Inbox and Environment News: Issue 622

April 21 - 27, 2024: Issue 622

Jelly Blubber Bloom In Pittwater: 4th Year In A Row

Residents have noted yet another year of jellyfish numbers exploding in Pittwater. The floods sent them temporarily hiding down deep in the saltier water, but by the weekend of April 13-14 and  they were all back up near the surface. 

This is the 4th year in a row a sustained Jelly Blubber bloom has been witnessed in the estuary. 
Hawkesbury river residents report a similar incidence is occurring there as well.

Jelly Blubbers (Scientific name: Catostylus mosaicus) are one of the most commonly encountered jellyfish along the east coast of Australia. They often aggregate in large numbers particularly in harbours or estuaries but they also occur in open water. 

Jelly Blubbers have a hemispherical or mushroom shaped bell that can reach 30 cm in diameter. Their colour ranges from bright blue to creamy white, or even brownish-yellow. They have eight textured oral arms that hang underneath the bell.

They have no tentacles, but they do have stinging cells along the arms that help catch prey. Some individuals are known to have isopods, amphipods and/or parasitic anemones living upon them. 

Interesting facts: Jellyfish are, by the nature of their life cycles, "bloomy". Their presence in the ocean is usually seasonal, responding to the availability of prey, which is seasonal in most places, increasing with temperature and sunshine in the spring and summer. 

Ocean currents tend to congregate jellyfish into large swarms or "blooms", consisting of hundreds or thousands of individuals. The formation of these blooms is a complex process that depends on ocean currents, nutrients, temperature and ambient oxygen concentrations. 

Increased nutrients in the water, ascribed to agricultural runoff, have been cited as an antecedent to the proliferation of jellyfish. Ecosystems in which there are high levels of nutrients provide nourishment for the small organisms on which jellyfish feed. In waters where there is eutrophication, low oxygen levels often result, favouring jellyfish as they thrive in less oxygen-rich water than fish can tolerate. The fact that jellyfish are increasing is a symptom of something happening in the ecosystem. -[1.]

Blue Blubbers, which occur in Queensland, been trialled for aquaculture and may one day be farmed for human food.

1. Marine Education Society of Australasia (MESA)
Photos: AJG/PON

Brookvale's Colormaker Industries Have Saved 670 Tonnes Of Greenhouse Emissions

Colormaker  Industries - your local Peninsula paint company in Brookvale, have installed 100 kW of solar, added batteries, electric vehicles, and an electric forklift—saving over $36,000 annually with a negative electricity bill! By 2024, they'll have paid off their loan and saved 670 tonnes of greenhouse emissions. 

Owner David Stuart shares their journey: “We went solar to reduce our carbon footprint and ended up with huge financial benefits. Solar also helps against looming Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanisms in Europe.”

It was great to see the community come together this month to celebrate Colormaker's sustainability awards and the launch of their new 144kWh ReVolve® battery which is made from nine second-life Nissan Leaf EV batteries.

Local business owners can get independent solar advice from Solar Alliance Brookvale to follow their lead.

Highlights from Mr. Stuart's speech from the April 5 2024 Sustainability Awards celebration runs below.

Video: Chris at Fish Media

Mullet Creek: April 2024

''Mullet Creek after the big wet...
How lucky are we?'' - 'George Of-Patonga'

''Mullet Creek, easiest entry via Irrawong Rd Nth Narrabeen. Back Beach is 200m in. Cross the little plank bridge and stairs/track goes steeply up to Ingleside Chase on Ingleside Rd, but look for unmade tracks going off to left to get to the creek and waterfalls. 

Please take a bag to pick up any rubbish washed in from the flood - I brought out a large backpack full and a 20L pail full, but probably missed a few smaller items.'' - 'George Of-Patonga'

Photos: by 'George Of-Patonga'

Narrabeen Lagoon Entrance: Sunday Afternoon, April 7 2024

View over Turimetta Beach from North Narrabeen headland on Sunday April 7 2024
Photos: Joe Mills

Cockatoo Family Grooming: April 2024

Photos: AJG/PON

Greater Ambition & Accurate Reporting Required Ahead Of Setting Australia's Next NDC: Zali Steggall, MP For Warringah

April 13, 2024
Full statement;
The Climate Change Authority’s (CCA) recommendation of a 65-75 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2035 needs to be increased to a floor of 75 per cent by 2035 to be seriously considered for Australia’s next National Determined Contribution and keep us aligned with the Paris Agreement target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.

Greater ambition like this is possible. Recent ClimateWorks and CSIRO analysis advises Australia’s 2030 emissions would need to be 68% below 2005 levels (which approximates to around 85 per cent in 2035). And the Climate Council advises a 75 per cent reduction is possible by as early as 2030, however we must stop talking and start acting.

This includes urgently setting strong sectoral targets to ensure emissions reduction are shared across the board. Every industry and sector will need to pull its weight to get us there.

What also must be addressed as part of any discussion, is the immediate correction of our inaccurate methane emissions reporting. Methane is turbo charging global heating in the short term, so it is vital we do what we can to curb it.

Australia is currently misleading the international community by grossly under reporting methane emissions, particularly from coal, oil and gas. Australia’s coal and gas production leaks about 33 million tonnes of fugitive methane into the atmosphere during coal and gas production each year.

Recent 2024 Global Methane Tracker results clearly shows what we already know – that we are failing to adequately measure emissions – by a huge and significant 64% - equivalent of 6 per cent of our national total. This level of inaccuracy is unacceptable when there are clear solutions to ensure accurate measurement and verification.

We can have little confidence in our nation’s targets until we first create confidence in our emissions measurement. The elephant in the room is that the CCA Targets, Pathways and Progress Issues Paper is silent on the gross underreporting of methane and the extent to which that has been considered in the National Determined Contribution recommendations. This is despite recommendations made previously on the need to address improvements, including of methodologies under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act.

Australia is significantly falling behind the world in accurately reporting emissions. In order for our target to be recognised by the international community, particularly the investor community, we must take immediate steps to improve our reporting and then focus on strong, ambitious targets of  upwards of 75 per cent by 2035.

I will be seeking clarity from both the Climate Change Authority and the Minister for Climate Change on how current emissions under reporting is being rectified in the context of setting our National Determined Contribution. Failing to address this will undermine all future targets.

With global heat and temperatures at record levels, and rising, it is critical that we act urgently. 

There is a small but definite window available upscale our emissions reductions to reach Net Zero as soon as possible to avoid temperature tipping points being reached and to ensure a safer future. We must aim for 75 percent by 2035 at a minimum.

Fragmented Nature Laws A ‘Major Disappointment’: Conservation Councils

April 16, 2024
Conservation Councils from around the country have today expressed their dismay at the fragmentation of long-awaited nature laws and are urging Minister Plibersek to follow through on her promise to deliver the whole of the Nature Positive Plan in this term of government. 

In December 2022, Minister Plibersek announced that the Albanese Government recognised that our environment laws are broken and promised to deliver ‘fundamental reform’ that ‘turns the tide from nature destruction to nature repair.’  

“Australia’s environment laws are broken, and nature across Australia is in serious trouble. In the past week we learned that ¾ of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached in the latest marine heatwave, and the South West forests of WA are suffering the worst forest collapse ever recorded”, said Jess Beckerling, CEO of the Conservation Council of WA.

“Climate change and land-clearing are having compounding and catastrophic impacts on biodiversity hotspots, but our environment laws are waving through projects that are making it worse”, said Jono La Nauze, CEO of Environment Victoria.

“The Nature Positive Plan promised to create upfront protections – places that would be off limits to clearing and industrial development; standards that projects would have to meet; regional planning to look holistically at where developments can occur; and a robust federal EPA to make and enforce environmental decisions”, said Jacqui Mumford, CEO of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.

“There has been pushback from self-interested and well-resourced mining and gas magnates, and the Albanese government has capitulated to this pressure, rather than standing up for the interests of the broader community and future generations”, said Kirsty Howey, Executive Director of Environment Centre NT.

“Today, Minister Plibersek has announced the delaying of key parts of the long-awaited ‘fundamental reform’. In its place, we can expect the creation of a Federal EPA without all the tools it needs to protect nature”, said Dave Copeman, Director of Queensland Conservation Council. 

“Australia does need a Federal EPA, but in the absence of underpinning legislation, and when the Minister can override its decisions, we are struggling to see how there will be any reliable benefits to nature”, said James Overington, Executive Officer of Environment Tasmania. 

“It’s just not good enough, and we are urging Minister Plibersek to clarify how and when the plan to ‘turn the tide from nature destruction to nature repair’ that she announced in December 2022 will be delivered,” said David Bacon, President of the Conservation Council of South Australia. 

Petition: Abolish Seismic Blasting Special Prospecting Authority Permits (SPA)

Let Minister King know that we need an end to seismic blasting SPA permits to protect endangered species and threatened marine habitats.

A Special Prospecting Authority (SPA) is a specific type of permit that allows companies to buy access to large areas of our oceans to use seismic blasting to search for oil and gas, and Carbon Capture and Storage locations below the ocean floor.

Seismic blasts are how the oil and gas industry surveys the ocean floor. Seismic vessels tow an array of airguns and audio receivers (hydrophones) behind them in the water. These powerful airguns fire loud blasts of compressed air every 10 to 15 seconds, 24 hours a day. The sound waves produced penetrate deep into the seabed and bounce back to the audio receivers. From the sound patterns detected, companies can work out the most likely place to find oil and gas reserves under the ocean floor. The next step is exploratory drilling.

These blasts are among the loudest human-made sounds in the ocean, just short of those caused by explosive devices, and have a devastating effect on marine life.
  • Seismic blasting has been connected to temporary and permanent hearing loss, habitat abandonment, mating and feeding disruption and possible death in marine mammals like whales.
  • The blasts lead to scallop deaths by compromising their immune systems and have been found to irreversibly damage the organs of lobsters.
  • Tasmanian research found seismic blasting also triggers extensive death in plankton, including krill, which are crucial foundations of marine food webs, from more than a kilometre away. 
There is a proposal for seismic blasting over 45,000 sq km of ocean between Victoria and Tasmania by joint venture TGS/SLB-Schlumberger, which would see seismic blasting over commonwealth marine parks and endangered blue whale feeding areas. If approved, it will be the world’s largest 3D seismic blasting project on record.

Companies’ applications for plans to conduct seismic blasting go to the regulator NOPSEMA for approval, and then to the administrator NOPTA to be granted an SPA permit.

They are both government bodies answerable to the Federal Resources Minister Madeleine King.
  • Minister King is responsible for overseeing the administrator NOPTA, which gives approval to companies seeking SPA permits to conduct seismic blasting. The Minister can refuse a permit.
  • Minister King can act to abolish SPAs to clean up the industry and keep some of the largest and most damaging seismic blasting projects out of Australian waters.
  • This gives Minister King authority on behalf of the Australian Government to shape the industry’s practices and safeguard our marine environments.
We need the Australian Government to take action to abolish these quick, cheap and harmful seismic blasting permits. 

By abolishing SPA permits, we are helping to turn the tide on the harm caused by seismic blasting, removing this permit that fails to assess companies’ fitness and proper standing to operate, and keeping some of the largest and most damaging seismic blasting projects out of Australian waters.

This action is about safeguarding critical marine habitats, preserving biodiversity, and protecting the livelihoods of communities that depend on healthy oceans.

Add your name to send an email to Minister King here:

New Research Shows Koalas In The Sydney Basin Are In Decline: NSW State Government Seeking Feedback On Reviewing The NSW Koala Strategy

New research released by the Sydney Basin Koala Network: State of Koalas in the Sydney Basin, First Annual Assessment shows the area where koalas are found in the Sydney Basin is declining and the areas supporting long standing breeding populations of koalas is also reducing. In the time since koalas were listed as endangered, things have gone from bad to worse with growing threats from development set to push koalas into further decline. The need for protection is becoming ever more urgent.  

The research, conducted by koala ecologists Biolink, compared the extent of occurrence, area of occupancy, and areas of generational persistence of koalas in the Sydney Basin Bioregion from 2021-2023. All measures showed a trend of decline in the Sydney Basin. Important populations in Cessnock and Southern Highlands are of particular concern with generational persistence in Cessnock halving and the area occupied by koalas decreasing significantly in both LGAs between 2021-2023. The only relatively stable koala populations are threatened by impending urban sprawl outwards from Sydney, so they won’t stay stable for long. 

Policy and legal analysis for SBKN by the Environmental Defenders Office concludes that existing measures are not enough to prevent the extinction of koalas in the Sydney Basin by 2050. There are several key steps available to the Government that would immediately halt this decline and protect koalas. These steps are outlined in the SBKN 2024 Policy Recommendations and Sydney Basin Koala Network states it will use these recommendations to benchmark progress in future reports. 

''The NSW government needs to put their foot on the accelerator for Koala protection. The threats are multiplying while effective protections languish. The decline can’t continue and must be reversed; new laws enacted and conservation reserves and migratory corridors protected; and the state’s Koala Strategy made effective.'' Sydney Basin Koala Network stated


Key Scientific Findings (Biolink):
  • Overall, the proportional area where koalas are found in the Sydney Basin has slightly declined and there are fewer areas supporting long-standing breeding populations.
  • The geographic extent (Extent of Occurrence) of koalas across the Sydney Basin has remained relatively stable from 2021 – 2023, though with a slight overall trend towards decline (0.75%). This represents a decrease of 35,857ha.
  • The proportion of this extent which is occupied by koalas (Area of Occupancy) across the Sydney Basin shows a small but significant decline from 12.81% ± 0.18% (2021) to 12.55% ± 0.13% (2023).
  • Areas of Generational Persistence (long standing source populations) across the Sydney Basin are dynamic, though there is an overall decrease in the number of cells of Generational Persistence between the time frames 2021 (n = 141) and 2023 (n = 125).
  • When considering the six Focal Areas, patterns are variable with some areas showing small increases or relative stability e.g. Hawkesbury LGA and Liverpool LGA respectively, while other areas show significant declines e.g. Cessnock LGA and Wingecarribee LGA.
  • The results of this study may be impacted by delays in entering koala sightings records into government databases, though we note that significant decreases in Cessnock occur despite high numbers of records.
Key Legal Findings (EDO): Overall, there has been a lack of specific action by the NSW and Federal governments to implement EDO recommendations during the past 12-month period. In particular:
  • The majority of relevant councils still have no Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management (KPoM) in place.
  • Disparities in koala protection remain, with progress towards returning to a single State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) for koalas stalled.
  • The new Labor government has not detailed its plans for environmental reform, including in relation to its commitments around land clearing and biodiversity offsets, and is still preparing its response to the 5-year statutory reviews of the BC Act and Part 5A of the Local Land Services Act 2013 (NSW) (LLS Act).
  • The Commonwealth government continues to work on legislative reform to the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), yet progress is slow and, at this stage, it is still unclear how the reforms will ensure improvements in threatened species conservation, including koalas.
Urgent Policy Reforms Needed (SBKN):

  • Finalise the Koala SEPP Guideline - applying a full list of koala habitat trees to rural and urban land.
  • Add all LGAs in the Sydney Basin with koala sightings to the Koala SEPP i.e. Sutherland Shire, Penrith, and Hills Shire.
  • Give recognised koala corridors legal protection e.g. via relevant SEPP changes, by following Chief Scientist recommendations to protect, restore, and zone appropriately sized corridors as conservation land (C2).
  • Reform the Cumberland Plain Conservation Plan
  • Scrap the Rural Boundary Clearing Code (RBCC) in the Sydney Basin Bioregion, to prevent further fragmentation of koala habitat.
  • Urgently adopt interim controls on koala habitat in Areas of Regional Koala Significance (ARKS) to prevent clearing of koala habitat across public, and private land.
By end of 2024:
  • Fund councils via NSW Koala Strategy to develop Comprehensive Koala Plans of Management (CKPoM) ensuring all councils have a CKPoM in place.
  • Reform the Local Land Services (LLS) Act to end code based clearing and strictly limit allowable activities on koala habitat.
  • Reform the Biodiversity Conservation Act (BCA) and Biodiversity Offsets Scheme (BOS) to strengthen protection for koalas (and other species).
  • Support Wildlife Rescue Groups to enable timely data to be uploaded to Bionet.
  • Incorporate wildlife mitigation measures such as overpasses and underpasses into plans for all new roads and upgrades.
  • Undertake a strategic supply plan to reduce ad-hoc quarry development on koala habitat.
On Thursday March 21 2024 the Sydney Basin Koala Network stated:  · 
''We finally received our long awaited response from the NSW Roads Ministry to our calls to reduce speed limits in Koala vehicle strike hotspots while mitigation measures are put in place. We have been told that current road speed limits on roads like Appin Road and Heathcote Road are "appropriate". We do not think these figures, compiled by the Southwest Sydney Koala Project, are at all "appropriate".

Reviewing the NSW Koala Strategy
Currently the NSW Government want to hear from residents about what more can be done to help koalas. 

The consultation is open until 26 April at

Also available from Issue 619: Cumberland Plain Conservation Plan To Facilitate Housing 'Enhanced' - March 18 2024 Update - also, from Issue 621 and from earlier last week:

Photos: Wollondilly Wombat Watch, Monday April 15 2024

Koala Extinction 'Ticked Off'

Dear Editor

Hopefully newly appointed CEO of the 'Reconstruction Authority', Deputy Commissioner Lanyon, does not suffer the same treatment Pittwater's Shane Fitzsimmons was subjected to when the then Coalition State Government were looking for someone to heap blame on in 2022 and disbanded their only recently formed 'Resilience NSW'.

The Reconstruction Authority was established on December 16 2022 by the former Coalition government. Michael Cassel was appointed as the acting CEO of the NSW Reconstruction Authority. Mr Cassel was then the secretary of the Department of Planning and Environment.

Mr. Cassel has since been the subject of documents which detail the involvement in 2022 of the former department secretary in both developing a fast-track process and then shepherding the plans to rezone land at Appin through the new process. As soon as he left the Department of Planning he went to work for one of these developers. Although he has been cleared of any wrongdoing, what was put in place then under Mr. Roberts as Planning Minister has now been pushed through by the Labor Government in their first term in office.

The 13,000-block housing estate was proposed by the Walker Corporation, which owned farmland worth tens of millions – but its rezoning will make it worth billions. Two nearby sites – Gilead 2, owned by Lendlease, and North Appin, owned by Ingham Properties – were also put on the fast track.

The habitat of threatened or critically endangered species, alike what the then state government was pushing through in western Sydney koala habitat lands along with the destruction of what is left of Cumberland wood plain, was approved by Labor Federal Environment Minister Plibersek at 5.15 pm on March 26 2024, as people 'clocked off' for the Easter long weekend. 

This had been preceded by statements by the new NSW Environment Minister of 'plans to make plans' to save the same said koala colony and another this week which states funding will be allocated to ''put up signs to ask drivers to slow down'' in these zones (30 have been killed by cars in just the past year).

We are devastated to learn within the same day the koala featured in this video died from a vehicle strike Tanya Plibersek signed off on bulldozing 1000ha of occupied Koala habitat that we were pleading in this video to be kept. We still can't quite believe The Hon. Penny Sharpe MLC would waive through the CPCP without the obvious amendments needed to the urban capable map, nor take seriously the missing koala records not included in the environmental assessment.

This koala lost its life through trying to cross one of the roads here, part of its historical range, for which here are still no fauna passes - however, their trees are already being cleared for development. 

On March 27 Campbelltown council's local Planning Panel approved Lendlease removing Condition 2(b) that had been a provision in their DA approval to set aside a corridor to provide for a fauna overpass on Appin road.

Last year local groups drew attention to missing records from the New South Wales species tracking database BioNet.

In Wollondilly 40 per cent of koala records were missing from that time, and in Campbelltown it was 44 per cent when the proposals for Gilead were assessed, or 'rushed through'.

Sydney Basin Koala Network manager Stephanie Carrick said the government had since uploaded 480,000 records from 2019-2022, including about 25,000 threatened species records.

The rezoning was pushed through, despite the volume of these then not lodged or 'missing' records.

With successive governments demonstrating the only entities they are listening to, clearly not those who voted them in, are dictating policy and its immediate execution, it's obvious that while the coin has flipped over, it's still the same coin.

Pittwater residents will well recall that they too had koalas living in their area. The failure of the then council to ensure wildlife corridors were maintained, food trees on development sites kept, allowed an increase in speed limits on local roads, putting up obstacles such as fences on their historical range, and a poor record in ensuring dogs did not attack the same, which we understand is still occurring in your area, meant the extinction of the same, in horrible circumstances.

We hope you can find room in Pittwater Online News to make residents aware of what has been decided for the last healthy population of Sydney koalas and that people will call for a Royal Commission, alongside us 'westies', into the NSW Planning Department.

The koala has been listed as endangered in NSW; it's time wildlife was prioritised in the same way developers are.

Thank you to Pittwater Online for giving these animals a voice and continuing to shine a light on what is happening to koalas and other wildlife in this and your area of Sydney.

from the members of: 
Sydney Basin Koala Network, Save Sydney's Koalas, Help save Appin and its surrounds, Appin Development Page - Battle for Appin

Wollondilly Mayor Welcomes Strategic Planning Panel Decision On Brooks Point Road Proposal, Supporting Council’s Position Of Infrastructure Before Development

April 15, 2024
Wollondilly Mayor Matt Gould has welcomed the decision of the Strategic Planning Panel of the Sydney Western City to not proceed with a Planning Proposal at Brooks Point Road, Appin without the infrastructure plan in place.

In considering the request for a Rezoning Review, the Panel recognised the issues identified by Council staff, the Local Planning Panel and the decisions of the Council, and supported the need for fully funded infrastructure before rezoning.

Mayor Gould noted, “I am pleased that the concerns made by Council have been heard, and the decision of both the elected Council and the Local Planning Panel has been upheld in regard to the Brooks Point Road proposal.”

“While we recognise the need for housing, Council considers this project to be premature without the necessary infrastructure and sequencing plans in place for the Appin growth area, and Council has consistently raised concerns around the issues that were the basis for the Strategic Planning Panels decisions.” 

“The Panel noted that the proposal has no site-specific merit, as Sydney Water has ‘not adequately demonstrated’ the capacity for wastewater servicing in the next five to 10 years. Delays by Sydney Water in providing wastewater servicing has already caused significant issues in the Wilton Growth Area and has resulted in a farcical situation where the effluent from the new developments has to be physically trucked out daily.”

“This decision confirms Council’s position is right, that a fully funded infrastructure plan linked to the delivery of homes must be in place before any approvals are made to rezone land.”

Council initially received the draft Planning Proposal in 2023, seeking to rezone land on Brooks Point Road, Appin, for residential development and conservation of land identified for conservation under the Cumberland Plan Conservation Plan. At its meeting in November 2023, Council resolved not to support it, considering the project premature without infrastructure and sequencing plans in place.

Following Council’s resolution, the proponent requested a rezoning review of the planning proposal from the NSW Department of Planning Housing and Infrastructure (DPHI) and the planning proposal was reviewed by the Strategic Planning Panel of the Sydney Western City on 27 March 2024. The decision was made by a panel comprised of four State government appointed planning experts.

The decision of the Strategic Planning Panel is final and there are no further opportunities for this proposal to be reconsidered or challenged on its merits. The proponent may lodge a new planning proposal in the future once the site-specific issues can be resolved.

The site is 39 hectares and is located to the south of Appin village. It is bound by Appin Road to the east, Ousedale Creek to the west, residential development to the north, and Brooks Point Road to the south.
Record of Decision of Strategic Planning Panel: 

The Long Lunch

On Sunday April 21 NBCAN is holding  fundraiser, 'The Long Lunch'. 

This event hopes to raise enough funds to buy a PA system for the Northern Beaches Climate Action and its 47 Groups to share to use at the NBCAN Soapbox and other events.

This will be held on beautiful acreage in Ingleside.

Enjoy drinks and canapes on arrival, followed by a delicious buffet and home-made desserts, while listening to an eclectic mix of music from great local talent.

There will be a Silent auction with great prizes, art, pottery and plants for sale.

If you can't attend but still wish to donate, please use our "Scan to pay" QR code and thank you for your generosity.

Tickets are available at:

Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew: Whale Beach Clean

We are looking forward to seeing everyone in April in Whale Beach. We're cleaning up Whale Beach and the grass area. We'll meet on the grass area on the corner of Surf Road and The Strand and we have clean gloves, bags and buckets to lend you, but if you feel that you would rather use your own, that is of course most welcome. We'll clean up the grass area to try and catch the litter before it hits the ocean, as well as cleaning the beach, trying to remove as much plastic, cigarette butts and rubbish as possible. 

We're a friendly group of people, and everyone is welcome to this family-friendly event (just leave political, religious, and business messages at home so everyone feels welcome). It's a nice community - make some new friends and do a good deed for the planet at the same time. Send us an email on or message our social media if you are lost. Please invite family and friends and share this event. 

We meet at 10 am for a briefing. Then we generally collect rubbish until 11.15 and then we bag the rubbish and we go to lunch together (at own cost). Please note, we completely understand if you can not stay for the whole event. We are just grateful for any help we can get. No booking is required. Just show up on the day.

We're honoured to have the lovely Roly from @ep.cleanup coming with his coffee van called Trish to treat all volunteers with a coffee,  babychino or chair latte for your commitment to helping our oceans and beaches clean. Isn't he a legend!?

Increase Tree Vandalism Penalties: NSW Parliamentary Petition

You may have heard of these incidents of tree vandalism on a huge scale in recent times on Sydney's North Shore. All involved trees on public land and it appears the vandalism was motivated to improve the views of some people who clearly feel extremely entitled.

On 19th February 2024,  nine Fig trees on Balmoral's iconic Sydney beachfront were drilled and poisoned.  Thanks to the rapid action of residents and council, the trees -  some dating back to the construction of the esplanade in the 1930's - might survive.

In November 2023, over 100 trees were illegally chopped on the foreshore of Woodford bay in the Sydney suburb of Longueville.

In August 2023, over 265 trees were poisoned, hacked and chain-sawed in a bushland reserve in the suburb of Castle Cove.

Current fines for tree vandalism in NSW are $3,000 for individuals and $6,000 for companies, compared with recent reforms in the ACT imposing fines up to $80,000. The current fines are no deterrent.

Councils lack resources for thorough criminal investigations, hindering effective prosecution. Despite the illegality of tree vandalism under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, only 19 cases were prosecuted from 2018 to 2022.

Local environment groups encourage you to sign this petition to the NSW Parliament to: 
Increase Penalties for Urban Forest Tree Vandalism and Recognise Trees as Natural Assets in the IP&R Framework of The Local Government Act

2024 BirdLife Australia Community Conservation Grants

Applications close Wednesday 1st May 2024.

BirdLife Australia is fighting to save birds and the natural ecosystems on which their survival depends. The Bird Conservation Strategy outlines our focus areas of Species, Sites, Systems and Societies.

To achieve BirdLife Australia’s vision that by 2050, birds and nature are valued, conserved and restored, sustaining a healthy planet for the benefit of all people, we must multiply our impact by strengthening our existing partnerships, establishing new ones and collaborating with local communities to lead change.

BirdLife Australia Community Grants support this by empowering passionate Australian groups to act for birds, with up to $20,000 in funding for projects that align with BirdLife Australia’s Bird Conservation Strategy.

Grant Streams
In 2024, the Community Grants Program is divided into two streams: Community Participation and Volunteering and Conservation and Applied Research.

Stream 1 provides funding for projects which encourage community engagement and volunteering in the conservation, protection and advocacy for Australian birds and their habitats.

Stream 2 provides funding for conservation projects which conserve birds at a local or landscape scale; or contribute applied research into bird conservation, and projects which assist in meeting conservation strategy goals.

Your project may have overlap between these two streams. For example, a project which involves habitat restoration works may focus on engaging new volunteers to allow the group to expand the amount of on-ground conservation work that they can do. In this instance, it would fall under Stream 1. If the project focused on equipment purchases or conducting research to complete works more effectively, it would fall under Stream 2.

If you are unsure which stream your project falls under, please contact us and a member of our team will get in touch to discuss it with you.

Funding and Support for Community- and Capacity-building Projects
We offer grants of up to $20,000 for community- and capacity-building projects that align with and support the delivery of BirdLife Australia’s Bird Conservation Strategy. This includes funding for equipment, signage and vegetation restoration, as well as volunteers, community education, training and advocacy.

How to apply for this grant
Complete the ‘Community Grant Application’ form. Applications close on Wednesday 1st May 2024. The Application must be completed and signed by the person/people responsible for delivering the project.

Community Grants How To Guide and FAQ 2024 – PDF
Community Grants How To Guide and FAQ 2024 – Word

BirdLife Australia will acknowledge receipt of your application.

  • Assessment criteria
  • Eligibility
  • Stream 1: Community Participation and Volunteering Assessment Criteria
  • Stream 2: Conservation and Applied Research Assessment Criteria

Have Your Say: Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley Disaster Adaptation Plan

The NSW Government has opened consultation on how they can address flood risk in the Valley. Although Pittwater is outside of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River Flood Study area targeted, as the estuary and beaches of the Barrenjoey peninsula are impacted, it may be worth Pittwater residents providing their insights.

The Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley (the Valley) is one of the most dangerous floodplains in Australia, flooding 6 times between 2020-2022. The NSW Reconstruction Authority is working with local councils and the community to develop a high-priority Disaster Adaptation Plan (DAP) to address flood risk in the Valley, and wants residents to be involved.

The consult webpage states: ''There is no single solution to reduce the impact of floods in the Valley so the DAP will include a range of measures to reduce risk where we can and, importantly, adapt where we can’t. Some options being investigated include mitigation infrastructure, such as levees, improvements to evacuation roads and ways to better prepare the community.''

The feedback period closes 1 November 2024.

Image:  Snapperman Beach after the 2021 Hawkesbury flood. Image: AJG/PON

Eastern Blue Groper Changes: Have Your Say

NSW DPI Fisheries:  
We would like to hear your feedback on making Eastern Blue Groper a ‘no take’ species in NSW. Head to our website via the link below to complete the consultation form before submissions close at 5pm on 30 April 2024.

Eastern Blue Groper Management Changes Consultation Form -

Iconic Blue Groper Now Protected In NSW

February 21, 2024
The NSW Government is taking steps to ensure the protection of NSW’s State Fish, the Blue Groper, with new changes to prohibit fishing a Blue Groper by any method.

Whilst the Blue Groper has been protected from spearfishing since 1969 and commercial fishing since 1980, these new changes will protect it from other forms of fishing including line fishing.

These changes will initially be implemented for a 12-month trial period during which time the Department of Primary Industries (DPI), will consult with stakeholders and the broader community on longer term changes to Blue Groper fishing rules.

Given the cultural significance of the species to many Aboriginal people the new changes will not apply to Aboriginal cultural fishing.

These changes follow recent spearfishing incidents involving Blue Gropers in Sydney and Jervis Bay.

Under the new rules, a person found contravening the closure and taking Blue Groper in NSW by any method may face a $500 penalty infringement notice and/or a maximum court-imposed fines of $22,000 or imprisonment for 6 months (or both) for a first offence.

For a second or subsequent offence a perpetrator may receive a $44,000 fine or imprisonment for 12 months (or both).

To Support the changes, DPI Fisheries will undertake education activities, including social media reminders, to increase awareness of responsible fishing practices.

Blue Gropers were made the state fish of New South Wales in 1998 and can be found in shallow coastal waters.

Minister for Agriculture, Tara Moriarty said:

“We have heard the community concerns, and these new rules will make it clear to all water users that these fish should be admired but not targeted.”

“With their bright blue colour, alongside their placid and curious nature, there is little wonder why these beautiful big fish are so well loved by our coastal communities.”

“While most fishers complied with the previous rules for targeting Blue Groper, prohibiting line fishing will improve compliance by creating the same rules for all recreational fishers and enhance the protection of this iconic fish.”

“Education is key in protecting this iconic species, with DPI Fisheries commencing a statewide advisory campaign to ensure all fishers are aware of these new rules.”

A male Eastern Blue Groper (Achoerodus viridis) with escorts. Shelly Beach, Manly. Photo: Richard Ling 

Murrumbidgee Floodplain Management Plan: Have Your Say

Opened: 25 March 2024
Closes: 5 May 2024
The NSW Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water is developing a new floodplain management plan for the Murrumbidgee Valley Floodplain and is seeking your feedback.

Floodplain management plans set the rules for flood work development on floodplains in rural areas. The rules include what type of flood work can be constructed and where.  

Stage 1 public consultation provides an early opportunity for community feedback on key elements that will be used to prepare the draft plan, including:
  • the proposed floodplain boundary  
  • the historical flood events used for modelling  
  • the floodway network  
  • cultural and heritage sites  
  • ecological assets
  • local variances to some rules.
To assist you in understanding the key elements proposed and how to make a submission, please read the Report to assist Stage 1 public consultation.

One-on-one appointments
You are invited to book a 20-minute, one-on-one appointment in person with departmental staff to learn more:  
  • Hay, Wednesday 3 April
  • Balranald, Thursday 4 April
  • Darlington Point, Wednesday 10 April
  • Wagga Wagga, Thursday 11 April.
Online appointments
Online appointments are also available on Tuesday 2 April, Monday 8 April and Tuesday 9 April.

Have your say
Have your say by Sunday 5 May 2024.

There are 3 ways you can provide feedback.
  1. Survey -  Complete the survey: Murrumbidgee Floodplain Management Plan 
  2. Email - 
  3. Formal submission - Address: Murrumbidgee Valley FMP, Water Group - NSW DCCEEW, PO Box 189, Queanbeyan, NSW 2620
Note: all submissions will be made public on the NSW Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water’s website unless clearly marked confidential. You can ask that your submission be anonymous.

For documents and more visit: - video below

Plastic Bread Ties For Wheelchairs

The Berry Collective at 1691 Pittwater Rd, Mona Vale collects them for Oz Bread Tags for Wheelchairs, who recycle the plastic.

Berry Collective is the practice on the left side of the road as you head north, a few blocks before Mona Vale shops . They have parking. Enter the foyer and there's a small bin on a table where you drop your bread ties - very easy.

A full list of Aussie bread tags for wheelchairs is available at: HERE 

Volunteers For Barrenjoey Lighthouse Tours Needed


Stay Safe From Mosquitoes 

NSW Health is reminding people to protect themselves from mosquitoes when they are out and about this summer.

NSW Health’s Acting Director of Environmental Health, Paul Byleveld, said with more people spending time outdoors, it was important to take steps to reduce mosquito bite risk.

“Mosquitoes thrive in wet, warm conditions like those that much of NSW is experiencing,” Byleveld said.

“Mosquitoes in NSW can carry viruses such as Japanese encephalitis (JE), Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE), Kunjin, Ross River and Barmah Forest. The viruses may cause serious diseases with symptoms ranging from tiredness, rash, headache and sore and swollen joints to rare but severe symptoms of seizures and loss of consciousness.

“People should take extra care to protect themselves against mosquito bites and mosquito-borne disease, particularly after the detection of JE in a sentinel chicken in Far Western NSW.

The NSW Health sentinel chicken program provides early warning about the presence of serious mosquito borne diseases, like JE. Routine testing in late December revealed a positive result for JE in a sample from Menindee. 

A free vaccine to protect against JE infection is available to those at highest risk in NSW and people can check their eligibility at NSW Health.

People are encouraged to take actions to prevent mosquito bites and reduce the risk of acquiring a mosquito-borne virus by:
  • Applying repellent to exposed skin. Use repellents that contain DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Check the label for reapplication times.
  • Re-applying repellent regularly, particularly after swimming. Be sure to apply sunscreen first and then apply repellent.
  • Wearing light, loose-fitting long-sleeve shirts, long pants and covered footwear and socks.
  • Avoiding going outdoors during peak mosquito times, especially at dawn and dusk.
  • Using insecticide sprays, vapour dispensing units and mosquito coils to repel mosquitoes (mosquito coils should only be used outdoors in well-ventilated areas)
  • Covering windows and doors with insect screens and checking there are no gaps.
  • Removing items that may collect water such as old tyres and empty pots from around your home to reduce the places where mosquitoes can breed.
  • Using repellents that are safe for children. Most skin repellents are safe for use on children aged three months and older. Always check the label for instructions. Protecting infants aged less than three months by using an infant carrier draped with mosquito netting, secured along the edges.
  • While camping, use a tent that has fly screens to prevent mosquitoes entering or sleep under a mosquito net.
Remember, Spray Up – Cover Up – Screen Up to protect from mosquito bite. For more information go to NSW Health.

Mountain Bike Incidents On Public Land: Survey

This survey aims to document mountain bike related incidents on public land, available at:

Sent in by Pittwater resident Academic for future report- study. The survey will run for 12 months and close in November 2024.

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.

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: Where + When

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 
Catalpa Reserve              4th Sunday of the month        8.30 – 11.30
Palmgrove Park              1st Saturday of the month        9.00 – 12 

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

Ringtail Posses 2023

Coastal Floodplain Drainage Project: Have Your Say

Closes: 21 April 2024
The Coastal Floodplain Drainage Project interagency working group is seeking feedback on the rules managing coastal floodplain drainage works.

What’s this about?
The Coastal Floodplain Drainage Project aims to improve the regulatory framework for coastal agricultural drainage works and activities by:
  • addressing the complexity, time and costs associated with the approvals process
  • reducing the impact of these works and activities on downstream water quality, aquatic ecosystems, communities and industries.
The Coastal Floodplain Drainage Project interagency working group has released an Options Report which lays out 6 proposals to address the project’s objectives. The report is accompanied by an Attachments Paper that includes supporting information about the management of coastal floodplains.

The working group is seeking feedback on the level of support for implementing any 1 or a combination of the proposed options. Feedback on the proposed options will be used to inform recommendations to the relevant NSW Government Minister/s.

The six proposed options are:
  • Option 1: One-stop shop webpage - A single source of information on the various approvals that may be required by government agencies for coastal floodplain drainage works.
  • Option 2: Drainage applications coordinator - A central officer(s) to guide the applicant through the approvals processes for all NSW government agencies (Department of Planning and Environment’s Water Group, Planning, Crown Lands, and the Department of Primary Industries — Fisheries) and answer the applicant’s questions about their individual location and proposed works. The drainage applications coordinator would complement both Option 1 and Option 3.
  • Option 3: Concurrent assessment - Concurrent assessment of applications by relevant government agencies.
  • Option 4: Risk-based approach - NSW Government agencies would use a standardised risk matrix to compare the type and extent of the drainage works against the acidic water and blackwater potential of the drainage area to identify the level of risk associated with the proposed works. The identified level of risk could then be used to determine the level of information required from applicants, the level of assessment required by the approval authority, and the types of conditions applied to any approvals.
  • Option 5: Drainage work approvals under the Water Management Act 2000 - Switch on drainage work approvals under the Water Management Act 2000. Two different methods of implementation are possible:
i. a drainage work approval would be required only when works are proposed and for the area of works only
ii. a drainage work approval could apply to existing and new drainage works across the entire drainage network.
Within either of these two methods, one of three different approaches for public authorities could be applied:
a. require public authorities to hold a drainage work approval
b. allow for public authorities to hold a conditional exemption from requiring approvals
c. exempt public authorities from requiring a drainage work approval.
  • Option 6: Streamlining of Fisheries and Crown Land approvals through the use of drainage work approvals - Drainage work approvals, particularly under Option 5(ii), have the potential to deliver a catchment-wide consideration of the drainage network. This would provide greater certainty to other agencies such as Fisheries and Crown Land that environmental impacts have been considered and appropriate conditions applied, supporting them to assess and issue approvals more quickly.
Note: All submissions will be made public on the NSW Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water’s website unless clearly marked confidential. You can ask that your submission be anonymous.

Have your say
Have your say by Sunday 21 April 2024.

Submit your feedback using the online survey.

19 February 2024 to 21 April 2024

Moorhen chicks at Warriewood Wetlands. Photo: Joe Mills

Why the kookaburra’s iconic laugh is at risk of being silenced

Linda Robertus/Shutterstock
Diana KuchinkeFederation University Australia

Once, while teaching a class of environmental science students in China’s Hebei University of Science and Technology, I asked who knew what a laughing kookaburra was. There were many blank faces. Then I tilted my head, much like a kookaburra does, and opened my mouth: “kok-kak-KAK-KAK-KAK-KOK-KAK-KOK-kook-kook-kok, kok, kok”. I became the “bushman’s alarm clock”.

Students burst out laughing. Hands waved in the air. They knew. They all knew. The call of the kookaburra is known worldwide.

Why do kookaburras “laugh”? It’s a declaration of territory. “I am here. This is my space.”

Map of Australia showing the distribution of the laughing kookaburra.
The laughing kookaburra is native to eastern mainland Australia and was introduced to Western Australia and Tasmania. Wikimedia Commons

How long has it been part of the Australian landscape? Indigenous Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay and Wiradjuri people named the “guuguubarra”, so for at least 65,000 years.

Genetic analysis suggests its ancestors can be traced back roughly 16.3 million years. So we can be sure kookaburras have been laughing for a very, very long time.

It is shocking, then, that the laughing kookaburra is now in trouble. A combination of human-driven factors – climate change, bushfires and land clearing – is rapidly driving down numbers of this iconic kingfisher species across its range along Australia’s east coast.

The laughing kookaburra’s call is one of the iconic sounds of Australia.

Why Are Kookaburra Numbers Falling?

In 2003, the New Atlas of Australian Birds listed the laughing kookaburra as abundant. By 2015, The State of Australia’s Birds report noted them as being in major decline.

What changed? Recent research shows worsening fires are adding to the woes of kookaburras, on top of land clearing, removal of old trees with nesting hollows, state permits to control local numbers and being regarded as an exotic species in Western Australia and Tasmania, where they were introduced more than a century ago.

The tree hollows kookaburras need to breed can take a hundred years to develop. Every forest patch felled means hollows are lost.

Over the past 200 years, nearly 50% of our forest cover has been felled. Urban development all along Australia’s east coast has continued.

A kookaburra sits at the entrance of its nest hollow in a tree
The laughing kookaburra depends on old tree hollows for nesting. Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock

Fire Is A Growing Threat

Increasing fire frequency and severity due to climate change are having damaging impacts on kookaburras across south-eastern Australia. Megafires – those that burn more than 10,000 hectares – used to occur about once a decade. Now they are happening more often.

The 2019-2020 “Black Summer” fires were not confined to one state or season. From September 2019 through to March 2020 they burnt more than ten million hectares of native vegetation. The impacts on wildlife were huge.

In the years after fire, the dense regrowth of vegetation gives many birds a flush of abundant resources for food, nesting, cues for breeding and protection from predators.

However, dense new ground growth could hinder the kookaburra’s hunting by making it harder to spot prey. This species sits high in a tree from where it pounces on its prey, which is mostly taken on the ground.

Research has also shown dense post-fire vegetation has less prey, such as basking lizards, a vital part of the kookaburra’s diet.

Research shows laughing kookaburras leave areas of dense post-fire growth. They prefer areas that haven’t burnt for decades.

Kookaburras also compete for prey with other birds, such as the currawong. A currawong forages both on the ground and in the canopy. In denser vegetation, this gives it a competitive advantage over the kookaburra.

If trees with hollows are burnt down, kookaburras also cannot nest. Kookaburras forced to move to new unburnt or uncleared areas must compete for hollows with other highly territorial kookaburras and species such as parrots, owls and possums.

A kookaburra sits on a branch in a fire-blackened landscape
Kookaburras may struggle to survive in areas where fire has destroyed tree hollows and caused dense regrowth. Aldo Manganaro/Shutterstock

State Policies Aren’t Helping

The Victorian government has issued permits to remove kookaburras from their territories in certain areas. These included three “Authorities to Control Wildlife” by lethal means in 2022 and another in 2023.

The government website says these permits can be issued when wildlife causes damage to property, poses a risk to human health and safety, or is harmful for biodiversity. It is hard to imagine which of these categories justifies permits to kill kookaburras in their native habitat.

The maximum number for lethal control across 2022 was four, and three in 2023. However, kookaburras are highly social birds. They live in family groups of about a dozen individuals with a dominant pair, juvenile helpers and young. If the dominant pair has been dealt with “by lethal means”, it’s devastating for the group.

Two Australian states, Tasmania and Western Australia, treat the laughing kookaburra as an introduced species. In Tasmania (but not WA), the species is unprotected because of its status as an exotic species.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the “first pair” to breed successfully was taken to Tasmania around 1906. But this assumes kookaburras, which are found on other Bass Strait islands, were not already there and could not fly across Bass Strait.

In Tasmania, kookaburras are much maligned and it’s legal to kill them – despite this being the one state where the species isn’t in trouble. One concern is that, as a carnivorous bird, its impact on small reptiles and birds is immense. But other birds, such as the two species of currawong on the island, hunt the same prey as kookaburras.

A laughing kookaburra sits on a tree branch with a snake in its beak
The laughing kookaburra isn’t the only species to prey on small animals such as reptiles and birds. Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock

We Can No Longer Take Common Species For Granted

As climate change results in more bushfires and we continue to clear-fell old habitat trees, the fate of the laughing kookaburra – our icon of the ages – could be sealed. That once-ubiquitous call will be heard no more.

While considerable resources necessarily go to threatened species programs, it is imperative, too, to give more resources and attention to species we have long thought of as common. If species such as kookaburras and koalas are disappearing, then the threatened species have no hope.The Conversation

Diana Kuchinke, Lecturer in Ecology, Federation University Australia

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

Monumental folly and needless greed: how nature is suffering the consequences of climate change

A cheetah in the Okavango, Botswana. The species is rapidly heading for extinction. Arturo de Frias Marques, via Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA
John WoinarskiCharles Darwin University

Set aside the apple and the snake. Set aside the unforgiving God. The loss of Eden is a story about the consequences of monumental folly and needless greed. Having soiled paradise, we live now in a harsher, bleaker world.

In The End of Eden: Wild Nature in the Age of Climate Breakdown, the South African author and naturalist Adam Welz shows we are repeating those errors, sowing and reaping our despoilation. His book is a thoughtful, perceptive, empathetic and sorrowful account of the consequences of our increasing subversion of the natural world that gives us life.

Review: The End of Eden: Wild Nature in the Age of Climate Breakdown – Adam Welz (Bloomsbury Sigma)

By now, we are all aware of the devastating losses brought by increasingly frequent environmental catastrophes: the Black Summer bushfires, the floods, the coral bleaching, the droughts, the mass fish kills, the retreat of glaciers, the loss of polar ice, the days of unbearable heat.

Most people recognise that, as the creators of climate change, we are the responsible agents; we have put ourselves on a pathway that is rushing us towards destruction. Many of us have been directly affected; all of us will be indirectly affected.

In End of Eden, Welz describes some of the myriad losses of nature caused by such disasters. One of his examples is the impact of Hurricane Maria on the Puerto Rican parrots known as Iguacas. Following a long history of clearing of its habitat, its remaining wild population became restricted to a single national park in highland rainforest. By 2017, following decades of care by conservation agencies, this remnant population was at last seemingly secure, and the population had built to about 650 birds.

In vivid prose, Wenz describes what then happened when the hurricane tore through and destroyed this forest. Through radio-tracking, scientists were able to establish that maybe only one bird survived the onslaught. But after a few days lost in the devastated landscape, that single bird succumbed too.

In this case, happily, not all was lost for the Iguacas. Although the entire wild population was wiped out, some individuals in a captive breeding facility survived, providing a tenuous thread for the ongoing existence of the species.

It is a story with many lessons, but preparedness for inevitable disaster is an important message.

Puerto Rican Parrot. USDAgov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Subtle Entangling Impacts

End of Eden does much more than count the environmental toll of individual catastrophes. The effects of climate change are more subtle, more pervasive. Much of its effect is nuanced and gradational, and hence less obvious but more insidious.

Welz’s approach is to paint intricate portraits of plant and animal species, and of places. He gives us insights into how flora and fauna are woven into their ecological setting, then describes how that weave is unravelling.

Some of these accounts are heartbreaking. Millions of years of finely tuned evolution has perfectly adapted the biology of species to their environments. These adaptations are being rendered fragile and increasingly incapable of dealing with the rapid and unremitting changes we have wrought upon the world.

The cheetah is one such case. Exquisitely designed for speed, and hence so successful at hunting in the open plains, its habitat is being crowded out by increasing tree cover, a consequence of rising concentrations of greenhouse gases.

The cheetah’s specialised adaptation is now a failing, and the species is rapidly heading for extinction.

There are many comparable examples. Welz gives accounts of decline and loss of plants and animals, of the gathering emptiness. In some cases, we can decipher the cause, as scientists have – painstakingly, lovingly – learned to see the world from the perspective of a plant or animal, understand its weak points and define the chain of causality.

The Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill of the Kalahari is part of the fabric of that place, but populations are dwindling. Climate change is the root cause, as rising temperatures now often exceed the physiological tolerance of the males, leaving them unable to gather enough food to deliver to their dependent young and brooding females. They starve, and nesting now fails, year after year.

Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, Botswana. Diego Delso, via Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA

Even more intricately layered is the case of the Red Knot. For one subspecies of this shorebird, the mudflats of northwestern Africa are a key staging point along their migratory route, because within the mud there is a rich resource of small clams. In the 1980s, more than half a million birds congregated there.

But the population has now fallen by at least 80%. The problem lies thousands of kilometres away in the breeding grounds of northern Siberia, where warmer temperatures mean the snow covering melts earlier each year. The Red Knots now arrive too late to coincide their breeding with the pulse of insects that follows the melting snow.

Their young are now malnourished; breeding success has collapsed. Food limitation in infancy has also resulted in shrinkage of their bills. These increasingly shorter-billed birds cannot so readily access the clams hidden below the mud in their non-breeding area. Their bodies, formerly tuned to remarkable migrations, are failing them. Further decline seems inexorable.

There are many other examples of such losses in this book. Each plays out in a different area, at varying pace or magnitude. In each case, a species has its existence cruelled by one or more of the many manifestations of climate change.

These natural history narratives – of species struggling with new regimes of heat or fire or the chemical composition of their environments – illustrate the pervasiveness and multiplicity of climate change’s effects. Individually, they are saddening; collectively, they are devastating.

Change, Chaos And Causality

Welz writes that “climate change” is too gentle a phrase. He suggests “climate breakdown” is more apt, as it better conveys the likelihood there may be no recovery from this transformation and the multiple, complex and interactive processes that follow from our greenhouse gas emissions.

A characteristic and strength of this book is the counterpointing of its wildlife narratives with explanations of the workings of these causal factors. There are mechanistic descriptions of the processes of fire, thermoregulation, migration, wind, vision and evolution. Through Wenz’s accounts, we see the receding wildlife, but also understand the factors that have subverted their lives.

Much of the collapse of nature – the extinctions, the population crashes of previously abundant species, the losses which we barely perceive – can be attributed to our ongoing destruction of natural habitats, our resource use, the effects of invasive species, and other factors. Climate change is not the only concern.

But climate change compounds these effects. It pervades all natural systems. It has rapidly become the primary driver of much of this decline. And of course the causal factors are, ultimately, due to us.

The End of Eden is a harrowing, necessary book: it shows that we are now witnessing, and causing, the destruction of Eden. We are sentencing our descendants to a less bounteous, less wonderful world. Much of nature has been lost; much more will disappear.

Welz’s concluding chapter does, however, offer a little hope, a frail pathway to recovery. There are no new or startling solutions proposed. Indeed, the final section is cursory. Wenz’s argument is essentially that as we increasingly come to recognise what we are losing – the kinds of losses he documents so well in this book – our society, all of us, will eventually recognise the need to take the actions required to save our future.

We have a limited opportunity to prevent the fall.The Conversation

John Woinarski, Professor of Conservation Biology, Charles Darwin University

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

First Reef Mass Coral Bleaching Event Under Albanese Ministry: World Is Watching

The Albanese Government must dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions and stop approving new fossil fuel projects to help protect the Great Barrier Reef, the Australian Marine Conservation Society said after the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority officially declared that the current coral bleaching is a mass bleaching event, the fifth in eight years.

New data shows the Great Barrier Reef has suffered through its worst-ever heat stress with more than 80% of reefs enduring dangerous levels of heating (more than 4 Degree Heating Weeks*), as scientists grapple to quantify the irreparable, cumulative damage from repeated such events.

Surveys show widespread coral bleaching affecting an area likened in size to the land burned during the Black Summer fires. Marine scientists have reported coral bleaching at greater depths of the ocean than previously recorded, and centuries-old corals succumbing to the extreme heat.

Reports from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States, and other experts show that:
  • The Great Barrier Reef as a whole has been subject to a greater level of heat stress than during any of the previous six mass bleaching events
  • Almost half (46%) of the individual reefs that form the Great Barrier Reef experienced record heat stress. (Based on analysis of data from NOAA Coral Reef Watch.)
  • More than 60% of individual reefs across the Great Barrier Reef have shown “prevalent bleaching” (GBRMPA – Reef Health Update, 12 April 2024).
AMCS Great Barrier Reef Campaign Manager Dr Lissa Schindler said: “It’s devastating that the Great Barrier Reef is now experiencing an unprecedented fifth mass coral bleaching event in just eight years. This is a huge wake-up call for Australia and the global community that we need to do much more to address climate change, which is driving the marine heatwaves that lead to coral bleaching.

“The former Coalition federal government failed to heed the alarm sounded by four mass coral bleaching events. If we ignore it this time and continue on our current pathway, we risk losing the Great Barrier Reef and the $6 billion sustainable tourism industry and 64,000 jobs it supports. Our children and grandchildren may never experience the Reef that we know and love.

“The world is watching how the Albanese government will respond to the first mass bleaching of the Reef on its watch. If it’s serious about its commitment to UNESCO to protect the Reef, then it must lift its emissions reduction target in line with keeping global warming to 1.5oC – a critical threshold for coral reefs. That means the Albanese government must commit to net-zero emissions by 2035 and stop approving new fossil fuel projects.

“Australia’s current target of a 43% cut in carbon pollution by 2030 is consistent with a 2°C warming pathway, which equates to the loss of 99% of the world’s coral reefs.

“The Queensland Government has shown leadership with its improved target to cut climate pollution, and it’s time for the state’s Liberal National Party to show Queenslanders that protecting the Reef has bipartisan support.

“Right now the states are leading the way on climate. If a state with a significant resource sector such as Queensland can set an emissions reduction target of 75% by 2035, then the Australian Government can and must go higher.

“Direct climate mitigation must be coupled with building the health of the Great Barrier Reef by reducing other threats, including stopping broadscale tree clearing in Reef catchments, restoring wetlands and improving fisheries.

“The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the custodian of the Reef, must play a greater role in reducing these threats to the Reef and tell the Australian Government that urgent emissions reductions are needed at the national level.”

*(Heat stress is measured in Degree Heating Weeks – DHWs. One week of water temperatures that are 1°C above average represents 1 DHW. One week of water temperatures that are 2°C above average would be 2 DHWs, and so on.)

Reef Health Update – 5 April 2024:  Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 

Aerial surveys conducted over the Great Barrier Reef have been completed and confirm widespread bleaching across all three regions of the Marine Park.

The surveys conducted by the Reef Authority and the Australian Institute of Marine Science assessed more than 1000 individual reefs, including 836 reefs in the Marine Park and 244 reefs in the Torres Strait region.

Reef health
Of the reefs surveyed by air in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park:

  • A quarter of individual reefs surveyed recorded no to low levels of bleaching. This included reefs in the far north, along the outer shelf north of Port Douglas and north of Lockhart River where less bleaching was observed. 
  • Half recorded high or very high levels of coral bleaching. Very high bleaching was found on many of the inshore reefs in the central region of the Marine Park. Several mid-shelf reefs from Innisfail to Cape Melville, including the Lizard Island region, were also affected by very high and extreme levels of bleaching. 
  • Less than 10 per cent had extreme levels of coral bleaching. High to extreme levels of bleaching were common in both offshore and inshore reefs in the southern region of the Marine Park.
This week, 63 in-water surveys were conducted across our observer network. Of these, 52 Reef Health Impacts Surveys were carried out and most reported coral bleaching of moderate to severe impact. Variable levels of mortality have been found.  

A persistent crown-of-thorns starfish (CoTS) outbreak continued at some reefs in the offshore Swain Reefs, and isolated outbreaks were found on reefs offshore Townsville and in the Whitsundays. There was also a continued build-up of crown-of-thorns starfish in the northern region with increasing densities near Lizard Island and offshore Port Douglas.

The Reef Authority in collaboration with science partners, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and CSIRO, will soon release the Reef Snapshot for Summer 2023-24, which will provide a summary of conditions over the Great Barrier Reef during the past summer, including impacts from elevated sea surface temperatures, cyclones and flooding.

Sea surface temperatures remain 0.5-1.5 degrees above average for this time of year.

A build-up of heat stress is again starting to accumulate in the northern and offshore central region but continues to plateau in the southern region.

Above average March rainfall was recorded for Far North Queensland, resulting in very high streamflow in catchments that drain into the Marine Park. 
This has reduced salinity levels in areas between Cairns and Cape Melville, and north of Princess Charlotte Bay. Flood plumes may result in additional stress on reefs already experiencing prolonged heat exposure.

Reef management
The Reef Authority is continuing to work with the Australian Institute of Marine Science, crown-of-thorns starfish control program, Tourism Operators, and researchers on further in-water surveys.  

The data from these surveys, combined with the aerial surveys, will give a greater overview of the severity of bleaching among different coral types, habitats, and depths. In-water surveys are critical to quantify coral mortality due to bleaching and heat stress over the coming months.  

Reef Health Update - 12 April 2024: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Heat stress continues to accumulate in the Northern Region, while slowing in the Central and Southern Region.

The completed aerial surveys covered 1080 reefs from the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to the Torres Strait. The aerial surveys showed prevalent bleaching (>10 per cent coral cover bleached) was present on over 60 per cent of surveyed reefs. Low to no bleaching was evident on 94 per cent of surveyed reefs in the Torres Strait. Very high to extreme bleaching prevalence was most common in reefs both inshore and offshore in the Southern Region, whilst very high bleaching prevalence was most common in inshore and mid-shelf reefs in the Central Region and Northern Region.

Coordinated in-water surveys are underway to assess how different coral species at different depths and habitats have responded to the accumulated heat stress, and whether any coral mortality has occurred.

The Reef Authority in collaboration with science partners, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and CSIRO, will release the Reef Snapshot for Summer 2023-24 next week, which will provide a summary of conditions and impacts over summer and detailed findings from the aerial surveys.

Tropical Cyclone Paul is situated in the far northern Coral Sea, tracking towards Cape York Peninsula over the weekend and expected to weaken to a tropical low by Saturday. The tropical system is predicted to cross the Marine Park and may result in elevated wind and wave action in the Central and Northern Region of the Marine Park.

Reef health
This week, a total of 68 in-water surveys were conducted across our observer network. Of these, 49 were Reef Health Impact Surveys and all reported coral bleaching of minor to moderate impact. Again, variable levels of coral mortality were found. Other impacts included minor coral damage and disease.

A persistent crown-of-thorns starfish (CoTS) outbreak continued at offshore Swain Reefs, and isolated outbreaks were found on reefs offshore Townsville and in the Whitsundays. There is also an emerging outbreak near Lizard Island and offshore Port Douglas.

Sea surface temperatures are up to 2°C above average across the Marine Park for this time of year.

Over the past three months the Northern Region has accumulated 12 degree heating weeks, the Southern Region 11 degree heating weeks and the Central Region eight degree heating weeks.

Sea surface temperatures in the central tropical Pacific are forecasted to return to ENSO-neutral later in autumn 2024.

The Fitzroy catchment received 150mm across the Marine Park, where Central and Northern catchments received up-to 100mm.

Salinity levels between Cairns and Cape Melville are predicted to increase from 33 to 34 PSU over the week as rainfall eases across the Marine Park.

Reef management
The Reef Authority is continuing to work with the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, crown-of-thorns starfish control program, Tourism Operators, and researchers to coordinate targeted in-water surveys.  

The data from these surveys, combined with the aerial surveys, will give a greater overview of the severity of coral bleaching.  

Impact Of Climate Change On Marine Life Much Bigger Than Previously Known: Up To 100% Of Biological Processes Impacted

April 9, 2024
Fish and invertebrate animals are far more affected by warmer and more acidic seawater than was previously known. This is the conclusion of a study co-led by NIOZ marine biologist Katharina Alter, based on a new analysis method and published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

Lead author Katharina Alter of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) explains why it is essential to summarize and analyze the results of published studies addressing the effects of climate change: "To gain a better understanding of the overall worldwide impact of climate change, marine biologists calculate its effects on all fish or all invertebrate species lumped together. Yet, effects determined in different individual studies can cancel each other out: for example if invertebrate animals such as snails profit from a certain environmental change and other invertebrates, such as sea urchins, suffer from it, the overall effect for invertebrates is concluded to be zero, although both animal groups are affected."

In fact, snails eat more due to climate change and sea urchins eat less. Alter: "Both effects matter and even have cascading effects: turf algae, the food for sea urchins, grow more while the growth of kelp, the food for gastropods, decreases. The difference in feeding in the two invertebrates causes a shift in the ecosystem from a kelp dominated ecosystem to a turf algae dominated ecosystem, consequently changing the living environment for all other animals living in this ecosystem."

Important for understanding ecological shifts
Together with colleagues from Wageningen University and 12 other research institutions from the US, France, Argentina, Italy and Chile, Dr. Alter developed the new research method that no longer cancels out seemingly contradictory results, but uses both to determine the consequences of climate change on animals' fitness.

Before the use of this method, ocean warming and more acidic seawater was known to negatively affect fish and invertebrate animals in three general ways: their chance of survival is reduced, their metabolism is increased, and the skeletons of invertebrates are weakened.

Using the new method, the international group of marine researchers discovered that climate change has negative effects on additional important biological responses of fish and invertebrates: physiology, reproduction, behaviour and physical development. Alter: "Because this may result in ecological shifts impacting marine ecosystem structures, our results suggest that climate change will likely have stronger impacts than previously thought."

Up to 100% of biological processes affected
Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the air have been causing warmer and more acidic seawater for decades, a trend that is expected to continue in the future. However, it is unknown at which speed and to what extent.

Alter and her colleagues calculated the consequences of three projected scenarios of carbon dioxide increase, and thus of ocean warming and ocean acidification: extreme increase, moderate increase at the current speed and -- due to possible measures -- mitigated increase. Alter: "Our new approach suggests that if ocean warming and acidification continue on the current trajectory, up to 100% of the biological processes in fish and invertebrate species will be affected, while previous research methods found changes in only about 20 and 25% of all processes, respectively."

Furthermore, the research shows that measures to mitigate atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will help reduce changes in biological processes: in the low carbon dioxide scenario, 50% of responses in invertebrates and 30% in fish will be affected.

Detect hidden impacts
The big gain of the new method, according to Alter, is that more details become known about effects of climate change on species. "The new calculation method weighs the significant deviation from the current state irrespective of its direction -- be it beneficial or detrimental -- and counts it as impact of warming and acidifying seawater. With our new approach, you can include the broadest range of measured responses and detect impacts that were hidden in the traditional approach."

Katharina Alter, Juliette Jacquemont, Joachim Claudet, María E. Lattuca, María E. Barrantes, Stefano Marras, Patricio H. Manríquez, Claudio P. González, Daniel A. Fernández, Myron A. Peck, Carlo Cattano, Marco Milazzo, Felix C. Mark, Paolo Domenici. Hidden impacts of ocean warming and acidification on biological responses of marine animals revealed through meta-analysis. Nature Communications, 2024; 15 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-024-47064-3

The Great Barrier Reef’s latest bout of bleaching is the fifth in eight summers – the corals now have almost no reprieve

Terry HughesJames Cook University

For the fifth time in just the past eight summers – 2016, 2017, 2020, 2022 and now 2024 - huge swathes of the Great Barrier Reef are experiencing extreme heat stress that has triggered yet another episode of mass coral bleaching.

Including two earlier heating episodes – in 1998 (which was at the time the hottest year globally on record) and 2002 – this brings the tally to seven such extreme events in the past 26 years.

The most conspicuous impact of unusually high temperatures on tropical and subtropical reefs is wide-scale coral bleaching and death. Sharp spikes in temperature can destroy coral tissue directly even before bleaching unfolds. Consequently, if temperatures exceed 2°C above the normal summer maximum, heat-sensitive corals die very quickly.

Reef Health Update (8 March 2024) Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

What Is Coral Bleaching?

Bleaching happens when marine heatwaves disrupt the relationship between corals and their “photosynthetic symbionts” – tiny organisms that live inside the corals’ tissues and help power their metabolism.

Severe bleaching is often fatal, whereas corals that are mildly bleached can slowly regain their symbionts and normal colour after the end of summer, and survive.

Before 1998, coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef was infrequent and localised. But over the past four decades, bleaching has increased in frequency, severity and sptial scale, as a result of human-induced climate heating.

“Mass coral bleaching” refers to bleaching that is severe and widespread, affecting reefs at a regional scale or even throughout the tropics triggered by rising global sea temperatures.

The Great Barrier Reef consists of more than 3,000 individual coral reefs. It’s the same size as Japan or Italy, and extends for 2,300km along the coast of Queensland. Widespread coral deaths during extreme heatwaves, affecting hundreds of millions of coral colonies, far exceed the damage typically caused by a severe cyclone.

How Bad Is 2024?

Heat stress this week is reaching record levels on large parts of the Great Barrier Reef.

Climate scientists can measure the accumulation of heat stress throughout the summer by using a metric called “degree heating weeks” (DHW), which factors in both the duration and intensity of extreme heat exposure. This measures how far the temperature is above the threshold that triggers mild bleaching (1°C hotter than the normal summer maximum), and how long it stays above that threshold.

The same DHW exposure can result either from a long, moderate heatwave or from a short, intense peak in temperatures. The 2023–24 summer has been a slow burner on the Great Barrier Reef – sea temperatures have not been as extreme as during previous bleaching events, but they have persisted for longer.

As a general rule of thumb, 2–4 DHW units can trigger the onset of bleaching, and heat-sensitive species of coral begin to die at 6–8 DHW units. So far this summer, according to the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, heat stress on the Great Barrier Reef has climbed to 10–12 DHW units on many individual reefs, and has been north and south compared to the central region. Heat stress will likely peak in the next week or two at levels above all previous mass bleaching and mortality events since 1998, before falling as temperatures drop.

Coral bleaching is typically very patchy at the enormous scale of the Great Barrier Reef. In each of the previous events since 1998, 20–55% of individual reefs experienced severe bleaching and coral deaths, whereas 14–48% of reefs were unharmed.

Given the near-record levels of heat stress this summer, we can expect heavy losses of corals to occur on hundreds of individual reefs over the next few months.

What’s The Longer-Term Outlook?

This latest, still-unfolding event was entirely predictable, as ocean temperatures continue to rise due to global heating.

Three of the seven mass bleaching events so far on the Great Barrier Reef coincided with El Niño conditions (1998, 2016 and this summer), and the remaining four did not. Increasingly, climate-driven coral bleaching and death is happening regardless of whether we are in an El Niño or La Niña phase. Average tropical sea surface temperatures are already warmer today under La Niña conditions than they were during El Niño events only three or four decades ago.

The Great Barrier Reef is now a chequerboard of reefs with different recent histories of coral bleaching. Reefs that bleached in 2017 or 2016 have had only five or six years to recover before being hit again this summer – assuming they escaped bleaching during the 2020 and 2022 episodes.

Clearly, the gap between consecutive heat extremes is shrinking – we are vanishingly unlikely to see another 14-year reprieve like 2002 to 2016 again in our lifetimes, until global temperatures stabilise.

Ironically, the corals that are now prevalent on many reefs are young colonies of fast-growing, heat-sensitive species of branching and table-shaped corals – analogous to the rapid recovery of flammable grasses after a forest fire. These species can restore coral cover quickly, but they also make the Great Barrier Reef more vulnerable to future heatwaves.

Attempts to restore depleted coral cover through coral gardening, assisted migration (by harvesting larvae) and assisted evolution (rearing corals in an aquarium) are prohibitively expensive and unworkable at any meaningful scale. In Florida, coral nurseries suffered mass deaths due to record sea temperatures last summer.

The only long-term way to protect corals on the Great Barrier Reef and elsewhere is to rapidly reduce global greenhouse emissions.The Conversation

Terry Hughes, Distinguished Professor, James Cook University

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

Global coral bleaching caused by global warming demands a global response

Bleached coral at the Keppel Islands in the southern Great Barrier Reef in early March 2024. © AIMS | Eoghan Aston
Britta SchaffelkeAustralian Institute of Marine ScienceDavid WachenfeldAustralian Institute of Marine Science, and Selina SteadNewcastle University

The fourth global coral bleaching event, announced this week, is an urgent wake-up call to the world.

While the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s announcement is not unexpected, it’s the second global mass bleaching in the past decade. It heralds a new reality in which we can expect more frequent and severe bleaching events as ocean temperature records continue to be broken.

Cycles of decline and recovery are normal for coral reefs, but the windows for recovery are now shorter. Stress events such as marine heatwaves are coming faster, with less warning. These events are also more widespread.

The latest global sea surface temperatures remain above long-term averages.

As the southern hemisphere shifts into winter, the northern hemisphere’s tropical oceans enter summer. Heat will start to accumulate, this year from a higher base. Reefs are more likely to be under greater heat stress earlier than in previous years.

What Happened Last Summer?

Widespread mass bleaching is new for coral reefs. The first global bleaching event was in 1998.

Global mass bleaching events are “called” when significant coral bleaching is confirmed in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans.

The current event is shaping up to be one of the most severe yet. It began as severe heat stress accumulated in the northern hemisphere summer of 2023. It continued into the southern hemisphere summer of 2023–24.

In the past, summer temperatures on the Great Barrier Reef peaked around February. Now, ocean temperatures are higher for longer. We see maximums above historic values well into April.

On the Great Barrier Reef, large areas were exposed to record-breaking heat stress over its summer (December to March). Prevalent bleaching was observed on three-quarters of surveyed coral reefs in shallow water.

The images below show the reef at North Keppel Island in the southern Great Barrier Reef before bleaching in May 2023 and during bleaching in March 2024. (Click on and drag the slider back and forth to see the difference.)

While it is too early to know the full impact, it is shaping up to be one of the most serious and extensive mass bleaching events recorded on the Great Barrier Reef.

Why Are Coral Reefs So Important?

Coral reefs are vital for ocean health. They also provide food, income and coastal protection from storms and floods for an estimated 500 million people. They cover less than 1% of the seafloor but support at least 25% of marine species.

Like the polar regions, coral reefs are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases are heating the oceans.

Bleached coral on a reef
Coral bleaching on Moore Reef in the central Great Barrier Reef at the end of February 2024. © AIMS | Grace Frank

Can Reefs Recover From This Event?

This current global event is still unfolding. Its full impacts will not be known for some time.

Some coral deaths are immediate. Some colonies recover, while others succumb after the ocean heat subsides. Complex local and species-specific differences are typical for the responses of corals to heat stress and their recovery after an event.

Bleaching occurs when corals under severe stress expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white. Though not dead, corals are weakened by bleaching. Those that survive are more susceptible to diseases. Bleaching could also impair their capacity to reproduce.

More than 40 years of data analysed by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network show a downward trend in the amount of coral on reefs between 2009 and 2018. This coral loss reflects the cumulative impacts of previous coral bleaching events and local pressures such as pollution, destructive coastal development and overfishing.

After the devastating multiyear bleaching event of 2014–17, some reefs regained some of the lost coral cover during low disturbance periods. Most of the gains were by fast-growing “tabular” corals, which may change reefs’ species composition.

An Opportunity To Learn More About Saving Reefs

Long-term monitoring identifies areas of coral reefs that recover naturally after a disturbance, and areas that don’t. This information helps reef managers and scientists know where to focus their efforts to assist reef protection and recovery.

At present, this information is often sparse. Monitoring the world’s reefs is challenging. The total global area of shallow-water coral reefs is estimated at 249,713 square kilometres. Many reefs are in remote locations.

Recent monitoring innovations will improve access to quality data in the medium term.

A reef showing signs of bleaching when seen from the air.
Aerial surveys are a crucial tool to assess coral bleaching across large areas. This reef shows signs of bleaching on March 4 2024. © AIMS | Neal Cantin

While devastating, mass coral bleaching events provide a unique opportunity for research to inform actions. In Australia and around the world, scientists are studying which corals are the most tolerant of heat, whether corals are adapting to marine heatwaves, why corals recover differently and how to use this knowledge for interventions that can improve reef resilience.

Science that enables actions that mirror the local conditions – both biophysical and socio-economic – will enable interventions to be more locally relevant.

What Can We Do?

How fast the world acts to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions driving global warming will determine which reefs, marine species and ecosystem functions and services can be maintained.

multi-pronged approach for protecting and restoring coral reefs has guided many management strategiesplans and calls to action around the world. These have been largely focused on local and regional actions and solutions. In Australia, there has been significant investment in water-quality management and in research and development of coral reef restoration techniques.

Science plays an important role here. Ideas are cheap but implementation is difficult and expensive. Effective global collaborations can find more cost-effective solutions to improve reef resilience.

Tackling local factors that affect the health of coral reefs remains important, as are innovations to protect and restore coral reefs. But, above all, urgent action to curb the effects of global climate change is vital for the health of our oceans and the people who depend on marine resources.The Conversation

Britta Schaffelke, Manager International Partnerships and Co-ordinator of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), Australian Institute of Marine ScienceDavid Wachenfeld, Research Program Director – Reef Ecology and Monitoring, Australian Institute of Marine Science, and Selina Stead, CEO, Australian Institute of Marine Science, and Professor of Marine Governance and Environmental Science, Newcastle University

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

The heat is on: what we know about why ocean temperatures keep smashing records

Alex Sen GuptaUNSW SydneyKathryn SmithMarine Biological AssociationMatthew EnglandUNSW SydneyNeil HolbrookUniversity of TasmaniaThomas WernbergThe University of Western Australia, and Zhi LiUNSW Sydney

Over the last year, our oceans have been hotter than any time ever recorded. Our instrumental record covers the last 150 years. But based on proxy observations, we can say our oceans are now hotter than well before the rise of human civilisation, very likely for at least 100,000 years.

This isn’t wholly unexpected. Ocean temperatures have been steadily rising due to human-caused global warming, which in turn means record hottest years have become increasingly common. The last time ocean temperature records were broken was 2016 and before that it was 2015. The last year we experienced a record cold year was way back at the start of the 20th century.

But what is remarkable about the past year is the huge ongoing spike in global ocean temperature which began in April last year. Last year was hotter than the previous record year by a whopping 0.25°C. In contrast the margins of other previous record years were all less than 0.1°C.

Why? Global warming is the main reason. But it doesn’t explain why the heat spike has been so large. Climate drivers such as El Niño likely play a role, as do the random alignment of certain weather events and possibly the reduction in sulfur emissions from shipping. Researchers around the world are trying to understand what’s going on.

How Big Is The Jump In Heat?

You can see the surge in heat very clearly in the near-global ocean surface temperature data.

Averaged ocean surface temperatures between 60 degrees south and 60 degrees north of the equator, inspired by Each coloured line represents the temperature of a single year. Author providedCC BY

The trend is clear to see. Earlier years (in blue) are typically cooler than later years (in red), reflecting the relentless march of global warming. But even with this trend, there are outliers. In 2023 and 2024, you can see a huge jump above previous years.

These record temperatures have been widespread, with the oceans of the southern hemisphere, northern hemisphere and the tropics all reaching record temperatures.

What’s Behind The Surge?

We don’t yet have a complete explanation for this record burst of warming. But it’s likely several factors are involved.

First, and most obvious, is global warming. Year on year the ocean is gaining heat through the enhanced greenhouse effect – indeed over 90% of the heat associated with human-caused global warming has gone into the oceans.

The extra heat pouring into the oceans results in a gradual rise in temperature, with the trend possibly accelerating. But this alone doesn’t explain why we have experienced such a big jump in the last year.

Then there are the natural drivers. The El Niño event developing in June last year has certainly played a substantial role.

El Niño and its partner, La Niña, are opposite ends of a natural oscillation, the El Niño Southern Oscillation, which plays out in the tropical Pacific ocean. This cycle moves heat vertically between the ocean’s deeper waters and the surface. When El Niño arrives, warmer water comes up to the surface. During La Niña, the opposite occurs.

You can see the impact of an El Niño on short term temperature spikes clearly, even against a backdrop of strong long-term warming.

But even climate change and El Niño combined aren’t enough to explain it.

Other natural heat-transferring oscillations, such as the Indian Ocean Dipole or the North Atlantic Oscillation, may play a role.

It may also be that our successful efforts to cut aerosol pollution from the dirty fuel shipping relies on has had an unwanted side effect: more warming. With less reflective aerosols in the atmosphere, more of the Sun’s energy can reach the surface.

But there’s probably also a level of random chance. Chaotic weather systems over the ocean can reduce cloud cover, which can let in more solar radiation. Or these weather systems could weaken winds, reducing cooling evaporation.

Why Is This Important?

To us, a warmer ocean might feel pleasant. But the extra heat manifests underwater as an unprecedented series of major marine heatwaves. The ocean’s organisms are picky about their preferred temperature range. If the heat spikes too much and for too long, they have to move or die.

Marine heatwaves can lead to mass death or mass migration for marine mammals, seabirds, fish and invertebrates. They can cause vital kelp forests and seagrass meadows to die, leaving the animals depending on them without shelter or food. And they can disrupt species important for fisheries and tourism.

This year’s heat stress has caused widespread coral bleaching around the world. Bleaching has been seen on reefs in the Caribbean, Florida, Egypt, and the Great Barrier Reef.

In the cooler waters of Tasmania, extraordinary conservation efforts have been put in place to try and protect endangered fish species such as the red handfish from the heat, while in the Canary Islands, small scale commercial fisheries have popped up for species not normally found there.

Last year, Peru’s anchovy fishery – the country’s largest – was closed for long periods, leading to export losses estimated at A$2.1 billion.

What’s Going To Happen Next?

Given the record temperatures stem from a combination of human-induced climate change and natural sources, it’s very likely ocean temperatures will drop back to more “normal” temperatures. Normal now is, of course, much warmer than in previous decades.

In the next few months, forecasts suggest we have a fair chance of heading into another La Niña.

If this eventuates, we might see slightly cooler temperatures than the new normal, but it’s still too early to know for sure.

One thing is certain though. As we struggle to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, the steady march of global warming will keep adding more heat to the oceans. And another spike in global ocean warming won’t be too far away.The Conversation

Alex Sen Gupta, Senior Lecturer, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW SydneyKathryn Smith, Postdoctoral Research Scientist, Marine Biological AssociationMatthew England, Scientia Professor and Deputy Director of the ARC Australian Centre for Excellence in Antarctic Science (ACEAS), UNSW SydneyNeil Holbrook, Professor, University of TasmaniaThomas Wernberg, Professor, The University of Western Australia, and Zhi Li, Postdoctoral researcher, Centre for Marine Science & Innovation, UNSW Sydney

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

Restoring coastal habitat boosts wildlife numbers by 61% – but puzzling failures mean we can still do better

Chris Brown
Michael SieversGriffith UniversityChristopher BrownUniversity of Tasmania, and Rod ConnollyGriffith University

Humans love the coast. But we love it to death, so much so we’ve destroyed valuable coastal habitat – in the case of some types of habitat, most of it has gone.

Pollution, coastal development, climate change and many other human impacts have degraded or destroyed swathes of mangrove forests, saltmarshes, seagrass meadows, macroalgae (seaweed) forests and coral and shellfish reefs. We’ve lost a staggering 85% of shellfish reefs around the world and coral is bleaching globally.

When healthy, these coastal habitats help feed the world by supporting fisheries. They are home to more than 100 species of charismatic marine megafauna, ranging from sharks to dugongs. They sequester carbon, thus helping to slow climate change. The list goes on.

a flock of red-necked stints and a couple of curlew sandpipers in flight
Restored wetlands provide vital habitat for waders like red-necked stints and curlew sandpipers, which are in sharp decline. Michael Brown

Healthy coastal habitats are the gift that keeps on giving. We need them back, so there’s a lot of enthusiasm for restoring these habitats. For example, we can plant mangroves, build new shellfish reefs and reduce pollution to help seagrass grow back.

But we want to recover more than just the habitats. We want the animals they support too. We need to know if restoration is helping animals.

We analysed restoration projects around the world to assess how animals are benefitting. Compared to degraded sites, restored habitats have much larger and more diverse animal populations. Overall, animal numbers and the types of animals in restored habitats are similar to those in natural habitats.

So restoration works. But outcomes for animals vary from project to project. Not all projects deliver the goods. As a result, resources are wasted and humanity misses out on the huge benefits of healthy coastal habitats.

A school of rays swims in shallow waters
Coastal habitats are home to more than 100 large marine animals, including these rays. Michael Sievers

Animals Can Respond Well To Restoration

We collated over 5,000 data points from 160 studies of coastal restoration projects around the world.

Excitingly, animal populations and communities were remarkably similar to those in comparable undisturbed natural sites. For example, restoring seagrass off Adelaide’s coast brought back invertebrates, which are food for many fish species Australians love to catch, such as Australasian snapper. Invertebrate numbers here were comparable to nearby natural seagrass meadows.

Restored seagrass habitat along Adelaide’s coast supports populations of invertebrates that provide food for fish.

Overall, our review found animal populations in restored coastal habitats were 61% larger and 35% more diverse than in unrestored, degraded sites. So restoration produces serious benefits.

Some projects recorded dramatic increases. For instance, after oyster reefs were restored in Pumicestone Passage, Queensland, fish numbers increased by more than ten times. The number of fish species increased almost fourfold.

An underwater colony of mussels
Most of the world’s shellfish reefs have been lost. Chris Brown

And animals can occupy newly restored sites surprisingly quickly. Fish and invertebrate numbers in restored seagrass and mangroves can match those in natural sites within a year or two. This happens even though the vegetation is far sparser in restored areas.

Our study shows that efforts to restore coastal habitat certainly can help animals thrive.

Results Are Not Guaranteed

Although restoration generally helped animals, good outcomes are not guaranteed. We found many projects where animal numbers or diversity barely increased. It was not clear why some projects were great for animals and others had lacklustre results.

a golden bird with a black head and collar around a white throat perches in a mangrove tree
The mangrove golden whistler depends on mangroves, but much of its habitat has been degraded or lost. Michael Brown

Some restoration sites could be in places where animals cannot easily find them.

In other cases, actions to restore the habitat may simply not work. Despite our best efforts, we failed to create suitable environments.

It could be that animals are returning to restored habitats, but we’re not capturing them with our monitoring.

We sorely need more consistent restoration outcomes. We may lose community support for restoration if, for example, it doesn’t deliver on promises of improved fisheries.

We are still working out how to restore coastlines effectively. Clearly, more work is needed to improve techniques and the monitoring of animal numbers.

Global alliances and groups are developing standardised frameworks to guide restoration practice and to report on project designs and outcomes. Such strategies and co-ordination promise to deliver more consistent benefits.

A small waterbird in a patch of restored saltmarsh
The black-fronted dotterel is one of many bird species that benefit from restoring saltmarshes. Michael Brown

New Technologies Can Improve Monitoring

Monitoring animals and restoration outcomes in coastal habitats is challenging. These aquatic habitats are structurally complex, often impenetrable and hard to navigate, and can be dangerous.

New technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and environmental DNA (eDNA), allow us to collect more and better data on which animals are present and how they use these habitats. We’re rapidly becoming less reliant on hauling in nets or diving down to count animals.

Artificial intelligence (AI) can be used, for example, to extract information from underwater cameras. We can monitor animals more often, in more places, for less cost.

AI algorithms were recently used to automatically identify, size and count fish in videos taken on restored oyster reefs in Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne. These data were then used to calculate increased fish productivity due to restoration efforts. And what an increase it was – over 6,000 kilograms of fish per hectare per year!

Combining underwater videos with automated data extraction provides a new, reliable and cost-effective method for surveying animals ethically and efficiently.

Restoring shellfish reefs greatly increased fish numbers in Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne.

We still face major barriers to scaling up restoration to even get close to reversing our environmental impact on the coasts. Key concerns include ongoing climate change and policies and laws that hamper restoration efforts. It can be difficult, for example, to get permits to restore habitat, with complex systems involving multiple organisations and arms of government.

Still, our synthesis shows some light at the end of the tunnel. Coastal restoration efforts are having substantial benefits for animals around the world. The evidence supports ambitious restoration targets and action.The Conversation

Michael Sievers, Research Fellow, Global Wetlands Project, Australia Rivers Institute, Griffith UniversityChristopher Brown, ARC Future Fellow in Fisheries Science, University of Tasmania, and Rod Connolly, Professor in Marine Science, Griffith University

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

Climate change is causing marine ‘coldwaves’ too, killing wildlife

Ryan Daly
Nicolas Benjamin LubitzJames Cook University and David SchoemanUniversity of the Sunshine Coast

The effects of ocean warming are profound and well-documented. But sometimes changes in the patterns of winds and ocean currents cause seawater to suddenly cool, instead.

Surface temperatures can plummet rapidly — by 10ºC or more over a day or two. When these conditions persist for several days or weeks, the area experiences a “coldwave”, which is the opposite of more familiar marine heatwaves.

When a “killer coldwave” manifested along South Africa’s southeast coast in March 2021, it killed hundreds of animals across at least 81 species. More worrying still was the fact these deaths included vulnerable manta rays and even specimens of notoriously robust migratory bull sharks. In southern Africa, bull sharks, whale sharks and manta rays have previously washed up dead following such sudden cold events, especially over the past 15 years.

As we report in Nature Climate Change, the conditions that can drive these killer coldwaves have grown increasingly common over the past four decades. Ironically, strengthening winds and currents as a result of climate change can also make these deadly localised coldwaves more likely in places such as the east coasts of South Africa and Australia, potentially putting even highly mobile species such as sharks in harm’s way.

What’s Going On?

Certain wind and current conditions can cause the sea surface to cool, rather than warm. This happens when winds and currents force coastal waters to move offshore, which are then replaced from below by cold water from the deep ocean. This process is known as upwelling.

In some places, such as California on the US west coast, upwelling happens regularly along hundreds of kilometres of coastline. But localised upwelling can occur seasonally on a smaller scale, too, often at the edges of bays on the east coasts of continents due to interactions of wind, current and coastline.

Previous research had shown climate change induced changes in global wind and current patterns. So we investigated the potential consequences at particular locations, by analysing long-term wind and temperature data along the south-eastern coast of South Africa and the Australian east coast.

This revealed an increasing trend in the number of annual upwelling events over the past 40 years. We also found an increase in the intensity of such upwelling events and the extent to which temperatures dropped on the first day of each event – in other words, how severe and sudden these cold snaps were.

Mass Deaths Warrant Investigation

During the extreme upwelling event along the southeast coast of South Africa in March 2021, at least 260 animals from 81 species died. These included tropical fish, sharks and rays.

To investigate the ramifications for marine fauna, we took a closer look at bull sharks. We tagged sharks with tracking devices that also record depth and temperature.

Bull sharks are a highly migratory, tropical species that only tend to travel to upwelling regions during the warmer months. With the onset of winter, they migrate back to warm, tropical waters.

Being mobile, they should have been able to avoid the local, cold temperatures. So why were bull sharks among the dead in this extreme upwelling event?

A large dead bull shark lying on a beach in South Africa, with two pet dogs nearby
One of the dead bull sharks that washed up after an extreme upwelling event in South Africa. Ryan Daly

When Running And Hiding Isn’t Enough

Bull sharks survive environmental conditions that would kill most other marine life. For example, they’re often found several hundred kilometres up rivers, where other marine life would not venture.

Our shark tracking data from both South Africa and Australia showed bull sharks actively avoid areas of upwelling during their seasonal migrations up and down the coast, even when upwelling isn’t too intense. Some sharks take shelter in warm, shallow bays until the water warms again. Others stick close to the surface where the water is warmest, and swim as fast as they can to get out of the upwelling.

But if marine coldwaves continue to become more sudden and intense, fleeing or hiding may no longer be enough even for these tough beasts. For example, in the event in South Africa that caused the death of manta rays and bull sharks water temperatures dropped from 21°C to 11.8°C in under 24 hours while the overall event lasted seven days.

This sudden, severe drop paired with the long duration made this event particularly deadly. If future events will continue to become more severe, mass deaths of marine life could become a more common sight – especially along the world’s mid-latitude east coasts.

A dead manta ray that washed up dead on a rocky reef
Manta rays were among the dead after the extreme upwelling event. Ryan Daly

Still Learning How Climate Change Will Play Out

Overall, our oceans are warming. The ranges of tropical and subtropical species are extending towards the poles. But along some major current systems, sudden short-term cooling can make life difficult for these climate migrants, or even kill them. Especially if events like the one in South Africa become more common. Tropical migrants would increasingly be living on the edge of what they are comfortable with in these areas.

Our work emphasises that climate impacts can be unexpected or even counterintuitive. Even the most resilient life forms can be vulnerable to its effects. While we do see an overall warming, changes in weather and current patterns can cause extreme cold events as well.

This really shows the complexity of climate change, as tropical species would expand into higher-latitude areas as overall warming continues, which then places them at risk of exposure to sudden extreme cold events. In this way, species such as bull sharks and whale sharks may very well be running the gauntlet on their seasonal migrations.

The need to limit our impacts on the planet by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions has never been more urgent, nor has been the need for research into what our future might hold.The Conversation

Nicolas Benjamin Lubitz, Researcher in marine ecology, James Cook University and David Schoeman, Professor of Global-Change Ecology, University of the Sunshine Coast

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

The limits of ice: what a 19th century expedition trapped in sea ice for a year tells us about Antarctica’s future

Armin Rose/Shutterstock
Edward DoddridgeUniversity of TasmaniaAnnie FoppertUniversity of Tasmania, and Stuart CorneyUniversity of Tasmania

In 1897, the former whaling ship RV Belgica left Antwerp in Belgium and set sail due south. It was the first voyage of what would become known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration. It did not go to plan.

After a six-month voyage, they begin encountering sea ice. Several times the ship is caught in the ice for a day or two. A crew member falls overboard and is lost to the icy waters. But the crew presses on, making measurements as they go. Expedition leader Adrien de Gerlache records the process:

At noon we made a deep sea sounding, with a long series of temperatures at various depths. We lowered five hundred and sixty metres of wire, and brought up a cup of blue clay. The temperature at the surface was at the freezing point, and at the bottom slightly warmer.

Their discovery of deep warmer water was important. It’s since been named Circumpolar Deep Water. In our time, this water is getting warmer and warmer, as oceans absorb nearly all the extra heat trapped by burning fossil fuels. Antartica’s seemingly impregnable ice is now melting from beneath.

But in 1898, the ice is strong. On March 4, the crew find themselves unable to move. As the southern winter looms, the ice thickens on the surface of the Bellingshausen Sea, to the west of the Antarctic Peninsula. The RV Belgica is trapped.

ship trapped in sea ice antarctica 19th century
The Belgica was trapped in ice for over a year. Adrien de Gerlache, Quinze mois en Antarctique/Wikimedia CommonsCC BY

A Winter Of Permanent Night

The crew were about to become the first people to spend a winter south of the Antarctic Circle, enduring months of constant night. The expedition was largely unprepared for the bitter cold and darkness. But the first mate, a 25-year-old Norwegian named Roald Amundsen, felt differently. He had joined the expedition in search of adventure. He was not disappointed. “We must no doubt spend the winter here, and that is fine with me,” he wrote in his journal. Five days in, he writes:

One starts to get familiar with the idea of wintering. The cold has begun sharply. The ice is firm around us and without ridges. This is starting to get interesting.

As time drags on, the crew suffer from scurvy. The expedition leader and his second in command both become so ill they write their wills and retire to bed. Amundsen and the American surgeon Frederick Cook take over leadership.

Of this time, Cook writes in his journal:

we jog along day after day, through the unbroken sameness […] the darkness grows daily a little deeper, and the night soaks hourly a little more colour from our blood

When pale sunlight returns in spring, it’s not enough to free the ship. By January 1899, the crew become desperate. Facing a second winter on the ice, they cut a channel through the sea ice and use explosives to widen it. After a month’s brutal labour, they free the ship and sail for home.

antarctic expedition before and after photos
The long Antarctic night took its toll on the crew. Through the First Antarctic Night (1900)

They had been in the ice for just over a year, and had drifted more than 2,000 kilometres as the sea ice moved with the currents.

A little over a decade later, an expedition led by Amundsen would be the first to reach the South Pole.

And the RV Belgica? The ship spent its later years transporting coal, as demand for fossil fuels grew and grew.

What Could Assail The Ice Continent?

The scientists and explorers aboard the Belgica did not waste their time. They meticulously recorded their location, the thickness of the sea ice and the weather.

In our time, the data gathered by the scientists and crew of the Belgica is proving invaluable.

Working with the team from the Australian Earth System Simulator, we used data from the Belgica’s crew and satellite imagery to recreate the ship’s path and compare it to what’s happening now.

The voyage of the RV Belgica produced invaluable data.

If the RV Belgica had been in the same location in the Bellingshausen Sea off the Antarctic Peninsula in 2023, rather than 1897, the story would have been very different.

In the intervening 126 years, we set about changing the Earth’s climate in earnest. Fossil fuels gave us vastly more energy. But they came with a sting in the tail – burning them released long-buried carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere, where they magnify the natural greenhouse effect which keeps the Earth from icing over. Almost all of the heat trapped by our activities has gone into the oceans.

In the north, the Arctic sea ice began to disappear from the 1970s onwards, shrinking by about 12% per decade.

Antarctica’s sea ice has held out for longer. A ship like the Belgica could have been stuck in sea ice as late as 2015.

No longer. The heat is on. In the last eight years, Antarctic sea ice has begun to melt in earnest. In the last three years, the melt has accelerated. Now, new research suggests Antarctic sea ice has undergone an “abrupt transition”.

In March 2023, the RV Belgica would have sailed through open waters where pack ice once groaned and cracked. There was almost no sea ice in the Bellinghausen Sea from February to April.

At the beginning of 2024, Australia’s marine research vessel, RV Investigator travelled 12,000km from Hobart down to the Antarctic coastline and back to Fremantle. What was shocking was how easy it was.

When sea ice is at its thickest, even modern vessels can struggle to navigate it. But on this voyage, scientists aboard collected vast amounts of data from dark oceans that should have been covered by thick sea ice.

The Years Of Melting

In the ice continent, climate change is beginning to cause long-feared changes.

The Antarctic Peninsula – the long, trailing tail closest to South America where most tourist ships land – is starting to green. Algae is carpeting more snow, while the two native species of flowering plant, Antarctic pearlwort and Antarctic hair grass, are expanding their range on islands near the peninsula.

algae growing on snow
Snow algae is expanding on the Antarctic peninsula and nearby islands. NatureCC BY-NC-ND

In the 19th century, going to Antarctica was a perilous journey, pushing the limits of human endurance. But as the sea ice retreats, it becomes easier and easier for tourist cruise ships to make the journey from ports in Argentina and Chile. Tourist numbers have increased tenfold since the 1990s, rising especially fast in the last two years.

The ice continent has long been defended by the fast, cold water currents in its oceans. But now the heat is getting in – through the water, not the air. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current is speeding up and warmer water is getting into these icy seas. Antarctica’s sea ice is being eaten from below.

That means the so-called Doomsday Glacier is now at risk. The Thwaites Glacier is the size of Great Britain, and holds enough water to singlehandedly raise sea levels 60 centimetres. But the real threat is what’s behind Thwaites. The glacier is a plug, blocking much larger ice rivers from reaching the ocean. If it goes, sea level rise will accelerate.

Antarctica was once a place where humans found their limits. Enduring endless cold and dark and drifting helplessly in the ice, the crew of the Belgica found theirs. As Frederick Cook wrote, the Antarctic night had:

a naked fierceness in the scenes, a boisterous wildness in the storms, a sublimity and silence in the still, cold dayless nights, which were too impressive to be entirely overshadowed by the soul-despairing depression.

A little over a century later, we are finding the ice, too, has limits. The Conversation

Edward Doddridge, Senior Research Associate in Physical Oceanography, University of TasmaniaAnnie Foppert, Research Associate, University of Tasmania, and Stuart Corney, Senior lecturer, University of Tasmania

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

Antarctica’s sea ice hit another low this year – understanding how ocean warming is driving the loss is key

Lana Young/AntarcticaNZ/NIWA/K872CC BY-SA
Craig StevensUniversity of Auckland, Waipapa Taumata Rau

At the end of the southern summer, Antarctica’s sea ice hit its annual minimum. By at least one measure, which tracks the area of ocean that contains at least 15% of sea ice, it was a little above the record low of 2023.

Source: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio.

At the time, I was aboard the Italian icebreaker Laura Bassi, ironically surrounded by sea ice about 10km off Cape Hallett and unable to make our way to one of the expedition’s sampling sites.

Even just a decade ago, sea ice reliably rebuilt itself each winter. But something has changed in how the Southern Ocean works and the area covered by sea ice has decreased dramatically.

Our aim was to track the changes happening in the ocean around Antarctica and to make targeted measurements of some of the processes we think are responsible for this loss of sea ice. Most likely, this is a consequence of warming oceans and so we focused on identifying the pathways warmer seawater could find to drive more melting.

The Southernmost Shelf Sea

The annual freeze-thaw cycle of Antarctic sea ice is one of the defining properties of our planet.

It affects the reflectivity of a vast area of the globe, oxygenates the deep ocean, provides habitat across the Southern Ocean food web and plays a role in the resilience of ice shelves.

The voyage was led by a team of scientists who coordinate Italy’s longstanding research in the Southern Ocean.

For decades, they have been maintaining instruments in the Ross Sea region and the data they have been collecting are now proving crucial as we seek to understand the implications of sea-ice changes in terms of physics and biogeochemistry.

A view from the ship's starboard side towards the Ross Ice Shelf
The research expedition sailed close to the front of the Ross Ice Shelf. Lana Young/AntNZ/NIWA/K872CC BY-SA

The expedition sailed a two-month counter-clockwise loop of the continental shelf in the Ross Sea. Continental shelves are shallower and biologically very productive regions that surround all of Earth’s continents.

Continental shelf seas around Antarctica are special because of the presence of sea ice – but this varies in space and time.

The US National Snow and Ice Data Center has developed a visualisation tool to compare sea-ice conditions during different times.

It shows that by the end of summer, the Ross Sea region holds only a few patches of sea ice. And this year, the patches were even fewer than in the past.

The region is the southernmost open water on the planet and acts as a gateway to seawater flowing in and out under the largest (by area) ice shelf on the planet – the Ross Ice Shelf.

The sea ice we encountered came in a variety of thicknesses and snow cover. We could see that in some places, sea ice was present in densities less than a satellite could recognise, but possibly enough to have an influence on how the upper ocean exchanges heat with the atmosphere above.

The State Of Sea Ice

This reinforced our understanding of the importance of the spatial variability of sea ice. Satellites show that most of the sea-ice coverage, at its minimum, was found in a big patch in East Antarctica, due south of Hobart, and the ice-choked Weddell Sea.

The Weddell Sea and its Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf are the Ross Sea’s opposite. At the late-summer sea-ice minimum, the Ross Sea is largely free of ice, while the Weddell Sea stays filled with ice.

This was the pack-ice nightmare that trapped Shackleton’s Endurance over a century ago.

An animation of Antarctica, showing the minimum extent of sea ice in 2024
The minimum extent of Antarctic sea ice in 2024 was the second-lowest recorded by satellites, reflecting a trend of declining coverage. NASACC BY-SA

At a personal level, the sights during our expedition were a privilege. They took me beyond anything imagined from data and models. Giant icebergs became common place. Penguins, seals, skua and whales all passed by the ship at various times.

In the same way we send people into space, there are substantial benefits to having scientists on location developing their perspectives on the science. However, it is clear that Antarctic ocean data collection systems need to expand when and where they collect information.

The Future Is Robotic

One feature of the voyage was the use of robots. We deployed 11 relatively simple Argo floats that will drift around the region for years, surfacing to send back data on temperature, salinity and in some cases oxygen.

We also sent three robotic ocean gliders on their data-collecting missions independent of the ship. This meant we could capture flow data in the long north-south troughs that are a feature of the region, while the ship was elsewhere.

Marine scientists preparing a mooring on the deck of the RV Laura Bassi during a voyage of the Ross Sea
The expedition deployed moorings, gliders and automated floats to gather data. Lana Young/AntNZ/NIWA/K872CC BY-SA

We retrieved these robot gliders after several weeks, bringing back unique maps of changing ocean temperature and salinity. The data provide evidence of warmer water lying just beneath the edge of the continental shelf, highlighting the fragility of the system.

There is a growing sense that the Ross Sea sector will become more important in the coming decade. With substantial changes upstream in the Amundsen Sea, where glaciers are retreating at an accelerating rate, and the possibility for warmer water finding its way onto the continental shelf, there is the potential that the largest ice shelf on the planet might start to change.The Conversation

Craig Stevens, Professor in Ocean Physics, University of Auckland, Waipapa Taumata Rau

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

Heat from El Niño can warm oceans off West Antarctica – and melt floating ice shelves from below

Maurice HugueninUNSW SydneyMatthew EnglandUNSW Sydney, and Paul SpenceUniversity of Tasmania

As snow falls on Antarctica, layers build up and turn to ice. Over time, this compressed snow has become a continent-sized glacier, or ice sheet. It’s enormous – almost double the size of Australia and far larger than the continental United States.

As the weight of ice builds up, the ice sheet begins to move towards the oceans. When it reaches the sea, the ice floats. These floating extensions are known as ice shelves. The largest is over 800 kilometres wide.

When the ocean water has a temperature close to 0°C, these ice shelves can persist for a long time. But when temperatures rise, even a little, the ice melts from below. Antarctic ice shelves are now losing an alarming 150 billion tons of ice per year, adding more water to the ocean and accelerating global sea level rise by 0.6 mm per year. Ice shelves in West Antarctica are particularly prone to melting from the ocean, as many are close to water masses above 0°C.

While the melting trend is clear and concerning, the amount can vary substantially from year-to-year due to the impact of both natural climate fluctuations and human-made climate change. To figure out what is going on and to prepare for the future, we need to tease apart the different drivers – especially El Niño-Southern Oscillation, the world’s largest year-to-year natural climate driver.

Our new research explores how heat brought by El Niño can warm the ocean around West Antarctica and increase melting of the ice shelves from below.

Antarctic Ice Mass Loss 2002-2023. Credit: NASA Climate Change.

How Can El Niño-Southern Oscillation Affect Antarctica?

Australians are very familiar with the two phases of this climate driver, El Niño and La Niña, as they tend to bring us hotter, dryer weather and cooler, wetter weather, respectively. But the influence of this cycle is much larger, affecting weather and climate all around the Pacific.

Can it reach through Antarctica’s cold, fast currents of air and water? Yes.

Giant convective thunderstorms in the Pacific’s equatorial regions move east during El Niño and intensify in the West during La Niña. As these storm systems change, they excite ripples in the atmosphere that are able to travel large distances, just as waves can cross oceans. Within two months, these atmospheric waves reach the Antarctic continent, where their energy can affect the coastal atmosphere and ocean circulation. During El Niño, the energy from these waves weakens the easterly winds off West Antarctica (and vice versa for La Niña).

Using satellite data, researchers recently found that West Antarctic ice shelves actually gain height but lose mass during El Niño. That’s because more low-density snow falls at the top of the ice shelves, while at the same time more warm water flows under the ice shelves where it melts compressed high-density ice from underneath.

What we don’t yet know is how this warmer water (above zero) comes up from below. Similarly, we don’t know what happens during La Niña.

Answering these questions with the few observations we have from Antarctica is challenging because this climate driver doesn’t happen in isolation. Storms, tides, large eddy currents and other climate drivers such as the Southern Annual Mode can change the temperatures of the water under ice shelves too, and they can occur at the same time as El Niño.

Finding A Needle In The Ice Stack

So how did we do it? Modelling.

We take a high-resolution global ocean circulation model and added El Niño and La Niña events to the baseline simulation. By doing so, we can examine what these anomalies do to the currents and temperatures around Antarctica.

The energy brought by El Niño’s atmospheric waves to West Antarctica weakens the prevailing easterly winds along the coasts.

Normally, most of the warm water reservoir is located off the continental shelf rather than on the continental shelf. As the winds weaken, more of this warmer water – known as Circumpolar Deep Water – is able to flow onto the continental shelf and near the base of the floating ice shelves.

figure showing difference between El Nino and La Nina in antarctica
During El Niño, weaker winds along the coasts push less cold Antarctic surface waters towards the continent, allowing warmer Circumpolar Deep Water to flow to the base of the ice shelves. During La Niña, stronger winds drive a wedge of cold water up towards the continent, reducing the inflow of warm water. Maurice HugueninCC BY-SA

We call this water mass “warm”, but that’s relative – it’s only 1–2°C above freezing, and the heat only warms the water on the continental shelf by about 0.5°C. But that’s enough to begin melting ice shelves, which are at or below freezing point.

As you’d expect, the longer the warm water stays on the shelf and the hotter it is, the more melting occurs.

During La Niña, the opposite occurs and the ice rebounds. Winds along the coast strengthen, pushing more cold surface water onto the continental shelf and preventing warm water from flowing under the ice shelves.

What Does This Mean For The Near Future?

Researchers have found El Niño and La Niña have already become more frequent and more extreme.

If this trend continues, as climate projections suggest, we can expect warming around West Antarctica to get even stronger during El Niño events, accelerating ice shelf melting and speeding up sea level rise.

More frequent and stronger El Niño events could also push us closer to a tipping point in the West Antarctic ice sheet, after which accelerated melting and mass loss could become self-perpetuating. That means the ice wouldn’t melt and reform but begin to steadily melt.

More bad news? Unfortunately, yes. The only way to stop the worst from happening is to get to net zero carbon emissions as quickly as humanly possible. The Conversation

Maurice Huguenin, Postdoctoral research associate in Physical Oceanography, UNSW SydneyMatthew England, Scientia Professor and Deputy Director of the ARC Australian Centre for Excellence in Antarctic Science (ACEAS), UNSW Sydney, and Paul Spence, Associate professor of oceanography, University of Tasmania

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

It never rains but it pours: intense rain and flash floods have increased inland in eastern Australia

Milton SpeerUniversity of Technology Sydney and Lance M LeslieUniversity of Technology Sydney

Before climate change really got going, eastern Australia’s flash floods tended to concentrate on our coastal regions, east of the Great Dividing Range.

But that’s changing. Now we get flash floods much further inland, such as Broken Hill in 2012 and 2022 and Cobar, Bourke and Nyngan in 2022. Flash floods are those beginning between one and six hours after rainfall, while riverine floods take longer to build.

Why? Global warming is amplifying the climate drivers affecting where flash floods occur and how often. All around the world, we’re seeing intense dumps of rain in a short period, triggering flooding – just as we saw in Dubai this week.

Our research shows east coast lows – intense low pressure systems carrying huge volumes of water – are developing further out to sea, both southward and eastward.

This means these systems, which usually bring most of the east coast’s rain during cooler months, are now dumping more rain out at sea. Instead, we’re seeing warm, moist air pushed down from the Coral Sea, leading to thunderstorms and floods much further inland.

This month, a coastal trough along the Queensland and New South Wales coasts and an inland trough resulted in unusually widespread flooding, triggering flooding in Sydney as well as inland.

What’s Changing?

On the coasts, extreme flash floods come from short, intense rains on saturated catchments. Think of the devastating floods hitting Lismore in 2022 and Grantham in 2011.

Inland, flash floods occur when intense rain hits small urban catchments, runs off roads and concrete, and flows into low-lying areas.

The April flooding in NSW and Queensland had elements of both. Early this month, the subtropical jet stream changed its course, triggering a cyclonic circulation higher in the atmosphere over inland eastern Australia.

At the same time, a low-pressure trough developed low down in the atmosphere off the coast and another inland, through southern Queensland and NSW, where they encountered warm moist air dragged by northeast winds from as far away as the Coral Sea.

The result was localised extremely heavy rain, which led to the Warragamba Dam spilling and flood plain inundation in western Sydney.

This unusual event has been referred to as a “black nor’easter”, a term coined in 1911. These are characterised by a deepening coastal trough and upper-level low pressure systems further west, over inland eastern Australia. This term, mostly known in the marine fraternity, became less common during the 20th century. But it has returned.

Why? Global warming is changing how the atmosphere circulates. As ocean temperatures keep rising, the pool of warm water in the Coral and Tasman Seas grows. This gives rise to northeasterly airstreams, which funnel thick fronts of warm, moist air down towards inland Queensland and NSW.

These low pressure systems occur higher in the atmosphere, causing unstable conditions suiting the formation of thunderstorms. And because these systems move slowly, heavy rain can fall continuously over the same area for several hours. All up, it’s a perfect recipe for flash flooding.

We saw similar systems producing flash flooding in Sydney’s Nepean and Hawkesbury rivers during November and December last year, as well as in other regions of inland eastern Australia.

Is this new? Yes. Between 1957 and 1990, flash floods struck Sydney 94 times. But during this period, fast cyclonic airflow in the upper atmosphere was not connected to the jet stream. Instead, flash floods occurred when slow-moving upper-level low pressure circulations encountered air masses laden with moisture evaporating off the oceans. However, there wasn’t enough water in the air over the inland to trigger flash flooding.

In every case between 1957 to 1990, flash floods in Sydney were not linked to slower-forming riverine floods on the Nepean-Hawkesbury River system. When these rivers did flood during that period, they came from longer duration, less intense rain falling in the catchments, and largely from east coast lows. Now we’re seeing something new.

Haven’t There Always Been Flash Floods?

Flash floods are not new. What is new is where they are occurring. These sudden floods can now form well west of the Great Dividing Range.

Previously, inland floods tended to come after long periods of widespread rain saturated large river catchments. Inland flash floods were not so common and powerful as in recent decades.

In earlier decades, inland riverine floods during extreme rainfall years occurred when the fast-moving jet stream high in the atmosphere was further north. This occurred frequently in the cooler months, with long, broad cloud bands blown by or associated with the jet stream producing widespread rain inland. Known as the “autumn break”, it often primed agricultural land for winter crops.

In recent years, these crucial air currents have begun moving polewards.

Now that it’s moving south, we have increasingly warm air over inland eastern Australia which can hold more moisture and result in heavy falls, even in the cooler months.

What about the famous inland floods which move through Queensland’s Channel Country and fill Kati Thanda/Lake Eyre?

These are slow moving riverine floods, not flash floods. Flash floods are often limited to local regions. By contrast, Channel Country floods stem from heavy monsoonal rains from November to April.

channel country
Queensland’s Channel Country is a braided landscape which periodically floods. Ecopix/Shutterstock

Short, Intense Rain Bursts Are Going Global

The pattern we’re seeing – more flash floods in unusual places – is not just happening in Australia. Inland areas – including deserts – are now more likely to see flash floods.

Dubai this week had a year’s rain (152 mm) in a single day, which triggered flash floods and caused widespread disruption of air travel. Other parts of the United Arab Emirates got even more rain, with up to 250 mm. In Western Australia’s remote southern reaches, the isolated community of Rawlinna recently had 155 mm of rain in a day.

This is precisely what we would expect as the world heats up. Hotter air can hold about 7% more water for every degree of warming, supercharging normal storms. And these floods can be followed by extended periods of almost no rain. The future is shaping up as one of flash floods and flash droughts. The Conversation

Milton Speer, Visiting Fellow, School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, University of Technology Sydney and Lance M Leslie, Professor, School of Mathematical And Physical Sciences, University of Technology Sydney

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

New Approach Needed To Save Australia's Non-Perennial Rivers

April 10, 2024
  • An extensive review of current research incorporating geomorphology, hydrology, biogeochemistry, ecology and Indigenous knowledges identifies prevailing factors that shape water and energy flows in Australia's non-perennial rivers -- but the review also points to research deficiencies that must be addressed if these river systems are to be preserved and protected.
Non-perennial rivers, which stop flowing at some point each year, dominate surface water movement across Australia, yet monitoring the continued health of these vital waterways demands a new type of research attention.

More than 70% of this nation's rivers are non-perennial due to a combination of ancient landscape, dry climates, highly variable rainfall regimes, and human interventions that have altered riverine environments.

An extensive review of current research incorporating geomorphology, hydrology, biogeochemistry, ecology and Indigenous knowledges identifies prevailing factors that shape water and energy flows in Australia's non-perennial rivers -- but the review also points to research deficiencies that must be addressed if these river systems are to be preserved and protected.
"Australia relies on our rivers, and has a strong history of research to understand river flows and ecosystems and the human impacts on them. Now, we must address emerging threats to river systems due to climate change and other anthropogenic impacts," says lead author of the review, Dr Margaret Shanafield, from Flinders University's College of Science and Engineering.

"We have to work together to tackle emerging threats to our rivers. If we are going to plug gaps in existing knowledge, which this review identifies, then a new style of inter-disciplinary scientific research is necessary to achieve the required outcomes."

While dominant research themes in Australia focus on drought, floods, salinity, dryland ecology and water management, four other areas of research attention are urgently needed, namely:
  • Integrating Indigenous and western scientific knowledge;
  • Quantifying climate change impacts on hydrological and biological function;
  • Clarifying the meaning and measurement of "restoration" of non-perennial systems;
  • Understanding the role of groundwater.
Addressing these areas through multi-disciplinary efforts supported by technological advances will provide a map for improved water research outcomes that the rest of the world can follow.

"Australia is globally unique in its spread and diversity of non-perennial rivers spanning climates and landforms -- but most, if not all, of the classes of non-perennial rivers found in Australia also occur in other regions of the world with similar climates and geology," says Dr Shanafield.

"Therefore, the evolving body of knowledge about Australian rivers provides a foundation for comparison with other dryland areas globally where recognition of the importance of non-perennial rivers is expanding."

The review authors are concerned that Australian non-perennial river research has been driven by the needs of its inhabitants for survival, agriculture, resource economics, environmental concern and politics.

"Considering the continent's ancient geological history and its harsh, arid climate, it comes as no surprise that significant attention has been directed toward water resource management during drought periods, the reduction of salinisation, and gaining insights into the intricate dynamics of the transient rivers that are a defining feature of central Australia," says the review.

"The prevalence of prolonged drought periods has had a marked impact on driving research -- so it is critical to address the knowledge gaps this review has identified, given that increasing trends in hydrological droughts are projected to negatively impact streamflow not just in Australia, but also in South America, southern Africa, and the Mediterranean."
The review authors -- a multi-disciplinary collective of scientists from across more than two dozen institutions and government departments -- say more investment in long-term hydrological monitoring is desperately needed to increase water management knowledge that can address the competing water needs of communities, agriculture, mining and ecosystems in a dry environment -- not only in Australia, but throughout the world.

"We anticipate that changing global water fluxes and continued groundwater pumping will cause more of the world's rivers to become non-perennial, accelerating our need to understand these systems across many disciplines," says Dr Shanafield.

"In turn, a more thorough understanding will help to underpin science-driven management of non-perennial rivers to both meet the needs of a growing Australian population while protecting the integrity of ecological systems."

Margaret Shanafield, Melanie Blanchette, Edoardo Daly, Naomi Wells, Ryan M. Burrows, Kathryn Korbel, Gabriel C. Rau, Sarah Bourke, Gresley Wakelin-King, Aleicia Holland, Timothy Ralph, Gavan McGrath, Belinda Robson, Keirnan Fowler, Martin S. Andersen, Songyan Yu, Christopher S. Jones, Nathan Waltham, Eddie W. Banks, Alissa Flatley, Catherine Leigh, Sally Maxwell, Andre Siebers, Nick Bond, Leah Beesley, Grant Hose, Jordan Iles, Ian Cartwright, Michael Reid, Thiaggo de Castro Tayer, Clément Duvert. Australian non-perennial rivers: Global lessons and research opportunities. Journal of Hydrology, 2024; 634: 130939 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2024.130939

Water theft laws and penalties in the Murray-Darling Basin are a dog’s breakfast. Here’s how we can fix them

Adam James LochUniversity of AdelaideDavid AdamsonRoyal Agricultural UniversityMark GiancasproUniversity of Adelaide, and Michael CroftUniversity of Adelaide

Water is one of Australia’s most valuable commodities. Rights to take water from our nation’s largest river system, the Murray-Darling Basin, are worth almost A$100 billion. These rights can be bought and sold or leased, with trade exceeding A$2 billion a year. But water is also being stolen (no-one knows how much) and the thieves usually get away with it.

The federal Labor government came to power promising to crack down on water theft in the Murray-Darling Basin. The Productivity Commission has also expressed concerns about a lack of compliance and enforcement.

The Inspector General of Water Compliance, Troy Grant, has also described existing powers to deter theft as ineffective, and called for urgent action to address inconsistencies in the various state laws that penalise theft from the Murray-Darling Basin. That was almost a year ago.

In our new research, we identified the many relevant laws operating in the basin. We examined these laws and found maximum penalties range wildly. It is a dog’s breakfast. Surely we can do better.

How Did We Get Into This Mess?

The mishmash of water theft laws and penalties across the basin is unfortunate but not surprising.

Water in the Murray-Darling Basin is managed under a joint agreement between the federal government, the basin’s four states (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia) and the Australian Capital Territory.

This agreement could be dissolved at any time, should any one state or territory decide to quit.

Murray-Darling Basin compliance is now managed by the Office of the Inspector General of Water Compliance, an independent group of public servants, typically former police officers.

As Inspector General, Grant has been given powers to reduce water theft, uphold compliance with Murray-Darling Basin rules, and restore confidence among those living and working in the basin.

But he was forced to drop 62 cases in February 2023 due to poor state legislative support, inconsistent approaches to water theft, and allowances for some irrigators to balance their accounts in arrears. Basically, Grant stated you had to be a moron to be caught.

Dropped cases lead to questions about water values, continued supply reliability, the extent of environmental harm, and the future security of water rights.

In New South Wales, the independent regulator spoke to neighbouring farmers about water theft (Natural Resources Access Regulator)

Drought Heightens Concern About Theft

It’s almost 15 years since the most recent review of water theft legislation across state and federal boundaries, which highlighted clear inconsistencies in penalties and approaches to cases.

It’s also nearly ten years since the ABC Four Corners report into large-scale water theft, illustrating the dangers of environmental water harms and wanton disregard by some users for the rights of others.

In more recent droughts, such as the “Tinderbox Drought” of 2017–19, irrigators were more concerned about speculation and hoarding than theft.

But if the basin suffers another serious drought, as predicted by many researchers, it is likely theft will become a top concern for all involved, particularly regulators at state and federal levels.

What’s more, if predictions of climate impacts to water supply are right, available water will dramatically decline in the Murray-Darling Basin, possibly motivating more theft.

We tested this by combining rainfall and runoff data from the Bureau of Meteorology with climate projections from the CSIRO Climate Futures Model and the Garnaut Climate Change Review, to generate a model of future water flows into the southern Murray-Darling Basin up to 2100.

Our research shows we’re on track for a water runoff catastrophe by around 2060, and the eventual collapse of the river’s systems by around 2080. Less rain and higher evaporation rates means less water will runoff the land into streams, rivers and storages. Sobering stuff.

Finding Common Ground

Our research shows the Inspector General is right: a base comparison of the laws in each state show clear differences, along with the penalties that sit behind them. Calls for greater certainty and consistency are yet to resonate. The positive lessons to be drawn from successful processes are falling on deaf ears.

But we did find some consistent aspects worth noting, which could help us better understand and analyse the legal framework for penalising water theft in the Murray-Darling Basin. This is the “pyramid” approach to assessing cases and applying penalties, using a tiered framework of increasing severity that looks to be applied universally throughout the basin.

The pyramids are based on existing principles already in use for water management around the world.

Most Murray-Darling Basin states already follow this approach. Yet some states do it better than others.

NRAR mitigating issues and penalty escalation framework
The independent regulator in NSW uses the pyramid approach, where increasing impacts of non-compliance result in more severe responses as you move up the ‘enforcement pyramid’ Author supplied

Legal inconsistency also stems from some states being unwilling to “climb to the top” of the pyramid and initiate court proceedings against the most egregious offenders. This leads to lower penalties in most cases.

We also note New South Wales has adopted satellite technology to identify and track water theft. This is a good example for others to follow.

Towards Consistent Laws

Consistency in compliance and certainty across state jurisdictions will help restore confidence in the water market, and ultimately ensure the Murray-Darling’s water flows are protected from thieves.

We need certain and severe penalties for water theft across the Murray-Darling Basin and Australia as a whole. Such penalties may garner a wider appreciation of the value of the environment.

Addressing water theft issues consistently and with certainty offers opportunities for Australia to again lead the way in effective water governance and compliance reform globally.

But progress has been slow. This is deeply concerning, especially as water flows into the basin will dwindle as the climate changes.The Conversation

Adam James Loch, Associate Professor, University of AdelaideDavid Adamson, Associate professor, Royal Agricultural UniversityMark Giancaspro, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Adelaide, and Michael Croft, Legal Researcher, University of Adelaide

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

The big dry: forests and shrublands are dying in parched Western Australia

Author providedCC BY-NC-ND
Joe FontaineMurdoch UniversityGeorge MatusickAuburn UniversityJatin KalaMurdoch UniversityKerryn HawkeMurdoch University, and Nate AndersonThe University of Western Australia

Perth has just had its driest six months on record, while Western Australia sweltered through its hottest summer on record. Those records are remarkable in their own right. But these records are having real consequences.

Unlike us, trees and shrubs can’t escape the heat and aridity. While we turn up the air conditioning, they bear the full brunt of the changing climate. Our previous research has shown plants are more vulnerable to heatwaves than we had thought.

Beginning in February 2024, large areas of vegetation started to turn brown and die off. With no real relief in sight, we unfortunately expect this mass plant death event to intensify and expand.

Just like a coral bleaching event, WA’s plants are responding to the cumulative stress of the unusually long, hot and dry summer. And just like bleaching, global heating is likely to cause more regular mass plant deaths. The last time this happened in 2010-11, almost 20% of trees and shrubs in affected areas died.

This is in line with climate change models, which pinpoint south-western Australia as a warming and drying hotspot.

dying forest
Patches of forest have begun to die. Joe FontaineCC BY-NC-ND

Which Trees And Shrubs Are Dying And Where?

We have received reports from community members, colleagues, and authorities of dead and dying shrubs and trees spanning approximately 1,000 km from the Zuytdorp Cliffs near Shark Bay down to Albany on the southern coast.

figures showing extent of plant die off in southwest WA
This year’s die-off is wide ranging, from Shark Bay to Albany (a) and across many types of plant, from jarrah forest (b,d), southern wet forests near granites (c), and shrublands and woodlands north of Perth (e) Joe FontaineCC BY-NC-ND

In areas along the west coast where it was hottest, dead or dying patches are larger while further south in the forests, the damage is so far limited to pockets of dead trees and shrinking tree canopies.

At present, the die-off seems to have affected plants on and around shallow soils, including trees near granite outcrops and coastal heath.

While February heatwaves directly killed some plants, it is likely the long, dry period finished the job. Despite some patchy rain last week, no substantial rain is forecast until May. It’s likely more areas will be hit, including our iconic wet forests in the south.

dying shrublands WA
Coastal heath shrublands are dying. Joe FontaineCC BY-NC-ND

How Hot Has It Been?

Perth once again smashed temperature records this summer with a record thirteen days over 40°C in 2024 to date. Even in April, we had a 37°C day.

This comes off the back of last year’s spring heatwaves, which broke monthly maximum and minimum temperature records in both September and November.

While much of Australia’s east coast had more than enough rain, the west largely missed out.

Rainfall has been below or very much below average over the past year, with the biggest rainfall deficits seen from Shark Bay’s Gascoyne region right down to the southwest corner at Cape Leeuwin.

figure showing low rain and high temperatures in WA 2023-24
Hot and dry: these decile maps show a. 12-month rainfall, b. maximum temperature, and c. minimum temperatures in Western Australia from April 2023 to March 2024. Australian Bureau of MeteorologyCC BY-NC-ND

The summer’s heatwaves came from baking desert air, as high pressure systems directed hot dry easterly winds from Australia’s arid interior over the region, just as we saw during the hot summer of 2021-2022,

Long hot and dry periods are expected to become more common as a result of our warming climate.

Declining rainfall will hit the historically wetter southwest hardest. This pocket of Australia is unique, cut off from the rest of the continent by desert. Here and only here live honey possums and numbats, towering karri and jarrah trees and red flowering gums. But it’s the southwest which has lost most rainfall so far, with annual levels already 20% lower than 50 years ago.

It’s Happened Before – But This Time Is Worse

Over the summer of 2010-2011, we saw a similar event sweep south-western Australia. It came about when a winter drought gave way to widespread heatwaves over summer. The result: die-off of forests and vegetation throughout the southwest.

On land, the effects extended over a smaller area than we are seeing now.

How bad was it? Pretty bad. Averaging across the region’s affected areas, 19% of trees and shrubs died, while the forests of the south-west lost approximately 16,000 hectares of canopy, about 1.5% of the forest.

When forests die, the effects ripple through the ecosystem. The endangered Carnaby’s black cockatoo population crashed, declining by 60%, while the jarrah forest east of Perth was so hard hit it was categorised at “risk of collapse” by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This time, the summer has been longer and hotter, with impacts on plants more widespread. Climate change is steadily warming the world. Last year was the hottest on record, with temperatures shooting past predictions.

What Can We Do?

Our trees and shrubs will keep browning off and dying until we get substantial rain. That means there’s no way to tell when our extraordinary range of forest and shrubland species will have the opportunity to recover.

The longer term trend is not good. As with coral bleaching, the situation will worsen until we reverse climate change. Large-scale plant die-offs like this will become more likely.

What we do need are eyes on the ground to track what’s happening across this enormous state. Our ability to understand, model and respond is hampered by a lack of field data.

If you want to help, take photos of dead or dying trees and upload them to the Dead Tree Detectives citizen science project hosted on the Atlas of Living Australia. The Conversation

Joe Fontaine, Lecturer, Environmental and Conservation Science, Murdoch UniversityGeorge Matusick, Director, Center for Natural Resources Management on Military Lands, Auburn UniversityJatin Kala, Senior Lecturer and ARC DECRA felllow, Murdoch UniversityKerryn Hawke, Lecturer in Atmospheric Science, Murdoch University, and Nate Anderson, PhD candidate, The University of Western Australia

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

Adelaide is losing 75,000 trees a year. Tree-removal laws must be tightened if we want our cities to be liveable and green

Stefan Caddy-RetalicUniversity of AdelaideKate DelaporteUniversity of Adelaide, and Kiri MarkerUniversität Wien

Large areas of concrete and asphalt absorb and radiate heat, creating an “urban heat island effect”. It puts cities at risk of overheating as they are several degrees warmer than surrounding areas.

One of the best ways to keep our cool is to maintain leafy streets, parks and backyards. But in some cities, trees are being chopped down faster than local councils can replace them. Some councils are also fast running out of land to plant trees.

Most of the damage happens on private land. Usually it’s a result of large blocks being subdivided or undeveloped land being opened up for more homes.

Cutting down trees for urban development is well within the law. But tree-protection laws are weaker in some parts of Australia than in others. To ensure our cities remain liveable, some laws will have to change.

An aerial view of a new housing estate
Many housing subdivisions, such as this new estate in Tyabb, Victoria, leave little room for trees. Drone Alone/Shutterstock

Why Cities Need Trees

Beyond just providing shade, trees reflect heat into the atmosphere. They also cool the air by releasing water through pores in their leaves, acting like evaporative air conditioners.

Trees provide many other benefits such as removing pollutantslimiting erosion and improving public health.

The influential 3-30-300 rule for green cities, proposed by Dutch researcher Cecil Konijnendijk, states:

  • you should be able to easily see three trees from the window of your house or workplace

  • cities should have at least 30% overall tree cover

  • you should have a green space with trees within 300 metres (or a three-minute walk) of your house or workplace.

View along leafy street towards Brisbane CBD
Brisbane leads the way when it comes to the percentage of tree cover in Australian cities. ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock

Why Urban Trees Need Better Laws To Protect Them

How do Australians cities stack up against the 30% canopy goal of the 3-30-300 rule?

Brisbane leads the way, with 44% of the City of Brisbane council area blanketed in trees. Hobart also makes the grade, with analysis of aerial imagery from Google showing a tree canopy of 34%.

Other cities have some work to do to meet the benchmark. Recent aerial image analysis shows Perth sitting at 22% cover.

The NSW Department of Planning reported Sydney’s canopy cover as 21.7% in 2022. The Victorian Department of Transport and Planning reported 15.3% canopy cover across metropolitan Melbourne in 2018.

Green Adelaide reports today that Adelaide’s canopy is a mere 17%. That’s worrying for a city so vulnerable to urban heat.

While it can be tempting to compare canopy results, this needs to be approached with caution. The two main techniques for estimating tree canopy, airborne LiDAR (using laser sensing) and analysis of aerial photographs, can produce different results. Even LiDAR data from the same location but analysed at different resolutions can be quite different.

But what’s concerning is that some cities seem to be losing trees very rapidly. An analysis of aerial photographs by Nearmap shows Adelaide suburbs are fast losing trees. A 2021 Conservation Council report estimates Adelaide is losing about 75,000 trees per year across the city. Most are on private land.

Local councils have been planting several thousand trees each year, but are running out of places to plant them. Requirements for clear space on road verges and around powerlines pose major limitations.

If we want greener cities, we also need to take a critical look at the laws on tree removal.

Our team at the University of Adelaide produced a 2022 report on tree-protection laws across Australia. The state government commissioned us to verify a claim that South Australia’s tree-protection laws were the weakest in the nation. We compared state and local council regulations, and the claim turned out to be true.

What’s Wrong With The SA Laws?

One consideration is the size thresholds used to define trees as “regulated” or “significant”. Of the 101 metropolitan councils outside SA that we investigated, 78% considered trees with trunk circumferences of more 50cm deserving of legal protection. And 95% applied protection when circumferences exceeded a metre. In South Australia, only trees with twice that trunk size get any legal protection.

Diagram of the circumferences of trees that qualify for protection in metropolitan councils and the proportions that apply various size categories
Just over half of surveyed capital city councils outside South Australia protected trees based on circumference. Of those, 95% used a circumference of 1m or less and 78% a circumference of 50cm or less. Source: Urban Tree Protection in Australia 2022

Another issue is distance exemptions. In South Australia, large trees that would otherwise be protected may be removed if they are within 10 metres of a house or pool. This rule is regularly used to clear entire residential blocks – after all, nearly all trees on suburban blocks are within 10m of a house or pool.

A majority of the interstate councils had no distance exemptions to speak of.

Illustration of distance exemptions permitting the removal of trees in Adelaide compared to other cities
Of the 101 local councils surveyed outside South Australia, only 16 allowed protected trees to be removed if they were within 2-3m of a house. Source: Urban Tree Protection in Australia

So What Needs To Change?

Our findings were among the drivers of a South Australian parliamentary inquiry. An interim report was released last October. It includes sensible, straightforward recommendations to improve the state legislation.

The report suggests reducing the circumference at which trees qualify for protection. It recommends adding crown spread as another criterion. It wisely recommends deleting the distance exemption.

The report also weighs in on fees and fines – the “bottom line” deterrents and punishments for doing the wrong thing. It recommends increasing the fee for legally removing “regulated” trees from $489 to $4,000, for example. However, the value that large trees provide to the community is regularly estimated at hundreds to thousands of dollars per year.

Similarly, a recommendation to introduce a $40,000 fine for illegally removing a “significant” tree pales in comparison to laws interstate. In NSW, illegally removing protected trees can incur fines of over $1 million. To deter big developers, fines must be larger than what they might regard as a reasonable “cost of doing business”.

The report’s recommendation to pay fines and fees into an Urban Forest Fund to grow canopy near areas of tree removal is a good one. Planting trees on the other side of town doesn’t help residents (or biodiversity) when trees are removed locally.

Cities Can Draw Inspiration From Each Other

Adelaide’s climate is shifting from a temperate Mediterranean climate to a semi-arid one. Semi-arid climates are less able to grow many temperate plant species and tend to have less vegetation overall. To create an extensive and healthy tree canopy for future generations, we need to act fast and think critically about what we’re planting (and protecting).

We hope the South Australian government will follow the inquiry recommendations, so the state’s tree laws are on par with those of other states and cities.

Cities like Melbourne, which are also becoming warmer and drier, can look toward Adelaide as a future climate analogue. Urban planning is often about learning from other cities and adapting their strategies to local contexts.

To cope with the twin challenges of climate change and rapid urban growth, Australian cities need to work together to actively develop greening strategies. If we don’t, our cities will become hot, dry and barren.The Conversation

Stefan Caddy-Retalic, Ecologist, School of Biological Sciences, University of AdelaideKate Delaporte, Senior Lecturer, School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, University of Adelaide, and Kiri Marker, Science Communications Coordinator, Universität Wien

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

Roads of destruction: we found vast numbers of illegal ‘ghost roads’ used to crack open pristine rainforest

Rhett ButlerAuthor provided
Bill LauranceJames Cook University

One of Brazil’s top scientists, Eneas Salati, once said, “The best thing you could do for the Amazon rainforest is to blow up all the roads.” He wasn’t joking. And he had a point.

In an article published today in Nature, my colleagues and I show that illicit, often out-of-control road building is imperilling forests in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. The roads we’re studying do not appear on legitimate maps. We call them “ghost roads”.

What’s so bad about a road? A road means access. Once roads are bulldozed into rainforests, illegal loggers, miners, poachers and landgrabbers arrive. Once they get access, they can destroy forests, harm native ecosystems and even drive out or kill indigenous peoples. This looting of the natural world robs cash-strapped nations of valuable natural resources. Indonesia, for instance, loses around A$1.5 billion each year solely to timber theft.

All nations have some unmapped or unofficial roads, but the situation is especially bad in biodiversity-rich developing nations, where roads are proliferating at the fastest pace in human history.

Mapping Ghost Roads

For this study, my PhD student Jayden Engert and I worked with Australian and Indonesian colleagues to recruit and train more than 200 volunteers.

This workforce then spent some 7,000 hours hand-mapping roads, using fine-scale satellite images from Google Earth. Our team of volunteers mapped roads across more than 1.4 million square kilometres of the Asia-Pacific region.

As the results rolled in, we realised we had found something remarkable. For starters, unmapped ghost roads seemed to be nearly everywhere. In fact, when comparing our findings to two leading road databases, OpenStreetMap and the Global Roads Inventory Project, we found ghost roads in these regions to be 3 to 6.6 times longer than all mapped roads put together.

maps of northeast borneo, one using openstreetmap database and the other with many more ghost roads added
Mapped roads in northeastern Borneo using a leading road database, OpenStreetMap (left), and with the ghost roads identified in this study added (right). Author providedCC BY-NC-ND

When ghost roads appear, local deforestation soars – usually immediately after the roads are built. We found the density of roads was by far the most important predictor of forest loss, outstripping 38 other variables. No matter how one assesses them, roads are forest killers.

What makes this situation uniquely dangerous for conservation is that the roads are growing fast while remaining hidden and outside government control.

Roads And Protected Areas

Not even parks and protected areas in the Asia-Pacific are fully safe from illegal roads.

But safeguarding parks does have an effect. In protected areas, we found only one-third as many roads compared with nearby unprotected lands.

The bad news is that when people do build roads inside protected areas, it leads to about the same level of forest destruction compared to roads outside them.

Our findings suggest it is essential to limit roads and associated destruction inside protected areas. If we can find these roads using satellite images, authorities can too. Once an illegal road is found, it can be destroyed or at least mapped and managed as a proper legal road.

Keeping existing protected areas intact is especially urgent, given more than 3,000 protected areas have already been downsized or degraded globally for new roads, mines and local land-use pressures.

photos of burning Amazon forest, illegal roads in Africa, and poaching of a forest elephant
Illicit roads cause destruction worldwide, from carbon emissions from the burning of Amazonian forest for cattle pasture (A), to road building and forest destruction in central Africa (B), to poaching of rare animals such as this forest elephant killed by poachers near a Congo Basin road (C). M. Andreae (A) and W. Laurance (B,C)CC BY-NC-ND

Hidden Roads And The Human Footprint

The impact we have on the planet differs from place to place. To gauge how much impact we’re having, researchers use the human footprint index, which brings together data on human activities such as roads and other infrastructure, land-uses, illumination at night from electrified settlements and so on. You can use the index to make heat-maps showing where human impacts are most or least pronounced.

We fed our ghost road discoveries into the index and compared two versions for eastern Borneo, one without ghost road information and one with it. The differences are striking.

When ghost roads are included in mapping the human impact on eastern Borneo, areas with “very high” human disturbance double in size, while the areas of “low” disturbance are halved.

This is what the human footprint heatmap for east-central Borneo looks like, first without ghost roads (A) and second with ghost roads included (B). Author providedCC BY-NC-ND

Artificial Intelligence

Researchers investigating other biodiversity-rich developing regions such as Amazonia and the Congo Basin have found many illegal unmapped roads in those locales too.

Ghost roads, it seems, are an epidemic. Worse, these roads can be actively encouraged by aggressive infrastructure-expansion schemes — most notably China’s Belt and Road Initiative, now active in more than 150 nations.

For now, mapping ghost roads is very labour-intensive. You might think AI could do this better, but that’s not yet true – human eyes can still outperform image-recognition AI software for mapping roads.

At our current rate of work, visually mapping all roads – legal and illicit – across Earth’s land surface just once would require around 640,000 person-hours (or 73 person-years) to complete.

Given these challenges, our group and other researchers are now testing AI methods, hoping to provide accurate, global-scale mapping of ghost roads in close to real time. Nothing else can keep pace with the contemporary avalanche of proliferating roads.

We urgently need to be able to map the world’s roads accurately and often. Once we have this information, we can make it public so that authorities, NGOs and researchers involved in forest protection can see what’s happening.

Without this vital information, we’re flying blind. Knowing what’s happening in the rainforest is the first step to stopping the destruction. The Conversation

Bill Laurance, Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate, James Cook University

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

Why an intention to conserve an area for only 25 years should not count for Australia’s target of protecting 30% of land

James Fitzsimons
James FitzsimonsDeakin University

Protected areas have been the cornerstone of efforts to conserve nature for more than a century. Most countries have some form of protected areas, national parks being the best-known examples. A key element of protected areas is that they are dedicated, through legal or other effective means, to long-term conservation of nature.

Australia has taken an innovative and diverse approach to growing its protected area estate. It includes Indigenous Protected Areas and privately protected areas in the form of conservation covenants and land bought by land trusts. As a result, the country’s protected area estate has grown from 7% in the mid-1990s to 22% of the continent today.

Despite this progress, the Australian government has released new draft guidelines for other forms of area-based conservation, with potentially troubling implications. It suggests 25 years of “intention” to deliver biodiversity outcomes is enough for that land to count for the 30% protected area target.

Our newly published research has looked at what types of land use might qualify in line with international guidelines. We found two problems with the proposal to include 25-year plans for biodiversity outcomes.

First, such plans are non-binding, so protection can lapse at any time. Second, they do not satisfy international and Australian principles of long-term protection. Proceeding with this proposal would undermine the goal of long-term conservation in this country.

The New Kid In Town

In 2010, parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity added a new, slightly unwieldy term, “other effective area-based conservation measures”. These conservation areas (OECMs for short) complement protected areas in achieving global conservation targets. An OECM is a geographically defined area that is not already 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”.

In 2022, the world lifted ambitions for protection and conservation to 30% of land and water areas by 2030 as part of the convention’s Global Biodiversity Framework. There’s been a surge of interest in OECMs to help meet that target.

International guidance on OECMs has been developed only relatively recently. This creates an urgent need for country-specific analysis.

In our peer-reviewed paper in the journal Conservation, we explore policy issues related to OECMs in Australia. We looked at what types of land use might qualify, with a focus on longevity.

What’s The Australian Response?

The Australian government has released a draft set of principles to guide OECM development in Australia. The consultation period closes on April 17.

These principles are largely in line with global guidance. However, a couple of significant deviations could compromise Australia’s leadership in area-based conservation.

The most notable deviation relates to the definition of “long-term”. It’s fundamental to whether a site meets the criteria for contributing to global targets. The proposed principles suggest 25 years of “intention” to deliver biodiversity outcomes is enough.

This is a problem for two reasons. First, “intention” does little for biodiversity if the landholder chooses to sell their property a few years after being recognised as an OECM and the new owner has no such conservation interest.

Land for Wildlife is a high-profile example of private nature conservation. However, agreements can be ended at any time, so would not be considered long-term and thus not an OECM. James Fitzsimons

In contrast, conservation covenants are a tool that all states already use to counter against this very scenario. The covenants are attached to the land title and bind future landholders forever. For this reason, these are considered privately protected areas.

Second, a 25-year timeframe is at odds with long-established Australian policy for defining “long-term” for protected areas. A minimum timeframe of 99 years is required if permanent protection is not possible.

The proposal is also inconsistent with the 2023 Nature Repair Act. This law added provision for a 100-year agreement (in addition to its original 25-year agreement) during consultations. This change was based on feedback that 25-year agreements did not equate to long-term.

So where did the 25-year proposal come from? It seems to misinterpret global guidance for privately protected areas. Regardless, adoption of a 25-year “intention” would be a significant backslide for conservation policy in Australia.

So What Other Areas Might Count?

Defence land and protected water catchments on public land are often suggested as good candidates in Australia and overseas. Many contain large and significant ecosystem values. The primary use is often compatible with those values.

These areas are also usually permanent fixtures of the landscape, meeting a long-term public need. Thus they would likely qualify as OECMs.

Forested catchments set aside for water supply can support biodiversity in the long term and legally exclude many environmentally damaging activities. James Fitzsimons

Many local government reserves protect important areas of bushland and manage it for that purpose. Typically, they have not been classified as protected areas. Many are likely to qualify as OECMs.

On private land, it’s a little more challenging. Long-term carbon agreements and biodiversity offset agreements are likely to qualify – despite controversy at times over their primary use.

Land for Wildlife is a successful, high-profile program for engaging landholders with wildlife habitat on their property. Their distinctive blue-diamond-shaped signs adorn over 14,000 properties around the country.

However, these agreements are non-binding. A landholder could remove them at any time. This means they cannot be considered long-term or qualify as an OECM.

Regardless of the assessments above, each site would need to undergo an individual assessment to ensure it meets the criteria.

East Point Reserve, Darwin: local government bushland reserves may qualify as OECMs. James Fitzsimons

The Importance Of Longevity

Ultimately, more land managed for conservation is good and all forms of area-based conservation should be encouraged. However, not all forms of area-based conservation qualify for inclusion in global biodiversity targets. Long-term outcomes are fundamental.

Australia has a proud history of innovative protected area policy and approaches. The development of OECM policy in Australia needs to complement and advance that, not erode the standards for long-agreed definitions of long-term.The Conversation

James Fitzsimons, Adjunct Professor in Environmental Sciences, Deakin University

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

Climate engineering carries serious national security risks − countries facing extreme heat may try it anyway, and the world needs to be prepared

Solar engineering is designed to reflect some of the Sun’s ray back into space. John Crouch/Moment via Getty Imgaes
Ben KravitzIndiana University and Tyler FelgenhauerDuke University

The historic Paris climate agreement started a mantra from developing countries: “1.5 to stay alive.” It refers to the international aim to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.8 Fahrenheit) compared with preindustrial times. But the world will likely pass that threshold within a decade, and global warming is showing little sign of slowing.

The world is already facing natural disasters of epic proportions as temperatures rise. Heat records are routinely broken. Wildfire seasons are more extreme. Hurricane strength is increasing. Sea level rise is slowly submerging small island nations and coastal areas.

The only known method able to quickly arrest this temperature rise is climate engineering. (It’s sometimes called geoengineering, sunlight reduction methods or solar climate intervention.) This is a set of proposed actions to deliberately alter the climate.

These actions include mimicking the cooling effects of large volcanic eruptions by putting large amounts of reflective particles in the atmosphere, or making low clouds over the ocean brighter. Both strategies would reflect a small amount of sunlight back to space to cool the planet.

There are many unanswered questions, however, about the effects of deliberately altering the climate, and there is no consensus about whether it is even a good idea to find out.

An illustration shows how solar energy is deflected by various changes in aerosols and clouds.
Potential climate engineering techniques. Chelsea Thompson NOAACIRES

One of the largest concerns for many countries when it comes to climate change is national security. That doesn’t just mean wars. Risks to food, energy and water supplies are national security issues, as is climate-induced migration.

Could climate engineering help reduce the national security risks of climate change, or would it make things worse? Answering that question is not simple, but researchers who study climate change and national security like we do have some idea of the risks ahead.

The Massive Problem Of Climate Change

To understand what climate engineering might look like in the future, let’s first talk about why a country might want to try it.

Since the industrial revolution, humans have put about 1.74 trillion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, largely by burning fossil fuels. That carbon dioxide traps heat, warming the planet.

One of the most important things we can do is to stop putting carbon into the atmosphere. But that won’t make the situation better quickly, because carbon stays in the atmosphere for centuries. Reducing emissions will just keep things from getting worse.

Countries could pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and lock it away, a process called carbon dioxide removal. Right now, carbon dioxide removal projects, including growing trees and direct air capture devices, pull about 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere per year.

However, humans are currently putting over 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually through fossil fuel use and industry. As long as the amount added is larger than the amount removed, droughts, floods, hurricanes, heat waves and sea level rise, among numerous other consequences of climate change, will keep getting worse.

It may take a long time to get to “net-zero” emissions, the point at which humans aren’t increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Climate engineering might help in the interim.

Who Might Try Climate Engineering And How?

Various government research arms are already gaming out scenarios, looking at who might decide to carry out climate engineering and how.

Climate engineering is expected to be cheap relative to the cost of ending greenhouse gas emissions. But it would still cost billions of dollars and take years to develop and build a fleet of airplanes to carry megatons of reflective particles into the stratosphere each year. Any billionaire considering such a venture would run out of money quickly, despite what science fiction might suggest.

However, a single country or coalition of countries witnessing the harms of climate change could make a cost and geopolitical calculation and decide to begin climate engineering on its own.

This is the so-called “free driver” problem, meaning that one country of at least medium wealth could unilaterally affect the world’s climate.

For example, countries with increasingly dangerous heat waves may want to cause cooling, or countries that depend on monsoon precipitation may want to restore some dependability that climate change has disrupted. Australia is currently exploring the feasibility of rapidly cooling the Great Barrier Reef to prevent its demise.

Creating Risks For Neighbors Raises Conflict Alarm

The climate doesn’t respect national borders. So, a climate engineering project in one country is likely to affect temperature and rainfall in neighboring countries. That could be good or bad for crops, water supplies and flood risk. It could also have widespread unintended consequences.

Some studies show that a moderate amount of climate engineering would likely have widespread benefits compared with climate change. But not every country would be affected in the same way.

Once climate engineering is deployed, countries may be more likely to blame climate engineering for extreme events such as hurricanes, floods and droughts, regardless of the evidence.

Climate engineering may spark conflicts among countries, leading to sanctions and demands for compensation. Climate change can leave the poorest regions most vulnerable to harm, and climate engineering should not exacerbate that harm. Some countries would benefit from climate engineering and thus be more resilient to geopolitical strife, and some would be harmed and thus left more vulnerable.

Is geoengineering a risk worth taking?

While small experiments have been carried out, nobody has conducted large-scale climate engineering yet. That means that a lot of information about its effects relies on climate models. But while these models are excellent tools for studying the climate system, they’re not good at answering questions about geopolitics and conflict. On top of that, the physical effects of climate engineering depend on who is doing it and what they’re doing.

What’s Next?

For now, there are more questions about climate engineering than answers. It’s hard to say whether climate engineering would create more conflict, or if it could defuse international tensions by reducing climate change.

But international decisions on climate engineering are likely coming soon. At the United Nations Environment Assembly in March 2024, African countries called for a moratorium on climate engineering, urging all precaution. Other nations, including the United States, pressed for a formal scientific group to study the risks and benefits before making any decisions.

Climate engineering could be part of an equitable solution to climate change. But it also carries risks. Put simply, climate engineering is a technology that can’t be ignored, but more research is needed so policymakers can make informed decisions.The Conversation

Ben Kravitz, Assistant Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Indiana University and Tyler Felgenhauer, Research Scientist in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Duke University

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

Flash droughts are becoming more common in Australia. What’s causing them?

Milton SpeerUniversity of Technology Sydney and Lance M LeslieUniversity of Technology Sydney

Flash droughts strike suddenly and intensify rapidly. Often the affected areas are in drought after just weeks or a couple of months of well-below-average rainfall. They happen worldwide and are becoming more common, including in Australia, due to global warming.

Flash droughts can occur anywhere and at any time of the year. Last year, a flash drought hit the Upper Hunter region of New South Wales, roughly 300 kilometres north-west of Sydney.

These sudden droughts can have devastating economic, social and environmental impacts. The damage is particularly severe for agricultural regions heavily dependent on reliable rain in river catchments. One such region is the Upper Hunter Valley, the subject of our new research.

We identified two climate drivers – the El Niño Southern Oscillation and Indian Ocean Dipole) – that became influential during this drought. In addition, the waning influence of a third climate driver, the Southern Annular Mode), would typically bring rain to the east coast. However, this rain did not reach the Upper Hunter.

Flash droughts are set to get more common as the world heats up. This year, a flash drought developed over western and central Victoria over just two months. While heavy rain this month in Melbourne ended the drought there, it continues in the west.

What Makes A Flash Drought Different?

Flash droughts differ from more slowly developing droughts. The latter result from extended drops in rainfall, such as the drought affecting parts of southwest Western Australia due to the much shortened winter wet season last year.

Flash droughts develop when sudden large drops in rainfall coincide with above-average temperatures. They mostly occur in summer and autumn, as was the case for Asia and Europe in 2022. That year saw flash droughts appear across the northern hemisphere, such as the megadrought affecting China’s Yangtze river basin and Spain.

The flash drought devastating the Upper Hunter from May to October 2023 developed despite the region being drought-free just one month earlier. At that stage, almost nowhere in NSW showed any sign of an impending drought.

Maps of drought conditions in NSW in April 2023 compared to the next six months
NSW Department of Primary Industries’ combined drought indicator in April 2023 (a) and combined drought indicator for May–October 2023 (b) show how rapidly a flash drought developed in the Upper Hunter region. Milton Speer et al 2024, using NSW Department of Primary Industries' data

The flash drought greatly affected agricultural production in the Upper Hunter region, due to the region’s reliance on water from rivers. Low rainfall in river catchments means less water for crops and pasture. It also dries up drinking water supplies.

Flash droughts are characterised by abrupt periods of low rainfall leading to rapid drought onset, particularly when accompanied by above-average temperatures. Higher temperatures increase both the evaporation of water from the soil and transpiration from plants (evapotranspiration). This causes soil moisture to drop rapidly.

The Upper Hunter Drought Is Part Of A Trend

Flash droughts will be more common in the future. That’s because higher temperatures will more often coincide with dry conditions, as relative humidity falls across many parts of Australia and globally.

Climate change is linked to shorter, heavier bursts of rain followed by longer periods of little rainfall.

Map of Upper Hunter region showing drought indicators in December 2023
Intense drought conditions continued in the Upper Hunter in December 2023. Milton Speer et al 2024
Map of NSW showing average temperature ranges recorded for May–October 2023.
The sharp drop in rainfall coincided with the Upper Hunter’s highest average maximum temperatures on record for May–October 2023. Milton Speer et al 2024

In south-east and south-west Australia, flash droughts can also occur in winter.

In May 2023 rainfall over south-east Australia dropped abruptly. The much lower rainfall continued until November in the Upper Hunter. Over this same period, mean maximum temperatures in the region were the highest on record, increasing the loss of moisture through evapotranspiration. The result was a flash drought. While flash droughts occurred in other parts of south-east Australia, we focused on the Upper Hunter as it remained in drought the longest.

What Were The Climate Drivers Of This Drought?

We used machine-learning techniques to identify the key climate drivers of the drought.

We found the dominant driver of the flash drought was global warming, modulated by the phases of the three major climate drivers in our region, the El Niño Southern Oscillation, Indian Ocean Dipole and the Southern Annular Mode.

From 2020 to 2022, the first two drivers became favourable for rain in the Upper Hunter in late winter through spring, before changing phase to one supporting drought over south-east Australia. Meanwhile, the Southern Annular Mode remained mostly positive, meaning rain-bearing westerly winds and weather fronts had moved to middle and higher latitudes of the southern hemisphere, away from Australia’s south-east coast.

Combined, the impact of global warming with the three climate drivers made rainfall much more variable. The net result was an atmospheric environment highly conducive to a flash drought appearing anywhere in south-east Australia.

Map of Upper Hunter region showing drought indicators in December 2023
Intense drought conditions continued in the Upper Hunter in December 2023. Milton Speer et al 2024

Victoria, Too, Fits The Global Warming Pattern

As for the flash drought that developed in early 2024 over western and central Victoria, including Melbourne, it continues in parts of western Victoria. The flash drought followed very high January rainfall (top 5% of records) dropping rapidly to very low rainfall (bottom 5%) in February and March.

It was the driest February-March period on record for Melbourne and south-west Victoria.

At the beginning of April, a storm front brought heavy rainfall over an 18-hour period to central Victoria, including Melbourne.

The rains ended the flash drought in these areas, but it continues in parts of western Victoria, which missed out on the rain.

The pattern of the 2024 flash drought in Victoria typifies the increasing trend under global warming of long dry periods, interspersed by short, heavy rainfall events. The Conversation

Milton Speer, Visiting Fellow, School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, University of Technology Sydney and Lance M Leslie, Professor, School of Mathematical And Physical Sciences, University of Technology Sydney

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

What if whales took us to court? A move to grant them legal personhood would include the right to sue

Shutterstock/Konrad Mostert
Rachael EvansUniversity of Canterbury

In a groundbreaking declaration earlier this month, Indigenous leaders of New Zealand and the Cook Islands signed a treaty, He Whakaputanga Moana, to recognise whales as legal persons.

Aotearoa New Zealand has already granted legal personhood to a river (Te Awa Tupua Whanganui River), land (Te Urewera) and a mountain (Taranaki maunga), but He Whakaputanga Moana differs from these earlier processes. It is based in customary law, or tikanga Māori, rather than Crown law.

The declaration seeks to protect the rights of whales (tohorā) to migrate freely and to use mātauranga Māori alongside science for better protections. It also aims to set up a dedicated fund for whale conservation.

But a core concept of legal personhood is the idea that the “person” (in this case, whales) can sue to protect their rights.

The declaration was signed by King Tuuheitia Pootatau Te Wherowhero VII of the Kiingitanga movement, Lisa Tumahai who chairs the Hinemoana Halo Ocean initiative, and the Cook Islands leader Kaumaiti Nui Travel Tou Ariki.

It recognises traditional Māori and Pasifika ideas about the importance of whales as ancestral beings. King Tuuheitia described it as “a woven cloak of protection for our taonga”, noting the presence of whales “reflects the strength of our own mana”.

While He Whakaputanga Moana is not a pan-Māori declaration, mana is a shared core concept of tikanga Māori, representing authority and power.

Aerial view of two sperm whales off the coat of Kaikoura
The declaration seeks to protect the rights of whales and give them better protection. Getty Images/Francois Gohier

What Is Legal Personhood?

Over the past few hundred years, legal personhood has been developed for companies as a way for individual shareholders to avoid liability. This means a company can go to court, rather than its shareholders.

In the past decade, Aotearoa New Zealand has led the way in developing legal personhood for things in nature into a tool used as part of settlements under Te Tiriti o Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi. It is important to note that these ideas have been recognised and implemented by the Crown in partnership with Māori.

As part of the signing of the Tūhoe settlement in 2014, the former national park Te Urewera was granted legal personhood. In 2017, legal personhood for the Whanganui river was also part of a settlement. And last year, this idea was extended to Mount Taranaki. The Taranaki Maunga Collective Redress Bill passed its first reading in parliament last week.

These natural features are now not owned by people or the Crown, but by themselves.

Legal personhood has been praised in New Zealand and overseas by people interested in using it to protect the environment.

Tikanga Key To Unlocking Legal Power

There is currently a shift in the legal system to recognise tikanga as a key source of law alongside statute and common law (the kind of customary law New Zealand inherited from England).

In the recent case of Ellis v R, the Supreme Court recognised and applied ideas about mana. In deciding to overturn the conviction of Peter Ellis posthumously, the court held that Mr Ellis’ mana was affected by the convictions, even after his death.

He Whakaputanga Moana is based on customary concepts like mana rather than being a Crown-drafted piece of law. It is likely it could be recognised by the courts as part of the growing wave of tikanga jurisprudence.

Marine mammals in New Zealand’s territorial waters are protected absolutely by the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 (as has recently been highlighted when the Sail GP regatta was held in a marine sanctuary and races were delayed because dolphins were present).

But He Whakaputanga Moana recognises legal personhood above and beyond that legislation.

Whales In Court

So what if whales went to court? What if whales sued for plastic pollution in their habitat, the dumping of waste in the oceans or climate change causing warmer waters and depleting their food stocks?

In this case, He Whakaputanga Moana could potentially give a human interest group, perhaps the Kiingitanga, the legal standing to sue on behalf of whales.

In addition to recognising tikanga as a source of law, the Supreme Court has also opened the door to climate change focused litigation, such as the case of Smith v Fonterra.

Here, activist Mike Smith has sued seven major New Zealand polluters for their greenhouse gas emissions. The defendants said the claim could not succeed and applied for a “strike out”, but the Supreme Court has allowed it go to trial.

Among other findings, the court found the litigation should proceed, as it might involve ideas of tikanga and tikanga-based loss that should be tested at trial. This suggests that if the courts were to recognise the validity of He Whakaputanga Moana in customary law, this case might allow those representing whales to run a claim against ocean polluters.

A ruling in favour of whales could have significant ramifications for the health and wellbeing of our oceans, and perhaps the very existence of their species.The Conversation

Rachael Evans, Lecturer, Kaupeka Ture | Faculty of Law, University of Canterbury

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

Where Have All The Right Whales Gone?

April 12, 2024
Marine researchers have mapped the density of one of the most endangered large whale species worldwide, the North Atlantic right whale, using newly analysed data to predict and help avoid whales' harmful, even fatal, exposure to commercial fishing and vessel strikes.

Duke University's Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab led a collaboration of 11 institutions in the United States that pooled 17 years of available visual survey data covering 9.7 million square kilometres of the U.S. Atlantic -- roughly the same area as the entire contiguous United States.

This information was coupled with auditory data from almost 500 hydrophone recorders in US Atlantic waters that captured whales' calls.

Lining up visual and acoustic datasets for the first time, researchers built a statistical model to estimate the number of whales per square kilometre at different points in time.

Researchers published their findings on March 20, 2024 in Marine Ecology Progress Series.

"The more accurate and detailed the mapping, the better chance we have to save dwindling numbers of right whales from preventable injury and fatality," said Patrick Halpin, director of Duke's Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab.

The lab studies marine ecology, resource management, and ocean conservation, using data to inform ocean management and governance.

Other current real-time efforts to track and protect the whales from deadly encounters with human activities have been incomplete or ineffective.

Electronic tagging can harm whale health, and it is infeasible to continuously monitor more than a small fraction of the population that way.

The statistical model is a revision of a 2016 model that predicts whale density from environmental data, like sea surface temperature.

This latest version incorporates new data to reflect whales' changing migration and feeding patterns, including their presence in new areas that lack protection measures for marine life.
"With nearly three times more aerial survey data than we had before, and confirming evidence from the hydrophones, we were able to show how strongly the population has shifted its distribution," said Jason Roberts, a Duke research associate and lead author of the study.

Right whales maintain the health and balance of marine environments and the entire food web through their feeding habits.

As climate change has reduced the population of their prey, whale migration patterns have become more unpredictable, increasing the chances that human activities, like commercial fishing, may harm whale health and chances of reproduction.

Using maps obtained by satellite ocean monitoring, or from physical ocean models like the recently published one, researchers can more accurately predict whale density across the U.S. east coast.

JJ Roberts, TM Yack, E Fujioka, PN Halpin, MF Baumgartner, O Boisseau, S Chavez-Rosales, TVN Cole, MP Cotter, GE Davis, RA DiGiovanni Jr, LC Ganley, LP Garrison, CP Good, TA Gowan, KA Jackson, RD Kenney, CB Khan, AR Knowlton, SD Kraus, GG Lockhart, KS Lomac-MacNair, CA Mayo, BE McKenna, WA McLellan, DP Nowacek, O O’Brien, DA Pabst, DL Palka, EM Patterson, DE Pendleton, E Quintana-Rizzo, NR Record, JV Redfern, ME Rickard, M White, AD Whitt, AM Zoidis. North Atlantic right whale density surface model for the US Atlantic evaluated with passive acoustic monitoring. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 2024; 732: 167 DOI: 10.3354/meps14547

Light pollution affects coastal ecosystems too – this underwater ‘canary’ is warning of the impacts

Wikimedia Commons/Luca Davenport-ThomasCC BY-SA
Kathleen Laura SterupTe Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington and Abigail M SmithUniversity of Otago

In the early 20th century, canaries were used as early warning systems in coal mines to alert miners to rising levels of carbon monoxide.

A small unremarkable fish may fill a similar role in coastal ecosystems around Aotearoa New Zealand.

Triplefins, or kokopara, are common in a range of shallow coastal habitats across the country. They are a diverse group of fishes, with 26 endemic species living on our shores, and they make excellent “canaries” for the coastal marine environment, helping us to understand and possibly address pollution.

Research using triplefins has already shown increased consumption of microplastics by fish living closer to urban areas. Studies have also identified molecular responses to multiple chemical pollutants and described cognitive damage caused by loss of habitat complexity.

Noise pollution from small boats also has negative effects on coastal fish. And now, new research is investigating the surprising impact of light pollution on coastal ecosystems.

We are finding what is called “skyglow” affects triplefin growth patterns, with consequences for their ability to forage.

An Underwater ‘Canary’

Human activity around coastal waters is intense, about triple the rate of other areas, and it affects ecosystems such as beaches and wetlands.

Coastal urbanisation introduces a range of challenges for near-shore ecosystems, including pollutants, plastics, sound and light.

Light pollution is often recognised for the limitations it imposes on astronomers and stargazers, but a growing body of research has begun to document effects on the health of animals and ecosystems.

Yellow black triplefin
Triplefins have already shown that fish living closer to urban areas are more exposed to microplastics and noise pollution. Wikimedia Commons/Ian SkipworthCC BY-SA

Scientists have found coastal fishes in tropical and temperate environments, including the common triplefin, reproduce and grow in a cyclical pattern which follows the monthly lunar cycle.

Patterns in nocturnal illumination (known as artificial light at night, or ALAN) of surface waters have a surprisingly large impact on these fish. The prevalence of light pollution from cities (in this case New Zealand’s capital Wellington) can potentially interfere with their breeding cycles.

Long-term trends in skyglow over the Wellington region have revealed elevated levels of nighttime illumination up to 60 kilometres from the city centre.

Analysis of triplefin samples from nearby waters has identified altered growth patterns, manifesting in different body shapes. The health consequences include decreased swimming and foraging ability and make life harder for fish developing in brighter waters.

Bright City Lights

It may not seem that the effects of light on a tiny fish are a big deal, but triplefins are a clear indicator of what could be happening in other fish.

In marine ecosystems, small changes have a way of propagating further up the food chain. In the light pollution example, theory suggests small-scale, relatively short-term fluctuations in small prey species like the common triplefin are likely to appear later as long-term fluctuations in larger species at a greater spatial scale, with genuine implications for pelagic fisheries.

In an instance such as this, the triplefin is indeed acting as a canary for potential changes affecting the entire marine food web.

We know what affects one fish species may not affect others. But equally, we can’t carry out experiments on every species. What the humble triplefin can tell us is that coastal ecosystems are in trouble, not just from water quality and pollution, but from the lights and sounds of our big cities.

Like the miners, we need to pay attention to the animals we use as indicators. The triplefins are asking us to embrace the dark and there are many ways in which our cities can do this.

Communities can choose LED lightbulbs and shaded fixtures for street lights, so they only point down. Sensible use of dimmers and timers will help turn off unnecessary lights. In fact, Aotearoa New Zealand hosts two of the world’s few dark sky reserves, in Aoraki-McKenzie and, more recently, in the Wairarapa, as well as two dark sky sanctuaries (Aotea/Great Barrier Island and Rakiura/Stewart Island).

New Zealand could be on track to become the second dark sky nation in the world (after Niue).The Conversation

Kathleen Laura Sterup, Postgraduate in Marine Biology, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington and Abigail M Smith, Professor of Marine Science, University of Otago

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

What is a sinkhole? A geotechnical engineer explains

Francois GuillardUniversity of Sydney

Sinkholes are back in the news after a 13-year-old boy fell down a two metre deep hole in a waterlogged football field in Sydney over the weekend. The boy reportedly sank further into the hole every time he tried to push down with his feet, but was later rescued by a police officer who pulled him out by his wrists.

Sinkholes aren’t uncommon. Two opened up in the Sydney suburb of Rockdale in March, one of which reportedly left a commercial building at risk of collapsing. Another large sinkhole opened up in the South Australian city of Mount Gambier last year.

So, what is a sinkhole and why do they happen?

What Is A Sinkhole?

A sinkhole is basically a hole which appears to suddenly open up in the ground. However, the process that leads to a sinkhole is not so sudden and may have been developing over a long period.

Sinkholes happen when a cavity starts to grow underground. It expands over time, but the soil on the surface is strong enough to hold together and form a “ceiling” over the cavity. This ceiling is essential, otherwise you don’t have a sinkhole; you just have a hole.

At some point the surface layer becomes too thin or too weak and it collapses under its weight (or, in the Sydney case on the weekend, under the weight of a 13-year-old boy).

When the ceiling collapses you end up with a hole that exposes the cavity previously hidden underground.

If the cavity is deep enough underground and surrounded by strong enough rocks, it may grow and never collapse, eventually forming tunnels and cave systems. In some cases, however, these caves may link up with localised sinkholes at the surface.

So What Causes The Cavity?

Acidic rainwater can degrade underground rock. This can create underground caves which can eventually collapse into sinkholes. Sinkholes of this type need a specific type of geology; you need certain rocks prone to dissolution. It is common in the Middle East and the United States for example.

In Australia, we more commonly see sinkholes emerging due to underground erosion. Here, flowing groundwater carries soil out of the area. The more the cavity opens up underground, the more water gets drawn to it and the higher the chance of a sinkhole. Water flow rate can increase over time, creating a snowball effect heightening the risk of the soil ceiling collapsing.

The sinkhole that appeared in Sydney over the weekend may already have been growing quietly for a while, and could have expanded faster as the weekend’s intense rain soaked into the soil. All it took was someone to walk over the top.

Human factors can play a part. For example, a leaking underground pipe can, over time, worsen underground erosion and may increase risk of a sinkhole developing.

How Common Are They?

They are not uncommon but it’s not really possible to say how many are in Australia.

The sinkholes you hear about in the media generally attract attention because they are in a city, so the public are more likely to interact with them and the risk to buildings or people may be greater.

But they can happen everywhere. I have seen them while bush walking just outside of Sydney.

How Dangerous Are They?

Most will not be dangerous as they may be quite small. But until the surface opens, there’s no way of knowing there is a sinkhole underground, and it’s hard to know from the outside what size cavity sits beneath the surface. You might have a small opening you can see from the surface but a very big cavity underneath.

That can make them dangerous or, at the very least, a problem.

Large sinkholes can happen but small ones are much more common. To get to bigger ones, the cavity ceiling needs to be able to sustain itself for a very long period of time, which is unusual.

But they can get very big. There are some very large sinkholes in Mexico that I discuss in my unit on geotechnical engineering. One has a diameter of about 60 metres.

A 30-metre-wide sinkhole opened up in the Japanese city of Fukuoka in 2016.

Another example of an area prone to sinkholes is Florida, as the carbonate rocks in the ground there are more susceptible being dissolved by water.

So in general, sinkholes are not uncommon but they usually don’t get reported unless they are very big or pose a risk to people or property.

My colleagues and I have a grant to study the formation of sinkholes, so we can better understand risk and how to predict where they might happen.The Conversation

Francois Guillard, Senior Lecturer in Geotechnical Engineering, University of Sydney

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

Things that go buzz in the night – our global study found there really are more insects out after dark

Mark WongThe University of Western Australia and Raphael DidhamThe University of Western Australia

Have you ever wondered if there are more insects out at night than during the day?

We set out to answer this question by combing through the scientific literature. We searched for meaningful comparisons of insect activity by day and by night. It turns out only about 100 studies have ever attempted the daunting and rigorous fieldwork required – so we compiled them together to work out the answer.

Our global analysis confirms there are indeed more insects out at night than during the day, on average. Almost a third more (31.4%), to be precise. But this also varies extensively, depending on where you are in the world.

High nocturnal activity may come as no surprise to entomologists and nature photographers. Many of us prowl through jungles wearing head torches, or camp next to light traps hoping to encounter these jewels of the night.

But this is the first time anyone has been able to give a definitive answer to this universal childlike question. And now we know for sure, we can make more strident efforts to conserve insects and preserve their vital place in the natural world.

A bright green Hood mantis (_Choeradodis rhombicollis_) against a black background, peering over a leaf
More insects are out at night than during the day, on average. Nicky Bay

Building A Global Dataset Of Sleepless Nights

We searched the literature for studies that sampled insect communities systematically across day and night.

We narrowed these down to studies using methods that would not influence the results. For instance, we excluded studies that collected insects by using sweep nets or beating branches, as these methods can capture resting insects along with active ones.

Studies using light traps or coloured pan traps had to be excluded too. That’s because insects are only attracted to these well-lit traps when there’s low light in the surrounding environment, so they don’t work so well during the day.

Instead, we targeted studies that sampled insects during the day and night with traps that specifically caught moving insects. These include pitfall traps (for crawling insects), flight interception traps (for flying insects) and aquatic drift nets (for swimming insects).

We also accepted studies using food baits such as dung, for some beetles or honey (for ants).

One of the most memorable studies we encountered sampled mosquitoes using (unfortunate) human subjects as bait. Another had devised innovative automatic time-sorted pitfall traps to minimise the labour required, as the specimens collected would automatically be delivered into different compartments at different times of the day.

But in most of the studies that we ended up including in our analysis, the data had been collected by entomologists who set up many traps before dawn, returned before sunset to collect the day’s samples and prepare more traps for the night, and finally, returned once more before dawn to retrieve the night’s samples.

To improve their estimates of insect activity, many studies reported data that spanned multiple days and field sites. The sacrifice of sleep in the name of science is a true testament to their dedication.

A composite image showing a variety of common methods for sampling insects including sweep-netting and different types of traps
Common methods for sampling insects such as sweep-netting (top left) can capture insects that are inactive during the sampling period. In contrast, sampling methods that intercept moving insects such as flight-interception traps (top right), pitfall traps (bottom left) and drift nets (bottom right) enable better comparisons of insect activity between day and night. Roger Lee, Eleanor Slade, Francois Brassard and Sebastian Prati

Eventually, we homed in on 99 studies published between 1959 and 2022. These studies spanned all continents except Antarctica and encompassed a wide range of habitats on both land and water.

What Did We Find?

We found more mayflies, caddisflies, moths and earwigs at night. On the other hand, there were more thrips, bees, wasps and ants during the day.

The mayfly Ephemeroptera resting on a twig, with outstretched wings, against a black background
Many aquatic insects, such as mayflies, are more active at night. Nicky Bay

Nocturnal activity was more common in wetlands and waterways. In these aquatic areas, there could be twice as many insects active during the night.

In contrast, land-based insects were generally more active during the day, especially in grasslands and savannas. We found the number of insects out and about could triple during the day in these habitats.

This may have something to do with avoiding predators. Fish tend to hunt aquatic insects during the day, whereas nocturnal animals such as bats make life on land more hazardous at night.

We also found insects were more active at night in warmer parts of the globe, where there are higher maximum temperatures. Insects are “ectotherms”, which means they are unable to regulate their body temperature. They are particularly susceptible to extremes in temperature, both hot and cold. This finding underscores the role of climate in regulating insect activity.

Given temperatures peak during the day, higher maximum temperatures may foster increased nocturnal activity as more individuals seek to avoid heat stress by working in the dark.

A dragonfly (_Urothemis edwardsii_) resting on a piece of wood, with outstretched wings, against a hot sun and blue cloudy sky
Insects lack the ability to regulate their body temperature. They’re more active when it is warmer, but there are limits. Sometimes they just need to rest or avoid the heat of the day altogether. Nicky Bay

Findings Underscore The Threats To Nocturnal Insects

Insects perform many vital “ecosystem services” such as pollination, nutrient cycling and pest control. Many of these services may be provided at night, when more insects are active.

This means we need to curtail some of our own activities to support theirs. For instance, artificial lighting is detrimental to nocturnal insects.

A white sheet covered in insects, which are attracted by the light
Artificial light, which can strongly attract and disorientate nocturnal insects, poses a significant threat to insect biodiversity and ecological functions. Nicky Bay

Our research also points to the threat of global warming. In the hottest regions of the globe such as the tropics, the warming trend may further reduce the activity of nocturnal insects that struggle to cope with heat. To this end, we hope our study motivates day-loving ecologists to embrace night-time ecology.

Insects are among the most diverse and important organisms on our planet. Studying their intricate rhythms represents not just a scientific endeavour, but an imperative for preserving wildlife.The Conversation

Mark Wong, Forrest Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Western Australia and Raphael Didham, Professor of Ecology, The University of Western Australia

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

Autumn School Holidays Issue

We hope you're enjoying your Autumn break from school - not too big an Issue this week; just a few items that may be of interest. We'll be back to bigger pages for you Issue 623, out Sunday April 28.

cockatoo family doing some grooming - PON yard, April 2024

Astrovan Win 2024 Northern Composure Band Comp.

Councillor Miranda Korzy has sent through this photo of Astrovan - who apparently took out the 2024 Northern Composure Band Competition last night (April 20).

Congratulations Astrovan!

Bands through to the Grand Final, held Saturday 20 April, 7pm, at PCYC Dee Why, were:

  • Astrovan
  • Bangalley
  • Melaluka
  • Overnight Lows 

This year the grand finalists were supporting The Grogans as headline act - they're an Australian garage rock band from Melbourne. The trio consists of Quin Grunden, Angus Vasic and Jordan Lewis. Since forming in 2016, they have released four studio albums – most recently, Find Me A Cloud in 2023.

Astrovan released a new single called 'Whats Wrong With Olivia' in February. Their bio info states they're inspired by the best of Indie rock from the 2000’s and are a Mosman high school formed band a few years back. Cr. Korzy said they were spot on and incredibly tight live. The boys are focussed on composition and song writing - the bedrock of all great music.

Bangalley, named after a local Avalon/Whale Beach headland that itself was named for a tree, released 'For Molly' on March 17. Their Triple your Yays bio reads;- 'Indie Surf-Rock band, Bangalley, is comprised of 4 close mates that found their passion for crafting smooth, psychedelic, reggae tunes through their collective music taste. Inspired by their environments, experiences and each other; they look to reach their potential and create a strong relationship with their fans, one song at a time

Melaluka also have a brand new song out 'Already Done'; which is FULL ON!! and has a huge metal base. They too are a beaches outfit that play tight, fast and LOUD! REALLY LOUD!!!

The Overnight Lows are another local band, a trio and have a diverse music taste with influences from various genres including but not limited to Punk, Rock, Hip-Hop and Metal and are having a go in Unearthed High 2024. They are high energy outfit who ran 'Blanked Out' for the online voting part of the 2024 Band Comp - don't be fooled by the slow whimsical start to this piece, the lullaby soon turns into jump aroundness....

This year’s four finalists competed in an online heat, live semi finals shows and then the grand final, performing in front of a panel of industry experts and opening for this year’s headliner.

Competing bands were judged on five categories at the semi-finals and final:

  • Musicianship – Technical ability for singers and musicians 
  • Originality – Even when playing covers, have you put your own brand into the song
  • Stage Presence – How you interact with your audience and each other
  • Youth Audience Appeal – Do you appeal to a wide audience of 12-24 year olds
  • Overall Conduct – How you conduct yourselves as individuals and as a band

More next Issue - when we all return from our near and far wanderings over the Autumn school holidays break.

Congratulations Astrovan, Bangalley, Melaluka, Overnight Lows  and ALL who had a go in this year's band comp - great stuff.


Surfing Australia's Irukandjis Updates: 2024 ISA World Junior Surfing Championship Team Announced - Milla Brown Team Captain +  Irukandjis Team Now In El Salvador For The 2024 ISA World Longboard Championship

 17-year-old Dane Henry and 16-year-old Milla Brown who have been named team captains. Pics: Surfing Australia

Surfing Australia is excited to announce the 12 surfers who will represent Australia at the 2024 ISA World Junior Surfing Championship in El Salvador, next month.

The athletes have been attending a training camp at the Surfing Australia Hyundai High Performance Centre as they prepare for the waves of La Bocana and El Sunzal.

Surfing Australia Talent Pathway Coach, Peter Duncan, who is travelling with the Junior Irukandjis, said: "This camp is all about preparing them for the ISA's in El Salvador. We're going to throw different challenges at them, make sure they adapt and get the gist of what an ISA campaign is.

"The team consists of surfers from across Australia, who qualify either by winning the Woolworths Australian Junior Surfing Titles, winning the national rankings or through a wildcard system. The level of talent is unbelievable. These surfers are setting the benchmark in international standards, which is cool as well.

"The wave in El Salvador can be a nice, punchy kind of wave, which suits the Aussie style of surfing. We expect to see big combos and big turns and we expect the team to do pretty well. Sierra Kerr won individual gold last year. We ended up fourth overall but are hoping to get back into that top tier and take home gold this year. Isabella Nichols and Jacob Wilcox were in the last team to do that. And they're currently on the World Tour, so it's great to see the pathway and where you can get to from the ISA's."

14-year-old Charli Hately said: "This camp is about team bonding, figuring out what it's going to be like when we get over to El Salvador, heat drills and just having fun.

"Representing Australia on this team is amazing. I've never been to El Salvador before and I hear it's an amazing wave and the culture is amazing too. Our team is good on paper, so I think our chances are pretty good of winning. Sierra (Kerr) is amazing and has won it. I could only hope to do what she did."

17-year-old Dane Henry and 16-year-old Milla Brown have been named team captains.

"Being named captain is a huge accomplishment. I'm really keen to work with everyone. We have a really strong team and I think we have a good chance of getting gold so I'm hoping to get us there," Henry said.

"Looking forward to surfing with the crew and having as much fun as possible and hopefully leading the team to gold. It's a pretty big role, to be the captain alongside Dane, and pretty cool," Brown said.

The best junior surfers from every part of the globe will contend for medals at the ISA World Junior Surfing Championship, which will take place from the 3rd to the 12th of May. This championship has proved to be a direct pathway to the Olympic Games, with  Olympic Bronze Medallist Owen Wright, eight-time World Champion Stephanie Gilmore, two-time World Champion Tyler Wright and Sally Fitzgibbons among the past ISA World Junior Champions.

For more information visit the ISA event website.



Commendation For Newport Surf Club's President: Fit For Change Surf Program + Region Commanders Certificate Of Appreciation For Young Life Saver

Guyren Smith with his wife and daughter and Superintendent Sam Crisafulli of the NSW Police Force Youth Command. Photo: NSW Police

In November 2022, NSW Police Force Youth Command partnered with the Newport Surf Life Saving Club to integrate surf awareness, beach safety skills into a ‘Fit to Learn’ program involving at-risk and vulnerable youth from South West and Northern Sydney.

With the invaluable support of Mr. Guyren Smith, President of the Newport Surf Life Saving Club, the program also emphasised positive role modelling, achieved through presentations led by Ironman and Ironwoman athletes and police from the NSW Police Force Youth Command.

This collaborative effort not only equipped youth with vital life skills and fostered positive connections between police and Surf Life Saving Australia illustrating the power of community partnerships in addressing social challenges. Mr Smith has continued his support of the ‘Fit to Learn’ program, assisting with a total of four programs. Since it’s inception this program has developed so now participants graduate with the SLSNSW Surf Rescue Certificate qualification. The course has resulted in over 30 young graduates from across the entire Sydney Metropolitan area.

On the 11 April 2024, at a Capability, Performance and Youth Command  awards ceremony, Mr Smith received a Region Commander’s Commendation for his ongoing commitment, leadership and dependability in the delivery of these programs, and the positive impacts it has on the young people.

Mr. Smith said:

''It was an honour to receive a commendation on behalf of the club from the NSW police. 

Thank you to those that have helped out over these programs to deliver lifesaving skills and a great environment to the participants.''

A Region Commanders Certificate of Appreciation was also awarded to Koby Ell in recognition of the bravery he displayed in rescuing a young male from surf conditions on Sunday 21st January 2024 at the NSW Police Force Youth Command Annual Awards Ceremony, 

Koby was at North Maroubra Beach when he noticed a young male some distance from the shore who was struggling to keep his head above the water. With no lifeguards or equipment nearby, Koby ran into the water and swam to the aid of the struggling young male.

Koby managed to reach the young male and without the assistance of any equipment, pull him back to shallow water and complete a successful surf recuse. The young boy thanked Koby for his efforts and left the area safe and well.

In December 2023 Koby successfully completed the Fit For Change Surf Program, a partnership initiative between the NSW Police Force PCYC NSW and Surf Life Saving Australia, at Newport Surf Life Saving Club. 

Koby received training in beach safety and received a ‘Surf Rescue Certificate’ qualification.

By way of his actions, Koby has demonstrated bravery and the knowledge, skills and training he gained from the Fit to Learn Surf Live Saving program to successfully rescue the young male.

Guyren and Koby with their awards with J. Egbers, NSW Police and Superintendent Sam Crisafulli of the NSW Police Force Youth Command. Photo: NSW Police

About the NSW Police Force Youth Command 

NSW Police Force Youth Command seeks to work collaboratively with Police Districts and Police Area Commands, as well as local communities and agencies to reduce the contact of young people with the criminal justice system, as victims and offenders, through coordinated operational and stakeholder engagements.

Police Citizens Youth Clubs NSW's Rise Up Opportunities

Guyren and Koby's Awards have been signed by Gavin Wood APM, Assistant Commissioner of the Police Citizens Youth Clubs NSW.

PCYC NSW is a registered charity, whose mission is to empower young people to reach their potential through Police and community partnerships.

With over 66 clubs across the state, PCYC provides quality activities and programs in a safe, fun and friendly environment.

PCYC's aim is to engage with, and positively influence their 70,000+ youth members through mainstream sport, recreation, education, leadership and cultural programs.

In addition, PCYC work with at-risk youth to break the cycle of disadvantage through crime prevention, vocational education, youth capacity building and social responsibility programs to change the life outcomes of over 7500 youth per year.  

PCYC is a unique youth organisation operating in partnership with the NSW Police and community throughout NSW with a focus on early intervention to prevent and disrupt crime. It is a collaborative approach with PCYC NSW and industry leaders to achieve positive outcomes for young people and divert them from the criminal justice system.

RISEUP is a strategy developed by the NSW Police Commissioner, connecting disengaged young people to workplace opportunities.

RISEUP incorporates job ready programs, mentoring and vocational training for at risk youth aged between 15 and 18 to build their engagement with education, employment opportunities and the community. Although our primary focus is to return young people into the education system, it is appreciated that there are youth who are less likely to return and would benefit more from assistance to facilitate them into employment. These young people are the key participants of the RISEUP programs, facilitated by the NSW Police Force and PCYC NSW.

Find out more at:

Bert Evans Apprentice Scholarships 2024 Are Now Open!

Do you know a first-year apprentice in NSW who could use some financial assistance? Maybe it’s you!   

The Bert Evans Apprentice Scholarships help NSW apprentices facing hardship to excel and complete their apprenticeships, helping them to develop a fulfilling career and strengthening the growth of your industry.

Up to 150 successful applicants will receive a $5,000 scholarship annually for up to three years, totalling $15,000.    

The funds could be utilised to help purchase new tools, pay for fuel or take additional training courses.   

First-year apprentices, including school-based apprentices, whose employers are in regional or metropolitan NSW, are eligible to apply.     

The Bert Evans Apprentice Scholarships form part of the NSW Government Apprenticeship and Traineeship Roadmap (2024-2026), which will drive the development of Apprenticeships and Traineeships in NSW over the next three years, taking an inclusive and learner-centered approach.       

Applications are open until 31 May 2024.      

For more information around eligibility criteria and how to apply, visit


The 'Newport Loop': Some History

Some of the earlier streets in Pittwater we can see from sketches and photographs are those which leads down the top of the hill from where Bungan becomes Newport, past Newport Public school, and on to Newport Wharf. 

Named as part of a lithograph drawn in 1880 by George Bishop, Surveyor, for Charles Edward Jeanneret and George Pile, these two paid £732 [pounds sterling] for 118 acres on which to establish the ''New Marine Township of Newport'', and which included what we today call the 'Newport Loop'; named for the detour by the public buses off the main road and around where an original 'town centre' was envisioned. This included setting aside land for the public as 'Trafalgar Square', today's Trafalgar Park - as this 1880 plan shows:

Newport - Marine Township, Image No.: c053460045, 1880, courtesy State Library of NSW Land Sales Maps.

The names stemmed from English people mostly - Victoria Wharf, for instance, was named to honour Queen Victoria as soon after two of her sons visited Australia and Pittwater itself, embarking on a steamer (old term for today's 'ferry') for a trip up the estuary and then up the Hawkesbury River. 

The newspapers of then tells us they visited our area on Monday August 1st, 1881. That bit from that report reads:

Yesterday morning a party from Government House and the Detached Squadron made an excursion up the Hawkesbury, and fortunately the weather was so fine that every lovely scene on the river appeared to the best advantage.

The Royal Princes were of the party. At an early hour those engaging in the excursion left Man-o'-war Stairs, and proceeded in the steam launch Nea to Manly, whence they were conveyed by Mr. Boulton's coaches to Newport. 

There they were received by Mr. Jeannerett on board the steam launch Pelican. Barrenjoey was passed about 11 o'clock. At Barrenjoey Mr. A. T. Black and friends were invited on board the Pelican and the boat then proceeded up the river.

The day being beautifully clear, the scenery of the Hawkesbury was, seen to the best advantage, and was very much admired. Wiseman's Ferry was reached about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The Pelican stopped at the wharf for a few minutes, and on the Princes appearing the residents assembled, and an address of royal welcome was read and presented to them by the master of the Public school, on behalf of the inhabitants of the village. The school children sang the " National Anthem," and those assembled then gave three hearty cheers for the Queen and the Princes. Prince Edward acknowledged the, compliment in a few appropriate words. The arrangements made by Mr. Jeannerett for the comfort and convenience of the party appeared to give great satisfaction. The Pelican resumed her journey, and we. up the river as far as Sackville Roach, at which spot the party disembarked, and drove thence to Windsor, returning from Windsor to Sydney by special train at night.

The Princes slept at Government House, and will probably remain guests of Lord Augustus Loftus for a few days, after which they will rejoin their old ship the Bacchante, which has now finished her coaling and provisioning. THE DETACHED SQUADRON. (1881, August 2). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from

HRH Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward, Duke of Clarence, and HRH Prince George Frederick Ernest Albert of Wales as midshipmen in the Royal Navy, 1881 / photographer J. Hubert Newman, Sydney - photo courtesy of the State Library of NSW

The other names chosen for the 'streets' were: Queen Street and Queen Parade, named for Queen Victoria,, King Street, after King George III, Princes street would be possibly named to honour the soon to visit sons of Queen Victoria, Gladstone Street after William Ewart Gladstone, a British statesman and Liberal Party politician of that time, Beaconsfield Street, after Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield and another British politician, and Bishop Street after George Bishop, the Surveyor. Queen street was later renamed 'Kalinya' street. Kalinya is apparently of Aboriginal origin and means "good, beautiful and honest".

The year before, in August, another visiting the area reported:

Lane Cove and Pittwater. 


Another trip I took very recently, via Manly to Pittwater, or rather Newport, as I suppose it will in future be known by. I was fortunate enough to be included in a party of four, and, like the previous one, found this journey an extremely pleasant one. Taking a couple of conveyances from Manly, we drove on a very well made road 'some 14 miles or so, passing enroute through a very large shallow lagoon, connected with the ocean by a narrow outlet. I was informed that it was the duty of some official to so " manipulate" the sandbank at the latter place as to keep the crossing place as safe as possible, by allowing free outlet for the water. It is to be hoped that this gentle-'man does not neglect his work, as I understand it is a matter that requires constant attention. 

Arrived at the embryo township of Newport, we had just time to give a passing glance around before our brief sojourn was over.

 There is already a small quay where the American pine is landed that the one house-an hotel-is being partly constructed of. The place is very beautiful, and the gentlemen interested therein, Messrs. Mills, Pile, and Jeannerett, deserve well of the Sydney people for their enterprise in making another "extra desirable" resort of the metropolitan citizens. I may mention, concerning the lagoon we had to got through, that a bridge thereon is already on the tapis, that will place Newport within three hours of the General Post-office. And thus, so far; ends, my suburban pilgrimage, which I have as heartily enjoyed as anything of the sort it has been my good fortune to experience. Lane Cove and Pittwater. (1880, August 28). Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW : 1870 - 1907), p. 18. Retrieved from

Newport Hotel, from album Pittwater scenes1880 / by Harold Brees courtesy State Library of NSW - note the Telegraph wires. The drawings appear to be the originals for six of the lithographs illustrating 'The Pittwater and Hawkesbury Lakes album'. [Sydney] : Mills, Pile & Gilchrist, 1880. (Lithographed by S.T. Leigh & Co.)courtesy State Library of NSW

Newport Hotel, circa 1884, a Robert Hunt photograph, courtesy State Library of NSW

Beaconsfield street and then Queen Street of that 'Newport Loop' were then still all bush as that part of Newport had not been cleared to grow grain or graze cattle as the land near the beach was.

Some sketches, painted and draw for that 1880 sales:

Campbell Avenue (main view) Newport, from the corner of Beaconsfield Street, from album Pittwater scenes, 1880 / Harold Brees courtesy State Library of NSW - note the Telegraph wires. The drawings appear to be the originals for six of the lithographs illustrating 'The Pittwater and Hawkesbury Lakes album'. [Sydney] : Mills, Pile & Gilchrist, 1880. (Lithographed by S.T. Leigh & Co.), courtesy State Library of NSW

Newport Hotel, from album Pittwater scenes, 1880 / Harold Brees courtesy State Library of NSW - note the Telegraph wires. The drawings appear to be the originals for six of the lithographs illustrating 'The Pittwater and Hawkesbury Lakes album'. [Sydney] : Mills, Pile & Gilchrist, 1880. (Lithographed by S.T. Leigh & Co.)courtesy State Library of NSW


Pittwater scenes, 1880 / Harold Brees, Lord Loftus Point and Scotland Island from the hotel (Newport), Image No.: c13730_0009_c, courtesy State Library of New South Wales.


‘Lord Loftus Pt, Newport NSW’. circa 1880 and 1900 - part of the Royal Australian Historical Society (RAHS) collection - the steamer may be the Florrie - launched 1879, or the Illawarra

Lord Loftus Point is what we today call 'Green Point' in Newport and where you will find the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club. Lord Augustus William Frederick Spencer Loftus, GCB, PC, was a British diplomat and colonial administrator. He was Ambassador to Prussia from 1865 to 1868, to the North German Confederation from 1868 to 1871 and to the Russian Empire from 1871 to 1879 and Governor of New South Wales from 1879 to 1885.

Newport hill was also called 'Loftus Hill' during this era.

Green Point, circa 1890

A newspaper report of those times tells us:

Opposite the hotel is Lord Loftus Point, which in the olden days was evidently a favorite spot for aboriginal encampments. From here you have a splendid view of Pittwater, which is the widest arm of the Hawkesbury, being over a mile wide. There is also Scotland Island, which is celebrated for its fine fish. A Christmas Holiday Trip. (1893, November 25). Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872), p. 14. Retrieved from

Newport hotel circa 1890

Those 1879-1880 sketches for the first sales included some near the beach:

P.33 'The Green Hill, Newport Road' -  from Brees, Harold & S.T. Leigh & Co & Mills, Pile & Gilchrist. (1880). The Pittwater and Hawkesbury Lakes album Retrieved from

The advertisements for the land sales:

FOR SALE AT THE ROOM'S, 114, PITT-STREET, some FINE BUSINESS SITES in the TOWNSHIP OF NEWPORT, suitable for Hotels and Shops. A good business will be done there before long, Newport being the true PORT OF THE HAWKESBURY. The terms will be £5 deposit on each lot, and the balance 20s per month. Advertising. (1880, November 24). The Sydney Morning Herald(NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 13. Retrieved from

Messrs. Mills. Pile, and Gilchrist held a sale of land, in the new marine township of Newport, at their rooms, to-day, and report having sold 46 allotments at prices ranging from £8 to £42 per lot. MONETARY AND COMMERCIAL. (1880, November 26). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from 

Advertising (1880, December 18). Freeman's Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1850 - 1932), p. 11. Retrieved from

Some photos:

Corner of Beaconsfield street Newport and Barrenjoey Road, Sunday May 11th 1913. That is Boulton's cow shed and cows to the right of picture and looking down hill towards Newport Hotel. From 'Album 62: Photographs of the Allen family, 11 May 1913 - 15 October 1913' Item: SLNSW_FL137438 -courtesy State Library of NSW:

A foot or two further back - same angle:

At the Avalon Beach Historical Society Exhibition held in June 2018, Geoff Searl OAM had included in the Newport section a great photograph of a cow peeking out from bush halfway down the hill towards the beach - possibly another Boulton cow?; although most residents had a cow for their own fresh milk. This great photograph also shows how much bush was still intact on either side of Barrenjoey road and how much land had been cleared by the Farrells beside the beach and up to Bilgola Plateau. 

Geoff dates the image as circa 1915:

Going down the hill along Beaconsfield street:

Beaconsfield Street, Newport, circa 1907 - 'Newport Road', ca. 1900-1910, courtesy State Library of NSW. Image No.: a116490h - to the right the fence is where the Newport school was built - this same image appears in a 1907 sales brochure for Brocks' Estate at Mona Vale:

Further down the hill with a report to go with these images:

By " Phren."
As you pass the public school at Newport you see ahead of you the attractive façade and grounds of the Newport Hotel. 

There are lawns in front, shaded by widely branching trees, under which there are usually some children playing in care of their nurses. The view from the back is exceedingly fine, taking in the romantic Pittwater, with its surrounding heights mirrored in the glassy surface. Boats are kept for hire, and there are other fishing facilities, and a hall for dancing and concerts. 

This was then called 'Queen Street'

The road branches to the right at the hotel, and passing the post office (nearly opposite) takes you first to the boarding house called "The Bungalow," a fine stately place, reached by broad steps and beautified' by gardens. 

Nearly opposite " The Bungalow " is Mr. J. F. Barrett's stores. Mr. Barrett is also THE NEWSAGENT, and takes an active interest in everything that concerns the district. Orders left with him for the Mosman Mail will receive prompt attention. 

Farther on you come to the stylish boarding house kept by Miss Scott. This has been a well known establishment and popular for many years. There is everything here to make the summer visitor happy—as far as he can be made happy by fine Scenery, grand lawns, with shade, good cooking, and good society. 

Looking from Green Point across Crystal Bay to 'Scotts', circa 1900-1912

Newport gives something to think about to a PROGRESS ASSOCIATION, of which Mr. MacGregor is honorary secretary, and it is expected that in a few years the unique claims of the place as a holiday resort will be more generally known and appreciated. A great many go there now on Saturdays and Sundays, cyclists by the hundred fly up and down the road from Manly, and the boat " Woy Woy " visits it once a month on a tour of those magnificent and most romantic inlets of the Pacific called Pittwater and Brisbane Water. But there is a desire and every reason for further progress. 

From Manly to Newport and back on the EXCELLENT LINE OF COACHES, run by C. H. Massey and Co., of Manly, can be done nicely in a day from the city. The first coach leaves Manly at 9.45 or 10 a.m. If you stop at Narrabeen you will have there live hours for dinner, shooting, fishing, bathing, and seeing the sights. 

Image No.: c071420012 from Album: Glass negatives of Sydney regions, including Clovelly, Coogee, and Manly ca 1890-1910 by William Joseph Macpherson Courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales - and enlargement from. Above these View of Newport, and Barretts' launch at Newport, both circa 1908, courtesy NSW State Archives and records 

At every point almost a grand vista is presented. Just this side of Newport and to the left on coining back you witness a vast expanse of THE PACIFIC OCEAN, which comes up nearly to your feet. The horizon is generally clear, but occasionally wears a lengthy fringe of clouds. Away off to the north as I looked there was a little wing of white, which might have belonged to a seagull, but presently a ripple of smoke appeared trailing from it, and I knew it was a small steamer. Just in front a larger one was plainly visible, ploughing its way steadily up the coast. Farther off towards the meeting line of sea and sky were a number of tiny jets and clouds of smoke from invisible ocean travellers. To the southwards a great corrugated point of rocky land juts out into the sea, the rocks rising bluff and steep out of the boisterous and high flashing surf, which surges around, looking at an instant's glance like a huge and spotless sheet just thrown off stupendous bed. High on this land rises a flagstaff, and behind the staff are some trees and a tine paddock. This is a beautiful scene, and I pity those who cannot see it as I did. 

Coming still further on the return journey we arrive again at MONA VALE. A notice in the fine shops there informs us that there is to be a display by the local athletic club, of which Mr. James Booth is honorary secretary, Mr. Paul, honorary treasurer, Mr. S. A. Hewett, captain, and Mr. Bradburn, president. 

THE PARK at Mona Vale is opposite the Mona Vale Stores. The athletic club has leased a portion of it for a tennis court and cricket pitch, and on Saturday afternoons there is generally a good game or two. 

The park is invested in trustees, for whom Mr. Stringer is secretary. Our parliamentary representative for Warringah, Mr. E. W. Quirk, is working to get a grant of money to fence it in completely. I have now introduced to the readers of the Mosman Mail most of the interesting features of the coach route from Manly to Narrabeen and Newport. Next week I purpose describing a trip up the coast to Gosford on the S.S. "Woy Woy," which I trust will prove equally interesting.
MOSMAN TO NEWPORT. (1903, December 5). The Mosman Mail (NSW : 1898 - 1906), p. 2. Retrieved from 

Newport, circa 1880-1890, by Charles Bayliss or Robert Hunt. Part of the Royal Australian Historical Society (RAHS) collection  - the steamer may be the Florrie - launched 1879 - or the Illawarra, which also brought excursionists to the Newport wharf, then named 'Victoria Wharf' and part of the Newport Hotel grounds.

Greig's Hotel circa 1905, image a106123h, courtesy State Library of NSW from Sydney & Ashfield : Broadhurst Post Card 'Scenes of Newport' Album. Sign out the Front reads 'Green Point' - farm blocks and 1/2 acre blocks - this was the David Scott owned lands at Bay View Hotel, Crystal Bay. 

From The Brock Estate Brochure - to be sold October 7th Newport 1907. Item No.: c046820076   from Mona Vale Subdivisions, courtesy State Library of New South Wales - this may be at the back of the then premises as it differs from what was on the Queen Street side

Newport's Queen street and hotel circa 1925 queens street Item: FL3838861, courtesy NSW Records and Archives - note the flagpole and Honour Roll at side. 

From album 'Samuel Wood - postcard photonegatives of Avalon, Bilgola and Newport, ca. 1928', Hotel - Newport. Item No.: a1470006h, courtesy State Library of New South Wales - an enlarged section shows the name of licensee - A. W. Newbery - Captain Alfred William Newbery was not at Newport Hotel until at least 1930. This photo shows flagpole still in place that was used as an Anzac Day gathering place and would later be moved to Trafalgar Park when a Memorial was built there to honour those who had served Australia in conflicts.

Warringah Shire Council records show: Pittwater Sub-Branch R.S.&.S.I.L. 18/4/1935, (a) requesting to be given control of the Mona Vale War memorial, forwarding copies of letters from present trustees agreeing to Sub-Branch taking control; (h) requesting control of Newport Flagpole Memorial as well; and (c) requesting supply of material for repair of Flagpole memorial before Anzac Day: resolved.;- That all the requests be granted. (Crs. Hewitt, Hughes

At the January 23rd, 1940 Council Meeting Pittwater Sub-Branch R.S.S.I.L.A. had written (letter dated 13/1/40), drawing attention to the state of the flag-pole at Newport War Memorial, stating if Council will supply a new Flagpole the Sub-Branch will paint and erect it to the Council's satisfaction. The Council Resolved;- That a new flag-pole, shaped, cut and pulleyed, be supplied at an estimated cost of £3.10.0. 

In April 1961 the Warringah Shire Council received a letter dated 17/4/1961 inquiring 'Would the Council consider granting permission to the Newport R.S.L. to resite the Honour Roll-War Memorial from outside the Newport Hotel, to-a suitable site, say "Trafalgar-Park", under direction from the Parks and Reserves Engineer, and all costs and labour, to be borne ,by the Newport R.S.L.?' The then President replied that the Council would be happy to do so and subsequently stated that he would refer the matter to the Park and Reserves; - 

Another letter was read at the Council Meeting held on August 18th 1961 from the Newport Sub-Branch, R.S.S. & A.I.L.A., (dated14/9/61,addressed to the President),- re Newport District War Memorial - Special meeting between the President, Councillors and Members of the Sub Branch, proposed siting of War Memorial at Trafalgar Park'- submitting a plan which has been approved by Members. Adding that should Council favour the plan, work could commence within 4 weeks. Council Resolved; That the plan be approved and that the Sub-Branch be notified forthwith and that the work can be commenced. 

Maj.-Gen. Cullen at ceremony

Major-General Paul Cullen will unveil an  R.S.L. war memorial at Newport next Sunday. The dedication service of the war memorial will commence at 3 p.m. Major-General Cullen, a member of the Jewish community, was promoted to his high rank recently.  Maj.-Gen. Cullen at ceremony (1962, February 23). The Australian Jewish Times (Sydney, NSW : 1953 - 1990), p. 4. Retrieved from

This can still be seen on the site: 'Dedicated to the fallen. Unveiled by Major General Cullen DSO., ED 25th February, 1962.'

Major General Paul Alfred Cullen, AC, CBE, DSO & Bar, ED (13 February 1909 – 7 October 2007) was a senior officer in the Australian Army. He joined the Militia in 1927 and saw active service throughout the Second World War, distinguishing himself as a fighting battalion commander on the Kokoda Track. Post war, he continued to serve in the Citizen Military Forces (CMF) and rose to the rank of major general as the CMF Member of the Military Board. In civil life , and having formed Australia's first unit trust before the war, in 1950 he formed Australia's first merchant bank, Mainguard (Australia) Ltd. Over time he became the first national president of Austcare, the first president of the Refugee Council of Australia, the president of the Australian Jewish Welfare Society for Refugees and the president of the Royal Blind Society of New South Wales. In 1981 he received the Nansen Medal from the United Nations, in recognition of his work on behalf of refugees.

Promoted major general commanding Communications Zone on December 1st 1961, Cullen transferred to the Unattached List on 1 December 1963 before serving as the Citizen Military Force member of the Military Board. He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) on 1 January 1965. He was also awarded the Efficiency Decoration (ED) for efficient service as an officer in the Citizen Military Forces.

Major General Cullen transferred to the Retired List on 2 December 1966 but remained an outspoken champion of the part-time soldier. Cullen was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) "In recognition of service to the community of ex-service personnel and their dependents" in the Queen's Birthday list on 6 June 1978. He was raised to a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), "In recognition of service to the community, particularly to the welfare of the blind and visually impaired" on Australia Day, 26 January 1988.

The Newport Memorial was restored and sponsored under the new Work Opportunities Scheme and Pittwater Council "Australia Remembers" 1945 – 1995. It was re-dedicated on April 21st, 1996. Donors Pittwater R.S.L. Sub-branch. Pittwater R.S.L. Club Ltd. Pittwater Rotary. L.L. Coppin President Newport R.S.L. Sub-branch. Two plaques were installed at this time, along with the original:

Disembarking at Newport Public Wharf for a picnic, circa 1900 (Ferry is the SS Phoenix), 'Newport Wharf '- by Sydney & Ashfield : Broadhurst Post Card Publishers from album: Scenes of Newport, N.S.W,  courtesy State Library of NSW

'Walking towards Newport Beach' Pic No: 18526_a024_000069, dated 31/12/1908, courtesy the NSW State Records of NSW

Music To The Ears: New Recording And Touring Grants

Applications open on 20 March and close 20 May 2024.

Musicians and artists are set to receive a boost under the NSW  Government with the opening of grants focused on rebuilding the NSW touring circuit.

Sound NSW’s new Touring and Travel Fund and Recording and Promotion Grants will inject $3 million into the local contemporary music sector to deliver more new and original music, enable touring opportunities, and open doors for career-defining professional development.

With a focus on fostering growth and sustainability for the contemporary music industry, the programs support NSW artists to be globally competitive, develop industry networks and connect with new audiences locally and internationally.

Touring and Travel Fund

Designed to address the time-sensitive nature of venue availability and performance opportunities, Sound NSW’s $2 million Touring and Travel Fund offers quick response grants of up to $2500 per person for domestic activity and up to $7500 per person for international activity.

Applications for Sound NSW’s Touring and Travel Fund will be assessed on a quick-response basis against eligibility criteria.

Applications open on 20 March via and close 20 May 2024.

Recording and Promotion Grants

Sound NSW’s $1 million Recording and Promotion Grants program will support NSW contemporary musicians to record and release new, original creative projects. NSW artists can apply for grants of:

  • up to $25,000 for short-form releases, such as a single or EP
  • up to $50,000 for long-form releases, such as an album
  • up to $25,000 matched funding for artists signed to a major label. 

Applications open 20 March and close 17 April 2024 at

Minister for the Arts John Graham said:

“We are determined to rebuild the touring circuit, up and down the NSW coast, through our inland tours and suburbs. This fund will do just that.

“We’re delivering on our commitment to bring music back in NSW with this much-needed investment. These fast-response grants will support more new and original music from our musicians, enable tours across Australia and the world, and move NSW a step closer to being a global powerhouse for contemporary music.”

Head of Sound NSW Emily Collins said:

“Recording, releasing and performing new music is essential to the contemporary music industry and the growth and sustainability of artists’ careers, but the upfront costs are often greater than the income generated for many musicians.

“Sound NSW is excited to help bridge this gap by providing this vital funding, removing these prohibitive barriers and supporting NSW artists to do what they do best – making great music.”

2024 Young Writers' Competition

Celebrating 15 years of the Young Writers' Competition, the 2024 theme word is 'crystal'. Council are looking for the next sparkling young creative writers on the Beaches.

Are you gazing into a crystal ball or standing under a sparkling crystal chandelier? Swimming through crystal blue waters or hunting for a magical crystal guarded by a monstrous beast? Is your story becoming crystal clear?

Write an original creative piece of work using this year's theme word 'crystal' for a chance to win prizes, meet our author judges and receive personalised feedback on your entry.

Open to students up to Year 12.

How to Enter

Visit the council webpage for more information and Conditions of Entry.


This event is delivered by Council's Library Programs Team as part of NSW Youth Week.

Finalists will be celebrated in an awards event and their creative works published in a library eBook. Entries are judged according to characterisation, plot, originality, and use of language and arranged into six different age group categories.

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

All finalists receive a prize bag. Top prizes per category:

  • Years K-2 - $70 voucher
  • Years 3-4 - $85 voucher
  • Years 5-6 - $100 voucher
  • Years 7-8 - $125 voucher
  • Years 9-10 - $150 voucher
  • Years 11-12 - $175 voucher

Entries close May 15, 2024 at 5pm

This is a Free event.

Nominate For 2024 Public Education Awards

Nominations for the 2024 Public Education Awards are now open.

The awards showcase the exceptional work occurring every day across NSW public education - by schools, students, teachers, employees and parents - and were previously known as the Minister’s and Secretary’s Awards for Excellence.

Among the seven award categories in 2024 is the Secretary’s Award for Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging.

This award recognises and celebrates those in NSW public education who proactively advocate for and celebrate diversity, inclusion and belonging.

It is open to all current employees of the NSW Department of Education, including casual staff, temporary staff and contractors.

The seven award categories for 2024 are:

Award nominations close on 14 May and the winners will be announced at a gala event at Sydney Town Hall on Monday 5 August.

More information is available on the Public Education Foundation website

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. 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: Terrior

Word of the Week remains a keynote in 2024, simply to throw some disruption in amongst the 'yeah-nah' mix. 


1. the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate. 2. the characteristic taste and flavour imparted to a wine by the environment in which it is produced.

noun: goût de terroir; plural noun: goût de terroirs

Terroir is a French term that simply means “a sense of place.” When someone says a wine exhibits terroir, all they mean is that the wine they are drinking tastes the way a wine grown and made in the region where it was grown and made should taste.

4 Traits of Terroir:

  1. Climate. Wine regions can be basically divided into two types of climates: cool climate and warm climate. 
  2. Soil. There are hundreds of different types of soil, rock and mineral deposits in the world's vineyards. 
  3. Terrain. 
  4. Tradition.

Compare merroir 

The word merroir derives from the word terroir. Terroir is most commonly used to describe wine and its soil, topography, climate and place. Whereas merroir is used to describe the natural influences of tidal flows, sea beds, and aquatic culture in oysters. In essence, nothing affects the flavour of an oyster more than its habitat.

From: In French, the word mer means 'sea', so the portmanteau term merroir was coined to describe a sense of terroir for oysters, and the term has become popular.

Like the grape, or any fruit or vegetable for that matter that is a reflection of the sol, climate and conditions it grows in, each oyster is intimately impacted by the body of water it comes from, the algae it feeds on, the strength of currents and tides, the mineral content of the seafloor, rainfall, temperature, season and more. 

Compare terrier


kind of hunting dog, early 15c., from a shortening of Old French chien terrier "terrier dog," literally "earth dog" (Old French terrier also meant "hole or earth of a rabbit or fox"), from Medieval Latin terrarius "of earth," from Latin terra "earth".

So called because the dogs pursue their quarry into burrows and dig or scratch at the ground to get them. Typically small, active, hardy, and noted for their courage. These dogs were originally bred to kill vermin — there's still a breed known as the rat terrier. 

From late Middle English: from Old French (chien) terrier ‘earth (dog)’, from medieval Latin terrarius, from Latin terra ‘earth’.

Matilda Mae BooseBop Gumley-Guesdon, the editor's Sydney Silky Terrier; good at playing chasings where she gets a leaf and you chase her around and round the coffee table - also good at catching flies - not too good at catching anything else though or hunting; possibly a little too docile for all that.

This is Tilly among the Avalon Bulldogs A Grade team a while ago as they try to do their warm-ups; she is giving as many as possible a good luck lick - and yes, that day and that match they won!:

This is Tilly with The Green Team a few years back - they said we could take their photograph as long as they could give Matilda a cuddle - she'd already given them all a puppy kiss:

Coming right at ya!:

Matilda actually smiles at people, apparently not usual dog behaviour as baring your teeth when you are a dog is usually a warning you are about to get bitten, and something she may have earned off us when a puppy:

AI to Z: all the terms you need to know to keep up in the AI hype age

Deepmind/Unsplash/Artist: Champ Panupong TechawongthawonCC BY-NC-SA
Samar FatimaRMIT University and Kok-Leong OngRMIT University

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming ever more prevalent in our lives. It’s no longer confined to certain industries or research institutions; AI is now for everyone.

It’s hard to dodge the deluge of AI content being produced, and harder yet to make sense of the many terms being thrown around. But we can’t have conversations about AI without understanding the concepts behind it.

We’ve compiled a glossary of terms we think everyone should know, if they want to keep up.


An algorithm is a set of instructions given to a computer to solve a problem or to perform calculations that transform data into useful information.

Alignment Problem

The alignment problem refers to the discrepancy between our intended objectives for an AI system and the output it produces. A misaligned system can be advanced in performance, yet behave in a way that’s against human values. We saw an example of this in 2015 when an image-recognition algorithm used by Google Photos was found auto-tagging pictures of black people as “gorillas”.

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)

Artificial general intelligence refers to a hypothetical point in the future where AI is expected to match (or surpass) the cognitive capabilities of humans. Most AI experts agree this will happen, but disagree on specific details such as when it will happen, and whether or not it will result in AI systems that are fully autonomous.

Artificial Neural Network (ANN)

Artificial neural networks are computer algorithms used within a branch of AI called deep learning. They’re made up of layers of interconnected nodes in a way that mimics the neural circuitry of the human brain.

Big Data

Big data refers to datasets that are much more massive and complex than traditional data. These datasets, which greatly exceed the storage capacity of household computers, have helped current AI models perform with high levels of accuracy.

Big data can be characterised by four Vs: “volume” refers to the overall amount of data, “velocity” refers to how quickly the data grow, “veracity” refers to how complex the data are, and “variety” refers to the different formats the data come in.

Chinese Room

The Chinese Room thought experiment was first proposed by American philosopher John Searle in 1980. It argues a computer program, no matter how seemingly intelligent in its design, will never be conscious and will remain unable to truly understand its behaviour as a human does.

This concept often comes up in conversations about AI tools such as ChatGPT, which seem to exhibit the traits of a self-aware entity – but are actually just presenting outputs based on predictions made by the underlying model.

Deep Learning

Deep learning is a category within the machine-learning branch of AI. Deep-learning systems use advanced neural networks and can process large amounts of complex data to achieve higher accuracy.

These systems perform well on relatively complex tasks and can even exhibit human-like intelligent behaviour.

Diffusion Model

A diffusion model is an AI model that learns by adding random “noise” to a set of training data before removing it, and then assessing the differences. The objective is to learn about the underlying patterns or relationships in data that are not immediately obvious.

These models are designed to self-correct as they encounter new data and are therefore particularly useful in situations where there is uncertainty, or if the problem is very complex.

Explainable AI

Explainable AI is an emerging, interdisciplinary field concerned with creating methods that will increase users’ trust in the processes of AI systems.

Due to the inherent complexity of certain AI models, their internal workings are often opaque, and we can’t say with certainty why they produce the outputs they do. Explainable AI aims to make these “black box” systems more transparent.

Generative AI

These are AI systems that generate new content – including text, image, audio and video content – in response to prompts. Popular examples include ChatGPT, DALL-E 2 and Midjourney.


Data labelling is the process through which data points are categorised to help an AI model make sense of the data. This involves identifying data structures (such as image, text, audio or video) and adding labels (such as tags and classes) to the data.

Humans do the labelling before machine learning begins. The labelled data are split into distinct datasets for training, validation and testing.

The training set is fed to the system for learning. The validation set is used to verify whether the model is performing as expected and when parameter tuning and training can stop. The testing set is used to evaluate the finished model’s performance.

Large Language Model (LLM)

Large language models (LLM) are trained on massive quantities of unlabelled text. They analyse data, learn the patterns between words and can produce human-like responses. Some examples of AI systems that use large language models are OpenAI’s GPT series and Google’s BERT and LaMDA series.

Machine Learning

Machine learning is a branch of AI that involves training AI systems to be able to analyse data, learn patterns and make predictions without specific human instruction.

Natural Language Processing (NLP)

While large language models are a specific type of AI model used for language-related tasks, natural language processing is the broader AI field that focuses on machines’ ability to learn, understand and produce human language.


Parameters are the settings used to tune machine-learning models. You can think of them as the programmed weights and biases a model uses when making a prediction or performing a task.

Since parameters determine how the model will process and analyse data, they also determine how it will perform. An example of a parameter is the number of neurons in a given layer of the neural network. Increasing the number of neurons will allow the neural network to tackle more complex tasks – but the trade-off will be higher computation time and costs.

Responsible AI

The responsible AI movement advocates for developing and deploying AI systems in a human-centred way.

One aspect of this is to embed AI systems with rules that will have them adhere to ethical principles. This would (ideally) prevent them from producing outputs that are biased, discriminatory or could otherwise lead to harmful outcomes.

Sentiment Analysis

Sentiment analysis is a technique in natural language processing used to identify and interpret the emotions behind a text. It captures implicit information such as, for example, the author’s tone and the extent of positive or negative expression.

Supervised Learning

Supervised learning is a machine-learning approach in which labelled data are used to train an algorithm to make predictions. The algorithm learns to match the labelled input data to the correct output. After learning from a large number of examples, it can continue to make predictions when presented with new data.

Training Data

Training data are the (usually labelled) data used to teach AI systems how to make predictions. The accuracy and representativeness of training data have a major impact on a model’s effectiveness.


A transformer is a type of deep-learning model used primarily in natural language processing tasks.

The transformer is designed to process sequential data, such as natural language text, and figure out how the different parts relate to one another. This can be compared to how a person reading a sentence pays attention to the order of the words to understand the meaning of the sentence as a whole.

One example is the generative pre-trained transformer (GPT), which the ChatGPT chatbot runs on. The GPT model uses a transformer to learn from a large corpus of unlabelled text.

Turing Test

The Turing test is a machine intelligence concept first introduced by computer scientist Alan Turing in 1950.

It’s framed as a way to determine whether a computer can exhibit human intelligence. In the test, computer and human outputs are compared by a human evaluator. If the outputs are deemed indistinguishable, the computer has passed the test.

Google’s LaMDA and OpenAI’s ChatGPT have been reported to have passed the Turing test – although critics say the results reveal the limitations of using the test to compare computer and human intelligence.

Unsupervised Learning

Unsupervised learning is a machine-learning approach in which algorithms are trained on unlabelled data. Without human intervention, the system explores patterns in the data, with the goal of discovering unidentified patterns that could be used for further analysis.The Conversation

Samar Fatima, Research Fellow Enterprise AI and Data Analytics Hub, RMIT University and Kok-Leong Ong, Director, Enterprise AI and Data Analytics Hub, RMIT University

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

Visualising the 1800s or designing wedding invitations: 6 ways you can use AI beyond generating text

Midjourney image by T.J. Thomson
T.J. ThomsonRMIT University

As more than half of Australian office workers report using generative artificial intelligence (AI) for work, we’re starting to see this technology affect every part of society, from banking and finance through to weather forecasting, health and medicine.

Many people are now using AI tools like ChatGPT, Claude or Gemini to get advice, find information or summarise longer passages of text. But our recent research demonstrates how generative AI can be used for much more than this, returning results in different formats.

On the one hand, AI tools are neutral – they can be used for good or ill depending on one’s intent.

However, the models powering such tools can also suffer from biases based on how they were developed. AI tools, especially image generators, are also power hungry, ratcheting up the world’s energy usage.

And there are unresolved copyright claims surrounding AI-generated outputs, given the content used to train some of the models isn’t owned by the organisations developing the AI.

But ultimately, there’s no escaping generative AI. Learning more about what these tools can do will improve your digital literacy and help you understand their full impact, from benign to problematic.

1. Imagining What Lies Beyond The Frame

Adobe’s recently developed “generative expand” tool allows users to expand the canvas of their photos and have Photoshop “imagine” what is happening beyond the frame. Nine News infamously experimented with this tool for a broadcast featuring Victorian politician Georgie Purcell.

Here’s a video that shows how that tool works:

But it can also be used more innocently to extend the borders of a landscape or still-life image, for example. You might do this when trying to edit a square Instagram photo to fit a 4x6 inch photo frame.

2. Visualising The Past Or The Future

Photography was only invented within the past 200 years, and camera-equipped smartphones within the last 25.

That leaves us with plenty of things that existed before cameras were common, yet we might want to visualise them. This could be for educational purposes, entertainment or self-reflection.

One example is the writings of historical figures, like architect Robert Russell, who conducted the first survey of what is now Melbourne in 1836. He wrote at the time:

The soil is in this country superior to any in the colony, we have a good grazing land, and a fine supply of water: a fine harbour, a Town on which much capital (I am afraid to say how much) has been expended, enterprising settlers and flocks and herds increasing in all directions, a climate well fitted for Englishmen, and events hastening forward the necessity for some scheme of extended emigration from which we shall soon feel the benefit.

We can feed this text from Russell’s letters into a text-to-image generator and see what the area may have looked like.

Conversely, we might want to look ahead and see if AI can help us visualise what is to come.

For example, a probe is currently heading to a never-before-seen metal asteroid, 16 Psyche. It’s projected to reach the asteroid in 2029. We can feed an AI tool a description from NASA to get a rough sense of what the asteroid might look like.

NASA currently works with artists to illustrate concepts we can’t see, but artists could also draw on AI to help create these renderings.

3. Brainstorming How To Visualise Difficult Concepts

Where we might have once turned to Google Images or Pinterest boards for visual inspiration, AI can also help with suggestions on how to show difficult-to-visualise subject matter.

Take the Mariana Trench, for example. As one of the deepest places on Earth, few people have ever seen it firsthand. It’s also pitch black and artificial light wouldn’t allow you to see very far.

But ask AI for suggestions on how to visualise this spot and it provides a number of ideas, including taking a more familiar landmark, such as the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest structure, and placing a scaled model next to the trench to better allow audiences to appreciate its depth.

Or creating a layered illustration that shows the flora and fauna that live at each of the ocean’s five zones above the trench.

4. Visualising Data

Depending on the tool, you can prompt AI with numbers, not just text.

For example, you might upload a spreadsheet to ChatGPT 4 and ask it to visualise the results. Or, if the data is already publicly available (such as Earth’s population over time), you might ask a chatbot to visualise it without even having to supply a spreadsheet.

It’s a great way to speed up such tasks, as long as you keep in mind AI can “hallucinate”, or make things up, so you need to double check the accuracy of the results.

5. Creating Simple Moving Images

You can create a simple yet effective animation by uploading a photo to an AI tool like Runway and giving it an animation command, such as zooming in, zooming out or tracking from left to right. That’s what I’ve done with this historical photo preserved by the State Library of Western Australia.

A historical photo of a ship that has been AI animated to appear like it is moving
Runway’s image animation with historical footage. T.J Thomson

Another way you can experiment with video is using Runway’s text-to-video feature to describe the scene you want to see and let it make a video for you. I used this description to create the following video:

Tracking shot from left to right of the snowy mountains of Nagano, Japan. Clouds hang low around the mountains and they are about 50m away.

An animated landscape scene with mountains and clouds moving left to right with parallax, based on Runway's AI text to video function
Runway’s text-to-video capabilities. T.J Thomas

6. Generating A Colour Palette Or Simple Graphics

Maybe you’re creating a logo for your small business or helping a friend with the design of an event invitation. In these cases, having a consistent colour palette can help unify your design.

You can ask generative AI services like Midjourney or Gemini to create a colour palette for you based on the event or its vibe.

If you’re designing a website or poster and need some icons to represent certain parts of the message, you can turn to AI to generate them for you. This is true for both browser-based generators like Adobe Firefly, as well as desktop apps with built-in AI, like Adobe Illustrator.

Next time you’re interacting with a generative AI chatbot, ask it what it’s capable of. In addition to these six use cases, you might be surprised to know that generative AI can also write code, translate content, make music and describe images. This can be handy for writing alt-text descriptions and making the web more accessible for those with vision impairments.The Conversation

T.J. Thomson, Senior Lecturer in Visual Communication & Digital Media, RMIT University

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

No, getting your boyfriend to peel an orange won’t prove his loyalty. Why TikTok relationship ‘tests’ are useless

Edith Jennifer HillFlinders University and Lydia WoodyattFlinders University

Have you ever wondered if your partner really loves you? Well apparently so have thousands of TikTok users, who are testing their theories for the world to see.

In the past year we’ve seen a rise in TikTok trends that purport to “test” a partner’s loyalty or the strength of a couple’s relationship. These tests vary in severity, from telling your partner you saw a cool bird and hoping they respond with equal enthusiasm, to asking an influencer to flirt with them to see if they’ll cheat.

If this sound stressful or potentially problematic to you, that’s because it is.

What Are These Tests?

Generally, TikTok relationship tests involve the tester acting a certain way in front of their partner, while making a video, and posting the results on TikTok for others to judge.

Several different tests have trended this year. One of the most popular is the orange peel “theory” (we use the word very lightly here), in which the tester tells their partner they feel like eating an orange.

Some partners simply acknowledge the comment, while others actually go and get an orange. But the “winners” are those who first retrieve the orange and then happily peel or cut it up for their significant other.

In another popular test, women TikTokers ask their partners to “name a woman”. If they respond with any name other than the tester’s, the woman pretends to act shocked, surprised or angry.

Why Do We Watch?

So why do millions of people watch and comment on these videos? There are two things we can point to here.

The first is the close resemblance these videos have to reality television, which research has shown we watch, in part, to feel better about ourselves.

Research has also found people are more likely to like, share and comment on stories when they feel a sense of moral outrage. It then comes with a pleasurable payoff once the source of the outrage seemingly gets what they deserve.

One emotion at play here is “schadenfreude”, which refers to taking pleasure from another’s pain. Whether we agree someone’s boyfriend deserves to be called out, or that the original poster “had it coming” with the response, we tend to feel satisfied by being part of the mob response.

Unfortunately, this motivates a hostile online environment. In such spaces, where we see others piling on the shame, we’re also more likely to do so ourselves.

Are The ‘Tests’ Legitimate In Any Way?

It’s safe to assume relationship TikTok tests aren’t even close to what would be recommended by relationship science. Currently in psychology research there is no single diagnostic test that can give us exact information about the validity or longevity of someone’s relationship.

Such psychological assessment is complex and can require multiple types of assessment. Moreover, these assessments are often done in various contexts and with feedback from multiple others. Even well-designed personality tests can give questionable, useless or misleading information when applied at an individual level.

Relationships benefit from all parties taking the time to understand one another – not from rushing to diagnose and assign labels.

How Might The Tests Be Harmful?

Sometimes we treat our partner as an object: a means to the end of our own desires, with no recognition of their desires.

These TikTok video are often driven by a desire for personal fame, reassurance about the security of one’s relationship, or wanting to feel like the “superior” partner. Of course this can backfire, especially if the person being unwittingly “tested” has their response shared online against their will.

People in relationships are interdependent. This means they influence each other and can choose to meet or deny each other’s needs.

When our needs aren’t met, communication is necessary to understand what matters to each person, and why a particular behaviour or pattern of behaviour is hurtful. It also requires a shared understanding of how to move forward together.

Working through what happened, taking time to recognise each other’s needs and agreeing on the shared values underpinning a conflict are important for repairing a relationship. Using a shame-based video to prove a point suggests the absence of healthy communication.

Beyond that, people tend to seek out information that confirms what they already think. This is called “confirmation bias”. If someone feels insecure about their partnership, they may subconsciously seek out information that confirms their insecurities, or interpret new information in this way.

Research has found if you act in a way that’s untrustworthy – such as setting up your partner to fail in a TikTok “test” – you are more likely to create insecurity in your relationship.

The Line Between Humour And Harm

Of course, some people posting these videos are just doing so to be playful or funny. Their partner may not mind, or may even be in on the gag. As long as a behaviour is an expression of a couple’s shared values, is done with consent (especially in terms of uploading the video online) and makes both parties feel respected, who are we to judge?

At the same time, many TikTok relationship tests presented as “jokes” will often portray women as being stereotypically jealous, needy or manipulative. And like all media that stereotype men and women, such content can further feed sexist attitudes and harm our relationships.The Conversation

Edith Jennifer Hill, Associate Lecturer, Learning & Teaching Innovation, Flinders University and Lydia Woodyatt, Professor of Psychology, Flinders University

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

The ‘devil comet’ 12P/Pons-Brooks has finally become visible from Australia. What can we expect?

Pons–Brooks visible from Utah, March 9 2024. James Peirce/FlickrCC BY-NC-ND
Jonti HornerUniversity of Southern Queensland

If you’re a fan of all things space, you’ve doubtless heard about the “devil comet”, which has been captivating keen-eyed observers in the northern hemisphere for the past few weeks. Now it’s our turn, as comet 12P/Pons–Brooks is creeping into view for the southern hemisphere.

Before you get too excited, let me quash your hopes. Comet Pons–Brooks is visible to the naked eye, but only if you know where to look. It will look like a fuzzy glowing patch, but nonetheless promises some amazing photo opportunities for the coming weeks.

Even better, it may serve as a celestial warm-up act for an even more special comet later in the year.

Here’s everything you need to know about Pons–Brooks, and how to get the best view.

Why Do People Call It The ‘Devil Comet’?

Named after two astronomers who independently discovered it in the 19th century, Comet 12P/Pons–Brooks (its full, official name) was last visible in 1954.

It takes around 71 years to orbit the Sun, making the comet’s visits to the inner Solar System a rare treat for us here on Earth.

At its heart (its nucleus), Pons–Brooks is a dirty snowball around 34 kilometres in diameter. As the comet came swinging back towards us in its orbit, astronomers spotted it back in 2020. At that time, the comet was almost 1.8 billion kilometres from the Sun, and lay dormant.

As the comet kept falling inwards toward the Sun, its surface temperature began to rise, making it “active”. Exposed ices started to sublime, turning directly from solid to gas. This activity is how a comet gets its tail: the nucleus becomes shrouded in a diaphanous “coma” of dust and debris from its sublimated surface, which is then blown away from the Sun by the solar wind.

A green dot with a long white smudge behind it on a black background.
Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) captured in 2020 with a long, blurry tail clearly visible. Serrgey75/Shutterstock

But comet 12P/Pons–Brooks didn’t activate gently and smoothly. Instead, it produces several large outbursts of activity, each time, emitting vast amounts of gas and dust in a very short period of time before settling down again.

In the first of those significant outbursts, on July 20, 2023, the comet brightened by a factor of a hundred times, shedding an estimated ten million metric tons of dust and ice.

The solar wind pushed the resulting dust, gas and debris away from the Sun, giving the comet an unusual appearance. To some, the comet looked like the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. To others, it looked vaguely demonic – sporting the cometary equivalent of horns.

The moniker of “devil comet” took hold in media articles and appears to have stuck – even though the comet’s horned appearance is now a thing of the past.

A fuzzy green blob in the night sky with two horn-like protrusions.
Comet 12P/Pons–Brooks on July 27, 2023, showing the unusual horned appearance that led to its ‘devil comet’ nickname. Juan Iacruz/WikipediaCC BY-SA

Where (And When) Should I Look?

Over the last few days, the first confirmed sightings of 12P/Pons–Brooks have come in from around Australia. It is currently visible low in the western sky after sunset, albeit almost lost in the glow of twilight.

In the next few weeks, the comet will slowly climb higher in the evening sky. The two videos below show the location of the comet’s head at 6:30pm from mid-April through to mid-June, as seen from Toowoomba and Melbourne.

Visibility of comet 12P/Pons–Brooks, as seen from Toowoomba, from mid-April to mid-June 2024.
Visibility of comet 12P/Pons–Brooks, as seen from Melbourne, from mid-April to mid-June 2024.

Remember, the comet is a diffuse object, rather than a single point of light. The head is where the comet is brightest (centred on its nucleus). The comet’s tails point away from the Sun – so will rise upwards from the western horizon in the evening sky.

While the comet is visible with the naked eye, you really need to know where to look. The best bet is to search with binoculars. Make sure to wait until the Sun is well below the horizon. Once you find the telltale blur of the comet, you will know where to look, and can switch to see if you can spot it with the naked eye.

For me, the most exciting time with Pons–Brooks will come during the first two weeks of May. At that point, the comet will be passing underneath the constellation Orion, which will serve as a signpost.

That period will be prime astrophotography season, so I expect to see many spectacular images of the comet’s tails cutting through the celestial hunter, shining next to the spectacular nebulae dotted throughout Orion’s body.

But Wait… There’s More!

While comet 12P/Pons–Brooks currently basks in the limelight, a potentially great comet is currently moving sunward, promising a spectacular show later this year.

That comet, C/2023 A3 (Tsuchinshan-ATLAS), was discovered in January 2023, and astronomers soon realised it has the potential to become truly dazzling.

Comet behaviour is hard to predict, so take the following with a pinch of salt, but things still look really promising.

Current predictions suggest Tsuchinshan-ATLAS will be at least as bright as the brightest stars in late September and early October this year. During that time, it will pass almost directly between Earth and the Sun. It might even briefly become visible in broad daylight at that time.

In the days following that chance alignment, the comet will gradually become visible in the evening sky and could be an incredible sight, up to a hundred times brighter than Pons–Brooks at its best.

So, with any luck, the current apparition of 12P/Pons–Brooks is merely the warm-up act, with an even greater spectacle to come later this year. Fingers crossed!

The Conversation

Jonti Horner, Professor (Astrophysics), University of Southern Queensland

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

First evidence of ancient human occupation found in giant lava tube cave in Saudi Arabia

The western passage of the Umm Jirsan lava tube. Green Arabia Project
Mathew StewartGriffith UniversityHuw GroucuttUniversity of Malta, and Michael PetragliaGriffith University

If you look from above, you can see thousands of stone structures dotting the landscape of the Arabian peninsula. On the ground, you can find a bounty of stone tools and ancient fireplaces scattered along the edges of ancient lakes, as well as rock art depicting hunting and herding scenes in the surrounding mountains.

Despite the visibility of these sites, only in the past decade or so have archaeologists taken a dedicated interest in them. Some of the structures have now been dated at up to 10,000 years old.

However, the arid climate, baking days and freezing nights, and intense wind erosion are not kind to some of the other relics archaeologists prize. To date, there has been little found in the way of fossils or the kind of deeply buried, layered deposits that can open a window onto the history of a place.

Until recently, no archaeologists had surveyed any of the hundreds of caves and lava tubes recorded across northern Arabia. In 2019, our team began to look in these subterranean locations – and in a new study published today in PLoS ONE, we report on the first documented occupation of a lava tube in the Arabian Peninsula.

The Umm Jirsan Lava Tube

The Umm Jirsan lava tube lies some 125 kilometres north of the city of Madinah, in the Harrat Khaybar lava field. The tube formed long ago by cooling lava. It winds an impressive 1.5 kilometres, and reaches 12 metres in height and 45 metres in width in some sections.

The first thing you notice when venturing into the tube’s dark and meandering tunnels is the sheer number of animal remains. The floor is strewn with piles of bones containing thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of exceptionally preserved fossils.

A photo of a rocky floor leading to a dark cave mouth, covered with rocks – some of which are roughly semicircular in shape.
At the mouth of the eastern passage of Umm Jirsan. Green Arabia Project

These bone-piles are the work of striped hyenas, which drag bones underground to eat, stash away for times of food scarcity, or process and feed to cubs. This process, repeated over millennia, has produced some of the most incredible accumulations of fossils seen anywhere in the world.

But it’s not all just bones. When we surveyed the entrances of Umm Jirsan – essentially areas where the roof has collapsed, providing access to the lava tube – we uncovered hundreds of stone artefacts made from obsidian, chert and basalt.

Although exciting, these artefacts were all surface finds, making them extremely difficult to date. We needed to look deeper.

Digging In

We excavated in the mouth of the eastern passage, near a series of semi-circular stone structures of an unknown age or function. The excavation uncovered more stone artefacts – all made from fine-grained green obsidian – as well as animal bones and charcoal.

Most of the stone artefacts came from a discrete sediment layer roughly 75 centimetres beneath the surface. Radiocarbon dating of the charcoal, and dating of the sediments using a method known as optically stimulated luminescence dating, revealed this main occupation phase likely occurred between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago.

A photo of a man crouching in a pit, digging.
Saudi archaeologist Badr Zahrani working on the excavation. Green Arabia Project

We also found some interesting objects in the surrounding landscape. These included more stone artefacts and circular structures, as well as a so-called “I-type” structure. These constructions are believed to date to around 7,000 years ago, based on their association with large rectangular structures known as mustatils, which we believe were used for ritual animal sacrifices.

We also found the first rock art discovered in the area. This includes depictions of herding scenes of cattle, sheep and goat, and even hunting scenes involving dogs. This art has similarities with other rock art in Arabia from the Neolithic and the later Bronze Age. It includes overlapping engravings, suggesting people visited the area repeatedly over thousands of years.

A group of eight photos of rock art, showing various animals and people.
Rock art found near Umm Jirsan shows animals and people. Stewart et al. 2024 / PLoS ONECC BY

We also found human remains at Umm Jirsan, which we dated to the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods. By analysing the carbon and nitrogen in these remains, we found these people’s diets were consistently high in protein – though they ate more fruit and cereals over time.

Interestingly, this change in diet appears to coincide with the arrival of oasis agriculture in the region. This saw the emergence of sophisticated farming and water management techniques that enabled people to settle in the deserts more permanently and cultivate plants such as dates and figs.

We made another interesting finding after coming home from the dig. Studying maps of archaeological structures in the wider area, we noticed Umm Jirsan sits along a “funerary avenue” connecting two major oases.

These funerary avenues, which consist of chains of tombs stretching hundreds of kilometres, are believed to have been routes used by Bronze Age pastoralists as they transported their herds between water sources.

We think Umm Jirsan may have been a stopping-off point for pastoralists, a place that offered shelter and water in an otherwise dry and harsh environment.

Archaeologists have made remarkable finds in Arabia in recent years, in settings such as ancient lakebeds. Our finds at Umm Jirsan add another important element to the story of Arabian societies over time, and how they interacted with this dramatic landscape.The Conversation

Mathew Stewart, Research Fellow, Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, Griffith UniversityHuw Groucutt, Lecturer in Mediterranean Prehistory, University of Malta, and Michael Petraglia, Director, Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, Griffith University

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

An education in music makes you a better employee. Are recruiters in tune?

Gabriel Gurrola/Unsplash
Diana TolmieGriffith University

See the word “musician” on a resume and you might not immediately think “stellar employee” or “exceptional leader”.

Perhaps the word evokes the image of a rock star, in trouble for chucking a television out of a hotel room window. Or else someone struggling along in life, who should have picked a “real job”.

But is there more to the profession than meets the stereotype?

It is well known many musicians work simultaneously in arts and non-arts roles, often to create some income security. Less understood is just how well the extensive skillset developed in music transfers to a non-arts, professional workplace.

My nationwide survey sought to find out. I began by conducting 15 in-depth interviews with musicians simultaneously working dual-careers - one in music, and one somewhere else.

The preliminary findings, which are yet to be peer-reviewed, showed dual-career musicians have a plethora of distinctive workplace skills that had been enabled by their musical education and experience. This was verified by their non-musician co-workers.

The discovery sparked an ongoing second stage of research, investigating the experience of a larger group. These include:

  • dual-careerists
  • musicians who have exited the profession
  • musically-educated individuals who never pursued a music career.

With 165 respondents so far, the emerging results are significant – music education and experience lays the foundation for high levels of future aptitude in a range of workplaces.

Practice Makes Perfect

One of the most powerful traits instilled by a music education is a deep sense of professionalism. 85% of survey participants identified the trait as the skill that most influenced expectations of themselves and others, and the quality of their work.

A common industry saying about rehearsal reflects this attitude of consistency and punctuality – “early is on time, on time is late, and late is left behind.”

Other notable skills included autonomy and self-direction, resilience and perseverance, and creativity.

closeup of hands playing flute
Learning an instrument fosters disciplined, focused attention, a highly valuable skill in other contexts. ArtBitz/Shutterstock

Participants attributed the development of these strengths to the disciplined and focused attention required to learn music, and the intrinsic motivation needed to practise and perfect an instrument over a long period of time.

This is increasingly relevant in an age where screens and social media steal our concentration and cost employers’ productivity.

Another key trait identified was creativity, which may reflect findings that the musically trained have more neuronal matter, and therefore increased brain activity.

Interviews with non-musician colleagues showed that out-of-the-box thinking was particularly prevalent amongt jazz musicians, singer-songwriters and composers.

It Takes A Whole Orchestra To Play A Symphony

Participants unanimously said ensemble work – playing in bands, chamber music, orchestras and so on – has contributed positively to their workplace team dynamics.

As one respondent put it:

It taught me how to be part of something bigger than myself.

Experiences in music translated to a greater appreciation of diversity and inclusivity, exceptional leadership and deep listening skills, and the ability to manage “difficult” conversations respectfully within a team.

Violinists playing in an orchestra seen from above
Those who play in group ensembles develop excellent listening and teamwork skills. Samuel Sianipar/Unsplash

Respondents said an ongoing passion for music improved their mental health and workplace resilience. Unsurprisingly, their non-musician co-workers reported better workplace morale and an infectious positive energy from their musical colleagues.

Growth Mindset

All respondents reported a healthy relationship with failure – experiences in music had taught them to remain curious, embrace learning and “fail forward” while owning errors.

This attitude directly enhances one’s ability to upskill in a non-music careers, something many respondents have had to do. 82% of the exited and dual-career musicians had re-accredited, and 71% admitted to “learning on the job”.

Their live performance experiences cemented their ability to work under pressure in a variety of situations – public presentations, deadlines, project management. To them it was a no-brainer: “the show must go on.”

Co-workers’ perceptions further verified the musicians’ transferable skills, suggesting they possessed high professional values, a strong work ethic, high intelligence, willingness to learn, and the ability to take the initiative.

Survey respondents work in a much greater variety of fields than you might expect, including:

  • health
  • science and academia
  • building and engineering
  • business and finance
  • law
  • technology
  • government
  • transportation
  • administration
  • and religion.

Many also hold leadership positions. Economically, these findings suggest having a musician on the books may be linked to increased productivity, innovation, and profitability.

Lessons For Educators And Policymakers

The skills of our country’s musically educated are relevant to far more than just the arts. Employers and recruiters need to respect and appreciate the professional contributions of the musically trained.

But the ongoing decline in school music programs and nominal music teacher training, as well as a shift in tertiary training focus to STEM at the expense of the arts, suggest we’re heading the wrong direction.

Man Pointing at Notes on a Music Sheet and Girl Playing an Instrument
Music education training has reached an all time low in Australia. Yan Krukau/Pexels

Including a well-informed understanding of music skills in the proposed National Skills Passport would be a big step forward. So would ensuring all school children have access to proper music education, and that school leavers are not discouraged from pursuing further music training.

Who knows, when the next pandemic comes, it could be a musician who designs the next life-saving vaccine.The Conversation

Diana Tolmie, Senior Lecturer of Professional Practice, Griffith University

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

Biden is cancelling millions of student debts – here’s what to expect from Albanese

Peter MartinCrawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

So weighed down have Americans become by student debt, and so potent a political issue has it become in the US, that President Biden plans to waive interest or write off money owing by 30 million of them.

He is doing it bit by bit, in the face of resistance from the US Supreme Court. He has already axed or wound back 4.3 million debts, and on Friday cancelled 277,000 more.

The benefits, as he keeps telling anyone who will listen in the lead-up to the November election, are likely to be increased consumer spending, better mental health and credit scores for borrowers, and increased home ownership.

In Australia, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is under pressure to do something – anything – for Australians under the same sort of pressure.

Every June, The Amount Owed Jumps

Every June the amount that someone who has borrowed under the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) jumps. Because the jump is linked to inflation, and because inflation has been low for decades, in most Junes the jump has been small, until last June.

On June 1 2023, Australians who had made no payments over the previous year faced a jump of 7.1%. Someone who had owed $25,000, suddenly owed $26,770, and so on.

quarter of a million Australians have signed a petition asking for change.

The good news is there’s likely to be some change, and we are likely to hear about it soon, in the lead-up to the May budget.

The bad news for borrowers is it won’t be debt relief of the kind Biden is offering.

It’s Worse In The US

While in both Australia and the US it’s the government that lends to pay student fees rather than private lenders (who don’t like the risks) in the US the loans are really onerous, requiring fixed monthly repayments over a set period of time, regardless of the borrower’s circumstances.

In Australia and the United Kingdom and New Zealand and some other countries that have copied Australia’s system, the loans are income contingent, meaning they only need to be repaid when the borrower’s income rises to a certain level.

At the moment Australia’s repayment threshold is A$51,550 per year, meaning anyone who earns less than that doesn’t need to repay a cent, perhaps forever if their income never climbs that high.

Where payments are required, they are taken out in the same way as income tax is, each fortnight for pay-as-you-earn employees.

Buried within Biden’s announcement is a decision to move towards an Australian-style plan he has called SAVE, which stands for Saving on a Valuable Education.

If it becomes law, single Americans won’t have to repay until they earn US$32,800. For an American supporting a family of four, the threshold will be US$67,500. It will be an Australian-style system.

Easy Wins For Albo

While Australia’s system is much better than the one in the US and has been copied around the world, it is far from perfect.

A simple change, identified by the report of the Australian Universities Accord delivered to Education Minister Jason Clare, in February is to increase the amount owing each year by either the rate of increase in prices or the rate of increase in wages, whichever is lower.

Usually, prices increase by less than wages, which is why the system was set up in 1988 to index amounts owed to prices.

But last year, unusually, prices increased faster than wages. In those years it would be simple to lift the amount owed only in line with wages, as the report recommends.

The amount owed needs to increase in line with something, because otherwise its value would shrink rapidly as prices rose. The government doesn’t charge interest (which would hurt) so instead it lifts the amount owed in line with prices to ensure that compared to other things it remains little changed.

Make Repayments More Like Tax

Although we repay student loans through the income tax system, we don’t do it like income tax.

Here’s how it works for tax: on our first $18,200 of income we pay nothing, then we pay 19 cents in the dollar for each extra dollar we earn up to the next threshold, and so on. The key words here are “for each extra dollar”. We continue to pay nothing on the first $18,200 we earn.

Higher education loans work differently. For them, we repay nothing until we earn $51,550, and then at that point, even if we earn just one dollar more, we pay one per cent of all our annual income, the entire $51,550 (which amounts to $515).

It’s a repayment cliff that sends us backwards. It means earning an extra dollar costs more than $500 in that year That’s an effective marginal tax rate of 500%.

The cliff matters. Each year, there’s an impressive cluster of taxpayers who happen to be earning just under the threshold. More likely to be women than men, they might be deciding not to work in order to keep their incomes below the threshold.

Make It Easier To Get Home Loans

Britain and other nations that copied Australia’s system don’t impose large repayments in one hit, and the economist who designed Australia’s system now says that part of the system was “an error, a mistake”.

That economist, Bruce Chapman, has suggested a redesign that would require collections only on extra rather than total incomes, a proposal the report to the government endorses.

And there’s something else Albanese can do. Right now Australia’s banking regulator requires banks to count student loans as debt for the purpose of determining who can get a housing loan, knocking some former students out.

Chapman says it would make more sense to treat the compulsory payments as tax, which is how they function. All they do is reduce after-tax income, and for low earners, they don’t even do that. It’d get more people into housing.

Now it’s over to Albo.The Conversation

Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

We found three new species of extinct giant kangaroo – and we don’t know why they died out when their cousins survived

Artist’s impression of the prehistoric landscape and creatures that Protemnodon would have walked among. Peter Schouten
Isaac A. R. KerrFlinders University

For millions of years, giant animals or megafauna roamed the lands that are now Australia and New Guinea. Many were like much larger versions of modern animals.

There was a four-metre goanna called Megalania (Varanus priscus), for example, which likely ambushed its prey. This beast disappeared by around 40,000 years ago along with almost all the other megafauna aside from remnants such as the red kangaroo and the saltwater crocodile.

Some of the now-vanished kangaroo species were quite massive. The short-faced kangaroo Procoptodon goliah grew as tall as three metres and may have weighed more than 250 kilograms.

There was another genus of extinct kangaroos, Protemnodon, which were more like the grey and red roos we know today, but little has been known about their lives. In a new study, my colleagues and I describe three new species of these vanished marsupials – and shed some light on where they lived and how they got around.

A 150-Year Puzzle

The first species of Protemnodon were described in 1874 by the British naturalist Richard Owen. As was standard at the time, Owen focused chiefly on fossil teeth. Seeing minor differences between teeth from different fragmentary specimens, he described six species of Protemnodon.

However, Owen’s species have not stood the test of time. Our study agrees with only one of his species — Protemnodon anak. The first specimen of P. anak to be described, called the holotype, still resides in the Natural History Museum in London.

Fossils of individual Protemnodon bones are not uncommon, but more complete skeletons are rare. This has hampered palaeontologists’ efforts to study the creatures.

The question of how many species there were, and how to tell them apart, has not been fully answered. This has made it hard to say how the species differed in their size, geographic range, movement and adaptations to their natural environments.

Photo of two people digging in a plain of dried mud.
Digging up a skeleton of Protemnodon viator at the dry Lake Callabonna. Aaron B Camens

I set out to solve this problem in my PhD project. With fellow PhD student Jacob van Zoelen, I visited the collections of 14 museums in four countries to gather data.

We have now seen just about every piece of Protemnodon that exists above ground, photographing, scanning, measuring, comparing and describing more than 800 specimens collected from all over Australia and New Guinea.

Finding The Key

Among all this study, the key to the Protemnodon problem turned out to be buried in the dry bed of Lake Callabonna in northeastern South Australia. Three expeditions to Lake Callabonna from 2013 to 2019 found a megafaunal boneyard: complete skeletons of giant kangaroos, giant wombats, and Genyornis newtoni, a 250kg flightless bird, were scattered among the remains of hundreds of Diprotodon optatum, a rhino-sized marsupial herbivore. This lake likely preserves animals that died while searching for water during prolonged drought.

I accompanied the 2018 trip, which returned with all manner of amazing articulated fossils. These fossils allowed me, then a PhD student in my first year, to begin the process of picking apart the identities of the kangaroos.

Two of Richard Owen’s species, Protemnodon brehus and Protemnodon roechus, were only known from their teeth, which were extremely similar. We unearthed and compared several kangaroos with teeth that could have belonged to either of Owen’s species, but the skeletons didn’t match.

By the international rules of species naming, this meant we had to describe two new species. These are Protemnodon viator from central Australia and Protemnodon mamkurra from southern Australia.

Big Kangaroos With Big Differences

Our study reviews all species of Protemnodon, finding surprising differences. We concluded that there are seven species in the genus, adapted to live in very different environments and even hopping in different ways. This level of variation is unusual within a single genus of kangaroo.

Illustration showing a big kangaroo labelled Protemnodon viator, a slightly smaller one labelled Protemnodon anak, and much smaller ones labelled red kangaroo and Eastern grey kangaroo.
The newly described species Protemnodon viator was bigger than its relative P. anak, and much bigger than the red and Eastern grey kangaroos we know today. Traci Klarenbeek

Protemnodon viator was a large, long-limbed kangaroo that could hop fairly quickly and efficiently. Its name, viator, is Latin for “traveller” or “wayfarer”. Its elongated hind limbs were muscular and narrow, perfect for supporting the kangaroo as it hopped long distances.

Protemnodon viator was well-adapted to its arid central Australian habitat, living in similar areas to the red kangaroos of today. Protemnodon viator was much bigger, however, weighing up to 170 kg, about twice as much as the largest male red kangaroos.

Our study suggests two or three species of Protemnodon may have been mostly quadrupedal, moving something like a quokka or potoroo – bounding on four legs at times, and hopping on two legs at others.

The newly described Protemnodon mamkurra is likely one of these. A large but thick-boned and robust kangaroo, it was probably fairly slow-moving and inefficient. It may have hopped only rarely, perhaps just when startled.

The best fossils of this species come from southeastern South Australia, on the land of the Boandik people. The species name, mamkurra, was chosen by Boandik elders and language experts in the Burrandies Corporation. It means “great kangaroo” in Bunganditj language.

The third of our newly described species is Protemnodon dawsonae, a woodland-dwelling kangaroo from eastern Australia and the probable ancestor of P. viator and P. mamkurra. It is named for kangaroo palaeontologist Lyndall Dawson.

By about 40,000 years ago, despite their many differences, all Protemnodon were extinct on mainland Australia. We don’t yet know why they died out when similar animals such as wallaroos and grey kangaroos survived – but our study may open the door for further Protemnodon research that will find out more about how they lived and why they died.The Conversation

Isaac A. R. Kerr, Research Assistant at Flinders University Palaeontology Laboratory, Flinders University

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

We saw one of the most powerful magnets in the Universe come to life – and our theories can’t quite explain it

Artist’s impression of a magnetar. Carl Knox, OzGrav/Swinburne University of Technology
Marcus LowerCSIROGregory DesvignesMax Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, and Patrick WeltevredeUniversity of Manchester

After a decade of silence, one of the most powerful magnets in the universe suddenly burst back to life in late 2018. The reawakening of this “magnetar”, a city-sized star named XTE J1810-197 born from a supernova explosion, was an incredibly violent affair.

The snapping and untwisting of the tangled magnetic field released enormous amounts of energy as gamma rays, X-rays and radio waves.

By catching magnetar outbursts like this in action, astronomers are beginning to understand what drives their erratic behaviour. We are also finding potential links to enigmatic flashes of radio light seen from distant galaxies known as fast radio bursts.

In two new pieces of research published in Nature Astronomy, we used three of the world’s largest radio telescopes to capture a host of never before seen changes in the radio waves emitted by one of these rare objects in unprecedented detail.

Magnetic Monsters

Magnetars are young neutron stars, with magnetic fields billions of times stronger than our most powerful Earth-based magnets. The slow decay of their magnetic fields creates an enormous amount of stress in their hard outer crust until it eventually fractures. This twists the magnetic field and releases large amounts of energetic X-rays and gamma rays as it unwinds.

These exotic stars were initially detected back in 1979 when an intense gamma-ray burst emitted by one was picked up by spacecraft across the Solar System. Since then, we’ve found another 30 magnetars, the vast majority of which have only been detected as sources of X-rays and gamma rays. However, a rare few have since been found to also emit flashes of radio waves.

The first of these “radio-loud” magnetars goes by the name XTE J1810-197. Astronomers initially discovered it as a bright source of X-rays after an outburst in 2003, then found it emitted bright pulses of radio waves as it rotated every 5.54 seconds.

Unfortunately, the intensity of the radio pulses dropped rapidly, and within two years it had completely faded from view. XTE J1810-197 remained in this radio silent state for over a decade.

A Wobbly Start

On December 11 2018, astronomers using the University of Manchester’s 76-metre Lovell telescope at the Jodrell Bank Observatory noticed that XTE J1810-197 was once again emitting bright radio pulses. This was quickly confirmed by both the Max-Planck-Institut’s 100-metre Effelsberg radio telescope in Germany and Murriyang, CSIRO’s 64-metre Parkes radio telescope in Australia.

Following confirmation, all three telescopes began an intense campaign to track how the magnetar’s radio emission then evolved over time.

Photo collage of three radio telescope dishes.
The two studies used data from the Effelsberg radio telescope in Germany (left), the Lovell telescope in the UK (middle), and Murriyang, CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope in Australia (right). Norbert Junkes / Mike Peel / Marcus Lower

The reactivated radio pulses from XTE J1810-197 were found to be highly linearly polarised, appearing to wiggle either up and down, left to right, or some combination of the two. Careful measurements of the polarisation direction allowed us to determine how the magnetar’s magnetic field and spin direction are oriented with respect to the Earth.

Our diligent tracking of the polarisation direction revealed something remarkable: the direction of the star’s spin was slowly wobbling. By comparing the measured wobble against simulations, we were able to determine the magnetar’s surface had become slightly lumpy due to the outburst.

The amount of lumpiness was tiny, only about a millimetre off from being a perfect sphere, and gradually disappeared within three months of XTE J1810-917 waking up.

Twisted Light

Normally, magnetars only emit very small amounts of circularly polarised radio waves, which travel in a spiral pattern. Unusually, we detected an enormous amount of circular polarisation in XTE J1810-197 during the 2018 outburst.

Our observations with Murriyang revealed the normally linearly polarised radio waves were being converted into circularly polarised waves.

This “linear-to-circular conversion” had long been predicted to occur when radio waves travel through the super-heated soup of particles that resides in neutron star magnetic fields.

However, the theoretical predictions for how the effect should change with observing frequency did not match our observations, though we weren’t too surprised. The environment around a magnetar in outburst is a complicated place, and there are many effects that can be at play that relatively simple theories aren’t designed to account for.

Piecing It All Together

The discovery of the slight wobble and the circular polarisation in the radio emission of XTE J1810-197 represents an exciting leap forwards in how we can study the outbursts of radio-loud magnetars. It also paints a more complete picture of the 2018 outburst.

We now know that cracking of the magnetar surface causes it to become distorted and wobble for a brief period of time, while the magnetic field becomes filled with super-hot particles whizzing about at almost light speed.

Combined with other observations, the amount of wobble could be used to test our theories of how matter should behave at densities much higher than we could ever hope to replicate in labs on Earth. The inconsistency of the linear-to-circular conversion with theory, on the other hand, motivates us to devise more complex ideas of how radio waves escape from their magnetic fields.

What’s Next?

While XTE J1810-197 remains active to this day, it has since settled into a more relaxed state with no further signs of wobbling or linear-to-circular conversion. There are however hints that both phenomena may have been seen in past observations of other radio-loud magnetars, and might be a common feature of their outbursts.

Like cats, it’s impossible to predict what a magnetar will do next. But with current and future upgrades to telescopes in Australia, Germany and North America, we are now more ready than ever to pounce the next time one decides to awaken.The Conversation

Marcus Lower, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, CSIROGregory Desvignes, Postdoctoral Researcher, Fundamental Physics in Radio Astronomy, Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, and Patrick Weltevrede, Lecturer In Pulsar Astrophysics, University of Manchester

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

AvPals Term 2 2024


Aged Care Reforms Deliver More Care Time Government States

April 11, 2024
New data reveals older Australians in aged care homes are now receiving historic levels of care the Government has stated.

Aged care residents are now receiving an additional 3.6 million minutes of direct care every single day.

Since 1 October 2023, residential aged care homes have been required to deliver an average of 200 direct care minutes per resident per day, including 40 minutes of care by a registered nurse. 

Data from the first quarter of this new requirement shows that aged care homes delivered an average of 201.93 care minutes per resident per day, including 38.76 by a registered nurse. 

This is an increase of 20 care minutes per day since 2020-21.

This is in addition to delivering our 24/7 nursing requirement, with registered nurses now onsite 98.79% of the time, or 23 hours and 42 minutes per day. 

These results mean older Australians in aged care homes have better access than ever to registered nurses, enrolled nurses, personal care workers and assistants in nursing. 

Care minutes were recommended by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which identified that staffing levels are vital to high-quality aged care.

Visit the Care minutes in residential aged care dashboard for more information. 

Minister for Aged Care, Anika Wells:

“We went to the election promising to improve the lives for older Australians in aged care and these results show we have delivered historically high levels of care.

“We promised more carers with more time to care and that’s exactly what we are delivering – an additional 3.6 million additional care minutes every day across the sector.

“I remain committed to supporting and growing the aged care workforce alongside providers.”

“I want to thank the incredible people who are delivering the care – our fantastic aged care workers.”

Cost Of Living Solutions For Seniors Pre-Budget Submission

National Seniors Australia offers cost-of-living solutions for seniors.
Reducing the fuel excise, a cost-of-living rebate, and continuing the freeze on deeming rates are three key policy recommendations in National Senior Australia’s (NSA) Pre-Budget Submission 2024.

NSA Chief Executive Officer, Mr Chris Grice said the budget cycle comes at a critical time with NSA research revealing 80% of older people are impacted by higher living costs.

“The high prices in fuel, groceries, energy, rents, health care and other essential items is stretching household budgets to the point of breaking,” Mr Grice said.

“While some people are doing okay, many – especially those who rent, who are on low incomes, or live in regional and rural areas, are not. That’s why NSA’s budget recommendations offer immediate relief as well as longer-term policy reform to ensure our standard of living does not go backwards.

Fuel excise
“One of our key recommendations is to reduce the impact of rising fuel costs by temporarily reducing the fuel excise by up to 20c a litre while oil prices remain high.

“Motorists currently pay 49.6 cents in excise for every litre of fuel they purchase. However, the excise amount is not static and increases twice a year in line with CPI.

“We are also calling for a pause on fuel excise indexation while oil prices are high to ensure this is not contributing to inflation.”

Pensioners and seasonal harvest workers, Dawn, and Murray Garner, who travel interstate up to 6,000kms per trip to undertake seasonal harvest work, would welcome moves to reduce fuel costs.

“The fuel costs are a killer for many, especially for those who travel for work. We pay more than $1,200 in fuel to get to our destination – that’s a lot of money to make-up in your pay packet!” Dawn said.

“A reduction in the fuel excise would make a significant difference not only to us, but to every Australian who dreads putting fuel in their vehicle and seeing those numbers tick over at the bowser.”

Cost-of-living rebate
NSA also recommends federal government provides a Cost-of-Living rebate via electricity bills to Australian households, as it did in 2023 via the Energy Bill Relief, with higher rebates for those most in need.

“Cost of living is the biggest issue facing older Australians. The rising cost of products and services means people spend more to receive the same value of goods and services. This is crippling many household budgets and hurting the economy, putting jobs at risk,” Mr Grice said.

Retiree David Warner agrees, “Everyone notices the extra money they’re having to spend at the supermarket, when paying their bills or when eating out, if they’re able. The dollars certainly don’t go as far as they used to, and it all adds up,” Mr Warner said. 

“A federal government cost-of-living rebate would help to provide a much-needed buffer for many who have little or no buffer at all.”

Deeming rate freeze
With interest rates lifting 4% since the freeze was announced and cost of living pressures continuing to build, NSA is also calling for a freeze on deeming rates for a further 12 months to give time to set rates in a fair and transparent way in the future.

“With the cash rate significantly higher than the upper deeming rate, hundreds of thousands of pensioners could have their pensions cut when the freeze ends in July. Some people will lose the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card and others will pay for aged care,” Mr Grice said.

“A dramatic lift in deeming rates on 1 July would impact pensioners to part-pensioners to aged care residents.”

These concerns are shared by many NSA members including Margo who said, “The freeze will impact on the amount of age pension I receive which will naturally impact on my lifestyle.” 

And, Sue, “I am a concerned pensioner who is currently on a part pension. My superannuation amount is dwindling and I am concerned about what will happen in July.”

NSA’s cost of living solutions presented in its pre-budget submission provide government an opportunity to make a meaningful difference to the daily lives of older Australians and meaningful change in the long-term, for generations to follow, the organisation states.

NSA’s full Pre-Budget Submission can be viewed here

Why the pathology bulk-billing campaign is more about driving industry profits than saving you money

Stephen DuckettThe University of Melbourne

For many people, the term “bulk billed” refers to a GP visit they don’t have to pay for out-of-pocket. But another form of bulk billing is in the news ahead of May’s federal budget – bulk billing of pathology testing, such as blood tests.

This relates to the fees pathology companies receive from Medicare to perform out-of-hospital laboratory tests, the type your GP might order to help diagnose or monitor disease.

These pathology fees have been frozen for almost a quarter of a century. Is that fair? Obviously not, argues Australian Pathology, which represents private pathology laboratories.

It has recently launched its “Keep Pathology Bulk Billed” campaign. At the core is a request for about an extra A$160 million a year for pathology companies. It argues this is needed to keep most out-of-hospital pathology tests free for the public.

But simple solutions put forward by vested interests involving more public funds are rarely in the public interest. Here’s how we might design a fairer pathology system, fit for the 21st century, that keeps tests free for the public.

Pathology Is Big Business

Collecting specimens and analysing them is big business. Pathology providers received almost $3.25 billion for out-of-hospital tests in 2022-23 from Medicare rebates. Pathology testing is also conducted in public and private hospitals, but these are funded under a combination of different arrangements.

Almost all (more than 99%) of out-of-hospital pathology services are bulk billed. That’s a rate much higher than that for GP visits, which stood at about 80% in the same period.

Pathology use is increasing faster than the population is growing. That’s partly because of more chronic disease in the population, and partly because new tests are becoming available.

Pathology provision is concentrated in a few hands, with a number of providers listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. Increases in pathology rebates, as Australian Pathology is calling for, would go straight to companies’ bottom lines, increasing shareholder value.

Drive-through COVID testing
Remember drive-through testing? In the early days of the pandemic, private pathology companies conducted millions of COVID PCR tests. Christie Cooper/Shutterstock

So why are pathology companies calling for more funding now? Pathology companies’ profits burgeoned during the first years of the COVID pandemic, with the introduction of widespread PCR testing and the government funding that went with it.

But the industry was accused of profiting from “COVID-19 misery”, and the gravy train eventually ended. So pathology companies are now looking to replace that revenue, using the latest campaign to try to increase rebates.

Does The Pathology Industry Have A Point?

On the face of it, a 24-year freeze on pathology government rebates might seem unfair. But a look into the pathology world reveals an industry where there has been significant productivity growth.

An increased volume of standard tests, as we’ve seen in recent years, can lead to improved productivity. For instance, companies can work their testing equipment harder – running them for longer, loading them with more samples – lowering the cost per test. Improvements in equipment also allow tests to be done quicker, allowing increased economies of scale.

But a fee freeze is a lazy policy, an example of “set and forget”. While it does achieve some benefits for the taxpayer, it’s not optimal. That’s because it assumes all the productivity savings (from automation, digitisation and increased economies of scale) exactly offset any increased costs from inflation. This is never likely to be true. Given the current extent of automation and consolidation, this is probably leaving excess profits in the pockets of providers, and costing governments more than they need to pay.

More changes in pathology provision are yet to come. Advances in artificial intelligence are accelerating and automated reading of some pathology tests may reduce pathology costs further, yielding more profits for providers.

Future policies need to reflect changes in how much it costs to provide pathology services, details of which are thin on the ground.

What Needs To Happen?

Government should step back and ask whether a fees-for-pathology-service payment system, designed a century ago when pathology provision was literally a cottage industry, is still right in an era of extensive automation and ownership concentration. The answer is clearly no.

Reform should first dump the existing uncapped, fee-for-service payment system. Pathology is a big business and should be paid as such using tenders and contracts.

Two people looking at a document, one about to sign it
Pathology providers should be invited to tender for contracts, to keep costs down. fizkes/Shutterstock

Pathology companies should be invited to tender to provide out-of-hospital pathology services in designated geographic areas. Two or more tenders could be approved to maintain competition between providers and keep options open for the end of the tender period. Pathology contracts should involve no out-of-pocket payments by consumers.

In-hospital pathology should not be covered by the same arrangements. Instead, private hospitals should make their own contractual arrangements for pathology provision, as they do now.

Public pathology services – run by state governments or their agencies such as Pathology Queensland – are also changing.

Consolidation of public pathology services in New South Wales yielded significant improvements in productivity. Victoria has started a less ambitious reform process, consolidating into three public providers rather than the single public provider model seen in NSW, Queensland and South Australia. This will also probably yield savings.

Public providers should be invited with private providers into the tender process to enhance competition.

What’s The Take-Home Message?

The world of pathology provision is in flux, with more changes on the horizon, whether that’s related to technology or consolidation. In this environment, paying more to private providers under a payment system that has passed its use-by date is not good policy. That’s despite its simplistic attraction and advocacy from vested interests.

So the next time you go to a pathology collection centre and see posters encouraging you to email your MP to “keep pathology bulk billed”, beware. The campaign is more about company profits than saving you money.The Conversation

Stephen Duckett, Honorary Enterprise Professor, School of Population and Global Health, and Department of General Practice and Primary Care, The University of Melbourne

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

Blood Protein Could Help Detect Delayed Concussion Recovery In Children

April 9, 2024
Researchers have discovered a blood protein that could help detect which children will experience ongoing concussion symptoms more than two weeks after an injury. 
The research, led by Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) and published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, found the protein was a potential biomarker for delayed recovery from concussion in children.

For the study, blood samples were collected from children, aged five-18 years, who presented to the emergency department at The Royal Children's Hospital less than 48 hours after a concussion.

Levels of the protein alpha-1-antichymotrypsin (alpha-1-ACT) were significantly lower in children with a delayed recovery.

MCRI researcher Ella Swaney said with concussion being a growing public health concern, there was an increasing need to develop a tool that could contribute to identifying those at risk of delays to recovery.

Of the four million children who experience a concussion each year, 25-30 per cent will have long-term symptoms and about half will never seek out medical care. Symptoms including headaches, difficulty remembering and sensitivity to light can last for months while mental health conditions can persist for several years.

"Delayed recovery from concussion spans emotional, behavioural, physical and cognitive symptoms, which can affect the well-being of the child, delaying their return to school and sport," Ms Swaney said.

"Early detection of children at risk of delayed recovery is crucial to ensure effective treatment and targeted follow-up."

Image: Concussion researcher Ella Swaney

MCRI Professor Vicki Anderson said this small study, involving 80 children, was the first in human trial to identify that alpha-1-ACT could contribute to the early detection of those who will experience a delayed recovery from concussion.

"If the finding holds up in larger studies, the discovery could contribute to acute clinical management by providing clinicians with an acute marker to guide more timely and targeted treatments to children most likely to experience long-term problems," she said.

Mackenzie, 16, suffered a concussion during a netball match 15 months ago. She was hit in the face by an opposing player's upper arm, knocking her out, and causing her to smack her head on the indoor court.

Out cold for a minute and suffering a nosebleed and swollen left eye, Mackenzie was taken to hospital where she was diagnosed with a concussion.

"I was knocked out while jumping mid-air, the force spinning me 180 degrees, and then I landed on my head for a second blow," she said.

"When I woke up, I couldn't see out of my eye and I was lying in a pool of my own blood. I felt dizzy, confused and everything became a blur."

In the weeks that followed, as well as the dizziness and confusion, Mackenzie was nauseous, sensitive to bright lights, had memory loss, headaches and muscle soreness and poor mental health. She also missed weeks of school due to the ongoing concussion symptoms.

To help her recover, Mackenzie was enrolled in MCRI's Concussion Essentials Plus program for children with chronic persisting concussion symptoms. It involved weekly physiotherapy and psychology treatments spanning months and education around return to exercise, school and sports.

"It was a slow recovery process, but the intervention helped me return to my normal self again," she said. All I wanted was to be back on the netball court. I didn't understand at the time how much of a long-term impact concussion can have."

Mackenzie returned to netball five months after the injury.

"I'm more hesitant and cautious on the court now but I would never give up playing netball, I love the sport too much," she said.

Mackenzie's mum Karen Payne, who will never forget the image of her daughter lying unconscious on the court, said the latest MCRI research would come as a welcome to relief to families.

"If clinicians can easily find out which children will have long term concussion symptoms then they can receive targeted and early intervention," she said. Recovery from concussion can be a long process, like our daughter's, and anything that can help speed up the process would make a world of difference."

Image: Mackenzie suffered a concussion during a netball match.

In 2023, a vast body of international research, with major contributions from MCRI researchers, took a deep dive into all aspects of concussion management.

The updated consensus findings aimed to change how concussion was viewed across sporting codes, recreational sport and within medical clinics and emergency departments by overhauling exercise and rehabilitation methods and upgrading return-to school and return-to-sport protocols.

Another concussion management tool, the HeadCheck App, designed by child concussion experts at MCRI in collaboration with The Royal Children's Hospital and the Australian Football League (AFL), also helps recognise concussion early and manage recovery.

Researchers from the University of Melbourne, Macquarie University's Australian Proteome Analysis Facility, Austin and Cabrini Hospitals, Johns Hopkins All Children's Institute for Clinical and Translational Research and Hopkins University also contributed to the study findings.

Ella E.K. Swaney, Franz E. Babl, Vanessa C. Rausa, Nicholas Anderson, Stephen J.C. Hearps, Georgia Parkin, Gene Hart-Smith, Thiri Zaw, Luke Carroll, Michael Takagi, Marc L. Seal, Gavin A. Davis, Vicki Anderson, Vera Ignjatovic. Discovery of Alpha-1-Antichymotrypsin as a Marker of Delayed Recovery from Concussion in Children. Journal of Neurotrauma, 2024; DOI: 10.1089/neu.2023.0503

New Campaign Raises Awareness Of Sepsis

April 10 2024
A new campaign is encouraging people to ask frontline healthcare workers, ‘Could it be sepsis?’ if they or a loved one are showing signs and symptoms of the potentially deadly condition which occurs when the body has an extreme response to an infection.

Minister for Health Ryan Park said sepsis is very serious and it is important to act quickly.

“Sepsis can affect anyone and I want people to seek help without delay if they, or their loved one, is very unwell, even if they have recently been seen by a doctor or other medical professional,” Mr Park said.

“In Australia at least 55,000 people develop sepsis each year and more than 8,000 of them die from sepsis-related complications.

“That’s why it’s important people aren’t afraid and are empowered, to ask, ‘Could it be sepsis?’ because early treatment can be lifesaving,” he said.

Paediatric Specialist Dr Matthew O’Meara said a person with sepsis often reports feeling the sickest they have ever felt.

“We want people to pay close attention to the symptoms, and seek urgent medical care if symptoms get worse,” Dr O’Meara said.

“You may only have some of the symptoms of sepsis, and features can initially be subtle.

“We urge people to trust their instincts, especially parents who are the experts in their child’s behaviour.”

Dr O’Meara said sepsis can be caused by any type of infection, including bacterial, viral and fungal, and those infections can be anywhere in the body.

There are many possible signs and symptoms of sepsis, and they include getting very sick very quickly, difficulty breathing, confusion, a rash or blue, grey, pale or blotchy skin.

Symptoms to look out for in young children that may indicate severe illness include being quieter or sleepier than normal or difficult to wake, irritability, high-pitched crying, refusal to eat/feed, fewer wet nappies, cold or mottled limbs and difficulty breathing.

If you or the person you care for is seriously unwell call 000 or go to your local Emergency Department. If you are concerned about your or your child’s health call your GP or Healthdirect on 1800 022 222.

Some families push back against journalists who mine social media for photos – they have every right to

Laura Wajnryb McDonaldUniversity of Sydney

Less than 24 hours after Ashlee Good was murdered in Bondi Junction, her family released a statement requesting the media take down photographs they had reproduced of Ashlee and her family without their consent. They said it had caused her loved ones extreme distress.

Their appeal is immediately understandable – many people would be upset by seeing photos of a loved one everywhere after such a traumatic event.

The media had evidently not received permission to use these photos in their news stories. Nor had they afforded the family any ethical sense of privacy when they circulated and displayed the photos across multiple platforms.

There has been valuable commentary about the issues surrounding the common journalistic practice of mining social media after a “newsworthy” death.

My PhD research offers further insight into a perspective that is rarely shared: the view of families bereaved through homicide.

While I cannot and do not presume to speak for Good’s family, I have interviewed families bereaved through homicide and they have shared their experience of photos of their loved one being in the media.

Private Photos In The Public Domain

To the bereaved, photos of loved ones are deeply meaningful. They are more than mere objects, more than random captured moments.

They are wrapped up in specific memories and treated as keepsakes. They are representations of and tangible connections to the person who was taken from them.

When these photos enter the public domain following homicide, they become photos of a victim.

In this new domain, private photos serve altogether different purposes. They furnish media stories now and into the future. Their original context and personal meaning are typically overridden or removed, often along with families’ consent.

My research indicates this is an issue that persists long into the aftermath of homicide, well after media and public interest has dissipated.

In other words, it has the capacity to traumatise families for years.

Judging Victims

While the mining of photos is one matter, how they are then used by the media and interpreted by the public is another.

My research uncovers how details in a photo can be highlighted and twisted at the expense of others. For example, bereaved families told me how hurtful it was when the media republished unflattering and inappropriate photos of their loved one that were just meant for friends and family.

One mother recalled how her son would do a silly pose and ruin their family photos. He was being a typical teenager, but that was not how he was perceived when the media reproduced those photos alongside their chosen narrative. Instead, the mother read comments made by the public underneath the article that said her son deserved to be murdered. The public judged her son based on those photos.

Similarly, a sister was distraught when the media pulled a photo from her social media of her and her brother where he did not look his best. They were at a party and there is a heart-warming story of the moment before the photo was taken. She explained she loves the photo; it is a happy memory for her, but she said it is for his family to love, not for the public to make assumptions about her brother.

These examples highlight how significant it is for families when the media take a photo out of context, without permission, and curate it to suit specific narratives.

Certainly, it is a practice that exacerbates trauma.

The Right To Control

I also spoke to families about how they decided which photographs they wanted in the public domain.

One family, whose daughter was murdered before social media was used as a journalistic tool, told me that when they were asked for photos, they were reflective and careful about the ones they shared, choosing to keep their favourite photos to themselves.

Another mother explained her reasoning behind the two photos that she handed over – one because it depicted her daughter as she was at the time of her murder, and the other where she was dressed up, because it showed what she would have been like if she had had the chance to get married.

Bereaved families want photos to be an accurate, presentable, and appropriate portrayal of their loved one.

The photos might be tied to a specific memory or feeling, they might maintain their privacy, they might be chosen because they do not require context, or they might be the one they believe their loved one would have wanted.

The bereaved deserve to be in control of that decision. Allowing them to make that choice themselves gives the bereaved agency at a time when they feel most powerless.The Conversation

Laura Wajnryb McDonald, PhD candidate in Criminology, University of Sydney

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

From forced kisses to power imbalances, violence against women in sport is endemic

Fiona GilesLa Trobe University and Kirsty ForsdikeLa Trobe University

Former Spanish football federation chief Luis Rubiales may face significant consequences for his non-consensual kiss of Spanish soccer star Jenni Hermoso.

But this is not the norm for perpetrators of gender-based violence in sport. Our research – which reviewed 25 years of studies examining women’s experiences of gender-based violence in sport – found perpetrators are rarely held to account.

More commonly, they are free to continue abusing victims with impunity.

Even after millions of people watched Rubiales’ actions, it was obvious that Hermoso’s experience was minimised, that powerful organisations attempted to coerce her into stating it was consensual, and that it took the collective voices of women standing with Hermoso to fight back with a resounding “no”.

Luis Rubiales, the former Spanish football federation chief, has been charged with one count of sexual assault and one of coercion.

The Shocking Reality Of Gender-Based Violence In Sport

Women’s sport is championed as a platform for empowerment and equality but previous studies have shown gender-based violence is highly prevalent, ranging from 26 to 75% across psychological, physical and sexual violence, depending on how the violence has been defined and measured.

There have been many historical and contemporary cases of abuse, bringing to light some of the concerns about how perpetrators were able to continue their abuse for so long.

Our research systematically gathered and analysed the collective voices of women who experienced gender-based violence in sport to understand their experiences better and to inform future prevention and response initiatives. Participants included current and former athletes, coaches, umpires and managers.

The research found women in sport experience multiple types of violence (sexual, physical, psychological, financial), often by more than one perpetrator. Coaches or other authority figures are the most common perpetrators, followed by male athletes or members of the public.

We found a “normalisation” of these violent behaviours in the sporting context; they were seen as expected and were routinely excused in order to get results.

Beware Of ‘Sporting Family Violence’

When women do speak up and complain, our research highlighted that organisational responses are impotent at best, actively malevolent and cruel at worst.

Complaints often go nowhere, codes of conduct may not exist, and there is a strong lack of confidentiality because “everyone knows everyone”.

In some cases, women were mocked and told they’d imagined the abuse, a deliberate strategy by the organisation to put “success” and “winning” before the safety of women.

Instead, women are left to do their own safety work by avoiding the perpetrator(s) or leaving the sport entirely.

Justice is sometimes only achieved when women act as a group to voice their experiences and confront abusers.

Importantly, our research found the unique context of sport as an extended or surrogate family created the conditions for “sporting family violence”.

Athletes spend significant time within the sporting family unit, creating close relationships with their coach, other authority figures and teammates.

The Coach As A Father Figure

The coach as a father figure was a consistent theme across several studies, with some athletes stating the coach knew more about them than their parents.

If a coach was regarded as “the best”, often no one questioned him. This gave coaches enormous power, which they used to isolate women they abused from both the sport family and their actual family, exerting coercive control to maintain an environment of secrecy and dominance.

Finally, our research found women are still seen as inferior to men and treated as “other” in the sporting context. Consequently, there is a hostility to women, who are perceived as a threat to the hegemonic masculinity of sport.

This was a particularly strong theme in non-traditional female sports such as judo and boxing, and for women in management or official roles.

Power is a key factor running through all our findings, and while women may be able to exercise some power through collective resistance, power often remains with men and sports institutions that are complicit.

Initiatives to address gender-based violence in sport must recognise the many forms of violence women experience, and the different ways in which power and violence play out.

Some Positive Signs, But Much More Is Needed

There are some positive signs of change. A recent report into the culture of abuse in swimming in Australia made several recommendations that are now being actioned.

And in the UK, laws that prohibit coaches from having relationships with players are being developed and acted upon.

Also, several collective survivor advocacy groups have been established, such as The Army of SurvivorsSport and Rights Alliance and Gymnasts for Change.

Of course, this still shows the extent of the collective voice needed to push for change.

While we applaud this and the reckoning of Rubiales’ actions, and cheer for the collective voice standing with women like Jenni Hermoso, it would be negligent to forget the many silenced women’s voices in sport who bear the brunt of violence within a space often considered their family.The Conversation

Fiona Giles, Research Fellow, La Trobe Rural Health School, La Trobe University and Kirsty Forsdike, Senior Lecturer, La Trobe Business School, and Senior Researcher, Centre for Sport & Social Impact, La Trobe University

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

Does The Time Of Day You Move Your Body Make A Difference To Your Health?

April 10. 2024
Undertaking the majority of daily physical activity in the evening is linked to the greatest health benefits for people living with obesity, according to researchers from the University of Sydney, Australia who followed the trajectory of 30,000 people over almost 8 years.

Using wearable device data to categorise participant's physical activity by morning, afternoon or evening, the researchers uncovered that those who did the majority of their aerobic moderate to vigorous physical activity- the kind that raises our heartrate and gets us out of breath- between 6pm and midnight had the lowest risk of premature death and death from cardiovascular disease.

The frequency with which people undertook moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) in the evening, measured in short bouts up to or exceeding three minutes, also appeared to be more important than their total amount of physical activity daily.

The study, led by researchers from the University's Charles Perkins Centre is published in the journal Diabetes Care today.

"Due to a number of complex societal factors, around two in three Australians have excess weight or obesity which puts them at a much greater risk of major cardiovascular conditions such as heart attacks and stroke, and premature death," said Dr Angelo Sabag, Lecturer in Exercise Physiology at the University of Sydney.

"Exercise is by no means the only solution to the obesity crisis, but this research does suggest that people who can plan their activity into certain times of the day may best offset some of these health risks."

Smaller clinical trials have shown similar results, however the large scale of participant data in this study, the use of objective measures of physical activity and hard outcomes, such as premature death, makes these findings significant.

Joint first author Dr Matthew Ahmadi also stressed that the study did not just track structured exercise. Rather researchers focused on tracking continuous aerobic MVPA in bouts of 3 minutes or more as previous research shows a strong association between this type of activity, glucose control and lowered cardiovascular disease risk compared with shorter (non-aerobic) bouts.

"We didn't discriminate on the kind of activity we tracked, it could be anything from power walking to climbing the stairs, but could also include structured exercise such as running, occupational labour or even vigorously cleaning the house," said Dr Ahmadi, National Heart Foundation postdoctoral research fellow at the Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney.

While observational, the findings of the study support the authors original hypothesis, which is the idea -- based on previous research -- that people living with diabetes or obesity, who are already glucose intolerant in the late evening, may be able to offset some of that intolerance and associated complications, by doing physical activity in the evening.

The researchers used data from UK Biobank and included 29,836 adults aged over 40 years of age living with obesity, of whom 2,995 participants were also diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

Participants were categorised into morning, afternoon of evening MVPA based on when they undertook the majority of their aerobic MVPA as measured by a wrist accelerometer worn continuously for 24 hours a day over 7 days at study onset.

The team then linked health data (from the National Health Services and National Records of Scotland) to follow participants health trajectory for 7.9 years. Over this period they recorded 1,425 deaths, 3,980 cardiovascular events and 2,162 microvascular disfunction events.

To limit bias, the researchers accounted for differences such as age, sex, smoking, alcohol intake, fruit and vegetable consumption, sedentary time, total MVPA, education, medication use and sleep duration. They also excluded participants with pre-existing cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The researchers say the length of the study follow-up and additional sensitivity analysis bolster the strength of their findings however, due to the observational design, they cannot completely rule out potential reverse causation. This is the possibility that some participants had lower aerobic MVPA levels due to underlying or undiagnosed disease.

Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, Director of the Mackenzie Wearables Research Hub at the Charles Perkins Centre and senior author on the paper, said the sophistication of studies in the wearables field is providing huge insights into the patterns of activity that are most beneficial for health.

"It is a really exciting time for researchers in this field and practitioners alike, as wearable device-captured data allow us to examine physical activity patterns at a very high resolution and accurately translate findings into advice that could play an important role in health care," said Professor Stamatakis.

"While we need to do further research to establish causal links, this study suggests that the timing of physical activity could be an important part of the recommendations for future obesity and Type 2 diabetes management, and preventive healthcare in general."

Angelo Sabag, Matthew N. Ahmadi, Monique E. Francois, Svetlana Postnova, Peter A. Cistulli, Luigi Fontana, Emmanuel Stamatakis. Timing of Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity, Mortality, Cardiovascular Disease, and Microvascular Disease in Adults With Obesity. Diabetes Care, 2024; DOI: 10.2337/dc23-2448

More Paramedics And Call Takers Join NSW Ambulance

April 5, 2024
​NSW Ambulance has welcomed 149 new trainee paramedics and emergency call takers after they were officially inducted into the service at a ceremony today.

Minister for Health Ryan Park congratulated the 133 graduate paramedics and 16 trainee emergency medical call takers, who will start in their new roles from tomorrow.

“This is the second class of NSW Ambulance graduates this year and I’m proud to see them graduate to serve their communities,” Mr Park said.

“Our paramedics are on the frontline of healthcare in NSW, caring for people when they are at their sickest and most vulnerable.

“I congratulate these paramedics and call takers for reaching this significant milestone in their careers and thank them for their dedication to serving their community.”

NSW Ambulance Chief Executive Dr Dominic Morgan welcomed the new starters, who were honoured at a ceremony at Sydney Olympic Park, attended by family and friends.

Dr Morgan said the new recruits would provide welcome reinforcements during a busy time for emergency health care.

“I know all who are graduating today have worked incredibly hard throughout their training,” Dr Morgan said.

“I thank them for their commitment and warmly welcome them into NSW Ambulance.

“As demand for our services continues to grow, we remain committed to providing world-class care to our patients,” Dr Morgan said.

Member for Parramatta Donna Davis thanked the incoming trainee paramedics and emergency call takers for their commitment to providing the community with care.

“It takes someone special to join the ambulance service and I’m really pleased so many are graduating today at Sydney Olympic Park,” Ms Davis said.

“Their dedication to care is highly commendable and I wish them well in their career with NSW Ambulance.”

The graduate paramedics will be posted across NSW to complete the on-road portion of their 12-month internships before taking permanent positions in metropolitan and regional areas.

The emergency medical call takers will all be posted to the Triple Zero (000) control centre in Sydney.​

Photo: NSW Ambulance

Our research suggests eating an unhealthy breakfast could have a similar effect on your child’s school day as having nothing at all

Haley Owens/UnsplashCC BY
Andrew J. MartinUNSW SydneyEmma BurnsMacquarie UniversityJoel PearsonUNSW SydneyKeiko C.P. BostwickUNSW Sydney, and Roger KennettUNSW Sydney

Many parents know it is important for their teenagers to have breakfast before they go to school. Even though young people can be reluctant to eat it, breakfast provides the energy the brain and body need to function through the day.

In our new research we looked at what impact breakfast has on students’ motivation to learn and their academic achievement at school.

We also looked at whether it matters if they have a healthy breakfast, an unhealthy breakfast or no breakfast at all.

Why Did We Study Breakfast?

As educational psychology researchers we look at ways to improve how students learn.

Unlike factors beyond a student’s control (such as teaching quality) or those that can take time to improve (such as study skills), eating breakfast is something students may have some immediate control over.

It is also something that could be quickly addressed by schools.

A person holds a spoon of cereal above a bowl of cereal.
Breakfast provides energy for the brain and body to function throughout the day. Ryan Pouncy/ UnsplashCC BY

Our Research

We wanted to know if eating breakfast affects students’ motivation and achievement. We also wanted to know if it mattered whether the breakfast was a healthy one.

So, as part of an Australian Research Council project, we studied 648 Australian high school students from five private schools in New South Wales. Two of these schools were single-sex boys’ schools, two were single-sex girls’ schools and one was co-educational.

Students were in Years 7 to 9, with an average age of 13–14 years.

We conducted our study during students’ science lessons. It was made up of three main components.

First, students completed an online survey of their breakfast habits. We asked if they had eaten breakfast that morning and what types of food they usually eat for breakfast.

Drawing on national dietary guidelines, we created a score for how often students consumed healthy foods for breakfast, such as fruit and vegetables, dairy and protein, wholegrains and cereals and water. We also asked how often they had an unhealthy breakfast, with items such as sugary soft drinks, processed meat, fast food, unhealthy bakery goods and unhealthy snacks. A higher score reflected typically eating a healthier breakfast.

Second, they rated their motivation in science lessons, including how confident they were in doing science schoolwork, how much they valued the subject and were focused on learning.

Third, students did a test based on content in the NSW science syllabus.

In this way, our study was a snapshot of one day in the life of students.

We also asked questions about their personal background, how well they usually perform in science, and also features of the classroom (including the time of the lesson in the day) so we could account for these in our findings.

Baby spinach and avocado on two slices of toast, on a plate.
Students in our study were asked what they ate for breakfast, their motivation to learn and then tested on their academic achievement in science. Lisa Fotion/PexelsCC BY

Our Findings

We found students who ate a healthy breakfast on the morning of the study demonstrated higher levels of motivation and achievement.

This means, for example, they were more confident about and focused on their science lessons. And they scored higher results in the test of their science knowledge.

In comparison, students who ate no breakfast had lower levels of motivation and achievement.

This was not unexpected. But what did surprise us was students who had no breakfast had similarly low levels of motivation and achievement to those students who had an unhealthy breakfast.

This suggests eating an unhealthy breakfast could be as disruptive to motivation and achievement as not eating breakfast at all.

Because we also looked at students’ previous science results, the study showed that even if they had previously performed well in science, they could still score low in motivation and achievement if they had not had breakfast or had eaten an unhealthy one.

Although our study could not dig into specific reasons for this, it is likely because eating the wrong kinds of foods does not properly fuel the mind or body for what is needed to optimally “switch on” academically.

It is also important to note the students in our study were from private schools. Although we took a student’s family background into account, the socioeconomic aspect of eating breakfast requires further investigation. It could be that the benefits of a healthy breakfast are larger in a more diverse sample of students.

What Does This Mean?

Our findings emphasise the importance of students eating a healthy breakfast each and every morning.

Schools can help ensure this by

  • offering a healthy breakfast to students

  • offering a healthy morning snack

  • teaching students about the importance of a healthy breakfast (for example, as part of health and wellbeing syllabus units)

  • giving parents information about the importance of healthy breakfasts, meal ideas and strategies for giving this to their children.

A display case with muffins, biscuits and pastries.
Students who ate unhealthy breakfasts performed similarly poorly in terms of motivation and achievement as those who had skipped the meal. Leigh Patrick/ PexelsCC BY

Barriers To Breakfast

But schools will need to be mindful of and address barriers to a healthy breakfast. For example, there will be situations where school-provided breakfasts and morning snacks will need to be free. In such cases, it is also possible some students may not want a free breakfast if there is a stigma attached to it (if it is seen as only being for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds).

It is also worth recognising some students may have body image concerns and not want to eat a snack or breakfast at school. In addition, cultural and dietary differences may mean some foods are not appropriate for some students.

If these barriers are effectively managed, our study shows a small and relatively achievable change in a student’s life – a healthy breakfast each day – can have a positive academic impact.The Conversation

Andrew J. Martin, Scientia Professor and Professor of Educational Psychology, UNSW SydneyEmma Burns, ARC DECRA Fellow and Senior Lecturer, Macquarie UniversityJoel Pearson, Professor of cognitive neuroscience, UNSW SydneyKeiko C.P. Bostwick, Postdoctoral research fellow, UNSW Sydney, and Roger Kennett, Researcher in educational neuroscience, UNSW Sydney

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

Judge finds Bruce Lehrmann raped Brittany Higgins and dismisses Network 10 defamation case. How did it play out?

Brendan CliftThe University of Melbourne

Bruce Lehrmann has lost his defamation suit against Channel Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson after the media defendants proved, on the balance of probabilities, that Lehrmann raped his colleague Brittany Higgins in Parliament House in 2019.

After a trial lasting around a month, Federal Court Justice Michael Lee – an experienced defamation judge – concluded that both Lehrmann and Higgins had credibility issues, but ultimately he was persuaded that Lehrmann raped Higgins, as she’d alleged and he’d denied.

Criminal Trials By Proxy

Ordinarily, charges like rape would be resolved through the criminal courts, but Lehrmann’s criminal trial was aborted in October 2022 after juror misconduct. The charges against him were soon dropped, nominally over concerns for Higgins’ mental health.

Higgins, however, foresaw civil proceedings and offered to testify should they arise. That they did, as Lehrmann, free from the burden of any proven crime, sued several media outlets for defamation over their reporting into the allegations (the ABC and News Corp both settled out of court).

Made with Flourish

Like Ben Roberts-Smith’s recent defamation suit against the former Fairfax papers, this became another case of civil proceedings testing grave allegations in the absence of a criminal law outcome.

The form of proceedings made for some key differences with the aborted criminal trial. In criminal cases, prosecutors are ethically bound to act with moderation in pursuing a conviction, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, while defendants have the right to silence. By contrast, this trial featured detailed accounts from both sides as each sought to convince, in essence, that their contentions were likely to be correct.

Also like the Roberts-Smith case, live streaming of the trial generated very high levels of public engagement. Today’s stream reached audiences of more than 45,000 people. It gave us the chance to assess who and what we believe, and to scrutinise the parties’ claims and the media’s reporting. The Federal Court doesn’t have juries, but we, the public, acted as a de facto panel of peers.

We saw accusations and denials, revealing cross-examination of the protagonists, witness testimony from colleagues, CCTV footage from nightclubs to Parliament House complete with lip-reading, expert testimony on alcohol consumption and consent, and lawyers constructing timelines which supported or poked holes in competing versions of events.

The complexity of high-stakes legal proceedings was on display, with Justice Lee issuing many interim decisions on questions of procedure and evidence. Whenever transparency was at stake, it won.

The preference for full disclosure led to the case being re-opened at the eleventh hour to call former Channel 7 producer Taylor Auerbach as a witness, providing a denouement that the judge called “sordid”, but which had little relevance to the final result.

An Argument Over The Truth

Lehrmann had the burden of proving that the defendants published matter harmful to his reputation. That matter was Wilkinson’s interview with Higgins on Channel Ten’s The Project in which the allegations were made.

A statement is only defamatory if it’s untrue, but in Australian law, the publisher bears the burden of proving truth, should they opt for that defence. And more serious allegations usually require more compelling proof, as the law views them as inherently more unlikely.

This can be onerous for a defamation defendant, but it also involves risk for the plaintiff, should the defendant embark on an odyssey of truth-telling yet more damaging to the plaintiff’s image. That happened to Ben Roberts-Smith and it happened to Lehrmann here.

On the other hand, if the media hasn’t done their homework, as in Heston Russell’s case against the ABC (also presided over by Justice Lee), the complainant can be vindicated.

This case was a manifestation of Lehrmann’s professed desire to “light some fires”. Few players in this extended saga have emerged without scars, and here he burned his own fingers, badly.

As Justice Lee put it, Lehrmann, “having escaped the lion’s den [of criminal prosecution], made the mistake of coming back to get his hat”.

How Was The Case Decided?

Lehrmann denied having sex with Higgins, whereas Higgins alleged there had been non-consensual sex. The defamatory nature of the publication centred on the claim of rape, so that was what the media defendants sought to prove.

This left open the curious possibility that consensual sex might have taken place: if so, Lehrmann would have brought his case on a false premise (there had been no sex), but the media would have failed to defend it (by not proving a lack of consent), resulting in a Lehrmann win.

That awkward scenario did not arise. The court found sex did in fact take place, Higgins in her heavily-inebriated and barely-conscious state did not give consent, and Lehrmann was so intent on his gratification that he ignored the requirement of consent.

Justice Lee found Lehrmann to be a persistent, self-interested liar, whereas Higgin’s credibility issues were of lesser degree, some symptomatic of a person piecing together a part-remembered trauma. The judge drew strongly on the evidence of certain neutral parties who could testify to incidents or words spoken in close proximity to the events.

Defamation Laws Favour The Aggrieved

Australian defamation law has historically favoured plaintiffs and, despite recent rebalancing attempts, it remains a favoured legal weapon for those with the resources to use it.

This includes our political class, who sue their critics for defamation with unhealthy frequency for a democracy. In the United States, public figures don’t have it so easy: to win they must prove their critics were lying.

In Australia, the media sometimes succeeds in proving truth, but contesting defamation proceedings comes at great financial cost and takes an emotional toll on the journalists involved.

Nor can a true claim always be proven to a court’s satisfaction, given the rules of evidence and the fact that sources may be reluctant to testify or protected by a reporter’s guarantee of confidentiality.

But this case demonstrates that publishers with an appetite for the legal fight can come out on top.The Conversation

Brendan Clift, Lecturer of law, The University of Melbourne

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

How the Lehrmann v Channel 10 defamation case shone an unflattering light on commercial news gathering

Denis MullerThe University of Melbourne

Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson’s victory in the defamation action brought against them by Bruce Lehrmann is the second big win inside a year for the Australian media using the defence of truth. However, it comes at a heavy cost to the reputations of the industry and the profession of journalism.

The evidence about the Seven Network’s efforts to get Lehrmann to give an exclusive interview for its Spotlight program, allegedly including the purchase of cocaine and prostitute services for him, cast a pall over the way commercial TV news programs operate.

These allegations were denied by Seven, but invoices and receipts said to support them were produced in court. Justice Michael Lee stated in his judgment that they were uncontradicted by any evidence in reply from Lehrmann.

By contrast with this unsavoury episode, only ten months ago, in June 2023, Australians saw journalism at the opposite end of the ethical spectrum when The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times proved the substantial truth of the imputation that Ben Roberts-Smith was a war criminal. It was a victory based on extraordinary feats of investigative journalism on a matter of grave public interest.

How Network Ten Got It Right … And Wrong

Network Ten and Wilkinson also produced journalism dealing with a matter of grave public interest. They can claim credit for giving a voice to Brittany Higgins, now proved to be the victim of rape, by interviewing her on The Project, and in doing so standing up for the right of all women victims to be heard.

But the credit is tarnished by their actions first in disrupting Lehrmann’s criminal trial and second by serious journalistic weaknesses in the production of The Project interview itself.

The interview won Wilkinson a silver Logie, but her acceptance speech was considered by the ACT Supreme Court to be so prejudicial in favour of Higgins as to amount to trial by media.

The trial was postponed and ultimately collapsed because of juror misconduct, with no findings against Lehrmann.

Justice Lee acknowledged that Wilkinson had cleared her speech with Ten’s senior litigation counsel, Tasha Smithies, whose conduct in this matter he criticised, and was encouraged by the network to make the speech. In these respects, he said, Wilkinson had been badly let down by those she turned to for advice.

However, he went on to say she was an experienced journalist who might have realised the speech was fraught with danger if she had thought it through as a journalist rather than as a champion of Higgins.

This attachment to Higgins’ cause was a fundamental weakness that underlay the many substantive criticisms Justice Lee made of the journalistic motives and processes leading up to The Project interview.

From the outset, Wilkinson had said to Higgins’ boyfriend, David Sharaz, that she proposed to “hold Britt’s hand through all this”.

Justice Lee observed that while he was aware of the need to build rapport and deal sensitively with a person presenting as a victim of sexual assault, assessing the credibility of someone making claims of serious wrongdoing required a degree of detachment that was absent in the interactions between The Project team and Higgins.

The second weakness was that Wilkinson and the producer of the program, Angus Llewellyn, failed to keep an open mind. In Justice Lee’s words, all contemporaneous records suggested they never doubted the truth of Higgins’ account.

For them, he said, the most important part of the story was Higgins’ narrative in which others were putting up roadblocks to her quest for justice.

It was this cover-up or victimisation allegation that had generated so much notoriety and public interest, yet it had contained inconsistencies, falsities and imprecisions that the journalists had failed resolve.

Justice Lee also raised doubts about Higgins’ motive for doing the interview. Llewellyn had given evidence that he thought Higgins wanted to speak out about her experience to create change, to prevent it from happening to anyone else, and did not consider she had a vendetta.

While conceding there might have been some truth in this, Justice Lee said any suggestion Wilkinson or Llewellyn approached the story with disinterested professional scepticism was undermined by the way they were prepared to assist in the plans of Sharaz and Higgins to use the allegations for immediate political advantage.

He said Sharaz’s political motives were made plain by his expressed intention to liaise with an opposition frontbencher to deploy the allegations against the government during Question Time.

Yet Llewellyn had evidently considered this to be of no consequence, leading Justice Lee to say that any journalist who did not think Sharaz had a motivation to inflict immediate political damage would have to be “wilfully blind”.

Moreover, Llewellyn and Wilkinson had expressed a willingness to assist in the political use of the serious charges they were supposedly interrogating and assessing with independent minds.

So once more in this saga, journalists and the media were revealed as having become partisan political participants in the story.

Journalist As Participant

Previously we had seen The Australian newspaper and one of its columnists, Janet Albrechtsen, insert themselves into the inquiry established by the ACT government into the way the criminal case against Lehrmann had been handled.

According to a judicial review of that inquiry by the ACT Supreme Court, the chair of the inquiry, Walter Sofronoff, engaged in 273 interactions with Albrechtsen over the inquiry’s seven months. This included 51 phone calls, text messages, emails and a private lunch in Brisbane.

It was alleged during the judicial review that Albrechtsen was an “advocate” for Lehrmann, and the review found that Sofronoff’s extensive communications with her gave rise to an impression of bias in the findings he made against the former ACT director of public prosecutions, Shane Drumgold.

This phenomenon of journalist as participant undermines public trust in the credibility of the media.

In his recent book Collision of Power, Martin Baron, who was executive editor of the Washington Post throughout Donald Trump’s presidency, takes a strong stand against this trend.

He argues that the more journalists are perceived as partisans, the less their reporting will be believed.

At a time of peril for democratic institutions, we need to be good stewards of our own, reinforcing standards rather than abandoning them.

The Project did right by Higgins and by helping to elevate the issue of violence against women. But this was achieved by journalistic attitudes and practices that did not stand up to scrutiny.

Justice Lee described the Lehrmann saga as “an omnishambles” that had inflicted widespread collateral damage. The media and journalism have not escaped.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, The University of Melbourne

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

Crisis communication saves lives – but people with disability often aren’t given the message

Ariella MeltzerUNSW Sydney

In a pandemic, bushfire or flood, people need high quality safety and crisis information. Getting emergency messages quickly can help people know how to prepare, what rules to follow, where dangers are, where to gather safely and when help is on the way.

This life-saving potential exists for everyone – including people with disability, who may be particularly affected by climate change. So it is important that crisis information is accessible and its meaning is clear for everyone.

Yet, the disability royal commission and advocates say people with disability have not been provided with enough thorough, timely and up to date, accessible information during recent crises.

For example, the government’s accessible information about the early dangers of COVID was not made available at the same time as the standard information and didn’t include enough different types of accessible information.

With climate change making extreme weather events more common and more intensewe asked 17 accessible information provider organisations what could improve accessible crisis communication for people with disability.

What Is Accessible Information?

Accessible information can come in a range of types, including Auslan, captions, Easy Read and Easy English (which both use pictures as well as simpler language) and braille.

Beyond specific formats, information is accessible when it is:

• made for a specific audience

• matched to their technical requirements

• co-designed with and user tested by people with disability

• easy to locate and distribute to people who need it

• to the point and practical

• up to date, accurate and verified

• delivered with a “human touch”.

Who Makes Accessible Information?

There is a small group of provider organisations who make accessible information. Some are specialist accessibility businesses and others are disability advocacy organisations. They usually work from project to project to develop individual accessible products with payment from commissioning bodies, such as government, councils, community organisations and private businesses.

This is important work, yet the piecemeal nature of it means it is hard to build and expand information accessibility businesses between projects. It is also hard to ensure there is accessible information to cover everything people with disability need to know, let alone keep it updated and make sure it is produced under best-practice conditions.

These challenges are even more serious in a crisis. If accessible crisis information is not accurate, complete, up to date and high quality, there can be life and death consequences for people with disability in a bushfire, flood or pandemic.

For example, they may not know if it is controlled backburning or an uncontrolled fire approaching their property or about pandemic safety rules.

Four Ways To Improve Accessible Crisis Information

Accessible information provider organisations told us four things that could help:

1. A direct source of information

Keeping up with constantly changing details in a crisis is difficult for accessible information provider organisations. Having a direct source (such as a government or emergency services contact) of correct information to “translate” into accessible formats would help.

2. Subject matter experts

Accessible information provider organisations are experts on style and accessibility – not crises. There needs to be support from subject matter experts (such as doctors or emergency service personnel) to check accuracy.

3. Not waiting for a crisis

Making high quality, accessible information takes time, money and skilled staff. Ensuring the required workplace, professional learning and human resources conditions are in place is a long term task. Sufficient resourcing for accessible information provider organisations is important from way before a crisis.

4. Upskilling agencies

Not all accessible crisis information can be made by provider organisations. Sometimes crisis information – like evacuation orders or information about approaching fire – needs to be available immediately. Emergency services need more thorough baseline accessibility skills to make this information themselves.

New Rules And Resources Could Help

Clearer and more comprehensive national legislation requiring the production of accessible information would give people with disability the information they need to stay safe in times of crisis. Such laws should clearly outline all situations in which accessible information must be provided (including crises), formats to be considered and the standard necessary.

There are different options for how to make this legislation. In its final report, the disability royal commission said information accessibility should be covered in a new Disability Rights Act. Our report shows information accessibility requirements should also be clearly and consistently included in the governing legislation of sectors like emergency response and health.

Accessible information provider organisations should also have reliable, ongoing funding (not only project to project payments), with capacity for expansion during weather emergencies and public health disasters. This would ensure the workforce and systems are in place to expand workflow quickly when needed and get messages out rapidly to people with disability.

And everyone – from media organisations to designers, businesses and service providers – needs to get on board. The more people who prioritise accessible information, the safer people with disability can be in a crisis.The Conversation

Ariella Meltzer, Research Fellow in Social Impact, UNSW Sydney

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

With democracy under threat in Narendra Modi’s India, how free and fair will this year’s election be?

Priya ChackoUniversity of Adelaide

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, is favoured to win reelection when India’s 970 million voters start heading to the polls on April 19 in the country’s massive, six-week general election.

Modi, who has been prime minister since 2014, has benefited from a divided oppositionglowing mainstream media coverage and high economic growth rates.

However, recent polling indicates significant voter discontent over inflation and unemployment. While 44% of respondents want the Modi government to return to power, a sizeable 39% do not want his Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) to be reelected.

Moreover, Modi’s election campaign has been tainted by several events in recent weeks:

  • the arrest of a major opposition leader in what his party says was a “conspiracy” by Modi’s government

  • the freezing of the accounts of the major opposition Congress party over a tax dispute

  • revelations of heavily skewed political financing favouring Modi’s party.

These incidents have raised concerns about how free and fair India’s election will actually be.

India’s Democratic Decline

For much of its history as an independent state, India has been an electoral democracy, defying political sociologist Seymour Lipset’s theory that democratic institutions and cultures usually only thrive in affluent societies.

Barring a period of emergency rule in the 1970s when elections were suspended, India has met the threshold for free and fair elections throughout its history.

Voter turnout in elections has typically been high, at around 70%. A complex electoral structure has also been put in place to ensure electoral integrity, involving:

  • phased voting over a number of weeks

  • model code of conduct governing how parties and candidates must behave in elections

  • travelling electoral and security officials to oversee the voting process and reach all voters

  • the implementation of an electronic voting system to prevent electoral fraud.

Since 2018, however, there has been a steep decline in the quality of India’s electoral democracy. The V-Dem Institute, which tracks democratic freedom around the globe, now considers India to be an electoral autocracy, which means it still holds regular elections but its government is increasingly autocratic.

V-Dem also says India does not have sufficient safeguards in place to ensure free and fair elections.

What Makes Elections Free And Fair?

To safeguard electoral integrity, governments must ensure the free participation of all parties and voters in elections and maintain an independent election commission. All candidates must have equal access to the media, which should act as a watchdog. Incumbents should not have a large financial advantage over opponents.

These norms of electoral integrity have been endorsed in numerous international and domestic codes of conduct, treaties and protocols around the world.

However, the world is experiencing a new wave of autocratisation, and electoral manipulation is on the rise.

Of particular concern is long-term electoral manipulation that results in the lack of a level playing field. This involves political financing that favours one party over others, the political persecution of opposition politicians and journalists, media dominance by incumbents and the erosion of independent electoral institutions.

An Uneven Political Financing System

On February 15, an opaque system of political financing introduced under the Modi government in 2017 was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. In this “electoral bonds” system, individuals and companies were permitted to make unlimited and anonymous donations to political parties through the purchase of bonds from the State Bank of India.

The Supreme Court ordered the release of the names of donors and recipients despite resistance from the bank.

These data revealed Modi’s BJP as the prime beneficiary of hundreds of millions of dollars of donations by corporations and individuals since 2019.

Thirty-three corporations donated electoral bonds worth more than their profits, raising questions about the true source of these funds. And three-quarters of these donations went to the BJP.

Thirty corporate donors were also found to have purchased electoral bonds after India’s Enforcement Directorate, which investigates economic crimes, and the Tax Department launched investigations against them for money laundering and tax violations.

In addition, Indian media reported that companies donating large amounts to the BJP were later awarded major government contracts.

Targeting The Opposition

Opposition leaders allege the Modi government is also misusing state agencies to target them.

For instance, a media report revealed that 95% of investigations by the Enforcement Directorate since the BJP came into power in 2014 have focused on the opposition. There has also been a five-fold increase in the number of money laundering investigations by the body since 2014.

The Enforcement Directorate has been unable to prove most of these cases. In fact, it has a less than a 0.5% conviction rate dating back to 2005.

Modi has denied accusations he has used the body to target the opposition. However, Indian media have found corruption investigations involving 23 of 25 opposition politicians were shelved after they defected to the BJP.

In recent days, a popular opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, was also jailed on allegations he received kickbacks from the Delhi government’s attempt to privatise the liquor industry. The Enforcement Directorate has yet to provide evidence of his guilt.

Monitoring The Election

Once considered a robustly independent institution, the Indian Election Commission’s reputation has been tarnished by questions about its impartiality.

It has failed to adequately address criticisms of its weakening of verification processes in the electronic voting system, as well as allegations of voter suppression of MuslimsDalits and women.

Indian democracy is not, however, dying in darkness. While the Supreme Court’s independence has been questioned, its persistence in challenging the government on the issue of electoral bonds provides some reassurance that it has not yet become an “executive court”.

Despite being subjected to tax investigationscensorship and arrests, independent journalists and media organisations continue to hold the government to account. They have pooled their resources to investigate the electoral bonds scandal and provide critical election coverage in the recent Karnataka election, which the BJP lost.

The electoral bonds scandal also came to light thanks to the dogged efforts of “right to information” (RTI) activists in the face of efforts by the government to weaken the RTI Act.

And though YouTube has emerged as source of disinformation and hate speech, it has also been a venue for journalists and influencers to provide fact checking and critical commentary on the government. A video by a popular young influencer, Dhruv Rathee, accusing Modi of cultivating a dictatorship recently went viral with 25 million views.

Meanwhile, a new citizens’ initiative, the Independent Panel for Monitoring Elections is issuing weekly bulletins documenting violations of the Model Code of Conduct, media bias and voter exclusion.

If India is the “mother of democracy”, as Modi likes to claim, it is this unbowed civil society that will ensure its survival.The Conversation

Priya Chacko, Associate Professor, International Politics, University of Adelaide

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

ANU Chancellor Julie Bishop Appointed UN Special Envoy 

April 6, 2024
Chancellor of The Australian National University (ANU) the Hon Julie Bishop has been appointed as the United Nations’ Special Envoy on Myanmar.

The appointment was made overnight by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

ANU Chancellor the Hon Julie Bishop. Photo: supplied.

The UN said Ms Bishop brings “extensive political, legal management and senior leadership experience to the role”.

“Throughout her career, Ms Bishop has strengthened engagement with regional partners and led international negotiation efforts, including the first ever United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea conciliation,” the UN said in a statement.

Before taking up the role of ANU Chancellor in 2020 – the first woman appointed to the role in the University’s history – Ms Bishop was Australia’s first female foreign minister, a role she held from 2013 to 2018.

Ms Bishop has held several other high-level positions in Australian Government, including Cabinet Minister for Education, Science and Training, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues and Minister for Ageing. She was a member of Parliament from 1998 to 2019, following a 20-year career in law.

She has also won the Weary Dunlop medal for her contribution to peace and stability in the Asia Pacific and been named a Kissinger Fellow for her work on significant global policy issues.

On her UN appointment, Ms Bishop said: “I am deeply honoured to be appointed Special Envoy of the Secretary General of the United Nations on Myanmar to help deliver on the mandate of the General Assembly and the Security Council Resolution of December 2022.”

Myanmar has faced nationwide conflict since the democratically-elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi was ousted by the military in February 2021.

Ms Bishop succeeds UN undersecretary-general Noeleen Heyzer as Special Envoy on Myanmar, who has described the impact of the military takeover as “devastating” noting violence in the Southeast Asian nation is continuing at an “alarming scale”.

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Genevieve Bell congratulated the Chancellor on her UN appointment.

“As Australia’s first female foreign minister, Julie made an incredible contribution to global politics,” she said.

“Now, she’s adding Special Envoy to her illustrious career in global diplomacy. This is a well-deserved recognition of her significant impact on contemporary international relations.

“The entire ANU community congratulates Julie on this important appointment and wishes her the very best in this vital role.”

Ms Bishop will continue in her role as ANU Chancellor while also undertaking her work with the UN.

Pacific Cities Much Older Than Previously Thought

April 10, 2024
New evidence of one of the first cities in the Pacific shows they were established much earlier than previously thought, according to new research from The Australian National University (ANU).

The study used aerial laser scanning to map archaeological sites on the island of Tongatapu in Tonga.

Earth structures were being constructed on Tongatapu around AD 300. Photo: Phillip Parton/ANU

Lead author, PhD scholar Phillip Parton, said the new timeline also indicates that urbanisation in the Pacific was an indigenous innovation that developed before Western influence.
"Earth structures were being constructed in Tongatapu around AD 300. This is 700 years earlier than previously thought," Mr Parton said.

"As settlements grew, they had to come up with new ways of supporting that growing population. This kind of set-up -- what we call low density urbanisation -- sets in motion huge social and economic change. People are interacting more and doing different kinds of work."

Mr Parton said traditionally, studying urbanisation in the Pacific has been tricky due to challenges collecting data, but new technology has changed that.

"We were able to combine high-tech mapping and archaeological fieldwork to understand what was happening in Tongatapu," he said.

"Having this type of information really adds to our understanding of early Pacific societies.

"Urbanisation is not an area that had been investigated much until now. When people think of early cities they usually think of traditional old European cities with compact housing and windy cobblestone streets. This is a very different kind of city.

"But it shows the contribution of the Pacific to urban science. We can see clues that Tongatapu's influence spread across the southwest Pacific Ocean between the 13th and 19th centuries."

According to Mr Parton, the collapse of this kind of low-density urbanisation in Tonga was largely due to the arrival of Europeans.
"It didn't collapse because the system was flawed; it was more to do with the arrival of Europeans and introduced diseases," he said.

"This is just the beginning in terms of early Pacific settlements. There's likely still much to be discovered."

The study has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.

Phillip Parton, Geoffrey Clark. Low-Density Urbanisation: Prestate Settlement Growth in a Pacific Society. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 2024; DOI: 10.1007/s10816-024-09647-8

Star Trek's Holodeck Recreated Using ChatGPT And Video Game Assets

April 11, 2024
In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise leverage the holodeck, an empty room capable of generating 3D environments, to prepare for missions and to entertain themselves, simulating everything from lush jungles to the London of Sherlock Holmes. Deeply immersive and fully interactive, holodeck-created environments are infinitely customizable, using nothing but language: the crew has only to ask the computer to generate an environment, and that space appears in the holodeck.

Today, virtual interactive environments are also used to train robots prior to real-world deployment in a process called "Sim2Real." However, virtual interactive environments have been in surprisingly short supply. "Artists manually create these environments," says Yue Yang, a doctoral student in the labs of Mark Yatskar and Chris Callison-Burch, Assistant and Associate Professors in Computer and Information Science (CIS), respectively. "Those artists could spend a week building a single environment," Yang adds, noting all the decisions involved, from the layout of the space to the placement of objects to the colors employed in rendering.

That paucity of virtual environments is a problem if you want to train robots to navigate the real world with all its complexities. Neural networks, the systems powering today's AI revolution, require massive amounts of data, which in this case means simulations of the physical world. "Generative AI systems like ChatGPT are trained on trillions of words, and image generators like Midjourney and DALLE are trained on billions of images," says Callison-Burch. "We only have a fraction of that amount of 3D environments for training so-called 'embodied AI.' If we want to use generative AI techniques to develop robots that can safely navigate in real-world environments, then we will need to create millions or billions of simulated environments."

Enter Holodeck, a system for generating interactive 3D environments co-created by Callison-Burch, Yatskar, Yang and Lingjie Liu, Aravind K. Joshi Assistant Professor in CIS, along with collaborators at Stanford, the University of Washington, and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2). Named for its Star Trek forebear, Holodeck generates a virtually limitless range of indoor environments, using AI to interpret users' requests. "We can use language to control it," says Yang. "You can easily describe whatever environments you want and train the embodied AI agents."

Holodeck leverages the knowledge embedded in large language models (LLMs), the systems underlying ChatGPT and other chatbots. "Language is a very concise representation of the entire world," says Yang. Indeed, LLMs turn out to have a surprisingly high degree of knowledge about the design of spaces, thanks to the vast amounts of text they ingest during training. In essence, Holodeck works by engaging an LLM in conversation, using a carefully structured series of hidden queries to break down user requests into specific parameters.

Just like Captain Picard might ask Star Trek's Holodeck to simulate a speakeasy, researchers can ask Penn's Holodeck to create "a 1b1b apartment of a researcher who has a cat." The system executes this query by dividing it into multiple steps: first, the floor and walls are created, then the doorway and windows. Next, Holodeck searches Objaverse, a vast library of premade digital objects, for the sort of furnishings you might expect in such a space: a coffee table, a cat tower, and so on. Finally, Holodeck queries a layout module, which the researchers designed to constrain the placement of objects, so that you don't wind up with a toilet extending horizontally from the wall.

To evaluate Holodeck's abilities, in terms of their realism and accuracy, the researchers generated 120 scenes using both Holodeck and ProcTHOR, an earlier tool created by AI2, and asked several hundred Penn Engineering students to indicate their preferred version, not knowing which scenes were created by which tools. For every criterion -- asset selection, layout coherence and overall preference -- the students consistently rated the environments generated by Holodeck more favourably.

The researchers also tested Holodeck's ability to generate scenes that are less typical in robotics research and more difficult to manually create than apartment interiors, like stores, public spaces and offices. Comparing Holodeck's outputs to those of ProcTHOR, which were generated using human-created rules rather than AI-generated text, the researchers found once again that human evaluators preferred the scenes created by Holodeck. That preference held across a wide range of indoor environments, from science labs to art studios, locker rooms to wine cellars.

Finally, the researchers used scenes generated by Holodeck to "fine-tune" an embodied AI agent. "The ultimate test of Holodeck," says Yatskar, "is using it to help robots interact with their environment more safely by preparing them to inhabit places they've never been before."

Across multiple types of virtual spaces, including offices, daycares, gyms and arcades, Holodeck had a pronounced and positive effect on the agent's ability to navigate new spaces.

For instance, whereas the agent successfully found a piano in a music room only about 6% of the time when pre-trained using ProcTHOR (which involved the agent taking about 400 million virtual steps), the agent succeeded over 30% of the time when fine-tuned using 100 music rooms generated by Holodeck.

"This field has been stuck doing research in residential spaces for a long time," says Yang. "But there are so many diverse environments out there -- efficiently generating a lot of environments to train robots has always been a big challenge, but Holodeck provides this functionality."

Yue Yang, Fan-Yun Sun, Luca Weihs, Eli VanderBilt, Alvaro Herrasti, Winson Han, Jiajun Wu, Nick Haber, Ranjay Krishna, Lingjie Liu, Chris Callison-Burch, Mark Yatskar, Aniruddha Kembhavi, Christopher Clark. Holodeck: Language Guided Generation of 3D Embodied AI Environments. Submitted to arXiv, 2024 DOI: 10.48550/arXiv.2312.09067

Essentially, Holodeck engages a large language model (LLM) in a conversation, building a virtual environment piece by piece. (Yue Yang)

Dominique Grubisa And DG Institute Made Misleading Representations To Students In Wealth Seminars

April 9, 2024
The Federal Court has today found that Master Wealth Control Pty Ltd, trading as DG Institute breached the Australian Consumer Law, and that its sole Director Dominique Grubisa was knowingly concerned in the contraventions, in proceedings brought by the ACCC.

DG Institute was found to have made false or misleading representations to consumers in the promotion and sale of two education programs called Real Estate Rescue (RER) and Master Wealth Control (MWC) between April 2017 and November 2022. In that period well over 3000 students enrolled in the programs, and each paid between $4,500 and $9,200 to participate.

The Court found that Ms Grubisa, was knowingly concerned in DG Institute’s contraventions through her role in making the statements on video in promotional materials and program materials, and in drafting, reviewing, editing and/or approving content for these materials. The Court also found that Ms Grubisa knew that the representations she made about both programs were in fact false and misleading.

“This case is another reminder that businesses must ensure statements they make when promoting products or services to consumers are accurate and not misleading,” ACCC Commissioner Liza Carver said.

“It should also serve as a strong reminder to company directors that they may be held liable for their involvement in false or misleading representations made by the company in breach of the Australian Consumer Law.”

“We received a significant number of complaints from students of DG Institute about the courses and the promotional materials,” Ms Carver said. 

Specifically, the Court found that the following statements about the programs were false or misleading: 
  • Students of the RER program would be able to assist distressed homeowners to sell their home and retain some of the equity, whereas if a mortgagee was to repossess the property, the homeowner would lose any remaining equity in the property – including because “banks don’t give change”. In fact, a mortgagee is only entitled to amounts owed to it, plus any reasonable costs of recovery.
  • Students of the MWC program could completely protect all of their assets from creditors by setting up a specific trust DG Institute called a ‘ Vestey Trust’ using transaction documents provided by DG Institute. In fact, the transaction documents provided did not provide the level of protection from creditors promised.
  • the ‘Vestey Trust’ system promoted by DG Institute had been tested and upheld as effective by the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia in the ‘Sharrment’ case, when in fact this was not the case.
A hearing on the relief orders sought by the ACCC, including penalties, will be held at a later date. The ACCC is seeking injunctions, penalties, consumer redress, costs and an order against Ms Grubisa disqualifying her from managing corporations.

The ACCC commenced legal action against Master Wealth Control and Ms Grubisa in December 2022.

DG Institute offers courses and mentoring programs, including RER and MWC programs, to consumers relating to property and business investment, including strategies for asset protection.

The RER program and the MWC program were promoted through free in-person seminars, free online webinars and videos featuring Ms Grubisa, and on the DG Institute website.

Between 2017 and 2022 well over a thousand students enrolled in the programs, and each paid between $4,500 and $9,200 to participate.

‘Sharrment’ is a reference to the judgment handed down by the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia in Sharrment Pty Ltd v The Official Trustee in Bankruptcy (1988) 18 FCR 449.

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.