inbox and environment news: Issue 577

March 26 - April 1  2023: Issue 577

Varroa Mite Spread: Palm Beach - Whale Beach Now In Eradication Zone: Local Beekeeper's Hives Safe So Far

Palm Beach and Whale beach became part of the eradication zone for European honey bees on March 20 - the NSW DPI sent through a media release and has been out in our community inspecting local hives, all of which have been found free of the mite at present.

President of the Northern Beaches Beekeepers Giles Stoddard, spoke to Pittwater Online this week stating his own hives (Avalon Honey) had been inspected on Monday, March 20, and all were good. Mr. Stoddard is known in the community for his advocacy of keeping hives clean and the processes to do so. 

He is pleased the DPI is still pursuing its eradication program for infected hives, although he understands how devastating it must be for those impacted to lose whole colonies they have worked for years to build.

''It's the feral European honeybees we have to watch out for, those that are not part of a hive but are in the landscape and can infect other hives. Unless we get a very strong wind blowing from the Central Coast and Umina, local hives should remain varroa free.''

A baiting program is being rolled out by DPI for those wild honeybees using an insecticide which does not attract non-target species, such as native bees.

On March 21, 2023 NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) stated surveillance and tracing activities has confirmed six new Varroa mite infestations in beehives at four locations across the Central Coast, Hunter and mid-north coast regions.

The new sites are at Mooney Mooney, Clarence Town, Mitchell’s Flat and Booral. The new detections bring the total infested premises to 137.

DPI Varroa Mite Response State Coordinator, Dr Chris Anderson, said the detections were a testament to the extensive tracing and surveillance work being undertaken, by beekeepers and DPI, to manage the outbreak. 

“These new sites have low mite loads, which suggests they are very recent infestations,” he said.

“The recent detection on the Central Coast, however, has meant DPI is now concentrating its Varroa response surveillance activities into the northern suburbs of Sydney, to ensure the infestation is localised and that there is no mite population in the area.

“DPI has also had to extend the eradication (red) zone following the new detections on the mid-north coast.

“We know that this is a difficult time for impacted beekeepers, but controlling and eradicating this destructive mite is critically important to NSW and Australia.

“Changes in the number of infected premises are expected at this stage in the response, however what is encouraging is that these mites are being found quickly.

“We thank beekeepers and the community for their cooperation with the response. 

For more information, visit the DPI website or call 1800 084 881

NB; Varroa mite emergency zones as of March 24, 2023; There are three Varroa mite zones.

Photo European honeybee at Newport: AJG/PON

Australia’s 2023 Eucalypt Of The Year Is The Angophora Costata!

Announced by Eucalypt Australia on March 23 2023, and during its 10th year, this wonderful tree can be seen throughout our area and is so loved one of our early Reserves is named for one example, which sadly fell back to earth, after a long life, just last year in Angophora Reserve at Avalon Beach - there are some insights in the 2022 History page - which will rerun as the History feature this Issues as a special extra celebration.

It’s no wonder the tree is so well-loved, with those fantastically wiggly limbs that capture the imagination, and that smooth red bark that calls out to be touched!

Known as ​​kajimbourra by the Dharawal people, the Sydney Red Gum is synonymous with the sandstone escarpments of the Greater Sydney region, where it grows in woodlands on shallow, sandy soils. Also known as the Smooth-barked Apple, the species is distributed from Bodalla on the NSW South Coast to Coffs Harbour (NSW North Coast), from the coast to adjacent inland ranges. Interestingly, there are disjunct populations on sandstone escarpments west of Townsville, suggesting a wider historic distribution. 

Many Australians will be most familiar with the Sydney Red Gum as an important part of the urban forest in our cities and towns. With its broad trunk, attractive bark and spreading form, the species has been planted widely across suburban parklands and streetscapes and is beloved well beyond its natural range.

The Sydney Red Gum has this in common with this year’s runners-up, the Lemon-scented Gum (Corymbia citriodora) and Red Flowering Gum (Corymbia ficifolia). Each are so widely and commonly planted they have become part of the Australian psyche, at least in the south, where they evoke strong memories of childhood summers and days past.

But this year, it's our beloved angophora's turn to be lauded and applauded - if you want to see them persist, and have the room, plant a tree - some local instances:

On a local street

In McKay Reserve


Kimbriki Resource Recovery Centre March 2023 Updates: Native Bees Are Back At Kimbriki + Clean Water Diversion System

Native Bees are Back

The team at the Eco House & Garden have recently been collaborating with the team in Ku-ring-gai Council's Strategy & Environment Department (Loving Living Ku-ring-gai). Various information and experiences have been shared on topics including education, composting set ups, waterwise gardens, visitor interactions and experiences, and native bees. 

Sadly Kimbriki, like many others, lost our native bees during the extreme weather conditions experienced in 2022. We were delighted to receive a new native beehive yesterday, March 24, 203, for our Eco Garden, donated by Ku-ring-gai Council and kindly delivered and installed by their resident bee expert, Alex Austin. We look forward to having the "girls" in our garden and sharing the joys of our stingless native bees with our visitors again.

Find out more about the importance of native bees at:

Photos: Kimbriki Resource Recovery Centre

Clean Water Diversion System

Have you visited Kimbriki recently and noticed the earthworks taking place?

We are busy implementing a Clean Water Diversion System, which will capture and divert water around the Kimbriki site. 

Mark Wiser, Kimbriki's General Manager Operations provides a great overview of this important infrastructure project.

Swamp Wallaby At Palm Beach

Photos: Emilio Gallego, taken Friday March 3, 2023 at Dark Gully - PLEASE do not speed through this corner.

Westleigh Park - Critically Endangered Forest - POM Open For Feedback By Hornsby Council Until April 8

Purchased from Sydney Water in 2016, the 36-hectare Westleigh Park, Hornsby Council states, will play a key role in recreational provision for the district including a diverse range of provisions for formal sports, passive recreation (e.g. picnics, walking, playground), mountain biking and ancillary facilities (including internal roads, carparks, amenities buildings, shared paths and water management).

At its 8 March 2023 Council Meeting, Hornsby Council endorsed a revised draft Master Plan for Westleigh Park to be published for comment as part of the exhibition of the draft Plan of Management (read the Business Papers and Minutes).

The revised draft Master Plan seeks to provide a conceptual framework for ongoing planning on the site.

The draft Plan of Management establishes an appropriate character and scale for the development and management for Westleigh Park. It will enable the construction of new open space facilities at Westleigh Park to commence and will help identify a program of development and ongoing maintenance works.

Closes April 9, 2023


Video published March 24, 2023 by Wild Bush Solutions

Calling All Citizen Scientists: Hunt For Shark Egg Cases Launches In Australia

March 20, 2023: CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, is calling on citizen scientists to find and record egg cases washing up on Australian coasts, so researchers can better-understand oviparous chondrichthyans: egg-laying sharks, skates and chimaeras.

The Great Eggcase Hunt, an initiative of United Kingdom-based charity The Shark Trust, has launched in Australia in partnership with CSIRO to help provide new data for scientists studying the taxonomy and distribution of oviparous chondrichthyans.

Helen O’Neill, CSIRO Australian National Fish Collection biologist, said recording sightings of egg cases on beaches and coastlines would help scientists discover what the egg cases of different chondrichthyans look like, with some species still unknown.

“Egg cases are important for understanding the basic biology of oviparous chondrichthyans, as well as revealing valuable information such as where different species live and where their nurseries are located,” Ms O’Neill said.

Cat Gordon, Senior Conservation Officer at The Shark Trust, said the Great Eggcase Hunt began in the United Kingdom 20 years ago and has since recorded more than 380,000 individual egg cases from around the world.

“We’re really excited to be partnering with CSIRO to officially launch this citizen science project in Australia and to be able to expand the Shark Trust’s eggcase identification resources," Ms Gordon said.

"There’s such a diversity of species to be found around the Australian coastline, and with a tailored identification guide created for each state, they really showcase the different catsharks, skate, horn sharks, carpetsharks and chimaera eggcases that can be found washed ashore or seen while diving,” she said.

Also known as mermaids’ purses, egg cases come in many different shapes and colours, ranging from cream and butterscotch to deep amber and black. They range in size from approximately 4 to 25 centimetres.

Some egg cases have a smooth and simple appearance, while others have ridges, keels or curling tendrils that anchor them to kelp or coral. Port Jackson sharks have corkscrew-shaped egg cases that they wedge into rocks.

Each different species' egg case has a unique morphology that is helpful in taxonomy, the science of describing and naming species.

“At the Australian National Fish Collection, we are matching egg cases to the species that laid them,” Ms O’Neill said.

“We borrow egg cases from other collections, museums and aquariums around the world and use our own specimens collected from fish markets and surveys at sea or extracted from the ovaries of preserved specimens in our collection,” she said.

Chondrichthyans have the most diverse reproduction strategies found among vertebrates, encompassing parthenogenesis (no father), multiple paternity (more than one father of the litter), adelphophagy (baby sharks predating each other in the womb) and various modes of egg laying.

Egg cases found on beaches rarely contain live embryos, whose incubation times range from a few months up to three years, depending on the species.

“Egg cases found washed up on beaches have likely already hatched, died prematurely due to being washed ashore or been predated on by creatures like sea snails, who bore a hole in the egg case and suck out the contents,” Ms O’Neill said.

The Shark Trust is a United-Kingdom-based charity dedicated to safeguarding the future of sharks, skates, rays, and chimaera through positive change. The Trust achieves this through science, education, influence and action.

To get involved in the Great Eggcase Hunt, you can record sightings via the Shark Trust citizen science mobile phone app or through the project website:

Photo: Port Jackson shark egg on Station Beach at Pittwater. Image PON/AJG

The Port Jackson shark (Heterodontus portusjacksoni) is a nocturnal, oviparous (egg laying) type of bullhead shark of the family Heterodontidae, found in the coastal region of southern Australia, including the waters off Port Jackson. It has a large, blunt head with prominent forehead ridges and dark brown harness-like markings on a lighter grey-brown body, and can grow up to 1.65 metres (5.5 ft) long. They are the largest in the genus Heterodontus.

The Port Jackson shark is a migratory species, traveling south in the summer and returning north to breed in the winter. It feeds on hard-shelled mollusks, crustaceans, sea urchins, and fish. Identification of this species is very easy due to the pattern of harness-like markings that cross the eyes, run along the back to the first dorsal fin, then cross the side of the body, in addition to the spine in front of both dorsal fins.

These sharks are are oviparous, meaning that they lay eggs rather than give live birth to their young. The species has an annual breeding cycle which begins in late August and continues until the middle of November. During this time, the female lays pairs of eggs every 8-17 days. As many as eight pairs can be laid during this period. The eggs mature for 10–11 months before the hatchlings, known as neonates, can break out of the egg capsule. 

Port Jackson shark adults are often seen resting in caves in groups, and prefer to associate with specific sharks based on sex and size. Juvenile Port Jackson sharks, on the other hand, do not appear to be social. A captive study showed that these juveniles did not prefer to spend time next to other sharks, even when they were familiar with each other (i.e. tank mates). Juvenile Port Jackson sharks have unique personality traits, just like humans. Some were bolder than others when exploring a novel environment and they also reacted differently to a stressful situation (in choosing a freeze or flight response).

Juvenile Port Jackson sharks are also capable of learning to associate bubbles, LED lights, or sounds with receiving a food reward, can distinguish different quantities (i.e. count), and can learn by watching what other sharks are doing.

At least in some of these lab experiments males are shyer than females and boldness increases with consecutive trials of the same experiment. In experiments with different music genres, none of the sharks tested learned to discriminate between a jazz and a classical music stimulus.

Port Jackson Sharks are considered harmless to humans, although the teeth, whilst not large or sharp, can give a painful bite. 

Heterodontus portusjacksoni. Photo: Mark Norman, Museums Victoria

Cat Owners Encouraged To Keep Their Pets Safe At Home

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Northern Beaches residents are being encouraged to keep their pets safe at home as part of a new animal protection campaign.

According to RSPCA NSW, two out of three cat owners have lost a cat to a roaming-related accident, and one in three to a car accident. Northern Beaches Council is proud to be one of 11 councils partnering with RSPCA NSW as part of the Keeping Cats Safe at Home project.

Promoting responsible ownership, the new campaign goes beyond desexing and micro chipping of beloved cats and asks owners to consider keeping their cats at home.

Northern Beaches CEO Ray Brownlee said there’s a dual benefit to cats and local wildlife that flows directly from promoting responsible ownership of domesticated cats.

“Northern Beaches residents love their pets, but they’re also passionate about protecting the local environment,” Mr Brownlee said.

“Because pet cats occupy a special place in our hearts we need to educate the community on how have them microchip and desexed to keep them safe. This initiative has an educational focus. It aims to protect tiny native species like lizards, mammals, baby birds and frogs, while also preventing domesticated cats from falling prey to road accidents.”

In 2021, the NSW Government awarded a $2.5 million grant from the NSW Environmental Trust to RSPCA NSW to deliver the project.

To help promote the campaign, Council is asking cat-lovers living on the Northern Beaches to submit a photo of their cat or kitten living their best life at home and go in the draw to win one of 10 $1000 vouchers for a deluxe outdoor cat enclosure from Catnets. The competition opens on March 1st and closes on Sunday April 9th 2023. Finalists will be published in an online gallery.

For competition details visit

Learn more about keeping cats safe at

Photo: Greg Hume

Black Summer Vigil For Wildlife: April 2nd

The New South Wales Wildlife Council invites all wildlife carers, wildlife vets, vet nurses, first responders and supporters to the upcoming Black Summer Vigil for Wildlife on Sunday April 2nd 2023 starting at 2pm.

Please join us for the Black Summer Vigil, a three-year anniversary memorial service for the three billion animals who lost their lives in the fires – “one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history”.

Attend online or in-person at Camperdown Memorial Rest Park (Sydney). 

RSVP at:

You’ll hear personal stories from the NSW Wildlife Council, Southern Cross Wildlife Care and other first responders across wildlife rescue, rural fire service, photojournalism, Aboriginal custodianship, veterinary medicine, ecology and more.

+ Performance and Ceremony by Jannawi Dance Clan, sharing a Dharug cultural perspective to honour the Ancestors and bring the spirit of the animals into our midst.

Join us to honour the animals who perished – and in doing so, celebrate the unique and extraordinary wildlife of these lands.

Speakers include:

Greg Mullins, Former Commissioner, Fire and Rescue NSW; Climate Councillor and founder, Emergency Leaders for Climate Action. Greg warned Australia's then–Prime Minister in April 2019 that a bushfire catastrophe was coming. He pleaded for support and was ignored, then risked his life dealing with the ramifications on the ground. “You couldn’t see very far because of the orange smoke. Everything was dark. It was probably 2 o’clock in the afternoon but it was like night. Then I saw something moving on the side of the road and I walked closer. It was a mob of kangaroos. The speed of that fire with its pyroconvective storm driving it in every direction, they had nowhere to go. They came out of the forest, on fire, and dropped dead on the road. I’ve never seen that. Kangaroos know what to do in a fire. They’re fast animals. Climate change, driven by the burning of coal, oil, and gas is driving worsening bushfires across Australia, and putting our precious, irreplaceable wildlife in danger.”

Internationally recognised ecologist and WWF board member, Professor Christopher Dickman oversaw the work calculating the animal deaths from Black Summer. A Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor Dickman already wore the heavy task of being an ecologist during the sixth mass extinction, in the country that has the worst rate of mammalian extinction in the world. On 8 January 2020 media around the world shared his finding that Black Summer fires had killed one billion animals. Sadly, the fires continued for two more months, and his team's final count was three billion. This does not include invertebrates: it is estimated 240 trillion beetles, moths, spiders, yabbies and other invertebrates died in the fires.

Coming up from the South Coast, owner of Wild2Free Kangaroo Sanctuary Rae Harvey, as seen in The Bond and The Fire. She is in the sad position of having personally known and cared for a number of Black Summer's victims: many of the orphaned joeys she cared for were killed in the fires. (She nearly died herself too.) For three years, she has been unable to even speak their names. Now, for the first time, she will tell the story of the joeys she lost.

Cultural burning practitioner and Southern NSW Regional Coordinator with Firesticks Alliance, Djiringanj-Yuin Custodian Dan Morgan. Dan practises using Aboriginal knowledge to heal Country. He has worked for 18 years with the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service and is on the board of management for the Biamanga National Park, a sacred area home to the last surviving koalas on the NSW south coast – which was partly destroyed by the fires of Black Summer. “The animals that live on our sacred sites are our Ancestors, it's our Cultural obligation to protect them. We have evolved with our Country over thousands of years, nourishing and protecting all living species. Our Country represents our people. So when the fires came, it was devastating to see the aftermath, and the feeling of helplessness was truly traumatising for our people, due to the denial of our Cultural right to manage Country as our Ancestors did for thousands of years prior to colonisation. Australia needs to make legislative changes that allow us to heal Country and our community through the fire knowledge and to stop incinerating ecosystems with destructive 'hazard-reduction' burns."

Head of Programs & Disaster Response at Humane Society International (HSI), Evan Quartermain was one of the first responders on Kangaroo Island where nearly 40% of the island burnt at high severity: “Those were some of the toughest scenes I’d ever witnessed as an animal rescuer: the bodies of charred animals as far as the eye can see. Every time we found an animal alive it felt like a miracle.” As a result of this firsthand experience, HSI commissioned a report into the state of Australia's disaster response for wildlife, which we'll also hear about.

+ More to come.

The Black Summer Vigil is brought to you by the Department of Animals, Animals Australia, the NSW Wildlife Council, World Animal Protection, Humane Society International and Defend the Wild, with support from WIRES, Firesticks Alliance, Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Wild2Free Kangaroo Rescue, Four Paws, Friends of the Koala and Kangaroos Alive. 

Permaculture Northern Beaches - Upcoming Events

Permaculture Northern Beaches (PNB) is an active local group on Sydney's Northern Beaches working for ecological integrity and assisting you on a pathway to sustainability.

PNB holds monthly permaculture-related public meetings on the last Thursday of each month at the Narrabeen Tramshed Community & Arts Centre, Lakeview Room, 1395A Pittwater Road, Narrabeen. Buses stop directly at the centre and there is also car parking nearby. Doors open at 7:15 pm and meetings take place monthly from February to November. 

30 March - What does sustainable building really involve? 
Join local architect Jo Gile, Director from Archisoul Architects at Balgowlah to hear of sustainable building techniques and practices with examples from the Northern Beaches. 

The Archisoul Architects team have over 25 years of experience creating contemporary, intuitive, ecological, residential and commercial spaces that meet the emotional, physical, functional and spiritual needs of residents, visitors and the community. Their clear intention is to create premium quality iconic homes, buildings and spaces that inspire creativity, stimulate social interaction and are in complete sustainable harmony with their environment. See:

Entry is by donation ($5 is recommended) all are welcome!
Organic teas and coffees will be available - don't forget to BYO Keep Cup! Bring a plate to share food or swap plants, books, CDs, and items for your home or garden.
At: Narrabeen Tramshed Community centre, 1395A Pittwater Road, Narrabeen, 7.15pm

27 April - The Diversity of Hemp
Join Kirstie Wulf to learn about design, orientation and material selection to provide comfortable, healthy homes that work with nature to cool and heat your environment. Beatrice Kuyumgian Rankin of Hemp Gallery will complete the panel to discuss the other many uses of hemp from textiles to clothing to body and bath products. 

Kirstie has a particular passion for natural building materials including hempcrete, light earth, straw bale, mud brick and rammed earth while using smart design.  She is the owner and building designer of Shelter Building Design.

Beatrice Kuyumgian Rankin owner of Hemp Gallery and at the forefront of the Hemp industry in Australia will share her in-depth knowledge of the diverse use of Hemp in the low-environmental-impact manufacturing of textiles, hair, body, skin-care, soap and nutritional products.  Come and get your Hemp questions answered!

Entry is by donation ($5 is recommended) all are welcome!
Organic teas and coffees will be available - don't forget to BYO Keep Cup! Bring a plate to share food or swap plants, books, CDs, and items for your home or garden.
At: Narrabeen Tramshed Community centre, 1395A Pittwater Road, Narrabeen, 7.15pm

29 April - Tropical Permaculture Garden Tour 
Sydney has a climate that is suitable for many fruiting plants considered tropical when grown correctly these plants can be very productive producing an abundance of fruit. Join Permaculture Northern Beaches and longtime permaculture practitioner Yalith Ratnavibushena in a garden tour showcasing the best practices for growing tropical fruits in a home permaculture garden.  With many versatile uses banana groves, if properly maintained, can really help your permaculture garden to flourish. 

The garden tour will involve a tour of Yalith's,  Allambie Heights tropical permaculture garden. With over 17 years of experience as a Research Officer with the Agriculture Department in Sri Lanka, Yalith has a wealth of knowledge in the care and maintenance of tropical fruit trees. His garden has a variety of tropical fruiting plants including papaya and four varieties of bananas.
Learn about a variety of tropical fruiting plants that are suitable for Sydney’s climate and different varieties of bananas; suitable soil preparation and composting for tropical fruit trees;  skills in building and maintaining a banana circle.; and the role bananas can play in the overall ecosystem of your garden. 

Dress for the Weather &  bring a water bottle, notebook, and sense of adventure. 

Cost: $20 for non-members and $10 for PNB members. Secure your tickets through Eventbrite here.
At: Allambie Heights

7 May - International Permaculture Day 
Join us at New Leaf Nursery Ingleside for PNB workshops and our unique take on International Permaculture Day.
May 7th, the first Sunday in May,  is International Permaculture Day (IPD). A day when all things permaculture are celebrated around the Earth across continents from Brazil to India, to the UK to the USA, and in Australia where permaculture originated.  

On IPD we will celebrate with workshops and activities at the permaculture nursery New Leaf at 224 Powderworks Road Ingleside:

The day will include talks, workshops and interactive sessions as well as the wonderful plants, chickens, and all the staff at New Leaf.
The program so far:
  • Learn about Permaculture design
  • Caring for and raising chickens
  • Native bees and bee hotels
  • Living Skills - soap making
  • AND Live Music!
At: New Leaf Nursery, 224 Powderworks Road, Ingleside

Report Fox Sightings

Fox sightings, signs of fox activity, den locations and attacks on native or domestic animals can be reported into FoxScan. FoxScan is a free resource for residents, community groups, local Councils, and other land managers to record and report fox sightings and control activities. 

Our Council's Invasive species Team receives an alert when an entry is made into FoxScan.  The information in FoxScan will assist with planning fox control activities and to notify the community when and where foxes are active.

Weed Of The Week: Cassia - Please Pull Out And Save Our Bush

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

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

seed pods

New Marine Wildlife Rescue Group On The Central Coast

A new wildlife group was launched on the Central Coast on Saturday, December 10, 2022.

Marine Wildlife Rescue Central Coast (MWRCC) had its official launch at The Entrance Boat Shed at 10am.

The group comprises current and former members of ASTR, ORRCA, Sea Shepherd, Greenpeace, WIRES and Wildlife ARC, as well as vets, academics, and people from all walks of life.

Well known marine wildlife advocate and activist Cathy Gilmore is spearheading the organisation.

“We believe that it is time the Central Coast looked after its own marine wildlife, and not be under the control or directed by groups that aren’t based locally,” Gilmore said.

“We have the local knowledge and are set up to respond and help injured animals more quickly.

“This also means that donations and money fundraised will go directly into helping our local marine creatures, and not get tied up elsewhere in the state.”

The organisation plans to have rehabilitation facilities and rescue kits placed in strategic locations around the region.

MWRCC will also be in touch with Indigenous groups to learn the traditional importance of the local marine environment and its inhabitants.

“We want to work with these groups and share knowledge between us,” Gilmore said.

“This is an opportunity to help save and protect our local marine wildlife, so if you have passion and commitment, then you are more than welcome to join us.”

Marine Wildlife Rescue Central Coast has a Facebook page where you may contact members. Visit:

Watch Out - Shorebirds About

Summer is here so watch your step because beach-nesting and estuary-nesting birds have started setting up home on our shores.
Did you know that Careel Bay and other spots throughout our area are part of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP)?

This flyway, and all of the stopping points along its way, are vital to ensure the survival of these Spring and Summer visitors. This is where they rest and feed on their journeys.  For example, did you know that the bar-tailed godwit flies for 239 hours for 8,108 miles from Alaska to Australia?

Not only that, Shorebirds such as endangered oystercatchers and little terns lay their eggs in shallow scraped-out nests in the sand, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Threatened Species officer Ms Katherine Howard has said.
Even our regular residents such as seagulls are currently nesting to bear young.

What can you do to help them?
Known nest sites may be indicated by fencing or signs. The whole community can help protect shorebirds by keeping out of nesting areas marked by signs or fences and only taking your dog to designated dog offleash area. 

Just remember WE are visitors to these areas. These birds LIVE there. This is their home.

Four simple steps to help keep beach-nesting birds safe:
1. Look out for bird nesting signs or fenced-off nesting areas on the beach, stay well clear of these areas and give the parent birds plenty of space.
2. Walk your dogs in designated dog-friendly areas only and always keep them on a leash over summer.
3. Stay out of nesting areas and follow all local rules.
4. Chicks are mobile and don't necessarily stay within fenced nesting areas. When you're near a nesting area, stick to the wet sand to avoid accidentally stepping on a chick.

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

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.

Bushcare In Pittwater 

For further information or to confirm the meeting details for below groups, please contact Council's Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367 or visit Council's bushcare webpage to find out how you can get involved.

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

Friends Of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment Activities

Bush Regeneration - Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment  
This is a wonderful way to become connected to nature and contribute to the health of the environment.  Over the weeks and months you can see positive changes as you give native species a better chance to thrive.  Wildlife appreciate the improvement in their habitat.

Belrose area - Thursday mornings 
Belrose area - Weekend mornings by arrangement
Contact: Phone or text Conny Harris on 0432 643 295

Wheeler Creek - Wednesday mornings 9-11am
Contact: Phone or text Judith Bennett on 0402 974 105
Or email: Friends of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment :

Gardens And Environment Groups And Organisations In Pittwater

Federal Government States It Is Using Every Tool In The Box To Conserve More Of Our Iconic Landscapes; Invites Feedback On Framework

March 16, 2023
The Federal Government is seeking feedback on the principles that will guide which areas could be formally recognised for their contribution to nature conservation.

The framework, once finalised, will support recognition of biodiversity conservation outside formal protected areas like national parks and Indigenous Protected Areas.

The Government has set a target to protect and conserve 30 per cent of our land and 30 per cent of our oceans by 2030. This new approach to conserving land will play a part in helping us reach this target. 

To be recognised, conservation areas, or ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’ must have important biodiversity values and the owners must commit to maintaining these values in the long-term. This would always be voluntary – and areas would only be recognised with the landowner’s consent.

This framework is part of a global initiative. Other countries such as Canada and South Africa have already established national processes for recognising and reporting other effective area-based conservation measures. As of June 2022, there were 775 other effective area-based conservation measures across nine countries.

There are a variety of ways conservation recognition could work. For example, a private landholder who holds a large block of land next to a national park that is habitat for endangered species could have the area recognised as part of our national conserved areas estate.

Other effective area-based conservation measures are defined by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity as:
  • A geographically defined area other than a Protected Area, which is governed and managed
  • in ways that achieve positive and sustained long-term outcomes for the in-situ conservation
  • of biodiversity, with associated ecosystem functions and services and where applicable,
  • cultural, spiritual, socio-economic, and other locally relevant values. 
Other effective area-based conservation will complement the Government’s Nature Repair Market. An area that is recognised as an other effective area-based conservation measure could also be issued with a biodiversity certificate which can then be sold to other parties.

Once finalised, the new framework will guide landholders on how to meet requirements to achieve OECM recognition. 

Feedback closes April 21, 2023

Quotes attributable to Minister for the Environment and Water, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP:

“We need every tool in the box to protect our precious environment for our kids and grandkids.

“We have set an ambitious national target to protect and conserve 30 per cent of our land by 2030. And we are on our way with 22 per cent of Australia’s landmass now protected.

“That means that we still need to protect or conserve an additional 60 million hectares, roughly 9 times the size of Tasmania. High quality conservation areas or other effective area-based conservation measures can help us get there.

“I encourage all Australians to have their say and help better conserve our iconic landscapes.”

Australia’s 116 new coal, oil and gas projects equate to 215 new coal power stations

Richard DennissCrawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Australia has 116 new coal, oil and gas projects in the pipeline. If they all proceed as planned, an extra 1.4 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases would be released into the atmosphere annually by 2030.

To put that in perspective, Australia’s total domestic greenhouse gas emissions in 2021–22 were 490 million tonnes. So annual emissions from these new projects would be the almost three times larger than the nation’s 2021-22 emissions. That’s the equivalent of starting up 215 new coal power stations, based on the average emissions of Australia’s current existing coal power stations.

The reason we can get away with this is the current global framework for emissions accounting only considers emissions generated onshore. And almost all coal, oil and gas from these new projects would be exported. But as we share the atmosphere with the rest of the people on the planet, the consequences will come back to bite us.

This week the Synthesis Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) described how fossil fuels are wreaking havoc on the planet. The science is clear: the IPCC says fossil fuel use is overwhelmingly driving global warming.

“The sooner emissions are reduced this decade, the greater our chance of limiting warming to 1.5℃ or 2℃. Projected CO₂ emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure (power plants, mines, pipelines) without additional abatement exceed the remaining carbon budget for 1.5℃,” the IPCC says, let alone new coal, oil and gas projects.

In the words of UN Secretary General António Guterres:

Every country must be part of the solution. Demanding others move first only ensures humanity comes last.

Guterres added that “the Acceleration Agenda calls for a number of other actions”, specifically:

  • No new coal and the phasing out of coal by 2030 in OECD countries and 2040 in all other countries

  • Ending all international public and private funding of coal

  • Ensuring net zero electricity generation by 2035 for all developed countries and 2040 for the rest of the world

  • Ceasing all licensing or funding of new oil and gas – consistent with the findings of the International Energy Agency

  • Stopping any expansion of existing oil and gas reserves

  • Shifting subsidies from fossil fuels to a just energy transition

  • Establishing a global phase down of existing oil and gas production compatible with the 2050 global net zero target.

Introducing the latest IPCC climate report.

Hidden In Plain Sight

Our new research, released today by the Australia Institute, reveals the pollution from Australia’s 116 new fossil fuel projects. These are listed among the federal government’s major projects.

Government analysts estimate each project’s start date and annual production figures. If they are correct, by 2030 the projects would produce a total of 1,466 million tonnes of coal and 15,400 petajoules of gas and oil.

Then it’s fairly straightforward to calculate emissions. We simply multiplied these enormous new fossil fuel volumes by their “emissions factors”. When one tonne of coal is burned it releases approximately 2.65 tonnes of carbon dioxide or its equivalent (CO₂-e) into the atmosphere, and burning one terajoule (0.001 petejoules) of natural gas results in 51.5 tonnes CO₂-e.

Combined with the 164 million tonnes of emissions that the mining of these fuels would cause, the result is a planet-warming, but spine-chilling, total of 4.8 billion tonnes by 2030.

This amount is 24 times greater than the ambition of the federal government’s key emissions reduction policy, the so-called Safeguard Mechanism. That aims to reduce emissions by 205 million tonnes over the same period.

Column graph comparing the tall stack of emissions from new fossil fuel projects to the small amount of emissions covered by the Safeguard Mechanism.
Author provided

Rather than embrace the task of decarbonising the Australian economy, the Albanese government has continued down the path laid out by the former Coalition government. It’s a path that relies more heavily on the use of carbon offsets than curtailing coal and gas.

Even though the rest of the world is committed to burning less fossil fuels, there are more gas and coal mine project proposals in Australia today than there were in 2021.

Note also that this list does not include several large, advanced projects actively supported by Australian governments, including Santos’s Barossa gas field, Shell’s Bowen Gas Project, Chevron’s Cleo Acme, and several vast new unconventional gas basins including the Beetaloo, Canning and Lake Eyre basins.

3 Reasons To Change Our Ways

Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen argues that Australians are not responsible for the emissions from our fossil fuel exports. That’s because the international accounting rules distinguish between the emissions that occur within our borders (known as scope 1 and 2 emissions) and those that occur when other countries burn the coal and gas we sell them (known as scope 3 emissions).

Extinction Rebellion protesters are seen pushing an animatronic burning Koala puppet called Blinky through the streets of the CBD in Brisbane, Wednesday, March 15, 2023
No matter where in the world Australian fossil fuels are burned, the emissions will harm our nation’s wildlife (including endangered koalas), people and properties. DARREN ENGLAND/AAP

But if Bowen really wants to tackle climate change, there are three reasons both he and Australians should bear this responsibility:

First, there’s the moral argument. Australia didn’t ban whaling and asbestos mining because we wanted to stop Australians from eating whales or building hazardous homes. We stopped these activities because they were dangerous. Countries can and do shape the world they live in.

Second, even just the emissions in Australia from these 116 new fossil fuel projects (their methane leaks, fuel use and other relevant emissions in Australia) will pour 344 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere by 2030. That dwarfs the 205 million tonnes of emissions the entire Safeguard Mechanism is supposed to save over that same period.

And finally, leaving aside the risks of catastrophic climate change, which is admittedly a big ask, it is hard to overstate the risks to the Australian economy of continuing to focus our investment on the expansion of export industries that the rest of the world is committed to transitioning away from. If we aimed the $11 billion per year we spend on fossil fuel subsidies at decarbonising our economy, we would slash emissions in no time.


No New Coal, Oil And Gas

The Australian government continues to support unlimited growth in fossil fuel production and export, despite clear statements from the United Nations, International Energy Agency (IEA) and IPCC that new fossil fuel projects are incompatible with global temperature goals.

No matter where in the world Australian fossil fuels are burned, they will turn up the heat. We can’t escape the simple truth that humanity must stop burning fossil fuels. It’s the only path to a liveable future.The Conversation

Richard Denniss, Adjunct Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

Species don’t live in isolation: what changing threats to 4 marsupials tell us about the future

Once abundant, woylies – or brush-tailed bettongs – are now critically endangered. John GouldCC BY-SA
William GearyDeakin UniversityAdrian WayneThe University of Western AustraliaEuan RitchieDeakin University, and Tim DohertyUniversity of Sydney

Conserving native wildlife is a challenging task and Australia’s unenviable extinction record shows us we urgently need more sophisticated and effective approaches.

Too often we focus on saving individual threatened species. But in the wild, species do not live neatly in isolation. They are part of rich ecosystems, relying on many other species to survive. To save species often means saving this web of life.

Our new research models what’s likely to happen to four well-known Western Australian marsupials in the biodiversity hotspot of south-western Australia, by identifying key drivers of their populations over time.

In the past, these species were most at risk from habitat loss. But when we ran our models forwards, we found all four species would be at more risk from climate change, which is bringing heightened fire risk and a drying trend to the region. Even better control of foxes – a major predator – did not offset the trend fully.

Our work adds further weight to efforts to protect ecosystems in all their complexity. The way species – including feral predators – interact takes place against a changing climate, fire regimes, and human-made change, like logging and grazing.

To give native species their best chance of survival, we have to embrace ecosystem-based conservation, rather than focusing on rescuing individual species.

What Did We Find?

We looked at long-term monitoring data to find out what was having the most impact on the woylie (brush-tailed bettong), chuditch (western quoll), koomal (western brushtail possum) and the quenda (southern brown bandicoot), four animals living in Upper Warren jarrah forests.

Our study species, left to right and clockwise: the koomal (western brushtail possum), chuditch (western quoll), quenda (southern brown bandicoot) and the woylie (brush-tailed bettong). The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA)

All four have undergone considerable population change over the last few decades and some are now threatened due to predation by foxes and feral cats, habitat loss and increased frequency of droughts and bushfires. To add to that, controlled burns, lethal fox control and timber harvesting have all taken place in our study region within this time. What we didn’t know was how these threats and conservation efforts interact.

To find out, we built a complex statistical model of the ecosystem to pinpoint what was driving population change geographically and over time.

We found the abundance of these species were affected most by the historical impact of habitat loss, as well as less food in the form of vegetation or prey due to the area’s ongoing decline in rainfall.

Of the habitat lost here, most was cleared during the 19th and early 20th centuries. But now it has more or less stopped, the legacies of this change continue through the effects of habitat fragmentation and increased incursion by introduced species. That means the main falls in abundance took place decades ago.

What about fire and foxes? These threats had less effect than habitat loss and rainfall declines, which we attribute to the broad management of both of these in the region. It was also difficult to quantify the effects of fox control because of the lack of control areas – essentially, comparable areas without poison baits in the region.

Our work shows there’s not one simple answer for managing this ecosystem. Everything is connected. We need to embrace this complexity so that we can better pinpoint where our actions can make a difference.

This jarrah forest is typical of our study region. The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA)

What’s Likely To Happen?

While habitat loss was the major historical threat, the future looks to be different. Severe fire is set to increase and rainfall reduce due to climate change. This indicates all four species will see falling populations.

Annual rainfall in south-western Australia has already fallen at least 20% below the historical average and further declines are expected. If severe fires arrive more often – and overlap with reduced rainfall – we could see even greater population loss.

These threats mean local conservation managers will be less able to help. Controlling fox numbers may help at present, but in a drier, fierier future, things will get harder.

Our modelling suggests that for woylie and koomal, lethal fox control could boost their resilience to severe fire and reduced rainfall, but not completely offset the expected losses.

Jarrah forests are now experiencing more bushfires. The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA)

What Does This Mean For Ecosystem Management?

It’s long been a goal for conservationists to manage ecosystems as a whole. In reality, this is often incredibly difficult, as we need to consider multiple threats (such as fire and invasive species) and conflicting requirements of different species, in the face of uncertainty about how some ecosystems work, as well as limited budgets.

Ecosystems are complex webs of interacting species, processes and human influences. If we ignore this complexity, we can miss conservation opportunities, or see our actions have less effect than we expected.

Sometimes, well-intended actions can actually produce worse outcomes for some species, such as fox control leading to a boom in wallabies who strip the forest of everything edible.

Studies like ours wouldn’t be possible without the careful collection and synthesis of data over decades. As global climate change accelerates and the effects on ecosystems become increasingly unpredictable, conservation managers are flying blind if they do not have long-term monitoring to inform decisions on where and when to act.

So what can our conservation managers do? They can help ecosystems survive by doing two things. First, keep managing the threats within our control – such as invasive predators and ongoing habitat loss – to help reduce damage from other threats. Second, model and anticipate the effects of future change, and use that knowledge to be as prepared as we can. The Conversation

William Geary, PhD Student, Deakin UniversityAdrian Wayne, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, The University of Western AustraliaEuan Ritchie, Professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, School of Life & Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, and Tim Doherty, ARC DECRA Fellow, University of Sydney

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

How did millions of fish die gasping in the Darling – after three years of rain?

Bill OrmondeAuthor provided
Richard KingsfordUNSW Sydney

Millions of dead fish float on the surface of the river. Native bony herring and introduced young carp, as well as a few mature Murray cod and golden perch. History is repeating on the Darling River at Menindee. This new fish kill is even worse than the enormous 2018–2019 fish kill. And it’s in almost the same location.

But how can so many fish die when we’ve been having floods? What’s killing them?

In both 2018 and 2023, the immediate answer is the same: the fish ran out of oxygen. Five years ago, it was because the river was almost dry. This time, it’s likely to be factors like the heatwave days earlier, receding floodwaters, bacteria pulling oxygen from the water – and no escape.

But two events like this in five years speaks to a deeper cause. The Darling River – known as the Baaka by Barkandji Traditional Owners – is very sick. Too much of its water is siphoned off for agriculture. Our native fish are hardy. They’re used to extremes. But this is too much, even for them.

Short Term Pressure, Long Term Pain

I was a member of the expert panel investigating the 2018–2019 Menindee fish kills. Everyone agreed the fish ran out of oxygen. It was a very dry period, and a cool front arriving after a heat wave mixed deep low-oxygen river water with the thin top layer which had oxygen.

But our panel also examined the long-term changes to the river. We found the long-term cause for the river’s decline was simple: too much water was being diverted upstream.

It wasn’t just climate change – it was irrigation. We warned it could happen again. Now it has.

dead fish darling river
Native bony bream died in their millions, as did young carp, golden perch and even Murray cod. Bill OrmondeAuthor provided

When faced with such environmental disaster, our leaders tend to reach for Dorothea MacKellar’s famous poem, My Country, and its line about a land “Of droughts and flooding rains.” Coalition water ministers at both federal and state level confidently blamed the drought for the first fish kill. Now, NSW premier Dominic Perrottet has linked this kill to the recent floods.

This is part of the reason. But only part. When floodwaters engorged the Darling and its tributaries, it was a bonanza for bacteria that broke down dead wood lying on the floodplain. Unfortunately, this explosion of microorganisms had a devastating side effect: they sucked oxygen out of the water.

This is what’s known as a blackwater event (in reality, more greeny-brown). As the floodwaters moved downstream and the Darling’s flow decreased, millions of fish fled the floodplains and found themselves crammed back in the narrow river channel where they were hit by plummeting oxygen levels.

Desperate, the fish looked to escape. But upstream, their exit was blocked. In December, authorities had fully opened the gates to the Menindee main weir for the first time in a decade to let fish migrate. But now the gates are shut.

menindee weir
Fish could swim up river past the Menindee main weir in December - but as flows slowed, the gates have been shut. Richard KingsworthAuthor provided

They couldn’t get into the main Menindee Lakes, where they might have found water with more oxygen, as they were blocked by the regulators – large taps used mainly to let water out.

Could they escape downstream? Perhaps some did. But for millions of fish, there was no time. Their bodies will only make the problem worse, as tonnes of rotting fish deposit vast quantities of nutrients into the river. That’s great for bacteria, algae and some fish-eating birds. But it’s not healthy for the river, its fish, or its people.

Yes, fish kills have always occurred but not at this scale. The fundamental reason the fish of the Darling keep dying is because there is not enough water allowed to flow.

Why Is The Darling In Such Trouble?

Since the 1980s, the Darling’s tributaries have steadily shrunk. The Macquarie, the Namoi, the Gwydir, the Border Rivers and the Condamine-Balonne are all shadows of the rivers they once were. Much of their water is captured in large dams, like Burrendong Dam, or intercepted by floodplain harvesting, which was legalised only last year by the NSW Government to the dismay of environmentalists and farmers downstream.

Just last week, before news of the fish kills at Menindee, water allocations in the Namoi and Gwydir Rivers were a staggering 113% and 275% respectively. That is to say, all the water farmers and other users could take from these rivers is well beyond the total flows left in the rivers.

river red gum on darling
River red gums rely on periodic flooding. Without floodwaters, they can die. Shutterstock

The fish kills at Menindee are the clearest sign yet of how policy and management have failed the Darling. These catastrophes were inevitable. And the pain isn’t limited to fish. We are suffering too.

Taxpayers forked out nearly half a billion dollars for a pipeline from the Murray to Broken Hill, which nearly ran out of water in 2019. Why? Because the Darling was no longer dependable. In 2019, the towns of Wilcannia and Brewarrina ran out of water, significantly affecting Aboriginal communities. Why? Because the Darling was so low.

Fish kills like this one make news for a few days, and then get forgotten. But unless we tackle the fundamental problem of a lack of water in our rivers, there will be many more to come. This is not a natural disaster. It is man-made. The Conversation

Richard Kingsford, Professor, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW Sydney

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

Our mysterious night parrot has terrible vision – but we discovered it might be able to hear like an owl

Elen ShuteFlinders UniversityAlice ClementFlinders University, and Gavin PrideauxFlinders University

One bird bucks the stereotype of Australia’s raucous parrots – the mysterious and critically endangered night parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis). Rather than flying around in noisy flocks or eating fruit in trees, the night parrot roosts all day in a clump of sharp spinifex grass. When darkness falls, it scurries about on the ground to forage, almost like a little rodent.

For eight decades, we thought it might be extinct. But then, in 2013, it was photographed. Now we know this vanishingly rare nocturnal bird still lives in parts of the remote outback.

Because it’s so rare, it’s very hard to study. In our work in palaeontology, we recently identified some fossil leg bones as probably belonging to the night parrot. Because there were no modern skeletons to compare them with, we had to CT-scan a museum specimen.

What we intended to do was compare the leg anatomy to our fossil leg bones. But then we found something bizarre. The night parrot’s skull was wonky and the ears were asymmetrical. Predatory owls have this too, as a way to boost their hearing and hunt better. But why would a seed-eating parrot need superb hearing?

night parrot illustration
The night parrot is one of only two nocturnal parrots, alongside New Zealand’s kakapo. This 1890 illustration is by Elizabeth Gould, illustrator and wife of ornithologist John Gould. WikimediaCC BY

Of Wonky Skulls And Offset Ears

In our new research, we offer the first anatomical description of the night parrot’s skull. In this, we were fortunate to be allowed to scan the precious type specimen held by the Natural History Museum in London. This is the original skin used by John Gould, the preeminent 19th century English ornithologist, to formally describe and name the night parrot in 1861.

We used high-resolution CT scans to look inside this museum “skin”, a dried specimen with internal organs removed, feathers on the outside and a partial skeleton on the inside.

The scans showed the left side of the skull did not mirror the right. Skull asymmetry isn’t unheard of in nocturnal birds. Many species of owl have offset ears and dramatically distorted skulls, which allows them to pinpoint any sound made by intended prey. But we certainly weren’t expecting it in a parrot.

The type specimen of the night parrot
We CT-scanned the night parrot’s type specimen – and found something unexpected about its skull. Mark Adams, copyright Natural History Museum, UKAuthor provided

Wired For Sound?

When we looked closely at the night parrot’s skull, we spotted telltale clues of a bird specialising in hearing. Asymmetry is part of it: the left ear opening is flat while the right one arches out to the side.

In uneven-eared owls, one ear is typically placed higher than the other. In flight, sound waves travelling from ground level hit each ear at slightly different times. This tiny difference in timing allows the owl’s brain to calculate precisely the sound’s origin on a vertical plane.

You can see the ears of the night parrot in this digital model created from a CT scan of the night parrot skull.

But night parrots don’t hunt fast-moving prey. They mostly eat seeds, so they probably don’t use asymmetrical ears to locate food.

While owl ears are positioned at different heights on the skull, this isn’t the case for the night parrot. The major difference between the parrot’s ears is how far they stick out sideways. This might help them locate the direction a sound comes from horizontally, which would make sense for a bird living almost entirely at ground level.

This could be useful to listen for predators, keep contact with their mates and young, find new potential mates, or to scan their habitat for competitors.

Adding to the evidence for excellent hearing is the size of this parrot’s ear chambers. Compared to other parrots, an unusually large volume of the night parrot’s skull is devoted to the external ear chamber – fully one third of the length of its head. These enlarged ear chambers may act like amplifiers, increasing the volume of sound transferred to the inner ears. This suggests it would be wise to keep the noise down in their habitat until we know more about their hearing.

Bigger Ears, Smaller Eyes

previous study found the night parrot has small optic nerves and reduced optic lobes in the brain for processing vision. From this, the researchers inferred the nocturnal parrot probably sees poorly in the dark. Despite this, it expertly navigates its dark world, flying up to a 30 kilometre round trip in a night to find food and water, before returning home to the same spinifex hummock where it roosts before sunrise.

Now that we’ve examined the skull, we can see the same clues. Vision appears to have been traded for hearing. Inside an animal skull, real estate is precious. Heads are heavy and cumbersome, and there’s only so much you can evolve to fit inside one. Enlarged ear chambers appear to constrain the maximum size of a night parrot’s eyes.

Even so, this bird has crammed in as much as it can. It has an outsized head compared to its body. Gould described the parrot’s “thick bluffy head” as one of the features defining the species.

When we measured the scleral ring – the circular bone supporting the eyeball – and compared it to other birds, we found telling differences. A night parrot’s cornea is about as small as it can possibly be while still allowing visually guided nocturnal flight. A millimetre or two smaller and they wouldn’t get enough light into their eyes to see in the dark.

This remarkable parrot is one of 22 threatened birds prioritised by the federal government for recovery. We hope ecologists can make the most of this to find out what we need to do to bring night parrots back from the brink. We’re only beginning to learn how unusual they are. The Conversation

Elen Shute, Researcher, Flinders UniversityAlice Clement, Research Associate in the College of Science and Engineering, Flinders University, and Gavin Prideaux, Associate professor, Flinders University

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

Stressed Out: Mapping The Human Footprint On Coastal Areas Globally

March 20, 2023

A global mapping project led by University of Queensland researchers has revealed the major stressors placed upon global coastlines by human activity.

The team quantified and mapped the presence and extent of major land-based and marine stressors, finding that 97 per cent of coastal areas globally had at least one major stressor present.

Professor Salit Kark from UQ's School of Biological Sciences said the research team were surprised at the sheer extent and far-reaching impact revealed by the footprint map created.

"There is hardly anywhere on the planet, outside of the polar and arctic regions, that does not show some form of human pressure on their coastline," Professor Kark said.

"In essence, we have influenced the majority of coastal areas globally.

"We therefore should aim to map and understand our impacts, and also leave some untouched coastlines."

UQ PhD candidate Hannah Allan said the research outlined the spatial extent and magnitude of 10 major land-based stressors and 10 major marine stressors that occur across coastlines globally.

"The threats human activity pose to coastal ecosystems and biodiversity come from both the land and sea, sometimes arriving far from human activity," Ms Allan said.

"Therefore, coastal conservation must incorporate land-sea connections.

"Human population size, tourism, and roads were some of the biggest contributors to the terrestrial component of Australia's coastal human footprint.

"As for marine stressors, increasing sea surface temperatures, nutrient pollution, and shipping were found to be major drivers of human pressure on Australian coastlines."

Professor Noam Levin said a map of this kind, which assembles both terrestrial and marine stressors and presents the coastal human footprint globally, has rarely been attempted.

"This research offers valuable insights that could help decision-makers and managers identify where to mitigate particular impacts," Prof. Levin said.

"For example, the database underlying the human footprint can show specific areas with high oil and gas operations, such as in Western Australia.

"This can help develop preparedness procedures for the very realistic chance of environmental disasters that impact coastal areas, such as oil spills.

"An added benefit of our new global map is that it helps prioritise these decisions based on how widespread the potential pressures of our human footprint in certain areas of the world might be.

"Coastal areas, where 90 per cent of Australians live, were not immune to these stressors.

"For Australia, the highest human footprint was found in the coastal cities, in the order of Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, and Brisbane.

"We also mapped 160 areas on the planet with the most pristine coastal areas, including several in Australia.

"Of those, nearly 40 per cent were totally unprotected -- opening an opportunity to identify coastal areas for further conservation actions.

"A key finding was that light pollution is increasing, with more white LEDs being used, placing great strain on areas of high importance for biodiversity, disrupting the natural patterns of wildlife."

Moving forward, researchers are looking to fine-tune the mapping process, looking more specifically at Australia's coastlines.

"Our plan is to develop high-resolution coastal footprint mapping for specific coastal areas in Australia, using finer detailed layers that are currently not available at a global scale," Professor Levin said.

Hannah Allan, Noam Levin, Salit Kark. Quantifying and mapping the human footprint across Earth's coastal areas. Ocean & Coastal Management, 2023; 236: 106476 DOI: 10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2023.106476

What is myrtle rust and why has this disease closed Lord Howe Island to visitors?

Robert ParkUniversity of Sydney

Some 70% of the World Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island has been closed to non-essential visitors in response to a recurrence of the plant disease myrtle rust.

Myrtle rust, native to South America, was first detected in Australia on the Central Coast of NSW in April 2010. It is caused by a fungus that belongs to a group of plant pathogens known as the rusts.

Rusts are among the most feared of all plant pathogens. They spread rapidly over thousands of kilometres on wind currents and can cause huge losses in plant production.

For example, wheat rust research over the past 100 years at the University of Sydney has shown clear evidence of wind-borne rust spores travelling from central Africa to Australia. Wheat production losses due to rust have at times totalled hundreds of millions of dollars.

Myrtle rust rapidly invaded the entire east coast of Australia in the years after it was first detected. It has caused the near extinction of at least three rainforest species, including the native guava (Rhodomyrtus psidioides) and the scrub turpentine (Rhodamnia rubescens).

The disease was detected at Lord Howe Island in 2016, and eradicated. Now it has managed to spread there once again. There are concerns if the disease is left unchecked, it could seriously alter the unique ecology of the island. Lord Howe is home to some 240 native plant species, of which more than 100 are not found anywhere else.

view of tropical rainforest on Lord Howe Island
Lord Howe Island has around 100 native plant species that are found nowhere else. Shutterstock

How Can The Disease Be Controlled?

Rust diseases in agriculture are controlled by the cultivation of genetically resistant plants, or by use of fungicides. These fungicides can kill existing recent infections and provide protection for up to four weeks. In other situations, such as horticulture and native plant communities, fungicides are used together with removal and destruction of infected plants.

The 2010 detection of myrtle rust in Australia followed its detection in Hawaii in 2005 and China in 2009. It was later found in New Caledonia (2013) and New Zealand (2017). Research has shown the same strain – known as the “pandemic strain” – has appeared in all of these countries. Several other strains occur in South America.

It is likely the fungus spread to Lord Howe Island from eastern Australia on wind currents. The especially wet conditions along the east coast of much of Australia in 2022 led to an increase in the disease there. This, in turn, increased rust spore load and hence the chance of long-distance spore dispersal.

In addition to being spread on the wind, the rusty coloured spores produced by these fungal pathogens stick readily to clothing. These spores remain viable for at least two weeks under ambient conditions. Several wheat rusts of exotic origin are believed to have been accidentally brought in to Australia on travellers’ clothing from North America and Europe.

The chance of inadvertent spread of myrtle rust on contaminated clothing is why access to Lord Howe island has been restricted since last week.

The second incursion into the island clearly shows how incredibly difficult rust diseases are to manage once they reach a new region. It points to possible recurrences of the disease there in years to come even should current efforts to eradicate it succeed.

On top of the ability of rust diseases to spread rapidly over large distances, a further complication in controlling myrtle rust is it infects a wide range of native plants. Some of these species hold great cultural significance and/or are endangered.

Endemic species of the myrtle plant family Myrtaceae that are dominant in many of the plant communities on Lord Howe Island are highly vulnerable to myrtle rust infection. Of critical concern are two species that occur only on the island: the mountain rose (Meterosideros nervulosa) and the rainforest tree scalybark (Syzigium fullagarri). The rust infects young leaves and also flowers, where it causes sterility.

Australia Brings Expertise To The Battle

Australia has some of the best plant pathologists in the world and has long been a leader in controlling rust diseases in agriculture. This expertise, combined with world-leading scientists in the ecology of Australian native plants, has enabled solid progress in understanding myrtle rust in the Australian environment. Australian scientists have joined hands with New Zealand scientists to boost efforts to control the pathogen in both countries.

Research is also under way at the University of Sydney and Australian National University to develop new DNA-based diagnostics to allow rapid identification of the different strains of the pathogen. These tests are especially important given only one strain of myrtle rust occurs in the Asia-Pacific and Oceania regions.

The success of managing the impact of myrtle rust on the region’s iconic flora against a backdrop of climate change will rely heavily on undertaking the research needed to gain a much better understanding of this damaging plant pathogen. Recognising this, staff at the University of Sydney have convened a conference for June 21-23 this year. It will bring together myrtle rust experts to exchange their latest research findings and identify priority areas for research.The Conversation

Robert Park, Judith and David Coffey Chair in Sustainable Agriculture, Plant Breeding Institute, University of Sydney

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

New research reveals how forests reduce their own bushfire risk, if they’re left alone

Philip ZylstraCurtin University and Grant Wardell-JohnsonCurtin University

Fire management in Australia is approaching crisis point. Seasons such as the Black Summer three years ago showed how our best efforts in fire-fighting and prescribed burning are insignificant in the face of a changing climate.

But what if forests have their own tools to manage bushfire risk, and we could tap into them?

We know long-unburnt mountain forests in south-east Australia are far less fire-prone than more recently burnt areas. And forests in south-west Australia have the lowest fire risk when they’ve not been subjected to prescribed burning.

Our study just published set out to understand why this occurs, by modelling fire behaviour in iconic red tingle forests of south-west Australia. Our findings offer a clear set of tools for living with fire, even in a warming climate.

The ‘Fuel Load’ Dilemma

Most bushfires in the south-west forests of Western Australia occur in areas burned specifically to reduce fuel loads.

Current fire management by government agencies focuses on broadscale burning to reduce fuel load. The practice is also known as prescribed, planned, controlled or hazard-reduction burning. It aims to reduce the intensity of future fires at a location by burning leaf litter and other fine surface matter.

Fuel-load reduction is premised on the idea that the amount of fuel in a forest determines how flammable it is. The idea comes from early attempts at fire behaviour modelling imported from the United States in the 1960s.

But more recent work has shown prescribed burning can lead to catastrophic outcomes. This includes the near-destruction of critically endangered wildlife populations and the destruction of homes when prescribed burns escape.

So what can be done? Our study on the iconic red tingle (Eucalyptus jacksonii) deals with this dilemma.

Getting To Know The Red Tingle

Red tingles are among the tallest eucalypts, growing up to 70 metres. They grow only in a 6,000-hectare stretch along the high-rainfall south coast of Western Australia.

Red tingles can live for more than 400 years. They regenerate well after fire – even an intense fire – and form naturally mixed aged forests dominated by large old trees.

But red tingles are sensitive to frequent fires, no matter how mild. Flames can enter the tree and hollow it out, eventually causing its collapse.

a large tree, left, and a collapsed tree after fire, right
Left: A red tingle tree. Right, a collapsed red tingle after repeated fire. M Howe

The understorey of red tingle forest consists of tall, long-lived shrubs that germinate prolifically after fire. These understoreys thin and open as they age.

The goal of our research was to understand how these changes in red tingle forests affect fire behaviour. To do this, we used an advanced fire modelling tool developed by the lead author of this article, Phillip Zylstra, and his colleagues.

The tool doesn’t use a simple number to characterise a forest’s fuel load. Instead, it uses hundreds of thousands of calculations to determine which plants will ignite – and importantly, which plants won’t ignite but will instead calm the flames.

So what did we find? As the understorey of red tingle forest ages and thins, the lower branches of taller plants “self-prune” – in other words, they shed dead leaves and twigs.

When this litter is on the ground, it begins to decay and poses a lower fire risk than if it were still suspended.

The lower branches of taller plants, once self-pruned, are then less likely to ignite as fuel. Instead, they act as “overstorey shelter” that reduces wind speed and fire severity. In this way, mature forests control fire rather than drive it.

Our study showed that, due to this calming effect, fires in mature red tingle forests could be extinguished by firefighters most of the time.

By contrast, our study showed that prescribed burning in red tingle forests creates dense regrowth, which burns severely during bushfires. In such cases, our study showed firefighters are often unable to extinguish the flames and must resort to backburning - a risky fire suppression technique.

left to right, a burnt tree, a regrowth forest and a mature forest
Left to right, a red tingle forest after a prescribed burn, the resulting regrowth, and mature forest. M Howe; P Zylstra

Making Peace With The Bush

Contemporary fire management approaches, and their dependence upon broadscale prescribed burns, contrast starkly with the approach of Australia’s First Nations people.

Menang and Goreng Traditional Owners of red tingle and surrounding forests say fire should be used in specific locations, burning only what is needed in small, strategically placed patches. Wadandi Pibulmun Yunungjarlu Elder Wayne Webb advised our team that Traditional Owners deliberately excluded fire from tall red tingle forests.

In our contemporary context, we can co-operate with the landscape - balancing the effects of climate change by using specialist fire-fighting skills and technological advances to reinforce safe forest havens.

The fire risk in WA’s south-western forests, and many other eucalypt forests, is so much lower if they’re left unburnt and allowed to mature. Our analysis of red tingle forests helps explain why.

One thing is clear: if we still want forests in our flammable country, we must stop burning their defences away.The Conversation

Philip Zylstra, Adjunct Associate Professor at Curtin University, Research Associate at University of New South Wales, Curtin University and Grant Wardell-Johnson, Adjunct Associate Professor, Molecular and Life Sciences and ARC Centre for Mine Site Restoration., Curtin University

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

The Great Southern Reef is in more trouble than the Great Barrier Reef

Graham Edgar/Reef Life SurveyAuthor provided
Graham EdgarUniversity of Tasmania

Marine heatwaves are damaging reef ecosystems around Australia, but while the tropical north has received the lion’s share of the attention to date, we equally need to worry about the temperate south.

That’s partly because the Great Southern Reef is of immense biodiversity value. Species found here are found nowhere else in the world. Even their distant relatives are long gone. It’s also because these temperate reefs are suffering even more from heatwaves than the Great Barrier Reef.

After 30 years counting thousands of marine species on Australian reefs, we could see the situation was changing rapidly. But our research team wasn’t able to survey enough locations to adequately track the changes. These occurred out of sight, beneath the waves, off coastlines extending thousands of kilometres. We realised we needed help.

So we enlisted the help of enthusiastic volunteer divers to complete the world’s first continental audit of shallow marine life. This unique Australian effort was a tremendous collaborative achievement. But it’s nothing compared to what’s needed in the years to come, to defend our reef ecosystems from the impacts of climate change and other human pressures.

Reef Life Survey makes the underwater world visible.

Answering Questions With Data

Our goal was to answer crucial questions from managers, including:

  • which marine species are rapidly heading towards extinction?

  • how can threats to reef species be addressed cost effectively?

  • how large do marine reserves need to be, to achieve conservation goals?

  • which regulations work best?

Our solution was to headhunt the most enthusiastic and experienced recreational divers, then train them to scientific standards in underwater survey methods.

More than 200 highly trained volunteers have now participated in the Reef Life Survey of Australia. Together they have counted more than 3,000 species of fishes, corals and other invertebrates at over 2,500 sites around Australia, including offshore locations not previously visited by divers.

Volunteer Reef Life Survey diver counting fishes in South Australia
Reef Life Survey is a non-profit citizen science program in which trained SCUBA divers undertake standardised underwater visual surveys of reef biodiversity on rocky and coral reefs around the world. This photo was taken in South Australia. Graham Edgar/Reef Life SurveyAuthor provided

This information, combined with survey data from the Australian Temperate Reef Collaboration (collected using similar methods) and the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Queensland, has allowed us to produce the first continental audit of shallow marine life completed anywhere in the world. Our new research is published today in the journal Nature.

Our investigation revealed that heatwaves have damaged many (but not all) reef communities over the past decade. The effects have been patchy. Some reef populations have been devastated, other reefs nearby have declined and recovered, and others have flourished.

Species tended to increase numbers in years when water temperatures rose less than 0.5℃ above average, but declined rapidly once this heatwave threshold was passed. Overall, more species were declining than increasing.

Coral density has showed little overall change across the Great Barrier Reef since 2010. Many, but not all, coral reef communities impacted by the 2016 heatwave have recovered. Coral populations tended to decline in the north, show little change in the central region, and increase in the south.

A diver surveys life on Elizabeth Reef, off the coast of northern New South Wales.
Although some locations on the Great Barrier Reef had suffered catastrophic coral losses, heatwave impacts were highly patchy, with no consistent trend for population increase or decrease among the 51 tropical coral species investigated. This photo was taken on Elizabeth Reef, a southern coral reef off the coast of northern New South Wales. Scott Ling, courtesy Great Southern Reef Foundation 2023

Around Australia, fishes, mobile invertebrates such as crabs, snails and seastars, and seaweeds showed similar responses to warming. Numbers typically declined in the north of species’ ranges and increased in the south. The increasing abundance of warm water species in the south has, however, squeezed populations of cold water species.

At the limit, southern Tasmanian species trapped by the deep Southern Ocean barrier cannot migrate further south. The common sea dragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus), for example, has declined in numbers by 57% over the past decade across monitoring sites.

The common sea dragon (_Phyllopteryx taeniolatus_) at Blackmans Bay
Numbers of the common sea dragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) have halved across the 43 Great Southern Reef dive sites. This beautiful specimen was spotted at Blackmans Bay. Graham Edgar/Reef Life SurveyAuthor provided

Many species living on Tasmanian reefs, particularly echinoderms such as sea stars and sea urchins, have shown precipitous population declines over the past decade.

A strong heatwave off southwestern Australia in 2011 also caused seaweed populations to drop rapidly. Most affected seaweeds remain at greatly reduced levels.

Overall, cool-temperate species inhabiting the Great Southern Reef - the interconnected network of kelp-covered rocky reefs that extends from northern New South Wales to southwestern Australia — are generally declining in number more rapidly and are more threatened with extinction, than tropical species.

This is perhaps not surprising given that Great Southern Reef species live in a climate change hotspot (where sea temperatures are rising more rapidly than elsewhere worldwide) along the most densely populated Australian coast. Impacts from infrastructure development, catchment degradation, pollution and fishing are widespread.

Why The Southern Reef Is So Great

Australia’s southern reefs - in temperate waters between the tropical north and the Southern Ocean - are hotspots of biodiversity. Most species are found nowhere else in the world (70% of the temperate species surveyed were endemic to Australia). In contrast, almost all of the tropical species censused in our study are widely distributed across the Indo-Pacific (only 3% endemic to Australia).

Furthermore, temperate Australian species often have no close relatives. Their evolutionary roots run deep. Examples include the red velvet fish (Gnathanacanthus goetzii) and the giant creeper snail (Campanile symbolicum). Both species sit alone in their families, and were found in our census to have rapidly declining populations.

Worldwide, the most threatened fish family is the handfishes. This is a group of 14 species restricted to southeastern Australia, primarily Tasmania. The critically endangered red handfish (Thymichthys politus) and spotted handfish (Brachionichthys hirsutus) have declined to tiny populations of around 100 (red) and 5000 (spotted) individuals living in shallow bays near Hobart. The smooth handfish (Sympterichthys unipennis) is probably already extinct.

Two divers explore the deep reef off Bicheno in the Freycinet Commonwealth Marine Reserve
Abundant sponge gardens, impressive kelp beds, prolific fish life and caves packed with delicate invertebrates make Bicheno an ideal destination for SCUBA divers, snorkelers and underwater photographers. Scott Ling, courtesy Great Southern Reef Foundation 2023

What We Stand To Lose

The loss of most Australian marine species will likely occur unseen. Government funding does not generally support systematic monitoring of native plants and animals.

Data provided by volunteer Reef Life Survey divers has provided the only population trend information for over 1,000 species, while tens of thousands of species lack any information at all. Only the Great Barrier Reef Long Term Monitoring Program run by the Australian Institute of Marine Science receives dedicated funding covering marine habitats.

Until more attention is paid to the conservation of temperate marine species, the living heritage of future generations will continue to slip away. We will also remain in the dark as to what already has been lost. The little public, scientific or management attention paid to the Great Southern Reef belies its status as a global marvel, and one that is highly threatened.The Conversation

Graham Edgar, Senior Marine Ecologist, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania

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

Fishing for data: commercial fishers help monitor rising temperatures in coastal seas

Moana projectCC BY-ND
Julie JakoboskiMetService — Te Ratonga TirorangiJoão Marcos Azevedo Correia de SouzaMetService — Te Ratonga Tirorangi, and Malene FelsingMetService — Te Ratonga Tirorangi

The world’s oceans are buffering us from the worst climate impacts by taking up more than 90% of the excess heat generated by greenhouse gas emissions. This has warmed them by 0.88℃ (on average globally), according to the latest climate report released this week.

The warming of the ocean affects marine ecosystems, drives changes in ocean circulation and heat distribution, and strongly influences atmospheric weather systems. All these processes are critically important to the health of our planet.

Scientists measure subsurface ocean temperature around the world, but there is a coastal gap in those measurements. This is where fishing, aquaculture, recreation and ocean managers need good data the most.

MetService’s Moana Project is changing that. We have joined forces with the commercial fishing sector to deploy sensors on vessels nationwide to gain insights into how ocean temperatures are changing near the coast.

A small sensor in a yellow container is attached to fishing gear.
A temperature sensor is attached to fishing gear to track temperature data in coastal waters. John Radford/ZebraTechCC BY-SA

Monitoring Coastal Changes

Ocean temperature measurements are critical for understanding and accurately predicting extreme events, including severe storms and unusually warm coastal waters, which have serious economic and societal impacts.

During the past few years, Aotearoa New Zealand has been plagued by extreme rainfall and persistent marine heatwaves. This has severely affected marine life, fisheries and aquaculture.

Increased ocean temperatures can exacerbate severe weather events like Cyclone Gabrielle, contributing to the conditions for intense rainfall and potential devastation.

To prepare for a changing climate and provide early alerts for extreme events, we need to monitor temperature changes below the ocean’s surface. These measurements are usually expensive, often requiring oceanographic research vessels to deploy instruments.

Pioneering international programmes like Argo (autonomous floats that move with the world’s ocean currents collecting measurements) provide unprecedented world coverage of deeper waters.

But they are not primarily designed to measure coastal and shelf seas. The lack of coastal observations is recognised in New Zealand and globally, and is a priority for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science 2021-2030.

A map of coverage by the Argo programme and by sensors on fishing vessels
This graph shows the average number of Argo profiles per month around Aotearoa New Zealand (left, blue colours) and the average number of sensor deployments (right, red colours) from June 2020 to February 2023, highlighting the coverage obtained by these complementary programmes. Moana projectCC BY-ND

Crowd-Sourcing Ocean Observations

As part of the Moana Project, MetService and the commercial fishing industry partnered with Nelson-based company ZebraTech to develop the Mangōpare sensor, a small, lightweight, robust and accurate temperature sensor that attaches to commercial fishing gear.

The Mangōpare sensor
The Mangōpare sensor, named by Moana Project partner Whakatōhea iwi, fits into the palm of a hand. Moana projectCC BY-ND

The sensor was distributed to volunteer inshore and deep-water fishing vessels and citizen scientists. Thanks to more than 200 skippers and crew, there are now 300 sensors on commercial fishing vessels, providing more than one million subsurface observations a month from across Aotearoa New Zealand.

The sensor attaches to any type of fishing gear and automatically collects ocean temperature and depth measurements through the water column. This information is automatically sent to the cloud, quality checked, returned to the fisher collecting it and incorporated into MetService ocean forecasts.

Vital Temperature Record To Improve Forecasts

Temperature observations are used to improve ocean forecasting models and verify the depth of marine heatwaves around Aotearoa New Zealand.

Similar to a weather station on land collecting real-time data that improves weather forecasts, sensor data helps improve three-dimensional predictions of ocean temperature, currents and sea level. These forecasts are used to prepare coastal communities for approaching storms, optimise fishing and alert aquaculture to extreme ocean temperatures.

Scientists use the sensor data to understand how ocean temperature affects our marine ecosystems. Recently, severe marine heatwaves have affected coastal and offshore areas leading to changes in fish distribution and impacts on sensitive species.

The sensor provides measurements exactly where fishing occurs, helping fishers make sense of changes in their catch.

A sensor attached a commercial fishing pot.
Like weather stations on land, sensors attached to fishing gear help collect data to improve three-dimensional predictions of ocean temperature. William MaclardyCC BY-SA

Temperature measurements are an invaluable record of subsurface ocean structure, allowing scientists to determine impacts of marine heatwaves, such as the bleaching of Fjordland sponges. Increased understanding is essential to a climate-resilient future for our oceans and marine species over the coming decades.

Partnering with technology innovators, the commercial fishing sector, citizen scientists and researchers from across New Zealand, this project breaks down traditional barriers.

This approach demonstrates how we can solve critical environmental issues and provide important insight into our changing oceans. The continuation of this system will lead the way toward informing a climate-resilient blue economy and understanding the coastal ocean, providing measurements that will only become more critical in the coming years.The Conversation

Julie Jakoboski, Oceanographic Data Scientist, Moana Project's Te Tiro Moana Team Lead, MetService — Te Ratonga TirorangiJoão Marcos Azevedo Correia de Souza, MetOcean Solutions Science Manager of the Research and Development Team. Moana Project Science Lead, MetService — Te Ratonga Tirorangi, and Malene Felsing, Moana Project Manager, MetService — Te Ratonga Tirorangi

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

Why bioplastics won’t solve our plastic problems

Elsa DominishUniversity of Technology SydneyFiona BerryUniversity of Technology SydneyNick FlorinUniversity of Technology Sydney, and Rupert LeggUniversity of Technology Sydney

Last month, Victoria banned plastic straws, crockery and polystyrene containers, following similar bans in South Australia, Western Australia, New South Wales and the ACT. All states and territories in Australia have now banned lightweight single-use plastic bags.

You might wonder why we have to ban these products entirely. Couldn’t we just make them out of bioplastics – plastics usually made of plants? Some studies estimate we could swap up to 85% of fossil-fuel based plastics for bioplastics.

Unfortunately, bioplastics aren’t ready for prime time – except for their use in kitchen caddy bins as food waste liners. In Australia, we don’t have widely available pathways to compost or process them at the end of their lives. Nearly always, they end up in landfill.

That’s why many states are including bioplastics in their plastics bans. Avoiding single-use plastics entirely, whether traditional fossil fuel-based plastics or bioplastics, is more sustainable. And as our recycling system struggles, less plastic of any kind is simply better.

corn harvest germany
Bioplastics come from plants such as corn - and that comes with environmental impacts. Shutterstock

Bio-Based, Biodegradable And Compostable Are Different

Bioplastics is a blanket term covering plastics which are biologically-based or biodegradable (including compostable), or both.

Plastics are materials based on polymers – long-repeating chains of large molecules. These molecules don’t have to be oil-based - biologically-based plastics are made from raw materials such as corn, sugarcane, cellulose and algae.

Biodegradable plastics are those plastics able to be broken down by microorganisms into elements found in nature. Importantly, biodegradable here doesn’t specify how long or under what conditions plastic will break down.

Compostable plastics biodegrade on a known timeframe, when composted. In Australia, they can be certified for commercial or home compostable use.

These differences are important. Many of us would see the word “bioplastic” and assume what we’re buying is plant based and breaks down quickly. That’s often not true. Some biodegradable plastics are even made from fossil fuels.

compost caddy
Compostable bin caddies are the main sustainable use for bioplastics at present. Shutterstock

Are Bioplastics Broadly More Environmentally Friendly?

To understand this we need to look at the whole lifecycle of the plastic, how it is made, used and what happens to it at end-of-life. Manufacturing bio-based plastics generally has lower environmental impacts and has less greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuel plastics.

This isn’t always the case. Producing plastics from plants has an environmental impact from the use of land, water and agricultural chemicals. Increased demand for agricultural land could lead to biodiversity loss and can compete with food production.

Bioplastics often sub in for familiar single use items such as plastic bags, takeaway coffee cups and cutlery. Around 90% of the bioplastics sold in Australia are certified compostable. In most of these applications a reusable alternative would be the most sustainable option.

Some applications have beneficial environmental outcomes: compostable bags for kitchen food waste caddies increase the rate of food waste collected, which means less food waste in landfill and fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

What about the crucial question of plastic waste and pollution? Sadly, if bioplastics end up in the environment, they can damage the environment in the same way as conventional plastics, such as contaminating soil and water. A turtle can choke just as easily on a bioplastic bag as a conventional plastic bag. That’s because biodegradable plastics still take years or even decades to biodegrade in nature.

Ideally, bioplastics should be designed to be either recyclable or compostable. Unfortunately, some bioplastics are neither. These pose problems for our waste management system, as they often end up contaminating recycling or compost bins when the only place for them is the tip.

In recent research for WWF Australia, we found widespread greenwashing in the industry, with terms such as “earth friendly” and “plastic-free” adding to the confusion. Regulating the industry and standardising terms would make it easier for us all to choose.

Compostable Plastics Almost All End Up In Landfill

Compostable plastics are designed to be broken down in the compost. Some can be composted at home, but others have to be done commercially.

The problem is these plastics aren’t being composted most of the time. Australian Standard compostable plastics are accepted in food organics and garden organics bins in South Australia and some councils in Hobart. But everywhere else, access to these services is limited. Many councils in other states will accept food and green waste – but specifically exclude compostable plastics (some accept council-supplied food waste caddy liners).

This means most compostable plastics used in Australia end up in landfill, where they emit methane as they break down, where it is not always captured. There’s no benefit using bioplastics if they can’t – or won’t – be recycled or composted, especially if they’re replacing a plastic that’s readily recyclable, such as the PET used in soft drink bottles.

plastic waste
Bioplastics still take time to degrade in landfill- and emit methane as they do so. Shutterstock

Where Does It Make Sense To Use Bioplastics In Australia?

When you reach for a bioplastic product, you’re probably doing it to reduce plastic waste. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. We need viable pathways for recycling and composting.

So should we avoid them altogether? If you use compostable bin caddies and compost them at home or your council accepts them, that’s a useful option. But for most other uses, it’s far better to just not use plastic at all. Your reusable coffee cup and shopping bags are the best option. The Conversation

Elsa Dominish, Research Principal, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology SydneyFiona Berry, Research Principal, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology SydneyNick Florin, Associate Professor and Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney, and Rupert Legg, PhD Candidate, University of Technology Sydney

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

Antarctic ice age survival story: life seeking ice-free refuges imitates art in Ice Age, the movie

Mark StevensUniversity of Adelaide and Andrew MackintoshMonash University

Antarctica is an icy place today, but the ice extended even further during past ice ages. The question of how and where life survived on land in the icy continent, through the ages, has long puzzled biologists.

Ever since the first expeditions to Antarctica, the persistence of life in this inhospitable environment has remained a mystery. Until now.

We assembled data to test our theory of how life survived previous ice ages. We argue that life forms including invertebratesvertebrates and plants persisted by retreating to numerous ice-free areas, called nunataks, that were not buried by advancing glaciers.

Then when Antarctica gradually warmed up again, life expanded from these nunatak refuges to repopulate larger ice-free areas. Our approach explains the uneven distribution of Antarctic terrestrial life, and identifies new research priorities to test our theory further.

The Coming Age Of Ice

Ice Age the movie (clips): With the impending ice age almost upon them, a mismatched trio of prehistoric critters – Manny the woolly mammoth, Diego the sabre-toothed tiger and Sid the giant sloth – find an orphaned human infant and decide to return it.

For many, the term “Ice Age” conjures up memories of the animated adventures of Manny, Sid and Diego (and don’t forget that squirrel-rat, Scrat!) trying to escape the advancing ice.

There may be some truth to this story. The idea of a mammoth, sloth, sabretooth tiger (and pesky humans) migrating south for warmer climes is becoming well known in the Northern Hemisphere. And research published this month suggests early humans sat out the last ice age in the ice-free refuges of southern Europe.

But in Antarctica, land-loving life forms had nowhere to go. Or so it seemed, until now.

As scientists began to learn more about life in Antarctica, they began to consider the possibility of survival in ice-free refuges. But there was a problem. Any ice-free land in coastal regions, where life exists today, would have surely been consumed by the expanding ice. So how did life survive?

Unusual Ice-Free Refuges

Using evidence from the biology and geology of Antarctica, we describe how ice-free refuges (nunataks) could have provided respite for coastal species.

Image of Antarctica from above showing land elevation topography and locations where springtails were sampled, also schematic of mountains comparing glacial maxima (ice age) and minima (before/after ice age).
The nunatak refuge hypothesis is that life retreated during ice ages to ice-free refuges on mountain tops (nunataks) and moraines, across the continent. Evidence for this theory comes from springtail specimens and geological records. This map of an ice-free Antarctica (a) reveals land above sea-level (green/yellow/brown). Every known springtail sampled is shown (coloured circles within the ellipses). Ice-free refuges indicated by cosmogenic dating (red/orange diamonds). Survival of springtails (colours represent isolated species) in ice-free terrain shown in (b and c) shift with glacial margins as ice expands and retreats. Biology LettersCC BY

We discounted previous research suggesting geothermal sites provided sufficient ice-free refuges on the coast. That’s because these would have been short-lived - compared to an ice age lasting around 100,000 years - and too few in number to explain the survival of life on the continent today.

We provide the first testable evidence-based hypothesis for the existence of life on continental Antarctica for millions of years. And we achieved this using the most well-known of all Antarctic invertebrates, a small creature that inhabits ice-free land year-round: springtails.

Springtails are an important contributor to soil health globally. They were among the first animals collected during early expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula and the northern coast of Victoria Land from 1897-1900.

We collated a database of distribution records for Antarctic springtails from these first discoveries more than a century ago to the present.

The springtail Cryptopygus sverdrupi is one of many species found in Antarctic ice-free locations. This species is from Dronning Maud Land, and survives on the numerous nunataks that stick out of the ice cap that covers the Antarctic continent. Cyrille D'Haese

We also delved into an existing resource that has not been previously used to explore these questions of survival. By exploring the Informal Cosmogenic-nuclide Exposure-age Database (ICE-D) for Antarctica, we were able to demonstrate that ice-free conditions persisted across the last (and previous) ice ages at a large number of locations.

Cosmogenic-nuclide dating is normally used to improve the understanding of ice sheets’ response to climate change, by revealing when a rock was last covered by ice. But it had not been used to identify ice-free glacial refuges, until now.

Jamey Stutz samples two ice-transported cobbles (rocks) at Hughes Bluff in Victoria Land, Antarctica.
Dating rocks in Antarctica has provided a unique way to identify where life could have survived repeated ice ages. Jamey Stutz samples two ice-transported cobbles (rocks) at Hughes Bluff in Victoria Land, Antarctica. The cobbles were deposited thousands of years ago, when the ice was thicker than today. Andrew MackintoshAuthor provided

We show that some of these ice-free refuges persisted above the expanding ice during past ice ages. Some contained all species found in a region.

But how did life move from these refuges, to repopulate habitats such as coastal areas? Clues to this remarkable survival story comes from well-known alpine and polar studies, showing life present in ice-free ecosystems near glacial margins shifts as the ice expands or contracts.

Mount Suess, nestled within the Mackay Glacier in Victoria Land, provides one of the best examples of survival of life on nunataks across the last ice age. Dating rocks in the area reveals it remained ice-free. Kevin Norton and Richard Jones

Learning Life Lessons

Antarctic life faces an uncertain future as the climate changes. The region is experiencing more extreme events such as the catastrophic breakup of ice shelves, the highest observed Antarctic air temperature, and the least extensive sea ice ever recorded. It seems we are now living in the sequel “Ice Age: The Meltdown”. Let’s hope we fare as well as Manny and his friends.

Antarctica will change forever, and limiting that change will take a “mammoth” collective effort at a global scale to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is a daunting and unprecedented challenge, but one which is required to secure Antarctica’s future. Life endured past ice ages, but can it survive us?The Conversation

The Antarctic Dry Valleys region is one of the driest places on earth. Today, it has the greatest amount of ice-free areas in Antarctica. These, and other regions around Antarctica, are expected to be dramatically affected by climate changes leading to large volumes of fresh water from the melting glaciers. Mark Stevens

Mark Stevens, Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Adelaide and Andrew Mackintosh, Professor & Head, School of Earth Atmosphere and Environment; expert on glaciers and ice sheets, Monash University

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

Participation income: the social welfare model that could help communities fight climate change
Heikki HiilamoUniversity of Helsinki

Universal Basic Income (UBI), a programme in which all adult citizens are given a regular amount of money to spend on what they choose, dominates the debate on the future of social policy. It is based on the idea that in the middle of plenty, millions of people still suffer from unemployment, underemployment, and a lack of means to have a meaningful life, and that a regular grant will provide a basic threshold to guarantee a certain quality of life.

Basic income schemes have already been piloted in Finland, Canada, Los Angeles in the US, and Wales, among others. And many countries have dealt with the social protection gap in hard times by providing temporary cash transfers with no strings attached, as happened in response to COVID-19 in Japan, South Korea and the US.

While arguments still continue over the predicted impact of new digital technologies on employment as a result of increasing automation, there is a pressing crisis that also calls for radical changes in social policy: the climate emergency.

Wellbeing Not Economic Growth

Welfare regimes all rely on the dividend of future productivity growth to underwrite increases in welfare spending. Even if economic growth could be decoupled from emissions, this is unlikely to happen fast enough to arrest global warming between 1.5 and 2°C, which scientists estimate is necessary to avert catastrophic changes.

There is fledgling research on new models of a welfare state which is not built on productivity and economic growth, but upon an architecture of sustainable wellbeing and care. UBI is the best known alternative to traditional welfare states. But it fails to meet the challenge for building a sustainable and just society.

A concept image of people standing next to stacks of bank notes.
UBI schemes guarantee everyone a minimum cash payment. Bakhtiar Zein/Shutterstock

Getting “free” money on its own won’t encourage people to use less fossil energy and do less of the things currently driving climate change. UBI schemes also consider monetary income as the route to meeting basic needs, strengthening the role of money in everyday life and leaving existing social relations untouched. Such schemes might entice politicians to cut resources from public services.

UBI does not fit well with the call for a more interventionist state to grapple with the climate emergency either. It is based on the idea of an individual right to income without recognising the value of common action or reciprocal behaviour. Claimants may withdraw from the community and never explore their full potential as community members.

Participation Income

The original participation income model (PI) was proposed by the British economist Anthony Atkinson in 1996. It is similar to UBI, but obliges people to do something in exchange for the money they receive. These activities can contribute to both the capacity of the community or the individual, like care work or attending language courses. For the most part, claimants know best what activities would be appropriate, and it would allow them to engage in a reciprocal relationship with society.

These activities could include gardening or tree planting, essentially anything that involves restoring biodiversity and bolstering natural solutions to climate change. And it can even replace or be integrated into current labour market policy measures which aim to equip unemployed persons with new skills to reenter work.

PI does have some weaknesses which need to be overcome. Atkinson envisioned nearly every person in society being eligible for the scheme, as monitoring eligibility would be difficult and incur hefty administrative costs. The PI model could be revised so that the payment reaches people on low incomes who currently rely on means-tested benefits.

A group of adults sit around a table looking at an A3 piece of paper.
People could receive PI in exchange for learning a language which might help them forge stronger ties within their community. Pressmaster/Shutterstock

Some people will also choose not to take part in participatory activities, but they must not be allowed to slip through the net. If PI was given as a “top-up” to a guaranteed minimum income, receiving PI would be seen as positive and losing it could not be regarded as a sanction.

Importantly, if the participatory activities were imposed upon people, they would remain in a subordinate position and may be stuck doing similar duties repeatedly. Allowing PI recipients to choose their activities would let them decide how to enrich their own lives and the life of their community. This model could involve community-based organisations, public providers and local residents’ networks in planning a range of development projects.

Innovative models of social security are especially important for people who may not be able to find green jobs, or households and communities with limited resources, who may not have the time or money to adopt energy-saving technologies or a climate-friendly diet.

PI is no panacea, but it could be useful for helping build a welfare state model fit for the 21st century.

This article is co-published with Nordics.infoThe Conversation

Heikki Hiilamo, Professor of Social Policy, University of Helsinki

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
A Stroll Through Warriewood Wetlands by Joe Mills February 2023
A Walk Around The Cromer Side Of Narrabeen Lake by Joe Mills
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
Mona Vale Woolworths Front Entrance Gets Garden Upgrade: A Few Notes On The Site's History 
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 Reserves: The Green Ways; Bungan Beach and Bungan Head Reserves:  A Headland Garden 
Pittwater Reserves, The Green Ways: Clareville Wharf and Taylor's Point Jetty
Pittwater Reserves: The Green Ways; Hordern, Wilshire Parks, McKay Reserve: From Beach to Estuary 
Pittwater Reserves - The Green Ways: Mona Vale's Village Greens a Map of the Historic Crown Lands Ethos Realised in The Village, Kitchener and Beeby Parks 
Pittwater Reserves: The Green Ways Bilgola Beach - The Cabbage Tree Gardens and Camping Grounds - Includes Bilgola - The Story Of A Politician, A Pilot and An Epicure by Tony Dawson and Anne Spencer  
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 - Creeks Deteriorating: How To Report Construction Site Breaches, Weed Infestations + The Long Campaign To Save The Warriewood Wetlands & Ingleside Escarpment March 2023
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

Pittwater's Birds

Attracting Insectivore Birds to Your Garden: DIY Natural Tick Control small bird insectivores, species like the Silvereye, Spotted Pardalote, Gerygone, Fairywren and Thornbill, feed on ticks. Attracting these birds back into your garden will provide not only a residence for tick eaters but also the delightful moments watching these tiny birds provides.
Aussie Backyard Bird Count 2017: Take part from 23 - 29 October - how many birds live here?
Aussie Backyard Bird Count 2018 - Our Annual 'What Bird Is That?' Week Is Here! This week the annual Aussie Backyard Bird Count runs from 22-28 October 2018. Pittwater is one of those places fortunate to have birds that thrive because of an Aquatic environment, a tall treed Bush environment and areas set aside for those that dwell closer to the ground, in a sand, scrub or earth environment. To take part all you need is 20 minutes and your favourite outdoor space. Head to the website and register as a Counter today! And if you're a teacher, check out BirdLife Australia's Bird Count curriculum-based lesson plans to get your students (or the whole school!) involved

Australian Predators of the Sky by Penny Olsen - published by National Library of Australia

Australian Raven  Australian Wood Duck Family at Newport

A Week In Pittwater Issue 128   A Week In Pittwater - June 2014 Issue 168

Baby Birds Spring 2015 - Rainbow Lorikeets in our Yard - for Children Baby Birds by Lynleigh Greig, Southern Cross Wildlife Care - what do if being chased by a nesting magpie or if you find a baby bird on the ground

Baby Kookaburras in our Backyard: Aussie Bird Count 2016 - October

Balloons Are The Number 1 Marine Debris Risk Of Mortality For Our Seabirds - Feb 2019 Study

Bangalley Mid-Winter   Barrenjoey Birds Bird Antics This Week: December 2016

Bird of the Month February 2019 by Michael Mannington

Birdland Above the Estuary - October 2012  Birds At Our Window   Birds at our Window - Winter 2014  Birdland June 2016

Birdsong Is a Lovesong at This time of The Year - Brown Falcon, Little Wattle Bird, Australian Pied cormorant, Mangrove or Striated Heron, Great Egret, Grey Butcherbird, White-faced Heron 

Bird Songs – poems about our birds by youngsters from yesterdays - for children Bird Week 2015: 19-25 October

Bird Songs For Spring 2016 For Children by Joanne Seve

Birds at Careel Creek this Week - November 2017: includes Bird Count 2017 for Local Birds - BirdLife Australia by postcode

Black Cockatoo photographed in the Narrabeen Catchment Reserves this week by Margaret G Woods - July 2019

Black-Necked Stork, Mycteria Australis, Now Endangered In NSW, Once Visited Pittwater: Breeding Pair shot in 1855

Black Swans on Narrabeen Lagoon - April 2013   Black Swans Pictorial

Brush Turkeys In Suburbia: There's An App For That - Citizen Scientists Called On To Spot Brush Turkeys In Their Backyards
Buff-banded Rail spotted at Careel Creek 22.12.2012: a breeding pair and a fluffy black chick

Cayley & Son - The life and Art of Neville Henry Cayley & Neville William Cayley by Penny Olsen - great new book on the art works on birds of these Australian gentlemen and a few insights from the author herself
Crimson Rosella - + Historical Articles on

Death By 775 Cuts: How Conservation Law Is Failing The Black-Throated Finch - new study 'How to Send a Finch Extinct' now published

Eastern Rosella - and a little more about our progression to protecting our birds instead of exporting them or decimating them.

Endangered Little Tern Fishing at Mona Vale Beach

‘Feather Map of Australia’: Citizen scientists can support the future of Australia's wetland birds: for Birdwatchers, school students and everyone who loves our estuarine and lagoon and wetland birds

First Week of Spring 2014

Fledgling Common Koel Adopted by Red Wattlebird -Summer Bird fest 2013  Flegdlings of Summer - January 2012

Flocks of Colour by Penny Olsen - beautiful new Bird Book Celebrates the 'Land of the Parrots'

Friendly Goose at Palm Beach Wharf - Pittwater's Own Mother Goose

Front Page Issue 177  Front Page Issue 185 Front Page Issue 193 - Discarded Fishing Tackle killing shorebirds Front Page Issue 203 - Juvenile Brush Turkey  Front Page Issue 208 - Lyrebird by Marita Macrae Front Page Issue 219  Superb Fairy Wren Female  Front Page Issue 234National Bird Week October 19-25  and the 2015 the Aussie Back Yard Bird Count: Australia's First Bird Counts - a 115 Year Legacy - with a small insight into our first zoos Front Page Issue 236: Bird Week 2015 Front Page Issue 244: watebirds Front Page Issue 260: White-face Heron at Careel Creek Front Page Issue 283: Pittwater + more birds for Bird Week/Aussie Bird Count  Front Page Issue 284: Pittwater + more birds for Bird Week/Aussie Bird Count Front Page Issue 285: Bird Week 2016  Front Page Issue 331: Spring Visitor Birds Return

G . E. Archer Russell (1881-1960) and His Passion For Avifauna From Narrabeen To Newport 

Glossy Black-Cockatoo Returns To Pittwater by Paul Wheeler Glossy Cockatoos - 6 spotted at Careel Bay February 2018

Grey Butcher Birds of Pittwater

Harry Wolstenholme (June 21, 1868 - October 14, 1930) Ornithologist Of Palm Beach, Bird Man Of Wahroonga 


Issue 60 May 2012 Birdland - Smiles- Beamings -Early -Winter - Blooms

Jayden Walsh’s Northern Beaches Big Year - courtesy Pittwater Natural Heritage Association

John Gould's Extinct and Endangered Mammals of Australia  by Dr. Fred Ford - Between 1850 and 1950 as many mammals disappeared from the Australian continent as had disappeared from the rest of the world between 1600 and 2000! Zoologist Fred Ford provides fascinating, and often poignant, stories of European attitudes and behaviour towards Australia's native fauna and connects these to the animal's fate today in this beautiful new book - our interview with the author

July 2012 Pittwater Environment Snippets; Birds, Sea and Flowerings

Juvenile Sea Eagle at Church Point - for children

King Parrots in Our Front Yard  

Kookaburra Turf Kookaburra Fledglings Summer 2013  Kookaburra Nesting Season by Ray Chappelow  Kookaburra Nest – Babies at 1.5 and 2.5 weeks old by Ray Chappelow  Kookaburra Nest – Babies at 3 and 4 weeks old by Ray Chappelow  Kookaburra Nest – Babies at 5 weeks old by Ray Chappelow Kookaburra and Pittwater Fledglings February 2020 to April 2020

Lion Island's Little Penguins (Fairy Penguins) Get Fireproof Homes - thanks to NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Fix it Sisters Shed

Lorikeet - Summer 2015 Nectar

Lyre Bird Sings in Local National Park - Flock of Black Cockatoos spotted - June 2019

Magpie's Melodic Melodies - For Children (includes 'The Magpie's Song' by F S Williamson)

Masked Lapwing (Plover) - Reflected

May 2012 Birdland Smiles Beamings Early Winter Blooms 

Mistletoebird At Bayview

Musk Lorikeets In Pittwater: Pittwater Spotted Gum Flower Feast - May 2020

Nankeen Kestrel Feasting at Newport: May 2016

National Bird Week 2014 - Get Involved in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count: National Bird Week 2014 will take place between Monday 20 October and Sunday 26 October, 2014. BirdLife Australia and the Birds in Backyards team have come together to launch this year’s national Bird Week event the Aussie Backyard Bird Count! This is one the whole family can do together and become citizen scientists...

National Bird Week October 19-25  and the 2015 the Aussie Back Yard Bird Count: Australia's First Bird Counts - a 115 Year Legacy - with a small insight into our first zoos

Native Duck Hunting Season Opens in Tasmania and Victoria March 2018: hundreds of thousands of endangered birds being killed - 'legally'!

Nature 2015 Review Earth Air Water Stone

New Family of Barking Owls Seen in Bayview - Church Point by Pittwater Council

Noisy Visitors by Marita Macrae of PNHA 

Odes to Australia's Fairy-wrens by Douglas Brooke Wheelton Sladen and Constance Le Plastrier 1884 and 1926

Oystercatcher and Dollarbird Families - Summer visitors

Pacific Black Duck Bath

Painted Button-Quail Rescued By Locals - Elanora-Ingleside escarpment-Warriewood wetlands birds

Palm Beach Protection Group Launch, Supporters InvitedSaturday Feb.16th - Residents Are Saying 'NO' To Off-Leash Dogs In Station Beach Eco-System - reports over 50 dogs a day on Station Beach throughout December-January (a No Dogs Beach) small children being jumped on, Native birds chased, dog faeces being left, families with toddlers leaving beach to get away from uncontrolled dogs and 'Failure of Process' in council 'consultation' open to February 28th 

Pardalote, Scrub Wren and a Thornbill of Pittwater

Pecking Order by Robyn McWilliam

Pelican Lamps at Narrabeen  Pelican Dreamsong - A Legend of the Great Flood - dreamtime legend for children

Pittwater Becalmed  Pittwater Birds in Careel Creek Spring 2018   Pittwater Waterbirds Spring 2011  Pittwater Waterbirds - A Celebration for World Oceans Day 2015

Pittwater's Little Penguin Colony: The Saving of the Fairies of Lion Island Commenced 65 Years Ago this Year - 2019

Pittwater's Mother Nature for Mother's Day 2019

Pittwater's Waterhens: Some Notes - Narrabeen Creek Bird Gathering: Curious Juvenile Swamp Hen On Warriewood Boardwalk + Dusky Moorhens + Buff Banded Rails In Careel Creek

Plastic in 99 percent of seabirds by 2050 by CSIRO

Plover Appreciation Day September 16th 2015

Powerful and Precious by Lynleigh Grieg

Red Wattlebird Song - November 2012

Restoring The Diamond: every single drop. A Reason to Keep Dogs and Cats in at Night. 

Salt Air Creatures Feb.2013

Sea Birds off the Pittwater Coast: Albatross, Gannet, Skau + Australian Poets 1849, 1898 and 1930, 1932

Sea Eagle Juvenile at Church Point

Seagulls at Narrabeen Lagoon

Seen but Not Heard: Lilian Medland's Birds - Christobel Mattingley - one of Australia's premier Ornithological illustrators was a Queenscliff lady - 53 of her previously unpublished works have now been made available through the auspices of the National Library of Australia in a beautiful new book

7 Little Ducklings: Just Keep Paddling - Australian Wood Duck family take over local pool by Peta Wise 

Shag on a North Avalon Rock -  Seabirds for World Oceans Day 2012

Short-tailed Shearwaters Spring Migration 2013 

South-West North-East Issue 176 Pictorial

Spring 2012 - Birds are Splashing - Bees are Buzzing

Spring Becomes Summer 2014- Royal Spoonbill Pair at Careel Creek

Spring Notes 2018 - Royal Spoonbill in Careel Creek

Station Beach Off Leash Dog Area Proposal Ignores Current Uses Of Area, Environment, Long-Term Fauna Residents, Lack Of Safe Parking and Clearly Stated Intentions Of Proponents have your say until February 28, 2019

Summer 2013 BirdFest - Brown Thornbill  Summer 2013 BirdFest- Canoodlers and getting Wet to Cool off  Summer 2013 Bird Fest - Little Black Cormorant   Summer 2013 BirdFest - Magpie Lark

The Mopoke or Tawny Frogmouth – For Children - A little bit about these birds, an Australian Mopoke Fairy Story from 91 years ago, some poems and more - photo by Adrian Boddy
Winter Bird Party by Joanne Seve

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 -

Common Crow Butterfly Euploea Core

You may be seeing a few of these butterflies around our area at the moment, the Common Crow Butterfly Euploea core.

It belongs to the crows and tigers subfamily Danainae (tribe Danaini). E. core is a glossy-black, medium-sized 85–95 mm (3.3–3.7 in) butterfly with rows of white spots on the margins of its wings. E. core is a slow, steady flier. Due to its unpalatability it is usually observed gliding through the air with a minimum of effort. As caterpillars, this species sequesters toxins from its food plant which are passed on from larva to pupa to the adult. While feeding, it is a very bold butterfly, taking a long time at each bunch of flowers. It can also be found mud-puddling with others of its species and often in mixed groups. The males of this species visit plants like Crotalaria and Heliotropium to replenish pheromone stocks which are used to attract a female during courtship.

It is found in southern Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Russia, and Australia. In its range E. core is found at all elevations, right from sea level up into the mountains to 2,400 metres (8,000 ft). It can be observed in all layers of vegetation and in all types of regions from arid land to forested areas. It can as commonly be seen gliding over the treetops as flitting about a foot off the ground searching for nectar flowers. In thick forests it is often seen moving along open tracks or following the course of a river.

Photo taken in Careel Bay, March 2023. Pic; AJG

The butterfly, being protected by its inedibility, has a leisurely flight. It is often seen flying about shrubs and bushes in search of its host plants. It visits a large variety of flowering plant species. When gliding E. core holds its wings at an angle just greater than the horizontal plane, maintaining its flight with a few measured wingbeats.

E. core is a nectar lover and visits flowers unhurriedly. It seems to prefer bunches to individual flowers. When feeding the butterfly is unhurried and is not easily disturbed. It can be approached closely at this time.  On hot days large numbers of these butterflies can be seen mud-puddling on wet sand. E. core is an avid mud-puddler often congregating in huge swarms along with other Euploea species as well as other danaids.

Eggs are laid on the underside of young leaves of the host plants. The egg is shiny white, tall and pointed, with ribbed sides. Just before hatching the eggs turn greyish with a black top. Throughout its life the caterpillar stays on the underside of the leaves. The caterpillar is uniformly cylindrical, vividly coloured and smooth. It has alternate white and dark brown or black transverse bands. Just above the legs and prolegs, along the entire body is a wide orangish-red band interspersed with black spiracles. 

The adult butterfly has a life span of 11 - 13 weeks. The adults feed upon nectar from various flowering plants, including eucalypts.

Warringah Zone School Surfing

Congratulations to everyone who took part in the Warringah Zone school surfing competition last Thursday, March 23, in fun, small smooth waves at south Avalon Beach. 
Narrabeen Sports High School had great success winning the U16 boys, U16 Girls and Under 19 girls - great stuff! We didn;t get any results in for other divisions and individual results but are sure you all are CHAMPIONS!

Warringah Zone is leading the way with developing a school pathway for competitive surfing. The Tag Team format is the planned format for the developing Combined High Schools (CHS) pathway. Stay tuned for more information!

Congratulations Sateki Latu: Waratahs Cap

Congratulations to Sateki Latu, former Forest HS Sports Captain (2016), where he represented at NSWCHSSA Rugby and former Warringah Rugby player Sateki Latu, Prop, who joined the Colts program and was awarded the 2019 Mal Grey Trophy - Best & Fairest Player (1st Grade), on being selected for the Waratahs. 

Waratahs: Congratulations to our newest capped Waratah Sateki Latu - Waratah No. 1721.

On March 10th 2023 he made his Super Rugby debut against Melbourne's Rebels. Despite the Waratahs not triumphing that time, Sateki was grateful for his run and that all the hard work and passion he has put into his sport is paying off.

In 2022 Sateki was among a selection of eight Shute Shield players a practice match against an ACT Brumbies XV at St Edmunds College in Canberra on Saturday 24 September.
A strong proponent of the Shute Shield, Waratahs Head Coach Darren Coleman was delighted to invite eight of the strongest performers in the competition to help bolster the numbers for the match.

“We are fortunate in NSW to have the Shute Shield which we believe is the strongest club competition in Australia and our first port of call for talent. It is, and always will be, the lifeblood of the Waratahs and Australian rugby,” Coleman said

“We wanted to use this match as a means to have a look at some players that were both position appropriate and had dominant club seasons and provide an opportunity for them to come into our environment, get to know them, in case we hit some injuries in the future”

The Shute Shield players joined the Waratahs squad, allowing them to acquaint themselves with the coaching staff and team in the weeks leading up to the match.
Shute Shield players joining the Waratahs for the clash with the Brumbies XV were: Sateki Latu (Warringah), Ben Houston (Randwick), Ratu Tuisese (Eastwood), Hunter Ward (Manly), Michael Icely (Eastwood), Jack McGregor (Gordon), Alex Pohla (Gordon), James Hendren (Randwick), Dan O'Brien (Randwick), Esera Chee-Kam (Warringah).

Congratulations Sateki - !

TEXStyle 2023

Congratulations to local student Alex E. (Class of 2022) for being awarded the Excellence Award at the 2023 TEXStyle Exhibition for demonstrating exceptional creativity and quality in her Major Work. This award is a significant achievement and a testament to Alex's hard work, dedication, and talent. 

Showcasing major projects from HSC Textile and Design students, TEXStyle celebrates outstanding young talent. The exhibition features innovative works from across NSW including garments, wall hangings and 3D textile pieces, which truly push the boundaries of creativity. The exhibition is supported by a comprehensive events program for teachers and students. TEXStyle is organised by the Technology Educators Association, a not-for-profit body run by full-time educators who volunteer their time to provide engagement with exemplary work and drive educational improvement.

About TEANSW and the TEXStyle exhibitions
Technology Educators Association (TEANSW) is a not-for-profit association run by full-time educators who volunteer their time to support Technology teachers and students.

For over 15 years, supported by partnerships and sponsors, TEA has delivered the TEXStyle Exhibition in a variety of iterations, all designed to showcase excellence and promote textiles and fashion in both the education sector and wider communities. It provides opportunities for students and teachers to engage with exemplary work samples and deepen teaching practice to drive improved student outcomes.

Since 2018, the exhibition and seminars have been held at The Muse in Ultimo TAFE in a collaboration with the staff from Fashion Design Studio at TAFENSW. This year, TEANSW has collaborated with the Embroiderers' Guild NSW to deliver a physical exhibition at Gallery 76 based in Concord West.

This Exhibition is not only a partnership with educators and sponsors, it is a collaboration with the student exhibitors. Student voice has driven the content; providing descriptions, highlighting key manufacturing and surface decoration techniques that are of significance for them. All annotations have been written by the student, providing deeper insight into their project development process, trials and celebrations. We have used a combination of professional photographs and ones provided by the students at the nomination stage. As a legacy, this exhibition provides a page that each student exhibitor can refer to when preparing portfolios and applications for future studies and/or employment.

The major project is a highly valued component of Technology subjects, allowing students the opportunity to develop and demonstrate their depth of understanding and skills in the application of knowledge. For the HSC Course, Textiles and Design students undertake a Major Textiles Project worth 50% of the HSC Mark. The 40 projects showcased in the Virtual TEXStyle Exhibition were selected from Major Textile Projects submitted for the practical Textiles and Design examination.

Focus Areas
The selected focus area allows students to explore in detail one area of interest through a creative textile design process that integrates the areas of Design, Properties and Performance of Textiles and the Australian Textile, Clothing, Footwear and Allied Industries.

Something that can be worn, is functional and can be easily cared for. Examples include: Daywear, evening wear, children's clothing, lingerie, sleepwear, protective wear, sportswear, bags, hats and shoes.

Related to a particular culture, historical period or occasion. Examples can include: National costume, theatre/film costume, fancy dress party, dance costume, Mardi Gras costume and themed ball.

Textile items for interiors. These can include: cushions, lampshades, quilts, tablecloths, curtains and chairs.

Textile items that are functional. Examples can include bags, wall hangings, umbrellas, tents, sleeping bags, surfboard covers.

Textile arts
A textile item that is highly decorative and can be from any of the focus areas. Wearable and Non-wearable, apparel, costume, furnishing or a non-apparel item.

The 2023 TEA Textile Art Piece (TAP) Challenge

The 2023 TEA Textile Art Piece (TAP) Challenge sponsored by S&S will again offer two design  briefs. This will allow teachers of textiles the opportunity to incorporate this highly successful design project into both Stage 5 and Stage 4 programs and into extra-curricular activities which may be offered, such as ‘Sewing Club’. 

The theme for 2023 is……COUNTRY – identity, purpose, belonging  

General guidelines  
– may be a hanging art quilt, decorative mat, a sculpture, an ornament, a cushion cover, etc.  
– should be no larger than a volume equivalent to 40cm x 40cm x 5cm 
– include a minimum of 75% textile materials 
– incorporate at least 3 decorative techniques and demonstrate creativity in design and  construction  
– able to be easily displayed on a wall or table 
– respect Indigenous and cultural protocols 
– each school may enter a maximum of two (2) entries for each of Stage 4 and Stage 5 

Learning across the curriculum 
Learning across the curriculum content assists students to achieve the broad learning outcomes defined in the NESA K-10 Curriculum Framework and Statement of Equity Principles, and in the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians.

Cross-curriculum priorities enable students to develop understanding about and address the contemporary issues they face.  A cross-curriculum priority identified by NESA is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures 

Theme-specific opportunities 
The NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) 

The NSW AECG began in 1977 as a committee of Aboriginal people invited by the Department of Education to advise it on Aboriginal Education.
The AECG, through its local and regional network promotes respect, empowerment and self-determination and believes the process of collaborative consultation is integral to equal partnerships and is fundamental to the achievement of equality.
The AECG offers Professional Learning such as ‘Connecting to Country’, an Aboriginal community cultural awareness teaching programme. This programme connects the NSW teaching fraternity with Aboriginal peoples and communities. Teachers are offered a unique opportunity to engage directly with Aboriginal Australians at the local community level.

TAP Challenge 2023 – Guidelines & Criteria
Full Guidelines and Criteria can be found via the link below 

How to Enter 
Only online entry forms will be accepted for the TAP competition. Please follow the link below, or find the link on the TEA website and social media (Facebook and Instagram pages). 

TAP2023 entries should be posted to arrive by Friday 22nd September 2023 (term 3, week 10) at the following address – 
2023 Textile Art Piece Challenge
PO Box 699
Lidcombe NSW 1825

Major Upgrade Of Athlete Change Rooms Ahead Of FIFA Women's World Cup 2023™

Accor Stadium’s athlete change rooms, officials area and media conference room have undergone a multimillion-dollar upgrade ahead of the venue’s first NRL games for the season and in the countdown to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ in July-August.

Having hosted almost 500,000 fans during an unprecedented Summer of Concerts season, Accor Stadium has transitioned from major concert venue to sporting arena ahead of an exciting winter of events.
The sleek and modern upgrade of facilities was designed by the original architects of the stadium, Populous, and has created four gender-neutral change rooms suitable for all codes, along with new recovery pools. 
Adding to the match-day zone and home ground feel is the ability for every team to bring their club or national identity to life, quickly and efficiently using new lighting infrastructure.
Officials and media will also enjoy new and improved facilities with upgrades to the officials’ change rooms, match-day office and medical areas, as well as the media conference room on Level 0.
Venues NSW CEO Kerrie Mather said it’s the last stage of an $81.4 million investment in upgrades at Accor Stadium ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™, the biggest sporting event to come to Sydney since the 2003 Rugby World Cup. 
“We have invested significantly in Sydney’s major event stadium, Accor Stadium, to enhance the spectator experience for the millions of fans who attend live events each year,” Mather said.
“It’s fantastic to extend that world-class experience to the areas used by our athletes, officials and media, providing the very best event-day environment possible.
“We’ve just witnessed arguably the biggest concert season ever, and there’s a lot more to look forward to at Accor Stadium with rugby league returning before the FIFA Women’s World Cup comes to town.”
Accor Stadium has also completed a number of other recent upgrades. The 120m-long Great Southern Screen, sports lighting and parapet LED on Level 3 has elevated the spectator and event-day experience for fans inside the stadium. 
Venues NSW has also completed Accor Stadium’s roof and primary structure restoration project to extend the longevity of the venue, while supporting the potential installation of a retractable roof in the future.

In preparation for the return of winter football to Accor Stadium, Head Curator Graeme Logan and his grounds team have completed a full pitch turf replacement, upgraded the arena irrigation system and installed the NRL posts in the countdown to the Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles Round 4 NRL fixture this Saturday night.
“We have come through our major concert period in good shape and rolled out ready-to-play turf as we welcome back NRL footy,” Logan said.
“We have had this pitch growing in Western Sydney in preparation for the football season. The posts are now up and it’s all systems go for a big season ahead.”
Accor Stadium is gearing up for an exciting winter of sport, highlighted by an NRL double-header at Easter featuring the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v South Sydney Rabbitohs on Good Friday 7 April and Wests Tigers v Parramatta Eels on Easter Monday 10 April. This will be followed by a potentially series-deciding State of Origin Game 3 on Wednesday 12 July.
Immediately following State of Origin is the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™, with Accor Stadium hosting the CommBank Matildas’ opening night game against the Republic of Ireland on Thursday 20 July, along with four major games including the World Cup Final on Sunday 20 August.
Accor Stadium will revert to its generic name Stadium Australia for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ under FIFA regulations.

Avalon Youth Hub In Avalon Beach: Join Us! 

Bring your dreams, ideas, concerns or anything about what it’s like living, working or studying in the Avalon/Pittwater area. Contribute to our community events, local workshops and development opportunities. 
Open to young people aged between 14 and 24.

Contact us on 0487 936 875 or

A History Of Pittwater Part 4: West Head - West Head Fortress Remastered 2023

Published March 2023 by Pittwater Pathways, John Illingsworth

This 2023 version updated to include the flight of David Geer's Sea Rey light seaplane. Essential to the production it has become part of it. Definition and video stability is further improved.

The story of the WWII fortress at West Head up to March 1941, including the installation of the guns as told by the man who was there - Jack 'Bluey' Mercer. The history of Commodore Heights, attempts by speculators to subdivide Ku-ring-gai Chase and the building of the Hawkesbury River railway bridge. An over-arching strategic theme from 1882 onwards reveals how the defence of Pittwater, Broken Bay and the Hawkesbury River railway bridge was essential to the war effort and the defence of Sydney.

Scouts Are Out & About

Over the past few months, all age groups in Scouting across Sydney North Region have been doing everything from canoe trips, hikes, and abseiling, to craft and community cleanups.

There's no better time to get into Scouting, with sections for ages 5-25, plus lots of satisfying leadership opportunities for adults.

Young people can have a four-week trial period, and Active Kids vouchers can be used towards membership fees.

Scouts are everywhere! Connect with your local Scout Group via

Northern Composure Band Competition 2023

Due to the pandemic, Council have had the 20th anniversary on hold but pleased to say that the competition is open and running again.

Northern Composure is the largest and longest-running youth band competition in the area and offers musicians local exposure as well as invaluable stage experience. Bands compete in heats, semi finals and the grand final for a total prize pool of over $15,000. 

Over the past 20 years we have had many success stories and now is your chance to join bands such as: 

  • Ocean Alley
  • Lime Cordiale
  • Dear Seattle
  • What So Not
  • The Rions
  • Winston Surfshirt
  • Crocodylus

And even a Triple J announcer plus a wide range of industry professionals

About the Competition

In 2023, the comp looks a little different.

All bands are invited to enter our heats which will be exclusively run online and voted on by your peers and community by registering below and uploading a video of one song of your choice. (if you are doing a cover, please make sure to credit the original band) We are counting on you to spread the word and get your friends, family, teachers voting for you!

The top 8-12 bands will move on through to our live semi finals with a winner from each moving on to the grand final held during National Youth Week. Not only that but we have raised the age range from 19 to 21 for all those musicians who may have missed out over the past two years.


Key dates

  • Voting open for heats: Mon 13 Feb – Sun 26 Feb
  • Band Briefing: Mon 6 March, Dee Why PCYC
  • Semi 1: Sat 18 March Mona Vale Memorial Hall
  • Semi 2: Sat 25 March, YOYOs, Frenchs Forest
  • Grand Final: Fri 28 April, Dee Why PCYC

For more information contact Youth Development at or call 8495 5104

Stay in the loop and follow Northern Composure Unplugged on KALOF Facebook.

School Leavers Support

Explore the School Leavers Information Kit (SLIK) as your guide to education, training and work options in 2022;
As you prepare to finish your final year of school, the next phase of your journey will be full of interesting and exciting opportunities. You will discover new passions and develop new skills and knowledge.

We know that this transition can sometimes be challenging and the COVID-19 pandemic has presented some uncertainty. With changes to the education and workforce landscape, you might be wondering if your planned decisions are still a good option or what new alternatives are available and how to pursue them.

There are lots of options for education, training and work in 2022 to help you further your career. This information kit has been designed to help you understand what those options might be and assist you to choose the right one for you. Including:
  • Download or explore the SLIK here to help guide Your Career.
  • School Leavers Information Kit (PDF 5.2MB).
  • School Leavers Information Kit (DOCX 0.9MB).
  • The SLIK has also been translated into additional languages.
  • Download our information booklets if you are rural, regional and remote, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, or living with disability.
  • Support for Regional, Rural and Remote School Leavers (PDF 2MB).
  • Support for Regional, Rural and Remote School Leavers (DOCX 0.9MB).
  • Support for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander School Leavers (PDF 2MB).
  • Support for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander School Leavers (DOCX 1.1MB).
  • Support for School Leavers with Disability (PDF 2MB).
  • Support for School Leavers with Disability (DOCX 0.9MB).
  • Download the Parents and Guardian’s Guide for School Leavers, which summarises the resources and information available to help you explore all the education, training, and work options available to your young person.

School Leavers Information Service

Are you aged between 15 and 24 and looking for career guidance?

Call 1800 CAREER (1800 227 337).

SMS 'SLIS2022' to 0429 009 435.

Our information officers will help you:
  • navigate the School Leavers Information Kit (SLIK),
  • access and use the Your Career website and tools; and
  • find relevant support services if needed.
You may also be referred to a qualified career practitioner for a 45-minute personalised career guidance session. Our career practitioners will provide information, advice and assistance relating to a wide range of matters, such as career planning and management, training and studying, and looking for work.

You can call to book your session on 1800 CAREER (1800 227 337) Monday to Friday, from 9am to 7pm (AEST). Sessions with a career practitioner can be booked from Monday to Friday, 9am to 7pm.

This is a free service, however minimal call/text costs may apply.

Call 1800 CAREER (1800 227 337) or SMS SLIS2022 to 0429 009 435 to start a conversation about how the tools in Your Career can help you or to book a free session with a career practitioner.

All downloads and more available at:

Word Of The Week: Textile

Word of the Week returns in 2023 simply to throw some disruption in amongst the 'yeah-nah' mix. 

noun. any cloth or goods produced by weaving, knitting, or felting. a material, as a fibre or yarn, used in or suitable for weaving: Glass can be used as a textile. adjective. woven or capable of being woven: textile fabrics.

The word 'textile' comes from the Latin adjective textilis, meaning 'woven', which itself stems from textus, the past participle of the verb texere, 'to weave'. Originally applied to woven fabrics, the term "textiles" is now used to encompass a diverse range of materials, including fibres, yarns, and fabrics, as well as other related items.

A "fabric" is defined as any thin, flexible material made from yarn, directly from fibres, polymeric film, foam, or any combination of these techniques. Fabric has a broader application than cloth. Fabric is synonymous with cloth, material, goods, or piece goods.

The word 'fabric' also derives from Latin, with roots in the Proto-Indo-European language. Stemming most recently from the Middle French fabrique, or "building," and earlier from the Latin fabrica ('workshop; an art, trade; a skilful production, structure, fabric'), the noun fabrica stems from the Latin faber; " artisan who works in hard materials', which itself is derived from the Proto-Indo-European dhabh-, meaning 'to fit together'.

Cloth is a flexible substance typically created through the processes of weaving, felting, or knitting using natural or synthetic materials. The word 'cloth' derives from the Old English clað, meaning "a cloth, woven, or felted material to wrap around one's body', from the Proto-Germanic kalithaz, similar to the Old Frisian klath, the Middle Dutch cleet, the Middle High German kleit and the German kleid, all meaning 'garment'.

It is worth noting that although cloth is a type of fabric, not all fabrics can be classified as cloth due to differences in their manufacturing processes, physical properties, and intended uses. Materials that are woven, knitted, tufted, or knotted from yarns are referred to as cloth, while wallpaper, plastic upholstery products, carpets, and nonwoven materials are examples of fabrics.

The textile industry grew out of art and craft and was kept going by guilds, an association of artisans and merchants who oversee the practice of their craft/trade in a particular territory. 

The Syndics of the Drapers' Guild by Rembrandt, 1662.

The men (with the exception of Bel who is an attendant as indicated by his calotte) are drapers who were elected to assess the quality of cloth that weavers offered for sale to members of their guild. Their one-year terms in office began on Good Friday and they were expected to conduct their inspections thrice weekly. The Dutch word staal means 'sample' and refers to the samples of cloth that were assessed. The inspectors used pliers to press the seals of their city (front) and guild (reverse) into penny-sized slugs of lead that were specially affixed to record the results of the inspection. There were four grades of quality, the highest was indicated by pressing four seals and the lowest by pressing only one.

The men, who are appraising a length of Persian-style fabric against exemplars from a swatch book, are (from left to right): Jacob van Loon (1595–1674), Volckert Jansz (1605 or 1610–1681), Willem van Doeyenburg (ca. 1616–1687), Frans Hendricksz Bel (1629–1701), Aernout van der Mye (ca.1625–1681), Jochem de Neve (1629–1681). The guild commissioned this portrait and it hung in their guildhall, the Staalhof (nl), until 1771.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, during the industrial revolution, textiles manufacture became increasingly mechanised. In 1765, when a machine for spinning wool or cotton called the spinning jenny was invented in the United Kingdom, textile production became the first economic activity to be industrialised. There are numerous accounts and stories you may read of the impact of that on individuals and communities.

The precursor of today's textiles includes leaves, barks, fur pelts, and felted cloths. The first clothes, worn at least 70,000 years ago and perhaps much earlier, were probably made of animal skins and helped protect early humans from the elements. At some point, people learned to weave plant fibres into textiles. The discovery of dyed flax fibres in a cave in the Republic of Georgia dated to 34,000 BCE suggests that textile-like materials were made as early as the Palaeolithic era.

Handmade floral patterns on textiles, The production of textiles which were initially artisanal work, has grown into a vast field today that includes the production of fibers, yarns, fabrics, and various fibrous products for different domestic and industrial usages. Photo: Lily Sanchez

Some fashionable songs from 1953 onwards:

AI tools are generating convincing misinformation. Engaging with them means being on high alert

This is a fake AI-generated image. Daniel Kempe via Twitter/Midjourney
Lisa M. GivenRMIT University

AI tools can help us create content, learn about the world and (perhaps) eliminate the more mundane tasks in life – but they aren’t perfect. They’ve been shown to hallucinate information, use other people’s work without consent, and embed social conventions, including apologies, to gain users’ trust.

For example, certain AI chatbots, such as “companion” bots, are often developed with the intent to have empathetic responses. This makes them seem particularly believable. Despite our awe and wonder, we must be critical consumers of these tools – or risk being misled.

Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI (the company that gave us the ChatGPT chatbot), has said he is “worried that these models could be used for large-scale disinformation”. As someone who studies how humans use technology to access information, so am I.

A fake image depicting former US President Donald Trump being arrested.
A number of fake images of former US President Donald Trump being arrested have taken the internet by storm. Elliot Higgins/Midjourney

Misinformation Will Grow With Back-Pocket AI

Machine-learning tools use algorithms to complete certain tasks. They “learn” as they access more data and refine their responses accordingly. For example, Netflix uses AI to track the shows you like and suggest others for future viewing. The more cooking shows you watch, the more cooking shows Netflix recommends.

While many of us are exploring and having fun with new AI tools, experts emphasise these tools are only as good as their underlying data – which we know to be flawed, biased and sometimes even designed to deceive. Where spelling errors once alerted us to email scams, or extra fingers flagged AI-generated images, system enhancements make it harder to tell fact from fiction.

These concerns are heightened by the growing integration of AI in productivity apps. Microsoft, Google and Adobe have announced AI tools will be introduced to a number of their services including Google Docs, Gmail, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Photoshop and Illustrator.

Creating fake photos and deep-fake videos no longer requires specialist skills and equipment.

Running Tests

I ran an experiment with the Dall-E 2 image generator to test whether it could produce a realistic image of a cat that resembled my own. I started with a prompt for “a fluffy white cat with a poofy tail and orange eyes lounging on a grey sofa”.

The result wasn’t quite right. The fur was matted, the nose wasn’t fully formed, and the eyes were cloudy and askew. It reminded me of the pets who returned to their owners in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. Yet the design flaws made it easier for me to see the image for what it was: a system-generated output.

Image of a cat generated by Dall-E 2.
Image generated by Dall-E 2 using the prompt: ‘a fluffy white cat with a poofy tail and orange eyes lounging on a grey sofa’.

I then requested the same cat “sleeping on its back on a hardwood floor”. The new image had few visible markers distinguishing the generated cat from my own. Almost anyone could be misled by such an image.

Image of a cat generated by Dall-E 2.
Image generated by Dall-E 2 using the prompt: ‘a fluffy white cat with a poofy tail sleeping on its back on a hardwood floor’.

I then used ChatGPT to turn the lens on myself, asking: “What is Lisa Given best known for?” It started well, but then went on to list a number of publications that aren’t mine. My trust in it ended there.

Text generated by ChatGPT.'
Text generated by ChatGPT using the prompt: ‘What is Lisa Given best known for?’

The chatbot started hallucinating, attributing others’ works to me. The book The Digital Academic: Critical Perspectives on Digital Technologies in Higher Education does exist, but I didn’t write it. I also didn’t write Digital Storytelling in Health and Social Policy. Nor am I the editor of Digital Humanities Quarterly.

When I challenged ChatGPT, its response was deeply apologetic, yet produced more errors. I didn’t write any of the books listed below, nor did I edit the journals. While I wrote one chapter of Information and Emotion, I didn’t co-edit the book and neither did Paul Dourish. My most popular book, Looking for Information, was omitted completely.

Text generated by ChatGPT.
Following the prompt ‘Hmm… I don’t think Lisa Given wrote those books. Are you sure?’, ChatGPT made yet more errors.

Fact-Checking Is Our Main Defence

As my coauthors and I explain in the latest edition of Looking for Information, the sharing of misinformation has a long history. AI tools represent the latest chapter in how misinformation (unintended inaccuracies) and disinformation (material intended to deceive) are spread. They allow this to happen quicker, on a grander scale and with the technology available in more people’s hands.

Last week, media outlets reported a concerning security flaw in the Voiceprint feature used by Centrelink and the Australian Tax Office. This system, which allows people to use their voice to access sensitive account information, can be fooled by AI-generated voices. Scammers have also used fake voices to target people on WhatsApp by impersonating their loved ones.

Advanced AI tools allow for the democratisation of knowledge access and creation, but they do have a price. We can’t always consult experts, so we have to make informed judgments ourselves. This is where critical thinking and verification skills are vital.

These tips can help you navigate an AI-rich information landscape.

1. Ask questions and verify with independent sources

When using an AI text generator, always check source material mentioned in the output. If the sources do exist, ask yourself whether they are presented fairly and accurately, and whether important details may have been omitted.

2. Be sceptical of content you come across

If you come across an image you suspect might be AI-generated, consider if it seems too “perfect” to be real. Or perhaps a particular detail does not match the rest of the image (this is often a giveaway). Analyse the textures, details, colouring, shadows and, importantly, the context. Running a reverse image search can also be useful to verify sources.

If it is a written text you’re unsure about, check for factual errors and ask yourself whether the writing style and content match what you would expect from the claimed source.

3. Discuss AI openly in your circles

An easy way to prevent sharing (or inadvertently creating) AI-driven misinformation is to ensure you and those around you use these tools responsibly. If you or an organisation you work with will consider adopting AI tools, develop a plan for how potential inaccuracies will be managed, and how you will be transparent about tool use in the materials you produce. The Conversation

Lisa M. Given, Professor of Information Sciences & Director, Social Change Enabling Impact Platform, RMIT University

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

Gen Z grew up in a world filled with ugly fashion – no wonder they love their Crocs

Emily BrayshawUniversity of Technology Sydney

In 2017, Julia Hobbs of British Vogue declared Crocs “have an unrivalled ability to repel onlookers and induce sneers”.

But over the two decades since the notoriously ugly shoes were released, the clogs seem to be going from strength to strength.

No longer just the comfortable, easy-to-wear boat shoes they were designed as, now they’re being worn by celebrities like Ariana GrandeJustin BieberWhoopi Goldberg and Drew Barrymore, who has her own collection.

Bedazzled white Crocs are being worn with wedding dresses, #crocs has more than 7.3 billion views on TikTok, and diehard fans can buy mini Crocs to decorate their Crocs with.

Even supermodel Kendall Jenner admitted on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon that she is not ashamed of her comfy Crocs.

But the most common place you’re likely to see Crocs today is on the feet of Generation Z. They grew up with ugly fashion, and are now making it their own.

A Brief History

Crocs’ ancestors are the clog: a cheap, comfortable, lightweight, practical wooden shoe popular in medieval Europe and Scandinavia.

Traditional wooden clogs were easy to clean, non-slip, protected the wearer’s feet and kept them warm and dry.

The oldest surviving pair found in Holland date to 1230.

Henry Ossawa Tanner (American, 1859-1937), The Young Sabot Maker, 1895, oil on canvas. William Rockhill Nelson Trust through the George H. and Elizabeth O. Davis Fund and partial gift of an anonymous donor

Crocs premiered their shoe at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show in 2002. Made from a tough form of injection-moulded ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam, which moulds to the wearer’s foot, all 200 pairs at the show sold out.

Crocs were easy to clean, non-slip, could easily be pulled on and off, and would not suffer from continued exposure to water.

But they weren’t popular in all corners. Time magazine included Crocs in their 2010 list of the 50 worst inventions.

And from the outset, even Crocs’ cofounders considered them ugly.

Ugly Fashion

The 21st century’s love of deliberately ugly fashion can be traced to 1996, with Miuccia Prada launching her “Bad Taste” collection.

The early 2000s gave us ugly comfort dressing in the form of the bright, velour Juicy Couture tracksuit. Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake’s iconic matching double denim moment at the 2001 American Music Awards embodied the era’s ugliness.

Generation Z grew up in this ugly fashion world. Many rocked their first brightly coloured pair of Crocs as toddlers.

This generation also learned to express themselves online, where Internet Ugly – a deliberately grotesque, anti-authoritarian and amateurish aesthetic – is a key look of memes.

Memes celebrate ugliness as a relatable, authentic foil against the slickly perfect images generated by filters, Hollywood and self-serious corporate design. Memes evolve, but the images, templates and looks of memes stays similar and the ugly aesthetic continues to spread and be enjoyed.

Crocs are, in a sense, wearable memes for Gen Z.

Like memes, Crocs have changed and returned through nostalgic affectation.

In the two decades since their launch, Crocs have constantly reinvented themselves. There have been new colours and collaborations with popular brands, including computer games and high fashion houses like Liberty of London.

Each generation rediscovers the objects of its youth and replicates these objects in new ways. The resulting objects – in this case, Crocs – are passed around and either made uglier or beautified in the eye of the beholder. Every pair of Crocs can be customised with “Jibbitz”, a small ornament that fits into the holes throughout the shoe to beautify Crocs for their owner.

In the United Kingdom, Crocs paired with fast-fashion retailer Primark and high-street bakery Greggs to create ugly, fur-lined, black £9 Crocs with Greggs’ logo.

At the other end of the budget, you can buy Balenciaga’s lime green Crocs with a black sole and black stiletto heel.

Crocs And The Pandemic

Ugliness lets viewers laugh and release tensions in situations where they are helpless to act.

Adrian Holloway, Crocs’ general manager, told Vogue:

In times of stress and uncertainty, consumers seem to want comfort […] Everything was so heavy and scary, it felt good to treat yourself to something cheerful and inexpensive, but also practical and comfortable.

The COVID pandemic left Gen Z unable to participate in important social rites of passage like graduations, milestone birthdays, weddings and funerals.

Global lockdowns also left people feeling a strange blend of shock, boredom and irritation.

Like laughing at ugly memes, laughing at cute, ugly Crocs helped release feelings of powerlessness.

Here To Stay

Popular predictions of post-pandemic fashions suggest there are two options: we will continue to dress for comfort, or we will embrace eye-catching colours and patterns and strange silhouettes.

The popularity of Crocs among Gen Z suggests a third option: a combination of the comfortable with the crazy.

Worn today, these shoes signal the wearer’s capacity for casualness, irony, rebellion, and a desire to forge their own fashion rules in an Internet Ugly world.

Crocs are here to stayThe Conversation

Emily Brayshaw, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney

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

Tangy apricot Bavarian whip, fried rice medley and bombe Alaska: what Australia’s first food influencer had us cooking

Ethan/flickrCC BY-SA
Lauren SamuelssonUniversity of Wollongong

Our food choices are being influenced every day. On social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, food and eating consistently appear on lists of trending topics.

Food has eye-catching appeal and is a universal experience. Everyone has to eat. In recent years, viral recipes like feta pastadalgona coffee and butter boards have taken the world by storm.

Yet food influencing is not a new trend.

Australia’s first food influencer appeared in the pages of Australia’s most popular women’s magazine nearly 70 years ago. Just like today’s creators on Instagram and TikTok, this teenage cook advised her audience what was good to eat and how to make it.

Meet Debbie, Our Teenage Chef

Debbie commenced her decade-long tenure at the Australian Women’s Weekly in July 1954. We don’t know exactly who played the role of Debbie, which was a pseudonym. Readers were never shown her full face or body – just a set of disembodied hands making various recipes and, eventually, a cartoon portrait.

A short blurb on Debbie, and two photos of hands cooking.
Debbie’s first appearance in 1954. Trove

Like many food influencers today, Debbie was not an “expert” – she was a teenager herself. She taught teenage girls simple yet fashionable recipes they could cook to impress their family and friends, especially boys.

She shared recipes for tangy apricot Bavarian whipfried rice medley and bombe Alaska. Debbie also often taught her readers the basics, like how to boil an egg.

Just like today, many of her recipes showed the readers step-by-step instructions through images.

An unappetising bowl of rice.
Debbie’s fried rice medley from 1958. Trove

Teaching Girls To Cook (And Be ‘Good’ Women)

Debbie’s recipes first appeared in the For Teenagers section, which would go on to become the Teenagers Weekly lift-out in 1959.

These lift-outs reflected a major change taking place in wider society: the idea of “teenagers” being their own group with specific interests and behaviours had entered the popular imagination.

Debbie was speaking directly to teenage girls. Adolescents are still forming both their culinary and cultural tastes. They are forming their identities.

Some tips from Debbie in 1960. Trove

For the Women’s Weekly, and for Debbie, cooking was deemed an essential attribute for women. Girls were seen to be “failures” if they couldn’t at least “cook a baked dinner”, “make real coffee”, “grill a steak to perfection”, “scramble and fry eggs” and “make a salad (with dressing)”.

In addition to teaching girls how to cook, Debbie also taught girls how to catch a husband and become a good wife, a reflection of cultural expectations for women at the time.

Her macaroon trifle, the Women’s Weekly said, was sure to place girls at the top of their male friends’ “matrimony prospect” list!

Food Fads And Fashions

Food fads usually reflect something important about the world around us. During global COVID lockdowns, we saw a rise in sourdough bread-making as people embraced carbohydrate-driven nostalgia in the face of anxiety.

A peek at Debbie’s culinary repertoire can reveal some of the cultural phenomena that impacted Australian teenagers in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Debbie embraced teenage interest in rock'n'roll culture from the early 1960s, the pinnacle of which came at the height of Beatlemania.

The Beatles toured Australia in June 1964. To help her teenage readers celebrate their visit, Debbie wrote an editorial on how to host a Beatles party.

She suggested the party host impress their friends by making “Beatle lollipops”, “Ringo Starrs” (decorated biscuits) and terrifying-looking “Beatle mop-heads” (cakes with chocolate hair).

The terrifying mop-heads. Trove

A few months later, she also shared recipes for “jam butties” (or sandwiches, apparently a “Mersey food with a Mersey name”) and a “Beatle burger”.

We can also see the introduction of one of Australia’s most beloved dishes in Debbie’s recipes.

In 1957, she showed her teen readers how to make a new dish – spaghetti bolognaise – which had first appeared in the magazine five years prior.

Debbie was influencing the youth of Australia to enthusiastically adopt (and adapt) Italian-style cuisine. It stuck. While the recipe may have evolved, in 2012, Meat and Livestock Australia reported that 38% of Australian homes ate “spag bol” at least once a week.

Our food influences today may come from social media, but we shouldn’t forget the impact early influencers such as Debbie had on young people in the past. The Conversation

Debbie’s take on the now Aussie favourite, spag bol, in 1957. Trove

Lauren Samuelsson, Honorary Fellow, University of Wollongong

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

New asteroid sample study offers further hints of space origin for the building blocks of life on Earth

Trevor IrelandThe University of Queensland

How did life come about? The answer to this question goes to the very heart of our existence on planet Earth.

Did life simply arise from chemical reactions among organic compounds in a primordial soup left after Earth clumped together from space rubble? If so, where did the organic compounds come from?

Some of the so-called “building blocks of life” may have been surprisingly common in the early Solar System.

A team of Japanese and American scientists led by Yasuhiro Oba has analysed samples taken from the asteroid Ryugu in 2018 by the Hayabusa2 mission and found uracil, one of the five key bases of the RNA and DNA molecules that are crucial to life as we know it. Their study is published today in Nature Communications.

Building Blocks

At the most basic level, the development of life is a matter of combining simple organic molecules into increasingly complex compounds that can participate in the myriad reactions associated with a living organism.

Simple amino acids are believed to act as building blocks in the construction of these more complex molecules. But this isn’t just a simple random combination exercise.

The largest “chunk” of the human genome, chromosome 1, is made up of 249 million base pairs (the rungs on the twisted ladder of the DNA molecule). Each base pair is made of two bases: either guanine and cytosine, or adenine and thymine.

Building from the simple base pair chemicals to a full strand of DNA is a massive undertaking. A strand of DNA also has a complex structure, which varies from one individual to another. Life on Earth uses the structure of DNA to memorise the construction of the life form involved.

Alongside DNA, life uses a molecule called RNA for making proteins and doing other odds jobs inside cells. RNA is also made of a long string of bases: guanine, cytosine and adenine (like DNA), but instead of thymine it has uracil – which is what turned up in the sample from Ryugu.


Ryugu is what’s called a C-type or carbonaceous asteroid. These are the most common type in the asteroid belt, making up about 75% of the asteroids we can see.

The Hayabusa2 mission established that C-type asteroids like Ryugu are the source of a kind of rare meteorite sometimes found on Earth, called a carbonaceous chondrite.

Uracil and other organic molecules have previously been found in these meteorites, but there has been no way to rule out the possibility that some of the molecules had a terrestrial origin. The meteorite samples could have been contaminated here on Earth, or their chemistry might have been changed by heating as they fell through the atmosphere.

However, since the Ryugu sample was taken from the surface of an asteroid and brought back in a tightly sealed container, scientists are confident it is free of contamination or any effects of coming to Earth.

Furthermore, the presence of these amino acids on Ryugu shows that even on asteroid surfaces, exposed to solar wind, micrometeorites and cosmic rays, organic molecules can survive transportation through the solar system.

A huge variety of different organic compounds have already been found in Ryugu samples.

Many organic molecules, such as amino acids, come in two forms: left-handed and right-handed. Life on Earth relies on left-handed amino acids, but both forms are equally common in Ryugu samples – which indicates the molecules found on Ryugu are not signs of life.

The Big Picture

The Solar System formed around 4.57 billion years ago from a molecular dust cloud that was exposed to UV radiation and particle bombardment from protons.

The molecular cloud contained simple molecules such as methane (CH₄), water (H₂O) and ammonia (NH₃). These would have been fragmented by the radiation, and the fragments would have reassembled into more complex molecules such as amino acids.

C-type asteroids like Ryugu are believed to have formed so far from the Sun that the water and carbon dioxide they contain would have remained frozen. However, as the asteroids warmed up and the ice melted, liquid water would have been able to react with the rocks and minerals.

Whether these conditions led to the creation of more complex organic molecules is an open question, but certainly these conditions would be conducive to further reactions. In addition, these conditions could affect the survival of different compounds.

The Hayabusa2 samples from Ryugu provide a new context for understanding the origin of organic compounds that may have been the start of life on Earth. It is still a big step from having these organic compounds available to early Earth, and the formation of life itself.The Conversation

Trevor Ireland, Professor, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland

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

25-million-year-old fossils of a bizarre possum and strange wombat relative reveal Australia’s hidden past

Relative of Chunia pledgei named Ektopodon serratus (top left), with Wakaleo oldfieldiReconstruction of the early Miocene Kutjumarpu faunal assemblage by Peter SchoutenCC BY-SA
Arthur Immanuel CrichtonFlinders UniversityAaron Camens, and Gavin PrideauxFlinders University

Imagine a vast, lush forest dominated by giant flightless birds and crocodiles. This was Australia’s Red Centre 25 million years ago. There lived several species of koala; early kangaroos the size of possums; and the wombat-sized ancestors of the largest-ever marsupial, Diprotodon optatum (around 2.5 tonnes).

A window onto this ancient time is provided by a little-studied fossil site near Pwerte Marnte Marnte, south of Alice Springs in central Australia. This late Oligocene site yielded the earliest-known fossils of marsupials that look similar to modern ones, as well as fossils from wholly extinct groups such as the enigmatic ilariids, which were something like a koala crossed with a wombat.

While excavating this site from 2014 to 2022, Flinders University palaeontologists have found fossils from many more wonderful animals. In a pair of recently published studies, we name two of these species: a strange wombat relative and an even odder possum.

A dry orange landscape with small shrubs and a group of people sifting through rocks in the foreground
Flinders University palaeontologists at Pwerte Marnte Marnte fossil site. Arthur CrichtonAuthor provided

A Toothy Wombat

We discovered 35 specimens, including a partial skull and several lower jaws, from an animal that would have looked a bit like a modern wombat crossed with a marsupial lion (Thylacoleo carnifex).

Weighing in at around 50kg, it was among the largest marsupials of its time. We named it Mukupirna fortidentata.

Two isolated photos of a similarly shaped bone with large protruding teeth at the front
Left lower jaw of Mukupirna fortidentata compared with that of the southern hairy-nosed wombat. Arthur CrichtonAuthor provided

Everything about its skull and jaws shows this animal had a pretty powerful bite. Its front teeth, for example, were large and spike-shaped, being more like those of squirrels than wombats. These would have enabled them to fracture hard foods, like tough fruits, seeds, nuts and tubers. Its molars, by comparison, were actually quite similar to those of some monkeys, such as macaques.

Mukupirna fortidentata is only the second known member of a new family of marsupials described in 2020 called Mukupirnidae. These animals are thought to have diverged from a common ancestor with wombats over 25 million years ago. Sadly, they went extinct shortly thereafter.

Illustration of a flat landscape with an odd, grey wombat-like animal with slender legs standing by a pond
Close relative of Mukupirna fortidentata named Mukupirna nambensis. Reconstruction of the Pinpa faunal assemblage by Peter SchoutenCC BY-SA

A Nutcracker Possum

The second species we described is a newly discovered early possum, named Chunia pledgei. It had teeth that would be a dentist’s nightmare, with lots of bladed points (cusps) positioned side by side, like lines on a barcode. This tooth shape is characteristic of species in the poorly known, extinct possum family called Ektopodontidae.

The new species is unusual in that it has pyramid-shaped cusps on its front molars. These might have been useful for puncture-crushing hard foods — a bit like a nutcracker.

Fragmented yellow bone with strange serrated-looking teeth along the top
Chunia pledgei cheek teeth preserved in right lower jaw. Arthur CrichtonAuthor provided

So what did ektopodontids eat? We don’t really know for sure – there’s no animal like them alive today anywhere in the world. Based on aspects of their molar morphology, we infer they were probably eating fruits and seeds or nuts. But they may have been doing something totally different!

Unfortunately, ektopodontids are tantalisingly rare in the fossil record, known only from isolated teeth and several partial jaws. The fossils show they had a lemur-like short face, with particularly large, forward-facing eyes. But until we find more complete skeletal material, their ecology will likely remain mysterious.

What remains astonishing is just how little we know about the origins of Australia’s living animals, owing in no small part to a 30-million-year gap in the fossil record – half the time between now and the extinction of the dinosaurs.

At the same time, it’s inspiring to think about the countless strange and fascinating animals that must have once lived on this continent. Fossil evidence of these creatures may still be sitting somewhere in the outback, waiting to be discovered.The Conversation

Arthur Immanuel Crichton, PhD candidate, Flinders UniversityAaron Camens, Lecturer in Palaeontology, and Gavin Prideaux, Associate professor, Flinders University

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

‘Cultural expression through dress’: towards a definition of First Nations fashion

Treena ClarkUniversity of Technology Sydney and Peter McNeilUniversity of Technology Sydney

This May, Wiradjuri woman Denni Francisco and her label Ngali will be the first Indigenous designer to have a solo show at Australian Fashion Week.

This is a long time coming for the First Nations fashion industry and the designers and artists who have laboured in the fashion space for many years.

In 2003, Dharug woman Robyn Caughlan was the first Indigenous designer to show her ready-to-wear collection at Australian Fashion Week. Over the past 20 years, many Indigenous designers have shown their work in group shows. Francisco’s solo show is an important step forward for the industry.

But First Nations fashion is not just about the catwalk. It is a politically charged practice. We need to have a discussion on what we mean when we say “First Nations fashion”.

What Is ‘Fashion’?

During the European colonial reign from 1788 into the 1860s, Australian administrators were shocked at the appearance of Indigenous populations, often imposing new forms of clothing.

To them, Indigenous peoples were generally seen as wearing insufficient, “unsophisticated” and “static” clothing.

From the 19th to early 20th century, sociologists argued only modern, urban societies like France had a fashion “system” of production, business and the trickle down of styles.

By the 1970s, UK and US researchers started to use the word “dress” instead of “fashion” to connect wider forms of clothing, bodily and cultural practices.

“Fashion” has, however, been used as far back as the 1970s to describe Australia’s emerging First Nations textiles, garment and runway shows.

Recently, First Nations researchers in Canada and the United States discussed using “Indigenous fashion-art-and-dress” to describe First Nations clothing practices, fashion design and integration of art.

In Australia we have not yet had a conversation about a term that could encompass fashion design, textiles and art. Important First Nations fashion associationsorganisationsgroups, and projects have attempted their own terms and strategies.

We need a phrase which includes everything from wearing Aboriginal flag t-shirts in the city, self-designed outfits in the Tiwi Islands and commissioned garments in galleries and museums.

Many First Nations designers are not designing for the fashion industry or galleries which sell their work as art. They are designing to break colonial bonds, share cultural stories, and provide a wearable form of wellbeing.

A Matter Of Style

We have been exploring the words that Australian First Nations fashion researchers, designers, artists and producers use to describe their work and the industry.

The new millennium has motivated a great flowering of new First Nations designers and artists.

They describe themselves using words such as fashion designerartistcurator and their work as fashion and art and fashion labels.

They variously describe their work as being Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander or First Nations owned, or specifically emphasise their cultural Nations and groups.

Artist Elisa Jane Carmichael (Quandamooka) calls traditional and cultural clothing and adornment “the first creations of Australian fashion”.

Writer Tristen Harwood (First Nations) has written about the difference between “style” and “fashion”. He defines First Nations fashion as the marketing and buying of Indigenous designed fashions. By style, Harwood means the dynamic process of dressing that touches on identity, politics, self-creation and culture.

Style is about wearing attire, in all its complexity, and includes the long history from forced clothing to the revival of cultural garments and looks.

This distinction between fashion and style also informs Magpie Goose co-owner and director Amanda Hayman (Kalkadoon and Wakka Wakka). She notes how “Aboriginal cultural identity was systematically repressed” from the early 1800s to the late 1960s. With this repression, she argues, “cultural expression through dress was significantly impacted”.

Now, a new generation of fashion figures such as teacher and designer Charlotte Bedford (Wiradjuri), National Gallery of Victoria curator Shanae Hobson (Kaantju) and @ausindigenousfashion founder and curator Yatu Widders Hunt (Dunghutti and Anaiwan) prefer the terms “Indigenous fashion” or “First Nations fashion”.

Moving Forward

While there is a wide range of terminologies and languages used within the First Nations fashion sector, it is time for a bigger discussion about a collective and holistic term.

By embracing a holistic term, First Nations fashion would have a new and inclusive definition. It could acknowledge both traditional and contemporary practices of our First Nations peoples, including the role of artists, and encompass everything from fashion runways to creating garments for galleries, as well as everyday First Nations style.

First Nations fashion is political. If you dig deep into fashion stories you will also hear many tales about racism, exclusion and discrimination, as well as survival and healing.

We are moving into a new chapter of truth telling and the sharing of how racism and discrimination have influenced First Nations clothing practices and the fashion industry.

In landing on a collective term we might better represent First Nations peoples’ fashion, art and style stories as well as their community, cultural and design contributions – the business of fashion in Australia itself.The Conversation

Treena Clark, Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Indigenous Research Fellow, Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, University of Technology Sydney and Peter McNeil, Distinguished Professor of Design History, UTS, University of Technology Sydney

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

Determined survival, desperate poverty and fractured families: the stories of Australia’s convict orphans

Boys outside a store in the central highlands town of Bothwell, c. 1870. Tasmanian Archives, PH30/1/767
Janet McCalman ACThe University of Melbourne

Convict Orphans has a long but apt sub-title: “the heartbreaking stories of the colony’s forgotten children, and those who succeeded against all odds”. And this is exactly what this beautifully written book is about.

Review: Convict Orphans – Lucy Frost (Allen & Unwin)

The history of the children convicts were permitted to bring with them, or who they gave birth to while under sentence, is one of the many recently discovered troves of human experience in our archives.

This history is possible first because of the astonishing detail of the government administration of the penal system; second because of the world-leading digitisation of historical archives and of the nation’s newspapers (known as Trove), which has opened our past to citizens as well as professionals; and third, because of a powerful grassroots army of researchers that Lucy Frost herself helped lead.

Together with the doyenne of Tasmanian local history, Dr Alison Alexander, Frost – then a professor of English at the University of Tasmania – founded the Convict Women’s Press in 2010, a not-for-profit publishing company run entirely by volunteers.

Not only have they published seven monographs, with an eighth coming out this year, but they started the Female Convicts Research Centre, which has led research into every woman transported to Van Diemen’s Land. An army of local volunteers has researched shiploads of women, and researchers from all over the United Kingdom have daily sent snippets to Hobart gleaned from local court records, county archives and prison registers. These snippets build ever-growing life stories of people once hidden from history.

Writing about them, however, brings problems lest one be accused (as a now-deceased publisher said many years ago of my PhD thesis) of writing a mess of biographical droppings.

The stories of boys and girls in Convict Orphans are moving, but there is not enough historical context and argument. Frost has organised her book with considerable artistry around scenes and locales that collect a handful of shared experiences among the lives she has researched. But while she alludes to more complex stories and explanations, there could be more of them.

Convict Orphans tells the story of the 6,000 children who entered the Queen’s Orphan Schools in Tasmania between 1828 and 1879, yet few were actual orphans. Most were the children of convicts or, after transportation ceased in 1853, of parents unable to care for them because of imprisonment or mental illness or incapacity.

Many children arrived on convict ships with their parents, either a mother or a father, because the local parish would not care for them. Others were born to women under sentence and removed to the orphanage on weaning, whence they died in scandalous numbers from failure to thrive and gastroenteritis.

They remained in care and under instruction until the age of 12, when they were apprenticed out, and it is from these indentures that Frost has gleaned her stories. Thus the state remained ostensibly responsible for them until they matured as independent workers.

Queen’s Orphan Asylum, New Town, 1863. WL Crowther Library, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001124075235W800

Gruelling Work

Poignant moments bring alive the desperate struggle to survive for the genteel poor, in particular the widows who inherited debts and took to taking in lodgers. They saved paying wages for domestic help by using apprentices from the Queen’s Orphanage as domestic help. The work was gruelling for mere slips of girls. Likewise, boys were snapped up by dairymen and small farmers to provide free labour. Their living conditions could be gross.

The stories are not all grim, however. Some orphans were welcomed into households and a good relationship with a mistress or master could provide the first step into adult independence, marriage and a family.

A photo of male farm workers gathered in front of a building.
Farm workers gathered for the shearing (young boy on the left). Tasmanian Archives, PH30/1/1971.

One fascinating locale is the Huon Valley – remote, utterly primitive, living from the forest and its timber, and a place to hide for those with secrets and nasty habits.

As each child is followed into indentured service and beyond, we glimpse the desperate poverty, the cultural isolation, the emotional wounds and the burdens of shame that blocked so many of the children and grandchildren of those who arrived “bonded” from taking their place in the Australian mainstream.

But the stories of determined survival were of both the children and their masters and mistresses, themselves often former convicts.

A river running through forest.
The Huon river. People lived from the forest and its timber in this remote, impoverished region. Shutterstock

In the Huon Valley, James McDonald was apprenticed to a Mrs Catherine Halton as a gardener. Mrs Halton was a survivor: transported from Edinburgh on the testimony of her own mother who had left her without means to care for her younger siblings, while mother and her paramour cooled off in gaol. Catherine had pawned their clothes and paid the rent. She was an angry prisoner and much punished.

By 1875, she was a deserted wife and mother on a tiny farm on the Huon. James finished his indentures with her, so we can assume she fed and did not abuse him.

Fortified And Trained

Australian historians tend to underplay the back story of colonisation and its institutions. This is particularly so when it comes to social welfare or charity for those without families or the means to be self-sufficient. It was the late Patricia Crawford, a professor at the University of Western Australia and a distinguished historian of early modern England, who first pointed to the continuities between the English Poor Laws and colonial welfare institutions, in particular for First Nations people.

Crawford called it “civic fatherhood”, where the state (the civil parish or the colonial government) took upon itself the responsibilities to protect and educate those without capable parents by indenturing them as apprentices.

This was not reserved for orphans and bastards: all children, apart from those of “gentle birth” were traditionally expected to leave home at 12 and take up residence as an indentured apprentice for future training.

There were cruelties – and Frost opens her book with a brilliant narrative of a scandal at the Queen’s Orphanage where the rations were stolen for sale and children cruelly treated by the Matron, Harriet Smyth. But sadism and abuse have never been eradicated in care homes.

We get glimpses of a better life in the orphanage with brief references to the children’s band – music was often a major part of the care of the blind, for instance, as was handwork such as basket weaving.

Children had to be fortified and trained so they could avoid a life on the streets as beggars, or street sellers, or prostitutes. The prospects for orphan girls were dire unless they quickly found a decent husband or were enfolded in a caring household. (One suspects that being an attractive child or winning baby mattered.)

Hobart seen from above in 1873.
A bird’s-eye view of Hobart Town, c. 1873. WL Crowther Library, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001124074972.

As researchers burrow away at court records, more and more ex-convicts are being found: in and out of gaol, hospital and institutions. Half crazy, angry, and alone except for their drinking mates. For all the success stories, the failures who could not put a stable life together after doing their time are legion.

Too many fell victim to the demon drink – and the start of their painful life journey through poverty, hunger, violence, alcohol and gaol goes back to their childhoods.

For we now know that what distinguished our convicts as a population, was that most came from fractured families in the first place. Dickens was not exaggerating.

CORRECTION: This review originally stated that Frost’s book does not contain references or an index. However, the final published version of the book does contain these, so we have removed the relevant paragraph from this article.The Conversation

Janet McCalman AC, Emeritus Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor, The University of Melbourne

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

5 Indigenous engineering feats you should know about

William Barton playing the yidaki in 2009. Australian Festival of Chamber Music/AAP
Cat KutayUniversity of Technology Sydney

For many millennia, Indigenous Australians have engineered the landscape using sophisticated technological and philosophical knowledge systems in a deliberate response to changing social and environmental circumstances.

These knowledge systems integrate profound understanding of Country, bringing together an understanding of the topography and geology of the landscape, its natural cycles and ecological systems, its hydrological systems and its natural resources, including fauna and flora. This has enabled people to manage resources sustainably and reliably.

Engineering is about process, and the process of engineering was very different in Australia before the English colonised the land. However, when our Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander students take the step into engineering, or other STEM subjects, there is little material provided that relates to their experience or their peoples’ technical and management knowledge. This is a result of historic denial of the First Nations of Australia as enduring scientific and technical civilisations.

The versatility and minimalist nature of Aboriginal technology designs are inspiring. The flexibility and artistry in tool manufacture, which can differ in neighbouring communities, is a salient lesson for engineers now. Some key aspects of this approach can be seen through five examples of ingenious Indigenous engineering.

The Kimberley Raft

The King Sound region of the Kimberleys in Western Australia is renowned for its strong tides, rips and whirlpools. Navigation can be difficult, though there are areas of calm water in the bays. The Bardi community, from One Arm Point, call their raft the kalwa.

Side view and plan of the kalwa raft, a traditional watercraft from the Bardi community of north-west Western Australia. Permission from David Payne, Curator at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

The raft is made mostly of light mangrove wood, providing buoyancy. The two fan-shaped sections that make up the boat are wider and thicker at the outer ends to provide stability. These two sections, lapped over each other, are made on a base of mangrove trunks sharpened at the ends; hardwood is used to pin them together. A small basket, made with hardwood pegs on the back section, is used to secure belongings or any fish that are caught.

The design ensures the top of the raft stays above the water when loaded with the paddler, passengers and belongings. The size of the raft determines the load it can carry. Water that washes over the raft will flow out through the gaps between the wooden slats.

Ingeniously, the structure can be pulled apart. One half can be tied to a harpooned dugong, which will swim around and become exhausted, while the hunter floats on the other half.

Rafts were made in different styles all around the coast of Australia, from the different materials available in particular areas and for uses relevant to that landscape.

Thuwarri Thaa Aboriginal Ochre Mine

The Thuwarri Thaa (aka Wilgie Mia) Aboriginal ochre mine is located in central WA in the Weld Range, between Mount Magnet and Meekatharra. It has been in use for probably tens of thousands of years, including by non-Aboriginal miners from the 1940s to 1970s.

The ochre is still important in body and artefact painting for ceremony. It is also used as a skin coolant during summer and for warmth during winter; as a fly repellent; in curing hides and in making glue.

Hands covered in red ochre.
Ochre has many uses. Richard Wainwright/AAP

The mine is a deep, sloping shaft cut into the mountain. Wood was carried into the cavern and made into scaffolding to reach seams of ochre out of reach above the cavern floor. Tunnels have been dug along seams in the walls. Heat, flaked pebbles and fire-hardened, sharpened wood were used to undercut the seams of ochre. Fire may have been used to crack the surrounding rock, as well as to provide light deep in the cavern. At times, large sections of ochre could be wedged off.

The ochre was mined from deep underground and then processed onsite. Some was transported by traders northwest to Carnarvon (450 km), south to Kellerberrin (525 km) and east to Wiluna (300 km). To transport, the ochre was dampened and rolled into balls.

Thuwarri Thaa was reserved as a men’s only site and stories pass down knowledge of the site and the material. Its location, its mining and its uses are embedded in the creation story of the marlu or red kangaroo. The red ochre is his blood, the yellow ochre is his liver and green is his gall. The entire mining and distribution industry was regulated by these cultural constraints and influences and thus maintained sustainable practices.

When non-Aboriginal people mined there, the roof was blasted off a large cavern at a nearby site, little Wilgie Mia. Ochre from the site is still used in ceremony. People can visit with a permit if guided by Wajarri Yamaji Traditional Owner guides.

A dirt road leading to an ochre mine.
View towards Little Wilgie hill in 2015. (Courtesy of Anneliese Carson).

Budj Bim Eel Traps

The Budj Bim area (also known as Lake Condah), a dormant volcano in south western Victoria, was continuously occupied for thousands of years. The Gunditjmara community farmed eels and harvested galaxia fish in a series of dams and water channels constructed out of the basalt lava flows, an amazing surveying feat.

More than 30,000 years ago, Budj Bim (called Mount Eccles by Europeans) spewed forth the Tyrendarra lava flow, a significant creation event in this country recorded in local oral history. The lava flow to the sea created large wetlands by changing the drainage pattern. This volcanic activity lasted until after the last ice age. Carbon dating shows aquaculture began as early as 6,700 years ago, soon after the lava flow stopped.

Fish traps in the landscape.
The Budj Bim world heritage site. Office of the Premier of Victoria/AAP

The people then continued to alter the water flow through the region with excavated channels. The channels are made in straight or curved paths, with sharp corners helping to reduce the speed of water. Dam walls were built to produce ponds.

These traps for eels and the fish traps in other locations were designed to allow animals to enter the trapping area, be retained in the cooling water and then captured when required for food. The eels remained in pools designed for collection for long periods, where they would breed. This provided a food supply all year round.

The rock was also used to construct dwellings or stone huts, along with 36 storage structures and 12 pits, which are associated with eel trapping. Most of the stone dwellings have a diameter of less than 1.6m. The rest are considered to be storage caches. The area has many scar trees with signs of burning; many of the Manna gums were used for baking and smoking and preserving the trapped eel. Smoked eel products were traded over a wide area.

The structures were exposed during heavy fires in the area and the extent of the all the engineering work is still not known. These traps are an Australian UNESCO World Heritage site, the only one listed exclusively for its Aboriginal cultural values. The Gunditjmara people now work with engineering students designing projects exploring engineering approaches embedded in the landscape.


When Ben Lange, an Aboriginal man from Cairns who plays the Yidaki, came to the University of New South Wales to study electrical engineering, he worked with the physics department to look at how the Aboriginal people created sounds with this instrument. This work led to greater understanding of the use of the mouth and its components in speech production, providing inspiration for new approaches in speech therapy.

The Yidaki (European name the Didgeridoo) is a drone pipe played with circular breathing – the lungs are used as a form of air storage to maintain a continual flow through the pipe. The wood is selected from termite-hollowed trees. This bore is widened by hand, especially at the base of the pipe. Bees’ wax is used to smooth the mouthpiece.

A man stands in front of a painting playing a yidaki.
Archibald Prize winner Blak Douglas plays the yidaki next to his painting of Victoria Cross recipient Flight Lieutenant William ‘Bill’ Newton during a handover ceremony at the Australian War Memorial in October 2022. Lukas Coch/AAP

The shape of the mouth across the pipe, the control of air through the mouth with the diaphragm, and the position of the tongue in the mouth, as well as the shape of the player’s voice box, all affect the sound from the instrument.

Brewarrina Fish Traps

The Brewarrina fish traps, called Biame Ngunnhu by the local Ngemba people, were created by Biaime in the Dreamtime – there is no oral record of other events that locate the period of construction. They are considered the oldest and longest-lasting dry wall construction on earth.

Dating of the traps would be hard, especially as many of the stones were recently moved to construct a stone weir across the river. Importantly, these fish traps provide an example of collaborative knowledge sharing and governance.

Fish traps on the Darling River at Brewarrina. Dean Lewins/AAP

When the fish were running in the Barwon River, a tributary of the Darling, the clans would gather from all around to talk about caring for Country. The fish traps are scattered across and down the river. When the water is high, the lower traps are inundated, but the upper traps are opened upstream and fish swim in with the water flow. They are closed and the fish remain in the traps until they are ready to be caught, usually by spear. When the water drops, the lower traps are then used.

The Ngemba families each owned a trap, each feeding a specific language group when they came to the meetings. The time was spent understanding what was happening to Country around them – through sharing stories, and planning ceremonies, such as rain-making, as needed. This history of knowledge-sharing is now being continued by the Ngemba people with a project for online storytelling and data collection around service provision in their community.

The fish in the river include Australian grayling, river blackfish, short-finned eel, Australian smelt, climbing galaxias, common galaxias, congoli, flathead gudgeon, mountain galaxias, pouch lamprey, smallmouth hardyhead, trout galaxias and southern pigmy perch. However the main fish there now are introduced carp, and the high level of irrigation upstream means the river is often dry.

There is great diversity of Aboriginal peoples across Australia. Aboriginal people have different languages and come from vastly different landscapes, each with their unique ecology. Yet technology is part of our everyday life: the houses we live in; the internet we learn with; the watercraft we use for fun or fishing.

Indigenous communities need students graduating with the skills to help maintain and build infrastructure or create software to support their enterprises and care for Country. In project management, the participatory democracy practised in Indigenous communities is a good example of flat management processes and a way to reinvigorate the Western approach to sustainability and democracy that is failing in our engineering projects – as much as in the political space.

Indigenous Engineering for an Enduring Culture, edited by Cat Kutay, Elyssebeth Leigh, Juliana Kaya Prpic and Lyndon Ormond-Parker is published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.The Conversation

Cat Kutay, Lecturer, Faculty of Science and Technology, Charles Darwin University, University of Technology Sydney

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

We now know exactly what question the Voice referendum will ask Australians. A constitutional law expert explains

Anne TwomeyUniversity of Sydney

The Albanese government has now released the formal wording of the proposed referendum it will introduce into parliament next week.

It had earlier released a draft proposed amendment at the Garma Festival last year, which was intended to start a debate on the wording. Since then, this wording has been the subject of intense discussion and debate in the Referendum Working Group, comprised of Indigenous representatives, which has been advising the government.

It has also been scrutinised by the Constitutional Expert Group, which has provided legal advice in response to questions raised by the Referendum Working Group.

Many other Australians have raised ideas and concerns in the media and in communications with the government, which have been the subject of analysis and deliberation.

What Do The Words Say?

The wording of the proposed amendment will be as follows:

Chapter IX – Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

129 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice

In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:

(1) There shall be a body to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;

(2) The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;

(3) The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.

What Is New?

First, it is now clear this amendment will be placed in its own separate chapter at the end of the Constitution in a new section 129.

The title of the chapter makes clear it is directed at the “recognition” of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution.

This recognition then flows through to some introductory words which form a preamble at the beginning of the section. These words provide “recognition” of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the “First Peoples of Australia”.

The terminology used is careful. It avoids the use of “First Nations”, which is politically more contentious and might have given rise to implications drawn from the term “Nation”.

The description “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples” is long-standing and well-accepted, and the statement that they were the First Peoples of Australia is one of fact and recognition.

The rest of the proposed amendment remains the same except for a minor alteration of words at the end of sub-section (3).

Importantly, the guaranteed ability of the Voice to make representations to the executive government remains.

However, concerns about this have been addressed by the alteration to sub-section (3).

The concern that had been raised was the High Court might draw an implication from sub-section (2) the representations by the Voice must be considered by government decision-makers before they can validly make a decision, potentially resulting in litigation and the delay of decision-making.

While this concern had little to no substance, there was a suggestion some words should be added to the end of sub-section (3) to make it abundantly clear it was a matter for parliament to decide what the legal effects of the Voice’s representations would be.

Parliament could make the decision that in some cases decision-makers would be obliged to consider representations first, but there would be no such obligation in relation to other types of decisions.

This has now been accommodated by a compromise set of words added to the end of sub-section (3).

These words say parliament can make laws with respect to “to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.”

The words “relating to” and “including” broaden the scope of this power.

They are intended to permit parliament to legislate about the effect of the Voice’s representations, so it is a matter for parliament to decide whether the representations of the Voice must be considered by decision-makers when making administrative decisions.

They are also intended to permit parliament to extend the powers and functions of the Voice as and when needed in the future.

The Question On The Ballot

The ballot paper never sets out the whole constitutional amendment, as in many cases, it would go for pages.

Instead, voters are asked to approve the proposed law, as it is described in its long title.

So the question put on the ballot will be set out as follows:

A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

Do you approve of this alteration?

Voters then write Yes or No.

What Now?

The amendment bill is intended to be introduced next week. When it is introduced, a parliamentary committee will be set up to allow the public to make their own submissions about the amendment.

Anyone who has concerns can have their voice heard by the committee and it remains possible that the committee might recommend alterations to the wording.

After the committee reports, the amendment bill will be debated in June and if passed, it will go to a referendum between two and six months after its passage. It will then be a matter for the people to decide.The Conversation

Anne Twomey, Professor emerita, University of Sydney

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

Seniors Call For Fairer Pension Indexation

March 23, 2023
National Seniors Australia’s federal budget submission calls for more frequent indexation to lift the pension during times of high inflation. But that’s just the start.

As the independent voice of older Australians, National Seniors Australia calls on the federal government to use the 2023 budget to give seniors the confidence to save and spend. 

Older Australians contribute the economy, but with inflation above 7%, market volatility and rising cost of living, the government would do well to boost seniors’ confidence. 

As part of our ongoing advocacy, we have put forward 12 key policies to help older Australians help build a better nation. 

One of the most important things governments can do is strengthen the retirement income system and address pension poverty. 

That is why we are calling on the government to provide for more regular indexation of the pension during times of high inflation, rather than every six months as is currently the case. 

We believe increases in inflation and cost of living should be factored into pension payment recalibrations in June or December. This will help stop those on the Age Pension from falling behind when it comes to meeting day-to-day living costs. 

We also call for improvements to rent assistance for pensioners facing difficulty with rising housing costs. Ultimately, an Independent Pension Tribunal would be the best way to regularly assess and set pensions and other government payments. 

Such a tribunal would take the politics out of the pension! 

As we have been proposing for many years, government should do more to help older people help themselves by taking the handbrake off and reforming the rules around work. While we welcomed the temporary $4,000 increase to the Work Bonus, the government should reform income test rules so there is no disincentive for pensioners to work more if they need to.

Industries, including health, aged care and agriculture would benefit from our policy and the resulting injection of much needed workers.

Pensioners would retain more of their payments when working, to encourage greater workforce participation to fill labour shortages. 

Further aged care reform
Speaking of workers, we are calling for a traineeship scheme so mature-age workers can fill the many vacancies in home care. As one provider recently told us, he was not willing to take on new home-care clients unless he can be sure there will be workers to deliver these services. 

Another important focus of our budget submission is the need for housing. Unless there are incentives to downsize, and the construction of age-suitable housing, many older Australians will either remain in unsuitable and potentially unsafe homes or be forced into residential care. 

That’s why we are calling for proceeds from the sale of the family home to be exempt from the pension assets test. We also propose a capital grants scheme to fund rental housing and smaller-scale residential care homes.  

Also, a more generous dedicated home-care loans scheme that allows older people to fund additional health care and support services would enable them to stay in their homes for longer.

Major costly reforms to the aged care system are underway and there is a need to ensure taxpayer monies are well spent and not subject to petty politics. We believe the establishment of an independent expert body can achieve this. The body would assess the fairest and most efficient way to fund the many reforms that will roll out over coming years.

Future generations
While there is, as always, a big focus on what government can do for you, we are conscious many of you want to know what you can do for others.

That’s why we continue to advocate for clean energy bonds to give older Australians a way to invest safely in the solutions required to meet our emissions targets. Interestingly, this policy aligns with the Treasurer’s recent calls for greater investment in social and environmental projects, so we hope this might get some attention. 

Lastly, pension gifting limits should be lifted to encourage more seniors to help younger people meet housing and education costs. 

To find out more details about these policies, download our full budget submission here

Government States New Bill Increases Aged Care Transparency

March 22, 2023
The Federal Government has today introduced key legislation to further drive transparency and accountability across the aged care sector.

Once passed, the Inspector-General of Aged Care Bill will establish an independent body with coercive information gathering powers to review the Commonwealth’s administration and regulation of the aged care system.

The bill will give the Inspector-General the necessary powers to investigate systemic issues across the aged care system, including complaints management processes.

The Inspector-General will report findings and recommendations to Government, to Parliament, and to the public, to facilitate positive change for older Australians.

The Inspector-General will also have powers to report on the Government’s implementation of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s recommendations.

Importantly, the Inspector-General will operate autonomously, at arm’s length from the Australian Government.

Ian Yates AM will continue as interim Inspector-General pending legislation passage and the appointment of a permanent Inspector-General is expected in the second half of this year.

Minister for Aged Care, Anika Wells stated;

“The Albanese Government is ambitious for aged care and demands accountability and transparency from the sector.

“The Inspector-General of Aged Care Bill will establish an independent Inspector-General of Aged Care, who will monitor and investigate the Commonwealth’s administration and regulation of the aged care system.

“This Bill reinforces the Albanese Government’s commitment to hold ourselves to the same high standards that we expect of the sector.”

Older Australians’ Health Put At Risk By Lack Of Government Action On Dental Care

March 20, 2023
The oral health of older Australians is being put at risk by a lack of government action on dental care for at risk older people as part of Medicare, the Council on the Ageing – Australia’s leading advocate for older Australians – says.

Marking World Oral Health Day, COTA Chief Executive Officer, Patricia Sparrow, says it’s time for the Federal Government to improve access to dental care by developing a publicly funded senior dental health program bulk billed through Medicare.

“A lack of government action is resulting in many older Australians being forced to deal with long-lasting health consequences due to a lack of affordable and accessible dental care,” says Patricia Sparrow.

“One of the key recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission was the introduction of a publicly funded senior dental scheme, but we’re still yet to see meaningful action on its introduction.

“It is not just a matter of cosmetic appearance; oral health is an essential measure of overall health and quality of life. Good oral health is vital to overall health and well-being, yet many older Australians face challenges accessing basic dental health services.

“We need locally available, affordable and accessible dental care so people have the ability to get their oral health needs met before they spiral out of control.

“We see too many older Australians getting sick and ending up in hospitals because they cannot afford to see a dentist. They are often forced to live with toothache, missing teeth, and other oral health problems that make eating, speaking, and going about their daily lives difficult.

“For those lucky enough to access a public dental clinic, treatment wait times can last over two years, and services are limited to essential treatments. These problems were further amplified due to the pandemic and the ongoing cost of living crisis.

“The time to invest in a national dental program is now. We need to see the government develop a publicly funded senior dental health program, bulk billed through Medicare. In the first instance, the scheme should target those who need it most – older people on low incomes, all people living in a residential aged care home or receiving a home care package.

“A Senior Dental Benefits Schedule will prove an immeasurable investment for the Government, improving the dental and overall health of older Australians whilst reducing the overall long-term costs created by the lack of access to dental care.

“It was a Labor Government that delivered the Children’s Dental Benefit Scheme. Now it’s time to protect older Australians’ oral health too.”

Why is my loved one with dementia sometimes ‘there’ and sometimes not?

Yen Ying LimMonash University

Dementia is an umbrella term to describe a progressive neurological condition that affects people’s cognitive abilities, such as memory, language and reasoning.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form, but other common forms include vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia and frontotemporal dementia.

It’s not uncommon for people living with dementia to experience fluctuations in their cognitive abilities and levels of awareness.

People living with dementia can sometimes be fully “present”, knowing who is around them, where they are, and what’s happening. And then other times they may be confused, disorientated, unaware of their surroundings and unfamiliar with loved ones.

These fluctuations can be distressing for caregivers, who never know what to expect from one day to the next.

What Causes These Fluctuations In Awareness?

Several factors can contribute to cognitive fluctuations in people living with dementia. Environmental factors, such as changes in routine or new surroundings, can cause confusion and disorientation.

Fatigue can also play an important role. Tiredness, even in young adults, has known negative effects on a person’s attention and learning ability. This can be much more pronounced in older adults and people living with dementia.

Old man and woman crossing the road
Changes to someone’s environment can affect their lucidity. pexels/jimmy chanCC BY

Certain medications used to treat dementia and other related health conditions can also have an impact on a person’s cognitive function.

For example, some medications used to treat depression or anxiety can cause confusion or disorientation, especially in older adults.

Finally, time of day can play an important role in cognitive fluctuations.

People living with dementia often experience “sundowning”, where they can become more agitated or confused in the late afternoon or evening. Sundowning can also lead to pacing or wandering in people living with dementia.

Some scientists think this might be due to changes in the area of the brain that controls the “inner clock”, which signals when we’re awake or asleep. This breakdown can lead to confusion.

Patients with dementia will also often experience a period of lucidity in the week leading up to death. Science still isn’t quite sure why this happens, and studies are ongoing.

Do We Know What’s Happening In The Brain?

The neurobiology that underpins these cognitive fluctuations remains unclear. However, dementia is caused by damage to brain cells and the connections between them.

In Alzheimer’s disease, this gradual deterioration of brain cells begins first in the memory centres of the brain, and gradually spreads to regions that govern attention and awareness.

Changes in the brain’s “default mode network” may also result in these fluctuations. The default mode network is a network of brain regions that remains active when a person is not engaged or focused on any task. It’s thought to help with remembering, developing our concept of the self, and thinking about the future.

This network is active during our “resting state”. In people living with dementia, the default mode network is disrupted and this can lead to changes in cognition and self-awareness.

Is There Anything That Can Help?

Despite the challenges associated with cognitive fluctuations in people living with dementia, scientists have found behavioural interventions can provide some relief.

For example, a review of music therapy studies demonstrated music can improve mood and memory outcomes in people living with dementia.

Listening to familiar music can also help to maintain a sense of self and stimulate autobiographical memories in people living with dementia.

Some scientists think this may be because music can help regulate the default mode network, which is crucial for the processing of information about ourselves.

Old man playing records
Music has been found to improve mood and memory in dementia patients. pexels/cottonbro studioCC BY

What To Do If Your Loved One Isn’t “There”

When visiting your loved one with dementia, it’s important to use short sentences, make eye contact, minimise distractions (such as TV or radio playing loudly in the background), and not interrupt them.

If your loved one with dementia is agitated, it’s important to listen calmly to their concerns and frustrations. Challenging them can often lead to them becoming more agitated.

Changes in behaviour or emotional state of a person living with dementia can be very stressful for the person, and their loved ones and caregivers. These changes in behaviour may be a result of changes in the brain. But often they can also be a result of frustration in the person’s reduced ability to communicate as effectively as they once did.

There are a range of tips to reduce cognitive fluctuations in people living with dementia. These include limiting caffeine intake, exposing them to natural light during the day and warmer lighting in the evening, and getting sufficient physical activity.

However, cognitive fluctuations in people living with dementia are a complex and challenging aspect of the disease. And while some behavioural interventions, such as music therapy, can provide temporary improvements in mood and memory, dementia is a terminal illness.

There are now several drugs that hold promise for slowing memory decline in people with Alzheimer’s. However, the effects are small, and much more research is needed to better understand and treat this devastating disease.

If you have a family history of dementia and are interested in learning how to reduce your dementia risk by changing health behaviours, please join us at the BetterBrains Trial. We are currently recruiting Australians aged 40-70 with a family history of dementia.The Conversation

Yen Ying Lim, Associate Professor, Monash University

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

The housing and homelessness crisis in NSW explained in 9 charts

Hal PawsonUNSW Sydney

Whatever the result of the New South Wales election on March 25, rising housing stress is a problem the new state government will have to confront.

Soaring rents and an extraordinary lack of rental vacancies are intensifying housing stress in Sydney and elsewhere. Many low-income households are spending well over 30% of their income on housing costs.

The numbers of people seeking help are pushing social housing and homelessness systems to the brink.

But how did these sectors end up in such a vulnerable place? And why are some of their problems worse than in other states?

Population Has Outpaced Social Housing Supply

The stock of social housing in Australia has hardly changed in 25 years. It has fallen further and further behind the supply needed to keep pace with population growth.

Social housing accounted for more than 6% of occupied dwellings in 1996. By 2021, it was barely above 4%. Rather than reflecting active policy – such as large-scale privatisation or demolition – this is mainly a case of simple neglect.

At first sight, NSW did relatively well during the 2010s. Social housing stock apparently rose by 9% compared with 12% for population.

Unfortunately, this is a somewhat misleading impression. It reflects the NSW government’s 2016 decision to widen its definition of social housing to include less-subsidised affordable rental housing managed by community housing providers. While this housing meets an important need for low-paid “essential workers”, it is no substitute for housing that very low-income earners can afford.

If not for this redefinition, the NSW chart would more closely resemble the national post-1996 picture.

Social Housing Supply

Social housing construction numbers aren’t directly published in any official series but can be estimated from Australian Bureau of Statistics data on housing commencements. The 2010s began with a dramatic spike as the federal Rudd government invested in social housing as part of its emergency response to the Global Financial Crisis.

But then national and state governments largely stepped back from new social housing investment. NSW annual commencements ran at only 500-1,000 for most of the 2010s. This is less than half the minimum number needed to maintain social housing’s share of all housing.

Unlike other states such as Victoria and Queensland, the NSW government resisted calls for state-funded social housing investment as part of pandemic recovery plans in 2020 and 2021. In contrast with those states, NSW expects to achieve only a minimal net increase in social housing in the first half of the 2020s.

Not only is expected construction modest in scale, it is mainly associated with large-scale demolition of “obsolete” public housing to liberate land. Some is then sold to generate investment funds.

Unlike Victoria, the NSW government has continued to insist new social housing cannot be funded from general government revenue.

The trends are even more problematic than stock numbers suggest, because the system’s capacity to generate lettable vacancies continues to decline. Very few newly built properties are coming up for let. And the flow of existing tenancies being ended has dwindled as tenants struggle to find alternatives in the private rental market.

Social housing lettings in 2021-22 were down 13% compared with 2014-15. And a growing share of scarce lettings has to be devoted to priority applicants – those with the most urgent and severe needs. Priority lets grew by 37% over the past four years and made up nearly two-thirds of all lettings (64%) by 2021-22.

Vacancies remaining for non-priority applicants have almost halved since 2014-15 – down 47%.


Many of those assigned priority status are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless. The latest official statistics that directly measure homelessness are from the 2016 census when 38,000 people were homeless in NSW. Relative to population, homelessness was higher than in any other mainland state.

Measured by the average monthly caseload of specialist homelessness services agencies, homelessness has more recently been rising relatively slowly in NSW. It was up 5% in the four years to 2021-22 compared with 8% nationally.

But rising numbers are being turned away – nearly 10,000 people in 2021-22 – up by 22% in three years. This suggests the system is increasingly overloaded.

The wider point is that homelessness is rising while social housing capacity is shrinking.

After several years of stability or slight reductions, the social housing waiting list (excluding existing tenants) grew by 15% in 2021-22 to 52,000 households. But annual snapshot statistics mask large numbers joining and leaving the list each year.

By our calculations, 17,000 households newly enrolled on the NSW social housing register in 2020-21, nearly double the number given a tenancy. That’s another powerful measure of shortage.

Note that the rules on waiting list eligibility are strict. The weekly household income limit in 2022 was $690 – well below the full-time minimum wage of $812.60.

Far greater numbers of people are homeless or living with rental stress than are on the list. Many people who could qualify realise their chances are so slim it isn’t worth the trouble. Others drop off when they realise they face a wait of years or even decades.

Our recent census-based analysis shows there were well over 200,000 NSW households with an unmet need for social or affordable housing in 2021. Some 144,000 of them would probably qualify for social housing.

True, some of these needs could be met in other ways, such as a major increase in rent assistance. But even if that happened and if no-grounds evictions were outlawed in NSW, private tenancies will remain far less secure than social housing. Arguably, that makes them fundamentally unsuitable for vulnerable people and low-income families.

What Lies Ahead?

The extraordinary rent spike of 2021-2022 has been the main cause of rising housing need. This happened while immigration all but stopped during the pandemic.

With migration rebounding, there is a serious worry rent inflation will continue to rage, placing even more low-income Australians in financial stress.

Somewhere on the horizon is modest help via the Albanese government’s Housing Australia Future Fund. The target is 30,000 new social and affordable dwellings over five years, with NSW likely to get a large share.

However, the HAFF legislation remains under review. Even when new homes begin to flow through, numbers will be quite small relative to need.

In NSW, party leaders are touting rival plans to assist first home buyers, but have long neglected arguably more serious policy challenges at the lower end of the housing market. Hundreds of thousands of households are struggling as a result.The Conversation

Hal Pawson, Professor of Housing Research and Policy, and Associate Director, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW Sydney

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

Tackling The Housing Crisis: New Report Outlines Comprehensive Strategy

March 20, 2023
COVID turbo-charged Australia’s existing housing problems, but policy solutions are available, says a new report.
A newly-published UNSW Sydney research report provides a comprehensive roadmap to confront Queensland’s housing and rental crisis, with many of its recommendations applicable and adaptable Australia-wide.

The report, A blueprint to tackle Queensland’s housing crisis, was commissioned by the Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS) with support from a coalition of partner agencies. It is one of the most wide-ranging housing policy reviews to date.

“The report lays out an evidence-backed reform package that tackles the housing crisis at state level, with suggestions on federal input as well,” says Professor Hal Pawson, Housing Research and Policy expert from UNSW’s City Futures Research Centre and lead author on the report.

“In a nutshell, the housing crisis comprises declining home ownership, growing private rental stress, rising homelessness and shrinking social housing capacity,” says Dr Andrew Clarke, lecturer in sociology and social policy at UNSW’s School of Social Science and co-author of the report.

“The pandemic exacerbated all these problems, but Premier Palaszczuk’s action in convening her Queensland Affordable Housing Summit last year is really encouraging evidence that the state recognises the gravity of the challenge and has the ambition to tackle it.”

“Our report for QCOSS highlights a wide range of feasible and realistic policies that can effectively confront aspects of the housing policy challenge affecting Queensland and other states – many of which can be actioned at no cost to the government,” says Prof. Pawson.

Australia-wide trends of higher intensity in Queensland
As emphasised by the report, problems such as the declining rate of young adult home ownership have been gradually intensifying for decades. Equally, recent years have seen a new surge in housing stress in Queensland, more marked than in any other part of the country.

“In Queensland, a majority of new private lets are unaffordable to low-income households, and homelessness has been rising faster than in any other mainland state,” says Prof. Pawson.

“Governments have failed to grow the social housing portfolio in line with population, and private rent inflation has been recently rampant.

“These negative trends are happening in most parts of the country but are of a higher intensity in Queensland, partly due to high rates of migration from other states and partly due to other factors such as the conversion of long-term rentals into short-term lettings through platforms like Airbnb.”

Unlike most other states, Queensland’s population is evenly split between region and city – and it’s regional Australia where the post-COVID housing crisis has generally been most intense.

“Our report adds to the evidence of the scale and the profile of unmet housing need,” says Prof. Pawson. “It also reveals the uneven geography of rental stress, indicating that several coastal and central mining areas in Queensland have experienced the most intense rent increases and declines in rental affordability over the past few years.”

“The sheer scale of housing issues facing regional Queensland is quite alarming,” says Dr Clarke, who conducted stakeholder interviews as part of the report. “There’s a lot of anecdotal chatter about a post-COVID housing crisis, but it’s glaringly apparent from our hard evidence that the regional housing problem is worse than we thought.”

Key findings of the report – all specific to Queensland – include:
  • A recent burst of rental inflation has seen private rents growing at rates faster than in any other Australian jurisdiction.
  • Homelessness in Queensland rose by 22 per cent in the four years to 2021-22, compared with only 8 per cent across Australia.
  • Rising homelessness has been particularly evident in regional areas, where the average monthly number of Specialist Homeless Service users increased by 29 per cent from 2017-18 to 2021-22.
  • Declining rental affordability for low-income households has been most marked in regional Queensland, where this trend has been ongoing since at least 2017-18, with the proportion of lettings affordable to this population cohort falling from 36 per cent to 17 per cent over this period.
  • The sharpest private rent increases have been seen in regional markets, where over the past five years, median rents rose by 80 per cent in Gladstone, by 51 per cent in Noosa, and by 33 per cent in the Gold Coast.
  • Overall, there are approximately 150,000 households across Queensland whose needs for affordable housing are currently unmet – that is, they are either homeless by ABS Census definitions or otherwise low-income recipients living in private rental housing and paying more than 30 per cent of household income in rent. As of the 2021 census, this ‘backlog need’ includes over 102,000 households who would typically be eligible for social housing.
Ad hoc housing policy approach to date
The report argues that Australia is in urgent need of a coherent housing policy reform package.

“Right now, we have a piecemeal approach in housing policy that involves isolated housing initiatives that only look at specific aspects of the housing problem,” says Dr Clarke. “These alone are not enough to make a significant difference.

“Our report is pushing policymakers to think of housing as a system and address the root of the housing problem, recognising that both levels of government need to give greater priority to tackling the issue and to do so collaboratively.”

“Tax reform and co-contributions at a federal level can greatly assist states in tackling the housing crisis,” says Prof. Pawson. “Extraordinary, although it might seem, it is only in 2023 that Australia’s first-ever national housing strategy is being developed.

“We just have to hope that the Albanese Government’s National Housing and Homelessness Plan, currently taking shape in Canberra, turns out to be fit for purpose.”

Snapshot of policy recommendations
  • Meet social housing need by further expanding housing investments funds (state and federal responsibility), phasing in meaningful inclusionary zoning, examining scope for land value extraction via public housing estate renewal, mandating the inclusion of social/affordable housing for non-estate public land disposal, building community housing capacity, with special emphasis on Indigenous community housing organisations and establishing a permanent supportive housing funding framework.
  • Both state and Commonwealth governments can assist with affordability and security for low-income private tenants by reforming rent assistance, further strengthening rental regulation, reviewing the scope for stronger short-term rental regulation and facilitating build-to-rent development. 
  • The Commonwealth government should reform private landlord tax concessions that negatively impact broader housing affordability.
  • State governments should phase out stamp duty and replace it with a broad-based land tax. 
  • State and Commonwealth governments to re-establish housing entity within government.
  • Establish annual publication of key social and affordable housing statistics.

Real-World Studies Confirm Effectiveness Of Bulevirtide To Treat Chronic Hepatitis D

March 20, 2023
In 2020,bulevirtide (BLV) was conditionally approved for treating chronic hepatitis delta (CHD), an inflammation of the liver caused by hepatitis D virus (HDV). Now real-world studies of patients treated outside of clinical trials confirm that long-term suppressive therapy with BLV monotherapy has the potential to reduce viral replication and improve liver tests of these difficult-to-treat patients for the first time in 45 years, report investigators in the Journal of Hepatology and its companion journal JHEP Reports.

Two of the studies, led by Pietro Lampertico, MD, PhD, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Foundation IRCCS Ca' Granda Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Milan, Italy, were designed to assess the effectiveness and safety of patients with advanced HDV-related compensated cirrhosis being treated with BLV 2mg monotherapy and the consequences of discontinuing this treatment.

"HDV is the most severe form of chronic viral hepatitis," explained Dr. Lampertico. "For many years, the only therapeutic option was the off-label administration of pegylated-interferon-alpha (PegIFNa), an approach characterized by suboptimal efficacy, an unfavorable safety profile and several contraindications."

In a study of 18 patients with HDV-related advanced cirrhosis treated with BLV 2 mg/day for 48 weeks, Dr. Lampertico and colleagues demonstrated significant virological, biochemical and combined response rates associated with improvement of liver function.

"The efficacy and safety of BLV monotherapy in patients with advanced compensated cirrhosis were unknown before this study. Virological and biochemical responses to BLV monotherapy that we observed in our difficult-to-treat patients with HDV-related compensated cirrhosis were similar to those shown in the phase III registration study," Dr. Lampertico noted.

In a case report, Dr. Lampertico and co-investigators demonstrated that HDV could be successfully eradicated from both serum and liver following a three-year course of BLV monotherapy, despite the persistence of HBsAg, in a patient with HDV-related compensated cirrhosis and esophageal varices. During the 72-week off-BLV follow-up, liver biopsy, intrahepatic HDV RNA and hepatitis D antigen were undetectable, less than 1% of hepatocytes were HBsAg positive and all were negative for hepatitis B core antigen.

"We were surprised to demonstrate that HDV can be eradicated following a finite course of an entry inhibitor administered as monotherapy such as BLV 2mg/day, despite the persistence of HBsAg positivity," commented Dr. Lampertico.

In a study in JHEP Reports led by PD Dr. med. Katja Deterding, MD, Department. of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endocrinology at Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany, investigators report the first data from the largest multicenter cohort of patients to date who were treated with BLV under real-world conditions, including 50 patients with signs of significant portal hypertension, elevated pressure in the major vein that leads to the liver.

The retrospective analysis of 114 cases covered 4,289 patient weeks of BLV treatment. Viral response was observed in 87 cases while hepatic inflammation improved, and treatment was well tolerated. More than 50% of patients showed a virologic response with less than 10% of patients not achieving an HDV RNA drop of at least 90% after 24 weeks. An improvement of biochemical hepatitis activity as measured by the liver enzyme alanine transaminase (ALT) values was observed regardless of virologic response. Investigators concluded that treatment was safe and well tolerated and associated with improvements in liver cirrhosis and portal hypertension with prolonged treatment.

"In line with other real-world cohorts and clinical trials our real-world study confirms the antiviral activity of BLV," noted Dr. Deterding. "We were surprised to see an improvement in biochemical hepatitis activity even in cases without viral response. Potential explanations for this phenomenon include anti-inflammatory properties of BLV."

"This is the first time that patients with HDV-related chronic advanced liver disease can be treated with an antiviral therapy since 1977 when HDV was discovered. Long-term suppressive therapy with BLV 2 mg/day has the potential to improve survival, of these difficult-to-treat patients for the first time in 45 years," concluded Dr. Lampertico. "We also found that BLV treatment can be successfully discontinued in some HDV patients who achieved long-term viral suppression while on therapy."

HDV infection occurs when people become infected with both hepatitis B and D virus either simultaneously (co-infection) or acquire the hepatitis D virus after first being infected with hepatitis B (super-infection). According to the World Health Organization, HDV affects nearly 5% of individuals with a chronic infection resulting from hepatitis B virus (HBV). Populations that are more likely to have HBV and HDV co-infection include indigenous populations, recipients of hemodialysis and individuals who inject drugs.

Elisabetta Degasperi, Maria Paola Anolli, Sara Colonia Uceda Renteria, Dana Sambarino, Marta Borghi, Riccardo Perbellini, Caroline Scholtes, Floriana Facchetti, Alessandro Loglio, Sara Monico, Mirella Fraquelli, Andrea Costantino, Ferruccio Ceriotti, Fabien Zoulim, Pietro Lampertico. Bulevirtide monotherapy for 48 weeks in patients with HDV-related compensated cirrhosis and clinically significant portal hypertension. Journal of Hepatology, 2022; 77 (6): 1525 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhep.2022.07.016

High Rates Of Physical And Mental Health Problems Found In Children Held In Detention On Nauru: Study

March 21, 2023
Paediatric clinicians observed a range of health difficulties in children and young people seeking asylum who were subjected to offshore processing.

A sample of asylum seeking children and young people (CYP) held on Nauru were found to have high rates of physical and mental health problems around the time of transfer from Nauru, according to new research. The study also found that most had multiple adverse childhood experiences in their lifetime, including disruptions to education, family separation and witnessed trauma.

For the study, researchers retrospectively analysed detailed health assessments of 62 CYP completed by paediatricians and child and adolescent psychiatrists from 10 health services across Australia.

The research, published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, found physical and/or mental health difficulties in almost all CYP in the sample. The CYP were subjected to Australia’s offshore immigration policy for asylum seekers arriving by boat with more than half of the sample held on Nauru for four or more years.

Lead author of the study Dr Lahiru Amarasena, a paediatrician and PhD student at the School of Women’s and Children’s Health, UNSW Medicine & Health, says the research adds to the evidence that immigration detention is a harmful practice for children.

“These poor health outcomes were almost universal in our sample of CYP who experienced forced migration and were exposed to the policy of indefinite mandatory detention.” Dr Amarasena says.

Immigration detention is a known adverse childhood experience and may contribute to or exacerbate detrimental outcomes in CYP seeking asylum. Previous studies have documented harmful consequences of the practice, including physical, psychological, neurodevelopmental and educational difficulties.

Of those in the current study, physical health problems were present in 55 CYP (89 per cent), most commonly malnutrition (24 per cent), dental disease (21 per cent) and abdominal pain (16 per cent). Mental health conditions were also formally diagnosed in 27 CYP (44 per cent), but most of the study sample had one or more mental health symptom (79 per cent) – including self-harm ideation or attempts (45 per cent).

“Poor health outcomes were almost universal in our sample of CYP who experienced forced migration and were exposed to the policy of indefinite mandatory detention.”

The rates are comparable to previous studies of CYP exposed to immigration detention and far higher than in non-detained refugees or general Australian populations.

“Our study involves a small sample of detained CYP, but contextualised in other national and international studies and reports, we know that no time in detention has been determined to be safe, and the United Nations recommends avoidance of detention practices for children.” Dr Amarasena says.

The research also found 58 CYP (94 per cent) had exposure to one or more adverse childhood experience (ACE) in their lifetime, including 13 CYP (21 per cent) with exposure to four or more ACEs. Twenty-five CYP had exposure to one or more types of abuse or neglect (40 per cent). Most (63 per cent) had witnessed trauma in their lifetime.

Most school-aged children had also experienced disruptions to their schooling (77 per cent). Eleven CYP (18 per cent) were separated from one or more primary relative on Nauru.

“For health services, it also highlights the need to be aware of these adversities when caring for kids already exposed to immigration detention and forced migration,” Dr Amarasena says.

The researchers also acknowledge the study design with recruitment through health services, while necessary to minimise further trauma, has limitations given the challenges of working with vulnerable, mobile populations, particularly during COVID-19 restrictions.

Since mid-2013, under offshore immigration policy, all of those seeking asylum by boat, including children, were sent offshore and were prevented from ever permanently resettling in Australia regardless of their refugee status.
The majority of asylum-seeking CYP were transferred to Nauru, where a maximum of 222 were held at any one time, between 2013 to 2019. Some were released into the Nauruan community after Nauru recognised their refugee status and a small proportion were eventually resettled in other countries.

Most were transferred to Australia on temporary visas. All children were transferred from Nauru by early 2019 but the policy of offshore processing and indefinite mandatory detention continues to be in effect.

“Some recipient countries continue to employ immigration detention for children and young people, even though it breaches international human rights conventions. Immigration detention of children is a preventable adverse childhood experience,” Dr Amarasena says.

Humans Are Altering The Diet Of Tasmanian Devils; Which May Accelerate Their Decline

March 2023
The Tasmanian devil roams the island state of Australia as the apex predator of the land, feeding on whatever it pleases as the top dog -- or the top devil. But some of these marsupial scavengers could be starting to miss out on a few items from the menu.

According to a study led by UNSW Sydney, living in human-modified landscapes could be narrowing the diet of the Tasmanian devil. The research, published recently in Scientific Reports, suggests devils have access to vastly different cuisines depending on the type of environment they live in.

"We found Tasmanian devil populations had different levels of variation in their diet depending on their habitat," says Anna Lewis, a PhD candidate at UNSW Science and lead author of the study. "The more that habitat was impacted by humans, the more restrictive the diet became."

A previous study by the team found most devils are individual specialists, feeding on the same food items consistently over time. But human impacts could be influencing whether they have access to their favourite foods.

"How humans change the environment impacts the animals within them," says Professor Tracey Rogers, an ecologist at UNSW Science and senior author of the study. "Even small changes can have significant consequences for devils, so we need to be mindful of the consequences of our actions."

The devil is in the details
For the study, the researchers investigated the diets of devil populations across habitats of differing levels of disturbance, from cleared pasture to undisturbed rainforest. They did this by analysing chemical stamps called stable isotopes in whisker samples taken from Tasmanian devils in different environments.

"It's similar to how tree rings capture chemical signals about atmospheric elements over time. We're doing the same thing with the devils, matching up the biochemical signatures in the whiskers to the prey so we can learn more about what the devils are eating," Prof. Rogers says.

They found devils in human-impacted landscapes, such as cleared land and regenerated native forests, fed on the same food items, primarily medium-sized mammals. Meanwhile, in environments like rainforest areas, devils ate a broader range of prey and incorporated smaller animals, such as birds, into their diets.

"We found devils in heavily altered areas like cleared land fed on a smaller range of prey compared to populations living in ancient undisturbed regions, who had much more variety in their diet," Ms Lewis says. "They may be turning to human-derived sources of food, such as highway roadkill, which are more readily available."

Interestingly, devils living in regenerated native eucalypt forests also ate a smaller variety of food items. Comparatively, their diets were closer to the devils in cleared agricultural land than those from undisturbed forest regions.

"These regenerated forests not logged for many decades may look like natural landscapes to us, but the devils that live there have similar simple diets to the devils that live on cleared agricultural pastures," Prof. Rogers says.

"The regenerated land doesn't have the complex features such as tree hollows in large old trees to support diverse bird life and small mammals that the devil eats in the rainforest."

Restrictive diets could increase threat
Devils that all maintain the same diet run the risk of interacting more frequently around carcasses, which is of particular concern for spreading the highly contagious and fatal cancer, Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). The disease has already reduced local devil populations by 82 per cent and spread to most of Tasmania.

"The highest rate of cancer transmission other than during the mating season occurs when they're feeding around these large carcasses," Ms Lewis says. "So, there could be an increased chance for the disease to spread amongst devils, and the devils themselves are also at risk of being hit while feeding."

The researchers say the findings highlight the urgent need to protect what remains of untouched landscapes for both the devils and the species they eat.

"It's apparent there is much more diversity of species available in these old-growth forests, and the devils are shining a light on how vital these pristine areas are, and the urgent need to preserve what remains from the constant threat of clearing and mining," Prof. Rogers says.

In the next stage of the research, they hope to investigate the eating habits of devils in native grasslands to better inform conservation efforts across more habitats.

"By better understanding what is impacting devil diets, we can work to protect this iconic Australian animal and ensure their continued survival in the face of ongoing environmental change," Ms Lewis says.

Anna C. Lewis, Channing Hughes, Tracey L. Rogers. Living in human-modified landscapes narrows the dietary niche of a specialised mammalian scavenger. Scientific Reports, 2023; 13 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-023-30490-6

The study found the diet of Tasmanian devils became more restrictive the more their habitat was impacted by humans. Photo: Ariana Ananda.

Bird Flu Associated With Hundreds Of Seal Deaths In New England In 2022

March 2023
Researchers at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University found that an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was associated with the deaths of more than 330 New England harbour and grey seals along the North Atlantic coast in June and July 2022, and the outbreak was connected to a wave of avian influenza in birds in the region.
The study was published on March 15 in the journal Emerging Infectious Disease.

HPAI is more commonly known as bird flu, and the H5N1 strain has been responsible for about 60 million poultry deaths in the U.S. since October 2020, with similar numbers in Europe. The virus was known to have spilled over from birds into mammals, such as mink, foxes, skunk, and bears, but those were mostly small, localized events. This study is among the first to directly connect HPAI to a larger scale mortality event in wild mammals.

The co-first authors on the paper -- virologist and senior scientist Wendy Puryear and post-doctoral researcher Kaitlin Sawatzki, who both work in the Runstadler Lab at Cummings School -- have been researching viruses in seals for years. They credit their findings in the new study to a unique and robust data set made possible by a collaboration with wildlife clinics and rehabilitation and response organisations in the region, in particular with Tufts Wildlife Clinic and director Maureen Murray, V03, associate clinical professor at Cummings School, and an author on the paper.

"We have a better resolution and greater depth of detail on this virus than before because we were able to sequence it and detect changes almost in real time," said Puryear. "And we have pairings of samples, sometimes literally from a bird and a seal on the same beach."

The clinic has been conducting avian influenza surveillance on birds and some mammals since January 2022, shortly after this strain of avian influenza took a trans-Atlantic journey from Europe into the U.S. Through this testing, the team found a wide range of flu viruses, including at least three strains that crossed the Atlantic, and they witnessed consistent waves of infection in birds.

At the same time, in collaboration with NOAA's Greater Atlantic Region Marine Mammal Stranding Network, they were able to screen nearly all seals that came through the network, whether or not the animal appeared sick. The stranding network is composed of experts from state and federal wildlife and fisheries agencies, non-profit rehabilitation and response facilities, aquariums, and academic institutions who respond to strandings.

"Because of the genetic data that we gathered, we were the first to see a strain of the virus that's unique to New England. The data set will allow us to more meaningfully address questions of which animals are passing the virus to which animals and how the virus is changing," said Sawatzki.

How HPAI Is Transmitted
In addition to poultry, H5N1 also has had a huge impact on wild birds, especially sea birds. Multiple locations around the globe have experienced large die-offs, such as recently in Peru, where the virus killed 60,000 pelicans, penguins, and gulls.

At the time of the seal mortality event in New England, the virus was hitting gulls particularly hard, the researchers found. There are lots of ways gulls and other birds may transmit the virus to seals, they said. Seals and sea birds are coastal animals living in the same areas that have environmental contact, if not direct contact, since they share the same water and shoreline. A seal may contract the virus if it comes in contact with a sick bird's excrement or water contaminated by that excrement, or if it preys upon an infected bird.

The accepted knowledge is that H5N1 is nearly 100% fatal for domestic and wild birds other than waterfowl, and the same is proving true when it comes to spillover in wild mammals. All the seals that tested positive for HPAI were deceased at the time of sampling or succumbed shortly after. None of the animals that tested positive recovered. However, it's possible some asymptomatic or recovered cases never came into the stranding networks.

In addition to the seal mortality event in New England, which was the first time H5N1 was detected in marine mammals in the wild, other locations have lost marine mammals to the virus. Peru announced about 3,500 sea lions died from the virus, Canada reported a seal mortality event along the St. Lawrence Estuary, and there was a similar event with seals in the Caspian Sea, according to news reports from Russia.

A hotly debated topic among scientists is whether there has been mammal-to-mammal transmission of HPAI between seals.

"It's not surprising that you might have transmission between the seals, because it has happened with low pathogenic avian influenza," said Puryear. "However, we can't say definitively whether or not there has been mammal-to-mammal transmission of HPAI."

"To get strong evidence of mammal-to-mammal transmission, you need two things: lots of infected animals and time," explained Sawatzki. "Time for the virus to mutate, and time for the mutated virus to be transmitted to another seal. As the virus acquires mutations, we can see shared mutations in the sequences that are specific only to mammals and that haven't been seen in a bird before. We had the numbers, but this outbreak didn't last long enough to provide evidence for seal-to-seal transmission."

The research team found evidence that the virus mutated in a small number of seals. But fortunately, they have not seen a case of bird flu in seals along the Atlantic coast since the end of last summer. However, stranding season is about to start for harbour seals and grey seals, so they are bracing themselves for what might happen.

Prevention and Risk to Humans
The risk to the public remains low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since December 2021, less than 10 human cases of H5N1 have been reported globally, and those cases occurred in people with direct exposure to infected poultry. There are no documented cases of human transmission for this variant.

However, there is the possibility it could become a larger issue for human health. Avian influenza emerged in 1996, and since 2003, 868 cases of human infection with H5N1 have been reported worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Of those, 457 were fatal, roughly a 50% fatality rate.

"And that's why people get nervous about it," Puryear said.

There is a single-dose vaccine available for poultry, but it's not currently administered on a large scale -- in part because of cost and logistics, and in part because there's some concern it may make future surveillance of the virus more difficult. There's not much that can be done in terms of responding to the virus for wildlife, particularly given the scale at which infection is occurring.

Biosecurity is important in limiting the ways in which the virus can spread between and within species, the researchers said. For example, wild birds should be kept separate from domestic birds, such as backyard chickens. In addition, thorough and timely surveillance of domestic animals and wildlife is key to understanding how the virus is evolving to prepare the best possible vaccines and treatments.

Research reported in this article was supported by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease under award 75N93021C00014. Complete information on authors, funders, and conflicts of interest is available in the published paper.

Puryear W, Sawatzki K, Hill N, Foss A, Stone JJ, Doughty L, et al. Highly pathogenic avian influenza A(H5N1) virus outbreak in New England seals, United States. Emerg Infect Dis., 2023 DOI: 10.3201/eid2904.221538

Jellyfish Size Might Influence Their Nutritional Value

March 20, 2023
Drifting along in ocean currents, jellyfish can be both predator and prey. They eat almost anything they can capture, and follow the typical oceanic pattern of large eats small. Now a recent University of British Columbia study on these gelatinous globs suggests jellyfish may get more nutritious as they get bigger.

As jellyfish grow, their size changes largely due to the chances of prey encounter, the length and number of tentacles, and their bells (the umbrella-like part of them). As a result, smaller jellyfish eat phytoplankton, microzooplankton, and eggs, while larger jellyfish can eat all of that plus shrimp and even fish. However, jellyfish are also largely preyed upon by animals in and out of the water. Jellyfish are important prey because they are easy to digest due to their high water content, and they are easy to catch.

"Our study looked more closely to see if there was any information we could draw about nutrition in jellyfish," said Jessica Schaub, lead author and a UBC PhD student at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and the Department of Earth, Oceans and Atmospheric Sciences.

"This information helps us understand the true value of jellyfish as food. We looked at how the energy that moves through a food web might look as it moves through jellyfish. What they eat, what they are composed of, and how this might affect what eats them." In Heriot Bay, B.C., for example, the moon jelly may often find themselves being eaten by other jellyfish, fish and other invertebrates.

Schaub, and her team, which includes associate professor Dr. Brian Hunt, who heads the Pelagic Ecosystem Lab at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, took a look at how jellyfish size, diet and nutritional quality all mesh together. Nutritional quality can reflect an organism's life history -- the composition of a jellyfish can change in response to individual changes in diet and physiological changes.

The team, over two one-day periods in July and September 2019, collected 150 moon jellyfish and measured their size. After drying them, they measured the jellyfish for specific compositional elements.

Schaub described what they discovered.

"First, we confirmed what was already known: jellyfish eat bigger prey as they grow, which means they also occupy a higher position in the food web as they grow," she said. "We also found that some of the concentrations of 'healthy fats,' increase as jellyfish grow. We found some evidence that these changes might be influenced by their diet, and as they feed on bigger prey with higher levels of fatty acids, the jellyfish accumulate more of these fatty acids."

"This means bigger jellyfish might be considered more nutritious," said Schaub.

The study found size-trends which emphasize just how important it is to consider jellyfish size when we are talking about marine food webs. Including these creatures will not only help their representation in food web models, but can also inform other studies.

Looking towards the future, Schaub described what may come next.

"Our recommendation for future studies on jellyfish predators is to consider size more thoroughly. Feeding on a young, small jellyfish is different than feeding on a larger and older jellyfish."

Jessica Schaub, Anna K. McLaskey, Ian Forster, Brian P. V. Hunt. Size‐based changes in trophic ecology and nutritional quality of moon jellyfish ( Aurelia labiata ). Ecosphere, 2023; 14 (3) DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.4430

Moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) at Gota Sagher (Red Sea, Egypt). Photo: Alexander Vasenin 

Recycling: Researchers Separate Cotton From Polyester In Blended Fabric

March 20, 2023
In a new study, North Carolina State University researchers found they could separate blended cotton and polyester fabric using enzymes -- nature's tools for speeding chemical reactions. Ultimately, they hope their findings will lead to a more efficient way to recycle the fabric's component materials, thereby reducing textile waste.

However, they also found the process need more steps if the blended fabric was dyed or treated with chemicals that increase wrinkle resistance.

"We can separate all of the cotton out of a cotton-polyester blend, meaning now we have clean polyester that can be recycled," said the study's corresponding author Sonja Salmon, associate professor of textile engineering, chemistry and science at NC State. "In a landfill, the polyester is not going to degrade, and the cotton might take several months or more to break down. Using our method, we can separate the cotton from polyester in less than 48 hours."

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, consumers throw approximately 11 million tons of textile waste into U.S. landfills each year. Researchers wanted to develop a method of separating the cotton from the polyester so each component material could be recycled.

In the study, researchers used a "cocktail" of enzymes in a mildly acidic solution to chop up cellulose in cotton. Cellulose is the material that gives structure to plants' cell walls. The idea is to chop up the cellulose so it will "fall out" out of the blended woven structure, leaving some tiny cotton fiber fragments remaining, along with glucose. Glucose is the biodegradable byproduct of degraded cellulose. Then, their process involves washing away the glucose and filtering out the cotton fiber fragments, leaving clean polyester.

"This is a mild process -- the treatment is slightly acidic, like using vinegar," Salmon said. "We also ran it at 50 degrees Celsius, which is like the temperature of a hot washing machine.

"It's quite promising that we can separate the polyester to a clean level," Salmon added. "We still have some more work to do to characterize the polyester's properties, but we think they will be very good because the conditions are so mild. We're just adding enzymes that ignore the polyester."

They compared degradation of 100% cotton fabric to degradation of cotton and polyester blends, and also tested fabric that was dyed with red and blue reactive dyes and treated with durable press chemicals. In order to break down the dyed materials, the researchers had to increase the amount of time and enzymes used. For fabrics treated with durable press chemicals, they had to use a chemical pre-treatment before adding the enzymes.

"The dye that you choose has a big impact on the potential degradation of the fabric," said the study's lead author Jeannie Egan, a graduate student at NC State. "Also, we found the biggest obstacle so far is the wrinkle-resistant finish. The chemistry behind that creates a significant block for the enzyme to access the cellulose. Without pre-treating it, we achieved less than 10% degradation, but after, with two enzyme doses, we were able to fully degrade it, which was a really exciting result."

Researchers said the polyester could be recycled, while the slurry of cotton fragments could be valuable as an additive for paper or useful addition to composite materials. They're also investigating whether the glucose could be used to make biofuels.

"The slurry is made of residual cotton fragments that resist a very powerful enzymatic degradation," Salmon said. "It has potential value as a strengthening agent. For the glucose syrup, we're collaborating on a project to see if we can feed it into an anaerobic digester to make biofuel. We'd be taking waste and turning it into bioenergy, which would be much better than throwing it into a landfill."

Jeannie Egan, Siyan Wang, Jialong Shen, Oliver Baars, Geoffrey Moxley, Sonja Salmon. Enzymatic textile fiber separation for sustainable waste processing. Resources, Environment and Sustainability, 2023; 13: 100118 DOI: 10.1016/j.resenv.2023.100118

Mind-Control Robots A Reality

March 20, 2023
Researchers from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) have developed biosensor technology that will allow you to operate devices, such as robots and machines, solely through thought control.

The advanced brain-computer interface was developed by Distinguished Professor Chin-Teng Lin and Professor Francesca Iacopi, from the UTS Faculty of Engineering and IT, in collaboration with the Australian Army and Defence Innovation Hub.

As well as defence applications, the technology has significant potential in fields such as advanced manufacturing, aerospace and healthcare -- for example allowing people with a disability to control a wheelchair or operate prosthetics.

"The hands-free, voice-free technology works outside laboratory settings, anytime, anywhere. It makes interfaces such as consoles, keyboards, touchscreens and hand-gesture recognition redundant," said Professor Iacopi.

"By using cutting edge graphene material, combined with silicon, we were able to overcome issues of corrosion, durability and skin contact resistance, to develop the wearable dry sensors," she said.

A new study outlining the technology has just been published in the peer-reviewed journal ACS Applied Nano Materials. It shows that the graphene sensors developed at UTS are very conductive, easy to use and robust.

The hexagon patterned sensors are positioned over the back of the scalp, to detect brainwaves from the visual cortex. The sensors are resilient to harsh conditions so they can be used in extreme operating environments.

The user wears a head-mounted augmented reality lens which displays white flickering squares. By concentrating on a particular square, the brainwaves of the operator are picked up by the biosensor, and a decoder translates the signal into commands.

The technology was recently demonstrated by the Australian Army, where soldiers operated a Ghost Robotics quadruped robot using the brain-machine interface. The device allowed hands-free command of the robotic dog with up to 94% accuracy.

"Our technology can issue at least nine commands in two seconds. This means we have nine different kinds of commands and the operator can select one from those nine within that time period," Professor Lin said.

"We have also explored how to minimise noise from the body and environment to get a clearer signal from an operator's brain," he said.

The researchers believe the technology will be of interest to the scientific community, industry and government, and hope to continue making advances in brain-computer interface systems.

Shaikh Nayeem Faisal, Tien-Thong Nguyen Do, Tasauf Torzo, Daniel Leong, Aiswarya Pradeepkumar, Chin-Teng Lin, Francesca Iacopi. Noninvasive Sensors for Brain–Machine Interfaces Based on Micropatterned Epitaxial Graphene. ACS Applied Nano Materials, 2023; DOI: 10.1021/acsanm.2c05546

The technology was recently demonstrated by the Australian Army, where soldiers operated a Ghost Robotics quadruped robot using the brain-machine interface. Photo supplied by Australian Army.

Origin And Evolution Of The Grapevine

March 20, 2023
Cultivation and growth of grapevines have strongly influenced European civilizations, but where the grapevine comes from and how it has spread across the globe has been highly disputed so far. In an extensive genome project, researchers from the Chinese Yunnan Agricultural University have determined its origin and evolution from the wild vine to today's cultivar by analysing thousands of vine genomes collected along the Silk Road from China to Western Europe. The collection of wild vines of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) played an important role in the project.

Grapevine is among the world's oldest crops. Wine was one of the oldest products traded all around the world. It pushed the exchange of cultures, ideas, and religions. At the end of the Ice Age, grapevine originated from the European wild vine, of which only a few relic populations have survived to date.

One of these populations can be found on the Ketsch peninsula on the Rhine river between Karlsruhe and Mannheim. So far, the traces of when and where exactly wild vines were domesticated, of whether grapes for wine production and table grapes have the same origin, and how thousands of vines developed have been hidden in the mist of the prehistoric era. Still, it is clear that grapevine survived partly drastic climate changes and gathered a number of genes from Asia as a result of early human migration movements. 

Vines (from the left, grapes of wild vine, table grapes, and grapes for wine production) have accompanied civilizations for thousands of years. A genome project has now determined the origin and evolution of vine. (Photo: Karlheinz Knoch, KIT)

"For some years now, it has been known that today's Silk Road once was a wine road. The Chinese symbol for alcohol is derived from Georgian wine jugs, so-called Qevri," explains Professor Peter Nick of KIT's Joseph-Gottlieb Kölreuter Institut for Plant Sciences (JKIP). 

Nick, who had already cooperated with Chinese researchers in a previous project to determine grapevine genomes, suggested to collect grapevines along the previous Silk Road and to analyze their genomes.

Most Detailed Model of the Evolution and Domestication of Grapevine So Far

Nick's idea gave rise to a network of researchers from 16 countries, who contributed not only wild vines and old species from their regions, but also knowledge on their origin and history. Under most difficult circumstances resulting from the global political situation, DNA samples of more than 3500 vines, including more than 1000 wild species, were sent to the State Key Laboratory for Conservation and Utilization of Bio-Resources of Yunnan Agricultural University. 

There, the genomes were decoded under the direction of Dr. Wei Chen and the most detailed model of the evolution and domestication of grapevines so far was generated. As a result, a number of new findings have been obtained. 

Now, the origin of winegrowing can be dated back to earlier than 11,000 B.C. in the South Caucasus. This means that wine is older than bread. Winegrowing technology very quickly spread across the Mediterranean to the west. Within shortest terms, cross-breeding with local wild vines produced a large variety of vines that were reproduced using cuttings. About 7000 years ago in the Middle East, large-berry species developed to table vines.

Domestication was accompanied by climatic changes, i.e. the end of the Ice Age, as well as by the warm and moist Atlantic, a climate period between 8000 and 4000 B.C. The resulting human migration movements left their traces in the genome of the vines. Medieval vines in Southwest Germany, for instance, contain genes of vines from Azerbaijan and Central Asia.

Yang Dong, Shengchang Duan, Qiuju Xia, Zhenchang Liang, Xiao Dong, Kristine Margaryan, Mirza Musayev, Svitlana Goryslavets, Goran Zdunić, Pierre-François Bert, Thierry Lacombe, Erika Maul, Peter Nick, Kakha Bitskinashvili, György Dénes Bisztray, Elyashiv Drori, Gabriella De Lorenzis, Jorge Cunha, Carmen Florentina Popescu, Rosa Arroyo-Garcia, Claire Arnold, Ali Ergül, Yifan Zhu, Chao Ma, Shufen Wang, Siqi Liu, Liu Tang, Chunping Wang, Dawei Li, Yunbing Pan, Jingxian Li, Ling Yang, Xuzhen Li, Guisheng Xiang, Zijiang Yang, Baozheng Chen, Zhanwu Dai, Yi Wang, Arsen Arakelyan, Varis Kuliyev, Gennady Spotar, Nabil Girollet, Serge Delrot, Nathalie Ollat, Patrice This, Cécile Marchal, Gautier Sarah, Valérie Laucou, Roberto Bacilieri, Franco Röckel, Pingyin Guan, Andreas Jung, Michael Riemann, Levan Ujmajuridze, Tekle Zakalashvili, David Maghradze, Maria Höhn, Gizella Jahnke, Erzsébet Kiss, Tamás Deák, Oshrit Rahimi, Sariel Hübner, Fabrizio Grassi, Francesco Mercati, Francesco Sunseri, José Eiras-Dias, Anamaria Mirabela Dumitru, David Carrasco, Alberto Rodriguez-Izquierdo, Gregorio Muñoz, Tamer Uysal, Cengiz Özer, Kemal Kazan, Meilong Xu, Yunyue Wang, Shusheng Zhu, Jiang Lu, Maoxiang Zhao, Lei Wang, Songtao Jiu, Ying Zhang, Lei Sun, Huanming Yang, Ehud Weiss, Shiping Wang, Youyong Zhu, Shaohua Li, Jun Sheng, Wei Chen. Dual domestications and origin of traits in grapevine evolution. Science, 2023; 379 (6635): 892 DOI: 10.1126/science.add8655

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.