Inbox and environment news: Issue 555

September 18 - 24, 2022: Issue 555

Channel-Billed Cuckoos Return

Residents have witnessed the return of channel-billed cuckoos in recent days. This large cuckoo spends our colder months in northern Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia, returning south to breed, arriving in Sydney about the middle of September. The racket they make is to distract their host birds from attending to their nest, so the female can quickly deposit an egg, or three.

Weed Alert: Corky Passionflower At Mona Vale + Narrabeen Creek

Corky Passionflower Passiflora suberosa, native to South America, is becoming common around Mona Vale and along Narrabeen Creek.  This is an aggressive invader. It is usually most successful in the sub-canopy, where it smothers small trees, shrubs and even the ground cover species. Corky passionflower has been observed smothering upper canopy species in some locations. 

Corky passionflower is recorded as a weed in a number of countries throughout the Pacific region.

Corky passionflower is not a prohibited or restricted invasive plant under the Biosecurity Act 2014. However, by law, everyone has a general biosecurity obligation (GBO) to take reasonable and practical steps to minimise the risks associated with invasive plants under their control.

Local governments must have a biosecurity plan that covers invasive plants in their area. This plan may include actions to be taken on certain species. Some of these actions may be required under local laws.
Corky passionflower is a perennial vine with extensive, twining tendrils. Stems are commonly purplish in colour. Leaves are dark green and may be three-lobed (with the centre lobe the largest) or entire in shape. They are generally 4–8 cm long, with a leaf stalk up to 2.5 cm long. Flowers are up to 2.5 cm wide and appear in solitary arrangement in leaf axils. They are free of petals, but they possess ‘sepals’ that are yellow-green in colour, with a purple inner fringe. Fruits are purple and are readily eaten by birds, aiding in considerable seed dispersal.

The most reliable method of control for corky passionflower is hand pulling when the soil is moist. Care must be taken not to break the stem above the roots, or the plant will regenerate. The above-ground vegetative parts of the weed can be removed using a brush hook or similar tool. 

This should be recognised as an emerging weed in our area that needs to be controlled. Please report to NBC if you see it, with a photo and location. 

Corky bark on lower stems, leaves rather like Ivy, clusters of flowers and berries. Photos: Wikipedia

La Nina Event Declared - Above Average Rainfall Likely For Eastern Australia

BOM- Issued: Tuesday, 13 September 2022

The Bureau of Meteorology has declared a La Niña event is underway in the Pacific Ocean and communities in eastern Australia should be prepared for above-average rainfall over spring and early summer.

Bureau of Meteorology head of long-range forecasts, Dr Andrew Watkins, said the Bureau's three-month climate outlook shows a high chance of above average rainfall for most of the eastern half of the Australian mainland and eastern Tasmania.

“During La Niña events, waters in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean are cooler than normal, and waters in the western tropical Pacific Ocean warmer than normal. This causes changes in wind, cloud and pressure patterns over the Pacific. When this change in the atmosphere combines with changes in ocean temperature, it can influence global weather patterns and climate, including increasing rainfall over large parts of Australia”.

Dr Watkins said while La Niña criteria have been met, most models forecast this event to be weak to moderate in strength, likely to peak during spring and ease during summer.

"La Niña is not the only driver influencing this wet outlook. To our west, a significant negative Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) event is underway. We expect the IOD influence will reduce in late spring or early summer,” Dr Watkins said.

"The Southern Annular Mode (SAM) is also in a positive phase, and likely to remain positive into summer. Positive SAM during summer pushes weather systems south, which increases the chance of rain in New South Wales, eastern Victoria and southern parts of Queensland,” he said.

Dr Watkins said all these climate influences push Australia's climate towards a wetter phase, and together have shaped our outlook for the coming months that shows more than 80 per cent chance of above average rainfall for many parts of the eastern half of Australia.

With catchments already wet, the flood risk remains, particularly for eastern Australia.

The Bureau is encouraging communities to keep up to date with the latest forecasts and warnings on the Bureau's website and BOM Weather app.

Flood Warning - Peel And Namoi Rivers

Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology
Minor to Major Flood Warning for the Peel and Namoi Rivers at Tamworth, Gunnedah, Boggabri, Narrabri, Wee Waa, Bugilbone and Goangra
Issued at 10:25 am EST on Saturday 17 September 2022

Flood Warning Number: 9


A moderate flood peak was observed along the Peel River at Tamworth on Friday afternoon. Flood waters from the Peel River combined with the outflows from Keepit Dam and a flood peak from the Mooki River may cause major flooding at Gunnedah and Wee Waa from later Saturday.

Minor flooding is likely along the Namoi River at Boggabri, Narrabri, Bugilbone and Goangra.

Peel River:
Minor flooding is occurring along the Peel River at Tamworth.

The Peel River at Tamworth Road Bridge peaked at 5.48 metres around 03:15 pm Friday 16 September and is currently at 3.71 metres and falling, with minor flooding. The Peel River at Tamworth Road Bridge is likely to fall below the minor flood level (3.00 m) Saturday evening.

Namoi River:
Minor flooding is occurring at Gunnedah and Wee Waa (Glencoe), with major flooding possible. Minor flooding is likely at Boggabri, Narrabri, Bugilbone and Goangra.

The Namoi River at Gunnedah is likely to exceed the moderate flood level (7.60 metres) around midday Saturday. The river level may peak around the major flood level (7.90 metres) later Saturday night.

The Namoi River at Boggabri is likely to exceed the minor flood level (7.00 metres) Saturday night. The river level may reach around 7.70 metres Sunday afternoon, with minor flooding.

The Narrabri Creek at Narrabri peaked at 4.71 metres around 04:00 am Saturday 17 September and is currently at 4.62 metres and falling. Renewed rises are expected along Narrabri Creek and the river level at Narrabri is likely to exceed the minor flood level (4.90 metres) Sunday evening. The river level may reach around 5.50 metres during Monday, with minor flooding.

The Namoi River at Wee Waa (Glencoe) may reach the major flood level (6.70 metres) overnight Saturday into Sunday.

The Namoi River at Bugilbone may reach 5.40 metres around Tuesday next week, with minor flooding. Further rises are possible.

The Namoi River at Goangra is expected to exceed the minor flood level (5.50 metres) around midday Saturday. The river level may reach around 6.00 metres late next week, with minor flooding. Further rises are possible.

Flood Safety Advice:
In life threatening emergencies, call 000 (triple zero) immediately. If you require rescue, assistance to evacuate or other emergency help, ring NSW SES on 132 500.

* Avoid drowning. Stay out of rising water, seek refuge in the highest available place.
* Prevent damage to your vehicle. Move it under cover, away from areas likely to flood.
* Avoid being swept away. Stay out of fast-flowing creeks and storm drains.
* Never drive, ride or walk through flood water. Flood water can be deceptive and dangerous.

Photo: at Gunnedah Saturday morning. Photo by and courtesy by former Narrabeen - Bayview resident Ken 'Sava' Lloyd who now lives at Gunnedah - this will be the second time this year Ken has been flooded out of his home - a bit much for someone in their 80's.

Ken lives around 100 metres from the Namoi river. During the last flood of the area he was initially refused help.

Ken was one of several people from Gunnedah who made submissions to the recent NSW Government Flood Inquiry, many of whom feel 'forgotten' given the focus on the Northern Rivers and Western Sydney.  He says they don't want to be told a flood will be 'minor' when projected river rises will see water inundate their streets and homes.

On Saturday morning the flood warning was upgraded to 'Major Flood'. This was reiterated at 3 p.m.

The day before, Friday September 16th, Ken walked over to check the Namoi.

''By the look at the waters that are coming down The Peel, Namoi and Mooki Rivers today at 12 noon 16-9-2022, I think we here in down town Gunnedah are in for a flood. I hope I am wrong but the river heights are as high as the last floods in Nov-Dec 2021 were.
And I wonder who to call for help...''

''The SES, RFS and Fire Brigade should put up a sign at the entrance to the Donnelly Fields and view of the river that when the Namoi is rising, hundreds of cars come down to see.
The sign should say  Don't just observe  Join us be Helpful and Serve.'

Ken tells us, as we go to press: ''At over 8 metres it will come into my home. Some other flood affected people are coming to help lift stuff I cannot lift. I can only hope that this flood will not come too high, peak expected this afternoon and evening.''

Wakehurst Parkway Closed Due To Flooding

At 5.19 am September 16 2022 Sydney Traffic Notified that Wakehurst Parkway was closed due to flooding:

''OXFORD FALLS: Both directions closed on the Wakehurst Pkwy between the Academy Of Sport & Dreadnought Rd due to flooding. Use Pittwater and Warringah Rds instead.

6:56am: UPDATE: Wakehurst Pkwy has reopened in both directions following earlier flooding.

The BOM recorded 28.2mm at Narrabeen on Friday September 16, the same again on Thursday September 15.

Manly Lagoon Friends September Clean Up Nets A Heap Of Rubbish

Manly Lagoon Friends is a new community-based association registered in March 2022.
The Objects of the Association are:

To ADVOCATE for the protection, preservation, regeneration and sustainable management of the Manly Lagoon environment, including the three catchment creeks Manly Creek, Burnt Bridge Creek and Brookvale Creek, all public land within the catchment, and Queenscliff Beach.

To ENGAGE with Council, Community and Key Stakeholders to provide strategic focus for sustainable management actions, with the objective of maintaining, protecting and enhancing the Manly Lagoon coastal environment.

To EDUCATE the community on the value of the Manly Lagoon system, to inform community on management actions affecting the lagoon and facilitate community based projects.

They had their first clean up day in June which was a fun and productive day. The next one was completed on Sunday September 11th.

As this photo shows a mixture of plastics and styrofoam collected from just a small area of the northern bank of Manly Lagoon. We also collected plenty of soft plastic, aka Freddo frog, chip and ice cream wrappers.  This is a reminder to all that whilst we all love to enjoy the lagoon, please take your rubbish home with you and dispose of thoughtfully.

Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew: Clontarf September 25

Come and join us for our September clean up at Clontarf. We'll meet in the grass area at Clontarf reserve at 10am - see map in our event - we're meeting at the red pin. We have gloves, bags and buckets. We'll clean up this area to try and catch all the litter before it enters the ocean. We're trying to remove as much plastic and rubbish as possible - this may be a fairly clean area but there are lots of small pieces and during our scouting of the area we found fishing lines, bread tags, Styrofoam,soyfish etc so there will be stuff for sure! 

Some of us can focus on the picnic are in the park and others can walk along the beach. We will clean up until around 11.20 and after that we will sort and count the rubbish, so we can contribute to research by entering it to a marine debris data base. The sorting and finishing, is normally finished around noon and we'll often go for lunch together at our own expense. 

We understand if you cannot stay for this part, but are grateful if you can. We appreciate any help we can get, no matter how small or big. We're a friendly group of people and everyone is welcome to this family friendly event. It's a nice community - make some new friends and do a good deed for the planet at the same time. 

There is a carpark, but it can be busy on Sundays, so check streets close by as well if it's full. Message us on our social media if you are lost - closest street is Sandy Bay Road and we are meeting in Clontarf Reserve, not far from the toilet block. All welcome - the more the merrier. Please invite your friends too.

Katandra Bushland Sanctuary Open

Katandra is open to visitors 10am to 4pm every Sunday from July to October (inclusive). Group visits can be organised at alternative times.
NB: NO dogs - this is a wildlife sanctuary.

Ku-Ring-Gai Sculpture Trail For 2022 Eco Festival

Ku-ring-gai’s Sculpture Trail celebrates sustainable art in the Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden.

Visit the Wildflower Garden to see an array of recyclable sculptures made by members of the community and professional artists.

The sculpture trail guide and maps will be available digitally once at the venue so remember to bring your smart phone or tablets.

The sculptures will be on display from 3 September to 3 October at the Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden, open daily from 9am - 4pm. We encourage everyone to go visit and check them out!

When: Saturday, 03 September 2022 | 09:00 AM - Monday, 03 October 2022 | 04:00 PM
Location: Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden, 420 Mona Vale Road, St Ives

Photos: Pittwater Creator Bea Pierce (Jellybeaps)has her Possum, Kangaroo and Quoll now installed at Ku-ring-gai Wild Flower Garden for the Ku-ring-gai Sculpture Trail. Bea's sculptures are #30, in Lamberts Clearing.

Sydney Cockatoos And Humans Are In An Arms Race Over Garbage Access

September 12, 2022

Residents of southern Sydney, Australia have been in a long-term battle over garbage -- humans want to throw it out, and cockatoos want to eat it. The sulphur-crested cockatoos that call the area home have a knack for getting into garbage bins, and people have been using inventive devices to keep them out. Researchers detail the techniques used by both people and parrots in a study publishing on September 12 in the journal Current Biology.

"When I first saw a video of the cockatoos opening the bins I thought it was such an interesting and unique behaviour and I knew we needed to look into it," says lead author Barbara Klump, a behavioural ecologist at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour.

The cockatoos' motivation is food waste. "They really like bread," she says. "Once one gets a bin open all the cockatoos in the vicinity will come and try to get something nice to eat."

The birds typically pry the bins open with their beaks and then manoeuvre themselves onto a small rim and flip the lid open. It's a community affair. "We could actually show that this is a cultural trait," says Klump. "The cockatoos learn the behaviour from observing other cockatoos and within each group they sort of have their own special technique, so across a wide geographic range the techniques are more dissimilar."

Human residents trying to keep the cockatoos out can't simply secure the bin lids completely closed because the lids need to open when tipped by an automated arm on the garbage truck. A survey given by the researchers found that people put bricks and stones on their bin lids, strap water bottles to the top, rig ropes to prevent the lid from flipping, use sticks to block the hinges, and switch tactics once the cockatoos figure them out. "There are even commercially available cockatoo locks for bins," says Klump.

"It's not just a social learning on the cockatoo side, but it's also social learning on the human side," she says. "People come up with new protection methods on their own, but a lot of people actually learn it from their neighbours or people on their street, so they get their inspiration from someone else."

Klump won't say who she expects to win the race for control of the bins, but she and her colleagues plan to look at how the cockatoos' behaviour varies from season to season.

Klump expects we will see more of these kinds of human-wildlife interactions in the future. "As cities expand, we will have more interactions with wildlife," she says. "I'm hoping that there will be a better understanding and more tolerance for the animals that we share our lives with."

(A) Examples of protection devices (left to right, top to bottom): a snake to scare away cockatoos (level 2 – no functional alteration to the bin), a cockatoo removing a brick from a general household waste bin (level 3 – unfixed object to prevent lifting; low efficacy), shoes between hinges to avoid full flipping of the lid (level 4 – object to prevent flipping; medium efficacy), full water bottles tied to the lid (level 5 – fixed alteration to prevent opening; high efficacy). (B) A household waste bin being emptied by a garbage truck. Photo: Andrew Owens/Wikicommons (CC-BY-SA.3.0). (C) Spatial distribution of bin-protection devices in Helensburgh (protection level: 33%, n = 1312) based on: (i) overall protection: binary yes (red)/ no (grey), (ii) clusters (for colour scheme see Figure S1). Given are p-values for assortment and for comparison of street vs. direct line-of-sight distance (route vs. line). For results from all four suburbs see Figure S1. (D) Change in efficacy of bin-protection devices over time. Of 1134 survey participants, 172 protected their bins at some point and are displayed here. (E) Changes in transition probabilities across the five levels of bin protection over 1, 3 and 5 years for each area (represented by the first, second and third number in each cell, respectively). Top shows transition probabilities for ‘early’ suburbs where cockatoos already opened bins for at least 3 years, bottom shows ‘recent’ suburb where bin-opening has emerged in the last 3 months).

Barbara C. Klump, Richard E. Major, Damien R. Farine, John M. Martin, Lucy M. Aplin. Is bin-opening in cockatoos leading to an innovation arms race with humans? Current Biology, 2022; 32 (17): R910 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.08.008

Dust Off Your Picnic Blankets For The First Ever Statewide Picnic For Nature

The NSW Nature Conservation Council have a bold plan. They are bringing people together to celebrate our great outdoors in a statewide Picnic for Nature—and we want you to be a part of it. 
On Sunday, October 16, the Nature Conservation Council are holding their first Picnic for Nature, where communities will come together in our great outdoors to celebrate everything we love about nature.  

If you are like many of us, you probably don’t get into nature as much was you would like to.  Our lives are over-scheduled, with work, school, shopping and dashing about to kid’s sport. Sometimes, it feels like if you don’t schedule time for nature, it just doesn’t happen.  

That’s why the Nature Conservation Council are organising this statewide Picnic for Nature, to give people the excuse they need to get outdoors to reconnect with nature, family, friends and the neighbours they probably should get to know. 

Taking time out to sit in the shade of a tree, share food, and appreciate the natural beauty of our surroundings is something we don’t do often enough.  

So why not take advantage of the warmer weather and unroll your picnic blanket to spend some quality time with family, friends and neighbours at your local park, beach or beauty spot. 
Every picnic will be unique, and some groups have even organised activities, games for the kids, and music.  

Already, people have registered 36 picnics around the state, from Albury to the Tweed and Broken Hill to Sydney, including two local picnics

Check out Nature Conservation Council's interactive map of picnics to see if there is an event in your town or suburb. If there’s not, why not organise one? 
Anyone can co-host a picnic, all you need is some food, a public space, and some friends. Picnics can be as big or as small as you like, with activities and games, or just some blankets and sunscreen. The Nature Conservation Council  can provide resources and materials like marketing templates, posters, and stickers  as well as the RSVP page and some marketing.  

Whether you’re hosting or attending, with your help we can help people reconnect with nature and each other. 

RSVP or Register for your local picnic at:

Narrabeen Picnic for Nature: Sun 16 Oct 2022 at 12:00 AM at Surfrider Gardens, 73 Ocean St, Narrabeen, RSVP:
Co-hosted by: the Surfrider Foundation

Manly Picnic for Nature: Sun 16 Oct 2022 at 12:00 AM, Manly, RSVP:
Co-hosted by: Save Northern Beaches Bushland, Save Manly Dam Catchment Committee, Seas of Change
Please note - the exact time and location of this picnic has yet to be confirmed. 

Echidna 'Love Train' Season Commences

This echidna, photographed at Mona Vale a few years back by Alex Tyrell, is after foods; ants - however, local wildlife carers and rescuers are reminding us that now is the time of year when these other little residents go in search of love and making little echidnas. Please slow down and be extra cautious on our roads around these weeks as we head into Spring - there's already that Spring Thing happening out there.

EPA Releases Climate Change Policy And Action Plan

September 8, 2022

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is taking action to protect the environment and community from the impacts of climate change, today releasing its new draft Climate Change Policy and Action Plan which works with industry, experts and the community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support resilience.

NSW EPA Chief Executive Officer Tony Chappel said the EPA has proposed a set of robust actions to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 (from 2005 levels), ensure net zero emissions by 2050, and improve resilience to climate change impacts.

“NSW has ambitious targets that align with the world’s best scientific advice and the Paris commitments, to limit global warming to an average of 1.5 degrees in order to avoid severe impacts on ecosystems,” Mr Chappel said.

“Over the past few years we have seen first-hand just how destructive the impacts of climate change are becoming, not only for our environment, but for NSW communities too.

“We know the EPA has a critical role to play in achieving the NSW Government’s net-zero targets and responding to the increasing threat of climate change induced weather events.

“Equally, acting on climate presents major economic opportunities for NSW in new industries such as clean energy, hydrogen, green metals, circular manufacturing, natural capital and regenerative agriculture.

“This draft Policy sends a clear signal to regulated industries that we will be working with them to support and drive cost-effective decarbonisation while implementing adaptation initiatives that build resilience to climate change risks.

“Our draft plan proposes a staged approach that ensures the actions the EPA takes are deliberate, well informed and complement government and industry actions on climate change. These actions will support industry and allow reasonable time for businesses to plan for and meet any new targets or requirements.

“Climate change is an issue that we all face so it’s important that we take this journey together and all play our part in protecting our environment and communities for generations to come.”

Actions include:

  • working with industry, government and experts to improve the evidence base on climate change
  • supporting licensees prepare, implement and report on climate change mitigation and adaptation plans
  • partnering with NSW Government agencies to address climate change during the planning and assessment process for activities the EPA regulates
  • establishing cost-effective emission reduction targets for key industry sectors
  • providing industry best-practice guidelines to support them to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions
  • phasing in the introduction of greenhouse gas emission limits on environment protection licences for key industry sectors
  • developing and implementing resilience programs, best-practice adaptation guidance and harnessing citizen science and education programs
  • working with EPA Aboriginal and Youth Advisory Committees to improve the EPA’s evolving climate change response

EPA Acting Chair Carolyn Walsh said the EPA is a partner in supporting and building on the NSW Government’s work to address climate change for the people of NSW.

“The draft Policy and Action Plan adopts, supports and builds on the strong foundations that have been set by the NSW Government through the NSW Climate Change Policy Framework, Net Zero Plan and Climate Change Adaptation Strategy,” Ms Walsh said.

The EPA will work with stakeholders, including licensees, councils, other government agencies, and the community to help implement the actions.

The draft EPA Climate Change Policy and Action Plan is available at and comments are open until 3 November 2022.

Wanted: Photos Of Flies Feeding On Frogs (For Frog Conservation)

Do you have any photos of frogs being bitten by flies? Submit them to our study to help in frog conservation.

By sampling the blood of flies that bite frogs, researchers can determine the (sometimes difficult to spot) frogs in an environment. Common mist frog being fed on by a Sycorax fly. Photo: Jakub Hodáň

UNSW Science and the Australian Museum want your photos of frogs, specifically those being bitten by flies, for a new (and inventive) technique to detect and protect our threatened frog species.

You might not guess it, but biting flies – such as midges and mosquitoes – are excellent tools for science. The blood ‘sampled’ by these parasites contains precious genetic data about the animals they feed on (such as frogs), but first, researchers need to know which parasitic flies are biting which frogs. And this is why they need you to submit your photos.

“Rare frogs can be very hard to find during traditional scientific expeditions,” says PhD student Timothy Cutajar, leading the project. “Species that are rare or cryptic [inconspicuous] can be easily missed, so it turns out the best way to detect some species might be through their parasites.”

The technique is called ‘iDNA’, short for invertebrate-derived DNA, and researchers Mr Cutajar and Dr Jodi Rowley from UNSW Science and the Australian Museum were the first to harness its potential for detecting cryptic or threatened species of frogs.

The team first deployed this technique in 2018 by capturing frog-biting flies in habitats shared with frogs. Not unlike the premise of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, where the DNA of blood-meals past is contained in the bellies of the flies, Mr Cutajar was able to extract the drawn blood (and therefore DNA) and identify the species of amphibian the flies had recently fed on.

These initial trials uncovered the presence of rare frogs that traditional searching methods had missed.

“iDNA has the potential to become a standard frog survey technique,” says Mr Cutajar. “[It could help] in the discovery of new species or even the rediscovery of species thought to be extinct, so I want to continue developing techniques for frog iDNA surveys. However, there is still so much we don’t yet know about how frogs and flies interact.”

In a bid to understand the varieties of parasites that feed on frogs – so Mr Cutajar and colleagues might lure and catch those most informative and prolific species – the team are looking to the public for their frog photos.

“If you’ve photographed frogs in Australia, I’d love for you to closely examine your pictures, looking for any frogs that have flies, midges or mosquitoes sitting on them. If you find flies, midges or mosquitoes in direct contact with frogs in any of your photos, please share them.”

The submitted photos will be analysed for the frog and parasite species they contain, helping inform future iDNA research. Mountain Stream Tree Frog (Litoria barringtonensis) being bitten by Sycorax. Photo: Tim Cutajar/Australian Museum

“We’ll be combing through photographs of frogs submitted through our survey,” says Mr Cutajar, “homing in on the characteristics that make a frog species a likely target for frog-biting flies.

“It’s unlikely that all frogs are equally parasitised. Some frogs have natural insect repellents, while others can swat flies away. The flies themselves can be choosy about the types of sounds they’re attracted to, and probably aren’t evenly abundant everywhere.”

Already the new iDNA technique, championed in herpetology by Mr Cutajar, has shown great promise, and by refining its methodology with data submitted by the public – citizen scientists – our understanding of frog ecology and biodiversity can be broadened yet further.

“The power of collective action can be amazing for science,” says Mr Cutajar, “and with your help, we can kickstart a new era of improved detection, and therefore conservation, of our amazing amphibian diversity.”

Possums In Your Roof?: Do The Right Thing

Possums in your roof? Please do the right thing 
On the weekend, one of our volunteers noticed a driver pull up, get out of their vehicle, open the boot, remove a trap and attempt to dump a possum on a bush track. Fortunately, our member intervened and saved the beautiful female brushtail and the baby in her pouch from certain death. 

It is illegal to relocate a trapped possum more than 150 metres from the point of capture and substantial penalties apply.  Urbanised possums are highly territorial and do not fare well in unfamiliar bushland. In fact, they may starve to death or be taken by predators.

While Sydney Wildlife Rescue does not provide a service to remove possums from your roof, we do offer this advice:

✅ Call us on (02) 9413 4300 and we will refer you to a reliable and trusted licenced contractor in the Sydney metropolitan area. For a small fee they will remove the possum, seal the entry to your roof and provide a suitable home for the possum - a box for a brushtail or drey for a ringtail.
✅ Do-it-yourself by following this advice from the Department of Planning and Environment: 

❌ Do not under any circumstances relocate a possum more than 150 metres from the capture site.
Thank you for caring and doing the right thing.

Sydney Wildlife photos

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.

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

Great Artesian Basin At Risk As Perrottet Government Approves New Coal Exploration

September 14, 2022
As many as 182 waterbores used by farmers, a recharge zone of the Great Artesian Basin, and important natural areas that form part of the Pilliga Forest could be put at risk if Whitehaven is allowed to develop or expand coal mines in a new release area near Narrabri.

The findings are drawn from an analysis conducted by Lock the Gate Alliance using new state of the art mapping technology.

Late last week the Perrottet Government approved two Whitehaven exploration licence applications within the release area, which covers nearly 17,000ha and is known as “Gorman North”. It was part of then Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s host of ”strategic” release areas around the state identified for coal exploration in 2020.

The mapping analysis reveals if Whitehaven builds coal mines in the area, it would threaten:
  • Part of the recharge area of the Great Artesian Basin
  • Several creek systems that flow into the Namoi River and areas of alluvial aquifers on the Namoi River floodplain used for irrigation 
  • 182 waterbores used for general water supply, irrigation, or stock and domestic.
  • A formally listed Aboriginal Heritage site
  • 12 threatened species including three endangered species - the Black-striped Wallaby, Koala, and Five-clawed Worm-skink
  • 13,502.5 ha of native vegetation in the north eastern section of the Pilliga Forest including four four threatened ecological communities
Unlike other parts of the state that were released under the strategic coal release scheme like Rylstone, there has been no public consultation or Preliminary Regional Impact Assessment in relation to Gorman North.

The decision to grant Whitehaven the exploration licences comes after NSW Farmers recently passed a motion at its annual conference calling for the Association to lobby the NSW Government to prevent any further coal exploration or mining activity in the Great Artesian Basin region.

Local farmer Andrew Mullins, who brought the motion to the conference and whose property is partially covered by the Gorman North area, said he was seriously concerned about the impact coal mining in the area could have on the Great Artesian Basin.

“The effect of this is far beyond the area that is within Gorman North - you’re talking about mining through aquifers of the Great Artesian Basin, you’re talking about the depressurisation of the basin,” he said.

“This will be an immediate problem for those living within Whitehaven exploration areas due to potential contamination, but it will be a bigger problem for groundwater and farming impacts if coal mining gets underway.”

Boggabri farmer Sally Hunter said the “Gorman North” area should never have been made available for coal mining.

“This new mapping analysis shows that the Gorman North strategic release area identified for future coal mining is needed instead for farming, biodiversity, and for people.

“I’ve had calls from people who have inadvertently moved into that area seeking a peaceful country life. They had no idea they were signing on for a new coalfield next to them and now they don’t know where that leaves their investments and plans.

“It’s incredibly disappointing the Perrottet Government has granted Whitehaven these exploration licences. Perhaps they wanted to get them through before the crowning of a new King who is aware of the climate catastrophe that new fossil fuel projects are causing.

“It’s also hard to understand why new coal release areas in other regions were put out for a proper impact assessment and community consultation, but this release area near Narrabri has been granted to Whitehaven directly without that work being done and without many of the locals knowing.”

Transition To Plantation Timber Would Be A Win For The Nature And Industry

September 15, 2022
NSW’s peak conservation group supports the expansion of timber plantations in NSW as recommended by the Upper House timber inquiry as the best way to guarantee timber supply while avoiding further extinctions of forest-dwelling wildlife. 

The expansion of plantations was a key recommendation of the upper house inquiry into the future of the timber industry that tabled its report today. [1]  

“We fully support the committee’s recommendation to expand timber plantations wherever this can be done without losing native forests or highly productive farmland,” Nature Conservation Council CEO Jacqui Mumford said. 

“The need to protect native forests from industrial logging has never been greater, with koalas and many other forest species sliding towards extinction, and huge areas of forest decimated by the 2019-20 bushfires." 

The inquiry report also called on the Government to respond to leaked advice that logging rules were insufficient to avoid unacceptable harm to the environment 

"Since the bushfires burned 40% of NSW state forests, it's time for a reset. It's simply untenable to continue chopping down these trees that koalas, gliders, and owls need for their very survival," Ms Mumford said. 

“Transitioning away from logging our native forests to a sustainable, 100% plantation-based industry can be a win for industry and for nature.” 

Key recommendations  

Rec 1. That the NSW Government identify and implement as a priority a long term funded strategy for the expansion of both softwood and hardwood timber plantations in New South Wales. 

Rec 12. That the NSW Government publicly release and respond to the findings of the Natural Resources Commission’s Coastal IFOA operations post 2019/20 wildfires final report on post bushfire logging in public native forests before the end of 2022. 

Rec 13. That the NSW Government review the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval with regard to the impacts of the 2019/20 bushfires and the findings of the 2021 NSW and Commonwealth State of the Environment Reports. 

Rec 14. That the NSW Government ensure that the NSW Environment Protection Authority has the necessary resources to undertake its forestry compliance obligations. 


Ever heard of ocean forests? They’re larger than the Amazon and more productive than we thought

Albert Pessarrodona SilvestreThe University of Western AustraliaKaren Filbee-DexterThe University of Western Australia, and Thomas WernbergThe University of Western Australia

Amazon, Borneo, Congo, Daintree. We know the names of many of the world’s largest or most famous rainforests. And many of us know about the world’s largest span of forests, the boreal forests stretching from Russia to Canada.

But how many of us could name an underwater forest? Hidden underwater are huge kelp and seaweed forests, stretching much further than we previously realised. Few are even named. But their lush canopies are home to huge numbers of marine species.

Off the coastline of southern Africa lies the Great African Seaforest, while Australia boasts the Great Southern Reef around its southern reaches. There are many more vast but unnamed underwater forests all over the world.

Our new research has discovered just how extensive and productive they are. The world’s ocean forests, we found, cover an area twice the size of India.

These seaweed forests face threats from marine heatwaves and climate change. But they may also hold part of the answer, with their ability to grow quickly and sequester carbon.

What Are Ocean Forests?

Underwater forests are formed by seaweeds, which are types of algae. Like other plants, seaweeds grow by capturing the Sun’s energy and carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. The largest species grow tens of metres high, forming forest canopies that sway in a never-ending dance as swells move through. To swim through one is to see dappled light and shadow and a sense of constant movement.

Just like trees on land, these seaweeds offer habitat, food and shelter to a wide variety of marine organisms. Large species such as sea-bamboo and giant kelp have gas-filled structures that work like little balloons and help them create vast floating canopies. Other species relies on strong stems to stay upright and support their photosynthetic blades. Others again, like golden kelp on Australia’s Great Southern Reef, drape over seafloor.

Only a few of the world’s most productive forests, such as the Great African Seaforest (GASF) and the Great Southern Reef (GSR), have been recognised and named.

How Extensive Are These Forests And How Fast Do They Grow?

Seaweeds have long been known to be among the fastest growing plants on the planet. But to date, it’s been very challenging to estimate how large an area their forests cover.

On land, you can now easily measure forests by satellite. Underwater, it’s much more complicated. Most satellites cannot take measurements at the depths where underwater forests are found.

To overcome this challenge, we relied on millions of underwater records from scientific literature, online repositories, local herbaria and citizen science initiatives.

Ocean forests support biodiversity worldwide. Richard Shucksmith.Author provided

With this information, we modelled the global distribution of ocean forests, finding they cover between 6 million and 7.2 million square kilometres. That’s larger than the Amazon.

Next, we assessed how productive these ocean forests are – that is, how much they grow. Once again, there were no unified global records. We had to go through hundreds of individual experimental studies from across the globe where seaweed growth rates had been measured by scuba divers.

We found ocean forests are even more productive than many intensely farmed crops such as wheat, rice and corn. Productivity was highest in temperate regions, which are usually bathed in cool, nutrient-rich water. Every year, on average, ocean forests in these regions produce 2 to 11 times more biomass per area than these crops.

Biomass production of different crops and ocean forests (in grams of carbon per metre squared per year). Data derived from Pessarrodona et al. 2022 and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

What Do Our Findings Mean For The Challenges We Face?

These findings are encouraging. We could harness this immense productivity to help meet the world’s future food security. Seaweed farms can supplement food production on land and boost sustainable development.

These fast growth rates also mean seaweeds are hungry for carbon dioxide. As they grow, they pull large quantities of carbon from seawater and the atmosphere. Globally, ocean forests may take up as much carbon as the Amazon.

This suggests they could play a role in mitigating climate change. However, not all that carbon may end up sequestered, as this requires seaweed carbon to be locked away from the atmosphere for relatively long periods of time. First estimates suggest that a sizeable proportion of seaweed could be sequestered in sediments or the deep sea. But exactly how much seaweed carbon ends up sequestered naturally is an area of intense research.

Ocean forests take up vast quantities of carbon dioxide, and some of it may be sequestred for long periods of time. Helen Walne.

Hard Times For Ocean Forests

Almost all of the extra heat trapped by the 2,400 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases we have emitted so far has gone into our oceans.

This means ocean forests are facing very difficult conditions. Large expanses of ocean forests have recently disappeared off Western Australiaeastern Canada and California, resulting in the loss of habitat and carbon sequestration potential.

Conversely, as sea ice melts and water temperatures warm, some Arctic regions are expected to see expansion of their ocean forests.

These overlooked forests play an crucial, largely unseen role off our coasts. The majority of the world’s underwater forests are unrecognised, unexplored and uncharted.

Without substantial efforts to improve our knowledge, it will not be possible to ensure their protection and conservation – let alone harness the full potential of the many opportunities they provide.The Conversation

Albert Pessarrodona Silvestre, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, The University of Western AustraliaKaren Filbee-Dexter, Research Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Western Australia, and Thomas Wernberg, Professor, The University of Western Australia

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

Nearly 30% of Australia’s emissions come from industry. Tougher rules for big polluters is a no-brainer

Rebecca PearseAustralian National University

Australia’s historic climate law passed the Senate last week and enshrined an economy-wide target to reduce emissions. But an important measure to reduce Australia’s industrial emissions is still up for debate: the “safeguard mechanism”.

Introduced by the Abbott government in 2014, the safeguard mechanism is supposed to stop Australia’s largest greenhouse gas polluters from emitting over a certain threshold. But the policy has been frequently criticised for lacking teeth. The Labor government has promised to strengthen the mechanism, and is currently reviewing it.

Industry has raised concerns over any toughening of the policy. Meanwhile, the Greens will push Labor to strengthen it further.

The safeguard mechanism covers the grid-connected power stations with a sectoral target. It also applies to 215 of Australia’s largest industrial emitters. Together, these 215 facilities produce almost 30% of Australia’s total annual emissions. So a stringent policy to curb this pollution is crucial to climate action.

Wait, What’s The Safeguard Mechanism?

The safeguard mechanism works by setting a limit on the emissions individual enterprises can produce in a year. This limit is put into place with “baselines” that get set in a number of different ways, depending on the type of company involved. Such companies might include a mining company, aluminium smelter, steelworks or airline.

If the company emits beyond their limit, they can buy carbon credits to compensate for, or “offset”, the excess emissions.

The mechanism covers hard-to-abate industries which are regulated on an individual basis, such as new coal, oil and gas projects, steel, aluminium, manufacturing and transport. These include Woodside’s Northwest Shelf gas project, Qantas, Chevron’s Gorgon gas project, Port Kembla steelworks, and AngloAmerican coal mines in central Queensland.

Coal fired power remains our biggest industrial source of emissions, but is regulated separately. A “sectoral baseline” has been set for all electricity generators connected to the national grid at 198 million tonnes of CO₂ equivalent each year.

Rubbery Baseline Emissions

Historically, the safeguard mechanism hasn’t put strong obligations on industrial emitters to reduce their emissions. Indeed, industrial emissions have increased since the mechanism began in 2016.

Imposing a genuine carbon limit on high-emitting companies requires a clear definition and enforcement of the baselines. But the safeguard mechanism provides enormous scope for expanded production and, therefore, expanded emissions.

The government’s review paper identifies a major problem with how baselines have been set in the past. Namely, many facilities have been allowed to set their baseline emissions well above their actual emissions.

Baselines for each facilities’ emissions are currently measured according to “production-adjusted” emissions intensity. So, for example, a coal mine’s baseline is measured per tonne of coal commodity produced. This means over time, baselines rise or fall in proportion to a company’s expected production.

The government’s consultation paper reports that in the 2020-21 financial year the combined baseline emissions recorded for non-electricity grid emissions under the safeguard mechanism was estimated at 180 million tonnes of CO₂ equivalent.

But actual emissions in the same period were 137 million tonnes of CO₂ equivalent.

It should also be noted that research suggests up to one in five fossil fuel projects are underestimating their actual emissions. But regardless, the high baselines mean there’s no regulatory pressure for companies to reduce their emissions.

The current review paper seeks feedback on these issues. Removing the head room for facilities with baselines well above their actual emissions is on the cards.

Carbon Credit Questions

The government is poised to propose significantly expanding carbon credit trading under the safeguard mechanism.

Carbon credits are granted to projects that reduce, store or avoid greenhouse gas emissions. These credits can be sold to the federal government or to private companies to offset a project’s own emissions.

Under the current safeguard mechanism, if a company exceeds its baseline emissions, then it can purchase Australian carbon credits to offset this.

These carbon offsets, however, are plagued with credibility problems. In fact, another federal government review is underway to examine the issues.

There are calls to strongly limit or remove questionable offsets linked to the safeguard mechanism.

For instance, climate science professor Mark Howden argued recently that offsets should not be used to give big emitters a “free ride” to continue polluting if they invest in carbon sequestration projects, at this stage. Instead, the immediate priorities should be limiting fossil fuel combustion burning, and making concrete plans for other industries to transition.

Despite this, the federal government is considering expanding trade in these and potentially other types of carbon credits.

The government is proposing a new type of carbon credit for companies emitting below their baseline. For instance, if an aluminium smelter reduced its emissions over 2024 and 2025, it could be granted credits to sell to others in the carbon market.

The government is also considering allowing companies to trade carbon credits on an international level, pending reforms to address integrity issues in safeguard mechanism like the baseline headroom problem.

The international trade in carbon credits has been plagued with problems for 20 years. A 2021 literature review found little evidence demonstrating causal effect of carbon trading markets on emissions reduction.

It puts a strong case forward against linking carbon markets internationally, after Europe, Quebec and California case studies show linking carbon markets has led to price crashes and volatility – not stability.

The Risk Of A Weak Carbon Trading Market

We can expect industry to continue to lobby for a weak safeguard mechanism and carbon credit rules. But if the Labor government is genuine about wanting to reduce Australia’s emissions, our biggest polluters cannot be allowed to carry on emitting as usual.

And there is no role for a carbon trading policy that excuses big emitters from making clean energy transition plans.

Labor may need the numerous pro-climate independent senators or the Greens to make changes signalled in the safeguard consultation paper. They are unlikely to be satisfied with a weak carbon trading scheme.

Any proposed changes that undermine Australia’s emissions reduction goals will not easily be passed.The Conversation

Rebecca Pearse, Lecturer, Australian National University

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

‘Too hard to get to work’: climate change is making workers’ lives more difficult

Lauren RickardsRMIT University and Todd DenhamRMIT University

“Work” – broadly defined – is what allows society to function. Like other old certainties, it is under threat from climate change.

A key reason climate-related stresses and disruptions can have such a big impact is precisely because of their effect on the work we do and on the wider system of work we rely on. But little attention has been given to the urgent need to adapt work to climate change.

Our new report on climate impacts at work, released today, documents emerging serious risks.

A female professional told us: “there were days where I simply had to use up sick leave because it was too hot to get safely to work”.

One male sales worker told us about working during the Black Summer of 2019/2020:

Smoke from bushfires two years ago was intolerable. The heat also was horrific at times. During the smokiest days temperatures often shot up to over 40 degrees. It was like the planet Venus. My employer … provided no masks at all at that time, despite numerous requests, even pleadings.

Australia is already 1.4℃ warmer than it was in 1910. Climatic extremes and events like the 2022 floods and Black Summer – as well as many less visible disruptions –  are already undermining our capacity to work across different organisations, industries and sectors.

We will have to get better at adapting to our changed climate – and quickly.

What Did We Find?

We found the effects of climate change on workers reach more widely than than previously thought.

In short, no one is immune to climate harms, whether indoor or outdoor, junior or senior. Given we rely on each others’ work, that means climate change impacts are likely to increasingly “cascade” through society, as the 2022 IPCC report on Australasia details.

Our research comes from a survey of 1,165 workers across ten industries undertaken in the first half of 2022, assisted by six unions. The sample is not representative of the workforce as a whole and is skewed towards types of workers not typically considered on harms from climate change, such as professionals and community and personal service workers.

Previous research has documented the serious ways heat affects workers, especially those outdoors or in poorly cooled spaces. Other studies have found outdoor council workers and delivery cyclists in Sydney are already having to use coping mechanisms such as extra breaks, lighter duties and temporarily stopping work to try to avoid heat stress.

Our data similarly points to heat’s health impacts. Outdoor workers were especially likely to report being tired and fatigued, dehydrated and less productive. They were also more likely to sweat excessively and be sunburnt.

Less recognised is that indoor workers are also being affected by heat and smoke.

These health impacts are serious. Close to 450 people died from the effects of smoke inhalation over the Black Summer. These issues were compounded by the COVID pandemic, notably for those workers who have to had to wear personal protective equipment or work from poorly cooled houses during heatwave conditions.

Climate change can undermine people’s capacity to work in other ways. Some workers reported impacts on the amount and focus of their work. For example, some had to take on new tasks to cover for colleagues who were overwhelmed or furloughed due to the Black Summer fires. A quarter reported having to work additional hours due to emergency situations such as the floods, while others reported they had lost hours, had to take personal leave or even lost their job as a result of climatic events.

Percentage of respondents reporting wider climatic impacts on work and productivity. Author provided

There are even impacts from climatic effects on the wider public. Half of the survey respondents reported having to manage angrier customers, while 60% said climatic events had led to staffing disruptions. Some reported extreme weather was causing supply chain disruption.

One male professional said:

The frequency of storm events has noticeably increased, and these storms are often more severe with higher wind speeds and rates of precipitation than in the past. […] Our workload has increased accordingly and risk to people and property has also increased.

Management are struggling to come to terms with the frequency and severity of storm events and this is leading to anxiety and conflict with management in relation to the perceived need to close the site, or part of it, during severe weather events. Site closure protects individuals from harm […] but is bad for revenue raising for the many businesses that operate on our site.

Our capacity to work often relies on intricate systems of settlements, infrastructure and services that consist of workplaces and support others. When any of these workplaces are affected, there are flow-on effects.

Percentage of respondents reporting climate impacts on workplaces. Author provided

Our survey found more than a third of workers had not been able to travel to work due to climatic factors. If trains don’t run or roads are blocked, it can bring many workplaces to a halt.

We are now enmeshed in a different climate to the one we grew up in – and it will change more.

To make our societies and systems resilient to climate change, we will have to adapt how, where, when we work, who “we” is, what we work on, and why. This adaptation work is urgent. No one is immune.

Friends of the Earth contributed to this researchThe Conversation

Lauren Rickards, Professor, RMIT University and Todd Denham, Research officer, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University

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

La Niña, 3 years in a row: a climate scientist on what flood-weary Australians can expect this summer

Andrew KingThe University of Melbourne

After weeks of anticipation, it’s finally official: the Bureau of Meteorology has declared another La Niña is underway. This means Australia’s east coast will likely endure yet another wet, and relatively cool, spring and summer.

It’s the third La Niña event in a row. This is rare, but not unheard of. Triple La Niñas have also occurred in, for example, 1973–1976 and 1998–2001.

The past two La Niñas mean water catchments are already full, and soils are sodden from Noosa in the north through to Lismore and the Hunter Valley in the south. It means more flood events are likely in the coming months.

The bureau’s declaration will be unwelcome news to many people – especially those in parts of New South Wales and Queensland still recovering from recent floods. So what else can flood-weary Australians expect in the coming months? And is a fourth La Niña on the cards?

A Potentially Mild La Niña

La Niña is part of a natural climate cycle over the tropical Pacific Ocean. Sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific vary between being warmer than average (El Niño) and cooler than average (La Niña).

This variability has worldwide effects as it shifts weather patterns – bringing droughts to some regions and floods to others.

The colder than normal waters recently observed in the central and eastern Pacific are indicative of La Niña. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

For most of Australia, La Niña raises the chance of rain. It has contributed to some of Australia’s wettest ever conditions, and some of the driest in the southern United States across the Pacific Ocean.

The Bureau of Meteorology says this La Niña may peak during spring, and return to neutral conditions early in 2023. Most seasonal prediction models are suggesting this La Niña event will be weaker and shorter-lived than the last two.

Typically, stronger La Niña seasons are associated with more extreme rainfall in eastern Australia. So hopefully a mild La Niña comes to pass and flood-hit regions avoid the worst of the summertime rain, at least.

La Niña is a part of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, a natural phenomenon. We know these events have occurred in the past – before large-scale greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

We don’t yet know how La Niña may change as the planet continues to warm, but evidence suggests climate change may make La Niña (and its counterpart El Niño) events more frequent and intense.

And research from earlier this year suggests relationships between La Niña and regional climate may become stronger over many parts of the world, including much of Australia. This could mean Australia feels the force of La Niña and El Niño events more in future as the planet continues to heat.

Three Climate Forces At Work

It’s not just La Niña affecting Australia’s climate at the moment. Two other natural climate forces are also in play: the Indian Ocean Dipole and the Southern Annular Mode.

The Indian Ocean Dipole is characterised by variable sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean, and the Southern Annular Mode by the positioning of winds and weather systems to Australia’s south.

We’re currently in a “negative” Indian Ocean Dipole and a “positive” phase of the Southern Annular Mode.

These all have different effects on the Australian climate. In springtime, these conditions – in combination with La Niña – are conducive to more rain in eastern Australia.

We saw all three of these phenomena occur simultaneously in the spring of 2010, when eastern Australia experienced record high rainfall.

It’s too early to say where exactly in Australia is most likely to experience flooding this spring. While La Niña, the negative Indian Ocean Dipole and positive Southern Annular Mode raise the chances of rainfall, individual weather systems and their trajectories will determine where the worst is located.

What Does La Niña Mean For Drought And Bushfire?

One positive aspect of La Niña is it keeps drought out of the picture for the time being. Some of Australia’s worst droughts are characterised by a lack of La Niña or negative Indian Ocean Dipole conditions over several years. Eastern Australia is unlikely to experience severe drought in the near future.

The La Niña conditions also reduce the likelihood that we’ll see a bad bushfire season in eastern Australia this coming summer.

But it isn’t all good news. La Niña and the other climate influences raise the chances of plant growth and greening in eastern Australia. And this could provide fuel for future fires once conditions dry out again.

Historically, major bushfire seasons in eastern Australia have often followed La Niña events. In 2011, after a La Niña and very wet conditions, we saw some of the biggest fires on record.

A background trend towards hotter, drier weather due to climate change could spell trouble down the track.

Another effect of the triple La Niña is that we haven’t seen record high global-average temperatures since 2016 (noting that 2020 and 2016 are almost tied). This is despite our continued very high greenhouse gas emissions, which have rebounded since the pandemic-associated dip.

La Niña typically reduces global-mean temperatures slightly by cooling a large area of the Pacific Ocean – but this is a temporary effect. Record high global-average temperatures will come again soon, and are more likely when the next El Niño occurs.

Could We Have A Fourth La Niña?

Many Australians hoping La Niña was behind us for a few years now have to contend with a third in a row.

While we’ve seen triple La Niña events before, we have never seen quadruple La Niña in the historical record. This doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. In fact, the 2001-2002 season that followed the 1998-2001 triple La Niña wasn’t a long way off from being yet another La Niña.

For now, we must prepare for a wet spring and possibly another wet summer to come.

Severe flooding is more likely than usual in already flood-hit zones, so lessons learnt from the devastation caused by the recent floods should be put in place. The Conversation

Andrew King, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science, The University of Melbourne

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

We may be underestimating just how bad carbon-belching SUVs are for the climate – and for our health

Robin SmitUniversity of Technology Sydney and Nic SurawskiUniversity of Technology Sydney

Australia’s love for fuel-hungry and fuel-inefficient SUVs is hampering our ability to bring transport emissions down. SUVs make up half of all new car sales last year, a National Transport Commission report revealed this week – up from a quarter of all sales a decade ago.

As a result, the carbon emitted by all new cars sold in Australia dropped only 2% in 2021, the report found. Sales of battery electric vehicles tripled last year, but still make up just 0.23% of all cars and light commercial vehicles on our roads.

In internationally peer-reviewed research earlier this year, we measured the emissions of five SUVs driving around Sydney, and our findings suggest the situation may actually be worse than the new report finds.

The National Transport Commission’s numbers are based on the “New European Drive Cycle” (NEDC) emissions test. Our research found the real-world emissions of SUVs are, on average, about 30% higher than the NEDC values. This means we are not reducing fleet average emissions by a few percent per year, but actually probably increasing them by a few percent every year.

What The Report Found

The transport sector is responsible for almost 20% of Australia’s emissions, ranking third behind the electricity and agriculture sector. The first year of the COVID pandemic only reduced transport carbon dioxide emissions by about 7%, compared to 2019 emission levels.

Overall, Australia’s pride in carbon-belching transport is evident by the fact transport CO₂ emissions have risen 14% between 2005 and 2020.

SUVs are generally larger and heavier than other passenger cars, which means they need quite a bit more energy and fuel per kilometre of driving when compared with smaller, lighter cars.

Although SUV sales are rising globally, the Australian fleet is unique due to its large portion of SUVs in the on-road fleet, often with four-wheel-drive capability.

According to the National Transport Commission report, sales of four-wheel-drives and utes surged by more than 43,000 in 2021, while large SUV sales rose by around 25,000.

Rapidly shifting to electric cars is an important way to bring emissions down. But the report found in 2021, just 2.8% of Australia’s car sales were electric. Compare this to 17% in Europe, 16% in China and 5% in the United States.

In Australia, there is still no option to buy an electric ute, and electric vehicles remain prohibitively expensive.

Measuring SUV Emissions In Sydney

There are a range of methods scientists use to measure vehicle emissions.

One popular method worldwide uses so-called “on-board portable emission monitoring systems”. These systems are effective because they enable second-by-second emissions testing under a variety of real-world driving conditions on the road.

On the other hand, the New European Drive Cycle (NEDC) emissions test is conducted in the laboratory. It was also developed in the early 1970s and reflects unrealistic driving behaviour, because test facilities at the time could not deal with significant changes in speed.

We fitted five SUVs with a portable emission monitoring system and drove them a little over 100 kilometres around Sydney in various situations, such as in the city and on the freeway.

Testing on-board emissions from SUVs in Sydney. Robin Smit

We then compared our measurements with the Green Vehicle Guide – the national guide to vehicle fuel consumption and environmental performance, which is also based on the NEDC test.

Our measurements of fuel consumption and CO₂ emissions were consistently higher. This varied from 16% to 65% higher than NEDC values, depending on the actual car and driving conditions.

On average, real-world fuel consumption and CO₂ emissions were both 27% higher than NEDC values. Importantly, this gap has increased substantially from about 10% in 2008.

Indeed, previous research from 2019 found fleet average greenhouse gas emissions for new Australian cars and SUVs has probably been increasing by 2-3% percent per year since 2015, rather than the reported annual reduction by, for instance, the National Transport Commission.

This detailed analysis showed a sustained increase in vehicle weight and a shift to the sale of more four-wheel-drive cars (in other words, SUVs) are probably the main factors contributing to this change.

More Bad News For SUVs

We also recently summarised the results of various emission measurement campaigns conducted in Australia and compared them with international studies. These include results from a study of vehicle emissions in a tunnel, and a study of vehicle emissions measured on the road with remote sensing.

Measuring vehicle emissions with remote sensing in Brisbane. Robin Smit

We found modern diesel SUVs and cars or diesel light commercial vehicles (such as utes) in Australia and New Zealand have relatively high emissions of nitrogen oxides and soot – both important air pollutants.

Around 2,600 deaths are attributed to fine-particle air pollution in Australia each year. Transport and industrial activities (such as mining) are the main sources of this.

And in 2015, an estimated 1,715 deaths were attributed to vehicle exhaust emissions – 42% more than the road toll that year.

The remote sensing emissions data suggest 1% of one to two-year-old diesel SUVs and 2% of one-to-two year old diesel light commercial vehicles have issues with their particulate filters, leading to high soot emissions.

These percentages are high when compared with a similar study conducted in the United Kingdom, which could not find any clear evidence of filter issues.

Three Ways To Move Forward

Ever increasing SUVs sales are a drag on successfully reducing Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. So what should we do?

Of course there are several things to consider, but in terms of fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions, we believe there are three main points.

First, we need to make sure we have realistic fuel use and emissions data. This means the National Transport Commission and Green Vehicle Guide should stop using the NEDC values and shift to more realistic emissions data. We acknowledge this is not a simple matter and it requires a lot more testing.

Second, we need to electrify transport as fast as we can, wherever we can. This is crucial, but not the whole solution.

To ensure Australia meets its net-zero emissions target, we also need to seriously consider energy and fuel efficiency in transport. This could be by promoting the sales of smaller and lightweight vehicles, thereby optimising transport for energy efficiency.

In all of this, it will be essential for car manufacturers to take responsibility for their increasing contributions to climate change. From this perspective, they should move away from marketing profitable fossil-fueled SUVs that clog up our roads, and instead offer and promote lighter, smaller and electric vehicles.The Conversation

Robin Smit, Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Technology Sydney and Nic Surawski, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Engineering, University of Technology Sydney

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

Scientists are divining the future of Earth’s ice-covered oceans at their harsh fringes

Photo by Alessandro ToffoliAuthor provided
Jordan Peter Anthony PittUniversity of Adelaide and Luke BennettsUniversity of Adelaide

One of the harshest and most dynamic regions on Earth is the marginal ice zone – the place where ocean waves meet sea ice, which is formed by freezing of the ocean’s surface.

Published today, a themed issue of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A reviews the rapid progress researchers have made over the past decade in understanding and modelling this challenging environment.

This research is vital for us to better understand the complex interactions of Earth’s climate systems. That’s because the marginal ice zone plays a role in the seasonal freezing and thawing of the oceans.

A Harsh Place To Study

In the Arctic and Antarctic, surface ocean temperatures are persistently below -2℃ – cold enough to freeze, forming a layer of sea ice.

At the highest latitudes closer to the poles, sea ice forms a solid, several-metre-thick lid on the ocean that reflects the Sun’s rays, cooling the region and driving cool water around the oceans. This makes sea ice a key component of the climate system.

But at lower latitudes, as the ice-covered ocean transitions to the open ocean, sea ice forms into smaller, much more mobile chunks called “floes” that are separated by water or a slurry of ice crystals.

This marginal ice zone interacts with the atmosphere above and ocean below in a very different way to ice cover closer to the poles.

It’s a challenging environment for scientists to work in, with a voyage into the marginal ice zone around Antarctica in 2017 experiencing winds over 90km/h and waves over 6.5m high. It is also difficult to observe remotely because the floes are smaller than what most satellites can see.

The front of a ship shown ploughing through a field of rounded ice 'pancakes'
Photograph of Antarctic marginal ice zone taken by Alessandro Toffoli onboard the S.A Agulhas II in 2017. Photo by Alessandro ToffoliAuthor provided

Crushed By Waves

The marginal ice zone also interacts with the open ocean via surface waves, which travel from the open waters into the zone, impacting the ice. The waves can have a destructive effect on the ice cover, by breaking up large floes and leaving them more susceptible to melt during summer.

By contrast, during winter, waves can promote the formation of “pancake” floes, so called because they are thin disks of sea ice (you can see them in the image above).

Drone footage from Canada shows waves generated by a ship breaking up continuous ice into floes.

But wave energy itself is lost during interactions with floes, so that waves gradually become weaker as they travel deeper into the marginal ice zone. This produces wave–ice feedback mechanisms driving sea ice evolution in a changing climate.

For example, a trend for warmer temperatures will weaken the ice cover, allowing waves to travel deeper into ice-covered oceans and cause more breakup, which further weakens the ice cover – and so on.

Two photographs of ice cover, the first shows the ship travelling past before the break up and the second shows the break up.
Two photographs of ice cover just before and during its break up. Elie Dumas-Lefebvre/Université du Québec à Rimousk

Scientists studying marginal ice zone dynamics aim to improve our understanding of the zone’s role in the dramatic and often perplexing changes the world’s sea ice is undergoing in response to climate change.

For instance, in the Arctic Ocean, sea ice cover has “has dropped by roughly half since the 1980s”. In the Antarctic, the sea ice cover has recently had both one of its largest and smallest recorded extents, with the marginal ice zone being one source of year-to-year variability.

Our progress in better understanding these harsh regions has revolved around large international research programs, run by the United States’ Office of Naval Research and others. These programs involve earth scientists, geophysicists, oceanographers, engineers and even applied mathematicians (like us).

Recent efforts have produced innovative observation techniques, such as a method to 3D-image wave and floe dynamics in the marginal ice zone from onboard an icebreaker and capture waves-in-ice from satellite images.

Photograph of ocean covered by sea ice, with measurements of the waves superimposed in color
Measurements of waves in marginal ice zone imposed over the original photographs from onboard the S.A Agulhas II. Alessandro Toffoli/University of Melbourne and Alberto Alberello/University of East Anglia

They have also resulted in new models capable of simulating the interaction of waves and ice from the level of individual floes to the overall behaviour of entire oceans. The advances have motivated an Australian led multi-month experiment in the Antarctic marginal ice zone, on the new $500M icebreaker RSV Nuyina, which is expected next year.

The marginal ice zone will be an increasingly important component of the world’s sea ice cover in the future, as temperatures rise and waves become more extreme.

Despite the rapid progress, there is still some way to go before the understanding of feedback processes in the marginal ice zone translates into improved climate predictions used by, for example, the International Panel on Climate Change Assessment Reports.

Including the marginal ice zone in climate models has been described as the “holy grail” for the field by one of its leading figures, and the theme issue points to closer ties with the broader climate community as the next major direction for the field.The Conversation

Jordan Peter Anthony Pitt, Post-Doctoral Researcher, University of Adelaide and Luke Bennetts, Lecturer in applied mathematics, University of Adelaide

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

Where is your seafood really from? We’re using ‘chemical fingerprinting’ to fight seafood fraud and illegal fishing

Photo by Chait Goli/PexelsCC BY
Zoe DoubledayUniversity of South Australia

Fake foods are invading our supermarkets, as foods we love are substituted or adulterated with lower value or unethical goods.

Food fraud threatens human health but is also bad news for industry and sustainable food production. Seafood is one of most traded food products in the world and reliant on convoluted supply chains that leave the the door wide open for seafood fraud.

Our new study, published in the journal Fish and Fisheries, showcases a new approach for determining the provenance or “origin” of many seafood species.

By identifying provenance, we can detect fraud and empower authorities and businesses to stop it. This makes it more likely that the food you buy is, in fact, the food you truly want to eat.

A woman walks through a seafood market.
Seafood is one of the most traded food product in the world. Photo by Saya Kimura/PexelsCC BY

Illegal Fishing And Seafood Fraud

Wild-caught seafood is vulnerable to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing can have a devastating impact on the marine environment because:

  • it is a major cause of overfishing, constituting an estimated one-fifth of seafood

  • it can destroy marine habitats, such coral reefs, through destructive fishing methods such as blast bombing and cyanide fishing

  • it can significantly harm wildlife, such as albatross and turtles, which are caught as by-catch.

So how is illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing connected to seafood fraud?

Seafood fraud allows this kind of fishing to flourish as illegal products are laundered through legitimate supply chains.

A recent study in the United States found when seafood is mislabelled, it is more likely to be substituted for a product from less healthy fisheries with management policies that are less likely to reduce the environmental impacts of fishing.

One review of mislabelled seafood in the US found that out of 180 substituted species, 25 were considered threatened, endangered, or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).

Illegal fishing and seafood fraud also has a human cost. It can:

  • adversely affect the livelihoods of law-abiding fishers and seafood businesses

  • threaten food security

  • facilitate human rights abuses such as forced labour and piracy

  • increase risk of exposure to pathogens, drugs, and other banned substances in seafood.

The Chemical Fingerprints In Shells And Bones

A vast range of marine animals are harvested for food every year, including fish, molluscs, crustaceans, and echinoderms.

However, traditional food provenance methods are typically designed to identify one species at a time.

That might benefit the species and industry in question, but it is expensive and time consuming. As such, current methods are restricted to a relatively small number of species.

In our study, we described a broader, universal method to identify provenance and detect fraud.

How? We harnessed natural chemical markers imprinted in the shells and bones of marine animals. These markers reflect an animal’s environment and can identify where they are from.

We focused on a chemical marker that is similar across many different marine animals. This specific chemical marker, known as “oxygen isotopes”, is determined by ocean composition and temperature rather than an animal’s biology.

Exploiting this commonality and how it relates to the local environment, we constructed a global ocean map of oxygen isotopes that helps researchers understand where a marine animal may be from (by matching the oxygen isotope value in shells and bones to the oxygen isotope value in the map).

After rigorous testing, we demonstrated this global map (or “isoscape”) can be used to correctly identify the origins of a wide range of marine animals living in different latitudes.

For example, we saw up to 90% success in classifying fish, cephalopods, and shellfish between the tropical waters of Southeast Asia and the cooler waters of southern Australia.

Mussels lie on an ice bed at a shop.
Demand for seafood remains strong around the world. Photo by Julia Volk/PexelsCC BY

What Next?

Oxygen isotopes, as a universal marker, worked well on a range of animals collected from different latitudes and across broad geographic areas.

Our next step is to integrate oxygen isotopes with other universal chemical markers to gives clues on longitude and refine our approach.

Working out the provenance of seafood is a large and complex challenge. No single approach is a silver bullet for all species, fisheries or industries.

But our approach represents a step towards a more inclusive, global system for validating seafood provenance and fighting seafood fraud.

Hopefully, this will mean ensure fewer marine species are left behind and more consumer confidence in the products we buy.

Dr Jasmin Martino, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, contributed to this research and article.The Conversation

Zoe Doubleday, Marine Ecologist and ARC Future Fellow, University of South Australia

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

The climate crisis is real – but overusing terms like ‘crisis’ and ‘emergency’ comes with risk

Noel CastreeUniversity of Technology Sydney

“Crisis” is an incredibly potent word, so it’s interesting to witness the way the phrase “climate crisis” has become part of the lingua franca.

Once associated only with a few “outspoken” scientists and activists, the phrase has now gone mainstream.

But what do people understand by the term “climate crisis”? And why does it matter?

The Mainstreaming Of Crisis-Talk

It’s not only activists or scientists sounding the alarm.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres now routinely employs dramatic phrases like “digging our own graves” when discussing climate. Bill Gates advises us to avoid “climate disaster”.

This linguistic mainstreaming marks redrawn battle lines in the “climate wars”.

Denialism is in retreat. The climate change debate now is about what is to be done and by whom?

Scientists, using the full authority of their profession, have been key to changing the discourse. The lead authors of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports now pull no punches, talking openly about mass starvation, extinctions and disasters.

These public figures clearly hope to jolt citizens, businesses and governments into radical climate action.

But for many ordinary folks, climate change can seem remote from everyday life. It’s not a “crisis” in the immediate way the pandemic has been.

Of course, many believe climate experts have understated the problem for too long.

And yet the new ubiquity of siren terms like climate “crisis”, “emergency”, “disaster”, “breakdown” and “calamity” does not guarantee any shared, let alone credible, understanding of their possible meaning.

This matters because such terms tend to polarise.

Few now doubt the reality of climate change. But how we describe its implications can easily repeat earlier stand-offs between “believers” and “sceptics”; “realists’ and "scare-mongerers”. The result is yet more political inertia and gridlock.

We will need to do better.

Four Ideas For A New Way Forward

Terms like “climate crisis” are here to stay. But scientists, teachers and politicians need to be savvy. A keen awareness of what other people may think when they hear us shout “crisis!” can lead to better communication.

Here are four ideas to keep in mind.

1. We must challenge dystopian and salvation narratives

A crisis is when things fall apart. We see news reports of crises daily – floods in Pakistan, economic collapse in Sri Lanka, famine in parts of Africa.

But “climate crisis” signifies something that feels beyond the range of ordinary experience, especially to the wealthy. People quickly reach for culturally available ideas to fill the vacuum.

One is the notion of an all-encompassing societal break down, where only a few survive. Cormac McCarthy’s bleak book The Road is one example.

Central to many apocalyptic narratives is the idea technology and a few brave people (usually men) can save the day in the nick of time, as in films like Interstellar.

The problem, of course, is these (often fanciful) depictions aren’t suitable ways to interpret what climate scientists have been warning people about. The world is far more complicated.

2. We must bring the climate crisis home and make it present now

Even if they’re willing to acknowledge it as a looming crisis, many think climate change impacts will be predominantly felt elsewhere or in the distant future.

The disappearance of Tuvalu as sea levels rise is an existential crisis for its citizens but may seem a remote, albeit tragic, problem to people in Chicago, Oslo or Cape Town.

But the recent floods in eastern Australia and the heatwave in Europe allow a powerful point to be made: no place is immune from extreme weather as the planet heats up.

There won’t be a one-size-fits-all global climate crisis as per many Hollywood movies. Instead, people must understand global warming will trigger myriad local-to-regional scale crises.

Many will be on the doorstep, many will last for years or decades. Most will be made worse if we don’t act now. Getting people to understand this is crucial.

3. We must explain: a crisis in relation to what?

The climate wars showed us value disputes get transposed into arguments about scientific evidence and its interpretation.

A crisis occurs when events are judged in light of certain values, such as people’s right to adequate food, healthcare and shelter.

Pronouncements of crisis need to explain the values that underpin judgements about unacceptable risk, harm and loss.

Historians, philosophers, legal scholars and others help us to think clearly about our values and what exactly we mean when we say “crisis”.

4. We must appreciate other crises and challenges matter more to many people

Some are tempted to occupy the moral high ground and imply the climate crisis is so grand as to eclipse all others. This is understandable but imprudent.

It’s important to respect other perspectives and negotiate a way forward. Consider, for example, the way author Bjørn Lomborg has questioned the climate emergency by arguing it’s not the main threat.

Lomborg was widely pilloried. But his arguments resonated with many. We may disagree with him, but his views are not irrational.

We must seek to understand how and why this kind of argument makes sense to so many people.

Words matter. It’s vital terms like “crisis” and “calamity” don’t become rhetorical devices devoid of real content as we argue about what climate action to take.The Conversation

Noel Castree, Professor of Society & Environment, University of Technology Sydney

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

Now, we begin: 10 simple ways to make Australia’s climate game truly next-level

Kelly Barnes/AAP
Wesley MorganGriffith University

Australia last week moved to tackle the climate crisis when federal parliament passed Labor’s climate bill. But the new law is just the first step. Over the next eight years to 2030, we must get on a steep trajectory of emissions reductions.

The law set a national target to cut emissions by 43% this decade, based on 2005 levels. While this brings Australia closer to the international consensus, we should be aiming to go much further, much faster.

When Prime Minister Anthony Albanese informed the United Nations of Australia’s new target, he wrote of his government’s aspiration for “even greater emission reductions in the coming decade”. But how will Australia go beyond a 43% cut to emissions? And what policies should the government implement and fund first?

roadmap released today by the Climate Council charts the way forward. It sets out key goals Australia should be chasing this decade, and ten climate policy “game-changers” to help get us there.

man talks in parliament as three others watch on smiling
The federal government has passed its climate bill – now the real work begins. Lukas Coch/AAP

100% Renewables By 2030

Australia’s energy grid is responsible for 33% of our national emissions. Today, 59% of our electricity comes from coal-fired power plants.

Renewables are not just a clean form of energy – they are also the cheapest form of new energy. Our analysis suggests Australia should aim to achieve 100% renewables by 2030.

We must also increase overall power generation by around 40% this decade to make steep inroads into electrifying other sectors of the economy.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Enable transmission infrastructure: the federal government has promised A$20 billion for transmission infrastructure. This is crucial. To connect renewables to the grid, we need new transmission lines, and lots of them. The total length of transmission will need to be about 24 times what it is now.

2. Boost storage: to support grid security, we’ll need lots of electricity storage – think grid-scale batteries and pumped-hydro. To encourage greater investment the federal government should set a mandatory Renewable Energy Storage target, with specific goals for additional storage each year to 2030.

3. Upskill Australians: a new energy system will need skilled workers. The federal government must help workers upskill for clean trades through new investment in TAFE courses and electrical apprenticeships.

4. Establish a National Energy Transition Authority: this new organisation should set closure dates and develop transition plans for all coal-fired power stations by 2024, and support communities through the process.

man in high-vis and hard hat stands outside fence with batteries in background
Battery storage, such as this Tesla facility in South. Australia, must increase rapidly to secure a renewables-powered grid. David Mariuz/AAP

Clean Up Transport

Australia’s transport sector is responsible for 19% of national greenhouse gas emissions. By the end of this decade, transport emissions should be halved. Almost all new cars in Australia will need to be zero-emissions vehicles, and we’ll need major improvements in public and active transport infrastructure and use.

How do we get there?

5. Fuel efficiency: the federal government should implement mandatory fuel efficiency standards. Already common across the developed world, these standards encourage auto companies to supply more low and zero-emissions vehicles to the market.

The standards can be made more stringent over time, ensuring an orderly shift to zero-emissions vehicles. Without them, Australia risks becoming a dumping ground for polluting older-model cars – while the rest of the world charges ahead.

6. Ditch dirty diesel: Governments – both state and federal – need to invest in cleaner and more convenient public transport. A key first step is replacing diesel buses with a renewable electric fleet.

people line up to board bus
Diesel buses should be replaced with renewable-electric alternatives. Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Net-Zero Buildings

Some 20% of Australia’s emissions are created by the building sector. (It should be noted, this figure includes electricity consumed in buildings, which is also counted as emissions from the energy sector). To reach our climate goals we’ll need to change the way our homes, businesses and other buildings are constructed and run.

This should be done by:

7. Tightening building rules: The National Construction Code must be tightened so all new homes are net-zero emissions – through energy efficient design, rooftop solar and all-electric appliances.

By 2025 gas connections should be banned for new homes, and new gas appliances should be banned for established homes. This would ensure the move to cheaper and cleaner forms of heating and cooking.

Households will also need government support to refit their homes with electric appliances, through incentive programs and concessional finance. As Australians switch energy-efficient renewables-powered homes, they’ll save on bills.

Burning gas element on stove
It’s time to say goodbye to gas connections in new homes. Joel Carrett/AAP

Overhaul Industry

Australia’s industrial sector creates 34% of our national emissions – and that’s excluding electricity use. These emissions must be halved, by increasing energy efficiency, electrifying processes where possible, switching fuels and phasing out fossil fuel extraction.

At the same time, we must seize new economic opportunities for industry in a future low-carbon world.

Reaching this goal will require:

8. Proper rules for big polluters: The federal government must reform what’s known as the “safeguard mechanism” to ensure big polluters do their fair share to cut emissions. This includes government incentives to drive the steepest emissions reduction possible.

Redirect Public Spending

Public spending must be aligned with the net-zero goal. That means:

9. No more handouts: federal and state governments spent an estimated $11.6 billion on subsidies for the fossil fuel industry last financial year, up $1.3 billion on the previous year. These handouts, such as fuel tax credits, must stop.

10. Create a climate and energy investment plan: the federal government should introduce climate budget statements outlining how taxpayer investment is aligned with the goal of rapidly reducing emissions.

coal pile and machinery at port
Australian governments spent $11.6 billion on fossil fuel subsidies last financial year. Darren Pateman/AAP

Time To Get Started

Australia has already warmed by around 1.4℃ since pre-industrial times. We’re suffering significant losses from accelerating climate change, and worse is on the way.

The passing of the climate bill into law has set the floor for action. Now, we must immediately build our cleaner future – because waiting until the 2030s will be much too late.The Conversation

Wesley Morgan, Research Fellow, Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University

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

‘The most significant environmentalist in history’ is now king. Two Australian researchers tell of Charles’ fascination with nature

Authors supplied
Nicole HashamThe Conversation

The natural world is close to the heart of Britain’s new King Charles III. For decades, he’s campaigned on environmental issues such as sustainability, climate change and conservation – often championing causes well before they were mainstream concerns.

In fact, Charles was this week hailed as “possibly most significant environmentalist in history”. Upon his elevation to the throne, the new king is expected to be less outspoken on environmental issues. But his advocacy work have helped create a momentum that will continue regardless.

As Prince of Wales, Charles regularly met scientists and other experts to learn more about environmental research in Britain and abroad. Here, two Australian researchers recall encounters with the new monarch that left an indelible impression.

Nerilie Abram, Australian National University

In 2008, I was a climate scientist working on ice cores at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge. On one memorable day, Prince Charles visited the facility – and I was tasked with giving him a tour.

At the time, I’d just returned from James Ross Island, near the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. There, at one of the fastest warming regions on Earth, I’d helped collect a 364-metre-long ice core.

Ice cores are cylinders of ice drilled out of an ice sheet or glacier. They’re an exceptional record of past climate. In particular, they contain small bubbles of air trapped in the ice over thousands of years, telling us the past concentration of atmospheric gases.

We started the tour by showing Prince Charles a video of how we collect ice cores. We then ventured into the -20℃ freezer and held a slice of ice core up to the lights to see the tiny, trapped bubbles of ancient atmosphere.

Outside the freezer, we listened to the popping noises as the ice melted and the bubbles of ancient air were released into the atmosphere of the lab.

Holding a piece of Antarctic ice is a profound experience. With a bit of imagination, you can cast your mind back to what was happening in human history when the air inside was last circulating.

Prince Charles embraced this idea during the tour, making a connection back to the British monarch that would have been on the throne at the time.

All this led into a discussion about climate change. Ice cores show us the natural rhythm of Earth’s climate, and the unprecedented magnitude and speed of the changes humans are now causing.

At the time of the 2008 visit, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere had reached 385 parts per million - around 100 parts per million higher than before the Industrial Revolution. Today we are at 417 parts per million, and still rising each year.

In 2017, Prince Charles co-authored a book on climate change. It includes a section on ice cores, featuring the same carbon dioxide data I showed him a decade earlier.

Last year, the royal urged Australia’s then Prime Minister Scott Morrison to attend the COP26 climate summit at Glasgow, warning of a “catastrophic” impact to the planet if the talks did not lead to rapid action.

And in March this year, the prince sent a message of support to people devastated by floods in Queensland and New South Wales, and said:

“Climate change is not just about rising temperatures. It is also about the increased frequency and intensity of dangerous weather events, once considered rare.”

As prince, Charles used his position to highlight the urgency of climate change action. His efforts have helped to bring those messages to many: from young children to business people and world leaders.

He may no longer speak as loudly on these issues as king. But his legacy will continue to drive the climate action our planet needs.

person in yellow raincoat stands at flooded road
In March, the then Prince of Wales sent a message of support to flood-stricken Australians. Jason O'Brien/AAP

Peter Newman, Curtin University

In the 1970s, being an environmentalist was lonely work. It meant years of standing up for something that people thought was a bit marginal. But even back then Prince Charles – now King Charles III – was an environmental hero, advocating on what we needed to do.

I met the Prince of Wales in 2015. He and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, visited Perth on the last leg of their Australia tour. I was among a group of Order of Australia recipients asked to meet the prince at Government House. I spoke to him about my lifelong passion – sustainability, including regenerative agriculture.

I knew earlier in their trip, Charles had toured the orchard at Oranje Tractor Wine, an organic and sustainable wine producer on Western Australia’s south coast. The vineyard is run by my friend Murray Gomm and his partner, Pam Lincoln, and I’d encouraged them over the years. They’d started winning awards, and it became even more special when the prince came down and blessed it!

The Oranje Tractor is now a net-zero-emissions venture: the carbon dioxide it sucks up from the atmosphere and into the soil is well above that emitted from its operations.

Charles’ eyes really lit up when I mentioned the Oranje Tractor. He was trying to do similar things in his gardening and at his farms – avoiding pesticides and sucking carbon from the atmosphere back into the soil.

Charles has that same knack the Queen had – an extraordinary ability to really listen and engage. To meet him, and see he’s been involved in sustainability as long as I have, it was validating and inspirational.

Now he’s king, Charles will be a little more constrained in his comments about environment issues. But I don’t think you can change who you are. He will just be more subtle about how he goes about it.

Climate change is now at the forefront of the global agenda. But the world needs to accelerate its emissions reduction commitments. If we don’t move fast enough, King Charles will no doubt raise a royal eyebrow – and that’s enough.The Conversation

Nicole Hasham, Energy + Environment Editor, The Conversation

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

A rapid shift to electric vehicles can save 24,000 lives and leave us $148bn better off over the next 2 decades

Hussein DiaSwinburne University of TechnologyChristian A. NygaardSwinburne University of TechnologyKrzysztof DembekSwinburne University of Technology, and Magnus MogliaSwinburne University of Technology

Reducing air pollution from road transport will save thousands of lives and improve the health of millions of Australians. One of the quickest ways to do this is to accelerate the current slow transition to electric vehicles.

Our newly published research evaluated the costs and benefits of a rapid transition. In one scenario, Australia matches the pace of transition of world leaders such as Norway. Our modelling estimates this would save around 24,000 lives by 2042. The resulting greenhouse emission reductions over this time would almost equal Australia’s current total annual emissions from all sources.

We also calculated the total costs and benefits through to 2042. Australia would be about A$148 billion better off overall with a rapid transition.

Air Pollution Causes Thousands Of Deaths

Every year, around 2,600 deaths in Australia are attributed to fine-particle air pollution. The main sources of this pollution are transport and industrial activities such as mining and energy generation.

An estimated 1,715 deaths were attributed to vehicle exhaust emissions in 2015. This was 42% more than the road toll that year.

Vehicle emissions increase respiratory infections as well, particularly in young children. Transport pollution contributes to many diseases, including lung cancer, heart disease, pneumonia, asthma and diabetes. It has also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

2019 study by the Electric Vehicle Council and Asthma Australia found vehicle emissions had 21,000 serious health impacts each year in New South Wales alone.

Grattan Institute study last month showed exhaust-pipe pollutants from trucks kill more than 400 Australians every year.

A truck in heavy traffic belches smoke
Cities around the world have imposed bans on polluting trucks to reduce the harm to public health. Shutterstock

The Benefits Greatly Outweigh The Costs

Our new Swinburne University of Technology research evaluated the benefits of a transition to electric vehicles by considering public health, household and emissions reductions savings. We compared the benefits with costs, including charging infrastructure outlay, higher purchase prices for electric vehicles and green energy package costs – for household solar panels, battery storage and charging points.

Each electric vehicle was considered to have been bought along with a green energy package. The package minimises emissions and demands on electricity grid capacity, while increasing the benefits for households.

The study explored three scenarios:

  1. slow scenario – business-as-usual, with electric vehicle sales increasing slowly from the current rate (a 5% increase in the first year, followed by a 10% yearly increase)

  2. accelerated market-based scenario – aligns with the highest rates of adoption around the world like those in Norway (where 64% of new vehicles sold in 2021 were battery-powered), increasing by 5% every year

  3. aggressive regulatory scenario – assumes all new vehicle sales would be electric in the base year as a result of government regulation.

The main differences between the scenarios are the rate of electric vehicle uptake (once consumers decide to retire their current vehicles) and the degree of government intervention.

The research found the business-as-usual scenario undermines national efforts to reduce the loss of life and cut emissions. It also found the aggressive strategy would have to overcome massive barriers given Australia trails many other countries in adopting electric vehicles.

The accelerated adoption strategy, however, is well aligned with uptake in other nations. Their example shows it can be achieved using progressive policies and incentives.

If implemented, the accelerated scenario could reduce the loss of life by around 24,000 by 2042. The reduction in emissions over this time would be 444 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, or 91% of Australia’s emissions from all sources in 2021. The cost would be around $118 billion, less than half of the total benefits of $266 billion.

Putting Us On Track For Emissions Targets

The new Climate Change Act mandates targets of a 43% cut in emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050. Our research shows effective electric vehicle policies can help achieve these targets.

Such policies can be adopted from nations that have made rapid progress on electrifying their transport sectors. These policies include strict and mandatory fuel efficiency standards, investment in electric vehicle charging stations and standardisation of charging infrastructure. They also include financial incentives to buy and run electric vehicles, and cheap loans to help households and freight operators with purchase costs.

Importantly, these nations recognise that electric vehicles are not a remedy for all transport challenges. They should be complemented by strategies to manage travel demand, reduce the numbers of cars and journeys by car, and improve access to public transport.

We Shouldn’t Accept So Many Avoidable Deaths

Without a rapid shift to electric vehicles, Australia risks losing at least 1,200 lives a year – deaths that we could avoid – over the next 20 years.

The loss of life would be equivalent to six planes, each carrying 200 passengers, falling out of the sky every year and killing everyone on board. We don’t accept this in air travel, and we should not accept the loss of life to preventable air pollution.

Australia has a feasible rapid pathway to decarbonise its transport sector. Our findings show the benefits to society and the planet are hard to dismiss.The Conversation

Hussein Dia, Professor of Future Urban Mobility, Swinburne University of TechnologyChristian A. Nygaard, Associate Professor in Social Economics, Swinburne University of TechnologyKrzysztof Dembek, Senior Lecturer Social Impact, Swinburne University of Technology, and Magnus Moglia, Associate Professor, Swinburne University of Technology

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

What caused the world’s largest die-off of mangroves? A wobble in the Moon’s orbit is partly to blame

Neil SaintilanMacquarie University

Over the summer of 2015, 40 million mangroves died of thirst. This vast die-off – the world’s largest ever recorded – killed off rich mangrove forests along fully 1,000 kilometres of coastline on Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria.

The question is, why? Last month, scientists found a culprit: a strong El Niño event, which led to a temporary fall in sea level. That left mangroves, which rely on tides covering their roots, high and dry during an unusually dry early monsoon season.

Case closed. Or is it? While evidence clearly implicates El Niño, we found this climate cycle had a very large accomplice: the Moon.

In our study, released today, we mapped the expansion and contraction of mangrove forest cover over the past 40 years, and found clear evidence that the Moon’s orbital wobble had an effect.

Our mapping also shows mangroves are expanding and their canopy thickening across the entire continent, which is most likely due to higher carbon dioxide levels. Spectacular though it was, the Gulf of Carpentaria mangrove dieback event was entirely natural.

The author inspecting mangrove dieback in far north Queensland, April 2016. Author provided

What Clues Gave Away The Moon’s Role?

During El Niño cycles like the one in 2015, sea levels fall around Australia and other countries in the western Pacific.

But these climate cycles affect the whole Indo-Australian region. If El Niño was the main cause, mangroves elsewhere should have been hit too. But the deaths of these tidal-flat dwelling shrubs and trees were largely localised to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Death rates were highest along shorelines that experience the full range of the tide. By contrast, mangroves continued to thrive at the tidal limits of the estuaries, far into the floodplains where climatic effects ought to be most strongly felt.

That’s where the Moon comes in – and particularly the “lunar wobble”. Back in 1728, astronomers noticed the plane in which the Moon orbits Earth isn’t fixed. Instead, it wobbles up and down, a bit like a spinning coin as it begins to slow.

When we mapped the extent and distribution of Australian mangrove forests over the past 40 years, we found clear signs of the Moon’s wobble at work. This 18.6-year orbital cycle turns out to be the main reason why mangrove canopy expands and contracts around most of Australia’s coastlines – and explains the patterns of mangrove mortality in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

You might be wondering why the wobble has such influence over whether mangroves live or die. It’s the tides. The wobble changes how the Moon’s gravity pulls on the world’s oceans, so periods of exceptionally high tides are followed by exceptionally low tides 9.3 years later.

moon over sea
The Moon’s influence on tides varies due to the wobble in its orbit. Shutterstock

Research by NASA scientists suggests this cycle is likely to lead to major coastal flooding in the early 2030s, as extreme high tides meet accelerating sea-level rise.

The lunar-mangrove cycle is clearly visible from above. When we mapped changes to dense mangrove forest in Northwest and Western Australia, we saw clear peaks in closed canopy – where mangrove leaves and branches thicken to cover more than 80% of the ground – coinciding with the highest tidal phase of the lunar cycle.

When the tides are at their highest, water inundates mangroves and brings nutrients, which accelerate growth. These periods potentially influence how much blue carbon is stored by mangroves over thousands of square kilometres.

But when the tides are at their lowest, mangroves can’t get the water they need. Over 2015-2016, the lunar wobble reduced tide range in the Gulf of Carpentaria – enough to slash tides by an estimated 40cm. Earlier mangrove dieback events in 1998 and 1982 also coincided with these troughs.

In 2015, tides along Australia’s northern coastline fell further still under the influence of El Niño, which moves seawater to the eastern Pacific. The result of the overlapping lunar and climate cycle in the Gulf of Carpentaria was the mass death of mangroves.

Closed canopy mangrove cover in northwest and Western Australia tracking the 18.6-year oscillation in tide range caused by the lunar wobble. Author providedCC BY

One challenge we had was to distinguish between the effects of El Niño and the lunar wobble, given they tend to occur in the same time period in the western Pacific. Some scientists have even suggested the lunar wobble may contribute to intense El Niño events.

To tease out the two causes, we relied on a quirk in the lunar wobble – and a quirk in the coastline.

The lunar wobble’s timing of the high and low tide range periods is reversed between coastlines with two high tides each day (semi-diurnal tides) and those receiving one high tide each day (diurnal tides).

The Gulf of Carpentaria is one of the few coastlines in Australia with diurnal tides. Most other coastlines have two high tides each day. Put together, this meant that in 2015, semi-diurnal coastlines had bigger-than-usual tides, while rare diurnal coastlines like those along the gulf had smaller-than-usual tides.

This explains why mangroves in the semi-diurnal coastlines directly next to the Gulf of Carpentaria were spared over the 2015-16 summer.

Healthy mangroves rely on tidal inundation for seawater and nutrients. David Clode/UnsplashCC BY

The northern coastlines next to the gulf were in the big-tide, high-productivity phase of the 18.6-year cycle and so were protected from El Niño. In the diurnal Gulf of Carpentaria, the small tide phase of the lunar wobble cycle combined with El Niño. Lower sea levels and lower tidal range pushed mangroves over the edge.

Interestingly, mangroves kept growing near the tidal head of rivers in the gulf despite the El Niño, because the effect of the lunar wobble was less pronounced upriver.

This is good news for mangroves. We now know short-term natural climate cycles like El Niño likely cannot cause widespread mangrove deaths by themselves. And we can anticipate the danger times when it coincides with the low tides brought by the lunar wobble.

While mangroves still face an uncertain future adapting to a world of higher seas, we can chalk the 2015 mass death up to “natural causes”. The Conversation

Neil Saintilan, Professor, School of Natural Sciences, Macquarie University

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

Pittwater Reserves: Histories + Notes + Pictorial Walks

A History Of The Campaign For Preservation Of The Warriewood Escarpment by David Palmer OAM and Angus Gordon OAM
America Bay Track Walk - photos by Joe Mills
An Aquatic June: North Narrabeen - Turimetta - Collaroy photos by Joe Mills 
Angophora Reserve  Angophora Reserve Flowers Grand Old Tree Of Angophora Reserve Falls Back To The Earth - History page
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
Seagull Pair At Turimetta Beach: Spring Is In The Air!
Stapleton Reserve
Stapleton Park Reserve In Spring 2020: An Urban Ark Of Plants Found Nowhere Else
Stony Range Regional Botanical Garden: Some History On How A Reserve Became An Australian Plant Park
The Chiltern Track
The Resolute Beach Loop Track At West Head In Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park by Kevin Murray
Topham Track Ku-Ring-Gai Chase NP,  August 2022 by Joe Mills and 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
Tranquil Turimetta Beach, April 2022 by Joe Mills
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
Wilshire Park Palm Beach: Some History + Photos From May 2022
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 -

Be The Boss: I Want To Be A Marine Electrician

If you love being around the water and tinkering with machines then becoming a Marine Electrician may suit you. Marine electricians are important to the upkeep and safety of marine vessels. They can be involved in the design and building of new ships, or spend the majority of their time repairing existing ones. Becoming a marine electrician requires the attendance and completion of a maritime academy, as well as a hands-on apprenticeship. In this article, we discuss the requirements of becoming a marine electrician and how you can develop the necessary skills to do well as one.

A marine electrician is a person with electrical training who specifically works on boats and ships. Marine electricians may work with all types of marine equipment, including yachts, cruise liners or even runabouts. They will generally spend the majority of their time working on boats. They may also work on-call and travel to boats at sea. Other marine electricians may work in a shipyard where they prepare or maintain ships.

Marine electricians are specialised in all electrical components of the ship, including troubleshooting, repairing, improving and building. Some marine electricians may also take on a supervisory role, where they lead a team of other marine electricians.

Marine electricians maintain the electrical wiring and systems on boats. They may have the following duties:
  • Troubleshoot wiring and other electrical systems on marine equipment and make repairs
  • Test low and high-voltage circuit systems for safety
  • Work on power generators or other alternative sources of energy, like solar or wind power
  • Wire and test the alarm and communication systems
  • Monitor for potential electrical voltage threats
  • Design and update bonding systems to protect the ship against weather elements
  • Protect the boat's equipment using drip loops and heat shrinks
  • Interpret and write technical reports and estimate repair costs
  • Install wiring and electrical equipment when building new ships
  • Install and configure generators
  • Test marine electrical equipment like voltmeters and oscilloscopes for efficiency
Becoming a marine electrician requires that you complete certain training and education. You can become a marine electrician with the following steps:

1. Complete a high school Certificate
Because attendance in a maritime academy is a requirement, you will first need to complete high school. Taking classes in computers, physics, mathematics and physics can help you prepare for this.

2. Attend and complete a maritime academy program or Navy Program
This vocational program will specifically prepare you for marine work. During your training, you can expect to take classes like electrical installation and maintenance following protocol. You will also have hands-on experience with electrical tools and equipment, like soldering irons and multimeters. Some academic programs will also offer field training, which may require time spent at sea. Some people may also choose to get a bachelor's degree, rather than attend an associate's-level vocational program.

The Royal Australian Navy states:
Be a tradie in the Navy working as a Marine Technician responsible for operating, maintaining, and monitoring engineering systems and equipment, onboard ships or submarines and ashore. 

Whether you already have a trade, you're an apprentice, or you have no experience at all, we're hiring. You’ll be paid from day one to gain all the skills needed with extensive on-the-job trade training. You may also be able to use your existing qualifications and be eligible for recognition of prior learning. 

Your duties include, but aren’t limited to maintaining:
  • Electrical power generation and distribution
  • The ship's boats engine and steering systems
  • Propulsion systems (gas turbines, diesel and electrical engines, gear boxes, propellers, thrusters, and positioning systems) 
  • Electrical systems (alternators, batteries, charging systems, electrical switchboards, and corrosion protection systems)
  • Auxiliary engineering systems (air-conditioning, refrigeration, generators, air compressor systems, stabilisers, winches, and cranes) 
  • Hull structures and fittings
You’ll enjoy a competitive salary package, career stability, opportunities for continuous progression, and an adventurous lifestyle – all while making a difference to Australia. 

  • Free medical and dental
  • Competitive salary package
  • Incremental salary increases as you progress through training and ranks
  • 16.4% superannuation
  • Job security
  • Career progression and development
  • Good work/life balance
  • Travel opportunities
  • Excellent social and fitness facilities
  • Subsidised housing
  • Balance of shore and sea postings
  • Great chef made meals at sea 
  • Variety of allowances
Submariner:  There is also the option to specialise as a Marine Technician Submariner and be a part of the most exclusive and stable workforce in Australia. Your role will be to operate, repair and conduct maintenance on the submarine’s machinery, engines, power, and ventilation systems to ensure the vessel runs at optimum capacity, working at sea and ashore.  

Salary: Upon completion of your initial military and employment training, you’ll enjoy a salary package starting from $73,253 for surface fleet and $85,861 for submariners. 
Apply Now:  Apply today or request more information by emailing
For this role, you must be over 17 at time of enlistment, an Australian Citizen and have passed Year 10 English, Maths and Science.

Visit the links below for the full position descriptions: 
The Australian Defence Force is an equal opportunity employer. This advertisement is to ensure women are aware of the rewarding and fulfilling careers available in the Navy, Army and Air Force. Females are encouraged to apply, however all roles are open for Australian men and women to apply.

3. Consider working toward certifications
Most employers require marine electrician candidates to have certain certifications, including an Australian Electrical Trade Certificate. Getting work in a local marina can help as well. This will give you experience in Ship repair / the marine industry.

Some people may find employment with the company in which they completed their apprenticeship. But, once you have completed all educational and training requirements, you can begin applying for positions. Update your resume with your most recent educational achievements and certifications. Create a new cover letter for each position.

In some cases, it is also possible to become a marine electrician by going through the required steps to become an electrician and then taking on an apprenticeship in a marine setting. But, this process is less common.

Skills for a marine electrician
Certain soft and hard skills are useful when working as a marine electrician:
  • Technical: Working as a marine electrician involves a lot of technical work. You will need to troubleshoot the electrical system, rewire systems and install equipment in the ship.
  • Mechanical: Good mechanical skills are also useful as you will use certain tools and machinery to install and repair systems. A basic understanding of mechanics can be helpful.
  • Problem-solving: A big part of the job of a marine electrician is identifying electrical problems and repairing them. This involves good troubleshooting skills and the ability to quickly come up with a solution.
  • Project management: Marine electricians will often manage multiple projects at one time. They may complete projects for different ships and will need to manage time and delegate tasks.
Marine electricians may also need specialized skills, which will often be learned while attending a maritime program. These are some of the specialized skills they may need:
  • Knowledge of electrical systems: A good working knowledge of electrical systems in ships is important. In addition to reading and navigating electrical blueprints, marine electricians will need to know where to find certain access points and wires.
  • Coast guard: Some marine electricians may choose to work with the U.S. government on military ships. If this is your preferred route, you may need special coast guard training.
  • Knowledge of circuit breakers, transformers and high-voltage control panels: Working as a marine electrician, you are likely to work with each of these things. An apprenticeship can be a good way to learn these areas in-depth.
  • Knowledge of certain safety protocols: Up-to-date safety protocols are needed as marine electricians often work on electrical systems near water. Knowledge of emergency protocols is needed.
The career outlook for marine electricians, according to, is expected to grow by one percent by the year 2029. They estimate that many of the new jobs will be in building new ships and boats for the military. They also believe that with a shift toward environmental-friendly practices, more marine electricians will be needed to help complete offshore wind energy projects.

Information courtesy Australian Government Apprenticeships Guide (Your Career), TAFE NSW, Australian Open Colleges,  Australian Careers HQ and The Good Universities Guide, Australia.

Also Available:

Word Of The Week: Galoot

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


slang, mainly US; a clumsy or uncouth person, someone who is awkward. 

Galoot can be a mildly offensive term that originally referred to a marine or soldier on board ship, much like a modern sailor might use jarhead. Etymologist Anatoly Liberman points to the thirteenth century Italian galeot(t)o, “sailor, steersman,” as a possible source for galoot. others state: From Quranic Arabic jālūt, pronounced galūt in Egyptian Arabic, proper name equivalent to English Goliath, giant warrior of the ancient Philistine ethnicity; cf. connotations of derogatory uses of English.

It's basically an all-purpose term of mild contempt with humorous undertones while others state galoot can also be a term of affection. It was quite widely used from about 1900 to the 1940s but is now outdated and unfashionable even in its American heartland.

Compare Awkward;

lacking dexterity or skill (as in the use of hands); lacking ease or grace (as of movement or expression). From Middle English awkeward in the wrong direction, from awke turned the wrong way, from Old Norse ǫfugr; akin to Old High German abuh turned the wrong way

NB: Language Warning. NB II: BUT, didn't run the original official film clip. P!nk's 'Galoot' song - ; 

We found the oldest ever vertebrate fossil heart. It tells a 380 million-year-old story of how our bodies evolved

Kate TrinajsticCurtin University and John LongFlinders University

In the limestone ranges of Western Australia’s Kimberley region, near the town of Fitzroy Crossing, you’ll find one of the world’s best-preserved ancient reef complexes.

Here lie the remnants of myriad prehistoric marine animals, including placoderms, a prehistoric class of fish that represents some of our earliest jawed ancestors.

Placoderms were the rulers of the ancient seas, rivers and lakes. They were the most abundant and diverse fishes of the Devonian Period (419–359 million years ago) – but died out at the end in a mass extinction event.

Studying placoderms is important as they provide insight into the origins of the jawed vertebrate body plan (vertebrates are animals with backbones). For instance, placoderms have revealed when the first jaws, teethpaired skull bones and paired limbs evolved. They’ve also taught us about the origins of internal fertilisation and live birth in vertebrate evolution.

Now, in a paper published in Science, we detail our findings of the oldest three-dimensionally preserved heart from a vertebrate – in this case a jawed vertebrate. This placoderm heart is about 380 million years old, and 250 million years older than the previous oldest vertebrate heart.

The 3D preserved heart of a placoderm fish from Gogo. The rock entombs the bone shown in grey, shown by neutron beam imaging, and heart in red. Kate Trinajstic

How Did We Do It?

Fish fossils from near Fitzroy Crossing were first reported from Gogo Station in the 1940s. But it wasn’t until the 1960s that beautiful 3D preservations were revealed, using a technique that removes rock from bones with weak acetic acid.

However, this technique proved to be a double-edged sword. While the fine details of the bony skeleton were uncovered, soft tissues in the fossils dissolved away. It wasn’t until 2000 that the first pieces of fossilised muscle were identified in placoderms.

The Gogo fish fossils used in this study were discovered within rocks found in the Kimberley. Curtin Univeristy

With the advent of an X-ray method called “synchrotron microtomography” – first used on the Gogo fossils in 2010 – more muscles were revealed from the Gogo placoderms, including neck and abdominal muscles.

Our work used this same technology to show, for the first time, the presence of a liver, stomach and intestines in a Devonian fish. Some of the specimens even showed remnants of their last meal: a crustacean.

We found the soft organs fossilised in an order of placoderms called arthrodires. These were the most common and diverse of all known placoderms, characterised by a unique joint between their head and trunk armour.

The Heart Of The Placoderm

The most exciting find for us was the heart. We found our first placoderm heart using synchrotron imagining.

Then while experimenting with a technology called neutron imaging, we discovered a second heart within a different specimen.

Life must have been nerve-racking in the Devonian seas, because placoderms literally had their hearts in their mouths!

Soft organs reconstructed in a placoderm fish,bar scale is 1cm.
Our new research has revealed the soft organ anatomy of a Devonian arthrodire fish. Brian Choo, Kate Trinajstic

At this point in vertebrate evolution, the neck was so short that the heart was located at the back of the throat and under the gills.

Fishes that are even more primitive than arthrodires, such as the jawless lamprey, have their heart close to their liver. And the chambers of the heart (called the atrium and ventricle) sit side by side.

On the other hand, arthrodire placoderms had the heart in a more forward (anterior) position, at the back of the throat. And the atrium sat on top of the ventricle – similar to sharks and bony fishes today.

Today, 99% of all living vertebrates have jaws. Arthrodires provide the first anatomical evidence to support the hypothesis that, in jawed vertebrates, the repositioning of the heart to a more forward position was linked to the evolution of jaws and a neck.

But that’s not all. This movement of the heart would also have made room for lungs to develop.

So Did Placoderms Have Lungs?

One of the most challenging evolutionary questions today is whether lungs were present in the earliest jawed vertebrates. Although fish have gills, the presence of lungs in some fish can help with buoyancy, which is needed to sink and rise in the water.

Today, lungs are only present in primitive bony fishes such as lungfish and African reedfishes.

More advanced bony fish (such as the teleosts) stay afloat using a swim bladder, whereas sharks have neither lungs nor a swim bladder, and instead use a large fatty liver to help with buoyancy.

But what about ancient placoderms? Previous studies (which were somewhat controversial) suggested lungs were present in a primitive placoderm called Bothriolepis.

Model of a primitive placoderm_ Bothriolepis_ on a bed of sand.
A model of Bothriolepis, which was once thought to have possessed paired lungs. John LongAuthor provided

Our analysis of the arthrodires from Gogo reveals the structures thought to be lungs in Bothriolepis are in fact a liver with two lobes, so lungs are now thought to have been missing from placoderms.

Our discovery therefore shows a single origin for lungs in bony fishes (osteichthyans). The movement of the heart to a forward position from jawless fishes (Cyclostomata) would have allowed room for lungs to develop in later lineages.

The absence of lungs in placoderms suggests these fish relied on their liver for buoyancy, like modern sharks do.

Our new findings on ancient placoderms show the movement of the heart forwards from jawless fishes. Kate Trinajstic, Brian Choo, John Long

A Crucial Site

The preservation of organs is a race against time. In some cases, an animal’s decomposition will aid soft tissue preservation, but too much decomposition and the soft tissues decay away. For excellent preservation the balance needs to be just right.

In the fossilised heart we found the atrium and ventricles are shown clearly, while the conus arteriosus – a section of the heart that directs blood from the ventricle to the arteries – is not as well preserved.

Being able to make these discoveries before they’re lost forever is crucial if we are to fully understand the early evolution of vertebrates, including the origins of the human body plan.

So beyond our immediate findings, our work has reinforced the significance of the Gogo site in the Kimberley as one of the world’s most important sites for carrying out this work. The Conversation

Kate Trinajstic, John Curtin Distinguished Professor, Molecular and Life Sciences, Curtin University and John Long, Strategic Professor in Palaeontology, Flinders University

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

‘He was deadly, a deadly man’: remembering the incredible life and work of Uncle Jack Charles

Julie AndrewsLa Trobe University

The family of Uncle Jack Charles have given permission for his name and images to be used.

Aboriginal Melbourne is mourning the loss of another iconic member of its community – Uncle Jack Charles.

Uncle Jack Charles was born on the Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserve in 1943 and was descended from the Victorian peoples of the Boon Wurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Woiwurrung and the Yorta Yorta. He spent his life retracing his ancestral heritage after being forcibly removed from his family.

His search brought about happy and sad stories that he documented for us all across his autobiography, screen and theatre. He took us on his journey and cemented this as proof for generations to come. His search for his family even led him to the shores of Tasmania where he found his ancestor Mannalargenna.

At this year’s NAIDOC week, Uncle Jack was awarded the 2022 Male Elder of the Year. In his acceptance speech, he drew attention to the prisoners he visited. He was always dedicated to acknowledging those who looked on from the sidelines, and to fight for change.

It was fitting he received that award. Thank you, Uncle Jack, for bringing to people’s minds and homes to not fear the other. No doubt there is mourning across all Aboriginal communities, prisoners and street people across Australia.

Truth Telling

Uncle Jack Charles was a valued member of our Aboriginal community. His commitment to advocating on behalf of incarcerated Aboriginal people knew no bounds.

Despite the hardships he faced of abuse as a child and incarceration as a young adult, his life made a difference to many others to hold their head up and not be ashamed. We are not invisible, and for this we thank you Uncle Jack.

His truth telling of his personal experiences as a member of the Stolen Generation opened the minds and understanding of many Australians, making it easier for his people to find a voice.

He spoke for all Aboriginal people who struggle with everyday life. He helped people believe in the future. He showed no matter what wrong they might have done in the eyes of the law, or in the eyes of other people, there is a way to come to your own understanding and gain control of the situation.

Uncle Jack would have said this much better than I can. That is what was so inspiring about him: the way he spoke about his life experiences as a child, a youth, a young man and an adult.

To us, he was a well travelled Elder that brought so much teaching and knowledge to those who struggled or were forced to live in alternative ways. He never judged others – except to call out where there was injustice for those who did not have a voice.

He gave us his life teachings and, in return, there was human understanding and support for those he advocated for.

An Amazing Artist

Uncle Jack’s work towards understanding and comprehending the impact of government policies upon Aboriginal children and the trauma they carry with them as a result of being institutionalised became just one of the many roles he created.

His training as an actor instilled within him the most eloquent speech.

There will never be another Jack Charles – his ability to educate and tell a narrative on stage, in a television commercial and his pure acting talent in a film.

As an actor, performer and author he documented his life. He controlled his own narrative.

In 2008, his documentary Bastardy told of his life as a street person and heroin addict. It was a ground-breaking teaching to those who did not know about living with addiction. By placing his own heroin use in the spotlight, he created an awareness of the perils of addiction and incarceration.

He toured the world with his brilliant 2010 stage play, Jack Charles vs the Crown. Through storytelling and song, he converted government assimilation policy into an artform and a teaching tool.

Telling stories of the plight of Aboriginal homelessness, mental health and incarcerated men and women, he could reach an audience of all ages and make a connection to them.

Across Melbourne, he was easily recognised in streets, cafes and continued to be a valued member of the Aboriginal community.

Most of all, the younger generations recognised him. He had the ability to speak to them and they listened.

The young ones across Australia are feeling shock and disbelief today. My son asked “Why?”; my nephew texted me today and said “Aunt, I met him a few times, he was deadly, a deadly man”.

Yes, he was.The Conversation

Julie Andrews, Professor Indigenous Research & Convenor of Aboriginal Studies, La Trobe University

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

It’s hard to imagine better social media alternatives, but Scuttlebutt shows change is possible

Prateek Katyal/Unsplash
Kate MannellDeakin University and Eden T. SmithThe University of Melbourne

Last week, the US government released six principles for reforming Big Tech. It’s the latest example of growing efforts to regulate the handful of companies with enormous influence over the internet. But while there’s a growing appetite for a new, better kind of internet, it’s hard to imagine what that might look like.

We’ve just published research that looks at one alternative – a social network called Scuttlebutt, which provides an example of a platform that puts people before profit.

The Internet Wasn’t Supposed To Be Like This

In the 1990s, many thought the internet would make the world a better place. By letting ordinary people connect across vast distances, it would help us become more empathetic and egalitarian. Today, that vision seems naive. The internet is fraught with serious issues regulators are struggling to tackle.

One factor underpinning many of these problems is the huge influence that a handful of companies, such as Meta and Google, have over the internet. By putting corporate interests ahead of user wellbeing and society at large, they are key contributors to misinformationprivacy violations, and online harassment and abuse.

There’s increasing interest in regulating these companies and the markets in which they operate, including from the Australian government. However, it’s hard to imagine alternatives to an internet dominated by private companies – they are such a ubiquitous and powerful part of our online lives.

Enter Scuttlebutt

Scuttlebutt is an example of alternative social media platforms, which try to keep the best bits of popular places like Facebook and Twitter while improving on their downsides.

On the surface, Scuttlebutt looks quite similar to Facebook. Users create a profile, post content, and like and comment on others’ posts. There are lots of people chatting about politics, current events, and obscure shared interests.

A screenshot that says Scuttlebutt, social network, a decentralised platform with a colourful hermit crab in each bottom corner

But compared with regular platforms, Scuttlebutt has some radically different qualities. Crucially, it isn’t run by a company. Started by software engineer Dominic Tarr while living on a sailboat in New Zealand, Scuttlebutt is now being developed by an international community of people who run the platform collectively, using grant funding, donations and volunteer labour.

Because it’s not a company, Scuttlebutt doesn’t need to make a profit. There is no persuasive design trying to keep you hooked, no advertising, and it doesn’t collect, process or sell users’ personal data. Instead, data are stored and controlled on users’ own devices. (This process uses the novel secure “gossip” protocol for which the platform is named.) As it is open source, anyone can see, interact with, and reuse the code it’s built on.

While it’s impossible to know how many people are using this decentralised platform, Scuttlebutt has attracted substantial grant funding, along with the attention of tech luminaries and cultural critics.

Lessons For A Better Internet

We spent several years studying Scuttlebutt to understand the community building it, and the new models of online participation they’re trying to create.

We found that participation on Scuttlebutt is much deeper and more varied than mainstream platforms allow. Not only can users participate on the platform by posting, liking and sharing, they can also participate in the platform by helping shape how it is designed and run. Anyone interested is encouraged to contribute in whatever ways they can.

Compared with Facebook users, who resort to protests and petitions to try and improve its practices, Scuttlebutt users are empowered to collaborate in the creation of the online spaces they use.

Unlike mainstream social media, Scuttlebutt doesn’t ask you to give up your personal data as payment. So even forms of participation that look the same as on Facebook, such as creating a post, take place under more equitable conditions.

Scuttlebutt’s principles also reflect a view that developing fair and inclusive participation is as much a matter of culture as of technology design.

In contrast to Big Tech’s common focus on technology-first solutions, most Scuttlebutt contributors are as invested in improving the platform’s culture and governance as they are in building better technology. For example, when electing a council to distribute one of Scuttlebutt’s grants, priority was given to people with historically marginalised experiences in open-source communities.

These social elements may not scale to a platform the size of Facebook, but this isn’t a problem for Scuttlebutt, which doesn’t maximise user participation for profit. This means users can concentrate on encouraging a positive culture rather than trying to make as many people participate as much as possible.

In fact, we found that much of the Scuttlebutt community believes people need more choices in social media platforms, not a single Facebook replacement.

The Future Is Already Here

Scuttlebutt isn’t going to solve all the internet’s problems and, as we discuss in our research, it has its own issues – including the messiness of decentralised governance and ensuring accessibility for people from diverse backgrounds. But it does provide a way of exploring what the future of internet could look like.

These explorations highlight the importance of an internet where no single platform dominates and users have more control over shaping the spaces in which they gather.

In the meantime, Scuttlebutt also shows that platforms focusing on public benefit instead of profit are already possible.

The Conversation

Kate Mannell, Research Fellow in Digital Childhoods, Deakin University and Eden T. Smith, Research Fellow, History and Philosophy of Science, The University of Melbourne

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

Lord of The Rings: Rings of Power – a guide to the expanded world of Middle-earth in J.R.R Tolkein’s other books

Amazon Studios
Helen FultonUniversity of Bristol

With Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power having aired there has been a resurgence of interest in the vibrant fantasy world created by J.R.R. Tolkien over a century ago. What many might not know is that there is a whole universe in several books that expand what we know outside of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

For those not familiar with the new television series, it is set in the Second Age of Tolkien’s mythology. To give that some perspective, his most famous works, The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954–55), are set during the Third Age, which means that the events of the show take place approximately four and a half thousand years prior to the events of Lord of the Rings.

The universe created by Tolkien is vast, with an incredible depth of vision and detail that inspires people to this day. While Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy is widely considered to be a masterpiece of cinema, he was still obliged to make alterations to Tolkien’s story, and took even more liberties with the less well-received Hobbit trilogy.

The Amazon streaming service only has the rights to the appendices to the Lord of the Rings books and The Hobbit so the film-makers have had to draw all their material only from these appendices. This has resulted in sweeping changes to the lore written by Tolkien, so if you want to know the true world that Tolkien envisioned, any of the books listed below will provide readers with the genuine experience created by one of the greatest fantasy writers of all time.

Quarter life, a series by The Conversation

This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of beginning a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and bring answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life.

You may be interested in:

Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power – a cheat’s guide to Middle-earth before you watch the new show

House of Dragons – an introduction to the stories and British history that inspired the beasts of Westeros

Salman Rushdie: where to start with this pioneering and controversial author

The Silmarillion

Book with mountain and boat.

The most famous of these works is The Silmarillion (1977). Unlike The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion is a collection of epic tales worked (by Christopher Tolkien) into a single narrative. It begins with the creation myth for Tolkien’s world and includes his great romantic epic concerning the adventures of Beren, a mortal Man, and Luthien, an Elven princess. These two characters are of particular relevance to anyone seeking to explore Tolkien’s mythology as they are the ancestors of many important figures from the major narratives, such as Aragorn and Elrond. They were also personally significant to Tolkien himself as he was inspired to write their love-story by his real-life romance with his wife, Edith. On Tolkien’s gravestone in Oxford is inscribed the name “Beren”, while on Edith’s is the name “Luthien”.

The Tales

Book with hill in front of son

The stories in Unfinished Tales (1980), edited by Christopher Tolkien, offer more background details regarding some of the most famous characters, including Gandalf. The anthology includes many of Tolkien’s notes about the world he was building, notes that he may not have intended to publish but which nevertheless offer a fascinating insight into his methodology and influences.

The two-volume Book of Lost Tales (1983–84) was compiled by Christopher Tolkien from his father’s notes to form the opening volumes of the all-encompassing 12-volume “History of Middle Earth” (1983-1996). While the stories are broadly similar to those told in The Silmarillion they go into more (some have said too much) detail and include extensive annotations added by Christopher with the intention of making them more like encyclopedias, or at least reference guides to Tolkien’s source material, rather than simple narratives.

On Fairy-Stories

Book with an abstract painting on cover.

On Fairy-Stories is an essay Tolkien wrote in 1939, two years after the initial publication of The Hobbit. Given originally as a lecture at the University of St Andrews, the text was published in 1947 in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, who was one of the Inklings, the literary discussion group in Oxford in the 1930s and 1940s that included Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Tolkien’s essay is noteworthy because it articulates his early opinion regarding what constitutes a “fairy story”, a genre we now refer to as “fantasy” or even “high fantasy” in Tolkien’s case. The essay essentially makes the claim that stories involving fairies or magical creatures that are set in the real world are not true fairy stories. For works of fiction to be truly considered as fantasy they must also be set in entirely imaginary worlds (unlike C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books, for example). Tolkien ultimately justifies this assertion with the argument that the relationship between language and imagination can only develop with one driving the other.

The Adventures Of Tom Bombadil

Illustration of a person sitting on grass by water filled with fish.

Given that he is one of Tolkien’s most enigmatic characters, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (1962) is a genuine curiosity. The book was published in Tolkien’s lifetime but it is a collection of poetry rather than a novel.

Tom Bombadil appears in Lord of the Rings but was written out of the film version. In The Fellowship of the Ring, he uses his extensive powers to rescue the Hobbits, but we never learn who or what he is, only that he alone is immune to the One Ring.

Inevitably, Tom has been the subject of much debate and speculation but Tolkien himself said of Tom: “Even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas.” In The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, there are some intriguing nuggets about the character, but no definitive answers. While some might argue that Tolkien’s poetry is an acquired taste, the volume nevertheless provides further insights into the world that Tolkien spent his life building.The Conversation

Helen Fulton, Professor and Chair of Medieval Literature, University of Bristol

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

Starlink, Amazon and others are racing to fill the sky with bigger satellites to deliver mobile coverage everywhere on Earth

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center on September 10 — with 34 Starlink satellites and a rideshare package for AST SpaceMobile. (Craig Bailey/Florida Today via AP) Craig Bailey/AP
Melissa de ZwartFlinders University

Elon Musk’s space tech company SpaceX is rapidly advancing towards its goal of establishing Starlink – a massive satellite network capable of providing high-speed broadband internet across the world.

Starlink claims the network is already servicing more than 30 countries with high-speed internet, including the United States, parts of Australia and most of the United Kingdom. There are about 2,500 Starlink satellites in orbit, with plans to eventually create a constellation of 42,000.

The satellites are in “low Earth orbit” at an altitude of about 550 kilometres. This relative proximity provides the benefit of low latency (less delay in data processing), faster internet, and service for areas that cable internet can’t service.

Beyond internet, however, Starlink and a number of other satellite network providers are also in a race to establish global mobile phone service connection. Some of the latest proposals could be game changers, especially for people on the move and in remote parts of the world. But there are several hurdles to jump first.

Mobile Phone Service From Space Is Coming

This weekend Starlink launched one of its Falcon 9 rockets for the 14th time, sending another 34 Starlink satellites into space.

The same rocket also carried a very different payload into orbit – a satellite called the BlueWalker 3. It’s the largest commercial antenna array ever launched into space.

Operated by American company AST SpaceMobile, the BlueWalker 3 is expected to provide global satellite phone service (distinct from internet) directly to standard mobile phones from space.

For now, satellite-to-phone connections still require special dedicated handsets, such as through the Iridium network. Iridium provides satellite phone services via its 66 satellites in low Earth orbit (at an altitude of 780km).

AST SpaceMobile will need to launch at least 100 more satellites to obtain global coverage. It has partnered with a number of mobile service providers, who will participate in connectivity tests starting next year. Currently, no date has been set for when the service will become commercially available.

T-Mobile, Apple And Verizon

Musk too plans to expand his Starlink network to provide satellite mobile phone connection directly to mobile devices.

In August, Musk announced a partnership between Starlink and US telecommunication provider T-Mobile. This will link T-mobile users directly to Starlink satellites, providing a limited service of text, MMS, voice messaging and potentially some messaging app connectivity to most of the US (including outside standard service areas).

The service is expected to launch in beta phase by the end of 2023, pending the deployment of second-generation Starlink satellites with larger antennas. However, at this stage it’s only intended as a connection of “last resort”, providing coverage for rescue and emergency services in areas currently without coverage. There are no plans for expansion beyond the US.

These announcements come around the same time as the launch of Apple’s iPhone 14 – the first regular smartphone to allow direct satellite connectivity.

From November, iPhone 14 users will be able to send short SOS messages where no other connection is available. The connection, which uses the Globalstar satellite network, will rely on access to clear skies and may not be available at all times and in all locations.

Similarly, US-based mobile phone service provider Verizon has partnered with Amazon’s proposed Kuiper satellite network to provide mobile services. But the Kuiper network has yet to launch any of its planned 3,200 broadband satellites, so it’s unclear when the additional capacity for mobile phone service connection would roll out.

Moreover, all of these arrangements will involve working out the complicated allocation of mobile phone spectrum licences across the globe.

A licence to operate in the US would not necessarily give access to such rights in another country. For example, America can grant AST SpaceMobile a licence to provide satellite mobile phone connectivity to people in America, but Australia would have to grant a different licence for it to service people in Australia.

Starlink is lobbying to prevent changes to the allocation of the 12GHz spectrum in the US. Last year, the US Federal Communications Commission proposed opening up the 12GHz frequency band (currently used for space-based services) for more widespread use on Earth for 5G mobile connection.

Starlink satellites use this band to communicate data to the ground, so this change would lead to significant interference in its services.

Internet On The Move

Starlink internet users within Australia can’t currently obtain a fully mobile service. With some exceptions, such as mobile homes, their service is locked to a single location where their satellite dish is placed.

Elsewhere, things seem to be advancing. In June the US Federal Communications Commission granted Starlink a licence to operate in moving vehicles, including cars, boats, planes and trucks.

And cruise operator Royal Caribbean (which services Australia) recently began installing Starlink terminals on its fleet, after successful internet trials on a cruise earlier this year.

SpaceX is also in negotiation with several commercial airlines regarding its internet service, which will be installed on Hawaiian Airlines flights beginning next year.

Subject to licensing approvals, the Starlink network will also provide internet for its Tesla vehicles – with emergency phone connection only available in the US.

The BlueWalker 3 and 34 Starlink satellites were launched on Saturday, and could be seen from Earth.

What About Australia?

Australia, with its vast remote areas, would certainly benefit from mobile phone coverage provided by a low Earth orbit satellite network. It would particularly benefit emergency services, remote communities, long-haul travellers and adventurers.

There are no clues as to when such a rollout may happen here. Yet, with the speed at which these developments are occurring, it seems likely Australians will get access to satellite-to-phone connections sooner rather than later – subject to the necessary licensing approvals.

In the interim, many are concerned about the congestion and light pollution that will arise due to the deployment of so many satellites. The BlueWalker 3, at 64 square metres, has only added to these concerns.The Conversation

Melissa de Zwart, Professor (Digital Technology, Security and Governance), Flinders University

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

Negative feedback is part of academia (and life) – these 6 strategies can help you cope

Joseph CrawfordUniversity of TasmaniaKelly-Ann AllenMonash University, and Lea WatersThe University of Melbourne

Imagine you have years-worth of research and it is dismissed by a 15-word rejection letter from a journal editor. That has happened to us.

Or peer reviewers write demeaning, anonymous commentary about your work. That has also happened to us.

Or student evaluations critique your appearance or the way you speak. Yes, that’s also happened to us.

Academics also get negative feedback on research grants and funding applications, conference submissions and mainstream writing outlets, like The Conversation. And, yes, we’ve experienced all this, too. And we are not alone.

We are experts in management and psychology. The good news is, there are strategies available to help you overcome and even use negative feedback to your advantage.

Feedback Is Unavoidable

Feedback is a key component for any academic career. It is part of how the profession maintains rigour and quality in what it does.

While it can of course be positive, research shows, it tends to be negative. And this comes at a cost to individuals, their sense of self worth and their mental health.

Academia is not alone here. Managers across all industries use feedback to enhance workplace performance and online reviews are a fact of life for businesses. Yet, despite this, not many people know how to do it well. And, the receivers are not always able to use the feedback in the way it was intended.

On top of calls to improve training for academics, managers and leaders on how to provide helpful feedback (we do this here and here), being able to use the feedback we get is also important for our wellbeing.

Tough feedback can hurt and shake our confidence. Yet it may be necessary to process this feedback to grow and develop as professionals. And this is where positive psychology can help.

Positive psychology is the study of strengths and virtues over human deficiencies and diagnoses. It focuses on promoting strengths – like courage, optimism, and hope – as a buffer against mental ill-health.

6 Things To Do When You Get Negative Feedback

1. Empathise with the person giving feedback

Do you remember receiving formal training for providing feedback? Probably not. It is likely the reviewer or person giving you feedback did not either.

And humans have a bias towards negative information too. Perhaps this is an evolutionary challenge, with early humanity needing to fixate on dangerous and threatening matters to survive.

A reviewer or manager’s potential lack of training and natural bias does not excuse their harmful comments, but it might help us to empathise with their circumstances.

Academics have complex, very busy careers. When anonymous reviews are negative, it might have more to do with their (lack of) experience and heavy workloads, rather than our work.

2. Pause

When dealing with negative feedback, it can help to pause, take a walk around the block or grab a cup of tea. One of the authors of this piece has the practice of reading a review and then putting it in a draw for a week before she begins to address the feedback.

Distance allows us to gain perspective and think through the parts of the feedback that are valuable and worth addressing. This puts us into a positive state of mind and prompts us to considers solutions as a way of coping.

3. Talk about what happened

Vent to some friends or your colleagues.

Affective labelling theory says when people talk about their feelings, they feel better about them. A Geneva Emotion Wheel might help label more complex emotions.

You can also try self-affirmations, or the practice of recognising the value of one’s self. Affirmations may not suit everyone’s style but if you think they will work for you, useful self-affirmations may include: “I am getting better as a researcher” or “this obstacle will help me grow”. (You can look at some more examples here).

Positive affirmations give rise to more positive emotions and this is useful because positive emotions boost our problem-solving skills.

4. Address your inner critic

Our inner critic is often an ally who motivates us to achieve. It can sometimes be toxic though, especially when receiving unwanted feedback. The inner critic prompts cognitive distortions, such as catastrophising (“I’ll never be published”) or assigning self-blame (“I’m not smart enough”).

As we know, distortions are not true and they stop us seeing the situation clearly. When these voices are left unchecked, it can lead to mental health problems.

Instead, we need to practice self-compassion. This could include, visualising positive and non-judgmental images. Perhaps visualising a walk on your favourite beach, without a care or concern.

Talking back to our inner critic (verbally or non-verbally) also helps. Cognitive reappraisal is the practice of identifying a negative thought pattern and changing the perspective. In response to “I’m not smart enough” try “This time, this work was not valued, but it is valuable, and I can grow from the feedback”.

5. Reframe what happened

Our brains almost prime us to take negative feedback personally at first.

When receiving negative feedback, the primal (“fight or flight”) and emotional (“do they hate me?”) parts of our brain often jump to respond first.

But we can deliberately look for benefits, upsides and lessons if something bad happens. This is what psychologists call “positive reframing”.

For example, if you get unhelpful personal feedback on anonymous student feedback forms, it might prompt you to talk with your next group of students about the purpose of this feedback and about the importance of them being professional and constructive.

6. Look for opportunities

Each strategy above is designed to help you cope with and accept feedback. The final strategy is to focus on the opportunity.

Despite the negativity or the difficult conversation, someone took time to give this feedback. What is it that can be learned? Or done better next time?

All of this is of course assuming the feedback was constructive. Sometimes negative feedback is just toxic. In these cases, submit your work somewhere else!

If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.The Conversation

Joseph Crawford, Senior Lecturer, Management, University of TasmaniaKelly-Ann Allen, Associate Professor, School of Educational Psychology and Counselling, Faculty of Education, Monash University, and Lea Waters, Psychology Professor, Centre for Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne, The University of Melbourne

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

AI art is everywhere right now. Even experts don’t know what it will mean

‘Théâtre D’opéra Spatial’ Jason Allen / Midjourney
Rodolfo OcampoUNSW Sydney

An art prize at the Colorado State Fair was awarded last month to a work that – unbeknown to the judges – was generated by an artificial intelligence (AI) system.

Social media have also seen an explosion of weird images generated by AI from text descriptions, such as “the face of a shiba inu blended into the side of a loaf of bread on a kitchen bench, digital art”.

Or perhaps “A sea otter in the style of ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Johannes Vermeer”:

‘A sea otter in the style of ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Johannes Vermeer.’ OpenAI

You may be wondering what’s going on here. As somebody who researches creative collaborations between humans and AI, I can tell you that behind the headlines and memes a fundamental revolution is under way – with profound social, artistic, economic and technological implications.

How We Got Here

You could say this revolution began in June 2020, when a company called OpenAI achieved a big breakthrough in AI with the creation of GPT-3, a system that can process and generate language in much more complex ways than earlier efforts. You can have conversations with it about any topic, ask it to write a research article or a story, summarise text, write a joke, and do almost any imaginable language task.

In 2021, some of GPT-3’s developers turned their hand to images. They trained a model on billions of pairs of images and text descriptions, then used it to generate new images from new descriptions. They called this system DALL-E, and in July 2022 they released a much-improved new version, DALL-E 2.

Like GPT-3, DALL-E 2 was a major breakthrough. It can generate highly detailed images from free-form text inputs, including information about style and other abstract concepts.

For example, here I asked it to illustrate the phrase “Mind in Bloom” combining the styles of Salvador Dalí, Henri Matisse and Brett Whiteley.

An image generated by DALL-E from the prompt “Mind in Bloom’ combining the styles of Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse and Brett Whiteley’. Rodolfo Ocampo / DALL-E

Competitors Enter The Scene

Since the launch of DALL-E 2, a few competitors have emerged. One is the free-to-use but lower-quality DALL-E Mini (developed independently and now renamed Craiyon), which was a popular source of meme content.

Images generated by Craiyon from the prompt ‘Darth Vader riding a tricycle outside on a sunny day’. Craiyon

Around the same time, a smaller company called Midjourney released a model that more closely matched DALL-E 2’s capabilities. Though still a little less capable than DALL-E 2, Midjourney has lent itself to interesting artistic explorations. It was with Midjourney that Jason Allen generated the artwork that won the Colorado State Art Fair competition.

Google too has a text-to-image model, called Imagen, which supposedly produces much better results than DALL-E and others. However, Imagen has not yet been released for wider use so it is difficult to evaluate Google’s claims.

Images generated by the Imagen text-to-image model, together with the text that produced them. Google / Imagen

In July 2022, OpenAI began to capitalise on the interest in DALL-E, announcing that 1 million users would be given access on a pay-to-use basis.

However, in August 2022 a new contender arrived: Stable Diffusion.

Stable Diffusion not only rivals DALL-E 2 in its capabilities, but more importantly it is open source. Anyone can use, adapt and tweak the code as they like.

Already, in the weeks since Stable Diffusion’s release, people have been pushing the code to the limits of what it can do.

To take one example: people quickly realised that, because a video is a sequence of images, they could tweak Stable Diffusion’s code to generate video from text.

Another fascinating tool built with Stable Diffusion’s code is Diffuse the Rest, which lets you draw a simple sketch, provide a text prompt, and generate an image from it. In the video below, I generated a detailed photo of a flower from a very rough sketch.

In a more complicated example below, I am starting to build software that lets you draw with your body, then use Stable Diffusion to turn it into a painting or photo.

The End Of Creativity?

What does it mean that you can generate any sort of visual content, image or video, with a few lines of text and a click of a button? What about when you can generate a movie script with GPT-3 and a movie animation with DALL-E 2?

And looking further forward, what will it mean when social media algorithms not only curate content for your feed, but generate it? What about when this trend meets the metaverse in a few years, and virtual reality worlds are generated in real time, just for you?

These are all important questions to consider.

Some speculate that, in the short term, this means human creativity and art are deeply threatened.

Perhaps in a world where anyone can generate any images, graphic designers as we know them today will be redundant. However, history shows human creativity finds a way. The electronic synthesiser did not kill music, and photography did not kill painting. Instead, they catalysed new art forms.

I believe something similar will happen with AI generation. People are experimenting with including models like Stable Diffusion as a part of their creative process.

Or using DALL-E 2 to generate fashion-design prototypes:

A new type of artist is even emerging in what some call “promptology”, or “prompt engineering”. The art is not in crafting pixels by hand, but in crafting the words that prompt the computer to generate the image: a kind of AI whispering.

Collaborating With AI

The impacts of AI technologies will be multidimensional: we cannot reduce them to good or bad on a single axis.

New artforms will arise, as will new avenues for creative expression. However, I believe there are risks as well.

We live in an attention economy that thrives on extracting screen time from users; in an economy where automation drives corporate profit but not necessarily higher wages, and where art is commodified as content; in a social context where it is increasingly hard to distinguish real from fake; in sociotechnical structures that too easily encode biases in the AI models we train. In these circumstances, AI can easily do harm.

How can we steer these new AI technologies in a direction that benefits people? I believe one way to do this is to design AI that collaborates with, rather than replaces, humans.The Conversation

Rodolfo Ocampo, PhD student, Human–AI Creative Collaboration, UNSW Sydney

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

Moonage Daydream: brilliant Bowie film takes big risks to create something truly new

Universal Pictures
Lisa PerrottUniversity of Waikato

Don’t fake it baby, lay the real thing on me

– David Bowie, Moonage Daydream (1971)

Hypnotic, immersive, kaleidoscopic, sublime: Brett Morgen’s film Moonage Daydream has been described as an “experiential cinematic odyssey” and a “colossal tidal wave of vibrant images and overpowering sound”.

But as a Bowie fan of 40 years, this film was a transformative experience for me because of the integrity with which Morgen reassembled “the real thing” to make something authentic and new.

Inspired by Bowie’s cautionary words about comfort and his philosophy to “always go further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in”, Morgen embarked on a mission that would take him far outside his comfort zone.

Boldly eschewing the conventional biopic format, he immersed himself in a seven-year creative process – one that has led to a subjective but respectful representation of the artist who helped him navigate his own teenage journeys.

Propelling the biographical music documentary form beyond the expected conventions of talking heads and expert analysis, Morgen combines a documentary style with music video aesthetics and surrealist assemblage methods to craft a new form.

Employing an even more extensive collage approach than he’d used for his Kurt Cobain film Montage of Heck (2015), Morgen treats Moonage Daydream as an audiovisual tapestry, woven from numerous archival materials: songs, vocal recordings, still photographs and film footage derived from music videos, theatrical films, televised interviews and live performance.

Morgen brings these things to life by punctuating them with sonic and visual effects. Bravely facing the potential wrath of Bowie devotees, he takes the creative liberty of disassembling and reanimating Bowie’s hand-drawn sketches, storyboards and paintings.

Ziggy Stardust Lives

A risky way to treat the work of a deceased artist, the approach nonetheless works because Morgen is channelling the Bowie “on his shoulder”. This is his reality of Bowie, but it allows space for viewers to fill in the gaps. As he explained recently:

Bowie invited us the way kabuki does, to kind of project and fill in the blanks. And so I tried to create a film in that manner […] We all have our own Bowie. You have your Bowie, I have my Bowie. I wanted the canvas to reflect back to each viewer their own Bowie, and ultimately themselves.

Taking two years to familiarise himself with millions of archival pieces, Morgen developed an intuitive sense about which materials to use and how they would project when blown up on a cinema screen. By allowing this raw material to retain flaws such as scratches, camera shake and blur, he conjures nostalgia for a moment in time.

Transported to the Hammersmith Odeon in 1973, I marvelled at the grainy texture of the film stock used to shoot D.A. Pennebaker’s film of the famous last Ziggy Stardust concert. I absorbed the texture of Bowie’s hair and the colour of his mismatched eyes in extreme closeups from Mick Rock’s music video Life On Mars? from the same year.

Grounding the film in reality, the rawness and heightened proximity of these projections enhance the sensory experience. One moment I was on stage with Bowie, just behind his shoulder, experiencing his exhilaration as he stepped towards throngs of adoring fans. Next, I was one of those fans in full Ziggy garb, reaching out to touch Bowie on that stage.

Cut-Up And Collage

This sense of intimacy and immersion in Bowie’s life explains why Moonage Daydream is such a treat for fans. But why did Bowie’s estate give their wholehearted approval to this film and not others?

Firstly, rather than relying on actors or expert commentators, the film allows Bowie to tell his story through his own words and his own art. Secondly, Morgen has taken more than inspiration from Bowie’s philosophy about life and creativity. He approached Moonage Daydream in a way that mirrors Bowie’s own creative process.

Often described as a cultural magpie, Bowie was a rampant forager who used methods such as cut-up and collage to weave together a diverse array of inspirations and found materials. Morgen uses similar methods with archive material from across Bowie’s expansive oeuvre.

He shows how Bowie synthesised the gestures of Hollywood starlets, visual motifs gleaned from kabuki theatre and noh mask traditions, protopunk style and a Kubrick-esque science fiction aesthetic.

Morgen also uses cut-up and collage methods to show how Bowie fused the Pierrot persona (derived from the Commedia dell'arte performance form) with visual references derived from surrealist and German expressionist films, along with the aesthetics of the fledgling New Romantic subculture.

Fan tributes in Brixton, London, after the death of David Bowie in 2016. Getty Images

Time And Space

Mirroring Bowie’s creative process, the approach also replicates the artist’s treatment of time as medium, and his penchant for time travel. His songs, music videos and performances portray a constant, dizzying transit between past, present and future – something Bowie described as “future nostalgia”.

Ironically, Morgen’s non-linear editing works in tension with the film’s overarching linear chronology. This complex structure is appropriate, since it portrays the temporal fluidity and “loose continuity” that Bowie wove across five decades and several mediums.

This sense of time travel extends to the treatment of the songs, too. Morgen worked with Bowie’s long-time friend and collaborator Tony Visconti, who uses cut-up and collage to create new soundscapes by merging isolated tracks from the original song recordings.

At one point, Blackstar (2016) gradually begins to merge with parts of Memory of a Free Festival (1970) and other songs. Combined with visual collage, this surprising mashup forms a densely layered audiovisual bricolage that takes the audience on an exhilarating trip through time and space.

Recalling the liberating experience of dancing up the red carpet at the premiere for Moonage Daydream, and the creative process behind this almost psychedelic filmic experience, Morgen told one interviewer:

If you ingest Bowie into your veins for seven years, you’re probably going to be a better person at the end of it than you were when you started […] It’s like having a natural high, I mean it’s like the endorphins are all alert.

I would never have arrived at that perspective without embracing his teachings, his philosophies towards creation.

Creating this film was a life changing experience for Morgen. Moonage Daydream is a bold work of art that promises a transformative experience for all of us. I saw my Bowie reflected back from Morgen’s canvas. Will you see your Bowie?

Moonage Daydream opens in cinemas worldwide on September 15.The Conversation

Lisa Perrott, Senior Lecturer & Researcher in Screen and Media Studies, University of Waikato

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

The Whitewash is a scathing, hilarious satire of Asian misrepresentation in Hollywood

Crazy Rich Asians film poster (Warner Bros), The Whitewash book cover (UQP), The Mysterious Dr Fu Manchu original film poster, The Mask of Fu Manchu film poster, The Conversation.
Jindan NiRMIT University

Siang Lu’s debut novel The Whitewash is a scathing satire of the big-budget film industry’s ethnic and racial myopia. Original, critical and hilarious, the book is a product of the Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer, which this manuscript won in 2021.

Review: The Whitewash - Siang Lu (UQP)

Lu innovatively blends features of oral history and mockumentary into a fast-paced multi-vocal exposé. The story recounts the sad fate of a Hollywood spy thriller, “Brood Empire”, which crashes during production. Adapted from a popular novel written by an influential Hong Kong writer, Brood Empire is expected to be a box-office success. It has a top production team, coupled with a sizeable budget. And for the first time in history, a Hong Kong actor takes the lead in a Hollywood movie. How can it fail?

Whitewash takes the form of an oral history: the novel is compiled of interviews with people involved with “Brood Empire”. The editor-in-chief of a scurrilous rag, “Click Bae”, drives the story. His aim is to get the dirt on the production, expose its failure – and publish a lucrative book … which will be entitled “The Whitewash”. Fiction and reality wittily converge.

Orientalism Retold

Almost half a century has passed since Edward Said traced an inevitable connection between simplistic views of races (or ethnicities) and racism. His term “Orientalism” sums up the attitudes of those who

adopt an essentialist conception of the countries, nations and peoples of the Orient under study, a conception which expresses itself through a characterized ethnist typology […] and will soon proceed with it towards racism.

Edward Said on Orientalism.

The urgency of Said’s critique is palpable in Lu’s energetic framing of current views of Asia. Lu’s novel shows how politics and the economics of big-screen productions contribute to racial stereotyping and racism towards Asians. Lu departs from Said only in revealing how unintentionally risible this form of present-day Orientalism is.

An academic perspective comes via an “Adjunct Professor of Chinese Cultural Studies” who’s enlisted by “Click Bae”. For a fee, he agrees to ventriloquise another academic (who refused to be involved in the project). So, a bottom-feeding journal enlists an academic in need of money to lend credibility to a story about the venality of the film industry. There is no end to the unscrupulousness.

Stereotypes And Market

Apart from the link between politics and what we get to see on the big screen, Lu reveals that whitewashing Asians is profitable. People pay to see foreignness repackaged as stereotypes – and thus rendered virtually invisible.

This has been going on since the early days of cinema. In the 1930s, it was Boris Karloff who played the evil genius Fu Manchu. And Swedish actor Warner Oland played the self-righteous detective Charlie Chan, with his tongue-in-cheek Confucianism.

Later, even celebrated Asians like martial arts prodigy Bruce Lee and action-movie star Jackie Chan ended up in supporting roles. (Though Lee starred in his films, his character was demoted in the much-criticised 2016 biopic, Birth of the Dragon, which centralised a fictional white character in a film ostensibly about Lee.) Whitewashing caters to audiences who want “Asians” on the screen to match the “Asians” of their preconceptions. The only way to change this, as Lu’s professor explains, is money:

You want to see rapid and progressive shifts in societal attitudes towards minorities in the mass media, in the Hollywood industrial complex? No problem, as long as it makes money.

Lamentably, if any change of cultural framing of Asians still depends on the market, this is no real change at all. We already have stock Asian elements on the screen such as kung fu and wuxia (martial arts heroes). Bringing more to the mix – just as long it turns a profit – means adding one stereotype after another.

Bruce Lee in Way of the Dragon.

Where To From Now?

Lu reminds us that a lack of multi-dimensional representation on the screen is harmful. JK Jr, the actor cast as Brood Empire’s initial lead, reflects on the shared experience of Asian people in Western countries:

Our grandparents grew up with the Yellow Peril. Our parents grew up with yellow discomfort. Our generation grew up with yellow invisibility.

I genuinely believe that representation is the key to cultural acceptance. If your heroes on the screen, in the world, look like you, that can change everything! So if what I’m doing is able to shift the needle even an inch towards mainstream cultural acceptance of Asians in film and TV, then there could be a whole new group of kids out there who mightn’t have the baggage that I had growing up. All the wasted energy I spent trying to fit in and act white.

I hope Siang Lu’s novel will spark readers to reject stereotypes – to instead discover an interest in the countless different ways of being Asian. This might allow, as Whitewash’s professor hopes, “a new generation of Asian kids to see themselves reflected on the screen”.

This novel’s relevance is not confined to Asia. The more people from diverse cultural backgrounds are visible on screen, the more we can authentically encounter each other in the world. Lu’s The Whitewash succeeds in helping us to properly see one another, on the road towards a more inclusive society.The Conversation

Jindan Ni, Lecturer, Global and Language Studies, RMIT University

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

It’s corn! How the online viral ‘Corn Kid’ is on a well-worn path to fame in the child influencer industry

Recess Therapy / YouTube
Crystal AbidinCurtin University

An American seven-year-old named Tariq went viral on the internet last month after appearing in an 85-second Instagram clip professing his love for corn. His quirky quips, including the catchphrase “Have a cornstastic day!” quickly found favour with internet audiences, who turned him into the meme affectionately known as “Corn Kid”.

At the time of writing, the original Instagram clip has been viewed over 26 million times and has been widely reposted by several other accounts across Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok.

On the strength of accidental viral popularity, Corn Kid is now well on his way to becoming a child celebrity. His time in the limelight has followed a predictable path carved out over the past decade as the era of “cute videos of kids” has given way to a full-blown child influencer industry.

Turning Accidental Virality Into Commercial Opportunities

Corn Kid’s humorous interview was auto-tuned into a catchy song “It’s corn!” by comedy music YouTubers The Gregory Brothers. He began featuring in a string of content collaborations with notable influencers. He was even recently named “Corn-bassador” – an ambassador of corn – for South Dakota in the US.

But Corn Kid’s serendipitous fame has also brought tangible commercial opportunities.

He starred in a social media ad for Chipotle that went viral, and also registered an account on Cameo – a video-sharing platform where users can pay for personalised video messages.

And it is here where what seems like fun on the internet can begin to have real-world consequences.

Accelerated Pathways Into ‘Child Celebrity’

If Corn Kid’s story sounds familiar, it is because this rapid pathway from “accidental virality” to “meme celebrity” to “influencer” has been a tried-and-tested recipe for more than a decade.

In 2011, British cousins Sophia Grace and Rosie (then aged 8 and 5, respectively) went viral with a short dance clip. It led to regular appearances on The Ellen Show, followed by music and film opportunities, and careers as YouTube influencers.

In 2014, five-year-old Noah Ritter’s viral street interview eventually led to regular fixtures on talkshows and appearances at cons, after similarly being picked up by The Ellen Show.

But there are also less wholesome examples, such as when 14-year-old Danielle Bregoli went viral for her appearance on the Dr. Phil Show in 2016, after he had called out her bad behaviour and publicly shamed her. She went on to establish herself as a rapper and as a NSFW influencer who reportedly earned US$50 million in her first year.

As I note in my book Internet Celebrity: Understanding Fame Online, young children who go viral on social media are quickly perceived by industry stakeholders as commercial investments to be “spotted and groomed”. And this initial period of instant fame is a critical moment for important decisions.

Some Pitfalls Of The Influencer Industry

Parents of children who go viral online often suddenly find themselves in a world of opportunity. Paid cameos, corporate partnerships, offers of talent brokerage and child influencer contracts can line up swiftly. In the growing market, even micro- and mid-tier influencers can demand thousands of dollars for a single post.

As parents are quickly pushed into the glitzy world of child celebrity, there is usually little time to make concerted and informed decisions. Tantalising offers may be short-lived and contingent upon wavering public interest.

Yet, it is important to consider the pitfalls and longer-term consequences in the child influencer industry.

Earlier this year, a TikTok-famous child was sexualised by fan accounts, leading to a public conversation about the safety and privacy of similar child influencers. In another instance, an influencer in my research reported she and her child were involved in a car chase by over-enthusiastic fans.

As advertising opportunities expand in range, parents may also find themselves on a slippery slope as they move from child-centred products to less child-relevant recommendations like car decals and fast food.

Parents must also recognise when their children may no longer enjoy creating content, such as when they need to be “enticed by rewards for compliance to stay in the frame and continue filming”.

In some cases, parents have also been found to exploit and abuse their children when creating sensational content to attract viewers.

In Australia, the industry is growing rapidly.

Navigating Unregulated Terrain

The child influencer industry is still largely unregulated terrain. One exception is in France, where the government passed a law in 2020 to regulate workable hours, safeguard the income of under-16s, and ensure that companies apply for permission to work with child influencers.

In the UK, a House of Commons committee conducted an inquiry into the child influencer industry in 2021. The UK parliament is presently working on a response to calls for more regulation.

Formal regulations are beginning to catch up with the industry.

In the meantime parents of aspiring child influencers are also doing more to protect their children.

Established “family influencers” on YouTube have role-modelled how to negotiate children’s involvement in content creation – treating it as a reward rather than an obligation, and allowing them to opt out when they want.

Lessons From Asia

I am conducting a five-year ethnography of the influencer industry in Australia and East Asia, during which I have found many more examples of parents doing more to stand up for the interests of their children.

Parents in South Korea are requesting specific clauses in their child influencer contracts with sponsors to give their children more agency. These may accommodate “no shows” if a child refuses to participate in a client event at late notice, or flexibility to renegotiate advertising briefs if a child does not want to engage with the sponsored product or service.

In China, talent managers are trained professionals who act as mediators and brokers for child influencer services. They safeguard access to prominent child influencers, ensure client contracts are fair, educate parents by advising them on legal and contractual matters, and provide quality control for the content that child influencers deliver to clients.

Further, influencer agencies are contractually responsible for any faux pas. Thus, they work quickly to resolve issues that impinge on the welfare of the child.

Even the most loving and well-meaning parents may not have the capacity and skills to protect the interests of their children in the volatile influencer industry. And while change is coming, we can draw on lessons from the past.The Conversation

Crystal Abidin, Associate Professor & ARC DECRA Fellow, Internet Studies, Curtin University

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

2023 Year 12 School Scholarship Program Now Open: DYRSL

Dee Why RSL is pleased to announce the 2023 School Scholarship Program, open to local students going into year 12 for the 2023 year of study. 

A total of ten students will receive $2000 each, to assist them in achieving their utmost potential while completing the Higher School Certificate. 

Securing A Brighter Future For Disadvantaged Youth

September 7, 2022
Eligible students from Years 10 to 12 or TAFE equivalent can now apply for a $1000 scholarship to help meet the cost of studying.
The future goals of some of the state’s most vulnerable young people are a step closer to being achieved thanks to the NSW Government’s Youth Development Scholarships program.

Minister for Families and Communities and Minister for Disability Services Natasha Maclaren-Jones is calling for eligible students from Years 10-12 or TAFE equivalent to apply for the $1000 scholarships.

“The scholarships aim to remove some of the financial burdens that students face so they can focus on achieving greater results and finish their studies,” Mrs Maclaren-Jones said.

“From textbooks to internet access, the scholarships will ensure our young people are well-equipped to reach their full potential.”

Minister for Education and Early Learning Sarah Mitchell said that a quality education is a strong foundation for a brighter future.

“The NSW Government wants to support our students in achieving their goals and these scholarships provide them with the necessary financial support to get them started,” Ms Mitchell said.

“I know these scholarships will be greatly appreciated by our young people and will help them have a bright start in life.”

To be eligible for the scholarship, students must be living in social housing or on the housing register, receiving private rental subsidy from DCJ, or living in supported accommodation or out-of-home care.

More than 4700 students have been supported by the scholarship program since it was established in 2017.

For more information on how to apply, visit Youth Development Scholarships

For new and returning high school students, applications will close Wednesday 30 November 2022 at 5:00pm.

For returning tertiary students, applications will close Friday 3 March 2023 at 5:00pm.

HSC Online Help Guides

REMINDER: there's a great Practical Guide for Getting through your HSC by Sydney Uni at:

Stay Healthy - Stay Active: HSC 2022

Stay active, keep connected and look after yourself during the HSC this year! 
Find helpful study tips, self-care resources and guides for students and parents at

World Barber Day Highlights Demand For Age Old Craft

TAFE NSW is sharpening the skills of future barbers to enter the re-emerging industry as the demand for qualified barbers is surging. This comes as World Barber Day approaches on 16 September. 

Despite the fact barbering dates back to Ancient Egypt, the future looks bright for aspiring barbers thanks to growing trends in male grooming, with Australian men spending $7 billion on grooming products every year. 

TAFE NSW Barbering Teacher, Aynah Penton said TAFE NSW is supporting the industry through a wide range of training pathways, from short courses in specific barbering techniques, to apprenticeships, and salon management. 

“Barbering is a great career because not only is the job hands-on and social, qualified barbers are in high demand, Ms Penton said.

“There is so much more to barbering than cutting hair. From holding clippers correctly to hygiene standards, being qualified is what keeps the industry reputable and safe.

“We’ve come a long way from traditional straight or taper cuts. New tools of the trade and changing customer needs have shaped a growing skills demand in the latest equipment and techniques.” 

Ms Penton is also seeing modern barbershop owners undertake further training to grow their business and provide additional services in beauty, massage, and responsible service of alcohol.

Kate Pitts is a 22-year-old local Terry Hills apprentice barber at the Division Barber Co Newport while studying a Certificate III in Barbering at TAFE NSW Northern Beaches.  

“Originally I was a hairdresser and wanted to advance my skills in barbering, but once I started the course and learnt how to do fades and all the different haircuts, I enjoyed it so much that I now focus solely on barbering,” Kate said. 

“My favourite part of the career is keeping up with all the new trends and learning new techniques, which my TAFE NSW teacher and workplace help me with, plus I love working with my clients.” 

The nationally accredited Certificate III in Barbering is a fully government-subsidised JobTrainer course for those who meet eligibility criteria. 

To find out more about barbering courses on offer at TAFE NSW visit or call 131 601. 

Photo: Kate at work place

UNSW Launches Artificial Intelligence (AI) Institute

September 13, 2022
The new flagship university-wide research institute will support the activities of over 300 UNSW researchers working across AI.

UNSW AI Institute Chief Scientist Toby Walsh and Associate Professor Haris Aziz, the interim Director of the UNSW AI Institute. Photo: UNSW

Experts and industry leaders in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) converged on UNSW Sydney today for the launch of the UNSW AI Institute. The new institute will support the activities of over 300 UNSW academics working in AI spanning all UNSW faculties. 

“Our objective at the UNSW AI Institute is to synergise the activities of researchers working in AI, machine learning, and data science, to maximise our collective impact,” said Associate Professor Haris Aziz, the interim Director of the UNSW AI Institute.  

“The envisioned impact has multiple dimensions, including fostering interdisciplinary connections for both teaching and research, participation in public dialogue on AI, and driving the commercialisation of our research. The interdisciplinary aspect is fundamental to our vision which is why we are excited to have participation from all the faculties,” A/Prof. Aziz added.  

UNSW Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Attila Brungs said the Institute will provide a forum for researchers and students to share ideas, and maximise opportunities for collaborative creativity and the discovery that can happen in such a fertile environment. “It will play its part in explaining to the broader community how AI can be of benefit to society, but also encourage debate about its use and limitations, including appropriate regulation.”

Experts and industry leaders attended the event, including Stela Solar, the Director of the National AI Centre at CSIRO’s Data61; Professor Peter Bartlett, Head of Research at Google Australia; Professor Toby Walsh, Chief Scientist at the UNSW AI Institute; and Dr Ian Oppermann, Chief Data Scientist at the NSW Department of Customer Service.  

“United together – academia, industry, and government – we have the potential to power the future development, growth and productivity of our state. Making NSW the Australian home of responsible AI will help drive our future economy and prosperity,” said NSW Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government, Victor Dominello. 

Prof Walsh said, “I've spent 40 years working in AI and it is undoubtedly the most exciting time to be working in the field. We are seeing these technologies leave the laboratory and enter our homes, offices, and factories. The role of the UNSW AI Institute is to facilitate this transfer and ensure AI is deployed responsibly, that benefits all members of society.” 

A/Prof. Aziz said AI is becoming better than humans in performing many key tasks from marketing chatbots to AI safeguarding private records against cyber criminals. “Harnessing its potential and ensuring its responsible use is important. The UNSW AI Institute is a platform to help connect UNSW AI researchers with each other and the rest of the world.”
“We have a wealth of world-class researchers working on fundamental AI problems or applying AI techniques to their respective domains. The main consideration for setting up the institute was to make sure that we capitalise on our strengths and make it easier for the world to engage with us.” 

The scope for AI across domains is far-reaching 
AI is a ubiquitous technology that affects every domain and the potential scope across industries is far-reaching, with AI rapidly emerging in fields such as finance, social media, education, e-commerce, agriculture, entertainment, space research and security, just to name a few. Health care is a prime example of where AI is making a substantial impact.   

“In the last five years, health & medicine received the largest global private AI investment ($28.9 billion). Our researchers are well-positioned to make a significant impact on the AI-med interface,” said A/Prof. Aziz.  

He said medicine and biology rely increasingly on imaging technologies to process the large data sets they produce. “We have a tremendous group working on improving the reliability and throughput of biomedical diagnostics and screening.

“Another example is our members’ work on AI-empowered biomedicine to integrate and interpret clinical data to promote personalised medicine and precision therapy. The research is transformational in improving tailored treatment, facilitating drug development, and reducing the risk of various diseases. 

“Our goal is to connect with the world, so do engage and keep a close eye on the fascinating work our researchers are doing,” said A/Prof Aziz.  

During the launch of the UNSW AI Institute, guests experienced a little Robot Soccer action. Photo: UNSW

Youth For Soibada – Be A Part Of It!

The youth of the world are the future, and we must nurture, educate, and provide them with what they need to prosper. In our sister village of Soibada in Timor Leste the young people are full of energy, love, and laughter. They are small in stature due to malnourishment but their desire to learn is huge!

Since Maria Regina School in Avalon first connected with Our Lady of Aitara School in Soibada in 2009, followed by Sacred Heart School and Tasi Fatin School soon after, and then Mater Maria and Nicolau Lobato Senior High School, many other schools, both State and Private, here in Sydney have taken up the link of friendship with schools in Soibada. Most recently Narrabeen North Primary School connected with Somoro School in central Soibada. Teacher Olivia Scully visited Soibada in July to formalise the friendship – there will be lots of news on that soon!

It is a wonderful opportunity to learn about each other’s cultures but it also provides a chance for our young people to see what a difference they can make in the lives of others - even in small ways. Although it is all about friendship, there is still so much need in Timor Leste after the years of occupation and the fight for freedom. Maria Regina students recently did a “Seeds for Soibada” campaign that did not cost much – just a packet of vegetable seeds – but will have a big impact on nutrition.

The Youth for Soibada committee has been reinvigorated after the Covid Years and there was a great team in the village in July. One of them was even an ex-Maria Regina (and current Mater) student. The kids connected in a way impossible to adults and language proved no barrier. They have initiated a new Instagram page to generate interest and support from other teenagers. They have some great events planned, including performances from some of the young artists and bands we had at Soup for Soibada recently.  If you are interested in getting involved or know someone who is, or just want to keep up to date with what is going on, please send a direct message on Instagram to  friendsofsoibada

Or contact Tamara on

Tamara Sloper Harding OAM

Barrenjoey High School Maths Teacher Farewell

Farewell to Mr Grunseit, Head Teacher of Mathematics at Barrenjoey High School. That's 36 years serving our students. Thank you very much sir.

Sunday Comics And Cartoons

One of the reasons we first started reading the Sunday paper was to get the children's section and read the cartoons. In keeping with that a cartoon or animation will run each Sunday on your page. Some of these you will need to read and others you can watch. This week it's A message from Ginger Meggs in 1947.

Surfer Groms Comp In Coffs Harbour Sees Local Surfers Among Winners

The Woolworths Surfer Groms Comps in Coffs Harbour finished on Sunday September 11, 2022, with some great placings for local surfers. Well done to all those who had a go and all those who won a place in the results.

Regarded as one of the major stepping stones in the development of young Australian surfers, the 10-event Woolworths Surfer Groms Comps series caters for surfers from Under 8 to Under 14 and will be held in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia over Spring and into Summer.

As an added bonus, the respective winners of the Under 14 boys’ and girls’ divisions from each event will receive an invite to attend an all-expenses-paid, three-day Woolworths Surfer Groms Comps National Final Surf Camp, (1-day coaching clinic, two days of competition and heat analysis coaching) at the Surfing Australia High-Performance Centre (HPC). For the South Australian, Victorian and Tasmanian events, the Woolworths Surf Camp prize will be awarded to the highest place Under-14 Boy and Girl who reside in that respective state.

Run through Surfing NSW this is a great competition for those who like their surfing and a great opportunity to meet youngsters from other places.

Woolworths Surfer Groms Comps 2022 Schedule:

  • EVENT 1 – Kiama, NSW – Sept 3 – 4, 2022
  • EVENT 2 – Coffs Harbour, NSW – Sept 10 – 11, 2022 
  • EVENT 3 – Gold Coast, QLD – Sept 24 – 25, 2022
  • EVENT 4 – Fleurieu Peninsula, SA – Oct 1, 2022 
  • EVENT 5 – Northern Beaches, NSW – Oct 15 – 16, 2022 
  • EVENT 6 – Clifton Beach, TAS – Oct 29, 2022
  • EVENT 7 – Torquay, VIC – Nov 12 – 13, 2022 
  • EVENT 8 – Trigg, WA – Nov 19 – 20, 2022 
  • EVENT 9 – Cronulla, NSW – Dec 3 – 4, 2022 
  • EVENT 10 – Sunshine Coast, QLD – Dec 10 – 11, 2022

Coffs Harbour Results

U8 Mixed
1st Atlas Zoric (Broken Head)
2nd Flynn Swierczewski (Coolangatta
3rd Lakey Schomberg (Bonville)
4th Noah De Campos (Emerald Beach)

U10 Girls
1st Zoee Bradshaw (Haleiwa)
2nd Isabel O’Boyle (Lennox Head)
3rd Coco Woolley (Boomerang)
4th Alanni Morriss (Shelly Beach)

U10 Boys
1st Phoenix Talbot (Yamba)
2nd Sage Lewis (Sandy Beach)
3rd Billy Daniel (Fingal Head)
4th Conor O’Boyle (Lennox Head)

U12 Girls
1st Lehiani Zoric (Broken Head)
2nd Talia Tebb (Avoca)
3rd Zoee Bradshaw (Haleiwa)
4th Olive Morriss (Shelly Beach)

U12 Boys
1st Kade Kelly (Newcastle)
2nd Locana Cullen (Avalon)
3rd Luca Martin (Coffs Harbour)
4th Liam Gason (Collaroy)

U14 Girls
1st Charli Hatley (Currumbin)
2nd Lehiani Zoric (Broken Head)
3rd Madora Barton (Yamba)
4th Avalon Vowels (Scotts Head)

U14 Boys
1st Ben Zanatta (Manly)
2nd Balin Cullen (Avalon
3rd Lucas Leal (Dee Why)
4th Will Tebb (Avalon)

Locana Cullen (Avalon)

Liam Gason (Collaroy)

Ben Zanatta (Manly)

Balin Cullen (Avalon

Lucas Leal (Dee Why)

Will Tebb (Avalon)

Photos by Lighthouse Photography

What Is The Beaufort Scale?

I had a youngster ask me what the Beaufort Scale is recently and thought, as so many of us get in or on the water, sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, it may be a good idea to check that knowing what this is is being passed on to others as well.

The Beaufort scale is an empirical measure that relates wind speed to observed conditions at sea or on land. Its full name is the Beaufort wind force scale. It depicts the force of wind by a series of numbers from 0 to 17 with the last five numbers only applying to tropical typhoons.

Wind is made up of gusts and lulls. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology's forecasts of wind speed and direction are the average of these gusts and lulls, measured over a 10-minute period at a height of 10 metres above sea level. The gusts during any 10-minute period are typically 40% higher than the average wind speed. For example, when the average wind speed is 25 knots, it is normal to experience gusts of 35 knots and lulls of lighter winds. Thunderstorm and squalls may produce even stronger gusts.

Wind speed usually increases with height above the sea-surface, so winds at the surface are not typically as strong as they are at 10 metres, where wind is measured and forecast by the Bureau.

A wind forecast range (for example, 10 to 15 knots) may be given when the wind speed is expected to vary significantly within a coastal area. The wind direction is based on true north orientation and is the direction the wind is blowing from. For example, a northerly wind is blowing from the north towards the south. Wind speed and direction can be influenced significantly by the local environment. Cliffs and other landscape features will affect winds near the shore.

Beaufort Wind Scale
The Beaufort wind scale measures wind speed according to the impact the wind has on the land and sea. Although the system is old (first developed in 1805 by Sir Francis Beaufort), it remains a widely used system to measure wind speed today. 

The table below describes what can be expected for each level of the scale and the relationship to the forecast average wind speed values.

Beauf. scale Desc. term Units in knots  Description on Land Description at Sea
BOm Table

Checking wind conditions is one of the five vital weather safety checks everyone should complete before heading out on the water. Those five checks are:
  1. Marine warnings: The Bureau of Meteorology issues a range of warnings for marine areas when dangerous winds and waves are expected.
  2. Changing weather: Take note of forecasts indicating reduced visibility from fog or rain, or risks to safety and comfort from thunderstorms, lightning or squall conditions. Some forecasts will also include information on UV levels and the times of day to use sun protection.
  3. Wind conditions: Winds of any speed can be hazardous for boating. Know the limits of your vessel and your abilities. A typical rule of thumb is for small craft to avoid winds greater than 15 knots.  Marine wind warnings are issued whenever strong winds, gales, storm force or hurricane force winds are expected. The six things you need to know about wind warnings will help you understand how to get these warnings, and what to do when they are issued.
  4. Wave conditions: It is important to know what wave conditions are forecast, as waves can make your boating trip dangerous and uncomfortable - especially close to the coast where the waves enter shallower water.
  5. Tide times: Knowing when high and low tide will occur is important for boats entering and exiting river entrances and crossing bars. The combination of an outgoing tidal flow or low tide can cause waves to become steeper than usual, making your boat difficult to navigate. The changing tide over the day can cover rock platforms or reefs at high tide, whilst exposing them and creating a hazard at low tide.
Devised in 1805 by the Irish hydrographer Francis Beaufort (later Rear Admiral), a Royal Navy officer, while serving on HMS Woolwich, the scale that carries Beaufort's name had a long and complex evolution from the previous work of others (including Daniel Defoe the century before) to when Beaufort was Hydrographer of the Navy in the 1830s, when it was adopted officially and first used during the voyage of HMS Beagle under Captain Robert FitzRoy, who was later to set up the first Meteorological Office (Met Office) in Britain giving regular weather forecasts. In the 18th century, naval officers made regular weather observations, but there was no standard scale and so they could be very subjective – one man's "stiff breeze" might be another's "soft breeze". Beaufort succeeded in standardising the scale.

The initial scale of thirteen classes (zero to twelve) did not reference wind speed numbers but related qualitative wind conditions to effects on the sails of a frigate, then the main ship of the Royal Navy, from "just sufficient to give steerage" to "that which no canvas sails could withstand".

The scale was made a standard for ship's log entries on Royal Navy vessels in the late 1830s and was adapted to non-naval use from the 1850s, with scale numbers corresponding to cup anemometer rotations. In 1853, the Beaufort scale was accepted as generally applicable at the First International Meteorological Conference in Brussels.

In 1916, to accommodate the growth of steam power, the descriptions were changed to how the sea, not the sails, behaved and extended to land observations. Rotations to scale numbers were standardized only in 1923. George Simpson, CBE (later Sir George Simpson), director of the UK Meteorological Office, was responsible for this and for the addition of the land-based descriptors. The measures were slightly altered some decades later to improve its utility for meteorologists. Nowadays, meteorologists typically express wind speed in kilometres or miles per hour or, for maritime and aviation purposes, knots; but Beaufort scale terminology is still sometimes used in weather forecasts for shipping and the severe weather warnings given to the public.

The Beaufort scale was extended in 1946 when forces 13 to 17 were added.] However, forces 13 to 17 were intended to apply only to special cases, such as tropical cyclones. Nowadays, the extended scale is only used in Taiwan and mainland China, which are often affected by typhoons. Internationally, WMO Manual on Marine Meteorological Services (2012 edition) defined the Beaufort Scale only up to force 12 and there was no recommendation on the use of the extended scale.

Sir Francis Beaufort. Image: Stephen Pearce - Royal Museums Greenwich

Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort KCB FRS FRGS FRAS MRIA (May 27, 1774 – December 17, 1857) was descended from French Protestant Huguenots, who fled the French Wars of Religion in the sixteenth century. His parents moved to Ireland from London. His father, Daniel Augustus Beaufort, was a Protestant clergyman from Navan, County Meath, Ireland, and a member of the learned Royal Irish Academy. His mother Mary was the daughter and co-heiress of William Waller, of Allenstown House. 

Francis was born in Navan on 27 May 1774. He had an older brother, William Louis Beaufort and three sisters, Frances, Harriet, and Louisa. His father created and published a new map of Ireland in 1792. Francis grew up in Wales and Ireland until age fourteen. He left school and went to sea, but never stopped his education. By later in life, he had become sufficiently self-educated to associate with some of the greatest scientists and applied mathematicians of his time, including Mary Somerville, John Herschel, George Biddell Airy, and Charles Babbage.

Francis Beaufort had a lifelong keen awareness of the value of accurate charts for those risking the seas, as he was shipwrecked at the age of fifteen due to a faulty chart. His most significant accomplishments were in nautical charting.


2022 Schools Spectacular 

Students and staff participating in the 2022 Schools Spectacular are representing the following local NSW public schools:
  • Avalon Public School
  • Belrose Arts Alive
  • Collaroy Plateau Public School
  • Curl Curl North Public School
  • Davidson High School
  • Elanora Heights Public School
  • Forestville Public School
  • Harbord Public School
  • Killarney Heights High School
  • Mona Vale Public School
  • Narrabeen Lakes Public School
  • Narrabeen Sports High School
  • Neutral Bay Public School
  • Northern Beaches Secondary College Cromer Campus
  • Northern Beaches Secondary College Freshwater Senior Campus
  • Northern Beaches Secondary College Mackellar Girls Campus
  • Northern Beaches Secondary College Manly Campus
  • Pittwater High School
Did you know that  the Schools Spectacular is Australia's longest-running annual arena variety show? 
The Schools Spectacular:
  • has taken place annually at Qantas Credit Union Arena (formerly known as the Sydney Entertainment Centre) since 1984, and in 2016 was held at the Qudos Bank Arena.
  • in 2016, set a new GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS TM for the Largest Amateur Variety Act with over 5,300 students performing in the show!
  • is an established and well-recognised event on the Sydney live entertainment calendar
  • showcases a cast of 2,300 dancers, a combined choir of 2,500, an 80-piece full symphony orchestra, and a 25-piece stage band
  • delivers outstanding, cutting-edge artistry in dance and musical performance
  • features state-of-the-art sound, lighting and staging
  • is televised nationally in prime-time on Channel 7.
The Schools Spectacular is a remarkable New South Wales success story proudly presented by the NSW Department of Education.

Now in its 39th year the 2022 edition will be back at the Qudos Bank Arena after two years live on stage. Good luck to all those taking part!
  • Dates: show week rehearsals – Monday 21 November to Thursday 24 November 2022, including final combined dance rehearsal, orchestra and stage band sound checks, mass choir rehearsal and dress rehearsal.
  • Performances: Friday, 25 November, and Saturday, 26 November 2022, including the schools’ preview matinee, Friday evening, Saturday matinee and Saturday evening performances.

Ho Ho Ho ... Pencil In This Date

The popular Christmas card competition has been expanded to more primary school students.

‘All I want for Christmas’ is the theme of this year’s competition for students to design a Christmas card for the Minister for Education and Early Learning, Sarah Mitchell, and senior department executives.

The annual competition is now open to students from Kindergarten to Year 6.

The winning artist will have their artwork featured on the Minister’s 2022 Christmas card and receive a book pack and 20 copies of the card. The runners up will feature on cards for the Department of Education Secretary, Georgina Harrisson, and Deputy Secretaries – School Performance, Murat Dizdar and Leanne Nixon.

The competition has previously been open only to Kindergarten students. Last year’s winning image from Hayley Shepard from Surveyors Creek Public School in Glenmore Park featured a dream of waking up to a puppy in Santa’s stocking.

Doggone it: Hayley Shepherd and Education Minister Sarah Mitchell hold Hayley's winning design.

How to enter

Schools can submit artwork entries on behalf of students by email to by 5pm on 17 October 2022. Please name saved artwork files in the format of schoolname-firstname-lastname.png, such as Christmas-PS-Santa-Claus.png.

Artworks can be created in any medium but should be no larger than 21cm x 30cm (A4). The artworks may be in portrait or landscape format.

The winning artists will be notified by 29 October 2022.

Kindergarten In Sydney In 1968

From the Film Australia Collection.  Made by the Commonwealth Film Unit 1968. A look at how a group of Sydney children spend their day at kindergarten.

Spring Things: Pittwater Butterflies

Over the next few weeks and months we will see a lot more butterflies flitting around our gardens. This week we share some of those you may see. Perhasp you remmeber a few years ago when a cloud of these butterflies flew over our area, heading out to sea:

Caper White Butterfly, Elenois java, - photo by A J Guesdon, November 20, 2020

The Blue Triangle Butterfly - Graphium sarpedon choredon, is just one of around 400 butterflies seen in Australia with a dozen endemic species and even some of the world's largest found only here.

Cairns birdwing (Ornithoptera euphorion): Australia's largest endemic butterfly, photo by Lepidlizard, and side view taken at Melbourne zoo by fir0002 - both from Wikipedia

The Cairns birdwing butterfly wingspan can be up to 15 cm (5.9 in) in females, and 12.5 cm (4.9 in) in males. A closely allied species, the New Guinea or Priam's birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) reaches 19 cm (7.5 in) and is the largest butterfly species found in Australia, but it is not endemic. 

Australia butterflies come from seven families: Papilionidae: swallowtails, Nymphalidae: brush– or four-footed, Pieridae: whites and yellows, Coliadinae: yellows, Riodinidae: metalmarks, Lycaenidae: gossamer-winged blues and coppers, and Hesperiidae: skippers.

September through April is when see the most butterflies through Sydney, although some are spotted during the cooler months of May and June as well. There is a great webpage hosted here which lists many of the butterflies you will see in Sydney.

The Blue Triangle Butterfly, like the Cairns birdwing, are Swallowtail butterflies - the large, colourful butterflies in the family Papilionidae, and include over 550 species. Though the majority are tropical, members of the family inhabit every continent except Antarctica.

The Blue Triangle is also known for being excellent of vision - from a 2016 study:

When researchers studied the eyes of Common Bluebottles, a species of swallowtail butterfly from Australasia, they were in for a surprise. These butterflies have large eyes and use their blue-green iridescent wings for visual communication -- evidence that their vision must be excellent. Even so, no-one expected to find that Common Bluebottles (Graphium sarpedon) have at least 15 different classes of "photoreceptors" -- light-detecting cells comparable to the rods and cones in the human eye. Previously, no insect was known to have more than nine.
"We have studied color vision in many insects for many years, and we knew that the number of photoreceptors varies greatly from species to species. But this discovery of 15 classes in one eye was really stunning," says Kentaro Arikawa, Professor of Biology at Sokendai (the Graduate University for Advanced Studies), Hayama, Japan and lead author of the study.
Have multiple classes of photoreceptors is indispensable for seeing color. Each class is stimulated by light of some wavelengths, and less or not at all by other wavelengths. By comparing information received from the different photoreceptor classes, the brain is able to distinguish colors.

Photographed at Surf Road, Whale Beach 

Another swallowtail that visits Sydney from October to May is the Papilio aegeus, the orchard swallowtail butterfly or large citrus butterfly. Both male and female have black forewings with a white stripe, though there is more white overall on the female forewing. The hindwing is again black, and there is a white swath through the middle. Here the markings differ in that the female has chains of red to orange and blue crescents toward the edge. The markings on the underside are similar to those on top. The body is black. The wingspan is about 140 millimetres (5.5 in) in females and 120 millimetres (4.7 in) in males, making it rather large overall and the largest butterfly commonly seen in at least part of its range.

Orchard Swallowtail butterfly female (Papilio aegeus) taken in Cairns, Queensland by Summerdrought, CC BY-SA 4.0

Papilio aegeus Donovan, 1805 (Orchard Swallowtail), male, Black Mountain, Canberra, ACT, 14 February 2011 - photo by Donald Hobern, CC BY 2.0

Despite being a swallowtail, which group derives its name from the distinctive tails on the hindwing, this characteristic is entirely absent.

The swallowtail butterflies also lead to pointing out another fact - new butterflies are still being discovered - for example, this news ran in our Environment page a few years ago:

New species of Swallowtail butterfly discovered in Fiji
October 30, 2018: University of Oxford

A spectacular new butterfly species has been discovered on the Pacific Island of Vanua Levu in Fiji. The species, named last week as Papilio natewa after the Natewa Peninsula where it was found, is a remarkable discovery in a location where butterfly wildlife was thought to be well known.

The large Swallowtail was first photographed in 2017 by Australian ornithologist Greg Kerr, working with Operation Wallacea, an international organisation which supports school students in science projects.

Specialists around the world were puzzled when Kerr's photograph was sent for identification. It was not until earlier this year, during a second fieldtrip to Fiji, that it was confirmed as a species new to science by John Tennent, Honorary Associate at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and Scientific Associate of the Natural History Museum, London.

"For such an unusual and large new butterfly to be discovered somewhere we thought was so well known is remarkable," said John Tennant, who is a Pacific butterfly specialist. The species was named by Tennant and colleagues in Fiji and Australia in a paper published this month in Entomologischer Verein Apollo.

Tennant has spent long periods in the Pacific, including the Solomon Islands and eastern Papua New Guinea and has found and named over a hundred new species and subspecies of butterflies in the last 25 years. But he describes the new Natewa Swallowtail as "easily the most spectacular." The find is especially remarkable because there are only two Swallowtail butterfly species previously known from this part of the Pacific, and only one from Fiji.

"Because they are large, conspicuous and often beautiful in appearance, Swallowtail butterflies have been intensively studied for over 150 years," says James Hogan, manager of butterfly (Lepidoptera) collections at Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

"To find a new species like this, not only in a small and reasonably well-studied area like Fiji, but also one which looks unlike any other Swallowtail is truly exceptional. For John Tennent, Greg Kerr and the rest of the team this really is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery."

The Natewa Swallowtail has remained undiscovered for so long perhaps due to its habits and the geological history of the islands. Unusually for a Swallowtail, it seems to be a true forest species, spending most of its life inside the forest at elevations above 250 metres, on land with restrict access rights.

"It does make you wonder what else awaits discovery in the world's wild places. The key to finding new and interesting things is simply to go and look," adds Tennant.

An online version of this story is available on the Oxford University Museum of Natural History blog, More than a Dodo, at:

The large Swallowtail, now named Papilio natewa, was first photographed in 2017 by Australian ornithologist Greg Kerr, working with Operation Wallacea.

Papilio natewa was one of four new species of butterflies discovered or named in 2018; the Cyllopsis tomemmeli in Mexico, named for Thomas Emmel, now 76 and an internationally recognised Lepidoptera expert at the University of Florida, who went on his first expedition at age 17, Wahydra graslieae, named to honour Emily Graslie the Field Museum in Chicago's chief curiosity correspondent, and Catasticta sibyllae, named for Maria Sibylla Merian an artist who sailed across the Atlantic on a largely self-funded scientific expedition to document the animals and plants of Dutch Suriname in 1699.

In 2017 there were more 'new' butterflies discovered, some among collections not yet examined and some found 'in the field' as Mr. Kerr did, including this one - 

This is Acentria's fritillary (Melitaea acentria), a new butterfly species discovered in Israel on the slopes of the popular Mount Hermon ski resort. Credit: Dr Vladimir Lukhtanov; CC-BY 4.0

The Acentria's fritillary seems to be endemic in northern Israel and the neighbouring territories of Syria and Lebanon. Its evolutionary history is likely to prove interesting.

"The species is probably one of a handful of butterflies known to have arisen through hybridisation between two other species in the past," says Lukhtanov. "This process is known to be common in plants, but scientists have only recently realised it might also be present in butterflies."

This is the first new butterfly species discovered and described from the territory of Israel in 109 years.

Vladimir A. Lukhtanov. A new species of Melitaea from Israel, with notes on taxonomy, cytogenetics, phylogeography and interspecific hybridization in the Melitaea persea complex (Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae). Comparative Cytogenetics, 2017; 11 (2): 325 DOI: 10.3897/CompCytogen.v11i2.12370

A perusal of science articles shows that new species of Butterflies are always being discovered - and well worth keeping an eye out for.

Another butterfly specific to here is the Australian painted lady (Vanessa kershawi) butterfly is mostly confined to Australia, although westerly winds have dispersed it to islands east of Australia, including New Zealand. Some debate surrounds the taxonomy of this species. Some believe that the Australian painted lady should be a subspecies of the painted lady (Vanessa cardui) due to the similarity in lifestyle and behaviour. Furthermore, the painted lady is found around the globe, but Australia is the only location in which it varies enough to be considered a separate species.

This can be seen around Sydney at any time except Winter. The Australian painted lady belongs to the family Nymphalidae and genus Vanessa, which compromises 22 species, which are strongly migratory.

Australian painted lady on yellow flower - photo by Gaetan Lee - Flickr

During spring, adult butterflies migrate south in large numbers from northern states of Queensland and New South Wales. To find mates, male Australian painted ladies exhibit territorial behaviour, which involves a male perching on vegetation in a sunny spot on a hilltop, waiting for females to fly by.

Despite urbanisation and invasive plants altering its habitat, populations of Australian painted ladies have not been significantly impacted by these changes.

The life cycle of the Australian painted lady lasts around 53 days in the summer. The females lay eggs in the centre of the leaf of food plants. The eggs are green and hatch in about three days. As a caterpillar, the Australian painted lady is only active at night, during which its main activity is feeding. During the day, it hides in a curled leaf or at the foot of a food plant. The pupa hangs vertically from the underside of the leaf of a food plant, and the duration of the pupal stage is about two weeks.

The Australian painted lady typically uses the native Australian everlastings and other daisies as a host and food plant. However, it also feeds on several introduced species, including capeweed (Arctotheca calendula), Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthium), and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). The adults feed on the nectar of flowers.

Another in the Nymphalidae family, which can be seen in Sydney at just about anytime and anywhere, is the Monarch butterfly or simply Wanderer (Danaus plexippus). These live for around four months and spend pretty much all of that time doing what their name describes - wandering!

Monarch Butterfly, female - photographed in May by Kenneth Dwain Harrelson, CC BY-SA 3.0

One photographed at Narrabeen in 2015 by A J Guesdon

In September, 2013 - photo by A J Guesdon

The name "monarch" is believed to be given in honour of King William III of England, whose secondary title Prince of Orange makes a reference to the butterfly's main colour. The monarch was originally described by Carl Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae of 1758 and placed in the genus Papilio. In 1780, Jan Krzysztof Kluk used the monarch as the type species for a new genus Danaus.

Danaus, a great-grandson of Zeus, was a mythical king in Egypt or Libya, who founded Argos; Plexippus was one of the 50 sons of Aegyptus, the twin brother of Danaus. In Homeric Greek, his name means "one who urges on horses", i.e. "rider" or "charioteer". In the 10th edition of Systema Naturae, at the bottom of page 467, Linnaeus wrote that the names of the Danai festivi, the division of the genus to which Papilio plexippus belonged, were derived from the sons of Aegyptus. Linnaeus divided his large genus Papilio, containing all known butterfly species, into what we would now call subgenera. The Danai festivi formed one of the "subgenera", containing colourful species, as opposed to the Danai candidi, containing species with bright white wings. Linnaeus wrote: "Danaorum Candidorum nomina a filiabus Danai Aegypti, Festivorum a filiis mutuatus sunt." (English: "The names of the Danai candidi have been derived from the daughters of Danaus, those of the Danai festivi from the sons of Aegyptus.")

Robert Michael Pyle suggested Danaus is a masculine version of Danaë, Danaus's great-great-granddaughter, to whom Zeus came as a shower of gold, which seemed to him a more appropriate source for the name of this butterfly.

Among the Pieridae family we can see Eurema brigitta from December to April, usually staying low to the ground. The Pieridae are a large family of butterflies with about 76 genera containing about 1,100 species, mostly from tropical Africa and tropical Asia with some varieties in the more northern regions of North America. Most pierid butterflies are white, yellow, or orange in coloration, often with black spots. The pigments that give the distinct colouring to these butterflies are derived from waste products in the body and are a characteristic of this family.

The name "butterfly" is believed to have originated from a member of this family, the brimstone, Gonepteryx rhamni, which was called the "butter-coloured fly" by early British naturalists.

Eurema brigitta has a wingspan is 30–35 mm.

Eurema brigitta on bright yellow dandelion flower - photo by A J Guesdon, April 2016

Another in the same family Pieridae you may see almost year round is the introduced Pieris rapae, the small white, is a small to medium-sized butterfly species of the whites-and-yellows family Pieridae. It is also known as the small cabbage white and in New Zealand, simply as white butterfly. The names "cabbage butterfly" and "cabbage white" can also refer to the large white. The butterfly can be distinguished by the white colour with small black dots on its wings. They are further distinguished by the smaller size and lack of the black band at the tip of their forewings.

Photo by A J Guesdon, November 2015

It is widespread and is believed to have originated in Europe or Asia. It is also found in North Africa and was accidentally introduced to North America, Bermuda, Australia and New Zealand. The caterpillar of this species is seen as a pest for commercial agriculture. Often referred to as the "imported cabbageworm" they are a serious pest to cabbage and other mustard family crops.

So for those who ascribe to Shakespeare's line from Hamlet - There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy - have a closer look next time you see something colourful flitting by - you may be the first to do so.


Butterflies of Australia:

List of butterflies of Australia. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Early Autumn Butterfly - picture by A J Guesdon, 8.3.2014

Bumblebees And Honeybees

By SciShow Kids

You see them when it’s warm outside, hanging out in flowers and working away. Bees! Check out what these buzzing insects are up to, and how you can tell the difference between a bumblebee and a honey bee.

All About Frogs For Youngsters

By Free School

With thousands of known species, frogs and toads make up more than 88% of all known amphibians on earth. Frogs have peculiar skin that allows them to breathe both above and under the water. Learn really cool facts and trivia about frogs in this brief, child-friendly documentary, including a section on poison dart frogs and the metamorphosis from tadpole to frog.

How To Draw A Penguin In Just 3 Minutes! 

Earth Sketch Pad | BBC Earth Kids

How do ants crawl on walls? A biologist explains their sticky, spiky, gravity-defying grip

Walking vertically – or even upside down – is a piece of cake for ants. pecchio/iStock via Getty Images Plus
Deby CassillUniversity of South Florida

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

How do ants crawl on walls? – Ethan, age 9, Dallas, Texas

When I first started my job as a biologist at the University of South Florida, I drove my Jeep to a grassy field, dug up a mound of fire ants and shoveled it into a 5-gallon bucket. Immediately, thousands of ants swarmed out of the soil and up the walls of the bucket headed for freedom. Luckily I had a lid.

How do ants make climbing walls, ceilings and other surfaces look so easy? I’ve been studying ants for 30 years, and their climbing abilities never cease to amaze me.

Worker ants – who are all female – have an impressive toolbox of claws, spines, hairs and sticky pads on their feet that enable them to scale almost any surface.

Human Hands Vs. Ant Feet

To understand ant feet, it helps to compare them with human hands. Your hand has one broad segment, the palm. Sprouting from your palm are four fingers and an opposable thumb. Each finger has three segments, while your thumb has only two segments. A hard nail grows from the tips of your fingers and thumb.

Humans have two hands – ants have six feet. Ant feet are similar to your hands but are more complex, with an additional set of weird-looking parts that enhance them.

A microscopic view of an ant's foot, with segments numbered. Labeled are claw, thick spine, thin spine and hairs.
A closeup view of one multisegmented ant foot. Each foot is lined with spiky tools that help grip almost any surface. Deby CassillCC BY-ND

Ant feet have five jointed segments, with the end segment sporting a pair of claws. The claws are shaped like a cat’s and can grip irregularities on walls. Each foot segment also has thick and thin spines and hairs that provide additional traction by sticking into microscopic pits on textured surfaces like bark. Claws and spines have the added benefit of protecting ant feet from hot pavement and sharp objects, just as your feet are protected by shoes.

But the feature that truly separates human hands from ant feet are inflatable sticky pads, called arolia.

Sticky Feet

Arolia are located between the claws at the tip of every ant foot. These balloonlike pads allow ants to defy gravity and crawl on ceilings or ultrahard surfaces like glass.

A microscopic view of a fire ant's foot. The end shows two retracted claws revealing an inflated pillow like structure.
Inflatable sticky pads bring the cling. Deby CassillCC BY-ND

When an ant walks up a wall or across a ceiling, gravity causes its claws to swing wide and pull back. At the same time, its leg muscles pump fluids into the pads at the end of its feet, causing them to inflate. This body fluid is called hemolymph, which is a sticky fluid similar to your blood that circulates throughout an ant’s body.

After the hemolymph pumps up the pad, some of it leaks outside the pad, which is how ants can stick to a wall or a ceiling. But when an ant picks up its foot, its leg muscles contract and suck most of the fluid back into the pad and then back up the leg. This way an ant’s blood is reused over and over – pumped from the leg into the pad, then sucked back up the leg – so none is left behind.

Ant feet in action on glass. Courtesy of Deby Cassill.

Ants are feather-light, so six sticky pads are enough to hold them against the pull of gravity on any surface. In fact, at home in their underground chambers, ants use their sticky pads to sleep on the ceiling. By sleeping on the ceiling, ants avoid the rush-hour traffic of other ants on the chamber floors.

A Unique Gait

When you walk, your left and right feet alternate so one is on the ground while the other is in the air, moving forward. Ants also alternate their feet, with three on the surface and three in the air at a time.

A computer simulation showing an ant’s special walk. Created by Shihui Guo.

The walking pattern of ants is unique among six-legged insects. In ants, the front and back left feet are on the ground with the middle right foot, while the front and back right feet and the middle left foot are in the air. Then they switch. It’s fun to try to copy this triangular pattern using three fingers on each hand.

The next time you see an ant crawling up a wall, look closely and you might witness some of these fascinating features at work.

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

Deby Cassill, Associate Professor of Integrative Biology, University of South Florida

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

Curious Kids: what is exotic matter, and could we use it to make wormholes?

Carolyn DevereuxUniversity of Hertfordshire

What is exotic matter, and could we use it to make wormholes? – Julia, aged 14, London

Matter is “stuff”. It is anything that is made up of particles that take up space. Everything we can feel and see on Earth is matter, and it’s usually in one of three types: solid, liquid or gas. This could be the chair you’re sitting on, sea water, or the helium in a balloon.

There are other types of matter that do not behave like the gases, liquids or solids that we normally encounter on Earth. The ones that behave in the weirdest ways are called exotic matter.

We can create exotic matter in laboratories by cooling some materials to very low temperatures. Extremely cold helium is one example. It is called superfluid helium, and is a liquid that can climb walls.

Experiments with liquid helium.

It’s possible that exotic matter could one day explain some of the mysteries of space. It might be a key ingredient for making a wormhole.

Bending Space And Time

A wormhole is something that connects two places in the universe by bending space. A wormhole has never been found, but if it did exist then it could obey our laws of gravity.

In 1687, scientist Isaac Newton said that gravity is created by the mass of an object. The mass of an object is the amount of matter in it. This means that the more matter there is in the object then the bigger the gravitational pull towards that object.

Curious Kids is a series by The Conversation that gives children the chance to have their questions about the world answered by experts. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to and make sure you include the asker’s first name, age and town or city. We won’t be able to answer every question, but we’ll do our very best.

In 1915, physicist Albert Einstein changed our view of what creates gravity.

Einstein said that matter bends space. He said that moving objects will follow the curvature of this bent space, and it is this that creates the effect of gravity.

Black and white photograph of man with moustache
Albert Einstein in 1921, when he won the Nobel Prize for physics. Nobel Foundation archive/Wikimedia Commons

For example, Earth is made of matter, and it makes the space around it bend. When objects move around the Earth they follow the bent space which makes them fall towards Earth. This is what we call gravity.

This curving of space caused by matter also affects time. The more curved space is, then the slower time passes. Because space and time are so closely connected, we often talk about space-time when investigating how the universe works.

A wormhole is formed by space-time curving in such a way that a tunnel forms between two separate regions in the universe. Where the tunnel comes out into space it is called the “mouth”. A wormhole has two mouths that can be separated by an enormous distance, and the tunnel itself is called the “throat”.

Creating A Wormhole

One type of exotic matter that could be related to wormholes is matter with negative mass. All matter we know has a positive mass and is attracted to other matter due to gravity – like an apple falling to Earth. Matter with a negative mass would push other matter away from it.

The physicist Kip Thorne proposed that negative matter would be needed to keep a wormhole stable once it has formed. We have never detected negative matter, and we do not even know what it would look like, but it is something that we can put into equations and understand how it would behave if it did exist.

Although we can say what a wormhole is, we do not know how to create one, so we cannot know if exotic matter can make wormholes.

Wormholes are interesting to scientists and science fiction writers because there is a possibility that wormholes could link two regions in space that are far apart. If they did exist, we could perhaps travel vast distances across the universe in a short time.The Conversation

Carolyn Devereux, Senior Lecturer in Astrophysics, University of Hertfordshire

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

Dementia Action Week
19 – 25 September 2022

Dementia impacts close to half a million Australians and almost 1.6 million Australians are involved in their care. The number of people living with dementia is set to double in the next 25 years. With so many people impacted now and into the future, it is vital we clear up some of the prevailing misconceptions about dementia.

People living with dementia can live active and fulfilling lives many years after diagnosis. Despite this, they often experience discrimination. In a Dementia Australia survey, more than 70 per cent of people believed discrimination towards people with dementia is common or very common.

The concept for Dementia Action Week was developed in consultation with Dementia Advocates, who have a lived experience of dementia. The ‘A little support makes a big difference’ campaign demonstrates that many people living with dementia can continue to live well for many years after their diagnosis. In 2021, the focus was also on supporting and celebrating carers of people living with dementia.

The campaign provides information and tips to encourage all Australians to increase their understanding of dementia and learn how they can make a difference to the lives of people around them who are impacted – and to help eliminate discrimination. These include simple and practical tips to:
  • Give a little support to a person living with dementia.
  • Give a little support to a carer, friend or family member of a person living with dementia.
  • Help healthcare professionals make their practice more dementia-friendly.
This awareness-raising campaign continues to lead the discussion about discrimination, which we know has a big impact on people living with dementia, their families and carers. The good news is, there is a lot that can be done to improve their experiences. To find out how you can make a difference please visit our campaign site by clicking the link below:

We encourage community organisations, partners and supporters  to register your interest to receive further information about Dementia Action Week 2022, discrimination and dementia.

Celebrities Combine Forces And Voices To Support People Impacted By Dementia + National Dementia Helpline Now 24/7

Celebrity supporters, Ambassadors, Patron Ita Buttrose AC OBE and a person living with dementia have combined forces and lent their voices to an audiobook version of Dementia Australia’s Dementia Guide.  

The Dementia Guide is the go-to online resource for any person impacted by any form of dementia, of any age, in any location across Australia,” Ms Buttrose said. 

“Speaking for the voices team, I know we have all been thrilled to contribute to The Dementia Guide Audiobook to increase the accessibility to vital information about dementia and the support available. 

“Each person who has shared their voice has had an experience of dementia in their family and we have done this to raise awareness and help others to know they are not alone and that there is support available.” 

Dementia Australia Ambassadors and voices Natarsha Belling, Stephanie Bendixsen, Takaya Honda, Mark Seymour, Denis Walter OAM, Pat Welsh and celebrity supporters Rhonda Burchmore OAM and Geraldine Hickey wholeheartedly echo Ita’s words and have enthusiastically backed the project. 

Not just for people living with dementia, The Dementia Guide is also for friends, families and carers, and talks to the impact dementia may have on a person, the treatment, support and services they may need, and how loved ones can provide support.  

Stephanie Bendixsen, video game critic and television presenter, said she added her voice to the audiobook as she sees the value in a more accessible resource for families, such as hers, who need to navigate life with dementia.  

“My mother passed away from Alzheimer's disease in 2018, and we really knew so little about dementia when she was diagnosed,” Ms Bendixsen said.   

“This made it difficult to understand why certain things were happening with her behaviourally, and we struggled to understand what was truly going on inside her brain, how her physicality was affected and how best we could support her and my Dad, her main carer, as a family.  

“Resources like this are so very valuable, and their accessibility even more so. Even though I consider myself a big reader - finding the time to sit down and read a book can be tricky when you have a busy lifestyle. I switched to audiobooks years ago so that I can absorb books while I'm driving, walking the dog, doing chores - it's been life-changing. An easily accessible resource like this would have made a wonderful difference to me and my family when we were coming to terms with how Mum's - and our lives - would change.”   

The audiobook includes a welcome from Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe AM and a chapter recorded by Ann Pietsch, who is a Dementia Advocate and lives with dementia.  

“I was invited to read one of the chapters and I personally think that The Dementia Guide is a valuable resource, making it available as an audio book is a great idea as it will now be easily available to more people living with dementia, carers, and families and the wider public,” Mrs Pietsch said. 

Ann speaks to the value of The Dementia Guide in her own personal circumstances when she was first diagnosed with dementia.  

“I would have been able to effortlessly pass on the details of the audiobook to my children and family and friends, so they could learn about dementia and my specific dementia, and the issues I might face whilst living with dementia. Then in their own time they could have chosen to listen to reliable dementia information and used any of the resources.”  

Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe AM said The Dementia Guide Audiobook is an important addition to our suite of support services and resources ensuring more people are able to access the support they need at a time that suits them. 

“Dementia Australia exists to empower people living with dementia, their families and carers to understand dementia and to manage their diagnosis on their terms,” Ms McCabe said.  

“We are committed to increasing accessibility to our services and the National Dementia Helpline, 1800 100 500, operated by Dementia Australia, is now available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. If someone has a diagnosis of dementia, or mild cognitive impairment, or is concerned about changes to their or a loved one’s cognition, Dementia Australia is here for them.  

“There is no reason too small, no issue too big and no time too late. This is a gamechanger because no one should have to face dementia alone at any time of day or night. 

“The National Dementia Helpline and The Dementia Guide are both invaluable and much-needed resources, especially as the number of people living with dementia is expected to grow from half a million Australians today, to more than one million by 2058.” 

Ms Bendixsen said sometimes there are scenarios that don't warrant an emergency or doctor response or there are moments when we need to reach out and feel we don’t want to burden others – through the night, the early morning, or times when family is busy or unavailable.  

“I think when carers or people living with dementia find themselves in a moment of panic, or indecision, or confusion - it's so hard to know where to turn first. A dementia diagnosis can be a frightening, lonely road for many people - and this Helpline will serve as a lantern in the fog. This Helpline is an invaluable resource and for many people even just knowing it is there will mean the world,” she said. 

Dementia Australia provides support and information to all Australians, of any age, impacted by all forms of dementia, including mild cognitive impairment, in any location across Australia. Ongoing support and information is available at every stage from pre, during and post-diagnosis. This includes support for people with concerns about changes in memory and thinking. 

The National Dementia Helpline, staffed by a highly-trained team, is a free 24/7 telephone service which provides information and support to people living with dementia, people concerned about changes to memory and thinking, people living with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), family, friends and carers of people living with dementia and people who work in health and aged care.  

By contacting Dementia Australia, you will have access to timely, reliable and expert information, advice and a wide range of programs to support you and your family and friends to live well with dementia. The National Dementia Helpline 24/7 service is available by phone, email or through our online chat function. Listen to and download The Dementia Guide free at

Dementia Australia is the source of trusted information, education and services for the estimated half a million Australians living with dementia, and the almost 1.6 million people involved in their care. We advocate for positive change and support vital research. We are here to support people impacted by dementia, and to enable them to live as well as possible. No matter how you are impacted by dementia or who you are, we are here for you. 

For support, please contact the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500. An interpreter service is available. The National Dementia Helpline is funded by the Australian Government. People looking for information can also visit  

Seven Healthy Lifestyle Habits May Reduce Dementia Risk For People With Diabetes

September 14, 2022
A combination of seven healthy lifestyle habits including sleeping seven to nine hours daily, exercising regularly and having frequent social contact was associated with a lower risk of dementia in people with type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in the September 14, 2022, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

"Type 2 diabetes is a worldwide epidemic that affects one in 10 adults, and having diabetes is known to increase a person's risk of developing dementia," said study author Yingli Lu, MD, PhD, of Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine in China. "We investigated whether a broad combination of healthy lifestyle habits could offset that dementia risk and found that people with diabetes who incorporated seven healthy lifestyle habits into their lives had a lower risk of dementia than people with diabetes who did not lead healthy lives."

For the study, researchers looked at a health care database in the United Kingdom and identified 167,946 people 60 or older with and without diabetes who did not have dementia at the start of the study. Participants completed health questionnaires, provided physical measurements and gave blood samples.

For each participant, researchers calculated a healthy lifestyle score of zero to seven, with one point for each of seven healthy habits. Habits included no current smoking, moderate alcohol consumption of up to one drink a day for women and up to two a day for men, regular weekly physical activity of at least 2.5 hours of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, and seven to nine hours of sleep daily. Another factor was a healthy diet including more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish and fewer refined grains, processed and unprocessed meats. The final habits were being less sedentary, which was defined as watching television less than four hours a day, and frequent social contact, which was defined as living with others, gathering with friends or family at least once a month and participating in social activities at least once a week or more often.

Researchers followed participants for an average of 12 years. During that time, 4,351 people developed dementia. A total of 4% of the people followed only zero to two of the healthy habits, 11% followed three, 22% followed four, 30% followed five, 24% followed six and 9% followed all seven.

People with diabetes who followed two or fewer of the seven healthy habits were four times more likely to develop dementia than people without diabetes who followed all seven healthy habits. People with diabetes who followed all of the habits were 74% more likely to develop dementia than those without diabetes who followed all the habits.

For people with diabetes who followed all the habits, there were 21 cases of dementia for 7,474 person years or 0.28%. Person-years represent both the number of people in the study and the amount of time each person spends in the study. For people with diabetes who followed only two or fewer habits, there were 72 cases of dementia for 10,380 person years or 0.69%. After adjusting for factors like age, education and ethnicity, people who followed all the habits had a 54% lower risk of dementia than those who followed two or fewer. Each additional healthy habit people followed was associated with an 11% decreased risk of dementia. The association between healthy lifestyle score and dementia risk was not affected by medications people took or how well they controlled their blood sugar.

"Our research shows that for people with type 2 diabetes, the risk of dementia may be greatly reduced by living a healthier lifestyle," Lu said. "Doctors and other medical professionals who treat people with diabetes should consider recommending lifestyle changes to their patients. Such changes may not only improve overall health, but also contribute to prevention or delayed onset of dementia in people with diabetes."

A limitation of the study was that people reported on their lifestyle habits and may not have remembered all details accurately. Lifestyle changes over time were also not captured.

The study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, Shanghai Ninth People's Hospital of Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine and other funders.

Bin Wang, Ying Sun, Xiao Tan, Jihui Zhang, Ningjian Wang, Yingli Lu. Association of Combined Healthy Lifestyle Factors With Incident Dementia in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes. Neurology, 2022; 10.1212/WNL.0000000000201231 DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000201231

Risk Factor For Developing Alzheimer's Disease Increases By 50-80% In Older Adults Who Caught COVID-19

September 13, 2022
Older people who were infected with COVID-19 show a substantially higher risk -- as much as 50% to 80% higher than a control group -- of developing Alzheimer's disease within a year, according to a study of more than 6 million patients 65 and older.

In a study published today in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, researchers report that people 65 and older who contracted COVID-19 were more prone to developing Alzheimer's disease in the year following their COVID diagnosis. And the highest risk was observed in women at least 85 years old.

The findings showed that the risk for developing Alzheimer's disease in older people nearly doubled (0.35% to 0.68%) over a one-year period following infection with COVID. The researchers say it is unclear whether COVID-19 triggers new development of Alzheimer's disease or accelerates its emergence.

"The factors that play into the development of Alzheimer's disease have been poorly understood, but two pieces considered important are prior infections, especially viral infections, and inflammation," said Pamela Davis, Distinguished University Professor and The Arline H. and Curtis F. Garvin Research Professor at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, the study's coauthor.

"Since infection with SARS-CoV2 has been associated with central nervous system abnormalities including inflammation, we wanted to test whether, even in the short term, COVID could lead to increased diagnoses," she said.

The research team analyzed the anonymous electronic health records of 6.2 million adults 65 and older in the United States who received medical treatment between February 2020 and May 2021 and had no prior diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.

They then divided this population two groups: one composed of people who contracted COVID-19 during that period, and another with people who had no documented cases of COVID-19. More than 400,000 people were enrolled in the COVID study group, while 5.8 million were in the non-infected group.

"If this increase in new diagnoses of Alzheimer's disease is sustained, the wave of patients with a disease currently without a cure will be substantial, and could further strain our long-term care resources," Davis said. "Alzheimer's disease is a serious and challenging disease, and we thought we had turned some of the tide on it by reducing general risk factors such as hypertension, heart disease, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. Now, so many people in the U.S. have had COVID and the long-term consequences of COVID are still emerging. It is important to continue to monitor the impact of this disease on future disability."

Rong Xu, the study's corresponding author, professor of Biomedical Informatics at the School of Medicine and director of the Center for AI in Drug Discovery, said the team plans to continue studying the effects of COVID-19 on Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders -- especially which subpopulations may be more vulnerable -- and the potential to repurpose FDA-approved drugs to treat COVID's long-term effects.

Previous COVID-related studies led by CWRU have found that people with dementia are twice as likely to contract COVID; those with substance abuse disorder orders are more likely to contract COVID; and that 5% of people who took Paxlovid for treatment of COVID symptoms experienced rebound infections within a month.

Lindsey Wang, Pamela B. Davis, Nora D. Volkow, Nathan A. Berger, David C. Kaelber, Rong Xu. Association of COVID-19 with New-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 2022; 89 (2): 411 DOI: 10.3233/JAD-220717

Men's Sheds Grants And Movember Improving Men's Health

The Australian Government is providing much needed funds to our men’s sheds.  
A total of $500,000 will be provided through the latest round of National Men’s Sheds Programme (NSDP) funding.  
Across Australia, 153 men’s sheds will receive up to $10,000. 
Funds will be used to buy computers, host health and wellbeing events, make shed improvements, or purchase tools to use in the shed.  
Men’s sheds seeking funding to purchase a defibrillator will also be able to apply at any time under a special category. 
The Government is also providing $400,000 over the next 18 months to charity organisation Movember to conduct a targeted review of health professional education on male health issues.  
Movember will lead a group of subject matter experts to identify gaps and improvement opportunities for the education of clinicians. This work will assist in removing barriers for men in accessing timely and appropriate health care. 
This work will assist in remove barriers for men in accessing timely and appropriate health care. 
Applications for the next round of NSDP open on Friday 19 August, with interested sheds encouraged to apply by Tuesday 27 September

Further information, including an application form for the next round, can be found here:
Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler said;
“Men’s sheds across Australia create a place of belonging for over a thousand local communities.
“The Albanese Government is providing this funding to men’s sheds so they can continue their important work.  
“Movember is synonymous with highlighting men’s health issues. 
“The Movember review continues efforts to realise improved health outcomes for Australian males through the implementation of the National Men’s Health Strategy 2020-2030.” 

What do aged care residents do all day? We tracked their time use to find out

Photo by cottonbro/PexelsCC BY
Joyce SietteWestern Sydney University and Laura DoddsMacquarie University

What’s the daily routine like for older people in residential aged care facilities?

To find out, we spent 312 hours observing 39 residents at six Australian aged care facilities to learn how and where they spend their time across the day. We wanted to know how socially engaged residents actually were and how this could affect their wellbeing.

Our study, published in the journal PLOS One, highlights some long-standing issues in aged care but also provides promise.

Residents were largely active, both in terms of communicating with other people in the centre and in terms of doing activities. But there’s more we can do to create opportunities for socialising.

There’s more we can do to create opportunities for socialising in residential aged care. Shutterstock

Humans Are A Social Species

Transitioning from life at home to life in aged care can be challenging, often linked with loss of independence, loss of identity, and loss of control.

Many also associate moving into aged care with a decline in their social lives and overall physical health.

So it’s no surprise people living in aged care homes suffer from generally low levels of wellbeing.

Previous research has found residents hardly attend activities in their facility. The conversations they do have are often with care staff – these are very rare, short, and mainly about their physical care.

However, previous studies often fail to capture critical aspects of how and where socialisation occurs in aged care.

We know humans are a social creatures and that we’re wired to connect, with more social connections boosting our overall wellbeing.

That’s why we decided to take a closer look at how aged care residents spend their time.

An older woman looks at a friend's phone.
Having good evidence on how people spend their time in aged care centres helps identify gaps so we can address them. Photo by Georg Arthur Pflueger on UnsplashCC BY

What We Found

During the 312 hours we spent observing 39 residents, we found a day in the life of a resident looks something like this:

  • waking up in the morning and getting ready for the day (with the help of personal care staff if necessary)

  • attending the dining room for breakfast and spending most of the morning in the common area or lounge room – perhaps participating in an activity run by the lifestyle staff at the facility – before returning to the dining room for lunch

  • after that, depending on whether there is an activity being organised, most will go back to their own rooms to recuperate before coming back to the dining room for dinner in the early evening.

We found social interactions peak at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Across the day, residents

  • spent the greatest proportion of time (45%) in their own room

  • were alone 47.9% of the time

  • were inactive 25.6% of the time

  • were most likely to chat with other residents, followed by staff, then family

  • outside of meal times, residents had conversations in the common area or in their own rooms.

Overall, residents spent more than half their time being socially and physically active.

Over a third of their time was spent with another resident. Spending time with other residents was most likely to be associated with a higher quality of life.

We also found spending time with staff or too much time alone was linked to poorer quality of life.

Older people play a board game.
Spending time with other aged care residents tends to be associated with a higher quality of life. Photo by Singapore Stock Photos on UnsplashCC BY

Creating Opportunities For Socially Active Lives

Based on our research, here are three things aged care providers and governments can do to improve older Australians’ wellbeing:

1. Improve staffing

Staff shortages and time pressures are key reasons why residents spend little time with staff.

Including more activities chosen and assisted by residents in aged care facilities could help create new social opportunities between residents and strengthen existing ones.

2. Tailor Montessori programs to the aged care environment

Montessori programs create a collaborative approach filled with self-directed activities with hands-on learning and play. Activities include things like sorting and recognising objects, completing puzzles, and practising opening locks.

Montessori programs in small groups or led by family members would suit the smaller staff to resident ratios in many aged care centres. They would also help residents (including those with dementia) regain some independence, feel less bored or isolated and have a sense of purpose.

3. Change the physical environment and offer more afternoon activities

Changing the physical environment to accommodate for more social spaces would go a long way to help.

Increasing the number of activities in the afternoon would mean residents have more opportunities to socialise with each other, especially those who are busy with personal care routines in the mornings.

Doing Residential Aged Care Differently

After media reports and a royal commission highlighted the failings of Australia’s aged care system, it’s time to think differently about aged care.

Our study reveals residents can and do socialise, and that it can significantly improve people’s quality of life.

We must now find ways to change aged care environments and practices to create more social opportunities.The Conversation

Joyce Siette, Research Fellow, Western Sydney University and Laura Dodds, Research assistant, Macquarie University

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

A Rugby Trip Inspired William To Take Some Brave Steps

Father of three William Yeates lives in Curl Curl. When he was diagnosed with Younger Onset Alzheimer’s Disease in 2019 at only 59 years old, it was a life changing moment for him and his family.

William completed a Pharmacy degree in 1980, which led him to a career in education as a senior teacher in chemistry, physics and mathematics, and as deputy principal in three schools. During a very satisfying career spanning 35 years, he also completed two Masters’ degrees.

Above: William Yeates near his home in Sydney's northern beaches. Source: Supplied.

After his diagnosis, William began to lose confidence in himself. He withdrew, no longer participating in activities that used to bring him satisfaction and enjoyment. Then an opportunity arose to return with close friends to his favourite country, Japan, for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. With twin Peter accompanying him as his carer, he took the plunge, thinking this trip would be his ‘last hurrah’.

During the trip William began to see another perspective: “Japan has its own unique but mysterious character, which I believe you can experience by immersing yourself in its daily life – the beautiful gardens, temples and shrines, the food, and meeting Japanese people who are so polite, friendly and respectful.”

“Or perhaps I started to see things differently because we were all behaving like 21-year-olds again! The friendship and camaraderie I experienced during that trip made me realise that life was too precious to be given up without a fight.”

“My father taught us that we all experience hurdles in life, but the important thing is what you decide to do when you get up. So while I was in Tokyo I made a life-altering decision to fight the disease.”

When he returned home, William embarked on his own personal journey: to rediscover a life that held value. Involvement in a clinical trial enabled him to return to volunteering as a surf lifesaver. From there he started competing in Masters swimming and lifesaving events, first at local level, then progressing to state and national level, but not before having to teach himself to swim again. 

“I nearly drowned the first time I got in the pool after my diagnosis. I started a neuro-cognitive training program with an exercise physiologist to help with my coordination, balance and reflexes. Now I’m just starting to swim butterfly. I also have my own swimming instructor, a friend I grew up with; I’m in his swimming squad.”

William is now looking forward to competing in the Lifesaving World Championships in Italy in late September.

“Being a schoolteacher and being a lifesaver previously, it was always about community. For me that’s an important aspect of my life, so being given the opportunity to do that again is really important. I'm also now back training kids in surf lifesaving, helping my twin brother.”

William is not thinking about slowing down any time soon. “I also recently travelled to London to present an abstract on a neuro-cognitive training program, which was so well received that the organisers have decided to post it on their YouTube channel during October this year. I’m pretty chuffed about that.”

“I want to inspire others living with dementia that it is still possible to live a full life.”

Above: William competes in the 2022 Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships at the Gold Coast. A neurocognitive training program helped give him the strength and confidence to return to competition swimming. Source: Supplied.

Dementia Action Week 2022 Insight: courtesy HammondCare Dementia Centre.

Cheaper Scripts For Millions

For the first time in its 75-year history, the maximum cost of general scripts under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) will fall.

Under a Bill tabled by the Australian Government last week, from 1 January 2023 millions of Australians will pay almost 30 per cent less for PBS scripts, with the maximum general co-payment dropping from $42.50 to $30.

This means that someone taking one medication a month could save as much as $150 every year, or for two or three medications as much as $300-$450 a year.

The maximum cost to general patients for PBS medications has doubled since 2000. This change fulfils the Government’s election promise to cut the cost of medicines and ease cost of living pressures for Australians.

National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia Professor Trent Twomey said "patients continue to tell community pharmacies of the increasing pressures of having to choose between food on the table and medicine for their family".

"Community pharmacies around the country thank and welcome the action taken by the Government to cut the out of pocket cost patients pay for medicines on the PBS," Professor Twomey said.

The Prime Minister said:
“I’m really pleased that we’re introducing this legislation to make many medicines cheaper for Australians.

“My Government is serious about delivering on our election commitments and easing the cost of living pressures left by the former government.”

Minister Butler said:
“The ABS advises that the high costs of medications meant close to 1 million Australians delayed or didn’t fill their medications in 2019-20. We must do better than this and we will.”

“Cutting their price by nearly one third will mean more people can afford to get the medications they need to stay healthy – without worrying so much about the price.”

“This change will put close to $200 million back in the pockets of Australians each year.”

Pace As Important As 10,000 Steps For Health

September 12, 2022
10,000 steps a day is the 'sweet spot' for lowered risk of disease and death, but how fast you walk could be just as important according to new research.

The studies, published in the journals JAMA Internal Medicine and JAMA Neurology, monitored 78, 500 adults with wearable trackers -- making these the largest studies to objectively track step count in relation to health outcomes.

The researchers from the University of Sydney, Australia and University of Southern Denmark found lowered risk of dementia, heart disease, cancer and death are associated with achieving 10,000 steps a day. However, a faster stepping pace like a power walk showed benefits above and beyond the number of steps achieved.

"The take-home message here is that for protective health benefits people could not only ideally aim for 10,000 steps a day but also aim to walk faster," said co-lead author Dr Matthew Ahmadi, Research Fellow at the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Medicine and Health.

'For less active individuals, our study also demonstrates that as low as 3,800 steps a day can cut the risk of dementia by 25 percent," said co-lead author Associate Professor Borja del Pozo Cruz from the University of Southern Denmark and senior researcher in health at the University of Cadiz.

Key points:
  • Every 2,000 steps lowered risk of premature death incrementally by 8 to 11 percent, up to approximately 10,000 steps a day.
  • Similar associations were seen for cardiovascular disease and cancer incidence.
  • A higher number of steps per day was associated with a lower risk of all-cause dementia
  • 9,800 steps was the optimal dose linked to lower risk of dementia by 50 percent, however risk was reduced by 25 percent at as low as 3,800 steps a day
  • Stepping intensity or a faster pace showed beneficial associations for all outcomes (dementia, heart disease, cancer and death) over and above total daily steps.
"Step count is easily understood and widely used by the public to track activity levels thanks to the growing popularity of fitness trackers and apps, but rarely do people think about the pace of their steps," said senior author Emmanuel Stamatakis, Professor of Physical Activity, Lifestyle and Population Health at the University of Sydney.

"Findings from these studies could inform the first formal step-based physical activity guidelines and help develop effective public health programs aimed at preventing chronic disease."

How was the study conducted?
The study drew on data from UK Biobank to link up step count data from 78,500 UK adults aged 40 to 79 years with health outcomes 7 years on. Participants wore a wrist accelerometer to measure physical activity over a period of 7 days (minimum 3 days, including a weekend day and monitoring during sleep periods).

With ethics consent, this information was linked with participants' health records through several data sources and registries including inpatient hospital, primary care records, and cancer and death registries.

Only those who were free of cardiovascular disease, cancer or dementia at baseline and disease-free in the first two years of the study were included in the final assessment. Statistical adjustments were also made for confounders, such as the fact that people who do more steps generally walk faster.

The researchers note that the studies are observational, meaning they cannot show direct cause and effect, however, note the strong and consistent associations seen across both studies at the population level.

"The size and scope of these studies using wrist-worn trackers makes it the most robust evidence to date suggesting that 10,000 steps a day is the sweet spot for health benefits and walking faster is associated with additional benefits," said Dr Matthew Ahmadi.

"Going forward more research with longer-term use of trackers will shed more light on the health benefits associated with certain levels and intensity of daily stepping."

Journal References:
  1. Borja del Pozo Cruz, Matthew N. Ahmadi, I-Min Lee, Emmanuel Stamatakis. Prospective Associations of Daily Step Counts and Intensity With Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease Incidence and Mortality and All-Cause Mortality. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2022; DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2022.4000
  2. Borja del Pozo Cruz, Matthew Ahmadi, Sharon L. Naismith, Emmanuel Stamatakis. Association of Daily Step Count and Intensity With Incident Dementia in 78 430 Adults Living in the UK. JAMA Neurology, 2022; DOI: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2022.2672

Daily Multivitamin May Improve Cognition And Possibly Protect Against Decline

September 14, 2022
Could taking a daily multivitamin help maintain cognitive health with aging and possibly prevent cognitive decline? According to new research from Wake Forest University School of Medicine, conducted in collaboration with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, taking a daily supplement may improve cognition in older adults, but additional studies are needed to confirm these findings before any health recommendations are made. The study also showed that daily use of a cocoa extract supplement does not benefit cognition.

The findings were recently published in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association.

"There's an urgent need for safe and affordable interventions to protect cognition against decline in older adults," said Laura D. Baker, Ph.D., professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and co-principal investigator of the trial, along with Mark Espeland, Ph.D., professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

The COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study for the Mind (COSMOS-Mind), funded by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health, was an ancillary study to the COSMOS trial led by Brigham and Women's Hospital that randomized 21,442 men and women across the U.S. The study investigated whether taking a daily cocoa extract supplement or a daily multivitamin-mineral supplement reduces the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, cancer and other health outcomes.

According to Baker, cocoa extract is rich in compounds called flavanols, and past research suggests that these compounds may positively impact cognition. Baker also said that several micronutrients and minerals are needed to support normal body and brain function, and deficiencies in older adults may increase the risk for cognitive decline and dementia.

In COSMOS-Mind, researchers tested whether daily administration of cocoa extract versus placebo and a multivitamin-mineral versus placebo improved cognition in older adults. More than 2,200 participants, ages 65 and older, enrolled and were followed for three years. Participants completed tests over the telephone at baseline and annually to evaluate memory and other cognitive abilities.

"Our study showed that although cocoa extract did not affect cognition, daily multivitamin-mineral supplementation resulted in statistically significant cognitive improvement," Baker said. "This is the first evidence of cognitive benefit in a large longer-term study of multivitamin supplementation in older adults."

The researchers estimated that three years of multivitamin supplementation roughly translated to a 60% slowing of cognitive decline (about 1.8 years). The benefits were relatively more pronounced in participants with significant cardiovascular disease, which is important because these individuals are already at increased risk for cognitive impairment and decline.

"It's too early to recommend daily multivitamin supplementation to prevent cognitive decline," Baker said. "While these preliminary findings are promising, additional research is needed in a larger and more diverse group of people. Also, we still have work to do to better understand why the multivitamin might benefit cognition in older adults."

Laura D. Baker, Joann E. Manson, Stephen R. Rapp, Howard D. Sesso, Sarah A. Gaussoin, Sally A. Shumaker, Mark A. Espeland. Effects of cocoa extract and a multivitamin on cognitive function: A randomized clinical trial. Alzheimer's & Dementia, 2022; DOI: 10.1002/alz.12767

We were on a global panel looking at the staggering costs of COVID – 17.7m deaths and counting. Here are 11 ways to stop history repeating itself

John ThwaitesMonash UniversityLiam SmithMonash University, and Margaret HellardBurnet Institute

A global report released today highlights massive global failures in the response to COVID-19.

The report, which was convened by The Lancet journal and to which we contributed, highlights widespread global failures of prevention and basic public health.

This resulted in an estimated 17.7 million excess deaths due to COVID-19 (including those not reported) to September 15.

The report also highlights that the pandemic has reversed progress made towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in many countries further impacting on health and wellbeing.

The report, from The Lancet COVID-19 Commission, found most governments were ill-prepared, too slow to act, paid too little attention to the most vulnerable in their societies, and were hampered by low public trust and an epidemic of misinformation.

However, countries of the Western Pacific – including East Asia, Australia and New Zealand – adopted more successful control strategies than most.

This had resulted in an estimated 300 deaths per million in the region (around 558 per million in Australia and 382 per million in New Zealand to September 12). This is compared with more than 3,000 per million in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The report also sets out 11 key recommendations for ending the pandemic and preparing for the next one.

Co-Operation Lacking

The report is the result of two years’ work from global experts in public policy, health, economics, social sciences and finance. We contributed to the public health component.

One of the report’s major criticisms is the failure of global cooperation for the financing and distribution of vaccines, medicines and personal protective equipment for low-income countries.

This is not only inequitable but has raised the risk of more dangerous variants.

The report highlighted the critical role of strong and equitable public health systems. These need to have: strong relationships with local communities; investment in behavioural and social science research to develop more effective interventions and health communication strategies; and continuously updated evidence.

11 Recommendations

The report made 11 recommendations to end the pandemic and prepare for future ones.

1. Vaccines plus other measures – establishing global and national “vaccination plus” strategies. This would combine mass immunisation in all countries, ensure availability of testing and treatment for new infections and long COVID, coupled with public health measures such as face masks, promotion of safe workplaces, and social and financial support for self-isolation.

2. Viral origins – an unbiased, independent and rigorous investigation is needed to investigate the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, including from a natural spillover from animals or a possible laboratory-related spillover. This is needed to prevent future pandemics and strengthen public trust in science and public authorities.

3. Bolster the World Health Organization and maintain it as the lead organisation for responding to emerging infectious diseases. Give WHO new regulatory authority, more backing by national political leaders, more contact with the global scientific community and a larger core budget.

4. Establish a global pandemic agreement and strengthen international health regulations. New pandemic arrangements should include bolstering WHO’s authority, creating a global surveillance and monitoring system for infectious disease outbreaks. It would also include regulations for processing international travellers and freight under global pandemic conditions, and the publication of an annual WHO report on global pandemic preparedness and response.

5. Create a new WHO Global Health Board to support WHO decision-making especially on controversial matters. This would be composed of heads of government representing each of the six WHO regions and elected by the member states of those regions.

6. New regulations to prevent pandemics from natural spillovers and research-related activities and for investigating their origins. Prevention of natural spillovers would require better regulation of domestic and wild-animal trade and enhancement of surveillance systems for pathogens (disease-causing micro-organisms) in domestic animals and humans. The World Health Assembly should also adopt new global regulations on biosafety to regulate international research programs dealing with dangerous pathogens.

7. A ten-year global strategy by G20 (Group of Twenty) nations, with accompanying finance, to ensure all WHO regions, including the world’s poorer regions, can produce, distribute, research and develop vaccines, treatments and other critical pandemic control tools.

8. Strengthen national health systems based on the foundations of public health and universal health coverage and grounded in human rights and gender equality.

9. Adopt national pandemic preparedness plans, which include scaling up community-based public health systems, investment in a skilled workforce, investment in public health and scientific literacy to “immunise” the public against dis-information, investment in behavioural and social sciences research to develop more effective interventions, protection of vulnerable groups, establishment of safe schools and workplaces, and actions to improve coordinated surveillance and monitoring for new variants.

10. Establishment of a new Global Health Fund where – with the support of WHO – there is increased and effective investment for both pandemic preparedness and health systems in developing countries, with a focus on primary care.

11. Sustainable development and green recovery plans. The pandemic has been a setback for sustainable development so bolstering funding to meet sustainability goals is needed.

Unlock A New Approach

To improve the world’s ability to respond to pandemics we need to unlock a new approach. The key component to any meaningful transformation is to collaborate and work towards a new era of multilateral cooperation.

Governments in Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand and elsewhere have talked about “building back better”. We need to take the lessons learnt from the failures of the past few years and build a stronger framework. This will not only help reduce the dangers of COVID-19 but also forestall the next pandemic and any future global crisis.

By reassessing and strengthening global institutions and co-operation, we can build and define a more resilient future.

Chris Bullen, Professor of Public Health, University of Auckland, co-authored this article and The Lancet COVID-19 Commission report on which it was based.The Conversation

John Thwaites, Chair, Monash Sustainable Development Institute & ClimateWorks Australia, Monash UniversityLiam Smith, Director, BehaviourWorks, Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University, and Margaret Hellard, Adjunct Professor, Monash University; Associate Director and Head, Centre for Population Health, Burnet Institute

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

Benefits Of The Environment To Health. A Literature Review Of Health Benefits Derived From 3 Ecosystem Services: Air Filtration, Local Climate Regulation, And Recreation

September 15, 2022: AIHW
The value of the environment – to the economy and to human wellbeing – can be estimated through ecosystems accounts. Accounts on ecosystem assets and the services they provide can be compiled using the System of Environmental Economic Accounting Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA) framework adopted by the United Nations Statistical Commission in March 2021 (SEEA 2022).

In Australia, the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW, formerly the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment – DAWE) is developing environmental ecosystem accounts. To do this, it is seeking to gain a wide understanding of the extent of the economic and social benefits of ecosystem services. It was in this context that the former DAWE commissioned the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) to conduct an extensive review of the evidence on ecosystem services and their benefits to, and impacts on, human health.

This review analyses a broad range of current relevant literature on the benefits of the following 3 ecosystem services for human health:
  • air filtration – the filtering of air-borne pollutants by ecosystems, in particular by plants, 
  • to mitigate harmful effects of pollution
  • local climate regulation – the regulation of ambient temperatures by plants and water bodies to improve local living conditions
  • recreation-related services – the qualities of ecosystems that allow people to use and enjoy the environment, such as through providing opportunities for physical activity or other passive recreational pursuits.
An extensive review of available Australian and international literature found associations between ecosystem services and a range of health outcomes, although the evidence more strongly supported this relationship for some health outcomes than others. The review also sought to uncover existing research of health benefits of these ecosystem services in economic terms, in particular those using methods consistent with the SEEA EA framework.

The AIHW review revealed multiple examples of evidence in support of a wide range of health benefits associated with each of the 3 ecosystem services. Key health benefits included:

  • air filtration is associated with improved respiratory outcomes (such as for asthma) and decreases in mortality. Positive maternal and perinatal outcomes are areas being increasingly researched
  • local climate regulation is associated with decreases in both all-cause mortality, and in hospitalisations due to heat
  • recreation-related services are associated with increases in both physical activity, and in subjective mental wellbeing associated with recreation in nature.
A range of other health benefits associated with these ecosystem services were also revealed, such as for cardiovascular health, heat-related mortality, obesity, diabetes, and immune function. However, the evidence for these tended to be inconsistent: some studies supported a positive association between the ecosystem service and the health benefit, while others found no association, or insufficient evidence to support one. In many cases, the equivocal findings could be attributed to design limitations in the original research articles. Inconclusive evidence does not necessarily mean an association does not exist – rather that the research approach may not have been the most appropriate for the research question.

Download full report Benefits of the environment to health. A literature review of health benefits derived from 3 ecosystem services: air filtration, local climate regulation, and recreation HERE

Replacing Band-Aid Wound Solutions Could Save Lives And Millions In Health System Costs: AMA

September 14, 2022
Band-aid solutions to chronic wounds are costing lives and limbs, and a simple solution could not only prevent those losses but cut billions in health system costs, AMA Vice President Dr Danielle McMullen told a wounds conference today.

Dr McMullen told the Wounds Australia 2022 conference in Sydney that people are dying prematurely and limbs are being amputated because the current system prevents some of the most vulnerable people in the country getting the right treatment at the right time.

“Chronic wound care is a poorly understood and under-funded public health issue, even though it affects around 450,000 Australians and costs $3 billion each year,” Dr McMullen said.

“A lack of awareness about the significance of chronic wounds means vulnerable patients — mostly older Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, or patients with other chronic conditions — often suffer in silence and fall through the cracks in our health system.  

“The AMA is proposing a national scheme to fund medical dressings for chronic wounds and new MBS items to cover the unmet costs of providing care for patients suffering chronic wounds.

“Our analysis shows investing just $23.4 million over four years to deliver best practice wound care for diabetic foot ulcers, arterial leg ulcers, and venous leg ulcers would save the health system more than $203 million.  

“This is a no brainer. I don’t know of many investments where for every $1.00 you spend, the return is $8.36, but this is the case with evidence-based wound care.”

Dr McMullen said if implemented, the plan would also increase access to GPs with research showing new MBS items would free up around 148,000 general practitioner consultations in the first year and 162,000 consultations by the fourth year.

“As GPs, we see some terrible consequences for patients if a wound isn’t managed properly, including amputations and nasty infections. These wounds can take months or even years to heal and these consequences are totally avoidable.   

“At the moment Medicare doesn’t cover the cost of the dressings to treat chronic wounds correctly, so doctors are either bearing the costs themselves or are forced to pass on the cost to patients, and that’s not something we like doing. 

“The government often mentions its inherited trillion-dollar debt, so it should be looking for smart investments which will save the health system money and deliver better health outcomes for patients at the same time.” 

The AMA’s five-point solution:
  •  A Commonwealth-funded wound consumables scheme to subsidise the cost of dressings and other consumables provided in general practice for patients with chronic wounds.
  • The implementation of a stepped model of care for the management of chronic wounds, with improved access to other healthcare professionals involved in wound care to form GP-led healthcare teams.
  • Three new Medicare items to facilitate the stepped model of care, including a Medicare item to allow trained practices nurses, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners or Aboriginal Health Workers to provide short-term treatment.
  • Implementation of a national education and training program on the prevention and management of chronic wounds, with access to the consumables scheme and extra Medicare support linked to completion of this education and training.
  • Improved coordination of wound care initiatives in the sector under a national program to reduce duplication of effort.

Social Housing Temperatures In NSW Exceed Health And Safety Limits: Study

September 14, 2022
Many residents in social housing in New South Wales can experience alarming levels of winter underheating and summer overheating in their homes that do not meet standards for comfort and health, according to UNSW Sydney-led research funded by the Department of Planning and Environment and CRC for Low Carbon Living.

A research team from the School of Built Environment and the Department of Planning and Environment monitored 106 low-income dwellings in New South Wales during the winter and summer of 2018–2019. The team studied the impacts of outdoor temperature and housing characteristics, including indoor temperature and air quality, and surveyed the residents’ health and quality of life.

During summer, indoor temperatures reached 39.8°C and were above 30°C up to 62 per cent of the time in some residences. The minimum indoor temperatures during winter also dropped as low as 5°C in some homes and were below 18°C 93 per cent of the time.

Households also reported high levels of dissatisfaction with their indoor thermal conditions year-round. During summer, the majority of low-income households in western Sydney experienced higher indoor and outdoor temperatures than those who reside in the proximity of the coast, according to the study.

The recommended thermal discomfort threshold is 28°C for living rooms and 26°C for the bedroom, according to the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE). Meanwhile, The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a temperature band of 18–24°C for thermal comfort and safety.

“Many social housing dwellings recorded indoor temperatures outside the recommended limits for safety and comfort for substantial periods,” says the study’s first author Dr Shamila Haddad.

Prolonged exposure to poor housing quality can have adverse health effects. Indoor overheating can lead to thermal discomfort and increase the risk of heat-related morbidity and mortality. Meanwhile, temperatures below 16°C may raise the risk of respiratory disease and vulnerability to infection from airborne pathogens.

“We know many people from low-income backgrounds are living in low-quality housing, and this impacts their health and quality of life,” says Scientia Professor Mat Santamouris, Anita Lawrence Chair in High Performance Architecture and senior author of the study.

Temperature extremes during summer and winter
Social housing tenants may be particularly vulnerable to health risks associated with poor air quality and building thermal performance. Risk factors for heat-related health issues, such as cardiovascular disease, tend to be more prevalent in low-income households. Social housing dwellings are also more likely to be located in areas with high exposure to the elements.

Most of the dwellings investigated in the study were built before 2000 and predate the introduction of building codes and minimum energy-efficiency standards at the national level. Mould and condensation, which are common issues in poor-quality dwellings, were also reported in 42 per cent of the residences.

“The housing quality is typically lower than general housing stock and can lack adequate ventilation and insulation, increasing the amount of heating and cooling needed to achieve comfortable and safe indoor temperatures,” Dr Haddad says. 

The research also found many households experience energy poverty – where they struggle to afford the required energy services in their homes. Some used compensatory measures to minimise energy bills and escape overheated environments, including visiting shopping malls, seeking medical assistance, or skipping food and other essentials. 

“Lower-income households may suffer from warmer homes during summer,” Dr Haddad says. “While thermal discomfort was reported, these low-income families limited their energy use by avoiding heating and cooling.

“As local and global temperatures continue to become more extreme, the findings suggest financially disadvantaged people living in poor-quality housing may be disproportionately affected.”

Improving thermal conditions in social housing 
Indoor air temperature in naturally ventilated buildings highly depends on the quality of the building envelope and follows the pattern of the outdoor climate. With climate change expected to increase indoor overheating and discomfort further, there’s an urgent need to improve social housing dwellings to ensure healthy living conditions for residents and protect them from extreme temperatures, Dr Haddad says. 

Improvements in building quality can reduce heating and cooling needs. Passive heating and cooling strategies, easy-to-apply insulation, materials and glazing are all cost-effective technologies that could be implemented to improve the thermal quality of housing while reducing energy demand.

“Enhancing housing energy efficiency can alleviate energy poverty and improve households’ health and wellbeing,” Dr Haddad says. “This should be the main goal of retrofit upgrades in the social housing sector.”

Dr Haddad says it would be more sustainable and cost-effective to prioritise refurbishing existing building stock over rebuilding. However, design standards must also be improved, and appropriate thermal performance mandated in the build quality of any new social housing construction.

More significant investment in urban heat mitigation could also minimise the impacts of poor-performing housing during warm periods. Results of previous studies in Sydney reveal that urban heat mitigation strategies, such as increasing green spaces and employing reflective materials for pavements and roofs, can reduce the peak ambient temperature by up to 3°C.

“In addition to housing quality, urban heat mitigation strategies also help decrease the health impact of very high temperatures, which would better protect the health of low-income people living in social housing,” Dr Haddad says.

Prof. Santamouris says other innovations could also help people from low-income backgrounds at risk of energy poverty, such as using smart meters to monitor indoor temperatures and supplying free electricity to occupants.

“Many European countries supply people from low-income backgrounds a certain level of fuel for free, or they give them a grant to buy electricity or fuel,” Prof. Santamouris says. “There used to be 50,000 deaths per year in the UK due to energy poverty. But now, because of these changes, this number has decreased dramatically.”

M4-M5 Link To Be Renamed

September 13, 2022
The NSW Government today confirmed that once operational, the WestConnex M4-M5 Link project will be officially referred to as extensions of the M4 and M8 motorways.

Once complete, the 7.5 kilometre underground mega tunnels will connect the two motorways, providing a seamless link between Haberfield and St Peters and cutting travel times by up to 40 minutes between Western Sydney and Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport.

Minister for Metropolitan Roads Natalie Ward said the operational names aligned with the NSW motorways’ numbering system, making it easier for motorists travelling across the broader network.

“We are in the final stages of one of the most significant road infrastructure projects ever undertaken in Australia,” Ms Ward said.

“Naming the tunnels the M4 and M8 motorways will help motorists join the dots on the new and improved network when the tunnels open next year.

“Once complete, the tunnels will significantly improve connections between west and southwest Sydney, reducing travel times into the city for Western Sydney residents.

“This is all about making a real difference to people’s daily lives, with our Government committed to providing them with the transport connections they need to move quickly and safely across our city.”

The new link between the M4 and the M8 is expected to open in early 2023 and will connect to the Rozelle Interchange at the end of 2023, marking the completion of Australia’s largest road infrastructure project, WestConnex.

The project will also include future links to the Western Harbour Tunnel, Sydney Gateway and the M6, to better connect communities across the city and improve freight routes.

M4 Tunnel - photo by MDRX

Emergency Department Walk Outs Show Need For Ratios Nurses Association States

September 14 2022
The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) has urged the NSW government to overhaul the current nursing and midwifery staffing system, as new figures show tens of thousands of frustrated patients have left emergency departments without receiving or completing treatment.

New Bureau of Health Information (BHI) data shows 76,117 patients walked out of public hospital emergency departments during April to June this year, the highest of any quarter since 2010. Almost one in five of the patients who left had re-presented for care within three days.

Waiting times inside emergency departments were also the poorest on record, with barely half of the ‘triage category 2’ patients, and only 62.8% of all patients, starting treatment on time.

NSWNMA General Secretary, Shaye Candish, said the report card was an alarming reminder of the demand on public hospitals and reflected the extreme pressure experienced by nursing staff.

“Our public health system has been under enormous pressure for an extended period, held together by nurses, midwives and other health staff stretching themselves beyond what is reasonable,” said Ms Candish.

“The sheer volume of patients leaving our emergency departments before starting their care is shameful. Returning within a few days to try and access care, as they’ve likely deteriorated, doesn’t depict a ‘world class’ health system, or one that’s meeting the needs of NSW patients.

“We can see bed block issues and ramping outside emergency departments are also compounding the delays in ambulance response times to some of the highest priority cases.”

BHI figures indicated elective surgery waiting times for non-urgent and semi-urgent surgeries during the quarter were also the longest on record, with patients waiting 339 days and 161 days respectively.

“The current staffing system in our public hospitals is no longer fit for purpose. It isn’t transparent and it’s open to manipulation. We need clear nurse-to-patient ratios on every shift to deliver safe care to all patients when they need it,” Ms Candish said.

“Many members have told us unsafe workloads are prompting staff to reduce their hours. We know that manageable and safe workloads will attract nurses and midwives back into our health system.

“The ratios our members are seeking are flexible to help manage patients’ care needs and the clinical experience of nursing staff across a hospital.”

The NSWNMA said members would continue to advocate for patient safety in NSW public hospitals and reiterated calls for the NSW government to guarantee safe staffing with ratios.

Government States Hospitals Continue To Perform Well Despite COVID-19 And Flu Outbreaks

September 14, 2022
NSW hospitals continued to deliver high-quality care in the April to June quarter despite significant challenges due to the ongoing wave of the Omicron strain of COVID-19 and the peak of an early winter flu season, the NSW Health Department has stated today.

NSW Health Deputy Secretary, Adjunct Professor Matthew Daly, said the latest Bureau of Health Information (BHI) Healthcare Quarterly report shows large numbers of complex presentations and admissions to hospitals and furloughed staff created significant challenges. These challenges were experienced by health systems throughout Australia and NSW was no exception.

Almost 14,000 people were admitted to NSW public hospitals with COVID-19, including 925 people who required intensive care, in the April to June quarter. More than 1,500 people were admitted to NSW public hospitals with influenza-like illnesses during the same period.

COVID-19 and flu also had a significant impact on healthcare workers, with thousands of NSW Health staff unavailable every day throughout the quarter, either through illness or isolation.

"I want to thank all our staff for their incredible efforts during this difficult period because the work they have done, and continue to do, to care for the people of NSW is extraordinary," Prof Daly said.

"We acknowledge that the challenges faced by the health system did have an impact on the timeliness of care provided during the quarter, but we continued to make every effort to ensure that those who need care urgently received it without delay."

Prof. Daly said not only did public hospitals have a hugely busy quarter, but the complexity of emergency department attendances increased.

"Of the almost 800,000 attendances at NSW emergency departments during the quarter, about 111,000 were by patients in triage category two, those with an imminently life-threatening condition – the highest number of patients in this category in any quarter since BHI began reporting," Prof Daly said.

The report shows the majority of emergency department patients (62.8 per cent) started treatment on time and more than seven in 10 patients (72.5 per cent) were transferred from ambulance to ED staff within the 30-minute benchmark.

Prof. Daly said a total of 53,712 elective surgeries were performed across the state from April to June and almost all urgent elective surgeries (98.2 per cent) were performed on time.

"The elective surgery wait list was reduced by more than 2,200 people in the quarter thanks to the incredible efforts of our staff and the support of our private hospital partners, but we acknowledge we still have a lot more work to do to address the significant impact the pandemic response has had on our waiting lists," Prof. Daly said.

Prof Daly also noted that public hospitals also performed more than 24,000 emergency surgeries during the quarter, but these critical and generally most complex surgical procedures are not included in the BHI report, thereby greatly under-representing the work done in operating theatres throughout the state.

The NSW Government states it is investing a record $33 billion in health as part of the 2022-23 NSW Budget. Further, the Government states a record 10,148 full-time equivalent staff will be recruited to hospitals and health services across NSW over four years, as part of a $4.5 billion investment. The Budget also includes $408 million over two years to fast-track elective surgeries and $899 million for the ongoing COVID-19 response.

Researchers Identify How Science Can Help Cities And Companies To Operate Within Earth System Limits

September 13, 2022
What businesses and cities must do to stay within 'safe and just' environmental limits for carbon, water, nutrients, land and other natural resources is the subject of a new set of recommendations from Earth Commission experts.

The authors, from academic institutions including the University of Exeter Business School, have published key knowledge gaps for researchers to help cities and businesses to operate within Earth system limits in the journal Nature.

It comes ahead of an Earth Commission report due out next year that will outline a range of 'Earth system boundaries' (ESBs) based on the latest science, modelling and literature assessments.

A decade ago, scientists defined a set of planetary boundaries within which humanity can operate 'safely' in nine areas -- climate change, the biosphere, nutrients, water, land use, ocean acidification, ozone depletion, aerosols and novel entities -- and the soon-to-be-defined ESBs will add a social justice dimension, to ensure quantified boundaries are 'just' as well as 'safe'.

The researchers argue that methods need to be developed to identify what cities and companies must do for the world to stay within the ESBs and to help them assess their share of responsibility towards global budgets of carbon, water, nutrients, land and other natural resources, and set targets to protect them.

The authors argue for 'science-based targets' and say objectives must be 'measurable, actionable and time-bound', pointing out that few cities and companies currently have science-based targets and of the top 200 cities with the highest emissions, only 110 have 'net zero' pledges that align with the Paris Agreement.

Lead author Xuemei Bai, Distinguished Professor at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at The Australian National University and a member of the Earth Commission said: "It's a long haul, but humanity needs to stay within our planet's finite budgets. Developing scientifically-robust and socially-just methods to allocate natural resources and responsibilities is essential to respect them.

"Cities and companies are main contributors to planetary level changes, but also key actors for solutions. There are knowledge gaps in how to translate such boundaries into concrete allocations for businesses and cities, and our recommendations seek to fill those gaps."

Co-author Gail Whiteman, Professor of Sustainability at University of Exeter Business School said: "Our work makes the strong case for breakthrough joint actions by companies and cities to synergistically tackle urban hot spots within Earth System Boundaries using science-based limits. Right now, corporate and urban targets are siloed. A key next step is for initiatives like the International Sustainability Standards Board and the Science Based Targets Network to integrate ESBs and encourage joint action."

Co-author Johan Rockström, co-chair of the Earth Commission and director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said that "Earth system boundaries are linked, so targets need to be aligned. Measures that focus on one domain can be beneficial or detrimental to others.

"Climate change, for instance, depends on land-based processes -- such as methane emissions from thawing permafrost and weakened carbon sinks through deforestation. Several pressure points can combine so that tipping points are reached sooner."

Co-author Şiir Kılkış, senior researcher at the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey said: "Cities exchange people, energy and goods with their local and global hinterlands. The top 200 cities with the largest greenhouse-gas emissions also host the headquarters of 360 of the top 500 emitting companies.

"Looking across domains, more than 50% of these cities and companies are in water-stressed areas, including Mexico City, Santiago, Beijing, Madrid, New Delhi, Rome, Istanbul in Turkey and Phoenix, Arizona."

Co-author Anders Bjørn, postdoctoral fellow at the Technical University of Denmark said: "It is encouraging that more and more companies are setting reduction targets for carbon emissions based on the 1.5-degree Paris goal. These science-based targets are typically more ambitious than national commitments and should inspire more action from policymakers at different levels. Now we need the biggest emitters and resource consumers to step up and do their part in limiting climate change and protecting all other Earth system boundaries."

Erin Billman, Executive Director of Science Based Targets Network advised that "Earth Commission's critical work on Earth system boundaries is directly informing Science Based Targets Network's development of environmental science-based targets (SBTs) for companies and cities, which build upon climate SBTs to cover freshwater, land, ocean and biodiversity."

The authors highlight seven recommendations for researchers aiming to translate ESBs into concrete steps for cities and businesses.

1. Develop common procedures

Principles and protocols must be developed, and methods, metrics, assumptions and uncertainties must be clear. Without such clarity, cities and companies may seek to minimise their own responsibility and maximise the resources they claim; powerful actors may exert undue influence.

2. Focus on interactions

Earth system boundaries are linked, so targets need to be aligned. Climate change, for instance, depends on land processes -- from methane emissions from thawing permafrost to weakened carbon sinks through deforestation. Researchers should identify key activities that span several ESBs and evaluate what can be achieved by targeting them.

3. Acknowledge dynamics

Most targets focus on a particular date, like 2030 or 2050. But pathways are important. For example, reducing carbon emissions linearly to net zero by 2050 would result in less warming than keeping them high for the next decade and then dropping suddenly. Researchers must develop an agile approach -- time-sensitive and dynamic goal setting that allows regular checking, adjustment and updating.

4. Allocate for justice and equity

Targets need to reflect socioeconomic contexts, such as income and consumption levels, environmental impacts or capabilities to act. For example, cities with high consumption levels, historical emissions or high revenues should arguably adopt more stringent targets than others.

5. Support monitoring and accountability

Much work needs to be done to support monitoring and accountability. We recommend that initiatives, such as the new International Sustainability Standards Board, engage with cross-disciplinary scientists to ensure that their proposed 'global baseline of sustainability-related disclosure standards' explicitly link cities and companies with ESBs. Independent auditing systems are also needed.

6. Establish governance mechanisms

New policies and regulations will be needed to incentivise or mandate cities and companies to adopt targets. One approach is to recognize each of the ESB domains as a global commons. For climate change, the United Nations could initiate intergovernmental panels and call on governments to mandate science-based target setting for large cities and companies. There is no guarantee this would fix the problem, but it would put ESBs onto the policy agenda.

7. Design incentives

Widespread adoption of science-based target setting by cities and companies is essential, as they can also prompt and incentivise national governments to follow the suit. Quality trademarks for products and services, such as 'kitemarks' or positive labels, could be issued to raise awareness and encourage others. Financial incentives should be scaled up and expanded.

'How to stop cities and companies causing planetary harm', by Earth Commission authors from the Australian National University, Technical University of Denmark, University of Exeter Business School, Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, University of Graz, University of Potsdam and Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), is published in the journal Nature.

Xuemei Bai, Anders Bjørn, Şiir Kılkış, Oscar Sabag Muñoz, Gail Whiteman, Holger Hoff, Lauren Seaby Andersen, Johan Rockström. How to stop cities and companies causing planetary harm. Nature, 2022; 609 (7927): 463 DOI: 10.1038/d41586-022-02894-3

Chemical Fingerprints Could Land The Biggest Catch: Seafood Fraudsters

September 13, 2022
Universal chemical fingerprints that can trace the geographic origins of many marine species have been developed by Australian scientists to help combat seafood fraud and stop illegal and unsustainable fishing.

Marine ecologists Dr Zoe Doubleday and Dr Jasmin Martino have identified chemical fingerprints common to the bones and shells of marine life from specific ocean environments, allowing them to track where individual seafood comes from.

Dr Doubleday who developed the concept as part of her ARC Future Fellowship at the University of South Australia (UniSA), says seafood is one of the most traded commodities in the world, but supply chains are unclear, and the industry is susceptible to fraud.

"It is important we know where our seafood comes from and that consumers can trust the label of origin, otherwise it threatens the integrity of the industry and the fisheries they depend upon," Dr Doubleday, says.

Alongside Dr Martino, a former UniSA postdoctoral researcher who now works at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), Dr Doubleday built a map of ocean chemistry that can distinguish the origin of seafood between south-east Asia and southern Australia.

"Precise levels of chemicals found in seafood is controlled by the ocean where marine life is based, so we can establish a chemical fingerprint that tells us which body of water the animal comes from."

Seafood fraud occurs when consumers or businesses are deceived about where seafood is caught, and where products are substituted with lower quality seafood or from locations with fewer sustainable regulations.

Poor quality seafood can contain hidden pathogens, unlisted allergens and fewer nutrients.

"This substitution threatens our food system by risking sustainability, safety, and consumer confidence," Dr Martino says.

"In the long term, it leads to over-exploitation of stocks and upsets the balance of marine ecosystems, ultimately harming seafood industries."

Paper-based and digital tracing are also used to determine where seafood is from, but until now, chemical fingerprinting has largely been restricted to land animals.

"The advantage of chemical fingerprinting is that it is difficult to falsify. Now that we have established a universal chemical marker, with ongoing research and development, it could transform the way we provenance seafood on a global scale," Dr Doubleday says.

The researchers describe the breakthrough in the journal Fish and Fisheries.

Dr Zoe Doubleday uses chemical fingerprints in shells to geolocate marine animals and animal products. Photo: UniSA

Jasmin C. Martino, Clive N. Trueman, Debashish Mazumder, Jagoda Crawford, Zoë A. Doubleday. The universal imprint of oxygen isotopes can track the origins of seafood. Fish and Fisheries, 2022; DOI: 10.1111/faf.12703

Australian Vets And Pets To Reap Benefits From New Drug To Treat Common Infection

September 14, 2022
Australia’s 29 million pets look set to benefit from a more effective treatment for Giardia, a common intestinal infection in dogs and cats, thanks to a collaboration between academia and industry.

Pharmaceutical scientists from five Australian universities are partnering with veterinary pharmaceutical company Neoculi Pty Ltd to develop a new drug to treat Giardia, which affects at least 15 per cent of dogs, particularly puppies, and approximately 12 per cent of cats.

Existing treatments on the market are ineffective and have significant drawbacks, according to University of South Australia pharmaceutical scientist Professor Sanjay Garg, one of the key collaborators on the three-year project, led by the University of Newcastle.

Professor Garg says current drugs have limited effectiveness due to parasitic resistance, require multiple treatments and have toxic side effects.

“The drug we are developing is safe and effective in one single dose. We are aiming to produce a palatable formulation that pets will take without any resistance.” Prof Garg says. “It should be available within three years.”

Australia has the highest pet ownership rate in the world, with 40 per cent of households owning a dog and 27 per cent owning a cat, incurring significant costs in the order of $12 billion a year, with veterinary bills accounting for about 25 per cent.

“It costs each household around $1627 per dog each year and $962 per cat, so anything we can do to make veterinary drugs more cost effective is a win-win for animals and owners alike.”

The $282,339 project with matching funding is being funded by the Federal Government’s ARC Linkage Grant program.

Mucosal Antibodies In The Airways Protect Against Omicron Infection

September 14, 2022
High levels of mucosal antibodies in the airways reduce the risk of being infected by omicron, but many do not receive detectable antibodies in the airways despite three doses of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. These are the findings of a study published today in The New England Journal of Medicine, led by researchers at Karolinska Institutet and Danderyd Hospital in Sweden.

The COMMUNITY study enrolled 2,149 health care workers in the spring of 2020 at Danderyd Hospital, Sweden. Study participants and their immune responses against the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 are since then followed up every four months. A sub-study between January and February 2022 screened 338 triple-vaccinated healthcare workers for SARS-CoV-2 infection. Antibody levels in blood and airways were determined at the start of the screening period, and one in six (57 participants) was subsequently infected with omicron during the four-week screening period. This allowed the research group to investigate immunity against omicron breakthrough infection as well as immune boosting following breakthrough infection.

The levels of mucosal IgA antibodies (immunoglobulin A) were measured in the airways because they play an important role in the protection against respiratory infections. All participants had high levels of systemic antibodies (e.g. in the blood) after three doses of the vaccine, but only 62 per cent had detectable mucosal airway antibodies (e.g in the nose). High levels of mucosal airway antibodies more than halved the risk of becoming infected with omicron.

"It is not surprising that antibodies in the respiratory tract neutralise the virus locally, but these findings show, for the first time, that SARS-CoV-2 mucosal antibodies in the airways actually protect against omicron infection," says lead author Charlotte Thålin, M.D. and associate professor at the Department of Clinical Sciences, Danderyd Hospital, Karolinska Institutet.

High mucosal antibodies in the airways were also associated with a lower viral replication among those infected with omicron. After omicron infection, a 40-fold increase in mucosal airway antibodies was found in the majority of participants, even if the infection had been mild.

The researchers also showed that participants with SARS-CoV-2 infection prior to vaccination had significantly higher levels of mucosal airway antibodies after vaccination compared with triple-vaccinated with no prior SARS-CoV-2 infection. This may explain why so-called hybrid immunity, the combination of infection and vaccine, provides stronger protection against infection than just vaccines.

"We are now in a situation with omicron infecting people despite having received several doses of today's intramuscular vaccines," says Charlotte Thålin. "It is tempting to think that a vaccine administered through the nose or mouth, where SARS-CoV-2 enters the body, could provoke a local immune response preventing infection at an earlier stage. Several vaccines in the form of a nasal spray are now being investigated in clinical trials with the hope of being able to reduce the spread of infection and thus reduce the risk of developing new virus variants."

The COMMUNITY study continues with regular samplings from blood and mucosa, monitoring immune responses after repeated SARS-CoV-2 infections and vaccinations. The study is conducted in close collaboration between Danderyd Hospital, Karolinska Institutet, Uppsala University, the Public Health Agency of Sweden, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and SciLifeLab.

The research has been funded by the Jonas and Christina af Jochnick Foundation, Region Stockholm, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, Leif Lundblad and family, the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Heart-Lung Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Karolinska Institutet and SciLifeLab.

Sebastian Havervall, Ulrika Marking, Julia Svensson, Nina Greilert-Norin, Philip Bacchus, Peter Nilsson, Sophia Hober, Max Gordon, Kim Blom, Jonas Klingström, Mikael Åberg, Anna Smed-Sörensen, Charlotte Thålin. Anti-Spike Mucosal IgA Protection against SARS-CoV-2 Omicron Infection. New England Journal of Medicine, 2022; DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc2209651

Tropical Insects Are Extremely Sensitive To Changing Climates

September 14, 2022
Insects that are adapted to perennially wet environments, like tropical rainforests, don't tend to do well when their surroundings dry out. New research published this Wednesday indicates they may be equally averse to heavy rainfall.

The results of an extensive five-year study conducted in Peru revealed a 50% decline in arthropod biomass following short periods of both drought and increased precipitation. One of only a few studies of this scope conducted in the tropics, the findings suggest terrestrial arthropods, a group that includes insects and spiders, will be more susceptible to climate change than previously suspected.

"Most of the time when we think about climate change, we think about warming temperatures, but rainfall patterns will change as well, which is something insects seem to be especially sensitive to," said Felicity Newell, a postdoctoral associate and former doctoral student with the Florida Museum of Natural History. "We're seeing that rainfall extremes can have negative effects over very short timescales."

The insect apocalypse takes on new dimensions
The discovery of a Goldilocks preference for just the right amount of water makes its debut against a worrying backdrop of population declines. Over the last two decades, thousands of studies have documented insect decline and extinction on every continent except Antarctica, a pattern some have dubbed the insect apocalypse.

These results paint a stark but incomplete picture. Most of these studies have been conducted in densely populated temperate regions, while the planet's most biodiverse ecosystems -- the tropics -- have received considerably less scrutiny.

Half of all insect diversity resides in the tropics, and as a result, scientists know a great deal about only a small fraction of imperiled insect species. This imbalance places strict limits on understanding how insects will fare with the complex problem of climate change.

"One of the biggest challenges is abiotic factors like temperature and rainfall influence multiple things. They can influence both the growth of new leaves and the arthropods that feed on them. In temperate systems, it's difficult to tease the two apart because they're often very synchronized," Newell said.

In temperate zones, the seasons proceed in a tight lock-step. Life stirs and flourishes in spring and summer, then wanes and lies dormant in autumn and winter. Near the equator, the annual changes are less pronounced. Wet and dry seasons create rhythmic variation, but the consistent temperatures allow plants to retain their leaves and tropical ecosystems to remain active year-round.

With a constant supply of plant food, any large increase or decrease in insect abundance is more likely to be the result of changing climates. For scientists like Newell who want to understand how climate change will affect insect populations, the tropics are the ideal place to study.

Insects decline in wet conditions for reasons that remain obscure
Newell and co-author Ian Ausprey spent a combined two-and-a-half years between 2015-2019 conducting field work along the slopes of the Andes Mountains in northern Peru. Living and working with the residents of local villages, they collected insects multiple times of the year at sites spanning more than 4,500 ft of elevation. In total, they collected more than 48,000 insects, which they compared to rainfall and temperature measurements taken throughout the year.

They expected insect abundance would be strongly linked to the growth of plants. While most trees and shrubs don't lose their leaves in the tropics, the production of young, supple leaves favored by herbivorous insects coincides with the onset of the rainy season. But this isn't what they found. The flush of bright green growth, as interpreted by satellite data and by visual inspection in the field, had only a small effect on insect biomass.

Instead, rainfall was the single greatest predictor of how many insects you might expect to find at a given location.

"Arthropod biomass decreased after three months of dry weather, but it also decreased after three months of exceptionally wet conditions," Newell said. "Biomass peaked at intermediate rainfall, creating a dynamic balance between too wet and too dry."

Newell and Ausprey took things a step further by attempting to determine the exact mechanism behind the declines. They conducted desiccation experiments on insects collected in the field. Most of their specimens found it hard to cope with even a small reduction in humidity. This was particularly true of small insects; their greater surface-to-volume-ratio makes them especially prone to drying out.

Researchers are at a loss, however, to explain why wetter-than-average conditions are problematic. Theories range from the physical damage small insects receive by being pelted with raindrops to decreased foraging times caused by more frequent storms. Another idea posits that cooler temperatures from prolonged cloud cover might hamper insect growth and development.

"One hypothesis is there are more fungal spores during the rainy season, which would result in a greater occurrence of entomopathogenic fungi," Newell said. Such fungal pathogens that prey on insects are common in tropical ecosystems. Infection often results in the death of the insect host, but only after their behavior has been radically altered to ensure optimal dispersal for the next batch of spores, as is the case for the zombie ant.

Whatever the reason, the authors worry what their results might portend for insects and the animals that rely on them in a rapidly warming world. Combining their information collected in the field with 50 years of regional rainfall data, they also developed a predictive model that might help untangle the "black box" of ecosystem function and response. Their model suggests insects will be among the first organisms that respond if conditions continue to shift toward a dangerously unbalanced climate.

"Insects are incredibly diverse and important. They fill the ecosystem roles of pollination and decomposition, and they serve as a food resource for many birds and mammals," Newell said. "Our predictive model shows that insects respond to rainfall extremes, but how they respond to changing climates over the long term remains to be seen."

Felicity L. Newell, Ian J. Ausprey, Scott K. Robinson. Wet and dry extremes reduce arthropod biomass independently of leaf phenology in the wet tropics. Global Change Biology, 2022; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.16379

The Blood Stem Cell Research That Could Change Medicine Of The Future

September 13, 2022
Biomedical engineers and medical researchers at UNSW Sydney have independently made discoveries about embryonic blood stem cell creation that could one day eliminate the need for blood stem cell donors.

The achievements are part of a move in regenerative medicine towards the use of 'induced pluripotent stem cells' to treat disease, where stem cells are reverse engineered from adult tissue cells rather than using live human or animal embryos.

But while we have known about induced pluripotent stem cells since 2006, scientists still have plenty to learn about how cell differentiation in the human body can be mimicked artificially and safely in the lab for the purposes of delivering targeted medical treatment.

Two studies have emerged from UNSW researchers in this area that shine new light on not only how the precursors to blood stem cells occur in animals and humans, but how they may be induced artificially.

In a study published today in Cell Reports, researchers from UNSW School of Biomedical Engineering demonstrated how a simulation of an embryo's beating heart using a microfluidic device in the lab led to the development of human blood stem cell 'precursors', which are stem cells on the verge of becoming blood stem cells.

And in an article published in Nature Cell Biology recently, researchers from UNSW Medicine & Health revealed the identity of cells in mice embryos responsible for blood stem cell creation.

Both studies are significant steps towards an understanding of how, when, where and which cells are involved in the creation of blood stem cells. In the future, this knowledge could be used to help cancer patients, among others, who have undergone high doses of radio- and chemotherapy, to replenish their depleted blood stem cells.

Emulating the heart
In the study detailed in Cell Reports, lead author Dr Jingjing Li and fellow researchers described how a 3cm x 3cm microfluidic system pumped blood stem cells produced from an embryonic stem cell line to mimic an embryo's beating heart and conditions of blood circulation.

She said that in the last few decades, biomedical engineers have been trying to make blood stem cells in laboratory dishes to solve the problem of donor blood stem cell shortages. But no one has yet been able to achieve it.

"Part of the problem is that we still don't fully understand all the processes going on in the microenvironment during embryonic development that leads to the creation of blood stem cells at about day 32 in the embryonic development," Dr Li said.

"So we made a device mimicking the heart beating and the blood circulation and an orbital shaking system which causes shear stress -- or friction -- of the blood cells as they move through the device or around in a dish."

These systems promoted the development of precursor blood stem cells which can differentiate into various blood components -- white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets and others. They were excited to see this same process -- known as haematopoiesis -- replicated in the device.

Study co-author Associate Professor Robert Nordon said he was amazed that not only did the device create blood stem cell precursors that went on to produce differentiated blood cells, but it also created the tissue cells of the embryonic heart environment that is crucial to this process.

"The thing that just wows me about this is that blood stem cells, when they form in the embryo, form in the wall of the main vessel called the aorta. And they basically pop out of this aorta and go into the circulation, and then go to the liver and form what's called definitive haematopoiesis, or definitive blood formation.

"Getting an aorta to form and then the cells actually emerging from that aorta into the circulation, that is the crucial step required for generating these cells."

"What we've shown is that we can generate a cell that can form all the different types of blood cells. We've also shown that it is very closely related to the cells lining the aorta -- so we know its origin is correct -- and that it proliferates," A/Prof. Nordon said.

The researchers are cautiously optimistic about their achievement in emulating embryonic heart conditions with a mechanical device. They hope it could be a step towards solving challenges limiting regenerative medical treatments today: donor blood stem cell shortages, rejection of donor tissue cells, and the ethical issues surrounding the use of IVF embryos.

"Blood stem cells used in transplantation require donors with the same tissue-type as the patient," A/Prof. Nordon said.

"Manufacture of blood stem cells from pluripotent stem cell lines would solve this problem without the need for tissue-matched donors providing a plentiful supply to treat blood cancers or genetic disease."

Dr Li added: "We are working on up-scaling manufacture of these cells using bioreactors."

Mystery solved
Meanwhile, and working independently of Dr Li and A/Prof. Nordon, UNSW Medicine & Health's Professor John Pimanda and Dr Vashe Chandrakanthan were doing their own research into how blood stem cells are created in embryos.

In their study of mice, the researchers looked for the mechanism that is used naturally in mammals to make blood stem cells from the cells that line blood vessels, known as endothelial cells.

"It was already known that this process takes place in mammalian embryos where endothelial cells that line the aorta change into blood cells during haematopoiesis," Prof. Pimanda said.

"But the identity of the cells that regulate this process had up until now been a mystery."

In their paper, Prof. Pimanda and Dr Chandrakanthan described how they solved this puzzle by identifying the cells in the embryo that can convert both embryonic and adult endothelial cells into blood cells. The cells -- known as 'Mesp1-derived PDGFRA+ stromal cells' -- reside underneath the aorta, and only surround the aorta in a very narrow window during embryonic development.

Dr Chandrakanthan said that knowing the identity of these cells provides medical researchers with clues on how mammalian adult endothelial cells could be triggered to create blood stem cells -- something they are normally unable to do.

"Our research showed that when endothelial cells from the embryo or the adult are mixed with 'Mesp1 derived PDGFRA+ stromal cells' -- they start making blood stem cells," he said.

While more research is needed before this can be translated into clinical practice -- including confirming the results in human cells -- the discovery could provide a potential new tool to generate engraftable haematopoietic cells.

"Using your own cells to generate blood stem cells could eliminate the need for donor blood transfusions or stem cell transplantation. Unlocking mechanisms used by Nature brings us a step closer to achieving this goal," Prof. Pimanda said.

Jingjing Li, Osmond Lao, Freya F. Bruveris, Liyuan Wang, Kajal Chaudry, Ziqi Yang, Nona Farbehi, Elizabeth S. Ng, Edouard G. Stanley, Richard P. Harvey, Andrew G. Elefanty, Robert E. Nordon. Mimicry of embryonic circulation enhances the hoxa hemogenic niche and human blood development. Cell Reports, 2022; 40 (11): 111339 DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2022.111339

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.