inbox and environment news: Issue 503

July 25 - 31, 2021: Issue 503

Whales In The Hawkesbury

July 21, 2021: Hornsby Shire Council  
Look who’s having a whale of a time in the Hawkesbury River! Seeing a large whale just off Dangar Island is certainly an unusual occurrence, but isn’t it awesome that the Hawkesbury is healthy enough to host whales!  
This one looks like it's a southern right whale.
We are not too sure if she is still around, but let’s give her and her pals some space when you see them. Here are some tips on safe whale watching:

NB: ORRCA states this mum and bub were in the Hawkesbury River last weekend, July 17-18, 2021, and have since left and headed south.
Thanks to Jeff Potts for the awesome photos

Wildlife In Weird Places

July 22, 2021 Sydney Wildlife Mobile Care Unit
Imagine walking into the bathroom at the Mall and seeing this!  A wallaby mum and her joey somehow hopped into a large and busy shopping mall in Chatswood and then entered the ladies bathroom. 

It certainly illustrates why wildlife rescue is an essential service, though. Sydney Wildlife rescuers arrived on the scene and - with the assistance of the mall’s security staff - managed to corral the marsupial and her tiny tot into a blanket and then into a transportation carrier.

She was taken to nearby bushland and released into a much more wallaby-friendly environment.  We are very proud of Liz and Glenda for successfully undertaking this tricky rescue.

The security team surmised that with quieter roads she may have become a little more adventurous and then ended up getting lost. Either that or she may have been spooked by a dog giving chase and bounded into unfamiliar territory.

Wildlife rescuers have definitely noticed that with more people staying home, the wildlife have been venturing further afield.

Sydney Wildlife Rescue is run 100% by volunteers.  If you appreciate the free service they provide and would like to donate to support this work, please click here:

SWR photo

First Leopard Seal Of Season To Come Ashore In NSW

July 18, 2021: ORRCA
The first Leopard Seal for the season hauled out along the NSW south coast today! 
This is a gentle reminder to respect the exclusion zones that apply. 
These are a few tips when there is a seal in your area: 
  • * Keep at least 40 meters away!  
  • * Never block a seals path into the water. 
  • * They are apex predators and can be very dangerous!
  • * Keep dogs and children well away from seals. 
Report all sightings into ORRCA on 02 9415 3333

The Heat Is On Australia To Act On Climate Following World Heritage Great Barrier Reef Decision

July 23, 2021
The pressure to act urgently on climate change and water quality is piling on the Morrison government following the World Heritage Committee (WHC) meeting to discuss the status of the Great Barrier Reef, the Australian Marine Conservation Society said today.

The WHC has requested the Morrison government to report back on its actions to protect our global icon to UNESCO by February 1st 2022.

The decision comes despite a vigorous lobbying campaign by the Australian government to defer the decision by two years. The World Heritage Committee will again review the World Heritage status of the Great Barrier Reef at its next meeting in 12 months. A Reactive Monitoring Mission will be sent to Australia to scrutinise the action being taken to protect the Reef.

This means the Morrison government will be under pressure to face up to its climate responsibilities to protect our Reef before the next federal election, due by May 2022.

The WHC did not adopt UNESCO’s science-backed recommendation to inscribe the Reef on the ‘in danger’ list. Nevertheless, the Morrison government will now have to put in place policies that will benefit the Reef, the marine wildlife and the communities that depend on it.

“The World Heritage Committee’s decision must be the impetus to take the action our global icon needs,” said Imogen Zethoven, World Heritage consultant to AMCS.

“It puts the Morrison government, as custodians of our Reef, on probation. The responsibility lies with them to reduce emissions in line with limiting global warming to 1.5C – a level  recognised by scientists as a crucial threshold for coral reefs. It is essential we meet this challenge urgently for the future of our Reef.”

The WHC decision also includes a request for the Australian and Queensland governments to host a Reactive Monitoring Mission to help shape the revised Reef 2050 Plan – the policy document which is currently under review. AMCS welcomes this request and urges the Australian government to organise the mission as soon as possible so the Reef 2050 Plan can be finalised by February next year.

“A climate action plan to do Australia’s fair share of limiting global warming to 1.5C and associated targets on emissions reduction, as well as renewed water quality efforts and a focus on improving fisheries practices, need to be laid out clearly by the Australian and Queensland governments in the renewed Reef 2050 Plan. We expect the Reactive Monitoring Mission will help to shape those policies,” said Ms Zethoven.

“The Morrison government must face up to its climate responsibilities. The government has been swamped by a deluge of reports and scientific evidence, often from its own agencies, warning of the dangers of climate change for the Reef, and we’ve seen the consequences of global heating in the three mass bleaching events in five years.

“While the Reef remains beautiful, the science is clear: the Great Barrier Reef is in danger from rising sea temperatures, poor water quality and unsustainable fishing practices.

“Our polling and statements from scientists, environmental groups, leading Australians and world famous Reef lovers have shown that climate action for our Reef has huge support. With the World Heritage Committee watching, the ball is now in the Morrison government’s court to listen and act.”

Also available, from Issue 501:
Final Orders In Climate Change Case Brought By Teenagers Finds Morrison Government Does Have A 'Duty Of Care'; Government Immediately Announces It Will Appeal Decision In Same Week It Funnels Millions Of Taxpayer Dollars Into Coal Mine and Fracking Projects through NAIF

NSW Government Future Of Gas Statement Delivers Clarity On PELs And Land Use

July 21, 2021-  Released by: Deputy Premier, Minister for Energy and Environment
The NSW Government has today released its Future of Gas Statement, outlining plans for the gas industry in NSW, while ruling out gas production under the majority of Petroleum Exploration Licences (zombie PELs), with the exception of those which support the future of the Narrabri Gas Project. 

Deputy Premier and Minister for Resources John Barilaro said gas plays a key role in supporting access to affordable energy and business growth within NSW and the Future of Gas Statement gives industry bodies, regional communities and farmers greater certainty around jobs, economic prosperity and land use. 

“Supporting gas production in and around the Narrabri region and investment in gas-related infrastructure will help to create thousands of jobs, strengthen local economies and drive the state’s recovery from COVID-19,” Mr Barilaro said. 

“We have heard the concerns and questions from our regional communities around PELs and I can confirm today we are reducing the area of land available for gas exploration by 77 per cent. The active PELs that remain will be to support the long-term future of the Narrabri Gas Project. 

Areas available for gas exploration will be slashed by 77 per cent.(Supplied: NSW Government)

“To provide absolute certainty, the NSW Government will amend the Mining State Environmental Planning Policy to reflect these changes.

“When we came to office in 2011, petroleum exploration titles or applications covered 45 per cent of NSW - under our Future of Gas Statement, that figure has been reduced to just 1.5 per cent of the state.”

The NSW Government will not be releasing new areas for gas exploration in NSW and this includes areas in the Far West of NSW, near Wilcannia and Broken Hill, which were recently assessed under the NSW Government’s Strategic Release Framework.

“We want to ensure communities where gas exploration occurs receive their fair share and that’s why I’m also confirming additional funding will be made available for these LGAs through a future round of Resources for Regions,” Mr Barilaro said. 

Minister for Energy Matt Kean said secure and reliable access to gas, achieved through a mix of sources, will be vital to ensure the continued growth of the state’s economy, in particular our industrial and processing sectors.

“Gas is an essential source of energy to manufacture products such as fertiliser, and heavy construction materials,” Mr Kean said

“The NSW Government is determined to set a clear policy framework to secure supply and put downward pressure on prices.”

The future of gas in NSW includes the Narrabri Gas Project as a driver for the  proposed Narrabri Special Activation Precinct, along with LNG import terminals at Port Kembla and Newcastle to help ensure sufficient market supply.

For more information, read the Future of Gas Statement.

Farmers React To Coal Seam Gas Statement For Western NSW

July 21, 2021
Farmers in the New South Wales north west have reacted with anger to the announcement by the Deputy Premier that some of the state’s most productive farmland will be available to be exploited by Santos for coal seam gas, describing the move as a “betrayal” of the National Party’s rural constituency. 

The State Government’s “Future of Gas” statement, released today, removes the spectre of coal seam gas from large swathes of the North West and significantly restricts gas exploration, however, it also confirms that the Liverpool Plains, and the rich farmlands surrounding Narrabri in the Namoi Valley will have coal seam gas exploration licences renewed in a move that farmers say is set to reignite conflict in the region. 

Mullaley farmer Margaret Fleck said farmers were already fighting difficult conditions, and would now have the added damage and stress of industrial gasfields to contend with.

“For more than a decade farmers across North West NSW have been ploughing time and money into defending farms and the region’s water and land resources from the threat of the industrial gasfields. 

“With this gas strategy, John Barilaro has condemned our communities to having to keep on fighting, not just for ourselves, but to safeguard water, soils and the social fabric of rural communities for the next generation.  

“The gas strategy is backing not one but two coal seam gas pipelines, that are fiercely opposed by landholders across hundreds of kilometres of farmland and erodible, fertile soils. We will not lie down and let this industry spread through our districts.

“Future generations of farmers will have to contend with the effects of the climate crisis, which will be worsened by continued expansion of the damaging coal seam gas industry. 

“Local National Party members around Boggabri put forward a successful motion at the National Party Conference in 2019 to have all expired gas leases extinguished, but this decision ignores that motion and leaves those very same members exposed to damaging gasfields.”

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said, “This announcement and this decision has been cooked up with Santos without community consultation. It is a betrayal of rural New South Wales and communities only just emerging from a record-breaking drought. 

“If the Government had been consistent, we would welcome this. Communities in Coonamble, Gilgandra, Moree and the Upper Hunter are spared from the spectre of coal seam gas, and the decision not to proceed with gas exploitation in the Far West is very welcome.

“Promises to seek alternatives to gas are positive, but the Deputy Premier’s decision to expand coal seam gas on the Liverpool Plains is at odds with New South Wales’ commitment to carbon neutrality and makes the Liverpool Plains and Namoi Valley a sacrifice zone for the double whammy of Santos’s coal seam gas damage and the legacy of climate change.”

Developers To Gain More Say Under Proposed Planning Policy 

Environment groups are calling on the NSW Government to include best practise mandatory standards for tree canopy cover, climate action, parkland and urban heat mitigation in a new planning policy due to take effect for all urban areas by the end of 2021. 

Planning Minister Rob Stokes proposed Design and Place State Environmental Planning Policy (DP SEPP) seeks to reward developers with ‘’merit assessment’’ by giving them greater discretion about environmental standards.  It applies to all urban areas and is touted as one of the most significant planning reforms in recent years, the Nature Conservation Council and the Total Environment Centre Environment state.

The Nature Conservation Council and the Total Environment Centre Environment are calling on the government to rule out letting developers trade off environmental amenity and sustainability standards, warning developer profits will dominate to the detriment of current and future residents and the environment.  

“This policy has the potential to completely reshape our suburbs and towns,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

Total Environment Centre Director Jeff Angel said:  "The SEPP opens the door wide to an unliveable Sydney. Wonderful sounding principles are mere considerations.’’ 

Mr Gambian said: “It is absolutely essential we get this right, because communities will be living with the consequences for decades.   

“While we broadly support the principles outlined in the policy, we utterly oppose the government’s proposal to make many critical environmental issues discretionary. 

“That is a huge risk because it won’t set not negotiable minimum environmental standards. 

“The policy appears to offer developers the chance to choose their own adventure through the planning system. 

Mr Angel said: “Developers will be able to chart their own course to more profit and less action on climate, keeping trees, tackling urban heat and growing our green spaces.  There must be certainty about environmental protections.    

“The merit assessment being championed by the Minister should be a reward for doing better than the best standards, not an excuse to deregulate for all developers, good, bad or ugly."  


[1] SEPP No 65 – Design Quality of Residential Apartment Development and SEPP (Building Sustainability Index: BASIX) 2004. 

Design And Place SEPP

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment state they are bringing planning processes up to date and making them easier. The new Design and Place State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) is part of a broader review of all their SEPPs and aims to simplify and consolidate how to deliver good design in NSW. 

The Design and Place SEPP puts place and design quality at the forefront of development. Their shared responsibility to care for Country and sustain healthy, thriving communities underpins the policy, according to the Department's webpage. The SEPP spans places of all scales, from precincts, large developments, and buildings to infrastructure and public space. 

Public exhibition of the Design and Place SEPP Explanation of Intended Effect closed in April 2021. 

All formal submissions have now been reviewed and a summary analysis is available in the ‘What we heard – Design and Place SEPP Explanation of Intended Effect Submissions Report’. The report includes a statement from Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, the Hon. Rob Stokes, outlining the key changes that will be made to the policy, in response to what the Department have received as feedback so far. 

The Department states ''We are continuing to work closely with our stakeholders through a program of Policy Working Groups on key topics of interest identified through submissions to help inform the detailed development of the Design and Place SEPP. '' 

The draft Design and Place SEPP will go on public exhibition later in 2021 to provide more opportunities for feedback. The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment are developing supporting guidance and tools, drafts of which will also go on exhibition with the draft SEPP. These guides include revisions to the Apartment Design Guide and improvements to the Building Sustainability Index (BASIX), as well as the proposed Urban Design Guide, and Design Review Guide.

For more information on the Design and Place SEPP, see this brochure (PDF, 1.7MB), frequently asked questions (PDF; 59KB), SEPP Explanation of Intended Effect document

New Electricity Consumer Trustee To Put Energy Consumers First

July 23, 2021
The NSW Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap has reached an important milestone with the appointment of AEMO Services Ltd, a subsidiary of the independent Australian Energy Market Opertor (AEMO), as the NSW Consumer Trustee.
Energy Minister Matt Kean said the appointment is a vital step in unlocking the expected $32 billion of private sector investment needed to deliver the next generation of electricity infrastructure that will keep the lights on and prices down.

"The Roadmap is a once in a generation opportunity to transform our State's electricity system into one of the cheapest, cleanest and most reliable in the world," Mr Kean said.

"The Consumer Trustee will play a vital role in delivering our Electricity Roadmap, acting as the custodian of the long-term financial interests of NSW consumers.

"This appointment is a win for consumers and industry, allowing the Roadmap to draw on AEMO's expertise while making sure that AEMO continues to perform its current role running the energy market."

The Consumer Trustee will play a pivotal role in:
  • overseeing coordinated planning and investment in electricity generation, storage and transmission over time in New South Wales
  • authorising electricity network infrastructure projects
  • administering tenders to identify the best generation and storage projects for consumers
  • designing long term energy service agreements to encourage new generation and storage investment.
The Consumer Trustee was appointed following a rigorous evaluation and consultation process and focused on selecting a Consumer Trustee model that made the most sense for NSW, while supporting the broader National Electricity Market.

Santos Plan To Dump Untreated Wastewater In Critically Endangered White Throated Snapping Turtle And Vulnerable Fitzroy River Turtle Habitat Vetoed

July 16, 2021
Central Queensland locals, and rare bum breathing turtles are relieved after the Federal Environment Department declared a plan by Santos to dump untreated coal seam gas water in the Upper Dawson River should be a “controlled action”.

Santos had argued its plan to dump the untreated wastewater should not be a controlled action, but the department said the company’s plans should be assessed under the EPBC Act due to potential impacts on threatened species and water.

Concerns have been raised that Santos’ plan, associated with its GLNG coal seam gas development in Central and Southern Queensland, would threaten the critically endangered white throated snapping turtle and vulnerable Fitzroy River turtle.

The white-throated snapping turtle is subject to a 10-year national recovery plan, which identifies declining water quality as a major threat to its survival.

Both turtle species breathe via cloacal respiration (bum breathing) and were located during Santos’ own surveys of the river and the site where the wastewater would be dumped.

“The Environment Department has called Santos’ bluff - anyone could see a plan to dump potentially unlimited amounts of untreated Coal Seam Gas water would have a significant and damaging impact on the biodiversity of the Upper Dawson, including on critically endangered turtles,” Lock the Gate Alliance Queensland spokesperson Ellie Smith said.

“Santos has displayed typically arrogant behaviour with this application, and we’re glad the Environment Department has referred this matter for assessment under the EPBC Act.

“While we remain deeply concerned Santos has put forward this environmentally destructive proposal in the first place, these rare and endangered bum breathing turtles can breathe a little easier - for now.”

Theodore resident and Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland Upper Dawson member Ann Hobson said the “controlled action”, if applied to all applications to discharge coal seam gas waste water into the river, should reduce potential impacts on the turtle’s habitat.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts from resource companies. Add 7000 more wells planned upstream from this one, and the combined pollution could easily drive species like the White Throated Snapping Turtle closer to the brink of extinction,” she said.

“There is very little evidence about what the cumulative impact of dumping unlimited amounts of coal seam gas waste water into the environment may be on the plants and animals that live here.

“We are happy the Environment Department is investigating further. We want to see every one of these proposals given proper scrutiny and controlled for the safety of our unique and irreplaceable river and its wildlife.”

The critically endangered white-throated snapping turtle is subject to a national recovery plan.(Supplied: WYLD Projects Indigenous Corporation)

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 

Plan To Dump Rig Near Ningaloo May Breach Law

July 23, 2021
Australia could be in breach of international law if it allows oil and gas giant Woodside to dump a 2,529-tonne steel and plastic mooring next to the Ningaloo World Heritage Area, according to legal advice obtained by the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Woodside intends to sink the riser turret mooring (RTM) that secured the decommissioned Nganhurra floating oil rig as early as December this year.

The mooring – a massive riser turret that secured it to the seabed – contains many tonnes of plastic and manganese, a toxic, soluble heavy metal that will eventually be discharged into the sensitive marine environment around Ningaloo Reef.

Woodside says it will remove as much of the 65 cubic metres of polyurethane foam that is part of the structure as is ‘practicable’, and put grout over the remainder, but conservationists worry this will also end up in the ocean.

Professor Tina Soliman Hunter, Professor of Energy and Resources Law at Macquarie Law School, advises that ‘granting permission to scuttle the RTM near Ningaloo to create an artificial reef for recreation purposes, when the removal of the structure is possible, is likely to amount to a breach of Australia’s international law obligations.’

Woodside says it is unable to comply with its original environment plan (towing the RTM to land for disposal) due to the poor condition of the mooring.

Conservation groups are calling for Woodside to mobilise whichever vessels are necessary to transport the poorly maintained RTM to land. Offshore regulator NOPSEMA is investigating whether Woodside broke the law by letting its equipment fall into disrepair.

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s nature campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said:

“We are very concerned about Woodside’s plan to dump this structure, full of plastics and heavy metals, just a few kilometres from the Ningaloo World Heritage Area famed for its abundance of marine turtles, whale sharks, and unique coral reef system.

“UNESCO already lists pollutants associated with the offshore oil and gas industry as a threat to Ningaloo.

“Environment Minister Sussan Ley should reject Woodside’s application to dump its toxic waste as it could damage Ningaloo and would set a dangerous precedent given the hundreds of oil and gas wells due to be abandoned by oil and gas companies in the next few years.”

Protect Ningaloo director Paul Gamblin said:

“This is yet another example of heavy industry encroaching on the globally-important and fragile Ningaloo-Exmouth Gulf area.

“Australia is overdue for a reset around how heavy industry treats ecologically rare and important places along Australia’s coastline.

“Companies need to demonstrate respect for Australia’s last intact natural areas by giving them a wide berth. 

“Dumping poorly maintained, polluting infrastructure on the doorstep of places like Ningaloo Reef is something you might’ve expected in the 1980s, but not this century.

“It’s obvious governments need to do much more to make industry accountable and support the work and powers of regulatory agencies.”

Conservation Council WA spokesperson Maggie Wood said:

“This is not the first time Woodside has failed to decommission properly.

“It is totally unacceptable for big oil and gas companies like Woodside to let their offshore infrastructure get into such a state of disrepair that the only solution is to dump it on the ocean floor.

“The out of sight-out of mind nature of offshore LNG means there is very little public scrutiny placed on the decommissioning process and companies like Woodside have benefited from this lack of public awareness.

“It is clear Woodside cannot be trusted to clean up after itself.

“More scrutiny should be placed on any future project proposed by this company to make sure it does not leave the Australian public to pick up the bill.”

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.

Clever cockatoos in southern Sydney have learned to open curb-side bins — and it has global significance

Barbara KlumpAuthor provided
John MartinUniversity of SydneyBarbara KlumpMax Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, and Lucy AplinUniversity of Konstanz

In a small, isolated village in southern Sydney, the local sulphur-crested cockatoos are particularly clever. Once a week, when the neighbours roll their wheelie bins to the curb, cockies fly over and, with skillful dexterity, open the lids in search of food.

It may seem as though cockatoos opening a curb-side bin lid is a simple action. But our research, published today in Science, discovered this behaviour is far more significant than you may have first thought.

Sulphur-crested cockatoos are copycats. After one solves the lid-flip puzzle, other birds nearby imitate the new foraging behaviour in a stunning display of “social learning”.

For decades, scientists believed humans were the only animals capable of culture. Now, thanks to the community’s observations, we can add parrots to this small (but growing) list, which also includes chimpanzeeshumpback whales and New Caledonian crows.

Clever, Mischievous Cockies

In Australia, sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita) are often thought of as being in your face, full of attitude and mischief. But if we take the time to observe them, we can see they’re also intelligent, curious and adaptable.

You might have seen a variety of their social interactions, such as play. Have you watched cockies hanging on powerlines like a trapeze artist?

Cockatoos are also highly dexterous, holding food with their foot and manipulating it with their beak and tongue. This includes skillfully eating the seeds from a gardener’s mortal enemy — the bindii weed — and lessor foes, such as onion grass.

Upside down cockatoo on a powerline
Cockatoos love to play, and swing on powerlines like trapeze artists. Shutterstock

But bin opening is a new foraging behaviour that hadn’t been observed until recently. Thankfully, one member of our research team lives in the local area, and saw cockatoos opening bins firsthand in 2014.

This kicked off our bin-opening survey in 2018, where we asked community members to report if they “have” and, importantly, “have not” observed bin opening across the greater Sydney region and beyond.

Thanks to these reports and our own observations, we soon discovered this behaviour spread to neighbouring suburbs over the following years.

Read more: Don't disturb the cockatoos on your lawn, they're probably doing all your weeding for free

We also found that between suburbs, where the birds’ social networks were separated, there were subtle differences in bin-opening styles, and these became increasingly different between suburbs further apart.

Only around 10% of birds in each flock learned how to open bins. The rest benefit from the behaviours of these pioneers. Interestingly, we found adult males were most likely to know how to open bins. Adult females and juveniles also displayed this behaviour, but to a lesser extent.

Cockatoo opening bin lid
Cockatoos use their feet and beak to lift open the the wheelie bin lid. Barbara KlumpAuthor provided

What’s All The Fuss About, Anyway?

To many of us familiar with the cleverness of cockatoos, it might come as no surprise they can learn by watching each other. So in case you aren’t as fascinated as we are by this discovery, here are a couple of reasons to get excited.

First, it shows we can all make interesting scientific observations in our everyday lives — even in the suburbs where we live.

Second, only 70 odd years ago, humans started questioning the idea only human society was culturally complex. Humans are masters of social learning. From an early age, we copy skills from other children and adults.

But this study helps reaffirm that a range of other animals are also culturally complex.

Read more: Birds that play with others have the biggest brains - and the same may go for humans

There are three main traits associated with so-called “cultural animals”: larger brain size, living in social groups, and being long lived. This is known to scientists as the “cultural intelligence hypothesis”.

And when lands change, for example, for urban growth or agriculture, it stimulates the emergence and spread of adaptive behaviours. This creates new opportunities for cultures to develop.

Two chimps
Chimpanzees and other primates are among the few animal groups known to be capable of social learning. Now, we can add parrots to this list. Shutterstock

Cities and urban areas provide fertile grounds for this, as animals that live there often have to change their behaviours to exploit different foods and shelter options, and to survive new threats — think cats, rats, and cars.

It’s likely most of us have observed animals adapting to new environments. A classic example from Sydney is the bin-chicken — aka Australian white ibis. These birds also forage in bins (but not opening the lids) and now nest in urban palm trees rather than their traditional flooded wetland reed beds.

Another fascinating example is grey-headed flying-foxes. Despite being vulnerable to extinction due to population decline and habitat loss, these bats have become more common in urban areas over recent decades. This has required adaptation to lights, noise, humans, and the different flowers and fruits we grow in our gardens, parks and streets.

Adaptive behaviours like these are assumed to be the result of genetic change, or innovations. The challenge is to confirm if these innovations spread via social learning through the population, resulting in new, adaptive cultures emerging.

You may find bin chickens annoying, but they are incredibly resilient, adaptive birds. Shutterstock

How You Can Make A Difference

Cities are also full of people who can share observations of innovative behaviours, and we encourage you to get involved in citizen science.

A major benefit of community participation in science is increased geographic coverage in a short amount of time. Individual scientists can only survey a small number of sites, but by involving the community, we can cover large parts of a suburb, city, or a country at the same time.

There are dedicated citizen science projects you can participate in, such as our Big City Birds research. We use this app to learn about nesting, foraging, nocturnal roosts, and adaptive behaviours of birds across Australia (and not just in the big cities).

Read more: Birdwatching increased tenfold last lockdown. Don't stop, it's a huge help for bushfire recovery

Other recommended projects include eBirdiNaturalistDigiVolFrogID, and Urban Field Naturalist. It even helps to share any interesting observations through social media, an indirect way to inform scientific research. To help us, you can tag @Big_City_Birds or use this hashtag: #BigCityBirds.

With a range of similar studies underway, it’s likely scientists will discover more evidence of culturally complex behaviours in other species, continuing to challenge our idea of what it means to be human.The Conversation

John Martin, Adjunct lecturer, University of SydneyBarbara Klump, Researcher, Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, and Lucy Aplin, Research Group Leader, University of Konstanz

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

‘What country have you walked?’ Why all Australians should walk an Indigenous heritage trail

Stephen MueckeFlinders University

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains images and names of deceased people.

The Goolarabooloo community in Broome has been running the Lurujarri Heritage Trail for over 30 years. In July each year, tourists are welcomed by the Roe family, and embark on an eight-day trek.

Swags and tents are piled on the truck, so the walkers only have to carry a day pack. They soon pass the famous Cable Beach where less adventurous tourists are basking in the sun, and continue their walk along the beach admiring the contrast of aquamarine ocean and red pindan cliffs.

On trail, the colonial power dynamic between settler and Indigenous communities is turned on its head. The Goolarabooloo express their sovereignty (never ceded) by welcoming visitors onto their Country.

Paddy Roe at Minariny. AuthorAuthor provided

This kind of tourism is a rare, life-changing experience. What is special about the Lurujarri Trail is the participation of the Roe family. “Over eight days, we become friends,” tour leader Daniel Roe tells the group.


It was Daniel’s late great-grandfather, Paddy Roe, who had the idea for the trail in 1987. I had written a couple of books with him, and we were working on a third at the time, which I have only just delivered on: The Children’s Country.

He wanted the text to document and protect Country from developers and miners. But it turned out the trail was a better idea. When Woodside Energy and the Western Australian government wanted to build a huge gas hub in the middle of the trail, at Walmadany, James Price Point, over ten years ago, it was the Goolarabooloo that stood in the way, and eventually won the battle.

Hundreds of people had walked the trail over the years and some came back to help in the campaign. They had developed a kind of gut feeling for Country the Goolarabooloo call liyan.

Read more: Without James Price Point, what now for Browse Basin gas?

Extractive Industries

White Europeans only arrived in West Kimberley at the end of the 19th century, so elders like Paddy Roe, who lived from about 1912 to 2001, saw their arrival unfold.

In recent years, stark divisions over mining money have emerged in the Aboriginal community and Native Title determinations have exacerbated the divisions. The Goolarabooloo did not get any Native Title rights, as their neighbours did. Some speculate their opposition to the gas had a lot to do with it.

In a sense, the walking trail is land rights by other means. They are maintaining their knowledge and passing it on.

Dreaming stories (called bugarrigarra, the law) connect communities and follow old trade routes, down through the Western Desert via Uluru into southern parts, where the local pearl-shell used to be be traded for ochre, native tobacco or new song cycles.

rocky red beach
Gantheaume Point. Indian Ocean view of the rocky red cliffs along the Lurujarri Heritage Trail, with Cable Beach in the distance. Shutterstock

Read more: Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters is a must-visit exhibition for all Australians

There are dozens of Aboriginal walking tracks across Australia: well-known are the Larapinta in Central Australia, the Bundian Way between Targangal (Kosciuszko) and Bilgalera on the coast near Eden, and Mungo Aboriginal Discovery Tours.

But it is hard to find another with the Lurujarri Heritage Trail’s family involvement, ocean swimming, bush tucker, and the most extensive set of dinosaur footprints in Australia.

Read more: Friday essay: how our new archaeological research investigates Dark Emu's idea of Aboriginal 'agriculture' and villages

More Indigenous-led walking tracks could trace storied landmarks.

In Kaurna Country around Adelaide, there is the story of Tjilbruke. This ancestor was a law man whose nephew Kulultuwi was hunting emu that were forbidden to him.

Tjilbruke was prepared to overlook the transgression, but Kulultuwi’s half-brothers speared him. Tjilbruke, in mourning, carried the body of his nephew down the coast, stopping to weep at various points where there are now freshwater springs.

Read more: Friday essay: this grandmother tree connects me to Country. I cried when I saw her burned

Walking Schools

There is increasing awareness of how Indigenous knowledges are relevant to caring for Country.

“Things must go both ways,” Paddy Roe used to say to me.

He had already experienced practices that saw knowledge transfer going one way. People would ask him about his Country in order to exploit it, for water, for pasture, for pearl-shells and now for gas and oil.

Walking tracks can teach what each territory is capable of sustaining. The people further down the track know their Country is that little bit different and what it is capable of. These pathways connect up, and knowledge transforms along the way.

People often ask, “What school did you go to?” Perhaps one day, in Australia, they will ask, “what Country have you walked?”The Conversation

Stephen Muecke, Professor of Writing, Flinders University

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

If you see something, say something: why scientists need your help to spot blue whales off Australia’s east coast

Vanessa PirottaMacquarie University

Blue whales, the largest animals to ever live, are surprisingly elusive.

They’re bigger than the biggest dinosaur ever was, capable of growing over 30 metres long and can weigh over 100 tonnes — almost as long as a 737 plane and as heavy as 40 elephants. They also have one of the loudest voices, and can talk to each other hundreds of kilometres across the sea.

Why, then, are they so difficult to find in some parts off Australia?

My new research paper recorded only six verified sightings of the pygmy blue whale off Sydney in the last 18 years. Two of these occurred just last year. This blue whale subspecies is known to mostly occur along Australia’s west coast.

Rare sightings like these are important because pygmy blue whales are a “data deficient” animal. Every opportunity we have to learn about them is crucial to help us better protect them.

Blue Whales Down Under

Don’t let its name fool you, the pygmy blue whale can still grow shockingly large, up to 24 metres in length. It’s one of two blue whale subspecies that occur in Australian waters – the other being the Antarctic blue whale, the biggest whale of them all at around 33 metres long.

A blue whale lunging for krill.

Unfortunately, historical whaling hunted blue whales to near extinction in the Southern Ocean. The Antarctic blue whale was depleted to only a few hundred individuals and, while they’re slowly bouncing back, they’re still listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

In contrast, we know little about pre- and post-whaling numbers for pygmy blue whales. Their listing as a data deficient species by the IUCN means we don’t have a full understanding of their population status.

Blue whales can grow to around 30 metres, almost the same length as a 737 plane. Vanessa PirottaAuthor provided

One reason may be because blue whales are logistically challenging to study. For example, blue whales don’t just hang around in one area all the time. They’re capable of swimming thousands of kilometres for food and to breed.

They can also hold their breath for up to 90 minutes underwater, which can make them hard to spot unless they’re near the surface. To see them, people need to be in the right place at the right time.

This may require scientists to be on dedicated research vessels or in a plane to spot them, which can be expensive and weather-dependent.

Read more: I measure whales with drones to find out if they're fat enough to breed

This also makes learning about them much harder compared to other, more accessible species, such as coastal bottlenose dolphins.

To learn more about pygmy blue whales in Australia, marine scientists have developed a variety of techniques, including listening to whales talking, taking skin samples and satellite tagging.

While this work is useful, it has focused mainly in areas where pygmy blue whales are known to occur, such as southern and western Australian waters.

Pygmy blue whales are known to feed in the Perth Canyon, Western Australia, and between the Great Australian Bight and Bass Strait during summer. They most likely breed in the Indian and western Pacific Oceans during winter.

But we don’t know much about pygmy blue whale presence in other parts of Australian waters, such as the east coast.

Two bottle nose dolphins
Bottlenose dolphins are more commonly seen. Shutterstock

How Can We Conserve A Species We Know Very Little About?

Well, it can be tricky. The more information we know, the better we’re placed to assess their conservation needs. But focusing our efforts on species we know nothing about may require a conservative approach until we learn more.

Some would argue it’s better to protect a species we know needs our conservation dollar before spending precious resources on something uncertain.

Read more: Curious kids: do whales fart and sneeze?

Fortunately, Australia has some of the world’s best protection policies for marine mammals, including whales. This means a precautionary approach is already in place to protect these creatures.

Since blue whales are listed as a threatened species, they’re protected under Australia’s primary environment law, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

And on an international level, Australia is a signatory to the International Whaling Commission (the global body for whale conservation) and the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (which ensures wildlife trade doesn’t threaten endangered species).

Two blue whales near a boat
Citizen science sightings help contribute to our understanding of blue whale distributions in Australian waters. Shutterstock

To help uphold this international and national protection, scientists must continue to learn more about data-deficient animals like the pygmy blue whale to help safeguard against known and future threats.

This includes collisions with ships, overfishing, entanglement with fishing gear, increased human activity in the ocean, and climate change, which may affect when and where whales occur.

We Need Extra Eyes

There are more than 14,600 animal species listed as data deficient by the IUCN.

Some, like the pygmy blue whale, are poorly studied. One reason is because they’re cryptic or boat shy, such as the Australian snubfin dolphin.

Or, they might be tricky to see, such as the false killer whale, whose sightings remain irregular in Australian coastal waters. Opportunities to learn more about them occur when they become stranded.

A false killer whale pokes its head out of the water
False killer whales are another data-deficient marine animal. Shutterstock

So while citizen science sightings of pygmy blue whales may be rare off the Australian east coast, they do help contribute to our understanding of their distribution in Australian waters.

The two sightings of pygmy blue whales off Maroubra, Sydney, last year were within two months of each other. This was thanks to drones (flown under state rules).

Read more: Climate change threatens Antarctic krill and the sea life that depends on it

This prompted my research review of blue whale sightings off Sydney, which found citizen scientists made similar sightings in 2002 – the first official sighting from land off Sydney — and between 2012-14.

We don’t know exactly what type of pygmy blue whales these are (three distinct groups are recognised: the Indo-Australian, New Zealand and Madagascar groups). However, whale calls detected along Australia’s east coast in previous years suggest they’re most likely New Zealand pygmy blue whales, and they could have been heading to breeding waters north of Tonga.

So, the next time you are by the sea, keep a look out and tell a scientist via social media if you see something interesting. You just never know when the world’s biggest, or shiest, animal may turn up out of the blue.

Read more: Photos from the field: these magnificent whales are adapting to warming water, but how much can they take? The Conversation

Vanessa Pirotta, Wildlife scientist, Macquarie University

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

Wind turbines off the coast could help Australia become an energy superpower, research finds

Sven TeskeUniversity of Technology SydneyChris BriggsUniversity of Technology SydneyMark HemerCSIROPhilip MarshUniversity of Tasmania, and Rusty LangdonUniversity of Technology Sydney

Offshore wind farms are an increasingly common sight overseas. But Australia has neglected the technology, despite the ample wind gusts buffeting much of our coastline.

New research released today confirms Australia’s offshore wind resources offer vast potential both for electricity generation and new jobs. In fact, wind conditions off southern Australia rival those in the North Sea, between Britain and Europe, where the offshore wind industry is well established.

More than ten offshore wind farms are currently proposed for Australia. If built, their combined capacity would be greater than all coal-fired power plants in the nation.

Offshore wind projects can provide a win-win-win for Australia: creating jobs for displaced fossil fuel workers, replacing energy supplies lost when coal plants close, and helping Australia become a renewable energy superpower.

offshore wind turbine from above
Australia’s potential for offshore wind rivals the North Sea’s. Shutterstock

The Time Is Now

Globally, offshore wind is booming. The United Kingdom plans to quadruple offshore wind capacity to 40 gigawatts (GW) by 2030 – enough to power every home in the nation. Other jurisdictions also have ambitious 2030 offshore wind targets including the European Union (60GW), the United States (30GW), South Korea (12GW) and Japan (10GW).

Australia’s coastal waters are relatively deep, which limits the scope to fix offshore wind turbines to the bottom of the ocean. This, combined with Australia’s ample onshore wind and solar energy resources, means offshore wind has been overlooked in Australia’s energy system planning.

But recent changes are producing new opportunities for Australia. The development of larger turbines has created economies of scale which reduce technology costs. And floating turbine foundations, which can operate in very deep waters, open access to more windy offshore locations.

More than ten offshore wind projects are proposed in Australia. Star of the South, to be built off Gippsland in Victoria, is the most advanced. Others include those off Western AustraliaTasmania and Victoria.

floating wind turbine
Floating wind turbines can operate in deep waters. SAITEC

Our Findings

Our study sought to examine the potential of offshore wind energy for Australia.

First, we examined locations considered feasible for offshore wind projects, namely those that were:

  • less than 100km from shore
  • within 100km of substations and transmission lines (excluding environmentally restricted areas)
  • in water depths less than 1,000 metres.

Wind resources at those locations totalled 2,233GW of capacity and would generate far more than current and projected electricity demand across Australia.

Second, we looked at so-called “capacity factor” – the ratio between the energy an offshore wind turbine would generate with the winds available at a location, relative to the turbine’s potential maximum output.

The best sites were south of Tasmania, with a capacity factor of 80%. The next-best sites were in Bass Strait and off Western Australia and North Queensland (55%), followed by South Australia and New South Wales (45%). By comparison, the capacity factor of onshore wind turbines is generally 35–45%.

Average annual wind speeds in Bass Strait, around Tasmania and along the mainland’s southwest coast equal those in the North Sea, where offshore wind is an established industry. Wind conditions in southern Australia are also more favourable than in the East China and Yellow seas, which are growth regions for commercial wind farms.

Map showing average wind speed
Average wind speed (metres per second) from 2010-2019 in the study area at 100 metres. Authors provided

Next, we compared offshore wind resources on an hourly basis against the output of onshore solar and wind farms at 12 locations around Australia.

At most sites, offshore wind continued to operate at high capacity during periods when onshore wind and solar generation output was low. For example, meteorological data shows offshore wind at the Star of the South location is particularly strong on hot days when energy demand is high.

Australia’s fleet of coal-fired power plants is ageing, and the exact date each facility will retire is uncertain. This creates risks of disruption to energy supplies, however offshore wind power could help mitigate this. A single offshore wind project can be up to five times the size of an onshore wind project.

Some of the best sites for offshore winds are located near the Latrobe Valley in Victoria and the Hunter Valley in NSW. Those regions boast strong electricity grid infrastructure built around coal plants, and offshore wind projects could plug into this via undersea cables.

And building wind energy offshore can also avoid the planning conflicts and community opposition which sometimes affect onshore renewables developments.

Global average wind speed
Global average wind speed (metres per second at 100m level. Authors provided

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

Winds Of Change

Our research found offshore wind could help Australia become a renewable energy “superpower”. As Australia seeks to reduce its greenhouse has emissions, sectors such as transport will need increased supplies of renewable energy. Clean energy will also be needed to produce hydrogen for export and to manufacture “green” steel and aluminium.

Offshore wind can also support a “just transition” – in other words, ensure fossil fuel workers and their communities are not left behind in the shift to a low-carbon economy.

Our research found offshore wind could produce around 8,000 jobs under the scenario used in our study – almost as many as those employed in Australia’s offshore oil and gas sector.

Many skills used in the oil and gas industry, such as those in construction, safety and mechanics, overlap with those needed in offshore wind energy. Coal workers could also be re-employed in offshore wind manufacturing, port assembly and engineering.

Realising these opportunities from offshore wind will take time and proactive policy and planning. Our report includes ten recommendations, including:

  • establishing a regulatory regime in Commonwealth waters
  • integrating offshore wind into energy planning and innovation funding
  • further research on the cost-benefits of the sector to ensure Australia meets its commitments to a well managed sustainable ocean economy.

If we get this right, offshore wind can play a crucial role in Australia’s energy transition.

Read more: Super-charged: how Australia's biggest renewables project will change the energy game The Conversation

Sven Teske, Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology SydneyChris Briggs, Research Principal, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology SydneyMark Hemer, Principal Research Scientist, Oceans and Atmosphere, CSIROPhilip Marsh, Post doctoral researcher, University of Tasmania, and Rusty Langdon, Research Consultant, University of Technology Sydney

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

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.

$28 Million Boost To Help Basin Communities

July 20, 2021
Communities across the Murray–Darling Basin have secured funding to diversify and strengthen their local economies through the Coalition Government’s Murray–Darling Basin Economic Development Program Round 3.

Minister for Resources and Water Keith Pitt said the funding would enable 51 projects, creating new jobs and generating greater economic activity in communities across the Basin.

“We are providing opportunities for Basin communities affected by the Murray–Darling Basin Plan to be at the heart of decisions on how to stimulate their economies,” Minister Pitt said.

“This tranche of approved projects will create new jobs as they are delivered as well as enduring employment opportunities.

“They’ll also increase the capacity of communities to diversify and strengthen their local economies and they’ll help them manage current and future economic challenges.

“The program recognises that communities know how best to tackle the challenges they face and what kinds of economic activity would support people in their own areas, and I look forward to announcing further round 3 projects in the coming weeks.”

The grant funding will be distributed to the following local government areas: 

Queensland: Balonne, Paroo
New South Wales: Balranald, Berrigan, Bland, Bourke, Brewarrina, Carrathool, Central Darling, Edward River, Federation, Griffith, Gwydir, Hay, Leeton, Moree Plains, Murray River, Murrumbidgee, Narrabri, Narromine, Walgett, Warren, Wentworth
Victoria: Campaspe, Gannawarra, Greater Shepparton, Mildura
South Australia: Alexandrina, Berri Barmera, Coorong, Loxton Waikerie, Mid Murray, Murray Bridge, Renmark Paringa

“Across the Basin, people have been dealing with the biggest water reform in Australia’s history along with drought, demographic change and commodity price change,” Minister Pitt said.

“The projects we have chosen are diverse, covering sectors such as hospitality, destination and activity tourism, town revitalisation, capacity building and leadership, and Indigenous cultural sharing.

“It was great to see first-hand and inspect last week some of these projects in Northern New South Wales that will have a big impact on their communities. 

“This is about putting communities back at the heart of the Basin Plan. The plan was always designed to deliver for communities, industries and the environment. 

“Close to $39 million of funding has already been approved under Rounds 1 and 2 of the program for a huge array of activities--from thermal hot spring upgrades to business mentoring, ecotourism trails, agritourism projects and aerodrome developments.

“I will announce further successful projects to create new jobs in Murray-Darling Basin communities as these are approved and finalised,” Minister Pitt said.

* List of approved projects:
- Alexandrina Council - Telling Old Stories, New Ways - $980,000
- Balonne Shire Council - St George River Foreshore - $1,000,000
- Barmera Golf Club Incorporated - Barmera Golf Club Amenities Upgrade - $104,620
- Barooga Sports Club – 5km Bullanginya Lagoon Arts Walk – $250,000
- Bland Shire Council - West Wyalong and Wyalong Connected Walking Trails - $500,000
- Bourke Shire Council - Back O Bourke Exhibition Centre Upgrade - $974,215
- Berri War Memorial Community Centre Inc - Berri Riverside Holiday Park - Riverside Apartments Development - $1,000,000
- Blanchetown Kart Club - Outgrid Shelter, tanks and amenity - $60,000
- Brewarrina Shire Council - Brewarrina Aboriginal Fishtraps Lookout & River Walk - $920,000
- Care Balonne Association Inc. - Women's Leadership and Business Collaboration - $100,000
- Central Darling Shire Council - Victory Caravan Park Amenity Block Upgrade - $489,665
- Committee for Greater Shepparton Inc. - Community Connector Program Pilot - $300,000
- Coorong District Council - Parklets in Coorong District Town Centres - $158,812
- Cunnamulla & District Show Society Inc - Cunnamulla Showgrounds Electrical Upgrade - $175,770
- District Council of Loxton Waikerie - Loxton Retirement Village Development Project - $1,000,000
- District Council of Loxton Waikerie - Loxton River Tourism Project - $382,100
- Edward River Council – Deniliquin’s Seniors’ Living Precinct – Stage 1 = $1,000,000
- Destination Riverina Murray – Digital skills development for regional tourism businesses – $75,238
- Finley Regional Care – New on site Medical Facility – $1,000,000
- Gannawarra Shire Council - Cohuna Linked Waterfront Destination - $200,000
- Gargarro Botanic Garden Ltd. – The Gargarro Community Hub & Café - $813,925
- Goolwa to Wellington Local Action Planning Association Incorporated - River Murray Lower Lakes Visitor Trails - Stage 2 - $173,330
- Goondir Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders Corporation for Health Services - St George Community Wellbeing Centre Project - Stage 2 - $908,601
- Gwydir Shire Council - Big River Dreaming - Stage 2 - $300,000
- Hay Shire Council – Material Recovery (Recycling) Facility – $1,350,000
- Leeton Shire Council – Roxy Theatre community hub – $999,999
- Mid Murray Council - Murray Coorong Trail - Strategic Planning and Design Development - $410,000
- Mildura Rural City Council - Mildura Riverfront Precinct – Stage 2 - $1,000,000
- Moree Plains Shire Council - Mungindi Business Revitalisation - $450,000
- Narrabri Shire Council - Business Improvement Program - $300,000
- Narromine Shire Council - Revitalisation and Activation Project - $600,000
- Ngopamuldi Aboriginal Corporation - Nursery Irrigation Enhancement for Fertigation via Aquaponics - $250,000
- Ngopamuldi Aboriginal Corporation - Maximising Capacity for Goolwa Cockle Harvesting - $234,883
- Ozfish Unlimited Limited - River Repair Bus - $250,000
- Paroo Shire Council - Cunnamulla Pontoon, Jetty and Warrego Boat Cruises Project - $943,474
- Riverland Field Days Incorporated - Riverland Events Centre Shower Block - $88,000
- Rochester Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. - Sport, Play & Culture in Rochester - $990,000
- Rotary Club of Waikerie Incorporated - Waikerie Clifftop Walk Upgrade Project - $356,500
- Rural and Remote Medical Services Limited - Collarenebri Community Health Hub - $945,000
- Rural City of Murray Bridge - Sturt Reserve Mobilong Wharf Shelter Project - $450,000
- Thallon Progress Association Inc - Opportunities from Adversity - $447,780
- The Renmark Hotel Incorporated - Renmark Hotel Redevelopment and Refurbishment - $1,000,000
- Tocumwal Pre-School Kindergarten – new purpose-built Child Care Centre – $1,000,000
- Walgett Shire Council - Collarenebri Bore Bath - $920,124
- Warren Shire Council - Carter Oval Sports Lighting Project - $500,000
- Warren Shire Council - Monkeygar Creek Macquarie Marshes Bird Viewing Project - $500,000
- Warren Shire Council - Warren Showground Racecourse Improvement Program - $250,000
- Warren Shire Council - Water Reservoirs and Grain Silos Murals - $250,000
- Wee Waa Community Complex Inc - Wee Waa Medical Professional Housing - $304,000
- Wentworth Shire Council – Community Space and Convention Centre – $713,339
- West Darling Arts Inc - Menindee Film Hub - $192,357

NB: No indication or reference as to what the '*' means.

Epicentre Of Major Amazon Droughts And Fires Saw 2.5 Billion Trees And Vines Killed

July 19, 2021
A major drought and forest fires in the Amazon rainforest killed billions of trees and plants and turned one of the world's largest carbon sinks into one of its biggest polluters.

Triggered by the 2015-16 El Niño, extreme drought and associated mega-wildfires caused the death of around 2.5 billion trees and plants and emitted 495 million tonnes of CO2 from an area that makes up just 1.2 per cent of the entire Brazilian Amazon rainforest, and 1 per cent of the whole biome.

The stark findings, discovered by an international team of scientists working for more than eight years on a long-term study in the Amazon before, during and after the El Niño, have significant implications for global efforts to control the atmospheric carbon balance.

In normal circumstances, because of high moisture levels, the Amazon rainforest does not burn. However, extreme drought makes the forest temporarily flammable. Fires started by farmers can escape their land and trigger forest fires.

According to climate predictions, extreme droughts will become more common and, until now, the long-term effects of drought and fires on the Amazon rainforest, and particularly within forests disturbed by people through activities such as selective or illegal logging, were largely unknown.

Examining the Amazonian epicentre of the El Niño -- Brazil's Lower Tapajós, an eastern Amazonia area around twice the size of Belgium -- the research team, led by scientists from Lancaster University, the University of Oxford, and The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation found the damage lasts for multiple years.

The study revealed that trees and plants in drought-affected forests, as well as burned forests, continued to die at a rate above the norm for up to three years after the El Niño drought -- releasing more CO2.into the atmosphere.

The total carbon emissions from the drought and fires in the Lower Tapajós region alone were higher than a whole year's deforestation within the entire Amazon. And, as a result of the drought and fires, the region released as much over a three-year period as some of the world's worst polluting countries' yearly carbon emissions -- exceeding the emissions of developed countries such as the UK and Australia.

After three years, only around a third (37%) of the emissions were re-absorbed by plant growth in the forest. This shows that the Amazon's vital function as a carbon sink can be hampered for years following these drought events.

Dr Erika Berenguer, lead author of the report from Lancaster University and the University of Oxford, said: "Our results highlight the enormously damaging and long-lasting effects fires can cause in Amazonian forests, an ecosystem that did not co-evolve with fires as a regular pressure."

The scientists gathered data by regularly revisiting 21 plots across a mixture of primary forest, secondary re-growing forest and forests where people have selectively logged. The results from these plots were then extrapolated to the region.

Although previous research has shown human-disturbed forests are more susceptible to fires, it was unknown if there was any difference in the vulnerability and resilience of trees and plants in these forests when drought and fires happen.

The study showed that while many trees died in primary forest affected by drought, the loss of trees was much worse in secondary and other human-disturbed forests. The researchers found that trees and plants with lower wood density and thinner barks were more prone to dying from the drought and fires. These smaller trees are more common in human-disturbed forests.

The researchers estimate that around 447 million large trees (greater than 10cm Diameter at Breast Height) died, and around 2.5 billion smaller trees (less than 10cm DBH) died across the Lower Tapajós region.

The researchers also compared the effect on different forest types from drought alone, as well as the combined stresses of drought and fire.

Tree and plant mortality was higher in secondary forests from drought alone when compared with primary forests. Impact from drought was not higher in human-modified forests, but was significantly greater in those human-modified forests that experienced a combination of drought and fire.

Carbon emissions from those forests burned by wildfires were almost six times higher than forests affected by drought alone.

These findings highlight how interference by people can make the Amazon forests more vulnerable and underline the need to reduce illegal logging and other large-scale human disturbances of forests in the Amazon, as well as investments in fire-fighting capabilities in the Amazon.

Professor Jos Barlow of Lancaster University and the Universidade Federal de Lavras, and Principal Investigator of the research, said: "The results highlight the need for action across different scales. Internationally, we need action to tackle climate change, which is making extreme droughts and fires more likely. At the local level, forests will suffer fewer negative consequences from fires if they are protected from degradation."

Erika Berenguer, Gareth D. Lennox, Joice Ferreira, Yadvinder Malhi, Luiz E. O. C. Aragão, Julia Rodrigues Barreto, Fernando Del Bon Espírito-Santo, Axa Emanuelle S. Figueiredo, Filipe França, Toby Alan Gardner, Carlos A. Joly, Alessandro F. Palmeira, Carlos Alberto Quesada, Liana Chesini Rossi, Marina Maria Moraes de Seixas, Charlotte C. Smith, Kieran Withey, Jos Barlow. Tracking the impacts of El Niño drought and fire in human-modified Amazonian forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021; 118 (30): e2019377118 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2019377118

How Traditional Owners and officials came together to protect a stunning stretch of WA coast

Jim UnderwoodAustralian Institute of Marine Science

Recent disasters such as the Black Summer bushfires and the Juukan Gorge destruction highlighted the need to put Indigenous people at the centre of decision-making about Australia’s natural places. But what’s the right way to combine traditional ancient wisdom with modern environmental management?

A project off Western Australia’s northwest coast offers a potential way forward. For the first time in the state’s history, Indigenous knowledge has been central to the design of a marine park.

The protected area will span 660,000 hectares northeast of Broome, taking in the stunning Buccaneer Archipelago and Dampier Peninsula. The area comprises thousands of small islands fringed by coral reefs and seagrass beds. The waters support a rich abundance of species such as corals, fish, turtles and dugongs, as well as humpback whales which give birth in the region.

Often, Indigenous input is sought only in the consultation phase of park planning, once maps have been drawn up. But in this case, Traditional Owners co-designed three marine parks with the state government and will jointly manage them. Traditional ecological and cultural wisdom has been embraced and valued, enhancing Western scientific knowledge of a fragile stretch of Australia’s coast.

two men on boat
Traditional owners have been caring for country for thousands of years. Nick Thake

Caring For Sea Country

The marine park co-design is a collaboration between WA’s Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions and Bardi Jawi, Mayala and Dambeemangarddee Traditional Owners. It will comprise three adjoining protected areas, each jointly managed by a Traditional Owner group.

The Buccaneer Archipelago region has the state’s highest concentration of Traditional Owner communities living adjacent to an existing or proposed marine park.

Local Indigenous people refer to these areas as “Sea Country”. They depend on the waters for food and to carry out traditional practices, and have cared for them sustainably for thousands of years.

But to date, the state’s conservation reserve system has not adequately protected these unique and exceptionally diverse marine ecosystems.

Industry, fishing and tourism are putting pressure on the region’s environment. In particular, the recent sealing of Cape Leveque Road improved access to the Dampier Peninsula and will result in massive increases in tourism and boating.

Adding to this, marine heatwaves and other climate-related changes pose a serious threat to coralsmacroalgae and seagrass.

Read more: Why Indigenous knowledge should be an essential part of how we govern the world's oceans

red cliffs at beach
A new sealed road to Cape Leveque will add to pressures on the marine area. Shutterstock

Genuine Two-Way Partnerships

Combining traditional Indigenous knowledge with a Western approach requires methods that are both culturally appropriate and scientifically robust.

In 2018, Bardi Jawi rangers and staff from the Australian Institute of Marine Science carried out “participatory mapping” to design a mornitoring program for corals and fish. The rangers and marine park planners went on to use this method when designing the marine park.

Participatory mapping starts with Traditional Owners and marine park planners documenting the traditional owners’ ecological knowledge, cultural values and aspirations. From this, maps are developed then built on via on-Country observations.

This process allows scientists to record and understand traditional knowledge of an environment in a way that is also useful for Western conservation and management planning.

people look at map
Participatory mapping involves traditional owners and marine park planners. Nick Thake

The co-design approach was built on genuine partnerships, mutual respect and two-way learning. The partnerships developed over several years through other joint projects by scientists and Bardi Jawi rangers.

The department listened to and implemented this strong Indigenous voice in the development of the marine parks’ draft plans.

According to the Traditional Owners themselves, the sea is fundamental to the spiritual, social and physical existence. Their diet relies heavily on food from the sea such as fish, turtles, dugongs, crabs and oysters. Under Indigenous laws, traditional owners are required to protect significant features in the sea and for some groups, resources such as pearl shell has traditionally been collected and used for ceremony and trade.

A WA government document outlines how the proposed marine parks contain “special purpose zones” to protect traditional culture and heritage. They allow for seasonal camping areas and places where Traditional Owners can collect customary food and other resources. They will also protect culturally significant features such as cultural sites reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove communities.

The document also says the proposal protects places with “intangible” value related to traditional law, ceremony and stories.

These zones are in addition to sanctuary zones protecting areas of critical habitat, and general use zones where sustainable activities are allowed.

Read more: Will your grandchildren have the chance to visit Australia’s sacred trees? Only if our sick indifference to Aboriginal heritage is cured

man sits while fishing on beach
Science informs the activities allowed in each zone. Shutterstock

Scientific Rigour

Protected areas in marine parks must be sized, spaced and positioned to allow “population connectivity” – the dispersal of eggs, larvae, juveniles and adults through the area.

My involvement in the marine park design included participating in a study which led to recommendations for how best to achieve this connectivity.

The study was part of a bigger program to improve and integrate ecological and social science knowledge in this region. This information was incorporated into two-way learning and planning, which fed into the proposed marine park.

Proven On-Ground Success

Key to the success of the new marine parks will be the practical capacity of Traditional Owners and Rangers. Indigenous sea ranger groups in the region have already shown they can work with both traditional governance and knowledge structures and non-Indigenous Australian organisations.

What’s more, the Bardi Jawi, Dambeemangarddee and Mayala people have their own healthy country plans. These plans clearly document how they have looked after country for millennia and want to continue this in future.

The Bardi Jawi and Dambeemanagrdee people have also established an Indigenous Protected Area which they’ve successfully cared for since 2013.

Healthy Country, Healthy People

Some recreational fishers believe the proposed exclusions are unreasonable. But there is growing evidence fish populations benefit from sanctuary networks. And many local fishers recognise the increasing threats to the region and welcome Traditional Owners playing a larger management role.

It’s hoped the final marine parks plan will find the right balance between the needs of Traditional Owners, commercial and recreational fishing, pearling and other uses.

By involving traditional custodians from the start, there’s every chance we will realise the ancient Indigenous idea that healthy Country means healthy people – and that will benefit everyone.

The author would like to acknowledge the Bardi Jawi, Mayala and Dambeemangarddee Traditional Owners and their continuing culture, knowledge, beliefs and spiritual connection to Country. The author recognises they are Australia’s first scientists.The Conversation

Jim Underwood, Research Fellow and Indigenous Partnerships, Australian Institute of Marine Science

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

The sunlight that powers solar panels also damages them. ‘Gallium doping’ is providing a solution

Matthew WrightUNSWBrett HallamUNSW, and Bruno Vicari StefaniUNSW

Solar power is already the cheapest form of electricity generation, and its cost will continue to fall as more improvements emerge in the technology and its global production. Now, new research is exploring what could be another major turning point in solar cell manufacturing.

In Australia, more than two million rooftops have solar panels (the most per capita in the world). The main material used in panels is silicon. Silicon makes up most of an individual solar cell’s components required to convert sunlight into power. But some other elements are also required.

Research from our group at the University of New South Wales’s School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering shows that adding gallium to the cell’s silicon can lead to very stable solar panels which are much less susceptible to degrading over their lifetime.

This is the long-term goal for the next generation of solar panels: for them to produce more power over their lifespan, which means the electricity produced by the system will be cheaper in the long run.

As gallium is used more and more to achieve this, our findings provide robust data that could allow manufacturers to make decisions that will ultimately have a global impact.

The Process Of ‘Doping’ Solar Cells

A solar cell converts sunlight into electricity by using the energy from sunlight to “break away” negative charges, or electrons, in the silicon. The electrons are then collected as electricity.

However, shining light on a plain piece of silicon doesn’t generate electricity, as the electrons that are released from the light do not all flow in the same direction. To make the electricity flow in one direction, we need to create an electric field.

Read more: Curious Kids: how do solar panels work?

In silicon solar cells — the kind currently producing power for millions of Australian homes — this is done by adding different impurity atoms to the silicon, to create a region that has more negative charges than normal silicon (n-type silicon) and a region that has fewer negative charges (p-type silicon).

When we put the two parts of silicon together, we form what is called a “p-n junction”. This allows the solar cell to operate. And the adding of impurity atoms into silicon is called “doping”.

An Unfortunate Side Effect Of Sunlight

The most commonly used atom to form the p-type part of the silicon, with less negative charge than plain silicon, is boron.

Boron is a great atom to use as it has the exact number of electrons needed for the task. It can also be distributed very uniformly through the silicon during the production of the high-purity crystals required for solar cells.

But in a cruel twist, shining light on boron-filled silicon can make the quality of the silicon degrade. This is often referred to as “light-induced degradation” and has been a hot topic in solar research over the past decade.

The reason for this degradation is relatively well understood: when we make the pure silicon material, we have to purposefully add some impurities such as boron to generate the electric field that drives the electricity. However, other unwanted atoms are also incorporated into the silicon as a result.

One of these atoms is oxygen, which is incorporated into the silicon from the crucible — the big hot pot in which the silicon is refined.

When light shines on silicon that contains both boron and oxygen, they bond together, causing a defect that can trap electricity and reduce the amount of power generated by the solar panel.

Unfortunately, this means the sunlight that powers solar panels also damages them over their lifetime. An element called gallium looks like it could be the solution to this problem.

A Smarter Approach

Boron isn’t the only element we can use to make p-type silicon. A quick perusal of the periodic table shows a whole column of elements that have one less negative charge than silicon.

Adding one of these atoms to silicon upsets the balance between the negative and positive charge, which is needed to make our electric field. Of these atoms, the most suitable is gallium.

Gallium is a very suitable element to make p-type silicon. In fact, multiple studies have shown it doesn’t bond together with oxygen to cause degradation. So, you may be wondering, why we haven’t been using gallium all along?

Well, the reason we have been stuck using boron instead of gallium over the past 20 years is that the process of doping silicon with gallium was locked under a patent. This prevented manufacturers using this approach.

Gallium-doped silicon heterojunction solar cell. Robert Underwood/UNSW

But these patents finally expired in May 2020. Since then, the industry has rapidly shifted from boron to gallium to make p-type silicon.

In fact, at the start of 2021, leading photovoltaic manufacturer Hanwha Q Cells estimated about 80% of all solar panels manufactured in 2021 used gallium doping rather than boron — a massive transition in such a short time!

Does Gallium Really Boost Solar Panel Stability?

We investigated whether solar cells made with gallium-doped silicon really are more stable than solar cells made with boron-doped silicon.

To find out, we made solar cells using a “silicon heterojunction” design, which is the approach that has led to the highest efficiency silicon solar cells to date. This work was done in collaboration with Hevel Solar in Russia.

We measured the voltage of both boron-doped and gallium-doped solar cells during a light-soaking test for 300,000 seconds. The boron-doped solar cell underwent significant degradation due to the boron bonding with oxygen.

Meanwhile, the gallium-doped solar cell had a much higher voltage. Our result also demonstrated that p-type silicon made using gallium is very stable and could help unlock savings for this type of solar cell.

To think it might be possible for manufacturers to work at scale with gallium, producing solar cells that are both more stable and potentially cheaper, is a hugely exciting prospect.

The best part is our findings could have a direct impact on industry. And cheaper solar electricity for our homes means a brighter future for our planet, too.

Read more: It might sound 'batshit insane' but Australia could soon export sunshine to Asia via a 3,800km cable The Conversation

Matthew Wright, Postdoctoral Researcher in Photovoltaic Engineering, UNSWBrett Hallam, Scientia and DECRA Fellow, UNSW, and Bruno Vicari Stefani, PhD Candidate, UNSW

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

We’ve discovered an undersea volcano near Christmas Island that looks like the Eye of Sauron

Phil Vandenbossche & Nelson Kuna/CSIROAuthor provided
Tim O'HaraMuseums Victoria

Looking like the Eye of Sauron from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, an ancient undersea volcano was slowly revealed by multibeam sonar 3,100 metres below our vessel, 280 kilometres southeast of Christmas Island. This was on day 12 of our voyage of exploration to Australia’s Indian Ocean Territories, aboard CSIRO’s dedicated ocean research vessel, the RV Investigator.

Previously unknown and unimagined, this volcano emerged from our screens as a giant oval-shaped depression called a caldera, 6.2km by 4.8km across. It is surrounded by a 300m-high rim (resembling Sauron’s eyelids), and has a 300 m high cone-shaped peak at its the centre (the “pupil”).

Sonar sea bed image
Sonar image of the ‘Eye of Sauron’ volcano and nearby seamounts on the sea bed south-west of Christmas Island. Phil Vandenbossche & Nelson Kuna/CSIROAuthor provided

A caldera is formed when a volcano collapses. The molten magma at the base of the volcano shifts upwards, leaving empty chambers. The thin solid crust on the surface of the dome then collapses, creating a large crater-like structure. Often, a small new peak then begins to form in the centre as the volcano continues spewing magma.

One well-known caldera is the one at Krakatoa in Indonesia, which exploded in 1883, killing tens of thousands of people and leaving only bits of the mountain rim visible above the waves. By 1927, a small volcano, Anak Krakatoa (“child of Krakatoa”), had grown in its centre.

Read more: Krakatoa is still active, and we are not ready for the tsunamis another eruption would generate

In contrast, we may not even be aware of volcanic eruptions when they happen deep under the ocean. One of the few tell-tale signs is the presence of rafts of light pumice stone floating on the sea surface after being blown out of a submarine volcano. Eventually, this pumice stone becomes waterlogged and sinks to the ocean floor.

Our volcanic “eye” was not alone. Further mapping to the south revealed a smaller sea mountain covered in numerous volcanic cones, and further still to the south was a larger, flat-topped seamount. Following our Lord of the Rings theme, we have nicknamed them Barad-dûr (“Dark Fortress”) and Ered Lithui (“Ash Mountains”), respectively.

The voyage of the RV Investigator around Christmas Island. Tim O'Hara/Museums Victoria

Although author J.R.R. Tolkein’s knowledge of mountain geology wasn’t perfect, our names are wonderfully appropriate given the jagged nature of the first and the pumice-covered surface of the second.

The Eye of Sauron, Barad-dûr, and Ered Lithui are part of the Karma cluster of seamounts that have been previously estimated by geologists to be more than 100 million years old, and which formed next to an ancient sea ridge from a time when Australia was situated much further south, near Antarctica. The flat summit of Ered Lithui was formed by wave erosion when the seamount protruded above the sea surface, before the heavy seamount slowly sank back down into the soft ocean seafloor. The summit of Ered Lithui is now 2.6km below sea level.

But here is the geological conundrum. Our caldera looks surprisingly fresh for a structure that should be more than 100 million years old. Ered Lithui has almost 100m of sand and mud layers draped over its summit, formed by sinking dead organisms over millions of years. This sedimentation rate would have partially smothered the caldera. Instead it is possible that volcanoes have continued to sprout or new ones formed long after the original foundation. Our restless Earth is never still.

The large deep-sea predatory seastar Zoroaster. Rob French/Museums VictoriaAuthor provided
Small batfish patrol the seamount summits. Rob French/Museums VictoriaAuthor provided
Sea pig
Elasipod sea cucumbers feed on organic detritus on deep sandy seafloors. Rob French/Museums VictoriaAuthor provided

But life adapts to these geological changes, and Ered Lithui is now covered in seafloor animals. Brittle-stars, sea-stars, crabs and worms burrow into or skate over the sandy surface. Erect black corals, fan-corals, sea-whips, sponges and barnacles grow on exposed rocks. Gelatinous cusk-eels prowl around rock gullies and boulders. Batfish lie in wait for unsuspecting prey.

Our mission is to map the seafloor and survey sea life from these ancient and secluded seascapes. The Australian government recently announced plans to create two massive marine parks across the regions. Our expedition will supply scientific data that will help Parks Australia to manage these areas into the future.

Scientists from museums, universities, CSIRO and Bush Blitz around Australia are participating in the voyage. We are close to completing part one of our journey to the Christmas Island region. Part two of our journey to the Cocos (Keeling) Island region will be scheduled in the next year or so.

No doubt many animals that we find here will be new to science and our first records of their existence will be from this region. We expect many more surprising discoveries.

Read more: This deep-sea creature is long-armed, bristling with teeth, and the sole survivor of 180 million years of evolution The Conversation

Tim O'Hara, Senior Curator of Marine Invertebrates, Museums Victoria

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

World Heritage Committee Deletes Liverpool - Maritime Mercantile City From UNESCO’s World Heritage List

July 21, 2021
The World Heritage Committee, holding its 44th session in Fuzhou and online, decided to delete the property “Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City” (UK) from the World Heritage List, due to the irreversible loss of attributes conveying the outstanding universal value of the property.

Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2004 and on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2012 following concerns about the proposed development of Liverpool Waters. The project has since gone ahead along with other developments both inside the site and in its buffer zone. The Committee considers that these constructions are detrimental to the site’s authenticity and integrity.

Liverpool’s historic centre and docklands were inscribed for bearing witness to the development of one of the world’s major trading centres in the 18th and 19th centuries. The site also illustrated pioneering developments in modern dock technology, transport systems and port management.

Any deletion from the World Heritage List is a loss to the international community and to the internationally shared values and commitments under the World Heritage Convention.

After the Elbe Valley in Dresden (Germany) and the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary (Oman), Liverpool is the third property to lose its World Heritage status.

Image © OUR PLACE The World Heritage / Geoff Mason

When coral dies, tiny invertebrates boom. This could dramatically change the food web on the Great Barrier Reef

Kate FraserUniversity of Tasmania

This week, international ambassadors will take a snorkelling trip to the Great Barrier Reef as part of the Australian government’s efforts to stop the reef getting on the world heritage “in danger” list.

The World Heritage Centre of UNESCO is set to make its final decision on whether to officially brand the reef as “in danger” later this month.

To many coral reef researchers like myself, who have witnessed firsthand the increasing coral bleaching and cyclone-driven destruction of this global icon, an in-danger listing comes as no surprise.

But the implications of mass coral death are complex — just because coral is dying doesn’t mean marine life there will end. Instead, it will change.

In recent research, my colleagues and I discovered dead coral hosted 100 times more microscopic invertebrates than healthy coral. This means up to 100 times more fish food is available on reefs dominated by dead coral compared with live, healthy coral.

This is a near-invisible consequence of coral death, with dramatic implications for reef food webs.

When Coral Dies

Tiny, mobile invertebrates — between 0.125 and 4 millimetres in size — are ubiquitous inhabitants of the surfaces of all reef structures and are the main food source for approximately 70% of fish species on the Great Barrier Reef.

These invertebrates, most visible only under a microscope, are commonly known as “epifauna” and include species of crustaceans, molluscs, and polychaete worms.

Read more: Australian government was 'blindsided' by UN recommendation to list Great Barrier Reef as in-danger. But it's no great surprise

When corals die, their skeletons are quickly overgrown by fine, thread-like “turfing algae”. Turf-covered coral skeletons then break down into beds of rubble.

We wanted to find out how the tiny epifaunal invertebrates — upon which many fish depend - might respond to the widespread replacement of live healthy coral with dead, turf-covered coral.

A sample of epifauna under the microscope. Kate Fraser

I took my SCUBA gear and a box of lab equipment, and dived into a series of reefs across eastern Australia, from the Solitary Islands in New South Wales to Lizard Island on the northern Great Barrier Reef.

Underwater, I carefully gathered into sandwich bags the tiny invertebrates living on various species of live coral and those living on dead, turf-covered coral.

But things really got interesting back in the laboratory under the microscope. I sorted each sandwich bag sample of epifauna into sizes, identified them as best I could (many, if not most, species remain unknown to science), and counted them.

I quickly noticed samples taken from live coral took just minutes to count, whereas samples from dead coral could take hours. There were exponentially more animals in the dead coral samples.

The Great Barrier Reef may soon be listed as ‘in danger’ Rick Stuart-Smith

Why Do They Prefer Dead Coral?

Counting individual invertebrates is only so useful when considering their contribution to the food web. So we instead used the much more useful metric of “productivity”, which looks at how much weight (biomass) of organisms is produced daily for a given area of reef.

We found epifaunal productivity was far greater on dead, turf-covered coral. The main contributors were the tiniest epifauna — thousands of harpacticoid copepods (a type of crustacean) an eighth of a millimetre in size.

In contrast, coral crabs and glass shrimp contributed the most productivity to epifaunal communities on live coral. At one millimetre and larger, these animals are relative giants in the epifaunal world, with fewer than ten individuals in most live coral samples.

Dead coral rubble overgrown with turfing algae. Rick Stuart-Smith

These striking differences may be explained by two things.

First: shelter. Live coral may look complex to the naked eye, but if you zoom in you’ll find turfing algae has more structural complexity that tiny epifauna can hide in, protecting them from predators.

A coral head is actually a community of individual coral polyps, each with a tiny mouth and fine tentacles to trap prey. To smaller epifauna, such as harpacticoid copepods, the surface of live coral is a wall of mouths and a very undesirable habitat.

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

Second: food. Many epifauna, regardless of size, are herbivores (plant-eaters) or detritivores (organic waste-eaters). Turfing algae is a brilliant trap for fine detritus and an excellent substrate for growing films of even smaller microscopic algae.

This means dead coral overgrown by turfing algae represents a smorgasbord of food options for the tiniest epifauna through to the largest.

Meanwhile, many larger epifauna like coral crabs have evolved to live exclusively on live coral, eating the mucus that covers the polyps or particles trapped by the polyps themselves.

Harpacticoid copepod are just an eighth of a millimetre in size. Naukhan/WikimediaCC BY

What This Means For Life On The Reef?

As corals reefs continue to decline, we can expect increased productivity at the base level of reef food webs, with a shift from larger crabs and shrimp to small harpacticoid copepods.

This will affect the flow of food and energy throughout reef food webs, markedly changing the structure of fish and other animal communities. The abundance of animals that eat invertebrates will likely boom with increased coral death.

We might expect higher numbers of fish such as wrassescardinalfishtriggerfish, and dragonets, with species preferring the smallest epifauna most likely to flourish.

The dragonet species, mandarinfish, feeds on the smallest harpacticoid copepod prey. Rick Stuart-Smith

Invertebrate-eating animals are food for a diversity of carnivores on a coral reef, and most fish Australians want to eat are carnivores, such as coral trout, snapper, and Spanish mackerel.

While we didn’t investigate exactly which species are likely to increase following widespread coral death, it’s safe to say populations of fish targeted by recreational and commercial fisheries on Australia’s coral reefs are likely to change as live coral is lost, some for better and some for worse.

Read more: The outlook for coral reefs remains grim unless we cut emissions fast — new research

The Great Barrier Reef is undoubtedly in danger, and it’s important that we make every effort to protect and conserve the remaining live, healthy coral. However, if corals continue to die, there will remain an abundance of life in their absence, albeit very different life from that to which we are accustomed.

As long as there is hard structure for algae to grow on, there will be epifauna. And where there is epifauna, there is food for fish, although perhaps not for all the fish we want to eat.The Conversation

Kate Fraser, Marine Ecologist, University of Tasmania

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

From Ice To Orchestra

Published July 22, 2021 by the Australian Antarctic Division
Composer Gordon Hamilton travelled to #Antarctica as part of our arts program, weaving the sounds of the south and even silence itself into his music. 
Now the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra has premiered his new work “Far South” for Hobart audiences.

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 -

Biodiversity, Climate Change And The Fate Of Coral Reefs:  International Group Of Calling For New Commitments And Actions

July 20, 2021
An international group of researchers representing thousands of coral scientists across the globe is calling for new commitments and actions by the world's policymakers to protect and restore coral reefs.

In a paper presented July 20 at the International Coral Reef Symposium, the scientists said that the coming decade will likely offer the last chance for policymakers at all levels to prevent coral reefs "from heading towards world-wide collapse."

The paper, developed by the International Coral Reef Society, pushes for three strategies to save the reefs: addressing climate change, improving local conditions and actively restoring coral.

"The model projections show that up to 30% of coral reefs will persist through this century if we limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius," said Andréa Grottoli, distinguished professor of earth sciences at The Ohio State University, society president and a contributing author of the paper.

"But if we are to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, we have to do it now: The science and the models show that we have only a few years left to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that put us on that path. It has to happen this decade, or we won't make that target."

Coral reefs are at an inflection point, the researchers say. Stop climate change now -- and start to reverse it -- and some reefs might survive, with the possibility that they could be rebuilt in the future and provide the seeds to regrow damaged reefs elsewhere.

"From a coral reef perspective, we go from 30% of reefs surviving to only a few percent surviving if we don't act now," Grottoli said. "We are already faced with a grand challenge in trying to restore the reefs. Once we do eventually reduce carbon dioxide emissions and the planet is no longer warming at an accelerated rate, trying to restore from just a few percent is much more difficult."

This year, policymakers from around the world will create updated global frameworks for addressing both of those crises, via the upcoming Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) and the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15). Grottoli said the society created its policy paper to influence those frameworks.

The society's paper makes three asks of policymakers:
  • Commit to addressing biodiversity loss and the effect climate change has had on coral reefs, ensure policies are ambitious enough to address those crises, and ensure that policies are implemented.
  • Build coordinated actions across related policy fields at all levels of governance, from local councils to international bodies. This includes efforts in conservation, management and restoration, as well as policies that address climate change adaptation, biodiversity and sustainable development.
  • Innovate new approaches to help coral adapt to climate change. Global warming is here, and adaptation is unavoidable. A small percentage of reefs and some coral species have been successfully managed. "Studies of these 'bright spots' provide important lessons to guide future actions, such as how local community participation can improve management outcomes," the scientists wrote.
"As bad as climate change has been for the last decades, we also have lost vast amounts of coral reefs through overfishing, pollution and other local actions, and we need to tackle both of those fronts simultaneously," said Nancy Knowlton, lead author of the paper and Sant Chair for Marine Science Emerita at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.

"Climate change is important but it's important that these other things aren't neglected. There's no time for arguing about which is most important; we need to do all of them."

Coral reefs are crucial ecosystems, housing about a third of the known ocean species despite covering less than 0.1% of the world's oceans. They are also critical for local food supplies and economies. Reef-related tourism alone generates some $36 billion per year and the global economic value of reefs across all sectors approaches $10 trillion per year.

They are sources for important biochemical compounds, including drugs that treat cancer.

And they protect coasts from storm flooding: A healthy reef can break waves and buffer more than 90% of incoming wave height and energy. In the United States and its territories alone, according to the ICRS paper, the annual value of flood risk reduction provided by coral reefs is more than 18,000 lives affected by flooding and $1.8 billion. Without reefs, researchers have estimated that annual flood damage would more than double, and that flooding would increase by 69%.

But reefs are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of climate change, which causes ocean temperatures to increase and ocean waters to acidify. Those environmental changes can cause coral to bleach, stop growing and die.

"The window for opportunities to act both on coral reef adaptation and on climate change mitigation will soon close for good," said David Obura, contributing author to the paper and director of CORDIO East Africa, a nonprofit research organisation focused on coral reefs and sustainability in Africa. "We need a massive increase in commitment now and even more in coming years, coherence across all scales and jurisdictions, and innovation -- new mindsets, approaches and techniques. More than anything we need everyone to act, including us scientists by providing our approaches and knowledge, to do our part in saving coral reefs."

No Excuse To Continue Reliance On Fossil Fuels Says Leading Nano-Technologist

July 20, 2021
One of the leading thinkers in nano-science has called on the energy materials community to help finally put an end to the world's reliance on fossil fuels.

In a hard-hitting editorial published by Energy and Environmental Materials, Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) at the University of Surrey, argues that there are no coherent excuses left to justify the use of fossil fuels. In his paper, Professor Silva challenges the scientific community to lead the world away from a reality where fossil fuels still account for 80 per cent of the energy mix.

While the cost of clean energy generation has plummeted over recent years, Professor Silva argues that significant innovations in advanced batteries and energy storage technologies are needed to meet the International Energy Agency's goal of the planet being carbon net-zero by 2050.

For example, the transportation sector would need to see a 15-fold rise in electric vehicle sales from 10m in 2020 to 145m in 2030 -- a goal entirely dependent on a leap in battery and energy storage technology, according to Professor Silva.

Professor Silva concludes that these unprecedented but much-needed goals are only possible if the scientific community usher in a new wave of energy materials that are cheap, easily deployable and have short payback times.

Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the ATI at the University of Surrey, said:

"The pandemic has been a truly horrific experience. However, one of the few positives that I can gather from the past two years is that it has allowed me to take stock and refocus on the incredible challenge of combatting climate change. It is increasingly clear that the energy materials community has a crucial role to play in weaning the world off fossil fuels.

"The cost of green energy is falling all the time -- in the UK, solar and wind generation is competitive with fossil fuels. But we need to look at improvements in thin-film technologies, new polymers and other hybrid materials that can boost energy capture capabilities while reducing the cost of production if we are to have a genuine green energy revolution."

S. Ravi P. Silva. Now is the time for energy materials research to save the planet. Energy and Environmental Materials, 2021 DOI: 10.1002/eem2.12233

How Green Is Your Plastic?

July 20, 2021
Despite the best efforts of industry to work towards sustainability, most plastics (or polymers) are still made using non-renewable fossil fuels. However, researchers have now found an economical method for producing biobased acrylate resins. The study, published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, shows how all the synthesis steps, from initial building blocks right up to polymerization, can be carried out in a single reactor (one pot), minimizing environmental impact.

Most varnishes, adhesives and paints are made from acrylate resins, which are polymers of acrylic acid esters and methacrylic acid esters. The raw materials that form these esters are acrylic or methacrylic acid, and alcohols. The alcohols give the plastics properties, such as softness or hardness, and water absorption or repulsion.

To make these polyacrylates and polymethacrylates more sustainable, Christophe Thomas and his team from the Institut de Recherche de Chimie in Paris, France, used alcohols from biobased or natural sources, rather than fossil sources. These included plant-based lauryl alcohol, menthol, tetrahydrogeraniol (a pheromone-like substance), vanillin, and ethyl lactate.

In addition to sustainability through renewable resources, the team also targeted synthesis in as few steps as possible, in other words a one-pot process. This meant they had to find catalysts that were suitable for several steps of the process, and also to finely tune all the other synthesis conditions, such as solvents, concentrations, and temperatures.

The first step in this kind of synthesis is the activation of acrylic or methacrylic acid. The researchers were able to identify catalysts from simple salts. These substances were also suitable for the next step, reacting the biobased alcohols with acrylic or methacrylic anhydride (a condensed form of the acids) to give the corresponding esters, which are the building blocks of the subsequent polymer.

"This monomer preparation step is highly efficient and allowed us to perform the polymerization in the same reactor," says Thomas. Thus, without purifying the intermediate products, the team was ultimately able to produce block copolymers, which are widely used in plastics production, from two or three different individual polymers produced separately.

The team's biobased plastics had a number of beneficial properties, depending on the monomers making them up. For example, the resin produced with a lactic acid side chain (poly(ELMA)) was hard and brittle, while the one produced with the more flexible tetrahydrogeraniol side chain (poly(THGA)) was pliable at room temperature. The authors emphasize the numerous available possibilities thanks to the wide variety of biobased alcohols at their disposal.

Aside from the versatility of the team's approach, their one-pot synthesis also helps reduce the environmental footprint. Since work-up solvents account for a large proportion of the E-factor, or environmental impact, of plastics synthesis, one-pot processes without work-up obviously greatly reduce this factor. Their most successful synthesis reduced the E-factor by three quarters, demonstrating the significance of this research.

Hugo Fouilloux, Wei Qiang, Carine Robert, Vincent Placet, Christophe M. Thomas. Multicatalytic Transformation of (Meth)acrylic Acids: a One‐Pot Approach to Biobased Poly(meth)acrylates. Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 2021; DOI: 10.1002/anie.202106640

New Evidence Of Menopause In Killer Whales

July 20, 2021
Scientists have found new evidence of menopause in killer whales -- raising fascinating questions about how and why it evolved. Most animals breed throughout their lives. Only humans and four whale species are known to experience menopause, and scientists have long been puzzled about why this occurs.

Killer whales are a diverse species made up of multiple separate ecotypes (different types within a species) across the world's oceans that differ in their prey specialisation and patterns of social behaviour.

Previous studies have found menopause in an ecotype called "resident" killer whales whose social structure appears to favour "grandmothering" (females using their energy and knowledge to help their offspring and grand-offspring, rather than competing to breed themselves).

The new study looked at an ecotype of killer whales with a different social structure, where offspring are more likely to leave their mother -- and the evolutionary benefits of grandmothering are therefore reduced.

However, menopause was found to be strikingly similar in both killer whale ecotypes.

The research was carried out by the University of Exeter, DFO Canada, the Center for Whale Research, the University of Cambridge and the University of York.

"Previous research on the evolution of menopause has focussed on resident killer whales, where both males and females usually stay in the social group into which they were born," said lead author Mia Lybkær Kronborg Nielsen, of the University of Exeter.

"As a result, females become increasingly genetically related to the other members of the group as they age.

"At birth, their father is not in their family group and their relatedness to males in the group is comparatively low, but by later life, many of the group members are their children or grandchildren, increasing their average relatedness to the group.

"The new study looks at Bigg's killer whales, which may leave their birth group around the time of maturity.

"Some sons and daughters stay with their mother, but overall we predict a weaker pattern of increased relatedness to fellow group members as a whale ages.

"We expected this to be important in terms of menopause because weaker relatedness would appear to give females a weaker evolutionary reason to cease reproduction."

A group of Bigg’s killer whales near the coast of Washington State, USA. Typically, groups consist of a female and 2-3 of her offspring. Credit Center for Whale Research

Using more than 40 years of data on Bigg's and resident whales, the researchers found a similar pattern of post-reproductive life for females -- accounting for more than 30% of adult years.

"These different whale populations both show increased female relatedness with age, but -- as this is stronger in resident than Bigg's killer whales -- it's not immediately clear why the age at menopause and the length of the post-reproductive lifespan seems to be the same in both," said Professor Darren Croft, of the University of Exeter.

"Based on theory, we would expect the effect to be stronger in resident killer whales.

"Further research using drones to study how grandmother killer whales help their offspring and grand-offspring in the different populations will allow us to investigate this, and in doing so learn more about how menopause evolved in whales and humans."

Thomas Doniol-Valcroze and Jared Towers, of DFO Canada, said: "This study highlights the value of long-term population studies in which individuals are documented throughout their lives.

"Not only do the results contribute to a better understanding of animal evolution, they have significant implications for conservation by shedding light on the importance of social structure for the recovery of these populations."

Despite living in overlapping waters in the northeast Pacific, these whale populations do not inter-breed.

The differing social structures are probably caused by prey availability.

Resident whales feed on salmon, which have historically been plentiful (though human activities have changed this), allowing the whales to live in larger groups.

Bigg's whales hunt mammals such as seals, and generally disperse into smaller groups to reduce competition -- there are only so many mouths that a seal kill will feed.

The study was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Leverhulme Trust.

Mia Lybkær Kronborg Nielsen, Samuel Ellis, Jared R. Towers, Thomas Doniol‐Valcroze, Daniel W. Franks, Michael A. Cant, Michael N. Weiss, Rufus A. Johnstone, Kenneth C. Balcomb, David K. Ellifrit, Darren P. Croft. A long postreproductive life span is a shared trait among genetically distinct killer whale populations. Ecology and Evolution, 2021; 11 (13): 9123 DOI: 10.1002/ece3.7756

Climate Change Threatens Food Security Of Many Countries Dependent On Fish

July 20, 2021
Millions of people in countries around the world could face an increased risk of malnutrition as climate change threatens their local fisheries. New projections examining more than 800 fish species in more than 157 countries have revealed how two major, and growing, pressures -- climate change and over-fishing -- could impact the availability of vital micronutrients from our oceans.

As well as omega-3 fatty acids, fish are an important source of iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin A. A lack of these vital micronutrients is linked to conditions such as maternal mortality, stunted growth, and pre-eclampsia.

Analyses by an international team from the UK and Canada and led by scientists from Lancaster University reveal that climate change is the most pervasive threat to the supply of essential micronutrients from marine fish catches, and threatens the supply of vital micronutrients from fisheries in 40 per cent of countries. Fisheries micronutrient supplies were found to be less vulnerable to overfishing.

Countries among those whose fisheries micronutrient sources are at risk from climate change tend to be tropical nations and include East Asian and Pacific countries such as Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Timor Leste, as well as Sub-Saharan African countries such as Mozambique and Sierra Leone.

This vulnerability to climate change for these nations' fisheries is particularly acute given dietary deficiencies in calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin A are particularly prevalent in the tropics. And these tropical countries are also less resilient to disruptions of their fisheries by climate change because they strongly rely on fisheries to support their national economies and their population's diets and have limited societal capacity to adapt.

The study, which is outlined in the paper 'Micronutrient supply from global marine fisheries under climate change and overfishing', is published today by Current Biology.

Previous studies, most notably research into the micronutrient content of fish, which was led by Professor Christina Hicks and published by Nature, showed that fish are unequal when it comes to their nutritional content. A range of factors, such as diet, sea water temperature and energetic expenditure influence the amount of micronutrients that fish contain. Tropical fish tend to be richer in micronutrients than cold water species.

When it comes to resilience to climate change and fishing, again not all fish are equal. Earlier studies by Professor William Cheung and colleagues have shown large fish species that have a small range tend to be more vulnerable to climate change. While species that take longer to reach maturity and grow slower, are more vulnerable to fishing -- because it takes longer for their stocks to replenish.

Their findings show only a weak link between the micronutrient density of an individual fish species' and its vulnerability to climate change or overfishing.

However, when the scientists looked at countries' overall fisheries catches then their findings revealed a clear impact from climate change on the overall availability of micronutrients for around 40 per cent of nations -- threatening the food security of millions of people living in these countries.

A key reason for why climate change is such a threat comes down to the species of fish that the countries are targeting as part of their catches.

Some tropical nations' fishers are targeting micronutrient-dense species that have an increased vulnerability to climate change, such as Indian and short mackerels (Rastrelliger kanagurta and Rastrelliger brachysoma), bonga and hilsa shads (Ethmalosa fimbriata and Tenualosa ilisha) and dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus).

However, there is a silver-lining to the study's findings which offers some hope for the future. Some countries may be able to adapt their fisheries to switch from vulnerable species and instead target alternative micronutrient-rich species that are also resilient to both climate change and overfishing, but which are currently under-represented within catches.

Dr Eva Maire, of Lancaster University and Lead author of the study, said: "As climate change and over-fishing are significant and growing pressures on global fish stocks, it is essential for the dietary requirements of millions of people to know the extent that these pressures will have on the availability of micronutrients in our seas in the future.

"We have shown that climate change is the most pervasive threat to the supply of vital micronutrients for many countries around the world, and in particular in the tropics.

This study draws on the 'FishNutrients' model, a recently released finfish nutrient composition database.

"These data open up a whole new area of research and are crucial to address global food security challenges" said co-author Aaron MacNeil, Associate Professor in the Ocean Frontier Institute at Dalhousie University. "Our research highlights that efforts to improve food security and to tackle malnutrition there is a need to integrate fisheries, climate and food policies to secure these micronutrients for existing and future generations."

Professor William Cheung, co-author from the University of British Columbia, said: "As well as highlighting the growing threat of climate change to the food security of millions of people, our study also offers hope for the future. Armed with nutritional information about different fish species, many countries have the capacity to adapt their fisheries policies to target different more resilient fish species. By doing this then these nations can ensure a more reliable supply of micronutrients for their people."

This research was funded by the European Research Council, the Royal Society, the Leverhulme Trust and NSERC Canada.

Eva Maire, Nicholas A.J. Graham, M. Aaron MacNeil, Vicky W.Y. Lam, James P.W. Robinson, William W.L. Cheung, Christina C. Hicks. Micronutrient supply from global marine fisheries under climate change and overfishing. Current Biology, 2021 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.06.067

Rapidly Diversifying Birds In Southeast Asia Offer New Insights Into Evolution

July 20, 2021
New findings from zoologists working with birds in Southeast Asia are shining fresh light on the connections between animal behaviour, geology, and evolution -- underlining that species can diversify surprisingly quickly under certain conditions.

The zoologists, from Trinity College Dublin's School of Natural Sciences, sequenced DNA and took measurements and song recordings from Sulawesi Babblers (Pellorneum celebense), shy birds that live in the undergrowth on Indonesian islands.


Although these islands were connected by land bridges just tens of thousands of years ago, and although the babblers look so similar that they are currently all considered a single subspecies, the new study shows that their DNA, body size and song have all changed in what is a very brief period of time from an evolutionary perspective.

The zoologists believe that this evolutionary divergence is likely facilitated by the babblers' understorey lifestyle, which limits the birds' movements even though they could easily fly between the islands if they chose to.

In the short time these islands have been isolated, the babbler subspecies have evolved to vary genetically from each other by as much as 1/3 as they do from more distantly related bird species that separated millions of years ago.

Fionn Ó Marcaigh, first author on the paper and a PhD Candidate in Trinity's School of Natural Sciences, said:

"Everyone has heard of Darwin's finches evolving completely different bill shapes on the Galápagos islands. The Galápagos are isolated out in the Pacific, so the birds there have had millions of years to evolve separately. But sometimes evolution can occur on much smaller scales of time and space and can be harder to detect just by looking at the animals in question.

"Unlike the Galápagos, the islands we looked at are just 20 km or less from the mainland. The more we study biodiversity, the more we realise is out there, as species and islands that have never been examined closely can turn out to be full of surprises.

"And a lot of it is under threat: in our study, the islands with the most distinct populations were those made of a particular rock type. This ultramafic rock is full of minerals like nickel, which get into the soil and change which plants can grow, to which the birds have to adapt. But that same nickel is being sought by mining companies so time is running out for the islands' biodiversity before we've even captured a full picture of it or understood how it's evolved."

The research, completed with the support of the Irish Research Council and collaborators in Universitas Halu Oleo, has just been published in Zoologischer Anzeiger: A Journal of Comparative Zoology.

Fionn Ó Marcaigh, David J. Kelly, Darren P. O'Connell, Daniel Dunleavy, Alice Clark, Naomi Lawless, Adi Karya, Kangkuso Analuddin, Nicola M. Marples. Evolution in the understorey: The Sulawesi babbler Pellorneum celebense (Passeriformes: Pellorneidae) has diverged rapidly on land-bridge islands in the Wallacean biodiversity hotspot. Zoologischer Anzeiger, 2021; 293: 314 DOI: 10.1016/j.jcz.2021.07.006

Using Snakes To Monitor Fukushima Radiation

July 20, 2021
Ten years after one of the largest nuclear accidents in history spewed radioactive contamination over the landscape in Fukushima, Japan, a University of Georgia study has shown that radioactive contamination in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone can be measured through its resident snakes.

The team's findings, published in the recent journal of Ichthyology & Herpetology, report that rat snakes are an effective bioindicator of residual radioactivity. Like canaries in a coal mine, bioindicators are organisms that can signal an ecosystem's health.

An abundant species in Japan, rat snakes travel short distances and can accumulate high levels of radionuclides. According to the researchers, the snakes' limited movement and close contact with contaminated soil are key factors in their ability to reflect the varying levels of contamination in the zone.

Hanna Gerke, an alumna of UGA's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, said tracked snakes moved an average of just 65 meters (approximately 213 feet) per day.

"Our results indicate that animal behaviour has a large impact on radiation exposure and contaminant accumulation," Gerke said. "Studying how specific animals use contaminated landscapes helps increase our understanding of the environmental impacts of huge nuclear accidents such as Fukushima and Chernobyl."

Why are snakes a good indicator of radioactive contamination? 
James C. Beasley, Gerke's advisor during the study, said snakes can serve as better indicators of local contamination in the zone than more mobile species like East Asian raccoon dogs, wild boar and song birds.

"Snakes are good indicators of environmental contamination because they spend a lot of time in and on soil," said Beasley, associate professor at SREL and Warnell. "They have small home ranges and are major predators in most ecosystems, and they're often relatively long-lived species."

The team identified 1,718 locations of the snakes while tracking them for over a month in the Abukuma Highlands, approximately 15 miles northwest of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The paper's findings reinforce the team's previous study published in 2020, which indicated the levels of radiocesium in the snakes had a high correlation to the levels of radiation in the soil where the snakes were captured.

A Japanese rat snake crossing a rural road in the Fukushima Evacuation Zone in Japan. (Photo by Hannah Gerke)

How to track snakes 
To determine where the snakes were spending their time and how far they were moving, the team tracked nine rat snakes using a combination of GPS transmitters and manual very-high frequency tracking. Beasley said VHF transmitters allowed the team to physically locate a snake every few days to identify if it was underground or in arboreal habitat.

The researchers placed the transmitters on the rear back of the snakes. Tape was initially placed around the snakes. Then superglue was used to ensure the transmitters were secured to the tape. This allowed the transmitters to easily be removed from the animals at the conclusion of the study.

Working in the hilly, rugged terrain of abandoned villages and farms, the team located snakes in trees, grasslands and along roadside streams. Gerke said the snakes avoided the interior of conifer forests but were often found in deciduous forests, along forest edges and inside of abandoned buildings. More than half of the tracked snakes, she said, spent time in abandoned barns and sheds, which can help shield them from contamination in the surrounding soil.

During winter months, their risk of exposure likely increases when they seek shelter underground, close to the more heavily contaminated soils. Future work to clarify the link between the micro-habitat use of species like snakes and their contaminant exposure, as well as the potential health risks to snakes and other wildlife due to increased radiation exposure, will be critical to understanding the effects of the Fukushima Daiichi accident on local wildlife populations.

Hannah C. Gerke, Thomas G. Hinton, James C. Beasley. Movement Behavior and Habitat Selection of Rat Snakes (Elaphe spp.) in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone. Ichthyology & Herpetology, 2021; 109 (2) DOI: 10.1643/h2019282

More Buoyant Liquid-Proof Life Jackets And Swimsuits Developed

Summertime in the northern hemisphere is here, and that often means long, lazy days at the beach, water skiing and swimming. Life jackets and swimsuits are essential gear for these activities, but if not dried thoroughly, they can develop a gross, musty smell. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces have developed a one-step method to create a buoyant cotton fabric for these applications that is also oil- and water-repellent.

Waterproof and oil-proof fabrics are in high demand for recreational water activities because of their low drag and self-cleaning properties. And while cotton is a popular fabric, it's hydrophilic, so most liquids and dirt can easily mess it up. To improve cotton's impermeability, previous researchers developed superamphiphobic coatings that were extremely water- and oil-repellant. But because they required multiple time-consuming steps to apply, these coatings were impractical for large-scale manufacturing. Others incorporated nanoparticles into their formulas, but there are concerns about these particles sloughing off and potentially harming the environment. Xiao Gong and Xinting Han wanted to develop a simple way to make a coating for cotton fabric so it would have superb liquid-repulsion properties and hold up in many challenging circumstances.

The researchers optimized a one-step process for a liquid-proof coating by mixing dopamine hydrochloride, 3-aminopropyltriethoxysilane and 1H,1H,2H,2H-perfluorodecyltriethoxysilane with a piece of cotton fabric for 24 hours. The three-part solution developed into a uniform, dark brown coating on the fabric. In tests, the treated cotton was impervious to many common liquids. The new solution also coated inner cotton fibers, making them liquid proof, too. In other tests, only strong acid and repeated washings reduced the material's water and oil resistance, respectively. Treated fabric soiled with fine sand was easy to clean with water, whereas water only wetted the control version. Finally, the material stayed afloat with up to 35 times its weight on it because of nanoscale air pockets that formed where the coating attached to the fabric, the researchers explain. They say their durable cotton fabric has great potential for applications where drag reduction and increased buoyancy are important, including swimsuits and life jackets.

Xinting Han, Xiao Gong. In Situ, One-Pot Method to Prepare Robust Superamphiphobic Cotton Fabrics for High Buoyancy and Good Antifouling. ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, 2021; 13 (26): 31298 DOI: 10.1021/acsami.1c08844

15,000-Year-Old Viruses Discovered In Tibetan Glacier Ice

July 20, 2021
Scientists who study glacier ice have found viruses nearly 15,000 years old in two ice samples taken from the Tibetan Plateau in China. Most of those viruses, which survived because they had remained frozen, are unlike any viruses that have been catalogued to date.

The findings, published today in the journal Microbiome, could help scientists understand how viruses have evolved over centuries. For this study, the scientists also created a new, ultra-clean method of analyzing microbes and viruses in ice without contaminating it.

"These glaciers were formed gradually, and along with dust and gases, many, many viruses were also deposited in that ice," said Zhi-Ping Zhong, lead author of the study and a researcher at The Ohio State University Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center who also focuses on microbiology. "The glaciers in western China are not well-studied, and our goal is to use this information to reflect past environments. And viruses are a part of those environments."

The researchers analysed ice cores taken in 2015 from the Guliya ice cap in western China. The cores are collected at high altitudes -- the summit of Guliya, where this ice originated, is 22,000 feet above sea level. The ice cores contain layers of ice that accumulate year after year, trapping whatever was in the atmosphere around them at the time each layer froze. Those layers create a timeline of sorts, which scientists have used to understand more about climate change, microbes, viruses and gases throughout history.

Researchers determined that the ice was nearly 15,000 years old using a combination of traditional and new, novel techniques to date this ice core.

When they analysed the ice, they found genetic codes for 33 viruses. Four of those viruses have already been identified by the scientific community. But at least 28 of them are novel. About half of them seemed to have survived at the time they were frozen not in spite of the ice, but because of it.

"These are viruses that would have thrived in extreme environments," said Matthew Sullivan, co-author of the study, professor of microbiology at Ohio State and director of Ohio State's Center of Microbiome Science. "These viruses have signatures of genes that help them infect cells in cold environments -- just surreal genetic signatures for how a virus is able to survive in extreme conditions. These are not easy signatures to pull out, and the method that Zhi-Ping developed to decontaminate the cores and to study microbes and viruses in ice could help us search for these genetic sequences in other extreme icy environments -- Mars, for example, the moon, or closer to home in Earth's Atacama Desert."

Viruses do not share a common, universal gene, so naming a new virus -- and attempting to figure out where it fits into the landscape of known viruses -- involves multiple steps. To compare unidentified viruses with known viruses, scientists compare gene sets. Gene sets from known viruses are catalogued in scientific databases.

Those database comparisons showed that four of the viruses in the Guliya ice cap cores had previously been identified and were from virus families that typically infect bacteria. The researchers found the viruses in concentrations much lower than have been found to exist in oceans or soil.

The researchers' analysis showed that the viruses likely originated with soil or plants, not with animals or humans, based on both the environment and the databases of known viruses.

The study of viruses in glaciers is relatively new: Just two previous studies have identified viruses in ancient glacier ice. But it is an area of science that is becoming more important as the climate changes, said Lonnie Thompson, senior author of the study, distinguished university professor of earth sciences at Ohio State and senior research scientist at the Byrd Center.

"We know very little about viruses and microbes in these extreme environments, and what is actually there," Thompson said. "The documentation and understanding of that is extremely important: How do bacteria and viruses respond to climate change? What happens when we go from an ice age to a warm period like we're in now?"

Zhong, ZP., Tian, F., Roux, S. et al. Glacier ice archives nearly 15,000-year-old microbes and phages. Microbiome, 2021 DOI: 10.1186/s40168-021-01106-w

Yao Tandong, left, and Lonnie Thompson, right, process an ice core drilled from the Guliya Ice Cap in the Tibetan Plateau in 2015. The ice held viruses nearly 15,000 years old, a new study has found. Credit: Lonnie Thompson, The Ohio State University

Study Finds The Climate Impact Of Wild Pigs Greater Than A Million Cars

July 21, 2021
By uprooting carbon trapped in soil, wild pigs are releasing around 4.9 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide annually across the globe, the equivalent of 1.1 million cars. An international team led by researchers from The University of Queensland and The University of Canterbury have used predictive population models, coupled with advanced mapping techniques to pinpoint the climate damage wild pigs are causing across five continents.

UQ's Dr Christopher O'Bryan said the globe's ever-expanding population of feral pigs could be a significant threat to the climate.

"Wild pigs are just like tractors ploughing through fields, turning over soil to find food," Dr O'Bryan said.

"When soils are disturbed from humans ploughing a field or, in this case, from wild animals uprooting, carbon is released into the atmosphere.

"Since soil contains nearly three times as much carbon than in the atmosphere, even a small fraction of carbon emitted from soil has the potential to accelerate climate change.

"Our models show a wide range of outcomes, but they indicate that wild pigs are most likely currently uprooting an area of around 36,000 to 124,000 square kilometres, in environments where they're not native.

"This is an enormous amount of land, and this not only affects soil health and carbon emissions, but it also threatens biodiversity and food security that are crucial for sustainable development."

Using existing models on wild pig numbers and locations, the team simulated 10,000 maps of potential global wild pig density.

They then modelled the amount of soil area disturbed from a long-term study of wild pig damage across a range of climatic conditions, vegetation types and elevations spanning lowland grasslands to sub-alpine woodlands.

The researchers then simulated the global carbon emissions from wild pig soil damage based on previous research in the Americas, Europe, and China.

University of Canterbury PhD candidate Nicholas Patton said the research would have ramifications for curbing the effects of climate change into the future.

"Invasive species are a human-caused problem, so we need to acknowledge and take responsibility for their environmental and ecological implications," Mr Patton said.

"If invasive pigs are allowed to expand into areas with abundant soil carbon, there may be an even greater risk of greenhouse gas emissions in the future.

"Because wild pigs are prolific and cause widespread damage, they're both costly and challenging to manage.

"Wild pig control will definitely require cooperation and collaboration across multiple jurisdictions, and our work is but one piece of the puzzle, helping managers better understand their impacts.

"It's clear that more work still needs to be done, but in the interim, we should continue to protect and monitor ecosystems and their soil which are susceptible to invasive species via loss of carbon."

Christopher J. O’Bryan, Nicholas R. Patton, Jim Hone, Jesse S. Lewis, Violeta Berdejo‐Espinola, Derek R. Risch, Matthew H. Holden, Eve McDonald‐Madden. Unrecognized threat to global soil carbon by a widespread invasive species. Global Change Biology, 2021; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.15769

More Than 1.5 Million Children Lost A Primary Or Secondary Caregiver Due To The COVID-19 Pandemic

July 20, 2021
More than 1.5 million children around the world are estimated to have lost at least one parent, custodial grandparent, or grandparent who lived with them due to death related to COVID-19 during the first 14 months of the pandemic, according to a study published today in The Lancet. The study highlights orphanhood as an urgent and overlooked consequence of the pandemic and emphasizes that providing evidence-based psychosocial and economic support to children who have lost a caregiver must be a key part of responding to the pandemic.

The analysis used mortality and fertility data to model rates of COVID-19-associated orphanhood (death of one or both parents) and deaths of custodial and co-residing grandparents (ages 60-84) from March 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021, across 21 countries. This study was funded in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health.

In the paper, "COVID-19-associated deaths" referred to the combination of deaths caused directly by COVID-19 and those caused indirectly by other associated causes, such as lockdowns, restrictions on gatherings and movement, decreased access or acceptability of health care and of treatment for chronic diseases.

Traumatic experiences, such as the loss of a parent or caregiver, are associated with increases in substance use, mental health conditions, and other behavioral and chronic health conditions. NIDA supports research aimed at understanding the impact of trauma on young people, preventing substance use after experiencing hardship, and treating substance use in populations that experience trauma.

"Studies like this play a crucial role in illuminating the COVID-19 pandemic's long-lasting consequences for families and the future mental health and wellbeing of children across the globe," said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D. "Though the trauma a child experiences after the loss of a parent or caregiver can be devastating, there are evidence-based interventions that can prevent further adverse consequences, such as substance use, and we must ensure that children have access to these interventions."

To estimate pandemic-associated orphanhood and caregiver deaths, the study used excess mortality and COVID-19 mortality data for 21 countries that accounted for 77% of global COVID-19 deaths during 2020 and early 2021. These include Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, England and Wales, France, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, United States, and Zimbabwe.

The authors estimate that 1,134,000 children lost a parent or custodial grandparent due to COVID-19-associated death. Of these, 1,042,000 children were orphaned of a mother, father, or both -- most lost one, not both parents. Overall, 1,562,000 children are estimated to have experienced the death of at least one parent or a custodial or other co-residing grandparent (or other older relative).

The countries with the highest numbers of children who lost primary caregivers (parents or custodial grandparents) included South Africa, Peru, United States, India, Brazil, and Mexico. The countries with rates of COVID-19-associated deaths among primary caregivers (>1/1000 children) included Peru, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Iran, United States, Argentina, and Russia.

The study found that for every country, COVID-19 associated deaths were greater in men than women, particularly in middle- and older-ages. Overall, there were up to five times more children who lost a father than who lost a mother.

"We know from our research that loss of a parent or caregiver can upend children's lives and potentially affect their development if they are not in a stable home setting. If we take into consideration variants of concern or possible severity of illness among youth, we must not forget that the pandemic continues to pose a threat to parents and caregivers -- and their children," said Chuck A. Nelson, III, Ph.D., study author, Boston Children's Hospital.

While research on the science of substance use and addiction remains the primary focus of NIDA's work, NIDA is supporting COVID-19 research, and has issued over $15 million in funding for COVID-19-related projects since the start of the pandemic that could leverage current infrastructure, projects, or scientific knowledge and resources.

Susan D Hillis, H Juliette T Unwin, Yu Chen, Lucie Cluver, Lorraine Sherr, Philip S Goldman, Oliver Ratmann, Christl A Donnelly, Samir Bhatt, Andrés Villaveces, Alexander Butchart, Gretchen Bachman, Laura Rawlings, Phil Green, Charles A Nelson III, Seth Flaxman. Global minimum estimates of children affected by COVID-19-associated orphanhood and deaths of caregivers: a modelling study. The Lancet, July 20, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(21)01253-8

Repairing Hearts With Deadly Funnel Web Spider Venom: Study

July 19, 2021
A potentially life-saving treatment for heart attack victims has been discovered from a very unlikely source -- the venom of one of the world's deadliest spiders. A drug candidate developed from a molecule found in the venom of the Fraser Island (K'gari) funnel web spider can prevent damage caused by a heart attack and extend the life of donor hearts used for organ transplants.

The discovery was made by a team led by Dr Nathan Palpant and Professor Glenn King from The University of Queensland (UQ) and Professor Peter Macdonald from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

Dr Palpant, from UQ's Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB), said the drug candidate worked by stopping a 'death signal' sent from the heart in the wake of an attack.

"After a heart attack, blood flow to the heart is reduced, resulting in a lack of oxygen to heart muscle," Dr Palpant said.

"The lack of oxygen causes the cell environment to become acidic, which combine to send a message for heart cells to die."

"Despite decades of research, no one has been able to develop a drug that stops this death signal in heart cells, which is one of the reasons why heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the world."

Dr Palpant tested the drug candidate, a protein called Hi1a, using beating human heart cells exposed to heart attack stresses to see if the drug improved their survival.

"The Hi1a protein from spider venom blocks acid-sensing ion channels in the heart, so the death message is blocked, cell death is reduced, and we see improved heart cell survival."

There are currently no drugs in clinical use that prevent the damage caused by heart attacks.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute's Professor Macdonald said this incredible result had been decades in the making.

"This will not only help the hundreds of thousands of people who have a heart attack every year around the world, it could also increase the number and quality of donor hearts, which will give hope to those waiting on the transplant list," said Professor MacDonald.

Professor MacDonald, who is also a senior cardiologist at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, added: "The survival of heart cells is vital in heart transplants -- treating hearts with Hi1a and reducing cell death will increase how far the heart can be transported and improve the likelihood of a successful transplant.

"Usually, if the donor heart has stopped beating for more than 30 minutes before retrieval, the heart can't be used -- even if we can buy an extra 10 minutes, that could make the difference between someone having a heart and someone missing out. For people who are literally on death's door, this could be life-changing."

The discovery builds on earlier work by Professor King, who identified a small protein in the venom of the Fraser Island (K'gari) funnel-web spider that was shown to markedly improve recovery from stroke.

"We discovered this small protein, Hi1a, amazingly reduces damage to the brain even when it is given up to eight hours after stroke onset," Professor King said.

"It made sense to also test Hi1a on heart cells, because like the brain, the heart is one of the most sensitive organs in the body to the loss of blood flow and lack of oxygen.

"For heart attack victims, our vision for the future is that Hi1a could be administered by first responders in the ambulance, which would really change the health outcomes of heart disease."

"This is particularly important in rural and remote parts of Australia where patients and treating hospitals can be long distances apart -- and when every second counts."

Also, this could help for the transfer of donor hearts for cardiac transplantation -- allowing these donor hearts to be transported over longer distances and therefore increasing the network of available donors and recipients.

The protein has been tested in human heart cells, and the team are aiming for human clinical trials for both stroke and heart disease within 2-3 years.

The Heart Foundation's General Manager of Heart Health and Research, Bill Stavreski, welcomed the findings.

"About 57,000 Australians have a heart attack every year, and many result in permanent damage to the heart muscle, leading to heart failure, disability and reduced quality of life -- while more investigation is needed, this research may lead to a new way of reversing this damage in heart attack survivors."

Meredith A. Redd, Sarah E. Scheuer, Natalie J. Saez, Yusuke Yoshikawa, Han Sheng Chiu, Ling Gao, Mark Hicks, Jeanette E. Villanueva, Yashutosh Joshi, Chun Yuen Chow, Gabriel Cuellar-Partida, Jason N. Peart, Louise E. See Hoe, Xiaoli Chen, Yuliangzi Sun, Jacky Y. Suen, Robert J. Hatch, Ben Rollo, Mubarak A.H. Alzubaidi, Snezana Maljevic, Gregory A. Quaife-Ryan, James E. Hudson, Enzo R. Porrello, Melanie Y. White, Stuart J. Cordwell, John F. Fraser, Steven Petrou, Melissa E. Reichelt, Walter G. Thomas, Glenn F. King, Peter S. Macdonald, Nathan J. Palpant. Therapeutic Inhibition of Acid Sensing Ion Channel 1a Recovers Heart Function After Ischemia-Reperfusion Injury. Circulation, 2021; DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.121.054360

Images above: Dr Nathan Palpant and Dr Meredith Redd. Image Credit: UQ

Gold Mining-Related Deforestation In The Amazon

June 2021
If you're wearing gold jewellery right now, there's a good chance it came from an illegal mining operation in the tropics and surfaced only after some rainforest was sacrificed, according to a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers and alumni who studied regulatory efforts to curb some of these environmentally damaging activities in the Amazon.

The researchers, including UW-Madison geography Professor Lisa Naughton, investigated mining-related deforestation in a biodiverse and ecologically sensitive area of the Peruvian Amazon to see whether formalizing and legalizing these mining operations might curb some of their negative effects.

Their study, published June 2 in the journal Environmental Research Letters, was co-authored by a group including UW-Madison alumnae Nora Álvarez-Berríos, now studying land-use and climate impacts at the International Institute of Tropical Forestry, and Jessica L'Roe, now a geography professor at Middlebury College.

The team focused on an area around the Tambopata National Reserve in Peru from 2001 to 2014. During this time period, Naughton says, demand for gold rose, roads penetrated the region and mining surged. In turn, mining-related deforestation rose by almost 100,000 acres over their study period.

"Because the gold is in the sediment scattered under the forest floor, to extract the gold, you have to remove the forest and dig," Álvarez-Berríos says. "You have to cut a lot of the forest and excavate sensitive waterways."

Most gold mines in the Peruvian Amazon are unregulated, small-scale operations, leaving governments without ways to protect the surrounding environment or track how much forest is lost to mining. COURTESY OF LISA NAUGHTON

While these mining operations are often called "artisanal" or "small-scale," in aggregate they are very destructive. In many countries they operate outside the law, and millions of people are involved across the tropics. Álvarez-Berríos says the typical first step to reducing the environmental impact of artisanal mining is bringing it under governmental oversight, formalizing the activity. That way, local agencies can manage the impacts and protect both ecologically sensitive areas and the economic well-being of poor mine workers.

"Peruvian authorities, like authorities in other gold-rush sites, have given up on trying to stop gold mining. They're trying to confine it and contain it," L'Roe says. "Most of the studies about formalization are mainly about trying to help the poor, or make it more fair for the poor. Seldom, almost never, as far as we can tell, have these formalization projects been assessed for their environmental impact. So that's what we were looking at."

During their study period, local agencies issued provisional titles to miners to conduct their operations safely. After receiving a provisional title, miners would, in theory, undergo a series of environmental impact and compliance assessments before they started work.

But, as L'Roe says they found, the regulation process took a long time. Many miners simply took their provisional title as a green light to start mining, and never went through with the environmental impact assessments. Over their study period, no mining operations made it through the full compliance process, and as such they found little evidence for improved environmental outcomes in formalized mining areas.

To assess environmental outcomes, the team used satellite imagery analysis to see how much of the forest had been cut down, as compared to areas without formalized mining regulations.

Naughton says while formalising mining has the potential to decrease environmental damage, it needs enforcement and regulations that match the local context. Formalisation without environmental impact assessment or enforcement could just encourage more damaging and dangerous mining, or the expansion of these operations under the pretence that what they're doing is legal.

But gold rushes are exactly what they sound like, Naughton says: rushed. They're fast, and slow formalisation processes with many steps and provisions and impact assessments often cannot keep up with the pace of extraction.

"To sort out in a fair way who owns what land, with what rights, that is a slow process," Naughton says. "This gold rush is explosive. By the time you have well-regulated and transparent public land and property rights, the forest will be gone."

The team plans to go back to Tambopata to present its results to local stakeholders. Many members of the community are already aware of the problems with mining formalization but have not had a chance to systematically study the environmental consequences. The three co-authors hope their study will set a precedent for monitoring formalization interventions in Tambopata and other tropical sites losing forest to mining. They are already sharing results and methods with colleagues concerned about gold mining impacts in Colombia, Brazil and Bolivia.

"We'll go back to our study site and share the results -- but in a humble way because folks there know that it hasn't worked well, and they know the problems," says Álvarez-Berríos. "So, yes, it's important to share it with that group of stakeholders and experts, but maybe even more important is to share the results and our methods and design for studying this problem with folks working in the many, many other areas where there's uncontrolled small-scale gold mining and where formalisation efforts are being launched with best intentions."

Nora Álvarez-Berríos, Jessica L’Roe, Lisa Naughton-Treves. Does formalizing artisanal gold mining mitigate environmental impacts? Deforestation evidence from the Peruvian Amazon. Environmental Research Letters, 2021; 16 (6): 064052 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/abede9

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.