inbox and environment news: Issue 513

October 10 - 16, 2021: Issue 513

Life In The Treetops: Latest Episode Of The Coast

Canopy trees are such a feature of our Pittwater area.  Find out what's going on with Wendy Frew's latest episode of The Coast. Click here:

Palm Beach Shop Top Development Proposal Withdrawn

News received from the council in late September states the proposal for a shop top development on the site of the Palm Beach Fish and Chip shop has been withdrawn. However, this image courtesy of a PB resident shows the Palm Beach fish and chip shop structures have been demolished, leaving the community wondering 'what's next?'.
Image courtesy R.A.

Australasian Figbirds: Spring 2021 Visitors

A pair of Australasian Figbirds moved into the PON yard trees on Sunday September 21st. Females are drab-coloured, being dull brownish above, and white below with strong dark streaking. They have greyish facial skin, and a greyish-black bill. Juveniles resemble females, but the streaking below is typically not as strong. 



Unlike most orioles, Australasian figbirds are gregarious, often forming flocks of 20 to 40 birds during the non-breeding season, and even breeding in small, loose colonies. The flimsy saucer-shaped nest is made from plant-material, and usually placed relatively high in a tree. The clutch of two to four eggs is incubated by both sexes, and typically hatches after 16–17 days. It has been recorded nesting near the aggressive spangled drongo  and helmeted friarbird, possibly gaining an advantage as they keep potential nest-predators away. Australasian figbirds sometimes fall victim to nest parasitism by Pacific koels.
AJG Photos

Birds In Your Garden: Wish You Had More?

If you plant hybrid Grevilleas that flower constantly, you will not get small birds.
Noisy Miners defend these as a year-round source of nectar. 
Their family groups set up territories and gang up furiously on any smaller birds that come by. They can kill them and also destroy their nests.

Information courtesy Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA). Photos: Joe Mills -  Honey Gem Grevillea, AJG - Noisy Miner

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.

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?”

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

As far as the moon and back, twice: here’s a look at the most extraordinary journeys migrating birds make

Around 40% of the world’s birds migrate. Kranich17/Pixabay
Jeremy SmithUniversity of South Wales

Every year, millions of birds criss-cross the planet, soaring above our heads in search of food, warmth and mates. From pole to pole, here are some of the most remarkable journeys made by our feathered friends.

So-called “summer migrants”, like the common cuckoo, are bird species which spend roughly October to March in warmer climes than that of the UK, such as those of Portugal, Senegal and the Congo Basin.

In the UK’s summer months, there is such an abundance of airborne insects – their diet of choice – that these birds are not only able to feed themselves but can successfully raise a family too. But in the autumn, when it’s too cold for many insects to fly, the birds return south where the weather is warmer and there are flies available all year round.

A common cuckoo sits on a branch
Common cuckoos spend the year seeking out warmth. Wikimedia

Believe it or not, some birds come to Europe in winter for its milder weather. Species such as barnacle geese breed in the Arctic, where there are full days of sunlight and plenty of grass on which to feed during the spring and summer. When the cold weather sets in, they migrate south to take advantage of the warmer winters.

Long Distance

The Arctic tern, which holds the record for the longest migration of any bird, breeds in the very north of Europe and Asia during summer before migrating all the way to the Antarctic Ocean to spend another summer: this time in the southern hemisphere.

This journey across the entire globe covers a distance of about 35,000km. The oldest known Arctic tern survived for 31 years, which means it travelled over 1.6m kilometres in its lifetime – more than the equivalent of travelling to the moon and back twice.

Lots of species follow a section of the Arctic terns’ route by going from north to south and back: but the red-necked phalarope offers a twist on this classic journey. This bird, which weighs 27-48g – the same as between one and two small bags of crisps – flies west from Scotland to Peru and back each year.

An arctic tern calling
Arctic terns make extraordinary migratory journeys across the planet. Jon57/Pixabay

study has shown that one red-necked phalarope, which bred on the Shetland Isles, flew west to cross the Atlantic Ocean before stopping over at the border between the US and Canada. The bird then flew down the east coast of the US and crossed over onto the Pacific coast of Mexico. From there, it continued south until it reached the coast of Peru, where it spent October to April. This marathon flight is typical behaviour for individuals breeding in Scotland, Iceland or Greenland.

Top Speed

Although the peregrine falcon is known to be able to reach the fastest speed of any animal, reaching up to 322kmph during one of its steep dives or “stoops”, its average speed in level flight is between 65-95kmph: enough to comfortably keep up with a standard car. Now, imagine a bird able to keep that speed up for 6,760km.

A great snipe calls
Great snipe are able to fly long distances at speeds of almost 100 kilometres per hour. Wikimedia

That’s the feat achieved by tens of thousands of great snipes each year. This brown wading bird looks unassuming as it feeds at the edges of lakes and in soft mud, but when it’s time to migrate it can fly non-stop for almost seven thousand kilometres at an average speed of 97kmph. This extraordinary journey takes individuals from Sweden, where they breed, to sub-Saharan Africa, where they spend winter.

High Fliers

One of the more fascinating aspects of bird migration is the extreme heights at which birds often choose to travel. Cooler air is thinner, requiring less effort to fly through. The coolness also prevents birds from overheating whilst using their wing muscles so much. But the downside to this is the much lower oxygen levels in upper regions of the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in increased risk of hypoxia: where the levels of oxygen reaching the body’s tissues are insufficient, potentially causing damage.

Birds counteract this by producing more red blood cells, which help carry more oxygen through their body. This is the same process that occurs in human athletes training at high altitudes. Astonishingly, there have been reports of bar-headed geese flying above the highest Himalayan peaks – which can reach over 8km. This species’ unique physiology, including larger lungs and brains able to tolerate low carbon dioxide levels in the blood, has long fascinated researchers.

Smaller birds, such as pied flycatchers, also use cooler air to travel, often flying at night so that they don’t have to fly as high to reach sufficiently cool areas. Because of this, they’re called nocturnal migrants. These birds navigate using the stars, only landing to refuel during the day. We know that they travel by night by recording their in-flight calls as they pass overhead during the hours of darkness.The Conversation

Jeremy Smith, Lecturer in Natural History, University of South Wales

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

Ley Approves Another Two New Coal Mines

October 6, 2021
The Morrison Government appears hell-bent on approving as many coal mines as it can before the Glasgow climate conference, with Environment Minister Sussan Ley giving the green light to two locally-opposed projects this week.

Yesterday, approvals for both the Mangoola thermal coal mine expansion in the Upper Hunter, and the Tahmoor metallurgical coal mine south west of Sydney appeared on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act project assessment website. 

Added to the emissions predicted from the two other recently approved coal mines, Russell Vale and Vickery, Sussan Ley has now waved through coal projects that will be responsible for 587 million tonnes of GHG emissions since the Federal Court ruled she had a “duty of care” to Australia’s young people not to cause them physical harm from climate change. That’s more than Australia’s total annual GHG emissions.

Tahmoor local and Undermined Inc spokesperson David Eden said he was bitterly disappointed.

“People here survived the 2019 Black Summer Green Wattle Creek bushfires and have cried as Thirlmere Lakes dry.

“We have no escape from climate change. Clearly Sussan Ley doesn’t care about us or future generations.

“The Tahmoor coal mine will belch at least 2.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere each year right here in NSW, making it the most polluting coal mine in the state for direct emissions.”

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said it appeared Sussan Ley was abandoning Australian children who would be forced to live with the climate harms she had helped create.

“Glencore’s Mangoola coal mine expansion was opposed by Muswellbrook council and local landholders because of its unacceptable social and environmental impacts. But the Morrison Government seems more interested in allowing Glencore to make a few extra million out of exploiting the Hunter Valley than it is in the welfare of the community and the land,” she said.

“These are the third and fourth coal mining projects the Australian Government has approved in recent weeks despite a recent Federal Court judgement acknowledging the harm to human health, and particularly to children.

“These decisions come just weeks before pivotal global climate change negotiations at Glasgow. It is frankly alarming to witness this country digging itself deeper into its obstinate refusal to take climate change and rural sustainability seriously.

“This is the result of the Morrison Government’s refusal to have any kind of valid climate change policy and it will be Australian children and rural communities that will pay the price.”

Koala Spotters Wanted

October 6, 2021
Coffs Harbour region residents are encouraged to enlist as volunteers in an annual wildlife survey program in Bongil Bongil National Park looking for wildlife, including koalas.
National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Area Manager Glenn Storrie said the purpose of the annual survey program, running since 2013, is to monitor wildlife presence and health in the national park year to year.

'Community volunteers will be trained and equipped to conduct night-time surveys recording the presence of wildlife they might encounter,' Mr Storrie said.
'This year due to COVID we have delayed the start a month. Appropriate, COVID-safe measures such as effective social distancing will be incorporated into this year’s surveys,' he said.

'This is an exciting wildlife survey program that most participants thoroughly enjoy and look forward to every year. Walking thought the forest at night with a powerful spotlight can reveal a range of native animals not normally seen during the day.

'In previous years the teams have discovered a regionally significant population of the rare yellow-bellied glider while conducting these surveys so koalas are not the only interesting native animals they encounter.

'Teams walk the park’s trails using NPWS survey gear, such as spotlights and audio equipment, and will be supervised and managed by an experienced wildlife ranger, collecting valuable data.

'The surveys are conducted just after sunset in the middle of the koala breeding season in late October to early November, at a time when koalas are on the move, most vocal and most likely to be seen.'

Volunteers are required to conduct the 2-hour surveys beginning just after dark. They are held every 4 nights, a total of 5 nights work over 16 days. Surveys this year begin at 7:00 pm from Monday 25 October 2021 near Repton.

A short information and training session for prospective new volunteers will be conducted at the NPWS offices at the Coffs Harbour Jetty beginning at 6:00 pm on Tuesday 19 October 2021.

People interested in volunteering for the program or who would like to know more about it are urged to contact the project manager, Ranger Martin Smith, at the NPWS Coffs Harbour Jetty office on 6652 0907 or by emailing

Greater Sydney Water Strategy Open For Feedback

The NSW Government has launched the draft Greater Sydney Water Strategy, an unprecedented 20-year roadmap to providing a safe, secure and sustainable water supply for Sydney, the Illawarra and the Blue Mountains.

Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey said the Strategy, now on public exhibition, will guide water management to 2040 to support economic growth, meet the needs of the growing population and prepare for our changing climate.

“A secure water supply is vital and this plan ensures we are able to support economic growth as we recover from the pandemic and set the foundations for the future,” Mrs Pavey said.

"We need to plan now for how our growing city and region will use water wisely as Sydney’s population is set to grow to 7.1 million by 2041.

“During the most recent drought, our dam levels depleted faster than we’ve experienced since records began – at a rate of 20 per cent per year.

“Thankfully our dams are now full, but we need to act decisively to secure sustainable water for the long-term – by exploring options for new water sources not dependent on rainfall, by conserving more, and by doing more with less.”

Options for consultation in the draft Strategy include:
  • Improving water recycling, leakage management and water efficiency programs, which could result in water savings of up to 49 gigalitres a year by 2040.
  • Extending a water savings program, which has been piloted in over 1000 households and delivered around 20 per cent reduction in water use per household and almost $190 in savings per year for household water bills.
  • Consideration of running the Sydney Desalination Plant full-time to add an extra 20 gigalitres of water per year.
  • Expanding or building new desalination plants to be less dependent on rainfall.
  • Investigating innovations in recycled water to improve sustainability.
  • Making greater use of stormwater and recycled water to cool and green the city and support recreational activities.
The draft Strategy also proposes improvements to the decision making process for water restrictions to better reflect prevailing conditions and forecasting.

“Instead of having inflexible trigger points, decision makers will use a new holistic approach to consider things like rainfall events, inflows to dams and dam depletion rates, water demand and weather forecasts,” Mrs Pavey said.

“The draft Greater Sydney Water Strategy is a critical part of the NSW Government’s plan to grow the NSW economy and I encourage the community and industry to have their say.”

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment will hold public webinars and information sessions during September and October.

The draft Greater Sydney Water Strategy will be on display until November 8, 2021. To read the Strategy and provide feedback visit

Sydney Desalination Plant May 2021. Photo: Catherine Parker (WaterCommsDPIE)

Warragamba Dam Raising Project EIS On Public Exhibition

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Warragamba Dam Raising Project for flood mitigation is on public exhibition from the 29th of September 2021, for a period of 45 days closing on the 12th of November 2021, during which public submissions will be received.

In May 2017, the NSW Government released the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley Flood Risk Management Strategy – ‘Resilient Valley, Resilient Communities.’  

The strategy is designed specifically for the valley as the most flood-prone region in NSW, if not Australia. It is a long-term plan to minimise significant risks to life and livelihoods; damage to urban and rural property; and, the major dislocation of economic activity from rapid, deep flooding.

It is the framework for the government, councils, businesses and communities to work together to reduce and manage flood risk in the valley.

The strategy recommends that raising Warragamba Dam to create a flood mitigation zone of around 14 metres is the best option to reduce the risks to life, property and community assets posed by floodwaters from the extensive Warragamba River catchment.

While a range of other infrastructure and non-infrastructure outcomes are included in the strategy and must be part of the solution for managing ongoing risk, no other mitigation measures can achieve the same risk reduction as the Warragamba Dam Raising Proposal.

WaterNSW, as owner and operator of the dam, is consulting widely about the effects and benefits of the proposal to inform the environmental assessment, concept design and, subject to all planning approvals, a business case to assist decision-making in 2022 about whether to proceed with these major flood mitigation works.

Visit the project portal and virtual engagement room to review the EIS document, interact with explanatory material, make submissions and register to attend webinars.

Warragamba Dam, NSW. Photo: Maksym Kozlenko

$2 Million In Litter Prevention Grants Available To Help Keep NSW Litter Free

October 5, 2021
Community groups, councils, Regional Waste Groups, and businesses across NSW can now access $2 million in grants to help clean-up and prevent litter in their local area, Environment Protection Authority Engagement, Education and Programs Executive Director Liesbet Spanjaard announced today.

Litter Prevention Grants of up to $150,000 are available in four streams including:
  • Council Litter Prevention Grants Program
  • Litter Regional Implementation Program (for Regional Waste Groups)
  • Community Litter Prevention Grants Program
  • Cigarette Butt Litter Prevention Grants Program (including for businesses and government organisations).
“Already in NSW we’ve seen incredible results in litter reduction, with a 43 per cent reduction in statewide litter volume since 2013-14. These grants provide the opportunity to build on that success with exciting local initiatives,” Ms Spanjaard said.

“Community groups and councils, including regional waste groups, can apply for grants of up to $150,000 for projects that help prevent and clean up local litter.

“This might include installing cigarette butt bins in parks, localising the successful ‘Don’t be a Tosser’ campaign, running community clean-up days, or developing education strategies and litter enforcement campaigns.

“Businesses such as pubs and clubs, and government organisations can also apply under the Cigarette Butt grant stream for projects that help manage butt litter.

“Projects completed through previous grants have had great success - reducing average litter by 70% at targeted hotspots,” Ms Spanjaard said.

“We know litter is less likely to return once it’s cleaned up, so these local initiatives have a real impact.

“I encourage groups, councils and businesses to brainstorm the best way to tackle litter in their area and to put those ideas into action by applying for a Litter Prevention Grant.”

The Litter Prevention Grants support the litter targets in the NSW Government’s Waste and Materials Strategy 2041 and the NSW Plastics Action Plan, including a 30% reduction in plastic litter by 2025, and a 60% reduction in overall litter by 2030.

Applications for the Litter Prevention Grants Transition Round are open until 8 November 2021.

More information about each of the grant streams including how to apply is available at

New Rules Put Carp In The Crosshairs Of Bowfishers

October 2, 2021
Carp fish will now be in the sights of the state’s bowfishers, with new rules and regulations for the sport announced by Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall today.

Mr Marshall said the changes would allow bowfishers to safely fish with specialised equipment in specific inland NSW waters while also helping control pest populations, and come following extensive industry and community consultation.

Carp are considered a noxious pest and remain the only species that may be taken using bowfishing equipment,” Mr Marshall said.

“This is a popular activity, and bowfishers will now be allowed to target carp using an upright bow with a specialised arrow attached through a tethered line and a reel.

“The fishing community asked the NSW Government to have a serious discussion about allowing bowfishing of carp, and I’m pleased to deliver this welcomed news today after the NSW Department of Primary Industries conducted public consultation.”

Mr Marshall said a successful trial of bowfishing for carp had previously shown it could be safe, effective, and provide economic benefits for rural and regional areas of NSW.

“The Trial Program in 2016 and 2017 and its subsequent review identified that, with the right regulation, bowfishing is a safe and sustainable technique,” Mr Marshall said.

“This is in addition to the huge environmental benefits that come from removing pest carp from inland waters.

“It is important bowfishers understand the rules, regulations and technique surrounding the sport before taking up bowfishing.”

To assist with education and awareness of rules and regulations, a NSW Recreational Bowfishing for Carp in Inland Waters Guide is available via the NSW DPI website.

Bowfishing is now prohibited in tidal waters, entrances to rivers and lakes, coastal lagoons, all offshore waters and estuaries and all beaches across the state. Declared trout waters will be off limits to bowfishing to ensure separation between trout anglers and bowfishers. A valid NSW Recreational Fishing License is also required.

As part of the changes, it cannot be conducted within 50 metres of a person, or vehicle not part of the fishing party, or within 100 metres of a dwelling, picnic area or campsite.

Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall, left, with fisher Johan Boshoff.

Climate-Based Legal Challenge To NSW Water-Sharing Plan

October 6, 2021
The Nature Conservation Council has launched legal proceedings to have the Border Rivers Water Sharing Plan 2021 ruled invalid, alleging it was made without properly considering the future impacts of climate change.  

It is the first time in Australia — and possibly the world — that a catchment-wide water sharing instrument has been challenged on climate-related grounds. 

The Nature Conservation Council is represented by the Environmental Defenders Office and Brett Walker SC.  

Proceedings are being taken against the Water Minister, who made the Border Rivers WSP, and the Environment Minister, who provided concurrence. 

“We are alleging that the Border Rivers Water Sharing Plan is unlawful because the ministers responsible failed to properly consider the impact climate change is likely to have on the volume of water available to share,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“As a consequence, too much water has been allocated for extraction and too little for the environment and downstream communities on the Barwon and Darling-Barka Rivers. 

“Our rivers and the ecosystems they support are in crisis. Whole sections of the river system have completely dried up.  

“The Menindee Lakes until recently were a dustbowl and the Macquarie Marshes and other wetlands across the state are on the brink of ecological collapse.  
“This is a challenge for public administrators right now, and we believe the NSW Government has failed in its duty to meet that challenge. 

“Healthy rivers must be our top priority because they are the lifeblood of communities and ecosystems everywhere, especially in the Murray-Darling Basin.    

“If we fail to keep our rivers alive as a first priority, it doesn’t really matter what our second priority is. We will have lost the fight.  

“Climate change is not some abstract phenomenon that may occur in the distant future. River communities in NSW are bearing the brunt of that change every day, right now. 

“Just 18 months ago, many towns in western NSW were entirely dependent of bores or truck deliveries for their water supplies. 

“It is not just prudent for governments to factor in the impacts of climate change. It is a legal requirement that we are seeking to uphold by taking this action. 

“Climate models used to predict climate change and its impacts are sufficiently robust and we claim they must be taken into account in determining the allocation of water.      

“We wish it was not necessary, but when public officials fail to uphold our environmental laws, we have no choice but to act.” 

Reef 2050 Plan Must Be Strengthened Before It Is Released

October 3, 2021
The Australian Government must strengthen the draft Reef 2050 Plan before it is released as a final document according to the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS).

The World Heritage Committee expressed its “utmost concern” that “progress has been largely insufficient in meeting key targets of the Reef 2050 Plan” and that action “is urgently required to address threats from climate change”.

“The Committee called on the Australian Government to accelerate action “at all possible levels” to address the threat of climate change,” said Imogen Zethoven, AMCS World Heritage Consultant.

“AMCS has many times called on the Australian Government to commit to a national policy and plan that is compatible with doing our fair share of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C.”

A 1.5°C compatible plan would mean more than doubling Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target.

“If we don’t keep 1.5°C within reach this decade, the harsh reality is that we will see the rapid and accelerated decline of the Great Barrier Reef in our lifetimes,” Ms Zethoven said.

The Committee also noted its utmost concern that “progress has been largely insufficient in meeting key targets of the Reef 2050 Plan, in particular the water quality and land management targets”.

AMCS has called on both the Queensland and Australian Governments to invest more and accelerate action to meet the Reef 2050 Plan targets. Neither increased investment nor accelerated action is held up by finalization of the Reef 2050 Plan.

The ball is in the court of the Australian Government to:
  • Take the lead on a climate policy that is compatible with ensuring the future of our most beloved natural icon;
  • Invest more to accelerate action on water quality
Both governments need to do more to reduce the impact of commercial fishing and protect the Reef’s threatened wildlife.

Christmas And Cocos (Keeling) Islands Marine Park Plans A Major Step Forward For Global Conservation

October 5, 2021
Leading environment groups have welcomed the Australian Government’s draft plans for two new marine parks off Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, saying the proposed parks will be a major step forward for global marine conservation and for the local communities.

The draft plans, which have been co-designed and are supported by the local island communities, have today been released for public consultation. They include marine sanctuaries covering around 739,000 square kilometres of waters around the islands. Together they will become one of the largest sanctuary areas in the world, an area bigger than Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT combined.

Christabel Mitchell, National Oceans Manager of The Pew Charitable Trusts said, “Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are uniquely Australian and globally significant. There are few comparable unspoiled tropical island environments left in the world.

“The remoteness of the islands has helped to maintain their rich biodiversity and uniqueness. Located at the intersection between the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean, the waters around these islands hold a vast wealth of marine life from across the two oceans.

“Healthy oceans and sustainable fishing are central to the Christmas and Cocos Islanders’ way of life, their culture and their livelihoods.

“It is extremely encouraging that the Government is working collaboratively with the island communities to co-design these marine parks to meet local aspirations and protect marine life,” continued Ms Mitchell.

Darren Kindleysides, CEO of the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) said, “These proposed marine parks will be a major contribution towards international efforts to conserve our oceans in a network of highly protected areas.

“Globally our oceans are in big trouble. Industrial fishing, pollution and the very real and immediate threats of climate change are impacting the health of our marine life, fishing and local communities. Establishing highly protected marine parks to protect and restore marine biodiversity is critical in helping to stop our oceans reaching a tipping point.

“With some of the largest fully protected sanctuary areas in the world, these proposed marine parks will provide crucial protection for marine life in the region, including part of the only known spawning ground for endangered Southern bluefin tuna, and support the local communities’ culture and aspirations.”

“We look forward to engaging with this public consultation to protect this unique part of Australia, for our marine life and future generations,” concluded Mr Kindleysides.

The proclamation proposal is open for public consultation until December 6th. Full details can be found at

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.

Community Voices Vital In Aerotropolis Exhibition

October 8, 2021
The final planning package to unlock the potential of the Western Sydney Aerotropolis is a step closer to completion, with proposed changes to the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) now on public exhibition.

The changes include large reductions to the size of the Aerotropolis’ open space network and environment and recreation zone, responding directly to community feedback and following a comprehensive review of open space needs.

“Planning a new city is an incredibly complex task, and this process proves that nothing is finalised without community consultation,” Mr Stokes said.

“We’ve listened to the community and the recommendations of the Independent Community Commissioner Professor Roberta Ryan, and reduced the amount of land earmarked for open space or an environment and recreation zoning.

“We will still achieve our vision for a Western Parkland City under these proposed changes, while allowing landowners to continue using their property as they do now. This means fewer properties needing to be acquired while still ensuring 95 per cent of homes in the Aerotropolis will be within five-minutes walk of open space.”

The revised open space network will see 16 per cent of land in the initial precincts (869 hectares) acquired for parks and public spaces.

Minister for Western Sydney Stuart Ayres said the vision included an exciting network of green spaces.

“The future Aerotropolis won’t just be a great place to work and do business, it will also be home to some of Sydney’s best parks,” Mr Ayres said.

“The feedback from the community has created a better balanced Aerotropolis plan, that will create more jobs closer to where people live and ensure a green network of parks in the parkland city.”

Under the proposed SEPP amendments, the environment and recreation zone at Wianamatta-South Creek will be reduced by a third and a rural zoning re-applied.

Previously permitted land uses would also be reintroduced in the Aerotropolis and the Government will consider options for the future of Luddenham.

The public exhibition includes proposed changes to the Aerotropolis SEPP; the draft Phase 2 Development Control Plan; and the Luddenham Village Discussion Paper. Submissions will be accepted from 8 October until 5 November 2021.

These accompany the ‘Responding to the Issues’ report, which outlines the Government’s response to Professor Ryan’s recommendations and Precinct Plan submissions; the Open Space Needs Study; and Community Guidelines on Existing Use Rights and Permissible Land Uses.

Crown Land For Northern Rivers Wildlife Hospital

October 8, 2021
Plans for a wildlife hospital for the Northern Rivers are a step closer with approval for Crown land to be used for the project.

The Northern Rivers is a biodiversity hotspot and the hospital, which will require development approval from Ballina Shire Council, will treat and rehabilitate a wide variety of injured, sick and orphaned wildlife, including birds, marsupials and reptiles.

The aim will be to nurse animals back to health and return them to the wild whenever possible.

The hospital would be located on a 2.39 hectare parcel of Crown land in Lindendale Road at Wollongbar, where it would be co-located next to the Wollongbar Primary Industries Institute.

Northern Rivers Wildlife Hospital chair Ninian Gemmell welcomed consent for the use of Crown land for the proposed hospital.

“The land being offered is in an excellent central location with good road access to service the Northern Rivers,” Mr Gemmell said.

“There is intense need for a well-located site in the region to deal with around 4,000 wildlife casualties that occur each year. Currently the nearest general wildlife hospital is at Currumbin in Queensland.

“The project has been designed closely with the network of wildlife carers in the region who are on the frontline of wildlife rescue and care every day.

“A dedicated wildlife hospital will save thousands of injured and sick animals, and minimise the need to euthanise them. We also aim to operate as research and public education hub, and promote the preservation of habitat in the region.”

Feral horses will rule one third of the fragile Kosciuszko National Park under a proposed NSW government plan

Don DriscollDeakin UniversityDavid M WatsonCharles Sturt UniversityDesley WhissonDeakin University, and Maggie J. WatsonCharles Sturt University

The New South Wales government has released a draft plan to deal with feral horses roaming the fragile Kosciuszko National Park. While the plan offers some improvements, it remains seriously inadequate.

Feral horses trample endangered plant communities, destroy threatened species’ habitat and damage Aboriginal cultural heritage — all the while increasing in numbers. The draft plan would keep many horses in the national park, locking in ongoing environmental and cultural degradation.

The number of horses has grown dramatically in recent years under the Wild Horse Heritage Protection Act, which became law in 2018 and was championed by then NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro. He and others argued the horses were important to Australia’s history of pioneering, pastoralism and horse trapping, and were related to rural legends and literary works.

But the cultural heritage of an introduced species should not override the needs of a highly vulnerable alpine environment. Barilaro quit politics this week – and with the driving political force behind feral horse protection now gone, we have an 11th-hour chance to safeguard this significant national park.

What’s In The Draft Plan?

On the positive side, the draft plan aims to:

  • remove feral horses from 21% of the park

  • reduce feral horse numbers to 3,000 by 2027

  • prevent feral horses from invading new areas.

These are critical measures. As the draft plan notes, achieving them will need a set of carefully considered control methods, including ground shooting and putting down trapped horses.

Contrary to recent counter-productive management, reproductive-age females will no longer be released back into the park after being trapped.

But on the flip side, the plan will also:

  • allocate one third (32%) of the national park to feral horses

  • maintain 3,000 horses within the protected area in perpetuity

  • attempt to control horse numbers without using the most humane and cost-effective method: aerial shooting.

Aerial shooting is ruled out because of fears around losing social licence to remove horses from the park. But this may make it impossible to achieve effective horse control across rocky, difficult-to-access terrain.

It also means feral horse control will drag out over years. This will result in larger numbers of horses being culled, compared with completing a cull within one year. Maintaining 3,000 feral horses in this reserve means accepting the removal of at least 1,000 animals every two years in perpetuity, based on a conservative rate of population growth.

Over 14,000 Horses, And Rising

To understand the challenge, it’s important to understand the numbers. The chart below – using population data collected by ecologist Don Fletcher for a Reclaim Kosciuszko report – compares the number of feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park since 2000, with the number removed by trapping.

Error bars are 95% confidence limits. Don DriscollAuthor provided

The number of horses in Kosciuszko was last measured in November 2020 at just over 14,000.

With an the ongoing rate of increase of 18% per year and two years of population growth, numbers will have increased by 5,500. This means there’ll likely be almost 20,000 feral horses before control can start in 2022, under this plan.

Compare this with the 3,350 horses trapping has removed between 2008 and 2020, and it’s clear culling, including via aerial shooting, is urgently needed.

The huge, growing number of horses roaming Kosciuszko combined with the likelihood of immigration from outside the park, is also the main reason fertility control cannot work. The draft report is therefore right to reject fertility control as a workable solution.

33 Threatened Species In Greater Peril

We are most concerned about the draft plan’s allocation of one third of the park to at least 3,000 feral horses, and likely many more given the limitations on control methods. These areas harbour important ecosystems and threatened species.

The overlapping distribution of feral horse retention areas under this draft plan, and threatened species. Desley WhissonAuthor provided

Using publicly accessible data from NSW Bionet and Atlas of Living Australia, we estimate at least 33 threatened species live within the horse retention zone. About half of these are either already known to be impacted by feral horses or we suggest will likely be impacted because they’re vulnerable to trampling, grazing or habitat damage.

For example, the only place the critically endangered stocky galaxias – Australia’s most alpine-adapted fish – occurs is within the horse-retention area.

This hardy fish was recently rescued from bushfires and faces grave risks associated with the Snowy 2.0 scheme. It’s currently protected from feral horses thanks to a stock-exclusion fence, and the draft plan notes fencing is only a short-term solution.

Read more: Double trouble: this plucky little fish survived Black Summer, but there's worse to come

The endangered Riek’s crayfish also has a restricted range within Kosciuszko. If horses are removed in the southern part of the park, as the draft plan outlines, then damage to their habitat will decline by 2027. But horses remain a threat to their habitats in the north.

Alpine sphagnum bogs and associated fens are a nationally threatened plant community with a stronghold in Kosciuszko. It is particularly vulnerable to impacts from feral horses, and we calculate 28% of its distribution in Kosciuszko will be inside the horse-retention zone.

Horses Heritage Value A Non-Sequitur

The draft plan’s main reason for keeping feral horses in the national park is to protect heritage values. However, the plan does not explain why heritage must be celebrated by keeping 3,000 feral horses in a national park.

In our view, while the horses have cultural heritage value to some, letting them continue to damage a fragile national park is an unacceptable trade-off.

Read more: The ethical and cultural case for culling Australia's mountain horses

Consider the recent Aboriginal cultural values report. It noted Indigenous Australians share similar heritage associations as skilled horse riders on farms since early colonial times. However, the report recommends acknowledging this heritage with information in a visitor centre.

Preservation of huts and interpretive signs are another way of acknowledging the heritage values of pastoralists past.

A Social License

Research released this month surveyed 2,430 Australians and found 71% accept that feral animals can be culled to protect threatened species. As the researchers write, this sentiment is not fully reflected in existing policy and legislation.

Barilaro’s exit may be an opportunity for NSW politicians to capitalise on this social licence.

This draft plan is one step towards protecting our native species, natural places and Indigenous heritage, and will be open for submissions until November 2.

But if aerial culling was also on the table, those goals could be achieved with fewer horses culled and at lower cost.

Read more: Let there be no doubt: blame for our failing environment laws lies squarely at the feet of government The Conversation

Don Driscoll, Professor in Terrestrial Ecology, Deakin UniversityDavid M Watson, Professor in Ecology, Charles Sturt UniversityDesley Whisson, Senior Lecturer in Wildlife and Conservation Biology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, and Maggie J. Watson, Lecturer in Ornithology, Ecology, Conservation and Parasitology, Charles Sturt University

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

Australia could ‘green’ its degraded landscapes for just 6% of what we spend on defence

Bonnie MappinThe University of QueenslandJames WatsonThe University of Queensland, and Lesley HughesMacquarie University

The health of many Australian ecosystems is in steep decline. Replanting vast tracts of land with native vegetation will prevent species extinctions and help abate climate change – but which landscapes should be restored, and how much would it cost?

Our latest research sought answers to these questions. We devised a feasible plan to restore 30% of native vegetation cover across almost all degraded ecosystems on Australia’s marginal farming land.

By spending A$2 billion – about 0.1% of Australia’s gross domestic product – each year for about 30 years, we could restore 13 million hectares of degraded land without affecting food production or urban areas.

Such cost-effective solutions must be implemented now if we’re to pull our landscapes back from the brink. This bold vision would transform the way we manage our landscapes, help Australia become a net-zero nation and create jobs in regional communities.

Lone tree in field
Native vegetation cover must be restored across vast tracts of Australia. Shutterstock

An Ambitious Agenda

Since European settlement, large areas of Australia’s native vegetation have been progressively cleared for agriculture and urban settlements. Australia’s environment remains under mounting pressure from land clearing, altered fire regimes and invasive species.

Our research shows that about one-fifth of Australia’s ecosystems have less than 30% coverage of healthy native vegetation. Below 30%, ecosystem services and biodiversity sharply declines. We calculate that 13 million hectares of land must be restored to reach the 30% threshold.

Targeted restoration of degraded ecosystems on less profitable agricultural land has enormous potential to alleviate these problems. Farmers can continue to produce valuable crops on their prime land, while rebuilding habitat and sequestering carbon on more marginal land.

Read more: The clock is ticking on net-zero, and Australia's farmers must not get a free pass

Almost half of the land requiring restoration is Eucalypt woodlands and almost a fifth is Acacia forests and woodlands. Areas in most need are:

  • the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia
  • Central Queensland
  • Central West, Tablelands and Riverina areas of New South Wales
  • Western Victoria
  • the Eyre Peninsula and southeast South Australia.

Restoring native vegetation at selected sites would involve actions such as fencing to keep livestock away, pest removal, soil preparation and planting.

As well as direct restoration costs, our costings also included compensation payments to farmers and other landholders, for the cost of retiring the land from farming.

We identified the sites across Australia where revegetation would be most cost-effective. These are the places where land requires the least revegetation work and returns the lowest profit to farmers, thus minimising stewardship payments.

In practice, we recommend restoration sites be secured through voluntary arrangements with land holders.

map with circle pullout photos
Map showing cost-effective restoration sites in heavily degraded ecosystems across Australia, with examples of possible restoration sites or landscapes. Authors provided

Cost-Effective Conservation Solutions

We estimate the required restoration would cost approximately A$2 billion annually for 30 years. To put this in perspective, it’s about 0.3% of the federal government’s annual spending last financial year and about 6% of what Australia spends annually on defence.

The restoration project would restore habitat and ecosystem services in our most degraded landscapes. It would expand threatened species’ habitat and re-establish ecosystem functions such as pollination and erosion control.

The revegetation would also help tackle climate change by drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it. We estimate 913 million tonnes of greenhouse gases would be stored over 55 years.

After a decade of vegetation growth, 13 million tonnes would be stored annually – equal to 16% of the emissions reduction required under Australia’s Paris Agreement obligations.

We applied those figures to plausible carbon price scenarios where prices rise 5-10% per year from $15 per tonne, reaching $24-39 per tonne by 2030. If the carbon stored by the project was translated into carbon credits, the potential revenue could be between $12 billion and $46 billion.

The upper end of that estimate would more than cover the costs required to implement the plan. An intensive revegetation effort would also create jobs, mostly in rural areas.

Read more: Loved to death: Australian sandalwood is facing extinction in the wild

Two naval ships
The restoration plan would cost a fraction of Australia’s defence spending. Australian Defence Force

Success Is Possible

Australia’s environment laws have comprehensively failed to protect nature. This has been compounded by a lack of adequate funding for environmental management, threatened species protection and ecological restoration.

Without doubt, the national project we describe is ambitious. But existing projects are showing the way. In southwest Western Australia, for example, the Gondwana Link program has so far restored 13,500 hectares of marginal farmland, and also aims to connect 100,000 hectares of existing bushland.

Turning around the state of Australia’s environment requires big thinking and an even bigger government and public commitment. But as our research shows, restoring our degraded landscapes is both attainable and affordable.

Read more: Climate change is testing the resilience of native plants to fire, from ash forests to gymea lilies The Conversation

Bonnie Mappin, PhD Candidate, Conservation Science, The University of QueenslandJames Watson, Professor, The University of Queensland, and Lesley Hughes, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University

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

How fussy eating and changing environments led to the diversity of sharks today (and spelled the end for megalodon)

Artwork by José Vitor SilvaAuthor provided
Mohamad BazziUniversity of Zurich and Nicolas CampioneUniversity of New England

Before humans and early primates, before dinosaurs, and even before trees, there were sharks. Sharks have been around for more than 400 million years (although how long exactly remains contested). They have survived five major mass extinctions.

But the sharks of long ago are not like the ones we see today. In fact, we still understand quite little about their long-term evolution. Our research, published today in the journal Current Biology, demonstrates how shark evolution over the past 83 million years has been driven by diet preference and climate change — leading to the diversity we see today.

As it turns out, being picky about your prey is a risky game for sharks to play.

When The Scales Tipped

One of the more peculiar patterns in biology is for very closely related orders of living animals to have greatly different numbers of species. A notable example is the difference in species number between mackerel sharks (the Lamniformes order) and ground sharks (the Carcharhiniformes order).

Both orders share nearly 170 million years of evolutionary history, and both have species found the world over. However, there are only 15 species of Lamniformes known today (including the great white shark), compared to more than 290 species of Carcharhiniformes (including hammerheads, tiger sharks and many species found on coral reefs).

But why do some orders of shark thrive, while others dwindle? To find out, we turned to the fossil record.

The fossil record reveals shark species in prehistoric times followed a very different pattern to species alive today. Before the “age of dinosaurs” ended some 66 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous Period, Lamniformes were more diverse than Carcharhiniformes.

To investigate this shift, we looked at changes in the shapes of shark teeth over the past 83 million years.

Why Teeth?

Unlike their soft cartilaginous skeleton, shark teeth are made up of a substance called “enameloid”, making them very hard. Sharks also continuously grow new teeth, which means their teeth provide an almost continuous fossil record.

Luckily, the shapes of shark teeth also provide rich information on their diets. For instance, a fish-eating shark is likely to have pointy, narrow teeth — often with multiple cusps to increase its chances of catching slippery prey (see the image of the mako shark below, a predominately bony-fish specialist).

The shortfin mako, Isurus oxyrinchus, belongs to the Lamniformes order. (Scale bar = 100mm). Mohamad Bazzi

By comparison, a shark that specialises in hunting seals is more likely to have broad teeth, which may be serrated to help with cutting. It is precisely this variation in tooth shape which we focused on in our latest study.

By examining more than 3,000 teeth, we found a clear link between changes in tooth shape over time and changes in the environment that took place during and after the end-Cretaceous mass extinction — the same event that wiped-out non-bird dinosaurs about 66 million years ago.

Plenty Of Fish, Yet Sharks Can Be Choosy

During the Cretaceous, when Laminformes were more abundant, many shark species lived in inland seas that were common at the time. One example was the Western Interior Seaway, which divided North America into east and west “subcontinents”.

However, towards the end of the Cretaceous, these inland seas started disappearing. Sea levels lowered and exposed entire chunks of land. Inland seas are rare today (the Caspian Sea is one example, but it too is receding).

Read more: The Caspian Sea is set to fall by 9 metres or more this century – an ecocide is imminent

The reduction in these marine ecosystems led to a significant loss of wildlife, including marine reptiles and cephalopod ammonites (relatives of squid and octopus) upon which many Cretaceous Lamniformes preyed.

As a result, many Lamniformes suffered extinction. On the other hand, Lamniformes with more generalised diets survived the extinction event — as did Carcharhiniformes, which also tend to have more generalised diets.

Why The Meg Went Missing

A similar event may have occurred just a few million years ago to one of the most awe-inspiring lamniform sharks ever known: the meg (Otodus megalodon). The meg was the largest predatory shark species to have existed.

Megalodon was truly an imposing predator that lived during the Miocene and early Pliocene, roughly 4—23 million years ago. Based on its tooth shape, it likely specialised in eating whales, which were very diverse at that time.

Our results show the period in which it lived was also a turning point for Lamniformes, with record-low tooth disparity (a loss in the amount of shape variation).

Although it’s still difficult to know why exactly the meg went extinct, it’s likely its specialised diet, which might have included the giant sperm whale Leviathan melvillei, put it at a disadvantage as cooling climates during the Miocene and Pliocene led to changes in its preferred diet.

To generalise, it seems specialised diets, such as that of the megalodon and some Cretaceous Lamniformes, may have put these species at a greater risk of extinction.

Read more: Making a megalodon: the evolving science behind estimating the size of the largest ever killer shark

Today’s Species

So what does this mean for modern sharks?

By studying the stomach contents of modern Lamniformes, we found most species tend to feed on specific food groups. The thresher and mako sharks feed primarily on bony fish. The basking shark exclusively eats plankton, while adult great white sharks feed mainly on mammals.

Since Lamniformes were much more diverse in the past, our research indicates the low diversity of Lamniformes living today is likely the result of repeated extinction events.

By comparison, modern and past Carcharhiniformes are and were more flexible in their diets. They also benefited directly from the expansion of coral reefs over the past 50 million years.

Thanks to important biological insights offered by the fossil record, we now have evidence dietary specialisation and adaptability to environmental changes likely drove shark evolution over the past 83 million years — leading to the imbalance in Lamniformes and Carcharhiniformes species numbers today.

But what does the future hold? Although it’s hard to say for sure, the news isn’t great for Lamniformes. Of the 15 species remaining, five are classified as “endangered” or “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Another five are considered “vulnerable”.

Lamniformes are also mostly oceanic species with specialised diets, and are therefore particularly vulnerable to chronic overfishing and habitat destruction.
And since our results indicate diet and prey availability underpinned much of the diversity among modern sharks, we think it will probably decide their survival in the future, too.The Conversation

Mohamad Bazzi, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Zurich and Nicolas Campione, Senior lecturer, University of New England

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

Loved to death: Australian sandalwood is facing extinction in the wild

Richard McLellanAuthor provided
Richard McLellanCharles Sturt UniversityDavid M WatsonCharles Sturt University, and Kingsley DixonCurtin University

The sweet, earthy fragrance of sandalwood oil has made it immensely popular in incense sticks, candles and perfumes. But its beautiful scent may also be its downfall – Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) is facing extinction in the wild.

Despite this, the iconic outback tree is still being harvested in the wild in Western Australia where it’s considered a “forest product”, all to satisfy incense-burners and perfumeries.

Our research, published today, reveals the WA government has known for more than a century that sandalwood is over-harvested and is declining in numbers, with no new trees regenerating. We estimate 175 years of commercial harvesting may have decreased the population of wild sandalwood by as much as 90%.

Today, walking into most sandalwood communities is like walking into a palliative care hospice. There are only old folk there, most of them in terminal decline. There are no youngsters and there are certainly no babies.

It’s time to list sandalwood as a threatened species nationally, and start harvesting only from plantations to give these wild, centuries-old trees a fighting chance at survival.

Sandalwood is an extremely popular incense stick. Shutterstock

The Tree Behind The Fragrance

Australian sandalwood, one of about 15 different species of sandalwood that grows across Oceania, is a highly valued economic resource as one of the main types of sandalwood traded internationally. But it’s also immensely important ecologically and culturally.

Aboriginal people have revered it for thousands of years, using it, for example, in smoking ceremonies and bush medicine. These uses take only small portions of the tree and do not endanger the plant, compared to commercial harvesting which kills the tree.

Ecologically, it’s a keystone resource in the arid outback, often flowering and fruiting when other plants are not. It attaches its roots to host plants such as acacias, enabling it to derive some of its nutrients and water from nearby trees and shrubs.

Sandalwood trees can live an estimated 250–300 years, and are capable of withstanding extremely harsh conditions. And yet, the species is extremely fragile in the first few years after germination.

Almost no new trees of sandalwood are growing in the wild. Richard McLellanAuthor provided

Sandalwood populations have been slowly collapsing for decades from commercial harvesting, land clearing, fire, and grazing (by introduced herbivores such as goats, sheep, cows, rabbits, and camels, and some native species such as kangaroos).

The biggest problems are its lack of regeneration and the rapidly changing climate. Studies suggest there have been virtually no new trees emerging in most sandalwood populations for 60–100 years.

Read more: One-third of the world's tree species are threatened with extinction – here are five of them

There are two main reasons for this. First, sandalwood has lost its seed dispersers, such as burrowing bettongs (small marsupials), which went extinct across most of their range about the same time sandalwood stopped recruiting.

Second, climate change. Sandalwood seeds will only germinate, establish, and survive as seedlings if they get three consecutive good years of rainfall. Under Australia’s increasingly variable rainfall conditions, that’s rarely happening.

Burrowing bettongs (or ‘boodies’ and ‘woylies’) are important seed dispersers for sandalwood, but their populations have declined dramatically since European settlement. Michael Hains/iNaturalistCC BY-NC

Wooden Gold

Sandalwood is one of the most expensive timbers traded in Australia, making it “wooden gold” for the WA government’s forestry department, the Forest Products Commission.

The oil from this native plant is used in perfumes, soap, and moisturisers, and the heartwood “goes up in smoke” as incense in temples and homes, particularly throughout Asia.

Read more: Photos from the field: capturing the grandeur and heartbreak of Tasmania's giant trees

The WA government currently harvests old-growth sandalwood trees almost exclusively from the wild, where the oldest trees have the best oil quality. Plantations do exist, but they are not yet being fully utilised to replace wild-sourced timber.

Our research delved into more than 100 scientific papers, unpublished theses, parliamentary reports and historical documents, and found scientists have repeatedly warned the WA government of the tree’s dire situation.

For example, a century ago (in 1921), in a report to the head of the WA Forests Department, Charles Lane-Poole, Forests Department official Geoffrey Drake-Brockman expressed fears sandalwood harvesting was sending the species extinct in the wild. He recommended the industry start harvesting from plantations instead, writing:

The State Government’s profit (from better managed harvesting) would enable the Forests Department to establish large plantations of sandalwood so that when the natural supplies cut out, the plantations would supply the market requirements.

Sandalwood being loaded onto a ship from Fremantle wharf in 1905. Battye Library/State Library of Western AustraliaAuthor provided

Years later, in 1958, another report for the WA Forests Department warned:

The sandalwood tree is approaching extinction. The story of the geographical movement of the (sandalwood) industry across WA is the story of the rise and decline of the industry. All too commonly extinction followed exploitation.

Early in the industry’s history, fears were expressed as to the possibility of the future exhaustion of supplies of sandalwood […] Today, the sandalwood tree is approaching extinction […] Little hope of conservation and regeneration remains.

These are just two of scores of examples of warnings documented in our research, all of which have been ignored by successive WA governments. Scientists and others are still putting these same recommendations to the WA government.

Stockpiles of sandalwood being graded for export in the early 1900s. Battye Library/State Library of Western AustraliaAuthor provided

It’s Not Too Late To Save It

Fortunately, sandalwood will not completely disappear as there are thousands of hectares of sandalwood in plantations in WA’s agricultural zone. The industry should urgently transition to only harvest from plantations, taking over-harvesting pressure off wild populations.

We urge the WA government to make that transition. The government must list sandalwood as an endangered species now (as it is in South Australia), before it declines to extinction in the wild, and protect and restore surviving populations in innovative programs with Aboriginal rangers and Traditional Owners.

And we urge you, the consumer, to find out more about any sandalwood you purchase.

Plantation-grown products are readily available and just as sweet smelling. Your support will help the industry transition away from wild-harvested plants that need all the help they can get.

Read more: Climate change is testing the resilience of native plants to fire, from ash forests to gymea lilies The Conversation

Richard McLellan, PhD candidate, Charles Sturt UniversityDavid M Watson, Professor in Ecology, Charles Sturt University, and Kingsley Dixon, John Curtin Distinguished Professor, Curtin University

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

‘Singing up Country’: reawakening the Black Duck Songline, across 300km in Australia’s southeast

The Black Duck Songline is named for the Pacific Black Duck. Shutterstock
Robert S. FullerWestern Sydney UniversityGraham MooreIndigenous Knowledge, and Jodi EdwardsUniversity of Sydney

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains names of people who have died.

Songlines criss-cross across Australia. They are one of the foundational spiritual features of the world’s oldest continuing culture.

Australian Aboriginal peoples had oral cultures: while there are no Bibles or Qurans to document their spirituality, the Dreaming stories of Ancestral creators who formed the land and the features were shared through song. By walking and singing the songlines, those creators are celebrated by the passing generations.

Most of our knowledge of songlines comes from Aboriginal peoples in central and northern Australia, a well-known example being the Seven Sisters Songline, which crosses much of Australia from the west coast to the east.

But, due to invasion and attempted cultural destruction since 1788, knowledge of songlines in southeast Australia has been limited. Now, new research has begun reawakening a dormant Black Duck Songline covering 300 km along the New South Wales South Coast.

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

Umbarra And Wumbarra

The Black Duck Songline, as current Aboriginal knowledge holders confirm, travels up the South Coast from over the Victorian border to the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney, passing through many important cultural locations of the Yuin and Dharawal peoples of the region.

The Conversation/Open Street MapCC BY-ND

The name comes from the Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa), known as Umbarra to the Yuin and Wumbarra to the Dharawal.

The Yuin story of Umbarra comes from Wallaga Lake near Narooma on the NSW far south coast. Umbarra is an animal hero, rather than a Creator, and is the totem and protector of the Yuin peoples from the Dreaming.

A Yuin man, Merriman, had Umbarra as his totem. When his people were in danger, Umbarra warned them so they could take refuge on what is now called Merriman’s Island in Wallaga Lake.

Umbarra became the Yuin protector, and, through kinship linkages, the bird is equally important to the Dharawal.

One of the authors of this piece, Robert Fuller, was exploring the astronomy and songline connections of the Saltwater Aboriginal peoples of the NSW coast. Through a yarning process, speaking to Yuin and Dharawal knowledge holders about the cultural astronomy of their communities, the importance of Umbarra to the Yuin peoples became clear, as did the route of the songline.

A moody lakescape
The Black Duck Songline follows the NSW coast, including through Wallaga Lake. Shutterstock

The Black Duck Songline has now been traced through multiple Aboriginal communities. Knowledge holders speak about how their people travelled along songlines for trade, to attend ceremonies and to access resources.

Read more: How ancient Aboriginal star maps have shaped Australia's highway network

How A Songline Is Reawakened

A songline is not just a map across Country.

It is a celebration of the stories which make up the songline, and these stories are encompassed in the form of song. The melody stays consistent as a songline passes through different language groups and dialects along the route.

A songline is never extinguished, although the Country through which it passes may be dying because it is not being sung. This has given rise to the Aboriginal expression to “sing up Country”: refreshing the songs and the Country to which the songs belong.

The Black Duck Songline was not unknown to the knowledge holders of the South Coast, but the details of the route had begun to be lost. Probably the last public walk of the songline was by Uncle Guboo Ted Thomas (1909-2002), coinciding with the Bicentennial in 1988.

Other knowledge holders who learned from Uncle Guboo have been able to confirm details of the songline, and members of the Yuin and Dharawal communities are keen to recover the full knowledge of the route of the songline.

Aerial view of hills, forest and Hawkesbury River
The Black Duck Songline stretches at least as far north as the Hawkesbury River. Shutterstock

After the Hawkesbury River, it is possible the Black Duck Songline may continue north, eventually turning west and south, via the Narran Lakes and the Snowy Mountains, connecting with its origin on the Gippsland Coast, forming a circle.

The major focus of the reawakening of the songline will be to find the songs that make up the story and try and connect them in the correct sequence and with the correct spiritual locations along its route.

If the Black Duck Songline can be awakened, this could be a model for the recovery and reawakening of other songlines in areas of Australia where Aboriginal knowledge has been suppressed.The Conversation

Robert S. Fuller, Adjunct fellow, Western Sydney UniversityGraham Moore, Yuin Elder, Indigenous Knowledge, and Jodi Edwards, Tutor, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sydney

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

Better building standards are good for the climate, your health, and your wallet. Here’s what the National Construction Code could do better

Trivess MooreRMIT UniversityAlan PearsRMIT UniversityErika BartakThe University of Melbourne, and Nicola WillandRMIT University

The recent IPCC report highlighted we must urgently transition to a low carbon future. One low hanging fruit is to improve the sustainability of new and existing housing.

Minimum performance and quality requirements for new housing in Australia are set via the National Construction Code. The last significant change was in 2010 with the introduction of the six-star requirements. These requirements are at least 40% less stringent than international best practice.

A suite of proposed changes to energy efficiency section of the National Construction Code are a good step forward. However, a lot more can be done.

And improving building quality requirements isn’t just good for the climate — it also delivers enormous health benefits, slashes energy bills and makes our homes more comfortable.

Read more: Low-energy homes don't just save money, they improve lives

Change Is Underway

Proposed energy efficiency changes for the National Construction Code 2022 include:

• an increase in the minimum thermal performance of homes from six stars to seven stars

• whole-of-home requirements for performance of heating, cooling, hot water, lighting and pool heating equipment

• new provisions designed to allow easy addition of on-site solar photovoltaic panels and electric vehicle charging equipment

• additional ventilation and wall vapour permeability requirements.

The Regulatory Impact Statement — a document aimed at helping government officials understand the cost-benefit impacts of a proposed regulatory change — has also been released.

Overall, it finds the costs for proposed more stringent requirements will outweigh the benefits for society.

In better news, it finds that for the majority of households, any increase in mortgage repayments from the additional costs of higher standards will be offset by a reduction in energy costs. In other words, you save so much on energy costs over time that it doesn’t matter you have to borrow more to pay for these building features.

There is critique of the Regulatory Impact Statement from stakeholders such as the Victorian government and the Green Building Council of Australia. Critics have pointed to the limited consideration of health and well-being, the impact to the energy network, and the climate emergency.

There are also issues with key economic assumptions which do not reflect environmental impacts of decisions and concerns delivery costs to households have been overestimated, potentially encouraging a “do nothing” policy position.

Public consultation is open until October 17.

A builder works on a roof.
Research shows homes can increase performance by one star simply changing from their worst to best orientation. Shutterstock

What Do The Changes Mean?

The proposed changes are important steps towards reducing carbon emissions. Currently less than 5% of new housing in Australia is built to achieve seven or more stars. These changes will affect thousands of new dwellings every year.

The seven-star standard will reduce heating and cooling energy for new housing by about 24%, slashing energy bills. The changes future-proof housing by reducing costs to add renewables or electric car charging once the house is built.

And with issues of mould and condensation in Australian housing, changes will make our housing healthier.

Historically, higher standards have been met by boosting specifications like insulation and double glazing. These new standards will shift attention to cost-effective strategies like orientation and site-responsive design, as it becomes harder to achieve higher stars through specifications alone.

Research from Sustainability Victoria’s Zero Net Carbon Homes program show homes can increase performance by one star simply changing from their worst to best orientation.

There’s Room For Improvement

These proposed changes are a good step forward. However, more can be done.

A decade ago research and case studies showed that seven star housing was achievable for little additional costs.

YourHome and developments like The Cape make seven or more star house designs freely available, showing we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

The recently announced Green Star Homes Standard will also help to drive innovation beyond minimum performance requirements.

Our energy regulations are still measured per square metre (rather than per dwelling/person) and are predominantly concerned with operational energy demand.

To further reduce carbon emissions, we need to acknowledge the influence of house size and materials usage on total energy consumption and factor in the carbon footprint of building materials.

Additionally, the code does not use future climate data when demonstrating compliance. This means that our housing may not be fit for purpose in our future climate.

We will need more focus on summer performance. This should include performance in late summer and autumn, when the sun is lower in the sky, but extreme heat will be more likely. This will require solutions like adjustable shading.

People look at building plans on a work site.
There is little accountability across the construction industry to ensure builders comply with the design. Shutterstock

As-built verification is a critical inclusion in new schemes such as Green Star Homes; we need similar mechanisms in our construction code to ensure as-built compliance. There is no point improving regulations on paper if we can’t deliver it in practice.

While the focus of these changes is on new housing, we must not forget the millions of existing homes which need to undergo deep retrofits to improve sustainability and performance. The new standards will need careful adaptation to suit alteration and addition projects.

Tools like the National Scorecard Initiative aim to help homeowners in existing dwellings improve performance but more could be done with regulations to ensure existing housing is part of the push towards a sustainable housing future.

Read more: Sustainable housing's expensive, right? Not when you look at the whole equation The Conversation

Trivess Moore, Senior Lecturer, School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT UniversityAlan Pears, Senior Industry Fellow, RMIT UniversityErika Bartak, PhD Candidate (& ESD Consultant), Melbourne School of Design, The University of Melbourne, and Nicola Willand, Lecturer, School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT University

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

Rosemary in roundabouts, lemons over the fence: how to go urban foraging safely, respectfully and cleverly

Alexandra CrosbyUniversity of Technology Sydney and Ilaria VanniUniversity of Technology Sydney

Does anything beat the experience of finding a wild mulberry tree and stuffing a handful of fresh juicy berries in your mouth? Have you ever roasted potatoes with a sprig of rosemary taken from an overgrown nature strip?

COVID lockdowns have encouraged more people to explore their neighbourhoods and appreciate their local green spaces, where edible plants are often growing freely. Alongside the joy in eating something freely harvested, foraging can help us learn about plants, become better environmental stewards, and bring together communities.

It can also help us notice changes in season, weather and climate. So with spring upon us, how do you forage safely, respectfully, and legally?

Wild, Edible Plants Thrive In Cities

The locations of Sydney and Melbourne were chosen by colonists, in part, because they’re within large food basins. Many edible species existed well before colonisation, thanks to the favourable climate, shape of the coastline and custodianship of Country.

Edible native plants, from ground covering warrigal greens to the huge canopies of Illawarra plum trees, are still naturally growing all over southeast Australian cities. Further north, macadamias, lemon myrtles and finger limes thrive, and pigface is common on sand dunes along coastal towns.

12 Australian bushfoods.

Today, edible plants thrive despite the disturbances of soils and water from urbanisation. Fruit trees, for example, emerge spontaneously on the edges of park lands, in vacant lots and in people’s gardens.

In some cases, urbanisation is actually responsible for the growth and distribution of edible plants.

Birds, rats, bats broaden the trajectories of mulberry, loquat, and papaya seeds by eating them and expelling the seeds somewhere else. This is also how mulberries, which European settlers introduced to Australia, now grow in most Australian cities.

Kumquat, citrus, and fig trees are also very common in tropical and temperate climates. And keep an eye out for blackberry vines. They’ve created an immense environmental problem, although the fruit is delicious, and grow best in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.

Not everyone likes it when you pick from their nature strip. Courtesy of Mapping EdgesAuthor provided

Think Before You Pick

But foraging is not a free for all, and doing it safely and respectfully is important.

First and foremost, in Australia, wherever you walk, you are on Country. Take a moment to remember that although urban foraging may be new to you, Aboriginal people have always gathered native plants while caring for Country.

Foraging also carries possible risks to your own health. Some plants in urban areas are poisonous, such as the castor oil plant and many gum trees. Plants could also be contaminated from pollution in the air, water and soil, and by chemical sprays.

Make sure you wash foraged plants before you eat them. Courtesy of Mapping EdgesAuthor provided

You can learn about some of the possible environmental contaminants in your neighbourhood here, and there are a few services like VegeSafe that test soil samples for metals.

Always start by considering the past and current uses of the land where you’re foraging. Was the land once industrially zoned? Do dogs urinate there? Make sure you always wash foraged food.

Legally, plants are the property of whoever owns the land on which they’re growing. That means foraging for food on private land is legal, as long as you either own the land or have the owner’s permission.

Read more: Our land abounds in nature strips – surely we can do more than mow a third of urban green space

But if food is accessible on public land — such as lemons or bananas hanging over a fence, or rosemary and parsley planted as ornamentals in a park or street shoulder — you can harvest them. Just take what you need, and leave plenty for others.

Foraging Respectfully

There are different cultures around growing and sharing food, depending on the local area. For example, many neighbourhood nature strips are technically owned by the council, but planted and tended by residents.

Foraging on nature strips can depend on local council rules. Courtesy of Mapping EdgesAuthor provided

Community gardens and even streets with nature strips may have their own harvesting rules. Some groups like Green Square Growers encourage spontaneous harvesting. Others, such as Sydney City Farm, carefully document volunteer hours then allocate produce accordingly.

Since 2016, we have been working in various suburbs of Sydney to conduct research on urban gardening. We discovered people often work with plants to develop a sense of place that goes well beyond what’s visible in their gardens.

We found networks of neighbours grow together with plants on street edges, through exchanging cuttings, seeds, tips, stories and produce. Coming across a row of trees heavy with olives on a nature strip may feel like a lucky discovery, but these plants are probably watered, pruned, and whitewashed for winter by one or more gardeners.

Olive trees are often growing along fences and nature strips. Courtesy of Mapping EdgesAuthor provided

For someone who has carefully netted a fruit tree to protect it from bats and cockatoos, or who has patiently tended a vine for three years before their first passionfruit appears, there’s nothing more infuriating than a stranger harvesting.

On the other hand, helping yourself to a fragrant feijoa tree weighed down by ripe fruit makes sense, when the fruits would otherwise fall, rot and go to waste.

When possible, ask residents about the plants growing on or around their properties. Conversations about what’s growing in neighbourhoods build so-called “civic ecologies” — actions that bring together environmental and civic values, building neighbourly connections around common interests and care for shared places.

Learn From Foraging Celebrities

In Australia, a hand full of “foraging” celebrities have brought attention to this age old practice. They see foraging as an opportunity to learn about what’s growing where, and why.

Read more: Supermarket shelves stripped bare? History can teach us to 'make do' with food

In Sydney, Randwick Council Sustainability Educator Julian Lee, has created a Scrumper’s Delight participatory map that records edible plants growing in public spaces. Sydney artist and activist Diego Bonetto — aka The Weedy One — brought a wealth of planty knowledge from Piedmont, Italy to Australia in the 1990s, and since then his passion has evolved to a public pedagogy about respectful foraging.

Milkwood Permaculture offer tips, even on foraging sea weed. The Melbourne Forager on Instagram makes urban foraging hip. And a growing number of Indigenous businesses, such as Indigigrow, share Indigenous knowledge by selling plants people can recognise outside their gardens.

Foraging in cities is fun, it helps us remember we’re part of ecosystems, and we have a responsibility to care for Country. So keep in mind principles of reciprocity, and go forth and learn what’s growing in your city.

Read more: Farming the suburbs – why can’t we grow food wherever we want? The Conversation

Alexandra Crosby, Associate Professor, University of Technology Sydney and Ilaria Vanni, Associate Professor, International Studies and Global Societies, University of Technology Sydney

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

Why sweet-toothed possums graze on stressed, sickly-looking trees

Gregory MooreThe University of Melbourne

From time to time, I’m contacted by people who have a favourite garden tree that seems suddenly to be in serious decline and lacking healthy foliage. Often the decline has been occurring over many months, but when first noticed, the change seems to have been dramatic.

The symptoms described accord with grazing — where animals nibble at foliage until it’s quite degraded — so I ask if they have seen brushtail possums in the tree.

More often than not the answer is a firm, “No!”

However, just because you haven’t seen them, it doesn’t mean the possums aren’t there. One owner, who said they weren’t aware of any possums, checked at night with a torch; they counted 56 possums in a single, sick-looking river red gum.

It’s not uncommon for one tree within a group of the same species to be grazed while other trees are left alone.

In the early evening, a steady stream of possums can be seen coming from all directions and from nesting sites in other trees hundreds of metres away, all homing in on the one sickly specimen.

To the human eye, this seems very strange behaviour. Wouldn’t the possums be better off grazing on a healthy tree?

But possums are real tree experts and know exactly what they are doing.

A mother and baby possum in a tree.
Possums are real tree experts and know exactly what they are doing. Shutterstock

Read more: Curious Kids: if trees are cut down in the city, where will possums live?

It’s All About The Sugar Content

The common brushtail possum, Trichosurus vulpecula, will eat both plants and small animals if given the chance, but plants form the bulk of their diet. Eucalypt leaves are a favourite, but they’ll nibble the leaves of other plants in our gardens.

So what is going on when one tree is grazed in preference to others? One of the main drivers revolves around sugar.

A possum is in a gum tree.
Eucalypt leaves are a favourite for possums. Shutterstock

When plants photosynthesise, one of the first products of the process is sugar. Sugars are carbohydrates made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms and one of the most common is glucose (C₆H₁₂O₆), which is the common sugar used in coffee, tea and cooking.

Sugar may be copping a bit of stick at present for its role in human diets, but in terms of plant metabolism, glucose is a marvellous molecule.

It is made from simple and ready available ingredients. It is soluble in water and can be easily transported around inside the plant. And it stores significant energy.

This makes it a very accessible and desirable molecule within the plant, but too much glucose in solution can cause problems for the plant and attract grazers keen on an easy sugar hit.

The plant has evolved an elegant solution to these problems. It simply takes two or more glucose molecules and bonds them together to make starch‚ which is not very soluble in water, contains lots of energy and so is an ideal storage form of carbohydrate.

The plant converts any excess glucose that it has into starch for later use when things might be tougher.

What’s This Got To Do With Possums, Again?

When a plant is stressed, one of its first responses is to mobilise its resources. Among other things, it often converts its starch reserves back to sugar. As soon as this happens, the stressed plant becomes sweeter than its healthier neighbours — and brushtail possums know it.

Some stressed trees emit chemicals that can be picked up by grazers. In other cases, the grazers may come upon a stressed tree by chance.

In either case, the grazer gets an increased sugar hit and so will return to the tree when the opportunity presents; other grazers may follow.

In the case of brushtail possums, a possum may return to the same tree night after night and, despite territorial disputes, may be joined by other possums in a feeding feast.

A possum is in a tree.
Plants form the bulk of the possum diet. Shutterstock

A Stressed Tree Is A Grazer’s Delight

Initially, the tree may have been stressed by drought, poor nutrition or waterlogged soils. The increased grazing then adds to the level of stress.

And when lots of leaves are removed, many trees such as eucalypts, elms, oaks and even deciduous conifers will respond by producing new leaves and shoots. These lovely new leaves and shoots are soft and loaded with sugars — a grazer’s delight.

With more stress, the tree converts more and more starch into sugar and produces yet more new leaves and shoots — so the grazers get a sweet and nutritious reward for their efforts. They will keep returning to the same tree.

All of this extra grazing comes at a price to the tree, which is exhausting its starch reserves, but getting little or no reward from the sugar produced.

Eventually, the tree will succumb. It may die from starvation due to the loss of its reserves and the failure of new foliage to survive long enough to photosynthesise. Or it may die from another environmental stress or a pest or disease attack.

Grazing can be lethal to a tree, but you can see why the grazers keep coming back.

Stressed trees are an easy and rewarding energy source. Perhaps, like us, the possums become addicted to a high sugar diet and simply can’t resist returning to the tree — even if, in the end, the tree is grazed to death.

Read more: Hidden housemates: when possums go bump in the night The Conversation

Gregory Moore, Doctor of Botany, The University of Melbourne

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

Bushcare In Pittwater 

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

Where we work                      Which day                              What time 

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

Winnererremy Bay                 4th Sunday                        9 to 12noon 

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

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

Old Wharf Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      8 - 11am 

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

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

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

North Narrabeen     
Irrawong Reserve                     2nd Saturday                   2 - 5pm 

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

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

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

Whale Beach     
Norma Park                               1st Friday                            9 - 12noon 

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

Gardens And Environment Groups And Organisations In Pittwater

Avalon Golf Course Bushcare Needs You

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

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

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

Pittwater Reserves

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 Beach - A Stroll Along, Spring 2021 by Kevin Murray
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 -

AMA Warns Against Privatising Aged Care Assessments

The AMA is urging the Australian Government to scrap plans that could potentially privatise the assessment process for aged care services, warning the move would risk the health of older Australians and open the system up to conflicts of interest.  

The Government abandoned similar plans last year after strong opposition from state governments, aged care advocates and medical peak bodies.  

AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid has written to the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, the Hon Senator Richard Colbeck, expressing his concern with the market approach to aged care assessments. 

The AMA has long supported a single assessment workforce but believes it must remain with the state and territory health services, and be based on Aged Care Assessment Teams (ACAT), rather than the Regional Assessment Services (RAS) model that only assesses lower needs.  

While a proposal to replace ACATs and RAS with a single assessment process was a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, the Commissioners did not recommend privatisation. 

The AMA says the Government’s response, that will rely on a tender process, leaves assessments open to privatisation and conflicts of interest, with providers likely to seek to take on this role. 

“Aged care assessments must remain independent of aged care providers and be delivered by health professionals, especially geriatricians who are trained in dealing with the complex medical needs of the frail and elderly,” Dr Khorshid said. 

“The Royal Commission’s recommendation was very clear that assessors must be independent from providers because they are effectively deciding on a person’s level of funding for aged care services like home care packages, among other things.   

“State operated public hospitals and ACATs have the necessary medical expertise and are independent of aged care providers, who should never be allowed to assess health needs as well as recommend and supply services for older Australians.  

“A market-based approach is a recipe for aged care service providers to put profits before patients.    

“The Government’s plan will see states and territories required to tender for a job they already do well, creating a whole lot of unnecessary inefficiency. It’s a complete waste of time. 

“Also, the Government’s preferred approach risks around $130 million being stripped from the public health system to go to private providers, undermining the independence that currently exists.  

“If an older person becomes unwell because their condition changes, something is missed during an assessment or the services they are referred to are not adequate, they will most likely end up in a public hospital and need to go through the same assessment process all over again.  

“This adds extra bureaucracy, fragments care, and means poorer outcomes for patients. It would also put extra pressure on our already over-stretched public hospitals with older Australians waiting longer in hospital beds while an assessment with an external company is arranged.  

“The intention of the Royal Commissioners was to reduce bureaucracy in getting better health care to our older loved ones, but these plans would do the opposite and potentially impact many more people through the increased inefficiency. 

“The Government needs to focus on the many aspects of aged care that are currently not working, instead of dismantling one of the few parts of the system that actually works well and simply needs more support,” Dr Khorshid said.   

Aged Care Provider Reports To Strengthen Individual Care

October 7, 2021
Food and nutrition for aged care residents across Australia will come into sharp focus as providers deliver their first reports under mechanisms to strengthen individual care.

In a continued response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, the online reporting will improve transparency and standards, as providers receive increased funding through the basic daily fee of $10 per resident per day.

Residential aged care providers were required to commit to reporting on their services, in particular food and nutrition, as a prerequisite to receiving the funding boost.

The initiative aims to improve and strengthen one-on-one care for senior and vulnerable Australians in residential aged care settings across the country, and is part of the overall $17.7 billion the Australian Government is providing in response to the Royal Commission report.  

Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, and Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, said 99 per cent of providers had taken up the 2021 Basic Daily Fee supplement, which requires a commitment from them to provide good quality services with a focus on food and nutrition.

“Such a strong take up must be commended and we now expect that all aged care providers will use these funds to deliver improved care, including food and nutrition, to senior Australians.”

“Food and nutrition is so important to keep our senior Australians healthy. The Department of Health is working with dietitians and nutrition experts to ensure the reports capture useful information, and most importantly improves the health of people living in aged care.”

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, said the 2021 Basic Daily Fee is part of a $3.22 billion investment by Government into residential aged care which includes the increased supplement.

In the first month alone, the Government has paid out over $53.7 million to support providers through the 2021 basic daily fee.

“This is a significant investment towards improving the care which senior Australians, their families and the community rightly expect in residential aged care,” Minister Colbeck said.

The 2021 basic daily fee reporting process is now open through the My Aged Care portal and must be completed by 21 October 2021, recording expenditure and hours, including spending on food and ingredients.

“We also require providers to detail how they are working to improve their daily living service offerings including food and nutrition, to gauge how the sector is delivering more for the senior Australians in their care,” Minister Colbeck said.

The information will be used to provide insights into sector trends, to inform future policy, and may be used by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission for the purposes of regulatory intelligence. It is intended sector wide information and insights on food and nutrition will be made publicly available. 

Providers who do not submit a report by the due date will have their basic daily fee supplements suspended until the report is submitted. Given that there is no option for back-payment, providers are encouraged to submit these as soon as possible.

The Morrison Government is also investing a further $14.2 million to review and strengthen the quality standards in residential aged care, with a focus on governance, diversity, dementia, food and nutrition.

Information about the reforms can be found here.

To have your say on how the reforms are delivered by visiting the Ageing and Aged Care Engagement Hub here. 

Nutrition Week will run this year from 10 to 17 October. Find out more here.

Hip Fracture Care – Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be

Did you know twenty-thousand hip fractures occur each year in Australia and New Zealand, and five per cent of patients die of the injury?  

Hip fracture is a common and life-changing injury for older people, whose bones are weaker and prone to breaking from a fall – and new research from the Australian and New Zealand Hip Fracture Registry (ANZHFR) reveals a significant difference in patient care across hospitals after a hip fracture. 

Early walking is important in restoring movement and in reducing post-operative complication. It’s recommended that hip fracture patients start walking the day after surgery and at least once a day after that. While it is reported that 90 per cent of people are offered this opportunity by their health care providers on the first day, only 47 per cent of people actually take it up.  

Co-Chair of ANZHFR and Principal Research Fellow at NeuRA, Professor Jacqueline Close, said there is a huge difference between hospitals and their performance. While one hospital may get 90 per cent of their patients out of bed the day after surgery, another may get 20 to 30 per cent – and that can have serious consequences for patient recovery.  

“The results show that there is work to be done to better understand why this variation exists between hospitals – as getting people moving after a hip fracture is key to achieving what is important to our patients – getting home and being independent,” she said.  

The ANZHFR report does show some ongoing improvements in several of the recommended patient pre-surgery assessments including cognition and delirium, and pain management.  

Room for improvement
The number of people leaving hospital after osteoporosis treatment is still low (27 per cent), without much improvement over time. 

The data from this year’s report will be used to provide feedback to the stakeholders of the Registry, so that the outcomes of hip fracture care continue to improve across Australia and New Zealand. 

What is a hip fracture?
The hip is made up of a ball and socket joint where the pelvis and thigh bone (femur) meet. When the thigh bone breaks near where the ball fits into the socket, this is known as a hip fracture.

What causes a hip fracture?
A fall is the most common cause of a hip fracture. As we get older, our strength and balance can reduce and our bones become thinner due to conditions like osteoporosis. This means that we are more likely to fall and when we do, our bones more likely to break – a fall from standing height can sometimes be enough to cause a fracture.  

What is the treatment for a hip fracture?
Most people need an operation to fix the broken bone, relieve pain and enable them to get back on their feet as soon as possible.  

The type of operation required depends on which part of the hip has been broken and includes:  
  • A partial hip replacement for the ball  
  • A total hip replacement for both the ball and socket  
  • Screws and possibly a plate to hold the fracture in place  
  • A metal rod through the thigh bone to secure the fracture 
For some, surgery may not be the best option, so it is recommended to speak to your healthcare provider first.  

To learn more about hip replacements, download the booklet from NeuRA.

Nominations Open For Australia’s First Council Of Elders On Aged Care

Nominations are now open for members of Australia’s first-ever Council of Elders – a panel of representatives charged with providing advice and feedback on aged care issues around the country.

In another important response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, the council will be established as part of the Australian Government’s comprehensive $17.7 billion reinforcement of the sector.

Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, and Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, said in keeping with both awareness initiatives, the Council of Elders will ensure older Australians and the issues they face, are at the heart of Australia’s generational reforms.

“Our aged care reforms are all about providing respect, care and dignity to senior Australians, and we want to ensure the voices of those senior Australians are heard at the highest levels in this process,” Minister Hunt said.

“The Council of Elders will have about 10 members appointed from nominations right across Australia, including rural, regional and remote areas.”

Successful nominees will represent the diverse life experiences and characteristics of senior Australians and bring the views and perspectives of others to the table.

“The Council of Elders will be consumer focused,” Minister Hunt said.  'Its members will be independent of government and must not be affiliated with aged care services providers'.

Council members will have a lived understanding of aged care and must be able to engage with their community, the Government and ministers on aged care reforms.

Minister Colbeck said in addition to public nominations, interest had also been sought from peak bodies and community organisations representing senior Australians.

“Council of Elders members are expected to represent the views of older Australians, so they will remain independent of any of the organisations that may put their name forward,” Minister Colbeck said.

“The guidance and feedback from council members will help keep us on track as the Morrison Government continues to work closely with aged care stakeholders and providers on a path to offering higher-quality individual needs-based care.”

The Council of Elders will provide advice to the Minister for Health and Aged Care and the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, and also to the National Aged Care Advisory Council (NACAC) which is also being established under the aged care reforms.

The Council of Elders chair will also have a seat on the NACAC to directly share the perspective of senior Australians with this group.

Information relating to nominations can be found here.

The nomination process will close 15 October 2021, with the membership of the Council of Elders to be announced later this year.

The Historic Palm Grove At The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

Published October 6, 2021 by the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain
Take a virtual tour of one of our oldest and most valuable collections of plants. First planted with palms in 1862, our Palm Grove contains over 300 species of palms from all around the world.

Aged Care Residents To Welcome Back Visitors

October 4, 2021
Aged care facilities across Australia will be opened to visitors under a plan agreed to by National Cabinet.

IN NSW From 11 October 2021 two visitors per day aged 12 years and over will be permitted to visit a resident in an aged care facility if they are fully vaccinated and their second dose was received at least 14 days prior to their visit. Children under 12 are not be permitted to enter an aged care facility.

By 31 October 2021 any health practitioners attending a residential aged care facility under arrangement by the resident must have at least 1 dose of a COVID-19 vaccination.

Greater Sydney still includes Wollongong and the Blue Mountains.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), has outlined the principles to remove restrictions on visitation to residential aged care facilities.

Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, and Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck welcomed the endorsement of these principles saying it marked an important opportunity to reduce the impacts of social isolation in residential care settings.

“Aged care providers have a responsibility to support the wellbeing of their residents and we know this can be improved through face-to-face visitors, whether it be family, friends, advocates or people providing cultural or community support,” Minister Hunt said.

“Older people in residential care should be able to take advantage of reduced restrictions and participate in activities outside facilities such as outdoor exercise and visits with friends and family.

“We encourage states and territories to implement these principles through their public health orders, following a similar easing of visitor restrictions in New South Wales.”

Two fully vaccinated visitors at one time will be welcomed back for each resident across the state from 11 October.

Under the advice to National Cabinet, the AHPPC strongly encourages all visitors in other states and territories to receive both jabs before the consider visiting a loved one.

A move to mandatory vaccination for visitors may be considered later.

While the AHPPC acknowledges re-opening visitation may increase the risk of COVID-19 cases in facilities, it says decisions to limit visitation must be proportionate and take into account the impacts of social isolation on resident health and wellbeing.

Access should only be limited in accordance with best practice management if a facility is affected by an outbreak in the local area.

Minister Colbeck said the majority of providers had already shown leadership when it came to implementing infectious control plans. 

“Providers and residential aged care administrators should carefully follow this advice and ensure that access by visitors is undertaken using appropriate COVID-safe precautions such as location check-in, social distancing, and the appropriate use of personal protective equipment,” Minister Colbeck said.

In addition, AHPPC recommends providers should consider offering infection prevention and control advice and training to regular visitors so they can be aware of the precautions used in the RACF.

Work to update visitation guidelines will also be undertaken including updates to the Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19 and the National Aged Care Visitation Guidelines.

Jurisdiction specific plans will also consider aged care visitation as part of a broader strategy for when community vaccination targets are achieved.

Minister Colbeck said increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates in the community meant the risk to older people of serious illness or death was reduced.

“Importantly, as at 1 October, 86.5 per cent of residents and 83.8 per cent of residential aged care workers are fully vaccinated,” Minister Colbeck said.

“Where restrictions have been reduced, I urge residential aged care providers to take every step to support visitors such as screening visitors at entry, encouraging the use of masks, and monitoring the use of common areas to support social distancing.”

The AHPPC advice on visitation can be found here.

Providers can access Aged Care Visitation guidelines here.

The Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19 can be found here.

Only 3.8% of Australian aged care homes would meet new mandatory minimum staffing standards: new research

Nicole SuttonUniversity of Technology SydneyDeborah ParkerUniversity of Technology Sydney, and Nelson MaUniversity of Technology Sydney

One of the most significant outcomes from the aged care royal commission was the federal government’s commitment this year to mandate minimum staffing levels in residential aged care homes by 2023.

Our study, published today, shows only a tiny fraction of aged care homes would already comply with the new requirements.

Substantial increases in staffing will be needed across the sector, placing even more pressure on an industry already struggling to meet the needs of a growing number of Australians.

Read more: 4 key takeaways from the aged care royal commission's final report

What Are Minimum Staffing Standards?

Minimum staffing standards are designed to ensure all aged care homes have sufficient staff to meet their residents’ care needs. This type of regulation already exists in several countries, including the United States, Japan and Germany.

Japan and Germany both prescribe minimum staff-to-resident ratios. In the United States, homes must have a certain number of staff on site each day and many states regulate the minimum time staff spend with residents. Also, while some countries mandate requirements for all care staff, others target specific roles, such as licensed nurses.

Read more: Want to improve care in nursing homes? Mandate minimum staffing levels

In Australia, licensed nurses include both registered nurses (RNs), who have at least a bachelor’s degree, and enrolled nurses who have completed a two-year diploma.

However, most aged care is provided by unlicensed personal care workers, who don’t need formal qualifications.

Australia’s new staffing standard has three requirements that will be mandatory from October 1, 2023:

  1. providers must ensure residents receive at least 200 minutes of total care per day

  2. at least 40 minutes of that care must be provided by an RN

  3. an RN must be on site for morning and afternoon shifts each day.

These requirements are stated as industry averages with each home’s requirements adjusted based on the relative complexity of their residents’ care needs.

Why Are Minimum Standards Necessary?

The royal commission heard evidence that more than half of all Australian residents in aged care (57.6%) live in aged care homes with inadequate staff.

In the final report, it stated

all too often, and despite best intentions, aged care workers simply do not have the requisite time, knowledge, skill and support to deliver high quality care.

For example, the commission heard testimony from families of residents at an understaffed home in Victoria, where staff didn’t have time to help residents go to the toilet or eat meals, or attend to their clinical care.

The commission also heard about the dangers of not having enough trained nurses. One witness described a regional home where three nurses had to look after up to 80 residents on weekends.

The witness’ father, a resident living with dementia, had been neglected and hospitalised on several occasions due to falls that occurred while left unattended.

What Did We Find?

Our study of historical staffing levels found few aged care homes (3.8%) had staffing above all three requirements of the new standard.

While many homes (79.7%) would meet the requirement to have an RN on site, few had levels above daily requirements for total direct care (10.4%) or RN care (11.1%).

The homes that fell short of these two requirements will need to increase staff time by an average of 43 minutes of total care per day and 18 minutes of RN time per day.

Read more: Nearly 2 out of 3 nursing homes are understaffed. These 10 charts explain why aged care is in crisis

We also found evidence the new standard is likely to cause different pressures for homes across the sector. The homes most at risk of non-compliance are likely to be larger with more residents to care for, located outside metropolitan cities and run by small providers.

Interestingly, while smaller homes were more likely to meet the two requirements about daily minutes, they were much less likely to have an RN on site for two shifts.

So What Needs To Change?

The new minimum standards are a crucial piece of regulation to ensure Australian aged care homes provide sufficient staff to deliver quality care to residents.

However, this requires a substantial expansion of a workforce already under strain. Workforce shortages are already a problem due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with low immigration and additional work demands, such as infection control and handling family requests.

report published in August by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia suggests even without the minimum standards, Australia’s aged care workforce needs to grow by an additional 17,000 workers per year between now and 2030.

Our study highlights areas requiring urgent action. For example, the new requirements will likely cause a dramatic increase in demand for RNs. While training and retention initiatives announced in the recent federal budget will help, much more will be required, such as improved working conditions and pay, to arrest the decline of RNs in the sector.

In addition, targeted government support will likely be required to help homes outside the major cities, and those smaller in size, to attract appropriate care workers to fill shortfalls.

Such measures will be required to enable a fair transition towards compliance with the minimum staffing standard within the sector.The Conversation

Nicole Sutton, Senior Lecturer in Accounting, University of Technology SydneyDeborah Parker, Professor of Nursing Aged Care (Dementia), University of Technology Sydney, and Nelson Ma, Senior Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

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

We shaved a billion years off the age of the youngest known Moon rocks, and rewrote lunar geological history

CNSA Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center
Alexander NemchinCurtin University and Gretchen BenedixCurtin University

Volcanic rocks collected from the Moon last year are about two billion years old — a billion years younger than the samples returned by previous missions. This new discovery means the Moon was volcanically active much more recently than experts had previously thought.

Remote images taken over the past few years had already suggested the Moon is home to much younger rocks than those previously brought back to Earth for direct study. Our research, published today in Science, confirms this fact for the first time.

The rock samples were collected by the Chinese National Space Agency during its Chang’e-5 mission in December 2020 — the first time anyone had collected rocks from the Moon since 1976.

During remote sessions with colleagues in China, our team at Curtin University helped determine the age of the lunar rock samples. The results, although long-expected, were exciting.

Previously, the youngest Moon rocks studied on Earth were samples collected by the Apollo and Luna missions in the 1960s and ‘70s, as well as lunar meteorites. All were at least three billion years old, leading geologists to surmise the Moon has not been volcanically active since then.

But after estimating the age of the new Moon rocks based on the rate of decay of radioactive elements in these samples, we determined these latest samples to be about two billion years old. This makes them the youngest volcanic rocks identified on the Moon so far.

Chang'e-5 capsule landing site.
The Chang'e-5 sample return capsule after landing on Earth, carrying the first Moon rocks collected since 1976. CNSA Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center

Not only is this the first direct confirmation rocks of this age exist on the Moon, it also confirms that our remote observation techniques work. That’s great news for experts studying other planets, especially Mars.

With China planning another Moon landing in 2024 as part of its Chang’e-6 mission, this research also puts Australia at the heart of the international collaboration to analyse the resulting samples.

Read more: Five reasons India, China and other nations plan to travel to the Moon

Hot History

The fact the Moon has younger volcanic rocks than we thought also means it must have had a relatively recent bout of internal heating that would have driven this volcanic activity. The challenge now is to explain how it happened.

In general, volcanic rocks (or “basalts”) are similar on various rocky planets and moons. But there are some key differences that make them unique. Lunar basalts probably form under hotter conditions, because water is more scarce on the Moon than here on Earth. The presence of water can change the temperature at which the rocks melt or solidify, and the hotter formation on the Moon can create subtle but crucial variations in the rocks’ chemical composition, relative to similar types of rocks on Earth.

Microscope image of Moon rock
A fragment of volcanic Moon rock, under high magnification. Beijing SHRIMP Center, Institute of Geology, CAGS

Many Moon rocks are very high in titanium, for example, which is never seen on Earth, although the rocks collected by Chang’e-5 have intermediate titanium levels.

Our focus will now turn to analysing more fragments to establish how much they vary in chemical composition. This will hopefully teach us more about the specific conditions under which these rocks formed, initially as volcanic magmas.

We still need to explain what heat source is responsible for the comparatively recent melting of the interior on the Moon, which formed the internal “lake” of magma associated with the volcanic activity, and why it has become cool and inert today.

Ultimately, this will help us improve age dating of the entire Solar system, unlocking more secrets from our cosmic neighbourhood.

Read more: Why the Moon is such a cratered place The Conversation

Alexander Nemchin, Associate Professor, Applied Geology, Curtin University and Gretchen Benedix, Professor, Curtin University

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

ICAC is not a curse, and probity in government matters. The Australian media would do well to remember that

AAP/Bianca de Marchi
Denis MullerThe University of Melbourne

Journalists are adept at creating and reflecting public sentiment. It is a reciprocating process: journalistic portrayal creates the sentiment, then the sentiment feeds back into journalistic portrayal.

This phenomenon can be seen clearly in the way the resignation of New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has been reported and commented on.

The problem is that public sentiment does not always remain tethered to the underlying facts, so journalism that continues to reflect that sentiment likewise tends to become unmoored.

The sentiment about Berejiklian is based on a narrative about a good woman and excellent state premier led astray by a rogue boyfriend who abused his relationship with her to advance his interests in ways that led to his being investigated for corruption. In the process, he dragged her down with him.

In essence, it is a tale we are familiar with, may even have experienced at close hand: a good person making decisions of the heart until confronted by an ugly reality. Beats there a heart so cold that cannot sympathise with this predicament?

Much of the coverage of Berejiklian’s resignation has drawn on and fed into this narrative.

It had worked for her previously when she first appeared before ICAC in October 2020, so she no doubt thought it would work again. To a large extent, she has been proved right.

Read more: Berejiklian's downfall derailed a career built on accountability and control. Now, who will replace her?

In this telling, the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption deliberately brought down this paragon at the height of her powers to the detriment of the public welfare, disrupting the government at a crucial moment in the pandemic.

In this telling, too, ICAC becomes the wrongdoer. Instead of stalling its investigation until heaven knows when – the pandemic is over, the federal election is done – it irresponsibly pushes on regardless.

The surprising thing is that this line of chat has been accepted uncritically by so many elements of the media.

Their understanding is not improved by coverage like this.

The facts are that ICAC is investigating the suspected corrupt allocation of about $35.5 million in taxpayers’ money: $30 million to the Riverina conservatorium of music at Wagga Wagga and $5.5 million to the local clay-shooting club.

ICAC is investigating whether Berejiklian, while NSW treasurer, allowed or encouraged corrupt conduct by her ex-boyfriend, the disgraced former Liberal MP for Wagga Wagga, Daryl Maguire, in respect of those allocations.

ICAC says it is investigating whether, between 2012 and 2018, Berejiklian engaged in conduct that “constituted or involved a breach of public trust” by exercising public functions relating to her public role and her private personal relationship with Maguire.

It says it will begin a four-week inquiry into these questions on October 18.

It should not be presumed that ICAC will make adverse findings against Berejiklian. In similar circumstances in 1983, Neville Wran stood aside as premier during a royal commission into corruption in rugby league. He was exonerated and resumed office.

So a further fact in the present case is that Berejiklian chose to resign rather than stand aside.

It is a fair bet she was unnerved by the prospect of NSW being in the hands of her National Party deputy John Barilaro for any length of time. By her resigning, the state gets a new premier from within the Liberal Party. It was a calculated choice.

ICAC is not a curse. Anyone involved in public affairs in NSW before 1988 when ICAC was established – public officials, politicians, journalists – knew that certain parts of the state administration were riven with corruption. Police, planning, prisons, even the magistracy: repeated scandals engulfed them all.

ICAC has been and remains a remarkable force for good.

A sad irony was that Nick Greiner, the Liberal premier who had the courage to establish it, became one of its early victims. In 1992 ICAC found he had misused his position to secure an independent MP’s resignation for political advantage. Greiner fell on his sword.

Read more: History repeats: how O'Farrell and Greiner fell foul of ICAC

It is instructive to consider how many of the Morrison cabinet would survive exposure to an ICAC investigation.

Berejiklian’s alleged conflict of interest is not a trivial matter. It involves substantial sums of public money in an exercise that she has previously dismissed as “pork-barrelling”.

This disarming term, rendered harmless by repetition, is actually about the improper distribution of public money. It is a form of vote-buying, as has been shown in the procession of rorts engaged in by the federal government over sports grants, community security grants and car parks.

ICAC exists to root out these and other ways by which the democratic process is corrupted.

It is undoubtedly a personal tragedy for Berejiklian that she has found it necessary to resign, and a misfortune for the state to lose a premier who was held in high public regard.

However, sentiment that draws a misty veil over underlying issues of probity in public life does not serve the public well.

Read more: The 'car park rorts' story is scandalous. But it will keep happening unless we close grant loopholes The Conversation

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

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

Australian Native Bees On The Brink After 2019/2020 Fires

October 5, 2021
The number of threatened Australian native bee species is expected to increase by nearly five times after the devastating Black Summer bushfires in 2019-20, new research led by Flinders University has found.

With 24 million hectares of Australia's land area burnt, researchers say the casualties are clear among bee fauna and other insects and invertebrates after studying 553 species (about one-third of Australia's known bee species) to assess the long-term environmental damage from the natural disaster.

"Our research is a call for action, from governments and policymakers, to immediately help these and other native populations most in danger," says lead author Flinders University PhD candidate James Dorey, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Yale University Center for Biodiversity and Global Change.

Of the bees studied, nine species were assessed as Vulnerable and two more Endangered as a result of the multiple fire fronts in the 2019-20 bushfires that also destroyed approximately 3000 homes and killed or displaced an estimated 3 billion animals.

The new study published in Global Change Biology warns widespread wildfire and forest fire damage is being repeated all around the world, from North America and Europe to the Congo and Asia, causing catastrophic impacts on biodiversity and sudden and marked reduction in population sizes of many species.

"In these circumstances, there is a need for government and land managers to respond more rapidly to implement priority conservation management actions for the most-affected species in order to help prevent extinctions," says Mr Dorey.

"Conserving insects and other less visible taxa should also be a factor in restoring and preserving some of the hundreds of bees that may not yet have been studied or recorded."

He says the study forms a foundation for assessment of other taxa in Australia or on other continents where species are understudied and not registered on datasets or by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN Red List).

"Climate change is increasing the frequency of natural disasters like wildfire, which impacts our wildlife," says fellow author Dr Stefan Caddy-Retalic, from The University of Adelaide and University of Sydney.

"Our study shows that we can assess the likely impact of natural disasters on poorly studied species, even when we can't physically visit the field to do surveys."

"Listing severely-impacted species on the IUCN red list and under Australian law represents our best approach to lobby governments to act," he says, adding native bees are very important providers of ecosystem services including pollination, but most are poorly known.

"Most people aren't aware of just how vulnerable our native bees are because they are not widely studied," adds Flinders University researcher Olivia Davies, another of the 13 authors on the major paper. "The fact that no Australian bees are listed by the IUCN shows just how neglected these important species are."

The study, which recommends 11 Australian bee species (just 2% of those analysed) as priority taxa for listing as IUCN Threatened species, also demonstrates a new model for "using the data we already have to understand how natural disasters are likely to impact key species and their ecosystems."

"Being able to collect targeted data will always be the gold standard but we shouldn't let data gaps stop us from acting to protect species we know are vulnerable," Dr Dorey concludes.

The collaborative study includes researchers from Flinders University's Laboratory of Evolutionary Genetics and Sociality, the South Australian Museum, University of Adelaide, Curtin University, University of Sydney, University of Melbourne, Murdoch University and Charles Darwin University.

Closeup of a golden-green carpenter bee. James Dorey Photography

James B. Dorey, Celina M. Rebola, Olivia K. Davies, Kit S. Prendergast, Ben A. Parslow, Katja Hogendoorn, Remko Leijs, Lucas R. Hearn, Emrys J. Leitch, Robert L. O’Reilly, Jessica Marsh, John C. Z. Woinarski, Stefan Caddy‐Retalic. Continental risk assessment for understudied taxa post‐catastrophic wildfire indicates severe impacts on the Australian bee fauna. Global Change Biology, 2021; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.15879

Earliest Evidence Yet Of Huge Hippos In Britain

October 4, 2021
Palaeobiologists have unearthed the earliest evidence yet of hippos in the UK.

Excavations at Westbury Cave in Somerset, led by University of Leicester PhD student Neil Adams, uncovered a million-year-old hippo tooth which shows the animal roamed Britain much earlier than previously thought.

In a new study published in the Journal of Quaternary Science and co-authored with researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London, the tooth is identified as belonging to an extinct species of hippo called Hippopotamus antiquus, which ranged across Europe in warm periods during the Ice Age.

Credit: University of Leicester/Neil Adams

It was much larger than the modern African hippo, weighing around 3 tonnes, and was even more reliant on aquatic habitats than its living relative.

Research demonstrates that the fossil is over one million years old, eclipsing the previous record of hippo in the UK by at least 300,000 years and filling an important gap in the British fossil record.

Neil Adams, PhD researcher in the Centre for Palaeobiology Research at the University of Leicester and Earth Collections Project Officer at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, said:

"It was very exciting to come across a hippo tooth during our recent excavations at Westbury Cave. It is not only the first record of hippo from the site, but also the first known hippo fossil from any site in Britain older than 750,000 years.

"Erosion caused by the coming and going of ice sheets, as well as the gradual uplift of the land, has removed large parts of the deposits of this age in Britain. Our comparisons with sites across Europe show that Westbury Cave is an important exception and the new hippo dates to a previously unrecognised warm period in the British fossil record."

Scientists know remarkably little about the fauna, flora and environments in Britain between about 1.8 and 0.8 million years ago, a key period when early humans were beginning to occupy Europe.

But new research at Westbury Cave is helping to fill in this gap. It shows that during this interval there were periods warm and wet enough to allow hippos to migrate all the way from the Mediterranean to southern England.

Professor Danielle Schreve, Professor of Quaternary Science at Royal Holloway and co-author of the study, said:

"Hippos are not only fabulous animals to find but they also reveal evidence about past climates. Many megafaunal species (those over a tonne in weight) are quite broadly tolerant of temperature fluctuations but in contrast, we know modern hippos cannot cope with seasonally frozen water bodies.

"Our research has demonstrated that in the fossil record, hippos are only found in Britain during periods of climatic warmth, when summer temperatures were a little warmer than today but most importantly, winter temperatures were above freezing."

By examining the European fossil record, the research team show that the Westbury Cave hippo was likely to have lived during a particularly warm period around 1.1 to 1.0 million years ago.

Hippo remains of this age are known from Germany, France and the Netherlands and the new fossil from Somerset represents a previously unknown part of this colonisation of northwest Europe.

Neil F. Adams, Ian Candy, Danielle C. Schreve. An Early Pleistocene hippopotamus from Westbury Cave, Somerset, England: support for a previously unrecognized temperate interval in the British Quaternary record. Journal of Quaternary Science, 04 October 2021 DOI: 10.1002/jqs.3375

Hidden Mangrove Forest In The Yucatan Peninsula Reveals Ancient Sea Levels

October 4, 2021
Deep in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula, an ancient mangrove ecosystem flourishes more than 200 kilometres (124 miles) from the nearest ocean. This is unusual because mangroves -- salt-tolerant trees, shrubs, and palms -- are typically found along tropical and subtropical coastlines.

A new study led by researchers across the University of California system in the United States and researchers in Mexico focuses on this luxuriant red mangrove forest. This "lost world" is located far from the coast along the banks of the San Pedro Martir River, which runs from the El Petén rainforests in Guatemala to the Balancán region in Tabasco, Mexico.

An aerial view of the San Pedro Mártir River in Tabasco, Mexico. Credit: Octavio Aburto

Because the red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) and other species present in this unique ecosystem are only known to grow in salt water or somewhat salty water, the binational team set out to discover how the coastal mangroves were established so deep inland in fresh water completely isolated from the ocean. Their findings were published Oct. 4 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Integrating genetic, geologic, and vegetation data with sea-level modelling, the study provides a first glimpse of an ancient coastal ecosystem. The researchers found that the San Pedro mangrove forests reached their current location during the last interglacial period, some 125,000 years ago, and have persisted there in isolation as the oceans receded during the last glaciation.

The study provides a snapshot of the global environment during the last interglacial period, when the Earth became very warm and polar ice caps melted entirely, making global sea levels much higher than they are today.

"The most amazing part of this study is that we were able to examine a mangrove ecosystem that has been trapped in time for more than 100,000 years," said study co-author Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, a marine ecologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and a PEW Marine Fellow. "There is certainly more to discover about how the many species in this ecosystem adapted throughout different environmental conditions over the past 100,000 years. Studying these past adaptations will be very important for us to better understand future conditions in a changing climate."

Combining multiple lines of evidence, the study demonstrates that the rare and unique mangrove ecosystem of the San Pedro River is a relict -- that is, organisms that have survived from an earlier period -- from a past warmer world when relative sea levels were six to nine meters (20 to 30 feet) higher than at present, high enough to flood the Tabasco lowlands of Mexico and reach what today are tropical rainforests on the banks of the San Pedro River.

The study highlights the extensive landscape impacts of past climate change on the world's coastlines and shows that during the last interglacial, much of the Gulf of Mexico coastal lowlands were under water. Aside from providing an important glimpse of the past and revealing the changes suffered by the Mexican tropics during the ice ages, these findings also open opportunities to better understand future scenarios of relative sea-level rise as climate change progresses in a human-dominated world.

Carlos Burelo, a botanist at the Universidad Juárez Autónoma de Tabasco and a native of the region, drew the attention of the rest of the team towards the existence of this relict ecosystem in 2016. "I used to fish here and play on these mangroves as a kid, but we never knew precisely how they got there," said Burelo. "That was the driving question that brought the team together."

Burelo's field work and biodiversity surveys in the region established the solid foundation of the study. His remarkable discovery of the ancient ecosystem is documented in "Memories of the Future: the modern discovery of a relict ecosystem," an award-winning short film produced by Scripps alumnus Ben Fiscella Meissner (MAS MBC '17).

Felipe Zapata and Claudia Henriquez of UCLA led the genetic work to estimate the origin and age of the relict forest. Sequencing segments of the genomes of the red mangrove trees, they were able to establish that this ecosystem migrated from the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico into the San Pedro River over 100,000 years ago and stayed there in isolation after the ocean receded when temperatures dropped. While mangroves are the most notable species in the forest, they found nearly 100 other smaller species that also have a lineage from the ocean.

"This discovery is extraordinary," said Zapata. "Not only are the red mangroves here with their origins printed in their DNA, but the whole coastal lagoon ecosystem of the last interglacial has found refuge here."

Paula Ezcurra, science program manager at the Climate Science Alliance, carried out the sea-level modeling, noting that the coastal plains of the southern Gulf of Mexico lie so low that a relatively small change in sea level can produce dramatic effects inland. She said a fascinating piece of this study is how it highlights the benefits of working collaboratively among scientists from different disciplines.

"Each piece of the story alone is not sufficient, but when taken together, the genetics, geology, botany, and field observations tell an incredible story. Each researcher involved lent their expertise that allowed us to uncover the mystery of a 100,000+ year-old forest," said Ezcurra, an alumna of Scripps Oceanography (MAS CSP '17).

The field work was led by the ecologists on the team -- Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, Paula Ezcurra, Exequiel Ezcurra of UC Riverside, and Sula Vanderplank of Pronatura Noroeste. Visiting the study sites several times starting in 2016, they collected rocks, sediments and fossils to analyze in the lab, helping them pinpoint evidence from the past that is consistent with a marine environment.

The authors note that the region surrounding the study sites was systematically deforested in the 1970s by a misguided development plan; the banks of the San Pedro River were only spared because the bulldozers could not reach it. The area is still threatened by human activities, so the researchers stressed the need to protect this biologically important area in the future.

"We hope our results convince the government of Tabasco and Mexico's environmental administration of the need to protect this ecosystem," they said. "The story of Pleistocene glacial cycles is written in the DNA of its plants waiting for scientists to decipher it but, more importantly, the San Pedro mangroves are warning us about the dramatic impact that climate change could have on the coastal plains of the Gulf of Mexico if we do not take urgent action to stop the emission of greenhouse gases."

Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, Carlos Manuel Burelo-Ramos, Exequiel Ezcurra, Paula Ezcurra, Claudia L. Henriquez, Sula E. Vanderplank, and Felipe Zapata. Relict inland mangrove ecosystem reveals Last Interglacial sea levels. PNAS, 2021 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2024518118

Exposure To Deadly Urban Heat Worldwide Has Tripled In Recent Decades

October 4, 2021
A new study of more than 13,000 cities worldwide has found that the number of person-days in which inhabitants are exposed to extreme combinations of heat and humidity has tripled since the 1980s. The authors say the trend, which now affects nearly a quarter of the world's population, is the combined result of both rising temperatures and booming urban population growth. The study was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Over recent decades, hundreds of millions have moved from rural areas to cities, which now hold more than half the world's population. There, temperatures are generally higher than in the countryside, because of sparse vegetation and abundant concrete, asphalt and other impermeable surfaces that tend to trap and concentrate heat -- the so-called urban heat island effect.

"This has broad effects," said the study's lead author, Cascade Tuholske, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University's Earth Institute. "It increases morbidity and mortality. It impacts people's ability to work, and results in lower economic output. It exacerbates pre-existing health conditions."

The researchers combined infrared satellite imagery and readings from thousands of ground instruments to determine maximum daily heat and humidity readings in 13,115 cities, from 1983 to 2016. They defined extreme heat as 30 degrees Centigrade on the so-called "wet-bulb globe temperature" scale, a measurement that takes into account the multiplier effect of high humidity on human physiology. A wet-bulb reading of 30 is the rough equivalent of 106 degrees Fahrenheit on the so-called "real feel" heat index -- the point at which even most healthy people find it hard to function outside for long, and the unhealthy might become very ill or even die.

To come up with a measure of person-days spent in such conditions, the researchers matched up the weather data with statistics on the cities' populations over the same time period. The population data was provided in part by Columbia's Center for International Earth Science Information Network, where Tuholske is based.

The analysis revealed that the number of person-days in which city dwellers were exposed went from 40 billion per year in 1983 to 119 billion in 2016 -- a threefold increase. By 2016, 1.7 billion people were being subjected to such conditions on multiple days.

Sheer urban population growth accounted for two-thirds of the exposure spike, while actual warming contributed a third. That said, the proportions varied from region to region and city to city.

The most-affected cities tend to cluster in the low latitudes, but other areas are being affected, too. The worst-hit city in terms of person-days was Dhaka, the fast-growing capital of Bangladesh; it saw an increase of 575 million person-days of extreme heat over the study period. Its ballooning population alone -- 4 million in 1983, to 22 million today -- caused 80 percent of the increased exposure. This does not mean that Dhaka did not see substantial warming -- only that population growth was even more rapid. Other big cities showing similar population-heavy trends include Shanghai and Guangzhou, China; Yangon, Myanmar; Bangkok; Dubai; Hanoi; Khartoum; and various cities in Pakistan, India and the Arabian Peninsula.

On the other hand, some other major cities saw close to half or more of their exposure caused by warming climate alone versus population growth. These included Baghdad, Cairo, Kuwait City, Lagos, Kolkata, Mumbai, and other big cities in India and Bangladesh. The populations of European cities have been relatively static, so increases in exposure there were driven almost exclusively by increased warmth. The researchers found that 17 percent of the cities studied added an entire month of extreme-heat days over the 34-year study period.

"A lot of these cities show the pattern of how human civilization has evolved over the past 15,000 years," said Tuholske, pointing out that many are located in warm climates where humidity is delivered by big river systems. This made them attractive for farming and eventually urbanization. "The Nile, the Tigris-Euphrates, the Ganges. There is a pattern to the places where we wanted to be," he said. "Now, those areas may become uninhabitable. Are people really going to want to live there?"

In the United States, about 40 sizable cities have seen rapidly growing exposure, mainly clustered in Texas and the Gulf Coast. In many, the causes of the rises have been varying combinations of both increasing population and increasing heat. These include Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin, Tex., along with Pensacola and other cities in Florida. In some, population growth is the main driver. These include Las Vegas; Savannah, Ga.; and Charleston, S.C. In others, it is almost exclusively fast-rising heat: Baton Rouge, La.; Gulfport, Miss.; and Lake Charles and Houma, La. One major outlier: the bayside city of Providence, R.I., where rising exposure was 93 percent due to warmer, more humid weather.

Because the period covered by the study ran only through 2016, the data did not include the series of record heat waves that raked the U.S. Northwest and southern Canada this summer, killing hundreds of people.

The study is not the first to document the dangers of excessive urban heat; among others, last year a separate Earth Institute team showed that combinations of heat and humidity literally beyond the limits of outdoor human survival have been briefly popping up around the world. The newer study led by Tuholske adds to the picture by quantifying on a granular level how many people are being affected in each location, and the degree to which exposure is being driven by population versus climate. The authors say this information should help urban planners come up with better-targeted strategies to help citizens adapt.

Kristina Dahl, a climate researcher at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the study "could serve as a starting point for identifying ways to to address local heat issues," such as planting trees and modifying rooftops with lighter colours or vegetation so they don't trap so much heat. "This study shows that it will take considerable, conscientious investments to ensure that cities remain liveable in the face of a warming climate," she added.

Above; street scene in Dhaka, the densely packed capital of Bangladesh. It has been getting hotter there, but population growth is even more rapid—five times over since the 1980s. (Kevin Krajick/Earth Institute)

Cascade Tuholske, Kelly Caylor, Chris Funk, Andrew Verdin, Stuart Sweeney, Kathryn Grace, Pete Peterson, Tom Evans. Global urban population exposure to extreme heat. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021; 118 (41): e2024792118 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2024792118

Sandwich-Style Construction: Toward Ultra-Low-Energy Exciton Electronics

October 5, 2021
A new 'sandwich-style' fabrication process placing a semiconductor only one atom thin between two mirrors has allowed Australian researchers to make a significant step towards ultra-low energy electronics based on the light-matter hybrid particles exciton-polaritons.

The breakthrough, led by the Australian National University, demonstrated robust, dissipationless propagation of an exciton mixed with light bouncing between the high-quality mirrors.

Conventional electronics relies on flowing electrons, or 'holes' (a hole is the absence of an electron, ie a positively-charged quasiparticle).

However, a major field of future electronics focusses instead on use of excitons (an electron bound to a hole) because, in principle, they could flow in a semiconductor without losing energy by forming a collective superfluid state. And excitons in novel, actively studied atomically-thin semiconductors are stable at room temperature.

Atomically-thin semiconductors are thus a promising class of materials for low-energy applications such as novel transistors and sensors. However, precisely because they are so thin, their properties, including the flow of excitons, are strongly affected by disorder or imperfections, which can be introduced during fabrication.

The ANU-led FLEET team -- with colleagues at Swinburne University and FLEET Partner institution Wroclaw University -- has coupled the excitons in an atomically-thin material to light to demonstrate for the first time their long-range propagation without any dissipation of energy, at room temperature.

When an exciton (matter) binds with a photon (light), it forms a new hybrid particle -- an exciton-polariton. Trapping light between two parallel high-quality mirrors in an optical microcavity allows this to happen.

In the new study, a new 'sandwich-style' fabrication process for the optical microcavity allowed the researchers to minimise damage to the atomically-thin semiconductor and to maximise the interaction between the excitons and the photons. The exciton-polaritons formed in this structure were able to propagate without energy dissipation across tens of micrometres, the typical scale of an electronic microchip.

A high-quality optical microcavity that ensures the longevity of light (photonic) component of exciton-polaritons is the key to these observations.

The study found that exciton-polaritons can be made remarkably stable if the microcavity is constructed in a particular way, avoiding damage of the fragile semiconductor sandwiched between the mirrors during fabrication.

"The choice of the atomically-thin material in which the excitons travel is far less important," says lead and corresponding author Matthias Wurdack.

"We found that construction of that microcavity was the key," says Matthias, "And while we used tungsten sulfide (WS2) in this particular experiment, we believe any other atomically-thin TMDC material would also work."

(Transition metal dichalcogenides are excellent hosts for excitons, hosting excitons that are stable at room temperature and interact strongly with light).

The team built the microcavity by stacking all its components one by one. First, a bottom mirror of the microcavity is fabricated, then a semiconductor layer is placed onto it, and then the microcavity is completed by placing another mirror on top. Critically, the team did not deposit the upper mirror structure directly onto the notoriously fragile atomically-thin semiconductor, which is easily damaged during any material deposition process.

"Instead, we fabricate the entire top structure separately, and then place it on top of the semiconductor mechanically, like making a sandwich," says Matthias.

"Thus we avoid any damage to the atomically-thin semiconductor, and preserve the properties of its excitons."

Importantly, the researchers optimised this sandwiching method to make the cavity very short, which maximized the exciton-photon interaction.

"We also benefitted from a bit of serendipity," say Matthias. "An accident of fabrication that ended up being key to our success!"

The serendipitous 'accident' came in the form of an air gap between the two mirrors, making them not strictly parallel.

This wedge in the microcavity creates a voltage/potential 'slope' for the exciton-polaritons, with the particles moving either up or down the incline.

The researchers discovered that a proportion of exciton-polaritons travel with conservation of total (potential and kinetic) energy, both up and down the incline. Travelling down the slope, they convert their potential energy into equal amount of kinetic energy, and vice versa.

That perfect conservation of total energy means no energy is being lost in heat (due to 'friction'), which signals 'ballistic' or dissipationless transport for polaritons. Even though the polaritons in this study do not form a superfluid, the absence of dissipation is achieved because all scattering processes that lead to energy loss are suppressed.

"This demonstration, for the first time, of ballistic transport of room-temperature polaritons in atomically-thin TMDCs is a significant step towards future, ultra-low energy exciton-based electronics," says group leader Prof Elena Ostrovskaya (ANU).

Apart from creating the potential "slope," that same fabrication accident created a potential well for exciton-polaritons. This enabled the researchers to catch and accumulate the travelling exciton-polaritons in the well -- an essential first step for trapping and guiding them on a microchip."

Furthermore, the researchers confirmed that exciton-polaritons can propagate in the atomically-thin semiconductor for tens of micrometres (easily far enough for functional electronics), without scattering on material defects. This is in contrast to excitons in these materials, the travel length of which is dramatically reduced by these defects.

Moreover, the exciton-polaritons were able to preserve their intrinsic coherence (correlation between signal at different points in space and time), which bodes well for their potential as information carriers.

"This long-range, coherent transport was achieved at room temperature, which is important for development of practical applications of atomically-thin semiconductors" said Matthias Wurdack.

If future excitonic devices are to be a viable, low-energy alternative to conventional electronic devices, they must be able to operate at room temperature, without the need for energy-intensive cooling.

"In fact, counterintuitively, our calculations show that the propagation length is getting longer at higher temperatures, which is important for technological applications," said Matthias.

As well as funding from the Australian Research Council (Centre of Excellence program) the authors also acknowledge the technical support for sample fabrication from the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF) ACT node, support by the Foundation for Polish Science (FNP) START program, and European Research Council (ERC) UnLimit2D project.

The dissipationless transport of exciton-polaritons is one candidate physical phenomena in realising a low-energy exciton transistor.

Prof Ostrovskaya leads FLEET's research theme 2, which seeks to create exciton-polariton condensates (collective states that can display superfluidity) in atomically-thin semiconductors to achieve electrical current flow with minimal wasted dissipation of energy in a proposed new generation of near-zero resistance, ultra-low energy electronic devices, sought by FLEET.

M. Wurdack, E. Estrecho, S. Todd, T. Yun, M. Pieczarka, S. K. Earl, J. A. Davis, C. Schneider, A. G. Truscott, E. A. Ostrovskaya. Motional narrowing, ballistic transport, and trapping of room-temperature exciton polaritons in an atomically-thin semiconductor. Nature Communications, 2021; 12 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-25656-7

Ultra-Short Flashes Of Light Illuminate A Possible Path To Future Beyond-CMOS Electronics

October 6, 2021
Ultrashort pulses of light are proven indistinguishable from continuous illumination, in terms of controlling the electronic states of atomically-thin material tungsten disulfide (WS2).

A new, Swinburne-led study proves that ultrashort pulses of light can be used to drive transitions to new phases of matter, aiding the search for future Floquet-based, low-energy electronics.

There is significant interest in transiently controlling the band-structure of a monolayer semiconductor by using ultra-short pulses of light to create and control exotic new phases of matter.

The resulting temporary states known as Floquet-Bloch states are interesting from a pure research standpoint as well as for a proposed new class of transistor based on Floquet topological insulators (FTIs).

In an important finding, the ultra-short pulses of light necessary for detecting the formation of Floquet states were shown to be as effective in triggering the state as continuous illumination, an important question that, until now, had been largely ignored.

Floquet physics, which has been used to predict how an insulator can be transformed into an FTI, is predicated on a purely sinusoidal field, ie continuous, monochromatic (single wavelength) illumination that has no beginning or end.

To observe this phase transition, however, only ultrashort pulses offer sufficient peak intensities to produce a detectable effect. And there's the rub.

Turning even the purest light source on or off introduces a wide range of additional frequencies to the light's spectrum; the more abrupt the switching, the more broadband the spectrum. As a result, ultrashort pulses like those used here don't conform to the assumptions upon which Floquet physics is based.

"Ultrashort pulses are about as far as you can possibly get from a monochromatic wave," says Dr Stuart Earl at Swinburne University of Technology (Australia).

"However, we've now shown that even with pulses shorter than 15 optical cycles (34 femtoseconds, or 34 millionths of a billionth of a second), that just doesn't matter."

Dr Earl, with collaborators from the Australian National University and the ARC Centre for Future Low-Energy Electronic Technologies (FLEET), subjected an atomic monolayer of tungsten-disulfide (WS2) to light pulses of varying length but the same total energy, altering the peak intensity in a controlled manner.

WS2 is a transition metal dichalcogenide (TMD), a family of materials investigated for use in future 'beyond CMOS' electronics.

The team used pump-probe spectroscopy to observe a transient shift in the energy of the A exciton of WS2 due to the optical Stark effect (the simplest realisation of Floquet physics). Thanks to their use of a sub-bandgap pump pulse, the signal they measured, which persisted only for as long as the pulse itself, was due to interactions between equilibrium and photon-dressed virtual states within the sample.

"It might sound odd that we can harness virtual states to manipulate a real transition" says Dr Earl. "But because we used a sub-bandgap pump pulse, no real states were populated."

"The WS2 responded instantaneously, but more significantly, its response depended linearly on the instantaneous intensity of the pulse, just as if we'd turned on a monochromatic field infinitely slowly, that is, adiabatically" explains Professor Jeff Davis, also at Swinburne University of Technology. "This was an exciting finding for our team. Despite the pulses being extremely short, the states of the system remained coherent"

An adiabatic perturbation is one that is introduced extremely slowly, so that the states of the system have time to adapt, a crucial requirement for FTIs. While ultrashort pulses shouldn't be compatible with this requirement, this result provides clear evidence that for these atomic monolayers, they do. This now enables the team to attribute any evidence of non-adiabatic behaviour to the sample, rather than to their experiment.

These findings now enable the FLEET team to explore Floquet-Bloch states in these materials with an above-bandgap pulse, which, theoretically, should drive the material into the exotic phase known as a Floquet topological insulator. Understanding this process should then help researchers to incorporate these materials into a new generation of low-energy, high-bandwidth, and potentially ultrafast, transistors.

Systems exhibiting dissipationless transport when driven out of equilibrium are studied within FLEET's Research theme 3, seeking new, ultra-low energy electronics to address the rising, unsustainable energy consumed by computation (already 8% of global electricity, and doubling every decade).

S. K. Earl, M. A. Conway, J. B. Muir, M. Wurdack, E. A. Ostrovskaya, J. O. Tollerud, J. A. Davis. Coherent dynamics of Floquet-Bloch states in monolayer WS2 reveals fast adiabatic switching. Physical Review B, 2021; 104 (6) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevB.104.L060303

Undiagnosed Endometriosis Compromises Fertility Treatment

October 6, 2021
Women with undiagnosed endometriosis will have difficulty falling pregnant without IVF, according to a University of Queensland study.

UQ School of Public Health researcher, Dr Katrina Moss, said women whose endometriosis went undiagnosed until after they began fertility treatment ended up doing more cycles, used treatments that aren't recommended, and were less likely to have a baby.

"By contrast, our study found women who were diagnosed with endometriosis before fertility treatment experienced the same outcomes as those without the condition," Dr Moss said.

In Australia, 1 in 9 women are diagnosed with endometriosis and 40 per cent of these experience infertility.

Dr Moss said Australian women can wait between 4 and 11 years before being diagnosed with endometriosis, and delayed diagnosis reduced the chances of fertility treatments being successful.

"In our national study of 1322 women, 35 per cent of participants had endometriosis and one-third of those weren't diagnosed until after they started their fertility treatment," Dr Moss said.

"Women who were diagnosed late were 4 times more likely to do a lot of cycles, sometime up to 36 cycles of fertility treatment," she said.

"They were also 33 per cent less likely to report a birth."

Fertility specialist and UQ Centre for Clinical Research Professor Hayden Homer said early diagnosis of endometriosis and early access to IVF created a level playing field, as the same outcomes were recorded for women who did not have the condition.

"It is highly advantageous to diagnose endometriosis before starting fertility treatment and to adjust the treatment accordingly," Professor Homer said.

"Otherwise, women are less likely to have a child and face a higher financial and psychological treatment burden.

"It is critical to remain highly vigilant about the possibility of endometriosis amongst women who are thinking about fertility treatment, especially in the presence of severe pelvic pain."

This study used data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health (ALSWH).

K M Moss, J Doust, H Homer, I J Rowlands, R Hockey, G D Mishra. Delayed diagnosis of endometriosis disadvantages women in ART: a retrospective population linked data study. Human Reproduction, 2021 DOI: 10.1093/humrep/deab216

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