Inbox and Environment News: Issue 502

July 18 - 24, 2021: Issue 502

Sediment Flowing Into Warriewood Creek System Reported To EPA

Earlier this week professional photographer Guy Finlay took a series of images recording the flow of sediment into the Warriewood creek system and then into Narrabeen Lagoon. Through a social media forum the images were brought to the attention of Cr. Vincent De Luca OAM and Cr. Rory Amon by residents.

Cr. Amon did not respond to the calls for help.

Cr. De Luca did, instantly sending the images through to Council who have been working with the EPA in recent months on job site sediment run-off compliance and education. Council staffe reported the incident to the EPA. The EPA will investigate the event.

“This is the current state of Narrabeen Creek and Mullet Creek to Narrabeen Lake. The flow is static at the moment the Lake entrance is closed , the lake is filling up slowly again, but as the current approaching rain front arrives it will dump more rain in the area and the progress of the sediment filled brown water from Mona Vale Rd will progress into Narrabeen Lake!

Please note the pictures of the pipe emptying into Narrabeen Creek at Ponderosa Pde are about >10% full of sediment, gravel etc from Mona Vale Rd and you would think that an amount of this has filled into the creek and wetland system too.

It is now sitting in the Wetlands between Boondah and Mullet Creek. You can see the beginnings of it as it enters Narrabeen Lake in the drone photos.”  Mr Finlay stated when explaining the sequence of images taken.
The creek system through the Warriewood wetlands is habitat for a variety of plant species and fauna, including turtles and birds such as azure kingfishers who rely on clean water to find their food.

All photo credits: Guy Finlay

More Education For Builders And Renovators Needed About The Impact Of Sediment Runoff On Sydney's Waterways

July 15, 2021: EPA
Results from the May 2021 Get the Site Right inspection blitz show that more work is needed to educate builders and renovators on the importance of essential erosion and sediment controls to prevent runoff from their building sites entering our waterways.

Twenty-one councils across Sydney and the Hunter Coast, supported by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), took part in the month-long campaign. Officers inspected 762 sites with 67 per cent of those found to be compliant. While the results show a 7 per cent reduction in compliance from the October campaign, an additional 166 sites were inspected in May compared to October, during a period of increased building activity and no COVID-19 restrictions.

A total of $383,167 in fines was issued to building sites that didn’t meet the standards. 

Offences ranged from significant sediment tracking off the site, concrete slurry washed into stormwater drains to building supplies being stored on public land. Litter, such as cigarette butts, plastic bottles and food packaging, was also found on many sites, including several, large residential housing estates.

In addition to joint inspections with some councils, the EPA inspected four large infrastructure building sites with the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) and 15 concrete batching plants within the Sydney basin. 

Materials used in concrete production can pollute bays and nearby creeks if flushed out by stormwater or blown away. The EPA’s inspections generally found plants to be stopping water pollution but a small number of operators needed improvements to their practices, including upgrades to aggregate storage bays and better stormwater capture and treatment. 

The EPA will follow up with further regulatory actions and inspections to ensure sediment control practices are addressed. 

NSW EPA Executive Director Regulatory Operations Steve Beaman said helping builders and renovators understand their important role in keeping waterways healthy was key to improving compliance rates.

“Many builders and renovators think that sediment and building products going into the stormwater drain won’t have much of an impact,” Mr Beaman said.

“However, the sediment from even a single building site can damage local streams and waterways, and when this action is replicated hundreds of times on building sites across the region, it can have a significant environmental impact.

“Get the Site Right is a great way for Councils and the EPA to educate the building and construction industry about the impacts this sediment runoff has on the environment and to discuss ways in which they can stop sediment leaving building sites in the first place.” 

Parramatta River Catchment Group (PRCG) Chair, Councillor Mark Drury, said he was encouraged by the ongoing collaboration and support of catchment groups, councils, the EPA and DPIE to address the important issue of keeping our waterways clear and healthy.

“Get the Site Right has been running for six years, and we’ve seen gradual improvements in compliance over that time,” Cr Drury said.

“We’re grateful to our member councils and NSW government agencies for their continued commitment to initiatives such as Get the Site Right that assist us in delivering our plan to make the Parramatta River swimmable again.” 

The Get the Site Right campaign is a joint program between the Cooks River Alliance, DPIE, EPA, Georges Riverkeeper, Parramatta River Catchment Group, Sydney Coastal Councils Group, local Sydney councils and Lake Macquarie Council.

Council participants in the May 2021 campaign: Bayside City Council, Blacktown City Council, Burwood Council, Campbelltown City Council, City of Canterbury Bankstown, Georges River Council, Hunter’s Hill Council, Inner West Council, Lake Macquarie City Council, Liverpool City Council, North Sydney Council, Northern Beaches Council, City of Parramatta, Randwick City Council, City of Ryde, Strathfield Council, Sutherland Shire Council, Waverley City Council, Willoughby City Council, Woollahra Municipal Council and Wollondilly Shire Council.

Members of the public who may be out exercising near our waterways are encouraged to report pollution incidents, including poor sediment control, to their local council or the EPA’s 24/7 Environment Line on 131 555.

A Hidden Bias In Bubbly Flows

July 16, 2021: UNSW Water Research Laboratory
Air-water flows occur in a wide range of natural systems and technical applications. Flow velocities are typically measured with phase detection intrusive probes, comprising two needles which pierce bubbles and droplets. A recent study by an international team from ETH Zurich, IHE Delft and UNSW identified a significant bias in these measurements and have developed a correction scheme. 

Accurate measurement of flow velocities is important for many engineering applications as well as our coastal, estuarine and riverine environments. In many natural environments such as breaking waves, river rapids and waterfalls, strong turbulence leads to aerated flows (white waters).

In human-made systems, air-water flows can be found in water treatment systems, nuclear reactors and flow conveyance infrastructure. Under these conditions, proven standard flow measurements do not work and since the 1960s, researchers and engineers have used specific air-water flow probes that are placed inside the flows. Using these probes, allowed to improve our understanding of flow processes as well as engineering design. However, while most research looked at the air bubbles inside the flows, this study looked at the probe itself.

Experiments conducted by the international team showed that previous measurements underestimated interfacial velocities in many applications. In this research, published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications, the team compared typical air-water flow measurements by state-of-the-art phase-detection intrusive probes with a laser instrument, showing that velocity estimates with intrusive probes were systematically lower compared to the ground truth.

Untangling all forces during the interactions of the phase-detection probe tips with the flowing air-water entities, the researchers showed that particle-probe interactions resulted in a deceleration of the recorded interfaces and a systematic bias in velocity estimates. This means that spillway flows, for instance, might be flowing faster than expected during their design.

The complete paper on this research is freely available at:

Hohermuth, B., Kramer, M., Felder, S., Valero, D. "Velocity bias in intrusive gas-liquid flow measurements". Nat Commun 12, 4123 (2021).

Photo: Manly Dam in full flow, WRL image.

Water Research Laboratory Successfully Co-Hosts World’s First Intermittent Estuaries Workshop

July 2, 2021
Climate change - the biggest challenge to the effective protection and management of intermittent estuaries.
WRL researcher and eco engineer Dr Valentin (Tino) Heimhuber recently co-hosted the world’s first international workshop on ‘Intermittent estuaries in a changing climate', together with Dr Sarah McSweeney, a coastal geomorphologist at the University of Melbourne, Dr. Eric Stein, Biology Department Head at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) and Dr Lara Van Niekerk, a senior research expert in estuarine ecosystems at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), in South Africa. 

Intermittently Open/Closed Estuaries (IOCEs) occur on many of the world’s wave-dominated coastlines where they add substantial socio-economic and ecological value to coastal communities. Australia alone is home to 305 (21%) of the 1477 globally mapped IOCEs, including the Manly, Narrabeen, Dee Why and Curl-Curl Lagoons on Sydney’s northern beaches or the large Lake Illawarra just south of Wollongong.  

Even though IOCEs are often considered the estuary type most vulnerable to climate change, current knowledge, data, and management tools are often insufficient to adequately address future challenges. Further, there is a recognized gap between the data generated by researchers and the information required by policymakers. 

To this end, the inaugural workshop aimed to bring together the global community of scientists, practitioners, and policymakers to establish and exchange the current knowledge around IOCEs in a changing climate. 

The workshop which took place over three days (16-18th June) was run as a free online workshop for three hours per day with attendees and presenters from Australia, Europe, North and South America, and South Africa.  

“We had over 380 people register," Tino said, “and, despite the challenges for some time zones, most of the sessions had over 100 people tuned in live, which was a great outcome for us.” 

Attendees came not just from around the world but from a wide variety of roles - research, government, consulting and estuary management.  “This kind of cross-sector collaboration and knowledge sharing is exactly what we set out to achieve with this workshop.”

Workshop sessions covered the key drivers of land-sea connectivity, conceptual/numerical models of inlet behaviour, the physical and biological responses of intermittent estuaries to a changing climate, technical innovations in detecting inlet behaviour – (satellite imagery, drones, and stationary systems), as well as looking at policy frameworks, community datasets, and management challenges.

Tino’s current research focuses on holistic water resources management under climate change as well as the engineering and economics around blue carbon ecosystem restoration. As he noted, “One of the big themes emerging during the workshop was that intermittent estuaries seem to face very similar and likely severe risks from climate change - no matter the continent.”

The workshop was extremely well received by the international community, and it was decided to create a ‘Global Forum on Intermittent Estuaries’, with the aim to streamline international research efforts and the development of efficient climate change adaptation measures. 

For anyone who missed any of the talks - all 31 presentations are now freely accessible on the official YouTube channel of the Forum:

The workshop program can be downloaded here.

Beach Change At Turrimetta Beach, Sydney In 2020/21 - WRL Timelapse

Published July 2nd, 2021 by the UNSW Water Research Laboratory

AMA: Climate Emergency Must Not Be Ignored - Support For MP For Warringah's Zali Steggall Bill Called For

July 14, 2021
The AMA said today the federal government can no longer afford to ignore the climate emergency. AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid said the AMA was extremely disappointed the House Standing Committee on Environment and Energy has stated Australia’s current approach to reducing emissions is adequate and has recommended against passing new proposed climate change bills.  

Dr Khorshid said the proposed legislation, introduced to the House of Representatives last year by Independent MP Zali Steggall, outlined a sensible and well-structured response to the existential threat posed by climate change and included a clear plan for reaching net zero by 2050.

“The bills include provisions for the establishment of an independent Climate Change Commission; a National Climate Risk Assessment; a National Adaptation Program and a net-zero target by 2050,” Dr Khorshid said.

"The AMA supports the climate change bills, based on the evidence that emissions need to reach net zero by at least 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, outlines the significantly greater health impacts of 2°C warming, compared to 1.5°C. Higher deaths from extreme heat, a wider spread of vector-borne disease, and increased mortality from poor air quality are all predicted at warming greater than 1.5°C.

“More generally, climate change is predicted to cause increases in food and water borne disease, airborne allergens, respiratory illnesses and mental ill-health,” Dr Khorshid said.

Dr Khorshid said there was growing momentum towards net zero targets. "The AMA is deeply concerned that without a plan, Australia will be left behind. A number of global scorecards have now put Australia at the bottom of their lists regarding climate action and responsibility.”

“The committee’s report has ignored the wide community support for stronger action on climate change and does not reflect the urgent health and environmental imperatives.

“Australians are now experiencing the consequences of climate change. For example, the horrific bushfire season of 2019-20 and the intense and prolonged exposure to bushfire smoke.  Australians deserve and need a better and more ambitious commitment than the one currently on offer. The AMA would like to see these bills debated in parliament and passed into law,” Dr Khorshid said.

Sept. 25- Zali Steggall Electorate Office, Warringah NSW, supporting in a School Strike for Climate Change event

Fishers Fined For Illegal Rock Lobster Activity At Long Reef Aquatic Reserve

In late June DPI Fisheries officers seized eastern rock lobsters that were illegally taken from Long Reef Aquatic Reserve. Fisheries intercepted two men and seized three lobsters, one of which was a prohibited size and returned them to the water alive.

The two young men, aged 18 and 19, admitted to diving for the crayfish at Long Reef but claimed they were unaware of the area being a Reserve.

They were fined $1000 for breaching the aquatic reserve notification. One also received a formal caution notice for the prohibited size lobster; the other a formal caution for failing to pay the NSW recreational fishing fee.

DPI Fisheries Officers regularly patrol the Long Reef Aquatic Reserve and many other such havens - even during the current health restrictions - with an average of 230 inspections conducted annually at Long Reef alone.

The public are encouraged to report illegal fishing activity to the NSW Fishers Watch Phoneline on 1800 043 536 or via the online Report Illegal Activity form.

Wombat Displaced By Development Found In Oran Park Garage

Report courtesy Ricardo of Help Save the Wildlife and Bushlands in Campbelltown: July 15, 2021
Image Courtesy Alecia
'This is a fine example of why wildlife corridor’s and habitat need to be protected and not destroyed - this little girl wombat has been wandering the streets of Oran Park for days looking for a place to live as her home has been destroyed nearby. She found a safe spot in Alecia's  garage. 

Councils, governments and developers need to act now before it’s too late.

We were in communication with Alecia. WIRES attended and captured the beautiful girl, took her for a vet check and she was given the all clear to be released.''

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

Echidna Breeding Season Commences

This month, July, heralds the start of the echidna breeding season. From now until the end of September, echidnas will be on the move across our gardens and most treacherous of all, roads. 
Here are some important facts and tips on what to do when encountering wandering echidna and how to keep them safe from harm.

1. Echidnas follow an individualised scent trail with which they mark and find important locations such as their nesting burrow and familiar rangeFor this reason, an echidna on the move must not be picked up and relocated. 
Moving and relocating an echidna could ultimately cause it’s death as it will be in a foreign range without markers as to its food sources, it’s nesting burrow and its other significant points of reference. 
This is particularly relevant if the echidna is a female with a nest young. 
Puggles (yes, that’s truly what baby echidnas  are called!) spend the first 50 days of their lives in their mother’s pouch after which they remain in the nesting burrow while the mother goes foraging for food.
Moving and relocating a female will mean she will not find her way back to her burrow and this will spell certain death for the puggle and most likely for the mother echidna too. 

2. When encountering an echidna on the move, it’s essential to let it move in its own time and at its own pace
If the echidna is on the road, bring your vehicle to a stop and put your hazard lights on. 
Do your best to safely alert other drivers about the presence and location of the echidna and indicate to them that they need to stop and wait also.

3. If you find an echidna in your garden, leave it be.
The echidna will most likely be moving through on its way elsewhere. 
Echidnas do not have the capacity to seriously harm you, your dog or your cat. 
Echidnas are not aggressive, their spines do not contain venom and they do not have teeth of any kind.

4. When an echidna is alarmed or feels threatened it will dig itself into the ground, only emerging when it senses the threat has gone.
NEVER attempt to try and dig out an echidna. It’s impossible to determine where it’s body parts are located under the ground and many echidnas have been fatally injured by humans trying to dig them out and move them on from their gardens. Most common fatal injuries seen in echidnas that have been forcibly dug out, are a severed or amputated beak (the echidna nose). If an echidna digs itself in, leave it be, move well away and it will eventually emerge and move on.

5. If you find an injured echidna you will need to seek immediate veterinary assistance for it.
If you are in a position to transport the echidna to a vet yourself, cover it with a very thick blanket or towel, lift and place in a sturdy container such as a strong box or pet carrier. 
The underside of an echidna is covered in soft spineless skin so, rest assured, if your fingers make contact, they not be prickled. 
If you are unable to scoop the echidna up yourself or transport to a vet, call a local rescue group ASAP. Please take close note of where you have picked up the echidna from. A GPS reading or clear markings left and mileage to there from the closest town or obvious landmark will be fine.

6. If you find a deceased echidna, it’s vital to stop and check it’s underside for a pouch and the possibility of a puggle.
If a live puggle is in the pouch, call your local wildlife rescue group ASAP for advice and assistance. 
If you are unable to transport the puggle to a vet yourself where you can hand them over free of charge, a rescuer will attend asap and do so.

Please help us keep our Echidnas safe this breeding season.

Echidna - photo by Gunjan Pandey 

Coastal Ecosystems Worldwide: Billion-Dollar Carbon Reservoirs

July 12, 2021
Coastal ecosystems such as seagrass meadows, salt marshes and mangrove forests are valuable to humans in many ways. In particular, they store carbon - and do so with a much higher surface density than forests, for example. They thus make an important contribution to mitigating climate change. Australia's coastal ecosystems alone, which absorb a particularly large amount of CO2 from the atmosphere, save the rest of the world climate-related costs of around 23 billion US dollar a year. This is according to calculations just published in Nature Climate Change by researchers at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel), GEOMAR Helmholtz-Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, the Universities of Kiel and Leipzig (UL) and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv).

According to the study, Australia, Indonesia and the USA provide the largest carbon storage potential with their coastal ecosystems. The team also calculated which countries benefit most from the coastal CO2 uptake worldwide. The different ways in which countries are affected by climate change are quantified by using the so-called social costs of carbon.

“If we take into account the differences in marginal climate damages that occur in each country, we find that Australia and Indonesia are clearly the largest donors in terms of globally avoided climate damages originating from coastal CO2 uptake, as they themselves derive comparatively little benefit from the high storage potential of their coasts,” says Dr Wilfried Rickels, who heads the Global Commons and Climate Policy Research Center at the Kiel Institute. “The U.S., on the other hand, also store a lot of carbon in their coastal ecosystems, but at the same time benefit the most from natural sinks behind India and China. In monetary terms, the three countries realize annual welfare gains of about 26.4 billion US dollars (India), 16.6 billion US dollars (China) and 14.7 billion US dollars (U.S.) thanks to global coastal ecosystems and the resulting lower climate impact costs.”

The basis for the monetary calculations is the so-called social cost of carbon, which allow assessing the contribution of coastal carbon uptake in the “inclusive wealth” concept. ‘Inclusive wealth’ is defined as the totality of all-natural and man-made capital stocks, valued with so-called shadow prices, i.e. the contributions to social welfare. Among other factors, the absolute scarcity of resources plays an important role in shadow prices. Atmospheric CO2 has a negative impact on welfare primarily through climate change. However, countries are differently affected by climate change and accordingly country-specific shadow prices are used in the study.

The analysis does not include other carbon sinks or emissions from energy and industry. When carbon emissions from energy and industry are also considered, only Guinea-Bissau, Belize, Vanuatu, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Guinea, Comoros, Samoa, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea make a net positive contribution through their coastal ecosystems since they store more CO2 in coastal ecosystems than they emit in total. 

The study also emphasises that carbon storage is only a small part of the positive impacts of coastal ecosystems for humans.

“Coastal ecosystems are an essential component of marine ecosystems and are therefore particularly important for marine biodiversity and for fisheries. At the same time, they contribute to flood and coastal protection and are therefore important for adaptation to climate change,” emphasizes Prof. Martin Quaas, who heads the Biodiversity Economics research group at iDiv and UL.

In any case, there is currently still a very strong focus on afforestation on land when it comes to the challenges of achieving the Paris climate goals. “Marine CO2 uptake, as well as its enhancement, requires more attention in the debate on net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and net-negative CO2 emissions targets,” Rickels points out. Especially a possible weakening of the marine carbon sinks would require even more significant mitigation and carbon dioxide removal efforts. “The coasts, with their numerous different user groups as well as possible conflicts of use, have a special role to play here.”  

The natural capital approach used in the study is suitable for assessing the redistribution resulting from CO2 emissions and CO2 sinks, which, unlike existing market-based assessments, is not influenced by the stringency of the underlying climate policy. The researchers plan to explore this question in further studies.

This research was financed inter alia by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG; FZT-118).

Christine Bertram, Martin Quaas, Thorsten B. H. Reusch, Athanasios T. Vafeidis, Claudia Wolff, Wilfried Rickels. The blue carbon wealth of nations. Nature Climate Change, 2021; DOI: 10.1038/s41558-021-01089-4

Careel Bay Wildlife Protection Area and Mangrove Forest - A J Guesdon photo

Coastal Wetlands Are Nature's Flood Defences; Especially Those Placed In Estuaries

July 14, 2021
Coastal wetlands -- such as salt marshes -- provide even more flood protection than previously thought, reducing the risk to lives and homes in estuaries, a new study has revealed. The researchers' simulations showed that wetlands that grow in estuaries, such as salt marshes, can reduce water levels by up to 2 metres and provide protection far inland up estuary channels.

This subsequently saved up to $38 million in avoided flood damage costs per estuary during a large storm thanks to the wetlands' role in preventing storm floods.

The research is timely as wetlands are facing growing threats from continued urban development. 22 of the largest 32 cities in the world -- including London, New York and Tokyo -- are built on low-lying land around estuaries, which puts them at increasing risk of flooding in a warming climate.

At the same time climate change is driving increases in the magnitude and frequency of storms, and sea level rise.

The flood prevention role of coastal wetlands, which are common throughout Wales -- the focus of this study -- as well as the rest of the world, is therefore vital.

Previous research has focused on wetlands along open coastlines, where the plants absorb wave energy and stop waves pushing inland. However, the new study focuses on estuarine environments, including looking at what happens in upstream estuary areas where waves tend to be much smaller.

Taking this fuller picture into account, the researchers demonstrate that wetlands can have a much bigger storm flood prevention role because they not only absorb wave energy, but simultaneously reduce storm surges as they move up estuary channels.

This happens because the marshes along the estuary edges cause drag or friction, slowing down surges of water caused by storms, and protecting vulnerable upstream areas from flooding.

The research team included experts from Swansea University, with colleagues from the universities of Bangor and Exeter, Plymouth Marine Laboratory and from CSIRO in Tasmania.

The team used hydrodynamic models of eight estuaries of very different size and character in various parts of Wales. They simulated storms of different strengths and modelled the damage they would be likely to cause.

They found that coastal wetlands:
  • Reduced flooding across all eight estuaries in the study
  • Lowered storm water levels by as much as 2 metres in upstream areas
  • Made the biggest difference when faced with the most powerful storms -- reducing average flood extents by 35% and damages caused by 37% ($8.4M).
Lead researcher Dr Tom Fairchild of Swansea University said:

"Our study shows that coastal wetlands play a crucial role in reducing storm-driven flooding in estuaries. They are nature's flood defences and we need them now more than ever.

Until now, the role of wetlands for coastal defence has been undervalued because of the focus on open coasts. Traditionally, estuaries -- where waves tend to be much smaller -- have been assumed to be less important, despite containing extensive wetland areas. Our research challenges that idea, showing that focussing on single processes, or even coastal environments, may risk grossly underestimating the true value of our wetlands."

Dr John Griffin, co-author of the study and also from Swansea University, added:

"Our work shows that when big storms hit, nature works extra hard for us, preventing or reducing coastal flooding... for free. The upshot is, by protecting and restoring coastal wetlands, we help protect ourselves from the growing threat of flooding. It's a no-brainer."

Tom Phillip Fairchild, William G Bennett, Greg Steven Smith, Brett Day, Martin W Skov, Iris Möller, Nicola Beaumont, Harshinie Karunarathna, John N Griffin. Coastal wetlands mitigate storm flooding and associated costs in estuaries. Environmental Research Letters, 2021; DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/ac0c45

Ramsar Treaty Offers Solid Ground For More Wetland Protections

July 12, 2021
A 50-year-old treaty could hold the key to better protecting our wetland ecosystems, while offering scientists a "how-to guide" for turning their research into action, according to an expert from The Australian National University (ANU).

Professor Jamie Pittock from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society says the world's oldest conservation treaty, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, deserves a second look by those researching and advocating for better protections.

"While wetland ecosystems are among the most biodiverse, they are also among the most impacted by human exploitation," Professor Pittock said.

"The 50th anniversary of the Ramsar Convention is an opportunity for us to ask what else we can do to protect them."

In a new paper, Professor Pittock challenges scientists to do more to turn their findings into practical conservation measures, and apply pressure to those in power.

"To address the global loss of biodiversity, we scientists need to do more than document the problems and complain; we also need to take opportunities offered in this treaty and elsewhere to implement solutions," Professor Pittock said.

The Ramsar Convention has 171 member nations and has flagged more than 2,000 wetlands of international importance, covering 255 million hectares.

Australia currently has 66 Wetlands of International Importance listed under the convention, covering over 8 million hectares, an area greater than Scotland or Tasmania.

According to Professor Pittock, some of these sites contain springs, peat swamps, lakes and mangroves that are especially important for threatened flora and fauna.

"This convention has particular provisions that allow scientists and environmental organisations to literally translate best practice science into conservation laws and protection for particular wetland sites," he said.

Professor Pittock's findings have been published in Conservation Biology.

Every Spot Of Green Space Counts

July 12, 2021: University of New South Wales
The city park may be an artificial ecosystem but it plays a key role in the environment and our health, the first global assessment of the microbiome in city parks has found. The study, published in Science Advances, found that even roadside verges contribute a range of important microbial communities that are critical for sustaining productive ecosystem services, such as filtering pollutants and sequestering carbon dioxide.

"Parks are not the homogenised ecological deserts that we think they are -- they are living ecosystems that do amazing things," study co-author, Professor David Eldridge from the Centre for Ecosystem Science in UNSW Science's School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences says.

"Urban greenspaces harbour important microbes, so if you want to sustain a bunch of ecosystem services, you need to have plenty of parks and green spaces."

The study took soil samples from different type of urban green spaces and comparable neighbouring natural ecosystems in 56 cities from 17 countries across six continents.

The urban greenspaces studied included Olympic Park in Beijing, the University of Queensland campus in Brisbane, Retiro in Madrid Spain, and the park surrounding Uppsala Castle in Uppsala, Sweden.

Steele Building surrounding the Great Court, University of Queensland, photo by kgbo

With 68 per cent of the global population set to live in cities by 2050, the study suggests that urban green spaces are critically important for promoting mental and physical wellbeing.

Parks and gardens make up most of the open spaces available for recreational activities such as sport and social engagement, and play important roles in curbing pollution, reducing noise, and lowering air temperatures, the study says.

Moreover, human exposure to soil microbes has been shown to be beneficial to human health by promoting effective immunoregulation functions and reducing allergies.

The study found green spaces support many fast-growing microbes that use fertilisers and irrigation water, and that can colonise bare soils.

These included important fungal root pathogens such as Fusarium, microorganisms capable of removing nitrogen from sewerage, and many bacteria-feeding amoebae.

But the study found that green spaces also harboured a greater proportion of fungal parasites and plant pathogens that are often economically important pests.

Green spaces in some countries also host microbes that were linked to human pathogens, such as listeria and diptheria. "The really interesting thing is that there was a strong link between a country's Gross Domestic Product and the abundance of the microbes that caused human diseases," Prof. Eldridge says.

"One of the reasons could be a greater use of antibiotics in developing nations, and therefore greater microbe controlled antibiotic resistance.

"Sewerage water containing antibiotics is then used to water greenspaces. So while parks are good, there is a warning that some of the soil in these urban green spaces do harbour some of these toxic microbes, particularly in poorer cities."

Dr Eldridge says the results mirror a study in Central Park in New York, which found there was as much microbial diversity in the city park as there is globally.

"City parks harbour a range of microbial communities that are different to natural ecosystems," he says.

The study found that even road verges were full of important microbes.

"We think of roadsides as being barren, but we found a great variety of different microbes in some roadside verges; they are not barren wastelands at all," Prof. Eldridge says.

"Some European cities such as Bern in Switzerland have a policy to protect the natural vegetation along footpaths and roadsides.

"These pathways then become mini-green spaces, linking larger green spaces.

"We need lots of different microbes, and to get this, we need a variety of landscapes such as median strips, parks, and nature reserves."

Lead author Dr Manu Delgado-Baquerizo from the Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Spain says the study found that urban green spaces from all over the world are very similar.

"They often have lawns, and similar management practices, which tend to homogenize the microbes living in different global cities," Dr Delgado-Baquerizo says.

The international study is part of a series of research looking at the importance of green spaces for ecosystem health.

The next study will examine the importance of mosses in urban green spaces for supporting healthy soils and important habitat for microbes.

Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo, David J. Eldridge, Yu-Rong Liu, Blessing Sokoya, Jun-Tao Wang, Hang-Wei Hu, Ji-Zheng He, Felipe Bastida, José L. Moreno, Adebola R. Bamigboye, José L. Blanco-Pastor, Concha Cano-Díaz, Javier G. Illán, Thulani P. Makhalanyane, Christina Siebe, Pankaj Trivedi, Eli Zaady, Jay Prakash Verma, Ling Wang, Jianyong Wang, Tine Grebenc, Gabriel F. Peñaloza-Bojacá, Tina U. Nahberger, Alberto L. Teixido, Xin-Quan Zhou, Miguel Berdugo, Jorge Duran, Alexandra Rodríguez, Xiaobing Zhou, Fernando Alfaro, Sebastian Abades, Cesar Plaza, Ana Rey, Brajesh K. Singh, Leho Tedersoo, Noah Fierer. Global homogenization of the structure and function in the soil microbiome of urban greenspaces. Science Advances, 2021; 7 (28): eabg5809 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abg5809

When A Single Tree Makes A Difference: New Research Shows Individual Trees In Urban Areas Provide Cooling 

July 12, 2021
A single tree along a city street or in a backyard can provide measurable cooling benefits, according to a new study from American University. The research shows that "distributed" trees, those that are stand-alone and scattered throughout urban neighbourhoods, can help to reduce evening heat. The research suggests that planting individual trees can be a strategy to mitigate urban heat, particularly in areas where land for parks can be scarce.

"There are plenty of good reasons to plant trees, but our study shows we shouldn't underestimate the role that individual trees can play in mitigating heat in urban areas," said Michael Alonzo, assistant professor of environmental science and lead author of the new study. "City planners can take advantage of the small spaces that abound in urban areas to plant individual trees." The study is published in Environmental Research Letters.

While urban parks provide important mid-day cooling for residents and visitors, the key to cooling from individual trees happens in the evening. In the new study, which was conducted in Washington, D.C., cooling benefits from distributed trees were found to occur around 6 or 7 p.m. and after sunset. The study revealed lower temperatures in neighborhoods where at least half the area was covered by canopy from distributed trees. Temperatures were 1.4 degrees Celsius cooler in the evening compared with areas with few trees. Even in the predawn hour, areas with only modest distributed canopy cover (about 20 percent of the area) were cooler than those with no trees, showing that on average, afternoon and evening cooling effects last well into the night, Alonzo added.

To arrive at the findings, Alonzo and his colleagues examined air temperature readings. The data was collected over one hot summer day in 2018, across different areas in Washington, D.C. and at multiple times throughout the day, resulting in more than 70,000 air temperature readings. In their analysis, Alonzo and his colleagues examined tree canopy over paved surfaces, over unpaved surfaces, and both patches such as parks, and distributed trees, such as those one might plant in their back or front yards.

The new study confirms that planting individual trees should be considered as part of a strategy to combat rising temperatures in urban areas. In hot summer months many cities across the United States turn into "heat islands." Due to the urban heat island effect, urban areas, with fewer green spaces and higher amounts of impervious surface, get hotter compared to their rural surroundings.

In urban areas, people are more likely to live adjacent to distributed trees rather than parks. In D.C., there are many places to plant individual trees where canopy will shade paved or unpaved surfaces: on streets with single family homes, streets with rowhouses, backyard or small park plantings, Alonzo said. This opens up avenues for increasing the racial and socioeconomic equity of tree planting, but more effort is required to first reduce impervious surface cover in the most built-up residential and commercial districts, Alonzo added. The top five trees along D.C.'s streets include several species of maples, oaks and elms, all of which provide plentiful shade.

Climate studies show that urban temperatures are warming at all times of day including evenings. Yet studying the cooling benefits from individual trees, as well as their benefits during evening hours, has not been widely researched, Alonzo said, and this is an area scientists should continue to explore. More research will be needed in other locations in the United States and under different weather conditions. Alonzo also plans to conduct more research and has collected air temperature readings by bicycle around D.C. during the pandemic.

Though the study was conducted in D.C., Alonzo said the findings are likely applicable along the East Coast or in other cities with a similar climate.

"Evenings are not quite the respite from heat that we once had," Alonzo said. "These distributed trees do help the city cool off in the evening and that's important for human health."

Michael Alonzo, Matthew E Baker, Yuemeng Gao, Vivek Shandas. Spatial configuration and time of day impacts the magnitude of urban tree canopy cooling. Environmental Research Letters, 2021; DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/ac12f2

A magnificent Grey Gum (E. punctata) example on the hill heading down Riviera Avenue, Avalon Beach, with a Spotted Gum (Eucalyptus maculata) grpwing alongside it.

Digital Mapping Of EPIs To Replace PDF Maps

July 5, 2021: NSW Government Planning Portal
The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is one step closer towards digital mapping of Environmental Planning Instruments (EPIs) in NSW.

Over the past six months, the ePlanning Program has been enhancing both the Online Planning Proposal Service and the Spatial Viewer to support the transition from PDF Maps to the digital mapping of EPIs.

The project aims to ensure that the data collected through the enhanced Online Planning Proposal Service will be the source data for EPI digital mapping on the Spatial Viewer. This will enable the Department to retire PDF maps.

The retiring of PDF maps will improve assessment timeframes, leading to economic benefits for the State, while also contributing to planning reform initiatives.

The Department is currently working with a group of NSW councils to ensure the solution meets the needs of stakeholders.

Project overview
Digital mapping means EPI map data will be managed in a centralised geospatial database. This will be the ‘single source of truth’ for map data, and it will be available to all stakeholders through the NSW Planning Portal, and also for use in an organisation’s own IT and GIS systems.

We are currently in phase two, of this three-phase project. The three phases are:
  1. Enhance and integrate the ePlanning Spatial Viewer with the Online Planning Proposal (PP Online) Service on the NSW Planning Portal. This will enable EPI spatial data to be collected through the Planning Proposal service then presented digitally through the various stages of the plan-making process (agency consultation, public exhibition, post-gazettal). This was completed in May 2021.
  2. Work with an initial group of councils to ensure the solution meets the needs of stakeholders.
  3. Roll out to the remaining councils across NSW. This is planned to commence in the second half of 2021.
The ePlanning team is also working with the Department’s Policy teams to transition SEPPs to digital mapping within the same timeframe.

Once the Spatial Viewer is the single source of truth for maps in NSW, the process of creating PDF maps will be retired.

The Spatial Viewer will contain a historical digital maps feature, which will enable users to access previous digital versions of a map created after the go-live date. Users will also continue to have access to existing PDFs created prior to the go-live date. These PDFs are now hosted on the NSW Planning Portal.

How the transition will occur
Under Section 3.22 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, the making of an amending LEP may be expedited where it deals with matters that, in the view of the Minister, do not warrant compliance with the conditions precedent for the making of the LEP because they will not have any significant adverse impact on the environment or adjoining land.  

This initial transition and amendment will facilitate the transition of all current pdf map tiles to digital maps. The zoning, standards and other matters that are mapped and affect the interpretation of the LEP are otherwise unchanged, that is, no change to any controls will be included. Therefore, the Minister may be capable of forming the above view.  The achievement of this process will be facilitated by the use of the Section 3.22 workflow within PP Online.  Any future amendments to the LEP will revert to normal planning proposal processes and requirements.

Who this will benefit
The transition will benefit councils, planners, agencies, industry, and the public. It will increase confidence and trust in the plan-making process. In addition to resolving the inefficiencies associated with PDF maps, it will have the following benefits:

  • Provide cost and time savings for all stakeholders
  • Availability of GIS data to support evidence-based decision-making across the entire Planning Proposal process and multiple jurisdictions.
  • Enable users to conduct more self-service transactions online, which will be cheaper and faster, reducing errors and the need for rework.
  • Provide users with access to better, easier-to-find digital EPI maps with fewer errors.
  • Enable users to get a better understanding of development opportunities and constraints.
  • Better manage citizens’ demand for planning information, by enabling private providers to create new information services (e.g. third-party property intelligence tools and mapping platforms).

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.

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.

Gas-Fired Recovery Measures: Have Your Say - Closes August 2nd

July 5, 2021: Federal Government Dept. of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. 
The Australian Government’s Gas-Fired Recovery Plan was announced on 15 September 2020. It is being delivered through actions that work to:
  • unlock supply
  • deliver an efficient pipeline and transportation network
  • empower gas customers.
As part of our ongoing engagement with stakeholders, we are undertaking further consultation to inform two key gas-fired recovery measures:
  • the National Gas Infrastructure Plan (NGIP)
  • the Future Gas Infrastructure Investment Framework.
This consultation builds on the previous consultations the Department undertook from 1 December 2020 to 31 March 2021. This is an additional targeted opportunity to provide your views.

Your feedback will help us better understand issues to consider before finalising the NGIP and designing the Investment Framework.

Submissions close on 2 August 2021.

ARENA CEO And Board Update

July 15, 2021: The Hon Angus Taylor MP, Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction

The Morrison Government has reappointed Mr Darren Miller as Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) for a further three years.

Mr Miller has done an exceptional job leading ARENA since his appointment in 2018.

Under Mr Miller’s strong and effective leadership, ARENA has undertaken an increasingly prominent role in energy innovation including support of projects related to storage technologies, electric vehicles, distributed energy and hydrogen.

His reappointment will ensure ARENA continues to benefit from his significant experience and expertise as it works to deliver on priorities under the Morrison Government’s Technology Investment Roadmap.

Mr Miller’s reappointment will commence on 27 August 2021 and run until 26 August 2024.

The Morrison Government has appointed Mr Stephen McIntosh to the ARENA Board for a two-year term. Mr McIntosh is a former Rio Tinto Group Executive with experience in green metals, wind, solar and batteries. He has also worked across hydrogen and carbon capture technologies during his time with the company.

Ms Stephanie Unwin has also been reappointed to the Board for a further two years.

Their appointments will ensure the Board continues to benefit from their significant experience and expertise in renewable energy, technology, commercialisation, business investment and corporate governance.

The ARENA Board sets the investment strategies and priorities, oversees the running of the agency, and approves funding for projects up to $50 million.

I thank departing Board member Mr Dougal McOmish for his service to the Board, to ARENA and to Australia’s renewable energy sector.

I look forward to continuing to work with Mr Miller and the entire ARENA Board to progress the development of new and emerging energy technologies. Bringing a portfolio of technologies to commercial parity with higher emitting alternatives will help reduce emissions while protecting industries and jobs, and creating new ones.


ARENA was established in 2012 to improve the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies in Australia. Since then, ARENA has supported 586 projects with $1.7 billion in grant funding, unlocking $6.92 billion of total investment in renewable energy. Through the 2020-21 Budget, the Government increased ARENA’s funding by $1.6 billion. 

Survey Finds Encouraging Platypus Numbers On Kangaroo Island

July 14, 2021
Platypuses on Kangaroo Island may be on the road to recovery following the devastation of the 2019-2020 bushfires, a team including researchers from UNSW have found.

The researchers spent a week setting traps in the isolated Rocky River area of Flinders Chase National Park in late May to assess the species’ condition and population growth and trapped healthy juvenile and adult platypuses.

“The impacts of the fires were quite apparent as we were carrying out the surveys for platypuses,” said Dr Gilad Bino from the Platypus Conservation Initiative in the Centre for Ecosystem Science, at UNSW Sydney’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

“Compared to previous work in the areas, platypus numbers were lower and their distribution had contracted further downstream, mostly confined to deep waterholes, which are critical refugia for platypuses and other freshwater species during times of drought and extreme fires.

“Encouragingly, we trapped juvenile platypuses which indicates the capacity of platypuses in the river to recover.”

UNSW's Dr Gilad Bino (left) examining a platypus caught on Kangaroo Island. Photo: Platypus Conservation Initiative.

Dr Bino said despite the positive findings, the survey also revealed the impact to platypuses in some areas, with no platypus caught further upstream at the Platypus Waterholes or East Melrose Track in the Flinders Chase National Park which was severely impacted by the fires.

“This was likely as a result of the dry conditions upstream which preceded the fires but also longer-lasting effects of the fires on the habitat and perhaps the platypuses,” Dr Bino said.

Dr Bino co-led the expedition with Dr Ryan Baring from Flinders University.

National Parks and Wildlife Service PWS Kangaroo Island conservation ecologist Heiri Klein said the expedition was a resounding success, but the rocky terrain posed many challenges to the small research team.

“The sites where we thought the platypuses would be were quite isolated, so the team had to walk into most of the remote trapping locations on foot, whilst towing a boat loaded with all the equipment by hand,” Ms Klein said.

Researchers hauling a boat overland to reach the platypus traps. Photo: Platypus Conservation Initiative.

“Platypuses are most active at night, so the surveys also required wading out in cold water in the pitch black to check traps for eight nights in a row.

“After a trying start, the researchers successfully trapped two healthy juvenile females, two healthy juvenile males, and four mature platypus – two of each gender.

“The age of the juveniles mean they would have been born after the 2020 fires that affected the entire Rocky River catchment, which is great news for the recovering Kangaroo Island platypus population.”

DNA samples taken from the platypuses will be analysed to provide an indication of the likely population size in the Rocky River system, but also possible genetic bottle necks that may affect the viability of the Kangaroo Island population.

While native to mainland South Australia, 19 platypuses were introduced to Kangaroo Island from Victoria and Tasmania in the first half of the twentieth century, following steep declines in their natural population.

In South Australia, the platypus is considered functionally extinct from its natural population range, which primarily includes the Murray River system.

Dr Bino was one of the UNSW scientists who recommended the platypus be listed as a threatened species under Australian and NSW environmental legislation last year.

Rocky River, Kangaroo Island, where the researchers spent a week setting traps. Photo: Platypus Conservation Initiative.

The researchers hope to return to Kangaroo Island in September to complete the survey sampling to better understand the extent of the platypuses’ recovery.

“There is still much to learn about the resilience and capacity of platypuses to recover from such extreme events which, unfortunately, are expected to increase under a changing climate,” Dr Bino said.

The Kangaroo Island community and visitors to the island are being encouraged to help improve knowledge of the platypuses by reporting their observations using the iNaturalist app.

The survey was supported by South Australia's Department for Environment and Water’s Science team and National Parks and Wildlife Service, and crowdfunding from citizens.

The researchers setting nets to catch platypuses on Kangaroo Island. Photo: Platypus Conservation Initiative.

Banishing Fishing Bandits: Other Countries Bear The Cost

July 14, 2021
A new study reveals the strategies that stop bandits from illegally fishing in Australian waters -- but warns there is a cost to the region's poorer countries.

Co-author Dr Brock Bergseth, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, said poachers are simply following the recurring history of human fishing: intensively fish and devastate local resources, then move further afield to -- in these cases -- fish illegally or poach in other countries' waters.

"Millions of people rely on fish and seafood and when offered no alternative choice, will chose banditry and illegal fishing to get by," Dr Bergseth said.

"But without a regional strategy and investments for rebuilding and managing countries' fisheries, this just becomes one big game of whack-a-mole: you deal with the problem in one area, only for it to pop up in another," he said.

The study shows how Vietnamese poaching boats, or 'blue boats', encroached into Australian waters between 2013 and 2017.

Under a jointly signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2017, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and the Vietnamese Ministry for Agriculture and Rural Development designed and delivered a series of workshop interventions to deter illegal fishing by Vietnamese fishers in Australia between 2017 and 2018.

Both before and after the workshops, 82 fishers were surveyed to understand why they were coming to Australia and also whether the workshop's explanations of the penalties were effective in shifting perceptions related to reducing illegal fishing.

"The main reason these fishers engaged in banditry was their displacement from their traditional fishing grounds in the South China Sea," Dr Bergseth said. "This is just one of the implications of an expanding Chinese territory, and it affects countries as far away as Australia."

Lead author Dr Chris Wilcox, from Australia's national science agency CSIRO, said since the workshops, there hasn't been a single sighting of a Vietnamese fishing boat illegally fishing in Australian or Pacific waters.

But, he cautions, while an understanding of the penalties might deter fishers from poaching in Australian waters, they also lose their access to economically viable fish resources.

Captains and their crews opt to fish in other locations, legal or not, even in the face of penalties for doing so.

"Australia can build a wall of steel with patrol boats and surveillance aeroplanes to protect our waters -- but without improvements in fish stocks in their legal fishing grounds, Vietnamese vessels will be under pressure to leave in pursuit of revenue. This is creating ongoing issues for our regional neighbours," Dr Wilcox said.

Reports continue to surface of Vietnamese fishers captured in other regional countries including Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vanuatu.

Dr Wilcox said regional action on the root causes of the problem can solve the issue for everyone. And though this is a long-term project, it also has the best potential for the highest long-term return on investment in terms of reducing illegal fishing.

"Incursions will continue as long as the number of fishing vessels across the region exceeds what the resources can support," Dr Wilcox said. "While it is essential to keep the enforcement pressure on, this is where coordination across the region could have a positive effect."

However, he also said tension amongst South East Asian countries over sea borders and other issues still precludes effective coordinated action on illegal fishing.

"Addressing the state of resources in the waters of countries across the region and their ability to collaborate to address vessels illegally crossing borders to fish are the two key ingredients for solving this problem," Dr Wilcox said.

Dr Bergseth said otherwise, things will only get worse as ocean resources dwindle.

"The decisions we make in the next 5-10 years could well chart the state of our oceans for the next 100," he said.

Chris Wilcox, Brock J Bergseth. Effectiveness of interventions to shift drivers of roving banditry and reduce illegal fishing by Vietnamese blue boats. Conservation Letters, 2021; DOI: 10.1111/conl.12823

Australian patrol boats chase illegal fishers © Australian Fisheries Management Authority.

Repeating mistakes: why the plan to protect the world’s wildlife falls short

The forty-spotted pardalote is one of Australia’s rarest birds. Shutterstock
Michelle LimMacquarie University

It’s no secret the world’s wildlife is in dire straits. New data shows a heatwave in the Pacific Northwest killed more than 1 billion sea creatures in June, while Australia’s devastating bushfires of 2019-2020 killed or displaced 3 billion animals. Indeed, 1 million species face extinction worldwide.

These numbers are overwhelming, but a serious global commitment can help reverse current tragic rates of biodiversity loss.

This week the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity released a draft of its newest ten-year global plan. Often considered to be the Paris Agreement of biodiversity, the new plan aims to galvanise planetary scale action to achieve a world “living in harmony with nature” by 2050.

But if the plan goes ahead in its current form, it will fall short in safeguarding the wonder of our natural world. This is primarily because it doesn’t legally bind nations to it, risking the same mistakes made by the last ten-year plan, which didn’t stop biodiversity decline.

A Lack Of Binding Obligations

The Convention on Biological Diversity is a significant global agreement and almost all countries are parties to it. This includes Australia, which holds the unwanted record for the greatest number of mammal extinctions since European colonisation.

However, the convention is plagued by the lack of binding obligations. Self-reporting to the convention secretariat is the only thing the convention makes countries do under international law.

All other, otherwise sensible, provisions of the convention are limited by a series of get-out-of-jail clauses. Countries are only required to implement provisions “subject to national legislation” or “as far as possible and as appropriate”.

The convention has used non-binding targets since 2000 in its attempt to address global biodiversity loss. But this has not worked.

Kangaroo in burnt bushland
More than 3 billion animals were killed or displaced as a result of the 2019-2020 bushfires. Shutterstock

The ten-year term of the previous targets, the Aichi Targets, came to an end in 2020, and included halving habitat loss and preventing extinction. But these, alongside most other Aichi targets, were not met.

In the new draft targets, extinction is no longer specifically named — perhaps relegated to the too hard basket. Pollution appears again in the new targets, and now includes a specific mention of eliminating plastic pollution.

Is This Really A Paris-Style Agreement?

I wish. Calling the plan a Paris-style agreement suggests it has legal weight, when it doesn’t.

The fundamental difference between the biodiversity plan and the Paris Agreement is that binding commitments are a key component of the Paris Agreement. This is because the Paris Agreement is the successor of the legally binding Kyoto Protocol.

The final Paris Agreement legally compels countries to state how much they will reduce their emissions by. Nations are then expected to commit to increasingly ambitious reductions every five years.

Read more: Raze paradise to put in a biofuel crop? No, there are far better ways to tackle climate change

If they don’t fulfil these commitments, countries could be in breach of international law. This risks damage to countries’ reputation and international standing.

The door remains open for some form of binding commitment to emerge from the biodiversity convention. But negotiations to date have included almost no mention of this being a potential outcome.

Bleached coral
Ecosystems humans rely on are in peril, such as the Great Barrier Reef which was recently recommended to be placed on the world heritage ‘in danger’ list. Shutterstock

So What Else Needs To Change?

Alongside binding agreements, there are many other aspects of the convention’s plan that must change. Here are three:

First, we need truly transformative measures to tackle the underlying economic and social causes of biodiversity loss.

The plan’s first eight targets are directed at minimising the threats to biodiversity, such as the harvesting and trade of wild species, area-based conservation, climate change and pollution.

While this is important, the plan also needs to call out and tackle dominant worldviews which equate continuous economic growth with human well-being. The first eight targets cannot realistically be met unless we address the economic causes driving these threats: materialism, unsustainable production and over-consumption.

Read more: 'Revolutionary change' needed to stop unprecedented global extinction crisis

Second, the plan needs to put Indigenous peoples’ knowledge, science, governance, rights and voices front and centre.

An abundance of evidence shows lands managed by Indigenous and local communities have significantly better biodiversity outcomes. But biodiversity on Indigenous lands is decreasing and with it the knowledge for continued sustainable management of these ecosystems.

Indigenous peoples and local communities have “observer status” within the convention’s discussions, but references to Indigenous “knowledges” and “participation” in the draft plan don’t go much further than in the Aichi Targets.

A mother orangutan carrying its baby
Actions in one part of the globe can have significant impacts to biodiversity in other parts. Shutterstock

Third, there must be cross-scale collaborations as global economic, social and environmental systems are connected like never before.

The unprecedented movement of people and goods and the exchange of money, information and resources means actions in one part of the globe can have significant biodiversity impacts in faraway lands. The draft framework does not sufficiently appreciate this.

For example, global demand for palm oil contributes to deforestation of orangutan habitat in Borneo. At the same time, consumer awareness and social media campaigns in countries far from palm plantations enable distant people to help make a positive difference.

The Road To Kunming

The next round of preliminary negotiations of the draft framework will take place virtually from August 23 to September 3 2021. And it’s likely final in-person negotiations in Kunming, China will be postponed until 2022.

It’s not all bad news, there is still much to commend in the convention’s current draft plan.

For example, the plan facilitates connections with other global processes, such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It recognises the contributions of biodiversity to, for instance, nutrition and food security, echoing Sustainable Development Goal 2 of “zero hunger”.

The plan also embraces more inclusive language, such as a shift from saying “ecosystem services” to “Nature’s Contribution to People” when discussing nature’s multiple values.

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

But if non-binding targets didn’t work in the past, then why does the convention think this time will be any different?

A further set of unmet biodiversity goals and targets in 2030 is an unacceptable scenario. At the same time, there’s no point aiming at targets that merely maintain the status quo.

We can change the current path of mass extinction. This requires urgent, concerted and transformative action towards a thriving planet for people and nature.The Conversation

Michelle Lim, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie Law School, Macquarie University

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

Stopping Illegal Trade Of Australian Lizards

July 13, 2021
Australian reptiles face serious conservation threats from illegal poaching fuelled by international demand and the exotic pet trade.

In a new study in Animal Conservation, researchers from the University of Adelaide and the Monitor Conservation Research Society (Monitor) investigated the extent of illegal trade in a well-known Australian lizard: the shingleback, also known as the bobtail or sleepy lizard.

Using government records, media reports, and online advertisements, the researchers found clear evidence that many shinglebacks have been illegally poached from the wild and are smuggled overseas to be traded as pets.

Author and PhD Candidate Adam Toomes from the University of Adelaide says: "While shinglebacks are a protected species in Australia, and can only be exported legally under a federal permit, there is little to no regulation of international trade once the animals have been smuggled out of the country.

"Not only are our findings concerning from a conservation and animal welfare perspective, but they also highlight a major loophole in our legislation which is being exploited."

While under Australian law it is illegal to export native live species, the import to many countries is not, along with trade once the animals have entered the country. It is left to each importing country to address the issue on an individual basis, such as changing their legislation to regulate both the trade and import of species native to other countries.

In the study, the researchers found all four subspecies of shingleback lizard are in trade across Asia, Europe and North America. This includes the threatened Tiliqua rugosa konowi subspecies, only found in the wild on Rottnest Island, Western Australia.

The lifestyle and characteristics of the shingleback makes them particularly vulnerable to poaching.

"They don't tend to travel far from where they live and their defences, which include a slow retreat when approached and opening their mouth and sticking their tongue out, are not all that daunting. So they can be easily captured even by unskilled people," Mr Toomes said.

Examining seizure data from 2015 to 2018 from the Australian Government's Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment, and additional seizure data from 2009 to 2020, the study shows more than 260 shinglebacks were destined for illegal exportation to countries including Hong Kong, China, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Sweden.

A further 236 shinglebacks were seized in Western Australia but it was uncertain as to whether they were destined for international or domestic trade.

Shingleback lizard seized at Perth airport by Western Australia’s Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.

To protect Australian shinglebacks and curtail global trade, the researchers recommend they be listed in Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which provides other countries with the legal means to confiscate illegally exported species.

CITES Appendix III lists species that are protected in their native country for which the country has requested assistance from others to regulate trade. New species can be added to the lists by notifying the CITES secretariat.

Co-author, Phill Cassey, with the University of Adelaide's School of Biological Sciences says: "Surprisingly, this piece of legislation is seldom used in comparison to other Appendices in CITES, and yet it could contribute to substantially reducing international trade of threatened reptiles, providing other countries with a legal basis to seize illegally imported species.

"While stronger international regulations and improved legislation are urgently needed to curb the illegal wildlife trade globally, until such legislation exists, CITES Appendix III is a legal tool that can help us protect at-risk native species, like the shingleback, right away."

S. Heinrich, A. Toomes, C. R. Shepherd, O. C. Stringham, M. Swan, P. Cassey. Strengthening protection of endemic wildlife threatened by the international pet trade: The case of the Australian shingleback lizard. Animal Conservation, 2021; DOI: 10.1111/acv.12721

Raze paradise to put in a biofuel crop? No, there are far better ways to tackle climate change

Michelle LimMacquarie University

We all know action on climate change is urgently needed. But that doesn’t mean a forest should be razed to build a wind farm. Nor should vast fields of a single crop be grown year after year – reducing the number of other species that can live there – even if the plant is used to produce renewable bio-fuel.

Climate change and biodiversity loss are the two greatest challenges to humanity and our planet. But they’re often dealt with by separate laws and policies, which can lead to perverse, unwanted outcomes.

Clearly, this siloed approach must change. This was recognised in a draft plan by the Convention on Biological Diversity, released overnight, which stated that biodiversity should not be harmed by efforts to tackle climate change.

But how do we ensure solutions to one of these wicked problems does not worsen the other? Some 50 of the world’s leading researchers on biodiversity and climate have released a report which sought to answer this question. Below, I outline the conundrums we tackled and the solutions we came up with.

coral underwater below vegetation
Climate solutions should not lower the variety of species found on Earth. Shutterstock

A World-First Collaboration

Our report, released last month, represents the first ever collaboration between the world’s largest research and policy communities on biodiversity and climate – the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

IPBES is an independent intergovernmental body that synthesises evidence on the state of biodiversity, ecosystems and natures’ contributions to people. The IPCC is the United Nations body for assessing climate science.

The word “biodiversity” refers to the variety of living things: all the animals, plants and tiny micro-organisms on Earth, including the genetic information they contain and the ecosystems they form.

Biodiversity loss, then, is a reduction in the variety of species in an ecosystem, a geographic area or the planet as a whole. Biodiversity, including extinctions, is currently declining at rates unprecedented in human history.

There’s a growing recognition that climate, biodiversity and human well-being are inextricably linked.

To date, biodiversity loss has largely been caused by human actions which harm land, rivers and oceans. However, research suggests worsening climate change will be the main cause of global biodiversity loss this century.

For example, climate change is causing marine heatwaves which threaten the existence of the Great Barrier Reef. Climate change also makes bushfires more intense and frequent, pushing species closer to extinction.

Biodiversity loss can also make climate change worse. For example, forests store large amounts of carbon, and their destruction is a key source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more: Almost 60 coral species around Lizard Island are 'missing' – and a Great Barrier Reef extinction crisis could be next

forest next to razed ground
Cutting down trees reduces biodiversity and makes climate change worse. Shutterstock

Robbing Peter To Pay Paul

Bioenergy crops such as corn, canola and soybeans can be processed and used as a fuel for heat or energy. This can provide an alternative energy source to fossil fuels. And forest plantations storing carbon dioxide can be an effective way to reduce atmospheric carbon levels.

But these climate solutions can be bad for nature. Crop or forest monocultures greatly diminish the diversity of other plant and animal species the land can support. Such practices can also degrade ecosystems and damage native species.

Similarly, renewable energy technologies can harm biodiversity. For example, large-scale solar plants across vast areas of land can destroy animal habitat and disrupt wildlife movement.

Crucially, climate and biodiversity interventions can also be harmful to human well-being. Many communities in developing countries rely directly on nature for their everyday needs. Efforts to protect biodiversity by locking up natural areas in forest reserves can deprive local people of their lands and erode their food security.

What Must Be Done?

Our report sets out key steps to protecting the climate, biodiversity and human well-being in unison. I outline these below.

Protect and restore carbon-rich ecosystems

This is the number one priority for joint action on climate and biodiversity. It is critical, however, that such processes involve – and consider the needs of – local communities. They must also take future climate conditions into account.

Slash carbon emissions

By storing carbon in forests, wetlands and other ecosystems, nature can do a lot to tackle climate change. But it can’t do everythingAmbitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are needed across multiple sectors of the global economy. Without this, it will be virtually impossible to restore and protect natural ecosystems.

Increase sustainable agricultural and forestry practices

Food systems contribute up to one-third of total human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. The agricultural sector must urgently reduce waste. And if humans, particularly those in rich countries, eat less meat this will also help address emissions and biodiversity loss. In the forestry sector, careful species selection and management can mitigate climate while being good for biodiversity.

Eliminate harmful subsidies

Government subsidies for activities that harm the environment, such as burning fossil fuels, should be removed.

coal plant emitting steam
Subsidies that support the fossil fuel industry should be scrapped. Shutterstock

Delivering A Revolution

The above measures will not be easily achieved. And they are each contingent on revolutionary economic and societal shifts.

Unsustainable consumption and production are key causes of climate change and biodiversity loss. Our report calls for a shift in individual and societal values away from materialism. We must also challenge the dominant worldview which equates continuous economic growth with human well-being.

Justice and equity must be at the centre of our new ways of being. Indigenous and local communities should lead the stewardship of forest, lands and seas. And system-wide change should not disproportionately impact the already disadvantaged.

And all this will require coordinated action at local, national and global scales. This must integrate multiple knowledge systems and worldviews.

A bright future for people and nature is possible. But achieving win-wins across climate, biodiversity and society requires urgent, transformative and just action which addresses not only the symptoms, but the causes of our greatest problems.

Read more: Even without new fossil fuel projects, global warming will still exceed 1.5℃. But renewables might make it possible The Conversation

Michelle Lim, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie Law School, Macquarie University

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

Are the Nationals now the party for mining, not farming? If so, Barnaby Joyce must tread carefully

Perry Duffin/AAP
Geoff CockfieldUniversity of Southern Queensland

The return of Barnaby Joyce to the federal National Party’s top job has highlighted tensions within, and dilemmas for, the broader party – particularly on climate change policy and coal.

Joyce and some of his Queensland colleagues unashamedly support the coal industry, and the federal party appears broadly opposed to Australia adopting a target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

These are positions at odds with progressive quarters of the party, particularly in Victoria. The divisions came to a head earlier this month when, in response to Joyce’s ascension, Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh and deputy Steph Ryan sought to split the state party from its federal counterpart.

The move was unsuccessful. But Walsh later called for the party to have “a constructive discussion about the transition of our energy supplies and how we reduce our impact on the Earth we live on”.

So are the federal Nationals the latter-day party for mining, not farming? If so, what does this mean for the party’s political positioning and prospects? To address this question, we must examine the Nationals’ evolution over the past century.

surprised man seated, other man standing holding piece of coal
Barnaby Joyce’s support for coal has troubled the Victorian Nationals. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Coal As Nation-Builder

The National Party began federally in 1920 as the Australian Country Party, and traditionally represented farmers and rural communities. But over time, the party evolved to represent and advocate for the broader interests of regional Australia.

Economic nationalism has underpinned the party, especially since the 1950s. Under this ethos, farming, mining and basic manufacturing were considered key foundations for nation-building – a view which persists today. As the Nationals’ Senator Matt Canavan wrote in an opinion piece last month:

The restoration of Barnaby Joyce as deputy prime minister restores a strong advocate for the economically nationalist, Australia-first approach that has always served us well.

Most Nationals candidates come from rural small businesses, finance organisations and social and community services – though many have farming roots or some involvement in farming activities.

Rural communities are under pressure from dwindling populations and limited employment opportunities. In that sense, the mining industry is an important source of jobs and economic activity in Australia’s regions.

Read more: Net zero by 2050? Even if Scott Morrison gets the Nationals on board, hold the applause

coal pile at mine
Mining is an important source of jobs in regional Australia. Dean Lewins/AAP

The federal party’s vociferous support for mining and opposition to emissions reduction is, in part, values signalling. For many in the Nationals, coal helped build the nation, while climate change action and renewable energy represent a moral and material threat.

Regional differences also exist. Nationals’ support for mining is particularly strong in Queensland – traditionally a mining-dependent state where resource investment has long been considered a means of rural development. At both the Queensland and federal levels, strong political connections exist between mining companies and the Liberal-National Party.

In another sign of the federal party’s contemporary priorities, Joyce’s close party ally Matt Canavan recently told the Guardian:

About 5% of our voters are farmers. It’s about 2% of the overall population. So 95% of our voters don’t farm, aren’t farmers or don’t own farmland.

The Nationals’ apparent support for mining above farming exists partly because because they can get away with it. In many regions, farming and mining co-exist in reasonable harmony, both sectors enjoying the benefits of strong regional centres.

In some cases conflict does arise, such as with gas exploration in cropping country. But in those regions, disenfranchised Nationals voters typically direct their votes to micro-parties rather than Labor or the Greens. These votes often flow back to the Nationals via preferences.

Man in hard hat
Pro-coal Nationals senator Matt Canavan has downplayed the importance of farmers to the party’s constituency. Lukas Coch/AAP

A Questionable Strategy

The federal Nationals’ pro-mining, anti-renewables stance may not, however, benefit the party over the long term.

First, mining is at best a very patchy contributor to rural development. Overall, net employment in agriculture is still higher than for mining and is more evenly distributed across the regions. Mining investment can ebb and flow quickly with commodity prices and the stage of project development, leaving communities with falling real estate values and an altered social fabric.

The anti-emissions control stance could also trigger conflict with major farm organisations. Many, such as the National Farmers Federation and Meat and Livestock Association, want to see a strong national emissions reduction plan, under which landowners can benefit financially by participating in land carbon schemes.

Many farmers are also interested in renewable energy as both a source of income and cheaper power. Renewables projects are proliferating in regional areas and even Joyce has been known to turn up in a hard hat to get behind them. So we can look forward to some interesting management of that cognitive dissonance.

Read more: Renewables need land – and lots of it. That poses tricky questions for regional Australia

cows and wind turbines in field
Many farmers are interested in hosting renewables projects. Shutterstock

Trouble Ahead

Following Joyce’s return to the federal party leadership, Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh said he’s had “a very frank discussion with him about the policy differences on climate change”.

But discontent on climate policy is not confined to Victoria. Across the party, Young Nationals organisations are generally far more open to climate action than their older party colleagues.

And the hardline mining stance will not help the Nationals regain or even retain seats in areas such as Ballina in NSW, where demographic changes have eroded the party’s support.

But the biggest test of the Nationals’ farming-vs-mining rift is perhaps yet to come. The European Union and other jurisdictions are considering imposing tariffs on goods – including agricultural products – from nations such as Australia which lack strong emissions reduction policies.

While helping drive global climate action, such moves would partly be motivated by economic nationalism - boosting the international competitiveness of industries in the country/s applying the tariff. The sight of the Nationals impotently arguing for free trade in this instance will be fascinating political theatre.

Read more: No point complaining about it, Australia will face carbon levies unless it changes course The Conversation

Geoff Cockfield, Professor of Government and Economics, and Deputy Dean, University of Southern Queensland

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

‘Environmental accounting’ could revolutionise nature conservation, but Australia has squandered its potential

Peter BurnettAustralian National University and Michael VardonAustralian National University

Let’s say a new irrigation scheme is proposed and all the land it’ll take up needs to be cleared — trees felled, soil upturned, and habitats destroyed. Water will also have to be allocated. Would the economic gain of the scheme outweigh the damage to the environment?

This is the kind of question so-called “land accounts” grapple with. Land accounts are a type of “environmental account”, which measures our interactions with the environment by recording them as transactions. They help us understand the environmental and economic outcomes of land use decisions.

Environmental accounting, for which Australia has a national strategy, seeks to integrate environmental and economic data to ensure sustainable decision making. Last month, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the country’s first national land account under the strategy, describing it as “experimental”.

Environmental accounting could be a game changer for conserving nature, but the account released by the ABS falls flat. It’s yet another example of Australia’s environmental policy culture: we develop or adopt good ideas, but then just tinker with them, or even discard them.

A (Really) Long Time Coming

Environmental accounting has been a long time coming and dates back to the 1980s. It’s closely related to sustainable development, and in fact, the two ideas developed in parallel.

In 1992, the Rio Earth Summit endorsed both, and nations agreed to develop an international system of environmental accounting.

But it took the UN 20 years to endorse the System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA) — the rules for developing accounts — as an international statistical standard. This endorsement means they’re authoritative and compatible with national accounts.

Then, in March this year, the international standard was finally extended to cover ecosystem accounting.

So, how are environmental accounts used?

“National accounts” are a way to measure the economic activity of Australia and they tell us our gross domestic product (GDP). Linking existing national accounts to environmental accounts means important decisions can capture environmental and economic outcomes, obviously making for better decisions.

For example, the case for orienting a stimulus package towards investing in renewable energy and land restoration will be much stronger if it can quantify not only economic benefits, but gains to natural assets, such as through revegetation.

Gains to natural assets, such as revegetation, should be measured alongside economic gains. Shutterstock

Stuck In ‘Experimental’ Mode

Australia, through the ABS, was an early mover in developing environmental accounting. It has produced experimental accounts since the mid-1990s.

Some countries are now taking significant steps to produce and apply accounts. And a communiqué issued by the G7 in May endorses the UN’s SEEA and encourages making nature a regular part of all decision-making – in other words, “mainstreaming nature”. This is something for which SEEA is ideal.

Read more: You probably missed the latest national environmental-economic accounts – but why?

It’s no accident this communiqué emerged from London. The UK is a leader in the field of applying accounting to environmental and economic management. It had a Natural Capital Committee for some years and its 25-year environmental plan provides for further account development, including for urban areas, fisheries and forestry.

Australian governments, on the other hand, have been slow to use environmental accounts. They took until 2018 to agree on an unambitious national strategy, which specified “intermediate” outcomes, only to 2023.

These targets include such policy basics as making environmental information for accounts “findable” and “accessible”. This is not far removed from what federal and state governments first signed up to in an agreement 30 years ago.

And the strategy places the holy grail of policy integration “into the future” beyond 2023 — for example, off into the never-never. As a result, we are on a slow track and seemingly stuck in “experimental” mode.

So, What’s The Problem With The New Land Account?

The new land account is a very small step. While it has gathered a lot of information in one place, it tells us little, and essentially repackages old information (the newest data is for 2016).

It’s also in a format that cannot be integrated with national accounts, or even with other environmental accounts so far produced in Australia, such as those covering wastewaterenergy and greenhouse gas emissions.

Integration of environmental and economic information is the raison d'etre for the international system. So how did this happen?

Coal plant
The new land account from the ABS can’t be integrated with other environmental accounts, such as accounts for greenhouse gas emissions. So what’s the point of it? Shutterstock

For accounts produced outside the ABS (such as for greenhouse gas emissions), different accounting frameworks were used, so this is understandable, though unfortunate. For the land accounts, it is less understandable and we can only speculate.

Not being able to integrate the land, water and national accounts means the environmental-economic trade-offs cannot be assessed. It seems the government is struggling to integrate an exercise of integration!

Governments Fiddle While The Planet Burns

Australia’s 2021 intergenerational report, released last month, shows how far we are from producing good environmental information.

The environment section of the report acknowledges climate change and biodiversity loss as major problems, and the need to account for and maintain natural capital. But it goes on to do little more than make general observations and recite standard government talking points about existing policies.

Read more: Intergenerational reports ought to do more than scare us — they ought to spark action

If the report was informed by comprehensive environmental accounts, it could support the modelling of environmental trends going forward. This would give us a real sense of likely changes to natural capital and its impact on the economy.

But there are no plans for such an approach. In fact, this kind of “high potential, low ambition” approach to environmental policy is something of a trademark for this government. Another example is the recent cherry picking of recommendations from an independent review of Australia’s environment law.

While such an approach may deliver a successful political placebo, it is a formula for policy failure.

Just how loud will the wake-up call have to be? Recently, a climate-change-induced “heat dome” hit western North America. Lytton, Canada, which is closer to the North Pole than the equator, shattered temperature records with a staggering 49.6℃, before being decimated by wildfire.

If only such disasters, including our own Black Summer, would raise policy ambition more than the temperature.

Read more: The government’s idea of ‘national environment standards’ would entrench Australia's global pariah status The Conversation

Peter Burnett, Honorary Associate Professor, ANU College of Law, Australian National University and Michael Vardon, Associate Professor at the Fenner School, 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.

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 -

Updated Advice For HSC Students

July 14, 2021: NSW Dept. of Education
Following the NSW Government’s announcement today to extend learning from home in Greater Sydney by two weeks, the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) is reassuring HSC students that arrangements are in place to ensure no student is disadvantaged by COVID restrictions.

NESA CEO Paul Martin said NESA is supporting HSC students and schools as COVID impacts NSW particularly those in Greater Sydney.

“Right now, our attention is on plans for the HSC oral language exams on 31 July and dance exams which are due to start on 2 August and we will issue further advice about these exams mid next week,” Mr Martin said.

“At this stage, we are planning for the drama, music and written exams and the marking of major works and projects to go ahead on schedule in a COVID safe way.”

NESA is continuing to work closely with NSW Health and the school sectors to plan contingencies for HSC exams, and will always follow the Health advice to prioritise the safety and health of students, exam staff and school communities

While HSC trial exams are a school-based assessment activity that are not conducted by NESA, NESA has made some changes to their rules to help schools respond to the evolving COVID situation.

These changes mean schools can postpone trial exams by a few weeks or provide an alternative assessment task suitable for the learning from home context.

NESA will publish further advice to support schools to determine suitable alternative assessment tasks and to estimate marks should the health advice require rescheduled trial exams to be cancelled.

“I want to say categorically that students will have the opportunity to receive the HSC this year,” Mr Martin said.

“Students should continue to focus on their studies and prioritise looking after their wellbeing.”

Teachers and schools are absolutely focussed on supporting HSC students whether they are learning from home in the Greater Sydney region, or at school in regional NSW.

Current advice for HSC students includes:
  • Your school will advise you about arrangements for trial HSC exams.
  • HSC students in Greater Sydney continue to be able to access school to prepare for the HSC where they cannot do so from home, including to use specialist equipment to work on major projects or rehearse for performance exams.
  • As per broader NSW Health advice, HSC students in Greater Sydney are asked to learn from home where possible.
  • All HSC students must follow COVID safe practices at school, including wearing a mask.
  • The COVID illness/misadventure process is available for students whose ability to work on their major project or performance has been significantly impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.
NESA is regularly updating the advice for HSC students. For more information visit Teachers, students and parents can also contact the NESA COVID-19 support team on 1300 138 323 or

After Dark Photo Competition: Northern Beaches

Here's a great new photo competition just for locals.

The Northern Beaches are one of the best places in Sydney to view the night sky and appreciate this wonderful asset.
Enter your image of the Northern Beaches taken between sunset and sunrise, go in the running for prizes, and share the beauty of the Northern Beaches LGA in a way not done before.

Proceeds from the event, go towards supporting the charity the Australian Dark Sky Alliance to support the ongoing conservation of the night time environment.
Entries close 1st September, 2021.


There will be three categories of entry for the General section;
  1. Land – manmade and/or natural formations, wildlife, flora or fauna
  2. Sea – waterways, beaches, or marine areas, sea life
  3. Sky – aspects of the night sky, moon, starscapes, clouds or wildlife
  4. Junior – under 16 years featuring any one of these categories.
All entries must be taken within the Northern Beaches LGA.
Images may be taken within the past 2 years, but must be taken between sunset and sunrise.

There is a limit of six (6) entries per category per photographer.

Still images must be submitted as JPG files with the longest side having a dimension no greater than 4,950 pixels in Adobe 1998 colour space, and no larger than 5Mb file size.

Entry Fees
  • Entry fees are $20 for the first category entered and $10 for each subsequent category entered.
  • Up to six entries per category are permitted.
  • Fees should be paid by the PayPal gateway on the entry website. Credit and debit cards can be used on this gateway.
  • If entry payments are not received by the deadline, then the submitted entries will not be accepted for judging.

Conditions of Entry
Still images must be submitted as JPG files with the longest side having a dimension no greater than 4,950 pixels in Adobe 1998 colour space, and no larger than 5Mb file size.

  1. Entries will be accepted only from Australian residents of the Commonwealth of Australia and its Territories.
  2. There will be two sections of entry – General and Junior (18 or younger)
  3. There will be three categories of entry for the General Section; Portraying the night time environment featuring Land, Sea or Sky.
  4. The Junior Section is for photographers 18 years old or younger and will have one open category.
  5. All entries must be taken within the Northern Beaches LGA and must be taken between sunset and sunrise.
  6. Images can be taken at any time of the year on or after 1 September 2019.
  7. The top 5 images of each category will be judged by the organising committee and will be hung at the Studio, Careel Bay Marina for general public display.
  8. Photographers represented in the top 5 images of each category will be notified that they are in the top 20 images (15 September 17:00 AEST).
  9. There is a limit of six (6) entries per category per photographer.
  10. In the case of images with multiple authors, the instigator of the image will be considered to be the principal author and the one who “owns” the image. The principal author MUST have performed the majority of the work to produce the image. All authors MUST be identified and named in the entry form along with their contributions to the production of the image.
  11. Entries must be in digital form and will be accepted ONLY through submission via the dedicated website at:
  12. To preserve anonymity, the submitted image files should not contain identifying metadata.
  13. For judging purposes, still images must be submitted as JPG files with the longest side having a dimension no greater than 4,950 pixels in Adobe 1998 colour space.
  14. All photographs must have been taken no more than 2 years before the closing date of entry.
  15. Entry fees are $20 for the first entry and $10 each subsequent entry. Fees should be paid by the PayPal gateway on the entry website. Credit and debit cards can be used on this gateway.
  16. If entry payments are not received by the deadline, then the submitted entries will not be accepted for judging.
  17. Photographers of the top 20 images (5 in each category) will be notified 15 September and images printed, framed and hung by the organising. Artists may choose to pay $55 for this service to be undertaken on their part or undertake printing and framing at their own cost. Images must be ready for hanging 17:00 (AEST) 29 September 2021.
  18. Images will be listed on sale during the exhibition at the artist’s discretion. $100 of the sale will be donated to the charity the Australasian Dark Sky Alliance.
  19. Winners for the Land Scape, Sea Scape, Sky Scape and Youth entry will be announced Thursday 30th September 2021.
  20. People’s choice will confirmed by popular vote throughout the exhibition and will be announced on Saturday 30 October, 2021.
  21. Submissions close at 24:00 (AEST) on Wednesday, 1 September 2021. No entries will be accepted past this date.
  22. All winners should make an effort to attend the presentation of the awards on 30 September 2021
  23. The winning entries will be exhibited for the entire Exhibition After Dark, at the Studio, Careel Bay Marina between 30 September and 2 November, 2021.
  24. Permission to reproduce entries for publication to promote the competition and exhibitions and dark sky-related events and activities on the northern beaches will be assumed as a condition of entry. The copyright of the image remains with the author, and we will try to ensure that the author is credited where the image is used.
  25. All entries must be true images, faithfully reflecting and maintaining the integrity of the subject. Entries made up of composite images taken at different times and/or at different locations and/or with different cameras will not be accepted. Image manipulations that produce works that are more “digital art” than true astronomical images, will be deemed ineligible. If there is any doubt about the acceptability of an entry, then the competition organisers should be contacted, before the entry is submitted, for adjudication on the matter at the following email address:
  26. If after the judging process, an image is subsequently determined to have violated the letter and/or the spirit of the rules, then that image will be disqualified. Any prizes consequently awarded for that image must be returned to the competition organisers.
  27. The competition judges reserve the right to reject any entry that, in the opinion of the judges, does not meet the conditions of entry or is unsuitable for public display. The judges’ decisions will be final.
  28. Submission of an entry implies acceptance of all the conditions of entry and the decisions of the competition judges.

Key Dates
  • Entries Open: 24:00 (AEST) Sunday, 11 July 2021
  • Entries Close: 24:00 (AEST) Wednesday, 1 September 2021
  • Top 20 announced: 17:00 Wednesday, 15 September 2021
  • Photography bump in: Midday Wednesday 29 September 2021
  • Exhibition Launch and Presentation of Awards: Thursday 30 September 2021
  • Bump out – 2 November 2021

The Overall Winner: To be judged by David Malin, Fred Watson
  • Category Winner: An image deemed to be the best in that category as judged by the judging panel.
  • “The People’s Choice”: This will be judged by gathering votes obtained in the exhibition venue, and online.
  • Category Winner: $200 – to each of the image deemed to be the best in each of the four (4) category.
  • “The People’s Choice”: $200 – will be judged by gathering votes obtained in the exhibition venue, and online.
There will be three categories of entry for the General section;

Land – capturing manmade and/or natural formations, wildlife, flora or fauna associated with the night
Sea – capturing waterways, beaches, or marine areas, sea life associated with the night.
Sky – capturing aspects of the night sky, moon, stars capes, clouds or wildlife associated with the night sky.
There is a limit of six (6) entries per category per photographer.

All entries must be taken within the Northern Beaches LGA.

The Junior Section is for photographers 18 years old or younger and feature any one of the categories.

More Information and enter at:

2021 Crikey! Magazine Photography Competition

Now in its fifth year, Australia Zoo’s Crikey! Magazine Photography Competition encourages photographers from around the world to contribute their work to celebrate and illustrate the rich diversity of life on Earth and inspire action to conserve it.

Judged by award winning photographers including Robert Irwin, Georgina Steytler, Dudley Edmondson, Gary Cranitch and Kate Berry, this competition welcomes high-quality nature, wildlife and conservation images for a chance to win prizes and be exhibited at Australia Zoo and the Queensland Museum’s iconic Whale Mall right outside Queensland Museum in Queensland’s Cultural Centre, South Bank.

Entries open on World Environment Day, 5th June 2021, and close 31st August 2021.

Category One: Crikey! Magazine Cover
Our original category, the winning image will be featured on the cover of Crikey! Magazine. The image must be portrait orientated and have space for the magazine title (either above or below focal subject). The image should be captivating and feature an animal, photographed anywhere in the world. Images may include terrestrial or aquatic wildlife.

Category Two: Crikey! Kids
Our original category, the winning image will have a full-page featured in Crikey! Magazine. The image must be portrait orientated and should be captivating and feature an animal, photographed anywhere in the world. Images may include terrestrial or aquatic wildlife. To qualify for our Crikey! Kids category, entrants must be under the age of 15 year on 1 October 2021.

Category Three: The Natural World
This is the culmination of the three exciting categories introduced for our 50th Year celebrations. Images submitted to this category can showcase the natural world, depict the complex relationship between humans and nature, or illustrate threatened wildlife. It is through these images, that we can raise awareness and advocate for the conservation of wildlife and wild places!

Great Prizes
Five finalists will be selected from each category, along with a winner and highly commended. The finalists will all have their images exhibited within Australia Zoo and at external events. The images will also be featured in the Summer edition of Crikey! Magazine and all finalists will receive a personalised certificate.

There is a variety of exciting prizes to be won from each category, including vouchers, gift packs and Australia Zoo passes! Woo-hoo!

Crikey! Magazine Cover

Winner – Inclusion as the cover photo of Crikey! Magazine Summer edition, a CameraPro voucher to the value of $1,000.00 AUD and a signed Robert Irwin canvas print valued at $99.95 AUD.
Highly Commended – A choice of either an Australia Zoo family admission (2 adults, 2 children) including giraffe encounter; or an Australia Zoo signed gift basket to the value of $220.00 AUD.

Crikey! Kids

Winner – A CameraPro voucher to the value of $500.00 AUD and a signed Robert Irwin canvas print valued at $99.95 AUD.
Highly Commended – A choice of either an Australia Zoo family admission (2 adults, 2 children) including giraffe encounter; or an Australia Zoo signed gift basket to the value of $220.00 AUD.

The Natural World

Winner – A CameraPro voucher to the value of $1,000.00 AUD and a signed Robert Irwin canvas print valued at $99.95 AUD
Highly Commended – A choice of either an Australia Zoo family admission (2 adults, 2 children) including giraffe encounter; or an Australia Zoo signed gift basket to the value of $220.00 AUD.

How to Enter!
Step 1: Take your most creative wildlife photo that matches the theme of the category you are entering.

Step 2: Read the terms and conditions via the below link for clear guidelines of this competition.

Step 3: The photograph must be in portrait format for the Crikey! Magazine Cover category. Consideration needs to be taken to allow for the ‘Crikey!’ mastheads which will be positioned over the top quarter of the winning photo.

Step 4: All photographs must be provided in high resolution, 3:2 aspect ratio, JPG format and a minimum of 300 DPI. No borders, watermarks or signatures are allowed. Entries not meeting these requirements will not proceed to judging.

Step 5: Each photograph must be labelled with your name, category, subject of the photo and if required, a number for multiple images of the same subject. For example, an acceptable file name is JaneSmith_CrikeyKids_Lion or JaneSmith_CrikeyKids_Lion2.

Step 6: Enter via the links below from June 5 2021 to August 31 2021 to be considered. Age qualifications are – Under 15 Years on 1 October 2021 for Crikey! Kids entry and 15 Years & over for all other categories.

Step 7: A panel of judges consisting of expert photographers will choose the winners.

Step 8: Wait until 1 October 2021 to find out if you are one of our winners!

Entries close on 31 August 2021, so snap to it!

A $10.00 entry fee applies for each category excluding the Under 15 Years “Crikey! Kids”. The entry fees cover the majority of the competition administration costs to allow the proceeds from Crikey! Magazine to continue to provide essential support to Wildlife Warriors and make an immediate impact in the world of wildlife conservation.  Entry fees are non-refundable.

Butcher Bird Sings Imagine In Duet With Irish Folk Singer Robbie Dunn

Published July 13, 2021
Robbie says; 'This beautiful little bird came down and sang John Lennon's song Imagine with me. I have no claim to this song I am just sharing the bird singing.'

Robbie lives in Queensland but many of you may have heard these birds singing in your own neighbourhood - they like to imitate other close by neighbours such as kookaburras, currawongs and magpies - as well as join in on a human tune, apparently.

They also become used to their 'home patch' of trees or yards and the humans who live alongside them.

Enjoy The Louvre At Home; Take A Virtual Tour!

Visit the museum rooms and galleries, admire the palace architecture and enjoy the views! 
There are a number of virtual tours you can take, just visit the link above and choose which galleries or events you will stroll through.

All Quiet On The Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front is a novel by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of World War I. The book describes the German soldiers' extreme physical and mental stress during the war, and the detachment from civilian life felt by many of these soldiers upon returning home from the front.

There were two version of a film made with the same title based on his work, a 1930 version that won an academy award for Best and a 1979 one that was made for television. The 1979 movie was filmed in Czechoslovakia in multiple places (train station, school etc.), including the city of Most, which was being demolished due to the fact that the government of the country wanted to start mining coal, which was in the ground under the centre of the town, with many historical buildings destroyed as a result. Filmmakers took advantage of this and some scenes are shot in half demolished buildings. It is also for this reason the old city doesn't exist anymore.

5 rocks any great Australian rock collection should have, and where to find them

Emily FinchMonash University

Road tripping with a geologist is a little different. While you’re probably reading road signs and dodging roadkill, we’re reading road cuttings and deciphering the history of the area over the previous millions — or even billions — of years.

Geology has shaped the Australian landscape. In Victoria where I live, for example, the western plains are pockmarked by Australia’s youngest volcanoes, while the east of the state has been pushed up to form the mountains of the Great Dividing Range.

Along the southern margin of the state are fossilised braided rivers, relics of when Australia drifted away from Antarctica. Evidence of this event extends into Tasmania, where dolerite, a rock that signifies this rift, looms in enormous columns over Hobart from Mount Wellington.

This probably won’t surprise anyone who knows me, but I have rocks peppered around my house that I’ve collected on my travels. Every time I look at them, I not only think about how the rocks were formed, I’m also reminded of the trip when I collected them.

With international and even state borders set to remain closed for a while longer, this is the perfect time to take a great Australian road trip, become a rock detective, and build up your rock collection while you’re at it.

To help you get started, I’ve listed five rocks any great Australian rock collection should have.

Green, volcanic crater
The crater of an erupted volcano near Mount Gambier in Victoria. Shutterstock

1. Mantle Xenoliths

Western Victoria

The youngest rocks in Australia are those that erupted out of Australia’s youngest volcano in Mount Gambier, South Australia, 4,000 to 8,000 years ago. That volcano is the culmination of an enormous field of volcanoes that span central and western Victoria.

Read more: Photos from the field: the stunning crystals revealing deep secrets about Australian volcanoes

In western Victoria, the volcanoes were formed from magma that ascended from the Earth’s mantle — the layer between the Earth’s core and crust. While the magma was rising, it tore off chunks of the surrounding mantle rock and transported it to the surface. We can find these chunks of the mantle — or mantle xenoliths (xeno = foreign, lith = rock) — in cooled lava today in western Victoria.

At first, these rocks look like any other piece of black or brown basalt, but then you turn them over or crack them open and there’s a blob of bright green rock staring back at you. The mantle rock inside is comprised mainly of olivine, which is a green mineral, and some black/brown pyroxene.

Green rock blob encased in black rock
Green mantle xenolith (xeno = foreign, lith = rock) encased in cooled basaltic lava from Mount Shadwell, Victoria. Dr Melanie FinchAuthor provided

Mantle xenoliths are a great place to start your rock collection because not only will they be your very own piece of Earth’s mantle, but you can find them yourself through a bit of fossicking around some of the volcanoes in western Victoria.

2. Meteorites

The Nullarbor Desert, South Australia and Western Australia

The Nullarbor is a desert plain region which straddles the border of South Australia and Western Australia.

The dry environment is ideal for preserving meteorites that fall to Earth, and the light colour of the limestone country rock and lack of vegetation means the black and brown meteorites are easier to see.

A black meteorite standing out against the white limestone of the Nullarbor Plain. Professor Andy TomkinsAuthor provided

Even if you don’t have a great eye for spotting meteorites hiding in plain sight, you can do as the geologists do and use a magnet on a stick to help you. Most meteorites are iron-rich, so wandering around with a magnet hovering over the surface is a good way to pick them up.

Thousands of meteorites have been found in the Nullarbor, some up to 40,000 years old.

3. Metamorphic Rocks

Broken Hill, New South Wales

You’ve probably heard of Broken Hill because of the large silver, lead and zinc mine there. But the geological conditions that created the ore deposit around 1.7 billion years ago also made some beautiful rocks.

A visit to Broken Hill’s Albert Kersten Mining and Minerals Museum will demonstrate the vast array of unusual minerals found in the region, some of them described for the first time at this locality.

If you’re seeking your own chunk of Broken Hill’s geological history, Round Hill is the place for you. Just a short way out of the town centre, you’ll find beautiful red garnets surrounded by patches of white minerals (quartz and feldspar).

A geologist holding a rock with various colours
A large garnet from the Broken Hill region. Professor Andy TomkinsAuthor provided

These rocks started out as sand and mud, and record the history of being buried and heated to over 700℃ deep below the Earth’s surface. This process caused the rock to start melting and created the striking stripey, garnet-rich rocks we find there today.

4. Banded Iron Formation

Western Australia

Banded iron formation is a layered sedimentary rock mainly comprised of alternating bands of chert (a sedimentary rock made of quartz) that’s often red in colour and silver to black iron oxide. It is the main host of iron ore, and can be found in several regions in Western Australia.

The Hamersley Province in the northwestern part of Western Australia has the thickest and most extensive banded iron formations in the world. They are about 2.45 to 2.78 billion years old.

Red and brown bands along a rock face
Banded iron formation at Forescue Falls, WA. Graeme Churchard/FlickrCC BY

Geologists believe they formed on a continental shelf, where thick continental crust extends out into the ocean and then drops away to oceanic crust.

Banded iron formation is exciting because it no longer forms on Earth today, meaning it records an ancient process that we no longer see happening.

It is thought to have formed in ancient oceans, which were starting to increase in oxygen content at the time. It records the chemical input of these oceans, as well as sediments from the continent and volcanoes on the ocean floor.

5. Dinosaur Fossils

Central and western Queensland

Oh to have been in Queensland 100 million years ago! Judging by the fossils found in parts of the state, it would have been a cornucopia of dinosaur activity.

From an unlikely duo of dinosaurs in a 98-million-year-old billabong in Winton, to fossilised evidence of a dinosaur herd at Lark Quarry, Queensland is the place to go to peer back in time to the Mesozoic Era between 252 and 66 million years ago.

And if you’re really lucky, you might even have dinosaur bones on your property, like the huge, long-necked sauropod discovered just this year on a Queensland cattle farm.

An outback museum with a dinosaur statue in front
The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum in Winton, Queensland, is home to the largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils. (Note: not a real dinosaur.) Shutterstock

When building your Australian rock collection, remember to check first if fossicking is allowed in the area. When you find an interesting rock, your state or territory geological survey might be able to help with identifying it.

Happy hunting!

Read more: How to hunt fossils responsibly: 5 tips from a professional palaeontologist The Conversation

Emily Finch, Beamline Scientist at ANSTO, and Research Affiliate, Monash University

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

I’ve always wondered: why are the stars, planets and moons round, when comets and asteroids aren’t?

Jonti HornerUniversity of Southern Queensland

I’m puzzled as to why the planets, stars and moons are all round (when) other large and small objects such as asteroids and meteorites are irregular shapes?

— Lionel Young, age 74, Launceston, Tasmania

This is a fantastic question Lionel, and a really good observation!

When we look out at the Solar System, we see objects of all sizes — from tiny grains of dust, to giant planets and the Sun. A common theme among those objects is the big ones are (more or less) round, while the small ones are irregular. But why?

Small Solar System bodies
A variety of the Solar System’s small bodies, to scale. Bigger objects are round, but the small ones are anything but! Wikipedia/Antonio Ciccolella

Gravity: The Key To Making Big Things Round …

The answer to why the bigger objects are round boils down to the influence of gravity. An object’s gravitational pull will always point towards the centre of its mass. The bigger something is, the more massive it is, and the larger its gravitational pull.

For solid objects, that force is opposed by the strength of the object itself. For instance, the downward force you experience due to Earth’s gravity doesn’t pull you into the centre of the Earth. That’s because the ground pushes back up at you; it has too much strength to let you sink through it.

However, Earth’s strength has limits. Think of a great mountain, such as Mount Everest, getting larger and larger as the planet’s plates push together. As Everest gets taller, its weight increases to the point at which it begins to sink. The extra weight will push the mountain down into Earth’s mantle, limiting how tall it can become.

How tall can a mountain on Earth get?

If Earth were made entirely from ocean, Mount Everest would just sink down all the way to Earth’s centre (displacing any water it passed through). Any areas where the water was unusually high would sink, pulled down by Earth’s gravity. Areas where the water was unusually low would be filled up by water displaced from elsewhere, with the result that this imaginary ocean Earth would become perfectly spherical.

But the thing is, gravity is actually surprisingly weak. An object must be really big before it can exert a strong enough gravitational pull to overcome the strength of the material from which it’s made. Smaller solid objects (metres or kilometres in diameter) therefore have gravitational pulls that are too weak to pull them into a spherical shape.

This, incidentally, is why you don’t have to worry about collapsing into a spherical shape under your own gravitational pull — your body is far too strong for the tiny gravitational pull it exerts to do that.

Read more: Curious Kids: how and when did Mount Everest become the tallest mountain? And will it remain so?

Reaching Hydrostatic Equilibrium

When an object is big enough that gravity wins — overcoming the strength of the material from which the object is made — it will tend to pull all the object’s material into a spherical shape. Bits of the object that are too high will be pulled down, displacing material beneath them, which will cause areas that are too low to push outward.

When that spherical shape is reached, we say the object is in “hydrostatic equilibrium”. But how massive must an object be to achieve hydrostatic equilibrium? That depends on what it’s made of. An object made of just liquid water would manage it really easily, as it would essentially have no strength — as water’s molecules move around quite easily.

Meanwhile, an object made of of pure iron would need to be much more massive for its gravity to overcome the inherent strength of the iron. In the Solar System, the threshold diameter required for an icy object to become spherical is at least 400 kilometres — and for objects made primarily of stronger material, the threshold is even larger.

Saturn’s moon Mimas, which looks like the Death Star, is spherical and has a diameter of 396km. It’s currently the smallest object we know of that may meet the criterion.

Saturn's moon Mimas, seen from the Cassini spacecraft.
Saturn’s moon Mimas, as imaged by the Cassini spacecraft, is barely large enough for gravity to pull it into a spherical shape. The vast crater Herschel, which makes Mimas look like the Death Star, is the scar of an impact so large it almost destroyed Mimas! NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute

Constantly In Motion

But things get more complicated when you think about the fact that all objects tend to spin or tumble through space. If an object is spinning, locations at its equator (the point halfway between the two poles) effectively feel a slightly reduced gravitational pull compared to locations near the pole.

Read more: Even planets have their (size) limits

The result of this is the perfectly spherical shape you’d expect in hydrostatic equilibrium is shifted to what we call an “oblate spheroid” — where the object is wider at its equator than its poles. This is true for our spinning Earth, which has an equatorial diameter of 12,756km and a pole-to-pole diameter of 12,712km.

The faster an object in space spins, the more dramatic this effect is. Saturn, which is less dense than water, spins on its axis every ten and a half hours (compared with Earth’s slower 24-hour cycle). As a result, it is much less spherical than Earth.

Saturn’s equatorial diameter is just above 120,500km — while its polar diameter is just over 108,600km. That’s a difference of almost 12,000km!

Saturn and several of its moons, backlit, as seen from the Cassini spacecraft in September 2017.
The Cassini spacecraft’s final widefield mosaic of Saturn and its moons, taken in September 2017, really gives a feel for how oblate the giant planet is! NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Some stars are even more extreme. The bright star Altair, visible in the northern sky from Australia in winter months, is one such oddity. It spins once every nine hours or so. That’s so fast that its equatorial diameter is 25% larger than the distance between its poles!

The Short Answer

The closer you look into a question like this, the more you learn. But to answer it simply, the reason big astronomical objects are spherical (or nearly spherical) is because they’re massive enough that their gravitational pull can overcome the strength of the material they’re made from.

This is an article from I’ve Always Wondered, a series where readers send in questions they’d like an expert to answer. Send your question to Conversation

Jonti Horner, Professor (Astrophysics), University of Southern Queensland

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

Why we need engineers who study ethics as much as maths

S. Travis WallerUNSWKourosh KayvaniUNSWLucy MarshallUNSW, and Robert F. Care AMUNSW

The recent apartment building collapse in Miami, Florida, is a tragic reminder of the huge impacts engineering can have on our lives. Disasters such as this force engineers to reflect on their practice and perhaps fundamentally change their approach. Specifically, we should give much greater weight to ethics when training engineers.

Engineers work in a vast range of fields that pose ethical concerns. These include artificial intelligence, data privacy, building construction, public health, and activity on shared environments (including Indigenous communities). The decisions engineers make, if not fully thought through, can have unintended consequences – including building failures and climate change.

Read more: Why did the Miami apartment building collapse? And are others in danger?

Engineers have ethical obligations (such as Engineers Australia’s code of ethics) that they must follow. However, as identified at UNSW, the complexity of emerging social concerns creates a need for engineers’ education to equip them with much deeper ethical skill sets.

Engineering is seen as a trusted and ethical profession. In a 2019 Gallup poll, 66% rated the honesty and ethical standards of engineers as high/very high, on a par with medical doctors (65%).

However, ethics as a body of knowledge is massive. There are nearly as many academic papers on ethics as mathematics, and clearly more than on artificial intelligence.

Comparison of numbers of research papers by keyword (mathematics, ethics and AI).

With such a rich backdrop of knowledge, engineers must embrace ethics in a way that previous generations embraced mathematics. Complex societal problems make much greater demands on engineering thinking than in the past. We need to consider whole and complex systems, not just issues as individual challenges.

Read more: Most buildings were designed for an earlier climate – here's what will happen as global warming accelerates

Ethics And The Construction Industry

The construction industry provides a topical example of such complexity. Opal Tower in SydneyLacrosse building in MelbourneGrenfell Tower in London and Torch Tower in Dubai became household names for all the wrong reasons.

Importantly, these issues of poor quality and performance don’t arise from new technology or know-how. They involve well-established technical domains of engineering: combustible cladding, fire safety, structural adequacy and so on. A fragmented design and delivery process with unclear responsibility and/or accountability has led to poor outcomes.

These issues prompted the Australian Building Ministers’ Forum to commission the Shergold Weir Report, followed by a task force to implement its recommendations across Australia.

There are real shortcomings in the legal and contractual processes for allocating and “commoditising” risk in the industry. However, ethics should do the heavy lifting when legal frameworks are lacking. One key question is whether erosion of professional ethics has played a part in this state of affairs. The answer is a likely “yes”.

Engineers face ethical dilemmas such as:

  • “Should I accept a narrow or inadequately framed design commission within a design and build delivery model when there is no certainty my design will be appropriately integrated with other parts of the project?”

  • “How can I accept a commission when my client provides no budget for my oversight of the construction to ensure the technical integrity of my design is maintained when built?”

  • “How do I play in a commercially competitive landscape with pressures to produce "leaner” designs to save cost without compromising safety and long-term performance of my design?“

  • "Do I hide behind the contractual clauses (or minimum requirements of codes of practice) when I know the overall process is flawed and does not deliver quality and/or value for money for the end user?”

Or worse: “Do I resort to phoenixing to avoid any accountability?”

Read more: Lacrosse fire ruling sends shudders through building industry consultants and governments

Cranes over a city centre construction project
The ethics of engineering involve much more than ensuring buildings don’t collapse. Chad Davis/FlickrCC BY-SA

Engineering On Country

The enduring connection of Aboriginal Australians to Country requires engineers to navigate ethical considerations in Indigenous communities. Engineers must reconcile the legal, technical and regulatory requirements of their projects with Indigenous cultural values and needs. They might not be properly equipped to navigate ethical scenarios when they encounter unfamiliar cultural connections, or regulations are insufficient.

Consider, for example, the sacred sites of the McArthur River Mine. Traditional owners have raised concerns that current mining activities do not adequately protect sacred and cultural heritage sites. Evidence given by community leaders provides insight into the intimate and diverse relationship that traditional owners have with the land.

In considering such evidence, engineers must be able to evaluate both physical site risks (such as acidification of mine tailings and contamination of water bodies) and cultural risks (such as failing to identify all locations of cultural value).

How might we tackle such complicated projects? By properly engaging with traditional communities and by having diverse teams with multiple worldviews and experiences, along with strong technical skills. The broad field of ethical knowledge provides the skill sets to attempt to reconcile the diverse considerations.

Read more: Juukan Gorge inquiry puts Rio Tinto on notice, but without drastic reforms, it could happen again

Cornell Dam on the Croton River near Croton-on-Hudson, New York, was the tallest dam in the world when completed in 1906. The dam was built with beauty and the environment in mind, but protests and disputes still impacted its construction. Malinda Rathnayake/FlickrCC BY

What Should The Curriculum Look Like?

Engineering students’ ethical development requires a holistic approach. One assessment suggested:

“[…] that institutions integrate ethics instruction throughout the formal curriculum, support use of varied approaches that foster high‐quality experiences, and leverage both influences of co‐curricular experiences and students’ desires to engage in positive ethical behaviours.”

The curriculum should include:

  • skills/expertise – the underlying intellectual basis for discerning what is ethical and what is not, which is much more than codes of conduct or a prescriptive, formulaic approach

  • practice – practical know-how in terms of ethical solutions that engineers can apply

  • mindset – having an individual and group culture of acting ethically. The engineers’ problem-solving mindset must be supplemented by constant reflection on the decisions made and their ethical consequences.

Ethics is not an “add-on” subject. It must permeate all aspects of tertiary education – teaching, research and professional behaviour.

While the arguments for acting now are strong, market realities will also drive the process. The upcoming generation will likely displace those who are slow or reluctant to adapt.

For instance, engineering firms are under pressure from their own staff on the issue of climate change. More than 1,900 Australian engineers and nearly 180 engineering organisations have signed a declaration committing them to evaluate all new projects against the need to mitigate climate change.

Future engineers must transcend any remaining single-solution mindsets from the past. They’ll need to embrace a much more complex and socially minded ethics. And that begins with their university education.The Conversation

S. Travis Waller, Professor and Head of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UNSWKourosh Kayvani, Adjunct Professor of Engineering, UNSWLucy Marshall, Professor, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UNSW, and Robert F. Care AM, Professor of Practice, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UNSW

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

Tokyo Olympiad, Kon Ichikawa’s documentary of the 1964 Games, is still a masterpiece

Tokyo Olympiad/IMDB
Kenta McGrathCurtin University

Of the countless documentaries about the Olympic Games, two have long held their place on the podium.

The first is Olympia (1938), Leni Riefenstahl’s landmark two-part film about the controversial 1936 Berlin Games. Funded by the Nazi regime and made with the backing of the International Olympic Committee, it is both a monumental propaganda piece and a majestic celebration of athletic strength and beauty.

The second is Kon Ichikawa’s far lesser known, but no less audacious, Tokyo Olympiad (1965).

Ichikawa was a prolific and renown director, best known for The Burmese Harp (1956) and Fires on the Plain (1959) — a pair of bleak, but humanistic, anti-war films — and the stylistically daring An Actor’s Revenge (1963).

Tokyo Olympiad was his first documentary. He held little interest in sport, let alone the Olympics, when he scored the gig.

For his homework, he studied Riefenstahl’s film exhaustively.

Like Riefenstahl, Ichikawa employed a vast array of techniques to showcase athletic feats with an abstract grandeur. And, like his predecessor, he was granted a wealth of access and resources: he had at his disposal more than 100 cameras, cutting-edge equipment and a small army of technicians.

Besides the historical and political context, there remains a crucial difference between the two documentaries. Fascism infused the Berlin Games and Riefenstahl’s film elevated the Olympics to mythic proportions, portraying athletes as something bordering on supernatural.

In Tokyo Olympiad, the athletes — like the spectators and officials given almost equal attention — come across as human. No more, and no less.

Read more: Leni Riefenstahl: both feminist icon and fascist film-maker

Moments Big And Small

Other than an occasional caption or narration, there is minimal effort to inform the viewer who won what at the 1964 Tokyo Games. While some key events receive their due coverage — Ethiopian Abebe Bikila’s marathon victory is given an epic treatment — others don’t get so much as a mention.

Tokyo Olympiad isn’t a film of facts and statistics. Ichikawa depicted events not necessarily as they happened, but as he saw them to be.

The wrestling is a claustrophobic tangling of limbs. The walking race a comical dance of bobbing heads and swaying butts. The rifle competition is reduced to a series of Sergio Leone-esque close-ups of eyes deep in concentration.

‘The wrestling is a claustrophobic tangling of limbs.’ Tokyo Olympiad/IMDB

Despite the massive scope and scale of the production, Tokyo Olympiad is as committed to highlighting minutiae as to presenting spectacle.

There’s the fascinating, twitchy ritual of Soviet shot-putter Adolf Varanauskas before he makes the throw. The curious sight of Japanese hurdler Ikuko Yoda placing a lemon on the starting block. And the blistered and bleeding soles of marathon runners who collapse after they limp to the finish line.

When English runner Ann Packer wins the 800 metre final, Ichikawa replays the end of the race in slow motion with the soundtrack stripped almost bare, capturing the moment she smiles at her fiancé watching from the sidelines.

A young boy waves the Japanese flag
‘Ichikawa dedicates as many close-ups to spectators as he does to competitors.’ Tokyo Olympiad/IMDB

Ichikawa dedicates as many close-ups to spectators as he does to competitors. He delights in watching officials scrambling to ensure events run smoothly. He crafts impressionistic interludes: a frenzied montage of typewriters in the press room; a melancholic passage showing the rain beginning to fall.

Winners And Losers

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics embodied the optimism of Japan’s triumphant economic and social transformation in the two decades after the second world war. But there’s little flag-waving in Ichikawa’s film. The city is hardly shown. The Japanese team’s 16 gold medals (behind only the US and USSR) is underplayed.

The Japanese authorities who commissioned the film were expecting a straightforward documentary which faithfully recorded results and promoted the nation’s achievements. They were unimpressed by Ichikawa’s artistry.

Their disapproval did not affect audiences’ enthusiasm. Tokyo Olympiad was watched by 23 million people upon its release in Japan, holding the box-office attendance record until Hiyao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away in 2001.

Ichikawa’s refusal to bow to patriotic impulses wasn’t a simple act of defiance (ironically, Japanese leftists also criticised the film for being too nationalistic). His stance was consistent: he celebrated the underdogs and the losers as much as the winners; he privileged individuals over the nations they represented.

American Billy Mills won the 10,000 metre race, but in Tokyo Olympiad images of lesser athletes linger just as strongly. A runner’s surprise at getting lapped is captured in a freeze frame; a dejected participant is shown unable to finish. A competitor from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) comes dead last, but receives a rousing ovation as he runs the final lap alone.

A gymnast mid-flip.
‘Ichikawa privileged individuals over the nations they represented.’ Tokyo Olimpiad/IMDB

Elsewhere, Ichikawa devotes a lengthy section to the middle-distance runner Ahmed Issa, one of just two representatives from the newly independent Chad. Issa doesn’t qualify for the final, but Ichikawa is drawn to his quiet dignity and resilience. He follows the athlete as he arrives in Tokyo, wanders the streets, runs his race, and eats alone in the mess hall after bowing out of the competition.

This emphasis on an unknown athlete from a little-known nation, whom history likely would’ve forgotten otherwise, speaks volumes about Ichikawa’s priorities.

Tokyo Olympiad Mark II

The celebrated Japanese director Naomi Kawase has been commissioned to make the official 2021 documentary. Her assignment may be the toughest yet.

The optimism that surrounded the 1964 Games is in short supply. Most in Japan oppose the Olympics going ahead. Medical experts continue to warn of the dangers of pressing on. If Kawase points her cameras at the stands, they will be empty.

Read more: Anger in Tokyo over the Summer Olympics is just the latest example of how unpopular hosting the games has become

Kawase has huge shoes to fill. She’ll be following in the footsteps of a fellow Japanese director who made one of the great sporting documentaries — if not simply one of the great documentaries.

But she will, no doubt, make the 2021 Games her own.

The restored Tokyo Olympiad can be streamed on the International Olympic Committee website.The Conversation

Kenta McGrath, Sessional Academic in Screen Arts, Curtin University

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

Tasmanian author Amanda Lohrey wins prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award for The Labyrinth

Detail from The Labyrinth book cover. Text Publishing
Jen WebbUniversity of Canberra

And the winner of 2021’s Miles Franklin Literary Award is The Labyrinth, by Amanda Lohrey!

Two of Lohrey’s previous novels (Camille’s Bread in 1996 and The Philosopher’s Doll in 2005) have been shortlisted for the prestigious $60,000 prize. Her latest has been recognised as the literary volume that best presents Australian life now. She is the second Tasmanian author to ever win the prize.

As a long-time fan of Lohrey’s voice and eye, and someone with a lifetime of longing for more recognition of women’s achievements, I am thrilled to see her novel and her protagonist Erica achieve this standing.

Read more: The saddest of stories, beautifully told: your guide to the Miles Franklin 2021 shortlist

Prickly But Appealing

Erica is an often prickly but generous and appealing character. Though she grows up “in an asylum, a manicured madhouse”, her childhood is much happier than is the norm for characters in literary fiction. Her father, the chief medical officer of the hospital, trains his children in diversity. All of us are “lunatics”, he teaches them, in that “we are all affected by the moon”. “Evil,” he tells them, is no more than “a chemical malfunction in the brain”.

book cover
Text Publishing

This is an excellent foundation for someone who, in later life, finds herself with a son whose “chemical malfunction” leads him to commit an inadvertent but terrible crime. The beach shack she purchases to be near him, and far from everyone else she knows, is as disorganised and disreputable as her child. But it gives her somewhere to review her life and re-imagine a future.

That future circles around the concept of the labyrinth. Much of the novel is a masterclass in types of these mazes and the meanings and feelings the various designs afford.

A Way Through

All this operates as a healing process following the agony of her son’s act, trial and imprisonment. She — or rather, her planned labyrinth — gradually draws the attention of other isolates who live in the same coastal community. Various people become closely connected to her and one, Jurko, happens to know about labyrinths and their construction.

The young man, “an illegal immigrant who has overstayed his visa”, is a stonemason (a master of that ancient art) and he gradually inserts himself into her home and her life to become her “surrogate son”.

Sand, he explains, is the best foundation for a labyrinth, and this captures Erica’s attention:

I am struck by the paradox here: sand so volatile in its essence and yet so firm a basis for the rigidity of concrete.

For the reader, this becomes the novel’s coda: though everything seems so unstable, it still affords a firm foundation for our difficult, drifting lives.

As the novel unfolds, Erica’s deepening relationships with her new neighbours, and shared responsibilities and understandings, form a sort of labyrinth that leads her to the point where she can declare: “The fugue is over.”

woman sitting outside
‘It’s a tremendous honour to be associated with the remarkable Stella Miles Franklin, one of the great Australian mavericks,’ said winning author Amanda Lohrey. Miles Franklin Award

Read more: The Flanagan effect: Tasmanian literature in the limelight The Conversation

Jen Webb, Dean, Graduate Research, University of Canberra

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

Right-wing shock jock stoush reveals the awful truth about COVID, politics and media ratings

Denis MullerThe University of Melbourne

A COVID-induced rancour that has broken out between Sydney’s commercial radio shock jocks and the Sky News night-time ravers over Sydney’s lockdown would be funny if it were not so serious.

It is mildly entertaining to see 2GB’s Ray Hadley excoriating his former colleague Alan Jones, now at Sky, for his “ridiculous stance” against the lockdown, with Jones calling New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian “gutless” for extending it.

Hadley went on to brand Sky’s Andrew Bolt a “lapdog” for agreeing with Jones, and Bolt retaliated by calling Hadley a “weak and ignorant man who panders to an ugly pack”.

It takes one to know one, of course, but behind all this spittle-flecked slanging there is a serious issue: the disproportionate political power of a small group of radio and television broadcasters in Sydney.

It is one factor that helps explain the procrastination and prevarication that have marked the premier’s response.

Long before COVID-19 afflicted the world, the shock jocks of Sydney commercial radio stations, particularly 2GB and 2UE, had created a successful business model built on outrage.

It is based on a political ideology that appeals to an older audience living in what Jones is pleased to call “Struggle Street”. It is not conservatism, as they like to claim, but rank reactionaryism.

In marginal electorates, largely in western Sydney, there are enough people who find this ideology attractive to make politicians nervous.

That is what has given these jocks political power incommensurate with their position in Australia’s democratic institutional arrangements.

They have become a kind of shadow government in New South Wales.

For example, in 2001, when Bob Carr, a Labor Premier, was about to appoint Michael Costa police minister, he sent Costa to Jones’s home to discuss law-and-order policy.

Read more: The times suited him, then passed him by: the Alan Jones radio era comes to an end

In 2017, a former Director of Public Prosecutions in New South Wales, Nicholas Cowdery, QC, singled out Jones and Hadley, as well as the recently resurrected John Laws, as wielding disproportionate power over politicians and other policy-makers.

They hate, to differing degrees, independent statutory officers such as Directors of Public Prosecutions who speak out objectively on issues in criminal justice.

In more recent times, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has relied on Hadley to provide him with a friendly platform on which to propagandise.

The relationship between the two has been described as a “bromance”, although it had a temporary rupture in 2015 when Hadley tried to have Morrison swear on the Bible concerning any role he might have had in the demise of Tony Abbott as prime minister.

Scott Morrison often relies on sympathetic interviews on Hadley’s show to get his message across. AAP/Mick Tsikas

Berejiklian, as a Liberal premier, has also prospered in her commercial radio relationships, most notably from the benignity of Jones’s successor in the 2GB breakfast slot, Ben Fordham.

He was supportive of her even during the embarrassing disclosures about her relationship with the Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire, who is the subject of an ICAC investigation.

So she had a stake in not rattling the shock jocks’ cages. That meant trying to hold the line against lockdowns.

However, that calculation changed abruptly last week after the latest Sydney radio ratings showed that for the first time in 18 years, 2GB lost the breakfast time-slot.

Read more: Contrasting NSW and Victoria lockdown coverage reveals much about the politics of COVID – and the media

The winners were the KIIS FM pair of Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O, whose shtick involves penis pageants and a determination not to be “woke”.

Horrified fellow-travellers in the right-wing commentariat pounced on Fordham. Jones was especially vitriolic. His successors, he said, didn’t have the “balls” to stand up to “cancel culture warriors”. Government, media and big pharma seemed to be all in bed together, and the media were too ready to accommodate the left.

Management at 2GB were also aghast. The Australian reported they told Fordham to take a harder line with Berejiklian, and Fordham duly delivered. Three days after the ratings results had come out, he unleashed this on-air tirade against the Premier’s lockdown decision:

The virus hasn’t killed anyone this year, but the lockdowns, the extensions, the excuses, the mistakes, the missed opportunities, they are killing this city fast. And stop telling us it’s about the health advice!

By now Berejikilian was in a bind.

There was her own hubris, proclaiming her state doesn’t do lockdowns.

There was Scott Morrison’s hostility to lockdowns, exemplified by his repeated attacks on the Victorian Labor Government. Was she to be a source of further embarrassment to him over how the pandemic is playing out?

There was Morrison’s cosy relationship with the likes of Hadley, in which their reciprocal position on lockdowns was self-reinforcing.

And there was the demonstrated willingness by 2GB station management to go after Berejiklian in pursuit of better ratings for Fordham’s breakfast show.

In the circumstances, it is hardly a surprise that she has procrastinated and prevaricated.

If, as many epidemiologists are saying, the so-called “light” approach is condemning Sydney to a long lockdown and exposing the rest of the country to avoidable risk, the role of the jocks in creating the political climate in which Berejiklian is operating since the Delta strain took hold should not be underestimated.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, The University of Melbourne

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

What is Bastille Day and why is it celebrated?

The Fête de la Fédération at Champ de Mars on July 14, 1790. Woodcut by Helman, from a picture by C. Monet, Painter of the King. Bibliothèque nationale de France
Romain FathiFlinders University and Claire RioultMonash University

French people travelling to or living in English-speaking countries are sometimes surprised when asked about their plans for “Bastille Day”: they refer to the day as Quatorze Juillet (14 July).

France’s National Day is not really about the storming of the Bastille, and the day’s English language name conveys a misleading image. But it gives us an interesting glimpse into how the English-speaking world imagines France’s revolutionary past.

The most common misconceptions about the French National Day are that it is a celebration of the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on July 14 1789, and commemorates the official beginning of the French Revolution.

It is, in fact, a far more complex story.

Jean-Pierre Houël (1735–1813), The Storming of the Bastille, 1789. Bibliothèque nationale de France

While English speakers refer to Bastille Day, in France the day is intimately related to a different historical event: the Fête de la Fédération (Festival of the Federation), a mass gathering held on July 14 1790.

In 1789, the people of Paris attacked the Bastille: a political prison, a symbol of the monarchy and an armoury. The citizens aimed to seize weapons, ammunition and powder to fight the royal troops stationed in the vicinity of Paris.

1790’s Fête de la Fédération was designed to inaugurate a new era which abolished absolutism and gave birth to a French constitutional monarchy.

Tens of thousands of people from all provinces converged on the Champ-de-Mars in Paris to attend a military parade led by Lafayette, a mass celebrated by Talleyrand, and a collective oath-taking culminating in short but rousing speeches from King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.

Oath of La Fayaette at the Fête de la Fédération, 14 July 1790, painter unknown, c1790-1791. musée de la Révolution française

It was not an annual event: simply a day to herald in a period of national unity.

Less than three years later, the king and queen’s heads would meet the guillotine’s blade and the constitutional monarchy was replaced with the French First Republic.

An Ever-Moving Date

France has had many days of national celebration, each reflecting the politics of its time.

Napoleon I (Emperor from 1804 to 1814) declared citizens should celebrate August 15: the date of his name day and of the Assumption of Mary.

The imperial decree that proclaimed August 15 (Napoleon’s name day) as National Day. Bibliothèque nationale de France

Under the Restoration (1814-1830), the regime celebrated its kings on their name days: Louis XVIII (1814-1824) on August 25 and Charles X (1824-1830) on May 24.

The July Monarchy (1830-1848) under Louis-Philippe I celebrated its birth in the heat of the “Three Glorious Days” of July 27 to 29 1830.

The Second Republic (1848-1852) adopted May 4, the first meeting of the National Constituent Assembly in 1848. Another new political regime celebrated itself once again.

Under the Second Empire (1852-1870), Napoleon III returned France’s national day to August 15: his name day.

In a little less than a century, France changed its national day half a dozen times.

New Symbols For A New Era

The disastrous and humiliating defeat France suffered against Prussia in 1871 led to the fall of Napoleon III and the advent of the French Third Republic, which needed its own new symbols.

For almost 15 years, there was fierce conflict between partisans of a monarchy and those in favour of a republican regime. The memory of the French Revolution became one of their main battlegrounds, and the choice of a national day an object of dispute.

Read more: Friday essay: what is it about Versailles?

Some advocated for July 15, the name day of the last Bourbon pretender, Henri, Count of Chambord, in the hopes of an imminent restoration.

Left-wing radicals pushed for January 21, the anniversary of Louis XVI’s beheading in 1793.

Others wanted to celebrate the Tennis Court Oath, which signalled France’s rupture with feudalism on June 20 1789.

In the spring of 1880, politician Benjamin Raspail submitted a motion to declare July 14 the national day: a date shared between the Fête de la Fédération — a symbol of unity for the right — and the left-oriented image of the storming of the Bastille.

Bastille Day military parade photographed at Longchamp in 1880. Collection of Jean Davray

Thanks to the ambiguity of the date, the motion was passed into law — without specifying which Quatorze Juillet was to be commemorated. Raspail’s motion received the parliament’s approval based on the connection to the Fête, but the question of meaning was left open.

Bastille Day Today

Quatorze Juillet inextricably embodies the curious and divisive legacy the French Revolution carries for the French. Beneath the veneer of celebrations, the question of the intrinsic nature of the Revolution and whether its goals — Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité — have been achieved is often relegated to the background.

It isn’t a day for reflection or politics. It is a day of leisurely family activities and celebrations, adorned with a lavish military parade displaying French power on the Champs-Elysées. In the evening, fireworks and popular dances known as Bal des pompiers (the Firemen’s Ball) take place throughout the country.

It is a time for fraternal celebrations, very much the ambition of the original Fête de la Fédération. References to the storming of the Bastille are invisible or near-invisible. The Revolution is seldom mentioned in the presidential interview.

Symbols of the 1789 Revolution are still the subject of contradictory interpretations and public controversy, as the recent Yellow Vests movement has shown. It is precisely this carefully maintained ambiguity in Quatorze Juillet which has enabled its endurance as France’s National Day: it can mean many things to many people.

The French can project their own understanding of what is being celebrated. They can choose between the storming of the Bastille and the people; the Fête de la Fédération and national unity; and everything in between.

Or they can simply enjoy a day off and admire the fireworks with their friends and family, oblivious to the complex story behind July 14.The Conversation

Romain Fathi, Senior Lecturer, History, Flinders University and Claire Rioult, PhD candidate in Early Modern History, Monash University

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

Studying social media can give us insight into human behaviour. It can also give us nonsense

Jason BurtonBirkbeck, University of LondonNicole CruzUNSW, and Ulrike HahnBirkbeck, University of London

Since the early days of social media, there has been excitement about how data traces left behind by users can be exploited for the study of human behaviour. Nowadays, reseachers who were once restricted to surveys or experiments in laboratory settings have access to huge amounts of “real-world” data from social media.

The research opportunities enabled by social media data are undeniable. However, researchers often analyse this data with tools that were not designed to manage the kind of large, noisy observational sets of data you find on social media.

We explored problems that researchers might encounter due to this mismatch between data and methods.

What we found is that the methods and statistics commonly used to provide evidence for seemingly significant scientific findings can also seem to support nonsensical claims.

Absurd Science

The motivation for our paper comes from a series of research studies that deliberately present absurd scientific results.

One brain imaging study appeared to show the neural activity of a dead salmon tasked with identifying emotions in photos. An analysis of longitudinal statistics from public health records suggested that acne, height, and headaches are contagious. And an analysis of human decision-making seemingly indicated people can accurately judge the population size of different cities by ranking them in alphabetical order.

Read more: One reason so many scientific studies may be wrong

Why would a researcher go out of their way to explore such ridiculous ideas? The value of these studies is not in presenting a new substantive finding. No serious researcher would argue, for example, that a dead salmon has a perspective on emotions in photos.

Rather, the nonsensical results highlight problems with the methods used to achieve them. Our research explores whether the same problems can afflict studies that use data from social media. And we discovered that indeed they do.

Positive And Negative Results

When a researcher seeks to address a research question, the method they use should be able to do two things:

  • reveal an effect, when there is indeed a meaningful effect

  • show no effect, when there is no meaningful effect.

For example, imagine you have chronic back pain and you take a medical test to find its cause. The test identifies a misaligned disc in your spine. This finding might be important and inform a treatment plan.

However, if you then discover the same test identifies this misaligned disc in a large proportion of the population who do not have chronic back pain, the finding becomes far less informative for you.

Like a spinal test that can’t tell the difference between people with back pain and people without, much social media research isn’t using the right tools for the job. Shutterstock

The fact the test fails to identify a relevant, distinguishing feature of negative cases (no back pain) from positive cases (back pain) does not mean the misaligned disc in your spine is non-existent. This part of the finding is as “real” as any finding. Yet the failure means the result is not useful: “evidence” that is as likely to be found when there is a meaningful effect (in this case, back pain) as when there is none is simply not diagnostic, and, as result, such evidence is uninformative.

XYZ Contagion

Using the same rationale, we evaluated commonly used methods for analysing social media data — called “null hypothesis significance testing” and “correlational statistics” — by asking an absurd research question.

Past and current studies have tried to identify what factors influence Twitter users’ decisions to retweet other tweets. This is interesting both as a window into human thought and because resharing posts is a key mechanism by which messages are amplified or spread on social media.

So we decided to analyse Twitter data using the above standard methods to see whether a nonsensical effect we call “XYZ contagion” influences retweets. Specifically, we asked

Does the number of Xs, Ys, and Zs in a tweet increase the probability of it being spread?

Upon analysing six datasets containing hundreds of thousands of tweets, the “answer” we found was yes. For example, in a dataset of 172,697 tweets about COVID-19, the presence of an X, Y, or Z in a tweet appeared to increase the message’s reach by a factor of 8%.

Needless to say, we do not believe the presence of Xs, Ys, and Zs is a central factor in whether people choose to retweet a message on Twitter.

However, like the medical test for diagnosing back pain, our finding shows that sometimes, methods for social media data analysis can “reveal” effects where there should be none. This raises questions about how meaningful and informative results obtained by applying current social science methods to social media data really are.

As researchers continue to analyse social media data and identify factors that shape the evolution of public opinion, hijack our attention, or otherwise explain our behaviour, we should think critically about the methods underlying such findings and reconsider what we can learn from them.

What Is A ‘Meaningful’ Finding?

The issues raised in our paper are not new, and there are indeed many research practices that have been developed to ensure results are meaningful and robust.

For example, researchers are encouraged to pre-register their hypotheses and analysis plans before starting a study to prevent a kind of data cherry-picking called “p-hacking”. Another helpful practice is to check whether results are stable after removing outliers and controlling for covariates. Also important are replication studies, which assess whether the results obtained in an experiment can be found again when the experiment is repeated under similar conditions.

These practices are important, but they alone are not sufficient to deal with the problem we identify. While developing standardised research practices is needed, the research community must first think critically about what makes a finding in social media data meaningful.

Read more: Predicting research results can mean better science and better advice The Conversation

Jason Burton, PhD researcher, Birkbeck, University of LondonNicole Cruz, Postdoctoral Research Associate, UNSW, and Ulrike Hahn, Professor of Psychology, Birkbeck, University of London

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

New UK Study Reveals Extent Of Brain Complications In Children Hospitalised With COVID-19

photo by V Peremen
July 17, 2021

Although the risk of a child being admitted to hospital due to COVID-19 is small, a new UK study has found that around 1 in 20 of children hospitalised with COVID-19 develop brain or nerve complications linked to the viral infection.

The research, published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health and led by the University of Liverpool, identifies a wide spectrum of neurological complications in children and suggests they may be more common than in adults admitted with COVID-19.

While neurological problems have been reported in children with the newly described post-COVID condition paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome temporally associated with SARS-CoV-2 (PIMS-TS), the capacity of COVID-19 to cause a broad range of nervous system complications in children has been under-recognised.

To address this, the CoroNerve Studies Group, a collaboration between the universities of Liverpool, Newcastle, Southampton and UCL, developed a real-time UK-wide notification system in partnership with the British Paediatric Neurology Association.

Between April 2020 and January 2021, they identified 52 cases of children less than 18 years old with neurological complications among 1,334 children hospitalised with COVID-19, giving an estimated prevalence of 3.8%. This compares to an estimated prevalence of 0.9% in adults admitted with COVID-19.

Eight (15%) children presenting with neurological features did not have COVID-19 symptoms although the virus was detected by PCR, underscoring the importance of screening children with acute neurological disorders for the virus.

Ethnicity was found to be a risk factor, over two thirds of children being of Black or Asian background.

For the first time, the study identified key differences between those with PIMS-TS versus those with non-PIMS-TS neurological complications. The 25 children (48%) diagnosed with PIMS-TS displayed multiple neurological features including encephalopathy, stroke, behavioural change, and hallucinations; they were more likely to require intensive care. 

Conversely, the non-PIMS-TS 27 (52%) children had a primary neurological disorder such as prolonged seizures, encephalitis (brain inflammation), Guillain-Barré syndrome and psychosis. In almost half of these cases, this was a recognised post-infectious neuro-immune disorder, compared to just one child in the PIMS-TS group, suggesting that different immune mechanisms are at work.

Short-term outcomes were apparently good in two thirds (65%) although a third (33%) had some degree of disability and one child died at the time of follow-up. However, the impacts on the developing brain and longer-term consequences are not yet known.

First author Dr Stephen Ray, a Wellcome Trust clinical fellow and paediatrician at the University of Liverpool said:

"The risk of a child being admitted to hospital due to COVID-19 is small, but among those hospitalised, brain and nerve complications occur in almost 4%. Our nationwide study confirms that children with the novel post-infection hyper-inflammatory syndrome PIMS-TS can have brain and nerve problems; but we have also identified a wide spectrum of neurological disorders in children due to COVID-19 who didn't have PIMS-TS. These were often due to the child's immune response after COVID-19 infection."

Joint senior-author Dr Rachel Kneen, a Consultant Paediatric Neurologist at Alder Hey Children's NHS Foundation Trust and honorary clinical Senior Lecturer at the University of Liverpool said: 

"Many of the children identified were very unwell. Whilst they had a low risk of death, half needed intensive care support and a third had neurological disability identified. Many were given complex medication and treatments, often aimed at controlling their own immune system. We need to follow these children up to understand the impact in the long term."

Joint senior-author Dr Benedict Michael, a senior clinician scientist and MRC Fellow at the University of Liverpool said: 

"Now we appreciate the capacity for COVID-19 to cause a wide range of brain complications in those children who are hospitalised with this disease, with the potential to cause life-long disability, we desperately need research to understand the immune mechanisms which drive this. Most importantly - how do we identify those children at risk and how should we treat them to prevent lasting brain injury? We are so pleased that the UK government has funded our COVID-CNS study to understand exactly these questions so that we can help inform doctors to better recognise and treat these children."

Stephen T J Ray, Omar Abdel-Mannan, Mario Sa, Charlotte Fuller, Greta K Wood, Karen Pysden, Michael Yoong, Helen McCullagh, David Scott, Martin McMahon, Naomi Thomas, Micheal Taylor, Marjorie Illingworth, Nadine McCrea, Victoria Davies, William Whitehouse, Sameer Zuberi, Keira Guthrie, Evangeline Wassmer, Nikit Shah, Mark R Baker, Sangeeta Tiwary, Hui Jeen Tan, Uma Varma, Dipak Ram, Shivaram Avula, Noelle Enright, Jane Hassell, Amy L Ross Russell, Ram Kumar, Rachel E Mulholland, Sarah Pett, Ian Galea, Rhys H Thomas, Ming Lim, Yael Hacohen, Tom Solomon, Michael J Griffiths, Benedict D Michael, Rachel Kneen, Gerome Breen, Hannah Castell, Ceryce Collie, Lilly George, Monika Hartmann, Marc Henrion, Maria Kinali, Christina Petropoulos, Sithara Ramdas, Victoria Vlachou, Brigitte Vollmer, Bethany Facer, Cordelia Dunai. Neurological manifestations of SARS-CoV-2 infection in hospitalised children and adolescents in the UK: a prospective national cohort study. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/S2352-4642(21)00193-0

Safe at home? We need a new strategy to protect older adults from violent crime

Briohny KennedyMonash University and Joseph IbrahimMonash University

Compared to younger homicide victims, older homicide victims are more likely to be women who die in their own home at the hands of a stranger.

These are among the findings of our review study, published this week, examining the prevalence and nature of homicide of older people (aged 65 and over) in the community.

What We Did And What We Found

We pooled results from 17 studies on homicide in older people to gather information on the profile of the victim, perpetrator, motive, means and location.

Across the research we looked at, the homicide rate for adults 65 and older was 2.02 per 100,000 people. This was half the rate for younger adults (3.98 per 100,000).

Compared with younger adult homicide victims, we found older homicide victims were significantly more likely to be female. Some 46% of victims over 65 were women, compared with 26% of victims under 65.

The perpetrator was a stranger in almost one-quarter (24%) of older adult homicides, which is 1.8 times the rate seen for younger adult victims.

In another quarter (25%) of older adult homicides the perpetrator was a member of the victim’s family, which is similar to what we see in younger adult homicides. But in older adult homicides, intra-familial victim-offender relationships (for example, a child killing a parent) are more common, and the perpetrator is less likely to be an intimate partner.

The majority of the other relationship types were either acquaintances, or unknown.

Read more: Violent crime against older people is at record levels — here's why

The motives most frequently reported for older adult homicides were related to an argument between the perpetrator and the victim, and/or crime-related, for example during a robbery.

Compared with younger adult homicide, older adults were almost three times more likely to have died during a crime against them, while an argument was 67% less likely.

In terms of the means, the odds of firearms being used was 62% lower for older victims. Firearms were involved in less than one-quarter of older adult homicides, compared to almost half of younger adult homicides.

While we didn’t analyse other means used, we know physical assault without a weapon is common in this context. Older people may be more susceptible to assault than younger people because of physical fragility and poorer biological capacity to recover.

As for the location, older adults were most often killed in their home (71%). This is almost a four-fold greater level than for younger adults. This disparity could potentially be explained by the fact older adults likely spend more time at home compared with younger victims.

An elderly woman at home.
Almost half of older homicide victims are women, compared to only one-quarter of younger homicide victims. Shutterstock

COVID Could Make Things Worse

While global homicide rates are declining, the rates for older adults either remain stable or have slightly increased, depending on the data you look at.

An ageing population could lead to an increase in the homicide rate because of factors like caregiver stress, increasing prevalence of mental illness in the community, and inter-generational familial stressors, such as financial issues.

Contemporary pressures on older adults that may increase vulnerability to violent incidents include lack of appropriate housing, and inadequate mental health, disability and aged-care support.

Our study didn’t address whether the victims lived alone and/or were isolated from others, which would increase their vulnerability at home.

Read more: Homicide is declining around the world – but why?

Importantly, COVID lockdowns have compounded these issues, and reduced service availability — especially for already marginalised groups including older adults and women.

Indeed, the pandemic has seen an increase in elder abuse and other forms of domestic violence.

All of this adds to the complexity of keeping our most vulnerable safe. We need a different and targeted response to prevent homicides in older people.

Older Adult Homicide Is Different From Elder Abuse

Elder abuse can incorporate a range of physical, psychological, sexual and financial abuse and neglect of older people.

Some people may assume older adult homicide is simply an extension of physical or other types of elder abuse. But this is not the case; the characteristics we see in homicide cases in older people differ from elder abuse.

For example, an opportunistic robbery that becomes a fatal assault is very different to a familial caregiver restricting an older adult’s access to their finances.

Elder abuse as defined by the World Health Organization rarely leads to homicide, and homicides are not necessarily the result of ongoing or recent elder abuse.

Yellow police tape in the forefront of a crime scene.
We need evidence-based strategies to protect older people against violent crime. Shutterstock

Promising elder abuse interventions include caregiver programs, coordinated responses from multidisciplinary teams, emergency shelters and screening tools.

But the existing strategies we use to reduce elder abuse may not be adequate to prevent older adult homicides.

To ascertain what sort of interventions would be most suitable, and to inform changes in policy and practice, we need better research describing victims, offenders, incident characteristics and risk factors of older adult homicides.

Read more: Explainer: what is elder abuse and why do we need a national inquiry into it?

Health-care professionals should be aware of the contexts in which an older adult may be more vulnerable to assault or violent death.

Older adults, their friends and family could look to ensure the safety of the home, reach out to improve social networks and ask for help when needed.

Our research shows older and younger adult homicides are not identical phenomena. As such, we need a different and tailored approach to preventing these violent deaths in older people, who are among the most vulnerable in our society.The Conversation

Briohny Kennedy, PhD Candidate, Monash University and Joseph Ibrahim, Professor, Health Law and Ageing Research Unit, Department of Forensic Medicine, Monash University

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

Reviewing Pressure Effects On Iron-Based High-Temperature Superconductors

July 12, 2021
The discovery of iron-based superconductors with a relatively high transition temperature Tc in 2008 opened a new chapter in the development of high-temperature superconductivity.

The following decade saw a 'research boom' in superconductivity, with remarkable achievements in the theory, experiments and applications of iron-based superconductors, and in our understanding of the fundamental mechanism of superconductivity.

A UOW paper published last month reviews progress on high-pressure studies on properties of iron-based superconductor (ISBC) families.

FLEET PhD student Lina Sang (University of Wollongong) was first author on the Materials Today Physics review paper, investigating effects on the superconductivity, flux pinning, and vortex dynamics of ISBC materials, including:
  • pressure-induced superconductivity
  • raising transition temperature Tc
  • pressure-induced elimination/re-emergence of superconductivity
  • effects of phase separation on superconductivity
  • increasing critical current density
  • significantly suppressing vortex creep
reducing flux bundle size.
The review spotlights use of pressure as a versatile method for exploring new materials and gaining insight into the physical mechanisms of high-temperature superconductors.

Superconductors: A Background
In a superconductor, an electrical current can flow without any energy loss to resistance.

Iron-based superconductors are a type of 'high temperature' (Type II or unconventional) superconductor in that they have a transition temperature (Tc) much higher than a few degrees Kelvin above absolute zero.

The driving force behind such Type II superconductors has remained elusive since their discovery in the 1980s. Unlike 'conventional' superconductors, it is clear they cannot be directly understood from the BCS (Bardeen, Cooper, and Schrieffer) electron-phonon coupling theory.

In successive discoveries, the transition temperature Tc has been driven steadily higher.

"The ultimate goal of the research of superconductivity is finding superconductors with a superconducting transition temperature (Tc) at room temperature," says Prof Xiaolin Wang, the node leader and theme leader of FLEET (also at the University of Wollongong) and Dr Sang's PhD supervisor.

"Pressure can significantly enhance the Tc for the Fe-based superconductors. And recently, superconductivity was observed near room temperature in hydrogen alloyed compounds," explains Prof Wang, who is Director of the Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials at the University of Wollongong.

The Study
Experimental equipment: The diamond anvil cell (left) and hydrostatic pressure cell (right) can be used to establish the effect of pressure on superconducting material.

"Pressure effects on iron-based superconductor families: Superconductivity, flux pinning and vortex dynamics" was published in Materials Today Physics in May 2021.

This work was support from the Australian Research Council through ARC Centre of Excellence in FLEET.

L.N. Sang, Z. Li, G.S. Yang, Z.J. Yue, J.X. Liu, C.B. Cai, T. Wu, S.X. Dou, Y.W. Ma, X.L. Wang. Pressure effects on iron-based superconductor families: Superconductivity, flux pinning and vortex dynamics. Materials Today Physics, 2021; 19: 100414 DOI: 10.1016/j.mtphys.2021.100414

ANU Archaeologist Prof. Peter Bellwood Awarded Top Honour For Life's Work

July 15, 2021
An Emeritus Professor at The Australian National University (ANU) whose work has changed the way we think about early human life has been honoured with a prestigious science prize.

Archaeologist Peter Bellwood's research explored how farming spread around the globe, the formation of Polynesian culture and human adaptation to island environments.

In winning the 2021 International Cosmos Prize he joins an illustrious group of recipients which includes Sir David Attenborough and Dr Jane Goodall.

Emeritus Professor Bellwood is also the first Australian to be awarded the prize in its 28 year history. 

He says he's humbled by the honour.

"My goal has always been to expose others to the remarkable achievements of our ancestors, so that those achievements can still inspire us today," he said.

"As a multidisciplinary historian of the pre-modern human population, I have come to realise that any true understanding of the human past and its global impact must draw on research that is undertaken by many different scientific disciplines."

Emeritus Professor Bellwood held various roles at ANU from 1973 until his retirement in 2013.

Notably, he proposed the "early farming dispersal hypothesis", which brought together archaeology and linguistics to study the migration of early farmers.

The International Cosmos Prize is an annual award presented by the Expo'90 Foundation.

It aims to celebrate work that demonstrates "the harmonious coexistence of nature and mankind".

Emeritus Professor Bellwood

Study Puts Charge Into Drive For Sustainable Lithium Production

July 15, 2021
An important new study by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory has yielded critical fresh insights into the lithium production process and how it relates to long-term environmental sustainability, particularly in the area of transportation with batteries and electric vehicles.

The paper, "Energy, Greenhouse Gas, and Water Life Cycle Analysis of Lithium Carbonate and Lithium Hydroxide Monohydrate from Brine and Ore Resources and Their Use in Lithium Ion Battery Cathodes and Lithium Ion Batteries," in the journal Resources, Conservation & Recycling, was the result of a unique collaboration with SQM, a Chilean company that is one of the world's biggest producers of lithium.

According to Argonne lifecycle analyst and lead author Jarod Kelly, the researchers -- using operational data supplied by SQM -- found that the sourcing of lithium, from both a process and location perspective, can strongly affect its associated environmental impacts.

"The results show that concentrated lithium brine and its related end products can vary significantly in energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, sulfur dioxide emissions and water consumption depending upon the resource allocation method used," Kelly explained.

The researchers modelled brine-based lithium extracted from the Salar de Atacama, a large salt flat in northern Chile near the Andes Mountains. The lithium is naturally dried in large ponds to evaporate the water, concentrate the lithium, and remove impurities. Materials and energy are later added to produce lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide. These two end products are shipped worldwide to battery cathode producers that process them into a variety of battery materials.

The study findings could have major implications for how to optimize lithium production at each stage of the process, which would result in more environmentally-friendly products, particularly battery electric vehicles. The International Energy Agency predicts that demand for lithium may grow by as much as 40 times between 2020 and 2040, mainly due to global deployment of electric vehicles.

"Examination of current lithium production and the pursuit of future production, including from within the U.S., are critical to sustaining electric vehicle deployment," said Michael Wang, director of the Systems Assessment Centre at Argonne and a study co-author.

"This study establishes a baseline for current practices and shows us potential areas for improvement," added Kelly. "With further research, it will be possible to use this information to help develop best practices for producing lithium in the most sustainable way."

SQM initially approached Argonne last year about a collaboration in support of ambitious sustainability targets the company recently unveiled.

"According to our sustainability plan, we want to look more closely at carbon emissions, water consumption and energy consumption in our lithium products, and see how it affects the rest of the value chain," said Veronica Gautier, SQM's head of innovation. "This information will help us achieve our goal of being carbon neutral by 2030."

The analysis will also help address an overarching question in the global trend toward the electrification of transportation with battery electric vehicles, Wang said.

"Often electrification is for the purpose of pursuing environmental sustainability. But we need to know more about lithium battery production before we can say we are truly on a sustainable path," he said. "This study provides crucial insights into the electric mobility value chain."

The formal analysis used Argonne's open-source modeling tool, GREET (Greenhouse gases Regulated Emissions and Energy in Technologies), with detailed data and technical insight coming from SQM. In addition to the brine-based lithium extracted in Chile, the researchers augmented their data by modeling ore-based lithium extracted from spodumene ore in Western Australia.

Kelly said it was the first analysis of its kind to be based on such comprehensive data from an industrial partner. Gautier added that SQM was pleased that the study results were now publicly available and would help further global efforts toward ensuring responsible and sustainable lithium production.

"It is important for us to have full and complete transparency about how our process works, and we're excited to leverage Argonne's experience and expertise," she said. "Sharing this information will have great educational value."
Jarod C. Kelly, Michael Wang, Qiang Dai, Olumide Winjobi. Energy, greenhouse gas, and water life cycle analysis of lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide monohydrate from brine and ore resources and their use in lithium ion battery cathodes and lithium ion batteries. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 2021; 174: 105762 DOI: 10.1016/j.resconrec.2021.105762

Ecological Society Of Australia Honours UNSW Academic Professor Richard Kingsford

Professor Richard Kingsford has worked extensively across the wetlands and rivers of the Murray-Darling and Lake Eyre Basins. Photo: UNSW Sydney.

July 15, 2021

The Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) has awarded a 2021 ESA Gold Medal to Prof. Richard Kingsford, Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW Sydney. Each year, the ESA recognises the impact of the work of leading Australian ecologists by awarding Gold Medals.

Prof. Kingsford has made a significant contribution to understanding the impact of water resource developments on rivers and wetlands. He has worked extensively across the wetlands and rivers of the Murray-Darling and Lake Eyre Basins.

UNSW Dean of Science, Professor Emma Johnston congratulated Prof. Kingsford on the award. She said: “Richard is one of Australia's finest and most forward-thinking ecologists. His dedication to data collection, stakeholder consultation, mentoring and disseminating the findings of his research continue to have a substantial positive impact on the management of Australia's ecosystems.”

Prof. Kingsford said he was grateful for the recognition from his peers. “I think an award from your peers is very special. They are inevitably the harshest judges because they are in the business, so I am particularly thrilled to get this award.” 

He recently led a project on the impact of dams on downstream platypus populations. The three-year study resulted in a submission for threatened species status for the platypus.

Prof. Kingsford is leader of the Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey, which has been running since 1983 and covers about a third of the continent. The survey provides one of Australia’s most important long-term datasets on the health and biodiversity of the country’s river and wetland areas.

In his role as leader of the Wild Deserts project, Prof. Kingsford has worked towards the reintroduction of locally extinct mammals into Sturt National Park. This decade-long project in north-western NSW has already returned two of the intended seven species of locally extinct mammals – the Greater Bilby and crest-tailed mulgaras – with more coming every year.

Focusing on river systems and wetlands is increasingly important, Prof. Kingsford said.

“The impacts of climate change make it even more relevant, but we are also having a major impact through projects that take water out of our rivers, such as dams.

“There is no more important time to be doing ecological research on the challenges for our environment, our communities and governments. Evidence-based scientific research, which informs policy and management, is essential for our future environments and their sustainability.

“Hopefully, environmental scientists will get the same level of recognition of their work reflected in government policies and decisions that our medical colleagues currently enjoy.” 

Prof. Kingsford’s work has received Eureka and Banksia Awards and he is a Fellow of both the Royal Society of NSW and the Australian Zoological Society.

This year the ESA awarded Gold Medals to both Prof. Kingsford from UNSW and Professor Kristine French from the University of Wollongong.

ESA President Dr Bek Christensen said: “Both Professor Kingsford and Professor French have made sustained and invaluable contributions to the understanding of Australian ecology. They have been pioneers and world leaders in their respective fields and have moved our knowledge of environmental management forward through their work.”

Resilience Not Collapse: What The Easter Island Myth Gets Wrong

July 13, 2021
New research from Binghamton University, State University of New York suggests that the demographic collapse at the core of the Easter Island myth didn't really happen.

You probably know this story, or a version of it: On Easter Island, the people cut down every tree, perhaps to make fields for agriculture or to erect giant statues to honour their clans. This foolish decision led to a catastrophic collapse, with only a few thousand remaining to witness the first European boats landing on their remote shores in 1722.

But did the demographic collapse at the core of the Easter Island myth really happen? The answer, according to new research by Binghamton University anthropologists Robert DiNapoli and Carl Lipo, is no.

Their research, "Approximate Bayesian Computation of radiocarbon and paleoenvironmental record shows population resilience on Rapa Nui (Easter Island)," was recently published in the journal Nature Communications. Co-authors include Enrico Crema of the University of Cambridge, Timothy Rieth of the International Archaeological Research Institute and Terry Hunt of the University of Arizona.

Easter Island, or Rapa Nui in the native language, has long been a focus of scholarship into questions related to environmental collapse. But to resolve those questions, researchers first need to reconstruct the island's population levels to ascertain whether such a collapse occurred and, if so, the scale.

"For Rapa Nui, a big part of scholarly and popular discussion about the island has cantered around this idea that there was a demographic collapse, and that it's correlated in time with climate changes and environmental changes," explained DiNapoli, a postdoctoral research associate in environmental studies and anthropology.

Sometime after it was settled between the 12th to 13th centuries AD, the once-forested island was denuded of trees; most often, scholars point to human-prompted clearing for agriculture and the introduction of invasive species such as rats. These environmental changes, the argument goes, reduced the island's carrying capacity and led to a demographic decline.

Additionally, around the year 1500, there was a climactic shift in the Southern Oscillation index; that shift led to a dryer climate on Rapa Nui.

"One argument is that changes in the environment had a negative impact. People see that there was a drought and said, 'Well, the drought caused these changes,'" said Lipo, a professor of anthropology and environmental studies and associate dean of Harpur College. "There are changes. Their population changes and their environment changes; over time, the palm trees were lost and at the end, the climate got drier. But do those changes really explain what we're seeing in the population data through the radiocarbon dating?"

Reconstructing population changes
Archaeologists have different ways to reconstruct population sizes using proxy measures, such as looking at the different ages of individuals at burial sites or counting ancient house sites. That latter measure can be problematic because it makes assumptions as to the number of people who live in each house, and whether the houses were occupied at the same time, DiNapoli said.

The most common technique, however, uses radiocarbon dating to track the extent of human activity during a moment in time, and extrapolating population changes from that data. But radiocarbon dates can be uncertain, DiNapoli acknowledged.

For the first time, DiNapoli and Lipo have presented a method that is able to both resolve these uncertainties and show how changes in population sizes relate to environmental variables over time.

Standard statistical methods don't work when it comes to linking the radiocarbon data to environmental and climate changes, and the population shifts connected with them. To do so would involve estimating a "likelihood function," which is currently difficult to compute. Approximate Bayesian Computation, however, is a form of statistical modeling that doesn't require a likelihood function, and thus gives researchers a workaround, DiNapoli explained.

Using this technique, the researchers determined that the island experienced steady population growth from its initial settlement until European contact in 1722. After that date, two models show a possible population plateau, while another two models show possible decline.

In short, there is no evidence that the islanders used the now-vanished palm trees for food, a key point of many collapse myths. Current research shows that deforestation was prolonged and didn't result in catastrophic erosion; the trees were ultimately replaced by gardens mulched with stone that increased agricultural productivity. During times of drought, the people may have relied on freshwater coastal seeps.

Construction of the moai statues, considered by some to be a contributing factor of collapse, actually continued even after European arrival.

In short, the island never had more than a few thousand people prior to European contact, and their numbers were increasing rather than dwindling, their research shows.

"Those resilience strategies were very successful, despite the fact that the climate got drier," Lipo said. "They are a really good case for resiliency and sustainability."

Moai at Rano Raraku, Easter Island - photo by Aurbina.
Burying the myth
Why, then, does the popular narrative of Easter Island's collapse persist? It likely has less to do with the ancient Rapa Nui people than ourselves, Lipo explained.

The concept that changes in the environment affect human populations began to take off in the 1960s, Lipo said. Over time, that focus became more intense, as researchers began to consider changes in the environment as a primary driver of cultural shifts and transformations.

But this correlation may derive more from modern concerns with industrialization-driven pollution and climate change, rather than archaeological evidence. Environmental changes, Lipo points out, occur on different time scales and in different magnitudes. How human communities respond to these changes varies.

Take a classic example of the overexploitation of resources: the collapse of the cod fisheries in the American Northeast. While the economies of individual communities may have collapsed, larger harvesting efforts simply switched to the other side of the world.

On an isolated island, however, sustainability is a matter of the community's very survival and resources tend to be managed conservatively. A misstep in resource management could lead to tangible, catastrophic consequences, such as starvation.

"The consequences of your actions are immediately obvious to you, and everyone else around you," Lipo said.

Lipo acknowledged that proponents of the Easter Island collapse story tend to see him as a climate-change denier; that's emphatically not the case. But he cautioned that the ways ancient peoples dealt with climate and environmental changes aren't necessarily reflective of current global crises and their impact in the modern world. In fact, they may have a good deal to teach us about resilience and sustainability.

"There's a natural tendency to think that people in the past aren't as smart as we are and that they somehow made all these mistakes, but it's really the opposite," Lipo said. "They produced offspring, and the success that created the present. Even though their technologies might be more simple than ours, there is so much to be learned about the context in which they were able to survive."

Robert J. DiNapoli, Enrico R. Crema, Carl P. Lipo, Timothy M. Rieth, Terry L. Hunt. Approximate Bayesian Computation of radiocarbon and paleoenvironmental record shows population resilience on Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Nature Communications, 2021; 12 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-24252-z

Detecting Wildlife Illness And Death With New Early Alert System

July 14, 2021: University of California - Davis
From domoic acid poisoning in seabirds to canine distemper in raccoons, wildlife face a variety of threats and illnesses. Some of those same diseases make their way to humans and domestic animals in our increasingly shared environment.

A new early detection surveillance system for wildlife helps identify unusual patterns of illness and death in near real-time by tapping into data from wildlife rehabilitation organizations across California. This system has the potential to expand nationally and globally. It was created by scientists at the University of California Davis' School of Veterinary Medicine with partners at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the nonprofit Wild Neighbors Database Project.

The Wildlife Morbidity and Mortality Event Alert System is described in a study published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"Human-induced disturbances are contributing to a wide range of threats -- habitat loss, invasive species introductions, pollution, disease, wildfires," said co-lead author Terra Kelly, a wildlife epidemiologist at the UC Davis One Health Institute and its Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center within the School of Veterinary Medicine. "It speaks to the need for a system like this where we can better understand the threats facing wildlife populations and respond to them in a timely way so there's less harm to wildlife."

Wildlife rehabilitation workers are the front-line responders of the free-ranging animal world. They are the first to receive and tend to sick and injured wild animals. Their clinical reports carry a wealth of information that, when shared, can indicate broader patterns.

Until recently, such clinical reports were stored primarily on paper or isolated computer files. In 2012, Wild Neighbors Database Project co-founders Devin Dombrowski and Rachel Avilla created the Wildlife Rehabilitation Medical Database, or WRMD, a free online tool now used by more than 950 rehabilitation organizations across 48 states and 19 countries to monitor patient care.

Dombrowski and Avilla brought the tool to CDFW, which connected with long-standing partners at UC Davis to pilot an alert system using the database as its foundation.

"I'm thrilled that WRMD is not only useful for thousands of wildlife rehabilitators but that the data collected by them is used for morbidity and mortality monitoring," co-author Dombrowski said. "To witness the WMME Alert System identifying data anomalies and alerting investigators is incredible."

Figure 1 from the study indicates locations of cases (small blue dots) in California presenting to wildlife rehabilitation organizations (bigger blue dots) participating in the Wildlife Mortality and Mortality Event Alert System from 2013-2018. Red areas indicate a high kernel density of cases. (Proceedings from the Royal Society B)

The CDFW is using the system to help identify and prioritize wildlife needs and conservation efforts.

"The near real-time information this system provides has allowed us to quickly follow up with diagnostic testing to identify the problem," said Krysta Rogers, senior environmental scientist at the CDFW's Wildlife Health Laboratory. "This system also has been instrumental in determining the geographic range and severity of the threat."

To test the system, the scientists analysed 220,000 case records collected between early 2013 to late 2018 to establish thresholds for triggering alerts. The dataset included records from 453 different species, from the common to the rare.

The authors emphasise the alert system is pre-diagnostic. It alerts agencies to unusual patterns that may warrant further investigation to determine specific health threats.

The system detected several key events, including large admissions of:
  • Marine birds along the central and southern California coast in late spring 2016. Post-mortem examinations confirmed they were starving.
  • Marine birds in April 2017. Domoic acid toxicity was later confirmed as the cause of death.
  • Invasive Eurasian collared doves in 2016 with encephalitis and kidney disease. Investigations revealed pigeon paramyxovirus-1 as the cause of the event. This was the first detection of the virus emerging in Eurasian collared doves in this region of California.
  • Rock pigeons in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2017 with an emerging parasite.
  • Finches in 2016 and 2017 with seasonal conjunctivitis due to infection with Mycoplasma bacteria.
Kelly notes that being able to monitor and rapidly detect such events is important for all species, humans included. For example, domoic acid intoxication is caused by harmful algal blooms, which are increasing in coastal and freshwater systems and threaten both wildlife and human health. Another example is West Nile virus, where bird deaths can serve as a sensitive indicator for risk to domestic animals and people.

The alert system is a complementary, inexpensive and efficient tool to add to state wildlife agencies' toolbox of surveillance efforts. It combines machine-learning algorithms, natural language processing, and statistical methods used for classifying cases and establishing thresholds for alerts with the ecology and distribution of wildlife within California, said co-leading author Pranav Pandit, a researcher in the UC Davis One Health Institute and its EpiCenter for Disease Dynamics.

"The wildlife rehabilitation organizations' data is making such valuable contributions," Pandit said. "That's all coming together in this highly adaptable surveillance system."

The study was funded by a State Wildlife Grant from CDFW.

Terra R. Kelly, Pranav S. Pandit, Nicole Carion, Devin F. Dombrowski, Krysta H. Rogers, Stella C. McMillin, Deana L. Clifford, Anthony Riberi, Michael H. Ziccardi, Erica L. Donnelly-Greenan, Christine K. Johnson. Early detection of wildlife morbidity and mortality through an event-based surveillance system. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2021; 288 (1954): 20210974 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2021.0974

'Neuroprosthesis' Restores Words To Man With Paralysis

July 14, 2021
Researchers at UC San Francisco have successfully developed a "speech neuroprosthesis" that has enabled a man with severe paralysis to communicate in sentences, translating signals from his brain to the vocal tract directly into words that appear as text on a screen.

The achievement, which was developed in collaboration with the first participant of a clinical research trial, builds on more than a decade of effort by UCSF neurosurgeon Edward Chang, MD, to develop a technology that allows people with paralysis to communicate even if they are unable to speak on their own. The study appears July 15 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"To our knowledge, this is the first successful demonstration of direct decoding of full words from the brain activity of someone who is paralyzed and cannot speak," said Chang, the Joan and Sanford Weill Chair of Neurological Surgery at UCSF, Jeanne Robertson Distinguished Professor, and senior author on the study. "It shows strong promise to restore communication by tapping into the brain's natural speech machinery."

Each year, thousands of people lose the ability to speak due to stroke, accident, or disease. With further development, the approach described in this study could one day enable these people to fully communicate.

Translating Brain Signals into Speech
Previously, work in the field of communication neuroprosthetics has focused on restoring communication through spelling-based approaches to type out letters one-by-one in text. Chang's study differs from these efforts in a critical way: his team is translating signals intended to control muscles of the vocal system for speaking words, rather than signals to move the arm or hand to enable typing. Chang said this approach taps into the natural and fluid aspects of speech and promises more rapid and organic communication.

"With speech, we normally communicate information at a very high rate, up to 150 or 200 words per minute," he said, noting that spelling-based approaches using typing, writing, and controlling a cursor are considerably slower and more laborious. "Going straight to words, as we're doing here, has great advantages because it's closer to how we normally speak."

Over the past decade, Chang's progress toward this goal was facilitated by patients at the UCSF Epilepsy Center who were undergoing neurosurgery to pinpoint the origins of their seizures using electrode arrays placed on the surface of their brains. These patients, all of whom had normal speech, volunteered to have their brain recordings analyzed for speech-related activity. Early success with these patient volunteers paved the way for the current trial in people with paralysis.

Previously, Chang and colleagues in the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences mapped the cortical activity patterns associated with vocal tract movements that produce each consonant and vowel. To translate those findings into speech recognition of full words, David Moses, PhD, a postdoctoral engineer in the Chang lab and one of the lead authors of the new study, developed new methods for real-time decoding of those patterns and statistical language models to improve accuracy.

But their success in decoding speech in participants who were able to speak didn't guarantee that the technology would work in a person whose vocal tract is paralyzed. "Our models needed to learn the mapping between complex brain activity patterns and intended speech," said Moses. "That poses a major challenge when the participant can't speak."

In addition, the team didn't know whether brain signals controlling the vocal tract would still be intact for people who haven't been able to move their vocal muscles for many years. "The best way to find out whether this could work was to try it," said Moses.

The First 50 Words
To investigate the potential of this technology in patients with paralysis, Chang partnered with colleague Karunesh Ganguly, MD, PhD, an associate professor of neurology, to launch a study known as "BRAVO" (Brain-Computer Interface Restoration of Arm and Voice). The first participant in the trial is a man in his late 30s who suffered a devastating brainstem stroke more than 15 years ago that severely damaged the connection between his brain and his vocal tract and limbs. Since his injury, he has had extremely limited head, neck, and limb movements, and communicates by using a pointer attached to a baseball cap to poke letters on a screen.

The participant, who asked to be referred to as BRAVO1, worked with the researchers to create a 50-word vocabulary that Chang's team could recognize from brain activity using advanced computer algorithms. The vocabulary -- which includes words such as "water," "family," and "good" -- was sufficient to create hundreds of sentences expressing concepts applicable to BRAVO1's daily life.

For the study, Chang surgically implanted a high-density electrode array over BRAVO1's speech motor cortex. After the participant's full recovery, his team recorded 22 hours of neural activity in this brain region over 48 sessions and several months. In each session, BRAVO1 attempted to say each of the 50 vocabulary words many times while the electrodes recorded brain signals from his speech cortex.

Translating Attempted Speech into Text
To translate the patterns of recorded neural activity into specific intended words, the other two lead authors of the study, Sean Metzger, MS and Jessie Liu, BS, both bioengineering doctoral students in the Chang Lab used custom neural network models, which are forms of artificial intelligence. When the participant attempted to speak, these networks distinguished subtle patterns in brain activity to detect speech attempts and identify which words he was trying to say.

To test their approach, the team first presented BRAVO1 with short sentences constructed from the 50 vocabulary words and asked him to try saying them several times. As he made his attempts, the words were decoded from his brain activity, one by one, on a screen.

Then the team switched to prompting him with questions such as "How are you today?" and "Would you like some water?" As before, BRAVO1's attempted speech appeared on the screen. "I am very good," and "No, I am not thirsty."

The team found that the system was able to decode words from brain activity at rate of up to 18 words per minute with up to 93 percent accuracy (75 percent median). Contributing to the success was a language model Moses applied that implemented an "auto-correct" function, similar to what is used by consumer texting and speech recognition software.

Moses characterized the early trial results as a proof of principle. "We were thrilled to see the accurate decoding of a variety of meaningful sentences," he said. "We've shown that it is actually possible to facilitate communication in this way and that it has potential for use in conversational settings."

Looking forward, Chang and Moses said they will expand the trial to include more participants affected by severe paralysis and communication deficits. The team is currently working to increase the number of words in the available vocabulary, as well as improve the rate of speech.

Both said that while the study focused on a single participant and a limited vocabulary, those limitations don't diminish the accomplishment. "This is an important technological milestone for a person who cannot communicate naturally," said Moses, "and it demonstrates the potential for this approach to give a voice to people with severe paralysis and speech loss."

Co-authors on the paper include Sean L. Metzger, MS; Jessie R. Liu; Gopala K. Anumanchipalli, PhD; Joseph G. Makin, PhD; Pengfei F. Sun, PhD; Josh Chartier, PhD; Maximilian E. Dougherty; Patricia M. Liu, MA; Gary M. Abrams, MD; and Adelyn Tu-Chan, DO, all of UCSF. Funding sources included National Institutes of Health (U01 NS098971-01), philanthropy, and a sponsored research agreement with Facebook Reality Labs (FRL), which completed in early 2021.

UCSF researchers conducted all clinical trial design, execution, data analysis and reporting. Research participant data were collected solely by UCSF, are held confidentially, and are not shared with third parties. FRL provided high-level feedback and machine learning advice.

David A. Moses, Sean L. Metzger, Jessie R. Liu, Gopala K. Anumanchipalli, Joseph G. Makin, Pengfei F. Sun, Josh Chartier, Maximilian E. Dougherty, Patricia M. Liu, Gary M. Abrams, Adelyn Tu-Chan, Karunesh Ganguly, Edward F. Chang. Neuroprosthesis for Decoding Speech in a Paralyzed Person with Anarthria. New England Journal of Medicine, 2021; 385 (3): 217 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2027540

Travelling through deep time to find copper for a clean energy future

Stunning mosaic of oxidised copper in the form of azurite (blue) and malachite (green) in a rock. Dimitri HouttemanAuthor provided
Dietmar MüllerUniversity of SydneyJo CondonThe University of MelbourneJulian DiazUniversity of Sydney, and Rohitash ChandraUNSW

More than 100 countries, including the United States and members of the European Union, have committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The world is going to need a lot of metal, particularly copper.

Recently, the International Energy Agency sounded the warning bell on the global supply of copper as the most widely used metal in renewable energy technologies. With Goldman Sachs predicting copper demand to grow up to 600% by 2030 and global supply becoming increasingly strained, it is clear we need to find new and large deposits of copper fast.

Getting this much copper will be impossible unless we discover significant new copper deposits. But there has been little exploration for copper over the past decade, as prices have been relatively low.

We have been developing software to model Earth in four dimensions to look deep inside the planet and back into the past to discover where copper deposits formed along ancient mountain ranges. This software, called GPlates, is a powerful four-dimensional information system for geologists.

How Large Copper Deposits Form

Many of the world’s richest copper deposits formed along volcanic mountain chains such as the Andes and the Rocky Mountains. In these regions, an oceanic tectonic plate and a continent collide, with the oceanic plate sinking under the edge of the continent in a process called subduction.

Mountain ranges like the Andes are formed through subduction and can be rich in copper deposits. Adèle Beausoleil / Unsplash

This process creates a variety of igneous rocks and copper deposits to form along the edge of the continent, at depths of between one and five kilometres in the crust, where hot magmatic fluids containing copper (and other elements) circulate within networks of faults. After millions of years of further plate movement and erosion, these treasures move close to the surface – ready to be discovered.

A sample of copper hosted in a quartz vein in the form of a mineral called chalcopyrite. When exposed to air, the surface oxidises to create this metallic ‘peacock’ lustre. Marek Novotňák / Wikimedia Commons

Searching For Copper

Geologists typically use a set of well-established tools to look for copper. These include geological mapping, geochemical sampling, geophysical surveys and remote sensing. However, this approach does not consider the origin of the magmatic fluids in space and time as the driver of copper formation.

We know these magmatic fluids come from the “mantle wedge”, a wedge-shaped piece of the mantle between the two plates that is fed by oceanic fluids escaping from the downgoing plate. The oceanic plate heats up on its way down, releasing fluids that rise into the overlying continental crust, which in turn drives volcanic activity at the surface and the accumulation of metals such as copper.

Cross section of the Earth showing one tectonic plate going under the other, creative volcanism and copper deposits directly above
Copper deposits tend to form above subduction zones along volcanic chains. This schematic is not to scale. Modified from Shutterstock

Differences in how subduction occurs and the characteristics of the oceanic plate may hold the secret to better understanding where and when copper deposits form. However, this information is traditionally not used in copper exploration.

Building A Virtual Earth

At the EarthByte research group, we are building a virtual Earth powered by our GPlates plate tectonic software, which lets us look deep below the surface and travel back in time. One of its many applications is to understand where copper deposits have formed along mountain belts.

In a recent paper, we outline how it works. We focus on the past 80 million years because most of the known economic copper deposits along mountain belts formed during this period. This period is also most accurate for our models.

We used machine learning to find links between known copper deposits along mountain belts and the evolution of the associated subduction zone. Our model looks at several different subduction zone parameters and determines how important each one is in terms of association with known ore deposits.

So what turns out to be important? How fast the plates are moving towards each other, how much calcium carbonate is contained in the subducting crust and in deep-sea sediments, how old and thick the subducting plate is, and how far it is to the nearest edge of a subduction zone.

Plate motions and age of the ocean crust, with age-coded porphyry copper-gold deposits overlaid. Animation by Michael Chin.

Using our machine learning approach, we can look at different parts of the world and see whether they would have experienced conditions conducive to forming copper deposits at different times. We identified several candidate regions in the US, including in central Alaska, southern Nevada, southern California and Arizona, and numerous regions in Mexico, Chile, Peru and Ecuador.

Knowing when copper ore deposits may have formed is important, as it helps explorers to focus their efforts on rocks of particular ages. In addition, it reveals how much time given deposits might have had to move closer to the surface.

Australia has similar deposits, including the Cadia copper-gold district in New South Wales. However, these rocks are significantly older (roughly 460 million to 430 million years old) and require virtual Earth models to look much further back in time than those applied to the Americas.

Read more: 5 rocks any great Australian rock collection should have, and where to find them

The Future Of Mineral Exploration

Finding 10 million tonnes of copper by 2030 – the equivalent of eight of the largest copper deposits that we mine today – presents an enormous challenge.

With support over a decade from AuScope and the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), we are in a position to imagine tackling this challenge. By supercharging GPlates in Australia’s Downward Looking Telescope, together with AI and supercomputing, we can meet it head on.

These emerging technologies are increasingly being used by Australian startups like Lithodat and DeeperX and mining companies in collaboration with universities to develop AI’s enormous potential for critical minerals discovery.

Read more: Clean energy? The world’s demand for copper could be catastrophic for communities and environments The Conversation

Dietmar Müller, Professor of Geophysics, University of SydneyJo Condon, Honorary researcher, The University of MelbourneJulian Diaz, Exploration Geologist, University of Sydney, and Rohitash Chandra, Senior Lecturer, UNSW

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

UNSW Law Professor Elected As Chair Of United Nations Indigenous Rights Body

July 13, 2021
Professor Megan Davis, UNSW Balnaves Chair in Constitutional Law and Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous, is the new Chair of the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous People.

Professor Megan Davis has been an expert member of the UN Expert Mechanism since 2017. Picture: Andrzej Liiguz

During the 14th annual session of the United Nations (UN) Expert Mechanism, Professor Megan Davis – a Cobble Cobble woman from the Barrungam Nation – received the vote of her international colleagues to become the new Chair.

The appointment comes in Prof. Davis’ second term as an expert member of the UN body.

“It’s an incredible honour to be elected Chair by my esteemed colleagues. The work of the Expert Mechanism is important for the rights of Indigenous peoples across the world,” Prof. Davis said.

“Our work involves providing expert advice to the UN Human Rights Council and to assist member states and Indigenous peoples to achieve the goals of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has put pressure on, and in many cases directly impeded, the rights of Indigenous peoples globally.

“It is more important than ever that member states, international bodies, and the private sector protect the rights of Indigenous peoples.”

The UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous people, established by the Human Rights Council in 2007, has expert members from across the globe. The Human Rights Council is the UN’s main human rights body.

The Expert Mechanism includes seven independent experts. The Human Rights Council appoints and selects the expert members based on “competence and experience in the rights of Indigenous Peoples”.

“Since the moment I first began work at the UN, as a junior lawyer, I have seen the importance of international cooperation and coalitions to defend the rights of Indigenous people,” Prof. Davis said.

“The adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the UN General Assembly was an important step. But its goals need to be realised and honoured by member states.

“We tackle complex issues and on the ground situations for both the Human Rights Council and member states, which are only further heightened under the pressure of a pandemic that has an especially acute impact on Indigenous peoples.”

As Chair, Prof. Davis will continue to lead the Expert Mechanism’s work including conducting studies to advance the promotion and protection of Indigenous peoples’ rights.

Prof. Davis was first elected as an expert member in 2017, before being re-elected for a second term in 2019. Prior to this appointment, Prof. Davis was Chair and Expert Member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (2011 to 2016).

The 14th session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is underway and runs to 16 July 2021.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the session is virtual.

Tooth Loss Associated With Increased Cognitive Impairment And Dementia

July 8, 2021: New York University
Tooth loss is a risk factor for cognitive impairment and dementia -- and with each tooth lost, the risk of cognitive decline grows, according to a new analysis led by researchers at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and published in JAMDA: The Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine. However, this risk was not significant among older adults with dentures, suggesting that timely treatment with dentures may protect against cognitive decline.

About one in six adults aged 65 or older have lost all of their teeth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prior studies show a connection between tooth loss and diminished cognitive function, with researchers offering a range of possible explanations for this link. For one, missing teeth can lead to difficulty chewing, which may contribute to nutritional deficiencies or promote changes in the brain. A growing body of research also points to a connection between gum disease -- a leading cause of tooth loss -- and cognitive decline. In addition, tooth loss may reflect life-long socioeconomic disadvantages that are also risk factors for cognitive decline.

"Given the staggering number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and dementia each year, and the opportunity to improve oral health across the lifespan, it's important to gain a deeper understanding of the connection between poor oral health and cognitive decline," said Bei Wu, PhD, Dean's Professor in Global Health at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and co-director of the NYU Aging Incubator, as well as the study's senior author.

Wu and her colleagues conducted a meta-analysis using longitudinal studies of tooth loss and cognitive impairment. The 14 studies included in their analysis involved a total of 34,074 adults and 4,689 cases of people with diminished cognitive function.

The researchers found that adults with more tooth loss had a 1.48 times higher risk of developing cognitive impairment and 1.28 times higher risk of being diagnosed with dementia, even after controlling for other factors.

However, adults missing teeth were more likely to have cognitive impairment if they did not have dentures (23.8 percent) compared to those with dentures (16.9 percent); a further analysis revealed that the association between tooth loss and cognitive impairment was not significant when participants had dentures.

The researchers also conducted an analysis using a subset of eight studies to determine if there was a "dose-response" association between tooth loss and cognitive impairment -- in other words, if a greater number of missing teeth was linked to a higher risk for cognitive decline. Their findings confirmed this relationship: each additional missing tooth was associated with a 1.4 percent increased risk of cognitive impairment and 1.1 percent increased risk of being diagnosed with dementia.

"This 'dose-response' relationship between the number of missing teeth and risk of diminished cognitive function substantially strengthens the evidence linking tooth loss to cognitive impairment, and provides some evidence that tooth loss may predict cognitive decline," said Xiang Qi, a doctoral candidate from NYU Meyers.

"Our findings underscore the importance of maintaining good oral health and its role in helping to preserve cognitive function," said Wu.

Xiang Qi, Zheng Zhu, Brenda L. Plassman, Bei Wu. Dose-Response Meta-Analysis on Tooth Loss With the Risk of Cognitive Impairment and Dementia. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.jamda.2021.05.009

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.