inbox and environment news: Issue 525

February 6 - 12, 2022: Issue 525

Long Grass - Weeds Taking Over Parks, Dunes, Reserves Across The LGA: Where To Report These

Residents across the Local Government Area have contacted Pittwater Online News this week stating grass is overgrown in their local reserves and parks( grass is 50-75cm high in many local reserves, covering benches) and has been so for at least the last 3 weeks. 

Weeds are also growing, unchecked, and have been doing so for at least 12 months - these images of the drop between ridges at Palm Beach dunes and Governor Phillip Park area show this is now covered in weeds, strangling the trees:

These older banksias and tea trees need to be able to have seedling offspring to replace them and keep the coastal vegetation healthy.

At the Whale Beach Rd track entrance to Bangalley Headland weeds have overrun the bush. This is too much for the volunteer bushcare group to manage and it has been stated there is not enough funding from Northern Beaches Council for the contract bush regeneration team:

Part of this problem is the council's roster schedules allocates only so many mows of each park each year and with so much rain and humid conditions lately, the grass grows quickly. Playing fields such as Rat Park or Careel Bay have been getting mowed regularly but these smaller reserves, playgrounds and parks have not had their mowing schedule adjusted.

Although the council undertakes a scheduled maintenance program to control weeds in high use areas, including foreshore parks, and on sportsfields, those photographed 12 and 24 months ago at Palm Beach have not been targeted and have spread.

The council undertakes seasonal weed control in turf on sportsfields and some high use reserves using pesticides. Spraying programs are subject to weather delays.
Council's webpage on their spraying program for areas across the LGA in July-September 2021 is listed at: things-to-do/sports-and-recreation/spraying-program

Only Casper, used for post-emergence control of broadleaf weeds in established turf, was scheduled for Governor Phillip Park.

The council, as a local control authority, has the following functions under the Biosecurity Act 2015;
  • the prevention, elimination, minimisation and management of the biosecurity risk posed or likely to be posed by weeds,
  • to develop, implement, co-ordinate and review weed control programs
  • to inspect land in connection with its weed control functions
  • to keep records about the exercise of the local control authority’s functions under this Act
  • to report to the Secretary about the exercise of the local control authority’s functions under this Act
The Biosecurity Act 2015 also requires Council to appoint authorised officers to exercise its functions under the Act.

Residents can report weeds in the areas the council is responsible for to:

Residents can report where vegetation is encroaching on parks and sportsfields, or impacting on road safety due to impairment to sight-lines to:  

Asparagus Fern Flowering Now: Dispose Of This Weed To Stop The Spread

While on weeds, one of PIttwater's worst weed is asparagus fern and it's flowering now. Its scent is like Bubble Gum, sickly sweet. You can see the berries developing.
If this is on your land you can you cut off the stems and catch those berries before they turn white then red, that will stop the spread. 
Please wear gloves when doing so as this plant has spikes.
Put the stems plus berries into your green bin.

Photo: courtesy PNHA

No Sediment Barriers At Collaroy-Narrabeen Sea Wall Site: Surfrider Foundation Northern Beaches February 4th Video Of Runoff + Extension North Proposal

Although the 7.5 metre high vertical concrete seawall along Collaroy/Narrabeen Beach contravenes the NSW Coastal Act and the Coastal SEPP the works have proceeded.

The site is subject to SEPP Coastal Management (2018). 
13: Development on land within the coastal environment area 
(1) Development consent must not be granted to development on land that is within the coastal environment area unless the consent authority has considered whether the proposed development is likely to cause an adverse impact on the following:
(a) the integrity and resilience of the biophysical, hydrological (surface and groundwater) and ecological environment,
(b) coastal environmental values and natural coastal processes,
(c) the water quality of the marine estate (within the meaning of the Marine Estate Management Act 2014), in particular, the cumulative impacts of the proposed development on any of the sensitive coastal lakes identified in Schedule 1,
(d) marine vegetation, native vegetation and fauna and their habitats, undeveloped headlands and rock platforms,
(e) existing public open space and safe access to and along the foreshore, beach, headland or rock platform for members of the public, including persons with a disability,
(f) Aboriginal cultural heritage, practices and places,
(g) the use of the surf zone.

Criticism of the debris left on the beach, the erosion as the sea ran up against the wall and drew away all the sand during January 2022 swells and the manner in which these works have been carried out prompted council staff to investigate a number of times during the heavy swells, and has been under regular inspection since then. The matter is currently under investigation by Environmental Compliance.

Council staff began removal of geofabric and debris on January 7th 2022. Council has also state this has been continued by the contractor responsible for the site including material on the beach and in the water.

A statement issued by on January 27th says;
''Council and the contractor are taking steps to ensure bund breaches do not happen again and our Environmental Compliance are also investigating in that regard.
Rocks will continue to be removed from the beach as conditions allow, and it is safe to do so. Once the works are complete, the beach sand will be sieved to further remove rocks as has been done for earlier works sites.

Council’s lifeguards are also undertaking regular visual inspections and installing temporary signage where required.

Council has been and will continue to take action to reduce the risk from the debris.''

On Friday February 4th 2022 Brendan Donohoe, President of the Surfrider Foundation Northern Beaches, posted the following video on the group's Facebook page, showing the bund installed does not have any of the sediment barriers required on constructions sites elsewhere and that runoff into the ocean is still occurring.

Mr. Donohoe states in the video that a report has been made, now, to the NSW Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about project management of the site:
(NB: language warning for one word)

The Council has a further application currently on display for an extension of this wall towards North Narrabeen (DA2021/1612) between Clarke Street and Mactier, which its webpage states was 'advertised'. The cost of this section of works is listed as $ 2,047,433.00 of which 10% will be met by council and 10% by the state government - or 20% by taxpayers and ratepayers in real terms.

The proposed extension is described as;  

'coastal protection works comprise a reinforced concrete wall supported on continuous flight auger (concrete) piles, either contiguous piles with plug piles or jet grout, or secant piles. Anchors attached to the wall (and permanently buried landward of it) have been designed to provide support for the wall and piling at times of beach erosion when sand levels lower on the seaward side of the wall'.

The piles extending below the surface have been designed as a complete and permanent barrier to soil migration through the wall. 

This wall will be a 7.5 metre high design from its base as well, described as:

''A wave return (concrete face that slopes seaward and directs waves seaward) has been provided at the top of the concrete wall (which has a crest level of 7.0m AHD) to reduce wave overtopping of the wall. This wave return extends 0.5m seaward of the main face of the wall.''

The report on the Environmental Effects states that;

'It is recognised that long term recession due to projected sea level rise is expected to translate beach profiles upward and landward, thus reducing average beach widths over the long term where profiles are truncated at protection works (assuming that beach scraping and beach nourishment is not undertaken)'.

The council, in it's Council Provides Facts On The Collaroy Residents’ Seawall, has stated; 

''Council will continue to manage the beach into the future - Council will continue to move sand from the entrance to Narrabeen Lagoon to Collaroy as required. We are also working with the NSW Government and Sydney Coastal Councils Group on proposals to bring additional sand onto our beaches in response to climate change from offshore marine sand deposits or from clean terrestrial sand. These types of programs are new and require the highest levels of environmental scrutiny before they could be progressed.''

These ongoing management costs will be met by residents - although the Narrabeen-Collaroy beachfront has been where sand has been dumped bi-annually from Narrabeen for decades, except now the costs will be met, since the amalgamation of the Manly, Warringah and Pittwater councils, by all in the new LGA.

In 2014 community consultation of Warringah Council residents was undertaken in regard to the Collaroy beachfront that resulted in the 2014 Coastal Zone Management Plan for Collaroy-Narrabeen Beach and Fishermans Beach.

In July 2016, weeks after the councils had been forcibly amalgamated and in response to the June 2016 storm, the NSW state government installed administrator Dick Persson outlined a Draft Coastal Erosion Policy for Collaroy that resulted in the December 2016 Coastal Zone Management Plan for Collaroy-Narrabeen Beach and Fishermans Beach being formalised under the same administration.

That Administrators Minute stated:

I am advised that the initial estimates for 1.1km of works from The Marquesas to 1096 Pittwater Road has been estimated at approximately $22 million. While Council will work with the State Government to meet the cost of directly protecting public assets in this area (approximately $5.5 million), I will also ask the State Government to join Council in providing up to 10% each towards the cost of private protection as a contribution subject to a positive cost benefit analysis for these public assets. Early estimates suggest this contribution could be approximately. This contribution has been estimated at approximately $3.3 million ($1.65 million from State and $1.65 million from Council) and is in recognition of the public asset protection that is provided by these private properties.
A recent report by the Sydney Coastal Council’s Group identified that to combat the impact of sea level rise in the Collaroy-Narrabeen embayment significant volumes of sand will be required as these impacts are felt. For example, it is predicted that some 1.3 million cubic metres of sand (approximately 4 times the amount removed during the June storms) will be required for the first 10 year nourishment effort, and around 420,000 cubic metres for each following 10 year campaign.
In 2009 dollars this will cost around $30 million for the first 10 year nourishment, and around $12 million for each following 10 year campaign. 
These costs are based on the assumption that sand nourishment will be undertaken across large areas of the NSW coast and the costs shared accordingly. 
Works on this scale are simply unaffordable for Northern Beaches Council on its own, and the responsibility for delivery of offshore sands must be shared with benefitting Councils and also with State and Federal Government. The State Government is obviously best placed to co-ordinate and manage such an undertaking, and I will write to the Premier to request that the State provides a long-term sand replenishment strategy for NSW that addresses the many issues I have raised, and amends the Offshore Minerals Act (1999) to enable effective medium and long term beach amenity to be preserved. 

The 7.5m concrete seawall section now installed has caused waves to reflect straight off the wall, resulting in more rapid and greater erosion, and a slower beach recovery.

A two-metre high king tide on January 4th, combined with a northeast swell generated by ex-Tropical Cyclone Seth off Queensland meant the wall had 4-5 feet waves bouncing against the wall and taking the beach back out to sea with them. 

Although the beach was quickly 'replenished' the section was impassable for beach users, would smash any sea animals coming ashore during wave events for rest against the concrete, and exposed the failure of the bund installed to facilitate the works.

Further south and north the beach the sand absorbed and flattened the wave energy. 

Collaroy on January 4th 2022. Image: Ian Bird Photography.

Collaroy on January 4th 2022. Image: Ian Bird Photography.

Mr. Donohoe's video also shows that the erosion and growing steepness of the beach site before the wall continues.

Images from 1900 show the difference between the amount of beach width of then and now:

Looking north to Narrabeen, From Scenes of Narrabeen album, circa. 1900-1910 Sydney & Ashfield : Broadhurst Post Card, Images No.: a106058h and below; a105160h courtesy The Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW

Collaroy Beach in earley [ie. early] days ca. 1900-1927; Sydney & Ashfield : Broadhurst Post Card Publishers, by  William Henry Broadhurst, 1855-1927, courtesy State Library of NSW

 Views north and south at North Narrabeen and Collaroy Beach Image Nos.: .a106051h a106052h,  from Scenes of Narrabeen Album, Courtesy The Mitchell Library, State Library NSW.

The public land that is the Collaroy-Narrabeen beachfront is also being lost through other aspects of this project. 

On Friday, August 6th 2021 the council published ‘’Council Provides Facts On The Collaroy Residents’ Seawall’’ where Item 4 states; 'The current works are entirely on private land'

However, a February 20th, 2019 document by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, ‘Notice of compulsory acquisition of land in the local government area of Narrabeen’ states;

‘The area of land 20m wide bound to the east by a line parallel to the eastern boundaries of Lots 6 to 8 Section 13 DP 111254, Lots 1 to 5 DP 10757, Lot 1 DP 121939, Lot A DP 167490 and Lot 1 DP 170202 and bound to the north by the prolongation of the northern boundary of Lot 8 Section 13 DP 111254 to the east and bound to the south by the prolongation of the southern boundary of Lot 1 DP 170202 to the east as indicated by hatching on the diagram below.’ 

The corresponding webpage states;

‘’ The DA is for a sloping rock revetment seawall, around 210 metres in length and 15 metres wide. The proposed structure, if approved, would encroach on Crown land by around 15 metres from property boundaries…’’


‘’ The department has granted landowner’s consent for the DA to be assessed by Northern Beaches Council, which is required under Environmental Planning Assessment Regulations 2000. Landowner’s consent is not development approval. It is only the first step in the planning assessment. Should the DA be approved by Northern Beaches Council, the department will then begin negotiations on an appropriate tenure for the occupation of Crown land.’’

The compulsory acquisition of 20 metres of land was approved on February 20th, 2019. The approval included a diagram of the land compulsorily acquired:

The Guardian Australia published a photo on October 24th, 2021 by Lewis Isaacs that shows how far east from the boundaries of the owners' private land this wall has been built. 

That report is called 'A 7m wall has gone up on a Sydney beach: are we destroying public space to save private property?

The south extension is causing anxiety for those who own these beachfront properties as well, with some submissions to the council DA2021/1612 webpage by those homeowners stating their mental health is being impacted, especially during storm events, and that 'the way forward isn't to punish the current residents of this strip of beach for the errors of the past.'

Other supporters state that without such walls the connection that is Pittwater road at Collaroy and Narrabeen will be cut off, as it has been in the past.

One Araucaria heterophylla, a Norfolk Island Pine, approx. 20m height at No.1204 Pittwater Road, is required to be removed as part of the extension north works.

Many studies have shown that with Climate Change storms are becoming more frequent and sea level rise will occur, prompting experts in the area of coastal engineering to state the council and the government need to acquire all these beachfront properties along this stretch of coast. 

The council has already stated that to purchase all the beachfront property just at Collaroy would run to the many hundreds of millions of dollars and is outside the budget of a local council and that given the numbers of affected properties around the country, there are no state or federal government plans to use taxpayer dollars for a buy back scheme either.

The 377 beachfront lot addresses had a July 1, 2012 combined unimproved land value of $239 million, at an average of $635,000 per address. This average was skewed by the large number of units (which do not get individually valued), with the average unimproved land value per lot address (with 97 lot addresses) being $2.5 million. The largest unimproved lot land value was $12.5 million at “Marquesas” (11 Ocean Street Narrabeen) and the smallest was $1.2 million.

Ten years usually doubles the price of homes in this area, land value aside, although recently beachfront and waterfront properties at Palm Beach have been selling for in excess of $20 million each.

The extension north proposal is supported by the council's Building Assessment and Principal Planning officers.

However, the Coastal Act and the Coastal SEPP both state that “Development consent must not be granted……unless the consent authority is satisfied” and there are a list of matters the consent authority must be “satisfied” are met. 

To be “satisfied” the consent authority has to have the qualifications and experience to be professionally satisfied. Reliance on external advice must be specific to the actual development location for the development type on the specific site and the specific location on that site. 

The available information, other than information submitted by the applicant (which cannot be construed as independent advice) does not meet the necessary criteria and hence the consent authority has no basis on which to be satisfied. 

The Local Planning Panel hearing for the DA '1 Clark Street Narrabeen' will be held on the 16th of March. 

Collaroy beachfront in 2016 - photos by A J Guesdon.


Published by Pittwater Pathways June 8, 2016

Avalon Dunes Bushcare

Avalon Dunes are really special and need our special care. Tiny birds like Blue Wrens like the thick bush, but we need to get rid of weeds that will take the place of good bird habitat.

We'll be back on Sunday February 6, meeting  at 8.30 near the Montessori School, off Tasman Rd.  We're concentrating on chasing Morning Glory, peacefully weeding and chatting in the shade. Quite a bit is left for next time though. Can you give us a hand?

Sunday, February 13, 2022; 8:00am – 11:00am
Hosted by Permaculture Northern Beaches
Learn first hand about the careful restoration of native plants through weeding, brush matting,  and picking up of litter to allow for native species to return to the iconic North Head as an important part of local biodiversity protection. 

Dr. Conny Harris has been working for 20 years on bush regeneration for Garigal Land Care - without the use of chemicals. Connie will be conducting a bush regeneration session at North Head on Sunday, July 25 and August 1 from 8 to 11 am to which you are invited. As the exact location may change and it will be dependent on weather conditions please contact Conny at 0432643295 to confirm.

Help restore degraded areas back to a healthy community of plants and animals.

Thursday, February 24, 2022: 7:30pm – 9:00pm
Hosted by Permaculture Northern Beaches

Zoom link for the webinar:
Meeting ID: 896 8229 8135

Join us for a presentation and Q&A with Mark Winser, General Manager –of the operations at Kimbriki, 
who will run through the processes for the wastes received, recovered, and recycled through the 
Kimbriki Resource Recovery Centre.

Kimbriki received around 265,000 tonnes of waste and recycled over 213,000 tonnes of products in the year 2020/21. Find out about these waste streams coming in and products streams going out, their 
journey to recovery and their end destinations.

Mark will also discuss the challenges in identifying new recovery options and in particular the issues 
around source separation versus sorting mixed wastes as well as engaging in a question and answer 
session about all things waste!

We will adjust to COVID protocols and update any information on the website and our e-newsletter.  To get our monthly newsletter and stay up to date with our events you can do so on our website at:

Ned Kelly sculpture at entrance to Kimbriki Resource Recovery Centre - made from discarded metals. Photo: A J Guesdon. 

Friends Of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment - Next Forum 

Zoom Meeting; 7pm February 28. Speaker: Jayden Walsh
Topic: The Pan Gnammas, Rock-gardens, Rainforests and Conifers of the Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment 
Pan gnammas occur across Australia, mainly in granites and sandstones. They typically are water holes in rock surfaces with steep or sloping sides, flat floors, depths up to about 25 cm but more usually around 10cm. 

Ecologist and local resident Jayden Walsh will be leading us on a journey through the Narrabeen Lagoon catchment, taking us to some of the most interesting and varied places in the area.
After a decade of intensive off-track exploration within the catchment, Jayden will show many photos and talk about places, plants, animals and history rarely encountered by most due to their remoteness and difficult terrain.

From pan gnammas of the ancient sandstone escarpments to rainforests only several thousand years old, the diversity of the area’s landforms and soils dictate an ever-changing and rich diversity of life.
The beauty of our Catchment will be revealed in a presentation not to be missed, so come and hear Jayden discuss some of the many reasons we fight to protect our area.

Join FoNLC and find out more at:

Image: Pan gnamma in Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment. Photo credit: Jayden Walsh/FoNLC

Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew Next Clean Is At: Queenscliff: Sunday 27th Of February

Come and join us for our Queenscliff clean up. We'll meet at the Manly/Queenscliff Lagoon, close to the carpark by Cameron Avenue. 
We have clean and washed gloves, bags and buckets. We'll clean up the grass area to try and catch the litter before it hits the lagoon and the beach as well as cleaning the lagoon/beach area, trying to remove as much plastic, cigarette butts and rubbish as possible. We're a friendly group of people and everyone is welcome to this family friendly event (just leave political, religious and business messages at home so everyone feel welcome). It's a nice community - make some new friends and do a good deed for the planet at the same time. Send us a message if you are lost (link below). 

We meet at 10am for a briefing. Then we generally clean between 60-90 minutes. After that, we sort and count the rubbish so we can contribute to litter research. We normally finish around 12.30 when we go to lunch together (at own cost). 

Please note, we completely understand if you cannot stay for the whole event. We are just grateful for any help we can get. No booking required. Just show up on the day.
Also, our friends at Surfboard Souls Manly are joining us to pick up old and damaged and unwanted fiberglass surfboards, so if you have any, please bring them along, so they can be repurposed into Art.

Bushwalkers Reminded To Be Prepared Before Heading Outdoors After Recent Rescues

Friday, 04 February 2022
The NSW Police Force is reminding outdoor enthusiasts to be prepared before heading into the bush after a series of recent rescues involving injured or lost hikers and canyoners over summer.

So far this year, police have rescued 22 hikers across the state after they became lost or injured in bushland and national parks.

Blue Mountains Police Rescue Team Leader, Sergeant Dallas Atkinson, said summer has been a busy period for police as more people head outdoors for recreation, including bushwalking and canyoning.

“National parks and bushland are natural, unpredictable environments, and the reality is that often people will get lost despite their best efforts,” Sgt Atkinson said.

“We don’t want outdoor adventures to end in tragedy, so we’re encouraging people to be prepared and ‘Think Before You Trek’.

“It takes only a few simple steps to ensure you are prepared for the bush, and it can make the difference between life and death,” Sgt Atkinson said.

The Think Before You Trek bush safety campaign encourages people heading into the bush and national parks to be prepared, with these simple steps:
  1. Take enough water, food and first aid supplies
  2. Register your trip on the National Parks and Wildlife Service website (trip intention form) at;
  3. Keep to a planned route
  4. Install the Emergency Plus application and take a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), or satellite communication device, to use as a last resort
A PLB helped save two lost and dehydrated bushwalkers who activated the device as a last resort in the Blue Mountains last month.

PolAir 2 and Police Rescue commenced a search for the pair after they activated the PLB about 5pm on Sunday 2 January 2022 from near Mount Hay.

A short time later, the bushwalkers – a 41-year-old woman and 42-year-old man – were located by the crew of Pol Air 2, some distance from a walking track near Boorong Crags and severely dehydrated. As it was getting dark, the crew decided to winch the bushwalkers to safety.

The trekkers were then flown to Mount Hay car park, where they were assessed by NSW Ambulance paramedics for dehydration.

Sergeant Atkinson said the rescue serves as a reminder of the importance of being prepared.

“This was a situation that could have ended very differently had they not had a PLB, given their level of dehydration and time of day,” Sgt Atkinson said.

“If you’re prepared, emergency services will be able to locate and rescue you. It’s always a good day for police when we can bring people safely home to their loved ones.”

Other recent incidents of note include:
  • Police received a notification from a GPS tracking device about two lost canyoners at Butterbox Point, Blue Mountains, about 6.10pm on Tuesday 11 January 2022. PolAir and Police Rescue conducted a search for the canyoners, locating the pair soon after. The men – aged 28 and 30 – were exhausted, and with night approaching the crew of PolAir winched them to safety. They were flown to a carpark at Mount Hay and assessed by paramedics, however they were uninjured.
  • About 6pm on Thursday 17 February 2022, police received reports a 59-year-old woman had broken her leg while canyoning with three others at Butterbox Canyon. A NSW Ambulance helicopter winched the woman to safety, and she was flown to hospital in a stable condition. Police Rescue and NSW Ambulance paramedics hiked into the area and located the remaining three people, a woman and man aged in their 50s and a 15-year-old girl. They were uninjured. The rescue party stayed with the group overnight, before everyone was flown out the following day.
  • About 9pm on Monday 3 January 2022, emergency services were called after two women – aged 27 and 24 – and two teenage girls – both aged 16 – became lost while bushwalking at Clover Hill Trail, Macquarie Pass, with only a small amount of food and water in their possession. Police asked the younger woman to install the Emergency Plus application on her phone to provide coordinates for their location. Police Rescue, with assistance from Lake Illawarra Police District, and NSW State Emergency Service (SES), conducted a search for the group, locating them just before 11pm between Clover Falls and Mulagong Falls. They were assessed by NSW Ambulance paramedics but were uninjured.
  • Two bushwalkers contacted police after becoming lost and running out of water near the Wollangambe River at Mount Wilson about 7pm on Friday 31 December 2021. The pair – a 28-year-old woman and a 30-year-old man – provided their coordinates and PolAir 4 was able to locate them atop a ridge. PolAir landed nearby and the pair were brought onboard the aircraft before being flown to a landing site near Mount Wilson Rural Fire Service. They were uninjured.
  • About 3pm on Saturday 1 January 2022, a 52-year-old man was walking along a coastal track in the Royal National Park when he fainted and twisted his ankle at Burning Palms Beach. Lifeguards responded and contacted emergency services. The man was assessed by NSW Ambulance paramedics before being transported by PolAir to the Burning Palms carpark. He was further assessed by paramedics for minor injuries.
‘Think Before You TREK’ is a bush safety initiative between the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and NSW Police. For more information on how to be prepared, please visit:

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

Sydney Wildlife Rescue: Helpers Needed

First Records Of Killer Whales Hunting Blue Whales: Western Australia

January 31, 2022
In late March 2019, annual whale and dolphin research surveys led by Cetacean Research Centre (CETREC WA), discovered the first ever record of killer whales hunting and killing an adult blue whale. Just two weeks later a blue whale calf was taken by many of the same individuals. Since then, an additional event of another blue whale calf predation was recorded in 2021.

Killer whales are the ocean's apex predator and therefore have a large influence on marine environments. They prey on a large variety of species, including whales.

They are known to predate on large whale calves globally, such as gray and humpback whales, however until now it was unknown whether they hunt and kill the largest whale, the blue whale. Understanding killer whales' role in the marine ecosystem is particularly important for monitoring their prey species, including those that are still recovering from commercial whaling.

In Australia, two populations of killer whales have recently been discovered and both feed at least in part on marine mammals. The southwestern Australian population, found predominately in the Bremer sub-basin (BSB) region has over 140 known animals to date. These large aggregations are observed mostly during summer and autumn, though may occupy these waters year-round.

This southwestern Australian population is most often found seaward of the continental shelf in the Bremer sub-basin.

"These guys are ferocious with a preference for squid, fish and beaked whales. In recent years recordings of the number of beaked whales taken have increased, in this region they are known to also predate on humpback and minke," says CETREC lead researcher, John Totterdell, the lead author.

In 2019, CETREC WA along with Project ORCA were running their annual whale and dolphin surveys heading towards the deep sub-basin waters and stumbled across the first ever documented event of killer whales attacking and eventually killing a healthy adult blue whale.

"When we arrived about 14 killer whales were attacking the blue in 70m waters, with the female killer whales leading the attack. At arrival we already noticed a substantial flesh wound on the top of its head with bone exposed. The dorsal fin was missing, no doubt bitten off by the killer whales. Tooth-rake marks were evident in front and behind where the dorsal once was and even all the way to the whale's tail," says Flinders University PhD Candidate, Isabella Reeves, co-author.

"Soon after, there was large chunks of skin and blubber stripped off the sides of the whale, the blue was bleeding profusely and was weakening, evident by its slow speed. Coordinated attack by several killer whales resulted in some females ramming the side of the whale while others attacked the head.

"Close to the end, a female animal lunged head first into the blue's mouth, presumably to feed on the tongue, the whale weakened more and we did not see the carcass again. After the whale carcass sunk, about 50 killer whales were in the area feasting and sharing around the blue's flesh," says Totterdell.

In 2019 and 2021, Naturaliste Charters and Whale Watch WA documented a single predation each year with juvenile blue whales in the Bremer sub-basin where relatively similar strategies were on display, however male killer whales were also active in the last two events and calves in the third attack.

Unlike event 1, dorsal fins remained attached but tooth-rakes were visible in these later events. In all three events, at least 16 of the same animals participated in the attacks, and multiple were active in two events.

During these predation events many flesh-footed shearwaters, albatross, storm petrels were attracted and towards the end of events 2 and 3, groups of 100+ long-finned pilot whales arrived, perhaps attracted by the chaos.

Although there is previous documentation of killer whales attacking and harassing blue whales, these three predation events are the first confirmed kills.

These predatory behaviours have been witnessed in other predation events with large whales. The hunting strategy, if successful, results in tiring out and immobilising the blue whale leaving them defenceless and an easy target.

"It is suggested that killer whale predation has impeded grey whale population recovery in the Northwest pacific, yet in Australia, with many whale species known to be targeted by killer whales, the impact of their predation on these populations remains unknown.

"This study, combined with our recent research, highlights the need for increased understanding of killer whale population ecology so we can better determine their impact on the marine ecosystem in Austrailan waters," says Totterdell.

John A. Totterdell, Rebecca Wellard, Isabella M. Reeves, Brodie Elsdon, Pia Markovic, Machi Yoshida, Ashleigh Fairchild, Gemma Sharp, Robert L. Pitman. The first three records of killer whales ( Orcinus orca ) killing and eating blue whales ( Balaenoptera musculus ). Marine Mammal Science, 2022; DOI: 10.1111/mms.12906

Video: Orcas Kill Baby Blue Whale - NB: NOT suitable for Children.

The Path To Renewable Fuel Just Became Easier

February 2, 2022
The holy grail of bio-fuel researchers is to develop a self-sustaining process that converts waste from sewage, food crops, algae and other renewable carbon sources into fuels, while keeping waste carbon out of our atmosphere and water. Much progress has been made in converting such waste to useful fuel but completing the cycle using clean energy has proved a tough nut to crack.

Now, a research team at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has developed a system that does just that. PNNL's electrocatalytic oxidation fuel recovery system simultaneously turns what has been considered unrecoverable, diluted "waste" carbon into valuable chemicals, while simultaneously generating useful hydrogen. Being powered by renewables makes the process carbon-neutral or even potentially carbon-negative.

The key to making it all work is an elegantly designed catalyst that combines billions of infinitesimally small metal particles and an electric current to speed up the energy conversion at room temperature and pressure.

"The currently used methods of treating biocrude requires high-pressure hydrogen, which is usually generated from natural gas," said Juan A. Lopez-Ruiz, a PNNL chemical engineer and project lead. "Our system can generate that hydrogen itself while simultaneously treating the wastewater at near atmospheric conditions using excess renewable electricity, making it inexpensive to operate and potentially carbon neutral."

A hungry system
In laboratory experiments, the research team has tested the system using a sample of wastewater from an industrial-scale biomass conversion process for almost 200 hours of continuous operation without losing any efficiency in the process. The only limitation was that the research team ran out of their wastewater sample.

"It's a hungry system," Lopez-Ruiz said. "The reaction rate of the process is proportional to how much waste carbon you are trying to convert. It could run indefinitely if you had wastewater to keep cycling through it."

The patent-pending system solves several problems that have plagued efforts to make biomass an economically viable source of renewable energy, according to Lopez-Ruiz.

"We know how to turn biomass into fuel," Lopez-Ruiz said. "But we still struggle to make the process energy efficient, economical and environmentally sustainable -- especially for small, distributed scales. This system runs on electricity, which can come from renewable sources. And it generates its own heat and fuel to keep it running. It has the potential to complete the energy recovery cycle."

"As the electric grid starts to shift its energy sources toward integrating more renewables," he added, "it makes more and more sense to rely on electricity for our energy needs. We developed a process that uses electricity to power conversion of carbon compounds in wastewater into useful products, while removing impurities like nitrogen and sulfur compounds."

Closing the energy gap
One very effective process for conversion of wet waste carbon to fuel is called hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL). This process, in essence, compresses the natural, fossil fuel-production time, converting wet biomass into an energy-dense biocrude oil in hours instead of millennia. But the process is incomplete in the sense that the wastewater that is produced as part of the process needs further treatment to obtain added value from what would otherwise be a liability.

"We realized that same (electro)chemical reaction that removed the organic molecules from wastewater could be also used to directly upgrade the biocrude at room temperature and atmospheric pressure as well" Lopez-Ruiz said.

This is where the new PNNL process comes into play. Unrefined biocrude and wastewater can be fed into the system directly from an HTL output stream or other wet waste. The PNNL process consists of what's called a flow cell where the wastewater and biocrude flows through the cell and encounters a charged environment created by an electric current. The cell itself is divided in half by a membrane.

The positively charged half, called an anode, contains a thin titanium foil coated with nanoparticles of ruthenium oxide. Here, the waste stream undergoes a catalytic conversion, with biocrude being converted to useful oils and paraffin. Simultaneously, water soluble contaminants, such as oxygen and nitrogen-containing compounds, undergo a chemical conversion that turns them into nitrogen and oxygen gasses -- normal components of the atmosphere. The wastewater that emerges from the system, with contaminants removed, can then be fed back into the HTL process.

A new patent-pending flow cell bioreactor developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory can purify wastewater (seen here) and generate hydrogen to help fuel the process. Photo by Andrea Starr: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

On the negatively charged half of the flow cell, called a cathode, a different reaction takes place that can either hydrogenate organic molecules (such as the ones in treated biocrude) or generate hydrogen gas -- an emerging energy source that the flow cell developers see as a potential source of fuel.

"We see the hydrogen by-product generated by the process as a net plus. When collected and fed into the system as a fuel, it could keep the system running with fewer energy inputs, potentially making it more economical and carbon-neutral than current biomass conversion operations," said Lopez-Ruiz.

The speed of chemical conversion provides an added benefit to the system.

"We did a comparison of rates -- that is how fast we can remove oxygen from organic molecules with our system as opposed to the energy-intensive thermal removal," Lopez-Ruiz said. "We obtained more than 100 times higher conversion rates with the electrochemical system at atmospheric conditions than with the thermal system at intermediate hydrogen pressures and temperatures." These findings were published in the Journal of Applied Catalysis B: Environmental in November 2020.

Reducing rare Earth metal use
One major drawback of many commercial technologies is their reliance of rare Earth metals, often the co-called platinum group metals. The global supply chain for these elements relies heavily on dated extraction processes that are energy intensive, consume a lot of water and create toxic waste. Imports account for 100 percent of the United States' supply for 14 of 35 critical materials and more than half of 17 others, according to the Department of Energy, which has made domestic supply a top priority.

The system addresses this problem by incorporating a unique method of depositing nanoparticles of the metals responsible for the chemical conversion. These particles have a large surface area, which require less metal to do its work. "We found that using metal nanoparticles as opposed metal thin films and foils reduced the metal content and improved the electrochemical performance" said Lopez-Ruiz. These findings were recently published in the Journal of Applied Catalysis B: Environmental. The novel catalyst requires 1,000 times less precious metal, in this case ruthenium, than is commonly needed for similar processes. Specifically, the laboratory-scale flow reactor uses an electrode with about 5 to 15 milligrams of ruthenium, compared with about 10 grams of platinum for a comparable reactor.

About those useless carbon compounds
The research team has also shown that the PNNL process can handle processing of small water-soluble carbon compounds -- byproducts found in the water waste stream of current HTL processes -- as well as many other industrial processes. There are about a dozen of these devilishly difficult to process small, carbon compounds in the wastewater streams at low concentrations. Until now, there has been no cost-effective technology to handle them. These short-chain carbon compounds, like propanoic acid and butanoic acid, undergo transformation to fuels, such as ethane, propane, hexane and hydrogen, during the newly developed process.

A preliminary cost analysis showed the electricity cost required to run the system can be fully offset by running the operation at low voltage, using the propane or butane to generate heat and selling the excess hydrogen generated. These findings were published in the July 2020 issue of the Journal of Applied Electrochemistry.

Battelle, which manages and operates PNNL for the federal government, has applied for a United States patent for the electrochemical process. CogniTek Management Systems (CogniTek), a global company that brings energy products and technology solutions to market, has licensed the technology from PNNL. CogniTek will be integrating the PNNL wastewater treatment technology into patented biomass processing systems that CogniTek and its strategic partners are developing and commercializing. Their goal is the production of biofuels, such as biodiesel and bio jet fuels. In addition to the commercialization agreement, PNNL and CogniTek will collaborate to scale up the wastewater treatment reactor from laboratory scale to demonstration scale.

"We at CogniTek are excited by the opportunity to extend the PNNL technology, in combination with our core patents and patent pending decarbonization technology," said CogniTek Chief Executive Officer Michael Gurin.

The technology, dubbed Clean Sustainable Electrochemical Treatment -- or CleanSET, is available for license by other companies or municipalities interested in developing it for industry-specific uses in municipal wastewater treatment plants, dairy farms, breweries, chemical manufacturers and food and beverage producers. To learn more about how this technology works, or to schedule a meeting with a technology commercialization manager, visit PNNL's Available Technologies site.

Yang Qiu, Juan A. Lopez-Ruiz, Guomin Zhu, Mark H. Engelhard, Oliver Y. Gutiérrez, Jamie D. Holladay. Electrocatalytic decarboxylation of carboxylic acids over RuO2 and Pt nanoparticles. Applied Catalysis B: Environmental, 2022; 305: 121060 DOI: 10.1016/j.apcatb.2021.121060

Number Of Earth's Tree Species Estimated To Be 14% Higher Than Currently Known With Some 9,200 Species Yet To Be Discovered

February 3, 2022
A new study involving more than 100 scientists from across the globe and the largest forest database yet assembled estimates that there are about 73,000 tree species on Earth, including about 9,200 species yet to be discovered.

The global estimate is about 14% higher than the current number of known tree species. Most of the undiscovered species are likely to be rare, with very low populations and limited spatial distribution, the study shows.

That makes the undiscovered species especially vulnerable to human-caused disruptions such as deforestation and climate change, according to the study authors, who say the new findings will help prioritize forest conservation efforts.

"These results highlight the vulnerability of global forest biodiversity to anthropogenic changes, particularly land use and climate, because the survival of rare taxa is disproportionately threatened by these pressures," said University of Michigan forest ecologist Peter Reich, one of two senior authors of a paper scheduled for publication Jan. 31 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"By establishing a quantitative benchmark, this study could contribute to tree and forest conservation efforts and the future discovery of new trees and associated species in certain parts of the world," said Reich, director of the Institute for Global Change Biology at U-M's School for Environment and Sustainability.

For the study, the researchers combined tree abundance and occurrence data from two global datasets -- one from the Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative and the other from TREECHANGE -- that use ground-sourced forest-plot data. The combined databases yielded a total of 64,100 documented tree species worldwide, a total similar to a previous study that found about 60,000 tree species on the planet.

"We combined individual datasets into one massive global dataset of tree-level data," said the study's other senior author, Jingjing Liang of Purdue University, coordinator of the Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative.

"Each set comes from someone going out to a forest stand and measuring every single tree -- collecting information about the tree species, sizes and other characteristics. Counting the number of tree species worldwide is like a puzzle with pieces spread all over the world."

After combining the datasets, the researchers used novel statistical methods to estimate the total number of unique tree species at biome, continental and global scales -- including species yet to be discovered and described by scientists. A biome is a major ecological community type, such as a tropical rainforest, a boreal forest or a savanna.

Their conservative estimate of the total number of tree species on Earth is 73,274, which means there are likely about 9,200 tree species yet to be discovered, according to the researchers, who say their new study uses a vastly more extensive dataset and more advanced statistical methods than previous attempts to estimate the planet's tree diversity. The researchers used modern developments of techniques first devised by mathematician Alan Turing during World War II to crack Nazi code, Reich said.

Roughly 40% of the undiscovered tree species -- more than on any other continent -- are likely to be in South America, which is mentioned repeatedly in the study as being of special significance for global tree diversity.

South America is also the continent with the highest estimated number of rare tree species (about 8,200) and the highest estimated percentage (49%) of continentally endemic tree species -- meaning species found only on that continent.

Hot spots of undiscovered South American tree species likely include the tropical and subtropical moist forests of the Amazon basin, as well as Andean forests at elevations between 1,000 meters (about 3,300 feet) and 3,500 meters (about 11,480 feet).

"Beyond the 27,000 known tree species in South America, there might be as many as another 4,000 species yet to be discovered there. Most of them could be endemic and located in diversity hot spots of the Amazon basin and the Andes-Amazon interface," said Reich, who was recruited by U-M's Biosciences Initiative and joined the faculty last fall from the University of Minnesota, where he maintains a dual appointment.

"This makes forest conservation of paramount priority in South America, especially considering the current tropical forest crisis from anthropogenic impacts such as deforestation, fires and climate change," he said.

Worldwide, roughly half to two-thirds of all already known tree species occur in tropical and subtropical moist forests, which are both species-rich and poorly studied by scientists. Tropical and subtropical dry forests likely hold high numbers of undiscovered tree species, as well.

"Extensive knowledge of tree richness and diversity is key to preserving the stability and functioning of ecosystems," said study lead author Roberto Cazzolla Gatti of the University of Bologna in Italy.

Forests provide many "ecosystem services" to humanity for free. In addition to supplying timber, fuelwood, fiber and other products, forests clean the air, filter the water, and help control erosion and flooding. They help preserve biodiversity, store climate-warming carbon, and promote soil formation and nutrient cycling while offering recreational opportunities such as hiking, camping, fishing and hunting.

Roberto Cazzolla Gatti et al. The number of tree species on Earth. PNAS, 2022 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2115329119

The ancient, intimate relationship between trees and fungi, from fairy toadstools to technicolour mushrooms

Cortinarius kula Mark BrundrettAuthor provided
Gregory MooreThe University of Melbourne and Mark BrundrettThe University of Western Australia

Environmental scientists see flora, fauna and phenomena the rest of us rarely do. In this series, we’ve invited them to share their unique photos from the field.

You may be familiar with the red toadstool with white spots, which are often the homes of fairies in children’s stories. These toadstools are also a small part of grander magical story: they are striking examples of mycorrhizas.

Mycorrhizas (pronounced my-cor-rye-zas) is the name for fungi associated with the root systems of many plants including trees, shrubs, groundcovers and grasses. These relationships are mutually symbiotic, which means both members benefit.

Fungi have a deeply ancient evolutionary origin, and colonised land with the first plants around 500 million years ago to form these partnerships. We humans often underestimate their importance to the ecosystems that have shaped life on earth.

So let’s take a closer look at how this relationship works and why it’s so important for Australian ecosystems.

An Intimate Relationship

Fungi come in a beautiful diversity of shapes, sizes and colours. The following photos by my co-author Mark Brundrett are just a few examples of those growing in southwest Australia.

Mycorrhizas are not to be confused with fungi that decompose dead plant matter (saprophytes) or those that cause disease (pathogens).

Saprophytes are fungi that recycle nutrients, and these can also be large and impressive. They can create tree hollows, which provide shelter for nesting birds and other animals such as possums.

The ethereal ghost fungus, for example, is a saprophyte. It famously glows green in the dark, and recycles nutrients in ecosystems by breaking down dead wood.

The bioluminescent ghost fungus growing on a tree stump. Mark BrundrettAuthor provided

The primary role of mycorrhizas, on the other hand, is to provide resources such as phosphorus and nitrogen to flowering plants. They also effectively increase the absorptive surface area of the plant’s root system, allowing plants to take up much-needed water and nutrients so they grow better and more quickly.

In return, the plants provide carbohydrates, a product of photosynthesis, which mycorrhizas require to grow.

The yellow navel fungus Lichenomphalia chromacea forms a protective crust on soils in association with lichen fungi and algae. Mark BrundrettAuthor provided
Cortinarius vinaceolamellatus is a beautiful fungus that supports the growth of of tall eucalyptus forests. Mark BrundrettAuthor provided
This saprophyte is a relative of the common mushroom sold in shops (a species of Agaricus). Australian fungi can be toxic so leave them where they grow. Mark BrundrettAuthor provided

There are five different types of mycorrhizas, and two of these are particularly important in Australian ecosystems. One type is called “ectomycorrhiza”, where fungi wrap their hyphae (long, very fine hair-like structures that contact the soil) around the plant roots underground but don’t penetrate the root cells.

The other, called “endomycorrhiza”, is where fungi grow into the plant root, penetrating and branching within the root cells to form what look like little, microscopic trees. This is about as intimate a relationship between different types of organisms as you can get!

Microscopic cross-sectional view of an ectomycorrhizal pine tree root about 0.5 millimetres wide. This revels a labyrinth of black stained fungus hyphae surrounding root cells to form a nutrient exchange zone. Mark BrundrettAuthor provided
Arbuscular mycorrhizas are tiny tree-like growths inside the root cell where materials are exchanged with the host plant. Mark BrundrettAuthor provided

Mushrooms As Big As Dinner Plates

We often become aware of the presence of mycorrhizas only when conditions for reproduction are right, and a mushroom or toadstool emerges from the ground. Such conditions may only occur every five to ten years. For some species, there may be centuries between reproductive events.

For many of us, our experience with mycorrhizal fungi begins in very early childhood when we first catch sight of those spotty red and white toadstools, called the fly agaric or Amanita muscaria.

These fungi are often depicted in children’s book illustrations, such as Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and a number of Enid Blyton’s tales. I recall conifers, such as pine trees, often growing nearby in the background of these pictures. This was no coincidence, Amanita muscaria forms mycorrhizal associations with many conifers, as well as oaks.

The fly agaric or Amanita muscaria is a striking fungus often seen in children’s books. Mark BrundrettAuthor provided
The fame of Amanita muscaria also arises from the hallucinogenic properties it sometimes has, but this fungus is most likely to have toxic consequences for those who eat it. It was also used as a natural insect killer. Mark BrundrettAuthor provided

The mycorrhizal fungi associated with eucalypts can be less showy, with many being 75-100 millimetres across and a creamy, light tan in colour. They quite often pop up in home gardens, frequently in lawns, where they’re very obvious and usually within 4 to 5 metres of a tree trunk.

Others are spectacular, including the bright purple, orange or green Cortinarius species shown in the photos below. In fact, the beauty and diversity of our fungi now supports a new ecotourism industry in Australia, particularly in Tasmania.

The bright green mushroom Cortinarius austroveneta is found in tall eucalypt forests. Mark BrundrettAuthor provided
Cortinarius erythrocephalus is another brilliantly coloured mycorrhizal forest mushroom. Mark BrundrettAuthor provided
Cortinarius rotundisporus, also known as the elegant blue webcap, can be found in southern Australia. Mark BrundrettAuthor provided

Some fungi are most impressive in the spring following bushfires, such as the abundant orange cup fungus shown below that stabilises ash beds.

The orange cup fungus Anthrocobya muelleri is found briefly after severe fires. Mark BrundrettAuthor provided

Indeed, most plants form mycorrhizal associations. Those that don’t include plants from the common vegetable families brassicaceae (think broccoli, cauliflower, kale) and chenopodiaceae (spinach, beetroot, and quinoa). Neither do members of the proteaceae family, such as native banksias and grevilleas. These plants invest in very complex roots rather than fungal associations.

This is a species of Ramaria, a mycorrhizal genus comprising approximately 200 species of coral fungi. Mark Brundrett
Phlebopus marginatus is possibly Australia’s largest terrestrial mushroom, with one found in Victoria weighing in at 29 kilograms. Mark BrundrettAuthor provided

Who’s Really In Control?

Because we are so familiar with many of the plants in our environment, we are inclined to think it’s them that control their relationship with mycorrhizal fungi.

But it is possible mycorrhizal fungi exercise much more control. Or perhaps, the relationship is a perfect mutualistic symbiosis where partners share everything, including control, equally. We just don’t know yet.

Members of the fungus kingdom work in synchrony with the plant kingdom to support all terrestrial life, including animals such as ourselves. We may not think about fungi very often, but we cannot survive without them.

One of the surprise elements of Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, was that the Earth and its inhabitants existed as part of an experiment designed and controlled by white laboratory mice.

I sometimes wonder if the fate of the Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems rests on mycorrhizal fungi. If so, perhaps we need to show them greater respect.The Conversation

Gregory Moore, Doctor of Botany, The University of Melbourne and Mark Brundrett, Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Western Australia

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

Queensland has an important network of private conservation areas, but they’re dangerously exposed to mining

Tarcutta Hills Reserve. Bush Heritage AustraliaAuthor provided
Rebecca Louise NelsonThe University of Melbourne and Rebecca SpindlerUNSW

Australia has the world’s largest network of privately owned conservation areas that protect a range of rare wildlife, from bilbies to endangered fish.

There are some 6,000 non-government conservation areas across the continent, which are owned by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, individuals and NGOs. They build a more comprehensive protected area network than public protected areas can achieve alone, ensuring more species have a fighting chance against the changing climate.

These lands cover more area in Queensland than any other state. But our new research finds Queensland’s laws fail to protect them from the hidden impacts of mining on the groundwater sustaining them.

This is because private investments in conservation land aren’t legally protected in the same way as commercial assets or capital, nor like national parks. To safeguard these crucial habitats and ecosystems against the threats of mining, we need legal reform in Queensland and an urgent exploration of these vulnerabilities across Australia.

Beyond National Parks

Governments rightly encourage growth in Australia’s privately protected areas. Conservation landholders invest in restoring degraded land, re-introduce ecologically and culturally important species, and carefully design innovative habitat protection measures.

Camera trap photo of a Black-Gloved Wallaby at Fitz-Stirling Reserves, Noongar Country, WA. Bush Heritage Australia

For example, the Olkola Aboriginal Corporation of Cape York has developed a successful carbon abatement project and a long-term plan to save the totemic endangered Alwal (golden-shouldered parrot), and defend it from mining.

Likewise, a non-profit organisation owns the Mount Rothwell reserve. After successfully reintroducing the mainland eastern barred bandicoot in 2004, the reserve now protects over 80% of the species’ population in the largest feral predator-free ecosystem in Victoria.

Privately protected areas also safeguard some of Australia’s most threatened and under-protected habitat types. This includes critically endangered grassy box woodlands in New South Wales, and the Fitz Stirling biodiversity hotspot in Western Australia.

Investing in privately protected areas also makes economic sense. A 2020 Ernst & Young report shows investing in privately protected areas can provide significant stimulus to support Australia’s recovery from COVID.

Bush Heritage ecologist Dr Matt Appleby at Tarcutta Hills Reserve, Wiradjuri Country, NSW. Annette Ruzicka

Why Private Conservation Land Is Vulnerable

But Australia’s environment laws leave privately protected areas exposed to resource development projects, both within and outside the boundaries of the land.

Unlike national parks, mining projects are allowed to be developed within privately owned nature refuges against the land owner’s wishes. This has been a longstanding concern of conservationists worldwide.

Only very small areas of environmentally valuable private land in Queensland are protected from mining under legal arrangements that are very rarely applied. This includes a single declared Special Wildlife Reserve (a recent legal upgrade from nature refuge arrangements), and parts of Queensland’s strategic environmental areas.

Both privately protected land and national parks are also at risk from development projects operating outside their boundaries. One of the biggest threats is the impact of mining on groundwater, the focus of our research.

Groundwater is natural life support for arid Australia, with ecosystems and landscapes – such as desert springs, wetlands, rivers and forests – dependent on it. Alongside the potential for water contamination, a major threat mining and gas developments pose on groundwater is over-extraction.

Mines and gas developments can require billions of litres of fresh water each year to operate, competing with water that ecosystems need to survive. These impacts can last for hundreds or even thousands of years, though the details aren’t always fully disclosed.

Volunteers plant trees as part of Bush Heritage’s climate-ready revegetation experiment at Nardoo Hills Reserves, Dja Dja Wurrung Country, Vic. Bush Heritage Australia

We untangled the complex web of environmental, mining and water laws regulating mining and gas developments in Queensland, and found three key biases that leave nature refuges vulnerable.

1. Land title boundaries can act like legal blinkers on risk

Even if there are scientific studies predicting long-range impacts, there are no requirements for miners or governments to tell conservation landholders that a mine will likely affect them, unless their land is next door.

If a conservation landholder isn’t aware of an impact to their land, then they can’t object to a project or appeal a decision to approve it, and might make futile ecological investments. They also can’t protect infrastructure like bores, which miners’ assessment processes have overlooked in the past.

2. Policies focus on damage to built and commercial infrastructure

This includes damaged roads and fences, or dead livestock. Laws and policies don’t consider or require compensation for damage to ecological investments in conservation areas. This is despite governments claiming progress in private conservation land towards international conservation targets.

3. Cumulative impacts can be ignored

Queensland’s environmental laws don’t require a government decision-maker deciding on whether to approve a mining project to consider cumulative effects. The damage from one project might seem tolerable on its own, but not when it’s considered alongside others in the region. Some policies briefly mention this, but they aren’t detailed or legally binding.

Queensland’s water laws are better, but still only require companies and governments to predict impacts to springs, and suggest strategies to respond. This means preventing and mitigating impacts – such as shrinking or drying spring-fed wetlands – is legally optional and they can ignore other groundwater-dependent ecosystems and climate change.

Bush Heritage Reserve Manager Greg Carroll at Naree Station Reserve, Budjiti Country, NSW after a major rainfall event. Rebecca Spindler

What Needs To Change?

Removing these legal blinkers requires law reform:

  • all landholdings scientifically predicted to experience changes due to a mine should be notified

  • any protection, mitigation and compensation provisions should recognise investments in conserving and restoring native species and ecosystems, not just houses, fences and livestock

  • risks to nature refuges must be understood as cumulative to avoid a death by a thousand cuts.

In the meantime, conservation landholders can take steps to protect themselves. For example, sector leaders could aggregate public information about resource development applications and alert conservation landholders who might miss them.

Landholders should document how they rely on bores and how they invest in conserving and restoring ecological assets. They could apply for licences to use groundwater for ecological or wildlife purposes to better defend their water resources.

Our complex laws haven’t kept up with Australia’s increasing reliance on private investment in wildlife conservation. Securing permanent environmental benefits from private land means protecting it from the compounding, long-term effects of extractive industries.The Conversation

Rebecca Louise Nelson, Associate Professor in Law, The University of Melbourne and Rebecca Spindler, Adjunct associate professor, UNSW

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

Labor’s plan to green the Kurri Kurri gas power plant makes no sense

Bruce MountainVictoria University

Is it possible to have your cake and eat it too? Federal Labor is certainly giving it a go by supporting government plans for a fossil gas/diesel peaking plant in the Hunter Valley currently under construction – as long as the plant switches to green hydrogen by 2030.

This is disappointing for three reasons.

One, we don’t actually need the Kurri Kurri power station. It will be a government-built white elephant.

Two, retrofitting it to burn hydrogen would be so expensive as to be unrealistic.

And three, burning hydrogen for power is about the least useful thing you can do with it.

The gas/diesel plant under construction and Labor’s hydrogen proposal came from the realm of politics. It should have stayed there.

Why Did Labor Switch Its Position?

Labor has long been split on the Kurri Kurri power station, which has been touted as a way to augment dispatchable generation. At first, Labor denounced the Morrison government’s plans, with climate change spokesman Chris Bowen describing it as a “cynical attempt to pick a fight on gas and continue the climate wars, or to reward the major Liberal donor who owns the Kurri Kurri site”.

Now they say it will create jobs and help provide reliable and affordable electricity.

As a nod to climate change action, Labor leader Anthony Albanese and climate spokesman Chris Bowen announced the switch with the caveat that Kurri Kurri will use green hydrogen to power 30% of its production when the plant enters service in 2023 and 100% by 2030. Labor says it is prepared to spend up to another $700 million on the plant.

It has been widely suggested the proposed plant is the government’s way to take advantage of Labor’s internal divide.

When the plant was first proposed for the small town 35 km inland from Newcastle, Energy Security Board chair Kerry Schott questioned its viability. “Nobody is going to build it from the private sector because it doesn’t stack up,” she said.

She’s right. It didn’t stack up then and doesn’t stack up now, regardless of how it’s powered.

coal power station seen from above
The Hunter Valley has long been a site for fossil fuel power stations, such as the Bayswater coal station. Shutterstock

The Power Plant No One Needs

When my colleagues and I took a deep dive into this proposed power station, we found there was no need for it until at least 2030. That’s the best case. But as time goes by it is increasingly unlikely it will ever be needed as much cheaper and more efficient alternatives including batteries come to meet the increasing demand for stored energy.

That’s to say nothing of the fact the initial proposal would only have had enough gas stored to run for six hours and then take a day to recharge. Snowy Hydro has since upped these plans to 10 hours of storage.

And Snowy Hydro’s price tag of $600 million? Fiddlesticks. It will cost vastly more. We estimate well over $1bn when costs of the pipelines, storage and other infrastructure are included, even without hydrogen. As a result, there is no way Kurri Kurri would attract enough income to recover its costs. It’s hardly surprising private investors are steering clear. Why bankroll a dud?

But Isn’t It Good To Make Gas Plants Greener?

You can add up to 10% of hydrogen to conventional gas fired turbines without trouble. And you can use hydrogen as the primary fuel in turbine-based power plants, as South Korea has done using hydrogen produced as a by-product in the process of refining oil.

The problem is the two Kurri Kurri turbines ordered by the government can run on a maximum of 15% hydrogen. Snowy Hydro suggests the turbines could be extended to a maximum 30% hydrogen mix, with changes to the internal equipment and piping. But the gas lateral pipeline/storage system is only being constructed to accommodate a 10% mix, and would need to be completely rebuilt to transmit a higher blend.

In short, converting Kurri Kurri to hydrogen means completely rebuilding the plant and its pipeline and storage infrastructure. These are not minor changes.

gas fired plant
The Kurri Kurri plant as depicted in Snowy Hydro planning documents. Environmental Impact Statement, Snowy Hydro Hunter Power Project

Let’s imagine Labor is elected and proves determined to press ahead with these plans. Where, exactly, will they get the green hydrogen from and how will it be stored to run the plant? At present, the world has no large scale source of climate-safe hydrogen produced from water. While there is a great deal of interest in large scale electrolysis – the process where we split water to get hydrogen and oxygen – there is a long road ahead.

Let’s Not Waste Time On Distractions

Is that the end of the issues plaguing this plant? Nope. Even if we get to the point where green hydrogen is plentiful, burning it in a combustion turbine is one of the most wasteful ways to use it.

That’s because combustion turbines are very inefficient ways to produce electricity. They waste half the energy they consume in the form of heat vented to the atmosphere. That alone makes the use of hydrogen in turbines uneconomic. In fact, we doubt hydrogen will ever be used in combustion turbines to produce electricity. There is absolutely no need to bother doing so, given much better alternatives already exist. Batteries already dominate the market for new storage in Australia and elsewhere and this will surely continue.

We’d be much better off using green hydrogen to decarbonise more difficult industries, such as the production of fertiliser, in industrial processes and chemical manufacturing, and for long-distance land or sea heavy freight where hydrogen still has a weight advantage over batteries.

There are enormous challenges to be met in the transition towards renewable energy and away from fossil fuels. These kinds of obviously economically and technically infeasible proposals serve only to set us back. We should give these plans short shrift.

Independent engineer Ted Woodley contributed to this article.The Conversation

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

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

UK Plants Flowering A Month Earlier Due To Climate Change

February 1, 2022
Climate change is causing plants in the UK to flower a month earlier on average, which could have profound consequences for wildlife, agriculture and gardeners.

Using a citizen science database with records going back to the mid-18th century, a research team led by the University of Cambridge has found that the effects of climate change are causing plants in the UK to flower one month earlier under recent global warming.

The researchers based their analysis on more than 400,000 observations of 406 plant species from Nature's Calendar, maintained by the Woodland Trust, and collated the first flowering dates with instrumental temperature measurements.

They found that the average first flowering date from 1987 to 2019 is a full month earlier than the average first flowering date from 1753 to 1986. The same period coincides with accelerating global warming caused by human activities. The results are reported in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

While the first spring flowers are always a welcome sight, this earlier flowering can have consequences for the UK's ecosystems and agriculture. Other species that synchronise their migration or hibernation can be left without the flowers and plants they rely on -- a phenomenon known as ecological mismatch -- which can lead to biodiversity loss if populations cannot adapt quickly enough.

The change can also have consequences for farmers and gardeners. If fruit trees, for example, flower early following a mild winter, entire crops can be killed off if the blossoms are then hit by a late frost.

While we can see the effects of climate change through extreme weather events and increasing climate variability, the long-term effects of climate change on ecosystems are more subtle and are therefore difficult to recognise and quantify.

"We can use a wide range of environmental datasets to see how climate change is affecting different species, but most records we have only consider one or a handful of species in a relatively small area," said Professor Ulf Büntgen from Cambridge's Department of Geography, the study's lead author. "To really understand what climate change is doing to our world, we need much larger datasets that look at whole ecosystems over a long period of time."

The UK has such a dataset: since the 18th century, observations of seasonal change have been recorded by scientists, naturalists, amateur and professional gardeners, as well as organisations such as the Royal Meteorological Society. In 2000, the Woodland Trust joined forced with the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and collated these records into Nature's Calendar, which currently has around 3.5 million records going back to 1736.

"Anyone in the UK can submit a record to Nature's Calendar, by logging their observations of plants and wildlife," said Büntgen. "It's an incredibly rich and varied data source, and alongside temperature records, we can use it to quantify how climate change is affecting the functioning of various ecosystem components across the UK."

For the current study, the researchers used over 400,000 records from Nature's Calendar to study changes in 406 flowering plant species in the UK, between 1753 and 2019. They used observations of the first flowering date of trees, shrubs, herbs and climbers, in locations from the Channel Islands to Shetland, and from Northern Ireland to Suffolk.

The researchers classified the observations in various ways: by location, elevation, and whether they were from urban or rural areas. The first flowering dates were then compared with monthly climate records.

To better balance the number of observations, the researchers divided the full dataset into records until 1986, and from 1987 onwards. The average first flowering advanced by a full month, and is strongly correlated with rising global temperatures.

"The results are truly alarming, because of the ecological risks associated with earlier flowering times," said Büntgen. "When plants flower too early, a late frost can kill them -- a phenomenon that most gardeners will have experienced at some point. But the even bigger risk is ecological mismatch. Plants, insects, birds and other wildlife have co-evolved to a point that they're synchronised in their development stages. A certain plant flowers, it attracts a particular type of insect, which attracts a particular type of bird, and so on. But if one component responds faster than the others, there's a risk that they'll be out of synch, which can lead species to collapse if they can't adapt quickly enough."

Büntgen says that if global temperatures continue to increase at their current rate, spring in the UK could eventually start in February. However, many of the species that our forests, gardens and farms rely on could experience serious problems given the rapid pace of change.

"Continued monitoring is necessary to ensure that we better understand the consequences of a changing climate," said co-author Professor Tim Sparks from Cambridge's Department of Zoology. "Contributing records to Nature's Calendar is an activity that everyone can engage in."

The research was supported in part by the European Research Council, the Fritz and Elisabeth Schweingruber Foundation, and the Woodland Trust.

Ulf Büntgen, Alma Piermattei, Paul J. Krusic, Jan Esper, Tim Sparks, Alan Crivellaro. Plants in the UK flower a month earlier under recent warming. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2022; 289 (1968) DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2021.2456

Satellites And Light Reflections Help RMIT Researchers Spot Coastal Plastic Waste

February 2, 2022
Millions of tons of plastic enter the oceans every year. While stopping this flow is crucial, so is tracking down what's already there so we can clean it up. This cutting-edge research harnesses the latest in satellite technology to do just that.

The study, now published in Remote Sensing, used the unique infrared signals reflected by plastics to identify even tiny scraps amongst vast stretches of sand and rocks.

This sets the foundation for allowing plastics to be detected within satellite images where plastics are smaller than a pixel.

Lead author of the study and PhD candidate Jenna Guffogg of RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia said monitoring beaches rather than oceans made sense because it's easier to remove the rubbish.

"Stopping plastic from entering the ocean is a global challenge. But if we can find and remove them quickly, it's the next best thing," she said.

"At the moment, plastic debris are tracked by passing vessels notifying authorities. Using satellites will allow more frequent and reliable observations.

"Our work could let organisations who do remote coastal and marine waste clean-up management know where to focus their efforts."

Guffogg and her team completed fieldwork on the remote beaches of Australia's Cocos (Keeling) Islands, using sensing equipment to capture how infra-red light was reflected by different types of plastic found on the Islands.

To calculate how much plastic washed up on the shore, researchers used spectral library plots to compare plastics' reflectance with its cover.

They compared spectral readings from the weathered plastics with virgin plastics that hadn't been exposed to environmental degradation and found little difference between results.

This means despite the shape, colour or condition of the plastic, there's a good chance it can be detected remotely, and the location shared with clean-up groups.

Other uses could include tracking an area's health, judging by the amount of plastic in the environment.

RMIT Professor of Remote Sensing, Simon Jones, said the study was about looking at ways we can use satellites to see things the human eye can't.

"In the next few years, we're going to launch satellites with even better remote sensing capabilities," he said.

"We're developing ways to use these new satellites in the fight against marine waste."

While the true extent of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands' plastic problem is yet to be revealed, future studies Guffogg and the team are working on aim to answer this.

Jenna A. Guffogg, Samantha M. Blades, Mariela Soto-Berelov, Chris J. Bellman, Andrew K. Skidmore, Simon D. Jones. Quantifying Marine Plastic Debris in a Beach Environment Using Spectral Analysis. Remote Sensing, 2021; 13 (22): 4548 DOI: 10.3390/rs13224548

Plastic waste washed up on a remote beach on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Photo: RMIT

Scientists Uncover 'Missing' Plastics Deep In The Ocean: 51 Trillion Microplastics In World's Oceans

February 2, 2022
About 51 trillion microplastics are floating in the surface waters of oceans around the world. Originating from various types of plastics, these tiny fragments (less than 5 millimeters in length) pollute natural ecosystems. Hundreds of studies have surveyed plastic debris on the surface or near surface of the ocean. However, these studies only "scratch the surface," and do not provide a complete inventory of what's lurking beneath.

A study led by Florida Atlantic University is the first to unveil the prevalence of plastics in the entire water column of an offshore plastic accumulation zone in the southern Atlantic Ocean and implicates the ocean interior as a crucial pool of 'missing' plastics.

Results, published in the journal Global Change Biology, demonstrate that small microplastics are critical, underexplored and integral to the oceanic plastic inventory. In addition, findings show that weak ocean current systems contribute to the formation of small microplastics hotspots at depth, suggesting a higher encounter rate for subsurface particle feeders like zooplankton.

"Our study highlights the urgency for more quantification of the deep-ocean microplastics, especially the smaller size fraction, to better understand ecosystem exposure and to predict the fate and impacts of these microplastics," said Tracy Mincer, Ph.D., senior author and an assistant professor of biology at FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and FAU Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College.

To gain a better mechanistic understanding of how plastics sink from the ocean surface beyond the mixed layer and ultimately to abyssal depths of the ocean, the researchers sampled plastic particles in the South Atlantic Subtropical Gyre using in-situ high-volume filtration, Manta net and MultiNet sampling, combined with micro-Fourier-transform-infrared imaging.

They found that abundances and distribution patterns of small microplastics varied geographically and vertially due to the diverse and complex redistribution processes interacting with different plastic particles. They also observed large horizontal and vertical variations in the abundances of small microplastics, displaying inverse vertical trends in some cases. Small microplastics abundances in pump samples were more than two orders of magnitude higher than large microplastics concurrently collected in MultiNet samples.

"Small microplastics are different from large microplastics with respect to their high abundance, chemical nature, transport behavior, weathering stages, interactions with ambient environments, bioavailability and the release efficiency of plastic additives," said Shiye Zhao, Ph.D., first author and a post-doctoral fellow at FAU Harbor Branch. "These distinct characteristics impact their environmental fate and potential impacts on marine ecosystems."

Higher density polymers such as alkyd resins, used in most commercial oil-based coatings such as ship hull paints and polyamide, commonly used in textiles like clothing and ropes and fishing nets, made up more than 65 percent of the total pump sample count in the study. This finding highlights a discrepancy between polymer compositions from previous ocean surface-based surveys, which are typically dominated by buoyant polymers such as polyethylene used for packaging film and grocery bags and polypropylene used for plastic containers and reusable water bottles.

Compared with net-collected large microplastics, small microplastics particles are more highly oxidized and appear to have a longer lifetime in the water column, suggesting increased marine ecosystem health risks through possible bio-uptake of plastic particles and associated chemicals and potential impacts to global biogeochemical cycles.

"As plastic particles disintegrate into smaller size fractions, they can become harmful in different and unpredictable ways that are only now beginning to be understood," said Mincer. "These micron-size microplastics can move across the gut epithelium, become trapped in biomass, and have the potential to transfer through marine food webs, posing an unknown ecological risk and biogeochemical impacts."

As commercial fishing efforts scale up to harvest marine species for human consumption, the researchers say that studies focusing on smaller microplastics ingestion are urgently needed to assess the extent of plastic contamination in biomass.

The combined analysis procedure used by Mincer, Zhao and collaborators from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute provided a more integrative view of the distribution, abundance, dimensions and chemical nature of plastic particles in the interior of an ocean gyre.

Study co-authors are Erik R. Zettler, Ph.D., a microbial ecologist with the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research; Ryan P. Bos, M.S., a Ph.D. student at FAU Harbor Branch; Peigen Lin, Ph.D., a research associate at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute; and Linda A. Amaral-Zettler, Ph.D., a marine microbiologist and professor at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research.

This work was supported by start-up funds from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research to help fund the expedition. Funds for this study were provided by the FAU World Class Faculty and Scholar Program awarded to Mincer; a NOAA marine debris grant (NA17NOS9990024) awarded to Amaral-Zettler and Mincer; and the American Chemistry Council awarded to Amaral-Zettler, Zettler, and Mincer.

Shiye Zhao, Erik R. Zettler, Ryan P. Bos, Peigen Lin, Linda A. Amaral‐Zettler, Tracy J. Mincer. Large quantities of small microplastics permeate the surface ocean to abyssal depths in the South Atlantic Gyre. Global Change Biology, 2022; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.16089

Video: A study is the first to unveil the prevalence of plastics in the entire water column of an offshore plastic accumulation zone in the southern Atlantic Ocean and implicates the ocean interior as a crucial pool of ‘missing’ plastics.

Ocean Eddies Could Explain Antarctic Sea-Ice Paradox

February 2, 2022
Despite global warming and the sea-ice loss in the Arctic, the Antarctic sea-ice extent has remained largely unchanged since 1979. However, existing climate model-based simulations indicate significant sea-ice loss, contrary to actual observations. As experts from the Alfred Wegener Institute have now shown, the ocean may weaken warming around Antarctica and delay sea-ice retreat. Given that many models are not capable of accurately reflecting this factor and the role of ocean eddies, the study, which was just published in the journal Nature Communications, provides the basis for improved simulations and forecasts of the future development of the Antarctic.

Global warming is progressing rapidly, producing effects that can be felt around the world. The impacts of climate change are especially dramatic in the Arctic: since the beginning of satellite observation in 1979, the sea ice has declined massively in the face of rising global temperatures. According to the latest simulations, the Arctic could be consistently ice-free in summer before 2050, and in some years even before 2030.

Yet on the other side of the planet in Antarctica, the sea ice seems to have evaded the global warming trend. Since 2010, there have been more interannual fluctuations than in the previous period. However, apart from a significant negative excursion in the years 2016 to 2019, the long-term mean sea-ice cover around the Antarctic continent has remained stable since 1979. As such, the observable reality does not match the majority of scientific simulations, which show a significant sea-ice loss over the same timeframe. 

"This so-called Antarctic sea-ice paradox has preoccupied the scientific community for some time now," says first author Thomas Rackow from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). "The current models cannot yet correctly describe the behaviour of the Antarctic sea ice; some key element seems to be missing. This also explains why the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, concludes that the confidence level for model-based projections of future Antarctic sea ice is low." 

In contrast, the models are already so reliable in the Arctic that the IPCC ascribes a high confidence level to their projections. "With our study, we now provide a basis that could make future projections for Antarctica much more reliable."

In the course of the study, the team applied the AWI Climate Model (AWI-CM). Unlike other climate models, the AWI-CM allows certain key regions like the Southern Ocean to be simulated in far more detail -- or in other words, in "high resolution." As a result, mixing processes in the ocean, caused by smaller ocean eddies with diameters of 10 to 20 kilometres, can also be directly included.

"We used a broad range of configurations for our simulations. In the process, it became clear that only those simulations with a high-resolution description of the Southern Ocean encircling the Antarctic produced delayed sea-ice loss similar to what we are seeing in reality," says Rackow. "When we then extended the model into the future, even under a highly unfavourable greenhouse-gas scenario the Antarctic sea-ice cover remains largely stable until mid-century. After that point the sea ice retreats rather rapidly, just as the Arctic sea ice has been doing for decades."

As such, the AWI study offers a potential explanation for why the behaviour of the Antarctic sea ice does not follow the global warming trend. 

"There could be a number of reasons for the paradoxical stability of the sea-ice cover. The theory that additional melt water from the Antarctic stabilises the water column and thus also the ice by shielding the cool surface waters from the warmer deep waters is being discussed. According to another theory, the prime suspects are the westerlies blowing around the Antarctic, which have been strengthening under climate change. These winds could essentially spread out the ice like a thin pizza dough, so that it covers a greater area. In this scenario, the ice volume could already be declining, while the ice-covered areas would give the illusion of stability," Rackow explains.

AWI's research efforts now bring ocean eddies into the focus. These could play a decisive part in dampening and thus delaying the effects of climate change in the Southern Ocean, allowing the ocean to transport additional heat taken up from the atmosphere north, toward the Equator. This northward heat transport is closely linked to the underlying overturning circulation in the upper about 1,000 metres of the ocean, which in the Southern Ocean is driven by the wind on the one hand but is also influenced by eddies. While the northward component of the circulation is growing due to stronger westerlies, the simplified eddies in low-resolution climate models often seem to overcompensate for this factor by a southward component toward Antarctica; the explicitly simulated eddies in the high-resolution model display a more neutral behaviour. Taken together, a more pronounced northerly change in heat transport can be seen in the high-resolution model. As a result, the ocean surrounding the Antarctic warms more slowly and the ice cover remains stable for longer. 

"Our study supports the hypothesis that climate models and projections of the Antarctic sea ice will be far more reliable as soon as they are capable of realistically simulating a high-resolution ocean, complete with eddies," says Rackow. "Thanks to the ever-increasing performance of parallel supercomputers and new, more efficient models, next-generation climate models should make this a routine task."

Thomas Rackow, Sergey Danilov, Helge F. Goessling, Hartmut H. Hellmer, Dmitry V. Sein, Tido Semmler, Dmitry Sidorenko, Thomas Jung. Delayed Antarctic sea-ice decline in high-resolution climate change simulations. Nature Communications, 2022; 13 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-28259-y

The ice of the Antarctic. Photo: Lars Grübner

The $1 billion Great Barrier Reef funding is nonsensical. Australians, and their natural wonder, deserve so much better

Tane Sinclair-Taylor
Jon C. DayJames Cook University and Scott F. HeronJames Cook University

Today, the federal government is due to report back to UNESCO on its efforts to protect the Great Barrier Reef. The government’s announcement last week of A$1 billion of additional funding is welcome, but it will do little to allay UNESCO’s concerns.

Climate change is the number one threat to the Great Barrier Reef. While the new funding is meant to address other threats to the natural wonder and may improve its resilience, failing to address the climate threat is both disappointing and nonsensical.

As the below graph shows, ocean temperatures on the reef in December last year were the warmest on record. With this comes the risk of a fourth mass bleaching event this decade.

The Great Barrier Reef came close last year to being put on a list of World Heritage “in danger” sites. The funding announcement seems primarily about appeasing UNESCO, with one eye also on the upcoming federal election. But saving the Great Barrier Reef is not about throwing money at it – what matters is how the dollars are spent.

Graph showing ocean temperatures on the reef since 1900

By The Numbers

The $1 billion package proposed by the government comprises:

  • 58% to address the land-based causes of water quality issues impacting the World Heritage Area

  • 26% to reduce crown-of-thorns starfish and prevent illegal fishing

  • 9% for new scientific technologies

  • 7% allocated to local communities – including Traditional Owners – for habitat restoration, citizen science and reducing marine debris.

The measures to be funded are all important. But they’re nowhere near as important as addressing the root cause of climate change: greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the $1 billion should have been used to help Australia phase out fossil fuels.

What’s more, the federal and Queensland governments continue to approve new coal and gas projects. Doing all this, while knowing the grave threat climate change poses to the Great Barrier Reef, demonstrates the incoherence of government policies.

steam billows from coal stacks
The best way for the federal government to help the Great Barrier Reef is to phase out fossil fuels. Shutterstock

Devil In The Detail

When we drill further into the detail, it becomes even more clear the funding package is not as impressive as it may first appear.

The $1 billion funding has been allocated over nine years. This is far beyond the time frame to which any government can sensibly commit, given four-year election cycles. A major funding increase is needed urgently, and certainly within a single term of government.

Also, federal Labor’s funding proposal for the Great Barrier Reef must be increased.

Another concern is the funding allocation for new scientific technologies such as coral seeding, developing heat-resistant corals and cloud brightening. Some of these technologies may have produced positive results at a small scale. But none has yet proved feasible at the wide scale necessary to make a real difference for the Great Barrier Reef.

Efforts to address water quality are important. After climate change, poor water quality is the most pressing problem facing the reef. It’s largely caused by nutrients, pesticides and sediment runoff from agriculture and coastal development.

But governments have already spent hundreds of millions trying to improve water quality, with only limited success. Reducing water pollution requires more effective spending, not just more funds.

This is just one example of how money alone cannot fix all the Great Barrier Reef’s problems. Improving water quality requires the right balance between voluntary industry-led approaches and enforcing the rules.

The Queensland government must greatly increase its compliance and enforcement on matters such as fertiliser runoff entering creeks that flow to the reef. While many farmers are doing the right thing, others clearly are not.

And to improve water quality, governments must be prepared to limit clearing and agriculture expansion in reef catchment areas.

brown plume of pollution in blue waters
Flood plume extending into the Great Barrier Reef. Improving water quality requires better enforcement of the rules. Matt Curnock

Learning From Our Mistakes

For years, the federal government has known the pressures facing the Great Barrier Reef. But it continues to maintain a “business as usual” attitude in the face of the worsening climate crisis. Governments worldwide must dramatically increase their climate ambitions – and for the Great Barrier Reef, this action should start at home.

As the Murray-Darling Basin experience shows, throwing funding at an environmental catastrophe does not fix the problem, especially if the core issue remains unaddressed.

The government must also better allocate funds to achieve effective and timely “adaptive management”. This involves decision-making that can be adjusted as outcomes become better understood.

Such management should include considering both the good and bad outcomes of reef interventions to date – both those controlled by government agencies and those managed by external groups such as the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

bleached coral
Preventing further damage to the Great Barrier Reef means learning lessons from the past. AP

This latest government funding boost is welcome, but suspiciously timed. Environmental policy and budget allocations should not be about a government’s reputation and firming up its electoral prospects – especially when so much is at stake.

UNESCO is likely to welcome the additional efforts to address water quality. But it has specifically urged Australia to take “accelerated action at all possible levels” to address the climate threat. It remains to be seen whether UNESCO will continue to pressure the federal government on that front.

Amid all this, a key question remains. As the the Great Barrier Reef continues to decline, will Australians re-elect a federal government that supports industries harming the environment?

One thing is certain: Australians, and their Great Barrier Reef, deserve so much more.The Conversation

Jon C. Day, PSM, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University and Scott F. Heron, Associate Professor, James Cook University

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

Research Suggests Paris Agreement Limits Still Catastrophic For Coral Reefs

February 1, 2022
Limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels will still be catastrophic for coral reefs, new research suggests. Scientists led by the University of Leeds have discovered that more than 90% of tropical coral reefs will suffer frequent heat stress -- their number one threat -- even under Paris Agreement climate warming limits.

The 2015 agreement saw 191 countries and the EU sign up to a collective aim of keeping global average temperatures to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit heating to 1.5°C.

The new research suggests that the future of coral under 1.5c heating is even worse than predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which reported in 2018 that such a level would cause 70% to 90% of coral reefs to decline. Coral reef survival will require significant and urgent action globally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Lead author Adele Dixon, a PhD researcher in the University of Leeds' School of Biology, said: "Our finding reinforces the stark reality that there is no safe limit of global warming for coral reefs. Following the COP26 in Glasgow in which some progress was made towards the 1.5°C target, our finding shows that 1.5°C is still a substantial amount of warming for the ecosystems on the frontline of climate change."

In the past few decades, 84% of the world's tropical coral reefs have had enough time to recover between heat waves that cause bleaching mortality.

But the research team, which included colleagues from Australia and the United States, has found that even at 1.5°C, only 0.2% of reefs will have sufficient recovery time between heat events and 90.6% of reefs will suffer intolerable thermal stress.

Heat stress causes the decline of all reef species and reduces food and livelihood opportunities for people.

The findings are published today in the journal PLoS Climate.

The researchers set out to discover whether coral thermal refugia would be able to withstand global warming temperatures of 1.5°C and 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Thermal refugia are areas of coral reef which can maintain suitable temperatures for coral survival even when ocean temperatures in surrounding areas rise. The researchers identified these as areas predicted to suffer severe heat stress less than once per decade, about the time required for reefs to grow back and return to full function after a severe coral bleaching event.

The team used historical data and the latest climate model projections generated by modelling institutions around the world to project future thermal exposure on shallow-water coral reefs globally. From this the researchers identified thermal refugia and predicted whether they would persist into the future.

Currently, refugia are found in all 12 coral reef regions across the globe: Australia, Brazil, the Caribbean, the Coral Triangle in the Western Pacific Ocean; East Asia, the East Pacific, Fiji, Hawaii, the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, Polynesia and the Red Sea.

The findings showed that under global heating of 1.5°C, refugia would be wiped out in every region except for small areas in Polynesia and the Coral Triangle where lower rates of warming and periodic upwelling events, where colder deeper water is brought to the surface, reduce the frequency of severe heat stress events. However, at 2°C of global warming, these thermal refugia no longer exist.

There are 'hope sites' that have high variability in temperatures, such as in the Eastern Pacific. These areas may be better able to cope with temperature extremes.

Identifying and protecting thermal refugia is a popular recommendation for coral reef management. Local actions that remove other stressors such as fishing, tourism, and low water quality, promote resistance and recovery, and facilitate migration of coral to more suitable environments, can all aid reef conservation. But the research team concludes that protecting thermal refugia may only be effective in the short term.

Scott Heron, Associate Professor in Physics at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia, said: "This analysis confirms that significant action on greenhouse gas emissions is urgent, with significant action needed this decade, but we also need to ramp up local management actions to help reefs survive through predicted impacts."

Piers Foster, Professor of Climate Physics in the University of Leeds' School of Earth and Environment and Director of Leeds' Priestley International Centre for Climate, said: "Our work shows that corals worldwide are even more at risk from climate change than we thought at the time of the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C. This reinforces the stark reality that there is no safe limit of global warming, and we need to act urgently to save what we can."

Research supervisor Dr Maria Beger, Associate Professor in Conservation Science in the University of Leeds' School of Biology, said: "Coral reefs are important for the marine creatures that live on them and for over half a billion people whose livelihoods and food security rely on coral reefs. We need to not only deliver on Paris goals -- we need to exceed them, whilst also mitigating additional local stressors, if we want children born today to experience reef habitats."

Dr Anne Stoner, Research Assistant Professor at Texas Tech University Climate Science Centre, Lubbock, Texas, USA, said: "Climate change is already impacting ecosystems in many areas of the world and will become dangerous even at 1.5°C of global warming. As such, it is crucial that action is taken now to limit global warming."

Adele M. Dixon, Piers M. Forster, Scott F. Heron, Anne M. K. Stoner, Maria Beger. Future loss of local-scale thermal refugia in coral reef ecosystems. PLOS Climate, 2022; 1 (2): e0000004 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pclm.0000004

Image: coral reef bleaching in Okinawa, Japan. Photo: University of Leeds/James Cook University QLD

Extreme Heat Is The 'New Normal' For The Ocean

February 1, 2022
New Monterey Bay Aquarium-led research reveals excessively warm ocean temperatures driven by climate change are the new normal. The study, published today by PLOS Climate, establishes that more than half of the ocean surface has exceeded a historical heat extreme threshold on a regular basis since 2014.

And it is these heat extremes, researchers say, that increase the risk of collapse for crucial marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, seagrass meadows, and kelp forests -- altering their structure and function, and threatening their capacity to continue to provide life-sustaining services to human communities.

Researchers conducted the study by mapping 150 years of sea surface temperatures to determine a fixed historical benchmark for marine heat extremes. The scientists then looked at how often and how much of the ocean surpassed this point. The first year in which more than half of the ocean experienced heat extremes was 2014. The trend continued in subsequent years, reaching 57 percent of the ocean in 2019, the last year measured in the study. Using this benchmark, just two percent of the ocean surface was experiencing extremely warm temperatures at the end of the 19th century.

"Climate change is not a future event," said Dr. Kyle Van Houtan, who headed the research team during his tenure as chief scientist for the aquarium. "The reality is that it's been affecting us for a while. Our research shows that for the last seven years more than half of the ocean has experienced extreme heat."

"These dramatic changes we've recorded in the ocean are yet another piece of evidence that should be a wake-up call to act on climate change," he added." We are experiencing it now, and it is speeding up."

The study grew from separate research into the history of kelp forest changes throughout California. Van Houtan and team discovered that sea surface heat extremes, which are key stressors for canopy kelps, needed to be quantified and mapped along the California coast throughout the last century. The researchers then decided to expand the investigation beyond California to better understand the long-term frequency and location of extreme marine heat across the global ocean surface.

Using historic records, aquarium scientists first determined the average temperatures for the ocean's surface over the period spanning 1870 to 1919. Then they identified the most dramatic ocean warming that occurred during that period -- the top two percent of temperature increases -- and defined that as "extreme heat." The team then mapped the extremes over time, examining whether they occur regularly or are becoming more frequent.

"Today, the majority of the ocean's surface has warmed to temperatures that only a century ago occurred as rare, once-in-50-year extreme warming events," Van Houtan said.

The researchers say the new normal of extreme heat across the majority of the ocean's surface is further evidence for the urgent need to drastically reduce emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, which are the driver of climate change.

"When marine ecosystems near the tropics experience intolerably high temperatures, key organisms such as corals, seagrass meadows, or kelp forests can collapse," Van Houtan said. "Altering ecosystem structure and function threatens their capacity to provide life-sustaining services to human communities like supporting healthy and sustainable fisheries, buffering low-lying coastal regions from extreme weather events, and serving as a carbon sink to store the excess carbon put in the atmosphere from human-generated greenhouse emissions."

Kisei R. Tanaka, Kyle S. Van Houtan. The recent normalization of historical marine heat extremes. PLOS Climate, 2022; 1 (2): e0000007 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pclm.0000007

Climate Change Has Likely Begun To Suffocate The World’s Fisheries

February 1, 2022
By 2080, around 70% of the world's oceans could be suffocating from a lack of oxygen as a result of climate change, potentially impacting marine ecosystems worldwide, according to a new study. The new models find mid-ocean depths that support many fisheries worldwide are already losing oxygen at unnatural rates and passed a critical threshold of oxygen loss in 2021.

Oceans carry dissolved oxygen as a gas, and just like land animals, aquatic animals need that oxygen to breathe. But as the oceans warm due to climate change, their water can hold less oxygen. Scientists have been tracking the oceans' steady decline in oxygen for years, but the new study provides new, pressing reasons to be concerned sooner rather than later.

The new study is the first to use climate models to predict how and when deoxygenation, which is the reduction of dissolved oxygen content in water, will occur throughout the world's oceans outside its natural variability.

It finds that significant, potentially irreversible deoxygenation of the ocean's middle depths that support much of the world's fished species began occurring in 2021, likely affecting fisheries worldwide. The new models predict that deoxygenation is expected to begin affecting all zones of the ocean by 2080.

The results were published in the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters, which publishes high-impact, short-format reports with immediate implications spanning all Earth and space sciences.

The ocean's middle depths (from about 200 to 1,000 meters deep), called mesopelagic zones, will be the first zones to lose significant amounts of oxygen due to climate change, the new study finds. Globally, the mesopelagic zone is home to many of the world's commercially fished species, making the new finding a potential harbinger of economic hardship, seafood shortages and environmental disruption.

Rising temperatures lead to warmer waters that can hold less dissolved oxygen, which creates less circulation between the ocean's layers. The middle layer of the ocean is particularly vulnerable to deoxygenation because it is not enriched with oxygen by the atmosphere and photosynthesis like the top layer, and the most decomposition of algae -- a process that consumes oxygen -- occurs in this layer.

"This zone is actually very important to us because a lot of commercial fish live in this zone," says Yuntao Zhou, an oceanographer at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and lead study author. "Deoxygenation affects other marine resources as well, but fisheries [are] maybe most related to our daily life."

The new findings are deeply concerning and adds to the urgency to engage meaningfully in mitigating climate change, says Matthew Long, an oceanographer at NCAR who was not involved in the study.

"Humanity is currently changing the metabolic state of the largest ecosystem on the planet, with really unknown consequences for marine ecosystems," he said. "That may manifest in significant impacts on the ocean's ability to sustain important fisheries."

Evaluating vulnerability
The researchers identified the beginning of the deoxygenation process in three ocean depth zones -- shallow, middle and deep -- by modeling when the loss of oxygen from the water exceeds natural fluctuations in oxygen levels. The study predicted when deoxygenation would occur in global ocean basins using data from two climate model simulations: one representing a high emissions scenario and the other representing a low emissions scenario.

In both simulations, the mesopelagic zone lost oxygen at the fastest rate and across the largest area of the global oceans, although the process begins about 20 years later in the low emissions scenario. This indicates that lowering carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions could help delay the degradation of global marine environments.

The researchers also found that oceans closer to the poles, like the west and north Pacific and the southern oceans, are particularly vulnerable to deoxygenation. They're not yet sure why, although accelerated warming could be the culprit. Areas in the tropics known for having low levels of dissolved oxygen, called oxygen minimum zones, also seem to be spreading, according to Zhou.

"The oxygen minimum zones actually are spreading into high latitude areas, both to the north and the south. That's something we need to pay more attention to," she says. Even if global warming were to reverse, allowing concentrations of dissolved oxygen to increase, "whether dissolved oxygen would return to pre-industrial levels remains unknown."

Hongjing Gong, Chao Li, Yuntao Zhou. Emerging Global Ocean Deoxygenation Across the 21st Century. Geophysical Research Letters, 2021; 48 (23) DOI: 10.1029/2021GL095370

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 + Others

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
Curl Curl To Freshwater Walk: October 2021 by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Currawong and Palm Beach Views - Winter 2018
Currawong-Mackerel-The Basin A Stroll In Early November 2021 - photos by Selena Griffith
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
 Pittwater's Lone Rangers - 120 Years of Ku-Ring-Gai Chase and the Men of Flowers Inspired by Eccleston Du Faur 
Pittwater's Parallel Estuary - The Cowan 'Creek
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 -

Vale Glenn Wheatley

Glenn Wheatley died on 1 February 2022 at the age of 74 due to health complications caused by COVID-19. He is one of thousands of Seniors we have lost to this disease.

Mr. Wheatley was married to the actress Gaynor Martin and they had one son and two daughters.
Mr. Wheatley shifted base between Sydney and Melbourne over the years. In June 2012 while walking his son's dog, Danko, he had part of his middle finger chewed off trying to intervene when another dog attacked.

Glenn Dawson Wheatley (23 January 1948 – 1 February 2022) was an Australian musician, talent manager and music promoter. Mr. Wheatley began his career as a musician in Brisbane in the mid-1960s and in the late 1960s became nationally famous in the leading pop/rock band The Masters Apprentices as bass guitarist. He subsequently formed a media empire which included radio stations and artists management.

In late 1974, Beeb Birtles, Graham Goble and Derek Pellicci (ex-Mississippi) and Glenn Shorrock (ex-Axiom) met with Wheatley in London. With Wheatley as manager, they agreed to reconvene in Melbourne in early 1975. They decided their new band would establish itself in the United States. Wheatley's first-hand experiences of the rip-offs in the 1960s music scene, combined with working in music management in the UK and the US in the early 1970s, allowed him to help Little River Band become the first Australian group to enjoy consistent commercial and chart success in the US.

After the Little River Band was dropped by Capitol Records in 1986, Wheatley returned to Australia and began managing an old friend, singer John Farnham, who had been a leading star in the 1960s but was reduced to playing club gigs before replacing Glenn Shorrock in 1982 as lead singer of Little River Band. Wheatley mortgaged his own house to help pay for the recording of Farnham's 1986 comeback album, Whispering Jack. The gamble paid off and re-established Farnham as a major singing star and the album became (and remains) the biggest-selling Australian album of all time by a local artist.

Mr. Wheatley is also known for discovering Delta Goodrem, helping her to achieve major success.
In a statement released alongside one from the Wheatley family, the Farnhams said they were "devastated at the loss of our friend".

"We also obviously feel for his family as well," the statement reads. 
"With his passing so many people have lost a part of their lives.  We will miss you Glenn."

A statement from Mr. Wheatley's family says he passed away surrounded by his wife of nearly four decades, Gaynor, his son Tim and daughters Kara and Samantha, and confirmed he had died from complications caused by COVID-19.

"[Glenn] had an enthusiasm that was unmatched and believed that anything was possible," the statement from Wheatley's family reads. 

"He gave everything to support projects he believed in, whether they were ultimately successful or not."

His son added: "He treated roadies, artists and fans with the same love and respect, and had time for everyone.

"He would leave Rod Laver Arena after a John Farnham concert and carry my amp into [St Kilda pub] the Espy.

"Everything he did was for his family. He regarded his family as his greatest achievement."

In a statement posted to their Facebook page, The Masters Apprentices said they were "deeply saddened" by Wheatley's death.

"He has left his mark forever on Australian Music," they said.

Former Little River Band member Glenn Shorrock also paid tribute to his longtime friend.

Shorrock told the ABC Wheatley would be greatly missed.

"He was a great negotiator and he was a great champion of Australian music, both here and, of course, overseas," he said.

"He thought Australian musicians were getting a raw deal, and we did get a raw deal in those days.

"He fought for better royalty rates and more money for struggling musicians."

Morning Of The Earth: 50th Anniversary Screening At Cremorne

Morning of the Earth 50th Anniversary screening with director Q&A Wed March 9 at the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace, Cremorne. Beautifully remastered in 4K. One show only! Tickets:

AvPals: Suspension Of Activities Until March 2022

AvPals regret to announce the suspension of all our activities until March 2022. This is of course due to the ongoing Covid issues. We can see no reason why we should not resume normal training in early March 2022 and we invite you to follow this webpage or read our newsletters. Subscribe HERE if you do not receive our newsletters.

Training at Avalon
Apply now for one-to-one training in 2022
Add your name to the wait list at Avalon for future school terms. Complete the form HERE. Remember to click the Submit button after completing the form. You will not be enrolled or be required to pay until you hear from our coordinator.

Avalon Computer Pals (AVPALS) help seniors learn and improve their computer and technology skills. Avpals is a not-for-profit organisation run by volunteers. Since 2000, we have helped thousands of seniors from complete beginners to people who need to improve or update their skills. We offer “one to one” personal tuition or special short courses. Small class workshops are run at the Newport Community Centre on Tuesday afternoons.

One-to-one training is provided at our rooms in Avalon, under the Maria Regina Catholic Church, 7 Central Road, Avalon Beach.

Brain Function Boosted By Daily Physical Activity In Middle-Aged And Older Adults

January 31, 2022
A new study by researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine adds to the canon of research associating physical activity with cognitive performance, this time using 90 middle-aged and older subjects who wore accelerometers while physically active and completed mobile cognitive testing from home.

"The future of lifestyle interventions really needs to be remote-based," said Raeanne Moore, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine and principal investigator of the study. "The pandemic has made this especially clear."

On the days their physical activity increased, the study found, the 50- to 74-year-old participants performed more effectively on an executive function task, and on the days when their physical activity decreased, so too did their cognitive performance.

The findings published Jan. 31, 2022 in the journal JMIR mHealth and uHealth.

"It was a very linear relationship," Moore said. "We hypothesized that we would find this, but we couldn't be sure because we weren't telling people to increase their physical activity. They just did what they do every day."

First author Zvinka Zlatar, PhD, a clinical psychologist at UC San Diego School of Medicine, added: "Future interventions, in which we ask people to increase their physical activity, will help us determine if daily changes in physical activity lead to daily gains in cognition measured remotely or vice versa."

The correlation between physical activity and cognition remained when adjustments were made for various co-morbidities, such as HIV status, age, sex, education and race/ethnicity. But it held only for persons who function dependently -- who rely on others to perform the tasks of daily living, such as managing household activities or paying the bills.

"For them, physical activity may have a greater benefit on daily, real-world cognitive performance," Moore said, a finding consistent with research into Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.

Though it didn't fall within the purview of this study, Moore speculated that, because functionally independent adults likely perform more cognitively stimulating and social activities, which are known to have positive impacts on brain health, physical activity may have less of an impact on cognition.

Moore and Zlatar said their work has implications for the development of novel digital health interventions to preserve brain health in aging.

"We don't know yet if there's a cumulative, long-term effect to these small daily fluctuations in cognition," Zlatar said. "That's something we plan to study next -- to see if performing physical activity at different intensities over time, in unsupervised settings, can produce long-term improvements in brain health and sustained behavior change."

Zvinka Z Zlatar, Laura M Campbell, Bin Tang, Spenser Gabin, Anne Heaton, Michael Higgins, Joel Swendsen, David J Moore, Raeanne C Moore. Daily Level Association of Physical Activity and Performance on Ecological Momentary Cognitive Tests in Free-living Environments: A Mobile Health Observational Study. JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 2022; 10 (1): e33747 DOI: 10.2196/33747

New Imaging Method Reveals Causes Of Cerebral Oedema

January 31, 2022
Cerebral oedema is a dangerous complication in many brain-related conditions such as strokes. Researchers at the Institute of Neurobiology at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf (HHU) have developed a new measurement method in collaboration with colleagues from Bonn and with the involvement of a Berlin-based optoelectronics company that enables better understanding of the cellular causes of cerebral oedema. In the latest issue of the Journal of the American Society for Neuroscience they describe how the TRPV4 ion channel in particular plays an important role.

Our brain is well-protected by the bone of the skull. However, many illnesses lead to swelling of the cerebral tissue, which is referred to as "cerebral oedema." As the brain cannot expand within the skull, this swelling often results in a dangerous rise in intercranial pressure. This in turn damages further brain cells and may, for example in the case of causative strokes, further impair blood supply to the brain.

There are many causes of cerebral oedema, yet even today there are few therapeutic approaches for treating them successfully. Consequently, many patients require an operation to remove part of the skull bone -- a so-called craniotomy -- to ensure sufficient space for the brain. However, this operation is not without risks -- and it does not eliminate the dangerous swelling.

In collaboration with the company Picoquant, Professor Dr. Christine Rose and her team from the Institute of Neurobiology at HHU have now developed a new method with which they can depict the changes that lead to the swelling of nerve cells in real time. This imaging method, known as "rapidFLIM" (Fluorescence Lifetime IMaging), permits the depiction of cellular processes at an unprecedented temporal resolution. Professor Dr. Christian Henneberger from the University of Bonn provided further conceptual support.

In the paper they have now published, the researchers recreated the conditions to which nerve cells are exposed during an ischaemic stroke in the laboratory. Dr. Jan Meyer, one of the two lead authors of the study, says: "Using rapidFLIM we can show that a breakdown in cellular energy supply -- one of the principal side effects of a stroke -- results in nerve cells quickly becoming charged with sodium ions. This in turn is a key cause of the subsequent swelling of cells."

Dr. Niklas Gerkau, co-lead author, adds: "Previous methods were unable to depict properly how this sodium charging develops over time and its extent. Combining rapidFLIM with our high-resolution, multi-photon microscopy opens up new perspectives for us and allows a better understanding of the sodium regulation of nerve cells."

In their study, the researchers also discovered a previously unknown mechanism for this fatal sodium charging in which the TRPV4 ion channel in the nerve cells plays a key role. This channel is instrumental in determining how much of the element sodium enters the cell. Professor Rose comments: "The TRPV4 channel is a promising starting point for limiting cellular damage and infarction size after an ischaemic stroke."

Jan Meyer, Niklas J. Gerkau, Karl W. Kafitz, Matthias Patting, Fabian Jolmes, Christian Henneberger, Christine R. Rose. Rapid Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging Reveals That TRPV4 Channels Promote Dysregulation of Neuronal Na in Ischemia. The Journal of Neuroscience, 2022; 42 (4): 552 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0819-21.2021

Parkinson’s disease: men who eat more berries and red wine may live longer – new research

Berries are a good source of flavonoids. Risen20019/ Shutterstock
Richard HoffmanUniversity of Hertfordshire

Fruits and vegetables contain many nutrients and minerals that play an important role in helping us maintain good health. Take flavonoids, for example. These are a group of naturally occurring compounds that are found in many foods – including citrus fruits, berries, red wine and even dark chocolate.

Flavonoids act as antioxidants, which help to prevent or slow damage to cells which may lead to diseases – such as cancer. They also reduce inflammation in the body, which is common in many chronic diseases – including neurodegenerative ones, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

Research shows that flavonoids are good for our brain health, with studies showing diets high in fruits and veggies may slow cognitive decline and lower dementia risk. And now, a recent study has suggested that people with Parkinson’s disease who consume diets high in flavonoids may live longer than those who don’t.

To conduct their study, a team of researchers analysed data from 121,700 female registered nurses and 51,529 male health professionals. They chose to look at these two groups because many aspects of their lifestyles which might influence their disease risk would be similar – such as activity levels, education and years in work. Information on their diets has been gathered every two to four years, beginning in 1975 for the women and 1986 for the men. The data from these groups has been used in many other high quality nutrition studies.

At the time when this new study was conducted, 599 of the women and 652 of the men had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. From the foods these women and men reported consuming, it was possible to calculate their intake of flavonoids.

It was found that the men with Parkinson’s disease who ate the most flavonoids as part of their diet had a 47% lower risk of dying from any cause compared to men who consumed the least flavonoids in their diet. But for women, the amount of flavonoids they consumed in their diet had no effect on their risk of death from all causes. So the tentative conclusion from this study is that flavonoids may reduce the risk of men with Parkinson’s disease from dying, although not in women. It’s not currently known why the men saw greater benefit.

Cherry Picking?

As with any observational nutrition study of this type – where researchers simply observe outcomes without trying to intervene in the group (such as intervening by having half of the group eat a specific diet) – it’s not possible to prove a causal link. In the case of the present study, a causal link would mean that eating more flavonoids directly reduces the risk of men with Parkinson’s disease from dying.

An older man using his walker to walk outside.
It’s not clear why the link was only shown in men and not women. Hananeko_Studio/ Shutterstock

A main reason for not being able to prove causality is that other dietary and lifestyle factors may also have contributed to extending lifespan. The authors did compensate for this to some extent by making statistical adjustments for other potentially beneficial nutrients – such as beta-carotene and the antioxidant vitamins C and E – and for possibly damaging lifestyle factors such as smoking, being overweight and not exercising enough.

But this still doesn’t take into account many other dietarylifestyle and genetic factors that could contribute to a person’s risk. One example is exposure to herbicides and pesticides.

One factor that did influence the study’s results was the type of flavonoids they looked at. There are many different types of flavonoids, and two groups – known as anthocyanins and flavan-3-ols – were found in this study to be most strongly linked to prolonging life. Anthocyanins give berries and red wine their red and purple colours, and flavan-3-ols are found at high levels in green tea.

But it’s not known how these flavonoids may benefit the brain. As with other degenerative brain disorders, the progression of Parkinson’s disease is likely to involve oxidative stress (when too many highly reactive molecules, called free radicals, are produced for antioxidant defences to handle) and brain inflammation. Many flavonoids, including anthocyanins and flavan-3-ols, have been shown in experimental studies to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Other mechanisms may also be involved. Flavonoids can have a positive effect on the gut microbiome, which may decrease the inflammation that contributes to Parkinson’s. Also, as Parkinson’s disease progresses, many neurological pathways such as the dopamine pathway are affected. Dopamine plays a vital role in regulating movement by the body. But the possible role of flavonoids in improving the functioning of these pathways is not known.

Though this study examined risk of death in people who already had Parkinson’s disease, other studies have also shown that diets high in flavonoids lower the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. The benefit was also shown to be greater in men – although again it is not clear why.

While there are many factors that might have influenced the results of this latest study, there’s still a good body of evidence suggesting that diets rich in flavonoids can help protect against many degenerative brain disorders – including Parkinson’s disease. And fortunately for us, flavonoids are found in many fruits and vegetables that we can readily buy from our supermarket.The Conversation

Richard Hoffman, Associate lecturer, Nutritional Biochemistry, University of Hertfordshire

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

Would you pass this financial literacy quiz? Many won’t – and it’s affecting expensive aged care decisions

Henry CutlerMacquarie University

Paying for residential aged care accommodation in Australia is complex. Residents can pay a lump sum payment known as a refundable accommodation deposit (RAD), a rental style payment known as a daily combination payment (DAP), or a combination of both.

Deciding between the two is an important, complex financial decision and influenced by a host of factors unique to each person. And the stakes are high; it’s common to sell the family home to pay for aged care accommodation. Making the wrong accommodation payment decision could lead to reduced income and wealth, paying more for care, and having less to leave in bequests when you pass away.

Many residents get help from loved ones to navigate their way into residential aged care because they are experiencing age-related cognitive decline. So how do people make this decision and what role does financial literacy play?

To find out, colleagues and I measured financial literacy among 589 informal carers that substantially helped a resident decide.

Our study found less than half of all respondents were financially literate. Many were underconfident in their financial literacy. Others were overconfident, potentially leading to accommodation payment decision mistakes.

Many residents receive help from loved ones to navigate their way into residential aged care. Shutterstock

The Role Of Financial Literacy

Our study explored whether financial literacy influenced the decision to consult a financial adviser and whether financial literacy impacted decision confidence, stress, and perceived decision complexity.

We used a validated financial literacy measure known as the “Big Three” questions. You can do the quiz below; we defined someone as financially literate if they got three questions correct.

This measured literacy on inflation, interest rate, and risk diversification. We also asked respondents to rate their financial literacy.

We found:

  • nearly one third of respondents were not certain the accommodation payment decision was the best for the resident financially

  • around 60% of respondents found deciding on how to pay for accommodation complex, and over half found deciding how to pay for accommodation stressful

  • less than half of all respondents were financially literate. Many were overconfident in their financial literacy, which could lead to worse financial outcomes for the resident.

Many respondents may have ignored complex information or used a mental shortcut (what researchers call “simplifying heuristics”) when making an accommodation payment decision. For example, they might sell their home and choose a RAD without considering the capital gain they could have received if they had kept the home.

Getting Advice

Just over one third of respondents used a financial advisor. More financial literacy was unlikely to have increased the use of a financial adviser. Highly financially literate individuals were more likely to use a financial adviser if they perceived their financial literacy as low.

Residential aged care providers also played a role. A respondent was more likely to use a financial adviser if the aged care provider suggested using a financial adviser, or informed them the resident had 28 days to make a payment decision once they entered care. While this condition should be in the final accommodation agreement, it may not be explicitly stated by the provider when discussing accommodation payment options.

We found higher financial literacy may help respondents understand the difference between a RAD and DAP, but was unlikely to increase decision confidence or reduce decision stress.

High financial literacy was associated with greater confidence only if respondents thought they had been enough time to make the decision. This suggests some people could make better decisions if aged care providers gave people more time to make a decision.

Respondents with high financial literacy were also more likely to be confident in their decision if the aged care provider didn’t say whether it preferred the resident to pay a RAD or a DAP.

Financial literacy education may help some people, but our study suggests benefits will be limited. Shutterstock

So What Would Help?

It’s not possible to say whether RAD, DAP, or some combination of both is better; the answer depends on your circumstances. Selling the home when entering care may not be the best option financially.

The Financial Information Service run by Services Australia can help people better understand their financial affairs and how to use financial planning advice, but does not advise on which accommodation payment type is best.

Financial literacy education may help some people, but our study suggests benefits will be limited.

Each resident has unique financial and personal circumstances. To make an informed accommodation payment decision, you need to factor in and predict the future value of financial assets.

The Australian government is still exploring whether it should remove RADs, as suggested by the Royal Commission on Aged Care Quality and Safety. This would simplify the accommodation payment choice but likely take years to implement.

The Royal Commission on Aged Care Quality and Safety recommended RADs be phased out.

When discussing accommodation payment options, all residential aged care providers should ensure residents know they have 28 days to make a decision once they enter care.

That will help reduce decision complexity and stress and increase decision confidence.

Providers should also not express their preference for receiving a RAD or DAP, as our results show, this can make the decision more complex for people and give them less confidence in their decision.

The Australian government should also explore subsidising access to financial advice or establishing its own financial adviser service.

This would align with other Australian government programs to improve health and wealth outcomes for older Australians, such as prostate and breast cancer screening and Life Checks.

When moving into residential aged care, good financial outcomes are as important.The Conversation

Henry Cutler, Director, Centre for the Health Economy, Macquarie University

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

Property Industry Wipeout Dementia 2022

The Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) is excited to announce that the Property Industry Wipeout Dementia is back at Bondi Beach on Friday, 25 March 2022! After many postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot wait to be back on the beach and in the water.

We are enormously grateful to our sponsors who have demonstrated dedication, kindness and patience through this last year.  

The addition of three new teams sets the stage for an unprecedented level of competition. With their eyes locked on the championship and the highest fundraiser title, 64 surfers representing more than 50 companies across the property industry are about to begin preparations and fundraising.

Since 2017 the property industry has joined Wipeout Dementia Ambassadors Richard Grellman AM (Chairman, IPH Limited and former Chairman of ASP International) and 1978 World Surfing Champion Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew AM to give back to the community in a meaningful way by raising funds for critical dementia research.

Taking advantage of the Australian penchant for beaches and surfing, the March goal is to raise $300,000 in support of The Dementia Momentum, a CHeBA initiative to advance large-scale, big data research into prevention of dementia.

For more info visit  and  2022 Team Captains
For more info about CHeBA, visit:

Reforming The Care System – Seniors Wanted

You’re invited to contribute to building a new $17.7 billion aged care system and ensuring its better than the current one. Here’s how.

The Commonwealth Department of Health has set up an Ageing and Aged Care Engagement Hub to enable everyday Australians to contribute to the reform of the troubled aged care system. Visit:

The Hub was created as part of the government’s commitment to seek guidance from older Australians to ensure the new age care system is fit for purpose and prioritises their needs and those of their families.

You can have your say with activities including online surveys, taking part in focus groups or online consultations, or you can share your views in writing. There is also an option to register your interest for future activities. Visit:

The key findings of these activities will be made available to the public, so we can see how our views and contributions have been used by the government.

Driving aged care reforms
National Seniors Australia has been involved in the reform process since day one of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. To transform age care into a service people want and welcome, we have advocated to have older peoples’ experiences and views must be incorporated into every stage of the process.

In our recent Co-designing Aged Care report, you told us seniors overwhelming believe older people should be consulted and involved from the start in designing the aged care system.

The Royal Commission recommendations are being implemented by the Department of Health with over 70 projects now underway and funded by a $17.7 billion package of support.

In addition, reform is also being driven by non-government organisations such as universities. They are also looking to seniors to provide their views and lived experience.

The University of Technology Sydney is currently hosting a survey on how the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission can improve how they communicate with home care consumers, their families and carers.

What we know now about COVID immunity after infection – including Omicron and Delta variants

AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi
Stephen KentThe University of Melbourne

COVID is rampant in Australia and many parts of the world right now. Some people battling or recovering from infection may wonder if catching COVID will give them longer term immunity for when the next wave comes.

Since the early days of the pandemic we’ve known COVID induces a wide range of immune responses and one infection provides partial protection from future infections.

Unfortunately, immunity wanes over time – people lose half their immunity every 3 months. Further, new variants continue to emerge that are partially resistant to key immune responses – antibodies that neutralise earlier strains – this is especially true of Omicron.

We’re starting to get a more detailed understanding of COVID immunity across variants. Here’s what we know so far …

Breakthrough Infection Happens But Vaccines Are Still A Must

Since around 95% of Australians over 16 have had at least two COVID vaccines, most people catching COVID now have previously been vaccinated – this is called “breakthrough infection”.

The vaccines are effective at substantially reducing severe COVID illness. They are less effective, particularly over time, at preventing infections, including with new variants. A third vaccine dose helps maintain immunity, and everyone eligible should get a booster as soon as possible.

Because the Astra-Zeneca vaccine is less effective than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, it’s critically important for vulnerable older Australians immunised with two Astra-Zeneca vaccinations to be boosted with a third vaccine dose as quickly as possible.

Professor Peter Doherty explains vaccination and immunity in everyday terms.

The good news is people first vaccinated with Astra-Zeneca and subsequently boosted with Pfizer or Moderna develop high levels of protective immune responses.

Recent work shows a nice boost in antibody immunity after breakthrough infection. This boost in antibody immunity may not be as fast or strong as getting a vaccine, but it has a big advantage in that the immunity is more specific to the infecting strain such as Delta.

The current vaccines are still based on the original strain isolated in Wuhan, China in early 2020. Several vaccine manufacturer’s are racing to update their vaccines for the Omicron variant (much as we do with the yearly flu vaccines), but these variant-specific vaccines are still some months away.

Infection Immunity Builds Where COVID Strikes First

Another potential advantage for immunity derived by infection (acquired in the respiratory tract) compared to vaccination (given into the muscle) is that immunity is better focused to the surfaces of the nose, throat and eyes. This is where COVID is first encountered.

Surface antibodies (termed immunoglobulin A) and specialised tissue “resident” immune cells (B and T-cells) are induced by infection but not intramuscular vaccination.

The level of protection offered by these “local” or “mucosal” responses is not yet clear in people, but some studies in animal models suggest they are helpful.

lab technician at CDC
Research and understanding of immune responses to COVID is developing. Shutterstock

Delta Infection Offers A Little Protection Against Omicron

The Omicron variant is slowly replacing the Delta variant around the world. It is more transmissible and avoids antibodies more effectively.

Do people who have been infected with the Delta variant have an advantage in terms of protection from the Omicron variant? The two strains share some sequence changes, but Omicron has many more mutations than Delta.

Only a minority of neutralising antibodies that fight Delta can also neutralise the Omicron variant. That said, neutralising antibodies against Delta are better at fighting Omicron than previous strains. This is particularly true for people who have caught Delta and been previously vaccinated.

The reverse is also true – people who have caught Omicron have some improved antibody protection against Delta. This may not be much use as Delta is disappearing from prevalence, but the knowledge could be useful for future variants.

T-Cells Might Be Key To Cross-Variant Protection

There is considerable interest in a type of immunity called T-cells and their potential ability to fight COVID infection.

Theoretically, T-cells could assist in protecting against severe infection with new strains because T-cells usually cross react to all variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID.

However, the evidence to date points to the central role of neutralising antibodies obtained from infection or vaccination in protection from both getting an infection and preventing severe disease. A recent unpublished study suggests neutralising antibodies are boosted by breakthrough infections but not T-cells. We know T-cells are very important in protecting from other infectious diseases and many cancers, but perhaps have a lesser role in COVID.

Gaining Immunity Isn’t The End Of The Story

Overall, infections with Delta and Omicron provide a boost in immunity against these strains. Infection will probably help protect individuals from reinfection with the same variant. Infection may offer a small amount of protection from different variants and potentially from future variants.

However, immunity will not be enduring and it is still possible to get severe infections and ongoing symptoms (termed “Long COVID”) from breakthrough infections. They are best avoided! Current booster vaccines along with social measures are our best way to stay healthy while we wait for Omicron-specific vaccines.The Conversation

Stephen Kent, Professor and Laboratory Head, The University of Melbourne

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

Safest Omicron Face Masks Revealed

January 27, 2022
Compulsory face masks are back. But some are better than others. Here’s what you need to know.
Over recent weeks, medical experts have increasingly waded into the debate about which face masks best protect against the highly contagious Omicron variant. While the debate continues, most agree we should ditch those cloth and surgical masks.

As with other COVID-19-related things, Omicron has changed everything. It’s aerosolised, meaning it’s tiny particles float in the air, making it so easy to spread from person-to-person.

According to the World Health Organisation, it is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta.

Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalisation in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron.

There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are significantly different from those typical of other variants, despite the community belief that it is ‘less severe’.

Best face masks
Infectious diseases specialist, Dr Paul Griffin, told ABC News that N95 masks provide more protection, but were not normally recommended for widespread use in the community because they are more expensive and challenging to wear.

"Any mask is better than no mask — they will still help," Dr Griffin says.

"We see so many people with masks that are perfectly fine but don't cover their nose.

"The main thing is still that people wear them properly."

Australia's Infection Control Expert Group says a mask or respirator is not a substitute for other precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 including getting tested, staying home when unwell, physical distancing, good internal ventilation, hand hygiene and cough etiquette (such as covering your nose and mouth with your arm when coughing and sneezing).

What is an N95 mask?
N95 masks, also known as P2 masks in Australia, are particulate filter respirators.

They are also sold under the name KN95.

These masks filter out very fine particles and help protect against droplet and airborne transmission.
Why were we told to wear cloth masks at first?
It was initially assumed SARS-CoV-2 spread via droplets (in coughs and sneezes) which caused infection when they landed on the mouth, nose or eyes. For such particles, a cloth or surgical mask is an efficient form of source control to protect others from virus emitted by the wearer.

Now it’s understood the virus is airborne. Virus-laden particles build up in the air over time indoors because of breathing and speaking.

I really like my cloth mask. Is it OK to keep wearing it?
Cloth masks are not made to any particular standard, so their properties and quality vary considerably and may not offer the best protection against Omicron.

In general, they are poor filters of small airborne particles, however they are still better protection than no mask at all. If you can’t get hold of a respirator, you can improve protection of a surgical or cloth mask.

According to The Conversation writers, options include “double masking” by wearing a tight-fitting cloth mask over a surgical mask. You can also “knot and tuck” a surgical mask by tying the sides and tucking the remainder inside. Finally, a well-designed cloth mask (with three layers) can perform as well as a good quality surgical mask.

What if I can’t afford or get my hands on a N95 respirator?
The Conversation has reported the Korean KF94 and Chinese KN95s are cheaper alternatives that provide better protection than a surgical or cloth mask. Beware counterfeits, such as those without a GN stamp to show they meet manufacturing standards.

In other face mask news – blue is beautiful!
On a lighter note, a University of Cardiff study suggests men wearing a blue surgical face mask are perceived as being most attractive.

Apparently, the pandemic has changed our psychology in how we perceive the wearers of masks. In their pre-pandemic research, participants said they associated masks with disease and would avoid people who wore them.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, asked 43 women to rate the attractiveness of 40 male faces, with and without different types of masks and coverings.

Researchers were surprised by the results, which suggests faces are considered most attractive when covered by medical face masks.

"This may be because we're used to healthcare workers wearing blue masks and now, we associate these with people in caring or medical professions,” researcher suggested.

Sources: ABC News Source 1, ABC News Source 2, Canstar, The Conversation

Junior Irukandjis Team Presented By Woolworths Announced For 2022 ISA Juniors Campaign - Congratulations Gabi Spake - Kobi Clemments!

Tuesday 1st February, 2022: from Surfing Australia

The Junior Irukandjis Surfing Team presented by Woolworths has been announced ahead of the 2022 ISA World Junior Surfing Championship in El Salvador on May 27th – June 7th. 

The number one ranked athletes from Under 16 and 18 Girls and Boys divisions automatically qualify for the team.

Surfing Australia Talent Pathway Coach and 2005 Women's World Champion Chelsea Hedges said: “ISA Junior event brings a high calibre of competition; it is a big achievement to be selected for this team and an amazing opportunity for Australia’s best junior athletes to get a taste of what their future could be at an Olympic Games.” 

Woolworths comes on board as the presenting rights partner to the team which aligns perfectly with their focus on Grassroots junior surfing. 

Woolworths Head of Community and Sponsorships, Sarah De La Mare said “Woolworths are committed to junior sport and we’re incredibly proud to be the foundation sponsor of the Junior Irukandji’s Surfing Team. We’re so excited to watch these young athletes represent our great surfing nation on the world stage and wear the junior Irukandji’s green and gold for the first time.” 


​​​​​​U18 Girls
Keira Buckpitt 
Ellie Harrison
Gabi Spake

U18 Boys
Kobi Clements
Lennix Smith
Jarvis Earle

U16 Girls
Willow Hardy
Isi Campbell
Sierra Kerr

U16 Boys
Eden Hasson
Willis Droomer
Hughie Vaughan

Gabi Spake - photo by Ethan Smith/Surfing NSW

Kobi Clements - photo by Ethan Smith/Surfing NSW

IOC Session Approval Of Surfing For Inclusion In The Sports Programme Of The LA28 Olympic Games

February 3, 2022 
At the 139th International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session today, held in Beijing, China, Surfing was approved to be included on the Initial Sports Program for LA28. Following a vote of the IOC Membership, Surfing is now integrated into the group of 28 Olympic sports.  

Today’s announcement solidifies Surfing as a long-term fixture in the Olympic Programme. The ISA President confirmed his and the ISA’s excitement to potentially showcase the sport’s great value in the Brisbane 2032 Olympic Games, where Surfing is an essential part of the culture of Australia’s Gold Coast.

ISA President, Fernando Aguerre, said: “From the beginning of my Presidency, 27 years ago, it was my dream and hope to show that Surfing was worthy of long-term inclusion in the Olympic Games. Today is a truly wonderful day when that dream becomes a permanent reality. My heart is full of gratitude at this time of celebration for all surfers and fans of wave-riding. 

“This is a humbling moment for the ISA and for me personally. I would like to offer my deepest thanks to the IOC President and the IOC Members for their belief in Surfing and the value we continue to bring to the Games, as we showed in Tokyo. I would also like to express my gratitude to our friends and leaders at LA28 for believing in and supporting our inclusion. 

“We have always known that Surfing was a natural fit for LA28. As the official sport of California, surfing is action, youth and energy combined. And we have a powerful connection to the natural environment and sustainable living. A perfect recipe for the future of the Games Programme.  

“We are excited to be part of a new future for the Olympic Games. Together, we are stronger. Together, we are bringing a new age of Olympism. Together, we are making a better world through Surfing and sports.” 

LA28 Chairperson, Casey Wasserman, said: “The LA28 Games have always been about bringing more freshness, youthful energy and creativity into the Olympic and Paralympic movement. Los Angeles is a place unlike any other and it will be incredible to host surfing, skateboarding and climbing as iconic West Coast sports alongside Olympic fan favourites.”

Word Of The Week: Perfidious

Word of the Week returns in 2022 simply to throw some disruption in amongst the 'yeah-nah' mix.

Perfidious: of, relating to, or characterised by perfidy
plural perfidies
Definition of perfidy
1: the quality or state of being faithless or disloyal : TREACHERY. 2: an act or an instance of disloyalty

perfidious adjective
perfidiously adverb
perfidiousness noun

disloyal, faithless, false, fickle, inconstant, recreant, traitorous, treacherous, unfaithful, untrue

constant, dedicated, devoted, devout, down-the-line, faithful, fast, loyal, staunch (also stanch), steadfast, steady, true

Choose the Right Synonym for perfidious
FAITHLESS, FALSE, DISLOYAL, TRAITOROUS, TREACHEROUS, PERFIDIOUS mean untrue to what should command one's fidelity or allegiance. FAITHLESS applies to any failure to keep a promise or pledge or any breach of allegiance or loyalty.  faithless allies  FALSE stresses the fact of failing to be true in any manner ranging from fickleness to cold treachery.  betrayed by false friends  DISLOYAL implies a lack of complete faithfulness to a friend, cause, leader, or country.  disloyal to their country  TRAITOROUS implies either actual treason or a serious betrayal of trust.  traitorous acts punishable by death  TREACHEROUS implies readiness to betray trust or confidence.  a treacherous adviser  PERFIDIOUS adds to FAITHLESS the implication of an incapacity for fidelity or reliability.  a perfidious double-crosser 

Did you know?
We wouldn't lie to you about the history of "perfidious" - even though the word itself suggests deceitfulness. The modern English meaning of "perfidious" remains faithful to that of its Latin ancestor, perfidus, which means "faithless." English speakers have used "perfidious" to mean "treacherous" since at least 1572. One of the earliest known uses of the term can be found in Act V, scene iii of Shakespeare’s All's Well That Ends Well: the "perfidious slave" Parolles is thought to be an unreliable witness; he’ll say whatever suits his purpose, whether true or not. In contemporary usage, "perfidious" not only implies treacherousness, but an inability to be reliable or honourable.

Much Ado About Nothing On The Island This February

While on words, wordsmithing and the like - a Shakespeare play is on offer in Catherine Park on Scotland Island again this Summer.

Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy by William Shakespeare thought to have been written in 1598 and 1599. The play was included in the First Folio, published in 1623.

The play is set in Messina and revolves around two romantic pairings that emerge when a group of soldiers arrive in the town. The first, between Claudio and Hero, is nearly altered by the accusations of the villain, Don John. The second romance, between Claudio's friend Benedick and Hero's cousin Beatrice, takes center stage as the play goes on, with both characters' wit and banter providing much of the humour.
Through "noting" (sounding like "nothing", and meaning gossip, rumour, overhearing), Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into confessing their love for each other, and Claudio is tricked into believing that Hero is not a maiden (virgin). The title's play on words references the secrets and trickery that form the backbone of the play's comedy, intrigue, and action.

Definite Department of 'do yourself a grow your self favour in 2022' if you can get there. The Sunday Session will be preceded by a LOVE theme in the 2C's caff, with possibly a few buskers adding music to the birdsong already in place - Church Point Ferries can get you there:

Applications Now Open For NSW Youth Advisory Council 2022 

Young community leaders and passionate advocates from across NSW are being encouraged to nominate for the 2022 NSW Youth Advisory Council (YAC) with applications opening today. 
Advocate for Children and Young People, Ms Zoë Robinson said that is more important than ever for young people to come forward to have their say on the policies and services that affect them.
“In the last few years young people in NSW have been at the centre of a rapidly changing environment. It is important that they are a key part of decisions that affect their lives and being on the YAC is one way of doing that,” Ms Robinson said.
“All NSW young people, aged 12 to 24 years, who want to advocate on behalf of their peers are welcome to apply. We want to hear from people with diverse backgrounds and a broad range of life experiences that reflect the diversity of the 2.5 million young people in our State,” Ms Robinson added.
The 12 member Council has a statutory role to advise the NSW Government on issues of importance to young people. They meet regularly throughout the year to provide advice to the Government and the Advocate and to monitor and evaluate policies and legislation which affect young people. One of the key priorities of the Youth Advisory Council is promoting a diverse range of views, including the voices of rural and regional young people. 
“Throughout their 12 month tenure, YAC members will have an opportunity to engage with and give advice to government on a broad range priorities.  In recent years the YAC have advised on the NSW curriculum, the Statement of Consent, COVID communications, consultation projects and much more.
“As Advocate, I cannot do the work that I do without the trusted advice of the YAC,” Ms Robinson added.
YAC members are sought from all over NSW, from all backgrounds and life experiences to reflect the diversity of young people living in NSW. Young people from all walks of life are invited to apply, as the more diverse the council members are, the more insightful the results are.  
Applications are open until Sunday 13 March 2022, for more information and to complete an application visit

Morning Of The Earth: 50th Anniversary Screening At Cremorne

Morning of the Earth 50th Anniversary screening with director Q&A Wed March 9 at the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace, Cremorne. Beautifully remastered in 4K. One show only! Tickets:

At Seventeen
Janis Ian 1975

Janis Ian (born Janis Eddy Fink; April 7, 1951) is an American singer-songwriter who was most commercially successful in the 1960s and 1970s. Her signature songs are the 1966/67 hit "Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking)" and the 1975 Top Ten single "At Seventeen", from her LP Between the Lines, which in September 1975 reached no. 1 on the Billboard album chart. 

Janis is also a columnist and science fiction author.

Her website:

Born in Farmingdale, New Jersey, Janis entered the American folk music scene while still a teenager in the mid-1960s. Most active musically in that decade and the 1970s, she has continued recording into the 21st century. She has won two Grammy Awards, the first in 1975 for "At Seventeen" and the second in 2013 for Best Spoken Word Album, for her autobiography, Society's Child, with a total of ten nominations in eight different categories.

Janis was raised on a farm, and attended East Orange High School in East Orange, New Jersey, and the New York City High School of Music & Art. Both sets of grandparents (from Kiev, Ukraine, Tashkent, Uzbekistan and Poland) had emigrated, via England in about 1918 and lived in the New York-New Jersey area. Her parents, Victor, a music teacher, and Pearl, a college fundraiser, were Jewish-born liberals who ran several summer camps in upstate New York.

As a child, Ian admired the work of folk musicians such as Joan Baez and Odetta. Starting with piano lessons at the age of two (at her own insistence), Ian, by the time she entered her teens, was playing the organ, harmonica, French horn and guitar. At the age of 12, she wrote her first song, "Hair of Spun Gold", which was subsequently published in the folk publication Broadside and was later recorded for her eponymous debut album. In 1964, she legally changed her name to Janis Ian, taking her brother Eric's middle name as her new surname.

At the age of 14, Ian wrote and recorded her first hit single, "Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking)", about an interracial romance forbidden by a girl's mother and frowned upon by her peers and teachers. Produced by George "Shadow" Morton and released three times from 1965 to 1967, "Society's Child" became a national hit upon its third release after Leonard Bernstein featured it in a late-April 1967 CBS TV special titled Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution. 

The song's theme of interracial relationships was considered taboo by some radio stations, who withdrew or banned it from their playlists accordingly. In her 2008 autobiography Society's Child, Ian recalls receiving hate mail and death threats as a response to the song and mentions that a radio station in Atlanta that played it was burned down. In July 1967, "Society's Child" reached no. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single sold 600,000 copies and the album sold 350,000 copies.

At the age of 16, Ian met comedian Bill Cosby backstage at a Smothers Brothers show where she was promoting "Society's Child". Since she was underage, she was accompanied by a chaperone while touring. After her set, Ian had been sleeping with her head on her chaperone's lap (an older female family friend). According to Ian in a 2015 interview, she was told by her then manager that Cosby had interpreted their interaction as "lesbian" and as a result "had made it his business" to warn other television shows that Ian wasn't "suitable family entertainment" and "shouldn't be on television" because of her sexuality, thus attempting to blacklist her. Although Ian would later come out, she states that at the time of the encounter with Cosby she had only been kissed once, by a boy she had a crush on, in broad daylight at summer camp.

Ian relates on her website that, although "Society's Child" was originally intended for Atlantic Records and the label paid for her recording session, Atlantic subsequently returned the master to her and quietly refused to release it. Ian relates that years later, Atlantic's president at the time, Jerry Wexler, publicly apologised to her for this. The single and Ian's 1967 debut album (which reached no. 29 on the charts) were finally released on Verve Forecast. In 2001, "Society's Child" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, which honours recordings considered timeless and important to music history. Her first four albums were released on a double CD entitled Society's Child: The Verve Recordings in 1995.

Janis Ian performing in concert, 1981. Photo courtesy Eddie

"Society's Child" stigmatised Ian as a one-hit wonder until her most successful US single, "At Seventeen", was released in 1975. "At Seventeen" is a bittersweet commentary on adolescent cruelty, the illusion of popularity and teenage angst, from the perspective of a narrator looking back on her earlier experience. The song was a major hit as it charted at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, hit number one on the Adult Contemporary chart and won the 1976 Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance - Female, beating out Linda Ronstadt, Olivia Newton-John and Helen Reddy.

Janis appeared as the first musical guest on the series premiere of Saturday Night Live on October 11, 1975, performing "At Seventeen" and "In the Winter". The album Between the Lines was also a smash and reached number one on Billboard′s album chart. The album would be certified platinum for sales of over one million copies sold in the US. Another measure of her success is anecdotal: on Valentine's Day 1977, Ian received 461 valentine cards, having indicated in the lyrics to "At Seventeen" that she never received one as a teenager.

"Fly Too High" (1979), produced by disco producer Giorgio Moroder, was Ian's contribution to the soundtrack of the Jodie Foster film Foxes and was also featured on Ian's 1979 album Night Rains. It also became another international hit, reaching number one in many countries, including South Africa, Belgium, Australia, Israel and the Netherlands, and going gold or platinum in those countries and others. Another country where Ian has achieved a high level of popularity is Japan: Ian had two Top 10 singles on the Japanese Oricon charts, "Love Is Blind" in 1976 and "You Are Love" in 1980. Ian's 1976 album Aftertones also topped Oricon's album chart in October 1976. "You Are Love (Toujours Gai Mon Cher)" is the theme song of Kinji Fukasaku's 1980 movie Virus. Ian cut several other singles specifically for the Japanese market, including 1998's "The Last Great Place".

Janis is an outspoken critic of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which she sees as acting against the interests of musicians and consumers. Consequently, she has released several of her songs for free download from her website.

"I've been surprised at how few people are willing to get annoyed with me over it," she laughs. "There was a little backlash here and there. I was scheduled to appear on a panel somewhere and somebody from a record company said if I was there they would boycott it. But that's been pretty much it. In general, the entire reaction has been favourable. I hear from a lot of people in my industry who don't want to be quoted, but say 'yeah, we're aware of this and we'd like to see a change too.'"

Along with science fiction authors Eric Flint and Cory Doctorow, she has argued that their experience provides conclusive evidence that free downloads dramatically increased hard-copy sales, contrary to the claims of RIAA and NARAS.

Janis’ latest solo studio album, The Light At The End Of The Line, was made available at the official Janis Ian website in January 21st, 2022. Visit:

Here too it is explained that buying direct from the Artist ensures a better outcome for the Artist. 

'At Seventeen' - a hit in Australia too, plays below.

Bio overview sourced from Wikipedia and Janis' website.

Spotify’s response to Rogan-gate falls short of its ethical and editorial obligations

PixabayCC BY-SA
David TuffleyGriffith University

Audio streaming giant Spotify is getting a crash course in the tension between free speech and the need to protect the public from harmful misinformation.

The Swedish-founded platform, which has 400 million active users, has faced a hail of criticism over misinformation broadcast on its most popular podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience.

Rogan, a former ultimate fighting commentator and television presenter, has argued healthy young people should not get a COVID vaccination. This is contrary to medical advice from governments all over the world, not to mention the World Health Organization.

A recent episode of his podcast, featuring virologist Robert Malone, drew criticism from public health experts over its various conspiracist claims about COVID vaccination programs.

There were widespread calls for Spotify to deplatform Rogan and his interviewees. Rock legend Neil Young issued an ultimatum that Spotify could broadcast Rogan or Young, but not both.

Spotify made its choice: the Joe Rogan Experience is still on the air, while Young’s music is gone, along with Joni Mitchell and Nils Lofgren, who removed their content in solidarity.

Spotify’s Response

Spotify co-founder Daniel Ek has since promised to tag controversial COVID-related content with links to a “hub” containing trustworthy information. But he stopped short of pledging to remove misinformation outright.

In a statement, Ek said:

We know we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users. In that role, it is important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor while also making sure that there are rules in place and consequences for those who violate them.

Does It Go Far Enough?

Freedom of expression is important, but so is prevention of harm. When what is being advocated is likely to cause harm or loss of life, a line has been crossed. Spotify has a moral obligation to restrict speech that damages the public interest.

In response to the controversy, Spotify also publicly shared its rules of engagement. They are comprehensive and proactive in helping to make content creators aware of the lines that must not be crossed, while allowing for freedom of expression within these constraints.  

Has Spotify fulfilled its duty of care to customers? If it applies the rules as stated, provides listeners with links to trustworthy information, and refuses to let controversial yet profitable content creators off the hook, this is certainly a move in the right direction.

Platform Or Publisher?

At the crux of the problem is the question of whether social media providers are platforms or publishers.

Spotify and other Big Tech players claim they are simply providing a platform for people’s opinions. But regulators are beginning to say no, they are in fact publishers of information, and like any publisher must be accountable for their content.

Logos of big tech platforms
Tech platforms like to claim they’re not publishers. PixabayCC BY

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other platforms have significant power to promote particular views and limit others, thereby influencing millions or even billions of users.

In the United States, these platforms have immunity from civil and criminal liability under a 1996 federal law that shields them from liability as sites that host user-generated content. Being US corporations, their actions are primarily based on US legislation.

It is an ingenious business model that allows Facebook, for example, to turn a steady stream of free user-posted content into US$28 billion in quarterly advertising revenue.

Established newspapers and magazines also sell advertising, but they pay journalists to write content and are legally liable for what they publish. It’s little wonder they are struggling to survive, and little wonder the tech platforms are keen to avoid similar responsibilities.

But the fact is that social media companies do make editorial decisions about what appears on their platforms. So it is not morally defensible to hide behind the legal protections afforded to them as platforms, when they operate as publishers and reap considerable profits by doing so.

How Best To Combat Misinformation?

Misinformation in the form of fake news, intentional disinformation and misinformed opinion has become a crucial issue for democratic systems around the world. How to combat this influence without compromising democratic values and free speech?

One way is to cultivate “news literacy” – an ability to discern misinformation. This can be done by making a practice of sampling news from across the political spectrum, then averaging out the message to the moderate middle. Most of us confine ourselves to the echo chamber of our preferred source, avoiding contrary opinions as we go.

If you are not sampling at least three reputable sources, you’re not getting the full picture. Here are the characteristics of a reputable news source.

Social media, meanwhile, should invest in artificial intelligence (AI) tools to sift the deluge of real-time content and flag potential fake news. Some progress in this area has been made, but there is room for improvement.

The tide is turning for the big social media companies. Governments around the world are formulating laws that will oblige them to be more responsible for the content they publish. They won’t have long to wait.The Conversation

David Tuffley, Senior Lecturer in Applied Ethics & CyberSecurity, Griffith University

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

How snowboarding became a marquee event at the Winter Olympics – but lost some of its cool factor in the process

Holly ThorpeUniversity of Waikato and Belinda WheatonUniversity of Waikato

The mass appeal of creative, youth-oriented events such as snowboarding and freestyle skiing at the Winter Olympics is a virtual case study of how the once radical can go mainstream.

And while audiences have come to love these relatively new sports, the story of snowboarding’s inclusion in the Olympics also reveals the unintended consequences of “success” for the image of the sport itself.

When snowboarding first emerged in the late 1960s and ’70s in North America, most of its early pioneers were young people who rejected competitive, organised sport. Inspired by surfing and skateboarding rather than skiing, they were seeking something that offered fun, self-expression and an alternative identity.

Despite some initial resistance from skiers and resorts, snowboarding’s popularity grew during the 1990s. Television and corporate sponsors identified its huge potential to attract the elusive young male market. Increasingly, transnational media corporations and events likes the X-Games and Gravity Games controlled and defined snowboarding.

While some snowboarders initially resisted “selling out”, many embraced the opportunities to develop the sport and carve out new careers for themselves as “extreme sport” athletes.

Early Resistance

Meanwhile, the Winter Olympics (always a more niche event compared with its summer counterpart) recognised snowboarding’s potential to attract younger viewers and international sponsors.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) first included snowboarding in the 1998 Winter Olympics, but under the governance of the International Ski Federation (FIS) rather than the International Snowboard Federation. The loss of autonomy and control infuriated many snowboarders.

The world’s best halfpipe rider at the time, Norwegian Terje Haakonsen, was particularly vocal, refusing to be turned into a “uniform-wearing, flag-bearing, walking logo”. Many other snowboarders echoed his sentiments.

And while snowboarding’s assimilation continued, the four events that debuted in 1998 – men’s and women’s halfpipe and giant slalom – were largely treated as a sideshow. The athletes were perceived and portrayed as interlopers in the Olympic program. As The Washington Post put it:

Snowboarders are the official curiosity of the Nagano Winter Games. They’re totally new to the Olympics. They look different, they sound different, they are different.

When Canadian Ross Rebagliati tested positive for marijuana after winning the first snowboarding gold medal, the IOC revoked his medal, only to return it a few days later when Rebagliati’s lawyers found a loophole in the IOC/FIS drug policies. The scandal confirmed the view – of snowboarders as well as mainstream commentators – that snowboarding was not ready to become an Olympic sport.

Acceptance And Growth

By the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, however, the packaging of snowboarding had evolved and the sport’s second mainstream outing was deemed a resounding success. Nearly 32% of the US population (92 million people) watched the halfpipe competition in which Americans won gold, silver and bronze in the men’s event and gold in the women’s event.

Official broadcaster NBC reported a 23% ratings increase among 18-to-34-year-olds. For the IOC, the inclusion of snowboarding had become a game-changer, showcasing cool new sports celebrities for Olympic audiences, especially in the lucrative US market.

By the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, snowboarders were front and centre, with Shaun White from the US deemed the most “recognisable athlete”.

When White won his third gold in the halfpipe at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang it attracted a record 22.6 million viewers in the US alone. Having qualified for his fifth Olympics, White will bring his star power to Beijing this year.

Women On Board

Women snowboarders have competed in all Olympic events since 1998, expanding opportunities for women in the sport and industry.

Olympic snowboarders such as Kelly Clark, Hannah Tetter, Torah Bright and Chloe Kim build on the efforts of previous generations of female snowboarders, carving out new space for girls and women in the sport.

In the process of wowing audiences, they’ve also inspired the next generation of stars like New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott and Japan’s Ono Mitsuki.

It’s estimated women will make up 45% of the athletes competing in Beijing this year, including in the new mixed team snowboard cross event, added as part of a broader IOC initiative to achieve gender parity.

Zoi Sadowski-Synnott in the snow
Zoi Sadowski-Synnott after her winning final run of the Dew Tour at Copper Mountain, Colorado, in 2021. GettyImages

Victim Of Its Own Success?

While the IOC held the line with certain rules and regulations (no stickers on snowboards, no large corporate logos on clothing or equipment), it has been increasingly willing to accommodate snowboarders’ individuality – allowing more clothing choices and athletes to select their own music for halfpipe runs.

Snowboarding’s success has also helped open up the Winter Olympics to other youth-focused sports, particularly free-skiing disciplines, as well as influencing the Summer Olympics’ embrace of BMX, surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and breaking.

But there’s an irony to snowboarding’s mainstream success, too. While it has become popular with broader audiences, and companies and athletes have done very well from Olympic exposure, it appears to have lost its appeal among younger people.

Participation has been declining steadily in recent years – to the point where former pro snowboarder and action sports agent Circe Wallace has said the sport’s commodification and institutionalisation have been “the death knell of the unique culture and beauty of snowboarding”.

It’s a familiar story – youth-culture cool incorporated by mainstream businesses and organisations for profit. As the IOC continues to search out the latest youth-oriented sports to help it stay relevant, bring back younger viewers and attract corporate sponsors, we would do well to ask who, ultimately, are the real winners and the losers.The Conversation

Holly Thorpe, Professor in Sociology of Sport and Physical Culture, University of Waikato and Belinda Wheaton, Professor, Te Huataki Waiora School of Health, University of Waikato

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

Three tips to help you stay motivated to keep exercising all year long

It’s suggested nearly 80% of people give up on their new year resolutions by February. dotshock/ Shutterstock
Ian TaylorLoughborough University

February. The month of shattered dreams and ambitions. The trainers are gathering dust and chocolate bars have replaced protein bars. The gusto with which we attacked our new year resolutions is a vague memory.

If your motivation to stick to your resolution to exercise more this year is waning, you’re not alone. It’s suggested around 80% of people will have given up on their new year resolutions by February.

But the reason your motivation wanes might be because you chose the wrong motives and goals to begin with. And research shows us that choosing the right type of goal is the key to keeping us motivated over the long term.

Lower The Effort

Many of us believe that we need to grimace, contort, sweat and pant our way to a healthier life. So at the beginning of January, we put in a load of effort to help us reach our goals.

Unfortunately, our brain encourages us to avoid physical effort. This is why the excessive effort we use when exercising will work against us in the long run – leading us to feel less motivated to exercise by the end of January. Our brain is constantly monitoring our body for any changes from our resting state, which could mean danger to our health. The more physical effort we use, the more a signal is activated and our brain tells us that the activity just isn’t worth the effort and potential risk.

This is why minimising the effort we need to put into exercise may actually better help us stick to our resolutions in the long term. For example, if you’re dreading even a fifteen-minute jog, do five minutes instead. Or if you hate running but enjoy Zumba, do that instead. The golden rule is that the activity you’re trying to motivate yourself to do needs to be pleasurable. And research shows we’re much more likely to do something if it requires less effort – especially when we’re starting new exercise regimes.

The same principle applies to reducing the psychological effort required to exercise, as our brains also encourage us to avoid it – to such an extent that, when given the choice, we often prefer physical pain instead. It does this because it wants to save psychological effort for times of emergency.

When it comes to starting a new exercise regime in the new year, things like fitting workouts into our schedule or getting out of bed an hour earlier all require psychological effort. To reduce psychological effort, it may help to minimise needless decision-making. When it’s time to exercise, remove decisions like whether to walk or drive to exercise class, or put your trainers in the same place so you don’t have to look for them.

A woman ties up her trainers.
Even small decisions can make you feel less motivated to exercise. Halfpoint/ Shutterstock

Although these sound like small decisions to make, they can all add up to us feeling less motivated to exercise when we’re required to make them. Research even shows that when we think our goals require little effort to achieve, we’re more likely to achieve them.

Choose Short-Term Goals

Another basic motivational mistake many of us made in January was to set our goals too far in the future. Many people start exercising to lose a few pounds – perhaps to fit into their favourite jeans again. But when the outcome is far in the future, our brains don’t associate the motivation (fitting into our jeans) with exercising – so we’re less inclined to exercise.

By choosing a goal that has a more immediate outcome, our brains will associate the outcome positively with exercise because they occur simultaneously. For example, the mood-boosting benefits of exercise occur more quickly than physical health changes so this may be a better motivator for you to keep exercising well past January. In short, make the reason for exercise an immediate one you can achieve – and the long-term benefits will follow.

Focus On ‘Being’ Instead Of ‘Having’

The final motivational fix is switching the type of goal you have. So-called “have” goals serve little purpose for our motivational brain, which focuses on more important things – such as being effective at what we do and making social bonds. An example of a “have” goal would be exercising so that you can have a better body. This type of goal is viewed as less important by our brain because it does not help us meet essential goals that help us thrive.

On the other hand, the types of goals that are more likely to keep us motivated are “be” goals. An example of a be goal would be exercising to be healthy or to be more athletic. Be goals are superior because humans tend to want to bond with other like-minded people based on our identities. This motivation is thought to have developed in our ancestral past, as forming bonds helped us to survive. So someone may find exercise easier to stick with if they’re doing it as a way to demonstrate their athleticism, for example. As a result, people do a better job of sticking to be goals, compared to other types of goals.

Even if you have fallen off the wagon slightly by the end of January, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on your goals entirely. But making some tweaks to them – and your approach to exercise – may help you better stick to your goals for the rest of the year.The Conversation

Ian Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Loughborough University

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

‘Virtual influencers’ are here, but should Meta really be setting the ethical ground rules?

Tama LeaverCurtin University and Rachel BerrymanCurtin University

Earlier this month, Meta announced it is working on a set of ethical guidelines for “virtual influencers” – animated, typically computer-generated, characters designed to attract attention on social media.

When Facebook renamed itself Meta late last year, it heralded a pivot towards the “metaverse” – where virtual influencers will presumably one day roam in their thousands.

Even Meta admits the metaverse doesn’t really exist yet. The building blocks of a persistent, immersive virtual reality for everything from business to play are yet to be fully assembled. But virtual influencers are already online, and are surprisingly convincing.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse announcement. 30 October 2021.

But given its recent history, is Meta (née Facebook) really the right company to be setting the ethical standards for virtual influencers and the metaverse more broadly?

Who (Or What) Are Virtual Influencers?

Meta’s announcement notes the “rising phenomenon” of synthetic media – an umbrella term for images, video, voice or text generated by computerised technology, typically using artificial intelligence (AI) or automation.

Many virtual influencers incorporate elements of synthetic media in their design, ranging from completely digitally rendered bodies, to human models that are digitally masked with characters’ facial features.

A Topography of Virtual Influencers by Rachel Berryman, Crystal Abidin, and Tama Leaver (October 2021).

At both ends of the scale, this process still relies heavily on human labour and input, from art direction for photo shoots to writing captions for social media. Like Meta’s vision of the metaverse, influencers that are entirely generated and powered by AI are a largely futuristic fantasy.

But even in their current form, virtual influencers are of serious value to Meta, both as attractions for their existing platforms and as avatars of the metaverse.

Interest in virtual influencers has rapidly expanded over the past five years, attracting huge audiences on social media and partnerships with major brands, including AudiBoseCalvin KleinSamsung, and Chinese e-commerce platform TMall.

A competitive industry specialising in the production, management and promotion of virtual influencers has already sprung up, although it remains largely unregulated.

So far, India is the only country to address virtual influencers in national advertising standards, requiring brands “disclose to consumers that they are not interacting with a real human being” when posting sponsored content.

Ethical Guidelines

There is an urgent need for ethical guidelines, both to help producers and their brand partners navigate this new terrain, and more importantly to help users understand the content they’re engaging with.

Meta has warned that “synthetic media has the potential for both good and harm”, listing “representation and cultural appropriation” as specific issues of concern.

Indeed, despite their short lifespan, virtual influencers already have a history of overt racialisation and misrepresentation, raising ethical questions for producers who create digital characters with different demographic characteristics from their own.

But it’s far from clear whether Meta’s proposed guidelines will adequately address these questions.

Becky Owen, head of creator innovation and solutions at Meta Creative Shop, said the planned ethical framework “will help our brand partners and VI creators explore what’s possible, likely and desirable, and what’s not”.

This seeming emphasis on technological possibilities and brand partners’ desires leads to an inevitable impression that Meta is once again conflating commercial potential with ethical practice.

By its own count, Meta’s platforms already host more than 200 virtual influencers. But virtual influencers exist elsewhere too: they do viral dance challenges on TikTok, upload vlogs to YouTube, and post life updates on Sina Weibo. They appear “offline” at malls in Beijing and Singapore, on 3D billboards in Tokyo, and star in television commercials.

Virtual influencer Rozy stars in a commercial for Shinhan life insurance.

Gamekeeper, Or Poacher?

This brings us back to the question of whether Meta is the right company to set the ground rules for this emerging space.

The company’s history is tarred by unethical behaviour, from Facebook’s questionable beginnings in Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room (as depicted in The Social Network) to large-scale privacy failings demonstrated in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

In February 2021 Facebook showed how far it was willing to go to defend its interests, when it briefly banned all news content on Facebook in Australia to force the federal government to water down the Australian News Media Bargaining Code.

Last year also saw former Facebook executive Frances Haugen very publicly turn whistleblower, sharing a trove of internal documents with journalists and politicians.

These so-called “Facebook Papers” raised numerous concerns about the company’s conduct and ethics, including the revelation that Facebook’s own internal research showed Instagram can harm young people’s mental health, even leading to suicide.

Today, Meta is fighting US antitrust litigation that aims to restrain the company’s monopoly by potentially compelling it to sell key acquisitions including Instagram and WhatsApp.

Meanwhile, Meta is scrambling to integrate its messaging service across all three apps, effectively making them different interfaces for a shared back end that Meta will doubtless argue cannot feasibly be separated, no matter the outcomes of the current litigation.

Given this back story, Meta seems far from the ideal choice as ethical guardian of the metaverse.

The already extensive distribution of virtual influencers across platforms and markets highlights the need for ethical guidelines that go beyond the interests of one company – especially a company that stands to gain so much from the impending spectacle.The Conversation

Tama Leaver, Professor of Internet Studies, Curtin University and Rachel Berryman, PhD Candidate in Internet Studies, Curtin University

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

Ulysses at 100: why Joyce was so obsessed with the perfect blue cover

James Joyce was particular about the shade of blue that would grace the cover of Ulysses. WikimediaCC BY-SA
Cleo Hanaway-OakleyUniversity of Bristol

On February 2 2022, Ulysses turns 100, James Joyce would have turned 140, and I will turn 30-something.

To celebrate this tripartite birthday I am popping to the chemist to collect some eye drops. Then I’m heading to the Bodleian Library in Oxford to view one of the first editions of Ulysses. I won’t read it. I won’t even venture past its covers. I am interested in seeing the exact shade of blue that Joyce specified for the book’s wrappers. He was so particular about this aesthetic feature that he got his painter friend, Myron Nutting, to mix up the precise tint.

This is where the eye drops come in. I have a chronic condition that can make my eyes sore and my vision blurry. And I want to ensure that I can see Ulysses clearly, to properly assess the blueness of its cover. The irony is that Joyce’s eyesight was far worse than mine. He experienced severe eye pain, underwent multiple ocular surgeries and, at times, could barely see at all. Why, then, was he so obsessed with his book being such a specific hue of blue?

Ulysses Blue

Joyce’s biographer, Richard Ellmann, tells us that the cover of Ulysses was meant to match the blue of the Greek flag, to suggest the myth of ancient Greece and Homer. We know from his letters that Joyce sent a Greek flag to Nutting for him to colour-match. So, he was aiming for “Greek” blue.

We also know that Homer was a huge influence on Joyce. The structure of Ulysses parallels the structure of Homer’s Odyssey. So, it makes sense for Joyce to honour his literary hero through a subtle, yet exceedingly specific, decorative detail. But I think there’s more to it.

Statues of Homer against a gloomy sky.
Homer was a great inspiration to James Joyce. Timothy Harding/Shutterstock

I am on a research odyssey to discover the impetus and symbolism behind “Ulysses blue”. I will go to the Bodleian with my eyes wide open, ready to let my visual experience of the famous blue book dictate my avenue of research.

But, given Joyce’s impaired vision, perhaps this isn’t the best approach. To understand Joyce’s perspective, I must shrug off my “ocularcentrism”.

Blindness In Joyce’s Texts

In her thoughtful new book, There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness, writer and educator M. Leona Godin devotes several pages to her interactions with Ulysses. She discusses the “blind stripling” character who taps his way through Dublin, and through Ulysses, using his “slender cane”.

Godin praises Joyce’s ability to capture the musicality of the tapping cane and articulates the complexity of Joyce’s relationship with blindness: “Even if Joyce felt some kinship with the blind stripling, he was still a sight-oriented person who might think […] of the blind as ‘they’.”

Joyce would have loved Godin’s book, as he appears to have had a keen interest in blindness memoirs and advice guides written by blind people, for blind people (and their supporters). Scholars have largely glossed over Joyce’s references to blindness in his composition notebook. But I’m delving deeper to get to grips with Joyce’s thoughts on visual impairment.

It is fascinating to read Joyce’s depiction of the blind stripling in Ulysses, alongside one of the blindness books mentioned in his notes: Les Aveugles par un Aveugle (The Blind as Seen through Blind Eyes) (1899), by Maurice de la Sizeranne.

As I outlined in a public lecture last Bloomsday, there are several similarities, in terms of content and focus, between the two books.

The observations de la Sizeranne makes about his fellow blind man parallel those made by Ulysses’ protagonist Bloom about the blind stripling. Both Bloom and de la Sizeranne discuss the intriguing relationship between colour perception and touch, in blind experience, and suggest an additional blind sense: a “kind of sense of volume” involving the “nerves of the face” or the “forehead”. In reflecting blind experience onto his blind readers, de la Sizeranne - to borrow a phrase used in Ulysses - urges us to “see ourselves as others see us”.

In Joyce’s notes, the name of a hitherto unidentified “Dr Staub” is scrawled next to the title of de la Sizeranne’s book. Staub was believed to be one of Joyce’s eye doctors. However, I have discovered that he is, in fact, Dr Theodor Staub, the blind founder of the Swiss Library for the Blind.

It is unclear why Staub’s name appears next to Les Aveugles par un Aveugle. Whatever the precise connection, in jotting down Staub’s name Joyce, at the very least, demonstrated a desire to engage with the blind community and with books for the blind.

Blind, Blue Bards

In his final book, Finnegans Wake (1939), Joyce alludes to Ulysses. He depicts Shem, a partially sighted writer, reading a “usylessly unreadable Blue Book” in a “glaucous den”.

In ancient Greek, the word “glaucous” refers to blueish-green or blueish-grey. It’s also the root word of “glaucoma”. Joyce suffered from glaucoma, and, in one of his letters, he writes that Homer “went blind from glaucoma according to one of my doctors”.

Blue cover of Ulysses.
Could the blue be inspired by the colour that the word ‘glaucous’ denotes? CC BY

So, perhaps “Ulysses blue” is a homage to glaucoma (via ancient Greece and Homer). By insisting on Greek-flag blue, was Joyce seeking, through rather associative means, to insert himself into a canon of blind writers?

There is no definite answer to this question. But, by recognising Joyce as a disabled writer with a genuine interest in articulating a wide range of bodily and sensory experiences, we open up new possibilities for accessing Ulysses in its centenary year. We should feel empowered to read Joyce’s blue book through our eyes, ears, and fingers.The Conversation

Cleo Hanaway-Oakley, Lecturer in Liberal Arts and English, University of Bristol

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

Killer whales taking food from fishing lines reveal something intriguing about human evolution

Luke RendellUniversity of St Andrews

Who would go off to try and catch a fish if a sushi buffet had been laid on? Not me. Nor killer whales, according to new research that vividly illustrates the allure for these animals of the easy pickings provided by longline fisheries for Patagonian toothfish in the Indian Ocean.

In their study, French fisheries researcher Morgane Amelot and her colleagues examined over 119,000 photographs of individual killer whales taken between 2003 and 2018 around the Crozet Islands in the southern Indian Ocean. They produced an identity parade of whales caught red-handed (or finned) taking fish from baited hooks attached to a long main line.

Killer whales have been known to do this since the mid-1990s, but this analysis showed how the behaviour has spread through the population. The number of whales spotted around the fishing vessels suggest that by the end of the study period, the entire population was taking advantage of the buffet.

Humans, with the inexorable expansion of our fishing fleets, have inadvertently provided the whales with a new source of food, allowing them to expand their niche (the term ecologists use to described a species’ role in an ecosystem). This creates problems for both killer whales and toothfish that require more research to solve, but understanding how this behaviour spreads through populations also leads us into deeper intellectual waters. Might the way killer whales open up new niches mirror early human evolution?

Toothfish To Go

It is estimated that the whales now take around 163 tonnes of toothfish every year. We don’t know if the toothfish were part of the whales’ diet before they discovered the longlines, but the foraging method is undoubtedly new.

It’s not hard to see the attraction. Instead of all that tiresome swimming around, finding and then chasing the fish, the longliners are kind enough to gather and slowly wind them up from the depths and present them one by one for consumption – the open ocean equivalent of the conveyor belt in a sushi bar.

A black-and-white photo of fishermen preparing a length of rope with hundreds of metal hoops attached.
Longlining is a commercial fishing method which can catch hundreds of fish on a single main line. NOAA Photo Library

This isn’t confined to the Indian Ocean. In the northern Pacific, both killer and sperm whales have been exploiting longline fisheries for decades. In all these cases there is evidence that cultural transmission is behind the spread. In other words, the whales were learning about the new opportunity from seeing others taking advantage of it. Given that we know killer whales are capable of highly precise imitation of each other’s behaviour, it seems likely that cultural transmission, the foundation of killer-whale culture, underlies the spread of this behaviour in the Indian Ocean too.

What this research shows is an accelerated version of a process that has played out throughout the evolutionary history of the killer whale. In recent decades, we’ve learned more about how wild populations are divided into what are called ecotypes – different forms of killer whale, with distinct appearances, vocal behaviour, and often (but not always) highly specialised prey preferences.

Most famous are the fish-eating killer whales of the north-east Pacific, where for some populations, fully 80% of their diet can be comprised of a single salmon species. New specialisations are still being described – for example, another study published recently documented the cooperative tactics some groups use to take down blue whales.

The Whale Within

The origins of these ecotypes lie in the discovery of new ecological opportunities and the subsequent spread of new hunting tactics through cultural transmission – just like the spread of longline foraging. Sometimes the passing of these specialisations down generations has given rise to lineages of tradition so stable and separate that the distinctive diets have started affecting natural selection – the genomes of whales in separate lineages are diverging.

As a result, killer whales pose a conundrum for biologists, challenging the species concept itself. Are they one species, with sub-types, or should they be considered separate species? The debate rages on unresolved. The interaction between cultural traditions and genetic evolution that has produced this conundrum is called gene-culture co-evolution.

We know this process from our own societies. If you are an adult who is lactose tolerant, your genetic ancestry is intertwined at some point with a dairy farming culture.

The parallels to our own history go deeper, however. The story of human evolution has been a moving target in recent years. In contrast to the standard single-African-population origin story, we now know that what have been classified as multiple Homo species co-existed with modern humans. But were they separate species? Or could they better be described as ecotypes, specialised on diverse niches?

This relates to a provocative new view of human evolution, termed African multi-regionalism. It suggests that modern humans evolved as sets of interlinked groups throughout Africa, with divisions between groups being primarily related to ecology – different niches for different groups.

My colleagues and I have argued that culturally transmitted ecological specialisations may have led to diversification in humans in the same way as in killer whales. So perhaps the spread of killer whales taking fish from longlines can indeed help us understand how we ourselves came to be.The Conversation

Luke Rendell, MASTS Lecturer in Biology, University of St Andrews

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

Researchers Study Impact Of Waves Created By Recreational Boats On Shorelines - Vegetation

February 1, 2022
A new study by researchers in the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering's St. Anthony Falls Laboratory found that popular wakesurf boats require a greater distance from the shoreline and other boats compared to more typical recreational boats. This distance is needed to reduce the potential impact of their larger waves.

The results provide key insights into differences between specialized wakesurfing boats and more typical recreational boats operating on lakes and rivers. It also provides baseline data that can be used for future decision-making.

Wakesurfing, which requires a boat capable of generating a large surfing wave, has become a popular pastime for some Minnesotans while sparking concerns in others about shoreline erosion, water quality, and safety. However, robust scientific data on the size and impact of wakesurf boat waves has been lacking.

"Minnesotans love their lakes, and they love their boats," said Jeff Marr, one of the lead researchers on the study and associate director of engineering and facilities at the St. Anthony Falls Lab. "Some of my best memories are of boating, waterskiing, and fishing with family and friends on lakes. This research isn't about trying to limit enjoyment of lakes for boaters, but it seeks to provide the data needed to ensure our lakes can be enjoyed by all for generations to come."

In an effort to provide scientific data on boat-generated waves, the researchers carefully examined these waves by measuring the maximum height, total energy, and maximum power of the waves (defined as wake waves) produced by four recreational boats -- two wakesurf boats and two more typical recreational boats. Using sensors and data collection hardware, the researchers also measured how the wake waves changed as they moved away from the boats and toward shore.

The researchers carried out the evaluation of the four boats in fall 2020 under a range of speeds, weight, and other conditions on Lake Independence in Maple Plain, Minnesota.

The findings reveal that wake waves produced by wakesurf boats during wakesurfing are not only higher, but they also require greater distance to decrease to the same height as wake waves from more typical recreational boats.

This study found that:
  • When researchers compared the wake waves of the four boats during their most typical mode of operations, the data indicated that wakesurf boats require distances greater than 500 feet from the shoreline/docks and other boats (or the distance of a little less than 1.5 football fields) to decrease their wake wave characteristics to levels similar to the non-wakesurf boats.
  • When researchers compared the wake waves of the four boats under conditions that generated the largest wake wave, the data indicated that wakesurf boats require distances greater than 425 feet from the shoreline/docks and other boats to decrease their wake wave characteristics to levels similar to the non-wakesurf boats.
  • In both modes of operation, the suggested distance from shoreline/docks for wakesurf boats is more than twice the distance of the 200 feet currently recommended by Minnesota guidelines for common recreational boats.
  • Under both slow and fast speed conditions, the wakesurf boats produced the largest waves in terms of height, energy, and power when compared to the non-wakesurf boats.
  • Larger, more energetic waves need to travel a greater distance to decrease in wave height, energy, and power.
This report establishes an important baseline for the study of wake waves produced by wakesurf boats -- a topic of growing interest across the country.

"We quickly learned that boat wave impacts were not just a Minnesota concern. We have received inquiries about our research from many others throughout the U.S.," said Andy Riesgraf, another lead researcher on the project and researcher at the University's St. Anthony Falls Lab. "We're hoping this study will provide a pathway for shared use of our lakes and rivers."

The researchers say this study gives legislators, lake associations, boat manufacturers, and property owners new information about the operation of wakesurf boats and other recreational boats on Minnesota's lakes.

But the researchers also see it as just the beginning. This foundational work has been critical as they design further studies, with future research aimed at propeller wash interactions with lake bottoms and an examination of the impact of large waves on aquatic vegetation and shorelines.

Report "A Field Study of Maximum Wave Height, Total Wave Energy, and Maximum Wave Power Produced by Four Recreational Boats on a Freshwater Lake" Available at:

How The Connections Inside Bird Brains Work Together

February 2, 2022
Nagoya University physiologists have furthered understanding of the bird neural circuitry that allows them to distinguish where a specific sound is coming from. Their findings, published in the journal Science Advances, could help scientists understand the basics of how mammalian brains compute the time difference between a single sound arriving at each individual ear, known as 'interaural time difference'. This ability is an integral component of sound localization.

"Animals can perform accurate interaural time difference detection for sounds of a wide range of frequencies," explains Rei Yamada, who specializes in cell physiology at Nagoya University's Graduate School of Medicine. The nerve circuitry for this process is so specialized that the many branches extending from a single nerve cell, called dendrites, receive a specific sound frequency from one or the other ear. But it's not yet clear exactly how all of this works together to enable interaural time difference detection.

Yamada and his colleague Hiroshi Kuba wanted to understand more about this process. They conducted laser experiments on chicken brain slices by stimulating excitatory receptors on a part of the brain responsible for sound localization. This was followed by simulation experiments to clarify the meaning of their initial findings.

They discovered that nerve junctions, called synapses, were particularly clustered at the ends of specialized long dendrites dedicated to conducting signals from low-frequency sounds. Counterintuitively, this clustering reduced the strength of signal transmission along the length of the dendrite so that it was smaller by the time it reached the nerve cell. This process, however, enabled the nerve cell to tolerate intense inputs arriving through dendrites dedicated to each ear, thereby maintaining its ability to conduct the necessary time difference and location computing activities.

"Many animals, including humans, use the time difference of a sound reaching both ears as a clue for sound source localization," says Yamada. "We would like to examine whether the association we found between neural function and structure is universally common in other species. Expanding our research to mammalian brains will be important to understand the basic principle of interaural time difference detection that birds and animals have in common with humans."

Rei Yamada, Hiroshi Kuba. Dendritic synapse geometry optimizes binaural computation in a sound localization circuit. Science Advances, 2021; 7 (48) DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abh0024

What Is Your Dog’s Lifespan?: You Might Be Surprised

February 2, 2022
How old is your dog in human years? And what factors contribute to a long and healthy life for a dog? For years, it's been generally accepted that "dog years" are roughly human years times seven -- that a 1-year-old puppy is like a 7-year-old child, and an 11-year-old elderly dog is like a 77-year-old senior citizen. But it's actually much more complicated, say experts.

Part of the problem is that while humans have clear metrics for healthy aging, little is known about "normal aging" for our four-legged friends. Big dogs tend to age the fastest -- maybe 10 times faster than humans -- while little breeds may live to be 20 years old, with "dog years" about five times human years.

The Dog Aging Project, founded in 2018, is by far the most ambitious project tackling the question of canine longevity, enrolling and studying tens of thousands of dogs of all sizes, breeds and backgrounds to develop a thorough understanding of canine aging. Their open-source dataset will give veterinarians and scientists the tools to assess how well a specific dog is aging and will set the stage for further research into healthy aging -- in both dogs and people.

The researchers detailed their project and its potential implications for both human and veterinary medicine in an article published in the current issue of the journal Nature. One of their most intriguing avenues of inquiry will analyze the DNA of exceptionally long-lived dogs, the "super-centenarians" of the dog world.

"This is a very large, ambitious, wildly interdisciplinary project that has the potential to be a powerful resource for the broader scientific community," said Joshua Akey, a professor in Princeton's Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics and a member of the Dog Aging Project's research team. "Personally, I find this project exciting because I think it will improve dog, and ultimately, human health."

Akey, a dog lover with a 5-year-old rescue dog named Abby and a 1-year-old purebred lab named Zoey, co-leads the genetics analyses with Elinor Karlsson at the Broad Institute.

"We are sequencing the genomes of 10,000 dogs," Akey said. "This will be one of the largest genetics data sets ever produced for dogs, and it will be a powerful resource not only to understand the role of genetics in aging, but also to answer more fundamental questions about the evolutionary history and domestication of dogs."

The Dog Aging Project (DAP) expects to run for at least 10 years. To date, more than 32,000 dogs have joined the "DAP Pack," as the researchers call their canine citizen scientists.

"We are still recruiting dogs of all ages, all breeds -- purebred or mixed breeds, all sizes, all across the United States," said William Thistlethwaite, a graduate student who works with Akey in the Lewis-Sigler Institute. "Especially puppies and young dogs up to 3 years old."

When a dog joins the Pack, their owners agree to fill out annual surveys and take measurements of their dogs for the duration of the project; some may be asked to collect cheek swabs for DNA sampling. In addition, the DAP team works with veterinarians across the country who assist by submitting fur, fecal, urine and blood samples of select Pack members.

The researchers hope to identify specific biomarkers of canine aging. They anticipate that their findings will translate to human aging, for several reasons: Dogs experience nearly every functional decline and disease of aging that people do; the extent of veterinary care parallels human healthcare in many ways; and our dogs share our lived environments, a major determinant of aging and one that cannot be replicated in any lab setting.

"Given that dogs share the human environment and have a sophisticated health care system but are much shorter-lived than people, they offer a unique opportunity to identify the genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors associated with healthy lifespan," said Dr. Daniel Promislow, the principal investigator for the National Institute on Aging grant that funds the project and a professor of biology at the University of Washington (UW) College of Arts and Sciences and of laboratory medicine and pathology at the UW School of Medicine.

In particular, the researchers want to look at 300 oldest dogs in the Pack to see if they can identify the keys to their longevity. "One part of the project that I am super excited about is a 'super-centenarian' study, comparing the DNA of exceptionally long-lived dogs to dogs that live to the average age for their breed," said Akey, the Princeton geneticist. "This is the first study of its kind in dogs (to my knowledge), and I think it's a clever way of trying to find genetic differences that contribute to exceptional longevity."

Within a few months, the team plans to open their enormous dataset -- fully anonymized -- to share with scientists around the world. Researchers from many different fields will have the opportunity to contribute to the study in countless different ways, based on their interests.

"It is an honor to share our work with the scientific community," said Kate Creevy, lead author on the paper and DAP's chief veterinary officer. "The Dog Aging Project is creating a resource with the power to transform veterinary medicine, aging research, and many scientific and non-scientific fields of inquiry."

For more information visit:

Kate E. Creevy, Joshua M. Akey, Matt Kaeberlein, Daniel E.L. Promislow and The Dog Aging Project Consortium. The Dog Aging Project: an Open Science study of ageing in companion dogs. Nature, 2022 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-04282-9

Novel Nanoparticle SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine Combines Immune Focusing And Self-Assembling Nanoparticles To Elicit More Potent Protection

February 1, 2022
The first generation of COVID-19 vaccines have been highly effective, but also have limitations: their efficacy can wane without a booster shot, and they may be less effective against some variants. Now scientists at The Wistar Institute have developed a more targeted vaccine that, in animal studies, shows stronger, broader, and more durable protection in a single, low dose.

The vaccine combines three technologies -- immune focusing, self-assembling nanoparticles, and DNA delivery -- into a single platform for the first time. In addition to its other advantages, the vaccine could be stored at room temperature, making it potentially easier to transport to remote or developing locations than existing mRNA vaccines, which require specialised cold storage.

"This is among the first next-generation vaccines that will have more advanced features and broader protection," said Daniel Kulp, Ph.D., associate professor in the Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center at The Wistar Institute and corresponding author of the study.

The paper, "Nucleic acid delivery of immune-focused SARS-CoV-2 nanoparticles drive rapid and potent immunogenicity capable of single-dose protection," was published in the journal Cell Reports.

Existing vaccines include an unmodifided receptor binding domain of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The new vaccine includes a rationally engineered receptor binding domain using computational and structure-based design methodologies. The energinered receptor binding domain blocks 'immune distracting' sites and can therefore elicit stronger levels of protective, neutralizing antibodies.

Researchers then used naturally self-assembling proteins to form nanoparticles which display these highly engineered immunogens. By arranging themselves into structures that resemble an actual virus, the nanoparticles are more easily recognized by the immune system and transported to the germinal centers, where they activate B cells which produce protective antibodies.

Using nucleic acid vaccine delivery technology similar to mRNA, the nanoparticle vaccine is encoded in DNA and delivered into cells thereby giving genetic instructions for the body to build the immunogen internally. This is an advance over traditional vaccines that must be manufactured in specialized factories through complex vaccine production processes. In contrast to other vaccines, Dr. Kulp noted that one advantage of the DNA platform is that it doesn't require refrigeration and it can also be quickly reformulated to target new variants.

In animal models, researchers found that the DNA delivered immune-focused nanoparticle vaccine produced much higher levels of neutralizing antibodies than the vaccine that wasn't immune-focused.

"A difficulty with current vaccines is that neutralizing antibodies decline over time," Kulp said. The nanoparticle vaccine produced durable responses after a single immunization out to six months in mice, unlike what we are seeing with current SARS-CoV-2 vaccines in people.

The ultimate test for SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates is protection from death in SARS-CoV-2 challenge experiments. The researchers found that in a lethal challenge model 100% of mice who received the immune-focused nanoparticle vaccine were protected from death with a single low dose. Most mice who received the standard, non-immune focused vaccine died within 10 days of challenge.

The vaccine assessment was conducted in both wild-type mice and mice that were genetically engineered to mimic human immune systems, he noted.

Even without being updated, the immune-focused vaccine showed a comparable level of antibody production to Delta, and other variants, Kulp said. That's partly because of the immune focusing approach itself, he noted; in blocking parts of the receptive binding domain for the purpose of inhibiting non-neutralizing antibodies, it also blocks many of the areas affected by spike protein mutations. Studies on the Omicron variant are underway.

Researchers are seeking funding to begin human trials of the vaccine.
Co-author David B. Weiner, Ph.D., executive vice president, director of the Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center and the W.W. Smith Charitable Trust Professor in Cancer Research, at The Wistar Institute, said the vaccine could provide a needed step forward to improve protection against COVID-19.

"Current vaccine effects on reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern including Delta and Omicron could be improved for their breadth of protection as well as their immune potency," Weiner said. "This study demonstrates that using a nucleic acid approach combined with in vivo structural assembly of a glycan immune-focused nanoparticle drives single protection and neutralization against diverse variants of concern in a dose-sparing formulation. Additional studies of this vaccine approach for SARS-CoV-2 appear timely and important."

Kylie M. Konrath, Kevin Liaw, Yuanhan Wu, Xizhou Zhu, Susanne N. Walker, Ziyang Xu, Katherine Schultheis, Neethu Chokkalingam, Himanshi Chawla, Jianqiu Du, Nicholas J. Tursi, Alan Moore, Jared Adolf-Bryfogle, Mansi Purwar, Emma L. Reuschel, Drew Frase, Matthew Sullivan, Benjamin Fry, Igor Maricic, Viviane M. Andrade, Christel Iffland, Max Crispin, Kate E. Broderick, Laurent M.P.F. Humeau, Ami Patel, Trevor R.F. Smith, Jesper Pallesen, David B. Weiner, Daniel W. Kulp. Nucleic acid delivery of immune-focused SARS-CoV-2 nanoparticles drives rapid and potent immunogenicity capable of single-dose protection. Cell Reports, 2022; 38 (5): 110318 DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2022.110318

Mechanism Revealed Behind Loss Of Smell With COVID-19

February 2, 2022
Researchers have discovered a mechanism that may explain why COVID-19 patients lose their sense of smell. Published online February 2 in the journal Cell, the new study found that infection with the pandemic virus, SARS-CoV-2, indirectly dials down the action of olfactory receptors (OR), proteins on the surfaces of nerve cells in the nose that detect the molecules associated with odours.

Led by researchers from NYU Grossman School of Medicine and Columbia University, the new study may also shed light on the effects of COVID-19 on other types of brain cells, and on other lingering neurological effects of COVID-19 like "brain fog," headaches, and depression.

Experiments showed that the presence of the virus near nerve cells (neurons) in olfactory tissue brought an inrushing of immune cells, microglia and T cells, that sense and counter infection. Such cells release proteins called cytokines that changed the genetic activity of olfactory nerve cells, even though the virus cannot infect them, say the study authors. Where immune cell activity would dissipate quickly in other scenarios, in the brain, according to the team's theory, immune signaling persists in a way that reduces the activity of genes needed for the building of olfactory receptors.

"Our findings provide the first mechanistic explanation of smell loss in COVID-19 and how this may underlie long COVID-19 biology," says co-corresponding author Benjamin tenOever, PhD, professor in the Department of Microbiology at NYU Langone Health. "The work, in addition to another study from the tenOever group, also suggests how the pandemic virus, which infects less than 1 % of cells in the human body, can cause such severe damage in so many organs."

Change in Architecture
One unique symptom of COVID-19 infection is loss of smell without the stuffy nose seen with other infections like the common cold, researchers say. In most cases, the smell loss lasts only a few weeks, but for more than 12 percent of COVID-19 patients, olfactory dysfunction persists in the form of ongoing reduction in the ability to smell (hyposmia) or changes in how a person perceives the same smell (parosmia).

To gain insight into COVID-19-induced smell loss, the current authors explored the molecular consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection in golden hamsters and in olfactory tissue taken from 23 human autopsies. Hamsters represent a good model, being mammals that both depend more on the sense of smell than humans, and that are more susceptible to nasal cavity infection.

The study results build on the discovery over many years that the process which turns genes on involves complex 3-D relationships, where DNA sections become more or less accessible to the cell's gene-reading machinery based on key signals, and where some DNA chains loop around to form long-range interactions that enable the stable reading of genes. Some genes operate in chromatin "compartments" -- protein complexes that house the genes -- that are open and active, while others are compacted and closed, as part of the "nuclear architecture."

In the current study, experiments confirmed that SARS-CoV-2 infection, and the immune reaction to it, decreases the ability of DNA chains in chromosomes that influence the formation of olfactory receptor building to be open and active, and to loop around to activate gene expression. In both hamster and human olfactory neuronal tissue, the research team detected persistent and widespread downregulation of olfactory receptor building. Other work posted by these authors suggests that olfactory neurons are wired into sensitive brain regions, and that ongoing immune cell reactions in the nasal cavity could influence emotions, and the ability to think clearly (cognition), consistent with long COVID.

Experiments in hamsters recorded over time revealed that downregulation of olfactory neuron receptors persisted after short-term changes that might affect the sense of smell had naturally recovered. The authors say this suggests that COVID-19 causes longer-lasting disruption in chromosomal regulation of gene expression, representing a form of "nuclear memory" that could prevent the restoration of OR transcription even after SARS-CoV-2 is cleared.

"The realization that the sense of smell relies on "fragile" genomic interactions between chromosomes has important implications," says tenOever. "If olfactory gene expression ceases every time the immune system responds in certain ways that disrupts inter-chromosomal contacts, then the lost sense of smell may act as the "canary in the coalmine," providing any early signals that the COVID-19 virus is damaging brain tissue before other symptoms present, and suggesting new ways to treat it."

In a next step, the team is looking into whether treating hamsters with long COVID with steroids can restrain damaging immune reactions (inflammation) to protect nuclear architecture.

Journal References:

Marianna Zazhytska, Albana Kodra, Daisy A. Hoagland, Justin Frere, John F. Fullard, Hani Shayya, Natalie G. McArthur, Rasmus Moeller, Skyler Uhl, Arina D. Omer, Max E. Gottesman, Stuart Firestein, Qizhi Gong, Peter D. Canoll, James E. Goldman, Panos Roussos, Benjamin R. tenOever, Jonathan B. Overdevest, Stavros Lomvardas. Non-cell autonomous disruption of nuclear architecture as a potential cause of COVID-19 induced anosmia. Cell, 2022; DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2022.01.024

Daisy A. Hoagland, Rasmus Møller, Skyler A. Uhl, Kohei Oishi, Justin Frere, Ilona Golynker, Shu Horiuchi, Maryline Panis, Daniel Blanco-Melo, David Sachs, Knarik Arkun, Jean K. Lim, Benjamin R. tenOever. Leveraging the antiviral type I interferon system as a first line of defense against SARS-CoV-2 pathogenicity. Immunity, 2021; 54 (3): 557 DOI: 10.1016/j.immuni.2021.01.017

What we know now about COVID immunity after infection – including Omicron and Delta variants

AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi
Stephen KentThe University of Melbourne

COVID is rampant in Australia and many parts of the world right now. Some people battling or recovering from infection may wonder if catching COVID will give them longer term immunity for when the next wave comes.

Since the early days of the pandemic we’ve known COVID induces a wide range of immune responses and one infection provides partial protection from future infections.

Unfortunately, immunity wanes over time – people lose half their immunity every 3 months. Further, new variants continue to emerge that are partially resistant to key immune responses – antibodies that neutralise earlier strains – this is especially true of Omicron.

We’re starting to get a more detailed understanding of COVID immunity across variants. Here’s what we know so far …

Breakthrough Infection Happens But Vaccines Are Still A Must

Since around 95% of Australians over 16 have had at least two COVID vaccines, most people catching COVID now have previously been vaccinated – this is called “breakthrough infection”.

The vaccines are effective at substantially reducing severe COVID illness. They are less effective, particularly over time, at preventing infections, including with new variants. A third vaccine dose helps maintain immunity, and everyone eligible should get a booster as soon as possible.

Because the Astra-Zeneca vaccine is less effective than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, it’s critically important for vulnerable older Australians immunised with two Astra-Zeneca vaccinations to be boosted with a third vaccine dose as quickly as possible.

Professor Peter Doherty explains vaccination and immunity in everyday terms.

The good news is people first vaccinated with Astra-Zeneca and subsequently boosted with Pfizer or Moderna develop high levels of protective immune responses.

Recent work shows a nice boost in antibody immunity after breakthrough infection. This boost in antibody immunity may not be as fast or strong as getting a vaccine, but it has a big advantage in that the immunity is more specific to the infecting strain such as Delta.

The current vaccines are still based on the original strain isolated in Wuhan, China in early 2020. Several vaccine manufacturer’s are racing to update their vaccines for the Omicron variant (much as we do with the yearly flu vaccines), but these variant-specific vaccines are still some months away.

Infection Immunity Builds Where COVID Strikes First

Another potential advantage for immunity derived by infection (acquired in the respiratory tract) compared to vaccination (given into the muscle) is that immunity is better focused to the surfaces of the nose, throat and eyes. This is where COVID is first encountered.

Surface antibodies (termed immunoglobulin A) and specialised tissue “resident” immune cells (B and T-cells) are induced by infection but not intramuscular vaccination.

The level of protection offered by these “local” or “mucosal” responses is not yet clear in people, but some studies in animal models suggest they are helpful.

lab technician at CDC
Research and understanding of immune responses to COVID is developing. Shutterstock

Delta Infection Offers A Little Protection Against Omicron

The Omicron variant is slowly replacing the Delta variant around the world. It is more transmissible and avoids antibodies more effectively.

Do people who have been infected with the Delta variant have an advantage in terms of protection from the Omicron variant? The two strains share some sequence changes, but Omicron has many more mutations than Delta.

Only a minority of neutralising antibodies that fight Delta can also neutralise the Omicron variant. That said, neutralising antibodies against Delta are better at fighting Omicron than previous strains. This is particularly true for people who have caught Delta and been previously vaccinated.

The reverse is also true – people who have caught Omicron have some improved antibody protection against Delta. This may not be much use as Delta is disappearing from prevalence, but the knowledge could be useful for future variants.

T-Cells Might Be Key To Cross-Variant Protection

There is considerable interest in a type of immunity called T-cells and their potential ability to fight COVID infection.

Theoretically, T-cells could assist in protecting against severe infection with new strains because T-cells usually cross react to all variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID.

However, the evidence to date points to the central role of neutralising antibodies obtained from infection or vaccination in protection from both getting an infection and preventing severe disease. A recent unpublished study suggests neutralising antibodies are boosted by breakthrough infections but not T-cells. We know T-cells are very important in protecting from other infectious diseases and many cancers, but perhaps have a lesser role in COVID.

Gaining Immunity Isn’t The End Of The Story

Overall, infections with Delta and Omicron provide a boost in immunity against these strains. Infection will probably help protect individuals from reinfection with the same variant. Infection may offer a small amount of protection from different variants and potentially from future variants.

However, immunity will not be enduring and it is still possible to get severe infections and ongoing symptoms (termed “Long COVID”) from breakthrough infections. They are best avoided! Current booster vaccines along with social measures are our best way to stay healthy while we wait for Omicron-specific vaccines.The Conversation

Stephen Kent, Professor and Laboratory Head, The University of Melbourne

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

Our hospitals are at greater risk of flooding as the climate changes. We need better evacuation plans.

Rick Rycroft/AP
Martin LoosemoreUniversity of Technology SydneyMaziar YazdaniUNSW, and Mohammad MojtahediUNSW

With hospitals under strain from COVID-19, we need to safeguard them against another threat set to increase as the world warms.

That threat? Flooding. Many Australian hospitals were built on cheap land near rivers. But as climate change loads the dice in favour of larger floods, areas previously safe may no longer be so. We must plan ahead to ensure patients and healthcare workers are not trapped by floodwaters.

Our new research shows future floods in low-lying areas of Western Sydney are likely to disrupt road networks, preventing safe evacuation of patients. Only last year, this region suffered its worst floods in decades, and more are expected as we enter a flooding cycle. This fast-growing region is rated one of Australia’s highest flooding risks, and hosts a number of healthcare facilities built in flood-prone areas.

The solution? We believe new approaches to mathematical modelling can help decision makers optimise plans for safe evacuation in different flooding scenarios. By cutting evacuation time, we hope these approaches can save lives.

Hospitals Were Not Built To Cope With Larger Floods

Around 80% of Australians live within 50 kilometres of the coast. As a result, many hospitals were built on low-lying land adjacent to seas or rivers. Most were designed without climate change risks in mind.

The major floods brought by La Nina last year, and the catastrophic 2010-2011 Queensland floods, have shown us how exposed many of our cities are to floods. Already in 2022, we have seen large floods up and down the east coast.

Climate change is predicted to bring Australia less rain overall, except for the tropical north. The rain that does fall will be more likely to fall in intense bursts. River flash floods from intense rain events or cyclones will pose an increasing threat to health facilities.

Some urban areas are on highly flood-prone areas. For example, the NSW Hawkesbury Nepean flood plan anticipates a flood similar to the infamous 1867 flood would result in around 90,000 people being evacuated.

That’s to say nothing of flooding from the sea. Around Australia, 75 hospitals and health service facilities are within 200 metres of the sea. That puts them at real risk from coastal inundation and erosion by the end of the century, if the seas rise by one metre as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts.

This is not a hypothetical scenario. Hospitals have already been left without power for days due to flooding, while others have been forced to evacuate patients. Only last year, floods up and down the east coast cut roads and forced authorities to find alternatives to hospitals for people unable to get through.

Clearly, this matters. Hospitals play a vital role in creating a disaster-resilient society, and it is critical they can keep operating in disaster situations.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a better understanding of the threat posed by flooding.

What Can We Do To Prepare?

In our region, very little is known about how we might best evacuate hospitals in the event of a major flood. We simply haven’t done enough research.

What we found in our work is that the issue is extremely complex. Where would patients be evacuated to, for instance? How do you do it safely? Which routes would be safe in a major flood? How would medical staff get to other hospitals?

Evidence from recent floods suggests many hospitals in flooded areas will face major challenges transferring patients and resources to other healthcare facilities.

So what can hospitals do better?

At present, hospital administrators rely heavily on evacuation drills to test and improve emergency evacuation planning. These drills are expensive and disruptive and their effectiveness is difficult to assess.

We have found new approaches to mathematical modelling could greatly assist hospital managers plan for a flood to prevent them becoming disasters.

For example, analysis of Western Sydney’s Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley can visually show how different size flood events would impact on hospitals, healthcare and aged care facilities, as well as roads, bridges and electricity lines.

figure showing different flood sizes in Western Sydney
Modelling outcomes for a range of flooding scenarios in Western Sydney’s Hawksbury-Nepean valley. Author provided

Imagine the Hawksbury-Nepean Valley area floods again like last year. In a scenario where a hospital floods and patients need evacuation, hospital administrators will face a conundrum. Which roads do they send the patients down?

Sophisticated modelling our team is undertaking will let us predict which routes are best, based on the roads most likely to flood, ambulance and staff availability, health needs of patients and the availability of suitable beds and staff in other hospitals. The models allow us to optimise routes for the most urgent patients.

For hospital administrators, the benefit of these models is the ability to glimpse the likeliest scenarios and plan ahead, before the floods happen.

Climate change can supercharge floods, as we are seeing more and more. Decision makers must plan ahead accordingly. Running flood and evacuation simulations now could help save lives in the future.The Conversation

Martin Loosemore, Professor of Construction Management, University of Technology SydneyMaziar Yazdani, Doctoral candidate, UNSW, and Mohammad Mojtahedi, Senior lecturer, School of Built Environment, UNSW

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

Research Shows Depression And Anxiety Spiked In Pregnant Women During COVID-19 Pandemic

January 31, 2022
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a spike in depression and anxiety in expectant mums, a new study by the University of Essex has revealed. The research found social support protected against anxiety symptoms associated with the pandemic but highlighted changes to maternity services forced by lockdown and other restrictions likely hit mental health.

It is speculated in the BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth-published paper that the removal of appointments and other changes to face-to-face contact may have affected well-being.

The senior author, Dr Silvia Rigato, said it was vital to "protect maternal wellbeing during pregnancy and beyond" and "to ensure that all children, and their new families, are given the best possible start in life."

The study found there was a spike in reported depression rates of 30 per cent from pre-pandemic levels, from 17 per cent to 47 per cent -- with anxiety rates also jumping up 37 per cent in expecting mothers to 60 per cent.

The peer-reviewed study of 150 women took place during the height of the Coronavirus crisis between April 2020 and January 2021 -- before the vaccination programme rolled out -- and was led by Dr Maria Laura Filippetti and Dr Rigato, researchers at the Essex Babylab in the University of Essex.

The paper showed that prenatal trauma, such as the one experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, can significantly amplify vulnerability to mental health problems.

It also emerged from the study that pregnant women with higher depressive symptoms reported feeling less attached to their unborn babies.

Dr Rigato said: "While this result is in line with previous observations that women's mood during pregnancy influences the early relationship with her child, it reinforces the need for authorities to support women throughout their pregnancy and the postnatal period in order to protect their health and their infants' development."

Importantly, the research also revealed the positive effect that social support plays in protecting expecting mothers' mental health.

The authors found women who considered the impact of COVID-19 to be more negative showed higher levels of anxiety.

Crucially though, help from partners, family and friends, and the NHS acted as a protective factor and was associated with fewer negative symptoms.

Dr Filippetti said more must be done to help women during this vulnerable time in their lives.

She said: "The high rates of depression and anxiety during the pandemic highlighted by our study suggest that expectant women are facing a mental health crisis that can significantly interfere and impair mother-infant bonding during pregnancy, and can potentially impact on childbirth outcome, as well as later infant and child development."

It is now hoped the research will be used to help understand how the pandemic affected children's development, mum's mental health post-partum and how dads coped through pregnancy and beyond.

Maria Laura Filippetti, Alasdair D. F. Clarke, Silvia Rigato. The mental health crisis of expectant women in the UK: effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on prenatal mental health, antenatal attachment and social support. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 2022; 22 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12884-022-04387-7

Towards Greener Smart Cities With Machine Learning-Based 'Sleep Schedules'

January 31, 2022
The concept of smart cities is founded on sophisticated cellular networks that would not only connect humans in the future but also humans to other smart devices. However, this would also require huge energy consumption. In the wake of climate change, this can make matters worse for our environment by increasing the greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, we not only need smart cities but also greener smart cities.

One way to address this issue is by switching off base stations (BSs), radio transmitters/receivers that serve as the hub of the local wireless network, when they have little to no traffic load. Laboratory testing has shown that active BSs consume as much as 60% of the maximum energy consumption even under no traffic load and switching them off can bring it down to 40%. However, there is a trade-off: putting BSs to sleep makes their traffic logs unavailable, which also reduces the accuracy of traffic prediction. Is there a way to avoid this compromise between accuracy and sustainability?

The answer, according to a new study, seems to be "yes." The study, led by Professor Ryoichi Shinkuma from Shibaura Institute of Technology (SIT), Japan, and his colleagues, Associate Professor Kaoru Ota from Muroran Institute of Technology, Japan and Associate Professor Takehiro Sato from Kyoto University, Japan, proposed a novel scheme that not only reduced energy consumption but demonstrated a higher traffic prediction accuracy compared to the benchmark schemes! This paper was published in Volume 35, Issue 6 of the journal IEEE Network Magazine on November/December 2021.

How did the researchers achieve this remarkable feat? Prof. Shinkuma explains, "We applied software defined network (SDN) and edge computing to a cellular network such that each BS is equipped with an SDN switch, and an SDN controller can turn off any BS according to the traffic prediction results. An edge server collects the traffic logs through the SDN switches and predicts traffic volume using machine learning (ML)."

The ML method used by the researchers decided which BSs could be put into "sleep mode" based on the importance of their traffic logs in improving the prediction accuracy. Thus, BSs with low contribution to the accuracy for previous time slots were put to sleep at the next slot to save energy.

To validate their scheme, the researchers used real-world mobile traffic data collected over two months and compared its performance against that of two benchmark schemes. To their delight, the new scheme outperformed the benchmark schemes in its robustness against reducing the number of active BSs and different BS sets.

Could this study be a harbinger of greener cellular networks and smart cities? Prof. Shinkuma is optimistic. 

"By intelligently controlling the operation of BSs, renewable energy sources could be used to power future networks and, depending on the availability of renewable energy resource, the sleep schedules of the BSs can be determined," he speculates.

Ryoichi Shinkuma, Naoki Kishi, Kaoru Ota, Mianxiong Dong, Takehiro Sato, Eiji Oki. Smarter Base Station Sleeping for Greener Cellular Networks. IEEE Network, 2021; 35 (6): 98 DOI: 10.1109/MNET.110.2100224

A Base station in a cellular network. Base stations (BSs) are the hubs for local cellular networks. Recently, researchers from Japan have proposed a novel scheme based on machine learning to reduce energy consumption in BSs while maintaining high traffic prediction accuracy Photo courtesy: PhotoMIX Company from Pexels

Power At Sea: Towards High-Performance Seawater Batteries

January 31, 2022
Despite the many potential applications of seawater batteries (SWBs), the limited performance of available materials has hindered their commercialization. To tackle this issue, scientists have developed a novel co-doped carbon material for the anode of SWBs. Their straightforward synthesis route and the high performance of the developed anode material will pave the way for the widespread adoption of SWBs, which are safer and less expensive than lithium-ion batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries have taken the world by storm thanks to their remarkable properties. However, the scarcity and high cost of lithium has led researchers to look for alternative types of rechargeable batteries made using more abundant materials, such as sodium. One particularly promising type of sodium-based battery is seawater batteries (SWBs), which use seawater as the cathode.

Though SWBs are environmentally benign and naturally firesafe, the development of high-performance anode materials at a reasonable cost remains a major bottleneck that prevents commercialization. Traditional carbon-based materials are an attractive and cost-efficient option, but they have to be co-doped with multiple elements, such as nitrogen (N) and sulfur (S), to boost their performance up to par. Unfortunately, currently known synthesis routes for co-doping are complex, potentially dangerous, and don't even yield acceptable doping levels.

In a recent study, a team of scientists from Korea Maritime and Ocean University led by Associate Professor Jun Kang have found a way out of this conundrum. Their paper, which was made available online on December 22, 2021 and published in Volume 189 of Carbon on April 15, 2022, describes a novel synthesis route to obtain N/S co-doped carbon for SWB anodes.

Termed 'plasma in liquid,' their procedure involves preparing a mixture of precursors containing carbon, N, and S and discharging plasma into the solution. The result is a material with high doping levels of N and S with a structural backbone of carbon black. As proved through various experiments, this material showed great potential for SWBs, as Dr. Kang remarks: "The co-doped anode material we prepared exhibited remarkable electrochemical performance in SWBs, with a cycling life of more than 1500 cycles at a current density of 10 A/g."

The potential maritime applications of SWBs are many, since they can be safely operated while completely submerged in seawater. They can be used to supply emergency power in coastal nuclear power plants, which is difficult when using conventional diesel generators in the event of a disastrous tsunami. Additionally, they can be installed on buoys to aid in navigation and fishing. Perhaps most importantly, SWBs could be literally life-saving, as Dr. Kang explains: "SWBs can be installed as a power source for salvage equipment on passenger ships. They would not only supply a higher energy density than conventional primary batteries, but also enable stable operation in water, thereby increasing survival probabilities."

Overall, this novel synthesis method for co-doped carbon anodes might just be the answer we need to make SWBs reach new heights.

Hyeon-Su Yang, Mun-Won Park, Kwang-Ho Kim, Oi Lun Li, Tae-In Jeon, Jun Kang. Facile in situ synthesis of dual-heteroatom-doped high-rate capability carbon anode for rechargeable seawater-batteries. Carbon, 2022; 189: 251 DOI: 10.1016/j.carbon.2021.12.066

Disclaimer: These articles are not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.  Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Pittwater Online News or its staff.