Inbox and Environment News: Issue 626

May 19 - 25, 2024: Issue 626

NSW Government Is Looking To The Future: Improving Wildlife Rehabilitation And Care

The NSW Government announced on Wednesday May 15 2024, it is launching statewide consultation on the wildlife rehabilitation sector to gain a detailed understanding of how NSW can improve the way we care for our native animals.

The consultation will examine the challenges facing the sector, identify best practices and recommend next steps.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment Trish Doyle will lead the consultation and provide a report on the outcomes to Minister for the Environment Penny Sharpe within 12 months.

In NSW, 40 wildlife rehabilitation groups involving more than 8600 people rescue an average of 110,000 animals a year.

The sector is mostly made up of dedicated and passionate volunteers who respond to more than 180,000 calls for help from the community each year.

This work is supported by specialised wildlife hospitals and many local veterinary services.

The value of the sector’s work is estimated at $27 million a year.

The consultation will consider a range of areas:
  • challenges for the sector
  • resourcing
  • connections within the sector
  • service gaps and duplication
  • involvement in emergency response and significant wildlife events
  • administrative and legislative provisions
  • support for wildlife hospitals and veterinary practices.
'Our state is home to animals which live nowhere else on this planet and the NSW Government is committed to ensuring sick and injured native wildlife receive the best care and rehabilitation. The government recently invested $8 million into wildlife hospitals and care facilities across NSW and another $500,000 to support wildlife rehabilitators in Sydney’s South West.' the government said in a release

This consultation will inform next steps for the NSW Volunteer Wildlife Rehabilitation Sector Strategy 2020-23. That strategy will be extended until 30 June 2025 while this review is underway.

Minister for Climate Change and the Environment Penny Sharpe said:

“Wildlife rescuers and rehabilitators are essential to the care and survival of native animals across NSW.

“We need to build on the achievements of the previous strategy and ensure the sector is supported for the future.

“I look forward to receiving this review, which will help inform and guide this important work.”

Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment Trish Doyle said:
“The NSW Government values the contribution of wildlife rehabilitators, who provide valuable work for the community by rescuing and caring for sick, injured and orphaned native animals across the state every day.

“I look forward to listening to their experiences to understand the challenges and opportunities facing the sector.

“We need an integrated, future focused strategy to support the wonderful people who care for our native animals, while ensuring wildlife rehabilitation services are well connected and sustainable.”

Theodore and Blossom, orphaned Ringtail possums. Photo: Lynleigh Grieg, Sydney Wildlife Rescue 

NSW Gears Up For Humpback Migration With Expanded Disentanglement Team

May 16, 2024

With the first humpback whales of the season sighted off Sydney this week, an expanded team of specialised rescuers are poised and ready to launch as tens of thousands of majestic humpback whales begin their annual migration along the NSW coastline.

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Large Whale Disentanglement team boasts 45 professionals, including a new team of 11 people based out of the Hunter Central Coast branch who have recently completed their training, ensuring better state-wide coverage for whale rescue operations this migration season.

Each year, humpback whales undertake one of the longest migrations in the animal kingdom, travelling up to 10,000 km from the Southern Ocean to breeding grounds in warmer climates.

As they travel through inshore Australian waters, humpback whales are susceptible to becoming entangled in fishing gear and other marine debris which can lead to fatigue, injury, and death.

In 2023, 13 humpback whales were successfully freed from entanglements off the NSW coastline.

If conditions allow, the NPWS team will launch small inflatable boats, along with a larger support vessel, to approach an entangled animal and assess the entanglement, the animal's condition, speed and behaviour. They then plan a release strategy to cut the animal free, which sometimes involves slowing the animal down by temporarily attaching large buoys.

Disentanglement rescues can sometimes take multiple days of tracking before a successful intervention can be made. The NPWS crew work with partner organisations including Marine Rescue, ORRCA and Sea World to optimise state-wide coverage for whale rescue operations.

The Large Whale Disentanglement team is one component of a broader project to understand and minimise the risk of humpback whale entanglements. The NSW Government is working with the fishing industry to develop whale- and dolphin-friendly equipment less likely to lead to entanglements, while scientific research continues to better understand the drivers of whale migration and entanglement risks.

People enjoying our coasts and waters are encouraged to enjoy the spectacle of the humpback whale migration but are reminded to stay at a safe distance and avoid interfering with the animals.

If you see a distressed or entangled whale, contact the NPWS on 13000PARKS (1300 072 757) or ORRCA on 02 9415 3333.

For more information about the best whale watching locations in New South Wales and the Large Whale Disentanglement team, visit the NPWS 'Wild about whales' page.

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service Marine Wildlife Team Leader Duane March said this week:

''It’s fantastic to have expanded the capacity of our highly specialised Large Whale Disentanglement Team as the humpback highway gets underway for 2024.

Our ability to respond to whale entanglements is crucial, given the risk they face from fishing gear and other marine debris. With our expanded team in place, we're better equipped to help these whales if they find themselves in distress in NSW coastal waters.

While this increased capacity is a positive step, whale disentanglements are inherently dangerous and dependent on weather and sea conditions. The safety of our teams is always the number one priority.

We can't always guarantee a successful rescue, but we're committed to doing everything in our power to help these animals when we can.''

Redcycle Clean-Up Extended To Increase Recycling Options

May 10, 2024
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has amended Clean-up Notices issued to Coles and Woolworths giving the supermarkets more time to manage the recovery, recycling and lawful removal of soft plastic stockpiled across the state.

The supermarkets applied to the NSW EPA for an extension after identifying possible pathways to keep most of the soft plastics out of landfill.

The supermarkets have been granted an additional 10 months to comply with the notices until March 2025. This will ensure that the identified processing solution is operating at sufficient capacity to handle the stockpiled material.  

The EPA required the supermarkets to submit a staged removal plan to track the progress of the supermarkets under the revised timeline. 

Coles and Woolworths moved more than 5,000 tonnes of soft plastic material to safe storage last year meeting their immediate clean-up obligations to address the potential fire and pollution risk posed by 15 stockpiles found across NSW.

See the amended Clean-up Notices:
NSW EPA Director Operations Adam Gilligan stated:

“Revising the time period gives the supermarkets an opportunity to secure a solution for the material so that the vast majority of the material doesn’t end up in landfill.” 

“We know the public, who diligently collected and dropped off their soft plastics, has been disappointed in Redcycle and the best outcome for this material is to see it recycled and reprocessed.”

“We will continue to monitor the progress of the supermarkets under the Clean-up notices including inspecting the current stockpiles to ensure they continue to be stored appropriately.” 

First Nations Engagement For Renewable Energy Zones

May 17, 2024

The NSW Government has released 2 new First Nations Guidelines (guidelines) for Aboriginal communities in the Hunter-Central Coast and the South West Renewable Energy Zones (REZs).

These region-specific guidelines were developed collaboratively with First Nations Working Groups.

They provide guidance for project proponents to consult and negotiate with Aboriginal communities on projects delivered under the NSW Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap (Roadmap) within their REZs.

The Roadmap is the state's 20-year plan to transform the electricity system into one that is more affordable, clean and reliable.

Key features of the region-specific guidelines include:

  • an outline of the local Aboriginal communities' goals and aspirations for income and employment opportunities
  • streamlined engagement processes for renewable energy developers seeking to consult with local Aboriginal communities
  • a requirement for project proponents to prepare an Industry and Aboriginal Participation Plan which documents the engagement approach and the agreed commitments with local Aboriginal stakeholders.

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water will review the guidelines at least every 2 years to ensure their objectives and requirements are in line with community expectations and state priorities.

For more information and to view the guidelines, including the Central-West Orana REZ First Nations Guidelines that were released last year, visit the Government's webpage at:

New England Weeds Authority Board Suspended Over Financial Concerns

May 17, 2024

The Minister for Local Government has today suspended the board of the New England Weeds Authority (NEWA) and appointed an interim administrator due to serious concerns about the financial position and governance of the organisation.

NEWA is the registered trading name of the New England County Council and has a governing body made up of elected representatives from 4 constituent councils: 

  • Armidale Regional Council
  • Walcha Council
  • Uralla Shire Council
  • Glen Innes Severn Shire Council

The organisation is a single-purpose county council that operates as a Local Control Authority for the management of priority and invasive weeds in the New England area.

This intervention comes after the Office of Local Government was made aware of financial irregularities at NEWA, including the inability of the Audit Office to issue an audit due to gaps in the organisation's financial records.

Further enquiries identified significant issues that could have implications for its partner councils.

The board will therefore be suspended for an initial period of 3 months.

Independent local government expert and former general manager Mr John Rayner has been appointed as interim administrator.

Mr Rayner will be responsible for looking into the county council’s financial and operational concerns and report back to the Minister.

Minister for Local Government Ron Hoenig stated:

“I was alarmed by reports about the financial mismanagement and governance issues at NEWA which is why I have taken this immediate action.

“The problems are of real concern, particularly given the potential impacts the financial instability of NEWA has for its four member councils which help fund its operations.

“Mr Rayner will help the Office of Local Government fully understand NEWA’s financial position and the extent of the challenges they are facing.

“This is a necessary measure to give confidence to staff and restore proper and effective functioning to the organisation.”

NSW Parliament To Explore Productive Uses Of Land After Mines Close

May 17, 2024

With a number of significant mining sites slated for closure in the coming decade, the NSW Parliament will launch an inquiry to investigate new and innovative approaches to post-mining land use.

'The inquiry will help ensure these sites can continue to bring economic investment and opportunities to regional communities even after the mines close.' the Government states

'There are more than 50 large active mine sites across NSW, 37 of which are coal mines. There are other sites which were previously used for mining which continue to offer opportunities for new, productive uses of land.'

Minister for Natural Resources Courtney Houssos has written to Emily Suvaal, chair of NSW Legislative Council’s Standing Committee on State Development, asking her to undertake the inquiry.

A number of new post-mining land uses are already being progressed in NSW.

Earlier this year, the NSW Resources Regulator signed off on the rehabilitation of part of the old Rhondda Colliery in Lake Macquarie. The Black Rock Motor Park and Tourism Resort will take over part of the site, bringing 450 jobs during construction and 229 permanent roles.

BHP’s Mt Arthur, Idemitsu’s Muswellbrook coal mine, and Yancoal’s Stratford coal mine are investigating opportunities for pumped hydro and other clean energy uses.

The inquiry will consider how to accelerate and facilitate these uses, including through:

  • the development of sites for use for advanced manufacturing, commercial and tourism use,
  • reforms to the rehabilitation and planning regulatory frameworks which support mines,
  • opportunities to promote the development of solar farms, pumped hydro and other clean energy industries which may be particularly suited to the form and nature of former mine sites,
  • what investments in skills and training are needed to support the mining workforce,
  • the potential of unlocking surrounding land for residential dwellings, amenities, environmental and educational facilities, and
  • the compatibility of post mining land sites with commercial projects.

The inquiry is part of the government’s efforts to support mining communities, in particular where coal mining plays an important economic role in the region.

The NSW Labor Government has already committed $5.2 million to establish Future Jobs and Investment Authorities in four coal-producing regions across New South Wales. The authorities will work with the Commonwealth Government’s Net Zero Authority to support workers, industries and NSW coal mining communities.

Minister for Natural Resources Courtney Houssos said:

“Mining is a temporary use of land. We need to make sure NSW has the right policy mix to keep employment and economic opportunities even after mines close.

“I was privileged to turn the sod on the Black Rock Motor Resort earlier this year and witness the opportunities that can be created from these old mine sites.

“We will work with industry, local government and unions to bring forward these exciting opportunities.

“This is an important inquiry that will help us deliver positive community benefits in regional areas across NSW.

“We need to make sure these large mine sites can continue to be put to economically productive and efficient use long into the future.”

Chair, Standing Committee on State Development Emily Suvaal said:

“As a Hunter-based MP, I am committed to ensuring our mining communities across the state have a vibrant economic future, with secure, well-paid, local jobs.

“Exploring how we can improve the use of post-mining land is crucial for the continued success of our rural and regional communities, who have contributed so much to our state’s success.

“As chair of the State Development Committee, I am committed to conducting a robust and thorough inquiry into post-mining land use that will provide a blueprint for the economic future of our mining communities.”

Greens Quash Gas Fast-Track Bill

On Thursday May 16 Australia’s peak state and territory environmental bodies welcomed the agreement between the Greens and the Albanese government to amend the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Legislation Amendment (Safety and Other Measures) Bill 2024 by removing Schedule 2, Part 2.

The legislation as initially proposed would have effectively granted the offshore oil and gas industry a free pass from national environmental laws. 

The Bill has been widely condemned by members of the crossbench, the environmental movement.

They warned that the bill could pave the way to diminished rights to consultation for the Australian community, First Nations people, and environment groups, as well as reducing environmental protections and oversight of the hazardous offshore oil and gas industry.  

The Greens secured an agreement with the government to shelve Labor’s offshore gas fast track plan that silenced First Nations voices. After having previously publicly offered to pass government legislation if the gas fast-track legislation was shelved, the Greens will now support the electric vehicles and legislation to lift the PRRT gas tax rate.

The Resource Minister’s Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Legislation Amendment (Safety and Other Measures) Bill 2024 will be amended by the government to remove Schedule 2, Part 2, which bypassed environment laws and First Nations voices. The Greens will pass the New Vehicle Efficiency Standard Bill 2024 and the Treasury Laws Amendment (Tax accountability and Fairness) Bill 2023.

The remainder of the offshore gas bill, which deals with worker’s safety issues, will pass the Parliament today alongside the NVES and PRRT reforms.

Following this major win, the Greens will continue the fight against the government’s 'Future Gas Strategy' and their push for more coal and gas.

The government has advised that any matters relating to this approval process will now be considered as part of the broader tranche 3 of the environment law reform, which has been delayed indefinitely and will come after tranche 2. Tranche 2 legislation has not yet been introduced and the Greens are likely to be in balance of power on that legislation. Effectively, this means any changes cannot occur before the next election.

Adam Bandt MP, Leader of the Australian Greens stated on Thursday:

“The Greens have killed Labor’s gas fast-track bill,” Mr Bandt said.

“This is a big blow to the coal and gas corporations, a big win for the climate and First Nations voices, and it happened because the Greens have power in Parliament.”

“We will continue to fight Labor’s push for more coal and gas all the way to the election and beyond. The Greens have stopped Labor’s dodgy attempt to fast-track new gas mines, but their bid to bypass environmental protections shows Labor will stop at nothing to have more coal and gas past 2050.

“Climate scientists have said there can be no new coal and gas mines, but Labor wants more. You can’t put the fire out by pouring petrol on it. You don’t fix a problem by making the problem worse. With Labor and Liberal now backing more coal and gas past 2050, only the Greens will fight for real climate action.”

Senator Dorinda Cox, Greens First Nations and Resources spokesperson stated:

"Gas lobbyists have unlimited access to the Albanese Labor government and think they run politics in this country at the cost of cultural heritage, free prior and informed consent and the silencing of First Nations voices. This Bill would have sold our sea country as a commodity to the highest bidder. This is not acceptable.” Senator Cox said.

“The government must now stop opening new climate and environment wrecking gas projects and look to renewable energy.”

“Labor’s shameless attempt to bypass our already weak environment laws is dead,” Senator Hanson-Young, Greens environment spokesperson, said.

"It’s incredible that after two years of this government, their much promised ‘fix’ to environmental laws is nowhere to be seen, while harming nature is top priority."

Senator Nick McKim, Greens Treasury spokesperson, stated:

"The Greens have used our balance of power to stand up to the gas corporations and deliver for the environment and for First Nations people. We will see an increase in tax revenue from gas corporations and the rejection of Labor’s attempt to weaken environmental protections on gas mines," Senator McKim said.

“Standing our ground on Labor’s PRRT Bill has given us the leverage to reject the agenda of the gas cartel. When the Government works with the Greens instead of the gas cartel, we can ensure better environmental outcomes and more revenue from a publicly owned resource."

Jess Beckerling, Executive Director of The Conservation Council of Western Australia, said:

“Today’s win for the community is a victory against ongoing attempts to fast-track gas industry approvals and silence First Nations voices. This massive response, led by First Nations leaders, ensures that communities continue to have a voice about what happens in our country. This is good news for our climate and our environment, and we now turn our collective attention to the government’s dangerous Future Gas Strategy.”

Jacqui Mumford, Nature Conservation Council of NSW said:

“This is a win for climate, nature and the community. The initial proposal bypassed environmental laws and First Nations voices, displaced the role of the Environment Minister, and dramatically weakened oversight and accountability.”

Kirsty Howey, Executive Director of the Environment Centre NT, said:

“This win shows that the community - led by First Nations leaders - has the power to overcome insidious vested fossil fuel interests. However, the work is far from over. The Albanese Government must abandon its climate-wrecking Future Gas Strategy once and for all, and put an end to the approval of new fossil fuel projects in this country.”

Jono La Nauze, CEO of Environment Victoria said: 

“With this change, the Environment Minister will retain oversight of offshore oil and gas assessment and regulation, but much more needs to be done to respect the rights of Traditional Owners and end Australia’s massive exports of climate pollution.”

Dave Copeman, Director of the Queensland Conservation Council, said:

“We need stronger Nature laws, designed to end the biodiversity crisis we currently face. These exemptions on consultation would have allowed offshore gas to not listen to traditional owners and ignore their significant knowledge of Country.”

From Issue 619, March 2024:

Federal Offshore Gas Bill Added In Section Raises Environmental And First Nations Alarm Bells

In response to the Senate committee report on the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Legislation Amendment (Safety and Other Measures) Bill 2024, published on Friday March 22, numerous organisations have expressed concerns about Schedule 2—Other measures, Part 2—Approval under Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 which inserts proposed section 790E into the OPGGS Act to preserve the effect of the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage approvals made in accordance with the Endorsed Program under the EPBC Act, even where amendments to the OPGGS Act or prescribed regulations (such as the Environment Regulations) are inconsistent with aspects of the Endorsed Program [are inconsistent with the Endorsed Program authorised by a strategic assessment under Part 10 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) ].

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water is currently consulting on major reforms to the EPBC Act, as recommended by the Samuel Review, and it is unclear whether or how this proposed section will interface with those reforms. That consultation process is continuing until 30 March 2024.

The Bill does not directly address issues raised in relation to consultation requirements for offshore oil and gas developments under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Environment) Regulations 2023, for example, through specific amendments that clarify required consultation processes. 

The Bill implements some recommendations of Offshore Oil and Gas Safety Review which began in 2018. However, the majority of the recommendations will be implemented through the remake of the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Safety) Regulations 2009, which are due to sunset on 1 April 2026.

The amendment (proposed section 790E) would unequivocally grant the Resources Minister precedence over the Environment Minister in regulating the environmental impacts of the offshore petroleum and gas industries. The Department of Industry, Science and Resources (DISR) stated in its submission to the Senate committee that:

Consistent with section 17 of the Legislation Act 2003, the Minister for the Environment and the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water would need to be consulted on any proposed amendments to the prescribes regulations before they are made.

The obligation imposed by section 17 is to consult. The section carries no implication that the consulted Minister may, or must certify or annul legislative instruments proposed by the proponent Minister. Section 19 clarifies that ‘a failure to undertake consultation does not affect the validity or enforceability of a legislative instrument. However, an explanation why no consultation was undertaken must be documented in the explanatory statement’. In simple terms, the Minister for Resources is obliged to consult with the Minister for the Environment, but carries no obligation to comply with, or obtain certification from, that Minister, and the obligation is unenforceable.

Of further concern is the absence of environmental objectives in the OPGGS Act.

Environmental Justice Australia commented that:

The only requirement for regulations made under the OPGGS Act is that they are required or permitted to be prescribed by the Act, or necessary or convenient to be prescribed for carrying out or giving effect to the Act (OPGGS Act, s 781). The object of the OPGGS Act is merely to provide an ‘effective regulatory framework for petroleum exploration and recovery and the injection and storage of greenhouse gas substances in offshore areas’ (s 3). There is no mention of the protection of the environment, or any reference to the principles of ecologically sustainable development set out in the EPBC Act.


Because of the lack of safeguards or limits on this provision, NOPSEMA’s processes for assessing the impacts of offshore oil and gas activities could be fundamentally changed – to the point they no longer even refer to matters protected under the EPBC Act.

Critically, if this amendment has the intended effect ……. it could mean that far lower environmental protections and safeguards are in place for marine environments in Commonwealth waters – yet these lesser protections still act as a substitute assessment and approval under the EPBC Act.

The Biodiversity Council commented:

If enacted, the EPBC Deeming Part would permanently override an important protection for both biodiversity and the environment more generally. The EPBC Act allows the Environment Minister to ‘switch off’ the requirement for environmental approvals by endorsing another environmental approval regime, but only after the regime concerned is assessed and the minister is satisfied, in effect, that it will deliver environmental outcomes equivalent to that provided by the EPBC Act. The effect of the EPBC Deeming Part, by implication, is to declare that the Environment Minister is satisfied, in advance and without assessment, that any environmental approval regime put in place under the OPGGS Act, whether pursuant to the current review or in future, delivers protection equivalent to that provided by the EPBC Act, provided it is within the scope of the original accreditation. This is obviously a complete fiction and is in effect a blank cheque, one that would enable a Resources Minister, current or future, to water down protections enacted by Parliament, if so minded.

The Bill is being rushed through the Parliament. It was introduced to the House on 15 February 2024, referred to the Senate Committee on 29 February which tabled its report on 22 March after just a single half-day public hearing on March 14. This equated to a single month for stakeholders to become aware of the Bill, to analyse the details, to confer with experts and to write submissions to the inquiry. 

Independent Senator David Pocock stated in his dissenting report; ''Regrettably, included in that Bill are the weak changes to the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (PRRT), which are woefully inadequate and lock in a bad deal for Australian taxpayers.''

Australia’s peak state and territory environmental bodies joined forces at Parliament House on March 19 to urge the Albanese government to withdraw the amendment to Australia’s offshore gas legislation that would displace the role of the Environment Minister, dramatically weakening oversight and accountability, and accord broad new powers to the Resources Minister.

Amendments to the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Legislation Amendment (Safety and Other Measures) Bill 2024 would have effectively granted the offshore oil and gas industry a free pass from national environmental laws, they stated. 

Advancing A Nature Positive Australia - Budget 2024: Federal Minister For Environment And Water

May 14, 2024
Issued Statement by The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, Minister for the Environment and Water

The Albanese Labor Government is making significant investments to help better protect more of our natural world, fix more of what has been damaged, and care for the places we love.

This Budget locks-in funding to establish Australia’s first national independent Environment Protection Agency, provides a big boost for Australia’s Antarctic research program, and gives extra support for world leading science on climate change and threatened species.

Protecting more of our natural world

After a wasted decade the Liberals and Nationals left the environment, and the institutions that manage it, in a state of disrepair.

We’re working hard to undo that damage by investing around $307 million of nature positive improvements in our laws and institutions, including:

  • $121 million for Australia’s first national independent Environment Protection Agency with strong new powers and penalties to better protect nature.
  • $51.5 million for more accountability and transparency with new body called Environment Information Australia which will give the public and businesses easier access to the latest environmental data, release State of the Environment reports every two years, and report on progress on national environmental goals.
  • $134.2 million to strengthen and streamline environmental approval decisions on priority projects, including renewables and critical minerals projects: 
  • $19.9 million to process assessments for priority renewable energy related projects.
  • $17.7 million to reduce the backlog and support administration of complex applications under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act, and progress the reform of Australia’s cultural heritage laws.
  • $7 million for more support for staff to assess project proposals from business, and more tailored support to help business more effectively comply with environment law.
  • $65.1 million for extra research into threatened species so sensitive areas can be more easily avoided and suitable projects can be more quickly approved based on robust, existing publicly available data.
  • $24.5 million for better planning – working with state and territory governments – in seven priority regions so it’s clearer to business where complying development can more easily occur and where the ‘no go’ areas are.

This Budget provides urgent investment in Australia’s research capabilities to better protect our natural world.

We’ve secured Australia’s position as a global scientific leader by investing $371.1 million over nine years from 2024-25 to rebuild and upgrade our research station on World Heritage listed Macquarie Island. Boosting our capacity to monitor climate and greenhouse gas emissions, and accurately forecast droughts and rainfall, means we will better protect nature and Australian livelihoods.

The Albanese Government is also expanding our Antarctic science program. This includes an additional $17.6 million over two years to enable the Nuyina, Australia’s icebreaking research vessel, to undertake more expeditions for scientific research, including its first dedicated marine science voyage to the Denman Glacier. If this glacier melts, sea levels could rise by 1.5 metres – making this research trip more important than ever.

Fixing more of what’s been damaged

We don’t just want to protect our environment – we are working hard to fix what’s broken.

Last year, the Albanese Government passed critical legislation to set up the world’s first nature repair market – driving business and philanthropic investment in nature repair and threatened species protection. The Budget locks in $35.6 million over two years from 2024-25 to continue developing the processes and systems needed to administer the scheme.

This builds on the Government’s more than $500 million investment to better protect our threatened species, such as koalas, quolls and Australian sea lions, and crack down on feral animals and weeds.

Working hard to care for the places we love

Australians love our bush and our oceans and want to be able to protect them for their kids and grandkids.    

Last year we doubled funding to better look after national parks, including Kakadu and Uluṟu, after the Liberals let them fall apart. This Budget reinforces our extra funding.

But caring for the places we love is not just about nature protection. It also means reducing our environmental footprint and making the most of Australia’s precious natural resources.

That’s why we’re driving Australia’s transition to a circular economy - cutting down on plastics, reducing waste, and supporting households and industry to recycle or repurpose more materials.

In this Budget, we’re investing $23 million in 2024-25 to develop a new national circular economy framework, continue to tackle problematic waste streams, such as packaging, and get on with the development of a much-needed new recycling scheme for solar panels.

Threatened species have declined 2% a year since 2000. Nature positive? Far from it.

Martin Tobias Aakesson/Shutterstock
Megan C EvansUNSW SydneyBrendan WintleThe University of Melbourne, and Hugh PossinghamThe University of Queensland

Our government has great aspirations. It has committed to end extinctions and expand our protected areas to cover 30% of every Australian ecosystem by 2030. This is part of its Nature Positive Plan, aligned with the 2022 Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity pact. The goal is not just to conserve nature but to restore what is being lost.

But how can these goals be reconciled with a budget that allocated more public money to carbon capture and storage than biodiversity?

This week’s federal budget was a new low point for investment in nature. Environmental groups roundly criticised the “bad budget for nature”, which delivered next-to-no money to protect and recover Australia’s unique and threatened biodiversity.

Research has shown Australians want at least 2% of the federal budget spent on nature. Instead, less than 0.1% of the budget spend will support biodiversity in some way. Over the past decade, biodiversity funding has gone down 25% relative to GDP.

Let’s say the government decided it was finally time to roll up the sleeves and do something. How would they go about it? What would it take to actually reverse the decline, as the government says it wants to in its Nature Positive approach?

Our threatened species populations have been declining by about 2-3% a year over the past 20 years. The first step is to stop the fall. Then the challenge is to restore dwindling species and ecosystems.

mallee fowl
Populations of endangered species have been falling steadily since 2000. Agami Photo Agency/Shutterstock

The Dow Jones For Threatened Species Goes Down, Down, Down

Australia now has a Threatened Species Index. Think of it like the Dow Jones for wildlife. It uses trend data from bird, mammal and plant species collected from over 10,000 sites to measure progress for nature in Australia.

Last year, Treasurer Jim Chalmers talked up the index as part of the first national “wellbeing budget”, which aimed to measure Australia’s progress across a range of social, health and sustainability indicators.

What does the index tell us? You can see for yourself. The health of our threatened species has fallen by about 2-3% a year since the turn of the century.

If, as is likely, the trend continues, it will lead to the extinction of many more of our unique native animals and plant species. It will signal the failure of the government’s Nature Positive policy and a global biodiversity tragedy.

Given we have had decades of successive decline, what would be needed to reach the goal of nature positive?

Nature positive actually has a very specific meaning. It would:

halt and reverse nature loss measured from a baseline of 2020, through increasing the health, abundance, diversity and resilience of species, populations and ecosystems so that by 2030 nature is visibly and measurably on the path of recovery.

This definition gives us a clear, measurable timeline for action, often described as nature’s answer to net zero.

To reach nature positive means halting biodiversity loss by 2030 so that in the future there is much more biodiversity, relative to a 2020 baseline.

What would that look like using the Threatened Species Index? To get on track with nature positive, we would have to stop the index declining, stabilise, and then increase from 2030 onwards.

Of course, strong environmental laws and aligned policies are needed to effectively prevent further loss of habitat.

But we also need to invest in restoring what has been lost. Scientists think this is possible with $2 billion a year to recover our most threatened native plants and animals, and another $2 billion annually to drive ecosystem restoration across Australia.

The Budget Is Not Nature Positive

In the budget papers, the government uses the Threatened Species Index as a performance measure for its nature positive goal. It expects the trajectory of the index to be “maintained or improved” out to 2027-28.

But given our species and ecosystems are steadily declining, year after year, to maintain a trajectory is simply to embrace the decline. It’s not nature positive at all. The government could make minor improvements, slowing the collapse, and claim it was improving the lot of nature.

Imagine if our GDP growth was negative and the government’s goal was merely to slow its decline over the next five years – there would be national uproar.

If the government is serious about nature positive – which is an excellent goal – it would be setting more ambitious targets. For instance, the goal could be for the index to climb back up to 2020 levels by the end of the decade.

Instead, Labor is planning for biodiversity decline to continue, while describing it as “nature positive”.

Watching over the steady decline of our species and calling it nature positive makes about as much sense as opening up new gas fields and calling it net zero.

Greenwashing Nature Positive

Unfortunately, this is not the first time the government has engaged in nature positive greenwash.

In coming weeks, the government will introduce bills to parliament to establish two new agencies, Environment Information Australia and Environmental Protection Australia. But there will be one bill missing – the reformed federal environment laws, intended to give teeth to the nature positive push.

The laws were pushed back indefinitely, to the shock of scientists and environmental groups.

But let’s be generous and say these laws finally make it to parliament after the next election. Would they be enough to stop our species losses and put the Threatened Species Index onto a nature positive trajectory?

nature positive plan website
Australia’s reformed environmental laws are described as Nature Positive. Are they? Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and WaterCC BY-NC-ND

It’s unlikely.

The consultation documents show the government is aiming to deliver “net positive outcomes”, whereby development impacts to threatened species and ecosystems are more than compensated for.

But we don’t know the detail. How much improvement is the government aiming for? In the draft laws, this figure is listed simply as “at least X%”.

Time To Aim Higher

It is hard not to feel dispirited over the government’s backtracking on its promise to:

not shy away from difficult problems or accept environmental decline and extinction as inevitable.

But we cannot give up. As the plight of nature worsens, even iconic species such as the koala and platypus are now at risk. As ecosystems collapse, our food security, health and wellbeing, communities and businesses will suffer.

Perhaps one day we will have a government able to grasp the nettle and actually tackle the nature crisis – for the sake of all of us. The Conversation

Megan C Evans, Senior Lecturer, Public Sector Management, School of Business, UNSW SydneyBrendan Wintle, Professor in Conservation Science, School of Ecosystem and Forest Science, The University of Melbourne, and Hugh Possingham, Professor of Conservation Biology, The University of Queensland

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

Green industry yes, conservation no: a budget for people, not for nature

Sonpichit Salangsing/Shutterstock
Timothy NealUNSW Sydney

Last night’s budget is another missed opportunity to arrest the poor and deteriorating state of the Australian environment.

Subsidising green industry in Labor’s Future Made in Australia policy may offer economic advantages if implemented well, but there is nothing in this budget to help address the immediate environmental crisis facing Australia.

The Story So Far

After being elected in 2022, Labor made a number of good promises. The new government legislated an emissions reduction target – a 43% cut by 2030 on 2005 figures and net zero by 2050. Last year, Labor reformed the Coalition’s only emissions monitoring program, the safeguard mechanism, to help deliver these reductions. (Recent research has cast doubt on the integrity of the system’s carbon credits). And the government signed an international biodiversity pact, which commits us to protect 30% of our land (currently at 22%) and halt biodiversity loss by 2030.

But Labor also promised to rewrite Australia’s main environment laws, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which governs the protection of places and species, and approvals for significant projects. This was motivated by the horrendous bushfires in 2019–20 and a damning review, which found the laws were not up to the task of stopping environmental decline.

In the lead-up to tonight’s budget, Labor announced that the stronger laws had been indefinitely delayed. Instead, Australia would get a national environmental protection agency, Environment Protection Australia. While a strong and independent agency would improve compliance and monitoring, it will be enforcing ineffective laws until reforms are passed. Labor also shocked environmental groups by supporting a future for fossil gas, including opening up new gas fields.

Made In Australia

So if we’re not getting new environment laws, what is in the budget for the environment?

A whole lot for green industries. The 2024 budget’s centrepiece is the Future Made in Australia policy, a series of initiatives costing A$23 billion over ten years that focuses on subsidies for manufacturing industries including solar panels and green hydrogen.

labor advertisement calling for more made in australia items
Labor’s Future Made in Australia policy is aimed at bringing manufacturing back, especially green manufacturing. But will it prove more than a sop to its voters? Labor Party of AustraliaCC BY

Here, the Government is actively intervening in the market to push the economy towards specific ends – boosting green industries and making supply chains more resilient. As the budget papers state, one goal is to make Australia “an indispensable part of global net zero supply chains.”

In recent years western governments have embraced industrial subsidies, most notably seen in the CHIPS and Science Act and Inflation Reduction Act in the United States.

So what’s the government planning? Included in the announced package is:

$3.2 billion over ten years in additional funding to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. This includes $1.7 billion in grants for innovation in green metals, low carbon liquid fuels, and batteries.

$1.7 billion over 10 years for an additional round of Hydrogen Headstart. This will fund the difference between the cost to produce renewable hydrogen and the current market price for eligible firms. Also planned is an additional $2 a kilogram tax incentive for renewable hydrogen produced from 2027–28.

$7 billion over the medium term for tax incentives in critical mineral production. Firms will be eligible to rebate 10% of refining and processing costs of 31 critical minerals from 2027-28.

$1.5 billion over ten years for solar PV and battery manufacturing. This will fund grants to firms for manufacturing solar PV components at all stages of the supply chain and batteries.

Is this the right thing to do? Economists are usually pessimistic about government efforts to guide industry in this way, pointing to the difficulty of picking winners and the potential for funding to flow in the direction lobbyists want rather than on merit.

Nevertheless, there’s recent evidence industry policy can be effective in spurring long-term structural change to an economy – when done well. After all, targeted assistance and direction by government may have played a role in how East Asian nations such as Japan, Korea and China became manufacturing titans.

But what about the environmental outcomes of these subsidies? Will they turn Australia into a green export giant, shipping green hydrogen instead of LNG and make homegrown solar panels a reality? Will they help drive the green transition?

This is even less clear. Australia’s once-significant manufacturing sector began its sharp decline after we dropped tariffs and opened up to international competition from the 1980s.

Could Labor turn the tide? That will depend on whether the subsidies succeed in creating manufacturing sectors able to compete with international competition. It’s far from guaranteed. But it is possible.

And what about trade-offs between green industry and conservation? In the rush to secure lithium and critical minerals for the green transition, the government has invested $566 million to give mining companies free data and maps. This could do further damage to the environment, if new projects are built on land home to threatened species.

Where’s The “Conserved In Australia” Policy?

Nothing is in the budget to tackle our biodiversity and extinction crisis.

This is another missed opportunity. The postponed environment laws aside, the government could have addressed the severe lack of funding for conservation.

What about the goal of protecting 30% of land and seas by 2030? This will take funding to expand protected areas – and to actually conserve species in existing protected areas. Invasive species from deer to blackberries run riot in many national parks.

How much should the government be spending and for what? To give some examples:

– $5 billion would fund the purchase of private land for conservation and long-term management. Australia previously had a fund like this, which is why our protected area estate has grown so much.

– $1.7 billion a year is the expert estimate for how much it would cost to bring all of Australia’s threatened species under active management and recover their numbers.

– $2 billion a year for 30 years would restore 13 million hectares of degraded land, without touching farms or urban areas – about twice the size of Tasmania.

Our natural environment affects our national identity, our mental health, and even our future economic prosperity.

Yes, conservation costs money. But the costs may turn out to be very small relative to the benefits, not only for the diverse species we share Australia with but for its people too. People don’t just need manufacturing jobs – they need nature, too. The Conversation

Timothy Neal, Senior lecturer in Economics / Institute for Climate Risk and Response, UNSW Sydney

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

Protecting Our Water For Generations To Come - Budget 2024: Federal Minister For Environment And Water

May 14, 2024
Statement Issued by: The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, Minister for the Environment and Water

The Albanese Labor Government is safeguarding Australia’s precious water resources for the communities, industries and environments that rely on them.

In the 2024-25 Budget, we are investing in crucial infrastructure projects to ensure that people have clean drinking water, farmers have water to grow our food and fibre, and we deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Delivering water security

All Australians, no matter where they live, have the right to safe, reliable water.

In Australia, more than 600,000 people living in regional and remote communities don’t have access to water that meets recognised standards.

That’s why we’re investing $140.4 million in construction projects, including for agriculture, town water supplies and water recycling. This includes $20.7 million for ten new water infrastructure construction projects in regional and remote First Nations communities.  

To make sure future construction projects stack up economically and environmentally, we’re investing $34.3 million in 22 business cases and scientific research projects. This will help us to make more informed investment decisions, and better understand our water resources and the technologies we use to manage them.

The Great Artesian Basin is the country’s largest groundwater system and it’s a lifeline for towns and farmers in central Australia during the dry times. Industries that rely on this precious water source contribute $33.2 billion per year to Australia’s economy. We are investing $32 million in this Basin to deliver vital on-ground water security projects, fix or replace hundreds of flowing or leaky bores, and install new pipes for up to 4,560 kilometres of open bore drains, securing about 104 gigalitres or 41,600 Olympic swimming pools of water.

Delivering the Murray-Darling Basin Plan

Basin communities were let down by the Coalition who blocked water recovery, tied up programs in impossible rules, and ignored expert advice. We’ve changed all that.

Since passing the Restoring our Rivers legislation last year to deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full, we are now getting on with it.

This Budget will see more options and more funding added to our water recovery toolbox. An additional $27 million has been committed to expand the Resilient Rivers Water Infrastructure Program to allow more water savings projects to be developed.

There is also an extra $7.2 million for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to deliver the Constraints Relaxation Implementation Roadmap by the end of the year. We are helping Basin states to manage the flow of the rivers, including by building bridges, culverts, and other infrastructure, to minimise damage from low level flooding. Our investment will also help boost involvement of First Nations people in Basin water management.

Restoring trust in the water system

We’re building trust in the Murray-Darling Basin, making sure the water market has strong rules against insider trading and requirements for proper record keeping.

With an extra $28.6 million, the Inspector-General of Water Compliance will be better equipped to ensure people don’t take more water out of our rivers than they’re allowed to.

That’s on top of $5.7 million to ensure the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, as the incoming Basin water market conduct regulator, is resourced to carry out its new water market integrity functions. This includes enforcing compliance with insider trading and market manipulation rules.

The Albanese Government continues to invest in, protect and restore the country’s water resources – which is good for the environment, communities, businesses, and all Australians.

Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew: Queenscliff Lagoon - May 26

Come and join us for our Queenscliff clean up. We'll meet at the Manly/Queenscliff Lagoon, close to the carpark by Cameron Avenue. For exact meeting point look at the map in the event discussion. We have clean and washed gloves, bags and buckets. We'll clean up the grass area to try and catch the litter before it hits the lagoon and the beach as well as cleaning the lagoon/beach area, trying to remove as much plastic, cigarette butts and rubbish as possible. We're a friendly group of people and everyone is welcome to this family friendly event (just leave political, religious and business messages at home so everyone feel welcome). It's a nice community - make some new friends and do a good deed for the planet at the same time. Send us a message if you are lost. Please invite family and friends and share this event. Lovely Roly from Emu Parade Clean Up will be joining us too, providing volunteers with coffee, tea and hot chocolate. 

We meet at 10am for a briefing. Then we generally clean between 60-90 minutes. After that, we bag the rubbish. We normally finish around 12.00 when many of us go to lunch together (at own cost). Please note, we completely understand if you cannot stay for the whole event. We are just grateful for any help we can get. No booking required. Just show up on the day. We just kindly ask you to leave political and religious t-shirts and messages at home, so everyone feels welcome. Thank you for your understanding.

Botanic Gardens Day At Stony Range: May 26

To celebrate Botanic Gardens Day:  Enjoy morning tea with us at Stony Range, Sunday 26th May 9am - 12pm

  • Native plants for sale (card facilities available)
  • Live music from trio  'Coastal Cool'
  • Children's Fun Activities
  • 'Bugs About' and displays

810 Pittwater Rd, Dee Why

Stony Range Regional Botanic Garden  is a botanic garden specialising in native Australian flora located in Dee Why, New South Wales, Australia. The garden is wheelchair accessible, has walking tracks of varying lengths and inclinations.


Local Power Poles Transformed To Boost EV Uptake: Australian-First Trial Taking Place Across The Peninsula

May 15 2024, Mayor Sue Heins and Intellihub CEO Wes Ballantine - Northern Beaches power poles transformed into electric vehicle charging stations. Photo:  Intellihub

Charging electric vehicles on the Beaches has become even easier thanks to 7 new charging stations installed on power poles.

As part of an Australian-first trial, local street side power poles have been turned into charging stations for electric vehicles. The project is being led by energy technology business Intellihub, supported by Council, and with funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

Mayor Sue Heins welcomed the new chargers as a great addition to the growing list of EV charging locations on the Beaches.

“The Northern Beaches is one of the fastest growing areas for EV ownership and we are working with industry partners to make sure there are enough local charging stations to keep pace with demand,” Mayor Heins said.

“This wonderful initiative is making EV charging more accessible for people living in apartments, townhouses or units with no onsite EV charging options. We expect it will encourage more people to make the switch from petrol and diesel powered vehicles to electric.

“We continue to encourage all our residents to consider making the switch. Together, we can reach our target of a 30% reduction in vehicle emissions by 2038.”

The Northern Beaches LGA is one of 8 local councils taking part in the Intellihub EV Streetside Charging Project.

The 22 kilowatt chargers have been installed at:

  • Ashburner Street, Manly
  • West Promenade, Manly
  • Anzac Avenue, Collaroy
  • Blackbutts Road (opposite Malbara Crescent), Frenchs Forest
  • Yulong Avenue, Terrey Hills
  • Allambie Road, Allambie Heights
  • Dearin Reserve (opposite 13 Kalinya Street), Newport

The community was involved in deciding the best locations for the trial. Council received 429 responses from the community, with overall support for the project.

Two were slated for Pittwater, at Mona Vale and Palm Beach, however, after conducting their final pre-installation inspections, Ausgrid advised that the EV charging stations approved for sites at Governor Phillip Park, Palm Beach (outside Dunes Palm Beach) and 15 Coronation Street, Mona Vale can no longer proceed due to load limit issues. 

Council selected two alternative sites that were considered under the original proposal, and reported these to the Local Traffic Committee on Tuesday 6 February 2024 for approval:

  • 19 Yulong Avenue, Terrey Hills
  • 118 Allambie Road, Allambie Heights.

The Committee supported the installation of a charging station at 19 Yulong Avenue, Terry Hills, and, following a review of safety concerns and options for an alternative site, the proposal for 118 Allambie Road, Allambie Heights was approved by the Committee at its meeting on Tuesday 5 March 2024.

The EV charges are connected to the overhead electricity supply, and the energy use is matched with 100 per cent accredited GreenPower. For all the energy required to charge electric vehicles, the equivalent amount of certified renewable energy is put back into the grid.

More than 1,300 EVs have been registered across the peninsula over the past 12-months. There are now more than 3,100 EVs registered across the local government area.

Hundreds of charging sessions have already taken place at these charging stations this year.

Intellihub CEO Wes Ballantine said EV drivers will be able to drive up, park and charge at any of the charging sites via the Exploren App.

“A typical EV can get more than 200km of driving from a two-hour charge at any of these sites,” Mr Ballantine said.

“The new chargers are displayed on all public EV charging maps, so every EV driver, whether they live here or are just visiting, will know they can more easily charge their EV on the Northern Beaches.

“We’re very pleased to be working with Northern Beaches Council on such an important project.”

If the 12-month trial is successful more poles could be rolled out across the country. Results of the trial will be reported to the Local Traffic Committee in early 2025 and placed on public exhibition.

For more information about the trial visit Council's webpage.

The Intellihub EV Streetside Charging Stations increase the places residents can access charging stations, with an EV charging station being installed at 3 Bungan street Mona Vale and ready for use by September 2021.

Electric vehicle owners and users could now enjoy free, fast charging with the first Ausgrid  JOLT EV charging station.

The world-first initiative transformed an existing Ausgrid streetside kiosk into a state-of-the-art EV charging station. 

Bungan street Mona Vale - photo: Ausgrid/JOLT

Ausgrid Chief Customer Officer Rob Amphlett Lewis said then Ausgrid’s program to convert existing streetside “green boxes” to also double as charging stations was going to help push Sydney into greater EV take-up. 

“We’re using existing, essential electrical infrastructure on the street to provide a free service for the community and hopefully help accelerate the transition to electric vehicles in Australia,” Mr Amphlett Lewis said. 

“Innovative projects like this are the future of energy. They give our customers access to renewable energy choices and incentivise electric vehicle use which is a key step in the transition towards cleaner transport options.

“People will be able to pull up, plugin and be on their way in 15 minutes,” Mr Amphlett Lewis said.

“We’re thankful to have the support of the community and the Northern Beaches Council to make this happen.”

JOLT CEO Doug McNamee said he planned to roll out 500 charging kiosks across the Ausgrid network.

“We’re excited to be teaming up with Ausgrid for the launch of our Sydney network, giving drivers the ability to access free, fast charging across the city. Drivers will get 7Kwh free per day, potentially saving over $1000 a year,” Mr McNamee said.

“JOLT’s partnership with Ausgrid helps solve the major barriers affecting the uptake of EVs including access to charging, cost and range anxiety.

“In the last 12 months (2020 to 2021), EV ownership has skyrocketed, almost doubling to 23 thousand new registrations, representing the second year in a row where the total number of electric vehicles has almost doubled. Now, more than ever, Australians are gearing up for an EV revolution,” Mr McNamee said.

Customers will be able to sign up via the JOLT app to access 7 kWh for free once per day, which takes around 15 minutes to charge. Users looking for more than 7 kWh can pay for further energy via the app. 

Mona Vale was followed by 

  • Dee Why, Forestville, Freshwater
  • Lagoon Street Carpark, Lagoon Street, Narrabeen
  • Ocean Street, Narrabeen
  • Winbourne Road, Brookvale

EV charging stations and signage were then installed, with the stations ready to use, at the following sites:

  • Blackbutts Road (opposite Malbara Crescent), Frenchs Forest
  • 9 Anzac Avenue, Collaroy
  • 25-27 Ashburner Street, Manly
  • 4 West Promenade, Manly
  • Dearin Reserve (opposite 13 Kalinya Street, Newport).

A report on the outcomes from Community Engagement was presented to the Northern Beaches Local Traffic Committee on Tuesday 10 October 2023, where the Committee endorsed the installation at the following seven locations:

  • Pittwater Park South carpark, Palm Beach
  • Berry Reserve Carpark, Narrabeen
  • Collaroy Beach Reserve Carpark
  • Civic Centre Carpark, Dee Why
  • Oaks Avenue (cnr The Strand), Dee Why
  • Kempridge Avenue, Seaforth
  • South Steyne, Manly.

A proposal for The Boulevarde, Newport is not proceeding due to potential flooding issues. As this location was well supported by the community, we will continue to work with JOLT to find an alternative, suitable location in Newport.

The sites have been listed on EV charging apps.

To find out where you can charge your electric vehicle on the peninsula, visit the Transport for NSW map.

Another Striped Marlin Satellite Tagged: The Great Swordfish And Striped Marlin Race

May 14, 2024: NSW DPI Fisheries
Firstly, the sixth satellite tag this season has been deployed by Al McGlashan, this time wide of Sydney at the end of March. The fish was caught bait and switching and was a well-conditioned, healthy striped marlin estimated at 80kg. 

NSW DPI Fisheries have also received interesting data back from two previously tagged striped marlin with the tags detaching from the fish and transmitting data via satellite back to the NSW DPI team. 

The second striped marlin tagged by the McGlashan team whilst fishing off Jervis Bay on 13 January has transmitted data with the satellite tag detaching after 61 days. 

Modelling of the data received shows that the fish headed in a NE direction to deep offshore waters SE of Taupo Seamount (over 350 km off the NSW coast) at the end of January before steadily tracking back on a SW bearing to a point approx. 250 km SW of Cape Howe at the Victoria–New South Wales border. The marlin then headed north at the beginning of March, working its way back towards the continental shelf off Bermagui and then heading south back towards the shelf edge off Cape Howe when the tag detached from the fish in mid-March. 

Interestingly, when comparing tracks, this fish looked to have travelled in a similar direction to the other fish (tagged on the same day as part of the double hook up) over the first 6 days or so, however this fish travelled out further and wider than the first before heading back towards the east coast of Australia. 

The depth profile data shows that the fish undertook the typical yo-yo oscillations of striped marlin recorded in other worldwide studies. This is thought to be associated with foraging and hunting prey with the fish typically diving from surface waters, down to 50- 150 m interspersed with a few deeper dives to over 200 m with one dive reaching more than 400 m. These dives occurred regularly, multiple times a day over the two months.  

The striped marlin spent most of its time in surface waters over 21°C with more than 60% of its time in water 22°C - 25°C. The lowest temperatures were recorded on several deep dives – with the lowest temperatures recorded being 12 °C.  

NSW DPI Fisheries also have an additional tag that has reported back to us. NSW DPI Fisheries will provide an update on that one in a coming post very soon… 

Learning more about billfish that visit NSW waters
This research aims to learn more about movement and behaviour of swordfish and striped marlin caught off the NSW coast and their post-release survival.. Tagging is being carried out by using experienced anglers to deploy pop-up satellite tags into fish caught  in NSW waters.

Pop-up satellite archival tags (PSATs) are used to track the movement of marine animals, particularly highly migratory species such as sharks, tuna and billfish. The tags are like mini computers that are externally attached to the fish and travel along with the fish whilst logging information on water depth, light levels and temperature, and gathering information on its location (geolocation).  This allows us to gain a greater understanding of the behaviour of the fish, their migratory patterns and catch and release survival.  The great benefit of satellite tags is that they do not have to be retrieved to collect the recorded information. After a predetermined time the tag decouples from the fish and ‘pops-off’, floating to the surface. The tag then transmits the data that it has stored whilst it has been underwater to orbiting satellites that pass overhead. This data is then relayed back to DPI. Complex statistical models process the data to estimate the most likely movement track.

The project will provide us with data on the on the timing and availability of swordfish and striped marlin in NSW and their post release survival. 

The Great Swordfish and Striped Marlin Race
This project also includes the “Great Swordfish and Striped Marlin Race” which plans to provide an interactive experience to improve our understanding of these exciting billfish species.

Once the first fish has been tagged, the race will be underway for the individual billfish  that travels the furthest distance whilst tagged.

DPI Fisheries will keep you updated on the Race and the broader project on this page and on the DPI Fisheries Facebook page, including when fish have been successfully tagged. Information on movement of the fish will be provided when the tags pop-off the fish and their movement data is streamed back to us via satellite.

DPI is undertaking this project in collaboration with the Australian National Sportfishing Association (NSW) and NSW Game Fishing Association. 
This is all part of ‘Fish for Life – Building a healthy fishing future.’ 

More info on the aim of the project is given on our website, at:

Gardens Of Stone Multi-Day Walk And Campsites 20 Year Commercial Lease: Have Your Say

Consultation period
From: 1 May 2024
To: 31 May 2024

The proposed grant of lease is to Wild Bush Luxury Experience Pty Ltd ACN 648 431 734. With the aim to develop, operate and support:

  • 3 bush camps within the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area
  • guided multi-day walking experiences on the Gardens of Stone Multi-Day Walk.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service plans for the proposed lease to enhance its campgrounds. The grounds are available to independent walkers and commercial operators registered with the Parks Eco Pass program.

The proposed lease term is 10 years plus two 5-year options (total potential term of 20 years).

The Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area plan of management identifies the accommodation notes located in 3 of the proposed lease areas.

The notice of intention to grant a lease in the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area is open for public consultation to give the community an opportunity to have a say.

The 3 bush camps will comprise at each site:

  • six 2-person enclosed cabins, with an approximate footprint of 3 m × 5 m (including entry deck)
  • one communal covered common area, with an approximate footprint of 5 m × 12 m for the covered area
  • one ablutions facility containing 3 showers and 3 composting toilets, with an approximate footprint of 8 m × 3 m and adjacent 20,000 L rainwater tank
  • all systems and facilities required for a quiet, ‘light-touch’, self-sufficient camp, including rainwater tank, solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity supply, and grey-water and black-water treatment
  • timber or Fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP) boardwalks connecting the cabins, communal common area and ablutions facility
  • connections to ground (that is, footings) designed to be fully removable with minimal impacts.

The proposed lessee will also establish ‘adjoining’ walking tracks from the public walking track to the bush camps.

View the document and have your say here

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

Two-thirds of us support banning pet cats from roaming. A ban would save millions of native animals – and billions of dollars

Jaana Dielenberg
Jaana DielenbergCharles Darwin University

Australians have more pet cats than ever before – more than 5 million in total. With the growing number, expectations on pet owners are shifting.

Many cat owners are now voluntarily keeping their cats indoors or in secure runs, and local governments mandate it in some areas. But most pet cats in Australia still roam local streets and gardens.

Broader adoption of keeping cats safe at home would have large benefits for cat welfare, human health, local wildlife and even the economy. So, should pet owners be required to keep their pets contained to their property, as dogs are?

We put that question to thousands of people in a national survey in late 2023, and recently published the results.

We found most people support requiring owners to contain cats. Just one in 12 people (8%) are opposed. The time might be right for nationwide change in how we manage our pet cats.

A brush-tailed possum in a backyard in Brisbane
Keeping pet cats indoors protects native animals, especially birds and reptiles during the daytime and mammals like possums during the night. Jaana Dielenberg

Local Councils Are Embracing Cat Containment

From November 1, Geelong City Council will join a fast-growing group of local governments in urban and regional areas that require pet cats to be securely contained 24 hours a day.

More than a third of local councils in Australia now require cats to be contained overnight or 24 hours a day. Most are in the ACT and Victoria.

Given how good cats are at climbing and jumping, containing cats usually requires keeping them indoors or in secure runs.

The main reasons cited by local govenments for these regulations are:

  • improving pet welfare: contained cats live longer and healthier lives with fewer vet bills because they are protected from traumatic injuries from car accidents, dog attacks and cat fights, infections, diseases and other misadventures.

  • saving wildlife: four out of five cats allowed outside will hunt and kill an average of two to three animals per week. With millions of pet cats in Australia, each year this adds up to 6,000–11,000 animals killed in our suburbs per square kilometre and 323 million native animals killed nationally. Night curfews only protect nocturnal species such as possums.

  • reducing nuisance to neighbours: containment results in less disturbance from cat fights and prevents the neighbour’s cat killing the birds and lizards living in your backyard or nearby park, which many community members value.

The Public Health Toll Of Roaming Cats

Another major benefit is less talked about. Stopping pet cats from roaming would greatly reduce rates of cat-borne diseases.

Several diseases which could not exist without cats can be passed to humans. These cost Australia more than $6 billion a year based on costs of medical care, lost income and other related expenses.

The most widespread of these diseases is toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can be passed to humans but must complete its life cycle in cats. Australian studies have reported human infection rates between 22% and 66% of the community.

Cat-borne diseases cause considerable community harm, with an estimated 8,500 hospitalisations and 550 deaths from acute infections and also from increased rates of car accidentssuicides and mental health issues in infected people.

Pet cats are crucial to the rates of these diseases in the community. In suburbs that do not require containment, you’ll find up to 100 roaming pet cats per square kilometre.

Eliminating stray cats from our suburbs is also important to reduce disease rates – just one of the reasons why people should not feed stray cats.

Black and white cat on vet table
Roaming outdoors exposes cats to car accidents, dog attacks, infections and injuries from cat fights and diseases. Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock

Most Of Us Support Containment

A policy requiring all cats to be contained has clear benefits. But would it have support? Rules only produce benefits if people follow them.

This is why colleagues at Monash University and I surveyed more than 3,400 people on whether they would support policies that “require cat owners to keep their cat contained to their property”.

We found a clear majority (66%) of people support cat containment. A strikingly small proportion of people, about one in 12 people (8%), are opposed. The remaining 26% were ambivalent, selecting “neither support nor oppose”.

Other surveys have found almost half (42% or 2.2 million) of Australia’s pet cats are already kept contained by their owners.

Some Councils Can’t Legally Require Cat Containment

Our findings suggest communities would broadly support their local councils if they moved to require cats to be contained.

While councils are responsible for pet issues, state and territory laws greatly influence what councils can and can’t do.

In New South Wales and Western Australia, state laws actually prevent local councils from requiring cat containment (except for in specific circumstances, such as in declared food preparation areas in NSW).

Rules Are Just The Start

To boost compliance, councils need to invest in communicating new rules and the reasons for them. After a grace period, council officers will also need to monitor and enforce the rules.

Communities may need support too, especially if there are costs involved. Councils could, for example, offer rebates for flyscreens to stop cats slipping out of open windows.

Working with other colleagues in 2020, we surveyed Australia’s local governments about their approaches to cat management. Most reported tiny budgets for cat management.

Local governments should not be left to shoulder the cost alone. Federalstate and territory governments are also responsible for Australia’s wildlife (and human health). These governments have a range of projects covering both feral and pet cats.

The Australian government collects A$3 billion a year in GST from spending on pets. Diverting a small proportion into responsible pet ownership programs would make an enormous difference.

A young cat looks out a window
Policies such as rebates for the cost of window screens could help the community to transition to keeping cats indoors. Jaana Dielenberg

Containment Has Wide Backing

Our research shows the community is ready for widespread reform of how we manage all these cats.

Requiring pet cats to be contained is a sound policy choice. But to realise the full benefits, we also need to invest in effective communication for communities, provide rebates to help contain cats, and make sure the rules are followed.

This research was a team effort, involving Kim Borg, Melissa Hatty and Emily Gregg for the national survey, and Sarah Legge, John Woinarski and Tida Nou for the research on cat impacts and management.The Conversation

Jaana Dielenberg, University Fellow, Charles Darwin University

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

More desalination is coming to Australia’s driest states – but super-salty outflows could trash ecosystems and fisheries

Gonzalo Buzonni/Shutterstock
Jochen KaempfFlinders University

From around 1996 to 2010, Australia was gripped by the millennium drought. As water shortages bit hard, most of Australia’s capital cities built large seawater desalination plants – Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. Remote towns have also built smaller desalination plants.

Most cities didn’t actually use them much. The drought broke in 2010, and desalinated water is expensive. The exception is Perth, which has been hit by declining rainfall, a drying climate and overuse of groundwater. The city will soon open its third desal plant.

As climate change intensifies, other states are also looking to build more desal plants. In South Australia, for instance, there are plans to build one urgently in response to looming water shortages. The Eyre Peninsula, for instance, is expected to run out of drinking water within two years as groundwater runs dry.

But beyond the expense, many of these plants bring environmental problems of their own.

How Does Desal Work?

A desalination plant pipes in seawater, filters out the salt (usually using a process called “reverse osmosis”), and then flushes the salt back out to sea. This creates plumes of hyper-salty brine.

If you position a desal plant near a strong current, this isn’t a big issue – the salt is quickly diluted. But if you pump brine into a gulf or bay without much natural turnover of water, it can lay waste to entire ecosystems. And unfortunately, South Australia has two large gulfs – and two planned desal plants that could kill off giant cuttlefish or decimate mussel farms.

mussel farm underwater
Mussel farms are vulnerable to brine flows. Drew McArthur/Shutterstock

When BHP Billiton was looking to expand its lucrative Olympic Dam uranium and copper mine in the mid-2000s, it had a problem: not enough water. To solve it, the mining giant announced plans to build a desal plant at Point Lowly, in the upper Spencer Gulf.

This was immediately controversial. Point Lowly is very close to the breeding grounds of the famous giant Australian cuttlefish (Sepia apama), a tourist drawcard.

My research suggested the brine outflow from the desal plant would cause environmental harm to these spectacular breeding grounds.

Despite environmental concerns, the Olympic Dam expansion was eventually approved in 2011, and the approval for the Point Lowly desal plant carried forward to the new Northern Water partnership between the state government and the private sector, which involves BHP as a key player.

This, the government states, is designed to:

provide a new, climate independent water source for the Far North, Upper Spencer Gulf and Eastern Eyre Peninsula regions of South Australia, to enable the growth of industries crucial to achieving net-zero goals, including the emerging green energy and hydrogen industries

The government recently changed the preferred location to Cape Hardy, much further down the Spencer Gulf. From as early as 2028, it will produce up to 260 million litres (megalitres) of desalinated water a day for use in mining and green industries.

A separate smaller desal plant (24 megalitres a day) is also planned for Billy Lights Point near Port Lincoln, to provide water for the lower Eyre Peninsula.

If the government was hoping to avoid controversy by moving away from the cuttlefish, it did not succeed. Opposition has come from the local council, First Nations groups, and fishing and aquaculture industries.

The problem with the location at Billy Lights Point is, once again, what happens to the brine. Salty outflows could damage mussel farms, fisheries and ecosystems.

Super-Salty Brine Is Pollution

My research suggests these concerns are well founded.

While we might think brine is harmless – it’s salty, like the sea – this is not correct. Desalination produces brine that is twice as salty as seawater. When you pump it back into the sea, it can form a layer of heavier water that creeps along the seafloor as a so-called brine underflow.

Desal brine can be dangerous, especially in waters that don’t mix rapidly. Without sufficient mixing, the oxygen content of the brine underflow falls over time. Eventually, the brine underflow can turn into a dead zone where very little can survive.

Desalination plants also pump out harmful chemicals with the brine, including pre-treatment chemicals, anti-fouling agents, heavy metals, nutrients, organics, chlorine and acids.

This means we should think very carefully about where to build desalination plants. The Spencer Gulf is full of seagrass meadows, the nurseries of the sea, home to leafy seadragons, giant cuttlefish, king prawns and millions of larval and juvenile fish.

port lincoln sea view
The waters of the Spencer Gulf are often calm. Charlie Blacker/Shutterstock

The brine can degrade or even destroy marine ecosystems. In the Arabian Gulf, where about half the world’s desal plants are located, researchers have found the pulses of brine “greatly threatens sensitive species”.

Given this marine pollution, any move to discharge desal brine into calm seas that have high ecological significance and do not flush rapidly is extremely risky.

At present, South Australia’s two planned desal projects do not seem to properly value environmental principles.

For instance, while the large Northern Waters project lists Cape Hardy as the preferred site, Point Lowly is still on the list of options. This ignores previous evidence showing the Spencer Gulf flushes slowly, which means a higher risk of environmental damage. And Cape Hardy is still within valuable and vulnerable marine habitats.

The smaller Port Lincoln desalination plant is expected to be operational by 2026 on Billy Lights Point, which borders Proper Bay and Boston Bay in the lower Spencer Gulf.

These bays are ecologically important, as they provide safe havens to marine larvae. They’re also part of the region’s coastal upwelling, a vital source of nutrients for whales and tuna.

The proposed intake and discharge locations of the Port Lincoln plant are within a few kilometres of valuable mussel and tuna farming operations.

Looking Forward

While Cape Hardy is environmentally more suitable for desal discharge than Point Lowly, it is still within the sheltered waters of Spencer Gulf. Hence, some environmental degradation is likely to occur here as well.

If authorities are determined to stick with brine-releasing desal, they should urgently look at sites outside Spencer Gulf, such as Ceduna or Elliston. Here, brine would be quickly diluted by the currents.

But there are other options not yet considered.

It is likely we will need more desalination plants as climate change intensifies. The best solution is a desal plant fully powered by renewables – and without brine discharge. How? By cleaning the brine and turning it into a valuable product: salt. The Conversation

Jochen Kaempf, Associate Professor of Natural Sciences (Oceanography), Flinders University

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

How a long-lost fish species was brought back to Bendigo

Greta Valley Landcare GroupCC BY
Sean BuckleyEdith Cowan University and Luciano BeheregarayFlinders University

The southern pygmy perch hadn’t been seen in Bendigo Creek since the mid-19th-century goldrush, when a booming town sprang up around the central Victorian waterway. This attractive small fish, which displays bright colours when breeding, is no more than 6–8cm long. Once widespread, the species eventually became locally extinct across the Loddon River catchment, which includes the creek.

But today, thanks to the efforts of community volunteers, scientists and local authorities, there are several thriving local populations of this small fish.

Reintroducing species to their old habitat is complicated. For animal species, we need good information about where to source them from and how many to move. It’s essential to have good habitat ready for the newly restored population.

We should also know how genetically diverse the population is because that can affect its long-term success.

A successful reintroduction depends on researchers, environmental managers and local communities working together. That’s exactly what happened in Bendigo.

Pygmy Perch Range Has Shrunk

The southern pygmy perch (Nannoperca australis) was once found in many rivers and streams across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. However, the combined pressures of habitat loss and degradation, invasive species such as redfin perch, carp and eastern gambusia, drought and drawing too much water for farming drove many populations to local extinction.

In 2015, recognising the importance of collaboration across management groups and communities, six regional bodies formed the Tri-State Murray NRM Alliance. They developed the “Magnificent Six” project to reintroduce six native freshwater fish species – all small and endangered – in the Murray-Darling Basin, which includes the Loddon River. The southern pygmy perch was first in line.

The Magnificent Six program aims to restore populations of six small fish species in the Murray-Darling Basin.

In 2018, through the tri-state alliance, a partnership between local government, environmental managers, an aquarium business, local community and fish hobbyists was formed. The Molecular Ecology Lab at Flinders University was brought in to provide guidance and genetics expertise. The lab had experience of successful captive breeding and reintroduction of southern pygmy perch in South Australia.

Everyone came together to plan the most effective course of action. We consulted local community members. We discussed where best to collect fish from and to move them. We planned planting efforts to restore suitable habitat.

Building Up New Populations

In September 2018, local volunteers – guided by environmental managers – collected more than 100 wild fish. These came from three creeks in two nearby river systems: the Campaspe and Avoca Rivers.

They took these fish to the Middle Creek Farm, a private aquarium business in Stratford, Victoria, to set up a captive breeding program. The aim was to make sure we had enough fish to sustain new populations. Over the next year, volunteers helped to breed and raise more than 600 fish for release.

At the same time, volunteers created new homes for these fish in three local wetlands by planting aquatic vegetation and building woody habitat. The combination of woody debris and dense reeds provides refuge from predators like aquatic birds and are particularly important nurseries for juvenile fish.

In January 2020, 800 fish from all three creeks were released across four wetlands, including restored urban wetlands and national parks. The team came back in September that year to monitor how they were doing.

A Triumph For Community Action Based On Expert Advice

Local communities can play an integral role in programs like this. To date, relatively few conservation programs include active public participation. Even fewer consider genetic information.

At every stage of the Bendigo reintroduction, we collected DNA from the fish by taking a small clipping of the tail fin. Our aim was to see how well the program had maintained genetic diversity. This is important for populations to persist in the long term.

We showed the genetic diversity of the parents was maintained. This diversity has helped the new populations to thrive.

Interestingly, we found the different source populations had unique genetic variation and the breeding program had caused some fish to become “mixed” (like hybrids). When we monitored the populations after release, we found more of these mixed fish surviving. That suggests genetic mixing might be important for southern pygmy perch.

This information helped us to make recommendations for future reintroductions elsewhere.

Everyone Benefits

The program was a huge success. All three populations are thriving – so much so that 2,800 fish were taken from our release sites to start a new population in another site within the Gunbower Forest along the Murray River last September. The species was last recorded there in 1997.

With their voracious appetite for mosquito larvae, these populations of pygmy perch may offer a natural solution for pest management. They are also a key food source for many native freshwater fish and waterbird species.

The community benefited too. Seven new landcare groups and more than 20 landholders are now part of reintroduction programs for other fish species. Volunteer organisations increased their social media and public footprint. Pygmy perch have also become popular fish in dams and backyard ponds.

Aquariums of southern pygmy perch are being used in high schools to teach students about fish conservation, pest management and water chemistry.

How Can You Get Involved?

Communities are working tirelessly to restore lost biodiversity across Australia. To help bring back a lost local species you can:

  • get involved with your local community “Friends of” conservation groups as well as regional groups, which are great for driving change in your area

  • approach local councils and government to provide support and contact relevant stakeholders

  • call in university researchers, of course. Many of us would love to provide our expertise and skills to conservation efforts.

Together, we can improve the conservation status of threatened species and restore our declining biodiversity.The Conversation

Sean Buckley, Lecturer in Molecular Ecology and Environmental Management, Edith Cowan University and Luciano Beheregaray, Matthew Flinders Professor of Biodiversity Genomics, Flinders University

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

Clean energy slump – why Australia’s renewables revolution is behind schedule, and how to fix it

WDG Photo/Shutterstock
Alison ReeveGrattan Institute

For years, the electricity sector has been the poster child for emissions cuts in Australia. The sector achieved a stunning 26% drop in emissions over the past 15 years, while other sectors have hardly budged. The share of renewable energy has gone from 7.5% to more than 30% in that time.

But unfortunately, this impressive pace is not fast enough.

Investments in renewable energy plants slowed in 2023 – financial approvals for new solar farms shrank more than a third and no new wind farms won backing. By the end of that year, Australia had 56 renewable energy projects under construction, down from 72 a year earlier.

For Australia to achieve the federal government’s 43% emissions cut target by 2030, and the deeper and swifter cuts required after that, we need to accelerate. The federal government wants the electricity sector to be generating at least 82% from renewable sources by 2030. The electricity sector needs to be clean enough by that year to make electrification the better choice for sectors heavily dependent on fossil fuels, from transport to heavy industry to household gas.

And it won’t end there. After 2030, when other sectors start to electrify en masse, the electricity sector will need to keep building more and more new renewable capacity to keep up.

If it doesn’t, it simply won’t be possible to eliminate the remaining 56% of our emissions that come from producing and burning fossil fuels. And that’s before Australia even starts looking at expanding its industrial base to become a so-called “renewable superpower”.

There are three reasons the electricity sector isn’t achieving the required pace at the moment.

Not Enough Poles And Wires

New wind and solar farms need new transmission lines to get their electricity to users. That’s because the good sources of wind and sunshine aren’t in the same places as the existing transmission network. And even if they were, we’d still need to upgrade and build transmission because of the growth in demand.

The Australian Energy Market Operator estimates 50% of the transmission needed to deliver a clean, reliable, affordable energy supply in 2050 needs to be constructed in the next six years.

But most of these transmission lines are yet to be built.

chart showing building of renewables and transmission lines
This chart shows the planned build by five year time period for transmission and utility scale renewables, based on the AEMO Draft 2024 Integrated System Plan, Step Change scenario. Grattan InstituteCC BY-NC-ND

Instead, renewable generators have had to connect to existing lines, which have become congested. So even when new renewable installations get approvals for construction, their output can be curtailed because they can’t get it to consumers. This has hit developer finances hard.

And many rural communities aren’t happy with the new transmission lines planned for their regions. While many of the required lines have been known about in the energy sector for years, the communities that will host them are only finding out about them now. Understandably, many object.

As well, bottlenecks in the planning approval bureaucracy mean things are slow to get built. This isn’t just about transmission lines: it also applies to new renewable generators and even upgrading roads so equipment and machinery can be used safely.

Coal Hanging On

There’s still uncertainty about when coal generators will leave the market.

We need to build replacement capacity for ageing coal generators before they retire but no one wants to build new generators to replace the coal if they aren’t sure when demand for their electricity will emerge.

Generators are required to declare their earliest exit date if that date is less than three-and-a-half years away, but there’s nothing to stop them pushing that date out. That’s what Delta Electricity did last year, when it changed the closure date for the Vales Point power station in New South Wales from 2029 to 2033.

On top of this, nervous state governments have started making opaque deals to pay coal power stations to stay open, as insurance against the slow pace of the renewables build.

Governments Aren’t Coordinating Well

Every state government on the east coast has a renewable energy target. So does the federal government. But these targets were set as arbitrary percentages linked to arbitrary dates, not chosen to deliver the cleanest, most reliable, cheapest energy system for consumers.

State and federal governments choose their targets in isolation, which drives up overall costs. To give just one example: both New South Wales and Queensland have established “renewable energy zones” in New England shire, located right across the border from each other. Developing these areas as a single zone should cost less overall, but no such interstate efficiency has emerged. Each state has gone its own way.

Is There A Way Out?

All of the above has led to a policy quagmire that has bogged down Australia’s energy transition.

In our report released last month, my colleagues and I argue the best way forward is to temporarily put aside a desire for neat, market-driven policies. Instead, we think governments and industry need to accept an approach that could feel ad hoc or disorganised at times in the next decade while coal exits are taking place.

During this time, governments will probably need to intervene regularly to coordinate new transmission, new generation, and coal exits, so the lights stay on.

Once coal is a no longer a substantial part of the market, it will be time for governments to step back. Beyond 2030, electricity demand is expected to keep growing, and the renewables building task will continue.

chart showing coal progressively exiting Australian grid
If current forecasts are right, coal will fall below 10% of our electricity production by 2032. ‘Storage’ includes utility and consumer storage. This is based on AEMO’s 2023 Integrated System Plan, Step Change scenario. Grattan InstituteCC BY-NC-ND

Governments need to start designing the rules that will govern this new electricity system. It requires asking a fundamental question: what will the respective roles, rights, and responsibilities of energy consumers, industry, and governments be in the future?

Keeping the system reliable will be a fundamentally different task when the amount of electricity generated depends on the weather. Market rules must change to ensure there is always sufficient generation available to meet demand in this new electricity system.

And carbon pricing – a political taboo for so long – will need to be discussed again. Even when the coal generators have closed, a vital share of our electricity will come from gas. The electricity sector needs a clear and enduring carbon price for the energy sector to guide gas-plant entries and exits, and ensure they pay for their emissions.

Governments will need to better integrate and orchestrate all forms of distributed energy resources, from rooftop solar panels to electric vehicles, particularly as electric vehicles become able to use their batteries to help power the grid.

Australia may be able to muddle through the next few years, but voters will not forgive their political leaders if they mess up the post-coal era and fail to deliver the trifecta of clean, affordable, and reliable energy. The hard work starts now.The Conversation

Alison Reeve, Deputy Program Director, Energy and Climate Change, Grattan Institute

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

Cameras reveal wombat burrows can be safe havens after fire and waterholes after rain

Grant Linley
Grant LinleyCharles Sturt University and Dale NimmoCharles Sturt University

Australia’s unprecedented Black Summer bushfires in 2019–20 created ideal conditions for misinformation to spread, from the insidious to the absurd.

It was within this context that a bizarre story went viral on social media.

This was a tale of heroic wombats herding other animals into their fireproof burrows to save them from the flames. At the time, we explained this story was largely inaccurate. But now we’ve investigated in more detail, and confirmed it may contain a kernel of truth.

The burrows of common wombats are deep and complex. They can be over 15 metres long with multiple entrances and chambers. So, even if wombats don’t shepherd wildlife into their homes, their burrows might act as “fire refuges” – providing vital shelter, food, and even drinking water during and after a bushfire.

Cameras reveal wombat burrows can be safe havens after fire (Charles Sturt University)

Wombat Burrows Are Not Just For Wombats

We set up 56 cameras in forests north of Albury, New South Wales, which burned during the Black Summer bushfires. Some areas suffered more than others, so we were careful to select sites that varied in how severely they burned.

Half of the cameras were pointed at wombat burrows and the other half were set up nearby – in areas with the same types of plants, but no burrows. Then we monitored the burrows from June 2021 to April 2022 to see which animals used them, and how.

We found 56 animal species at wombat burrow sites (19 mammal species, 33 bird and four reptile).

Native species such as bush ratsagile antechinuslace monitors and birds such as the painted button-quail, were more abundant in and around burrows than nearby control sites. Even a threatened species, the heath monitor, was seen emerging from a burrow.

Wombat expert Barbara Triggs, who literally wrote the book on wombats, had seen several of these species “scurrying away from burrow entrances” and emerging “from small crevices in the the walls” of wombat burrows. So our results are supported by her, and others’, observations.

Overall, burrows were hotspots of mammal activity, with more mammal species recorded at burrows than control sites. These tended to be smaller mammals, presumably because they can use the burrows without bothering the wombats.

Bigger animals such as kangaroos and wallabies tended to avoid the burrows. They may have been wary of a encountering a cantankerous wombat. Wombats are known to defend their territories.

A composite image showing six different animals at wombat burrows (red-necked wallaby, short-beaked echidna, lace monitor, grey shrike-thrush, superb lyrebird, swamp wallaby)
Cameras captured a variety of animals interacting with the wombat burrows. Top row, L to R: red-necked wallaby, short-beaked echidna, lace monitor. Bottom row, L to R: grey shrike-thrush, superb lyrebird, swamp wallaby. Grant Linley

We observed some fascinating behaviour at wombat burrows. In total, 31 species were found interacting with the burrows. This included 30 species inspecting the entrance, 11 foraging (feeding in or directly around the lip of the burrow), and ten entering or emerging from burrows.

We also saw animals drinking and even bathing in pools at burrow entrances that temporarily filled with water after rain.

While water was not scarce during our study period, this suggests wombat burrows are providing a valuable ecosystem function that might help other wildlife. It’s an interesting observation that warrants further investigation.

Burrow use by several native wildlife species was highest in areas that burned most severely. This supports the idea that wombat burrows act as a kind of refuge for native wildlife after fire.

Underground Networks

Our results are just the tip of the iceberg. Globally, many burrowing species provide habitat for others. From the American badger to the giant armadillo, burrows provide shelter and resources for species across many ecosystems.

Closer to home, sand goanna burrows provide shelter for at least 28 animal species. And bilby burrows have been described as an “outback oasis” for their role in supporting birds, reptiles and mammals.

We’re not the first to find animal burrows offer refuge after fire. A US study published in 2018 found gopher tortoise burrows in burned areas had 8.5 times more wildlife species than burrows in nearby unburned areas.

An adult and juvenile bare-nosed wombat, facing the camera
Wombats are the largest burrowing marsupials in the world. Grant Linley

Help Wombats Help Others

The star of our research is the bare-nosed wombat. While not listed as threatened with extinction, their numbers have declined markedly since European colonisation.

Our research adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests protecting wombats will benefit various species across many Australian ecosystems.

As large and severe fires become more common in forests across southeastern Australia, our wildlife will need all the help they can get – including the humble wombat burrow.The Conversation

Grant Linley, PhD Candidate in Ecology, Charles Sturt University and Dale Nimmo, Professor in Ecology, Charles Sturt University

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

Floating robots reveal just how much airborne dust fertilises the Southern Ocean – a key climate ‘shock absorber’

Dust storm blowing off the Australian east coast over the South Pacific. Jeff Schmaltz/NASA GSFCAuthor provided
Jakob WeisUniversity of TasmaniaAndrew BowieUniversity of TasmaniaChristina SchallenbergCSIROPeter StruttonUniversity of Tasmania, and Zanna ChaseUniversity of Tasmania

The Southern Ocean, a region critical to Earth’s climate, hosts vast blooms of microscopic ocean plants known as phytoplankton. They form the very basis of the Antarctic food web.

Using a fleet of robotic floats, our study published in Nature today reveals that windblown dust delivers enough iron to support a third of the Southern Ocean’s phytoplankton growth. Knowing this will help us understand how global warming will affect key climate processes phytoplankton are involved in.

The Southern Ocean acts as a climate “shock absorber”. Its cold waters and vast area capture up to 40% of human-generated carbon dioxide (CO₂) absorbed by the planet’s oceans each year.

Human-generated CO₂ mainly enters the ocean as it dissolves at the surface. However, biological processes that transfer vast quantities of CO₂ from the surface to the deep ocean play a critical role in the ocean’s natural carbon cycle.

Even slight changes to these processes in the Southern Ocean could weaken or strengthen the climate shock absorber. This is where phytoplankton play a key role.

A satellite image of a landmass with ocean next to it with swirls of turquoise and green.
A massive phytoplankton bloom off of the Atlantic coast of Patagonia, Argentina, in 2010. NASA's Earth Observatory/Norman Kuring, Ocean Color Web

Phytoplankton: Tiny But Mighty

Like plants on land, phytoplankton convert CO₂ into biomass through photosynthesis. When phytoplankton die, they sink into the deep ocean. This effectively locks away the carbon for decades, or even hundreds of years. This is known as the biological carbon pump, and it helps to regulate Earth’s climate.

Phytoplankton need nutrients and light to flourish. Nitrogen, in the form of nitrate, is one of these essential nutrients and is plentiful in the Southern Ocean. During the bloom period in spring and summer, phytoplankton consume nitrate.

This offers scientists a unique opportunity – by measuring how much nitrate disappears seasonally, they can calculate the growth of phytoplankton and the carbon sequestered in their biomass.

But there’s a twist. Iron, another essential nutrient, is in short supply in the Southern Ocean. This shortage stunts phytoplankton growth, lowering the efficiency of the biological carbon pump.

Dust Boosts Life In The Southern Ocean

Iron is commonly found in soil. Winds carry iron-rich dust from the continents to the oceans. This supply of dust-derived iron can trigger phytoplankton blooms, greening stretches of the ocean and strengthening the carbon pump.

Historically, to study the effects of iron fertilisation on phytoplankton – whether the iron came from dust, other natural sources, or was deliberately added – scientists had to embark on expensive research voyages to the remote Southern Ocean.

However, insights from such experiments were restricted to small regions and short periods during certain seasons. Little was known about the impact of dust on phytoplankton all year round across the whole of the Southern Ocean.

To address this gap, we turned to robots.

Ocean Robots Follow The Trail Of Dust

Over the past decade, research organisations have deployed a fleet of robotic ocean floats worldwide. These robots tirelessly track ocean properties, including the nitrate concentration.

In our study, we analysed nitrate measurements at 13,600 locations in the Southern Ocean. We calculated phytoplankton growth from nitrate disappearance and combined these growth estimates with computer models of dust deposition.

With this new approach, we uncovered a direct link between the supply of dust-derived iron and phytoplankton growth. Importantly, we also found the dust doesn’t just coincide with phytoplankton growth – it actually fuels it by supplying iron.

We used this relationship to build productivity maps of the Southern Ocean — past, present or future. These maps suggest that dust supports roughly a third of the phytoplankton growth in the Southern Ocean today.

During ice ages, a combination of drier conditions, lower sea levels and stronger winds meant dust deposition on the Southern Ocean was up to 40 times greater than today.

When we apply dust simulations of the last ice age to our newfound relationship, we estimate that phytoplankton growth was two times higher during these dustier times than it is today.

So, by fuelling phytoplankton growth, dust likely played an important role in keeping atmospheric CO₂ concentrations low during ice ages.

Why Does It Matter?

Global warming and land use changes could rapidly change dust delivery to the ocean in the future.

These shifts would have important consequences for ocean ecosystems and fisheries, and our research provides the tools to help forecast these changes.

To keep global warming below 1.5˚C, it is imperative that we find safe and effective methods for actively removing CO₂ from the atmosphere. One proposed and controversial strategy involves fertilising the Southern Ocean with iron, mimicking the natural processes that decreased CO₂ during ice ages.

Our results suggest such a strategy could boost productivity in the least dusty parts of the Southern Ocean, but uncertainties remain around the ecological consequences of this intervention and its long term effectiveness in capturing carbon.

By studying how nature has done this in the past, we can learn more about the possible outcomes and practicality of fertilising the ocean to mitigate climate change.The Conversation

Jakob Weis, Postdoctoral research associate, University of TasmaniaAndrew Bowie, Senior Research Scientist in Marine Biogeochemistry, University of TasmaniaChristina Schallenberg, Research Scientist, CSIROPeter Strutton, Professor, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, and Zanna Chase, Professor, University of Tasmania

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

Are we really about to talk to whales?

A humpback whale surfaces for a chat. Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock
Luke RendellUniversity of St Andrews

The past decade has seen an explosion of new research into some of the most fascinating sounds in the sea: the vocalisations of whales and dolphins.

Scientists have uncovered how humpback whales learn songs from neighbouring populations, so that these songs travel from western Australia to South America. They discovered bowhead whales singing 184 different songs over three years, and learned how bottlenose dolphins use signature whistles to shore up alliances.

Researchers have also showed that sperm whale vocal dialects are more different the more they are in contact with each other across the entire Pacific, suggesting these dialects function as ethnic markers. Advancing technology in the form of drones, acoustic tags and recorders mean such insights are accumulating rapidly.

Much of what whales and dolphins signal seems to relate to identity within social contexts. This can include identifying alliance members, or members of long-term social units and clans, or a particular population or species. Vocal communication also builds and reinforces social bonds and coordinates cooperative foraging.

We have also seen the resurrection of an old idea: that hiding behind all these findings is really a human-like language. If we can just find the right tools, the thinking goes, we can decode it and start talking to whales like we talk to our neighbours.

The hottest new tool is AI. Reading some of the press around the topic, you could be forgiven for thinking such conversations are imminent.

Researchers in yellow coats pilot a drone next to a moored research vessel.
Techniques for studying whales and dolphins are becoming more sophisticated. Nick Starichenko/Shutterstock

Two recent studies stand out for the dramatic claims they make about whale language. One details a humpback responding to the playback of a call with a similar one (but then ultimately losing interest).

This study’s importance was to demonstrate that such playback studies are possible, because playing back an animal’s calls and observing their reaction is a tested method for uncovering the meanings and functions of signals.

It’s not, however, the first playback to whales or dolphins, and neither, as the scientists claimed, were they “conversing” with the whale. If this was a “conversation”, then we’ve been having more insightful “conversations” with other species for decades – there have been over 600 such playback studies on birds.

The second study is a detailed analysis of patterns of clicks, called codas, produced by sperm whales. It shows that the whales appear to synchronously change the tempo of their codas when using them in exchanges with each other.

Such synchronous chorusing is not unique to whales. It happens across the animal kingdom, from fireflies to primates. Few animal displays are as breathtakingly synchronised as the four-part chorusing of plain-tailed wrens, while happy wrens use pair-specific duets to signal commitment to mates.

Nonetheless, the sperm whale findings are exciting, and fit in with our general understanding of codas having a social bonding function. But the scientists also tried to force these tempo changes into a “phonetic alphabet”, “like the International Phonetic Alphabet for human languages”, and it is this latter claim that has grabbed headlines.

There is, however, no evidence that sperm whales use these different tempos in anything like the complex sequences that characterise human language. We find better evidence for complex sequencing rules in Bengal finches. I wonder why we don’t see headlines about phonetic alphabets or imminent conversations with these birds?

Don’t Believe The Hype

We’ve been closely studying cetacean vocal behaviour in the wild and in captivity for several decades now. Compare that to how quickly you or I can start exchanging ideas with another person we don’t share a language with – because we use our theory of mind to understand each other as communicative agents.

If language was there, I think we would have found it by now. The most powerful language detector we know of sits between our ears, and we used it to effortlessly learn the language of our childhood as toddlers. As the story of Helen Keller shows, language finds a way.

Persuading the BBC not to describe sperm whale clicks as “language” in their Blue Planet II series was the highlight of my science communication career. Why?

A lot of complex communication is going on in cetaceans, much of which we still don’t understand. However, I am convinced that we should drop the stifling and anthropocentric focus on language. It crowds out other perspectives on what is going on – for example, the relationship between rhythm-based communication and music might be a better way to understand the bonding function of coda synchrony in sperm whales.

We should be wary of ranking species on a single dimension relative to humans, as if all evolution is a path to something like us (much like early anthropologists ranked societies by their progress toward western “perfection”). Instead, let’s take ourselves off the top of the ladder and see other animals as distinct branches of an evolutionary tree.

Both of the research groups promoting talking to whales are linked to, or name themselves after, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (Seti). The leaders of one group, Project Ceti, argue that understanding whale “language” will help us when we meet ET.

Two large radio telescope dishes at dusk.
Whale communication research has been treated as a test run for talking with aliens. Josemaria Toscano/Shutterstock

We’ve been here before. John Lilly also leaned into Seti, promoting the idea that dolphins were an alien intelligence with a complex language. His weak evidence ultimately evaporated in a cloud of hype and hallucinogens.

Unfortunately, his claims kept the important discovery of bottlenose dolphin signature whistles in the shadows for far too long, and cast a cloud of disrepute over the entire field of cetacean communication that took decades to disperse. It would be tragic if today’s important insights suffered the same fate because of irresponsible claims and a narrow focus on language.

We should strive to understand and value these awesome creatures for what they are, not for how they might sooth our cosmic loneliness.The Conversation

Luke Rendell, Reader in Biology, University of St Andrews

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

Seagrass meadows are rapidly expanding near inhabited islands in Maldives – here’s why

Nikolay 007/Shutterstock
Matthew FloydNorthumbria University, Newcastle

Swimming through the crystal clear waters of the Maldives, a nation renowned for its marine life, it could be easy to forget that these delicate ecosystems stand on the frontline of climate change and that seagrass habitats are in crisis globally.

Now, my research, which combined hundreds of hours of fieldwork with thousands of satellite images, has uncovered something unexpected: Maldivian seagrasses have expanded three-fold over the last two decades – and island populations could be playing a part.

I also discovered that seagrass is surprisingly three times more likely to be found next to inhabited islands, rather than uninhabited. So this flowering plant seems to benefit from living in seas close to humans.

Seagrasses grow along coasts all around the world. They can help guard against climate change yet they are frequently underappreciated. In the Maldives, seagrass meadows are dug up to maintain the iconic white beaches that are a frequent feature of honeymoon photos.

Matthew Floyd has spent more than three years studying the drivers of seagrass habitat expansion in the Maldives. Matthew FloydCC BY-ND

Important marine habitats have declined in the Maldives. Amid this backdrop of environmental uncertainty, I have spent more than three years studying seagrasses here alongside a team of scientists. We found that seagrasses are faring remarkably well and one of the most plausible drivers could be the supply of nutrients from densely populated areas, such as tourist resorts.

Every day, human activities could provide valuable nutrients for seagrass habitats in an otherwise nutrient limited environment. Food waste is traditionally discarded into the sea from the beach and rain can wash excess fertilisers from farmland into the ocean. As human populations and fertiliser use have both increased, we suspect that seagrass meadows have started to thrive and expand as a result of this increased nutrient supply.

Additionally, building work around islands may create more suitable habitats for seagrass. Land reclamation is widespread across the country as the population has expanded by 474% since 1960.

During this development, sand is dug up from the seabed and some inevitably spills into the water. The structure of seagrass meadows can slow down local water currents, promoting suspended sand grains to sink and creating more sediment for future generations of seagrass to grow into.

Currently, nutrient inputs seem to be creating just the right conditions for seagrasses. But if nutrients continue to increase, there is a risk that the seagrasses will be outcompeted by seaweeds and smothered. Continued land reclamation works that disregard seagrass may also remove this important habitat. So the future of this Maldivian success story may therefore largely lie in our hands.

Seagrass habitats are expanding in some areas, to the surprise of researchers. Matthew FloydCC BY-ND

The Ecotourism Paradox

Although seagrass removal has done little to curb habitat expansion, it highlights a troubled relationship with the tourism industry upon which so many jobs in the Maldives depend. Because it can ultimately make water depths shallower, seagrass can limit boat access and mooring, and therefore interfere with daily life. The proliferation of seagrass in areas of domestic refuse has understandably damaged its image in the eyes of the public.

But, by making coastal waters shallower, seagrasses reinforce coastal protection. And by growing close to refuse sites, they absorb excess nutrients and clean the water of pathogens. Despite being a vital tool in the fight against climate change, seagrass clearly has an image problem on the islands.

Seagrasses can make water more shallow, interfering with boat access and mooring. Matthew FloydCC BY-ND

As a marine ecologist, I firmly believe that conservation scientists - and ecotourists - have an important role to play in conveying the value of seagrasses. Conservationists must also fully appreciate the challenges that meadow expansion can bring to local communities, and understand how the needs of conservation and tourism may differ.

There is hope. A campaign called #ProtectMaldivesSeagrass, recently launched by Blue Marine Foundation and Maldives Underwater Initiative, led to 37 resorts (out of a total of 168) pledging to protect their seagrass meadows. Additionally, the data from my research can be used to protect seagrass habitats and quantify their value to people and nature.

Hopefully, the unexpected – yet welcome – success of seagrass in the Maldives is a cause for conservation optimism. And perhaps tourist resorts can learn to love their newly expanding neighbours.The Conversation

Matthew Floyd, PhD Candidate, Marine Ecology, Northumbria University, Newcastle

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

Floods in south Brazil have displaced 600,000 – here’s why this region is likely to see ever more extreme rain in future

Marcia ZilliUniversity of OxfordCaio CoelhoInstituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe), and Neil HartUniversity of Oxford

A mighty river is flowing out of the Amazon rainforest, and it’s not the one you’re thinking of. In the first kilometre above the forest canopy, a “flying river” is transporting moisture evaporated from Amazonian trees southwards along the Andes mountains towards Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state in Brazil.

Almost the entire state – an area larger than the UK – is currently affected by unprecedented floods. The flying river has acted like a firehose, fuelling five months of rainfall in just two weeks, further enhanced by a strong jetstream located in just the wrong position above the region. And, based on future projections of climate change, this situation will likely get worse as the temperature rises.

Since the beginning of May, those massive floods in Rio Grande do Sul have made world headlines. In the state’s capital, Porto Alegre, the Guaíba river is more than five metres above its normal level, breaking a record set in 1941. The death toll is 149 and growing, with 108 still missing. The floods have displaced more than 600,000 people and directly or indirectly affected more than 2 million, in 446 of the 497 municipalities in the state.

In various municipalities, the water and energy systems collapsed, leaving hundreds of thousands of homes with no power or drinking water. Schools suspended classes and the state’s main roads and airport are closed.

While the southern part of the country is under water, a heatwave caused record-breaking temperatures in the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais. For scale, this is similar to all of northern France being flooded while Barcelona swelters in 40°C heat.

This is not the first time the southernmost part of Brazil has been affected by such large-scale disasters. Similar weather systems, featuring moisture from the Amazon near the surface and the jetstream crossing the Andes high above, were associated with floods between September and November 2023, as well as major floods in 1997 and 1983.

A combination of factors makes these floods more likely. For instance, warm ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific (still currently the case, even as El Niño starts to decay) is associated with these weather systems, as are abnormally warm tropical Atlantic temperatures, which add more moisture to the air brought south in the flying river.

Things To Come

Is this event a sign of things to come for southern Brazil? As the atmosphere warms, it can carry more water, which means there is the potential to form massive clouds and heavy rains. This is a bit like buying a more absorbent sponge: it can hold more water but when you squeeze, more water falls out.

In fact, we are already observing this. Compared with the floods in 1941, this time the excessive rainfall was concentrated in a much shorter period, meaning the water rose much faster. Future climate projections already indicate that a warmer atmosphere results in an intensification of the flying rivers from the Amazon into south Brazil and adjacent regions, and more precipitation.

We have analysed results from state-of-the-art climate models that are able to simulate storms across South America in detail, just a few kilometres across. These indicate that extreme rainfall like that happening now is likely to become more frequent in the future, and such risks may in fact be underestimated by the previous generation of climate models.

These simulations, run under UK-Brazil and South America-US partnerships, are being used to assess such risks in southern Brazil and right across South America. Early results suggest that, as in Africaparts of EuropeNorth AmericaIndia and elsewhere, short but very intense rainfall is likely to happen more often as the planet warms, irrespective of the unique weather systems that may affect particular regions.The Conversation

Marcia Zilli, Postdoctoral Researcher in Climate Dynamics, University of OxfordCaio Coelho, Senior Research Scientist, Center for Weather Forecast and Climatic Studies (CPTEC), National Institute for Space Research (INPE), Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe), and Neil Hart, UKRI Future Leaders Fellow, University of Oxford

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

‘Everywhere we looked we found evidence’: the godfather of microplastics on 20 years of pollution research and the fight for global action

University of PlymouthCC BY-ND
Richard ThompsonUniversity of Plymouth

Thirty years ago, while counting barnacles, limpets and seaweeds along rocky shores, I started noticing a daily tide of litter, mostly plastic. As a marine biology PhD student at Liverpool University, I kept removing it, but the next day, there’d be more.

I’m now a leading international expert on microplastics, a term I coined on May 7 2004 to describe fragments of plastic measuring as small as a millionth of a metre. As I work to help reduce the grip of plastic pollution on our planet, the solutions are clear to me.

Regulators, governments and citizens all urgently need to turn off the tide of plastic pollution at its source by reducing the production of plastics. But having just returned from the UN global plastics treaty negotiations in Ottawa, Canada, it’s frustrating to see the lack of consensus among nations about how to address this global problem.

Disturbed by the scale of the plastic contamination I first noticed on that beach in 1993, I felt compelled to act. I recruited students and the local community to help with the annual Marine Conservation Society’s beach clean. We recorded what we found on printed templates.

Back then, a new tool was just becoming available for data compilation: the Excel spreadsheet. The budding scientist within drove me to tabulate what we removed, based on the categories on the printed templates that included bottles, bags, rope and netting. Suddenly, it struck me that the most numerous items had no category. Fragments of larger plastic items, which appeared by far the most numerous were not being recorded. I got curious and wondered what the smallest plastic pieces on the shore were.

close up shot face of man with glass jar with tiny plastic fragments
Richard Thompson realised that mechanical degradation of large, visible fragments of plastic resulted in the accumulation of tiny microplastics in the environment. University of PlymouthCC BY-ND

When I began teaching a few years later, I challenged my students to find the smallest pieces of plastic on the beach. Looking amongst the sand grains, there they were – tiny blue and red fibres and fragments.

An almost forensic journey ensued to confirm their identity. In collaboration with a polymer chemist, we confirmed the tiny fragments were common plastic polymers – polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) – that presumably formed via mechanical degradation and were accumulating as fragments smaller than the grains of sand themselves.

I was hooked on discovering more about this new form of contamination. Working initially with postgraduate students at the University of Plymouth where I was lecturing, we found that these pieces were common on the shore and in seabed mud and we showed they were eaten by marine life. Most alarmingly, we used archived samples of plankton that had been collected decades previously to demonstrate that the abundance of microplastics had increased significantly since the 1960s and 1970s.

I pulled together nearly a decade of this research into a one-page summary entitled “Lost at sea: where is all the plastic?” That paper, published in the journal Science 20 years ago, was the first to use the term microplastics in this context. Within a couple of weeks, this became a worldwide news story.

Everyone wanted to know whether microplastics were harmful. I set out to establish the wider distribution and determine whether they might be harmful to humans and wildlife.

Despite huge media and policy interest, funding was a challenge. One anonymous reviewer commented that there will never be enough plastic in the oceans to cause the sort of harm Thompson wants to investigate.

Over the years that followed, my team and I showed that microplastics were common on shorelines worldwide, they were abundant in the deep sea, in Arctic sea ice and in multiple species of fish. They weren’t just polluting marine environments. They were present in rivers and snow from near the summit of Mount Everest. Everywhere we looked, we found evidence of microplastics.

beach with man looking at camera, fragments of plastics on rock in foreground
Richard Thompson first noticed microplastics washed up on the beach in 1993 and his research has focused on them ever since. University of PlymouthCC BY-ND

By 2008, the term microplastic was highlighted by the EU’s flagship marine strategy framework directive, a policy introduced to maintain clean, healthy, productive and resilient marine ecosystems. It stipulated that “the quantities of plastic and microplastic should not cause harm in the marine environment”.

We demonstrated that, if ingested, microplastics could transfer from the gut to the circulatory system of mussels and that nanoparticles could pass through the bodies of scallops within a matter of hours. We demonstrated the potential for chemical transfer to wildlife and confirmed that the presence of microplastics could have negative consequences, reducing the ability of organisms to put on weight.

A UK parliamentary environmental audit committee requested a special report on microplastics in 2016. I was called to give evidence, and perhaps prompted by comments from my colleagues, MP Mary Creagh referred to me as the “godfather of microplastics” and so it entered the public record.

There are now thousands of studies on microplastics published by researchers worldwide. Policy interventions resulting from this work include the UK ban on plastic microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics, and EU legislation to prohibit intentional addition of microplastics to products which could prevent hundreds of thousands of tonnes of microplastics entering the environment.

A ban resulted in the phasing out of plastic microbeads used in cosmetic products like these. The top row shows microbeads found in products during 2015, below features products from 2018 after new regulation. University of PlymouthCC BY-ND

However, the largest source of microplastics is the fragmentation of larger items in the environment. So ultimately, we need to take action to reduce the production of a wider range of plastic products than just those containing microplastics.

Without action, plastic production could triple by 2060. Yet, some nations seem set on a path to increase production rather than reduce it.

Treaty Negotiations

Last week, I was in Ottawa where 180 nations debated the content of the global plastic pollution treaty, a text that contains more than 60 references to microplastics.

What can be done to halt this accumulation? Microplastics are almost impossible to remove. Even for larger items, clean up won’t solve the problem. Novel materials such as biodegradable plastics may offer benefits in specific circumstances but won’t solve plastic pollution.

I left the negotiations with mixed emotions. Pleased that the scientific community had delivered sufficient hard evidence – including some of my own research – on plastic pollution to initiate the need for this global treaty. Saddened that 180 nations found it so hard to reach a consensus on the way forward. Negotiations failed to stipulate that independent scientists should even be included in formal expert working groups.

Like many scientists who helped deliver the evidence of harm, it’s immensely frustrating to potentially be sidelined from an international process that hopes to deliver solutions. It may be hard for some to swallow – I saw one delegate holding a single-use plastic water bottle behind his back during negotiations. Contrary to the outcome of those midnight discussions in Ottawa, the focus must be on prevention by reducing global production of plastic polymers and ensuring any plastic items we do produce are essential, safe and sustainable.The Conversation

Richard Thompson, Professor of Marine Biology, University of Plymouth

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

Migratory birds are on the move and nature-friendly farms can help them on their way

Tundra swans migrating from southern China to the high Arctic. Yifei JiaAuthor provided
Yali SiLeiden University

Every spring, hundreds of thousands of birds leave their winter habitat on Poyang, the largest freshwater lake in China, and fly north over the most densely populated region on Earth to reach their breeding grounds in Siberia. As with any long-distance journey you might take, these birds need to make stops where they can find a good meal and a chance to refuel.

Migratory birds must make use of food that is only available seasonally. Grass-eating birds like geese follow fresh, green shoots that appear as the season unfolds and the geese move northwards. The brief window when this young, spring grass is at its most nutritious and abundant can last as little as three weeks.

Such a fine-tuned strategy can become a liability. Geese can only eat when they arrive in the right place at the right time, but climate change has disrupted when and how long this seasonal food source is available. Migratory birds may arrive too late in one area if rising temperatures have ushered spring in earlier, for example. If birds cannot replenish their energy stores during migration they risk their ability to breed successfully when they reach their destination – and could even starve.

A gaggle of geese surrounded by bright green grass.
Greater white-fronted geese grazing on wet meadows near Poyang Lake. Yifei Jia

Along with colleagues, I have investigated the impact of climate change on 16 migratory waterfowl in Asia over the past 21 years. We compared how well a series of stopover sites on their migration route would fare as food sources as the climate changes and found that it is challenging for birds to solely rely on eating enough tasty grass to make the journey safely.

Fortunately, in other research which involved attaching satellite tracking devices to migratory geese and swans, we discovered other food sources on their route from Lake Poyang to Siberia.

Leftover Seeds Can Help Birds Breed

I tagged 246 birds in total: 102 greater white-fronted geese, 74 tundra bean geese, 58 swan geese (an endangered species) and ten tundra swans which stopped over in the Northeast China plain before heading to their breeding grounds in Siberia.

Do the seasons feel increasingly weird to you? You’re not alone. Climate change is distorting nature’s calendar, causing plants to flower early and animals to emerge at the wrong time.

This article is part of a series, Wild Seasons, on how the seasons are changing – and what they may eventually look like.

Some birds can stay over a month in this region. Vast wetlands were once common here, offering important foraging and roosting areas for east Asian waterbirds preparing for the next leg of their journey to the high Arctic. Most have since been converted to cropland growing soybeans, corn, and rice.

The loss of wetlands as farmland has expanded and is a worrying trend globally. It has forced waterbirds to turn from natural vegetation to agricultural land as a source of food.

Six geese in shallow water.
Geese arriving at Momoge wetlands in Northeast China Plain. Yifei Jia

In the Northeast China Plain, migrating birds eat seeds left over after harvesting. As soon as the snow melts, these seeds are ready for hungry beaks to dig out. Leftover seeds mean that birds which do arrive before spring has started can still find sufficient food.

What’s Good For The Goose…

In fact, we found that birds tend to forage on seeds first and then shift their diets to spring vegetation as it emerges, taking advantage of both wetland and farmland habitats. Farmland seeds will become more and more important as natural habitats decline.

Geese in a stubbly field post-harvest.
Geese grazing on leftover seeds in farmland in Northeast China Plain. Haixiang Zhou

Mechanised harvests, which tend to leave more seeds in the field, could provide more food for birds. But protecting wetlands from destruction is still critical, and that will require limiting how much farmland is reclaimed and the intensity of cattle grazing. Lowering these forms of disturbance and encouraging bird-friendly tourism would help swans and geese use both types of habitat during their stopover.

If healthy wetlands accompany farmland, birds can eat natural vegetation when farmers sow their crops and so minimise their impact on crop yields. Seeing birds as part of the landscape, and not as intruders on farmland, can help preserve this biodiversity on the wing.The Conversation

Yali Si, Assistant Professor of Ecology, Leiden University

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

Swifts delayed by cold and wet springs face mounting problems as the climate changes

Alexander C. LeesManchester Metropolitan University

The weather is warmer and the nights are lighter. What are those black, curved silhouettes looping in the sky?

Assuming you are looking at birds and not attending the World Boomerang Championships, those shapes will likely be the UK’s only breeding member of the Apodiformes (a grouping that includes the hummingbirds): the common swift (Apus apus), harbinger of summer.

People in the UK tend to think of these birds as theirs, but really, they are tropical African species that spend a few months of the year at temperate latitudes. Competition for food, shelter and mates is intense in the tropics, so swifts evolved migration to take advantage of the seasonal boom in plant growth at temperate latitudes. Their breeding range stretches from Ireland to China and birds from the eastern edge of their range make epic annual round trips of 30,000km.

For swifts, migration to temperate latitudes should mean access to lots of flying insects to feed their young and much less competition from other species to eat them. Like other aerial insect feeders, swifts can’t stay through the winter as there is nothing to eat and so nothing to keep them here.

Do the seasons feel increasingly weird to you? You’re not alone. Climate change is distorting nature’s calendar, causing plants to flower early and animals to emerge at the wrong time.

This article is part of a series, Wild Seasons, on how the seasons are changing – and what they may eventually look like.

These birds are much-loved symbols of the changing seasons. So how are they faring as rising temperatures change when seasons arrive and what form they take?

Swifts Getting Swifter

Swifts are arriving on average about five days earlier in the UK than they were in the 1960s, but they are also leaving significantly earlier too – the only common migrant bird to do so in the UK. Many other species are deciding to extend their summer residency and have multiple broods.

There is still variation between years, but the swifts were very late this year. In this wet, cold spring, I saw my first here in the Longdendale Valley of Derbyshire in England on May 3; by way of comparison, in the unseasonably sunny weather of spring 2020, I saw my first Longdendale swift as early as April 19.

Cold and wet weather is bad for anything that eats flying insects, which aren’t active in these conditions and are more difficult to catch even if they were. One way swifts can weather these challenges is by going on very long foraging trips far from their nest sites to avoid storms. Adults and nestlings can also lower their metabolic rate while sitting on the nest (a phenomenon called torpor) to save energy.

Swifts struggle with prolonged wet periods. A recent study linked an increase in rainfall in June and July from 1975 to 2015 with higher nest failure rates, smaller broods and lower survival of swifts in their first year of life, as they can’t find enough food to feed themselves or their chicks. This is likely to be compounded by potential declines in their invertebrate prey, which are very sensitive to weather conditions like temperature and rainfall.

Cold, inclement springs like this year’s may also kill large numbers of swifts as they migrate through the Mediterranean by preventing them refuelling, leading to starvation, although there have also been instances of heatwaves killing large numbers of swifts as they overheat in their nests in roof cavities in the same region, something which might become a problem in the UK in future.

The cues of birds to migrate come both from an internal clock and factors in their environment, like changes in the seasons. Evidence suggests that species which are not adjusting their migratory schedules in the face of global change are more likely to be in decline and swifts do not appear to be as flexible as some other species in arriving earlier.

Tailored Swift Bricks

Longer-distance migrants are then more likely to be declining than shorter ones, but scientists’ understanding of the role of climate change in driving declines is still limited and complicated by so many other facets of global change.

Beyond reducing the carbon emissions and habitat destruction associated with our diets and lifestyles (and voting for politicians who take these challenges seriously), providing swift nest boxes may be another way people can help.

A campaign by Hannah Bourne-Taylor, a nature writer, to mandate the installation of “swift bricks” in new UK housing stock, could make up for the loss of nest sites in the eaves of older buildings – if only the government would support it.

Given all the difficulties swifts face and the joy that so many people derive in watching and listening to them careering across our summer skies, then we really should be supporting any efforts that may make a difference.The Conversation

Alexander C. Lees, Reader, Manchester Metropolitan University

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

Vatican conference on ‘climate resilience’ is the latest in a long line of environment initiatives by Pope Francis and the Catholic Church – 5 essential reads

A march for climate action in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in June 2015. Pope Francis praised the participants, who included Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus. AP Photo/Andrew Medichini
Molly JacksonThe Conversation

From May 15-17, 2024, American leaders including California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healy will be attending a global conference on environmental issues. The host? The Vatican.

The summit, “From Climate Crisis to Climate Resilience,” will focus on human adaptation, not just trying to mitigate climate change. “We need to embark on building climate resilience so that people can bend the emissions curve and bounce back from the climate crisis safer, healthier, wealthier to a sustainable world,” the Pontifical Academy of Sciences said in a statement announcing the workshop.

The Catholic Church might seem a surprising institution to convene a climate change event. But many saints, activists and religious leaders have called on their faith to inspire care for the Earth. Pope Francis in particular has been vocal about the risks of climate change, especially its impact on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

Here are five aspects about Francis’ views – and Catholicism’s broader relationship with the environment – that scholars have written about for The Conversation.

1. God’s Creation

Care for the Earth has a long Catholic lineage, dating back centuries.

An illumination depicts Hildegard of Bingen experiencing a spiritual vision while dictating to a scribe.
Hildegard of Bingen did it all: music, botany, medicine, drama and theology. Miniatur aus dem Rupertsberger Codex des Liber Scivias/Wikimedia Commons

“One of the basic beliefs of Christianity is that the material world was created directly by God, and thus fundamentally connected with God’s goodness,” explained Joanne M. Pierce, a religious studies scholar at College of the Holy Cross.

One saint who took that teaching to heart was Hildegard of Bingen, who died in the 12th century. A German expert on herbal medicines and botany, she was also a writer, and she “espoused a kind of ‘green’ theology, called viriditas.”

Another Catholic saint famous for his love of nature is Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology: an Italian friar described as treating animals “with the same dignity as human beings.”

2. Faith – And Reason

In fact, when Pope Francis published an encyclical on the environment in 2015, he took its title from one of his namesake saint’s poems: “Laudato si.”

The encyclical links concern for climate change with Catholic teachings. But it is not just meant for Catholics; Francis also makes science-based arguments that people can appreciate with or without religious faith, noted Lawrence Torcello, a philosopher at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

“Laudato si” is a notable “example of how reason ought to be incorporated into public discourse,” Torcello wrote. In a time as polarized as our own, arguments need to be framed in a way that anyone can understand, even if they don’t agree, “regardless of private religious or parochial commitments.”

3. An Influential Messenger

Similarly, University of Michigan business scholars Andrew Hoffman and Jenna White zoomed in on the pope’s ability to speak to people beyond divides: Catholics and non-Catholics, Republicans and Democrats, people who care deeply about climate change and others that are skeptical about it.

In the United States, they pointed out, debates over climate change are often more about worldviews than about scientific proof. “Calling on people to protect the global climate because it is sacred … will create far more personal commitment than a government call for action on economic grounds or an activist’s call on environmental grounds,” the pair wrote.

4. Environmental Front Line

Francis has often highlighted climate change’s unequal impact on people across the globe. That was on display in 2019, when the Vatican hosted a “Synod of the Amazon” – a region especially threatened by environmental destruction.

“As a theologian who studies religious responses to the environmental crisis, I find the pope’s effort to learn from the indigenous people of the Amazon noteworthy,” wrote University of Dayton professor Vincent Miller.

“Some might dismiss this synod as just a meeting,” he acknowledged. But “the Synod of the Amazon marks a significant shift from high-minded papal exhortations about taking climate action to a global religious community that gives voice to those living on the front lines of ecological destruction.”

5. Warnings And Wonder

In 2023, Francis released an addendum to “Laudato Si.” Like the original document, it linked environmental, social and technological challenges – such as by rebuking wealthy countries and individualistic attitudes for ignoring climate change’s impact.

In the pope’s eyes, “all life exists in relationships,” wrote Lisa Sideris, an environmental ethicist at UC Santa Barbara: nature, human beings and the divine. “Francis’ social critique, I believe, stems from his vision of life – one filled with awe for the depth of meaning and mystery to be found in an interconnected world.”

Part of the problem, as Francis presents it, is that people have forgotten just how deeply bound together we are – a theme likely to be front and center at this week’s summit.

This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives.The Conversation

Molly Jackson, Religion and Ethics Editor, The Conversation

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

Stirring films made the Snowy scheme a nation-building project. Could the troubled Snowy 2.0 do the same?

National Archives of Australia
Belinda SmaillMonash University and Kate FitchMonash University

In 2017, then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull alighted from a helicopter to announce a grand plan: Snowy Hydro 2.0. It would turn the famous hydroelectric scheme into a giant battery, ready to power the green transition.

Turnbull no doubt expected his announcement would associate his leadership with the positive aura of the enormous post-war Snowy scheme, since mythologised as the foremost nation-building achievement of the 20th century.

But bad press has plagued Snowy 2.0. Recent news of a tunnel collapse is the latest episode in ongoing mechanical problems. There have been reports of environmental mismanagementbogged tunnelling machines and cost blowouts. The constant stream of bad stories have outweighed any nation-building glow.

Or has it? Snowy 1.0 took 25 years to complete. It was a huge task to divert the Snowy River inland through tunnels, bolstering water supplies in the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers and generating power through hydroelectricity. Workers died. Costs blew out. But the mythology of the project grew, partly driven by promotional films depicting the project as a source of national pride and power.

A Tale Of Two Projects

Snowy 2.0 is overseen by a government-owned corporation, Snowy Hydro. Its public relations program includes social media, an onsite Discovery Centre and a YouTube channel with monthly video updates narrated by Snowy 2.0 personnel.

To date, the biggest boon for the project has been the three-part SBS series, Building the Snowy, first broadcast in August 2023. While not formally a product of Snowy Hydro, the series has an upbeat tone. Extensive use of archival footage strongly links current works to the celebrated post-war scheme.

Despite these efforts, Snowy 2.0 is now nationally known for slow progress and cost blowouts. The negative perception is fair. Snowy Hydro bosses admit there have been unanticipated setbacks.

Is it too late to change these perceptions? Not necessarily. Energy projects can be powerfully reimagined and legitimated in the public sphere. The original Snowy Scheme of the 1950s offers a formidable template.

This wasn’t by accident. Sir William Hudson, an engineer tasked with managing the Snowy scheme, had witnessed the successful promotion of Roosevelt’s 1930s New Deal policies in the United States, including the construction of the monumental Hoover Dam.

workers building a dam
The building of America’s Hoover Dam was similarly feted as a nationbuilding project. Everett Collection/ShutterstockCC BY

Hudson decided to follow suit, investing heavily in promotion. This, it turned out, was wise. The scheme’s early years were fraught. Political wrangling meant the scheme was started under Commonwealth defence powers until it was formalised by state legislation in Victoria and NSW in 1959. It could easily have been cancelled or curtailed.

As the building progressed, workers began to die in accidents – a tally which would reach 121. States continued to disagree about the allocation of water for irrigation.

Hudson had to convince both the public and politicians of its merits. In addition to the usual press releases and newsreels, Hudson turned the works into a tourist attraction, taking people into the mountains by the busload.

Documentaries By The Dozen

From the 1950s to the 1970s, the Snowy Mountain Authority sponsored a prolific photographic section, which put out huge volumes of photos – and around 130 documentaries.

historic photos of tunnelers for snowy scheme
The project was documented in great detail. The construction of the Murrumbidgee-Eucumbene tunnel (1959, left image) and the breakthrough joining two sections of the tunnel together (1960, right image) National Archives of Australia

Some of these weren’t aimed at a wide audience, such as safety training films or recruitment films to sustain the workforce.

But there were dozens which deliberately set out to create a favourable image of the scheme. The experienced cinematographer Harry Malcolm produced many of these films, which were shown at film festivals, schools and community group screenings.

men working on hydroelectric tunnel
Several documentaries depicted the safety practices in tunnelling. Sound and Safe (1963), Australian ScreenCC BY

The films made much of the spectacular alpine environment. Some showed the lives and accommodation of workers and their families in company towns such as Khancoban and Cabramurra. Only a few mentioned the multicultural workforce the scheme is known for.

Titles include Where Men and Mountains Meet (1963), Challenge of the Great Divide (1967) and Where the Hills Are Twice as Steep (1958). This last features a male narrator speaking from the perspective of Mt Kosciuszko, describing a chronology from deep time to colonisation to the problems of irrigation and electricity the scheme was meant to solve.

A high point was Conquest of the Rivers (1957), which won awards at film festivals and circulating internationally.

The semi-fictionalised documentary tells the story of Tom Carpenter who leaves his drought-affected home west of the Great Dividing Range with his small family and travels to Cooma to work on the Snowy.

Conquest of the Rivers emphasises a better future, created by the labour of male bodies as they carve paths inside mountains. The film draws on wartime tropes of capable masculinity.

tunnelling vehicle
Dozens of documentaries showed tunnelling, dam building, town relocation, town building and the environment of the area. The Construction of Geehi Dam, Australian ScreenCC BY

Taken together, these documentaries offered a stabilising discourse for the nation against the massive social change brought by the large Baby Boomer generation.

By 1960, the films had done their work. There was widespread enthusiasm for the project and its future was guaranteed.

There’s a telling quote from Tom Mitchell, a critic of the scheme, in Margaret Unger’s Voices from the Snowy:

In 1960 Upper Murray people suffered from a strange disease known as ‘Snowyitis’ which consisted of an overwhelming enthusiasm for the Snowy Scheme, almost rising to the fervour of a Billy Graham crusade. And yet, if asked, no one could really define the benefits

These films were never meant to be even-handed. Instead, Harry Malcolm’s films were a potent mix of truth and illusion, distracting from real problems such as deficient safety standards, low worker morale, and alarmingly, no planning for floods until after devastating floods on the Murray in 1956.

Could History Repeat?

Just like the original Snowy scheme, the future of Snowy 2.0 is not assured. Its original backer has left politics. Enormous engineering challenges have yet to be overcome.

Could Snowy 2.0 be reframed as 1.0 did? It is possible. But it would require a much more imaginative storytelling regime, beyond photos of large tunnelling machines or commentary from engineers.

To make it successful in the public eye, it should harness the new story of our time – the essential energy transition away from fossil fuels and the creation of a new grid. It should connect this project in the mountains to the needs of people around the nation, appealing to the senses and conjuring up the desired future.

And it cannot be only in the realm of PR – Snowy 2.0 must make our environmental plight better, not worseThe Conversation

Belinda Smaill, Professor of Film and Screen Studies, Monash University and Kate Fitch, Senior Lecturer, Communications and Media, Monash University

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

Summer 2023 was northern hemisphere’s hottest for 2,000 years, tree rings show

Mary GagenSwansea University

The summer of 2023 was the warmest in the non-tropical areas of the northern hemisphere for 2,000 years, a new study has shown.

Across this vast area of land, encompassing Europe, Asia and North America, surface air temperatures were more than 2°C higher in June, July and August 2023 than the average summer temperature between AD1 and 1890, as reconstructed from tree ring records.

While climate change is a global phenomenon, warming on a regional scale is often stronger. And it is regional climate change, not the global average temperature, that people experience.

The Paris agreement aims to limit climate change to below 2°C and ideally 1.5°C of warming, but these figures refer to global temperature change, usually averaged over 20 years. The authors of the new research argue that these targets have already been breached at a regional scale in the northern hemisphere summer.

There were 2,295 deaths associated with five heatwaves in summer 2023 in the UK. The authors of the new study wanted to understand how unusually warm the summer of 2023 was in the northern hemisphere compared with the past.

To do that, they turned to one of the most useful tools for taking Earth’s temperature over thousands of years: rings that grow annually in tree trunks anywhere on the planet where the climate is seasonal.

Two Millennia Of Tree Rings

The extreme warmth of 2023 was caused by greenhouse gas emissions and amplified by El Niño, the warm phase of a natural climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean.

To find out what the climate was like in the recent past, scientists analyse weather station records to see if a particular year was warmer or cooler than previous ones. The longest instrumental record available is the Central England Temperature series and that only goes back to 1659, which is not long enough to place recent warming in context.

To find out how warm it is now compared with two millennia ago, scientists use climate proxies. These are natural archives like ice cores and sediments that store a record of the climate in the layers they accumulate over time.

Trees grow in lots of different places and sensitively record past climate information for much of the globe. Trees grow one ring a year in seasonal climates, so there is no doubt about the date a particular ring formed.

To study past climate, tree ring scientists analyse how wide or narrow a ring is in a particular year, how dense the wood is or its chemical composition.

A tree stump with growth rings exposed.
Rings in tree cores indicate how well the tree grew each year it was alive. DrimaFilm/Shutterstock

Tree-ring growth is sensitive to many climate variables, but in conifer trees growing at northern hemisphere treelines (the point at which trees can no longer grow due to cold temperatures, high winds or low moisture) it is summer temperature that most strongly controls tree ring growth. In a warm summer, such trees will tend to produce wide, dense rings.

A period in which trees from a particular region all grew wide, or narrow, rings, if accurately cross-referenced with many trees, indicates an unusual phase in the climate which affected the trees’ growth.

The authors of the new study were looking for trees which faithfully recorded past summer temperatures. They combined records from thousands of these trees across hundreds of sites in North America and Canada, the UK and Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, Mongolia and Japan. The tree ring records were produced by scientists working laboriously to take tree core samples, measure the rings and share the data.

This huge tree ring archive revealed that the northern hemisphere summer of 2023 was warmer than the average of every year between AD1 and 1890 by 2.2°C. When compared to the very coldest year of the last two millennia, AD536, when a large volcano erupted and cooled the planet for several years, summer 2023 was found to be nearly 4°C warmer than that year.

What Will Future Forests Show?

As greenhouse gas emissions rise, enhancing Earth’s greenhouse effect, people can expect more frequent and severe climate events. In the past, very warm years globally generally happened during El Niño events, such as in 2016.

However, greenhouse gas levels are now so high that, for the first time in 2017, the planet experienced a very warm year during El Niño’s opposite, the La Niña phase, which has a cooling effect on global temperatures.

The new study found that 2023 even broke the 2016 record as it was 0.23°C warmer than the last El Niño-amplified summer. Greenhouse gas emissions are now so high that, when climate records are broken, they break in large step changes, rather than small increments.

The thousands of trees sampled for this study, from mountain forests around the northern hemisphere, face increasingly tough growing conditions. Were the scientists to revisit them they would find, in many places, trees stressed by heat and drought.

A single drought between 2012 and 2016 in California killed more than 200 million trees. Tree deaths in France have increased by over 80% in the last decade, a pattern seen around the globe as a result of hotter droughts.

Forests contain 80% of biodiversity living on land and sustain the livelihoods of 1.6 billion people. Trees also regulate the global climate and store carbon from the air, while slowly building up a record in their rings of our failure to halt dangerous climate change.

The extreme heat of 2023 highlights the need for urgent climate action. If the world rapidly decarbonises, future scientists will hopefully see the climate’s recovery quietly recorded in the tree ring records of Earth’s remaining forests.

Imagine weekly climate newsletter

Don’t have time to read about climate change as much as you’d like?
Get a weekly roundup in your inbox instead. Every Wednesday, The Conversation’s environment editor writes Imagine, a short email that goes a little deeper into just one climate issue. Join the 30,000+ readers who’ve subscribed so far.The Conversation

Mary Gagen, Professor of Physical Geography, Swansea University

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


Jordan Lawler Wins 2024 World Surf League GWM Sydney Surf Pro.!: WSL Leaves North Narrabeen In A High Stoke - Tahiti Pro. Commences This Week At Venue For Paris 2024 Olympics Surfing Comp. 

Jordan Lawler being chaired by the home crowed. Photo Credit: © WSL / Matt Dunbar

The WSL roadshow has rolled into North Narrabeen and rolled out again, leaving the site of this National Surfing Reserve a little bit too quiet after 6 days in a row of spectacular surfing by some of the best athletes. There is a lingering, palpable, high stoke.

Just as happened at the Bonsoy Gold Coast Pro the week before, when icons of surfing Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, and Stephanie Gilmore joined Kelly Slater in a World Champ's Super Heat celebrating the best of competitive surfing, local legends were part of this iconic surf festival.

On Sunday May 12, Mother's Day, the last heat of the day saw a group of local surfing greats take over the line-up at North Narrabeen for a 40-minute spectacle to see who still rules the roost and entertain the solid Sunday crowds that lined the shore. 

Surfers included 2018 Grand Masters World Champion Rob Bain, Two-time World Champion Tom Carrol, Former CT competitor and big wave world record holder Laura Enever, two-time World Champion and North Narrabeen Boardriders Club President Damian Hardman, and CT event winner Nathan Hedge. 

Pictured: The Bonsoy Legends Heat hit the water at North Narrabeen with legends [Left to Right] Damian Hardman, Rob Bain, Laura Enever, Tom Carrol and Nathan Hedge. Credit: © WSL / Matt Dunbar

All five surfers traded waves and had their moments, but it was Laura Enever who earned the biggest highlight of the session for a long left-hander with multiple turns completed on the sand. 

However, the highlight of this year's WSL GWM Sydney Surf Pro presented by Bonsoy was witnessing North Narrabeen's own Jordan Lawler take out the event.

On Tuesday, May 14, 2024, Isabella Nichols (AUS) and Jordan Lawler (AUS) claimed victory at Stop No. 2 of the 2024 World Surf League (WSL) Challenger Series (CS). In front of a packed beach at North Narrabeen, the Aussie duo were able to overcome a massive international field to take the win in super clean two-to-three-foot surf. 

North Narrabeen local Jordan Lawler (AUS) won in front of a huge home crowd, securing the title in scenes reminiscent of those 1970's to 1980's competitions at the same site. Although this win was a replay, to some degree, of his 2019 crowning in that WSL Sydney Surf Pro at the other beach renowned for hosting professional surfing competitions on the peninsula, Manly, this ranks as the biggest result of his career. 

In 2019 Jordy competed in the Qualifying Series events. Surfers who are not currently eligible for the Championship Tour (CT) events are able to compete in a Qualifying Series (QS) of events, earning points towards qualifying for the following year's CT.

The big difference between a Challenger Series event and a Qualifier Series event (the second-tier comps) is how they allocate points. A Challenger Series event hands out more points for the global QS leaderboard that surfers aim to climb, unlike a regular QS event.

The Challenger Series is the launchpad to the elite Championship Tour, pitting established surfers fighting to stay on tour against the next generation of premium talent. Across the events, the 2024 fields of 84 men and 52 women will battle for one of the 10 men's and 5 women's coveted spots at the top level of the sport.

Having missed qualifying for the Challenger Series in 2024, Lawler came into the event as a wildcard. With low expectations on himself, he was able to cruise through the draw and claim a memorable win. 

“Honestly, the last few months have been a real rollercoaster,” Lawler said afterwards. 

“After not qualifying for the Challenger Series this year, I was honestly thinking about calling it quits, so I’m just stoked I stuck with it. I was pretty low there for a while, and I hadn’t had a good result for a while, so I’m just so stoked right now. To make it to the Championship Tour has been my goal for so long and to win an event of this size can really help with that, I just can’t believe it.” 

Jordan Lawler getting some air. Photo Credit: © WSL / Matt Dunbar

In the 35-minute Final, Lawler came up against former Championship Tour (CT) competitor Alejo Muniz (BRA) in a classic frontside versus backside battle on the North Narrabeen lefts. Muniz had been in solid touch all week but it was the local knowledge and hometown support that got Lawler an early lead. 

Jordy was then able to build momentum throughout the matchup, eventually posting a 15.75 (out of a possible 20) two-wave total, his highest of the event and enough to put Muniz in a combination situation. In the dying minutes, Muniz found a 7.20 (out of a possible 10) to break the combination but was unable to back it up, leaving Lawler to claim victory. 

“Winning at home in front of all of these familiar faces is so amazing, I’m speechless,” Lawler said. "Growing up, I looked up to so many of these surfers, and to be competing against them and getting the win is like a dream come true, especially at home. I’ve worked so hard to be here, and I’m keen to get it done this year, qualifying for the Championship Tour.”

Jordan first picked up a board at the age of 4 down at Wilson’s Promontory, and started really getting into surfing at around age 11. His first comp was through the North Narrabeen Boardriders club when 12. He graduated from Narrabeen Sports High School in 2014.

The North Narrabeen Boardriders Club, established July 26, 1964, celebrates its 60th year in 2024. A black tie event is scheduled to take place in October.

In more great news for the club this week the NSW Government has allocated $632,000 for upgrades to North Narrabeen Surf Life Saving Club under the Surf Club Facility Program, which includes the extension to the north first mooted by Council in 2023. Details here.

Isabella Nichols and Jordan Lawler- winners. Photo Credit: © WSL / Cait Miers

Jordy currently sits at spot 4 in the 2024 Men's Challenger Series rankings, one spot behind Lennox Head’s Mikey McDonagh, who won the Gold Coast Pro., Stop No. 1 of the 2024 WSL Challenger Series (CS), on May 4, and two spots ahead of fellow peninsula surfer George Pittar.

Mr. Pittar has been on a bit of a roll in past weeks.

Hailing from just down the road in Manly, George Pittar was finally back on home soil after a whirlwind few months of competition. Pittar was awarded wildcards into two Championship Tour (CT) events, putting on an incredible performance that saw him earn an equal third-place finish at the Western Australia Margaret River Pro (April 11-21, 2024), even taking down world No. 1 Griffin Colapinto (AUS) along the way. He picked up more points after gaining a wildcard entry into the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach presented by Bonsoy (March 26-April 25).  Pittar then commenced his Challenger Series season with a solid showing and Semifinal finish on the Gold Coast and continued that form at Narrabeen, picking up  3,320 points in the GWM Sydney Surf Pro presented by Bonsoyas for his efforts. George is also working to win a full-time spot on the CT in 2025. 

“It’s amazing to be back home and competing at an event of this size whilst sleeping in my own bed and enjoying mum’s home-cooked meals,” Pittar said. “It’s amazing to see all of the world’s best lighting up the Northern Beaches. I know it means a lot to the local surfing community. 

The last month has been amazing. It’s been great to get some results and scores at the CT level and show myself I can belong there and it definitely gives me so much confidence ahead of the CS season. It’s given me incentive to qualify and compete at the CT level full-time.” 



The Irukandji's Win Eighth Team World Championship And Two Individual Gold Medals At The 2024 ISA World Junior Surfing Championship

Team Australia; The Irukandji's - The Australian Junior Surfing Team stand on the podium after winning gold at the ISA World Junior Surfing Championships.  Photo: ISA/Pablo Jimenez

In an outstanding display of skill, determination, and sportsmanship, the Australian junior surfing team, known as 'The Irukandji's', have claimed the overall gold at the 2024 ISA World Junior Surfing Championship as well as two individual gold medals for Dane Henry (U18 men's) and Ziggy Aloha Mackenzie (U16 women's). In one of the most commanding victories in ISA competition, today's (May 13 2024 Australian time) result makes the Irukandjis the winningest team in ISA World Junior history, ending an 11-year wait since their last triumph in 2013.

Individual gold medals for Dane Henry and Ziggy Mackenzie were backed up by a silver medal for Fletcher Kelleher and copper for Milla Brown. But the performance of the entire Irukandjis team was so strong that victory was almost secured before Finals Day even began, and a heat win for Brown, backed by Willow Hardy’s performance, in Girl’s U/18 Repechage Round 9 was enough to see Australia take the Team gold medal long before the Grand Finals began.

Kate Wilcomes, the Surfing Australia National High-Performance Director, expressed the broader implications of the team's success, stating, "This win represents where Australian Junior surfing is at and the dominance we intend to continue to deliver! This team and the support staff have not only worked hard, but they have also built and embraced the Irukandji's fighting spirit. We are all so proud of each and every one of these athletes and how they have represented Australia."

In a stacked Under 18 men’s Grand Final, Dane Henry became the first Australian to win this division in 15 years. The 17-year-old led the pack with an excellent heat total of 16.8 out of a possible 20, clinching the gold medal. Close behind was fellow Australian Fletcher Kelleher, who scored an impressive 15.97 out of 20. Their strong performances triumphed over tough competition from Brazil's Rickson Falcão (14.67) and Japan's Ikko Watanabe (8.70), showcasing the depth of talent in Australian junior surfing.

Henry led the Australian charge through the entire event, with the team captain posting seven scores in the excellent range, including a perfect 10-point ride. 

Henry reflected on his achievement and the team's success, "I'm so proud of everyone in my team; it's been the best experience of my life. I couldn't have done it without my mum; she's an absolute legend, and I wouldn't be up here without her." 

Overcome with emotion, he added, "Thank you to all the coaches, everyone back at home, from the bottom of my heart this is the best thing I've ever done in my life."

Dane Henry, Team Australia / Photo: Pablo Franco

Ziggy Mackenzie’s (AUS) road to the Final was made smoother after she took a wave in her Girl’s U/16 Main Event Final with 1 second to go. Needing a 6.54, the 15-year-old grabbed a 6.57 to guarantee herself a medal. In an extremely tight final, a 6.83 from Mackenzie proved to be the high point and when her backup of a 5.93 arrived late in the heat, it was enough to seal the deal and plant her name as a World Junior Champion alongside fellow Australians Stephanie Gilmore and Tyler Wright.

Mackenzie said. “I feel like all the work that I’ve put in and all the support from the Australian team has all come together. I think everyone was so excited but so nervous at the same time coming into this event. We’ve got such a strong team and we really wanted to just push and push as hard as we can. We’re on top and I’m so stoked for the team.”

Ziggy Mackenzie showcased her talent in the Under 16 division against an international field. "I just tried to keep calm and collected. I knew we had the (team) gold already, so I kind of wanted to go out there and surf how I surf and show the world Ziggy". Mackenzie explained. 

She later expressed her elation, saying, "I'm blown away, I'm so stoked. To be here with Australia has been an insane experience and I'm so happy to have come out on top and for team Australia to have come out on top as well, everyone's stoked."

Ziggy Mackenzie, Team Australia / Photo: Sean Evans

Clancy Dawson, Surfing Australia Performance Pathway Manager, highlighted the foundation of the team’s success, stating: “What an incredible performance by our team. Our vision is to be the most dominant surfing nation, and our results in this event exemplify that goal. All medal-winning athletes came through our 'Talent Identification Program' and have been working with the Surfing Australia High Performance Team for the last four years.

This program is designed to identify the most promising juniors at the ages of 13-14 and help them not only become the world's best surfers but also the world's best people. Dominant team and individual results like these make us extremely proud of the long-term work and strategy that goes into shaping the next generation of Australian surfers. Dane Henry exemplifies the degree of innovative high-performance surfing we foster, taking that competitive edge at an ISA event to a whole new level.”

The event was not without it's controversy for the Irukandjis, particularly during the Under 18 girls' repechage. Western Australia's Willow Hardy was in the spotlight over the weekend for maintaining her composure under highly stressful circumstances. Hardy, who needed a small score of a 2.4 to advance with only 50 seconds left in the heat, was interfered with by Portugal's Erica Máximo White. Máximo attempted to push Hardy off her craft and yelled verbal abuse before trying to grab Hardy's leash (attached to both her board and her leg). Despite the interference and unsporting conduct, Hardy surfed the wave to the required score to progress. 

Coach Pete Duncan lodged a successful protest, resulting in Máximo's disqualification. Duncan remarked, "While there is a tactical element to competitive surfing, there is no place for unsporting conduct. We are incredibly proud of the way Willow remained composed in what was an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation." Máximo later apologized via Instagram, expressing regret to Hardy, the Australian Team, and the ISA.

Hawaiian girls account for the most gold medals in the WJSC, and Vaihiti Inso continued that tradition when she won the 11th gold medal for Hawaii. The new U/18 World Champion was proud to represent her team and her culture with the victory, but was also thrilled to display a solid show of surfing. Winning the Grand Final with an 8.50 and 8.17, largely on the strength of her powerful and stylish forehand carves on the lefts of La Bocana, her 16.67 heat total left her fellow finalists in need of near-perfection to reach her.

“I’m almost speechless,” Inso said. “Honestly my main goal was not the result but just to put on a good performance and I hope I did that. I love surfing and before there was no lefts and all of a sudden the lefts just came that way. So mahalo ke Akua for the waves and God for everything.”

After impressive performances across both U/16 and U/18, 2022 U/16 copper medallist Tya Zebrowski (FRA) was able to add an U/18 silver medal to her count, with Sara Freyre (USA) and Milla Brown (AUS) winning the bronze and silver medals respectively.

Vaihiti Inso, Team Hawaii / Photo: Jersson Barboza

ISA President, Fernando Aguerre, said:

“What an incredible week. Some of the best waves in the history of our ISA events in El Salvador, and we have had many. It’s been a great partnership with the government of El Salvador. Thank you to President Bukele and thank you to the people of El Salvador for receiving us as warm as ever.

“Congratulations to all the medalists. You are now going home as champions, and the top surfers in the world in the junior divisions. Some of you will be in the Olympics this year, just 75 days away, in Tahiti. Most of you will not, but most of you have the opportunity to be in the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.”

The ISA World Junior Surfing Championship, held this year in Surf City, El Salvador, saw 441 young surfers from around the globe compete in various divisions. The event is renowned for showcasing the world's best upcoming talent in surfing and offering a glimpse into the sport's future.

As the Irukandjis return home with gold, they bring not only medals but also immense pride and inspiration to the Australian surfing community while putting the rest of the surfing world on notice.

About the ISA:

The International Surfing Association (ISA) is recognized by the International Olympic Committee as the world governing authority for surfing.  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.


Team Rankings
Gold – Australia
Silver – Hawaii
Bronze – France
Copper – USA

Boy’s U/16
Gold – Dylan Donegan (ESP)
Silver – Lukas Skinner (ENG)
Bronze – Thiago Passeri (ARG)
Copper – Alexis Owen (NZL)

Girl’s U/16
Gold – Ziggy Mackenzie (AUS)
Silver – Clémence Schorsch (FRA)
Bronze – Louise Le Pront (RSA)
Copper – Eden Walla (USA)

Boy’s U/18
Gold – Dane Henry (AUS)
Silver – Fletcher Kelleher (AUS)
Bronze – Rickson Falcão (BRA)
Copper – Ikko Watanabe (JPN)

Girl’s U/18
Gold – Vaihiti Inso (HAW)
Silver – Tya Zebrowski (FRA)
Bronze – Sara Freyre (USA)
Copper – Milla Brown (AUS)

2024 ISA World Junior Surfing Championship - Team Irukandjis

U18 Girls
Milla Brown (Newport, NSW)
Willow Hardy (Gnarabup, WA)
Isi Campbell (Denmark, WA)

U18 Boys
Eden Hasson (Port Stephens, NSW)
Dane Henry (Fingal Head, NSW)
Fletcher Kelleher (Freshwater, NSW)

U16 Girls
Ziggy Mackenzie (Bilinga, Qld) 
Charli Hately (Tugun, Qld)
Ocea Curtis (Lennox Head, NSW)

U16 Boys
Lachlan Arghyros (Kingscliff, NSW)
Maverick Wilson (Dunsborough, WA)
Ocean Lancaster (Merewether, NSW)

Follow the team and the Irukandjis on Surfing Australia's Socials.

Surfing Australia is thankful for the support it has received from the Australian Government - through the Australian Sports Commission - to help enhance the Irukandjis medal chances at Paris 2024.

2024 Surf City El Salvador ISA World Junior Surfing Championship: Day 9 Action + Closing Ceremony Awards

Ziggy Mckenzie. Credit: ISA / Pablo Jimenez

Ziggy Mackenzie. Credit: ISA / Sean Evans

 Ziggy Mackenzie. Credit: ISA / Pablo Franco

Milla Brown. Credit: ISA / Sean Evans

Milla Brown. Credit: ISA / Pablo Jimenez

Milla Brown. Credit: ISA / Sean Evans

Milla Brown Willow Hardy. Credit: ISA / Pablo Franco

 Ziggy Mackenzie. Credit: ISA / Jersson Barboza

Ziggy Mackenzie. Credit: ISA / Jersson Barboza

Ziggy Mackenzie. Credit: ISA / Sean Evans

Ziggy Mackenzie.  ISA / Pablo Franco

Dane Henry. Credit: ISA / Sean Evans

 Fletcher Kelleher. Credit: ISA / Jersson Barboza

Fletcher Kelleher. Credit: ISA / Jersson Barboza

Dane Henry. Credit: ISA / Pablo Jimenez

Fletcher Kelleher. Credit: ISA / Pablo Jimenez

Milla Brown. Credit: ISA / Pablo Jimenez

 Ziggy McKenzie. Credit: ISA / Pablo Jimenez

Credit: ISA / Sean Evans

Cool Old Truck Spotted At Mona Vale This Week

Her owner said she is 76 years old!

Why Are Auroras So Hard To Predict? And When Can We Expect More?

Aurora visible from Cope Cope, Victoria on May 11 2024. cafuego/FlickrCC BY-SA
Brett CarterRMIT University and Hannah SchunkerUniversity of Newcastle

On Saturday evening before Mother’s Day, Australians witnessed a rare celestial spectacle: a breathtaking display of aurora australis, also known as the southern lights.

Social media was flooded with photos of the vivid pinks, greens and blues lighting up the skies from local beaches and backyards all over the country.

Auroras are normally visible near Earth’s north and south poles. In Australia, they are typically only seen in Tasmania. However, due to rare and special space weather conditions, this time people could see them as far north as Queensland.

The Australian Space Weather Forecasting Centre first issued a potential extreme (G5, most severe level) geomagnetic storm warning on Saturday morning.

Lucky Australians who received this warning, and those who happened to look outside that evening, were rewarded with an amazing spectacle. However, by sunset on Sunday, the chance of aurora had subsided, leaving many hopeful viewers in the dark.

What happened? Why are auroras so hard to predict, and how reliable are aurora forecasts? To answer this, we need to know a bit more about space weather.

What Is Space Weather?

Auroras on Earth are related to the Sun’s magnetic field. The Sun’s activity increases and decreases over an 11-year period called the solar cycle. We are currently approaching the solar cycle maximum, meaning there’s a higher number of sunspots on the Sun’s surface.

These sunspot regions have intense magnetic fields, which can lead to huge explosions of electromagnetic radiation called “solar flares”, and eruptions of material into space, called “coronal mass ejections”.

When this material is directed towards Earth, it collides with Earth’s protective magnetic field, kicking off a series of complex interactions between the magnetic field and the plasma in the ionosphere, part of Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The charged particles resulting from these interactions then interact with the upper atmosphere, causing beautiful and dynamic auroras. The conditions in space produced by this chain of events are what we call “space weather”.

Everyday space weather generally poses no threat, but these events – known as geomagnetic storms – can impact power supplysatellites, communications and GPS, potentially leaving lasting damage.

Saturday’s dazzling display was produced by the most intense geomagnetic storm since November 2003. Fortunately, this time there have been no reports of major disruptions to power grids, but SpaceX’s Starlink constellation was reportedly impacted.

Why Are Geomagnetic Storms Hard To Predict?

Last weekend’s geomagnetic storm was caused by a large and complex region of sunspots that launched a series of solar flares and a train of coronal mass ejections.

Space weather prediction is challenging, and the physics is complex. Even when we see an eruption on the Sun, it’s not clear if or when it will hit Earth, or how strong the effects might be.

Predicted arrival times can be off by up to 12 hours, and it is only when the eruption arrives at monitoring spacecraft close to our planet that can we can gauge the strength of an impending geomagnetic storm.

As a result, aurora hunters really only have up to a few hours advanced notice to decide whether venturing outside is worthwhile or not.

Can We Expect More Auroras Soon?

At the time of writing, the sunspot region responsible for the recent display is still spitting out X-class flares and eruptions, but it’s no longer facing Earth directly. It is possible this region will still be active when it faces Earth again, but this remains to be seen.

However, as we approach solar cycle maximum, other large complex sunspot regions are likely to form and, if the conditions are right, produce more spectacular aurora displays.

A pink and green sky reflected in still water, stars visible at the top.
Aurora australis captured from Joyce’s Creek, Victoria on May 11. Patrick Kavanagh/FlickrCC BY

How To Check For Aurora Forecasts?

Thousands of Australians lined the beaches looking towards the horizon on Sunday night hoping for a second show, only to be disappointed. Official space weather and aurora forecasts provide a wide range of possibilities that must be communicated with the appropriate nuance.

The most reliable sources of information about space weather and aurora are agencies such as the Bureau of Meteorology’s Australian Space Weather Forecasting Centre or the United States NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center.

Not only do they provide aurora forecasts, but they also play a vital role in safeguarding infrastructure from the negative impacts of space weather.

Space Weather Research

Looking ahead, scientists in Australia and around the world are working hard to improve our understanding and prediction of space weather events.

By studying the Sun’s magnetic activity and developing advanced forecasting models of the complex processes that happen between the Sun and Earth, we can better predict and prepare for future space weather events.

A better understanding will help protect important technologies that we rely upon. It will also alert people to step outside and witness a phenomenon that not only lights up the sky, but ignites a profound sense of wonder.

Correction: this article was amended to correct the name of the Australian Space Weather Forecasting Centre.The Conversation

Brett Carter, Associate Professor, RMIT University and Hannah Schunker, ARC Future Fellow, University of Newcastle

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

What Causes The Different Colours Of The Aurora? An Expert Explains The Electric Rainbow

Timothy SchmidtUNSW Sydney

Last week, a huge solar flare sent a wave of energetic particles from the Sun surging out through space. Over the weekend, the wave reached Earth, and people around the world enjoyed the sight of unusually vivid aurora in both hemispheres.

While the aurora is normally only visible close to the poles, this weekend it was spotted as far south as Hawaii in the northern hemisphere, and as far north as Mackay in the south.

This spectacular spike in auroral activity appears to have ended, but don’t worry if you missed out. The Sun is approaching the peak of its 11-year sunspot cycle, and periods of intense aurora are likely to return over the next year or so.

If you saw the aurora, or any of the photos, you might be wondering what exactly was going on. What makes the glow, and the different colours? The answer is all about atoms, how they get excited – and how they relax.

When Electrons Meet The Atmosphere

The auroras are caused by charged subatomic particles (mostly electrons) smashing into Earth’s atmosphere. These are emitted from the Sun all the time, but there are more during times of greater solar activity.

Most of our atmosphere is protected from the influx of charged particles by Earth’s magnetic field. But near the poles, they can sneak in and wreak havoc.

Earth’s atmosphere is about 20% oxygen and 80% nitrogen, with some trace amounts of other things like water, carbon dioxide (0.04%) and argon.

A person standing on a dark road at night looking up at a bright pink-red sky.
The May 2024 aurora was visible in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy as well. Luca Argalia/FlickrCC BY-NC-SA

When high-speed electrons smash into oxygen molecules in the upper atmosphere, they split the oxygen molecules (O₂) into individual atoms. Ultraviolet light from the Sun does this too, and the oxygen atoms generated can react with O₂ molecules to produce ozone (O₃), the molecule that protects us from harmful UV radiation.

But, in the case of the aurora, the oxygen atoms generated are in an excited state. This means the atoms’ electrons are arranged in an unstable way that can “relax” by giving off energy in the form of light.

What Makes The Green Light?

As you see in fireworks, atoms of different elements produce different colours of light when they are energised.

Copper atoms give a blue light, barium is green, and sodium atoms produce a yellow–orange colour that you may also have seen in older street lamps. These emissions are “allowed” by the rules of quantum mechanics, which means they happen very quickly.

When a sodium atom is in an excited state it only stays there for around 17 billionths of a second before firing out a yellow–orange photon.

But, in the aurora, many of the oxygen atoms are created in excited states with no “allowed” ways to relax by emitting light. Nevertheless, nature finds a way.

The green light that dominates the aurora is emitted by oxygen atoms relaxing from a state called “¹S” to a state called “¹D”. This is a relatively slow process, which on average takes almost a whole second.

In fact, this transition is so slow it won’t usually happen at the kind of air pressure we see at ground level, because the excited atom will have lost energy by bumping into another atom before it has a chance to send out a lovely green photon. But in the atmosphere’s upper reaches, where there is lower air pressure and therefore fewer oxygen molecules, they have more time before bumping into one another and therefore have a chance to release a photon.

For this reason, it took scientists a long time to figure out that the green light of the aurora was coming from oxygen atoms. The yellow–orange glow of sodium was known in the 1860s, but it wasn’t until the 1920s that Canadian scientists figured out the auroral green was due to oxygen.

What Makes The Red Light?

The green light comes from a so-called “forbidden” transition, which happens when an electron in the oxygen atom executes an unlikely leap from one orbital pattern to another. (Forbidden transitions are much less probable than allowed ones, which means they take longer to occur.)

However, even after emitting that green photon, the oxygen atom finds itself in yet another excited state with no allowed relaxation. The only escape is via another forbidden transition, from the ¹D to the ³P state – which emits red light.

This transition is even more forbidden, so to speak, and the ¹D state has to survive for about about two minutes before it can finally break the rules and give off red light. Because it takes so long, the red light only appears at high altitudes, where the collisions with other atoms and molecules are scarce.

Also, because there is such a small amount of oxygen up there, the red light tends to appear only in intense auroras – like the ones we have just had.

This is why the red light appears above the green. While they both originate in forbidden relaxations of oxygen atoms, the red light is emitted much more slowly and has a higher chance of being extinguished by collisions with other atoms at lower altitudes.

Other Colours, And Why Cameras See Them Better

While green is the most common colour to see in the aurora, and red the second most common, there are also other colours. In particular, ionised nitrogen molecules (N₂⁺, which are missing one electron and have a positive electrical charge), can emit blue and red light. This can produce a magenta hue at low altitudes.

All these colours are visible to the naked eye if the aurora is bright enough. However, they show up with more intensity in the camera lens.

There are two reasons for this. First, cameras have the benefit of a long exposure, which means they can spend more time collecting light to produce an image than our eyes can. As a result, they can make a picture in dimmer conditions.

The second is that the colour sensors in our eyes don’t work very well in the dark – so we tend to see in black and white in low light conditions. Cameras don’t have this limitation.

Not to worry, though. When the aurora is bright enough, the colours are clearly visible to the naked eye.The Conversation

Timothy Schmidt, Professor of Chemistry, UNSW Sydney

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

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

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.”

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: Exuberant

Word of the Week remains a keynote in 2024, simply to throw some disruption in amongst the 'yeah-nah' mix. 


1. full of energy, excitement, and cheerfulness. 2. characterised by a vigorously imaginative artistic style. 3. growing luxuriantly or profusely.

From: mid-15c., "over-abundant," from Latin exuberantem (nominative exuberans) "superfluous; extraordinary," present participle of exuberare "be abundant, grow luxuriously," from ex, here probably "thoroughly" + uberare "be fruitful," related to uber "udder,". From 1510s as "growing luxuriantly;" figurative use, of affections, joyous emotions, etc., is by 1640s - 16c: late Middle English (in the sense ‘overflowing, abounding’): from French exubérant, from Latin exuberant- ‘being abundantly fruitful’, from the verb exuberare (based on uber ‘fertile’). 1630's; 'an overflowing'. 

Compare udder (noun)

Old English udder "milk gland of a cow, goat, etc.," from Proto-Germanic udr- (source also of Old Frisian uder, Middle Dutch uyder, Dutch uijer, Old High German utar, German Euter, and, with unexplained change of consonant, Old Norse jugr), from eue-dh-r "udder" (source also of Sanskrit udhar, Greek outhar, Latin uber "udder").

15,000 squares, 500 hours, 19 months: how I used embroidery to make sense of Australia’s catastrophic fires

Tracey Clement, Impossible Numbers. Tracey Clement
Tracey ClementAustralian Catholic University

I slip the needle through a small loop of black thread, pull it tight and snip. Done. I have just tied off the very last stitch on an embroidered scroll that has taken me more than 500 hours across 19 months to complete.

All of my artwork is extremely labour-intensive. But I have to admit, this is a bit excessive, even for me. It’s not surprising that I have been asked more than once “why not just outsource the labour?” and even “what is the point?”

I always sigh and think enviously of plumbers. I am 100% sure hardworking tradies are never asked to justify the point of their work.

Why do I work so hard? There is no one easy answer, it’s different every time. The labour intensity of my processes adds time into the equation and this both carries meaning and can change the meaning of the work as it goes on (and on and on). I always learn something unexpected.

A finger points to a knot on the back of a messy abstract embroidery done in black, red, orange and yellow
The last stitch! Tracey Clement

I put my little scissors down and, before busting out the bubbles, I snap a picture for Instagram because #selfpromotion, but also because this is news, albeit of a very slow-breaking kind. This is what I’ve learned after stitching for seemingly endless hours: while no news may be good news, “slow news” is even better.

My embroidered scroll is titled Impossible Numbers. It started as my attempt to memorialise the estimated 3,000,000,000 non-human lives lost in the devastating bushfires of 2019–20, a number impossible to actually comprehend.

Doomscrolling An Emergency

During that long and awful summer Sydney was often shrouded in an eerie orange haze. You could smell smoke. Ash fell. But, like many Australians, I experienced the worst of it by doomscrolling fast news.

I was both horrified and fascinated by images of fires so huge and hot they generated their own weather, by pictures of houses reduced to smoking skeletal outlines that somehow remained standing, by headlines comparing the fires to armageddon and the apocalypse.

This hyperbolic language implies we are locked in a war of good versus evil. Even headlines in the vein of “Firefighters battle blazes” pit us (people) against them (the forces of nature). And in the heat of the moment the language of war feels right. I’ve succumbed to it myself. But it is dangerous. This language reinforces the idea we can dominate nature; it frames the fires as a conflict that we can end by winning.

A hand holds a phone taking a picture of a long abstract embroidery in black, red, orange and yellow.
Viewing the world through the phone. Tracey Clement

I will admit watching a goat-toting woman berate a sitting prime minister left me with a short-lived, but mildly satisfying, feeling of shared righteous indignation. But mostly doomscrolling just fuelled my sorrow and left me feeling impotent as, inevitably, the fast news cycled on to the next crisis (and the next, and the next).

Slowing It Down

In October 2022, I finally stopped trying to process the bushfires, and all their terrifying implications, through the fast-news language of war. I picked up a needle instead.

Of course 3,000,000,000 stitches would be too many, even for me, so I decided to stitch a grid of some 15,000 squares, which I filled with innumerable stitches – a nod to the endless stream of pixels that usually deliver our news.

I started wanting to honour the 3 billion dead, that impossible number, but after months of stitching I realised I was “writing” a kind of slow-news story. It may sound ridiculous, but this tactic has been used before. The Bayeux Tapestry is a slow-news story that documents the Norman conquest of England through embroidery. It took years to stitch, and some 950 years later it is still in circulation.

As an alternative to doomscrolling easily digestible fast-news stories of good triumphing (or not) over evil, I have created an actual fabric scroll which depicts a stylised firestorm building in intensity until it becomes all-consuming.

A middle-aged white woman peeks out from behind a very long abstract embroidery in black, red, orange and yellow.
The artist with Impossible Numbers. Tracey Clement

Despite mimicking pixels, Impossible Numbers is resolutely handmade. It is too messy, too crude, to be anything else. It is bleedingly obvious (and there was blood) the will of a person is inextricably stitched into this image of devastating fire. Human labour is literally entangled in this artwork; it shows us as part of the picture, part of nature. And this is good news

Impossible Numbers doesn’t have a victorious ending, or any ending at all. The scroll is not fully unrolled. There is no end in sight: the story isn’t over, it’s ongoing.

In this way it points to the future; a future in which we are not fighting nature. And this is good news too.

If you don’t have a spare 500 hours to process the news into slow news, don’t worry. By the time I finally tied my last knot, I found I had transformed my fear and rage into something tangible, something both magnificent and beautiful (if I do say so myself), no longer about me.

It is now a slow-news story that is no longer about a particular event; something everyone can share. This is why I do the work.

Impossible Numbers is on display as part of The Blake Prize at the Casula Powerhouse, Sydney, until July 7.

This article is part of Making Art Work, our series on what inspires artists and the process of their work.The Conversation

Tracey Clement, Lecturer in Visual Art and McGlade Gallery Director, Australian Catholic University

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

Cumberland Council’s book ban has been overturned, but what is really happening in Australian libraries?

Lisa M. GivenRMIT University and Sarah PolkinghorneRMIT University

At Cumberland City Council in the western suburbs of Sydney, one man – Councillor Steve Christou – persuaded the council to ban books about same-sex parenting from the council’s libraries.

The change was short-lived. People fought back. More than 40,000 signed a petition to lift the ban.

Only two weeks later, the Council reversed its decision, voting decisively (13-2), following impassioned pleas by residents, and with many people protesting on the streets.

Librarians Under Attack

Librarians are leaders in the fight against book bans. They have faced significant backlash for their efforts. Australian Library and Information Association CEO Cathie Warburton has reported that

people are going into libraries, grabbing books off the shelves, reading them out loud and saying “These shouldn’t be here”, calling librarians horrible names and threatening doxxing and physical violence. It’s incredibly distressing.

Book banning efforts are often highly coordinated. People distribute lists of books that may (or may not) be in the collections of their local libraries. These culture-war attacks on libraries and librarians are often motivated by grievances against progress, such as LGBTQ+ visibility and acceptance, and other forms of diversity.

But they are also part of a wider reactionary movement. The issues extend beyond the specific content of individual books. Calls for book bans are evidence of a broader moral panic that presents a real danger to individuals and society at large.

Libraries and librarians are common targets because they are easy for the public to access, and because they represent (and foster) learning, ideas, imagination, equality, choice and barrier-free access to information for all.

Would-be book banners have very rarely read the books they challenge. When books are read, they are far less likely to be banned.

Histories Of Censorship

The Cumberland episode is only the latest in the global struggle for freedom of information access. Such censorship dates back at least as far as Shakespeare. The first American book ban occurred in 1637, when Thomas Morton’s New English Canaan was suppressed for its criticisms of Puritanism.

The issue remains highly contentious in the United States. PEN America’s latest report shows a 33% rise in the number of book challenges in US public schools, with almost 6,000 instances of books banned since 2021.

The Alabama House of Representatives recently passed Bill HB385. If it passes the Senate, the bill will override libraries’ book challenge policies. Librarians would have seven days to remove contentious material or face criminal penalties.

Australia also has a long history of censorship. Many titles we now consider “classics” faced bans, including Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, James Baldwin’s Another Country and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. As literary historian Nicole Moore documented, it was once “routine to have your suitcase searched [for obscene materials] on the way into Australia from another country”.

More recently, in March 2023, Maia Kobabe’s award-winning memoir Gender Queer was removed from a Queensland library, and faced many other challenges, globally. Bernard Gaynor, the conservative Catholic activist who led the call to ban the book, is taking the Minister for Communication and the Australian Classification Review Board to the Federal Court of Australia. The decision will come later this year.

Censorship remains a local – and global – concern.

In Australia, many titles we consider ‘classics’ were once banned. Lotus Studio/Shutterstock

Information Access For All

Professional librarians have battled these kinds of challenges for decades. The American Library Association, founded in 1876, issued its first anti-censorship notice in 1939, in response to Nazi book burning and other international attempts to suppress information.

In 1953, the American Library Association issued their Freedom to Read statement, with ongoing support for libraries challenging book bans across the United States.

In a joint statement, the Australian Library and Information Association and the Australian Public Library Alliance explain that libraries “defend equity of access to information” and “cater for all members of the library community”.

This position reflects global standards for information access upheld by libraries worldwide. It includes the key principle that the “perception that material may offend or cause controversy to a person or a group of people is not, of itself, a reason to limit purchase or provision of an item containing that material”.

The International Federation of Library Associations states that censorship “runs counter to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. Libraries are expected to:

  • provide collections and services that are free of intentional censorship

  • base decisions on professional considerations (e.g., quality, currency, format, cost, etc.), rather than limiting based on political or religious considerations or cultural prejudice

  • educate people on issues of censorship and encourage them to practise freedom of expression and freedom of access to information

  • advocate for removal of censorship restrictions affecting libraries and society at large.

Policies And Procedures

Librarians do more than handle attempts to ban books. They develop policies and procedures designed to ensure free access to information, for everyone. They are expert professionals, whose jobs often require difficult selection decisions and challenging conversations with angry or offended community members.

Libraries already have established processes to handle removal requests. They apply guidance from professional associations, including resources like the Selection & Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, & Academic Libraries.

Requests to remove materials often start with informal conversations to address concerns and educate complainants about the library’s mandate for equitable access based on the whole community’s needs and interests. A formal process often requires a written submission. Library staff will then reconsider the book in light of the library’s collection policy.

Removing books from a collection does happen, as librarians must ensure the collection remains useful and relevant. Libraries routinely consult with community members and seek feedback to ensure collections match community needs. They also review materials to ensure outdated works (for example, older editions) are replaced with texts that include current information.

These are some of the routine, behind-the-scenes tasks, which collections librarian Scarlet Galvan explains are critical to ensure “collections are for use, not reinforcing assumptions”.

The Need For Community Involvement

Librarians rely on individuals and communities to stand up and oppose censorship, as residents did in Cumberland. Vocal community and government support for libraries is critical to battling book bans. Many other professions, such as journalism and teaching, also play critical roles in documenting censorship and countering book challenges.

So how can you help? By signing petitions, speaking up at council meetings, volunteering to serve on a library board, voting for candidates who support libraries, and borrowing books about diverse families to ensure they have a circulation record of being used and valued.

As the outcry over the short-lived Cumberland City Council ban shows, everyday Australians value libraries and the information they provide to their communities. Public support is needed to defend against future attacks and to send a message to governments that banning books is not acceptable.The Conversation

Lisa M. Given, Professor of Information Sciences & Director, Social Change Enabling Impact Platform, RMIT University and Sarah Polkinghorne, Research Fellow, Social Change Enabling Impact Platform, RMIT University

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

Why so many animals have a third eyelid, including our pets – yet humans don’t

You can see this dog’s third eyelid in the corner of its eye. Shooty Photography/Shutterstock
Dan BaumgardtUniversity of Bristol

Our family dog used to have a rather noticeable extra eyelid that became especially apparent when he dozed off, usually upturned on the rug. This is the fleshy curtain seen at the corner of each eye, closest to the nose. It’s also commonly called the nictitating (literally “blinking”) membrane.

You may have noticed these “third” eyelids on your pets appear occasionally, perhaps during their sleepy moments, or when they’re enjoying a bit of affection. But what does this unusual structure actually do? And why don’t we have one as well?

Third eyelids sweep in a generally horizontal direction across the eye, instead of vertically as the upper and lower lids do. They’re actually a specialised fold of the conjunctiva – the thin, moist membrane that coats the other lids and the exposed white of your eye (the sclera). They’re found in many mammalian species, but are not unique to them. Birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish can also have a third eyelid.

The structure varies too; in many species a cartilage skeleton provides support, while others contain glands that secrete tears. This variation is probably to help animals adapt to multiple different environments – to the sea, the air and even arboreal habitats in trees.

Several different studies have examined third eyelids to help understand their role in hedgehogskangaroos and brown bears.

And research has shown the third eyelid functions much as the upper and lower lids do. It protects the eye, and sweeps away any invading debris. It also distributes tears across the eye’s surface, keeping it moist and preventing ulcers forming. This is particularly important in brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs, like pugs and King Charles spaniels, whose protruding eyes are not as well protected compared to other breeds.

In The Wild

Both domestic and wild animals (including species from canine, feline and equine families) need eye shielding and protection from foreign bodies. Wild animals may need them even more, since they might be exploring grasslands, or contending with bites and scratches from prey or rival animals.

Preventing, trapping and removing debris is crucial for desert animals like camels, where sand and dirt might damage the eye. Their third eyelid is partially transparent and this helps camels retain some vision in the middle of a sandstorm, while covering their eyes.

In bushlands, aardvarks also have third eyelids, perhaps to protect their eyes as they root around for insects.

The third eyelid may offer protection from water, and a translucent membrane can aid underwater vision of aquatic animals, including manatees (curiously, manatees come from the order Afrotheria, which also includes aardvarks). Larger species of sharks (blues for instance) typically protect their eyes with their third eyelid when hunting and feeding.

For birds, fast air currents can prove equally damaging. So, in birds of prey like falcons, the eyelid is used during rapid flight in hunting. Often air gusts will set off third eyelid blinking in these birds (including owls) as a natural protective reflex.

mysterious looking crow with visible third eyelid
This crow’s third eyelid is visible in this photo. Fotograf Julian/Shutterstock

In other avian species, it might protect against damage from sharp-beaked offspring. Imagine a bird returning with a prize of food to a nestful of voraciously hungry chicks, all pecking and scrabbling to get their share.

Studies suggest third eyelids play a unique role in woodpeckers, whose skulls undergo vibration trauma when drilling a tree trunk with their beak. Two problems arise as a result of this forceful head banging – damage to the softer eye tissue, and sawdust being thrown into them. In this case, the third eyelid may act as both a seatbelt and a visor.

In polar regions, where the white landscape reflects sunlight, ultraviolet rays can damage the eye. This can lead to temporary loss of vision – a condition known as snow blindness. So it’s possible that some arctic animals like polar bears have third eyelids that absorb UV light. There’s no established evidence of this yet, but their third eyelids are clear, assisting them in being skilled marine hunters.

Evolutionary Loss

Humans and most primates (except lemurs and the calabar angwantibo, from the Lorisidae family) have evolved to the point where a proper third eyelid is no longer needed. Human and primate eyes are less likely to be damaged by hunting, rivalry and the environment. Plus, human eyes are highly sensitive and able to recognise and respond to danger by closing more quickly.

But the third eyelid isn’t entirely gone. Humans have a remnant of it called the plica semilunaris. This crescent-moon fold can be seen at the corner of our eyes too. Have a look yourself in the mirror.

Some scientists have argued the plica can still help drain tears. There are two small ducts at the angle of our eyelids, which allow excess and old tears to escape into the nasal cavity. That explains why you get a runny nose when you cry.

But would getting our true third eyelid back be of any use to us? Maybe the alien in Men in Black could offer an opinion. Perhaps it could allow us to naturally keep our eyes cleaner, less irritated, or dislodge that contact lens that won’t come out.

We’ll just have to accept we don’t share the clever nature of our pets’ third eyelids. But then we also can’t compete with their night vision, acute hearing or sense of smell. It’s a long list.The Conversation

Dan Baumgardt, Senior Lecturer, School of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience, University of Bristol

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

Let It Be: rerelease of 1970 Beatles film reveals how the history of popular music is written

Adam BehrNewcastle University

In one sense, Let It Be director Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 film documenting The Beatles’ recording sessions of January 1969, and their famous concert on the rooftop of the Apple building, could be viewed as something of a coda to the main event.

At the time, both the film and the accompanying album of the same name reached the public a month after the band’s break up was announced. In the present day, its rerelease follows Peter Jackson’s epic Get Back docuseries, which drew on the 60 hours of raw footage of the same sessions to provide a more complete account of the recordings.

So, why the fuss? Rereleases and remasters are a standard feature of both the film and music industries, and The Beatles’ media and commercial juggernaut has arguably led the way in this for a long time. First, there’s the sheer length of time since the film was last generally available – more than 50 years.

The answer also partly lies in the distinctive way in which, beyond their huge financial success, the narrative of The Beatles as a band has been woven into popular music and wider history. Peter Jackson’s 2020 series in many respects superseded Hogg’s film, providing a fuller picture of the sessions, which also fed into the Abbey Road album, the band’s last recording (even though Let It Be was released afterwards).

Same Events, Different Perspectives

A highlight of both the film and series was the concluding rooftop concert, but Jackson’s programme was widely acknowledged for adding context to the band’s closing chapter. The hours of jamming and studio high-jinks revealed moments of camaraderie and a less rancorous atmosphere than had previously been thought.

So, beyond the events themselves, there’s an element of historiography at play here – a concern with how history is written and constructed. Since Let It Be’s original release, The Beatles have become an increasingly important aspect of popular music, and wider social history. Beyond the mystique acquired by inaccessibility for so long, the film gains interest as a document of how the band’s last days as an active unit were framed, and experienced, at the time.

In purely functional terms, it’s obviously easier to give a more complete account of the recording sessions in the nearly eight hours afforded by Peter Jackson’s Get Back than the one and a half hours available to Lindsay-Hogg on Let It Be.

Moments of discord appear in both, notably the famous encounter between a taciturn George Harrison – who walked out during the sessions – telling a cajoling Paul McCartney, about a guitar part: “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all, if you don’t want me to play.”

These are diluted in the long stretch of Get Back, but become part of the central narrative of Let It Be. Filmmakers’ editorial decisions shape their stories, but are informed by their own contexts. Lindsay-Hogg was editing the film at a time when the band had just split, and trying to salvage a viable product from a somewhat chaotic process, since he’d originally been taken on to produce a television documentary and concert broadcast.

Re-tooling it as a film was a response to the band dropping the idea of a major event, the now legendary rooftop performance only emerging as a process of back and forth compromise.

Conversely, one of the iconic elements of Jackson’s Get Back series shows Paul McCartney coming up with the bare bones of the song of the same name more or less impromptu, and the pleasure in seeing how it develops. But that relies on the more leisurely pacing of the long form allowed by primary release on a streaming platform, as opposed to the editorial constraints of a cinema (or even television) release.

The streaming format was, of course, a long way off in the future when Lindsay-Hogg was working with the band. Jackson’s series also works more profoundly because of the classic status Get Back (the song) has accrued over half a century. For Lindsay-Hogg filming in 1969, it was just another jam – albeit by the world’s most famous band. In 2020, much of the audience was witnessing the genesis of a song they’d known their whole lives.

Framing Popular Music History

Get Back reviews the longitudinal process of a band at work, and one whose working processes had influenced many of the acts that followed in their wake. The Beatles’ success helped to shape the very idea of a band combining multiple songwriters and friends into a social, creative and business unit.

Their split was big news, and mattered in a way that the re-combinations of musicians into new working units had not done previously. Let It Be was tied into that historical moment, and the presence in the room of Lindsay-Hogg’s cameras helped to define it.

Viewed at the arrival of the 1970s, as the preeminent band of the 1960s announced their demise, Let It Be told the story of an ending, enhanced by the technical fact that it was blown up from a 16mm print, for TV, to 35mm for the cinema, adding a dark, grainy patina to the proceedings, now alleviated in the remastering process.

Now in 2024, it’s a document in a wider archive of Beatles lore and helps to inform the process of how the history of popular music is written.The Conversation

Adam Behr, Senior Lecturer in Popular and Contemporary Music, Newcastle University

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

Fossil captures starfish splitting itself in two – showing this has been happening for 155 million years

The 155-million-year-old fossil Gunter SchweigertCC BY
Aaron W. HunterUniversity of Cambridge

One of the wildest wonders of nature is the ability of some animals to reproduce by splitting in half. There is still so much we don’t know about this process. So the discovery of a 155-million-year-old starfish fossil frozen partway through this process, published in a new study, could give scientists incredible new insights.

Our planet is teeming with invertebrates that, to our human eyes, may seem alien in the way they live and reproduce.

The starfish, or asteroid, is part of a group of animals called the echinoderms or spiny skinned animals that also includes sea lilies, sea urchins and sea cucumbers. They are found in almost every corner of our oceans and spend part of their life as microscopic larvae before developing into adults.

Starfish are among the oldest living animals on our planet. They appeared in a form we would recognise almost 480 million years ago and have survived five mass extinctions.

The reason for their evolutionary success could be in their ability to reproduce both sexually and asexually – by literally splitting in two and growing into two new animals. This is known as fissiparity. It is still sometimes observed in modern starfish and comes with the advantage of forming numerous offspring in a relatively short time and without “costing” the parent a great amount of energy or time.

Sexual reproduction, on the other hand, requires starfish and brittle stars to come together in huge numbers to spawn. The disadvantage of fissiparity is that this type of reproduction can result in a lack of genetic diversity in the population.

Biologists call the process of splitting in two parts fragmentation. Only a small number of animals can do this. For example, the common garden earthworm, which many gardeners have watched in amazement as one animal suddenly becomes two. Biologists can also watch starfish and brittle stars doing this in their labs or in marine stations.

But, until now, scientists weren’t sure how old this form of reproduction was. This phenomenon is most often seen in worm-like animals, and worm fossils are rare.

However, starfish can also split in two and have a much better fossil record. These animals still dominate our oceans, the deep seas are a carpet of them.

Close up of brown brittle star in women's hand
Brittle stars (in this case a serpent star) are still alive today. Ana y Erik/Shutterstock

Rebirth Of A Fossil Star

In the past ten years, Ben Thuy, a palaeontologist, has revolutionised the way we look at the evolution and biology of a group of starfish-like animals called the brittle stars or ophiuroids.

First by looking at how these animals have evolved, survived and then thrived in response to mass extinction events or ecological pressure. His work, studying the way their skeleton is made up of calcite plates, has changed our view of not only how the modern brittle star body shape appeared in the fossil record but also how we classify these animals.

In palaeontology, we are always searching for that key fossil that radically changes our view of how life evolved and developed on this planet. For example, the 2021 discovery of 480-million-year-old starfish-like animals in the Anti-Atlas mountains in Morocco helped us understand how these animals first appeared.

Such fossils are the holy grail of palaeobiology. They can give us a snapshot of the history of life and show us the moment a new animal first evolved on our planet.

Only a few animals make it into the fossil record, and many of these are in fragments as they often fall apart once the body has decayed. However, Thuy’s brittle star discovery appears to show a brittle star in the process of reproducing asexually. The fossil has already been “born”. One half of the body appears to be fully developed while the other half shows signs of regeneration with three smaller arms clearly visible.

This discovery means that we know that these animals were reproducing in this way 90 million years before the asteroid collision that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Scientists don’t always agree on what a fossil shows. There is a chance the brittle star fossil is a new species or an unusual individual that happens to have six arms rather than the typical five.

There are many examples of starfish that have more than five arms, including species such as Coscinasterias calamaria or 11 armed starfish. They can also gain an extra arm through natural genetic variation in the population similar to eye colour in humans.

But the study authors used comparative studies of other brittle stars that appear to have undergone regeneration to argue that their fossil originally had six arms before it split in two. Therefore, the authors say, the fossil must be the result of clonal fragmentation and the first in the fossil record.

If they’re right, fossils have allowed us to see the moment a new starfish was born in deep time.The Conversation

Aaron W. Hunter, Science Guide & Visiting Researcher, Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge

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

Florence Nightingale overcame the limits set on proper Victorian women – and brought modern science and statistics to nursing

Florence Nightingale experienced her personal call to nursing at age 16 and ultimately became known as the “Lady with the Lamp.” Images
Melissa PritchardArizona State University

For nearly 200 years, Florence Nightingale’s name has been synonymous with gentle compassion and mercy.

In the mid-19th century, Nightingale became perhaps the most celebrated woman of her era – second only to Queen Victoria – for instituting sanitation practices that sharply cut death rates among British soldiers fighting in the Crimean War. A handsome bronze statue in London’s Waterloo Place has immortalized Nightingale as a slight, graceful figure carrying a lamp, the embodiment of selfless womanhood.

But this iconic image overshadows many other accomplishments. Nightingale also transformed nursing into a respectable profession, founded the world’s first nursing school, used the relatively new science of statistics to improve health care outcomes and redesigned hospitals. She was also one of Western history’s first advocates of health care for all.

Over the five years I spent researching and writing my biographical novel about Nightingale, “Flight of the Wild Swan,” published March 12, 2024, my vaguely sentimental notions about her were replaced by respect for her visionary achievements. I resolved to bring into sharper focus this woman who, along with her legendary work as a war nurse, spent half a century pioneering advances in health care.

The 19th century ushered in a series of revolutionary medical advancements. Nightingale’s contributions were a significant part of this era.

Memorial statue of Florence Nightingale against a blue sky.
A statue of Nightingale erected in London’s Waterloo Place celebrates her life and contributions to health care. Tony Baggett/iStock via Getty Images

Called To Serve The Suffering

Florence Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy, on May 12, 1820, to William and Frances Nightingale, a wealthy British couple. The Nightingales raised their two daughters, Florence and her sister Parthenope, on two estates in England. William homeschooled the girls, giving them the equivalent of his own Cambridge University education.

From an early age, Nightingale displayed a formidable intellect, with a particular interest in mathematics. At 16, she experienced a transcendent call to serve the suffering, a call that eventually coalesced into her determination to become a nurse. Her family objected, however, because nursing was an unsuitable occupation for young Victorian women of privilege. It was considered disreputable work with a status even lower than that of servants.

But Nightingale gradually overcame her family’s objections, receiving training in Germany and France. In 1853, she became the superintendent of a small hospital in London for “distressed gentlewomen.” The majority of her patients were educated, unmarried governesses whose health had broken down under the strain of long hours of work and negligible pay.

A little over a year later, she was on her way to the Crimean War.

Portrait of Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale set the standards for modern-day nursing. National Library of Medicine

Bringing Sanitation To Medicine

In October 1854, Nightingale brought 38 female nurses under her supervision to Scutari Barrack in Constantinople – today’s Istanbul. Originally a gargantuan stone barracks for the Turkish army, Scutari was now a British hospital housing thousands of wounded English and Irish soldiers.

At Scutari, she and her nurses found few provisions, little medicine or edible food, and overcrowded hospital wards full of rats, lice and raw sewage. More soldiers were dying of cholera and other infectious diseases than of battle wounds. Nightingale and her nurses set to work cleaning and procuring food, soap, bandages, medicine, clean bedding and clothes for patients. As living standards improved, Scutari’s appalling death rate began to decline.

It was there that Nightingale’s reputation as the “Angel of the Crimea” and the “Lady with the Lamp” began. Wartime journalists telegraphed their newspapers with dramatic accounts of her work. These stories ignited the public’s imagination and created the indelible image of a slight, feminine figure carrying her lamp through hospital wards at night.

In January 1855, British Prime Minister Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, dispatched a newly formed Sanitary Commission to the Crimea to investigate high mortality rates in the military hospital. Nightingale observed firsthand the dramatic decline in death rates as the commission cleaned out the hospital’s befouled sewer systems, limewashed its walls – in effect killing surface bacteria – and made numerous other sanitation improvements.

Nightingale was already a proponent of hygiene, fresh air and proper diet in medical care; this experience made her a committed sanitarian.

When the war ended in 1856, Nightingale returned home, permanently bedridden with chronic brucellosis, then called “Crimean fever.” This didn’t stop her from spending the rest of her life applying herself to improving health care systems in Great Britain and other countries.

To celebrate her 200th birthday in 2020, the Florence Nightingale Museum in London produced this film about her life, including her struggles to become a nurse despite her family’s disapproval.

Using Numbers To Cure

Statistics was a relatively new science in Nightingale’s time, but it aligned with her early interest in mathematics. Ultimately, Nightingale would come to believe that statistics used to help reduce mortality rates were “the true measure of God’s purpose.”

Collaborating with William Farr, a leading figure in applying statistics to epidemiology, Nightingale analyzed extensive data on army mortality rates during the Crimean War, proving that most deaths were attributable to preventable diseases rather than battlefield injuries. She was particularly innovative in her use of graphic diagrams such as her famous “rose,” or “coxcomb,” diagram, rightly believing that attractive visuals were more impactful than the dry numbers tables favored by the era’s statisticians.

Nightingale used statistical data to create her famous ‘rose chart’ – one of the first pie charts ever created – showing that the vast majority of deaths among British soldiers during the Crimean War were from preventable diseases, not battle wounds. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

As a result, in 1858, in recognition of her use of the statistical method in army sanitary reform, Nightingale was inducted into the Royal Statistical Society as the organizations’s first female fellow. In 2020, the Royal Statistical Society established an annual Florence Nightingale Award for Excellence in Health and Care Analytics.

In a revolutionary step, Nightingale extended her statistical methods and data visualization to other areas, ranging from hospital administration and health care management to public sanitary reform and the sources of preventable diseases. These analyses further exposed the causes of both military and civilian mortality.

Educating Future Nurses

In 1860, seeking to elevate nursing into both a science and an art, Nightingale founded the world’s first school of nursing: the Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St. Thomas’ Hospital, London.

The female students – numbering 20 to 30 at a time – lived at school and wore nurses’ uniforms to rigorous classes on anatomy, surgical nursing, physiology, chemistry, sanitation and ethics. By the 1880s, Nightingale had accepted the newer “germ theory” of disease spread, and this became part of the curriculum.

At the conclusion of the one-year program, Nightingale sent her nurses into the world as certified and paid health professionals.

By the turn of the century, the school had graduated nearly 2,000 certified nurses. Known as “Nightingales,” they fanned out across Great Britain to practice skilled patient care, develop nursing care systems, teach, train and mentor.

The Nightingale Training School became a pioneering model for nursing education throughout Great Britain. Similar schools would be established in Africa, America, Australia, Canada and other countries.

Nightingale also wrote a bestselling book, 1859’s “Notes on Nursing,” that guided Victorian wives in keeping members of their households healthy.

Advocating For Public Health

Nightingale’s long, ultimately successful effort to bring trained nurses and midwives into England’s and Ireland’s notorious workhouses has gone largely unacknowledged.

During Victorian times, paupers in workhouses who became ill could be cared for only by other destitute workhouse residents. Nightingale wrote numerous articles emphasizing the need for public health nurses to care of the sick in these institutions, and during the 1860s she called for the abolition of England’s harsh poor laws.

As a result of these efforts, workhouse nursing reforms gradually spread across England.

I believe that a more fully realized understanding of Nightingale’s life and achievements beyond being “the lady with the lamp” can provide an inspirational role model for those considering careers in nursing, medical science and public health today.The Conversation

Melissa Pritchard, Professor Emeritus of English and Women’s Studies, Arizona State University

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

Black holes are mysterious, yet also deceptively simple − a new space mission may help physicists answer hairy questions about these astronomical objects

An illustration of a supermassive black hole. NASA/JPL
Gaurav KhannaUniversity of Rhode Island

Physicists consider black holes one of the most mysterious objects that exist. Ironically, they’re also considered one of the simplest. For years, physicists like me have been looking to prove that black holes are more complex than they seem. And a newly approved European space mission called LISA will help us with this hunt.

Research from the 1970s suggests that you can comprehensively describe a black hole using only three physical attributes – their mass, charge and spin. All the other properties of these massive dying stars, like their detailed composition, density and temperature profiles, disappear as they transform into a black hole. That is how simple they are.

The idea that black holes have only three attributes is called the “no-hair” theorem, implying that they don’t have any “hairy” details that make them complicated.

Black holes are massive, mysterious astronomical objects.

Hairy Black Holes?

For decades, researchers in the astrophysics community have exploited loopholes or work-arounds within the no-hair theorem’s assumptions to come up with potential hairy black hole scenarios. A hairy black hole has a physical property that scientists can measure – in principle – that’s beyond its mass, charge or spin. This property has to be a permanent part of its structure.

About a decade ago, Stefanos Aretakis, a physicist currently at the University of Toronto, showed mathematically that a black hole containing the maximum charge it could hold – called an extremal charged black hole – would develop “hair” at its horizon. A black hole’s horizon is the boundary where anything that crosses it, even light, can’t escape.

Aretakis’ analysis was more of a thought experiment using a highly simplified physical scenario, so it’s not something scientists expect to observe astrophysically. But supercharged black holes might not be the only kind that could have hair.

Since astrophysical objects such as stars and planets are known to spin, scientists expect that black holes would spin as well, based on how they form. Astronomical evidence has shown that black holes do have spin, though researchers don’t know what the typical spin value is for an astrophysical black hole.

Using computer simulations, my team has recently discovered similar types of hair in black holes that are spinning at the maximum rate. This hair has to do with the rate of change, or the gradient, of space-time’s curvature at the horizon. We also discovered that a black hole wouldn’t actually have to be maximally spinning to have hair, which is significant because these maximally spinning black holes probably don’t form in nature.

Detecting And Measuring Hair

My team wanted to develop a way to potentially measure this hair – a new fixed property that might characterize a black hole beyond its mass, spin and charge. We started looking into how such a new property might leave a signature on a gravitational wave emitted from a fast-spinning black hole.

gravitational wave is a tiny disturbance in space-time typically caused by violent astrophysical events in the universe. The collisions of compact astrophysical objects such as black holes and neutron stars emit strong gravitational waves. An international network of gravitational observatories, including the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory in the United States, routinely detects these waves.

Our recent studies suggest that one can measure these hairy attributes from gravitational wave data for fast-spinning black holes. Looking at the gravitational wave data offers an opportunity for a signature of sorts that could indicate whether the black hole has this type of hair.

Our ongoing studies and recent progress made by Som Bishoyi, a student on the team, are based on a blend of theoretical and computational models of fast-spinning black holes. Our findings have not been tested in the field yet or observed in real black holes out in space. But we hope that will soon change.

LISA Gets A Go-Ahead

In January 2024, the European Space Agency formally adopted the space-based Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, or LISA, mission. LISA will look for gravitational waves, and the data from the mission could help my team with our hairy black hole questions.

Three spacecrafts spaced apart sending light beams towards each other while orbiting the Sun
The LISA spacecrafts observing gravitational waves from a distant source while orbiting the Sun. Simon Barke/Univ. FloridaCC BY

Formal adoption means that the project has the go-ahead to move to the construction phase, with a planned 2035 launch. LISA consists of three spacecrafts configured in a perfect equilateral triangle that will trail behind the Earth around the Sun. The spacecrafts will each be 1.6 million miles (2.5 million kilometers) apart, and they will exchange laser beams to measure the distance between each other down to about a billionth of an inch.

LISA will detect gravitational waves from supermassive black holes that are millions or even billions of times more massive than our Sun. It will build a map of the space-time around rotating black holes, which will help physicists understand how gravity works in the close vicinity of black holes to an unprecedented level of accuracy. Physicists hope that LISA will also be able to measure any hairy attributes that black holes might have.

With LIGO making new observations every day and LISA to offer a glimpse into the space-time around black holes, now is one of the most exciting times to be a black hole physicist.The Conversation

Gaurav Khanna, Professor of Physics, University of Rhode Island

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

‘Dancing’ raisins − a simple kitchen experiment reveals how objects can extract energy from their environment and come to life

Surface bubble growth can lift objects upward against gravity. Saverio Spagnolie
Saverio Eric SpagnolieUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison

Scientific discovery doesn’t always require a high-tech laboratory or a hefty budget. Many people have a first-rate lab right in their own homes – their kitchen.

The kitchen offers plenty of opportunities to view and explore what physicists call soft matter and complex fluids. Everyday phenomena, such as Cheerios clustering in milk or rings left when drops of coffee evaporate, have led to discoveries at the intersection of physics and chemistry and other tasteful collaborations between food scientists and physicists.

Two students, Sam Christianson and Carsen Grote, and I published a new study in Nature Communications in May 2024 that dives into another kitchen observation. We studied how objects can levitate in carbonated fluids, a phenomenon that’s whimsically referred to as dancing raisins.

The study explored how objects like raisins can rhythmically move up and down in carbonated fluids for several minutes, even up to an hour.

An accompanying Twitter thread about our research went viral, amassing over half a million views in just two days. Why did this particular experiment catch the imaginations of so many?

Bubbling Physics

Sparkling water and other carbonated beverages fizz with bubbles because they contain more gas than the fluid can support – they’re “supersaturated” with gas. When you open a bottle of champagne or a soft drink, the fluid pressure drops and CO₂ molecules begin to make their escape to the surrounding air.

Bubbles do not usually form spontaneously in a fluid. A fluid is composed of molecules that like to stick together, so molecules at the fluid boundary are a bit unhappy. This results in surface tension, a force which seeks to reduce the surface area. Since bubbles add surface area, surface tension and fluid pressure normally squeeze any forming bubbles right back out of existence.

But rough patches on a container’s surface, like the etchings in some champagne glasses, can protect new bubbles from the crushing effects of surface tension, offering them a chance to form and grow.

Bubbles also form inside the microscopic, tubelike cloth fibers left behind after wiping a glass with a towel. The bubbles grow steadily in these tubes and, once they’re big enough, detach and float upward, carrying gas out of the container.

But as many champagne enthusiasts who put fruits in their glasses know, surface etchings and little cloth fibers aren’t the only places where bubbles can form. Adding a small object like a raisin or a peanut to a sparkling drink also enables bubble growth. These immersed objects act as alluring new surfaces for opportunistic molecules like CO₂ to accumulate and form bubbles.

And once enough bubbles have grown on the object, a levitation act may be performed. Together, the bubbles can lift the object up to the surface of the liquid. Once at the surface, the bubbles pop, dropping the object back down. The process then begins again, in a periodic vertical dancing motion.

Dancing Raisins

Raisins are particularly good dancers. It takes only a few seconds for enough bubbles to form on a raisin’s wrinkly surface before it starts to rise upward – bubbles have a harder time forming on smoother surfaces. When dropped into just-opened sparkling water, a raisin can dance a vigorous tango for 20 minutes, and then a slower waltz for another hour or so.

Anyone with a few kitchen staples can do their own dancing raisins experiment.

We found that rotation, or spinning, was critically important for coaxing large objects to dance. Bubbles that cling to the bottom of an object can keep it aloft even after the top bubbles pop. But if the object starts to spin even a little bit, the bubbles underneath make the body spin even faster, which results in even more bubbles popping at the surface. And the sooner those bubbles are removed, the sooner the object can get back to its vertical dancing.

Small objects like raisins do not rotate as much as larger objects, but instead they do the twist, rapidly wobbling back and forth.

Modeling The Bubbly Flamenco

In the paper, we developed a mathematical model to predict how many trips to the surface we would expect an object like a raisin to make. In one experiment, we placed a 3D-printed sphere that acted as a model raisin in a glass of just-opened sparkling water. The sphere traveled from the bottom of the container to the top over 750 times in one hour.

The model incorporated the rate of bubble growth as well as the object’s shape, size and surface roughness. It also took into account how quickly the fluid loses carbonation based on the container’s geometry, and especially the flow created by all that bubbly activity.

Small objects covered in bubbles in carbonated water move upwards towards the surface and back down.
Bubble-coated raisins ‘dance’ to the surface and plummet once their lifting agents have popped. Saverio Spagnolie

The mathematical model helped us determine which forces influence the object’s dancing the most. For example, the fluid drag on the object turned out to be relatively unimportant, but the ratio of the object’s surface area to its volume was critical.

Looking to the future, the model also provides a way to determine some hard to measure quantities using more easily measured ones. For example, just by observing an object’s dancing frequency, we can learn a lot about its surface at the microscopic level without having to see those details directly.

Different Dances In Different Theaters

These results aren’t just interesting for carbonated beverage lovers, though. Supersaturated fluids exist in nature, too – magma is one example.

As magma in a volcano rises closer to the Earth’s surface, it rapidly depressurizes, and dissolved gases from inside the volcano make a dash for the exit, just like the CO₂ in carbonated water. These escaping gases can form into large, high-pressure bubbles and emerge with such force that a volcanic eruption ensues.

The particulate matter in magma may not dance in the same way raisins do in soda water, but tiny objects in the magma may affect how these explosive events play out.

The past decades have also seen an eruption of a different kind – thousands of scientific studies devoted to active matter in fluids. These studies look at things such as swimming microorganisms and the insides of our fluid-filled cells.

Most of these active systems do not exist in water but instead in more complicated biological fluids that contain the energy necessary to produce activity. Microorganisms absorb nutrients from the fluid around them to continue swimming. Molecular motors carry cargo along a superhighway in our cells by pulling nearby energy in the form of ATP from the environment.

Studying these systems can help scientists learn more about how the cells and bacteria in the human body function, and how life on this planet has evolved to its current state.

Meanwhile, a fluid itself can behave strangely because of a diverse molecular composition and bodies moving around inside it. Many new studies have addressed the behavior of microorganisms in such fluids as mucus, for instance, which behaves like both a viscous fluid and an elastic gel. Scientists still have much to learn about these highly complex systems.

While raisins in soda water seem fairly simple when compared with microorganisms swimming through biological fluids, they offer an accessible way to study generic features in those more challenging settings. In both cases, bodies extract energy from their complex fluid environment while also affecting it, and fascinating behaviors ensue.

New insights about the physical world, from geophysics to biology, will continue to emerge from tabletop-scale experiments – and perhaps from right in the kitchen.The Conversation

Saverio Eric Spagnolie, Professor of Mathematics, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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

‘Hidden mother’ photos don’t erase moms − rather, they reveal the labor and love that support the child

While the mother’s face isn’t fully visible, the supportive arms encircling her child are. © Andrea Kaston Tange. All images are from the author’s private collection
Andrea Kaston TangeMacalester College

Collectors relish so-called “hidden mother photographs” as historical oddities.

These 19th-century images contain very young children held still by half-obscured adults who crouch behind chairs or lurk at the margins of pictures, their protective arms stabilizing babies. The heads and shoulders of the adults are sometimes draped in textiles or summarily cut off, or their bodies are partially tucked behind decorative mats that frame the centered child.

The startling realization that Victorian infants were not reclining on cozy blankets but on comfortable laps fuels breathless online attention. Eager resellers of flea-market finds advertise hidden mother photographs using terms like “spooky wonderful,” “cutie creepy” and “bizarre.” Articles about them tend to imply a treasure hunt for hiddenness – for adult knees or noses, poised hands, bosoms, hat brims and skirts.

But this common framing reduces their cultural importance to sensationalism: Look at how kooky our ancestors were!

Sepia photo of young child in a dress, held in the lap of an adult whose face is covered by a black box
The draped ‘mother’ in this carte-de-visite is probably a man, based on the visible adult hand and sleeve. The head of the adult was removed by a smear on the developing plate. JNO. W. Minner’s City Gallery, Sparta, Illinois. (c. 1862–64) © Andrea Kaston Tange. All images are from the author’s private collection.

As someone who has studied the history of these photos, I find myself drawing an unlikely connection between these stiff, sepia portraits and modern candid snapshots of mischievous children delighting their adoring mothers. Both are part of the tradition of sentimental image-making that surrounds the iconic figure of mother and child.

Exposure times in 19th-century photography were very long by current standards – 20 to 60 seconds – which helps explain why trusted adults were needed to soothe infant subjects into the stillness necessary to take a portrait. But this technological limitation doesn’t explain why their mothers were half-erased from these photos, which has led scholars to argue that Victorian women were effaced by their culture, and casual viewers to assume that the photographers who produced these visual gaffes were hilariously bad at their craft.

But my research has shown that Victorian photographers were documenting children at a moment of widespread desire to focus cultural attention – and therefore camera lenses – on childhood as a precious time that ought to be protected. And the partial obfuscation of mothers was not inconsistent with images of beloved children, because to cherish is to hold.

These are, in short, images of care.

Sepia photograph of toddler in dress sitting in lap of adult with cut off head and legs
A well-dressed toddler girl sits on the lap of an elaborately clothed woman, whose head and lower legs have been removed with a vignette filter, circa 1871–74. © Andrea Kaston Tange. All images are from the author’s private collection.

Evolving Photographic Forms

Photography was a new technology in the 19th century. Early photographers coated thin metal plates with light-sensitive material, exposed them behind the camera’s lens and developed the plates through precise chemical processes. Each exposure yielded a unique and unreproducible picture directly on the metal.

The fragile daguerreotypes of the early 1840s launched a period of constant experimentation. Photographers eventually perfected sturdier tintypes – also unreproducible images on metal plates – and later revolutionized the medium with glass negatives that enabled multiple prints of the same image. These prints required special paper made light sensitive with a coating of ammonium chloride stabilized in albumen, or egg white. With this process, photography became widely viable as a profession, a hobby and an art. In the 1880s, at the height of its production, the Dresden Albumenizing Company required 60,000 eggs a day to meet worldwide demand for its high-quality photographic paper.

Comparing an 1860s tintype with an 1890s gelatin silver studio print shows the evolution of photographic processes.

Two images side by side: a sepia photograph of toddler held in lap of adult with half of head cut off, and a black and white photograph of a toddler sitting in a draped chair
Plain clothing and lack of studio props in the photo on the left suggests this baby boy sits on his working-class mother’s lap, circa 1860. Conversely, the photo on the right features sophisticated lighting and fine detail in a late portrait of a baby boy perched in a draped chair, with his mother tucked behind, circa 1890s. © Andrea Kaston Tange. All images from the author’s private collection.

The studio portrait is characterized by crisp focus, strong contrast between lights and darks, beautiful mid-tones to contour the baby’s cheek, and artful studio lighting to capture alert infant eyes and the gleam of a mother’s cuff button. The tintype is its opposite in every aspect: Its flattened quality and narrower tonal range are hallmarks of this less technically advanced photographic process.

But in both portraits, the sturdy hands of the loving mother stabilize the child.

Picturing Tender Connections

Scholars don’t know who was first to use the term hidden mother, although some think it emerged around 2008. A photography exhibit at the Venice Biennale by Linda Fregni Nagler and a lyric photo essay by Laura Larson, both published in 2013 and titled “Hidden Mother,” cemented the moniker, which ironically erases the children who are the focal point of these portraits.

One baby picture in particular – a tintype from the 1850s – tells a story about the development of photographic technology and its role in documenting the fleeting, tender moments of childhood.

The baby’s softness is enhanced by comparison with her mother’s strong jawline. The child’s contemplative gaze suggests deep comfort, snuggled as she is against her mother’s side. The contrast between soft and sharp focus is not just one of emotion but the effect of the little one’s slight movement during the necessarily long exposure time.

The baby’s placidity is partly attributable to the presence of a third figure in this photo. This child appears to be a twin: One of her tiny hands is covered protectively by another, equally small, at the end of another arm clad in an identical dress with braided trim. Grounded in their mother’s lap, these babies exist in a triangulated embrace that memorializes the intimacy of family connections.

Putting the original mat, with its oval cutout, back on the photo makes the baby seem to float, removing the embraces that support her. It also suggests where the moniker for these images, hidden mother, came from. But hands, bodies and the power of touch are central to such images.

Valuing The Mother-Child Bond

Modern viewers often assume that 19th-century customs consigned mothering to the margins. But I argue that this is a projection of ahistorical ideas.

It is a strikingly modern tendency to celebrate women’s ability to have both children and careers, without accounting for how one person will then manage two full-time jobs. Such celebration obscures the labor and time parenting requires in favor of the platitude that if we do what we love, for those we love, it is not work.

Contemporary biases, I suggest, may hide mothers far more than did 19th-century portrait conventions. These images remind thoughtful viewers that babies are held and nursed, soothed and protected, nurtured and guided into independence not by abstract notions of being the right kind of mother, not by oddities, but by embodied human beings.

The historical phenomenon of hidden mothers might be productively renamed “cherished child photographs.” This label more accurately identifies their child subjects and centers the relationship, the cherishing, that is at their heart. It also offers a fruitful avenue for tender contemplation of mothers, children, and the myriad forms of motherwork and bodies who perform them, on Mother’s Day and beyond.The Conversation

Andrea Kaston Tange, Professor of English, Macalester College

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

Small but mighty, plankton are some of the most powerful creatures on Earth

Abigail McQuatters-GollopUniversity of Plymouth

If you go to the beach and dip a bucket in the sea, you might at first think it contains lifeless water. But examine that water under a microscope and you will see your bucket contains a universe of microscopic life, in the form of beautiful and fascinating plankton.

Plankton are mostly microscopic algae and animals found throughout Earth’s oceans, seas and lakes, although a few species are visible to humans. Unlike fish, plankton can’t swim against the current. Instead, they drift through the water, floating at the will of the waves and tides. Plankton are critical to marine ecosystems and to humans, but often glide under the radar of our interest.

As a plankton ecologist who has worked to raise their profile globally, I hope I can convince you that these creatures deserve your attention.

Phytoplankton, the algae plankton, are single-celled organisms. Many of them have chlorophyll, a green pigment (like land plants) they use for photosynthesis to produce the oxygen we breathe. Throughout time, phytoplankton have produced roughly half of Earth’s oxygen, making our atmosphere inhabitable today.

Like land plants, phytoplankton form the base of the marine food web. While cows graze grass on land, zooplankton, tiny marine animals, eat phytoplankton.

Zooplankton include one of Earth’s most abundant animals, the copepod: a microscopic crustacean ranging in size from 0.5 to 15mm. Large copepods are eaten by larval fish, which scientists also classify as plankton since they are too weak and small to swim against the ocean currents. These larvae grow into fish that are eaten by animals higher up the food web, such as sharks, birds and humans.

Tiny creature with two egg sacks attached on either side.
Copepod with eggs.

Planktonic krill, a shrimp-like crustacean up to 5cm in size, make up most of the diet of the largest vertebrate to ever live on Earth, the blue whale. Blue whales eat by filtering seawater through their comb-like baleen, pushing out water while keeping the plankton in their mouth.

Unlike most sharks, basking sharks and whale sharks don’t have teeth, and eat copepods, krill and other plankton. It’s amazing to think that microscopic animals are the diet of such huge creatures.

Life Cycles

Some zooplankton, like copepods and krill, spend their entire lives in the water column between the surface and bottom of the sea, rather than on the seafloor. Other zooplankton only live in the water column during their larval stages, before maturing and settling to the sea floor or, like larval fish, developing the ability to swim against the currents.

In spring, the sea is full of planktonic crab larvae, flicking their tails to swim as they hunt small copepods and other plankton. Crab larvae don’t look like adult crabs: they have huge spines on the tops and bottoms of their heads, and are long and thin rather than round with pincers. As crab larvae grow through their life stages, they look more and more like their adult selves until, finally, they drop to the sea bottom.

Lobsters, mussels, limpets and barnacles also live as plankton in their larvae stages.

Tiny animal with spine much larger than its body.
Crab larvae have huge spines. Chris Moody/Shutterstock

Astonishing Diversity

Scientists estimate there are around 100,000 plankton species in the sea. Plankton communities vary throughout the Earth’s seas and oceans, particularly with latitude. Warmer waters generally have lower plankton biomass and abundance, and consist of species with smaller body sizes.

Jellyfish, my favourite type of zooplankton, are among the biggest plankton. Despite their large size (up to 120 metres long in the case of the Lion’s Mane jellyfish), jellyfish are still considered plankton because they can’t swim against the currents and tides. Instead, they pulse through the water.

There are other types of plankton which are much smaller. These are the pico- and nano-plankton that are too small to see with a classic microscope. These tiny plankton absorb nutrients from, and help decompose, waste such as faeces, dead organisms and other biological material from other parts of the food web. This microbial loop wasn’t discovered until the 1980s.

There is so much about plankton that we still don’t know, and there are thousands of species yet to be discovered.

Climate Change Canaries

Plankton are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment, which means they respond quickly to alterations in sea temperature and acidity. As sea temperatures rise, warm water plankton communities are shifting away from the equator, into newly temperate environments, while cold water plankton communities are being squeezed poleward.

In the North-east Atlantic ocean, for example, plankton have shifted 1,000 miles northward since the 1960s. But these aren’t the same individuals moving – this is the whole plankton community shifting, over millions of individual lifespans.

Some plankton groups use calcium carbonate, or chalk, to form their shells. As the oceans acidify, plankton that depend on calcium carbonate struggle to form their shells, which protect them from predators and give their bodies structure.

Coccolithophores, a phytoplankton group covered in calcium carbonate liths (external plates), developed malformations in laboratory experiments that manipulated seawater pH. We are not yet sure of the extent that wild populations of coccolithophores are affected by pH change, but they are certainly important to both marine food webs and the removal of atmospheric carbon.

Plankton may be tiny but phytoplankton blooms, which are dense aggregations of microscopic single-celled phytoplankton, can span hundreds of kilometres across the ocean’s surface, and are visible from space using satellites.

Turquoise swirl in the sea next to land mass.
Phytoplankton bloom off South Island, New Zealand. Best-Backgrounds/Shutterstock

These huge blooms sink to the sea floor when the plankton die, transporting carbon to the deep sea and helping to fight climate change.

While plankton blooms like this are usually natural phenomena, they may also occur due to excess nutrients from farming or sewage. If blooms are too big or too concentrated due to excess nutrients, they can cause hypoxic (no oxygen) dead zones on the seafloor. These kill everything that lives there, including animals that can’t escape this deadzone quickly.

There are few groups that are so biodiverse and important for how our oceans, indeed our entire planet, function. The next time you are on a boat or at the beach and look out at the sea, remember that each drop of water is full of microscopic life that makes our planet what it is.The Conversation

Abigail McQuatters-Gollop, Associate Professor of Marine Conservation, University of Plymouth

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

COTA NSW: Message From New CEO

It is my great pleasure to introduce myself as the new CEO of COTA NSW. 

From my personal experience helping my parents navigate ageing, and both the joys and complexities that come with it, I hope to bring the voices of our COTA community to the forefront. 

Being seen and heard is essential in advocating for the best interests of those over 50 in NSW. 

My experience in policy and advocacy ranges across the public, corporate and NFP sectors. I am passionate about advocating for meaningful and timely policy changes. It is important that these changes reflect the needs and wants of our community. I look forward to working with you and on your behalf to make sure that your voices are heard when it comes to the issues that affect you most

This month we celebrate National Volunteer Week. Volunteers are crucial to our work and to the wider NSW community, but volunteering has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic and has had to evolve for the future. So, challenging but exciting times for us all! 

We’re holding an event for our volunteers and partners next week with limited spaces available. If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer with COTA NSW please email with your contact details

I hope you can join the COTA Conversations online webinar Thursday May 23 (register here) We’ll be talking about the state of play for volunteers in NSW and hear about how volunteering can provide an exciting opportunity to contribute your time and expertise to the community post your paid working life. 

May also marks National Reconciliation Week, a time for us to all to reflect and consider how we can all be supported towards achieving reconciliation in Australia. More details below. 

Together with the COTA NSW team I’m focussed on supporting our priority programs such as OM:NI and Community Speakers and working with our partners and sector organisations to continue to grow our reach and impact.  

Gohar Yazdabadi 

Budget 2024–⁠25: Investing In Quality Aged Care

May 14, 2024
Issued by: The Hon Mark Butler MP, Minister for Health and Aged Care
The Albanese Labor Government has worked hard to improve the quality of life for older Australians. We have put nurses back into nursing homes, given residents more time with their carers, lifted wages in the sector and improved transparency and accountability.
Since the October 2022–23 Budget, total investment in aged care has increased by 30 per cent. This includes an $11.3 billion investment to deliver the largest one-off increase to aged care wages in history, with more increases in future.
The investments in the 2024–25 Budget continue to strengthen aged care services and create stronger links between aged care and the rest of the health system to deliver real benefits to older Australians.
Older Australians in residential aged care now receive an additional 3.6 million minutes of care every single day. There are more 4 and 5 star homes, and fewer 1 and 2 star homes.
We will enhance the capability of the regulator to ensure older Australians are in safe and quality aged care, upgrade technology systems to make the new Aged Care Act possible, and provide an additional 24,100 Home Care Packages to shorten average wait times.
The new rights-based Aged Care Act is a once-in-a-generation reform that will put older people at the centre of the aged care system and ensure those who access Government-funded aged care services are treated with respect and have the quality of life they deserve. It will also support the Government’s response to the Aged Care Taskforce. Consultation is continuing on the details of the Act and the Taskforce response.
Reducing wait lists for older Australians wanting support to age at home:
The Albanese Government is investing $531.4 million to provide an extra 24,100 Home Care Packages in 2024–25, so more Australians than ever before have the option to remain in the home and the community they love.
Reinforcing the foundations that underpin quality care:
The Albanese Government is reinforcing the foundations that underpin high quality and safe care, by enhancing the capability of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to ensure older Australians are protected, programs to attract and retain a dedicated workforce, and more than a $1 billion dollar investment in the technology infrastructure that will make the new Aged Care Act possible and ensure current systems are maintained:
  • $111.0 million to enhance the capability of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, in response to the recommendations of the Independent Capability Review, as well as to implement the regulatory framework that will underpin the new Aged Care Act.
  • $88.4 million to continue to attract and retain the aged care workforce, including to provide better staffing solutions.
  • $1.4 billion to upgrade the technology systems and digital infrastructure across the sector. This includes funding to sustain current systems and to support the implementation of the new Aged Care Act.
Last year, we invested $11.3 billion to deliver fairer wages for aged care workers in support of the Fair Work Commission’s 15 per cent wage increase decision. In March this year, the Fair Work Commission made a further work value decision to increase award wages for many aged care workers. We anticipate the final decision around mid-year.
Stronger connections for quality care and cheaper medicines:
The Albanese Government is delivering a stronger Medicare for older Australians, by knitting together parts of the health system that have too often lacked integration and ensuring better connections from residential aged care into public hospitals and primary care settings, like general practice or community pharmacy.
As part of the Strengthening Medicare package, older Australians will get the health care and support they need in a safe and comfortable environment when it isn’t necessary for them to stay in hospital. Using hospital outreach services in the community and more virtual care services, older patients will avoid unnecessary hospital admissions and be safely discharged sooner when they are admitted.
Older people with complex care needs will be supported to move out of hospital into a residential aged care home and more short-term care will be available for older people to help them recover after a hospital stay.

$882.2 million to ensure that older Australians get the medical support they need. 
As part of the $1.2 billion Strengthening Medicare package in the 2024–25 Budget, states and territories will be funded to upskill the residential aged care workforce, deliver hospital outreach services in the community, provide virtual care services, and deliver complex care for older people outside of the hospital. $190 million will help older Australians recover from a hospital stay with short-term care through the extended Transition Care Programme.

The measures in the 2024–25 Budget build on previous Albanese Government investments to strengthen the connection between residential aged care and the wider health system.
From 1 August 2024, people in residential aged care will be more likely to receive quality and continuous care from a general practitioner, with GPs and practices eligible to receive quarterly incentive payments, on top of Medicare rebates, to manage the health of their MyMedicare registered residents.
Older Australians are some of the highest users of PBS medicines and so have seen some of the largest benefits from the Albanese Government’s commitment to cheaper medicines. In 2022–23, over 60 per cent of total PBS expenditure was towards older Australians, while through 2023, close to 240,000 older Australians in residential aged care received more than 10.7 million PBS subsidised prescriptions.
  • $0.9 million so aged care residents have more options to receive a free vaccination. Community pharmacists are now paid the same fee a doctor gets to administer free vaccines to residents in aged care under the National Immunisation Program.
  • $318 million over five years to strengthen pharmacy and keep medicines cheaper, with up to a five-year freeze to the cost of PBS prescriptions for pensioners and Commonwealth Seniors Health Cardholders, so medicines stay cheaper, instead of rising each year with inflation, benefitting people in residential aged care homes, in particular.
Funding committed in the 2023-24 Budget will help to ensure that aged care residents are on the safest and most appropriate medication, with funding for residential aged care homes to engage a pharmacist to provide on-site advice, conduct medication reviews, and better understand individual resident needs.
Better dementia care will be delivered through a $101.4 million investment in services and support for people living with complex care needs, as well as readying the health system for new diagnosis and treatment advances.
The investments in the 2024–25 Budget reinforce the foundations and connections that underpin quality aged care, with more Home Care Packages, more workforce support, a regulator with enhanced capabilities, and stronger links between aged care and the rest of the health system.

Budget Delivers Trifecta For Older Australians: National Seniors

The Federal Government has delivered a trifecta for older Australians with three key cost-of-living measures announced in the 2024 budget. These include a $300 energy bill relief payment, a 10% increase to Commonwealth Rent Assistance and a freeze on deeming rates for a further 12 months.

National Seniors Australia (NSA) Chief Executive Officer Mr Chris Grice said the peak consumer body is pleased to see the government has listened to the needs of older Australians, especially those experiencing hardship, as expressed in its Pre-Budget Submission 2024.

“NSA continually hears from older Australians struggling to pay necessities including utilities, petrol, transport, groceries, and rent. Tonight’s budget will help to make paying the power, paying the rent and managing the budget just that little bit easier,” Mr Grice said.

“Providing cost-of-living relief through household energy bills is a practical way to help older people meet daily living costs.

“The increase in the Commonwealth Rent Assistance will help 534,000 people aged 50+ receiving Commonwealth Rent Assistance. A single renter receiving the maximum payment will receive an extra $18.82 per fortnight, almost $500 in a year.

“Part-pensioners and other income support payment recipients will welcome the freeze on deeming rates for a further 12 months until 30 June 2025. We hope the government uses this time to create a fair and transparent way to set rates in the future.

“Overall, NSA congratulates the government on delivering a budget that goes some way to provide cost-of-living relief for both older and younger Australians.

“We also acknowledge the government’s continued commitment to keep ageing Australians in their homes as long as they are able through the delivery of 24,100 home care packages in 2024-25.

“We will continue to advocate for measures to improve the lives of older Australians, including a targeted exemption from the Age Pension Income Test for care sector workers to help boost workforce participation. As well as changes to the private health system to make it more affordable.”

Wanted: A Grannie Flat

I am a mature aged lady, n s, car owner. I have been in 2 Grannie flats in the Upper Northern Beaches area for a total of 11 years keeping an eye on the elderly owners for their families. 

I was a member of the RMYC Newport and a Volunteer with MRNSW as well before I went away last year for a year. Now back I would like a similar situation. My contact is Sandie on 0427 581 017 with references.
Sandie Henry

We mapped a lost branch of the Nile River – which may be the key to a longstanding mystery of the pyramids

The pyramids at Giza, like dozens of others, are located several kilometres west of the current path of the Nile. Alex Cimbal / Shutterstock
Timothy J. RalphMacquarie UniversityEman GhoneimUniversity of North Carolina Wilmington, and Suzanne OnstineUniversity of Memphis

The largest field of pyramids in Egypt – consisting of 31 pyramids built over a millennium, including the famous Great Pyramid at Giza – lies along a narrow strip of land in the desert several kilometres west of the Nile River.

The Nile was at the heart of ancient Egyptian civilisation, and the location of so many pyramids some distance away from the river has until now not been fully explained.

In a new study published in Communications Earth & Environment, we addressed this puzzle. When the pyramids were built they sat next to a now-vanished branch of the Nile, which likely provided transport for workers and their materials.

A Changing River

Like other rivers, the Nile adjusts and changes over time in response to climate change, floods and droughts. People and places also move with the river. In the past, civilisations fell and rose on its ebb and flow.

The Nile has not always looked or functioned the way it does now. By reading the landscape in Egypt, traces of the former river and its branches can be found hidden just beneath the land surface.

Now obscured by areas of cultivation and urban settlements, buried by centuries of mud from the modern river, the old channels and their stories have largely been lost to time. Once a mosaic of waterways and wetlands, the Nile is ready to share its secrets again.

Many scholars have discussed and sought answers to the mysteries of the Nile. Previous research has documented evidence for the existence of parts of ancient waterways or wetlands, particularly near the Giza pyramids.

Upstream near Luxor, Nile migration patterns have been investigated, and downstream abandoned channels have been discovered in the Nile Delta. Yet until now we did not have a comprehensive map and understanding of the waterways that fed the extensive pyramid chain from Lisht to Giza in the past.

The Ahramat Branch

A satellite photo of a section of the Nile river, showing the path of the now-vanished Ahramat branch and the pyramids dotted along it.
The water course of the ancient Ahramat Branch borders a large number of pyramids dating from the Old Kingdom to the Second Intermediate Period, spanning between the Third Dynasty and the Thirteenth Dynasty. Eman Ghoneim et al.

Using satellite imagery, high-resolution digital elevation data and historical maps, we identified and traced the long path of a previously unknown channel of the Nile. What we have called the Ahramat Branch once flowed along the Western Desert margin of the Nile floodplain, close to the ancient pyramids.

Many of the pyramids, built during the Old Kingdom (roughly 2700–2200 BCE) and the Middle Kingdom (2050–1650 BCE), have causeways that lead to the branch. Many of these paths terminate in temples that may have acted as river docks in the past.

This suggests the Ahramat Branch was active during multiple phases of pyramid construction and was probably used as a transportation waterway for workmen and building materials to the sites.

Some pyramids have longer or differently angled causeways than others, indicating the builders adapted their construction approaches to the changing riverscape and local conditions at the desert margin.

A group of people standing in a desert in front of ancient stone steps leading up from a vegetated hollow to a further stone structure, with a pyramid in the distance.
Members of the research team stand in front of the pyramid of Unas’s Valley Temple, which acted as a river harbour in antiquity. Eman Ghoneim

Other pyramids were connected to inlets associated with tributaries of the Ahramat Branch on the edge of the Western Desert. In all, analysis of the ground elevation of 31 pyramids and their proximity to the floodplain helped explain the position and relative water level of the Ahramat Branch during the time between the Old Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period (roughly 2649–1540 BCE).

Digging Deep

Once we had mapped the Ahramat Branch, we surveyed the landscape and its shape, and took deep core samples of soil and sediment to study the structure and sedimentology of the former river. We also worked with archaeologists, scientists and members of local communities to gather more context for our work.

The path of the defunct waterway lies between 2.5 and 10.25 kilometres west of the modern Nile river.

Our research suggests the branch ran for about 64 kilometres, was between two and eight metres deep, and between 200 and 700 metres wide. This is similar to the width of the river today.

At one of the sites we examined, near the town of Jirzah, the Ahramat Branch has a symmetrical channel shape. It has also been filled in with muddy and sandy sediment different to other surrounding deposits and the underlying bedrock. This indicates that the old channel has been slowly buried by fine sediment deposited by floods, as the main flow diverted towards the path of the modern river.

What Happened To The Ahramat Branch?

Over time, the Ahramat Branch moved eastward and eventually water stopped flowing along it. We don’t know exactly why. Perhaps the Ahramat Branch and its daughter, the modern river, were active together for a time.

The river may have gradually moved to the lower-lying floodplain, towards the current location of the Nile. It is also possible that tectonic activity tilted the whole floodplain to the northeast.

Photo of a woman standing on desert ground examining a piece of rock, with the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Sphinx in the background.
Eman Ghoneim studies the surface topography of the section of the ancient Ahramat Branch located in front of the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx. Eman Ghoneim

A third possibility is that an increase in windblown sand may have filled up the river’s channel. Increases in sand deposition are most likely related to periods of desertification in the Sahara desert in North Africa.

The movement and diminishing of the Ahramat Branch might also be explained by an overall reduction in water flow due to reduced rainfall and greater aridity in the region, particularly during the end of the Old Kingdom.

This research shows that a multidisciplinary approach to river science is needed to gain a better understanding of dynamic river landscapes. If we want to understand and protect the rivers we have today – and the environmentally and culturally significant sites to which they are inextricably tied – we need a greater appreciation of the interconnected factors that affect rivers and how they can be managed.The Conversation

Timothy J. Ralph, Associate Professor, Macquarie UniversityEman Ghoneim, Professor and Director of Space and Drone Remote Sensing Lab, University of North Carolina Wilmington, and Suzanne Onstine, Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Memphis

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

Choice and control: what can the ACCC do to stop NDIS price gouging and reduce costs?

Mona NikidehaghaniUniversity of Wollongong

Many Australians with disability feel on the edge of a precipice right now. Recommendations from the disability royal commission and the NDIS review were released late last year. Now a draft NDIS reform bill has been tabled. In this series, experts examine what new proposals could mean for people with disability.

At $14.4 billion over four years, the federal budget’s biggest savings come from efforts to rein in the cost of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The government also plans to invest $213.8 million to fight fraud and co-design NDIS reforms with people with disability. Previous estimates show up to 20% of NDIS expenditure may be fraudulent.

Alongside his “back on track” reform bill in March, NDIS Minister Bill Shorten, announced a taskforce to tackle overcharging that can mean participants pay more than people outside the scheme for the same product or service.

Chaired by the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC), the taskforce will collaborate with the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission and the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) to combat this so-called “NDIS tax”. But how does this taskforce work and will it be effective?

Overcharging NDIS Participants

Currently, the NDIA (which administers the NDIS) provides individual funding to NDIS participants to purchase a range of reasonable and necessary goods and services from providers. The NDIA also has guidelines that set the maximum prices registered providers can charge NDIS participants for each item. For example, the capped price for cleaning services is around $54 per hour ($76 per hour in remote areas and $81 in very remote areas.)

However, there have been reports of providers charging the maximum price set by the NDIA as soon as a client is identified as an NDIS participant. Some providers employ a “twin pricing” strategy, charging an NDIS participant more than they would charge a non-participant. For example, a provider might charge an NDIS participant $130 for a waterproof mattress protector but charge everyone else $90 for the same item.

Previously, these activities were not necessarily fraudulent. However, the NDIS Code of Conduct was amended in December last year, making it illegal for the NDIS providers to charge a higher price for goods for a participant “without a reasonable justification”.

What Can NDIS Participants Do?

NDIS participants are one of the key contributors to the operation of the new taskforce. They can report suspicious overcharging activities.

For example, if they are purchasing a shower chair, they could do a quick online search and obtain several quotes. If they believe they have been overcharged, they should double-check their service agreement to verify they have received the agreed-upon chair, then contact their service provider for an explanation. Ultimately, if they cannot resolve the issue, they can report the case to the taskforce.

Participants can also contact the ACCC if they receive a faulty product or one that does not match their agreement. And they can report providers who intimidate them into signing a contract or pressure them to purchase services they do not need.

What Happens Next?

Once the taskforce is tipped off, they can initiate an investigation, although the NDIS participant may not be notified of the process or the outcomes.

The taskforce will investigate suspected illegal overcharging of NDIS participants, misleading conduct, unfair contract terms, and anti-competitive agreements set by service providers.

Providers who are found in breach of the NDIS Code of Conduct may face unscheduled site visits, receive compliance notices, be permanently banned, incur financial penalties, and even face criminal sanctions where fraud is suspected.

Will The Taskforce Be Effective?

Co-designed NDIS taskforces that operate mainly based on participant reports can certainly work. The Fraud Fusion Taskforce, established in 2022 to disrupt NDIS fraud and criminal activity, led to more than 2,000 tip-offs in February 2024 alone. Some of these investigations have led to prosecutions.

The ACCC taskforce could be particularly effective in combating price differentiation for tangible goods purchased by NDIS participants, such as wheelchairs, pillows and assistive technology for vision or hearing. But it is important to note some participants may lack the time, skills or capacity required to compare prices and report them to the taskforce.

Controlling price differentiation for services such as those provided by occupational therapists, in-home support and physiotherapists is more complicated.

Service providers may charge the maximum price for a variety of reasons. For one thing, becoming a registered NDIS provider is costly because of administrative expenses and costs related to quality and risk control. There are also expenses associated with registration, compliance and regular audits. And the price of services might depend on the provider’s level of experience and location. The flexibility of service providers and their reputation can also be factors.

Participants with more than one disability might require complex services, and providers could charge a higher price to serve participants with greater needs.

sign on window reads: I heart NDIS Registered NDIS Provider
What powers does the ACCC have to monitor NDIS provider charges? Shutterstock

A Pricing Model That Needs Redesign

As part of its findings, the NDIS Review said the scheme’s pricing model did not encourage quality and efficiency, with price caps acting more like “price anchors” than “price ceilings”. The 2024–25 budget pledges $5.3 million to investigate pricing reforms to “strengthen transparency, predictability, and alignment”.

These are important because the current model can encourage service providers to focus on profitability rather than on improving service quality. And the fee-for-service approach can encourage over servicing that discourages capacity building, particularly for people with complex disabilities.

While the ACCC taskforce may well prove effective in controlling unfair overcharging of goods, a review of the pricing model for services is also needed to minimise exploitation of the system.The Conversation

Mona Nikidehaghani, Senior Lecturer in Accounting, University of Wollongong

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

Freshwater- Manly Boy Ian Hanson OAM Inducted As Life Member Into Commonwealth Games Australia 

Sports media icon Ian Hanson OAM has been conferred Life Membership of Commonwealth Games Australia (CGA) as part of Annual General Meeting (AGM) proceedings in Sydney held Wednesday May 15 2024.

A stalwart of the media mixed zones having attended ten Games as a journalist, Media Director and media liaison, Hanson was humbled by the acknowledgement and enthusiastic about his experiences with the Australian Commonwealth Games Team.

He was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for services to media, communications, and sport in 2019.

“To see my name alongside those that have been honoured before me is something that astounds me, it’s a real honour,” Mr. Hanson said.

“I’ve had so many magical moments at the Commonwealth Games, things that have stuck in my mind and will continue to do so. 

“Times have changed from dictating copy to copy takers as a journalist to my most recent tenure leading the media team in Birmingham, but each experience has made me want to be back at the next Games.

“I believe that my recognition today is acknowledgement for the impact of media folks at the Games, from journalists to media managers, and all that they do to make athletes the heroes we know and love.”

CGA President Ben Houston congratulated Hanson for his service to the Commonwealth Sport Movement in Australia.

“Life membership is only conferred upon those who have contributed in an exemplary way and Hanson is among those that have gone above and beyond for the Commonwealth Games in Australia,” Houston said.

The induction of Hanson as Life Member follows the announcement of Trinbago 2023 gold medallist Tayte Ryan as the 2023 Emerging Athlete of the Year at the President’s Dinner the night before, May 14.

Ryan collected three cycling gold medals at last year’s Commonwealth Youth Games, before going on to win gold and the rainbow jersey in the 1000m Kilo Time Trial at the 2023 UCI Junior Track World Championships. 

The President’s Dinner also saw Orders of Merit presented for the first time, with sports marketer Michael Bushell AM, philanthropist Robert Gerard AO, Gold Coast 2018 CEO Mark Peters OAM, and highly regarded team officials Carol Grant and David ‘Charlie’ Walsh OAM honoured.

The Order of Merit complements life membership and recognises the outstanding contribution of individuals to the Commonwealth Sport Movement in Australia and across the world.

Ian Hanson attended St Paul's Christian Brothers College, Manly from 1966 to 1971 where he was a regular member of the Swimming Team (Year 7-Year 12); The Rugby League Team, Soccer Team and School Choir. He was voted by his peers as one of two Vice-Captains in Year 12.

He became a volunteer Life Saver at the age of 13 at Freshwater SLSC and has maintained his membership of Freshwater and also Currumbin Vikings (1998) ever since, competing at a National level and representing the Sydney Northern Beaches Branch and the NSW State Team.

Ian established his own Sports PR agency, Hanson Sports Media in 2000 and the Hanson Media Group in 2008 broadening a sports and corporate client base but always maintaining the link with Olympic sports. 

He attended the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics as a MLO and the 2002, 2006 and 2014 Commonwealth Games and the 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007 FINA World Championships and 2000, 2002 and 2004 FINA World Short Course Championships as the team’s media manager. He also working as the Surf Sports Media manager for the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships 1996-2013; as well as the Coolangatta Gold 2005-2013; the Australian Diving Team through four Olympic campaigns 1996-2008; the 2003 IRB Rugby World Cup; with Hanson Media providing Media management for Northern Spirit, Parramatta Power and Sydney FC in the A-League; Gold Coast Rugby 7s; the Australian beach volleyball championships and the men's indoor team's Olympic journey and corporately with Speedo, Uncle Tobys and Kellogg. 

Ian has also provided Fox Sports News with regular weekly up-dates leading into the London 2012 Olympics and provided expert analysis in studio for the the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. He has been a regular on ABC Grandstand, providing expert commentary on all sports for over 25 years as well as providing his expertise for radio networks such as 2UE, 2GB, 2SM and 2KY amongst others. His media training clients have included Swimming, Triathlon, Surf Life Saving, Equestrian and Diving Australia; the NSW Business Chamber; Sydney Swifts; NSWIS; the AIS and the QAS.

Mr. Hanson is now based on the Gold Coast.

Former Olympian Brooke Hanson OAM, his daughter, stated via Instagram ''Congratulations to my dad aka Hanso, Ian Hanson OAM on his Life Membership to Commonwealth Games Australia.''

''To be raised by a sports journalist in a sport loving household named The Fish Tank has been truly amazing & his stories inspired me to go on & achieve in elite sport but to see my dad being recognized for his incredible contribution truly makes my heart sing.''

''His commitment for over 50 years to Commonwealth Games Australia, sports journalism, sports media, sports commentary, sports management, sports public relations, the sport of swimming, triathlon & surf life saving, sports broadcasting, definitely makes our sports mad household SUPER proud.''

''Congratulations Dad, Poppy Hanso we are all so proud of you, continue the passion for the sports you love & we can’t wait to read your many stories in your book, tales of “The Fish” definitely need to be told.''

Federal Budget 2024 – Update: COTA Australia

May 15, 2024
While we are still analysing all the details, we wanted to give you a quick overview of what’s in this year’s Federal Budget for older people.  

A more detailed Policy Alert will be released on Friday, but for now here are the topline initiatives and our comments on them:

Cost of Living Relief
The Budget has been billed as a win for pensioners.  We aren’t sure that’s a completely accurate description but the Budget does contain some useful cost of living relief measures including:
  • A $300 energy rebate for every household to help people meeting the rising cost of electricity and gas bills. Our recent research shows that 1 in 4 older people have overdue energy bills, so this is an important relief measure we hope becomes a permanent feature.  In addition, Government provided $1.8 million to support a range of energy retail market reforms, including enabling consumers to switch to a better deal with just ‘one click,’ preventing contracts rolling over to higher-cost deals, ensuring people receive the concessions and rebates they are entitled to, and reducing excess fees and charges.
  • A five-year freeze on what pensioners and concession cardholders will pay for PBS medications will also provide significant relief.
  • A 10 per cent increase in the Commonwealth Rent Assistance payment will help many older renters. This year’s 10% and last year’s 15% increases are a step towards the 60 per cent increase that’s needed. We hope the increased investment continues but also that the payment is reviewed and redesigned to ensure it is providing the level of support required in the longer term.
  • Social Security financial assets deeming rate will continue at their 2022 levels for one more year, benefiting 876,000 income support recipients, including 450,000 Age Pensioners. The lower deeming rate will remain at 0.25 per cent and the upper rate will remain at 2.25 per cent until 30 June 2025.
The Women’s Budget Statement
As is now a standard feature the Government released a Women’s Budget Statement, and this continues the Federal Government’s commitment to gender equality.

They are making important changes that will support future generations of older women like the introduction of superannuation on government paid parental leave. COTA Australia is supportive of these kinds of measures, but we can’t ignore the shocking statistics around older women’s financial security.

On average, women retire five years earlier than men, and live five years longer. Despite needing 10 years more retirement income, women have a third less than men, compounding financial insecurity. To address the inequity facing older women we need to look further into the systemic barriers holding many older women back.

We've heard from many of you about the challenges of getting good health care and support and the difficulty of staying in the workforce so it good to see action on supporting women through menopause including:
  • $53.6 million for research into health priorities such as women’s health including menopause, pregnancy loss and infertility.
  • $1.2 million to support training for health practitioners to better treat, care and manage women’s health during menopause. This measure will make it easier for health practitioners to access training so that they can provide well-informed, up-to-date advice and treatment to women during menopause.
Mental health was a focus of Government health initiatives with $888.1 million dedicated to help people get the mental health care they need, including through:
  • a new national, free low-intensity digital service from 1 January 2026, that is expected to support 150,000 people each year every without needing a referral, addressing the existing gap for people with mild mental health concerns.
  • 61 Medicare Mental Health Centres opened by 30 June 2026 to provide access to free mental health services to provide clinical services, for adults with moderate to severe mental health needs.
  • Funding for Primary Health Networks to work in partnerships with GPs to deliver multidisciplinary wraparound supports and care coordination, for people who have complex needs.
In addition, Government committed to establishing a further 29 Medicare Urgent Care Clinics and boost support for regional and remote clinics. This will increase the total number of clinics across Australia to 87. Since commencing last year, existing clinics have already provided almost 400,000 bulk billed visits.

Pay Increases for Aged Care & Child Care Workers
The Government reinforced its commitment to fund promised increases to aged care and childcare workers – both highly feminised workforces. We now wait to heart the determination from the Fair Work Commission, hopefully in the near future, so that the money is in the pay packets of aged care workers as quickly as possible.

Aged Care
Older Australians living in residential aged care will benefit from funding through state and territory governments to provide hospital outreach, deliver virtual care, upskill the residential care workforce, and support the Transition Care Program. We saw the terrible gaps and flaws in health care in aged care during the pandemic – ensuring better access to the same health services all Australians can access is critical.

There was less good news for the many older Australians who live independently in their own homes. Only 24,100 additional home care packages were announced for next year, and $21 million a year of funds earmarked for the Commonwealth Home Support Program will be diverted to other aged care sub-programs.  Older people are often wait over a year for support they’re assessed as needing and end up in hospital, or residential aged care before they need to be there, or in the worst cases they die waiting for support that never comes. COTA Australia believes that no older person needing support should have to wait for longer than 30 days of being assessed. We will continue to advocate for that to be case.

Other commitments included:
  • $87.2 million for workforce initiatives to attract nurses and other workers into aged care.
  • $110.9 million over 4 years to increase the regulatory capability of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
  • $37 million for the My Aged Care Contact Centre to reduce wait times for people seeking information and access to aged care.
  • A range of initiatives to support better dementia care including $30.4 million over 3 years to deliver the Specialist Dementia Care Program for clinical in reach support provided by state and territory governments.
The New Aged Care Act
The Federal Government announced the new Aged Care Act will commence on 1 July 2025 – some 13 months away.

It’s good to know where the finishing line is but we’re still no clearer on the starting line for the parliamentary processes to commence.

The Aged Care Act was the number one recommendation from the Aged Care Royal Commission. We need the Government to introduce the Act into Parliament as a priority to allow proper scrutiny and community conversation, and we need the support of the whole Parliament to ensure it is passed by the end of this calendar year, so the sector is ready to implement it from 1 July 2025.

Older people have been waiting for their rights to be enshrined in legislation for a long time and need certainty and security when it comes to accessing care. They need certainty around the care they will receive, and need a guarantee that what they will be asked to pay is fair. It’s up to all parliamentarians to make sure that happens.

Digital Inclusion
Government announced $288.1 million to expand Australia’s Digital ID systems, within a broader $1B investment in My Gov and Services Australia digital enhancements. 

As Australia raises the digital security of all Australians, we need to ensure the 2.1 million people without government issued photographic ID such as a driver’s license (like me!) don’t get left out of the new digital world the government is building. After raising it for many years and recent laws passing parliament, a clear timeframe for when these government-issued IDs are embedded in the new system is long overdue.

In addition, they announced:
  • $68 million to roll out community wi-fi in remote communities and better support digital literacy, largely focused on first nations communities.
  • $12.4 million for the Australian Communications and Media Authority to oversee the review and improve existing scam call and SMS code for telcos, and boost enforcement action to prevent, detect, and disrupt scams.
That’s it for now.  Keep an eye out on Friday for our more detailed analysis. At:

Reimagining Where We Live Design Ideas Competition: Winners Announced

May 16, 2024
Issued by The Hon Anika Wells MP, Minister for Aged Care and Minister for Sport
The importance of older Australians maintaining their health, wellbeing and sense of identity through aged care accommodation design has been recognised by the Albanese Government.

The Reimagining Where We Live design ideas competition invited architects and designers to use the draft National Aged Care Design Principles and Guidelines to design innovative aged care homes that are welcoming, safe, accessible and dementia friendly.

Congratulations to the winning and commended entrants across both the Urban Metro and Regional Town categories:

Urban Metro Site
  • First prize – $50,000 – ‘Scales of care’ by LM2A with Super Natural, a design that explored the relationship between care and the environment in which it takes place. 
  • Second prize – $20,000 – ‘Connection, community and movement’ by Walter&Walter, which flipped the inward looking institutional model to an outward focused community model.
  • Highly commended – ‘Reflection Home’ by CultivAR + Wild Studio, which adopted the increasingly popular small household model.
  • Highly commended – ‘Canopy’ by Jacqueline Bartholomeusz, David Sutherland, Lorraine Calder and Oculus, which clustered living spaces to create a neighbourhood model with ‘get together’ spaces.
  • Commended – ‘An ordinary life’ by T&Z Architects + Aspect Studios, which explored the concept of aged care as a continuum that binds generations together.
Regional Town Site 
  • First prize – $50,000 – ‘Manu Place’ by Monash Urban Lab with NMBW Architecture Studio, BoardGrove Architects, BLOXAS and Glas Landscape Architects, which featured central cloistered courtyards between private living spaces that featured natural light, air and greenery.
  • Second prize – $20,000 – ‘All together now’ by Other Architects, Openwork, Andy Fergus and Alicia Pozniak, which created a miniature town with an intergenerational focus, featuring a community childcare cooperative.
  • Highly commended – ‘The connected garden’ by Mark Boffa, Guruge Ruwani Dharmasiri, Pulasthi Wijekoon, Jana Osvald and Julie Ockerby, which recreated a classic Australian country town.
The Principles and Guidelines have been developed in response to recommendation 45 of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety Final Report and will be introduced from 1 July 2024. 

Entries were judged by an eminent Jury with diverse and extensive experience in architecture, design and aged care. The Jury received valuable feedback on the shortlisted designs from six advisers who are living with dementia. 

For more information on the competition and to see the winning entries, visit

For more information about what we’re doing to improve aged care accommodation, visit

Quotes attributable to Minister Wells 

“Good design can vastly improve the quality of life for older people living in aged care, and the working environments of the people who care for them.

“Through this design challenge, we've seen innovative ideas and accommodation solutions that will shape the future of aged care accommodation and support older people to live meaningful lives in safe, high quality residential care when it is needed.

"The design entries show what is possible when we think about aged care from a new perspective. I encourage providers to engage with and adopt the National Aged Care Design Principles and Guidelines, as recommended by the Aged Care Taskforce.

“Thank you to the entrants, jury members and advisers for supporting this important initiative.” 

Competition winners project details may be viewed at:

‘Scales of care’ by LM2A with Super Natural - more at the link above.

Why is New Caledonia on fire? According to local women, the deadly riots are about more than voting rights

Nicole GeorgeThe University of Queensland

New Caledonia’s capital city, Noumea, has endured widespread violent rioting over the past 48 hours. This crisis intensified rapidly, taking local authorities by surprise.

Peaceful protests had been occurring across the country in the preceding weeks as the French National Assembly in Paris deliberated on a constitutional amendment that would increase the territory’s electoral roll. As the date for the vote grew closer, however, protests became more obstructive and by Monday night had spiralled into uncontrolled violence.

Since then, countless public buildings, business locations and private dwellings have been subjected to arson. Blockades erected by protesters prevent movement around greater Noumea. Four people have died. Security reinforcements have been deployed, the city is under nightly curfew, and a state of emergency has been declared. Citizens in many areas of Noumea are now also establishing their own neighbourhood protection militias.

To understand how this situation has spiralled so quickly, it’s important to consider the complex currents of political and socioeconomic alienation at play.

The Political Dispute

At one level, the crisis is political, reflecting contention over a constitutional vote taken in Paris that will expand citizens’ voting rights. The change adds roughly 25,000 voters to the electoral role in New Caledonia by extending voting rights to French people who’ve lived on the island for ten years. This reform makes clear the political power that France continues to exercise over the territory.

The death toll has now increased to four.

The current changes have proven divisive because they undo provisions in the 1998 Noumea Accord, particularly the restriction of voting rights. The accord was designed to “rebalance” political inequalities so the interests of Indigenous Kanaks and the descendants of French settlers would be equally recognised. This helped to consolidate peace between these groups after a long period of conflict in the 1980s, known locally as “the evenements”.

A loyalist group of elected representatives in New Caledonia’s parliament reject the contemporary significance of “rebalancing” (in French “rééquilibrage”) with regard to the electoral status of Kanak people. They argue after three referendums on the question of New Caledonian independence, held between 2018 and 2021, all of which produced a majority no vote, the time for electoral reform is well overdue. This position is made clear by Nicolas Metzdorf. A key loyalist, he defined the constitutional amendment, which was passed by the National Assembly in Paris on Tuesday, as a vote for democracy and “universalism”.

Yet this view is roundly rejected by Kanak pro-independence leaders who say these amendments undermine the political status of Indigenous Kanak people, who constitute a minority of the voting population. These leaders also refuse to accept that the decolonisation agenda has been concluded, as loyalists assert.

Instead, they dispute the outcome of the final 2021 referendum which, they argue, was forced on the territory by French authorities too soon after the outbreak of the COVID pandemic. This disregarded the fact that Kanak communities bore disproportionate impacts of the pandemic and were unable able to fully mobilise before the vote. Demands that the referendum be delayed were rejected, and many Kanak people abstained as a result.

In this context, the disputed electoral reforms decided in Paris this week are seen by pro-independence camps as yet another political prescription imposed on Kanak people. A leading figure of one Indigenous Kanak women’s organisation described the vote to me as a solution that pushes “Kanak people into the gutter”, one that would have “us living on our knees”.

Beyond The Politics

Many political commentators are likening the violence observed in recent days to the political violence of les événements of the 1980s, which exacted a heavy toll on the country. Yet this is disputed by local women leaders with whom I am in conversation, who have encouraged me to look beyond the central political factors in analysing this crisis.

Some female leaders reject the view this violence is simply an echo of past political grievances. They point to the highly visible wealth disparities in the country. These fuel resentment and the profound racial inequalities that deprive Kanak youths of opportunity and contribute to their alienation.

Women have also told me they’re concerned about the unpredictability of the current situation. In the 1980s, violent campaigns were coordinated by Kanak leaders, they tell me. They were organised. They were controlled.

In contrast, today it is the youth taking the lead and using violence because they feel they have no other choice. There is no coordination. They are acting through frustration and because they feel they have “no other means” to be recognised.

There’s also frustration with political leaders on all sides. Late on Wednesday, Kanak pro-independence political leaders held a press conference. They echoed their loyalist political opponents in condemning the violence and issuing calls for dialogue. The leaders made specific calls to the “youths” engaged in the violence to respect the importance of a political process and warned against a logic of vengeance.

The women civil society leaders I have been speaking to were frustrated by the weakness of this messaging. The women say political leaders on all sides have failed to address the realities faced by Kanak youths. They argue if dialogue remains simply focused on the political roots of the dispute, and only involves the same elites that have dominated the debate so far, little will be understood and little will be resolved.

Likewise, they lament the heaviness of the current “command and control” state security response. It contradicts the calls for dialogue and makes little room for civil society participation of any sort.

These approaches put a lid on grievances, but they do not resolve them. Women leaders observing the current situation are anguished and heartbroken for their country and its people. They say if the crisis is to be resolved sustainably, the solutions cannot be imposed and the words cannot be empty.

Instead, they call for the space to be heard and to contribute to a resolution. Until that time they live with anxiety and uncertainty, waiting for the fires to subside, and the smoke currently hanging over a wounded Noumea to clear.The Conversation

Nicole George, Associate Professor in Peace and Conflict Studies, The University of Queensland

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

UTI Pharmacy Trial Now Permanent In NSW

The NSW Government announced on Tuesday May 14 that thousands of women across NSW will have expanded access to treatment for uncomplicated urinary tract infections (UTIs) following the successful completion of the 12-month NSW pharmacy trial.

From 1 June, all pharmacists with suitable facilities in NSW who have undergone the required training will be able to provide consultations and prescriptions for these medications.
More than 1000 pharmacies across the state have been participating in the trial and more than 16,000 women have benefited from using this service in the year the trial has been in place.

The NSW Government’s $6 million statewide community pharmacy trial has helped more than 16,000 women access UTI treatment quickly and conveniently from their local community pharmacist.

During the trial, the NSW Government committed to providing $20 per patient consultation compensation for pharmacies participating in the trial, however with the UTI service becoming a normal service offering, consumers should be aware that pharmacies may set their own fee for the service, in addition to medication costs.

Pharmacies offering the UTI service will need to ensure they are listed on the National Health Directory Service so consumers can easily find their nearest pharmacy by checking online or by phoning HealthDirect on 1800 022 022.

Women will continue to be eligible for UTI treatment at a participating pharmacy provided they are:
  • aged 18 to 65 years (inclusive)
  • displaying symptoms consistent with an uncomplicated urinary tract infection
  • have not had other recent UTIs or have a high risk of complications.
A comprehensive evaluation of the trial is underway, including looking at the number of women who were satisfied with the service, how often antibiotics were supplied, how often women were referred to other services and what, if any, medical and pharmacy services the trial participants required after the consultation.

Minister for Health Ryan Park stated:
“The NSW Government is committed to taking pressure off GPs and primary care services and we are constantly evaluating ways we can deliver healthcare more efficiently as well as safely.

“Enabling pharmacists to do more will mean many women will get timely access to the care they need.

“Ensuring continuity of care will be crucial as pharmacy service offerings increase, including strengthened communications between pharmacists and doctors about a patient’s treatment.”

Pharmacy Guild of Australia NSW Branch President David Heffernan said:
“Women across NSW will benefit from easy access to treatment for painful UTIs.

“This UTI trial has been a success in providing affordable, accessible everyday healthcare with over 16,000 women treated across the state.

“Pharmacists are ready to step up take some of the pressure off of GP clinics and hospitals.”

Pharmaceutical Society of Australia NSW President Luke Kelly stated:
“The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and pharmacists across NSW thank Minister Park and the NSW Government for the confidence they have shown in pharmacists.

“Thousands of NSW women will now have timely access to effective treatment for painful and uncomfortable urinary tract infections.”

Chief Investigator at the University of Newcastle Dr Sarah Dineen-Griffin said:
“The UTI trial has seen incredible demand.
“It is pleasing to see the service continue while we undertake an independent evaluation of the data collected during the trial, with a final report to be provided to the NSW Ministry of Health in early 2025.”

Locate your closest participating pharmacist here:

Relief on energy bills for all in a federal budget that bets on lower inflation

Wes Mountain/The ConversationCC BY-ND
Michelle GrattanUniversity of Canberra

A $300 energy rebate for all households from July 1 and a 10% increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance are key measures in a budget targeting cost-of-living relief that put downward pressure on inflation.

Delivered by Treasurer Jim Chalmers on Tuesday night, the budget also freezes the maximum cost of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) prescriptions for everyone for the year of 2025 and concession card holders for five years.

As Chalmers told federal parliament, “this is a budget for the here and now and it’s a budget for the decade to come”.

After an estimated surplus of $9.3 billion this financial year, a deficit of $28.3 billion is forecast for next financial year, before rising to $42.8 billion in 2025-26. The projected deficits then reduce to smaller but still substantial amounts in the following two years. Across the budget period, deficits total $112.8 billion.

The various cost-of-living measures are expected to take 0.5 of a percentage point off inflation over the coming year, as the government tries to boost the prospect of an interest rate fall before the election.

Looking to boost growth in the longer term, the budget invests $22.7 billion in a Future Made in Australia package over a decade to “help make us an indispensable part of the global economy”. This funding is loaded into the latter stages of the decade.

This includes $13.7 billion for production tax incentives for green hydrogen and processed critical minerals “so industries are rewarded for scale and success”.

A $1.7 billion Future Made in Australia Innovation Fund aims to “develop new industries like green metals and low carbon fuels” and $520 million is allocated “to deepen net zero trade and engagement with our region”.

‘Rigor’ For Future Made In Australia Fund

The policy will have a National Interest Framework to impose “rigour” on government decisions.

The energy relief, which will be provided through the states and providers, costs $3.5 billion over three years and will also extend to one million small businesses, which will get $325.

Households will benefit from the energy help at the same time as all taxpayers receive a tax cut, which is worth an average of $36 a week.

The boost in Commonwealth Rent Assistance – coming after a 15% rise in last year’s budget – will cost $1.9 billion over five years. New investment in housing is $6.2 billion.

Chalmers said the budget showed the government was “realistic about the pressures people face now – and optimistic about the future”.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers told his news conference that on inflation it was “not mission accomplished because people are still hurting.”

International uncertainty combined with cost-of-living pressures and high interest rates will slow the economy, with growth forecast at 1.75% this financial year and 2% in the next.

Unemployment is set to rise to 4.5% by the June quarter next year. Unemployment is currently at 3.8%

“I want Australians to know that despite everything coming at us, we are among the best placed economies to manage these uncertainties and maximise our opportunities,” Chalmers said.

He said the government was limiting real spending to an average of 1.4% a year since it came to office. It will be an estimated 3.6% in the coming financial year.

The budget contains earlier announced changes to the indexation arrangements for HELP student debt and placement payments for teaching, social work and nursing students.

There is $2.2 billion to deliver more key reforms in aged care. The budget also includes unspecified provisions for wage rises in aged care and child care.

Shadow treasurer Angus Taylor said: “In this budget, Labor has added $315 billion of new spending, at a time when we need restraint.

"After two years in office and three Labor budgets, the government is no closer to dealing with its homegrown inflation crisis – which means more pressure on cost of living and interest rates higher for longer.”

Greens leader Adam Bandt said: “This band-aid budget is a betrayal of renters, women, students and mortgage holders. Labor’s offering a future for coal and gas that will wreck the climate, unleash corporate greed, and throw ordinary people to the wolves”.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Budget A Missed Opportunity To Tackle Health System Issues: AMA

May 14, 2024
After laying a strong groundwork in last year’s budget and reaching an important agreement at the December 2023 National Cabinet meeting, this budget is a lost opportunity to make further progress in addressing key health system challenges, including greater funding and support for patients to access care in general practice. 

Australian Medical Association President Professor Steve Robson said there was little that was new in this year’s budget, and this represented a real loss of momentum towards a more efficient and sustainable health system.  

“MyMedicare provides the government with a real platform to reform general practice and improve access and affordability for patients, but the extra funding needed to build on this initiative was missing in tonight’s budget,” Professor Robson said. 

“More urgent care clinics is not a long-term strategic solution, and the government keeps looking to fund more of them without proper evaluation of their impact. What we need is reform that enables general practice to deliver the primary care that our patients need, not piecemeal announcements and changes that further fragment the system.” 

Professor Robson said every general practice has the capacity to provide urgent care and the AMA would have liked to see the government improve funding arrangements for general practice so patients can see their usual GP when they need to, including out of normal business hours, along with changes to encourage more doctors to take up general practice.  

“Australia has a GP shortage that will only get worse. We need to encourage more doctors to take up general practice by ensuring GP trainees are offered equitable employment conditions in comparison to their hospital counterparts. And we need an independent planning agency to ensure that the future health workforce meets community need.”  

Professor Robson said the AMA was disappointed the federal government, together with the states and territories, had not detailed how they would tackle the blowout in planned surgery waitlists in public hospitals.  

“Just weeks ago, we released a report showing planned surgery wait times in our public hospitals are now the longest on record, and emergency departments remain strangled by access block,” he said. 

“The additional investment through the next hospital agreement is very welcome but we have hundreds of thousands of Australians waiting in pain for planned surgery. Unless the Commonwealth and the state and territories come up with a funded plan to address this, patients will continue to suffer, with their conditions getting worse, their quality of life significantly impacted and the long-term cost to the health system being higher.”  

Modest relief for patients through the freezing of the PBS co-payment is very welcome, although the decision to phase out the optional $1 discount on patient copayments will further entrench the anticompetitive arrangements in the pharmacy sector that review after review has called out. 

The budget sends some welcome signals on women’s health with the announcement of new Medicare items for longer consultations for complex conditions such as endometriosis and pelvic pain and a commitment to review the adequacy of Medicare funding for long-acting reversible contraceptives and diagnostic imaging procedures. 

An additional 24,100 home care packages for 2024/25 is also a welcome measure to help support older Australians remain in their homes for longer.  

The budget details some additional funding for mental health services but we are concerned to see that the critical role of general practice in caring for patients with complex physical and mental health needs will be undermined by the removal of specific Medicare items for the review of a mental health care plan, which is often undertaken as part of a broad assessment of a patient’s physical and mental health needs. 

The decision to introduce indexation of Medicare funding for some pathology services is a step in the right direction and we are pleased to see additional funding for nuclear medicine. 

Meanwhile, Professor Robson said preventive health was again the loser in this year’s budget, with the government missing an opportunity to raise billions of dollars for preventive health by introducing a sugar tax on sugary drinks.  

“This is a win-win policy, with an approximate 20 per cent health levy on sugary drinks raising around $1 billion each year ― money that could be invested into measures that reduce pressure on our stretched health system. 

“Research shows there could be 4,400 fewer cases of heart disease, 16,000 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes, and 1,100 fewer strokes over 25 years if the government takes this step but we’ve not seen a government brave enough to tackle the industry groups opposed to this measure.” 

Reform was also needed in the private health insurance sector, with the increased cost-of-living and perceived lack of value in insurance, potentially leading to people dropping insurance and putting further strain on the public hospital system.  

“Patients are being hit with rising private health insurance bills as their providers funnel significantly more money into management expenses, dwarfing any increase in rebates and benefits,” Professor Robson said.  

“We need a 'value mandate' for private health insurers to return a minimum 90 per cent, on average, of premium dollars paid each year back to the consumer in the form of rebates and benefits. And we need an independent Private Health Insurance Authority to ensure the system is fair and balances everyone’s interests.” 

It’s so hard to see a doctor right now. What are my options?

David Fuentes Prieto/Shutterstock
Anthony ScottMonash University

Deciding whether to wait and see if your health condition improves or go to a GP can be a difficult task. You might be unsure about where to go, whom to see, how much it will cost and whether you’ll need to take time off work.

These choices can create significant barriers to accessing health care in Australia. There is often limited information available about the pros and cons of the different options. Often, we stick to what we know, unaware of better alternatives.

But making the wrong decision about how to access care can impact both your health and finances. So what are your options? And what policy reforms are needed to improve affordable access to care for all Australians?

How Quickly Can I Be Seen?

Access depends on how long it takes you to speak to a GP, or be seen in an emergency department, or by a community pharmacist, or a nurse practitioner whom you can see directly. Access depends on where you live and the time of day.

The rise of telehealth means GPs now get paid to talk to you on the phone, which is great for many minor ailments, medical certificates, repeat scripts or getting test results. Call centres such as Healthdirect have been available for some time and now virtual emergency departments can also see you online.

There are even GPs who only provide their services online if you can pay. A phone call can save you valuable time. Before COVID, you needed to take half a day off work to see a GP, now it takes five to ten minutes and the GP even calls you.

Things get more tricky outside of normal working hours and at weekends – appointments are harder to come by, it is unlikely you will be able to see a GP whom you know, and out-of-pocket costs might be higher.

If you can’t wait, your local emergency department is likely to be more accessible, or you might be lucky enough to live near a bulk-billed Medicare urgent care clinic, where you don’t need an appointment. Tomorrow’s federal budget will include funding for another 29 urgent care clinics, on top of the 58 already operating.

Family waits in emergency department
Sometimes medical issues can’t wait until the next business day. Hananeko_Studio/Shutterstock

But things are much worse if you live if a rural or remote area, where choice is limited and you need to wait much longer for GP appointments or travel long distances. Telehealth helps but can be expensive if it is not with your usual doctor.

Who Will I See?

Access depends on who you will see. At the moment, this will usually be your GP (or, depending on the severity of your health concern, your community pharmacist or local emergency department staff). But to see your preferred GP you might need to wait as they are usually very busy.

But a review of “scope of practice” in primary care aims to free up GPs’ time and use their skills more effectively.

So in future, you could receive more of your health care from qualified nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and other health professionals.

But which tasks can be delegated to other health professionals is a significant bone of contention for GPs. For GP practices facing significant cost pressures, safely delegating tasks to other less costly health professionals also makes good business sense.

How Much Will It Cost?

Access depends on out-of-pocket costs. Bulk billing of GP services reached a peak of 89.6% in the September quarter of 2022 but plummeted to 76.5% by the September quarter of 2023.

Last November, bulk billing incentives for children under 16 and those on concession cards were tripled, and between November and December 2023 bulk billing had increased from 76.5% to 77.7%.

They key issue for patients is that it remains uncertain whether a GP will bulk bill you. You often don’t know this until you get into the consultation, at which point you can’t back out. Unless the whole practice bulk bills and so it is guaranteed, it’s entirely up to the GP whether you are bulk billed. It’s difficult to think of any other service where you don’t know how much you will pay until after you have used it.

Clinician types on laptop
It’s difficult to assess your options if you don’t know how much you’ll have to pay or whether you’ll be bulk-billed. National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

How Can Policymakers Improve Access To Care?

Government policies to strengthen primary care have focused on giving patients improved access through telehealth, urgent care clinics and Strengthening Medicare initiatives, which are currently being developed.

But uncertainty surrounding out-of-pocket costs can deter people from seeking medical attention, or delay care or go instead to the emergency department or urgent care clinic where there is no out-of-pocket cost.

Cost is a factor that leads to 20% of those with a mental health problem and 30% of those with chronic disease to delay or avoid visiting a health professional. Those most in need are more likely to miss out on necessary visits and prescriptions, sometimes with disastrous consequences. A recent study shows people can die if they stop heart medications due to increased out-of-pocket costs.

The next task for policymakers should be developing policies to guarantee there are no out-of-pocket costs for those on low incomes. This could be a worthwhile investment in our health and should be included in tomorrow’s budget.The Conversation

Anthony Scott, Professor of Health Economics, Monash University

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

Binge drinking is a growing public health crisis − a neurobiologist explains how research on alcohol use disorder has shifted

Since Amy Winehouse’s death in 2011, professionals have learned a great deal more about alcohol use disorder. Kevin Mazur/WireImage via Getty Images
Nikki CrowleyPenn State

With the new Amy Winehouse biopic “Back to Black” in U.S. theaters as of May 17, 2024, the late singer’s relationship with alcohol and drugs is under scrutiny again. In July 2011, Winehouse was found dead in her flat in north London from “death by misadventure” at the age of 27. That’s the official British term used for accidental death caused by a voluntary risk.

Her blood alcohol concentration was 0.416%, more than five times the legal intoxication limit in the U.S. – leading her cause of death to be later adjusted to include “alcohol toxicity” following a second coroner’s inquest.

Nearly 13 years later, alcohol consumption and binge drinking remain a major public health crisisnot just in the U.K. but also in the U.S.

Roughly 1 in 5 U.S. adults report binge drinking at least once a week, with an average of seven drinks per binge episode. This is well over the amount of alcohol thought to produce legal intoxication, commonly defined as a blood alcohol concentration over 0.08% – on average, four drinks in two hours for women, five drinks in two hours for men.

Among women, days of “heavy drinking” increased 41% during the COVID-19 pandemic compared with pre-pandemic levels, and adult women in their 30s and 40s are rapidly increasing their rates of binge drinking, with no evidence of these trends slowing down. Despite efforts to comprehend the overall biology of substance use disorders, scientists’ and physicians’ understanding of the relationship between women’s health and binge drinking has lagged behind.

I am a neurobiologist focused on understanding the chemicals and brain regions that underlie addiction to alcohol. I study how neuropeptides – unique signaling molecules in the prefrontal cortex, one of the key brain regions in decision-making, risk-taking and reward – are altered by repeated exposure to binge alcohol consumption in animal models.

My lab focuses on understanding how things like alcohol alter these brain systems before diagnosable addiction, so that we can better inform efforts toward both prevention and treatment.

Full color cross-section side view of a child's brain with labels.
Signaling molecules in the prefrontal cortex are altered by repeated exposure to excessive alcohol consumption in animal models. jambojam/iStock via Getty Images

The Biology Of Addiction

While problematic alcohol consumption has likely occurred as long as alcohol has existed, it wasn’t until 2011 that the American Society of Addiction Medicine recognized substance addiction as a brain disorder – the same year as Winehouse’s death. A diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder is now used over outdated terms such as labeling an individual as an alcoholic or having alcoholism.

Researchers and clinicians have made great strides in understanding how and why drugs – including alcohol, a drug – alter the brain. Often, people consume a drug like alcohol because of the rewarding and positive feelings it creates, such as enjoying drinks with friends or celebrating a milestone with a loved one. But what starts off as manageable consumption of alcohol can quickly devolve into cycles of excessive alcohol consumption followed by drug withdrawal.

While all forms of alcohol consumption come with health risks, binge drinking appears to be particularly dangerous due to how repeated cycling between a high state and a withdrawal state affect the brain. For example, for some people, alcohol use can lead to “hangxiety,” the feeling of anxiety that can accompany a hangover.

Repeated episodes of drinking and drunkenness, coupled with withdrawal, can spiral, leading to relapse and reuse of alcohol. In other words, alcohol use shifts from being rewarding to just trying to prevent feeling bad.

It makes sense. With repeated alcohol use over time, the areas of the brain engaged by alcohol can shift away from those traditionally associated with drug use and reward or pleasure to brain regions more typically engaged during stress and anxiety.

All of these stages of drinking, from the enjoyment of alcohol to withdrawal to the cycles of craving, continuously alter the brain and its communication pathways. Alcohol can affect several dozen neurotransmitters and receptors, making understanding its mechanism of action in the brain complicated.

Work in my lab focuses on understanding how alcohol consumption changes the way neurons within the prefrontal cortex communicate with each other. Neurons are the brain’s key communicator, sending both electrical and chemical signals within the brain and to the rest of your body.

What we’ve found in animal models of binge drinking is that certain subtypes of neurons lose the ability to talk to each other appropriately. In some cases, binge drinking can permanently remodel the brain. Even after a prolonged period of abstinence, conversations between the neurons don’t return to normal.

These changes in the brain can appear even before there are noticeable changes in behavior. This could mean that the neurobiological underpinnings of addiction may take root well before an individual or their loved ones suspect a problem with alcohol.

Researchers like us don’t yet fully understand why some people may be more susceptible to this shift, but it likely has to do with genetic and biological factors, as well as the patterns and circumstances under which alcohol is consumed.

Image of hormone receptors in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, lit up in varying colors.
Work in the author’s lab explores how alcohol use can alter the way neurons communicate in the prefrontal cortex brain region. Estrogen receptors are labeled in purple and receptors for somatostatin, a key regulatory hormone, in blue. Victora Nudell

Women Are Forgotten

While researchers are increasingly understanding the medley of biological factors that underlie addiction, there’s one population that’s been largely overlooked until now: women.

Women may be more likely than men to have some of the most catastrophic health effects caused by alcohol use, such as liver issues, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Middle-aged women are now at the highest risk for binge drinking compared with other populations.

When women consume even moderate levels of alcohol, their risk for various cancers goes up, including digestive, breast and pancreatic cancer, among other health problems – and even death. So the worsening rates of alcohol use disorder in women prompt the need for a greater focus on women in the research and the search for treatments.

Yet, women have long been underrepresented in biomedical research.

It wasn’t until 1993 that clinical research funded by the National Institutes of Health was required to include women as research subjects. In fact, the NIH did not even require sex as a biological variable to be considered by federally funded researchers until 2016. When women are excluded from biomedical research, it leaves doctors and researchers with an incomplete understanding of health and disease, including alcohol addiction.

There is also increasing evidence that addictive substances can interact with cycling sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. For instance, research has shown that when estrogen levels are high, like before ovulation, alcohol might feel more rewarding, which could drive higher levels of binge drinking. Currently, researchers don’t know the full extent of the interaction between these natural biological rhythms or other unique biological factors involved in women’s health and propensity for alcohol addiction.

Adult woman faces away from the camera, holding a glass of white wine in one hand and pressing her left hand against her neck.
Middle-aged women are at the highest risk for some of the most severe health consequences of binge drinking. Peter Dazeley/The Image Bank via Getty Images

Looking Ahead

Researchers and lawmakers are recognizing the vital need for increased research on women’s health. Major federal investments into women’s health research are a vital step toward developing better prevention and treatment options for women.

While women like Amy Winehouse may have been forced to struggle both privately and publicly with substance use disorders and alcohol, the increasing focus of research on addiction to alcohol and other substances as a brain disorder will open new treatment avenues for those suffering from the consequences.

For more information on alcohol use disorder, causes, prevention and treatments, visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.The Conversation

Nikki Crowley, Assistant Professor of Biology, Biomedical Engineering and Pharmacology, Penn State

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

Longer appointments are just the start of tackling the gender pain gap. Here are 4 more things we can do - Yuri A/Shutterstock
Michelle O'SheaWestern Sydney UniversityHannah AdlerGriffith UniversityMarilla L. DruittDeakin University, and Mike ArmourWestern Sydney University

Ahead of today’s federal budget, health minister Mark Butler last week announced an investment of A$49.1 million to help women with endometriosis and complex gynaecological conditions such as chronic pelvic pain and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

From July 1 2025 two new items will be added to the Medicare Benefits Schedule providing extended consultation times and higher rebates for specialist gynaecological care.

The Medicare changes will subsidise $168.60 for a minimum of 45 minutes during a longer initial gynaecologist consultation, compared to the standard rate of $95.60. For follow-up consultations, Medicare will cover $84.35 for a minimum of 45 minutes, compared to the standard rate of $48.05.

Currently, there’s no specified time for these initial or subsequent consultations.

But while reductions to out-of-pocket medical expenses and extended specialist consultation times are welcome news, they’re only a first step in closing the gender pain gap.

Chronic Pain Affects More Women

Globally, research has shown chronic pain (generally defined as pain that persists for more than three months) disproportionately affects women. Multiple biological and psychosocial processes likely contribute to this disparity, often called the gender pain gap.

For example, chronic pain is frequently associated with conditions influenced by hormones, among other factors, such as endometriosis and adenomyosis. Chronic pelvic pain in women, regardless of the cause, can be debilitating and negatively affect every facet of life from social activities, to work and finances, to mental health and relationships.

The gender pain gap is both rooted in and compounded by gender bias in medical research, treatment and social norms.

The science that informs medicine – including the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease – has traditionally focused on men, thereby failing to consider the crucial impact of sex (biological) and gender (social) factors.

When medical research adopts a “male as default” approach, this limits our understanding of pain conditions that predominantly affect women or how certain conditions affect men and women differently. It also means intersex, trans and gender-diverse people are commonly excluded from medical research and health care.

Minimisation or dismissal of pain along with the normalisation of menstrual pain as just “part of being a woman” contribute to significant delays and misdiagnosis of women’s gynaecological and other health issues. Feeling dismissed, along with perceptions of stigma, can make women less likely to seek help in the future.

Inadequate Medical Care

Unfortunately, even when women with endometriosis do seek care, many aren’t satisfied. This is understandable when medical advice includes being told to become pregnant to treat their endometriosis, despite no evidence pregnancy reduces symptoms. Pregnancy should be an autonomous choice, not a treatment option.

It’s unsurprising people look for information from other, often uncredentialed, sources. While online platforms including patient-led groups have provided women with new avenues of support, these forums should complement, rather than replace, information from a doctor.

Longer Medicare-subsidised appointments are an important acknowledgement of women and their individual health needs. At present, many women feel their consultations with a gynaecologist are rushed. These conversations, which often include coming to terms with a diagnosis and management plan, take time.

A young woman sitting on a bed clutching her pelvic area in pain.
Women are more likely to experience chronic pain than men. New Africa/Shutterstock

A Path Toward Less Pain

While extended consultation time and reduced out-of-pocket costs are a step in the right direction, they are only one part of a complex pain puzzle.

If women are not listened to, their symptoms not recognised, and effective treatment options not adequately discussed and provided, longer gynaecological consultations may not help patients. So what else do we need to do?

1. Physician knowledge

Doctors’ knowledge of women’s pain requires development through both practitioner education and guidelines. This knowledge should also include dedicated efforts toward understanding the neuroscience of pain.

Diagnostic processes should be tailored to consider gender-specific symptoms and responses to pain.

2. Research and collaboration

Medical decisions should be based on the best and most inclusive evidence. Understanding the complexities of pain in women is essential for managing their pain. Collaboration between health-care experts from different disciplines can facilitate comprehensive and holistic pain research and management strategies.

3. Further care and service improvements

Women’s health requires multidisciplinary treatment and care which extends beyond their GP or specialist. For example, conditions like endometriosis often see people presenting to emergency departments in acute pain, so practitioners in these settings need to have the right knowledge and be able to provide support.

Meanwhile, pelvic ultrasounds, especially the kind that have the potential to visualise endometriosis, take longer to perform and require a specialist sonographer. Current rebates do not reflect the time and expertise needed for these imaging procedures.

4. Adjusting the parameters of ‘women’s pain’

Conditions like PCOS and endometriosis don’t just affect women – they also impact people who are gender-diverse. Improving how people in this group are treated is just as salient as addressing how we treat women.

Similarly, the gynaecological health-care needs of culturally and linguistically diverse and Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander women may be even less likely to be met than those of women in the general population.

Challenging Gender Norms

Research suggests one of the keys to reducing the gender pain gap is challenging deeply embedded gendered norms in clinical practice and research.

We are hearing women’s suffering. Let’s make sure we are also listening and responding in ways that close the gender pain gap.The Conversation

Michelle O'Shea, Senior Lecturer, School of Business, Western Sydney UniversityHannah Adler, PhD candidate, health communication and health sociology, Griffith UniversityMarilla L. Druitt, Affiliate Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Health, Deakin University, and Mike Armour, Associate Professor at NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University

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

A minute’s silence is fine but when it comes to violence against women, being quiet isn’t enough

Catherine OrdwayUniversity of Canberra and Ginger GormanUniversity of Canberra

Sport has a role to play in creating a culture of respect, yet women in sport are often seen as “less than” on almost every measure: salaries, sponsorship, broadcasting, leadership, access, media, coaching, officiating, uniforms and support.

Research shows three out of four Australian men are gender equality supporters, but very few (17%) prioritise taking any action.

As Australia grapples with a “national crisis” of violence against women, what can men in sport do to help?

What Does The Research Tell Us?

Rigid gender norms can play a part in fuelling male violence against women and children. And sport is an arena, excuse the pun, where rigid gender norms flourish.

When it comes to sport and gendered violence, a special level of toxic attack and misogyny is reserved for women who “dare” to play, watch and work in sport, and this is particularly heightened for women of colour and/or presumed to be from the LGBTQI+ community, whether identifying or not.

Sport also regularly promotes alcohol and gambling, with evident impacts on women and children – whenever there are big sporting events, violence against women by spectators increases.

Players, coaches, commentators and officials repeatedly avoid sanctions, or get a slap on the wrist, and go on to secure leadership roles in sport, sometimes despite allegations of serious gender-based offences.

The message this sends to younger players and fans is that misogyny is acceptable and that “heroes” are beyond reproach. This green-lights sexism, and completely undermines any messages around equality.

Tracey Gaudry has held a trifecta of roles relevant to this discussion. Not only was she previously a former champion cyclist, and former CEO of Hawthorn Football Club, she has also been Respect Victoria’s CEO.

Back in 2020 she nailed the confluence of issues:

“Gender inequality is a driver of violence against women and it can start out small. Because sport comes from a male-dominant origin, those things build up over time and become a natural part of the sporting system and an assumed part.”

What Are Sports Codes And Teams Doing?

Professional sport organisations and clubs have been trying to address abusive behaviour towards women for decades. Both the AFL and NRL began developing respect and responsibility programs and policies 20 years ago, yet the abuse, and the headlines, continue – against both women in the game, and at home.

The NRL partnered with Our Watch to try to reduce violence against women and children in Australia.

There are also opportunities for clubs to take action even if their governing bodies don’t. Semi-professional rugby league club the Redfern All Blacks, for example, are showing leadership: players who are alleged to be perpetrators are banned from playing until they’re prepared to talk about it openly, and prove they are committed to changing their behaviour.

Education is also vital.

At the elite level, most codes are trying to educate those within their sports – the NRL’s Voice Against Violence program, led by Our Watch, is the same organisation the AFL has recently partnered with.

The NRL also implements the “Change the Story” framework in partnership with ANROWS and VicHealth, which includes a zero tolerance education program for juniors transitioning into seniors.

What More Should Be Done?

The AFL’s recent minute silence gesture to support women affected by violence does not go far enough.

Men, especially those in leadership positions, can take action by actively dishonouring the men who have abused women.

Some of the men we celebrate around the country for their service as players, presidents, life members and coaches have been abusive towards women and children.

Recently, the AFL demanded Wayne Carey – who has a long history of domestic violence allegations and assault convictions – be denied his NSW Hall of Fame Legend status. The next step is to see Carey struck off his club and AFL honour rolls.

The same treatment should apply to other convicted abusers such as Jarrod Hayne and Ben Cousins – the list goes on.

To take a stand on violence against women, award winners who have been convicted for, or admitted to, abuse against women should be explicitly called out with an asterisk next to their names – “dishonoured for abuse against women”.

And current and future awards must be ineligible to abusers. Serious crimes should mean a life ban for all roles in sport.

If there is a criminal conviction, or an admission of disrespectful behaviour (abuse, sexism, racism, ableism or homophobia), then action must immediately be taken to strip them of their privileges.

What About The Grey Area Of Allegations?

One tricky challenge for sport organisations is how to deal with allegations that don’t result in criminal convictions.

The legal system has systematically failed to protect women from sexual predators, so we can’t rely solely on a conviction to act.

In 2019, the NRL introduced a discretionary “no fault, stand down” rule for players charged with serious criminal offences, and/or offences involving women and children. Under this rule, players must stand down from matches until the matter is resolved.

All sports should, as a baseline starting point, be following suit.

Where To From Here?

It’s time sport organisations and fans acknowledged two things can be true: good, even great, athletes, coaches or administrators can be bad humans.

Sporting codes need a zero-tolerance approach for abuse of women which should apply to fans, players, coaches, umpires, referees and administrators.

All codes should strongly consider implementing the “no fault, stand down” rule similar to the NRL. Perpetrators should not be allowed back into high-profile roles. Supporters must also be held to account – if fans can be banned for racism, they can be banned for sexism.

At all levels and across all sports, we must send the message from the ground up: misogyny is unacceptable and the consequence for your bad behaviour is that you are no longer welcome.The Conversation

Catherine Ordway, Associate Professor Sport Management and Sport Integrity Lead, University of Canberra and Ginger Gorman, Editor of the feminist academic blog BroadAgenda at the Faculty of Business, Government and Law at University of Canberra., University of Canberra

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

David McBride goes to prison – and Australian democracy takes a hit

Peter GresteMacquarie University

Governments and their agencies wield awesome power. At times, it is quite literally the power over life and death. That is why in any functioning democracy, we have robust checks and balances designed to make sure power is exercised responsibly and with restraint.

So, what message does a sentence of more than five years in prison for someone who exposed credible allegations of war crimes by Australian soldiers send?

On Tuesday, ACT Supreme Court Justice David Mossop despatched the former military lawyer David McBride to prison for five years and eight months, for passing classified military documents to journalists. Those documents formed the basis of the ABC’s explosive “Afghan Files” investigation, revealing allegations that Australian soldiers were involved in the unlawful executions of unarmed civilians.

It is hard to think of any whistleblowing more important.

McBride’s case forced us to confront the way our own troops had been conducting the war in Afghanistan, as well as the government’s ongoing obsession with secrecy over the public interest.

McBride had been concerned about what he saw as systemic failures of the SAS commanders, and their inconsistency in dealing with the deaths of “non-combatants” in Afghanistan. In an affidavit, he said he saw the way frontline troops were being

improperly prosecuted […] to cover up [leadership] inaction, and the failure to hold reprehensible conduct to account.

He initially complained internally, but when nothing happened he decided to go public. In 2014 and 2015, McBride collected 235 military documents and gave them to the ABC. The documents included 207 classified as “secret” and others marked as cabinet papers.

It is hard to deny the truth of what McBride exposed. The Brereton Inquiry later found what a parliamentary briefing described as “credible information” of 23 incidents in which non-combatants were unlawfully killed “by or at the direction of Australian Special Forces”. The report said these “may constitute the war crime of murder”.

Brereton went on to recommended prosecutions of the soldiers who were allegedly responsible. Yet, the first person to face trial and be sent to prison in the whole debacle is not any of those who might have been responsible for alleged killings, but the man who exposed “misconduct” in the Australian Defence Force.

Much has been made of McBride’s reasons for going to the media, but this focus on motives is a form of misdirection. Whistleblowers take action for a host of reasons – some of them less honourable than others. But ultimately, what matters is the truth of what they expose, rather than why.

That is why we recognise media freedom as an essential part of a healthy democracy, including the right – indeed the responsibility – of journalists to protect confidential sources. Unless sources who see wrongdoing can confidently expose it without fear of being exposed and prosecuted, the system of accountability falls apart and gross abuses of power remain hidden.

It is also why the formal name for Australia’s whistleblower protection law is the “Public Interest Disclosure Act”.

This law is designed to do what it says on the tin: protect disclosures made in the public interest, including those made through the media. It recognises that sometimes, even when the law imposes certain obligations of secrecy on public servants, there may be an overriding interest in exposing wrongdoing for the sake of our democracy.

As a highly trained and experienced military lawyer, McBride knew it was technically illegal to give classified documents to the media. The law is very clear about that, and for good reason. Nobody should be able to publish government secrets without a very powerful justification.

But nor should the fact that a bureaucrat has put a “secret” stamp on a document be an excuse for covering up serious crimes and misdemeanours.

In McBride’s case, the judge accepted the first premise, but rejected the second.

This is why my organisation, the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, is advocating for a Media Freedom Act. The act would oblige the courts to weigh up those competing public interests – the need for secrecy in certain circumstances against the sometimes more compelling need to publish and expose wrongdoing – rather than assume secrecy as a given.

It is hard to overstate the impact this case is likely to have on anybody with evidence of government misdeeds. Do they stay quiet and live with the guilt of being complicit, or do they speak up like McBride and others, and risk public humiliation, financial ruin and possibly even prison?

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has committed to reforming the whistleblower protection regime, and before the last election, promised to set up an independent Whistleblower Protection Authority. Those commitments are laudable, but they ring hollow while McBride sits in prison and another prominent whistleblower, Richard Boyle from the Australian Taxation Office, faces trial later this year.

It is hard to see the former military lawyer being locked in a cell, and say Australia is either safer, or better because of it.The Conversation

Peter Greste, Professor of Journalism and Communications, Macquarie University

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

Whistleblower David McBride Sentenced To Almost Six Years’ Prison For Helping To Expose Wrongdoing: Human Rights Law Centre

May 14 2024: Human Rights Law Centre - Commentary
David McBride was given a sentence of five years and eight months, with a non-parole period of two years and three months for leaking documents to the ABC which exposed war crimes in Afghanistan.

David McBride speaking to press pack before heading into ACT Supreme Court. Photo: HRLC

Whistleblowers make Australia a better place, ensuring accountability and justice by exposing government wrongdoing and corporate misdeeds. They are vital to our democracy.

This is why the Human Rights Law Centre advocates for an end to the unjust treatment of whistleblowers and launched the Whistleblower Project, Australia's only dedicated legal service for whistleblowers.

But on 14 May 2024, military whistleblower David McBride was sentenced to almost six years’ imprisonment by the ACT Supreme Court. It is a dark day for truth and justice in Australia. 

David leaked documents to the ABC, which led to the Afghan Files reporting - which showed credible evidence of war crimes committed by Australian forces in Afghanistan. It was public interest journalism at its finest. And yet on Tuesday, the first person imprisoned in relation to Australia’s war crimes was not a war criminal, but the whistleblower. 

McBride is the first whistleblower to be imprisoned in recent memory in Australia. Witness K, who exposed Australia’s spying against Timor-Leste, was given a suspended sentence; the prosecution of his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, was rightly dropped after the Albanese Government took office. Tax office whistleblower Richard Boyle will face trial in September. 

We have been vocal advocates against these prosecutions, because we see first-hand the chilling effect of prosecuting rather than protecting whistleblowers.  

As Australia’s only legal service for whistleblowers, we hear from our clients about their fears of speaking up, fuelled by these high-profile prosecutions. And all of us suffer as a result, when people can’t speak up about wrongdoing they witness. 

With your support, we will continue calling out the prosecution of whistleblowers, advocating for law reform (including the establishment of a whistleblower protection authority) and providing expert legal advice to whistleblowers.  

An NRL player died at training due to exertional heat stroke. What is it and what should coaches and athletes know?

Samuel ChalmersUniversity of South Australia and Orlando LaitanoUniversity of Florida

The tragic death of Manly rugby league player Keith Titmuss in 2020 due to exertional heat stroke is a reminder of the life-threatening nature of the condition.

Titmuss died after a pre-season training session which was “more likely than not inappropriate”, according to the magistrate who oversaw a recent inquest.

Deputy NSW coroner Derek Lee made several recommendations in reviewing Titmuss’ death in the hope of reducing the chance of it happening again.

So, what is exertional heat stroke, and what should athletes and coaches know about it?

What Is Exertional Heat Stroke?

Exertional heat stroke is the most severe form of a spectrum of conditions classified as exertional heat illness.

During sport and exercise, the body is challenged to maintain an ideal core temperature of about 36-38°C.

This is because exercise produces a massive amount of internal heat, which needs to be released from the body to avoid overheating. Hot and humid conditions stress the ability of an person to release this internal heat, as well as potentially adding to the heat load.

If someone’s body is unable to control the rise in core temperature during physical activity, it may ultimately display central nervous system dysfunction. Signs of this include loss of muscle control in the arms and legs, combativeness, seizures, or loss of consciousness.

highly elevated core temperature (typically, but not always, above 40°C) and multi-organ damage and failure are also characteristics of exertional heat stroke.

In one study, 27% of people suffering severe exertional heat illness died. But even those who survive often face long-term negative health consequences, such as an increased risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.

The human body needs to be cooled down if someone is suffering from exertional heat stroke.

How Often Does Exertional Heat Stroke Occur?

Less severe forms of exertional heat illness (termed as heat exhaustion and heat injury) are more common during sport and exercise than exertional heat stroke. However, the life-threatening nature of the condition means precautions must be considered, especially for summer sports.

The condition strikes “weekend warriors” through to elite athletes and military personnel. A recent paper published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport reported there were 38 deaths in Australia from exertional heat stroke from sport and exercise between 2001 to 2018.

However, exertional heat illness cases are thought to be broadly underreported.

In an effort to reduce the risk of future cases of exertional heat stroke in rugby league, Coroner Lee made recommendations following the inquest into the death of Titmuss.

1) Mandatory 14-day heat acclimatisation training

The human body can adapt quickly (in one to two weeks) to repeated gradual exposure to hot and humid environments, which ultimately reduces the risk of heat illness.

Research shows that pre-season heat acclimatisation protocols reduce the risk of heat illness in team sport athletes.

2) Consider screening and classifying players for exertional heat stroke risk

The United States National Athletic Trainer’s Association recommends players be screened for heat illness when competing in hot and humid conditions.

This process seems intuitive, but we lack a standardised and validated questionnaire.

Other important risk factors include hydration status, prior history of heat illness and/or recent viral illness or infection, body composition (high body fat percentage), and age (older people).

3) Identify cooling strategies that are relevant and effective

Cooling interventions that serve both as a prevention (during play) and treatment (for a victim) should be considered in hot and humid conditions.

In terms of cooling interventions, the evidence suggests cold water immersioncold water or ice ingestioncooling garments (such as ice vests or ice towels), portable fans (with or without additional wetting of the skin), or additional breaks in play can help.

The type of sport will influence the decision about which cooling intervention/s are possible.

Other considerations include the level of resourcing (amount of finances and support staff), type of sport (the number of athletes who need an intervention will differ between team vs individual sports) and game demands (continuous exercise vs sports that have regular breaks).

Is There Anything Else That Athletes And Coaches Can Consider?

Many elite sport organisations in Australia and abroad are working with researchers to develop modernised heat policies that look to reduce the risk of heat illness for elite competition.

An example is the revamped Australian Open tennis heat policy.

At the community level, coaches and athletes can consult Sports Medicine Australia’s online tool. This provides an estimation of risk according to the type of sport and current geographical location.

Sporting and educational organisations should also consider better education for administrators, staff, and athletes to reduce the risk of exertional heat stroke in players.The Conversation

Samuel Chalmers, Senior Lecturer in Human Movement, University of South Australia and Orlando Laitano, Assistant Professor, University of Florida

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

154 million lives saved in 50 years: 5 charts on the global success of vaccines

Meru SheelUniversity of Sydney and Alexandra HoganUNSW Sydney

We know vaccines have been a miracle for public health. Now, new research led by the World Health Organization has found vaccines have saved an estimated 154 million lives in the past 50 years from 14 different diseases. Most of these have been children under five, and around two-thirds children under one year old.

In 1974 the World Health Assembly launched the Expanded Programme on Immunization with the goal to vaccinate all children against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), measles, polio, tuberculosis and smallpox by 1990. The program was subsequently expanded to include several other diseases.

The modelling, marking 50 years since this program was established, shows a child aged under ten has about a 40% greater chance of living until their next birthday, compared to if we didn’t have vaccines. And these positive effects can be seen well into adult life. A 50-year-old has a 16% greater chance of celebrating their next birthday thanks to vaccines.

What The Study Did

The researchers developed mathematical and statistical models which took in vaccine coverage data and population numbers from 194 countries for the years 1974–2024. Not all diseases were included (for example smallpox, which was eradicated in 1980, was left out).

The analysis includes vaccines for 14 diseases, with 11 of these included in the Expanded Programme on Immunization. For some countries, additional vaccines such as Japanese encephalitis, meningitis A and yellow fever were included, as these diseases contribute to major disease burden in certain settings.

The models were used to simulate how diseases would have spread from 1974 to now, as vaccines were introduced, for each country and age group, incorporating data on increasing vaccine coverage over time.

Children Are The Greatest Beneficiaries Of Vaccines

Since 1974, the rates of deaths in children before their first birthday has more than halved. The researchers calculated almost 40% of this reduction is due to vaccines.

The effects have been greatest for children born in the 1980s because of the intensive efforts made globally to reduce the burden of diseases like measles, polio and whooping cough.

Some 60% of the 154 million lives saved would have been lives lost to measles. This is likely due to its ability to spread rapidly. One person with measles can spread the infection to 12–18 people.

The study also found some variation across different parts of the world. For example, vaccination programs have had a much greater impact on the probability of children living longer across low- and middle-income countries and settings with weaker health systems such as the eastern Mediterranean and African regions. These results highlight the important role vaccines play in promoting health equity.

Vaccine Success Is Not Assured

Low or declining vaccine coverage can lead to epidemics which can devastate communities and overwhelm health systems.

Notably, the COVID pandemic saw an overall decline in measles vaccine coverage, with 86% of children having received their first dose in 2019 to 83% in 2022. This is concerning because very high levels of vaccination coverage (more than 95%) are required to achieve herd immunity against measles.

In Australia, the coverage for childhood vaccines, including measles, mumps and rubella, has declined compared to before the pandemic.

This study is a reminder of why we need to continue to vaccinate – not just against measles, but against all diseases we have safe and effective vaccines for.

The results of this research don’t tell us the full story about the impact of vaccines. For example, the authors didn’t include data for some vaccines such as COVID and HPV (human papillomavirus). Also, like with all modelling studies, there are some uncertainties, as data was not available for all time periods and countries.

Nonetheless, the results show the success of global vaccination programs over time. If we want to continue to see lives saved, we need to keep investing in vaccination locally, regionally and globally.The Conversation

Meru Sheel, Associate Professor and Epidemiologist, Infectious Diseases, Immunisation and Emergencies Group, Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney and Alexandra Hogan, Mathematical epidemiologist, UNSW Sydney

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

Disclaimer: These articles are not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.  Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Pittwater Online News or its staff.