the water extracted and in streams
  3. actually deliver on the key objects of the federal Water Act and state water acts.

Enforcing the law of the land would ensure those who have the legal right to get the water first (such as town water supplies) are prioritised in the implementation of water sharing plans. It would mean state water plans are audited and actually deliver environmentally sustainable levels of water extraction.The Conversation

Quentin Grafton, Director of the Centre for Water Economics, Environment and Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia’s inland rivers are the pulse of the outback. By 2070, they’ll be unrecognisable

Zacchary LarkinMacquarie UniversityStephen ToothAberystwyth University, and Timothy J. RalphMacquarie University

Inland Australia’s complex system of winding rivers, extensive wetlands, ancient waterholes and seemingly endless parched floodplains are rarely given more than a passing thought by many Australians who live on the coastal fringes.

Yet these waterways are lifelines along which communities, agriculture and trade have flourished.

Etched into the psyche of regional Australia, these river systems are the pulse of the outback. Before asking a local how things are going, peek over the bridge in town for an indication.

Read more: Sure, save furry animals after the bushfires – but our river creatures are suffering too

When relaxing in the shade of an old river red gum alongside one of Australia’s lazy inland rivers, it’s natural to think of them as timeless and resilient to environmental change.

Yet, these rivers evolved over millennia and continue to change over years and decades.

And we already know from previous studies that future climate change is likely to reduce stream flow and water availability in drylands around the world.

But what our new research has shown, for the first time, is that these declines in stream flow may trigger a dramatic change in the physical structure and function (the geomorphology) of Australia’s inland rivers.

The Macquarie River in dry (2008) and wet (2010) conditions. Tim RalphAuthor provided

Meandering Rivers And Flat, Wide Floodplains

The physical structure of a river depends on how much water flows through it, and the sediment that water carries.

Reductions in water flow – as expected due to climate change – can lead to a build-up of sediment downstream. In extreme cases, this “silting up” can cause complete disintegration of river channels, where water flows out across the floodplain.

Not all rivers are alike, and the rivers of the Murray-Darling and Lake Eyre basins (covering 1.8 million square kilometres) are particularly diverse. Many of these rivers and wetlands are internationally recognised for their hydrological and ecological importance.

Read more: No water, no leadership: new Murray Darling Basin report reveals states' climate gamble

They range from large meandering rivers swollen by seasonal spring flows (the Upper MurrayMitta MittaKiewa, and Ovens rivers), to rivers that progressively get smaller until they become exhausted on flat, wide floodplains and disintegrate into large, boom-and-bust wetlands (the LachlanMacquarie, and Gwydir rivers).

Dry channel of the lower Warrego River, northwest NSW. Author provided

In the drier areas of central Australia, rivers typically persist as a string of isolated waterholes for years at a time, occasionally punctuated by very large floods (WarregoParooDiamantina, and Cooper Creek).

A Sobering Future

For Australia’s inland rivers, the average dryness, or “aridity”, of the catchment is the best predictor of what the overall structure and function of the rivers within look like.

Compiling a range of climatic data, we modelled aridity for the Australian continent in 2070 under a relatively moderate climate change scenario.

The results are sobering. Over the next 50 years, the arid zone – containing the areas of true desert – is projected to expand well into the Murray-Darling Basin and almost entirely envelope the Lake Eyre Basin.

Modern aridity index and the projected aridification of Australia by 2070. The red outlines show the extent of the Murray-Darling and Lake Eyre basins.

At the same time, the humid and dry subhumid fringes around the Great Dividing Range and coastal areas are expected to contract.

This is concerning because the relatively wet western slopes of the Great Dividing Range are where many inland Australian rivers begin, with most of their water sourced in these smaller sub-catchments.

Evolution Of Our Inland Rivers

The impact of this projected drying pattern on Australia’s inland rivers is expected to be profound.

Despite only occupying around 3.8% of the Murray-Darling Basin, the Upper Murray, Mitta Mitta, Kiewa, and Ovens rivers presently provide a large amount of flow within the lower Basin (33% of average annual flows).

These rivers flow out of the southeastern highlands towards the Murray River, but over the next 50 years they’re expected to experience declining downstream flows. This leads to less efficient flushing of sediment downstream, which, in turn, will increase sediment deposition within these rivers, reducing their size.

Channel breakdown along Eldee Creek in far western NSW. Tim RalphAuthor provided

Other rivers – such as the Murrumbidgee and Macintyre rivers – are expected to undergo even more dramatic changes to their structure and behaviour.

Right now these rivers maintain a winding course to the central Murray and Barwon rivers, respectively. But our projections suggest these continuous channels won’t be supported, and are likely to be interrupted by sections of channel breakdown.

Under a drier climate, rivers such as the Lachlan and Macquarie may come to resemble present-day central Australian rivers – only persisting as disconnected waterholes for long periods of time, with internationally important wetlands (Great Cumbung Swamp and Macquarie Marshes) much less frequently inundated.

Read more: The sweet relief of rain after bushfires threatens disaster for our rivers

Such changes to river structure and function will have long-lasting impacts on water, sediment, and nutrient distribution. This will likely change the dynamics of the river ecosystem, as well as the way we manage and use these rivers.

A Parched Future

While our research hasn’t investigated the potential ecological, socio-economic or cultural effects of structural changes, we can expect them to be very significant, and potentially irreversible.

Read more: Don't blame the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It's climate and economic change driving farmers out

Many of Australia’s native aquatic and dryland flora and fauna are adapted to a highly variable climate regime, but there are limits beyond which these ecosystems cannot recover or survive. For example, seeds and invertebrate eggs can survive many years buried in dry soil waiting for a flood, but if water doesn’t come, eventually they won’t be viable.

Parched soil in the Macquarie Marshes, NSW. Gavin SmithAuthor provided

What’s more, extracting too much water from our inland river systems for agriculture or other uses will exacerbate the threats posed by a drying climate.

Given the complexity and tensions surrounding water use and water sharing in Australia’s inland rivers, particularly in the Murray-Darling Basin, understanding how these critical systems might respond in the future is now more important than ever.

Water is one of the most contested resources in Australia, and it’s the fundamentally important river and wetland ecosystems and agricultural industries that will bear the brunt of a drying climate.

To make sure outback communities can continue to survive, it’s vital we protect their lifeline. Water resource planning must include consideration of climate change, as the projected changes will likely increase pressure on already vulnerable systems.The Conversation

Zacchary Larkin, Postdoctoral Researcher in Environmental Sciences, Macquarie UniversityStephen Tooth, Professor of Physical Geography, Aberystwyth University, and Timothy J. Ralph, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Sciences, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

I travelled Australia looking for peacock spiders, and collected 7 new species (and named one after the starry night sky)

Heath WarwickAuthor provided
Joseph SchubertMuseums Victoria

After I found my first peacock spider in the wild in 2016, I was hooked. Three years later, I was travelling across Australia on a month-long expedition to document and name new species of peacock spiders.

Peacock spiders are a unique group of tiny, colourful, dancing spiders native to Australia. They’re roughly between 2.5 and 6 millimetres, depending on the species. Adult male peacock spiders are usually colourful, while female and juvenile peacock spiders are usually dull brown or grey.

Read more: The spectacular peacock spider dance and its strange evolutionary roots

Like peacocks, the mature male peacock spiders display their vibrant colours in elegant courtship displays to impress females. They often elevate and wave their third pair of legs and lift their brilliantly coloured abdomens – like dancing.

Maratus laurenae. Male peacock spiders have brilliant colours on their abdomen to attract females. Author provided

Up until 2011, there were only seven known species of them. But since then, the rate of scientific discovery has skyrocketed with upwards of 80 species being discovered in the last decade.

Thanks to my trip across Australia and the help from citizen scientists, I’ve recently scientifically described and named seven more species from Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria. This brings the total number of peacock spider species known to science up to 86.

Spider Hunting: A Game Of Luck

Citizen scientists – other peacock spider enthusiasts – shared photographs and locations of potentially undocumented species with me. I pulled these together to create a list of places in Australia to visit.

I usually find spider hunting to be a relaxing pastime, but this trip was incredibly stressful (albeit amazing).

The thing about peacock spiders is they’re mainly active during spring, which is when they breed. Colourful adult males are difficult – if not impossible – to find at other times of year, as they usually die shortly after the mating season. This meant I had a very short window to find what I needed to, or I had to wait another year.


Even when they’re active, they can be difficult to come across unless weather conditions are ideal. Not too cold. Not too rainy. Not too hot. Not too sunny. Not too shady. Not too windy. As you can imagine, it’s largely a game of luck.

The Wild West

I arrived in Perth, picked up my hire car and bought a foam mattress that fitted in the back of my car – my bed for half of the trip. I stocked up on tinned food, bread and water, and I headed north in search of these tiny eight-legged gems.

My first destination: Jurien Bay. I spent the whole day under the hot sun searching for a peculiar, scientifically unknown species that Western Australian photographer Su RamMohan had sent me photographs of. I was in the exact spot it had been photographed, but I just couldn’t find it!

I travelled across Denmark, Western Australia. Author provided

The sun began to lower and I was using up precious time. I made what I now believe was the right decision and abandoned the Jurien Bay species for another time.

I spent days travelling between dramatic coastal landscapes, the rugged inland outback, and old, mysterious woodlands.

Kalbarri Gorge, Western Australia, where Maratus constellatus was found. Author provided

I hunted tirelessly with my eyes fixed on the ground searching for movement. In a massive change of luck from the beginning of my trip, it seemed conditions were (mostly) on my side.

With the much-appreciated help of some of my field companions from the University of Hamburg and volunteers from the public, a total of five new species were discovered and scientifically named from Western Australia.

The Little Desert

Two days after returning from Western Australia, I headed to the Little Desert National Park in Victoria on a Bush Blitz expedition, joined by several of my colleagues from Museums Victoria.

I’d thought the landscape’s harsh, dry conditions were unsuitable for peacock spiders, as most described species are known to live in temperate regions.

Capturing spiders in a bug net. Heath WarwickAuthor provided

To my surprise, we found a massive diversity of them, including two species with a bigger range than we thought, and the discovery of another species unknown to science.

This is the first time two known species – Maratus robinsoni and Maratus vultus – had been found in Victoria. Previously, they had only been known to live in eastern New South Wales and southern Western Australia respectively.

Read more: Don't like spiders? Here are 10 reasons to change your mind

Our findings suggest other known species may have much bigger geographic ranges than we previously thought, and may occur in a much larger variety of habitats.

And our discovery of the unknown species (Maratus inaquosus), along with another collected by another wildlife photographer Nick Volpe from South Australia (Maratus volpei) brought the tally of discoveries to seven.

What’s In A Name?

Writing scientific descriptions, documenting, and naming species is a crucial part in conserving our wildlife.

Read more: Spiders are a treasure trove of scientific wonder

With global extinction rates at an unprecedented high, species conservation is more important than ever. But the only way we can know if we’re losing species is to show and understand they exist in the first place.

  • Maratus azureus: “Deep blue” in Latin, referring to the colour of the male.
Maratus azureus. Author provided
  • Maratus constellatus: “Starry” in Latin, referring to the markings on the male’s abdomen which look like a starry night sky.
Maratus constellatus. Author provided
  • Maratus inaquosus: “Dry” or “arid” in Latin, for the dry landscape in Little Desert National Park this species was found in.
Maratus inaquosus Author provided
  • Maratus laurenae: Named in honour of my partner, Lauren Marcianti, who has supported my research with enthusiasm over the past few years.
Maratus laurenae Author provided
  • Maratus noggerup: Named after the location where this species was found: Noggerup, Western Australia.
Maratus noggerup Author provided
  • Maratus suae: Named in honour of photographer Su RamMohan who discovered this species and provided useful information about their locations in Western Australia.
Maratus suae Author provided
  • Maratus volpei: Named in honour of photographer Nick Volpe who discovered and collected specimens of this species to be examined in my paper.
Maratus volpei Nick VolpeAuthor provided

These names allow us to communicate important information about these animals to other scientists, as well as to build legislation around them in the case there are risks to their conservation status.

I plan on visiting some more remote parts of Australia in hopes of finding more new peacock spider species. I strongly suspect there’s more work to be done, and more peacock spiders to discover.The Conversation

Joseph Schubert, Entomology/Arachnology Registration Officer, Museums Victoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The green gig economy: precarious workers are on the frontline of climate change fight

Sango MahantyAustralian National University and Benjamin NeimarkLancaster University

Politicians and business people are fond of making promises to plant thousands of trees to slow climate change. But who actually plants those trees, and who tends them as they grow?

The hard and dirty work of restoring ecosystems will be invaluable in coming decades, to soak up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, ease the impact of storms and flooding and harbour embattled wildlife. But this work – where it currently exists – is carried out by people who are often poorly paid, or not compensated at all.

Most often, these aren’t recognised workers, but instead, volunteers. This is not only the case for conservation workers in rural areas of Madagascar and Cambodia, but also in cities where waste collectors and people who recycle electronic waste work in abject poverty.

The situation is more dire for those battling the natural disasters that are proliferating in the warming climate. The 2018 wildfire season in California was the deadliest in the state’s history, but much of the fire fighting relied on 2,000 prison inmates who earned just USD$1 a day.

During Australia’s “black summer” of 2019-20, Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected calls for support payments to 195,000 volunteer firefighters because, in his words, “they want to be there”.

The UK is braced for a future in which flooding is more frequent and severe. But the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) relies heavily on volunteer labour to manage these floods when they occur, and that’s set to remain the case.

These workers lack the proper pay and protections of an organised workforce, yet their services are increasingly in demand. Collectively, they form an emerging “eco-precariat” that bears little resemblance to the labour movement that’s urgently needed to mitigate the climate and ecological crisis.

Read more: Unions can – and will – play a leading role in tackling the climate crisis

Precarity In The Green Economy

The modern “gig economy” sells independence to workers by allowing them to decide their own work hours. For taxi drivers or couriers, this may sound appealing, but in practice it can mean a precarious existence, trapped with a variable income and permanently on call in zero-hour contracts. Those with an uncertain immigration status can fall into forms of modern day slavery.

Our research studied labour practices in the green economy and in particular, the schemes in which people and organisations “buy” green services, like ecosystem conservation and tree planting.

These projects range from direct payments to governments for forest and mangrove protection, to carbon markets, in which credits are sold to finance conservation work. A growing number of corporations pay to offset the local environmental damage they cause this way - enabling them to neglect action to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions. There’s even a smartphone app that will “plant a tree” at the touch of a button.

The idea of trees being planted at the touch of a screen sounds revolutionary. But this work tends to draw on a flexible labour pool – a sort of “green gig economy”. While private sector donations are funnelled through charities and NGOs overseeing the tree planting, the work itself is offered on a temporary basis, often to unpaid volunteers – including school children - who are deployed to plant and care for the trees.

Even as local people are enlisted to manage tree planting, they find their access to these areas restricted. In some cases, tree planting initiatives have uprooted communities and repossessed their land.

Read more: Greenwashing: corporate tree planting generates goodwill but may sometimes harm the planet

Essential Workers

As the pandemic has shown, volunteers and community groups can hold the social fabric together in times of crisis. Whether it’s ordinary people creating medical equipment or caring for neighbours in quarantine, community action can save lives where years of austerity have starved emergency services of the necessary resources for dealing with disasters.

The same can be said of volunteer fire fighters and foresters, but cheering on their selflessness isn’t enough. We should recognise where labour arrangements have created precarious working conditions, or enabled governments to shift their responsibilities onto the public.

Will volunteer fire fighters continue to go without compensation, even as their work becomes more dangerous in Australia’s increasingly fierce wildfire seasons? As governments consider how to revive the global economy after the COVID-19 pandemic, what legal protections can workers in new environmental projects depend on?

Now more than ever, it’s time for a frank discussion about what essential workers deserve in return for the invaluable work they do.The Conversation

Sango Mahanty, Associate Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Benjamin Neimark, Senior Lecturer, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A decade after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, offshore drilling is still unsafe

A satellite image of the oil slick as it looked in late May 2010, a month after the Deepwater Horizon well exploded. The oil plume looks grayish white. NASA/Goddard/Jen Shoemaker and Stu Snodgrass
Donald BoeschUniversity of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Ten years ago, on April 20, 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 crew members and starting the largest ocean oil spill in history. Over the next three months, between 4 million and 5 million barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico.

I was a member of the oil spill commission appointed by President Obama to investigate the causes of the disaster. Later, I served as a courtroom witness for the government on the effects of the spill. While scientists now know more about these effects, risks of deepwater blowouts remain, and the energy industry and government responders still have only very limited ability to control where the oil goes once it’s released from the well.

The spill commission found that multiple identifiable mistakes caused the blowout. Our report cast doubt over how safety was addressed across the offshore oil industry and the government’s ability to regulate it.

As the oil spill commission’s report showed, drilling ever deeper into the Gulf involved risks for which neither industry nor government was adequately prepared. The industry had felt so sure that a blowout would not happen that it lacked the capacity to contain it. Neither BP nor the government could do much to control or clean up the spill.

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig burning on April 21, 2010. Gerald Herbert/AP

Safety Improvements Are Threatened

The presidential commission recommended numerous reforms to reduce the risks and environmental damages from offshore oil and gas development. The industry developed systems to contain blowouts in deep water and has deployed them worldwide. Improvements in operational safety were made within companies and across the industry.

The Department of the Interior acted quickly to reorganize its units. It created a Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to avoid conflicts of interests with its leasing, development and revenue collection responsibilities. After four years in development, the bureau issued new well control rules in 2016 governing drilling safety.

But despite progress on a number of fronts, Congress has not enacted legislation to improve safety or even raise energy companies’ ridiculously low liability limits for oil spills – currently just US$134 million for offshore facilities like the Deepwater Horizon. The Trump administration has reversed or relaxed safety reforms. It has loosened the safe pressure margins allowed in a well, dispensed with independent inspections of blowout protectors and removed requirements for continuous onshore monitoring of offshore drilling.

Ten years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, rules adopted post-spill to make offshore operations safer are being relaxed.

Some of these changes were ordered by political appointees over the recommendations of the safety bureau’s technical experts. While the bureau is charged with focusing singularly on safety and the environment, its director, Scott Angelle, has been a prominent proponent of the administration’s aggressive “energy dominance” strategy, ordering expanded oil production and elimination of costly regulations. Imagine the message this sends about priorities to people in government and industry who are responsible for ensuring safety.

Where Contamination Lingers

This conception of the deep plume shows how oil rose from the well. At a depth of 1 kilometer, bacteria consumed the oil. Adapted from Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI: 10.1021/ES2013227

Before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the deep Gulf of Mexico ecosystem was egregiously understudied in all respects, while a multi-billion-dollar industry. intruded into it. Now scientists know much more about what happens when large quantities of oil and gas are released in a seafloor blowout.

Scientists learned much about the effects of the spill through monitoring the blowout, assessing damages to natural resources and investigating the fate and effects of escaping oil. More has been spent on these studies and more results published than for any previous oil spill.

A substantial portion of oil released from the mile-deep well was entrained in a plume of droplets spreading out 3,000 feet below the Gulf’s surface. Footprints of contamination and effects extended far beyond the area where oil slicks were observed.

Two NASA satellites recorded day-by-day images of the Gulf after the blowout, from April 20 through May 24, 2010.

Nearly all of the oil released has since degraded. Populations of most affected organisms have recovered. But contamination lingers in sediments in the deep Gulf, and in some marshes and beaches where oil came ashore. Populations of long-lived animals the oil killed might not recover for decades. These include sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins, seabirds and deepwater corals.

And yet, as scientists synthesize results from this 10-year research initiative, very little practical advice is emerging about what can be done to respond more effectively to future blowouts from ever-deeper drilling in the Gulf.

Surely, we can more rapidly contain blowouts. The effectiveness of injecting chemical dispersants into the plume gushing from the well remains in debate. How much oil do dispersants keep from reaching the surface, where it threatens those working to stanch the blowout, as well as birds, sea turtles and coastal ecosystems? But the research has not revealed more effective approaches in controlling released oil.

Safety First Is The Big Lesson

As I see it, the essential lesson from Deepwater Horizon is that industry and government should be putting their greatest energies into preventing operational accidents, blowouts and releases. Yet the Trump administration emphasizes increasing production and reducing regulations. This undermines safety improvements made over the past 10 years.

Furthermore, the price of crude oil – already low because of high fracked oil production in the U.S. – has declined drastically since the beginning of 2020. Saudi and Russian oil had already glutted the market when the coronavirus pandemic reduced oil consumption.

The federal government’s March 2020 oil and gas lease sale for the Gulf of Mexico yielded the lowest response in four years – $93 million in high bids, compared to $159 million in the previous round. To prop up the industry and maintain production, the Trump administration is seeking to lower royalty rates and store excess production in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

But as industry acts to cut its expenditures and downsize staff, will safety costs be a priority?

National energy policy was beyond the charge of the 2010 commission, but 10 years later, it is impossible to consider the future of offshore oil and gas without factoring in the need to eliminate net greenhouse gas emission within 30 years to limit climate change. Why would the United States consider expanding offshore exploration and drilling that might yield fossil fuels only 20 years from now?

Even in the historically developed Gulf of Mexico, rather than just “drill, baby, drill,” I believe the U.S. should be developing a realistic transition plan for phasing out offshore fossil fuel production. Such a strategy should encompass not only ensuring high standards for safety and industry responsibility for abandoned infrastructure during the drawdown, but also an economic evolution for the region, including opportunities for carbon sequestration and renewable energy production. We need to ensure that there will be a vibrant and productive Gulf long after we cease removing its oil.

[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can get our highlights each weekend.]The Conversation

Donald Boesch, Professor of Marine Science, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Even If The Parks Are Closed You Can Still Go Google Trekking

A few years ago Pittwater Online shared some great news about the state government working with Google in what is called 'Google Trekker' - our own local MP, Rob Stokes, Member for Pittwater was the State Environment Minister at that time, so it was great to hear about this first-hand from him - he loves the great outdoors!

Back in June 2014 the work began of mapping our National Parks - by actually walking through them with a camera - this is what the ranger walking with the camera looked like - they started with doing 16 parks to begin with:

OEH - NPWS photo

Then in November 2014 Environment Minister Rob Stokes launched Google Street View imagery of some of the most picturesque and visited national parks in NSW. 

Mr Stokes said the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service is the first organisation in Australia to be part of the Google program, which sees organisations borrow the Trekker technology to collect imagery of hard to reach places and help map the world. 

“NPWS have captured 360-degree imagery of 25 parks from Kosciuszko to Cape Byron, covering over 400 kilometres of walking tracks and 700 kilometres of roads and trails,” Mr Stokes said then. 

“This new service means people can scope out walks before they travel, or get a glimpse of places they would otherwise find inaccessible. 

“People who have been unable to make it to the bottom of that gorge or the top of that ridge can now see all the sites our national parks have to offer. 

"In conjunction with the NSW National Parks website, this imagery will give people another great way to plan their park visits, check walking tracks for suitability and learn about the area beforehand. 

“We have a lot to be proud of in NSW with some of the most beautiful and remote places on the planet. 

“These maps will ensure people who may not have the ability to walk in some of these popular locations will still have the opportunity to experience our vast natural beauty from their lounge rooms on the other side of the world.” 

Basically, Google Trekker allows you to explore our National Parks as though you were on their bush tracks. You can Discover new places with a virtual tour of walking tracks, lookouts and campgrounds on the coast, deep within rainforests, and even in Outback NSW. You can get 360 degree views of these incredible landscapes and go on your own virtual adventure.

Working in partnership with Google, NSW National Parks (NPWS) has captured imagery in over 50 national parks using Google's special backpack-mounted trekker. With more than 1350km of Google Trekker footage, there are hundreds of experiences to discover.

You can also visit beautiful and historic places all over the world via Google Trekker - but let's start with places around us to begin with.

Where would you like to visit today?: Here are some of our favourite Street View virtual tours - just click on the links to take a look around for yourself

Sydney and Surrounds

North Coast NSW

South Coast NSW

Country NSW

Snowy Mountains- Kosciuszko National Park

Outback NSW and Murray-Riverina

Please note: The backpack-mounted trekker has been specifically designed to go off the grid. Occasionally, trained NPWS staff take Google Trekker into ecologically sensitive areas so we can give you a peek of places you would otherwise never see.

When you explore these walking tracks for yourself, remember to always to stay on marked tracks, so we can continue to protect these special places for generations to come.

Weed Cassia Now Flowering: Please Pull Out And Save Our Bush

Cassia (Senna pendula). Also known as Senna and Arsenic Bush. Originating in South American, Cassia is a perennial sprawling multi-stemmed shrub or tree up to 5m tall. 

This weed replaces native vegetation and establishes in a wide range of native plant communities, including coastal heath and scrubland, hind dunes and riparian corridors. The large seed pods are eaten by birds and other animals. You may be seeing this bright burst of yellow everywhere as it is currently flowering - please pull out and get rid of if you have in your garden.

Please Help Sydney Wildlife Rescue: Donate Your Cans And Bottles And Nominate SW As Recipient

You can Help Sydney Wildlife help Wildlife. Sydney Wildlife Rescue is now listed as a charity partner on the return and earn machines in these locations:

  1. Pittwater RSL Mona Vale
  2. Northern Beaches Indoor Sports Centre NBISC Warriewood
  3. Woolworths Balgowlah
  4. Belrose Super centre
  5. Coles Manly Vale
  6. Westfield Warringah Mall
  7. Strathfield Council Carpark
  8. Paddy's Markets Flemington Homebush West
  9. Woolworths Homebush West
  10. Caltex Concord road Concord West
  11. Bondi Campbell pde behind Beach Pavilion 
  12. Westfield Bondi Junction car park level 2 eastern end Woolworths side under ramp
  13. UNSW Kensington
  14. Enviro Pak McEvoy street Alexandria.

Every bottle, can, or eligible container that is returned could be 10c donated to Sydney Wildlife.

Every item returned will make a difference by removing these items from landfill and raising funds for our 100% volunteer wildlife carers. All funds raised go to support wildlife.

It is easy to DONATE, just feed the items into the machine select DONATE and choose Sydney Wildlife Rescue.

Bushcare In Pittwater 

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

Where we work                      Which day                              What time 

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

Winnererremy Bay                 4th Sunday                        9 to 12noon 

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

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

Old Wharf Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      8 - 11am 

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

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

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

North Narrabeen     
Irrawong Reserve                     2nd Saturday                   2 - 5pm 

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

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

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

Whale Beach     
Norma Park                               1st Friday                            9 - 12noon 

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

Gardens And Environment Groups And Organisations In Pittwater

Aussie Bread Tags Collection Points

Collecting bread tags enables us to provide wheelchairs that change the life of disabled people in need, as well as keeping the tags out of landfill to help to preserve the environment. 

Bread Tags for Wheelchairs was started in South Africa in 2006 by Mary Honeybun. It is a community program where individuals and organisations collect bread tags, which are sold to recyclers. The money raised pays for wheelchairs for the less fortunate which are purchased through a local pharmacy. Currently about 500kg of bread tags are collected a month in South Africa, funding 2-3 wheelchairs.

We have been collecting bread tags nationally in Australia since September 2018 and now have more than 100 collection points across the country. In February 2019 we started local recycling through Transmutation - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle in Robe, SA, where our tags are recycled into products such as door knobs and bowls. Tags from some states are still sent to South Africa where a plastics company called Zibo recycles them into seedling trays.

These humble bits of polystyrene can make a real difference so get your friends, family, school, workplace and church involved. Ask school tuck shops and boarding school kitchens, child care centres, aged care facilities, hospitals, cafes and fast food outlets to collect for you - they get through a lot of bread!

All the information and signage for collecting or setting up a public collection point is on our website.

Local Collectors
Lesley Flood
Please email for address -
Jodie Streckeisen
Please email for the address -

Sparkling dolphins swim off our coast, but humans are threatening these natural light shows

Dean CroppAuthor provided
Dr Vanessa PirottaMacquarie University

It was 2 am on a humid summer’s night on Sydney’s coast. Something in the distance caught my eye – a pod of glowing dolphins darted towards the bow of the boat. I had never seen anything like it before. They were electric blue, trailing swaths of light as they rode the bow wave.

It was a stunning example of “bioluminescence”. The phenomenon is the result of a chemical reaction in billions of single-celled organisms called dinoflagellates congregating at the sea surface. These organisms are a type of phytoplankton – tiny microscopic organisms many sea creatures eat.

Read more: Framing the fearful symmetry of nature: the year's best photos of landscapes and living things

Dinoflagellates switch on their bioluminescence as a warning signal to predators, but it can also be triggered when they’re disturbed in the water – in this case, by the dolphins.

You can see marine bioluminescence from land in Australia. Places like Jervis Bay and Tasmania are renowned for such spectacles.

But this dazzling night-time show is under threat. Light pollution creates brighter nights and disrupts ecological rhythms along the coast, such as breeding and feeding patterns. With so much human activity close to the shore and at sea, how much longer can we continue to enjoy this natural light show?

Lighting Up The World Has An Ecological Price

Light pollution is a well-known problem for inland ecosystems, particularly for nocturnal species.

In fact, a global study published earlier this year identified light pollution as an extinction threat to land bioluminescent species. The study surveyed firefly experts, who considered artificial light to be the second greatest threat to fireflies after habitat destruction.

Artificial light is one of the biggest threats fireflies face. Shutterstock

At sea, artificial light pollution enters the marine environment temporarily (lights from ships and fishing activities) and permanently (coastal towns and offshore oil platforms). To make matters worse, light from cities can extend further offshore by scattering into the atmosphere and reflecting off clouds. This is known as artificial sky glow.

For organisms with circadian clocks (day-night sleep cycles), this loss of darkness can have damaging effects.

Bioluminescence in Sydney in the wake of the boat the author was on. Vanessa PirottaAuthor provided

For example it can disrupt animal metabolism, which can lead to weight gain. Artificial light can also change sea turtle nesting behaviour and can disorientate turtle hatchlings when trying to get to sea, lowering their chances of survival.

Read more: Lights out! Clownfish can only hatch in the dark – which light pollution is taking away

It can also disorientate the foraging of fish communities; alter predatory fish behaviour (such as in Yellowfin Bream and Leatherjacks) leading to increased predation in artificial light at night; cause reproductive failure in clownfish; and change the structural composition of marine invertebrate communities.

What are lights along the coast doing to bioluminescent species? Shutterstock

For zooplankton – a vital species for a range of bigger animals – artificial light disrupts their “diel vertical migration”. This term refers to the movement of zooplankton from the depths of the ocean where they spend the day to reduce fish predation, rising to the surface at night to feed.

What Does This Mean For Bioluminescent Species?

Increased exposure to artificial light due to human activities, such as growing cities and increased global shipping movement, may disrupt when and where bioluminescent species hang out.

In turn, this may influence where predators move, leading to disruptions in the marine food web, potentially changing the dynamics of energy transfer efficiency between marine species.

Bioluminescence draws tourists and photographers in Tasmania. Shutterstock

Bioluminescence usually serves as a communication function, such as to warn off predators, attract a mate or lure prey. For many species, light pollution in the ocean may compromise this biological communication strategy.

And for light-producing organisms such as dinoflagellates, excess artificial light may reduce the effectiveness of their bioluminescence because they won’t shine as bright, potentially increasing their risk of being eaten.

Have you read Julia Baird’s new book? It’s a great introduction to the science behind the ephemeral bioluminescence at sea. HarperCollins Australia

A 2016 study in the Arctic revealed the critical depth where atmospheric light dims to darkness, and bioluminescence from organisms becomes dominant, was approximately 30 metres below the sea surface.

This means any change to light in the Arctic influences when marine organisms rise to the surface. If there is too much light, these organisms remain deeper for longer where it’s safe – reducing their potential feeding time.

Read more: Bright city lights are keeping ocean predators awake and hungry

What Can We Do?

Understanding the level at which artificial light penetrates the ocean is tricky, especially so when dealing with mobile sources of light pollution such as ships, which are becoming an almost permanent fixture in some areas of the ocean.

Bioluminescence usually serves as a communication function, such as to warn off predators. Shutterstock

Pockets of darkness still remain in our oceans. But they are becoming rarer, making light pollution a serious global threat to marine life.

Read more: The glowing ghost mushroom looks like it comes from a fungal netherworld

The spectacle of glowing dolphins should serve as a timely reminder of our need to conserve the darkness we have left.

Simple steps at home such as switching off lights and reducing unnecessary outdoor lighting, especially if you live near the ocean, is a step in the right direction to doing your bit for nocturnal species.The Conversation

Dr Vanessa Pirotta, Marine scientist and science communicator, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Recreating masterpieces at home? People have been doing it for centuries

Gilmore Girls/Parmigianino
Andrea BubenikThe University of Queensland

Famous paintings are flooding the internet – but not as we are accustomed to seeing them. These are not just reproductions. Literally coming to life, paintings are being re-enacted at home with art lovers posing their way into everything from Girl with a Pearl Earring to American Gothic.

Given social distancing, it’s not surprising portraits are the favoured genre. Being home-bound also means using what is available: a bath towel in the place of a luxurious Renaissance dress; pots and pans instead of medieval headgear; pets taking on surprising roles.

These images invoke a humorous game of spot the difference. One especially cheeky example shows a couple recreating a detail from Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, with Bosch’s bizarre and whimsical world matched by contemporary verve.

These recreations are not just rooted in the boredom of quarantine. The impulse to recreate paintings has a long history that speaks to a need for shared cultural touchstones – and their subversion.

Parlour Games

The recreation of famous paintings, or tableaux vivants (literally “living pictures”), was a party game in aristocratic circles in 18th-century France. The phenomenon then spread throughout Britain, Europe and America.

In Australia, there are records of these tableaux being enacted in theatres and households from the 1830s.

An 1871 American publication, Parlor Tableaux and Amateur Theatricals, capitalises on “the great desire among the rising generation to participate in this simple and elegant amusement”. It includes painstaking instructions for an evening of entertainment, including the number of tableaux (five to ten), types (classical and contemporary) and genres (serious and comic).

Prince Alfred styled as Bacchus, for Tableaux of the Seasons performed for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1854. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020

Curtains would roll up to the spectacle of costumed figures posing with props and backgrounds from paintings by artists such as Titian, Michelangelo and Rembrandt. Shouts of appreciation or guessing games would ensue, with guests showing their knowledge of art history (or lack thereof).

The game was like charades, but silent and immobile. Part of the trick was the act of physical control needed to maintain the pose until the curtains rolled down and the actors prepared for another tableau.

Cultural Touchstones

Dress-up and posing have been documented as far back as classical antiquity. In festive pageantry of medieval and Renaissance Europe, parades and processions by rulers featured tableaux that were charged with important political and didactic functions.

Perhaps the most spectacular example of a tableau occurred in 1458 on the entry of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, into Ghent. A contemporary account describes how over a hundred citizens greeted Philip the Good and his entourage in a recreation of the city’s celebrated altarpiece, Jan and Hubert van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (The Ghent Altarpiece), painted in 1432.

The Ghent Altarpiece from the Cathedral of St Bavo, Ghent, completed 1432.

This brilliant and complex polyptych presents a summation of Christian theology; its recreation would have been an incredibly ambitious undertaking.

The Ghent Altarpiece functioned as a shared cultural touchstone that its citizens could relate to. Only the nude figures of Adam and Eve would have been exempt from the recreation.

Controversy And Subversion

This was unlike the later tableaux of Victorian societies, when female nudes were acceptable and even encouraged. During the late 19th century, morality laws were evaded by the stillness of the models: as long as the women weren’t moving, they could present the tableaux as art education, rather than titillation.

In defence of these displays, the American poet Walt Whitman wrote if the sight of these tableux is considered “indecent” then:

the sight of nearly all the great works of painting and sculpture […] is, likewise, indecent. It is a sickly prudishness that bars all appreciation of the divine beauty evidenced in Nature’s cunningest work – the human frame, form and face.

Pansy Montague, a Melbourne chorus girl, posing as the Modern Milo (with arms), c1898 -1905. State Library Victoria

Later tableaux created by well-known artists stem from very different motivations, from satire to critique.

Pier Paolo Passolini’s La Ricotta shows the making of several tableaux of mannerist paintings for comic effect. Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #224 from 1990 is an appropriation of Caravaggio’s Young Sick Bacchus created four centuries earlier.

In her re-enactment, Sherman uses make-up, prosthetics and props – yet there is never any doubt that we are looking at Sherman. Her appropriation raises important questions about identity, feminism and the status of images.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #244, 1990, Chromogenic color print, 48 x 38 inches, 121.9 x 96.5 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Art Matters

In our era of self-isolation, institutions like the Getty are requesting recreations of works from their collections.

From homage to subversion, these recreations incite in us that jolt of recognition, nods of appreciation and boisterous laughter.

Most of all, tableaux vivants highlight an interest in shared cultural knowledge: an assumption that icons of art matter; that looking at and thinking about art is an essential activity.

As we face down weeks and even months in our homes, there also is a compelling participatory element: why just look at a masterpiece when you can be one?The Conversation

Andrea Bubenik, Senior Lecturer in Art History, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to read Shakespeare for pleasure

Martin’s Droeshout portrait of William Shakespeare (1623) Bodleian Library, Oxford.
Emma SmithUniversity of Oxford

In recent years the orthodoxy that Shakespeare can only be truly appreciated on stage has become widespread. But, as with many of our habits and assumptions, lockdown gives us a chance to think differently. Now could be the time to dust off the old collected works, and read some Shakespeare, just as people have been doing for more than 400 years.

Many people have said they find reading Shakespeare a bit daunting, so here are five tips for how to make it simpler and more pleasurable.

1. Ignore The Footnotes

If your edition has footnotes, pay no attention to them. They distract you from your reading and de-skill you, so that you begin to check everything even when you actually know what it means.

It’s useful to remember that nobody ever understood all this stuff – have a look at Macbeth’s knotty “If it were done when ‘tis done” speech in Act 1 Scene 7 for an example (and nobody ever spoke in these long, fancy speeches either – Macbeth’s speech is again a case in point). Footnotes are just the editor’s attempt to deny this.

Shakespeare plays hand bound by Virginia Woolf in her bedroom at Monk’s House, Rodmell, Sussex, UK. Ian Alexanber/Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-NC-SA

Try to keep going and get the gist – and remember, when Shakespeare uses very long or esoteric words, or highly involved sentences, it’s often a deliberate sign that the character is trying to deceive himself or others (the psychotic jealousy of Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, for instance, expresses itself in unusual vocabulary and contorted syntax).

2. Pay Attention To The Shape Of The Lines

The layout of speeches on the page is like a kind of musical notation or choreography. Long speeches slow things down – and, if all the speeches end at the end of a complete line, that gives proceedings a stately, hierarchical feel – as if the characters are all giving speeches rather than interacting.

Short speeches quicken the pace and enmesh characters in relationships, particularly when they start to share lines (you can see this when one line is indented so it completes the half line above), a sign of real intimacy in Shakespeare’s soundscape.

Blank verse, the unrhymed ten-beat iambic pentamenter structure of the Shakespearean line, varies across his career. Early plays – the histories and comedies – tend to end each line with a piece of punctuation, so that the shape of the verse is audible. John of Gaunt’s famous speech from Richard II is a good example.

This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars.

Later plays – the tragedies and the romances – tend towards a more flexible form of blank verse, with the sense of the phrase often running over the line break. What tends to be significant is contrast, between and within the speech rhythms of scenes or characters (have a look at Henry IV Part 1 and you’ll see what I mean).

3. Read Small Sections

Shakespeare’s plays aren’t novels and – let’s face it – we’re not usually in much doubt about how things will work out. Reading for the plot, or reading from start to finish, isn’t necessarily the way to get the most out of the experience. Theatre performances are linear and in real time, but reading allows you the freedom to pace yourself, to flick back and forwards, to give some passages more attention and some less.

Shakespeare’s first readers probably did exactly this, zeroing in on the bits they liked best, or reading selectively for the passages that caught their eye or that they remembered from performance, and we should do the same. Look up where a famous quotation comes: “All the world’s a stage”, “To be or not to be”, “I was adored once too” – and read either side of that. Read the ending, look at one long speech or at a piece of dialogue – cherry pick.

One great liberation of reading Shakespeare for fun is just that: skip the bits that don’t work, or move on to another play. Nobody is going to set you an exam.

4. Think Like A Director

On the other hand, thinking about how these plays might work on stage can be engaging and creative for some readers. Shakespeare’s plays tended to have minimal stage directions, so most indications of action in modern editions of the plays have been added in by editors.

Most directors begin work on the play by throwing all these instructions away and working them out afresh by asking questions about what’s happening and why. Stage directions – whether original or editorial – are rarely descriptive, so adding in your chosen adverbs or adjectives to flesh out what’s happening on your paper stage can help clarify your interpretations of character and action.

One good tip is to try to remember characters who are not speaking. What’s happening on the faces of the other characters while Katherine delivers her long, controversial speech of apparent wifely subjugation at the end of The Taming of the Shrew?

5. Don’t Worry

The biggest obstacle to enjoying Shakespeare is that niggling sense that understanding the works is a kind of literary IQ test. But understanding Shakespeare means accepting his open-endedness and ambiguity. It’s not that there’s a right meaning hidden away as a reward for intelligence or tenacity – these plays prompt questions rather than supplying answers.

Would Macbeth have killed the king without the witches’ prophecy? Exactly – that’s the question the play wants us to debate, and it gives us evidence to argue on both sides. Was it right for the conspirators to assassinate Julius Caesar? Good question, the play says: I’ve been wondering that myself.

Returning to Shakespeare outside the dutiful contexts of the classroom and the theatre can liberate something you might not immediately associate with his works: pleasure.The Conversation

Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare Studies, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Estuaries Are Warming At Twice The Rate Of Oceans And Atmosphere

April 14, 2020: University of Sydney
Estuaries on the south-east coast of Australia are warming at twice the rate of oceans and the atmosphere, a new study has found.

Researchers say the apparent accelerated impact from climate change on estuaries could adversely affect economic activity and ecological biodiversity in rivers and lakes worldwide.

Dr Elliot Scanes from the University of Sydney said: "Our research shows that estuaries are particularly vulnerable to a warming environment. This is a concern not only for the marine and bird life that rely on them but the millions of people who depend on rivers, lakes and lagoons for their livelihoods around the world."

The researchers say that changes in estuarine temperature, acidity and salinity are likely to reduce the global profitability of aquaculture and wild fisheries. Global aquaculture is worth $US243.5 billion a year and wild fisheries, much of which occurs in estuaries, is worth $US152 billion. More than 55 million people globally rely on these industries for income.

Professor Pauline Ross, who leads the research group in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, said: 
"Estuaries provide services of immense ecological and economic value. The rates of change observed in this study may also jeopardise the viability of coastal vegetation such as mangroves and saltmarsh in the coming decades and reduce their capacity to mitigate storm damage and sea-level rise."

The results are based on 12 years of recording temperatures in 166 estuaries along the entire 1100-kilometre stretch of the New South Wales coast in south-eastern Australia. In that time more than 6200 temperature observations were taken.

The data, which are publicly available, were taken by field officers of the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and the Environment and used in a marine research collaboration with the University of Sydney.

On average, the estuary systems experienced a 2.16-degree temperature increase, about 0.2 degrees each year.

Dr Elliot Scanes said: "This is evidence that climate change has arrived in Australia; it is not a projection based on modelling, but empirical data from more than a decade of investigation."

Studies on specific lake and river systems have found evidence of warming, such as along the North Sea, in Germany, in the Hudson River in New York and Chesapeake Bay, Maryland. This is the world's first long-term study that has considered a diverse range of estuary types on such a large scale.

It is published today in Nature Communications.

"This increase in temperature is an order of magnitude faster than predicted by global ocean and atmospheric models," Dr Elliot Scanes said.

According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, air and sea temperatures in Australia have increased by about 1 degree since 1910. And over the past decade, air temperatures have increase 1.5 degrees as compared to the 1961 to 1990 average.

"Our results highlight that air or ocean temperatures alone cannot be relied upon to estimate climate change in estuaries; rather, individual traits of any estuary need to be considered in the context of regional climate trends," Dr Elliot Scanes said.

"New models will need to be developed to help predict estuarine changes."

The study also found that acidification of estuaries was increasing by 0.09 pH units a year. There was also changes to the salinity of estuary systems: creeks and lagoons became less saline while river salinity increased.

Temperature increases in estuaries were also dependent on the type, or morphology of the system, the study found.

Professor Ross said: "Lagoons and rivers increased in temperature faster than creeks and lakes because they are shallower with more limited ocean exchange."

She said that this suggests industries and communities that rely on shallow estuaries for culture, income and food could be particularly vulnerable during global warming.

"This is of concern in other dry temperate zones like the Mediterranean and South Africa where many of the estuaries are similar to those studied here," she said.

The study suggests that estuaries that remain open may also soon begin to "tropicalise," and estuarine ecosystems could become colonised by tropical marine species and reflect a warmer environment.

Professor Ross said: "This research will help local fisheries and aquaculture to develop mitigation strategies as the climate changes."

Elliot Scanes, Peter R. Scanes, Pauline M. Ross. Climate change rapidly warms and acidifies Australian estuaries. Nature Communications, 2020; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-15550-z

NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment officer collecting data at Bengello, near Batemans Bay. Photo courtesy NSW DPIE.

The data collection for this study was funded by NSW Department Planning, Industry and the Environment.

Origins Of Human Language Pathway In The Brain At Least 25 Million Years Old

April 20, 2020
Scientists have discovered an earlier origin to the human language pathway in the brain, pushing back its evolutionary origin by at least 20 million years.

Previously, a precursor of the language pathway was thought by many scientists to have emerged more recently, about 5 million years ago, with a common ancestor of both apes and humans.

For neuroscientists, this is comparable to finding a fossil that illuminates evolutionary history. However, unlike bones, brains did not fossilize. Instead neuroscientists need to infer what the brains of common ancestors may have been like by studying brain scans of living primates and comparing them to humans.

Professor Chris Petkov from the Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University, UK the study lead said: "It is like finding a new fossil of a long lost ancestor. It is also exciting that there may be an older origin yet to be discovered still."

The international teams of European and US scientists carried out the brain imaging study and analysis of auditory regions and brain pathways in humans, apes and monkeys which is published in Nature Neuroscience.

They discovered a segment of this language pathway in the human brain that interconnects the auditory cortex with frontal lobe regions, important for processing speech and language. Although speech and language are unique to humans, the link via the auditory pathway in other primates suggests an evolutionary basis in auditory cognition and vocal communication.

Professor Petkov added: "We predicted but could not know for sure whether the human language pathway may have had an evolutionary basis in the auditory system of nonhuman primates. I admit we were astounded to see a similar pathway hiding in plain sight within the auditory system of nonhuman primates."

Remarkable transformation
The study also illuminates the remarkable transformation of the human language pathway. A key human unique difference was found: the human left side of this brain pathway was stronger and the right side appears to have diverged from the auditory evolutionary prototype to involve non-auditory parts of the brain.

The study relied on brain scans from openly shared resources by the global scientific community. It also generated original new brain scans that are globally shared to inspire further discovery. Also since the authors predict that the auditory precursor to the human language pathway may be even older, the work inspires the neurobiological search for its earliest evolutionary origin -- the next brain 'fossil' -- to be found in animals more distantly related to humans.

Professor Timothy Griffiths, consultant neurologist at Newcastle University, UK and joint senior author on the study notes: "This discovery has tremendous potential for understanding which aspects of human auditory cognition and language can be studied with animal models in ways not possible with humans and apes. The study has already inspired new research underway including with neurology patients."

The study involved Newcastle University, Faculty of Medical Sciences, UK; Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Germany; Birkbeck UCL Centre for NeuroImaging, UK; University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, USA; University of Iowa, USA.

Fabien Balezeau, Benjamin Wilson, Guillermo Gallardo, Fred Dick, William Hopkins, Alfred Anwander, Angela D. Friederici, Timothy D. Griffiths, Christopher I. Petkov. Primate auditory prototype in the evolution of the arcuate fasciculus. Nature Neuroscience, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41593-020-0623-9

Exoplanet Apparently Disappears In Latest Hubble Observations

April 18, 2020
Now you see it, now you don't.
What astronomers thought was a planet beyond our solar system has now seemingly vanished from sight. Though this happens in science fiction, such as Superman's home planet Krypton exploding, astronomers are looking for a plausible explanation.

One interpretation is that, rather than being a full-sized planetary object, which was first photographed in 2004, it could instead be a vast, expanding cloud of dust produced in a collision between two large bodies orbiting the bright nearby star Fomalhaut. Potential follow-up observations might confirm this extraordinary conclusion.

"These collisions are exceedingly rare and so this is a big deal that we actually get to see one," said András Gáspár of the University of Arizona, Tucson. "We believe that we were at the right place at the right time to have witnessed such an unlikely event with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope."

"The Fomalhaut system is the ultimate test lab for all of our ideas about how exoplanets and star systems evolve," added George Rieke of the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory. "We do have evidence of such collisions in other systems, but none of this magnitude has been observed in our solar system. This is a blueprint of how planets destroy each other."

The object, called Fomalhaut b, was first announced in 2008, based on data taken in 2004 and 2006. It was clearly visible in several years of Hubble observations that revealed it was a moving dot. Until then, evidence for exoplanets had mostly been inferred through indirect detection methods, such as subtle back-and-forth stellar wobbles, and shadows from planets passing in front of their stars.

Unlike other directly imaged exoplanets, however, nagging puzzles arose with Fomalhaut b early on. The object was unusually bright in visible light, but did not have any detectable infrared heat signature. Astronomers conjectured that the added brightness came from a huge shell or ring of dust encircling the planet that may possibly have been collision-related. The orbit of Fomalhaut b also appeared unusual, possibly very eccentric.

"Our study, which analysed all available archival Hubble data on Fomalhaut revealed several characteristics that together paint a picture that the planet-sized object may never have existed in the first place," said Gáspár.

The team emphasises that the final nail in the coffin came when their data analysis of Hubble images taken in 2014 showed the object had vanished, to their disbelief. Adding to the mystery, earlier images showed the object to continuously fade over time, they say. "Clearly, Fomalhaut b was doing things a bonafide planet should not be doing," said Gáspár.

The interpretation is that Fomalhaut b is slowly expanding from the smashup that blasted a dissipating dust cloud into space. Taking into account all available data, Gáspár and Rieke think the collision occurred not too long prior to the first observations taken in 2004. By now the debris cloud, consisting of dust particles around 1 micron (1/50th the diameter of a human hair), is below Hubble's detection limit. The dust cloud is estimated to have expanded by now to a size larger than the orbit of Earth around our Sun.

Equally confounding is that the team reports that the object is more likely on an escape path, rather than on an elliptical orbit, as expected for planets. This is based on the researchers adding later observations to the trajectory plots from earlier data. "A recently created massive dust cloud, experiencing considerable radiative forces from the central star Fomalhaut, would be placed on such a trajectory," said Gáspár. "Our model is naturally able to explain all independent observable parameters of the system: its expansion rate, its fading, and its trajectory."

Because Fomalhaut b is presently inside a vast ring of icy debris encircling the star, colliding bodies would likely be a mixture of ice and dust, like the comets that exist in the Kuiper belt on the outer fringe of our solar system. Gáspár and Rieke estimate that each of these comet-like bodies measured about 125 miles (200 kilometers) across (roughly half the size of the asteroid Vesta).

According to the authors, their model explains all the observed characteristics of Fomalhaut b. Sophisticated dust dynamical modeling done on a cluster of computers at the University of Arizona shows that such a model is able to fit quantitatively all the observations. According to the author's calculations, the Fomalhaut system, located about 25 light-years from Earth, may experience one of these events only every 200,000 years.

Gáspár and Rieke -- along with other members of an extended team -- will also be observing the Fomalhaut system with NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope in its first year of science operations. The team will be directly imaging the inner warm regions of the system, spatially resolving for the first time the elusive asteroid-belt component of an extrasolar planetary system. The team will also search for bona fide planets orbiting Fomalhaut that might be gravitationally sculpting the outer disk. They will also analyze the chemical composition of the disk.

András Gáspár, George H. Rieke. New HST data and modelling reveal a massive planetesimal collision around Fomalhaut. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 20, 2020; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1912506117
This diagram simulates what astronomers, studying Hubble Space Telescope observations, taken over several years, consider evidence for the first-ever detection of the aftermath of a titanic planetary collision in another star system. The color-tinted Hubble image on the left is of a vast ring of icy debris encircling the star Fomalhaut, located 25 light-years away. The star is so brilliant that a black occulting disk is used to block out its glare so that the dust ring can be photographed. In 2008, astronomers saw what they thought was the first direct image of a planet orbiting far from the star. However, by 2014, the planet candidate faded below Hubble's detection. The best interpretation is that the object wasn't ever a fully formed planet at all, but an expanding cloud of dust from a collision between two minor bodies, each about 125 miles across. The diagram at the right is based on a simulation of the expanding and fading cloud. The cloud, made of very fine dust particles, is currently estimated to be over 200 million miles across. Smashups like this are estimated to happen around Fomalhaut once every 200,000 years. Therefore, Hubble was looking at the right place at the right time to capture this transient event.
Credits: NASA, ESA, and A. Gáspár and G. Rieke (University of Arizona)

First Look Under Central Station

April 22, 2020
Major construction work is well underway at Central Station to deliver Sydney Metro, including the new Central Walk, as progress continues on major infrastructure projects across NSW.
As part of the biggest upgrade to Sydney’s busiest railway station in decades, two new underground metro platforms are being built as well as the landmark Central Walk underground concourse, which will make it easier for customers to connect between light rail, suburban and inter-city trains, the new Sydney Metro and buses.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said it’s a great example of the construction industry keeping moving and keeping people in work despite difficult times.

“We are very fortunate that major Transport infrastructure projects like this continue to be delivered,” Mr Constance said.

“The health and safety of all workers and the community are our key priorities as we continue to deliver major projects, and we have put in place strict protocols to protect the safety of our construction workforce.

“More than 5,000 people are currently working across the Sydney Metro City & Southwest project, and by the time the project opens, around 50,000 people will have worked on it.

“The upcoming Sydney Metro West project will support 10,000 direct and 70,000 indirect jobs while construction of the Metro North West Line created more than 20,000 jobs.”

At Central, work to build the 27-metre deep metro station “box” is now 10 metres beneath the surface. About 6,000 tonnes of crushed rock is being excavated from the box every week.

“In an impressive feat of engineering, an 80 metre tunnel has also been built under Central Station to deliver Central Walk,” Mr Constance said.

“This six metre wide construction tunnel runs parallel to Central Walk and allows excavated crushed rock to be removed without impacting trains and customers.”

The construction tunnel has broken into Central’s ghost platforms, which were built last century as part of the Eastern Suburbs Railway line for Bondi and the Illawarra but never completed. 

Platforms 26 and 27 have sat unused since, but they will now house 17 new communications and power rooms to support the new Sydney Metro at Central.

More than 270,000 customers use the 114-year-old station on a normal day, with that number expected to increase to 450,000 in the next two decades.

Central Walk is expected to be open to customers in 2022 while Sydney Metro construction continues – with metro rail services extending from Chatswood through the city and beyond to Bankstown in 2024. 

Visit Sydney Metro for the latest construction updates. 

Self-Aligning Microscope Smashes Limits Of Super-Resolution Microscopy

April 20, 2020
University of New South Wales medical researchers have achieved unprecedented resolution capabilities in single-molecule microscopy to detect interactions between individual molecules within intact cells.

The 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded for the development of super-resolution fluorescence microscopy technology that afforded microscopists the first molecular view inside cells, a capability that has provided new molecular perspectives on complex biological systems and processes.

Now the limit of detection of single-molecule microscopes has been smashed again, and the details are published in the current issue of Science Advances.

While individual molecules could be observed and tracked with super-resolution microscopy already, interactions between these molecules occur at a scale at least four times smaller than that resolved by existing single-molecule microscopes.

"The reason why the localisation precision of single-molecule microscopes is around 20-30 nanometres normally is because the microscope actually moves while we're detecting that signal. This leads to an uncertainty. With the existing super-resolution instruments, we can't tell whether or not one protein is bound to another protein because the distance between them is shorter than the uncertainty of their positions," says Scientia Professor Katharina Gaus, research team leader and Head of UNSW Medicine's EMBL Australia Node in Single Molecule Science.

To circumvent this problem, the team built autonomous feedback loops inside a single-molecule microscope that detects and re-aligns the optical path and stage.

"It doesn't matter what you do to this microscope, it basically finds its way back with precision under a nanometre. It's a smart microscope. It does all the things that an operator or a service engineer needs to do, and it does that 12 times per second," says Professor Gaus.

A T cell with precise localisation of T cell receptors (pink) and CD45 phosphatase (green). Image: Single Molecule Science

Measuring the distance between proteins
With the design and methods outlined in the paper, the feedback system designed by the UNSW team is compatible with existing microscopes and affords maximum flexibility for sample preparation.

"It's a really simple and elegant solution to a major imaging problem. We just built a microscope within a microscope, and all it does is align the main microscope. That the solution we found is simple and practical is a real strength as it would allow easy cloning of the system, and rapid uptake of the new technology," says Professor Gaus.

To demonstrate the utility of their ultra-precise feedback single-molecule microscope, the researchers used it to perform direct distance measurements between signalling proteins in T cells. A popular hypothesis in cellular immunology is that these immune cells remain in a resting state when the T cell receptor is next to another molecule that acts as a brake.

Their high precision microscope was able to show that these two signalling molecules are in fact further separated from each other in activated T cells, releasing the brake and switching on T cell receptor signalling.

"Conventional microscopy techniques would not be able to accurately measure such a small change as the distance between these signalling molecules in resting T cells and in activated T cells only differed by 4-7 nanometres," says Professor Gaus.

"This also shows how sensitive these signalling machineries are to spatial segregation. In order to identify regulatory processes like these, we need to perform precise distance measurements, and that is what this microscope enables. These results illustrate the potential of this technology for discoveries that could not be made by any other means."

Postdoctoral researcher, Dr Simao Pereira Coelho, together with PhD student Jongho Baek -- who has since been awarded his PhD degree -- led the design, development, and building of this system. Dr Baek also received the Dean's Award for Outstanding PhD Thesis for this work.

Simao Coelho, Jongho Baek, Matthew S. Graus, James M. Halstead, Philip R. Nicovich, Kristen Feher, Hetvi Gandhi, J. Justin Gooding, Katharina Gaus. Ultraprecise single-molecule localization microscopy enables in situ distance measurements in intact cells. Science Advances, 2020; 6 (16): eaay8271 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay8271

Australia As A Renewable Energy Exporting Powerhouse

April 22, 2020: by Penny Jones, UNSW
Women in Engineering Ambassador Nicky Ison is helping Australia become the world’s leading exporter of renewable energy.

Nicky Ison is now the Energy Transition Manager at WWF-Australia and is on a mission to position Australia as a leading exporter of renewable energy.

Nicky Ison is without doubt one of the most positive and future-focused alumnae of UNSW Engineering. From the start, her career has been marked by her passion to raise awareness about and implement practical solutions for climate change. A phenomenally hard vocation – not just from a technical perspective but a mental health perspective too, given the barrage of terrible news we so often hear on this front.

Her career so far has been exemplary. She was a Founding Director of the Community Power Agency – established in 2011 to help community groups navigate the complex process of setting up community owned renewable energy projects; she has been a Strategist at Climate Action Network Australia – who support members and their allies to take action to create a fair, clean, healthy Australia; and, she continues to be a Research Associate at the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) at the University of Technology Sydney.

Today, with almost two decades of quality, change-making work under her belt, and widely recognised as a national expert and commentator in the fields of energy policy, community energy, new energy business models and the transition away from coal, she hopes her latest role will be her most impactful yet.

“In November 2019, I became the Energy Transition Manager at WWF-Australia. The purpose of this brand-new role is to develop a campaign and program of work that accelerates Australia towards becoming the world’s leading exporter of renewable energy by 2030,” she says. “It’s an ambitious mission, but eminently possible.”

Nicky says that for too long Australians have been fed the line that we have to choose between a prosperous economy and a healthy environment. She says this black/white, either/or choice is completely erroneous and she is determined to change the narrative.

“The truth is we can thrive as an economy while acting on climate change. In fact, it is becoming increasingly obvious that there are monumental risks to the economy if we don’t act on climate change, just look at the economic impacts of the Australian bushfires this summer,” she says.

To achieve her goal, Nicky has developed a typology of renewable exports that Australia can harness, in addition to exploring the policy mechanisms that need to be put in place for this to happen. Then she plans a huge public awareness raising campaign to create this win-win ‘clean energy+thriving economy’ narrative.

“Australia has some of the best renewable resources in the world and we are well trusted internationally. The technology is there for us to start exporting renewable hydrogen and solar power. We can also export our renewable energy expertise and new hardware and software solutions for decentralised energy and microgrids,” Nicky explains.

“There are huge opportunities to create new onshore manufacturing industries for what I call ‘solar-powered products.’ This means using cheap renewable hydrogen to transform Australia’s abundant raw materials into high value commodities, such as steel, for export. Other new manufacturing industries could create the component parts of the global clean energy supply chain, such as lithium batteries and wind turbine blades.”

An energy powerhouse
Nicky says her double degree in Environmental Engineering and Arts (Environmental Studies) at UNSW, plus a year off halfway through to work at ISF, gave her an incredibly solid foundation with which to pursue the interests that have since defined her career.

“I saw engineering as the best way of combining my concern about what was happening in the world with the skills needed to create solutions,” she continues.

“I learned about renewable energy, supply chains, life-cycle assessment and making judgements around the market opportunities for particular technologies. Having that underlying technical understanding has made all the roles I’ve taken on much easier.”

At the beginning of 2019, Nicky was approached by UNSW Engineering to become a Women in Engineering (WIE) Ambassador for the WIE Can campaign which is designed to showcase UNSW alumna who are role models within the engineering profession.

“I have been passionate about promoting equity, diversity and inclusion in the engineering profession for a long time and was honoured to be asked to do the role. It’s really important to support women into the engineering professions,” she says.

Despite the engineering and energy sectors remaining white-male-dominated, Nicky says there is a groundswell of women working, not just in renewable energy but supporting industries, such as finance, too.

“There is a global call for equity and diversity across all professions, and we now have some very powerful female voices and leaders, fantastic role models who are pushing for greater action. People like Audrey Zibelman, Managing Director and CEO of the Australian Energy Market Operator,” continues Nicky.

“It is wonderful that there is now a global recognition that the creation of appropriate solutions depends on having multiple perspectives of the problem you seek to solve.”

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.