Inbox and Environment News: Issue 483

February 14 - 20, 2021: Issue 483

Time Of Burran

Gadalung Marool (hot and dry) January - March

The behaviour of the male kangaroos becomes quite aggressive in this season, and it is a sign that the eating of meat is forbidden during this time. This is a health factor; because of the heat of the day meat does not keep, and the likelihood of food poisoning is apparent. The blooming of the Weetjellan (Acacia implexa) is an important sign that fires must not be lit unless they are well away from bushland and on sand only, and that there will be violent storms and heavy rain, so camping near creeks and rivers is not recommended.

Acacia implexa, commonly known as lightwood or hickory wattle, is a fast-growing Australian tree, the timber of which was used for furniture making.  The wood is prized for its finish and strength. The foliage was used to make pulp and dye cloth. The Ngunnawal people of the ACT used the bark to make rope, string, medicine and for fish poison, the timber for tools, and the seeds to make flour.

It is widespread in eastern Australia from central coastal Queensland to southern Victoria, with outlying populations on the Atherton Tableland in northern Queensland and Tasmania's King Island. The tree is commonly found on fertile plains and in hilly country it is usually part of open forest communities and grows in shallow drier sandy and clay soils.

Acacia implexa flowers  - photo by Donald Hobern.

Flight2Light 2021: 'How To'

Bush Blitz, is partnering with the Australasian Dark Sky Alliance to raise awareness of the impacts of light pollution on the night time environment.

The Flight2Light event aims to educate Australians about light pollution, the impact it has on wildlife and the simple ways they can reduce light pollution.

You can get involved in Flight2Light from the 6th-19th Feb 2021

Check at Bush Blitz for information about how to register to take part in this nation wide event, receive a participation certificate and the satisfaction of helping our environment.

Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA)  Pittwater Nature #4 Is Now Available 

This Issue (February 2021) contains: 
  • The Pittwater River and the Barrenjoey sandspit
  • How Tumbledown Dick hill Duffys Forest endangered bushland has been moved there from a site at Belrose
  • The Sydney Wildlife Mobile Unit looks after native animals
  • Plant Families 101: the Solanaceae /Nightshade Family.
  • Prey and Predators on Bilgola Plateau
  • Two birds that nest in hollows. 
  • Cicadas emerge at night.

May be an image of bird and nature
Dollarbirds: Image Chelsey Baker.

Upcoming Activities For Friends Of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment:  

Sun 21 February 2021: 7.30 am Walk & Weed along the Narrabeen Lagoon catchment transverse walk.

Start at Oxford Falls walk for 3 1/2 hours, weed for 30min, continue 30min walk and car pool back to start.

Bring gloves and long handled screwdriver if available.

Walk grade: medium.

Bookings essential. Conny 0432 643 295

Friends of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment are  pleased to announce the next forum will be held on 22 Feb 2021 at 7 pm . 

Presenter: Jayden Walsh

Jayden is a keen observer of nature and has some stunning photographs and information to share.

The focus will be on wildlife that lives near the Narrabeen Lagoon and that, if you are fortunate, you may see when on the Narrabeen Lagoon walkway.

For details on how to book  for this event are on the website. At:

Council's Waste Reduction Events

This webpage HERE, lists all the great waste reduction events being hosted by Council. 
Events listed include:
  • DIY Beeswax Food Wraps - at the Tramshed Community Centre, Narrabeen
  • Living Smart Short Course;  Learn about the many ways you can reduce plastic and waste in your household, business or workplace -Tramshed Community Centre, Narrabeen
  • Reusable Nappies Webinar
  • Avalon Car Boot Sale

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

Pittwater Reserves

Annie Wyatt Reserve - A  Pictorial

Sydney Water Convicted And Fined $185,000 For Sewage Overflow

February 9, 2021
Sydney Water Corporation has been convicted and penalised a total of $185,000, following prosecution by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), for failing to adequately clean up sewage pollution at a creek and in bushland at Bangor in Sydney’s south.

On 14 September 2018, approximately 57,000 litres of untreated sewage was discharged from a Sydney Water maintenance hole at Bangor. The incident caused environmental harm to the unnamed creek and surrounding environment.

In the NSW Land and Environment Court, Justice Rachel Pepper convicted Sydney Water of one offence of breaching its environment protection licence and one offence of failing to comply with a clean-up notice issued to Sydney Water by the EPA. Sydney Water pleaded guilty to both offences.

Sydney Water was required under its environment protection licence and under a clean-up notice to take action to minimise the impact of the sewage overflow as soon as practicable. However, failures in Sydney Water’s management in the aftermath of the sewage overflow meant that the clean-up was delayed.

Justice Pepper found that due to failures in Sydney Water’s instructions and communication the clean-up of the raw sewage was not completed for more than four weeks. This likely permitted the ongoing pollution of the unnamed creek and the local aquatic environment.

Justice Pepper said that Sydney Water’s actions were reckless and that its response to the pollution was “a wholly dilatory and inadequate clean-up effort”.

Sydney Water was ordered to pay $100,000 of the $185,000 penalty to Sutherland Shire Council for the Watercourse Rehabilitation and Bush Regeneration Project at Engadine.

Acting Director Regulatory Operations Jacinta Hanemann said the EPA welcomed the decision and that it was vital that pollution incidents were cleaned up promptly.

“Untreated sewage can pose a risk to human health and can have significant environmental impacts on waterways and local ecosystems,” Ms Hanneman said.

Sydney Water was also ordered to pay the EPA’s investigation costs of $10,758 plus legal costs and to publicise its convictions in the Sydney Morning Herald, Daily Telegraph and a local newspaper as well as on social media.

Including the above matters, since mid-2019 has successfully prosecuted Sydney Water for seven offences against the environment protection legislation. Additional EPA prosecutions against Sydney Water for alleged environmental offences are currently before the Courts.

Penalty notices are one of a number of tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance including formal warnings, official cautions, licence conditions, notices and directions and prosecutions. In this instance the EPA issued a penalty notice. The notice recipient may pay the penalty notice, seek a review, or elect to have the matter determined by a court.

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

Misuse Of Mouse Baits Leads To Poisoning

February 5, 2021
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is urging people to carefully follow instructions when using pesticides, or risk poisoning or other serious health conditions.

The reminder comes after several recent poisonings from the product Mouseoff, which contains zinc phosphide, resulted in hospitalisations in Western NSW Local Health District.

Mouseoff is clearly labelled as a high-risk commercial product, used for rodent control, and only approved to be used in agricultural and/or industrial and commercial settings.  

EPA Executive Director Regulatory Operations Carmen Dwyer said the EPA had commenced an investigation into the potential supply of Mouseoff to customers for domestic use.

“We’re aware there’s a mouse plague in many parts of the state however, a recent poisoning case serves as a warning that commercial or agricultural pesticides should not be used in a domestic setting.

“Our message to users is a simple one – follow the product instructions carefully. Before using any bait, it’s vital that consumers check that their product is suitable for domestic use. We are very concerned about keeping the community safe and well.”

Director of Western NSW Public Health Unit Priscilla Stanley said “phosphine gas released from mouse baits containing zinc phosphide can be dangerous. It can cause suffocation in enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces. Symptoms include vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fever, cough, shortness of breath and chest tightness”.

Anyone suffering from symptoms are advised to contact the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.

The EPA regulates the use of herbicides and pesticides in NSW, including those used in agriculture, on public land and in commercial and domestic premises, through the Pesticides Act 1999.

Under the Pesticides Act and Pesticides Regulation, users are required to check the product label carefully before using and comply with the directions for use on the label.

Anyone with a concern, or knowledge of an incident involving pesticide misuse in their local area, should contact the EPA’s Environment Line on 131 555.

NB: using pesticides on rodents can result in the death of wildlife that find and eat these carcasses. Please find alternative ways of getting rid of mice and rats.

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

Bents Basin State Conservation Area: Have Your Say

Closes March 7, 2021

National Parks and Wildlife Service is seeking feedback on the draft plan of management for Bents Basin State Conservation Area and Gulguer Nature Reserve.

The Bents Basin State Conservation Area and Gulguer Nature Reserve Draft Plan of Management is currently on public exhibition.

Once adopted, the plan will replace the Bents Basin State Conservation Area statement of management intent and the Gulguer Nature Reserve statement of management intent, which were approved in 2014. 

Key management directions in this plan include:

  • strategies for the protection of natural values 
  • strategies to improve the management of Aboriginal cultural heritage and shared heritage values
  • strategies to improve visitor experiences and manage increasing use.

The draft visitor facilities concept plans, including details of visitor facility upgrades, are also available for comment.

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

Volunteers Needed For Great Inland Glossy Count: February 2021

Postponed from late last year the NSW Saving our Species program is now calling for community volunteers to become 'cockatoo counters' and help be part of the Great Inland Glossy Count this February.

National Parks and Wildlife Service Senior Project Officer Adam Fawcett said the count was set to go and anyone can be a part of it.

"Bird lovers, citizen scientists or anyone with an interest in this beautiful threatened species, are needed to survey glossy black cockatoo populations at three key sites around inland NSW.

"Listed as vulnerable in New South Wales, glossies are easily spotted with their distinctive red markings and this cockatoo count will help our scientists understand more about this threatened bird," he said.

This is the second time the Great Inland Glossy Count has occurred. In 2019 seventy volunteers participated and counted over 700 glossy black cockatoos across inland NSW.

The count is part of a wider project to conserve the species at three key sites: the Pilliga Forests, Goonoo National Park and Goobang National Park and surrounding landscapes.

The dates for the 2021 surveys of what is fast becoming an annual cockatoo count are:

  • 13 February – Pilliga Forests
  • 20 February – Goonoo National Park
  • 27 February – Goobang National Park and surrounds

"We are hoping to get 100 volunteers this year and what a great opportunity to get out to some of our amazing national parks and state forests, sit back and watch a threatened species in its natural habitat," Mr Fawcett said.

Volunteers will need to pre-register using the Department of Planning Industry and Environment's Volunteer Portal and will be required to follow COVID safety guidelines.

Family members are encouraged to register to volunteer together and will be stationed at one dam on their chosen weekend to count glossy black cockatoos as they come into known watering holes.

"We are asking volunteers to setup at their survey site an hour or so before dusk and wait as glossy black cockatoos fly in for water.

"The only requirements are the ability to make your way to a dam allocated by the Saving our Species team and to bring a pair of binoculars, a comfy chair and a notepad.

"Many of our seasoned participants make quite an event out of the evening, with cheese platters and other goodies a regular feature. It is a pretty amazing when you get a large flock of this threatened species coming into a waterhole to drink and we love that we are able to give people this opportunity to get involved in threatened species conservation," Mr Fawcett said.

The project is funded by the NSW Government's Saving our Species program and the NSW Environmental Trust, and is led by Central West Local Land Services in partnership with National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW Forest Corporation, Dubbo Field Naturalists, Australian Wildlife Conservancy and the land owners and managers within these areas.

Shifting Attitudes To Recycling Sees 5 Billion Drink Containers Returned

February 8, 2021
EPA Executive Director Liesbet Spanjaard has praised recyclers across the state with Return and Earn reaching an incredible 5 billion containers returned since the scheme commenced in 2017.

With two out of three eligible containers consumed in NSW now being returned, over 460,000 tonnes of material has been recycled through the scheme and $500 million has been returned to the NSW community.

Return and Earn also continues to be an increasingly important fundraising avenue for charities and community groups with $18.2 million having been paid via donations and fees from hosting return points.

“The NSW Government is incredibly proud of Return and Earn’s growth and success and I am delighted to see the NSW community throw their support behind it,” Ms Spanjaard said.

“This initiative is an important part of our commitment to creating a sustainable future and moving towards a circular economy where waste is a valuable resource.

“As well as the environmental benefits of reducing litter and increasing recycling, Return and Earn has generated economic benefits by putting money in the pockets of the people of NSW, by directly employing over 700 people across the state and by serving as a valuable source of revenue for community groups.”

Return and Earn’s success can be largely attributed to a high level of community support with 75 per cent of adults in NSW having participated in the scheme.

“The partnership between the NSW Government, Exchange for Change, and Tomra Cleanaway has allowed us to deliver a reliable, transparent scheme, with a strong focus on community engagement,” Ms Spanjaard, said.

“We quickly earned the confidence and trust of our community and this is translating into action as participation in the scheme continues to grow.

“When waste is seen as a resource that can generate environmental, social and economic benefits, it encourages people and community groups to tap into the potential of the bottles and cans they might have otherwise just thrown away.

“This is all part of what helps change attitudes and drive action to increase recycling across NSW.”

To find out how to get involved with Return and Earn go to

Australia must control its killer cat problem. A major new report explains how, but doesn't go far enough

Sarah LeggeAustralian National UniversityChris DickmanUniversity of SydneyJaana DielenbergCharles Darwin UniversityJohn WoinarskiCharles Darwin University, and Tida NouThe University of Queensland

Australia is teeming with cats. While cats make great pets, and can bring owners emotional, psychological and health benefits, the animals are a scourge on native wildlife.

Cats kill a staggering 1.7 billion native animals each year, and have played a major role in most of Australia’s 34 mammal extinctions. They continue to pose an extinction threat to at least another 120 species.

Long-nosed potoroo
The long-nosed potoroo is extremely vulnerable to cats. Shutterstock

A recent parliamentary inquiry into the problem of feral and pet cats in Australia has affirmed the issue is indeed of national significance. The final report, released last week, calls for a heightened, more effective, multi-pronged and coordinated policy, management and research response.

As ecologists, we’ve collectively spent more than 50 years researching Australia’s cat dilemma. We welcome most of the report’s recommendations, but in some areas it doesn’t go far enough, missing major opportunities to make a difference.

Night Curfews Aren’t Good Enough

The report recommends Australia’s 3.8 million pet cats be subject to night-time curfews. This measure would benefit native nocturnal mammals, but won’t save birds and reptiles, which are primarily active during the day.

Wes Mountain/The ConversationCC BY-ND

Pet cats kill 83 million native reptiles and 80 million native birds in Australia each year. From a wildlife perspective, keeping pet cats contained 24/7 is the only responsible option.

It’s clearly possible: one third of Australian pet cat owners already keep their pets contained all the time.

Stopping pet cats from roaming is also good for the cats, which live longer, safer lives when kept exclusively indoors. It would also substantially reduce the number of people falling ill from cat-dependent diseases each year.

Read more: Cats carry diseases that can be deadly to humans, and it's costing Australia $6 billion every year

Other strategies for improving pet cat management proposed in the report include pet cat registration, subsidised programs for early age desexing, public education campaigns to promote responsible pet cat ownership, and improving the consistency of rules and legislation nationally.

Cat on a windowsill
Indoor cats live longer than cats allowed to roam. Jaana Dielenberg

The report is also unambiguously opposed to “trap-neuter-release” programs, in which un-owned cats in urban areas are desexed and then released. We agree with this finding, as these programs aren’t effective at reducing the population of stray cats, nor preventing those cats from killing wildlife and spreading disease.

We Need More Wildlife Havens

One of the inquiry’s flagship recommendations is a national conservation project dubbed “Project Noah”. This would involve an ambitious expansion of Australia’s existing network of reserves free from introduced predators, both on islands and in mainland fenced areas. The reserves provide havens — or a fleet of “arks” — for vulnerable native wildlife.

This measure is vital. 2019 research found Australia has more than 65 native mammal species and subspecies that can’t persist, or struggle to persist, in places with even very low numbers of cats or foxes. This includes the bilby, numbat, quokka, dibbler and black-footed rock wallaby.

Boodies used to occur across two-thirds of Australia, but now only exist within havens. McGregor/Arid Recovery

Australia already has more than 125 havens, 100 of which are islands. These have prevented 13 mammal species from going extinct, such as boodies and greater stick-nest rats. In total, these havens have protected populations of 40 mammal species susceptible to cats and foxes.

This is a good start, but we need more investment in havens to prevent extinctions. More than 25 species are highly sensitive to cat and fox predation, but aren’t yet protected in the haven network. This includes the central rock-rat, which is more likely than not to become extinct within 20 years without new action.

What’s more, some species, such as the long-nosed potoroo, exist in just one haven. To avoid issues such as inbreeding and to ensure disasters like a fire at any single haven don’t take out an entire species, each species should be represented across several havens, in reasonable population sizes.

The report didn’t specify how the havens network should be expanded. But 2019 research found to get each species needing protection into at least three havens, Australia requires at least 35 new, strategically located islands or mainland fenced areas.

Fence with scenic hills behind
The predator proof fence at the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Newhaven Sanctuary, one of the largest cat- and fox-free havens on mainland Australia. Australian Wildlife Conservancy

What About The Rest Of The Country?

Havens cover less than 1% of Australia. So what we do in the other 99% of the landscape — including across conservation reserves like national parks — is vital.

Yet the parliamentary inquiry report lacks clear recommendations to expand cat control more broadly, including at important conservation sites such as in Kakadu National Park.

The impact of roaming pet cats on Australian wildlife.

The report reaffirms the need to cull feral cats, and to set new targets for culling, without specifying what those targets are. We agree some culling is important, especially at sites with very vulnerable threatened wildlife.

But in many parts of Australia, broad-scale habitat management is a more cost-effective way to reduce cat harm. This involves making habitat less suitable for cats and more suitable for native wildlife, for example, by reducing rabbit numbers, fire frequency and grazing by feral herbivores such as cattle and horses.

Research has shown fewer rabbits leads to fewer cats. Rabbits are a favoured prey of many cats, so they boost feral cat numbers, which then also hunt native wildlife.

Read more: One cat, one year, 110 native animals: lock up your pet, it's a killing machine

And cats gravitate to areas with less vegetation because it’s easier to catch prey. These areas include those with frequent fires, or where feral herbivores have reduced vegetation through grazing and trampling.

Better habitat with more vegetation gives native animals places to hide from predators, and more food and shelter. It’s a bit like giving the last little pig a house of bricks instead of trying to fist-fight the wolf.

Feral horses, such as these in Kakadu National Park, eat and damage vegetation making conditions more favourable for cats to hunt. Jaana Dielenberg

A Major Step Forward

Over the past two decades, Australia has slowly woken up to the damage cats cause to nature. This has led to more research, management and policy to address the problem.

Some state governments, environment groups and scientists have worked hard to develop feral cat control options, and the 2015 Australian Threatened Species Strategy did much to focus national attention and resourcing to the issue.

Read more: Don't let them out: 15 ways to keep your indoor cat happy

The parliamentary inquiry is a major step forward, and many recommendations are sound. But overall, its recommendations call for incremental improvement.

Australia’s laws clearly fail to provide a safety net for wildlife. The cat issue is part of a larger problem with how we manage habitat, biodiversity and threats to nature – and fixing that requires wholesale change.The Conversation

Sarah Legge, Professor, Australian National UniversityChris Dickman, Professor in Terrestrial Ecology, University of SydneyJaana Dielenberg, University Fellow, Charles Darwin UniversityJohn Woinarski, Professor (conservation biology), Charles Darwin University, and Tida Nou, Project officer, The University of Queensland

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

The US jumps on board the electric vehicle revolution, leaving Australia in the dust

Jake WhiteheadThe University of QueenslandDia Adhikari SmithThe University of Queensland, and Thara PhilipThe University of Queensland

The Morrison government on Friday released a plan to reduce carbon emissions from Australia’s road transport sector. Controversially, it ruled out consumer incentives to encourage electric vehicle uptake. The disappointing document is not the electric vehicle jump-start the country sorely needs.

In contrast, the United States has recently gone all-in on electric vehicles. Like leaders in many developed economies, President Joe Biden will offer consumer incentives to encourage uptake of the technology. The nation’s entire government vehicle fleet will also transition to electric vehicles made in the US.

Electric vehicles are crucial to delivering the substantial emissions reductions required to reach net-zero by 2050 – a goal Prime Minister Scott Morrison now says he supports.

It begs the question: when will Australian governments wake up and support the electric vehicle revolution?

A Do-Nothing Approach

In Australia in 2020, electric vehicles comprised just 0.6% of new vehicle sales – well below the global average of 4.2%.

Overseas, electric vehicle uptake has been boosted by consumer incentives such as tax exemptions, toll road discounts, rebates on charging stations and subsidies to reduce upfront purchase costs.

And past advice to government has stated financial incentives are the best way to get more electric vehicles on the road.

But government backbenchers, including Liberal MP Craig Kelly, have previously warned against any subsidies to make electric cars cost-competitive against traditional cars.

Read more: Scott Morrison has embraced net-zero emissions – now it's time to walk the talk

Releasing the government’s Future Fuels Strategy discussion paper on Friday, Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said subsidies for electric vehicles did not represent good value for money.

(As argued here, the claim is flawed because it ignores the international emissions produced by imported vehicle fuel).

The Morrison government instead plans to encourage business fleets to transition to electric vehicles, saying businesses accounted for around 40% of new light vehicle sales in 2020.

The government has also failed to implement fuel efficiency standards, despite in 2015 establishing a ministerial forum to do so.

The approach contrasts starkly with that taken by the Biden administration.

Craig Kelly struggling to open a bottle
Liberal MP Craig Kelly, pictured here struggling to open a bottle of water, opposes government subsidies to encourage electric vehicles. Lukas Coch/AAP

Biden’s Electrifying Plan

Cars, buses and trucks are the largest source of emissions in the US. To tackle this, Biden has proposed to:

And by committing to carbon-free electricity generation by 2035, the Biden administration is also ensuring renewable energy will power this electric fleet.

This combined support for electric vehicles and renewable energy is crucial if the US is to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Read more: Clean, green machines: the truth about electric vehicle emissions

Made In America

US companies are getting on board to avoid missing out on the electric vehicle revolution.

The day after Biden announced his fleet transition plan, General Motors (GM) - the largest US vehicle manufacturer and a major employer - announced it would stop selling fossil fuel vehicles by 2035 and be carbon-neutral by 2040.

This aligns with plans by the US states of California and Massachusetts to ban the sale of fossil fuel vehicles by 2035.

GM is serious about the transition, committing $US27 billion and planning at least 30 new electric vehicle models by 2025. And on Friday, the Ford Motor Company said it would double its investment in vehicle electrification to $US22 billion.

A General Motors ad for its electric vehicle strategy which aired during the US Superbowl.

Opportunities And Challenges Abound

Using government fleets to accelerate the electric vehicle transition is smart and strategic, because it:

  • allows consumers to see the technology in use

  • creates market certainty

  • encourages private fleets to transition

  • enables the development of a future second-hand electric vehicle market, once fleet vehicles are replaced.

Biden’s fleet plan includes a clear target, ensuring it stimulates the economy and supports his broader goal to create one million new US automotive jobs. Prioritising local manufacturing of vehicles, batteries and other components is key to maximising the benefits of his electric vehicle revolution.

On face value, the Morrison government’s business fleet plan has merit. But unlike the US approach, it does not involve a clear target and funding allocated to the initiative is relatively meagre.

So it’s unlikely to make much difference or put Australia on par with its international peers.

Man inspects an electric vehicle battery
Australia is well placed to capitalise on demand for electric vehicle components. Shutterstock

Australian Governments Must Wake Up

Compounding the absence of consumer incentives to encourage uptake in Australia, some states are mulling taxing electric vehicles before the market has been established.

Our research shows this could not only delay electric vehicle uptake, but jeopardise Australia’s chances of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

Australia is already a world leader in building fast-charging hardware, and manufactures electric buses and trucks. We could also lead the global electric vehicle supply chain, due to our significant reserves of lithium, copper and nickel.

Despite these opportunities, the continuing lack of national leadership means the country is missing out on many economic benefits the electric vehicle revolution can bring.

Australia should adopt a Biden-inspired electric vehicle agenda. Without it, we will miss our climate targets, and the opportunity for thousands of new jobs.

Read more: Wrong way, go back: a proposed new tax on electric vehicles is a bad idea The Conversation

Jake Whitehead, Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellow & Tritum E-Mobility Fellow, The University of QueenslandDia Adhikari Smith, E-Mobility Research Fellow, The University of Queensland, and Thara Philip, E-Mobility Doctoral Researcher, The University of Queensland

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

Australia’s gold industry stamped out mercury pollution — now it's coal's turn

Jenny FisherUniversity of Wollongong and Peter NelsonMacquarie University

Mercury is a nasty toxin that harms humans and ecosystems. Most human exposure comes from eating contaminated fish and other seafood. But how does mercury enter the Australian environment in the first place?

Our recent research dug into official data and past research to answer this question.

In some rare good news for the environment, it turns out one Australian industry – gold production – has brought mercury emissions down to almost zero. But more can be done about mercury emitted from coal-fired power stations.

Australia is one of the few developed countries yet to ratify the United Nations’ Minamata Convention on Mercury, which aims to reduce mercury in the environment. But once we deal with emissions from coal burning, we’ll be closer than ever to addressing the problem.

Salmon chained to a plate
Humans are exposed to mercury via seafood. Shutterstock

Where Does Mercury Pollution Come From?

Mercury is a heavy metal that cycles between the atmosphere, ocean and land. It occurs naturally but can be toxic to humans and wildlife.

Most human-caused mercury emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels and the mining and production of gold and other metals.

What’s more, items such as light bulbs and thermometers dumped in landfill can release mercury 30-50 years later.

Read more: Climate change and overfishing are boosting toxic mercury levels in fish

Once in the air, mercury can float around for months, crossing oceans and continents to end up back on the ground, far from where it was emitted.

It’s eventually taken up by soils, water and plants, then slowly released back to the atmosphere.

Coal plant emitting steam
Coal plants are a major source of mercury emissions. Julian Smith/AAP

A Success Story

Estimates vary on the exact amount of mercury that Australian activities release to the air. Studies we reviewed put the figure at anywhere between 8 and 30 tonnes each year.

Our analysis shows the figure is likely at the low end of that range – largely due to a single success story.

In 2006, a gold production facility in Kalgoorlie was thought to cause half of Australia’s industrial mercury emissions. The massive operation includes the Fimiston Open Pit, or “Super Pit”, purportedly so large it can be seen from space.

Gold ore naturally contains mercury. To extract the gold, the ore is typically roasted at temperatures of up to 600℃. During this process, the mercury escapes into the atmosphere. Most mercury pollution from Australia’s gold industry came from a single roaster at the Kalgoorlie site.

But over one decade, mercury emissions from the operation dropped from more than 8 tonnes to just 250 kilograms. This was largely due to a technology upgrade in 2015, when the roaster was replaced by a grinding process.

This success means coal-fired power plants are now Australia’s largest controllable source of mercury emissions. They emit between two and four tonnes of mercury every year (along with other air pollutants).

Graph showing steady decrease in mercury emissions from 2004 to 2017.
Mercury emissions from two related gold processing facilities in Kalgoorlie, based on data reported to Australia’s National Pollutant Inventory ( Fisher and Nelson, 2020

Other Sources Of Mercury Emissions

Other natural and human activities release mercury into the air. They include:

Bushfires: Mercury is usually released to the environment over decades. But the process can be much more rapid if the vegetation burns in a bushfire.

Our research found most estimates of bushfire emissions fall between 4 and 40 tonnes each year. But this work relied on measurements from overseas. New measurements from Australian ecosystems suggests past estimates are probably too high – possibly due to lower mercury concentrations in some Australian vegetation.

Soils and unburnt vegtation: Only one study has calculated the mercury released from Australian soils and unburnt vegetation, which it put at a whopping 74 to 222 tonnes per year.

Read more: Plants safely store toxic mercury. Bushfires and climate change bring it back into our environment

When that research was published in 2012, there were no Australian data to test the model behind these numbers. We still don’t have many measurements, but most data we do have show Australian soils and vegetation take up about as much mercury as they release.

The one exception is “enriched” soils, which contain more mercury than other soils. This is because they are located over natural mineral belts and at former mining sites. At one location in northern New South Wales, enriched soils emitted more than 100 times as much mercury as nearby unenriched soils.

Mercury from elsewhere: Mercury released by other countries can travel to Australia in the air. The levels are tough to quantify, but we are currently using models to produce an estimate.

Figure showing the best estimates for Australian mercury sources
Australian atmospheric mercury sources and sinks, in tonnes per year. Current best estimates are shown in black; range from the literature shown in grey. Question marks indicate insufficient data exist to make an informed best estimate. Images courtesy of Tracey Saxby, Kim Kraeer, Lucy Van Essen-Fishman, Diane Kleine via University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. Fisher and Nelson, 2020

It’s Time To Act

Even with our new, lower estimates, Australia’s per capita mercury emissions remain higher than the global average, likely due to our reliance on coal burning. Technology can lower these emissions.

Some mercury emitted by power plants isn’t in the air for long before it falls to Earth. This can harm nearby people and ecosystems.

The federal government recently banned mercury-containing pesticides used in sugar cane farming. With gold production also taken care of, reducing mercury emissions from power plants is the logical next step.

It’s also time for Australia to formally commit to the Minamata Convention. Once we ratify the deal, we’ll be bound to control mercury emissions under international law – and that’s good for humans and wildlife everywhere.

Read more: Ban on toxic mercury looms in sugar cane farming, but Australia still has a way to go The Conversation

Jenny Fisher, Associate Professor in Atmospheric Chemistry, University of Wollongong and Peter Nelson, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Studies, Macquarie University

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

Hundreds of fish species, including many that humans eat, are consuming plastic

A biologist examines microplastics found in sea species at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research in Greece, Nov. 26, 2019. Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP via Getty Images
Alexandra McInturfUniversity of California, Davis and Matthew SavocaStanford University

Trillions of barely visible pieces of plastic are floating in the world’s oceans, from surface waters to the deep seas. These particles, known as microplastics, typically form when larger plastic objects such as shopping bags and food containers break down.

Researchers are concerned about microplastics because they are minuscule, widely distributed and easy for wildlife to consume, accidentally or intentionally. We study marine science and animal behavior, and wanted to understand the scale of this problem. In a newly published study that we conducted with ecologist Elliott Hazen, we examined how marine fish – including species consumed by humans – are ingesting synthetic particles of all sizes.

In the broadest review on this topic that has been carried out to date, we found that, so far, 386 marine fish species are known to have ingested plastic debris, including 210 species that are commercially important. But findings of fish consuming plastic are on the rise. We speculate that this could be happening both because detection methods for microplastics are improving and because ocean plastic pollution continues to increase.

Researchers at California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium have found microplastic particles from the surface to the seafloor, where they can be ingested by a wide range of sea creatures.

Solving The Plastics Puzzle

It’s not news that wild creatures ingest plastic. The first scientific observation of this problem came from the stomach of a seabird in 1969. Three years later, scientists reported that fish off the coast of southern New England were consuming tiny plastic particles.

Since then, well over 100 scientific papers have described plastic ingestion in numerous species of fish. But each study has only contributed a small piece of a very important puzzle. To see the problem more clearly, we had to put those pieces together.

This story is part of Oceans 21
Our series on the global ocean opened with five in depth profiles. Look out for new articles on the state of our oceans in the lead up to the UN’s next climate conference, COP26. The series is brought to you by The Conversation’s international network.

We did this by creating the largest existing database on plastic ingestion by marine fish, drawing on every scientific study of the problem published from 1972 to 2019. We collected a range of information from each study, including what fish species it examined, the number of fish that had eaten plastic and when those fish were caught. Because some regions of the ocean have more plastic pollution than others, we also examined where the fish were found.

For each species in our database, we identified its diet, habitat and feeding behaviors – for example, whether it preyed on other fish or grazed on algae. By analyzing this data as a whole, we wanted to understand not only how many fish were eating plastic, but also what factors might cause them to do so. The trends that we found were surprising and concerning.

Plastic bag drifting in shallow water.
Leopard sharks swim past plastic debris in shallow water off southern California. Ralph PaceCC BY-ND

A Global Problem

Our research revealed that marine fish are ingesting plastic around the globe. According to the 129 scientific papers in our database, researchers have studied this problem in 555 fish species worldwide. We were alarmed to find that more than two-thirds of those species had ingested plastic.

One important caveat is that not all of these studies looked for microplastics. This is likely because finding microplastics requires specialized equipment, like microscopes, or use of more complex techniques. But when researchers did look for microplastics, they found five times more plastic per individual fish than when they only looked for larger pieces. Studies that were able to detect this previously invisible threat revealed that plastic ingestion was higher than we had originally anticipated.

Our review of four decades of research indicates that fish consumption of plastic is increasing. Just since an international assessment conducted for the United Nations in 2016, the number of marine fish species found with plastic has quadrupled.

Similarly, in the last decade alone, the proportion of fish consuming plastic has doubled across all species. Studies published from 2010-2013 found that an average of 15% of the fish sampled contained plastic; in studies published from 2017-2019, that share rose to 33%.

We think there are two reasons for this trend. First, scientific techniques for detecting microplastics have improved substantially in the past five years. Many of the earlier studies we examined may not have found microplastics because researchers couldn’t see them.

Second, it is also likely that fish are actually consuming more plastic over time as ocean plastic pollution increases globally. If this is true, we expect the situation to worsen. Multiple studies that have sought to quantify plastic waste project that the amount of plastic pollution in the ocean will continue to increase over the next several decades.

Risk Factors

While our findings may make it seem as though fish in the ocean are stuffed to the gills with plastic, the situation is more complex. In our review, almost one-third of the species studied were not found to have consumed plastic. And even in studies that did report plastic ingestion, researchers did not find plastic in every individual fish. Across studies and species, about one in four fish contained plastics – a fraction that seems to be growing with time. Fish that did consume plastic typically had only one or two pieces in their stomachs.

In our view, this indicates that plastic ingestion by fish may be widespread, but it does not seem to be universal. Nor does it appear random. On the contrary, we were able to predict which species were more likely to eat plastic based on their environment, habitat and feeding behavior.

For example, fishes such as sharks, grouper and tuna that hunt other fishes or marine organisms as food were more likely to ingest plastic. Consequently, species higher on the food chain were at greater risk.

We were not surprised that the amount of plastic that fish consumed also seemed to depend on how much plastic was in their environment. Species that live in ocean regions known to have a lot of plastic pollution, such as the Mediterranean Sea and the coasts of East Asia, were found with more plastic in their stomachs.

Effects Of A Plastic Diet

This is not just a wildlife conservation issue. Researchers don’t know very much about the effects of ingesting plastic on fish or humans. However, there is evidence that that microplastics and even smaller particles called nanoplastics can move from a fish’s stomach to its muscle tissue, which is the part that humans typically eat. Our findings highlight the need for studies analyzing how frequently plastics transfer from fish to humans, and their potential effects on the human body.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

Our review is a step toward understanding the global problem of ocean plastic pollution. Of more than 20,000 marine fish species, only roughly 2% have been tested for plastic consumption. And many reaches of the ocean remain to be examined. Nonetheless, what’s now clear to us is that “out of sight, out of mind” is not an effective response to ocean pollution – especially when it may end up on our plates.The Conversation

Alexandra McInturf, PhD Candidate in Animal Behavior, University of California, Davis and Matthew Savoca, Postdoctoral researcher, Stanford University

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

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 -

Cicadas And Crickets Still Singing In Pittwater: Late Summer Bush Songs

Have you noticed that the deafening noise of a million million Black Prince cicadas we had just a few weeks ago is not so noisy now? We had so many at our place as we have a lot of spotted gum trees - it was so LOUD some days I had to close the doors to stop my ears ringing. Durinmg the past few weeks they're a lot quieter though - I think it may be because all the currawongs and magpies are feeding them to their newly fledged youngsters - they LOVE cicadas.

This year we have seen:

Yellow Monday Cicada 

Black Prince Cicada 

Greengrocer Cicada (Cyclochila australasiae)

Have you heard all the crickets singing at night?

There seems to be a lot of crickets this year, so many so that this one came onto my desk here one night during  this week and then spent about 10 minutes jumping around all over the place.

Crickets live all over Australia and you have probably heard them - but maybe not seen one. The most common is the Black Field Cricket. Only the male of this species 'chirp' by rubbing their wings together. They do it to attract females, to woo them, and to warn off other male competitors. They grow to about 2.5cm long. Black Field Crickets lay their eggs around April. A female can lay up to 1,500 to 2,000 eggs and she lays them from late Summer to late Autumn. These eggs remain dormant over the Winter and hatch in Spring.

Young crickets, known as nymphs, grow slowly through 9 to 10 nymph stages as they gradually develop into adults. Juvenile Black Field Crickets are similar in appearance to adults but lack wings and have a distinctive white band around their middle.

Normally, Black Field Crickets are mostly a ground living insect, but will take to the air when numbers are too great and food becomes scarce. Crickets usually live outside but may come inside to get away from waterlogged ground after rains, or when the weather turns very cold.

Normally, crickets feed on decaying plant material and insect remains, and are prey to birds, mice, frogs, possums and many other creatures. They are an important animal in the food chain. You can tell a Short-Horned grasshopper from a cricket by the size of their antennae. Crickets have longer antennae than these grasshoppers. Most grasshoppers also feed on plant material, whereas crickets are omnivores. Also crickets are mainly nocturnal, whereas Short-Horned grasshoppers are active during the day. 

Black Field Crickets are good buddies to have in your garden as they will help aerate your soil, which helps water penetrate into it.

Did you know?; Crickets have 'ears' in their legs just below their knees. The ear drums, one on each foreleg, are sensitive membranes which act as receivers of differences in pressure and can help crickets find a mate, be forewarned about predators or locate prey.

The most common crickets in backyards are the House Cricket, Mole Cricket and Black Field Cricket. The King cricket is large and flightless and can devour funnel web spiders with its enormous, terrifying-looking mouth parts. It's usually only found in rainforests. You can recognise crickets and grasshoppers by their 'song' which they make by rubbing parts of each wing together. 

Photos by A J Guesdon, information courtesy of Backyard Buddies - more great stuff at:

When the gum leaves all hang drooping,
And every bird is still,
There comes from each leafy covert,
A droning loud and shrill.
'Zum, zum, zum, I'm a Floury Baker!     
Hark to my double-drum;
I can drone by the hour with ceaseless power,
And a zum, zum, zum, zum, zum.'

The hot air seems to quiver
Beneath that steady drone,
And aching heads grow wearier,
With that ceaseless monotone;
"Zum, zum, zum, I'm a real Greengrocer!
 Hark to my double drum;    
 I can make it go for an hour or so,
With a zum, zum, zum, zum."

When the still, hot day is over,
And the west wind drops at length,   
The loud cicada chorus Wakens to double strength:
 "Zum, zum, zum, I'm a Yellow Monday!
Hark to my double drum;
I can make it drone in its monotone,
With a zum, zum, zum, zum, zum.'

As the slow, slow hours are dragging
Through the hush of a still, hot night;
The full bush band keeps playing,
Right up to the morning light.
"Zum, zum, zum, I'm a Black Prince gorgeous! 
Hark to my double drum;
All the long night through I shall play to you,
With a zum, zum, zum, zum, zum." 

From the first grey light of the morning,
Till the sun sinks down in the west, 
And all through the long night-watches,
The droning knows no rest:
"Zum, zum, zum, I'm a Floury Baker;
Zum, zum, zum, I'm a fat Greengrocer;
Zum, zum, zum, I'm a Yellow Monday;
Zum, zum, zum,
 I'm a Black Prince gorgeous.
And each has a double drum.
So with ceaseless tone we just drone, drone, drone,
With a zum, zum, zum, zum, zum."
The Children's Page. (1926, November 18). The Catholic Press(NSW : 1895 - 1942), p. 46. Retrieved from

Bird Bath Visitors

Do you have a bird bath in your yard? We do - they're great for seeing all the birds come to have a drink or have a bath. We also hear frogs at night as there is a little pond we sat the bird bath in - lovely watery sounds of feathers and splish- splashing - we have to give it a clean at the end of every day and fill it back up with fresh cool water.

This is what we've seen in our bird bath the past few weeks and months:

May be an image of bird

May be an image of bird

Dementia Care In Australia "Does Not Meet Human Rights"

By Cate Swanell, Medical Journal of Australia, Published online: 1 February 2021
AUSTRALIA “does not currently meet the human rights of people with dementia to timely and accessible health services of appropriate quality or to participation in health care decisions”, according to members of the National Institute for Dementia Research Special Interest Group in Rehabilitation and Dementia.

Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia today, the authors wrote that Australian services for people with dementia are “fragmented, challenging to navigate and hard to access”.

“Dementia is the leading cause of disability, the second leading cause of death in Australians aged over 65 years, and the leading cause of death in women in Australia,” they wrote.

“In 2020, it is estimated that Australia will spend $8.1 billion on health care and $3.8 billion on social services for people with dementia, with a further $6.1 billion in lost productivity and earnings.

Australia’s last National Framework for Action on Dementia (2015-2019) has lapsed. Despite the National Framework, “it can be difficult for people with dementia to obtain a diagnosis, there are limited health and social services for early dementia, including post-diagnostic support, and existing services are often poorly coordinated”.

“Services face workforce shortages and gaps in worker knowledge and skills related to dementia,” the authors wrote.

Variable delivery of best-practice dementia care by memory clinics, acute hospitals, primary care, and community and residential aged care was a barrier to quality care, “perhaps because the role of each of these is unclear”.

The authors identified principles which should apply to models of service delivery for dementia. The models should:
  • have an overarching objective to maintain positive health and wellbeing of people with dementia, their care partners and families;
  • recognise dementia as a disability, consistent with the World Health Organization Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and promotes autonomy, social participation and rehabilitation;
  • take into account the cognitive disability of people with dementia in accessing support and being a partner (along with their families) in planning care through supported decision making;
  • be delivered by a multidisciplinary workforce with knowledge and skills around dementia;
  • be accessible for all people with dementia and care partners;
  • be ongoing, cost-effective and economically sustainable;
  • be needs-based, not capped according to central budgets;
  • be integrated for seamless experience for people with dementia and care partners, within and across primary, acute and subacute health care, aged care and social services; and
  • be evidence-based.
The authors also identified models of service delivery for dementia, including the self-directed approach; case management; primary care chronic disease management; shared and stepped care; a specialist team approach; and, navigator and care pathways.

“None of the models of service delivery that we identified in Australia or overseas appear to sufficiently meet the principles above,” the authors wrote.

“There is no clear recognition that dementia is both a social and a medical issue.

“Recognition of dementia as a disability is only apparent in the self-directed care model. The models also do not sufficiently consider the needs of the person with dementia and care partners together. Barriers to all the current models are the poor dementia knowledge and the tendency to stigmatise people with dementia by many health and aged care professionals.”

The authors called for the development of a new National Framework which “should include the development of a model of service delivery that considers accessible pathways to diagnosis and effective and seamless ongoing support of health and wellbeing throughout the course of dementia”.

2021 Australian Masters Games Entries Now Open

Entries are now open for the 2021 edition of the  Australian Masters Games, and this years first entrants are already in. Running October 9th to 16th in Perth, this year's Masters Games are a good opportunity (and excuse) to go west young ladies and gentlemen!

This years first Entrants:
After a 43 year hiatus, Alan, with much encouragement from his wife Denise, picked up his bow again and has not looked back. This wonderful Victorian couple were the first entrants for the 2021 Australian Masters Games and are excited to be heading West in October, not only to participate but also to see their daughter who resides here in Perth.

May be an image of 2 people

“This year will be extra special because we are visiting Perth where our daughter lives and we haven’t seen her in a long time. So, we were excited to book!” said Denise.

Alan (69) has taken part in two Australian Masters Games (Tasmania and Adelaide), the World Masters Games in New Zealand and the European Masters Games in Italy. Denise (58) also competed in the European Masters Games in 2019 in Italy but this will be Denise’s first Australian Masters Games.

“We love the Games, the social atmosphere is incredible. The Games go beyond just sports and really brings a festival like ambience to the week. We love meeting new people and connecting with old friends.”

“The Games also provide us with the opportunity to stay fit and healthy, to see a different part of Australia and sometimes the world, where we can compete in the sport we love and then travel around and embrace a holiday. It’s a win win for us!’ said Denise.

For Denise sport was not something she was all that comfortable with, saying she was more of a bookworm than an athlete, but after some motivation from Alan she picked up a bow and gave Archery a chance – she was a natural. For Alan, taking a long break hasn’t affected his skills and he has since taken home many medals competing in Masters Games around the world.

“It’s not about being the fittest or the fastest, you don’t need to be any particular age, there are people there from 30 to 80 or older. For most participating, they are there to have a good time” said Denise and Alan.

Alan and Denise say that being part of a sporting club as well as taking part in competitions is not only good for their physical health but their mental health too. It gives them something to look forward to, to train for and something to do together as a couple.

The Australian Masters Games provides an opportunity to get back into sport, reconnect with old friends and make new ones, and explore more of your Aussie backyard. This year’s Games will be no different, with an extensive sport and social program planned and delivered with an iconic West Australian twist.

To find out more, visit:

May be an image of 1 person and outdoors

Retirement Income Review Under The Spotlight

February 9, 2021
The future of retirement income policy – including pensions,  superannuation and thee role of housing – will come under the spotlight as the nation’s decision-makers and policy experts canvass the implications of the Retirement Income Review at the Council on the Ageing’s National Policy Forum on 26 February.

The full day conference to be held at the National Press Club in Canberra, and streamed virtually, will include:
  • A keynote address by Treasurer John Frydenberg
  • A lunchtime debate between Minister for Superannuation Jane Hume and Shadow Minister Stephen Jones
  • Be the first appearance of the entire Retirement Income Review panel since its findings were released, with Chair Mike Callaghan AM and members Carolyn Kay and Dr Deborah Ralston
  • Other expert speakers include Professor John Piggott AO, Director, Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research; Professor Hazel Bateman, UNSW; David Knox from the Mercer Retirement Index; and Jeremy Cooper, Challenger and former Chair of the Superannuation Review

COTA Chief Executive Ian Yates says the Forum will explore evidence-based solutions to sustaining our retirement system that guarantee all Australians adequacy, equity and dignity as they age.

“COTA’s National Policy Forum will kick off a multi-partisan discussion that doesn’t just re-hash the findings of the Retirement Income Review but looks to the pressing question of what comes next. Based on evidence not pre-determined positions.

“The issue of retirement income has been highly politicised over the last few years, sadly to the detriment of rational debate on one of the biggest long term policy challenges of our time,” says Mr Yates.

“A diverse range of experts from across the political spectrum are bringing their ideas to the table; not just on superannuation, but also housing, the age pension, tax concessions, equity release and all the policies and mechanisms that make up our retirement income system.

“This is an important event which will has been designed for industry and policy professionals who want to get on top of the debates that will shape the ageing and superannuation sectors over  coming years, starting with this year’s Federal Budget.”

COTA’s 2021 National Policy Forum: Retirement Incomes will be held on Friday 26 February at the National Press Club. The event will also be accessible online. Tickets are available at

National Press Club Address
The National Press Club is the place where newsmakers and interesting people come to speak. From Prime Ministers, visiting international figures, religious leaders and innovators, to political, business and community leaders.

Elizabeth Farm - The Old And The New

Published February 9, 2021 by NSW State Archives
Elizabeth Farm was built in 1793 by John and Elizabeth Macarthur. It is described as "a simple rectangular cottage, resembling a typical rural English farmhouse. It had four box-like rooms with a steeply pitched shale roof and was whitewashed with small sashed-windows on either side of the door.

 As with most of the early Colonial architecture it made few concessions to the Australian climate....Elizabeth Farm, which was both a family home and a farm, was the site for the first experiments with Merino wool in Australia." 

In the 1820s John Macarthur undertook extensive renovations "extending and improving the cottage to make it more suited to his wealth and prominence in the Colony. He altered the entire profile of the house..."

Find out more in this film from our Collection.

This film was digitised as part of a special project to preserve 'at risk' audio-visual archives. It was produced in 1987 for the Heritage Council of NSW Copyright NSW Film Corporation. It is a Promotional film from the Department of Environment and Planning.

Surfing In The Sixties - Mona Boys

Published February 2nd, 2021 by Walk Cycle Sydney
Surfing documentary about the surfing community of Mona Vale, on Sydney's Northern Beaches in the mid 1960s. The surfing footage of the 1960s was filmed by Russell Sheppard. It features a host of excellent surfers, as well as internationally acclaimed Midget Farrelly and Nat Young. Also featured is Bruce Channon, editor of two surfing magazines and photographer and writer Bruce Usher.

Construction Apprentice Began Her Studies During HSC

February 10, 2021

A Chester Hill local is gearing up to work on major infrastructure projects across Sydney after landing an apprenticeship with international construction company Multiplex straight after graduating from high school.

Kaitlyn Doan, 18, used her final years of high school to launch her career in the construction industry by studying a Certificate II in Construction Pathways at TAFE NSW Miller while she completed the HSC at Prairiewood High School.

She will now begin working on the $1 billion Westmead Redevelopment precinct, which is set to be the state’s largest hospital redevelopment project in history.

Kaitlyn said she was excited to help cement western Sydney’s future by working on some of the region’s biggest infrastructure projects.

“My TAFE NSW teachers were able to connect me to people at Multiplex when they delivered a talk in one of our classes. I was thrilled to find out I had been offered an apprenticeship with them all thanks to the support of my teachers,” Kaitlyn said.

“The course helped me build practical skills and industry-specific knowledge so now I am able to take a year off my apprenticeship,” Kaitlyn said.

With carpentry currently facing a major skills shortage and wage subsidy funding by the federal government designed to help more apprentices into jobs, there has never been a better time to enrol in a construction course at TAFE NSW.

Multiplex Construction Manager Troy Rakecki said the Multiplex program is geared towards forging a career pathway for apprentices.

“Our apprentices are trained as future site supervisors so as well as being supported to develop in their chosen trade, they are given exposure to a variety of other trades and come away with a really well-rounded understanding of the different components that make up a construction site.”

TAFE NSW Carpentry teacher, Rodney Watts, said now was the time for school leavers to consider taking on a trade apprenticeship.

“TAFE NSW has over 25,000 employer connections, which allows our students to not only connect with industry but be well-positioned for job opportunities as soon as they graduate,” Mr Watts said. 

“Western Sydney is currently facing a construction boom with various housing developments, the airport and hospital redevelopments well underway. It’s the perfect time to secure an apprenticeship.”

To enrol in a construction course at TAFE NSW, visit, or call 131 601.

Picture: Kaitlyn Doan completed a Certificate II in Construction Pathways at TAFE NSW Miller

Online Courses Added To Summer Skills Program

The Summer Skills program has been expanded to include seven TAFE NSW online short courses targeting school leavers from last year.

An expansion of fee-free Summer Skills training courses is now available for school leavers with new online courses on offer, as part of the JobTrainer initiative.

Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Geoff Lee said the Summer Skills program, launched in November 2020, has expanded to include seven TAFE NSW online short courses targeting school leavers from last year.

“In designing the Summer Skills program, the NSW Government has ensured the training on offer is aligned to local industry needs,” he said.

“We need to provide the opportunities that help school leavers find their feet in these uncertain times. That’s why we’re delivering practical and fee-free training opportunities commencing this summer. Online learning is a terrific way to upskill at your own pace,”

Mr Lee said all the courses come from the $320 million committed to delivering 100,000 fee-free training places as part of the NSW Government’s contribution to the JobTrainer initiative.

“There are more than 100,000 fee-free training places available through TAFE NSW and approved providers for people across NSW to reskill, retrain and redeploy to growth areas in a post COVID-19 economy.

“I encourage anyone impacted by the pandemic to see what training options are available in 2021.”

Enrolments are open for Summer Skills training in:

  • Cyber Concepts;
  • Introduction to working in the health industry;
  • Construction materials and Work Health and Safety;
  • Mental health;
  • Business administration skills;
  • Introductory to business skills; and
  • Digital security basics.

Visit the NSW Summer Skills webpage for full details on all available fee-free courses on offer and their eligibility as part of the NSW Summer Skills program, and visit the JobTrainer webpage for more information.

NSW JobTrainer provides fee-free* training courses for young people, job seekers and school leavers to gain skills in Australia's growing industries. Explore hundreds of qualifications and register your interest today.

T.Rex: 20th Century Boy

"20th Century Boy" is a song by T. Rex, written by Marc Bolan, released as a stand-alone single. The song was recorded on 3 December 1972 in Toshiba Recording Studios in Tokyo, Japan at a session that ran between 3:00 p.m. and 1:30 a.m., according to biographers. The backing vocals, hand claps, acoustic guitar and saxophones were recorded in England when T. Rex returned to the country after their tour. The single version of the track fades out at three minutes and thirty-nine seconds; however, the multi-track master reveals that the song ended in nearly a full three minutes' worth of jamming. A rough mix of the full-length version can be found on the Bump 'n' Grind compilation.

"20th Century Boy"'s lyrics are, according to Marc Bolan, based on quotes taken from notable celebrities such as Muhammad Ali. This can be seen through the inclusion of the line "sting like a bee", which is taken from one of Ali's 1969 speeches.

Although the lyrical content of a lot of Marc Bolan's songs is ambiguous, analysis of the multi-track recordings of "20th Century Boy" reveals the first line of the song to be "Friends say it's fine, friends say it's good/Everybody says it's just like Robin Hood," and not the often misquoted "...just like rock 'n' roll."

Marc Bolan, songwriter, musician, record producer, and poet, was the lead singer of the band T. Rex and was one of the pioneers of the glam rock movement of the 1970s. He first played guitar in sc hool as part of "Susie and the Hula Hoops", a trio whose vocalist was a 12-year-old Helen Shapiro. During lunch breaks at school, he would play his guitar in the playground to a small audience of friends.

The familiar riff the song opens with you may have heard in the 2010 film Get Him to the Greek, as well as the films, Rocksmith, Guitar Hero 5 and Rock Band 3 and in the movies Lords of Dogtown, The Truman Show, Velvet Goldmine, Somewhere, and Drift. His music still sells and this song, along with 'Children of the Revolution' remains a favourite for many.

This is T.Rex / Marc Bolan performing 20th Century Boy live in Germany. NB: it's LOUD!

For those who prefer produced non-live sounds, a remastered versions run below this.

States housed 40,000 people for the COVID emergency. Now rough sleeper numbers are back on the up

Hal PawsonUNSW and Chris MartinUNSW

Australian governments acted to protect homeless people from COVID-19 in 2020 on an even larger scale than previously thought. In the first six months of the pandemic, the four states that launched emergency programs housed more than 40,000 rough sleepers and others.

The states were anxious about rough sleepers’ extreme vulnerability to virus infection and the resulting public health risk to the wider community. New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia acted fast to provide safe temporary housing, mainly in otherwise empty hotels.

Read more: The need to house everyone has never been clearer. Here's a 2-step strategy to get it done

Drawing on previously unreleased official statistics, our newly published international comparative research reveals the people these programs helped in Australia outnumbered the 33,000 rough sleepers and others housed in England by the equivalent Everyone In initiative. Australia’s population is less than half that of England.

What Happens When Emergency Housing Ends?

The numbers Australia’s emergency housing program needed to shelter showed our homelessness problem is much larger than often imagined. The 8,200 people counted as sleeping rough on census night 2016 were only the tip of the iceberg.

Attempts to transfer people from emergency accommodation to longer-term tenancies have also generally been far less successful than in England. By the end of 2020, England’s local authorities had moved two-thirds of their former rough sleepers from temporary placements to more stable housing. As our research shows, despite determined efforts, Australian state governments managed this for less than a third of rough sleepers departing emergency hotel stays in 2020.

Many will have returned to the streets or to homeless shelters. Rough sleeper numbers once again increased in Adelaide and Sydney after mid-year.

To a great extent Australia’s poor showing reflects our growing social housing deficit, as well as inadequate rent assistance and other social security benefits (at their standard rates). All of these factors are barriers to helping low-income Australians into stable long-term housing.

Read more: Coronavirus lays bare 5 big housing system flaws to be fixed

Eviction Bans And Rent Variations Defer Problems

Alongside protecting rough sleepers, Australian government actions to shield vulnerable renters who lost jobs and incomes in the pandemic were also relatively effective. These efforts include federal income protection (JobKeeper and Coronavirus Supplement) and state and territory restrictions on evictions.

The short-term success of these measures is clear. Despite a substantial rise in unemployment, there has been – as yet – no sign of any up-tick in homelessness.

At the same time, though, ministerial advice that tenants with COVID-triggered income losses should negotiate rent reductions with landlords came with few ground rules on how to reach such settlements.

Survey evidence shows many property owners refused to reduce rents. At least one in four renters lost income during the pandemic, but no more than 16% (and possibly as few as 8%) got a rent variation. And many variations were only in the form of rent deferrals, not reductions.

The survey data imply at least 75,000 tenants, and possibly as many as 175,000, have been accumulating deferral-generated arrears. These mounting debts could put some at risk of losing their home when eviction moratoriums end. That’s early in 2021 in most states and territories.

Read more: Cutting JobSeeker payments will cause crippling rental stress in our cities

Hands-Off Commonwealth Makes Things Worse

Our research also highlights the unusually small direct contribution of the Australian government to protecting homeless people during the pandemic. Even in other federations – Canada and the United States – national governments played a significant role.

In Australia, the Commonwealth government made no direct input to covering the substantial costs involved. Nor did it play any part in even monitoring, let alone co-ordinating, the remarkable efforts of the active states.

Canberra has also steadfastly rejected calls for a social housing stimulus program for national economic recovery. This disengagement fits with a now-familiar refrain from federal ministers. Housing and homelessness, they repeat time and again, are constitutional obligations of state and territory governments.

Read more: Why the focus of stimulus plans has to be construction that puts social housing first

Read more: Why more housing stimulus will be needed to sustain recovery

Granted, that’s an accurate statement for housing and homelessness service delivery. But, especially given the Commonwealth’s control of the vital policy levers of tax and social security, the two levels of government must in reality share responsibility for housing outcomes.

The Victorian government’s A$5.4 billion Big Housing Build shows states may commit to investment in social rental housing on a scale far beyond what had been thought possible. But the fact remains that state and territory governments have much less financial firepower than our national government. It’s fanciful to imagine significant programs being widely initiated or maintained without hefty federal backing.

Read more: Victoria's $5.4bn Big Housing Build: it is big, but the social housing challenge is even bigger

For all of these reasons, when the pandemic has finally subsided, it’s only with federal government leadership that we can effectively tackle the fundamental flaws in Australia’s housing system. These have been glaringly exposed by the public health crisis of the past 12 months. Without purposeful re-engagement by our national government, Australia’s housing policy challenges will only continue to intensify.

Read more: Australia's housing system needs a big shake-up: here's how we can crack this The Conversation

Hal Pawson, Professor of Housing Research and Policy, and Associate Director, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW and Chris Martin, Senior Research Fellow, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW

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

5 twinkling galaxies help us uncover the mystery of the Milky Way's missing matter

Yuanming WangUniversity of Sydney and Tara MurphyUniversity of Sydney

We’ve all looked up at night and admired the brightly shining stars. Beyond making a gorgeous spectacle, measuring that light helps us learn about matter in our galaxy, the Milky Way.

When astronomers add up all the ordinary matter detectable around us (such as in galaxies, stars and planets), they find only half the amount expected to exist, based on predictions. This normal matter is “baryonic”, which means it’s made up of baryon particles such as protons and neutrons.

But about half of this matter in our galaxy is too dark to be detected by even the most powerful telescopes. It takes the form of cold, dark clumps of gas. In this dark gas is the Milky Way’s “missing” baryonic matter.

In a paper published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, we detail the discovery of five twinkling far-away galaxies that point to the presence of an unusually shaped gas cloud in the Milky Way. We think this cloud may be linked to the missing matter.

Finding What We Can’t See

Stars twinkle because of turbulence in our atmosphere. When their light reaches Earth, it gets bent as it bounces through different layers of the atmosphere.

Rarely, galaxies can twinkle too, due to the turbulence of gas in the Milky Way. We see this twinkling because of the luminous cores of distant galaxies named “quasars”.

Astronomers can use quasars a bit like backlights, to reveal the presence of clumps of gas around us that would otherwise be impossible to see. The challenge, however, is that it is very rare to catch quasars twinkling.

Read more: Curious Kids: Why do stars twinkle?

This is where the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) comes in. This highly sensitive telescope can view an area about the size of the Southern Cross and detect tens of thousands of distant galaxies, including quasars, in a single observation.

Using ASKAP, we looked at the same patch of sky seven times. Of the 30,000 galaxies we could see, six were twinkling strongly. Surprisingly, five of these were arranged in a long, thin straight line.

Analysis showed we’d captured an invisible clump of gas between us and the galaxies. As light from the galaxies passed through the gas cloud, they appeared to twinkle.

At the centre is one of the strongly twinkling galaxies. The colours represent brightness, as it fluctuates between shining brightly (red) and more faintly (blue).

A Clump Of Gas Ten Light Years Away

The cloud of gas we detected was inside the Milky Way, about ten light years away from Earth. For reference, one light year is 9.7 trillion kilometres.

That means light from those twinkling galaxies travelled billions of light years towards Earth, only to be disrupted by the cloud during the last ten years of its journey.

By observing the sky positions of not just the five twinkling galaxies, but also tens of thousands of non-twinkling ones, we were able to draw a boundary around the gas cloud.

We were intrigued by the sky positions of the twinkling galaxies in our ASKAP observations. Each black dot above represents a brightly-shining, distant object. Yuanming Wang

We found it was very straight, the same length as four Moons side-by-side, and only two “arcminutes” in width. This is so thin it’s the equivalent of looking at a strand of hair held at arm’s length.

This is the first time astronomers have been able to calculate the geometry and physical properties of a gas cloud in this way. But where did it come from? And what gave it such an unusual shape?

It’s Freezing Out There

Astronomers have predicted that when a star passes too close to a black hole, the extreme forces from the black hole will pull it apart, resulting in a long, thin gas stream.

But there are no massive black holes near that cloud of gas — the closest one we know about is more than 1,000 light years from Earth.

So we propose another theory: that a hydrogen “snow cloud” was disrupted and stretched out by gravitational forces from a nearby star, turning into a long thin gas cloud.

Snow clouds have only been studied as theoretical possibilities and are almost impossible to detect. But they would be so cold that droplets of hydrogen gas within them could freeze solid.

Some astronomers believe snow clouds make up part of the missing matter in the Milky Way.

It’s incredibly exciting for us to have measured an invisible clump of gas in such detail, using the ASKAP telescope. In the future we plan to repeat our experiment on a much larger scale and hopefully create a “cloud map” of the Milky Way.

We’ll then be able to work out how many other gas clouds are out there, how they’re distributed and what role they might have played in the evolution of the Milky Way.

Read more: Half the matter in the universe was missing – we found it hiding in the cosmos The Conversation

Yuanming Wang, PhD student, University of Sydney and Tara Murphy, Professor, University of Sydney

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

As new probes reach Mars, here's what we know so far from trips to the red planet

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University/Arizona State University
Tanya HillMuseums Victoria

Three new spacecraft are due to arrive at Mars this month, ending their seven-month journey through space.

The first, the United Arab Emirates’ Hope Probe, should have made it to the red planet this week. It will stay in orbit and study its atmosphere for one complete Martian year (687 Earth days).

China’s Tianwen-1 mission also enters orbit this month and will begin scouting the potential landing site for its Mars rover, due to be deployed in May.

If successful, China will become the second country to land a rover on Mars.

These two missions will join six orbiting spacecraft actively studying the red planet from above:

The oldest active probe - Mars Odyssey - has been orbiting the planet for 20 years.

Read more: How to get people from Earth to Mars and safely back again

The third spacecraft to reach Mars this month is NASA’s Perseverance rover, scheduled to land on February 18. It will search for signs of ancient microbial life but its mission also looks ahead, testing new technologies that may support humans visiting Mars one day.

Now NASA hopes Perseverance will land on Mars.

Laboratories On Wheels

NASA has an impressive track record for landing on Mars. It has operated all eight successful missions to the Martian surface.

What began with the two Viking landers in the 1970s continues today with the InSight lander, which has studied the daily weather on Mars and detected Marsquakes for the past two years.

A rock strewn field and the foot of the Viking 1 lander appears in one corner.
Just minutes after landing, Viking 1 captured the first ever photograph taken from the Martian surface. NASA/JPL

Perseverance will be the fifth rover to arrive on Mars that’s capable of venturing across the surface of another planet.

These amazing laboratories on wheels have extended our knowledge of a faraway world. Here’s what they’ve told us so far.

The First Rover - Sojourner

Twenty years after Viking 1 & 2 landed stationary probes on Mars, a third spacecraft finally reached the planet, but this one could move.

On July 4, 1997, NASA’s Pathfinder literally bounced onto the Martian surface, safely enclosed in a giant set of airbags. Once stable, the lander released the Sojourner rover.

See the Sojourner probe from Pathfinder’s viewpoint.

The first rover on Mars could move at a maximum speed of 1cm a second and was about as long (63cm) as a skateboard — smaller than some of the boulders it encountered.

Sojourner explored 16 locations near the Pathfinder lander, including the volcanic rock “Yogi”. Pictures of its landing site, Ares Vallis, showed it was littered with rounded pebbles and conglomerate rocks, evidence of ancient flood plains.

The Geologists - Spirit And Opportunity

A pair of upsized rovers arrived on Mars in early 2004. Spirit and Opportunity were geologists, searching for minerals within the rocks and soil, hidden clues that dry, cold Mars may once have been wet and warm.

Looking down on Spirit rover.
This overhead ‘selfie’ was combined with Spirit’s largest ever panorama - it contains hundreds of individual images of Gusev Crater taken over three Martian days. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell

Spirit landed in Gusev Crater, a 150km-wide crater created billions of years ago when an asteroid crashed into Mars.

Spirit discovered evidence of an ancient volcanic explosion, caused by hot lava meeting water. Small rocks had been thrown skyward but then fell back to Mars. Examination of the impact or “bomb sag” showed the rock had landed on wet soil.

A small crater on Mars.
The arrow points to a small crater or bomb sag, just 4cm across, that formed in the soaking wet ground when an ejected rock fell back to Mars. NASA/JPL-Caltech/USGS/Cornell

Even when things went wrong, Spirit made new discoveries. While dragging a broken front wheel, Spirit churned up a track of soil revealing a patch of white silica.

This mineral usually exists in hot springs or steam vents, ideal environments where life on Earth tends to flourish.

Track of disturbed red soil revealing white silica.
A 20cm track revealing white silica and a clue that Mars was once wet and warm. NASA/JPL/Cornell

The Rover That Kept On Going

Opportunity arrived on Mars three weeks after Spirit. Its original three-month mission was extended to 14 years as it travelled almost 50km across the Martian terrain.

Landing in the small Eagle Crater, Opportunity went on to visit more than 100 impact craters. It also found a handful of meteorites, the first to be studied on another planet.

Opportunity’s journey mapped on an aerial view of Mars
Outlined in yellow is Opportunity’s journey from Eagle Crater towards its final resting spot on the rim of Endeavour Crater. The blue outline of Victoria’s Phillip Island is included for scale. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Museums Victoria

The rover was descending into Endeavour Crater when a dust storm ended its mission. But it was along the crater’s edge that Opportunity made its biggest discoveries.

It found signs of ancient water flows and discovered the crater walls are made of clays that can only form where freshwater is available — more evidence that Mars could well have been a place for life.

The Chemist - Curiosity

Curiosity landed in Gale Crater on August 6, 2012, and continues to explore the region today. During the coronavirus pandemic, scientists and engineers have been commanding the rover from their homes.

The Curiosity rover lowered to Mars.
An artist’s impression of Curiosity as it descends from the top of the Martian atmosphere to softly touchdown on the planet’s surface. NASA/JPL-Caltech

In a first for space exploration, NASA’s Curiosity was lowered to the Martian surface using a “sky crane”. After a successful soft landing, the crane’s cables were cut and the spacecraft’s descent stage flew away to crash elsewhere.

Curiosity is a fully equipped chemical laboratory. It can shoot lasers at rocks and also drill into the soil to collect samples. It’s confirmed ancient Mars once had the right chemistry to support microbial life.

Curiosity also found evidence of ancient freshwater rivers and lakes. It seems that water once flowed towards a basin at Mount Sharp, a central peak that rises 5.5km from within Gale Crater.

The Curiosity rover on the Martian surface.
Curiosity takes a picture of itself, working through the COVID-19 pandemic and drilling holes in a possible ancient riverbed. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

From being on the surface of Mars, we’ve learned it was once very different to the dry, dusty planet it is today.

Read more: The Conversation Weekly podcast Ep #1 transcript: Why it's a big month for Mars

With flowing water, possible oceans, volcanic activity and an abundance of key ingredients necessary for life, the red planet was once much more Earth-like. What happened to make it change so dramatically?

It’s exciting to consider what the Perseverance and Taiwen-1 rovers may discover as they explore their own patch of Mars. They might even lead us to the day when humans are exploring the red planet for ourselves.The Conversation

A Martian rocky landscape.
The colours in this image from Gale Crater have been adjusted to match conditions on Earth – this helps geologists interpret the rocks but it also changes the natural pink Martian sky to an Earth-like blue. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Tanya Hill, Honorary Fellow of the University of Melbourne and Senior Curator (Astronomy), Museums Victoria

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

You can't have a Hollywood meet cute on a dating app — but is that such a bad thing?

Polygram Filmed Entertainment
Lisa PortolanWestern Sydney University and Jodi McAlisterDeakin University

The “meet cute” is the moment in which two unlikely people encounter each other while going about their ordinary lives, and something extraordinary begins.

In the romantic comedy The Holiday (2006), Arthur (Eli Wallach) describes it thus to Iris (Kate Winslet):

It’s how two characters meet in a movie. Say a man and a woman both need something to sleep in, and they both go to the same men’s pyjama department. And the man says to the salesman, “I just need bottoms”. The woman says, “I just need a top”. They look at each other, and that’s the meet cute.

The meet cute is a magical moment of happenstance. The people involved aren’t looking for love (at least, not right then).

In 1991, Roger Ebert rather prosaically described the meet cute as:

a comic situation contrived entirely for the purpose of bringing a man and a woman together, after which they can work out their destinies for the remainder of the film.

However you describe it, the meet cute is unexpected. It happens when romance is the furthest thing from the characters’ minds. But in real life, in the age of online dating, more Australians meet their partner online than through friends and work (let alone, while buying pyjamas).

So can you have a meet cute when you are looking for love? Is it possible to have a meet cute on a dating app?

Searching For Romance

Driven by new year’s resolutions, holiday break-ups, and the desire for a Valentine’s Day date, the “busy” period for dating apps in Australia spans from Christmas Day through to mid-February. Across this period in 2020, Australians sent over 52.8 million messages on dating app Bumble.

In many ways, finding a valentine is easier than ever. But dating apps aren’t conducive to stumbling into just the right person precisely when you weren’t looking for them.

The torso of a woman. She holds a phone in one hand and has her other hand on her hips.
In two months last year, Australians sent 52 million messages on Bumble alone. iam_os/Unsplash

They rely on a logic of active choice: you sign up to the app in pursuit of some form of coupledom. In interviews one of us, (Lisa), conducted with dating app users, many described these apps as pre-meditated and strategic.

When talking about what they might want in a relationship, many participants specifically desired a “Hollywood moment”, but felt this could never happen via a dating app.

Read more: Loving Captivity review: a delightful rom-com captures life under coronavirus

Simultaneously, many felt meet cutes weren’t something that could ever happen to them: meet cutes were reserved for “special” people, not ordinary ones.

People seeking romance on dating apps are caught between two opposing forces: they feel apps provide the best opportunity to meet someone, but also that apps close down the possibility of a rom-com-style romance they dream of.

How Fictional Meet Cutes Adapted To Online Dating

In the most famous rom-com featuring online dating, You’ve Got Mail (1998), Joe (Tom Hanks) and Kathleen (Meg Ryan) don’t meet on a dating site. They meet in an over-30s chatroom and pursue a correspondence, not realising they’re business rivals in real life.

They might have met online, but neither was looking for love - and their business rivalry makes them very unlikely lovers.

More recently, Netflix’s Love, Guaranteed (2020) pairs a man suing a dating site for failing to find him love (Damon Wayans Jr) with his lawyer (Rachael Leigh Cook). They meet because of the site — but because they’re suing it, not because they matched on it.

We see similar patterns in popular romance fiction. In Christina Lauren’s My Favorite Half-Night Stand (2018), the heroine finds love via online dating — but with her best friend, who she already knew.

In Kristin Rockaway’s How to Hack a Heartbreak (2019), the heroine creates her own dating app, but her happily ever after is with the guy who sits in the next cubicle.

The Right Swipe book cover

Some romance novels are beginning to emerge where the protagonists do meet solely because of apps, such as Alisha Rai’s The Right Swipe (2019), where the protagonists meet via an app — and then meet again in the boardroom.

Conflict Or Compatibility?

Meeting someone via an app might never feel exactly like the Hollywood rom-com meet cute participants in Lisa’s research were looking for — but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Romance narratives are driven by conflict. There’s usually a reason the two people can’t be together, a conflict they spend the whole story overcoming.

In Notting Hill (1999), Will (Hugh Grant) and Anna (Julia Roberts) have a classic meet cute when they bump into each other and he spills his orange juice all over her. But then they have to overcome the obstacles posed by the very different lives they lead in order to be together.

On dating apps, those looking for a relationship are searching for compatibility and chemistry, not conflict — for someone they could build a connection with, not the most unlikely person possible.

In other words: finding a valentine via an app is a lot more likely than running into them on the street or getting trapped in a lift with them.

And if it doesn’t feel quite like a rom-com, it might just be because we haven’t quite worked out how to tell that kind of story yet.The Conversation

Lisa Portolan, PhD student, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University and Jodi McAlister, Lecturer in Writing, Literature and Culture, Deakin University

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

From lurid orange sauces to refined, regional flavours: how politics helped shape Chinese food in Australia

A Chinese community dinner in Sydney, some time in the 1930s. City of Sydney Archives
Cecilia Leong-SalobirUniversity of Western Australia

In this series, our writers explore how food shaped Australian history – and who we are today.

The first whiffs of Chinese cooking in mid-19th century Australia would have emanated from tiny huts owned by Chinese workers in the goldfields. There, they faced racial hostility from the European miners, culminating in the Lambing Flat riots in New South Wales in 1860-61, where Chinese residents of the fields were physically assaulted and had their camps set on fire.

Chinese cooks were also employed in farms and factories and sold food from “cookshops” in the various urban centres for other migrants, such as Sydney’s Chinese furniture factory workers.

Locally sourced meat, seafood and vegetables were complemented by imported ingredients such as Cantonese sausage, tofu, lychee nuts, black fungus and bamboo shoots.

John Alloo’s Chinese restaurant traded in Ballarat during the gold rush, as pictured here in 1853. National Library Australia

By the late 1800s, about a third of commercial cooks in Australia were Chinese.

But when it came to the development of Chinese cuisine here, food and politics were deeply entangled. The White Australia Policy of 1901, its amendment in the 1930s and abolition in 1973; the Tiananmen Square protest and other political developments all had consequences for Australia’s Chinese restaurant trade.

From The Mines To The Cities

When the gold rush years ended, Chinese miners flocked to the cities to start restaurants. The public taste in the first half of 20th century Australia shifted from mutton to lamb, before shifting further. While there were newspaper caricatures of Chinese people eating or selling cats and rats, some Anglo-Australians were soon attracted to flavours other than the one meat and three veg.

Read more: Friday essay: the story of Fook Shing, colonial Victoria's Chinese detective

Anti-Chinese sentiment and other factors led to the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 – known as the White Australia Policy — restricting migration from Asia and the Pacific.

Most of Australia’s Chinese population before the White Australia policy were from Guangdong and served Cantonese fare. It was this food which took a foothold.

From the early 1900s, Chinese restaurants were concentrated in Chinatowns in Australia, as happened elsewhere around the world. Alongside food, these enclaves provided networks for Chinese labour, trade and provisioning Chinese ingredients.

The Australian public started eating at Chinese restaurants from the 1930s, or brought saucepans from home for takeaway meals. Chicken chow mein, chop suey and sweet and sour pork were the mainstays.

This photograph, taken for the Australian Consolidated Press in 1939, shows a Chinese Australian family eating dumplings together. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and Courtesy ACP Magazines Ltd

The latter — together with other dishes smothered in sweet sticky sauces — became the lurid-orange epitome of Chinese cuisine for many Anglo Australians.

This fondness was aided and abetted by Chinese cooks who thought this sweetness was what Westerners thought of — and wanted from — Chinese food.

Fried food covered in an orange sauce.
For many Anglo-Australians, ‘Chinese food’ was defined by lurid-orange sauces. Drew Taylor/Unsplash

After White Australia

When the White Australia Policy ended, a new wave of more educated and affluent Chinese arrived. Settling in suburbs, they did not require the infrastructure of Chinatown. Later, from the 1980s, international Chinese students took up residence near university campuses.

A group of young Asian and white women talking.
With increasing Chinese migration in the 1980s, Chinese food could be found in the suburbs as well as the cities. State Library Victoria © Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

With this, Chinese restaurants and provision stores were no longer found only in Chinatown. Still, the survival of Chinatowns depends on the Chinese food industry: in restaurants, cafes and grocery shops. The majority of Chinese restaurants in Australia are of the mum-and-dad variety and not part of global fast food conglomerates.

Read more: Sydney's Chinatown is much more of a modern bridge to Asia than a historic enclave

Both resident and transient Chinese consume and purchase Chinese goods in Chinatown for two reasons: to consume the familiar foods of home or childhood and to reconnect with their culture. And in eating Chinese meals in Chinatown, Australians show off their global palate by tasting a foreign and yet familiar cuisine.

Tiananmen And Hong Kong

Following the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protest, the Australian government granted permanent residence to 20,000 Chinese international students.

They brought food practices from many different regions of China. Importing their own particular ingredients and cooking methods, restaurants started offering cuisines from Hunan, Sichuan, Beijing and Shanghai.

In the years before and after Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, numerous Cantonese chefs migrated to Australia. Locals at the time boasted that the best Hong Kong Cantonese food in the world was found in Perth’s Northbridge.

Chinese greens
Australian Chinese food is becoming increasingly diverse and refined. Hanxiao/Unsplash

Today the discerning restaurant diner in Australia looks more for regional foods from China: the hot chilli lamb and noodles from Uyghur cuisine, the delicate dumplings of Shanghai, the Beijing hot pot. “Chinese food” is no longer a good enough descriptor for the variety of cuisines available in Australia.

But while Australians can now eat Peking duck and xiao long bao (soup dumplings), the ubiquitous Chinese restaurant — with its sweet and sour pork and chow mein — still exists across Australia in a culinary time warp. It is evidence of the enduring love for Chinese food here.

The COVID-19 pandemic means this week’s Lunar New Year will be different. Usually marked by an obligatory reunion dinner, this year not every family member will be at the dining table — but every dining table is sure to be piled high with food.The Conversation

Cecilia Leong-Salobir, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Western Australia

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

How historically accurate is the film High Ground? The violence it depicts is uncomfortably close to the truth

Jacob Junior Nayinggul (left) and Simon Baker in High Ground (2020). Maxo, Bunya Productions, Savage Films
Laura RademakerAustralian National UniversityJulie Narndal GumurdulIndigenous Knowledge, and Sally K. MayGriffith University

The Australian film High Ground, set mostly at a mission in Arnhem Land in the 1930s, blends stories (and languages) from Indigenous Nations across the region.

It is a fictionalised story, inspired, says director Stephen Maxwell Johnson, by “true history”. At times, the film resembles a shoot-em-up Western. But it gets a lot right.

High Ground was written by Chris Anastassiades and co-produced by Witiyana Marika, (a founding member of Yothu Yindi), who appears in a supporting role as Grandfather Dharrpa and was the film’s senior cultural advisor. It tells of a police massacre of Aboriginal people and the repercussions that follow.

Massacres at the hands of police and settlers were tragically common through northern Australia. The opening scene, depicting a massacre beside a waterhole in 1919, echoes the 1911 Gan Gan Massacre in which mounted police killed more than 30 Yolngu people in a “punishment expedition”.

The Mission

In the film, a young boy, Gutjuk, who survives the massacre of his family, is taken to a mission. The Roper River Mission (now Ngukurr), established in 1908 and run by the Church Missionary Society, really did take in Aboriginal children who had either lost kin, or been forcibly removed from their families.

By the 1920s, there were so many children at Roper River that the society established a new mission just for them on Groote Eylandt. Another mission opened at Oenpelli (now Gunbalanya) in 1925, the subject of our recent book.

Parts of High Ground were shot in the vicinity of Oenpelli, which likely inspired the mission in the film.

Jacob Junior Nayinggul as Gutjuk, who survives a massacre. Maxo, Bunya Productions, Savage Films

The Real Station

Before it was a mission, Oenpelli was a cattle station and buffalo shooters’ camp run by a man named Paddy Cahill. In the film, a young woman, Gulwirri, who fights to defend her people, has worked as a “house girl” on a station and speaks of the violence she experienced.

Cahill had a reputation for brutality. He wrote of chaining Aboriginal people by the neck. The community remembers how he used to shoot people’s dogs, and his son was known to give workers a “hiding”. There are rumours, too, that Paddy was involved in a massacre.

Gurrhwek Mangiru (left) with baby Gurrhwek Mangiru (left) Albert Balmana, and unidentified woman and baby (right), Oenpelli, Northern Territory Archives Service.
Gurrhwek Mangiru (left) with baby Albert Balmana, and unidentified woman and baby (right), Oenpelli, c.1925. Northern Territory Archives Service

Provoked by his behaviour, traditional owners instigated a plot to take out Cahill and his household. In 1917, strychnine was mixed into the family’s butter, killing their dog, and making Paddy’s wife Maria and two Aboriginal housemaids, Marealmark and Topsy seriously ill. Punishment for those Cahill suspected to be responsible was swift and violent.

In High Ground, the police officers’ earlier experience as soldiers fuels their bloody tactics. After Cahill left Oenpelli in 1922, caretaker Don Campbell managed the station until missionaries arrived. Campbell, too, was a returned serviceman, described as violent. Incoming missionary, Rev Alf Dyer wrote:

There are plenty [of Aboriginal people] about. Mr. Campbell said he had about 300 last Christmas. His policy has been to hunt them, because of the cattle killing; as you read between the lines you will see plenty of problems for the Superintendent of Oenpelli — we will have an uphill fight.

The Real Missionaries

In High Ground, the mission is run by a young brother and sister team. The latter, Claire, speaks the local language.

The original missionaries at Oenpelli were an older, socially awkward couple with prior experience: Alf and Mary Dyer.

Alf and Mary Dyer, c.1930
Alf and Mary Dyer, c.1930, Northern Territory Archives Service.

Some have questioned whether a missionary woman would have learned language in the 1930s. But the character of Claire resembles the real figure of Nell Harris, who arrived at Oenpelli in 1933, aged 29.

Read more: Friday essay: dreaming of a 'white Christmas' on the Aboriginal missions

Thanks to her Aboriginal teachers, Harris quickly began learning Kunwinkju and, together with local women Hannah Mangiru and Rachel Maralngurra, translated the Gospel of Mark.

Outside the Church at Oenpelli, c.1930, Northern Territory Archives Service.
Outside the Church at Oenpelli, c.1930. Northern Territory Archives Service

The Real Gutjuk

In the film, Gutjuk (played as an adult by Jacob Junior Nayinggul), grows up at the mission. He uses this affiliation to work for the interests of his kin in defending themselves against the police, who come looking for his uncle, Baywara, a warrior and survivor of the 1919 massacre.

Nipper Marakarra Gumurdul standing behind seated man. Frank ‘Naluwud’ Girrabul on crutches. Northern Territory Archives Service

This reminds us of a real historical figure, Narlim. Narlim was eldest son of senior traditional owner of the land at Oenpelli — Nipper Marakarra. Narlim was born in 1909, making him around the same age as the fictional Gutjuk.

Narlim grew up at the mission because, after working for Cahill, Nipper saw strategic value in an alliance with missionaries. He also wanted his children to learn to read and speak English. This alliance was a way to ensure continued life on Country and to maintain sovereignty as traditional owners.

But, as in the film, missionary cooperation with police was disastrous for Narlim. When a policeman visited in the late 1930s, he found Narlim had an infectious disease. The policeman handcuffed Narlim, intending to chain him with a group of others to be sent to Darwin.

The missionaries said the chains were unnecessary as Narlim “would behave”, but they did not save him. Narlim was exiled from the mission and his country under police escort, baby daughter on one shoulder and spears on the other, never to return.

Narlim, stock-worker, c.1929’
Narlim, stock-worker, c.1929. Northern Territory Archive Services

His daughter, Peggy eventually came home and became a strong community leader.

The Real ‘Punishment’ And ‘Peace’ Expeditions

In 1932, Yolngu warriors killed a party of Japanese pearlers trespassing on their country. Constable Albert McColl was sent in; he too was speared. So police proposed a “punishment expedition”, not unlike those depicted in High Ground.

Read more: How Dr G.Yunupiŋu took Yolŋu culture to the world

After a humanitarian outcry, the society proposed a “peace expedition” instead. The expedition went unarmed to the Yolngu warriors. Unlike events depicted in the film, three were convinced to come to Darwin for trial. The men were found guilty but eventually released. Yet one, Dhakiyarr, disappeared after his release. The open secret in Darwin was that Dhakiyarr was drowned in the harbour in an extra-judicial police killing.

The film gets right the ambiguous missionary relationship to violence. Missions were meant to be a refuge from inter-tribal and settler violence. Missionaries understood their humanitarian and evangelistic work as seeking to atone for the bloodshed of colonisation.

An attempt at negotiation on the mission in High Ground. Claire and her brother are on the right, Grandfather Dharrpa seated on the left. Maxo, Bunya Productions, Savage Films

But they also relied upon and enabled the ongoing violence of settler authorities. As “Aboriginal Protectors” missionaries functioned as local sheriffs and carried guns. Missionaries would send Aboriginal people for trial in Darwin, or else implement their own punishments.

As portrayed in the film, missionaries joined expeditions to capture supposed lawbreakers. Alf Dyer, for instance, led the so-called “peace expedition” to convince Yolngu men to face trial in white courts.

The Historical Record

High Ground also shows how self-conscious white authorities were creating a historical record.

The chief of police, played by Jack Thompson, seems to be always directing a photographer to take portraits. These images were good for fund raising, for impressing officials. They do not reflect the full story of the community. But they do give us a glimpse of the complex relationships in Arnhem Land in the 1930s.

Group of girls at the Oenpelli Mission c.1930, Northern Territory Archives Service
Group of girls at the Oenpelli Mission c.1930, Northern Territory Archives Service. Northern Territory Archive Services

High Ground, of course, is a highly dramatised piece of art. But, as the filmmakers have said, it’s closer to uncomfortable historical truths than we might expect. By showcasing such stories, the film will hopefully encourage broader reflection on Australia’s violent history, and its enduring legacies.The Conversation

Laura Rademaker, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Research Centre for Deep History, Australian National UniversityJulie Narndal Gumurdul, Senior Traditional Owner, Gunbalanya community, Western Arnhem Land, Indigenous Knowledge, and Sally K. May, Senior Research Fellow, Griffith University

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

A Billion Years In 40 Seconds: University Of Sydney Video Reveals Our Dynamic Planet

February 10, 2021
Geoscientists have released a video that for the first time shows the uninterrupted movement of the Earth's tectonic plates over the past billion years.

The international effort provides a scientific framework for understanding planetary habitability and for finding critical metal resources needed for a low-carbon future.

It reveals a planet in constant movement as land masses move around the Earth's surface, for instance showing that Antarctica was once at the equator.

The video is based on new research published in the March 2021 edition of Earth-Science Reviews.

Co-author and academic leader of the University of Sydney EarthByte geosciences group, Professor Dietmar Müller, said: "Our team has created an entirely new model of Earth evolution over the last billion years.

"Our planet is unique in the way that it hosts life. But this is only possible because geological processes, like plate tectonics, provide a planetary life-support system."

Lead author and creator of the video Dr Andrew Merdith began work on the project while a PhD student with Professor Müller in the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney. He is now based at the University of Lyon in France.

Co-author, Dr Michael Tetley, who also completed his PhD at the University of Sydney, told Euronews: "For the first time a complete model of tectonics has been built, including all the boundaries"

"On a human timescale, things move in centimetres per year, but as we can see from the animation, the continents have been everywhere in time. A place like Antarctica that we see as a cold, icy inhospitable place today, actually was once quite a nice holiday destination at the equator."

Co-author Dr Sabin Zahirovic from the University of Sydney, said: "Planet Earth is incredibly dynamic, with the surface composed of 'plates' that constantly jostle each other in a way unique among the known rocky planets. These plates move at the speed fingernails grow, but when a billion years is condensed into 40 seconds a mesmerising dance is revealed.

"Oceans open and close, continents disperse and periodically recombine to form immense supercontinents."

Earth scientists from every continent have collected and published data, often from inaccessible and remote regions, that Dr Andrew Merdith and his collaborators have assimilated over the past four years to produce this billion-year model.

It will allow scientists to better understand how the interior of the Earth convects, chemically mixes and loses heat via seafloor spreading and volcanism. The model will help scientists understand how climate has changed, how ocean currents altered and how nutrients fluxed from the deep Earth to stimulate biological evolution.

Professor Müller said: "Simply put, this complete model will help explain how our home, Planet Earth, became habitable for complex creatures. Life on Earth would not exist without plate tectonics. With this new model, we are closer to understanding how this beautiful blue planet became our cradle."

Andrew S. Merdith, Simon E. Williams, Alan S. Collins, Michael G. Tetley, Jacob A. Mulder, Morgan L. Blades, Alexander Young, Sheree E. Armistead, John Cannon, Sabin Zahirovic, R. Dietmar Müller. Extending full-plate tectonic models into deep time: Linking the Neoproterozoic and the Phanerozoic. Earth-Science Reviews, 2021; 214: 103477 DOI: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2020.103477

Rare Blast's Remains Discovered In Milky Way's Centre

February 8, 2021
Astronomers may have found our galaxy's first example of an unusual kind of stellar explosion. This discovery, made with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, adds to the understanding of how some stars shatter and seed the universe with elements critical for life on Earth.

This intriguing object, located near the centre of the Milky Way, is a supernova remnant called Sagittarius A East, or Sgr A East for short. Based on Chandra data, astronomers previously classified the object as the remains of a massive star that exploded as a supernova, one of many kinds of exploded stars that scientists have catalogued.

Labeled X-ray & Radio Image of Sagittarius A East.
Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Nanjing Univ./P. Zhou et al. Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA

Using longer Chandra observations, a team of astronomers has now instead concluded that the object is left over from a different type of supernova. It is the explosion of a white dwarf, a shrunken stellar ember from a fuel-depleted star like our Sun. When a white dwarf pulls too much material from a companion star or merges with another white dwarf, the white dwarf is destroyed, accompanied by a stunning flash of light.

Astronomers use these "Type Ia supernovae" because most of them mete out almost the same amount of light every time no matter where they are located. This allows scientists to use them to accurately measure distances across space and study the expansion of the universe.

Data from Chandra have revealed that Sgr A East, however, did not come from an ordinary Type Ia. Instead, it appears that it belongs to a special group of supernovae that produce different relative amounts of elements than traditional Type Ias do, and less powerful explosions. This subset is referred to as "Type Iax," a potentially important member of the supernova family.

"While we've found Type Iax supernovae in other galaxies, we haven't identified evidence for one in the Milky Way until now," said Ping Zhou of Nanjing University in China, who led the new study while at the University of Amsterdam. "This discovery is important for getting a handle of the myriad ways white dwarfs explode."

The explosions of white dwarfs is one of the most important sources in the universe of elements like iron, nickel, and chromium. The only place that scientists know these elements can be created is inside the nuclear furnace of stars or when they explode.

"This result shows us the diversity of types and causes of white dwarf explosions, and the different ways that they make these essential elements," said co-author Shing-Chi Leung of Caltech in Pasadena, California. "If we're right about the identity of this supernova's remains, it would be the nearest known example to Earth."

Astronomers are still debating the cause of Type Iax supernova explosions, but the leading theory is that they involve thermonuclear reactions that travel much more slowly through the star than in Type Ia supernovae. This relatively slow walk of the blast leads to weaker explosions and, hence, different amounts of elements produced in the explosion. It is also possible that part of the white dwarf is left behind.

Sgr A East is located very close to Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole in the centre of our Milky Way galaxy, and likely intersects with the disk of material surrounding the black hole. The team was able to use Chandra observations targeting the supermassive black hole and the region around it for a total of about 35 days to study Sgr A East and find the unusual pattern of elements in the X-ray data. The Chandra results agree with computer models predicting a white dwarf that has undergone slow-moving nuclear reactions, making it a strong candidate for a Type Iax supernova remnant.

"This supernova remnant is in the background of many Chandra images of our galaxy's supermassive black hole taken over the last 20 years," said Zhiyuan Li, also of Nanjing University. "We finally may have worked out what this object is and how it came to be."

In other galaxies, scientists observe that Type Iax supernovae occur at a rate that is about one third that of Type Ia supernovae. In the Milky Way, there have been three confirmed Type Ia supernova remnants and two candidates that are younger than 2,000 years, corresponding to an age when remnants are still relatively bright before fading later. If Sgr A East is younger than 2,000 years and resulted from a Type Iax supernova, this study suggests that our galaxy is in alignment with respect to the relative numbers of Type Iax supernovae seen in other galaxies.

Along with the suggestion that Sgr A East is the remnant from the collapse of a massive star, previous studies have also pointed out that a normal Type Ia supernova had not been ruled out. The latest study conducted with this deep Chandra data argue against both the massive star and the normal Type Ia interpretations.

These results have been published today in The Astrophysical Journal, and a preprint is available online. The other co-authors of the paper are Ken'ichi Nomoto of The University of Tokyo in Japan, Jacco Vink of the University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands, and Yang Chen, also of Nanjing University.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Chandra X-ray Center controls science from Cambridge Massachusetts and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts.

Ping Zhou, Shing-Chi Leung, Zhiyuan Li, Ken'ichi Nomoto, Jacco Vink, Yang Chen. Chemical abundances in Sgr A East: evidence for a Type Iax supernova remnant. The Astrophysical Journal, 2021 [abstract]

What's Driving 'Brain Fog' In People With COVID-19

February 9, 2021
One of the dozens of unusual symptoms that have emerged in COVID-19 patients is a condition that's informally called "COVID brain" or "brain fog." It's characterized by confusion, headaches, and loss of short-term memory. In severe cases, it can lead to psychosis and even seizures. It usually emerges weeks after someone first becomes sick with COVID-19.

In the February 8, 2021, issue of the journal Cancer Cell, a multidisciplinary team from Memorial Sloan Kettering reports an underlying cause of COVID brain: the presence of inflammatory molecules in the liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord (called the cerebrospinal fluid). The findings suggest that anti-inflammatory drugs, such as steroids, may be useful for treating the condition, but more research is needed.

"We were initially approached by our colleagues in critical care medicine who had observed severe delirium in many patients who were hospitalized with COVID-19," says Jessica Wilcox, the Chief Fellow in neuro-oncology at MSK and one of the first authors of the new study. "That meeting turned into a tremendous collaboration between neurology, critical care, microbiology, and neuroradiology to learn what was going on and to see how we could better help our patients."

Recognising a Familiar Symptom

The medical term for COVID brain is encephalopathy. Members of MSK's Department of Neurology felt well-poised to study it, Dr. Wilcox says, because they are already used to treating the condition in other systemic inflammatory syndromes. It is a side effect in patients who are receiving a type of immunotherapy called chimeric antibody receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, a treatment for blood cancer. When CAR T cell therapy is given, it causes immune cells to release molecules called cytokines, which help the body to kill the cancer. But cytokines can seep into the area around the brain and cause inflammation.

When the MSK team first began studying COVID brain, though, they didn't know that cytokines were the cause. They first suspected that the virus itself was having an effect on the brain. The study in the Cancer Cell paper focused on 18 patients who were hospitalized at MSK with COVID-19 and were experiencing severe neurologic problems. The patients were given a full neurology workup, including brain scans like MRIs and CTs and electroencephalogram (EEG) monitoring, to try to find the cause of their delirium. When nothing was found in the scans that would explain their condition, the researchers thought the answer might lie in the cerebrospinal fluid.

MSK's microbiology team devised a test to detect the COVID-19 virus in the fluid. Thirteen of the 18 patients had spinal taps to look for the virus, but it was not found. At that point, the rest of the fluid was taken to the lab of MSK physician-scientist Adrienne Boire for further study.

Using Science to Ask Clinical Questions

Jan Remsik, a research fellow in Dr. Boire's lab in the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program and the paper's other first author, led the analysis of the fluid. "We found that these patients had persistent inflammation and high levels of cytokines in their cerebrospinal fluid, which explained the symptoms they were having," Dr. Remsik says. He adds that some smaller case studies with only a few patients had reported similar findings, but this study is the largest one so far to look at this effect.

"We used to think that the nervous system was an immune-privileged organ, meaning that it didn't have any kind of relationship at all with the immune system," Dr. Boire says. "But the more we look, the more we find connections between the two." One focus of Dr. Boire's lab is studying how immune cells are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and enter this space, an area of research that's also important for learning how cancer cells are able to spread from other parts of the body to the brain.

"One thing that was really unique about Jan's approach is that he was able to do a really broad molecular screen to learn what was going on," Dr. Boire adds. "He took the tools that we use in cancer biology and applied them to COVID-19."

The inflammatory markers found in the COVID-19 patients were similar, but not identical, to those seen in people who have received CAR T cell therapy. And as with CAR T cell therapy, the neurologic effects are sometimes delayed. The initial inflammatory response with CAR T cell treatment is very similar to the reaction called cytokine storm that's often reported in people with COVID-19, Dr. Wilcox explains. With both COVID-19 and CAR T cell therapy, the neurologic effects come days or weeks later. In CAR T cell patients, neurologic symptoms are treated with steroids, but doctors don't yet know the role of anti-inflammatory treatments for people with neurologic symptoms of COVID-19. "Many of them are already getting steroids, and it's possible they may be benefitting," Dr. Wilcox says.

"This kind of research speaks to the cooperation across the departments at MSK and the interdisciplinary work that we're able to do," Dr. Boire concludes. "We saw people getting sick, and we were able to use our observations to ask big clinical questions and then take these questions into the lab to answer them."

Dr. Boire is an inventor on a patent related to modulating the permeability of the blood-brain barrier and is an unpaid member of the scientific advisory board of EVREN Technologies.

This work was funded by National Institutes of Health grant P30 CA008748, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, and the Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance GC239280. It was also supported by the American Brain Tumor Association Basic Research Fellowship, the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation Fellowship, and the Druckenmiller Center for Lung Cancer Research.

Jan Remsik, Jessica A. Wilcox, N. Esther Babady, Tracy A. McMillen, Behroze A. Vachha, Neil A. Halpern, Vikram Dhawan, Marc Rosenblum, Christine A. Iacobuzio-Donahue, Edward K. Avila, Bianca Santomasso, Adrienne Boire. Inflammatory Leptomeningeal Cytokines Mediate COVID-19 Neurologic Symptoms in Cancer Patients. Cancer Cell, 2021; 39 (2): 276 DOI: 10.1016/j.ccell.2021.01.007

Mean Or Nice?; These Traits Could Make Or Break A Child's Friendships

February 9, 2021
Not all friendships are created equal. Some friends get along; others struggle to avoid conflict. Conventional wisdom holds that the tenor of a friendship with someone who is nice differs from that with someone who is mean, such that the former discourages negative interactions whereas the latter aggravates them. Although it is logical to assume that children who are mean have friendships characterized by growing strife and that children who are nice report little of the same, these assumptions have not yet been tested in the real-world friendships of children.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University's Charles E. Schmidt College of Science are the first to conduct a longitudinal study to examine the extent to which being "nice" (prosocial behaviour) and being "mean" (relationally aggressive behaviour) shape changes in friend perceptions of their relationship. Using a longitudinal framework, researchers examined over time associations between individual attributes and perceptions of relationship quality in 120 same-gender friendships among children in fourth, fifth and sixth grades.

The researchers examined whether one friend's nice and mean behaviours anticipate changes in the other friend's perceptions of relationship negativity (expressions of anger, conflict, and annoyance) across a period of one to three months. Being mean was defined as classmate reports of relational aggression, including the intentional use of exclusion and gossip to harm others. Being nice was defined as classmate reports of prosocial behaviour, including providing assistance and treating others fairly. Findings from the study were published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence.

The results confirm the widespread assumption that one child's behavioural traits drive the other child's friendship experiences. Children with mean friends described increases in relationship negativity over time, whereas children with nice friends reported that relationship negativity declined. It is perhaps not surprising that relational aggression forecast greater negativity. Being mean is antithetical to expectations of how friends should behave and is likely viewed as a violation of trust. No one wants to be treated ill by a friend. Less obvious is the finding that one friend's nice behaviour and forecast decreases in the other friend's perception of negativity in the relationship. Prosocial behaviours assuage hurt feelings, meet needs for support, and increase the rewards of companionship, all of which should inhibit expressions of negativity. Prosocial children may also be adept at conflict resolution, which can help them defuse problems before they erupt into conflict.

"These findings matter because friendship difficulties threaten socio-emotional adjustment in children as well as their ability to maintain friendships," said Brett Laursen, Ph.D., lead author and a professor of psychology in FAU's Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, FAU Broward Campuses. 

"We have long known that negative interactions with friends contribute to subsequent increases in psychological distress and difficulties at school. Friends who don't get along are soon former friends. Children who cannot seem to keep friends report increases in depression and victimisation. Conversely, prosocial behaviours are tied to the ability to make new friends and keep old ones. Put simply, behavioural tendencies that threaten friendships threaten well-being. Behavioural tendencies that protect friendships promote child adjustment."

Researchers focused on the late primary and early high school years, a period when children spend increasing amounts of time with friends and when the closeness and significance of friendships grow commensurately. They studied stable reciprocated friendships -- both children nominated one another as friends at both time points. Both friends rated negativity within the friendship at each time point. Classmates rated each child in terms of their prosocial behaviour and relationally aggressive behaviour.

Olivia Valdes, Lauren Shawcross, Brett Laursen. Being nice and being mean: Friend characteristics foreshadow changes in perceptions of relationship negativity. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 2021; DOI: 10.1111/jora.12604

Glycosylation: New Methods For Exploring The 'Dark Matter' Of Biology

February 5, 2021
New tools and methods have been described by WEHI researchers to study an unusual protein modification and gain fresh insights into its roles in human health and disease.

The study -- about how certain sugars modify proteins -- was published today in Nature Chemical Biology. Led by WEHI researcher Associate Professor Ethan Goddard-Borger, this work lays a foundation for better understanding diseases like muscular dystrophy and cancer.

The 'dark matter' of biology

Glycosylation is the process by which proteins are modified with sugars. About 90 per cent of proteins on the surface of human cells -- and half of the cells' total proteins -- are modified with sugars. These modifications can range from the addition of a single sugar, to long complex polymer chains. They've been described as the 'dark matter' of biology because their distribution, variability and biological functions are, for the most part, not well understood.

Associate Professor Goddard-Borger said his team, and the glycobiology field more generally, are making concerted efforts to build a better understanding of the roles that glycosylation plays in health and disease.

"There are a whole range of diseases that feature aberrant cellular glycosylation -- a change in 'normal' glycosylation patterns," he said.

"These changes may yield new therapeutic strategies, however a better understanding of what constitutes 'normal' glycosylation is required before we can further develop drugs targeting protein glycosylation."

"It's a scenario that is akin to the 'dark matter' of the universe: we know that all of this protein glycosylation exists in the body, but we don't fully appreciate its composition and function."

Shedding light on a sweet process

Glycosylation usually occurs on the nitrogen or oxygen atoms of a protein. However, it can also occur on carbon atoms through the process of 'tryptophan C-mannosylation'. This latter protein modification is particularly poorly understood and so the WEHI team set out to develop tools and methods to shed light on this aspect of the biological 'dark matter'.

"We've developed methods that will enable researchers to easily install this unusual modification on nearly any protein they want, allowing them to investigate its effect on protein stability and function," Associate Professor Goddard-Borger said.

"In this work, we've shown that a common feature of tryptophan C-mannosylation is that it stabilises proteins. Diverse, unrelated proteins all appear to be more stable once modified. However, we've also demonstrated for the first time that some proteins' functions can be modulated by tryptophan C-mannosylation'. There is clearly much left to learn about this process and now we have the means to perform these studies."

Mapping the prevalence of tryptophan C-mannosylation

Associate Professor Goddard-Borger said the tools developed by his team also enable the abundance of this poorly understood protein modification to be determined in healthy and diseased tissues, which will fortify efforts by scientists around the world to map and understand protein glycosylation in health and disease.

"The methods we describe combine state-of-the-art mass spectrometry techniques with recombinant antibody tools generated at WEHI," he said.

"We've reported some really unexpected results regarding the prevalence of this modification in healthy brain tissue. At present, we are extending this to map the modification across most tissues in the body to better understand the biology of this weird and wonderful form of protein glycosylation, as well as its role in cancer and muscular dystrophies."

This research was funded by the Brian M Davis Charitable Foundation, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and the Victorian Government.

Alan John, Michael A. Järvå, Sayali Shah, Runyu Mao, Stephane Chappaz, Richard W. Birkinshaw, Peter E. Czabotar, Alvin W. Lo, Nichollas E. Scott, Ethan D. Goddard-Borger. Yeast- and antibody-based tools for studying tryptophan C-mannosylation. Nature Chemical Biology, 2021; DOI: 10.1038/s41589-020-00727-w

Happy Childhood No Guarantee For Good Mental Health

February 7, 2021
It's well understood that a difficult childhood can increase the likelihood of mental illness, but according to new research from the University of South Australia, a happy and secure childhood does not always protect a child from developing a mental illness later in life.

Conducted in partnership with the University of Canberra, the finding is part of a study published in Current Psychology, which examined how early childhood experiences relate to different developmental pathways, and how these might be associated with poor mental health.

Given that both positive and negative childhood experiences were found to manifest as anxiety or other mental health disorders into adulthood, researchers believe that it's our ability to adapt -- or rather not adapt -- to unexpected scenarios that might be influencing mental health.

In Australia, almost 50 per cent of the population will experience mental illness at some point in their lives, with an estimated 314,000 children aged 4-11 (almost 14 per cent) experiencing a mental disorder.

The national recurrent expenditure on mental health-related services is estimated at $9.9 billion or about $400 per person.

While the study reaffirmed that people who had adverse and unpredictable early life experiences had elevated symptoms of poor mental health (including depression and paranoia), it also found that children who grew up in stable and supportive environments were also at risk of experiencing symptoms of anxiety in adulthood.

Lead researcher, and PhD candidate, UniSA's Bianca Kahl, says the study highlights the indiscriminate nature of mental illness and reveals key insights about potential risk factors for all children.

"As the prevalence of mental health conditions expands, it's imperative that we also extend our knowledge of this very complex and varied condition," Kahl says.

"This research shows that mental health conditions are not solely determined by early life events, and that a child who is raised in a happy home, could still grow up to have a mental health disorder.

"There's certainly some missing factors in understanding how our childhood environment and early life experiences might translate into mental health outcomes in adulthood.

"We suspect that it's our expectations about our environments and our ability to adapt to scenarios when our expectations are not being met, that may be influencing our experiences of distress.

"If, as children, we learn how to adapt to change, and we learn how to cope when things do not go our way, we may be in a better position to respond to stress and other risk factors for poor mental health.

"Testing this hypothesis is the focus of the next research study."

Bianca L. Kahl, Phillip S. Kavanagh, David H. Gleaves. Testing a life history model of psychopathology: A replication and extension. Current Psychology, 2020; DOI: 10.1007/s12144-020-01062-y

Healthy Oceans Need Healthy Soundscapes

February 5, 2021
Rain falls lightly on the ocean's surface. Marine mammals chirp and squeal as they swim along. The pounding of surf along a distant shoreline heaves and thumps with metronomic regularity. These are the sounds that most of us associate with the marine environment. But the soundtrack of the healthy ocean no longer reflects the acoustic environment of today's ocean, plagued with human-created noise.

A global team of researchers set out to understand how human-made noise affects wildlife, from invertebrates to whales, in the oceans, and found overwhelming evidence that marine fauna, and their ecosystems, are negatively impacted by noise. This noise disrupts their behaviour, physiology, reproduction and, in extreme cases, causes mortality. The researchers call for human-induced noise to be considered a prevalent stressor at the global scale and for policy to be developed to mitigate its effects.

The research, led by Professor Carlos M. Duarte, distinguished professor at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), and published in the journal Science, is eye opening to the global prevalence and intensity of the impacts of ocean noise. Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have made the planet, the oceans in particular, noisier through fishing, shipping, infrastructure development and more, while also silencing the sounds from marine animals that dominated the pristine ocean.

"The landscape of sound -- or soundscape -- is such a powerful indicator of the health of an environment," noted Ben Halpern, a co-author on the study and director of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at UC Santa Barbara. "Like we have done in our cities on land, we have replaced the sounds of nature throughout the ocean with those of humans."

The deterioration of habitats, such as coral reefs, seagrass meadows and kelp beds with overfishing, coastal development, climate change and other human pressures, have further silenced the characteristic sound that guides the larvae of fish and other animals drifting at sea into finding and settling on their habitats. The call home is no longer audible for many ecosystems and regions.

The Anthropocene marine environment, according to the researchers, is polluted by human-made sound and should be restored along sonic dimensions, and along those more traditional chemical and climatic. Yet, current frameworks to improve ocean health ignore the need to mitigate noise as a pre-requisite for a healthy ocean.

Sound travels far, and quickly, underwater. And marine animals are sensitive to sound, which they use as a prominent sensorial signal guiding all aspects of their behavior and ecology. "This makes the ocean soundscape one of the most important, and perhaps under-appreciated, aspects of the marine environment," the study states. The authors' hope is that the evidence presented in the paper will "prompt management actions ... to reduce noise levels in the ocean, thereby allowing marine animals to re-establish their use of ocean sound."

"We all know that no one really wants to live right next to a freeway because of the constant noise," commented Halpern. "For animals in the ocean, it's like having a mega-freeway in your backyard."

The team set out to document the impact of noise on marine animals and on marine ecosystems around the world. They assessed the evidence contained across more than 10,000 papers to consolidate compelling evidence that human-made noise impacts marine life from invertebrates to whales across multiple levels, from behaviour to physiology.

"This unprecedented effort, involving a major tour de force, has shown the overwhelming evidence for the prevalence of impacts from human-induced noise on marine animals, to the point that the urgency of taking action can no longer be ignored," KAUST Ph.D. student Michelle Havlik said. The research involved scientists from Saudi Arabia, Denmark, the U.S. and the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Norway and Canada.

"The deep, dark ocean is conceived as a distant, remote ecosystem, even by marine scientists," Duarte said. "However, as I was listening, years ago, to a hydrophone recording acquired off the U.S. West Coast, I was surprised to hear the clear sound of rain falling on the surface as the dominant sound in the deep-sea ocean environment. I then realised how acoustically connected the ocean surface, where most human noise is generated, is to the deep sea; just 1,000 m, less than 1 second apart!"

The takeaway of the review is that "mitigating the impacts of noise from human activities on marine life is key to achieving a healthier ocean." The KAUST-led study identifies a number of actions that may come at a cost but are relatively easy to implement to improve the ocean soundscape and, in so doing, enable the recovery of marine life and the goal of sustainable use of the ocean. For example, simple technological innovations are already reducing propeller noise from ships, and policy could accelerate their use in the shipping industry and spawn new innovations.

Deploying these mitigation actions is a low hanging fruit as, unlike other forms of human pollution such as emissions of chemical pollutants and greenhouse gases, the effects of noise pollution cease upon reducing the noise, so the benefits are immediate. The study points to the quick response of marine animals to the human lockdown under COVID-19 as evidence for the potential rapid recovery from noise pollution.

Using sounds gathered from around the globe, multimedia artist and study co-author Jana Winderen created a six-minute audio track that demonstrates both the peaceful calm, and the devastatingly jarring, acoustic aspects of life for marine animals. The research is truly eye opening, or rather ear opening, both in its groundbreaking scale as well as in its immediacy.

May be an image of nature
Coauthor and multimedia artist Jana Winderen lowers a microphone into the Barents Sea, one of many locations where she took underwater recordings. Image supplied.

Carlos M. Duarte, Lucille Chapuis, Shaun P. Collin, Daniel P. Costa, Reny P. Devassy, Victor M. Eguiluz, Christine Erbe, Timothy A. C. Gordon, Benjamin S. Halpern, Harry R. Harding, Michelle N. Havlik, Mark Meekan, Nathan D. Merchant, Jennifer L. Miksis-Olds, Miles Parsons, Milica Predragovic, Andrew N. Radford, Craig A. Radford, Stephen D. Simpson, Hans Slabbekoorn, Erica Staaterman, Ilse C. Van Opzeeland, Jana Winderen, Xiangliang Zhang, Francis Juanes. The soundscape of the Anthropocene ocean. Science, 2021; 371 (6529): eaba4658 DOI: 10.1126/science.aba4658

Disclaimer: These articles are not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.  Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Pittwater Online News or its staff.