inbox and environment news: Issue 512

October 3 - 9, 2021: Issue 512

Ingleside Precinct Update: Alternative Proposed

Over 700 submissions regarding the Ingleside Precinct development were received by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE), including a long list of concerns by the Council, which included bushfire risk and emergency evacuation, and that the cost of infrastructure would not be covered by developer contributions, leaving the Council, or as is more likely, ratepayers to pay millions of dollars for the necessary works.

Since the close of submissions community members have been speaking to Pittwater's MP and working together on constructive alternatives. A smaller, more sustainable plan for the precinct has been produced by members of RAID and SIAG and presented. The plan proposes a development of 170 dwellings instead of the 980 dwellings in the DPIE plan and includes a sustainable Eco Village and important features that were left out of the Government plan such as effective fauna links between Ingleside Chase Reserve and Garigal National Park, and riparian corridors protected by Environmental Conservation zoning.

PNHA members have also been working on biodiversity issues including spending time on the ground gathering information on a patch of Duffys Forest Endangered Environmental Community within the precinct. A supplementary submission on this vegetation community has been sent to the DPIE.

The image below shows the alternative structure plan. Although the writing is difficult to read, it presents one vastly different from that already proposed.

Watch Out!: Baby Birds Are About In Warriewood Wetlands

Photos taken by Joe Mills this past week

Dusky Moorhen chicks

Lapwing Plover parent guarding its nest eggs

Protected Pittwater Spotted Gum Poisoned In Palmgrove Road

A significant canopy spotted gum on Palmgrove Road has been posoined recently. It is on public land beside the road, several houses up the street from Angophora Reserve. A pipe has been placed into the tree, and most likely a weed killing agent used, according to Council Tree Protection Officers. It is unlikely the tree can be saved. A sign will be erected at the site to alert the community to this low act. Please advise Council of any suspicious tree activity, or trees that look like they may be unwell, so they can be assessed.

Crescent Reserve Newport: Vandalism By Trail Bikers Destroys 24 Years Of Work By Volunteers

Members of the bushcare group for Crescent Reserve Newport have forwarded concerns about the deliberate destruction of this restored area, work they have undertaken and continued over 24 years. This is the second instance of deliberate destruction in this restored area.

Trafalgar Park Newport: Erosion, Soil Runoff Post Concrete Path Installation

Newport resident Penny Auburn has forwarded the following photos to show what is now in place in historic Trafalgar Park. Below these images run those taken by PON staff prior to the works in 2021. The project was delivered as part of the Transport for NSW Active Transport 2020/21 grant funding program.

Avalon Preservation Association 2021 AGM

Thursday 11th November, 2021, 7pm
Ocean Room, Avalon Beach Surf Club
Speaker: Angus Gordon OAM, Civil Engineer with a Masters in Water and Coastal Engineering.
Angus has served as an expert to United Nations.
Title of Talk: “Global Warming, Is it Real?”

APA Careel Creek Sediment Removal Works Update

Last Thursday, 23/9/21, APA committee members met with Jason, Council’s manager of the recent Careel Creek clean up.  The work included sections of the creek owned by both Council and Crown Lands. Council will endeavour to obtain additional funds from Crown Lands for ongoing maintenance.

It was explained that Careel Creek clean up presented many challenges including balancing:
  • -  the removal of weeds, such as Phoenix palms with the need to reduce erosion of the banks of the creek; and,
  • -  the retention of mangroves with the need to permit adequate water flow.
The good news is that no acid sulphate soils were found and increased water flow is showing the benefits of the clearer channel for both stormwater and tidal movement.
Council will be employing a Bushcare company to provide on going maintenance to the creek including continuing to: 
  • -  stabilise the banks with indigenous planting;
  • -  replace weeds with indigenous planting; and
  • -  remove snags from the creek to enable water flow.
To provide base information on the creek, Council has had the profile of the banks of the creek surveyed and installed monitors to track the water levels from both tidal flow and stormwater events. This base information will assist with on going maintenance and future planning.  Council has a proposal to install pollution traps and booms and will be encouraging neighbours to replace weedy screening plants with indigenous vegetation.

Jason has offered to forward to APA a report prepared by Sutherland Shire Council on their approach to successfully maintaining similar creeks in mangrove areas.  This report will be used to assist NBC with the ongoing management of Careel Creek.
APA photos of the works:

The banks on the eastern side of the creek have been affected by sediment directing the flow against the banks thus causing erosion. The coir logs here catch further sediment eroding from the top of the bank off the path.

Whatever flows down the gutter and into the storm water pipes ends up in Careel Bay. We have asked NBC to investigate this.

The red lines at the top of the map indicate where a small amount of clearing happened so that machinery could manoeuvre. The lower red lines are where the Stage 2 work was done.

The western side of the creek is private land but heavily infested with weeds. NBC will encourage resident to replace these with native screening plants.

Avalon Preservation Association
PO Box 1 Avalon Beach 2107

November 2021 Forum For Friends Of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment: Fishing Bats And Water Rats (Rakali)

7pm Monday November 29, 2021 by Zoom
Brad Law, Geoff Williams and Yianni Mentis

Dr Brad Law and Dr Geoff Williams will tell us about the behaviours and environmental requirements of two fascinating species of aquatic mammals - Fishing Bats and Water Rats (Rakali) - that forage in, on and near Narrabeen Lagoon. Yianni Mentis will explain how Northern Beaches Council is working to protect the environment, especially the water quality, needed by these aquatic creatures.

Dr Brad Law is a Principal Research Scientist at the Forest Science Unit of the Department of Primary Industries
Dr Geoff Williams is the Director of the Australian Platypus Conservancy
Yianni Mentis is Executive Manager or Environment and Climate Change at Northern Beaches Council.

We hope that members of the local community will start to look for Fishing Bats and Water Rats (Rakali) AUSTRALIA’S NATIVE “OTTER” in and around Narrabeen Lagoon and report all reliable sightings for entry into the Atlas of Living Australia.
Bookings via the website are essential:

Migratory Bird Season

A reminder that many of the birds that migrate to our area are arriving exhausted from having flown thousands of miles to be here. Please keep yourselves and your pets away from these shores during these months. They need their rest.

Baby Wildlife Season

Sydney Wildlife volunteer carers are reminding residents that it's baby season in the wildlife world. 
If you find a Joey on its own, it needs help. A sub-adult may be ok, but a Joey is not. If you find one, please try to contain it and keep it safe from predators and exposure and call either Sydney Wildlife (Sydney Metropolitan Wildlife Services) or WIRES. If you find a dead possum (ringtail or brushtail), check the pouch for a Joey. Brushtails generally have one but ringtails will have 2, sometimes three. If you are unable to, that’s ok, but please call it in to a wildlife organisation so someone can attend to it. 
Sydney Wildlife Rescue - 02 9413 4300
WIRES - 1300 094 737

Harry the ringtail possum.  Sydney Wildlife photo

Save Sydney's Koala Update: Black Day For Sydney’s Last Koala Population

September 24, 2021
This morning we lost our court action, Save Sydney's Koalas (South West) Inc v Lendlease Communities (Figtree Hill) Pty Limited, to stop Lendlease’s Development Applications (DAs) for tree removal and subdivision at Figtree Hill (Mount Gilead Stage One) - a 1,700 lot residential housing estate.

This case was launched as a last-ditch attempt to save a koala habitat corridor that is crucial for ensuring the survival of the Campbelltown Koala population - the last significant chlamydia-free colony in NSW.
The well documented Menangle Creek - Noorumba Reserve koala habitat corridor is essential to the koalas’ survival because it’s the shortest route between the two rivers and allows them to move west to the Blue Mountains to cross breed.

Remarkably this colony escaped the Black Summer bushfires; and it is now the only colony still expanding in NSW (NSW Legislative Council’s Koala Inquiry 2020, MacAlpine 2015, Draft National Koala Recovery Plan 2021). Therefore it has become ‘critical’ to the future of the state's koala population.

This case highlights significant flaws in state and federal government environmental legislation that allows developers to use poorly designed mechanisms like biodiversity certification and biodiversity offsets to destroy important koala habitat, putting koalas on a path to extinction.

Save Sydney’s Koalas (SSK) argued that granting biodiversity certification to Mt Gilead Stage 1 should not have precluded the requirement to consider Campbelltown’s Koala Plan of Management (CKPoM) when it filed new DAs on the land.

The CKPoM was only approved after biodiversity certification was granted. Subsequently a landmark report from the Chief Scientist, Advice on the protection of the Campbelltown Koala population, [30 April 2020] was commissioned by both the Minister for Planning and the Minister for the Environment, the Hons. Rob Stokes MP and Matt Kean MP respectively. It confirmed the importance of creating koala habitat corridors of 425 metres in width and preserving multiple east-west links on Mount Gilead between the Georges and Nepean Rivers.

The judgment confirmed that the Council’s KPoM did not apply if biocertification had already been conferred. We are now very concerned that Lendlease will try and revert back to an unsafe 40 metre wide koala habitat corridor along Menangle Creek - Naroomba Reserve, rather than the 250 metre width which was imposed by the Campbelltown Council Local Planning Panel.

“The Planning Minister and Environment Minister cannot wash their hands of this, they must ensure these vital corridors are protected, and thus safeguard koalas into the future,” says Barry Durman, the co-author of the Campbelltown Koala Research and Database, and a member of SSK. 

Further information can be found here:

Save Sydney’s Koalas was formed to ensure Sydney’s last Koala population in South West Sydney is protected and their future safeguarded. This setback will not deter us from our mission to save this last significant chlamydia-free koala population in NSW.

Today’s decision by the Land and Environment Court against Save Sydney’s Koalas will spell extinction for the healthiest koala colony in the State, says Cate Faehrmann, Greens MP and Spokesperson for Environment and Wildlife. 

The Land and Environment Court dismissed Save Sydney’s Koalas’ case against Lendlease which argued that the Campbelltown Koala Plan of Management was not applied to the Lendlease’s development consent and therefore the development should not go ahead. 

“We can’t afford to lose any more koala habitat, but this court decision allows Lendlease to  fragment and destroy the habitat of one of the healthiest koala populations in the state,” says Ms Faehrmann. 

“The Gilead development will sit smack bang in the middle of the Campbelltown koala population’s east west corridor that is vital for their continued existence. This decision means Lendlease is not required to take any further action to protect koalas from this development. 

“This court decision effectively renders Koala Plans of Management irrelevant for developers. Whatever the local rules are, developers can simply buy biodiversity offset credits and bulldoze koala habitat. 

“How can the Government accept the destruction of koala habitat on the basis that it has been supposedly ‘offset’? There’s not enough koala habitat left as it is. Planting a few seedlings will not stop the local koala population from being decimated by this development,” said Ms Faehrmann.

Also more listed in Past Features page

Point And Focus On Hawkesbury River For World Rivers Day

Competition closes October 17, 2021
The Hawkesbury River comes into focus on World Rivers Day, September 26, 2021, with the launch of a photography competition by the NSW Government and 6 local councils to raise awareness of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Coastal Management Program. Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock said the Our Hawkesbury River photography competition is a collaborative project with Hornsby, Hawkesbury, Central Coast, Ku-ring-gai, Northern Beaches and Hills Shire councils.

"The NSW Government is passionate about providing support for local councils to manage and protect their valuable coastlines and waterways, and what better way to acknowledge that commitment than on World Rivers Day," Mrs Hancock said.

"People across the catchment can acknowledge the global day by entering the photography competition and capturing what the Hawkesbury River means to them."

Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment Felicity Wilson said the coastal management program for the Hawkesbury-Nepean River is being developed with funding from partnering councils and the NSW Government's Coastal and Estuary Grants Program.

"To date, this includes over $371,000 in NSW Government funding for the Hawkesbury-Nepean River, designed to assist councils to improve the local coastline and estuaries," Ms Wilson said.

"World Rivers Day is a celebration of waterways around the globe, encouraging increased public awareness and active involvement to improve the health of our rivers in the years ahead.

"This photography competition is an exciting way to celebrate one of our great waterways which stretches 470 kilometres from its source in Goulburn before wrapping around Sydney, all the way through Windsor, Wiseman's Ferry, then to Brooklyn, and Barrenjoey where it meets the ocean."

Hornsby Shire Mayor Philip Ruddock said council collaboration and the community are key to protecting the river system's health.

"We want to know what our community values most about the beautiful Hawkesbury River, what they love to see, and what needs protection now and into the future," said Mr Ruddock.

"We're proud to be part of an ambitious collaboration of 6 councils to help protect the River's health by developing a coastal management program.

"As the river moves towards the coast, it gathers water runoff from 24 local government areas before finally flowing past Pittwater, Brisbane Water and then out past Palm Beach.

"By the time this much-loved river reaches the Pacific Ocean, it's absorbed water runoff from a massive area of more than 21,400 square kilometres."

From Broken Bay up to Yarramundi near Windsor, the Hawkesbury River is tidal for approximately 145 kilometres, which makes it an estuary.

The rest of the river, the remaining 325 kilometres stretching all the way to Goulburn, is freshwater and includes Warragamba Dam.

Competition prizes include one of 3 NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service annual All Parks Passes, and closes on Sunday 17 October.

Enter the online competition by snapping your favourite picnic place, wildlife, landscape or activity at Hawkesbury Nepean River System

World’s Largest Shark Management Program Deployed To NSW Beaches

September 19, 2021
The world’s largest suite of shark management tools and technologies will be deployed to NSW beaches after funding was nearly tripled to $21.4 million to expand the NSW Government’s Shark Management Program.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro said this increased funding would support the expansion of the effective, evidence-based shark management program already in place, with a host of successfully trialled technologies to be rolled out along the NSW coastline.

“The NSW Government has done the research and invested in new technologies to bring added protection to our beaches including SMART drumlines, VR4G listening stations and shark-spotting drones,” Mr Barilaro said.

“Over the coming weeks we will continue to work with coastal councils from Tweed to Bega Valley and everywhere in between to deliver the world’s largest shark management program to increase beachgoer safety.

“There is no other jurisdiction in Australia or across the globe which has done as much testing and trialling of technology and approaches to mitigate shark interactions.”

Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall said the NSW Government is committed to doing everything possible to keep swimmers and surfers safe while minimising the impact on marine life by using non-invasive technologies where possible.

“We have always said there is no silver bullet when it comes to protecting beachgoers from sharks in NSW,” Mr Marshall said.
“But the NSW Government will now be operating the world’s largest shark management program aiming to get the balance right, between keeping swimmers and surfers safe, and protecting our marine life.

“In partnership with Surf Life Saving NSW, we will deploying the world’s largest domestic fleet of drones to the state’s beaches thanks to an extra $3 million to scale up operations. This will mean more than 50 beaches will have a shark-spotting eye in the sky.

“This summer season, we will be deploying over 100 SMART drumlines in nearly every coastal council area starting with Kingscliff, Tuncurry and Coffs Harbour next month.

“We will also continue the deployment of shark nets as part of the Shark Meshing Program in the Greater Sydney Region while we measure the success of the expanded technology-led solutions.

“Finally, we will be blanketing our coast with 37 VR4G shark listening stations to make sure that when a tagged shark comes close to the coast, everyone using our SharkSmart app will know about it instantaneously, including SLS NSW and council lifeguards.”

The NSW Government encourages all beachgoers to be SharkSmart when entering the ocean or estuarine environments and download the SharkSmart app.

For more information on technologies used, visit

In the coming weeks, the NSW Department of Primary Industries will be working with each council to determine the optimal location for SMART drumline and VR4G listening station deployments in their local area.

The 2021-2022 Shark Management Program includes:
Technology                        Current           New     Change
Drone surveillance            34 beaches    50 beaches +16
VR4G listening stations  21 stations       37 stations +16
SMART drumlines (SDLs) 35 SDLs         170 SDLs +135
Beach meshing 51 beaches No change
Shark tagging                       926         996              +70*
*White, Tiger and Bull sharks, subject to environmental conditions.

Aussie Backyard Bird Count 2021

The 2021 event will run from October 18‒24 during National Bird Week. Register as a counter today at:

The Aussie Backyard Bird Count is one of Australia’s biggest citizen science events. This year is our eighth count, and we’re hoping it will be our biggest yet!

Join thousands of people around the country in exploring your backyard, local park or favourite outdoor space and help us learn more about the birds that live where people live.

Taking part in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count is a great way to connect with the birds in your backyard, no matter where your backyard happens to be. You can count in a suburban garden, a local park, a patch of forest, down by the beach, or the main street of town. ⁠

To take part, register on the website today, then during the count you can use the web form or the app to submit your counts. Just enter your location and get counting ‒ each count takes just 20 minutes!

Not only will you be contributing to BirdLife Australia's knowledge of Aussie birds, but there are also some incredible prizes on offer. ⁠

Head over to the Aussie Backyard Bird Count website to find out more.

NPWS Concerned Over Increased Dog Walking In National Parks

The National Parks and Wildlife Service is concerned about the number of people taking their dogs into national parks in and around the Illawarra. National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Area Manager Graham Bush said that while it is great to see so many people using parks to exercise, walking with dogs is having a major impact on native wildlife and other park users.

'NPWS recently received reports of dogs attacking bushwalkers on the Illawarra Escarpment,' Mr Bush said.

'We are looking into this very serious matter and want to remind people that it is illegal to take dogs into national parks.

'While those caught with a dog can face fines of $300, we are ultimately appealing to people to be responsible pet owners and respectful park users.

'Dogs can also have a significant impact on local wildlife.

'Unlike some other local parks, national parks are designated protected areas that are specifically managed for their biodiversity values.

'Even the most well-behaved dog can inadvertently scare or harm native wildlife.

'Dogs will also leave their scent in the bush and this may keep wildlife away or disrupt their natural behaviour.

'NPWS also regularly conducts pest management programs across our parks and reserves making these areas unsafe for pets.

'Pest management programs such as fox control use 1080 baits to protect native animals from introduced species.

'These baits are lethal to domestic dogs which is again why people should please keep their pets out of parks,' Mr Bush said.

NPWS is increasing patrols and pet owners face fines of $300 if domestic dogs are detected within a national park area.

250 Million Dollar Allocated For Carbon Capture, Use And Storage Hubs And Technologies

September 30, 2021: The Hon Angus Taylor MP, Joint media release with Minister for Resources and Water the Hon Keith Pitt MP
The Morrison Government has committed $250 million to a new program that will turbocharge the development of commercial-scale carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) projects and hubs across Australia and create up to 1,500 jobs.

The CCUS Hubs and Technologies Program will operate across two streams:
  • $100 million will support the design and construction of carbon capture hubs and shared infrastructure, and 
  • $150 million will support research and commercialisation of carbon capture technologies and identify viable carbon storage sites.
Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said driving down the cost of storing carbon underground was an important element of the Government's technology not taxes approach to reducing emissions.

“The projects supported by the CCUS Hubs and Technologies Program will boost delivery of long-term emissions reductions while generating new jobs across the country, particularly for regional Australia,” Minister Taylor said.

“Analysis by the International Energy Agency shows that half the global reductions required to achieve net zero will come from technologies that are not yet ready for commercial deployment.

“That’s why we’re partnering with industry to accelerate new projects and unlock the emissions and economic benefits of carbon capture technology.

“The IEA and IPCC both regard carbon capture technologies as essential to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

“Australia already has one of the world’s largest carbon capture facilities and these technologies could substantially reduce emissions from industry in the future.

“By supporting the development of Clean Hydrogen Industrial Hubs and Clean LNG production, we are giving Australian energy exports a competitive edge in our region.”

Minister for Resources and Water Keith Pitt said the technology will support the ongoing use of Australia’s abundant natural resources, including coal. 

“Technology like this will be the key to further reducing emissions and ensure our resources will play an important role in providing Australia, and the world’s, energy needs,” Minister Pitt said.

“Australia has shown that a reduction in emissions can be achieved alongside a strong resources sector and this technology will ensure it continues to make a significant contribution to our economy and jobs for decades to come.”

Projects supported by the program will be expected to be fully operational by 2029, with co-investment from international partners and state and territory governments strongly encouraged.

The program builds on the success of the $50 million CCUS Development Fund and is expected to strengthen collaboration with a range of countries including the US, UK, Japan and Singapore, who are also investing in carbon capture technologies. 

Further information and grant guidelines are available here: 

Hydrogen Industry 150 Million Dollar Boost

20 September 2021: The Hon Angus Taylor MP, Joint media release with Prime Minister The Hon Scott Morrison MP
The Morrison Government’s $1.2 billion hydrogen investment is set to increase, boosting economic activity and jobs in regional Australia. An additional $150 million for a further two locations under the Clean Hydrogen Industrial Hubs program will enable the rollout of hydrogen hubs across seven priority regional sites. 

Hydrogen is a clean fuel of the future, and Australia will commercialise this technology by co-locating hydrogen production and industrial uses, and building on the infrastructure and workforces of regional areas. 

Hubs will consolidate Australia’s natural resource strengths to unlock cheap, clean energy and stimulate a potential surge in industrial activity. 

Government funding will help to de-risk projects and quickly achieve the scale necessary to establish new export industries and meet the growing energy needs of the Indo Pacific region.

The now $464 million grant program provides up to $3 million grants for project consortia to initially progress feasibility and design work, and up to $70 million towards the roll-out of projects.

Seven prospective locations across Australia have been identified and include: Bell Bay (TAS), Darwin (NT), Eyre Peninsula (SA), Gladstone (QLD), Latrobe Valley (VIC), Hunter Valley (NSW), and Pilbara (WA).

Prime Minster Scott Morrison said these hydrogen hubs would create jobs across Australia and fast-track Australia’s push to be a global leader in the new energy economy.

"Our plan to invest and develop low emissions industries will mean more jobs for Australian workers, particularly in our regions, cheaper energy for businesses and lower emissions,” the Prime Minister said.

“We are accelerating the development of our Australian hydrogen industry and it is our ambition to produce the cheapest clean hydrogen in the world, transforming our transport, energy, resources and manufacturing sectors.

"This is good for jobs, good for our environment and contributes to our global effort to reduce emissions through technology not taxes.”

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said Clean Hydrogen Industrial Hubs will create the domestic demand needed to help the hydrogen industry drive down costs and scale-up production creating new job opportunities for our regions.

“Hydrogen hubs are crucial to realising the Morrison Government’s vision of making Australia a major global player in hydrogen production and exports by 2030,” Minister Taylor said.

“We are looking to partner with industry, and work with state and territory governments to make this a reality.

“Australia has the potential to be a world leader in the production of affordable and clean hydrogen, and our hydrogen industry could create around 8,000 new Australian jobs and generate over $11 billion a year in GDP by 2050.

“The development of Clean Hydrogen Industrial Hubs would help the emerging industry work towards achieving the stretch goal of hydrogen production at under $2 a kilogram under the government’s Technology Investment Roadmap.

“Accelerating the commercial deployment of priority low emissions technologies such as hydrogen so they reach cost parity with higher emissions alternatives is critical to Australia’s technology led approach to reducing emissions.

“A thriving hydrogen sector will help Australia to achieve its emission-reduction goals while continuing to grow our economy and support existing industries.”

Hydrogen hubs, as identified by the National Hydrogen Strategy as a priority measure, will create economies of scale by co-locating hydrogen producers, users and exporters in one location.

The Clean Hydrogen Industrial Hub Grants program will build on the work being done by the Special Adviser on Low Emissions Technology, Dr Alan Finkel, to broker international partnerships and initiatives that will accelerate the deployment of hydrogen and other priority low emissions technologies.

Cooperation on hydrogen forms part of new low emissions partnerships with Germany, Singapore, Japan and the United Kingdom announced in 2021.

While the hydrogen program is open Australia-wide, the seven locations have been identified based on strong interest and activity from industry and each location’s existing capabilities, infrastructure and resources.

Program guidelines are now available at, with applications to open in the coming weeks.

2 Billion Dollar Loan Facility For Australia's Minerals Sector

September 28 2021; The Hon Keith Pitt MP - Joint media release with the Prime Minister, the Hon. Scott Morrison MP and Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, the Hon Dan Tehan MP.
The Morrison Government will establish a $2 billion loan facility for Australian critical minerals projects to help secure the vital supplies of resources needed to drive the new energy economy and support the resources jobs of the future.

Australia has among the world’s largest recoverable reserves of the critical minerals used in advanced technologies, such as renewable energy, aerospace, defence, automotive and electric vehicles in particular, telecommunications and agri-tech.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the fund would effectively help fill finance gaps in critical minerals resources developments to get them off the ground.

“The commercial dimensions of the critical minerals market mean it is a difficult place to get established. We want to ensure that Australia’s resources producers do get established to they can link up with others in our supply chains in a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the Prime Minister said.

“Critical minerals are a strategic area for governments too because they are fundamental to the future energy economy.

“These projects also mean jobs in construction, infrastructure development and ongoing roles for the mining sector.”

Global demand for critical minerals needed for clean technology applications, like high powered magnets and batteries, are expected to grow exponentially over the coming decades.

Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan said Australia was well placed to become a reliable supplier of critical minerals to ensure supply in our region and support jobs and businesses in Australia.

“The global growth in demand for critical minerals to be used in the production of the latest technologies represents an incredible opportunity for Australia to utilise its natural resources and world-leading mining know how to become a leader in the extraction, processing and supply of critical minerals,” Minister Tehan said.

“Australian critical minerals will help other countries in the Indo-Pacific and beyond to accelerate their industrial reforms and transition to low-carbon technologies and that benefits Australia and our partners.”

Minister for Resources and Water Keith Pitt said the Coalition Government’s new $2 billion Critical Minerals Facility would ensure Australia remains at the forefront of emerging new opportunities in the global resources sector.

“Australia is already among the world’s top suppliers of some of the world’s most sought-after critical minerals and we know there is enormous potential through our untapped reserves,” Minister Pitt said.

“The lithium industry alone, which is essential to develop new battery technology, is forecast to be worth $400 billion globally by 2030 and initiatives like this will mean Australia is well placed to grab its share of the market.

“The new facility comes on top of other initiatives like the Government’s $225 Exploring for the Future Fund to support new resources exploration across the country.”

This investment in critical minerals will make Australia a world-leader in the mining and downstream processing of in-demand resources, supporting jobs and communities, particularly in regional Australia.

Australia is a leader in sustainable, ethical mining practices, and this investment will ensure we are providing the rare earths and other critical minerals that are essential to the supply chains of the new energy economy.

The $2 billion Critical Minerals Facility will be managed by Export Finance Australia and report to the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan. It will operate on the National Interest Account for 10 years or until finance equivalent to $2 billion has been provided. The new facility will be an important pillar of the Government’s overarching Critical Minerals Strategy being led by the Minister for Resources and Water Keith Pitt.

21 Million For Gas From North Bowen And Galilee Basins Developers

September 23, 2021: The Hon Keith Pitt MP, Joint media release with the Member for Dawson, George Christensen MP
The Australian Government will turbocharge economic development and jobs across central Queensland by unlocking the gas resources in the North Bowen and Galilee basins under a new strategic basin plan released today.

Minister for Resources and Water Keith Pitt joined Member for Dawson George Christensen in Mackay to officially announce the North Bowen and Galilee Basin Strategic Basin Plan.

“The Plan supports industry to develop the region’s major gas resources and is the second to be delivered under the Government’s Strategic Basins Plan Program,” Minister Pitt said.

“The North Bowen and Galilee basins are estimated to hold enough gas to meet Australia’s east coast needs for over a decade. The new plan will support industry to overcome the specific challenges of developing these resources.

“The strategic plan supports the Government’s agenda for a gas-fired recovery, and will help deliver affordable gas for Australian industries and households.”

Member for Dawson George Christensen said the North Bowen and Galilee Basin Strategic Basin Plan has the potential to create thousands of jobs and grow the local economy.

“This plan is going to open up these geologically promising basins, creating up to 5,500 new jobs in Queensland by 2030,” Mr Christensen said.

“It will promote private sector confidence and bring forward investment to stimulate the economy of central and north Queensland.”

The plan includes $20.7 million of investment to unlock gas potential in the basins, and will leverage more than $400 million in research funding and critical infrastructure upgrades.

The Plan includes: 
  • $15.7 million for gas field trials including innovative drilling programs to prove the region’s potential; and
  • $5 million for studies to support development of a new gas pipeline to the region, co-funded by the Queensland government. 
And will benefit from initiatives including:
  • $14 million for Geoscience Australia and CSIRO to deliver better data about baseline conditions across each of the Government’s priority strategic basin regions;
  • $13.7 million to continue research under the CSIRO’s GISERA (Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance); and 
  • More than $370 million for various road upgrades to support supply chains, trade and project construction, through the Northern Australia Roads program, Roads of Strategic Importance initiative and the Regional Economic Enabling Fund
Minister Pitt said the Government is working in partnership with state and local governments, industry, communities and the University of Queensland, to unlock the potential of the basins.

The North Bowen and Galilee Strategic Basin Plan is available on the Department’s website at 

The Government earlier this year released a strategic plan for the Beetaloo Basin in the Northern Territory, and has begun work on the next strategic plan for the Cooper and Adavale basins spanning Queensland and South Australia.

NSW Raises Climate Targets; Federal Government Keeps Announcing Billions Of Taxpayer Dollars To Be Used For Gas Fracking And Coal Mining Expansion

September 29, 2021
The NSW Government's move to ramp up its 2030 emissions reduction target to 50 per cent below 2005 levels builds on the history of climate leadership by states despite Federal inaction, says the Climate Council. 

NSW’s new target is an increase from its previous goal, which aimed to cut emissions 35 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. This follows the Victorian Government’s commitment earlier this year to reduce emissions by 45-50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

“NSW’s new target is a commitment to climate action this decade that recognises the urgent need to cut climate pollution, whilst boosting the economy, unlocking clean jobs and protecting residents from worsening climate impacts,” said Climate Council Campaigns Director Alix Pearce.

“Regrettably, the leadership shown by state governments—including the NSW Liberal National Government—is not matched by the Federal Government, which stubbornly refuses to raise its insufficient 2030 target of 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels.

“The Federal Government stands increasingly isolated as it ignores calls from business leaders, farmers, local governments, our international allies and trading partners, and UN climate officials, for stronger action,” said Ms Pearce. 

The Climate Council says the science demands that Australia reduce its emissions by 75% (below 2005 levels) by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2035 to avoid locking in catastrophic climate impacts. As a first step, Australia must at least match the updated commitments from our key allies, and pledge before Glasgow to at least halve our emissions (below 2005 levels) by 2030.

“To do its part to help avoid catastrophic and irreversible climate change impacts, Australia and all state governments must immediately end the expansion of new coal and gas projects, and accelerate the transition to 100 per cent renewable energy,” said Ms Pearce. 

“Given the extraordinary economic opportunities for NSW from investing in clean technology and new industries, ratcheting up this target over time will be a pathway to more investment, cleaner and cheaper electricity and healthier communities in the state,” said Ms Pearce.

“As one of the sunniest and windiest countries on Earth, Australia has everything needed to prosper in a global net zero economy. Climate action shouldn’t be a partisan or political issue; it just makes economic sense,” said Ms Pearce.

NSW Set To Halve Emissions By 2030

September 29, 2021
NSW is set to attract more than $37 billion in investment while slashing emissions by 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, under updated projections and objectives released as part of the Net Zero: Stage 1 Implementation Update.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state’s new objective of halving emissions by 2030 – up from 35 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 – shows that NSW is serious about setting itself up for the future while helping the world decarbonise.

“Our Net Zero Plan is expected to attract more than $37 billion in private sector investment into NSW, support more than 9,000 jobs, save households about $130 on their electricity bills and help NSW become Australia’s first trillion-dollar state by 2030,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“This is about putting the policies in place to give industry and investors certainty, not only to protect our planet but to future-proof our prosperity and way of life.” 

Deputy Premier John Barilaro said regional communities will reap the rewards of the new industries set to emerge over the coming decades.

“Whether it is in modern manufacturing, minerals or agriculture, regional NSW is home to the skills, infrastructure and resources needed as the demand for low emissions technologies like batteries and hydrogen grows,” Mr Barilaro said.

“The entire State will benefit from the economic and employment opportunities in low carbon technologies, and we will continue to take action in a way that delivers more jobs and more investment for people in the city and in the bush.”

Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean said NSW was one of the first jurisdictions to commit to net zero emissions by 2050 and we are now on track to double our economy and halve our emissions by 2030.

“We can be a renewable energy super power and as global demand for low carbon products and investments grows, the fortunes of the state are increasingly tied to the fortunes of our planet,” Mr Kean said.

“In NSW, we also aren’t just setting targets. As a result of our policies, the state’s emissions are projected to fall by 47-52% on 2005 levels by 2030 under independently peer reviewed modelling.”

The Net Zero Plan: Stage 1 Implementation Update sets out the NSW Government’s action on climate change, including the State’s nation-leading EV strategy, Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap, the $750 million Net Zero Industry and Innovation Program and the NSW Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy.  

The Implementation Update also outlines the Government’s commitment to disclose the state’s climate related financial risks and opportunities for the first time in NSW, consistent with the Taskforce for Climate Related Financial Disclosures framework.  

No Need For Narrabri Gas: New Report’s Roadmap Good News For Rural Communities If Acted On

September 30, 2021
The Northmore Gordon report, published this morning by the Climate Council, provides a decarbonisation roadmap for New South Wales which, if adopted, would mean there would be no need for gas from Santos’ Narrabri project.

Gomeroi Traditional owner Karra Kinchela said she hoped the details of the report would create optimism in her community.

“We already thought a gasfield in the Pilliga was not worth the damage it would cause and now we know it is totally unnecessary,” she said.

“It’s clearer now than ever that this polluting gasfield isn’t wanted or needed. 

“The government is allowing Santos to threaten the Pilliga and the Great Artesian Basin but what they should be doing is getting rid of the demand for gas and stopping the pollution. 

“This new report shows politicians the way, all they need to do is listen.”

The report shows technological developments mean New South Wales can eliminate gas demand and the greenhouse emissions from burning gas by 2050, with a 70% reduction possible just in the next 15 years - removing any possible need for the Narrabri gas project. 

Report Key Findings: 
  • Gas demand within New South Wales could be 70 percent lower as soon as 2030, and ​​eliminated altogether as soon as 2050, using readily available, commercially viable technologies.
  • With the right policies in place to support technologies like electric resistance heating and renewable hydrogen, gas use can be reduced in emissions-intensive industries like iron and steel manufacturing. 
  • Homes and commercial buildings are responsible for almost half of New South Wales’ gas use and meeting their needs with electricity is readily achievable with existing, commercially available technologies. 
  • Putting common-sense measures in place to reduce gas demand in New South Wales, such as electrifying homes and upgrading commercial buildings, would make the expensive and polluting Narrabri Gas Project redundant.
  • There is no shortage of gas anywhere in Australia with the growing demands of a swollen gas export industry driving supply issues, higher energy bills, and worsening climate change.
  • It is critically important for our economy, health, and climate that every state and territory transitions away from fossil fuels like gas as quickly as possible.
Dr Madeline Taylor, Climate Council spokesperson and energy expert said: “The ball is in the New South Wales Government’s court. Allowing the Narrabri gas project to go ahead is fundamentally at odds with protecting Australians from climate change and a just energy transition. It is also a huge blow for the local communities and farmers who have fought against this project for years.” 

“Australia does not need any new gas. The International Energy Agency has already said that there can be no new gas, coal or oil projects if we are to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change—as has the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its latest report,” said Dr Taylor. 

“New South Wales is a national leader when it comes to renewable energy and other clean industries, but it has a long way to go in transitioning away from gas,” added Dr Taylor. 

Gas is the world’s fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Climate Council recommends that Australia should reduce its emissions by 75 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2035.

NSW Government Plan To Revitalise Peat Island And Mooney Mooney Released

The NSW Government’s proposal to breathe new life into old assets and open Peat Island to the public, while also revitalising Mooney Mooney with new housing, community facilities and job opportunities, has been released.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast and Member for Terrigal Adam Crouch said the rezoning proposal is now open for public exhibition on Central Coast Council’s website.

“For over a century Peat Island has been closed off to the public and the NSW Government is working to unlock this under-utilised publicly-owned land in this stunning Hawkesbury River setting,” Mr Crouch said.

Key features of the proposal include:
  • Nearly 270 new homes at Mooney Mooney to deliver more housing supply,
  • Retention of nine unlisted historical buildings on the island, and four on the mainland, to be restored and used for new community and commercial opportunities,
  • New retail and café or restaurant opportunities,
  • Approximately 9.65 hectares of open space, including opportunities for walking and cycling tracks, parklands and recreational facilities,
  • Retention of the chapel and surrounding land for community use, and
  • 10.4 hectares of bushland dedicated as a conservation area.
“The NSW Government has been consulting widely, culminating in this rezoning proposal that strikes a balance between future land uses and achieving the best social and economic outcomes for the Mooney Mooney community.”

Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey said the proposal will provide more than two kilometres of public access to the Hawkesbury River foreshore and Peat Island, opening it up for the first time in 100 years, as well as the opportunity for tourism uses including short-stay tourist accommodation.

“This is an area of great significance to the region, local and Aboriginal communities, and many other stakeholders, including those with links to Peat Island’s institutional past,” Mrs Pavey said.

“Any future uses will recognise and protect the site’s significant Aboriginal and European heritage.”

To ensure everyone has an opportunity to understand the NSW Government’s vision for Peat Island and Mooney Mooney, community information webinars will be held over coming weeks. Details will be available shortly.

Mrs Pavey said in parallel to the broader community engagement on the proposal, the NSW Government would continue to work with the Peat Island/Mooney Mooney Community Reference Group on the future of the area’s community facilities and public spaces.

“At the heart of this will be how the Peat Island chapel precinct at Mooney Mooney can be retained by the community and put to its best possible use,” Mrs Pavey said.

The rezoning proposal will also remain open to feedback from the public until Monday, 20 December 2021.

New Western Sydney National Park To Lead Fight Against Extinction

September 26, 2021
Quolls, bettongs and the brush-tailed phascogale are just some of the locally extinct species making their historic return to a new national park and feral predator-free area in western Sydney.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the 500 hectare site at Shanes Park between Penrith and Windsor will be one of the largest new national parks in western Sydney in over a decade.

"The pandemic has shown us how important our open public spaces are, they are critical to our mental and physical well-being," Ms Berejiklian said.

"This project will not only allow the people of western Sydney a new place to enjoy the outdoors but they will also get to access a conservation area and one of the nation's best wildlife experiences."

Environment Minister Matt Kean said the new Shanes Park site will become a tourist destination and will allow visitors to see what the Australian bush was like over 200 years ago.

"This is wildlife restoration on a grand scale and one of the biggest urban wildlife restoration projects in Australia's history," Mr Kean said.

"No where else in the country is the reintroduction of 30 species in an urban setting of over 500 hectares even being considered, let alone being delivered."

"Visiting Shanes Park will be like stepping back in time to see the Australian bush alive with native animals as it was before foxes, cats and rabbits had such a devastating impact."

Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney Stuart Ayres said this project will be a welcome addition to the growing list of attractions bringing tourists to Western Sydney.

"This will become a must see destination for visitors not only from greater Sydney and across the state but also from interstate and around the world," Mr Ayres said.

"They will be able to see and experience some of our most unique, threatened and endangered wildlife and habitats right here in the heart of western Sydney."

Shanes Park is one of seven feral-free areas either established or being established in NSW national parks providing a conservation benefit to over 50 threatened species.

"A network of predator-free areas is an essential part of our strategy to protect and restore our most vulnerable native species and this new project will bring the total feral-free area in NSW national parks to almost 65,000 hectares," Mr Kean said.

Public access to the new national park is expected by early 2023 which will include a one of a kind visitor experience including visitor facilities, interpretive signage and an education centre which will run nocturnal spotlighting tours.

Establishment of the feral free area will begin with the construction of specialist perimeter fencing which is expected to begin in the next 3 months. The new national park will be declared in early 2022 following consultation with Aboriginal groups on an Aboriginal name.

Of the 30 species to be reintroduced 12 will be given priority:
  • brown antechinus
  • eastern bettong
  • eastern quoll
  • southern long-nosed bandicoot
  • New Holland mouse
  • brush-tailed phascogale
  • common dunnart
  • bush rat
  • emu
  • koala
  • bush stone-curlew
  • green and golden bell frog
Up to 20 additional locally extinct and declining reptile and frog species will also be reintroduced into Shanes Park.

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is delivering a total of 7 large feral-free areas across the State, providing new hope for more than 50 threatened species.
In addition to Shanes Park, 3 other feral predator free areas are planned:
  1. Yathong Nature Reserve, near Cobar Central NSW, fenced area approximately 40,000 hectares
  2. Ngambaa Nature Reserve, near Macksville North-east NSW, fenced area approximately 3000 hectares
  3. South-east NSW (Eden Bombala Region), estimated fenced area approximately 1500 – 2000 hectares
Existing feral predator free areas:
  1. Pilliga State Conservation Area, near Baradine North-west NSW, fenced area 5800 hectares
  2. Sturt National Park, near Tibooburra Far North-west NSW, fenced area 4000 hectares
  3. Mallee Cliffs National Park, near Buronga South-west NSW, fenced area 9570 hectares

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly - Extinction Risk Report Can Inform Conservation Of Australia's Sharks And Rays

September 21, 2021
The new publication of The Action Plan for Australian Sharks and Rays 2021, which assesses the extinction risk of all Australia’s sharks and rays, can inform conservation efforts and lead to better outcomes for iconic species like critically endangered sawfish and endangered hammerheads, conservation groups say.

Compiled by the National Environmental Science Program (NESP) Marine Biodiversity Hub, the report is the first to comprehensively assess the extinction risk for all 328 species of sharks and rays found in Australian waters. The report also highlights where Australian efforts are failing and where adequately-funded research is improving conservation outcomes.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and Humane Society International (HSI) welcomed the report saying it highlights serious conservation concerns not only for iconic sharks and rays but also lesser-known endemics like the whitefin swellshark, eastern angelshark and longnose skate – species found only in Australian waters.

AMCS shark scientist Dr Leonardo Guida said: “Although Australia’s population of sharks and rays are generally in better shape than in many other areas of the planet, the bar is perilously low. You only have to look at the fact that Australia still legally fishes endangered sharks and rays for meat and fins to realise that we have major problems in our backyard.”

Despite qualifying for Endangered status under national environment laws, Endangered scalloped hammerheads and school sharks are fished for their meat, commonly known by Australians as ‘flake’. Other species including the Critically Endangered whitefin swellshark and the Vulnerable eastern angel shark are also fished for meat, and there are no fishing rules in place to protect them despite their ongoing population declines.

Northern Australia is considered a global ‘lifeboat’ for Endangered and Critically Endangered sawfish but gillnet fishing, and plans to take significantly more water from critical river systems like the Daly in the Northern Territory, are driving these species closer to extinction.

Sawfish are easily tangled in gillnets and fishers have been known to cut off their distinctive rostrums (or ‘saws’), leading to a slow death. For the Critically Endangered freshwater – also known as largetooth – sawfish in particular, altered water flows for farming compounded by the climate crisis, are literally drying up critical nurseries for the species.

Lawrence Chlebeck, marine biologist with Humane Society International stated: “In order for legislative protections under the EPBC Act to be effective, the government must invest in comprehensive recovery actions. We are just now beginning to witness the benefits of two decades of recovery actions for the Critically Endangered grey nurse shark population on our east coast.

“Significant and sustained investment in recovery plans for all of our threatened shark and ray species is essential to turning their fortunes around. Additionally, there are threatened species such as the scalloped hammerhead and whitefin swellshark, which despite declining populations, have yet to receive protection from ongoing commercial exploitation.”

The assessment is not all bad news for Australia’s sharks and rays. It indicates that with adequate support and funding for research and management, conservation efforts are starting to show early but tentative signs of success for some species.

Though grey nurse sharks are still Critically Endangered on the east coast, recent, cutting-edge genetics estimates approximately 2,167 adults with an annual population increase of up to 4.5% per year, according to the NESP report. This is largely due to hard won protections of critical aggregation sites in NSW and Queensland.

In northern Australian rivers and estuaries, new populations of northern river and speartooth sharks have been discovered, lowering both their extinction risks to ‘Vulnerable’ from a respective ‘Endangered’ and ‘Critically Endangered’. Such research not only paints a more accurate picture of population numbers, but enables better targeting of future protection efforts.

AMCS and HSI caution, however, that a reduction in extinction risk does not mean species are by any means out of the woods or that protections should relax, rather that conservation efforts should be bolstered.

Mr Chlebeck added: “Sharks and rays are critical to ocean health because of the stabilising role they play in food webs. It’s encouraging to see that when adequate resources are provided we not only get a clearer picture of what challenges we need to address, but how to address them.”

Dr Guida said: “We’ve a long way to go. There are Critically Endangered species like the whitefin swellshark and longnose skate that have no protections in place – they’re our Aussie battlers and if we can’t save them, no one can. We need to make sure we have stronger environmental laws, and that all jurisdictions ensure threatened species receive necessary protections so that we have healthy oceans into the future.”

AMCS and HSI congratulate the NESP Marine Biodiversity Hub for it’s important work compiling the scientific knowledge to date and providing a roadmap for the future conservation and recovery of Australia’s imperilled sharks and rays.

Ley Approves Vickery Coal Mine Until December 2051 Despite Supreme Court Appeal On Foot

September 16, 2021
Local farmers have reacted with disbelief to Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley’s approval of Whitehaven’s Vickery Coal Mine until May 2051 this morning despite her unresolved Federal Court appeal challenging a finding that she owes Australian children a duty of care to consider climate change harms.

The coal mine, which would be responsible for 370 million tonnes of carbon emissions, was the subject of the recent Sharma v Minister for Environment Federal Court case.

Federal Court Justice Bromberg found the minister had a “duty of care” to consider the harm catastrophic climate change will inflict on Australian children when making her decision about the Vickery project. 

Agriculture student Liam Donaldson, who comes from Boggabri near where the mine would be built, said the Vickery coal mine was a “barbaric” project (Video of Liam speaking about the decision and aerials of the Vickery site is available here).

“I would have thought the Environment Minister would look out for the environment,” he said.

“What we want is some stability and that is not through a coal mine that is going to come in and do horrific damage instantly and then leave our community in its wake.

“Climate is my number one concern, water is another issue. We’re looking at a major fibre producing area and if we lose that water we lose the community. The way the climate is changing it’s the last thing we need for our agricultural producers.

“We want local industry that doesn’t involve destroying our future. This one decision has had such a monumental effect on my future.”

Boggabri farmer Dave Watt said he struggled to understand how the Minister could approve such a project, knowing the damage it would cause.

“History will remember that as the world was experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change; horrific bushfires and the worst drought we’ve ever seen, Sussan Ley approved a colossal new coal mine,” he said.

“This mine will impact our precious Namoi River, it will force more farming families off their farms, and it will contribute to the climate crisis, further threatening agriculture.  It’s a bloody outrage.”

Lock the Gate Alliance NSW coordinator Georgina Woods described Minister Ley’s decision as a “betrayal of young people and future generations”.

“Environment Minister Sussan Ley has approved the Vickery coal mine project, despite the Federal Court finding she has a duty of care to consider the harm catastrophic climate change will inflict on Australian children,” she said.

“This Government is not just passively failing to protect Australians from climate change: its ministers are actively slamming the door on every opportunity they are given to address it. 

“If the appeal currently underway upholds the Federal Court’s finding that Minister Ley owes Australian children a duty of care, it will become increasingly untenable for the Government to avoid taking action.”

New Fracking-Industry Influenced Report Toes Government Line On Gas

September 22, 2021
Lock the Gate Alliance has described the Morrison Government’s latest attempt to use a fracking-industry influenced report to foist unconventional gas on farmers and communities across the country as ''like putting a filter on a cigarette and saying it’s safe''.

The government this morning released its Geological and Bioregional Assessment Program report (GBA), which focuses on exploiting gas basins in Queensland and South Australia’s iconic Lake Eyre Basin and the Northern Territory’s Beetaloo and Macarthur basins.

Lock the Gate Alliance National Coordinator Naomi Hogan said it was difficult to trust the report, given gas companies like Santos and Beach Energy were on panels that made many of the key decisions on what would be investigated (eg see page 153 of Cooper GBA: Stage 2 Baseline Analysis).

The gas industry-funded wing of the CSIRO - GISERA - was also heavily involved.

“If you dusted this research for fingerprints, you’d find the gas industry’s greasy paws all over it,” Ms Hogan said.

“The report actually admits fracking poses risks to some really iconic Australian landscapes that should be protected, but then jumps to greenlight fracking as if it was a predetermined outcome.

“We’ve already seen so much bulldust from this gas-obsessed government, it’s difficult to take anything they say about the industry seriously.

“Farmers and communities in places like Southern Queensland, the Kimberley, and Northern NSW, who have already witnessed unconventional gas operations drain and contaminate aquifers, know this industry isn’t worth it.

“Even this latest report shows fracking isn’t safe if you read the detail - it shows the famous Mataranka Springs are connected to the same aquifers that would be drilled by fracking companies looking to drill in the Northern Territory.

“Interestingly, it also reveals for the first time that the endangered Gulf Snapping Turtle is present in the rivers near Borroloola, where Empire Energy wants to drill and frack.

“In the Lake Eyre Basin, the report acknowledges that the scale and location of the proposed gas development is highly uncertain and that the effects of climate change are poorly understood in that context."

Russell Bennie, a farmer from Cecil Plains on the Darling Downs in Queensland, inherited an exploration gas well on his property and has been fighting the industry for years.

He said a report influenced by gas companies and promoted by a government hell bent on gas would do nothing to reassure farmers.

“All we want is a level playing field - at the moment it’s like an ant trying to take down a skyscraper,” he said.

“There have been serious omissions from gas companies concerning the impacts they have caused in our region over the last 20 years that they have been operating.

"Subsidence is an example - both the industry and government failed to identify it as a risk and it was left up to farmers to raise concerns after experiencing it on their properties. 

“It’s not possible to greenlight this industry because they still don’t know what they’re doing after so many years.

“We’re just trying to run a business here. Rather than promoting gas and fracking, the government should be protecting farmers who refuse to let this insidious industry on their properties.”

Pitt Wastes More Public Cash On QLD Gas While Tourism Misses Out

September 23, 2021
Hot on the heels of a Senate Inquiry into its taxpayer grants for fracking in the Northern Territory, the Morrison Government is now shifting its wasteful spending spree to Queensland’s Bowen and Galilee basins.

Resources Minister Keith Pitt and the local MP were in Mackay this morning to announce the Central Queensland basins would be the next cabs off the rank for the Morrison Government’s attempts to use Covid-19 to justify giving public money to gas companies.

However, this morning’s Mackay press conference appears to contain numerous re-announcements, including $5 Million for a feasibility study for a gas pipeline connecting the Bowen Basin to Wullumbilla, near Roma, which was already allocated in this year’s budget.

This decision to allocate the $5 million to the pipeline study by the Morrison Government followed a similar allocation by the Queensland Palaszczuk Government, which followed public comments by fracking company Blue Energy around the need for such a pipeline.

Blue Energy holds gas tenements in the Bowen Basin, and told shareholders it would benefit from such a pipeline.

Lock the Gate Alliance National Coordinator Carmel Flint said she wouldn’t be surprised if this latest gas cash splash also led to a Senate Inquiry.

“The Morrison Government is intent on throwing more taxpayer funds at gas giants, despite being exposed for a dubious grants process that benefited fracking companies linked with Liberal party donors in the Northern Territory recently,” she said.

“I’m sure the North Queensland tourism industry would love some big grants right now to support their businesses which have done it tough during COVID, but instead it’s gas companies who are raking in the cash to explore for gas to export overseas.

“There are more than 7000 producing coal seam gas wells in the Surat and Bowen Basins in Queensland already - this industry does not need a hand out.”

Mackay Conservation Group spokesperson Peter McCallum said the government’s job estimates were severely inflated.

“We know that for every 10 jobs created in gasfield development in the Western Downs, 18 were lost from agriculture in the region,” he said.

“Giving handouts to gas companies so they can further exploit Queensland also leaves our struggling tourism industry hanging while putting our water risk.

“We know that in areas close to CSG development in Southern Queensland, more than 120 water bores used for farming have run dry.

“We should be investing public money in renewable energy and food production, not in gas developments that will drive climate change and damage farmland”.

Precious Wildlife Habitat Is Still Woefully Vulnerable Despite New Conservation Scheme

September 23, 2021
A new government scheme to protect high-conservation-value areas outside national parks is welcome but leaves thousands of hectares of wildlife habit unprotected. [1] 

The government today called for nominations for Areas of Outstanding Biodiversity Value (AOBVs), which qualify for conservation work funding from the Biodiversity Conservation Trust. 

However, AOBV nominations will only be considered with the landholders’ consent, a significant shortcoming. 

“It is great to have clarity on how this scheme will work, but it offers no protection for vital habitat remnants if a landowner has a slash-and-burn approach to land management,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“The AOBV scheme was a key component of the Coalition’s overhaul of conservation laws in NSW, but for some reason it has taken four years to deliver and is a little underwhelming. 

“It was supposed to counterbalance the increased land clearing the Biodiversity Conservation Act was expected to trigger, but the scheme outlined today is too limited to ever do that. 

“Latest land-clearing data shows 150 hectares of wildlife habitat is bulldozed or logged every day in NSW, almost twice the average annual rate recorded before the Coalition overhauled nature laws. [2] 

“The government’s own data shows 54,500 hectares of native forest were destroyed for farming, forestry and development in 2019. 

“The truth is that even with this new scheme, wildlife and critical habitat is still woefully unprotected because the whole system relies on the goodwill of landholders. 

“While most landholders do the right thing and protect critically important bushland, a small minority do not and that’s where the government should be focusing. 

“Th AOBV scheme is entirely voluntary, so it actually offers no more protection than landholders are currently prepared to provide, although it does reward them financially for doing so.” 


[1] New Protections For High Value Conservation Areas, Environment Minister Matt Kean, 23-9-21  

Automated Fish Counting System To Benefit Ecology And Fisheries Industry

September 29, 2021
Researchers from the Curtin Institute for Computation (CIC) will use the latest in data science to develop an automated fish detection and counting solution that offers exciting economic and ecological benefits. The CIC is part of a consortium that has been awarded $1 million in Federal funding to continue developing the AFID (Automated Fish Identification) system, which uses machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to automatically gather information about fish, including species and size.

Project lead and CIC Lead Data Scientist Dr Daniel Marrable said the technology aimed to accurately, efficiently and more cost-effectively gather data in order to gauge marine and coastal ecosystem health, which would benefit Australia’s multi-billion dollar fisheries and aquaculture industries.

“AFID operates via a remote underwater video station and runs machine learning methods over video footage to count, classify and calculate the length of all visible fish,” Dr Marrable said.

“Fish biodiversity and biomass are the best non-invasive indicators of marine and coastal ecosystem health, however the current methods of measuring these are manual and very labour intensive.

“Working closely with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and Curtin’s own Fish Ecology Lab, by using machine learning and AI we can speed up the process of data collection and analysis, which will allow policy decisions that affect fish stocks and quotas, environmental impact assessment and ecological protection to be better informed.”

CIC Director Professor Melanie Johnston-Hollitt said AFID will use data science to help reduce the cost and manual labour required to monitor Australia’s sensitive marine ecosystem.

“The value of the project for fish ecology and the $2.7 billion fisheries industry highlights the important real-world, industry-aligned outcomes of the work being done in the area of data science at Curtin University,” Professor Johnston-Hollitt said.

“The CIC has been working in this domain for some time now, with Dr Marrable having done the vast majority of the technical work devising a system to identify, count, and measure fish from underwater imagery.

“With this funding he will now lead a small but highly skilled technical team in the CIC to continue to unlock the potential of machine learning and Artificial Intelligence to benefit fish ecology and our fisheries industry.”

Consortium project partners include Harrier Project Management, SeaGIS and In-situ Marine Optics (IMO).

The funding was provided via the Business Research and Innovation Initiative (BRII) which aims to help small to medium sized enterprises develop innovative solutions for government policy and service delivery challenges. 

Want to reduce your food waste at home? Here are the 6 best evidence-based ways to do it

Mark BouletMonash University

From the farm to the plate, the modern day food system has a waste problem. Each year, a third of all food produced around the world, or 1.3 billion tonnes, ends up as rubbish. Imagine that for a moment – it’s like buying three bags of groceries at the supermarket then throwing one away as you leave.

Wasting food feeds climate change. Food waste accounts for more than 5% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. And this doesn’t include emissions from activities required to actually produce the food in the first place, such as farming and transport.

One of the largest sites of food waste is the home. In Australia, households throw out about 2.5 million tonnes of food each year. That equates to between A$2,000 and $2,500 worth of food per year per household.

But there’s some good news. Our Australian-first research, released today, identified the six most effective behaviours anyone can do to reduce food waste. Combined, these relatively small changes can make a big difference.

fork scrapes food off plate
Australian households throw out up to $2,500 worth of food each year. Shutterstock

What We Did

Food waste by households is a complex problem influenced by many factors. Some, such as food type, package size and safety standards, are out of a consumer’s control. But some are insignificant daily behaviours we can easily change, such as buying too much, forgetting about food at the back of your fridge, not eating leftovers and cooking too much food.

We wanted to better understand the complex nature of household food waste. Together with Australia’s leading food rescue organisation OzHarvest, our research sought to identify and prioritise evidence-based actions to reduce the amount of food Australians throw away.

We reviewed Australian and international literature, and held online workshops with 30 experts, to collate a list of 36 actions to reduce food waste. These actions can be broadly grouped into: planning for shopping, shopping, storing food at home, cooking and eating.

We realised this might be an overwhelming number of behaviours to think about, and many people wouldn’t know where to start. So we then surveyed national and international food waste experts, asking them to rank behaviours based on their impact in reducing food waste.

We also surveyed more than 1,600 Australian households. For each behaviour, participants were asked about:

  • the amount of thinking and planning involved (mental effort)

  • how much it costs to undertake the behaviour (financial effort)

  • household “fit” (effort involved in adopting the behaviour based on different schedules and food preferences in the household).

Consumers identified mental effort as the most common barrier to reducing food waste.

Read more: What a simulated Mars mission taught me about food waste

woman holds up hand in front of plate
The researchers surveyed 1,600 consumers about their attitudes to food waste reduction. Shutterstock

What We Found

Our research identified the three top behaviours with the highest impact in reducing food waste, which are also relatively easy to implement:

  • Prepare a weekly meal at home that combines food needing to be used up

  • Designate a shelf in the fridge or pantry for foods that need to be used up

  • Before cooking a meal, check who in the household will be eating, to ensure the right amount is cooked.

Despite these actions being relatively easy, we found few Australian consumers had a “use it up” shelf in the fridge or pantry, or checked how many household members will be eating before cooking a meal.

Experts considered a weekly “use-it-up” meal to be the most effective behaviour in reducing food waste. Many consumers reported they already did this at home, but there is plenty of opportunity for others to adopt it.

Some consumers are more advanced players who have already included the above behaviours in their usual routines at home. So for those people, our research identified a further three behaviours requiring slightly more effort:

  • Conduct an audit of weekly food waste and set reduction goals

  • Make a shopping list and stick to it when shopping

  • Make a meal plan for the next three to four days.

Our research showed a number of actions which, while worthwhile for many reasons, experts considered less effective at reducing food waste. They were also less likely to be adopted by consumers. The actions included:

  • Preserving perishable foods by pickling, saucing or stewing for later use

  • Making a stock of any food remains (bones and peels) and freeze for future use

  • Buying food from local specialty stores (such as greengrocers and butchers) rather than large supermarkets.

Read more: Melbourne wastes 200 kg of food per person a year: it's time to get serious

fridge shelf with sign
A designated shelf in the fridge can help reduce food waste. Shutterstock

Doing Our Bit

Today is the United Nations’ International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. It seeks to increase awareness and prompt action in support of a key target in the global Sustainable Development Goals to halve food loss and waste by 2030.

Australia has signed up to this goal, and we hope this research helps fast-track those efforts.

OzHarvest is launching its national Use-It-Up food waste campaign today, aiming to support Australians with information, resources and tips. Based on our findings, we’ve also developed a decision-making tool to help policy makers target appropriate food waste behaviours.

Australia, and the world, can stop throwing away perfectly edible food – but everyone must play their part.

Read more: What can go in the compost bin? Tips to help your garden and keep away the pests The Conversation

Mark Boulet, Research Fellow, BehaviourWorks Australia, Monash University

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

No, Barnaby. The UK energy crisis has nothing to do with its net-zero target, and to suggest otherwise is outrageous

Lukas Coch/AAP
Nicole HashamThe Conversation

As debate heats up in Australia about adopting a net-zero emissions target, Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce and other key party figures have pointed to the UK energy crisis as a supposedly cautionary tale.

On the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday, Joyce expressed reticence about the net-zero policy, and said he was “perplexed there’s not more discussion about what’s happening in the UK and Europe with energy prices”. He went on:

A 250% [price] increase since the start of the calendar year. A few days ago, 850,000 people losing their energy provider and a real concern over there about their capacity as they go into winter to keep themselves warm and even keep the food production processes going through.

Joyce was clearly seeking to link the UK energy crisis to its climate target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. Pro-coal senator Matt Canavan this week echoed the sentiment:

So are they right? To find out, The Conversation approached Aimee Ambrose, Professor of Energy Policy at leading UK policy research centre The Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, and an expert advisor to the International Energy Agency.

Here, she explains the reasons for the UK energy crisis. And a spoiler alert: the nation’s net-zero target is not to blame.

woman in white t-shirt
Professor Aimee Ambrose. Sheffield Hallam University

Comments by Aimee Ambrose, Professor in Energy Policy, Sheffield Hallam University

It’s outrageous to suggest the current UK energy situation is the result of a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. It is primarily a gas crisis, fuelled by the nation’s slow transition to lower carbon sources.

The origins of the crisis are complex, and date back many years. Here are the five main factors at play:

1. Heavy Reliance On Gas

Since the 1970s, the UK has become progressively more reliant on natural gas to heat our homes. Currently, 77% of households heat their homes using gas central heating, delivered to homes via underground pipes.

Until recently, gas (via central heating) has represented the most affordable way to heat homes. Before the crisis, electricity prices in the UK were consistently higher than gas, averaging 16p per kilowatt hour for electricity (versus 4p for gas). Gas is also used as a key fuel in UK electricity generation.

So gas was seen as affordable, reserves are plentiful in the North Sea and it’s a cleaner energy source than burning solid fuels such as coal. The UK put all its energy eggs in one basket, leaving us at the mercy of price shocks.

heater with gas pipe
The vast majority of UK homes use gas central heating. Shutterstock

2. Lack Of Diversity Of Renewable Sources

Now let’s zoom out from home heating and look at the overall energy mix for the UK. The lack of diversity, and associated risks to energy security, are very clear.

Natural gas fairly consistently makes up about 40% of the energy mix, oil about the same, renewables (primarily wind) about 15% followed by a small amount of nuclear energy and an even smaller amount of coal-based generation (although these figures can fluctuate quite significantly).

These statistics lay bare the UK’s heavy dependency on gas and oil and tardy progress towards a shift to renewables.

The above figure for renewable energy production looks more rosy than it is, thanks to very high wind energy output in Scotland. In reality, total renewable energy generation in the UK lags behind many neighbours in Europe.

Greater renewable energy generation, from diverse technologies, would reduce the UK’s reliance on gas. But within the renewables sector, the UK has majored in wind power – again putting our eggs in one basket.

And even in relation to wind, our flagship renewable source, we lag far behind Europe in terms of output.

wind turbine on green grass
Much of the UK’s renewable energy comes from wind farms in Scotland. Shutterstock

3. Brexit

The UK’s exit from Europe last year also appears to have played a part in the crisis.

Gas prices in Europe are at record highs, but the European Union’s internal energy market – of which the UK is no longer part – allows member states to trade with each other in a way that balances prices out.

This means EU countries can’t always take full advantage of very low energy prices, but at the same time means they’re protected from very high prices.

The UK, as an independent country outside the internal EU market, can take better advantage of low energy prices. But at times like these, when energy prices are very high, it left highly exposed to price shocks.

man in black t-shirt in front of pro-Brexit signs
The UK’s exit from the EU has left it at the mercy of energy price shocks. EPA

4. Regressive Approaches To Funding Low-Carbon Transitions

In the UK, as with much of the EU, energy transitions are funded by energy consumers via a levy on their energy bills. Around 63% of our energy bills are made up of charges to fund new energy infrastructure and other services provided by energy companies.

This means those who spend a higher proportion of their income on energy (such as lower income households) will contribute more to funding the transition away from fossil fuels than their wealthier counterparts.

This is not a reason for the gas price crisis. But it creates a double whammy where 250% increases in energy prices – which is what the UK is experiencing – meet hefty levies. If consumers can’t meet these costs then the transition to lower carbon sources stalls and our fossil fuel dependency deepens.

blue van on street
In the UK energy transitions are funded by energy consumers via a levy on their energy bills. Shutterstock

5. Ignored Warnings And Low Storage Capacity

The UK has around 2% gas storage capacity, compared to around 25% for most EU countries.

Back in March this year, the UK Office of Gas and Electricity Markets warned of the risk of a gas price surge. The UK government, apparently distracted by the COVID pandemic, took no action.

This inertia, combined with low gas storage capacity, has compounded the nation’s vulnerability to the sharp price rise predicted by the energy regulator.

Industrial skyline
The UK has around 2% gas storage capacity. Shutterstock

So Could This Happen In Australia?

Australia is steadily transitioning to clean energy – last year, renewables were responsible for 27.7% of total electricity generation.

But Australia remains heavily reliant on fossil fuels. As the UK experience shows, a diversity of renewable sources offers the greatest scope for energy security and affordability – and avoiding the transition only increases the risks of plunging into crisis.

Read more: The Nationals signing up to net-zero should be a no-brainer. Instead, they're holding Australia to ransom The Conversation

Nicole Hasham, Section Editor: Energy + Environment, The Conversation

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

Australia’s threatened species protections are being rewritten. But what’s really needed is money and legal teeth

Stephen GarnettCharles Darwin University

The federal government has proposed replacing almost 200 recovery plans to improve the plight of threatened species and habitat with “conservation advice”, which has less legal clout. While critics have lamented the move, in reality it’s no great loss.

Recovery plans are the central tool available to the federal government to prevent extinctions. They outline a species population and distribution, threats such as habitat loss and climate change, and actions needed to recover population numbers.

But many are so vague they do very little to protect threatened species from habitat destruction and other threats. And governments are not obliged to implement or fund the plans, rendering most virtually useless.

Until federal environment law is strengthened and conservation management is properly funded, the prospects of our most vulnerable species will continue to worsen – and some will be lost forever.

seahorse swims in kelp forest
Almost 200 threatened species and ecosystems would no longer have recovery plans under the proposal. Shutterstock

What’s Being Proposed?

All threatened species and ecological communities have a conservation advice, and some also have a recovery plan.

Recovery plans and conservation advices both set out the research and management needed to protect and restore species and ecological communities listed as threatened under federal environment law.

Both instruments are usually developed by state or federal environment departments. Recovery plans can be long, complex documents which take several years to draw up and get approved. Conservation advices are usually shorter and less detailed, and are approved when a species is listed as threatened.

The minister is legally bound to act consistently with a recovery plan – for example when considering a development application which would damage threatened species habitat. Conservation advices are not legally enforceable.

The government has been reviewing past recovery plan decisions, and has identified almost 200 threatened species and ecological communities for which it believes a conservation advice will suffice.

They include the spectacled flying fox, the Tasmanian devil and the ghost spider-orchid, as well as the giant kelp marine forests of southeast Australia and NSW’s Cumberland plain woodland.

The government says a conservation advice is a “more streamlined, nimble and cost-effective document” than a recovery plan for identifying conservation needs and actions.

Preventing extinctions of Australian lizards and snakes.

A Broken System

On the surface, it may seem the federal government wants to replace a powerful conservation instrument with a weaker one. But in reality, most recovery plans have done little to protect threatened plants and animals – for several reasons.

First, the wording of recovery plans is often vague and non-prescriptive, which gives the minister flexibility to approve projects that will harm a threatened species.

One analysis in 2015 by environment and legal groups exposed weaknesses in the wording around habitat protection. Of the 120 most endangered animals covered by recovery plans, only 10% had plans where limits to habitat loss was clearly stated.

For example, North Queensland’s proserpine rock wallaby is threatened by land clearing for residential and tourism developments. The analysis found its recovery plan contained “no direct and clear requirement to avoid or halt land clearing or other destructive activities”.

The Carnaby’s black-cockatoo, of Western Australia, has lost much of its foraging and breeding habitat to land clearing. Yet its recovery plan also failed to specify limits to habitat loss, allowing substantial clearing to continue.

Second, many recovery plans never come to fruition. In October last year, plans were reportedly outstanding for 172 species and habitats, and the federal environment department had not finalised one in almost 18 months. The recovery plan for the Leadbeater’s possum, for example, was devised five years ago but has never progressed past draft form.

Third, conservation management in Australia is grossly underfunded. This means recovery plans are often just a piece of paper, without funding or a team to implement them.

hands holding bandicoot joeys
Recovery plans have failed to protect many of Australia’s most vulnerable species. Shutterstock

So Will Conservation Advices Work?

A good recovery plan, such as that of the eastern barred bandicoot, includes all the relevant detail of biology, threats, budgets, timelines and targets to turn a population around.

In the next few years, hundreds of recovery plans will need updating – a huge bureaucratic task. Given so many recovery plans have been ineffective, one has to question whether that’s the best use of government conservation dollars.

So will the move to conservation advices do as good a job? Historically, they have contained such scant detail they were of little use. However, this has been changing. Conservation advice for the northern hopping-mouse, and Mahony’s toadlet, for example, provide precise details of habitat and threats.

The Threatened Species Scientific Committee is reportedly working with the federal environment department to ensure all conservation plans provide an efficient, best-practice method for conveying recovery needs. This work is crucial.

There’s some evidence to suggest conservation advices can have legal sway. Conservation advice on the Leadbeater’s possum last year helped persuade a Victorian court to stop logging in some habitat. (The decision was later overturned, for unrelated reasons).

And federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley last year directed A$18 million to koalas on the basis of a conservation advice. This shows they can successfully inform government investment decisions.

Read more: Australia's threatened species plan sends in the ambulances but ignores glaring dangers

koala on branch with woman
Environment Minister Sussan Ley announced koala funding on the basis of a conservation advice. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Looking Ahead

Recovery plans will remain vital for species with complex planning needs, such as those that face multiple threats. Conservation advices can suffice in some instances, but also have failings.

Far better than both instruments would be to strengthen regulatory tools, such as critical habitat protection. This can happen independently of recovery plans or conservation advices.

Even better would be for the government to adopt the recommendations of Graeme Samuels’ recent review of federal environment law – particularly his recommendation for national, legally-binding environmental standards to guide development decisions.

But most importantly, the federal government must invest far more in threatened species protection. Without money, many threatened species will continue on the path to extinction.

The Conversation

Stephen Garnett, Professor of Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University

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

Your household power bills could be 15% cheaper, if Australia’s energy regulator was doing its job

Joe Castro/AAP
Bruce MountainVictoria University

If you’re like most Australians, the single biggest chunk of your energy bill — about 40% — goes to a network services company, which owns and operates the transmission lines or pipes delivering electricity or gas to your home.

But evidence from takeover bids for Australia’s last two publicly listed electricity network services companies suggests you are paying more than you should.

These prices are set by the Australian Energy Regulator, because network services are monopolies: you can choose your energy retailer, but not the lines or pipes through which the electricity or gas flow.

It’s the regulator’s job to determine a fair price for these services — one that doesn’t shortchange the service provider or gouge consumers.

But the Australian Energy Regulator has not been getting these pricing decisions right, according to calculations that can be made using the bids by overseas investors for AusNet Services Ltd, the biggest energy network provider in Victoria, and Spark Infrastructure Group, whose assets include South Australia’s electricity distribution network.

Being listed on the stock exchange, they must disclose financial information. This information enables analysts to calculate how much investors value them compared to the Australian Energy Regulator.

This calculation — known as Regulated Asset Base (RAB) multiple — suggests the regulator has been allowing energy network companies to charge way more than necessary.

Read more: Energy prices are high because consumers are paying for useless, profit-boosting infrastructure

Valuing AusNet

AusNet owns and operates almost all of the electricity transmission system in Victoria, and also big gas and electricity distribution networks. It is the subject of a takeover battle between Brookfield Asset Management, a Canadian infrastructure fund, and APA Group, Australia’s largest natural gas infrastructure business.

On September 20, it was revealed that Brookfield offered to acquire AusNet for A$2.50 a share. The day after APA Group offered a mix of cash and equity that it said valued Ausnet at A$2.60 per share.

These bids provide a baseline to calculate the Regulated Asset Base multiple: the the ratio of investors’ valuation to the regulator’s valuation.

How much an investor is prepared to pay for a share indicates their expectation of the future dividend (or profits) those shares will return. How much the regulator’s allows a company to charge is based on what it sees as a fair return to shareholders.

From this information the Regulated Asset Base multiple can be calculated.

A multiple of 1 would mean the investors’ valuation equals the regulator’s valuation. A number lower than 1 would mean the regulator is setting prices too low. A number greater than 1 means it is setting prices too high.

Brookfield’s offer, according to The Australian Financial Review, gives Ausnet a multiple of 1.68. This suggests the Australian Energy Regulator is allowing AusNet to charge prices 68% higher than Brookfield would be happy to accept. APA’s bid suggests a RAB multiple even higher.

Of course, it is not entirely as simple as that. Not all of AusNet’s revenue come from regulated assets. This may slightly affect the valuation of AusNet. Assuming AusNet’s unregulated businesses are as profitable as its larger regulated businesses, we estimate the RAB multiple is 1.54.

Valuing Spark Infrastructure

Spark Infrastructure owns controlling interests in two Victorian electricity distributors (Citipower and Powercor), Transgrid in NSW, and South Australia’s main distribution network, SA Power Networks.

In August, Spark’s board approved a A$5.2 billion takeover offer from US private equity giant Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and the Ontario Teachers’ superannuation fund.

This offer gives Spark a RAB multiple of 1.5. This suggests the monopolies Spark has a share in are charging prices 53% higher than needed to adequately compensate investors

Read more: You're paying too much for electricity, but here's what the states can do about it

Vanishing Transparency

The impact on customers will vary, but these calculations suggests network services charges should be about two-thirds current levels. This would make household electricity bills about 15% lower than now.

I am not suggesting the regulator should set prices consistent with a RAB multiple of 1. But prices should not favour monopoly owners as much these takeover valuations suggest they do.

The underlying issue here is not new. Official inquiries over the past decade — the Garnaut Climate Change Review update in 2011, the Senate inquiry into energy bills in 2012 and the Productivity Commission’s review of electricity network regulation in 2013 — all concluded energy regulation erred excessively in favour of investors at the expense of consumers.

The Australian Energy Regulator and the Australian Energy Markets Commission (which oversees all energy markets) have responded to these inquiries with new rules, guidelines, committees and processes.

Yet the problem remains — and if these takeovers are successful then AusNet and Spark Infrastructure will almost certainly be delisted. We will then lose vital information on RAB multiples that allows objective assessment of the regulator’s decisions.The Conversation

Bruce Mountain, Director, Victoria Energy Policy Centre, Victoria University

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

Celebrating K’gari: why the renaming of Fraser Island is about so much more than a name

Rose BarrowcliffeUniversity of the Sunshine Coast

On the 19th of September, Butchulla dancers and community representatives came together at Kingfisher Bay Resort to celebrate the renaming of Fraser Island to the K’gari (Fraser Island) World Heritage Area.

The renaming was the result of a decades-long campaign by Butchulla Elders and community members and was endorsed by the Queensland government and adopted by the World Heritage Committee.

This event is the latest in a growing number of Indigenous name repatriations across the nation. As a Butchulla person, and a researcher of the representation of Indigenous peoples in archives and historical narratives, I can appreciate the significance of something as seemingly small as a name change.

How Common Is It To Revert To The Indigenous Place Name?

The reversion to the name K’gari has happened in stages over a number of years. In 2011, the Bligh government added K’gari as an alternative to the place name Fraser Island in the Queensland Place Names Register.

The Fraser Island portion of the Great Sandy National Park was changed to K’gari (Fraser Island) National Park in 2017. This latest change is specifically in relation to the UNESCO World Heritage area.

K’gari is among a growing number of places around Australia that have returned to their Indigenous names. One of the most famous examples is Uluru.

In Queensland, the National Parks First Nations Naming Project has been assisting in reverting national park names to Indigenous names where possible as a part of the government’s commitment to the truth-telling process. North Stradbroke Island and Moreton Island National Parks have reverted to Minjerribah and Gheebulum Coonungai, respectively.

According to then-minister for environment and the Great Barrier Reef, Leanne Enoch

This project is a positive step in our truth telling around First Nations Peoples’ significant and ancient connection to country.

Not Renaming, Reclaiming

Changing a place name will not fix racism in one fell swoop. No one is claiming it will. But name repatriation speaks to the importance of language in both culture and sovereignty.

Indigenous place names link Traditional Country to the history, culture and people that have been a part of that land long before colonisation. Overwriting Indigenous names with colonist names is an attempt to deny this deep, pre-existing connection and the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples.

The renaming of Butchulla Country was one of the first things Captain James Cook did as he first sailed the east coast of Australia.

In 1770, as Cook’s ship sailed close to Tacky Waroo, a large basalt headland on the east side of K’gari, it was met by a party of Butchulla warriors standing on the headland. In the lexicon of the day, all dark-skinned people were called “Indians”, so Cook renamed Tacky Waroo “Indian Head”.

In other cases, colonial place names were, and still are, blunt reminders of colonial violence. Places like Murdering Creek, Massacre Bay, Skull Creek and many more litter the Australian landscape and indicate violent acts that occurred in those places.

The name Fraser Island is named after a Scottish woman, Eliza Fraser, who was shipwrecked on the island in 1836. Fraser lied about being mistreated by Butchulla people after being shipwrecked. Even in those days, her account of her time on K’gari was thrown into doubt.

Fraser was known to be a sensationalist who made her story more and more salacious as time went on, in efforts to garner more money from sympathetic supporters. Her accounts of her time on K’gari were syndicated as far as the Americas, and reinforced the narrative that Indigenous peoples were “savages” and “cannibals”. These classifications led to Indigenous peoples being vilified around the globe.

Colonial History Is Not Indigenous History

Language plays an important part in reinforcing the notion that history in Australia began with the arrival of Cook and his fleet.

Colonial place names are another subtle yet persistent reinforcement of the notion that this land only has a place in history once it intersects with the narratives of colonists.

K’gari was the name chosen by the Butchulla because that is the sky spirit the island was created from. The name goes back to the very creation of the island, and yet the name that stuck was the name of a woman who spent not more than two months on the island.

Re-adoption of Indigenous place names signifies the increased recognition of history and culture that predates colonisation. More importantly, these name repatriations recognise that history and culture continue today.

The history of colonisation is not Indigenous history. Indigenous history and the history of this continent predates, pre-exists and will eventually override colonial history. Indigenous place names are evidence of that.

Read more: Indigenous treaties are meaningless without addressing the issue of sovereignty

Bringing Our Past Into A Shared Future

Repatriation of Indigenous place names is a part of the process of reintroducing Indigenous perspectives into the narratives of our modern society.

Repatriation of Indigenous place names reaffirms that First Nations have always existed, and still exist in Australia today. Moreover, they are a source of distinction that sets Australia apart from the rest of the world for the one thing no other country in the world can come close to: being home to the oldest living cultures in the world. That should be a source of pride for all Australians.

Always was, always will be K’gari.The Conversation

Rose Barrowcliffe, Doctoral Candidate, University of the Sunshine Coast

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

The Nationals signing up to net-zero should be a no-brainer. Instead, they’re holding Australia to ransom

Matt McDonaldThe University of Queensland

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is reportedly developing a plan for Australia to adopt a target of net-zero emissions by 2050. Climate change was a central focus of the Quad talks in Washington which Morrison attended in recent days, and he is under significant international pressure to adopt a net-zero target ahead of climate talks in Glasgow in November.

Morrison is very late to the party on issue of net-zero – and lagging far behind public opinion. A recent Lowy poll showed 78% of Australians support the target.

But standing firmly in Morrison’s way is the Coalition’s junior partner, the Nationals. The words of key Nationals figures including Resources Minister Keith Pitt and pro-coal senator Matt Canavan suggest net-zero is the hill they will die on. And Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, not exactly a climate warrior, has indicated he’s yet to be convinced on the merits of the target.

Ultimately though, this is just bad strategy from the Nationals. It burns valuable political capital for no good reason, and abrogates responsibility to their own constituents.

Not Much Of A Target At All

First, a net-zero emissions target is a really obvious position of compromise for the Nationals specifically, and for a reluctant Australian government more generally.

Every state and territory in Australia has already adopted this target for 2050, or bettered it. And most of our international peers have a net-zero target including the United KingdomJapanCanadaGermanyFrance and the United States.

Getting to net-zero by 2050 also doesn’t necessarily require immediate or significant emissions cuts. As critics including Greta Thunberg and former IPCC chair Bob Watson have argued, the targets can create the impression of action without requiring immediate change.

Research shows many jurisdictions with a net-zero target do not have robust measures in place to ensure they’re met, such as interim targets and a reporting mechanism.

And the timeframe for net-zero – whether 2050 like most nations, or 2060 as per China – is way beyond the political longevity of our current government MPs. That means those now in parliament will be spared much of the political pain of implementing policies required to meet the target.

Finally, pursuing net-zero emissions (rather than just zero-emissions in sectors where that is feasible) allows fossil fuel companies to offset their climate damage, by buying carbon credits, rather than stopping their polluting activity. It also potentially allows for fairly speculative efforts to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere via geoengineering.

For these reasons and more, the net-zero goal is in often criticised as a dangerous trap for doing very little on climate change – which appears to be the goal of many in the Nationals.

Read more: Betting on speculative geoengineering may risk an escalating ‘climate debt crisis’

Nationals MPs Matt Canavan and Keith Pitt.
Nationals MPs Matt Canavan and Keith Pitt are vocal opponents of any moves to net zero. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Adapting To Change

In opposing the net-zero target, the Nationals often point to potential damage to the nation’s mining and farming sectors, primarily a loss of jobs and economic growth. Some Nationals have called for those sectors to be carved out of any net-zero target.

On the question of agriculture, research released by the Grattan Institute this week shows it’s getting increasingly hard to argue the sector should be exempt from the target – its emissions are simply too great.

And there is much that can be done right now to cut agriculture emissions, if the government does more to encourage farmers to adopt the right technologies and practices.

On mining, the Nationals are fighting a losing battle. Soon, the world will no longer want our coal. As others have noted, we must prepare for the change and diversify the economy, rather than lamenting what’s still left in the ground. And Australia can easily replace coal-fired electricity generation with renewable energy, backed by storage.

Read more: Agitated Nationals grapple with climate debate, as former minister Chester takes 'a break' from party room

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Quad talks.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he is working on a net-zero by 2050 plan. Evan Vucci/AP/AAP

For Whom Do The Nationals Speak?

By refusing to compromise on a net-zero target, the Nationals are burning all sorts of political capital they could potentially wield with the Liberals on a range of issues. The Nationals would have held particular sway over Liberals concerned about holding on to their inner city seats in a 2022 election.

More importantly, the position of Keith Pitt, Matt Canavan and other intransigents in the Nationals isn’t just an abandonment of future generations. Nor is it only a rejection of our responsibilities to vulnerable people in all parts of Australia and the world, or our duty of care to other living beings.

It’s also a spectacular betrayal of their own constituencies. Rural Australia will be disproportionately affected by climate change, particularly in the form of higher temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and increasing disasters like drought and bushfires. And the long-term economic costs of inaction for rural constituencies will be potentially catastrophic.

It’s for these reasons that organisations like the National Farmers Federation have specifically called for a commitment to net zero emissions.

In the 2019 election, the Nationals received just 4.5% of the vote in the lower house, with the Liberal Nationals of Queensland achieving just 8.7% (as a proportion of the national total). In both cases, it was less still in the Senate.

Yet despite speaking on behalf of a small fraction of the country, the party is holding Australian climate policy to ransom.

Maybe we can’t get the intransigents in the National Party to suddenly recognise their obligations to the planet and its inhabitants. But surely they can be convinced to represent the interests of rural voters? Time – what little we have left – will tell.

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

Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations, The University of Queensland

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

The hydropower industry is talking the talk. But fine words won’t save our last wild rivers

Jamie PittockAustralian National University

Technologies to harness the power of water are touted as crucial for a low-emissions future. But over many decades, the hydropower industry has caused serious damage to the environment and people’s lives.

More than 500 new hydropower dams are currently planned or under construction in the world’s protected areas. And some 260,000 kilometres of the last wild rivers – including the Amazon, Congo, Irrawaddy and Salween rivers – are threatened by proposed dams.

The global hydropower industry says the technology’s installed capacity must increase by more than 60% by 2050 if the world hopes to limit climate change. And the World Hydropower Congress, held remotely from Costa Rica this month, proposed steps to expand with minimal harm.

But stringent oversight, and a commitment from banks and governments to support only sustainable pumped hydro developments, is urgently needed. Otherwise, the expanding industry could displace millions more people, irreparably damage rivers and drive species to extinction.

aerial view of dam wall
The hydropower expansion must be subject to strict oversight. Shutterstock

Old Technology Given New Life

Hydroelectricity is an old technology which involves passing water from a reservoir through a turbine, to generate electricity. One application, known as pumped storage, can store electricity generated by solar and wind. In the era of climate change, pumped storage has given new life to hydropower technology.

Pumped hydro uses excess renewable energy to pump water from a lower reservoir to a higher one. The water is then released downhill to produce electricity when needed, then pumped back up when electricity returns to surplus.

Technologies such as wind and solar can only produce electricity when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. Pumped hydro can make such generators more reliable by storing renewable energy when it’s produced then releasing it as needed.

Three pumped hydro storage projects operate in Australia: two in New South Wales and one in Queensland. Two are under construction, including the massive Snowy 2.0, and about a dozen are at the scoping stage.

Pumped hydro storage can be added to existing reservoirs on rivers. It can also be located off rivers, which can often lead to better social and environmental outcomes. One such project in North Queensland, Kidston, involves redeveloping an old gold mine.

Australian National University research this year identified about 616,000 potential sites around the world for pumped hydro, including more than 3,000 in Australia. Developing fewer than 1% of these could support a fully renewable global energy system.

pipes on hill
Pumped hydro projects circulate water between upper and lower reservoirs. Shutterstock

A Poor Record

Hydropower and associated dams have a long record of environmental and social damage. Aside from flooding ecosystems, farmlands and towns, hydropower projects significantly disrupt river flows. This, among other harms, can deny water to floodplain wetlands, block fish migration and breeding and reduce nutrient flows.

Globally, populations of freshwater species – including mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish – have declined by about 84% since 1970, in large part due to dams. In Tasmania, inundation of the unique Lake Pedder ecosystem in the 1970s led to several species extinctions.

And while hydropower is widely considered a “clean” energy, it can lead to significant amounts of greenhouse gases when flooded plants and trees decompose.

Emissions from most hydropower dams are comparable to the life-cycle emissions from solar and wind generators. But at warmer tropical sites where vegetation is more dense, reservoirs could have a higher emission rate than fossil-based electricity.

As far back as 20 years ago, dams were found to have displaced 40 to 80 million in the half century prior. And dams have damaged the livelihoods of hundreds of millions people downstream over the past century.

But new hydro projects are routinely proposed at sites where they will cause substantial damage. And social and environmental problems caused by hydropower dams continue in places as diverse as Colombia and Southeast Asia’s Mekong region.

The Snowy 2.0 pumped storage project in Kosciusko National Park highlights trade-offs involved in many hydropower developments.

It promises to improve the reliability of solar and wind power, helping mitigate climate change. But it also threatens two endangered fish species, and several thousand hectares of national park are being cleared for infrastructure.

Read more: NSW has approved Snowy 2.0. Here are six reasons why that's a bad move

man in field with cow
Dams displace people whose land and farms are submerged. PRAKASH HATVALNE/AP

An Industry Makeover

Clearly, the world hydropower industry has public relations work to do, if its global expansion is to be realised. The International Hydropower Association appears to have cottoned on to this, taking a sophisticated approach to improving the industry’s social licence.

The industry has actively engaged conservationists in preparing sustainability standards. Voluntary assessment tools outline steps to minimise damage to people and the environment, and a new sustainability certification scheme for hydropower was launched at this month’s congress.

The industry has pledged not to build hydropower dams in world heritage sites. It has also offered to “avoid, minimise, mitigate or compensate” for damage in protected areas (albeit falling short on offering full protection).

However, it’s hard to see the new standards being systematically applied unless governments of major dam building nations – especially China, India, Brazil and Turkey – adopt the standards in their planning and approval processes.

And how will rogue operators and irresponsible financiers be prevented from developing unsustainable projects – especially when some governments are fixated on enabling them?

It’s in the interests of the International Hydropower Association, as the progressive element of the hydropower industry, to advocate for governments and financiers to assess proposed hydropower projects against the new standards.

Read more: When dams cause more problems than they solve, removing them can pay off for people and nature

Man gives thumbs up at hydro project
Governments should assess hydropower projects against the new standards. Lukas Coch/AAP

Causing The Least Harm

Pumped hydro has an important role to play in the renewable energy transition, but only where projects cause minimal harm to people and nature.

Ensuring a sustainable industry in future could be achieved by stopping damaging conventional hydropower projects on rivers. Instead, pumped storage projects should be developed when:

  • an assessment shows they meets the needs of an energy system

  • environmental and social conflicts are minimal, such as at off-river sites

  • for projects in tropical areas, shallow reservoirs and flooding of vegetation is avoided to minimise greenhouse gas emissions.

Pumped storage offers the hydropower industry a chance to reposition itself from villain to hero. The industry must now translate its words into practice. And financiers and government regulators must support only those hydropower projects which genuinely seek to minimise environmental and social harm.The Conversation

Jamie Pittock, Professor, Fenner School of Environment & Society, Australian National University

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

Climate change is testing the resilience of native plants to fire, from ash forests to gymea lilies

One year following the 2019/20 fires, this forest has been slow to recover. Rachael NolanCC BY-NC-ND
Rachael Helene NolanWestern Sydney UniversityAndrea LeighUniversity of Technology SydneyMark OoiUNSWRoss BradstockUniversity of WollongongTim CurranLincoln University, New ZealandTom FairmanThe University of Melbourne, and Víctor Resco de DiosUniversitat de Lleida

Green shoots emerging from black tree trunks is an iconic image in the days following bushfires, thanks to the remarkable ability of many native plants to survive even the most intense flames.

But in recent years, the length, frequency and intensity of Australian bushfire seasons have increased, and will worsen further under climate changeDroughts and heatwaves are also projected to increase, and climate change may also affect the incidence of pest insect outbreaks, although this is difficult to predict.

How will our ecosystems cope with this combination of threats? In our recently published paper, we looked to answer this exact question — and the news isn’t good.

We found while many plants are really good at withstanding certain types of fire, the combination of drought, heatwaves and pest insects may push many fire-adapted plants to the brink in the future. The devastating Black Summer fires gave us a taste of this future.

Examples of fire-adapted plants: prolific flowering of pink flannel flowers (upper left), new foliage resprouting on geebung (upper right), seed release from a banksia cone (lower left), and an old man banksia seedling (lower right). Rachael Nolan

What Happens When Fires Become More Frequent?

Ash forests are one of the most iconic in Australia, home to some of the tallest flowering plants on Earth. When severe fire occurs in these forests, the mature trees are killed and the forest regenerates entirely from the seed that falls from the dead canopy.

These regrowing trees, however, do not produce seed reliably until they’re 15 years old. This means if fire occurs again during this period, the trees will not regenerate, and the ash forest will collapse.

This would have serious consequences for the carbon stored in these trees, and the habitat these forests provide for animals.

Southeast Australia has experienced multiple fires since 2003, which means there’s a large area of regrowing ash forests across the landscape, especially in Victoria.

The Black Summer bushfires burned parts of these young forests, and nearly 10,000 football fields of ash forest was at risk of collapse. Thankfully, approximately half of this area was recovered through an artificial seeding program.

Ash to ashes: On the left, unburned ash forest in the Central Highlands of Victoria; on the right, ash forest which has been burned by a number of high severity bushfires in Alpine National Park. Without intervention, this area will no longer be dominated by ash and will transition to shrub or grassland. T Fairman

What Happens When Fire Seasons Get Longer?

Longer fire seasons means there’s a greater chance species will burn at a time of year that’s outside the historical norm. This can have devastating consequences for plant populations.

For example, out-of-season fires, such as in winter, can delay maturation of the Woronora beard-heath compared to summer fires, because of their seasonal requirements for releasing and germinating seeds. This means the species needs longer fire-free intervals when fires occur out of season.

Read more: Entire hillsides of trees turned brown this summer. Is it the start of ecosystem collapse?

The iconic gymea lily, a post-fire flowering species, is another plant under similar threat. New research showed when fires occur outside summer, the gymea lily didn’t flower as much and changed its seed chemistry.

While this resprouting species might persist in the short term, consistent out-of-season fires could have long-term impacts by reducing its reproduction and, therefore, population size.

Out-of-season fires could have long-term impacts on gymea lilies. Shutterstock

When Drought And Heatwaves Get More Severe

In the lead up to the Black Summer fires, eastern Australia experienced the hottest and driest year on record. The drought and associated heatwaves triggered widespread canopy die-off.

Extremes of drought and heat can directly kill plants. And this increase in dead vegetation may increase the intensity of fires.

Another problem is that by coping with drought and heat stress, plants may deplete their stored energy reserves, which are vital for resprouting new leaves following fire. Depletion of energy reserves may result in a phenomenon called “resprouting exhaustion syndrome”, where fire-adapted plants no longer have the reserves to regenerate new leaves after fire.

Therefore, fire can deliver the final blow to resprouting plants already suffering from drought and heat stress.

Drought stressed eucalypt forest in 2019. Rachael Nolan

Drought and heatwaves could also be a big problem for seeds. Many species rely on fire-triggered seed germination to survive following fire, such as many species of wattles, banksias and some eucalypts.

But drought and heat stress may reduce the number of seeds that get released, because they limit flowering and seed development in the lead up to bushfires, or trigger plants to release seeds prematurely.

For example, in Australian fire-prone ecosystems, temperatures between 40℃ and 100℃ are required to break the dormancy of seeds stored in soil and trigger germination. But during heatwaves, soil temperatures can be high enough to break these temperature thresholds. This means seeds could be released before the fire, and they won’t be available to germinate after the fire hits.

Heatwaves can also reduce the quality of seeds by deforming their DNA. This could reduce the success of seed germination after fire.

Burnt banksia
Many native plants, such as banksia, rely on fire to germinate their seeds. Shutterstock

What about insects? The growth of new foliage following fire or drought is tasty to insects. If pest insect outbreaks occur after fire, they may remove all the leaves of recovering plants. This additional stress may push plants over their limit, resulting in their death.

This phenomenon has more typically been observed in eucalypts following drought, where repeated defoliation (leaf loss) by pest insects triggered dieback in recovering trees.

When Threats Pile Up

We expect many vegetation communities will remain resilient in the short-term, including most eucalpyt species.

But even in these resilient forests, we expect to see some changes in the types of species present in certain areas and changes to the structure of vegetation (such as the size of trees).

Resprouting eucalypts, one year on following the 2019-2020 bushfires. Rachael Nolan

As climate change progresses, many fire-prone ecosystems will be pushed beyond their historical limits. Our new research is only the beginning — how plants will respond is still highly uncertain, and more research is needed to untangle the interacting effects of fire, drought, heatwaves and pest insects.

We need to rapidly reduce carbon emissions before testing the limits of our ecosystems to recover from fire.

Read more: 5 remarkable stories of flora and fauna in the aftermath of Australia’s horror bushfire season The Conversation

Rachael Helene Nolan, Postdoctoral research fellow, Western Sydney UniversityAndrea Leigh, Associate Professor, Faculty of Science, University of Technology SydneyMark Ooi, Senior Research Fellow, UNSWRoss Bradstock, Emeritus professor, University of WollongongTim Curran, Associate Professor of Ecology, Lincoln University, New ZealandTom Fairman, Future Fire Risk Analyst, The University of Melbourne, and Víctor Resco de Dios, Profesor de Incendios y Cambio Global en PVCF-Agrotecnio, Universitat de Lleida

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

The sun’s shining and snakes are emerging, but they’re not out to get you. Here’s what they’re really up to

Timothy N. W. JacksonThe University of MelbourneChris J JollyCharles Sturt University, and Damian LettoofCurtin University

It’s early spring in southern Australia and the sun is, gloriously, out. You decide to head to your local patch of greenery – by the creek, lake, or foreshore – with the sun on your face, the breeze in your hair, and your dog’s tongue blissfully lolling.

Suddenly you see it. Paused on the path just a few meters in front of your feet, soaking up those same springtime rays — a snake.

Love them or loathe them, snakes have been co-existing with, and haunting us, since well before our ancestors called themselves “human”. From the subtle tempter of Genesis to the feathered serpent deities of Mesoamerica, snakes have always been potent symbols of otherness.

Today, to encounter a snake is to brush up against the wild and mysterious heart of the natural world. Snakes are important members of every terrestrial ecosystem across Australia. Even in the most populous parts of the country, snakes inhabit the remnant bushland dispersed throughout our major cities.

But what exactly influences human–snake interactions? Whether you’re hoping to maximise your chances of seeing one of these shy, fascinating critters or wanting to avoid them at all costs, this article is for you.

Snakes In Southern Springtime

In southern Australia, a flurry of animal activity occurs in spring. As resources start becoming plentiful after the relatively lean months of winter, spring is the reproductive season for many plants and animals.

One such resource is heat — a particularly crucial resource for organisms such as reptiles, which don’t make their own body heat (unlike mammals). It’s a common misconception, however, that snakes want as much heat as they can get. Like Goldilocks, snakes want the temperature to be just right.

Southern springs are the right temperature for snakes to bask during the times of day we humans are also out and about. In summer, snakes, including venomous species such as tiger snakes and brown snakes, are typically more active very early in the morning, late in the evening, or during the night when temperatures are not too high for them.

During spring in south-eastern Australia, red-bellied blacksnakes are common in suburban areas. Damian LettoofAuthor provided

After a slow winter, snakes are both hungry (they may have been fasting for months!) and on the lookout for eligible members of the opposite sex. Basking, hunting, and searching for a mate brings snakes out into the open in spring a bit more than at other times of year, so we’re most likely to encounter them during this time.

Snake Activity In Northern Australia

Like all things, snake activity is a little different in the north. Spare a thought for those poor northern Australians who will never know the joys of a snake-filled springtime.

Still, the north has far more snake species than the south, including many species of non-venomous python — the farther south you go, the more our snake fauna is dominated by venomous species (check out Australian Reptile Online Database for distribution maps).

Darwin carpet pythons (Morelia spilota variegata) are most often encountered in the cooler months of the year following the annual wet season. Chris JollyAuthor provided

Because of the unforgiving year-round heat across northern Australia, temperature doesn’t drive snake activity as it does in the south. You will rarely see a basking snake in Australia’s Top End, they’re too busy avoiding the heat.

Instead, snake activity is driven by another important resource – rain. In the Top End, this means snakes are most often encountered following the wet season (April–June) when prey and water abound.

In other, more arid “boom and bust” systems, large rainfall events may only happen every five to ten years. When they do, they can trigger huge flurries of snake activity as the serpents emerge to take advantage of fleetingly available prey.

Snakes Indicate Ecosystem Health

From the moment of birth, all species of snake are predatory, although some, like shovel-nosed snakes, prey only upon eggs.

Shovel-nosed snakes prey only on eggs. Damian LettoofAuthor provided

In some terrestrial Australian ecosystems, snakes are near the top of the food chain. After reaching a certain size, they have few predators of their own. A two-metre coastal taipan in the cane fields of northern Queensland, for example, has more to fear from harvesters than it does from any natural predator.

For large snakes to persist in an environment, they need an abundance of their prey (mice, frogs and lizards), as well as all the species their prey feed upon (invertebrates, even smaller animals, or plants).

Coastal taipans (Oxyuranus scutellatus) are exceptionally elusive, but when they are (rarely) encountered, it is most often males observed while they are on the hunt for females during northern Australia’s winter. Chris JollyAuthor provided

Snakes often also have specific habitat requirements. In general, they need shelter and protection from bigger predators, which might include birds of prey, predatory mammals such as native marsupials or introduced cats and foxes, or other snakes. They also need opportunities for safely regulating their body temperature.

This means a snake will only call a place home if it has both a functioning food-web and the necessary habitat complexity. So remember, if you see snakes in your backyard or local park, it’s a sign the ecosystem is doing pretty well.

Snakes Don’t Want To Bite You

Snakes are awesome predators, but no Australian snake is interested in eating a human. In fact, they want as little to do with us giant hairless apes as possible.

Merri Creek in inner-city Melbourne is famously home to many snakes, including tiger snakes, who bask in the sun at springtime. Shutterstock

Why? Because snakes are actually quite vulnerable animals. Compared to many other species, they are small, have no sharp claws or strong limbs, and limited energy to put up a fight — they are basically limbless lizards with different teeth.

For those that possess it, venom is a last resort and only a minority of species —such as taipans, brown snakes, tiger snakes, and death adders — can deliver a life-threatening bite to a person. But snakes would much rather use their venom to subdue prey (that’s what they have it for) than to defend themselves.

When snakes bite humans in Australia, it’s a defensive reaction to a large animal they view as a potential predator. Remember, they can’t understand your intentions, even if those intentions are good.

Tiger snakes and other venomous snakes won’t bite you if you respect their boundaries. Damian Lettoof

If you’re lucky enough to see a wild snake, and if you respect its boundaries and give it personal space, it’s sure to do the same for you. Keep dogs on the lead in snakey areas and educate your kids to be snake-smart from as young as possible.

Even though snakes don’t want to bite, snakebite envenoming can be a life-threatening emergency. Learn first aid, and when you go for a walk in one of those sanctuaries of greenery that snakes like as much as we do, carry a compression bandage (or three).

It’s almost certain you will never need it, but it could just save a life.

Read more: Does Australia really have the deadliest snakes? We debunk 6 common myths The Conversation

Timothy N. W. Jackson, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Australian Venom Research Unit, The University of MelbourneChris J Jolly, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Charles Sturt University, and Damian Lettoof, PhD Candidate, Curtin University

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

The clock is ticking on net-zero, and Australia’s farmers must not get a free pass

Dan Peled/AAP
James HaGrattan Institute

Political momentum is growing in Australia to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. On Friday, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was the latest member of the federal government to throw his weight behind the goal, and over the weekend, Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged “the world is transitioning to a new energy economy”.

But for Australia to achieve net-zero across the economy, emissions from agriculture must fall dramatically. Agriculture contributed about 15% to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 – most of it from cattle and sheep. If herd numbers recover from the recent drought, the sector’s emissions are projected to rise.

Cutting agriculture emissions will not be easy. The difficulties have reportedly triggered concern in the Nationals’ about the cost of the transition for farmers, including calls for agriculture to be carved out of any net-zero target.

But as our new Grattan Institute report today makes clear, agriculture must not be granted this exemption. Instead, the federal government should do more to encourage farmers to adopt low-emissions technologies and practices – some of which can be deployed now.

Read more: Nationals' push to carve farming from a net-zero target is misguided and dangerous

four people walk through dusty farm
The Morrison government must do more to help farmers get on the path to net-zero. Alex Ellinghausen AAP/Fairfax Media pool

Three Good Reasons Farmers Must Go Net-Zero

Many farmers want to be part of the climate solution – and must be – for three main reasons.

First, the agriculture sector is uniquely vulnerable to a changing climate. Already, changes in rainfall have cut profits across the sector by 23% compared to what could have been achieved in pre-2000 conditions. The effect is even worse for cropping farmers.

Livestock farmers face risks, too. If global warming reaches 3℃, livestock in northern Australia are expected to suffer heat stress almost daily.

Second, parts of the sector are highly exposed to international markets – for example, about three-quarters of Australia’s red meat is exported.

There are fears Australian producers may face a border tax in some markets if they don’t cut emissions. The European Union, for instance, plans to introduce tariffs as early as 2023 on some products from countries without effective carbon pricing, though agriculture will not be included initially.

Third, the industry recognises action on climate change can often boost farm productivity, or help farmers secure resilient revenue streams. For example, trees provide shade for animals, while good soil management can preserve the land’s fertility. Both activities can store carbon and may generate carbon credits.

Carbon credits can be used to offset farm emissions, or sold to other emitters. In a net-zero future, farmers can maximise their carbon credit revenue by minimising their own emissions, leaving them more carbon credits to sell.

The agriculture sector itself is increasingly embracing the net-zero goal. The National Farmers Federation supports an economy-wide aspiration to be net-zero by 2050, with some conditions. The red meat and pork industries have gone further, committing to be carbon neutral by 2030 and 2025 respectively.

Read more: Land of opportunity: more sustainable Australian farming would protect our lucrative exports (and the planet)

hand presses soil
Good soil management aids a farm’s fertility. Shutterstock

What Can Be Done?

Australian agricultural activities emitted about 76 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions in 2019. Of this, about 48 million tonnes were methane belched by cattle and sheep, and a further 11 million came from their excrement.

The sector’s non-animal emissions largely came from burning diesel, the use of fertiliser, and the breakdown of leftover plant material from cropping.

Unlike in, say, the electricity sector, it’s not possible to completely eliminate agricultural emissions, and deep emissions cuts look difficult in the near term. That’s because methane produced in the stomachs of cattle and sheep represents more than 60% of agricultural emissions; these cannot be captured, or eliminated through renewable energy technology.

Supplements added to stock feed - which reduce the amount of methane the animal produces - are the most promising options to reduce agricultural emissions. These supplements include red algae and the chemical 3-nitrooxypropanol, both of which may cut methane by up to 90% if used consistently at the right dose.

But it’s difficult to distribute these feed supplements to Australian grazing cattle and sheep every day. At any given time, only about 4% of Australia’s cattle are in feedlots where their diet can be easily controlled.

Diesel use can be reduced by electrifying farm machinery, but electric models are not yet widely available or affordable for all purposes.

These challenges slow the realistic rate at which the sector can cut emissions. Yet there are things that can be done today.

Many manure emissions can be avoided through smarter management. For example, on intensive livestock farms, manure is often stored in ponds where it releases methane. This methane can be captured and burnt, emitting the weaker greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, instead.

And better targeted fertiliser use is a clear win-win – it would save farmers money and reduce emissions of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.

sheep in lots
Supplements added to stock feed are a promising way to cut emissions. Dean Lewins/AAP

Governments Must Walk And Chew Gum

An economy-wide carbon price would be the best way for Australia to reduce emissions in an economically efficient manner. But the political reality is that carbon pricing is out of reach, at least for now. So Australia should pursue sector-specific policies – including in agriculture.

Governments must walk and chew gum. That means introducing policies to support emissions-reducing actions that farmers can take today, while investing alongside the industry in potential high-impact solutions for the longer term.

Accelerating near-term action will require improving the federal government’s Emissions Reduction Fund, to help more farmers generate Australian carbon credit units. It will also require more investment in outreach programs to give farmers the knowledge they need to reduce emissions.

Improving the long-term emissions outlook for the agriculture sector requires investment in high-impact research, development and deployment. Bringing down the cost of new technologies is possible with deployment at scale: all governments should consider what combination of subsidies, penalties and regulations will best drive this.

Agriculture must not become the missing piece in Australia’s net-zero puzzle. Without action today, the sector may become Australia’s largest source of emissions in coming decades. This would require hugely expensive carbon offsetting - paid for by taxpayers, consumers and farmers themselves.  

Read more: Agitated Nationals grapple with climate debate, as former minister Chester takes 'a break' from party room The Conversation

James Ha, Associate, Grattan Institute

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

When fire hits, do koalas flee or stick to their tree? Answering these and other questions is vital

Pablo NegretThe University of Queensland and Daniel LunneyUniversity of Sydney

Figures released this week suggest Australia’s koala populations have plummeted by 30% in three years, and fewer than 58,000 now remain in the wild.

The statement from the Australian Koala Foundation has not been verified on the ground, giving it a high degree of uncertainty. But the claim aligns with a number of studies showing some koala populations are rapidly declining, particularly in Queensland and New South Whales.

Fire is an increasing threat to koalas; the 2019-20 megafires are estimated to have affected more than 60,000 koalas and reduced population numbers at multiple sites, including several areas of New South Wales. As bushfire risk increases under climate change, eucalyptus forest where koalas live are expected to suffer further impacts in the next 50-100 years.

So what’s the best way to protect these iconic animals from fires? Our new report for the National Environmental Science Program (NESP) sought to answer this question. We identified actions to reduce the risk of koalas being harmed by fires, and found gaps in scientific knowledge where more research is urgently needed.

The research explored how best to protect koalas from fires. Shutterstock

A Few Big Unknowns

Our research found scientific understanding of the interaction between fire management and koala conservation is lacking in three areas.

First, more research is needed on koala movements and their activity patterns before, during and after fires. For example, do koalas move during fire or stay in the same trees?

Evidence shows koalas rapidly move to and use recently burnt habitat. But it’s not known whether koalas found in recently burnt areas are new to that part of the forest or inhabited it before the fire.

After bushfires and prescribed burns, koalas can be injured by smouldering bark or burning embers when moving between trees. They can also become dehydrated. But how this affects koala movement and survival is barely understood.

Second, we need better understanding of how prescribed burning affects koala populations, in both the short and long term. Prescribed burning may benefit koalas if it reduces the severity of bushfires, but it can also kill or injure individual koalas. Better understanding the positives and negatives is crucial.

This might be achieved through long-term GPS radio-tracking of individual koalas, or compiling information about injured or dead koalas after prescribed burns and reporting it to conservation authorities.

Third, we need to know more about links between habitat connectivity, bushfire characteristics and koala population dynamics.

For example, fire can cause koala habitat to fragment. This makes habitat drier, which in turn may increase fire frequency and severity. But increased fragmentation can also limit the spread of fire and make it easier to control, which ultimately benefits koalas. More research into these trade-offs is required.

Read more: Stopping koala extinction is agonisingly simple. But here's why I'm not optimistic

Fire causes koala habitat to fragment. Shutterstock

Fires And Koalas: A Roadmap

Koalas can be protected from fires in various ways, including managing fire risk or, when fires do occur, managing koala populations and habitat to increase the chance of recovery.

But to date, there’s been little guidance about how effective various management actions are, and how best to allocate resources.

Our framework, one of the first of its kind, sought to address these questions. It can be used by land managers, scientists, koala rehabilitation groups, the media and the general public.

The work involved reviewing existing literature on fire ecology and management, as well as koala ecology and conservation. We also gathered expert advice through individual discussions and workshops in Queensland and New South Wales.

We identified several goals that, if achieved, will help maintain koala populations in fire prone landscapes. They include:

  • improving or maintaining koala habitat and koala populations before and after fires. This might involve replanting, weed management, reforestation and pest control, long-term monitoring of koala populations and their habitat or minimising other threats, such as vehicle collisions, dog attacks, habitat loss and climate change

  • maintaining or restoring fire patterns suited to an ecosystem – for example, by conducting prescribed burning to make an area less flammable in the case of altered fire frequency, or so-called “mosaic” burning to create patches of burnt and unburnt areas

  • actions during bushfires, such as creating a low-intensity backburn that travels down a slope away from koala areas

  • exchanging knowledge between koala conservation organisations and Traditional Owners, Indigenous communities of the area and the various fire management authorities

  • effective post-fire management, such as quickly rescuing injured koalas for rehabilitation, and restoring key koala habitat.

Read more: Scientists find burnt, starving koalas weeks after the bushfires

injured koala with gloved hands of carers
Koalas injured in fires should be quickly rehabilitated. David Mariuz/AAP

Looking Ahead

Our proposed strategies and actions should also take into account other priorities, such as human safety, property protection and cultural values of Indigenous people and others.

Our framework requires further development. But it’s a first step in bringing together information previously scattered across different sources and branches of knowledge.

The report gives those working to protect koalas, and other tree-dwelling species such as greater glider, a set of guidelines to manage fire and ensure koala conservation strategies are effective. Our research methods can also be used to identify fire management strategies for other species around the world.The Conversation

Pablo Negret, Postdoctoral research fellow, The University of Queensland and Daniel Lunney, Adjunct professor, University of Sydney

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

Scientists still don’t know how far melting in Antarctica will go – or the sea level rise it will unleash

Chen ZhaoUniversity of Tasmania and Rupert GladstoneUniversity of Lapland

The Antarctic ice sheet is the largest mass of ice in the world, holding around 60% of the world’s fresh water. If it all melted, global average sea levels would rise by 58 metres. But scientists are grappling with exactly how global warming will affect this great ice sheet.

This knowledge gap was reflected in the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It contains projections from models in which important processes affecting the ice sheets, known as feedbacks and tipping points, are absent because scientific understanding is lacking.

Projected sea level rise will have widespread effects in Australia and around the world. But current projections of ice sheet melt are so wide that developing ways for societies to adapt will be incredibly expensive and difficult.

If the world is to effectively adapt to sea level rise with minimal cost, we must quickly address the uncertainty surrounding Antarctica’s melting ice sheet. This requires significant investment in scientific capacity.

Tourists photograph beachside homes damaged by storm
Australia is vulnerable to sea level rise and associated storm surge, such as this scene at a Sydney beach in 2016. David Moir/AAP

The Great Unknown

Ice loss from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets was the largest contributor to sea level rise in recent decades. Even if all greenhouse gas emissions ceased today, the heat already in the ocean and atmosphere would cause substantial ice loss and a corresponding rise in sea levels. But exactly how much, and how fast, remains unclear.

Scientific understanding of ice sheet processes, and of the variability of the forces that affect ice sheets, is incredibly limited. This is largely because much of the ice sheets are in very remote and harsh environments, and so difficult to access.

This lack of information is one of the main sources of uncertainty in the models used to estimate ice mass loss.

At the moment, quantifying how much the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will contribute to sea level rise primarily involves an international scientific collaboration known as the “Ice Sheet Model Intercomparison Project for CMIP6”, or ISMIP6, of which we are part.

The project includes experts in ice sheet and climate modelling and observations. It produces computer simulations of what might happen if the polar regions melt under different climate scenarios, to improve projections of sea level rise.

The project also investigates ice sheet–climate feedbacks. In other words, it looks at how processes in the oceans and atmosphere will affect the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, including whether the changes might cause them to collapse – leading to large and sudden increases in sea level.

Read more: Anatomy of a heatwave: how Antarctica recorded a 20.75°C day last month

a melting glacier
Ice loss from sheets in Antarctic and Greenland were the biggest contributor to sea-level rise in recent decades. John McConnico/AP

Melting From Below

Research has identified so-called “basal melt” as the most significant driver of Antarctic ice loss. Basal melt refers to the melting of ice shelves from underneath, and in the case of Antarctica, interactions with the ocean are thought to be the main cause. But gathering scientific observations beneath ice shelves is a major logistical challenge, leading to a dearth of data about this phenomenon.

This and other constraints mean the rate of progress in ice sheet modelling has been insufficient to date, and so active ice sheet models are not included in climate models.

Scientists must instead make projections using the ice sheet models in isolation. This hinders scientific attempts to accurately simulate the feedback between ice and climate.

For example, it creates much uncertainty in how the interaction between the ocean and the ice shelf will affect ice mass loss, and how the very cold, fresh meltwater will make its way back to global oceans and cause sea level rise, and potentially disrupt currents.

Despite the uncertainties ISMIP6 is dealing with, it has published a series of recent research including a key paper published in Nature in May. This found if the world met the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5℃ this century, land ice melt would cause global sea level rise of about 13cm by 2100, in the most optimistic scenario. This is compared to a rise of 25cm under the world’s current emissions-reduction pledges.

The study also outlines a pessimistic, but still plausible, basal melt scenario for Antarctica in which sea levels could be five times higher than in the main scenarios.

The breadth of such findings underpinned sea level projections in the latest IPCC report. The Antarctic ice sheet once again represented the greatest source of uncertainty in these projections.

The below graph shows the IPCC’s latest sea level projections. The shaded area reflects the large uncertainties in models using the same basic data sets and approaches. The dotted line reflects deep uncertainty about tipping points and thresholds in ice sheet stability.

IPCC reports are intended to guide global policy-makers in coming years and decades. But the uncertainties about ice melt from Antarctica limit the usefulness of projections by the IPCC and others.

Read more: This is the most sobering report card yet on climate change and Earth's future. Here’s what you need to know

The IPCC’s projections for global average sea level change in metres, relative to 1900. IPCC

Dealing With Uncertainty

Future sea level rise poses big challenges such as human displacement, infrastructure loss, interference with agriculture, a potential influx of climate refugees, and coastal habitat degradation.

It’s crucial that ice sheet models are improved, tested robustly against real-world observations, then integrated into the next generation of international climate models – including those being developed in Australia.

International collaborations such as NECKLACE and RISE are seeking to coordinate international effort between models and observations. Significant investment across these projects is needed.

Sea levels will continue rising in the coming decades and centuries. Ice sheet projections must be narrowed down to ensure current and future generations can adapt safely and efficiently.

The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of Dr Ben Galton-Fenzi, Dr Rupert Gladstone, Dr Thomas Zwinger and David Reilly to the research from which this article draws.The Conversation

Chen Zhao, Research associate, University of Tasmania and Rupert Gladstone, Adjunct professor, University of Lapland

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

Arctic sea ice hits its minimum extent for the year – 2 NASA scientists explain what’s driving the overall decline

Arctic sea ice has been declining overall since NASA began tracking it by satellite in the 1970s. Miemo Penttinen
Alek PettyNASA and Linette BoisvertNASA

September marks the end of the summer sea ice melt season and the Arctic sea ice minimum, when sea ice over the Northern Hemisphere ocean reaches its lowest extent of the year.

For ship captains hoping to navigate across the Arctic, this is typically their best chance to do it, especially in more recent years. Sea ice cover there has dropped by roughly half since the 1980s as a direct result of increased carbon dioxide from human activities.

As NASA scientists, we analyze the causes and consequences of sea ice change. In 2021, the Arctic’s sea ice cover reached its minimum extent on Sept. 16. While it wasn’t a record low, a look back through the melt season offers some insight into the relentless decline of Arctic sea ice in the face of climate change.

The Arctic Is Heating Up

In recent years, Arctic sea ice levels have been at their lowest since at least 1850 for the annual mean and in at least 1,000 years for late summer, according to the latest climate assessment from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC concluded that “the Arctic is likely to be practically sea ice free in September at least once before 2050.”

As the Arctic’s bright ice is replaced by a darker open ocean surface, less of the sun’s radiation is reflected back to space, driving additional heating and ice loss. This albedo feedback loop is just one of several reasons why the Arctic is warming about three times faster than the planet as a whole.

What Happened To The Sea Ice In 2021?

The stage for this year’s sea ice minimum was set last winter. The Arctic experienced an anomalous high pressure system and strong clockwise winds, driving the thickest, oldest sea ice of the Central Arctic into the Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska. Sea ice scientists were taking note.

Summer melt began in earnest in May, a month that also featured multiple cyclones entering the Arctic. This increased sea ice drift but also kept temperatures relatively low, limiting the amount of melt.

The extent and pace of melting increased significantly in June, which featured a predominant low-pressure system and temperatures that were a few degrees higher than average.

By the beginning of July, conditions were tracking very close to the record low set in 2012, but the rate of decline slowed considerably during the second half of the month. Cyclones entering the Arctic from Siberia generated counterclockwise winds and ice drifts. This counterclockwise ice circulation pattern generally reduces the amount of sea ice moving out of the Arctic through the Fram Strait, east of Greenland. This likely contributed to the record low summer sea ice conditions observed in the Greenland Sea.

This ice circulation pattern also increased ice export out of the Laptev Sea, off Siberia, helping create a new record low for early summer ice area in that region. The low pressure system also increased cloudiness over the Arctic. Clouds generally block incoming solar radiation, reducing sea ice melt, but they can also trap heat lost from the surface, so their impact on sea ice melt can be a mixed bag.

In August, sea ice decline slowed considerably, with warm conditions prevailing along the Siberian coast, but cooler temperatures north of Alaska. The Northern Sea Route – which Russia has been promoting as a global shipping route as the planet warms – was actually blocked with ice for the first time since 2008, although ice breaker-supported transits were still very much possible.

At this stage of the melt season, the sea ice pack is at its weakest and is highly responsive to the weather conditions of a given day or week. Subtle shifts can have big impacts. Freak end-of-summer weather events have been linked to the record low sea ice years of 2007 and 2012. “The Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012” is an interesting example.

There’s ongoing debate over the effect they have. However, scientists are broadly in agreement that specific storms may not have actually played that big a role in driving the record lows in those years – things are never that straightforward when it comes to weather and sea ice.

Map showing sea ice reach
Arctic sea ice reached its minimum extent on Sept. 16, 2021. NASA Earth Observatory/NSIDC

The Arctic sea ice reached its 2021 minimum extent on Sept. 16, coming in at 4.72 million square kilometers (1.82 million square miles), the 12th lowest on record.

So, the 2021 melt season was, despite all the stops and starts, pretty typical for our new Arctic, with the September minimum ending up slightly higher than what we would have expected from the long-term downward trend. But various new record lows were set in other months and regions of the Arctic.

As the hours of sunlight dwindle over the coming weeks and temperatures drop, Arctic sea ice will start to refreeze. The ice pack will thicken and expand as the surrounding ocean surface temperatures drop toward the freezing point, releasing a lot of the heat that had been absorbed and stored through summer.

Map of the Arctic showing areas freezing later in the season, particularly north of Alaska and in the Kara Sea off Russia
Where Arctic sea ice is forming later in the season. Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory

This refreeze has started later in recent years, shifting into October and even November. The more heat the ocean gains during summer, the more heat needs to be lost before ice can begin to form again. Because of this, some of the biggest warming signals are actually observed in fall, despite all the attention given to summer ice losses.

There’s Still A Lot We Don’t Know

For people living and working in the high Arctic, understanding local ice conditions on a given day or week is what really matters. And predicting Arctic sea ice at these more local scales is even more challenging.

As 2021 demonstrated, sea ice is highly dynamic – it moves and melts in response to the weather patterns of the day. Think how hard it is for forecasters to predict the weather where you live, with good understanding of weather systems and many observations available, compared to the Arctic, where few direct observations exist.

Weather events can also trigger local feedback loops. A freak heat wave, for example, can trigger ice melt and further warming. Winds and ocean currents also break up and spread ice out across the ocean, where it can be more prone to melt.

Sea ice scientists are hard at work trying to understand these various processes and improve our predictive models. A key missing part of the puzzle for understanding sea ice loss is ice thickness.

Thickness times area equals volume. Like area, sea ice thickness is thought to have halved since the 1980s, meaning today’s Arctic ice pack is only about a quarter of the volume it was just a few decades ago. For those hoping to navigate the Arctic Ocean, knowing the thickness of any ice they may encounter is crucial. Sea ice thickness is much harder to measure consistently from space. However, new technologies, like ICESat-2, are providing key breakthroughs.

Despite all this uncertainty, it’s looking pretty likely that summer ice-free Arctic conditions are not too far away. The good news is that the path forward is still largely dependent on future emissions, and there is still no evidence the planet has passed a tipping point of sea ice loss, meaning humans are still very much in the driver’s seat.

This article was updated to correct miles to kilometers transposed numbers.The Conversation

Alek Petty, Associate Research Scientist in polar sea ice variability, NASA and Linette Boisvert, Sea Ice Scientist and Deputy Project Scientist for NASA's Operation IceBridge, NASA

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

Bushcare In Pittwater 

For further information or to confirm the meeting details for below groups, please contact Council's Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367

Where we work                      Which day                              What time 

Angophora Reserve             3rd Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Dunes                        1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Golf Course              2nd Wednesday                 3 - 5:30pm 
Careel Creek                         4th Saturday                      8:30 - 11:30am 
Toongari Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon (8 - 11am in summer) 
Bangalley Headland            2nd Sunday                         9 to 12noon 

Winnererremy Bay                 4th Sunday                        9 to 12noon 

North Bilgola Beach              3rd Monday                        9 - 12noon 
Algona Reserve                     1st Saturday                       9 - 12noon 
Plateau Park                          1st Friday                            8:30 - 11:30am 

Church Point     
Browns Bay Reserve             1st Tuesday                        9 - 12noon 
McCarrs Creek Reserve       Contact Bushcare Officer     To be confirmed 

Old Wharf Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      8 - 11am 

Kundibah Reserve                   4th Sunday                       8:30 - 11:30am 

Mona Vale     
Mona Vale Beach Basin          1st Saturday                    8 - 11am 
Mona Vale Dunes                     2nd Saturday +3rd Thursday     8:30 - 11:30am 

Bungan Beach                          4th Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
Crescent Reserve                    3rd Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
North Newport Beach              4th Saturday                    8:30 - 11:30am 
Porter Reserve                          2nd Saturday                  8 - 11am 

North Narrabeen     
Irrawong Reserve                     2nd Saturday                   2 - 5pm 

Palm Beach     
North Palm Beach Dunes      3rd Saturday                    9 - 12noon 

Scotland Island     
Catherine Park                          2nd Sunday                     10 - 12:30pm 
Elizabeth Park                           1st Saturday                      9 - 12noon 
Pathilda Reserve                      3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon 

Warriewood Wetlands             1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 

Whale Beach     
Norma Park                               1st Friday                            9 - 12noon 

Western Foreshores     
Coopers Point, Elvina Bay      2nd Sunday                        10 - 1pm 
Rocky Point, Elvina Bay           1st Monday                          9 - 12noon

Gardens And Environment Groups And Organisations In Pittwater

Avalon Golf Course Bushcare Needs You

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

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

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

Pittwater Reserves

A History Of The Campaign For Preservation Of The Warriewood Escarpment by David Palmer OAM and Angus Gordon OAM
Angophora Reserve - Angophora Reserve Flowers
Annie Wyatt Reserve - A  Pictorial
Avalon's Village Green: Avalon Park Becomes Dunbar Park - Some History + Toongari Reserve and Catalpa Reserve
Bairne Walking Track Ku-Ring-Gai Chase NP by Kevin Murray
Bangalley Headland  Bangalley Mid Winter
Banksias of Pittwater
Barrenjoey Headland: Spring flowers Barrenjoey Headland after fire
Bayview Baths
Bayview Wetlands
Beeby Park
Bilgola Beach
Botham's Beach
Bungan Beach Bush Care
Careel Bay Saltmarsh plants 
Careel Bay Birds  
Careel Bay Clean Up day
Careel Bay Playing Fields History and Current
Careel Creek 
Careel Creek - If you rebuild it they will come
Centre trail in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
Chiltern Track- Ingleside by Marita Macrae
Clareville Beach
Clareville/Long Beach Reserve + some History
Coastal Stability Series: Cabbage Tree Bay To Barrenjoey To Observation Point by John Illingsworth, Pittwater Pathways, and Dr. Peter Mitchell OAM
Cowan Track by Kevin Murray
Currawong State Park Currawong Beach +  Currawong Creek
Deep Creek To Warriewood Walk photos by Joe Mills
Drone Gives A New View On Coastal Stability; Bungan: Bungan Headland To Newport Beach + Bilgola: North Newport Beach To Avalon + Bangalley: Avalon Headland To Palm Beach
Dunbar Park - Some History + Toongari Reserve and Catalpa Reserve
Dundundra Falls Reserve: August 2020 photos by Selena Griffith - Listed in 1935
Elsie Track, Scotland Island
Elvina Track in Late Winter 2019 by Penny Gleen
Elvina Bay Walking Track: Spring 2020 photos by Joe Mills 
Elvina Bay-Lovett Bay Loop Spring 2020 by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Fern Creek - Ingleside Escarpment To Warriewood Walk + Some History photos by Joe Mills
Ingleside Wildflowers August 2013
Irrawong - Ingleside Escarpment Trail Walk Spring 2020 photos by Joe Mills
Irrawong - Mullet Creek Restoration
Katandra Bushland Sanctuary - Ingleside
McCarrs Creek
McCarr's Creek to Church Point to Bayview Waterfront Path
McKay Reserve
Mona Vale Headland, Basin and Beach Restoration
Mount Murray Anderson Walking Track by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Mullet Creek
Narrabeen Creek
Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment: Past Notes Present Photos by Margaret Woods
Narrabeen Lagoon State Park
Narrabeen Lagoon State Park Expansion
Narrabeen Rockshelf Aquatic Reserve
Nerang Track, Terrey Hills by Bea Pierce
Newport Bushlink - the Crown of the Hill Linked Reserves
Newport Community Garden - Woolcott Reserve
Newport to Bilgola Bushlink 'From The Crown To The Sea' Paths:  Founded In 1956 - A Tip and Quarry Becomes Green Space For People and Wildlife 
Pittwater spring: waterbirds return to Wetlands
Riddle Reserve, Bayview
Salvation Loop Trail, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park- Spring 2020 - by Selena Griffith
Stapleton Reserve
Stapleton Park Reserve In Spring 2020: An Urban Ark Of Plants Found Nowhere Else
The Chiltern Track
The Resolute Beach Loop Track At West Head In Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park by Kevin Murray
Towlers Bay Walking Track by Joe Mills
Trafalgar Square, Newport: A 'Commons' Park Dedicated By Private Landholders - The Green Heart Of This Community
Turimetta Beach Reserve by Joe Mills, Bea Pierce and Lesley
Turimetta Beach Reserve: Old & New Images (by Kevin Murray) + Some History
Turimetta Headland
Warriewood Wetlands and Irrawong Reserve
Whale Beach Ocean Reserve: 'The Strand' - Some History On Another Great Protected Pittwater Reserve
Winji Jimmi - Water Maze

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 -

International Day Of Older Persons 1st Of October

2021 Theme: Digital Equity for All Ages
The 2021 theme “Digital Equity for All Ages” affirms the need for access and meaningful participation in the digital world by older persons.

The fourth industrial revolution characterised by rapid digital innovation and by exponential growth has transformed all sectors of society, including how we live, work and relate to one another. Technological advances offer great hope for accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Yet, one-half of the global population is off-line, with the starkest contrast between the most developed countries (87%) and the least developed countries (19%) (ITU Facts and Figures 2020). Recent reports by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) indicate that women and older persons experience digital inequity to a greater extent than other groups in society; they either lack access to technologies, or are often not benefitting fully from the opportunities provided by technological progress.

Meanwhile, as efforts to connect more people are currently under way, new risks have become apparent. For example, cybercrimes and misinformation threaten the human rights, privacy, and security of older people. The rapid speed of adoption of digital technology has outpaced policy and governance at the national, regional, and global levels. The Secretary-General’s Roadmap seeks to address these challenges by recommending concrete action to harness the best of these technologies and mitigate their risks.

Objectives of #UNIDOP2021:
  • To bring awareness of the importance of digital inclusion of older persons, while tackling stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination associated with digitalization, taking into account sociocultural norms and the right to autonomy.
  • To highlight policies to leverage digital technologies for full achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
  • To address public and private interests, in the areas of availability, connectivity, design, affordability, capacity building, infrastructure, and innovation.
  • To explore the role of policies and legal frameworks to ensure privacy and safety of older persons in the digital world.
  • To highlight the need for a legally binding instrument on the rights of older persons and an intersectional person-centered human rights approach for a society for all ages.

AvPals Term 4 2021 Classes Via Zoom

Avpals are pleased to announce our term four training schedule. All courses will be presented using Zoom.

Courses in term four will be conducted each Tuesday afternoon from 1.30pm, using Zoom. There will be a charge of $10 per course except for our introductory presentation on Tuesday October 5th 2021, which is free.

Please CLICK HERE to view to upcoming courses. Use the SHOP menu option to enrol and pay. Feel free to enrol in as many courses as you like. There are many exciting and new courses available.

Below is a summary of Zoom courses for term 4, 2021

Scam Pandemic

As many of us go online to access services as result of COVID, scammers are changing their strategies to trick us into parting with our money.

In fact, 66 per cent of Australians fend off a scam every week. New Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures reveal 37 per cent of us have lost money to a scam, or know a close friend or family member who has. Scamwatch revealed this week that people aged 65 years and older have lost the most money so far in 2021, losing $49.1 million, or 23 per cent of total losses for the year.

Here's what to look out for and then ignore:

1. Missed delivery, call or voicemail (Flubot) scams
In this scam, you may receive a text messages asking you to tap on a link to download an app to track or organise a time for a delivery, or hear a voicemail message. However, the message is fake, there is no delivery or voicemail, and the app is actually malicious software called Flubot that will steal your passwords and other private information.

Android phones and iPhones can both receive texts from the Flubot. If you receive one of these messages, do not click or tap on the link. Delete the message immediately. 
You can also block them:
a) click on the 3 dots at the right hand side of the message on your phone
b) scroll down to where it says 'block number' - and then block them

Visit the Scam Watch website to see examples of what this looks like and what to do if you’ve already downloaded the app.

2. Fake Australian Federal Police
Scammers who pretend to be authorities have been around for years – but their latest tactic is to impersonate the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to trick you into thinking you’re in trouble.

The scammer tells the victim they are from the AFP and have identified suspicious activity linked to their bank accounts. They then request personal details, including Medicare number, address, and bank details. The fake representatives ask their victim to deposit money into an ‘AFP account’.

Another tactic they have been using is to target people using email and social media with fake arrest warrants. The offenders then call their victims and demand payments, ordering them to deposit money into a nominated bank account, transfer crypto currency, or purchase online vouchers.

Some scammers ask their victim to meet in public to hand over money, or ask them to withdraw funds from their account and deposit into an ‘AFP account’.

Phone calls from scammers may even appear to come from a legitimate AFP number as the scammers have managed to mimic it to disguise their identity. Police suspect these calls are actually coming from overseas.

In the year to July, 84,000 scam calls were reported to Scam Watch, which is an increase of 145 per cent on the same period from the previous year (34,000). This week Scamwatch has stated a record $211 million in losses to scams so far this year, an 89 per cent increase compared to the same period last year, according to new data from Scamwatch.

The losses, reported between 1 January and 19 September, have already surpassed the $175.6 million reported to Scamwatch across all of last year.

Banking scams are coming from all over the world. They don’t target one group over another, they target all people of all backgrounds, ages, and income levels across Australia.

Scams succeed because they look like the real thing and catch you off-guard when you are not expecting it. They have become so prevalent and sophisticated, that banks have launched a new scam danger campaign to help with awareness.

The Australian Banking Association says banks have made large investments and employed more people to help detect and disrupt scams in real-time, 24-hours-a-day, to better protect personal information.

Anti-scam tips
If you get a call, email or text from someone real, like your bank or the AFP:
  • They’ll never ask for any account or personal details by text or email
  • They’ll never threaten to cancel your account or arrest you if you don’t pay immediately
  • The AFP, Australian Government, and state police services will never ask you to pay a fine with cash, crypto currency such as Bitcoin, gift cards such as iTunes or Google Play and never seek payment for fines or other matters over the phone. If you are in any doubt, call the AFP National Switchboard on (02) 5126 0000
Tips to protect yourself
If you are contacted by someone you suspect is a scammer, end the call immediately. Do not call them back on the number they called you on.
  • Never share passwords and personal information
  • Anyone asking for a password is probably a scammer
  • Be a sceptic when receiving unexpected email attachments, links and texts. If in doubt, delete
  • Scammers target everyone, and they sound genuine
  • Use up-to-date anti-virus software to protect your computer
  • Don’t send money or personal information to people from unusual locations
  • Report suspected scams to Scam Watch

Australian Multicultural Health Collaborative To Provide National Voice For CALD Health

September 23, 2021
The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA), the peak national body representing multicultural and ethnic communities, is facilitating the establishment of the ‘Australian Multicultural Health Collaborative’, a national voice to provide leadership and advice on policy, research, and practice to improve access and equity and achieve better health outcomes for Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

Following engagement with key stakeholders, FECCA is now inviting feedback from healthcare providers, consumers, and researchers to inform the further development of the proposed Collaborative.

FECCA Chairperson, Ms. Mary Patetsos, said the COVID-19 pandemic had clearly highlighted inequities and disparities experienced by multicultural communities in the COVID-19 response.

FECCA strongly advocated for the establishment of the CALD Communities COVID-19 Health Advisory Group, a national advisory group providing advice to the Federal Government. Significant progress has been made in ensuring culturally appropriate messaging to and engagement with CALD communities, and in improving data collection which informs the targeting of public health initiatives and the vaccine rollout.

The success of this partnership with the Government and the organisations involved has inspired and informed the need for the proposed Collaborative on broader health issues.

“There is currently no national unified voice on multicultural health issues,” Ms Patetsos said.

“FECCA believes the Australian Multicultural Health Collaborative would be instrumental in providing national leadership and advice on policy, research, and practice, to improve access and equity and achieve better culturally appropriate health outcomes for Australians from multicultural backgrounds.”

Ms Patetsos said FECCA has been consulting with key healthcare providers, researchers, and advocates in the multicultural health space about the Collaborative.

FECCA is currently undertaking a range of projects in the pandemic response, including engagement with CALD communities around COVID-19 messaging and assistance for multicultural groups to engage with their communities to encourage vaccine uptake.

On broader health issues, FECCA has recently been involved in projects with the Therapeutics Goods Administration, Cancer Australia, the Australian Digital Health Agency and NPS MedicineWise, and represents the CALD consumer voice on various national health advisory groups.

“FECCA is now inviting expressions of interest and feedback on the proposal from healthcare providers, consumers, and researchers to inform the further development of the proposed Collaborative.”

For further information or to indicate your potential involvement, please contact via email

EnCOMPASS Community Connectors To Help CALD Older People Navigate Aged Care

The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Council of Australia (FECCA), Australia’s peak multicultural organisation, and partnership of 22 organisations, launch the EnCOMPASS Multicultural Aged Care Connector Program to improve access to culturally appropriate aged care services.

FECCA Chief Executive Officer, Mohammad Al-Khafaji congratulated the selected EnCOMPASS partners on their strong commitment to serving the community and thanked them for partnering to deliver this program.

“Congratulations to the selected EnCOMPASS partners who have demonstrated strong commitment to helping aging multicultural Australians, and who will continue to serve the community. I look forward to their partnership with us as we deliver this important program.” said Mr Al-Khafaji

Many older people from migrant backgrounds struggle with the complexity of the aged care system and unable to access services. This program sets to address this issue.

“There are hundreds of distinct multicultural communities in Australia with their own ways of caring for elders. They are seeking the support that could help them navigate the complex system and respond to their cultural needs.” said Mr  Al-Khafaji

“EnCOMPASS partners have strong connection to community and they will work hard to ensure older persons from multicultural backgrounds can access aged care services when they need it.” said Mr Al-Khafaji.

Funded by the Commonwealth department of Health, EnCOMPASS will service 30 sites across Australia until December 2022. EnCOMPASS will provide guides and tools to assist the future Care Finder program to deliver culturally-appropriate service in communities.

Selected partners are:
  • Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra
  • Australian Nursing Home Foundation
  • Ethnic Community Services Cooperative
  • Advance Diversity Services
  • CASS Care
  • Multicultural Care
  • Western Sydney MRC
  • Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association
  • Islamic Women’s Association of Australia
  • Co.As.It
  • Multicultural Council of the Northern Territory
  • Inala Community House
  • World Wellness Group
  • Australian Refugee Association
  • Uniting SA
  • Multicultural Communities’ Council of SA
  • Migrant Resource Centre Tasmania
  • Southern Migrant and Refugee Centre
  • Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council
  • Metropolitan Migrant Resource Centre
  • Chung Wah Association
  • Umbrella Community Care
Further Information on EnCOMPASS partners can be found here:

Follow Nuyina Home

Excitement is building for the arrival of Australia’s new Antarctic icebreaker RSV Nuyina on October 16, and now you can join the ship’s journey to Hobart virtually.

Track the ship’s progress from the Netherlands to its home port of Hobart, via a map on the new RSV Nuyina website

You can also view the latest vision and images from the vessel, read the news, and learn more about the icebreaker’s capabilities, voyages and life on board.

The Australian Antarctic Division is organising a variety of COVID-safe events scheduled for when the ship arrives and in the following months.

Locals will be able to welcome the icebreaker, which is expected to sail up the River Derwent on Saturday 16 October, from designated vantage points along the river or out on the water.

A new interpretative trail, opening soon on the Hobart waterfront, will have physical and digital displays and digital activations about the Australian Antarctic Program and RSV Nuyina.

More public events and formal celebrations will occur early next year after a period of commissioning, and when the community is able to come together to celebrate.

Nuyina undergoing testing of its Dynamic Positioning capabilities Photo: Pete Harmsen / AAD

Point And Focus On Hawkesbury River For World Rivers Day

Competition closes October 17, 2021
The Hawkesbury River comes into focus on World Rivers Day, September 26, 2021, with the launch of a photography competition by the NSW Government and 6 local councils to raise awareness of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Coastal Management Program.

Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock said the Our Hawkesbury River photography competition is a collaborative project with Hornsby, Hawkesbury, Central Coast, Ku-ring-gai, Northern Beaches and Hills Shire councils.

"The NSW Government is passionate about providing support for local councils to manage and protect their valuable coastlines and waterways, and what better way to acknowledge that commitment than on World Rivers Day," Mrs Hancock said.

"People across the catchment can acknowledge the global day by entering the photography competition and capturing what the Hawkesbury River means to them."

Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment Felicity Wilson said the coastal management program for the Hawkesbury-Nepean River is being developed with funding from partnering councils and the NSW Government's Coastal and Estuary Grants Program.

"To date, this includes over $371,000 in NSW Government funding for the Hawkesbury-Nepean River, designed to assist councils to improve the local coastline and estuaries," Ms Wilson said.

"World Rivers Day is a celebration of waterways around the globe, encouraging increased public awareness and active involvement to improve the health of our rivers in the years ahead.

"This photography competition is an exciting way to celebrate one of our great waterways which stretches 470 kilometres from its source in Goulburn before wrapping around Sydney, all the way through Windsor, Wiseman's Ferry, then to Brooklyn, and Barrenjoey where it meets the ocean."

Hornsby Shire Mayor Philip Ruddock said council collaboration and the community are key to protecting the river system's health.

"We want to know what our community values most about the beautiful Hawkesbury River, what they love to see, and what needs protection now and into the future," said Mr Ruddock.

"We're proud to be part of an ambitious collaboration of 6 councils to help protect the River's health by developing a coastal management program.

"As the river moves towards the coast, it gathers water runoff from 24 local government areas before finally flowing past Pittwater, Brisbane Water and then out past Palm Beach.

"By the time this much-loved river reaches the Pacific Ocean, it's absorbed water runoff from a massive area of more than 21,400 square kilometres."

From Broken Bay up to Yarramundi near Windsor, the Hawkesbury River is tidal for approximately 145 kilometres, which makes it an estuary.

The rest of the river, the remaining 325 kilometres stretching all the way to Goulburn, is freshwater and includes Warragamba Dam.

Competition prizes include one of 3 NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service annual All Parks Passes, and closes on Sunday 17 October.

Enter the online competition by snapping your favourite picnic place, wildlife, landscape or activity at Hawkesbury Nepean River System, at:

AJG photo

Help Ward Off Dementia Step By Step: New Podcast Shares The Power Of Physical Activity

Dementia is a condition that affects close to half a million Australians and almost 1.6 million people involved in their care. But despite its prevalence, dementia remains one of the most challenging and misunderstood conditions.

Now, to mark Dementia Action Week and World Alzheimer’s Day, researchers at the University of South Australia are sharing their latest insights about dementia in a new podcast series, Re-imagining Ageing.

Developed in partnership with Radio Adelaide and presented by Dr Christina Haggar, the 7-part series shares insights and research on how to live well, age well, and reduce the risk of dementia.

Project lead and cognitive ageing expert, UniSA’s Dr Ashleigh Smith, says maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle is essential to help reduce the risk of dementia later in life.

“Dementia is a complex and progressive condition that primarily causes a decline in thinking and memory skills, but also affects a person’s ability to learn, communicate, and potentially engage in society,” Dr Smith says.

“While there is no known cure, between 40-48% per cent dementia after the age of 65 in Australia can be potentially avoided through modifiable factors such as improved physical activity, getting enough sleep, and eating a healthy, balanced diet.

“Being physically active is especially important as it boosts blood flow to the brain and enhances neuroplasticity, which is vital for learning new things and forming new memories.

“Even small amounts of physical activity can reduce cognition decline – so taking the stairs, or getting dropped one bus stop early, can all add up; even just five minutes a day will help.”

While more than 500,000 people in Australia currently live with dementia, it’s projected that without a significant medical advancement this number will increase to more than a million people by 2050.

“In Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, we see a build-up of sticky proteins in different areas of the brain, which stop it functioning well,” Dr Smith says.

“This build-up can occur up to two decades before any typical symptoms appear. Our research aims to identify ways to delay the build-up of these sticky plaques in the brain, so that we can delay the onset of dementia by a few years, a few decades or even a lifetime.

“But the key is being informed – and that’s where our podcast series comes in.”

The podcast series explores a range for topics to help ward off dementia, including the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, building muscle health, maintaining independence, complementary medicines, and positive ageing behaviours.

The Re-imagining Ageing podcast series is available on SoundCloud:  and Spotify:

Pension Boost Today An Opportunity To Save More Tomorrow

September 20, 2021
National Seniors Australia says today’s increase in the aged pension should serve as a reminder for all older Australians to check on what other entitlements they are eligible for by using the brand new National Seniors Concessions Calculator.

Australia’s peak consumer organisation for seniors says (according to government figures) older Australians on the aged pension will receive:
  • An extra $22.40 per fortnight for eligible couples (or $582.40 per annum)
  • And for singles $14.80 per fortnight (or $384.80 per annum)
National Seniors Chief Advocate, Ian Henschke says the pension increase (the largest in three years) is also an opportunity for seniors to see how else they can save money.

“The hip pocket nerve is hurting a lot of older Australians right now,” Mr Henschke said.

“I urge all pensioners and self-funded retirees to use our Concessions Calculator to see what discounts they can get.”

Older Australians who use the Concessions Calculator can also see how they compare to other states when it comes to discounts.

“At a time when we’re all under financial pressure, the Concessions Calculator delivers,” said Mr Henschke

The calculator is part of a new National Seniors campaign to fight for Fairer Concessions.

Learn more about National Seniors Australia Concessions Calculator HERE.

New Report Looks At The Impacts Of Dementia In Australia

September 20, 2021
Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia and the number of people living with it is continuing to increase, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Dementia in Australia, was launched today at an online event by Senator the Hon. Richard Colbeck, Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services. It is the AIHW’s first comprehensive ‘compendium’ report on dementia since 2012 and it provides the latest statistics on population health impacts, carers and care needs, health and aged care service use and direct expenditure in relation to dementia.

‘Dementia is an umbrella term for a large number of conditions that gradually impair brain function. It poses a substantial heath, aged care and societal challenge and with Australia’s rapidly ageing population, it is predicted to become an even bigger challenge in the future,’ said AIHW spokesperson Dr. Fleur de Crespigny.

‘Dementia was responsible for about 14,700 deaths in 2019–accounting for 9.5% of all deaths that year. It was the second leading cause of death in Australia, behind coronary heart disease and it was the leading cause of death among women (around 9,200 deaths in 2019). Estimates of the number people in Australia living with dementia in 2021 range from 386,200 to 472,000. Using the AIHW estimate of 386,200, the number of Australians living with dementia is expected to more than double to 849,300 in 2058.’

Ageing increases your risk of developing dementia, but dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing. One in 12 Australians aged 65 and over are living with dementia, and this increases to 2 in 5 Australians aged 90 and over. Nearly two-thirds of Australians living with dementia are women.

‘Although dementia is often considered to be an older person’s disease, it’s also estimated over 27,800 Australians aged under 65 are living with younger onset dementia,’ Dr. de Crespigny said.

The rate of dementia among Indigenous Australians is estimated to be 3–5 times as high as the rate for Australians overall. In 2019, dementia was the 5th leading cause of death among Indigenous Australians aged 65 and over. With an ageing Indigenous Australian population, it is expected that the impact of dementia among Indigenous Australians will continue to rise in the future.

‘In 2018–19, $3 billion of health and aged care spending was directly attributable to dementia. This included $1.7 billion on residential aged care services, $596 million on community-based aged care services and $383 million on hospital services,’ Dr. de Crespigny said.  

There is no known cure for dementia, but there are medications that may help manage symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2019–20, there were over 623,300 prescriptions dispensed for dementia-specific medications to about 64,600 Australians with dementia aged 30 and over.

‘Most people in the advanced stages of dementia rely on care and support provided by residential aged care services. Over half of the people living in permanent residential aged care have dementia. In 2019–20, one-third of younger people (aged under 65) living in permanent residential aged care had younger onset dementia.’

‘The majority (65%) of people with dementia live in the community, many of whom require care and assistance from family and friends to continue doing so. In 2021, it is estimated that up to 337,200 Australians are providing constant unpaid care for a person with dementia, with over half of primary carers providing an average of 60 or more hours of unpaid care each week.’

Cultural backgrounds can affect how health and aged care services are used. Almost half of people with dementia who were born in non-English speaking countries and were living in the community, relied on care from family and friends only. By contrast, only 30% of people with dementia who were born in English-speaking countries and were living in the community, relied on care from family and friends only. Dementia Australia Chief Executive Officer Maree McCabe AM welcomed the report and ongoing work by the AIHW to improve data about dementia.

‘Better data about the experiences of Australians living with dementia and the people who care for them are essential and these can be used to improve policies and support services for those who need them most,’ Ms. McCabe said.

Today’s launch included a Dementia Advocate who discussed some of her experiences of living with younger onset dementia.

Instagram can make teens feel bad about their body, but parents can help. Here’s how

Gemma SharpMonash UniversityJasmine FardoulyUNSWMarilyn BrombergThe University of Western AustraliaTama LeaverCurtin University, and Ysabel GerrardUniversity of Sheffield

Last week Facebook’s internal research revealed Instagram’s toxic effects on some young people’s body image — particularly girls.

One study by Facebook of teen Instagram users in the US and UK found more than 40% of those who reported feeling “unattractive” said the feelings started when using Instagram.

Boys are also affected, with 14% reportedly saying Instagram made them feel worse about themselves.

As far as we are aware, there have been no reports from Facebook of the impacts on young people who identify as gender diverse. This group is at a particularly high risk of developing body image concerns.

The new information about Instagram’s effects on young people can be concerning for parents and may prompt some to want to ban their kids from using social media. But this is likely to cause significant friction between parents and young people.

Plus, young people often find ways to work around any such bans, making them self-defeating.

We suggest this is an excellent opportunity for parents to start an honest conversation with their children about their online lives. Parents can also encourage their kids to make their online experiences more positive.

What We Know About Social Media And Body Image

The reports from Facebook are not a great surprise to researchers in the field of body image. A review published five years ago on the impacts of social networking sites found their use, among adults and young people, was related to body image concerns and disordered eating.

The review also showed it is not necessarily the amount of time spent on social media, but rather specific activities, such as viewing, editing and posting idealised photos, that are particularly problematic.

Read more: Social media shots affect body image because we only show our best side

The photos or “selfies” posted by celebrities, influencers and even friends on social media may be highly staged and filtered to present the most attractive versions of themselves. Many of these photos are not a realistic portrayal of a person’s true appearance and serve to promote unattainable appearance ideals.

People commonly make comparisons between their own appearance and these edited and unrealistic photos and tend to judge themselves to be less attractive.

These types of comparisons can negatively impact body image and overall mood and can also promote increases in harmful dieting and exercise behaviours. Notably, the impacts of social media comparisons are worse than comparisons made in person. This is because people perceive others on social media to be much more attractive than themselves but only slightly more attractive in person.

But It’s Not All Negative

Other research highlights the many positive aspects of social media. For people with eating disorders, social media and older internet spaces such as chat rooms and forums, are often crucial spaces to share experiences and seek support. This adds a further layer of complexity to ongoing debates around social media and body image.

Social media is a core component of young people’s social lives which allows them to maintain and make new friendships. This form of communication has been vital during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.

Social media activities are likely to form an important part of young people’s identity. So, wherever possible parents could try to keep an open mind and resist the urge to criticise.

Read more: Yes, your child will be exposed to online porn. But don't panic — here's what to do instead

If parents are not sure how to use social media, they could ask their young person to show them around the platform(s) so they can understand more about the content they are consuming.

Such a conversation paves the way for increasing social media literacy in both parents and young people. Social media literacy involves the development of skills to critically analyse and evaluate media messaging and images.

Research has shown social media literacy has positive impacts on young people’s body image. Together with children, parents can discuss the use of filtering and retouching images and videos, and how what is shown online is not always the reality.

What Else Can Parents Do?

Parents can also role model eliminating appearance or weight-based conversations from their own vocabulary, in person and on social media. This includes conversations focused on our own bodies such as comments about a desire to lose weight.

Research has shown parents are a powerful influence on how young people view and speak about their bodies. Parents can be kind in the way they speak about their own and other bodies and praise their children for qualities other than their looks.

Parents can be key players in helping young people make their time on social media more positive and empowering.

Ask young people to check in on how they are feeling when using social media. If following particular accounts makes them feel negative about themselves, ask them to unfollow or mute that person. Instead, encourage them to follow accounts which inspire them in non-appearance based ways and foster a broad range of interests such as sport, travel, art and comedy.

Research has also shown seeking out and seeing positive body image content on social media can improve our sense of body image and overall mood.

To name just a few, we recommend accounts such @theselfloveproject, @naturally_alice and @thenutritiontea on Instagram and @iweigh, @bodyposipanda and @beautyisonlyphotoshopdeep on Facebook.

Parents can also help their children develop a range of coping skills to help them counteract negative thoughts they might have about themselves while using social and when meeting face-to-face.

One such skill is employing self-compassion towards our bodies. Research shows this has positive effects. For example, the compassionate friend exercise involves asking young people: “How would you talk to your best friend if they said they were struggling with how they looked? Now talk to yourself in the same kind way.”

Read more: Women can build positive body image by controlling what they view on social media

Some social media platforms, including Instagram, allow users to create multiple accounts. This can be helpful if a young person is seeing too much content that makes them unhappy. Research shows the positive value of having multiple, perhaps even pseudonymised, social media accounts. Young people can express different facets of their personality and interests through different accounts.

If you are looking for more information and tips for parents and young people, you can chat 24/7 with “KIT” the positive body image chatbot who lives on the Butterfly Foundation website and in Facebook Messenger.

If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, visit the Butterfly Foundation, or call our national helpline on 1800 33 4673.The Conversation

Gemma Sharp, NHMRC Early Career Senior Research Fellow, Monash UniversityJasmine Fardouly, Research fellow, UNSWMarilyn Bromberg, Senior Lecturer in Law, The University of Western AustraliaTama Leaver, Professor of Internet Studies, Curtin University, and Ysabel Gerrard, Lecturer in Digital Media and Society, University of Sheffield

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

How older people are mastering technology to stay connected after lockdown

Carolyn Wilson-NashUniversity of Stirling and Julie TinsonUniversity of Stirling

It’s a well-worn stereotype: the image of an elderly person fiddling with technology that leaves them completely bamboozled. The media often depict older people struggling to use or manage digital technology. While this is often designed to be humorous, it can undermine them as users of technology. And that’s a problem if it turns older people off from trying to engage with digital devices, as it can affect their wellbeing.

Older adults are already at a digital disadvantage: 18% of over-65s do not have internet access. Propelled by enforced isolation, older people increasingly turned to technology during the pandemic, but not all were able to connect or communicate with friends and family via the internet.

Of course some older people have less experience of digital technology than others, and unsurprisingly describe mixed emotions regarding the use of everyday devices such as smartphones, laptops, e-readers and tablets. They also report not having much confidence when it comes to using them. Lack of control, a sense of being overwhelmed, and poor product design can lead to feelings of being incompetent, alone and even trapped.

Yet for those who persevere, the rewards can be plentiful: completing tasks more easily, communicating more effectively, increased independence and a sense of achievement. These things are important if this growing part of the population is to experience ageing in a more positive and empowering way.

Through our research we wanted to examine these mixed emotions that older people have about using technology, and how they develop ways to combat the challenges they face. While digital technology has been shown to alleviate pressure on health and social care, until now there’s been a limited understanding of how using technology influences the way older adults live.

Attitudes Towards Technology

While many see digital technology as a challenge to be conquered, there are different ways of overcoming or confronting the obstacles. Some may view the challenge as a personal goal, using instruction manuals or simply trial and error to prevail over software updates, unwanted viruses or junk mail.

Others view digital technology as a collective endeavour, asking friends and family for help. Not only is this the most successful strategy, it also fosters important interaction with others. For example, during the pandemic many younger people acted as IT support for older friends and relatives.

Not all elderly people have this kind of network, but arguably they can benefit most from greater use of the internet to feel connected and keep loneliness at bay. In these situations, there are useful schemes run by charities such as Age UK, where digital champions can help older adults master technology.

Adopting Strategies

Understandably frustrations emerge when learning a new skill, but some older people have shown how they overcome their exasperation by developing a relationship with their devices. Naming their tablet or humanising their phone helps to bond older people to technology.

In our study different devices were often referred to as having a personality, gender, or even a mind of their own. This strategy brings a little levity to a situation that could otherwise be stressful.

Once these people become more used to digital technology, familiarity can encourage continued use. With a new device, software and apps they know and understand can be downloaded so that it feels less alien. Similarly, if a touchscreen is problematic, some older people might decide to use a keyboard and mouse instead.

An older black women on her laptop smiling and looking happy.
Being able to use technology keeps older people connected and reduce feelings of isolation. M2020/Shutterstock

Breeding Confidence

Using technology at any age can have its pros and its cons, but our research reveals that older adults can offer a unique perspective. Using lifelong wisdom, they can take a step back and acknowledge that technology has its faults. If things go wrong, their judgement and experience is useful in helping to understand that the key to using technology is persistence. One participant, Christopher, 83, said:

There’s one sure thing: life will come to an end, and technology will always go wrong. My son’s partner sends me texts from their holiday in Tunis. When I try to reply I keep getting ‘no service’ and my message is refused … [but] I know they will be worried if they don’t get a reply. When I was a kid, Tunis was a distant desert war zone, with cinema newsreels a week later … and here’s me now, whingeing about lack of instant contact.

These findings are significant for technology development, marketing and customer services. Designing technology for older people should be based on their experiences and offer continuity. Digital devices need to include familiar commands, buttons, screens, and add-ons to previous models. This will enhance the ability to get to grips with updates and developments. And in turn this will help foster social connections as well as boost independence and confidence.

Stereotyping of older people also needs to stop. Experience and perspective should be acknowledged, respected and reflected in marketing campaigns. Messaging should underscore the potential benefits of mastering technology, emphasising the importance of being connected and socially involved to a person’s independence.

Finally, customer service should be easily accessible and well versed in issues older people face to provide the necessary support, building on schemes offered by Age UK’s digital champions. Clearly there is a crucial role for friends, family, and communities to ensure that older people remain socially active, engaged and connected through technology. Their wellbeing may depend on it.The Conversation

Carolyn Wilson-Nash, Lecturer, Marketing and Retail, Stirling Management School, University of Stirling and Julie Tinson, Professor of Marketing, University of Stirling

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

Hidden women of history: Annie Lock was a bolshie, outspoken Australian missionary, full of contradictions

Missionary Annie Lock with Enbarda (Betsy) left, and Dolly Cumming, both children from the Alice Springs area in Central Australia. Photo taken in Darwin. National Archives of Australia
Catherine BishopMacquarie University

Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander readers are advised this story contains images of people who have died.

“We have fared well out of native hands”, wrote missionary Annie Lock from Oodnadatta in South Australia in 1924. Four years later, having moved to Harding Soak north of Alice Springs, she declared the government should “give the natives food in place of their country”.

Lock’s recognition that white Australians had taken Aboriginal land and owed them compensation was ahead of her time, even if her idea of appropriate compensation was inadequate.

Born in 1876 into a Methodist sharefarming family of 14 children in South Australia’s Gilbert Valley, Lock was a practical woman with a very basic education. A dressmaker by trade, in 1903 she joined what would become the United Aborigines Mission.

It operated on faith lines: missionaries were unpaid and could not actively solicit donations, relying on prayer to answer all needs. Lock, like her colleagues, developed a nice line in inviting supporters to “join her in prayer” for very specific needs, such as “a nice staunch horse for £12”, hoping for a “practical” show of sympathy.

Read more: Hidden women of history: Mary Jane Cain, land rights activist, matriarch and community builder

From 1903 to 1937, she lived in 10 mission camps across four states and territories. Renowned for being the “Big Boss”, she usually worked alone establishing “new work” — partly because her colleagues found her intensely uncollegial.

She wasn’t only out of step with many of her contemporaries in her belief Aboriginal Australians deserved compensation: she also believed Aboriginal people had a future and they could be “useful citizens” of Australia.

Once again, however, her view of their place in broader Australian society was narrow. She did not imagine Indigenous doctors, lawyers or politicians, but labourers, stockmen and domestic servants.

I first encountered Annie Lock through some of her letters in the South Australian archives. She berated government officials, demanding action and funding for (what she saw as) Aboriginal people’s interests. She was bolshie and outspoken.

At the time I was a young graduate student and naively thought I had uncovered a feminist heroine. I was quickly disabused: for all her intrepid and gutsy behaviour, Lock held intensely socially conservative views in line with her religious conviction.

Read more: Hidden women of history: Isabel Flick, the tenacious campaigner who fought segregation in Australia

A Grand Adventure

Lock’s life was like a “girls’ own” adventure story – albeit a teetotal and highly moralistic one.

Text reads: Miss Annie Lock, the only white woman at Bonny Well.
A story on Annie Lock in the Adelaide Mail, November 1932.

She made epic horse and buggy journeys across the desert, camped in the middle of nowhere with few resources and was shipwrecked in a pearling lugger. She railed against white men’s abuse of Aboriginal women, and she “rode rough-shod over rules and regulations, always managing to come out on top”, in the words of her obituary from her longsuffering mission society.

Many white Australians felt she went too far. She cuddled Aboriginal children, nursed the sick, and shared her campfire - even “drinking tea out of the same cup”.

After the 1928 Coniston Massacre, in which a police party killed over 100 Aboriginal men, women and children in Central Australia, the Board of Enquiry, widely considered as a whitewash at the time, blamed the unrest leading to the events partly on “a woman missionary living among naked blacks, lowering their respect for whites”.

It was no coincidence that Lock was also one of the people who had publicised the massacre, forcing an enquiry in the first place, after Aboriginal people sought refuge in her camp and told her their horrifying tale.

In fact, rather than “lowering their respect” as a white woman living with Aboriginal people, Lock maintained her camp was an area of mutual respect and negotiation:

They told me their laws; […] I made my rules; they kept them; I kept theirs; we had no trouble.

At certain moments when researching her life, I found Lock seemed impressively broadminded. However, given the uneven distribution of power, the reality was not so idyllic.

Read more: Hidden women of history: Wauba Debar, an Indigenous swimmer from Tasmania who saved her captors

A Troublesome Woman

Lock was an integral part of the colonial machine, with all its patronising ethnocentricity. As a white woman, Lock was never troubled by any sense that Aboriginal people were her equals.

She could be dictatorial and bloody-minded, with a highly developed sense of what she saw as right and wrong, approving harsh punishment for transgressors. At the Coniston enquiry itself she was critical of those Aboriginal men who killed cattle, suggesting “a good flogging” was called for.

In Western Australia, she actively took children from their families and she was instrumental in establishing Carrolup Native Settlement in 1915 — a forerunner of notorious Moore River Settlement — to which Aboriginal people were removed.

Read more: Friday essay: ‘I am anxious to have my children home’: recovering letters of love written for Noongar children

In South Australia in 1924, she started what became Colebrook Home, in which Aboriginal children of mixed descent were institutionalised.

At Ooldea, when Lock was 58, the overworked and tired missionary let her guard slip. An Aboriginal man hit her after she punished his daughter. The daughter should be sent to Colebrook, she suggested, “to punish” him — deviating from the usual missionary script of “in the child’s best interests”.

Group of children at the first mission house at Oodnadatta, 1925. State Library of South Australia

But history is complicated. One elderly Aboriginal woman smiled when she told an interviewer her memories of Lock, “a real fat one”, playing rounders at Ooldea. The image of a stout middle-aged missionary hitching up her skirts and charging around the sandhills with a bunch of Aboriginal kids is hard to beat.

In Central Australia, some remembered her as a caring for children “on country”, saving them from being sent away.

Lock was consistently vocal about Aboriginal girls’ rights to be protected from white men (although she condoned Aboriginal men’s violent “punishment” of their wives). And while she was irrepressibly evangelistic, she eventually learned Christianity could work with some aspects of Aboriginal culture. Sometimes, she wrote, Aboriginal people could “teach white people a lesson”. They were “real socialist”, sharing the clothes that she gave them. She waxed lyrical about their “corroboree songs” and appreciated the authority of elder generations over the younger.

In 1937, aged 60 and after 35 years in the mission field, Lock suddenly retired. Certainly she had been finding her “pioneering” missionary work more of a strain, and her health had suffered, but also, she told her supporters, God was giving her a “quieter work”. Much to everyone’s amazement, this independent woman had found herself a husband.

She married a retired bank manager and spent the last six years of her life evangelising in a caravan around Eyre Peninsula.

An old man and a woman.
Lock surprised many by retiring and marrying in her 60s. United Aborigines Mission


In uncovering the life of Annie Lock, I found a woman who was both fascinating and discomfiting. We can try and judge her motivations and actions as an individual of her time, but we cannot ignore her impact.

She saved people’s lives by providing food and healthcare, and a refuge from more hostile forces. She also destroyed families by removing children. She introduced Christianity, which some found a welcome way of navigating the changing world. She was one of an army of “do-gooders” whose haphazard attempts to improve the lives of Aboriginal people did not always have the result that anyone would have desired.

Her personal impact could be positive – some remember her as “lovely” and “motherly”. But her impact as an active participant in “protectionist” government policies, which limited Aboriginal people’s lives and movement and tore families apart, was traumatic and has endured.

Catherine Bishop is the author of Too Much Cabbage and Jesus Christ: Australia’s “Mission Girl” Annie Lock, out now with Wakefield PressThe Conversation

Catherine Bishop, Postdoctoral Fellow, Macquarie University

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

Matildas Bringing International Sport Back To Sydney

Sydney’s much-anticipated return to hosting international sport has been locked in, with the NSW Government announcing a two-match series between the Matildas and Brazil in October.

The games will be played at Bankwest Stadium, soon to be known as CommBank Stadium, on Saturday, 23 October and Tuesday, 26 October, with a controlled number of fans able to attend in line with the NSW Government’s Reopening NSW roadmap, following NSW Health approval of quarantine arrangements for players, coaches and support staff.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the games have only been made possible due to the vigilance of NSW residents during lockdown.

“It’s been a long winter for fans of live sport in NSW, and I’m excited to announce that thanks to the community’s commitment to achieving our vaccination targets, international sport will return to Sydney in late October,” Mr Barilaro said.

“As COVID restrictions ease, in line with our roadmap, a limited number of fully vaccinated, football-starved fans from Sydney will have the opportunity to see some of the best players in the world right here in NSW.”

Minister for Sport Natalie Ward said this was fantastic news for the major sports capital of Australia.

“We’ve been in hiatus during the COVID outbreak, but this exciting schedule shows that Sydney is back and ready to welcome the return of international sport,” Mrs Ward said.

“There is plenty more to look forward to, with the Sydney Ashes Test match in early January, as well as international one day and T20 cricket, and a full program of BBL and WBBL games and A-League and W-League football.”

Minister for Tourism Stuart Ayres said it was exciting to welcome the Matildas back to NSW.

“Sydney is Australia’s major event capital and once again we are leading the way out of COVID,” Mr Ayres said.

“Football and Sydney is a match made in heaven. These are exactly the events we need as we open up from lockdown.”

Football Australia CEO James Johnson said bringing our national teams home has been a priority for some time now.

“Football Australia has been working tirelessly behind the scenes with both the Federal and State Governments to bring our national teams home. This is a huge win for Australian football,” Mr Johnson said.

The international football matches will be played under strict COVID-safe arrangements, in line with the roadmap.

The Brazilian team will be required to quarantine under strict NSW Health protocols, with strong measures in place to protect the strength of the quarantine environment and the broader NSW community.

Tickets for the games will go on sale shortly with spectator capacity to be determined in line with Public Health Orders.

The NSW Government will consider future proposed international football games at a later date.

Giant Waikato Penguin: School Kids Discover New Species

September 17, 2021

A giant fossilized penguin discovered by New Zealand school children has been revealed as a new species in the peer-reviewed Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology by Massey University researchers.

Penguins have a fossil record reaching almost as far back as the age of the dinosaurs, and the most ancient of these penguins have been discovered in Aotearoa. Fossil penguins from Zealandia (ancient Aotearoa) are mostly known from Otago and Canterbury although important discoveries have recently been made in Taranaki and Waikato.

In 2006 a group of school children on a Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club (JUNATS) fossil hunting field trip in Kawhia Harbour, led by the club's fossil expert Chris Templer, discovered the bones of a giant fossil penguin.

The Kawhia giant penguin Kairuku waewaeroa. Image credit: Simone Giovanardi.

Researchers from Massey University and Bruce Museum (Connecticut, United States) visited Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato to analyse the fossil bones of the ancient penguin. The team used 3D scanning as part of their investigation and compared the fossil to digital versions of bones from around the world. 3D scanning also meant the team could produce a 3D-printed replica of the fossil for the Hamilton Junior naturalists. The actual penguin fossil was donated by the club to the Waikato Museum in 2017.

Dr Daniel Thomas, a Senior Lecturer in Zoology from Massey's School of Natural and Computational Sciences, says the fossil is between 27.3 and 34.6 million years old and is from a time when much of the Waikato was under water.

"The penguin is similar to the Kairuku giant penguins first described from Otago but has much longer legs, which the researchers used to name the penguin waewaeroa -- Te reo M?ori for 'long legs'. These longer legs would have made the penguin much taller than other Kairuku while it was walking on land, perhaps around 1.4 metres tall, and may have influenced how fast it could swim or how deep it could dive," Dr Thomas says.

"It's been a real privilege to contribute to the story of this incredible penguin. We know how important this fossil is to so many people," he adds.

"Kairuku waewaeroa is emblematic for so many reasons. The fossil penguin reminds us that we share Zealandia with incredible animal lineages that reach deep into time, and this sharing gives us an important guardianship role. The way the fossil penguin was discovered, by children out discovering nature, reminds us of the importance of encouraging future generations to become kaitiaki [guardians]."

Mike Safey, President of the Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club says it is something the children involved will remember for the rest of their lives.

"It was a rare privilege for the kids in our club to have the opportunity to discover and rescue this enormous fossil penguin. We always encourage young people to explore and enjoy the great outdoors. There's plenty of cool stuff out there just waiting to be discovered."

Steffan Safey was there for both the discovery and rescue missions. "It's sort of surreal to know that a discovery we made as kids so many years ago is contributing to academia today. And it's a new species, even! The existence of giant penguins in New Zealand is scarcely known, so it's really great to know that the community is continuing to study and learn more about them. Clearly the day spent cutting it out of the sandstone was well spent!"

Dr Esther Dale, a plant ecologist who now lives in Switzerland, was also there.

"It's thrilling enough to be involved with the discovery of such a large and relatively complete fossil, let alone a new species! I'm excited to see what we can learn from it about the evolution of penguins and life in New Zealand."

Alwyn Dale helped with the recovery of the fossil. "It was definitely one of those slightly surreal things to look back on -- absolute bucket list moment for me. After joining JUNATS there were some pretty iconic stories of amazing finds and special experiences -- and excavating a giant penguin fossil has got to be up there! A real testament to all the parents and volunteers who gave their time and resources to make unique and formative memories for the club members."

Taly Matthews, a long-time member of the Hamilton Junior Naturalist Club, and who works for the Department of Conservation in Taranaki, says, "Finding any fossil is pretty exciting when you think about how much time has passed while this animal remained hidden away, encased in rock. Finding a giant penguin fossil though is on another level. As more giant penguin fossils are discovered we get to fill in more gaps in the story. It's very exciting."

Simone Giovanardi, Daniel T. Ksepka, Daniel B. Thomas. A giant Oligocene fossil penguin from the North Island of New Zealand. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 2021; DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2021.1953047

How making a film exploring Indigenous stories of the night sky enriched my perspective as a scientist

Ilgari Inyayimaha (Shared Sky), painted by artists Margaret Whitehurst, Jenny Green, Barbara Merritt, Charmaine Green, Kevin Merritt, Sherryl Green, Tracey Green, Wendy Jackamarra, Susan Merry, Johnaya Jones, Gemma Merritt, Craig ‘Chook’ Pickett, and Nerolie Blurton. Yamaji Art.
Steven TingayCurtin University

Have you ever looked up at the night sky and wondered what it all means? You are not alone. Billions of people before you have done the same. Looking at the stars to make sense of the universe, and our lives on Earth, extends back many tens of thousands of years, across all cultures.

A new 360 degree immersive film, Star Dreaming, set to screen around Australia and internationally, draws on our common wonder about the universe, exploring ancient culture and astrophysics, side by side.

In Australia, the world’s longest continuous culture can also claim to provide some of the first astronomers. Indigenous Australians attach rich meaning to the night sky, and its connection to the land and our environment.

Also in Australia, much more recently, astrophysics has become one of the nation’s most successful and prominent sciences. In Western Australia, one of the world’s largest astronomy projects is being hosted, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

Watch the Star Dreaming trailer.

On the land of the Wajarri Yamaji people, in mid-west WA, the SKA will be the largest radio telescope ever built, detecting radio waves from galaxies forming soon after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago. This massive project will be completed towards the end of this decade.

Read more: Aspiration vs delivery: the long road to the Square Kilometre Array

Over the last 13 years, I have been privileged to work with colleagues from Yamaji Art in Geraldton, exploring Indigenous stories about the sky alongside the stories of the Greeks and Romans, and the astrophysical stories about the universe. We have learned from each other and taken our experience to the world through art exhibitions.

Three years ago, we started work on Star Dreaming. It has been filmed using a 360 degree camera and is designed to be shown inside a dome, like a planetarium. Star Dreaming is an immersive experience, combining live action and CGI animation, and a unique cross-cultural exploration.

The film is a narrative, following two children from Geraldton as they discover the astrophysical story of the universe and Yamaji stories of the sky and land. Max Winton and Amangu girl Lucia Richardson make their acting debuts, as do I as “the scientist”.

Filming was interesting and demanding. Over four days, we filmed prototype SKA antennas (from a drone), the landscape (including in scorching hot creek beds), and indoor sequences. The director, Perun Bonser (an Ngarluma man), Julia Redwood (producer), and cast and crew had their work cut out.

Left to right: director, Perun Bonser, Steven Tingay, Max Winton, Lucia Richardson, and producer, Julia Redwood setting up a shot to explain the expansion of the universe using bread dough. Prospero Productions

The film starts with the Big Bang, the origin of all matter and energy, space and time. We look at the life cycle of stars, and how stars produced the atoms that make up the Earth — and us. Without stars, we would not exist. We explain the speed of light, the temperatures and colours of stars, and the basics of how the SKA works.

This is interwoven with Indigenous stories, like the astonishing Emu in the Sky, which appears after dusk in March/April toward the east, appearing to sit on its nest on the horizon. This is the same time of year when real emus lay their eggs and tend to them.

When the Emu in the Sky appears, Indigenous people know it is time to hunt for the eggs. As Yamaji artist Margaret Whitehurst says in the film, “good tucker!” Margaret and fellow Yamaji artist and poet Charmaine Green lead the kids on an egg hunt, and cook up the results.

After discovering that the appearance of the Emu in the Sky tells people when to hunt for Emu eggs, Max and Lucia go on the hunt with Charmaine Green (right) and Margaret Whitehurst. Prospero Productions

Yamaji artists Barbara and Kevin Merritt show the kids the Seven Sisters, the Indigenous story of a hunter pursuing seven sisters across the country and into the night sky — repeated every night.

The author with Max and Lucia. Prospero Productions

Turns out, this is almost identical to an ancient story of the Greeks and Romans for this group of stars, also identified as seven sisters (the Pleiades) being chased by a hunter (Orion).

How is that cultures on opposite sides of the Earth, separated by thousands of years, arrive at the same story for the same group of stars? These are mysteries that hint at common origins.

As a scientist, I’ve learned so much from being with the artists and sharing our stories together. I have a much richer perspective on the universe and Indigenous culture, well beyond the night sky, as a result of our time together.

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

Another Yamaji artist, Wendy Jackamarra, paints the Jewel Box, a colourful cluster of stars right next to the Southern Cross that can only be seen with a telescopes; it comes to life on the screen, as does Margaret’s painting of the Emu in the Sky, and Barbara’s painting of the Seven Sisters. The paintings reveal themselves through CGI, telling their stories as the different elements come together.

Charmaine Green, with Max and Lucia, as Wendy Jackamarra (right) and Glenda Jackamarra (next to Wendy) talk about the Jewel Box star cluster and Wendy’s painting of it. Prospero Productions

I’ve been asked, “what do you want people to take away from the film?” Of course, I want people to come away with a better understanding of Indigenous culture, and to have learned something about the science. But, to me, the film captures intertwined cultural and scientific perspectives that are common to all peoples.

The atoms in our bodies are produced in stars and scattered into space when those stars die, providing the building blocks for planets and life. For many millennia, humans have sat under the night sky and watched all this unfold, our different cultural stories underpinned by our common sense of wonder.

Differences in race, religion, culture, politics, and society melt away with that perspective. We all experience a shared sky, a common origin.

Star Dreaming is screening at the WA Maritime Museum in Fremantle, WA. Keep an eye out for it in major cities and planetaria across Australia before the end of 2021. In 2022 it will be screened around the world. All aspects of the film and the project, including its name, were derived from consultations and formal sign-off between the Indigenous participants, Prospero Productions, and the scientists.The Conversation

Steven Tingay, John Curtin Distinguished Professor (Radio Astronomy), Curtin University

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

Meet the prehistoric eagle that ruled Australian forests 25 million years ago

Jacob Blokland/Flinders UniversityAuthor provided
Trevor H. WorthyFlinders UniversityAaron CamensEllen K. MatherFlinders UniversityJacob C. BloklandFlinders University, and Mike LeeFlinders University

The parched deserts of the South Australian outback were once a rainforest filled with a rich variety of birds and animals. Now, thanks to a new fossil discovery, we know the apex predator of this lush ecosystem was a newly discovered eagle that lived 25 million years ago.

We discovered the fossil remains of this species, named Archaehierax sylvestris, in prehistoric sediments at Lake Pinpa, 400 kilometres north of Adelaide.

The fossil, unearthed in March 2016, is described in a newly published paper in the journal Historical Biology.

It is one of the most complete raptor fossils from this time period found anywhere in the world. It comprises 63 bones, which is truly exceptional; most fossil birds are named on the basis of just a single bone.

Silhouette of bird skeleton with bones highlighted
Silhouette of an osprey skeleton with shading to show the bones preserved in the new fossil raptor, Archaehierax sylvestris Ellen MatherAuthor provided

We have named it Archaehierax sylvestris, meaning “ancient hawk belonging to the forest”. It was slightly smaller than a wedge-tailed eagle, with talons spanning 15 centimetres that allowed it to grab prey the size of a koala or possum. And it had short, robust wings adapted to fly within the cluttered confines of a forest, rather than to soar through the skies.

With its relatively short wings and long legs, this eagle was likely an ambush hunter, waiting for unwary prey to approach, rather than a soaring forager. In the forest, it probably preyed on medium-sized marsupials. But from a high perch, it would also have made forays over the lake where it could catch ducks and flamingos.

Read more: Ancient bilby and bandicoot fossils shed light on the mystery of marsupial evolution

Fossil Treasure Trove

Since the 1970s, the barren, salt-crusted sediments in South Australia’s arid north have yielded a range of bone fragments, teeth, and other fossils of the animals that lived there — many of which would have been prey for Archaehierax.

Excavation team working at Lake Pinpa
The authors working on the excavation site at Lake Pinpa. Left to right: Aaron Camens, Amy Tschirn, Jacob Blokland, Kailah Thorn. Trevor H. WorthyAuthor provided

These fossils include a host of mammals, ranging from wombat ancestors the size of a small cow, through a range of tree-dwelling herbivores such as possums and koalas, to small terrestrial carnivores no bigger than a mouse.

These animals lived around a large lake where crocodiles and turtles abounded, and freshwater dolphins played.

Waterbirds were abundant, including cormorants, several types of flamingo, four species of duck, and Presbyornis, a bizarre long-legged fowl that went extinct elsewhere in the world 20 million years earlier. Many smaller forest birds such as songbirds, parrots and rails are also known, but most are not yet described.

Global Eagle Family

Fossil raptor bones
Left tarsometatarsus (lower leg bone) of the fossil raptor Archaehierax sylvestris, beside Aquila audax (Wedge-tailed Eagle). The fossil was distorted during burial so the top half is rotated 90 degrees to the lower half. Silhouettes show relative sizes of these birds. Scale bar represents 10 millimetres. Ellen MatherAuthor provided

Archaehierax was clearly a member of the raptor family, which includes most hawks and eagles. But its bones differed in many ways from all other raptors, including similar-aged ones from elsewhere in the world.

Archaehierax sylvestris was not the only raptor we found at Lake Pinpa. Isolated bones show a smaller eagle also lived in these forests, but the fossils are too fragmentary to give this species a name.

There is another fossil raptor known from deposits at Riversleigh World Heritage Area in northwest Queensland. Pengana robertbolesi is a few million years younger than Archaehierax, and not closely related to the Pinpa bird. It was adapted to capture prey in holes in trees.

Our analysis suggests Archaehierax was probably not closely related to any living raptor. Rather, it represented an ancient lineage that split off near the base of the raptor family tree. This is consistent with previous genetic analysis suggesting most living groups of hawks and eagles evolved only in the past 20 million years — roughly 5 million years after Archaehierax lived and died.

Previously, raptor fossils as ancient as 25 million years old were only known from Europe and North America. Archaehierax sylvestris and its smaller contemporary show that Australia was an important geographic location in the early global evolution of raptors.

Australia is already widely understood to be a cradle of evolution of songbirds, and our island continent doubtless played a similar role in the evolution of other types of birds too.

Read more: Meet the giant wombat relative that scratched out a living in Australia 25 million years ago

These raptors and the earliest songbirds lived in temperate rainforests. Back then, the area around what is now Lake Pinpa was located more than 1,100km south of where Adelaide is today, at a latitude equivalent to present-day Fiordland at the southwestern tip of New Zealand.

In the 25 million years since, continental drift has carried Australia and the fossils north at 6 centimetres per year (the speed at which your fingernails grow), travelling more than 1,500km.

The rainforest where these birds lived is now the arid outback. And there are almost certainly many fossils awaiting discovery there that will tell us more about how Australia’s unique birds evolved.The Conversation

Trevor H. Worthy, Associate Professor, Vertebrate Palaeontology Group, Flinders UniversityAaron Camens, Palaeontologist; Ellen K. Mather, PhD Candidate, Flinders UniversityJacob C. Blokland, Vertebrate Palaeontology PhD Candidate and Casual Academic, Flinders University, and Mike Lee, Professor in Evolutionary Biology (jointly appointed with South Australian Museum), Flinders University

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

Decoding the music masterpieces: Stravinsky’s The Firebird

Kent G Becker/flickrCC BY-SA
Scott DavieAustralian National University

On June 25 1910, Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird opened to acclaim at the Paris Opéra. The success propelled its composer, then aged 28, to international prominence, a position of influence he would retain for six decades.

The ballet’s myth-like storyline features a magical Firebird, who helps a young prince rescue a coterie of princesses from Kashchey, an evil sorcerer.

Based on the eponymous bird of Russian folklore, it has ultimately propagated some myths of its own - relating to the artistic ideals of the team who created it, and the narrative’s historical accuracy.

Most crucial, though, is the composer himself who, through successive elaborations of his own biography, engaged in myth-making on an extensive scale. Notable for what Stravinsky expert Richard Taruskin terms his “celebrated mendacity”, questions have lingered as to whether certain of the composer’s early musical ideas were as original as they seemed.

Conservative ‘Modernists’

After The Firebird, Stravinsky’s early career was bolstered by the triumph of his next two works: Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. Given the impact of the last work in particular, it is customary to note Stravinsky’s pivotal influence on the development of musical modernism.

Yet in 1910, he was a largely untested novice. The Firebird was a production of the Ballets Russes, newly formed by its director, the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev. For over a decade, Diaghilev had been a leading member of a group known as “Mir iskusstva” (World of Art), the title of their short-lived magazine.

Tamara Karsavina as the Firebird in the 1910 Ballets Russes production. WIkimedia Commons

Their artistic ideals, however, were far from modern. A collection of conservatives, many were from aristocratic backgrounds with a tendency toward romantic nationalism. They were aligned against both the “realist” modernism of the previous generation, and the evolving spiritual modernism of fellow Russian composers like Scriabin. Their principles were those against which socialists would soon react.

In a series of ventures for Parisian audiences from 1906, Diaghilev looked to Russia’s past for his sources. After discovering how expensive opera was to produce, he settled exclusively on ballet from 1910. Again, however, his musical choices were initially conservative.

Repurposed Myths

Magical birds are not without precedent in folklore, having featured in the childhood tales of many countries, such as Germany, where a similar creature appears in Grimm’s The Golden Bird.

Yet in Russia, the Firebird had a special significance, emerging as a nationalist symbol over the latter decades of the 19th century. Characterised as a bird of great beauty, it brought peril to those who tried to catch it or steal its glowing feathers.

In the Ballets Russes production, however, far from causing misfortune, when the young prince catches the Firebird it actually helps him.

Historians have noted the story is similar to lines from Russian poet Yakov Polonsky’s children’s poem, Winter Journey (1844). Yet the synopsis evidently is a conflation of two separate folk tales, developed by Mir iskusstva members as an export vehicle for foreign audiences.

Led by the choreographer Mikhail Fokine, the stories were repurposed by Alexandre Benois and Alexander Golovin, both important contributors to Ballets Russes design, and Nikolai Tcherepnin, the composer originally selected to write the Firebird’s music.

In short, the popular folk tale of Ivan-Tsarevich, and his quest for a beautiful princess (in which the Firebird features tangentially), was blended with a separate folk tale about the evil, immortal Kashchey, who dies at the hand of a prince who possesses a magical egg.

‘New’ Music

Fokine, who by typical accounts was a difficult choreographer to work with, likely caused three composers to exit or decline the project. Hence, the fortuitous opening for Stravinsky, a student of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, the elder statesman of Russian music whose most progressive works were little known in the West.

Stravinsky (second from left) and Fokine (leaning against the piano) at a rehearsal of The Firebird, 1909. Flickr

According to Fokine’s autobiography, Stravinsky sat at the piano, improvising and accompanying as the choreographer first developed his ideas for the work. If this account is accurate, never again would the composer allow himself to appear so ancillary to the creative process.

The most noticeable element of Stravinsky’s score is the way harmonious, tonal music is given to the mortal characters – Ivan-Tsarevich and the princesses – while chromatic, non-tonal music underscores the supernatural others.

This clever device is, in fact, a Russian tradition. The source can be traced as far back as Mikhail Glinka’s opera Ruslan and Lyudmila (1842), where a strikingly non-tonal descending scale depicts the supernatural abduction of a bride from her traditional (and tonal) wedding feast.

Stravinsky, an observant student, had closely scrutinised the innovative, and increasingly non-tonal, musical works of Rimsky-Korsakov, where the device was also prevalent.

He elaborated on one of Rimsky’s theories to create what has been called a “ladder of thirds”. Analysis from recent decades by musicologist Taruskin, has detected this schematic underpinning large portions of The Firebird.

The weirdly alternating pattern of thirds generates the supernatural music of the introduction, the Firebird’s chromatic “swirls” and Kashchey’s motifs.

The piano score of Daybreak section, from Stravinsky’s Firebird. Screenshot/Stravinsky

Most beautifully, it also provides the hushed musical transition from the underworld to the final tableau, where Ivan-Tsarevich and the princesses celebrate victory.

Yet for the mortal, tonal characters, Stravinsky, in places, incorporates folk melodies, another popular tradition among Russian composers.

Contrast Stravinsky’s setting of a folk-tune in the Khorovod of the Princesses from The Firebird, with Rimsky-Korsakov’s setting of the same melody in his Sinfonietta.

Stravinsky was always squeamish when questioned about his use of folk melodies, even flatly denying it. Yet as later analysis has shown, other works of this period, such as The Rite of Spring, feature them in abundance.

The influence of Rimsky-Korsakov can be noted in other ways, too, not least in his own opera about the very same Kashchey (1902), and his final opera, The Golden Cockerel (1908), also, tellingly, about a magical bird.

Indeed, if one wanted to really push the point, mention could be made of the notorious similarity of the Mt Triglav episode from Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera-ballet Mlada to Stravinsky’s Danse infernal in The Firebird where, in short, the plagiarism seems breathtaking.

The ‘Hit’

But that would miss the most important point: for audiences in the West, The Firebird was a hit. These fantastical tales of Russia’s past were woven, almost accidentally it seems, with a musical work that on foreign soil appeared unexpectedly modern.

The belated development of Russian music had for a century remained relatively hidden to the rest of the world. And after a long gestation, it was Stravinsky who revealed many of its treasures.

It was as if a baton had passed from one generation to the next, through the smallest of steps. The real genius of Stravinsky is that he was to run so far with it, and so quickly.The Conversation

Scott Davie, Lecturer in Piano, School of Music, Australian National University

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

When It Comes To Communication Skills Maybe We’re Born With It

September 24, 2021
From inside the womb and as soon as they enter the world, babies absorb information from their environment and the adults around them, quickly learning after birth how to start communicating through cries, sounds, giggles, and other kinds of baby talk. But are a child's long-term language skills shaped by how their brain develops during infancy, and how much of their language development is influenced by their environment and upbringing?

Following dozens of children over the course of five years, a Boston University researcher has taken the closest look yet at the link between how babies' brains are structured in infancy and their ability to learn a language at a young age, and to what degree their environment plays a role in brain and language development.

The new research, described in a paper published in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, finds that the brain's organizational pathways might set a foundation for a child's language learning abilities within the first year of life. These pathways are known as white matter, and they act as the connectors between the billions of neurons -- called gray matter -- that comprise the brain tissue. This allows for the exchange of signals and for all of the different tasks and functions we need to perform, as well as all of the biological processes that sustain us.

"A helpful metaphor often used is: white matter pathways are the 'highways,' and grey matter areas are the 'destinations'," says BU neuroscientist and licensed speech pathologist Jennifer Zuk, who led the study. Zuk, a College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College assistant professor of speech, language, and hearing sciences, says the more someone does a certain task, like learning a new language, the stronger and more refined the pathways become in the areas of the brain responsible for that task, allowing information to flow more efficiently through the white matter highways. Recent evidence suggests that white matter most rapidly develops within the first two years of life, according to Zuk.

In addition to white matter development, scientists have long known that the environment also plays an important role in shaping a person's language abilities, Zuk says. But many uncertainties remain about whether nature or nurture is more dominant in determining the makeup of white matter and how well a baby learns to communicate.

In their study, Zuk says, she and her colleagues sought answers to several specific questions: from very early on, to what extent does predisposed brain structure play a role in development? Does the brain develop in tandem with language, and is the environment ultimately driving the progress of both? And to what extent does brain structure in early infancy set children up for success with language?

To investigate this, Zuk and Boston Children's Hospital researcher and study senior author Nadine Gaab met with 40 families with babies to take images of the infants' brains using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and gather first-of-its-kind data on white matter development. No small feat, considering the babies needed to be sound asleep to allow for crisp capture of their brain activity and structure using MRI.

"It was such a fun process, and also one that calls for a lot of patience and perseverance," says Zuk, who had to master the challenge of getting 4-to-18-month-old babies comfortable enough to snooze through the MRI process -- the loud sounds of an MRI could be very disruptive to a sleeping baby. "There are very few researchers in the world using this approach," she says, "because the MRI itself involves a rather noisy background…and having infants in a naturally deep sleep is very helpful in accomplishing this pretty crazy feat."

It's also the first time that scientists have used MRI to look at the relationship between brain structure and language development in full-term, typically developing children from infancy to school age.

One important white matter pathway the researchers looked at using MRI is called the arcuate fasciculus, which connects two regions of the brain responsible for language production and comprehension. Using MRI, the researchers measured the organization of white matter by looking at how easily water diffuses through the tissue, indicating the pathway's density.

Five years after first rocking babies to sleep and gently tucking them inside an MRI machine, Zuk and her collaborators met up with the children and their families again to assess each child's emerging language abilities. Their assessments tested each one's vocabulary knowledge, their ability to identify sounds within individual words, and their ability to blend individual sounds together to understand the word it makes.

According to their findings, children born with higher indications of white matter organization had better language skills five years later, suggesting that communication skills could be strongly linked to predisposed brain structure. But, Zuk says, this is only the first piece of a very complicated puzzle.

"Perhaps the individual differences in white matter we observed in infancy might be shaped by some combination of a child's genetics and their environment," she says. "But it is intriguing to think about what specific factors might set children up with more effective white matter organization early on."

Although their findings indicate a foundation for language is established in infancy, "ongoing experience and exposure [to language] then builds upon this foundation to support a child's ultimate outcomes," Zuk says.

She says this means that during the first year of a child's life "there's a real opportunity for more environmental exposure [to language] and to set children up for success in the long term."

Zuk and her research partners plan to continue investigating the relationship between environmental and genetic components of language learning. Their goal is to help parents and caretakers identify early risk factors in language development in young children and determine strategies for strengthening babies' communicative skills early on in life.

Jennifer Zuk, Xi Yu, Joseph Sanfilippo, Michael Joseph Figuccio, Jade Dunstan, Clarisa Carruthers, Georgios Sideridis, Ted K. Turesky, Borjan Gagoski, Patricia Ellen Grant, Nadine Gaab. White matter in infancy is prospectively associated with language outcomes in kindergarten. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 2021; 50: 100973 DOI: 10.1016/j.dcn.2021.100973

World-Famous Sardine Migration Explained By Genomics

September 20, 2021
Scientists have discovered how the Sardine Run, one of the world's biggest migration events, works. This spectacular event, considered the "Greatest Shoal on Earth," involves the movement of hundreds of millions of sardines from their cool-temperate core range into the warmer subtropical waters of the Indian Ocean, on South Africa's east coast.

The sardine run is triggered by the upwelling of cold water on the southeast coast and as they swarm north they get sandwiched between the coast and a southward-flowing hot current that exceeds the sardines physiological capacity. They are then predated by huge numbers of dolphins, sharks, seabirds and even whales, an event that has featured in many nature documentaries.

The spawning area in the Atlantic Ocean (blue) is dominated by cool-temperate sardines and the spawning area in the Indian Ocean (orange) is dominated by warm-temperate sardines. Upwelling of cold waters on the southeast coast attracts cool-temperate sardines present on the south coast, which then move northward as part of the Sardine Run. When the upwelling ceases, these sardines eventually find themselves in an ecological trap of suboptimal subtropical habitat. Image: Flinders University

A new study in the journal Science Advances by South African and Australian scientists tested the hypothesis that the Sardine Run represents the spawning migration of a distinct east coast stock adapted to warm subtropical conditions. The scientists generated genomic data for hundreds of sardines from around South Africa, including data from regions of the genome that are primarily associated with differences in water temperature along the coast.

The results showed two sardine populations in South Africa, one in the cool-temperate west coast (Atlantic Ocean) and the other in warmer east coast waters (Indian Ocean). Each regional population appears adapted to the temperature range that it experiences in its native region.

"Surprisingly, we also discovered that sardines participating in the migration run are primarily of Atlantic origin and prefer colder water," says Professor Luciano Beheregaray at the Flinders University Molecular Ecology Lab, one of the study authors.

"The cold water of the brief upwelling periods attracts the west coast sardines, which are not adapted to the warmer Indian Ocean habitat," says author Professor Peter Teske from Johannesburg.

"This is a rare finding in nature, since there are no obvious fitness benefits for the migration, so why do they do it? "We think the sardine migration might be a relic of spawning behaviour dating back to the glacial period. What is now subtropical Indian Ocean habitat was then an important sardine nursery area with cold waters," says Professor Teske.

This visually breath taking migration run attracts tourists from around the world who are keen to get a glimpse of the underwater spectacle, but it may not be around forever.

"Given the colder water origins of sardines participating in the run, projected warming could lead to the end of the sardine run," says Professor Beheregaray. Despite the huge numbers of fish involved, the run involves only a small portion of the South African population so while it's end would mean the loss of one of nature's most spectacular migrations, the effects on the population as a whole are likely to be negligible.

Peter R. Teske, Arsalan Emami-Khoyi, Tirupathi R. Golla, Jonathan Sandoval-Castillo, Tarron Lamont, Brent Chiazzari, Christopher D. McQuaid, Luciano B. Beheregaray, Carl D. van der Lingen. The sardine run in southeastern Africa is a mass migration into an ecological trap. Science Advances, 2021; 7 (38) DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf4514

Children’s Dislike Of Cauliflower Or Broccoli Could Be Written In Their Microbiome

September 22, 2021
Many children, as well as adults, dislike Brassica vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. In the mouth, enzymes from these vegetables and from bacteria in saliva can produce unpleasant, sulphurous odours. 

Now, researchers reporting in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry have found that levels of these volatile compounds are similar in parent-child pairs, suggesting shared oral microbiomes. They also found that high levels cause children to dislike the vegetables.

Brassica vegetables contain a compound called S-methyl-ʟ-cysteine sulfoxide that produces potent, sulphurous odours when acted upon by an enzyme in the plant's tissues, as well as by the same enzyme produced by bacteria in some people's oral microbiomes. Previous studies have shown that adults have different levels of this enzyme in their saliva, but whether children also have different levels, and whether this influences their food preferences, is unknown.

Damian Frank and colleagues, who conducted this research at CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, wanted to investigate differences in sulphur volatile production in saliva from children and adults and analyse how they affect Brassica acceptance.

The researchers used gas chromatography-olfactometry-mass spectrometry to identify the main odour-active compounds in raw and steamed cauliflower and broccoli. Then, they asked 98 child/parent pairs, with children between 6 and 8 years of age, to rate the key odour compounds. Dimethyl trisulfide, which smells rotten, sulphurous and putrid, was the least liked odour by children and adults. 

The team then mixed saliva samples with raw cauliflower powder and analysed the volatile compounds produced over time. Large differences in sulphur volatile production were found between individuals, and children usually had similar levels as their parents, which is likely explained by similar microbiomes. 

Children whose saliva produced high amounts of sulphur volatiles disliked raw Brassica vegetables the most, but this relationship was not seen in adults, who might learn to tolerate the flavor over time. These results provide a new potential explanation for why some people like Brassica vegetables and others (especially children) don't, the researchers say.

Damian Frank, Udayasika Piyasiri, Nicholas Archer, Jessica Heffernan, Astrid A. M. Poelman. In-Mouth Volatile Production from Brassica Vegetables (Cauliflower) and Associations with Liking in an Adult/Child Cohort. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2021; DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.1c03889

Winged Microchip Is Smallest-Ever Human-Made Flying Structure

September 22, 2021
Northwestern University engineers have added a new capability to electronic microchips: flight.

About the size of a grain of sand, the new flying microchip (or "microflier") does not have a motor or engine. Instead, it catches flight on the wind -- much like a maple tree's propeller seed -- and spins like a helicopter through the air toward the ground.

By studying maple trees and other types of wind-dispersed seeds, the engineers optimized the microflier's aerodynamics to ensure that it -- when dropped at a high elevation -- falls at a slow velocity in a controlled manner. This behaviour stabilizes its flight, ensures dispersal over a broad area and increases the amount of time it interacts with the air, making it ideal for monitoring air pollution and airborne disease.

As the smallest-ever human-made flying structures, these microfliers also can be packed with ultra-miniaturized technology, including sensors, power sources, antennas for wireless communication and embedded memory to store data.

The research is featured on the cover of the Sept. 23 issue of Nature.

"Our goal was to add winged flight to small-scale electronic systems, with the idea that these capabilities would allow us to distribute highly functional, miniaturized electronic devices to sense the environment for contamination monitoring, population surveillance or disease tracking," said Northwestern's John A. Rogers, who led the device's development. "We were able to do that using ideas inspired by the biological world. Over the course of billions of years, nature has designed seeds with very sophisticated aerodynamics. We borrowed those design concepts, adapted them and applied them to electronic circuit platforms."

A pioneer in bioelectronics, Rogers is the Louis Simpson and Kimberly Querrey Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Neurological Surgery in the McCormick School of Engineering and Feinberg School of Medicine and director of the Querrey Simpson Institute for Bioelectronics. Yonggang Huang, the Jan and Marcia Achenbach Professor of Mechanical Engineering at McCormick, led the study's theoretical work.

'We think we that beat nature'
Most people have watched a maple leaf's whirling propeller seed spin through the air and gently land on the sidewalk. This is just one example of how nature has evolved clever, sophisticated methods to increase the survival of various plants. By ensuring that seeds are widely dispersed, otherwise sedentary plants and trees can propagate their species over vast distances to populate broad areas.

"Evolution was likely the driving force for the sophisticated aerodynamic properties exhibited by many classes of seeds," Rogers said. "These biological structures are designed to fall slowly and in a controlled manner, so they can interact with wind patterns for the longest-possible period of time. This feature maximizes lateral distribution via purely passive, airborne mechanisms."

To design the microfliers, the Northwestern team studied the aerodynamics of a number of plants' seeds, drawing its most direct inspiration from the tristellateia plant, a flowering vine with star-shaped seeds. Tristellateia seeds have bladed wings that catch the wind to fall with a slow, rotating spin.

Rogers and his team designed and built many different types of microfliers, including one with three wings, optimized to similar shapes and angles as the wings on a tristellateia seed. To pinpoint the most ideal structure, Huang led full-scale computational modelling of how the air flows around the device to mimic the tristellateia seed's slow, controlled rotation.

Based on this modelling, Rogers' group then built and tested structures in the lab, using advanced methods for imaging and quantifying patterns of flow in collaborations with Leonardo Chamorro, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The resulting structures can be formed across a wide variety of sizes and shapes, some with properties that can give nature a run for its money.

"We think that we beat nature," Rogers said. "At least in the narrow sense that we have been able to build structures that fall with more stable trajectories and at slower terminal velocities than equivalent seeds that you would see from plants or trees. We also were able to build these helicopter flying structures at sizes much smaller than those found in nature. That's important because device miniaturization represents the dominating development trajectory in the electronics industry, where sensors, radios, batteries and other components can be constructed in ever smaller dimensions."

From plants to pop-up books
To manufacture the devices, Rogers' team drew inspiration from another familiar novelty: a child's pop-up book.

His team first fabricated precursors to flying structures in flat, planar geometries. Then, they bonded these precursors onto a slightly stretched rubber substrate. When the stretched substrate is relaxed, a controlled buckling process occurs that causes the wings to "pop up" into precisely defined three-dimensional forms.

"This strategy of building 3D structures from 2D precursors is powerful because all existing semiconductor devices are built in planar layouts," Rogers said. "We can thus exploit the most advanced materials and manufacturing methods used by the consumer electronics industry to make completely standard, flat, chip-like designs. Then, we just transform them into 3D flying shapes by principles that are similar to those of a pop-up book."

Packed with promise
The microfliers comprise two parts: millimeter-sized electronic functional components and their wings. As the microflier falls through the air, its wings interact with the air to create a slow, stable rotational motion. The weight of the electronics is distributed low in the center of the microflier to prevent it from losing control and chaotically tumbling to the ground.

In demonstrated examples, Rogers' team included sensors, a power source that can harvest ambient energy, memory storage and an antenna that can wirelessly transfer data to a smart phone, tablet or computer.

In the lab, Rogers' group outfitted one device with all of these elements to detect particulates in the air. In another example, they incorporated pH sensors that could be used to monitor water quality and photodetectors to measure sun exposure at different wavelengths.

Rogers imagines that large numbers of devices could be dropped from a plane or building and broadly dispersed to monitor environmental remediation efforts after a chemical spill or to track levels of air pollution at various altitudes.

"Most monitoring technologies involve bulk instrumentation designed to collect data locally at a small number of locations across a spatial area of interest," Rogers said. "We envision a large multiplicity of miniaturized sensors that can be distributed at a high spatial density over large areas, to form a wireless network."

Disappearing act
But what about all the electronic litter? Rogers has a plan for that. His lab already develops transient electronics that can harmlessly dissolve in water after they are no longer needed -- as demonstrated in recent work on bioresorbable pacemakers. Now his team is using the same materials and techniques to build microfliers that naturally degrade and disappear in ground water over time.

"We fabricate such physically transient electronics systems using degradable polymers, compostable conductors and dissolvable integrated circuit chips that naturally vanish into environmentally benign end products when exposed to water," Roger said. "We recognize that recovery of large collections of microfliers might be difficult. To address this concern, these environmentally resorbable versions dissolve naturally and harmlessly."

The study, "Three-dimensional electronic microfliers inspired by wind-dispersed seeds," was supported by the Querrey Simpson Institute for Bioelectronics at Northwestern University. In addition to Rogers and Huang, co-corresponding authors include Leonardo Chamorro of the University of Illinois and Yihui Zhang of Tsinghua University in China. The paper's first authors are Bong Hoon Kim of Soongsil University in Korea, Kan Li of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China and Jin-Tae Kim and Yoonseok Park, both in Rogers' lab at Northwestern.

Kim, B.H., Li, K., Kim, JT. et al. Three-dimensional electronic microfliers inspired by wind-dispersed seeds. Nature, 2021 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-03847-y

The Origin And Legacy Of The Etruscans

September 24, 2021
The Etruscan civilization, which flourished during the Iron Age in central Italy, has intrigued scholars for millennia. With remarkable metallurgical skills and a now-extinct, non-Indo-European language, the Etruscans stood out from their contemporary neighbours, leading to intense debate from the likes of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus on their geographical origins.

Now, a new study by a team of scholars from Germany, Italy, USA, Denmark and the UK, sheds light on the origin and legacy of the enigmatic Etruscans with genome-wide data from 82 ancient individuals from central and southern Italy, spanning 800 BCE to 1000 CE. Their results show that the Etruscans, despite their unique cultural expressions, were closely related to their italic neighbours, and reveal major genetic transformations associated with historical events.

An intriguing phenomenon
With an extinct language that is only partly understood, much of what was initially known about Etruscan civilization comes from the commentary of later Greek and Roman writers. One hypothesis about their origins, the one favoured by Herodotus, points to the influence of ancient Greek cultural elements to argue that the Etruscans descended from migrating Anatolian or Aegean groups. Another, championed by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, proposes that the Etruscans originated and developed locally from the Bronze Age Villanovan culture and were therefore an autochthonous population.

Although the current consensus among archaeologists supports a local origin for the Etruscans, a lack of ancient DNA from the region has made genetic investigations inconsistent. The current study, with a time transect of ancient genomic information spanning almost 2000 years collected from 12 archaeological sites, resolves lingering questions about Etruscan origins, showing no evidence for a recent population movement from Anatolia. In fact, the Etruscans shared the genetic profile of the Latins living in nearby Rome, with a large proportion of their genetic profiles coming from steppe-related ancestry that arrived in the region during the Bronze Age.

Considering that steppe-related groups were likely responsible for the spread of Indo-European languages, now spoken around the world by billions of people, the persistence of a non-Indo-European Etruscan language is an intriguing and still unexplained phenomenon that will require further archaeological, historical, linguistic and genetic investigation.

"This linguistic persistence, combined with a genetic turnover, challenges simple assumptions that genes equal languages and suggests a more complex scenario that may have involved the assimilation of early Italic speakers by the Etruscan speech community, possibly during a prolonged period of admixture over the second millennium BCE," says David Caramelli, Professor at the University of Florence.

Aerial view on two Etruscan tombs from San Germano in Vetulonia (Grosseto) dated to the sixth century CE where human remains analysed in this study have been excavated. © Paolo Nannini

Periods of change
Despite a few individuals of eastern Mediterranean, northern African, and central European origins, the Etruscan-related gene pool remained stable for at least 800 years, spanning the Iron Age and Roman Republic period. The study finds, however, that during the subsequent Roman Imperial period, central Italy experienced a large scale genetic shift, resulting from admixture with eastern Mediterranean populations, which likely included slaves and soldiers relocated across the Roman Empire.

"This genetic shift clearly depicts the role of the Roman Empire in the large-scale displacement of people in a time of enhanced upward or downward socioeconomic and geographic mobility," says Johannes Krause, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Looking at the more recent Early Middle Ages, the researchers identified northern European ancestries spreading across the Italian peninsula following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. These results suggest that Germanic migrants, including individuals associated with the newly established Longobard Kingdom, might have left a traceable impact on the genetic landscape of central Italy.

In the regions of Tuscany, Lazio, and Basilicata the population's ancestry remained largely continuous between the Early Medieval times and today, suggesting that the main gene pool of present-day people from central and southern Italy was largely formed at least 1000 years ago.

Although more ancient DNA from across Italy is needed to support the above conclusions, ancestry shifts in Tuscany and northern Lazio similar to those reported for the city of Rome and its surroundings suggests that historical events during the first millennium CE had a major impact on the genetic transformations over much of the Italian peninsula.

"The Roman Empire appears to have left a long-lasting contribution to the genetic profile of southern Europeans, bridging the gap between European and eastern Mediterranean populations on the genetic map of western Eurasia," says Cosimo Posth, Professor at the University of Tübingen and Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment.

Cosimo Posth, Valentina Zaro, Maria A. Spyrou, Stefania Vai, Guido A. Gnecchi-Ruscone, Alessandra Modi, Alexander Peltzer, Angela Mötsch, Kathrin Nägele, Åshild J. Vågene, Elizabeth A. Nelson, Rita Radzevičiūtė, Cäcilia Freund, Lorenzo M. Bondioli, Luca Cappuccini, Hannah Frenzel, Elsa Pacciani, Francesco Boschin, Giulia Capecchi, Ivan Martini, Adriana Moroni, Stefano Ricci, Alessandra Sperduti, Maria Angela Turchetti, Alessandro Riga, Monica Zavattaro, Andrea Zifferero, Henrike O. Heyne, Eva Fernández-Domínguez, Guus J. Kroonen, Michael McCormick, Wolfgang Haak, Martina Lari, Guido Barbujani, Luca Bondioli, Kirsten I. Bos, David Caramelli, Johannes Krause. The origin and legacy of the Etruscans through a 2000-year archeogenomic time transect. Science Advances, 2021; 7 (39) DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abi7673

In The Race To Reduce Car Emissions Don't Forget Longevity

September 24, 2021
As countries race to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change, the debate on green vehicles often focuses on fuel efficiency and alternative fuels, such as electricity and hydrogen. A common idea is that the faster the transition is, the better it is for the environment.

Now, a new study of car use in Japan shows that, even with gasoline vehicles, keeping and using cars with good fuel efficiency longer could reduce CO2 emissions significantly more than an accelerated transition to alternative fuel vehicles.

"The faster you replace a car, the more CO2 it emits. It's no different with electric cars, because when the demand for new cars increases, it shoots up manufacturing emissions," says Shigemi Kagawa, professor of Kyushu University's Faculty of Economics and leader of the study.

Car replacement is especially rapid in Japan, where people enjoy longevity but cars do not. The average life expectancy of a car, from its birth in a factory to its end in a scrapyard, is around thirteen years. Moreover, the average length of ownership of a new car by its first owner is seven years.

These trends are largely attributed to the island nation's mass-production, mass-consumption economy and its costly vehicle inspection system. While these might help to get more fuel-efficient vehicles on the road, Kagawa explains that we need to diligently look at the supply chain to maximize carbon reductions.

"The carbon footprint of a car goes far beyond just the fuel it uses. To produce alternative fuel cars intended to reduce emissions from driving, you need iron, nuts, and bolts for construction, factories for assembly, and mega-containerships for transport. All these points in the supply chain produce CO2."

Of the about nine percent of Japan's total greenhouse gas emissions attributed to cars, about forty percent is due to gasoline combustion from driving new cars and twenty-four percent due to their manufacturing.

"Our hypothesis is that driving current internal combustion engine vehicles a little longer during the transition to green vehicles is a viable strategy to help the environment," says Kagawa.

Using economic statistics, Kagawa's group conducted a case study of newly registered and used cars in Japan between 1990 and 2016. The group modelled how replacement behaviour of car owners affects their carbon footprint.

Their modelling shows that, if cars had been kept on the road ten percent longer before being scrapped, the cumulative carbon footprint from cars would have decreased by 30.7 million tonnes, or one percent, during this period.

This is because the decrease in manufacturing emissions more than offsets additional emissions produced by existing cars.

Moreover, the study finds a similar one percent decrease in carbon footprint would be realized if owners of new cars had used their cars ten percent longer.

In this case, by keeping more cars in the hands of their original owners longer, the number of used cars on the road decreases. Accordingly, emissions from the driving of new, relatively fuel-efficient cars increase while those of used, relatively fuel-inefficient cars decrease.

"What this means is that we can reduce CO2 emissions just by keeping and driving cars longer," concludes Kagawa. "Moreover, if the car we keep is relatively new and fuel-efficient, the effect is greater. So the next time you are thinking of getting a new car, perhaps consider if your current car has a few more kilometres left in it."

Yuya Nakamoto, Shigemi Kagawa. A generalized framework for analysing car lifetime effects on stock, flow, and carbon footprint. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 2021; DOI: 10.1111/jiec.13190

Insulin Resistance Doubles Risk Of Major Depressive Disorder

September 23, 2021
Stanford Medicine scientists have linked insulin resistance to an increased risk of developing major depressive disorder.

"If you're insulin-resistant, your risk of developing major depressive disorder is double that of someone who's not insulin-resistant, even if you've never experienced depression before," said Natalie Rasgon, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences.

Upward of 1 in 5 Americans experiences major depressive disorder sometime during their lives. Symptoms include unremitting sadness, despair, sluggishness, sleep disturbances and loss of appetite. Some factors contributing to this deeply debilitating disease -- childhood traumas, loss of a loved one or the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example -- are things we can't prevent. But insulin resistance is preventable: It can be reduced or eliminated by diet, exercise and, if need be, drugs.

The researchers' findings are described in a study to be published online Sept. 22 in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Rasgon shares senior authorship of the study with Brenda Penninx, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the University of Amsterdam Medical Center. The study's lead author is Kathleen Watson, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in Rasgon's group.

A common but silent condition
Studies have confirmed that at least 1 in 3 of us is walking around with insulin resistance -- often without knowing it. The condition does not arise from a deficiency in the pancreas's ability to secrete insulin into the bloodstream, as occurs in Type 1 diabetes, but because of the decreased ability of cells throughout the body to heed this hormone's command.

Insulin's job is to tell our cells it's time for them to process the glucose that's flooding our blood due to our dietary intake of it, its manufacture in our liver or both. Every cell in the body uses glucose as fuel, and each of those cells has receptors on its surface that, on binding to insulin, signals the cell to ingest the precious energy source. But an increasing proportion of the world's population is insulin-resistant: For various reasons -- including excessive caloric intake, lack of exercise, stress and not getting enough sleep -- their insulin receptors fail to bind to insulin properly. Eventually, their blood-sugar levels become chronically high. Once those levels stay above a certain threshold, the diagnosis is Type 2 diabetes, a treatable but incurable condition that can lead to cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disorders, neuropathy, kidney disease, limb amputations and other detrimental health outcomes.

Associations between insulin resistance and several mental disorders have already been established. For example, it's been shown that about 40% of patients suffering from mood disorders are insulin-resistant, Rasgon said.

But these assessments have been based on cross-sectional studies -- snapshots of populations at a single point in time. The question of whether one event was the cause or the result of the other -- or whether both were results of some other causal factor -- are best resolved by longitudinal studies, which typically track people over years or even decades and can determine which event came first.

As a part of a multi-institutional collaboration within a research network Rasgon established in 2015, the scientists obtained data from an ongoing longitudinal study monitoring more than 3,000 participants in scrupulous detail to learn about the causes and consequences of depression: the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety. Rasgon is the Stanford principal investigator, and Penninx is the overall principal investigator.

"The Dutch study, with its meticulous monitoring of a large subject population for nine years and still climbing, presented a great opportunity for us," Watson said.

Determining insulin resistance
The Stanford team analysed data from 601 men and women who served as control subjects for the Netherlands study. At the time of their enrollment, they'd never been troubled by depression or anxiety. Their average age was 41 years.

The team measured three proxies of insulin resistance: fasting blood glucose levels, waist circumference, and the ratio of circulating triglyceride levels to those of circulating high-density lipoprotein -- or HDL, known as "good" cholesterol.

They probed the data to see if the subjects found to be insulin-resistant had a heightened nine-year risk of developing major depressive disorder. By all three measures, the answer was yes: They discovered that a moderate increase in insulin resistance, as measured by the triglyceride-to-HDL ratio, was linked to an 89% increase in the rate of new cases of major depressive disorder. Similarly, every 5-centimeter increase in abdominal fat was related to an 11% higher rate of depression, and an increase in fasting plasma glucose of 18 milligrams per deciliter of blood was associated with a 37% higher rate of depression.

"Some subjects were already insulin-resistant at the study's start -- there was no way to know when they'd first become insulin-resistant," Watson said. "We wanted to more carefully determine how soon the connection kicks in."

So, the researchers restricted the next phase of their analysis to the roughly 400 subjects who, in addition to never having experienced major depression, also showed no sign of insulin resistance at the study's onset. Within the first two years of the study, nearly 100 of these participants became insulin-resistant. The researchers compared this group's likelihood of developing major depressive disorder in the next seven years with that of the participants who hadn't yet become insulin-resistant at the two-year point.

While the number of participants was too small to establish statistical significance for waist circumference and the triglyceride-to-HDL ratio, the results for fasting glucose were not only statistically significant -- meaning unlikely to have arisen by chance -- but clinically meaningful -- that is, important enough to worry about: Those developing prediabetes within the first two years of the study had 2.66 times the risk for major depression by the nine-year follow-up milepost, compared with those who had normal fasting-glucose test results at the two-year point.

The bottom line: Insulin resistance is a strong risk factor for serious problems, including not only Type 2 diabetes but depression.

"It's time for providers to consider the metabolic status of those suffering from mood disorders and vice versa, by assessing mood in patients with metabolic diseases such as obesity and hypertension," Rasgon said. "To prevent depression, physicians should be checking their patients' insulin sensitivity. These tests are readily available in labs around the world, and they're not expensive. In the end, we can mitigate the development of lifelong debilitating diseases."

Rasgon is a member of the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute at Stanford, Stanford Cardiovascular Institute, and the Stanford Maternal and Child Health Research Institute.

Other Stanford co-authors of the study are former clinical research coordinator Lexi Nutkiewicz; Julia Simard, ScD, associate professor of epidemiology and population health; and Victor Henderson, MD, professor of epidemiology and population health and of neurology and neurological sciences.

Other researchers from the Amsterdam University Medical Center, as well as a researcher from Rockefeller University, contributed to the work.

Kathleen T. Watson, Julia F. Simard, Victor W. Henderson, Lexi Nutkiewicz, Femke Lamers, Carla Nasca, Natalie Rasgon, Brenda W.J.H. Penninx. Incident Major Depressive Disorder Predicted by Three Measures of Insulin Resistance: A Dutch Cohort Study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 2021; appi.ajp.2021.2 DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2021.20101479

Eating Less Fat May Save Your Hair

September 21, 2021
It's well known that obesity is linked to the development of numerous diseases in humans. Heart disease, diabetes, and other ailments are extremely common in obese individuals. However, it's not fully clear how body organs specifically deteriorate and lose functionality from chronic obesity. In a recent article published in Nature, a group of researchers from Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU) used mouse model experiments to examine how a high-fat diet or genetically induced obesity can affect hair thinning and loss. The authors found that obesity can lead to depletion of hair follicle stem cells (HFSCs) through the induction of certain inflammatory signals, blocking hair follicle regeneration and ultimately resulting in loss of hair follicles.

Normally, HFSCs self-renew every hair follicle cycle. This is part of the process that allows our hair to continuously grow back. As humans age, HFSCs fail to replenish themselves leading to fewer HFSCs and therefore hair thinning. Although overweight people has higher risk of androgenic alopecia, whether obesity accelerates hair thinning, how and the molecular mechanisms have been largely unknown. The TMDU group aimed to address those questions and identified some of the mechanisms.

"High-fat diet feeding accelerates hair thinning by depleting HFSCs that replenish mature cells that grow hair, especially in old mice. " says lead author of the study Hironobu Morinaga. "We compared the gene expression in HFSCs between HFD-fed mice and standard diet-fed mice and traced the fate of those HFSCs after their activation. "We found that those HFSCs in HFD-fed obesed mice change their fate into the skin surface corneocytes or sebocytes that secrete sebum upon their activation. Those mice show faster hair loss and smaller hair follicles along with depletion of HFSCs."

"Even with HFD feeding in four consecutive days, HFSCs shows increased oxidative stress and the signs of epidermal differentiation."

"The gene expression in HFSCs from the high-fat-fed mice indicated the activation of inflammatory cytokine signalling within HFSCs" describes Emi K. Nishimura, senior author. "The inflammatory signals in HFSCs strikingly repress Sonic hedgehog signalling that plays crucial role in hair follicle regeneration in HFSCs.

The researchers confirmed the activation of the Sonic hedgehog signalling pathway in this process can rescue the depletion of HFSCs. "This could prevent the hair loss brought on by the high-fat diet. "said Nishimura.

This study provides interesting new insights into the specific cellular fate changes and tissue dysfunction that can occur following a high-fat diet or genetically induced obesity and may open the door for future prevention and treatment of hair thinning as well as for understanding of obesity-related diseases.

Hironobu Morinaga, Yasuaki Mohri, Marina Grachtchouk, Kyosuke Asakawa, Hiroyuki Matsumura, Motohiko Oshima, Naoya Takayama, Tomoki Kato, Yuriko Nishimori, Yuriko Sorimachi, Keiyo Takubo, Takayoshi Suganami, Atsushi Iwama, Yoichiro Iwakura, Andrzej A. Dlugosz, Emi K. Nishimura. Obesity accelerates hair thinning by stem cell-centric converging mechanisms. Nature, 2021; 595 (7866): 266 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-03624-x

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