inbox and environment news: Issue 535

April 24 - 30, 2022: Issue 535

Green Grants To Expand Urban Forest Allocates 50k To Council

April 20, 2022
Councils across Greater Sydney are sharing in more than a million dollars' worth of funding to help create a cooler, greener and more appealing city. The funding, delivered through the inaugural round of the NSW Government’s Greener Neighbourhoods program, will assist the delivery of 32 exciting and diverse initiatives where the intention is to have real-world outcomes to help see the city’s tree canopy expand.

From a Tiny Forest Project in the Northern Beaches, to supporting Cumberland City Council’s ‘Trees are tops blitz’ as well as important tree inventory work by Burwood Council, the grants tie in with both state and local governments’ ambitious plans for the green future of Greater Sydney.

Minister for Planning Anthony Roberts said the Government has committed to achieving an ambitious target of 40 per cent urban tree canopy cover for Greater Sydney by 2036, with work well underway to reach the goal.

“We’re on track to hit our target of planting one million trees by the end of 2022, and we’re working towards a bigger target of five million across Greater Sydney by 2030,” Mr Roberts said.

“The Greener Neighbourhoods program is an important tool in helping keep that momentum going.”

All Sydney councils have access to data showing the extent of Greater Sydney’s canopy cover, along with a Greener Neighbourhoods Guide to assist with the development or updating of urban forest strategies. A further updated tree canopy data set will be collected later this year and will be shared with councils to enable further analysis of trends across Greater Sydney.

The Greener Neighbourhoods program has been co-designed by the NSW Government in collaboration with councils and Resilient Sydney.

Among the full list of grant recipients is Northern Beaches Council – $50,000 for:
  • Northern Beaches Urban Tree Plan
  • The Tiny Forest Project
  • to improve our tree canopy and wildlife habitats;
  • to create healthy and diverse landscaping in our streets and parks; and
  • to contribute to the health and wellbeing of all that enjoy our area.
The Urban Tree Canopy Plan (draft) was prepared in response to Notice of Motion No 16/2018 – Greening of the Northern Beaches. Council's draft states that specific tree replacement compensatory programs and guidelines  will be developed to remediate the removal of trees in relation to both internal Council and external projects. As a minimum two trees will be planted to replace any mature tree removals.

No details of what the ''Tiny Forest Project in the Northern Beaches'' is or will be were provided nor could an outline be found but no doubt we shall all hear more about this soon now funding has been allocated to thsi project.

Barrenjoey Headland Amenities Concept Plan

The Barrenjoey Headland is a 34-hectare area located within Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and is a popular destination with approximately 200,000 visitors each year. The lack of public amenities in the headland impacts the visitor experience and has led to environmental and operational issues particularly the prevalence of litter and waste. In 2019, National Parks and Wildlife Service installed transportable toilets as a temporary solution while planning for a permanent amenity was underway.

They have now secured funding to progress the provision of permanent toilets and water refill station at Barrenjoey. Aileen Sage Architects have been engaged to design suitable amenities which considered heritage constraints, visual impacts, environmental impact, visitor and access requirements, construction constraints and services provision.

This project is being delivered as part of the largest visitor infrastructure program in national park history.

Release of Barrenjoey Headland amenities concept plans
National Parks and Wildlife Service are pleased to release concept designs for the new amenity building at Barrenjoey. This will provide much-needed facilities for visitors, including those with personal/health requirements, young families and others.

National Parks and Wildlife Service worked with Aileen Sage Architects to design the amenities that considered heritage constraints, visual impacts, environmental impact, visitor and access requirements, construction constraints, and services provision.

The proposed amenities include the following features:
  • the building will be set into the landscape, concealed by the landform and native heath
  • screened walls to the front of the building will allow for natural light and ventilation
  • timber screens will be left to grey with alternating painted battens to reference the colours of the surrounding natural landscape and heritage buildings
  • unisex cubicles will be provided, including baby change facilities and a water refill station
  • water supply and sewer infrastructure to service these amenities are already in place.
The concept designs for the new amenity building are available for download.

Your feedback
National Parks and Wildlife Service  welcome your feedback on these concepts by 2 May 2022.

If you have any questions or comments on the concept designs, please complete the online form here.
Approvals are expected to take approximately 3 months.
Construction is scheduled to commence in Spring 2022, subject to approvals.

Image: Architects' Drawing of placement/style of new amenities. Image: NPWS

The Story Of Narrabeen Lagoon: Part 1 (2011)

Ban The Release Of Balloons In NSW Petition

Balloons cause serious issues for our marine reptiles and seabirds. When helium balloons are released, they burst, fall into our oceans and resemble food for these animals. Unfortunately, balloons can easily become trapped in the digestive system resulting in death. There is currently a petition in the NSW Legislative Council for NSW to follow other states and ban the release of helium balloons. If you have a spare moment please sign the petition below. Closes April 25, 2022:

Ella: Green Turtle Rescued From Manly

Ella was discovered at Shelly Beach in Manly looking extremely unwell and was rescued by Australian Seabird Rescue Central Coast on April 18th, 2020. The rescue at Shelley Beach was by ASRCC volunteers Silke and Paul who brought this sick turtle in for care after a photo was seen on a diving page. 

Under water photo credit - Ian Donato

Ella was examined and it was discovered that she is suffering from a severe case of pneumonia and septicaemia. She was placed in care with Australian Seabird Rescue where it was found a balloon and attached streamers were the problem

Ella is lucky to actually still be alive - imagine being only 47cm long and having a balloon with 2.5mtrs of streamer attached but also a plastic bag in your stomach! Ella excreted the plastic bag on April 28th, while the balloon and tie attached was passed on April 25th. 

Balloons are in the top three most harmful waste items to wildlife. Birds and turtles not only ingest balloons, they actively select them as food. This is because a burst balloon often resembles a jellyfish, the natural food sources of many marine species like turtles.

Ingesting balloons, and the clips and strings attached to them, can cause intestinal blockages and results in a slow painful death through starvation. Marine animals don’t have the gastrointestinal pH levels to breakdown a balloon and for turtles, it may also cause floating syndrome. Trapped gases in the gut can cause a turtle to become buoyant, unable to dive for food—making them vulnerable to boat strikes and leading to starvation and severe dehydration.

Wildlife, both terrestrial and marine, can also become entangled in balloon ribbons or strings, causing injury or death through drowning, suffocation, or an inability to feed and avoid predators.
Even if balloons are disposed of "safely" they go to landfill where it may take up to 1,000 years to decompose, leaching potentially toxic substances into the soil and water.

Extra photos by and courtesy Australian Seabird and Turtle Rescue Central Coast

Local Wildlife Rescuers And Carers State That Ongoing Heavy Rains Are Tough For Us But Can Be Tougher For Our Wildlife:

  • Birds and possums can be washed out of trees, or the tree comes down, nests can disintegrate or hollows fill with water
  • Ground dwelling animals can be flooded out of their burrows or hiding places and they need to seek higher ground
  • They are at risk crossing roads as people can't see them and sudden braking causes accidents
  • The food may disappear - insects, seeds and pollens are washed away, nectar is diluted and animals can be starving
  • They are vulnerable in open areas to predators, including our pets
  • They can't dry out and may get hypothermia or pneumonia
  • Animals may seek shelter in your home or garage. 

You can help by:

  • Keeping your pets indoors
  • Assessing for wounds or parasites
  • Putting out towels or shelters like boxes to provide a place to hide
  • Drive to conditions and call a rescue group if you see an animal hit (or do a pouch check or get to a vet if you can stop)
  • If you are concerned take a photo and talk to a rescue group or wildlife carer

There are 2 rescue groups in the Northern Beaches:

Sydney Wildlife: 9413 4300

WIRES: 1300 094 737

Please be patient as there could be a few enquiries regarding the wildlife. 

Generally Sydney Wildlife do not recommend offering food but it may help in some cases. Please ensure you know what they generally eat and any offerings will not make them sick. You can read more on feeding wildlife here 

Information courtesy Ed Laginestra, Sydney Wildlife volunteer. Photo: Warriewood Wetlands Wallaby by Kevin Murray, March 2022.

Mackellar Candidate Forum 2022:  Managing The Big Issues Facing Our Community

Tuesday 3 May  7.00 - 8.30pm (Doors open 6.30pm)
At: Dee Why RSL Auditorium
Tickets: FREE - please register to attend:
Co-hosted by Northern Beaches Climate Action Network (NBCAN) and Voices of Mackellar
With the Federal election on 21 May now is the perfect time to get to know the candidates and hear what they stand for. You will also have the opportunity to ask a question on any issue you care about.
All known candidates have been invited. 
Candidates confirmed as at 20 April are:
  • Christopher BALL - United Australia Party
  • Paula GOODMAN - Australian Labor Party
  • Ethan HRNJAK - The Greens
  • Dr. Sophie SCAMPS - Independent
  • Barry STEELE - TNL (formerly The New Liberals)
*Jason Falinski MP has declined to attend.

6.30pm: Doors open
7.00pm: Event commences
8.30pm: Event concludes
**Please note that the event will commence promptly at 7 pm**
Need more information?   Email: 
Covid-19 safety:  We are committed to providing a safe environment. If you are feeling unwell, please do not attend the event and contact if you are unable to use your ticket.

Friends Of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment Forum: May 2022 - Speaker - Prof. Dennis Foley On The Aboriginal Heritage Of The Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment

Visit: to find out more and book a space at this forum

Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA) Autumn 2022 Newsletter

Our PNHA Newsletter 91 is now on our website. We've been busy! 
Below: Pastel Flower Pseuderanthemum variabile flowers can be white, pink or mauve, about as big as a violet. It is a tiny herb of shady rainforest or wet eucalyptus forest, north of Bega in NSW. It spreads by seed and rhizomes. More: in: 
This one is in Spotted Gum forest at Newport.

Photo: PNHA

Cassia Flowering Now: Dispose Of This Weed To Stop The Spread

Cassia (Senna pendula). Also known as Senna and Arsenic Bush. Originating in South American, Cassia is a perennial sprawling multi-stemmed shrub or tree up to 5m tall. 

This weed replaces native vegetation and establishes in a wide range of native plant communities, including coastal heath and scrubland, hind dunes and riparian corridors. The large seed pods are eaten by birds and other animals. You may be seeing this bright burst of yellow everywhere as it is currently flowering - please pull out and get rid of if you have in your garden.

Aviaries + Possum Release Sites Needed

Pittwater Online News has interviewed Lynette Millett OAM (WIRES Northern Beaches Branch) needs more bird cages of all sizes for keeping the current huge amount of baby wildlife in care safe or 'homed' while they are healed/allowed to grow bigger to the point where they may be released back into their own home. 

If you have an aviary or large bird cage you are getting rid of or don't need anymore, please email via the link provided above. There is also a pressing need for release sites for brushtail possums - a species that is very territorial and where release into a site already lived in by one possum can result in serious problems and injury. 

If you have a decent backyard and can help out, Lyn and husband Dave can supply you with a simple drey for a nest and food for their first weeks of adjustment.

Sydney Wildlife Rescue: Helpers Needed

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

Darkinjung Plans For 600 Homes On Central Coast's Lake Munmorah Now On Exhibition: Closes May 24

April 22, 2022
The NSW Department of Planning and Environment has announced a proposal to build up to 600 homes and help Aboriginal people take greater control of their land on the Central Coast, is now on exhibition for community feedback.

The Department’s Executive Director of Local and Regional Planning Malcolm McDonald said the community could help shape Lake Munmorah’s growth, by sharing its views on the Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council project.

“Showcasing this proposal to the public represents a significant milestone in Darkinjung’s journey, to use its land to reap economic rewards for local Aboriginal people and deliver much-needed new homes,” Mr McDonald said.

“The 55-hectare site lays the foundations for a new park and up to 600 homes at various price points, close to existing services and jobs, not just for the Traditional Owners but everyone on the Central Coast.

“The proposal balances development with environmental conservation by protecting 21-hectares of untouchable bushland, home to wildlife such as the masked owl.”

Mr McDonald said progressing the rezoning proposal marked another step toward reconciliation.

“This proposal is a gamechanger for Lake Munmorah, boosting housing supply, promoting cultural heritage, strengthening self-determination, and locals are encouraged to have their say,” he said.

“We will continue to work with Darkinjung to identify how its land can best be planned, managed, and developed.

“This is one of three Darkinjung projects currently being assessed under a streamlined planning system, to support the local Aboriginal community. It follows the 2020 approval for an industrial hub in Wallarah, with the potential to create 1,200 new jobs.”

Darkinjung is the largest non-government landowner on the Central Coast and is one of 120 Local Aboriginal Land Councils in NSW.

Following the application of avoidance and mitigation measures, the BAM assessment identified the following biodiversity credits required to offset the impacts of the Project:
• 1407 credits for swift parrot,36 credits for wallum froglet, and 857 credits for black-eyed Susan.
• 577 credits for PCT 1636 Scribbly Gum – Red Bloodwood – Angophora inopina heathy woodland on lowlands of the Central Coast.
• 225 credits for PCT 1638 Smooth- barked Apple – Red Bloodwood – Brown Stringybark – Hairpin Banksia heathy open forest of coastal lowlands.
• 48 credits for PCT 1724 Broad- leaved paperbark – Swamp Oak – Saw Sedge swamp forest on coastal lowlands of the Central Coast and Lower North Coast.

Swift Parrot Conservation status in NSW: Endangered - Commonwealth status: Critically Endangered
On the mainland they occur in areas where eucalypts are flowering profusely or where there are abundant lerp (from sap-sucking bugs) infestations. Favoured feed trees include winter flowering species such as Swamp Mahogany Eucalyptus robusta, Spotted Gum Corymbia maculata, Red Bloodwood C. gummifera, Forest Red Gum E. tereticornis, Mugga Ironbark E. sideroxylon, and White Box E. albens. Commonly used lerp infested trees include Inland Grey Box E. microcarpa, Grey Box E. moluccana, Blackbutt E. pilularis, and Yellow Box E. melliodora.

Swift Parrot Photo: Gunjan Pandey

For more information and to provide your feedback on the plan by midday 24 May 2022, visit the Lake Munmorah/Crangan Bay, Rezoning land at Pacific Highway and Kanangra Drive page at:

Perrottet Government Quietly Renews Massive Santos Gas Licences On Liverpool Plains Farmlands-Extends Piliga Range While Most Of The State On Holidays

Farmers are outraged after the NSW Perrottet Government quietly renewed massive coal seam gas exploration tenements owned by Santos in the world-renowned Liverpool Plains farming district on April 12th, in the lead into the Easter long weekend and during the first week of school holidays, when many had 'tuned out' of news.

The renewal of the three petroleum exploration licences (PELs) (PEL 1, PEL 12, and PEL 238) was quietly made on the Tuesday, as Gomeroi People were being taken by Santos to the Native Title Tribunal over the Pilliga gasfield.

The renewal of one of the petroleum leases means Santos will now be able to explore for gas over a much larger swathe of the Pilliga than what is currently confined within its proposed project.
The renewal of the three licences also means that about half of the 1.2 million hectares of the Liverpool Plains foodbowl is now covered in renewed gas exploration licences.

Mullaley farmer Margaret Fleck said the renewal was a cruel blow to farmers on the plains, given they had only recently celebrated the demise of the Shenhua coal mine.

“People will be furious that they are now once again faced with a fight against an industry that threatens to drain the precious groundwater they rely on to produce food and fibre for Australians and export,” she said.

“Our concern has always been about the impact this industry will have on groundwater. Allowing Santos to expand over the Liverpool Plains will jeopardise the viability of farming businesses. We live in an environment where most forms of farming are dependent on groundwater. The renewal by the Perrottet Government of Santos’ tenements puts all that at risk.”

The renewal of the tenements follows the release of a new groundwater impact report in Queensland, which reveals the devastating impacts the coal seam gas industry is having and is expected to have on the Western Downs farming district. It showed the industry:
  • Is taking about 54 billion litres of water each year.
  • Is expected to drain more than 700 water bores relied on for farming. Two hundred and thirty-three bores have already been impacted.
  • Is causing groundwater levels to drop by more than 400 metres in some areas.
  • Is expected to expand from 8,600 gas wells currently operating to about 22,000.
  • Is causing farmland to sink due to depressurisation of coal seams beneath the surface.
Santos has previously said publicly that it has no plans to drill for gas on the Liverpool Plains. However residents and environment groups state said those comments now look hollow in light of the company’s renewed licences. 

Have Your Say On Key Environmental Legislation Reviews

Have your say on the Draft Contaminated Land Management Regulation 2022 and the Draft Dangerous Goods (Road and Rail Transport) Regulation 2022 and the Resource recovery framework.

These key pieces of legislation established to protect the environment and community have been reviewed by the EPA and we are now seeking feedback from councils, industry and the community.

Draft Contaminated Land Management Regulation 2022
The draft Contaminated Land Management Regulation will improve administrative and enforcement aspects of contaminated land management including operation of the NSW Site Auditor Scheme and penalty amounts for contaminated land management offences.

We are particularly seeking feedback from contaminated land management professionals, including site auditors and councils. We are welcoming feedback until 2 May 2022.

Draft Dangerous Goods (Road and Rail Transport) Regulation 2022
The dangerous goods transport laws help protect people, property and the environment from the risks of accidents involving dangerous goods.

Proposed changes in the Draft Dangerous Goods (Road and Rail Transport) Regulation 2022 improve safety, including the fitting of equipment to prevent rollover accidents involving dangerous goods vehicles, improved maintenance requirements, prohibited routes rules and changes that better align the Regulation with national dangerous goods Model Laws.

We are seeking feedback from individuals, businesses and organisations that are involved in the dangerous goods transport industry and from the community.

The consultation is open for comment until 6 May 2022. 

Have your say
For more information and to provide your feedback on these regulation reviews visit 

EPA Statement On Recovered Soil Fines

April 21, 2022
The NSW Environment Protect Authority (EPA) is aware of a protest in Sydney today about proposed changes to the regulation of recovered fines.

Recovered fines are the residues left in skip bins after all recyclable material has been removed. These are currently used as a soil or sand substitute.

EPA Executive Director Regulatory Practice & Environmental Solutions David Fowler said the regulation changes are needed because recent compliance testing by the EPA found that over 50 per cent of facilities were producing recovered fines that contained asbestos, plastics and other contaminants.

“That presents an unacceptable risk to people and the environment,” Mr Fowler said.

“These changes are aimed at ensuring that recovered fines are fit-for-purpose in terms of their quality. The community needs to be confident that their landscaping products are safe to ensure a trusted and sustainable recycling industry.”

The EPA has been consulting widely with industry, including skip bin operators and the construction sector on proposed changes. Careful consideration will be given to all submissions received during the consultation.

Some of the proposed changes include:
  • The need for record keeping, notification, quality control and quality assurance requirements.
  • Setting out requirements for sampling and testing for a range of chemicals, including asbestos before they are approved for public use, which increases community safety.
“We understand that the industry is concerned about these changes, which is why we have been openly consulting for months.

“Actions that can be taken to minimise costs to industry will be examined, while still ensuring that recovered fines do not pose a risk of harm to the environment or the community.”

It should be noted that the EPA does not set charges for skip bins – they are set by individual operators.

The EPA has stated it will not revoke and remake recovered fines orders and exemptions before 1 July 2022, and has invited industry to advise of any transitional arrangements that should be considered.

Upper Hunter Community Wins 22 Year Battle Against Yancoal Mine Expansion

April 22, 2022
The Camberwell and Hunter community is celebrating following the news Yancoal’s planned Ashton South East Open Cut coal mine extension must now go. The project’s planning approval granted in 2015 expired earlier this month, bringing to an end the decades-long fight against the proposal.

Crucial to the community’s victory was award-winning environmental activist farmer Wendy Bowman, who refused to sell her house to the company, even updating her will to ensure her home could not be sold to Yancoal in the event of her death.

The company was left with few avenues after a 2015 state Court of Appeal – which granted the planning approval – also upheld an earlier decision that the mine could proceed only on condition that Ms Bowman sold Yancoal her land.

“It’s all been worthwhile,” Ms Bowman said.

“The reason I was so determined was I wanted to protect our lovely village Camberwell and the water in Glennies creek.

“I opposed the mine expansion right from the beginning because the village and the water were so important. I was thinking of everyone downstream who completely relies on that water. It was just so stupid - the whole project.

“It is a tremendous relief for everybody. I’m happy because the fact is nobody will be affected by this project now and everything can go on normally. So many people have worked to help stop it. It’s marvellous to think we’ve stuck to it for so long and got there in the end.”

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Nic Clyde said the victory was testament to the unwavering determination of the Camberwell community.

“For a community to stand up and fight against the might of a multinational coal company takes incredible grit and determination. To do it for more than 20 years is a near-superhuman feat,” she said.

But he said the fight had taken its toll on the community.

“Yancoal has been able to decimate the Camberwell community, with many residents having moved on, for the sake of a coal mine that was never built,” Mr Clyde said.

“It’s terrific that this battle has been won, but it has come at a significant cost to the community.

“This is the nature of coal mining companies - they seek to divide and destroy communities and see those who suffer as collateral damage. All this could have been avoided.”

The Camberwell community was represented by the Environmental Defenders Office in a number of court battles against the mine over more than a decade, including the pivotal 2015 Court of Appeal case.

EDO Director of Legal Strategy Elaine Johnson said the expiration of Yancoal’s approval was a huge win for the community and the Plains Clans of the Wonnarua People.

“This is a significant moment for Camberwell, which is now finally safe from destruction at the hands of multinational Yancoal.

“The Ashton South East Open Cut coal mine extension would have devastated local farmland, a culturally significant landscape, and impacted the precious water resources of the Hunter Valley. That has now been averted thanks to decades of work by the local community.

“The bravery of locals like Wendy Bowman, Deidre Olofsson, the Plains Clans of the Wonnarua People, and the Hunter Environment Lobby in opposing the mine, both in and out of the courts, has been instrumental in fending off this mine and safeguarding their land, culture and water for future generations.

“This win shows that regional and Indigenous Australians can stand up against even the biggest mining companies with the deepest pockets and emerge victorious with their land, water and communities intact.”

From Pittwater Online News' Environment page, Issue 310, April 2017:

International Environmental Award For Hunter Valley Farmer Wendy Bowman Spotlights Coal Mining Damage

Wendy Bowman
2017 Goldman Prize Recipient
Islands And Island Nations

In the midst of an onslaught of coal development in Australia, octogenarian Wendy Bowman stopped a powerful multinational mining company from taking her family farm and protected her community in Hunter Valley from further pollution and environmental destruction.
Islands of farms surrounded by coal mines

New South Wales (NSW), on Australia’s eastern coast, is a region with a rich agricultural history. Dairy farms, ranches, race horse farms, and vineyards dot the rural landscape in Hunter Valley, where descendants of some of the island’s earliest settlers have been working the land for generations. However, in recent years, the region’s farms have become islands surrounded by oceans of open-pit coal mines.

Under directives to prioritize economic growth above all else, government is issuing coal licenses with little regard to mining’s impact on local residents’ lives. Almost two-thirds of the Hunter Valley floor has been given away in coal concessions, producing 145 million tons of coal every year. Some of it is burned at nearby coal powered plants but the majority is shipped off to foreign markets, cementing Australia’s place as the world’s largest coal exporting country.

Coal mining has displaced many landowners in the valley. Those who remain live surrounded by around-the-clock blasting and heavy equipment operation. Coal dust settles onto houses, farmland, and water sources. When the wind blows, residents shut all doors and windows and stay inside. A survey by a local physician found that one in five children in the valley have lost some 20 percent of their lung capacity; asthma, heart disease, cancer, and mental health problems are on the rise.

Uprooted twice, now determined to stay
Wendy Bowman, 83, is one of the last residents left in Camberwell, a small village in Hunter Valley surrounded on three sides by coal mining. She married a farmer and took over the family business after her husband’s untimely death in 1984. She had to quickly learn how to manage a farm, and abruptly encountered the harsh reality of what coal development was doing to the local community.

Landowners were being forced to move off their property with little say or explanation of their rights. In fact, they often found out their land had been leased to mining companies by reading about it in the local newspaper, where the government posted notices. Coal companies created divisions within the community by offering huge sums of money to select landowners and imposing a gag order on the terms of the deal.

In 1988, just four years after losing her husband, Bowman’s crops suffered a devastating failure. A coal mine had tunneled under a creek that irrigated her farm, and the heavy metals in the water caused the crops to die. Around the same time, another mine broke ground on nearby land, causing constant noise and light pollution. Coal dust from the mine covered her fields, and the cows refused to eat. After a contentious four-year battle, Bowman convinced the mine to buy out her farm that had been destroyed by mining. In 2005, she was forced to relocate again when she was served an eviction notice—and given six weeks to move to make room for a coal mine. She eventually settled down in Rosedale, a small cattle farm in Camberwell. But her battle against coal was far from over.

In 2010, Chinese-owned Yancoal proposed to extend the Ashton South East Open Cut mine, which would bring mining operations onto Bowman’s grazing lands and the banks of one of Hunter River’s most important water tributaries. Bowman was determined to stay and protect the community’s health, land, and water from further destruction.

Protecting Rosedale and Hunter Valley’s health
The Ashton mine expansion was initially opposed by the regional government agencies because of concerns about the mine’s air and water pollution. Yancoal appealed in 2012, and the planning committee approved the project. By early 2015, more than 87 percent of homeowners in the proposed mining area had sold their property.

As one of the few landowners left in the area, Bowman became a key plaintiff in a public interest lawsuit to fight back the mine expansion. Given that more than half of the coal for the proposed mine is under Bowman’s property, her refusal to sell was a significant factor in the case.

The Land and Environment Court issued its ruling in December 2014: The Ashton expansion could proceed, but only if Yancoal could get Bowman to sell them her land. It was the first time an Australian court placed this kind of restriction on a mining company. The New South Wales Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision, effectively stopping the mine expansion in its tracks.

Bowman has refused offers of millions from Yancoal, and is now working on a plan to have Rosedale protected in perpetuity. She continues to be an advocate for the community’s health and environment, and has worked with the local health department to place air monitors near coal mines. She has also recently installed solar panels on her property, and envisions an energy future where Hunter Valley is powered by its abundant sun and wind.

Join Wendy demand that Australian politicians stop mining companies from destroying rural Australian communities.

The Goldman Environmental Prize is the world's largest award honoring grassroots environmental activists
About the Prize
The Goldman Environmental Prize honors grassroots environmental heroes from the world’s six inhabited continental regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands & Island Nations, North America, and South & Central America. The Prize recognizes individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk. The Goldman Prize views “grassroots” leaders as those involved in local efforts, where positive change is created through community or citizen participation in the issues that affect them. Through recognizing these individual leaders, the Prize seeks to inspire other ordinary people to take extraordinary actions to protect the natural world.

The Prize Recipients
Goldman Prize recipients focus on protecting endangered ecosystems and species, combating destructive development projects, promoting sustainability, influencing environmental policies and striving for environmental justice. Prize recipients are often women and men from isolated villages or inner cities who choose to take great personal risks to safeguard the environment.

What the Goldman Prize Provides
The Goldman Prize amplifies the voices of these grassroots leaders and provides them with:
  • International recognition that enhances their credibility
  • Worldwide visibility for the issues they champion
  • Financial support to pursue their vision of a renewed and protected environment
Prize Selection and Announcement
The Goldman Environmental Prize recipients are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide group of environmental organizations and individuals. The winners are announced every April to coincide with Earth Day. Prize recipients participate in a 10-day tour of San Francisco and Washington D.C.—highlighted by award ceremonies in San Francisco and Washington D.C.—including media interviews, funder briefings, and meetings with political and environmental leaders.

The Ouroboros
In addition to a monetary prize, Goldman Prize winners each receive a bronze sculpture called the Ouroboros. Common to many cultures around the world, the Ouroboros, which depicts a serpent biting its tail, is a symbol of nature’s power of renewal.

Study Suggests Tree-Filled Spaces Are More Favourable To Child Development Than Paved Or Grassy Surfaces

April 22, 2022
A study recently published in Environment International has found that living in a tree-filled environment is associated with better early childhood development than living in an environment where vegetation takes the form of grass cover. The analysis -- led by Matilda van den Bosch, senior researcher at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a centre supported by the "la Caixa" Foundation -- also found that both varieties of green space are associated with better child development outcomes than areas dominated by paved surfaces.

The study reinforces the notion -- supported by a growing body of research -- that green spaces are associated with better attention and memory in early childhood, higher academic achievement, and fewer emotional and behavioural problems. However, the research team wanted to go further and explore whether the type of vegetation makes a difference in these positive associations. All green spaces appear to promote health, but tree-filled areas may mitigate air pollution, noise and heat better than more open green spaces, while also doing more to support restoration from mental fatigue and the capacity for directed attention. Grassy spaces, in contrast, may do more to encourage group activities and therefore foster social well-being. Paved surfaces, meanwhile, are associated with more heat exposure and traffic-related air and noise pollution.

How the Study Was Conducted
The analysis was carried out in the Vancouver metropolitan area (Canada) and was based on a large birth cohort containing data on 27,539 children. These data were collected between 2000 and 2005 by various government bodies, including the British Columbia Ministry of Health. The children were followed from birth to age five years, at which time their kindergarten teachers rated their physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development, communication skills and general knowledge. The teachers performed this assessment using a tool known as the Early Development Instrument (EDI).

The researchers used a high-spatial-resolution land cover map to determine whether the areas where the children lived were vegetated or non-vegetated and whether the vegetated land consisted of grass or trees (predominantly deciduous). The mean percentage of total vegetation exposure was found to be 36%, while the mean percentage of paved surfaces exposure was slightly lower at 32.2%.

Children with the greatest exposure to vegetation (either trees or grass) had the highest developmental scores. This positive association was especially notable for exposure to tree-filled areas. In contrast, early-life exposure to paved surfaces was associated with poorer child development.

"Because we assessed different types of vegetation, our findings contribute to an improved understanding of associations between exposure to green spaces and early childhood development," commented Ingrid Jarvis, researcher at the University of British Columbia (Canada) and first author of the study.

Although more research is needed, these findings may be useful to urban planners. "Taken together, our findings suggest that converting paved surfaces to green spaces and, in particular, increasing the amount of trees in neighbourhoods may have positive effects on early childhood health and development," noted ISGlobal researcher Matilda van den Bosch who led the research. Such efforts would not only reap the benefits associated with green spaces, but potentially also "reduce the adverse effects associated with urbanisation and impervious environments," she added. Although the observed associations between environmental exposure and childhood development were relatively small, "even minor individual gains in childhood could lead to important public health benefits across the life course," she concluded.

Ingrid Jarvis, Hind Sbihi, Zoë Davis, Michael Brauer, Agatha Czekajlo, Hugh W. Davies, Sarah E. Gergel, Martin Guhn, Michael Jerrett, Mieke Koehoorn, Lorien Nesbitt, Tim F. Oberlander, Jason Su, Matilda van den Bosch. The influence of early-life residential exposure to different vegetation types and paved surfaces on early childhood development: A population-based birth cohort study. Environment International, 2022; 163: 107196 DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2022.107196

Critically Endangered Spotted Tree Frogs Hop Back Into The Wild

April 18, 2022
The NSW Government has released 80 critically endangered Spotted Tree Frogs into Kosciuszko National Park in the first release of this species since they were severely affected by the 2019-20 summer bushfires.

Minister for Environment James Griffin said the species became extinct in NSW in 2001 due to the same disease that almost wiped out the Southern and Northern Corroboree Frogs.

"The NSW Government's Saving our Species program worked with the Amphibian Research Centre in Melbourne to breed a conservation population of these frogs to help give the species a second chance," Mr Griffin said.

"In 2015, our threatened species experts released Spotted Tree Frogs from this breeding program into the wild, and it's estimated that there were between 250–300 frogs in the wild.

"Tragically, it's estimated that only about 10 of those frogs survived the devastating 2019–20 bushfires."

"Releasing these 80 Spotted Tree Frogs back into the wild despite all the setbacks this species has faced is a reminder to have optimism about the conservation work we're doing, because it's clearly making a positive difference."

Department of Planning and Environment Senior Threatened Species Officer David Hunter said the fragile alpine ecosystem where this species lives is unique to NSW and Victoria, and features native wildlife found nowhere else on earth.

"The Spotted Tree Frog is fundamental to the maintenance of ecosystem health in the NSW upland rivers where it lives. It occupies many streams where they are the only frog species, and tadpoles of this species consume nutrients and algae in large numbers," Mr Hunter said.

"They are also food for other species such as snakes, birds, mammals and predatory invertebrates, playing an important role in the food web."

The NSW Government's Saving our Species program is backed by a $175 million commitment over 10 years. For more information, visit Saving our Species.

Photos: Alex Pike NSW DPE

NSW Releases Australia's Largest Investment In Koalas

April 9, 2022
The NSW Government has released its new Koala Strategy, backed by an unprecedented amount of funding and more than 30 actions to conserve and grow koala populations.
Environment Minister James Griffin said the 5-year plan is a comprehensive roadmap that will help deliver the NSW Government's ambition to double the number of koalas.

'This $193.3 million NSW Koala Strategy is the biggest financial commitment by any government to secure the future of koalas in the wild,' Mr Griffin said.

'In fact, this is the largest investment in any single species in Australia, and demonstrates how committed we are to conservation and achieving our goal of doubling koala numbers by 2050.

'We know there are multiple threats to koalas, including loss and fragmentation of their habitat, compounded by the impact of the devastating 2019–20 bushfires, as well as vehicle strike and dog attack.'

The Strategy focuses on conservation actions under 4 themes:
  1. $107.1 million for koala habitat conservation, to fund the protection, restoration, and improved management of 47,000 hectares of koala habitat
  2. $19.6 million to supporting local communities to conserve koalas
  3. $23.2 million for improving the safety and health of koalas by removing threats, improving health and rehabilitation, and establishing a translocation program
  4. $43.4 million to support science and research to build our knowledge of koalas.
'This strategy will better secure 10 climate resilient koala stronghold locations from the Southern Tablelands, to Campbelltown and Lismore, which will receive intensive action in the next 5 years to support the existing populations there,' Mr Griffin said.

'Some of these actions include preventing vehicle strike and dog attacks, and restoring and protecting 47,000 additional hectares of habitat.'

A key part of the Koala Strategy involves establishing partnerships with conservation groups and communities.

Projects funded by the new Koala Strategy include:
  • Partnering with Taronga Conservation Society Australia to restore more than 5,000 hectares of Box Gum grassy woodlands around the Western Slopes of the Great Dividing Range. Koalas will be translocated to the site once the woodland is re-established.
  • Partnering with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Australia to protect 500 hectares of high quality koala habitat on private land under conservation agreements across the Northern Rivers region through the Biodiversity Conversation Trust.
  • Working with volunteer wildlife rehabilitators, vets and other partner organisations to enhance co-ordination of emergency response for koalas and other wildlife due to bushfire or extreme weather events.
'We all want to see koalas thrive in the wild for generations to come, and everyone, including land managers, local councils, wildlife carers, citizen scientists and the NSW Government needs to be involved,' Mr Griffin said.

'Protecting and restoring habitat will also support other threatened and endangered species, such as powerful owls and glossy black cockatoos.'

The strategy will help to fill key knowledge gaps and fund priority scientific studies to support koalas, including chlamydia vaccine trials.

The new strategy builds upon the previous $44.7 million NSW Koala Strategy, which protected more koala habitat, invested in fixing koala roadkill hotspots, provided wildlife care training and funded scientific research, among other things.

To read the Koala Strategy, visit the NSW Koala Strategy page.

More Good News For Koalas

April 18, 2022: James Griffin, NSW Environment Minister
More good news for koalas – the NSW Government is permanently protecting the high-quality habitat needed to support them into the future.
  • In the state’s south, we have purchased 1,052 hectares adjoining Macanally State Conservation Area. 
  • Along the state’s north, we have purchased 752 hectares adjoining Bundjalung National Park and Bundjalung State Conservation Area.
  • On the mid-north coast, 201 hectares of land will connect two separate sections of Killabakh Nature Reserve.
This is more than 2,000 hectares of prime koala habitat across three parcels of land that has been added to the national park estate and reserve in perpetuity.

Humans Disrupting 66-Million-Year-Old Feature Of Ecosystems

April 21, 2022
The U-shaped relationship between diet and size in modern land mammals could also stand for "universal," says a new study, which has found that the relationship spans at least 66 million years and a range of vertebrate animal groups.

It's been several decades since ecologists realised that graphing the diet-size relationship of terrestrial mammals yields a U-shaped curve when aligning those mammals on a plant-to-protein gradient. As illustrated by that curve, the plant-eating herbivores on the far left and meat-eating carnivores on the far right tend to reach sizes much larger than those of the all-consuming omnivores and the invertebrate-feasting invertivores in the middle.

To date, though, virtually no research had looked for the pattern beyond mammals or the modern day. In a new study, researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and institutions on four continents have concluded that the pattern actually dates back to deep time and applies to land-dwelling birds, reptiles and even saltwater fishes.

But the study also suggests that human-related extinctions of the largest herbivores and carnivores are disrupting what appears to be a fundamental feature of past and present ecosystems, with potentially unpredictable consequences.

"We're not sure what's going to happen, because this hasn't happened before," said Will Gearty, a postdoctoral researcher at Nebraska and co-author of the study, published April 21 in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. "But because the systems have been in what seems to be a very steady state for a very long time, it's concerning what might happen when they leave that state."

Size up, size down
The evolutionary and ecological histories of animal species can be told in part through the intertwined influences of diet and size, Gearty said. A species' diet determines its energy consumption, which in turn drives growth and ultimately helps dictate its size. Yet that size can also limit the quality and quantity of food available to a species, even as it sets thresholds for the quality and quantity needed to survive.

"You can be as big as your food will allow you to be," Gearty said. "At the same time, you're often as big as you need to be to catch and process your food. So there's an evolutionary interplay there."

Because the plant-based diet of herbivores is relatively poor in nutrition, they often grow massive for the sake of covering more ground to forage more food -- and accommodating long, complex digestive tracts that extract maximum nutrients from it. Carnivores, meanwhile, must grow large enough to both keep up with and take down those herbivores. Though the buffet-style menu of omnivores usually keeps their stomachs full, their high energy demands generally leave them focusing on nuts, insects and other small, energy-dense foods. And while invertivores enjoy mostly protein-rich prey, the diminutive nature of that prey, combined with stiff competition from many other invertivores, relegates them to the smallest sizes of all.

The ultimate result: a U-shaped distribution of both average and maximum body sizes in mammals. To analyse the generalizability of that pattern in the modern day, the team compiled body-size data for a huge number of surviving species: 5,033 mammals, 8,991 birds, 7,356 reptiles and 2,795 fishes.

Though the pattern was absent in marine mammals and seabirds, probably due to the unique demands of living in water, it did emerge in the other vertebrate groups -- reptiles, saltwater fishes and land-based birds -- examined by the team. The pattern even held across various biomes -- forests vs. grasslands vs. deserts, for instance, or the tropical Atlantic Ocean vs. the temperate North Pacific -- when analyzing land mammals, land birds and saltwater fishes.

"Showing that this exists across all these different groups does suggest that it is something fundamental about how vertebrates acquire energy, how they interact with one another, and how they coexist," said co-author Kate Lyons, assistant professor of biological sciences at Nebraska. "We don't know whether it's necessary -- there might be other ways of organizing vertebrate communities with respect to body size and diet -- but it certainly is sufficient."

But the researchers were also interested in learning how long the U-curve may have endured. So they analysed fossil records from 5,427 mammal species, some of which date as far back as the Early Cretaceous Period of 145 million to 100 million years ago. Lyons and colleagues originally collected the fossil data as part of a 2018 study on the extinction of large mammals at the hands of humans and their recent ancestors.

"To my knowledge, this is the most extensive investigation of the evolution of body size and especially diet in mammals over time," Gearty said.

It revealed that the U-curve stretches back at least 66 million years, when non-avian dinosaurs had just been wiped out but mammals had yet to diversify into the dominant animal class that they are today.

"It is really interesting, and really striking," Gearty said, "to see that this relationship persists even when you have other dominant animals around.

"We suspect that it's actually existed since the inception of mammals as a group."

The shape of things to come
Having catalogued the present and past of the U-curve, Gearty, Lyons and their colleagues turned to its future, or potential lack thereof. The median sizes of herbivores and omnivores have plummeted roughly 100-fold since the emergence of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens over the past few hundred thousand years, the team reported, with the size of carnivores dropping by about 10 times in that same span. As a result, the U-curve that has persisted for so long has begun to noticeably flatten, Gearty said.

In that vein, the team has projected a greater than 50% chance that multiple large- and medium-sized mammals -- including the tiger and Javan rhinoceros, both of which count humans as their only predators -- will go extinct within the next 200 years. Those predicted extinctions would only exacerbate the disruption of the U-curve, the researchers said, especially to the extent that the loss of large herbivores could trigger or accelerate the loss of the large carnivores that prey on them.

"It's certainly possible that as we take some of these animals off the top (of the U-curve), and as we collapse some of these ranges of body sizes, that we're altering the way the energy is divvied up," Gearty said. "That could perhaps have fundamental repercussions for the environment and ecosystem as a whole."

It's also possible, the researchers concluded, that the forthcoming decline in mammal body sizes could outpace even the unprecedented drop observed over the past few hundred thousand years.

"You keep seeing, in ecological literature, people speculating about how ecosystems are less stable now, and less resilient, and more prone to collapse," Lyons said. "I think this is just another line of evidence suggesting that that may indeed be the case in the future."

Gearty and Lyons authored the study with Robert Cooke, from the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology; Amanda Bates, from the University of Victoria (Canada); Abbie Chapman, from University College London; Jillian Dunic, from Simon Fraser University (Canada); Graham Edgar and Rick Stuart-Smith, from the University of Tasmania (Australia); Jonathan Lefcheck, from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center; Craig McClain, from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium; and Gil Rilov, from Israel Limnological and Oceanographic Research.

Rob Cooke, William Gearty, Abbie S. A. Chapman, Jillian Dunic, Graham J. Edgar, Jonathan S. Lefcheck, Gil Rilov, Craig R. McClain, Rick D. Stuart-Smith, S. Kathleen Lyons, Amanda E. Bates. Anthropogenic disruptions to longstanding patterns of trophic-size structure in vertebrates. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41559-022-01726-x

Breakthrough In Estimating Fossil Fuel Carbon Dioxide Emissions

April 22, 2022
A team of scientists led by the University of East Anglia (UEA) has made a major breakthrough in detecting changes in fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions more quickly and frequently.

In a study published today they quantified regional fossil fuel CO2 emissions reductions during the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020-2021, using atmospheric measurements of CO2 and oxygen (O2) from the Weybourne Atmospheric Observatory, on the north Norfolk coast in the UK.

The estimate uses a new method for separating CO2 signals from land plants and fossil fuels in the atmosphere. Previously it has not been possible to quantify changes in regional-scale fossil fuel CO2 emissions with high accuracy and in near real-time.

Existing atmospheric-based methods have largely been unsuccessful at separating fossil fuel CO2 from large natural CO2 variability, so that estimates of changes, such as those occurring in response to the lockdowns, must rely on indirect data sources, which can take months or years to compile.

The atmospheric O2-based method, published in the journal Science Advances, is in good agreement with three lower frequency UK emissions estimates produced during the pandemic by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Global Carbon Budget and Carbon Monitor, which used different methods and combinations of data, for example those based on energy usage.

Crucially, as well as being completely independent of the other estimates, this approach can be calculated much more quickly.

The researchers are also able to detect changes in emissions with higher frequency, such as daily estimates, and can clearly see two periods of reductions associated with two UK lockdown periods, separated by a period of emissions recovery when Covid restrictions were eased, during the summer of 2020.

Researchers at UEA -- home of the UK's only high-precision atmospheric O2 measurement laboratory -- worked with colleagues at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Germany.

The study's lead author, Dr Penelope Pickers, of UEA's Centre for Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, said: "If humans are to reduce our CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and our impact on the climate, we first need to know how much emissions are changing.

"Our study is a major achievement in atmospheric science. Several others, based solely on CO2 data, have been unsuccessful, owing to large emissions from land plants, which obscure fossil fuel CO2 signals in the atmosphere.

"Using atmospheric O2 combined with CO2 to isolate fossil fuel CO2 in the atmosphere has enabled us to detect and quantify these important signals using a 'top-down' approach for the first time. Our findings indicate that a network of continuous measurement sites has strong potential for providing this evaluation of fossil fuel CO2 at regional levels."

Currently, fossil fuel CO2 emissions are officially reported with a 'bottom-up' approach, using accounting methods that combine emission factors with energy statistics to calculate emissions.

These are then compiled into national inventories of estimated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the atmosphere from anthropogenic sources and activities, such as domestic buildings, vehicles, and industrial processes.

However, inventories can be inaccurate, especially in less developed countries, which makes it more difficult to meet climate targets.

It can also take years for the inventory assessments to be completed, and at the regional scale, or on a monthly or weekly basis, the uncertainties are much larger.

An alternative method of estimating GHG emissions is to use a 'top-down' approach, based on atmospheric measurements and modelling.

The UK emissions inventory is already successfully informed and supported by independent top-down assessments for some key GHGs, such as methane and nitrous oxide.

But for CO2, the most important GHG for climate change, this has never before been feasible, because of the difficulties distinguishing between CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and land plant sources in the atmosphere.

Dr Pickers said: "The time taken for inventories to be completed makes it hard to characterise changes in emissions that happen suddenly, such as the reductions associated with the Covid pandemic lockdowns.

"We need reliable fossil fuel CO2 emissions estimates quickly and at finer scales, so that we can monitor and inform climate change policies to prevent reaching 2°C of global warming.

"Our O2-based approach is cost-effective and provides high frequency information, with the potential to provide fossil fuel CO2 estimates quickly and at finer spatial scales, such as for counties, states or cities."

The team used 10 years of high-precision, hourly measurements of atmospheric O2 and CO2 from Weybourne Atmospheric Observatory, which are supported by the UK's National Centre for Atmospheric Science. Having long-term measurements of these climatically important gases was crucial to the success of the study.

To detect a Covid signal, they had to first remove the effects of atmospheric transport on their O2 and CO2 datasets, using a machine learning model.

They trained the machine learning model on pre-pandemic data, to estimate the fossil fuel CO2 they would have expected to observe at Weybourne if the pandemic had never occurred.

They then compared this estimate to the fossil fuel CO2 that was actually observed during 2020-2021, which revealed the relative reduction in CO2 emissions.

'Novel quantification of regional fossil fuel CO2 reductions during COVID-19 lockdowns using atmospheric oxygen measurements', Penelope A. Pickers et al., is published in Science Advances on Friday, April 22, 2022.

Penelope A. Pickers, Andrew C. Manning, Corinne Le Quéré, Grant L. Forster, Ingrid T. Luijkx, Christoph Gerbig, Leigh S. Fleming, William T. Sturges. Novel quantification of regional fossil fuel CO2 reductions during COVID-19 lockdowns using atmospheric oxygen measurements. Science Advances, 2022; 8 (16) DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abl9250  Weybourne Atmospheric Observatory, Photo in text: Grant Forster

New Global Forecasts Of Marine Heatwaves Foretell Ecological And Economic Impacts

April 20, 2022
Researchers have developed global forecasts that can provide up to a year's notice of marine heatwaves, sudden and pronounced increases in ocean temperatures that can dramatically affect ocean ecosystems.

The forecasts described in the journal Nature could help fishing fleets, ocean managers, and coastal communities anticipate the effects of marine heatwaves. One such heatwave, known as "the Blob," emerged about 2013 in the northeast Pacific Ocean and persisted through 2016. It led to shifting fish stocks, harmful algal blooms, entanglements of endangered humpback whales, and thousands of starving sea lion pups washing up on beaches.

The latest global marine heatwave forecast showing the predicted probability of marine heatwaves for September 2022. Forecasts are experimental guidance, providing insight from the latest climate models. 

"We have seen marine heatwaves cause sudden and pronounced changes in ocean ecosystems around the world, and forecasts can help us anticipate what may be coming," said lead author Michael Jacox, a research scientist at NOAA Fisheries' Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Monterey, California, and NOAA's Physical Sciences Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.

Marine heatwave forecasts will be available online through NOAA's Physical Sciences Laboratory. The researchers called the forecasts a "key advance toward improved climate adaptation and resilience for marine-dependent communities around the globe."

The forecasts leverage global climate models to predict the likely emergence of new marine heatwaves. "This is a really exciting way to use existing modeling tools in a much-needed new application," Jacox said.

Reducing Ecological and Economic Impacts

Impacts of marine heatwaves have been documented in ecosystems around the world, particularly in the past decade. These include:
  • Fish and shellfish declines that caused global fishery losses of hundreds of millions of dollars
  • Shifting distributions of marine species that increased human-wildlife conflict and disputes about fishing rights
  • Extremely warm waters that have caused bleaching and mass mortalities of corals
On the U.S. West Coast, marine heatwaves gained notoriety following the Blob, which rattled the California Current Ecosystem starting in 2014. That marine heatwave led to an ecological cascade in which whales' prey was concentrated unusually close to shore, and a severe bloom of toxic algae along the coast delayed opening of the valuable Dungeness crab fishery. Humpback whales moved closer to shore to feed in some of the same waters targeted by the crab fishery. As fishermen tried to make up for lost time after the delay by deploying additional crab traps, whales became entangled in record numbers in the lines attached to crab traps. Recent research has also connected marine heatwaves along the West Coast to a northward shift in California market squid, which have long supported one of California's largest commercial fisheries.

NOAA Fisheries scientists have since developed a Marine Heatwave Tracker that monitors the North Pacific Ocean for signs of marine heatwaves. The forecasts go a step further to anticipate where marine heatwaves are likely to emerge in coming months, and how long they are expected to persist.

"Extreme events in concert with increasing global temperatures can serve as a catalyst for ecosystem change and reorganization," said Elliott Hazen, a research ecologist at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center and co-author of the research. "While marine heatwaves can have some unanticipated effects, knowing what's coming allows for a more precautionary approach to lessen the impact on both fisheries and protected species. Understanding the ocean is the first step towards forecasting ecological changes and incorporating that foresight into decision-making."

El Niño-Southern Oscillation Boosts Forecast Accuracy

The forecasts are most accurate during periods influenced by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, a well-known climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean. In fact, El Niño (the warm phase of the oscillation) could be considered the "world's most prominent marine heatwave," Jacox said. It demonstrates that the heatwaves themselves are not new.

The forecasts cannot predict marine heatwaves as far in advance in regions such as the Mediterranean Sea, or off the U.S. East Coast. The atmosphere and ocean fluctuate more rapidly in these areas. The forecasts provide the greatest foresight in areas with known ocean-climate patterns such as the Indo-Pacific region north of Australia, the California Current System, and the northern Brazil Current.

The scientists noted that managers of fisheries and other marine life must weigh their reaction to predicted marine heatwaves based on the potential consequences. For example, they would need to weigh the economic costs of limiting fisheries ahead of a marine heatwave against the risk of inadvertently entangling endangered whales or sea turtles.

"We're talking about the difference between making informed choices and reacting to changes as they impact ecosystems," Hazen said. "That is always going to be a balance, but now it is a much more informed one."

Michael G. Jacox, Michael A. Alexander, Dillon Amaya, Emily Becker, Steven J. Bograd, Stephanie Brodie, Elliott L. Hazen, Mercedes Pozo Buil, Desiree Tommasi. Global seasonal forecasts of marine heatwaves. Nature, 2022; 604 (7906): 486 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04573-9

Frozen sperm and assisted reproduction: time to pull out all stops to save the endangered koala

Lachlan G. HowellDeakin University and Ryan R. WittUniversity of Newcastle

Australia’s wildlife was hit hard by the 2019-20 Black Summer megafires.

Amongst the casualties were our iconic tree-dwelling koalas, with an estimated 5000 dead in New South Wales alone. They are now officially endangered in three states and territories.

In response, researchers are ramping up captive breeding to prevent extinction. Unfortunately, captive breeding faces two major challenges: it’s expensive, and it can be hard to maintain genetic diversity.

To tackle both issues, our new modelling study backs the approach of biobanking (freezing koala sperm) and tailored assisted reproduction techniques. We found these techniques would result in a five-fold decrease in the costs of running captive breeding programs.

Despite their promise, these reproductive tools have not yet become widely used in conservation. With koalas facing an uncertain future, it’s time to explore their full potential. If we get this right, we could use the same tools to help other species in rapid decline.

A koala named ‘Peter Lemon Tree’ at Port Stephens Koala Hospital. Penny Harnett/University of Newcastle

What Are These Techniques?

In animals, biobanking refers to freezing and storing sperm, eggs and embryos, as well as other cells and tissues from the body. These techniques have long been used in agriculture to store valuable sperm from top breeding bulls and crops in seed banks.

Most people are aware of in vitro fertilisation (IVF), a common assisted reproductive technology, but other options exist such as artificial insemination and direct sperm injection into the egg. In humans, IVF and sperm injection have dramatically improved fertility while artificial insemination has revolutionised the breeding of livestock.

Models Show Huge Drop In Costs And Less Inbreeding

In our modelling, we set the goal of maintaining at least 90% of the genetic diversity in the captive population over a century.

We compared conventional natural breeding programs to programs mixing natural breeding with frozen koala sperm from wild animals delivered by artificial insemination or direct sperm injection.

We found supplementing captive breeding with frozen sperm would dramatically slow inbreeding rates, produce genetically healthier animals and require fewer animals to be held in breeding colonies.

To reach the genetic target, you would need 223 koalas in a conventional captive program. By contrast, adding assisted reproduction means you’d only have to keep 17 koalas.

Dr Ryan Witt left and Dr Lachlan Howell with the koala Peter Lemon Tree at Port Stephens Koala Hospital. Penny Harnett/University of Newcastle

These much smaller colony sizes are what drives down the cost. When you factor in the costs of assisted reproduction, including sperm freezing and performing artificial insemination or sperm injection, you still end up with a more than five-fold reduction in costs.

Let’s Put These Technologies To Work

While these technologies have proven their worth for us and for livestock, we largely haven’t put them to work in wildlife recovery. We believe this is a missed opportunity to cut costs and boost genetic diversity.

The few programs which have embraced these techniques have seen success. North America’s black-footed ferret is coming back from the edge of extinction, aided in part by assisted reproduction techniques. In the 1980s, the last remaining 18 black-footed ferrets were brought into a captive breeding program in America. Because the genetic diversity was so low, researchers used artificial insemination and frozen sperm to reintroduce lost genes and reduce the damage from inbreeding.

What Do We Need To Do?

In recent years, we’ve seen significant investment in frozen storage and genomic sequencing of tissue samples collected from wild koalas.

These technologies are useful to take stock of the genetic health of koala populations. But they can’t help us restore lost genetic diversity to wild populations because the frozen tissue samples cannot be turned into living animals.

While we’ve seen some progress in tailoring these technologies to koalas, there’s more to do. To date, 34 koala joeys have been born using artificial insemination in tame zoo koalas. These joeys, however, came from fresh or chilled sperm, not frozen. To use frozen sperm requires more research and technology development. Other procedures like embryo transfer and cryopreservation of sperm will also need more development.

If we perfect these techniques and technologies, we could see new possibilities for koala conservation.

These include:

  • using genetic material from dead or sick koalas which would otherwise be lost
  • preserving gene pools from genetically important koala populations at risk of extinction
  • protecting the species against catastrophic events in the wild linked to climate change, disease and bushfire, which can cause major genetic loss
  • reducing inbreeding in captive breeding programs and producing genetically fit koalas for release
  • overcoming issues of separated populations and ensuring desirable breeding pairs can actually breed
  • tackling relocation issues emerging from the varying diets of koalas across regions and risk of disease transfer.

We Already Have The Expertise

Australia already has a strong network of wildlife hospitals and zoos across the koala’s range in eastern Australia, as well as existing captive colonies and technical and husbandry expertise.

Zoos and wildlife hospitals in eastern Australia which could help collect and store koala sperm and potentially help research into assisted reproduction. Shelby A. Ryan

With a relatively small amount of funding (A$3-4 million to start, A$1 million annually), these sites could be equipped to collect and store koala sperm from wild populations and help perfect the technologies we need to make this a reality.

Longer term, we could adapt these technologies for other endangered marsupials. The potential is real. All we need now is attention from researchers and funding bodies.The Conversation

Lachlan G. Howell, Postdoctoral Research Fellow | Centre for Integrative Ecology, Deakin University and Ryan R. Witt, Postdoctoral Researcher and Honorary Lecturer | 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.

Listen to the Albert’s lyrebird: the best performer you’ve never heard of

Alberts lyrebird in its natural habitat. Justin WelbergenCC BY-NC
Fiona BackhouseWestern Sydney UniversityAnastasia DalziellUniversity of WollongongJustin A. WelbergenWestern Sydney University, and Robert MagrathAustralian National University

Am I not pretty enough? This article is part of The Conversation’s series introducing you to Australia’s unloved animals that need our help.

Mention the superb lyrebird, and you’ll probably hear comments on their uncanny mimicry of human sounds, their presence on the 10 cent coin, and their stunning tail. Far less known – but equally, if not more, impressive – is the Albert’s lyrebird.

Like the superb lyrebird, the Albert’s lyrebird performs spectacular dance displays and, as our latest research shows, produces astounding mimicry of sounds from its environment. The Albert’s lyrebird is part of an ancient lineage of song birds, and even attracted the attention of Charles Darwin himself.

While the superb lyrebird is notoriously shy, the Albert’s lyrebird is more elusive still and is only found in a small region of subtropical rainforest hidden away in the mountainous areas of Bundjalung Country, on the border between New South Wales and Queensland.

Sadly, historical land clearing and recent bushfires have placed this species under threat, and a lack of information may be impeding its conservation. So let us introduce you to this shy performer and convince you that the Albert’s lyrebird is worthy of as much attention as its limelight-stealing sister species.

A male Albert’s lyrebird in display. Alex Maisey

Impressive Displays

The Albert’s lyrebird (Menura alberti) is a large, ground-dwelling bird that forages by scratching up the soft, leaf-littered forest floor.

Both sexes have dark auburn-red feathers, and the male sports a showy tail made of silvery thread-like feathers that create a waterfall effect over his head during his courtship display. The display also reveals a bright, flame-like patch of orange feathers underneath his tail.

Like superb lyrebirds, male Albert’s lyrebirds hit the stage in midwinter. Hidden within the thick vegetation of the rainforest, they use clusters of vines or sticks as a platform to perform. The male Albert’s lyrebird then sings a remarkable song.

Impressively, they can accurately mimic up to 11 different species, including satin bowerbirds, Australian king-parrots, crimson rosellas and kookaburras, among others.

They also mimic multiple vocalisations from each species, as well as non-vocal sounds such as wingbeats. In fact, one lyrebird can mimic up to 37 different sounds!

A male Albert’s lyrebird mimicking while on his display platform.

Drama And ‘Whistle Songs’

In our latest research, we show each male arranges his mimicry into a particular order that’s repeated again and again throughout a performance. What’s more, all males within a location perform their mimicry in a similar order, suggesting this sequence is learnt from neighbouring males.

For example, lyrebirds at Binna Burra, in Lamington National Park, often mimic a kookaburra, followed by an eastern yellow robin, wingbeats, and the “tsit” of a green catbird. You can hear this shared sequence in the recordings below.

Bird A from Binna Burra mimicking a kookaburra, robin, wingbeats, and a catbird. Author supplied: Fiona Backhouse103 KB (download)

Bird B from Binna Burra mimicking the same sequence. Author supplied: Fiona Backhouse181 KB (download)

Bird C from Binna Burra mimicking the same sequence again. Author supplied: Fiona Backhouse219 KB (download)

We’ve also discovered that males order their mimicry to place contrasting calls together within the sequence. This likely increases “drama”, and highlights the virtuosity of the male through the great diversity of sounds he can produce.

Lyrebirds not only mimic, but also sing their own songs, including their prominent whistle song – a striking melody we could hum or whistle along to, and during the dawn chorus the whistle songs of every lyrebird echo around the escarpments of their range.

These songs also vary from region to region, so each population has its unique set of whistle songs shared among the local males, which you can hear in the recordings below.

A whistle song from Mt Jerusalem. Author provided112 KB (download)

A whistle song from Lamington. Author provided119 KB (download)

A whistle song from Goomburra. Author provided135 KB (download)

It’s not just the males that sing – female lyrebirds are shamefully underrated. Like female superb lyrebirds, female Albert’s lyrebirds sing both their own song and mimic the sounds of other birds.

They seem to often mimic alarm calls of eastern whipbirds, as well as grey goshawks, a fierce predator of lyrebirds.

While the Albert’s lyrebird may be most noticeable for its extravagant plumes and vocal virtuosity, they also likely play an important role in the local ecosystem.

Superb lyrebirds are “ecosystem engineers”, who turn over soil when foraging with their powerful claws, which can reduce bushfire fuel. Albert’s lyrebirds also rake the forest floor while foraging and are likely to have similar impacts.

A male Albert’s lyrebird using its powerful claws to forage in the leaf litter. Alex Maisey

A Threatened Species

Since European colonisation, Albert’s lyrebirds have endured a history of land clearing for agriculture, and were even once shot to put in pies!

As a result, they are listed nationally as “near threatened”, though this listing worsens to “vulnerable” in NSW, where the smallest population has an estimated 10 individuals.

The devastating 2019-2020 bushfires that engulfed Australia’s east coast burnt an estimated 32% of Albert’s lyrebirds habitat. As a result, Albert’s lyrebirds have now been listed as one of 13 priority bird species requiring urgent management after the fires.

Now, more than ever, it’s important to fully understand the behaviour and ecology of this species to ensure their survival.

(Left) The escarpment in Main Range National Park, typical of Albert’s lyrebird habitat. Photo taken before the 2019-2020 bushfires. (Right) Smoke from bushfires burning throughout the range of Albert’s lyrebirds in November 2019. Imagery derived from NASA’s Worldview. Fiona Backhouse/NASA Worldview

What Can We Do?

The Albert’s lyrebird has escaped much public attention and has likely seen severe habitat loss after the fires. However, there is good news.

Citizen science initiatives in local council areas are helping to more accurately map Albert’s lyrebird occurrences, and improve habitat quality and connectivity by removing weeds.

Albert’s lyrebirds are not only important as an individual species, but also provide an entire soundscape through their diverse mimetic repertoires that they can perform for over an hour at a time.

They provide a soundtrack to our dwindling ancient rainforests, and are an important part of Australia’s natural and cultural history. Let’s ensure the next generation has the opportunity to meet this shy sister of the superb lyrebird.The Conversation

Fiona Backhouse, PhD Student in Behavioural Ecology, Western Sydney UniversityAnastasia Dalziell, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of WollongongJustin A. Welbergen, Associate Professor in Animal Ecology, Western Sydney University, and Robert Magrath, Professor of Behavioural Ecology, Research School of Biology, Australian National University

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

To make our wardrobes sustainable, we must cut how many new clothes we buy by 75%

Samantha SharpeUniversity of Technology SydneyMonique RetamalUniversity of Technology Sydney, and Taylor BrydgesUniversity of Technology Sydney

If things don’t change fast, the fashion industry could use a quarter of the world’s remaining global carbon budget to keep warming under 2℃ by 2050, and use 35% more land to produce fibres by 2030.

While this seems incredible, it’s not. Over the past 15 years, clothing production has doubled while the length of time we actually wear these clothes has fallen by nearly 40%. In the EU, falling prices have seen people buying more clothing than ever before while spending less money in the process.

This is not sustainable. Something has to give. In our recent report, we propose the idea of a wellbeing wardrobe, a new way forward for fashion in which we favour human and environmental wellbeing over ever-growing consumption of throwaway fast-fashion.

What would that look like? It would mean each of us cutting how many new clothes we buy by as much as 75%, buying clothes designed to last, and recycling clothes at the end of their lifetime.

For the sector, it would mean tackling low incomes for the people who make the clothes, as well as support measures for workers who could lose jobs during a transition to a more sustainable industry.

Garment workers in Bangladesh, 2021
Fast fashion comes at a cost. Shutterstock

Sustainability Efforts By Industry Are Simply Not Enough

Fashion is accelerating. Fast fashion is being replaced by ultra-fast fashion, releasing unprecedented volumes of new clothes into the market.

Since the start of the year, fast fashion giants H&M and Zara have launched around 11,000 new styles combined.

Over the same time, ultra-fast fashion brand Shein has released a staggering 314,877 styles. Shein is currently the most popular shopping app in Australia. As you’d expect, this acceleration is producing a tremendous amount of waste.

In response, the fashion industry has devised a raft of plans to tackle the issue. The problem is many sustainability initiatives still place economic opportunity and growth before environmental concerns.

Efforts such as switching to more sustainable fibres and textiles and offering ethically-conscious options are commendable. Unfortunately, they do very little to actually confront the sector’s rapidly increasing consumption of resources and waste generation.

Pile of clothes in landfill
Textile waste fills landfill in Bangladesh. Swapan Photography/Shutterstock

On top of this, labour rights abuses of workers in the supply chain are rife.

Over the past five years, the industry’s issues of child labour, discrimination and forced labour have worsened globally. Major garment manufacturing countries including Myanmar, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Vietnam are considered an “extreme risk” for modern slavery.

Here’s what we can do to tackle the situation.

1. Limit Resource Use And Consumption

We need to have serious conversations between industry, consumers and governments about limiting resource use in the fashion industry. As a society, we need to talk about how much clothing is enough to live well.

On an individual level, it means buying fewer new clothes, as well as reconsidering where we get our clothes from. Buying secondhand clothes or using rental services are ways of changing your wardrobe with lower impact.

2. Expand The Slow Fashion Movement

The growing slow fashion movement focuses on the quality of garments over quantity, and favours classic styles over fleeting trends.

We must give renewed attention to repairing and caring for clothes we already own to extend their lifespan, such as by reviving sewing, mending and other long-lost skills.

Person browses second hand clothes at market
Shopping for secondhand clothes at vintage market. Antonello Marangi/Shutterstock,

3. New Systems Of Exchange

The wellbeing wardrobe would mean shifting away from existing fashion business models and embracing new systems of exchange, such as collaborative consumption models, co-operatives, not-for-profit social enterprises and B-corps.

What are these? Collaborative consumption models involve sharing or renting clothing, while social enterprises and B-corps are businesses with purposes beyond making a profit, such as ensuring living wages for workers and minimising or eliminating environmental impacts.

There are also methods that don’t rely on money, such as swapping or borrowing clothes with friends and altering or redesigning clothes in repair cafes and sewing circles.

4. Diversity In Clothing Cultures

Finally, as consumers we must nurture a diversity of clothing cultures, including incorporating the knowledge of Indigenous fashion design, which has respect for the environment at its core.

Communities of exchange should be encouraged to recognise the cultural value of clothing, and to rebuild emotional connections with garments and support long-term use and care.

What Now?

Shifting fashion from a perpetual growth model to a sustainable approach will not be easy. Moving to a post-growth fashion industry would require policymakers and the industry to bring in a wide range of reforms, and re-imagine roles and responsibilities in society.

You might think this is too hard. But the status quo of constant growth cannot last.

It’s better we act to shape the future of fashion and work towards a wardrobe good for people and planet – rather than let a tidal wave of wasted clothing soak up resources, energy and our very limited carbon budget.The Conversation

Samantha Sharpe, Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology SydneyMonique Retamal, Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney, and Taylor Brydges, Research Principal, University of Technology Sydney

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

China’s demand for seaborne coal is set to drop fast and far. Australia should take note.

Jorrit GosensAustralian National University and Frank JotzoAustralian National University

China’s plans to boost energy security and cut carbon emissions mean this year’s sudden boom for Australian coal exporters is just a blip.

Our new research explores the double pressures of China’s plans to bolster energy security in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine while aiming to hit net zero within 40 years.

Our model suggests that if China sticks to its current climate pledges, thermal coal imports will drop by a quarter within three years from 210 megatonnes (Mt) in 2019 to 155Mt by 2025. That means Australian exports could fall by 20% by 2025, while Australian coking coal exports could fall even more. This is in stark contrast to predictions of stable demand or even continued growth by the Australian government.

How could this happen so quickly, when coal prices have roughly tripled compared to the last decade? In short, better infrastructure. China has invested in major rail projects, including a direct rail line to a major coking coal mine in Mongolia, as well as increasing use in scrap steel.

Coal’s Wild Ride In The Volatile 2020s

The last few years have been a rollercoaster for coal producers. For Australia’s major coal exporters, it’s been a wild ride.

After falling for some years, coal prices fell sharply as the COVID pandemic and resulting lockdowns led to a sharp decline in energy consumption. Adding to the pressure, China banned the imports of coal from Australia.

Before the disruption of the 2020s, China bought roughly a quarter of Australia’s exports of thermal coal (burned in power stations) and a similar share of coking coal exports (used in steelmaking).

In 2021, coal consumption and emissions shot back up after an unexpectedly strong economic rebound. Coal supplies were also disrupted due to COVID-related restrictions and workforce shortages. Together, these factors tripled coal spot prices to US$300 a tonne for thermal coal and US$450 a tonne for coking coal.

In China, the sudden scarcity of coal led to Australian coal held at its ports rushed through customs clearance. While the import ban formally remains in place, government data shows Australia has managed to divert most of its coal exports to countries such as India, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.

Chinese Energy Security Means A Drop In Australian Seaborne Coal

We expect all of these issues to be fairly short-lived. The big picture is China’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2060, and its interim target to peak emissions before 2030.

How will it do that? By expanding renewable power generation, increasing coal power station efficiency while reducing dependence on coal power longer term, and increased use of steel scrap. Better steel recycling will reduce demand for new steel, which requires two of Australia’s key exports, iron ore and coking coal. Reduced demand will inevitably affect China’s need to import coal.

For the next few years, coal will remain vital to China’s industrial strength and ability to power its cities. That’s where energy security comes in. China has invested heavily in freight railway capacity, in order to bring its own coal to its power and steel plants more cheaply.

It has also built rail connections to Tavan Tolgoi in neighbouring Mongolia, one of the world’s largest and cheapest sources of high-quality coking coal. With the new railway capacity, coking coal can now travel 1,200 kilometres to China’s steelmaking heartland in Hebei province, near Beijing.

Tavan Tolgoi mine
Mongolia’s enormous Tavan Tolgoi mine now has a direct rail link to Hebei province. Brücke-Osteuropa, Public domain, via Wikimedia CommonsCC BY

We took these factors into account in modelling different scenarios for Australian coal. We assume China will follow through on its existing climate policies.

In our scenarios, the largest losses would be borne by the biggest current suppliers of thermal coal to China. Number one exporter Indonesia could see its exports almost halved by 2025, falling from 125Mt in 2019 to as low as 65Mt.

Overall, China’s thermal coal imports should fall rapidly, dropping from 210Mt in 2019 to 155Mt by 2025. That means even if the embargo on Australian coal is lifted, our exports of thermal coal to China could still fall from 50Mt in 2019 to between 40 and 30 Mt in that timeframe, depending on China’s level of climate ambition. Coking coal exports could fall from 30Mt to as low as 20Mt.

Figure showing declines for coal exports
Three of the scenarios we modelled for Australian coal exports to China, assuming the embargo lifts. Zero infrastructure investment refers to a counter-factual in which China had not built additional freight railways and ports. SuppliedAuthor provided

If the embargo remains in place, the drop in Chinese demand for seaborne coal will mean China’s current suppliers will shift back to competing in the global market, and push out Australian suppliers. The net effect on Australian exports will likely be comparable.

We also explored the scenario in which all of Australia’s currently planned coal mine expansions actually go ahead. We found even in this scenario, there would be little impact on the loss of market share in China. By contrast, if Mongolian mines expand, our model predicts they would readily fill Chinese market demand at the expense of Australian coking coal imports.

To get these predictions, we ran a cost optimisation model with greatly improved representations of transport networks. The model finds the lowest cost at which different mines could supply all of China’s power and steel plants. We did not factor in political choices based on energy security or concerns about “just transitions”, such as, for instance, a Chinese push to limit the pain for its substantial coal mining and trucking workforce.

Overall, our model makes clear China’s demand for coal – expected to plateau or fall over the next few years – coupled with its expansion of domestic mine and transport capacity will reduce the role for Australian coal. The world’s top buyer of coal will increasingly be able to supply its power and steel plants with domestically mined coal at competitive costs.

In turn, that means it will be less costly for China to depend on what it considers to be volatile markets. It will also be easier to impose politically motivated import restrictions on suppliers from what it considers unfriendly countries.

China’s ability to cut seaborne coal imports will grow further if its government increases its decarbonisation ambitions. These plans will be a key influence on the the remaining demand for seaborne coal.

Australia’s government and investors would be wise to consider these macro-level changes and plans as they look ahead, rather than focusing on short term gains from current market volatility.

Alex Turnbull, fund manager at Keshik Capital, contributed to this article and was a co-author of the published research. He personally holds no coal stocks.The Conversation

Jorrit Gosens, Research Fellow, Australian National University and Frank Jotzo, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy and Head of Energy, Institute for Climate Energy and Disaster Solutions, Australian National University

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: Histories + Notes + 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 Boathouse In Governor Phillip Park  Part Of Our Community For 75 Years: Photos From The Collection Of Russell Walton, Son Of Victor Walton
Barrenjoey Headland: Spring flowers 
Barrenjoey Headland after fire
Bayview Baths
Bayview Wetlands
Beeby Park
Bilgola Beach
Botham Beach by Barbara Davies
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
Duck Holes: McCarrs Creek by Joe Mills
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
Iluka Park, Woorak Park, Pittwater Park, Sand Point Reserve, Snapperman Beach Reserve - Palm Beach: Some History
Ingleside Wildflowers August 2013
Irrawong - Ingleside Escarpment Trail Walk Spring 2020 photos by Joe Mills
Irrawong - Mullet Creek Restoration
Katandra Bushland Sanctuary - Ingleside
Lucinda Park, Palm Beach: Some History + 2022 Pictures
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
Resolute Track at West Head by Kevin Murray
Resolute Track Stroll by Joe Mills
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 -

AvPals Newport Small Group Courses Return

It is hard to believe that 10 years ago, Avpals started our short courses at Newport. Since then, hundreds of seniors across the area have been trained in the use of several types of modern technology. We have run courses on iPad, tablets, iPhone, Samsung phones, windows ten and eleven, google photos, safe online dating, staying safe online, genealogy, legacy, buying and selling on eBay and more, plus many special lectures.

We are proud that we have brought seniors right up there to be the equal of their children and grandchildren with technology.

The Covid lockdown presented problems as we could not do face to face teaching, but we solved that with well attended Zoom lessons. We were happy to teach the use of QR codes and the use of smart phones during the pandemic.

Term 2 at Newport community centre will go back to basics with technology each week on Tuesdays (26 April – 28 June) at 1.30 pm to allow you to catch up on new developments and matters that have worried you and problems that need solving over the pandemic lockdown.

There will be a different presentation each week of 30-40 mins with a 10-minute break and plenty of time to help resolve any problems you may have with Q & A.

These small group courses are held on Tuesdays at the Newport Community Centre. Bookings and payment for a course ($15 per course) can be done HERE. All the details for the current term are shown below:

Policy Recommendations For The 47th Parliament

By COTA Australia
Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia, the peak body and leading advocate for older Australians, has today, April 14, 2022, released its Agenda for the next Government and Parliament on the needs of older Australians.

The Agenda covers 12 public policy areas and includes 37 recommendations for the 47th Parliament of Australia. This wide-ranging policy agenda sets out opportunities to improve the lives of older Australians for whomever forms government, and the 47th Parliament as a whole.

The key public policy areas that need to be addressed include a Whole of Government approach to ageing, Aged Care, Retirement Living, Health, Older Workers, Housing, Age Discrimination, Older Women, Elder Abuse, Digital Inclusion, Social Inclusion, and Voluntary Assisted Dying Laws.

COTA Chief Executive, Ian Yates AM, said the Agenda sets out a positive set of opportunities for the next Government and Parliament to improve the lives of older people.

“We are not apportioning blame for the past. Both major parties have things to be proud of, and failings, but our focus is on what can be achieved in the next three years. That’s what matters to older people, and indeed their families, which is really all Australians,” Mr Yates said.

Address ageism and age discrimination
“Ageism – negative messages about ageing – is endemic. Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) research in 2021 says that 83% of Australians believe ageism is a problem in Australia, and 63% have experienced it in the last five years. Ageism is expressed in many ways, including laws and policies that harm older people, employment discrimination, exclusion from health and other services, and social isolation.

“It’s time to remove ageism from Australia – especially to strengthen age discrimination legislation so it’s actually effective, because it’s a failure now – and tackling it in employment services and the healthcare system is a priority. That includes putting oral and dental healthcare in Medicare as originally intended 50 years ago. In the meantime, a special program of oral and dental health support to older Australian of up to $1,000 per year should be introduced immediately.

Prevent Elder abuse
“Elder Abuse is widespread, poorly identified, and often difficult to prove. While often highlighted as an issue in nursing homes, elder abuse is far more common, and far less reported, in the community – usually from family members and close friends and sometimes lawyers.

“Physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, and financial elder abuse are crimes that occur every day in every neighbourhood in Australia – city, country, rich, and poor. Much more concerted action by Governments is long overdue. If elder abuse was child sex abuse, or gender violence, it would not be tolerated. It’s time that applied to older people. Government and Parliament must act.

Transform Aged care
“A major process of transformative reform is underway after the recent Royal Commission into Aged Care. A new human rights based Aged Care Act must increase the rights of older people, improve transparency and place the older person at the centre of the care delivered.

“Older people need and want choice and control over how they live their lives, in both home care and residential. No one should wait more than month for home care – all parties must commit to this. Poor quality operators should be forced out of the industry.

“Fixing the aged care system will take some years, and any negative changes in the current Government’s comprehensive policy response will delay the urgent  timetable of reform. Bu the government’s response to the workforce challenges now being faced is inadequate and the Opposition’s commitment is welcome if it can be delivered – but we need to see all their aged care reform policy, especially on Support at Home.

“Every previous aged care reform has been resisted by aged care providers on the basis of self-interested arguments about the pace of change and taking exception on the margins to reform proposals.  And they are doing it again in lobbying both the Opposition, which has not committed to the Government reforms, and to the Government in the election context.”

“It’s time aged care providers realise that the aged care system is about older people who need support and care, in ways that enable them to maintain their independence. It is not about having their lives managed by providers and government.

“Ensuring that the Government reform package, much of which was directly advocated by COTA, is delivered fully and in a timely manner will be a challenge for the next Government and the 47th Parliament of Australia.

Better Retirement income policy
“Retirement income policy, which has too often been treated as a political football in Australia, also needs to be addressed. Rather than playing politics, we would like to see straightforward policy changes to make the system fairer, and more effective.

“Australia should stamp out unfounded speculation that the Age Pension may not be there in the future by establishing a bipartisan “Pension Guarantee”.

“Rather than use their superannuation to provide a better standard of living, many older people live frugally, in fear of their own longevity, and end up dying with large superannuation balances that only benefit their inheritors. This must change.

Whole of government Ageing Strategy
“A whole of government Ageing Strategy would ensure initiatives for older people are better coordinated, and ageism doesn’t impede good development and delivery of innovative and responsive  services. As Government increases its digital services footprint, and the population continues to age, ensuring a coordinated engagement with older people has never been more important.

Fake News, Retirement Taxes And What We Should Talk About

April 21, 2022: COTA Australia
A number of retirees have been contacting us, and other organisations have contacted us, concerned that if Labor wins the election, they will introduce a “retirees tax.” Or a “death tax”. Neither is correct. We have been in discussion with the Labor Party, read their policies, and done our own investigations. We are satisfied that this is a scare campaign without a factual basis.

COTA Australia has strongly criticised this sort of fake campaign designed to scare older voters. The Liberal Party and their allies should stop frightening older people with this sort of campaign, just as we have said Labor should desist from their fake news campaign about threats to the pension.

Unfortunately, these fake news campaigns distract from good policies that both parties are offering Older Australians this election, such as in aged care. We have come a long way since the 2007 election when neither major party had a policy on aged care. 

There are still many policies to be released, but it is already clear that both sides can be praised for their policies on fixing Australia’s aged care system.

This focus on scare campaigns also distracts from discussion of real policy issues that neither major party has spoken about – like an oral and dental health scheme for older people, or reviewing the age pension income test and Work Bonus, or many other matters COTA has identified in our statement of policy priorities.

COTA Australia will continue to praise, and criticise, both sides of politics based on their policies for Older Australians and their approach to our constituencies. We are calling on the next Parliament to enact our Agenda for Government from Older Australians. So far this election, we have seen both major parties commit to some parts of it, but we are hopeful for a lot more commitment.

We will keep you informed, and you can sign up to our newsletter here.

Election 2022: Information You Need To Know

We go to the polls on 21 May to vote for a new Commonwealth Government and the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has great resources and advice about voting to suit your situation and circumstances.

Here are some key topics and frequently asked questions about voting that should help make sure your vote is counted.

Can I vote electronically?
No. The AEC conducts federal elections in accordance with the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. The introduction of electronic voting would require legislative change, which is a matter for Parliament.
Will there be COVID-19 safety measures at polling places?
There will be a range of COVID-19 safety measures at polling places, which include the requirement for election staff to be vaccinated and to wear a face mask.

There will also be things that we have become used to like physical distancing and using hand sanitiser. These may slow down the process, so please be kind to the polling staff.

Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers has said, “Australians can feel comfortable to vote in-person this federal election. With most of us able to lead our daily lives in the community you can take comfort that we’ll have more COVID-19 safety measures in place at voting venues than your local shops.”

Vote early
You can vote early, either in-person or by post, if on election day you:
  • are outside the electorate where you are enrolled to vote
  • are more than 8km from a polling place
  • are travelling
  • are unable to leave your workplace to vote
  • are seriously ill, infirm, or due to give birth shortly (or caring for someone who is)
  • are a patient in hospital and can't vote at the hospital
  • have religious beliefs that prevent you from attending a polling place
  • are in prison serving a sentence of less than three years or otherwise detained
  • are a silent elector
  • have a reasonable fear for your safety.
Consider your options carefully. Voting early in-person may be a better option than voting by post.

How does postal voting work?
While elections are in-person community events, Australians who can’t make it in-person, can apply for a postal vote.

Political parties can send postal vote applications in the mail or you might get a text message linking you back to a party website.

However, direct AEC applications are the quickest and best method and you can apply directly through the AEC website.

More information about postal voting is available here.

What if someone has mobility difficulties or is living with a disability?
While the AEC uses accessible polling places wherever possible, if you find it difficult to get to a polling place on election day, you can apply to become a General Postal Voter to receive your ballot papers in the mail. The AEC also provides mobile polling to some hospitals and nursing homes (see below).

If you have a physical disability that prevents you from writing, someone else may complete and sign an enrolment form for persons unable to sign their name on your behalf.

Some people may also require additional support to enrol and vote, such as people with an intellectual, cognitive or psychosocial disability. The AEC provides a range of ‘Easy read guides’ for people who have difficulty reading and understanding written information.

Will mobile voting be available in health care and residential care settings?
Given the higher COVID-19 risk in health and aged care settings it is unlikely that mobile voting teams will be able to visit all aged care facilities or hospitals.

During the federal election people in these facilities will be able to apply for a postal vote or visit a nearby in-person voting centre. The AEC will have teams in regular contact with relevant facilities to provide support.

A relative has dementia. What should I do?
People in the early stages of dementia, who are still capable of understanding the nature and significance of enrolment and voting, may be able to continue to enrol and vote.

You should speak with the person and with their doctor to determine if they maintain the capacity to understand the voting process.

If someone is unable to understand the nature or significance of voting in a federal election, then an application can be made to have them removed from the electoral roll. This application can be made by a family member, carer or friend but must be accompanied by a medical certificate that attests to the circumstances.

Source: Australian Electoral Commission

Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons - Who Loves You (Official Music Video)

Calming Overexcited Neurons May Protect Brain After Stroke

April 21, 2022
A new study has prompted scientists to reconsider a once-popular yet controversial idea in stroke research. Neuroscientists believed that, in the aftermath of a stroke, calming overexcited neurons might prevent them from releasing a toxic molecule that can kill neurons already damaged by lack of oxygen. This idea was supported by studies in cells and animals, but it lost favour in the early 2000s after numerous clinical trials failed to improve outcomes for stroke patients. But a fresh approach has yielded evidence that the idea may have been discarded too hastily. The new findings are available online in the journal Brain.

By scanning the whole genomes of nearly 6,000 people who had experienced strokes, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis identified two genes associated with recovery within the pivotal first 24 hours after stroke. Events -- good or bad -- that occur in the first day set stroke patients on their courses toward long-term recovery. Both genes turned out to be involved in regulating neuronal excitability, providing evidence that overstimulated neurons influence stroke outcomes.

"There's been this lingering question about whether excitotoxicity really matters for stroke recovery in people," said co-senior author Jin-Moo Lee, MD, PhD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of the Department of Neurology. "We can cure stroke in a mouse using blockers of excitotoxicity. But in humans we performed numerous clinical trials, and we couldn't move the needle. Every last one of them was negative. In this study, out of 20,000 genes, the top two genetic hits point to mechanisms involving neuronal excitation. That's pretty remarkable. This is the first genetic evidence that shows excitotoxicity matters in people and not just in mice."

Every year nearly 800,000 people in the U.S. have ischemic strokes, the most common kind of stroke. Ischemic strokes occur when a clot blocks a blood vessel and cuts off oxygen to part of the brain, triggering sudden numbness, weakness, confusion, difficulty speaking or other symptoms. Over the next 24 hours, some people's symptoms continue to worsen while others' stabilize or improve.

In the 1990s, Dennis Choi, MD, PhD, then head of the Department of Neurology at Washington University, performed ground-breaking research on excitotoxicity in stroke. He and others showed that stroke can cause neurons to release large amounts of glutamate, a molecule that transmits excitatory messages between neurons. Glutamate is constantly being released by neurons as part of the normal functioning of the nervous system, but too much all at once can be toxic. Efforts to translate this basic research into therapies for people did not pan out, and eventually pharmaceutical companies let their anti-excitotoxic drug development programs lapse.

But Lee, who formerly worked on excitotoxicity with Choi, did not give up. He teamed up with genetics researcher and co-senior author Carlos Cruchaga, PhD, the Barbara Burton and Reuben M. Morriss III Professor of Neurology and a professor of psychiatry; first author Laura Ibañez, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry; and co-author Laura Heitsch, MD, an assistant professor of emergency medicine and of neurology, to tackle the question of what drives post-stroke brain injury. The team identified people who had experienced strokes, and they looked for genetic differences between those who naturally recovered substantial function in the first day and those who did not.

As members of the International Stroke Genetics Consortium, the research team was able to study 5,876 ischemic stroke patients from seven countries: Spain, Finland, Poland, the United States, Costa Rica, Mexico and South Korea. They measured each person's recovery or deterioration over the first day using the difference between their scores on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Stroke Scale at six and 24 hours after symptoms first appeared. The scale gauges a person's degree of neurological impairment based on measures such as the ability to answer basic questions such as "How old are you?"; to perform movements such as holding up the arm or leg; and to feel sensation when touched.

The researchers performed a genome wide association study by scanning the participants' DNA for genetic variations related to the change in their NIH stroke scale scores. The top two hits were genes that coded for the proteins ADAM23 and GluR1. Both are related to sending excitatory messages between neurons. ADAM23 forms bridges between two neurons so that signalling molecules such as glutamate can be passed from one to the other. GluR1 is a receptor for glutamate.

"We started with no hypotheses about the mechanism of neuronal injury," Cruchaga said. "We started with the assumption that some genetic variants are associated with stroke recovery, but which ones they are, we did not guess. We tested every single gene and genetic region. So the fact that an unbiased analysis yielded two genes involved in excitotoxicity tells us that it must be important."

In the years since anti-excitotoxic drug development was abandoned, clot-busting drugs have become the standard of care for ischemic stroke. Such drugs aim to restore blood flow so that oxygen -- and anything else in the bloodstream, including medication -- can reach affected brain tissue. Consequently, experimental neuroprotective therapies that failed in the past might be more effective now that they have a better chance of reaching the affected area.

"We know that that first 24-hour period has the greatest impact on outcomes," Lee said. "Beyond 24 hours, there's diminishing returns in terms of influence on long-term recovery. Right now, we don't have any neuroprotective agents for that first 24 hours. Many of the original studies with anti-excitotoxic agents were performed at a time when we weren't sure about the best trial design. We've learned a lot about stroke in the last few decades. I think it's time for a re-examination."

Laura Ibanez, Laura Heitsch, Caty Carrera, Fabiana H. G. Farias, Jorge L. Del Aguila, Rajat Dhar, John Budde, Kristy Bergmann, Joseph Bradley, Oscar Harari, Chia-Ling Phuah, Robin Lemmens, Alessandro A. Viana Oliveira Souza, Francisco Moniche, Antonio Cabezas-Juan, Juan Francisco Arenillas, Jerzy Krupinksi, Natalia Cullell, Nuria Torres-Aguila, Elena Muiño, Jara Cárcel-Márquez, Joan Marti-Fabregas, Raquel Delgado-Mederos, Rebeca Marin-Bueno, Alejandro Hornick, Cristofol Vives-Bauza, Rosa Diaz Navarro, Silvia Tur, Carmen Jimenez, Victor Obach, Tomas Segura, Gemma Serrano-Heras, Jong-Won Chung, Jaume Roquer, Carol Soriano-Tarraga, Eva Giralt-Steinhauer, Marina Mola-Caminal, Joanna Pera, Katarzyna Lapicka-Bodzioch, Justyna Derbisz, Antoni Davalos, Elena Lopez-Cancio, Lucia Muñoz, Turgut Tatlisumak, Carlos Molina, Marc Ribo, Alejandro Bustamante, Tomas Sobrino, Jose Castillo-Sanchez, Francisco Campos, Emilio Rodriguez-Castro, Susana Arias-Rivas, Manuel Rodríguez-Yáñez, Christina Herbosa, Andria L. Ford, Alonso Gutierrez-Romero, Rodrigo Uribe-Pacheco, Antonio Arauz, Iscia Lopes-Cendes, Theodore Lowenkopf, Miguel A. Barboza, Hajar Amini, Boryana Stamova, Bradley P. Ander, Frank R Sharp, Gyeong Moon Kim, Oh Young Bang, Jordi Jimenez-Conde, Agnieszka Slowik, Daniel Stribian, Ellen A. Tsai, Linda C. Burkly, Joan Montaner, Israel Fernandez-Cadenas, Jin-Moo Lee, Carlos Cruchaga. Multi-ancestry GWAS reveals excitotoxicity associated with outcome after ischaemic stroke. Brain, 2022; DOI: 10.1093/brain/awac080

Older Australians on the tough choices they face as energy costs set to increase

Ross GordonQueensland University of Technology

Australian aged care policy and programs are increasingly focused on what’s known as “successful ageing” – helping people feel satisfied, happier and healthier as they age. The goal is not just living longer, but also living better.

An essential part of ageing successfully is having enough energy for cooking, heating, cooling, cleaning, and leisure activities.

Being able to use energy in these ways can help prevent ill health or premature death, manage illness and chronic disease, sustain social relations, and support positive mental health.

Recent research I led focused on the role domestic energy consumption plays in supporting successful ageing. Over several months, we met with and interviewed 39 householders aged over 60 living in the New South Wales Illawarra region, from varying economic, social and cultural backgrounds, and housing arrangements.

We found clear associations between energy consumption and health and well-being outcomes. Many people told us they avoid using energy – risking even their health and well-being – to reduce costs.

Old man sitting on couch and smiling.
Successful ageing focuses on supporting people to feel more satisfied with their lives, and feel happier and healthier. Shutterstock

When You Can’t Use The Clothesline Anymore

Carl is a 97-year-old widower who survived the sinking of two battleships during WWII. He now lives alone after his wife died following a long illness.

He recently had a couple of bad falls, which means he can no longer manage to use his clothesline outside to dry his laundry. Carl explains:

I’ve stopped using the outside line because I felt awkward. I’d have to put my stick down and lift things up, then I’d go wobbly. I fell a couple of times […] I have a dryer for emergencies, but I try not to use it because of the electricity costs […] It dries in the kitchen anyway.

To save on energy costs, Carl uses a kitchen pulley system to dry his clothing.

While he is just about able to manage, is he ageing successfully?

Carl’s worries about the cost of energy have led him to risk his health instead of choosing the safer and easier option of the dryer.

Comfort Versus Cost

We found other participants were rarely putting the heating on. Danielle, a 72-year-old woman who lives with her husband, told us:

My daughter was here last night. She complained about being cold. I gave her a blanket. I offered to put the heater on; I gave her a blanket instead.

Zack, an 89-year-old widower, only offers to put the reverse cycle air conditioner on when he has visitors.

I put it on yesterday afternoon because I knew the daughter was coming. But at times I just got a couple of throw rugs and just sit here and watch the television with that on.

This inability to live at a comfortable temperature was also an issue for Georgie, a 72-year-old woman who lives alone in a small unit. Despite the cold mornings in winter, Georgie has so far avoided buying a reverse cycle air conditioner due to the cost:

It’s really quite cold in here in the winter. In the morning […] I get up really early. I’m up by 5:00 in the morning, and it’s cold. But it [reverse cycle air conditioning] would be expensive to run.

Energy Supports Health And Socialising

Participants also had to consider energy costs associated with essential medical devices such as CPAP machines, chairlifts, and blood pressure and blood sugar monitors.

As Daisy, a 72-year-old married woman explains, her husband Joe relies on energy for his CPAP machine:

Really, I mean, that has to come first, the fact that he needs to breathe.

Many older Australians face a difficult choice between using energy to manage their health or face high energy bills they can ill afford.

We also found energy supports well-being; hosting friends for a cup of tea or initiating social connections is tough without energy.

Genevieve, aged 89, explains how her computer helps her keep in touch with family:

There is a little bit of communication between them regularly every time we have a meeting and, you know, little things, so it’s continual. So, I’m doing emails and little reports and little things like that on it.

Old man on wheelchair sits alone in darkened room.
Energy consumption is essential for human health and well-being. Shutterstock

Energy Policy Must Consider The Needs Of Older People

Existing Australian energy policy focuses on marketisation, productivity, efficiency, security and the clean energy transition, offering little focus on health and well-being.

On the other hand, health policies pay scant attention to the role domestic energy consumption plays.

With energy prices set to increase later this year, billing anxiety lingering and fuel insecurity looming, there’s a risk the health and well-being needs of older Australians are neglected.

What Would Help?

Our findings underscore the need for health, energy, and housing policy to be integrated to better support older people to age successfully, in homes fit for purpose – without constant worries about high energy bills.

Policies and programs geared towards energy cost savings such as solar installations, insulation and efficient appliances would help. So too would promoting access to higher value energy rebates for those with chronic health conditions.

Health professionals can help by guiding eligible Australians towards their entitlements.

By recognising that energy is a basic human need, essential for health and well-being, we can better support successful ageing.The Conversation

Ross Gordon, Professor, Queensland University of Technology

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

Word Of The Week: Family

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

from Latin: familia
The word family came into English in the fifteenth century. Its root lies in the Latin word famulus, “servant”. The first meaning in English was close to our modern word “household” — a group of individuals living under one roof that included blood relations and servants
In Ancient Rome, familia not only named one's immediate family but could also extended to one's “clan” and even “slaves” as they were considered part of one's household

1. a group of people who are related to each other, such as a mother, a father, and their children. 2. a group of people who care about each other because they have a close relationship or shared interests. 3. a pair of adult animals and their babies. 4. a large group of related types of animal or plant. 5. a group of things that are related or have similar qualities

Family Songs: A Mix

"Family" Lyric Video
sung by Holly Palmer - featured in the new Paul Rudd/Steve Coogan film Ideal Home 

Sister Sledge: We Are Family (1979)

The Hollies:  He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother (1970)

Sly & The Family Stone - Everyday People (1968)

Paul Simon - Loves Me Like a Rock (1973)

Eddie Fisher - Oh! My Papa (1954)

Jimmy Barnes - Working Class Man (1986)

Gerry & The Pacemakers - You'll Never Walk Alone (1963)

Listen to the Albert’s lyrebird: the best performer you’ve never heard of

Alberts lyrebird in its natural habitat. Justin WelbergenCC BY-NC
Fiona BackhouseWestern Sydney UniversityAnastasia DalziellUniversity of WollongongJustin A. WelbergenWestern Sydney University, and Robert MagrathAustralian National University

Am I not pretty enough? This article is part of The Conversation’s series introducing you to Australia’s unloved animals that need our help.

Mention the superb lyrebird, and you’ll probably hear comments on their uncanny mimicry of human sounds, their presence on the 10 cent coin, and their stunning tail. Far less known – but equally, if not more, impressive – is the Albert’s lyrebird.

Like the superb lyrebird, the Albert’s lyrebird performs spectacular dance displays and, as our latest research shows, produces astounding mimicry of sounds from its environment. The Albert’s lyrebird is part of an ancient lineage of song birds, and even attracted the attention of Charles Darwin himself.

While the superb lyrebird is notoriously shy, the Albert’s lyrebird is more elusive still and is only found in a small region of subtropical rainforest hidden away in the mountainous areas of Bundjalung Country, on the border between New South Wales and Queensland.

Sadly, historical land clearing and recent bushfires have placed this species under threat, and a lack of information may be impeding its conservation. So let us introduce you to this shy performer and convince you that the Albert’s lyrebird is worthy of as much attention as its limelight-stealing sister species.

A male Albert’s lyrebird in display. Alex Maisey

Impressive Displays

The Albert’s lyrebird (Menura alberti) is a large, ground-dwelling bird that forages by scratching up the soft, leaf-littered forest floor.

Both sexes have dark auburn-red feathers, and the male sports a showy tail made of silvery thread-like feathers that create a waterfall effect over his head during his courtship display. The display also reveals a bright, flame-like patch of orange feathers underneath his tail.

Like superb lyrebirds, male Albert’s lyrebirds hit the stage in midwinter. Hidden within the thick vegetation of the rainforest, they use clusters of vines or sticks as a platform to perform. The male Albert’s lyrebird then sings a remarkable song.

Impressively, they can accurately mimic up to 11 different species, including satin bowerbirds, Australian king-parrots, crimson rosellas and kookaburras, among others.

They also mimic multiple vocalisations from each species, as well as non-vocal sounds such as wingbeats. In fact, one lyrebird can mimic up to 37 different sounds!

A male Albert’s lyrebird mimicking while on his display platform.

Drama And ‘Whistle Songs’

In our latest research, we show each male arranges his mimicry into a particular order that’s repeated again and again throughout a performance. What’s more, all males within a location perform their mimicry in a similar order, suggesting this sequence is learnt from neighbouring males.

For example, lyrebirds at Binna Burra, in Lamington National Park, often mimic a kookaburra, followed by an eastern yellow robin, wingbeats, and the “tsit” of a green catbird. You can hear this shared sequence in the recordings below.

Bird A from Binna Burra mimicking a kookaburra, robin, wingbeats, and a catbird. Author supplied: Fiona Backhouse103 KB (download)

Bird B from Binna Burra mimicking the same sequence. Author supplied: Fiona Backhouse181 KB (download)

Bird C from Binna Burra mimicking the same sequence again. Author supplied: Fiona Backhouse219 KB (download)

We’ve also discovered that males order their mimicry to place contrasting calls together within the sequence. This likely increases “drama”, and highlights the virtuosity of the male through the great diversity of sounds he can produce.

Lyrebirds not only mimic, but also sing their own songs, including their prominent whistle song – a striking melody we could hum or whistle along to, and during the dawn chorus the whistle songs of every lyrebird echo around the escarpments of their range.

These songs also vary from region to region, so each population has its unique set of whistle songs shared among the local males, which you can hear in the recordings below.

A whistle song from Mt Jerusalem. Author provided112 KB (download)

A whistle song from Lamington. Author provided119 KB (download)

A whistle song from Goomburra. Author provided135 KB (download)

It’s not just the males that sing – female lyrebirds are shamefully underrated. Like female superb lyrebirds, female Albert’s lyrebirds sing both their own song and mimic the sounds of other birds.

They seem to often mimic alarm calls of eastern whipbirds, as well as grey goshawks, a fierce predator of lyrebirds.

While the Albert’s lyrebird may be most noticeable for its extravagant plumes and vocal virtuosity, they also likely play an important role in the local ecosystem.

Superb lyrebirds are “ecosystem engineers”, who turn over soil when foraging with their powerful claws, which can reduce bushfire fuel. Albert’s lyrebirds also rake the forest floor while foraging and are likely to have similar impacts.

A male Albert’s lyrebird using its powerful claws to forage in the leaf litter. Alex Maisey

A Threatened Species

Since European colonisation, Albert’s lyrebirds have endured a history of land clearing for agriculture, and were even once shot to put in pies!

As a result, they are listed nationally as “near threatened”, though this listing worsens to “vulnerable” in NSW, where the smallest population has an estimated 10 individuals.

The devastating 2019-2020 bushfires that engulfed Australia’s east coast burnt an estimated 32% of Albert’s lyrebirds habitat. As a result, Albert’s lyrebirds have now been listed as one of 13 priority bird species requiring urgent management after the fires.

Now, more than ever, it’s important to fully understand the behaviour and ecology of this species to ensure their survival.

(Left) The escarpment in Main Range National Park, typical of Albert’s lyrebird habitat. Photo taken before the 2019-2020 bushfires. (Right) Smoke from bushfires burning throughout the range of Albert’s lyrebirds in November 2019. Imagery derived from NASA’s Worldview. Fiona Backhouse/NASA Worldview

What Can We Do?

The Albert’s lyrebird has escaped much public attention and has likely seen severe habitat loss after the fires. However, there is good news.

Citizen science initiatives in local council areas are helping to more accurately map Albert’s lyrebird occurrences, and improve habitat quality and connectivity by removing weeds.

Albert’s lyrebirds are not only important as an individual species, but also provide an entire soundscape through their diverse mimetic repertoires that they can perform for over an hour at a time.

They provide a soundtrack to our dwindling ancient rainforests, and are an important part of Australia’s natural and cultural history. Let’s ensure the next generation has the opportunity to meet this shy sister of the superb lyrebird.The Conversation

Fiona Backhouse, PhD Student in Behavioural Ecology, Western Sydney UniversityAnastasia Dalziell, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of WollongongJustin A. Welbergen, Associate Professor in Animal Ecology, Western Sydney University, and Robert Magrath, Professor of Behavioural Ecology, Research School of Biology, Australian National University

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

More than just MasterChef: a brief history of Australian cookery competitions

Lauren SamuelssonUniversity of Wollongong

Australians were involved in competitive cookery long before MasterChef.

The earliest of Australia’s cooking competitions were at agricultural shows. In 1910, the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW hosted its first competition for “perishable foods” at the Royal Easter Show.

Along with pastry and pickles, competitors could also be judged on their calf’s foot jelly.

By the 1920s, the cookery category at the Easter Show had been firmly established. It was purely the preserve of women. Men were prohibited from entering and wouldn’t be allowed to enter until after the second world war.

Women living in NSW and the ACT also entered their wares in the Country Women’s Association’s The Land Cookery Competition. Starting in 1949, the competition judged women on their ability to bake classics such as fruit cake, butter cake and lamingtons, offering modest prize money to the winners. It is still running today.

These competitions are grounded in a history of cooking which saw women as “cooks” and men as “chefs”. Women were amateurs working in the home, while men worked in professional kitchens. This phenomenon continues today.

Cookery competitions allowed women to receive recognition for their often-overlooked hard work and skill. Contestants were encouraged to break out of their comfort zones, to be creative, innovate and impress.

Magazine Cookery Competitions

With women as their key demographic, it is little wonder that, by the 1960s, women’s magazines such as the Australian Women’s Weekly began hosting large-scale cookery competitions open to readers around the country.

Perhaps the most extravagant of these competitions was the Butter-White Wings Bake-Off, which ran from 1963 to 1970. The competition pitted Australia’s best home bakers against each other in a variety of categories, including cakes, desserts, main courses and “busy lady recipes”.

Australian Women’s Weekly, Wednesday 12 July 1967. Trove

Entering their written recipes, contestants competed at state level for a chance to win a trip to the national final where they would cook for illustrious judges.

Thousands competed at the state level of these competitions, and one from each state and territory would go on to the final. These were held in either Sydney or Melbourne in front of live audiences, usually in the middle of a department store.

The 1970 final was televised, with the Weekly estimating two million viewers would watch the proceedings.

It was Australia’s first televised cooking competition.

Marketing And Celebrities

Just as MasterChef is sponsored by advertisers, the cookery competitions hosted in the Weekly proved to be lucrative marketing opportunities for a variety of sponsors. The prizes, provided by sponsors such as Breville and QANTAS, included cash, fur coats, appliances, cars and overseas holidays.

The choice of judges also offers us a glimpse of the glamour associated with the competitions as well as the continued gendered expectations surrounding cookery. A slew of early “celebrity chefs” were flown in from exotic, international destinations to judge the competition – including the Galloping Gourmet himself, Graham Kerr.

These celebrity chefs judged the main course section; the overtly feminine baking sections were judged primarily by women.

Australian Women’s Weekly, Wednesday 23 October 1968. Trove

It was in the cake section that contestants really went above and beyond, both in the recipes themselves and in their names. In 1968, prize-winning recipes included “Golden Crown Dessert”, “Marshmallow-Cherry Cake”, “Chocolate Gold Layer Cake” and “Peach Kuchen”.

Peach Kuchen, which won the “Busy Lady” section, was made with a packet of White Wings cake mix, a tin of peaches and some sour cream. The Bake-Off helped to popularise (and sell!) boxed cake mixes: even the “busy woman” could create delicious cakes deserving of accolades.

A Dizzying Progression

The last Butter-White Wings Bake-Off was held in 1970, but the magazine kept hosting cooking competitions. In 1980, Elizabeth Love was crowned “Best Cook in Australia.”

Her prize-winning menu included oysters in pastry cases, ballotine of duckling with baby vegetables and a red wine jus, mango sorbet and almond petits fours.

In a recent interview, Love reflected that her menu drew on the concepts of nouvelle cuisine, which was popular at the time. It was an ambitious menu for a home cook – however Love declared that she didn’t think it would do very well if she went on MasterChef today.

Australian cooking has come a long way – competitions are no longer for the busy home cook. Shutterstock

Her menu demonstrates the dizzying progression of Australian food over the past 40 years.

Cookery competitions like those held in the Weekly gradually disappeared, replaced instead by competitions on television, which have grown in popularity over the last two decades.

Like the magazine cookery competitions of the past, where contestants were inventive and used new and exciting ingredients, television competitions have also proved important for introducing the Australian palate to innovative cooking techniques and exotic ingredients.

Our ongoing fascination with cooking competition shows such as MasterChef reflects the prestige still on offer for those ambitious contestants who enter them, as well as the cultural importance of food. The Conversation

Lauren Samuelsson, Honorary Fellow, University of Wollongong

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

Guide to the classics: Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Everest of literature

David Tennant as Hamlet in a 2009 production. BBC Wales, Royal Shakespeare Company
Dr Jamie Q RobertsUniversity of Sydney

Although I’m wary of declaring any literary work to be the greatest ever, Shakespeare’s Hamlet would be a frontrunner. It’s often proclaimed to be or voted Shakespeare’s best play (Google it). It has countless film adaptations, is widely referenced, and even gets a homage of sorts in The Simpsons.

Hamlet deserves such accolades because it offers the deepest of insights into the human condition; although this insight can be a little tricky to explain.

Let’s consider some of Shakespeare’s other popular, serious plays. Romeo and Juliet is a tale of forbidden love – the cliché drops effortlessly. Othello is about the horrors of jealousy. And Macbeth, with its Tarantino-grade account of regicide and its grim consequences, explores the dark side of ambition. So what about Hamlet?

Well … ah … It’s about when someone does something bad, and you’re pretty sure what they did wasn’t right, and you ought to do something about it, but you can’t find it within yourself to do this something, and your uncertainty and inaction cause you even more distress, but events roll on – as they always do – and everything ends up worse than if you’d done something in the first place. Maybe.

I’m being silly, but it’s my way of coping. For while I’m familiar with the woes associated with love, jealousy and ambition, my greatest grief is that time and again I did not act when the situation called for it. I was a coward. I’m certain that I’m far from alone in assessing my life this way. And this is why Hamlet, which depicts this state of inaction, is the Everest of literature.

An Overview Of The Play

Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, is a modern character. He attends the University of Wittenberg and is an intellectual. His father, the recently deceased king, also called Hamlet, was, in contrast to his son, a warrior.

In the play’s first scene, the ghost of old king Hamlet silently appears to Horatio, Hamlet’s friend. Upon seeing him, Horatio recalls the time when “in an angry parle [a battle], / He [the old king] smote the sledded Polacks on the ice.” This counterpoint to Hamlet’s famed inaction, like the ghost of the king itself, haunts the play.

We soon learn that the old king has only been dead two months and that Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, has hastily married the new king, Hamlet’s uncle Claudius.

The ghost of Hamlet’s father returns, this time telling his son he was murdered – poisoned – by Claudius (it was “murder most foul”) and urging Hamlet to avenge his death.

The scene finishes with young Hamlet revealing reluctance:

The time is out of joint: – O cursed spite, / That ever I was born to set it right!

Hamlet and his Father’s Ghost, William Blake, 1806. British Museum

But the ever more troubled prince is uncertain whether the ghost even spoke the truth. He gains proof when he asks a troupe of actors to reenact the poisoning before Claudius and Claudius reacts strongly.

Now Hamlet really must avenge his father. The opportunity arises when, on his way to meet his mother, he comes upon Claudius praying. But Hamlet is beset by doubts and cannot kill Claudius.

Hamlet goes on to confront his mother about her hasty marriage. While arguing with her, he stabs Polonius (the father of Ophelia, the woman he has been courting), who had been planted behind a curtain to spy on him.

Polonius’s son Laertes wants to avenge his father. He, unlike Hamlet, is willing to act.

Claudius, who now also wants Hamlet dead, arranges for Laertes to fight a duel with Hamlet with a poisoned rapier. They fight. Hamlet is cut by the rapier, and then Laertes is too. Meanwhile Hamlet’s mother accidentally consumes a poisoned drink intended for her son and dies.

Hamlet learns the truth of what has happened. He stabs Claudius, making him drink the poison too. Claudius dies, then Laertes dies, then finally, Hamlet dies. (South Park efficiently represents the final scene).

To Be Or Not To Be – Or Maybe Not

I had expected to illustrate Hamlet’s struggle to act with an analysis of the most famous speech in all of Shakespeare: ‘To be, or not to be’ (Act III Scene I). It begins with these oft-quoted lines:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

But now I’m not so sure it’s a good idea. “To be, or not to be” is ambiguous. Also, Hamlet probably knows he is being watched by the king or others while he is speaking, and thus is not really speaking his mind.

Arguably, Hamlet’s definitive speech in the play comes just before this one, at the end of Act II. In this red-blooded soliloquy, he berates himself for his inaction, asking, “am I a coward?” and reflects that he lacks the gall, “To make oppression bitter”.

He says, ‘I should have fatted all the region kites / With this slave’s offal’; i.e. murdered Claudius and fed his guts to the carrion eaters.

He also mocks his proclivity to seek solace in words:

Why, what an ass am I! Ay, sure, this is most brave;
That I, the son of a dear father murder’d,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with my words…

The Refusal Of The Call To Adventure

Shakespeare’s play is notable because it tells of one who, to draw on Joseph Campbell’s enduring concept of the “hero’s journey”, refuses “the call to adventure”.

So many of the stories we consume involve some sort of heroic quest where a reluctant hero accepts this call. Observe Frodo in Lord of the Rings or Luke Skywalker’s ambivalence around the call in Star Wars. Both heroes end up defeating evil. And while they are changed by the experience (not entirely for the better), one senses that refusing the call would have led to worse outcomes.

Hamlet’s inaction – his refusal of the call – directly or indirectly causes eight deaths, including his own. If he had acted, then probably only Claudius would have died.

Laurence Olivier as Hamlet in the 1948 film version. Two Cities Films

The moral of the story is that there is risk in action, but the greater risk lies in inaction. In short, action, in bad situations, is the lesser of two evils.

But maybe this isn’t the moral. Maybe the play is not exhorting the audience to act, but asking a deeper question. Namely, what does it mean for us to cross the threshold that separates reason from power? That is, what does it mean for us to abandon reason and strike back at the monster?

Reason appeals to principles. It appeals to the capacity for reason in others. It doesn’t take the law into its own hands. But what if it is sometimes reasonable to abandon reason and strike at power with power? Can reason survive such a decision?

The Endless Appeal Of Hamlet

Hamlet is not only successful because Hamlet himself embodies our own struggles. Hamlet is also staggeringly quotable – the quip is that there are too many quotations in it.

The play’s appeal also lies in the depth of the secondary characters, such as Ophelia, Polonius and the inseparable Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Hamlet’s friends from university).

Kate Winslet as Ophelia in the 1996 film adaptation. Castle Rock Entertainment, Turner Pictures, Fishmonger Films

And the play is seductively enigmatic. We are unsure whether Hamlet’s mother was in on the murder of the old king, whether Polonius is indeed a fool, whether Hamlet loses his mind, and so on. Where there are mysteries, there are detectives.

Hamlet turns up everywhere in Western culture – not just in The Simpsons and South Park.

Given all the trouble Hamlet has with his father and mother, it’s not surprising that Freud saw something Oedipal in the whole business.

Ophelia, who suffers the double tragedy of her own demise and being less discussed than Hamlet despite having a compelling struggle and brilliant lines (“we know what we are, but / know not what we may be”), is referenced in Eliot’s The Waste Land. Her words, “Good night, ladies; good night, sweet ladies; good night, good night” provide a foreboding conclusion to the ghastly pub scene in Part II of Eliot’s poem.

And for the Star Wars fans (one Star Wars reference is never enough), Chewbacca has his own “Alas, poor Yorick” moment when he is reassembling C3P0 in Empire Strikes Back (Yorick was a jester who entertained Hamlet when Hamlet was a boy).

Compare this with Kenneth Branagh’s version.

Memento Mori

All this said, and with Yorick in mind, what stands out most for me in Hamlet is the dark and beautiful graveyard scene at the beginning of Act V.

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet in 1899. Wikimedia Commons

Polonius is dead. Ophelia, whom Hamlet probably loved, is dead. The bloody final sequence is nigh.

And the play pauses.

Two gravediggers have a wry debate about whether or not Ophelia committed suicide as they are digging her grave. It’s a moment of blackest comedy.

The gravediggers unearth Yorick’s skull. After Hamlet’s “Alas, poor Yorick! – I knew him”, Hamlet reflects that the most famous people, such as Alexander the Great and the Roman emperor Caesar, ended up no different to Yorick.

Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.
Oh, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,
Should patch a wall to expel the winter’s flaw!

Despite exploring the most serious aspects of the human condition, Shakespeare, with this memento mori, seems to be reminding us that existence has something of the cosmic joke about it. This is reminiscent of the ending of Life of Brian. Roll the credits.The Conversation

Dr Jamie Q Roberts, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, University of Sydney

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

‘Weaponised irony’: after fictionalising Elizabeth Macarthur’s life, Kate Grenville edits her letters

Elizabeth Macarthur [portrait by unknown artist] State Library NSW
Kerrie DaviesUNSW Sydney

Do not believe too quickly!

This warning prologue begins Kate Grenville’s novel A Room Made of Leaves (2021), a purported long-lost secret memoir by Elizabeth Macarthur that Grenville “found” hidden in a roof cavity.

The award-winning novel reinvented Macarthur, from the dutiful colonial wife of John Macarthur to a passionate, intelligent and empathetic queen of sheep.

Review: Elizabeth Macarthur’s Letters – edited by Kate Grenville (Text Publishing)

During her reign, Elizabeth Macarthur built a pastoral kingdom, while her Machiavellian husband networked, schemed, and fought court battles in England. The Macarthur name is synonymous with colonialism.

Their first enterprise, Elizabeth Farm, remains a historic house in Sydney’s Rosehill. Likewise, in the Macarthur region (named after the family) of southwest Sydney, their grand home, surrounded by grazing paddocks that once sustained over 5,000 merino sheep, still stands on Dharawal land.

The same cautionary prologue could have opened Grenville’s new companion book to A Room Made of Leaves, Elizabeth Macarthur’s Letters,, in which she once again unsettles expectations of truth, this time in non-fiction form. Grenville presents Elizabeth’s edited correspondence as a knowing fiction. Do not believe too quickly Elizabeth’s accounts of her life and feelings, despite the archival evidence of her faded brown calligraphy.

Instead, Grenville suggests we read them as doubleness and concealment. She writes:

Wondering at the disconnect between the letters and the life, I began to think that Elizabeth Macarthur’s letters could be seen as a wonderful piece of fiction, sustained over sixty years.

She pictures Macarthur

smiling to herself as she wrote sentence after sentence of this fiction, relishing the delicious ironies of saying exactly the opposite of what she really thought.

Weaponised Irony

Grenville’s theory is that Elizabeth weaponised irony to write her letters, transforming them from solemn, faithful accounts to sophisticated “embroidering”.

She highlights a letter that describes the colony’s crops as having “flourished in a way nearly incredible” – they had miserably failed. In another letter, written after Macarthur’s return from England, Elizabeth wrote, “you may imagine how great was my joy on the arrival of McArthur [sic]”.

Grenville is bolstered by the knowledge that women’s letters and diaries were largely self-censored, with omissions and careful wording. Employing irony and “embroidering” was essential, for letters were the 19th century equivalent of a Facebook post shared among family and friends.

Lyndsey Jenkins of the Women’s History Network observes that the truth of a woman’s life at this time lies in what is not said in their neat scrolls. Instead, it is found in the

torn out pages and scratched out sentences … offering hints and clues to the unspeakable and unacceptable.

Emily and Elizabeth Macarthur. Camden, Sydney.

As per a traditional edited book of archival material, Grenville has chronologically arranged these letters, which she “pruned pretty hard”. She explains that the pruning is to remove trivial gossip and family movements, irrelevant to the core of the letters.

She begins with a letter to Elizabeth’s mother in 1789, which Grenville quoted in A Room Made of Leaves, and ends with Elizabeth’s short letter to her son, Edward, in 1849 – the year before her death.

As Grenville acknowledges, she is not the first to publish or transcribe Elizabeth’s letters. But beyond this chronology, the introduction and notes on editing, Grenville departs from convention to deliver a difficult book to a contemporary audience.

The Problem Of The Contemporary Gaze

In commentaries that precede each letter, Grenville takes a self-searching, subjective approach that reveals the difficulty of bringing problematic historical material into the contemporary cultural gaze. Should Elizabeth be “cancelled” for her descriptions of the First Nations people whose land she and her husband enriched themselves upon? How should we interpret her careless pity for convicts who built their empire?

Author Ruby Hamad argues that white women as the “virtuous, innocent face of western civilisation”, benefited from colonialism, and enabled it.

As the face of female colonialists, should Elizabeth be exiled back to the archives? Or should her letters be published without censure to remind us of confronting truths that defy political calls to gloss the national history curriculum?

a wide house set on a green lawn
Elizabeth Farm, the home to the pastoralists John and Elizabeth Macarthur, is the oldest surviving European building in Australia. Brian Yap/FlickrCC BY

Grenville is obviously in the latter camp, and these questions are softened by the commentary’s disconcertingly breezy, Bridgerton, “Lady Whistledown-of-the-colonies” style, which is apt, given the hit series is set in the same era as Elizabeth’s time in Australia. It reveals Grenville’s contradictory feelings about Elizabeth, as much as the bigger questions around how we re-examine historical figures.

The commentary serves a double purpose as a meta-narrative on A Room Made of Leaves. It gives insight into Grenville’s writing process and narrative decisions.

It also reveals her wobbles as to whether she is right to read Elizabeth as an expert in irony, employed to conceal her dislike of her husband. Perhaps, dear reader, “Elizabeth really was happy with him, as she so strenuously asserts”.

In A Room Made of Leaves, Grenville took Elizabeth’s letters as starting inspiration. She could imagine the woman Elizabeth might have been and who Grenville wanted her to be. In doing so, she could bring Elizabeth into line with contemporary cultural values. But in the Letters, Grenville must instead rely on her own accompanying voice, which is witheringly clear:

Reading Elizabeth’s letters, there were times when I found her unattractive – so much that I abandoned the novel more than once … She could have had a more humane perspective, and I wish she had.The Conversation

Kerrie Davies, Lecturer, School of the Arts & Media, UNSW Sydney

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

Artificial intelligence may take your job. Some lessons from my grandmother

Siblings on the way to school.
Bradley HastingsUNSW Sydney

My grandmother, Claire Hastings, was born in the 1920s on a farm in Armidale, northern New South Wales. That was a relatively common thing, with just 43% of the population living in cities, compared with more than 70% now.

She lived in a small wooden hut, with a chicken coop out the front and fields out the back. When she and her siblings came home from school, they helped plough the fields with a horse-drawn plough until sundown.

Little did she know this life would soon disappear. The “second industrial revolution” (of mass production and standardisation) was creating machines to replace human and horse power. A plough pulled by a tractor could do in hours what took Grandma and her siblings a week.

Grandma’s brother, John, working the plough (c1929) Bradley HastingsAuthor provided

By the time she left school, age 17, she wasn’t needed on the farm. So she instead went to college, became a teacher, got married and raised a family. Now 93, she lives in a comfy suburban four-bedroom home, enjoys dining at restaurants, and loves going to the theatre and on ocean cruises.

Her story is far from unique. Around the world industrialisation has reduced farm employment enormously. In the United States, for example, 40% of the labour force worked on farms in 1920; now it is about 2%

The loss of those jobs, and their replacement, is worth remembering as we now confront the “fourth industrial revolution”, with robots and artificial intelligence tipped to take up to 40% of the jobs now done by humans within two decades.

The hit list is long, from drivers and call-centre workers to computer programmers and university lecturers like myself (we face being replaced by AI avatars, delivering animated content online).

But just as disappearing farm jobs didn’t lead to permanent mass unemployment, nor should we fear this next stage of technological development.

Improving Quality Of Life

While industrial farming was not universally embraced as progress, the huge reductions in farming labour over the 20th century were key to a better life for most people (though poverty and glaring economic inequality still exist).

To cite just one measure, when my grandmother was born the average life expectancy in Australia was 60 years. Now it’s more than 80.

The underlying forces driving such advances are twofold.

First, the mechanisation of farming made food cheaper. US data shows the price of a common basket of groceries is now about 80% cheaper than a century ago. Similar trends exist for virtually every other consumable product.

Second, spending less on food meant people could spend more on other things. New industries sprang up – automobiles, holidays, health care, finance, fitness and education and so on. Sectors virtually unknown in the 1920s now employ more than half of the population.

Visualising 150 years of employment history (US).

These new industries have both underpinned improvements in our quality of life and, crucially, created new jobs.

As artificial intelligence and robotics develop, services such as banking, insurance and transport will become cheaper. As a consequence, we will have more money to spend on other items – on health and fitness, travel and leisure and possibilities yet to be conceived.

Whatever these new or expanded industries are, jobs will evolve at the same time as quality of life improves for all.

Two Lessons From My Grandmother

None of this, of course, will necessarily make you feel better if you have (and love) a job under threat from automation.

Some lessons from my grandma’s life may help.

First, she didn’t take the changes personally. She understood that times were changing, and that she would have to change with them. She embraced the challenge rather than being defeated by it.

The author with his grandmother on her 90th birthday.
The author with his grandmother on her 90th birthday. Bradley HastingsAuthor provided

Second, she understood she had to develop new skills. At the same time as farm jobs were diminishing, she saw growing demand for more teachers, underpinned by government regulations requiring children to stay in school longer. So too today education is the key for future jobs.

None of us know what the future holds. But for our collective future to replicate the advancements my grandmother has seen over her life, it’s inevitable that artificial intelligence and robots will take over jobs.

I asked grandma if we should be worried. “Life moves on,” she told me.

And so must we.The Conversation

Bradley Hastings, Research Fellow, UNSW Sydney

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

Time might not exist, according to physicists and philosophers – but that’s okay

Sam BaronAustralian Catholic University

Does time exist? The answer to this question may seem obvious: of course it does! Just look at a calendar or a clock.

But developments in physics suggest the non-existence of time is an open possibility, and one that we should take seriously.

How can that be, and what would it mean? It’ll take a little while to explain, but don’t worry: even if time doesn’t exist, our lives will go on as usual.

A Crisis In Physics

Physics is in crisis. For the past century or so, we have explained the universe with two wildly successful physical theories: general relativity and quantum mechanics.

Quantum mechanics describes how things work in the incredibly tiny world of particles and particle interactions. General relativity describes the big picture of gravity and how objects move.

Both theories work extremely well in their own right, but the two are thought to conflict with one another. Though the exact nature of the conflict is controversial, scientists generally agree both theories need to be replaced with a new, more general theory.

Physicists want to produce a theory of “quantum gravity” that replaces general relativity and quantum mechanics, while capturing the extraordinary success of both. Such a theory would explain how gravity’s big picture works at the miniature scale of particles.

Time In Quantum Gravity

It turns out that producing a theory of quantum gravity is extraordinarily difficult.

One attempt to overcome the conflict between the two theories is string theory. String theory replaces particles with strings vibrating in as many as 11 dimensions.

However, string theory faces a further difficulty. String theories provide a range of models that describe a universe broadly like our own, and they don’t really make any clear predictions that can be tested by experiments to figure out which model is the right one.

In the 1980s and 1990s, many physicists became dissatisfied with string theory and came up with a range of new mathematical approaches to quantum gravity.

One of the most prominent of these is loop quantum gravity, which proposes that the fabric of space and time is made of a network of extremely small discrete chunks, or “loops”.

One of the remarkable aspects of loop quantum gravity is that it appears to eliminate time entirely.

Loop quantum gravity is not alone in abolishing time: a number of other approaches also seem to remove time as a fundamental aspect of reality.

Emergent Time

So we know we need a new physical theory to explain the universe, and that this theory might not feature time.

Suppose such a theory turns out to be correct. Would it follow that time does not exist?

It’s complicated, and it depends what we mean by exist.

Theories of physics don’t include any tables, chairs, or people, and yet we still accept that tables, chairs and people exist.

A person walking beneath a large clock swinging from a rope.
If time isn’t a fundamental property of the universe, it may still ‘emerge’ from something more basic. Shutterstock

Why? Because we assume that such things exist at a higher level than the level described by physics.

We say that tables, for example, “emerge” from an underlying physics of particles whizzing around the universe.

But while we have a pretty good sense of how a table might be made out of fundamental particles, we have no idea how time might be “made out of” something more fundamental.

So unless we can come up with a good account of how time emerges, it is not clear we can simply assume time exists.

Time might not exist at any level.

Time And Agency

Saying that time does not exist at any level is like saying that there are no tables at all.

Trying to get by in a world without tables might be tough, but managing in a world without time seems positively disastrous.

Our entire lives are built around time. We plan for the future, in light of what we know about the past. We hold people morally accountable for their past actions, with an eye to reprimanding them later on.

We believe ourselves to be agents (entities that can do things) in part because we can plan to act in a way that will bring about changes in the future.

But what’s the point of acting to bring about a change in the future when, in a very real sense, there is no future to act for?

What’s the point of punishing someone for a past action, when there is no past and so, apparently, no such action?

The discovery that time does not exist would seem to bring the entire world to a grinding halt. We would have no reason to get out of bed.

Business As Usual

There is a way out of the mess.

While physics might eliminate time, it seems to leave causation intact: the sense in which one thing can bring about another.

Perhaps what physics is telling us, then, is that causation and not time is the basic feature of our universe.

If that’s right, then agency can still survive. For it is possible to reconstruct a sense of agency entirely in causal terms.

At least, that’s what Kristie Miller, Jonathan Tallant and I argue in our new book.

We suggest the discovery that time does not exist may have no direct impact on our lives, even while it propels physics into a new era.The Conversation

Sam Baron, Associate professor, Australian Catholic University

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

Thousands of satellites are polluting Australian skies, and threatening ancient Indigenous astronomy practices

Karlie NoonAustralian National University

Since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples worldwide have observed, tracked and memorised all the visible objects in the night sky.

This ancient star knowledge was meticulously ingrained with practical knowledge of the land, sky, waters, community and the Dreaming — and passed down through generations.

One of the most well-known and celebrated Aboriginal constellations is the Emu in the Sky, which appears in the southern sky early in the year. It is an example of a dark constellation, which means it’s characterised by particularly dark patches in the sky, rather than stars.

Conversely, space technology companies such as Starlink are increasingly competing to dominate the skies, and potentially change them forever.

The modern-day space race has led to thousands of satellites being scattered through Earth’s outer orbits. If left unchallenged, these companies risk overpopulating an already crowded space environment – potentially pushing dark skies to extinction.


Mega-constellations are groupings of satellites that communicate and work together as they orbit Earth.

Since 2018, the Starlink project, run by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, has launched about 1,700 satellites into low Earth orbit. The company plans to launch another 30,000 over the next decade.

British company OneWeb has launched nearly 150 satellites, with plans for another 6,000. And Amazon intends to launch an additional 3,000 satellites into multiple orbits.

A satellite hovering in orbit above Earth.
A growing number of Starlink satellites can be found in low orbit around Earth. Shutterstock

Each of these companies is taking to the skies to increase internet access across the globe. But even if they deliver on this, sky gazers — and especially Indigenous peoples — are left to wonder: at what cost?

Streaks In The Night

People across the globe began noticing streaks across our skies not long after the first Starlink launch in May 2019. They were unlike anything anyone had seen before.

Astronomers are very used to viewing the sky and dealing with interference, often originating from aircraft or the occasional satellite. However, the goal of mega-constellations is to engulf the entire planet, leaving no place untouched. Mega-constellations alter our collective view of the stars. And there is currently no known way to remove them.

One mega-constellation has been observed to produce up to 19 parallel streaks across the sky. These streaks disturb astronomical observations, and a significant amount of scientific data can be lost as a result.

Satellites leaving streaks in the night sky.
Satellites can leave streaks in the night sky. Shutterstock

As they travel across the entire sky, scattering the Sun’s light, dark constellations become even fainter — further desecrating Indigenous knowledge and kinship with the environment.

Further research on the impacts of mega-constellations have found that as they orbit Earth, the Sun’s rays are reflected off them and scattered into the atmosphere.

The authors of that study conclude we are collectively experiencing a new type of “skyglow” as a result: a phenomenon in which the brightness of the sky increases due to human-made light pollution.

Initial calculations indicate this new source of light pollution has increased the brightness of night skies globally by about 10%, compared with the natural skyglow measured in the 1960s.

Currently, the upper limit of light pollution tolerable at observatories is 10% above the natural skyglow, which suggests we have already reached the limit.

In other words, scientific observations of the sky are already at risk of being rendered redundant. If this excess skyglow increases even more, observatories are at serious risk.

Indigenous Sky Sovereignty

Indigenous knowledge systems and oral traditions teach us about the intricate and complex relationships Indigenous peoples have with the environment, including the sky.

For example, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures have no concept of “outer space”. They only have a continuous and connected reality where coexistence with all things is paramount.

As captured by the Bawaka Country group, based in northeast Arnhem Land:

…to hurt Sky Country, to try and possess it, is an ongoing colonisation of the plural lifeworlds of all those who have ongoing connections with and beyond the sky.

Desecrating the sky impacts Indigenous sovereignty as it limits access to their knowledge system, in the same ways desecrating the land has removed First Peoples from their countries, cultures and ways of life.

For example, the Gamilaraay and Wiradjuri peoples of New South Wales observe the Emu in the Sky to gauge when it is time to hunt for emu eggs — and most importantly, when it is time to stop. How would the Gamilaraay know when to stop collecting eggs, or when to conduct annual ceremonies signalled by the Celestial Emu, if it was no longer visible?

Similarly, important parts of the Jukurrpa, or Dreaming of the Martu people of Western Australia is embedded in the Seven Sisters constellation. How would they keep this knowledge safe if they can’t locate any of the Sisters?

Indigenous histories teach us about the devastating consequences of colonialism, and how the impacts of the colonial agenda can be mitigated through prioritising the health of country and community.

In the words of astronomer Aparna Venkatesan and colleagues:

…the manner and pace of ‘occupying’ near-Earth space raise the risk of repeating the mistakes of colonisation on a cosmic scale.

Active Indigenous sky sovereignty acknowledges the interconnected nature between land and sky, and that caring for country includes sky country. By doing so, it challenges the otherwise unimpeded authority of technology corporations.

Harming Fauna, Harming Ourselves

By understanding that the world (and indeed the Universe) is interconnected, we see that no living creature is immune to the consequences of polluting the skies.

Currently, native fauna such as the tammar wallaby, magpie, bogong moth and marine turtles are experiencing a reduction in populations and quality of life due to the impacts of light-pollution.

A tammar wallaby with young in its pouch.
The tammar wallaby is just one Australian species affected by light pollution. Shutterstock

Migratory species are particularly affected by light pollution, which can result in them losing access to their migratory route. This is a crisis Australia’s fauna has faced since before the introduction of mega-constellations.

With more skyglow and light pollution, positive outcomes for native fauna and migratory species diminish.

Going Forward

Several companies have made attempts to reduce the impact of mega-constellations on skyglow.

For example, OneWeb has opted to rollout fewer satellites than initially proposed, and has designed them to be positioned at a higher altitude. This means they will produce less skyglow, while also covering a larger area.

Starlink, on the other hand, has not shown any public interest in operating at higher and less impactful altitudes, for fears it will impact the Starlink network’s speed and latency.

That said, they have attempted to reduce their satellites’ luminosity by painting them with a novel anti-reflective coating. Coating techniques have demonstrated a reduction in reflected sunlight by up to 50%. Unfortunately, not all wavelengths of light being scattered are reduced using this method. So multi-wave astronomy, and different species of animals, are still at risk.

We’ll need more solutions to navigate our increasingly polluted atmosphere, particularly if communication monopolies continue to rein over near-Earth space.

Just as some companies have started considering tactics to avoid increasing skyglow, all space tech companies must be held responsible for adding to an already polluted space.

Guidelines such as those set by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee offer solutions to this problem. They suggest lowering the height of a satellite’s orbit when it’s no longer needed, allowing it to disintegrate as it falls down to Earth.

However, these are international guidelines, so there’s no legal framework to enforce such practices.

And given that near-miss collisions have already taken place between some mega-constellations, and an estimated 20,000 pieces of space debris already floating above, reducing orbital pollution must also now be a priority.

Reducing air pollutants has also been shown to drastically decrease natural sky brightness, offering a potential solution for improving night sky visibility — not to mention cleaner breathing air for all.

In valuing Indigenous knowledge systems, that value must be extended to the natural environment in which that knowledge is embedded and founded upon. In Australia, preserving dark skies is not just vital for the continuation of Indigenous knowledge and astronomers — it benefits us all.

A major tenet of life for Indigenous peoples is valuing the sustainability of one’s actions. By adopting this at a larger scale, we could create a reality in which we’re not a threat to our own survival.The Conversation

Karlie Noon, Astronomer, Australian National University

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

Junior Lifesaver Of The Year 2022

Published April 21, 2022 by Surf Life Saving NSW

Our 2022 Junior Lifesaver of the Year participants loved their week long camp learning and developing new skills to take back to their clubs and teach up and coming lifesavers.

Curious Kids: how is fabric made?

Ken Aldren S. UsmanDeakin University and Dylan HeghDeakin University

How is fabric made? – Saskia, age 5, Sydney

Hi Saskia, that’s a great question!

From clothes to curtains, towels and sheets, fabrics are everywhere in our daily lives. You might also hear people call them “textiles”.

People have been making fabric, or textiles, for a very long time. In fact, they’ve been doing it for almost 35,000 years!

Let’s first think about what a fabric is. The dictionary says fabric is a cloth made by knitting or weaving together fibres.

What Is A Fibre?

A fibre is like a strand of hair. It’s very long and thin.

Fibres can come from nature. Some common natural fibres are cotton, silk and wool.

A branch of cotton laid across a wooden table.
Raw cotton as it is found on the branch. Shutterstock

Humans have also found ways to make fibres ourselves in the past 150 years. We can use technology to turn oil into fibres. We can even make special fibres to make your raincoat waterproof, or make a soldier’s vest bullet-proof.

But how can these thin, hair-like fibres be made into something we can wear?

From Fibre To Yarn

First, we need to put the fibres together to make long strings of yarn. This can be tricky because many fibres are quite short, especially natural ones.

A cotton fibre is usually only around 3cm long. That’s shorter than a paper clip. Wool is usually cut from a sheep when it is 7.5cm long – about the length of a crayon.

We twist these shorter fibres together to make a longer yarn. The twisting makes the fibres rub together and grip to each other. This is called yarn spinning.

Yarn Spinning

The first step of yarn spinning involves taking bundle of fibres, lining them up, them combing them like you comb your hair … or how you might comb a long beard! In fact, when we’ve combed them into a sheet, we call it a “beard”.

Hand holding raw wool spinning it into yarn.
Before we can make wool into fabric, it needs to be spun into yarn. Shutterstock

Next, the sheet is stretched into a long tube. As it stretches, it becomes thinner and thinner. Then we twist it to form a yarn. This delicate sheet of fibres may have been metres wide to begin with, but we twist it into a thin thread.

There are all types of yarn threads. They can be thin, thick, hard, soft, stretchy, or even ones you can’t cut! It all depends on the starting fibre and the machine settings.

Turning Yarn Into Fabric

Once we have our yarn, we’re ready to make fabric. There are many ways do this, such as weaving, knitting or felting.

Weaving crosses the yarns over and under in a chessboard pattern. Knitting makes loops that pass through each other.

A woman weaves pink and yellow yarns into frabric using wooden poles.
Weaving yarn into fabric can be done by hand, or by machine. Shutterstock

Felting is when we get wool fibres wet and soapy. We rub the fibres together until they are all tangled up. Then we press the fibres into a flat sheet called felt.

Weaving, knitting and felting can be very slow if you do them by hand! These days we often use machines to speed things up.

How Fabric Is Made

So we start with the fibre. Then we spin it into long strings of yarn. Next we weave, knit or felt the yarn into fabric. And that, Saskia, is how we make fabric.

Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to Conversation

Ken Aldren S. Usman, PhD Candidate, Deakin University and Dylan Hegh, Manager - Circular Economy Initatives and ANFF-Deakin Hub, Deakin University

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

Why do cats’ eyes glow in the dark?

The same thing that makes their eyes glow helps cats see better in dim light. Cletus Waldman/EyeEm via Getty Images
Braidee FooteUniversity of Tennessee

Curious Kids is a series for children of all ages. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to

Why do cats’ eyes glow in the dark? Chloe, age 10, Barkhamsted, Connecticut

Cats and many other animals, including most dogs, can reflect light from their eyes. That’s why cats’ eyes will usually shine brightly in photos taken in a dimly lit room or glow when illuminated in the dark by a flashlight or a car’s headlights.

Species whose eyes glow have evolved to see better in low light because they either forage or need to look out for predators throughout the night, or they do most of their hunting at dawn and dusk. In fact, domesticated cats can see in conditions that are only 16% as bright as what people require.

Cats accomplish this because their pupils – the openings that appear black in the middle of their eyes that widen and narrow in response to light conditions – are special. Pupils operate like windows, with bigger ones letting more light into the eye. And a cat’s pupils can become up to 50% larger than human pupils in dim light. They also have a higher number of a specific type of light-sensing cell in the back of their eyes than we do. These cells, called rods, catch low-level light.

Diagram of the eyes of a human, a lynx and a puma
Humans do not have a tapetum lucidum but cats, including lynxes and pumas, do. The Open UniversityCC BY-SA

The Tapetum Lucidum

In addition to having large pupils and lots of rods, cats have something people don’t: a tapetum lucidum, a Latin medical term that translates to “bright or shining tapestry.” The tapetum lucidum is also known as “eyeshine.”

It’s located in the back of the eye behind the retina – a thin layer of tissue that receives light, converts the light to an electrical signal and sends this signal to the brain to interpret the image.

A cat’s tapetum lucidum is made up of cells with crystals that, like a mirror, reflect light back to the retina. This gives the retina a second chance to absorb more light.

The feline tapetum lucidum is special because its reflective compound is riboflavin, a type of vitamin B. Riboflavin has unique properties that amplify light to a specific wavelength that cats can see well, which greatly increases the sensitivity of the retina to low light.

In cats, the tapetum most often glows yellow-green or yellow-orange, but the color varies, just like their irises – the colorful part of their eye, which can be green, yellow, blue or golden. Variation in tapetum color is not unique to cats and can be found in lots of species.

A dog with glowing eyes
Most dogs’ eyes will glow in dark spaces when a light shines on them. Tommy GrecoCC BY-SA

Other Animals’ Eyes Glow Too

Many other animals that need to see at night have a tapetum lucidum. That includes predators and prey alike, everything from wild foxes to farmed sheep and goats.

The tapetum lucidum is also useful to fish, dolphins and other aquatic animals, because it helps them see better in murky, dark water.

In land animals, the tapetum is found in the top half of the eye behind the retina, because they need to see what is on the ground best. But in aquatic animals the tapetum takes up most of the eye, because they need to see all around them in the dark.

Like cats, the lemur, a small primate, and its close relative, the bush baby – also known as a “night monkey” – also have a superreflective tapetum made with riboflavin.

Even though a lot of animals have eyeshine, some small domesticated dogs lack this trait. Most animals with blue eyes and white or light-colored coats have also lost this trait.

So don’t be alarmed if your dog’s or cat’s eyes don’t glow. The list of other species without a tapetum lucidum includes pigs, birds, reptiles and most rodents and primates – including humans.

Bush babies' eyes glow
This bush baby can probably see better at night than you can. Smartshots International/Moment via Getty Images

Is There A Downside?

Unfortunately, animals with a tapetum lucidum sacrifice some visual acuity for their ability to see in dim light.

That’s because all that light bouncing around as it reflects off the tapetum can make what they see a little fuzzier. So, a cat needs to be seven times closer to an object to see it as sharply as a person would in a brightly lit place.

But don’t worry, I’m sure your cat would rather see clearly at night than read a book.

Hello, curious kids! Do you have a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to Please tell us your name, age and the city where you live.

And since curiosity has no age limit – adults, let us know what you’re wondering, too. We won’t be able to answer every question, but we will do our best.The Conversation

Braidee Foote, Clinical Assistant Professor of Veterinary Ophthalmology, University of Tennessee

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

Turimetta Beach

photo taken Thursday April 21st, 2022 by Joe Mills

Banana Songs

This week we've been remembering banana songs or songs about bananas from our childhood while eating bananas - which are pretty good at the moment. In fact, today, I'm going to make a banana and date cake the whole family loves while the oven is on cooking dinner. I put lots of bananas, yoghurt and honey in this cake I make so that even though everyone thinks 'I'm eating cake' they're also eating something which is filled with things that are good for them. The leftover cake will be put into lunchboxes this coming week as everyone heads back to work and school. 

Bananas are a great fruit and are a healthy source of fibre, potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and various antioxidants and phytonutrients. We LOVE them.

Anyway; here's a few banana songs, commencing with one from a show I used to watch when I was your age and including one I thought was about bananas, but may not have been about bananas at all - I still sing it anyway. We hope you enjoy them and have a bit of a dance around.

Have a great week back at school!

Al; the Editor.

The Banana Splits Opening and Closing Theme 1968 - 1970The Banana Splits are four funny animal characters who featured in a late 1960s children's variety show made for television. The costumed hosts of the show were Fleegle (guitar, vocals), Bingo (drums, vocals), Drooper (bass, vocals) and Snorky (keyboards, effects). The Banana Splits Adventure Hour was an hour-long, packaged television program that featured both live action and animated segments. 

Each show represented a meeting of the "Banana Splits Club", and the wraparounds featured the adventures of the club members, who doubled as a musical quartet, meant to be reminiscent of The Beatles and (especially) their NBC counterpart, The Monkees. The main characters were Fleegle, a beagle; Bingo, a gorilla; Drooper, a lion, and Snorky (called "Snork" in the theme song lyrics), an elephant. Fleegle would assume the role as leader of the Banana Splits and preside at club meetings. 

Mah-Na, Mah-Na (or "Mah Nà Mah Nà", composed by Piero Umiliani) By the muppets (this is the one I thought was a banana song) - the original 1969 version runs below this one with two pink cows and animal

Sesame Street - One Banana

Harry Belafonte - Banana Boat Song (live) 1997

Harry Belafonte (born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr.; March 1, 1927) is an American singer, songwriter, activist, and actor. One of the most successful Jamaican-American pop stars, as he popularised the Trinbagonian Caribbean musical style with an international audience in the 1950s. His breakthrough album Calypso (1956) was the first million-selling LP by a single artist. Mr. Belafonte is known for his recording of "The Banana Boat Song", with its signature lyric "Day-O". He has recorded and performed in many genres, including blues, folk, gospel, show tunes, and American standards. He has also starred in several films, including Carmen Jones (1954), Island in the Sun (1957), and Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

Belafonte considered the actor, singer and activist Paul Robeson a mentor and was a close confidant of Martin Luther King Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. As he later recalled, "Paul Robeson had been my first great formative influence; you might say he gave me my backbone. Martin King was the second; he nourished my soul."

Throughout his career, Belafonte has been an advocate for political and humanitarian causes, such as the Anti-Apartheid Movement and USA for Africa. Since 1987, he has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Mr. Belafonte acts as the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues.

He has won three Grammy Awards (including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award), an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award. In 1989, he received the Kennedy Center Honors. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1994. In 2014, he received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Academy's 6th Annual Governors Awards.

Mr. Belafonte was born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr. at Lying-in Hospital on March 1, 1927, in Harlem, New York, the son of Jamaican-born parents Melvine (née Love), a housekeeper, and Harold George Bellanfanti Sr., who worked as a chef. His mother was the child of a Scottish Jamaican mother and an Afro-Jamaican father, and his father was the child of a black mother and a Dutch-Jewish father of Sephardic Jewish descent. Harry, Jr. was raised Catholic.

From 1932 to 1940, he lived with one of his grandmothers in her native country of Jamaica, where he attended Wolmer's Schools. Upon returning to New York City, he attended George Washington High School after which he joined the United States Navy and served during World War II.

Bananas in Pyjamas Theme Song 

Young Writers’ Competition 2022

Young people across the Northern Beaches are encouraged to enter this year’s Young Writers’ Competition for their chance to be published.  

Now in its 13th year, the annual competition is open to students from kindergarten to grade 12 who live or go to school on the Northern Beaches. The theme of this year’s competition is ‘rise’.

“The Northern Beaches is home to some very talented young writers, and I continue to be blown away by the creativity and skill of entrants in our annual Young Writers’ Competition,” Mayor Michael Regan said.

“It’s time for young writers to once again rise and shine and show us what they’ve got. More than 500 stories were submitted in last year’s competition, and we suspect this year will be just as competitive.”

Entrants can write on any topic or theme but must include a derivation of the word ‘rise’. Entries will be grouped by age and judged according to characterisation, originality, plot, and language.

Four finalists will be chosen in each age category and invited to a presentation night on Wednesday 10 August, where a winner, runner-up, and two highly commended prizes are awarded.

Finalists from each category will have their stories published in an eBook which is added to the Northern Beaches Council Library collection.  

Entries close Tuesday 31 May 2022.  Entrants must be members of the Northern Beaches Council Library Service.  

Complete the online entry form and attach your story as a Word document. If your story is hand-written, then a clear, readable photo or scanned PDF can be submitted. 

Not a member of the library? Don't worry, Council will use this form to create a membership for you. Just mark 'no' under the library member field in the online form. If you are a member and unsure of your library card number, just mark 'yes' in the library member field in the online form and Council will find your library membership number. 

Entries are judged according to characterisation, originality, plot and use of language and arranged into six different age group categories.

Four finalists are chosen in each age category and invited to a presentation night where a winner, runner-up and two highly commended prizes are awarded. Finalists from each category will have their stories published in an eBook that will be added to Council's collection. 

For more information visit Council's library.  

Crucial Link Found Between Arthritis, Liver Disease And A Common Genetic Condition

April 21, 2022
New Edith Cowan University (ECU) research has identified a crucial link between arthritis and the risk of serious liver disease in people with Australia's most common genetic condition.

An estimated 100,000 Australians carry the high-risk genotype for Hemochromatosis, a condition affecting people of northern European descent which sees the body accumulate too much iron.

It can lead to many complications, one of the most serious being advanced hepatic fibrosis, which affects the liver and can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

However, early detection of advanced hepatic fibrosis can assist clinicians in identifying those most at risk and reducing the impact or occurrence of future complications.

ECU researchers collaborating with colleagues at the QIMR Berghofer Institute for Medical Research have discovered arthritis is a strong predictor for development of clinically important liver problems in people with Hemochromatosis.

Published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the research studied 112 people with Hemochromatosis.

Of the 19 people with advanced stage 3-4 liver fibrosis, 84 per cent also had arthritis.

However, of the 65 subjects without arthritis, only 5 per cent had advanced hepatic fibrosis.

Senior author Professor John Olynyk said these results had many implications for those living with Hemochromatosis, or at risk of developing it.

"Since hepatic fibrosis improves with treatment, it is important to accurately determine the presence or absence of advanced hepatic fibrosis when patients are evaluated," he said.

"We recommend people with hemochromatosis who present with arthritis be properly evaluated for the presence of advanced hepatic fibrosis."

Professor Olynyk said the study could also save many people from undergoing unnecessary procedures.

"Those with hemochromatosis but who do not have arthritis at diagnosis are highly unlikely to have advanced hepatic fibrosis, which may negate the need for an initial liver biopsy," he said.

"Instead, they can be monitored for the development of fibrosis via non-invasive methods."

Professor Olynyk said the link with arthritis could help diagnose more people with Hemochromatosis, which can often be difficult due to many symptoms being relatively non-specific and common in the general population.

"People of the correct background presenting with arthritis or liver disease should always be evaluated for potential Hemochromatosis -- especially when it is not clear as why the problem exists," he said.

Lauren Andersson, Lawrie W. Powell, Louise E. Ramm, Grant A. Ramm, John K. Olynyk. Arthritis Prediction of Advanced Hepatic Fibrosis in HFE Hemochromatosis. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2022; DOI: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2022.02.017

Anglo-Saxon Kings Were Mostly Veggie But Peasants Treated Them To Huge Barbecues

April 21, 2022
Very few people in England ate large amounts of meat before the Vikings settled, and there is no evidence that elites ate more meat than other people, a major new bioarchaeological study suggests. Its sister study also argues that peasants occasionally hosted lavish meat feasts for their rulers. The findings overturn major assumptions about early medieval English history.
  • 'You are what you eat' isotopic analysis of over 2,000 skeletons by far the largest of its kind.
  • Early medieval diets were far more similar across social groups than previously thought.
  • Peasants didn't give kings food as exploitative tax, they hosted feasts suggesting they were granted more respect than previously assumed.
  • Surviving food lists are supplies for special feasts not blueprints for everyday elite diets.
  • Some feasts served up an estimated 1kg of meat and 4,000 Calories in total, per person.
Picture medieval England and royal feasts involving copious amounts of meat immediately spring to mind. Historians have long assumed that royals and nobles ate far more meat than the rest of the population and that free peasants were forced to hand over food to sustain their rulers throughout the year in an exploitative system known as feorm or food-rent.

But a pair of Cambridge co-authored studies published today in the journal Anglo-Saxon England present a very different picture, one which could transform our understanding of early medieval kingship and society.

While completing a PhD at the University of Cambridge, bioarchaeologist Sam Leggett gave a presentation which intrigued historian Tom Lambert (Sidney Sussex College). Now at the University of Edinburgh, Dr Leggett had analysed chemical signatures of diets preserved in the bones of 2,023 people buried in England from the 5th - 11th centuries. She then cross-referenced these isotopic findings with evidence for social status such as grave goods, body position and grave orientation. Leggett's research revealed no correlation between social status and high protein diets.

That surprised Tom Lambert because so many medieval texts and historical studies suggest that Anglo-Saxon elites did eat large quantities of meat. The pair started to work together to find out what was really going on.

They began by deciphering a food list compiled during the reign of King Ine of Wessex (c. 688-726) to estimate how much food it records and what its calorie content might have been. They estimated that the supplies amounted to 1.24 million kcal, over half of which came from animal protein. The list included 300 bread rolls so the researchers worked on the basis that one bun was served to each diner to calculate overall portions. Each guest would have received 4,140 kcal from 500g of mutton; 500g of beef; another 500g of salmon, eel and poultry; plus cheese, honey and ale.

The researchers studied ten other comparable food lists from southern England and discovered a remarkably similar pattern: a modest amount of bread, a huge amount of meat, a decent but not excessive quantity of ale, and no mention of vegetables (although some probably were served).

Lambert says: "The scale and proportions of these food lists strongly suggests that they were provisions for occasional grand feasts, and not general food supplies sustaining royal households on a daily basis. These were not blueprints for everyday elite diets as historians have assumed."

"I've been to plenty of barbecues where friends have cooked ludicrous amounts of meat so we shouldn't be too surprised. The guests probably ate the best bits and then leftovers might have been stewed up for later."

Leggett says: "I've found no evidence of people eating anything like this much animal protein on a regular basis. If they were, we would find isotopic evidence of excess protein and signs of diseases like gout from the bones. But we're just not finding that."

"The isotopic evidence suggests that diets in this period were much more similar across social groups than we've been led to believe. We should imagine a wide range of people livening up bread with small quantities of meat and cheese, or eating pottages of leeks and whole grains with a little meat thrown in."

The researchers believe that even royals would have eaten a cereal-based diet and that these occasional feasts would have been a treat for them too.

Helmet from Sutton Hoo. Photo: Gary Todd

Peasants feeding kings
These feasts would have been lavish outdoor events at which whole oxen were roasted in huge pits, examples of which have been excavated in East Anglia.

Lambert says: "Historians generally assume that medieval feasts were exclusively for elites. But these food lists show that even if you allow for huge appetites, 300 or more people must have attended. That means that a lot of ordinary farmers must have been there, and this has big political implications."

Kings in this period - including Rædwald, the early seventh-century East Anglian king perhaps buried at Sutton Hoo - are thought to have received renders of food, known in Old English as feorm or food-rent, from the free peasants of their kingdoms. It is often assumed that these were the primary source of food for royal households and that kings' own lands played a minor supporting role at best. As kingdoms expanded, it has also been assumed that food-rent was redirected by royal grants to sustain a broader elite, making them even more influential over time.

But Lambert studied the use of the word feorm in different contexts, including aristocratic wills, and concludes that the term referred to a single feast and not this primitive form of tax. This is significant because food-rent required no personal involvement from a king or lord, and no show of respect to the peasants who were duty-bound to provide it. When kings and lords attended communal feasts in person, however, the dynamics would have been very different.

Lambert says: "We're looking at kings travelling to massive barbecues hosted by free peasants, people who owned their own farms and sometimes slaves to work on them. You could compare it to a modern presidential campaign dinner in the US. This was a crucial form of political engagement."

This rethinking could have far-reaching implications for medieval studies and English political history more generally. Food renders have informed theories about the beginnings of English kingship and land-based patronage politics, and are central to ongoing debates about what led to the subjection of England's once-free peasantry.

Leggett and Lambert are now eagerly awaiting the publication of isotopic data from the Winchester Mortuary Chests which are thought to contain the remains of Egbert, Canute and other Anglo-Saxon royals. These results should provide unprecedented insights into the period's most elite eating habits.

Journal References:
  1. Sam Leggett, Tom Lambert. Food and Power in Early Medieval England: a lack of (isotopic) enrichment. Anglo-Saxon England, 2022; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S0263675122000072
  2. Tom Lambert, Sam Leggett. Food and Power in Early Medieval England: Rethinking Feorm. Anglo-Saxon England, 2022; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S0263675122000084

Microplastics In The Food Chain: Blue Mussels Absorb Pollution In Southern Australia

April 18, 2022
Plastic rubbish is everywhere and now broken-down microplastics have been found in variable concentrations in blue mussels and water within the intertidal zone at some of southern Australia's most popular and more remote beaches.

Flinders University researchers warn that this means microplastics are now finding their way into human food supplies -- including wild-caught and ocean-farmed fish and seafood sourced from the once pristine Southern Ocean and gulf waters of South Australia.

"Our findings shed light on the urgent need to prevent microplastic pollution by working with the communities, industries and government to protect these fragile marine systems," says Professor Karen Burke da Silva, senior author of a new article just published in Science of the Total Environment.

The Flinders University research team sampled varying levels of microplastics on 10 popular beaches across South Australia, from Coffin Bay and Port Lincoln on the West Coast to Point Lowly and Whyalla on the Spencer Gulf, to popular Adelaide metropolitan beaches along with Victor Harbor, Robe and Kangaroo Island.

"Low to medium levels of microplastics (less than 5mm in size) measured in the common blue mussel (Mytilus spp.), a filter feeder affected by ecosystem conditions, were measured to analyse the main kinds of pollution affecting the environment, and single-use plastic was the main offender," Professor Burke da Silva says.

Microplastics are ubiquitous in our marine environment and tend to be more abundant in mussel samples near larger towns and cities, with levels four times higher at Semaphore Beach compared to more remote Ceduna on Eyre Peninsula.

Diagram compares microplastic concentration in samples from 10 SA locations.

"By investigating microplastic load in the mussel, we call attention to the implications of microplastic pollution on South Australia's unique marine ecosystems and on the local human food chain," says Janet Klein, the first author of the article.

Microplastic contamination at Semaphore Beach and then Hallett Cove up to four times higher than tests run at Ceduna, and twice as high as Coffin Bay on Eyre Peninsula.

Trillions of microplastic particles exist in the world's oceans, with the highest concentrations recently found in the shallow sea floor sediment off Naifaru in the Maldives (at 278 particles kg -1 ) and lowest reported in the surface waters of the Antarctic Southern Ocean (3.1 x 10-2 particles per m3 ).

For the first time, the new Flinders University study measured the presence of microplastics in South Australia's coastline, in areas important both for shipping, fishing and tourism, along with other industries and local communities.

Microplastic concentration in the SA intertidal water was found to be low to moderate (mean = 8.21 particles l−1 ± 4.91) relative to global levels and microplastic abundance in mussels (mean = 3.58 ± 8.18 particles individual−1) -- within the range also reported globally.

Plastic types include polyamide (PA), polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), acrylic resin, polyethyleneterephthalate (PET) and cellulose, which suggests both synthetic and semi-synthetic particles from single-use, short-life cycle products, fabrics, ropes and cordage from the fishing industry.

"The areas examined include some biodiversity hotspots of global significance -- including the breeding ground of the Great Cuttlefish in the Northern Spencer Gulf and marine ecosystems more diverse than the Great Barrier Reef (such as Coffin Bay), so cleanup and prevention measures are long overdue," says Professor Burke da Silva.

"Apart from the harvesting of blue mussels, we also need to consider the impact of microplastic particles entering other parts of the human food chain with microplastic pollution expected to increase in the future."

Janet R. Klein, Julian Beaman, K. Paul Kirkbride, Corey Patten, Karen Burke da Silva. Microplastics in intertidal water of South Australia and the mussel Mytilus spp.; the contrasting effect of population on concentration. Science of The Total Environment, 2022; 831: 154875 DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.154875

Nylon Cooking Bags, Plastic-Lined Cups Can Release Nanoparticles Into Liquids

April 21, 2022
Nylon cooking bags and plastic-lined cardboard cups are conveniences many people rely on, but a new study in ACS' Environmental Science & Technology suggests that they are an underappreciated source of nanoparticles. They report that the plastic in these products release trillions of nanometer-sized particles into each litre of water that they come in contact with. That sounds like a lot, but the team notes that these levels are under the regulatory limits for consumption.

Food-grade plastics come into contact with a variety of foods and drinks that people consume every day. For instance, nylon cooking bags help keep food moist in the oven and make clean-up easier for slow cookers. Likewise, plastic-lined paper cups are designed to keep liquids hot and prevent them from leaking out. 

Previous studies have shown that some plastic materials, including polypropylene baby bottles and polyethylene terephthalate tea bags, can shed microscopic and nanoscale particles into heated liquids, though the human health implications of ingesting these particles are unclear. So, Christopher Zangmeister and colleagues wanted to see whether food-grade plastic films can also be a source of small plastic particles.

The researchers poured room temperature or hot water into nylon slow cooker bags and low density polyethylene-lined cardboard cups from different retailers. After keeping the slow cooker hot for an hour, the researchers found that 35 trillion plastic nanoparticles leached into the litre of water in each bag. When the team put hot liquid in 12-fluid-ounce cups for 20 minutes, 5.1 trillion plastic nanoparticles per litre leached out. Both materials released considerably fewer nanosized particles into room temperature water. Finally, the researchers calculated that a person would have to drink 13 cups of hot water from a plastic-lined cup or half a litre of water from the cooking bag to consume the equivalent of one nanoplastic particle for every seven cells in a person's body. But they also note that the number of particles that migrated from the food-grade plastics into both the room temperature and hot water are still well below the levels for safe human consumption, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration limits.

The authors received funding from the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Christopher D. Zangmeister, James G. Radney, Kurt D. Benkstein, Berc Kalanyan. Common Single-Use Consumer Plastic Products Release Trillions of Sub-100 nm Nanoparticles per Liter into Water during Normal Use. Environmental Science & Technology, 2022; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.1c06768

Cortisol In Shelter Dog Hair Shows Signs Of Stress

April 21, 2022
Despite the good care, a shelter can be a stressful environment for dogs. Researchers at Utrecht University investigated if the amount of the hormone cortisol in hair indicates the levels of stress that dogs experience before, during and after their stay in the shelter.

There is no difference between the cortisol levels of dogs when they enter the shelter and the control group of domestic dogs. After six weeks in the shelter, cortisol levels in the hair appear to have increased by one-third (on average from 16 pg/mg to 21.8 pg/mg). In measurements six weeks and six months after adoption, cortisol levels lowered, moving in the direction of the values at admission to the shelter. The results were published in the scientific journal Scientific Reports on 21 April 2022.

Cortisol in hair
The stress hormone cortisol accumulates in hair, in humans but also in animals. By measuring cortisol levels in hair, researchers can get an idea of the stress response and recovery over weeks or months -- depending on the length of the hair examined. This technique has been used extensively in humans and other species, and some fifteen scientific studies have been carried out in dogs so far.

"In addition to the cortisol measurements in hair, we also measured cortisol values in the dogs' urine. This gives a short-term picture while the hair measurements show the long term," researcher Janneke van der Laan explains.

To the shelter every day
The researchers examined hair of 52 shelter dogs at four moments: just before admission, after six weeks in the shelter, six weeks after adoption and six months after adoption. They compared the cortisol values before admission with those of twenty domestic dogs, which were similar in terms of breed, age and sex.

Van der Laan: "We took daily measurements in the shelter for over a year. After adoption, the new owners -- after clear instructions -- cut the dogs hair and sent it to us. They were helpful and enthusiastic, and were very interested in what their dog had experienced before adoption."

More cortisol in small dogs
A surprising result is that smaller dogs generally have higher cortisol levels than larger dogs. "We have also seen this pattern in previous studies, for example in a study on the resting pattern of shelter dogs. We don't have a clear hypothesis about why that is, but it is interesting and is an area of focus for future research."

Well-being in shelter
All the examined shelter dogs were in the same shelter. Of course there are significant differences between shelters, not only within the Netherlands but also internationally. In The Netherlands, dogs are usually kept individually, while in other countries they are often kept in groups.

"We know that a shelter is not a stress-free environment for dogs, even though staff members do their best to achieve the highest possible welfare," Van der Laan says. "Even if you organise a shelter in the best possible way, there are still stress factors, such as crowds of other dogs and not being able to go outside as often as usual. And most important: the dog is gone from their old, familiar environment."

The shelter in this study has a pioneering role in improving the welfare of dogs: they use glass walls instead of bars to reduce noise pollution for the dogs, for example. "The fact that we measured an increased amount of cortisol even in this shelter, suggests that this will also be the case in other shelters," Van Der Laan said.

Janneke Elisabeth van der Laan, Claudia Maureen Vinke, Saskia Stefanie Arndt. Evaluation of hair cortisol as an indicator of long-term stress responses in dogs in an animal shelter and after subsequent adoption. Scientific Reports, 2022; 12 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-09140-w

Indiana Jones Was Right All Along: Research Shows The Smaller The Scorpion The Deadlier

April 21, 2022
Researchers in NUI Galway have shown, for the first time, that smaller species of scorpions, with smaller pincers, have more potent venoms compared to larger species with robust claws. The scientists tested the theory from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which warned of the dangers of small scorpions, and that "when it comes to scorpions, the bigger the better."

While this may have simply been a throwaway movie line from the adventurous archaeologist Indiana Jones, the research shows there is truth to it.

The team of scientists at NUI Galway's Ryan Institute put the quip to the test by analysing 36 species of scorpions to show that larger scorpions have less potent venoms and really are better in terms of avoiding a nasty sting.

The results of the research have published in the international journal Toxins.

It shows the smallest scorpions in their analysis, like the Brazilian yellow scorpion, where over 100 times more potent than the largest species they studied, such as the rock scorpion.

The potency pattern was not just about body size, but also pincer size, with venoms found in species with the smallest pinchers, including the South African thick-tail scorpion, which is more than 10 times more potent compared to species with the largest and most robust pinchers, such as the Israeli gold scorpion.

Androctonus mauretanicus in Morocco. Credit: Dr Michel Dugon

Dr Kevin Healy, Lecturer of Zoology at NUI Galway and senior author of the study, said: "Outside of entertaining movie trivia there are good evolutionary reason to expect the results and important medical implications for such patterns."

The researchers highlighted that while scorpions use both their venomous sting and their pinchers to capture prey and for defence there is an evolutionary trade-off between these weapons. Energy used to make bigger pincers means less energy is available for its chemical arsenal. This results in larger scorpions which can use their physical size are less reliant on venoms, while smaller species have evolved more potent venoms.

Dr Healy added: "When we look at the most potent, and dangerous, scorpion venoms we find they tend to be associated with species such as the deathstalker which are relatively small. In contrast, the biggest species such as rock scorpions have venoms that are likely to only cause slight pain."

Alannah Forde, an NUI Galway graduate student and lead author of the study, said: "Not only did we find that bigger is better -- when it comes to people being stung -- we also found that bigger pincers are better when it comes to assessing the danger level of a scorpion. While species such as large-clawed scorpion might be small to medium in size, they mainly rely on their large pincers instead of their relatively weak venom."

Scorpion stings are a global health problem with more than 1 million cases and thousands of deaths every year. Identifying the species involved with a sting is vital for treatment, hence general rules such as "bigger is better" are often used to help with treatment.

The team aim to test these evolutionary rules to what makes some species more potent to help develop better medical approaches to scorpion stings.

Dr Michel Dugon, Head of the Venom System Lab at NUI Galway and a senior author of the study, said: "As scientists, our job is also to put popular wisdom to the test. Most victims hospitalised with severe symptoms following scorpion stings are children below the age of 15. Identifying the species responsible is essential to administer the correct treatment, and a simple rule such as 'bigger is better' is a first small step toward saving lives."

Alannah Forde, Adam Jacobsen, Michel M. Dugon, Kevin Healy. Scorpion Species with Smaller Body Sizes and Narrower Chelae Have the Highest Venom Potency. Toxins, 2022; 14 (3): 219 DOI: 10.3390/toxins14030219

Fewer Smartphones = More Well-Being

April 20, 2022
We blame smartphone use for a number of negative consequences, ranging from neck pain to addictive behaviour. Privat-Dozentin Dr. Julia Brailovskaia and her team set out to determine whether our lives are actually better without smartphones, or rather: how much less smartphone use per day is good for us. The psychologist from the Mental Health Research and Treatment Center at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) had around 200 test participants each do without their smartphones completely for a week, reduce their daily use by one hour or use the smartphone in the same way as before. Their findings show: in the long term, those who reduced their use fared best. The researcher report in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied from 7 April 2022.

How much smartphone use is good for us?
On average, we spend more than three hours a day glued to our smartphone screens. We google, look for directions, check emails or the weather, shop, read the news, watch films, hang out on social media. It seems reasonable to suspect that all this is not good for us. Studies have shown that smartphone use is linked to problems such as less physical activity, obesity, neck pain, impaired performance, and addiction-like behavior -- to name just a few. "The smartphone is both a blessing and a curse," says Julia Brailovskaia.

Her team wanted to know: how much smartphone is good for us? To this end, the researchers compared the effect of complete smartphone abstinence versus a reduction in time spent daily looking at the screen and versus continued use without any changes. They recruited 619 people for their study and divided them randomly into three groups. 200 people put their smartphone completely aside for a week. 226 reduced the amount of time they used the device by one hour a day. 193 people didn't change anything in their behaviour.

Physical activity, cigarettes, life satisfaction, anxiety, depression
The researchers interviewed all participants about their lifestyle habits and well-being immediately after the intervention, one month and four months later. How much did they engage in physical activity? How many cigarettes did they smoke a day? How satisfied with their life did they feel? Did they show any signs of anxiety or depression? "We found that both completely giving up the smartphone and reducing its daily use by one hour had positive effects on the lifestyle and well-being of the participants," as Julia Brailovskaia sums up the results. "In the group who reduced use, these effects even lasted longer and were thus more stable than in the abstinence group."

It's not necessary to do completely without
The one-week intervention changed the participants' usage habits in the long term: even four months after the end of the experiment, the members of the abstinence group used their smartphone on average 38 minutes less per day than before. The group who had spent one hour less per day with the smartphone during the experiment used it as much as 45 minutes less per day after four months than before. At the same time, life satisfaction and time spent being physically active increased. Symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as nicotine consumption decreased. "It's not necessary to completely give up the smartphone to feel better," concludes Brailovskaia. "There may be an optimal daily usage time."

Julia Brailovskaia, Jasmin Delveaux, Julia John, Vanessa Wicker, Alina Noveski, Seokyoung Kim, Holger Schillack, Jürgen Margraf. Finding the “sweet spot” of smartphone use: Reduction or abstinence to increase well-being and healthy lifestyle?! An experimental intervention study.. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 2022; DOI: 10.1037/xap0000430

Spatial Maps Of Melanoma

April 15, 2022
Melanoma is a somewhat unusual cancer -- one that blooms before our very eyes, often on sun-exposed skin, and can quickly become deadly as it turns our own skin against us and spreads to other organs.

Fortunately, when caught early, melanoma can often be cured by simple surgery, and there are now better treatments for advanced cases, including immunotherapies that prime a patient's immune system to fight off the cancer.

However, much remains unknown about melanoma, including the details of how it develops in the earliest stages, and how to best identify and treat the most dangerous early cases.

Now, a team at Harvard Medical School has created spatial maps at the single-cell level that reveal, in unprecedented detail, how melanoma cells and nearby cells, including immune cells, interact as a tumour develops.

The maps, described in Cancer Discovery, offer insights into how interactions between cells change as melanoma advances, and how cancer cells suppress the immune system as they take over.

"The main purpose was to understand the early events in melanoma that lead to the development of a tumour," said lead author Ajit Nirmal, a research fellow at Harvard Medical School.

The HMS team is building the maps into a melanoma atlas that will be freely available to the scientific community as part of the National Cancer Institute's Human Tumour Atlas Network. They hope that eventually, the atlas can serve as a jumping-off point for scientists to study how to prevent melanoma and how to treat it in its nascent stages before it becomes full-blown cancer. The ultimate goal of these efforts is to aid doctors in diagnosing melanoma and to help them prescribe tailored treatment based on each patient's individual tumour profile.

"This was an opportunity to study melanoma at its inception, and collect a resource of information that we can share with the community," said Sandro Santagata, an HMS associate professor of pathology at Brigham and Women's Hospital and co-senior author on the paper with Peter Sorger, the HMS Otto Krayer Professor of Systems Pharmacology.

Mapping the unknown
In recent years, a considerable amount of melanoma research has focused on two areas: DNA sequencing of early tumour samples to understand the genetic changes that occur as this particular cancer arises and single-cell RNA sequencing of the tumour's immediate surroundings -- the so-called tumour microenvironment -- to profile the types of cells present. However, researchers have remained largely in the dark about how tumour cells and nearby cells are physically arranged in space, and how these cells interact on a molecular level as melanoma develops.

"What we still do not know is how the microenvironment is organized to allow a tumour to grow," Nirmal said. "In theory, immune cells are supposed to identify tumour cells and kill them off very quickly, but clearly something has gone wrong, and that's one of the primary reasons why we want spatial resolution."

Such spatial resolution, along with fine-scale molecular data, became possible to achieve only recently with the advent of more advanced single-cell imaging technologies, including cyclic immunofluorescence, orCyCIF, a multiplexed imaging technique developed by the Sorger lab.

In the new paper, the researchers combined CyCIF imaging data with 3D high-resolution microscopy and fine-scale RNA sequencing to create maps capturing where cells are located and how they interact as normal tissue morphs into melanoma.

"We're able to see everything from normal skin to early lesions to invasive melanoma, sometimes all in one piece of tissue," Santagata said. "You end up with this map of how melanoma is developing right in front of you."

The maps reveal what Santagata describes as "the battle between tumour cells and immune cells" that results in melanoma succumbing when immune cells are victorious, and melanoma progressing when tumour cells win.

Specifically, the maps showed that in the earliest stages of melanoma, so-called precursor lesions were composed of similar types and proportions of cells as normal skin, but these cells had a drastically different pattern of interaction, which included signs of immunosuppression.

"This indicates that there's probably some level of restructuring within the tumour microenvironment that could potentially aid the development of the tumour," Nirmal said.

In early melanoma, PD-L1 -- a protein that suppresses the immune system and allows cancer to flourish -- was not expressed in tumour cells but was present in adjacent immune cells called myeloid cells. As the tumor grew, PD-L1-expressing myeloid cells interacted increasingly with T cells primed to kill tumour cells. This interaction between immune cells, rather than between cancer cells and immune cells, may be a mechanism the cancer uses to tamp down the immune system so it can progress unchecked.

"That may mean that the immune system is being suppressed, or inactivated, by itself, and not directly by the cancer," Sorger said.

Immunotherapies that inhibit PD-L1 and its binding partner PD-1 and thereby unleash the immune system against the tumour have revolutionized treatment for advanced melanoma. However, not all patients with melanoma respond, and these therapies have not been as effective at treating some other cancers. Thus, Sorger hopes that basic research on PD-L1 expression will provide a foundation for understanding which patients with melanoma are most likely to benefit from immunotherapies and how scientists can make the therapies work in more cancers. The insights may also illuminate therapeutic strategies for melanomas that remain resistant to available treatments.

In more advanced melanoma, the state of the cancer cells differed depending on their physical location. Cells in the middle of a tumour that were surrounded by other cancer cells behaved markedly differently from cells on the outer edges of the tumour that could interact with nearby immune cells and stromal cells. This finding suggests that this cellular mixed bag -- known as tumour heterogeneity -- may partly be due to epigenetic changes that occur in tumour cells as they interact with other cell types, Nirmal said. Understanding tumour heterogeneity is important, he added, for understanding why and how some parts of a tumour survive treatment, while others do not, especially in the context of therapies that target specific molecular pathways.

Invasive melanoma cells (red) surrounded by two types of immune cells: myeloid cells (green) and T cells (blue). In this case, the immune cells are unable to infiltrate the tumor and kill the cancer cells. Image: Ajit Johnson Nirmal, Zoltan Maliga, and Connor Jacobson

Zooming out
Taken together, the findings demonstrate that "these local environments involve many more physical interactions between cells than we might have thought," Sorger said. "The cells are actually in an incredibly dense, communicating network."

"The neighbourhoods of the tumour cells and the interactions between cells tell us how the tumour may progress, and that's an entirely new form of biomarker that hasn't been applied before," Santagata added. "With these new spatial maps, we have the ability to link cellular interactions with physiologic behaviour, and, eventually, clinical outcomes."

With the paper, the researchers are releasing the largest imaging-based melanoma dataset to date -- and the entire dataset will be freely available through Minerva, an online visualization tool the lab developed to make complex data easier to understand and use. Now, the team is working on adding more melanoma samples to the project, with the goal of gaining a better understanding of which features and interactions can be considered typical.

"We want to be able to say what happens recurrently, rather than idiosyncratically. Quantity has a quality all its own, and so scaling this is a critical step," Sorger said.

The researchers are building the maps into an open-source melanoma atlas within the Human Tumour Atlas Network that captures the full range of molecular interactions between cells in different stages of disease. They envision the atlas having a similar impact as earlier atlases of cancer genomics, including The Cancer Genome Atlas. Ultimately, they hope that their work will propel novel insights in melanoma that lead to precision-targeted individualized treatments based on a patient's tumour characteristics.

"There is no precision medicine without diagnostics," Sorger said, yet 85 to 90 percent of cancers are diagnosed based on tissue samples alone. He thinks the process of diagnosing and treating melanoma could be improved by incorporating multiplexed imaging techniques, like CyCIF, that provide fine-scale molecular information about the tumour ecosystem and comparing results to a melanoma atlas.

The study was funded by the NIH (U2C-CA233262; K99- CA256497), the Ludwig Center at HMS, the NCI (R50-CA252138), the Finnish Medical Foundation, and the Relander Foundation.

Additional authors include Zoltan Maliga, Tuulia Vallius, Alyce Chen, Connor Jacobson, Roxanne Pelletier, Clarence Yapp, Raquel Arias-Camison, and Yu-An Chen of HMS; and Christine Lian, George Murphy, and Brian Quattrochi of Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Ajit J. Nirmal, Zoltan Maliga, Tuulia Vallius, Brian Quattrochi, Alyce A. Chen, Connor A. Jacobson, Roxanne J. Pelletier, Clarence Yapp, Raquel Arias-Camison, Yu-An Chen, Christine G. Lian, George F. Murphy, Sandro Santagata, Peter K. Sorger. The spatial landscape of progression and immunoediting in primary melanoma at single cell resolution. Cancer Discovery, 2022; DOI: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-21-1357

Designing The Perfect Piece Of Chocolate

April 21, 2022
We like some foods, and dislike others. Of course, the way food tastes is important, but mouthfeel, and even the sound that food makes when we bite it, also determine whether we enjoy the eating experience. Is it possible to design edible materials that optimize this enjoyment? Physicists and food researchers show that indeed it is.

In research that was published in Soft Matter this week, researchers from the University of Amsterdam, Delft University, and Unilever, demonstrate that the mouthfeel of an edible substance can be designed, just like properties of many other materials can. That is: they create metamaterials, materials that are not found in nature but that are carefully constructed in the lab. Their building material of choice is not wood, concrete or glass -- they build their materials from chocolate.

Designing mouthfeel
As both professional and amateur bakers know very well, chocolate is not an easy material to work with. Simply heating it up and cooling it down can turn soft chocolate into much more brittle tempered chocolate, or vice versa. Therefore, the first challenge for the researchers was to get their building material under control. They did this by very carefully heating it up, adding some cold chocolate, cooling it down again… and then putting it in a 3D printer. This allowed them to print essentially any shape of chocolate material they wanted, while guaranteeing that the base material always had the same properties.

The first shape of edible material that the scientists experimented with was an S-shaped chocolate with many twists. The goal was to test how this material would break and how that breaking would be experienced in the mouth. Not surprisingly, the breaking properties depended strongly on the direction of 'biting'. When the chocolate was pressed from above, many different cracks occurred one after another, but when pressed in the direction perpendicular to the picture, usually only a single crack occurred. This was tested mechanically, as in the picture linked to below, but also by feeding the chocolates to a panel of 10 -- very willing -- test persons. Both the mechanical tests and the test panel confirmed moreover that the ease of bite was better in the direction shown in link to the picture below.

The more cracks, the better
Most people enjoy the experience of food crackling down in their mouths -- the more cracks, the better. Having shown that such an experience can be designed, the researchers now tried some different structures, searching for a structure where the number of cracks can be 'programmed' into the material.

It turned out that spiral-shaped chocolate metamaterials like the ones displayed above have quite interesting and tunable properties. Not only does the number of windings directly control the number of cracks when the material is pressed mechanically; the test panel could also clearly distinguish between less and more cracks when eating the chocolates. Moreover, sound recordings showed that the sound the chocolates makes when being bitten reflects the number of cracks, adding to an enjoyable eating experience.

The perfect piece of chocolate
The final question was of course: is designing an enjoyable eating experience a matter of trial and error, or can nice edible materials actually be designed and fine-tuned before creating them? The researchers found that with a well-chosen mathematical model, they can indeed optimize certain shapes of chocolates with respect to, for example, their resistance to break when bitten from certain directions. 

The design of edible metamaterials had not been studied before. The new research opens the door to ways to design foods that are enjoyable to eat -- and more generally, to design materials that optimize the interaction between humans and matter.

André Souto, Jian Zhang, Alejandro M. Aragón, Krassimir P. Velikov, Corentin Coulais. Edible mechanical metamaterials with designed fracture for mouthfeel control. Soft Matter, 2022; 18 (15): 2910 DOI: 10.1039/D1SM01761F

Australian Orthopaedic Surgeons Not Complying With Advertising Guidelines

April 21, 2022 by Emi Berry, UNSW
Advertising guideline violations include unverified claims of reputation and skill, new study reveals.

"Misleading online information can have serious implications for informed patient decision making,” says A/Prof Sam Adie. Photo: Shutterstock

The internet can be a double-edged sword for patients seeking health information, particularly in terms of direct-to-consumer advertising. In a paper recently published in The Medical Journal of Australia, researchers at UNSW Sydney revealed a considerable proportion of orthopaedic surgeons who are members of the Australian Orthopaedic Association (AOA) did not comply with AOA and Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) advertising guidelines. 

Orthopaedic surgeons specialise in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal injuries and diseases. This includes problems relating to bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. The surgeries they perform range from elective procedures such as joint replacement surgery to emergency surgery on patients with musculoskeletal injuries. 

A breach of online advertising standards 
The study included 81 randomly selected Australian Orthopaedic Association surgeons, and a list of 59 surgeons who appeared in the top Google search result list. From these two sample groups, the researchers found 64 per cent of randomly selected orthopaedic surgeons, and 81 per cent of surgeons who appeared in the top Google search results did not comply with medical board and association online advertising guidelines.   

In the AOA random sample, most of the non-compliance was due to misleading or deceptive advertising, arousing unreasonable expectations of benefit, using testimonials, and making claims of superior performance. Reasons for non-compliance among the AOA Google sample were similar, with a high proportion also non-compliant due to referencing specific brand names on their websites and failing to declare if a commercial relationship exists with these brands. 

The lead author of the paper, A/Prof Sam Adie says the exploratory analysis found non-compliance to the AHPRA guidelines was higher in the AOA Google sample compared to the AOA random sample. The researchers found the level of compliance to be influenced by the state they operated in, but not by geographic location – for example rural versus metropolitan – or sub-specialty. 

“Patients are increasingly relying on online health information to inform their medical care, so it’s important to recognise that misleading online information can have serious implications for informed patient decision making,” explains A/Prof Adie. 

A/Prof Sam Adie, who is a conjoint senior lecturer at St George and Sutherland Clinical School at UNSW Medicine & Health says the high degree of advertising non-compliance found in the study demonstrates a need for greater care to be taken by surgeons regarding the information they publish online.   

“Stricter enforcement of advertising guidelines by AHPRA and AOA may also be needed to protect patients from misleading advertising.” 

Not just happening in Australia 
The researchers note previous studies conducted overseas demonstrated poor quality advertising material on orthopaedic surgeon websites, with websites containing exaggerated and subjective information with no scientific references. 

“Our study is consistent with overseas studies, suggesting that poor quality online material may be typical in orthopaedic surgery. Our study is the first to examine the nature of online information published by Australian orthopaedic surgeons,” says A/Prof Adie. 

“It was surprising to find the high prevalence of advertising that blatantly violates advertising guidelines. The guidelines are clear, and there are many online resources available for advertisers to determine if their advertising is compliant – particularly with the AHPRA guidelines. This suggests to us that surgeons or those responsible for their online material don’t fully understand or are not aware of the guidelines or are intentionally violating guidelines to gain commercial advantage.”

The impact on patient care 
A/Prof Adie says the potential impact on patient care is of concern. “A recent systematic review found that the internet and physicians are the most frequently utilised sources of health information by patients. This is important, since misleading or deceptive advertising may interfere with informed patient decision making, as well as increase patient demand for specific treatments. It may also lead to inappropriate use of health care resources and adoption of novel technologies with uncertain efficacy.” 

The methods used in the study were designed to gain a representative sample of advertising material patients may encounter when accessing information about orthopaedic surgeons. The AOA random sample was taken from 500 AOA members who elected to make their details publicly available. The sample size calculation estimated that a sample of 81 surgeons would be required to gain a 95% confidence level of +10 percentage points. 

“Previous research has found that patients are most likely to visit webpages linked in top search results. So, we obtained our AOA Google sample by searching for “orthopaedic surgeon” and the name of the major city in each of the eight Australian states and territories. We then took the top eight search results. Therefore, our results can be seen as a good reflection of advertising material published by AOA members overall and is reflective of advertising material that is likely to be encountered by patients,” explains A/Prof Adie. 

The study provides evidence for the level of non-compliant advertising among Australian orthopaedic surgeons. “However, what remains unanswered are the actual implications of these online advertisements in an Australian context, including the effect on patient perceptions of required treatments, brands of implants, and treatment expectations. Additionally, we only looked at compliance among orthopaedic surgeons, and there are very few Australian studies examining online advertising among other medical and surgical specialities.”

Windows To The Soul: Pupils Reveal 'Aphantasia' - The Absence Of Visual Imagination

April 20, 2022
Visual imagination -- or rather, the lack of it -- can be verified by measuring pupil dilation, thereby providing the first physiological evidence of aphantasia, new research shows.

The study, led by researchers from UNSW Sydney and published in eLife, found that the pupils of people with aphantasia did not respond when asked to imagine dark and light objects, while those without aphantasia did.

To first gauge the pupillary reflex of non-aphantasic people, the researchers sought 42 study participants, self-reported as having a visual imagination, and fitted them with glasses to track their eye movements and pupil sizes.

Participants were then exposed to bright or dark shapes against a grey background, which predictably evoked pupillary constriction in response to bright shapes (comparable to looking up at a bright sky) and pupillary dilation in response to dark shapes (after switching a light off).

Next, to test visual imagery -- the mind's capacity to visualise objects -- participants were asked to simply imagine those same light or dark shapes (with their eyes open, for their pupils to be tracked) and subsequently report the 'vividness' of that imagery.

The researchers found that even in response to imagined bright and dark shapes, the participants' pupils still constricted and dilated appropriately, a pupillary response that was larger in those reporting greater imagery vividness.

"The pupillary reflex is an adaption that optimises the amount of light hitting the retina," says Professor Joel Pearson, senior author on the paper. "And while it was already known that imagined objects can evoke so-called 'endogenous' changes in pupil size, we were surprised to see more dramatic changes in those reporting more vivid imagery. This really is the first biological, objective test for imagery vividness."

Testing for a lack of imagination
Finally, with the link between visual imagery and pupillary response established, the researchers sought to test the effect in aphantasic individuals. The researchers repeated the study with 18 participants self-reporting aphantasia.

Exposing participants to bright and dark shapes, the researchers found that aphantasic individuals exhibited the same pupillary response as the general population: constriction to bright, dilation to dark.

However, during the study's second component where participants were asked to visualise those same shapes, the pupillary response of aphantasic individuals did not significantly differ in response to imagined dark versus imagined bright objects.

"One of the problems with many existing methods to measure imagery is that they are subjective, that is to say they rely on people being able to accurately assess their own imagery. Our results show an exciting new objective method to measure visual imagery," says Prof Pearson, "and the first physiological evidence of aphantasia. With over 1.3 million Australians thought to have aphantasia, and 400 million more internationally, we are now close to an objective physiological test, like a blood test, to see if someone truly has it."

To ensure the aphantasic participants were really attempting imagery, the researchers included a further experimental condition, requesting aphantasic individuals to visualise four shapes, instead of one.

While the pupils of those with aphantasia showed no difference when imagining light versus dark objects, they did show a difference imagining one versus four objects, suggesting more mental effort, thereby negating an explanation of non-participation by aphantasic individuals.

"Our pupils are known to get larger when we are doing a more difficult task," says Lachlan Kay, PhD candidate in the Future Minds Lab, UNSW. "Imagining four objects simultaneously is more difficult than imagining just one. The pupils of those with aphantasia dilated when they imagined four shapes compared to one, but did not change based on the whether the shapes were bright or dark. This indicated that the participants with aphantasia were indeed trying to imagine in this experiment, just not in a visual way."

"The aphantasic pupil response to the four objects condition is also a really exciting finding," adds Prof Pearson, "because for the first time we have strong biological evidence that those with aphantasia are really trying to create a mental image, putting to rest claims that they may simply not be attempting to create a mental image."

"These findings are also really interesting in regard to memory and aphantasia," said Dr Rebecca Keogh, Postdoctoral research fellow based at Macquarie University and another author of the study. "Our previous work has shown that aphantasic individuals are able to perform visual working memory tasks, remembering many images for a short period of time, without using visual imagery.

"These findings further highlight the wide variability of the human mind that can often remain hidden until we ask someone about their internal experiences or invent new ways to measure the mind. It reminds us that just because I remember or visualise something one way, doesn't mean everyone does."

What's next for aphantasia research? A look into the future…
Next, Prof Pearson and his team at the Future Minds Lab plan to investigate how this new method could be scaled up and run online to allow a global, efficient and objective measurement of imagery and aphantasia.

"This really is an exciting time. We are very close to having objective, reliable tests for extreme imagery, aphantasia and hyperphantasia (extremely strong visual imagery) that could be scaled up to run online for millions of people everywhere," says Prof Pearson.

"We know that thinking in pictures or not affects the number of details in lifelong memories, how emotional we get when reading, and how we hold things in short term memory. This new method will allow us to understand the brain mechanisms of extreme imagery and the global implications for how we think, make decisions and feel."

The pupillary reflex is an adaption that optimises the amount of light hitting the retina, changing, even, in response to imagined objects - not so for aphantasic individuals. Photo: Unsplash/Amanda Dalbjorn

Rebecca Keogh, Lachlan Kay, Thomas Andrillon, Joel Pearson. The pupillary light response as a physiological index of aphantasia, sensory and phenomenological imagery strength. eLife, 2022; 11 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.72484

Extracellular Vesicles Offer New Insights Into Treating Endocrine Disorders

April 21, 2022
In a new Scientific Statement released today, the Endocrine Society describes the importance of extracellular vesicles as a new research target for understanding the causes of certain endocrine disorders such as cancer and diabetes and discovering new treatments for these disorders.

During the last decade, endocrine researchers have shown great interest in extracellular vesicles and their hormone-like role in cell-to-cell communication. The statement provides insight into the functions of extracellular vesicles, which are secreted from all cells into biological fluids and carry endocrine signals that allow interactions between cells and distant sites in the body.

"We're really excited about this new area of research that can help us better understand how people develop common endocrine conditions such as diabetes, obesity and cancer," said Carlos Salomon Ph.D., D.Med.Sc., M.Sc., B.Sc., Associate Professor of The University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. "The statement highlights the likely uses of extracellular vesicles in detecting and monitoring disease progression and their role as next-generation drug delivery vehicles."

Extracellular vesicles can help researchers better understand how to diagnose endocrine-related conditions including cancer and predict its progression. The role of extracellular vesicles as a cancer biomarker may extend to predicting real-time response to therapy.

Extracellular vesicles are also involved in understanding the cause and treatment of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Recent studies have shown the potential of extracellular vesicles, particularly ones derived from stem cells, in treating diabetes. Research into the vesicles provides insights into the causes of insulin resistance and glucose intolerance in obesity.

Extracellular vesicles play an important role in the development of heart disease and could be useful for predicting risk. They also serve as biomarkers for high blood pressure and could have a therapeutic and blood pressure-lowering role.

"We hope this statement brings awareness to the significance of extracellular vesicles in endocrinology and encourages more research on their potential as biomarkers and therapeutics," Salomon said.

Other authors of this statement are: Saumya Das of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Mass.; Uta Erdbrügger of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va.; Raghu Kalluri of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas; Sai Kiang Lim of the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Singapore; Jerrold M. Olefsky of the University of California-San Diego in La Jolla, Calif.; Gregory E. Rice of Inoviq Limited in Australia; Susmita Sahoo of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, N.Y.; W. Andy Tao of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.; Pieter Vader of Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht in Utrecht, the Netherlands; Qun Wang of Shandong University in Jinan, China; and Alissa M. Weaver of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. 

About Endocrine Society

Endocrinologists are at the core of solving the most pressing health problems of our time, from diabetes and obesity to infertility, bone health, and hormone-related cancers. The Endocrine Society is the world’s oldest and largest organization of scientists devoted to hormone research and physicians who care for people with hormone-related conditions.

The Society has more than 18,000 members, including scientists, physicians, educators, nurses and students in 122 countries. To learn more about the Society and the field of endocrinology, visit our site at

Carlos Salomon, Saumya Das, Uta Erdbrügger, Raghu Kalluri, Sai Kiang Lim, Jerrold M Olefsky, Gregory E Rice, Susmita Sahoo, W Andy Tao, Pieter Vader, Qun Wang, Alissa M Weaver. Extracellular Vesicles and Their Emerging Roles as Cellular Messengers in Endocrinology: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement. Endocrine Reviews, 2022; DOI: 10.1210/endrev/bnac009

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.