inbox and environment news: Issue 489

March 28 - April 17, 2021: Issue 489

One Tree: A Big Community Living Within A Single Pittwater Spotted Gum

This one tree in our yard is home to a lorikeet nest (1-2 babies twice each year) and a family of microbats (not sure which ones but watch them emerge at dusk and flit fast around the amphitheatre of our trees, collecting insects).

The lorikeets live in the hollow atop and the microbats have made a home ion the larger hollow you can see underneath this.

This tree is also a place the family of kookaburras that live here will visit during the day, their young ones with them, and is a perch for the family of magpies and family of currawongs that live here and for the Australian ravens that visit as well.

During the day it can also be a place for the local community of sulphur crested cockatoos and is visited daily by King parrots, rosellas and even seasonal visitors, such as Black cockatoos, winging their way here from Kuring-gai Chase National Park for a feed on local she oaks.

At dusk it has, at times, been a Roosting Tree for the cockatoos – lovely to see them snuggling up against each other on sturdier branches for the night.

This stand of Pittwater Spotted Gums, Corymbia maculata, is vital part of the local ‘flight path’ of all birds in our area and links the bush reserves from Whale Beach, Palm Beach (McKay Reserve and Bangalley Head) with those of Careel Bay, Clareville, Stapleton Reserve, the Angophora Reserve and the Western Shores of Pittwater.

During Spring of 2020 we noticed a ruckus move through the local bird community as two juvenile Sea Eagles flew in slow loping overhead, winging their way down to Careel Bay and back across the Pittwater Estuary. Sorry; did not have camera out in those 10 seconds.

The Pittwater Spotted Gum Forest occurs on shale-derived soils with high rainfall on lower hillslopes on the Narrabeen group - Newport Formation, on the Barrenjoey Peninsula and western Pittwater foreshores.  The structure of the community was originally open-forest but may now exist as woodland or as remnant trees.

This one tree underlines how lucky we are to be living in this place and why we should look after every single tree.

This too may be of interest: 

Many hundreds of species of wildlife worldwide are dependent on tree hollows (cavities) for their survival. I reviewed the published literature for hollow-using Australian birds and microbats to document their tree-hollow requirements and to guide future research and management. Such information is vital to the conservation of these species. 

The hollow requirements of only 35 of 114 hollow-using bird species and 15 of 42 hollow-using microbat species were documented in some detail. This overall paucity of information limits the ability to manage for the future requirements of species. However, some generalisations can guide management until further studies are conducted. Most species used a variety of available tree species, and the extensive use of dead trees probably reflects the high likelihood of these trees containing hollows. 

Birds (other than large parrots) and bats chose hollow entrances of a size close to body width. Large parrots require large hollows, with a preference for large vertical spouts and trunk hollows. 
Few birds or bats demonstrated an absolute requirement for high (>10 m) tree hollows, with most (70%) using some hollows with entrances ≤5 m above ground. Temperature has been postulated to influence roost selection among microbats because it enables passive rewarming from torpor and there is some evidence from Australian bats to support this. Many studies suggest a future shortage of hollow-bearing trees. Currently, artificial hollows appear to be the most likely interim solution to address this. 
Knowledge of the natural hollow requirements of species can be used to refine artificial-hollow designs. 

An increase in research effort is needed to address the many gaps in knowledge that currently exist. Priorities for research include 
(1) many additional studies to document the characteristics of the hollow-bearing trees used by species of microbat, 
(2) the need to conduct long-term bioregional studies of hollow-bearing tree attrition to help identify where management responses are most needed and 
(3) investigating whether fire plays a significant role in the creation of tree hollows of a range of size classes and therefore may have a management use. 

Such information has broad relevance because it will provide ecological insight that can be applied to the management of hollow-using birds and bats elsewhere in the world. – From ‘’Characteristics of tree hollows used by Australian birds and bats.’’ January 2009. Wildlife Research 36(5). DOI: 10.1071/WR08172. Author: Ross L Goldingay

Avalon Golf Course Bushcare Needs You

We're so short of helpers we've had to cancel for the time being. Meanwhile the weeds will go gangbusters. 
We used to meet on the second Wednesday afternoon of each month. Could you come if we worked on another day or time? say a morning, or on a weekend day? 
Contact Geoff Searl on 0439 292 566 if you'd like to help. He'd love to hear from you. 

We have fun using the Tree Popper, here with our supervisor from Dragonfly Environmental. We can lever out quite big Ochnas, aka Mickey Mouse plant from Africa.  We want to bring back the bush, not let the weeds win!

Ochna or Mickey Mouse plant has yellow flowers in spring, then lots of green berries that turn black when ripe. Seedlings come up in hundreds. Ochna has a very strong taproot but the steady pressure of the Tree Popper lifts the plant out of the ground easily. The alternative control is repeated scraping and painting with Roundup, very slow and time consuming. If you have an Ochna you cant remove, you can enjoy the flowers, then PLEASE prune it so that berries can't develop.

Captive Trees Follow Up

The Angophoras in Village Park Mona Vale, near Pittwater Rd, with massive amounts of wire and palings wrapped around them will have these stranglers of their health removed. Council contacted the Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA) on March 23rd to state the palings will come off and also the wires. Apparently those wires are connected to the mains electricity!

Red Triangle Slug

You know it's wet when you see these. This slug (Triboniophorus graeffei) feeds on microscopic algae on smooth bark eucalypts, and algae on other smooth surfaces, leaving a narrow wiggly track. 
The Red Triangle Slug is Australia's largest native land slug. The distinctive red triangle on its back contains the breathing pore. This one was photographed in the Pittwater Online front yard this morning. 

Avalon Community Garden

Avalon Community Garden’s primary purpose is to foster, encourage and facilitate community gardening in Pittwater on a not-for-profit basis.

The garden was started in 2010 by a group of locals who worked in conjunction with the support of Barrenjoey High School to develop a space that could be used by the local community, to grow

vegetables, herbs, plants and flowers, and practice sustainable gardening techniques to benefit its members and the community overall.

The garden has been very successful and has grown and developed since its inception, in terms of its footprint, infrastructure, variety of produce and diversity of members. The garden welcomes new members all year round. Levels of contribution range from multiple times a week, to once a month. Your contribution is always welcome, and it is acknowledged people will have varying levels of commitment. 

We encourage you to join and start enjoying the following benefits associated with community gardening:

They provide benefits for individuals and for the community as a whole. Community gardens provide education on gardening, recycling and sustainable use of natural resources.

They develop community connections and provide a means of engaging youth, children, the elderly and the disabled and otherwise marginalised individuals in mutually enjoyable and rewarding activities, thus helping to develop more functional and resilient communities.

People involved in community gardens say they improve wellbeing by increasing physical activity and reducing stress, providing opportunities to interact meaningfully with new friends, give time for relaxation and reflection as well as an opportunity to improve their interconnectedness with nature.

To get involved take a look around the site, join the Facebook group and come along and visit on a Sunday morning between 10 and 12 at the garden within Barrenjoey High School on Tasman Road, North Avalon.

How The Power Of Social Is Helping Coastal Areas Deal With The Power Of Extreme Storms

March 25, 2021
By Cecilia Duong, UNSW
UNSW engineers are leveraging the popularity of Insta-famous sites to study severe weather events and improve coastal planning practices.

A severe storm in 2016 that saw a swimming pool ripped away from a property overlooking Collaroy beach, on Sydney's northern beaches, was a stark reminder of the damaging effects extreme weather events can have.

Now, a team from the UNSW Water Research Laboratory are using crowd-sourced images of the coastline to study the impact of such storms to improve coastal management practices.

Dr Mitchell Harley, who leads the citizen science project CoastSnap, says the program has provided insights into how beaches respond to changing weather and wave conditions, and extreme storms.

CoastSnap is a network of simple camera mounts at beaches that invite the public to take a photo and upload it via the app or through to social media, using a specific hashtag.

Since the program kicked off in 2017 in partnership with the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, CoastSnap has grown to over 100 locations across 16 countries globally. In Australia, there are 33 stations in almost every state with plans to expand further in sites located in national parks.  

“Our sites are in really unique locations. One of them is at the iconic lighthouse at Byron Bay, which is very popular on Instagram,” says Dr Harley.

“And we have others in more peculiar locations such as our site in Suriname that’s located at the northern tip of South America, looking at the mud coastline.

“When the program first started, we were asking people to email their photos in. Now, you do everything in the phone app, and you can even monitor your own local beach by placing your phone on a piece of fixed infrastructure like a fence post or handrail without needing to be close to one of our official camera mounts. I think we’ve come a long way.”

Monitoring the impact of extreme storms
Dr Harley, a coastal erosion expert, is focused on understanding how the coast is changing due to extreme storm events. Recent data from CoastSnap has shown that some beaches can move by almost 100 metres back and forth over a year.

While it’s easy to get data after a storm has passed, Dr Harley says the biggest challenge is analysing exactly what the coastline looked like before an extreme event.

“With our technology and the help of our active community, we can actually measure the exact changes caused by these extreme storm events from the CoastSnap images,” he says.

“You may remember, we had houses teetering on the edge in Wamberal in the Central Coast and at one of our sites in Byron Bay, one of the beaches disappeared in December last year.

“We used CoastSnap effectively there to get the before and after snaps to help us understand why some beaches erode more than others.”

Dr Harley also hopes to use the data collection from the app to improve the planning for coastal communities.

“While many homes built along the coast of Australia enjoy spectacular views, they are exposed to the effects of coastal erosion – mainly because they’re built so close to dynamic coastal zones,” he says.

“We need to ensure our coastal communities are planned properly, and effectively, to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. This is particularly important considering climate change and the likely huge impacts on the coast.”

The team are also working closely with the Bureau of Meteorology on developing coastal erosion forecasting to allow the public to see which beaches could have a high risk of extreme erosion, seven days in advance.

La Niña
With more rain predicted to persist into April, Dr Harley says the impact of extreme weather conditions, such as La Niña, has had a direct impact on the coastline.

“Our data has shown that the coastline is breathing in and out over these long periods related to El Nino and La Niña,” he says.

“Over the past eight months, we’ve seen increased erosion along our coast and that’s been directly associated with the La Niña period.

“Now, even though that’s starting to ease, that’s not to say that the risk of further erosion goes away too as we enter the winter storm season.”

The team are particularly interested in the impact of storms that shift its position and intensity. Using their current technology, they measure from the snaps the exact changes caused when these storms change.

“Particularly last year, we had a whole series of extreme storm events – some of the most intense we've seen over the last 30 to 40 years.

“The general consensus is that we’re going to have less storms, but they will be more intense.”

What’s next for CoastSnap?
Within the next five years, Dr Harley and team aim to expand CoastSnap’s technological capabilities to implement augmented reality in the app. The concept would allow users to observe visual coastal changes at any location, all from the smartphone app.

He also wants to build in more education elements to the program and expand the program to study other coastline threats.

“We’re working to see how we can get CoastSnap involved in the curriculum in secondary schools,” says Dr Harley.

“I think there’s opportunities to get Surf Lifesaving involved and to see how we can apply our technology to learn more about rip currents and all different types of coastline hazards.

“But beyond that, we’d also like see how we can better connect with Indigenous communities and pass on their knowledge of these sites.”

Water Off Sydney Much Hotter Than It Should Be: Narooma’s Hot Spot Of Ocean Warming Is More Than Three Times The Global Average

March 25, 2021
By Diane Nazaroff, UNSW
A UNSW analysis has found waters off Sydney, southern NSW and eastern Tasmania are demonstrating an accelerated warming trend. The waters off southern NSW and the east coast of Tasmania are warming twice as fast as waters off northern NSW, and at more than three times the global average, a UNSW study has found.

The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, analysed how coastal waters adjacent to the Eastern Australian Current (EAC) have warmed over the last 25 years.

Scientists have so far found that parts of western boundary currents such as the EAC, which runs along the east coast of Australia, are warming at two to three times the global average of 0.12 degrees per decade.

The UNSW study found that the coastal warming rates at Coffs Harbour (0.16 degrees per decade, and North Stradbroke Island 0.22 degrees per decade) were lower than the EAC rate.

But the study found the warming rate was high at Maria Island off Tasmania (0.41 degrees per decade) and highest off Sydney and Narooma (both 0.48 degrees per decade).

This means these waters have warmed about 1.5 degrees on average in the past 30 years.

“What really surprises me is the raw numbers and the effect of climate change, what half a degree per decade actually means for an ecosystem or for an environment in 10 or 20 years,” lead author and Postdoctoral Research Fellow in UNSW Science’s School of Mathematics and Statistics, Dr Neil Malan, says.

“These numbers are accelerating off southern NSW: at times this year the water temperature there was four degrees warmer than normal.

“The fact that the trend is so large, and that it’s more than three times greater than the global average and that Narooma is such a hotspot, is very shocking.”
Dr Malan says this ‘tropicalisation of ecosystems’ could have a widespread biological impact.

Referring to a 2016 Macquarie University study, he says it will make life difficult for species such as the penguins of Montague Island.

The study on the foraging efficiency of the penguins found that warmer ocean temperatures affect penguins’ ability to hunt and catch prey.

“Their work seems to show that they avoid the warm water so they swim longer distances to find these lower temperature areas to find food,” he says.

The UNSW study used data from over 10 years of measurements of actual water temperatures from five sites (North Stradbroke Island, Coffs Harbour, Sydney, Narooma and Maria Island); satellite estimates of temperatures and currents and a regional ocean model over the last 22 years.

Dr Malan says fast-flowing western boundary currents, like the EAC, bring the impacts of changes of ocean basin circulation (in this case across the breadth of the south Pacific Ocean) to their coastlines, which are usually highly populated.
The EAC moves warm water down the coast of NSW, but just north of Sydney it branches off towards New Zealand.

At this point it forms large eddies (rotating bodies of warm ocean water) that are carried along SE Australia.

 Another UNSW study has showed that the amount of warm water transported south by these eddies is increasing.

Dr Malan says the EAC has some of the strongest currents and eddies in the world.

“Northern NSW water temperatures, while still warming, are more stable as they are not as affected by what is happening offshore. It is southern NSW, where we see an increase in eddy activity, that is warming the fastest,” he says.

Dr Malan says the next areas of research will look at longer trends of coastal warming dating back to the 1950s; studying more coastal sites around Australia; and looking at the link between deep ocean and coastal water temperatures.

Read the study in Geophysical Research Letters.

Zali Steggall MP Moves Amendment To The NAIF Bill To Prohibit Investments In Fossil Fuels

March 25, 2021

BirdLife Australia Autumn Survey Time

Gazing at Gang-gangs, marvelling at Magpies or smiling at some Spinebills?

Join our Birds in Backyards surveys this Autumn and let us know who is visiting your garden. 20 mins and some information about your garden helps to understand our local birds and gives us invaluable insight into their daily lives.


Register here for a free webinar on Wednesday March 10 at 7pm (AEDT). We will take you through how to do a survey as well as how to explore Birdata to learn more about your local bird life. We will also give you some tips and tricks on identifying birds in your garden. 

How do I take part?

To do a Birds in Backyards survey, spend 20 minutes in one spot where you can view birds - your backyard, local park, school, or other favourite outdoor place. Simply count how many you see of each bird species you see using that space and tell us about what the outdoor space is like. Then to enter your survey data, register your free Birdata account, read the instructions for the web or app or watch the video. If you download the Birdata app you can take your smartphone or tablet outside with you to do your count. 

What if I don't know much about birds?

If you are unsure where or how to start, or even feel like you don’t know the first thing about birds only that you love to see them, then fear not! The Birdata web portal and app automatically gives you a list of 30 birds from your region to get you started. 

What if I only have super common or introduced birds?

That is really useful! We want to know about the birds you don’t see just as much as the ones you do. So if your list is only small, all introduced birds or full of birds you don’t think are very ‘exciting’, that is still important information for us. All surveys are important so please give it a go. 

Why do these surveys?

Your surveys are used by BirdLife  Australia and the Urban Bird team to track the health of our urban birds, and to monitor the impact of our gardens, outdoor spaces and even our own behaviours on bird populations. We can learn a lot from Birds in Backyard surveys, like how different types of gardens can attract different types of birds, and which features birds may be avoiding or are negatively affected by. In 2021 your surveys will also be used in the very first Urban Bird Index for BirdLife Australia's State of Australia's Birds Report.

Importantly, your surveys contribute to the on-ground conservation work we undertake with our volunteers, branches and partners – from local planting and habitat improvement projects up to national advocacy and campaigns. We also use the survey data in seminars and workshops conducted by staff, or for our projects such as the Powerful Owl ProjectRead about how the surveys you do in your gardens are helping in our post-fire conservation work here. 

How often should I survey?

Each quarter we launch a seasonal survey. By dividing the year up into seasons we can track changes in bird communities at the same four times each year. Our Autumn survey period runs throughout March and April - but you can still submit surveys at any time. You can do as many surveys as you like, as often as you like! Some people like to just participate once a quarter (or four times a year) in our seasonal surveys, while others like to count their birds more frequently. 

What else can I record?

There are a few important interactions you can share with us if you see them. Keep an eye out for:

  • Breeding behaviours - If you see a bird carrying nesting materials, sitting on a nest or feeding chicks, let us know. Select the option under 'Breeding Activity' that best matches your observation (remember to keep your distance though from birds who are breeding. We don't want to disturb any nests. Be sure to limit your observations and don't get close enough to scare a bird off it's nest.)
  • Aggressive interactions – Let us know if you have observed any species initiate interactions with other birds and whether this interaction could be classed as aggressive – you can do this in the sighting details tab using the specific species interactions option.
  • Have you seen any birds feeding on the native plants in your garden? If so – who was dining on what? – you can tell us in the notes section when you record the species you have observed under “sighting details”
  • Have any birds been dabbling in some Oscar-worthy acting? – tell us about the weird and wonderful things your backyard birds have been up to you using the notes section in the sighting details tabs.
Visit the survey instructions page for more info and FAQs.

Don't forget you can also win great prizes. We will be giving away Birds in Backyards prize packs and even some extra special goodies throughout 2021, but to win you have to enter your surveys. Follow us on social media for more details.

Narrabeen Lagoon Clean Up: March 28

Hosted by Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew
Berry Reserve, Narrabeen Lakes
Sunday, 28 March 2021 from 10:00 UTC+11-12:30 UTC+11
Price: free · Duration: 2 hr 30 min

Come and join us for our Narrabeen Lake clean up. We'll meet at Berry Reserve, close to the carpark by Pittwater rd. We have clean and washed gloves, bags and buckets. We'll clean up the grass area to try and catch the litter before it hits the lagoon as well as cleaning the lagoon, trying to remove as much plastic, cigarette butts and rubbish as possible. We're a friendly group of people and everyone is welcome to this family friendly event (just leave political, religious and business messages at home so everyone feel welcome). It's a nice community - make some new friends and do a good deed for the planet at the same time. Send us a message if you are lost. Please invite family and friends and share this event. This is a Covid safe event so everyone must please stay 1.5 meters apart if you are not in the same household.

The Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew meets the last Sunday of every month to clean up a beach or lagoon on Sydney's northern beaches. See our event tab for our next clean up spot. It's a family friendly and welcoming group and feel comfortable coming by yourself too - many friendships have started in this group. (Please leave political, religious and business messages at home, so the group can stay inclusive and welcoming towards everyone.) We provide you with buckets, gloves, bags and sunscreen. Please bring water in a reusable water bottle if it's a hot day. Hope to meet you soon!

Digital Entry Coming To NSW National Parks

Visiting a NSW National Park will soon become much easier with the introduction of digital park passes from April 20th 2021.
National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Executive Director Andrew Nicholls said visitation to parks surged during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Service experienced one of its busiest summers.

"With more and more people visiting national parks we want to make their trip as enjoyable and relaxed as possible, including streamlining the collection of entrance fees," Mr Nicholls said.

"From 20 April 2021 digital passes will be available when people purchase or renew their annual or concession pass.

"This means no more waiting for stickers in the mail or needing to display them on your vehicle, you can get your digital pass from your mobile or other connected device.

"Digital passes will be linked to vehicle registration and NPWS will start to use number plate recognition technology to confirm that entrance fees have been paid.

"The move to digital passes will occur in stages over the next two years, starting with annual and concession passes and day tickets in Sydney.

"Ticket machines in Royal, Ku-ring-gai Chase, Lane Cove and Sydney Harbour National Parks will soon have the option to link your day entrance fee to your vehicle license plates so you don't need a ticket on your dashboard.

"This new way of paying will help to reduce queues at entrance stations, ticket machines and visitor centres.

"Eligible pensioners and concession card holders will continue to get free entry to national parks.

"They will soon be able to move to this more secure system that links their pass to their vehicle, or one registered at their home address," said Mr Nicholls.

All passes issued before 20 April, including existing annual passes, remain valid until their expiry date and are still required to be correctly displayed on the vehicle. More information on the changes, including how to purchase or renew a pass and a full list of where digital day passes are available, can be found at Park entry fees and annual passes

Draft NSW Clean Air Strategy: Public Consultation

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is seeking public comments on the draft NSW Clean Air Strategy until April 23rd 2021.

The aim of the draft NSW Clean Air Strategy is to support liveable communities, healthy environments and the NSW economy by reducing the adverse effects of air pollution on NSW communities.

Extensive consultation has previously been carried out including the Clean Air Summit in 2017 which was attended by more than 300 stakeholders. The Government is already delivering on actions to support clean air such as those announced at the summit.

What is the NSW Clean Air Strategy?
The draft NSW Clean Air Strategy presents the whole of NSW Government approach to improving air quality and minimising adverse effects on human health. The priorities in the draft Strategy are better preparedness for pollution events, cleaner industry, cleaner transport, engines and fuels, healthier households and better places. Under the Clean Air Strategy, the NSW Government will continue to lead by example.

Actions in the draft Strategy reflect the substantial and growing body of evidence on air pollution and its health impacts and costs in New South Wales. 

When will the NSW Clean Air Strategy be finalised?
At the close of the public exhibition period, we will consider all submissions on the draft Strategy and recommend changes to the Strategy as necessary. We will provide the Minister for Energy and Environment with the final strategy, all the submissions and the submissions report.

NSW Government will then consider the final strategy. Once approved, the final strategy will be published on this website, and stakeholders, including those who made a submission on the draft strategy, will be notified.

How can I comment on the draft NSW Clean Air Strategy?
Have your say
Public exhibition is from 18 March to 23 April 2021. 

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

Make a submission online by using the online form here.
Post your written submission to:
Manager Air Policy, EES-CCS
Locked Bag 5022
Parramatta NSW 2124
Email your submission to:
Make sure you include the following information at the top of your email or written submission:
  • first name
  • last name
  • organisation you represent (if applicable)
  • email address
  • postcode.
Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (the Department) is committed to transparent processes and open access to information. The Department may draw upon the contents of submissions and quote from them or refer to them in publications. The Department will treat submissions as public and may publish copies on the Department website (contact details will be redacted), unless you indicate that you wish your complete submission or certain content to remain confidential.

Inquiry Into Declining Numbers Of Macropods

Have your say now - submissions are now open for the Inquiry into declining numbers of kangaroos and other Macropods such as wallabies and wallaroos. 
Submissions close April 26, 2021
Make a submission here:

1. That Portfolio Committee No 7 – Planning and Environment inquire into and report on the health and wellbeing of kangaroos, and other macropods, in New South Wales, and in particular:
(a) historical and long-term health and wellbeing indicators of kangaroos, and other macropods, at the local, bioregional and state levels, including the risk of localised extinction in New South Wales,

(b) the accuracy with which kangaroo, and other macropod, numbers are calculated when determining population size, and the means by which the health and wellbeing of populations is assessed,

(c) threats to kangaroo, and other macropod, habitat, including the impact of:
(i) climate change, drought and diversion and depletion of surface water sources,
(ii) bushfires,
(iii) land clearing for agriculture, mining and urban development,
(iv) the growing prevalence of exclusion fencing which restricts and disrupts the movement of kangaroos,

(d) current government policies and programs for kangaroo management, including:
(i) the method used for setting quotas for kangaroo culling,
(ii) the management of licences to cull kangaroos,
(iii) temporary drought relief policies and programs,

(e) current government policies and programs in regards to 'in pouch' and 'at foot joeys' given the high infant mortality rate of joeys and the unrecorded deaths of orphaned young where females are killed,

(f) regulatory and compliance mechanisms to ensure that commercial and non-commercial killing of kangaroos and other macropods is undertaken according to the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and other relevant regulations and codes,

(g) the impact of commercial and non-commercial killing of kangaroos and other macropods, including the difficulty of establishing numbers killed by landholders since the removal of the requirement for drop tags, and

(h) current and alternative measures to provide an incentive for and accelerate public and private conservation of kangaroos and other macropods.

2. That the committee report by the first sitting day in September 2021. 

A J Guesdon photo

Design And Place State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP): Open For Feedback Until March 31

The new Design and Place State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) is part of a broader review of all NSW  SEPP in line with the state government's aim to simplify and consolidate how to deliver good design in NSW. 
The consult introduction webpage states that
'The Design and Place SEPP puts place and design quality at the forefront of development. Our shared responsibility to care for Country and sustain healthy, thriving communities underpins the policy. The SEPP spans places of all scales, from precincts, significant developments, and buildings to infrastructure and public space. '

'The public exhibition will allow us to work closely with state government, local councils, industry peak bodies and communities. This process will inform the development of the Design and Place SEPP and safeguard our shared values for future development in NSW. We will draft the policy in 2021, following the review of the formal submissions and feedback. Submissions are open from now until 31 March 2021. '

The final Design and Place SEPP will go on public exhibition later in 2021 to provide more opportunities for feedback. We will also develop supporting guidance and tools alongside the policy. These include a revision to the Apartment Design Guide, improvements to the Building Sustainability Index (BASIX) tool and the development of a new Public Space and Urban Design Guide. '


For more information on the Design and Place SEPP, see this brochurefrequently asked questions and the submission guide.

Elements of the document include (read in full at 'View the explanation of Intended Effect)
Options for revising guidance on car parking rates: The prescribed minimum number of parking spaces could be reduced for apartments in defined circumstances, such as:
—being in a specified location where there is an oversupply of parking; methodology for establishing oversupply to be confirmed, potentially a map, list of areas, or applicant-led analysis
—being in a measurable location (e.g. within 800 m of a train station with a service pattern of a number of services per hour or similar); any development that satisfies the criteria would be eligible.

Maximum parking requirements could be mandated for new apartments (possibly subject to criteria such as proximity to specified transport). Developers cannot provide levels above this threshold (but are free to provide spaces below this level).

Ownership of parking could be required to be separated from the housing (and therefore from rents or initial housing sale prices). Parking spaces could be centrally managed, or leased or sold separately to residents, thus spaces become a tradeable commodity. 

Proposed changes to the Apartment Design Guide in relation to urban design and site planning: 
-  Increase min. deep soil zones as a % of site area (a fixed minimum % within the range being considered below):
< 650 m2 min. 14–18%
650–1500 m2 min. 14–18%
1500–3000 m2 min. 14–18%
> 3000  m2 min. 21–25%

Allow a pro-rata reduction in the targets if retail, commercial and entrances on the ground floor > 85% of the building footprint
- Building Form; Introduce a new criterion for towers (including any part of buildings of nine or more storeys) of: —maximum gross floor area (GFA) of 700 m2. —adjust existing design criteria and guidance to a maximum eight units per core per floor.  Note: 8–12 units per core per floor to remain permissible below nine storeys.

Slender towers reduce building footprint to improve urban and public space amenity: open space; sky view; solar access; reduced bulk, scale, and wind impacts. Incorporation of tower footprints into design criteria provide clarity for a consideration that is already in the ADG but has no numerical criteria, and improves residential amenity, cross-ventilation, natural light, and reduces the number of singleorientation units.

Mixed use development and street activation:  Allocate 40% of ground floor space for non-residential use in R3 and R4 zones, and centres. 

Worth Noting: Australian Car Sales Statistics 2020

There were 1.06 million new vehicles sold in Australia during 2019.

Quick Stats
  • There were 1,062,867 new vehicles sold in Australia 2019
  • New car sales in Australia dropped 8% down from 2018, making it the lowest since 2011
  • Toyota was the top-selling car brand in 2019, with 205,766 total sales
  • SUVs accounted for 45.5% of new car sales in 2019

It is anticipated that new car sales will continue to decline. A new report shows that the number of Australians planning to buy a new vehicle in the next four years is down 19.1% on a similar report released the previous year1 around car buying intentions in Australia. The chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries in Australia attributed the decline in sales to a tougher economy, a slowing house market, the drought and a tightening of money lending. One study10 suggests that for every 10 per cent drop in houses a corresponding 10 per cent drop in car sales could be expected, given that people will have less equity in their homes to refinance against.

New South Wales saw the most new car sales in Australia with 33.5% of all sales. Given that New South Wales is home to 31.9% of the population, on average, they are buying more cars than other states with 50.4 new car sales per 1,000 people, or 398, 010 new vehicles purchased in the reported period. The average age of motor vehicles in New South Wales is 9.5 years, below the Australian average of 10.1 years.

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

These hot days are tough on our wildlife - please put out some water in a shaded location and if you come across an animal that is in distress, dehydrated or injured - please contact your local wildlife rescue group:
Photo: Bronwyn Gould

The Global Launch Of The Australian Institute Of Botanical Science

March 25, 2021: Royal Botanic Garden Sydney
Welcome to the global launch of the Australian Institute of Botanical Science. Our Botanic Gardens make up Australia’s oldest living scientific institution, and we’re excited to expand and elevate our role in botanical science on a local, national and global scale. Keep your eye out for some famous faces as you watch and learn more.

The Australian Institute Of Botanical Science

The new Australian Institute of Botanical Science will advance fundamental knowledge of flora and drive effective conservation solutions to ensure the survival of plants, and all life that depends on them. 

What Is The Australian Institute Of Botanical Science?

The Australian Institute of Botanical Science consists of the physical and virtual scientific collections, research, services and facilities, and of course, our staff at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan and the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah. The new Institute will be one of the nation’s premier botanical research organisations and will help ensure the survival of plants and build more resilient ecosystems for future generations. You can learn more about the components that make up the new Institute below. 

Our people
Staff at the Australian Institute of Botanical Science are building on over 200 years of advancing fundamental knowledge of plants. They bring exemplary expertise, knowledge and passion to our mission, and work with industry and governments, and collaborate with a national and global network to produce world class research. They are highly trained and are internationally renowned for their expertise in their chosen disciplines and are our greatest resource.

National Herbarium of NSW
The Herbarium is one of the most significant botanical resources in the Southern Hemisphere, housing more than 1.4 million plant specimens. Scientists regularly discover, document and classify plants and algae, and seek to understand their relationships and evolution.

We explore ecosystems to document what is there and discover new species, and there are still many to be found. Every year, more than 8,000 botanical specimens are added to the Herbarium collection, which is essential for informing and making decisions about the conservation and management of our natural environment.

Construction of a new state-of-the-art National Herbarium of NSW is underway at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan. The new purpose built facility will protect the growing collection and will join the award-winning Australian PlantBank to ensure the survival of plants for generations to come.  

A significant first step to move the Herbarium collection is digitising the collection with Picturae capturing the specimens as a high-resolution digital images as part of our Digitisation project. By the time the collection is moved to the new Herbarium at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan in 2021, the collection will be fully accessible online.

Australian PlantBank
Located at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan, the Australian PlantBank is the award-winning home of plant conservation research, germplasm collection and storage in New South Wales. Its seed and tissue culture collections provide an insurance policy against extinction of native plants in the wild.

Approximately half of the almost 5000 species of plants found in New South Wales alone are stored in PlantBank’s seed vault, and about 67 per cent of threatened species from across the state have been carefully collected and are stored here.

Research Centre for Ecosystem Resilience
Based at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, the new Research Centre for Ecosystem Resilience (ReCER) will provide evidence-based information for restoring, repairing and protecting native ecosystems confronted by climate change, degradation and invasive pathogens. It will include the flagship Restore & Renew project, with programs on the genetics of threatened species, as well as diseases affecting plants in gardens, parks and our natural environments, which will provide information to help habitats.

Living Collections
The Living Collections at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah and the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan each contain a scientific resource of wild-sourced living plant material of known provenance for use in a range of scientific endeavours. 

The Gardens’ nurseries and propagation facilities are critical in the production of plants for use in supplementing at-risk plant populations in the wild. It is likely that these living collections contain plants that could be used to develop bush foods, new plants for horticulture and new medicines. The Gardens will be working with partners to explore this potential in the future.

Daniel Solander Library
Established in 1852, the Daniel Solander Library, located in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, is the oldest botanical research library in Australia. Its world-class collections contain more than 250,000 items, including materials as diverse as books, journals, maps, manuscripts, historic photographs, botanical illustrations, archives, archaeological artefacts and memorabilia, covering the areas of science, history and culture.

Centre for Education and Engagement
The Gardens’ scientific programs support education and outreach for the whole community, especially those targeted at STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) programs for school-aged children.

Through curriculum aligned and formal and informal programs, the Centre
for Education and Engagement provides transformative learning experiences, which help to grow people’s connections, curiosity and understanding of nature, STEM, culture and community. The Centre connects higher education programs, science communication and outreach, to highlight the importance of plants in our lives.
Sustaining life
The Institute's research programs are focused on themes that centre around the importance of plants in our lives, and the need to conserve and protect them for everyone’s benefit. 

They focus on the need to provide a knowledge hub for Australian and New South Wales flora, documenting and describing new plants across the environment, conserving and protecting threatened species, and supporting and establishing resilient ecosystems, whether they be in the bush or in urban environments. The new Australian Institute of Botanical Science will serve this purpose.

Plants are central to the existence of all life on our planet, and they are under threat now in a way that has never before been experienced. It is imperative, now more than ever, for the Australian Institute of Botanical Science to be established, and there is so much work to be done.

We must amplify our activities to ensure the survival of all plants. DR BRETT SUMMERELL, CHIEF BOTANIST

Traditional Owners And Scientists Working To Tackle Common Climate Challenge

March 25, 2021
In the largest meeting of its kind, Traditional Owners and scientists across Australia are meeting to empower and enhance First People’s-led response to climate change, as part of the National First People’s Gathering on Climate Change (Gathering), a five-day meeting held in Cairns, Queensland.

The Gathering brings together more than 120 Traditional Owners representing more than 40 different First People’s groups and scientists to share knowledge and co-design and develop adaptation and mitigation strategies. 

Conversations over the five days will aim to provide communities with the tools to respond to climate change-induced events like marine heatwaves, rising sea levels, bushfires, and heatwaves, which have a significant impact on First Peoples on Country, particularly in remote and isolated communities.

The event is part of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program (NESP) Earth Systems and Climate Change (ESCC) Hub, which is led by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency.

Gimuy Walubara Yidinji Traditional Owner from the Cairns area, Gudjugudju, said that Traditional Owners can learn from each other on how to respond to a changing climate.

“We need to understand and prepare for climate change now and into the future,” Mr Gudjugudju said.

“We always had dialogue together, between different Traditional Owner groups, as climate changed in the past. We need to continue these dialogues today.”

Yirrganydji Traditional Owner from the Cairns area, Gavin Singleton, said that First Peoples were on the front line of the changing climate.

“From changing weather patterns, to shifts in natural ecosystems, climate change is a clear and present threat to our people and our culture,” Mr Singleton said.

“While there is an obvious need to enhance and support the ability of First Peoples to adapt to a changing climate, this gap will only be addressed if First Peoples are engaged and included at the design stage of research.

“The Gathering has provided an opportunity for us to redefine what this process of collaboration should look like,” he said.

NESP ESCC Hub Leader and CSIRO scientist Dr David Karoly said that the Hub was proud to facilitate the dialogue between First Peoples and climate scientists at the Gathering, which built on previous events held in 2012 and 2018 in collaboration with the Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation.

“Climate science has helped to establish a clear line of evidence of a changing climate due to increased human fossil carbon emissions, and many First Peoples are already using climate change science to care for Country and communities,” Dr Karoly said.

“There is an immense opportunity for climate scientists and Traditional Owners to work together. The Gathering will build strong relationships and forge positive paths forward to tackle common climate challenges.

“The Gathering is an Indigenous-led, co-designed process that has been developed with a First Peoples-led Steering Committee of ten Traditional Owners and the ESCC Hub. It’s all about First Peoples having a genuine seat at the table, and the way we have designed this event reflects just that,” he said. 

Co-Chair of the First Peoples-led Steering Committee Bianca McNeair, has been working with the Steering Committee for the past three years in preparing for the Gathering on the lands of the Gimuy Walubara Yidinji and the Yirrganydji people. 

“The Gathering has provided a critical space for Traditional Owner groups to share their experiences and discuss pathways forward to help their communities adapt,” Ms McNeair said.

“We are really excited to produce tangible and useful materials for our participants to take back to communities. 

“These products explain climate change and hazards in the face of extreme and accelerating events affecting Country, and the hope is that they will help communities put in place effective and tailored climate change adaptation pathways,” she said.

The Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub is supported by funding through the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program. 

The Hub is hosted by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, and is a partnership with Bureau of Meteorology, Australian National University, Monash University, University of Melbourne, University of New South Wales and University of Tasmania.

Traditional Owners and climate scientists went out on Country as part of the Gathering to discuss common challenges, share knowledge and climate adaptation strategies. image supplied

CSIRO Plays Part In US Next-Gen Solar Thermal Technology

March 26, 2021
The US government today announced it will fund a pilot-scale test facility to demonstrate a next-generation concentrated solar thermal (CST) technology that Australia helped develop.
The falling particle CST technology is 100 per cent renewable and can store multiple hours of thermal energy for firm, fully dispatchable power generation. 

It is a simple, thermally stable and relatively low-cost system with applications for power generation and heat processing across mining, mineral processing, chemical processing and other high temperature industrial processes.

Australia’s involvement was managed through the Australian Solar Thermal Research Institute (ASTRI), a ten-year, $100 million international research collaboration funded (50 per cent) by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). 

Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, has been one of the main external contributors to the falling particle technology being developed by US based Sandia Laboratories, which will receive $25m USD from the US Department of Environment to aid in the construction of a demonstration plant in Albuquerque New Mexico.

The Sandia falling particle system has been developed over the past two years with significant input from Australia, including CSIRO, the Australian National University and the University of Adelaide. 

CSIRO, through ASTRI, has also built its own pilot-scale falling particle system at its Newcastle solar energy facility.  

Wes Stein, ASTRI Chief Technology Officer and CSIRO Solar Thermal Research Manager said CSIRO is expecting to test its falling particle system using concentrated sunlight in the next few weeks.

“We are delighted that our US colleagues have selected this technology as the pathway forward for CST technology,” Mr Stein said. 

“We have been working closely with the US for several years on the next generation of CST technology and the US decision reflects our efforts and recognises Australian contributions to the development of this system.”

The technology involves a falling curtain of small particles which is heated by concentrated sunlight. 

The particles are heated to well over 700 °C and then stored as thermal energy for use day or night, to generate electricity or to provide high temperature industrial process heat. 

Temperatures over 1,000°C are possible depending on the process.

This next phase of the US project will design and test a megawatt-scale thermal falling particle CST system. 

As a demonstration project it will have the potential to operate for thousands of hours and has been designed for over six hours of energy storage at temperatures well over 700 °C.

The high temperature receiver in operation at CSIRO’s National Solar Energy Centre in Newcastle. CSIRO image

Pumice The Key To Solving Seabird Mass Death Mystery

March 25, 2021
New research into the mass death of millions of shearwater birds in 2013 suggests seabirds are eating non-food materials including floating pumice stones, because they are starving, potentially indicating broader health issues for the marine ecosystem.

Researchers have used the evidence of pumice from an underwater volcanic eruption to answer a long-standing mystery about a mass death of migrating seabirds.

The research which was led by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, and QUT, was published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, examined a 2013 seabird “wreck” in which up to 3 million short-tailed shearwaters died. 

The lead author on the paper and CSIRO and IMAS-UTas researcher Dr Lauren Roman said there was much discussion in the scientific community about the causes of mass mortality of seabirds which are often found with plastic and other non-food items in their stomach.

“We found that in the instance of the shearwater bird deaths in 2013, these birds were starving, and in their starved state had reduced prey discrimination,” Dr Roman said.

“Our study investigates the chicken-and-egg dilemma – do animals starve from eating non-food or do animals eat non-food because they are starving?”

Sea birds are widely considered to be indicators of the health of a marine ecosystem and mass mortalities can indicate changing food webs and ecological conditions.

Short-tailed shearwaters (Ardenna tenuirostris), which were the subject of the study, migrate from Australia in April to the North Pacific and return late in the year.

Necropsies of 172 seabirds recovered from beaches along the New South Wales and Queensland coast found 96.7 per cent of birds had ingested pumice or plastic.

The research team, including Dr Natalie Bool (IMAS-UTas), Leah Gustafson (QUT) and Dr Kathy Townsend (USC), used satellite systems to track the 2013 shearwater migration and overlayed that onto locations of the pumice raft produced by the 2012 Havre eruption in the Kermadec arc north of New Zealand.

QUT’s Associate Professor Scott Bryan has been studying pumice rafts for over 20 years and recently has been tracking the impact of another giant pumice raft from a 2019 underwater eruption near Tonga that landed along the Australian coastline last year.

“We proposed that a short time period between non-food ingestion and death would indicate that birds were already starving at the time of non-food ingestion, and a starving state would be reflected by poor body condition and reduced muscle mass,” Professor Bryan said.

“Death after a longer period would indicate that birds starved following ingestion of non-food.”

Professor Bryan said detailed information about the route of the pumice raft was an integral part to determining the answer of where the birds had consumed the pumice.

“We combined the tracking information data of the short-tailed shearwaters, using location tags on migrating birds, and the geological signature of the ingested pumice,” Professor Bryan said.

“By October 2013 when the shearwaters were returning to Australia on their annual migration from the North Pacific, the floating pumice was now located along their flight path as they approached Australia.”

By determining when the birds ate the pumice, and their physical condition at the time, the researchers were able to conclude that the birds were already starving when they ate the pumice, and they had ingested the pumice about 12 to 41 hours before death.

“With a projected increase in challenging times for wildlife because of threats such as climate change, marine pollution and over exploitation of resources, this study has implications for mass mortalities and exacerbation of existing threats to marine species,” Dr Roman said.

It was the coming together of researchers into seabirds, volcanoes and pumice rafts, apparently unrelated phenomena, and the crossing of science discipline boundaries that has been able to help solve this chicken-and-egg dilemma.

The research team included scientists from CSIRO, QUT, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies and University of the Sunshine Coast. 

In 2013 up to 3 million short-tailed shearwaters died along eastern Australian coastlines from Fraser Island Qld, to Tasmania ©  Lauren Roman

This poor starving shearwater picked up and shook this gum leaf - clearly wanting something to eat. On Pittwater, at Station Beach, A J Guesdon photo

What can go in the compost bin? Some tips to help your garden and keep away the pests

Cheryl DeshaGriffith UniversityKimberley ReisGriffith University, and Savindi CalderaGriffith University

Pretty soon, many more Australians are going to be composting their food waste. The Victorian government kicks off its four-bin system from this year, and the federal government is considering a plan to turn kitchen scraps into fertiliser for farmers.

But knowing exactly what to put in your compost bin can be tricky – and views differ on whether you should add items such as meat and citrus.

Composting is fairly simple, but it’s important to get it right. Otherwise, your compost mix may be too slimy or smelly, or attract vermin.

We are experts in food resilience and sustainability, and have prepared this “dos and don'ts” guide to get you on your way.

Your Own Composting System

Composting is a way of doing what happens in nature, where raw organic materials are converted to soft and spongy soil-like grains. These help soil retain water and make nutrients available to plants.

In fact, compost is so valuable for your garden, it’s often referred to as “black gold”.

For those of you composting at home, here’s how to make sure the system delivers what you need for your home gardening projects.

A man scraping food scraps into a bin.
Your bin should be made up of one part green waste and two parts brown waste. Shutterstock


• use a couple of bottomless bins so when one is full you can start on the other, in a shady spot

• have a good mix of “browns” (two parts) and “greens” (one part). Combine brown materials (hay, straw, sawdust, woodchips, leaves, weeds that have not gone to seed) with food scraps and other materials (fruit and vegetable peels and rinds, tea bags, coffee grounds, eggshells), and some types of animal manure (chicken, cow, horse)

• let the temperature climb. Heat in the centre of your compost pile is a good sign, as the microbes are breaking down what you’ve put in. As the compost matures it cools, creating a great environment for worms and other microbes to finish off the process

• make sure your coffee grounds and tea bags can break down, so remove the bag before you add it to the compost pile. Moist tea leaves can help your pile break down faster. Citrus fruit (lemons, oranges), spicy peppers, onion and garlic are fine, just don’t add them to your worm farm; the worms will suffer under the acidic conditions produced when these items break down

• get creative with natural “brown” materials - as long as there is no plastic mixed in, throw it in. This includes anything from cereal boxes to cotton balls, wine corks, fireplace ashes, and even human hair and pet fur.

Read more: We've had a taste of disrupted food supplies – here are 5 ways we can avoid a repeat

Vegetables being scraped into a bin.
Citrus and onion are fine, avoid meat scraps. Shutterstock


• don’t let your compost bin be a feast for local rodents such as rats. Bury the base slightly into the ground, lining the bin with wire mesh and keeping it covered. Avoid adding meat scraps, cooking fats and oils, milk products and bones, which will attract vermin

• don’t let your compost get stinky or slimy – that means it’s too wet. Slimy compost means you need to add more “brown” materials. You can also speed things along by having a dig through the heap every week or so, or adding extra bits and pieces at various stages (chook poo, crushed rock and lime) to help it all happen faster

• don’t let nasty chemicals and germs get into your compost. This includes things like treated wood waste, pet waste (if they take medication or eat meat) and sick plants. Home compost bins are limited in what they can process. It is a good idea to wear gloves as an extra safety measure.

Council Compost Collection

Local councils are increasingly offering food waste collection programs, sometimes along with garden green waste. In such cases, these materials are processed at large scale composting sites

In Victoria, a four-bin waste and recycling system will be rolled out in partnership with councils. Most households will be using this system by 2030.

Gold Coast City Council City recently diverted 553 tonnes of food waste from landfill during a one-year trial. The program helps address home composting space challenges for the region’s many apartment and high-rise dwellers.

If your council offers food waste collection, make sure you follow their particular “dos and don'ts” advice. Depending where you live, it may differ slightly to ours.

Read more: Fertile ground: what you need to know about soil to keep your garden healthy

To Bag, Or Not To Bag?

Working out how to bag up your food scraps – whether for your home bin or council collection – can be confusing. Check your local instructions for kerbside collection to make sure your food waste is bagged in the right way.

You can try putting “home compostable” bags in your own compost bin, experimenting with your bin temperature to achieve the best outcome. Compostable plastic“ is designed to break down back into nutrients, but most still need managed, high-heat conditions to activate this process.

Don’t be tricked by "degradable” bags - these are likely to be made of plastic and just break into millions of tiny pieces. Also, as others have written, some “biodegradable” plastics made of plant-based materials might not be better for the environment, and they can take just as long to degrade as traditional plastics.

The Benefits Of Composting

Making compost at home doesn’t just lighten our rubbish bin and help our gardens. It also helps tackle climate change.

Each year in Australia, food waste rotting in landfill creates methane equivalent to around 6.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. If global food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, behind the United States and China.

So clearly, there are many great reasons to compost. And by following a few simple rules, you too can create your own “black gold”.The Conversation

Cheryl Desha, Associate Professor, School of Engineering and Built Environment, and Director, Engagement (Industry), Griffith UniversityKimberley Reis, Lecturer, School of Engineering and Built Environment, Griffith University, Griffith University, and Savindi Caldera, Research Fellow, Cities Research Institute, Griffith University

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

If 80% of Australians care about climate action, why don't they vote like it?

Rebecca ColvinAustralian National University and Frank JotzoAustralian National University

Poll after poll suggests a large majority of Australians cares about climate change. Yet in recent federal elections, this hasn’t translated into wins for parties with stronger policy platforms on climate change.

So what determines someone’s climate change attitude, and how does it translate into voting?

In research published today, we studied 2,033 Australian voters’ attitudes across the political spectrum in the context of the 2019 federal election. And we found over 80% said they think it’s important Australia reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This includes close to 70% of conservative voters (those voting for Coalition parties).

However, digging deeper reveals nuance to these attitudes. While most Australians support climate action, stark differences emerge along political party preferences in terms of how important voters think it is.

Our research suggests the question about social support for climate action in Australia is no longer: “does climate change matter to enough Australians?”. Instead, the critical question may well be: “does climate change matter enough to Australians to shift climate politics?”.

Why The ‘Climate Election’ Didn’t Pan Out

We conducted our survey in July 2019, two months after the Coalition won the federal election. Its victory came as a surprise to many, as the election was sometimes billed the “climate election”, implying climate change was a bellwether issue.

The climate policies of the two major parties were night and day, with the Labor Party campaigning on ambitious mitigation targets and the incumbent Coalition maintaining the status quo of very limited climate policy.

So what were the voters thinking?

We found about half of Australian voters (52%) said climate change was important when deciding their vote in the 2019 Australian federal election. However, climate was the most important issue for only 14% of voters.

Even among those who said they felt it was extremely important for Australia to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, most (58%) said climate change was important, but not the most important issue, when deciding their vote.

Read more: Australia’s major parties' climate policies side-by-side

Climate change was stated as the most important issue for 21% of Labor voters and 39% of Greens voters, but for less than 5% of Liberal Party, National Party, and Queensland LNP voters.

This pattern was reversed for those who didn’t take climate change policy into account in their vote: 26% of Liberal, 21% of National, and 31% of Queensland LNP voters did not consider climate change when deciding their vote. Under 15% of Labor and Greens voters did the same.

And when we looked at how much voters cared about climate action, the differences become more potent. Three quarters (73%) of progressive voters (those voting for the ALP or the Greens) see Australian action to reduce emissions as “extremely important”. Only one quarter (26%) of conservative voters say the same thing.

Who’s More Willing To Make Sacrifices For The Climate?

Our research also explored the extent voters were willing to accept a personal cost to support climate action. We asked about their willingness to accept a significant or small personal cost, but didn’t specify what we meant by small or significant, because a small cost to one person may be a significant cost to another.

Most voters (72%) said they’d be willing to incur some personal cost in return for emissions reductions. Across the political spectrum, the proportion of voters willing to accept a small personal cost is relatively similar: 60% of progressive voters, 55% of conservative voters.

Major differences emerge when it comes to “significant personal cost”.

While 26% of progressive voters are willing to incur a significant personal cost, only 5% of conservative voters feel similarly. At the other end of the spectrum, 40% of conservative voters are unwilling to incur any personal cost, but only 14% of progressive voters feel the same.

Support for strong climate policies may depend on whether the policies will, or are perceived to, personally impact voters. Given political leaders’ stances influence public support for climate policies (as 2018 research showed), our research highlights an opportunity for conservative political leaders to clarify their position on climate change.

Interestingly, age was a consistent predictor of responses. Younger people were more likely than older people to consider it important that Australia reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Younger people were more willing to incur a personal cost to support climate action, and to consider climate change when deciding their vote.

In fact, we found an Australian voter from the Baby Boomer generation is half as likely as a voter from Generation Z to consider it important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Divisive Politics Have A Limited Shelf Life

If future young people cared just as much about climate change as today’s young people, and if existing cohorts don’t change their views as they age, then the percentage of Australian voters who consider greenhouse gas emissions to be “extremely important” is likely to increase from 52% in our 2019 data, to 56% by 2030. By 2050, this figure could rise to 65%.

These projections are purely on the basis of more climate-aware cohorts coming into voting age and replacing older voters. It doesn’t consider any future changes in attitudes within cohorts (which may also make a big difference).

The key implication is simple. If Australian political leaders pursued stronger climate action, they could rest assured most of the voting population will broadly support them, along with most of their own voter base — regardless of which party is in power.

This will become only more pronounced with gradual generational change, and likely changes in attitudes within age groups. In any case, it’s clear divisive politics that result in climate delay have a limited shelf life.

Read more: Nearly 80% of Australians affected in some way by the bushfires, new survey shows The Conversation

Rebecca Colvin, Senior lecturer, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Australian National University

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

After the floods, stand by for spiders, slugs and millipedes – but think twice before reaching for the bug spray

Lukas Koch / AAP
Caitlyn ForsterUniversity of SydneyDieter HochuliUniversity of Sydney, and Eliza MiddletonUniversity of Sydney

Record-breaking rain has destroyed properties across New South Wales, forcing thousands of people to evacuate and leaving hundreds homeless.

Humans aren’t the only ones in trouble. Many of the animals that live with and around us are also heading for higher ground as the floodwaters rise.

Often small creatures — especially invertebrates like spiders, cockroaches and millipedes — will seek refuge in the relatively dry and safe environments of people’s houses. While this can be a problem for the human inhabitants of the house, it’s important to make sure we don’t add to the ecological impact of the flood with an overzealous response to these uninvited guests.

Warragamba Dam in southwestern Sydney has been spilling a Sydney Harbour’s worth of water each day during the rains. Eliza MiddletonAuthor provided

What Floods Do To Ecosystems

Floods can have a huge impact on ecosystems, triggering landslides, increasing erosion, and introducing pollutants and soil into waterways. One immediate effect is to force burrowing animals out of their homes, as they retreat to safer and drier locations. Insects and other invertebrates living in grass or leaf litter around our homes are also displaced.

Burrowing invertebrates come to the surface during floods, providing food for opportunistic birds. Dieter HochuliAuthor provided

Snakes have reportedly been “invading” homes in the wake of the current floods. Spiders too have fled the rising waters. Heavy rain can flood the burrows of the Australian funnelweb, one of the world’s most venomous spiders.

Some Invertebrates Will Boom; Others May Plummet

Rain increases greenery, which can support breeding booms of animals such as mosquitoeslocusts, and snails.

Even species that don’t thrive after floods are likely to become more visible as they flock to our houses for refuge. But an apparent short-term increase in numbers may conceal a longer story of decline.

Read more: After the floods come the mosquitoes – but the disease risk is more difficult to predict

After periods of flooding, the abundance of invertebrates can fall by more than 90% and the number of different species in an area significantly drops. This has important implications for the recovery of an ecosystem, as many of the ground dwelling invertebrates displaced by floods are needed for soil cycling and decomposition.

So before you reach for the bug spray, consider the important role these animals play in our ecosystem.

What To Do With The Extra House Guests?

If your house has been flooded, uninvited creatures taking shelter in your house are probably one of the smaller issues you are facing.

Once the rain subsides, cleaning in and around your property will help reduce unwanted visitors. Inside your house, you may see an increase in cockroaches, which flourish in humid environments. Ventilating the house to dry out any wet surfaces can help get rid of cockroach infestations, and filling crevices can also deter unwanted visitors.

Read more: Floods leave a legacy of mental health problems — and disadvantaged people are often hardest hit

In the garden, you may see an increase in flies in the coming weeks and months as they lay eggs in rotting plants. Consider removing any fruit and vegetables in the garden that may rot.

Mosquitoes are also one to watch as they lay eggs in standing water. Some species pose a risk of diseases such as Ross River virus. To prevent unwanted mozzies, make sure to empty things that have filled with rainwater, such as buckets and birdbaths.

If you do encounter one of our more dangerous animals in your home, such as venomous snakes and spiders, do not handle them yourself. If you find an injured or distressed snake, or are concerned about snakes in your house, call your local wildlife group who will be able to relocate them for you.

Just like the floods, which will subside as the water moves on, the uninvited gathering of animals is a temporary event. Most visitors will quickly disperse back to more appropriate habitat when the weather dries, and their usual homes are available again.

You may see an increase in slugs in your local area after rainy conditions. Eliza Middleton @smiley_lize

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

While many of the impacts of floods are our own making, through poor planning and development in flood-prone areas, effective design of cities and backyards can mitigate the risks of floods. Vegetation acts as a “sponge” for stormwater, and appropriate drainage allows water to flow through more effectively. Increasing backyard vegetation also provides extra habitat for important invertebrate species, including pollinators and decomposers.

Read more: Not 'if', but 'when': city planners need to design for flooding. These examples show the way

With severe weather events on the rise, it is important to understand how ecosystems respond to, and recover from natural disasters. If invertebrates are unable to perform vital ecosystem functions, such as soil cycling, decomposition, and pollination, ecosystems may struggle to return to their pre-flood state. If the ecosystems don’t recover, we may see prolonged booms of nuisance pests such as mosquitoes.

A few temporary visitors are are a minor inconvenience in comparison to the impacts floods have on the environment, infrastructure and the health and well-being of people impacted. So while it may seem like a bit of a creepy inconvenience, maybe we should let our house guests stay until the flood waters go down.The Conversation

Caitlyn Forster, PhD Candidate, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of SydneyDieter Hochuli, Professor, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney, and Eliza Middleton, Laboratory Manager, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney

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

Not 'if', but 'when': city planners need to design for flooding. These examples show the way

Elizabeth MossopUniversity of Technology Sydney

As the current New South Wales flooding highlights, it’s not enough to continue to build cities and towns based on business-as-usual planning principles — especially as these disasters tend to disproportionately affect disadvantaged populations, increasing inequality in Australia.

We need to design our urban spaces around the idea that flooding is inevitable. That means not building on flood plains, and thinking creatively about what can be done to create urban “sinks” to hold water when floods strike.

Examples from overseas show what’s possible when the political will is there.

Read more: It’s 2am, you’re sleeping, and a flash flood hits your home. Without a warning system, what do you do?

Keeping People Out Of Harm’s Way

It beggars belief this needs to be said, but it is a government responsibility to keep citizens out of harm’s way. The ongoing plans for new housing in flood-prone areas such as the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley directly contravene that.

Understanding urban flooding requires us to contend with the underlying natural systems over which we have built our cities and towns.

We have learned the hard way we cannot effectively “design out” flooding. Instead, we must find ways to work with the natural systems of drainage and catchments. We must create urban systems to accommodate flood waters. That reduces risk to houses, schools, hospitals, businesses and other key infrastructure.

We have tried channelling rivers with levees and flood walls and it does not work - when these constructions fail (and they usually eventually do), the danger is immense. We need to find ways to safely allow rivers to expand in times of flood and to contract when the rains subside. This cycle of expansion and contraction is normal and natural for rivers — it is we humans who need to change.

The cities of Rotterdam in the Netherlands and New Orleans in the United States are built on river deltas and are at a very high risk of flooding. The design strategies used by planners in these cities provide effective models for reducing flooding harm in Australia.

Rotterdam: Rethinking Its Relationship With Water

Since 2001, Rotterdam has been transitioning to become a resilient delta city by rethinking its relationship with water.

The city has developed a series of sophisticated plans to address flooding, as well as other climate impacts such as drought and extreme heat.

Some plans are enormous in scope, involving city-wide strategies. Others are much more targeted, small-scale projects that can be undertaken by communities and individual households. You need both.

These plans are informed by the idea that it’s not just about applying a technical solution. A cultural change is also needed, so communities understand the urgency of the climate crisis and why the way we build towns and cities has to evolve.

The goal is to make the city a better place for all and to promote social cohesion (a necessary ingredient in any effort to build climate change resilience).

Water management and climate adaptation should be factored into every urban plan and every project, small or large.

Rotterdam’s plans include a range of different approaches. There are “water squares” that use public open spaces to store flood waters during times of heavy rain. These urban sinks can be used as hangout spaces on dry days, and can hold vast amounts of water in heavy rain, keeping flood water away from properties.

This is very similar to the approach taken in Sydney’s Victoria Park, where parks are all at a lower elevation than surrounding streets. This allows the temporary storage of stormwater.

The Rotterdam program also includes other strategies for alternative water storage, the removal of hard surfaces and creation of more green space, and the proliferation of green roofs and roof landscapes. The goal is to create spaces that can hold and absorb rainwater when it falls.

Rotterdam’s investment in innovation and development in urban water management has led to a new knowledge industry for the city, with businesses and research institutes disseminating their expertise worldwide.

New Orleans: After Katrina, A New Way Of Doing Things

Following the devastation of the levee failures after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans has gradually moved to a regime of urban development in which every project addresses the need to deal with stormwater and flooding on site.

In the Lakeview neighbourhood, for example, the street system is being re-engineered to use all of its alleyways as green infrastructure. They will have permeable paving and special vegetated channels called bioswales over large gravel storage beds to absorb and store stormwater. This will take the pressure off the street drainage.

The campus of Tulane University in uptown New Orleans has a stormwater masterplan. This has led to the development of a series of “stormwater gardens” that can filter and store large volumes of water, protecting the rest of the site from flooding.

The campus of Tulane University in uptown New Orleans has a series of ‘stormwater gardens’ that can filter and store large volumes of water. Spackman Mossop MichaelsAuthor provided

In downtown New Orleans, where there is little natural ground, new buildings have to find architectural solutions for water management.

On the roof deck of the Standard Apartments, a 'blue roof' filters stormwater.
On the roof deck of the Standard Apartments, a ‘blue roof’ filters stormwater. Spackman Mossop MichaelsAuthor provided

Underneath the tiny alley that leads into Bar Marilou at the Ace Hotel, massive underground storage tanks manage all of the stormwater for the entire hotel.

On the roof deck of the Standard Apartments, a “blue roof” filters stormwater through carefully selected plants. Water is then stored below the paving and above the parking deck.

At the Paul Habans Charter School on New Orleans Westbank, the entire school grounds have been converted to clean and store water. Students are taught onsite about water management and natural systems.

In the Green Schoolyard, a formerly flooded area has been redesigned to accommodate planted swales and water storage.

In the Habans Stormwater and Nature Centre, a workforce development program for Greencorps youth is building an extensive artificial wetland that will cleanse and store water as well as provide environmental education.

In the Habans Stormwater and Nature Centre, a workforce development program for Greencorps youth is building an extensive artificial wetland.
In the Habans Stormwater and Nature Centre, a workforce development program for Greencorps youth is building an extensive artificial wetland. Spackman Mossop MichaelsAuthor provided

Change is clearly possible. It might not be easy, but as the devastation under way in NSW this week shows, it is better than the alternative.

Read more: It’s 2am, you’re sleeping, and a flash flood hits your home. Without a warning system, what do you do?

This story is part of a series The Conversation is running on the nexus between disaster, disadvantage and resilience. You can read the rest of the stories here.The Conversation

Elizabeth Mossop, Dean of Design, Architecture and Building, University of Technology Sydney

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

What is a 1 in 100 year weather event? And why do they keep happening so often?

Andy PitmanUNSWAnna UkkolaUNSW, and Seth Westra

People living on the east coast of Australia have been experiencing a rare meteorological event. Record-breaking rainfall in some regions, and very heavy and sustained rainfall in others, has led to significant flooding.

In different places, this has been described as a one in 30, one in 50 or one in 100 year event. So, what does this mean?

What Is A 1 In 100 Year Event?

First, let’s clear up a common misunderstanding about what a one in 100 year event means. It does not mean the event will occur exactly once every 100 years, or that it will not happen again for another 100 years.

For meteorologists, the one in 100 year event is an event of a size that will be equalled or exceeded on average once every 100 years. This means that over a period of 1,000 years you would expect the one in 100 year event would be equalled or exceeded ten times. But several of those ten times might happen within a few years of each other, and then none for a long time afterwards.

Read more: Explainer: was the Sydney storm 'once-in-a-century'?

Ideally, we would avoid using the phrase “one in 100 year event” because of this common misunderstanding, but the term is so widespread now it is hard to change. Another way to think about what a one in 100 year event means is that there is a 1% chance of an event of at least that size in any given year. (This is known as an “annual exceedance probability”.)

How Common Are 1 In 100 Year Events?

Many people are surprised by the feeling that one in 100 year events seem to happen much more often than they might expect. Although a 1% probability might sound pretty rare and unlikely, it is actually more common than you might think. There are two reasons for this.

First, for a given location (such as where you live), a one in 100 year event would be expected to occur on average once in 100 years. However, across all of Australia you would expect the one in 100 year event to be exceeded somewhere far more often than once in a century!

In much the same way, you might have a one in a million chance of winning the lottery, but the chance someone wins the lottery is obviously much higher.

Second, while a one in 100 year flood event might have a 1% chance of occurring in a given year (hence it’s referred to as a “1% flood”), the chance is much higher when looking at longer time periods. For example, if you have a house designed to withstand a 1% flood, this means over the course of 70 years there’s a roughly 50% chance the house would be flooded at some point during this time! Not the best odds.

How Well Do We Know How Often Flood Events Occur?

Incidents like these 1% annual exceedance probability events are often referred to as “flood planning levels” or “design events”, because they are commonly used for a range of urban planning and engineering design applications. Yet this presupposes we can work out exactly what the 1% event is, which sounds simpler than it is in practice.

First of all, we use historical data to estimate the one in 100 year event, but Australia has only about 100 years of reliable meteorological observations, and even shorter records of river flow in most locations. We know for sure this 100-year record does not contain the largest possible events that could occur in terms of rainfall, drought, flood and so on. We have data from indirect paleoclimate evidence pointing to much larger events in the past.

Read more: Sydney storm: are extreme rains and flash floods increasing?

So a 1% event is by no means a “worst case” scenario, and some of the evidence from paleoclimate data suggests the climate has been very different in the deep past.

Second, estimating the one in 100 year event using historical data assumes the underlying conditions are not changing. But in many parts of the world, we know rainfall and streamflow are changing, leading to a changing risk of flooding.

Moreover, even if there was no change in rainfall, changes to flood risk can occur due to a host of other factors. Increased flood risk can result from land clearing or other changes in the vegetation in a catchment, or changes in catchment management.

Increased occurrence of flooding can also be associated with poor planning decisions that locate settlements on floodplains. This means a one in 100 year event estimated from past observations could under- or indeed overestimate current flood risk.

A third culprit for influencing how often a flood occurs is climate change. Global warming is unquestionably heating the oceans and the atmosphere and intensifying the hydrological cycle. The atmosphere can hold more water in a warmer world, so we would expect to see rainfall intensities increasing.

Extreme rainfall events are becoming more extreme across parts of Australia. This is consistent with theory, which suggests we will see roughly a 7% increase in rainfall per degree of global warming.

Australia has warmed on average by almost 1.5℃, implying about 10% more intense rainfall. While 10% might not sound too dramatic, if a city or dam is designed to cope with 100mm of rain and it is hit with 110mm, it can be the difference between just lots of rain and a flooded house.

So What Does This Mean In Practice?

Whether climate change “caused” the current extreme rainfall over coastal New South Wales is difficult to say. But it is clear that with temperatures and heavy rainfall events becoming more extreme with global warming, we are likely to experience one in 100 year events more often.

We should not assume the events currently unfolding will not happen again for another 100 years. It’s best to prepare for the possibility it will happen again very soon.

Read more: Droughts and flooding rains: it takes three oceans to explain Australia's wild 21st-century weather The Conversation

Andy Pitman, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, UNSWAnna Ukkola, ARC DECRA Fellow, UNSW, and Seth Westra, Associate Professor, School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering

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

New Shorebirds WingThing  For Youngsters Available To Download

A Shorebirds WingThing educational brochure for kids (A5) helps children learn about shorebirds, their life and journey. The 2021 revised brochure version was published in February 2021 and is available now. You can download a file copy here.

If you would like a free print copy of this brochure, please send a self-addressed envelope with A$1.10 postage (or larger if you would like it unfolded) affixed to: BirdLife Australia, Shorebird WingThing Request, 2-05Shorebird WingThing/60 Leicester St, Carlton VIC 3053.

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 -

CSIRO's Dish To Support One Of The First Commercial Moon Landings

March 25, 2021

The iconic Parkes radio telescope, owned and operated by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, will help businesses to literally reach for the Moon by providing ground station support for one of the first commercial lunar landings later this year.

CSIRO has signed a new five-year agreement with Houston-based aerospace company Intuitive Machines to support multiple lunar missions, including their first flight under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. 

Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander will deliver cargo and experiments to the lunar surface. ©  Intuitive Machines

The Parkes telescope, also known as Murriyang, is valuable for spacecraft tracking due to its large dish surface and advanced data acquisition systems, which are used primarily for astronomy research.

CSIRO's Parkes telescope. Photo credit: CSIRO

The 64-metre telescope will be the largest and most sensitive receiving ground station for Intuitive Machines’ upcoming missions, maximising the return of the scientific and engineering data for the lunar exploration program.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said the partnership was an exciting new chapter for the iconic Dish, with the partnership tapping into CSIRO’s expertise and proven track record supporting spacecraft programs.

“It was 50 years ago that Australia played a critical role in the original Moon mission, but innovation never sleeps, so we’re proud to support the latest innovations heading to the Moon’s surface,” Dr Marshall said.

“Australia is growing a vibrant space industry, underpinned by our unique strengths in agriculture, mining, and materials, and because we know innovation thrives on collaboration, we’re supporting the entire international space community.” 

CSIRO’s Acting Chief Scientist Dr Sarah Pearce said CSIRO was proud to have its world class scientific facilities be part of the global team that will help Intuitive Machines and NASA deliver science instruments to the Moon.

“Along with NASA’s Honeysuckle Creek station near Canberra, the Parkes radio telescope helped share the Apollo 11 Moon landing with more than 600 million people around the world. And now we are proud to support the first companies extending their reach to the Moon’s surface, advancing knowledge that can benefit life both on Earth and, one day, on the Moon,” Dr Pearce said. 

“Australia is growing a vibrant and respected space industry, underpinned by world-class national infrastructure and a long history in enabling space exploration. This is another example of Australian capability supporting the international space community.” 

Intuitive Machines will launch its Nova-C Moon lander on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket towards the end of 2021, delivering commercial cargo and five NASA experiments to investigate the local geography and test technology required for future human exploration. 

CLPS initiative companies are responsible for all aspects of delivering their cargo to the Moon, including spacecraft tracking and communication.

NASA urged CLPS providers to utilise ground station capabilities outside of NASA’s Deep Space Network, the ground station network supporting the Agency’s many interplanetary space missions. 

Intuitive Machines Vice President for Control Centers Dr Troy LeBlanc said being the first commercial company to land on the Moon is a huge communications challenge.

“We require the technical support and expertise of the team at CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope to provide mission tracking and data downlink services," Dr LeBlanc said.

“CSIRO’s Parkes telescope adds significant data downlink capability to Intuitive Machines’ robust Lunar Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network.

“The successful use of the Network for these initial missions will underpin the return of humans to the Moon and ultimately sustainable presence under the Artemis program.”

Director of CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science Dr Douglas Bock said the agreement with Intuitive Machines recognises CSIRO’s experience operating large, complex spacecraft tracking and radio astronomy infrastructure.

“Our Parkes radio telescope began supporting space missions in 1962, when it tracked the first interplanetary space mission, Mariner 2, as it flew by the planet Venus,” Dr Bock said.

“Most recently, the telescope received data from Voyager 2 as it entered interstellar space, supporting the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex – which we also manage for NASA.

“Operating as a ground station for space missions complements the astronomy research conducted with the telescope and helps to maintain its capabilities as a world-class research instrument.”

The Parkes radio telescope will track Intuitive Machines’ spacecraft on its way to the Moon. ©  Intuitive Machines

About CSIRO 

CSIRO is Australia’s national science agency and innovation catalyst. We solve the greatest challenges through innovative science and technology. Our collaborative research turns science into solutions for food security and quality; clean energy and resources; health and wellbeing; resilient and valuable environments; innovative industries; and a secure Australia and region.

About Intuitive Machines 

Intuitive Machines is a premier provider and supplier of space products and services that enable sustained robotic and human exploration to the Moon, Mars and beyond. We drive markets with competitive world-class offerings synonymous with innovation, high quality, and precision. Whether leveraging state-of-the-art engineering tools and practices or integrating research and advanced technologies, our solutions are insightful and have a positive impact on the world.

CSIRO's Parkes telescope against the Milky Way. Image credit: CSIRO

Why corporate climate pledges of ‘net-zero’ emissions should trigger a healthy dose of skepticism

Some companies’ net-zero plans include continuing to emit climate-warming greenhouse gases for decades. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Oliver MiltenbergerThe University of Melbourne and Matthew D. PottsUniversity of California, Berkeley

Hundreds of companies, including major emitters like United AirlinesBP and Shell, have pledged to reduce their impact on climate change and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. These plans sound ambitious, but what does it actually take to reach net-zero and, more importantly, will it be enough to slow climate change?

As environmental policy and economics researchers, we study how companies make these net-zero pledges. Though the pledges make great press releases, net-zero is more complicated and potentially problematic than it may seem.

What Is ‘Net-Zero’ Emissions?

The gold standard for reaching net-zero emissions looks like this: A company identifies and reports all emissions it is responsible for creating, it reduces them as much as possible, and then – if it still has emissions it cannot reduce – it invests in projects that either prevent emissions elsewhere or pull carbon out of the air to reach a “net-zero” balance on paper.

The process is complex and still largely unregulated and ill-defined. As a result, companies have a lot of discretion over how they report their emissions. For example, a multinational mining company might count emissions from extracting and processing ore but not the emissions produced by transporting it.

Companies also have discretion over how much they rely on what are known as offsets – the projects they can fund to reduce emissions. The oil giant Shell, for example, projects that it will both achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and continue to produce high levels of fossil fuel through that year and beyond. How? It proposes to offset the bulk of its fossil-fuel-related emissions through massive nature-based projects that capture and store carbon, such as forest and ocean restoration. In fact, Shell alone plans to deploy more of these offsets by 2030 than were available globally in 2019.

Environmentalists may welcome Shell’s newfound conservationist agenda, but what if other oil companies, the airline industries, the shipping sectors and the U.S. government all propose a similar solution? Is there enough land and ocean realistically available for offsets, and is simply restoring environments without fundamentally changing the business-as-usual paradigm really a solution to climate change?

Concerns About Voluntary Carbon Markets

Outside of compliance emissions markets, which primarily focus on government regulation in the energy sector, voluntary markets create most of the offsets that are used to reach net-zero.

Voluntary markets are organized and operated by a diverse range of groups where anyone can participate. Have you ever seen the option to offset your flight? That offset probably happens through a voluntary carbon market. The activities that produce the offsets include projects like forestry and ocean management, waste management, agricultural practices, fuel switching and renewable energy. As the name implies, they are voluntary and therefore largely unregulated.

Because of the wave of net-zero pledges and subsequent demand for offsets, voluntary carbon markets are under pressure to expand quickly. A task force launched by United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Action Mark Carney and involving several major companies released a sweeping blueprint at Davos 2021 that predicts voluntary carbon markets need to grow fifteenfold over the next decade. It suggests that the net-zero surge represents one of the largest commercial opportunities of our time – prompting keen interest from investors and big business. It also identifies and proposes solutions to some persistent challenges and critiques of voluntary carbon offset markets.

Some critics of the blueprint argue that it overlooks deeper problems rooted in the overall reliance on and effectiveness of voluntary carbon markets as a solution.

Though there is historical evidence of misuse and plenty of criticism, voluntary carbon markets are not inherently bad or useless in the pursuit of climate targets. In fact, quite the opposite. Some voluntary carbon market projects, in addition to mitigating climate change, provide other benefits, such as improvements to biodiversity habitats, water quality, soil health and socioeconomic opportunities.

However, there are real concerns about the ability of voluntary markets to legitimately deliver what they promise. Common concerns include questions about the permanence of the projects for storing carbon long term, verifying that offsets actually reduce emissions beyond a business-as-usual scenario and confirming that credits are not being used more than once. These and other challenges expose voluntary carbon markets to potential manipulation, greenwashing, unintended consequences and, regrettably, failure to achieve their purpose.

It’s getting better, but over-reliance on this method for counterbalancing emissions does risk some entities’ using offsets as a right to pollute.

Can Global Ecology Meet The Demand?

Voluntary carbon markets can improve landscapes and help make up for unavoidable emissions. However, they cannot accommodate all of the developed world’s net-zero targets.

Most of these initiatives have not yet started, yet emitters from developed countries are already seeking offsets outside their borders. This is raising concerns that wealthier companies may be placing the burden of their emissions onto poorer countries that can produce offsets cheaply, begging the notion of a newfound climate colonialism. Local communities may benefit from some environmental improvements or socioeconomic opportunities, but should economically developed polluters be forcing that decision?

Beyond ethics, in statistical terms, there is simply not enough ecological capacity to offset the world’s emissions.

Take the interest in using forests as offset solutions. There are around 3 trillion trees on Earth today with room for about 1 to 2.5 trillion more. The Trillion Tree Initiative1T programTrillion Trees, and the CEO of Reddit, among others, aim to plant a trillion trees each. From just a few examples, there is already a paradoxical impasse.

Offsets can realistically do only so much for reaching climate targets. That is why the focus must turn toward reducing rather than offsetting global emissions. Voluntary carbon markets serve a critical role as innovation sandboxes for creative offset solutions, and they are mobilizing the private sector to act; however, they must be limited.

While some prominent organizations are pursuing net-zero, most businesses and governments have not yet pledged, let alone developed, clear and plausible road maps to meet targets in line with a 2050 net-zero global economy.

The Needed Goal: A Negative Net

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that the world can keep global warming in check if emissions are cut in half by 2030, compared to 2010 levels, and reach net-zero by midcentury. However, it also states a need for greenhouse gas removal beyond net-zero emissions targets.

The real act of climate cleanup begins at net-negative emissions for all greenhouse gases. Only then will their atmospheric concentrations finally begin shrinking. That feat will require more renewable energy, widespread infrastructure and transportation developments, improved land management and investments in carbon capturing activities and technologies.

While net-zero is a critical step toward addressing climate change, it must be achieved smartly. And, importantly, it can’t be the end goal.

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

Oliver Miltenberger, Ph.D. Candidate in Environmental Economics, The University of Melbourne and Matthew D. Potts, Professor, S.J. Hall Chair in Forest Economics, University of California, Berkeley

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

How to hunt fossils responsibly: 5 tips from a professional palaeontologist

Amy TschirnAuthor provided
Kailah ThornUniversity of Western Australia

Many of us, at some point or another, dreamed of hunting for dinosaur fossils when we grew up. Palaeontology — the study of natural history through fossils — is the scientific reality of this. It encompasses all ancient lifeforms that left their trace in the earth, from stromatolites (microbial reefs up to 3.5 billion years old) to megafauna.

Australia has great fossil diversity and a lot of ground to cover, so it’s no surprise we have numerous active field naturalistsuniversity clubs and Facebook groups out there fossicking for local treasures.

But amateur fossil collectors often aren’t provided with basic instructions from museums or government departments, to responsibly collect fossils. This means palaeontologists generally don’t encourage amateur collecting without supervision because of the environmental, cultural and scientific sensitivity of some sites, and rarity of some fossils.

But if you’re that kid, their parent or an amateur enthusiast still keen to get out there, I’ve put together a few pointers for collecting responsibly.

Why Do We Need To Be Responsible?

From the viewpoint of career palaeontologists, amateur fossil collecting has its pros and cons.

While some fossil remains like this fragment of rabbit are not important to science, it’s only with years of training or adequate identification aids can a collector know this. Kailah ThornAuthor provided

On the one hand, Australia has a great band of citizen scientists keen to help us cover more ground, particularly as funding and field work resources are becoming more scarce.

One of the most famous amateur collectors is Mary Anning from the UK. She was the first person to bring plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs — marine reptiles from the time of the dinosaurs — to science without formal training or recognition when she was active in the early 19th century.

More recently, Museums Victoria has had successes with help from the public, such as the discovery of Miocene shark teeth (from around 25 million of years ago) in coastal limestone.

Fossil hunter Philip Mullaly discovered a very rare set of fossilised shark teeth in Jan Juc, Victoria.

On the other hand, there are two possible negative outcomes from amateur fossil hunting.

The first is misidentification, which can lead to important specimens left collecting dust on bookshelves, placed in garden beds or broken in two during excavation.

But the situation we fear most is the commercialisation of palaeontology: putting a dollar value on scientifically irreplaceable specimens, placing them beyond the realm of museum or university acquisition budgets. For example, last year in the US, STAN the T. rex sold for US$31.8 million.

This doesn’t just hinder science, but also restricts access of really neat fossils to a handful of wealthy people, rather than a public audience.

Both of these outcomes are entirely avoidable with good science communication, and museum information officers.

Stromatolites are rock formations created by bacteria. They’re one of the oldest living structures on Earth, and their fossils can be found in Western Australia. Shutterstock

So How Can You Become A Responsible Citizen Palaeontologist?

Here are five things to know before you go:

1. Get permission

Make sure you have permission to be somewhere (on private or public land), and to collect. This extends to permissions from Traditional Owners on native title, pasturalists and local councils. This, however, rules out any national parks. And depending on your state, you may need a permit to collect from crown land (set aside for government or public purposes) or council land.

It’s always a good idea to check with your state museum or interest group which sites are OK for fossicking — some may be culturally, historically or scientifically sensitive.

2. Stay safe

Never attempt any field work on your own, always bring a friend. Make sure you both know basic first aid and can contact emergency services in a pinch. Anything from a rolled ankle to a snake bite needs to be planned for.

You can avoid or manage risks for most hazards by wearing suitable clothing: long pants, enclosed shoes and sunglasses to shield your eyes from rock chips. Always slip-slop-slap to prevent sunburn.

3. Equipment

The equipment you need will depend on the fossils you’re looking for and the ground they’re in. Beginners should aim for fossils in sand dunes or crumbly rock. You can use paint brushes, dustpans, and kitchen sieves to unearth all kinds of marine fossils from ancient dunes or coral reefs.

Once you get the hang of it, you can try coastal limestones and hard clays with picks and trowels. Most importantly, bring a label kit and a field notebook.

Collection of items required for conducting palaeontological fieldwork, laid flat. A first aid kit, notebook and pens, scale bar, sample bags and guide to the fossils in the area.
Plan what you need and make sure they all fit in a suitable back pack. Kailah Thorn

4. Leave some for the rest of us

If you hit the motherlode of Permian brachiopods and feel you don’t already have enough on your mantle, stop and think about the next generation of collectors.

Even the biggest museums show restraint in their collecting. Eventually you’ll run out of shelf space and the Permian geological record will run out of brachiopods (unlikely, but the point remains).

5. Be a citizen scientist

Identify what you’ve found, label it and do some research into it’s significance.

Keep a detailed notebook containing a record of where you found each specimen, when and who found it, and details about the rock or dirt it came from. Take plenty of photos before and after you pry it out of the earth.

Identifying Your Fossil

There are a number of online resources for identifying Australian fossils. A good place to start is Paleobiology Database where you can explore a map of fossil sites across Australia, from Gingin in Western Australia to Bayside, Victoria (and the rest of the world).

Get in touch with your state museum if you think you’ve found something special, or can’t quite figure out what you have once your Google search comes to a dead end. Anything that hasn’t been recorded from that location or is remarkably well preserved is worth looking into further.

Plan for demise (of you or your hobby, whichever comes first). The reason we have museums — and why they’re entrusted to look after Australia’s fossil heritage in perpetuity — is their ability to plan ahead of our lifetime.

What happens to your collection when you can no longer store it? Do you want to pass it on to a friend or family member? Will you donate it to a school, university or museum?

Write down a plan for your collection and make sure it’s always stored with adequate labels, somewhere it won’t be destroyed by time as it’s exposed to temperature, humidity, pests and minimalist family members.

Once you’re equipped with the knowledge and resources, get out there and contribute to the field and help conserve Australia’s rich palaeontological heritage.The Conversation

Kailah Thorn, EdCC Earth Science Museum Curator, University of Western Australia

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

Guide to the Classics: Voltaire’s Candide — a darkly satirical tale of human folly in times of crisis

Atelier de Nicolas de Largilliere, portrait of Voltaire at 24. Wikimedia Commons
Matthew SharpeDeakin University

“Italy had its renaissance, Germany its reformation, France had Voltaire”, the historian Will Durant once commented.

Born François-Marie Arouet, Voltaire (1694-1778) was known in his lifetime as the “patriarch” of the French enlightenment. A man of extraordinary energy and abilities, he produced some 100 volumes of poetry, fiction, theatre, biblical and literary criticism, history and philosophy.

Among his myriad works, Voltaire’s Candide, or Optimism (1759) is widely recognised as the masterpiece. A darkly satirical novella taking aim at human folly, pride and excessive faith in reason’s ability to plumb the deepest metaphysical truths, it remains as telling in this era of pandemics and wild conspiracy theories as when first published.

Read more: Criticism of Western Civilisation isn't new, it was part of the Enlightenment

Theological Shockwaves

In his earlier works Voltaire had propounded an almost naive optimism, but the decade from 1749-1759 was not easy for the philosopher-author.

Personally, his great love, Émilie du Châtelet had died in 1749. Politically, he had been forced from exile to exile for his criticism of monastic and clerical privileges in France and his Essay on Universal History, the Manners, and Spirit of Nations (1756), which treated Christianity as just one world religion, rather than the final revealed truth.

In 1755, meanwhile, on November 1, a huge earthquake had struck the Portugese capital, Lisbon, followed by a tsunami. Within minutes, tens of thousands were dead.

The recriminations soon began. Protestants saw in Lisbon’s destruction divine judgement on Catholicism. Catholics proposed, with equal implausibility, the especial sinfulness of the Lisbonites as the disaster’s cause. Pyres were erected in the streets to burn heretics, as scapegoats for the disaster.

This combination of senseless death and even more senseless human responses outraged Voltaire. His first response was the impassioned “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster” of 1755:

As the dying voices call out, will you dare respond
To this appalling spectacle of smoking ashes with,
[…] ‘God is avenged. Their death is the price of their crimes’?

Then, several years later, came Candide.

A depiction of the Great Lisbon Earthquake of November 1, 1755. Wikimedia Commons

A Simple Lad

As his name suggests, Voltaire’s hero, Candide, is a simple lad. Raised in a magnificent castle in Westphalia, in North-Western Germany, he is moved by just two passions. The first is abiding love for his sweetheart, Cunégonde.

The second is admiration for his teacher, Pangloss (“all tongue”), an exalted Professor of “métaphysico-théologo-cosmolonigologie” possessed of the happy ability to explain everything that happens, despite appearances, as “for the best”.

It is demonstrable,“ said he, "that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for […] all is necessarily for the best end. Observe, that the nose has been formed to bear spectacles — thus we have spectacles. Legs are visibly designed for stockings — and we have stockings […] Pigs were made to be eaten — therefore we eat pork all the year round. Consequently, they who assert that all is well have said a foolish thing, they should have said: all is for the best.”

In Pangloss, Voltaire is satirising German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and the British poet, Alexander Pope.

These two men had defended what the former called “theodicy”: the idea that a perfect God could only have created the best possible world. Hence, the human perception that events like pandemics, earthquakes, massacres and tsunamis are bad must be mistaken.

Read more: Floods and fires: the struggle to rebuild, the search for meaning

Frontispiece and first page of an early English translation by T. Smollett et al. of Voltaire’s Candide, 1762. Wikimedia Commons

Candide’s fate is set up by Voltaire as a reductio ad absurdum (reduction to absurdity) of this optimistic theory. Our hero is first expelled from his Edenic childhood garden, when Cunégonde’s father comes upon she and Candide illicitly experimenting in what Voltaire delicately calls “natural philosophy”.

In Candide’s ensuing wanderings around Europe and the Americas, Voltaire treats his hero to a veritable guided tour of all of the evils of war, lust, avarice, vanity and colonialism.

Fleeing war, rapine and zealotry in Bulgaria and Holland, Candide arrives in Lisbon just in time for the earthquake. He is selected for execution by fire as a heretic, before escaping to save Cunégonde from disputing, lustful representatives of the West’s two great biblical faiths, Judaism and Christianity.

The lovers flee together to the Americas. In Buenos Aires, however, the Spanish governor seizes Cunégonde for his wife. Candide and his servant, Cacambo, are forced to flee through yet more bloody misadventures in the new world.

In a rightly famous passage, which finally sees Candide recant of his teacher Pangloss’ theodicy as the “abomination […] of maintaining that everything is right when it is wrong”, they come upon a crippled African slave whose masters are Dutch merchants in Surinam:

“Yes, sir,” said the negro, “it is the custom. […] When we work at the sugar-canes, and the mill snatches hold of a finger, they cut off the hand; and when we attempt to run away, they cut off the leg; both cases have happened to me. This is the price at which you eat sugar in Europe.”

Candide and Cacambo meet a maimed slave of a sugar mill near Surinam. Wikimedia Commons

To this Europe, the increasingly disillusioned Candide returns. The riches he acquired in the new world are soon fleeced by cunning social climbers in Paris and Venice. He is reunited with Pangloss, who has recanted nothing of his optimism, despite being enslaved, flogged, hanged and brutally maimed, explaining that “I am a philosopher and I cannot retract […]”

Soon enough, Candide also hears news that Cunégonde is now a slave in Turkey, after her own litany of unlikely sufferings. So, he hits the road one last time. Reunited at last with his half-broken beloved, they retire to a little farm with their friends near Constantinople.

Here, despite everything, Pangloss still sometimes comes to mindlessly philosophise, as the story famously closes:

“There is a concatenation of events in this best of all possible worlds: for if you had not been kicked out of a magnificent castle for love of Miss Cunegonde: if you had not been put into the Inquisition: if you had not walked over America: […] if you had not lost all your sheep from the fine country of El Dorado: you would not be here eating preserved citrons and pistachio-nuts.”

“All that is very well,” answered Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden.”


In the entry on “wit” (esprit) in his famous Philosophical Dictionary of 1764, Voltaire reflects that it is:

the art either of bringing together two things apparently remote, or of dividing two things which seem to be united, or of opposing them to each other […]

It is the art of Voltaire’s Candide to leave readers unsure whether they should be weeping, screaming, laughing or all at the same time. Atrocious sufferings are recounted with the innocence of a children’s fairy tale.

Elevated questions of metaphysical philosophy, which for a century had divided the greatest Western minds, are brought crashing down to earth amid the clamours of warring armies, collapsing cities, inhumane barbarism and slavery.

Voltaire’s chateau, with garden, at Ferney, where he eventually lived for 20 years. Wikimedia Commons

It is easy to see why critics have read Voltaire’s novella as a document written in despair. But the laughter of the book suggests this is only half the story.

Voltaire is enraged at human cruelty and idiocy. He scorns the Panglossian pride, which pretends to justify the unjustifiable with blithe self-assurance and vain sophistries. He despises any theory clever enough to explain away human suffering, but not humane enough to decry it.

But this is because he believes human beings can be better. For Voltaire, we can and should challenge all fair-sounding ideologies reconciling us to indignities visited on others we would not accept for ourselves.

Read more: A moral world in which bad things happen to good people

Let Us Crush The Infamous!

Voltaire at 70. Wikimedia Commons

Stateless, Voltaire had ended up in 1758 in rural retreat in Ferney, near the Swiss-French border. At the tender age of 65, he embarked on a legendary campaign against religious fanaticism — associated with his famous slogan: Écrasez l'infâme! (let us crush the infamous!).

His Treatise of Toleration of 1763, was sparked by anger at the wrongful execution of Protestant Jean Calas by Catholic zealots in Toulouse.

In 1778, the legendary author and advocate for multi-faith society finally returned to Paris, to be hailed as a hero. Fatigued by the journey, Voltaire died soon after, claiming: “I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting superstition.”

In 1791, the revolutionary government honoured Voltaire as an inspiration. His remains were re-interred in the Pantheon.

There is no pandemic in Voltaire’s Candide, and today’s conspiracy theories make Pangloss’ inhumane, hyper-rationalism look balanced.

But there are few other books you could read with greater sympathy in 2021 than this little gem of irony, calamity, and restrained outrage at human folly and prejudice. And none that are more cutting and entertaining.The Conversation

Matthew Sharpe, Associate Professor in Philosophy, Deakin University

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

Friday essay: Sex, power and anger — a history of feminist protests in Australia

Angela WoollacottAustralian National University and Michelle StaffAustralian National University

Rage and roar are two words commonly used to describe the events of Monday 15 March, when tens of thousands joined the March4Justice: the emotional rage fuelling the protests; the roar of angry shouting voices raised against the treatment of women.

The anger driving the marches around the nation connects the day’s events to earlier feminist protests in Australia, and by Australian women in London. For well over a century, feminists have been angered by women’s lack of equal rights, their treatment by governments, and issues surrounding sex.

Indeed, for some women this recent protest was just one more in a lifetime of fighting for women’s rights and expressing their anger.

This was especially evident in front of Parliament House in Canberra. The large and energised crowd was diverse: from babies to the elderly; mostly women but many men; Indigenous people and whitefellas; dogs and prams threading among university and school students and those in business attire on their lunch break.

Feminists of the 1970s generation were in abundance, expressing their demands through placards, t-shirts and with their voices. Elizabeth Reid, who served as Women’s Adviser to Prime Minister Gough Whitlam from 1973 to 1975 — making her the first women’s adviser to a head of government anywhere in the world — sat down at the front in a folding chair, a highly-deserved queenly position. Her presence and globally historic role were acknowledged by the speakers.

Reid’s friend Biff Ward, a key founder of the Women’s Liberation group in Canberra, was one of the speakers, appearing alongside younger women like Brittany Higgins.

Four women of different ages stand with a fist in the air.
Biff Ward, third from left, joined thousands of women from across the generations at the March4Justice. Jessica Whaler

It was a joy to observe this range of generations joining forces.

The March4Justice adds to the long history of feminists using public space in spectacular ways to draw attention to society’s gender problems. Anger, sorrow and issues surrounding sex run through this history.

But so too do themes of joy, hope and resilience.

The Spectacle Of Women’s Suffrage

Feminist protest in Australia began in the late 19th century, when women were galvanised en masse for the first time by the issue of voting rights. Many were angered by the inequality and violence they witnessed and faced on a daily basis. They saw the vote as the key to transforming society, believing it would allow them to elect leaders sympathetic to women’s rights.

Pamphlet reads: 'Womanhood suffrage. Public meeting. Protestant hall, Monday, 4th June, 1990.'
Pamphlets were distributed to invite women and men who supported the suffrage movement to rallies and meetings. State Library New South Wales

As the historian Marilyn Lake explains in Getting Equal: The History of Australian Feminism, while all women lacked rights in the Australian colonies it was the plight of the married (white) woman that really captured suffragists’ attention. Upon marriage, women lost what little independence they had. They could not own property, easily file for divorce or maintain custody of their children.

The gender-based violence dominating feminist conversations in 2021 was also rife and politicised many early feminists. They were outraged wives had no personal autonomy and frequently suffered marital rape, unwanted childbearing, physical violence and economic control.

In response to this dismal situation, from the 1880s campaigns for women’s suffrage mounted. Local suffrage and other women’s organisations were formed and acted as pressure groups lobbying for change.

Read more: The long history of gender violence in Australia, and why it matters today

Activists like Louisa Lawson and Rose Scott made impassioned speeches, held public rallies and wrote to major newspapers to press for the vote, refusing to stay silent and submissive as was expected of women at this time.

Campaigns in Australia were more peaceful than elsewhere, but, like those marching for justice last week, suffragists were very much motivated by anger and frustration. They wanted to make a splash and used spectacle to bring attention to their efforts.

In 1891, Victorian women collected a massive 30,000 signatures on a 260-metre-long “monster petition”.

In 1898, two to three hundred women in the colony reportedly “invaded the club-room of the Legislative Council” to pressure members to pass a women’s suffrage bill.

Although unsuccessful at the time, the scale of these efforts revealed the force of women’s desire for change.

13 women in rows of three, in stiff formal wear of the time.
Suffragists about to march on the Parliament of the colony of Victoria, published in the Australasian on 17 September 1898. Trove

It is important to note the suffragists were almost exclusively concerned with the rights of white women like themselves. Aboriginal women — who endured even greater and more institutionalised forms of discrimination and violence — were not included in their vision for a new society based on equal rights. Then just as now, feminism had a significant race problem.

In 1902, white Australian women became the first in the world to enjoy the dual rights of voting and standing for parliament. They revelled in their new-found status as enfranchised citizens. But as daughters of the empire, they felt strongly connected to their British “sisters” and despaired they remained voteless after decades of protest. Some even travelled to Britain and contributed to its increasingly spectacular suffrage struggle.

Read more: Australian politics explainer: how women gained the right to vote

One Australian who captured imaginations in Britain was the performer and activist, Muriel Matters.

She was incensed by British women’s second-class status and, in 1908, famously chained herself to the iron grille separating the ladies’ gallery from the rest of the House of Commons, proclaiming “We have been behind this insulting grille too long!”

Both she and the grille — which many women saw as a symbol of their oppression — were removed in a dramatic scene, and Matters was sent to Holloway Prison.

The following year, Matters took her protest to the skies. Laden with a megaphone and 25 kilograms of flyers, and with a huge grin on her face, she crossed London in an airship emblazoned with the words “Votes for Women”.

There was a joyousness in this act of defiance. As Matters said: “If we want to go up in the air, neither the police nor anyone else can keep us down”.

Australian-born suffragette Muriel Matters prepares to take off in a dirigible air balloon from Hendon airfields, London, 16 February 1909. Wikimedia Commons

Vida Goldstein was another Australian who made waves in London. In 1911, she was invited by Emmeline Pankhurst — whose suffrage organisation, the Women’s Social and Political Union, was infamous for its militant tactics — to travel to London, where she participated in the Women’s Suffrage Coronation Procession.

The scale of this event was huge. Over 40,000 people marched four miles across the city, in what Goldstein described as “the most amazing triumph of beauty and organisation”. They were watched by great crowds of spectators and ended with a rally at the Royal Albert Hall.

Goldstein, along with Margaret Fisher (the Australian prime minister’s wife) and Emily McGowen (the NSW premier’s wife), led the Australian contingent. This group carried a banner designed by Australian artist Dora Meeson Coates. It was adorned with the figures of two women — representing Britain and Australia — and the words “Trust the women mother as I have done”.

Five women, whole-length, full face, wearing full length gowns, jackets, wide brimmed decorated hats, standing in a row. Text reads: Mrs. Fisher, Mrs. McGowen and Miss Vida Goldstein from Australia.
Many Australian women took part in the Great Suffragette Demonstration in London, 1911, after they had won the vote back home. State Library Victoria

Vivid imagery and clever slogans continue to be part of feminist protests today.

The suffrage protests of the late 19th and early 20th centuries used spectacle to draw attention to women’s grievances. They were driven not only by anger and frustration, but also an enduring sense of hope that sustained them in the face of adversity.

The Roar Of Women’s Liberation

The many protest marches of the Women’s Liberation era of the 1960s and 1970s were also driven in good part by anger. They were spurred, among others, by issues of sex: legalising abortion; access to the pill; the sexual double standard; objectification of women’s bodies; sexual harassment; and violence against women.

The anger was palpable in the size and noise of the marches, the protesters’ willingness to disrupt city streets and public spaces, the eagerness to shock spectators through casual styles of dress, and the deployment of both occasional profanities and popular music.

Women on the march wave their placards at the International Women’s Day march, Melbourne, March 8, 1975. Australian Information Service photograph by John McKinnon, via the National Library of Australia

Just as rage and roar have been used to describe the events surrounding the March4Justice, the Women’s Liberation anthem written and sung by Australian Helen Reddy featured the lines: “I am Woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore”.

Yet there was also a joy to some demonstrations of this protest era, especially the Women’s Liberation marches that allowed feminists to ventilate their rage, to prove to the world and themselves they were strong in number, sisterhood really was powerful and there were plenty of women who weren’t going to take it anymore.

Read more: Helen Reddy's music made women feel invincible

Both the anger and the joy are well documented in the recent film Brazen Hussies. Brazen Hussies tells the story of the Australian Women’s Liberation movement from 1965 to 1975, covering its roots and rise.

Catherine Dwyer’s film provides insight into the anger fuelling the movement, from women’s individual stories of pain and injustice — the awful grief and trauma of having your baby taken from you because you weren’t married, the fury of being paid less for comparable work just because you were a woman, the trials of being a single mother, the enraging burden of shame due to the sexual double standard. And it covers the movement’s exclusion of Indigenous women and, to some extent, of lesbians through interviews with people like Pat O’Shane and Lilla Watson.

But there are also the triumphs and achievements: the legislative victories, the intellectual joys of feminist insights, the growing visibility of the movement.

That Australian Women’s Liberation was also marked by a sense of fun is perhaps best shown by a key event sparking the movement. On March 31, 1965, three Brisbane women dramatically protested their exclusion from the front bar at the Regatta Hotel in Toowong. When they were refused service (as was customary at the time for women in a front bar), two of the women chained themselves to the bar footrail, and the third took the key and threw it into the river.

It took hours for the police to remove the chain, and the event won an enormous amount of publicity.

Merle Thornton, Rosalie Bognor and Elaine Dignan were consciously playing on history when they staged this event, evoking the proclivity of suffragettes to chain themselves to fixed objects. It was also a clear echo of the moment when Muriel Matters chained herself to the grille in the House of Commons over 50 years before.

The fact protesters at the March4Justice were urged to wear black, and many did, signals a vital difference in its overall emotional affect compared to such earlier moments of fun.

The sombre colour of the rallies on March 15 was in stark contrast to the international suffragettes’ customary white dresses (with green and purple sashes), or the Women’s Liberation style of blue denim and colourful t-shirts, hippy skirts and dresses.

Black is the colour of sorrow, which was evident last Monday alongside the anger: sorrow at the terrible pain and suffering of women who are harassed, assaulted and raped, and not able to speak up, or are denied justice.

And sorrow at the fact women are still being harassed, assaulted and raped.

But even stronger than the sorrow was the anger at the Morrison government’s failure to deal with the assaults and allegations, or even to send a representative to the protest happening at its front door.

Fighting Gender-Based Violence In 2021

Looking back at the history of feminist protest highlights striking continuities in the nature of gender-based violence and discrimination over time.

It shows the various ways women’s bodies have been controlled and abused.

It reveals how feminists have persistently protested their subordination, taking up space and refusing to be silenced. Anger, frustration and despair have driven people to action. Optimism, resilience and joy have empowered women to keep fighting even in the face of significant barriers.

21st century feminists are building on a substantial legacy of women’s protest. They are also grappling with the limits of feminisms past and present.

Indigenous women, leaders and community groups participated in many of the rallies around the country last week, drawing attention to the extensive trauma First Nations women have endured and continue to face. Their presence called for feminists to meaningfully engage with issues of race and to help end systemic injustice in the era of Black Lives Matter.

Trans and non-binary activists are calling for recognition gender-based violence disproportionately affects gender-diverse people. Feminists of the past largely viewed their fight through a gender binary. The challenge for today’s activists is to move beyond this.

Intersectionality exists as an ideal; the challenge now is to meaningfully put it into practice.

It remains to be seen what will come of the March4Justice and whether it lasts as a genuinely transformative cultural moment. What is sure, despite the many hurdles they have faced, Australian feminists have consistently found creative and captivating ways to express their indignation and visions for a better future. Feminists today can find inspiration in — and learn from — the various moments and the people who have shaped this history.

Brazen Hussies is now available on ABC iView, and will be broadcast nationally on ABC TV on Monday 5 April at 8.30 pm.

Read more: Bad times call for bold measures: 3 ways to fix the appalling treatment of women in our national parliament The Conversation

Angela Woollacott, Manning Clark Professor of History, Australian National University and Michelle Staff, PhD Candidate, Australian National University

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

Unveiling Of The Bashir Coat Of Arms

On March 1st 2021 Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC and Mr Wilson hosted the Unveiling of the Coat of Arms of former Governor Professor The Honourable Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO, followed by an afternoon tea, on the Arcade at Government House, Sydney. 

Speech by Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of New South Wales:
Bujari gamarruwa, diyn babana gamarada Gadigal ngura.

‘G’day’ in the language of the Gadigal people, the Traditional Owners of the land on which Government House stands. I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Dame Marie, what an honour it is for me to welcome you back to the House, on this 20th anniversary of your swearing-in, along with members of your family and former officials and staff. I am also pleased to welcome stone masons Jasper, Robert and Paul from Public Works.

I suspect most of us here have heard visitors to this building exclaim “if only these walls could talk”. Today is a reminder that they do!

From today these walls will speak of the first female Governor of New South Wales.

Dame Marie, this three-dimensional representation of your Coat of Arms will speak to generations to come of your life, passion and service.

The shield at its centre speaks of your dedication to medicine and the marginalised, symbolised by the Rod of Caduceus. The open book tells of your enthusiasm for learning and education, and those harps side ring out proclaiming your passion for music. I am fond of that sheaf of wheat at the bottom, a lovely reminder of your childhood in Narrandera. What a significant moment it was for our State when that girl from the bush became Governor of New South Wales!

Then there is the red rampant lion at the top, a symbol of government and authority as well as strength and courage.

There is more symbolism of course and we will hear more about that later. But I do want to highlight the motto.

Dame Marie – these were the things that you said mattered most – Friends, Family, Faith. Today your family and friends are by your side. When your painted Coat of Arms was unveiled in 2014, you explained Faith as “Faith in humanity – hope in other words.”[1]

Although these walls will speak of your contributions for centuries to come, our greatest legacies don’t live on in stone but in the hearts of others and in lives, institutions and systems changed for the better – to use an old fashioned term - change for the commonwealth of all.

I recall you being interviewed at the time of your retirement from this role. A gentleman from the Sydney Morning Herald asked you about your advice for Governors. You said:

“Walk and work amongst the people - that's where the joy is. The pomp and circumstance is beautiful but the real joy is seeing people get things done."[2]

The advice rings true.

Thank you to all those involved in getting this Coat of Arms done – to our Estate Manager, Dayn, and to our masons from Public Works, Jasper, Robert and Paul. This has been quite a process with the approval of the concept sketch in November 2018, the careful picking of sandstone which came from a pit in Harris Street Pyrmont, several versions of a clay model, with final approval in July 2020, and then the expert process of cutting and carving this work and then installing it here on the Arcade.

Let the walls speak!

I am now delighted to officially unveil the sandstone Coats of Arms of the 37th Governor of New South Wales, Professor the Honourable Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO.

[1] Sydney Morning Herald – Marie Bashir’s final week as NSW Governor.  The unveiling of the portrait and Coat of Arms was 22 September 2021, the article was published on 24 September 2014

[2] ibid

Photos supplied by Government House Sydney
Below runs a video explaining the parts of this Coat of Arms

Mens Essentials Series: Event 1

Hosted by Meditation for Men, the Men's Essentials Series consists of monthly workshops in an inclusive and friendly environment.  The Men's Essential Series promotes collaboration and partnership connecting local businesses to engage, educate and network with men of our northern beaches community.  Each monthly event also raises awareness and critical funds for crisis support and suicide prevention with ticket proceeds donated to Lifeline Northern Beaches.
Tickets $20-40 at:

  • Tour the brewery and sample amazing craft beer. Presented by MODUS OPERANDI BREWING COMPANY at Mona Vale
  • Learn the critical areas to be maintained and checked on a vehicle. Presented by JAX TYRES and AUTO MONA VALE.
  • Learn how to grow food sustainably and using the best methods. Presented by VEGEPOD.
  • WIN! Over $1,000 in prizes to be won, including a Vegepod, 5 Week Meditation for Men Meditation Course and more.
Ticket proceeds are donated to our community partner, Lifeline Northern Beaches.
In response to COVID-19, Lifeline are receiving over 3,000 calls a day (that’s a 25% increase) – A CALL EVERY 30 SECONDS.
Thanks to you, Lifeline can continue to operate and deliver our core services to the public as we create connection with people in crisis and empower individuals and communities to be safe from suicide. Together we are saving lives.

Thank you to our event partners, Modus Operandi Brewing Company, Jax Tyre and Auto Mona Vale and Vegepod.

Super funds have been working for themselves when they should have been working for us. That's about to change

Peter MartinCrawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Have you ever wondered why your super fund rarely sends you mail?

It could be because it is one of the 36 funds that perform badly, or one of the six funds that perform extraordinarily badly. As of mid last year those six funds managed the retirement savings of 900,000 Australians.

Not that you would know it from their communications. The wonder of a system that pours a fresh 9.5% of your salary into super each year is that your fund is able to show an upward graph of the amount you’ve got saved even if it is managing those savings badly. You might think it was performing well.

Or your fund might have a more straightforward reason for avoiding mail.

The head of Australia’s biggest super fund, Australian Super with 2.4 million members, spelled it out in an appearance before the banking royal commission.

He said “a direct mail-out – a one-off direct mail-out to Australian Super’s members — costs $2.3 million”.

A Million Here, Two Million There…

Chief executive Ian Silk was trying to put into context the $2 million Australian Super threw at the startup news site New Daily throughout 2012 and 2013. He said the $2 million (long gone) wasn’t an investment in the financial sense of the term, but an investment in communications, “a tool to enhance the fund’s engagement with members”.

It’s an investment that will be illegal from July under the government’s proposed Your Future, Your Super law, along with those rather odd TV advertisements implying improbably that unless the government lifts compulsory super contributions, people might lose their houses.

It will be illegal for funds to spend money on these things even if they route the payments through a third party such as the super-fund-owned Industry Super Australia, as they now are.

Read more: That extra you're about to get in super, most of it will come from you, but don't expect the ads to tell you that

The new laws, which flow from the royal commission and a Productivity Commission inquiry, will require every cent of super fund spending (without “any materiality threshold”) to be directed to the best financial interests of members.

What’s different is the addition of the word “financial”. Previously funds were only required to act in the “best interests” of the members.

Until now (and this is an example used in the explanatory memorandum) it might have been OK for a fund to spend member contributions on “well-being and counselling services, due to its preference for providing beneficiaries with a holistic retirement experience”.

Services, Seats At The Australian Open

It won’t be legal after July. Spending will have to be in the best “financial” interests of members.

And the onus of proof will be reversed. If challenged, funds will have to demonstrate that their decisions were indeed in the best financial interests of their members, rather than regulators demonstrating that they were not.

Which it should be. It’s our (mainly conscripted) money that they are spending. If they can’t make out a case for the way they are spending it, they might be acting as if it’s their own.

Shockingly, when in 2017 the Productivity Commission inquiry into super asked all 208 funds regulated by the Prudential Regulation Authority for information about their spending and net returns and fees by asset class, 94 didn’t respond.

A Cavalier Approach To Finances

Of the 114 funds that did respond, 26 left blank all of the bits of the form that asked about assets, net returns and investment management costs.

When the commission tried again the following year, 13 of the 136 funds that responded provided no information about expenses at all. It was as if they either didn’t know about their expenses, or felt it was their business and no one else’s.

Time and time again the commission heard about bank-operated funds buying products from other parts of the bank at high prices.

The banking royal commission heard of hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by just one (industry) fund on corporate hospitality at the Australian Open.

It heard of directors of a retail fund who decided against putting their members into lower-priced products when they became available, overruling a lone director who protested, using capital letters

in what circumstances would it NOT be in a client’s best interest to transfer to the new pricing if it was lower than their existing pricing?

Spending on advertising would still be permitted under the draft legislation, but only where it was in the best financial interests of members. If it was aimed at grabbing members from other funds it probably would pass the test, because when funds get bigger the costs per member can shrink.

But the guidance note makes it clear that the costs per member would need to actually shrink, along with the charges to members, or there would need to be a documented case prepared as to why they should have shrunk.

Read more: Yes, women retire with less than men, but boosting compulsory super won't help

Vanity advertising, or advertising for a group of funds, or advertising aimed at influencing public opinion won’t cut it.

And nor will indifferent performance. The law will require the Prudential Regulation Authority to annually test the performance of funds against objective, consistently-applied benchmarks, different benchmarks for different stated investment strategies.

Early MySuper test results

Five-year performance as at June 30 2020, the darkest coloured funds are the poorest performers. APRA

Funds that fail the test will be required to notify their members in writing. Funds that fail two years in a row will be closed to new members.

Most of us probably have no idea that we spend more on super investment and administration fees each year than we do on gas and electricity combined.

And when the performance is lousy (the difference between a good and bad fund can be $660,000 in retirement) we often don’t find out until it’s too late.

Our funds are about to have to work for us first, and no-one else.The Conversation

Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

Royal Easter Show 2021 Showcases A Whole World Of Animals

Have you seen all the great animals you can visit at this year's Royal Easter Show? This (apart from show bags and fairy floss) was always my favourite part of each year's show. I managed to get some tickets for my nieces and their cousins a bit over a week ago now - they like all the rides (and the show bags) - but they also love animals and even collect toy animals.

One of my favourite animal displays are the horses. Did you know that the Sydney Royal Horse Show is the largest of its kind attracting over 5,500 entries exhibiting the most prestigious horses in Australia and New Zealand?

There's a competitive event every day of the Show with classes including: Breeds, Hacks, Light and Heavy Harness, Showjumping, Campdraft, Polo, Rodeo, Pony Club, Tentpegging and Heavy Horse Obstacle Vaulting. You can see that every day of the Royal Easter Show in the big stadium and in the arena. Youngsters are getting involved in the Youth Polocrosse this year too. Originating in NSW in 1939, Polocrosse is an action-packed team sport enjoyed by all age groups. This year Junior Polocrosse teams will compete in four exhibition matches, combining the skills of polo with the speed of lacrosse. Using long-handled racquets, the aim is to scoop up the ball and get it into the goal. With only three players on the field for each team, the pace is fast.

Grand parade, Easter Show, circa 1925 to 1955, from album: Hood Collection part II : [Royal Agricultural Society Showground: Easter Shows, Sheep Shows, Highland gatherings, etc. (and including other agricultural industry scenes)] courtesy State Library of NSW, the Mitchell Library. Image No.: a359002h

Visiting the Pet Pavilion is pretty amazing too as it 'shows' you all the animals people keep as pets - everything from mice to birds and even frogs can be seen, however, it's the puppies and kittens we love.

For those who don't spend time on a farm there's the 10 Shake Farmyard Nursery. Here  you will find 10 Shake Farmyard Nursery - an open-plan indoor paddock with over 500 free-range animals you can pat. Here you'll see playful ducklings on their waterslide, piglets, geese, donkeys and much more or maybe have a go at feeding the friendly chickens, sheep and goats that come to visit you.

If you want to find out more about being on a farm you can visit the Junior Farm Hands. Here you can grind grain, dig for vegetables and move animals around your farm. RAS Junior Farm Hands activities give little ones the opportunity to try their hand as a farmer and even take a turn in the tractor - don't leave the Food Farm without collecting your very own tractor licence!

Follow the link to download your Junior Farm Hands Activity booklet.

While finding out all about farming you may want to pop into the District Exhibits - this is like a mini-tour through our very own countryside. These spectacular constructions of vegetables, fruit and other produce are one of the highlights of The Sydney Royal Easter Show. These giant displays are a cooperative work by growers that reflect the diversity and excellence of their regional produce. Each consists of more than 10,000 pieces of fresh produce from five agricultural districts throughout NSW and South East Queensland.

Kids Street is designed for tiny tots to pre-teens, with a recharge spot for mum and dad too, featuring a selection of carnival games, hot food, coffee, and a specially marked pram parking zone. Located at GIANTS Stadium Concourse, all rides are available for only 4 coupons each (yes, I got them some rides coupons too - saves waiting around, we hope!). 

But, let's get to the showbags - did you know these began over 100 years ago as 'sample' bags?

Originating at the Sydney Royal Easter Show sometime between 1909 and 1914, possibly by kiddie-favourites Gravox, the bags were originally given away by brands hoping to launch their wares by providing free samples of products. Food samples were handed out, and these were to evolve into 'sample bags'. By the late 1920s (1927), as the cost of producing bags became too much for companies, they began being sold.

So - what's good value or just great fun this year?

There's some great samples in the lollies department of course - we like getting Bertie Beetles at the RAS as you often can't get them elsewhere. They have a good deal this year with 3 bags for $8.00, while stocks last. What’s included:

1x Bertie Beetle Red Showbag $2.90
1x Bertie Beetle Blue Showbag $4.00
1x Bertie Beetle Platinum Showbag $9.60

But the best deal is always the Ag Bag - Inside the Home and Lifestyle Pavilion, while available. This one is $25 but you get around $80 worth of stuff in it and after visiting the Farm, this one may appeal as it's filled with Australian made products. What's more, the RASF Ag Bag is a fundraising bag - All proceeds go back to rural & regional community projects. Australian-made contents donated by Australian-owned companies. For more information on the work of the RASF visit

What's included in 2021:

1x SunRice Microwave Brown Rice 250g $2.50
1x SunRice Brown Rice Chips (assorted Flavours) 150g $5.00
1x Selector Magazine 300g $8.50
1x Manildra - The Healthy Baker Flour 1kg $3.00
1x Manildra - Recipe Booklet $6.00
1x Manildra - "Stay Safe" Hand Sanitizer 50ml $6.00
1x Freedom Foods - Australia's Own Barista Almond Milk 1lr $4.50
1x Rinoldi - Vetta Pasta 500g $2.25
1x Kurrajong Kitchen - Lavosh Original Poppy & Sesame Seed Bites 100g $3.00
1x Carman's Kitchen - Brownie Cholc Aussie Oat Bar $0.84
1x Maxiblock - Kinder Sunscreen Lotion SPF50 100 g + Flyer $10.95
1x Karma Rub - Liquid Magnesium Rub 2.5ml x 4 & Liquid Night Cream 10ml x 1 Sachets $5.00
1x Slim Secrets - Protein Choc Fudge Brownie 100g $3.80
1x Royston Petrie Seeds - Spinach N.Z. Warrigal Greens $3.50
1x NSW Landcare - Everlasting Daisy Seeds Sticks $2.50
1x Seasol - Seaweed Concertrate Sachet 45g $1.00
1x Oz-Pet - Litter Scooper $5.00
1x Albury Enviro Calico Bag $5.00
1x "I Love Aussie Farmers" Sticker $0.60
1x "I Love Australia Made" Sticker $1.00
1x CanAssist Brochure & tea bags $0.06
1x RAMPH Mental Health Brochure
1x Birdsnest Voucher - get $20 off when you spend $75 or more online
1x Rich Glen Olive Estate Voucher - get a free Poppy's Favourite Dressing ($10) when you spend $60 or more online

Ok, so that one may not interest you as much as the ones for youngsters, BUT, isn't it great to see and know how many different foods and products are made right here?

We were looking at the 2021 Sydney Royal Easter Show Prizes for cheeses, just announced, and that too is a great insight into what wonderful tastes come from right here, where you live. I can tell you, having spent some time visiting other places far from Australia, nothing compares to the quality and great clean tastes we have here.

Apart from the lollies bags there's some good value for boys and girls in other bags, if you really really are sure you want or need one of these and don't already have all of this at home already. The Voltron show bag, until they all go, looks good for those who are fans of Voltron.  

Voltron - $20

Stand Numbers: BAG004, BAG009, BAG011, BAG014, BAG015, #18, #20, #21

What’s included:

1x Voltron Backpack $24.95
1x Voltron Cap $12.95
1x Voltron Drink Bottle $8.95
1x Voltron Sticker Patches $2.95
1x Voltron Playing Cards $4.95
1x Voltron Badges $4.95
1x Voltron Tote Bag $3.95
1x Voltron Lanyard $7.95
1x Voltron Flag $9.95
Total Retail Value: $81.55

Another good value one, which may appeal to little girls, is the Unicorn show bag. 

Unicorn $30

Stand Numbers: BAG004, BAG009, BAG011, BAG014, BAG015, #18, #20, #21

What’s included:

1x Unicorn Duffle Bag $19.95
1x Unicorn Coin Purse $4.95
1x Unicorn Hair Extension $4.95
1x Unicorn Jewellery Set $9.95
1x Unicorn Stationery Set $7.95
1x Unicorn Keychain $2.95
1x Unicorn Body Glitter $7.95
1x Unicorn Tote Bag $4.95
1x Unicorn Lipstick $3.95
1x Unicorn Trinket Boxes $6.95
1x Unicorn Stuffed Toy $9.95
Total Retail Value: $84.45

If you do get to go to the Show this year I do hope you will spend some time looking at the farm exhibits - this is one of the few opportunities city kids get to see what life is like on the land and the show itself is all about the country coming to the city, that's where it all began - as the Agricultural Society of New South Wales in July 1822 which means that next year, this great 'show' will be 200 years old.

Sydney Royal Easter Show - children with their Show Bags, circa 1938. Courtesy National Library of Australia

Yes, Australia is a land of flooding rains. But climate change could be making it worse

Etching of the 1867 flood in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley, depicting the Eather family. illustrated Sydney News/author provided
Joelle GergisAustralian National University

Over the past three years, I’ve been working on the forthcoming report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I’m a climate scientist who contributed to the chapter on global water cycle changes. It’s concerning to think some theoretical impacts described in this report may be coming to life – yet again – in Australia.

The recent flooding in New South Wales is consistent with what we might expect as climate change continues.

Australia’s natural rainfall patterns are highly variable. This means the influence climate change has on any single weather event is difficult to determine; the signal is buried in the background of a lot of climatic “noise”.

But as our planet warms, the water-holding capacity of the lower atmosphere increases by around 7% for every 1℃ of warming. This can cause heavier rainfall, which in turn increases flood risk.

The oceans are also warming, especially at the surface. This drives up both evaporation rates and the transport of moisture into weather systems. This makes wet seasons and wet events wetter than usual.

So while Australia has always experienced floods, disasters like the one unfolding in NSW are likely to become more frequent and intense as climate change continues.

People watch swollen river
Flooding is likely to become more severe as the planet warms. AAP

Understanding The Basics

To understand how a warming world is influencing the water cycle, it’s helpful to return to the theory.

From year to year, Australia’s climate is subject to natural variability generated by the surrounding PacificIndian and Southern oceans. The dominant drivers for a given year set up the background climate conditions that influence rainfall and temperature.

It is a combination of these natural climate drivers that makes Australia the land of drought and flooding rains.

However, Australia’s climate variability is no longer influenced by natural factors alone. Australia’s climate has warmed by 1.4℃ since national records began in 1910, with most of the warming occurring since 1970. Human-caused greenhouse emissions have influenced Australian temperatures in our region since 1950.

This warming trend influences the background conditions under which both extremes of the rainfall cycle will operate as the planet continues to warm. A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture (higher water vapour content), which can lead to more extreme rainfall events.

A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture which can lead to more extreme rainfall events. Climate Council

Since the winter of 2020, Australia has been influenced by the La Niña phase of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Historically, sustained La Niña conditions, sometimes with the help of a warmer than average Indian Ocean, have set the scene for severe flooding in eastern Australia.

During these events, easterly winds intensify and oceans around Australia warm. This is associated with the Walker Circulation – a giant seesaw of atmospheric pressure that influences the distribution of warm ocean waters across the Pacific Ocean.

The last La Niña occurred in 2010–2012. It led to widespread flooding across eastern Australia, with particularly devastating effects in Queensland. The event caused the wettest two-year period in the Australian rainfall record, ending the 1997–2009 Millennium Drought.

Oceanographers from UNSW studied the exceptional event. They demonstrated how a warmer ocean increased the likelihood of extreme rain during that event, primarily through increased transport of moist air along the coast.

Their analysis highlighted how long‐term ocean warming can modify rain-producing systems, increasing the probability of extreme rainfall during La Niña events.

It is important to point out that changes in large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns are still not as well understood as fundamental changes in thermodynamics. However, because regional rainfall changes will be influenced by both factors, it will take researchers time to tease everything out.

So What About Climate Change?

The theoretical changes to the global water cycle are well understood. However, determining the contribution of natural and human influences on climate variability and extremes – known as “attribution” – is still an emerging science.

More studies are needed to distinguish natural or “background” rainfall variability from recent human-caused changes to the water cycle. This is particularly the case in a country like Australia, which has very high yearly rainfall variability. This contrasts with some regions of the Northern Hemisphere with less variable rainfall, where a clear climate change signal has already emerged.

Right now, La Niña conditions are decaying in the Pacific Ocean. As expected, the 2020–2021 La Niña has brought above-average rainfall to much of eastern Australia. This helped ease the severe drought conditions across eastern Australia since 2017, particularly in NSW.

NSW rainfall total, week ending March 22, 2021
NSW rainfall totals for the week ending March 22, 2021. Bureau of Meteorology

What’s interesting about the 2020–2021 La Niña is that it was weak compared with historical events. The relationship between La Niña and rainfall is generally weaker in coastal NSW than further inland. However, it’s concerning that this weak La Niña caused flooding comparable to the iconic floods of the 1950s and 1970s.

The rainfall totals for the current floods are yet to be analysed. However, early figures reveal the enormity of the downpours. For example, over the week to March 23, the town of Comboyne, southwest of Port Macquarie, recorded an extraordinary 935mm of rainfall. This included three successive days with more than 200mm.

The NSW coast is no stranger to extreme rainfall – there have been five events in the past decade with daily totals exceeding 400mm. However, the current event is unusual because of its duration and geographic extent.

It’s also worth noting the current extreme rainfall in NSW was associated with a coastal trough, not an East Coast Low. Many of the region’s torrential rainfall events in the past have resulted from East Coast Lows, although their rainfall is normally more localised than has been the case in this widespread event.

Remember that as the air warms, its water-holding capacity increases, particularly over the oceans. Current ocean temperatures around eastern and northern Australia are about 1℃ warmer than the long-term average, and closer to 1.5℃ warmer than average off the NSW coast. These warmer conditions are likely to be fuelling the systems driving the extreme rainfall and associated flooding in NSW.

Sea surface temperature anomalies along the NSW coast. Bureau of Meteorology

A Nation Exposed

Weather and climate are not the only influences on extreme flood events. Others factors include the shape and size of water catchments, the presence of hard surfaces in urban areas (which cant’t absorb water), and the density of human settlement in flood-prone areas.

The Hawkesbury–Nepean region in Western Sydney, currently experiencing major flooding, is a prime example. Five major tributaries, including the Warragamba and Nepean Rivers, flow into this extensively urbanised valley.

Improving our understanding of historical weather data may help improve future climate change risk assessment. For example, past floods in the Hawkesbury–Nepean have been a lot worse than the current disaster. In 1867, the Hawkesbury River at Windsor reached 19.7 metres above normal, and in 1961 peaked at 14.5 metres. This is worse than the 13.12 metres above normal recorded at Freemans Reach on March 23.

It’s sobering to think the Hawkesbury River once peaked 6 metres higher than what we’re seeing right now. Imagine the potential future flooding caused by an East Coast Low during strong La Niña conditions.

It will take time before scientists can provide a detailed analysis of the 2020–2021 La Niña event. But it’s crystal clear that Australia is very exposed to damage caused by extreme rainfall. Our theoretical understanding of water cycle changes tells us these events will only become more intense as our planet continues to warm.The Conversation

Joelle Gergis, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science, Australian National University

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

'Cultural misogyny' and why men's aggression to women is so often expressed through sex

Xanthe MallettUniversity of Newcastle

As the country watches Scott Morrison grapple with the sex scandals rocking our federal parliament, it is worth wondering what has really changed since former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s now-famous 2012 “misogyny” speech.

The power of that speech is undeniable, and it resonates loudly today.

Gillard spoke to the imbalance of power between men and women and the under-representation of women in positions of authority. Her speech raised serious concerns about how some politicians saw women’s roles in contemporary Australia.

Fast forward to yesterday, and Scott Morrison attempted to address the most recent shocking allegations of lewd behaviour by some coalition staff – the allegation being a group of government staffers had shared images and videos of themselves undertaking lewd acts in Parliament House, including in the office of a female federal MP.

These stories raise the question as to why some men participate in sexually denigrating women – both those in authority as well as those in positions of submission in hierarchical organisations. And why is male aggression towards women so often expressed through sex rather than through other means?

As a criminologist, I interpret men’s sexually aggressive behaviour – whether it is desecrating a women’s desk by videoing himself masturbating on it, or a sexual assault – as an activity born of a need for power and control.

When some men feel challenged, or want to dominate someone to fulfil an innate internal inadequacy, they can feel the need to do so sexually. Often, the subjects of their rage about feelings of inadequacy are women.

From lewd comments, to being groped, through to sexual assault, the attacks on women in the workplace continue.

Research suggests heterosexual men who are more socially dominant are also more likely to sexually objectify women. When these men are placed in positions of submission to women at work and their dominance is challenged, the levels of sexual objectification of women go up. This supports the assertion that some men increase their dominance by sexually objectifying women, and this objectification can become physical.

This conversation around how we address this has been building for some time.

Read more: Sexism, harassment, bullying: just like federal MPs, women standing for local government cop it all

In 2017, the #MeToo movement went viral, as women started to share their negative sexual experiences via social media. The discussion initially focused on women being sexually harassed by their bosses in the media and entertainment industry, but it soon became obvious the problem was much wider than that. It permeates every industry in every country.

Sexual harassment and assault are more common than many people might believe, or want to believe. A 2018 study surveyed 2,000 people in the US. It found 81% of women and 43% of men had suffered some form of sexual harassment or assault. Further, 38% of the women surveyed said they have suffered from sexual harassment in the workplace.

The picture is mirrored in Australia. A 2018 Australian Human Rights Commission report found 23% of women said they had been sexually harassed at work in the previous 12 months.

In 2021, we are still having the same debate.

One big question is where these bad male behaviours originate from?

Social Learning Theory might help us to understand what is going on in relation to some men’s need for sexual domination of women. It is based in the premise that individuals develop notions of gender and the associated behaviours by watching others and mimicking them. This learning is then reinforced vicariously through the experiences of others.

Combine this learnt behaviour with cognitive development theory, which suggests gender-related behaviour is an adoption of a gender identity through an intellectual process, and we can see how misogynistic behaviours can be identified, remembered, and mimicked by subsequent generations of males.

This could be termed “cultural misogyny”.

How do we change the dynamic?

The only way to shift the framing around appropriate behaviour in the workplace, and society more generally, is to continue to break down gender stereotypes. Women need to be elevated to positions of power to reduce male domination in all aspects of life. We must challenge the undermining of women’s and girl’s autonomy and value when boys exhibit it, to break the chain of passing on these negative attitudes.

Read more: #MeToo has changed the media landscape, but in Australia there is still much to be done

We are only now beginning the hear the breadth of stories from women speaking out about their own negative experiences.

As a woman in academia – a very hierarchical structure – I have been sexually harassed, and I just accepted it as part of my working world. My experience was with a very senior member of a previous university, and I would never have considered challenging him or reporting it, as I was very well aware of the power he had over me and my career. I even considered changing organisations to avoid the unwanted behaviours.

The brave women who are now speaking up have changed the way I view my own experience. The more we raise our voices, support each other and encourage change in the attitudes around us, the more we will all benefit.The Conversation

Xanthe Mallett, Forensic Criminologist, University of Newcastle

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

Deluge Of DNA Changes Drives Progression Of Fatal Melanomas

March 22, 2021
Melbourne researchers have revealed how melanoma cells are flooded with DNA changes as this skin cancer progresses from early, treatable stages through to fatal end-stage disease.

Using genomics, the team tracked DNA changes occurring in melanoma samples donated by patients as their disease progressed, right through to the time the patient died. This revealed dramatic and chaotic genetic changes that accumulated in the melanoma cells as the cancers progressed, providing clues to potential new approaches to treating this disease.

The research, published in Nature Communications, was led by Professor Mark Shackleton, Professor Director of Oncology at Alfred Health and Monash University; Professor Tony Papenfuss, who leads WEHI's Computational Biology Theme and co-heads the Computational Cancer Biology Program at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre; and Dr Ismael Vergara, a computational biologist at WEHI, Peter Mac and the Melanoma Institute Australia.

At a glance

Genomics has been used to track DNA changes in melanoma samples donated by patients whose disease recurred and progressed after treatment.
The research revealed that end-stage melanomas acquired dramatic and chaotic genetic changes that are associated with aggressive disease growth and treatment resistance.
Understanding the genetic changes that drive melanoma growth and treatment resistance could lead to new approaches to treating this cancer.
Tracking a devastating cancer

Melanoma -- the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia -- is caused by damaging changes occurring in the DNA of skin cells called melanocytes, usually as a result of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight. These genetic changes enable uncontrolled growth of the cells, forming a melanoma. As the melanoma cells keep dividing, some accumulate even more DNA changes, helping them to grow even faster and spread, said Professor Shackleton.

"At early stages, melanomas can be cured with surgery. However, they sometimes recur and progress to more aggressive forms. While there are excellent new therapies in these contexts, for some patients this progressing disease is difficult to treat," he said.

"We used DNA sequencing to document genetic changes that occurred as melanomas recurred and progressed in patients."

The team obtained genome sequencing data from tumours that had been donated by these patients and fed it into a mathematical model. This revealed that, as melanomas progress, they acquire increasingly dramatic genetic changes that add substantially to the initial DNA damage from UV radiation that caused the melanoma in the first place, said Professor Papenfuss.

"Early-stage primary melanomas showed changes in their DNA from UV damage -- akin to mis-spelt words in a book. These changes were enough to allow the melanoma cells to grow uncontrollably in the skin," he said.

"In contrast, end-stage, highly aggressive melanomas, in addition to maintaining most of the original DNA damage, accumulated even more dramatic genetic changes. Every patient had melanoma cells in which the total amount of DNA had doubled -- a very unusual phenomenon not seen in normal cells -- but on top of that, large segments of DNA were rearranged or lost -- like jumbled or missing pages in a book. We think this deluge of DNA changes 'supercharged' the genes that were driving the cancer, making the disease more aggressive.

"The genomes in the late-stage melanomas were completely chaotic. We think these mutations occur in a sudden, huge wave, distinct from to the gradual DNA changes that accumulate from UV exposure in form earlier-stage melanomas. The melanoma cells that acquire these chaotic changes seem to overwhelm the earlier, less-abnormal, slower growing cells," Professor Papenfuss said.

New insights into melanoma

Professor Shackleton said the research provided an in-depth explanation of how melanomas change as they grow and may also provide clues about how melanoma could be treated.

"We mapped sequential DNA changes to track the spread of the disease in individual cases, creating 'family trees' of melanoma cells that grew, spread and changed over time in each patient. In early-stage melanomas in the skin, the DNA changes were consistent with UV-damage, while the changes we saw in later-stage melanoma were totally wild, and associated with increased growth and spread of the disease, and evasion of the body's immune defences. We could also link some DNA changes to the development of treatment resistance," he said.

The research also revealed key cancer genes that may contribute to the growth and spread of the melanoma.

"Many patients' late-stage melanomas had damage to genes known to control cell growth and to protect the structure of DNA during cell growth and division. When these genes don't work properly, cell growth becomes uncontrolled and the DNA inside cells becomes even more abnormal -- it's a snowball effect. The findings also suggest that therapies which exploit these damaging changes might be useful for treating late-stage melanoma," Professor Shackleton said.

The study included tumour samples from Peter Mac's Cancer tissue Collection After Death (CASCADE) program -- in which patients volunteer to undergo a rapid autopsy following their death.

"Our whole team would like to extend our sincere gratitude to the patients and their families whose participation in CASCADE made this research possible. We hope that the insights we have gained will lead to better treatments for people with melanoma," Professor Shackleton said.

The research was supported by the Lorenzo and Pamela Galli Charitable Trust, the Australian NHMRC, Pfizer Australia, veski, the Victorian Cancer Agency, a European Commission Horizon 2020 grant, the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, Tobin Brothers Funerals, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Foundation, Bioplatforms Australia, the Melanoma Institute of Australia, Cancer Council of Victoria, the Victorian Cancer Biobank, the Melbourne Melanoma Project and the Victorian Government.

Ismael A. Vergara, Christopher P. Mintoff, Shahneen Sandhu, Lachlan McIntosh, Richard J. Young, Stephen Q. Wong, Andrew Colebatch, Daniel L. Cameron, Julia Lai Kwon, Rory Wolfe, Angela Peng, Jason Ellul, Xuelin Dou, Clare Fedele, Samantha Boyle, Gisela Mir Arnau, Jeanette Raleigh, Athena Hatzimihalis, Pacman Szeto, Jennifer Mooi, Daniel S. Widmer, Phil F. Cheng, Valerie Amann, Reinhard Dummer, Nicholas Hayward, James Wilmott, Richard A. Scolyer, Raymond J. Cho, David Bowtell, Heather Thorne, Kathryn Alsop, Stephen Cordner, Noel Woodford, Jodie Leditschke, Patricia O’Brien, Sarah-Jane Dawson, Grant A. McArthur, Graham J. Mann, Mitchell P. Levesque, Anthony T. Papenfuss, Mark Shackleton. Evolution of late-stage metastatic melanoma is dominated by aneuploidy and whole genome doubling. Nature Communications, 2021; 12 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-21576-8

How Australian Bushfire Smoke Travelled Around The World: Record-Breaking Aerosol Levels

March 2021
It's not just how hot the fires burn -- it's also where they burn that matters. During the recent extreme fire season in Australia, which began in 2019 and burned into 2020, millions of tons of smoke particles were released into the atmosphere. Most of those particles followed a typical pattern, settling to the ground after a day or week; yet the ones created in fires burning in one corner of the country managed to blanket the entire Southern hemisphere for months. A pair of Israeli scientists managed to track puzzling January and February 2020 spikes in a measure of particle-laden haze to those fires, and then, in a paper recently published in Science, they uncovered the "perfect storm" of circumstances that swept the particles emitted from those fires into the upper atmosphere and spread them over the entire Southern Hemisphere.

Particles reaching the stratosphere -- the upper layer of the atmosphere -- most often get there through volcanic eruptions. The ash emitted in the more extreme eruptions dims the sun and cools the planet, as well as producing spectacular sunsets. Prof. Ilan Koren of the Weizmann Institute of Science's Earth and Planetary Science Department, who conducted the study together with his former student, Dr. Eitan Hirsch, now the Head of the Environmental Sciences Division at the Israel Institute for Biological Research in Ness Tziona, had noticed an extreme increase in a satellite-based measure of particle loading in the atmosphere called AOD -- or aerosol optical depth. 

In January 2020, those measurements, plotted in standard deviations, showed a deviation three times the normal -- some of the highest readings ever obtained, higher even than those from Mt. Pinatubo in 1991. But the timing did not coincide with any volcanic activity. They wondered if fires might be to blame, even though it is rare for the smoke from fires to escape the lower layer of atmosphere known as the troposphere in significant amounts. The troposphere extends from the ground to a height of several kilometres, and if smoke particles manage to rise that high, they hit an inversion layer called the tropopause that acts as a sort of ceiling between the troposphere and the stratosphere.

Working backwards and using data from several satellites, including, in addition to AOD, LIDAR readings that revealed how the particles were distributed vertically in "slices" of atmosphere, the two were able to prove that the source of the spikes was bushfires -- specifically those burning in South-eastern Australia. Further analysis of satellite data revealed the broad band of haze in the stratosphere spreading to cover the Southern hemisphere, peaking from January to March and persisting through July; reaching all the way around and back to Australia's west coast.

How did these smoke particles penetrate through the tropopause ceiling and why did they come from these fires and not the others? One clue, says Hirsch, lay in another, distant forest fire that had occurred several years ago in Canada. Then, too, high AOD levels had been recorded. Both of these fires occurred in high latitudes, away from the equator.

The height of the troposphere shrinks at these latitudes: Over the tropics its upper ceiling can reach up to 18 km above the surface, while somewhere above the 45th parallel -- North and South, it takes a sudden step down to around 8-10 km in height. So the first element enabling the particles' trans-layer flight was simply having less atmosphere to cross.

Pyrocumulus clouds -- clouds fuelled by the fires' energy -- were considered as a means of transporting smoke to the stratosphere. However, when inspecting the satellite data, Hirsch and Koren noticed that pyrocumulus clouds formed only over a small fraction of the fires' duration, and they were mostly seen over fires burning on the central part of the coast. In other words, these clouds could not explain the large amounts found to be transported to the stratosphere, and an additional mechanism for lifting smoke downwind from the sources was missing.

This brings up the second element: the weather patterns in the strip known as the mid-latitude cyclone belt that runs through the southern end of Australia, one of the stormiest regions on the planet. The smoke was first advected (moved horizontally) by the prevailing winds in the lower atmosphere to the Pacific Ocean, and then some of it converged into the deep convective clouds there and was lifted in the clouds' core into the stratosphere. An interesting feedback mechanism known as "cloud invigoration by aerosols" can further deepen the clouds. In a previous study, the authors had shown that in conditions such as the pristine environment over the Southern Ocean, the convective clouds are "aerosol limited." The elevated smoke levels could thus act as cloud condensation nuclei, allowing the clouds to develop deeper and thus increasing the number of clouds that able to penetrate the tropopause and inject the smoke in the stratosphere.

Up in the stratosphere, the particles found themselves in a different world than the one they had just left. If below they were at the mercy of mixing and churning air currents, up on top the air moves in a steady, linear fashion. That is, there was one strong current, and it was moving them eastwards over the ocean to South America and back over the Indian Ocean toward Australia, and slowly settling around the entire hemisphere. "People in Chile were breathing particles from the Australian fires," says Hirsch. By sailing on an endless air current, these particles remained airborne for much longer than lower atmosphere smoke particles.

"For people on the ground, the air may have just seemed a bit hazier or the sunsets a bit redder. But such a high AOD -- much, much higher than normal -- means sunlight was getting blocked, just as it does after volcanic eruptions," says Koren. "So the ultimate effect of that smoke on the atmosphere was cooling, though we still do not know how much influence that cooling and dimming may have had on the marine environment or weather patterns.

"There are always fires burning in California, in Australia and in the tropics," he adds. "We might not be able to stop all of the burning, but we do need an understanding that the precise locations of those fires may grant them very different effects on our atmosphere."

Prof. Ilan Koren's research is supported by the de Botton Center for Marine Science; the Sussman Family Center for the Study of Environmental Sciences; the Dr. Scholl Foundation Center for Water and Climate Research; the Ben May Center for Chemical Theory and Computation; Scott Eric Jordan; the Yotam Project; the estate of Emile Mimran; and the European Research Council. Prof. Koren is the incumbent of the Beck / Lebovic Chair for Research in Climate Change.

Eitan Hirsch, Ilan Koren. Record-breaking aerosol levels explained by smoke injection into the stratosphere. Science, 2021 DOI: 10.1126/science.abe1415

Christmas Island Reptile-Killer Identified

March 2021
Native reptile populations on Christmas Island have been in severe decline with two species, Lister's gecko and the blue-tailed skink, entirely disappearing from the wild. While previously the main driver for this decline is likely predation by invasive species and habitat destruction, a silent killer is now threatening to wipe the species out entirely.

Those bred in captivity on the Australian Territory in the Indian Ocean have also been mysteriously dying, leaving the two species -- which number only around 1000 each -- in danger of extinction. Veterinary scientists from the University of Sydney, the Australian Registry of Wildlife Health and the Taronga Conservation Society Australia have now discovered the cause of these deaths: a bacterium, Enterococcus lacertideformus (E. lacertideformus).

The bacterium was discovered in 2014 after captive reptiles presented with facial deformities and lethargy, and some even died. Samples were collected and analysed using microscopy and genetic testing.

The researchers' findings, published in Frontiers in Microbiology, will inform antibiotic trials on the reptiles to see if the infection can be treated.

The bacterium grows in the animal's head, then in its internal organs, before eventually causing death. It can be spread by direct contact -- including through reptiles' mouths, or via reptiles biting one another -- often during breeding season fights.

"This means that healthy captive animals need to be kept apart from infected ones and should also be kept away from areas where infected animals have been," said Jessica Agius, co-lead researcher and PhD candidate in the Sydney School of Veterinary Science.

Ms Agius and the research team not only identified the bacterium, they decoded its genetic structure using whole genome sequencing.

PhD researcher Jessica Agius spotlighting critically endangered lizards in the field on Christmas Island to find out if they are infected with Enterococcus lacertideformus. Credit: Jessica Agius.

Specific genes were identified that are likely to be associated with the bacterium's ability to infect its host, invade its tissues and avoid the immune system.

"We also found that the bacterium can surround itself with a biofilm -- a 'community of bacteria' that can help it survive," Ms Agius said.

"Understanding how E. lacertideformus produces and maintains the biofilm may provide insights on how to treat other species of biofilm-forming bacteria."

The search of the genetic code suggested that the killer bacterium was susceptible to most antibiotics.

Professor David Phalen, research co-lead and Ms Agius' PhD supervisor, said: "This suggests that infected animals might be successfully treated. That's what we need to determine now."

In another effort to protect the endangered reptiles on Christmas Island, a population of blue-tailed skinks has been established on the Cocos Islands. Ms Agius played a critical role in the translocation, testing reptiles on the Cocos Islands to make sure that they were free of E. lacertideformus.

"It's critical we act now to ensure these native reptiles survive," Ms Agius said.

Jessica Esther Agius, David Norton Phalen, Karrie Rose, John-Sebastian Eden. Genomic Insights Into the Pathogenicity of a Novel Biofilm-Forming Enterococcus sp. Bacteria (Enterococcus lacertideformus) Identified in Reptiles. Frontiers in Microbiology, 2021; 12 DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2021.635208

Scientists Stunned To Discover Plants Beneath Mile-Deep Greenland Ice

March 2021
In 1966, US Army scientists drilled down through nearly a mile of ice in northwestern Greenland -- and pulled up a fifteen-foot-long tube of dirt from the bottom. Then this frozen sediment was lost in a freezer for decades. It was accidentally rediscovered in 2017.

In 2019, University of Vermont scientist Andrew Christ looked at it through his microscope -- and couldn't believe what he was seeing: twigs and leaves instead of just sand and rock. That suggested that the ice was gone in the recent geologic past -- and that a vegetated landscape, perhaps a boreal forest, stood where a mile-deep ice sheet as big as Alaska stands today.

Most of Greenland is covered with ice today. But a new study shows that within the last million years it melted off and became covered with green tundra, perhaps like this view of eastern Greenland, near the ocean. The research provides strong evidence that Greenland is more sensitive to climate change than previously understood—and at risk of irreversibly melting. (Photo: Joshua Brown)

Over the last year, Christ and an international team of scientists -- led by Paul Bierman at UVM, Joerg Schaefer at Columbia University and Dorthe Dahl-Jensen at the University of Copenhagen -- have studied these one-of-a-kind fossil plants and sediment from the bottom of Greenland. Their results show that most, or all, of Greenland must have been ice-free within the last million years, perhaps even the last few hundred-thousand years.

"Ice sheets typically pulverize and destroy everything in their path," says Christ, "but what we discovered was delicate plant structures -- perfectly preserved. They're fossils, but they look like they died yesterday. It's a time capsule of what used to live on Greenland that we wouldn't be able to find anywhere else."

The discovery helps confirm a new and troubling understanding that the Greenland ice has melted off entirely during recent warm periods in Earth's history -- periods like the one we are now creating with human-caused climate change.

Understanding the Greenland Ice Sheet in the past is critical for predicting how it will respond to climate warming in the future and how quickly it will melt. Since some twenty feet of sea-level rise is tied up in Greenland's ice, every coastal city in the world is at risk. The new study provides the strongest evidence yet that Greenland is more fragile and sensitive to climate change than previously understood -- and at grave risk of irreversibly melting off.

"This is not a twenty-generation problem," says Paul Bierman, a geoscientist at UVM in the College of Arts & Sciences, Rubenstein School of Environment & Natural Resources, and fellow in the Gund Institute for Environment. "This is an urgent problem for the next 50 years."

The new research was published March 15 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


The material for the new PNAS study came from Camp Century, a Cold War military base dug inside the ice sheet far above the Arctic Circle in the 1960s. The real purpose of the camp was a super-secret effort, called Project Iceworm, to hide 600 nuclear missiles under the ice close to the Soviet Union. As cover, the Army presented the camp as a polar science station.

The military mission failed, but the science team did complete important research, including drilling a 4560-foot-deep ice core. The Camp Century scientists were focused on the ice itself -- part of the burgeoning effort at the time to understand the deep history of Earth's ice ages. They, apparently, took less interest in a bit of dirt gathered from beneath the ice core. Then, in a truly cinematic set of strange plot twists, the ice core was moved from an Army freezer to the University of Buffalo in the 1970s, to another freezer in Copenhagen, Denmark, in the 1990s, where it languished for decades -- until it surfaced when the cores were being moved to a new freezer.

More about how the core was lost, rediscovered in some cookie jars, and then studied by an international team gathered at the University of Vermont in 2019 can be read here: Secrets Under the Ice.

For much of the Pleistocene -- the icy period covering the last 2.6 million years -- portions of the ice on Greenland persisted even during warmer spells called "interglacials." But most of this general story has been pieced together from indirect evidence in mud and rock that washed off the island and was gathered by offshore ocean drilling. The extent of Greenland's ice sheet and what kinds of ecosystems existed there before the last interglacial warm period -- that ended about 120,000 years ago -- have been hotly debated and poorly understood.

The new study makes clear that the deep ice at Camp Century -- some 75 miles inland from the coast and only 800 miles from the North Pole -- entirely melted at least once within the last million years and was covered with vegetation, including moss and perhaps trees. The new research, supported by the National Science Foundation, lines up with data from two other ice cores from the center of Greenland, collected in 1990s. Sediment from the bottom of these cores also indicate that the ice sheet was gone for some time in the recent geologic past. The combination of these cores from the center of Greenland with the new insight from Camp Century in the far northwest give researchers an unprecedented view of the shifting fate of the entire Greenland ice sheet.

The team of scientists used a series of advanced analytical techniques -- none of which were available to researchers fifty years ago -- to probe the sediment, fossils, and the waxy coating of leaves found at the bottom of the Camp Century ice core. For example, they measured ratios of rare forms -- isotopes -- of both aluminium and the element beryllium that form in quartz only when the ground is exposed to the sky and can be hit by cosmic rays. These ratios gave the scientists a window onto how long rocks at the surface were exposed vs. buried under layers of ice. This analysis gives the scientists a kind of clock for measuring what was happening on Greenland in the past. Another test used rare forms of oxygen, found in the ice within the sediment, to reveal that precipitation must have fallen at much lower elevations than the height of the current ice sheet, "demonstrating ice sheet absence," the team writes. Combining these techniques with studies of luminescence that estimate the amount of time since sediment was exposed to light, radiocarbon-dating of bits of wood in the ice, and analysis of how layers of ice and debris were arranged -- allowed the team to be clear that most, if not all, of Greenland melted at least once during the past million years -- making Greenland green with moss and lichen, and perhaps with spruce and fir trees.

And the new study shows that ecosystems of the past were not scoured into oblivion by ages of glaciers and ice sheets bulldozing overtop. Instead, the story of these living landscapes remains captured under the relatively young ice that formed on top of the ground, frozen in place, and holds them still.

In a 1960's movie about Camp Century created by the Army, the narrator notes that "more than ninety percent of Greenland is permanently frozen under a polar ice cap." This new study makes clear that it's not as permanent as we once thought. "Our study shows that Greenland is much more sensitive to natural climate warming than we used to think -- and we already know that humanity's out-of-control warming of the planet hugely exceeds the natural rate," says Christ.

"Greenland may seem far away," says UVM's Paul Bierman, "but it can quickly melt, pouring enough into the oceans that New York, Miami, Dhaka -- pick your city -- will go underwater."
Andrew J. Christ, Paul R. Bierman, Joerg M. Schaefer, Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, Jørgen P. Steffensen, Lee B. Corbett, Dorothy M. Peteet, Elizabeth K. Thomas, Eric J. Steig, Tammy M. Rittenour, Jean-Louis Tison, Pierre-Henri Blard, Nicolas Perdrial, David P. Dethier, Andrea Lini, Alan J. Hidy, Marc W. Caffee, John Southon. A multimillion-year-old record of Greenland vegetation and glacial history preserved in sediment beneath 1.4 km of ice at Camp Century. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021; 118 (13): e2021442118 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2021442118

Babies Prefer Baby Talk, Whether They're Learning One Language Or Two

March 23, 2021
It can be hard to resist lapsing into an exaggerated, singsong tone when you talk to a cute baby. And that's with good reason. Babies will pay more attention to baby talk than regular speech, regardless of which languages they're used to hearing, according to a study by UCLA's Language Acquisition Lab and 16 other labs around the globe.

The study found that babies who were exposed to two languages had a greater interest in infant-directed speech -- that is, an adult speaking baby talk -- than adult-directed speech. Research has already shown that monolingual babies prefer baby talk.

Some parents worry that teaching two languages could mean an infant won't learn to speak on time, but the new study shows bilingual babies are developmentally right on track. The peer-reviewed study, published today by Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science, found bilingual babies became interested in baby talk at the same age as those learning one language.

"Crucially for parents, we found that development of learning and attention is similar in infants, whether they're learning one or two languages," said Megha Sundara, a UCLA linguistics professor and director of the Language Acquisition Lab. "And, of course, learning a language earlier helps you learn it better, so bilingualism is a win-win."

In the study, which took place at 17 labs on four continents, researchers observed 333 bilingual babies and 384 monolingual babies, ranging in age from 6 to 9 months and 12 to 15 months. UCLA's lab was the only one to provide data on bilingual babies who grew up hearing both English and Spanish. Sundara and Victoria Mateu, a UCLA assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese, observed babies who were 12 to 15 months old.

Each baby would sit on a parent's lap while recordings of an English-speaking mother, using either infant-directed speech or adult-directed speech, played from speakers on the left or the right. Computer tracking measured how long each baby looked in the direction of each sound.

"The longer they looked, the stronger their preference," Mateu said. "Babies tend to pay more attention to the exaggerated sounds of infant-directed speech."

Infants' interest in English baby talk was very fine-tuned, the study noted. Bilingual parents indicated the percent of time English was spoken at home compared to Spanish. The more English the bilingual babies had been exposed to, the stronger their preference for infant-directed speech compared to adult-directed speech. However, even babies with no exposure to English preferred the English baby talk to the grown-up talk, Mateu said.

Baby talk is found across most languages and cultures, but English has one of the most exaggerated forms, Sundara said.

"Baby talk has a slower rate of speech across all languages, with more variable pitch, and it's more animated and happy," she said. "It varies mainly in how exaggerated it is."

Led by Krista Byers-Heinlein, a psychology professor at Concordia University in Montreal, the study involved labs in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and Singapore. The study's global reach strengthened the results, Sundara said.

"When you do language research, you want to know that the results aren't just some quirk of the language you're studying," she said.

According to the study, 6- to 9-month-old babies who had mothers with higher levels of education preferred baby talk more than babies whose mothers had less education.

"We suspect that perhaps the mothers with higher education levels spoke more to the babies and used infant-directed speech more often," Mateu said.

This study is one of the first published by the ManyBabies Consortium, a multi-lab group of researchers. Byers-Heinlein believes the unusual international, multilingual collaboration creates a model for future studies that include a similar breadth of languages and cultures.

"We can really make progress in understanding bilingualism, and especially the variability of bilingualism, thanks to our access to all these different communities," she said.

As the research continues, parents can babble to their babies in one language or two, and rest easy knowing they won't cause any confusion.

Authors Krista Byers-Heinlein et al. A multi-lab study of bilingual infants: Exploring the preference for infant-directed speech. Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science, 2021 [abstract]

Penguin Haemoglobin Evolved To Meet Oxygen Demands Of Diving

March 23, 2021
Call it the evolutionary march of the penguins. More than 50 million years ago, the lovable tuxedoed birds began leaving their avian relatives at the shoreline by waddling to the water's edge and taking a dive in the pursuit of seafood.

Webbed feet, flipper-like wings and unique feathers all helped penguins adapt to their underwater excursions. But new research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has shown that the evolution of diving is also in their blood, which optimized its capture and release of oxygen to ensure that penguins wouldn't waste their breath while holding it.

Relative to land-dwelling birds, penguin blood is known to contain more haemoglobin: the protein that picks up oxygen from the lungs and transports it through the bloodstream before dropping it off at various tissues. That abundance could partly explain the underwater proficiency of, say, the emperor penguin, which dives deeper than any bird and has been documented holding its breath for more than 30 minutes while preying on krill, fish and squid.

A gentoo penguin takes a plunge at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. Gentoos are the fastest underwater swimmers among all penguin species, reaching speeds of more than 20 miles per hour.Photo: Craig Chandler | University Communication

Still, the particulars of their haemoglobin -- and how much it actually evolved to help penguins become fish-gobbling torpedoes that spend up to half of their lives underwater -- remained open questions. So Nebraska biologists Jay Storz and Anthony Signore, who often study the haemoglobin of birds that survive miles above sea level, decided to investigate the birds most adept at diving beneath it.

"There just wasn't a lot of comparative work on blood-oxygen transport as it relates to diving physiology in penguins and their non-diving relatives," said Signore, a postdoctoral researcher in Storz's lab.

Answering those questions meant sketching in the genetic blueprints of two ancient haemoglobins. One belonged to the common ancestor of all penguin species, which began branching from that ancestor about 20 million years ago. The other, dating back roughly 60 million years, resided in the common ancestor of penguins and their closest non-diving relatives -- albatrosses, shearwaters and other flying seabirds. The thinking was simple: Because one haemoglobin originated before the emergence of diving in the lineage, and the other after, any major differences between the two would implicate them as important to the evolution of diving in penguins.

Actually comparing the two was less simple. To start, the researchers literally resurrected both proteins by relying on models that factored in the gene sequences of modern haemoglobins to estimate the sequences of their two ancient counterparts. Signore spliced those resulting sequences into E. coli bacteria, which churned out the two ancient proteins. The researchers then ran experiments to evaluate the performance of each.

They found that the haemoglobin from the common ancestor of penguins captured oxygen more readily than did the version present in the blood of the older, non-diving ancestor. That stronger affinity for oxygen would mean less chance of leaving behind traces in the lungs, an especially vital issue among semi-aquatic birds needing to make the most of a single breath while hunting or traveling underwater.

Unfortunately, the very strength of that affinity can present difficulties when haemoglobin arrives at tissues starved for the oxygen it's carrying.

"Having a greater haemoglobin-oxygen affinity sort of acts like a stronger magnet to pull more oxygen from the lungs," Signore said. "It's great in that context. But then you're at a loss when it's time to let go."

Any breath-holding benefits gained by picking up extra oxygen, in other words, can be undone if the haemoglobin struggles to relax its iron-clad grip and release its prized cargo. The probability that it will is dictated in part by acidity and carbon dioxide in the blood. Higher levels of either make haemoglobins more likely to loosen up.

As Storz and Signore expected, the haemoglobin of the recent penguin ancestor was more sensitive to its surrounding pH, with its biochemical grip on oxygen loosening more in response to elevated acidity. And that, Signore said, made the haemoglobin more biochemically attuned to the exertion and oxygen needs of the tissues it served.

"It really is a beautiful system, because tissues that are working hard are becoming acidic," he said. "They need more oxygen, and haemoglobin's oxygen affinity is able to shift in response to that acidity to provide more oxygen.

"If pH drops by, say, 0.2 units, the oxygen affinity of penguin haemoglobin is going to decrease by more than would the haemoglobin of their non-diving relatives."

Together, the findings indicate that as penguins took to the seas, their haemoglobin evolved to maximize both the pick-up and drop-off of available oxygen -- especially when it was last inhaled five, or 10, or even 20 minutes earlier. They also illustrate the value of resurrecting proteins that last existed 20, or 40, or even 60 million years ago.

"These results demonstrate how the experimental analysis of ancestral proteins can reveal the mechanisms of biochemical adaptation," Storz said, "and also shed light on how organismal physiology evolved in response to new environmental challenges."

The researchers received support from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Jay Storz (left), Willa Cather Professor of biological sciences, and postdoctoral researcher Anthony Signore with penguins at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. Storz, Signore and their colleagues resurrected two ancient versions of hemoglobin, demonstrating how the blood of penguins evolved to help them better hold their breath while hunting for seafood. Photo: Craig Chandler | University Communication

Anthony V. Signore, Michael S. Tift, Federico G. Hoffmann, Todd. L. Schmitt, Hideaki Moriyama, Jay F. Storz. Evolved increases in haemoglobin-oxygen affinity and the Bohr effect coincided with the aquatic specialization of penguins. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021; 118 (13): e2023936118 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2023936118

New Evidence In Search For The Mysterious Denisovans

March 23, 2021
An international group of researchers led by the University of Adelaide has conducted a comprehensive genetic analysis and found no evidence of interbreeding between modern humans and the ancient humans known from fossil records in Island Southeast Asia. They did find further DNA evidence of our mysterious ancient cousins, the Denisovans, which could mean there are major discoveries to come in the region.

In the study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, the researchers examined the genomes of more than 400 modern humans to investigate the interbreeding events between ancient humans and modern human populations who arrived at Island Southeast Asia 50,000-60,000 years ago.

In particular, they focused on detecting signatures that suggest interbreeding from deeply divergent species known from the fossil record of the area.

The region contains one of the richest fossil records (from at least 1.6 million years) documenting human evolution in the world. Currently there are three distinct ancient humans recognised from the fossil record in the area: Homo erectus, Homo floresiensis (known as Flores Island hobbits) and Homo luzonensis.

These species are known to have survived until approximately 50,000-60,000 years ago in the cases of Homo floresiensis and Homo luzonensis, and approximately 108,000 years for Homo erectus, which means they may have overlapped with the arrival of modern human populations.

The results of the study showed no evidence of interbreeding. Nevertheless, the team were able to confirm previous results showing high levels of Denisovan ancestry in the region.

Lead author and ARC Research Associate from the University of Adelaide Dr João Teixeira, said: "In contrast to our other cousins the Neanderthals, which have an extensive fossil record in Europe, the Denisovans are known almost solely from the DNA record. The only physical evidence of Denisovan existence has been a finger bone and some other fragments found in a cave in Siberia and, more recently, a piece of jaw found in the Tibetan Plateau."

"We know from our own genetic records that the Denisovans mixed with modern humans who came out of Africa 50,000-60,000 years ago both in Asia, and as the modern humans moved through Island Southeast Asia on their way to Australia.

"The levels of Denisovan DNA in contemporary populations indicates that significant interbreeding happened in Island Southeast Asia.

"The mystery then remains, why haven't we found their fossils alongside the other ancient humans in the region? Do we need to re-examine the existing fossil record to consider other possibilities?"

Co-author Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London added:

"While the known fossils of Homo erectusHomo floresiensis and Homo luzonensis might seem to be in the right place and time to represent the mysterious 'southern Denisovans', their ancestors were likely to have been in Island Southeast Asia at least 700,000 years ago. Meaning their lineages are too ancient to represent the Denisovans who, from their DNA, were more closely related to the Neanderthals and modern humans."

Co-author Prof Kris Helgen, Chief Scientist and Director of the Australian Museum Research Institute, said: "These analyses provide an important window into human evolution in a fascinating region, and demonstrate the need for more archaeological research in the region between mainland Asia and Australia."

Helgen added: "This research also illuminates a pattern of 'megafaunal' survival which coincides with known areas of pre-modern human occupation in this part of the world. Large animals that survive today in the region include the Komodo Dragon, the Babirusa (a pig with remarkable upturned tusks), and the Tamaraw and Anoas (small wild buffalos).

"This hints that long-term exposure to hunting pressure by ancient humans might have facilitated the survival of the megafaunal species in subsequent contacts with modern humans. Areas without documented pre-modern human occurrence, like Australia and New Guinea, saw complete extinction of land animals larger than humans over the past 50,000 years."

Dr Teixeira said: "The research corroborates previous studies that the Denisovans were in Island Southeast Asia, and that modern humans did not interbreed with more divergent human groups in the region. This opens two equally exciting possibilities: either a major discovery is on the way, or we need to re-evaluate the current fossil record of Island Southeast Asia."

"Whichever way you choose to look at it, exciting times lie ahead in palaeoanthropology."

Replica Homo erectus skull from Java - supplied by Trustees of Natural History Museum.

João C. Teixeira, Guy S. Jacobs, Chris Stringer, Jonathan Tuke, Georgi Hudjashov, Gludhug A. Purnomo, Herawati Sudoyo, Murray P. Cox, Raymond Tobler, Chris S. M. Turney, Alan Cooper, Kristofer M. Helgen. Widespread Denisovan ancestry in Island Southeast Asia but no evidence of substantial super-archaic hominin admixture. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2021; DOI: 10.1038/s41559-021-01408-0

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