Inbox and Environment News: Issue 450

May 17 - 23, 2020: Issue 450

Shellebrate World Turtle Day On May 23, 2020

2020 Theme “Save Us” Reflects Millions of Lives Lost at Live Food Markets and Disappearing Endangered Turtle Species

American Tortoise Rescue (ATR), a nonprofit organisation established in 1990 for the protection of all species of tortoise and turtle, is “shellebrating” its 20th annual World Turtle Day on May 23, 2020. With this year’s theme “Save Us,” ATR puts its focus squarely on the worldwide live “wet” food markets and the growing threat of extinction of endangered turtles and tortoises.

ATR created and launched to increase respect for and knowledge about one of the world’s oldest creatures. Observed around the globe for 20 years, turtle and tortoise lovers take “shellfies” and shellebrate in the U.S., Canada, Pakistan, Borneo, India, Australia, the UK, Greece and many other countries. 

“This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are encouraging those who want to join the shellebration to do so virtually,” said Susan Tellem, RN, BSN, co-founder and executive director of ATR. “They can follow us and join our events live on Facebook and Instagram at World Turtle Day, find tips for fun things to do on and have the opportunity to win cool turtle gifts. Even though we can’t meet in person, we can show our love of these beautiful creatures by enjoying experiences together through social media.”

These gentle animals survived 200 million years, yet they are rapidly disappearing as a result of smuggling, the exotic food live food market industry in the U.S. and internationally, habitat destruction, climate change and the cruel pet trade. Biologists and other experts predict the disappearance of turtles and tortoises in the wild within the next 50 years. 

“Our theme this year is Save Us!” Tellem said, who co-founded the sanctuary with her husband Marshall Thompson 30 years ago. Together, they have recused and rehomed more than 4,000 turtles and tortoises. 

“You can help by not taking turtles out of the wild or purchasing a turtle from a pet store, online or at a swap meet.” 

In Pittwater there are both freshwater turtles in wetlands such as Warriewood and saltwater turtles that swim off our coasts. New South Wales is home to 7 species of native freshwater turtle, two of which are found nowhere else. Australia is home to about 23 species of freshwater turtle. All but one of these species belong to the family Chelidae, which is found only in Australasia and South America. These ‘side-necked’ turtles retract their head and neck beneath their shell by folding it to one side, rather than drawing their head backwards as most of the world’s species of turtles and tortoises do.

Australia is also home to 6 of the 7 species of marine turtle.

In NSW, freshwater turtles face many threats. Introduced foxes and pigs rob their nests and in some areas consume over 90% of their eggs. The baby turtles that hatch from the few remaining eggs have to contend with turtle-eating fish, birds and other predators. Adult turtles are protected by their shells from most natural predators when they are in the water, but when they venture onto land they can be killed by dogs, foxes or pigs, or crushed by motor vehicles.

Droughts also take a heavy toll on turtles by drying their habitats and depriving them of food. In addition, turtles are often drowned in illegal fishing nets or killed by fishers who become annoyed at catching a turtle instead of a fish on their hook.

Although some populations of native freshwater turtles are thriving, in many places they are declining because of the combination of hazards they encounter and the long time they take to reach an age at which they can begin to reproduce. Fox control is often an effective way to boost turtle recruitment and enable depleted populations to recover.

These ancient reptiles are diminishing in numbers around the world, mainly due to human impacts. Freshwater turtles are threatened by such things as:
  • plastic bags and other waste, which the turtles mistake for jellyfish
  • cigarette butts
  • fishing lines and hooks
  • boat and propeller collisions
  • entanglement and drowning in nets, ropes, floats or traps
  • habitat destruction, poor water quality and seagrass depletion
  • deliberate acts of cruelty
  • disease.
How you can help
It's easy to help protect freshwater turtles. Here are a few simple things you can do:
  • appropriately dispose of your rubbish
  • collect litter on or near the waterways
  • when boating, travel slowly over seagrass beds
  • report people engaging in illegal netting or trapping
  • help in coastal health projects (e.g. seagrass monitoring)
  • join your local animal rescue and care group
  • report sick or injured turtles to your local NPWS office.
Protection in NSW
Under NSW law it is an offence to harm native turtles without a licence, and heavy penalties apply. If you suspect that someone has unlawfully harmed a turtle of other native animal, please report it to the Environment Line (131 555). Please report suspected illegal fishing nets to the nearest Fisheries Office or the Fishers Watch Phoneline (1800 043 536).

Some of the highlights to help make virtual World Turtle Day special include:   
  • Everyone can join the party at home. ATR created a World Turtle Day Party Pack that can be accessed for free here 
  • ''Like'' the World Turtle Day page on Facebook and Instagram to join thousands of fans who are posting shellfies, videos and photos in honour of World Turtle Day. 
  • Follow @WorldTurtleDay on Twitter. Every year, thousands of people help the day trend on twitter by tweeting #worldturtleday to spread the good word about turtles.
  • Pick up any plastic, fishing lines or hooks you see discarded.

Image:  Green Sea Turtle grazing seagrass at Akumal bay. photo by P. Lindgren

Reconophalt Trial At Elanora Heights And Belrose

Council has announced this week a trial of the product Reconophalt on parts of Sorlie Road, Frenchs Forest and Elanora Road, Elanora Heights.

Reconophaltis is a road-base alternative that uses processed soft plastics such as shopping bags and chip wrappers to act as a 'glue' that bonds and waterproof roads. Every two-lane kilometre of road containing Reconophalt has the equivalent of 530,000 recycled plastic bags, 168,000 glass bottles and waste toner from 12,500 printer cartridges, according to their website FAQ's.

Reconophalt is a collaboration between road-layer Downer and Close the Loop, with soft plastics supplied to Close the Loop through the RedCycle and Plastic Police collection programs.

The trial commences this month. Council will monitor the cost and performance of the trial to determine whether the Reconophalt material will be used going forward.

In late October 2019 Austroads published a report exploring the benefits and challenges of using recycled plastics in asphalt and sprayed seals on roads. It follows overseas countries such as China and Indonesia banning the import of waste from Australia, leading to a growing interest in using recycled plastics in Australian and New Zealand infrastructure.

“We conducted a comprehensive local and overseas literature review, and found that some waste plastics can be a partial aggregate replacement in bituminous mixes and a binder extender without significantly influencing asphalt properties,” said Christina Chin, Principal Consultant & State Manager (Victoria), Level 5 Design, and principal report author.

"However, most laboratory trials conducted overseas were not performed in accordance with Australian bitumen standards and specifications, and very little is known about the manufacturing processes of the commercially available proprietary products currently being trialled on Australian and New Zealand roads.

“As a result, there are concerns about hazards road workers could be exposed to while handling recycled plastics,” Christina said. “Some plastics, when heated, release toxic emissions such as chloride, formaldehyde, toluene and ethylbenzene. Another major concern is microplastics leaching out from our pavements into waterways, posing a serious threat to our marine life.

''We therefore strongly recommend a precautionary approach until more research has been conducted. A governance framework should be adopted for using recycled plastics on Australian and New Zealand roads containing information about the pavement’s long-term durability; comprehensive health, safety and environmental risk assessments; and storage stability based on Austroads specifications and local working conditions.''  

We also recommend conducting an independent review of the most commonly used proprietary products containing recycled plastics to give road authorities a better understanding of their properties. It is worth calculating the lifecycle impacts of recycled plastic-modified asphalt and comparing these with impacts of conventional asphalt to quantify their sustainability benefits. These can be established by using the Infrastructure Sustainability Materials Calculator developed by the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia.”

Other recommendations in the report include:
  • developing performance-based specifications to allow producers more flexibility to innovate - in return, they are required to provide performance guarantees regarding their products
  • nationally monitoring, assessing and sharing results of road trials conducted in Australia and New Zealand
  • more research into the viability of using recycled plastics in sprayed seals.

Echidna Season

Echidna season has begun.  As cooler days approach, our beautiful echidnas are more active during the days as they come out to forage for food and find a mate. This sadly results in a HIGH number of vehicle hits.

What to do if you find an Echidna on the road?

  • Safely remove the Echidna off the road (providing its safe to do so).
  • Call Sydney Wildlife or WIRES
  •  Search the surrounding area for a puggle (baby echidna). The impact from a vehicle incident can cause a puggle to roll long distances from mum, so please search for these babies, they can look like a pinky-grey clump of clay

What to do if you find an echidna in your yard?

  • Leave the Echidna alone, remove the threat (usually a family pet) and let the Echidna move away in it's own time. It will move along when it doesn't feel threatened.

If you find an injured echidna or one in an undesirable location, please call Sydney Wildlife on 9413 4300 for advice.

Lynleigh Greig, Sydney Wildlife, with a rescued echidna being returned to its home

Ecological Devastation Begins In Numbucca State Forest 

May 14, 2020

Conservation groups and the Gumbaynggirr traditional custodians have called on the government to order the Forestry Corporation to not log Nambucca State Forest, one of the last areas of unburnt forests on the state's north coast.

Forestry Corporation has announced it will start logging today, despite repeated calls by conservation and Indigenous groups to halt logging in areas hit by the bushfires.

"Logging these forests after so many were devastated in the summer bushfires is morally indefensible," NCC Chief  Executive Chris Gambian said.

"Over 50% of state forests on the north coast burned and more than 5000 koalas perished, so we should stop logging until koala populations and their forests have had a chance to rebound."

Forestry Corporation, the NSW Government's timber company, intends to log 109 hectares of the small 312 hectares of prime wildlife habitat on the doorstep of the township of Nambucca Heads.

“Trees that are habitat for a wide range of native animals, including the greater glider, sooty owl and koalas, will be cut down to make telegraph poles, pool decking and pallets,” Mr Gambian said.

"We are driving our forest wildlife to extinction to make products that will end up in landfill or rot in people's backyards. This is a disgraceful waste and must be stopped.

"Nambucca State Forest is the third unburnt forest on the north coast that has been logged since the fires. 

"The NSW Government continued to log Styx River State Forests even as the fires raged. 

"When the government finished razing the Styx, it sent its chainsaws and bulldozers into the koala habitat of Lower Bucca State Forest near Coffs Harbour.

“Logging has been going on there now for several weeks.

"At a time when koalas and forests desperately need a break, the NSW Government has massively increased logging intensity in unburnt forests, but it does not need to. 

“The government could simply tell big resource companies our forests are closed until further notice.

“Based on Forestry Corporation figures, we estimate logging intensity on the north coast has increased 200% since the fires.

“This is happening at a time when it should have ceased operations to allow for a full ecological impact assessment and time for the forests to recover."

Dob In A Dodgy Dumper

May 14, 2020
Members of the public are being asked to report illegal dumping in their communities, after the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) recorded a 34 per cent increase in illegal dumping last month compared to April 2019.

Minister for Environment Matt Kean said illegally dumped waste can harm our health, pollute the environment and cost millions of dollars in taxpayer money each year to clean up.

“Most people do the right thing and book in a waste pick up service with their council or sell items in good condition through online forums, but some don’t,” Mr Kean said.

“Leaving waste on the kerbside without contacting your council could be illegal dumping and cost thousands of dollars in fines.”

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) recorded a 34 per cent increase in illegal dumping last month compared to April 2019, reported to the RIDonline database used by NSW councils and government agencies to record and manage illegal dumping incidents.

Reports to the RIDonline database which is used by NSW councils and government agencies to record and manage illegal dumping incidents of dumped household waste were up 42 per cent, green waste and mulch rose by 30 per cent.

Book a waste collection in with your local council, but if your next collection is not for a while, store your unwanted goods safely until they can be disposed of.

COVID-19 is also putting stress on charity stores and volunteers. If your local op shop or charity bin is closed, don’t leave your donations outside. Look for an alternative nearby, or revisit when the store is open.

Goods left outside op shops and charity bins often become waste, costing charities to clean up and dispose of.

“If you spot illegal dumping in NSW, you can report it at or to your local council,” Mr Kean said.

The NSW Government is working with councils and waste operators to keep critical waste services open during COVID-19.

Marine Estate Management Strategy Progress Report

May 11, 2020 - An update on progress for the NSW Marine Estate Management Strategy during the quarter October to December 2019 is now available. HERE - (PDF, 2152.39 KB)

Great Little Penguin Race - Phillip Island Nature Parks

Published May 12, 2020 by Phillip Island Nature Parks
For all those loving the presence of MORE Fairy Penguins out and about locally - one for you:

BBC sports commentator Andrew Cotter narrates the nightly walk of the fairy penguins of Victoria's Phillip Island as a high-stakes, long-distance race. ‘There’s the defending champion, wearing his familiar navy blue and white. Great waddling style,’ Cotter says as one penguin hits the lead. Cotter has become one of the pandemic’s viral hits after commentating the antics of his labradors, Olive and Mabel, in videos posted to Twitter and YouTube.  His latest video is in collaboration with Visit Victoria and Phillip Island Nature Parks is a way to keep the top tourist attraction in people’s minds even though the park remains closed to visitors amid Covid-19 lockdowns.

One Cat, One Year, 110 Native Animals: Lock Up Your Pet, It’s A Killing Machine

May 14, 2020 
By Jaana Dielenberg, Science Communication Manager, The University of Queensland; Brett Murphy, Associate Professor / ARC Future Fellow, Charles Darwin University; Chris Dickman, Professor in Terrestrial Ecology, University of Sydney; John Woinarski, Professor (conservation biology), Charles Darwin University; Leigh-Ann Woolley, Adjunct Research Associate, Charles Darwin University; Mike Calver, Associate Professor in Biological Sciences, Murdoch University; Sarah Legge, Professor, Australian National University

We know feral cats are an enormous problem for wildlife – across Australia, feral cats collectively kill more than three billion animals per year.

Cats have played a leading role in most of Australia’s 34 mammal extinctions since 1788, and are a big reason populations of at least 123 other threatened native species are dropping.
But pet cats are wreaking havoc too. Our new analysis compiles the results of 66 different studies on pet cats to gauge the impact of Australia’s pet cat population on the country’s wildlife.

The results are staggering. On average, each roaming pet cat kills 186 reptiles, birds and mammals per year, most of them native to Australia. Collectively, that’s 4,440 to 8,100 animals per square kilometre per year for the area inhabited by pet cats.
If you own a cat and want to protect wildlife, you should keep it inside. In Australia, 1.1 million pet cats are contained 24 hours a day by responsible pet owners. The remaining 2.7 million pet cats – 71% of all pet cats – are able to roam and hunt.

What’s more, your pet cat could be getting out without you knowing. A radio tracking study in Adelaide found that of the 177 cats whom owners believed were inside at night, 69 cats (39%) were sneaking out for nocturnal adventures.

Surely not my cat
Just over one-quarter of Australian households (27%) have pet cats, and about half of cat-owning households have two or more cats.

Many owners believe their animals don’t hunt because they never come across evidence of killed animals.

But studies that used cat video tracking collars or scat analysis (checking what’s in the cat’s poo) have established many pet cats kill animals without bringing them home. On average, pet cats bring home only 15% of their prey.

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Collectively, roaming pet cats kill 390 million animals per year in Australia.

This huge number may lead some pet owners to think the contribution of their own cat wouldn’t make much difference. However, we found even single pet cats have driven declines and complete losses of populations of some native animal species in their area.

Documented cases have included: a feather-tailed glider population in south eastern NSW; a skink population in a Perth suburb; and an olive legless lizard population in Canberra.

Urban cats
On average, an individual feral cat in the bush kills 748 reptiles, birds and mammals a year – four times the toll of a hunting pet cat. But feral cats and pet cats roam over very different areas.

Pet cats are confined to cities and towns, where you’ll find 40 to 70 roaming cats per square kilometre. In the bush there’s only one feral cat for every three to four square kilometres.

So while each pet cat kills fewer animals than a feral cat, their high urban density means the toll is still very high. Per square kilometre per year, pet cats kill 30-50 times more animals than feral cats in the bush.
Most of us want to see native wildlife around towns and cities. But such a vision is being compromised by this extraordinary level of predation, especially as the human population grows and our cities expand.

Many native animals don’t have high reproductive rates so they cannot survive this level of predation. The stakes are especially high for threatened wildlife in urban areas.

Pet cats living near areas with nature also hunt more, reducing the value of places that should be safe havens for wildlife.

The 186 animals each pet cat kills per year on average is made up of 110 native animals (40 reptiles, 38 birds and 32 mammals).

For example, the critically endangered western ringtail possum is found in suburban areas of Mandurah, Bunbury, Busselton and Albany. The possum did not move into these areas – rather, we moved into their habitat.

What can pet owners do?
Keeping your cat securely contained 24 hours a day is the only way to prevent it from killing wildlife.

It’s a myth that a good diet or feeding a cat more meat will prevent hunting: even cats that aren’t hungry will hunt.

Various devices, such as bells on collars, are commercially marketed with the promise of preventing hunting. While some of these items may reduce the rate of successful kills, they don’t prevent hunting altogether.

And they don’t prevent cats from disturbing wildlife. When cats prowl and hunt in an area, wildlife have to spend more time hiding or escaping. This reduces the time spent feeding themselves or their young, or resting.

In Mandurah, WA, the disturbance and hunting of just one pet cat and one stray cat caused the total breeding failure of a colony of more than 100 pairs of fairy terns.

Benefits of a life indoors
Keeping cats indoors protects pet cats from injury, avoids nuisance behaviour and prevents unwanted breeding.

Cats allowed outside often get into fights with other cats, even when they’re not the fighting type (they can be attacked by other cats when running away).
Roaming cats are also very prone to getting hit by a vehicle. According to the Humane Society of the United States, indoor cats live up to four times longer than those allowed to roam freely.

Indoor cats have lower rates of cat-borne diseases, some of which can infect humans. For example, in humans the cat-borne disease toxoplasmosis can cause illness, miscarriages and birth defects.
But Australia is in a very good position to make change. Compared to many other countries, the Australian public are more aware of how cats threaten native wildlife and more supportive of actions to reduce those impacts.

It won’t be easy. But since more than one million pet cats are already being contained, reducing the impacts from pet cats is clearly possible if we take responsibility for them.

This article was published first in The Conversation, click here to read the original. Republished under a Creative Commons licence.

$150 Million Funding Boost For Bushfire Affected Wildlife And Plants

May 12, 2020
The Federal Government has announced it will take its investment in bushfire recovery for native wildlife and habitat areas to more than $200 million. Delivering on the promise for additional funding based on expert research, Prime Minister Morrison has announced $150 million on top of the $50 million initial recovery package. The funding is targeted at helping secure the future of native species from the Koala to the Kangaroo Island Dunnart and the Northern Corrobboree Frog, as well as unique plants such as the Wollemi Pine, Banksias and Bottlebrushes.

This wildlife and habitat bushfire recovery response is further aided by a $94.6 million package to help support zoos and aquariums during the COVID-19 crisis, a $6 million investment in koala hospitals and habitat protection through the Environment Restoration Fund and $2 million for additional research investment through the National Environmental Science Program’s Threatened Species Recovery Hub to guide our bushfire recovery efforts.

“We have listened to the experts from the Wildlife and Threatened Species Bushfire Recovery Expert Panel, from wildlife carers, conservation organisations and community groups,” Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said.

“They are identifying ways to best help our native animal and plant species in terms of recovery and long term protection.

“Since our initial package which has delivered much needed relief for volunteers, land managers, seed banks, veterinarians and zoos, we have been clear that more money would be forthcoming and we intend to put it to the best possible use, using expert advice.”

Available from July 1st over the next two years, the additional $150 million will target on ground action across bushfire-affected regions, including our treasured World and National Heritage places.

The Federal Government will partner with states and territories, Indigenous communities, scientists, zoos, Landcare groups, non government organisations and local communities in the roll out of recovery projects, the updating of threatened species conservation plans and the evaluation and tracking of the recovery effort:
  • $110 million will be directed to strategic on-ground support for the most impacted native species in vulnerable bushfire-affected regions. These actions will focus on preventing extinction and limiting species decline, including interventions such as feral animal and weed control, revegetation and regeneration, protection of refuges and landscape management delivering umbrella benefits for plants and animals.
  • $12 million will be made available for projects to engage local communities in conserving their local environment and driving recovery and to support knowledge exchange on Indigenous cultural burning and land management.
  • $28 million will resource further scientific assessment and planning coordination for our most at-risk species under Australia’s environmental law, ensuring we are well placed to understand the actions needed to recover these species, and support the Expert Panel and Department in their critical advisory and implementation roles.
Targeted interventions for at-risk species will be delivered in bushfire-affected regions across Australia and in vulnerability hotspots such as the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains, the rainforests of the New South Wales north coast and our Alpine environments.

This approach will ensure we limit the decline of as many species as possible and help some of our most special places bounce back.

The impacts of the bushfires on native wildlife and landscapes have been significant. While there are some encouraging signs our native animals and plants are starting to bounce back, experts advise it will take at least a decade or more of sustained effort to recover.

Beyond the investment we are announcing today, the Morrison Government remains committed to developing innovative funding mechanisms to help protect and support the long-term recovery.

Whether on the ground, or in vital research and planning, this important work will continue where possible to give our precious plants and animals the best chance at survival and long-term recovery.

More information on the Government’s action to drive recovery of our precious native wildlife and plants from the bushfires is at

Planting Biomass Crops For Bioenergy At Tamworth

May 12, 2020
Around six thousand native trees are being planted at the Tamworth Agricultural Institute as part of the $4 million Biomass for Bioenergy project, under the NSW Primary Industries Climate Change Research Strategy.

NSW Department of Primary Industries Research Officer, Dr Fabiano Ximenes said the project will investigate opportunities for increasing the amount of sustainable biomass use in NSW, with a focus on electricity generation.

“Now that the region has received some much-needed rain, it’s great to see this project get underway at Tamworth,” Dr Ximenes said.

“Approximately 6,000 trees will be planted at the Institute, in an area of around 3 hectares.

“The project will identify available and potential feedstocks for bioenergy generation at varying scales, with an understanding of the economic viability and social constraints.”

Dr Ximenes said planting of woody biomass crops can provide a significant opportunity for farmers to diversify their portfolio by using marginal areas of their farm.

“Dedicated biomass crops would benefit less productive areas and result in the creation of long-term job opportunities in regional NSW, across all parts of the supply chain, covering growing, harvesting, transporting and processing,” Dr Ximenes said.

NSW DPI Forest Science is partnering with CSIRO (Australian Tree Seed Centre) to investigate the productivity of prospective woody biomass crops grown under a variety of conditions.

The species to be planted are suitable to the Tamworth climate and include Acacia dealbata (silver wattle); Eucalyptus viridis (green mallee); Eucalyptus infera (Durikai mallee); Eucalyptus polybractea (blue mallee); Eucalyptus cladocalix (sugar gum) and Eucalyptus camaldulensis (river red gum).

Some of the desirable features of selected species include fast growth, hardiness, resistance to drought and frost conditions, and potential for coppicing.

Trial sites have been established at Yanco, Orange, Glen Innes and Scone, and in the coming months additional sites to be planted include Muswellbrook, Trangie and Tumut.

6,000 native trees planted at Tamworth Agricultural Institute as part of the Biomass for Bioenergy project. NSW DPI photo.

Scientists Successfully Develop Heat Resistant Coral To Fight Bleaching

May 14, 2020
A team of scientists has successfully produced in a laboratory setting a coral that is more resistant to increased seawater temperatures. The team included researchers from CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the University of Melbourne.

Corals with increased heat tolerance have the potential to reduce the impact of reef bleaching from marine heat waves, which are becoming more common under climate change.

"Coral reefs are in decline worldwide," CSIRO Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform (SynBio FSP) science lead Dr Patrick Buerger said.

"Climate change has reduced coral cover, and surviving corals are under increasing pressure as water temperatures rise and the frequency and severity of coral bleaching events increase."

The team made the coral more tolerant to temperature-induced bleaching by bolstering the heat tolerance of its microalgal symbionts – tiny cells of algae that live inside the coral tissue.

The coral larvae have established a symbiosis with the heat-evolved algae strains. Due to the fluorescence light, the larvae can be seen in green, and the algae cells are seen in red. Larvae length is approximately 1 mm. (credit: Patrick Buerger).

"Our novel approach strengthens the heat resistance of coral by manipulating its microalgae, which is a key factor in the coral's heat tolerance," Dr Buerger said.

The team isolated the microalgae from coral and cultured them in the specialist symbiont lab at AIMS. Using a technique called "directed evolution", they then exposed the cultured microalgae to increasingly warmer temperatures over a period of four years.

This assisted them to adapt and survive hotter conditions.

The experiments were conducted at the Australian Institute of Marine Science in the National SeaSimulator, one of the most advanced experimental aquaria facilities. The red light is required to not disturb the corals from spawning (credit: Patrick Buerger).

"Once the microalgae were reintroduced into coral larvae, the newly established coral-algal symbiosis was more heat tolerant compared to the original one," Dr Buerger said.

The microalgae were exposed to temperatures that are comparable to the ocean temperatures during current summer marine heat waves causing coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.

The researchers then unveiled some of the mechanisms responsible for the enhanced coral bleaching tolerance.

"We found that the heat tolerant microalgae are better at photosynthesis and improve the heat response of the coral animal," Professor Madeleine van Oppen, of AIMS and the University of Melbourne, said.

"These exciting findings show that the microalgae and the coral are in direct communication with each other."

The next step is to further test the algal strains in adult colonies across a range of coral species.

"This breakthrough provides a promising and novel tool to increase the heat tolerance of corals and is a great win for Australian science," SynBio FSP Director Associate Professor Claudia Vickers said.

This research was conducted by CSIRO in partnership with AIMS and the University of Melbourne. It was funded by CSIRO, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation (U.S.A.), AIMS and the University of Melbourne.

Australia listened to the science on coronavirus. Imagine if we did the same for coal mining

Dan Peled/AAP
Matthew CurrellRMIT UniversityAdrian WernerFlinders UniversityChris McGrathThe University of Queensland, and Dylan IrvineFlinders University

Australia’s relative success in stopping the spread of COVID-19 is largely due governments taking expert advice on a complex problem. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of decisions on projects that threaten the environment – most notably, Adani’s Carmichael coal mine.

Our research published today in Nature Sustainability documents how state and federal governments repeatedly ignored independent scientific advice when assessing and approving the Adani mine’s groundwater plans.

We interrogated scientific evidence available to governments and Adani over almost a decade. Our analysis shows governments failed to compel Adani to fully investigate the environmental risks posed by its water plans, despite concerns raised by scientists.

There is also evidence the government approval decisions were influenced by the political climate and pressure exerted by members of government.

Our findings come as the Morrison government conducts a ten-yearly review of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. It is critical these laws – Australia’s most important environmental legislation – are reformed to put rigorous, independent science at the core.

Advice Ignored

In mid-2019, the federal and Queensland governments approved groundwater management plans for Adani’s Carmichael coal mine. It granted the company unlimited access to groundwater in central Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

We and other experts warned the mine threatens to damage aquifers, rivers and ecosystems – in particular, the Doongmabulla Springs Complex. This system contains more than 150 wetlands which support rare plant communities found nowhere else on earth.

The springs are of major cultural significance to the Wangan and Jagalingou people.

We analysed the full suite of evidence on the groundwater plans from agencies and scientists with expertise in hydro-geology. The evidence, provided to state and federal environment ministers, spanned almost a decade and included at least six independent scientific reviews.

The evidence highlighted major shortcomings, and gaps in knowledge and data.

Read more: Unpacking the flaws in Adani's water management plan

For example in 2013, the federal government’s Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (IESC) said key geological characteristics in Adani’s groundwater model were not consistent with available field data.

Expert evidence from court-appointed hydro-geology witnesses in the Land Court of Queensland reiterated this concern and raised new questions over whether the source aquifer for the Doongmabulla Springs had been incorrectly identified.

Subsequent joint reviews by CSIRO and Geoscience Australia in February and June 2019 found Adani had failed to conclusively resolve these issues. The agencies also identified further flaws in Adani’s modelling, including interaction between groundwater and the Carmichael River that was again not consistent with field evidence.

The CSIRO and Geoscience Australia concluded the model was “not suitable to ensure the outcomes sought by the EPBC Act conditions are met”.

Moses 3 Lagoon in the Doongmabulla Springs Complex. Source: Land Services of Coast and Country Inc (2014)

Governments Under Pressure

The federal government received the reviews from CSIRO and Geoscience Australia in February 2019. It did not publicly release them until then-environment minister Melissa Price announced approval of the groundwater plans on April 8. This was effectively the final federal approval the mine needed to proceed.

Media reports at the time suggested Price had been pressured by members of her government to issue approval before the election. What’s more, her department reportedly pushed the CSIRO to endorse Adani’s plans in just hours, and in the absence of critical information.

Within 48 hours of Adani’s approval being announced, the government called a federal election.

Read more: Morrison government approves next step towards Adani coal mine

The Coalition was returned to power at the election. Federal Labor suffered heavy losses in regional Queensland – a result many claimed was due to their lukewarm support for the Adani mine.

The Queensland Labor government was also required to sign off on the groundwater plans. Following the federal election result, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk directed that the assessment be completed quickly. The state approved the plans within four weeks.

This was despite being provided a scientific analysis by authors of this article and others, outlining key remaining scientific deficiencies in the groundwater plans.

Once-In-A-Decade Chance

Our analysis exposes flaws in how evidence informs major government decisions. It also shows why reform of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is so urgent.

The laws are currently under review. Many reputable organisations and scholars have proposed ways the legislation can better protect the environment, increase its independence from government and put science at the core.

Independent scientific committees, such as the federal IESC, are commissioned by governments to advise on mining proposals. We suggest such committees be granted greater powers to request specific data and studies from mining companies to address knowledge gaps before advice is issued.

Alternatively – or in addition – a new independent national commission should be established to oversee environmental impact assessments conducted by mining and other development proponents.

This commission should be empowered to interrogate and resolve key scientific uncertainties, free from political interference. Its recommendations to government should take into account a wide range of expert advice and public feedback.

Doongmabulla Springs, a desert oasis scientists say is at risk from the Adani mine. Flickr

This would not only improve the evidence base for decisions, but may also speed up assessments – ensuring more effective resolution of uncertainties that often lead to protracted conflict and debate about a mine’s impacts.

Such reform is urgently needed. Australia is suffering unprecedented water stressenvironmental harm and declining trust in government.

Australian governments listened to the science when it needed to flatten the curve of COVID-19. The same approach is needed if we’re to preserve the places we love and the ecosystems we depend on.

Read more: Our nature laws are being overhauled. Here are 7 things we must fix

An Adani spokesperson provided the following response to the claims raised by the authors:

Adani’s Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems Management Plan (GDEMP) was finalised and approved by both the Australian and Queensland governments almost 12 months ago, bringing to an end more than eight years of heavily scrutinised planning and approvals processes.

The approvals were confirmation that the GDEMP complies with all regulatory conditions, following an almost two-year process of rigorous scientific inquiry, review and approvals. This included relevant independent reviews by Australia’s pre-eminent scientific organisations CSIRO and Geoscience Australia.

There are more than 270 conditions within the mine approvals to protect the natural environment and more than 100 of those relate to groundwater.

We’re now getting on with construction of the Carmichael Mine and Rail project, having awarded more than $750 million in contracts to the benefit of regional Queenslanders.

We remain on track to create more than 1,500 direct jobs during the construction and ramp up of our project and some further 6,750 indirect jobs. At a time when our country is facing some of its toughest challenges, we’re determined to deliver on our commitments of jobs and opportunities.The Conversation

Matthew Currell, Associate Professor in Environmental Engineering, School of Engineering, RMIT UniversityAdrian Werner, Professor of Hydrogeology, Flinders UniversityChris McGrath, Associate Professor in Environmental and Planning Regulation and Policy, The University of Queensland, and Dylan Irvine, Senior lecturer in hydrogeology, Flinders University

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

Yes, carbon emissions fell during COVID-19. But it's the shift away from coal that really matters

Flickr/David Clarke
Frank JotzoAustralian National University and Mousami PrasadAustralian National University

Much has been made of the COVID-19 lockdown cutting global carbon emissions. Energy use has fallen over recent months as the pandemic keeps millions of people confined to their homes, and businesses closed in many countries. Projections suggest global emissions could be around 5% lower in 2020 than last year.

What about Australia? Here we’ve seen sizeable reductions in electricity sector emissions, but mostly from the sustained expansion in solar and wind power rather than the lockdown.

That is good news. It means our electricity sector emissions will not bounce back once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, as they might in other parts of the world.

But on the other hand, a prolonged recession could cloud the outlook for new investments in the power sector, including renewables.

What’s clear right now is this: COVID-19 restrictions matter far less to Australia’s power sector emissions this year than the shift away from coal and towards renewables.

A recession would dampen investment in new power projects, including renewables. AAP

Small Fall In Electricity Demand

We examined Australia’s National Electricity Market (NEM) in the seven weeks from March 16 (when national restrictions came into force) to May 4 this year. We compared the results to the same period in 2019.

The NEM covers all states and territories except Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Total electricity demand was 3% lower during the first seven weeks of the lockdown, compared with the same period in 2019. About 2% of this was due to an actual fall in electricity use. The rest was due to extra rooftop solar panels installed since May 2019 which lowered demand on the grid.

Read more: Want an economic tonic, Mr Morrison? Use that stimulus money to turbocharge renewables

Some of the 2% reduction may be due to cooler weather this autumn, leading to lower air conditioning use.

So while COVID-19 restrictions have hammered the economy in recent weeks, they haven’t had a big effect on electricity use. Most industrial and business power use has continued uninterrupted. Most office buildings have not fully shut down, although many people are working from home and use more electricity there.

A Hefty Drop In Emissions

Despite the modest fall in electricity demand in the first seven weeks of lockdown, emissions fell substantially – by 8.5%. Comparing the first quarter of 2020 and 2019, emissions fell by 7%.

This is primarily because more renewable energy is now supplying the grid. Output from solar farms increased by 55% and from wind parks by 19% compared with the first quarter of 2019, reflecting massive amounts of new installed capacity coming online. Output from hydroelectricity increased by 18%, likely reflecting higher rainfall.

More renewables supply combined with falling demand means less output from fossil fuel power plants. Coal plant output fell 9% compared to the same period in 2019, entirely due to lower output by black coal plants in New South Wales and Queensland. Gas fired power output fell by 8%.

Electricity Prices Plunge

Meanwhile, wholesale prices in the NEM have fallen dramatically. The average price was 60% lower in the seven weeks since March 16 compared with the same period in 2019. A marked reduction in prices was evident from November 2019.

Why? One reason is that prices for natural gas are much lower and hence gas-fired power stations can make lower bids for electricity. Gas prices fell through much of 2019, and dropped further in the first quarter of 2020, associated with the pandemic-induced economic downturn. Gas plants often set the prices for everyone in the market, so this has a big effect on the market overall.

Read more: Don't worry: staying at home for months is unlikely to lead to an eye-watering electricity bill

Also, coal and hydropower plants lowered their bids in this more competitive environment.

The outlook for wholesale prices remains flat. Gas prices seem unlikely to rebound soon. More wind and solar power will come into the market and there is no underlying growth trend in electricity demand.

Relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions is unlikely to make a big difference. What may drive prices up once again is the next large coal plant closure. The last one to close was Victoria’s Hazelwood plant in 2017.

What Does This Mean For Coal And Renewables?

Low wholesale electricity prices are good for consumers – in particular industry, where the wholesale price is a bigger proportion of the total charges for electricity supply. On the flip side, they mean less money for power generators.

Across the National Electricity Market, revenue for generators was about A$160 million per week lower during the first seven weeks of lockdown compared to the same period in 2019.

This revenue fall makes coal plants less profitable, and makes life uncomfortable for plants with relatively high costs for fuel and maintenance. It’s likely to push older plants closer to closure.

Read more: Don't worry: staying at home for months is unlikely to lead to an eye-watering electricity bill

Lower prices also make investment in new renewable power less attractive. In recent years, average wholesale prices were well above the typical lifetime average costs of producing electricity from newly built solar and wind parks. There is also uncertainty around how prices will be set in power markets in the future, and how congestion of power transmission lines will be managed.

Nevertheless, the longer term prospects for renewables in Australia remain very good. Solar and wind power are the cheapest of all new generation technologies producing power, and solar power is expected to become even cheaper. A new coal-fired power plant, if one was ever built, would have far higher costs per megawatt hour. Costs for a nuclear plant would be higher still.

A drop in revenue during COVID-19 is bad news for coal-fired power generators. Wikimedia

The Way Forward

The numbers show Australia does not need a painful recession to drive carbon emissions down. It needs sustained investment in new, clean technology.

The better the Australian economy recovers, the more private businesses will invest in new energy supply. But if the world falls into a deep and lasting recession, and the Australian economy with it, then the prospects for private investment in new power plants will suffer.

In that case, governments may be well advised to invest public funds in clean energy, more so than they have in the past.The Conversation

Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Australian National University and Mousami Prasad, Research Fellow, Australian National University

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

It’s Official: Expert Review Rejects NSW Plan To Let Seawater Flow Into The Murray River

May 12, 2020
By: Jamie Pittock, Professor, Fenner School of Environment & Society, Australian National University; Bruce Thom, Emeritus Professor, University of Sydney; Celine Steinfeld, Acting Director, Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists & Adjunct Lecturer at UNSW Sydney; Eytan Rocheta, Policy Analyst, Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists & Adjunct Associate Lecturer at UNSW Sydney, UNSW; Nicholas Harvey, University of Adelaide

A major independent review has confirmed freshwater flows are vital to maintaining the health of the Murray River’s lower lakes, striking a blow to demands by New South Wales that seawater flow in.

The review, released today, was led by the CSIRO and commissioned by the Murray Darling Basin Authority. It examined hundreds of scientific studies into the lower lakes region of South Australia, through which the Murray River flows before reaching the ocean.

The review recommends managing the lakes with freshwater, not seawater. More importantly, it highlights how climate change and upstream farming is reducing the flow of water for the environment in the lower lakes.

These findings are critically important. They show the severe health threat still facing the river system and its internationally important wetlands. They also cast doubt on whether the A$13 billion basin plan can achieve all its aims.

A barrage of criticism
The Murray Darling river system runs from Queensland, through NSW, the ACT and Victoria. In South Australia the River Murray discharges into two large lakes, Alexandrina and Albert, before flowing into the 130 kilometre-long Coorong lagoon, through the Murray Mouth and into the ocean.

Since 1940 five low dams, or barrages, have stopped seawater flowing into the lakes from the Murray Mouth and Coorong, and raised the lakes’ water level.

NSW wants the barrages lifted to allow seawater back into Lake Alexandrina, to free up freshwater for agriculture upstream.
In December 2019, NSW Nationals John Barilaro said: “I refuse to let regional communities die while we wash productive water into the Great Australian Bite (sic), 1000km away”. Irrigation advocates have backed his calls.

Victoria has also questioned whether the lower lakes can continue to be kept fresh, given the water scarcity plaguing the entire river system.

But today’s review confirmed the lower lakes were largely a freshwater ecosystem prior to European occupation. It said removing the barrages would cause significant ecological and socioeconomic harm, and would not lead to water savings if the basin plan targets are to be met.

The Murray Mouth is choking
The review cited research we published this month, which concluded it was impossible to achieve the basin plan target to keep the Murray Mouth open 95% of the time.

This is because Murray Darling Basin Authority modelling did not factor in the power of the Southern Ocean to move sand into the Murray Mouth, which is now choked. Dredging will be required most of the time to keep the Murray Mouth open and maintain the ecology of the Coorong.

The Coorong and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert are a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

The review found removing the barrages would significantly change the freshwater character of the site, which we have an international obligation to maintain for the sake of waterbirds, fisheries and threatened species.

This is becoming harder during periods when freshwater inflows are scarce. In the Millennium Drought for example, lake levels fell exposing highly acidic mudflats. In other areas, the waters became more salty.

After the basin plan was adopted in 2012, the condition of the lower lakes improved when the Millennium Drought broke and environmental flows were delivered, sustaining the system in the current drought. But very little of those flows enter the sea, except during floods.

The system of barrages in the lower lakes consist of 593 gates. Using official data, we calculate that for 70% of the time since 2007, fewer than ten gates have been open to the sea. For one-third of the time, none were open, indicating there is insufficient water to sustain fisheries and flush salt to the ocean.

Our research concludes that without the barrages the sand banks will reduce the volume of water flowing through the Murray Mouth. The tides would not be strong enough to keep the lakes flushed so water quality would decline. No barrages means lower lake levels and exposed mudflats, generating sulphuric acid.

Aerial view of the Murray River barrages, circa 1940. State Library of South Australia
An uncertain future
The review reinforces the South Australian government’s position that the lakes should be maintained with freshwater. It also obliges the federal government to implement the basin plan in its current form, despite NSW’s demands for changes.

The final report also highlighted how climate change will make management of the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth “increasingly challenging” and said adaptation options were needed for the entire river system.

By the end of this century, rising seas may flow over the barrages. Maintaining freshwater inflows and the barrages buys us time, but we need a serious national conversation about how to manage this challenge.
The federal and South Australian governments recently announced a Coorong Partnership to enable local communities and groups participate in programs to improve management of the lagoon. This is timely and should be expanded to cover the broader Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth regions.

Freshwater flowing from the headwaters to the sea is vital for the health of the Murray-Darling Basin as a whole. Today’s report should be the start of the national discussion on shoring up the health of Australia’s most important river system in the face of an uncertain future.

This report was published first in The Conversation, click here to read the original.

Centennial Coal Vastly Underestimates Carbon Emissions From Major Mine Projects Over 10 Years 

May 10, 2020
The company that supplies a third of the coal burned in NSW has under-estimated by up to 97% the carbon emissions associated with its mines, research by the Nature Conservation Council has found.

Analysis of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIS) submitted by Centennial Coal to the NSW Planning Department over 10 years shows a pattern of massive underestimation of Scope 3 emissions. (See below for an explanation of Scope 3 emissions.)

Just last month, the company submitted an environmental assessment for its Angus Place Coal Mine Expansion near Lithgow that underestimated Scope 3 emissions by 97%. 

Calculating downstream (scope 3) emissions from mines is pretty straightforward. Every tonne of NSW black coal burned generates 2.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide. To estimate the emissions of a mine’s output, you simply multiply the tonnes of coal coming out by 2.4. But Centennial Coal consultants have been using factors as low as 0.08, 0.23, and 0.81.

“We have written to the Planning Department asking it to investigate whether an offence has been committed under the EP&A Act by reporting incorrect information,” said Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian.

“Providing misleading information in an EIS process is an offence under the EP&A Act, with a maximum penalty of $1 million for corporations and $250,000 for individuals. [1]

“The Angus Place EIS rang alarm bells so we looked more closely at documents the company had submitted in support of its other coal projects.

“We were shocked to find Centennial had submitted incorrect greenhouse reports on five of its projects, three of which have already been approved.

“A similar error occurred across reports prepared by three different environmental consultants used by  Centennial Coal from 2010 to 2020.

“The coal company used these incorrect numbers to claim its climate impacts were negligible. 

“In reality, these coal mines are contributing significantly to the mounting loss of life and property from extreme bushfires, floods and heat waves.

“It’s time to start accounting for climate impacts properly and stop opening and expanding coal mines.

“These errors follow revelations that coal industry consultants have been routinely falsifying coal quality reports. Earlier it was revealed a whopping 45% to 50% of export coal quality certificates issued by consultancy ALS Ltd since 2007 were falsified.  [2]

“At the same time, the coal lobby has been pressuring the government to remove downstream emissions considerations from the NSW planning process altogether — an omission that would severely hinder planning authorities from assessing the full impacts of coal mines.”

Greenhouse gas emissions are categorised into three 'scopes'. Scope 1 emissions are produced directly by the activity of a business; Scope 2 are produced indirectly as a result of the consumption of electricity etc. by the business; and Scope 3 emissions arise along the value chain associated with a business but are not produced by that business. In the context of coal mines, Scope 3 emissions are mostly generated when the coal is burned by the end user. 


[1] EP&A Act Section 10.6, Penalties

[2] Rumpelstiltskin in the coal lab: $70b dilemma of 'fake' tests, Australian Financial Review, 27 April 2020 

[3] Using NSW black coal energy content of 27 GJ/t, and the emissions factor from burning this coal of 90.23 kg CO2e/GJ as per Table 1, National Greenhouse Accounts Factors, Department of the Environment and Energy, August 2019. The proponent states that 100% of coal produced at Angus Place will be burned at the Mt Piper Power Station near Lithgow (i.e,. salable coal = run of mine coal). 

[4] NSW total emissions in calendar year 2017 were 129 Mt CO2e according to the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. 

[5] Centennial Coal’s Scope 3 emissions reports are from Environmental Impact Statements and Environmental Assessments and associated consultant’s reports on the NSW Major Projects website. Centennial’s consultants assume that salable coal is approximately equal to run-of-mine coal, as estimates of salable coal are not provided. We follow this assumption. All documentation available at and links below. NCC calculations as per [1] above.

[6] Angus Place Extension Amendment Report, Appendix K, 2020. Run-of-mine coal from page 55, scope 3 emissions from page 57 (link)

[7] Springvale Extension EIS, 2015, page 434, (link)

[8] Angus Place Extension EIS Appendix M, 2014, page 71, (link)

[9] Airley Extension Project EIS Chapter 10, 2014, page 430-431 (link)

[10] Mandalong Southern Extension EIS, Appendix Q GSS Environmental 2013, page 28, (link).

[11] Myuna Coal Mine EIS, Appendix N, AECOM 2012, page 15 (link)

[12] Environmental Assessment the Awaba Colliery Mining Projects, 2010,  page 146-147 (link)

No Drought-Proofing From New Dams

May 12, 2020
National Party plans to build new dams and expand others will enrich irrigators, degrade river ecosystems and will not protect communities from climate change and drought unless the government changes water sharing plans to reflect our drying climate, environment groups have warned this week.

“The projects the Nationals outlined today will not provide more water security and drought-proof communities,” Nature Conservation Council CEO Chris Gambian said.

“Bigger dams will just mean more water for irrigation and less for the river and other users.” 

Deputy Premier, John Barilaro and Water Minister, Melinda Pavey, announced this week that $245m will be spent building the business case for three dam projects:
  •   raising Wyangala Dam on the Lachlan River
  •   building the Dungowan Dam on the Peel River
  •   building a dam on the Mole River near Tenterfield.
The rationale Nationals claim the dams will store water that can sustain communities between drought,[1] but water allocations from dams in these river systems will not be based on the most recent drought.[2]

“Time and again, the Nationals have shown their water policy is to provide maximum water to the irrigation industry,” Mr Gambian said.

“This is reflected in the new Water Sharing Plans, due to commence on 1 July 2020. Bigger dams will mean more water taken from our river systems, not more water stored for drought protection.”

Inland Rivers Network President Bev Smiles said: “The new Water Sharing Plans do not use the most recent drought of record and were bound to over-estimate the volume of water available for irrigation.

“For the Lachlan River the lowest inflows on record are based on those before July 2004. The Millenium Drought and the current more severe drought are being ignored.”

This issue was confirmed by Water Minister Pavey in Parliament last November where she said:

“To include a rule that automatically requires the water supply system to adjust to new record drought would potentially result in significant quantities of water being locked away from productive use.” [3]

“The new Water Sharing Plans will cause the same problems to arise with each new drought,” Ms Smiles said.

“In 2016, all NSW dams were full. By the end of 2018 they were empty because all the water had been handed out, not stored for drought protection.

“This is what will happen again with these new projects if we don’t change the Water Sharing Plans to reflect the scarcity of water in our drying climate.

“The Water Sharing Plans need to be changed so the most recent drought is considered when making annual water allocations.

“We don’t need more, bigger dams. We need water sharing rules that provide water security for severe drought conditions.”


Wyangala Dam
Water Sharing Plan for the Lachlan Regulated River Water Source 2020
Part 10 System Operation Requirements
Division 4 General System Operations Rules 
58 Maintenance of water supply
(1) In this clause, the period of lowest accumulated inflows to the water source is identified by flow information held by the Department prior to 1 July 2004.
(2) The operator must operate the water supply system in such a way that water would be able to be supplied during a repeat of the period of lowest accumulated inflows to the water source,
Dungowan Dam

Water Sharing Plan for the Peel Regulated River Water Source 2020
Part 10 System Operation Requirements
Division 2 General System Operations Rules
52 Maintenance of water supply
(1) In this clause, the period of lowest accumulated inflows to the water source is identified by flow information held by the Department prior to 1 July 2010.
(2) The operator must operate the water supply system in such a way that water would be able to be supplied during a repeat of the period of lowest accumulated inflows to the water source
Mole River Dam

Water Sharing Plan for the NSW Border Rivers Regulated River Water Source 2020
Part 10 System Operation Requirements
Division 3 General System Operations Rules
57 Maintenance of water supply
(1) In this clause, the period of lowest accumulated inflows to the water source is identified by flow information held by the Department prior to 1 July 2009.
(2) The operator must operate the water supply system in such a way that water would be able to be supplied during a repeat of the period of lowest accumulated inflows to the water source

[1] Media Release Deputy Premier and Water Minister, 10 May 2020, STAGE 1 BEGINS ON STATE SIGNIFICANT DAMS

[2] See attached briefer: Water Sharing Plan rules are not based on the most recent lowest inflows on record


HV Operations To Pay $400,000 After Alleged Water Pollution From Mine

May 7, 2020
HV Operations Pty Ltd has entered into an Enforceable Undertaking with the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), paying $400,000 towards environmental land management improvements, following a water pollution incident at an open cut mine in Singleton last year.

EPA Director Operations Metro North Adam Gilligan said the alleged water pollution was a result of rainfall runoff from a rehabilitation slope at the Lemington Road mine being discharged into an adjacent waterway which flows into the Hunter River, an activity that could have been prevented.

“The rainfall caused the sediment-laden water to flow into Farrells Creek through holes in a contour bank in a formerly mined area,” Mr Gilligan said.

“The contour bank was designed t divert water away from the creek but it can’t do this if is not properly maintained and erosion has occurred.”

HV Operations will pay $100,000 to a project on travelling stock reserves in the Singleton area to improve conservation and management of soil erosion.

They are required to develop and implement a remediation plan for an area within the mine site with an estimated cost of $250,000 and conduct an annual inspection of all rehabilitation areas across the mine site, at a cost of around $50,000.

HV Operations is also required to pay the EPA’s legal, investigation and monitoring costs of approximately $30,000.

Enforceable Undertakings are a tool that the EPA can use as an alternative to prosecution. Through an enforceable undertaking, the EPA may secure outcomes such as environmental restoration measures or contributions to environmental projects. The undertaking is enforceable by the Land and Environment Court.

Mr Gilligan said it was determined from water testing and the duration of the incident that there was minimal harm to the environment but it was timely to remind all mines that water management systems must be monitored and checked regularly.

As part of developing and implementing the remediation plan, HV Operations will need to undertake a number of activities including surface water assessments and repairing contour banks.

“Remediation will take several forms including repairing slope erosion, re-seeding the area and undertaking agronomic and surface water assessments.”

As part of the undertaking, HV Operations will place a print media notice about the Enforceable Undertaking in the Newcastle Herald, Sydney Morning Herald and the Singleton Argus and post the notice on its social media channels.

For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy

QLD Taxpayers Shouldn’t Subsidise Destructive CSG Expansion

May 14, 2020
Lock the Gate Alliance has condemned the decision by the Queensland Palaszczuk Government to sacrifice even more land to the destructive, polluting unconventional gas industry.

Mines Minister Anthony Lynham bizarrely reannounced the news that he was releasing 6700 square kilometres to the voracious CSG industry this morning, despite the announcement having already been made a week ago.

“Minister Lynham is so desperate to flog off bits of Queensland to the unconventional gas industry, he’s literally re-announcing old news,” Lock the Gate Alliance Queensland spokesperson Ellie Smith said.

“Rather than propping up the coal and gas industry, Mr Lynham should be focussed on strong plans for QLD’s regions that support food and fibre and regional economic development.”

Ms Smith said Minister Lynham’s announcement contained massive subsidies for the unconventional gas industry, including a 12-month waiver of rent on exploration land due between 1 April and 1 September, and a freeze on fees and charges until 1 July 2021.

She said this was unacceptable during the coronavirus-driven economic crisis.

“The Palaszczuk Government should concentrate on supporting the communities that keep food on the tables of Australians rather than backing industries that destroy land and water resources," Ms Smith said.

“Taxpayers should not have to fund gas exploration minnows that can’t pay basic lease fees. 

“The water guzzling coal seam gas industry clearly can’t stand on its own two feet. 

“If the exploration companies can’t pay a paltry $2.95 per subblock for their exploration tenures per year, then we have to question whether they should be trusted to be accessing land and drilling through our precious groundwater tables. 

“Minister Lynham spruiks the benefits of this announcement for domestic manufacturing when the numbers clearly show that over 85% of this gas will go straight to international markets.”

“The Palaszczuk Government should be spending on sustainable industries like renewable energy, tourism, and agriculture, not giving handouts to destructive and polluting CSG companies.

“The office of groundwater impact assessment has warned that more than 500 bores will be drained by the existing coal seam gas industry. Releasing even more land for exploration at a time when we should be protecting farmland - and the water it depends on - makes no sense at all.” 

Gunner Bills Territory Taxpayers Again To Subsidise Fracking Industry

May 13, 2020
Protect Country Alliance has slammed the Gunner Territory Government’s decision to bill taxpayers nearly $12 million as part of skyrocketing subsidies being handed out to the fracking industry.

“The Territory Gunner Government is spending taxpayers’ cash like a drunken sailor, with huge chunks of it going to the polluting fracking industry,” said Protect Country Alliance spokesperson Dan Robins.

“Taxpayers are literally being billed to pay for the destruction of their own land and water, and they’re unlikely to ever see any benefit from it.

“The Territory economy is in the doldrums, and this is absolutely not the way to bring the budget back into the black. 

“Given the coronavirus pandemic will hit big NT industries like tourism and agriculture hard, the NT Government should immediately redirect gas industry assistance to industries that actually deliver for Territorians. 

“We urge the Gunner Government to invest in cheaper, more affordable renewable energy technology that won’t threaten land, water, and communities, as well as tourism and agriculture.

“The Territory economy doesn’t need a subsidised gas industry that divides communities and poses risks to the environment."

The $11.79 million announcement for “the development of an onshore gas industry in the Territory to progress the Strategic Regional Environmental Baseline Assessment (SREBA)” was made today as part of the Territory Government’s March Quarterly Financial Report.

However, Mr Robins said the SREBA had been heavily criticised by health experts for its inability to meet its stated purpose of protecting the health and wellbeing of residents of the Northern Territory impacted by shale gas mining developments.

"The SREBA wouldn't be needed in the first place if this government did the right thing and walked away from the expensive and polluting fracking industry," he said.

Birding At Home In Pittwater

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.

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

New Shorebird Identification Booklet

The Migratory Shorebird Program has just released the third edition of its hugely popular Shorebird Identification Booklet. The team has thoroughly revised and updated this pocket-sized companion for all shorebird counters and interested birders, with lots of useful information on our most common shorebirds, key identification features, sighting distribution maps and short articles on some of BirdLife’s shorebird activities. 

The booklet can be downloaded here in PDF file format:

Paper copies can be ordered as well, see for details.

Download BirdLife Australia's children’s education kit to help them learn more about our wading birdlife

Shorebirds are a group of wading birds that can be found feeding on swamps, tidal mudflats, estuaries, beaches and open country. For many people, shorebirds are just those brown birds feeding a long way out on the mud but they are actually a remarkably diverse collection of birds including stilts, sandpipers, snipe, curlews, godwits, plovers and oystercatchers. Each species is superbly adapted to suit its preferred habitat.  The Red-necked Stint is as small as a sparrow, with relatively short legs and bill that it pecks food from the surface of the mud with, whereas the Eastern Curlew is over two feet long with a exceptionally long legs and a massively curved beak that it thrusts deep down into the mud to pull out crabs, worms and other creatures hidden below the surface.

Some shorebirds are fairly drab in plumage, especially when they are visiting Australia in their non-breeding season, but when they migrate to their Arctic nesting grounds, they develop a vibrant flush of bright colours to attract a mate. We have 37 types of shorebirds that annually migrate to Australia on some of the most lengthy and arduous journeys in the animal kingdom, but there are also 18 shorebirds that call Australia home all year round.

What all our shorebirds have in common—be they large or small, seasoned traveller or homebody, brightly coloured or in muted tones—is that each species needs adequate safe areas where they can successfully feed and breed.

The National Shorebird Monitoring Program is managed and supported by BirdLife Australia. 

This project is supported by Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority and Hunter Local Land Services through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. Funding from Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and Port Phillip Bay Fund is acknowledged. 

The National Shorebird Monitoring Program is made possible with the help of over 1,600 volunteers working in coastal and inland habitats all over Australia. 

The National Shorebird Monitoring program (started as the Shorebirds 2020 project initiated to re-invigorate monitoring around Australia) is raising awareness of how incredible shorebirds are, and actively engaging the community to participate in gathering information needed to conserve shorebirds. 

In the short term, the destruction of tidal ecosystems will need to be stopped, and our program is designed to strengthen the case for protecting these important habitats. 

In the long term, there will be a need to mitigate against the likely effects of climate change on a species that travels across the entire range of latitudes where impacts are likely. 

The identification and protection of critical areas for shorebirds will need to continue in order to guard against the potential threats associated with habitats in close proximity to nearly half the human population. 

Here in Australia, the place where these birds grow up and spend most of their lives, continued monitoring is necessary to inform the best management practice to maintain shorebird populations. 

BirdLife Australia believe that we can help secure a brighter future for these remarkable birds by educating stakeholders, gathering information on how and why shorebird populations are changing, and working to grow the community of people who care about shorebirds.

To find out more visit:

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 -

The Whales Are Back!

Residents report having seen the first Humpback whales heading north this week. Wonderful news!
The first ones were seen off Mona Vale, Bilgola and Avalon Beaches last Sunday, May 10th, and then more have been spotted during the week from Palm Beach. Some were even being spotted of Whale Beach on May 2nd.

It's time to dust off your binoculars and head to your favourite lookout to see how many you can see at sea! 

Photo by Whit Welles.

BirdLife Australia 2020 Photo Comp

The BirdLife Australia Photo awards are now open! Special theme this year is Fairy-wrens, Emu-wrens, and Grasswrens. The Comp is open til August 3rd.
⁠For more on our judges, categories
This stunning image is of a pair of White-throated Grasswrens, by Laurie Ross. 

Postcard Pen Pals! An Opportunity For Older People To Reconnect

Jett Butcher is ready to send postcards!

Last month Pittwater Onloine News ran a Notice regarding one of the great initiatives commenced locally to connect generations.

Called 'Postcard Pen Pals', the Northern Beaches Dementia Friendly Community, in collaboration with Your Side Australia, were seeking a way to bring young and old together again through an intergenerational pen pal program. 

''We are looking for kids and older people who would like to send and receive postcards in the Northern Beaches.'' the Notice read

''You will receive a free Postcard Pen Pals pack with postcards, stamps and envelopes for letters. You will also receive the first name and a short biography of your pen pal.

We are also looking for some creative kids who would like to help us design the postcards!''

Some of the great art for these postcards runs below this Issue but now it's time for step 2.

In a time where older people are required to social distance, the Northern Beaches Dementia Alliance and Your Side Australia have developed an intergenerational program to reconnect older people with our community through a Pen Pal Project.

The Postcard Pen Pals Project matches older people over the age of 65 with children and young people under 18 in the area. Participants are provided with everything they need to write to each other including beautifully designed postcards, envelopes, stamps and a short biography introducing them to their new pen pal.  

Many of the postcards have been designed by local children. 

The Northern Beaches Dementia Alliance have been running intergenerational programs with schools and aged care facilities since 2018 but had to cancel all face-to-face programs as a result of COVID-19. 

Ilsa Bird, the project manager for the Postcard Pen Pals Project says, 

“Because we are unable to deliver our programs right now, our desire is to create intergenerational connection while still maintaining social distance. We want children to rediscover the lost art of written communication outside of digital mediums and provide an opportunity for older people to share their life story and wisdom with our kids. It is about bringing joy and being excited to receive a postcard in the mailbox.” 

Jett Butcher is a 9 year old local boy and is getting ready to send his first postcards. 

He says, “I’m looking forward to writing postcards because it will show people that someone is thinking about them and that will make them happy.”

The program organisers are currently seeking older people in the community and aged care homes to become pen pals with local children in the Northern Beaches. 

If you are over 65 and you would like to become a pen pal with a local child, or if you would like to register on behalf of someone over 65, email 

Here's a few examples of the great art work you may receive:

Young Writers' Competition 2020

Splash through puddles, hear a suspicious splash or have your face splashed across the news... How will you make a splash? 

The Northern Beaches Young Writers' Competition 2020 is now open!

Write an original story using this year's theme word 'splash' for a chance to be published as an author in a library eBook. 

The competition is open to students up to and including year 12 who live or go to school on the Northern Beaches and are members of the Northern Beaches library service. 

How to enter:

Complete the online entry form and attach your story as a Word document. If your story is hand-written, then a clear, readable photo or scanned PDF can be submitted. All entries must be submitted by 8pm, Wednesday 10 June. 

Not a member of the library? Don't worry, we will use this form to create a membership for you. Just mark 'no' under the library member field in the online form. If you are a member and unsure of your library card number, just mark 'yes' in the library member field in the online form and we will find your library membership number. 

About the competition:

Entries will be judged according to characterisation, originality, plot and use of language and will be arranged into six different age group categories.

Winners from each category will have their stories published in an eBook that will be added to our collection. 

For more information, please email our Library Programs team or call 9976 1739. 

Want some inspiration? Check out the 2019 Young Writers' Competition winning entries in the eBook Wild.

9 Reasons You Should Be Worried About The Closure Of BuzzFeed News In Australia

May 14, 2020
By Alexandra Wake; Program Manager, Journalism, RMIT University

The closure of the Australian arm of the youth-focused news organisation, BuzzFeed, is more evidence the advertising-supported media landscape is broken.

It’s a sad end for a news organisation that launched in 2014 with an ambition to shake up Australia’s hyper-concentrated media market.

Here are nine things Australians who care about journalism, and the state of our democracy, should know.

1. BuzzFeed is not the only online outlet to flounder here

Some, such as HuffPost, started strong but then struggled. Others, such as The Global Mail and The Hoopla, failed pretty quickly.

But other digital offerings are surviving: these include Crikey, which came along in 2000, Mamamia (2007), The Conversation (2011), Guardian Australia (2013), The Saturday Paper (2014) and The New York Times (2017).

2. By grouping popular viral content and excellent journalism together, BuzzFeed created a disconnect

Due to the co-location of its popular and quality journalism, at the same time as BuzzFeed was being nominated for Pulitzer Prizes in the United States and the Walkley Awards in Australia, it also struggled with trust. The 2019 Canberra University Digital News Report survey found BuzzFeed was the country’s least trusted news brand.

3. BuzzFeed had been on shaky ground for a while

BuzzFeed cut about 200 staff globally in January 2019 amid a worldwide savings push. The Australian arm of BuzzFeed lost 11 of its 40 staff at the time.

4. BuzzFeed Australia has been home to many high-profile journalists

Since launching under founding editor Simon Crerar, it has employed its fair share of talented (and sometimes controversial) journalists who have broken significant stories and covered issues in innovative, unusual ways.

Lane Sainty was nominated for a Walkley Award for her coverage of the marriage equality debate, while Gina Rushton’s work on abortion is seen as contributing to last year’s decriminalisation in NSW.

Before recently running into trouble at the Financial Times, Mark Di Stefano was noted for his innovative coverage of Australian politics, including interviewing former foreign minister Julie Bishop by emoji.

5. It needed advertising dollars to survive

Like other digital natives, BuzzFeed relied on advertisements for its funding. It also leaned heavily on digital platforms (such as Google and Facebook) for website referrals.

BuzzFeed used social media posts extensively as a means of reaching audiences, and has over 2.5 million Facebook “likes”. As Australia’s 2019 Digital Platforms Inquiry reported, when Facebook changed its algorithm to prioritise posts from family and friends, BuzzFeed Australia really felt the change.

6. It went after younger readers

Although BuzzFeed attracted sneers from traditional news lovers for its fun “listicles” and viral videos on social media, it set out to attract a youth market.

It also won respect from peers in traditional media outlets.

Even Australian journalism royalty Laurie Oakes noted in a speech at the University of Sydney: “I’m not going to complain if cat videos support serious journalistic aspirations.”

7. But those younger readers didn’t pay

There’s an old news adage that audiences will take more of what they need to know from those that give them what they want to know.

By providing non-news content alongside their journalism, BuzzFeed won attention from youth audiences to stories in a way other news outlets couldn’t.

Unfortunately, audiences prefer to pay for streaming services rather than news, as the 2019 Digital News Report found.

8. BuzzFeed covered stories others would not do, or did them in a way others would not

It recognised the importance of covering federal politics for young people. And it broke major stories, such as former employment minister Michaelia Cash’s office tipping off the media about union raids.

Although this also came at a cost. It reached an out of court settlement with former Labor MP Emma Husar in 2019, after she sued BuzzFeed for defamation.

It should not have been as innovative as it was, but BuzzFeed also specifically employed Indigenous journalists Allan Clarke and Amy McQuire to cover Indigenous issues.

9. This is the last thing Australia needs

As many noted on Twitter as the news broke, the last thing Australia needs right now is fewer media outlets, especially those that focus on stories overlooked by everyone else.

On days like today, we should be mindful that recent parliamentary and government inquiries have recommended other ways of supporting independent journalism.

These include adequate funding for public broadcasting, expanding tax deductible provisions for donations to media outlets and forcing Google and Facebook to compensate media outlets for using their content.

If we don’t figure out how to pay for strong independent journalism in Australia, our nation will most certainly be the loser.

BuzzFeed News Background Notes

BuzzFeed News is an American news website published by BuzzFeed. It has published a number of high-profile scoops, including the Trump–Russia dossier, for which it was heavily criticized. During its relatively short tenure, it has won the George Polk Award, Sidney Award, National Magazine Award and National Press Foundation award, as well as being a finalist for Pulitzer Prizes.

BuzzFeed News began as a division of BuzzFeed in December 2011 with the appointment of Ben Smith as editor-in-chief. In 2013, Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Schoofs of ProPublica was hired as head of investigative reporting. By 2016, BuzzFeed had 20 investigative journalists. The British division of BuzzFeed News was headed by Janine Gibson, formerly of The Guardian. Notable coverage includes a 2012 partnership with the BBC on match-fixing in professional tennis, and inequities in the U.S. H-2 guest worker program, reporting of which won a National Magazine Award.

A 2017 study in the journal Journalism which compared news articles by BuzzFeed and The New York Times found that BuzzFeed largely follows established rules of journalism. Both publications predominantly used inverted pyramid news format, and journalists' opinions were absent from the majority of articles of both. 

The inverted pyramid method visualised

Both BuzzFeed and the Times predominately covered government and politics, and predominantly used politicians, government, and law enforcement as sources. In contrast, BuzzFeed devoted more articles to social issues such as protests and LGBT issues, more frequently quoted ordinary people, less frequently covered crime and terrorism, and had fewer articles focusing on negative aspects of an issue.

As recently as 2016, the company had attracted a valuation of as much as $1.7billion.

On January 23, 2019, BuzzFeed notified all employees via memo that there would be an upcoming 15% reduction in workforce affecting the international, web content, and news divisions of the company. The layoffs would affect approximately 200 employees.

The advertising slump brought on by the coronavirus has hastened the end of what was an already struggling business model. In January 2020 founder Jonah Peretti posted a 2,500-word blog laying out plans to diversify the ailing business’s revenue streams. He had previously publicly raised the prospect of merging with other digital publishers in order to gain the scale to fight on more equal terms with the likes of Facebook and Google, which dominate the digital advertising market.

Less than a year later, three of the companies Peretti referred to as potential partners had done deals: Vice, which has a more male-focused audience, acquired Refinery29, which targets millennial females, to create a $4bn publishing group. Vox bought New York Media, which owns sites including Vulture and The Cut, to build scale.

In December 2019 it became apparemt that BuzzFeed’s international operations, non-US businesses including the UK, Germany, Australia and Brazil, had seen losses quadruple in 2018. International revenues fell by 35%, according to the most recently available public filings. In the same year BuzzFeed cut a third of its UK newsroom staff.

At the same time BuzzFeed News began asking readers to “help shape the future” of its content through donations, a similar model to that used by the Guardian. The support page, promoted at the bottom of news stories, asked for donations of $5 to $100 to diversify away from a reliance on advertising revenues. The move was described at the time as a way of keeping “BuzzFeed News free for everyone”.

Two days ago the company announced it will end its news operations in the UK and Australia;

“For economic and strategic reasons, we are going to focus on news that hits big in the United States during this difficult period,” the company said in a statement.

One of thew last Australian reports by an Australian journalist was published the day before, May 13th, 2020: The Staffer Who Called Out News Corp's Climate Change Coverage In A Reply-All Email Doesn't Regret A Thing by Gina Rushton, BuzzFeed News Reporter, Australia

A song in your heart shouldn't lead to an infection in your lungs: reasons to get with online choirs

Camden Voices/YouTube/Screenshot
Narelle YeoUniversity of Sydney

On March 10 2020, Skagit Valley, Washington – a town with no known cases of COVID-19 – held a choir rehearsal. There was hand sanitiser at the door, no direct contact between choristers, no-one coughed or was ill.

Out of the 60 choristers in attendance, at least 53 became ill and two have died from COVID-19 complications.

On March 8, a 130-person choir performed at the Concertgebouw in the Netherlands. Four people associated with the choir died, and 102 fell sick.

German churches are reopening but regulating public singing after 59 out of 78 singers at a March rehearsal of the Berlin’s Protestant cathedral choir were infected with coronavirus.

Singers are highly attuned to the dangers of respiratory illness because of its impact on the voice, with inflammation and excess mucus impacting vocal quality. Despite this natural hyper-vigilance, choirs have been super-spreaders of coronavirus.

Ear, nose and throat specialist Dr Lucinda Halstead, speaking to America’s National Association of Teachers of Singing, has proposed a ban on choral singing until there is a vaccine and treatment with 95% efficacy in place. In her estimates, this is between 18-24 months away.

Singers inhale more air and exhale at greater air and moisture volume than speakers. Singing produces six times the amount of airborne droplet nuclei (aerosolised virus particles which can remain suspended in the air) compared with speech.

Live ensemble singing presents a higher health risk for coronavirus. Safe singing may require larger spaces and protocols than are possible in practice.

Dr William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, advises avoiding singing in groups. He told Business Insider: “We don’t want people doing voice lessons, even standing eight-and-a-half feet apart.”

Online Benefits

Choirs rehearsing online without specialised equipment may notice a 15-20 millisecond latency. Try to sing a song together with your friends on Zoom and you will experience this hilarious and frustrating problem.

But brilliant visual creations of multiple singers can hide this. The best choir videos are edited together to sync performances and give the appearance of ensemble singing.

A virtual choir can:

  • maintain an existing choir by recording and editing individual sung parts to combine voices and visuals into the appearance of ensemble singing

  • allow members to practise singing, as musical skills require repetitive practice

  • maintain community while social isolation is a real danger

  • improve mood and “immune competence”

  • support musicians through paying conductors.

Returning To Group Rehearsals

As social restrictions ease, choirs will need to consider the conditions to return to safe rehearsals, following government advice for the general population.

Enhanced distancing measures for singers should be considered, including:

  • separation of singers – having members stand further apart and applying direction principles to minimise aerosol, droplet and touch transmission

  • using internal spaces with natural airflow (no air conditioning or re-circulation), or outside spaces with natural air circulation

  • limiting participants.

Choirs could find innovative locations to achieve these aims. Singing in an environment with natural resonance such as a beautiful outback chasm could create special experiences for choirs without losing quality or sacrificing health. Such imperfect live magic could supplement the online magic of virtual choirs.

Live choirs could also wait. Medical advice is to avoid singing in close proximity until further research has been done or the pandemic is controlled. While choristers need close proximity for part recognition, creating blend and a raft of well-being measures, these weigh heavily against health risks.The Conversation

Narelle Yeo, Senior Lecturer in Voice and Stagecraft, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney

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

The healing power of data: Florence Nightingale's true legacy

Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA
Alice RichardsonAustralian National UniversityJessica KaszaMonash University, and Karen LambUniversity of Melbourne

When you’re in a medical emergency, you don’t typically think of calling a statistician. However, the COVID-19 outbreak has shown just how necessary a clear understanding of data and modelling is to help prevent the spread of disease.

One person understood this a long time ago. Were she alive today, Florence Nightingale would understand the importance of data in dealing with a public health emergency.

Nightingale is renowned for her career in nursing, but less well known for her pioneering work in medical statistics. But it was actually her statistical skills that led to Nightingale saving many more lives.

Read more: Florence Nightingale: a pioneer of hand washing and hygiene for health

An Early Spark

Nightingale was one of the first female statisticians. She developed an early passion for statistics. As a child she collected shells and supplemented her collection with tables and lists. Nightingale was home-schooled by her father but insisted on learning maths from a mathematician before she trained as a nurse.

A photo of Nightingale taken circa 1860. Wikimedia Commons

Upon arriving at the British military hospital in Turkey in 1856, Nightingale was horrified at the hospital’s conditions and a lack of clear hospital records.

Even the number of deaths was not recorded accurately. She soon discovered three different death registers existed, each giving a completely different account of the deaths among the soldiers. Using her statistical skills, Nightingale set to work to introduce new guidelines on how to record sickness and mortality across military hospitals.

This helped her better understand both the numbers and causes of deaths. Now, worldwide, there are similar standards for recording diseases, such as the International Classification of Diseases.

Outbreak Monitoring

The ability to compare datasets from different places is critical to understanding outbreaks. One of the challenges in monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic has been the lack of standardised datasets experts can compare on the number of people infected. This is due to differences in testing rules in different countries.

More than 150 years after Nightingale pointed out the need to standardise datasets before comparing them, we are certain she would have something to say about this.

Read more: From election upsets to climate chaos, rolling the dice helps us appreciate the odds

With her improved data, Nightingale put her statistical skills to use. She discovered deaths due to disease were more than seven times the number of deaths due to combat, because of unsanitary hospital conditions.

However, knowing numbers alone have limited persuasive powers, Nightingale used her skills in statistical communication to convince the British parliament of the need to act. She avoided the dry tables used by most statisticians of the time, and instead devised a novel graph to illustrate the impact of hospital and nursing practice reform on army mortality rates.

Florence Nightingale’s graph showing deaths due to disease, wounds and other causes in the Crimean War. Wikimedia/commons

Today, graphs remain one of the most effective ways to understand the effects of health care interventions, including those used to illustrate the effectiveness of physical distancing to curb COVID-19’s spread.

Flattening the curve is another way of saying slowing the spread. The epidemic is lengthened, but we reduce the number of severe cases, causing less burden on public health systems. The Conversation/CC BY ND

Florence Nightingale Down Under

Nightingale may not have travelled much after her wartime experience in Turkey, but she was engaged in improving public health in many countries, including Australia.

She wrote papers on the benefits of pavilion-style hospital building designs, which were later incorporated into Australian hospitals. This style consists of small wings, or pavilions, leading off a central corridor – this is convenient for nursing staff and encourages good ventilation.

In 1868, Lucy Osburn headed the first team of nurses sent to Australia to establish Nightingale-style nursing. One of the team’s first tasks was to nurse Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria’s second son, who had been shot in an attempted assassination.

Nightingale never visited Australia herself, but this did not stop her using her usual tactics of requesting data from her wide network of contacts and drawing conclusions from what she found. She was a prolific correspondent – we have more than 12,000 of her letters, and those are only the ones which haven’t been burned, lost or otherwise destroyed.

Nightingale would surely have embraced 21st-century communication. We can imagine her sitting at her laptop tweeting under the moniker @ladywiththelamp.

A Trailblazer For Women

In 1858, Nightingale’s achievements in statistics were recognised by the Royal Statistical Society in the UK, when she became the first woman Fellow of the Society.

After Nightingale’s fellowship, it would be more than 100 years before a woman was elected President of the Royal Statistical Society, with Stella Cunliffe’s election in 1975. It was only in 1995 that the Statistical Society of Australia had a woman as president, with the election of Helen MacGillivray.

As in many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines, female statisticians are still fighting for equal recognition. To date, only two women have received the Statistical Society of Australia’s highest honour, the Pitman Medal.

But it’s clear female statisticians are still making headway. In 2019, five major statistical associations had women presidents. Today, on her 200th birthday, Nightingale would have been proud.The Conversation

Presidents of Statistical Societies in 2019. L-R: Karen Kafadar (American Statistical Association), Louise Ryan (International Biometric Society), Deborah Ashby (Royal Statistical Society), Helen MacGillivray (International Statistical Institute), Susan Ellenberg, Jessica Utts (former President of the American Statistical Association), Susan Murphy (Institute of Mathematical Statistics). Twitter/Author provided

Alice Richardson, Associate professor, Australian National UniversityJessica Kasza, Senior lecturer, Monash University, and Karen Lamb, Biostatistician, University of Melbourne

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

New Emergency Leave Provision For Aged Care Residents

May 14, 2020
Senior Australians won’t be penalised or disadvantaged for moving out of an aged care facility during crisis under emergency leave legislation amendments today adopted by the Federal Government.

The emergency leave mechanism will be activated in volatile situations including natural disasters or health epidemics.

Eligibility for emergency leave will be backdated to April 1st this year, so people impacted by the current COVID-19 crisis are not disadvantaged.

Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Richard Colbeck, said the recent bushfires and the virus pandemic had highlighted the need to protect leave entitlements of aged care residents.

Under current legislation, permanent residents are entitled to be away from their aged care residence for up to 52 days a year for non-hospital related reasons — known as social leave.

If a resident takes more than 52 days social leave, the Government does not provide its subsidy to the aged care home for that person for the extra days.

This cost is usually passed on to the resident.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, some aged care residents have temporarily relocated to live with family, to reduce their risk of exposure to the virus,” Minister Colbeck said.

“Most of these residents are likely to exhaust their 52 days before the pandemic passes, leading to extra costs on them or their families.

“The Government recognises that this isn’t fair or desirable. We have amended the Aged Care Act to give aged care residents the option of taking additional leave during an emergency.”

The Government will continue to provide the residential care subsidy for residents on emergency leave, so neither residents nor providers are financially disadvantaged, Minister Colbeck said.

Emergency leave will also be available for a specific region which is in crisis, for example from an isolated outbreak of COVID-19 or major bushfires.

“This initiative will allow permanent aged care residents and their families to make their own decisions about personal safety in emergency situations, without suffering financially as a result,” Minister Colbeck said.

“It also means that after an emergency, residents can use their social leave entitlement for normal visiting and special events with their families and friends, which are so important for emotional and mental health.”

Aerobics May Be A Smart Workout For Your Brain At Any Age

May 13, 2020
It's never too late to lace up some sneakers and work up a sweat for brain health, according to a study published in the May 13, 2020, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The study suggests older adults, even couch potatoes, may perform better on certain thinking and memory tests after just six months of aerobic exercise.

"As we all find out eventually, we lose a bit mentally and physically as we age. But even if you start an exercise program later in life, the benefit to your brain may be immense," said study author Marc J. Poulin, Ph.D., D.Phil., from the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. "Sure, aerobic exercise gets blood moving through your body. As our study found, it may also get blood moving to your brain, particularly in areas responsible for verbal fluency and executive functions. Our finding may be important, especially for older adults at risk for Alzheimer's and other dementias and brain disease."

The study involved 206 adults who prior to starting the six-month exercise intervention worked out no more than four days per week at a moderate intensity for 30 minutes or less, or no more than two days per week a high intensity for 20 minutes or less per day. They had an average age of 66 and no history of heart or memory problems. Participants were given thinking and memory tests at the start of the study, as well as an ultrasound to measure blood flow in the brain. Physical testing was repeated at three months, and thinking and physical testing repeated at the end of the six months.

Participants were enrolled in a supervised aerobic exercise program held three days a week. As they progressed through the program, they increased their workout from an average of 20 minutes a day to an average of at least 40 minutes. In addition, people were asked to work out on their own once a week.

Researchers found that after six months of exercise, participants improved by 5.7% on tests of executive function, which includes mental flexibility and self-correction. Verbal fluency, which tests how quickly you can retrieve information, increased by 2.4%.

"This change in verbal fluency is what you'd expect to see in someone five years younger," Poulin said.

Before and after six months of aerobic activity, the participants' average peak blood flow to the brain was measured using ultrasound. Blood flow rose from an average of 51.3 centimeters per second (cm/sec) to an average of 52.7 cm/sec, a 2.8% increase. The increase in blood flow with exercise was associated with a number of modest but significant improvements in aspects of thinking that usually decline as we age, Poulin said.

"Our study showed that six months' worth of vigorous exercise may pump blood to regions of the brain that specifically improve your verbal skills as well as memory and mental sharpness," said Poulin. "At a time when these results would be expected to be decreasing due to normal aging, to have these types of increases is exciting."

A limitation of the study was that the people doing the exercise were not compared to a similar group of people who were not exercising, so the results may have been due to other factors, although the researchers tried to control for this by testing participants twice over six months before the start of the program. In addition, some of the exercise was unsupervised, so the amount reported may be unreliable.

Aerobic exercise improves cognition and cerebrovascular regulation in older adults. Veronica Guadagni, Lauren L. Drogos, Amanda V. Tyndall, Margie H. Davenport, Todd J. Anderson, Gail A. Eskes, R. Stewart Longman, Michael D. Hill, David B. Hogan, Marc J. Poulin. . Neurology, 2020 DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000009478

Social Good Creates Economic Boost

May 15, 2020
As unemployment rates skyrocket around the world in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a world-first study has found social venture start-ups not only alleviate social problems but also are much more important for job creation than previously thought.

Written by Professor Martin Obschonka, Director of QUT's Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship Research, and its founding director, Professor Per Davidsson, along with collaborators from Sweden, the paper -- The regional employment effects of new social firm entry -- has just been published on Springer Open Access.

They contend the impact of social venture start-ups on regional job creation has been largely overlooked. They also argue the first-of-its-kind investigation could provide important input to employment policy, especially as global governments scramble to prop up ailing economies.

"It has long been acknowledged that the entry and growth of new firms contribute a large share of job creation in most countries. Social venture start-ups, however, are mostly celebrated for their worth in helping the disadvantaged or solving social concerns -- their role in job creation has not really been considered," said Professor Obschonka.

"Yet using an established method for tracking direct and indirect job creation effects across 67 regions in Sweden over an eight-year period from start-up entry into the marketplace, our findings show the average job creation effect per firm was larger for social start-ups than for their commercial counterparts.

"Job creation is often a major focus of the social mission of these start-ups, especially for marginalised groups including people with disabilities and long-term unemployed individuals."

Professor Davidsson said the findings were contrary to the reliance on volunteers by many social endeavours.

"There appear to be a number of reasons social ventures create more jobs. First up, most 'commercial' start-ups represent individuals choosing self-employment which can mean they have no burning desire to grow and take on employees," Professor Davidsson said.

"Commercial start-ups also often operate in crowded markets with little room for growth. So even the high growth firms among the commercial category do not raise the average to high levels; partly because they outcompete or acquire some of their peers.

"By contrast, social ventures address underserved 'markets' of social problems, such as homelessness, substance abuse, domestic violence, refugees, environmental concerns, animal shelters, foodbanks, crisis centres, youth unemployment and so on.

"This creates room for growth without pushing out other social ventures. And being passionate about solving as much of 'their' social issue as they possibly can, social entrepreneurs are motivated to grow.

"They can also benefit from lower costs due to tax breaks and partial reliance on volunteers to have a growth advantage over commercial firms offering competing products or services."

The authors of the study acknowledge that as the commercial firm sector is much larger than the social sector, total job creation is greater overall.

The study compared regions in Sweden in terms of their social and commercial start-ups between 1990 to 2014 and their net job creation effects in each up to eight years after they entered the market.

"Similar comparisons for Australia or other countries do not yet exist," said Professor Obschonka.

"However, total employment in the social sector has grown recently in other countries, so our findings would most likely be valid in Australia and elsewhere along with Sweden."

Habib Kachlami, Per Davidsson, Martin Obschonka, Darush Yazdanfar, Anders Lundström. The regional employment effects of new social firm entry. Small Business Economics, 2020; DOI: 10.1007/s11187-020-00345-9

A Steam Train Passes

From the Film Australia Collection. Made by Film Australia 1974.  Directed by David Haythornthwaite, he's a local gentleman, who lives here, in Pittwater.
Generally regarded as Australia's finest railway film and winner of many awards the world over, A Steam Train Passes is a nostalgic, imaginative essay on one of the majestic but now retired C38 class steam locomotives. This fine locomotive has been restored at the Newcastle State Dockyard. The documentary was filmed on one of its final journeys from Sydney to a series of country railway stations.

QUT Staff Awarded Associate Fellow (Indigenous)

May 11, 2020
Ten QUT staff members have been awarded Associate Fellow (Indigenous) of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) following a pilot program underpinned by a new module on Indigenous Perspectives in Learning and Teaching.

Professor Fiona Naumann, Associate Professors Louisa Coglan, Deanna Grant-Smith, Dominique Greer and Robyn Mayes, and Drs Ruari Elkington, Jenna Gillett-Swan, Melinda Laundon, Grace O’Brien and Lauren Woodlands were awarded Associate Fellow (Indigenous). 

QUT received accreditation to award staff members the category of Associate Fellow (Indigenous) in late 2019. The pilot program is an initiative of QUT’s Carumba Institute and the Academy of Learning and Teaching.

The program has created a pathway for all educators to transform their practice and make Indigenous perspectives a key feature of the course learning experience.
QUT Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Margaret Sheil said the awards demonstrated an emerging confidence amongst QUT staff.

“The AFHEA (Indigenous) program will help integrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ perspectives into our curriculum,” Professor Sheil said.

“This will be a central component of QUT’s commitment to transforming Indigenous education and enhancing the capacity of Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff to embed Indigenous perspectives in their classes.”

Launched in February 2020, more than 100 QUT staff members are now studying the module online, which supports the university’s strategic plan, Blueprint 6.

University of Sunshine Coast Indigenous Education and Engagement Dean Professor Gary Thomas, the external examiner of the program, applauded QUT for its leadership in this area. 

“I congratulate QUT for creating an environment for people to speak to themselves, and through themselves, in order to find a pathway to integrate Indigenous perspectives in their curriculum,” he said.

“QUT is providing sound, solid leadership in this space nationally and I look forward to seeing how the program develops,” Professor Thomas said.
Advance HE director Kathryn Harrison-Graves commended QUT on proposing a scheme for the first-ever specialist designation award. 

“QUT was one of our first global members, and over the past four years has demonstrated a clear capacity to uphold standards, innovate and lead others using the Professional Standards Framework to drive teaching quality,” Ms Harrison-Graves said.

“The AFHEA (Indigenous) presents an important opportunity, not only for QUT staff, but potentially for others in Australia by supporting educators to integrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples perspectives into their practice and curriculum in ways that are respectful and transformative.”

Applicants for the category Associate Fellow (Indigenous) may hold a different category of fellowship. The award sits alongside the existing category to demonstrate an emerging engagement with learning and teaching practice informed by Indigenous perspectives.

The program is available to QUT staff members, and ultimately to external partners in line with global membership of Advance HE. For enquiries contact

Teams from QUT's Carumba Institute and the QUT Academy of Learning and Teaching are pictured along with Kathryn Harrison-Graves from Advance HE.  QUT image.

World-First Saliva Test Detects Hidden Throat Cancer

May 12, 2020: Queensland University of Technology
A simple saliva test developed by QUT biomedical scientists has detected early throat cancer in a person who had no symptom and no clinical signs of cancer.

In what is believed to be a world-first, the non-invasive test picked up HPV-DNA in a saliva sample from an infected healthy person. Persistent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is now the leading cause of cancers in the oropharynx (tonsils and tongue base area of the throat).

"The series of saliva tests raised the alert and detected an early cancer before the person had any symptoms," said QUT Faculty of Health's Associate Professor Chamindie Punyadeera, who, with Dr Kai Tang, developed the test.

"This enabled removal of the tonsil which had a 2mm cancer in it, by straightforward local surgery alone.

"The incidence of high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV)-driven throat cancers is on the rise in developed countries and, unfortunately, it is often discovered only when it is more advanced, with patients needing complicated and highly impactful treatment.

"In the US, HPV-driven throat cancers have surpassed cervical cancers as the most common cancer caused by HPV but unlike cervical cancer, up until now, there has been no screening test for this type of oropharyngeal cancer."

Professor Punyadeera said the discovery was made during an HPV-prevalence study which included 665 healthy individuals.

"To take the test all the person has to do is give a salivary oral rinse sample. When the test shows HPV-16 DNA, it is repeated and if the presence of HPV-16 is persistent over a period of time we would be suspicious that there may be underlying cancer.

"The person whom we reported in this study had been consistently HPV-16 DNA positive for 36 months, with a steadily rising count of HPV-16 DNA after testing at 6, 12 and 36 months.

"The patient was found to have a 2mm squamous cell carcinoma in the left tonsil, treated by tonsillectomy. This has given our patient a high chance of cure with very straightforward treatment.

"Since the surgery, the patient has had no evidence of HPV-16 DNA in his saliva."

Professor Punyadeera said this was the first-ever case of histologically confirmed diagnosis of an asymptomatic, hidden throat cancer, diagnosed with a saliva screening test and that wider validation studies were required to confirm this finding.

"The presence of this pattern of elevated salivary HPV-DNA must be fully evaluated, as it may provide the critical marker for early cancer detection.

"We now have the promise of a screening test for oropharynx cancer and there is an urgent need to undertake a major study to validate this test and the appropriate assessment pathway for people with persisting salivary HPV-DNA."

Kai Dun Tang, Sarju Vasani, Touraj Taheri, Laurence J. Walsh, Brett G. M. Hughes, Lizbeth Kenny, Chamindie Punyadeera. An Occult HPV-Driven Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma Discovered Through a Saliva Test. Frontiers in Oncology, 2020; 10 DOI: 10.3389/fonc.2020.00408

Potentially Fatal Combinations Of Humidity And Heat Are Emerging Across The Globe

BY KEVIN KRAJICK, Earth Institute at Columbia University MAY 2020
Most everyone knows that humid heat is harder to handle than the "dry" kind. And recently, some scientists have projected that later in the century, in parts of the tropics and subtropics, warming climate could cause combined heat and humidity to reach levels rarely if ever experienced before by humans. Such conditions would ravage economies, and possibly even surpass the physiological limits of human survival.

According to a new study, the projections are wrong: such conditions are already appearing. The study identifies thousands of previously rare or unprecedented bouts of extreme heat and humidity in Asia, Africa, Australia, South America and North America, including in the U.S. Gulf Coast region. Along the Persian Gulf, researchers spotted more than a dozen recent brief outbreaks surpassing the theoretical human survivability limit. The outbreaks have so far been confined to localised areas and lasted just hours, but they are increasing in frequency and intensity, say the authors. The study appears this week in the journal Science Advances.

"Previous studies projected that this would happen several decades from now, but this shows it's happening right now," said lead author Colin Raymond, who did the research as a PhD. student at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "The times these events last will increase, and the areas they affect will grow in direct correlation with global warming."

Analysing data from weather stations from 1979 to 2017, the authors found that extreme heat/humidity combinations doubled over the study period. Repeated incidents appeared in much of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan; northwestern Australia; and along the coasts of the Red Sea and Mexico's Gulf of California. The highest, potentially fatal, readings, were spotted 14 times in the cities of Dhahran/ Damman, Saudi Arabia; Doha, Qatar; and Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates, which have combined populations of over 3 million. Parts of southeast Asia, southern China, subtropical Africa and the Caribbean were also hit.

The southeastern United States saw extreme conditions dozens of times, mainly near the Gulf Coast in east Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. The worst spots: New Orleans and Biloxi, Miss. Such conditions also reached inland into Arkansas and along the southeastern coastal plain.

Not surprisingly, incidents tended to cluster on coastlines along confined seas, gulfs and straits, where evaporating seawater provides abundant moisture to be sucked up by hot air. In some areas further inland, moisture-laden monsoon winds or wide areas of crop irrigation appear to play the same role.

Prior climate studies failed to recognise most past incidents because climate researchers usually look at averages of heat and humidity measured over large areas and over several hours at a time. Raymond and his colleagues instead drilled directly into hourly data from 7,877 individual weather stations, allowing them to pinpoint shorter-lived bouts affecting smaller areas.

A farmer in Bangladesh, one of the most vulnerable places, pumps water through an irrigation system. (Kevin Krajick/Earth Institute)

Humidity worsens the effects of heat because humans cool their bodies by sweating; water expelled through the skin removes excess body heat, and when it evaporates, it carries that heat away. The process works nicely in deserts, but less well in humid regions, where the air is already too laden with moisture to take on much more. Evaporation of sweat slows. In the most extreme instances, it could stop. In that case, unless one can retreat to an air-conditioned room, the body's core heats beyond its narrow survivable range, and organs begin to fail. Even a strong, physically fit person resting in the shade with no clothes and unlimited access to drinking water would die within hours.

Meteorologists measure the heat/humidity effect on the so-called "wet bulb" Centigrade scale; in the United States, these readings are often translated into "heat index" or "real-feel" Fahrenheit readings. Prior studies suggest that even the strongest, best-adapted people cannot carry out normal outdoor activities when the wet bulb hits 32 C, equivalent to a heat index of 132 F. Most others would crumble well before that. A reading of 35 -- the peak briefly reached in the Persian Gulf cities -- is considered the theoretical survivability limit. That translates roughly to a heat index of 160 F. (The heat index actually ends at 127 F, so these readings are literally off the charts.) "It's hard to exaggerate the effects of anything that gets into the 30s," said Raymond.

The study found that worldwide, wet-bulb readings approaching or exceeding 30C on the wet bulb have doubled since 1979. The number of readings of 31 -- previously believed to occur only rarely -- totalled around 1,000. Readings of 33 -- previously thought to be almost nonexistent -- totalled around 80.

A heat wave that struck much of the United States last July maxed out at about 30C on the wet bulb, translating into heat indexes approaching 115 F in places; the highest was 122 F, in Baltimore, Md., and a similar wave hit in August. The waves paralysed communities and led to at least a half-dozen deaths, including those of an air-conditioning technician in Phoenix, Az., and former National Football League lineman Mitch Petrus, who died in Arkansas while working outside.

It was a modest toll; heat-related illnesses already kill more U.S. residents than any other weather-related hazard including cold, hurricanes or floods. An investigation last year by the website InsideClimate News revealed that cases of heat stroke or heat exhaustion among U.S. troops on domestic bases grew 60 percent from 2008 to 2018. Seventeen soldiers died, almost all in the muggy U.S. Southeast. High-humidity heat waves in Russia and Europe, where far fewer people have air conditioning, have killed tens of thousands.

"We may be closer to a real tipping point on this than we think," said Radley Horton, a Lamont-Doherty research scientist and coauthor of the paper. Horton coauthored a 2017 paper projecting that such conditions would not take hold until later in the century.

While air conditioning may blunt the effects in the United States and some other wealthy countries, there are limits. Before the new study, one of the previously highest heat/humidity events ever reported was in the Iranian city of Bandar Mahshahr, which almost reached a 35C wet-bulb reading on July 31, 2015. There were no known deaths; residents reported staying inside air-conditioned vehicles and buildings, and showering after brief sojourns outside. But Horton points out that if people are increasingly forced indoors for longer periods, farming, commerce and other activities could potentially grind to a halt, even in rich nations-a lesson already brought home by the collapse of economies in the face of the novel coronavirus.

In any case, many people in the poorer countries most at risk do not have electricity, never mind air conditioning. There, many rely on subsistence farming requiring daily outdoor heavy labour. These facts could make some of the most affected areas basically uninhabitable, says Horton.

Kristina Dahl, a climatologist at the Union of Concerned Scientists who led a study last year warning of increasing future heat and humidity in the United States, said the new paper shows "how close communities around the world are to the limits." She added that some localities may already be seeing conditions worse than the study suggests, because weather stations do not necessarily pick up hot spots in dense city neighbourhoods built with heat-trapping concrete and pavement.

Steven Sherwood, a climatologist at the Australia's University of New South Wales, said, "These measurements imply that some areas of Earth are much closer than expected to attaining sustained intolerable heat. It was previously believed we had a much larger margin of safety."

The study was coauthored by Tom Matthews, a lecturer in climate science at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom. Colin Raymond is now a postdoctoral researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Colin Raymond, Tom Matthews, Radley M. Horton. The emergence of heat and humidity too severe for human tolerance. Science Advances, 2020; 6 (19): eaaw1838 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw1838

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.

Excess Coffee Consumption A Culprit For Poor Health

May 13, 2020: University of South Australia
Cappuccino, latte or short black, coffee is one of the most commonly consumed drinks in the world. But whether it's good or bad for your health can be clarified by genetics, as a world-first study from the University of South Australia's Australian Centre for Precision Health shows that excess coffee consumption can cause poor health.

Using data from over 300,000 participants in the UK Biobank, researchers examined connections between genetically instrumented habitual coffee consumption and a full range of diseases, finding that too much coffee can increase the risk of osteoarthritis, arthropathy (joint disease) and obesity.

In earlier research conducted by Professor Hyppönen and team, six cups of coffee a day were considered the upper limit of safe consumption.

Expert genetic epidemiologist, UniSA's Professor Elina Hyppönen, says understanding any risks associated with habitual coffee intakes could have very large implications for population health.

"Globally, we drink around three billion cups of coffee each day, so it makes sense to explore the pros and cons of this on our health," Professor Hyppönen says.

"Typically, the effects of coffee consumption are investigated using an observational approach, where comparisons are made against non-coffee-drinkers. But this can deliver misleading results.

"In this study, we used a genetic approach -- called MR-PheWAS analysis -- to establish the true effects of coffee consumption against 1117 clinical conditions.

"Reassuringly, our results suggest that, moderate coffee drinking is mostly safe.

"But it also showed that habitual coffee consumption increased the risks of three diseases: osteoarthritis, arthropathy and obesity, which can cause significant pain and suffering for individuals with these conditions."

Professor Hyppönen says the prevalence of these conditions in Australia and around the world shows how important it is to determine possible causes and influencers of the diseases.

"Excess coffee consumption can lead to increased risks of certain diseases," Professor Hyppönen says.

"For people with a family history of osteoarthritis or arthritis, or for those who are worried about developing these conditions, these results should act as a cautionary message.

"The body generally sends powerful messages with respect to coffee consumption, so it's imperative that individuals listen to these when consuming coffee. "While these results are in many ways reassuring in terms of general coffee consumption, the message we should always remember is consume coffee in moderation -- that's the best bet to enjoy your coffee and good health too."

Konstance Nicolopoulos, Anwar Mulugeta, Ang Zhou, Elina Hyppönen. Association between habitual coffee consumption and multiple disease outcomes: A Mendelian randomisation phenome-wide association study in the UK Biobank. Clinical Nutrition, 2020; DOI: 10.1016/j.clnu.2020.03.009

Pofatu: A New Database For Geochemical 'Fingerprints' Of Artefacts

May 13, 2020
Due to the improvement and increased use of geochemical fingerprinting techniques during the last 25 years, the archaeological compositional data of stone tools has grown exponentially. The Pofatu Database is a large-scale collaborative project that enables curation and data sharing. The database also provides instrumental details, analytical procedures and reference standards used for calibration purposes or quality control. Thus, Pofatu ensures reproducibility and comparability between provenance studies.

Provenance studies (documenting where artefacts are found relative to their sources or place of manufacture) help archaeologists understand the "life-histories" of artefacts, in this case, stone tools. They show where the raw material come from and how artefacts were manufactured and distributed between individuals and groups. Reliable data allows scientists to reconstruct technological, economic, and social behaviours of human societies over many thousands of years.

To facilitate access to this growing body of geochemical data, Aymeric Hermann and Robert Forkel of the Department for Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, conceived and designed Pofatu, the first open-access database of geochemical compositions and contextual information for archaeological sources and artefacts in a form readily accessible to the scientific community.

Reconstructing ancient strategies of raw material and artefact procurement
Geochemical "fingerprinting" of artefacts is the most effective way to reconstruct how and where ancient peoples extracted, transformed, and exchanged stone materials and artefacts. These fingerprints also serve as clues to understand a number of phenomenon in past human societies, such as technical and economic behaviours, as well as sociopolitical organisations.

The Pofatu Database provides researchers with access to an ever-expanding dataset and facilitates comparability and reproducibility in provenance studies. Each sample is comprehensively documented for elemental and isotopic compositions, and includes detailed archaeological provenance, as well as supporting analytical metadata, such as sampling processes, analytical procedures, and quality control.

"By providing analytical data and comprehensive archaeological details in a form that can be readily accessed by the scientific community," Hermann says, "the Pofatu Database will facilitate assigning unambiguous provenance to artefacts in future studies and will lead to more robust, large-scope modelling of long-distance voyaging and traditional exchange systems."

Additionally, Marshall Weisler, a collaborator in the Pofatu project from the University of Queensland in Australia, stated that "By tracing the transport of artefacts carried across the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean, we will be able to reconstruct the ancient journeys enabling the greatest maritime migration in human history."

Pofatu -- an operational framework for data sharing in archaeometry
Pofatu's structure was designed by Forkel and Hermann. Hermann compiled and described the data with contributions and validations by colleagues and co-authors from universities and research institutions in New Zealand, Australia, and the USA. The database uses GitHub for open-source storage and version control and common non-proprietary file formats (CSV) to enable transparency and built-in reproducibility for future studies of prehistoric exchange. The database currently contains 7759 individual samples from archaeological sites and geological sources across the Pacific Islands, but Pofatu is made for even more, Hermann notes.

"With Pofatu we activated an operational framework for data sharing in archaeometry. The database is currently focused on sites and collections from the Pacific Islands, but we welcome all contributions of geochemical data on archaeological material, regardless of geographic or chrono-cultural boundaries. Our vision is an inclusive and collaborative data resource that will hopefully continue to develop with more datasets from the Pacific as well as from other regions. The ultimate goal is a more global project contemporary to other existing online repositories for geological materials."

Although the Pofatu Database is meant to be used primarily by archaeologists, analyses of geological samples and raw material extracted from prehistoric quarries could also be used by geologists to gather essential information on the smaller or more remote Pacific islands, which are among the least studied places on the planet and sometimes lack geochemical documentation. In that sense, Pofatu is a tool that will facilitate interdisciplinary research.

Aymeric Hermann, Robert Forkel, Andrew McAlister, Arden Cruickshank, Mark Golitko, Brendan Kneebone, Mark McCoy, Christian Reepmeyer, Peter Sheppard, John Sinton, Marshall Weisler. Pofatu, a curated and open-access database for geochemical sourcing of archaeological materials. Scientific Data, 2020; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41597-020-0485-8

Blood Test A Potential New Tool For Controlling Infections

May 11, 2020: Walter and Eliza Hall Institute
A new technique could provide vital information about a community's immunity to infectious diseases including malaria and COVID-19.

The diagnostic test analyses a blood sample to reveal immune markers that indicate whether -- and when -- a person was exposed to an infection. It was developed to track malaria infections in communities, to assist in the elimination of deadly 'relapsing' malaria, but is now being adapted to track immunity to COVID-19 in more detail than existing tests.

This new diagnostic approach in malaria, published today in Nature Medicine, has the potential to enhance infectious diseases surveillance. This could be of particular benefit in lower income countries where it can enable health authorities to track the spread of a disease such as malaria in a community and target resources where they are most needed. The research was led by researchers from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Australia; Pasteur Institute, France; and Ehime University, Japan.

Detecting past infections
Exposure to viruses, parasites or bacteria triggers immune responses that lead to antibodies circulating in the blood. These antibodies can remain for years, but over time the amount of different types of antibodies changes.

The new diagnostic technique allows researchers to look in detail at the amounts of different antibodies in the blood, to pinpoint whether -- and importantly when -- a person has been exposed to a particular infection, said Professor Ivo Mueller, who led the research and has joint appointments at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and the Pasteur Institute.

"Many tests for immunity give a simple 'yes or no' answer to whether someone has antibodies to the infectious agent," he said. "In contrast, our test -- which was initially developed to look at malaria infections -- can pinpoint how long ago a person was exposed to an infection.

"This information is extremely valuable for tracking the spread of an infection in a population. Particularly in lower income countries it may not be possible to monitor the actual spread of the infection, but it is very helpful to look retrospectively at whether the infection has been spreading -- and to monitor the effectiveness of infection control programs, and respond to disease resurgence," he said.

The team established this research to understand the spread of relapsing 'vivax' malaria. The parasite causing this form of malaria -- the most widespread malaria parasite in the world -- can be carried in a dormant state by people and later reawaken to continue to disease spread, causing significant challenges for malaria control.

Professor Mueller said that his team in Melbourne and France were now applying the systems they have established for malaria to detect immunity to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

"We have already started to study the blood of people who have had COVID-19 infections to document the types of antibodies they carry. In the next six months we hope to have discovered how these antibodies change over time, meaning we can use this information to explore immunity in wider groups in the community.

"This is not a tool for diagnosing individual people, but rather for monitoring COVID-19 disease spread in populations. In countries in the Asia-Pacific, Africa or Latin America, it is possible that COVID-19 will be spreading undetected in some regions for the coming year -- especially as governments try to loosen shutdown restrictions. This test could be invaluable for informing these decisions."

Eliminating malaria
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researcher and joint lead author Dr Rhea Longley said the malaria blood test had been validated using samples contributed by people living in malaria-endemic regions of Brazil, Thailand and the Solomon Islands.

"Our investigations confirmed that the test could detect people who had been infected with P. vivax in the preceding nine months -- and who would thus be at risk of recurring malaria infections," Dr Longley said.

"This information will enable better surveillance and deployment of resources to areas where malaria remains, and targeted treatment of infected individuals. This could be a huge improvement in how vivax malaria is controlled and eventually eliminated."

Further development of the malaria blood test received a recent boost with funding from an Australian Government NHMRC Development Grant, which commenced in 2020.

"We will be working with the Australian biotech company Axxin to develop a diagnostic test for malaria that can be deployed in the field, based on the immune markers our laboratory testing identified," Professor Mueller said. "We plan to continue clinical trials investigating how our test can guide malaria elimination efforts, and having a rapid field test will be an important aspect of this."

The research underpinning the new test was led by Professor Mueller and Dr Longley, with Dr Michael White from the Pasteur Institute and Professor Takafumi Tsuboi from Ehime University.

Funding for this research was provided by the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute Innovation Fund, Global Health Innovative Technology Fund, The Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, TransEPI consortium (supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), National Research Council of Thailand, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Wellcome Trust (UK), Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development, United Kingdom Government, Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and Victorian Government.

Rhea J. Longley, Michael T. White, Eizo Takashima, Jessica Brewster, Masayuki Morita, Matthias Harbers, Thomas Obadia, Leanne J. Robinson, Fumie Matsuura, Zoe S. J. Liu, Connie S. N. Li-Wai-Suen, Wai-Hong Tham, Julie Healer, Christele Huon, Chetan E. Chitnis, Wang Nguitragool, Wuelton Monteiro, Carla Proietti, Denise L. Doolan, Andre M. Siqueira, Xavier C. Ding, Iveth J. Gonzalez, James Kazura, Marcus Lacerda, Jetsumon Sattabongkot, Takafumi Tsuboi, Ivo Mueller. Development and validation of serological markers for detecting recent Plasmodium vivax infection. Nature Medicine, 2020; 26: 741-749 DOI: 10.1038/s41591-020-0841-4

Our Ability To Focus May Falter After Eating One Meal High In Saturated Fat

May 12, 2020: Ohio State University
Fatty food may feel like a friend during these troubled times, but new research suggests that eating just one meal high in saturated fat can hinder our ability to concentrate -- not great news for people whose diets have gone south while they're working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study compared how 51 women performed on a test of their attention after they ate either a meal high in saturated fat or the same meal made with sunflower oil, which is high in unsaturated fat.

Their performance on the test was worse after eating the high-saturated-fat meal than after they ate the meal containing a healthier fat, signalling a link between that fatty food and the brain.

Researchers were also looking at whether a condition called leaky gut, which allows intestinal bacteria to enter the bloodstream, had any effect on concentration. Participants with leakier guts performed worse on the attention assessment no matter which meal they had eaten.

The loss of focus after a single meal was eye-opening for the researchers.

"Most prior work looking at the causative effect of the diet has looked over a period of time. And this was just one meal -- it's pretty remarkable that we saw a difference," said Annelise Madison, lead author of the study and a graduate student in clinical psychology at The Ohio State University.

Madison also noted that the meal made with sunflower oil, while low in saturated fat, still contained a lot of dietary fat.

"Because both meals were high-fat and potentially problematic, the high-saturated-fat meal's cognitive effect could be even greater if it were compared to a lower-fat meal," she said.

The study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Madison works in the lab of Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology and director of the Institute for Behavioural Medicine Research at Ohio State. For this work, Madison conducted a secondary analysis of data from Kiecolt-Glaser's study assessing whether high-fat meals increased fatigue and inflammation among cancer survivors.

Women in the study completed a baseline assessment of their attention during a morning visit to the lab. The tool, called a continuous performance test, is a measure of sustained attention, concentration and reaction time based on 10 minutes of computer-based activities.

The high-fat meal followed: eggs, biscuits, turkey sausage and gravy containing 60 grams of fat, either a palmitic acid-based oil high in saturated fat or the lower-saturated-fat sunflower oil. Both meals totaled 930 calories and were designed to mimic the contents of various fast-food meals such as a Burger King double whopper with cheese or a McDonald's Big Mac and medium fries.

Five hours later, the women took the continuous performance test again. Between one and four weeks later, they repeated these steps, eating the opposite meal of what they had eaten on the first visit.

Researchers also analysed participants' fasting baseline blood samples to determine whether they contained an inflammatory molecule that signals the presence of endotoxemia -- the toxin that escapes from the intestines and enters the bloodstream when the gut barrier is compromised.

After eating the meal high in saturated fat, all of the participating women were, on average, 11 percent less able to detect target stimuli in the attention assessment. Concentration lapses were also apparent in the women with signs of leaky gut: Their response times were more erratic and they were less able to sustain their attention during the 10-minute test.

"If the women had high levels of endotoxemia, it also wiped out the between-meal differences. They were performing poorly no matter what type of fat they ate," Madison said.

Though the study didn't determine what was going on in the brain, Madison said previous research has suggested that food high in saturated fat can drive up inflammation throughout the body, and possibly the brain. Fatty acids also can cross the blood-brain barrier.

"It could be that fatty acids are interacting with the brain directly. What it does show is the power of gut-related dysregulation," she said.

The statistical analysis accounted for other potential influences on cognition, including depressive symptoms and the participants' average dietary saturated fat consumption. The women in the study ate three standardised meals and fasted for 12 hours before each lab visit to reduce diet variations that could affect their physiological response to the high-fat meals.

The findings suggest concentration could be even more impaired in people stressed by the pandemic who are turning to fatty foods for comfort, Kiecolt-Glaser said.

"What we know is that when people are more anxious, a good subset of us will find high-saturated-fat food more enticing than broccoli," she said. "We know from other research that depression and anxiety can interfere with concentration and attention as well. When we add that on top of the high-fat meal, we could expect the real-world effects to be even larger."

Janice K Kiecolt-Glaser, Michael T Bailey, William B Malarkey, Megan E Renna, M Rosie Shrout, Rebecca Andridge, Martha A Belury, Annelise A Madison. Afternoon distraction: a high-saturated-fat meal and endotoxemia impact postmeal attention in a randomised crossover trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2020; DOI: 10.1093/ajcn/nqaa085