inbox and environment news: Issue 500

June 27 - July 10, 2021: Issue 500

More Time To Have Your Say On Ingleside Housing Development Proposal

The exhibition of the draft Ingleside Place Strategy has been extended until Friday 23 July 2021.
The NSW Dept. of Planning states it knows the community wants more time to provide feedback on the place strategy, which is why they have extended the exhibition to now run more than twice as long as the standard four-week exhibition period.
If you missed attending any of their previous online and face-to-face information sessions, you can now see the online presentation and read an updated frequently asked questions
The draft Ingleside Place Strategy is on public exhibition until Friday 23 July 2021.   
The draft place strategy outlines a plan for the development of Ingleside. It proposes a bushfire-safe community with up to 980 new dwellings and a new neighbourhood centre as well as welcoming public areas and attractive green spaces for people to relax and enjoy the outdoors. 
For more information on how to have your say and to view the precinct plans, visit the Ingleside webpage:

Photo: Waratah Rd Ingleside: this government owned bush is proposed to be cleared for housing. The Heath-leafed Banksia, Banksia ericifolia, on that site. PNHA photo

Funding For Careel Creek Improvements

June 24, 2021
Member for Pittwater Rob Stokes today announced the NSW Government is providing $143,000 to Northern Beaches Council to support the clean-up of Careel Creek at Avalon Beach.

“Careel Creek weaves its way through the Avalon community on its way to Careel Bay and is a well-known local landmark,” Rob Stokes said today.

“Local bushcare volunteers have been fantastic in regenerating stretches of the creek bank, and the upcoming works will provide an important boost to these efforts.”

The project will take around 6 weeks between July and September, and is expected to reduce flood risk to surrounding homes and Barrenjoey High, enhance native vegetation, improve habitat, stabilise creek banks, and reduce the chance of noxious weeds flowing into the creek.

“The work will involve the careful removal of sediment and gross pollutants, and will be conducted by soil conservation specialists.

“It’s great the NSW Government can partner with Northern Beaches Council on this project,” Rob Stokes said.

Careel Creek during rain event. AJG photo

Biodiversity Offsetting Should Only Be Used As A Last Resort And Adhere To International Best Practice 

June 25, 2021
The conservation movement welcomes the inquiry into the NSW biodiversity offsetting scheme announced by the Legislative Council’s Environment and Planning Committee. 

“There have been serious concerns about the government’s new biodiversity offsets scheme since it was introduced as part of its suite of weakened land-clearing and nature laws in 2017,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“Biodiversity offsets underpin the whole system of new nature laws the Coalition said had found the sweet spot enabling development and the protection and enhancement of wildlife habitat. 

“But the evidence suggests otherwise. More than 1,020 plants and animals are now threatened with extinction in NSW, about 20 more than when the scheme was introduced. 

“Clearly, something is not working and the public has a right to know what’s gone wrong. 

“Essentially, the scheme treats nature like a Magic Pudding that developers can keep eating forever if they throw enough cash into a tin. 

“The offsets system has been designed so the government never has to say no to developers.  

“It reduces nature to a bunch of financial formulas that can never capture the true value of our unique and rapidly disappearing wildlife and bushland.” 

In addition to concerns about declining biodiversity, recent reports by The Guardian Australia of massive windfall profits by companies playing the offsets market have raised many questions about the probity of the system. 

The Nature Conservation Council in April wrote to ICAC asking it to look into the sale of biodiversity offset credits in relation to major roadworks in Western Sydney detailed in the Guardian articles.  

ICAC, in accordance with its normal operating procedures, has not indicated whether it has initiated an investigation.   

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

“We believe the whole system of offsetting must be urgently reviewed to ensure it does what it says on the tin -- protects threatened wildlife and bushland in a rigorous and transparent way.”  


Motion passed by the Legislative Council Portfolio Committee No. 7 Environment and Planning on June 24, 2021:   

That Portfolio Committee No. 7 Environment and Planning inquiry into and report on the integrity of the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Scheme, and in particular: 
  1. The effectiveness of the scheme to halt or reverse the loss of biodiversity values, including threatened species and threatened habitat in NSW, the role of the Biodiversity Conservation Trust in administering the scheme and whether the Trust is subject to adequate transparency and oversight; 
  2. The adequacy of the use of offsets by the NSW Government for major projects and strategic approvals; 
  3. The impact of non-additional offsetting practices on biodiversity outcomes, offset prices and the opportunity for private landholders to engage in the scheme; and  
  4. Any other related matters. 
  5. That the committee report by March 1, 2021. 

Whole Lot Closer To Keeping Bromadiolone Out Of Bird Food Chains

June 23, 2021: BirdLife Australia
This afternoon, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) announced that they are intending to refuse the NSW Government’s emergency permit application to use bromadiolone to end the mouse plague, on the grounds of environmental concerns.

This is a huge win in the fight to stop the NSW Government from rolling out of thousands of litres of this highly toxic second generation rodenticide across farms – the equivalent of “napalming” rodents.

APVMA Chief Executive Officer, Ms Lisa Croft, said that “the APVMA’s primary concern is environmental safety, particularly in relation to animals that eat mice” – which is what we have been warning all along. 

If bromadiolone is allowed to enter our natural food chains, the consequences for our native birds could be catastrophic. While there’s no evidence that bromadiolone will stop the mouse plague, we do know that it will kill birds of prey – while affecting everything from fish to reptiles, marsupials to livestock and even pets. 

BirdLife Australia's Urban Birds Program Director Holly Parsons said the APVMA had made the right decision. 

“We still have concerns about the impacts that second generation anti-coagulant rodenticides have on our wildlife but are glad that such a mass quantity has been stopped from entering the ecosystem,” she says.  

"We note the APVMA have approved 6 additional permits to distribute zinc phosphide, and call again on the APVMA to implement additional monitoring of potential impacts to wildlife from this chemical. While it does not spread throughout natural food chains in the same way as bromadiolone would, zinc phosphide is still highly toxic, and should be distributed with caution.”  

NSW DPI has 28 days to respond to the proposed decision before the APVMA makes its final decision, which we will be monitoring closely. 

A huge thank you to the thousands of people who signed our petition calling on the APVMA to refuse this application. Please sign if you haven’t already to continue to apply the pressure:

Photo: Southern Boobook by Ian Wilson

Platypus Numbers At Penrith

June 23, 2021: Penrith Council
Penrith City Council and Mulgoa Valley Landcare have been working with Dr Michelle Ryan from Western Sydney University to determine the presence of platypus in the Penrith LGA and we are delighted to report that she has identified platypus in a number of our creeks! 

Dr Ryan’s project focuses on determining what is important to the platypus’ survival in the Penrith LGA. The results of the research are expected to be announced in August this year with a community session. 

In the meantime, while we eagerly wait for Dr Ryan to announce the research project’s findings, we had a few tips on how you can help protect these beautiful creatures: 
  • Abide by NSW Government laws and use approved yabby fishing traps. 
  • Ensure you take your rubbish with you and dispose of your litter correctly and in a bin. 
  • Keep the vegetation surrounding the creeks in top condition by keeping it litter free and undisturbed. 
If you’re as excited as we are to learn more about Dr Ryan’s research, keep an eye on our social channels for more information about the community session! 

Platypus at Penrith. Photo: Dr Michelle Ryan.

Federal Consultation On Endangered Listing For The Koala Now Open - Closes July 30, 2021

Consultation on Species Listing Eligibility and Conservation Actions: Phascolarctos cinereus (Koala)
You are invited to provide your views and supporting reasons related to:

1) the eligibility of Phascolarctos cinereus (Koala) for inclusion on the EPBC Act
threatened species list in the Endangered category; and
2) the necessary conservation actions for the above species.

The purpose of this consultation document is to elicit additional information to better understand the status of the species and help inform on conservation actions and further planning. As such, the draft assessment should be considered to be tentative as it may change following responses to this consultation process.

Evidence provided by experts, stakeholders and the general public are welcome. Responses can be provided by any interested person.

Anyone may nominate a native species, ecological community or threatening process for listing under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) or for a transfer of an item already on the list to a new listing category. The Threatened Species Scientific Committee (the Committee) undertakes the assessment of species to determine eligibility for inclusion in the list of threatened species and provides its recommendation to the Australian Government Minister for the Environment.

Responses are to be provided in writing by email to: please include “Koala-Listing” in Subject field.
or by mail to:
The Director
Bushfire Affected Species Assessments Section
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
John Gorton Building, King Edward Terrace
GPO Box 858
Canberra ACT 2601
Responses are required to be submitted by 30 July 2021.


Koala Listing Strengthens Call For An Independent Environmental Compliance Agency

June 18, 2021
The World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia today welcomed the recommendation to uplist koalas in eastern Australia from vulnerable to endangered, but said this could have been avoided.

The Threatened Species Scientific Committee, which advises the federal government, has made a tentative assessment (on page 51) that “the Committee considers that the Koala is eligible for listing as Endangered” in eastern Australia because of population declines.

There will now be a public inquiry to confirm that assessment. It follows WWF-Australia, IFAW and HSI nominating the koala to be listed as endangered last year.

“Had Australia put in place an independent compliance agency in 2012 when the koala in eastern Australia was first listed as vulnerable, we could have avoided this day. But we didn’t, we kept on with business as usual,” said Stuart Blanch, WWF-Australia Senior Manager, Towards Two Billion Trees.

In fact last year WWF-Australia revealed that destruction of koala habitat actually increased after the iconic marsupial was listed as “vulnerable” in Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT.

“There was little to no consequence for those who didn’t follow our nature laws.

“If we don’t instate an independent environmental compliance agency, then we’ll keep marching our koalas to the extinction line across eastern Australia.

“This sad milestone could be a turning point for the Regeneration of Australia, but it requires reform and a commitment to a nature positive way forward.

“The decline of our Australian icon also shines the spotlight on why Australia needs to rise to meet the global ask of securing 30% of Australia’s landscape under protection.

“While the government recently celebrated meeting ocean protection targets, it is failing to meet the 30% land protection targets being called for globally.

“Australia also needs to commit to a target at the climate COP that is koala safe, because climate change is causing extreme drought and bushfire conditions – major extinction threats to koalas alongside clearing.

“WWF is confident that Australia can not only turn around the sad decline of Australia’s icon, but actually double the number of Koala’s across Eastern Australia by 2050.

Draft National Recovery Plan For The Koala (Combined Populations Of Queensland, New South Wales And The Australian Capital Territory)

AWE have drafted a National Recovery Plan for the Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) (combined populations of Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory). It is proposed that this plan be made under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). They invite you to comment on this draft national recovery plan by 24 September 2021.

What is the Draft National Recovery Plan for the Koala (combined populations of Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory)?
The combined population of Koalas in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory are listed as threatened under the EPBC Act. The Koala populations of Victoria and South Australia are not listed as threatened under the EPBC Act and therefore are not covered by this recovery plan. The National Recovery Plan for the Koala identifies national-level strategic actions to support recovery of the EPBC Act listed Koala. It aligns with relevant state and territory planning, programs and strategies to ensure we are all working together to save the Koala.

What is the purpose of this consultation?
The 3-month public consultation process gives Australians the chance to have their say on the draft plan that sets out the research and management actions necessary to stop the decline, and support the recovery, of the nation’s threatened Koalas.

All comments received during the public consultation period will be considered by the Minister for the Environment in making the final recovery plan.

Provide your feedback
We invite you to comment on this draft national recovery plan.

Who can respond to the consultation?
Everybody can have their say and we encourage feedback from members of the general public as well as representative organisations, land managers, community groups and the scientific community.

How long is the consultation open for?
Submit your feedback by 24 September 2021.

How can I provide my comments on the recovery plan?
To have your say, use our survey portal below to answer questions, upload a submission, or both.

Alternatively, you can send your submission via:

Post: Attn Koala Recovery Plan team

Protected Species and Communities Branch
Biodiversity Conservation Division
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
GPO Box 858
Canberra ACT 2601

Or email: link) with "Recovery Plan" in the subject heading.

What next
We provide your feedback to the:

Threatened Species Scientific Committee
Minister for the Environment.
The Minister will consider the feedback received in making the final recovery plan, on advice of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee.

Conservation advice and listing assessment
The National Recovery Plan is not the only koala document out for public consultation. The draft conservation advice and listing assessment for the koala has been released for public consultation as well. The public consultation period closes on 30 July 2021. Information on how you can provide comment can be found at

Any relevant information arising from the listing assessment will be considered in the final version of the draft National Recovery Plan for the Koala.

The Powerful Owl Project Update

Hi Folks. We’re getting reports of Powerful Owls turning up in strange places!
The young owls from last year’s breeding season are dispersing and looking for somewhere to settle down. As they’re making their way through our increasingly urbanised landscape they don’t always find habitat suitable for roosting when the sun comes up. 

In recent days we’ve had owls roosting in boat sheds, Woolies loading docks and industrial premises.
Keep sending us your sightings please! It’s excellent information that helps us understand how our young owls disperse, which in turn will help inform decisions about the development of Green Corridors through the Greater Sydney Basin.

Photo: young owl caught out without a suitable roost at Brookvale. Thanks Jacqui, for the photo.

NSW Budget For The State's Biodiversity

June 22, 2021
NSW’s spectacular wildlife and ecosystems are set to receive more than $1 billion in funding over the next four years as part of the 2021-2022 NSW Budget.
Environment Minister Matt Kean said the funding will continue the NSW Government’s important work to conserve, protect and promote our precious natural environment.

“NSW is home to some of the most unique plants, animals and ecosystems in the world, and it is our responsibility to protect and preserve it for future generations,” Mr Kean said.

“From securing the survival of species on the brink of extinction and working towards doubling the population of koalas in NSW to improving access and amenity in our national parks, this funding will enable us to continue delivering our ambitious environmental agenda.”

The biodiversity budget bonanza includes:
  • More than $193 million over five years to deliver on our goal to double the number of koalas in New South Wales by 2050
  • $75 million over five years to continue the Saving Our Species Program to maximise the number of ecological communities and threatened species that are secure in the wild in New South Wales
  • More than $26 million over two years to implement key actions under the Land Management and Biodiversity Conservation framework including implementation of the Biodiversity Offsets Scheme, and biodiversity mapping, assessment and evaluation
  • More than $140 million to manage waste, clean-up and ongoing recovery works as a result of bushfires and floods
  • More than $80 million over three years to deliver new signature walking and tourism experiences in NSW national parks.
The Budget also includes more than $700 million over four years to revolutionise waste management in NSW and implement the State’s Plastics Action Plan and Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2041.
“In the next 20 years our waste volumes are forecast to increase from 21 million tonnes per year to 37 million tonnes per year – without action we will have more waste than we can safely manage,” Mr Kean said.

“This funding will enable us to implement the policies and programs we need to reduce waste, eliminate harmful single-use plastics and create new economic and employment opportunities – that not only protect our environment but also protect our communities.”

NSW Leading The Charge With Electric Vehicle Rev-Olution

June 20, 2021
New South Wales will be the best place in Australia to buy and drive an electric vehicle (EV) under the NSW Government’s nation-leading Electric Vehicle Strategy, with almost half a billion dollar investment in tax cuts and incentives to drive an electric revolution.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said $490 million is being committed in the 2021-22 NSW Budget to cut taxes, incentivise uptake and reduce barriers for electric vehicle purchases over the next four years.

“Our comprehensive strategy is about making sure we have the right mix in place to incentivise the take-up of electric vehicles while ensuring everyone who drives on our roads contributes to funding and maintaining them,” Mr Perrottet said.

“Our strategy also commences long-term major tax reform. Today we begin the process of permanently phasing out stamp duty on electric vehicles and a deferred transition to a fair and sustainable per-kilometre road user charge for electric vehicles.

“From September this year, we will waive stamp duty for eligible EVs under $78,000 and $3,000 rebates will be up for grabs for the first 25,000 purchasers of battery and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles under $68,750.

“From young adults saving for their first car in Western Sydney to retirees planning a road trip to Broken Hill, these incentives will make electric vehicles accessible and affordable for all NSW residents.”

Minister for Transport and Roads Andrew Constance said the EV Strategy will help the NSW Government take action on climate change.

“Our transport sector currently makes up 20 per cent of the state’s emissions, with almost 50 per cent of those coming from passenger vehicles,” Mr Constance said.

“Electric vehicles are not only cheaper to run and quieter on our roads, but they also reduce both carbon emissions and air pollution which results in dramatically improved health outcomes for our communities.

“As the world’s right-hand drive market moves to manufacturing electric vehicles, we have to make sure we have the policies in place to give industry the green light to increase model availability and cut entry price points.

The average NSW driver will save around $1,000 a year in running costs by switching to an EV, and those savings can be up to $7,500 a year for businesses, taxis and freight.”

Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean said we need to give drivers more options to make their next car an EV.

“Countries and car makers around the world are moving to EVs and NSW consumers deserve access to the latest vehicle models when they go to buy a car,” Mr Kean said.

“We also know that, with new cars staying on the road 15 years on average, the vast majority of new cars sold in NSW need to be EVs by 2035 to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

“Our aim is to increase EV sales to more than 50 per cent of new cars sold in NSW by 2030 and for EVs to be the vast majority of new cars sold in the State by 2035.

“This nation-leading plan will help us achieve these objectives by tackling the three biggest barriers to purchasing an EV – range anxiety, upfront cost, and model availability – and is forecast to see EV new car sales hit 52 per cent by 2030-31.

“We want new and cheaper models of EVs to be available here in NSW and this strategy is designed to drive that outcome.”

The $490 million in funding and tax cuts includes:
  • Stamp duty will be waived for eligible electric vehicles (battery and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles) priced under $78,000 purchased from 1 September 2021;
  • Rebates of $3,000 will be offered on private purchases of the first 25,000 eligible EVs (battery and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles) under $68,750 sold in NSW from 1 September 2021;
  • $171 million for new charging infrastructure across the State. This includes $131 million to spend on new ultra-fast vehicle chargers, $20 million in grants for destination chargers to assist regional tourism, and $20 million for charging infrastructure at public transport hubs on Transport for NSW owned land.
  • $33 million to help transition the NSW Government passenger fleet to EVs where feasible, with the target of a fully electric fleet by 2030. These vehicles typically are onsold after three to five years, providing availability for private buyers in the second hand market.
The Strategy builds on the programs in the State’s Net Zero Plan Stage 1: 2020-2030 and Future Transport 2056 Strategy.

For more information, visit:

Cramming cities full of electric vehicles means we’re still depending on cars — and that’s a huge problem

Kurt IvesonUniversity of Sydney

This week, the NSW government announced almost A$500 million towards boosting the uptake of electric vehicles. In its new electric vehicle strategy, the government will waive stamp duty for cars under $78,000, develop more charging infrastructure, offer rebates to 25,000 drivers, and more.

Given the transport sector is Australia’s second-largest polluter, it’s a good thing Australian governments are starting to plan for a transition to electric vehicles (EVs).

But transitioning from cities full of petrol-guzzling vehicles to cities full of electric ones won’t address all of the environmental and social problems associated with car dependence and mass manufacturing.

So, let’s look at these problems in more detail, and why public transport really is the best way forward.

Mounting Disadvantage And Health Issues

EVs do have environmental advantages over conventional vehicles. In particular, they generate less carbon emissions during their lifetime. Of course, much of the emissions reductions will depend on how much electricity comes from renewable sources.

But carbon emissions are only one of the many problems associated with the dominance of private cars as a form of mobility in cities.

Let’s start with a few of the social issues. This includes the huge amount of space devoted to car driving and parking in our neighbourhoods. This can crowd out other forms of land use, including other more sustainable forms of mobility such as walking and cycling.

There are the financial and mental health costs of congestion, as well, with Australian city workers spending, on average, 66 minutes getting to and from work each day. Injuries and fatalities on roads are also increasing, and inactivity and isolation associated with driving can impact our physical health.

Car-dependent cities also contribute to disadvantage for people who don’t have access to cars, and uneven financial vulnerability associated with the high costs of car ownership and use.

Indeed, some of these problems could be made worse — for instance, subsidies for EVs could end up favouring wealthier people who can afford new cars.

Read more: Top economists call for budget measures to speed the switch to electric cars

Mining For Resources

A mass global uptake of EVs will generate major environmental problems, too. Most concerning of these is the use of finite mineral resources required for their construction, and the environmental and labour conditions of their extraction.

This was recently highlighted in a recent report by the International Energy Agency. As the agency’s executive director Fatih Birol said, there’s a

looming mismatch between the world’s strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals that are essential to realising those ambitions.

Minerals such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and copper are key ingredients required to make EVs.

As the report noted, EVs use double the amount of copper than conventional vehicles. EVs also require considerable amounts of lithium, cobalt and graphite that are hardly required at all for conventional vehicles. And it expects demand for lithium to grow 40-fold between 2020 and 2040, driven by EV production to meet climate targets.

There are better ways to cut transport emissions than greater uptake of electric vehicles. Shutterstock

There is considerable discussion of Australia’s natural advantage as a supplier of some of these minerals, as we have large reserves of lithium and rare-earth metals beneath parts of the continent.

But before governments and mining bodies rush to exploit these reserves, they need to ensure much more is done to avoid the injustices perpetrated against Traditional Owners and their lands and heritage. The recent appalling destruction at Juukan Gorge by Rio Tinto’s iron ore operation is just one example of this.

Read more: Rio Tinto just blasted away an ancient Aboriginal site. Here’s why that was allowed

Mining also has its own environmental problems, such as land clearing and associated biodiversity loss, the pollution and contaminants it produces, and intensive water use.

The conditions of extracting these critical minerals in other parts of the world are dire. There’s the oppressive working conditions in cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the conflict over Indigenous rights in Chile’s lithium mining areas, and environmental destruction associated with mining rare earth minerals in China.

Lithium mine with brine pools
Mining for rare-earth metals such as lithium comes with enormous environmental impacts. Shutterstock

Broadening Ideas About Transport

To focus on these problems is not to suggest the new policies on electric vehicles are unimportant, or that they don’t stand to have some positive environmental impact.

The point is private EVs are not a solution to the combined challenges of reducing our urban environmental footprints and making better cities for all, and that they have their own problems.

Instead, we should develop a good mass public transport system with extensive and frequent coverage. Alongside urban development with a more even distribution of jobs, services and opportunities, investing in better public transport could reduce car dependence in our cities.

This would have a range of environmental and social benefits: making more space available for people instead of machines, extending the benefits of mobility to people who can’t or don’t drive, and reducing demand for finite minerals.

Even fossil-fuelled public transport has fewer emissions than conventional car travel. Data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows the most fuel-efficient buses and trains generate less than half the carbon emissions per passenger kilometre of fuel-efficient cars. Of course, public transport powered by renewables will be even better.

Trams on Swanston Street
Melbourne’s tram network is the biggest in the world. Shutterstock

But as things stand, we are far from having such a city. The benefits of good public transport and public services are unevenly distributed across our cities.

In Sydney, for example, there are significant investments in new public transport infrastructure in some parts of the city, such as Metro West and the recently completed North West Metro. There are welcome commitments to reduce emissions in that sector, too.

But we’re a long way from planning new developments and redevelopments to make public transport a viable alternative to cars. The lack of public transport infrastructure in newly constructed, master-planned estates on Sydney’s urban fringe is the most glaring example.

Read more: Climate explained: the environmental footprint of electric versus fossil cars

Ultimately, it’s important that a transition to electric vehicles doesn’t dominate the discussion we need to have about urban transport.

Our challenge is to simultaneously reduce the carbon footprint of different forms of transport, while also thinking much more broadly about the sustainability and justice of the system of mobility that’s so central to daily life in our cities.The Conversation

Kurt Iveson, Associate Professor of Urban Geography and Research Lead, Sydney Policy Lab, University of Sydney

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

UN World Heritage Committee Draft Report Finds Great Barrier Reef In Danger

June 22, 2021
A United Nations body is recommending that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef be included on a list of world heritage in danger, according to a draft report issued on Monday, a move which has been heavily criticized by the Australian Government.  

The World Heritage Committee, convened under the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said the country has not done enough to protect the world’s largest coral reef system from the impacts of climate change. 

Climate change and coral bleaching 
Despite commitments and progress under a long-term sustainability plan known as Reef 2050, the Great Barrier Reef continues to deteriorate, according to the report, and has suffered significant coral bleaching over the past five years. 

“It can be concluded that, despite many positive achievements by the State Party, progress has been insufficient in meeting key targets of the Reef 2050 Plan,” the draft report said.  

The UN committee consists of representatives from 21 countries and its next meeting will be held virtually from China in July.  

“The Plan requires stronger and clearer commitments, in particular towards urgently countering the effects of climate change, but also towards accelerating water quality improvement and land management measures,” the report continued. 

“The widespread effects of the consecutive coral bleaching events further add to the significant concerns regarding the future of the property.” 

As the reef “is facing ascertained danger”, the report calls for inscribing it on the on the List of World Heritage in Danger

Australian opposition 
Australia will challenge the proposed recommendation, according to a statement published on Tuesday on the website of the Morrison Ministry's Environment Minister, Sussan Ley. 

It said authorities “have been stunned by a back flip on previous assurances from UN officials that the Reef would not face such a recommendation prior to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting hosted by China in July, and are concerned about a deviation from normal process in assessing World Heritage Property Conservation status.” 

Ms. Ley said that the draft decision had been made on the basis of a desk top review and without adequate consultation. 

“The Great Barrier Reef is the best managed reef in the world and this draft recommendation has been made without examining the Reef first hand, and without the latest information,” she said. 

Photo: Matt Curnock - The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the world's largest coral reef system.

Australian Government’s Climate Inaction To Blame For Reef World Heritage ‘In Danger’ Recommendation

June 22, 2021
UNESCO has sent a powerful message to the Australian Government: the Great Barrier Reef should be placed on the List of World Heritage In Danger because of the threat of climate change along with poor water quality.

Last night, UNESCO released its draft State of Conservation report about the Great Barrier Reef which contains a draft decision to be ratified by the World Heritage Committee in July.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) said the UNESCO’s draft report is a clear and powerful analysis of the state of the Reef and what must be done to preserve it.

Environmental consultant to AMCS Imogen Zethoven said: “The UNESCO report makes it very clear: limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C is a critical threshold for the Reef.

“Australia’s climate record is more consistent with a 2.5-3.0 C rise in global average temperature – a level that would destroy the Great Barrier Reef and all the world’s coral reefs.

“The Australian Government’s inaction on climate change has led the Reef to the brink of an ‘In Danger’ listing.”

The UNESCO report calls for a Reactive Monitoring Mission to Australia to develop a set of “corrective measures” centred around ensuring that the Reef 2050 Plan addresses the threat of climate change.

IUCN, the advisory body to the World Heritage Committee, last year downgraded the Great Barrier Reef’s outlook to ‘critical’. In 2019, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority downgraded the Reef’s outlook to ‘very poor’.

UNESCO’s draft decision calls on Australia to take accelerated action in other areas especially to do with poor water quality and the slow uptake of improved catchment management to tackle pollution of the Reef’s waters.

The draft decision also calls on the Australian Government to report back to UNESCO on 1 February 2022 to demonstrate how it is implementing all the requests. The state of the Reef will then again be reviewed at the World Heritage Committee meeting next year.

The World Heritage Committee meets 16-31 July to consider UNESCO’s draft report and to approve a final decision about the Reef.

Senate Must Reject Nationals' Attempts To Further Undermining The Basin Plan  

June 23, 2021
The Nature Conservation Council calls on all Senators to defend the Murray-Darling River system and reject proposed National Party amendments to the Water Legislation Amendment (Inspector-General of Water Compliance and Other Measures) Bill 2021

“The proposed amendments will substantially hamper attempts to restore the Murray-Daring River system and are clearly not in the public interest,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“Water buybacks are a critical tool for reviving our dying Murray-Darling River system. Without them, we may never restore the basin’s rivers, lakes and billabongs, and we’ll leave a legacy of toxic algal blooms and dead and dying river red gum forests. 

“Any moves to outlaw buybacks as a legitimate management tool are extremely reckless. 

“We call on Senators to stop the Nationals further undermining the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and entrenching the wealth and power of the irrigator lobby.” 

The amendments would also scrap the return of 450 gigalitres of desperately needed water to the environment.  

Floodplain Harvesting Inquiry Is A Chance To Clear The Air After Government’s Failed Floodwater Giveaway  

June 23, 2021
The Nature Conservation Council looks forward to contributing to the NSW Upper House inquiry into floodplain harvesting announced today. 

“The inquiry follows the introduction earlier this year of poorly designed regulations that would have transferred billions of dollars’ worth of public water into private hands,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“Those floodplain harvesting regulations would also have denied water-dependent wildlife, ecosystems and downstream communities vital water resources just as climate change is really starting to bite in NSW, especially in the Far West. 

“Had they not been disallowed by the NSW Parliament, they would have constituted one of the greatest transfers of natural resources into private hands in Australia’s history. 

“Floodplain harvesting is killing our rivers. It needs to be reined in, not given a blanket exemption.” 

The NSW Legislative Council voted today to establish a select committee into: 
  1. the NSW Government’s management of floodplain harvesting, including: 
  2. The legality of floodplain harvesting practices;  
  3. The water regulations published on 30 April 2021; 
  4. How floodplain harvesting can be licensed, regulated, metered and monitored so that it is sustainable and meets the objectives of the Water Management Act 2000 and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan; and  
  5. Any other related matters. 
The committee will have three government MPs, three Opposition MPs and two crossbenchers. Greens MLC Cate Faerhman will be chairperson. Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MLC Mark Banaziak will be deputy chair. 

Woodside’s Scarborough Gas Field Equivalent To 15 New Coal Power Plants; Risks Murujuga Rock Art

Woodside’s controversial Scarborough Gas Field would result in an additional 1.6 billion tonnes of emissions—equivalent to building 15 new coal power stations—and places World Heritage Murujuga Aboriginal rock art at risk of being destroyed, new research by the Conservation Council of Western Australia and the Australia Institute shows.

Approvals to process the Scarborough gas field were provided by the WA Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2019 without assessment of carbon pollution or other environmental impacts, including the damage to the globally significant 45,000+ year old Murujuga Aboriginal rock art.

Legal actions have commenced in the WA Supreme Court in a bid to overturn approvals already issued to Woodside by the EPA after the company blocked efforts to have the project assessed. However, Western Australia’s first Minister for Climate Action is being pushed by Woodside to sign off on further approvals.

“Not only does Scarborough fly in the face of global efforts to keep warming below 1.5 degrees, but the project risks destroying globally significant Murujuga Aboriginal rock art in what can only be described as repeating Juukan Gorge in slow motion,” said Mark Ogge, Principal Adviser at The Australia Institute.

“The Murujuga Aboriginal rock art is already being destroyed due to acid gas emission from LNG projects. It is extraordinary that in the wake of the Juukan Gorge destruction that this project would be approved without the impacts on this priceless cultural treasure even being assessed.

“Western Australia is already being devastated by more frequent and extreme fires, and less rainfall as a result of climate change. Allowing the Scarborough project to go ahead is throwing fuel on the fire.

“Woodside investors would be taking a huge gamble to spend $16 billion in this project. In just the last few weeks, the International Energy Agency have said no new gas projects can be approved if the world is to achieve net zero by 2050, let alone 1.5 degrees, a Dutch court has ordered Shell to cut its emissions by over 40% percent this decade and Exxon board members have been toppled for not taking climate change seriously. The writing is on the wall.”

Prof Carmen Lawrence, former WA Premier and Chair of the National Heritage Council said; “We have seen from what happened at Juukan Gorge that our community expects better when it comes to protection of our priceless and irreplaceable Aboriginal Heritage. Many of the same circumstances apply to Woodside’s Scarborough development, and the Government has an opportunity to pause and reconsider before permanent damage is locked in. It is clear now that pollution from gas processing on the Burrup is having a significant effect on the Murujuga rock Art. Allowing further expansion of gas processing on this site will increase both the duration and severity of these impacts and this must be assessed carefully before any further decisions are made, not as an afterthought.”

Prof. Bill Hare, Director at Climate Analytics stated; “It is clear from our own work that in pollution terms the Scarborough LNG development is one of the biggest fossil fuel developments presently being considered in Australia. The direct annual emissions deriving from it will compromise Australia’s emissions reduction goals, while the global emissions from the project mean that it cannot be made consistent with global goals established under the Paris Agreement.”

“The International Energy Agency’s recent net zero report shows very clearly that there can be no new fossil fuel developments if the Paris agreement 1.5° goal is to be met. There is no exception in this report for Western Australia.”

Mark Ogge, Principal Adviser at the Australia Institute said; “The Scarborough project and Pluto expansion would add around 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere. It is completely contrary to global efforts to keep warming below 1.5 degrees to avoid catastrophic climate change. Western Australia is already experiencing significant drying and more frequent and intense fires due to climate change. This is throwing fuel on the fire.”

Prof. Peter Newman, Beeliar Group of Professors stated; “We are extremely concerned that a decision by Western Australia’s first Minister for Climate Action could sanction the release of well over a billion tonnes of carbon pollution, and result in other impacts on the environment and Aboriginal heritage that have not been subject to formal environmental impact assessment. The idea that a development with a carbon footprint greater than the Adani coal mine, and with irreversible impacts on World Heritage values could be allowed to proceed without rigorous assessment at the highest level is astonishing.”

Jeff Hansen, Managing Director Sea Shepherd said; “We simply cannot allow the Scarborough project to go ahead if our children are to have any hope in a liveable climate. We know the impacts of climate on our ocean, from dying critical ecosystems like our Great Barrier Reef or vast mangrove losses in the north caused by acidification and warming from climate change. We are in a global climate emergency and what we do today will determine the future of humanity.”

Dr. Richard Yin, National Secretary, Doctors for the Environment Australia said; “This project will impact the future health of young Australians.”


New Community Recycling Centre Opens On Central Coast

June 24, 2021
The Central Coast has its first Community Recycling Centre, with householders now able to drop off their problem wastes such as paints, oils, gas bottles, fluoro lights, smoke detectors and batteries for free at the Buttonderry Waste Management Facility in Jilliby, near Wyong.

The Central Coast has its first Community Recycling Centre, with householders now able to drop off their problem wastes such as paints, oils, gas bottles, fluoro lights, smoke detectors and batteries for free at the Buttonderry Waste Management Facility in Jilliby, near Wyong.

The Community Recycling Centre was established by Central Coast Council with the support of an Environmental Trust grant of $160,000 and work with the Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

The Centre at Jilliby expands on the popular travelling Chemical Cleanout Events, which are well supported in the region.

Central Coast Council Administrator, Rik Hart said the Jilliby Centre offered a permanent, free drop-off solution, complementary to existing services, that will make problem waste disposal easier for Central Coast residents.

“Our community is passionate about closing the loop on waste and ensuring its safe and environmentally responsible disposal and this was evident when we consulted on our Waste Resource Management Strategy,” Mr Hart said.

“We are proud that 87% of our community think it is very important to reduce the amount of waste that households generate and dispose, and we are also proud to be able to actively find opportunities that help our community do this. I encourage everyone to make use of this great new facility.”

EPA Director Circular Economy Kathy Giunta said the Central Coast Community Recycling Centre is part of a network of more than 100 facilities established across NSW.

“Most of the items accepted at community recycling centres can be reused or recycled. That also helps us save water, energy and other resources.

“If any of the problem waste dropped off at a centre can’t be recycled it is properly treated before safe disposal,” Ms Giunta said.

The Central Coast Community Recycling Centre is located at 850 Hue Hue Road at Jilliby and is purpose-built for residential customers only. It is open 7 days a week, 7am to 4pm Monday to Friday, and 8am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday. The Centre accepts the following problem wastes for free:
  • water-based and oil-based paints
  • used motor oils and other oils
  • lead-acid and hand-held batteries
  • gas cylinders and fire extinguishers
  • conventional tube and compact fluorescent lamps and
  • smoke detectors
For more information visit:

EPA Shows The Easy Way To Compost

June 21, 2021
To make it easy to understand what happens with the organic waste collected from green lid bins, the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has released a new 15-minute training video for food waste warriors, council officers and other professionals working with organics.

EPA Organics Manager Amanda Kane said the Composting for Professionals video is a highly useful introduction to organics recycling for anyone interested in understanding more about what happens to food organics and garden organics (FOGO) when it’s collected at the kerbside.

It draws on content from the EPA’s online Compost Facility Management course, summarising key elements of the process including compost science, processing technologies, regulations and licensing and application to land.

“We’ve condensed a detailed 8-module training course into a 15-minute video to give people working in the organics space a snapshot of everything they need to know about the processes and rules governing FOGO in NSW,” Ms Kane said.

“The video builds on the EPA’s commitment to reduce waste to landfill, decrease emissions from organics, improve compost quality and support a healthy, economically viable organics industry.”

The video is aimed at professionals working in the food and garden organics waste management sector, from council waste education officers to compost sales reps and equipment suppliers.
The NSW Government has just released a $356 million strategy to tackle waste, including organics, called the NSW Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy

Forget Nutbush - It's Mint-Bush City Limits As Royal Reveals Her Secrets

June 21, 2021
A lost population of a vulnerable little native mint-bush has been found alive and well after 50 years of searching in Royal National Park on the southern edge of Sydney.
The villous mint-bush (Prostanthera densa) was assumed lost, dead, or mis-reported from its last sighting in 1972 but has since been found 'flying under the radar' all this time, thanks to a project led by the NSW Government's Saving our Species (SoS) program.

In 2015 SoS began working with National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), the Royal Botanic Gardens, and volunteers from the Australian Plant Society (APS) to conserve them.

While randomly bushwalking in Royal National Park during lockdown last winter, an APS citizen scientist had an inkling that mint-bush might like the area he was in.

Looking closer, he realised he'd happened upon the mint-bush in flower, well away from the known small populations amid rocks on coastal headlands in Royal National Park.

The mint-bush had survived in the centre of Australia's oldest national park less than an hour's drive from Sydney's CBD, despite bushfires and browsing feral deer.

A formal plant survey followed, with the discoverer leading the way to a record number of individual plants said Dan Clarke from the Australian Plant Society.

"What an exciting moment for citizen science," Mr Clarke said.

"It's terrific that one of our APS members found it after years of being involved in the project. Our team had previously searched this area in a bid to solve the 1972 mystery, but the plant had eluded us."

NPWS senior project coordinator Michael Wood said he and Saving our Species project partners were delighted with the find, which provided a greater level of security for the species' longevity.

Royal Area Manager, Brendon Neilly, said Royal continues to reveal her secrets to us bit by bit.

"Royal remains a strong biodiversity hotspot for the conservation and preservation of native species – as well as a great destination for millions of visitors! One can only wonder how many other secrets are in store for us."

UNSW Sydney Professor of Botany David Keith said the find showed the significance and resilience of Royal National Park as a refuge.

"Royal might be better known as Australia's oldest national park and as Sydney's major outdoor destination, but with more than 1100 different plant species in just 15,000 hectares its diversity is unrivalled virtually anywhere else in the world."

Villous Mint-bush, Prostanthera densa Credit: Carly Leeson/DPIE

Mark Vaile Withdrawal Proof Whitehaven Coal Is Untouchably Toxic Environment Groups State

June 21, 2021
The outrage that led to Mark Vaile today declaring he will not accept the role of Chancellor at the University of Newcastle demonstrates that the company he chairs - Whitehaven Coal - is too toxic to be associated with public leadership, according to Lock the Gate Alliance.

The decision to appoint Mr Vaile as Chancellor triggered a backlash against the university, with many criticising the appointment of the coal boss as out of step with the university’s commitment to forward thinking and innovation.

Current chancellor Paul Jeans today confirmed in an email to staff that Mr Vaile “believes that the best course of action is not to proceed with the appointment”.

Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said the backlash was particularly severe because Whitehaven Coal was a notorious company that regularly broke the law, had failed to respond to the challenge of climate change, and only recently pleaded guilty to stealing one billion litres of water for its Maules Creek mine during one of the worst droughts on record.

“Appointing the boss of Whitehaven Coal really would have hampered the University in playing a meaningful part in leading us through structural change facing Newcastle and the Hunter region as the world shifts away from coal,” she said.

“The appointment was also a slap in the face for farmers, Gomeroi Traditional Custodians and communities in the north west who have suffered as a result of Whitehaven’s crimes and the damage they have wrought on the region.

“Whitehaven is among the worst of the worst when it comes to dubious mining practices, and has a rap sheet a mile long. 

“Whitehaven’s business model is based on assuming the world is going to plummet into catastrophic climate change. That’s not the kind of company with which any forward thinking institution should be associated.

"Mr Vaile’s role as Chair of Whitehaven meant his appointment as Chancellor was always going to be untenable. We commend him for taking this decision and look forward to hearing the University’s decision on a replacement."

The government’s idea of ‘national environment standards’ would entrench Australia’s global pariah status

Martine MaronThe University of QueenslandBrendan WintleThe University of Melbourne, and Craig MoritzAustralian National University

A growing global push to halt biodiversity decline, most recently agreed at the G7 on Sunday, leaves Australia out in the cold as the federal government walks away from critical reforms needed to protect threatened species.

The centrepiece recommendation in a landmark independent review of Australia’s national environment law was to establish effective National Environment Standards. These standards would have drawn clear lines beyond which no further environmental damage is acceptable, and established an independent Environment Assurance Commissioner to ensure compliance.

But the federal government has instead pushed ahead to propose its own, far weaker set of standards and establish a commissioner with very limited powers. The bill that paves the way for these standards is currently before parliament.

If passed, the changes would entrench, or even weaken, already inadequate protections for threatened species. They would also create more uncertainty for businesses affected by the laws.

Australia’s Ineffective Environment Law

Australia is one of only a handful of megadiverse countries. Most of our species occur nowhere else — 87% of our mammals, 93% of our reptiles, and 94% of our frogs are found only here in Australia.

Yet, Australia risks global pariah status on biodiversity. Last week, threatened species experts recommended the koala be listed as endangered, despite a decade of protection under national environmental law. And this week, a UNESCO World Heritage committee recommended the Great Barrier Reef be listed as “in danger”.

Indeed, Australia has one of the worst track records in the world for biodiversity loss and species extinctions.

Bleached coral
This week the World Heritage committee recommended the Great Barrier Reef be put on the in-danger list. Shutterstock

Australia’s national environment law — the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act — was introduced 20 years ago, and has not slowed extinction rates. In fact, threatened species populations are declining even faster.

This isn’t surprising, given the lack of mandated funding for threatened species and ecosystems recovery, poor enforcement of the law, and the lack of outcome-based environmental standards. It has allowed for hit after hit on important habitats to be approved.

The independent review of the EPBC Act, led by former competition watchdog chair Professor Graeme Samuel, set out how Australia can turn this around.

Samuel concluded the EPBC Act is no longer fit for purpose, and set out a comprehensive list of recommended reforms, founded upon establishing new, strong national environmental standards.

And he included an explicit warning: do not cherrypick from these recommendations.

Double Standards

So how do the government’s proposed standards, released in March, compare to the Samuel review’s recommended version?

The Samuel review’s standards specified what environmental outcomes must be achieved by decisions made under the EPBC Act, such as whether a particular development can go ahead. For example, the standards would have required that any actions must cause no net reduction in the population of endangered and critically endangered species.

Read more: To fix Australia's environment laws, wildlife experts call for these 4 changes — all are crucial

Samuel developed these standards by consulting multiple sectors, and attracted general support. The government’s proposed standards bear no resemblance to these.

Instead, the government’s proposed standards repeat sections of the existing EPBC Act, adding zero clarity or specificity about the outcomes that should be achieved.

Standards like these risk significant and irreversible environmental harm being codified. They are the antithesis of the global push for outcomes-based, nature-positive standards.

The bill underpinning the standards would let actions be approved even if they caused substantial environmental harm, as long as the decision maker — currently the federal environment minister — believed other activities would render the overall outcome acceptable.

To help illustrate this, let’s say a mining operation would lead to significant destruction of koala habitat. The decision maker could consider this acceptable if they thought an unrelated tree-planting program would offset the risk to the koala — even if they had no say over whether the tree planting ever actually went ahead.

A koala with a joey on its back on a branch
Last week experts recommended the koala be listed as endangered. Shutterstock

What about the responsibilities of the Environment Assurance Commissioner? Samuel recommended this commissioner would oversee the implementation of the standards, and ensure transparency.

But the government’s proposed Environment Assurance Commissioner would be prevented from scrutinising individual decisions made under the EPBC Act.

So, hypothetically, if a risky decision was being made — such as approving new dam that could send a turtle species extinct — checking if the decision complied with required standards would be beyond the commissioner’s remit. Instead, the commissioner would focus on checking processes and systems, not ensuring environmental outcomes are achieved.

Read more: A major report excoriated Australia's environment laws. Sussan Ley's response is confused and risky

The deficiencies in the proposed standards have caught the attention of Queensland environment minister Meaghan Scanlon. Last year, the federal government introduced a different bill that would allow it to hand its responsibility for approving actions under the EPBC Act to the states. But Scanlon says the state won’t partake in this re-alignment of responsibility, unless the federal government introduces stronger national environment standards.

They’ve also caught the attention of the key cross-bench senators, whose support will ultimately determine whether the government’s standards prevail.

Getting Left Behind

With such a rich diversity of wildlife, Australia has a disproportionate responsibility to protect the Earth’s natural heritage. And we owe future generations the opportunity to experience the amazing nature we’ve grown up with.

If we are to turn around Australia’s appalling track record on biodiversity, the government’s proposed standards are not a good place to start.

In October, nations worldwide will agree to a new global strategy for protecting biodiversity, under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The strategy looks set to include a roadmap to halt and reverse biodiversity decline by as early as 2030. Australia risks being left behind in this global push.

And last week, the G7 nations endorsed a plan to reverse the loss of biodiversity, and to conserve or protect at least 30% of land and oceans, by 2030.

These commitments are crucial – not only for wildlife, but for humans that depend on ecosystems that are now collapsing. When nature loses, we all suffer.

Read more: 'Existential threat to our survival': see the 19 Australian ecosystems already collapsing The Conversation

Martine Maron, ARC Future Fellow and Professor of Environmental Management, The University of QueenslandBrendan Wintle, Professor in Conservation Ecology, School of BioSciences, The University of Melbourne, and Craig Moritz, Professor, Research School of Biology, Australian National University

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

NSW State Government's Plans To Open Western NSW To Coal Mining Open For Feedback

Public consultation is now underway into the proposed release of land known as Hawkins and Rumker 160km north west of Sydney, with consultation over a third parcel - known as Ganguddy-Kelgoola still to come. The three mooted coal release parcels cover 60,369 hectares in a region where the economy is currently built around sustainable agriculture and nature-focused tourism. There are also large areas of public land and more than 84% native vegetation cover. 

A report, ''Western Coalfields Strategic Release Mapping and Analysis'', based on spatial analysis conducted by Earthscapes Consulting, shows the risks the community, existing industries, and the environment face if coal mining is allowed to proceed in the region.

Within the three “strategic coal release areas”, the consultants found:
  • Forty-five recorded Aboriginal heritage sites and an additional 13 sites that are restricted and location data not supplied in the proposed coal release areas. 
  • Twenty-two threatened fauna species and six threatened flora species including the koala, the critically endangered regent honeyeater and the endangered spotted-tailed quoll, as well as four plant species endemic to the Rylstone/western Wollemi area.
  • One thousand, eight hundred and fifty-four hectares of groundwater dependant ecosystems. 
  • Six thousand, six hundred and thirty-four hectares  of potential threatened ecological communities. 
  • Thirty-six water bores.
  • One hundred and twenty kilometres of stream channels in good condition and 118 kilometres of stream channels classed as a high level of fragility. 
The report also showed the potential coal release areas adjoin the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, stretching more than 100km along the western edge of the WHA.

The World Heritage Commission has asked the NSW Government for a cumulative impact assessment of mining impacts on the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. This assessment appears not to be complete, even though it was due by the end of 2020.

University of NSW environmental scientist, local, and writer, Dr Haydn Washington said, “The coal release areas are full of diverse and significant natural and cultural heritage. 

“The Coricudgy and Nullo State Forests have already been recommended for addition to the World Heritage Area by the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area Committee.

The proposal is open for feedback until July 28, 2021 at:

New Plan To Revitalise NSW's Oldest Park By Installing Mountain Bike Trails

One of Sydney's most loved natural destinations, the spectacular Royal National Park is set for a major revitalisation. Greater Sydney Branch Director Deon van Rensburg said the draft Plan of Management (PoM) maps out how the Park will be protected and showcased as one of the nation's most important natural areas.

"With around 6 million visits per year Royal National Park is one of Australia's most popular parks. It is also on Australia's National Heritage List as a place of outstanding significance to the nation," Mr van Rensburg said.

"Royal National Park together with nearby Heathcote National Park and Garrawarra State Conservation Area, protect one of the most biodiverse areas in Australia, supporting more than 1000 plant and 350 animal species, including some of the most significant vegetation remaining in the Sydney Basin.

"Management priorities include freshwater wetlands, heathlands, rainforest, shorelines and grassy woodlands that support the Parks' rich animal biodiversity.

"The world's second oldest national park, Royal is a stunning place and one of our most visited parks where sites like Wattamolla and Audley attract thousands of visitors every weekend.

"The Plan will guide the future management and protection of the natural and cultural values, while providing opportunities for people of all ages, cultures and abilities to enjoy these much-loved places.

"This includes improvements and restoration at popular visitor precincts including upgrades to the historic 82-year-old Audley Boatshed, providing undercover space for picnics and a new open pavilion so that visitors can continue to enjoy the beautiful Port Hacking River.

"At Wattamolla, another popular visitor precinct, new amenities include better picnic areas, access improvements and a new walking track to the beach.

"To manage sustainable mountain biking in these areas a Royal Parks Mountain Biking Plan is also available for public comment.

"This is a great way for the millions of people who love and use these Parks to have a say in how these precious natural assets are managed into the future," Mr van Rensburg said.

The Plan now on exhibition has been prepared with extensive consultation from key stakeholders and your views are important.
You can have your say until 2 August 2021 at Royal parks Draft Plan of Management: public consultation.

Senators Save Renewable Energy Agency

June 23, 2021
The Australian Conservation Foundation has commended senators who last night saved the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) from Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s attempt to change the agency’s remit so it could fund fossil fuel projects.

Labor and Greens senators along with Senators Lambie and Patrick won a vote in the Senate, 28–27, to disallow the Minister’s new regulations, which would have seen ARENA funding:
  • Anything that is a ‘low-emission technology’ (with the ‘widest possible meaning’).
  • Anything that is a priority in the government’s Technology Investment Roadmap (which includes carbon capture projects and hydrogen produced from coal and gas).
“Angus Taylor wanted to turn the Australian Renewable Energy Agency into a body that could be used to fund the Minister’s pet projects, many which have no connection to renewable energy,” said ACF climate change manager Gavan McFadzean.

“Labor and Greens senators with Senators Lambie and Patrick – and Senator Griff, who was not in the chamber, but supported the disallowance motion – have saved ARENA from being turned into a financier of projects run by the coal and gas industries, contradicting the agency’s original purpose.

“ACF congratulates the senators who have scotched this sneaky scheme to subvert ARENA’s clean energy mandate,” Mr McFadzean said.

Just last week a parliamentary committee, which has representation from Liberal, Labor and National parties, stated: ‘From a scrutiny perspective, the committee is concerned that the instrument is expanding the remit of the ARENA beyond what was envisaged by Parliament when the Act was passed.

ARENA was set up in 2012. It has been very successful in driving innovation in renewable energy technologies. Since its inception, ARENA has invested $1.67 billion into 579 projects, realising $6.84 billion in value.

Dumped: Pitt’s Push To Dodge Legal Scrutiny Gets A Radioactive Rebuff

June 22, 2021
Resources Minister Keith Pitt has been forced to abandon moves to quash legal scrutiny of a federal plan for a national radioactive waste facility near Kimba in regional South Australia.

“More than a year after he began his push to make the choice of location immune from legal challengeMinister Pitt has had to restore this fundamental democratic right in a move that passed the Senate last night,” said ACF nuclear free campaigner, Dave Sweeney.

“The Minister’s backflip to break this year-long stalemate further highlights the federal government’s piecemeal and politicised approach to radioactive waste management.

“The government has failed to demonstrate there would be any public health or radiological benefits in moving Australia’s most problematic radioactive waste from its current secure storage at Lucas Heights to a location with fewer assets and much less protection at Kimba.

“The Kimba plan shirks the hard and long-term questions. Minister Pitt is not advancing a comprehensive solution, he is merely kicking a radioactive can down a dirt road.

“There are many reasons why the Lucas Heights facility, run by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), is the best place for our worst waste until a lasting and credible waste management solution is identified.

“Lucas Heights has secure tenure, a 24/7 federal police presence, the best radiation monitoring and response capacity in Australia and around 95% of the waste is already there.

“Importantly, ARPANSA, the federal nuclear regulator, has confirmed storage at ANSTO is secure, consistent with global best practice and can safely remain ‘for decades to come.’

“The revised approach reintroduces Wallerberdina in the Flinders Ranges as a potential waste facility site, showing the government is making policy on the run and has little understanding about how damaging this plan is to community cohesion.

“In December 2019 former Minister Canavan said the Flinders Ranges was no longer being considered as a site. It is a profound failure that 18 months later it is back on the list.

“This is not a Telstra tower. Australia’s first purpose built national radioactive waste facility deserves the highest level of scrutiny – not a highly politicised approach.”

US scheme used by Australian farmers reveals the dangers of trading soil carbon to tackle climate change

Aaron SimmonsUniversity of New EnglandAnnette CowieUniversity of New EnglandBrian WilsonUniversity of New EnglandMark FarrellCSIROMatthew Tom HarrisonUniversity of TasmaniaPeter GraceQueensland University of TechnologyRichard EckardThe University of MelbourneVanessa WongMonash University, and Warwick BadgeryThe University of Melbourne

Soil carbon is in the spotlight in Australia. A key plank in the Morrison government’s technology-led emissions reduction policy, it involves changing farming techniques so soils store more carbon from the atmosphere.

Farmers can encourage and accelerate this process through methods that increase plant production, such as improving nutrient management or sowing permanent pastures. For each unit of atmospheric carbon they remove in this way, farmers can earn “carbon credits” to be sold in emissions trading markets.

But not all carbon credits are created equal. In one high-profile deal in January, an Australian farm sold soil carbon credits to Microsoft under a scheme based in the United States. We analysed the methodology behind the trade, and found some increases in soil carbon claimed under the scheme were far too optimistic.

It’s just one of several problems raised by the sale of carbon credits offshore. If not addressed, the credibility of carbon trading will be undermined. Ultimately the climate - and the planet - will be the loser.

sunset on farm with cattle and trees
The integrity of soil carbon trading must be assured. Shutterstock

What Is Soil Carbon Trading?

Plants naturally remove carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the air through photosynthesis. As plants decompose, carbon-laden organic matter is added to the soil. If more organic matter is added than is lost, soil carbon levels increase.

Carbon trading schemes require the increase in soil carbon levels to be measured. The measurement methods are well-established, but can be costly and complex because they involve collecting and analysing large numbers of soil samples. And different carbon credit schemes measure the change in different ways - some more robust than others.

The Australian government’s Emissions Reduction Fund has a rigorous approach to soil sampling, laboratory analysis and calculation of credits. This ensures only genuine removals of atmospheric carbon are rewarded, in the form of “Australian Carbon Credit Units”.

Farmers can choose other schemes under which to earn carbon credits, such as the US-based carbon offset platform Regen Network.

Regen Network’s method for estimating soil carbon largely involves collecting data via satellite imagery. The extent of physical on-the-ground soil sampling is limited.

Regen Network issues “CarbonPlus credits” to farmers deemed to have increased soil carbon stores. Farmers then sell these credits on the Regen Network trading platform.

Regen Network video explaining its remote sensing methods.

‘A Number Of Concerns’

It was Regen Network which sold Microsoft the soil carbon credits generated by an Australian farm, Wilmot Station. Wilmot is owned by the Macdoch Group, and other Macdoch properties have also claimed carbon credits under the Regen Scheme.

Regen Network should be applauded for making its methods and calculations available online. And we appreciate Regen’s open, collaborative approach to developing its methods.

However, we have reviewed their documents and have a number of concerns:

  • the dry weight of soil in a known volume, also known as “bulk density”, is a key factor in calculating soil carbon stocks. Rather than bulk density being measured from field samples, it was calculated using an equation. We examined this method and determined it was far less reliable than field sampling

  • Estimates of soil carbon were not adjusted for gravel content. Because gravel contains no carbon, carbon stock may have been overestimated

  • The remote sensing used by Regen Network involved assessment of vegetation cover via satellite imagery, from which soil carbon levels were estimated. However, vegetation cover obscures soil, and research has found predictions of soil carbon using this method are highly uncertain.

Read more: The Morrison government wants to suck CO₂ out of the atmosphere. Here are 7 ways to do it

Wilmot increased soil carbon, or “sequestration”, through changes to grazing and pasture management. The resulting rates of carbon storage calculated by Regen Network were extremely high – 7,660 tonnes of carbon over 1,094 hectares. This amounts to 7 tonnes of carbon per hectare from 2018 to 2019.

These results are not consistent with our experience of what is possible through pasture management. For example, the CSIRO has documented soil carbon increases of 0.1 to 0.3 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year in Australia from a range of methods to increase pasture production.

We believe inaccurate methods have led to the carbon increase being overestimated. Thus, it appears excess carbon credits may have been awarded.

Many carbon trading schemes apply rules to ensure integrity is maintained. These include:

  • an “additionality test” to ensure the extra carbon storage in the soil would not have happened anyway. It would prevent, for example, farmers claiming credits for practices they adopted in the past

  • ensuring sequestered carbon is maintained over time

  • disallowing double-counting of credits – for example, by preventing a country claiming credits that have been sold offshore.

The Emissions Reduction Fund and other well-recognised international schemes, such as Verra and Gold Standard, apply these rules stringently. Regen Network’s safeguards are less rigorous.

Responses to these claims from Regen Network and Macdoch Group can be found at the end of this article. A full response from Regen can also be found here.

diagram. showing arms, money, laptop and leaves over world map
Carbon trading is a way for farmers to make money by changing their land management practices. Shutterstock

Not In The National Interest?

Putting aside the problems noted above, the offshore sale of soil carbon credits generated by Australian farmers raises other concerns.

First, selling credits offshore means Australia loses out, by not being able to claim the abatement towards our own government and industry targets.

Second, soil carbon does not have unlimited emissions reduction potential. The quantum of carbon that can be stored in each hectare of soil is constrained, and limited by factors such as land availability and climate change. So measures to increase soil carbon should not detract from society’s efforts to reduce emissions from fossil fuel use.

And third, ensuring carbon remains in soil long after it’s deposited is a challenge because soil microbes break down organic matter. Carbon credit schemes commonly manage this by requiring a “buffer” of unsold credits. If stored carbon is lost, farmers must relinquish credits from the buffer.

If the loss is greater than the buffer, credits must be purchased to make up the difference. This exposes farmers to financial risk, especially if carbon prices rise.

Read more: We need more carbon in our soil to help Australian farmers through the drought

farmer sits on rock
Poorly managed carbon trading schemes can put farmers at financial risk. Shutterstock

Getting It Right

Soil carbon is a promising way for Australia to substantially reduce its emissions. But methods used to measure gains in soil carbon must be accurate.

Carbon markets must be regulated to ensure credit is awarded for genuine abatement, and risks to farmers are limited. And the extent to which offshore carbon markets prevent Australia from meeting its own obligations to reduce emissions should be clarified and managed.

Improving the integrity of soil carbon trading will have benefits beyond emissions reduction. It will also improve soil health and farm productivity, helping agriculture become more resilient under climate change.

Regen Network Response

Regen Network provided The Conversation with a response to concerns raised in this article. The full nine-page statement provided by Regen Network is available here.

The following is a brief summary of Regen Network’s statement:

- Limited on-ground soil sampling: Regen Network said its usual minimum number of soil samples was not reached in the case of Wilmot Station, because historical soil samples - taken before the project began - were used. To compensate for this, relevant sample data from a different farm was combined with data from Wilmot.

“We understand the use of ancillary data does not follow best practice and our team is working hard to ensure future projects are run using a sufficient number of samples,” Regen Network said.

- Bulk density: Regen Network said the historical sample data from Wilmot did not include “bulk density” measurements needed to estimate carbon stocks, which required “deviations” from its usual methodology. However the company was taking steps to ensure such estimates in future projects “can be provided with higher degrees of accuracy”.

- Gravel content: Regen Network said lab reports for soil samples included only the weight, not volume, of gravel present. “Best sampling practice should include the gravel volume as an essential parameter for accurate bulk density measurements. We will make sure to address this in our next round of upgrades and appreciate the observation!” the statement said.

- Remote sensing of vegetation: Regen Network said it did not use vegetation assessment at Wilmot station. It tested a vegetation assessment index at another property and found it ineffective at estimating soil carbon. At Wilmot station Regen used so-called individual “spectral bands” to estimate soil carbon at locations where on-ground sampling was not undertaken.

- Sequestration rates at Wilmot: Regen Network said while it was difficult to directly compare local sequestration rates across climatic and geologic zones, the sequestration rates for the projects in question “fall within the relatively wide range of sequestration rates” reported in key scientific studies.

Regen Network said its methodology “provides a conservative estimate on the final number of credits issued”. Its statement outlines the steps taken to ensure soil carbon levels are not overestimated.

- Integrity safeguards: Regen Network said it employs standards “based both on existing standards of reputable programs […] and inputs from project developers, in order to come up with a standard that not only is rigorous but also practical”. Regen Network takes steps to ensure additionality and permanence of carbon stores, as well as avoid double counting of carbon credits generated through their platform.

A more detailed response from Regen Network can be found here.

Wilmot Station Response

Wilmot Station provided the following response from Alasdair Macleod, chairman of Macdoch Group. It has been edited for brevity:

We entered into the deals with Regen Network/Microsoft because we wanted to give a hint of the huge potential that we believe exists for farmers in Australia and globally to sequester soil carbon which can be sold through offset markets or via other methods of value creation.

Whilst we recognise that the soil carbon credits generated on the Macdoch Group properties in the Regen Network/Microsoft deal will not be included in Australia’s national carbon accounts, it is our hope that over time the regulated market will move towards including appropriately rigorous transactions such as these in some form.

At the same time we have also been working closely with the Australian government, industry organisations, academia and other interested parties on Macdoch Group properties to develop appropriate soil carbon methodologies under the government’s Climate Solutions Fund.

This is because carbon measurement methodologies are an evolving science. We have always acknowledged and will welcome improvements that will be made over the coming years to the methodologies utilised by both the voluntary and regulated markets.

In any event it has become clear that there is huge demand from the private sector for offset deals of this nature and we will continue to work towards ensuring that other farmers can take advantage of the opportunities that will become available to those that are farming in a carbon-friendly fashion.The Conversation

Aaron Simmons, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, University of New EnglandAnnette Cowie, Adjunct Professor, University of New EnglandBrian Wilson, Associate Professor, University of New EnglandMark Farrell, Principal Research Scientist, CSIROMatthew Tom Harrison, Associate Professor of Sustainable Agriculture, University of TasmaniaPeter Grace, Professor of Global Change, Queensland University of TechnologyRichard Eckard, Professor & Director, Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre, The University of MelbourneVanessa Wong, Associate Professor, Monash University, and Warwick Badgery, Research Leader Pastures an Rangelands, The University of Melbourne

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

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

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 -


I found this discarded cocoon during one of Tilly's morning strolls around the block this week - showing whatever had been growing within this little made from sticks home has left. After looking around to see what may have lived here it seems this case is made by caterpillars and moths, a family of the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), with the common name for the Psychidae "case moths". The name refers to the habit of caterpillars of these two families, which build small protective cases in which they can hide. The caterpillar larvae of the Psychidae construct cases out of silk and environmental materials such as sand, soil, lichen, or plant materials. These cases are attached to rocks, trees or fences while resting or during their pupa stage, but are otherwise mobile. 

Bagworm cases range in size from less than 1 cm to 15 cm among some tropical species. This one was about 8 cm long. Each species makes a case particular to its species, making the case more useful to identify the species than the creature itself. Cases among the more primitive species are flat. More specialised species exhibit a greater variety of case size, shape, and composition, usually narrowing on both ends. The attachment substance used to affix the bag to host plant, or structure, can be very strong, and in some case require a great deal of force to remove given the relative size and weight of the actual "bag" structure itself.

Since bagworm cases are composed of silk and the materials from their habitat, they are naturally camouflaged from predators. Predators include birds and other insects. Birds often eat the egg-laden bodies of female bagworms after they have died. Since the eggs are very hard-shelled, they can pass through the bird's digestive system unharmed, promoting the spread of the species over wide areas.

A bagworm begins to build its case as soon as it hatches. Once the case is built, only adult males ever leave the case, never to return, when they take flight to find a mate. 

Undescribed Iphierga sp., to MV light, Aranda, ACT, 20/21 November 2008. Photo by D Hobern

Bagworms add material to the front of the case as they grow, excreting waste materials through the opening in the back of the case. When satiated with leaves, a bagworm caterpillar secures its case and pupates. The adult female, which is wingless, either emerges from the case long enough for breeding or remains in the case while the male extends his abdomen into the female's case to breed. Females lay their eggs in their case and die. The female evergreen bagworm (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis) dies without laying eggs, and the larval bagworm offspring emerge from the parent's body. Some bagworm species are parthenogenetic, meaning their eggs develop without male fertilisation. Each bagworm generation lives just long enough as adults to mate and reproduce in their annual cycle.

 Bagworm species are found globally, with some, such as the snailcase bagworm (Apterona helicoidella), in modern times settling continents where they are not native.

Pretty amazing - I wonder what we'll find this week?

Bagworm extending its forequarters from its case in the act of locomotion. Photo by Benjamint444

Midwinter Feast

Published June 25, 2021 by the Australian Antarctic Division
Feast your eyes on the Midwinter celebrations enjoyed by our Antarctic expeditioners at Australia's Casey research station on the shortest day of the year.

Phoenix Program Seeking Expressions Of Interest At Manly Warringah Kayak Club

Applications are invited for the second year of the MWKC Phoenix Programme on Narrabeen Lake. This Programme is designed to deliver athletes into State and National Pathway Programs. 

At this stage the Club has set target dates for athlete testing as Wednesday 28 July and Sunday 01 August, but it may be subject to change (such as weather events) so please contact us to confirm. 

If you are interested in applying for the Programme, please send an email to our Head Coach, Brett Worth at and provide the following details

Athlete Name 

Athlete DOB 

Brief summary of paddling experience (if any) 

Brief summary of other sporting interests / achievements. 

If you would like to speak with someone prior to applying you can contact; 

Brett Worth, MWKC Head Coach 0466 599 423 Peter Grimes, MWKC President 0418 221 042 

Details are available at this link:

Do You Want To Be A Radio Broadcaster?

Radio Northern Beaches, the Peninsula’s own community radio station, is putting on a one-day Radio Skills Workshop on Saturday 17th July at the Station’s studios in Terrey Hills. The workshop is the first step for someone considering a career in radio broadcasting, or for those wanting to present their own show on Radio Northern Beaches.

The workshop is an introduction to a wide range of broadcasting skills including the fundamentals of interviewing, planning and creating your own radio show, microphone technique, panel operation, and digital audio editing.  The speakers include the Station’s Technical Director and several current programme presenters.  At the end of the day, everyone participates in a live to air show.

After completing the workshop, participants are welcome to join Radio Northern Beaches and, after four hands-on evening training sessions, to put forward their own pilot radio programme.

The workshop, which lasts from 9am to 4pm on Saturday 17th July, is limited to ten students and costs $140 for the day.  Bookings can be made through the Northern Beaches Community College website,

For further information, contact Andrew Goodman-Jones at 

Lighter pavement really does cool cities when it’s done right

A road crew paints a street in Los Angeles with coating designed to reduce heat. John McCoy/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images
Hessam AzariJafariMassachusetts Institute of Technology and Randolph E. KirchainMassachusetts Institute of Technology

When heat waves hit, people start looking for anything that might lower the temperature. One solution is right beneath our feet: pavement.

Think about how hot the soles of your shoes can get when you’re walking on dark pavement or asphalt. A hot street isn’t just hot to touch – it also raises the surrounding air temperature.

Research shows that building lighter-colored, more reflective roads has the potential to lower air temperatures by more than 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.4 C) and, in the process, reduce the frequency of heat waves by 41% across U.S. cities. But reflective surfaces have to be used strategically – the wrong placement can actually heat up nearby buildings instead of cooling things down.

As researchers in MIT’s Concrete Sustainability Hub, we have been modeling these surfaces and determining the right balance for lowering the heat and helping cities reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s how reflective pavement works and what cities need to think about.

Why Surfaces Heat Up

All surfaces, depending on the amount of radiation they absorb or reflect, can affect air temperatures in cities.

In urban areas, about 40% of the land is paved, and that pavement absorbs solar radiation. The absorbed heat in the pavement mass is released gradually, warming the surrounding environment. This can exacerbate urban heat islands and worsen the effects of heat waves. It’s part of the reason cities are regularly a few degrees warmer in summer than nearby rural areas and leafy suburbs.

A map of Washington, D.C., and some of its suburbs showing heat islands on downtown areas.
The urban heat island effect in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 2018. NOAA

Reflective materials on pavement can prevent that heat from building up and help counteract climate change by reflecting solar radiation back to the top of the atmosphere. White roofs can have the same effect.

To estimate a pavement’s reflectivity, we use a measure called albedo. Albedo refers to the proportion of light reflected by a surface. The lower a surface’s albedo, the more light it absorbs and, consequentially, the more heat it traps.

Typically, the darker the surface, the lower the albedo. Conventional pavements such as asphalt have a low albedo of around 0.05-0.1, meaning they reflect only 5% to 10% of the light they receive and absorb as much as 95%.

When pavements instead use brighter additives, reflective aggregates, light-reflective surface coatings or lighter paving materials like concrete, they can triple the albedo, sending more radiation back into space.

Though the benefits of reflective pavements can vary across the nation’s 4 million miles of roads, they are, on the whole, immense. An MIT CSHub model estimated that an increase in pavement albedo on all U.S. roads could lower energy use for cooling and reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 4 million cars driven for one year. And when materials are locally sourced, such as light-colored binders or aggregates, the crushed stone, gravel or other hard materials in concrete, these roads can also save money.

[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter.]

Location Matters

But not all paved areas are ideal for cool roads. Within cities, and even within urban neighborhoods, the benefits differ.

When brighter pavements reflect radiation onto buildings – called incident radiation – they can warm nearby buildings in the summer, actually increasing the demand for air conditioning. That’s why attention to location matters.

Illustrations of a building with text describing the different effects by season.
Reflective roads can have different effects in summer and winter depending on the surrounding buildings. MIT

Consider the differences between Boston and Phoenix.

Boston’s dense downtown of narrow streets has tall buildings that block light from directly hitting the pavement most hours of the day. Reflective pavement won’t help or harm much there. But Boston’s unobstructed freeways and its suburbs would see a net benefit from reflecting a large fraction of incoming sunlight to the top of the atmosphere. Using models, we found that doubling the traditional albedo of the city’s roads could cut peak summer temperatures by 1 to 2.7 F (0.3 to 1.7 C).

Phoenix could reduce its summer temperatures even more – by 2.5 to 3.6 F (1.4 to 2.1 C) – but the effects in some parts of its downtown are complicated. In a few low, sparse downtown neighborhoods, we found that reflective pavement could raise the demand for cooling because of increased incident radiation on the buildings.

In Los Angeles, where the city has been experimenting with a cooler coating over asphalt, researchers found another effect to consider. When the coating was used in areas where people walk, the ground itself was as much as 11 F (6.1 C) cooler, but a few feet off the ground, the temperature rose as the sun’s rays were reflected. The results suggest such coatings might be better for roads than for sidewalks or playgrounds.

An Elegant Solution, If Used With Care

Cities will need to consider all of these effects.

Reflective pavements are an elegant solution that can transform something we use every day to reduce urban warming. The full lifecycle emissions of roads, including the materials used in them, have to be factored in. But as cities consider ways to combat the effects of climate change, we believe strategically optimizing pavement is a smart option that can make urban cores more livable.The Conversation

Hessam AzariJafari, Postdoctoral Associate in Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Randolph E. Kirchain, Co-Director, MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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

How Eleanor Roosevelt reshaped the role of First Lady and became a feminist icon

Zora SimicUNSW

This piece is part of a new series in collaboration with the ABC’s Saturday Extra program. Each week, the show will have a “who am I” quiz for listeners about influential figures who helped shape the 20th century, and we will publish profiles for each one. You can read the first piece in the series here.

“Well-behaved women seldom make history” is a phrase frequently trotted out around International Women’s Day, and just as frequently attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. It doesn’t matter that the former First Lady of the United States never actually said this – in fact, it was Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in an obscure academic article in the 1970s – the misattributed quote endures, further cementing Roosevelt’s reputation as one of the most inspiring women of all time.

2021 has also seen the unveiling of the Eleanor Roosevelt Barbie Doll, another marker of her iconic status. In this she has joined the “Inspirational Women” series — following, among others, Maya Angelou, Florence Nightingale, Frida Kahlo and her friend, aviator Amelia Earhart. (Whether she would have approved is another matter.)

Despite her 1.8-metre fame, or perhaps because of it, ER – as she was colloquially known – was not one to draw extra attention to herself. However, she came to excel at using her platform to uplift others or promote her favourite causes, including women’s rights and racial equality.

Read more: Why politics today can't give us the heroes we need

Two days after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration as the 32nd president of the US in March 1933, the new First Lady held her first White House press conference for women reporters only. This was the first of 378 such events, offering unprecedented access for women journalists over the 12 years, or three terms, FDR was in power.

In another historic first, Eleanor Roosevelt twice invited African American contralto opera singer Marian Anderson to perform at the White House – including for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during their US tour in 1939. In the same year, behind the scenes, she lobbied for Anderson to perform an open-air concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial in the then racially segregated capital – a performance since described as a “watershed moment in civil rights history”.

Eleanor Roosevelt twice invited singer Marian Anderson to perform at the White House. The White House Historical Association

Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, the Democrats’ “New Deal” and the second world war, ER transformed the First Lady role from largely ceremonial to much more publicly and politically engaged one.

As well as opening the White House to new constituencies, she extended her duties far beyond the official residence. With the president’s mobility compromised by his paralysis, ER was frequently dispatched to gather evidence, inspect government works and assess public opinion within the US and sometimes internationally. Her extensive travel made her an easy target for media satire – “Mrs Roosevelt Spends Night at White House” ran one headline – and earned her the nickname “Eleanor Everywhere” (now the name of one of several children’s books about her).

Her most famous overseas trip was the five-week South Pacific tour of 1943. Travelling as an ambassador for the American Red Cross, she was flown 25,000 miles on a four-engine military plane, the Liberator, from San Francisco to Hawaii, on to the Pacific Islands, New Zealand and Australia, and back again.

In Australia, thousands lined the streets of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to greet her. In Canberra, she became the first woman ever to be an official guest at a luncheon at Parliament House. Prime Minister John Curtin toasted her by saying “you are one of the most distinguished figures of our age”.

‘ER’ with Prime Minister John Curtin on her trip to Australia in 1942.

The First Lady dutifully reported interesting observations about Australia in her widely syndicated My Day column. Privately, however, she found the official engagements exhausting and trivial compared with her core mission of visiting US service personnel. In her 1949 memoir This I Remember, it was the impact of meeting American GIs in military hospitals that lingered with her. She wrote:

The Pacific trip left a mark from which I think I shall never be free.

Roosevelt’s My Day column ran six days a week from 1935 to mere weeks before her death in 1962. In that time, she only ever missed four days - when her husband collapsed and died, just months into his historic fourth term in office in April 1945.

Not long after, the next phase of her life began when FDR’s successor Harry Truman appointed her US delegate to the United Nations, declaring her “First Lady of the World”. As Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (1946-51), she was a driving force in the drafting and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 – although not the only one.

As First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt was admired, but controversial. Now, she frequently tops US polls as the most popular First Lady in history. Fascination with her life and character has only increased, indexed by a steady stream of books focused on her private life — her marriage to womaniser FDR, her passionate friendships with women and men, who may or may not have been lovers – as well her public achievements.

Amy Bloom’s 2018 novel White Houses, fictionalising Eleanor’s relationship with journalist Lorena “Hick” Hickock, was a bestseller, as is the most recent biography by David Michaelis, Eleanor, released late last year.

Read more: Remembering Pearl Harbor and America's entry into the theatre of war

In 1968, Eleanor Roosevelt was posthumously awarded the UN Human Rights Prize and in 1998, the United Nations Association of the USA inaugurated the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award.

For Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady most often compared to Roosevelt, Eleanor was so inspirational she is rumoured to have held imaginary conversations with her at crossroads in her political career.

Finally, inspirational quotes that Eleanor Roosevelt actually said or wrote continue to circulate. To end with one that captures how she herself redefined the possibilities of leadership:

A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader. A great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.The Conversation

Zora Simic, Senior Lecturer, School of Humanities, UNSW

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

How shipping ports are being reinvented for the green energy transition

La Havre, France, at sunset, with the port in the background. (Shutterstock)
Sylvain RocheSciences Po Bordeaux

When it comes to launching the energy transition, maritime policy is one of the key battlegrounds. But many ports, aware of their ecological and economic vulnerability, have committed to sustainable development strategies.

According to the latest research, sea levels will rise considerably (from 1.1 to 2 metres, on average) by 2100, putting about 14 per cent of the world’s major maritime ports at risk of coastal flooding and erosion. Ports in France, including 66 that are used for maritime trade, are also under threat, and will have to adapt their infrastructure.

Maritime transport accounts for about 80 per cent of global merchandise trade by volume. Shipping is responsible for three per cent of global CO2 emissions, which have increased 32 per cent over the past 20 years. If nothing is done, shipping emissions could climb to 17 per cent of global emissions by 2050.

Enter the “ports of the future.” Ports govern globalized economic activity and are true “energy hubs,” bringing together all kinds of transport (maritime, land-based, waterway and aeronautic). Now, they’re aiming to cut back on real estate, be more respectful of the environment and better integrated into cities, particularly through the concept of “urban ports.”

Freedom From Oil

At least US$1 trillion will have to be invested between 2030 and 2050 to reduce shipping’s carbon footprint by 50 per cent by 2050. As of last year, oil-derived fuels accounted for 95 per cent energy consumption in transportation. Meanwhile, maritime traffic is predicted to increase by 35 to 40 per cent over the same period.

Ports and their environment. The case of Antwerp. (Université Bretagne Sud/YouTube, July 12, 2019).

This dependence on hydrocarbons also represents an economic vulnerability for the maritime shipping sector due to new environmental standards.

In France, liquid bulk transport has been in decline since 2009 (decreasing three per cent on average since 2016), despite a slight uptick in 2017 (2.1 per cent). Fuel shipping (50 per cent of shipping by weight in major maritime ports) has also decreased by 25 per cent since 2008.

The golden age of oil cannot will not hold for much longer, given its environmental impact and increasing scarcity. As the consumption of hydrocarbons and coal drops, we should also see a steady decrease in fuel shipping.

The French government’s National Low-Carbon Strategy (“Stratégie nationale bas carbone,” or SNBC) aims to reduce emissions from the industrial sector by 35 per cent by 2030 and 81 per cent by 2050. This will mean a nearly complete decarbonization of maritime transport, creating a real technological challenge for the sector.

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

To meet these targets, ports are working to become carbon-neutral by redesigning their logistical operations (flow management) and means of production (value creation), as part of an industrial reconversion approach. They’re banking on new environmental technologies to generate a double dividend, both environmental and economic.

Three approaches could be used to achieve these goals: energy efficiency, renewable energy production and industrial ecology.

Building The Ships Of Tomorrow

2021 study by the Getting to Zero coalition found that zero-carbon fuels had to represent at least five per cent of the fuel mix by 2030 for international shipping to comply with the Paris Agreement. Around 100,000 commercial vessels will be affected by this energy transition, according to GTT, a company specializing in the transportation and storage of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

In this vein, an ambitious environmental certification program, Green Marine Europe, launched in 2020 in order to create the European maritime industry of tomorrow.

Read more: How shipping ports can become more sustainable

New fuels with smaller carbon footprints, such as liquefied natural gas, ammonia and ethanol, and the accelerated adoption of alternative propulsion systems will be needed for the sector to become greener.

In 2020, Bordeaux’s port was fitted out with an LNG-powered dredger, which requires less energy and is more environmentally friendly, thanks to its water injection-dredging mechanism. (Delphine Trentacosta)Author provided

Hydrogen fuel (initially “grey,” now increasingly “green”) represents another viable alternative in the medium-term for fleets subjected to heavy rotation. Although the project is currently in its early stages (involving small vessels of 60-80 seats), more ambitious initiatives have been launched, such as the Hydrotug boat in construction for the port of Antwerp.

The arrival of steam-powered engines put an end to the use of large wind-propelled clippers in the late 1800s. But technologies that harness the wind could make a major comeback, with ships using sails and kites to reduce fuel use.

Offshore Wind Turbines, A Promising Solution

Developing electric facilities and technology is also essential to the energy transition, whether through electrified wharfs, turning port seawalls into energy producers, or developing electric ferries that use solar power, bioenergy or marine power.

As the energy transition progresses, we will see ports go from consuming large quantities of a single energy source to using multiple energy sources and becoming electricity producers.

On that note, offshore wind turbines will profoundly change French coasts over the coming years. The first sites will be near ports (with the first French offshore 80-turbine wind farm due to launch in Saint-Nazaire in 2022). In the medium term, the objective is to reach a capacity of 5.2 to 6.5 Gigawatts of offshore wind energy in France by 2028.

This technology brings a new vibrancy to port areas in search of industrial diversification, optimized real estate revenue and local expertise (construction and maintenance operations).

The forthcoming offshore wind farm near Quai Hermann du Pasquier in the city of Le Havre, which will launch in 2022, is being presented as the “biggest industrial renewable energy project in France,” and symbolizes the port’s industrial and energetic transition. What’s more, after 53 years of service, the thermal power station in this area, which used 220 tonnes of coal daily, closed down on 31 March 2021.

Finally, it should be noted that offshore wind farms represent an opportunity for ports to produce their own hydrogen by electrolysing seawater.

Le Havre: on site at the foundations of an offshore wind farm (France 3 Normandie/YouTube, 23 October 2020)

Bringing City And Port Closer Together

The energy transition forces governments to reconsider the connections between city and port. Development projects based on an entirely oil-based economy and the globalized boom in shipping container transport in the second half of the 20th century disconnected city and port at every level. Ports were removed from urban settings due to a lack of space, with huge industrial port zones created on the city’s outskirts.

Now this separation is being questioned, marking the return of the port as a space that’s open to the rest of the city.

For port cities, where ships coexist with residents, industry, businesses and tourism, pollution has motivated citizens into action. Local environmentalism has pushed ports to become open to cities, by promoting the development of circular economies and industrial ecology.

Many ports have launched energy transition projects, aiming to transform city-port relations. The port area is turning out to be an excellent setting to try out new practices founded on greater co-operation between local players.

In La Rochelle, for example, environmental and energy-based issues provided an opportunity to start a shared, collaborative discussion about the future of the metropolitan area. The La Rochelle Zero Carbon Territory project, where the greater urban area aims to become carbon neutral by 2040, the energy transition is being undertaken through concerted planning between the city and its port. The port has committed to initiatives that limit its environmental and energy-related impact, while providing benefits to the local economy.

The roof of the submarine base in the La Rochelle port was fitted out with 7,580 solar panels in 2018. (Olivier Benoît)Author provided

In Le Havre, as in Bordeaux and elsewhere, this city-port interconnection is being strengthened by combining energy-related challenges and digital opportunities.

In time, this should lead to the birth of “smart port cities” (connecting “smart cities” with the “ports of the future”), for a “new model for urban and industrial port areas, blended together by innovation.”

Making Ports The Site Of Modern Energy

Although the environmental challenge is clearly huge and complicated, this energy transition gives us the opportunity to reinterpret ports as laboratories, and to test new practices and technologies. Case in point: the Port of Rotterdam decreased its CO2 emissions by 27 per cent between 2016 and 2020.

Ports have always been showcases of industrial revolution, with the arrival of steam, propellers and then metal hulls. They often feature the most recent energy-related technology, as shown by the painting of the port of Le Havre, by Camille Pissarro.

Now it’s up to them to keep this legacy alive, as true gateways to a more durable and resilient economy.

Translated from French by Rosie Marsland for Fast ForWord.The Conversation

Sylvain Roche, Enseignement-chercheur associé, transition énergétique et territoriale, Sciences Po Bordeaux

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

Smart street furniture in Australia: a public service or surveillance and advertising tool?

A smart light pole in the UK can also recognise faces and numberplates and detect speeding. Nazlika/Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA
Justine HumphryUniversity of SydneyChris ChesherUniversity of Sydney, and Sophia MaalsenUniversity of Sydney

Smart street furniture – powered and digitally networked furniture that collects and generates data – is arriving in Australia. It comes in a variety of forms, including benches, kiosks, light poles and bus stops. Early examples in Australia include ChillOUT Hubs installed by Georges River Council in the Sydney suburbs of Kogarah, Hurstville and Mortdale, and information kiosks and smart light poles in the City of Newcastle as part of its Smart City Strategy.

The “smartness” of this street furniture comes from its new data and connectivity capabilities. The idea is that these can generate new products and services, and support real-time planning decisions in cities. Most offer free wi-fi in combination with other functions like advertising, wayfinding, emergency buttons, phone calling and device charging via USB.

Read more: Sensors in public spaces can help create cities that are both smart and sociable

A ChillOUT Hub installed in Timothy Reserve, Hurstville, by St Georges River Council. Photo: Chris ChesherAuthor provided

Smart, But Controversial

The promise of smart street furniture is that it will enhance public spaces and revitalise ageing infrastructure. By providing vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens with access to free connectivity services it can also bridge digital barriers.

Despite these benefits, some aspects of smart street furniture are controversial. In particular, its data collection and impact on public space have created concerns.

In New York City, the replacement of phone booths by LinkNYC digital kiosks has given rise to protest about data ownership and sharing and surveillance through built-in security cameras. Other sources of tension are the kiosks’ physical footprint, visual impact and use for outdoor advertising with its double-sided 140cm digital displays.

In Australia, Telstra has been fighting a long court case against the cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane over plans to convert its phone booths into smart hubs equipped with digital advertising. Councils objected to these on the basis that they required local planning approval. Telstra argued the hubs were exempt as “low-impact facilities”, but has had to delay installation.

What Can We Learn From Early Adopters Overseas?

We don’t yet understand the public impact and value of smart street furniture, what service model is to be adopted at scale, or what kind of future it offers. To what extent are these facilities offering public services, or are they just enablers of more advertising and surveillance?

Australia can learn from the early examples of smart street furniture in other countries. Our Smart Publics research project investigated the design, use and governance of InLinkUK kiosks in Glasgow and Strawberry Energy smart benches in London with a research team at the University of Glasgow. (The final report is here.)

We found the main users were those who were living rough, young people, students and gig workers. Smart furniture enabled these groups to stay digitally connected. They used these facilities to charge their phones and make free calls, which were especially valuable for those who didn’t own phones or lacked the credit to use them. (The InLinkUK kiosks offered free calls to any mobile or landline in the UK.)

Read more: How do we stop people falling through the gaps in a digitally connected city?

An InLinkUK kiosk in Glasgow city centre. Photo: Smart Publics researchersAuthor provided

Who Is Funding These Facilities?

Even though kiosks and smart benches could be used for community service information, we found it was commercial advertising that drove private investment in this infrastructure. Advertising revenue paid for the services offered by the InLinkUK kiosks and sponsorship for the Strawberry Energy benches. Advertising agency Primesight was one of the three main partners in InLinkUK (with British Telecom and Intersection, the company responsible for LinkNYC).

Because advertising was so prominent in their design, many people were unaware of their other functions. Asked if they’d noticed the InLinks, one person replied:

“Er no, I haven’t […] what’s it for? Is it to make free calls to anywhere in the UK? […] I just thought it was like an advertising board, I guess!”

People recognised the wide public value of free wi-fi, device charging and phone calls. But we found the public as a whole didn’t understand the data-collection aspects. The marginalised groups who relied on these services were more exposed to corporate advertising, data collection and surveillance in public spaces.

Read more: People-friendly furniture in public places matters more than ever in today's city

Councils were also limited in their ability to leverage the benefits that came from the data. The Strawberry Energy benches, for example, collected environmental data such as temperature, noise level and air quality from inbuilt sensors. However, these data weren’t being used to inform planning or policy.

Reliability of the data was another issue. We found inaccuracies when we tested the environmental data.

A Strawberry Energy smart bench in Southwark, South London. Photo: Smart Publics researchersAuthor provided

Where To Now In Australia?

These issues highlight some of the challenges councils encounter when embarking on smart street furniture initiatives with private companies. These include data-sharing contract arrangements as well as the need to upskill council staff to manage new kinds of data capabilities and systems.

The examples we studied in the UK had been rolled out in public-private partnerships. However, some of the models emerging suggest a different kind of civic implementation.

Local governments that have been early adopters of smart furniture in Australia have envisioned it as an extension of council services without added advertising or compromising heritage values. These have typically begun as experimental initiatives funded by federal and state government grants. The City of Newcastle, for example, is planning to integrate smart city technologies into regular council operations.

Smart street furniture is not going away. If anything, it will become pervasive as technology advances and becomes more integrated into our physical surroundings.

The issues raised by smart street furniture warrant close inspection and further research. It is crucial that governments and private actors are transparent about its use for advertising and data collection. To ensure the benefits of smart street furniture are realised, they need to:The Conversation

  • emphasise the public value of smart street furniture, including its use for community-based information
  • collaborate with the public on its design and placement
  • in the case of councils, take a pro-active approach to access, ownership and stewardship of data
  • ensure marginalised citizens are not exposed to increased risk of surveillance and data harms.

Justine Humphry, Senior Lecturer in Digital Cultures, University of SydneyChris Chesher, Senior Lecturer in Digital Cultures, University of Sydney, and Sophia Maalsen, ARC DECRA Fellow and Lecturer in Urbanism, School of Architecture, Design and Planning, University of Sydney

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

The Senate has voted to reject critical race theory from the national curriculum. What is it, and why does it matter?

Leticia AndersonSouthern Cross University and Kathomi GatwiriSouthern Cross University

The Australian Senate yesterday voted in support of a motion calling on the federal government to reject critical race theory from the national curriculum.

The motion was moved by Senator Pauline Hanson. Critical race theory, or CRT, is an academic theory developed primarily by Black scholars and activists to highlight the systemic and institutional nature of racism.

The motion comes after concerns reported in some media, such as The Australian, that the proposed draft national curriculum’s is “preoccupied with the oppression, discrimination and struggles of Indigenous Australians”.

A draft of the proposed revised national curriculum was released at the end of April. New revisions include a more accurate reflection of the historical record of First Nations people’s experience with colonisation, with a commitment to “truth telling”. This means in part recognising that Australia’s First Nations peoples experienced the British arrival as an “invasion”. (It also classifies as an invasion according to international law at the time.)

After the release of the draft curriculum, a conservative think tank claimed there were signs critical race theory was creeping into schools.

Read more: Proposed new curriculum acknowledges First Nations' view of British 'invasion' and a multicultural Australia

Critical race theory is an academic framework that is not part of the Australian curriculum. Learning how, for example, First Nations Australians experienced colonisation is expanding knowledge and understanding about our history. It is not necessarily a direct influence of critical race theory.

Every time race is mentioned in an educational context, it does not mean CRT is being applied.

It’s important the historical and ongoing legacies of colonialism and racial disparities are discussed in the Australian curriculum. Seeking to restrict this discussion by misrepresenting critical race theory is a move copied from conservative United States playbooks.

What Is Critical Race Theory?

Critical race theory is a collection of theoretical frameworks, which provide lenses through which to examine structural and institutional racism.

Within critical race theory, racism is viewed as more than just individual prejudices. Instead, it is considered to include a wide range of social practices deeply embedded in policies, laws and institutions.

Critical race theory was developed from the 1960s and 1970s by legal scholars applying sociological critical theory in their work, although the term “CRT” did not emerge until the late 1980s.

Critical race theorists including Kimberlé CrenshawDerrick Bell and Patricia Williams investigated how and why racial disparities persisted in the United States. They did so through analysing these disparities in the legal and criminal justice system, as well as how education and employment opportunities (or lack theoreof) impacted generational wealth accumulation.

Interpretations of critical race theory are diverse as it is a growing body of scholarship. These are not formulated by theorists into specific doctrines, manifestos or sets of practices. But some general principles underpin CRT.

They include:

  1. race is understood as a “social construct” rather than a biological reality. That is, supposed “racial” differences between groups of humans are founded in our social experience rather than our genetics (this is well supported by scientific evidence)

  2. systemic racism” means social institutions and practices unwittingly contribute to and maintain white supremacy. “Invisible” everyday practices perpetuate racial inequality and inequity in healtheducation and the law

  3. everyone has multiple, overlapping aspects of their identity which may impact their life experiences. These include race, gender, age, class, sexual orientation, disability and nationality. This suggests many people understand or interpret their life experiences through this “intersectional” lens

  4. critical race theory encourages reflection on normalised ways of doing things, especially to question who benefits from systemic privilege and why.

Opponents of critical race theory sometimes claim it creates division and discord between people. For example, they claim critical race theory is intended to make people with privileged identities, such as being white, “hate themselves” or feel shame and guilt for their whiteness.

Critical race theorists and practitioners argue the framework can bring people together by highlighting the causes of the deep racial rifts that already divide our societies. And that it can prepare people for the work of overcoming injustice through reflection.

Where Is This Coming From?

Since Donald Trump’s win in the 2016 US presidential election, the agenda of right-wing and conservative political and media actors in Australia has been heavily shaped by their US counterparts. Trump and other right-wing US actors have promoted broad misrepresentations of critical race theory.

For instance, Trump has claimed the “left’s vile new theory” (that is, critical race theory) teaches students that “judging people by the color of their skin is actually a good idea” and that the US is “systemically evil”. He claims “this deeply unnatural effort has progressed from telling children that their history is evil to telling Americans that they are evil”. Neither is true.

Read more: Critical race theory sparks activism in students

Misinterpretations of critical race theory were an implied factor in Trump blocking funding for diversity and equity training in 2020, because it contained “divisive concepts” such as racial stereotyping and critical race theory.

In the past few months, Republican legislators in more than 20 US states have proposed and voted for bills banning critical race theory in primary and secondary schools and/or colleges and universities. Bills against critical race theory have become law in eight states and are set to become law in a further nine.

It is important to understand these moves in the context of a systemic push-back against calls for racial justice in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement’s resurgence in 2020.

What Does The Senate Motion Mean?

Hanson’s motion does not reflect a homegrown issue with critical race theory. It is the latest example in a series of divisive stunts. This includes her unsuccessful previous attempt to import right-wing racist rhetoric into a Senate bill.

The Senate is not responsible for creating the Australian curriculum. The Australian National Curriculum is developed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), a national but independent statutory body.

The current curriculum took many years and extensive consultation to develop. New content cannot simply be added or removed by any one institution or organisation, including the Senate. The proposed revised curriculum was similarly drafted based on wide consultation with relevant stakeholders and educational experts.

State and territory governments are responsible for implementing the curriculum in schools in their jurisdiction. The way different states require the curriculum to be implemented can differ and individual schools have some flexibility in deciding which programs and resources to use in delivering it.

But critical race theory is complicated and not suited for delivery directly in the K-12 curriculum. Teachers would be unlikely to refer to it or require students to read the work of legal scholars.

However, general concepts about racial inequality, and discussion of historic and contemporary forms of racism, can be understood — even by young children. Teaching these issues effectively and sensitively may overlap with the general principles of CRT without necessarily being directly influenced by this theoretical framework.

Read more: 9 tips teachers can use when talking about racism

An increasing proportion of Australian children have diverse backgrounds and are likely to already have personal experience with discrimination. So, it is important these topics are discussed in educational contexts in age-appropriate ways.The Conversation

Leticia Anderson, Lecturer in Humanities, Southern Cross University and Kathomi Gatwiri, Senior lecturer, Southern Cross University

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

Podcasting overcomes hurdles facing unis to immerse students in the world of workers’ experiences

Mim FoxUniversity of Wollongong

Podcasting is helping to revolutionise tertiary education. Universities have found themselves caught between shrinking budgets and an official insistence that they make graduates job-ready. Academics have had to be creative and flexible about how they engage their students with crucial learning, and podcasting is one way to do this.

In the past year, universities have been denied JobKeeper payments to retain staff, seen the government’s “job-ready graduates” funding and tuition fee changes prioritise some disciplines over others, and then had funding cut despite international student revenue losses.

Despite the constraints of this post-COVID world, universities must still produce graduates for the caring professions dominated by women, such as health and community services, that we arguably need most. The budget did increase funding for sectors such as aged care and child care – but what about the education of the future workers needed to provide social services?

Read more: Big-spending 'recovery budget' leaves universities out in the cold

The business world has been talking about “pivoting” in the post-COVID environment, and academics have had to do the same. Universities have been known for their large lecture theatres, but these are no longer acceptable in a world of social distancing.

Instead, university courses are now being taught either remotely, with students studying from home, or in a blended fashion involving a combination of home engagement and smaller face-to-face classes. Academics have had to meet the challenge with shorter pre-recorded lectures, smaller classes and flexible modes of delivery that students can engage with from home.

This has been easier for some degrees than for others. It’s a challenge for health and social sector degrees, such as social work and human services, that have a large practical component.

We know the best way to teach a student to work with people is to have them work with people. In the current climate, this has become more difficult.

Despite these challenges, academics have found it’s possible to teach core practice skills remotely. Using technologies such as podcasting is one way to prepare students for eventually working with people.

Why Are Academics Choosing Podcasting?

The popularity of podcasting has increased in recent years as a direct and accessible way to consume large amounts of content, and this includes its use in education. Increasing numbers of education-focused podcasts are appearing on free online platforms.

Read more: Michelle Obama, podcast host: how podcasting became a multi-billion dollar industry

Members of the Social Work Stories Podcast team
The Social Work Stories team has been creating podcasts tailored to students’ needs. Author provided

It has been a natural step for academics to use these podcasts in their teaching. They are also creating their own podcast content. This ensures these podcasts are discipline-specific and tailored to their students’ needs.

Podcasting has the potential not only to tell stories for passive listening, but also to engage the listener in the practice of critical thinking. Critical thinking is highly regarded across disciplines as a key graduate attribute that contributes to a job-ready workforce.

It is crucial in the flexible study environment that students are able to engage in critical thinking, regardless of where that study takes place.

Read more: Thinking about thinking helps kids learn. How can we teach critical thinking?

The discipline of social work, taught at universities across Australia, is no exception. As an allied health profession employed largely in the health and community services sector, current circumstances have had direct impacts on social work practices and education. Job-ready graduates need to have professional practice skills built into their studies.

The Social Work Stories Podcast

The Social Work Stories Podcast showcases examples of de-identified cases from the coalface. The hosts analyse the anonymous social workers’ stories. Drawing out the complexities of social work practice enables listeners to critically engage with the content along the way.

The Social Work Stories PodcastAuthor provided

Listeners are asked to “listen out” for theories that are being used, or moments of practice dilemmas or inspiration. In this way they are getting a taste of the experience of social work.

In one episode a social worker discusses the dilemmas involved in providing end-of-life care in hospital. In another a social worker discusses the challenges of providing information on consent to a group of male adolescents. It is as though listeners themselves are working on the cases being discussed.

Read more: 'We are in a bubble that is set to burst'. Why urgent support must be given to domestic violence workers

Social Work Stories audio clip. Author provided8.13 MB (download)

The Social Work Stories Podcast comes from a collaboration between the University of Wollongong and social work practitioners. It now has an international reach of 96 countries and more than 250,000 downloads. Social work graduate programs regularly use the podcast in their curriculum across Australia.

Podcasting has allowed academics to be creative in their course delivery despite the political and financial pressures on the sector. It offers one way forward in a difficult time for academia in Australia.

The Social Work Stories Podcast is available on iTunes and Spotify, with Twitter handle and Instagram @SOWKStoriesPod.

Read more: Podcasts and cities: 'you’re always commenting on power' The Conversation

Mim Fox, Senior Lecturer in Social Work, University of Wollongong

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

The Antarctic Treaty is turning 60 years old. In a changed world, is it still fit for purpose?

Donald RothwellAustralian National University

The 1959 Antarctic Treaty celebrates its 60th anniversary this week. Negotiated during the middle of the Cold War by 12 countries with Antarctic interests, it remains the only example of a single treaty that governs a whole continent.

It is also the foundation of a rules-based international order for a continent without a permanent population.

The treaty is remarkably short and contains only 14 articles. Principal provisions include promoting the freedom of scientific research, the use of the continent only for peaceful purposes, and the prohibition of military activities, nuclear tests and the disposal of radioactive waste.

However, since the treaty was negotiated in a very different era and there have been a number of environmental, resource and geopolitical disputes related to Antarctica in recent decades, it begs the question: is it still fit for purpose?

Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies (left) at the first Antarctic Treaty consultative meeting in Canberra in 1961. National Archives of Australia

What The Treaty Says About Territorial Claims

The most important provision of the treaty is Article IV, which effectively seeks to neutralise territorial sovereignty in Antarctica.

For the Antarctic territorial claimants, this meant a limit was placed on making any new claim or enlargement of an existing claim.

Likewise, no formal recognition was given to any of the seven territorial claims on the continent, by Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom.

Russia, the United States and China — signatories with significant Antarctic interests who have not formally made territorial claims — are also bound by the limitations of Article IV.

And one sector of Antarctica is not subject to the claim of any country, which effectively makes it the last unclaimed land on earth.

The treaty also put a freeze on any disputes between claimants over their territories on the continent. Claimants agreed to abide by the rules and obligations of the treaty, which meant countries that don’t recognise claims (such as China and Russia) are free to go about scientific research and peaceful activities.

Read more: Murky waters: why is Japan still whaling in the Southern Ocean?

How The Treaty Has Expanded

Though the compact has held for 60 years, there have been tensions from time to time. Argentina and the UK, for instance, have overlapping claims to territory on the continent. When combined with their ongoing dispute over the nearby Falkland (Malvinas) Islands, their Antarctic relationship remains frosty.

Argentina’s Base Orcadas Research Station on Laurie Island in Antarctica. It is the oldest research station on the continent. Shutterstock

A key reason why the treaty has been able to survive has been its ability to evolve through a number of additional conventions and other legal protocols. These have dealt with the conservation of marine living resourcesprohibitions on mining, and the adoption of comprehensive environmental protection mechanisms.

As disputes have arisen over the years, many have been addressed through the expansion of the treaty framework with these agreements. This framework is now referred to as the “Antarctic Treaty System”.

These measures have been a great success, but tensions have arisen in recent years over the promotion of Southern Ocean marine reserves. Agreement was reached in 2016 on a Ross Sea Marine Protected Area, and momentum is building for a broader network of Southern Ocean marine protected areas. China and Russia have resisted these initiatives.

Membership of the treaty has grown in the intervening years, with 54 signatories today.

Scientific engagement in Antarctica is considered critical to exercising influence under the treaty. New treaty parties have to meet certain criteria relating to active scientific programs before they are able to participate in meetings as “consultative parties”. A total of 29 treaty parties, including Australia, meet these scientific engagement thresholds.

Building, operating and conducting scientific research programs are key to the success not only of the treaty, but also to the claimants’ credibility in Antarctica. Australia, for instance, has permitted Belarus, China, France, India, Italy, Russia, and the US to conduct scientific programs at their own research bases within its Antarctic territory, which covers 42% of the continent.

Read more: Is there about to be a dash for Antarctica's resources?

Where To From Here?

While the Antarctic Treaty has been able to successfully respond to a range of challenges, circumstances are radically different in the 2020s compared to the 1950s. Antarctica is much more accessible, partly due to technology but also climate change. More countries now have substantive interests in the continent than the original 12. Some global resources are becoming scarce, especially oil.

This will inevitably result in increased attention being given to the potential for Antarctic mining to take place sometime in the future. Calls to revisit the prohibition on Antarctic mining would seem inevitable.

There is also uncertainty as to China’s intentions in Antarctica. China joined the treaty in 1983, became a consultative party in 1985, and in 2017 hosted a consultative party meeting in Beijing.

Xue Long, a Chinese icebreaker, en route back to Shanghai after a visit to Antarctica in 2016. Wikimedia Commons

China has a developing scientific program on the continent, with four research stations (three of which are in Australia’s Antarctic Territory), and a fifth planned. While Australia and China cooperate on a number of Antarctic scientific and logistics programs, the direction of China’s Antarctic engagement and long-term support for treaty is not clear.

There is considerable speculation as to China’s interests in Antarctic resources, especially fisheries and minerals, and whether China may seek to exploit weaknesses in the treaty system to secure access to those resources.

All of the treaty signatories, but especially those with significant stakes in the continent, need to give the future of the treaty more attention.

The Australian parliament, for instance, last conducted an inquiry into the Australian Antarctic Territory in 2018. None of the 22 recommendations, however, had a precise focus on the Antarctic Treaty.

The mining ban under the Madrid Protocol to the treaty could be subject to review in 2048. If the treaty’s signatories wish to ensure it remains fit for purpose in 2048 and beyond, more strategic thinking needs to be given to Antarctica’s future.The Conversation

Donald Rothwell, Professor of International Law, Australian National University

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

Australia’s media industry shed 5,000 journalists to survive – what does this mean for those who left, and those left behind?

Lukas Coch/AAP
Matthew RicketsonDeakin University and Andrew DoddThe University of Melbourne

In the 2000s, the internet shredded the media’s business model. The media’s influence fragmented and many employees paid the price.

Between 2012 and 2016, thousands of Australian journalists lost their jobs in large redundancy rounds as the industry scrambled to try to stay alive. The bulk of redundancies happened in print media because historically, they employed the largest number of journalists.

The disruption to traditional business models – and the rush to find a new one — has been much discussed from a financial perspective. But what about the journalists who left the industry or those left behind in stripped-down newsrooms?

Disrupted Lives

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (the journalist’s union) estimates up to 5,000 Australian journalists have left the industry over the past decade.

The New Beats study has been charting what happened to journalists after they left, including through regular surveys. In partnership with the National Library of Australia, we have also conducted “whole-of-life” interviews with close to 60 journalists for the library’s oral history collection.

Journalists at Michael McCormack's farewell press conference as Nationals leader.
Senior journalists provide younger colleagues with story ideas, phone numbers and essential advice. Lukas Coch/ AAP

Some of them are well known — David Marr for example — while others worked behind the scenes as sub-editors. A minority of them soon found another job in the mainstream media, while some used their redundancy packages to fund projects to reinvent journalism. Others went to the so-called dark side of public relations while others left the media altogether.

Our new book, Upheaval: Disrupted Lives in Journalism, tells their story. It aims to give a picture of what it was like to work in journalism when the media had resources and a lot of influence and then what happened as disruption began in earnest during the mid-2000s.

The Cost Of Cost-Cutting

Along with redundancies, annual intakes of trainees or cadets (where young journalists are not only hired but trained) were at best paused, at worst stopped. Sub-editing was outsourced to standalone production companies like Pagemasters or cut to skeletal levels.

It is hard to see immediately how this affects the journalism that continues to be produced every day — although glaring typographical errors or headline bloopers are visible to the naked eye. Less visible is the loss of informal mentoring and advice provided by senior journalists, admittedly often expressed with back-of-the-axe bluntness!

Read more: Australians are not aware news outlets are in financial trouble: new report

Senior journalists were the ones encouraged to take redundancies because they were on higher salaries. In the first New Beats survey, conducted in 2014, 54% of respondents were aged 51 and over.

This is a huge loss of knowledge and experience. Senior journalists would often provide contact details for useful sources or remind younger colleagues what the prime minister had said abut the topic at hand five years ago. They would warn less experienced colleagues about legal or ethical minefields and help them find the strongest news lead.

What this meant was fewer journalists and less experience in newsrooms but greater demands to produce stories across print, audio, video, online and social media.

The quality of journalism today compared to a decade ago was not the focus of our study. What is hard to measure but vitally important is the absence of stories that might have been covered once but aren’t now. The public can’t know what it isn’t told.

Informal Mentors

One of our interviewees, Guardian investigative reporter Anne Davies, recalled how as a young journalist at the Australian Financial Review, she got a tip law firm, Freehills, was about to merge with another legal practice. She told her chief of staff she might have a story. “Come on, sit next to me”, he said, and they wrote it together.

Glenn Dyer really looked after the cadets […] he’d walk in and he’d go, ‘Davies, I want you to follow up. It’s on page four of The Australian’ […] he got us really charged up about the thrill of the chase.

Veteran journalist and author George Megalogenis also benefited from mentoring, but in a less direct way. At Melbourne’s Sun newspaper, cadets like him were seated at the top of the sub-editors’ table, one chair away from the editor-in-chief. They were encouraged to learn through osmosis.

You got to see news judgements made every night […] I spent a lot of time eavesdropping.

The New Beats’ annual survey in 2017 highlighted the decline of informal mentoring and lack of experience in newsrooms. As one respondent, by then a retired 66-year-old, said:

The lack of corporate knowledge and mentoring have already been damaged, possibly beyond repair. Older experienced minds have been replaced with younger and cheaper folks. No criticism of them. We were all like them at some stage and fed off the experience of others. I can still name my mentors and carry many of their ideas with me.

What’s The Solution?

Who, if anyone, is replacing these informal mentors? There are still some experienced hands in the news media and the ability of younger journalists to adapt and learn should not be underestimated.

There is anecdotal evidence among journalism academics that recent graduates working in newsrooms are reaching out to them for guidance as they struggle to deal with the difficulties of covering COVID-19, including hyper-scrutiny of their work, and of abuse and trolling on social media. The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance provides regular workshops for members on various aspects of journalistic work.

AAP journalists at a meeting in their newsroom.
Senior journalists, on higher salaries, have been more likely to take redundancies. Stephen Saphore/AAP

The union and journalism lecturers can provide support and assistance but reporting the news is a fast-paced job that throws up knotty issues amid great pressure that need to be resolved immediately.

By interviewing journalists who experienced redundancy, we learned many still care deeply about the craft of reporting. Collectively they are a repository of what Aristotle called practical wisdom.

We captured some of that wisdom, and at times could hear one generation of journalists talking to the next. They were encouraging and cautioning and emboldening, while also being aware of the pressures making journalism harder nowadays. There is an enduring need for this kind of intergenerational learning.

There is also a challenge for those managing now-reduced newsrooms to find ways to do this. Those former journalists may no longer be sitting across the partition but they are still ready and able to share their knowledge when, and if, they’re asked.

Read more: Media Files: Australians' trust in news media is falling as concern over 'fake news' grows The Conversation

Matthew Ricketson, Professor of Communication, Deakin University and Andrew Dodd, Director of the Centre for Advancing Journalism, The University of Melbourne

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

Homo who? A new mystery human species has been discovered in Israel

Yossi Zaidner
Michelle LangleyGriffith University

An international group of archaeologists have discovered a missing piece in the story of human evolution.

Excavations at the Israeli site of Nesher Ramla have recovered a skull that may represent a late-surviving example of a distinct Homo population, which lived in and around modern-day Israel from about 420,000 to 120,000 years ago.

As researchers Israel Hershkovitz, Yossi Zaidner and colleagues detail in two companion studies published today in Science, this archaic human community traded both their culture and genes with nearby Homo sapiens groups for many thousands of years.

The New Fossils

Pieces of a skull, including a right parietal (towards the back/side of the skull) and an almost complete mandible (jaw) were dated to 140,000–120,000 years old, with analysis finding the person it belonged to wasn’t fully H. sapiens.

The Nesher Ramla mandible and skull. Avi Levin and Ilan Theiler, Sackler / Tel Aviv University

Nor were they Neanderthal, however, which was the only other type of human thought to have been living in the region at the time.

Instead, this individual falls right smack in the middle: a unique population of Homo never before recognised by science.

Through detailed comparison with many other fossil human skulls, the researchers found the parietal bone featured “archaic” traits that are substantially different from both early and recent H. sapiens. In addition, the bone is considerably thicker than those found in both Neanderthals and most early H. sapiens.

The jaw too displays archaic features, but also includes forms commonly seen in Neanderthals.

The bones together reveal a unique combination of archaic and Neanderthal features, distinct from both early H. sapiens and later Neanderthals.

Are There Are More Of These People?

The authors suggest fossils found at other Israeli sites, including the famous Lady of Tabun, might also be part of this new human population, in contrast to their previous Neanderthal or H. sapiens identification.

The “Lady of Tabun” (known to archaeologists as Tabun C1) was discovered in 1932 by pioneering archaeologist Yusra and her field director, Dorothy Garrod.

Extensively studied, this important specimen taught us much about Neanderthal anatomy and behaviour in a time when very little was known about our enigmatic evolutionary cousins.

Read more: Ancient teenager the first known person with parents of two different species

If Tabun C1 and others from the Qesem and Zuttiyeh Caves were indeed members of the Nasher Ramel Homo group, this reanalysis would explain some inconsistencies in their anatomy previously noted by researchers.

The mysterious Nesher Ramla Homo may even represent our most recent common ancestor with Neanderthals. Its mix of traits supports genetic evidence that early gene flow between H. sapiens and Neanderthals occurred between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago. In other words, that interbreeding between the different Homo populations was more common than previously thought.

Even more puzzling, the team also found a collection of some 6,000 stone tools at the Nesher Ramla site.

These tools were made the same way contemporaneous H. sapiens groups made their technology, with the similarity so strong it appears the two populations — Nesher Ramla Homo and H. sapiens — were hanging out on a regular basis. It seems they weren’t just exchanging genes, but also tips on tool-making.

And There Was Fire!

The site also produced bones of animals caught, butchered, and eaten on-site. These findings indicate Nesher Ramla Homo hunted a range of species, including tortoise, gazelle, aurochs, boar and ostrich.

Furthermore, they were using fire to cook their meals, evident through the uncovering of a campfire feature the same age as the fossils. Indeed, the Nesher Ramla Homo were not only collecting wood to make campfires and cook, but were also actively managing their fires as people do today.

Exposure of animal bones and lithic artifacts in the layer with the Nesher Ramla Homo fossils. Yossi Zaidner

While the earliest indications of controlled use of fire is much older — perhaps one million years ago - the interesting thing about this particular campfire is the evidence that Nesher Ramla people tended to it as carefully as contemporary H. sapiens and Neanderthals did their own fires.

Most impressive is that the campfire feature survived, intact, outside of a protected cave environment for so long. It is now the oldest intact campfire ever found in the open air.

In sum, if we think of the story of human evolution like an Ikea bookcase that isn’t quite coming together, this discovery is effectively like finding the missing shelf buried at the bottom of the box. The new Nesher Ramla Homo allows for a better-fitting structure, although a few mysterious “extra” pieces remain to be pondered over.

For example, exactly how did the different Homo groups interact with each other? And what does it mean for the cultural and biological changes that were occurring for Homo populations in this period?

Continuing to work with these questions (the “extra pieces”) will help us build a better understanding of our human past.

The Conversation

Michelle Langley, Senior Research Fellow, Griffith University

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

Cardiac arrests in young people — what causes them and can they be prevented or treated? A heart expert explains

Wolfgang Rattay/AP/AAP
Jessica OrchardUniversity of Sydney

On June 12, 16,000 spectators at Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium and millions of viewers around the world watched in shock as Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen’s heart stopped.

Late in the first half of Denmark’s opening game of the Euro 2020 soccer tournament against Finland, the 29 year-old was running just after a throw-in and suddenly collapsed. It appears he suffered a sudden cardiac arrest.

Fortunately, he was quickly attended to by a medical team with full resuscitation equipment, who administered CPR and successfully used a defibrillator. Erikson survived and has been fitted with an implantable cardiac defibrillator. This is a small device which is connected to the heart and fitted under the skin. If a dangerously abnormal rhythm is detected, it will deliver an electric shock to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm.

So how often do cardiac arrests happen in young people? What are the risk factors, and can they be prevented?

Cardiac arrests during sport are extremely rare. If you’re playing sport next weekend, you should go ahead in the knowledge it’s almost certain not to happen. The benefits of exercise far outweigh the risks.

But because events like this do happen, albeit very rarely, we need public venues to have good emergency plans to improve survival, including the widespread availability of defibrillators.

There have been some recent improvements in this regard in Australia. For example, defibrillators are now installed in all Coles and Woolworths stores nationally, and there are several programs to support rollout of defibrillators and emergency action plans to community sports clubs. But there’s still room for improvement.

Am I At Risk? How Often Does This Happen?

Sudden death from cardiac arrest in a young person is a very rare but tragic outcome. The baseline risk in Australia for people under 35 is 1.3 per 100,000 people per year, with 15% occurring either during or immediately after exercise.

Across all ages, there are 20,000 sudden cardiac arrests in Australia that occur out of hospital every year, and sadly only 10% of people survive.

It’s also worth remembering a cardiac arrest isn’t exactly the same thing as a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when one of the coronary arteries is blocked, stopping blood supply to part of the heart. A cardiac arrest is when the heart stops pumping blood around the body, and can occur due to a heart attack or another cause.

The major causes of cardiac arrest depend on age. In people over 35, the vast majority are caused by coronary artery disease, where arteries supplying blood to the heart are blocked or damaged.

In people aged under 35, there’s no single major cause of cardiac arrest. Some of the conditions that can cause cardiac arrest in young people include:

However, 40% of sudden cardiac deaths in young people remain unexplained even after autopsy.

Is Cardiac Screening The Answer?

Cardiac screening in young people looks for certain heart abnormalities that haven’t yet been detected. It’s common for elite and professional athletes in Australia and internationally, and is mandatory for young athletes in some countries, for example Italy and Israel.

This screening usually includes a “12-lead electrocardiogram” or ECG, which is a painless test that involves putting some sticky dots on the body and recording the electrical activity of the heart over a ten second period.

However, ECG screening cannot detect all of the conditions which can cause sudden cardiac arrests. This is because some conditions don’t show ECG abnormalities before a cardiac arrest.

Eriksen’s condition was likely in that category, because we know he had regular heart screenings while at Tottenham and these hadn’t shown any problems.

Medicare in Australia funds heart health checks for people who are middle aged or older, but not in younger people. This is similar to most countries. Other than in professional athletes and those with a family history, most professional bodies don’t recommend widespread screening of younger people because the risk of cardiac arrests is so low overall.

How Else Can We Prevent Sudden Cardiac Death? Defibrillators And Data

The best strategy for preventing sudden cardiac death at any age is having defibrillators widely available. A defibrillator is a device that can analyse the heart’s rhythm and deliver an electric shock if needed. This can shock the heart back into a normal rhythm.

While they obviously can’t stop the cardiac arrest happening in the first place, they are crucial to survival once they do happen. Early access to a defibrillator can improve survival to almost 90%.

However, access needs to be very quick, ideally within 2-5 minutes, as we know the chances of survival drop by 10% for every minute of delay before defibrillation.

We also need as many as people as possible to be regularly trained to provide CPR.

Fabrice Muamba, a former midfielder for the Bolton Wanderers soccer team in the UK, was lucky to survive after he collapsed and his heart stopped on the field during a 2012 FA cup quarter-final.

Muamba, who recovered after he received CPR and 26 defibrillator shocks, last week voiced his support for defibrillators to be a legal requirement in public places in the UK. Ideally, Australia could also introduce a similar requirement to have defibrillators in public venues, supported by widespread CPR training (including how to use a defibrillator) to improve survival rates from out of hospital cardiac arrests.

In addition to defibrillators and CPR training, venues such as schools and sporting stadiums need to have good cardiac emergency plans so they can respond efficiently and effectively if someone’s heart stops.

Some of the conditions that are diagnosable prior to a cardiac arrest run in families, such as “Long QT syndrome”. So, it’s important to seek medical advice for anyone with a family member who has had cardiac arrest under the age of 40.

Read more: In cases of cardiac arrest, time is everything. Community responders can save lives

Importantly, anyone who has any worrying symptoms should seek medical advice, especially fainting or collapse during exercise.

Finally, research projects such as the Australian End Unexplained Cardiac Death (EndUCD) registry are urgently needed to identify the underlying causes of cardiac death in young people so we can prevent deaths from sudden cardiac arrest.The Conversation

Jessica Orchard, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centenary Institute; and Adjunct Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney

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

Vital Signs: how to halve serious injuries and deaths from teenage driving accidents

Richard HoldenUNSW

Teenage drivers are a risky bunch. They are inexperienced and don’t always drive carefully, sometimes with tragic consequences. Various studies indicate 15-30% of teens have an accident in their first year of driving. In many countries driving fatalities are the leading cause of death among teenagers.

The policy question is what to do about it.

One can imagine a number of options, from the light touch (such as information campaigns and advertisements) to the dramatic (such as raising the legal driving age).

Many jurisdictions have introduced laws to restrict the driving privileges of younger drivers. But it’s not always easy to tell if such laws are effective.

One could look at places that have the laws and compare them to accident statistics from places without such laws. But this might be misleading.

It is possible those laws were introduced in places with a bigger problem. Suppose the laws have reduced driving fatalities, but only to the same level as places with less severe problems in the first place. With no difference in the teen driving fatality rate between jurisdictions with or without driving restrictions, it could be incorrectly concluded the restrictions have no effect.

Read more: More Mad Max than max safety: teenagers don't dream of safe cars

The Identification Problem

This is an example of what economists call the “identification problem” – figuring out how to identify the true causal effect of a policy intervention.

To identify the causal effect, one needs to know the right counterfactual – that is, what would have happened if the policy had not been introduced. To put it another way, the group affected by the policy needs to be compared with the right control group.

This is a big general issue on which economists have been working for decades. In that time many useful techniques have been developed to address the identification problem across the social sciences.

The development of this set of tools is what MIT economist Joshua Angrist (one of the leading scholars in this endeavour) has called “the credibility revolution”.

It’s a revolution because we now have ways to credibly identify the causal effect of different policy interventions. That allows us to provide sensible policy prescriptions based on empirical evidence.

It even permits scholars to understand the size or “magnitude” of the effects and to undertake careful cost-benefit analysis.

An Australian Policy Experiment

Back to those troublesome teenage drivers.

In 2007 New South Wales introduced a law that banned drivers in their first year of a provisional licence from carrying two or more passengers under the age of 21 between 11pm and 5am.

As economists Tim Moore and Todd Morris write in a working paper published by the US National Bureau of Economic Research in April, about 3% of all accidents by first-year drivers occurred while carrying multiple passengers between these hours. But these accidents accounted for about 18% of fatalities.

Moore (an Australian, now at Purdue University in Indiana) and Morris (at the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy in Germany) saw the NSW policy as an ideal opportunity to test the effectiveness of teen-driving restrictions.

So how did they make sure they had the right counterfactual?

They used one of the classic techniques from the identification revolution, known as the “difference-in-differences” – or DID – method.

This technique was made famous (in academic and policy circles) by a path-breaking 1994 paper by David Card and Alan Krueger (both then economists at Princeton University) on how minimum wage laws affect employment.

To put it at its simplest, rather than comparing one group to another or one group before and after a policy change, the DID method involves comparing the changes over time in one group to the changes over time in another.

Moore and Morris calculated changes in the restricted period (11pm–5am) then compared those to the changes in accidents during the daytime (8am–8pm). This allowed them to control for other factors affecting crash risks.

What they show is striking. The restriction reduced crashes by first-year drivers by 57%, and hospitalisations and fatalities by 58%.

With the restrictions, crashes in the 11pm-5am window dropped from about 18% to 4% of fatalities involving first-year drivers. That’s an effective policy.

Read more: Automated vehicles may encourage a new breed of distracted drivers

Long-Run Effects

If you were sitting in an academic seminar hearing these results, you might ask: “OK, but what happens after the first-year restrictions roll off?”

Remarkably, Moore and Morris also find reductions in nighttime multi-passenger crashes in the second and third years. There are no clear differences in the years that follow, but by then crash rates are down to one-fifth of the first-year level.

Impacts on nighttime multi-passenger crashes

Charts showing Immediate and subsequent impacts on night-time multi-passenger crashes, from the paper 'Shaping the Habits of Teen Drivers' by  Timothy Moore & Todd Morris.
Timothy Moore & Todd Morris, 'Shaping the Habits of Teen Drivers', National Bureau of Economic Research, April 2021.

In other words, these restrictions seem to have a persistent effect even after the policy intervention is no longer in place.

There is a broader lesson in this. Policies can have long-run effects, even after the folks targeted by the policy are no longer “being treated”. This is well known in some educational interventions. Experiments with small financial rewards for students and parents, for example, have shown improvements in things like attendance and performance continue even after the incentives are discontinued. It is worth looking out for with policies in other areas.

In any case, NSW – and Australia more generally – seems to have cracked the case on teen driver safety.

Thanks to Moore and Morris, and their NBER working paper, it’s an insight from which the rest of the world can learn.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

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

One In 20 NSW COVID-19 Cases Report Long-Term Symptoms

June 25, 2021
A major study led by UNSW medical researchers and NSW Health has tracked the recovery of nearly 3000 COVID-19 cases in NSW.

Five per cent of people diagnosed with COVID-19 during NSW’s ‘first wave’ were still experiencing symptoms three months later, according to the largest study of COVID-19 recovery time ever undertaken in Australia.

The study, a collaboration between UNSW Sydney and NSW Health and published in The Lancet Regional Health – Western Pacific journal today, also found younger people, men and those without co-morbidities generally recovered faster.

Using NSW’s disease notification registry, linked health datasets, and telephone interviews with those infected, the comprehensive study systematically tracked 2904 people – almost everyone (94 per cent) diagnosed with COVID-19 in NSW between January and May 2020.

The whole-of-population study is likely to provide more accurate estimates of the proportion of people who will experience long-term effects from COVID-19 than previous smaller studies. Many of these studies have been restricted to volunteers or those hospitalised with the virus, and some put the proportion of people experiencing long-term effects closer to 30 per cent.

According to the study published today, three months after being diagnosed with COVID-19, 93.4 per cent of people followed had recovered, most (80 per cent) within 30 days, 1.8 per cent had died and 4.8 per cent were still experiencing symptoms. Of those who had still not recovered at the time of their last interview, the most commonly reported residual symptoms were cough and fatigue.

“We know a lot about acute clinical presentations where people end up in hospital, but much less about those who get less severe forms of the disease,” said UNSW Associate Professor Dr Bette Liu, lead author of the report.

“Our data demonstrates the substantial direct impact of COVID-19 on population health – and the need to consider not only hospitalisations and deaths, but also the longer-term health of those with less severe forms of the disease.”

With more than 30,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Australia so far, “this study indicates that prolonged recovery from COVID-19 looks to be a significant problem for many Australians”, said A/Prof. Liu.

“It is well known that COVID-19 severity increases with age and with the prevalence of other illnesses or underlying health conditions, so it’s unsurprising that we found recovery was slower and less likely in these groups,” A/Prof. Liu said.

There is a view among younger people that they would recover quickly from COVID-19, A/Prof. Liu said. “Although our study showed young people did recover more quickly, even among those aged under 30 we found that 2 per cent were still experiencing some symptoms three months after diagnosis.

“This study demonstrates how important it is that we all protect ourselves from COVID-19 through following public health advice, including hand hygiene, physical distancing and testing, as well as getting vaccinated when it is your turn.”

A/Prof. Liu conducted the study with co-authors from UNSW’s School of Population Health and the Kirby Institute, and NSW Health.

A Novel Energy Storage Solution Featuring Pipes And Anchors

June 23, 2021
What do pipes and anchors have to do with storing energy? More than you might think! A new IIASA-led study explored the potential of a lesser known, but promising sustainable energy storage system called Buoyancy Energy Storage.

There is general consensus that renewable energy sources will play an important role in ensuring a healthier and more sustainable future for the planet and its people, and many countries are indeed already seeing such technologies displacing "dirty" fossil fuels in the power sector in an effort to lower emissions. The biggest problem with renewable energy sources, however, is that power supply is intermittent, meaning that the energy output at any given time does not necessarily meet the demand at that time. With solar power generation for instance, electricity generation peaks during the day when electricity demand is low, resulting in times of energy excess alternating with times of energy shortage.

The balance between energy supply and demand is a prerequisite for any stable energy system. In the case of intermittent renewable energy supply, reliable and efficient ways to store energy will be crucial to ensure the successful adoption of these technologies. In their latest paper published in the journal Energy Storage, IIASA researcher Julian Hunt and colleagues explored one of the lesser known, but promising sustainable energy storage systems, namely Buoyancy Energy Storage Technology.

"Buoyancy Energy Storage Technology (BEST) can be particularly useful to store intermittent energy from offshore wind power plants, especially in coastal regions and small islands. As an added benefit, the same technology can be used to compress hydrogen and transport it underwater," Hunt explains.

The concept behind Buoyancy Energy Storage is based on the well-established technology of pumped energy storage systems. The system typically consists of floating platforms placed close to offshore wind farms and uses an electric motor/generator for storing energy by lowering a compressed gas recipient, usually a series of balloons or tanks, in locations with deep sea floors and generating electricity by allowing the compressed gas recipient, to rise through the water. Hunt and his colleagues, however, propose new components for the construction of a BEST system, such as the introduction of a series of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic pipelines arranged vertically to form a cube, coupled with an anchor system connected to the sea floor.

Proposed Buoyancy Energy Storage System

The team performed a number of simulations to test their amendments to the system and determine the potential for storing energy at different ocean depths. Their results indicate that the deeper the system, the less the volume of compression gasses varies with depth and the more energy the system stores. However, the researchers also point out that installing the system at a greater depth inevitably comes at a higher cost. With that said, the cost of using a BEST system to store energy still emerged as lower per megawatt hour (MWh) compared to the cost of using conventional battery systems.

"While the cost of batteries today is around US$ 150 /MWh, the cost of BEST is just US$ 50 to US$ 100 per MWh. Given that the cost of installed capacity for batteries is smaller than in BEST systems (US$ 4 to US$ 8 million per megawatt), battery and BEST systems could be operated in conjunction to provide energy storage for a coastal city or for an offshore wind power plant. It is important to also bear in mind that the cost of BEST systems can be significantly reduced if substantial investment is made to the technology," Hunt says.

Another important area where BEST systems can be applied is to compress hydrogen for storage and transportation. Efforts to decarbonize the global economy have placed a renewed emphasis on the benefits of a future hydrogen economy. One of the main challenges to a hydrogen economy is the costs involved in compressing and transporting the hydrogen.

According to the researchers, the investment costs associated with compressing hydrogen using BEST systems are around 30 times lower than it would be using conventional compressors, and the process involved would have the added benefit of significantly reducing the energy consumption in compression. Once the hydrogen is compressed underwater, it can be contained in a pressure tank and brought to the surface, or it can be transported to other continents in large, deep underwater pipelines partially filled with sand. The sand will contribute to lowering the floating capacity of the pipeline so that it remains at the designed depth and can be fixed to the bottom of the ocean with anchors.

"Such hydrogen and sand filled pipelines combined with BEST systems have the potential to become the backbone that sustains the future hydrogen economy, connecting all continents," Hunt concludes.

Julian David Hunt, Behnam Zakeri, Alexandre Giulietti de Barros, Walter Leal Filho, Augusto Delavald Marques, Paulo Sérgio Franco Barbosa, Paulo Smith Schneider, Marcelo Farenzena. Buoyancy Energy Storage Technology: An energy storage solution for islands, coastal regions, offshore wind power and hydrogen compression. Journal of Energy Storage, 2021; 40: 102746 DOI: 10.1016/j.est.2021.102746

Coral Offspring Physiology Impacted By Parental Exposure To Intense Environmental Stresses

June 23, 2021
Adult corals that survive high-intensity environmental stresses, such as bleaching events, can produce offspring that are better suited to survive in new environments. These results from a series of experiments conducted at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) in 2017 and 2018 are deepening scientists' understanding of how the gradual increase of sea surface temperatures and other environmental disturbances may influence future coral generations.

Researchers on the project included BIOS marine ecologists Samantha de Putron and Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley (now with the Central Caribbean Marine Institute), ecophysiologist Hollie Putnam at the University of Rhode Island (URI), and Kevin Wong, then a first-year doctoral student at URI. Primary funding came from the Heising-Simons Foundation International, Ltd. with additional funding from the National Geographic Society and the Canadian Associates of BIOS (CABIOS).

The team spent last year working the data into a manuscript, which was published this month in the journal Global Change Biology and listed Wong as the first author. Wong, now nearing the end of his fourth year of studies at URI under the mentorship of Putnam, plans to graduate in May 2022.

"We know parental history influences the characteristics of offspring in corals, however the experimental design used in this study provides us with a unique perspective on how multiple types of thermal events can accumulate over time and have lasting consequences across generations," Wong said.

Coral Collection and Study
The multi-year field and lab-based study began in the summer of 2017. Departing from BIOS on a small boat with diving gear, the team collected 40 adult Porites astreoides (mustard hill) corals from two different reef sites northwest of Bermuda: a patch reef (Crescent Reef), which is located in a shallower lagoon environment, and a rim reef (Hog Reef) which is a barrier reef more exposed to open ocean conditions.

They next placed the live corals in the then newly-constructed BIOS mesocosm facility, where large outdoor aquaria "flow-through" seawater systems allowed researchers to control and adjust water temperature in the tanks for completing the study.

A variety of baseline data were collected on the corals in each colony, such as metabolic rates and the density of Symbiodinaceae, the symbiotic algae that live within the coral tissues. To simulate a thermal stress event, the adult corals were exposed to two different temperature treatments -- ambient (84°F or 29°C) or heated (88°F or 31°C) -- for a period of 21 days over their reproductive period. Afterward, the team assessed the physiology of the adult corals, looking at key functions such as respiration and photosynthetic rates. They also monitored the release of coral larvae and assessed its physiology, measuring the larval size and density of Symbiodinaceae within each larva, among other factors.

Upon completion of the experiment, the adult corals were divided in half and reciprocally transplanted, with half of the fragments positioned in the new environments and half returned to their originating environments. All of the fragments remained in place until the summer of 2018, when they were re-collected, and the physiologies of both adult corals and coral larvae were assessed in the same manner as in 2017.

A Stronger Coral Generation
The results of this two-year investigation showed that adult corals that experienced the thermal stress event produced offspring more capable of thriving in their current environment. This means that parent corals that experience stressors may be able to "pre-condition" their offspring to survive in new environments in the following year. The results also indicate that high-intensity environmental stress events, such as bleaching, can have lasting impacts on adult colonies and how they produce their offspring.

"The coral used in this study is a notoriously resilient coral and these findings potentially demonstrate how this species is so persistent across the Caribbean," Putnam said. "Not all coral species are this robust to environmental stressors. However, this system allows us to unravel the mechanisms leading to resilience and identify which corals are most sensitive to climate change."

Long-time Member of BIOS Community
Wong, 27, is a familiar face at BIOS, having first arrived on campus in the summer of 2014 as a CABIOS intern when he spent 12 weeks working with de Putron on a research project investigating the role of temperature and light on the growth and survivorship of juvenile mustard hill corals from two different reef zones. The following year, he received CABIOS funding to work with then-faculty member Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley on a project focused on the reproductive ecology of corals from mesophotic reef ecosystems, deeper-water reefs which typically extend from 100 to almost 500 feet (30 to 150 meters) in depth.

While presenting the results of his research at the 2016 International Coral Reef Symposium meeting in Hawaii, he had the opportunity to interview with Putnam for URI's Biological and Environmental Sciences doctoral program. Wong then returned to BIOS to spend six months in 2016 as a teaching assistant for several summer and fall courses. He also received BIOS Grants-in-Aid funding for a research project with Goodbody-Gringley and de Putron focused on the reproductive ecology of mustard hill coral from various reef sites around Bermuda, resulting in a publication in the journal Coral Reefs.

"It is wonderful to see an undergraduate intern progress to a successful graduate student who is publishing manuscripts," de Putron said. "Many years of hard work and plenty of exhausting, yet fun, days in the field and laboratory all culminated in interesting and critically relevant discoveries that further our understanding of coral resilience."

Now, a year from graduation, Wong is diving deeper into the mechanisms that drive environmental memory within and across coral generations at a molecular level. By using approaches such as metabolomics (the identification and quantification of metabolic by-products), transcriptomics (quantification of gene expression), and epigenetics (features that regulate gene expression), Wong aims to determine the key linkages between metabolism and coral bleaching phenotypes at a cellular level.

Kevin H. Wong, Gretchen Goodbody‐Gringley, Samantha J. Putron, Danielle M. Becker, Alex Chequer, Hollie M. Putnam. Brooded coral offspring physiology depends on the combined effects of parental press and pulse thermal history. Global Change Biology, 2021; 27 (13): 3179 DOI: 10.1111/gcb.15629

Aviation's Contribution To Cutting Climate Change Likely To Be Small

June 22, 2021
Although the emissions targets for aviation are in line with the overall goals of the Paris Agreement, there is a high likelihood that the climate impact of aviation will not meet these goals, according to a new study.

Aviation is an important contributor to the global economy, but contributes to climate change by creating carbon dioxide (CO2) as well as non-CO2 effects such as forming nitrogen oxides, ozone and contrailcirrus clouds, which all contribute to global warming.

Researchers believe that, as long as the industry stages a recovery, the restrictions placed on global air travel in response to COVID-19 lockdown will only have a temporary effect on the overall climate impact of aviation.

Publishing their findings today in Nature Communications, an international research team including experts from the University of Birmingham believes that non-CO2 effects will continue to make a major contribution to aviation's climate impact over the coming years.

However, these effects are not included in the International Civil Aviation Organisation's (ICAO) goal of climate neutral growth and only partly addressed in Flightpath 2050 -- the European Commission's vision for aviation.

Although Flightpath 2050 emissions goals are likely to stabilise aviation's climate impact and ICAO's offsetting scheme CORSIA will surpass the climate target set to support the Paris Agreement's 1.5 °C goal between 2025 and 2064, the researchers warn that an increasing aviation-induced global warming effect is likely despite the implementation of a range of mitigation options within the sector.

Study co-author Dr Simon Blakey, Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, at the University of Birmingham, commented: "Technological improvements to engines and airframes and operations won't be enough to sufficiently reduce the impact of aviation on climate change. We must explore all mitigation options in parallel -- including the increased use of sustainable fuels and market based measures in order to limit aviation's impact on the environment.

"Accounting for sustainable fuels must include the impact of non-CO2 emissions in use as well as the CO2 emissions in fuel production. If we base all our calculations on CO2 alone, we miss the large improvements in non-CO2 emissions that these fuels can offer, particularly in reducing particulate matter emissions which contribute to an increased warming effect at cruise conditions."

There is currently significant interest in policies, regulations and research aiming to reduce aviation's climate impact. The researchers modelled the effect of these measures on global warming, analysing potential technical improvements and challenging assumptions of sector targets with a number of scenarios up to 2100.

Their assessment also covered several COVID-19 recovery scenarios, including changes in travel behaviour, as well as including feasible technological advancements and the availability of sustainable aviation fuels.

In order to better understand the possible implications of the pandemic on the climate impact of aviation, the researchers assessed three different pathways for the international recovery from the lock-down of nation states and the associated dramatic reduction in air travel.

They took into account a fast recovery of three years, a slow recovery of 15 years and a change in habits due to experiences during the lock-down, for example, a shift towards web conferences instead of face-to-face meetings.
Volker Grewe, Arvind Gangoli Rao, Tomas Grönstedt, Carlos Xisto, Florian Linke, Joris Melkert, Jan Middel, Barbara Ohlenforst, Simon Blakey, Simon Christie, Sigrun Matthes, Katrin Dahlmann. Evaluating the climate impact of aviation emission scenarios towards the Paris agreement including COVID-19 effects. Nature Communications, 2021; 12 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-24091-y

Disrupting The Disruption: COVID-19 Reverses The Airbnb Effect 

June 22, 2021
Sydney rents fell during the pandemic as investors swapped short-term holiday lettings for traditional rentals, UNSW research shows. The meteoric rise of Airbnb across cities has disrupted rental housing markets worldwide as property owners took advantage of a new avenue for investment returns. But the tables might have turned.  

A recent UNSW City Futures Research Centre report assessing how Airbnb activity and the rental market has changed during the COVID-19 shows that it’s now renters who could be benefiting from a decline in Airbnb activity due to the pandemic. 

The study, Airbnb during COVID-19 and what this tells us about Airbnb’s Impact on Rental Prices, by professor of urban science Christopher Pettit and postgraduate researcher William Thackway, found that weekly rents declined in proportion to reduced Airbnb activity, as Airbnb landlords converted their properties to long-term rentals – at cut-price rates.

Airbnb during COVID-19 

The researchers used a comprehensive record of Airbnb listings and rental sales data to find the supply of long-term rentals increased during the pandemic in historical Airbnb hotspots such as Bondi, Manly and the CBD. Meanwhile, rental prices fell proportionately with Airbnb listings, up to 7.1% in the most active Airbnb neighbourhoods. 

“Since the pandemic, with border closures and city lockdowns, particularly between March and May where Airbnb wasn’t in operation, there’s been subdued [Airbnb] activity,” Mr Thackway says. “We saw the reverse of what had been happening for the last 10 years, which is that many Airbnb’s were converted to long-term rentals, presumably by landlords who are now seeking a more stable income source, particularly given that Airbnb wasn’t even operating for a few months.”  

Airbnb traditionally receives a far higher daily rate than long-term rentals due to short-term tourism demand, which has previously motivated many landlords to invest in short-term rentals, Mr Thackway says. 

“While there are other actors at play, there were ultimately fewer long-term rentals in the market because of Airbnb. The reduced supply of long-term rentals, without any difference in the demand, meant that overall rental prices have, until this point, been rising,” he says.  

“Now, when you get Airbnb’s converted back to long term rentals, there’s a new influx of supply to the rental market, and there has been a corresponding reduction in rental prices, and that’s been observed for almost all active Airbnb areas.” 

According to the research, Sydney had over 23,000 active Airbnb listings at its height. The Airbnb density measure used in the study also found that the proportion of Airbnb’s was as high as 25% in some areas such as Bondi. 

“It’s not necessarily saying that those are active all the time, but it’s saying that 25% of the houses in the area listed are being booked out at some point during the year,” Mr Thackway says.  

Thinking long-term 

While Airbnb’s effect on the rental market may have been reversed in the city, the researchers suggest this hasn’t been the case for coastal and regional areas. 

“We suspect that regional areas are experiencing increases in tourist activity, mostly associated with domestic tourism, particularly urbanites wanting to get out of the city and holiday regionally,” Mr Thackway says. 

“So, we would likely see those regional tourism hotspots having experienced an overall increase in Airbnb activity, and possibly rental prices, which would contrast with urban areas where Airbnb activity and tourist activity generally has fallen quite dramatically.” 

While the temporary reversal of Airbnb activity on the housing market is a timely win for renters amid the housing affordability crisis, the researchers say it’s likely to revert to business as usual once international tourism returns. 

“In terms of house prices and rents, Sydney is among the most unaffordable cities globally,” Mr Thackway says. “Reduced Airbnb and subsequently, reduced rental prices can only be a good thing for renters, and ultimately, for Sydney, because it is such an exclusive market and keeps tending towards that way.” 

In NSW, there’s currently a 180-day cap on the number of days an Airbnb can be listed, while local governments and council can also exert additional control within the cap. But further regulations of short-term letting could be timely, Mr Thackway says. 

“If the government wants to restrict its impact on renters, then tougher regulation, specifically on commercial Airbnb’s that permanently take away supply, would be necessary.”

NSW Study Links Early Childhood Vulnerability With Later Police Contact

June 23, 2021
Children assessed by their class teacher as having emotional or behavioural problems are more likely to have contact with police later on compared to children without such problems, a new study led by UNSW Sydney researchers has revealed.  

The study, which was published today in JAMA Network Open, used data from the NSW Child Development Study, which included 79,000 children (50.9% boys and 49.1% girls). The observation period spanned over eight years – from when a child entered full-time schooling (aged five years on average) until they turned 13 years of age.  

“We know that people with mental health problems are more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system in adulthood and adolescence, but this study indicates that the association can begin much earlier in life,” said lead author Professor Kimberlie Dean, Chair of Forensic Mental Health and Acting Head of the School of Psychiatry at UNSW Medicine & Health. 

The study also revealed that risk for police contact extended to children with other forms of developmental vulnerability, and was particularly high for a small group of children that teachers assessed as having significant vulnerability across the full developmental spectrum – which was an unexpected finding.  

The researchers found 9841 children had at least one contact with police after school entry. Contact as a survivor of crime was the most common reason for first police contact, followed by contact as a person of interest and contact as a witness.  

Among the children who had at least one contact with police by the age of 13, almost one-third were found to have at least one emotional or behavioural problem at school entry, with the incidence rate being twice that of children without such problems. Incidence rates of police contact over the follow-up period were also higher for those children with specific developmental risk profiles, particularly those with a pervasive risk profile. 

Incidence rates of police contact were higher for boys than girls for contact as a person of interest. However, there was no apparent difference by gender for contact as a survivor of crime or as a witness. 

Professor Dean said the research found very high rates of police contact for children recorded in the data as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background.  

“This confirmed that the over-representation of our First Nations people in the criminal justice system begins early in life.”  

Early intervention to avoid adversity  
Professor Dean said while there are currently interventions aimed at improving emotional and behavioural development, including evidence-based parenting interventions, this study supports such approaches being delivered early in a child's development.  

“There might also be opportunities to identify vulnerable children and families when a child experiences their first early contact with police. It raises a flag that early intervention may be warranted,” explained Professor Dean.  

The study also recommended a gender-specific approach to interventions.  

“It's complicated, but we did find some differences in the patterns of police contact, in relation to developmental vulnerability, between boys and girls. As children age, these differences are likely to increase and we know that by adolescence/adulthood, boys and men are much more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system overall. But the impact of mental health problems on risk for girls/women is higher. There is emerging evidence that the approach to reducing that risk should be gender-informed.”

In terms of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children and first contact with police, the researchers suggested diversion approaches needed to be culturally informed and appropriate. The study identified programs that proposed nine principles of good practice to steer young Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders away from the criminal justice system. These principles included self-determination, cultural safety or security, and family-centred holistic support. 

Where to from here?  
While the strength of the study is in the large and representative cohort, the researchers also acknowledged limitations to the research. Although the original cohort was shown to be representative of the source population in NSW, the extent to which the findings were generalisable to other jurisdictions, within Australia and beyond, is uncertain. 

“This is the first study looking specifically at emotional/behavioural and other developmental vulnerabilities in relation to police contact risk at such a young age. 

“Our findings require replicating in other populations and settings. There remains a lack of evidence to support specific interventional approaches in this group, despite the likely benefit that intervention at such a young age is likely to achieve over the life course,” explained Professor Dean.  

Contributing authors include Professor Kimberlie Dean (UNSW), Dr Tyson Whitten (University of Adelaide), Dr Stacy Tzoumakis (Griffith University), Dr Kristen R. Laurens (UNSW), Felicity Harris (UNSW), Professor Vaughan J.Carr (UNSW) and Professor Melissa J.Green (UNSW) 

This study was funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC), the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia and Australian Rotary Health.  

Roadmap To HIV Eradication Via Stem Cell Therapy

June 23, 2021
In a groundbreaking study, a team of UC Davis researchers has discovered a special type of stem cell that can reduce the amount of the virus causing AIDS, boosting the body's antiviral immunity and repairing and restoring the gut's lymphoid follicles damaged by the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), the equivalent of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in non-human primates.

The study, published June 22 in JCI Insight, showed the mechanism through which mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (MSCs) enhance the body's immune response to the virus. It also provides a roadmap for developing multi-pronged HIV eradication strategies.

"Impaired immune functions in HIV infection and incomplete immune recovery pose obstacles for eradicating HIV," said Satya Dandekar, senior author of this paper. "Our objective was to develop strategies to boost immunity against the virus and empower the host immune system to eradicate the virus. We sought to repair, regenerate and restore the lymphoid follicles that are damaged by the viral infection."

The lymphoid tissue in the gut is an early site for viral replication and the establishment of viral reservoirs. Dandekar's group has previously shown that an HIV infection causes severe loss of gut mucosal T immune cells and disrupts the gut epithelial barrier lining, leading to a leaky gut.

"The lymphoid follicles are organized structures where the long-term immune attack is launched against pathogens by generating antibody response targeting the virus. These important regions are functionally impaired very early following HIV infection," Dandekar said.

While antiretroviral drugs effectively suppress viral replication, they do not repair the damage caused by the virus to the immune system. On their own, these drugs cannot restore the functionality of the lymphoid follicles damaged by HIV infection.

Can stem cells counteract the gut damage caused by HIV?
The researchers administered bone marrow-derived MSC in a rhesus macaque model of AIDS that had impaired immunity and disrupted gut functions due to the viral infection.

"We are starting to recognize the great potential of these stem cells in the context of infectious diseases. We have yet to discover how these stem cells can impact chronic viral infections such as AIDS," Dandekar said. She is a professor at and the chairperson of the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at UC Davis and affiliated with the California National Primate Research Center.

The study found that the MSCs can modulate, alter and remodel the damaged mucosal site. There were immediate benefits, with a rapid rise in antibodies and T-immune cells targeting the virus. The stem cells were instrumental in the recovery and restoration of these lymphoid follicles.

MSCs also offer an opportunity for an innovative, multi-pronged HIV cure strategy by complementing current HIV treatments.

"Stem cells are good synergistic partner components with drugs. The antiretroviral drugs can stop the fire of the viral infection but cannot restore the forest of the lymphoid tissue compartment. The MSCs would rejuvenate the field and bring back immune vitality," Dandekar said.

Even without the use of antiviral drugs, MSCs were able to increase the host's antiviral response by repairing the lymphoid follicles, restoring the mucosal immunity and reviving what has been targeted by the virus very early on.

MSC treatments
MSC treatments require well defined cell quality controls and specific delivery mechanisms. The UC Davis Stem Cell Program, a center for excellence for stem cell research, is leading multiple clinical trials on MSC use in treating diseases such as spina bifida and Huntington's disease. Findings from this study provide a scientific basis for investigating MSC in treating HIV and other infectious diseases in the clinical setting.

Mariana G. Weber, Chara J. Walters-Laird, Amir Kol, Clarissa Santos Rocha, Lauren A. Hirao, Abigail Mende, Bipin Balan, Juan Arredondo, Sonny R. Elizaldi, Smita S. Iyer, Alice F. Tarantal, Satya Dandekar. Gut germinal center regeneration and enhanced antiviral immunity by mesenchymal stem/stromal cells in SIV infection. JCI Insight, 2021; 6 (12) DOI: 10.1172/jci.insight.149033

East Antarctic Summer Cooling Trends Caused By Tropical Rainfall Clusters

June 23, 2021
Our planet is warming due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions; but the warming differs from region to region, and it can also vary seasonally. Over the last four decades scientists have observed a persistent austral summer cooling on the eastern side of Antarctica. This puzzling feature has received world-wide attention, because it is not far away from one of the well-known global warming hotspots -- the Antarctic Peninsula.

A new study published in the journal Science Advances by a team of scientists from the IBS Center for Climate Physics at Pusan National University in South Korea, Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology, NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Ewha Womans University, and National Taiwan University, uncovers a new mechanism that can explain the regional warming/cooling patchwork over Antarctica. At the heart of the mechanism are clusters of rainfall events in the western tropical Pacific, which release massive amounts of heat into the atmosphere by condensation of water vapor. Warm air rises over the organized rainfall clusters and sinks farther away. This pressure difference creates winds which are further influenced by the effect of earth's rotation. The interplay of these factors generates a large-scale atmospheric pressure wave which travels from west to east along the equator with a speed of about several hundred kilometers per day and which drags along with it the initial rainfall clusters. This propagating atmospheric wave is known as the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO), named after Roland Madden and Paul Julian, who discovered this phenomenon in 1971. The characteristic atmospheric pressure, convection and wind anomalies, which fluctuate on timescales of 20-70 days, can extend into the extratropics, reaching even Antarctica.

The international research team arrived at their conclusions by analysing observational datasets and specially designed supercomputer climate model simulations. "Our analysis provides clear evidence that tropical weather systems associated with the Madden-Julian Oscillation can directly impact surface temperatures over East Antarctica." says Prof. Pang-Chi Hsu from Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology, who co-led the study.

More specifically, as the MJO rainfall clusters move into the western Pacific towards the location of the Solomon Islands, the corresponding global atmospheric wave tends to cool East Antarctica three to eleven days later (Image, right panel). In contrast, when the MJO-related rainfall occurs in the Indian Ocean, East Antarctic shows a pronounced warming (Image, left panel).

"During recent decades, MJO rainfall and pressure changes preferably occurred over the western tropical Pacific but decreased over the Indian Ocean. This situation has favored cooling of East Antarctica during austral summer.," says Prof. June-Yi Lee from the IBS Center for Climate Physics and Pusan National University, and co-leader of the study.

The research team estimated that up to 20% to 40% of the observed summer cooling trend in East Antarctica from 1979 to 2014 can be attributed to the long-term changes in the character and longitudinal core location of the MJO. Other contributing factors include the ozone hole and the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation -- a slowly varying weaker companion of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. The new Science Advances study highlights that climate change even in remote regions such as Antarctica, can be linked to processes that happen nearly 10,000 km away.

Pang-Chi Hsu, Zhen Fu, Hiroyuki Murakami, June-Yi Lee, Changhyun Yoo, Nathaniel C. Johnson, Chueh-Hsin Chang, Yu Liu,. East Antarctic cooling induced by decadal changes in Madden-Julian oscillation during austral summer. Science Advances, 2021 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf9903

Sneeze Cam Reveals Best Fabric Combos For Cloth Masks

June 23, 2021
During the COVID-19 pandemic, cloth face masks became a way to help protect yourself and others from the virus. And for some people, they became a fashion statement, with many fabric choices available. But just how effective are they, especially in containing a sneeze? Now, researchers reporting in ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering used high-speed videos of a person sneezing to identify the optimal cloth mask design.

Early in the pandemic, worldwide shortages of surgical masks and N95 respirators led many people to make or purchase cloth face masks. Now, with safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines available, mask restrictions are easing in many states. However, face masks will likely still be required in certain settings for a while, especially with possible vaccine-resistant variants emerging. They might also be useful in future pandemics. Face masks help reduce disease spread by blocking tiny, virus-laden droplets expelled through the nose and mouth when a person speaks, coughs or sneezes. A few studies have examined the effectiveness of various fabrics for blocking droplets and aerosols made by a machine, but until now, none have been conducted under the explosive conditions of a real human sneeze. Shovon Bhattacharjee, Raina MacIntyre and colleagues at the University of New South Wales wanted to see how well masks made of various fabrics and layers blocked respiratory droplets from the sneezes of a healthy adult.

The researchers made simple face masks with 17 commonly available fabrics. Each mask had one, two or three layers of the same or different fabrics. A healthy 30-year-old volunteer donned each mask, tickled the inside of his nose with tissue paper on a cotton swab, and then readjusted the mask just before the onset of a sneeze. The researchers captured high-speed videos of the sneezes and computed the intensity of droplets in the images in a region 2 cm from his mouth. With each fabric layer, the droplet-blocking capability improved by more than 20-fold. Interestingly, all of the three-layer cloth combinations the researchers tested were more effective than a three-layer surgical mask. The best masks for blocking droplets contained a hydrophilic inner layer of cotton or linen, an absorbent middle layer of a cotton/polyester blend and a hydrophobic outer layer of polyester or nylon. Machine washing the masks didn't decrease their performance; in fact, masks containing cotton or polyester worked slightly better after washing because of pore shrinkage. Future studies are planned with more people and different age groups, the researchers say.

The authors acknowledge funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council of the Australian Government and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Scientia Ph.D. Scholarship.

Shovon Bhattacharjee, Prateek Bahl, Charitha de Silva, Con Doolan, Abrar Ahmad Chughtai, David Heslop, Chandini Raina MacIntyre. Experimental Evidence for the Optimal Design of a High-Performing Cloth Mask. ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering, 2021; 7 (6): 2791 DOI: 10.1021/acsbiomaterials.1c00368

NSW on a slow track to fast trains: promised regional rail upgrades are long overdue

Philip LairdUniversity of Wollongong

We have seen a succession of reviews, plans and election promises of faster and better train services for regional New South Wales, home to one third of the state’s population, in recent years. Yet little had been heard from the state government on track works to allow new trains to travel faster until April 29 this year. This was when Premier Gladys Berejiklian told a Sydney conference that serious regional development will need faster rail (trains moving at 150-200km/h on upgraded track with some straightening of track) and fast rail (speeds of 200-250km/h on new dedicated track).

The promised outcomes include Sydney to Newcastle by rail in an hour rather than two-and-a-half hours, 25 minutes taken off Sydney-Wollongong and Sydney-Gosford train trips and travel between Sydney and Goulburn in under an hour instead of two-and-a-half hours for express trains. Details are still awaited on which lines will take priority and the scope of this work.

Read more: We can halve train travel times between our cities by moving to faster rail

These developments have been years in the making. In late 2018, the NSW government announced international expert Andrew McNaughton would advise the government how best to deliver a fast rail network to connect Sydney to regional centres. Four lines were identified:

  • north to the Central Coast, Newcastle and beyond
  • west via Lithgow to Orange/Parkes
  • southern inland to Goulburn/Canberra
  • southern coastal to Wollongong/Nowra.
Map showing routes of four fast rail lines between Sydney and regional NSW
The four fast rail lines connecting Sydney to regional NSW. A fast rail future for NSW/NSW government

This followed a 20-Year Economic Vision for Regional NSW (recently refreshed), which included a commitment to “make regional travel faster, easier and safer between and within regional centres, and to metropolitan areas”.

Transport for NSW also released a Greater Newcastle Future Transport Plan in 2018. The plan outlined track work to enable trains to travel at higher speeds (with new ones now being delivered). This work included “reducing track curvature, deviations and realignments, removal of level crossings, junction rearrangement and better segregation of passenger and freight services”.

There have also been three studies of NSW track upgrades co-funded by the National Faster Rail Agency.

In the lead-up to the March 2019 NSW election, funding was announced for a limited suite of track upgrades on the four main lines linking Sydney to regional NSW. The government also raised expectations of a new line from Eden to Cooma and the reinstatement of the line from Cooma to Canberra.

Read more: How the NSW election promises on transport add up

A NSW government video outlining the promise of fast rail in late 2018.

Much slow running of regional trains on each of the four main lines from Sydney is on sections of track that, about 100 years ago, were reconstructed with less steep climbs than 19th-century track. This allowed steam locomotives to handle heavier loads, but came at the expense of extra length and more curves.

Such track now slows down modern electric and diesel trains. The table below shows the extent of the problem in NSW. It also shows indicative time savings from reverting to straighter track alignments (found in most cases by simulation work by my co-researcher, Max Michell).

Table showing time savings from straighter track alignments on NSW regional rail lines
Table: The Conversation. Data: Author providedCC BY

Other States Acted Decades Ago

Following track-straightening works between Brisbane and Cairns for faster and heavier freight trains, in 1998 Queensland Rail introduced a tilt train operating at speeds of up to 170km/h between Brisbane and Rockhampton. The train was well received and by 2002 had carried 1 million passengers.

In 2004, new Prospector diesel rail cars were introduced to allow Perth-Kalgoorlie services to operate up to 160km/h with an average of 100km/h.

Victoria’s Regional Fast Rail Project was mostly completed by 2006. Following track upgrades on four lines to Bendigo, Ballarat (with deviations to improve train times), Geelong and Gippsland, new V/Locity trains travel at 160km/h. Within five years, patronage on these services had doubled.

Victoria has followed up with two further extensive track upgrading programs, each with significant federal funding. The first was Regional Rail Link (2009-15). Currently, at a cost of over A$4 billion, Regional Rail Revival is upgrading every regional line in the state.

Read more: This is how regional rail can help ease our big cities' commuter crush

What About A Decent Service To Canberra?

Sydney-Canberra train services are too few and too slow. High-speed rail options with trains capable of 250km/h or more on dedicated track for Sydney to Canberra, and beyond, have been studied extensively since 1984. In 1998, SpeedRail received in-principle support from the Howard government but that did not extend to financial support.

The uptake of bus travel – one operator offers a service on the hour for 12 hours a day – suggests more and faster train services would be well received.

In 2020, Infrastructure Australia listed an upgrade of this rail link as a “priority initiative”.

The train service linking Australia’s largest city with the national capital has been taken to task by many commentators. It was recently well described as a “national disgrace”. By way of contrast, New York to Washington DC has many more trains, which are much faster than buses.

train at station
The slow rail service between Sydney and Canberra has been dubbed a ‘national disgrace’. Shutterstock

Back To New South Wales

NSW has a A$107 billion “infastructure pipeline”. However, on a population basis, Sydney with its metros and motorways is getting much more than its fair share. Regional NSW is getting left behind.

The imbalance is increasing. The late 2020 budget allocated billions for the Sydney West Metro and preconstruction work on the dubious Western Harbour Tunnel project.

Read more: Is another huge and costly road project really Sydney's best option right now?

Many NSW regional communities increasingly consider that their major party MPs haven’t had their best interests at heart. This is one reason for the election in 2019 of four lower house members from minor parties plus one independent. In the recent Upper Hunter byelection, the combined primary vote for the ALP and the Nationals was just over 50%.

Serious track work is now needed to lift NSW regional train speeds to those enjoyed in other states. As the Illawarra Rail Fail group sang in this YouTube video, regional NSW needs more trains and faster travel times to get us on our way.The Conversation

The Illawarra Rail Fail group has been campaigning for years for better services to the south coast.

Philip Laird, Honorary Principal Fellow, University of Wollongong

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

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