inbox and environment news: Issue 526

February 13 - 19, 2022: Issue 526

Koalas Now Listed As Endangered

February 11, 2022

The Federal Government is boosting the level of protection for Koalas under National Environmental law, and will this week seek agreement from Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory on the National Recovery plan.

Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said “We are taking unprecedented action to protect the koala, working with scientists, medical researchers, veterinarians, communities, states, local governments and Traditional Owners,” Minister Ley said.

“As part of our $200 million bushfire response, I asked the Threatened Species Scientific Committee to consider the status of the Koala. 

“Today I am increasing the protection for koalas in NSW, the ACT and Queensland listing them as endangered rather than their previous designation of vulnerable.

“The impact of prolonged drought, followed by the black summer bushfires, and the cumulative impacts of disease, urbanisation and habitat loss over the past twenty years have led to the advice.

“Together we can ensure a healthy future for the koala and this decision, along with the total $74 million we have committed to koalas since 2019 will play a key role in that process.

“The new listing highlights the challenges the species is facing and ensures that all assessments under the Act will be considered not only in terms of their local impacts, but with regard to the wider koala population. 

“The National plan developed through scientific advice and public consultation will now go to the relevant states for their final adoption and will help guide state and local government strategies.”

The decision follows a joint nomination by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Humane Society International (HSI) and WWF-Australia in April 2020 to Australia’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee.

Koalas in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory will now be classified as Endangered under national legislation and will gain elevated protections. The decision also recognises the koala is one step further along the pathway to extinction.

“Koalas are an international and national icon, but they were living on a knife edge before the Black Summer bushfires with numbers in severe decline due to land-clearing, drought, disease, car strikes and dog attacks. The bushfires were the final straw, hitting at the heart of already struggling koala populations and critical habitat,” IFAW Oceania Regional Director Rebecca Keeble said.

“This decision is a double-edged sword. We should never have allowed things to get to the point where we are at risk of losing a national icon. It is a dark day for our nation. If we can’t protect an iconic species endemic to Australia, what chance do lesser known but no less important species have?

“This must be a wake-up call to Australia and the government to move much faster to protect critical habitat from development and land-clearing and seriously address the impacts of climate change.”

The nomination was submitted on the basis of two scientific reports which revealed Queensland’s koala population crashed by at least 50% since 2001 and up to 62% of the NSW koala population has been lost over the same period.

IFAW also welcomed the federal government’s recent $50AUD million pledge for koala recovery and habitat restoration.

“These actions are vital to ensure the survival of the species into the future, but without addressing the root cause of their decline which is habitat loss and climate change, we are just plugging holes in a sinking ship. We must do everything possible to implement the plan and save this iconic species,” Ms Keeble said.

In January 2022, the Australian Government announced an additional $50 million over 4 years to maintain and support the recovery and conservation of the Koala through monitoring, the protection of Koala habitats, and the improvement of Koala health and care in response to natural disasters such as bushfires and diseases including Chlamydia.

This funding injection builds upon the $18 million Koala conservation package announced in 2020, which includes $14 million in bushfire recovery funding, given the impact of the 2019-20 bushfires on the species and its habitats.

The additional $50 million Koala investment includes:

  • $20 million in grants and procurements for larger projects led by Natural Resource Management groups, NGOs, and Indigenous groups, as well as state and territory governments to build on existing work, guided by the outcomes and findings of the National Koala Monitoring Program.
  • $10 million to extend the National Koala Monitoring Program to fill critical knowledge gaps and increase the use of citizen scientists
  • $10 million in grants for small-scale community projects and local activities such as habitat protection and restoration, managing threats, health and care facilities, and citizen science projects
  • $2 million in grants to improve Koala health outcomes through applied research activities and the practical application of research outcomes to address fundamental health challenges such as Koala retrovirus, Koala herpes viruses and Chlamydia
  • $1 million to expand the national training program in Koala care, treatment and triage

The $18 million Koala Conservation package (to June 2022) includes:

  • $10 million to support habitat restoration and threat mitigation in bushfire-affected regions of New South Wales and south-east Queensland
  • $2 million for Koala protection and recovery at additional sites identified from the Investment Framework for Environmental Resources (INFFER) workshops held in northern New South Wales (funded under the Environment Restoration Fund)
  • $2 million for habitat restoration and threat mitigation in other non-bushfire affected regions of central and western New South Wales and central Queensland(funded under the Environment Restoration Fund)
  • $2 million for a Koala Health Initiative to support coordination and delivery of more effective health research and to support Koala veterinary activities
  • $2 million for a National Koala Monitoring Program to produce a robust estimate of the national Koala population and fill key data gaps identified through the Koala re-assessment and recovery plan development process.

In addition, Australian Government commitments to the Koala under the Environment Restoration Fund include:

  • $3 million to support Koala hospitals in south east Queensland (announced in December 2019)
  • $3 million to support habitat restoration in northern New South Wales and south east Queensland (announced in November 2019).

Image: Koala named 'Dimples' in rehabilitation at Friends of the Koala in East Lismore, NSW. Photo (c):  IFAW

Long-Billed Corella: Birds In Your Backyard And Urban Street

The long-billed Corella or slender-billed corella (Cacatua tenuirostris) is a cockatoo native to Australia, which is similar in appearance to the little corella. This species is mostly white, with a reddish-pink face and forehead, and has a long, pale beak, which is used to dig for roots and seeds. It has reddish-pink feathers on the breast and belly.

Long-billed corellas form monogamous pairs and both sexes share the task of building the nest, incubating the eggs, and caring for the young. Nests are made in decayed debris, the hollows of large old eucalypts, and occasionally in the cavities of loose gravely cliffs. Breeding generally takes place in Austral winter to spring (from July to November).  2–3 dull white, oval eggs are laid on a lining of decayed wood. The incubation period is around 24 days and chicks spend about 56 days in the nest.

The long-billed corella typically digs for roots, seeds, corms, and bulbs, especially from the weed onion grass. Native plants eaten include murnong Microseris lanceolata, but a substantial portion of the bird's diet now includes introduced plants.

The call of the long-billed corella is a quick, quavering, falsetto currup!wulluk-wulluk, or cadillac-cadillac combined with harsh screeches.

The long-billed corella can be found in the wild in Victoria and south-eastern New South Wales. It has extended its range since the 1970s into Melbourne, Victoria and can now be found in Tasmania, South Australia and southeast Queensland.

Long-billed corellas are now popular as pets in many parts of Australia, although they were formerly uncommon, and their captive population has stabilised in the last decade. This may be due to their ability to mimic words and whole sentences to near perfection. The long-billed corella has been labelled the best "talker" of the Australian cockatoos, and possibly of all native Psittacines.

Photo: A J Guesdon

Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo (Cacatua Galerita) Swinging On Norfolk Pine Branch: Summer 'Larking' About

Like all parrots, cockatoos are zygodactyl (of a bird's feet; having two toes pointing forward and two backward). This, along with the use of their beak, gives them the ability to use their feet much like we use our hands and helps make them terrific climbers! Having the ability to climb is a necessity for birds that live and nest in thick forests. It’s hard to fly through dense, leafy branches, and even tougher to get to the fruit or nuts that are their primary foods, but because cockatoos can climb through tree branches so well, they can easily get to the treats they want. These birds are also able to hold their food in one foot while balancing on the other.

The Sulphur-crested Cockatoo's normal diet consists of berries, seeds, nuts and roots. It also takes handouts from humans. Feeding normally takes place in small to large groups, with one or more members of the group watching for danger from a nearby perch.

Cockatoos often “play” with each other, performing intricate aerial manoeuvres or crazy antics, such as hanging upside down while perched, just for the “fun” of it - as this one was this week! These activities serve as a form of exercise for the birds, and strengthen social bonds. - Info: BirdLife Astralia

When not feeding, these birds will bite off smaller branches and leaves from trees, an activity that may help to keep the bill trimmed and from growing too large. This one can also be seen cleaning out its toes after its 'swinging display':

Photos: A J Guesdon

Cicada 'Rain': Summer Of 2022

Although it's not as deafening under the Pittwater Spotted Gums in our yard in recent weeks, it has been VERY LOUD from early January as masses of Black Prince Cicadas (Psaltoda plaga) emerged to 'sing'. Only the male cicadas sing, gathering in large numbers in trees and make their calls using organs on either side of the body called tymbals, amplifying the sound by their hollow abdomen. Cicadas have been recorded 'singing at up to 96 decibels - 70 is around the noise made by your vacuum cleaner. There are two components of the call; a rhythmic revving, which is more prevalent when the weather is cooler, and a continuous call, more common in hot weather. They make this noise to attract females. When you hear an insect at night it's usually a cricket or katydid. Cicadas love the sun, so rain and cloudy skies will decrease the likelihood they will sing. Temperature also affects whether or not they will sing. If it is too cold they won't sing.

These cicadas have provided a feast for the birds that live here, including those born in this yard as shared so far this Summer; Summer Babies: Butcher Bird + A 1953 Insight On These By Bill Grayden and Summer Babies 2022: Channel-Billed Cuckoo Pair Being Fed By Currawong + Dollarbird Babies.

They are also food for noisy miners, blue-faced honeyeaters, little wattlebirds, grey and pied butcherbirds, magpie-larks, Torresian crows, white-faced herons and even the nocturnal tawny frogmouth, have all been reported as significant predators. At night we have had numerous flying foxes visiting to feed on them too.

Even our dog, Matilda Mae, has been feasting on them - going out to catch those that land before bringing them inside to eat them on the rug or chasing those that fly in at night, attracted by the lights on. She only eats the abdomen though, meaning we have to clean up the wings - a nice crunchy mess underfoot!

Cicadas constantly drink tree sap which makes for a 'cicada rain' as they urinate - when you have masses of cicadas in your trees you are likely to experience this. They drink tree fluid to cool down on warm days, which causes them to pee excessively. Cicada pee, like these insects, is harmless, and is even called 'honeydew' by some.

Some experts state they are peeing on you on purpose. Others say the cicadas squirt fluids at other males, animals and people as a defence mechanism. 

We think they just have to urinate all that tree sap out as, as can be seen in this photo, they pee all day long even when no one and nothing else is around:

The cicada spends seven years underground in nymph form drinking sap from the roots of plants before emerging from the ground as an adult, although here we hear and see them every year. Species on which it feeds include weeping willow, river sheoak, rough-barked apple and various eucalypts. The adults, which live for four weeks, fly around, mate, and breed over the summer.

The colour of adult male black prince varies with age and locality. Around Sydney north to the Hunter River, it is very dark, predominantly black, with some brown markings; the abdomen black above and brown below. The eyes are brown. Further north from Brunswick Heads to Coolum Beach, the black prince exhibits more green markings instead of brown, and is lighter overall in coloration. The female is similar but slightly smaller than the male.

male and female inside at night at our place

Adult male

The black prince was originally described by German naturalist Ernst Friedrich Germar in 1834 as Cicada argentata, the species name derived from the Latin argentum "silver". Swedish entomologist Carl Stål defined the new genus Psaltoda in 1861 with three species, including the black prince as Psaltoda argentata. Francis Walker described Cicada plaga in 1850 as well as querying further specimens as Cicada argentata. He noted in 1858 that the binomial Cicada argentata had been used by a European species, and declared that Germar's cicada needed a new name. The older combination was ruled invalid as the binomial Cicada argentata had been originally used for a European cicada now known as Cicadetta argentata, and the black prince became Psaltoda plaga. The name black prince was in popular use by 1923.

Photos: A J Guesdon

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
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 Monday 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.

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

Back From The Brink: Bettongs, Numbats And Phascogales Flourish

February 9, 2022

A groundbreaking project helping mammals avoid extinction in NSW national parks is delivering great gains, with 150 animals since August released into a feral predator-free area.

On a visit to the Pilliga State Conservation Area site, Environment Minister James Griffin said the NSW Government-funded program removes feral cats and foxes from the landscape, creating safe refuges for endangered mammals.

The Pilliga and Mallee Cliffs National Park locations are just 2 of 7 feral-predator free areas already operational or being established, funded by the NSW Government and managed in partnership by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Australian Wildlife Conservancy and Wild Deserts, led by UNSW.

'I can’t overstate how important this project is for protecting biodiversity – it’s one of the most ambitious mammal rewilding programs in Australia,' Mr Griffin said.

'Here at the Pilliga, we’ve seen the endangered bridled nailtail wallaby population double since it was reintroduced to this now feral-free area in August 2019, from 42 to about 90 at the latest estimate, including many females with joeys in pouches.

'This number is expected to eventually grow to more than 2000.'

In the Mallee Cliffs National Park, 60 vulnerable red-tailed phascogales were recently released back into the wild after an absence of almost 150 years.

red-tailed phascogale. Photo: Dr Laurence Berry / AWC

This population of tree-dwelling carnivores, which are related to the Tasmanian devil, is expected to grow to more than 1500 animals once established.

The phascogales were joined by 70 brush-tailed bettongs and another 20 numbats, the latter boosting a founding population established at Mallee Cliffs in 2020.

 Numbat. Photo: Brad Leue / AWC; 

Bettong. Photo: AWC

'The phascogale is the eighth mammal listed as extinct in New South Wales that has been returned to NSW national parks in the past 3 years,' Mr Griffin said.

'Within a few years, we hope to remove at least 10 mammals from the NSW extinct list – the first time that will have happened anywhere in the world.

'Many of these and other species already reintroduced to these feral-free areas have not been seen in our national parks for more than a century, largely because of foxes and feral cats. Feral cats kill over 1.5 billion native animals nationally every year.

'With these projects, we’re restoring ecosystems to health, giving locally extinct animals a second chance and, in time, offering the community the chance to see the bush at its best.'

Statewide there will soon be 65,000 hectares of feral predator-free areas on national park estate, including these 2 project sites. They’re being established as an essential part of the NSW Government’s conservation strategy, aiming to prevent extinction.

Photos: Red-tailed phascogale: Dr Laurence Berry / AWC; Numbat: Brad Leue / AWC; Bettong: AWC

Billagoe Listed On State Heritage Register

February 10, 2022

The Billagoe (Mount Drysdale) Cultural Landscape has been listed on the NSW State Heritage Register, recognising its long and diverse history.

Heritage Minister James Griffin said he was proud to action the recommendation to list Billagoe Cultural Landscape, which is an outstanding example of a spiritual and cultural landscape.

"Billagoe (Mount Drysdale) has rich cultural significance to the Indigenous people of the Ngemba-Ngiyampaa-Wangaaybuwan-Wayilwan and Baiame, the ancestral creator of landscapes and resources," Mr Griffin said.

"It's important that we recognise and preserve the deep history of this site and I am pleased that my first listing as Heritage Minister is one that celebrates NSW's rich Aboriginal heritage.

"The site forms part of the Baiame cycle of creation stories and is linked to other significant places such as Cobar, Gundabooka National Park, Byrock Rockholes Aboriginal Place and the nationally and state listed Ngunnhu (Brewarrina Fishtraps)."

Billagoe (Mount Drysdale) Cultural Landscape is of state significance for its rare Aboriginal archaeology linked to ceremony, axe manufacturing, trade and social sites.

The site also includes examples of 19th-early 20th century gold mining infrastructure and Chinese market gardens, and a rare surviving example of a government caretaker's cottage, built in circa 1895.

As a multi-layered cultural landscape with shared history, it also has the ability to demonstrate the technology of water storage in an arid landscape, a theme that links the Indigenous, pastoral, mining and Chinese history.

"The listing of Billagoe (Mount Drysdale) Cultural Landscape celebrates and helps to protect unique and culturally important aspects of the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal history of NSW," Mr Griffin said.

Morrison government spends $50 million saving koalas while taking away their homes

Zoos Victoria
Lachlan G. HowellDeakin UniversityRyan R. WittUniversity of Newcastle, and Shelby A. RyanUniversity of Newcastle

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley is reportedly poised to decide whether some koala populations should be listed as endangered, as new research shows her government continues to approve land clearing in koala habitat.

Analysis released by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) on Tuesday found that in the decade since koalas were declared vulnerable to extinction, the federal government had approved the clearing of 25,000 hectares of the species’ habitat.

It follows the Morrison government’s announcement last month of A$50 million to restore koala habitat, monitor populations and research the animals’ health.

But until the problems of habitat loss and land clearing are addressed, national koala populations will continue to dwindle. And as our recent research shows, much of the new funding is inadequate at the scale required.

koala sits on street sign
Until habitat loss is addressed, koala populations will continue to dwindle. Australian Koala Foundation

Koala Cash-Splash

The Threatened Species Scientific Committee, which advises the federal government, has recommended the status of koalas in Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT be upgraded from vulnerable to endangered.

Ley is expected to respond to the recommendation by next month. Listing the koala as endangered would be a serious escalation in its threat status.

The federal government’s recent $50 million of koala funding supports various initiatives. They include:

  • $20 million for large habitat and health protection projects delivered by Indigenous groups, industry, state and territory governments and non-government organisations

  • $10 million for community-led habitat restoration, health and care facilities, and citizen science projects

  • $10 million to extend the National Koala Monitoring Program

  • $2 million to fund applied research in koala health

  • $1 million to fund vet staff and koala care, treatment and triage.

These are important investments. But we see two major issues with the federal government’s approach.

woman stands next to koala
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley is expected to decide next month whether to list koalas as endangered. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Habitat Loss: The Biggest Problem

Until koala habitat is protected, conservation efforts – largely funded by the taxpayer – will continue to be undermined.

Other recent federal koala funding includes $24 million after the Black Summer bushfires.

The NSW government wants to double the number of koalas in that state by 2050. To that end, it pledged $193 million over five years in the current budget. This followed the $44.7 million of koala funding it announced in 2018.

All this comes on top of the millions of dollars in international and national community donations for koala conservation efforts after the Black Summer bushfires.

But the primary driver of koala population decline is the clearing of its habitat. No amount of money can save koalas unless we tackle this.

The ACF research released on Tuesday confirmed the extent of the problem. The federal government approved the clearing of 25,000 hectares of koala habitat in the past decade, comprising 63 projects.

Most were mining projects, followed by land transport and housing developments.

Two recent federal decisions demonstrate this active undermining of koala conservation efforts:

  • approval to clear more than 75 hectares of critical koala habitat for housing west of Brisbane, reportedly in breach of the government’s own policy

  • approval of the Brandy Hill Quarry, which would clear 52 hectares of koala habitat to produce gravel and stone.

These projects were also approved by respective state governments, and were enabled by weak koala protections under both national and state environment laws.

two koalas sit on pile of logs
By approving land clearing, government’s undermine koala conservation. WWF

Barely Scratches The Surface

Second, the federal funding for koala monitoring is inadequate.

We recently modelled the costs of conducting large-scale koala population surveys with methods that could be incorporated into the National Koala Monitoring Program.

We examined the cost of surveying 1.9 million hectares of fire-affected places in NSW considered “high and very high suitability” koala habitat.

We put the price tag at $9.5 million to $11.5 million for on-ground techniques, or about $7 million for efficient and cost-effective drone thermal imaging.

That’s just for one survey round. Even if the 1.9 million hectares was fairly distributed to key sampling areas, which is likely, the surveys must still be repeated at regular intervals to monitor koala populations over time.

The latest funding announcement for the National Koala Monitoring Program brings the total to $12 million since the initiative was announced in 2020. Given the vast extent of the koala’s range across five states and territories, this monitoring funding barely scratches the surface.

koala licks tree
Large-scale koala monitoring programs are expensive. University of Sydney

The Federal Government Must Step Up

Koala conservation is largely funded by the taxpayer and koalas receive far more funding than other threatened species.

So it’s only fair to expect this funding to deliver results. To protect the important public and community investment in koalas, the federal government must:

  • review current funding levels and provide adequate investment to support all Australia’s wildlife, including koalas

  • endorse the expert recommendation to list the koala as endangered in parts of Australia

  • finalise the Draft National Recovery Plan for the koala, which has been pending since 2012

  • enforce strong protections for koalas and other native wildlife, with independent oversight. The measures should follow the recommendations in Professor Graeme Samuel’s review of federal environment law.

In this, an election year, the Morrison government has the chance to show Australians it’s committed to saving our threatened wildlife. The Conversation

Lachlan G. Howell, Research Fellow | Centre for Integrative Ecology, Deakin UniversityRyan R. Witt, Postdoctoral Researcher and Honorary Lecturer | School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle, and Shelby A. Ryan, PhD Candidate | School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle

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

Native birds have vanished across the continent since colonisation. Now we know just how much we’ve lost

The critically endangered regent honeyeater. Friends of ChilternAuthor provided
Michelle WardThe University of Queensland

In the 250 years since Europeans colonised Australia, native birdlife has disappeared across the continent. Our new research has, for the first time, registered just how much Australia has actually lost – and our findings are astonishingly sad.

We focused on 72 species of birds faced with extinction today, including the Kangaroo Island glossy black cockatoo, regent honeyeater, and night parrot. We found 530 million hectares, or 69%, of Australia, has lost at least one bird species. In some parts of the country, we’ve lost up to 17 birds.

Land clearing, along with threats such as cat predation, have driven ten birds to disappear from over 99% of their historical habitat. Indeed, we show the last 250 years has seen more than 100 million hectares of now-threatened bird habitat cleared on mainland Australia – that’s 15% of Australia’s landmass.

For many of the species we examined, their remaining habitats occur in patches surrounded by farmland, towns and cities. To give birds and other animals a chance at survival, we need effective national leadership not only to protect existing habitats, but also to restore lost habitat and manage future habitat under climate change.

Lost, But Not Forgotten

In the last 250 years, 22 native birds have gone extinct. We found two more currently listed as threatened under Australia’s environmental legislation may also be now extinct.

One is the eastern star finch. This bird was once found from northern New South Wales to Queensland’s Burdekin River. A victim of overgrazing, it has not been seen since 1995. Surprisingly, this bird is only listed as “endangered” rather than “critically endangered” under [Australian law]

The other is the Tiwi Islands hooded robin, which has not been seen for 27 years. Changed fire patterns from European colonisation and invasive species such as cats and weeds have likely driven it to extinction.

Eastern star finch is now thought to be extinct. Stephen Garnett

Other species are on their last legs. The western ground parrot, for example, once swept across large parts of Western Australia, but are now in just two locations: Cape Arid National Park and Nuytsland Nature Reserve.

They’ve become locally extinct across more than 99% of their historical habitat because of habitat destruction, invasive species, and changed fire patterns. They’re at significant risk from isolated catastrophic events such as major bushfires. For example, the 2019-2020 fires alone destroyed 40% of the bird’s last remaining habitat.

Kyloring (the western ground parrot) is one of Australia’s rarest birds. It’s estimated fewer than 150 are left in world. J Riggs/Riggs Australia/Friends of the Western Ground Parrot

The plight of the regent honeyeater is another tragic story of decline. Flocks of thousands once occurred from Adelaide to north of Brisbane, with the naturalist John Gould writing in 1865:

I met with it in great abundance among the brushes of New South Wales […] I have occasionally seen flocks of from fifty to a hundred in numbers, passing from tree to tree as if engaged in a partial migration from one part of the country to another, or in search of a more abundant supply of food.

Today, only 100 breeding pairs are left, and almost all breed in just three sites in NSW. The species has lost more than 86% of its historical habitat, with land clearing the main driver of decline. So few remain that young birds cannot learn to sing properly, so have trouble attracting a mate.

The Extinction Wave

Our research used a combination of historical field guides, reference books, research papers, government records, spatial data, and expert elicitation to create maps of past habitats, and compared those to current habitats.

We found certain areas across continental mainland Australia to be in worse shape than others.

Number of threatened species that have experienced local extinction per subregion (Ward et al. 2022). Clockwise from top left: golden- shouldered parrot (source: Jan Wegener); red goshawk (source: James Watson), night parrot (source: Bruce Greatwich), and Kangaroo Island glossy black-cockatoo (source: Maureen Goninan).

For example, we revealed extinction hotspots in areas between Swan Hill in Victoria and Marmon Jabuk range in South Australia. In this region, up to 17 birds have gone extinct (red areas in map), such as the black-eared miner.

Likewise, over the last century, almost 10% of all known breeding land-based birds have vanished in SA’s Mount Lofty ranges. This includes the rufous fieldwren, bush stone-curlew, ground parrot, king quail, azure kingfisher, barking owl, regent honeyeater, and swift parrot.

The story of decline is not limited to only threatened species, with more common birds such as willie wagtails, brolgas, boobook owls, and even magpies now disappearing from many places they were once common.

Indeed, the loss of so many species is the canary in the coal mine of total ecosystem collapse. And total ecosystem collapse poses an existential threat to food systems, water quality and climate stability.

If we don’t make fundamental changes in the way we manage and use landscapes, the extinction wave will continue to inundate Australia.

Swift parrot
Swift parrots have vanished from the Mount Lofty ranges. Shutterstock

What Can We Do About It?

We need federal leadership to curb the extinction crisis, and an important start is to implement promises we’ve already signed up to in, for example, the UN’s Aichi biodiversity targets.

At the ongoing international biodiversity conference – COP15 – a key ask is for countries to halt human-induced species extinctions from now onwards, to bring the overall risk of species extinctions to zero, and to bring population abundance of native species back to 1970s levels by 2050. This is a basic commitment to Australia’s heritage and culture.

Crucially, we need fundamental reform of Australia’s key environment legislation: the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

A major, independent review last year revealed that the EPBC Act has failed native wildlife. One of its key recommendations was to implement strong national environmental standards, such as not allowing any degradation of critical habitat.

These standards must be put in place as a matter of urgency. They must be legally enforceable, concise, specific, and focused on the conservation outcomes to properly protect Australian biodiversity and reverse the decline of our iconic places.

A huge thank you to all my wonderful co-authors, without which, this research would not be possible: James E.M. Watson, Hugh P. Possingham, Stephen T. Garnett, Martine Maron, Jonathan R. Rhodes, Chris MacColl, Richard Seaton, Nigel Jackett, April E. Reside, Patrick Webster, Jeremy S. Simmonds.The Conversation

Michelle Ward, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland

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

Is the buff-breasted button-quail still alive? After years of searching, this century-old bird mystery has yet to be solved

The only species of Australian bird which remains unphotographed. This is one of the most accurate illustrations of the species.  John Keulemans published in Gregory Mathews ‘The Birds of Australia’ 1911Author provided
Patrick WebsterThe University of Queensland

In humid savanna on Cape York Peninsula, February 5, 1922, a man was on the hunt with a local Indigenous guide. They had just heard their quarry calling among the tall grass – a low “oomm, oomm, oomm” – before it burst into view with a flurry of wingbeats. A loud shotgun blast, and the bird dropped to the ground.

The bird was a buff-breasted button-quail, and the collector was Australian field naturalist William Rae McLennan. Later that evening he would have skinned and stuffed the bird, turning it into a museum specimen, before describing the encounter in his diary.

This skin was the last of the species ever collected. A century later, we have still yet to confirm any sightings of this mysterious, native bird.

I’ve spent four years searching for the buff-breasted button-quail, walking hundreds of kilometres and spending months scouring practically every locality where the species had ever been reported. All I’ve been able to find is its more common cousin: the painted button-quail.

Still, my ongoing research has brought us a step closer to solving this mystery and I remain hopeful the bird is still in existence. If it is, it urgently needs our help.

The tall Messmate savanna (Eucalyptus tetrodonta) just north of Coen in Cape York Peninsula. The site where McLennan collected the last buff-breasted button-quail in 1922. Patrick Webster

Searching For A Lost Species

McLennan’s diary from that wet season of 1921-1922 has remained the only detailed descriptions of the buff-breasted button-quail’s ecology. Some 60 years later in 1985, it was “rediscovered” just west of Cairns, and this launched dozens of new sightings by birdwatchers and several research projects over the next few decades.

Unfortunately, none of these reports or research endeavours produced anything more than brief sightings of the bird, typically only split-second views as it flew off from under their feet. No photos, no specimens, nor any other verifiable evidence has been produced.

For my doctoral project on the species, I joined the RARES research group at the University of Queensland in 2018. Our research team aimed to find a population, study its ecology, determine what threatening processes had led to its rarity, and learn how it could be conserved.

There were a few times in far north Queensland’s wet-season – supposedly the best time of year to see buff-breasted button-quail – when I saw birds fitting its widely accepted description: they were large, with sandy rufous (reddish brown) back and rumps, and contrasting dark primary feathers.

But whenever I thought I saw one on the ground, it turned out to be a painted button-quail. These differ by having a bright red eye and a grey breast.

One of the many painted button-quail found over the course of the project. This male was found 150km north of their currently recognised distribution. Patrick Webster

Given there had been numerous reported sightings of buff-breasted button-quails from the region in the years prior, finding only painted button-quails was surprising, confusing and raised serious concerns.

Indeed, my research team and I became increasingly apprehensive about the status of the buff-breasted button-quail, and began questioning the features used to separate them from painted button-quail. This prompted a thorough investigation of all historical reports, and the reliability of characteristics used to identify the two birds in the field.

Has The Bird Been Misidentified?

To determine how best to separate these two species in the field, I examined over 100 button-quail skins in museum collections worldwide. I also caught and photographed painted button-quail throughout north Queensland. What I discovered was intriguing.

Several supposedly key characteristics of the buff-breasted button-quail either did not exist, or were actually features of the painted button-quail.

For instance, it was commonly reported that buff-breasted button-quail were much bigger than painted button-quail. My study of museum specimens, which is not yet published, showed the two are actually the same size.

I also discovered a previously undocumented colour variation in the plumage of painted button-quail. At the start of the wet season when they begin breeding, the female’s typical grey plumage is replaced by a much brighter rufous plumage. This brighter plumage is very similar to the sandy rufous colour expected of a buff-breasted button-quail.

The variation in plumage of female painted button-quail. Left, the bright rufous plumage found in the wet season. Right, the dull grey plumage found in the dry season. Patrick Webster

This apparently breeding-related change in plumage was completely unknown, and its seasonal timing coincided with an increase in reports of the buff-breasted button-quail.

In short, with no hard evidence of the buff-breasted button-quail’s existence for 100 years, many of the most recent sightings of the species could actually have been the much more common painted button-quail.

This means the buff-breasted button-quail is likely far rarer than we could ever have ever feared.

What Does Its Future Hold?

When McLennan collected the last buff-breasted button-quail skin, the Tasmanian tiger roamed Tasmania’s forests, and the paradise parrot was still nesting in termite mounds in south east Queensland.

We realised too late that these unique species were in decline. Have we made the same mistake with the buff-breasted button-quail?

We already knew the bird was rare, but was our confidence in the species’ status misplaced, propped up by misidentifications of a more common species?

Aside from a clutch of eggs collected in 1924, there has been no incontrovertible proof the species continues to exist. Our extensive searches at sites where it was once found have failed.

One of the museum specimens of buff-breasted button-quail collected by William McLennan during his expedition in 1921/22. Patrick Webster

We also know the bird communities of Cape York have been changing at a rapid rate, mostly due to the impact of changed fire patterns and cattle grazing. Other iconic Cape York species – such as the golden-shouldered parrot and red goshawk – have also declined over the past decades.

It seems likely the buff-breasted button-quail has suffered the same fate. It may not be extinct, but our research suggests it may only be hanging on by a thread, at best.

This 100-year anniversary is an opportunity to recognise the bird’s dire situation. Our new findings should prompt the federal and Queensland governments to act.

First, they should invoke the precautionary principle, which is to improve conservation actions for the species in light of its uncertain status. They should also immediately up-list the species to critically endangered, as right now it’s listed only as endangered.

Second, they should urgently provide the resources needed to re-evaluate the species’ conservation needs, as the status quo is not working.

We hope these efforts will prove the species is still in existence – perhaps living in a previously unsurveyed part of Cape York – and not another one that has disappeared on our watch.The Conversation

Patrick Webster, PhD candidate, The University of Queensland

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

‘Time is their secret weapon’: the hidden grey army quietly advancing species discovery in Australia

Russell Wait in his Eremophila garden. Rachael FowlerAuthor provided
Rachael FowlerThe University of Melbourne

Each year, many new species of Australian plants, animals and fungi are discovered and described. It’s detailed, time-consuming work, and much of it could not be done without the contribution of older Australians.

I’m an evolutionary botanist and I use DNA sequencing to better understand relationships between plant species – a field known as phylogenetics. My job involves collecting plant specimens in the furthest corners of Australia.

Time and again I’m helped by older, generally retired Australians with a passion for the plants I’m working on. In their own time and with their own resources, they take it upon themselves to explore and document a particular geographic area or group of plants.

Many have a professional scientific background, although not necessarily in the field they now contribute to. For these dedicated men and women, passion is their driver and time their secret weapon.

man sits at table sorting specimens
Ron Dadd helps advance knowledge of emu bush. Bevan Buirchell

Without these older Australians, my research wouldn’t be where it is today. So let me introduce you to a few of them.

Bevan Buirchell, Ron Dadd And Russell Wait

From opposite sides of the country – Bevan and Ron in Western Australia and Russell in Victoria – these three collectors discover, sample and grow extensive collections of emu bush (Eremophila).

More than 200 species of emu bush have been described, and many are rare, threatened or endangered.

Emu bush is a culturally important plant for many Indigenous Australians, and recent research has revealed the genus contains many new chemical compounds of interest for medicinal use.

Each year, the trio spends weeks four-wheel driving in arid and remote parts of Australia where emu bush is thought to be found.

When the men come across something interesting, they record scientific details and collect a cutting for propagation in their own or each other’s gardens.

Between them, Bevan, Ron and Russell have collections of almost every described species of emu bush, and new species awaiting formal description. So far, Bevan has described 16 new species or subspecies.

In this way, their gardens are like living museums of species diversity. They’re a great resource for the inclusion of species in phylogenetic research.

man sits at table sorting specimens
Bevan Buirchell sorting Eremophila specimens. Bevan Buirchell

Don Franklin

In the tablelands of Far North Queensland, retired ecologist Don Franklin spends his time expanding his knowledge of eucalypts.

A colleague put me in touch with Don when I was planning fieldwork to collect eucalypt species for my latest research project. Don was happy to help, assisting me with planning my collection route to ensure I sampled not just every species possible, but all the interesting variants he knows from different regions.

This on the ground experience is invaluable for my work, and impossible to gain from published literature alone.

Don is writing a comprehensive field study for eucalypt species spanning about 80,000 square kilometres. Over the past five years he’s travelled every road in the area, marking species distributions, morphological variants and regions of hybrid zones.

Don was my guide and assistant for a few weeks of field work, and my understanding of this group of plants benefited immeasurably.

Man on bushwalk holding binoculars
Don Franklin is a eucalypt expert. Robyn Wilson

Margaret Brookes

Margaret is a retired horticulturalist. For the past decade she’s volunteered at the National Herbarium of Victoria and the University of Melbourne Herbarium, where she helps curate the collections.

Over this period, Margaret’s work has included mounting thousands of new specimens submitted by researchers like me, and processing the backlog of old collections. Margaret has also transcribed historical field notes for plant collectors in decades and even centuries past.

Margaret’s work makes these plant collections accessible to researchers and the general public all over the world.

Continual advances in genetic sequencing technology mean we can increasingly access DNA from older and older dried specimens. In this way, the work done by Margaret and other herbarium volunteers becomes even more essential in discovering and classifying new species.

woman smiling at camera next to boxes on bench
Margaret Brookes has mounted thousands of new specimens. Joanne Birch

Combining Forces With Senior-Citizen Scientists

As an early career researcher I am bound by two to three year funding contracts. In that short time, samples must be collected and genetically sequenced, then analysed and the results interpreted.

And to come up with plausible hypotheses to understand species’ relationships, my expertise must be broad. I’ve got to be good in the lab, proficient at analysis and across the latest literature.

To produce high-quality work in such tight time frames, I rely on the hidden “grey army” of older people such as those described above.

And while I can only speak from personal experience, I daresay many fields of natural science also benefit from a dedicated older generation quietly contributing to the body of scientific knowledge.

We must recognise the invaluable contributions made by older volunteer researchers. And if we’re to have any chance of better understanding the estimated 70% of Australia’s biodiversity unknown to science, their continued involvement is imperative.

For those interested in volunteering or citizen science projects, try contacting your nearest herbaria. You could also check out the Atlas of Living Australia’s DigiVol volunteer portal or the Australian Citizen Science Association.The Conversation

Rachael Fowler, Post doctoral research fellow plant evolution, The University of Melbourne

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

The stunning recovery of a heavily polluted river in the heart of the Blue Mountains World Heritage area

Water science researcher Callum Fleming in the Wollangambe River, deep within the World Heritage area. Ian WrightAuthor provided
Ian WrightWestern Sydney UniversityJason ReynoldsWestern Sydney University, and Leo RobbaWestern Sydney University

For more than 40 years, an underground coal mine discharged poorly treated wastewater directly into the Wollangambe River, which flows through the heart of the Blue Mountains World Heritage area.

Much of this spectacular wild river was chronically polluted, with dangerously high levels of zinc and nickel. Few animals were able to survive there.

My colleagues and I had been calling for tougher regulations to clean-up the wastewater flow since 2014, after we first sampled the river for our research. Finally, with the Blue Mountains community rallying behind us, the New South Wales Environment Protection Agency (EPA) enforced stronger regulations in 2020.

Our latest research paper documents the Wollangambe River’s recovery since. Already we’ve seen a massive improvement to the water quality, with wildlife returning to formerly polluted sites in stunning numbers.

In fact, the long fight for the restoration of this globally significant river is the focus of a new documentary, Mining the Blue Mountains, released this week (and online in coming days).

Trailer for Mining the Blue Mountains.

But while the recovery so far is promising, it remains incomplete. Much more action is needed to return the river to its former health.

How Bad Was The River?

When the federal government nominated the Blue Mountains to be inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1998, it claimed “some coal mining operations occur nearby, but do not affect the water catchments that drain to the area”.

Our research has shown this not to be true, and the pollution of this river has generated international concern. In 2020, the International Union for Conservation of Nature – an official advisor to UNESCO – identified the coal mine as a major threat to the conservation values of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage area.

So, how bad was the pollution? Our previous survey conducted nine years ago investigated both water quality and river invertebrates – mostly aquatic insects.

Wastewater from the underground coal mine Clarence Colliery entered the Wollangambe River about 1.5 kilometres upstream of the World Heritage area boundary. The nature of the pollution was complex, but of most serious concern was the increased concentrations of nickel and zinc in the river.

Clarence Colliery is an active underground coal mine located close to, and upstream of, the boundary of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. James Patrick PhotographyAuthor provided

These metals were unusually enriched for coal wastewater, with both at concentrations more than 10 times known safe levels. The pollution remained dangerous for more than 20km downstream, deep within the World Heritage area.

Compared to upstream and unaffected reference streams, we found the abundance of invertebrates in the Wollangambe fell by 90%, with the diversity of invertebrate families 65% lower below the mine waste outfall.

There was also a build-up of contaminants into the surrounding foodchain. For example, one of our studies detected metals accumulated in plants growing on the river bank. Another found a build-up in the tissue of aquatic beetles below the mine outfall.

Water scientist Callum Fleming in the headwaters of the Wollangambe River, upstream of the colliery outfall. Ian WrightAuthor provided

Life Returns To The River

In 2014 we not only shared our published research findings with the NSW EPA, but also with the Blue Mountains community. This triggered a letter writing campaign from the Blue Mountains Conservation Society urging the EPA to take action.

After five long years, the EPA finally issued stringent regulations requiring Clarence Colliery to make enormous reductions in the release of pollutants, particularly zinc and nickel, in the colliery waste discharge.

And it worked! We collected samples 22km downstream of the river, and were very surprised at the speed and extent of ecological recovery. Not only has water quality improved, but animals are coming back, too.

The Wollangambe River 22km downstream of the mine waste outfall. This photo was taken in December 2020, when river pollution was falling and invertebrate life was starting to flourish. Ian WrightAuthor provided

The improved treatment resulted in a very significant reduction of zinc and nickel concentrations in the mine’s wastewater, which continues to be closely monitored and publicly reported by the colliery.

The most pollution-sensitive groups of invertebrates – mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies – had a steep increase (256%) in their abundance compared to when we conducted our earlier research in 2012 and 2013.

This could have positive implications for the surrounding plants and animals, as river invertebrates are a major food source for water birds, lizards, fish and platypus.

Western Sydney University water science researchers Callum Fleming (l) and Ian Wright (r) cooling their feet in the Wollangambe River. James Patrick PhotographyAuthor provided

However, the road to recovery is a long one. River sediments remain contaminated by the build-up of four decades of zinc and nickel enrichment, up to 2km downstream of the mine outfall.

To help speed up the river’s recovery, contaminated sediment should be removed from the river below the mine outfall, similar to a 12-month clean-up operation conducted after a major spill from the mine in 2015.

Pollution Doesn’t Often End When Mines Do

Sadly, there are closed mines in the Blue Mountains that continue to release damaging pollution, such as Canyon Colliery and several in the Sunny Corner gold mine area, as the documentary explores.

Canyon Colliery closed in 1997, and contaminated groundwater continues to be discharged from its drainage shafts into the Grose River, which is part of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

Author Ian Wright looking at the polluted drainage from Canyon mine flowing towards the Grose River. James Patrick PhotographyAuthor provided

Likewise, most Sunny Corner mines closed over a century ago, and yet severe pollution still seeps from the mines into waterways.

The pollution here is at extreme concentrations and includes arsenic, copper, lead and zinc. It’s dangerous to life in waterways, surrounding soil and contact with this pollution is hazardous to human health.

Sunny Corner is a silver and gold mining area that closed a century ago yet still releases highly contaminated mine drainage. James Patrick PhotographyAuthor provided

What Can We Learn From This?

Rehabilitating these closed mines are expensive, and often with limited success. But the Wollangambe River case study is an encouraging sign that clean-up is possible for even the most polluted environments.

Solid independent scientific research and community involvement are critical for these efforts. The community is the eyes and ears of the environment, and has an important role holding industry and government regulators to account.

The environmental regulators, such as NSW EPA, have enormous power to address pollution and trigger positive change. It’s important researchers and the community engages with them – and it helps to be patient as action can take years to happen.

And finally, we congratulate Centennial Coal, the owners of the Clarence Colliery, for making enormous improvements to their operation and complying with tough new environmental regulations.The Conversation

Ian Wright, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science, Western Sydney UniversityJason Reynolds, Senior Lecturer, Western Sydney University, and Leo Robba, Lecturer, Visual Communications / Social Design, Western Sydney University

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

Just 16% of the world’s coastlines are in good shape – and many are so bad they can never fully recover

Leonardo Felippi
Brooke WilliamsThe University of QueenslandAmelia WengerThe University of Queensland, and James WatsonThe University of Queensland

Only about 16% of the world’s coastal regions are in relatively good condition, according to our world-first research released today, and many are so degraded they can’t be restored to their original state.

Places where the land meets the sea are crucial for our planet to function. They support biodiversity and the livelihoods of billions of people. But to date, understanding of the overall state of Earth’s coastal regions has been poor.

Our research, involving an international team of experts, revealed an alarming story. Humanity is putting heavy pressure on almost half the world’s coastal regions, including a large proportion of protected areas.

All nations must ramp up efforts to preserve and restore their coastal regions – and the time to start is right now.

Fishermen bring their catch ashore a polluted bank
Coastlines support the livelihoods of billions of people. ROLEX DELA PENA/EPA

Our Coasts Are Vital – And Vulnerable

Coastal regions encompass some of the most diverse and unique ecosystems on Earth. They include coral reefs, kelp forests, seagrass, tidal flats, mangroves, estuaries, salt marshes, wetlands and coastal wooded habitat.

Many animal species, including those that migrate, rely on coastlines for breeding, foraging and protection. Coastal sites are also where rivers discharge, mangrove forests exchange nutrients with the ocean, and tidal flows are maintained.

Humans also need coastlines. Among other functions, they support our fisheries, protect us from storms and, importantly, store carbon to help mitigate climate change.

As much as 74% of the world’s population live within 50 kilometres of the coast, and humans put pressure on coastal environments in myriad ways.

In marine environments, these pressures include:

  • fishing at various intensities
  • land-based nutrient, organic chemical and light pollution
  • direct human impacts such as via recreation
  • ocean shipping
  • climate change (and associated ocean acidification, sea-level rise and increased sea surface temperatures).

On land, human pressures on our coastlines include:

  • built environments, such as coastal developments
  • disturbance
  • electricity and transport infrastructure
  • cropping and pasture lands, which clears ecosystems and causes chemical and nutrient runoff into waterways.

To date, assessments of the world’s coastal regions have largely focused solely on either the land or ocean, rather than considering both realms together. Our research sought to address this.

cargo ship and dock workers at port
Shipping is among the human activities putting pressure on coastlines. Chad Hipolito/ AP

A Troubling Picture

We integrated existing human impact maps for both land and ocean areas. This enabled us to assess the spectrum of human pressure across Earth’s coastal regions to identify those that are highly degraded and those intact.

Both maps use data up to the year 2013 – the most recent year for which cohesive data is available.

No coastal region was free from human influence. However, 15.5% of Earth’s coastal regions remained intact – in other words, humans had exerted only low pressure. Many of the intact coastal regions were in Canada, followed by Russia and Greenland.

Large expanses of intact coast were also found elsewhere including Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Brazil and the United States.

Troublingly, 47.9% of coastal regions have been exposed to very high levels of human pressure. And for 84% of countries, more than half their coastal regions were degraded.

What’s more, human pressures were high in about 43% of protected coastal regions – those regions purportedly managed to conserve nature.

Coastal regions containing sea grasses, savannah and coral reefs had the highest levels of human pressure compared to other coastal ecosystems. Some coastal regions may be so degraded they cannot be restored. Coastal ecosystems are highly complex and once lost, it is likely impossible to restore them to their original state.

coral reef and boat
Coastal regions containing coral are among the world’s most degraded by human activity. AP

So Where To Now?

It’s safe to say intact coastal regions are now rare. We urge governments to urgently conserve the coastal regions that remain in good condition, while restoring those that are degraded but can still be fixed.

To assist with this global task, we have made our dataset publicly available and free to use here.

Of course, the right conservation and restoration actions will vary from place to place. The actions might include, but are not limited to:

  • improving environmental governance and laws related to encroaching development

  • increasing well-resourced protected areas

  • mitigating land-use change to prevent increased pollution run-off

  • better community and local engagement

  • strengthening Indigenous involvement in managing coastal regions

  • effective management of fishing resources

  • addressing climate change

  • tackling geopolitical and socioeconomic drivers of damage to coastal environments.

In addition, there’s an urgent need for national and global policies and programs to effectively managing areas where the land and ocean converge.

Humanity’s impact on Earth’s coastal regions is already severe and widespread. Without urgent change, the implications for both coastal biodiversity and society will become even more profound.The Conversation

Brooke Williams, Postdoctoral research fellow, The University of QueenslandAmelia Wenger, Research fellow, The University of Queensland, and James Watson, Professor, The University of Queensland

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

COP26 Deal Sparks Hope For Positive Tipping Points

February 8, 2022

The Breakthrough Agenda agreed at COP26 could help trigger positive tipping points to tackle the climate crisis, researchers say. At the summit in Glasgow, leaders of countries covering 70% of world GDP pledged to "make clean technologies and sustainable solutions the most affordable, accessible and attractive option in each emitting sector globally before 2030."

This signals a key shift in thinking -- instead of focussing directly on emissions targets, it aims to tip economic sectors into a new state where the "green" option is cheapest and easiest.

A tipping point occurs when a small intervention sparks a rapid, often irreversible transformation -- and a new paper offers a "recipe" for finding and triggering positive tipping points.

"The only way we can get anywhere near our global targets on key issues like carbon emissions and biodiversity is through positive tipping points," said lead author Professor Tim Lenton, Director of the Global Systems Institute (GSI) at the University of Exeter.

"The challenges are enormous -- we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, and reverse biodiversity loss to make our impact 'nature-positive'.

"The Breakthrough Agenda is the first time a large group of countries has agreed joint climate change goals in the form of economic tipping points.

"We argued for precisely this in a previous paper, and we are heartened to see world leaders adopting this approach.

"Our new paper shows a variety of ways that tipping points can be activated.

"Societies worldwide will need to put all of these into action to bring about low-carbon transitions at the pace and scale required to avoid dangerous climate change."

The paper examines the "enabling conditions" for a tipping point (such as the declining price of a green technology), and how the tipping point can be triggered (for example by coalitions of committed individuals).

Combinations of factors such as cost and public attitude have helped to trigger tipping points in electric vehicles and solar energy, and both are rapidly advancing around the world -- which in turn leads to feedbacks of technological improvements and lower costs.

Greta Thunberg's climate protest triggered a global surge of activism that continues to grow, with diverse impacts.

Asked about positive tipping points that could soon be triggered -- or might already be tipping -- Professor Lenton highlighted the growth and uptake of plant-based diets, including meat substitutes.

Co-author Scarlett Benson, from global sustainability consultancy SYSTEMIQ, said: "Policymakers have a critical role in triggering the shift away from meat-rich diets, for example by investing the trillions of dollars of public R&D spend into the development of plant-based and cell-based meat and dairy alternatives, and by directing the trillions of dollars of public procurement spend towards these products to stimulate demand and drive down costs."

Co-author Dr Tom Powell, from GSI, added: "In other cases, transformation can start with grassroots communities.

"For subsistence farmers facing land degradation and drought, regenerative farming methods can help rebuild the health of their soils and ecosystems, making them more resilient. A farmer-led scheme called TIST has spread to over 150,000 subsistence farmers in East Africa, because it supports farmers to share these practices and learn from one another.

"International voluntary carbon markets have enabled TIST members to collectively access payments for carbon sequestered in trees on their land, building in a further reinforcing feedback."

The researchers say positive tipping points can help to counter widespread feelings of disempowerment in the face of global challenges, and they stress that everyone can play a part in triggering positive tipping points.

"These changes often start with small groups of people with a big idea," said Professor Lenton.

"These can become networks of change that grow into large movements with a major impact.

"Public and private money is also important. Public money is often first, funding research and development, and private finance then comes to drive an idea at scale."

The paper notes the importance of equity when seeking to trigger tipping points. The authors write: "It is vital to consider what social safety nets can help ensure a just transformation."

The researchers say their framework for finding and triggering tipping points needs "testing and refining," adding: "There is no better way forward than to learn by doing.

"Continuing to delay action to accelerate a just transformation towards global sustainability will only accentuate the need to find and trigger even more dramatic positive tipping points in the future."

The paper, written by a team including researchers from Hamburg University and University College London and published in the journal Global Sustainability, is entitled: "Operationalising Positive Tipping Points towards Global Sustainability."

Timothy M. Lenton, Scarlett Benson, Talia Smith, Theodora Ewer, Victor Lanel, Elizabeth Petykowski, Thomas W. R. Powell, Jesse F. Abrams, Fenna Blomsma, Simon Sharpe. Operationalising positive tipping points towards global sustainability. Global Sustainability, 2022; 5 DOI: 10.1017/sus.2021.30

Lotus Effect: Self-Cleaning Bioplastics Repel Liquid And Dirt

February 8, 2022
Inspired by the always immaculate lotus leaf, researchers have developed a self-cleaning bioplastic that is sturdy, sustainable and compostable. The innovative plastic developed at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, repels liquids and dirt -- just like a lotus leaf -- then breaks down rapidly once in soil.

RMIT PhD researcher Mehran Ghasemlou, lead author of the study published in Science of the Total Environment, said the new bioplastic was ideal for fresh food and takeaway packaging.

"Plastic waste is one of our biggest environmental challenges but the alternatives we develop need to be both eco-friendly and cost-effective, to have a chance of widespread use," Ghasemlou said.

"We designed this new bioplastic with large-scale fabrication in mind, ensuring it was simple to make and could easily be integrated with industrial manufacturing processes."

Ghasemlou said nature was full of ingeniously-designed structures that could inspire researchers striving to develop new high-performance and multifunctional materials.

"We've replicated the phenomenally water-repellent structure of lotus leaves to deliver a unique type of bioplastic that precisely combines both strength and degradability," he said.

The bioplastic is made from cheap and widely-available raw materials -- starch and cellulose -- to keep production costs low and support rapid biodegradability.

The fabrication process does not require heating or complicated equipment and would be simple to upscale to a roll-to-roll production line, Ghasemlou said.

Naturally compostable

While biodegradable plastics are a growing market, not all bioplastics are equal. Most biodegradable or compostable plastics require industrial processes and high temperatures to break them down.

The new bioplastic does not need industrial intervention to biodegrade, with trials showing it breaks down naturally and quickly in soil.

"There are big differences between plant-based materials -- just because something is made from green ingredients doesn't mean it will easily degrade," Ghasemlou said.

"We carefully selected our raw materials for compostability and this is reflected in the results from our soil studies, where we can see our bioplastic rapidly breaks down simply with exposure to the bacteria and bugs in soil.

"Our ultimate aim is to deliver packaging that could be added to your backyard compost or thrown into a green bin alongside other organic waste, so that food waste can be composted together with the container it came in, to help prevent food contamination of recycling."

Lotus-inspired structures

Lotus leaves are renowned for having some of the most water-repellent surfaces on earth and are almost impossible to get dirty.

The secret lies in the leaf's surface structure, which is composed of tiny pillars topped with a waxy layer.

Any water that lands on the leaf remains a droplet, simply rolling off with the help of gravity or wind. The droplets sweep up dirt as they slide down, keeping the leaf clean.

To make their lotus-inspired material, the RMIT team of science and engineering researchers first synthetically engineered a plastic made of starch and cellulosic nanoparticles.

The surface of this bioplastic was imprinted with a pattern that mimics the structure of lotus leaves, then coated with a protective layer of PDMS, a silicon-based organic polymer.

Tests show the bioplastic not only repels liquids and dirt effectively, but also retains its self-cleaning properties after being scratched with abrasives and exposed to heat, acid and ethanol.

Corresponding author, Professor Benu Adhikari, said the design overcomes key challenges of starch-based materials.

"Starch is one of the most promising and versatile natural polymers, but it is relatively fragile and highly susceptible to moisture," Adhikari said.

"Through our bio-inspired engineering that mimics the 'lotus effect', we have delivered a highly-effective starch-based biodegradable plastic."

Ghasemlou is currently working with a bioplastic company, which is evaluating further development of these novel water repellant materials. The RMIT research team is keen to collaborate with other potential partners on commercial applications for the bioplastic.

Journal References:

Mehran Ghasemlou, Fugen Daver, Billy J. Murdoch, Andrew S. Ball, Elena P. Ivanova, Benu Adhikari. Biodegradation of novel bioplastics made of starch, polyhydroxyurethanes and cellulose nanocrystals in soil environment. Science of The Total Environment, 2022; 815: 152684 DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.152684

Mehran Ghasemlou, Phuc H. Le, Fugen Daver, Billy J. Murdoch, Elena P. Ivanova, Benu Adhikari. Robust and Eco-Friendly Superhydrophobic Starch Nanohybrid Materials with Engineered Lotus Leaf Mimetic Multiscale Hierarchical Structures. ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, 2021; 13 (30): 36558 DOI: 10.1021/acsami.1c09959

Pacific Ocean As The Greatest Theatre Of Bird Migration

February 8, 2022
With a surface larger than all the continents together, the Pacific Ocean is the most extreme environment a migratory bird can encounter. Yet there are several bird species that conquer this enormous body of water almost routinely. In the latest issue of the scientific journal Ornithology, migratory bird researchers from the Netherlands, the United States and Canada provide a synthesis of all the knowns, and especially the many unknowns about the extreme performances of migratory birds such as bar-tailed godwits, whimbrels and red knots, which fly over the Pacific Ocean.

More efficiently than thought
The biggest unknown appears to be the energy consumption of the birds. A bar-tailed godwit departing from Alaska weighs more than a pound (485 g) on average. Once it arrives in New Zealand, only 215 g of that remains.

"When we start calculating from the energy content of the fat burned and the assumed air resistance of birds, it seems that a bar-tailed godwit can fly for a maximum of 4 days at a time," lead author of the paper, migratory bird researcher Theunis Piersma of NIOZ, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and University of Groningen says.

"The truth is, they fly for an average of up to 9 days at a time. We know this from research with satellite-tagged birds. We therefore must conclude that the birds fly much more efficiently than what we calculate on the basis of known flight properties."

In addition to being efficient fliers, birds also appear to be good meteorologists; to the enormous surprise of the meteorologists among the researchers. For example, birds adapt their departure from the northern hemisphere to the weather systems they will later encounter over the southern hemisphere. In addition to this meteorological knowledge, birds also have an 'internal GPS' and a map of the vast ocean, according to the researchers.

Piersma said: "There is no other way to explain how bar-tailed godwits departing from Alaska, fly over the open ocean almost without land marks, continuously adjusting for wind drift, and then arrive spot-on in New Zealand 12,000 kilometres later."

Affected habitat
Departures from wintering areas are also adjusted to changes that individual birds have observed in previous years during migration. 

Piersma: "Bar-tailed godwits flying from New Zealand to Alaska refuel in the Yellow Sea, off the Chinese and Korean coasts. We have seen that individuals can leave earlier the following year. This could very well be an adaptation to the worsening food situation in the Yellow Sea. It is important to note that this could therefore be an adjustment of individual animals, in addition to an evolutionary process, where 'earlier birds' have an evolutionary advantage over later ones."

The overview of scientific knowledge on Pacific migrants is, in a sense, a wish list of the researchers: what remains to be discovered? 

"At the same time, it is also a warning," Piersma says. "Changes to the habitat of migratory birds and certainly changes in climate can have enormous consequences for the fragile balance during such an immense endeavour as migrating across the Pacific."

Unofficial world record
The world record holder for long-distance migration is a bar-tailed godwit that departed Alaska on September 16, 2020 with a transmitter on its back. The bird arrived in New Zealand eleven days later, after a flight of a whopping 12,854 km. 

"We know that these severely emaciated birds want only one thing after arrival: not to eat but to sleep," said Professor of Migratory Bird Ecology Theunis Piersma. "This is still an unofficial record, though. Only when this achievement is recorded in a peer reviewed scientific journal, does the record really count."

Theunis Piersma, Robert E Gill, Jr, Daniel R Ruthrauff, Christopher G Guglielmo, Jesse R Conklin, Colleen M Handel. The Pacific as the world’s greatest theatre of bird migration: Extreme flights spark questions about physiological capabilities, behaviour, and the evolution of migratory pathways. Ornithology, 2022 DOI: 10.1093/ornithology/ukab086

Pacific routes of 7 migrating shore birds. Image from publication.

Pink Pumice Key To Revealing Explosive Power Of Underwater Volcanic Eruptions

February 8, 2022
In research published in the Nature portfolio journal Communications Earth and Environment, the researchers including Professor Scott Bryan, Dr Michael Jones and PhD candidate Joseph Knafelc, were intrigued by the occurrence of pink pumice within the massive pumice raft that resulted from the Havre 2012 deep-sea eruption.

The publication of the new research comes after the recent dramatic explosion of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai volcano in Tonga, about 1200 km north of the Havre volcano, which has sharply brought the world's attention to the explosive potential and hazards associated with submarine eruptions.

Professor Bryan, who has been studying pumice rafts for more than 20 years, said the pink pumice produced in the 2012 Havre eruption revealed insights into how magma can shoot out and up from underwater volcanoes.

"Unlike Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai, Havre is in a much more remote location. Its summit is 900m below sea level, and the nearest populated areas are around 800km away on the North Island of New Zealand," Professor Bryan said.

When the volcano erupted in 2012, there was no one to see it happen. But the colour of the pumice tells the story of what happened.

Joseph Knafelc, lead author of the research, said the new model put forward in the research challenged the known depth limits for explosive eruptions.

"The common theory is that underwater eruptions, particularly in deep water such as at Havre, cannot be explosive and instead make lava flows on the seafloor," Mr Knafelc said.

"But few submarine eruptions have been able to be observed, and past studies had failed to consider the existence of the pink pumice in the pumice raft.

"The colour in this case is critical -- the pink to red colour tells us the pumice had to be ejected into the air at temperatures above 700 °C for tiny iron minerals to then oxidise and cause the reddening.

"The problem is that it was an underwater eruption that had to push up through nearly 1 km of ocean. The only way it can do this is if the eruption was very powerful and able to punch through the ocean water and produce an eruption column in the air."

The research details how the core of the eruption was a powerful jet and able to be shielded from the surrounding water.

"The pink pumice and its thermal history tell us that the core of the eruption column was untouched by the cooling effects of the ocean water," Professor Bryan said.

"An explosive eruption column could get hot pumice into the atmosphere in as little as a few seconds.

"This was a very powerful eruption. The problem is that previous studies had not recognised or downplayed the explosive potential of submarine eruptions even in very deep water and thus the hazards posed by submarine eruptions.

"As a timely reminder, we recently witnessed in Tonga the power of, and devastation and impact from, explosive submarine eruptions, the effects of which could be detected around the world."

The research team included Professor Andrew Berry and Dr Guil Mallman from the Australian National University, Professor David Gust and Dr Henrietta Cathey from QUT, Dr Eric Ferré, from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and Daryl Howard from the Australian Synchrotron. Queensland University of Technology researchers are from the QUT Earth and Atmospheric School and the Central Analytical Research Facility (CARF).

Joseph Knafelc, Scott E. Bryan, Michael W. M. Jones, David Gust, Guil Mallmann, Henrietta E. Cathey, Andrew J. Berry, Eric C. Ferré, Daryl L. Howard. Havre 2012 pink pumice is evidence of a short-lived, deep-sea, magnetite nanolite-driven explosive eruption. Communications Earth & Environment, 2022; 3 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s43247-022-00355-3 Image in text: Pink Pumice. Photo credit:Queensland University of Technology


Unique Seagrass Nursery Aims To Help Florida's Starving Manatees

February 8, 2022
The manatee population in Florida was largely impacted last year. More than 1,000 of them died in 2021, due mostly to starvation. They consume about 100 pounds of seagrass a day, and this staple food is now scarce in Florida's Indian River Lagoon, a 156-mile-long estuary along the state's east coast.

Manatees at risk of starving due to native seagrass dying from water pollution, were fed romaine lettuce as part of an unprecedented feeding program on the east coast of Florida’s Indian River Lagoon.

Dennis Hanisak, Ph.D., from Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, is investigating the cause of this seagrass loss and contributing to important restoration efforts in the lagoon. He collaborated on a study with researchers from the St. Johns River Water Management District to examine the extent and cover of seagrasses in the Indian River Lagoon. Researchers used data from two independent lines of evidence -- large-scale maps and fixed transects. Maps documented locations and large ranges of seagrass beds periodically since the 1940s, and surveys of fixed transects generated changes in percent cover and depths at the end of the canopy since 1994.

For the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, researchers looked at how the distribution and abundance of seagrasses in the Indian River Lagoon responded to spatiotemporal patterns in salinity, temperature, and the availability of light.

Results showed that across all reaches, about 7,400 acres of seagrass were lost between 1943 and 1994. Between 2011 and 2019, about 58 percent of seagrasses were lost, with offshore ends of canopies moving shoreward and shallower. These changes were related primarily to reduced availability of light and coincided with blooms of phytoplankton. Intense blooms increased shading and loss of seagrasses. Salinities and temperatures did reach levels that could cause stress, but their effects were mitigated if enough light was available.

"Light is mandatory for growth and survival of seagrasses," said Hanisak, study co-author and a research professor at FAU Harbor Branch. "Reduced light causes changes in the physiology and the size and shape of seagrass, such as decreased leaf length, leaf width, leaves per shoot, and shoot growth. Seagrasses can cope with reduced light for short periods, however, once poor clarity becomes chronic or recurrent, detrimental effects on survival, resilience, and recovery arise."

Fortunately, data also showed that patches of seagrasses at depths of 0.5 to 0.9 meters persisted for 22 to 24 years, which suggests that this depth zone could hold the key to recovery. Yet, optimistic estimates predict recovery could take 12 to 17 years. Such a long-term, widespread loss of a key structural habitat may generate multiple adverse effects in the system, and mitigating these effects may entail planting seagrasses to accelerate recovery.

To help with recovery efforts, Hanisak and his team are experimenting with growing seagrass in large tanks and then transplanting it into the Indian River Lagoon to try to restore some of the lost seagrass beds. This seagrass nursery technology project recently received a grant from Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) through its charitable arm, the NextEra Energy Foundation, Inc. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is funding the expansion of the seagrass nursery while FPL is providing the funding to operate the nursery for at least three years.

The experimental seagrass nursery provides additional capacity for maintaining a sustainable nursery stock of Halodule wrightii (shoal grass), Syringodium filiforme (manatee grass), and potentially Ruppia maritima for future lagoon transplantation efforts.

"We are maintaining the seagrass nursery in a 'ready mode' so that we can readily partner with agencies and other interested parties in experimentation or pilot studies for seagrass restoration efforts," said Hanisak.

The FAU Harbor Branch research team is conducting experiments that will lead to further improvements in the nursery such as optimizing seagrass productivity in the nursery, enhancing sediment constituents and other media in the nursery tanks, and boosting the frequency and magnitude of harvesting planting units, with the goal of maximizing the annual production of planting units.

The researchers also will continue to explore the genetic diversity of the Indian River Lagoon seagrasses and how that diversity might be best used to support seagrass restoration in the lagoon, including selection of strains that have favorable traits such as rapid growth and broader environmental tolerance.

"This gift and continued support from FPL is helping our ongoing research in marine science and technology and addressing critical issues affecting our marine ecosystems," said Jim Sullivan, Ph.D., executive director, FAU Harbor Branch. "With this funding, our researchers are applying unique techniques to help repair the damages to the crucial aquatic plants that are essential to the health of the Indian River Lagoon, and moreover, critical for the survival of our beloved lagoon manatees that are dependent on this dietary staple."

A close-up of seagrass being grown as part of the nursery technology project supported from Florida Power & Light Company (FPL).

Lori J. Morris, Lauren M. Hall, Charles A. Jacoby, Robert H. Chamberlain, M. Dennis Hanisak, Janice D. Miller, Robert W. Virnstein. Seagrass in a Changing Estuary, the Indian River Lagoon, Florida, United States. Frontiers in Marine Science, 2022; 8 DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2021.789818

Genome Of Steller’s Sea Cow Decoded

February 8, 2022

During the Ice Age, giant mammals such as mammoths, sabre-toothed cats and woolly rhinoceroses once roamed Northern Europe and America. The cold oceans of the northern hemisphere were also home to giants like Steller's sea cow, which grew up to eight meters long and weighed up to ten tons, and has been extinct for around 250 years. Now an international research team has succeeded in deciphering the genome of this ice-age species from fossil bones. They also found an answer to the question of what the genome of this extinct species of sea cow reveals about present-day skin diseases.

1898 illustration of a Steller's sea cow family

The giant sea cow from the Ice Age was discovered in 1741 by Georg Wilhelm Steller and later named after him. The 18th-century naturalist was interested not only in the enormous size of this animal species but also in its unusual, bark-like skin. He described it as "a skin so thick that it is more like the bark of old oaks than the skin of an animal." 

Such a bark-like structure of the epidermis is not found in related sirenians, which today live exclusively in tropical waters. In scientific circles, it was previously assumed that the bark-like epidermis was the result of parasite feeding, but also insulated heat and thus protected the sea cow well from the cold during the Ice Age and from injuries in the polar seas. 

In the current study, the scientists led by Dr Diana Le Duc and Professor Torsten Schöneberg from Leipzig University, Professor Michael Hofreiter from the University of Potsdam and Professor Beth Shapiro from the University of California, show that the palaeogenomes of Steller's sea cow reveal functional changes. These changes were responsible for the bark-like skin and the adaptation to cold.

To find this out, an international research team from Germany and the US reconstructed the genome of this extinct species from fossil bone remains of a total of twelve different individuals. 

"The most spectacular result of our investigations is that we have clarified why this giant of the sea had bark-like skin," said Diana Le Duc from the Institute of Human Genetics at Leipzig University Hospital. The scientists found inactivations of genes in the sea cow genome that are necessary for the normal structure of the outermost layer of the epidermis. These genes are also used in human skin. 

"Hereditary defects in these so-called lipoxygenase genes lead to what is known as ichthyosis in humans. This is characterised by a thickening and hardening of the top layer of skin with large scales, and is sometimes also known as 'fish scale disease'," said Schöneberg from the Rudolph Schönheimer Institute of Biochemistry. 

"The results of our research thus also sharpen our view of this clinical picture," explained the biochemist, adding: "Here may lie the key to new therapeutic approaches."

The scientists pinpointed the genetic defect by comparing the genome with that of the closest relative, the dugong. The researchers received support with their investigations from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, which contributed its bioinformatics expertise in the analysis of ancient DNA. As a result, they identified important evidence of genetic changes that may have contributed to adaptation to the cool North Pacific habitat.

"This is an impressive example of how gene defects can not only cause disease, but also have advantages depending on the habitat," said Hofreiter from the University of Potsdam. Furthermore, the genome data revealed a dramatic reduction in population size. This began 500,000 years before the species was discovered and may have contributed to its extinction. 

Hofreiter summed it up as follows: "With today's molecular genetic clarification, our study closes the circle of an exact observation by a German naturalist in the early 18th century."

Distribution of sea cow species in the world’s oceans. Image: Diana Le Duc

Diana Le Duc, Akhil Velluva, Molly Cassatt-Johnstone, Remi-Andre Olsen, Sina Baleka, Chen-Ching Lin, Johannes R. Lemke, John R. Southon, Alexander Burdin, Ming-Shan Wang, Sonja Grunewald, Wilfried Rosendahl, Ulrich Joger, Sereina Rutschmann, Thomas B. Hildebrandt, Guido Fritsch, James A. Estes, Janet Kelso, Love Dalén, Michael Hofreiter, Beth Shapiro, Torsten Schöneberg. Genomic basis for skin phenotype and cold adaptation in the extinct Steller’s sea cow. Science Advances, 2022; 8 (5) DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abl6496

Gabon Provides Blueprint For Protecting Oceans

February 8, 2022

Gabon's network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) provides a blueprint that could be used in many other countries, experts say. Since announcing a new MPA network in 2014, Gabon has created 20 protected areas -- increasing protection of Gabonese waters from less than 1% to 26%.

The new paper -- by Gabonese policymakers, NGOs and researchers from the University of Exeter -- highlights the lessons from this work and its relevance elsewhere.

"A combination of factors made this MPA network possible, but a crucial first step was the creation by President Ali Bongo Ondimba of a government-led initiative called 'Gabon Bleu' in 2013," said Dr Kristian Metcalfe, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

"This sent out a clear signal that the Gabonese government wanted to develop an MPA network.

"That ensured all sectors -- from government agencies to ocean resource users -- were engaged in the planning process, and it gave confidence to external funders and the private sector to support the research that underpins the MPAs.

Dr Emma Stokes, Wildlife Conservation Society Regional Director for Central Africa & Gulf of Guinea, added: "This political will and long-term engagement was vital -- creating a 'tipping point' towards effective change.

"Collective action has accelerated progress, and the country has now committed to the 30x30 pledge to protect 30% of its oceans by 2030."

Global MPA coverage is still short of a 10% target set in 2010, partly due to limited progress in many low-income and middle-income countries.

However, a few of these countries -- including Gabon -- have met or exceeded international commitments on land and sea.

The MPAs are based on detailed evidence, resulting in an inter-connected network tailored to protect important habitats, as well as globally important populations of sea turtles and marine mammals, with protected zones extending from north to south, and from coastal waters to 200 nautical miles offshore.

The new paper argues that lessons from Gabon can be used to inform Post-2020 global biodiversity commitments and implementation.

It suggests a four-step approach for countries and donors:

  1. Governments must build and maintain their research and implementation capacity, ensuring scientific evidence underpins policy decisions.
  2. Countries should make public pledges on marine conservation targets, signalling their commitment to the international community and potential donors.
  3. The conservation community should respond by helping to create or strengthen the country's environmental agencies either directly or, if financial safeguards are weak, via international organisations.
  4. Each implementation agency should lead on developing national marine conservation frameworks, working with stakeholders and donors to produce plans that are ambitious but politically feasible, combining top-down initiatives with bottom-up approaches as much as possible.

In Gabon, crucial implementation work was led by the national parks agency, ANPN.

Professor Lee White, Gabon's Minister of Forests, Oceans, Environment and Climate Change and former Executive Secretary (head) of ANPN, said: "We learnt from the process that resulted in the creation of Gabon's terrestrial national parks by Omar Bongo in 2007 and were able to provide the scientific and legal framework to make President Ali Bongo Ondimba's vision for a sustainable blue economy a reality."

Professor Brendan Godley, of the University of Exeter, added: "By scaling conservation and fisheries management measures across the entirety of its EEZ, Gabon has made significant steps to ensure the long-term persistence of its marine biodiversity and fisheries resources, and should be celebrated as a global exemplar."

The University of Exeter's work was funded by the UK government's Darwin Initiative.

Fisheries bycatch in Gabonese waters. Credit Tim Collins WCS 

Kristian Metcalfe, Lee White, Michelle E. Lee, J. Michael Fay, Gaspard Abitsi, Richard J. Parnell, Robert J. Smith, Pierre Didier Agamboue, Jean Pierre Bayet, Jean Hervé Mve Beh, Serge Bongo, Francois Boussamba, Godefroy De Bruyne, Floriane Cardiec, Emmanuel Chartrain, Tim Collins, Philip D. Doherty, Angela Formia, Mark Gately, Micheline Schummer Gnandji, Innocent Ikoubou, Judicael Régis Kema Kema, Koumba Kombila, Pavlick Etoughe Kongo, Jean Churley Manfoumbi, Sara M. Maxwell, Georges H. Mba Asseko, Catherine M. McClellan, Gianna Minton, Samyra Orianne Ndjimbou, Guylène Nkoane Ndoutoume, Jean Noel Bibang Bi Nguema, Teddy Nkizogho, Jacob Nzegoue, Carmen Karen Kouerey Oliwina, Franck Mbeme Otsagha, Diane Savarit, Stephen K. Pikesley, Philippe du Plessis, Hugo Rainey, Lucienne Ariane Diapoma Kingbell Rockombeny, Howard C. Rosenbaum, Dan Segan, Guy‐Philippe Sounguet, Emma J. Stokes, Dominic Tilley, Raul Vilela, Wynand Viljoen, Sam B. Weber, Matthew J. Witt, Brendan J. Godley. Fulfilling global marine commitments; lessons learned from Gabon. Conservation Letters, 2022; DOI: 10.1111/conl.12872

Arctic Winter Warming Causes Cold Damage In The Subtropics Of East Asia

February 8, 2022

Due to climate change, Arctic winters are getting warmer. An international study by UZH researchers shows that Arctic warming causes temperature anomalies and cold damage thousands of kilometres away in East Asia. This in turn leads to reduced vegetation growth, later blossoming, smaller harvests and reduced CO2 absorption by the forests in the region.

During the past few days, the east coast of the United States experienced heavy snowfall and low temperatures as far south as Florida. Warmer Arctic winters are now also triggering extreme winter weather of this kind in East Asia, an international team of researchers from Switzerland, Korea, China, Japan and the United Kingdom has found. 

The cooler southern winters reduce vegetation activity in the evergreen subtropics, and continue to negatively affect ecosystems in the spring, for example due to branches broken under heavy snowfall or frost-damaged leaves.

First author Jin-Soo Kim of the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich says: "The cooler winters also reduce agricultural productivity of cereals, fruits, root vegetables, and legumes."

Melting ice on the islands of Severnaya Zemlya (Barents and Laptev Sea region). Image: Gabriela Schaepman-Strub, Arctic Century Expedition, 2021

Globally connected weather events

The scientists combined earth system modelling, satellite data and local observations for the study. They also analysed an index of sea surface temperatures from the Barents-Kara Sea and found that in years with higher than average Arctic temperatures, changes in atmospheric circulation resulted in an anomalous climate throughout East Asia. 

In particularly cold years, the unfavourable conditions adversely affected vegetation growth and crop yields, and delayed blossoming. Moreover, the researchers estimated a decrease in carbon uptake capacity in the region of 65 megatons of carbon during winter and spring (by way of comparison, fossil fuel emissions in Switzerland are 8.8 megatons of carbon per year). 

The reduction in carbon absorption capacity caused by climate change is thus another issue that must be taken into account when discussing carbon neutrality.

Climate change causes ecological and socioeconomic damage

The warming of the Arctic caused by human greenhouse gas emissions is causing social and economic harm to humans as far south as the subtropics. 

Gabriela Schaepman-Strub, co-author of the study, says: "This study highlights how complex the effects of climate change are. While we observe strong warming in the Arctic system, especially over the Barents-Kara Sea, we have now discovered that this warming affects ecosystems thousands of kilometres away and over multiple weeks through climate teleconnections. Arctic warming is not only threatening the polar bear, but will affect us in many other ways."

The rapidly melting ice caps on the islands of Severnaya Zemlya leave behind landscapes like those on Mars. Image: Jón Björgvinsson © 2021 Swiss Polar Institute (CC BY 4.0), Arctic Century Expedition, 2021

Jin-Soo Kim, Jong-Seong Kug, Sujong Jeong, Jin-Ho Yoon, Ning Zeng, Jinkyu Hong, Jee-Hoon Jeong, Yuan Zhao, Xiaoqiu Chen, Mathew Williams, Kazuhito Ichii, Gabriela Schaepman-Strub. Arctic warming-induced cold damage to East Asian terrestrial ecosystems. Communications Earth & Environment, 2022; 3 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s43247-022-00343-7

Golfing Cockatoos Ability To Use Combined Tools

February 8, 2022

Cockatoos have shown an extraordinary ability to complete a task by combining simple tools, demonstrating that this cognitive ability is not found only in primates. According to researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine, in Vienna, the University of Birmingham, and the University of Vienna, the findings could shed new light on how our ancestors evolved the ability to design and use tools.

The research, published in Scientific Reports, is also part of a wider international and interdisciplinary project comparing children's innovation and problem solving skills with those of cockatoos.

Tool use is rare in animals, and particularly compound tools where two elements are fixed together, such as a spear, or an axe, or composite tools, where two items -- for example a stick and a rock -- are used together. These types of tools have evolved into recreational activities, such as hockey, cricket or golf, and it was this that inspired the study design.

In their experiment, the team devised a game of golf for one species of bird, the Goffin's cockatoo, which is known for its problem solving skills and its ability to use single tools such as sticks to open up nut and seed shells.

Credit: Goffin Lab

The birds had to manipulate a ball through a hole into a closed box, and then use a stick to push the ball to one side of the box where it triggers a trapdoor mechanism. This in turn releases a cashew nut for the bird.

Three of the cockatoos figured out how to use the stick to manoeuvre the ball into the right position to release the treat -- showing a high level of tool innovation.

Lead researcher Dr Antonio Osuna-Mascaró, from the University of Veterinary Medicine, in Vienna, said: 

"One of the most amazing aspect of the process was to observe how these animals each invented their own individual technique in how to grip the stick and hit the ball, sometimes with astonishing dexterity. One of the birds operated the stick while holding it between the mandibles, one between the beak tip and tongue and one with his claw, similar to a primate."

Sarah Beck, Professor of Cognitive Development in the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham, is a co-author and collaborator on this work, focusing on the associations between children and birds in learning how to use tools.

Prof. Beack said: 

"Although children are very good at using tools and technology in their lives (think spoons and ipads!), our research has shown that young children often find it hard to invent novel solutions to problems involving tool use. In fact, children under 8 can really struggle to solve problems that cockatoos can master.

"So while this study is the first to show that cockatoos can coordinate tools to solve a problem, it also feeds into our ongoing work with children. Tempting as it might be -- it's not simply a question of who is the cleverest: children or cockatoos -- instead comparing such different species helps us understand how humans and some other species develop impressive technological skills."

Professor Alice Auersperg, another author and head of the Goffin Lab at the Messerli Research Institute in Vienna's University of Veterinary Medicine, comments: 

"I believe that studying which spatial relationships animals are attending to and how they are using them for enabling tool innovations will be key to getting us better insight into the evolution of technology. Enhancing our understanding of the onset of complex tool use in particular is thus currently a focus of our research team"

Antonio J. Osuna-Mascaró, Roger Mundry, Sabine Tebbich, Sarah R. Beck, Alice M. I. Auersperg. Innovative composite tool use by Goffin’s cockatoos (Cacatua goffiniana). Scientific Reports, 2022; 12 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-05529-9

7 reasons Australia is the lucky country when it comes to snakes

A dugite (Pseudonaja affinis) Chris HayAuthor provided
Christina N. ZdenekThe University of Queensland

Australia has a global reputation as a land full of danger, where seemingly everything is out to kill you. Crocodiles lurk in estuaries, large spiders hide in bathrooms, and we share our suburbs with some of the world’s most venomous snakes.

Snakes hold a particular fear and fascination for many people. The bite of an eastern brown snake can kill an adult in under an hour. And that’s just one of more than 150 venomous snakes inhabiting the island continent across land and sea. Australian snakes are well and truly overrepresented out of the world’s top 25 most venomous snakes.

Terrifying, right? Not quite. Australians are actually extremely lucky when it comes to snakes. Here are seven reasons why.

1) Our Snakes Bolt Away From Us

The best way to survive a snakebite is of course not to be bitten. Keeping your distance is the easiest way to avoid a bite.

But what if you’re walking through the bush and don’t see the snake? Luckily, most Australian snakes will rapidly slither away from us.

It could be much worse. Imagine if most of our snakes were like vipers or rattlesnakes, which hold their ground and can be easily trodden on. And imagine if our venomous snakes could sense our body heat, as pit vipers and rattlesnakes do with their heat-sensing pits. For Australians, simply staying still can keep you safe.

A blue pit viper from Komodo Island flicks its tongue upwards
Pit vipers like this white-lipped pit viper (Trimeresurus insularis) from Indonesia can sense heat but can’t bolt away. Christina N. Zdenek

2) We Have Very Few Snakebite Deaths

Compared to other countries with many snake species, Australia has orders of magnitude fewer snakebites and related deaths. South Africa has 476 snakebite deaths on average every year. By contrast, Australia has two or three.

3) If You Do Get Bitten, You’re Very Unlikely To Lose A Limb

Most snakebites in Australia are completely painless. This is in part due to the short fangs of our brown snakes (Pseudonaja spp.), who are responsible for most bites in Australia, but mainly because most Australian snakes have venom which works internally, rather than locally at the bite site. This means snakebites in Australia very rarely result in amputations.

By contrast, across sub-Saharan Africa it is sadly common, with almost 2400 amputations reported in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, every year. Unfortunately, the people most at risk of snakebite are the ones least able to afford the high treatment costs.

A Dugite's fangs
Brown snakes like this dugite (Pseudonaja affinis) have small fangs. Christina N. Zdenek & Chris Hay

4) We Have Great Access To Excellent Antivenom And Other Treatments

For snakebites, antivenom is the only specific treatment. If you’re unlucky enough to be bitten by a highly venomous snake, getting the antivenom as quickly as possible is vital. Luckily, antivenoms work quickly, and ours are high quality.

Antivenom is often produced from purified horse antibodies. It’s well known antivenom can cause anaphylaxis, which occurs around 10% of the time in Australia. These reactions can be quickly reversed by adrenaline administered in a hospital.

By contrast, some other countries have alarmingly ineffective antivenoms as well as triggering anaphylaxis 57% of the time.

You can get antivenom at 750 hospitals across Australia. For more remote regions, snakebite victims benefit from proven pressure-immobilisation which should be applied before the Royal Flying Doctors come to the rescue.

Seven Australian snake antivenoms.
Many quality snake antivenoms are available in Australia. Christina N. Zdenek

5) We Have The World’s Only Snake Venom Detection Kits

Using the wrong antivenom can lead to the treatment failing. So how do doctors know which antivenom to administer? It’s not via snake identification by the victim because, more often than not, Australians get it wrong.

In 1979, Australia became the first country in the world to have a commercial snake venom detection kit to make antivenom choice more accurate. Even now, we’re the only ones with this option.

Every other country has to rely on more dangerous options. Either the victim brings the snake to hospital for a professional ID, or doctors have to rely on the patient’s symptoms and location where they were bitten to take an educated guess as to which antivenom will work.

As you’d expect, this can be a challenge. Why? Because there can be a great deal of overlap of symptoms caused by venom from unrelated species. Plus, picking the species responsible can take years of experience treating snakebite which many doctors do not have.

In Australia, there’s another option if the kit is unavailable: polyvalent antivenom, effective against all our most dangerous snakes.

6) Snakebites Are Covered By Medicare

Antivenom can be prohibitively expensive, costing thousands of dollars per dose.

Our nearest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, is a snakebite hotspot. But many people simply do not have the money to pay for the antivenom. In some areas, taipans kill more people than malaria due to the cost of treatment.

In Australia, treatment for a bite may cost around AUD$6,000, but this cost is covered by Medicare. In my lab, we’re working to make snakebite treatment more affordable by testing next-generation snakebite treatments.

7) Snake Venom Is Actually Saving Lives

To top it all off, snake venom is saving lives. There are six therapeutic drugs on the global market derived from snake venoms, with another two in clinical trials.

Our many venomous snake species hold in their venom glands a mini drug library, a cornucopia for scientists to trawl through looking for promising new therapeutic drugs. In fact, a toxin from the venom of eastern brown snakes (P. textilis) is being tested as a drug used to reverse life-threatening bleeding complications.

Rather than fearing our venomous snakes, let’s try seeing them as they are.

They pose little risk to us. They flee from us. Their bites can usually be cured quickly. Their venom holds therapeutic promise. And they play a vital role in keeping down the numbers of introduced rats and mice.

So let’s take a moment to appreciate Australia’s wealth of beautiful snakes.The Conversation

Christina N. Zdenek, Lab Manager/Post-doc at the Venom Evolution Lab, The University of Queensland

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

How Australia can boost the production of grains, while lowering its carbon footprint

Maartje SevensterCSIROAaron SimmonsUniversity of New England, and Lindsay BellCSIRO

The need to feed a rising global population means agriculture is one of the most difficult sectors to decarbonise. This is especially true for growing grains – think wheat, barley, legumes and canola.

Australia is the third largest exporter of wheat after Russia and the US, with 11% of the world’s wheat trade shipped from our shores in 2017. Likewise, Australia is responsible for up to 20% of the world’s barley exports.

But our new report, published today, has found a way to potentially increase grain production by up to 40%, while reducing the carbon footprint per tonne of grain by up to 15%. The key is improving our use of fertiliser.

To produce the world’s grains with as few greenhouse gas emissions as possible, all countries, including Australia, need to play their part. The carbon footprint (greenhouse gas intensity) of Australian grain is lower than elsewhere, so on a global scale we have some room to increase production to help meet the demands of a growing population, ensuring Australian grains remain competitive in the global market.

Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of grains. Shutterstock

Emissions From The Grain Sector

Our initial task was to estimate the greenhouse gas emissions the grains sector released in 2005. This is because 2005 is the standard baseline year we compare Australia’s emissions to today, in line with our obligations under the Paris Agreement.

We found the sector released 13.75 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2005. Grain emissions in 2005 were primarily under two categories: on-farm emissions (61%) and “embedded” emissions (39%). This breakdown is likely to be very similar for today’s grain sector emissions, but this needs to be confirmed with further data collection.

On-farm emissions are dominated by applying fertiliser, and the breakdown of plant residue, such as stalks, roots and grain that falls to the ground during harvest. On-farm emissions alone are responsible for 1.7% of Australia’s total.

Embedded emissions are associated with the supply chain of a product, such as the manufacturing of fertiliser and chemicals. We found the production of fertiliser was the largest contributor to embedded emissions.

It’s clear how we use and produce fertiliser is greenhouse gas intensive. However, fertilisers – along with the the breakdown of plant residue – are key in improving productivity on farms.

Nitrogen fertilisers improve productivity on farms. Shutterstock

Grappling With Fertiliser

Nitrogen from fertilisers and carbon from plant residues link two important greenhouse gases: nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide.

The relationship between nitrogen in fertiliser and carbon in plants is tightly interwoven – changing levels of nitrogen inputs will change the levels of carbon in the system, and vice versa.

To unpack this complex system, we ran simulations for different farm management practices. Our findings were surprising.

Counter-intuitively, we found increasing fertiliser (in a way that minimises nitrogen losses) sees almost constant net on-farm emissions, while considerably increasing the production of grains. This translates to a lower greenhouse gas intensity (carbon footprint). Let’s explore why.

Plants need nitrogen to grow. If not enough fertiliser is applied, the plants will take it from the soil. And when the soil loses nitrogen, carbon dioxide is also released into the atmosphere to balance the soil’s nitrogen and carbon levels.

Applying fertiliser in way that results in more efficient use of nitrogen will lead to greater plant growth and avoid depleting the soil. This will, in turn, see more plant residue go into the soil, again increasing the soil’s carbon levels.

But there’s a catch. Because those extra fertilisers must be manufactured, embedded emissions increase. Nevertheless, we found the increase in total emissions to be smaller than the increase in total production. Therefore, the greenhouse gas intensity associated with the production of a tonne of grain decreases.

Australia is the third largest exporter of wheat after Russia and the US. Shutterstock

Where To From Here?

These findings are a small but important part of the global effort to reduce emissions from the agriculture sector and maintain Australian industry competitiveness.

The next step is to conduct further research and develop technology to put our findings into practice, as well as develop more targeted incentives for customers, investors and other stakeholders.

With the increase in emissions taking place in the manufacture of fertiliser, rather than on the farm itself, it’s important the industry helps drive those embedded emissions down.

Some initiatives are already happening, especially the development of green hydrogen. Hydrogen is a key ingredient in the manufacture of fertiliser, so using green hydrogen can reduce fertiliser embedded emissions. The Conversation

Maartje Sevenster, Research Scientist Climate Smart Agriculture, CSIROAaron Simmons, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, University of New England, and Lindsay Bell, Research scientist, CSIRO

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

National parks are not enough - we need landholders to protect threatened species on their property

Getty Images
Stephen KearneyThe University of QueenslandApril ResideThe University of QueenslandJames WatsonThe University of QueenslandRebecca Louise NelsonThe University of MelbourneRebecca SpindlerUNSW Sydney, and Vanessa AdamsUniversity of Tasmania

Over the last decade, the area protected for nature in Australia has shot up by almost half. Our national reserve system now covers 20% of the country.

That’s a positive step for the thousands of species teetering on the edge of extinction. But it’s only a step.

What we desperately need to help these species fully recover is to protect them across their range. And that means we have to get better at protecting them on private land.

Our recent research shows this clearly. We found almost half (48%) of all of our threatened species’ distributions occur on private freehold land, even though only 29% of Australia is owned in this way.

By contrast, leasehold land – largely inland cattle grazing properties – covers a whopping 38% of the continent but overlaps with only 6% of threatened species’ distributions. And in our protected reserves? An average of 35% of species’ distribution.

Land tenure categories across Australia. Circle size represents the percentage covered by each land tenure. The figure inside or next to each circle is the number of threatened species with over 5% of their distribution overlapping with that land tenure.

Why Do We Need More? Aren’t Our Protected Areas Enough?

When most of us think of saving species, we think of national parks and other safe refuges.

This is the best known strategy, and efforts to expand our network are laudable. New additions include the Narriearra Caryapundy Swamp National Park in northwest New South Wales, Dryandra Woodland National Park in Western Australia, and several Indigenous Protected Areas around Australia, which will ensure greater protection for some species.

But relying on reserves is simply not enough. From the air, Australia is a patchwork quilt of farms, suburbs and fragmented forests. For many species, it has become difficult to find food sources and mates.

Since European colonisation began, we have lost at least 100 species, including three species since 2009.

Almost 2,000 plant and animal species are threatened with extinction, with dozens of reptilefrogbutterflyfish and bird and mammal species set to be lost forever without a step change in resourcing and conservation effort.

What We Do On Our Properties Matters To Nature

Freehold land is home to almost half our threatened species. Species like the pygmy blue-tongue lizard (Tiliqua adelaidensis) and giant Gippsland earthworm (Megascolides australis) occur almost entirely on privately owned lands.

The pygmy blue-tongue lizard. Nick Volpe.
The giant Gippsland earthworm. Beverley Van Praagh.

By contrast, leasehold land overlaps with only 6% of species’ distributions. Though that might sound low, species like the highly photogenic Carpentarian rock-rat (Zyzomys palatalis) rely entirely on leased land.

The Carpentarian rock-rat. Michael J Barritt.

What about the 1.4% of Australia set aside for logging in state forests? These, too, provide the main habitat for threatened species such as Simson’s stag beetle (Hoplogonus simsoni), which has over two-thirds of its distribution in state forests in Tasmania’s northwest. Similarly, the Colquhoun Grevillea (Grevillea celata) is known only from a state forest in Victoria’s Gippsland region.

Simson’s stag beetle. Simon Grove
Colquhoun Grevillea. Wikicommons/MelburnianCC BY

Even defence lands – covering less than 1% of Australia – are the only home some species have. Take the Cape Range remipede (Kumonga exleyi), known only from an air force bombing range near Exmouth, Western Australia, or the Byfield Matchstick shrub (Comesperma oblongatum), which survives in Queensland’s highly biodiverse Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area.

The Indigenous estate across Australia intersects with almost all of these tenure types, and also has critical importance for half of Australian threatened species distributions as shown by previous research.

We Need All Hands On Deck To Keep Our Threatened Species Persisting

It is late in the day to save Australia’s threatened species, as climate change multiplies the challenges they face. If we are to have any real chance at turning the tide, we must do much more.

To staunch the heartbreaking flow of species into extinction means we have to actively manage multiple threats to their existence across many different types of land tenure.

Logging of native forest and some methods of intensive farming continue to endanger many threatened species, particularly those which rely on these land types for their survival.

Over 380 threatened species have part of their range in land set aside for logging. It should be no surprise that logging is a key threat for 64 of these endangered species.

How Can We Achieve Better Conservation Outside Protected Areas?

Many landholders are acutely aware of the species they share the land with, and are already taking action to protect them. One key method is the use of land partnerships, in which landowners and custodians work with conservationists.

Take Sue and Tom Shephard, who run a large cattle property on Cape York. Their station is home to some of the last remaining golden-shouldered parrots (Psephotus chrysopterygius). The Shephards are working to bring the species back from the brink through careful management of grazing, fire and feral animals.

Similarly, the work of hundreds of rice growers is helping save the endangered Australian bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus). Every year, up to a third of the remaining population descends on New South Wales rice fields to breed. Rice farmers are accommodating these birds by ensuring there is early permanent water, reducing predator numbers and boosting their habitat.

We’re seeing successes even on defence force land. The Yampi Sound Training Area in the Kimberley is a biodiversity hotspot. A partnership between the Department of Defence and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy is helping protect these species alongside defence force use. This model could be rolled out across other areas of defence land.

What’s Stopping More People Taking Action?

While many landowners may want to help, financial constraints, a lack of knowledge or concerns over implications for resale of the land can be barriers.

If we want to encourage more landowners to directly conserve species on their land, we must begin by understanding what they want. Only then can we design initiatives to help these species, as well as benefit and engage landowners.

What does this look like? Picture financial incentives to join conservation programs. Or workshops where landowners can see the very real benefit to their own land by reducing erosion, keeping rabbit numbers under control, protecting waterways from silt or water-sucking introduced trees, or reducing wind and dust through setting aside land for trees.

If a farmer or landowner can clearly see the benefit for wildlife and for their own use, they are much more likely to take part.

Incentives don’t have to be financially based, either. If landowners understand what works and feel capable of action after training, and have technical support and assistance to draw on, they’re more likely to start down the path of making their land more friendly to threatened species.

If we really want to protect our species, we must do more to bring in Australia’s farmers, landowners and other custodians of land. We cannot rely on protected areas alone. We need to make the land safer for our species most at risk, wherever they occur.

CSIRO’s Josie Carwardine and Anthea Coggan contributed to this researchThe Conversation

Stephen Kearney, PhD student, The University of QueenslandApril Reside, Lecturer, The University of QueenslandJames Watson, Professor, The University of QueenslandRebecca Louise Nelson, Associate Professor in Law, The University of MelbourneRebecca Spindler, Adjunct Professor, UNSW Sydney, and Vanessa Adams, Senior Lecturer, Discipline of Geography and Spatial Sciences, University of Tasmania

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

Exploring Antarctica’s hidden under-ice rivers and their role in future sea-level rise

The project’s drill rig on the slopes of the Kamb Ice Stream. Author provided
Huw Joseph HorganTe Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington and Craig StevensNational Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

Underneath Antarctica’s vast ice sheets there’s a network of rivers and lakes. This is possible because of the insulating blanket of ice above, the flow of heat from within the Earth, and the small amount of heat generated as the ice deforms.

Map of Antarctica showing sub-glacial rivers, ice flow velocity, and ocean depth.
This map shows rivers (white) beneath Antarctica’s ice sheets (grey). Warm colours denote regions of fast ice flow. Huw Horgan/Quantarctica3/K862CC BY-ND

Water lubricates the base of the ice sheets, allowing the ice to slide towards the ocean at speeds of many hundreds of metres per year. When the water emerges from beneath the ice, it enters a cold and salty cavity underneath ice shelves, the floating extensions of ice sheets that fringe the continent.

Here the water mixes, releases nutrients and sediment, and melts the underside of the ice shelves, which act as buttresses and hold back the flow of the ice sheets.

How these processes play out over the next centuries is a major factor in understanding sea-level rise. Unfortunately, this is also one of the least-explored parts of our planet.

Our Aotearoa New Zealand Antarctic Science Platform project is the first direct survey of an Antarctic under-ice river, and it supports earlier research suggesting these sub-glacial rivers form estuaries as they flow into the ocean, albeit at 82.5 degrees south, hidden under 500m of ice and about 500km from the open ocean.

Exploring An Under-Ice River

Our team has just returned from Kamb Ice Stream on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). Kamb is a sleeping giant.

This massive river of ice lies on the other side of the WAIS from Thwaites Glacier, Antarctica’s “doomsday” glacier which has been losing ice rapidly. Kamb used to flow fast, but this ceased about 160 years ago because of changes in how water was distributed at the base of the ice.

Scientists surveying over Antarctica's ice sheet and snow with skidoo and sleds.
Surveying across the surface of the under-ice river channel (in early 2016), researchers use seismic methods to determine what lies underneath the thick cover of ice. Huw Horgan/K862/VUWCC BY-ND

While the Kamb region isn’t vulnerable to ocean warming at the present time, it currently offsets much of the ice loss happening elsewhere in Antarctica. Changes at Kamb will herald major changes for Antarctica’s ice sheets and oceans.

One challenge is that ice sheets respond to external changes, such as rising ocean temperatures, but also to difficult-to-predict internal changes, such as flood events that occur when sub-ice rivers and lakes “burst their banks”.

Getting There

The COVID pandemic has been hard on national Antarctic programmes and the field science they support. Global supply and freight delays kept our team on the edge in the lead-up to our season.

This summer, New Zealand started the rebuild of its main Antarctic station, Scott Base, and has been developing an over-snow traverse to deploy large teams across great distances. Our Kamb team was one of the first to benefit from this new capability, with a camp operating for months, more than 900km from New Zealand’s permanent station.

There’s an art to drilling through Antarctic ice. In reality, we melt our way through with recycled hot water.

Once on site, the team was able to drill through 500m of the ice shelf and keep a 0.4m-diameter hole open for nearly two weeks. This allowed us to take samples and gather observations for a diverse range of science projects.

A group of engineers swarm around a frame to help lower equipment designed to melt a hole in the ice shelf.
A group of engineers swarm around a frame to help lower equipment designed to melt a hole in the ice shelf. Craig Stevens/K862/NIWACC BY-ND

A Hidden River

Almost a decade of research paid off when the team pinpointed the exact spot to drill to hit the onset of the narrow river beneath. This was even more impressive than initially thought, with borehole surveys revealing a river more than 240m high but less than 200m wide – a much narrower target than indicated by the surface icescape.

Working from a borehole means we can only look in one spot. As an antidote to this limitation, colleagues from Cornell University deployed their ocean robot Icefin to study the space below the ice.

Underwater image showing complex variations in the ice underside.
The camera shows corrugations on the underside of the ice. Craig Stevens/K862/NIWACC BY-ND

One of the discoveries that will keep the team going for some time is a dense community of likely amphipods, which we spotted when we lowered cameras to the seafloor. The swarm was so dense, we first thought there was something wrong with our equipment.

The last task the team completed was to deploy an ocean mooring beneath the ice. These instruments will continue to report back on ocean conditions over the coming years.

Only five days after deployment, we detected the tsunami from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcanic eruption.

An image of camera equipment being lowered down a hole in the ice shelf. The camera is lighting up the walls of the hole, showing complex corrugations in the ice.
The team lowers camera equipment down the ice borehole, which is around 0.4m in diameter. Craig Stevens/K862/NIWACC BY-ND

Apart from baseline observations, such discoveries provide strong motivation for deploying long-term monitoring equipment. The team will be watching closely over the coming years for any changes in the under-ice river flow, including flood events.The Conversation

Huw Joseph Horgan, Associate Professor of Geophysical Glaciology, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington and Craig Stevens, Professor in Ocean Physics, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

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

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 -

Aged Care Industry Needs A Massive Shake-Up

February 10, 2022: by Ian Yates, CEO of COTA Australia
The tragic premature loss of life in many of Australia’s nursing homes continues to grow. The daily death toll, particularly in NSW, is shocking, and saddening. The grief of family and friends is turning to anger when some commentators infer these deaths matter less because residents were already palliative, or on the other hand try to exploit the tragedy for political point scoring.

Scapegoats I often hear are the shortage of Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs), the delivery of vaccine boosters, and sometimes blame-shifting onto families and other visitors. RATs were approved very late in Australia, and there is a global shortage. Most of the vaccine booster program was delivered in record time over December and January. Those things were easily predictable when all the States and Territories (except WA) “opened up”.

The fast spread of the Omicron variant took everyone by surprise, but leaders knew the risk of a new variant when they decided to open up. It is an example of ageism in our society, and the lack of priority for people in aged care, that nobody made sure we had enough RATs for residents, staff, and visitors before making the decision; or reconsidered how much we opened up and stepped back somewhat  after Omicron hit. After two years of Australians giving up so much, just a few weeks more could have seen the extra booster shots delivered and the RATs obtained, to make a big difference. We could never prevent all COVID deaths in aged care after opening up, but we didn’t need to have it be this tragic.

At the same time, we know that some providers have managed outbreaks well and kept them to a few cases, while others have not coped and had to be managed to protect remaining residents. Many of the differences are due to the same reasons as we saw in 2020.

Many nursing home operators have also been ignoring the Residential Aged Care Visitor Code, and so have State Heath Units who recommended locking residents in their rooms for weeks. Essential visitors, those who help with regular care for their loved ones, have been locked out in parts of the country, making a bad situation much worse. These lockouts have caused suffering, significant declines in nutrition, mental health, and general health, leaving residents even more vulnerable to COVID-19. Thankfully a number of good operators found ways around these restrictions and have respected resident’s human rights and mental health.

People are dying of COVID in nursing homes, who neither wanted, nor needed to move there. They moved there, or were moved there by families, because they could not get the help they needed at home. Past governments prioritised funding nursing homes, when care at home is most importantly what older people want,  it’s proved safer, and it’s also cheaper because government is not paying some residents accommodation costs.

Most nursing home executives and staff are diligent, hardworking, and compassionate. But facilities are often unsuitable, have too few staff, and those staff are not skilled enough, not trained enough, and not paid enough. When Omicron struck, and staff had to isolate, there was nobody left to help. Especially after two years of closed borders which blocked off a key source of aged care staffing – immigrants, working visa holders, and students working part time.

After decades of trying to do things on the cheap and squabbling between levels of government we need a massive shake-up of this industry. Many operators need to leave the system: their financial governance, clinical governance, staffing practices and facilities are not up to the job, as the Royal Commission showed, and never will be. Government money should be allocated to the older person receiving care (or their guardians), rather than the provider. Give people choice and control of their care and they’ll choose not to live in sub-standard nursing homes. The Aged Care Royal Commission supported this change but it’s too late for those who’ve died, and for those whom Omicron will kill in coming weeks.

There are providers who have done residential care well, but often on their terms rather than because they have designed services with residents. Some have delivered innovations such as cottage style accommodation, which has performed much better with COVID than more traditional facilities.

Thankfully the Government has accepted the Royal Commission recommendations for a huge increase in funding for care at home, a new Aged Care Act, and major reforms of aged care that will lift standards. We will continue to pressure them to keep up the timetable for implementation. They should also do more to support good providers rebuild their workforce and commit to increase wages by fully paying the increase being adjudicated by the Fair Work Commission. With an election coming soon, Australians should be asking all parties if they will do the same.
Ian Yates
Chief Executive of COTA Australia

Eligible Aged Care Residents Receive Boosters

February 10, 2022
Senior Australians in residential aged care are leading the national uptake of boosters, with 80.56 per cent of those eligible for their third vaccine shot now having received it the Federal Government has said in a released statement this week.

In-reach booster clinics have reached all 2541 facilities across Australia, with the program completed ahead of the original schedule as the Australian Federal Government responded to the updated advice on the timing of boosters by ATAGI.

The booster vaccination rate for aged care residents is well ahead of the national community figure of 55.43 per cent.

Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, said it is an excellent response from residents and encouraged those who may not have been eligible or originally declined a booster, to roll up their sleeves.

“We want to continue to provide increased protection for senior Australians and are returning to residential aged care facilities to provide another opportunity for both residents and workers to get their booster dose,” Minister Hunt said.

“While all facilities have now had a booster clinic, 19 per cent of eligible residents have not yet received their booster dose, and 10 per cent of all residents are yet to complete their first and second doses. This is a concern.”

“We are committed to supporting our senior Australians and those who care for them in aged care facilities to get protected through vaccination.”

Residential aged care facilities are responsible for ensuring the safety and protection of residents through access and support to COVID-19 vaccination.

This includes proactively arranging for residents to access a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as quickly and safely as possible if they have not yet received a booster.

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck said is critical for residents and workers at each residential aged care service to be strongly encouraged and supported to receive their COVID-19 booster dose.

“All residential aged care providers not actively arranging booster doses for remaining eligible residents must do so as soon as possible,” Minister Colbeck said.

The options available for booster doses, and first or second doses as required, include primary care providers, including visiting GPs and pharmacists, self-vaccination clinics or Commonwealth return clinics.

To support on-site self-vaccination clinics for residents and workers, the Commonwealth today opened a Request for Tender for residential aged care providers, recognising the capability and capacity of many aged care providers to conduct safe and efficient vaccination programs.

Self-vaccination clinics also enable residential aged care providers to offer flexibility to residents and workers, without having to schedule clinics with an external vaccine provider.

Facility management can register now for a Commonwealth return booster clinic where at least 10 per cent of residents at the facility require a COVID-19 vaccine dose (first, second or third/booster) and that this equates to 10 or more residents.

Facilities which do not meet this threshold are encouraged to engage with primary care providers in the first instance to deliver required boosters. Where this is not possible, the Commonwealth will offer an in-reach booster clinic.

All returning clinics will offer booster doses to all eligible residents and workers.

Those facilities requiring a first, second, or third dose for people who are severely immunocompromised, can also receive these doses at the return booster clinics.

Dedicated worker vaccination hubs are also coming online, with those states and territories that have now mandated booster vaccinations for residential aged care being a priority.

Workers can also access a priority booster appointment through existing state and territory vaccination clinics, GPs and community pharmacists.

Aged Care Quality And Safety Commissioner Reappointed

February 2022
The Commissioner for Aged Care Quality and Safety, Ms Janet Anderson PSM, has been reappointed for a further three years.

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, said Ms Anderson had shown extraordinary leadership during a challenging time.

“I congratulate and thank Ms Anderson for her leadership of the Commission over a period of major change that included new quality standards, additional functions and powers, sustained public scrutiny from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, and a challenging operating environment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Minister Colbeck said.

“I look forward to her continued leadership of the Commission’s contribution to the Government’s landmark $17.7 billion aged care reform program now under way. Ms Anderson will play a critical role in this program.

“Her experience and understanding of the aged care sector will support the Government as it moves to strengthen the Commission’s role to protect and enhance the safety, health and wellbeing, and quality of life of Australians in aged care.”

Ms Anderson was the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission’s founding Commissioner – her reappointment provides a continuity of experience, knowledge and expertise for the Commission.

“This will be particularly important while the significant aged care reforms are being undertaken and the Commission adapts to those changes,” Minister Colbeck said. 

Ms Anderson has extensive management experience, particularly in the health sector, including leadership roles at state, territory and Commonwealth levels.

She was Deputy CEO in the Northern Territory Department of Health (2016‑2017), First Assistant Secretary of the Health Services division in the Commonwealth Department of Health (2012-2015), and Director of Inter-Government and Funding Strategies in the New South Wales Department of Health (2006-2011).

In 2009, she was awarded the Public Service Medal for outstanding work in health policy development and reform.

Meritorious Service Award – Peter Robson

February 9, 2022; by Manly Warringah Football Association
Manly Warringah Football Association would like to congratulate Peter Robson on receiving the MWFA’s Meritorious Service Award for his years of dedication, commitment, and passion he has given to our footballing community and our game.

On 19 July 2021, Peter reached the milestone age of 90 as well as 43 years as an active referee. At 90 years of age, Peter has been confirmed as the oldest active referee in NSW and may also be the oldest active referee in Australia.

Despite his age, Peter has continued to referee junior games on a regular basis throughout the 2021 season and even refereed a full 90-minute lower division Men’s AL match when the team referee did not show up.

In 2006, when Peter was 75 years of age, he was awarded Senior Referee of the Year. It is remarkable to consider that he has gone on to referee for another 15 years. Incredible!

In addition to his lengthy career as a referee, Peter has served on the Committee of Manly Warringah Football Referees Association (MWFRA).

His first position on the Committee was Secretary in 1990. He subsequently served as Treasurer from 1991-92, again as Secretary from 1993-97 and ultimately President from 1997-99. He also briefly served as Gear Steward in 2002.

It was during this period of service that Peter was awarded Life Membership of MWFRA (in 1995) to recognise his contribution to the Association.

Throughout his lengthy career, Peter has also been heavily involved in the development of referees.

As a course presenter/instructor, he was responsible for countless new referees completing the Level 4 Course. More recently, he has also assisted with the mentoring of junior referees.

Peter is incredibly proud to have been able to continue to referee for so long. Indeed, when he accepted his trophy for 40 years’ service as a referee, Peter said he would love to see people referee for as long as they can, as he has.

IOC Honours Tracey Holmes For Her Journalism And Leadership

The International Olympic Committee has awarded ABC sports journalist Tracey Holmes the 2021 Women and Sports Award for Oceania.

Holmes is the first journalist to win the prestigious award, which the IOC said recognises her contribution to reporting on women’s sport and mentorship for the next generation of women sports journalists.

“In 1989 I started a weekly segment on the ABC called ‘Women in Sport’, now the ABC has a 50:50 project for its coverage and the sports department is the standout performer,” Holmes said.

“This award is a tribute to all those women athletes and women sports administrators who persevered without money, coverage or recognition to create a world today where women in many countries can do and can be whatever they so choose.

“It is also a tribute to my mother and father, from whom I learned we are all equal, and it is a tribute to all those – many of them men – who freely offered their mentorship and guidance throughout my career.”

A trailblazer for 30 years, Holmes was the first woman to be appointed as a sports broadcast trainee at the ABC and went on to become the first female reporter in its national sports department and the first host, male or female, of a national sports program, ABC Grandstand. The Women in Sport program was influential in increasing coverage of women’s sport in Australia.

As well as her broadcast and digital reporting Holmes hosts award-winning weekly sports show and podcast The Ticket. She is currently in Beijing reporting for the ABC on the Winter Olympics.

Kevan Gosper, honorary IOC member from Australia, said Holmes’s commitment to gender equality and the promotion of women in sports administration was integral to her professional work.

“This is also an important acknowledgement by the IOC and the Women in Sport Commission recognising and rewarding the essential role the media play in how women in sport are portrayed and ensuring the equal coverage of women’s sport and sportswomen by the media,” he said.

NSW Spectacles Program

The NSW Spectacles Program provides glasses and visual aids to eligible recipients who might be at risk of a preventable decline in their eye health.

If you're eligible, you can receive free of charge in any 2-year period:
  • one pair of single vision glasses, or
  • one pair of bifocal glasses.
Contact lenses, tinted lenses or low vision aids may be provided in certain circumstances.

You are eligible if you:
  • receive a full Centrelink pension/benefit
  • have no other income other than the Centrelink payments
  • have financial assets less than $500 (if single) or $1000 (if married/partnered or parent/guardian)
  • are a low-wage earner who earns less than:
  • the JobSeeker Payment if you're under 65, or
  • the aged pension if you're over 65.
People living in regional/remote areas and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples may also qualify for the subsidy. At your appointment, your provider will use the program’s online portal to check your eligibility using the information you've supplied.

Visit Vision Australia for more details on the program, your eligibility and how to apply, at:

Pensioner Water Rebate

If you receive a pension, you may qualify for a rebate on your water bill. 

To be eligible, you’ll need a:
  • Pensioner Concession Card from Centrelink or Department of Veterans' Affairs, or
  • gold Health Card (also known as a gold card) that shows:
  • war widow
  • war widower
  • extreme disablement adjustment (EDA)
  • totally and temporarily incapacitated (TTI)
  • totally and permanently incapacitated (TPI).
You’ll also need to be the owner and occupier of one of the following:
  • single dwelling
  • dual occupancy
  • strata or company title unit
  • unit in a retirement village with a life term lease.
If you own the property with someone who isn't a pensioner, you may still get a rebate. This depends on your relationship with the other owner(s) and your eligibility.

Rebates are applied to each bill. 

You can claim your pensioner rebate by selecting your water supplier from the following list:

Concession Car Parking At NSW Health Public Hospitals

Patients and carers may be eligible for concession rates on parking at NSW Health public hospitals. 

To be eligible you need to be:
  • requiring treatment over an extended period
  • attending hospital more than twice a week (including carers of long term patients who visit frequently). 
  • ongoing cancer treatment
  • treatment more than twice weekly
  • daily dressing changes
  • cardiac rehabilitation or health promotion classes
Concessions are also available for holders of a: 
  • Transport for NSW Mobility Parking Scheme permit
  • Pensioner Concession Card
  • Department of Veterans' Affairs Gold Card
  • Health Care Card.
Hospitals provide communication to patients, carers and visitors about the availability of concessional car parking rates, this includes:
  • clearly displaying and publicising concessional rates
  • streamlining the concession application process with designated points of access
  • validating concessional parking for the duration of a course of treatment. 
For detailed information on eligibility and concession fees, visit NSW Health webpage:

The ABC’s budget hasn’t been restored – it’s still facing $1.2 billion in accumulated losses over a decade

Alexandra WakeRMIT University and Michael WardUniversity of Sydney

ABC Chair Ita Buttrose is “delighted” and Managing Director David Anderson says he now has “certainty” for planning. However, the Morrison government’s pre-election announcement it would restore the ABC’s budget to 2018 levels doesn’t come close to making up for what has been lost in cuts to funding and staff.

Seven weeks ahead of the budget, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has announced the ABC will receive $3.284 billion over three years from July 2022, while SBS will receive $953.7 million over the same period.

Significantly, the government says it is scrapping its controversial indexation freeze on the ABC’s budget. This was imposed by then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2018 and meant the broadcaster’s funding did not keep pace with inflation. It led to drastic cuts in programming and staffing in June 2020.

Fletcher also announced the ABC funding would include $45.8 million for another three years for the broadcaster’s “enhanced news gathering” program, which is earmarked for local public interest journalism in regional communities.

However, the funding comes with strings attached.

The Morrison government has published what it calls a statement of expectations, a requirement for the ABC and SBS to provide a report each year detailing staff numbers in regional and remote Australia, as well as hours of programming tailored to those audiences.

Fletcher also said the ABC and SBS weren’t currently required to report on the number of hours of Australian drama and documentaries they show each year. Although these hours are published in the ABC annual report, the government will now require the ABC and SBS to provide further reporting on this through a national framework.

Impressive Figures But It’s Doesn’t Undo The Damage

To those who haven’t been following the ABC’s funding situation closely, the announcement may seem like impressive numbers. Certainly, the government’s line is the ABC will be “boosted” by scrapping the indexation freeze.

However, the end of the index freeze and the retention of the news gathering program still do not make up for the massive cuts already inflicted on the ABC.

As we noted in our research in 2019 and 2020, a total of $783 million was removed from ABC funding between 2014 and 2022. As the table below shows, these accumulated funding losses include a series of budget announcements, cancelled funding contracts, reduced or ended specific programs and implemented major cuts.

In fact, taking into account the government’s latest announcement, we now calculate the ABC’s accumulated lost funding from fiscal years 2014-15 to 2024-25 will reach a staggering $1.201 billion.

Tallying the ABC’s accumulated losses over a decade

To get to this figure, we used our previous research as a baseline and factored in this week’s funding announcements. This takes account of no additional plans by the government to restore any of the earlier ABC funding cuts, and the ongoing impact of the three-year indexation pause.

While ending the freeze means future ABC funding will take some account of inflation, it does not address the impact of the freeze itself from 2019.

The ABC has said this is a problem. In answer to a Senate Estimates question in October 2021, the broadcaster said this would result in a funding shortfall of just over $40 million annually, which would continue to be felt in future years.

Our research also factors in the ABC’s loss of the ten-year Australia Network contract in 2014. This resulted in a reduction in funding of $186 million, which is represented across the balance of the contract term in the table above.

Certainly, the ABC does continue to do some international broadcasting, particularly in the Pacific, but it is no longer the dominant broadcaster in the region it once was. Restoring and even boosting the funding that was given to the Australia Network would go some way to improving Australia’s standing in the Indo-Pacific region.

We found the total lost funding continues to accumulate at well over $100 million annually through 2024-25. In other words, if the government truly wanted to restore the ABC’s funding, it would need to increase its budget by at least 10% annually.

It is difficult to be definite with the numbers because the triennial funding total announced by Fletcher lacks detail.

It is not clear, for instance, how much will be available for the broadcasters’ operations after funds are allocated for broadcast distribution and transmission contracts that go to third-party suppliers. In the ABC’s case, these contracts are worth almost $600 million over the next three-year budget cycle.

It must also be noted Fletcher rejects the assertion the ABC’s funding has been cut at all in the current three-year funding period from 2019–22.

In fairness to the minister, while the indexation freeze and other funding reductions continue to reduce the available funds to the ABC, they were not announced during the current three-year period.

The ABC Lacks Funds For Future-Proofing

This week’s announcement was warmly greeted as a significant change in the government’s position towards the public broadcasters. It is also certainly a positive response to the dire state of journalism in some areas, particularly in the suburbs and regional and remote communities, where the closure of commercial newsrooms has left many without a local journalist or any local news service.

But we’d argue more needs to be done. The ABC still gets only about half the per capita government funding other democratic countries provide to their national broadcasters.

This funding will also not future-proof the ABC or SBS with the extra resources needed to remain at the forefront of delivering digital content to Australians as they continue to change the way they access quality and trusted news and information.

The announcement may at least prevent the ABC from becoming an election issue.

The Friends of the ABC had been gearing up its campaigning across the nation, fundraising to target key marginal seats. And last week, the Guardian Australia reported the majority of Australians would support restoring funding to the ABC.

It remains to be seen if the announcement is sufficient to convince Australians who love and trust the national broadcasters that the Coalition has actually has done enough to support them.The Conversation

Alexandra Wake, Program Manager, Journalism, RMIT University and Michael Ward, PhD candidate, University of Sydney

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

From Jaws to Star Wars to Harry Potter: John Williams, 90 today, is our greatest living composer

Dan GoldingSwinburne University of Technology

John Williams, the man who changed the way we hear the movies, turns 90 today.

As the key Hollywood composer during the blockbuster era of the 1970s and 1980s, Williams had an astronomical career alongside the likes of filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.

With his music for their movies, Williams revived the romantic orchestral sound of Hollywood’s Golden Age – the sound pioneered by composers Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Max Steiner at the dawn of the talkies – and reinvented it for a new era.

“John Williams has been the single most significant contributor to my success as a filmmaker,” said Spielberg in 2012.

On the numbers alone, Williams has had a career like no other. If you were going to the movies between 1970 and 1990, every second year would have had a number one box office hit with music by Williams.

This prolific era saw Williams write music for JawsStar WarsIndiana JonesClose Encounters of the Third KindSuperman and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial – an abundant run by any standard.

Williams today holds 52 Academy Award nominations (and five wins), the most nominations of any living human and second in history only to Walt Disney. Williams can add to that 72 Grammy Award nominations (and 25 wins), 16 BAFTA nominations (seven wins) and six Emmy nominations (three wins).

He has written music for the Olympics (in 198419881996 and the 2002 Winter Olympics), for a Presidential inauguration (for Barack Obama in 2009) and for the nightly news (NBC – also used by Channel Seven in Australia).

When adjusted for inflation, one-fifth of the top 100 films at the North American box office have music by Williams.

The Sound Of The Silver Screen

By re-energising the sound of the Hollywood orchestra in the 1970s, Williams linked history with the present. The films he is most associated with from this era – things like Star Wars and Indiana Jones – are deliberate throwbacks to an older form of storytelling.

Outside the multiplex in the 1970s, the public worried about Watergate, Vietnam and the threat of Cold War nuclear war. Inside cinemas however, with the music of Williams, was a moment of escape and excitement.

Then there are those melodies. By now, reading this article, it’s likely you’ve already hummed some John Williams to yourself or are suffering an earworm. Between his major hits of the blockbuster era and his later work like the Home Alone and Harry Potter franchises, Williams has written some of the most widely-recognisable melodies on earth.

This is no coincidence: despite the orchestral complexity of his music, Williams admits he often spends the most time devising his melodies and perfecting them, lifting a note here, lowering another there.

For the five note alien “hello” in Close Encounters Williams formulated hundreds of variations before settling on the one heard in the final film.

For several of his themes – The Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back, or Superman’s theme, for example – it feels less like Williams composed them as he simply reached into our collective consciousness and redeployed what was already there.

The Art Of Homage

For much of the period of his success, Williams has been looked down upon by some in the classical establishment as writing simple popular ditties, or worse, as a rampant plagiarist of the classical canon.

It is no secret Williams’ music takes influence from the greats, like Stravinsky, Holst and Dvořák. Sometimes, the influence becomes direct allusion, as with Howard Hanson’s Romantic Symphony and the conclusion of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

But these “gotcha” comparisons are superficial, dull, and miss the point.

“Any fool can see that,” Brahms is meant to have said when asked about the similarities between his second symphony and Beethoven.

Williams was writing music for films that were also deliberate throwbacks. One might as well complain about how Star Wars borrows Flash Gordon’s opening crawl, or the plot of Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress or that scene from John Ford’s The Searchers with the burning homestead.

This is how the most popular culture of the 20th century gained its meaning: through evocation, reworking and memory.

In looking to the music of the past, Williams was not having a lend of us. He was asking us to think more deeply about what we were seeing and hearing.

The Celebrity Composer

Today, these complaints have little momentum. Go to any symphony orchestra and you will find at least a few players who picked up their instruments for the first time in order to puzzle out a tune from Star Wars or Indiana Jones.

When Williams made his conducting debut with the famed Vienna Philharmonic in 2019, the musicians asked him for autographs like a celebrity at a sports game.

The classical establishment can now count cellist Yo-Yo Ma, conductor Gustavo Dudamel and violinists Anne-Sophie Mutter and Itzhak Perlman as among the biggest of Williams’ admirers – a who’s who of the elite.

At 90, John Williams is not just one of our most acclaimed living composers. With the power of the movies, and their unparalleled reach, it’s likely Williams is also now one of the most-heard composers to have ever lived.The Conversation

Dan Golding, Associate professor, Swinburne University of Technology

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

Showcase Season Puts HSC Creativity In The Spotlight: ArtExpress 2022

February 8, 2022
Work by Angus Baldwin, Northern Beaches Secondary College, Freshwater Senior Campus, Emily McGhee, Northern Beaches Secondary College, Mackellar Girls Campus, are part of ARTEXPRESS 2022 at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Talented young creators and innovators from across the State will be celebrated in one of eight HSC Showcases launching today, starting with ARTEXPRESS at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Each year, the HSC Showcases display a selection of top major works from students across visual arts, performing arts and technologies.

Minister for Education and Early Learning Sarah Mitchell said showcases offered a unique opportunity for members of the public to enjoy the works of recent HSC graduates and provided a platform for young people to launch future careers in the field.

“Every year I look forward to these showcases. They are highly anticipated events that consistently celebrate the calibre of work, year after year. Seeing what students have produced in a challenging year really shows me that the future is bright for these young people, and our workforce and communities will be better for them,” Ms Mitchell said.

“I am always immensely proud of our Showcase candidates, but to see the interesting, innovative, and thought-provoking works they have created in the midst of a global pandemic and under strange and difficult circumstances is truly inspiring.”

This year's exhibitions reflect on what is important to young people as members of their community and personally, including the impacts of COVID, their strength and vulnerability, their heritage and the environment around them.

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the Arts and Regional Youth, Ben Franklin encouraged schools, teachers and members of the community to get along and take a look at this year’s showcases and to celebrate these incredible students.

“I know for many students, particularly those producing major works across the Creative Arts and Technologies, COVID meant there were some changes to their preparations and assessment,” Mr Franklin said.

“I am delighted to see that despite these challenges, our resilient students could still show us what they could do – and be celebrated now in one of the HSC Showcases in Sydney and regional NSW.”

This year CALLBACK, ENCORE, OnSTAGE and SHAPE 2021 Seminars will be available for schools to watch online, from wherever they are in NSW.

ARTEXPRESS is now on at the Art Gallery of NSW, and at limited venues across the state throughout the year.

Dates for InTech, Texstyle and Young Writers Showcase will be released on the NESA website later in the year.

Work of art: Emergence by Annabella Luu, from Sefton High School, is now hanging at the NSW Art Gallery. as part of ARTEXPRESS 2022.

Express Yourself 2022
Friday, 25 March 2022 - 10:00am To Sunday, 1 May 2022 - 5:00pm

A significant annual curated exhibition of artworks by HSC Visual Arts students from the 20 high schools across our area. Represented will be diverse bodies of work including multi-media, digital, sculpture and drawing.

In conjunction with Express Yourself, three awards are granted to students featured in the exhibition: Manly Art Gallery & Museum Society Youth Art Award and the Theo Batten Bequest Youth Art Award, awarded to a student continuing tertiary study in the arts, and KALOF People’s Choice Award. Presented in partnership with Northern Beaches high schools and Northern Beaches Council Youth Services.

Participating schools:
  • Barrenjoey High School
  • Covenant Christian School
  • Davidson High School
  • Forest High School
  • Killarney Heights High School
  • Mater Maria College
  • Narrabeen Sports High School
  • NBSC - Balgowlah Boys Campus
  • NBSC - Cromer Campus
  • NBSC - Freshwater Senior Campus
  • NBSC - Mackellar Girls Campus
  • NBSC - Manly Selective Campus
  • Northern Beaches Christian School
  • Oxford Falls Grammar School
  • Pittwater High School
  • St Augustine's College
  • St Luke's Grammar School
  • St Paul's Catholic College
  • Stella Maris Catholic College
  • The Pittwater House Schools

Lifeline’s Crisis Text Service Goes 24/7

February 7, 2022
Lifeline has today launched a 24/7 crisis text service to expand its support for Australians struggling with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The expanded service is due to a $1.5 million grant from the Federal Government.

Australians are reaching out to Lifeline’s crisis support and suicide prevention services in record numbers, hitting more than 3700 calls in one day last month.

The Lifeline Crisis Support Text Service is now available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via confidential text message to 0477 13 11 14. Following a few questions via text, Australians are connected to a trained Lifeline crisis supporter.

Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, said Lifeline’s 24/7 text service is an important expansion of the vital service the charity provides in crisis support.

“The significant surge in demand for Lifeline’s services during COVID means more people are reaching out for help, and services like Lifeline are there to help,” Minister Hunt said.

“The expansion of the text service is backed by data showing that it is the preferred channel for high risk members of the community including young people, those experiencing family and domestic violence, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.” 

“The introduction of the 24/7 service follows a successful 2-year pilot of a limited text service, made possible with $2.5 million from the Government.”

Lifeline received a record 1,070,860 calls from Australians in crisis in 2021, but managed to increase its average call answer rate to 90.4%.  In the same time period, the service also responded to 51,265 text conversations.

The Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, David Coleman, said the Government’s long partnership with Lifeline was part of its resolute commitment.

“Lifeline’s crisis service and the passion of its volunteers mean that no Australian has to experience their darkest moment alone – they literally save lives,” Mr Coleman said.

“The 24/7 lifeline crisis support text service makes Lifeline’s support available to groups who might otherwise not reach out for help, particularly young people who are often more comfortable using text services.

Lifeline's 13 11 14 crisis support service is available 24/7. Australians can speak to a trained crisis supporter any time of the day or night.

Word Of The Week: Vociferous

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


vociferously -  adverb
vociferousness - noun
implies a vehement shouting or calling out, vehement opinions.  vociferous cries of protest and outrage

Vociferous, deriving from a combination of the Latin vox ("voice") with ferre ("to carry"), is one of a number of English words that describe those who compel attention by being loud and insistent. Vociferous implies a vehement shouting or calling out, but to convey the insistency of a demand or protest, clamorous might be a better choice. You could use strident to suggest harsh and discordant noise in a protest, or obstreperous to imply loud, unruly and aggressive resistance to restraint. But someone who is noisy and turbulent due to high spirits rather than dissatisfaction might more aptly be called boisterous.

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:

The Living Years - Mike + The Mechanics

"The Living Years" is a rock ballad written by B. A. Robertson and Mike Rutherford, and recorded by Rutherford's British rock band Mike + The Mechanics. It was released in December 1988 in the United Kingdom and in the United States as the second single from their album Living Years. The song was a chart hit around the world, topping the US Billboard Hot 100 on 25 March 1989, the band's only number-one on that chart, and reaching number one in Australia, Canada and Ireland and number 2 in the UK. It spent four weeks at number-one on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. Paul Carrack sings lead vocals on the track.

The song addresses a son's regret over unresolved conflict with his now-deceased father. It won the Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically in 1989, and was nominated for four Grammy awards in 1990, including Record and Song of the Year, as well as Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and Best Video. In 1996, famed composer Burt Bacharach opined that the song was one of the finest lyrics of the last ten years. In 2004, "The Living Years" was awarded a 4-Million-Air citation by BMI. 

The music video was directed by Tim Broad and premiered in January 1989. It was filmed in October 1988 in West Somerset, England, near Porlock Weir and the hamlet of Culbone. The video features Mike Rutherford with his then-eight-year-old son, Tom. It also includes an appearance by actress Maggie Jones, best known for playing Blanche Hunt in the soap opera Coronation StreetThe video also shows the group playing the song, with two sets of choirs singing the chorus with them, an all-boys church choir and an adult choir.

Don’t drink milk? Here’s how to get enough calcium and other nutrients

Clare CollinsUniversity of Newcastle

Cow’s milk is an excellent source of calcium which, along with vitamin D, is needed to build strong, dense bones.

Milk also contains protein, the minerals phosphorus, potassium, zinc and iodine, and vitamins A, B2 (riboflavin) and B12 (cobalamin).

As a child I drank a lot of milk. It was delivered in pint bottles to our front steps each morning. I also drank a third of a pint before marching into class as part of the free school milk program. I still love milk, which makes getting enough calcium easy.

Of course, many people don’t drink milk for a number of reasons. The good news is you can get all the calcium and other nutrients you need from other foods.

What Foods Contain Calcium?

Dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt are rich in calcium, while non-dairy foods including tofu, canned fish with bones, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds contain varying amounts.

Some foods are fortified with added calcium, including some breakfast cereals and soy, rice, oat and nut “milks”. Check their food label nutrition information panels to see how much calcium they contain.

However, it’s harder for your body to absorb calcium from non-dairy foods. Although your body does get better at absorbing calcium from plant foods, and also when your total calcium intake is low, the overall effect means if you don’t have dairy foods, you may need to eat more foods that contain calcium to maximise your bone health.

Healthy tofu stirfry with leafy greens.
Tofu is just one source of calcium. Shutterstock

How Much Calcium Do You Need?

Depending on your age and sex, the daily calcium requirements vary from 360 milligrams per day to more than 1,000 mg for teens and older women.

One 250ml cup of cow’s milk contains about 300mg of calcium, which is equivalent to one standard serve. This same amount is found in:

  • 200 grams of yoghurt
  • 250 ml of calcium-fortified plant milks
  • 100 grams of canned pink salmon with bones
  • 100 grams of firm tofu
  • 115 grams of almonds.

The recommended number of daily serves of dairy and non-dairy alternatives varies:

  • children should have between 1 and 3.5 serves a day, depending on their age and sex

  • women aged 19 to 50 should have 2.5 serves a day, then 4 serves when aged over 50

  • men aged 19 to 70 should have 2.5 serves a day, then 3.5 serves when aged over 70.

However, the average Australian intake is just 1.5 serves per day, with only one in ten achieving the recommendations.

What Other Nutrients Do You Need?

If you don’t drink milk, the challenge is getting enough nutrients to have a balanced diet. Here’s what you need and why.


Food sources: meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, dried beans and tofu.

Needed for growth and repair of cells and to make antibodies, enzymes and make specific transport proteins that carry chemical massages throughout the body.


Food sources: meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, dried beans and lentils.

Builds bone and teeth, supports growth and repair of cells, and is needed for energy production.

Whole grain loaf of bread.
Whole grains are a source of phosphorus, zinc and vitamin B12. Shutterstock


Food sources: leafy green vegetables (spinach, silverbeet, kale), carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, beans and peas, avocados, apples, oranges and bananas.

Needed to activate cells and nerves. Maintains fluid balance and helps with muscle contraction and regulation of blood pressure.


Food sources: lean meat, chicken, fish, oysters, legumes, nuts, wholemeal and wholegrain products.

Helps with wound healing and the development of the immune system and other essential functions in the body, including taste and smell.

Chick pea curry with brown rice.
Legumes such as chick peas contain protein and zinc. Shutterstock


Food sources: fish, prawns, other seafood, iodised salt and commercial breads.

Needed for normal growth, brain development and used by the thyroid gland to make the hormone thyroxine, which is needed for growth and metabolism.

Vitamin A

Food sources: eggs, oily fish, nuts, seeds. (The body can also make vitamin A from beta-carotene in orange and yellow vegetables and green leafy vegetables.)

Needed for antibody production, maintenance of healthy lungs and gut, and for good vision.

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)

Food sources: wholegrain breads and cereals, egg white, leafy green vegetables, mushrooms, yeast spreads, meat.

Needed to release energy from food. Also supports healthy eyesight and skin.

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)

Food sources: meat, eggs and most foods of animal origin, some fortified plant milks and fortified yeast spreads (check the label).

Needed to make red blood cells, DNA (your genetic code), myelin (which insulate nerves) and some neurotransmitters needed for brain function.

When Might You Need To Avoid Milk?

Reasons why people don’t drink milk range from taste, personal preferences, animal welfare or environmental concerns. Or it could be due to health conditions or concerns about intolerance, allergy and acne.

Lactose intolerance

Lactose is the main carbohydrate in milk. It’s broken down in the simple sugars by an enzyme in the small intestine called lactase.

Some people are born without the lactase enzyme or their lactase levels decrease as they age. For these people, consuming foods containing a lot of lactose means it passes undigested along the gut and can trigger symptoms such as bloating, pain and diarrhoea.

Man holds his stomach after drinking a milky coffee.
Lactose intolerance can cause bloating and pain. Shutterstock

Research shows smalls amounts of lactose – up to 15 grams daily – can be tolerated without symptoms, especially if spread out over the day. A cup of cows milk contains about 16 grams of lactose, while a 200g tub of yoghurt contains 10g, and 40g cheddar cheese contains less than 1g.

Cow’s milk allergy

Cow’s milk allergy occurs in about 0.5-3% of one year olds. By age five, about half are reported to have grown out of it, and 75% by adolescence. However, one survey found 9% of pre-school children had severe allergy with anaphylaxis.

Symptoms of cow’s milk allergy include hives, rash, cough, wheeze, vomiting, diarrhoea or swelling of the face.

Symptom severity varies, and can happen immediately or take a few days to develop. If a reaction is severe, call 000, as it can be a medical emergency.


The whey protein in cow’s milk products, aside from cheese, triggers an increase in insulin, a hormone that transports blood sugar, which is released into the blood stream.

Meanwhile, milk’s casein protein triggers an increase in another hormone, called insulin-like growth factor (IGF), which influences growth.

These two reactions promote the production of hormones called androgens, which can lead to a worsening of acne.

If this happens to you, then avoid milk, but keep eating hard cheese, and eat other foods rich in calcium regularly instead.

While milk can be problematic for some people, for most of us, drinking milk in moderation in line with recommendation is the way to go.The Conversation

Clare Collins, Laureate Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle

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

Why do we love the great outdoors? New research shows part of the answer is in our genes

Richard FullerThe University of QueenslandBrenda LinCSIROChia-chen ChangUniversity of California, DavisDanielle ShanahanTe Herenga Waka — Victoria University of WellingtonKevin J. GastonUniversity of ExeterL. Roman CarrascoNational University of Singapore, and Rachel OhThe University of Queensland

Do you love spending time in nature? Or are you a city slicker, happier in the concrete jungle than the great outdoors? Back in 1986, the US biologist EO Wilson proposed that humans have an innate connection with the natural world, an idea known as biophilia.

Almost every aspect of our lives depends on nature, from food and shelter to fuel and clothing. Yet some of us are much more “into” spending time in nature than others.

To try to understand why, we studied more than 1,100 pairs of twins to find out how much of our connection to nature might depend on our DNA. We found almost half the variation in people’s connection to nature can be put down to genetics.

Nature Is Good For You

There is strong evidence even a wander in the local park can be beneficial for our mental and physical health. Yet with work and family responsibilities and packed social schedules, most of us do not regularly spend time in nature.

We wondered why some people spend more time in nature than others, and what underpins the fact some of us feel more strongly connected to nature.

Perhaps our affinity for nature is inherited. Or perhaps we get it from environmental factors – such as beautiful forests – in the places we live. Or again it might come from our cultural milieu such as the books we read or the TV programs we watch.

Finding answers to these questions might help us work out how to get some nature back into people’s lives.

Studying Twins

We studied more than 1,100 pairs of twins to understand the origin of affinity for nature, and report the results in a study published today in PLoS Biology. It turns out identical twins are much more similar to each other in the strength of their connection to nature than non-identical twins.

Statistical analysis of the results showed 46% of the variation in connection to nature, as measured on a psychological scale, can be explained by genetic factors. Even the amount of time we spend in our own backyards and visiting local parks seems to have a strong genetic basis.

Studies of twins show 46% of the variation in connection to nature as measured on a psychological scale can be explained by genetic factors. Shutterstock

Why the strong genetic influence on our love for nature? Well, one can imagine a strong affinity with nature conferring a significant survival advantage for early humans. This might have led to the formation of complex networks of genes that govern how we relate to nature, and how we behave in it.

Despite the clear role of genetics, our results show other factors actually shape most of our affinity to nature. These might include childhood holiday destinations, the examples set by our parents, friends and other family members, educational experiences, and whether we live in a biodiverse area.

This is good news, because many of these things are under our own control.

Nature And Health

Nature–based health interventions such as green gyms or environmental volunteering can improve physical, mental and social health and well-being. Nature-play initiatives such as the Green Passport for Queensland kids can give children powerful experiences of nature that could benefit their health over the long term.

A deeper question, and one we don’t yet have a clear answer to, is whether spending time in nature fosters our sense of environmental concern, and in turn, support for nature conservation.

The US ecologist James Miller has argued interactions with nature are crucial in sparking support for protecting nature. Yet an Australian study led by environmentalist Jessica Pinder showed conservation concern among Australian undergraduates was more strongly associated with social and cultural experiences in childhood than with the amount of time a person spends in nature. Clearly, there is much more to learn in this area.

Ultimately, we now know despite a genetic basis for our affinity to nature, much of it also depends on other factors that are decidedly under our own control. So make a resolution today to rekindle your connection to the great outdoors!The Conversation

Richard Fuller, Professor in Biodiversity and Conservation, The University of QueenslandBrenda Lin, Principal research scientist, CSIROChia-chen Chang, Research fellow, University of California, DavisDanielle Shanahan, Chief Executive, Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne, and Adjunct Professor, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of WellingtonKevin J. Gaston, Professor, University of ExeterL. Roman Carrasco, Associate professor, National University of Singapore, and Rachel Oh, PhD Student, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, The University of Queensland

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

We’ve decoded the numbat genome – and it could bring the thylacine’s resurrection a step closer

Parwinder KaurThe University of Western Australia

It used to be the stuff of science fiction: bringing a long-dead species back from extinction by painstakingly piecing together its full DNA sequence, or genome.

It’s not quite as straightforward as Jurassic Park would have us believe, but in the age of DNA editing, the idea of cloning an extinct species is no longer purely the realm of fantasy.

Today, our team at the DNA Zoo has hopefully taken a step towards creating a blueprint to clone one of Australia’s most loved, and most missed, extinct species: the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger.

We’ve done it not by studying the thylacine itself, but by completing a chromosome-length 3D genome map of one of its closest living relative: the numbat.

The striped, termite-eating numbat is Western Australia’s faunal emblem, and now lives only in small pockets of that state, although it once roamed throughout southern Australia. Crucially, numbats and thylacines shared a common ancestor that lived some time between 35 million and 41 million years ago – relatively recent in evolutionary terms.

Evolutionary relationship between numbats and thylacines
Evolutionary tree showing the kinship between numbats and thylacines. DNA Zoo/UWAAuthor provided

Both these enigmatic creatures have stripes, but that’s not where the similarity ends – as much as 95% of their DNA may be identical.

Decoding the full numbat genome therefore raises the tantalising prospect of being able to piece together the thylacine’s genetic sequence, which in turn would offer the tantalising prospect of reintroducing one of Australia’s most iconic lost species.

No doubt this will be more challenging than the famous bid to resurrect the woolly mammoth using DNA from the Asian elephant. But the release of the numbat genome makes the thylacine’s resurrection a more realistic prospect than ever before.

The numbat is the latest marsupial genome sequence from this family compiled by our team at the DNA Zoo, following on from the Tasmanian devilquoll and dunnart. We acquired samples of more than 500 mammals from around the world, and aim to make all their genomes available for conservation and open-access research.

We are also working on a detailed genomic analysis of most Australian carnivorous marsupials, and will ultimately produce a full peer-reviewed publication in a journal. But today, by sharing the sequence publicly at this stage of our research, we can offer a valuable resource to other scientists and conservationists studying numbats and other marsupials. Given the conservation threats they face, time is ticking fast.

Genes From Thylacines

The first draft of the Tasmanian tiger genome was pieced together in 2018, using the century-old museum samples. But this version is very fragmentary – several key gaps still need to be filled to piece this puzzle together into a comprehensive genome sequence. Unfortunately, the old museum samples didn’t provide enough high-quality DNA to resolve these issues.

So how do you reconstruct something without some seemingly essential ingredients? This is where the genome of the thylacine’s closest living cousin – the numbat – can help. Our new high-resolution numbat genome map can help us fill in the missing bits of the thylacine genome.

There will still be significant hurdles between having a complete thylacine genome and cloning a thylacine for real. But what takes this scenario from science fiction to potential reality is CRISPR gene-editing technology – a set of enzymes that allow scientists to target very particular snippets of DNA.

CRISPR has been referred to as a kind of “molecular scissors” that allow the precise selection and insertion of DNA from specimens, making “de-extincting” the thylacine or other species a realistic prospect by allowing geneticists to selectively “repair” the missing bits of its genome.

How CRISPR gene editing works.

With the help of this and other “synthetic biology” tools, geneticists could conceivably piece together a set of chromosomes that could then be inserted into an egg cell with its existing nucleus removed, allowing the new DNA to act as the egg’s genetic blueprint. This is the technique being pursued by a US research group aiming to clone the mammoth by using the DNA of its closest living relative, the Asian elephant, to fill in the missing bits of mammoth DNA.

Science Fiction Or Science Future?

Around the world, rapid advancements in embryology and genetics are opening up the possibility of resurrecting extinct species — or at least creating something that’s close enough to the original that it will develop and grow properly.

In 1996, British scientists successfully cloned a sheep, called Dolly. Then, in 2017, Chinese researchers used the same technique to create two genetically identical long-tailed macaques.

Through the growing field of synthetic biology and precise genome-editing technologies such as CRISPR, Harvard geneticist George Church has launched Colossal, a biotech company that has initially set on creating an elephant-mammoth hybrid, with the first calves expected in six years.

Helping Numbats First

Of course, the numbat is one of Australia’s most loved native marsupials in its own right.

Like the Tasmanian Tiger, it too was on the verge of extinction during the late 20th century, but extensive conservation efforts as well as government and community intervention are helping its numbers gradually bounce back.

Still, with fewer than 1,000 numbats left in the wild and the species still officially listed as endangered, our genetic blueprint hopefully paves the way for better numbat conservation information for our scientists on the front line. Many of these scientists are fighting the very genetic diseases threatening to exterminate numbats.

There is a still a long road ahead before the thylacine could be cloned. But if it works, the end goal of any de-extinction effort surely is to reintroduce animals to the wild.

If that were to happen, the thylacine already has one advantage over many de-extinction candidates: appropriate habitat. With reserves covering about half of Tasmania today, there would be ample places for thylacines to live, still teaming with the prey animals they used to eat.

There is no question it could be put back into the Tasmanian bush. There is also good reason to do so: the thylacine was Tasmania’s key carnivore. Putting it back atop the food chain could help restabilise ecosystems that are under threat.

If and when that dream becomes reality, thylacines would owe a debt of gratitude to their little cousin, the humble numbat.The Conversation

Parwinder Kaur, Associate Professor | Director, DNA Zoo Australia, The University of Western Australia

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

Placenta with an egg capsule: the strange mechanics of pregnancy in one Australian shark

Alice L BuddleUniversity of SydneyCamilla WhittingtonUniversity of Sydney, and Colin SimpfendorferJames Cook University

People tend to think of sharks as large, frightening predators with sharp teeth, so it might come as a surprise to learn that some shark babies grow in the same way as humans – attached to the mother by an umbilical cord and placenta.

Our recent research published in the Journal of Comparative Physiology B sheds light on the placenta of the pint-sized Australian sharpnose shark – wherein a thin layer of egg capsule separates the mother’s and baby’s tissues.

Shark Pregnancy

There are more than 500 different species of shark, some as small as your hand (like the dwarf lantern shark) and others as big as a bus (such as whale sharks).

The dwarf lantern shark fits in a human hand. Chip Clark/Smithsonian Institution

Reproduction in sharks is equally varied: some lay eggs, but most give birth to live young. Sharks typically give birth after 11–12 months of pregnancy, but some, such as the frilled shark, are pregnant for more than three years.

In some sharks, a placenta develops during pregnancy. The placenta helps the baby shark breathe, eat and expel waste as it develops inside the mother. Other species of shark don’t have a placenta, and instead their babies feed on egg yolk, secretions, unfertilised eggs or even their own siblings.

Biologists have long been fascinated by reproductive diversity in sharks, but haven’t yet figured out why some sharks have placentas and others don’t.

Baby smooth dogfish (Mustelus canis) attached to its umbilical cord and placenta. Joshua K. Moyer/ @ElasmobranchJKM (Twitter)

The Australian Model For Shark Pregnancy

In Australia, we have a unique model to understand shark pregnancy: the Australian sharpnose shark (Rhizoprionodon taylori). This small shark is just 70 centimetres long, and lives off the coast of northern Australia.

An adult Australian sharpnose shark is just 70cm long. CSIRO National Fish Collection

The females get pregnant every summer with five to ten babies (called pups). Shortly after falling pregnant, embryonic development is paused for seven months. During this time (called diapause), the embryos are still just a bundle of cells.

Diapause ensures the babies are born in summer, almost a year later. This is when they stand the best chance of surviving, as water temperature is at its highest and food is abundant.

Diapause ends when signals, such as hormones trigger the embryos to resume development. They feed on egg yolk at first, and the placenta takes over about a month later. Placentas connect to the babies by umbilical cords, and transport enough nutrients to allow them to grow 300 times larger over just 4.5 months of development.

When the babies are born, their umbilical cords drop off, leaving them with belly buttons. They can almost immediately hunt and fend for themselves, which is astonishing considering humans are born helpless after nine months of pregnancy.

The diapause period in the Australian sharpnose shark lasts about seven months. Author provided

Our recent studies looked at how the placenta supports sharpnose babies so effectively during pregnancy.

The Unique Features Of Shark Placentas

Under the microscope, we discovered the sharpnose placenta is made up of thin layers of cells from the mother and the baby, separated by an extremely thin egg capsule (0.00005 centimetres). Structurally, this is very similar to the placentas of most other sharks.

In Rhizoprionodon taylori mothers, the placenta has a thin egg capsule separating the mother’s and baby’s tissues. Author provided

The egg capsule in the sharpnose placenta has no pores. But we showed it can still allow small molecules to pass from the mother to her babies, such as oxygen and small nutrients including sugars, amino acids, fatty acids and water. This explains how sharpnose babies can grow so quickly inside the mother’s uterus.

However, the size of the molecule matters – and larger proteins can’t get through the egg capsule. We think the capsule may act as a physical barrier that protects the babies from bacteria in the uterus during pregnancy.

Physically separating the mother’s and baby’s genetically different tissues could also help stop the mother’s immune system from attacking the baby.

Human placentas look completely different to shark placentas – there is no egg capsule and the baby’s tissues are directly bathed in their mother’s nutrient-rich blood.

Yet both function to nourish babies during pregnancy. This similar function is an amazing example of convergent evolution, given humans and sharks are separated by 450 million years of evolution.

Further research into this little Australian shark will help us understand how placentas that evolved independently in different species can perform the same functions during pregnancy. The Conversation

Alice L Buddle, Research assistant, University of SydneyCamilla Whittington, Senior lecturer, University of Sydney, and Colin Simpfendorfer, Adjunct professor, James Cook University

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

4 reasons why you should never say ‘do your research’ to win the argument

Luke ZaphirThe University of Queensland

It’s fairly common to see many claims or arguments end with a curt “do your research”. In some ways, it’s a bold call to action.

“Come on people! Wake up! You’ll see the truth of the matter if only you see it with your own eyes!”

This type of statement is highly evocative and persuasive – in an emotionally manipulative way. Here are four reasons why we should avoid telling others to do research when discussing a topic.

1. Burden Of Proof

There’s a general rule in argumentation: “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” What this means is that if we make a claim about the world, we bear the burden of proving that our claim is true. Carl Sagan famously argued this as “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

This is an essential part of public discourse – if we want the public to agree with us, we must accept the burden of proof for demonstrating our ideas.

Say we want to make a claim like:

“The COVID-19 vaccine is poison.”

This is an extraordinary claim. We have a well-established track record of safe vaccines. To begin to take the “poison” claim seriously, we’ll need some serious facts to back it up.

Perhaps there are studies that demonstrate that a vaccine is poisonous or causes significant adverse reactions. But it’s still our job to provide that evidence – no one is required to take us seriously until we do.

Once that evidence is provided, we can evaluate whether that evidence is reliable and whether it relates to the main claim.

2. Confirmation Bias

Our minds don’t always work by being slow, reasonable and deliberate – that would be exhausting. Instead we use what’s called heuristics (mental shortcuts) to enable us to act and behave quickly.

We use heuristics to make choices while driving in traffic, or deciding which way to dodge in a football game, or when to turn down the heat when cooking. There are simply too many tiny decisions to make every day to not have these shortcuts.

A cognitive bias is similar to a heuristic but with an important distinction – it comes with an error embedded in the decision.

A specific type of cognitive bias is a confirmation bias: the tendency to interpret facts and information in a way that supports what we already believe. For example, if we’re distrustful of government, we’re more likely to believe news stories about corruption and fraud on the part of our elected officials.

The problem with confirmation bias is that it leads us to irrationally privilege certain types of information over others. It’s much harder to change our minds when they’re already primed to believe certain things – about vaccines, for example. In our search for information, we’ll look to sources that support claims we already agree with or deny claims we don’t like. If we are already suspicious or fearful of a vaccine and someone says “do your research on the harms of the vaccine”, we’re more likely to cherry-pick individual cases of adverse vaccine effects.

3. Poor Intellectual Virtue

Someone who tells others to do the research is looking for others to come to the same conclusions they’ve already drawn. That’s not discussion or debate. It’s seeking uncritical agreement and social acceptance.

We all seek validation of our perspectives and beliefs, but we need to do more than this. We should welcome sincere engagement and criticism.

Effective democracies require that we engage with each other using intellectual virtues like honesty, open-mindedness and rigorousness. We should aim to be truth-seekers, looking to evaluate evidence and determine credibility in all things.

4. Unreasonable Expectations

We can’t expect that everyone has the time to thoroughly examine every publication on a given topic. Even if it took only ten minutes to read a scientific article on vaccination safety (which is a huge underestimation for a paper that is thousands of words long), effective research would have us reading at least half a dozen of them to see what experts in the field are saying.

And that’s just reading. It isn’t counting the time to learn various terms and vocabulary in that field, to learn about the disagreements and schools of thought, or to form our own opinion on the quality of that research.

At a minimum, we’d be looking at hours of investigation for someone else’s argument. If the arguer puts forward their evidence, we’d still need to do our research on whether that evidence was accurate – but at least now we’re talking about minutes, not hours.

Pencil placed on scientific journal paper with highlighted sections
Proper research would require that a person has the time and expertise to read and assess lengthy articles by genuine experts. Shutterstock

Becoming Better At Arguing

One of the most fundamental virtues in listening to each other and improving the quality of our discourse is curiosity. One of the real dangers for our lives is becoming uninterested in other perspectives – or, worse still, becoming uninterested in the truth itself.

We’ll never have a full picture of complex social and scientific problems. Our lives are busy and complex themselves and we simply don’t have the time to properly investigate every topic put before us. If someone wants to be taken seriously, the least they can do is present their argument in full.

We can still meaningfully engage with each other, but we have to be honest about our information and where we got it from.

It’s no good telling others to do our homework for us.The Conversation

Luke Zaphir, Researcher, UQ Critical Thinking Project, The University of Queensland

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

The seductive glamour and decadent hedonism of Hollywood influences on Australian architecture

State Library NSW
Davina JacksonUniversity of Kent

Between the first and second world wars, Australia’s high-end architecture was strongly influenced by exotic scenery from Hollywood’s rapidly accelerating movie industry.

Southern California’s style of seductive glamour and decadent hedonism – recalling the sun-blessed heydays of Roman emperors and Mughal sultans – especially inspired developers and designers of lavish cinemas, mansions, blocks of flats and leisure gardens with swimming pools.

The Best Of Hollywood

Sydney’s Potts Point peninsula was a crucible of this trend, especially after music publishing mogul Frank Albert hired English architect Neville Hampson to create his splendid residence Boomerang, facing Elizabeth Bay.

In 1924, Hampson and Albert visited Los Angeles to find ideas from “the best of Hollywood”. The pinnacle then was La Cuesta Encantada, a vast hilltop estate that media magnate William Randolph Hearst was developing, in Spanish, Italian and French neo-classical styles, with architect-engineer Julia Morgan.

Their own version of Hearst’s castle included the Baroque cathedral-inspired Casa Grande, three large guest houses and “the most sumptuous swimming pool on Earth”.

Boomerang, Elizabeth Bay, by architect Neville Hampson. Harold Cazneaux/NLA

Hampson and Albert probably also visited Russian actress Alla Nazimova’s Garden of Alla estate in West Hollywood, which was notorious for risqué parties around her swimming pool and lush garden. Her terracotta-roofed mansion exemplified the Spanish-Italian vineyard-villa style that was also being promoted in Australia by architects William Hardy Wilson, Robin Dods, Walter Bagot, Harold Desbrowe-Annear, and Australia’s first dean of architecture, Professor Leslie Wilkinson.

When Wilkinson founded the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Architecture in 1919-20, he strongly criticised the ornamental features and complex roofs typical of the waning Arts and Crafts movement. Instead, he promoted a Mediterranean mode of relaxed, sun-responsive elegance; based on “the work of Spain, of southern Italy, of Provence, with, perhaps, a little of the Orientalism of Northern Africa.”

He also praised Los Angeles updates of west coast Spanish missions, with their adobe walls, arched arcades, timber beam ceilings and rounded terracotta roof tiles, as “a delightful and appropriate style of building”.

This aligned his 1920s Australian clique to the medley of Spanish-Mediterranean styles that were embraced by Hollywood property developers, architects and newly rich stars from the silent films industry.

The Bondi Pavilion by Robertson and Marks. Royal Australian Historical Society

The Interwar Decades

During the interwar decades, many mansions, villas, bungalows and blocks of flats were built in Spanish-Italian renaissance styles, often combined with flat roofs, low proportions and curved corners from the then-new Streamline Moderne movement. Typical features were centre-opening French doors, curved Juliet balconies and columned porticos, colonial-style (multi-pane) windows, loggias and arcades, piazza-inspired courtyards and ceremonial staircases rising around entry foyers.

Outstanding Sydney, examples included Wilkinson’s own villa, Greenway, in Vaucluse; Burnham Thorpe and many other palatial North Shore residences by Frederic Glynn Gilling (with Howard Joseland), and Craigend in Darling Point by Frank Ironstein l’Anson Bloomfield (with Roy Stuart McCulloch).

Two other Hollywood-Mediterranean standouts were The Lodge in Canberra, by Melbourne architects Percy Oakley and Stanley Parkes, and Pine Hill (Bruce Manor) at Frankston, Victoria, by Sydney architects Prevost, Synnot & Rewald (with Robert Bell Hamilton). Both of these cream-painted, terracotta-roofed mansions shared the same first occupants: Prime Minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce and his family.

The Lodge by Melbourne architects Oakley and Parkes. National Library of Australia

As well as residences, Spanish-Mediterranean styles were adopted for various new types of buildings; especially blocks of flats, petrol stations, car showrooms, hotels and shopping centres, and beach pavilions for new surf lifesaving clubs; notably the Bondi Pavilion by Robertson & Marks.

Spanish aesthetics also suited Catholic schools and churches, such as St Columba’s in South Perth, and crematoria for modern funerals. Two superb cremation complexes were designed by Frank Bloomfield at Sydney’s Rookwood and Northern Suburbs Memorial Gardens.

Cinemas, Theatres And Opera Houses

Australia’s most spectacular interpretations of Mediterranean architecture were the “atmospheric” cinemas designed by Henry Eli White and other antipodean acolytes of John Eberson, America’s leading interwar architect of theatres and opera houses.

Atmospheric interiors tended to feature extravagant ornamentation, scenic trompe l’oeil paintwork and dramatic lighting effects that lent audiences the fantasy of spending a starry night watching performances in the courtyard of Granada’s Alhambra Palace. His over-the-top décor influenced Hollywood scenery styles that seemed sophisticated and exotic in the mid-20th century, but today are often described as “camp” and “kitsch”.

White, a New Zealander, set up his practice in Sydney in 1913 and expanded his career on both sides of the Tasman during the 1920s. Historian Ross Thorne revealed that White worked with Eberson on Sydney’s Capitol and State theatres. He also designed the Palais, Athenaeum and new Princess theatres in Melbourne, the Civic in Newcastle, and Wintergardens at Ipswich, Rockhampton and Townsville.

Foyer of State Theatre, Sydney, by Henry Eli White with John Eberson. State Library of Victoria

Sydney architects Bohringer, Taylor & Johnson also completed some notable atmospheric cinemas in the late 1920s, including the State (today’s Forum) in Melbourne and the Ambassadors in Perth.

Spanish-Mediterranean architecture was well suited to Australia’s post-Federation culture because it gave a more exotic flavour than the Colonial Georgian revival that accompanied the reigns of kings George V and George VI from 1910 to 1952. And it connected Australia to the exhilarating, glamorous spirit of Hollywood in the roaring twenties.

Now that Australia’s own Hollywood-aligned film culture is prospering, these vintage architectural icons remain alluring.

This is an edited extract from Australian Architecture: A History, by Davina Jackson, published by Allen & Unwin.The Conversation

Davina Jackson, Honorary Academic, School of Architecture and Planning, University of Kent

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

Making change, making history, making noise: Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame at the National Press Club

Michelle ArrowMacquarie University

As an historian of the Australian women’s movement, the past two years have been extraordinary to witness. Not only are we living through a once-in-a-century pandemic, which has had profoundly gendered effects, we have also experienced a feminist insurgency that has placed the issue of women’s safety, and men’s abuses of power, at the centre of our national conversation.

While many activists, journalists and advocates contributed to this insurgency, it exploded largely thanks to two young women: 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame and former parliamentary staffer Brittany Higgins.

Both just 26, both survivors of sexual assault, both abused by men – and institutions – they ought to have been able to trust. Both rejected the expectation they should be shamed into silence about their experiences. In doing so, they have helped to rewrite enduring cultural scripts about sexual abuse and sexual assault.

Their joint address at the National Press Club today was a valedictory speech, a way to mark their extraordinary year in the public eye. But it was also a call to action, a warning against complacency in an election year.

Both made it very clear that, while hearing the voices of survivors of abuse and assault is important, it is not enough. As Higgins noted, the ways we discuss abuse are far too passive,

as if sexual violence falls out of the sky. As if it is perpetrated by no-one.

Of yesterday’s formal parliamentary apology to victims of alleged sexual harassment, assault and bullying, Higgins was grateful, but sceptical:

They are still only words. Actions are what matter.

Tame and Higgins both made passionate pleas for structural change, for measurable action to prevent sexual abuse and assault. Tame called for government to take abuse seriously: to advance consistent national legislative change on sexual offences, and to spend more on preventive education to curb Australia’s alarmingly high rates of abuse and assault. She calculated the government spends 11 cents per student per year on prevention education, because

we currently have a government that is primarily concerned with short-sighted, votes-based funding, not with long-term, needs-based funding.

To those of us used to government by spin, obfuscation and photo ops in high-vis vests, Tame and Higgins’ moral clarity and bluntness are exhilarating. Both vehemently ruled out the possibility of political careers and, indeed, the journalists asking them about their political aspirations seem to misread their social and political role.

They are advocates and activists, who use their public platform to articulate complex issues in clear, direct ways. Tame, in particular, clearly has no intention of playing by anyone else’s rules, as her memorable side-eye to the prime minister at The Lodge demonstrated.

Grace Tame has made it clear she does not intend to play by anyone else’s rules. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Their speeches also confirmed that their actions had rattled the Morrison government, whose response to them has been ham-fisted at every turn. Tame revealed that in August 2021 a representative of a government-funded organisation (which she declined to name) had asked for her “word” that she would not say anything about the prime minister on the evening before the 2022 Australian of the Year awards. “You are an influential person. He will have a fear,” she was told. She speculated he had “a fear he might lose his position, or, more to the point, his power”. The prime minister’s office later said it had no knowledge of such a call to Tame and the person who made it should apologise.

Tame also reminded us the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet conducted a review of the selection process for Australian of the Year not long after she won the award. This was an attempt at intimidation, as Tame notes, but it also spoke to the government’s dislike of her fearless critique.

Higgins was consistently treated by many in the Morrison government as a political problem to be managed. In the wake of her allegations, the prime minister commissioned not one, not two, but four reviews, all the while dragging his heels on a formal response to Kate Jenkins’s landmark Respect@Work report.

Higgins reminded us that implementing Respect@Work, especially the proposed “positive duty” on employers to provide a safe workplace, would have

impacted every single working woman in the country. And we just kind of let that moment slide by without thinking.

The government has long dealt with Brittany Higgins as a problem to be managed. Dean Lewins/AAP

Tame and Higgins dissected the government’s performance on gender over the past year. Tame called out Christian Porter’s reliance on a blind trust to fund his unsuccessful defamation case against the ABC. Higgins eviscerated the government’s National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children for its “vague and lofty” aims, its lack of targets and clear plans. She noted the shocking statistics on domestic violence that

you’ve heard […] rattled off at white-ribbon breakfasts […] They should spur us to do whatever it takes. But instead they’ve become a sort of throat-clearing exercise that we all just kind of tolerate.

Policy action on abuse and assault has been a litmus test for the Morrison government’s views on women. According to Higgins and Tame, it is a test the government has failed at every turn.

In the 1970s, feminist activists told personal stories in public because of their belief that “the personal is political”. Yet victims of sexual assault or abuse typically remained anonymous, because of the shame that was attached to these crimes.

More recently, advocates like Rosie Batty, and now young women including Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins, have personalised these difficult issues, making them harder for politicians to ignore. The #MeToo and #LetHerSpeak movements have centred on survivors and focused on hearing their stories. As Tame said in her NPC address:

How beautiful is freedom of speech? I haven’t always had it.

One of the problems with a movement based on storytelling in public spaces is the brutal toll it exacts on survivors. Tame noted she had spent the past year being “revictimised, commodified, objectified, sensationalised, legitimised [and] gaslit”. As Tarana Burke has pointed out, survivors “shouldn’t have to perform our pain over and over again for the sake of your awareness”.

There are other problems with placing too much emphasis on individuals like Tame or Higgins: two young white women can hardly represent all assault survivors, as Shakira Hussein and others have pointed out. And we must be careful not to confuse justice for individuals with broader structural changes to protect all people from abuse and harassment.

But by speaking truth to power, Higgins and Tame have reinvigorated feminism for a new generation of young women. Back in the 1990s, older feminists worried young women were not taking up the feminist mantle. No-one is saying that now. Teenage girls know Grace Tame’s name, and they admire her courage and her strength.

As Jess Hill and others have noted, the public face of Australian feminism in the 2010s was dominated by “corporate feminism”: seemingly preoccupied with getting more women on boards rather than raising the wages of low-paid female workers in aged care or childcare, for example.

Sexual harassment is still, shockingly, endemic across Australia, and too many people have experienced sexual abuse and assault. By highlighting this problem – which at its core is about the gendered abuse of power – Tame and Higgins have mobilised a broad constituency of Australian women. They inspired thousands to march for justice and others to run for political office. Maybe they will play a decisive role in this year’s federal election.

As Tame reminded us:

[our leaders] may either be constructive or destructive. But every single one of them is arguably replaceable.

If you or anyone you know needs help, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).The Conversation

Michelle Arrow, Professor of History, Macquarie University

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

Liberal revolt removes all discrimination against gay and transgender children

Michelle GrattanUniversity of Canberra

In a humiliating rebuff to Scott Morrison, a revolt by Liberal backbenchers has struck down the provisions of the sex discrimination act that allow discrimination against gay and transgender children.

In the early hours of Thursday, five Liberals crossed the floor – Katie Allen, Dave Sharma, Trent Zimmerman, Bridget Archer and Fiona Martin – in defiance of the Prime Minister. The vote was 65-59. The amended bill then passed the House of Representatives.

The rebels had been concerned the government’s much narrower proposed change excluded transgender children.

The amendment was moved by crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie and was identical in wording to one of Labor’s proposed amendments. Sharkie told The Conversation she thought it might have a greater chance of success coming from the crossbench.

Earlier Morrison had told the house there would be “a time and place” to address the situation of transgender children.

He said the Law Reform Commission would consider the protection of these children from discrimination while allowing schools to maintain their ethos. The commission would report in six months. He also named Allen as chair of a House of Representatives select committee on the question.

The government’s proposed change to the sex discrimination legislation was a parallel bill to its religious discrimination legislation.

Labor and two Liberal rebels narrowly failed to amend the religious discrimination bill when Speaker Andrew Wallace used his casting vote to break a tied vote.

Archer and Zimmerman crossed the floor to support a Labor amendment aimed at ensuring existing anti-discrimination protections were not diminished by the protection to be given to “statements of belief”. The vote was 62-62.

The religious discrimination bill passed the house at 4am Thursday, shortly before the revolt over the associated bill. The only amendments to it were those the government made.

Archer, who supported all Labor’s amendments to the religious discrimination bill, also voted against its second reading and its final passage.

Now that they have been lost in the lower house, the opposition will pursue its amendments to the religious discrimination bill in the Senate.

Labor on Wednesday gave support to the controversial bill but said it was flawed and should be amended.

Caucus approved a package of proposed amendments that would

  • prohibit religious vilification

  • make it clear the legislation’s “statement of belief” did not remove or diminish existing protections against discrimination. (The legislation provides that “statements of belief” are legally protected if based on a genuinely held religious view.)

  • ensure in-home aged care providers could not discriminate on the basis of religion in providing services

  • prohibit discrimination against children on the grounds of sexuality or gender identity.

During the House of Representatives debate opposition leader Anthony Albanese tabled a letter Morrison had sent to him late last year in which the PM reaffirmed “there is no place in our education system for any form of discrimination against a student on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity” and said the government would amend the sex discrimination act to remove the provisions allowing this.

Labor said that it would “insist” on any of its amendments that were passed in either house. That could mean, if the government refused to accept them, the legislation bouncing between the houses until one or other side gave way.

The religious discrimination legislation is up against the clock, with the Senate rising on Thursday, and not sitting again until budget week, the last sitting before the election.

Albanese told parliament the legislation was “flawed” but it could be fixed.

He said it should be possible “to enhance protections against discrimination without enhancing discrimination against others”.

“We need shields from discrimination, not swords for discrimination."  He said the legislation should be a unifying moment.

But if not amended the bill "will only succeed in driving us apart,” Albanese said.

Morrison has been pulling out all stops to get the religious discrimination legislation through.

But moderate Liberals have had a range of concerns, and much effort had gone into trying to settle backbench doubts and minimise defections.

Zimmerman told the house that he would “part with my party” on the statement of belief provision and the changes to the sexual discrimination act.

Zimmerman said the statement of beliefs “puts religious faith on a pedestal above other rights”. He objected to the changes to the sex discrimination act failing to include protection for teachers and transgender children.

NSW Treasurer Matt Kean tweeted “Trent Zimmerman has been one of my greatest political heroes during my 20 years in the Liberal party. This speech will help everyone understand exactly why.”

Earlier, NSW premier Dominic Perrottet said of the religious discrimination legislation: “I’ve made it very clear that I don’t believe legislation in this space is necessary”. He said it could end up creating more problems than it solved.

Within the Labor frontbench, and in the wider caucus, there was division about over whether the opposition should pursue amendments or oppose the legislation outright.

Former Labor leader, Bill Shorten, who was reported to have argued in shadow cabinet that Labor should oppose the legislation, told the house, “We will rue the day if this legislation passes the Senate” .

The religious discrimination legislation had its origins as a gesture to the losing side after the legislating of marriage equality.

Morrison has hoped to wedge Labor on the issue; Albanese is anxious to avoid the wedge.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Researchers Confirm Newly Developed Inhaled Vaccine Delivers Broad Protection Against SARS-CoV-2 Variants Of Concern

February 9, 2022
Scientists at McMaster University who have developed an inhaled form of COVID vaccine have confirmed it can provide broad, long-lasting protection against the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 and variants of concern. The research, recently published in the journal Cell, reveals the immune mechanisms and significant benefits of vaccines being delivered directly into the respiratory tract, rather than by traditional injection.

Because inhaled vaccines target the lungs and upper airways where respiratory viruses first enter the body, they are far more effective at inducing a protective immune response, the researchers report.

The reported preclinical study, which was conducted on animal models, has provided the critical proof of concept to enable a Phase 1 clinical trial that is currently under way to evaluate inhaled aerosol vaccines in healthy adults who had already received two doses of a COVID mRNA vaccine.

Researcher Michael D’Agostino demonstrates use of the inhaled vaccine system. Photographer: Georgia Kirkos

The tested COVID vaccine strategy was built upon a robust tuberculosis vaccine research program established by Zhou Xing, a co-lead author of the new study and a professor at the McMaster Immunology Research Centre and Department of Medicine.

"What we've discovered from many years' research is that the vaccine delivered into the lung induces all-around protective respiratory mucosal immunity, a property that the injected vaccine is lacking," Xing says.

Currently authorized COVID vaccines are all injected.

"We wanted, first and foremost, to design a vaccine that would work well against any variant," explains the study's co-lead author Matthew Miller, an associate professor at McMaster's Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research.

The McMaster COVID vaccine represents one of only a handful developed in Canada. The urgent work is a critical mission of Canada's Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats, which is based at McMaster.

Researchers compared two types of adenovirus platforms for the vaccine. The viruses serve as vectors that can deliver vaccine directly to the lungs without causing illness themselves.

"We can remain ahead of the virus with our vaccine strategy," says Miller. "Current vaccines are limited because they will need to be updated and will always be chasing the virus."

Both types of the new McMaster vaccine are effective against highly transmissible variants because they are designed to target three parts of the virus, including two that are highly conserved among coronaviruses and do not mutate as quickly as spike. All COVID vaccines currently approved in Canada target only the spike protein, which has shown a remarkable ability to mutate.

"This vaccine might also provide pre-emptive protection against a future pandemic, and that's really important because as we've seen during this pandemic -- and as we saw in 2009 with the swine flu -- even when we are able to rapidly make a vaccine for a pandemic virus, it's already way too late. Millions of people died, even though we were able to make a vaccine in record time," says Miller.

"We have revealed in our report that besides neutralizing antibodies and T cell immunity, the vaccine delivered into the lungs stimulates a unique form of immunity known as trained innate immunity, which is able to provide very broad protection against many lung pathogens besides SARS-CoV-2," Xing adds.

In additional to being needle and pain-free, an inhaled vaccine is so efficient at targeting the lungs and upper airways that it can achieve maximum protection with a small fraction of the dose of current vaccines -- possibly as little as 1 per cent -- meaning a single batch of vaccine could go 100 times further, the researchers say.

"This pandemic has shown us that vaccine supply can be a huge challenge. Demonstrating that this alternative delivery method can significantly extend vaccine supply could be a game changer, particularly in a pandemic setting," says Brian Lichty, an associate professor in the Department of Medicine who co-led the preclinical study along with Miller, Xing and the senior trainees Sam Afkhami and Michael D'Agostino, who are the joint first authors of the study.

The vaccines were manufactured at the Robert E. Fitzhenry Vector Laboratory at McMaster University. The research is funded by a CIHR COVID-19 Rapid Response grant.

Sam Afkhami, Michael R. D’Agostino, Ali Zhang, Hannah D. Stacey, Art Marzok, Alisha Kang, Ramandeep Singh, Jegarubee Bavananthasivam, Gluke Ye, Xiangqian Luo, Fuan Wang, Jann C. Ang, Anna Zganiacz, Uma Sankar, Natallia Kazhdan, Joshua F.E. Koenig, Allyssa Phelps, Steven F. Gameiro, Shangguo Tang, Manel Jordana, Yonghong Wan, Karen L. Mossman, Mangalakumari Jeyanathan, Amy Gillgrass, Maria Fe C. Medina, Fiona Smaill, Brian D. Lichty, Matthew S. Miller, Zhou Xing. Respiratory mucosal delivery of next-generation COVID-19 vaccine provides robust protection against both ancestral and variant strains of SARS-CoV-2. Cell, 2022; DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2022.02.005

From left to right: Researcher Sam Afkhami, study co-lead Matthew Miller, researcher Michael D’Agostino, and study co-leads Zhou Xing and Brian Lichty outside the Michael DeGroote Centre for Learning and Discovery at McMaster University. Photo; Georgia Kirkos/McMaster University

Sewer Slime Can Hang On To SARS-CoV-2 RNA From Wastewater

February 9, 2022
During the COVID-19 pandemic, monitoring the levels of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater entering treatment plants has been one way that researchers have gauged the disease's spread. But could the slimy microbial communities that line most sewer pipes affect the viral RNA they encounter? In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers report in ACS ES&T Water that sewer slime can accumulate SARS-CoV-2 RNA, which could decompose or slough off later, potentially impacting the accuracy of wastewater epidemiology studies.

As the water and sludge from people's homes converge in sewers, some of the solids settle out, and gooey microbial biofilms build up within the pipes. Previous researchers have shown that RNA viruses, such as poliovirus, enteroviruses and noroviruses, can get trapped and collect in this slime. Yet whether the sticky material can also accumulate SARS-CoV-2 viral particles or RNA from wastewater is unknown. Nicole Fahrenfeld and colleagues previously detected the virus's RNA in sewer deposits from a university dormitory with a low number of COVID-19 cases, but the amount was too low to accurately assess. So, the team wanted to see if biofilms could incorporate SARS-CoV-2 RNA from untreated wastewater during times of low and high COVID-19 incidence.

To grow a simulated sewer slime, the researchers continuously pumped raw wastewater into a cylindrical tank with removable pieces of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) inside. They conducted two 28-day experiments, removing PVC plates every few days to assess the biofilm's composition. Then the team used the method called reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction to measure the abundance of SARS-CoV-2 RNA and pepper mottle virus (an indicator of human feces) RNA in the untreated wastewater and the biofilms.

In August and September 2020, the levels of SARS-CoV-2 RNA were too low to accurately measure in both the simulated sewer slime and the wastewater from which it grew. These results align with a low incidence of COVID-19 infections at that time, the researchers say. Then, during November and December 2020, although SARS-CoV-2's presence in the wastewater itself was still low, its RNA levels increased in the slime. The amount of pepper mottle virus RNA plateaued within the first week of growth, indicating that the rise of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in the biofilm wasn't because of a boost in fecal volume. Rather, this change reflected the higher number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases in late fall. It's still too early to know exactly how these biofilms impact wastewater epidemiology studies, since other factors need to be assessed first, say the researchers. For example, the RNA could get broken down, or it could be released into wastewater later on when the biofilms break apart.

The authors acknowledge funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Rutgers Center for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness and a Rutgers School of Graduate Studies Acceleration and Completion Fellowship.

William R. Morales Medina, Stephanie D’Elia, Nicole L. Fahrenfeld. Accumulation of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in Sewer Biofilms. ACS ES&T Water, 2022; DOI: 10.1021/acsestwater.1c00345
Old drug may have new trick: Protecting against COVID-19 lung injury study finds
February 8, 2022
An FDA-approved drug that has been in clinical use for more than 70 years may protect against lung injury and the risk of blood clots in severe COVID-19 and other disorders that cause immune-mediated damage to the lungs, according to a preclinical study from researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

The researchers, whose report appears Feb. 8 in JCI Insight, found that the drug disulfiram protected rodents from immune-mediated lung injury in two separate models of this type of injury: infection with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and a lung failure syndrome called TRALI that in rare cases occurs after blood transfusion.

"As we learn more about the underlying biology of these lung injuries, we may be able to specifically target the processes that are damaging the lung tissue," said senior co-author Dr. Robert Schwartz, an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Weill Cornell Medicine and a hepatologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Both types of lung injury are now known to be driven in part by immune cells' formation of web-like structures called neutrophil extracellular traps, or NETs. These can trap and kill infectious organisms, but can also be harmful to lung tissue and blood vessels, causing the accumulation of fluid in the lungs (edema) and promoting the development of blood clots. Disulfiram blocks one of the steps in NETs formation.

The study was a collaboration between Dr. Schwartz's research group and a group led by Dr. Mikala Egeblad, professor and cancer center co-leader at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Serendipity has attached to disulfiram almost from the start of its history as a medicine. The compound was originally used in the production of rubber, and was later investigated as an anti-parasite treatment. Incidental observations that people taking it became mildly sick whenever they drank alcohol led to its FDA approval in 1951 as a deterrent to alcohol consumption for people with alcohol use disorder.

Scientists found in 2020 that disulfiram also inhibits part of the inflammatory process that can lead to NET formation by white blood cells called neutrophils. The finding prompted the testing of disulfiram as a NET blocker. "NETs will damage the tissue, but since disulfiram interferes with gasdermin D, a molecule needed to produce NETs, no NETs are formed after disulfiram treatment," Dr. Egeblad said.

After confirming in lab-dish experiments that disulfiram does greatly reduce the formation of NETs by human and mouse neutrophils, the researchers tested it in models of TRALI and COVID-19, two diseases that are known to feature extensive neutrophil invasion of the lungs, NET formation and often fatal lung damage.

In a mouse model of TRALI, disulfiram treatment a day before and then again three hours before induction of the syndrome allowed 95 percent of the animals to survive, compared to just 40 percent of those not treated with the drug. The findings showed that disulfiram, apparently by reducing NET formation, blocked the progressive damage to lung tissue and vessels that occurred in untreated mice, and in so doing allowed lung function to stabilize and recover relatively quickly after initial damage. By contrast, an inhaled drug called DNase 1, which has been investigated as a potential TRALI treatment, had no significant effect in improving the mouse survival rate even when administered minutes before TRALI induction.

In earlier collaborative work published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, autopsy results suggested that NETs were present in severe COVID-19 patients and raised a novel possibility.

"Currently there aren't any good treatment options for COVID-related lung injury, so disulfiram appears to be worth investigating further in this regard, particularly in severe COVID-19 patients," Dr. Schwartz said.

Next the researchers tested disulfiram* in a golden hamster model of COVID-19. This form of COVID-19 is less severe than what is seen in the worst human cases, but disulfiram treatment a day before or a day after infection with SARS-CoV-2 led to clearly favorable outcomes: less NET formation, less scar-like tissue formation (fibrosis) in the lungs, and gene activity changes suggesting a significant reduction in the harmful inflammatory response without impairment of antiviral immunity.

By comparison, the standard severe-COVID-19 treatment dexamethasone, an immune-suppressing steroid drug, did less to protect lung tissue from disease-related changes, and led to higher levels of SARS-CoV-2 in the lungs.

"Disulfiram's strong inhibitory effect on NET formation and its improvement of disease outcomes in different rodent models highlight the potential for its use and for the future development of even better inhibitors of NET formation in a variety of diseases," Dr. Schwartz said. Other researchers have begun small clinical trials of disulfiram in COVID-19 patients, although the results of those trials have not yet been published, he noted.

Journal References:

Jose M. Adrover, Lucia Carrau, Juliane Daßler-Plenker, Yaron Bram, Vasuretha Chandar, Sean Houghton, David Redmond, Joseph R. Merrill, Margaret Shevik, Benjamin R. tenOever, Scott K. Lyons, Robert E. Schwartz, Mikala Egeblad. Disulfiram inhibits neutrophil extracellular trap formation protecting rodents from acute lung injury and SARS-CoV-2 infection. JCI Insight, 2022; DOI: 10.1172/jci.insight.157342

Betsy J. Barnes, Jose M. Adrover, Amelia Baxter-Stoltzfus, Alain Borczuk, Jonathan Cools-Lartigue, James M. Crawford, Juliane Daßler-Plenker, Philippe Guerci, Caroline Huynh, Jason S. Knight, Massimo Loda, Mark R. Looney, Florencia McAllister, Roni Rayes, Stephane Renaud, Simon Rousseau, Steven Salvatore, Robert E. Schwartz, Jonathan D. Spicer, Christian C. Yost, Andrew Weber, Yu Zuo, Mikala Egeblad. Targeting potential drivers of COVID-19: Neutrophil extracellular traps. Journal of Experimental Medicine, 2020; 217 (6) DOI: 10.1084/jem.20200652

*Disulfiram (sold under the trade name Antabuse) is a drug used to support the treatment of alcohol use disorder by producing an acute sensitivity to ethanol (drinking alcohol).

Gut Bacteria Linked To Immune Suppression In Pancreatic Cancer

February 8, 2022
Researchers at the University of Toronto and University Health Network have shown how probiotic bacteria in the gut could undermine immunity in pancreatic cancer, pointing toward more personalized cancer treatments. Lactobacillus -- a type of bacteria thought to promote gut health -- can alter the function of immune cells called macrophages in the pancreatic tumour environment and spur cancer growth, the researchers found.

"Most studies focus on positive correlations between the microbiome and cancer outcomes," said Tracy McGaha, a professor of immunology at U of T's Temerty Faculty of Medicine and a senior scientist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network. "This work focused on negative correlations of the microbiome with cancer, and suggests that in some conditions, the constituency of the microbiome may have a negative impact."

The journal Immunity published the results today.

Macrophages are tissue-resident immune cells thought to play an important role in tumour growth and metastasis. The researchers showed that Lactobacillus affects macrophage function by metabolizing dietary tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in protein from plant- and animal-based foods.

Indoles, a class of metabolites resulting from microbial tryptophan metabolization, activate the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, or AHR -- a protein that regulates gene expression, and which can enable both beneficial inflammation and immune suppression in other areas of the body.

Deletion or inhibition of AHR in macrophages led to reduced growth of pancreatic cancer, better sensitivity to treatments and increased numbers of inflammatory T cells, the researchers found. The activation of AHR thwarted these beneficial effects.

McGaha said he was surprised the microbiome had such a strong impact on AHR and immune function. "We weren't thinking about the microbiome at first, we were just interested in AHR as a factor in the tumour microenvironment," McGaha said. "But when we blocked the mammalian genes that can activate AHR, it had no effect."

The researchers then looked to Lactobacillus in part because previous studies had shown that the bacteria correlated with AHR activity and reduced inflammation, both of which can enable cancer growth.

They tested the effects of the bacteria in mice with surgical models of pancreatic cancer, working in U of T's germ-free animal facility and in collaboration with Dana Philpott, also a professor of immunology.

They also moved the project forward with single cell analysis -- a technology that provides genome-scale data on individual cells, and which McGaha said was a big draw when he moved to Toronto from the U.S. in 2015.

"The technology was new then, but it's been invaluable for us to see population responses in the gene expression patterns of macrophages and other immune cells, and what's going on around them."

The researchers later used tissue samples and data from human trials to show that high expression of AHR correlates with disease progression, immune suppression and patient survival.

Pancreatic cancer is notoriously difficult to treat. It is the third-most deadly cancer in Canada, despite being relatively rare, and patients with the disease have not seen the gains in survival common in other cancers over the last three decades.

To help address the urgent need for more effective treatments, McGaha is working with clinician scientists at UHN on a clinical trial called PASS-01. The study is a collaboration with other Canadian and U.S. cancer centres that aims to uncover personalized predictors of patient response to chemotherapy.

The team will collect stool samples before and after chemotherapy to look for enrichment of Lactobacillus, and whether the bacteria correlates to treatment response, patient survival and their observations on how it acts in the tumour environment.

"It's exciting as a basic scientist to be involved in translational research, and it's been nice to see the physician scientists interested in this work," McGaha said.

Longer term, said McGaha, his lab will pursue a deeper understanding of how immune cells interact with the microbiome. The hope is to improve on promising therapies such as fecal microbiota transplants, which have been hampered by the complexity and variety of gut bacteria -- or to try a new approach.

"It could be possible to bypass the need to manipulate the microbiome, through precise targeting of the immune response to microbial metabolites," said McGaha. "That's a cool new direction we'd like to explore."

Kebria Hezaveh, Rahul S. Shinde, Andreas Klötgen, Marie Jo Halaby, Sara Lamorte, M. Teresa Ciudad, Rene Quevedo, Luke Neufeld, Zhe Qi Liu, Robbie Jin, Barbara T. Grünwald, Elisabeth G. Foerster, Danica Chaharlangi, Mengdi Guo, Priya Makhijani, Xin Zhang, Trevor J. Pugh, Devanand M. Pinto, Ileana L. Co, Alison P. McGuigan, Gun Ho Jang, Rama Khokha, Pamela S. Ohashi, Grainne M. O’Kane, Steven Gallinger, William W. Navarre, Heather Maughan, Dana J. Philpott, David G. Brooks, Tracy L. McGaha. Tryptophan-derived microbial metabolites activate the aryl hydrocarbon receptor in tumor-associated macrophages to suppress anti-tumor immunity. Immunity, 2022; 55 (2): 324 DOI: 10.1016/j.immuni.2022.01.006

Root Symbiosis Is Regulated Through Nutrient Status Of Plants

February 8, 2022
Land plants absorb phosphate better when they collaborate with certain soil fungi. Arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM), a symbiosis with such fungi, is used by more than 80 percent of plants. The fungi penetrate the root cortex cells and form hyphal networks in the soil. These take up phosphate from the soil and transport it directly into the root, where it is released into the root cells via tree-shaped fungal structures called arbuscules.

Plants regulate the establishment of symbiosis
"Interestingly, the plant can regulate the establishment of the symbiosis according to its physiological condition. The symbiosis is promoted at low plant phosphate status and is inhibited when the plant has sufficient phosphate, for example as a result of fertilizer use," says Caroline Gutjahr, Professor for Plant Genetics at TUM. 

"This likely happens in order to conserve organic carbon, which the plant supplies to the fungus." 

Although this phenomenon was first observed around 50 years ago, the molecular mechanism for inhibiting the arbuscular mycorrhiza at high phosphate status was unknown.

A protein called PHR is a key transcription factor in the process. Transcription factors are proteins that control the copying of DNA into mRNA, thus ensuring that finally the required quantity of a protein is formed. PHR activates genes that enable the plant to respond to a phosphate deficiency.

Experiments with rice -- one of the most important agricultural crops
"We wanted to find out how the formation of arbuscular mycorrhiza is regulated depending on phosphate availability. Our hypothesis was that PHR might be responsible," says Prof. Gutjahr. 

In addition to lab results with rice and the model legume Lotus japonicus, the researchers also conducted an experiment in soil from rice fields. They were able to show that PHR is needed to promote AM symbiosis when soil phosphate is low to ensure normal grain yields.

A key result of the study is that PHR not only regulates classical phosphate deficiency genes, but also an entire group of genes required for the establishment and function of AM. These include, for example, biosynthesis genes for the hormone strigolactone. This hormone is produced by the plant and released into the soil where it activates and attracts the fungus.

Potential for sustainable agriculture
AM symbiosis has enormous potential for application in sustainable agriculture by reducing the need for artificial fertilizers. "Our insights could be used to modify the phosphate sensitivity of plants through selective breeding or gene editing," says Prof. Gutjahr.

The improved uptake of phosphate is not the only benefit of AM. It also promotes the absorption of other nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium and sulphate and improves plant resistance to various stressors such as drought.

"By tuning PHR, for example, we could reduce the phosphate sensitivity of plants and promote the symbiosis at higher concentrations of phosphate in the soil and thus use its other benefits for agricultural production," says the Professor of Plant Genetics.

Debatosh Das, Michael Paries, Karen Hobecker, Michael Gigl, Corinna Dawid, Hon-Ming Lam, Jianhua Zhang, Moxian Chen, Caroline Gutjahr. PHOSPHATE STARVATION RESPONSE transcription factors enable arbuscular mycorrhiza symbiosis. Nature Communications, 2022; 13 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-27976-8

Prof. Caroline Gutjahr and her team show how phosphate nutrition of plants works at the molecular level through a symbiosis with fungi. Image: U. Benz / TUM

Time for a reckoning: Cricket Australia, fossil fuel sponsorship and climate change

Brett HutchinsMonash University

As we head towards the end of the summer sporting calendar, Cricket Australia is facing pressing questions well beyond replacing Justin Langer as coach of the men’s national teams.

Chief among them is the question of climate change. While other sporting codes and teams around the world are starting to use their clout to push for more and faster action, Cricket Australia’s powerbrokers seem to be largely paying lip service to climate action. Meanwhile, many players are taking action.

You might think cricket and climate change have nothing in common. Sadly, that’s not the case. On a practical level, steadily rising temperatures and heightened natural disasters make it harder to play the sport safely over summer. And on a cultural level, fossil fuel power companies have long used sponsorships to “sportwash” their reputations.

It’s time for Cricket Australia to take a stronger stance on climate and turn away from fossil fuel sponsorships.

Is Cricket Really At Risk?

There is clear and growing evidence rising temperatures, bush fire smoke, cyclones, floods and drought brought by climate change are hurting cricket and the health of its players around the world.

That’s to say nothing of sea level rise and stronger hurricanes, which threaten to take chunks out of cricket-mad island nations in the Caribbean. In June last year, Grenada Prime Minister Keith Mitchell called on Cricket Australia and the International Cricket Council to sign on to UN efforts to harness sport for climate action. In response, Cricket Australia said they would look into it. We’ve heard nothing further.

No doubt some readers will baulk at the idea of putting the politics of climate change and cricket together. But if the last century of sporting history has taught us anything, it’s that high level sport and politics go hand-in-hand, from Cold War Olympics, to race relations, to nationalism.

Climate change is the single biggest issue of our time, dubbed “code red for humanity”. It’s an exceptionally well established issue seen across atmospheric, chemical and physical patterns. To tackle it requires a massive collective undertaking. That means politics. But to make big changes requires public buy-in. Sport, which absorbs so much of our attention, has a vital role to play.

Players Are Taking The Lead On Climate Action

Many of Australia’s leading players – including men’s Test captain Pat Cummins – are not waiting. They are calling for urgent action to protect the sport and the generations of younger players to follow.

For Cummins, the realisation was personal. In January 2020, his local cricket club in Penrith sweltered as Western Sydney became the hottest place on earth. Smoke haze from Black Summer megafires forced match cancellations. Two years earlier, Cummins watched as English captain Joe Root was taken to hospital after battling 47℃ heat.

Last week, Cummins launched Cricket for Climate, which will install solar panels on club facilities around the country. He’s not alone in his activism. This is just the latest surge of support for urgent climate action by our athletes. Cricket for Climate follows on from AFL Players for Climate Action, which now has 260 members. On a broader scale, there’s The Cool Down, a national climate campaign led by Emma and David Pocock which has more than 300 top athletes as backers, including cricket’s Alex Blackwell, Rachel Haynes and Sean Abbott.

Our Athletes Want Faster, Stronger Action. So What’s The Hold Up?

Cricket Australia supports climate action through the fine work of the Sports Environmental Alliance as an organisational member. But it could do much more.

While Cricket Australia has signed on to Cummins’ new initiative, it has not committed to either of two UN initiatives, Sports for Climate Action Framework or the Race to Zero Initiative.

You’d be hard pressed to find detail on Cricket Australia’s environmental initiatives. There’s no information about this in their current five year plan or their annual report.

There’s no reporting on the “holistic” sustainability strategy the organisation stated it was developing in 2020 in the face of concerns about extreme heat.

The Problem Of Sportswashing And Sponsorships

Unfortunately, professional sport is awash with lucrative sponsorships from fossil fuel companies. The main sponsor of our men’s cricket team is Alinta Energy, which owns one of Victoria’s largest coal-fired power plants, Loy Yang B.

While Alinta is moving into wind and solar, its parent company, Pioneer Sail Holdings, is still the sixth highest carbon emitting corporation in Australia as of 2019-2020.

These kinds of sponsorships are coming under increasing scrutiny nationally and internationally, with comparisons drawn between our current fossil fuel corporation sponsorships and tobacco company sponsorships in the 1980s.

Fossil fuel companies seek out the “soft power” of sport as a way to improve their public image and create positive brand associations.

Cricket player suffering from heat exhaustion
India’s Sourav Ganguly suffers from heat exhaustion in the 2007 Test in Australia. Andrew Brownbill/AP

So what would it take to deny fossil fuel companies this kind of social license? Cricket managers don’t have to look far at all. There’s an excellent example at Rod Laver Arena, just over the train tracks from Cricket Australia’s head office.

In January, Tennis Australia sent shockwaves through sport by cancelling its multi-year sponsorship with their “official natural gas partner” Santos ahead of this year’s Australian Open. The cancellation came after a long campaign targeting “sportswashing”.

This sudden shift is positive. It means the comparison with tobacco companies now has real teeth. Remember that in the 1980s, tobacco advertising was everywhere. To reduce the damage done by smoking, Australia progressively denied tobacco companies the social license offered by sponsorships and advertising, as part of a broader push. We need a similar effort to encourage a wholesale shift away from fossil fuels.

The question now for Cricket Australia is simple. How long will it hesitate at the climate crossroads, caught between the health of its players and planet and the fossil fuel interests of its sponsors? The players aren’t waiting. Pat Cummins and many other players are leading the way to a safer future for cricket and those who love it. It’s time for their national governing body to follow them.The Conversation

Brett Hutchins, Professor of Media and Communications, Monash University

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

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.