Inbox and Environment News: Issue 460

August 2 - 8, 2020: Issue 460

Time Of Wiritjiribin -  Tugarah Gunya'marri (Cold And Windy) August

The lyrebirds' calls ring out through the bushland as he builds his dancing mounds to attract his potential mates. It is the time of the flowering of the Marrai'uo (Acacia floribunda) which is a sign that the fish are running in the rivers. At the end of this time the Boo'kerrikin (Acacia decurrens) flower, which indicates the end of the cold, windy weather, and the beginning of the gentle spring rains.

False Sarsaparilla (Hardenbergia Violacea)

This Hardenbergia violacea, photographed in Warriewood by Joe Mills, is a species of Australian flowering Native plant, known in Australia by the common names false sarsaparilla, purple coral pea, happy wanderer, native lilac and waraburra which comes from the Kattang language; Worimi, or Gadjang, also spelt Kattang, Kutthung, Gadhang, Gadang, Gathang.This beautiful plant grows as a climbing vine, but also as a subshrub. Flowering in late Winter and all through Spring it makes a great fence cover which should be pruned after flowering. 

There are two other species in Australia; a pale pink form called Hardenbergia ‘Rosea’  and a pure white form as well called Hardenbergia ‘Alba’.

Pumice Washed Up On Our Beaches This Week + Turimetta Beach Erosion + Puffer Fish Washed Ashore - The World Where You Live!

The storms that began on Sunday, last weekend, have brought what is called 'pumice' onto our beaches by Wednesday.

Pumice is igneous rock with a foamy appearance. The name is derived from the Latin word "pumex" which means "foam". Throughout history pumice has been given many names because its formation was unclear. In former times it was called "Spuma Maris", meaning froth of the sea in Latin, because it was a frothy material thought to be hardened sea foam. It was also known as "écume de mer" in French and “Meerschaum” in German for the same reason. Around 80 B.C., it was called "lapis spongiae" in Latin for its vesicular properties. Many Greek scholars decided there were different sources of pumice, one of which was in the sea coral category.

Pumice, called pumicite in its powdered or dust form, is a volcanic rock that consists of highly vesicular rough textured volcanic glass, which may or may not contain crystals. It is typically light colored.

Pumice is created when super-heated, highly pressurised rock is violently ejected from a volcano. The unusual foamy configuration of pumice happens because of simultaneous rapid cooling and rapid depressurisation. The depressurisation creates bubbles by lowering the solubility of gases (including water and CO2) that are dissolved in the lava, causing the gases to rapidly exsolve (like the bubbles of CO2 that appear when a carbonated drink is opened). The simultaneous cooling and depressurisation freezes the bubbles in a matrix. Eruptions under water are rapidly cooled and the large volume of pumice created can be a shipping hazard for cargo ships. The pores of pumice and pumicite can have sizes from a wide range. 

Pumice has been used in the medicinal industry for more than 2000 years. Ancient Chinese medicine used ground pumice along with ground mica and fossilised bones added to teas to calm the spirit. This tea was used to treat dizziness, nausea, insomnia, and anxiety disorders. Ingestion of these pulverised rocks were actually able to soften nodules and was later used with other herbal ingredients to treat gallbladder cancer and urinary difficulties. In western medicine, beginning in the early 18th century, pumice was ground into a sugar consistency and with other ingredients was used to treat ulcers mostly on the skin and cornea. Concoctions such as these were also used to help wounds scar in a healthier manner. In approximately 1680 it was noted by an English naturalist that pumice powder was used to promote sneezing.

Pumice has been used as a material in personal care for thousands of years. It is an abrasive material that can be used in powdered form or as a stone to remove unwanted hair or skin. In ancient Egypt skincare and beauty were very important to all classes and makeup and moisturisers were widely used. One common trend was to remove all hair on the body using creams, razors and pumice stones. Pumice in powdered form was used to whiten teeth in ancient Rome. Nail care was very important in ancient China; nails were kept groomed with pumice stones and to remove calluses. It was discovered in a Roman poem that pumice was used to remove dead skin as far back as 100 BC and likely before then. It has been used throughout many eras since then, including the Victorian Era. 

Today, many of these techniques are still used; pumice is widely used as a skin exfoliant. Hair removal techniques have evolved over the centuries, however abrasive material like pumice stones are still used. "Pumice stones" are often used in beauty salons during the pedicure process to remove dry and excess skin from the bottom of the foot as well as calluses. Finely ground pumice has been added to some toothpastes as a polish, similar to Roman use, and easily removes dental plaque build up. Such toothpaste is too abrasive for daily use. Pumice is also added to heavy-duty hand cleaners (such as lava soap) as a mild abrasive. Old beauty techniques using pumice are still employed today but newer substitutes are easier to obtain.

One of the Pittwater Online regular contributors, Joe Mills, sent in some photos of beach erosion at Turimetta Beach and a Puffer fish this week too - they run below so you can see how these big waves bring so much debris on to our shores and also take big sections of same back out to sea - which they will eventually return to those same beaches.

Pufferfish are scaleless fish and usually have rough to spiky skin. All have four teeth that are fused together into a beak-like form. Diet. The diet of the pufferfish includes mostly invertebrates and algae. Large specimens will even crack open and eat clams, mussels, and shellfish with their hard beaks.

Pufferfish washed ashore at Narrabeen - photo by Joe Mills

Information from Wikipedia - pumice photo by A J Guesdon, 2020 - taken at Avalon Beach, south end near the pool.

Turimetta Beach erosion and Pufferfish photos by Joe Mills. 

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. Bondi Campbell pde behind Beach Pavilion 
  11. Westfield Bondi Junction car park level 2 eastern end Woolworths side under ramp
  12. UNSW Kensington
  13. 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. The SW initiative runs until August 23rd.

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

Tick Population Booming In Our Area

Residents from Terrey Hills and Belrose to Narrabeen and Palm Beach report a high number of ticks are still present in the landscape. Local Veterinarians are stating there has not been the usual break from ticks so far and each day they’re still getting cases, especially in treating family dogs. 

To help protect yourself and your family, you should:

  • Use a chemical repellent with DEET, permethrin or picaridin.
  • Wear light-colored protective clothing.
  • Tuck pant legs into socks.
  • Avoid tick-infested areas.
  • Check yourself, your children, and your pets daily for ticks and carefully remove any ticks using a freezing agent.
  • If you have a reaction, contact your GP for advice.

Murray-Darling Basin Water Markets In Need Of Major Changes

July 30, 2020

Water markets in the Murray-Darling Basin need major changes to allow for open, fair and efficient water trading that benefits water users, communities and the economy, the ACCC has found.

The ACCC’s interim report for its Murray-Darling Basin Water Markets Inquiry, released today, finds that the $1.5 billion-a-year basin water markets have outgrown the frameworks that govern them, and that change is needed for a market of this scale to operate efficiently and for the benefit of industries that depend on it.

The report sets out the ACCC’s preliminary views on the Basin’s water markets, including the issues it has identified and potential options for addressing them.

“Water trading has brought substantial benefits to water users across the Murray-Darling Basin, including by allowing irrigators to manage the amount of water they use, to earn income by selling excess water or their water rights, and to release capital to invest in their businesses,” ACCC Deputy Chair Mick Keogh said.

“However, these markets have significant problems. In basic terms, there is overly fragmented or complex regulation in some areas, not enough regulation in others, and a concerning lack of regulatory oversight and robust enforcement in important areas.”

“This has led to a lack of trust in the markets among many water users and has undoubtedly reduced the benefits generated by those markets.”

“These problems exacerbate distrust when water is scarce or when demand is increasing. They make a difficult situation worse,” Mr Keogh said.

The ACCC has identified problems in several key areas, particularly with the current governance arrangements for the Basin’s water markets.

A significant issue is that a range of different bodies oversee water markets in the Basin under different legal frameworks. Roles and responsibilities overlap in some areas, while leaving significant gaps in others.

“The Basin’s water markets, and the bodies that oversee and interact with them, operate in a complex, fragmented and inconsistent system,” Mr Keogh said.

“To make real and lasting improvements, we need to rethink how these water markets are governed.”

Integrity of markets must be improved

The ACCC says the integrity of water markets also needs improving, with insufficient regulatory oversight of some market participants, including brokers and investors.

Water brokers, exchange platforms and other intermediaries have no industry-specific regulation, meaning brokers’ roles are often unclear and their interests can diverge from those of their clients.

There are very few rules to prevent market manipulation or similar conduct, and no regulator charged with monitoring trading behaviour in water markets.

Potential responses include a licensing scheme operated at the Federal or Basin State level for brokers and other intermediaries, or extending the financial regulation framework to all water products.

Appointing a single regulator to oversee trade in Basin markets, similar to arrangements in place in the financial services or energy markets, could also help address these issues, the ACCC says.

Lack of transparency is compounding problems

A lack of transparency in the markets is also an issue for water users.

Different record keeping by different states and trade processes mean participants cannot get a full, timely or accurate picture of water trading, and the same information is not available to all water market participants, the ACCC has observed.

Information crucial to the business decision-making of irrigators and traders, such as allocation policies and river operations policy, is not always well communicated or easy for users to access.

The ACCC says market transparency could be boosted through practical measures such as the use of standardised identifiers across the Basin, like ABNs.

Trade rules may not reflect physical constraints

Increased trade and the resulting changing patterns of water delivery and use are creating new challenges for the management of the river system, its infrastructure, and the environment.

The rules and operational frameworks that manage the trade and delivery of water may not always reflect the physical realities of the river system, particularly in the Southern Basin.

The ACCC says delivery risk, conveyance loss and storage limitations need to be properly reflected in trade rules, and where limitations exist, mechanisms are needed to efficiently manage these.

“It is clear that the Basin’s markets need decisive and comprehensive reform,” Mr Keogh said.

“There are many problems, but we do not believe that dismantling existing water markets is the answer. This would mean farmers, communities and the Australian economy would miss out on the substantial benefits these markets provide.”

“The Murray-Darling Basin’s water is a precious and often scarce resource. Water trading has the potential to ensure this resource is used to its greatest benefit, particularly for irrigators, but this can only happen if markets are efficient and fair and are underpinned by an environmentally healthy river system,” Mr Keogh said.

The full interim report, including a list of options for feedback, is available at Murray-Darling Basin water markets inquiry.


On 8 August 2019, the Federal Government directed the ACCC to undertake a public inquiry into the Murray-Darling Basin water markets.

The ACCC was asked to recommend options to enhance markets for tradeable water rights, including options to enhance their operations, transparency, regulation, competitiveness and efficiency.

As part of the inquiry, the ACCC released an issues paper in October 2019 and held 10 public forums to hear directly from stakeholders across the Basin.

The final report will be provided to the Government by 30 November 2020.

How to make a submission: closes August 28

You can make a submission in response to the interim report via the ACCC consultation hub at: Murray-Darling Basin water markets inquiry - Interim report.

Alternatively, you can ask a question about the inquiry or make a submission via email at:

Submissions can also be made via post to:

Murray-Darling Basin Inquiry
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
GPO Box 3131
Canberra ACT 2601

All non-confidential written submissions will be made available on the ACCC’s website.

Broadly speaking, the Inquiry is a public process and written feedback will be posted on the ACCC website.

The ACCC can accept a claim of confidentiality from the party if the disclosure of information would damage their competitive position.

Do The Crime, Pay The Fine – Illegal Fishers Sentenced

July 28, 2020

Illegal fishers are being reminded crime doesn’t pay, with four men facing court and forced to pay significant fines in a number of separate illegal fishing incidents along the NSW coast, NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSWDPI), Acting Director Fisheries Compliance, Dr Andrew Moriarty, said today.

In the first matter, a man from Sydney faced Port Kembla Local court, where he plead guilty to charges of possessing prohibited size fish, and possess more than the possession limit after he was apprehended by NSWDPI Fisheries officers at Maloneys Bay at Bass Point near Shell Cove.

“Fisheries officers observed the man diving in June last year, and observed him for some time where they saw him pass a bag of Abalone to another person waiting on the rock platform,” Dr Moriarty said.

“The man and the other person were intercepted, where the bag was found to contain 20 Abalone, all of which were below the minimum size of 11.7cm.

“Recreational fishers diving for Abalone must adhere to a daily bag and possession limit of 2.

“Abalone is a priority species and an important resource to NSW, and the courts take offences involving Abalone very seriously.

“The man appeared in Wollongong Local Court for sentencing and was fined $3000 for each offence. He was also ordered to pay $1750 in professional costs.”

In another matter, two men, aged 40 and 23 from Broadwater have been sentenced before the Ballina Local Court following a late night patrol of recreational fishers in ocean waters South of Ballina, found they were in joint possession of a commercial quantity of snapper and teraglin, many of which were undersized.  The 40 year old was also found in possession of a Wobbegong shark, which is a prohibited species when found in possession for recreational fishers in NSW.

Both men plead guilty and were fined $2800 and $2300 respectively.

“Illegal fishing does not pay – those who continue to do the crime will continue to be brought before the courts to pay for their crimes,” Dr Moriarty said.

Report illegal fishing via the Fishers Watch phone line on 1800 043 536 or online at:

Saltwater recreational bag and size limits for NSW can be found at:

EPA Fines BlueScope Steel For Exceeding Air Quality Limit

July 27, 2020

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has fined BlueScope Steel Limited $30,000 for allegedly failing to comply with dioxin air emission limits on six occasions in March and April 2020.

BlueScope Steel recorded the limit exceedances between 26 March and 28 April during major maintenance activities at the Sinter Plant Waste Gas Cleaning Plant.  

EPA Director Regulatory Operations Metropolitan Giselle Howard says strict limits are outlined in the licence to regulate air emissions for this potentially harmful substance. These licence limits reflect a measure of international best practice for controls of dioxins.

As part of a response to the exceedances, BlueScope Steel completed air emissions modelling and engaged an independent consultant to undertake a health assessment of the elevated emissions.

“High levels of dioxins can be extremely harmful to human health, on this occasion air emissions modelling and a health assessment have shown that community impacts were unlikely from the emissions.”

“The local community has an expectation that every effort must be made to ensure that licensees will comply with their licence requirements and have best practice controls in place to protect people and the environment.”

In addition to being fined, BlueScope Steel will also be directed to complete several new Pollution Reduction Programs requiring a feasibility assessment of real time air emissions monitoring, updated air emissions modelling, and improved air emissions monitoring at the Sinter Plant during any future similar maintenance events.  

BlueScope Steel is also undertaking additional investigations to understand the root cause of the elevated dioxin emissions.

Penalty notices are one of several tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance, including formal warnings, official cautions, licence conditions, notices and directions and prosecutions.

For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA compliance policy on the EPA website

Northern Tableland's Endangered Wallabies Bounding Back After Bushfire

July 27, 2020

Endangered Brush-tailed Rock-wallabies and their young have been spotted bounding through the bush in Oxley Wild Rivers and Guy Fawkes River National Parks, delighting NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) staff surveying the impact of the bushfires.

Piers Thomas, Senior Conservation Planning Officer with NPWS, said an aerial survey of 48 known colonies in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park found the iconic animal in more than 80% of the locations.

"All of the colonies surveyed had areas of burnt habitat, yet we spotted 90 surviving individuals," said Mr Thomas.

"This figure is consistent with counts taken in previous years so it is very reassuring.

"It's great to see that these endangered animals have not only survived the fires but are adapting to the changed landscape.

"Most of the colonies with surviving wallabies received emergency supplementary feeding of lucerne, sweet potato and carrots and they are most definitely bouncing back," said Mr Thomas.

Further ground-based surveys done after the fires also identified individual wallabies that were known to researchers from before the fire, including one that has been spotted over the last 11 years.

The surveys, conducted in June 2020, also revealed some young at foot that would have been in the pouch when the fire hit, and some new pouch young that may have been born since the event.

For the first time the aerial survey extended into nearby Guy Fawkes River National Park in the upper reaches of the Aberfoyle River.

"In more good news for the species we discovered an additional 25 Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby colonies in this park and saw surviving individuals in 12 of the previously-known sites," Mr Thomas said.

The 2019–20 fires burnt more than 80% of known Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby habitat in NSW.

Post-fire assessments carried out by NPWS and the NSW Government's Saving our Species program showed that local wallabies had been left stranded with limited food and water and the supplementary feeding was vital to help maintain these colonies and allow them to recover.

NPWS, Saving our Species and partners delivered more than 3 tonnes of supplementary feeding to reserves in the northern tablelands. In total, close to 12 tonnes of supplementary food has been delivered to Brush-tailed rock-wallabies across New South Wales.

Brush-tailed rock-wallabies (Petrogale penicillata). Photo: Piers Thomas/DPIE

Mount Kaputar’s Famous Pink Slugs Need Your Help! Send Us Your Slug Snapshots

July 28, 2020

They may be bright pink, but Mount Kaputar’s famous giant pink slugs sometimes give us the slip, so the National Parks and Wildlife Service is urging visitors to send in your slug snapshots on a new app.

Giant pink slug Triboniophorus aff. graeffei Dawsons Spring Nature Trail Mt Kaputar National Park. Photo: Robert Cleary/DPIE

National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Senior Project Officer Adam Fawcett said visitors to Mount Kaputar National Park can share in the slug search.

“The slugs are part of the Mount Kaputar Land Snail and Slug Threatened Ecological Community (TEC), a group of 20 snail and one slug species that exist nowhere else in the world.

“While the pink slugs have become the pin-ups of this TEC, the snails are also fascinating, with some being only as big as a pin head.

“Recently we conducted a search to see how the slugs and snails were faring after the summer bushfires.

“While we recorded good numbers of our snail species and could see evidence of recent slug activity with their distinctive feeding trails, the slugs did give our surveyors the slip.

“That’s why other tools like the Slug Sleuth App can be really helpful in helping us ensure the slug’s survival.

“By snapping shots of the slugs on the app, it’s hoped we can track the health and status of the ecological community across Mount Kaputar National Park.

“The information collected will help improve our knowledge of where the threatened ecological community occurs, its recovery post-fire, preferred habitat and assist with ongoing conservation efforts.

“The app was developed as part of the NSW Government’s Saving our Species program and is free to download for both iOS and Android devices. Use the search term 'Slug Sleuth' or 'Kaputar' to find the app in your preferred app store,” Mr Fawcett said.

The Saving our Species program is the NSW Government's commitment to securing the future of the State's threatened plants and animals. To find out more, or to get involved with Saving our Species visit Help save our threatened species.


New WWF Report: 3 Billion Animals Impacted By Australia’s Bushfire Crisis

July 28, 2020

Nearly three billion animals – mammals, reptiles, birds, and frogs – were killed or displaced by Australia’s devastating 2019-20 bushfires.

It’s almost three times an earlier estimate released in January.

The breakdown is 143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 180 million birds, and 51 million frogs.

Those figures are revealed in an interim report entitled Australia’s 2019-2020 Bushfires: The Wildlife Toll, commissioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature and believed to be world first research.

Ten scientists from the University of Sydney, University of New South Wales, University of Newcastle, Charles Sturt University, and BirdLife Australia contributed the majority of the work.

The project is being led by Dr Lily Van Eeden and overseen by Professor Chris Dickman, both from the University of Sydney.

While results are still being finalised, the headline figure of nearly three billion animals impacted is unlikely to change.

“The interim findings are shocking. It’s hard to think of another event anywhere in the world in living memory that has killed or displaced that many animals. This ranks as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history,” said WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman.

“When you think about nearly three billion native animals being in the path of the fires it is absolutely huge, it’s a difficult number to comprehend,” said Professor Dickman.

While the scientists cannot say how many animals died, Professor Dickman said the prospects for animals which escaped the flames were “probably not that great” because of a lack of food and shelter or being forced into habitat already occupied.

In January, Professor Dickman, working with WWF scientists, produced an early estimate that 1.25 billion animals were impacted. However, that calculation focused only on the states of New South Wales and Victoria.

Dr Van Eeden said for this project the team examined a fire impact area of 11.46 million hectares.

“We believe a continent-wide assessment of the number of animals that might be impacted has never been done in Australia before or anywhere else in the world. Other nations can build upon this research to improve understanding of bushfire impacts everywhere,” Dr Van Eeden said.

Mr O’Gorman said with extreme fires becoming more frequent because of climate change the interim findings “give other countries a window into the future of mega fires and their devastating impact on wildlife”.

He said the research had also been released in time to be considered by the review of Australia’s flagship environment law – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

“Following such a heavy toll on Australia’s wildlife, strengthening this law has never been more important. WWF will continue to advocate for policies that benefit both people and nature, restore what has been lost, and ensure we build back a more resilient Australia,” Mr O’Gorman said.

Professor Dickman said the research shows people that mega fires are changing the environment and depleting native biodiversity and change is necessary.

“How quickly can we decarbonise? How quickly can we stop our manic land clearing? We land clear at a rate that’s one of the highest in the world,” Professor Dickman said.

The recommendations in the interim report call for addressing knowledge gaps on wildlife densities and responses to fire, improving habitat connectivity to help mobile species escape fire, identifying and protecting unburnt habitat crucial to threatened species, improving fire prevention and management, and establishing rapid response teams to help species impacted by fire.

It's anticipated that the final report will be completed by the end of August 2020.

To End King Coal's Reign; Must His Most Loyal Subjects Get Paid?

July 28, 2020

The huge task of phasing out coal requires a detailed roadmap to sequence coal plant retirement with a range of policy instruments and support for key stakeholders which will expand current notions of a just transition, leading energy experts have said.

Governments should be prepared to pay billions of pounds to operators of coal-fired power plants in agreements to shut down their plants early, a new paper published in Nature Climate Change today recommends.

The paper recommends extensive compensation should also be considered for regional economies hardest hit by the loss of coal producers and energy-intensive industries that will have to absorb higher energy prices in order to ensure a just transition to greener energy production.

To prevent regions such as the coal belt in the United States or dependent communities in Germany and Poland being abandoned after coal, the study recommends governments should foot the bill for extensive improvements to localised transport and communication infrastructure, higher education provision, new business opportunities and the relocation of government services.

And to shield the poor from electricity price rises resulting from replacing coal plants with more costly alternative power generation, governments and regulators should consider Just Transition measures including adjusting electricity tariffs, investing in community benefit funds or subsidising energy efficiency through weatherization and retrofits programmes targeted at the most in need or vulnerable.

Benjamin K Sovacool, Professor of Energy Policy in the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex Business School, said: "Paying billions to some of the world's biggest polluters to avert a climate catastrophe they helped to create may sound unpalatable to some environmentalists.

"But compensating the biggest losers from coal phase-out, alongside improving equity and accountability processes, will go a long way towards achieving all the other aspects of a just energy transition including legitimacy, desirability, speed of transition and financing.

"Simply put: a just transition requires more than just safeguarding jobs, and involves protecting the resilience of entire communities across both high-carbon as well as low-carbon energy pathways."

In the new paper published today, 13 energy experts led by Michael Jakob and Jan Christoph Steckel from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) in Berlin outline that while the power sector must stop using coal without carbon capture-and-storage within 30 years, coal combustion currently accounts for 40% of global CO2 emissions from energy and coal use with growing demand in China, India and other Asian countries.

To quicken the rate of coal phase-out to meet the Paris Agreement timelines, the study authors recommend governments remove all coal subsidies immediately to create a level playing field for clean energy sources.

Dr Steckel said: "In my view, the novel twist we give to the debate is that we need to think of "who's losing" beyond a "particular group," "get them paid," and we also propose how this could be financed via a tax on carbon."

And policymakers and legislators should also consider imposing additional carbon costs on coal plants to accelerate phase-out and raise funds in support of affected workers, communities and consumers, the academics recommend.

Dr Jakob, lead author of the study, said: "Coal phase-out can only succeed if it takes into account social objectives and priorities. It is crucial that the modalities of coal phase-out are seen as fair and that the process corresponds to political realities. Policymakers need to understand in more detail who will be affected by a transition away from coal, how these societal groups can be effectively compensated and how powerful vested interests can be counterbalanced."

Coal phase-out is also likely to affect the competitiveness of other industries such as steel, aluminium, chemicals, and other important components of industrial strategy, the study warns.

To counter the risk of carbon leakage through the migration of energy-intensive industries to regions with laxer climate measures, policymakers should consider a range of measures including carbon contracts for difference or mechanisms of technology transfer.

Co-author Professor Frank Jotzo, from the Australian National University's Crawford School of Public Policy and Director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at ANU, said: "What is needed in the transition away from coal is a clear way forward for regional economies and communities, creating prospects for new jobs and business opportunities, while limiting adverse impacts on consumers and energy-intensive industries."

Michael Jakob, Jan Christoph Steckel, Frank Jotzo, Benjamin K. Sovacool, Laura Cornelsen, Rohit Chandra, Ottmar Edenhofer, Chris Holden, Andreas Löschel, Ted Nace, Nick Robins, Jens Suedekum, Johannes Urpelainen. The future of coal in a carbon-constrained climate. Nature Climate Change, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41558-020-0866-1

Australia’s First Indigenous Chair For Biodiversity And Environmental Science

July 21, 2020

Curtin University has appointed noted Australian ecologist Dr Stephen van Leeuwen as Australia’s first Indigenous Chair for Biodiversity and Environmental Science.

Dr Stephen van Leeuwen

The Biodiversity Chair will be the first of its type in Australia and one of only a few globally that directly engage with First Nations Peoples. A key focus of the position will be building a Western-Indigenous science interface, so that landscapes for threatened species can be managed in new ways that are sympathetic to the maintained stewardship provided, over the last 65,000 years, by the Aboriginal people.

Curtin Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry said she is thrilled that a person of Professor van Leeuwen’s outstanding scientific and national profile has accepted the prestigious role.

“The appointment of Dr van Leeuwen is testament to his influential leadership in his field and will bring an Indigenous focus to the University in a way that will create healthy ecological and healthy cultural outcomes for Western Australia and the nation,” Professor Terry said.

“Professor van Leeuwen’s commitment to delivering innovative and enduring positive outcomes for biodiversity management through collaboration with both Traditional Owners and other land managers, made him an outstanding candidate for the role.

“We are also delighted that Dr van Leeuwen is returning to his university ‘home’, where he completed his PhD in 1997.”

The newly created role is part of the long-term partnership between Curtin University and BHP, which over the past decade has supported engineering and chemistry studies at the university including through funding for new facilities, and scholarships to help increase female, indigenous and regional student participation.

Dr van Leeuwen is a Noongar man with strong links to Country in the Busselton and Margaret River areas of south-west Western Australia.

He spent three decades as a senior scientist with the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions and is a leading botanical landscape ecologist.

As the inaugural Chair for Biodiversity and Environmental Science, Dr van Leeuwen’s key task will be to lead research programs promoting excellence and innovation in the fields of biodiversity and environmental science through collaborative networks within Indigenous communities, the broader academic community in Western Australia, Australia and internationally.

Blue Mountains National Park Plan Of Management Proposed Amendment: Public Consultation

The Proposed Amendment to the Blue Mountains National Park Plan of Management and Govetts Leap Draft Visitor Precinct Plan are available for public review and comment. View Blue Mountains National Park Proposed Amendment to Plan of Management - PDF, 978kb

Public exhibition of the proposed amendment and draft visitor precinct plan provides members of the community with an opportunity to have a say in planned improved accessibility works in Blue Mountains National Park. Comments close 17 August 2020.

What is a plan of management?

Parks and reserves established under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 must have a plan of management. The plan includes information on important park values and provides directions for future management. The plan of management is a legal document, and after the plan is adopted all operations and activities in the park must be in line with the plan. From time to time plans of management are amended to support changes to park management or proposed works.

Why is the plan being amended now?

Blue Mountains National Park is the most visited park in New South Wales, receiving more than 8 million visits in 2018. Visitor infrastructure improvements will enhance and disperse the visitor experience and improve protection of the park's values. The improvements to Govetts Leap visitor precinct will elevate the quality of interpretation and promotion of the park's World Heritage values.

The amendment relates to visitor facility upgrades to support both increased and better-dispersed visitation and includes:

  • upgraded and increased capacity parking areas at Govetts Leap
  • upgraded facilities to allow improved access for people with disabilities and/or restricted mobility
  • enable pre-existing overnight stay facilities at Green Gully visitor precinct including a camping area and cabins.

What opportunities will the community have to comment?

The proposed amendment and draft visitor precinct plan are on public exhibition until Monday 17 August 2020. Everyone is invited to review the amendment and draft visitor precinct plan and provide comments.

When will the amended plan of management and visitor precinct plan be finalised?

At the close of the public exhibition period, we consider all submissions on the plan amendment and prepare a submissions report. We provide the Blue Mountains Regional Advisory Committee and the National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council with the proposed amendment, all the submissions and the submissions report. They consider the documents, make comments on the amendment or suggest changes, and the Council provides advice to the Minister for Energy and Environment.

The Minister considers the amendment, submissions and advice, makes any necessary changes and decides whether to adopt the amendment under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. Once an amendment is adopted, it is published on the Department's website and key stakeholders, including those who made a submission on the draft plan, will be notified.

Submissions on the draft visitor precinct plan will be reviewed in conjunction with the Blue Mountains Regional Advisory Committee. The finalised Govetts Leap visitor precinct plan will be published on the Department's website.

How can I get more information about the proposed amendment?

For further information on the plan of management please contact the NPWS Park Management Planning Team at

Where can I see a printed copy of the proposed amendment?

Copies are available at the following locations:

  • National Parks and Wildlife Service Heritage Centre, Blackheath – end of Govetts Leap Road
  • Blue Mountains City Council, Katoomba – Ground floor foyer, 2-6 Civic Place

How can I comment on the proposed amendment and draft visitor precinct plan?

Public exhibition of the proposed amendment and draft visitor precinct plan is from Friday 26 June until Monday 17 August 2020. You are invited to comment on the amendment by sending a written submission during this time.

To help us make the best use of your feedback:

  • Please tell us what issue or part of the plan you are talking about. One way you can do this is to include the section heading and/or page number from the amendment in your submission.
  • Tell us how we can make the plan better. You may want to tell us what you know about the park or how you or other people use and value it.

We are happy to hear any ideas or comments and will consider them all, but please be aware that we can't always include all information or ideas in the final plan.

Your privacy

Your submission will be provided to two advisory bodies. Your comments on the draft plan may include 'personal information'. The Department complies with the NSW Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998, which regulates the collection, storage, quality, use and disclosure of personal information. For details see our privacy page. Information that in some way identifies you may be gathered when you use our website or send us an email.

If you indicate in your written submission that you object to your submission being made public, we will ask you before releasing your submission in response to any access applications under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009.

Have your say

Public exhibition is from 26 June 2020 to 17 August 2020.

You can provide your written submission in any of the following ways:

Post your written submission to:

Manager Planning Evaluation and Assessment
Locked Bag 5022
Parramatta NSW 2124

Email your submission to:

Make a submission online by using the online form here

Doodle Comer Swamp Nature Reserve Draft Plan Of Management: Public Consultation

The Doodle Comer Swamp Nature Reserve Draft Plan of Management is available for review and comment.

Public exhibition of the draft plan provides an important opportunity for members of the community to have a say in the future management of Doodle Comer Swamp Nature Reserve. Comments close 28 September 2020.

This plan has been prepared using a new format and presented as 2 separate documents:

  1. The plan of management which is the 'legal' document that will be provided to the Minister for formal adoption. This is the document we are seeking your feedback on.
  2. The planning considerations document supports the plan of management. It includes detailed information on park values (e.g. threatened species and cultural heritage) and threats to these values. A summary of this information is in the plan of management.

Doodle Comer Swamp Nature Reserve encompasses about half of the Doodle Comer Swamp, an ephemeral wetland listed in the National Directory of Important Wetlands and the largest wetland of its type in southern NSW. The catchment for Doodle Comer Swamp is unregulated and the wetland has an unaltered water flow regime, now uncommon in New South Wales inland wetlands and of high conservation value.

When inundated, Doodle Comer Swamp attracts large numbers of waterbirds that use the swamp for breeding and foraging. When dry, the wetland provides habitat for the threatened bush stone-curlew, listed as endangered in New South Wales. Other threatened animals found include brolga and superb parrot. The reserve contains several threatened ecological communities such as Inland Grey Box Woodland and Sandhill Pine Woodland.

Doodle Comer Swamp is part of the Country of the Wiradjuri speaking nation and is part of a larger network of swamps and lagoons across the Riverina that formed a significant part of the cultural landscape, sustaining the Wiradjuri with an extensive range of resources for thousands of years. A diverse range of Aboriginal sites exist in the reserve and surrounding area and in 2016 Doodle Comer was declared an Aboriginal place recognising these values and the wetland's special significance to Aboriginal culture.

What is a plan of management?

Parks and reserves established under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 need to have a plan of management. The plan includes information on important park values and provides directions for future management. The plan of management is a legal document, and after the plan is adopted all operations and activities in the park must be in line with the plan. From time to time plans of management are amended to support changes to park management. Visit: Doodle Comer Swamp Nature Reserve Draft Plan of Management - PDF, 2.3MB

The National Parks and Wildlife Act sets out the matters that need to be considered when preparing a plan of management. These matters are addressed in the supporting Doodle Comer Swamp Nature Reserve Draft Plan of Management: Planning considerations document.

Why is a plan being prepared now?

Since the park`s reservation in 2011, it has been managed according to a statement of management intent. After a park's reservation and before the release of its plan of management, a statement of management intent is prepared outlining the management principles and priorities for the park's management. This statement documents the key values, threats and management directions for the park. It is not a statutory document and a plan of management will still need to be prepared according to the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.

Publication of a draft or final plan will replace the statement of management intent for the relevant parks covered.

What opportunities will the community have to comment?

The draft plan of management is on public exhibition until 28 September 2020 and anyone can review the plan of management and provide comments.

When will the plan of management be finalised?

At the end of the public exhibition period in September 2020 we will review all submissions, prepare a submissions report and make any necessary changes to the draft plan of management. The Far West Regional Advisory Committee and the National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council will then review the plan along with the submissions and report, as required by the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

Once their input has been considered and any further changes made to the plan of management, we provide the plan to the Minister for Energy and Environment. The plan of management is finalised when the Minister formally adopts the plan under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. Once a plan is adopted it is published on the Department website and a public notice is advertised in the NSW Government Gazette.

How can I get more information about the draft plan?

For further information on the plan of management please contact the Park Management Planning Team at

How can I comment on the draft plan?

Public exhibition for the plan of management is from 26 June 2020 until 28 September 2020. You are invited to comment on the draft plan by sending a written submission during this time.

Have your say

Public exhibition is from 26 June 2020 to 28 September 2020.

You can provide your written submission in any of the following ways:

Post your written submission to:

Manager Planning Evaluation and Assessment
Locked Bag 5022 
Parramatta NSW 2124

Email your submission to:

Make a submission online by using the online form here

Tollingo Nature Reserve And Woggoon Nature Reserve Draft Plan Of Management: Public Consultation

The Tollingo Nature Reserve and Woggoon Nature Reserve Draft Plan of Management is available for review and comment.

Public exhibition of the draft plan provides an important opportunity for members of the community to have a say in the future management of Tollingo Nature Reserve and Woggoon Nature Reserve. Comments close 28 September 2020.

This plan has been prepared using a new format which is presented as two separate documents:

  1. The plan of management which is the legal document that will be provided to the Minister for formal adoption. This is the document we are seeking your feedback on.
  2. The planning considerations document supports the plan of management. It includes detailed information on park values (e.g. threatened species and cultural heritage) and threats to these values. A summary of this information is provided in the plan of management.

Tollingo Nature Reserve and Woggoon Nature Reserve are significant as two of the largest remaining mallee remnants in New South Wales. The largely intact old-age mallee vegetation is rare in the Central West, which is mostly used for agriculture. The reserves provide habitat for the endangered malleefowl and other native animals.

Tollingo Nature Reserve is shared Country for the Ngiyampaa and Wiradjuri people, while Woggoon Nature Reserve is within Wiradjuri traditional Country.

What is a plan of management?

Parks and reserves established under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 need to have a plan of management. The plan includes information on important park values and provides directions for future management. The plan of management is a legal document, and after the plan is adopted all operations and activities in the park must be in line with the plan. From time to time plans of management are amended to support changes to park management.

The National Parks and Wildlife Act sets out the matters that need to be considered when preparing a plan of management. These matters are addressed in the supporting Tollingo Nature Reserve and Woggoon Nature Reserve Draft Planning Considerations document. This document may be updated from time to time, for example, to include new information on the values of the park (e.g. new threatened species), new management approaches (e.g. a new pest management technique) or new park programs. Visit Tollingo Nature Reserve and Woggoon Nature Reserve Draft Plan of Management - PDF 2.3MB

Why is a plan being prepared now?

This plan of management will replace the statement of management intent which was approved in 2014. Statements of management intent are non-statutory documents which summarise the key values and management directions for a park.

Since reservation in 1988 and 1974 respectively, Tollingo and Woggoon nature reserves have been managed according to a statement of management intent. After a park's reservation and before the release of its plan of management, a statement of management intent is prepared outlining the management principles and priorities for the park's management. This statement documents the key values, threats and management directions for the park. It is not a statutory document and a plan of management will still need to be prepared according to the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. Publication of a draft or final plan will replace the statements of management intent for the relevant parks covered.

What opportunities will the community have to comment?

The draft plan of management and planning considerations are on public exhibition until 28 September 2020 and anyone can provide comments.

When will the plan of management be finalised?

At the end of the public exhibition period in September 2020, National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) will review all submissions, prepare a submissions report and make any necessary changes to the draft plan of management. The West Regional Advisory Committee and the National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council will then review the plan along with the submissions and report, as required by the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

Once their input has been considered and any further changes made to the plan of management, we provide the plan to the Minister for Energy and Environment. The plan of management is finalised when the Minister adopts the plan under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. Once a plan is adopted it is published on the Department's website.

How can I get more information about the draft plan?

For further information on the plan of management please contact the NPWS Park Management Planning Team at

Where can I see a printed copy of the draft plan?

Hard copies are available for viewing at the following locations:

  • National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) office, Camp Street, Forbes
  • Condobolin Library, 130 Bathurst Street, Condobolin

How can I comment on the draft plan?

Public exhibition for the plan of management is from 26 June until 28 September 2020. You are invited to comment on the draft plan by sending a written submission during this time.

Your privacy

Your submission will be provided to a number of statutory advisory bodies (including the relevant regional advisory committee and the National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council). Your comments on the draft plan may include 'personal information'. the Department complies with the NSW Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 which regulates the collection, storage, access, amendment, use and disclosure of personal information. See our privacy webpage for details. Information that in some way identifies you may be gathered when you use our website or send us correspondence.

If an application to access information under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 requests access to your submission, your views about release will be sought if you have indicated that you object to your submission being made public.

While all submissions count, they are most effective when we understand your ideas and the outcomes you want for park management. Some suggestions to help you write your submission are:

  • Write clearly and be specific about the issues that are of concern to you.
  • Note which part or section of the plan your comments relate to.
  • Give reasoning in support of your points – this makes it easier for us to consider your ideas and will help avoid misinterpretation.
  • Tell us specifically what you agree/disagree with and why you agree/disagree.
  • Suggest solutions or alternatives to managing the issue if you can.

Have your say

Public exhibition is from 26 June 2020 to 28 September 2020.

You can provide your written submission in any of the following ways:

Post your written submission to:

Manager Planning Evaluation and Assessment
Locked Bag 5022
Parramatta NSW 2124

Email your submission to:

Make a submission online by using the online form here

Limeburners Creek National Park, Goolawah National Park And Goolawah Regional Park: Public Consultation

Planning for the future –NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service is preparing a new plan of management for Limeburners Creek National Park, Goolawah National Park and Goolawah Regional Park.

These parks are in the traditional Country of the Dunghutti and Birpai Aboriginal Peoples. The parks play a fundamental role in the lives of local Aboriginal people, helping to maintain a tangible link to the past and enabling continued connections to Country.

The existing plan of management for Limeburners Creek National Park was written in 1998. The areas that are now Goolawah National Park and Goolawah Regional Park were formerly Goolawah State Park and Crown land. Initial community consultation about the Goolawah parks was undertaken in 2012, soon after they were transferred to National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Since this time large new areas have been added to the parks, including the intertidal zone on some of the beaches. There has also been a steady increase in visitors, and new recreational uses have become popular. Information about the values of the park has improved and new approaches to managing fire, pests and weeds have been developed.

Accommodating all of these visitors, maintaining the unique visitor experience and protecting the environment is challenging. Good planning is essential to manage increasing demand and provide sustainable visitor facilities and opportunities while minimising impacts and retaining the natural and low key nature of this beautiful stretch of coast. The development of a new combined plan of management will help to protect the parks' unique values and improve the effectiveness of how we manage the parks.

What opportunities will the community have to contribute to the development of a new plan of management?

Previous consultation, including a community forum, identified a range of issues important to the local community which will be considered in the new plan. It is now time to reach out and reconnect with our neighbours, stakeholders and local communities, as well as extending the invitation to the wider community of park users.

There are now 2 opportunities to be involved in the development of the plan of management for Goolawah Regional Park and Goolawah and Limeburners Creek national parks:

  1. During the development of the draft plan - register your interest below to receive updates and be notified of further consultation dates. Complete the form to provide your ideas on what you believe are the most important values of the parks and how they should be managed in the future. Your input will be used to draft a plan that reflects community values and aspirations.
  2. During public exhibition of the draft plan - there will be another opportunity to have your say when the draft plan of management is completed and put on public exhibition for 90 days. Anyone can submit comments on the draft plan during this time.

Register your interest

Complete the online form here to register your interest, provide initial input and be notified of further consultation dates. Tell us what is important to you about the parks and what you would like to see in the future. Comments close 30 October 2020.

Limeburners Creek National Park, Goolawah National Park and Goolawah Regional Park engagement map Photo: DPIE


Rat Poisons Are Killing Our Wildlife: Alternatives

BirdLife Australia is currently running a campaign highlighting the devastation being caused by poison to our wildlife. Rodentcides are an acknowledged but under-researched source of threat to many Aussie birds. If you missed  BirdLife's rodenticide talk but would like to know more, share data and comment on the use of rodenticides in Australia please visit:

Owls, kites and other birds of prey are dying from eating rats and mice that have ingested Second Generation rodent poisons. These household products – including Talon, Fast Action RatSak and The Big Cheese Fast Action brand rat and mice bait – have been banned from general public sale in the US, Canada and EU, but are available from supermarkets throughout Australia.  

Australia is reviewing the use of these dangerous chemicals right now and you can make a submission to help get them off supermarket shelves and make sure only licenced operators can use them.   

There are alternatives for household rodent control – find out more about the impacts of rat poison on our birds of prey and what you can do at the link above and by reading the information below.  

Let’s get rat poison out of bird food chains. 

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) – is currently asking Australians for their views on how rodent poisons are regulated. 

Have your say by making a submission here

Powerful Owl at Clareville - photo by Paul Wheeler

Pesticides that are designed to control pests such as mice and rats cane also kill our wildlife through either primary or secondary poisoning. Insecticides include pesticides (substances used to kill insects), rodenticides (substances used to kill rodents, such as rat poison), molluscicides (substances used to kill molluscs, such as snail baits), and herbicides (substances used to kill weeds).

Primary poisoning occurs when an animal ingests a pesticide directly – for example, a brushtail possum or antechinus eating rat bait. Secondary poisoning occurs when an animal eats another animal that has itself ingested a pesticide – for example, a greater sooty owl eating a rate that has been poisoned or an antechinus that had eaten rat bait. 

Rodenticides are the most common and harmful pesticides to Australian wildlife. Though no comprehensive monitoring of non-target exposure of rodenticides has been conducted, numerous studies have documented the harm rodenticides do to native animals. In 2018, an Australian study found that anticoagulant rodenticides in particular are implicated in non-target wildlife poisoning in Australia, and warned Australia’s usage patterns and lax regulations “may increase the risk of non-target poisoning”.

Most rodenticides work by disrupting the normal coagulation (blood clotting) process, and are classified as either “first generation” / “multiple dose” or “second generation” / “single dose”, depending on how many doses are required for the poison to be lethal. 

These anticoagulant rodenticides cause victims of anticoagulant rodenticides to suffer greatly before dying, as they work by inhibiting Vitamin K in the body, therefore disrupting the normal coagulation process. This results in poisoned animals suffering from uncontrolled bleeding or haemorrhaging, either spontaneously or from cuts or scratches. In the case of internally haemorrhaging, which is difficult to spot, the only sign of poisoning is that the animal is weak, or (occasionally) bleeding from the nose or mouth. Affected wildlife are also more likely to crash into structures and vehicles, and be killed by predators. 

An animal has to eat a first generation rodenticide (e.g. warfarin, pindone, chlorophaninone, diphacinone) more than once in order to obtain a lethal dose. For this reason, second generation rodenticides (e.g. difenacoum, brodifacoum, bromadiolone and difethialone) are the most commonly used rodenticides. Second generation rodenticides only require a single dose to be consumed in order to be lethal, yet kill the animal slowly, meaning the animal keeps coming back. This results in the animal consuming many times more poison than a single lethal dose over the multiple days it takes them to die, during which time they are easy but lethal prey to predators. This is why second generation poisons tend to be much more acutely toxic to non-target wildlife, as they are much more likely to bioaccumulate and biomagnify, and clear very slowly from the body.

Species most at risk from poisons

Small Mammals

Small mammals including possums and bandicoots often consume poisons such as snail bait, or rat bait that has been laid out to attract and kill rats, mice, and rabbits. Poisons such as pindone are often added to oats or carrots, and lead to a slow, painful death of internal bleeding. Australian possums often consume rat bait such as warfarin, which causes extensive internal bleeding, usually resulting in death. 

There is a very poor chance of survival. Possums are also known to consume slug bait, which results in a prolonged painful death mainly from neurological effects. There is no treatment.

Small mammals can also be poisoned by insecticides. Possums, for example, can ingest these poisons when consuming fruit from a tree that has been sprayed with insecticide. Rescued by a WIRES carer, the brushtail possum joey pictured below was suffering from suspected insecticide poisoning. Though coughing up blood, luckily the joey did not ingest a lethal dose as he survived in care and was later released.

Large Mammals

Despite their size, large mammals including wallabies, kangaroos and wombats can also fall victim to pesticide poisoning. Wallabies and kangaroos have been known to suffer from rodenticide poisoning, while poisons often ingested by wombats include rat bait from farm sheds, and sodium fluroacetate (1080) laid out to kill pests such as cats and foxes.

Australian mammals are also impacted by the use of insecticides. DDT, although a banned substance, has been reported as killing marsupials.


Birds have a high metabolic rate and therefore succumb quickly to poisons. Australian birds of prey – owls (such as the southern boobook) and diurnal raptors (such as kestrels) – can be killed by internal bleeding when they eat rodents that have ingested rat bait. A 2018 Western Australian study determined that 73% of southern boobook owls found dead or were found to have anticoagulant rodenticides in their systems, and that raptors with larger home ranges and more mammal-based diets may be at a greater risk of anticoagulant rodenticide exposure.

Insectivorous birds will often eat insects sprayed with insecticides, and a few different species of birds may be affected at the same time. Unfortunately little can be done and death most often results. 

Organophosphates are the most widely used insecticide in Australia. Birds are very susceptible to organophosphates, which are nerve toxins that damage the nervous system, with poisoning occurring through the skin, inhalation, and ingestion. Organophosphates can cause secondary poisoning in wild birds which ingest sprayed insects. Often various species of insectivorous birds are affected at the same time as they come down to eat the dying insects. After a bird is poisoned, death usually occurs rapidly. Raptors have also been deliberately or inadvertently poisoned when organophosphates have been applied to a carcass to poison crows.

Organochlorine pesticides (OCPs) are persistent, bio-accumulative pesticides that include DDT, dieldrin, heptachlor and chlordane. OPC’s have been used extensively in the agriculture industry since the 1940s. Some of the more common product names include Hortico Dieldrin Dust, Shell Dieldrex and Yates Garden Dust. Although no OCP’s are currently registered for use in the home environment in Australia, many of these products still remain in use on farms, in business premises and households. OCP poisons remain highly toxic in the environment for many years impacting on humans, animals, birds and especially aquatic life. They can have serious short-term and long-term impacts at low concentrations. In addition, non-lethal effects such as immune system and reproductive damage of some of these pesticides may also be significant. Birds are particularly sensitive to these pesticides, and there have even been occasions where the deliberate poisoning of birds has occurred. Tawny frogmouths are most often poisoned with OCP’s. The poisons are stored in fat deposits and gradually increase over time. At times of food scarcity, or during any stressful period, such as breeding season or any changes to their environment, the fat stores are metabolised, and with it, the poison load in their blood streams reaches acute levels, causing death.

Although herbicides, or weed killers, are designed to kill plants, some are toxic to birds. Common herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) will cause severe eye irritation in birds if they come into contact with the spray. Herbicides also have the impact of removing food plants that birds, or their insect food supply, rely on. Birds can also readily fall victim to snail baits, either via primary or secondary poisoning.

Reptiles and Amphibians

As vertebrate species, reptiles and amphibians are also at risk of pesticides. Though less is known about the effects of pesticides on reptiles and amphibians, these animals have been known to fall victim to pesticide poisoning. Blue-tongue lizards, for example, often consume rat bait and die of internal bleeding. A 2018 Australian study also found that reptiles may be important vectors (transporters) of rodenticides in Australia.

How to keep pests away and keep wildlife safe

Remember, pesticides are formulated to be tasty and alluring to the target species, but other species find them enticing, too. It is safest for wildlife, pets and people for us to not use any pesticides, and prevent or deter the presence of pests practically, rather than attempt to eliminate them chemically. 

Tips to prevent and deter wildlife deaths from poisoning:

  • Deter rats and mice around your property by simply cleaning up; removing rubbish, keeping animal feed well contained and indoors, picking up fallen fruits and vegetation, and using chicken feeders removes potential food sources.
  • Seal up holes and in your walls and roof to reduce the amount of rodent-friendly habitat in your house.
  • Replace palms with native trees; palm trees are a favourite hideout for black rats, while native trees provide ideal habitat for native predators like owls and hawks which help to control rodent populations.
  • Set traps with care in a safe, covered spot, away from the reach of children, pets and wildlife. Two of the most effective yet safe baits are peanut butter and pumpkin seeds.
  • To control slugs, terracotta or ceramic plant pots can be placed upside down in the garden or aviary. Slugs and snails will seek the dark, damp area this creates, and can be collected daily. They can then be drowned in a jar of soapy water. You can also sink a jar or dish into the soil and fill it with beer. The slugs are attracted to the yeast in the beer, fall in and then drown.

If turning to pesticides as a last resort:

  • Use only animal-safe slug baits.
  • Place tamper-proof bait stations out of reach of wildlife.
  • Avoid using loose whether pellets or poison grain, present the highest risk, the latter being particularly attractive to seed-eating birds and to many small mammal species.
  • Read the label and use as instructed.
  • Avoid products containing second generation products difenacoum, brodifacoum, bromadiolone and difethialone, which are long-lasting and much more likely to unintentionally poison wildlife via secondary poisoning.
  • Cover individual fruits when spraying fruit trees with insecticides.

Poisons kill dogs too

Because of their poisonous nature, pesticides pose a risk to animals and people alike, including pets and children. Roaming pets like cats and dogs are most at risk of being poisoned, with one 2016 study at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences finding that one in five dogs had rat poison in its body, and a 2011 study by the Humane Society in the United States finding that 74% of their pet poisoning cases are due to second-generation anticoagulants such as rat baits. 

It is best to avoid the use of all pesticides, or otherwise use them sparingly, carefully and only after researching each poison and its correct usage. Always supervise pets and children, keep poisons locked out of their reach, and be vigilant in public spaces where pesticides may have accumulated, e.g. poisons can accumulate in streams or puddles where herbicides have recently been sprayed. 

If you suspect your pet has been poisoned, seek veterinary help immediately.

If you suspect your child or another adult has been poisoned, do not induce vomiting and call the NSW Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 for 24/7 medical advice, Australia-wide.


Lohr, M. T. & Davis, R. A. 2018, Anticoagulant rodenticide use, non-target impacts and regulation: A case study from Australia, Science of The Total Environment, vol. 634, pp. 1372-1384.

Lohr, M. T. 2018, Anticoagulant rodenticide exposure in an Australian predatory bird increases with proximity to developed habitat, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 643, pp.134-144.

Lohr, M. T. 2018, Anticoagulant Rodenticides: Implications for Wildlife Rehabilitation, conference paper, Australian Wildlife Rehabiliation Conference,

Olerud, S., Pedersen, J. & Kull, E. P. 2009, Prevalence of superwarfarins in dogs – a survey of background levels in liver samples of autopsied dogs. Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences, Department of Sports and Family Animal Medicine, Section for Small Animal Diseases.

Healthy Wildlife, Healthy Lives, 2017, Rodenticides and Wildlife,

Society for the Preservation of Raptors Inc. 2019, Raptor Fact Sheet: Eliminate Rats and Mice, Not Wildlife!,

W.I.R.E.S. Poisons and baits don't just kill rats.

Barking Owl (Ninox connivens connivens)- photo by Julie Edgley - this nocturnal animal will eat mice and so become a victim of poisons through them

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

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:

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 -

'A wake-up call': why this student is suing the government over the financial risks of climate change

Jacqueline PeelUniversity of Melbourne and Rebekkah Markey-TowlerUniversity of Melbourne

As the world warms, the value of “safe” investments might be at risk from inadequate climate change policies. This prospect is raised by a world-first climate change case, filed in the federal court last week.

Katta O’Donnell – a 23-year-old law student from Melbourne – is suing the Australian government for failing to disclose climate change risks to investors in Australia’s sovereign bonds.

Read more: These young Queenslanders are taking on Clive Palmer's coal company and making history for human rights

Sovereign bonds involve loans of money from investors to governments for a set period at a fixed interest rate. They’re usually thought to be the safest form of investment. For example, many Australians are invested in sovereign bonds through their superannuation funds.

But as climate change presents major risks to our economy as well as the environment, O'Donnell’s claim is a wake-up call to the government that it can no longer bury its head in the sand when it comes to this vulnerability.

Katta O'Donnell smiles at the camera in a long-sleeved black top.
Katta O'Donnell is bringing the class action lawsuit against the Australian government. Molly Townsend

O'Donnell’s Arguments

O’Donnell argues Australia’s poor climate policies – ranked among the lowest in the industrialised world – put the economy at risk from climate change. She says climate-related risks should be properly disclosed in information documents to sovereign bond investors.

O'Donnell’s claim alleges that by failing to disclose this information, the federal government breaches its legal duty. It alleges the government has engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct, and government officials breached their duty of care and diligence.

This is a standard similar to that owed by Australian company directors. Analysis from leading barristers indicates that directors who fail to consider climate risks could be found liable for breaching their duty of care and diligence.

O'Donnell argues government officials providing information to investors in sovereign bonds should meet the same benchmark.

Climate Change As A Financial Risk

Under climate change, the world is already experiencing physical impacts, such as intense droughts and unprecedented bushfires. But we’re also experiencing “transition impacts” from steps countries take to prevent further warming, such as transitioning away from coal.

Combined, these impacts of climate change create financial risks. For example, by damaging property, assets and operations, or by reducing demand for fossil fuels with the risk coal mines and reserves become stranded assets.

This thinking is becoming mainstream among Australian economists. As the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority’s Geoff Summerhayes put it:

When a central bank, a prudential regulator and a conduct regulator, with barely a hipster beard or hemp shirt between them, start warning that climate change is a financial risk, it’s clear that position is now orthodox economic thinking.

Why Safe Investments Are Under Threat

Sovereign bonds are a long-term investment. Katta O’Donnell’s bonds, for example, will mature in 2050. These time-frames dovetail with scientific projections about when the world will see severe impacts and costs from climate change.

And climate change is likely to hit Australia particularly hard. We’ve seen the beginning of this in the summer’s ferocious bushfires, which cost the economy more than A$100 billion.

Read more: With costs approaching $100 billion, the fires are Australia's costliest natural disaster

Over time, climate risks may impact sovereign bonds and affect Australia’s financial position in a number of ways. For example, by impacting GDP when the productive capacity of the economy is reduced by severe fires or floods.

Frequent climate-related disasters could also hit foreign exchange rates, causing fluctuations of the Australian dollar, as well as putting Australia’s AAA credit rating at risk. These risks would reduce if the government took climate change more seriously.

Already, some investors are voting with their feet. Last November, Sweden’s central bank announced it had sold Western Australian and Queensland bonds, stating Australia is “not known for good climate work”.

Unprecedented, But Not Novel

O’Donnell’s case against the federal government is an unprecedented climate case, even if its arguments are not novel.

Australia has been a “hotspot” for climate litigation in recent years, but the O'Donnell case is the first to sue the Australian government in an Australian court.

Previous cases suing governments have often raised human rights, such as the high-profile Urgenda case in 2015 against the Dutch government – the first case in the world establishing governments owe their citizens a legal duty to prevent climate change.

The O'Donnell case is also unique in its focus on sovereign bonds. But cases alleging misleading climate-related disclosures are themselves not new.

In Australia, shareholders sued the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in 2017 for failing to disclose climate change-related risks in its 2016 annual report. The case was settled after the bank agreed to improve disclosures in subsequent reports.

Read more: Climate change is a financial risk, according to a lawsuit against the CBA

In another headline-making case, 23-year-old council worker Mark McVeigh is taking his superannuation fund, Retail Employees Superannuation Trust, to court seeking similar disclosures.

The O'Donnell case builds on this line of precedent, extending it to disclosures in bond information documents. As such, courts will likely take it seriously.

What Precedent Might It Set?

If the O'Donnell case is successful it could establish the need for disclosure of climate-related financial risks for a range of investments.

At a minimum, a ruling in O'Donnell’s favour may compel the Australian government to disclose climate-related risks in its information documents for investors. This might make people think twice about how they choose to invest their money, especially as investors seek to “green” their portfolios.

It could also give rise to litigation using the same legal theory in sovereign bond disclosure claims against other governments, much in the way that the Urgenda case has spawned copycat proceedings from Belgium to Canada.

Whether the case provides the impetus for further government action to improve the effectiveness of Australia’s climate policies remains to be seen.

Still, it’s clear climate-related financial risks have entered the corporate boardroom. With this case, they’ve now come knocking at the government’s door.The Conversation

Jacqueline Peel, Professor of Environmental and Climate Law, University of Melbourne and Rebekkah Markey-Towler, Research assistant, University of Melbourne

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

Perseverance: the Mars rover searching for ancient life, and the Aussie scientists who helped build it

The Perseverance Rover (Mars 2020) installed within the upper stage of the United Launch Alliance rocket that will send it to Mars from Florida this week.
David FlanneryQueensland University of Technology

Every two years or so, when Mars passes close to Earth in its orbit around the Sun, conditions are right to launch a spacecraft to the red planet. Launches during this period can complete the seven-month voyage using a minimum of energy.

We are in the middle of one such period right now, and three separate missions are taking advantage of it. The United Arab Emirates’ Hope mission and China’s Tianwen-1 have already launched. NASA’s Perseverance mission is set to take flight tonight (on July 30, at 9:50pm AEST).

Between them, the missions will study the atmosphere and surface of Mars in unprecedented detail, collect samples that may one day come back to Earth, and tell scientists more about whether our neighbouring planet ever held life.

Instruments carried aboard NASA’s Perseverance Rover. NASA JPL/Caltech

Read more: Our long fascination with the journey to Mars

What Do The Mars Missions Aim To Achieve?

The UAE’s Hope orbiter will study the atmosphere of Mars using infrared and ultraviolet light.

In a truly international effort, Hope’s instruments were developed by scientists at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai, working with the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Arizona State University in the United States. Hope was carried from Dubai to Japan by a Russian-operated Antonov aircraft, and launched from Tanegashima Island on July 19.

Hope has no doubt already achieved its primary goal of inspiring the youth of the Arab world. Like most deep space missions, Hope’s goals are a combination of cutting-edge science, technology demonstration, and stimulating the local knowledge economy.

Although accompanied by less fanfare, China’s Tianwen-1 mission is also an extraordinarily ambitious effort driven by clear scientific goals. Building on the success of China’s lunar exploration program, Tianwen is the country’s first attempt at a Mars rover. If Tianwen succeeds, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) will become the second space agency after NASA to operate a rover on Mars.

Tianwen-1 undergoing testing in China.

Both the rover and accompanying orbiter will bring instruments that address key questions of the global scientific community.

Tianwen will carry a ground-penetrating radar that will let geologists peer beneath the dusty surface to examine the rock beneath the landing site. It will also carry the first mobile instrument that can sense variations in the magnetic field, which may tell scientists a lot about how fit for life Mars was in the past.

Tianwen-1 launched on July 23 from Hainan Island. Unfortunately, mission scientists were forbidden from talking to media beforehand, and live videos of the launch were banned (though some snuck out online).

The launch of China’s Tianwen-1 Mars mission on the 23rd of July, 2020.

China has now demonstrated a super heavy launch system to deep space, and if it succeeds with a soft landing on Mars and deep space operations, it will be close on NASA’s heels in Mars sample return. The idea of a Chinese Mars mission getting the first answers to big questions in planetary science, which would have seemed unlikely only a few years ago, may well become reality in the coming months. Both the Chinese and American programs have plans to return Martian samples to Earth in the 2030s.

Perseverance And The Search For Ancient Life

For now, NASA is still the player with the most experience and the best resources. The Perseverance rover, scheduled for launch from Florida on July 30 at 9:50pm AEST, will be the most complex object ever sent to Mars. The new rover will search for evidence of ancient microbial life in Jezero Crater.

Read more: Ancient life in Greenland and the search for life on Mars

Perseverance is the first in a series of missions that NASA hopes will culminate in bringing samples of the Martian surface back to Earth. A novel system will collect samples selected by a globally distributed team of experts and cache them for future collection. These rocks will likely be studied for decades, like the samples of Moon rock brought home by the Apollo missions.

ItalyNorway and Denmark are among the smaller nations contributing hardware to Perseverance. The scientists and engineers who participate gain experience with deep space systems, share in discoveries and increase the overall scientific gains of the project.

How Australians Are Involved

Artists impression of the Planetary Instrument of X-ray Lithochemistry aboard the Perserverance Rover, led by Australian scientists, analysing rocks on Mars.
Microbial fossil stromatolite in Western Australia (left) sampled by prototype rover drill hardware in a collaboration with NASA JPL. The stable carbon isotope composition of microfossils captured in the drill core was measured using secondary ion mass spectrometry (right).

Several Australians are also involved in the Perseverance mission.

Brisbane-born geologist Abigail Allwood, based at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, leads the team who developed an instrument on the rover’s arm capable of detecting signs of past life. Australian planetary scientist Adrian Brown is also working on the mission, bringing his experience using remote sensing to study Australian rocks that resemble those on Mars.

I worked on this mission at NASA JPL for several years and, although I have returned to Australia, I continue to serve as a long-term planner leading the mission’s science team and as an instrument co-investigator. The Queensland University of Technology is contributing software that will analyse data returned from the rover, with opportunities for Australian students and academics to contribute to the science investigation.

The geology of Jezero Crater mapped by the Perseverance mission science team including Australians bringing expertise studying similar rocks in Western Australia. NASA JPL/Caltech

The Future

Australia is well placed to make important contributions to the future of Mars exploration. But to do so we must collaborate across national borders and find our place in the international scientific framework.

The planning of the nascent Australian Space Agency has largely focused on creating jobs and nurturing industry, but it needs a list of scientific priorities to guide investment in space missions. Otherwise, we risk building a car that is missing the driver’s seat.

At successful space agencies overseas, engineers and private industry work with scientists who conceive and operate spacecraft in pursuit of truth. Employment and innovation come from scientific projects, not the other way around. By following this model, Australia too may join the exploration of the universe, spurring technological innovation and inspiring the next generation of humans in the process.

Read more: Why isn't Australia in deep space? The Conversation

David Flannery, Planetary Scientist, Queensland University of Technology

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

10 things we do that puzzle and scare horses

Kenny Webster/UnsplashCC BY
Paul McGreevyUniversity of Sydney and Cathrynne HenshallCharles Sturt University

Horses, like our dogs and cats, are familiar to many of us, be they racehorses, police horses, or much-loved pony club mounts. So it might surprise you that horses, in Australia, are more deadly than snakes, and indeed all venomous animals combined.

An equine veterinarian is more at risk of workplace injury than a firefighter. Does horses’ apparent familiarity lead us to misinterpret or misunderstand their behaviour?

Read more: 8 things we do that really confuse our dogs

Some of our interactions with horses correspond to interactions between horses themselves. Giving our horse a scratch on an itchy spot or allowing them to rub their head against us, while frowned on by some trainers, mimics how horses behave together.

But there are many other interactions which, from the horse’s perspective, are unusual or downright rude.

The culture clash between horses and humans can trigger defence or flight responses that can leave us badly injured. Here are ten common challenges we present to horses:

1. Invasive veterinary care

There are many veterinary practices we impose on horses to keep them healthy. Some of them, such as injecting or suturing, are invasive or painful. Horses’ natural reaction to pain is to flee. If they can’t, they may resort to aggression, such as biting or kicking.

Horses don’t know veterinary treatments are meant to help them, and hence vets who treat horses are at more risk of injury than those treating other species. Equine vets sustain more workplace injuries than construction workers or firefighters.

Hand gently pats a horse's nose
Wes Mountain/The ConversationCC BY-ND

2. Patting them

Many horse people routinely pat their horses as a reward for a job well done. But horses have not evolved to find this rewarding. They don’t pat each other – instead, they scratch or gently nibble each other as a form of bonding.

recent study showed patting increased horses’ heart rates, whereas scratching lowered them and was associated with behavioural signs of relaxation and enjoyment.

3. Picking up feet, hoof trimming and shoeing

An important task in horse-keeping is hoof care through regular cleaning, trimming or shoeing. This requires us to pick up a horse’s foot and hold it aloft for several minutes. This practice of immobilising the hoof restricts the horse’s ability to flee if it perceives a threat, which may be why many horses find hoof-handling stressful. Training a horse to accept having its feet and legs held requires patience to prevent injury to both the horse and the handler.

Read more: Dressing up for Melbourne Cup Day, from a racehorse point of view

4. Grooming sensitive areas

Horses in groups regularly groom each other, favouring areas that aren’t sensitive or ticklish. We like to groom our horses all over. Grooming the sensitive groin, inguinal and perineal regions is likely to be unpleasant for horses. This may account for the tail-swishing, agitation and even biting of the handler often seen when people groom these taboo areas.

5. Pulling or clipping hairs and whiskers

Many horse owners like to impose strict order on their horses’ body hair, including pulling out “excess” hair from the mane and tail, and trimming or removing body hair, facial whiskers and the protective hair inside the ears. These activities are frequently resented by horses. Some European countries have banned whisker trimming altogether because of the importance of whiskers to horses in detecting the proximity of surfaces and foraging outside their field of view.

Can of horse flyspray
Wes Mountain/The ConversationCC BY-ND

6. Spraying them with chemicals such as flyspray

Spraying fly repellent is common enough for many humans. But it creates a strange noise and may also be perceived as aversive when it lands on sensitive skin. The strong scent of the chemicals can also be aversive to horses, given their highly sensitive sense of smell. Patient training is often needed to counter-condition horses so they stand quietly while being sprayed.

7. Feeding by hand or from a bucket

As grazers, horses do not feed each other (except when nursing foals) and in free-roaming situations, aggression over food is rare. In contrast, food aggression is often seen in domestic horses. We provide highly palatable foods and treats that can bring out unwelcome behaviours because horses are highly motivated to eat these foods.

Some learn to mug their carers, for example by knocking the feed bucket out of their hands. In such a situation, crime really does pay and the horse can swiftly learn to repeat the behaviour. Of course, the horse’s confusion increases and its welfare plummets if it is punished for this.

Unhappy horse in a trailer
Wes Mountain/The ConversationCC BY-ND

8. Putting them in a trailer or horse box

Horses are claustrophobic and have 320° vision, so our practice of loading them into dark, narrow spaces with unstable footing, such as into trailers (floats) and horse boxes, is often a challenge for a species that has evolved to avoid such spaces. Difficulties with loading and with dangerous behaviours during transport are routinely reported. These responses are generally manifestations of panic and include rushing off the trailer and pulling back when tied up.

9. Branding

Searing a permanent mark onto the skin of horses is often required for identification purposes. The use of super-cooled brands or firebrands is unpleasant because they cause a third-degree burn and require the horse to be restrained, either in stocks or via chemical sedation. Thankfully, less invasive methods of identification, such as microchipping, are gaining increasing acceptance among breed and competition societies.

10. Stabling and other forms of isolation

Putting horses in stables might seem benign, and many horses voluntarily enter stables because that is where they are fed. But stabling prevents horses from engaging in most of their grazing and social behaviours. Horses rarely voluntarily isolate themselves from other horses, and prolonged social isolation can lead to behavioural problems such as separation distress, rug-chewing and stereotyped behaviours such as weaving and stall-walking.

Read more: Is your horse normal? Now there’s an app for that

If you’d like to benchmark your horse or pony against thousands of others that we have gathered data on, consider using the Equine Behavior Assessment Research Questionnaire. Understanding why horses find so many procedures unpleasant, frightening or painful is the first step to cutting them some much-needed slack.

They do not defend themselves out of malice but from fear. Taking a walk in their hooves allows us to make them happier and safer to be around.The Conversation

Paul McGreevy, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare Science, University of Sydney and Cathrynne Henshall, PhD Candidate, School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Charles Sturt University

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

We are what we steal: the New South Wales Police Gazette and charting histories of crime

Rachel FranksUniversity of Newcastle

In January 1788, a small floating society — eleven ships carrying crew, crooks, some military men and a few passengers — sailed into the body of water the colonisers called Port Jackson.

In the long term, there were ambitious plans for this new outpost of the British Empire. In the short term, this colony of thieves was all about crime and crime control; the details of which, from the mid-1800s, were published in what came to be known as the Police Gazette.

This fascinating record is the subject of a new online experience hosted by the State Library of New South Wales.

Sydney-based data visualisation designer and developer Brett Tweedie, has produced an extraordinary new data visualisation of almost 20 million words published in the Police Gazette from 1860 until 1900.

This new project, We Are What We Steal, was undertaken as a Digital Drop-In (a kind of small-scale Fellowship) at the State Library of New South Wales’ innovation unit, the DX Lab.

As this work shows, our desire for the details of crimes is nothing new. We see in the Police Gazette, and we see more clearly through Tweedie’s visualisations, the types of crime details that were important to capture in colonial New South Wales.

Horses, Albert Chains, Tweed and Brooches. Brett Tweedie
Visualising peaks of mentions of certain words and phrases in the Police Gazette
We Are What We Steal

Early Efforts To Police The Colony

Australia’s first civilian police force, the Night Watch, was formed by Governor Arthur Phillip in 1789. This unit was made up of the 12 best-behaved convicts, who had been selected to assist in the keeping of law and order in Sydney Town.

It was not ideal to have convicts monitoring other convicts, but the marines stationed in the new colony were few. The military would supervise prisoners for certain purposes or tasks, but the work associated with constables and gaolers would have to be undertaken by others.

Botany Bay, New South Wales, ca 1789, by Charles Gore. State Library of New South Wales

In 1796, the constables were reorganised by Governor John Hunter and divided into regions. Another reorganisation, ordered by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1810, resulted in a more formal, though still problematic, system of policing. The convict-as-constable model continued to reveal cracks in the system. Another effort to improve law enforcement was the Sydney Police Act 1833 (NSW) which was designed to regulate

the Police in the Town and Port of Sydney and for removing and preventing Nuisances and Obstructions therein.

Sydney Cove, 1842, by O.W. Brierly. State Library of New South Wales

Crime, of course, extended beyond the boundaries of Sydney. Containing lawbreakers in metropolitan and in regional and remote areas, was an ongoing issue for colonial authorities as the early crimes of insolence and petty thefts were placed into scale by more serious offences such as bushranging and murder.

One response to increases in crime was to establish specific types of police. There were various services across the colony, including the Row Boat Guard, the Border Police, the Mounted Police and the Gold Escort.

The Police Regulation Act 1862 (NSW) radically changed policing by amalgamating all the colonial police forces to establish the New South Wales Police Force.

Read more: Enforcing assimilation, dismantling Aboriginal families: a history of police violence in Australia

The New South Wales Police Gazette

One of the most important tools of policing in colonial-era New South Wales was the Police Gazette. First published in 1854, as Reports of Crime, it was distributed to police stations across the colony.

The New South Wales Police Gazette and Weekly Record of Crime. State Library of New South Wales

These reports contained

details of crimes committed, persons to be apprehended, descriptions of stolen property and rewards offered, lists of regimental and ships deserters, and other police notices concerning recovery of property, apprehension of suspects previously sought, and dismissals of police officers for unsatisfactory conduct.

Published from 1862 as the New South Wales Police Gazette and Weekly Record of Crime, this vital tool for crime control became the Police Gazette in 1974 and appeared until 1982 (you can read issues of the Police Gazette, up to 1930, on Trove).

We Are What We Steal

In We Are What We Steal, Tweedie has concentrated on peopleplaces and things.

In this data visualisation, the men who captured details through the Police Gazette reveal themselves not just as constables on the lookout for criminals, but as storytellers.

Mentions of moustaches, the 19th-century gold rush town Gulgong and cabbagetree hats. Brett Tweedie

Favourite crime fiction authors and popular true crime writers often use stereotypes to serve as shorthand for their readers. Police officers also routinely relied on creating and using stereotypes to tell crime stories to each other.

Yet, stereotypes have severe consequences in the real world. In the case of the Police Gazette, a publication designed to make society safer could also make society more unequal through reinforcing common prejudices.

Crime is timeless and universal, but the contexts for crime are fluid. As Tweedie writes, we can see numerous stories in the Police Gazette, including:

Changing fashions, new technologies, new modes of transport, the establishment of new towns, increasing wealth, all this is recorded in the gazette — along with the racism of the day — as a by-product of reporting the crimes (and other police matters) that occurred.

Tweedie prompts us to interrogate crime by focusing on a single element of criminal acts. From age to gender and through to the drunken state of offenders. In a colony known for thieving, we can also look at what was stolen, from jewellery to clothing and, as times changed, bicycles.

People, Places and Things. Brett Tweedie

The history of policing reflects the values of a society and what, and who, is being protected.

Similarly, the stories of the men and women known to police in 19th-century New South Wales tell us, not just about crime, but about every aspect of society: who held power, who was vulnerable and how people lived.

A case study of crime on the streets of Sydney’s central business district. Brett Tweedie

Read more: Whores, damned whores and female convicts: Why our history does early Australian colonial women a grave injustice The Conversation

Rachel Franks, Conjoint Fellow, School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle

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

Book Of The Month August 2020: Life Of Charles Dickens

by Mackenzie, R. Shelton (Robert Shelton), 1809-1880; Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870

Publication date 1870

Stay Healthy During The HSC

In any ‘normal’ year the HSC requires dedication and focus as well as the support of friends and family.

This year hasn’t exactly panned out to be a ‘normal’ year, with announcements about changes to the HSC due to COVID-19.

Despite all the goings-on, students across NSW are continuing to study for their HSC with focus and determination, and we at NESA are here to help.

This year we are partnering with mental health organisation ReachOut to deliver news, information, guidance and advice to support all HSC students.

You’ll hear from experts, teachers, parents and other students as well as some inspiring spokespeople. This year we are planning to lighten your mental load with practical tips and tricks for staying active, connected and in charge of your wellbeing.

ReachOut’s Study Hub has heaps of info about taking a proactive approach to your mental health or where to go if you need more support. ReachOut’s Forums are great for sharing what’s going on for you and get ideas about the best ways to feel happy and well.

So follow and use #StayHealthyHSC for regular health and wellbeing updates and information.

View our range of social media images, posters and flyer to help you get involved and share the Stay Healthy HSC message with your community.

Honouring Our World War Two Veterans

July 29, 2020
A special commemorative medallion marking the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War on 15 August is now available to every living Second World War veteran in Mackellar to say, ‘thank you for your service’. 

Member for Mackellar, Jason Falinski MP today encouraged all local Second World War veterans to apply.

“The Northern Beaches has a rich Second World War history and is proud to be the home to veterans from this remarkable generation of Australians who served our nation during the Second World War,” Mr Falinski said.

While more than one million Australian men and women fought during the Second World War campaigns, incredibly, around 12,000 veterans who served during the Second World War are still with us today.  This will be one of the last opportunities we have as a nation to publicly acknowledge this special group of Australians. 

“These brave Australians served our nation in the far corners of the world, fighting in theatres of war from Europe to North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, to Asia and the Pacific, with the conflict also reaching Australian shores,”

“Australia can never fully repay the debt we owe these amazing men and women but, to mark their service, the Federal Government is producing this Commemorative Medallion and Certificate of Commemoration for the remaining living Second World War veterans.”

“I encourage all veterans, or their family members on their behalf, to apply to receive a medallion and certificate as a special thank you from a grateful nation for all they have done.”

The obverse design will feature the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, wording of appreciation and identify by name theatres of war that saw the significant involvement of Australian Armed Forces. The medallion reverse design utilises the poppy as the central symbol surrounded by the wording of ‘Australia Remembers’ and the beginning and end years of the Second World War.

The medallion will be presented in a display case and will include a card that explains the design and contains a brief expression of thanks. The theatres of war detailed on the medallion are based on locations identified within the Commemorative Courtyard of the Australian War Memorial (AWM).

The design of the commemorative certificate will complement the medallion. The design includes the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, ‘Australia Remembers’ wording and the beginning and end year of 75 years of the anniversary: 1945-2020.

The certificate will be contained within its own folder that will allow for independent display, framing and mounting.

Applications can be made online or for those without access to the internet, by phone on 1800 VETERAN (1800 838 372).

Mr Falinski says that Second World War veterans, or their families on their behalf, can apply online at or, for those without internet access, by phone on 02 6191 8217 during business hours. The Commemorative Medallions and Certificates will be distributed during August.

Please note: the final medallion to be struck may vary in size, scale and design from this image.

Vale Dr Harry Nespolon

A condolence message on behalf of the Australian Government on the passing of Dr Harry Nespolon.

July 27th, 2020: The Hon Greg Hunt MP,  Minister for Health

On behalf of the Australian Government, I extend my deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Dr Harry Nespolon, who passed away on Sunday night.

As President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners for the past two years, Dr Nespolon worked very closely with myself and the Government.

He was a passionate but also reasoned advocate for GPs and, above all, for their patients— the Australian people.

His tenure as president coincided with a period of reform and then, of emergency—both the bushfire emergency and more recently the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout these challenges, and his own personal battle with cancer over the past nine months, he remained tireless, eloquent and cogent in his leadership and drive for positive change.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, he played a crucial role working with the Government to devise general practice elements of the comprehensive $2.4 billion health package.

These included dozens of new telehealth measures under Medicare and incentives for GPs to keep their practices open for patients who required face to face consultations.

These measures allowed Australians to continue receiving vital health care, while keeping doctors and patients safe. They were a critical element in Australia’s very successful national response to the coronavirus threat.

Dr Nespolon will long be remembered by all who knew him for his intellect, passion, dedication and professionalism.

Above all, Harry was partner to Lindy, and a father to two beautiful young girls. They should be immensely proud of him. He will be irreplaceable.

His passing is a great loss to the RACGP, to general practice, and to all Australians.

Statement From The Honourable Tony Pagone QC Relating To The COVID-19 Outbreak In Aged Care Facilities

July 30, 2020
It is important that I correct some public expectations that may inadvertently have arisen following statements which have been made over the last few days.

The impact of COVID-19 on Australia’s aged care sector is a national tragedy. It is a human tragedy. At the moment, that tragedy is unfolding daily.

It is important for the public to understand that this Royal Commission is not able, and is not intending, to conduct a full inquiry into that impact. We simply do not have the resources or time to conduct an inquiry that would do justice to the issues which have arisen so far and continue to change and develop. The issues associated with the impacts of COVID-19 in aged care warrant an inquiry of their own.

A telling illustration of the human tragedy and the changing circumstances is the situation in Victoria. At the beginning of July there had been no COVID-19 related deaths associated with residential aged care in Victoria. There were two active cases and six recoveries. By 29 July 2020, there were 440 active cases and 47 deaths. Only three residents have recovered. The first death did not occur until 11 July 2020.

Much has changed since the announcement on 14 May that the Royal Commission would inquire into certain issues arising from the responses of the sector and the government to COVID-19 with a focus on lessons learnt from the COVID-19 response.

Our present inquiry, over about 3 days of hearing commencing on 10 August 2020, will look at lessons to be learnt about the level of preparedness for a major infectious disease outbreak in aged care and whether the human response to COVID-19 balanced appropriately the needs of all of those affected.

Our inquiries may reveal, as seems likely, that there needs to be a fuller and more forensic inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 in aged care. Such an inquiry would need adequate time and resources extending beyond the time frame available to us. It will be for government to determine if such an inquiry is to be undertaken.

Hearing To Examine Evolving Impact Of COVID-19 On Aged Care

July 29, 2020
A hearing dedicated to the responses by the aged care sector to COVID-19 and the effect of those responses on aged care services is being held from 10 to 13 August 2020.

This hearing was first foreshadowed by Commissioners in May 2020 when they announced the commencement of an investigation to help them understand the impact of the pandemic on older Australians living in aged care facilities or receiving home care, and on their families and their carers. Commissioners determined to inquire into the measures put in place to protect older Australians, their families and those employed in aged care in order to consider how best to react to such events in the future while balancing the need for safety and wellbeing for all.

The pandemic continues to unfold around the world. In Australia, it is Victoria that is presently particularly affected. Commissioners and staff of the Royal Commission are monitoring closely the outbreak in Victoria and, in particular, how it affects people receiving aged care services and their loved ones.

On 31 March 2020, the Prime Minister wrote to Commissioners and asked them to take into account the COVID-19 pandemic in the conduct of their inquiry. In particular, the Prime Minister asked that Commissioners give consideration to the effect of the pandemic when seeking information from or otherwise engaging with governments or private entities who are at the front line of the fight against the pandemic in order to ensure that they could do their work without distraction. The Commissioners have done this and continue to do so.

While the upcoming hearing will include an examination of whether there have been systemic failures and the sector’s preparedness for the unfolding crisis in Australia, the focus of the hearing will not be specifically on the Victorian response to the pandemic. Commissioners have considered the evolving and ongoing nature of the crisis in Victoria, and in particular in residential aged care services in Victoria. To focus their inquiry on the Victorian response at this time would unnecessarily distract the State, affected aged care providers, and those working within affected aged care services and in aged care across Victoria more generally. Importantly, such a focus would cause unnecessary additional stress and distress for those grieving the loss of loved ones and those concerned for the wellbeing of others.

The Royal Commission’s hearing will focus on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in aged care, and what can be learned from this experience for responding to future pandemics, infectious disease outbreaks or other emergencies. This will include consideration of:
  • the role and responsibilities of State, Territory and Federal governments in responding to such crises in aged care services
  • what should be done and by whom in the future to support the aged care sector to respond to pandemics, infectious disease outbreaks or other emergencies
  • the balance between managing risks posed by a future pandemic or infectious disease outbreak and maintaining the overall health and wellbeing of aged care recipients including their mental health and quality of life
  • the measures taken by the health and aged care sectors to respond to the pandemic including transporting infected residents to hospital
  • the impact of those measures on older Australians receiving aged care services, their families and their carers
  • challenges faced by the aged care sector including those relating to management, workforce and access to personal protective equipment
  • any other related matters.
The Royal Commission expects to learn from how residential aged care facilities including Newmarch House, Dorothy Henderson Lodge and Opal Care Bankstown responded to the crisis, and what more could have been done to support them.

The purpose of the inquiry is not to find fault or apportion blame.

The hearing will be conducted virtually. Attendance at the hearing will be closed to the public and to the media due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The hearing will be accessible through live video streaming on the Commission’s website. Transcripts will also be made available of the proceedings.

The witness list for the hearing will be made available on the Royal Commission website ahead of the hearing.

Simplified Income Reporting Coming In December 2020

July 24, 2020
The Australian Government is improving and simplifying the way that employment income is reported and assessed for social security purposes. These changes will make reporting easier for payment recipients, meaning people will receive the right amount of income support and be less likely to incur a debt.

The Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Simplifying Income Report and other Measures) Act 2020 (the Act) passed Parliament on 2 March 2020 receiving Royal Assent on 6 March 2020.

The Act was due to commence on 1 July 2020. However, to respond to the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the Australian Government passed the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020 on 23 March 2020. This Act contained amendments to the Simplifying Income Reporting and Other Measures Act 2020 to defer implementation for up to 12 months, to commence either by Government proclamation or on 1 July 2021.

The Governor-General made the proclamation on 23 July 2020 setting a commencement of 7 December 2020.

In the coming months, Services Australia will conduct communication activities to advise customers of the changes.

Currently, payment recipients must make a calculation to report their, or their partner’s, earnings based on the number and value of shifts they have worked. This may be different to what they have actually been paid.

Under this change, people will be able to refer to their or their partner’s payslip in order to report their gross employment income to Centrelink. This will make reporting easier so that people get the right amount of payment.

This change will affect anyone who has to report their employment income for social security purposes, including partners of payment recipients. Affected payments include:
  • Age Pension
  • Austudy
  • Carer Payment
  • Disability Support Pension
  • Farm Household Allowance
  • Jobseeker Payment
  • Partner Allowance
  • Parenting Payment (single and partnered)
  • Special Benefit
  • Status Resolution Support Services
  • Widow Allowance
  • Youth Allowance.

Naturally Occurring Lithium In Drinking Water Linked With Lower Suicide Rates

July 27, 2020
Naturally occurring lithium in public drinking water may have an anti-suicidal effect -- according to a new study from Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London.

Published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the study collated research from around the world and found that geographical areas with relatively high levels or concentration of lithium in public drinking water had correspondingly lower suicide rates.

Professor Anjum Memon, Chair in Epidemiology and Public Health Medicine at BSMS and lead author of the study, said: "It is promising that higher levels of trace lithium in drinking water may exert an anti-suicidal effect and have the potential to improve community mental health. The prevalence of mental health conditions and national suicide rates are increasing in many countries. Worldwide, over 800,000 people die by suicide every year, and suicide is the leading cause of death among persons aged 15-24 years."

"In these unprecedented times of COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent increase in the incidence of mental health conditions, accessing ways to improve community mental health and reduce the incidence of anxiety, depression and suicide is ever more important."

Lithium, sometimes referred to as the 'Magic Ion', is widely and effectively used as a medication for the treatment and prevention of manic and depressive episodes, stabilising mood and reducing the risk of suicide in people with mood disorders. Its anti-aggressive properties can help reduce impulsivity, aggression, violent criminal behaviour and chronic substance abuse.

Lithium is a naturally occurring element and is found in variable amounts in vegetables, grains, spices and drinking water. It is present in trace amounts in virtually all rocks, and is mobilised by weathering into soils, ground and standing water, and thus into the public water supply.

The health benefits and curative powers of naturally occurring lithium in water have been known for centuries. The Lithia Springs, an ancient Native American sacred medicinal spring, with its natural lithium-enriched water, is renowned for its health-giving properties. In fact, the popular soft drink 7-Up contained lithium when it was created in 1929.

Recent studies have also linked lithium to reduced incidence of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. This raises the potential for its preventative use to combat the risk of dementia.

Professor Allan Young, Chair of Mood Disorders at King's College London, said: "This synthesis and analysis of all available evidence confirms previous findings of some individual studies and shows a significant relationship between higher lithium levels in drinking water and lower suicide rates in the community. The levels of lithium in drinking water are far lower than those recommended when lithium is used as medicine although the duration of exposure may be far longer, potentially starting at conception. These findings are also consistent with the finding in clinical trials that lithium reduces suicide and related behaviours in people with a mood disorder."

Professor Memon added: "Next steps might include testing this hypothesis by randomised community trials of lithium supplementation of the water supply, particularly in communities (or settings) with demonstrated high prevalence of mental health conditions, violent criminal behaviour, chronic substance abuse and risk of suicide. This may provide further evidence to support the hypothesis that lithium could be used at the community level to reduce or combat the risk of these conditions."

Professor Carmine Pariante from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, commented: "This study shows that the boundaries between medication and nutritional interventions are not as rigid as we used to think, opening up the possibility of new treatments that span both domains. More knowledge of the beneficial properties of lithium and its role in regulating brain function can lead to a deeper understanding of mental illness and improve the wellbeing of patients with depression and other mental health problems."

The study involved systematic review and meta-analysis of all previous studies on the subject -- conducted in Austria, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, UK, Japan and USA -- which correlated naturally occurring lithium levels in drinking water samples and suicide rates in 1,286 regions/counties/cities in these countries.

Anjum Memon, Imogen Rogers, Sophie M. D. D. Fitzsimmons, Ben Carter, Rebecca Strawbridge, Diego Hidalgo-Mazzei, Allan H. Young. Association between naturally occurring lithium in drinking water and suicide rates: systematic review and meta-analysis of ecological studies. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 2020; 1 DOI: 10.1192/bjp.2020.128

If you or anyone you know needs help:
  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
  • MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
  • Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
  • Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
  • Headspace on 1800 650 890
  • ReachOut at
  • Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) on 1800 008 774

Deep Sea Microbes Dormant For 100 Million Years Are Hungry And Ready To Multiply

July 28, 2020
For decades, scientists have gathered ancient sediment samples from below the seafloor to better understand past climates, plate tectonics and the deep marine ecosystem. In a new study published in Nature Communications, researchers reveal that given the right food in the right laboratory conditions, microbes collected from sediment as old as 100 million years can revive and multiply, even after laying dormant since large dinosaurs prowled the planet.

The research team behind the new study, from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, the Kochi University and Marine Works Japan, gathered the ancient sediment samples ten years ago during an expedition to the South Pacific Gyre, the part of the ocean with the lowest productivity and fewest nutrients available to fuel the marine food web.

"Our main question was whether life could exist in such a nutrient-limited environment or if this was a lifeless zone," said the paper's lead author Yuki Morono, senior scientist at JAMSTEC. "And we wanted to know how long the microbes could sustain their life in a near-absence of food."

On the seafloor, there are layers of sediment consisting of marine snow (organic debris continually sourced from the sea surface), dust, and particles carried by the wind and ocean currents. Small life forms such as microbes become trapped in this sediment.

Aboard the research drillship JOIDES Resolution, the team drilled numerous sediment cores 100 meters below the seafloor and nearly 6,000 meters below the ocean's surface. The scientists found that oxygen was present in all of the cores, suggesting that if sediment accumulates slowly on the seafloor at a rate of no more than a meter or two every million years, oxygen will penetrate all the way from the seafloor to the basement. Such conditions make it possible for aerobic microorganisms -- those that require oxygen to live -- to survive for geological time scales of millions of years.

With fine-tuned laboratory procedures, the scientists, led by Morono, incubated the samples to coax their microbes to grow. The results demonstrated that rather than being fossilised remains of life, the microbes in the sediment had survived, and were capable of growing and dividing.

"We knew that there was life in deep sediment near the continents where there's a lot of buried organic matter," said URI Graduate School of Oceanography professor and co-author of the study Steven D'Hondt. "But what we found was that life extends in the deep ocean from the seafloor all the way to the underlying rocky basement."

Morono was initially taken aback by the results. "At first I was sceptical, but we found that up to 99.1% of the microbes in sediment deposited 101.5 million years ago were still alive and were ready to eat," he said.

With the newly developed ability to grow, manipulate and characterise ancient microorganisms, the research team is looking forward to applying a similar approach to other questions about the geological past. According to Morono, life for microbes in the subseafloor is very slow compared to life above it, and so the evolutionary speed of these microbes will be slower. "We want to understand how or if these ancient microbes evolved," he said. "This study shows that the subseafloor is an excellent location to explore the limits of life on Earth."

Before looking ahead to future research, D'Hondt took time to reflect on Morono's achievement. "What's most exciting about this study is that it shows that there are no limits to life in the old sediment of the world's ocean," said D'Hondt. "In the oldest sediment we've drilled, with the least amount of food, there are still living organisms, and they can wake up, grow and multiply."

This study was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), the Funding Program for Next Generation World-Leading Researchers, and the U.S. National Science Foundation. This study was conducted using core samples collected during Expedition 329, "South Pacific Gyre Subseafloor Life," of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program.

Morono, Y., Ito, M., Hoshino, T. et al. Aerobic microbial life persists in oxic marine sediment as old as 101.5 million years. Nat Commun, 2020 DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-17330-1

Plato Was Right: Earth Is Made Of Cubes

Plato, the Greek philosopher who lived in the 5th century B.C.E., believed that the universe was made of five types of matter: earth, air, fire, water, and cosmos. Each was described with a particular geometry, a platonic shape. For earth, that shape was the cube.

Science has steadily moved beyond Plato's conjectures, looking instead to the atom as the building block of the universe. Yet Plato seems to have been onto something, researchers have found.

In a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team from the University of Pennsylvania, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, and University of Debrecen uses math, geology, and physics to demonstrate that the average shape of rocks on Earth is a cube.

"Plato is widely recognised as the first person to develop the concept of an atom, the idea that matter is composed of some indivisible component at the smallest scale," says Douglas Jerolmack, a geophysicist in Penn's School of Arts & Sciences' Department of Earth and Environmental Science and the School of Engineering and Applied Science's Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics. "But that understanding was only conceptual; nothing about our modern understanding of atoms derives from what Plato told us.

"The interesting thing here is that what we find with rock, or earth, is that there is more than a conceptual lineage back to Plato. It turns out that Plato's conception about the element earth being made up of cubes is, literally, the statistical average model for real earth. And that is just mind-blowing."

The group's finding began with geometric models developed by mathematician Gábor Domokos of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, whose work predicted that natural rocks would fragment into cubic shapes.

"This paper is the result of three years of serious thinking and work, but it comes back to one core idea," says Domokos. "If you take a three-dimensional polyhedral shape, slice it randomly into two fragments and then slice these fragments again and again, you get a vast number of different polyhedral shapes. But in an average sense, the resulting shape of the fragments is a cube."

Domokos pulled two Hungarian theoretical physicists into the loop: Ferenc Kun, an expert on fragmentation, and János Török, an expert on statistical and computational models. After discussing the potential of the discovery, Jerolmack says, the Hungarian researchers took their finding to Jerolmack to work together on the geophysical questions; in other words, "How does nature let this happen?"

"When we took this to Doug, he said, 'This is either a mistake, or this is big,'" Domokos recalls. "We worked backward to understand the physics that results in these shapes."

Fundamentally, the question they answered is what shapes are created when rocks break into pieces. Remarkably, they found that the core mathematical conjecture unites geological processes not only on Earth but around the solar system as well.

"Fragmentation is this ubiquitous process that is grinding down planetary materials," Jerolmack says. "The solar system is littered with ice and rocks that are ceaselessly smashing apart. This work gives us a signature of that process that we've never seen before."

Part of this understanding is that the components that break out of a formerly solid object must fit together without any gaps, like a dropped dish on the verge of breaking. As it turns out, the only one of the so-called platonic forms -- polyhedra with sides of equal length -- that fit together without gaps are cubes.

"One thing we've speculated in our group is that, quite possibly Plato looked at a rock outcrop and after processing or analyzing the image subconsciously in his mind, he conjectured that the average shape is something like a cube," Jerolmack says.

"Plato was very sensitive to geometry," Domokos adds. According to lore, the phrase "Let no one ignorant of geometry enter" was engraved at the door to Plato's Academy. "His intuitions, backed by his broad thinking about science, may have led him to this idea about cubes," says Domokos.

To test whether their mathematical models held true in nature, the team measured a wide variety of rocks, hundreds that they collected and thousands more from previously collected datasets. No matter whether the rocks had naturally weathered from a large outcropping or been dynamited out by humans, the team found a good fit to the cubic average.

However, special rock formations exist that appear to break the cubic "rule." The Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, with its soaring vertical columns, is one example, formed by the unusual process of cooling basalt. These formations, though rare, are still encompassed by the team's mathematical conception of fragmentation; they are just explained by out-of-the-ordinary processes at work.

"The world is a messy place," says Jerolmack. "Nine times out of 10, if a rock gets pulled apart or squeezed or sheared -- and usually these forces are happening together -- you end up with fragments which are, on average, cubic shapes. It's only if you have a very special stress condition that you get something else. The earth just doesn't do this often."

The researchers also explored fragmentation in two dimensions, or on thin surfaces that function as two-dimensional shapes, with a depth that is significantly smaller than the width and length. There, the fracture patterns are different, though the central concept of splitting polygons and arriving at predictable average shapes still holds.

"It turns out in two dimensions you're about equally likely to get either a rectangle or a hexagon in nature," Jerolmack says. "They're not true hexagons, but they're the statistical equivalent in a geometric sense. You can think of it like paint cracking; a force is acting to pull the paint apart equally from different sides, creating a hexagonal shape when it cracks."

In nature, examples of these two-dimensional fracture patterns can be found in ice sheets, drying mud, or even the earth's crust, the depth of which is far outstripped by its lateral extent, allowing it to function as a de facto two-dimensional material. It was previously known that the earth's crust fractured in this way, but the group's observations support the idea that the fragmentation pattern results from plate tectonics.

Identifying these patterns in rock may help in predicting phenomenon such as rock fall hazards or the likelihood and location of fluid flows, such as oil or water, in rocks.

For the researchers, finding what appears to be a fundamental rule of nature emerging from millennia-old insights has been an intense but satisfying experience.

"There are a lot of sand grains, pebbles, and asteroids out there, and all of them evolve by chipping in a universal manner," says Domokos, who is also co-inventor of the Gömböc, the first known convex shape with the minimal number -- just two -- of static balance points. Chipping by collisions gradually eliminates balance points, but shapes stop short of becoming a Gömböc; the latter appears as an unattainable end point of this natural process.

The current result shows that the starting point may be a similarly iconic geometric shape: the cube with its 26 balance points. "The fact that pure geometry provides these brackets for a ubiquitous natural process, gives me happiness," he says.

"When you pick up a rock in nature, it's not a perfect cube, but each one is a kind of statistical shadow of a cube," adds Jerolmack. "It calls to mind Plato's allegory of the cave. He posited an idealized form that was essential for understanding the universe, but all we see are distorted shadows of that perfect form."

Gábor Domokos, Douglas J. Jerolmack, Ferenc Kun, János Török. Plato’s cube and the natural geometry of fragmentation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2020; 202001037 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2001037117

Science Sweetens Australian Stingless Bee Species Honey Health Claims

July 22, 2020: University of QLD.
Science has validated Indigenous wisdom by identifying a rare, healthy sugar in native stingless bee honey that is not found in any other food.

University of Queensland organic chemist Associate Professor Mary Fletcher said Indigenous peoples had long known that native stingless bee honey had special health properties.

"We tested honey from two Australian native stingless bee species, two in Malaysia and one in Brazil and found that up to 85 per cent of their sugar is trehalulose, not maltose as previously thought," she said.

Dr Fletcher said trehalulose was a rare sugar with a low glycaemic index (GI), and not found as a major component in any other foods.

"Traditionally it has been thought that stingless bee honey was good for diabetes and now we know why -- having a lower GI means it takes longer for the sugar to be absorbed into the blood stream, so there is not a spike in glucose that you get from other sugars," Dr Fletcher said.

"Interestingly trehalulose is also acariogenic, which means it doesn't cause tooth decay."

Dr Fletcher said the findings would strengthen the stingless bee honey market and create new opportunities.

"Stingless bee honey sells now for around AUD $200 per kilogram, which is up there with the price of Manuka and Royal Jelly honey," she said.

"The high commercial value also makes it a risk for substitution, where people could sell other honey as stingless bee honey, or dilute the product.

"But due to this research, we can test for this novel sugar, which will help industry to set a food standard for stingless bee honey.

"People have patented ways of making trehalulose synthetically with enzymes and bacteria, but our research shows stingless bee honey can be used as a wholefood on its own or in other food to get the same health benefits."

The work of Dr Fletcher and the research team has led to a new project funded by AgriFutures Australia and supported by the Australian Native Bee Association.

Working with Dr Natasha Hungerford from UQ's Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation and Dr Tobias Smith from the School of Biological Sciences the new project will investigate storage and collection, to optimise the trehalulose content of Australian stingless bee honey.

Stingless bees (Meliponini) occur in most tropical and sub-tropical regions, with more than 500 species across Neotropical, Afrotropical and Indo-Australian regions.

Like the well-known Apis mellifera honeybees, stingless bees live in permanent colonies made up of a single queen and workers, who collect pollen and nectar to feed larvae within the colony.

Dr Fletcher said keeping native stingless bees was gaining in popularity in Australia, for their role as pollinators as well as for their unique honey.

As well as having health benefits, stingless bee honey is valued for its flavour and is in high demand from chefs.

Mary T. Fletcher, Natasha L. Hungerford, Dennis Webber, Matheus Carpinelli de Jesus, Jiali Zhang, Isobella S. J. Stone, Joanne T. Blanchfield, Norhasnida Zawawi. Stingless bee honey, a novel source of trehalulose: a biologically active disaccharide with health benefits. Scientific Reports, 2020; 10 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-68940-0

Australian native stingless bee (Tetragonula carbonaria). Credit: Tobias Smith

How Renegade Protein Interrupts Brain Cell Function In Alzheimer's Disease

July 28, 2020
Dozens of molecules may tangle up with rogue bundles of tau, a protein that normally gives nerve fibers structure, to cause brain cell damage that contributes to neurodegenerative diseases, a new study shows.

Neuroscientists have previously found that tau can become toxic when extra chemical molecules accumulate with its structure in the brain, causing it to form tangles of protein that destroy surrounding tissue.

Led by researchers from NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the new study analysed the makeup of such tangles and found 12 proteins that they say have not before been tied to both tau and Alzheimer's disease. They also uncovered several dozen other proteins that appear in the latest stages of the disease as well as in the earliest phases of dementia.

"Our findings expand our understanding of the molecular interactions that drive Alzheimer's and other brain-damaging diseases related to misbehaving tau proteins," says study co-lead author Eleanor Drummond, PhD, a research assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at NYU Langone Health.

"Now that we have better insight into possible 'key players' in neurodegeneration, we may have clearer targets for potential therapies," says co-lead author Geoffrey Pires, a doctoral student in neurology at NYU Langone.

An estimated 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's, a progressive disease that affects mostly those over 65 and interferes with memory, language, and decision making. Currently, there are no effective treatments or prevention strategies for Alzheimer's. Experts have long linked it to a buildup of extra phosphate molecules on tau proteins. However, how these tangles damage neurons and what other proteins are involved in the development of Alzheimer's signature bundles have been poorly understood, says Drummond.

The new study, publishing online July 28 in the journal Brain, provides what Drummond and her colleagues say is the largest overview to date of proteins present in these tau tangles.

For the investigation, the research team analysed donated brain tissue samples from 12 men and women with Alzheimer's disease. After separating the tau knots from the surrounding tissue, the researchers examined the bundles to identify the many proteins tangled within.

According to the findings, the tangles were composed of 542 different proteins in total, some of which are involved in essential processes within cells, such as energy production (vacuolar-ATPase subunit ATP6V0D1), the reading of genetic material (RNA binding protein HNRNPA1), and cell breakdown and digestion (PSMC 1 through 5). These results provide clues to how the tangles lead to neuron death, says Drummond.

"Alzheimer's has been studied for over a century, so it is eye opening that we are still uncovering dozens of proteins that we had no idea are associated with the disease," says study senior author Thomas Wisniewski, MD, the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman Professor in the Department of Neurology at NYU Langone.

Wisniewski, also a professor in the departments of Pathology and Psychiatry at NYU Langone, plans next to investigate the newly identified proteins in tissue samples of people with other tau-linked neurodegenerative diseases, such as Pick's disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, as well as other forms of dementia.

Funding for the study was provided by National Institutes of Health grants P01AG060882, P30AG066512, RF1 AG058267, and 1S10OD010582-01A1, as well as the Bluesand Foundation and Dementia AustraliaMaterials provided by NYU Langone Health / NYU School of Medicine. 

Gene Variations At Birth Reveal Origins Of Inflammation And Immune Disease

July 28, 2020
A study published in the journal Nature Communications has pinpointed a number of areas of the human genome that may help explain the neonatal origins of chronic immune and inflammatory diseases of later life, including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease.

The research, led by scientists at the Cambridge Baker Systems Genomics Initiative, identified several genes that appear to drive disease risk at birth, and which could be targeted for therapeutic intervention to stop these diseases in their tracks, well before symptoms occur.

Dr Michael Inouye, Munz Chair of Cardiovascular Prediction and Prevention at the Baker Institute and Principal Researcher at Cambridge University, said chronic immune and inflammatory diseases of adulthood often originated in early childhood, with an individual's genetic make-up causing changes to the function of different genes involved in disease.

For this study, the team collected cord blood samples from more than 100 Australian newborns as part of the Childhood Asthma Study, and investigated the role of genetic variation in DNA in changing how genes are expressed in the two main arms of the immune system.

The neonatal immune cells were exposed to certain stimuli, to see how the cells responded and to identify genetic variants that changed these responses.

"We looked for overlap between these genetic signals and those that are known to be associated with diseases where we know the immune system plays a role," Dr Inouye said.

"We then used statistical analysis to search for possible links between the cell response in newborns and immune diseases in adulthood."

Chronic immune diseases -- including type 1 diabetes, celiac disease and multiple sclerosis -- are caused by an overactive immune system and affect about 5 per cent of Australians. Allergies are immune-mediated too and affect one in five Australians, with hay fever, asthma, eczema, anaphylaxis and food allergies the most common. Inflammation and autoimmunity are also known to be driving factors in cardiovascular diseases, for example when an overactive immune system mistakenly attacks the heart.

Dr Qinqin Huang, lead author of the study and now a researcher at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge, said the findings were unique in their scale, with thousands of genetic variants driving gene expression across different immune and inflammatory conditions, some of which had wide-ranging effects.

"Our study showed the potential roles of gene expression in disease development, which has helped us to better understand the link between DNA variation and disease risk," Dr Huang said.

"To date, similar studies have only been conducted in adult immune cells. Given the huge difference between neonatal and adult immunity, it is not surprising to see many signals that were unique to newborns."

The study is part of the Cambridge Baker Systems Genomics Initiative's wider work in developing polygenic risk scores to predict an individual's likelihood of developing particular chronic diseases. To date, the team have already developed potential methods to test for future risk of stroke and coronary artery disease.

"Disease is partly due to changes, both large and small, in our genome -- the DNA that we're born with and which is a major driving force in all our cells. That means, genomics can be used to estimate disease risk from a very early age," Dr Inouye said.

"Common diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, tend to be polygenic -- influenced by a large number of genetic variants scattered throughout the genome, which combine with environmental and lifestyle factors. By using new genomic technology and supercomputing capabilities, we can sift through this DNA data and piece together the puzzles that underlie each disease.

"With so many diseases sharing a root in the immune system and inflammation we can leverage this information to better understand where each disease has a molecular weak spot and to what extent these are shared among different diseases.

"We've shown this can be dissected using genetics and polygenic risk, hopefully leading to targeted preventative interventions for those who need them most, with the aim of keeping people living healthier for longer."

Qin Qin Huang, Howard H. F. Tang, Shu Mei Teo, Danny Mok, Scott C. Ritchie, Artika P. Nath, Marta Brozynska, Agus Salim, Andrew Bakshi, Barbara J. Holt, Chiea Chuen Khor, Peter D. Sly, Patrick G. Holt, Kathryn E. Holt, Michael Inouye. Neonatal genetics of gene expression reveal potential origins of autoimmune and allergic disease risk. Nature Communications, 2020; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-17477-x

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