Inbox and Environment News: Issue 492

May 2 - 8, 2021: Issue 492

Holding Back The Tide 

Collaroy beachfront April 2021

The Coast
Radio Northern Beaches 
Friday 7 May at 11am

Work has begun on a sea wall to protect private properties at Collaroy-Narrabeen beach from erosion and storm damage but questions remain about whether sea walls are the best solution to this “wicked” problem.

The Collaroy-Narrabeen stretch of coast has long been subject to dangerous storm and tide erosion, with properties severely damaged in the 1920s, 1940s, 1970s and again in 2016.

Collaroy beachfront after June 2016 storms - A J Guesdon photo

Public works to protect Collaroy carpark and Pittwater Road, completed in 2019. photo courtesy Northern Beaches Council 

Sea walls have been planned in the past, but the current work is the biggest so far, with construction stretching 1.3 kilometres from Collaroy to South Narrabeen, and encompassing 49 private properties interspersed with 11 public land areas.

It is hoped the project will eventually also protect nearby Pittwater Road and its gas and communications lines.

The construction is being done in parts, with different groups of private property owners collectively paying for various sections of the wall.

Speaking to host of Radio Northern Beaches show The Coast, Wendy Frew, coastal engineer and former General Manager of Pittwater Council, Angus Gordon, says the work should be handled as a “singular, coordinated design and construct” project to get the best result both for property owners and for the beach itself.

However, that’s not possible under current legislation.

“The unfortunate thing is that the State Government has failed to change the Local Government Act to facilitate this occurring in a sensible manner,” Angus explains in an episode of The Coast that will be broadcast on Friday 7 May, at 11am.

Angus says it would be best if Council could build one long, continuous wall and, over time, recover the costs from those private property owners who would benefit from the wall.

“What’s happening now is that people are putting in development applications for individual walls to protect individual properties ... A group of individuals have got together and they are building a vertical wall for a specific length of the beach.”

“That is really not a good idea in the long-term for the overall benefit of the community. It will help to save the houses but at the cost of the beach from the community’s viewpoint. It is a sad comment on the fact that the [State] government has not really reacted, in my view, appropriately and provided Council with the authority to carry out a sensible solution.”

Asked about design issues related to a vertical wall, he says it  “is perhaps the one that has the most severe potential for serious damage on the beach and it is also the one more prone to catastrophic failure … which is not a good idea if you accept there will be climate change over the life of the wall and you will have higher water levels and larger waves than the wall was designed for.”

Others are calling for beach nourishment rather than the construction of sea walls, where sand lost through longshore drift or erosion is replaced with sand from other sources.

Surfers and others are concerned about what a seawall could mean for the way waves break on the shore, for the public’s access to the beach, and for the appearance of the beach.

Surfrider Foundation Northern Beaches Branch has campaigned hard against the construction of a seawall along Collaroy-Narrabeen Beach as far back as 2002 when thousands of local surfers and residents lined the beach in protest.

Branch President, Brendan Donohoe, explains why Surfrider continues to campaign for sand nourishment and why any work should be primarily paid for by private property owners. 

“Beaches don’t need seawalls; we need seawalls to protect property that lies behind them,” Brendan says. 

“Seawalls don’t help a beach perform the way a beach should perform. The sand dunes behind a beach should be your buffer.”

This episode of The Coast also hears from cultural historian Caroline Ford, whose book Sydney’s Beaches, A History, tells the story of how Sydney’s world-famous beach culture only exists because the first beachgoers demanded important rights. 

Her research uncovered a complicated history that saw Sydney’s beaches move from public to private ownership and back again over the decades. In the case of Collaroy, failure by government to buy back all of the land close to the beach meant private landowners continued to build very close to the shore, even after some properties were severely damaged by storms.

To hear more about the seawall at Collaroy-Narrabeen and how we got to this point, tune in to The Coast on Radio Northern Beaches (88.7/90.3FM) on Friday 7 May at 11am. Or you can listen anytime at:

Update: Collaroy Seawall Protection

Friday, 26 February 2021 - By Northern Beaches Council

If you’ve been down near Collaroy or Narrabeen beach lately you may have seen the seawall construction works happening along the beachfront. This work is being undertaken by residents to protect their homes in the event of a storm as devastating as the 2016 east coast low that wrought such havoc on this part of the coastline.

They are part of the 1.3km seawall proposed from South Narrabeen to Collaroy to protect both private and public assets. There are 11 parcels of public land (including the Collaroy carpark, South Narrabeen Surf Club, reserves and road ends) interspersed between 49 private parcels of land that require protection.

The works to protect private homes is being 80% funded by private owners, with Council and the NSW Government contributing 10% each. As private properties are the substantial beneficiaries of the protection, it is reasonable that they bear the majority of the expense for protecting their land.

It has not been an easy process for residents to get to this point and Council has worked to support them navigate the complex legal, planning and financial issues that have arisen. It’s great to see that the first of these private works to protect 10 vulnerable properties is finally underway.

We are continuing to work with other residents along the strip so they too can begin the works to protect their properties and 29 of the 49 private properties have already had DAs approved and there are currently no DAs with Council awaiting determination. 

Other protection works on public land at Collaroy carpark have been completed by Council, jointed funded with the NSW government, and works at the remaining public sites will be undertaken in a coordinated way with adjoining private works.

Read more here

Collaroy beachfront after June 2016 storms - A J Guesdon photo

Also available: 

World’s Sandy Beaches Under Threat From Climate Change, March 2020, Issue 441

Narrabeen Lagoon And Collaroy Beachfront: Storms And Flood Tides Of The Past, June 2016, Issue 267

June 2016 Storm 1000's of Hands, 1000's of Community Kindnesses: One ObjectiveJune 2016, Issue 267

International Permaculture Day 2021 At Elanora Heights

Permaculture Northern Beaches presents: International Permaculture Day - Garden Tours: Sunday May 2nd, 2021

Help us celebrate Australia’s best export to the world - permaculture. International Permaculture Day is held annually on the first Sunday of May when permaculture gardens and education centres worldwide open their doors to showcase their own permaculture practices.

This year we will have workshops and garden tours on the northern beaches of Sydney at Elanora Heights at a property that is home to the wonderful honey and beeswax products called "Honey I am Home".

Join us for garden tours including beehives at 10 am and then at 1 pm in a bushland setting with numerous honey bee hives. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy the property with a like-minded community.

Bookings are essential, don't miss out. Book at: HERE

If you are not on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, and would like more information on events near you, see the International Permaculture Day website and the IPD Facebook page.

Council Calls For Removal Of Shark Nets On The Northern Beaches

April 28, 2021
Council is calling on the NSW government to remove shark nets on beaches in the Council area and replace them with a combination of modern and effective alternative shark mitigation strategies that maintain or improve swimmer safety and reduce unwanted by-catch of non-target species. 

Council made the call in response to Department of Primary Industries – Fisheries (DPI Fisheries) request for input from stakeholders on their preferred shark mitigation measures, following a five-year project considering the benefits and impacts of a range of mitigation measures.  

A number of residents addressed Council’s meeting last night in support of shark net removal, including surfing champion Layne Beachley. 

A/Mayor Candy Bingham said Council considered both the need to maintain or improve swimmer safety as well as the negative impacts on non-target marine species in reaching their decision.
“The effectiveness of shark nets has been questioned by many, yet their impact on other marine species is devastating,” Cr Bingham said. 

“We have an aquatic reserve in Manly where turtles and rays are regularly seen by snorkelers, and up and down the beaches dolphins surf the waves alongside local board riders. 

“The research conducted by DPI Fisheries found that 90% of marine species caught in nets were non-target species and that sharks can in fact swim over, under and around the nets anyhow. 

“If the evidence is that there are other just as, or more, effective ways to mitigate shark risk, such as drone and helicopter surveillance, listening stations and deterrent devices, then we owe it to those non-target species to remove the nets. 

‘We will be providing that feedback through this consultation process and look forward to the government implementing effective shark mitigation measures while protecting other important marine species.”

Migrating Shearwaters Coming Ashore On Our Beaches

Local wildlife carers are having calls to rescue shearwaters currently coming ashore on our beaches. Several have been collected over the past 2 days. These birds need specialist care and to get to a vet or Taronga Zoo. 

If you find one please call Sydney Wildlife on 9413 4300 or Wires on 1300 094 737. 

And Please - keep your dogs off the beaches.  These birds are vulnerable in NSW and have no defence against dog attacks. Thank you. 

Four species breed on islands off the NSW coast and on beaches and further south, even to Tasmanian islands.

Each year:
  • the flesh-footed shearwater returns from the seas off Japan and Siberia to the same nesting burrows on Lord Howe Island - this species is listed as vulnerable in NSW
  • the sooty shearwater returns from the North Pacific Ocean and Southern Ocean to breed in small numbers on islands south of Port Stephens
  • wedge-tailed shearwaters return from the North Pacific to their burrows on islands off the coast of NSW
  • short-tailed shearwaters breed on islands along the eastern and southern coastlines of Australia, from the central coast of NSW to Western Australia. [1.]
Shearwaters lay only a single egg in burrows and rock crevices or less commonly, under grass, bushes or sometimes in the open. Many species spend the day feeding out at sea and only return to their nests at night. Some species, like the short-tailed shearwater, gather together in the afternoon before flying ashore at dusk.

Shearwaters travel far and wide to places such as Antarctica, Siberia, Japan, South America and New Zealand. This often puts their lives in danger. After gales or during food shortages, dead birds are often found along the coast. In some years, enormous numbers of short-tailed shearwaters can be found dying or dead on the beaches along the coast of NSW.

They migrate south during Spring, from late September through October, and return north during Autumn, late April through May.

1. NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

Photo: Shearwater rescued on North Narrabeen Beach, Friday April 23rd, 2021. Photo supplied.

EPA Seeking Feedback On Methods For Sampling Air, Water And Noise

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is inviting feedback on its new approved methods for the sampling, measurement and analysis of pollutants, to reflect contemporary science and best practice, leading to better protection for the environment and community.

Licensees, consultants, laboratories, technical and professional associations and the general public are welcome to comment on the draft approved methods for air and water pollutants, and a new approved method for the measurement and analysis of environmental noise in NSW.

EPA Director Environmental Solutions Sonya Errington said the new approved methods will better reflect contemporary work practices, be easier to use and provide better guidance to stakeholders.

“The approved methods will provide up to date guidance on collecting and handling samples and what records need to be kept.

“They’ll remove the requirement to seek EPA approval to vary analytical methods except in limited circumstances and provide clear guidance on when EPA approval should be sought,” Ms Errington said. 

The draft documents the EPA is seeking feedback on set out the statutory methods for sampling and analysis of air pollutants, water pollutants and environmental noise in NSW. The documents are:
  • Approved Methods for Sampling and Analysis of Water Pollutants in NSW
  • Approved Methods for Sampling and Analysis of Air Pollutants in NSW
  • Approved Methods for Measurement and Analysis of Environmental Noise in NSW
Users of the documents will primarily be industry and others regulated by the EPA. They’ll also apply to the laboratories and consultants they hire to carry out their statutory monitoring requirements for air, water and noise pollution.

The new approved methods will set out auditable statutory methods for the sampling and analysis of air, water and noise pollution that provide certainty on required test methods and reliability of results for the community, industry and regulators.

“These new documents will include additional methods for users. They’ll be more flexible and help reduce red tape,” Ms Errington said.

The draft documents are now open for public consultation with feedback and consultation period until the end of May 2021.    

Feedback and comments can be made at

Kimbriki’s New FREE Monthly Community Drop-In Day To Meet Our Ecologists!

Kimbriki has launched a new “Meet the Ecologist” event which encourages community members to drop into the Eco House and Garden between 9.30am and 2.00pm on the last Friday of each month.

Visitors can wander through the permaculture garden and take the opportunity to learn more about ecology, permaculture, and sustainable living practices.

While the Eco Garden is open seven days a week for Kimbriki visitors, it is not always staffed, and when staff are in the garden, they are often running Kimbriki’s school’s education program and community workshops. This new initiative allows any community member to drop by and meet the Ecology team and experience, learn, and be inspired by the Eco House & Garden’s wide range of edible plants, wicking garden beds, native beehives, worms’ farms, and composting toilets!

Peter Rutherford, Kimbriki’s Senior Ecologist said “This new drop-in time offers our Ecology staff a great opportunity to meet the community and help solve problems with composting, worm farming, or organic gardening and to highlight the features of the garden”.

“Best of all, it’s free and you don’t need to book. Simply drop by the Eco House and Garden between 9.30am and 2.00pm on the last Friday of the month, and either myself or a member of my team will be there to help you with all things ecological! “

The Eco Garden was opened by Mary Moody, Compere of ABC Gardening Australia in March 1999, and Dick Smith opened the Eco House in 2011. The Eco Garden is a permaculture or “grazing garden”, where you can nibble edible flowers, fruits, and herbs as you wander. 

You can also walk through our Eco Shop which offers a selection of plants for sale that have been grown in the Eco Garden, along with wicking beds and gardening supplies.

For those community members who would like to join us for our next Meet the Ecologist session on Friday 30 April between 9.30am to 2.00pm, don’t forget to bring your own mug to enjoy a pot of our freshly brewed Kimbriki herbal tea! 

This is a free event that is open to all members of the community and bookings are not necessary. Just drop by and say hi – everyone is welcome!

Meet the Ecologist 2021 Event Dates:

  • Friday 30 April 
  • Friday 29 May
  • Friday 25 June
  • Friday 30 July
  • Friday 27 August
  • Friday 24 September
  • Friday 29 October
  • Friday 26 November
  • December – No event

Kimbriki’s Eco House and Garden is a unique education centre dedicated to exploring how to live in a more sustainable way – a place for you to experience, learn and be inspired.

Set within the Kimbriki Resource Recovery Centre, this education centre was built in 1999 and comprises an organic garden and Eco House constructed primarily from materials recovered from the Kimbriki site, otherwise destined for Kimbriki’s landfill.

Approximately 4,000 visitors come through the Eco House & Garden every year to attend an educational workshop, to participate in a community group visit or school excursion, or to wander through the garden at their own pace.

The Eco House & Garden is very popular for group visits and school excursions and we encourage you to book well in advance for these visits. 

To support local schools in the Shareholder areas of Northern Beaches Council and Mosman Council, school excursions are provided for free. Students participate in an ecology workshop designed to support primary, secondary school and tertiary curriculum outcomes and tour Kimbriki’s waste and recycling facilities. For schools and groups outside the Shareholder area, a small charge is applicable.

We offer a range of educational workshops at the Eco House & Garden where you can learn successful organic gardening techniques and how to implement sustainable living ideas into your everyday life. Workshops are hands-on and focus on topics including self-watering garden beds, native bees, composting & worm farms, starting an organic vegetable garden, and pruning and propagation. 

To view the Workshop Calendar, click here 

Our workshop trainer, Senior Ecologist, Peter Rutherford has over 20 years experience in teaching – enabling adults and children to make their lives more sustainable.

Our online booking system is simple, select the workshop you wish to attend and follow the link to book.

The Eco Shop at the Eco House & Garden stocks a range of products to get you started with composting and worm farming as well as Wicking Beds. Products can be purchased at the Eco House by appointment or following workshops. Our Eco Shop page on this website outlines all the products we stock for sale. 

The Eco House Nursery offers a selection of plants for sale – plants that have been grown in the Eco Garden.

Water Use at Kimbriki’s Eco House & Garden

We use rain water tanks to supply water to the Eco Garden and nursery.

Our drip irrigation and micro spray watering system is fitted with an automated weather adjustment rain sensor which shuts down the system when it has rained or is raining. Current Sydney water restrictions allow for the use of automatic watering systems, as long as a rain sensor is fitted to the water controller, for a maximum of 15 mins a day before 10 am and after 4 pm.

Hand watering is done before 10am or after 4pm.

The use of town water for dust suppression is exempt from level 2 water restrictions. At Kimbriki our water trucks use recycled water for the majority of our dust suppression on site. 

The Eco Garden  

The garden is open Monday – Sunday, 7.00am – 4.30pm (closed Christmas Day and Good Friday). It contains a wide range of native food plants, signage and interpretive information as well as waterless composting toilets you are welcome to wander through any time. 

Find out more at:

North Head National Park Uprgrade: Give Your Feedback

The National Parks and Wildlife Service is pleased to release the concept plans for the North Head Scenic Area upgrade.
These concept plans have been informed by detailed investigations and analysis. The aim of this project is to enhance visitor access and safety to the North Head Scenic Area.

Key design features include:
  • - reconfiguring the car parks to provide more accessible parking spaces and overflow parking.
  • ·  extended landscaped space for visitors to enjoy views across the harbour.
  • · installation of pedestrian crossings and a pedestrian path to improve safety, access and circulation.
  • · installation of a new bus stop to the east of the Bella Vista Café.
  • ·  improvements to the entry of the Fairfax Walking Track (currently closed).
New interpretation and signage will also form part of this project.

The concept plans for the North Head Scenic Area are available for download from the project webpage.

NPWS welcomes your feedback on these concepts prior to the finalisation of plans.
If you have any questions or comments on the concept plans, you can complete the online form on the project webpage or email the project team: by Monday, 17th May 2021.

Friends Of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment: Next Forum + May Activities

Zoom Meeting- 7pm May 31st, 2021
Aboriginal Art and Occupation Sites of the Northern Beaches
Eric Keidge (Field Officer, NPWS) and Bob Conroy (formerly with NPWS) will be giving a presentation on their knowledge and experience in identifying, recording and protecting some of the Aboriginal art and occupation sites in the Northern Beaches area, including the Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment.

With due respect to those Aboriginal people past and present (and future) who identify with this area, the presentation will make reference to collaboration and special projects undertaken with the Aboriginal Heritage Office and the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council\, There will also be information given about site dating and significance.

Register to participate in this Zoom session and you might find your future walks in Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment more interesting than before because you can see evidence of the rich Aboriginal heritage located here. When you register, you will be emailed a link by which you can join the Zoom session at 7pm on May 31. Don’t miss it! Register now by emailing:
Find out more about FoNLC in: Friends of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment

May Activities
Paddle: Narrabeen Lagoon's Secret Creeks - Sunday May 9
From the Western Basin to the outlet to the sea, you'll see it all. On this leisurely paddle you can swim the lagoon from a clean, sandy beach or take a plunge in the ocean or nearby rock pool. Discover the unexpected creeks that flow into the lagoon, including astonishing Deep Creek, with its migratory birds from as far away as Russia. Visit an island, experience the exotic wildlife - pelicans, black swan, maybe a fish will jump in your boat! Hear about the Aboriginal history and what's being done to protect the remaining bushland.
Led by former president of Friends of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment Tony Carr. Kayak hire $108pp.
Full day. Easy, with lots of stops. Suit first timers, tuition given. Location Northern Beaches - good public transport connections. 45 mins from the CBD.
To register: Phone 0417 502 056 (Tony Carr)

Explorative Walk in Catchment: 10am Saturday May 15
Meet at 10am in Morgan Road and walk from there to the corner of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment.
Bookings essential: Contact Conny on 0432 643 295

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.

Bushfire Conference June 2021

Hosted by the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales
Join us for over three days, as we explore this year's theme "Cool, Warm, Hot: the burning questions" which will examine how different fire intensities can influence ecosystems and communities in a changing climate.

Hear from leading academics, practitioners, Traditional Owners, and decision-makers including Former Commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW Greg Mullins, Minister for Energy and Environment Matt Kean, Emeritus Professor and author Bill Gammage, Professor David Lindenmayer, Dr Mark Ooi and many more.

Presentations will investigate the effects of low, medium and high-intensity fires on the four sub-themes: climate change; fire ecology; ferals, weeds and restoration; and community resilience. The conference will examine how to incorporate and respond to cool, warm and hot fires in fire management as part of an optimal fire regime to achieve multiple objectives for biodiversity and cultural values, hazard reduction objectives and community resilience.

Building on themes from previous conferences, we will continue to showcase scientific research, current practices, on-ground projects and cultural burning to highlight lessons from across a range of ecosystems and communities. 

Field Day
Join us for a face-to-face conference field day to learn more about cool, warm and hot fire, at North Head on Friday 4th June. Come for a walk to see what has changed after recent fire events, hear about threatened species recovery and regeneration, and discuss lessons learnt and new approaches in fire, environmental and heritage management from experts and land managers. Hear from organisations including: Harbour Trust, NPWS, Northern Sydney Aboriginal Heritage Office, Northern Beaches Council, Fire and Rescue NSW, North Head Sanctuary Foundation and Australian Wildlife Conservancy. Transport to the location will be provided from Manly Wharf, along with morning tea and lunch, the day will go from 9am - 3pm. Tickets are limited so get in quick.

Location: online, with a face-to-face Field Day

Tuesday 4th, 9:30 - 11:30 am and 2 - 4pm
Wednesday 5th, 9:30 - 11:30 am and 2 - 4pm
Thursday 6th, 9:30 - 11:30 am and 2 - 4:30pm
Field Day 4th of June, 9am - 3pm

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.

Biodiversity Offsetting In NSW Drives Habitat Loss And Super Profits For A Lucky Few NSW Conservation Council States

April 28, 2021
The Nature Conservation Council will today refer to ICAC the sale of biodiversity offset credits in relation to major roadworks in Western Sydney.

Lisa Cox at the Guardian Australia today has revealed more details of windfall profits made by those associated with EcoLogical, a company that advised the government on biodiversity offsets in relation to the proposed M12 motorway and the Northern Road expansion. [1]

“These reports are deeply concerning and undermine public confidence in the whole offsetting system,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.  

“They also raise many unanswered questions about how this scheme is being administered. 

“The community must be satisfied that people who have made huge windfall profits through the sale of biodiversity offset credits did not have access to private reports and other insights that may have given them an unfair advantage. 

“The government must explain who and on what basis credits were issued for the offset sites, how the sites were selected for purchase, and how the prices for those offsets were set.  

“How was it possible for windfall profits to be made by a very small number of people in a very short period of time? 

“We are writing to ICAC today asking it to look into this matter using its powers to investigate matters affecting community confidence in public administration.  Only ICAC can properly investigate, examine and cross-examine all the issues. 

“The problem with commodifying natural assets like water and biodiversity is they inevitably become prey to speculative investors rather than being managed and protected for in public interest. 

“We believe the whole system of offsetting now must be the subject of an urgent review to ensure it does what the public expects -- protects threatened wildlife and bushland in a rigorous and transparent way.”


Far West Gas Fields - Where Is The Water Coming From NSW Nature Conservation Council Asks?

April 26, 2021
The NSW Government should protect water supplies, farmland, communities and wildlife in the Far West by immediately ruling out the development of an industrial gas field in the region, according to the NSW Nature Conservation Council.

The government this year resurrected plans to let big fossil fuel companies drill gas wells across millions of hectares of grazing land stretching from Tibooburra in the north to Hillston in the south. [1]

Farmers have reacted angrily to the proposal and the failure of the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment to consult adequately. [2]

“The development of a gas mining industry in the Far West will waste millions of litres of water this region just can’t spare,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“Gas mining in the west will require fracking, a process that uses vast amounts of water and chemicals to crack the rock to make the gas flow.

“The fossil fuel industry’s own figures show fracking requires about 15 million litres on average for each well, which is enough to fill six Olympic-sized swimming pools. [3]

“If this proposal goes ahead, there could be several hundred wells dotted across the Far West requiring possibly billions of litres of precious water.

“We proudly stand with local farmers and Traditional Owners who utterly oppose fracking on their land.

“It is a cruel irony that gas mining is being contemplated in a region that is already suffering the effects of climate change.

“Burning the gas will add CO2 to the atmosphere when the rest of the world is urgently trying to eliminate its CO2 emissions.”

Mr Gambian said an industrial gasfield would not only be bad for the climate, it would have significant on-the-ground impacts.

“Industrial gas fields are criss-crossed with roads that are bulldozed to give installation and maintenance crews access,” he said.

“In major gas fields, hundreds of kilometres of roads cut through wildlife habitat and grazing land and trigger erosion.

“Habitat fragmentation is a key threat endangering the survival of many unique rangeland species, including the plains wanderer.”

The gas field exploration areas announced by the government cover the Broken Hill Complex and Murray Darling Depression bioregions.

The Broken Hill Complex bioregion is home to 51 vulnerable species, 30 endangered species, one critically endangered species, one endangered population and one endangered ecological community. [4]

The Murray Darling Depression bioregion is home to 67 vulnerable species, 39 endangered species, 6 critically endangered species, 2 endangered populations and 5 endangered ecological communities.

[1] There are two exploration areas: one between Wilcannia, Cobar, Ivanhoe and Hillston in geological formations called the Neckarboo and Yathong-Ivanhoe troughs; the other is between Broken Hill, Wilcannia and Tibooburra in geological formations call the Bancannia and Pondie Range troughs. 
[2] Upset at snub in submission time for Far West gas tilt, The Land, 3/3/21
[3] How much water does hydraulic fracturing use?, American Petroleum Institute. “The average fracking job uses roughly 4 million gallons of water per well …” 4 million gallons is 15 million litres.)
[4] NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, Habitat area search Search by region | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

Defending The Unburnt: EDO Launches Landmark Legal Initiative

April 15, 2021: Environmental Defenders Office (EDO)
  • 14 million hectares burned. Nearly 3 billion native animals impacted. Entire communities all but destroyed.
  • We have a plan to defend what remains.
Our forests and native habitats are at breaking point, torn apart by a legacy of development & land-clearing, and devastated by the catastrophic 2019-20 bushfires.

But all is not lost. Today we are launching a new flagship partnership with WWF-Australia to build legal defences around some of Australia’s most vulnerable ecosystems.

The partnership comes off the back of the pivotal Defending the Unburnt report from the scientific team at WWF, which has identified six key wildlife habitats on the east coast for immediate protection.

These areas, decimated by the 2019-20 bushfires, are home to at least 83 threatened plant and animal species including koalas, platypuses, greater gliders, quolls and lyrebirds.

Almost 2.5 million hectares of this key habitat was lost to bushfires. We cannot afford to lose a hectare more.
Our team of environmental law experts will work with WWF, local communities, and decision-makers across the country to secure stronger legal protection for these areas to defend the Unburnt Six and the wildlife that calls them home.

Our forests have changed forever, so should our laws. 
The 2019-20 bushfires were unprecedented – their effect on our landscapes profound.

Our current laws do not reflect the realities of this disaster and must change to ensure our vulnerable ecosystems and iconic species are protected into the future. We will fight to make sure they do.

EDO has the strength and expertise to shape and enforce Australia’s environmental laws.  

The laws governing land-use and forestry are complex and specialised, requiring expert legal guidance to navigate.

Rather than focussing on litigation, this landmark initiative will push for greater legal protection for the Unburnt Six by advocating for stronger laws, policies and processes that properly take into account the impact of the 2019-20 bushfires.

And we will be pushing governments across the country to use the full power of their existing laws to protect these vulnerable habitats.

Find out more about how you can help Defend the Unburnt Six on WWF’s project page.

Local communities – Crucial defenders of the Unburnt Six
We stand with survivors and the communities that were most affected by the devastating 2019-20 bushfires, and are committed to empowering them to use the law to protect their local ecosystems and vulnerable species.

As part of this initiative we will be working on-the-ground and online with local communities to ensure they have the legal power they need to defend vital habitats in their areas.

We will work closely with community groups and landholders across multiple jurisdictions to help them understand and utilise existing legal mechanisms to protect the unburnt.

And we will develop digital legal resources and tools to empower communities everywhere in the protection of the areas and wildlife they love.

Stay up-to-date on the fight for the Unburnt Six

EDO is at the forefront of the legal fight to defend the Unburnt Six and other vulnerable ecosystems across the country.

Sign up now for critical updates on our legal mission to protect the places, wildlife, and communities we love.

Tahmoor Coal Mine Extension Approved By NSW IPC

April 23, 2021
The Tahmoor South Coal Project has been approved by the NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC). 

Mine owners SIMEC Mining, whose parent company GFG Alliance owns the Whyalla steel works in South Australia, applied to extend the life of the Tahmoor Colliery until 2032. 

The proposal would see 4 million tonnes of metallurgical coal extracted per year at the mine, which is around 80km south-west of Sydney. 

Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) presented evidence to the IPC on behalf of our clients Undermined, calling for the project to be refused on two main grounds – climate change and further damage to the nearby Thirlmere Lakes.  

Today, the IPC determined the project could go ahead concluding that the greenhouse gas impacts from the project are “outweighed by the project’s benefits”.   

It said conditions of consent would require, “ongoing investigation and implementation of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.  

EDO Safe Climate Team Managing Lawyer Sean Ryan said: 

“We are deeply disappointed in today’s decision, which saw a major new source of carbon emissions given the green light without any attempt to offset the majority of its emissions. 

“The Tahmoor South Project is a classic example of the wrong project, at the wrong place and time. 

“Our clients submitted that the risks of this project, both to the climate and to local waterways, was too great.    

“We will be speaking with our client in the coming weeks to discuss next steps.” 

Climate Impacts 
In February 2019, the New South Wales Land and Environment Court refused permission for the Rocky Hill coal mine in the NSW Upper Hunter Valley, in part because of the projected climate emissions from the mine. 

EDO’s clients in the Rocky Hill case presented detailed evidence about the global carbon budget and how the mine was against the principles of ecologically sustainable development. 

Tahmoor Colliery is a ‘gassy’ mine, which means it emits a lot of greenhouse gases simply during the mining of the coal. 

The direct (scope 1) emissions from the Tahmoor South Project are much higher than Rocky Hill mine would have been, with Tahmoor South projected to release more than double the volume of total emissions than Rocky Hill when both the mining and use of the coal are taken into account.  

Overall, this amounts to approximately 94 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent over the life of the project. 

EDO submitted that the IPC should give considerable weight to the Rocky Hill decision when determining this project. 

On behalf of our clients, EDO argued that the mine be refused on climate grounds, or if the IPC were to approve the mine, that the mine be compelled to offset its carbon emissions. 

Thirlmere Lakes 
The Tahmoor Colliery site is next to the Thirlmere lakes, which lie within the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. 

Thirlmere Lakes are a horseshoe-shaped system of five freshwater lakes, thought to be around 15 million years old.[1]  They are a renowned beauty spot and leisure area for local families. 

The lakes are also a biodiversity hotspot listed on the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia, with the vulnerable Australasian bittern and a rare type of freshwater sponge found in the area. 

However, in recent decades water levels at the lakes have fallen, with some becoming substantially dry.  

EDO’s evidence before the IPC is that there is a risk the Tahmoor South Project will cause further serious or irreversible harm to Thirlmere Lakes through changes to groundwater flows. 



Defending World Heritage Springbrook National Park From Water Mining

April 23, 2021: EDO QLD
Lawyers from the EDO are going to the Queensland Planning and Environment Court to defend the Springbrook World Heritage Area from groundwater mining, which could see 16 million litres of water a year taken from the ecosystem. 

The EDO is representing the Australian Rainforest Conservation Society (ARCS) in their fight to protect the Springbrook’s World Heritage rainforest, waterfalls and wildlife. 

The proposal to mine World Heritage water at Springbrook 
In 2019 a water mining company, Hoffmann Drilling, applied to the Gold Coast City Council to mine 16 million litres of water per year to be bottled and sold as ‘spring water.’ 

The proposed bore site is on Repeater Station Road, less than 400 metres from the Springbrook National Park section of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. 

In December 2019, the Council refused the application and a month later Hoffmann Drilling filed an appeal in the Queensland Planning and Environment Court. 

Several concerned Springbrook residents along with the Gecko Environment Council and the ARCS joined the appeal as co-respondents.  

World Heritage waterfalls and wildlife under threat 
Springbrook is a World Heritage listed National Park in South-East Queensland. It is part of the ancient Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, and home to the iconic Twin Falls waterfall and the Natural Bridge, a popular viewing site for one of Australia’s largest population of glow worms. It is a globally important rainforest ecosystem and locally treasured. 

The EDO and barrister Dr Chris McGrath will argue that the proposed water mine will impact groundwater availability leading to adverse impacts on ecology, tourism, amenity and World Heritage. 

If it goes ahead, the development could reduce the flow of water into streams that feed major attractions in the World Heritage Area, including Twin Falls and the Natural Bridge.  

Rainforests need water. With the climate getting hotter and drier, the impacts of extracting groundwater will be further exacerbated. This water is a safety net for the future of Springbrook’s native animals and plants. 

Extracting water from the aquifer could have devastating impacts on the local ecology of the area, including to the critically endangered smooth scrub turpentine, the endangered ravine orchid and the near threatened Albert’s lyrebird, all found within 1 km of the proposed site.  

The cascade treefrog, pouched frog and masked mountain frog are also threatened by this development; these species only inhabit South East Queensland and Northern NSW. 

Despite a moratorium on water mining the developers are forging ahead  
The Queensland Government has recognised that water mining is a threat to the area, having introduced a moratorium  on groundwater extraction for Springbrook and Mount Tamborine. Initially a 12-month moratorium, the Queensland Government recently extended it while groundwater extraction in the area is reviewed further. This means that currently no new groundwater bores can be created. However, Hoffman Drilling‘s application, which was refused by Council, was made prior to the moratorium being in place. 

It’s unfathomable that in 2021 we are fighting to stop the lifeblood of an ancient World Heritage site from being turned into plastic bottles of water. 

Our lawyers, working with barrister Dr Chris McGrath, are in Court on behalf of our client, the Australian Rainforest Conservation Society, to defend Springbrook. 

On behalf of our clients in the local community, and future generations of Australians, we are working on the strongest, most robust legal defence possible. 

EDO lawyers appeared in Court on 14 April 2021 for our client in a review of this matter, with a further review being scheduled for mid-May. The trial is expected to be scheduled for the coming months.  

We acknowledge the First Nations of the country of this water take, and the First Nations of all countries, which would be impacted downstream from this water mining activity, and pay our respects to their elders past and present. 

The solicitor on record in this case is Revel Pointon, working with Elanor Fenge. 

Night Noise Limit Breach Results In $15,000 Fine For Hunter Valley Coal Mine

April 28, 2021
Mines are being reminded by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to ensure their operations do not disturb neighbours with excessive noise, particularly at night.

The warning follows a $15,000 fine being issued to Wambo Coal Pty Ltd for allegedly exceeding its noise limits by three decibels in September 2020.

EPA Executive Director Regulatory Operations Carmen Dwyer said the mine reported an exceedance of noise limits on 8 September 2020.

“Follow-up monitoring two nights later showed that Wambo was continuing to exceed the noise limits set out in their environment protection licence. They did not take sufficient steps to shut down equipment to mitigate noise, which is very concerning considering their heavy machinery did not have noise reduction equipment fitted.

“The mine recorded eight noise alarms between 9pm and midnight on 10 September 2020,” she said.

“Noise limits are set to provide protection for the community and the EPA takes any breaches of these conditions extremely seriously.”

The EPA has issued Wambo with an official caution for noise exceedances on 8 September 2020 and fined the mine for exceeding its licence noise limit of 38dB by 3 decibels on 10 September 2020.

The NSW Government’s noise assessment criteria for state significant mining considers noise exceedances of 3-5 decibels to have a moderate impact on residents.

Ms Dwyer said all mining operations needed to be mindful of their impact on the surrounding community.

“The EPA hopes this fine reminds coal mines to review their procedures and make sure they manage their noise below their set limits to ensure they are good neighbours.

“Noise can have a negative impact on the community, particularly at night.”

Open-cut coal mines in the Hunter region are required to have an independent consultant undertake monthly night-time monitoring and install real-time noise monitoring devices that warn when noise is approaching set limits.

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

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

$300,000 Upgrade For Piles Creek Loop

April 28, 2021
Piles Creek Loop walking track, one of the most popular attractions in Brisbane Water National Park, will receive a $300,000 upgrade funded by the NSW Government.
Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast and Member for Terrigal Adam Crouch said the works would significantly improve visitor access and better protect the environment surrounding the Piles Creek Loop.

"The works will cover approximately 450 metres of the challenging track and involve the repair and levelling of the existing track surface to prevent future erosion, as well as the installation of new stone steps and stepping stones," Mr Crouch said.

"Piles Creek Loop is one of the Central Coast's must-do walks, and these upgrades will make the track safer for visitors by offering a well-defined, easy-to-navigate trail.

"The upgrades will also reduce the potential for walkers to inadvertently damage the surrounding vegetation and native habitat.

"Brisbane Water National Park is home to a staggering 270 different animal species, including the vulnerable powerful owl and the threatened spotted tail quoll. The park also protects Coastal Upland Swamp, an endangered ecological community which is only found in the Sydney Basin."

Works are expected to commence next week and take 10 to 12 weeks, weather-dependent.

Due to the remote location, equipment and materials will be airlifted by helicopter to construction sites. Temporary track closures will be required during the construction period to ensure visitor safety. Signage will be erected at all known formal entrances to the track.

The Piles Creek Loop walking track upgrade forms part of the NSW Government's unprecedented $257 million investment in national park visitor infrastructure.

For more information, go to: Piles Creek loop

Stronger Protection For Sydney's Drinking Water Pipelines

April 27, 2021
The two major pipelines that provide 90 per cent of Sydney’s drinking water will be better protected from development under proposed new planning laws.

The planning guideline is designed to be a comprehensive resource for developers and councils to ensure new developments consider the impacts on the the Upper Canal and the Warragamba Pipelines in Western Sydney.

Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes said there are currently no specific planning provisions protecting these pipelines from urban development and its associated environmental impacts.

“We’re proposing changes to planning rules that would require any new proposed development around the canal and pipelines to consider them as part of the planning and assessment process,” Mr Stokes said.

“This will ensure development is done carefully, enabling the pipelines to continue to supply safe and reliable drinking water as Western Sydney grows.”

Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey said the main risk to the Upper Canal pipeline is the threat of water being contaminated from pollutants arising from nearby developments.

“There is also a risk of developers relying on existing drainage systems to service stormwater runoff from developments upstream of the Canal Corridor,” Ms Pavey said.

“The Warragamba pipelines are most at risk from storm or flood water which can undermine the infrastructure that support the pipelines. This risk is increased by development increasing runoff and the risk of erosion.”

Community feedback is encouraged and to view the proposed changes and make a submission visit

Hanson Tweed Sand Plant Expansion: Feedback

Expansion of the Tweed Sand Quarry extraction areas (Phases 5 to 11) and intensification of operations.
To include:
  • a maximum of 950, 000 tonnes of sand extracted annually
  • operate 24hours/7 days a week
  • quarry life - 30 years

Local Government Areas: Tweed Shire
Exhibition Start: 22/04/2021
Exhibition End: 19/05/2021

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

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.

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

This $1 billion energy deal promises to cut emissions and secure jobs. So why on earth is gas included?

Samantha HepburnDeakin University

In case you missed it, a major A$1 billion energy deal between the Morrison and the South Australian government was revealed recently.

The bilateral deal represents a key driver for the national economic recovery from COVID. It promises to provide jobs in the energy sector and contribute to South Australia achieving net 100% renewables by 2030.

But there’s a big caveat: the agreement involves a joint commitment to accelerate new gas supplies into the east coast market.

With so much money on the table and other nations recently doubling down on climate commitments, let’s look at the good and bad bits of this landmark deal in more detail.

A Gas-Led Economic Recovery

The agreement was announced ahead of US President Joe Biden’s climate summit last week, which saw Australia spruik technology growth to cut emissions instead of committing to new climate targets.

In total, the federal government will contribute A$660 million and the South Australian government A$422 million towards the new deal.

Both governments have also agreed to a gas target of an additional 50 petajoules of energy per year by the end of 2023, and 80 petajoules by 2030. Their rationale is the need to improve energy security and reliability.

This focus on gas in the agreement stems from the federal government’s much-criticisedgas-led economic recovery plan, which argues new gas supplies are vital for future energy security.

Read more: Australia is at a crossroads in the global hydrogen race – and one path looks risky

In February, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission outlined a potential shortfall of 30 petajoules of gas for the east-coast market leading up to 2024. This shortfall could impact energy supply, and the federal government has used this to help justify opening new gas reserves.

However, nothing is certain — COVID has reduced global demand for gas so any shortfall will likely be deferred. Meanwhile, renewable technology and hydrogen production and use are rapidly advancing.

Bad: Investing In Gas

With the seismic shift in the economics of renewables over the past decade, investing in new gas supply is unnecessary and retrograde. In fact, it’s now more expensive to transition from coal to gas than from coal to renewables.

Read more: 4 reasons why a gas-led economic recovery is a terrible, naïve idea

For example, the cost of lithium ion batteries used for battery storage has fallen over the past decade by nearly 90%. But the cost of gas — both economically and environmentally — has steadily risen. This inevitably means means its role in the energy market will diminish.

Eventually, gas generators will be retired without replacement. Victoria’s March quarter data, for example, shows black coal generation volumes dropped by 9.5% and gas generation dropped by 43%. Meanwhile, rooftop solar went up 25%, utility solar up by 40% and wind power by 24%.

Solar farm in the desert at sunset
Up to $110 million will be spent on solar thermal and other storage projects in South Australia. Shutterstock

And at the end of the day, gas is still a fossil fuel. There are approximately 22 major gas production and export projects proposed for Australia. A report from The Australia Institute in September 2020 suggested that, if produced, these projects could lead to about half a billion tonnes of emissions.

If all potential gas resources in Australia were tapped, the report indicates it could result in emissions equivalent to three times the current annual global emissions.

Good: Investing In Critical Infrastructure

The energy deal sets aside $50 million towards the new $1.5 billion electricity interconnector between South Australia and NSW. This is critical infrastructure that will allow South Australia, Victoria and NSW to share energy reserves.

Indeed, the Australian Energy Market Operator has reported in excess of 5,000 megawatts of renewable energy projects near the proposed interconnector. This means South Australian wind and solar could contribute more significantly to electricity generation in both Victoria and NSW.

In turn, this will have a positive effect on pricing. Forecasts suggest the proposed new interconnector could reduce power bills by up to $66 a year in South Australia and $30 in NSW.

The energy deal also reserves funding for “investment priority areas”, which include carbon capture storage, electric vehicles and hydrogen. For example, $110 million is allocated for energy storage projects. This level of funding will help develop a world-class hydrogen export industry in South Australia.

The Verdict

The energy deal is a funding win for renewable energy and technology, with energy technology advancing much faster than anticipated. However, its focus on gas is environmentally and economically regressive.

It’s completely inconsistent with the powerful climate plan announced by the Joe Biden administration at the Climate Summit last week, which includes a pause and review of oil and gas drilling on US federal land and doubling energy production from offshore windfarms by 2030.

Read more: More reasons for optimism on climate change than we've seen for decades: 2 climate experts explain

In March, the European Union’s parliament voted in favour of a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism. This will impose a tariff on products being sold into the EU according to the amount of carbon involved in making them. The Biden administration in the US has announced a similar plan.

What’s more, the European Union and the US, as outlined at the recent Climate Summit, are planning to impose fees or quotas on goods from countries failing to meet their climate and environmental obligations. This may mean Australian manufacturers will end up paying for the governments failure to take rapid action to drive down emissions.

Bilateral agreements provide critical planning and funding for Australia’s energy progression. However, they should not prolong the use of fossil fuels under the guise of energy security. To do so undermines global climate change imperatives and hinders Australia’s progress in a new energy era.The Conversation

Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University

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

More reasons for optimism on climate change than we've seen for decades: 2 climate experts explain

Gabi MocattaUniversity of Tasmania and Rebecca HarrisUniversity of Tasmania

It’s unusual for researchers who study our catastrophically changing climate to use the words “optimism” and “climate change” in the same sentence.

As an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lead author and a climate communication researcher, we well understand how grave the climate situation is. The science projections tell us we’re not on track to stay under the Paris Agreement’s 2℃ target. Our planet’s biodiversity and oceans are in peril. And if we reach climate tipping points, we’ll have little ability to mitigate runaway climate change.

But what if we were to come to a tipping point for climate action?

At Biden’s climate summit last week, the US committed to a 50-52% cut in greenhouse gas emissions reduction on 2005 levels by 2030. The UK promised a 78% emissions reduction by 2035, while the EU pledged to cut emissions 55% by 2030 on 1990 levels. And Japan committed to a 46% cut by 2030 on 2013 emissions.

Australia, however, brought nothing new to the table in terms of emissions, offering no further cuts to its planned 26-28% reduction on 2005 emissions by 2030.

Australia’s lack of ambition aside, the summit is not the only sign transformation in the global climate effort is underway. Recently, more reasons for optimism have emerged than we’ve seen for decades.

A Groundswell Of Change

The science on climate change is now more detailed than ever. Although much of it is devastating, it’s also resoundingly clear. The IPCC’s AR6 reports — the latest assessment of the science and social responses to climate change — will be released in time for the next major climate summit, COP26, in Glasgow in November. This means policy makers will have a stronger directive than ever on the urgency to act.

It’s now also unequivocal that people want action. The largest ever global opinion survey on climate change, The Peoples’ Climate Vote, found in late 2020 that 64% of people consider the climate crisis a “global emergency”.

This poll also showed strong support for wide-ranging policy action. Support for climate action was above 80% in all countries among people with post-secondary education, underscoring the importance of education in advancing support for climate-friendly policy.

Read more: China just stunned the world with its step-up on climate action – and the implications for Australia may be huge

Policy makers at last seem to be taking both science and public will for action seriously. Some 120 countries have committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Even the current largest emitter, China, has committed to carbon neutrality by 2060, or sooner.

Business and finance are also on board. Internationally, the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures and, at home, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority now consider climate change mitigation central to corporations’ due care and diligence. Company directors who fail to consider and disclose climate-related risks could now be held liable under Australia’s Corporations Act.

International finance and insurers, are also progressively abandoning coal. And investment in climate solutions is garnering increasing interest. There is much opportunity in this domain: the OECD estimated in 2017 that investment of US$6.9 trillion a year over 15 years in clean energy infrastructure would be needed to keep global temperature rise under 2℃.

Carbon border taxes are also now being mooted, so countries will pay for their high-emissions supply chains in taxes on their exports. Australia is particularly exposed in this regard, given it’s slower to decarbonise than many of its trading partners.

Better Social Understanding Of Climate

The unprecedented student climate strikes in 2019 brought climate change repeatedly onto media agendas and into conversations around dinner tables. The student strikers can no doubt be credited with setting off the first domino in a tipping point for action that seems to be beginning now.

In the past two years, we have seen greater visibility and increased social understanding of climate change. Globally, films like David Attenborough’s climate testament, A Life on Our Planet, have made the climate and biodiversity crisis unflinchingly clear for audiences around the world. In Australia, popular media outputs — such as the film 2040, ABC’s Fight for Planet A and Big Weather — have enhanced Australians’ climate literacy.

Films like David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet increase social understanding of climate change.

While climate denial still exists, people overwhelmingly understand climate change is real and is contributing to disasters such as the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires. In fact, 82% of Australians think climate change will lead to more bushfires.

Though research on social understanding of climate has long shown climate change makes people feel powerless, we now have tools giving us agency to act by meaningfully reducing our own emissions, such as carbon accounting apps that help us track and minimise household emissions.

And such change from below is significant: some research shows household emissions account for 72% of the global total. So with the right incentives (we’ll need both carrots and sticks) behavioural change could contribute significantly to emissions reductions.

Actions For The Decisive Decade

For the first time, then, political will and global public opinion seem focused on profound action across many domains. This could mean we’re not bound to the current heating trajectory. But to elude a catastrophic temperature rise of 3-4℃ by 2100, we must make political ambitions, collective change and personal contributions concrete.

Actions for this decisive decade include putting the international commitments to deep emissions cuts into action, with clear pathways to net zero. Ambitions on cuts will have to be continually ratcheted up, this decade, with developed countries making the greatest reductions. Climate laggards - as Australia is increasingly characterised - will need to step up.

Coal will have to be phased out quickly, carbon pollution taxed and investment in climate solutions incentivised. People in developed countries will need to accept fundamental lifestyle changes and decision makers must construct policies to guide such change. Governments must make policy based on science — which the coronavirus pandemic has shown we can do.

It seems we’re heading for an “overshoot” scenario, where the global temperature rise will exceed 1.5℃, before we pull the temperature back down over decades with negative emissions. Investment in such technology initiatives as direct air carbon dioxide capture, must be massively scaled up. Nature-based solutions such as reafforestation and restoration of carbon sequestering ecosystems, on land and in the water, will also be crucial.

Above all, we need to act fastThe 2020s really are our final chance: our “Earthshot” moment to start to repair the planet after decades of inaction.

Read more: Spot the difference: as world leaders rose to the occasion at the Biden climate summit, Morrison faltered The Conversation

Gabi Mocatta, Lecturer in Communication, Deakin University, and Research Fellow in Climate Change Communication, Climate Futures Program, University of Tasmania and Rebecca Harris, Senior Lecturer in Climatology, Director, Climate Futures Program, University of Tasmania

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

Meet 5 of Australia’s tiniest mammals, who tread a tightrope between life and death every night

Andrew BakerQueensland University of Technology

Australia has a rich diversity of mammals, with around 320 native, land-based species, 87% of which are found here and nowhere else. Many of these mammals are secretive, only active at night, and small, weighing less than one kilogram.

Mammals are “endotherms”, which means they must generate their own heat and maintain the temperature within a narrow range. This requires a lot of food.

For small mammals, which have a high surface area to volume ratio, the energetic cost is even higher. This makes them particularly prone to heat gain and loss, putting them in peril every night.

The silver-headed antechinus, which weighs up to the equivalent of six $1 coins. Gary Cranitch/QueenslandMuseumAuthor provided

So How On Earth Do They Cope?

Well, there are some advantages to being small. It’s harder to be seen by predators, and there are more places to hide. If the soil type is right, there’s no shortage of cracks and holes to slip into.

Such habitats not only keep small mammals concealed from predators during the day and parts of the night, but the temperature and humidity is also more stable underground, which means they expend less energy in maintaining body temperature.

To further conserve energy, many small mammals will also enter “torpor” — an inactive period that slows down their energy-burning metabolism. Torpor is like a mini hibernation that typically lasts for hours, rather than days.

A long-tailed planigale feasting on a grasshopper. In the corner, you can see it sitting on scientist Euan Ritchie’s finger for scale. Euan Ritchie

For small mammals — prone to losing heat and needing to catch and eat up to half their body weight in food each night — having some periods of down-time during energy-conserving torpor can mean the difference between life and death.

In addition to the nightly challenge of finding enough food to maintain a stable body temperature, keep a complex brain functioning and have enough energy to move up to several kilometres, Australia’s small mammals face a host of human-caused threats. These include habitat clearing, climate change and feral predators.

The combined pressures have too often proven insurmountable. With 34 species lost forever, Australia has the worst modern-day mammal extinction record of any country on Earth.

So how can we turn this appalling situation around?

First, we humans must appreciate these unique animals and decide they need to be saved. That requires knowledge and understanding, so let’s get to know some of these mysterious mammals a little better.

1. Long-Tailed Planigale (Planigale Ingrami)

Weight: 2.6-6.6 grams (up to two 10c coins)

Can you imagine a mammal that can weigh less than a ten-cent piece yet leaps five times its own height to bring down prey far larger than itself with persistent, savage biting to the head and neck?

This is the long-tailed planigale, the smallest Australian marsupial and one of the world’s smallest mammals.

Long-tailed planigale
Long-tailed planigales may be tiny, but they’re ferocious predators. Anders ZimneyAuthor provided

They are ferocious predators, and anything that can be subdued is viciously attacked, including large centipedes, spiders, insects, small lizards, and even other small mammals.

They live in narrow crevices of cracking clays in blacksoil plains and move below and above the surface at night in search of food. Here, they run the risk of being eaten by predators, such as owls and feral cats.

Read more: Photos from the field: zooming in on Australia's hidden world of exquisite mites, snails and beetles

The conversion of grassland to agriculture and cattle grazing causes the soil to become compacted, which also poses a threat to this species.

2. Little Forest-Bat (Vespadelus Vulturnus)

Weight: 2.6-5.5 grams (up to two 10c coins)

The little forest-bat is a denizen of various forest types found throughout southeastern Australia.

Its activity depends on temperature — in some parts of southern Australia, during cold periods, individuals may not emerge from roosts for several weeks.

Profile of the little forest-bat
When it’s cold, the little forest-bat won’t emerge from roosts. Chris Lindorff CC-BY

This species feeds exclusively on flying insects, including moths and mosquitoes.

And they’re not considered threatened — unlike most Australian mammals, they appear to be tolerant of disturbance and will utilise agricultural or urban landscapes if no woodland habitat is available.

3. Eastern Pebble-Mouse (Pseudomys Patrius)

Weight: 10-19 grams (up to seven 10c coins)

This is one of four species of tiny native mice that construct mounds of pebbles that comprise conical, volcano-like ramparts built around burrow entrances. This is unique behaviour among the world’s mammals.

The pebble mounds can be large, weighing more than 50 kilograms and encompassing 10 square metres — astonishing constructions given the architects weigh as little as 10 grams!

Eastern pebble mouse with a pebble in its mouth
Mouse-built pebble mounds can weigh more than 50kg. Anders ZimnyAuthor provided

Mounds are energetically expensive to build. They are a critical limiting resource for eastern pebble-mice because females raise their litters in the mounds and their female offspring tend to disperse only as far as the next available mound. Some mounds may even remain in use for centuries, re-used by successive generations.

The erosion of hills and spread of dune fields in arid Australia are reducing the distributions of pebble-mice.

4. Mountain Pygmy Possum (Burramys Parvus)

Weight: 30-82 grams (up to nine $1 coins)

The famously adorable mountain pygmy possum is the only Australian mammal limited to alpine and sub-alpine regions, where snow covers the ground for up to six months of the year.

The possums may move more than one kilometre each night in search of food, which includes seeds, fruits, spiders and insects. They have a preference for Bogong moths (Agrotis infusa).

They double their body weight prior to hibernation, which lasts between five and seven months. During this time, their body temperatures may drop down to 2℃ for up to 20 days at a time.

This species is endangered, and there may be as few as several thousand individuals in total across three isolated populations.

Read more: Looks like an ANZAC biscuit, tastes like a protein bar: Bogong Bikkies help mountain pygmy-possums after fire

Their biggest threats include droughts due to climate change, predation by feral cats and foxes, and habitat destruction, particularly after the devastating 2019-20 bushfires razed 15% of the species’ range.

5. Silver-Headed Antechinus (Antechinus Argentus)

Weight: 16-52 grams (up to six $1 coins)

The 15 species in the genus Antechinus are “suicidal reproducers”. All males drop dead at the end of the breeding season, poisoned by their own raging hormones.

This is because the stress hormone cortisol rises during the two-week breeding period. At the same time, surging testosterone from the super-sized testes in males causes a failure in the biological switch that turns off the cortisol. The flood of unbound cortisol results in systemic organ failure and the inevitable death of every male.

But this happens only after they’ve unloaded their precious cargo of sperm, mating with as many promiscuous females as possible in marathon sessions lasting up to 14 hours.

Profile of the silver-headed antechinus
Antechinus species are famous for their marathon breeding sessions. Gary Cranitch/Queensland MuseumAuthor provided

Silver-headed antechinuses are found only patchily in a few isolated populations of high-altitude wet forest in mid-eastern Australia. They eat mostly insects and spiders and are likely preyed upon by owls and feral cats.

The silver-headed antechinus is endangered and threatened by climate change. The species lost almost one-third of its core habitat in the 2019-20 megafires.

Yet, torpor can assist here as well, even after such extreme events. Antechinuses (and other small mammals) are known to use torpor more often after fire, when food is scarce and the risk of predation is higher, as there are fewer places to hide in a scorched landscape.

Read more: Animal response to a bushfire is astounding. These are the tricks they use to survive The Conversation

Andrew Baker, Senior Lecturer, Queensland University of Technology

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

Next time you see a butterfly, treasure the memory: scientists raise alarm on these 26 species

The bulloak jewel (Hypochrysops piceatusMichael BrabyAuthor provided
Michael F. BrabyAustralian National UniversityHayley GeyleCharles Darwin UniversityJaana DielenbergCharles Darwin UniversityPhillip John BellUniversity of TasmaniaRichard V GlatzRoger KitchingGriffith University, and Tim R NewLa Trobe University

It might sound like an 18th century fashion statement, but the “pale imperial hairstreak” is, actually, an extravagant butterfly. This pale blue (male) or white (female) butterfly was once widespread, found in old growth brigalow woodlands that covered 14 million hectares across Queensland and News South Wales.

But since the 1950s, over 90% of brigalow woodlands have been cleared, and much of the remainder is in small degraded and weed infested patches. And with it, the butterfly numbers have dropped dramatically.

In fact, our new study has found it has a 42% chance of extinction within 20 years.

It isn’t alone. Our team of 28 scientists identified the top 26 Australian butterfly species and subspecies at greatest risk of extinction. We also estimated the probability that they will be lost within 20-years.

Author providedAuthor provided

Without concerted new conservation effort, we’ll not only lose unique elements of Australia’s nature, but also the important ecosystem services these butterflies provide, such as pollination.

Only Six Are Protected Under Law

We are now sounding the alarm as most species identified as at risk have little or no management underway to conserve them, and only six of the 26 butterflies identified are currently listed for protection under Australian law.

The Ptunarra Xenica is one of three at risk butterflies identified in Tasmania. Simon Grove/Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

The good news is there’s still a very good chance of recovery for most of these species, but only with new targeted conservation effort, such as protecting habitat from clearing and weeds, better fire management and establishing more of the right caterpillar food plants.

Let’s Meet A Few At-Risk Butterflies

The butterflies identified are delightful and fascinating creatures, with intriguing lifecycles, including fussy food preferences, subterranean accommodation and intimate relationships with “servant” ants.

The Australian fritillary

Our most imperilled butterfly is the Australian fritillary, with a 94% chance of extinction within 20 years. Like many of our butterfly species, a major threat facing the fritillary is habitat loss and habitat change.

The swamps where the fritillary occur have been drained for farming and urbanisation. At remaining swamps, weeds smother the native violets the larvae depend on for food.

This is one of the last known photos of the Australian fritillary. If you see a fritillary, immediately contact the NSW Department of Planning Industry and Environment. Garry Sankowsky

No one has managed to collect or take a photo of a fritillary in two decades, although a butterfly expert observed a single individual flying near Port Macquarie in 2015.

It might already be extinct, but as it was once quite widespread at swampy areas along 700 kilometres of coastal Queensland and NSW, we have hope there are still some out there.

The fritillary has impressive jet black caterpillars with a vibrant orange racing stripe and large spikes along their back, which transform into stunning orange and black butterflies.

Black caterpillar
Australian fritillary caterpillars are black with a distinctive orange stripe and spikes. Garry Sankowsky

Anyone who thinks they have seen a fritillary should record the location, try to photograph it and the site and immediately contact the NSW Department of Planning Industry and Environment.

The fritillary is among many butterflies with specific diets. And these preferences can make species vulnerable to environmental changes such as vegetation clearing, weed invasions and fires.

Read more: Photos from the field: zooming in on Australia's hidden world of exquisite mites, snails and beetles

The small bronze azure

Caterpillars of the small bronze azure — found on Kangaroo Island (and a few other patches in South Australia and Victoria) — only eat common sourbush.

Following the extensive 2020 fires, the butterfly hasn’t been found in areas where the sourbush burnt. Luckily, it’s been found in small patches of unburnt vegetation, so for now it’s hanging in there.

The small bronze azure has not been re-found in parts of Kangaroo Island where common sourbush burnt in the January 2020 fires. Richard Glatz

Like many butterflies, the lifecycle of the small bronze azure is enmeshed with a specific species of ant.

By day the butterfly larvae shelter underground in sugar ant (Camponotus terebrans) nests, then at night they’re escorted up by the ants to feed on the sourbush. For their care the ants are rewarded by a sugary secretion the caterpillars produce.

The eastern bronze azure

Some relationships with ants are even more unusual. Kangaroo Island’s other imperilled species — the eastern bronze azure — stays underground in sugar ant nests for 11 straight months. We don’t yet know what they eat.

Grey butterfly on a rock
An eastern bronze azure (Ogyris halmaturia) on Kangaroo Island. Their colouring is excellent camouflage on branches. Michael Braby

In a macabre twist, they may be eating their hosts — the ants or the ant larvae. So why the ants carry them down and look after them is also a mystery.

It might be for sugary secretions, like with the small bronze azure, but the caterpillars could also be using chemical trickery, mimicking the scent of ant larvae to fool the ants.

Adults of the eastern bronze azure emerge only to flutter about for a few weeks in November, so at the time of the Kangaroo Island fires in January the entire population was safely underground in ant nests. And as the larvae don’t come up to feed on plants, they weren’t impacted by the loss of vegetation.

Orange and black butterfly on a green leaf
This is the black grass-dart, found near Coffs Harbour. The caterpillars eat Floyd’s grass (Alexfloydia repens) which is listed as endangered in NSW. Mick Andren

It’s Not Too Late To Save Them

By raising awareness of these butterflies and the risks they face, we aim to give governments, conservation groups and the community time to act to prevent their extinctions.

Local landowners and Landcare groups have already been playing a valuable role in recovery actions for several species, such as planting the right food plants for the Australian fritillary around Port Macquarie, and for the Bathurst copper.

Brown and green butterfly on a log
The Bathurst copper in NSW is benefiting from community planting of its food plant sweet bursaria. Tessa Barratt

Indeed, most of the identified at-risk species occur across a mix of land types, including conservation, public and private land. In most cases, conservation reserves alone aren’t enough to ensure the long-term survival of the species.

Many landowners don’t realise they’re important custodians of such rare and threatened butterflies, and how important it is not to clear remaining patches of remnant native vegetation on their properties and adjoining road reserves.

People wanting to learn more about the butterfly species near them can use the free Butterflies Australia app to look up photos and information. You can also be a citizen scientist by recording and uploading sightings on the app.

Read more: Curious Kids: Do butterflies remember being caterpillars? The Conversation

Michael F. Braby, Associate Professor, Australian National UniversityHayley Geyle, Research Assistant, Charles Darwin UniversityJaana Dielenberg, University Fellow, Charles Darwin UniversityPhillip John Bell, University Associate, School of Natural Sciences, University of TasmaniaRichard V Glatz, Associate research scientist; Roger Kitching, Emeritus Professor, Griffith University, and Tim R New, Retired: Emeritus Professor in Zoology, La Trobe University

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 -

2021 HSC Timetable Released

April 29, 2021
The release of the HSC timetable marks the beginning of the final leg of the Year 12 school journey. Today 76,000 NSW school students received their personalised timetable for the 2021 written HSC exams.

HSC written exams will start on Tuesday 12 October with a compulsory English paper and finish with the examination of Food Technology on Thursday 4 November.

Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell said the release of the HSC timetables were the final leg of the school journey for Year 12 students.

“The HSC is a logistical behemoth, it includes scheduling 18 days of HSC exams involving around 76,000 students, 129 exams and more than 775 exam centres,” Ms Mitchell said.

“The HSC is the culmination of years of schooling and receiving your timetable makes it all the more real for students.

“Students are already working hard in their final year, and I wish them all the best during an exciting time.”

NESA CEO Paul Martin said planning for the HSC exams was a necessarily rigorous process, especially after last year showed just how quickly things could change.

“The timetable is designed to provide a schedule which is as fair and equitable as possible to ensure all students get the opportunity to do their best in their written exams,” said Mr Martin.

“Last year showed that plans can change in an instant and we always want to make sure students, schools and exam supervisors feel prepared for anything, so they can focus on exams.”

To develop the timetable NESA follows rigorous procedures to:
  • provide sufficient breaks between exams for popular courses
  • provide sufficient breaks between exams for frequently combined courses
  • enable all exams to be marked and students to receive their results from 6:00am on Friday 10 December
  • minimise the number of students with two exams scheduled at the same time.
All 2021 HSC students can access their timetable on Students Online from today.

The full 2021 HSC written exam timetable is available on the NESA website

Netball World Cup 2027 Returns To Sydney

April 26, 2021

Australian netball fans will once again have the chance to see the world’s best netballers in action on home soil, with the NSW Government today announcing the International Netball Federation Netball World Cup will return to Sydney in 2027.

ecured by the NSW Government, in partnership with Netball Australia, the 2027 Netball World Cup is expected to deliver an estimated $31 million boost to the NSW visitor economy.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said winning the hosting rights for this major sporting tournament brings NSW one step closer to fulfilling the NSW Government’s 2018 pledge to secure 10 World Cups in 10 years.

“The Netball World Cup 2027 is the ninth addition to the NSW Government’s 10 World Cups in 10 years initiative, which means we are well on track to not just deliver but to exceed this target,” Ms Berejiklian said

“The NSW Government’s COVID-19 response has enabled our State to put a strong bid forward for major events like this and I have no doubt there will be more to follow, delivering enormous economic and social benefits to our State for years to come.

“This is the fourth Women’s World Cup event secured for Sydney alongside the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2020, FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 and the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.”

Minister for Investment, Jobs, Tourism and Western Sydney Stuart Ayres said the chance to host the prestigious event was testament to an exemplary record of hosting international sporting events throughout NSW.

“Sydney set the benchmark with a record-breaking Netball World Cup in 2015 and I have no doubt we will put on an even bigger and better show when the event returns to our shores,” Mr Ayres said.

“This will be the third time the Netball World Cup has been held in Sydney and with Australia winning the previous two tournaments in 1991 and 2015, all of NSW will be hoping Australia can bring the trophy home for a third time in 2027.”

“Hosting major events like this is crucial in helping our tourism and events industry recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, creating jobs and leveraging the extensive expertise our State has in delivering major sporting events throughout NSW.”

Minister for Sport Geoff Lee said hosting the Netball World Cup will grow participation and inspire future generations of netballers. “In 2015 the Australian Diamonds shined in front of packed home crowds in Sydney, breaking records on and off the court,” Mr Lee said.

“NSW boasts over 115,000 netballers across the State, which equates to 25% of the national pool. “I am very confident the Netball World Cup 2027 will see current and future generations of NSW netballers aspiring to wear the green and gold.”

International Netball Federation President Liz Nicholl, CBE, said she was confident in Sydney delivering an excellent event, whilst also focusing on the development of the sport across Australia.

“As our sport continues to grow and evolve at an unprecedented rate around the globe, we look forward to working with the Organising Committee and Netball Australia on netball’s growth and development whilst delivering a thrilling world-class event that will no doubt inspire all and work towards creating a better world through netball,” Ms Nicholl said.

Netball Australia Chair Paolina Hunt said securing the 2027 World Cup was another critical step in the rapid development of the sport.

‘’We know that netball plays a key role in connecting and empowering young women and girls and an event such as this is a North star for young athletes who can now dream of working to represent the Diamonds in front of huge home crowds,” Ms Hunt said.

A key element of Australia’s bid was a post-tournament legacy that will deliver lasting benefits for women and girls both within netball and the broader community.

Following today’s announcement, a Local Organising Committee will be established with further details about the tournament to be advised once finalised.

Visit the Netball Australia website for more information on the 2027 Netball World Cup.

Apple's new 'app tracking transparency' has angered Facebook. How does it work, what's all the fuss about, and should you use it?

Amr Alfiky/AP
Paul Haskell-DowlandEdith Cowan University and Nikolai HamptonEdith Cowan University

Apple users across the globe are adopting the latest operating system update, called iOS 14.5, featuring the now-obligatory new batch of emojis.

But there’s another change that’s arguably less fun but much more significant for many users: the introduction of “app tracking transparency”.

This feature promises to usher in a new era of user-oriented privacy, and not everyone is happy — most notably Facebook, which relies on tracking web users’ browsing habits to sell targeted advertising. Some commentators have described it as the beginnings of a new privacy feud between the two tech behemoths.

So, What Is App Tracking Transparency?

App tracking transparency is a continuation of Apple’s push to be recognised as the platform of privacy. The new feature allows apps to display a pop-up notification that explains what data the app wants to collect, and what it proposes to do with it.

Privacy | App Tracking Transparency | Apple.

There is nothing users need to do to gain access to the new feature, other than install the latest iOS update, which happens automatically on most devices. Once upgraded, apps that use tracking functions will display a request to opt in or out of this functionality.

iPhone screenshot showing new App Tracking Transparency functionality
A new App Tracking Transparency feature across iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS will require apps to get the user’s permission before tracking their data across apps or websites owned by other companies. Apple newsroom

How Does It Work?

As Apple has explained, the app tracking transparency feature is a new “application programming interface”, or API — a suite of programming commands used by developers to interact with the operating system.

The API gives software developers a few pre-canned functions that allow them to do things like “request tracking authorisation” or use the tracking manager to “check the authorisation status” of individual apps.

In more straightforward terms, this gives app developers a uniform way of requesting these tracking permissions from the device user. It also means the operating system has a centralised location for storing and checking what permissions have been granted to which apps.

What is missing from the fine print is that there is no physical mechanism to prevent the tracking of a user. The app tracking transparency framework is merely a pop-up box.

It is also interesting to note the specific wording of the pop-up: “ask app not to track”. If the application is using legitimate “device advertising identifiers”, answering no will result in this identifier being set to zero. This will reduce the tracking capabilities of apps that honour Apple’s tracking policies.

However, if an app is really determined to track you, there are many techniques that could allow them to make surreptitious user-specific identifiers, which may be difficult for Apple to detect or prevent.

For example, while an app might not use Apple’s “device advertising identifier”, it would be easy for the app to generate a little bit of “random data”. This data could then be passed between sites under the guise of normal operations such as retrieving an image with the data embedded in the filename. While this would contravene Apple’s developer rules, detecting this type of secret data could be very difficult.

Read more: Your smartphone apps are tracking your every move – 4 essential reads

Apple seems prepared to crack down hard on developers who don’t play by the rules. The most recent additions to Apple’s App Store guidelines explicitly tells developers:

You must receive explicit permission from users via the App Tracking Transparency APIs to track their activity.

It’s unlikely major app developers will want to fall foul of this policy — a ban from the App Store would be costly. But it’s hard to imagine Apple sanctioning a really big player like Facebook or TikTok without some serious behind-the-scenes negotiation.

Why Is Facebook Objecting?

Facebook is fuelled by web users’ data. Inevitably, anything that gets in the way of its gargantuan revenue-generating network is seen as a threat. In 2020, Facebook’s revenue from advertising exceeded US$84 billion – a 21% rise on 2019.

The issues are deep-rooted and reflect the two tech giants’ very different business models. Apple’s business model is the sale of laptops, computers, phones and watches – with a significant proportion of its income derived from the vast ecosystem of apps and in-app purchases used on these devices. Apple’s app revenue was reported at US$64 billion in 2020.

With a vested interest in ensuring its customers are loyal and happy with its devices, Apple is well positioned to deliver privacy without harming profits.

Should I Use It?

Ultimately, it is a choice for the consumer. Many apps and services are offered ostensibly for free to users. App developers often cover their costs through subscription models, in-app purchases or in-app advertising. If enough users decide to embrace privacy controls, developers will either change their funding model (perhaps moving to paid apps) or attempt to find other ways to track users to maintain advertising-derived revenue.

If you don’t want your data to be collected (and potentially sold to unnamed third parties), this feature offers one way to restrict the amount of your data that is trafficked in this way.

But it’s also important to note that tracking of users and devices is a valuable tool for advertising optimisation by building a comprehensive picture of each individual. This increases the relevance of each advert while also reducing advertising costs (by only targeting users who are likely to be interested). Users also arguably benefit, as they see more (relevant) adverts that are contextualised for their interests.

It may slow down the rate at which we receive personalised ads in apps and websites, but this change won’t be an end to intrusive digital advertising. In essence, this is the price we pay for “free” access to these services.

Read more: Facebook data breach: what happened and why it's hard to know if your data was leaked The Conversation

Paul Haskell-Dowland, Associate Dean (Computing and Security), Edith Cowan University and Nikolai Hampton, School of Science, Edith Cowan University

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

We spent six years scouring billions of links, and found the web is both expanding and shrinking

Paul X. McCarthyUNSW and Marian-Andrei RizoiuUniversity of Technology Sydney

The online world is continuously expanding — always aggregating more services, more users and more activity. Last year, the number of websites registered on the “.com” domain surpassed 150,000,000.

However, more than a quarter of a century since its first commercial use, the growth of the online world is now slowing down in some key categories.

We conducted a multi-year research project analysing global trends in online diversity and dominance. Our research, published today in Public Library of Science, is the first to reveal some long-term trends in how businesses compete in the age of the web.

We saw a dramatic consolidation of attention towards a shrinking (but increasingly dominant) group of online organisations. So, while there is still growth in the functions, features and applications offered on the web, the number of entities providing these functions is shrinking.

Web Diversity Nosedives

We analysed more than six billion user comments from the social media website Reddit dating back to 2006, as well as 11.8 billion Twitter posts from as far back as 2011. In total, our research used a massive 5.6Tb trove of data from more than a decade of global activity.

This dataset was more than four times the size of the original data from the Hubble Space Telescope, which helped Brian Schmidt and colleagues do their Nobel-prize winning work in 1998 to prove the universe’s expansion is accelerating.

With the Reddit posts, we analysed all the links to other sites and online services — more than one billion in total — to understand the dynamics of link growth, dominance and diversity through the decade.

We used a measure of link “uniqueness”. On this scale, 1 represents maximum diversity (all links have their own domain) and 0 is minimum diversity (all links are on one domain, such as “”).

A decade ago, there was a much greater variety of domains within links posted by users of Reddit, with more than 20 different domains for every 100 random links users posted. Now there are only about five different domains for every 100 links posted.

Web diversity is nosediving.
Our Reddit analysis showed the pool of top-performing sources online is shrinking.

In fact, between 60—70% of all attention on key social media platforms is focused towards just ten popular domains.

Beyond social media platforms, we also studied linkage patterns across the web, looking at almost 20 billion links over three years. These results reinforced the “rich are getting richer” online.

The authority, influence and visibility of the top 1,000 global websites (as measured by network centrality or PageRank) is growing every month, at the expense of all other sites.

Read more: The internet's founder now wants to 'fix the web', but his proposal misses the mark

App Diversity Is On The Rise

The web started as a source of innovation, new ideas and inspiration — a technology that opened up the playing field. It’s now also becoming a medium that actually stifles competition and promotes monopolies and the dominance of a few players.

Our findings resolve a long-running paradox about the nature of the web: does it help grow businesses, jobs and investment? Or does it make it harder to get ahead by letting anyone and everyone join the game? The answer, it turns out, is it does both.

While the diversity of sources is in decline, there is a countervailing force of continually increasing functionality with new services, products and applications — such as music streaming services (Spotify), file sharing programs (Dropbox) and messaging platforms (Messenger, Whatsapp and Snapchat).

Functional diversity
Functional diversity grows continuously online.

Website ‘Infant Mortality’

Another major finding was the dramatic increase in the “infant mortality” rate of websites — with the big kids on the block guarding their turf more staunchly than ever.

We examined new domains that were continually referenced or linked-to in social media after their first appearance. We found that while almost 40% of the domains created 2006 were active five years on, only a little more than 3% of those created in 2015 remain active today.

The dynamics of online competition are becoming clearer and clearer. And the loss of diversity is concerning. Unlike the natural world, there are no sanctuaries; competition is part of both nature and business.

Our study has profound implications for business leaders, investors and governments everywhere. It shows the network effects of the web don’t just apply to online businesses. They have permeated the entire economy and are rewriting many previously accepted rules of economics.

For example, the idea that businesses can maintain a competitive advantage based on where they are physically located is increasingly tenuous. Meanwhile, there’s new opportunities for companies to set up shop from anywhere in the world and serve a global customer base that’s both mainstream and niche.

TikTok users record a short video.
Innovative global products and services, such as TikTok, Klarna and SkyScanner, continue to emerge from a range of creators around the world.

The best way to encourage diversity is to have more global online businesses focused on providing diverse services, by addressing consumers’ increasingly niche needs.

In Australia, we’re starting to see this through homegrown companies such as CanvaSafetyCulture and iWonder. Hopefully many more will appear in the decade ahead.

Read more: If it’s free online, you are the product The Conversation

Paul X. McCarthy, Adjunct Professor, UNSW and Marian-Andrei Rizoiu, Lecturer in Computer Science, University of Technology Sydney

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

All your transport options in one place: why mobility as a service needs a proper platform

Edi Kurniawan/Unsplash
S. Travis WallerUNSW and Kasun WijayaratnaUniversity of Technology Sydney

Uber, Ola, Car Next Door, GoGet, Urbi and Shareabike have transformed the mobility experience for millions of people, but are just the tip of the looming iceberg of changes in transport. Globally, 93 million travellers use the Uber app on a monthly basis. More Australians use Uber (22.9%) than taxis (21.8%).

The public clearly has an appetite for mobility as a service (MaaS). People want to plan, book and pay for various forms of transport via a digital platform.

Read more: For Mobility as a Service (MaaS) to solve our transport woes, some things need to change

However, mobility service providers are actors in search of a stage. As with software, computing and entertainment, only when a properly designed and managed platform underpins all the services will the real transformation be unlocked.

The 3 Pillars Of The Platform

MaaS is part of a broader evolution as novel technologies have driven the rapid transformation of products and offerings into collections of services. Smartphone applications rely on digital distribution platforms such as Google Play Store, Apple Store, Microsoft Store and Amazon Cloud. Similarly, the evolving technologies and mechanisms of mobility systems require a platform for distribution.

Read more: We subscribe to movies and music, why not transport?

The platform concept should include at least three key elements:

  1. integrated ticketing and payment: user payments are managed in a uniform and adaptable manner across all providers

  2. accessible, standardised regulations with open data: regulations and data are managed to be accessible/plug-n-play, secure and equitable

  3. reputation management: reputations of providers and users are managed in a scalable, fair and efficient way.

If the platform is designed poorly, markets will be distorted, privacy will be violated, and escalating infrastructure costs will continue to burden taxpayers.

The 3 critical elements of mobility infrastructure as a platform
The critical elements of mobility infrastructure as a platform. Author provided

Moving Towards Integrated Payment

Historically, the transport platform has simply been the physical networks – roads, walking paths, cycle paths, rail and so on – and the ancillary infrastructure such as stations, airports, ports, vehicle storage and parking. Governments must reimagine existing physical infrastructure as part of the mobility services platform.

Recent innovations have focused not only on infrastructure development – autonomous vehicle systems, for example – but also on managing existing infrastructure. For example, cities around the world have moved towards rail automation and smart ticketing for public transport (Opal, Oyster, Octopus and Myki cards). The smart cards market for public transport in the US alone was valued at US$57.2 billion (A$73.9bn) in 2018.

Setting up seamless payment across services is the first pillar of the platform needed to support mobility as a service. It removes a major barrier to entry for service providers and users.

public transport station with the words 'Did you tag off?' painted on the pavement
Smart cards were an essential step towards an integrated system of ticketing, payments and patronage data. Wikimedia Commons

Significant efforts to integrate payments are ongoing. The other two essential pillars of a MaaS platform require much more attention.

Mobility as a service is seen as a solution to various transport problems, particularly by reducing private vehicle use. Customers are being promised efficient door-to-door multi-modal travel through a single holistic application. In reality, the infrastructure to achieve this is not yet present.

Research has raised questions about its benefits, social impacts and governance. For instance, emphasising smaller-scale, more flexible mobility services in unideal environments can increase congestion and undermine urban planning goals.

Why Regulation Is Essential

The value and risks the platform creates for mobility providers, users, disadvantaged groups and society must all be kept in mind. The aim should be to create a fair marketplace that enables participation, innovation, equity and quality service.

Read more: Billions are pouring into mobility technology – will the transport revolution live up to the hype?

The second pillar, accessible, standardised regulations with open data paradigms, will enable service providers to participate in a market that delivers societal benefits. Innovations by providers must conform to a common “plug-n-play” approach that meets the mobility needs of the community as efficiently as possible. Crowd-sourced data (such as from Google or TomTom), user demand data from travel cards and traffic volume data should be available in the one platform for all service providers.

This is a complex undertaking, and data privacy must be a core component. It calls for strong professional leadership.

A big part of the challenge is that civil infrastructure cannot be unified in the same way as IT infrastructure or cloud computing. Civil infrastructure, especially transport infrastructure, is also expensive to build and maintain over its long lifespan, so the MaaS platform must be able to help optimise existing infrastructure to meet public mobility needs.

Regulation based on the protection and service of society is the only way to achieve this. The regulatory framework must be standardised, fair and accessible. This means any service providers adhering to the standards can join (and leave) the market without “insider” barriers.

Balancing Profit With Public Benefits

Though it is a difficult task, we should apply the “everything as a service” concept with clear standardisation and regulation to deliver equitable and sustainable transport services.

This also offers a way to integrate profit maximisation and social welfare within transport but also involving adjacent services such as parking.

In the rail industry, standardisation has enabled more commoditised heavy and light rail systems and vehicles. Commoditisation is a process that creates reliable nearly identical products – rail services in this case – in the eyes of consumers. They can choose between these competing products based on cost and which best suits their needs at the time. This process has improved the economics, safety, accessibility and technology of rail services.

Over the past decade, the European Commission has implemented laws and policies to create a Single European Railway Area. The goal is to revitalise the sector by creating a single market for interoperable rail services that are more innovative and competitive.

map showing progress on Single European Railway Area
The Single European Railway Area is a long-term project that is starting to show the benefits of integration. Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung/European UnionCC BY

Managing Reviews And Reputations

Finally, reputation management is essential for a mobility infrastructure platform. Reviews and reputation management have been a driving force for Uber, Amazon, eBay, iTunes, Airbnb etc.

A user-driven reputational management system must be trustworthy, scalable and resistant to tampering and malignant reviews. Blockchain technologies could help build the required trust.

Mobility will increasingly be delivered as a service to travellers. New technologies combined with social awareness and strong professional leadership will all be needed to develop the platform.

This article was co-authored by Victor Prados-Valerio, a Senior Associate at the advisory firm TSA Management, who has been a project manager and senior rolling stock engineer on train, light rail and depot procurement projects in Australia and overseas.The Conversation

S. Travis Waller, Professor and Head of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UNSW and Kasun Wijayaratna, Lecturer in Roads and Transport Engineering, University of Technology Sydney

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

Not every student needs senior maths, but we can make maths more engaging in the earlier school years

John FischettiUniversity of Newcastle

In late 2019, New South Wales announced it would make maths compulsory all through school. Victoria will have an additional, easier, year 12 maths subject in 2023 to boost the numbers of maths students in senior levels.

Moves to push more students into senior maths partly stem from the idea students need to be equipped with skills for jobs of the future, largely driven by automation. The federal government considers STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills as “crucial for Australia’s changing future”. A resource kit for STEM educators, developed by the federal government, states:

It’s predicted that future workers will spend more than twice as much time on job tasks requiring science, maths and critical thinking than today.

But the number of students taking higher level maths has bottomed-out. Nationally, less than 30% of students choose upper level, calculus based, maths — down dramatically in the past 20 years.

There are many arguments for how to get more students to take senior maths. They include making the subject more engaging, ensuring enough specialist teachers and, of course, making maths compulsory.

Read more: Fewer Australians are taking advanced maths in Year 12. We can learn from countries doing it better

At the moment, only Tasmania requires students to take basic maths through to year 12. Students in the ACT and NSW can finish studying maths in year 10 if they choose to. South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland require students to take just one unit of maths in the two final years of high school.

But how important is it for every student to have graduated school with high level maths?

Maths And The Future Of Work

The argument every student needs advanced maths for his or her career doesn’t always hold. A 2013 study of 2,300 workers in the United States found less than 25% of them use maths beyond fractions in their current jobs.

A group of professionals having a discussion at a boardroom table.
Human skills, like relationship building, are important to employers. Shutterstock

But we’re told the nature of work is rapidly changing and that employment in jobs requiring STEM skills is growing faster than in others. This may be true. Although the federal government also highlights growing industries aren’t all focused on STEM skills. They include:

  • health care and social assistance

  • education and training

  • construction

  • customer service.

Most of these jobs will require strong numeracy and computational thinking skills, including problem-solving that can come from subjects outside maths.

Deloitte report into the future of work also noted the importance of human skills in automated industries:

[…] jobs increasingly need us to use our hearts — the interpersonal and creative roles, with uniquely human skills like creativity, customer service, care for others and collaboration.

federal government report echoes this by advising those looking for work to:

remember to emphasise your employability skills, rather than just the technical skills […] Communication, reliability, team work, patience, resilience and initiative are required for all jobs, and this will continue to be the case in the future […] Some 75% of employers considered employability skills to be as important, if not more important, than technical skills.

Maths is embedded in most of these skills. But it’s certainly not the only subject that teaches them.

What Subjects Can Give Students The Skills They Need?

Broadly speaking, some of the skills students will need in their future — in both their work and daily life — include:

  • cognitive flexibility: the ability to adapt to the changing world and information around you; to be a lifelong learner

  • traditional and digital literacies: basic literacy, numeracy and media literacy (including the use of technology)

  • creativity and imagination: the human traits that separate us from machines and bring a human perspective to our work

  • computational thinking: problem solving processes we need in our work and life

  • ethical and sustainable practice: a commitment to do no harm to each other or the planet

  • Indigenous perspectives and cultural competence: promoting reconciliation and working successfully and respectfully across cultures and customs

  • well-being: taking care of our minds, bodies and our mob.

These skills are not taught just in maths but across the disciplines, including science, geography, visual arts, health and physical education, languages, history and design.

What Kind Of Maths Skills Do Students Need?

In his 2016 book, The Maths Math: And Other STEM Delusions, bestselling US author Andrew Hacker proposes we allow students to explore their passions in the latter school years instead of pushing advanced maths onto them.

He also recommends we teach basic maths so well students gain computational and critical thinking skills they can use throughout their lives.

Computational skills are the ability to understand a complex problem, develop possible solutions and then present these solutions in a way a computer, human, or both, can understand.

These skills are what primary maths should aim toward, emphasising interdisciplinary connections across key learning areas. And strong basic numeracy skills build a foundation for a lifetime.

Read more: Don’t just solve for x: letting kids explore real-world scenarios will keep them in maths class

But NAPLAN numeracy results in the past decade, as well as scores in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment, indicate many teachers are not prepared to teach primary maths effectively to an increasingly diverse student population.

Current maths assessments tend to limit the possibilities and the interdisciplinary connections by teaching math discretely.

Boy and girl working on making a small robot.
We need to teach maths as part of other subjects to make it more engaging. Shutterstock

Many schools are using projects and portfolios to develop these relevant skills, with learning outcomes based on ‘doing’ rather than regurgitating facts. This is not a move away from the goal of traditional numeracy skills. Rather, it’s the way we teach them and honour their relevance in multiple contexts outside of maths that makes the subject more engaging.

It’s important then for maths-related lessons to allow students to create, design, make, build, exhibit and present.

These ideas are at the heart of the current reviews into the NSW Curriculum and the Australian curriculum.

Armed with these foundational “basics”, all students could connect their passions as teenagers with the STEM skills they need for the future they envision - and many may then choose advanced maths courses with confidence.The Conversation

John Fischetti, Professor, Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Human and Social Futures, University of Newcastle

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

Children own around 3 digital devices on average, and few can spend a day without them

Pasi SahlbergUNSW and Amy GrahamUNSW

More than nine out of ten parents think digital media and technologies are a negative distraction in their lives. And 83% think their children are also negatively distracted by digital devices.

These are some of the findings from our Growing Up Digital Australia study. In 2020 we surveyed nearly 2,500 parents, grandparents and caregivers across Australia. This yielded data about 5,000 children aged 5-17 on their use of digital devices at home during the pandemic.

Our study shows more than 80% of children in this age group own a screen-based device and that children today, on average, have three different digital devices. Our data show children start owning devices from as early as four years old.

Only 46% of parents said their child could spend a whole day without using a digital device.

One parent told us:

It is addictive. I yearn for more time away from it for me and my family.

But we found positives too. Most parents believe the impact of digital media and technologies on their children’s maths, reading abilities, social skills and friendships is more positive than negative.

Read more: How creative use of technology may have helped save schooling during the pandemic

And 90% of parents feel digital technologies make it easier to stay in touch with family and friends.

Digital Dependency

Learning and working from home during the pandemic made digital tools more common among children and parents. Smartphones and laptops connected to the internet have been a lifeline for many families during the past year or so.

At the same time, our research shows, most families seem to suffer from drawbacks associated with being dependent on digital media at home.

One parent said about her teenage daughter:

I am concerned at the amount of time my daughter spends on her phone. She is no longer interested in the activities she used to enjoy before she had a phone.

Our earlier research showed 84% of Australian teachers observed students being distracted by digital media and technologies. And three out of five believed students weren’t ready to learn when they came to school.

Two young kids (boy and girl) watching something on an iPad.
Children start owning digital devices at the age of four. Shutterstock

Our new data suggest a relationship between young people’s educational performance and how frequently they sleep with a device. Almost 60% of parents whose child was struggling with school say they always allow them to use digital devices in bed.

Read more: Students less focused, empathetic and active than before – technology may be to blame

About one-third of Australian parents said their children go to bed with a smartphone or other device every night. This was more common in lower-income families. In general, children in low-income families use digital devices more, with less parental guidance.

Many parents also told us they hoped schools would focus more on children’s digital well-being and cybersafety.

One parent said:

As a parent I need to know how to work the programs and sites the kids access to be able to protect them. I do not assume they are safe.

What Parents Say About Their Own Use

Most families use digital devices as a babysitter to help them get things done at home. Our survey shows more than half of parents mainly use digital devices to entertain their kids, and only one in five use them mostly to support learning.

Infographic from the study.
Each child owns around three devices. Growing up Digital study infographic

Around 72% of parents said they recognise their own digital habits influence those of their children.

Parents often have different views about their children’s use of digital devices. 65% of parents said they find themselves disagreeing with their partner about how best to set limits and regulate their children’s use of technology.

Read more: Banning mobile phones in schools can improve students' academic performance. This is how we know

This Is What We All Can Do

With physical distancing affecting our social interactions, time spent on watching TV and using other digital devices has significantly increased. For example, the Royal Children’s Hospital’s National Child Health Poll, found half of Australian children had spent more time on digital screens for entertainment in June 2020 compared to the same period before the COVID-19 pandemic. And 42% of children spent less time being physically active.

Children playing soccer outside.
Children are less physically active than before. Shutterstock

This is not a simple challenge to solve. Certainly, one-size-fits-all solutions like turning off the home wi-fi or hiding digital devices from children rarely work.

But there are some small steps all families can try. The key is that we all must take those steps together.

  1. Take an honest look at current digital habits and screen time in your family. Agree on some concrete actions that would limit the time each family member spends with their digital device

  2. have at least two hours without digital screens before going to bed. Keep all smartphones and other mobile devices away from bedrooms

  3. focus on overall digital wellness by finding a healthy balance between time on digital gadgets and social time with family. Have digital-free weekends and holidays whenever possible.

Most parents included in our study felt they needed help to find healthier ways to live with digital media and technologies with their children. Close collaboration with schools can be a significant help in promoting a healthy relationship with technology.The Conversation

Pasi Sahlberg, Professor of Education Policy, UNSW and Amy Graham, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, UNSW

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

Mammals' brains: new research shows bigger doesn't always mean smarter

Javier Lazaro/
Vera WeisbeckerFlinders University and Jeroen SmaersStony Brook University (The State University of New York)

If a friend boasts of having a “big-brained” dog, your reaction is probably not to ask “relative to what?”. You would simply assume your friend thinks their dog is pretty smart. But are we always right to equate big brains with greater intelligence?

In a study published today in Science Advances, we and our colleagues describe how the relationship between large brains and “intelligence” in mammalian evolution isn’t as straightforward as you might assume.

A key problem is that, in evolutionary terms, a “large brain” doesn’t just refer to the absolute size of the brain. Rather, we refer to mammals as big-brained when their brain volume is large relative to their body mass.

There are many examples of intelligent animals that are also large-brained for their size. Humans are a particularly extreme case; our brains are roughly seven times larger than expected for an animal of our size. Dogs are also famously large-brained and smart, as are whales, dolphins and elephants.

Scatter plot of brain size relative to body size
Brain to body size plot highlighting humans and hominins (species ancestral to humans) in red, dolphins in black, other toothed whales in grey, bears in blue, and seals and sea lions in purple. Author provided

This big-equals-smart equivalence has also been applied in research on mammalian brain size evolution, under the assumption that relatively large mammalian brains evolve in situations where natural selection favours greater intelligence. But what if it’s not brain size that became larger, but body size that became smaller?

To investigate this question, we assembled the largest data set of brain and body masses of mammals from the existing literature. In total, we compiled size data for 1,400 mammal species, including 107 fossils.

We then assembled an evolutionary tree for these species. This allowed us to ask how brain and body size have related to each other throughout the evolution of mammals, starting from before the extinction of dinosaurs.

Evolutionary tree of mammals and brain sizes
Evolutionary tree of mammals - different colours represent groups of species that share a similar brain-to-body size relationship. Author provided

Our analysis revealed a mixed bag of evolutionary trajectories in brain and body sizes. For example, elephants are large, large-brained, and also known to be very intelligent. We saw that this combination arose through the elephants undergoing an even greater increase in brain size than expected for their large body size.

In contrast, the evolutionary lineages for humans and dolphins – both among the largest-brained mammals on Earth - were particularly unique in having larger brains but smaller bodies compared with their close relatives (chimps and gorillas for humans; other toothed whales for dolphins). This unusual combination makes their brains spectacularly large among mammals.

Read more: Curious Kids: which is smarter – a blue whale or an orca?

Strikingly, some mammals that are known to be very intelligent underwent stronger natural selection on body size than on brain size. The California sea lion, for example, famous for its circus-trick smarts, has an unusually small brain relative to its body mass. This is because when the evolutionary ancestors of seals and sea lions began living in water, evolution favoured massive increases in body size — perhaps to conserve body heat, to ward off predators such as sharks, or more generally because gravity is less of an impediment to large body size in water than in air.

This means California sea lions’ relative brain size is much smaller than expected, given their intelligence. So how are they so smart? One possible explanation is that, despite their relatively smaller brain size compared with their close relatives, California sea lions have up to four times more volume dedicated to brain areas that support intelligent behaviour, such as learning complicated tricks.

This seems to make them much smarter than other mammals with comparable brain sizes, such as bears, and shows why sea lions can learn skills that are not in their innate repertoire of behaviours, such as making vocalisations on command.

Evolutionary Upheavals

Our analysis also revealed that cataclysmic events in evolutionary history left their hallmarks in mammals’ brains. For example, there was an acceleration in increases in brain size relative to body mass after the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. We think this may be due to the fact many mammals found new habitats to live in that were previously occupied by dinosaurs, often requiring new adaptations in either brain or body size.

Another intriguing pattern is a substantial rearrangement of the relationship between brain and body sizes between 30 million and 23 million years ago, when Earth cooled rapidly and some big evolutionary changes (such as the evolution of seals and sea lions) happened.

Some of these changes left legacies that still endure today. They have resulted in some of the biggest (elephants and whales) and smallest (bats and shrews) mammal brains on Earth.

Read more: Brain versus brawn: the evolution of humans and other animals

Given that the evolution of brain size and intelligence is even more complex than we realised, how do we go about trying to understand it more fully? We definitely need to consider the evolutionary background of present-day mammals. However, it is also important to understand how the various parts of the brain evolve relative to one another.

For example, humans and dolphins not only have large brains overall, but also an astoundingly large neocortex, which is the powerhouse of mammal intelligence.

In the meantime, next time your friend boasts about their big-brained dog, remind them size isn’t everything.The Conversation

Vera Weisbecker, Associate Professor, Flinders University and Jeroen Smaers, Associate professor, Stony Brook University (The State University of New York)

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

We're all ingesting microplastics at home, and these might be toxic for our health. Here are some tips to reduce your risk

Mark Patrick TaylorMacquarie UniversityNeda Sharifi SoltaniMacquarie University, and Scott P. WilsonMacquarie University

Australians are eating and inhaling significant numbers of tiny plastics at home, our new research shows.

These “microplastics”, which are derived from petrochemicals extracted from oil and gas products, are settling in dust around the house.

Some of these particles are toxic to humans — they can carry carcinogenic or mutagenic chemicals, meaning they potentially cause cancer and/or damage our DNA.

We still don’t know the true impact of these microplastics on human health. But the good news is, having hard floors, using more natural fibres in clothing, furnishings and homewares, along with vacuuming at least weekly can reduce your exposure.

What Are Microplastics?

Microplastics are plastic particles less than five millimetres across. They come from a range of household and everyday items such as the clothes we wear, home furnishings, and food and beverage packaging.

We know microplastics are pervasive outdoors, reaching remote and inaccessible locations such as the Arctic, the Mariana Trench (the world’s deepest ocean trench), and the Italian Alps.

Our study demonstrates it’s an inescapable reality that we’re living in a sea of microplastics — they’re in our food and drinks, our oceans, and our homes.

Read more: We estimate up to 14 million tonnes of microplastics lie on the seafloor. It's worse than we thought

What We Did And What We Found

While research has focused mainly on microplastics in the natural environment, a handful of studies have looked at how much we’re exposed to indoors.

People spend up to 90% of their time indoors and therefore the greatest risk of exposure to microplastics is in the home.

Our study is the first to examine how much microplastic we’re exposed to in Australian homes. We analysed dust deposited from indoor air in 32 homes across Sydney over a one-month period in 2019.

We asked members of the public to collect dust in specially prepared glass dishes, which we then analysed.

A graphic showing how microplastics suspended in a home
Here’s how microplastics can be generated, suspended, ingested and inhaled inside a house. Monique ChiltonAuthor provided

We found 39% of the deposited dust particles were microplastics; 42% were natural fibres such as cotton, hair and wool; and 18% were transformed natural-based fibres such as viscose and cellophane. The remaining 1% were film and fragments consisting of various materials.

Between 22 and 6,169 microfibres were deposited as dust per square metre, each day.

Homes with carpet as the main floor covering had nearly double the number of petrochemical-based fibres (including polyethylene, polyamide and polyacrylic) than homes without carpeted floors.

Conversely, polyvinyl fibres (synthetic fibres made of vinyl chloride) were two times more prevalent in homes without carpet. This is because the coating applied to hard flooring degrades over time, producing polyvinyl fibres in house dust.

Microplastics Can Be Toxic

Microplastics can carry a range of contaminants such as trace metals and some potentially harmful organic chemicals.

These chemicals can leach from the plastic surface once in the body, increasing the potential for toxic effects. Microplastics can have carcinogenic properties, meaning they potentially cause cancer. They can also be mutagenic, meaning they can damage DNA.

Read more: Why ocean pollution is a clear danger to human health

However, even though some of the microplastics measured in our study are composed of potentially carcinogenic and/or mutagenic compounds, the actual risk to human health is unclear.

Given the pervasiveness of microplastics not only in homes but in food and beverages, the crucial next step in this research area is to establish what, if any, are safe levels of exposure.

Read more: You're eating microplastics in ways you don't even realise

How Much Are We Exposed To? And Can This Be Minimised?

Roughly a quarter of all of the fibres we recorded were less than 250 micrometres in size, meaning they can be inhaled. This means we can be internally exposed to these microplastics and any contaminants attached to them.

Using human exposure models, we calculated that inhalation and ingestion rates were greatest in children under six years old. This is due to their lower relative body weight, smaller size, and higher breathing rate than adults. What’s more, young children typically have more contact with the floor, and tend to put their hands in their mouths more often than adults.

Small bits of plastic floating in the sea
Microplastics are found not only in the sea, but in our food, beverages, and our homes. Shutterstock

Children under six inhale around three times more microplastics than the average — 18,000 fibres, or 0.3 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per year. They would also ingest on average 6.1 milligrams of microplastics in dust per kg of body weight per year.

For a five-year-old, this would be equivalent to eating a garden pea’s worth of microplastics over the course of a year. But for many of these plastics there is no established safe level of exposure.

Our study indicated there are effective ways to minimise exposure.

First is the choice of flooring, with hard surfaces, including polished wood floors, likely to have fewer microplastics than carpeted floors.

Also, how often you clean makes a difference. Vacuuming floors at least weekly was associated with less microplastics in dust than those that were less frequently cleaned. So get cleaning!The Conversation

Mark Patrick Taylor, Professor of Environmental Science and Human Health, Macquarie UniversityNeda Sharifi Soltani, Academic Casual, Macquarie University, and Scott P. Wilson, , Macquarie University

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

Our history up in flames? Why the crisis at the National Archives must be urgently addressed

Bidgee (Wikimedia commons)/The ConversationCC BY-SA
Michelle ArrowMacquarie University

Imagine you are in a large building near Parliament House in Canberra filled with irreplaceable objects. Not jewels, medals or paintings, but a collection of letters, tapes and documents of Australian life.

The collection contains letters written to and from prime ministers, and recordings of their speeches. It has historic episodes of the ABC television programs Four Corners and Countdown. Audio recordings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Your grandmother’s migration records. Your uncle’s military service records. Covert ASIO surveillance footage of anti-Vietnam war demonstrations. Letters from women living under the shadow of domestic violence, written to the Royal Commission on Human Relationships.

These are just some of the things to be found in the National Archives of Australia. Its role is to collect, manage and preserve records generated by the Australian government. This sounds dull, but it is anything but.

The National Archives is a repository for all aspects of Australian history, including iconic television programs such as Countdown. AAP/ABC/PR handout

It is not merely a “politician’s archive”: while the NAA is famous for its annual release of cabinet records on January 1 each year, some of the collection’s richest records are those that offer insights into the lives of ordinary Australians. Whether they were migrating to Australia, registering for military service, or writing to the prime minister to demand that he fund women’s refuges, ordinary citizens generated paper trails that have been preserved in the NAA’s collections. As a resource for understanding the ways that government works, and the ways that citizens interacted with it, the NAA is a peerless resource. The material it houses belongs to all of us.

Now imagine burning this building to the ground, destroying almost everything inside. Last week, historians around the world watched in horror as the Library at the University of Cape Town burned down, taking with it thousands of irreplaceable historical records. Thanks to years of underfunding, Australia is on track to see a similar, though less spectacular, destruction of historical records, unless the federal government makes an urgent injection of funds.

Read more: Cabinet papers 1998-99: how the GST became unstoppable

Over the past few years, both Labor and Liberal governments have repeatedly cut funding to our national cultural institutions, including the National Archives. All commonwealth agencies have been subject to so-called “efficiency dividends” since 1987. This means that each year they receive a reduction in funding.

While this is intended to drive savings, in effect, according to a 2019 parliamentary inquiry, it has had a “significant and compounding effect” on cultural institutions over the last decade. This was made even worse in 2015-16, when the Turnbull government imposed an additional 3% “efficiency target” on national cultural institutions.

This means institutions like the National Archives have been forced to shed expert staff and reduce services to users. In 2013, the archives had 429 staff around Australia but by 2019, this had shrunk to just 308. This has made it more difficult for people to access material at the archives, as opening hours have been reduced. Users report long delays when they request materials; obtaining digital copies of files can cost you hundreds of dollars. This user-pays system has further restricted access to collections.

Even more urgently, these funding cuts are also taking irreplaceable audio visual collections to the brink of a “digital cliff”: that is, where a combination of material fragility and redundant technology will destroy a huge audio visual archive. Australia’s audio-visual collections will hurtle over this digital cliff by 2025 if no action is taken.

Let’s think for a moment about what this means.

Australia has experienced a century of profound and rapid transformation, all of it captured by the mass media. Television, film and audio show us how people in the past moved, sounded and spoke: they offer vivid and compelling evidence of life in the past that is impossible to obtain any way.

This kind of footage is the mainstay of documentaries. Archival footage can light a fire of curiosity about our past, especially in those who might never pick up a history book. It is crucial especially for engaging young people in history. Brazen Hussies, the recent documentary about the history of women’s liberation, was so successful because of its use of vivid, rarely-seen archival footage, much of it held in the National Archives.

Filmmakers would struggle to create lively historical documentaries if we allow the archival film held by the National Archives to be destroyed. It would be disastrous for our historical understanding.

What is so astonishing is that the amount of money required to pull us back from the digital cliff is relatively small. The government has committed $500m to an expansion of the Australian War Memorial : the Tune Review of the National Archives, released in March this year, recommended the government fund a seven year program to urgently digitise at-risk materials. The cost? Just $67.7 million.

The National Archives is a crucial democratic institution. It plays an important role in holding the state to account, encouraging broad participation in civic life by facilitating access to records generated by the Australian government. This gives it enormous power to control – and limit – access to government records.

Yet it has not always exercised this power wisely.

Given the enormous financial pressures on the National Archives, its decision to fight Professor Jenny Hocking’s bid to access the so-called “Palace Letters”, a legal dispute that cost the archives more than $1 million, was a deeply misguided use of precious funds.

Read more: Jenny Hocking: why my battle for access to the 'Palace letters' should matter to all Australians

Similarly, many historians have criticised the archives’ overly cautious approach to clearing records for access, which has led to huge backlogs of unprocessed requests. Its practice of sending records back to the department that originally created them means documents can languish, unchecked, for months or even years.

The archives’ lengthy legal fight over the release of the ‘palace letters’ was a misguided use of public funds. National Archives of Australia

As the Australian Historical Association noted in its submission to the Tune review,

A process which restricts or even refuses access to government documents without adequate justification does not reflect an open and free democratic process.

The National Archives has much work to do to improve access to the records it holds. But it is also clear it has been denied essential funding for many years, and this has taken a toll.

The archives contains irreplaceable records that are important to every Australian. It is the government’s role to fund our national cultural institutions adequately so they can preserve and maintain this material: not just for citizens today, but for the citizens of the future.The Conversation

Michelle Arrow, Professor of History, Macquarie University

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

Australian Children More Distracted By Digital Devices In The Home Parents Say

April 28, 2021: UNSW
Research from the Gonski Institute for Education at UNSW Sydney reveals parents perceive digital devices as necessary for their kids’ learning but are worried about the distraction and activities they’re missing out on.

The new research report released today reveals digital media and technologies as a great distraction in Australian family life. More than nine out of ten parents think digital devices negatively distract their own lives, and 83% think their children are also negatively distracted by digital gadgets.

Digital distractions
While parents find digital technologies useful in staying connected with their children and keeping them safe, three-quarters of parents think it is difficult to control their child’s digital habits. As many as 65% of parents also admit that negotiating the use of digital media and technologies at home causes conflicts with their children.

“Parents think that digital media and technologies have a dual power of offering children both benefits and drawbacks,” says Professor Pasi Sahlberg, Deputy Director of the Gonski Institute for Education. “Hence, we need smart solutions to address these complex challenges towards sustainable digital wellness for our youth.”

Prof. Sahlberg says perhaps the most worrying finding is that about a third of families allow their children to use their digital devices after bedtime every single day. Furthermore, three of five children who struggle in school regularly sleep with their digital gadgets.

“Although our study is not able to prove that night-time use of smartphone or computer causes difficulties to keep up good learning at school, parents should help their children to fall asleep without technology,” Prof. Sahlberg says.

According to earlier findings, two-thirds of Australian teachers observed more children arriving at school tired and often not ready to learn.

Growing up digital
Growing up digital is also becoming an equity issue. According to the study, lower-income parents and lower-achieving students, in particular, are most at risk of distraction from interactive media use.

“This group of parents is less likely to implement effective monitoring and regulation strategies at home around the use of screens,” says Dr Amy Graham, Research Fellow at the Gonski Institute. “They’re also more likely to believe these devices are having no impact on child development.”

About half of parents surveyed say they would welcome more support from their child’s school to help them and their child to manage digital media and technologies use at home.

“Parents know they need to be role models in the safe and responsible use of digital devices at home, but they still find themselves negatively distracted by digital media and technologies,” says Dr Graham.

The study is also one of the first efforts to include grandparents’ views of their own and their grandchildrens’ digital media habits. Almost four in five grandparents feel they are in control of their own digital technology use, and most would rather see their grandchildren play sports than video games.

“These are not issues facing only schools or parents – we are all in this together. There are real opportunities for schools and parents to have better conversations about these challenges, but they need support to do this,” Dr Graham says.

Growing Up Digital Australia is part of an international research project, including Harvard Medical School (U.S.) and Alberta Teachers Association (Canada), investigating how digital media and technologies impact children’s wellbeing, health, and eventually learning at school. The report surveyed nearly 2500 parents, grandparents and caregivers and collected data about more than 5000 children across Australia on home use of digital devices by young people during the pandemic.

The final phase of the research will begin later this year and will capture the views of young people on their use of digital media and technologies.

Key facts:
  • More than four in five children own at least one screen-based device that belongs to them, and children own, on average, three digital devices at home. Personal ownership of gadgets starts as young as four years old.
  • Only 46% of parents felt that their child spends a day without digital technology.
  • 73% of parents and grandparents think it is harder to control their child’s digital habits since getting their own screen-based device.
  • 65% of parents agreed that ‘negotiating digital technologies use causes conflicts in our home’.
  • 83% of parents, carers and grandparents felt that their child was negatively distracted by digital technologies.
  • Half of parents said that they would welcome more support from their child’s school to help them and their child to manage digital media and technologies use at home.

Australian Report Says Not Too Late To Avoid A 3°C Warmer World

March 31, 2021
Australian scientists are urging the Government to accelerate Australia’s transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions over the next two decades to ensure the country is cushioned from the worst impacts of climate change.

In a landmark report released today, scientists say Australia is well positioned to meet the climate change challenge by combining our scientific knowledge with economic opportunities associated with moves to net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’re on track for 3°C global warming and the impacts on Australia’s environment and people would be devastating,” said Dr Andrew King from the University of Melbourne, one of the contributing authors to the Australian Academy of Science led report, The Risks To Australia of a 3°C Warmer World.

The report looks into the risks to Australia’s future, based on the current global trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions. It finds that the world reaching net zero emissions by 2050 is an absolute minimum, if Australia is to avoid potentially insurmountable challenges to its cities, ecosystems, industries and food and health systems.

Dr King and colleagues from across Australia say while the planet is well on the path to harmful climate change, as with COVID-19, science has solutions.

“It’s not too late,” Dr King said. “If we make rapid and drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions we can avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

Scientists say Australia will need to rapidly remove greenhouse gas emissions from a range of sectors including electricity generation and distribution; electrify the transport sector, industry and buildings; increase energy efficiency across the board; and reduce non-energy related GHG emissions from all sectors including industrial processes and agriculture.

“Australia must revisit its emission reduction commitments and work with other countries to provide the leadership and collaboration required to place Australia and the world on a safer climate trajectory,” said Academy Fellow Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the chair of the expert panel that developed the report.

The Risks To Australia of a 3°C Warmer World focuses on the consequences of 3°C of global warming for four areas of importance to Australia’s future: ecosystems; food production; cities and towns; and health and wellbeing. It also focuses on Australia’s contribution to what must be done to stay well below 2°C increase in global warming and thus limit these impacts.

The report urges the Government to:
  • scale up the development and implementation of next-generation zero greenhouse gas technologies.
  • systematically explore how our food production and supply systems should prepare for the challenges of climate change under growing extremes including the implications for carbon sequestration.
  • improve our understanding of climate impacts, including tipping points, as well as the compounding effects of multiple stressors at global warming of 2°C or more so that we can develop effective adaptation responses.
Dr King said scientists hope the report will spur decision-makers into action.

“If we don’t tackle our greenhouse gas emissions now, Australia’s future generations will pay the price.”

Australian Study First To Explore Combined Impacts Of Fishing And Ocean Warming On Fish Populations

April 27, 2021
The combined effect of rapid ocean warming and the practice of targeting big fish is affecting the viability of wild populations and global fish stock says new research by the University of Melbourne and the University of Tasmania.

Unlike earlier studies that traditionally considered fishing and climate in isolation, the research found that ocean warming and fishing combined to impact on fish recruitment, and that this took four generations to manifest.

"We found a strong decline in recruitment (the process of getting new young fish into a population) in all populations that had been exposed to warming, and this effect was highest where all the largest individuals were fished out," said lead author and PhD candidate, Henry Wootton, from the University of Melbourne.

Mr Wootton and his team established 18 independent populations of fish in their lab and exposed these to either control or elevated temperatures, and to one of three fisheries harvest regimes. They then followed the fate of each population for seven generations, which equates to nearly three years of lab time.

"Our study is the first to experimentally explore the joint impact of fishing and ocean warming on fish populations," Mr Wootton said.

The research is released today in the journal PNAS with researchers saying the solution is less selective fishing, which will help ensure balanced sex ratios and the persistence of valuable bigger females.

Co-author Dr John Morrongiello said: "Wild fisheries provide food for billions of people worldwide, particularly in our Pacific region where fish is the major source of animal-based protein. Past fishing practices have caused spectacular fishery crashes and so it is important that we adopt management approaches that will ensure our oceans continue to maintain sustainable fisheries."

He added: "Sustainable fisheries management in the face of rapid environmental change is a real challenge. Getting it right will not only provide food and economic security for millions of people worldwide but will also help protect our ocean's valuable biodiversity for generations to come."

Dr Asta Audzijonyte, co-author from University of Tasmania and Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, said it was surprising to find such strong and delayed negative impact of warming on small fish survival.

"We still do not fully understand why this happens, but our findings clearly show that protecting fish size diversity and large fish can increase their resilience to climate change. While reversing climate change is hard, restoring and protecting fish size diversity is one thing that we certainly can do, and we need to do it fast," she said.

Dr Audzijonyte added: "Most experimental research on climate change impacts is done on relatively short timescales, where fish are studied for two or three generations at best. We found that strong negative impacts of warming only became apparent after four generations. This suggests that we might be underestimating the possible impacts of climate change on some fisheries stocks."

Henry F. Wootton, Asta Audzijonyte, John Morrongiello. Multigenerational exposure to warming and fishing causes recruitment collapse, but size diversity and periodic cooling can aid recovery. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021; 118 (18): e2100300118 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2100300118

Espresso, Latte Or Decaf? Genetic Code Drives Your Desire For Coffee

April 27, 2021
Whether you hanker for a hard hit of caffeine or favour the frothiness of a milky cappuccino, your regular coffee order could be telling you more about your cardio health than you think.

In a world first study of 390,435 people, University of South Australia researchers found causal genetic evidence that cardio health – as reflected in blood pressure and heart rate – influences coffee consumption.

Conducted in partnership with the SAHMRI, the team found that people with high blood pressure, angina, and arrythmia were more likely to drink less coffee, decaffeinated coffee or avoid coffee altogether compared to those without such symptoms, and that this was based on genetics.

Lead researcher and Director of UniSA’s Australian Centre for Precision Health, Professor Elina Hyppönen says it’s a positive finding that shows our genetics actively regulate the amount of coffee we drink and protect us from consuming too much.

“People drink coffee for all sorts of reasons – as a pick me up when they’re feeling tired, because it tastes good, or simply because it’s part of their daily routine,” Prof Hyppönen says.

“But what we don’t recognise is that people subconsciously self-regulate safe levels of caffeine based on how high their blood pressure is, and this is likely a result of a protective genetic a mechanism.

“What this means is that someone who drinks a lot of coffee is likely more genetically tolerant of caffeine, as compared to someone who drinks very little.

“Conversely, a non-coffee drinker, or someone who drinks decaffeinated coffee, is more likely prone to the adverse effects of caffeine, and more susceptible to high blood pressure.”

In Australia, one in four men, and one in five women suffer from high blood pressure, with the condition being a risk factor for many chronic health conditions including stroke, heart failure and chronic kidney disease.

Using data from the UK Biobank, researchers examined the habitual coffee consumption of 390,435 people, comparing this with baseline levels of systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and baseline heart rate. Causal relationships were determined via Mendelian randomization.

Prof Hyppönen says how much coffee we drink is likely to be an indicator of our cardio health.

“Whether we drink a lot of coffee, a little, or avoid caffeine altogether, this study shows that genetics are guiding our decisions to protect our cardio health,” Prof Hyppönen says.

“If your body is telling you not to drink that extra cup of coffee, there’s likely a reason why. Listen to your body, it’s more in tune with what your health than you may think.”

Future Drones Likely To Resemble 300-Million-Year-Old Flying Machine

April 27, 2021
University of South Australia researchers have drawn inspiration from a 300-million-year-old superior flying machine -- the dragonfly -- to show why future flapping wing drones will probably resemble the insect in shape, wings and gearing.

A team of PhD students led by UniSA Professor of Sensor Systems, Javaan Chahl, spent part of the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown designing and testing key parts of a dragonfly-inspired drone that might match the insect's extraordinary skills in hovering, cruising and aerobatics.
Flapping wing mechanism made using a 3D printer in a student's home laboratory.                            UniSA researchers modelled the dragonfly's unique body shape and aerodynamic properties.

The UniSA students worked remotely on the project, solving mathematical formulas at home on whiteboards, digitising stereo photographs of insect wings into 3D models, and using spare rooms as rapid prototyping workshops to test parts of the flapping wing drone.

Their findings have been published in the journal Drones.

Describing the dragonfly as the "apex insect flyer," Prof Chahl says numerous engineering lessons can be learned from its mastery in the air.

"Dragonflies are supremely efficient in all areas of flying. They need to be. After emerging from under water until their death (up to six months), male dragonflies are involved in perpetual, dangerous combat against male rivals. Mating requires an aerial pursuit of females and they are constantly avoiding predators. Their flying abilities have evolved over millions of years to ensure they survive," Prof Chahl says.

"They can turn quickly at high speeds and take off while carrying more than three times their own body weight. They are also one of nature's most effective predators, targeting, chasing and capturing their prey with a 95 per cent success rate."

The use of drones has exploded in recent years -- for security, military, delivery, law enforcement, filming, and more recently health screening purposes -- but in comparison to the dragonfly and other flying insects they are crude and guzzle energy.

The UniSA team modelled the dragonfly's unique body shape and aerodynamic properties to understand why they remain the ultimate flying machine.

Because intact dragonflies are notoriously difficult to capture, the researchers developed an optical technique to photograph the wing geometry of 75 different dragonfly (Odonata) species from glass display cases in museum collections.

In a world first experiment, they reconstructed 3D images of the wings, comparing differences between the species.

"Dragonfly wings are long, light and rigid with a high lift-to-drag ratio which gives them superior aerodynamic performance.

"Their long abdomen, which makes up about 35 per cent of their body weight, has also evolved to serve many purposes. It houses the digestive tract, is involved in reproduction, and it helps with balance, stability and manoeuvrability. The abdomen plays a crucial role in their flying ability."

The researchers believe a dragonfly lookalike drone could do many jobs, including collecting and delivering awkward, unbalanced loads, safely operating near people, exploring delicate natural environments and executing long surveillance missions.

Javaan Chahl, Nasim Chitsaz, Blake McIvor, Titilayo Ogunwa, Jia-Ming Kok, Timothy McIntyre, Ermira Abdullah. Biomimetic Drones Inspired by Dragonflies Will Require a Systems Based Approach and Insights from Biology. Drones, 2021; 5 (2): 24 DOI: 10.3390/drones5020024

Australian Airports Could Generate Enough Solar Energy To Power A City

April 26, 2021
A new study has found Australia's government-owned airports could produce enough electricity to power 136,000 homes, if they had large-scale rooftop solar systems installed.

Researchers at RMIT University compared electricity generated by residential solar panels in a regional Australian city to the potential green energy production of 21 leased federal airports.

They found if large-scale solar panels were installed at the airports, they would generate 10 times more electricity than the city's 17,000 residential panels, while offsetting 151.6 kilotons of greenhouse gasses annually.

Researcher Dr Chayn Sun said the analysis showed the value of focusing renewable energy efforts on large, centralised rooftop solar systems.

"We can't rely on small residential solar panels to get us to a zero-emission economy but installing large panels at locations like airports would get us a lot closer," she said.

"We hope our results will help guide energy policy, while informing future research in solar deployment for large buildings.

"There's so much potential to facilitate national economic development while contributing towards greenhouse gas emission reduction targets."

Sun, a geospatial scientist in RMIT's School of Science, said airports were ideal for solar panels but were not currently being used to their full potential -- many Australian airports are without adequate solar systems.

"Airports get good sun exposure because they're not shaded by tall buildings or trees, making them a perfect spot to harness the sun's energy," she said.

"Australia is facing an energy crisis, yet our solar energy resources -- such as airport rooftops -- are being wasted.

"Harnessing this power source would avoid 63 kilotons of coal being burned in Australia each year, an important step towards a zero-carbon future."

For the study, published in the Journal of Building Engineering, geospatial researchers estimated the solar electricity generated from 17,000 residential solar panels in Bendigo, Victoria, over one year.

Lead author Athenee Teofilo, a Master of Geospatial Science student, then mapped the buildings in every leased federal airport -- excluding unsuitable structures like dome and blister-type hangars -- and identified 2.61km2 of usable rooftop space.

Researchers determined the optimum tilt angle for the solar arrays for each airport, to maximise efficiency.

Perth Airport had most energy-generating potential; placing solar panels there could produce almost twice the solar output of Bendigo, equal to the combined production from Adelaide, Sydney, Moorabbin and Townsville airports.

Even Melbourne Airport alone would outperform Bendigo's annual solar electricity production by almost 12 gigawatt hours a year.

Airport buildings less suited to solar panels could still be useful for ground-mounted solar systems, the study found.

Sun said the research underlined the necessity for energy policies to include a plan for installing solar panels at airports.

"Based on our solar radiation analysis, we know airports with decent solar systems could not only be self-sufficient but would generate enough electricity to send the excess back into the grid," she said.

"We mapped airports owned by the federal government, but Australia has more than 150 privately-owned airfields, which could also have panels installed.

"Australia receives so much solar radiation, so every airport in the country would benefit from having the right type of solar panels installed.

"The same could be said for many airports and large buildings located around the world."

Sun said reflections from the panels would not be a problem, as modern solar arrays absorb rather than reflect sunlight.

Previous studies have deemed airports as great solar generators but the RMIT research goes further by precisely modelling the use of large-scale systems.

The findings could also be extended to assess the solar potential of other sites, such as large commercial buildings, warehouses or distribution centres.

Athenee Teofilo, Qian (Chayn) Sun, Nenad Radosevic, Yaguang Tao, Jerome Iringan, Chengyang Liu. Investigating potential rooftop solar energy generated by Leased Federal Airports in Australia: Framework and implications. Journal of Building Engineering, 2021; 41: 102390 DOI: 10.1016/j.jobe.2021.102390

Genetic Effects Of Chernobyl Radiation

April 22, 2021
In two landmark studies, researchers have used cutting-edge genomic tools to investigate the potential health effects of exposure to ionizing radiation, a known carcinogen, from the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine. One study found no evidence that radiation exposure to parents resulted in new genetic changes being passed from parent to child. The second study documented the genetic changes in the tumours of people who developed thyroid cancer after being exposed as children or foetuses to the radiation released by the accident.

The findings, published around the 35th anniversary of the disaster, are from international teams of investigators led by researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health. The studies were published online in Science on April 22.

"Scientific questions about the effects of radiation on human health have been investigated since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and have been raised again by Chernobyl and by the nuclear accident that followed the tsunami in Fukushima, Japan," said Stephen J. Chanock, M.D., director of NCI's Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics (DCEG). "In recent years, advances in DNA sequencing technology have enabled us to begin to address some of the important questions, in part through comprehensive genomic analyses carried out in well-designed epidemiological studies."

The Chernobyl accident exposed millions of people in the surrounding region to radioactive contaminants. Studies have provided much of today's knowledge about cancers caused by radiation exposures from nuclear power plant accidents. The new research builds on this foundation using next-generation DNA sequencing and other genomic characterization tools to analyze biospecimens from people in Ukraine who were affected by the disaster.

The first study investigated the long-standing question of whether radiation exposure results in genetic changes that can be passed from parent to offspring, as has been suggested by some studies in animals. To answer this question, Dr. Chanock and his colleagues analysed the complete genomes of 130 people born between 1987 and 2002 and their 105 mother-father pairs.

One or both of the parents had been workers who helped clean up from the accident or had been evacuated because they lived in close proximity to the accident site. Each parent was evaluated for protracted exposure to ionizing radiation, which may have occurred through the consumption of contaminated milk (that is, milk from cows that grazed on pastures that had been contaminated by radioactive fallout). The mothers and fathers experienced a range of radiation doses.

The researchers analysed the genomes of adult children for an increase in a particular type of inherited genetic change known as de novo mutations. De novo mutations are genetic changes that arise randomly in a person's gametes (sperm and eggs) and can be transmitted to their offspring but are not observed in the parents.

For the range of radiation exposures experienced by the parents in the study, there was no evidence from the whole-genome sequencing data of an increase in the number or types of de novo mutations in their children born between 46 weeks and 15 years after the accident. The number of de novo mutations observed in these children were highly similar to those of the general population with comparable characteristics. As a result, the findings suggest that the ionizing radiation exposure from the accident had a minimal, if any, impact on the health of the subsequent generation.

"We view these results as very reassuring for people who were living in Fukushima at the time of the accident in 2011," said Dr. Chanock. "The radiation doses in Japan are known to have been lower than those recorded at Chernobyl."

In the second study, researchers used next-generation sequencing to profile the genetic changes in thyroid cancers that developed in 359 people exposed as children or in utero to ionizing radiation from radioactive iodine (I-131) released by the Chernobyl nuclear accident and in 81 unexposed individuals born more than nine months after the accident. Increased risk of thyroid cancer has been one of the most important adverse health effects observed after the accident.

The energy from ionizing radiation breaks the chemical bonds in DNA, resulting in a number of different types of damage. The new study highlights the importance of a particular kind of DNA damage that involves breaks in both DNA strands in the thyroid tumours. The association between DNA double-strand breaks and radiation exposure was stronger for children exposed at younger ages.

Next, the researchers identified the candidate "drivers" of the cancer in each tumour -- the key genes in which alterations enabled the cancers to grow and survive. They identified the drivers in more than 95% of the tumors. Nearly all the alterations involved genes in the same signalling pathway, called the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway, including the genes BRAF, RAS, and RET.

The set of affected genes is similar to what has been reported in previous studies of thyroid cancer. However, the researchers observed a shift in the distribution of the types of mutations in the genes. Specifically, in the Chernobyl study, thyroid cancers that occurred in people exposed to higher radiation doses as children were more likely to result from gene fusions (when both strands of DNA are broken and then the wrong pieces are joined back together), whereas those in unexposed people or those exposed to low levels of radiation were more likely to result from point mutations (single base-pair changes in a key part of a gene).

The results suggest that DNA double-strand breaks may be an early genetic change following exposure to radiation in the environment that subsequently enables the growth of thyroid cancers. Their findings provide a foundation for further studies of radiation-induced cancers, particularly those that involve differences in risk as a function of both dose and age, the researchers added.

"An exciting aspect of this research was the opportunity to link the genomic characteristics of the tumour with information about the radiation dose -- the risk factor that potentially caused the cancer," said Lindsay M. Morton, Ph.D., deputy chief of the Radiation Epidemiology Branch in DCEG, who led the study.

"The Cancer Genome Atlas set the standard for how to comprehensively profile tumour characteristics," Dr. Morton continued. "We extended that approach to complete the first large genomic landscape study in which the potential carcinogenic exposure was well-characterized, enabling us to investigate the relationship between specific tumour characteristics and radiation dose."

She noted that the study was made possible by the creation of the Chernobyl Tissue Bank about two decades ago -- long before the technology had been developed to conduct the kind of genomic and molecular studies that are common today.

"These studies represent the first time our group has done molecular studies using the biospecimens that were collected by our colleagues in Ukraine," Dr. Morton said. "The tissue bank was set up by visionary scientists to collect tumour samples from residents in highly contaminated regions who developed thyroid cancer. These scientists recognized that there would be substantial advances in technology in the future, and the research community is now benefiting from their foresight."

Journal References:

Meredith Yeager, Mitchell J. Machiela, Prachi Kothiyal, Michael Dean, Clara Bodelon, Shalabh Suman, Mingyi Wang, Lisa Mirabello, Chase W. Nelson, Weiyin Zhou, Cameron Palmer, Bari Ballew, Leandro M. Colli, Neal D. Freedman, Casey Dagnall, Amy Hutchinson, Vibha Vij, Yosi Maruvka, Maureen Hatch, Iryna Illienko, Yuri Belayev, Nori Nakamura, Vadim Chumak, Elena Bakhanova, David Belyi, Victor Kryuchkov, Ivan Golovanov, Natalia Gudzenko, Elizabeth K. Cahoon, Paul Albert, Vladimir Drozdovitch, Mark P. Little, Kiyohiko Mabuchi, Chip Stewart, Gad Getz, Dimitry Bazyka, Amy Berrington de Gonzalez, Stephen J. Chanock. Lack of transgenerational effects of ionizing radiation exposure from the Chernobyl accident. Science, 2021; eabg2365 DOI: 10.1126/science.abg2365

Lindsay M. Morton, Danielle M. Karyadi, Chip Stewart, Tetiana I. Bogdanova, Eric T. Dawson, Mia K. Steinberg, Jieqiong Dai, Stephen W. Hartley, Sara J. Schonfeld, Joshua N. Sampson, Yosi Maruvka, Vidushi Kapoor, Dale A. Ramsden, Juan Carvajal-Garcia, Charles M. Perou, Joel S. Parker, Marko Krznaric, Meredith Yeager, Joseph F. Boland, Amy Hutchinson, Belynda D. Hicks, Casey L. Dagnall, Julie M. Gastier-Foster, Jay Bowen, Olivia Lee, Mitchell J. Machiela, Elizabeth K. Cahoon, Alina V. Brenner, Kiyohiko Mabuchi, Vladimir Drozdovitch, Sergii Masiuk, Mykola Chepurny, Liudmyla Yu. Zurnadzhy, Maureen Hatch, Amy Berrington de Gonzalez, Gerry A. Thomas, Mykola D. Tronko, Gad Getz, Stephen J. Chanock. Radiation-related genomic profile of papillary thyroid cancer after the Chernobyl accident. Science, 2021; eabg2538 DOI: 10.1126/science.abg2538

View of Chernobyl nuclear power plant (stock image). Credit: © NickMo /

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