January 23-29, 2022: Issue 523

summer babies 1: butcher bird + a 1953 insight on these by bill grayden

The pair of butcher birds that live in the Pittwater Online yard have produced two youngsters this season and have been busy feeding the same with cicadas and other insects - it's been getting quite deafening with the sound of cicadas lately, so food enough for them.

What has been great to witness is the way in which the caught insect is shown to the youngster and then placed in a tree branch fork with encouraging noises, teaching the young one how to place their food and then eat it. When the chick leaves the nest it will remain with its mother until almost fully grown. Young Butcherbirds tend to trail behind their mother and squeak incessantly while she catches food. They will stay around for a year and even help the parents bring up the next season’s chicks.

Those that live beside us seem quite used to our presence and allow close observation or will even come to the window to sing their delightful imitation songs of other birds. 

They will also feed other 'babies' according to a 1953 report by Bill Grayden.

William Leonard Grayden AM (born Wilbur Ives, 5 August 1920) is an Australian former politician. He was a member of parliament across six decades, serving in the Western Australian Legislative Assembly (1947–1949, 1956–1993) and the Australian House of Representatives (1949–1954). A World War II veteran, he served as a Liberal with the exception of a brief period as an independent. Grayden was a backbencher in federal parliament, but later held ministerial office in the state government of Charles Court (1974–1978, 1980–1982). His brother David and grandfather Nat Harper were also members of parliament.

Mr. Grayden was born Wilbur Ives in Bickley, Western Australia. He was one of three children born to Ethel May Harper and Aubrey Leonard Ives, including his younger brother David who also entered politics. His father participated in the landing at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915, and lost a lung after being shot by a Turkish sniper. The marriage broke up and his mother gave the children their step-father's surname after she remarried. Mr. Grayden is the maternal grandson of Western Australian businessman and politician Nat Harper.

Bill was educated at state schools and then at Perth Technical College, as part of an apprenticeship commenced in 1938 as a motor mechanic with Winterbottom Motors. He attempted to enlist in the Australian Army when the Second World War broke out in September 1939, but was rejected. He succeeded the following year after lying about his age. Grayden joined the 2/16th Infantry Battalion as a private, but was soon promoted to corporal and then selected to attend Officer Training School in Bonegilla. He served on the Syrian campaign and then in 1942 was sent to New Guinea, where he took part in the Kokoda Track campaign, the Battle of Buna–Gona, and the Markham and Ramu Valley campaign. He ended the war in Borneo and took part in the Battle of Balikpapan. His remarkable expereinces were captured in the book Kokoda Lieutenant (2015). He turned 100 in 2020 and hopefully is still hearing the wonderful songs being sung by this lovely birds.

Below is the item we found:

"Do Try This Scorpion," Said The Butcher Bird


"Butch" places an insect titbit between the fingers of Anthony, infant son of Mr. and Mrs. N. Guise, at Warrie station. The net over the babe's head protects him from the bird's feeding attempts as well as flies.

Most of us regard the tale of Romulus' and Remus, supposed founders of Rome, as fabulous. But here is a tale, equally fantastic and even more delightful, and-unlike the Romulus and Remus story -fully documented. Western Australia has provided the first authenticated instance of a bird-and a. butcher bird at that adopting a human baby.

Thirty miles West of Roy Hill station and 200 miles south of Port Hedland, is Warrie station. The mile upon mile of mulga scrub of the Murchison has given way to rolling downs and gaunt. red hills. The zone is hot and dry and only spinifex will survive there. The occasional trees, apart from the flood gums in the watercourses, are dwarfed and stunted, but Warrie is regarded as a reliable station. Spinifex, though not as palatable to sheep as mulga and saltbush, is better able to withstand drought. Galahs, white cockatoos and parrots of all kinds abound there, though the arid nature of the country has prevented the intrusion of less hardy birds of the south. 

"Butch," an Australian butcher bird, and his brothers are among the few exceptions. Common in the south, and frequently hated by city dwellers for their predatory habits, butcher birds assume a new standing in the north.
Attachment For Man 
Regarded by those who know them as the sweetest singers in the. Australian bush, butcher birds have another quality which endears them to bushmen.. They have an unusual attachment for man. Every camp in the bush will almost invariably be regarded as home by a butcher bird. Quiet and trusting and seemingly without fear of the occupants of the camp, they herald the day with the sweetest song of the Australian bush. When the camp is astir and the morning meal is being prepared the most interested spectator is the butcher bird from his vantage point on the nearest tree 
Afterwards, when the coast .is clear, he descends to breakfast at leisure on the scraps. He does this methodically and with a studied air. This is his right. He is accepted and encouraged Thenceforth the bird takes his place in the camp life. 

Rescued From Death 
"Butch," of Warrie station, became part of the family in a rather different fashion. Rescued from death, at the hands of an aboriginal child while still a fledgling, he or she, for the bird's sex is still in doubt, was reared by Mrs. Nick Guise, wife of the station manager. Although allowed complete freedom, he refused to leave the station homestead. For almost two years he remained there, always on hand for the daily call -the call which would send him flying down to sit on the hand or shoulder of Mrs. Guise and accept the titbits that were specially reserved for him. On a diet of insects and household scraps "Butch" grew rapidly. He became a handsome bird with bold black and white plumage and bright, intelligent, inquiring eyes. His friendly, knowing ways endeared him to all. 

One day Mrs. Guise returned to the station with a new addition to her family; a son Anthony. "Butch" grasped the significance of the new arrival and reacted in a way which was to make bird history. 

Clear Duty 
As in the past he had regarded his presence in the household as fitting into the scheme of things, now, without fuss or bother, he took upon himself responsibility for the child. "Butch" did not question what his responsibilities were. A baby required one thing - food. "Butch" was unhampered by scientific notions of child feeding. Around him lay his larder. The regularity with which a baby had to be fed was decided, as far as butcher birds are concerned, thousands of years ago. Deep inside, this one instinct told him what to do. Mrs. Guise walked out of the kitchen next morning to find "Butch" sitting on the baby's head, trying to thrust a soft white grub down her baby's throat. Because of the flies, babies in the North often wear a fly net which covers their heads, unless they are protected by a net over their cot. Thenceforth Anthony always had a net over his cot or a veil over his head. 

The Offerings 
Many times daily, for the first few days, "Butch" would appear with an insect for the child. Sometimes it was a tasty grasshopper or a juicy centipede, and occasionally a toothsome scorpion, all of them safely crushed. If the baby was left for a moment, "Butch" would be there with his offering, attempting to thrust it into the mouth of the child. When it was not possible to do that, "Butch" would attempt to rake the insect into the hand of the child by drawing his beak through the child's fingers. Though thwarted in his efforts to feed the baby, "Butch" continued his task resolutely. 

As the weeks went by "Butch" became aware that the baby was due to be weaned. By this time all young butcher birds should be able to fend for themselves. "Butch" apparently thought that he had now discharged his responsibilities. By tapering off the feeding occasions, the youngster should learn to feed himself. It was clear that "Butch" was satisfied that he had acquitted himself well. 

I passed through Warrie station when "Butch" was feeding the baby. When I returned to Perth a few weeks later, I wrote to Mrs. Guise suggesting that, in the interests of science, it would be of value to keep a 'close record of "Butch's"' exploits suggested, among other things, 'that a' chart should be kept of the times each day that ‘’Butch’’ arrived with food for the baby and of what the food consisted. Unfortunately the weaning process had begun and the full record for which I’d hoped did not eventuate.
Mrs. Guise writes thus to me of ‘’Butch’’ whom she assumes to be female

On The Wing
‘’She does not appear to be a fast flyer or to move fast, yet it is amazing to see her pick a fly out of the air as it flies past, without haste or apparent speed. There is no snapping. Her eyesight is marvellous and any small creature moving within a wide radius has little chance against her deceptively slow swoop.

The varied assortment of insects and reptiles which ‘Butch’ brought along would have delighted her own young. After making a peculiar noise, reserved for these occasions, she would retire a short distance, seem very disgusted at her failure, but would finally eat the offering.

Quite undeterred, she continued to try to feed the baby at irregular intervals throughout the day for many weeks. After a time she tapered off, but now, although the boy is eight months old, often arrives with some special luxury such as a small lizard or scorpion. The process is, however, now being reversed and the boy feeds the bird.’’

I passed through Warrie station again a few weeks ago. ‘’Butch’’ was no longer at the homestead. The station people do not know why he left. They speculate over a cup of tea occasionally as to whether ‘’Butch’ left in search of a mate, or whether it was simply the call of the bush.

At odd times on the run, however, when those who live on the station are crutching or marking lamb or repairing a windmill, a little black and white bird, smaller than a pigeon and with a powerful beak, may appear from out of the shimmering heat and alight on a shoulder or arm. ‘’Butch’’ has never forgotten his friends. He stays a while then flies off about his tasks.

Up Warrie way, people hope that the friendly heart of this little black and white bird will continue to find joy in the sunrise for many seasons to come. 
"Do Try This Scorpion," Said The Butcher Bird (1953, February 21). The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954), p. 15. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article49081884 

They really are the most delightful birds, each with its very own nature, and help keep the garden's insects balance as well as awake us each dawn with their wonderful songs.

Photos: A J Guesdon.

Summer babies 2: bluetongue lizard

Warriewood gentleman Joe Mills took these lovely photos on Saturday January 22nd, 2022, telling us;
''Met this little baby Bluetongue Lizard in our garden bed today.  He was about 3 inches long (8 cm).  Looked for the rest of the family but did not find.  Good luck on his life ventures.''

Avalon Dunes Bushcare

Avalon Dunes are really special and need our special care. Tiny birds like Blue Wrens like the thick bush, but we need to get rid of weeds that will take the place of good bird habitat.

We'll be back on Sunday February 6, meeting  at 8.30 near the Montessori School, off Tasman Rd.  We're concentrating on chasing Morning Glory, peacefully weeding and chatting in the shade. Quite a bit is left for next time though. Can you give us a hand?

World Wetlands Day 2022

The 2nd February 2022 is the first year that World Wetlands Day will be observed as a United Nations international day, following its adoption by the General Assembly on 30th August 2021.

The theme for the 2022 edition is Wetlands Action for People and Nature, and it highlights the importance of actions that ensure that wetlands are conserved and sustainably used. It’s an appeal to invest financial, human and political capital to save the world’s wetlands from disappearing and to restore those we have degraded.

You can find materials to download, key messages and suggested actions to take on the event website.

Additional local inspiration may be found in this Issue's report on the Careel Creek Cleaners

Birds flock to breed in north-west NSW wetlands

January 19, 2022
The biggest wetland bird breeding event in the Macquarie Marshes and Gwydir Wetlands in a decade is well under way ahead of World Wetland Day on 2 February.
National Parks and Wildlife Service Acting Director, John Whittall, said recent floods had filled wetland systems and major bird breeding is happening right now, including at Narran Lake Nature Reserve.

"It's been a joy to see the wetlands spring back to life after the drought across the whole of northern NSW to enable what is now the biggest breeding event since 2012," John said.

"We're all very excited. The wetlands are internationally significant breeding grounds so it's fantastic to see mass breeding as we celebrate this year's World Wetland Day's theme of 'Wetlands Action for People and Nature'.

"NPWS have done 350 hours of aerial pest species shooting over the wetlands in the last 2 years, as well as follow up ground programs, to give the birds the best chance of breeding success possible."

NPWS Project Officer, Conservation Dr Joanne Ocock who is part of a multi-agency team monitoring the wetlands said: "Vegetation has returned as brilliant green islands in the semi-arid landscape providing waterbirds with plenty of nest-building material and we have seen the egrets and ibis in particular nesting in their thousands.

"The birdlife has been overwhelming and everyone has their favourites. I can't go past the incredibly pretty freckled and blue-billed ducks. They are threatened species and it's great to see them gather in such significant numbers.

"It's not just about the birds, we are also seeing baby frogs in enormous numbers. While some may just look at them as bird food, as a frog expert I think they are beautiful in their own right." she said.

Visitors are welcome to experience this remarkable event by visiting the Waterbird Lagoon bird hide at the Gwydir Wetlands State Conservation Area about 70 kilometres from Moree. Roads have reopened after the floods but visitors are asked to drive with care.

The best time to visit for the best bird watching experience is early morning or evening. For further information visitors should call Narrabri NPWS office on 6792 7300.

Bushcare in Pittwater 

For further information or to confirm the meeting details for below groups, please contact Council's Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367

Where we work                      Which day                              What time 

Angophora Reserve             3rd Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Dunes                        1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Golf Course              2nd Wednesday                 3 - 5:30pm 
Careel Creek                         4th Saturday                      8:30 - 11:30am 
Toongari Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon (8 - 11am in summer) 
Bangalley Headland            2nd Sunday                         9 to 12noon 

Winnererremy Bay                 4th Sunday                        9 to 12noon 

North Bilgola Beach              3rd Monday                        9 - 12noon 
Algona Reserve                     1st Saturday                       9 - 12noon 
Plateau Park                          1st Friday                            8:30 - 11:30am 

Church Point     
Browns Bay Reserve             1st Tuesday                        9 - 12noon 
McCarrs Creek Reserve       Contact Bushcare Officer     To be confirmed 

Old Wharf Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      8 - 11am 

Kundibah Reserve                   4th Sunday                       8:30 - 11:30am 

Mona Vale     
Mona Vale Beach Basin          1st Saturday                    8 - 11am 
Mona Vale Dunes                     2nd Saturday +3rd Thursday     8:30 - 11:30am 

Bungan Beach                          4th Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
Crescent Reserve                    3rd Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
North Newport Beach              4th Saturday                    8:30 - 11:30am 
Porter Reserve                          2nd Saturday                  8 - 11am 

North Narrabeen     
Irrawong Reserve                     2nd Saturday                   2 - 5pm 

Palm Beach     
North Palm Beach Dunes      3rd Saturday                    9 - 12noon 

Scotland Island     
Catherine Park                          2nd Sunday                     10 - 12:30pm 
Elizabeth Park                           1st Saturday                      9 - 12noon 
Pathilda Reserve                      3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon 

Warriewood Wetlands             1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 

Whale Beach     
Norma Park                               1st Friday                            9 - 12noon 

Western Foreshores     
Coopers Point, Elvina Bay      2nd Sunday                        10 - 1pm 
Rocky Point, Elvina Bay           1st Monday                          9 - 12noon

Gardens and Environment Groups and Organisations in Pittwater

sydney wildlife rescue: helpers needed

Citizen scientists needed to help record impact of fires on biodiversity

January 18, 2022

UNSW Sydney scientists are behind a citizen science event that will document the bushfire recovery of plants, animals and fungi across three bushfire affected regions in New South Wales.

The Big Bushfire BioBlitz starting on February 25 is a series of weekend-long events which will generate new evidence on the impacts of large-scale fire on biodiversity.

The BioBlitzes will take place in the Gondwana Rainforests of Washpool National Park, the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, and Murramarang National Park on the south coast.

Thomas Mesaglio, iNaturalist curator and PhD candidate at the UNSW Evolution & Ecology Research Centre, said that the BioBlitzes will give people the opportunity to contribute meaningful biodiversity data that inform our understanding of how the environment recovers after large scale bushfires, and in turn contribute to research and conservation.

“A ‘bioblitz’ is a focused effort to record as many species as possible in a defined location within a limited period of time,” Mr Mesaglio said.

“Citizen science events such as bioblitzes provide an invaluable opportunity to maximise the amount of data collection, intensely focusing on particular areas, as well allowing people of all skill levels to be involved.

“Participants get to interact with and learn from experts, and also offer their own local expertise and insights to the experts, so it’s a fantastic two-way transfer of knowledge.

“These events are also great for motivating participants to become long-term contributors to citizen science platforms such as iNaturalist.”

Experts – including from one of the partner scientific organisations, the Australian Museum – will lead biodiversity events over the weekends.

Casey Kirchhoff, PhD candidate at the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science, founded the Environment Recovery Project on the iNaturalist website after the devastating Southern Highlands’ Morton bushfire destroyed her Wingello home in January 2020.

“Citizen scientists have been really motivated since the 2019-2020 bushfires,” Mrs Kircchoff said.

“We’ve already had over 17,500 observations of bushfire recovery submitted to the Environment Recovery Project.

“We’ve been delayed by COVID-19, but it’s great to finally have the opportunity to engage more directly with some of the bushfire impacted communities through citizen science at the bioblitzes.

“The more observations we can collect, the more we will know about the impact of the fires on our environment.”

While not everyone will be able to make it to an in-person bioblitz, everyone who can access a bushfire-impacted area right across Australia is encouraged to participate.

The Big Bushfire BioBlitz iNaturalist project will be open to every citizen scientist keen to ‘bioblitz’ their own area, no matter if they’re in Western Australia or Kangaroo Island,” Mrs Kirchhoff said.

The iNaturalist community has more than 88 million biodiversity records and links to Australia’s leading open-access biodiversity data platform, the Atlas of Living Australia, where everybody from scientists and policymakers to the general public can access a wealth of biodiversity information.

The bioblitzes are supported through the Australian government’s Regional Bushfire Recovery Fund and UNSW’s Centre for Ecosystem Science, in partnership with the Atlas of Living Australia, Minderoo’s Fire and Flood Resilience Initiative and the Australian Citizen Science Association.

  • BioBlitz 1: Blue Mountains, Friday 25 February – Sunday 27 February 2022
  • BioBlitz 2: Washpool National Park, Friday 4 March – Sunday 6 March 2022
  • BioBlitz 3: Murramarang National Park, Friday 11 March – Sunday 13 March 2022

Register for the Big Bushfire BioBlitz.

The Atlas of Living Australia is Australia’s national biodiversity data infrastructure funded by the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) and hosted by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO. image; Scientists are hoping that people of all skill levels will get involved in the forthcoming 'bioblitzes' which will see citizen scientists record as many species as possible over three weekends. Photo: Dean Martin 2021 (CC-BY-NC).

Aboriginal land claim granted on reserve at Naremburn

January 17, 2022

A total of 1.51 hectares of Crown land will be transferred to the ownership of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council after an Aboriginal land claim was approved over the Talus Street Reserve at Naremburn, on Sydney’s north shore.

Talus Street Reserve, at the headwater of Flat Rock Creek, features bushland, walking tracks, picnic tables, eight tennis courts, a clubhouse and parking area.

The land claim by the NSW Aboriginal Land Council was granted after the land was found to be claimable on the date of the claim, after Willoughby City Council leases on the site had been ruled invalid by the Supreme Court.

Agreement will be sought from the land council to create easements to ensure continued public access on walking trails, and for site maintenance access when needed.

Sections of land will be retained for the essential public purposes of a public road, public access, maintenance, and stormwater.

Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council chair Allan Murray said the land will support social, cultural and economic benefits for the Aboriginal community, which in turn benefits the broader community.

“As the new owners, we look forward to moving ahead and undertaking the necessary due diligence of working with the community to understand who the stakeholders, users of the site and surrounding communities are,” Mr Murray said.

“Once we know this, and with our members’ support, Metropolitan LALC will be able to make an informed decision and plan for the site’s future. This is an exciting time for Metropolitan LALC and our membership.”

Willoughby City Council, which previously managed the reserve, welcomed the ‘momentous’ decision to transfer the land under the Aboriginal Lands Rights Act 2016.

“We respect and support the NSW Government’s decision to grant the claim made by the Land Council as the owners and custodians of this beautiful land. Willoughby Council is committed to working collaboratively and positively with the Land Council to ensure a smooth transition,” Willoughby Mayor Cr Tanya Taylor said.

“On behalf of the community, Council acknowledges the rich indigenous history of the Gammeraygal people in the area. The transfer will embed this significant indigenous heritage, drive cultural and social outcomes as it affirms Aboriginal Land Rights and supports reconciliation.”

Image: Talus Street Reserve

NSW campaigns clean-up and reduce litter

January 19, 2022

An independent evaluation of the state’s Litter Prevention Program has shown litter has reduced by 43 per cent as part of the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s (EPA) successful Waste Less, Recycle More campaigns since 2012.

The EPA has received a positive evaluation of its nine-year Litter Prevention Program that shows the reductions in litter surpassed the former Premier’s Priority 2020 40 per cent target and has allowed us to set ambitious future litter reduction targets.

EPA Executive Director, Engagement, Education and Programs, Liesbet Spanjaard said this encouraging result has enabled the setting of a new target of reducing litter by a further 60 per cent by 2030, outlined in the Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2041.

“Over-achieving on the former Premier’s Priority target and reducing litter by 43 per cent enables us to continue to expand on the successful path that the Waste Less Recycle More campaigns have laid out," Ms Spanjaard said.

“The independent evaluation demonstrates that the Litter Prevention Program is providing value for money.  Evidence in the report indicates that the program provides a net economic benefit to the people of NSW both through direct savings on litter clean-up and through indirect effects of improved amenity in communities and reduced environmental harm.”

Highlights of the nine-year $50 million Litter Prevention Program include:

The introduction and success of Return and Earn, the NSW Container Deposit Scheme

Introduced in 2017 as an initiative to reduce beverage container litter, already over 6.5 billion containers have been returned through the scheme’s network of over 620 return points. Return and Earn has contributed to an overall 52 per cent reduction in the volume of drink container litter in NSW in the last four years and has provided over $28 million in fundraising revenue for charities and community groups.

An innovative marine litter campaign

To reduce the growth of litter in our waterways and oceans and its detrimental effect on marine life, we launched an exciting marine litter campaign in March 2021. The campaign features Rocky the Lobster and his band, Rage against the Polystyrene with the new smash hit Don’t be a Tosser song. The initiative builds on the successful Don’t be A Tosser Campaign.

Stand-out results from the world-leading Cigarette Butt Litter Prevention Trial

In 2018, the EPA led a collaborative behaviour change trial in partnership with 16 local councils to understand what strategies are effective in reducing cigarette butt littering behaviour. Outcomes show binning rates increased from 38 per cent to 58 per cent (a 53 per cent increase in binning behaviour). For some strategies a peak binning rate of 76 per cent was achieved (a 144 per cent increase in binning behaviour). For more information, see the report and supporting video.

The EPA will build on these achievements to meet the new 60 per cent reduction target outlined in the Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2041. For details of the evaluation report, visit the EPA website.

Promise delivered on protecting Liverpool Plains land

January 21, 2022
More than 6,000 hectares of high biodiversity land on the Liverpool Plains will be protected for good by the NSW Government, as part of the finalisation of a $100 million agreement with Shenhua Watermark Coal Pty Limited (Shenhua).

Deputy Premier Paul Toole said the government’s acquisition of the parcels of land delivers on a commitment to protect those areas, enhance native biodiversity, and help preserve key koala habitat.

“This is the beginning of a new era for farmers and the wider community on the Liverpool Plains, ending years of uncertainty,” Mr Toole said.

“From today, this land will be actively managed by the Local Land Services on behalf of the government to safeguard the areas with environmental and cultural significance.” 

The land acquired from Shenhua includes sites at Breeza, Barraba, Mt Watermark and Tambar Springs.

Minister for Agriculture Dugald Saunders said the NSW Government is committed to not only protecting the landscape and its threatened species, but also ensuring neighbouring agricultural operations continue to thrive.

“The Liverpool Plains is home to not only some of the best agricultural land in the country but some of the most beautiful country as well,” Mr Saunders said.

“This is a major boost to the protection and conservation of more than 6000 hectares of high biodiversity land and will be done in consultation with the region’s Indigenous groups, environmental groups, local councils and other stakeholders.

“By working together, we can ensure the best environmental, cultural and production outcomes are achieved across the Liverpool Plains.”

In April 2021 the NSW Government and the China Shenhua Energy Company Limited (Shenhua) (Shenhua Watermark Coal Pty Ltd) have reached a $100 million agreement in which Shenhua will withdraw its mining lease application and surrender its development consent for the Shenhua Watermark Coal project. 

The then NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said the NSW Government is committed to supporting the common sense, responsible development of our high-quality coal resources, however we are a balanced government, and we also need to protect prime agricultural land. 

“The cancellation of this project will mean that no open cut coal mining can occur in the area. Coal will of course continue to be an important part of our economy and is essential to supporting jobs, and the NSW Government continues to support coal exploration in areas where it makes sense,” Mr Perrottet said. 

The agreement includes:
  • certainty for local landholders and communities
  • prime agricultural farmland to be preserved through the relinquishment of the Shenhua Watermark development consent and exploration licence, and the prohibition of future coal mining projects on this site
  • the acquisition of more than 6000 hectares of high biodiversity land to be managed by Local Land Services including the protection of habitat for koalas and other endangered species
  • protecting significant Indigenous cultural sites and artefacts
  • ensuring that water that would have been taken by the mine can continue to be used for agriculture and other productive uses.

Past eight years Warmest since modern recordkeeping began

January 13, 2022

Earth's global average surface temperature in 2021 tied with 2018 as the sixth warmest on record, according to independent analyses done by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Continuing the planet's long-term warming trend, global temperatures in 2021 were 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.85 degrees Celsius) above the average for NASA's baseline period, according to scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. NASA uses the period from 1951-1980 as a baseline to see how global temperature changes over time.

Collectively, the past eight years are the warmest years since modern recordkeeping began in 1880. This annual temperature data makes up the global temperature record -- which tells scientists the planet is warming.

According to NASA's temperature record, Earth in 2021 was about 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit (or about 1.1 degrees Celsius) warmer than the late 19th century average, the start of the industrial revolution.

"Science leaves no room for doubt: Climate change is the existential threat of our time," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. "Eight of the top 10 warmest years on our planet occurred in the last decade, an indisputable fact that underscores the need for bold action to safeguard the future of our country -- and all of humanity. NASA's scientific research about how Earth is changing and getting warmer will guide communities throughout the world, helping humanity confront climate and mitigate its devastating effects."

This warming trend around the globe is due to human activities that have increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The planet is already seeing the effects of global warming: Arctic sea ice is declining, sea levels are rising, wildfires are becoming more severe and animal migration patterns are shifting. Understanding how the planet is changing -- and how rapidly that change occurs -- is crucial for humanity to prepare for and adapt to a warmer world.

Weather stations, ships, and ocean buoys around the globe record the temperature at Earth's surface throughout the year. These ground-based measurements of surface temperature are validated with satellite data from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on NASA's Aqua satellite. Scientists analyse these measurements using computer algorithms to deal with uncertainties in the data and quality control to calculate the global average surface temperature difference for every year. NASA compares that global mean temperature to its baseline period of 1951-1980. That baseline includes climate patterns and unusually hot or cold years due to other factors, ensuring that it encompasses natural variations in Earth's temperature.

Many factors affect the average temperature any given year, such as La Nina and El Nino climate patterns in the tropical Pacific. For example, 2021 was a La Nina year and NASA scientists estimate that it may have cooled global temperatures by about 0.06 degrees Fahrenheit (0.03 degrees Celsius) from what the average would have been.

A separate, independent analysis by NOAA also concluded that the global surface temperature for 2021 was the sixth highest since record keeping began in 1880. NOAA scientists use much of the same raw temperature data in their analysis and have a different baseline period (1901-2000) and methodology.

"The complexity of the various analyses doesn't matter because the signals are so strong," said Gavin Schmidt, director of GISS, NASA's leading center for climate modelling and climate change research. "The trends are all the same because the trends are so large."

NASA's full dataset of global surface temperatures for 2021, as well as details of how NASA scientists conducted the analysis, are publicly available from GISS (https://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp).

GISS is a NASA laboratory managed by the Earth Sciences Division of the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The laboratory is affiliated with Columbia University's Earth Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science in New York.

For more information about NASA's Earth science missions, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/earth

Kurri gas plant approval gives fresh Cabinet the same old stink: Lock the Gate Alliance NSW - climate council

December 21, 2021

The state approval of the Kurri Kurri gas fired power station is a disappointing decision at a time when the world needs to embrace more renewable energy and zero carbon technology, not more polluting fossil fuel projects, states the Lock the Gate Alliance NSW .

On December 20th, 2021 the NSW Government’s Planning Portal issued a notification advising stakeholders the plant had been approved. The Planning Department then retracted that approval, before the approval was later uploaded to its website. The announcement came the same day new NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet announced his Cabinet, and just days after, on 12 December 2020, the Hunter Power Project (Kurri Kurri Gas-Fired Power Station) was declared as a critical State significant infrastructure project by order under Clause 12 of Schedule 5 of State Environmental Planning Policy (State and Regional Development) 2011.

The change to becoming a State significant infrastructure project was unannounced, unlike that change to a State significant infrastructure project for the Dendrobium Coal Mine Extension Project.

The Independent Planning Commissions of NSW refused consent for the development application Dendrobium Coal Mine Extension Project (SSD8294) in accordance with Part 4 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (the Act) on February 5th, 2021. 

The state's planning authority found the impacts of the project outweighed the benefits.

In its reasons it said "the level of risk posed by the project has not been properly quantified and based on the potential for long-term and irreversible impacts — particularly on the integrity of a vital drinking water source for the Macarthur and Illawarra regions, the Wollondilly Shire and Metropolitan Sydney drinking water — it is not in the public interest".

The IPC also raised concerns about the longwall design, the degradation of watercourses and loss of swampland.

On Saturday December 4, 2021 Deputy Premier and Minister responsible for Resources Paul Toole said a proposal to extend Dendrobium coal mine had been declared State Significant Infrastructure (SSI) due to its importance to Port Kembla steelworks and its thousands of employees, signifying the current state government incumbents have no plans or no ideas how to shift this workforce to employment taht will not pollute the water they too will drink or save the significant environmental areas this project will impact, irreversibly.

The Kurri Kurri gas fired power station approval was signed by the then Minister for Environment and Planning, Pittwater MP Rob Stokes.

Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Nic Clyde said it was the worst kind of Christmas present.

“The NSW Government has gifted the people of NSW not coal, but gas under the Christmas tree this year. We think most people would have preferred renewable energy, not more of the same old polluting fossil fuels," he said.

“This is a $610m white elephant that Australia doesn’t need, it will waste scarce public funding that is desperately needed elsewhere, and it will drive up energy prices, not bring them down.

“It’s anticipated it will only operate two percent of the time, but will be creating local and greenhouse pollution when it does. 

“Worse still, the plant could incentivise Santos to proceed with its destructive Narrabri coal seam gasfield - so people in NSW can expect more damage to land and water and higher energy costs to boot.”

Australia's Climate Council states the May 2021 announcement by the Morrison Government it will commit up to $600 million of public funds to the new gas-fired power station at Kurri Kurri, in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, is utilising ‘sneaky,’ unallocated funding from the Federal Budget to put public money towards the 660 megawatt open cycle gas turbine, which will be built by the government-owned company Snowy Hydro Limited.

''Building a government-owned fossil fuel gas power station in the middle of a climate crisis is the equivalent of asking the Australian public to jump onto a sinking ship without a safety raft.'' the Climate Council stated

Victory for NT community as Pitt’s methodology renders Empire fracking grants void

December 23, 2021

Protect Country Alliance wholeheartedly congratulates the Environment Centre NT on its hard fought victory against Resource Minister Keith Pitt’s foolish decision to grant millions in public funds to fracking company Empire Energy’s subsidiary Imperial Energy.

With the Environmental Defenders Office, the ECNT took Mr Pitt to the Federal Court and argued that he had failed to make proper inquiries into a range of matters before granting Imperial Energy $21 million for its NT fracking program.

Today, the Court ruled in the ECNT’s favour, finding the government’s decision to enter into the contract with Empire Energy was legally unreasonable, because it occurred while legal proceedings were underway. The contracts are now considered void.

“This decision exposes the appalling and reckless behaviour of Mr Pitt, who arrogantly approved the grants despite an active legal case and thus breached common law model litigant obligations,” said Protect Country Alliance spokesperson Dan Robins.

“This reveals yet again that the Morrison Government’s rush to throw billions in public money at gas giants is blatant corporate welfare that undermines our democracy.

“This case also opens the door to a range of future legal challenges against government ministers who fail to act in accordance with the law when making decisions about fracking projects.

“Thanks to the tremendous hard work of the ECNT and Environmental Defenders Office, a line has been drawn in the sand.

“Keith Pitt’s decision to spend taxpayer money on the fracking industry was always questionable, and now, thanks to today’s ruling, we know he made a grave error in the eyes of the law.

“Territorians don’t want to see public money wasted on fracking projects that will threaten groundwater, that are opposed by Traditional Owners, and that will drive the climate crisis and ever more terrifying extreme weather events.”

Territory frack fest free for all: Origin exploration plan a terrifying indicator of what’s to come

January 14, 2022

Origin Energy’s newly released Environment Management Plan for four exploratory frack wells in the Northern Territory provides a terrifying glimpse into the future and the water that will be required if full scale production goes ahead, according to Protect Country Alliance.

The EMP, which was published yesterday, concerns Origin’s Amungee and Velkerri projects, which will host two new wells each and are located southeast of Daly Waters. It brings the number of exploratory fracking wells owned by Origin in the area to six in total.

The plan reveals the company expects to use 525 million litres of water during the three year project, which it will access from the Gum Ridge formation - the equivalent of about 210 Olympic sized swimming pools.

The sheer volume of water required for the exploratory project prompted concern from local pastoralists and Traditional Owners, however these concerns were brushed aside by Origin in its EMP. Several pastoralist water bores surround Origin’s project which rely on the Gum Ridge formation.

The documents also reveal fracking the four wells will lead to the creation of about 56 million litres of salt-heavy wastewater.

PCA also has concerns about the use of phytotoxins in Origin’s fracking fluid concoction, owing to the presence of stygofauna (aquatic animals that live in groundwater) in aquifers beneath the drilling site that may be impacted.

As well, Origin plans to use chemicals described as “possible carcinogens” in its fracking fluid slurry.

PCA spokesperson Graeme Sawyer said the sheer amount of water required for just four wells offered a deeply concerning window into how much water would be lost if the fracking industry reached production phase in the Territory.

“The impact of Origin’s exploratory fracking wells on Territory groundwater aquifers is worrying enough, but this is really just the tip of the iceberg if the company decides to ramp up to full throttle production,” he said.

“Origin will be using vast quantities of groundwater to drill and frack and that will come at a huge cost to cultural values, other water users, and the environment. 

"What's also worrying is the NT Gunner Government is still yet to implement a water allocation plan for the Beetaloo. It's paved the way for the thirsty frackers, but with no way to know how water will be safeguarded for communities.

“The experience in Queensland and the USA shows us that once commercial production begins, fracking wells multiply like pockmarks across the landscape, polluting waterways, and industrialising rural landscapes with a network of well pads, pipelines, and access roads.

“We can’t allow this destruction in the Territory and we certainly can’t afford the climate risks of these projects - Territory weather extremes are already severe and rapidly worsening.

“The use of toxins in fracking fluid that are harmful to stygofauna demonstrates the importance of Strategic Regional Environmental and Baseline Assessment (SREBA). 

“Unfortunately this unfinished process has already been mired in controversy and accusations of government bias in favour of the fracking industry.”

Fracking Queensland’s Lake Eyre Basin could unleash 300 million tonnes of GHG each year: New Report findings

January 13, 2022

New expert analysis undertaken by Professor Ian Lowe reveals the shocking amount of greenhouse gas emissions that would be released if the fracking industry is allowed to develop gasfields in the Queensland Channel Country floodplains of the Lake Eyre Basin.

Professor Lowe’s report reveals that even under a “low development” scenario, fracking in the basin would make it nearly impossible for the Queensland Palaszczuk Government to meet its stated 2030 GHG emissions reduction targets.

Under a “high development” scenario, the fracking industry in the basin would be responsible for about 190 million tonnes per annum of fugitive and domestic emissions, and 300 million tonnes of emissions if the burning of the gas was taken into account. Australia’s annual domestic GHG emissions are roughly 500 million tonnes.

Professor Lowe’s report reveals the high emissions figures are because:

  • The petroleum resources in the Lake Eyre Basin contain extremely high levels of carbon dioxide (around 30%), which would have to be vented or otherwise disposed of, making them some of the most polluting gasfields in Australia.
  • Production of gas inevitably also results in direct methane leakage (known as fugitive emissions) and methane is a very potent greenhouse gas.

Professor Lowe said, “If we are serious about net zero emissions by 2050, then it is criminally irresponsible for governments to be approving new fossil fuel projects.

“Approving fracking in the Channel Country would ensure the Queensland Government fails to meet its stated emissions reduction target.”

The release of the report comes after the Palaszczuk Government was accused of conducting “sham consultation” with Traditional Owners and the wider community in the Channel Country, after it approved Origin Energy petroleum leases across more than 250,000 hectares near Windorah

Lock the Gate Alliance Queensland spokesperson Ellie Smith urged the Palaszczuk Government to honour its past election promises and protect the floodplains of the Lake Eyre Basin from fracking. 

She said Professor Lowe’s report showed sacrificing the floodplains to fracking would make the job of emissions reductions in every other sector of the state’s economy that much harder. 

“This report confirms what we have long suspected - fracking this unique and spectacular part of Queensland will release a carbon bomb at a time when the world desperately needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

“If the Lake Eyre Basin is opened up to fracking the Queensland Palaszczuk Government will need to find its planned emissions reductions elsewhere.

“That means manufacturing businesses, agriculture, the transport sector, and Queensland households will all have to make up for the extra emissions of between 16 and 40 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent every year on top of existing reduction commitments just so companies like Origin can rip through another precious part of our state for profit.

“Sacrificing Queensland’s Lake Eyre Basin rivers and floodplains to fracking will harm the communities and the world class organic beef industry of Far Western Queensland.

“It will threaten the Channel Country’s free flowing desert rivers, which are among the last desert rivers not seriously compromised by human activity on the planet. 

“It would be a travesty to allow thousands of fracking gas wells, roads and pipelines to destroy these floodplains in order to build the dirtiest, most polluting gasfields in Australia.”


In 2020, a leaked document revealed the Queensland Government's own scientists deemed fracking the sensitive Channel Country floodplains of the Lake Eyre Basin too risky.

new fracking plan for the Kimberley

January 18, 2021

A new fracking project in the Great Sandy Desert area of WA’s Kimberley region that will require nearly 18 million litres of water is the thin edge of the wedge as the McGowan Government continues to roll out the red carpet to the oil and gas industry, states the WA Lock the Gate Alliance.

The WA Environmental Protection Authority today published Theia Energy’s proposal to drill two “exploration” wells on the company’s tenement south east of Broome, giving the public just six days to respond.

While the application is for one vertical and one horizontal well, with plans by Theia to frack the horizontal well, the company has previously flagged intentions to build thousands of wells across its tenements, by comparing the Kimberley’s resources to that of the Eagle Ford Shale in the USA, where 24,000 wells have been drilled since 2008.

Media has also reported previously that the company is targeting “as much as 57 billion barrels of oil in the desert location”. If such a plan was realised, it would make Theia Australia’s largest oil producer.

The company’s new plan also reveals the exploratory drilling project would result in the creation of nearly eight million litres of “flowback” or waste water from only two wells.

“This is typically what we expect from fracking companies - they start off with a handful of exploratory wells, and once production approval is granted, they build frack fields that spread like spider webs across the landscape,” said Lock the Gate Alliance WA spokesperson Claire McKinnon.

“It’s extremely concerning that for just one exploratory well, Theia plans to use 18 million litres of water from a local aquifer beneath a desert. The amount of water that would be required for a fully fledged fracking industry in the Kimberley is truly terrifying.

“Fracking projects leak massive plumes of climate-heating methane into the atmosphere. The fugitive emissions from Theia’s frack field will fuel the climate crisis even before the gas or oil is burnt.

“Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth, and the place where Theia wants to frack is among the driest places in Australia. Water is so very precious here - it should not be sacrificed to dirty, polluting fracking companies. 

“It is madness the McGowan Government is even considering these fracking projects. They must be rejected.”

Draft Cycling Strategy for NSW's National Parks

The Draft Cycling Policy, Draft Cycling Strategy and Draft Cycling Strategy: Guidelines for Implementation is on public exhibition until 30 January 2022.

The scope of this new strategy is broad. It includes all types of cycling experiences in our parks. It is complemented with a more detailed set of guidelines for implementation and updates to our Cycling policy.

  • The Draft Cycling policy builds upon our experience from previous versions and has been updated in parallel to the draft strategy. It identifies in a legislative framework where cycling is permissible in parks.
  • The Draft Cycling Strategy outlines our vision, objectives and priorities for the provision of cycling experiences.
  • The Draft Cycling Strategy: Guidelines for Implementation provides further details on the processes and procedures that National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) will apply to assess, approve, manage and monitor cycling opportunities within NPWS estate as detailed in the Cycling Strategy.
  • The draft Cycling Strategy sets a precedent for managing the conservation of natural and cultural heritage values in our parks as a priority and then allows for the development of compatible cycling opportunities. Not all cycling activities will be suitable in all parts of parks.
  • The draft Cycling Strategy details a clear framework for how we seek to provide for, and manage, cycling opportunities within parks. The processes for cyclists to work with National Parks and Wildlife Service are made clear. We intend to work collaboratively with stakeholders and other land managers to tackle key challenges including, unauthorised tracks, the safety and enjoyment of visitors on multi-use trails and the provision of park visitor facilities.
  • The draft Guidelines for Implementation address the way we will deliver the Cycling Strategy, including the approval process for new tracks and networks, the rehabilitation of unauthorised tracks, how we will work with external parties (including volunteer groups) and our management of cycling experiences. These documents will replace the Sustainable Mountain Biking Strategy 2011.

Public online presentation

You are invited to an online public presentation on Wednesday, 1 December, 12:00 – 1:00pm. Please register to attend this presentation.

Your feedback on the draft Cycling Policy, strategy and implementation guideline documents is valued. Our response to your submission will be based on the merits of the ideas and issues you raise rather than just the quantity of submissions making similar points. For this reason, a submission that clearly explains the matters it raises will be the most effective way to influence the finalisation of the plan.

Submissions are most effective when we understand your ideas and the outcomes you want for park management. Some suggestions to help you write your submissions are:

  • write clearly and be specific about the issues that are of concern to you
  • note which part or section of the document your comments relate to
  • give reasoning in support of your points - this makes it easier for us to consider your ideas and will help avoid misinterpretation
  • tell us precisely what you agree/disagree with and why you agree or disagree
  • suggest solutions or alternatives to managing the issue if you can.

Have your say by Thursday 30 January 2022.

There are three ways to provide feedback:

Online consultation

Formal submission: Address: Manager, NPWS Planning Evaluation and Assessment Locked Bag 5022 Parramatta NSW 2124

Email: npws.parkplanning@environment.nsw.gov.au 

Home design to drive energy bills down

November 22, 2021

New sustainability standards for homes will save residents up to $980 a year on energy bills and reduce the State’s carbon footprint as we move to net-zero emissions by 2050.

The Building Sustainability Index (BASIX) is a key assessment tool that ensures new homes are comfortable to live in regardless of the temperature, are more energy efficient and save water.

Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes said BASIX had prevented 12.3 million tonnes of greenhouse gas over the past 17 years – equivalent to taking 2.5 million cars off the road.

“These proposed increases in standards will see more energy-efficient homes from Double Bay to Dubbo and beyond, with better design, better insulation, more sunlight and more solar panels,” Mr Stokes said.

“We want to lift BASIX standards even higher to drive down emissions further, saving another 150,000 tonnes a year and helping to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

“Better design will keep your home naturally cooler in summer and warmer in winter, so you won’t be turning the heater or air conditioner on as often.

Energy bills are expected to reduce significantly as a result of the new BASIX standards:

  • Savings of up to $190 each year for people living in high-rise apartments;
  • Savings of up to $850 each year for people living in new Western Sydney houses; and
  • Savings of up to $980 a year for people living in new houses in the regions.

“To showcase the benefits of these new measures, we’re inviting up to 10 builders to test the proposed BASIX requirements ahead of its official roll out next year,” Mr Stokes said.

These new targets complement work underway, such as planting one million trees and investing $4.8 million to make building materials more environmentally friendly.

The community is encouraged to provide feedback on the proposed BASIX changes by Monday 31 January, 2022 at planningportal.nsw.gov.au/BAS IX- standards

New University of QLD conservation tool calculates the optimal time to spend researching a habitat before protecting it

January 13, 2022

Deciding when to stop learning and take action is a common, but difficult decision in conservation. Using a new method, developed by researchers at The University of Queensland, The University of British Columbia and CSIRO (Australia's national science agency), this trade-off can be managed by determining the amount of time to spend on research at the outset. The findings are published in the British Ecological Society journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

The work provides guidelines on the effective allocation of resources between habitat identification and habitat protection, predicting the optimal time to spend learning even when relatively little is known about a species and its habitat. Determining the optimal timing for habitat protection is vital if we are to ensure effective, long-term protection.

Dr Abbey Camaclang, The University of Queensland and lead author of the study, said: "Habitat protection can be more effective when we know more about species and their habitat needs, but delaying protection to improve our knowledge can result in continued habitat loss and population declines."

Using a simple model, the new method calculates how long we should spend improving our knowledge of a species' habitat before deciding which areas to protect, based upon an estimated rate of habitat loss and speed of acquiring knowledge. The researchers tested the method on two threatened species, the koala and northern abalone (a sea snail). They found that optimal time to spend learning is short when the threats are high. When habitat loss is low, the species benefit from greater knowledge, leading to an increased proportion of the species' habitat being protected.

Dr Camaclang explained: "Delaying habitat protection to improve our knowledge may sometimes be beneficial, but it is often better to protect habitats immediately rather than wait for more information when rates of habitat loss are high."

Professor Possingham, one of the co-authors at The University of Queensland, added "All too often ecologists will delay action on the ground to seek more and more data, ignoring the fact that time and money are limited resources in conservation."

Protecting habitat is the most valuable action for conservation, but it requires understanding the habitat requirements for the species of interest. Timely decisions can save species from extinction, but acting too soon might lead to protecting the wrong habitat -- a costly decision that is often irreversible.

The optimal timing for habitat protection also depends on the amount of non-habitat we can afford to protect. Any land that is incorrectly identified as habitat and protected unnecessarily can lead to conflict with other land uses.

The new method developed in this study has potential to be used in other areas of conservation decision-making. For example, to minimize the impact of harvesting wild plants and animals or manage the detrimental effects of invasive species. The approach can also be built on further, to provide guidance on optimising on-the-ground surveys, thus enabling conservationists to use time and funds most efficiently.

Abbey E. Camaclang, Iadine Chadès, Tara G. Martin, Hugh P. Possingham. Predicting the optimal amount of time to spend learning before designating protected habitat for threatened species. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 2022; DOI: 10.1111/2041-210X.13770

The study investigates how long we should spend improving our knowledge of a species’ habitat before deciding which areas to protect, using the koala and northern abalone as examples

‘Disappointment and disbelief’ after Morrison government vetoes research into student climate activism’

Darren England/AAP
Philippa Collin, Western Sydney University; Brendan Churchill, The University of Melbourne; Faith Gordon, Australian National University; Judith Bessant, RMIT University; Michelle Catanzaro, Western Sydney University; Rob Watts, RMIT University, and Stewart Jackson, University of Sydney

Between 2019 and early 2021, we developed a research proposal asking for funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC). The project was to investigate the mass student climate action movement and its relationship to democracy.

A few weeks ago, on Christmas Eve, we learnt via Twitter that the ARC had recommended our research proposal for funding, but acting Education Minister Stuart Robert vetoed the recommendation.

Robert also vetoed five other humanities projects. He did so on the grounds they “do not demonstrate value for taxpayers’ money nor contribute to the national interest”.

This political intervention is a problem for many reasons. Chief among them, it breaches key principles of academic autonomy and – in our case, also silences research working with young people on a crucial policy issue.

boy holds sign
The decision silences research into young people on climate change. Darren England/AAP

‘Freedom in research and training’

Since 1988, almost 1,000 universities in 94 countries have signed the Magna Charta Universitatum, including ten from Australia. The charter affirms the deepest values of university traditions.

In practice, it means a university “must serve society as a whole” and that “to meet the needs of the world around it, its research and teaching must be intellectually independent of all political authority and economic power”.

Central to the charter is that “freedom in research and training is the fundamental principle of university life”.

The ARC administers the National Competitive Grants Program, which delivers around $800 million to Australian researchers each year.

The ARC grants process involves several rounds of rigorous review and assessment, by internationally leading scholars. The ARC then recommends to the education minister which proposals should be funded, and the budget. The minister makes the final funding decisions.

The Morrison government claims it wants to protect academic freedoms. And it commissioned a 2019 review of freedom of expression and intellectual inquiry in higher education.

However, Robert’s veto of the ARC’s decision to fund six projects is a clear breach of the core principle of academic freedom.

What’s more, it’s not the first time Morrison government education ministers have ridden roughshod over the funding processes of the ARC and university research.

In 2018-19, Simon Birmingham vetoed 11 research grants recommended by the ARC. In 2020, Dan Tehan vetoed five.

man touches head
Robert’s veto is a clear breach of academic freedom. Lucas Coch/AAP

An important new phenomenon

The project we proposed for ARC funding was titled “New possibilities: student climate action and democratic renewal”. It involved working directly with young people to investigate a significant new phenomenon.

Since 2018, millions of students across the globe have worked hard as leaders, organisers and advocates for action on climate change. Their actions include the school strikes for climate and various legal actions. In Australia since 2018, we estimate at least 500,000 school students have participated in the movement, including coordinated school strike actions online and in the streets.

Our project was designed to document such actions and to establish:

  • why young people participate

  • what activities they undertake

  • what we can learn from the movement to address climate change and strengthen our democracy.

Our project would have led to vital new knowledge on a global phenomenon. It had the potential to help address falling trust in governments and dissatisfaction with democracy, and to give new insights on engaging with young people in learning about and responding to climate change.

It also provided jobs for early-career researchers already facing cripplingly precarious employment in the university sector.

Our proposal relied on a vast body of academic work and expertise, and previous scholarship by the research team. It was connected to a global research network exploring young people’s climate politics and broader possibilities for democracy.

Developing the proposal involved hundreds of hours of additional research, writing, editing and consultation with professional staff across five universities.

For the ARC to judge the project worthy of funding, it must have determined it passed the national interest test and that it was value for money.

Significantly, we have no formal right to appeal the decision.

students walk and yello at protest
The project aimed to learn more about the student climate movement. James Ross/AAP

‘Disappointment and disbelief’

The minister’s intervention is a serious blow to Australia’s reputation for research excellence and its commitment to academic freedom.

The Morrison government has also sent a negative message to Australia’s young people – essentially saying research into their views on climate change is irrelevant.

We asked students who we work with to respond to the government’s veto, and they stand with us in disappointment and disbelief. Audrey, aged 10, who has participated in climate action, said:

“I personally think that the vetoing was to stop the research from public view to make the government look better, as they aren’t doing enough on climate change. Another main reason why the vetoing is so bad and unfair is that the government is sending the message that young people’s views aren’t important to both young people and the community.”

Urgent change is needed to ensure academic autonomy, freedom, and independence of process are not subject to political interference in future.

Addressing urgent and complex problems such as climate change involves research across the full spectrum of society – and that includes Australia’s young people. The Conversation

Philippa Collin, Associate Professor, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University; Brendan Churchill, ARC Research Fellow and Lecturer in Sociology, The University of Melbourne; Faith Gordon, Associate Professor in Law, Australian National University; Judith Bessant, Professor in School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University; Michelle Catanzaro, Senior Lecturer in Design / Senior Research Fellow (YRRC), Western Sydney University; Rob Watts, Professor of Social Policy, RMIT University, and Stewart Jackson, Senior Lecturer, Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney

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

(The most social) bird of the year: why superb fairy-wren societies may be as complex as our own

Kaspar Delhey, Author provided
Ettore Camerlenghi, Monash University and Anne Peters, Monash University

One mystery many biologists want to solve is how complexity develops in nature. And among the many social systems in the natural world, multilevel societies stand out for their complexity. Individuals first organise into families, which are members of bands, which are organised into clans.

At each level, associations between components (individuals, families and clans) are structured and stable. In other words, individuals within families usually stay together, and families usually interact with other specific families in a predictable way, to form stable clans.

Such social organisation has probably characterised much of human evolution (and is still common among many hunter-gatherer societies around the world).

In fact, multilevel societies likely played a fundamental role in human history, by accelerating our cultural evolution. Organising into distinct social groups would have reduced the transmission of cultures and allowed for multiple traditions to coexist.

In our research, published today in Ecology Letters, we studied social behaviours in a wild population of superb fairy-wrens. We found these birds also organise into multilevel societies – a level of complexity once thought to be exclusive to big-brained mammals.

Male superb fairy-wrens are noticeable due to their brilliant blue breeding plumage. Jenna Diehl

Cooperatively breeding birds

Although we have ideas about the advantages of multilevel societies, we know relatively little about how and why they form in the first place.

Of the few species known to live in multilevel societies, there is one characteristic shared among all. That is, they live in stable groups, in environments where food availability is inconsistent and difficult to predict.

This is also true for many cooperatively breeding birds, including the superb fairy-wren – familiar across southeastern Australia’s parks and gardens. They breed in small family groups, with non-breeding helpers assisting a dominant breeding pair. And this social system is common among Australian bird species.

The superb fairy-wren is a well-studied species and is beloved by Australians, even being crowned bird of the year in this year’s Guardian/BirdLife Australia poll.

These birds are notorious for their polyamorous approach to sex, despite being socially monogamous. Breeding pairs form exclusive social bonds, yet each partner will still mate with other individuals.

Our work now reveals this complex arrangement during the breeding season is just the tip of the iceberg.

Associating by choice

We tracked almost 200 birds over two years, by attaching different-coloured leg bands to each individual. We recorded the birds’ social associations and, from our observations, built a complex social network that let us determine the strength of each relationship.

We found that during the autumn and winter months, some breeding groups – (which include the breeding pair, one or more helpers and last summer’s offspring), stably associated with other breeding groups to form supergroups. And this was usually done with individuals they were genetically related with.

In turn, these supergroups associated with other supergroups and breeding groups on a daily basis, forming large communities. In the following spring, these communities split back into the original breeding groups inhabiting well-defined territories – only to join again next winter.

Just like humans, these little birds don’t associate with each other randomly during the long winter months. They have specific individuals and/or groups they choose to be with (but we’re currently not sure how they make this choice).

While it’s not yet clear why superb fairy-wrens form upper social units (supergroups and communities), we suspect this might allow individuals to exploit larger areas during winter, when food is scarce. It would also provide additional safety against predators, such as hawks and kookaburras.

This theory is supported by our literature study, which shows that multilevel societies are likely common among other Australian cooperatively breeding birds, such as the noisy and bell miners and striated thornbills.

Striated thornbills form larger flocks outside of breeding season. Kaspar Delhey

Cooperative breeding is another strategy to deal with harsh condition such as food scarcity. So the conditions that favour cooperative breeding are the same as those that favour multilevel societies.

Multilevel societies in other animals

There are several other species which seem to have a similar social organisation. They include primates such as baboons, and other large mammals that exhibit rich animal cultures, such as killer whales, sperm whales and elephants.

For a long time, researchers thought living in complex societies might be how humans evolved large brains. They also thought this characteristic may be exclusive to mammals with large brains, since keeping track of many different social relationships is not easy (or so the reasoning went).

Consequently, other animals with whom we are less closely related have mostly been excluded from this field of investigation.

The bell miner is endemic to south-eastern Australia. Kaspar Delhey

This might reflect a bias that we, humans, have towards our own species and species which are similar to us.

As it turns, you don’t need to be a mammal with a big brain to evolve complex multilevel societies. Even small-brained birds such as the tiny superb fairy-wren can do this – as well as the vulturine guineafowl a chicken-like bird from northeast Africa.

We strongly suspect quite a few birds will join their ranks in the coming years as more research is done.

Acknowledgement: we would like to thank our colleagues Alexandra McQueen, Kaspar Delhey, Carly Cook, Sjouke Kingma and Damien Farine who are co-authors on this research.The Conversation

Ettore Camerlenghi, PhD student, Monash University and Anne Peters, Professor, Monash University

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

We’ve unveiled the waratah’s genetic secrets, helping preserve this Australian icon for the future

Vrweare/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA
Stephanie Chen, UNSW; Jason Bragg, and Richard Edwards, UNSW

When the smoke cleared after the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20, the bush surrounding the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah was charred. Among the casualties was a NSW waratah, Telopea speciosissima, that had recently become the first of its species to have its genome sequenced. We have published this genome in the journal Molecular Ecology Resources.

The waratah is the official floral emblem of New South Wales, and its spectacular red blooms have been adopted as the logos of state government agencies and sporting teams.

Waratah in flower
Waratahs are a cherished member of Australia’s native flora. Stephanie Chen, Author provided

The genome sequence paves the way for the waratah to serve as a model for understanding how plant populations change over time and adapt to their environments, and particularly how this species bounces back after a bushfire.

Genome sequencing has come a long way in a short time. The first human genome, completed in 2003, cost around US$1 billion and took about 13 years to compile the roughly 3 billion “letters” of our genetic code. Today, sequencing a human genome would cost less than $1,000 and take just a few days.

With rapidly decreasing costs and advancing technology, the genomic era presents the opportunity to decode many plant genomes that we can then use as reference resources. In turn, this will help us understand and conserve Australian fauna for the long term.

What is a genome anyway?

An organism’s genome is the complete set of genetic information it needs to develop, grow and survive. Plants, animals and many other living things are made of DNA, which consists of a string of four chemical “bases”, known as A, C, G and T.

Sequencing a genome involves determining the order of these bases. When we began our project, we knew from previous research the waratah genome would be quite long, at around a billion bases, that it was likely to be arranged into 11 large parcels called chromosomes, and that each plant would have two copies of the genome in each of its cells.

Cracking the waratah code

Generating the waratah reference genome first involved sampling young leaves from a plant growing naturally in the Blue Mountains. We extracted DNA from the leaves, and used three different sequencing technologies to piece together its genetic code. This approach generated many sequences, hundreds or thousands of bases long, which we then needed to assemble to determine the full genome.

Assembling the genome involved a range of different software tools, running on powerful computers. The result was a sequence of slightly less than a billion bases, mostly in 11 large sequences, as expected. The sequences appear to contain around 40,000 genes in total – roughly twice as many as humans have.

Why we sequenced the waratah

Previous sequencing efforts have focused on important crops and on “model organisms” such as Arabidopsis, which is widely studied by researchers and was the first plant to have its genome sequenced, back in 2000. But of course, there are many other types of species in the plant tree of life.

The NSW waratah is one of five waratah species in the genus Telopea, which grows throughout southeastern Australia, and one of around 1,700 species in the family Proteaceae. This family includes other iconic Australian plants such as banksias, grevilleas and macadamias. Yet despite this, very few Proteaceae genomes have so far been sequenced.

A collaborative effort between the Australian Institute of Botanical Science and UNSW Sydney, the waratah genome project was the first completed as part of the Genomics for Australian Plants (GAP) Initiative. A key aim of this initiative is to generate genomes to enable better conservation and understanding of Australia’s unique plant diversity.

Hope for the future

For many Australians, Black Summer embodied the threat posed by climate change to our unique natural heritage. But waratahs evolved with fire, and can regenerate with the help of a modified stem called a lignotuber, from which masses of fresh shoots emerge after a bushfire. It offers a potent symbol of our hope for the future.

Resprouting waratah
The waratah involved in the study has now resprouted after being burned during Black Summer. Royal Botanic Gardens, Author provided

The waratah plant whose genome we sequenced has resprouted after being burned in the Black Summer fires, and has now been propagated at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah and will become part of the garden’s living collection.

A display inspired by this plant and its genome will also feature in the foyer of the new National Herbarium of NSW when it opens at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan next year.

The waratah’s genome sequence will provide a platform for future studies of its evolution and environmental adaption, ultimately informing breeding efforts and helping us better conserve this iconic species. By sequencing its DNA, we can uncover its evolutionary past and pave the way for its survival long into the future.The Conversation

Stephanie Chen, PhD Candidate, UNSW; Jason Bragg, Research Scientist, and Richard Edwards, Senior Lecturer in Genomics and Bioinformatics, UNSW

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

Lost birds and mammals spell doom for some plants: Animal-dispersed plants' ability to keep pace with climate change reduced by 60%

January 13, 2022

In one of the first studies of its kind, researchers have gauged how biodiversity loss of birds and mammals will impact plants' chances of adapting to human-induced climate warming.

More than half of plant species rely on animals to disperse their seeds. In a study featured on the cover of this week's issue of Science, U.S. and Danish researchers showed the ability of animal-dispersed plants to keep pace with climate change has been reduced by 60% due to the loss of mammals and birds that help such plants adapt to environmental change.

Researchers from Rice University, the University of Maryland, Iowa State University and Aarhus University used machine learning and data from thousands of field studies to map the contributions of seed-dispersing birds and mammals worldwide. To understand the severity of the declines, the researchers compared maps of seed dispersal today with maps showing what dispersal would look like without human-caused extinctions or species range restrictions.

"Some plants live hundreds of years, and their only chance to move is during the short period when they're a seed moving across the landscape," said Rice ecologist Evan Fricke, the study's first author.

As climate changes, many plant species must move to a more suitable environment. Plants that rely on seed dispersers can face extinction if there are too few animals to move their seeds far enough to keep pace with changing conditions.

"If there are no animals available to eat their fruits or carry away their nuts, animal-dispersed plants aren't moving very far," he said.

And many plants people rely on, both economically and ecologically, are reliant on seed-dispersing birds and mammals, said Fricke, who conducted the research during a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Maryland's National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) in collaboration with co-authors Alejandro Ordonez and Jens-Christian Svenning of Aarhus and Haldre Rogers of Iowa State.

Fricke said the study is the first to quantify the scale of the seed-dispersal problem globally and to identify the regions most affected. The authors used data synthesized from field studies around the world to train a machine-learning model for seed dispersal, and then used the trained model to estimate the loss of climate-tracking dispersal caused by animal declines.

He said developing estimates of seed-dispersal losses required two significant technical advances.

"First, we needed a way to predict seed-dispersal interactions occurring between plants and animals at any location around the world," Fricke said.

Modelling data on networks of species interactions from over 400 field studies, the researchers found they could use data on plant and animal traits to accurately predict interactions between plants and seed dispersers.

"Second, we needed to model how each plant-animal interaction actually affected seed dispersal," he said. "For example, when an animal eats a fruit, it might destroy the seeds or it might disperse them a few meters away or several kilometres away."

The researchers used data from thousands of studies that addressed how many seeds specific species of birds and mammals disperse, how far they disperse them and how well those seeds germinate.

"In addition to the wake-up call that declines in animal species have vastly limited the ability of plants to adapt to climate change, this study beautifully demonstrates the power of complex analyses applied to huge, publicly available data," said Doug Levey, program director of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Directorate for Biological Sciences, which partially funded the work.

The study showed seed-dispersal losses were especially severe in temperate regions across North America, Europe, South America and Australia. If endangered species go extinct, tropical regions in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia would be most affected.

"We found regions where climate-tracking seed dispersal declined by 95%, even though they'd lost only a few percent of their mammal and bird species," Fricke said.

Fricke said seed-disperser declines highlight an important intersection of the climate and biodiversity crises.

"Biodiversity of seed-dispersing animals is key for the climate resilience of plants, which includes their ability to continue storing carbon and feeding people," he said.

Ecosystem restoration to improve the connectivity of natural habitats can counteract some declines in seed dispersal, Fricke said.

"Large mammals and birds are particularly important as long-distance seed dispersers and have been widely lost from natural ecosystems," said Svenning, the study's senior author, a professor and director at Aarhus University's Center for Biodiversity Dynamics in a Changing World. "The research highlights the need to restore faunas to ensure effective dispersal in the face of rapid climate change."

Fricke said, "When we lose mammals and birds from ecosystems, we don't just lose species. Extinction and habitat loss damage complex ecological networks. This study shows animal declines can disrupt ecological networks in ways that threaten the climate resilience of entire ecosystems that people rely upon."

NSF's Levey said, "Through SESYNC and other NSF investments, we are enabling ecologists to forecast what will happen to plants when their disperser 'teammates' drop out of the picture in the same way we predict outcomes of sports games."

The research was supported by NSF (1639145), the Villum Foundation (16549) and the Aarhus University Research Foundation (AUFF-F-2018-7-8) and is published in Science, January 2022 edition.

Evan C. Fricke, Alejandro Ordonez, Haldre S. Rogers and Jens-Christian Svenning. The effects of defaunation on plants’ capacity to track climate change. Science, 2022 DOI: 10.1126/science.abk3510

Researchers find nonnative species in Oahu play greater role in seed dispersal

January 11, 2022

University of Wyoming researchers headed a study that shows nonnative birds in Oahu, Hawaii, have taken over the role of seed dispersal networks on the island, with most of the seeds coming from nonnative plants.

"Hawaii is one of the most altered ecosystems in the world, and we are lucky enough to examine how these nonnative-dominated communities alter important processes, such as seed dispersal," says Corey Tarwater, an assistant professor in the UW Department of Zoology and Physiology. "What we have found is that not only do nonnative species dominate species interactions, but that these nonnative species play a greater role in shaping the structure and stability of seed dispersal networks than native species. This means that loss of a nonnative species from the community will alter species interactions to a greater extent than loss of a native species."

Tarwater was the anchor author of a paper, titled "Ecological Correlates of Species' Roles in Highly Invaded Seed Dispersal Networks," which was published Jan. 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 

Jeferson Vizentin-Bugoni, a postdoctoral researcher at UW and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory at the time of the research, is the paper's lead author. He performed most analyses and conceptualized and outlined the first version of the manuscript.

Becky Wilcox, of Napa, Calif., a recent UW Ph.D. graduate and now a postdoctoral researcher, and Sam Case, of Eden Prairie, Minn., a UW Ph.D. student in the Program in Ecology as well as in zoology and physiology, worked with Tarwater. The two aided in field data collection, processing all of the footage from the game cameras, and assisted in writing the paper. Patrick Kelley, a UW assistant research scientist in zoology and physiology, and in the Honors College, helped with developing project ideas, data processing and management, and writing the paper.

Other researchers who contributed to the paper are from the University of Hawaii, University of Illinois, Northern Arizona University and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Champaign, Ill.

"This is one of the first studies showing that nonnative species can take over the most important roles in seed dispersal networks. This means that Oahu's ecosystems have been so affected by species extinctions and invasions that most of the seeds dispersed on the island belong to nonnative plants, and most of them are dispersed by nonnative birds," Vizentin-Bugoni says. "This forms what has been called 'ecological meltdown,' which is a process occurring when nonnative mutualistic partners benefit each other and put the system into a vortex of continuous modification."

Seed dispersal by animals and birds is one of the most crucial ecosystem functions. It is linked to plant population dynamics, community structure, biodiversity maintenance and regeneration of degraded ecosystems, according to the paper.

Before Hawaii became the extinction and species invasion capital of the world, its ecological communities were much more diverse. Experts estimate that, in the last 700 years, 77 species and subspecies of birds in the Hawaiian Archipelago have gone extinct, accounting for 15 percent of bird extinctions worldwide.

"The Hawaiian Islands have experienced major changes in flora and fauna and, while the structure of seed dispersal networks before human arrival to the islands is unknown, we know from some of our previous work, recently published in Functional Ecology, that the traits of historic seed dispersers differ from the traits of introduced ones," Case says. "For instance, some of the extinct dispersers were larger and could likely consume a greater range in seed sizes compared to the current assemblage of seed dispersers."

Because of the large number of invasive plants and the absence of large dispersers, the invasive dispersers are incompletely filling the role of extinct native dispersers, and many native plants are not being dispersed, Tarwater says. On the island of Oahu, 11.1 percent of bird species and 46.4 percent of plant species in the networks are native to the island. Ninety-three percent of all seed dispersal events are between introduced species, and no native species interact with each other, the paper says.

"Nonnative birds are a 'double-edged sword' for the ecosystem because, while they are the only dispersers of native plants at the present, most of the seeds dispersed on Oahu belong to nonnative plants," Vizentin-Bugoni says. "Many native plant species have large seeds resulting from coevolution with large birds. Such birds are now extinct, and the seeds cannot be swallowed and, thus, be dispersed by the small-billed passerines now common on Oahu."

Researchers compiled a dataset of 3,438 faecal samples from 24 bird species, and gathered 4,897 days of camera trappings on 58 fruiting species of plants. It was determined that 18 bird species were recorded dispersing plant species.

In contrast to predictions, the traits that influence the role of species in these novel networks are similar to those in native-dominated communities, Tarwater says.

"In particular, niche-based traits, such as degree of frugivory (animals that feed on fruit, nuts and seeds) and lipid content, rather than neutral-based traits, such as abundance, were more important in these nonnative-dominated networks," Tarwater says. "We can then use the niche-based traits of dispersers and plants to predict the roles species may play in networks, which is critical for deciding what species to target for management."

Tarwater adds that the roles of different species in Oahu's seed dispersal networks can be predicted by the species' ecological traits. For example, the research group found that bird species that consume a greater amount of fruit in their diets are more likely to disperse seeds from a greater number of plant species. Likewise, the team found that plants that fruit for extended periods of time have smaller seeds and have fruits rich in lipids, will get dispersed more frequently.

"Land managers can use these ecological traits to identify species that can be removed or added to a system to improve seed dispersal," Tarwater explains. "For example, removal of highly important nonnative plants or the addition of native plants with traits that increase their probability of dispersal, could aid in restoration efforts."

Kelley and Tarwater obtained funding for the project. The research was funded by a U.S. Department of Defense award, UW, University of Hawaii, University of New Hampshire and Northern Arizona University.

"This upcoming year, we will be experimentally removing one nonnative plant species that is incredibly important for network structure and examining how the seed dispersal network changes in response," Tarwater says. "The results of this experiment can inform land managers as to whether removal of a highly invasive plant will improve seed dispersal for the remaining native plants, or whether it does not."

Jeferson Vizentin-Bugoni, Jinelle H. Sperry, J. Patrick Kelley, Jason M. Gleditsch, Jeffrey T. Foster, Donald R. Drake, Amy M. Hruska, Rebecca C. Wilcox, Samuel B. Case, Corey E. Tarwater. Ecological correlates of species’ roles in highly invaded seed dispersal networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021; 118 (4): e2009532118 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2009532118

Regent honeyeaters were once kings of flowering gums. Now they’re on the edge of extinction. What happened?

Rob Heinsohn, Australian National University; Dejan Stojanovic, Australian National University, and Ross Crates, Australian National University

Less than 80 years ago, regent honeyeaters ruled Australia’s flowering gum forests, with huge raucous flocks roaming from Adelaide to Rockhampton.

Now, there are less than 300 birds left in the wild. Habitat loss has pushed the survivors into little pockets across their once vast range.

Sadly, our new research shows these birds are now heading for rapid extinction. Unless we urgently boost conservation efforts, the regent honeyeater will follow the passenger pigeon into oblivion within the next 20 years.

If we let the last few die, the regent honeyeater will be only the second bird extinction on the Australian mainland since European colonisation, following the paradise parrot.

Regent honeyeaters are one of the most endangered birds in Australia. Lachlan Hall.

How did it come to this?

With vivid yellow and black wings, embroidered body and warty faces, these honeyeaters are among Australia’s most spectacular birds.

John Gould, one of Australia’s earliest European naturalists, observed these birds in “immense flocks amongst the brushes of New South Wales”. He described the regent honeyeater as “the most pugnacious bird he ever saw”, noting they “reigned supreme in the largest, most heavily-flowering trees.” Their success in securing nectar supplies made them vital pollinators.

The world Gould saw is sadly a thing of the past. Regent honeyeater populations have plummeted, with the loss of over 90% of their preferred woodland habitats to farmland.

You might wonder how this could be, given there are still large tracts of forest in Australia. But these are invariably on poorer soils and hilltops. Our remaining forests do not yield the rich nectar regent honeyeaters require for breeding.

As their habitat has declined, the surviving regent honeyeaters have been forced to compete with larger species – without the safety of their huge flocks. The result? The once common species no longer reigns supreme.

Gone within 20 years

Unless conservation actions are urgently stepped up, our research shows these birds will be extinct within 20 years.

We’ve known about the decline of regent honeyeaters since the late 1970s. In response, a recovery team including BirdLife Australia and Taronga Conservation Society launched a long-term recovery effort to protect habitat, plant new trees and release zoo-bred birds. These efforts have slowed but not arrested the decline of these birds.

Regent honeyeaters are important pollinators of eucalypts. Liam Murphy.

In 2015, we began a large-scale survey to better understand their population decline. Regent honeyeaters are a notoriously difficult bird to study in the wild. As nomads, they wander long distances throughout their vast range in search of nectar in their favoured tree species. Finding these birds is hard enough, let alone monitoring the population in detail.

After six years of intensive fieldwork, and with data from research in the 1990s and long term bird banding, we have finally gathered enough information to be able to understand the challenges for the few remaining wild birds. We now know their breeding success has declined because their nests are raided and the chicks killed by aggressive native species, with noisy miners a particular problem.

We also know the wild birds are losing their song culture because of a lack of older birds for fledglings to learn their songs.

Our fieldwork has given us accurate estimates of vital breeding data, such as how many young birds fledge for each adult female, how many birds are breeding and how well juveniles are surviving. We combined this with data from the decades of monitoring of zoo-bred and released birds to create population models, which allow us to predict the future for the wild population under different conservation scenarios.

Habitat is king

What do the models show? That time is critical. To have any chance of getting the regent honeyeater back, we must build its numbers up enough for them to be able to roam in large flocks for protection.

How? First, we have to nearly double the nesting success rate for both wild and released zoo-bred birds. Too many young birds are dying early. That means we have to find nesting birds early in the breeding season and protect them from noisy miners, pied currawongs and even possums.

Regent honeyeater nests need protection from predators. Nathan Sherwood

Next, we have to boost the numbers of zoo-bred birds released in the Blue Mountains, and maintain these numbers for at least twenty years. Staff at Taronga Conservation Society are preparing zoo-bred birds for the trials of the wild by exposing them to competition in flight aviaries, song tutoring young males and improving husbandry practices in zoos to increase survival in the wild.

Finally, our models clearly show regent honeyeaters will only become self-sustaining if we do much more to secure their habitat. Their remaining pockets of habitat are simply too small. We must protect all remaining habitat, restore degraded habitat and control noisy miners.

Without habitat, other conservation efforts will be pointless. The honeyeater will simply never reach flock sizes large enough to muscle their way back into the surprisingly competitive business of drinking nectar.

Unfortunately, we continue to destroy essential regent honeyeater habitat in some areas even as we attempt to restore lost habitat elsewhere. For example, if the Warragamba Dam in the Blue Mountains is raised it will flood essential habitat and make it even harder to bring back our iconic honeyeater.

Ongoing destruction of the habitat of regent honeyeaters is likely to lock-in their extinction. Lachlan Hall

The status quo is not enough

For decades, conservationists and researchers have worked to save the regent honeyeater. Despite this tireless work, the species is inching towards the exit. If we maintain the status quo, we will lose it.

We must think bigger. Nest protection and release of zoo-bred birds can help get flock sizes up, but these efforts will be pointless if there are no blossoms for them to drink from.

Like the regent honeyeater, the passenger pigeon sought safety in numbers. We now know its extinction could have been predicted, if modern risk assessments had been available. Those same assessments and models tell us very clearly what will happen to the regent honeyeater.

It is too late for the passenger pigeon. It is not too late to save the regent honeyeater. But only if we act now.

Monique Van Sluys (Taronga Conservation Society) and Dean Ingwersen (Birdlife Australia) contributed to this articleThe Conversation

Rob Heinsohn, Professor of Evolutionary and Conservation Biology, Australian National University; Dejan Stojanovic, Postdoctoral Fellow, Australian National University, and Ross Crates, Postdoctoral fellow, Australian National University

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

Without urgent action, these are the street trees unlikely to survive climate change

Renée M. Prokopavicius, Western Sydney University; David S. Ellsworth, Western Sydney University, and Sebastian Pfautsch, Western Sydney University

Cities across the world are on the front line of climate change, and calls are growing for more urban cooling. Many governments are spending big on new trees in public places – but which species are most likely to thrive in a warmer world?

Numerical targets such as “one million trees” dominate tree-planting programs in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Shanghai, Melbourne and Sydney. But whacking a million trees into the ground won’t necessarily mean greener suburbs in decades to come.

Often, not enough attention is paid to selecting the right trees or providing enough water so they survive a hotter, drier climate in future.

In our recent research, we assessed the effects of extreme heat and drought on urban tree species. Some much-loved tree species, widely planted across our cities, did not handle the conditions well. It shows how important decisions must be made today for urban greening programs to succeed in a warmer world.

City suburb with road and trees
We must pay more attention to ensuring urban trees survive climate change. Shutterstock

A hothouse experiment

Dead tree near tram lines
Intense heat and drought can damage urban trees. David Ellsworth

In January 2020, following several years of drought, Penrith in Western Sydney hit 48.9℃ – the hottest temperature ever recorded in Greater Sydney. Researchers later assessed about 5,500 street trees and found more than 10% displayed canopy damage. Exotic deciduous species fared the worst.

The event showed how simultaneous intense heat and drought can damage urban trees.

Trees cool down in hot temperatures by losing water through microscopic openings in their leaves called stomata. Sufficiently watered trees can often tolerate extreme hot temperatures, while drought-stressed trees may struggle to survive.

Our research involved stress-testing 20 broadleaf evergreen tree species from habitats ranging from tropical rainforests to semi-arid woodlands.

Seedlings were grown in a coordinated glasshouse experiment. After the plants were established and acclimatised, half of them – five plants per species – were exposed to a gradual, five-week drought.

In the final week of water deficit, all plants were exposed to conditions simulating a six-day heatwave.

What we found

The 20 plant species varied widely in their ability to handle these conditions.

Of the plants exposed to both heat and drought, two species suffered modest crown dieback (a decline in health of the canopy) and another four species suffered extensive crown dieback.

Most plants resumed growth after the heatwave but several individual plants died: two swamp banksia (Banksia robur) and one crimson bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus).

Species with dense wood and small, thick, dense leaves use water efficiently and are drought-tolerant. The species which fared best in our study included orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata), inland rosewood (Alectryon oleifolius) and Australian teak (Flindersia australis).

Even when plant species had access to water, their tolerance of heat stress varied widely. Swamp banksia (Banksia robur) and powderpuff lilly pilly (Syzygium wilsonii) suffered extensive crown dieback even with access to water. This shows warmer heatwaves may threaten urban trees in both wet and dry years.

While some species may fare well in heat and drought, they may not necessarily be the best choice for cooling our cities. Many drought-tolerant species such as leopardwood (Flindersia maculosa) grow slowly and have sparse foliage that provides little shade or cooling. But these species could be planted in sunny, dry areas to create habitat and improve biodiversity.

So what about trees like the weeping fig (Ficus microcarpa) and London plane tree (Platanus x acerifolia), which are widely planted in Sydney, Melbourne and other Australian cities?

These trees are at greater risk during heat and drought, because they have soft, low-density wood and thin, large leaves that are vulnerable to heat. But they grow quickly and form extensive canopies that help cool urban areas.

So these trees should be planted where water is available, either from rain or through active management such as irrigation.

Microscope image of leaf
Microscopic image of leaf damaged by heat in the glasshouse study. Agnieszka Wujeska-Klause

Looking ahead to a hot future

Our research highlights how access to water is crucial for the survival of urban trees during hotter and drier summers.

That means urban greening programs must also incorporate elements of so-called “blue” infrastructure – retaining water in urban landscapes via engineered solutions and making it available for plant uptake. Such infrastructure comes together under the umbrella of “water sensitive urban design”.

Examples include passive irrigation (where trees draw water from storage pits containing stormwater) or raingardens – garden beds that filter stormwater runoff. Planting young trees in locations where such design is applied will improve their odds of survival.

Such methods offer multiple benefits: increasing the health of trees, helping prevent flooding during storms and reducing the need for additional irrigation from local water supplies.

Across the world, extreme heat in cities will affect citizens, infrastructure and natural environments. Effective planning for urban trees is needed now to strike the right balance between trees that cool our cities and those that will survive increasingly harsh conditions.The Conversation

Renée M. Prokopavicius, Postdoctoral Researcher in Plant Ecophysiology, Western Sydney University; David S. Ellsworth, Professor, Western Sydney University, and Sebastian Pfautsch, Research Theme Fellow - Environment and Sustainability, Western Sydney University

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

Weakening Australia’s illegal logging laws would undermine the global push to halt forest loss

Suzanne Plunkett/AP
Margaret Young, The University of Melbourne and Catherine E. Gascoigne, University of Sydney

One success from this year’s United Nations climate conference in Glasgow was an agreement to halt forest loss by 2030. The Morrison government signed the agreement, and this commitment is now being put to the test as it reviews Australia’s rules on illegal logging imports.

Australia’s Illegal Logging Prohibition Act and associated regulations are up for periodic review. The rules were designed to ensure timber produced overseas and imported to Australia was not logged illegally. Some changes under discussion would water down the rules by reducing the regulatory burden on businesses.

According to Interpol, the illegal timber industry is worth almost US$152 billion a year. In some countries, it also accounts for up to 90% of tropical deforestation, which is a major driver of climate change. Illegal logging and associated tax fraud has other devastating environmental, social and economic harms.

Australia would be acting inconsistently with the Glasgow agreement if it weakened illegal logging laws. Any loosening of the rules could also threaten the confidence of Australian consumers that the timber they’re buying is legally harvested.

logged hill in front of green landscape
Australia would be acting inconsistently with the Glasgow agreement if it weakened illegal logging laws. Barbara Walton

Due diligence matters

Under the deal inked at COP26, 141 countries agreed to a range of measures to end deforestation this decade, including to:

facilitate trade and development policies, internationally and domestically, that promote sustainable development, and sustainable commodity production and consumption, that work to countries’ mutual benefit, and that do not drive deforestation and land degradation.

As it currently stands, Australian law regulating timber imports supports this goal. It prohibits a person from importing or processing timber harvested in a way that contravenes the laws of the jurisdiction from which it was harvested.

People in Australia importing and processing timber are required to conduct due diligence to ensure imported timber was legally logged. Failure to do so can result in criminal or civil penalties.

Due diligence requires a business to gather information about the timber product being imported and assess and mitigate the risk it was logged illegally.

Similar laws exist in other jurisdictions, including the United States, the European Union, South Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The restrictions are consistent with established principles of international trade law, which recognise as necessary some trade restrictions to conserve exhaustible natural resources or protect human, animal or plant life.

timber frame of home
Australian timber importers must ensure the product was legally logged. MARIA ZSOLDOS/AAP

A push for ‘efficiency’

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is currently conducting a scheduled ten-year review of the Illegal Logging Prohibition Regulation 2012.

The department’s consultation paper asks, among other things, how the regulation’s efficiency could be enhanced. The proposed changes could include, among other things:

  • removing the requirement to establish a due diligence system, for those who import and process foreign timber infrequently. The department says establishing the system may be “unnecessarily burdensome”, however these importers would still be required to undertake a risk assessment.

  • reducing requirements and allowing exemptions for low-volume and low-value importers and processors.

  • reducing due diligence requirements for repeated imports. So, for example, if timber products were from the same supplier, made from the same timber species and harvested from the same area, only one due diligence assessment would be required in a year. However, importers may be required to check no pertinent elements of the supply chain have changed ahead of each repeat import.

  • removing the requirement for companies to undertake due diligence on timber imports if they instead use third-party frameworks, such as that established by the Forest Stewardship Council, to assess risks associated with a regulated timber product. This would be known as a “deemed to comply” arrangement.

The department has proposed measures to compensate for the loosening of some rules, including stronger requirements for frequent importers and processors of foreign timber, and third-party auditing of due diligence systems.

It also says risks would need careful management, including ensuring claims relating to timber species and harvest origins were underpinned by authentic documentation.

people carry timber at port
Claims relating to timber species and harvest origins should come with authentic documentation, the department says. Bagus Indahono/AP

We must stay vigilant

As the department prepares its final recommendations to the federal government, it must factor in the need for increased vigilance of global logging practices. This need was clearly recognised by nations signatory to the COP26 deforestation deal.

What’s more, overseas experience has shown some mooted changes have the potential to be problematic.

Indeed, in foreign timber markets, “deemed to comply” arrangements have been exposed as vulnerable to fraud. The European Union, for example, has pointed to misuse of certification and questions around transparency.

Australia has a way to go if it wants to satisfy the COP26 agreement to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation – not least by tightening domestic policy on deforestation within our borders.

It could also embrace efforts to address the other major driver of deforestation - agricultural expansion - through the joint statement on forests, agriculture and commodity trade which other countries progressed at Glasgow.

But it must also ensure foreign timber entering Australia is not the product of illegal logging. While due diligence requirements may present a regulatory burden for some operators, this must be weighed against the pressing global imperative to halt forest loss.The Conversation

Margaret Young, Professor, The University of Melbourne and Catherine E. Gascoigne, Research Affiliate, University of Sydney

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

Sydney’s dams may be almost full – but don’t relax, because drought will come again

Ian Wright, Western Sydney University

Dams serving capital cities such as Canberra, Hobart and Sydney are near full after two years of widespread rainfall. But these wet conditions won’t last.

Under climate change, droughts in Australia will become more frequent and severe. Our drinking water supplies, and water crucial for irrigation and the environment, will dwindle again.

Sydney, Australia’s most populous city, is among those that must prepare for the next drought. The NSW government is developing the Greater Sydney Water Strategy, to guide water management in coming decades.

Among the plan’s more contentious proposals are increased use of Sydney’s existing desalination plant and expanding the use of recycled water (highly treated sewage), including for drinking water. So let’s examine whether such measures are enough to secure Sydney’s water future.

water spills from dam
Water has been spilling from Warragamba Dam, but dry conditions will eventually return. WaterNSW

A city of water scarcity

During the most recent drought from 2017 to 2020, Sydney’s water storage levels dropped by 50% of full dam capacity in two years – a much faster depletion than in previous droughts.

Inflows into Sydney’s dams have dropped over the past 30 years. From 1991 to 2020, inflows averaged 770 million litres a year – 45% less than the long-term average.

The news isn’t all bad. Sydney used less water in 2019-20 than it did in 1990, despite its population growing from 3.8 million to 5.4 million.

But as the Greater Sydney Water Strategy states, increasing climate variability means that, without action, the city could face a shortage of drinking water as periods of severe drought become longer and more frequent.

delighted boy holds hose
Sydney must prepare for a drier future. Brendan Esposito/AAP

Desalination for the nation?

The strategy raises the prospect of increased use of Sydney’s existing desalination plant, and building a second plant in the Illawarra region south of Sydney.

Desalination removes salt from sea water to create drinking water. The Millenium drought – from the late 1990s until 2010 – prompted several major Australian cities, including Sydney, to build desalination plants.

The technology can revolutionise water supply. For example, in 2020-21, Perth’s two desalination plants supplied 47% of the city’s water. But desalination plants can also face limitations and challenges.

The plants are expensive to build and to operate – and can sit idle for years, as the Kurnell plant did between 2012 and 2019. This can make them politically unpopular and see them criticised as “white elephants”.

Even at full production, the Kurnell plant produces only 15% of Sydney’s daily demand. And while an additional plant in the Illawarra will extend desalinated supply to more households, the technology can’t supply water to all parts of Sydney due to the city’s complex distribution infrastructure.

As I discuss below, expanded use of recycled water is a better option for Sydney than more desalination.

Ocean wave with land in background
Desalination removes salt from seawater. Nick Bothma/EPA

Can we stomach recycled water?

Many Australian cities, including Sydney, already use recycled water – sewage that has been heavily treated – in applications such as watering golf courses and parks, flushing toilets and fighting fires.

The draft plan raises the prospect of also adding recycled water to drinking supplies, which has long been a vexed issue in Australia. Some people oppose it on health grounds, while others just can’t get over the “yuck” factor.

The concept of recycled water has a lot going for it. For example, analysis suggests it would be far cheaper and use much less energy than desalination.

Making better use of recycled water would also reduce the environmental impact of disposing of wastewater in rivers and oceans. And the potential supply of recycled water will only increase as populations grow.

Finally, good recycled water projects are used continuously, not just at times of water stress. The Rouse Hill recycled water scheme in Sydney, which supplies 32,000 properties for non-drinking water uses, is a great model.

The draft plan says recycled water would not be added to drinking supplies without public support, but past history suggests this may be hard to achieve. In 2006, for example, Toowoomba residents rejected a plan to drink recycled water, despite the town facing a grave water shortage.

However, as urban water supplies become ever more scarce, Australians may have to get used to the idea of drinking recycled water – and authorities will have to find new and better ways of selling the concept to the public.

The Sydney water plan recognises this. It emphasises the need for public consultation, and raises the prospect of investing in a recycled water demonstration plant to “highlight the safety of demonstrated and proven technology”.

man leans towards water in front of Sydney Harbour Bridge
Better use of recycled water would reduce wastewater flows to Sydney’s beaches and rivers. CSIRO

A major omission

The plan shows how Sydney’s growing population could sustainably adapt to to a drier future. But it ignores one important measure for reducing water use - charging customers a penalty for excessive water use.

Under the measure, also known as an “inclining block tariff”, the rate per unit of water increases as the volume of consumption increases.

Research has shown water pricing can be an effective way to manage water scarcity, as well as helping water utilities recover the costs of their services. Australian cities such as Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane apply inclining block tariffs to water, but Sydney does not.

Sydney Water’s price regulator, IPART, has argued against charging high water users more, saying it would provide less incentive for smaller households to conserve water and impose unfair costs on larger households.

Granted, water pricing is a complex issue and may require protections for lower-income users and the environment.

But under worsening climate change, our major cities cannot eschew any opportunity to ease pressure on water supplies.The Conversation

Ian Wright, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science, Western Sydney University

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

Experience the spectacular sounds of a Murrumbidgee wetland erupting with life as water returns

Authors provided, CC BY-SA
Mitchell Whitelaw, Australian National University and Skye Wassens, Charles Sturt University

In the southwestern corner of New South Wales, along the Murrumbidgee river, frogs are calling in a wetland called Nap Nap. This is Nari Nari country – nap nap means “very swampy” in traditional language.

Nap Nap is one of many inland wetlands across Australia to receive so-called “environmental water”: water allocated and managed to improve the health of rivers, wetlands and floodplains.

Long-term monitoring shows how these environmental flows sustain big old trees and cycle nutrients through the ecosystem. They drive breeding for frogs, waterbirds, reptiles and fish, and protect endangered species. This is a good news story for our inland waterways – but it’s mostly told through scientific reports.

We wanted to use ecological data to convey not just facts but feelings, and create a vivid digital portrait of life in Nap Nap. So we recently produced The Sound of Water, using audio, images and water data to reveal the patterns and rhythms of the swamp.

In part, this is about finding an engaging way to tell an important story. But there’s a bigger agenda here too: how might we use environmental data to amplify humanity’s attachment to the living world?

A view of a forest wetland, with water surrounded by tall gum trees
Nap Nap wetland, the name of which means ‘very swampy’ in traditional language. Gayleen Bourke

Addressing an imbalance

Healthy wetlands rely on varying river flows. When a river is flooding or at high flow, water is delivered to wetlands, enabling seeds to sprout and animals to move and breed. When the river is at low flow, wetlands enter a natural drying phase.

But across Australia, thousands of wetlands have lost their natural connection to rivers. Lower river flows – the result of water regulation and diversions required to meet human needs – means many wetlands no longer experience these natural cycles.

Environmental flows seek to address this imbalance. Managed by water authorities, the flows involve strategically delivering water to replenish rivers, wetlands and floodplains.

Our project – a design-science collaboration – was funded by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office’s Flow-MER program, which undertakes long-term monitoring of the ecological impact of environmental water allocations.

The Sound of Water

Across nine days in spring of 2020, an environmental flow of about 16,000 million litres rolled into Nap Nap swamp in the Lowbidgee floodplain after a brief dry spell. The Lowbidgee floodplain is near the confluence of the Kalari (Lachlan) and Murrumbidgee rivers in New South Wales.

The frogs began calling as the water returned. But don’t take our word for it - listen for yourself:

Frog chorus, Nap Nap Swamp, 7 September 2020, 7pm. CC BY1.5 MB (download)

In this clip, you can hear the squelchy, “cree-cree” call of tiny, hardy Murray Valley froglets. You can also hear inland banjo frogs, whose “dok” call sounds a bit like a plucked string; spotted marsh frogs with a machine-gun like “duk-duk-duk”; and the shrill, rattling call of Peron’s tree frog.

This recording comes from an audio logger used in Flow-MER’s environmental monitoring. These automatic devices record for five minutes every hour, day and night – that’s two hours of sound captured every day.

A small light grey frog on a tree branch calling, with its throat puffed out
The Peron’s tree frog has a shrill, rattling call. Damian Michael

Seeing wetland sounds

To reveal the content of all this audio, we used a visual representation of sound known as a spectrogram. We adapted a technique developed by researchers at the Queensland University of Technology which enables ecologists to visualise and analyse thousands of hours of recordings.

We visualised almost a year’s worth of audio from Nap Nap – more than 700 hours.

The below image contains spectrograms of audio from June 2020, which was a dry period in the swamp. The colourful central band corresponds to the noisy daylight hours, when woodland birds dominate.

The vivid blue areas are wind and rain noise. The pink and orange are mostly bird calls, and continuous sounds like cricket calls show up as strong horizontal bands (top right).

The mostly dark outer bands correspond to the nights, which in dry periods are fairly quiet.

Spectrograms of audio showing the patterns and variation of activity across 10 days
Spectrograms of Nap Nap audio from June 2020. Each row shows a single day, made up of 24 hourly segments. Authors provided

But as the environmental water flow reached Nap Nap, the night lit up with frog calls. Our story focuses on this moment. We found a way to link the visuals to the source audio, creating interactive timelines in which we can see, hear and explore the wetland soundscape.

The stars of our story are Nap Nap’s frogs, and our most important find was a southern bell frog. Once widespread across southeastern Australia, these frogs are now found in only a few isolated populations.

Their distinctive call indicates the ecological health of Nap Nap, and the value of these environmental flows. Here you can listen to its deep, growling call, which appears as a sequence of pink and purple blobs along the bottom of the spectrogram.

Spectrogram of a southern bell frog calling at Nap Nap (3 September 2020, 8pm). Image: Gayleen Bourke.

A data portrait of a living place

Our design uses a scroll-based interaction technique sometimes termed “scrollytelling”. It works because it’s familiar (everyone can scroll) and translates well to all kinds of devices. It lets us lead the audience step by step into the place, the data and the spectrograms, while still encouraging exploration.

The Sound of Water builds on established techniques to create something new. It shows how design and science can unite to tell environmental stories in a richer way – with both facts and feelings. This matters because Nap Nap, and thousands of places like it, need people to care about their protection.

To explore the full version of The Sound of Water, click here.The Conversation

Mitchell Whitelaw, Professor of Design, School of Art and Design, Australian National University and Skye Wassens, Associate Professor in Ecology, Charles Sturt University

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

Fire management in Australia has reached a crossroads and ‘business as usual’ won’t cut it

Darren England/AAP
Rachael Helene Nolan, Western Sydney University; Grant Williamson, University of Tasmania; Katharine Haynes, University of Wollongong, and Mark Ooi, UNSW

The current wet conditions delivered by La Niña may have caused widespread flooding, but they’ve also provided a reprieve from the threat of bushfires in southeastern Australia. This is an ideal time to consider how we prepare for the next bushfire season.

Dry conditions will eventually return, as will fire. So, two years on from the catastrophic Black Summer fires, is Australia better equipped for a future of extreme fire seasons?

In our recent synthesis on the Black Summer fires, we argue climate change is exceeding the capacity of our ecological and social systems to adapt. The paper is based on a series of reports we, and other experts from the NSW Bushfire Risk Management Research Hub, were commissioned to produce for the NSW government’s bushfire inquiry.

Fire management in Australia has reached a crossroads, and “business as usual” won’t cut it. In this era of mega-fires, diverse strategies are urgently needed so we can safely live with fire.

firefighter holds head while lying down
In the age of mega fires, new strategies are needed. David Mariuz

Does prescribed burning work?

Various government inquiries following the Black Summer fires of 2019-20 produced wide-ranging recommendations for how to prepare and respond to bushfires. Similar inquiries have been held since 1939 after previous bushfires.

Typically, these inquiries led to major changes to policy and funding. But almost universally, this was followed by a gradual complacency and failure to put policies into practice.

If any fire season can provide the catalyst for sustained changes to fire management, it is Black Summer. So, what have we learnt from that disaster and are we now better prepared?

To answer the first question, we turn to our analyses for the NSW Bushfire Inquiry.

Following the Black Summer fires, debate emerged about whether hazard reduction burning by fire authorities ahead of the fire season had been sufficient, or whether excessive “fuel loads” – such as dead leaves, bark and shrubs – had been allowed to accumulate.

We found no evidence the fires were driven by above-average fuel loads stemming from a lack of planned burning. In fact, hazard reduction burns conducted in the years leading up to the Black Summer fires effectively reduced the probability of high severity fire, and reduced the number of houses destroyed by fire.

remains of homes destroyed by fire
Prescribed burning reduced the numbers of homes affected by fire. James Gourley/AAP

Instead, we found the fires were primarily driven by record-breaking fuel dryness and extreme weather conditions. These conditions were due to natural climate variability, but made worse by climate change. Most fires were sparked by lightning, and very few were thought to be the result of arson.

These extreme weather conditions meant the effectiveness of prescribed burns was reduced – particularly when an area had not burned for more than five years.

All this means that hazard reduction burning in NSW is generally effective, however in the face of worsening climate change new policy responses are needed.

Diverse and unexpected impacts

As the Black Summer fires raged, loss of life and property most commonly occurred in regional areas while metropolitan areas were heavily affected by smoke. Smoke exposure from the disaster led to an estimated 429 deaths.

Socially disadvantaged and Indigenous populations were disproportionately affected by the fires, including by loss of income, homes and infrastructure, as well as emotional trauma. Our analyses found 38% of fire-affected areas were among the most disadvantaged, while just 10% were among the least disadvantaged.

We also found some areas with relatively large Indigenous populations were fire-affected. For example, four fire-affected areas had Indigenous populations greater than 20% including the Grafton, Eurobodalla Hinterland, Armidale and Kempsey regions.

Two maps illustrating (a) the index of relative social disadvantage, and (b) the proportion of affected population that was Indigenous (2016 Census)
Demographic characteristics of fire-affected communities in NSW. https://doi.org/10.3390/fire4040097

The Black Summer fires burnt an unprecedentedly large area – half of all wet sclerophyll forests and over a third of rainforest vegetation types in NSW.

Importantly, for 257 plant species, the historical intervals between fires across their range were likely too short to allow effective regeneration. Similarly, many vegetation communities were left vulnerable to too-frequent fire, which may result in biodiversity decline, particularly as the climate changes.

green shoot sprouting from burnt trunk
Not all plant species can regenerate after too-frequent fire. Darren England/AAP

Looking to the future

So following Black Summer, how do we ensure Australia is better equipped for a future of extreme fire seasons?

As a first step, we must act on both the knowledge gained from government inquiries into the disaster, and the recommendations handed down. Importantly, long-term funding commitments are required to support bushfire management, research and innovation.

Governments have already increased investment in fire-suppression resources such as water-bombing aircraft. There’s also been increased investment in fire management such as improving fire trails and employing additional hazard reduction crews, as well as new allocations for research funding.

But alongside this, we also need investment in community-led solutions and involvement in bushfire planning and operations. This includes strong engagement between fire authorities and residents in developing strategies for hazard reduction burning, and providing greater support for people to manage fuels on private land. Support should also be available to people who decide to relocate away from high bushfire risk areas.

The Black Summer fires led to significant interest in a revival of Indigenous cultural burning – a practice that brings multiple benefits to people and environment. However, non-Indigenous land managers should not treat cultural burning as simply another hazard reduction technique, but part of a broader practice of Aboriginal-led cultural land management.

three figures in smoke-filled forest
Indigenous burning is part of a broader practice of Aboriginal-led land management. Josh Whittaker

This requires structural and procedural changes in non-Indigenous land management, as well as secure, adequate and ongoing funding opportunities. Greater engagement and partnership with Aboriginal communities at all levels of fire and land management is also needed.

Under climate change, living with fire will require a multitude of new solutions and approaches. If we want to be prepared for the next major fire season, we must keep planning and investing in fire management and research – even during wet years such as this one.

Ross Bradstock, Owen Price, David Bowman, Vanessa Cavanagh, David Keith, Matthias Boer, Hamish Clarke, Trent Penman, Josh Whittaker and many others contributed to the research upon which this article is based.The Conversation

Rachael Helene Nolan, Senior research fellow, Western Sydney University; Grant Williamson, Research Fellow in Environmental Science, University of Tasmania; Katharine Haynes, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Wollongong, and Mark Ooi, Senior Research Fellow, UNSW

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

Surprisingly few animals die in wildfires – and that means we can help more in the aftermath

Getty Images
Chris J Jolly, Charles Sturt University and Dale Nimmo, Charles Sturt University

The estimate that one billion animals were killed by Australia’s 2019-20 Black Summer fires drew international attention to the fate of wildlife during fire.

This estimate assumed all animals in the fire’s path were killed by the flames, or in the immediate aftermath due to injury, predation, dehydration or starvation.

However, our new research, published today in Global Change Biology, suggests that, on average, the vast majority of animals (more than 90%) actually survive the immediate passage of a typical fire. But there are precious few studies of animal survival through catastrophic fires, such as those observed during Australia’s Black Summer.

We urgently need data on how animals cope with megafires, given these are expected to increase in a warming world.

How do we know how many animals are killed by fire?

How do researchers actually know the fate of wildlife exposed to fire? The most reliable way is to track animals wearing radio or GPS collars.

As fire passes through a landscape, animals in its path unable to flee or find shelter often die from the the flames, radiant heat, or smoke. By tracking these individuals, as well as those that survived, we can calculate the proportion of animals that live and die during fire.

This agile wallaby could not escape the flames during a hot fire in northern Australia. Dr Chris Jolly, Author provided

We systematically reviewed all studies tracking animal survival during fires from around the world. The 31 studies we found came largely from Australia and North America. The fires included planned burns, as well as opportunistic studies where an unexpected wildfire passed through an existing animal tracking programme.

Studies mostly tracked mammals and reptiles, though some included birds and amphibians. Animals studied ranged from tiny red-backed fairywrens weighing only 8 grams through to African bush elephants, the world’s largest terrestrial vertebrate at up to 4.4 tonnes.

So what did we find? The most remarkable finding is that almost two-thirds of studies (65%) found zero animal deaths directly caused by the fires. It turns out animals are surprisingly good at avoiding oncoming fire. Some animals may have evolved these tricks over time.

For instance, all mountain brushtail possums tracked through Victoria’s intense 2009 Black Saturday fires survived.

It’s important to note the 31 studies often tracked only a handful of animals (half tracked less than ten individuals), with a wide variation in death rates. In one study, for instance, up to 40% of rattlesnakes were killed. However, this study only tracked five snakes, two of which perished in the fire.

When we aggregated the studies we found something interesting. On average, fires killed just 3% of tracked animals. This figure rose to 7% for studies tracking animal survival through high severity fires.

Not all fires are the same, and some animals are good at surviving one kind of fire, but succumb to other fires. Take frill-necked lizards, who typically shelter in the tree canopy during fires in northern Australia. When they employed this tactic during cool, early dry season fires, all tracked lizards survived.

When more severe fires occurred later in the dry season, a quarter of the lizards were killed. Many that remained in place were killed by flames that scorched the canopy. Those savvy enough to shelter in termite mounds survived.

Frilled-neck lizard and a grass fire
Frilled-necked lizards (top) tend to survive early dry season burns (right) but suffer higher mortality rates during more intense late dry season burns (left). Clockwise from top-left: Dr Chris Jolly (CSU), Dr Rohan Fisher (CDU), A/Prof Samantha Setterfield (UWA)., Author provided

The silver lining: All is not lost after fire

When you read a headline about the number of animals killed in fires, it can be easy to despair.

That’s why we believe our research is good news. Why? Because it means there may be a narrow window of opportunity after fires to have a real impact, by helping animals survive the challenging post-fire period.

You might remember stories of helicopters dropping sweet potatoes and carrots to starving rock wallabies immediately following the Black Summer fires.

Our research suggests this is exactly the time to act to help as much wildlife as possible.

That’s because the post-fire landscape is exceptionally challenging for surviving wildlife. For months afterwards, home has turned hostile for animals.

It’s very hard to find shelter, with food and water also scarce. Predators roam, looking for easy pickings.

So what can be done? Efforts to reduce these dangers are key, such as supplementing food and water, and even dropping in temporary shelter options. Controlling foxes and cats might also help.

Taken together, this package could help save threatened species after wildfire – even from high-severity megafires. But these interventions need to be monitored to assess their effectiveness.

Can animals cope with megafires?

At present, we know next to nothing about animal death rates during catastrophic fire events like the megafires raging over the Black Summer.

Although animals might survive typical fire, there are increasing instances of fires around the world that display extreme behaviour. For instance, the numerous fire storms that occurred during the Black Summer probably left a narrow pathway to survival for many species.

We simply lack the data to provide justifiable estimates of how many animals are killed across such vast areas during such extreme fires.

As climate change intensifies, megafires are likely to become more common. Even if populations are resilient to individual megafires, their cumulative impacts may gradually erode that resilience. We also need to consider the major impact fires can have on habitat, which can last for decades or centuries.

We will urgently need to find ways of helping wildlife before and after these fires.The Conversation

Chris J Jolly, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Charles Sturt University and Dale Nimmo, Associate Professor in Ecology, Charles Sturt University

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

This WA town just topped 50℃ – a dangerous temperature many Australians will have to get used to

Andrew King, The University of Melbourne

While Australians are used to summer heat, most of us only have to endure the occasional day over 40℃.

Yesterday though, the temperature peaked at 50.7℃ in Onslow, a small Western Australian town around 100km from Exmouth.

Remarkably, the town sits right next to the ocean, which usually provides cooling. By contrast, the infamously hot WA town of Marble Bar has only reached 49.6℃ this summer, despite its inland location.

If confirmed, the Onslow temperature would equal Australia’s hottest on record set in Oodnadatta, South Australia, in January 1960. It would also mark only the fourth day over 50℃ for an Australian location since reliable observations began.

Unfortunately, this extreme heat is becoming more common as the world heats up. The number of days over 50℃ has doubled since the 1980s. These dangerous temperatures are now being recorded more often – not just in Australia but in cities in Pakistan, India and the Persian Gulf. This poses real threats to the health of people enduring them.

Where did the heat come from?

Hitting such extreme temperatures requires heat to build up over several days.

Onslow’s temperatures had been close to average since a couple of heatwaves struck the Pilbara in the second half of December. So where did this unusual heat come from?

This weather chart from 13th January 2022 illustrates the conditions just half an hour before the record-equalling 50.7℃ was recorded. The blue dashed line marks the trough which meets the coast close to Onslow and helped bring in the hot air. Bureau of Meteorology

In short, from the bakingly hot desert. South to south-easterly winds blew very hot air from the interior of the state up to Onslow. The wind came from an area that has had little to no rainfall since November, so the very hot air was also extremely dry.

Dry air kept the sun beating at full intensity by preventing any cloud cover or storm formation. The result? The temperature rose and rose through the morning and early afternoon, and the temperature spiked at over 50℃ just before 2.30pm local time.

Aren’t we in a cooler La Niña period?

Australia’s weather is strongly linked to conditions in the Pacific Ocean. At the moment we’re in a La Niña event where we have cooler than normal ocean temperatures near the equator in the central and east Pacific.

La Niña is typically associated with cooler, wetter conditions. But its effects on Australian weather are strongest in spring, when we had unusually wet and cool conditions over the east of the continent.

During summer the relationship between La Niña and Australian weather usually weakens, with its strongest impacts normally confined to the northeast of the continent.

During La Niña we typically see fewer and less intense heatwaves across much of eastern Australia, but the intensity of heat extremes in Western Australia is not very different between La Niña and El Niño.

The pattern of extreme heat in Western Australia and flooding in parts of Queensland is fairly typical of a La Niña summer, although temperatures over 50℃ are extremely rare.

men pump water from flooded street
Recent flooding in Queensland is also typical of La Nina summers. RAPID RELIEF TEAM

Climate change is cranking up the heat

Should these temperatures be a surprise? Sadly, no. Australia has warmed by around 1.4℃ since 1910, well ahead of the global average of 1.1℃.

In northern Australia, summer-average temperatures have not risen as much as other parts of the country, because summers in the Top End have also got wetter. That’s in line with climate change models.

When the conditions are right in the Pilbara, however, heat is significantly more extreme than it used to be. Heat events in the region have become more frequent, more intense, and longer-lasting, just as in most other regions.

Most of us have chosen not to live in Australia’s hottest areas. So you might think you don’t need to worry about 50℃ heatwaves. But as the climate continues to warm, heatwave conditions are expected to become much more common and extreme across the continent.

In urban areas, roads and concrete soak up the sun’s heat, raising maximum temperatures by several degrees and making for dangerous conditions.

Even if we keep global warming below 2℃ in line with the Paris Agreement, we can still expect to see our first 50℃ days in Sydney and Melbourne in coming years. In January 2020 the Western Sydney suburb of Penrith came very close, reaching 48.9℃.

man holds child in front of cooling mist machine
Sydney and Melbourne will experience 50℃ days in coming years. Joe Castro/AAP

As you know, it’s going to be very hard to achieve even keeping global warming below 2℃, given the need to urgently slash greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade.

As it stands, the world’s actions on emission reduction suggest we are actually on track for around 2.7℃ of warming, which would see devastating consequences for life on Earth.

We already know what we need to do to prevent this frightening future. The stronger the action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally – including by major carbon emitting countries such as Australia – the less the world will warm and the less Australian heat extremes will intensify. That’s because the relationships between greenhouse gas emissions, global temperatures and Australian heat extremes are roughly linear.

You may think Australians are good at surviving the heat. But the climate you were born in doesn’t exist any more. Sadly, our farms, wildlife, and suburbs will struggle to cope with the extreme heat projected for coming decades.

Let’s work to make this 50℃ record an outlier – and not the new normal.The Conversation

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

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

Ocean heat is at record levels, with major consequences

A tropical storm’s rain overwhelmed a dam in Thailand and caused widespread flooding in late September. It was just one of 2021’s disasters. Chaiwat Subprasom/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Kevin Trenberth, University of Auckland

The world witnessed record-breaking climate and weather disasters in 2021, from destructive flash floods that swept through mountain towns in Europe and inundated subway systems in China and the U.S., to heat waves and wildfires. Typhoon Rai killed over 400 people in the Philippines; Hurricane Ida caused an estimated US$74 billion in damage in the U.S.

Globally, it was the sixth hottest year on record for surface temperatures, according to data released by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in their annual global climate report on Jan. 13, 2022. But under the surface, ocean temperatures set new heat records in 2021.

As climate scientist Kevin Trenberth explains, while the temperature at Earth’s surface is what people experience day to day, the temperature in the upper part of the ocean is a better indicator of how excess heat is accumulating on the planet.

The Conversation spoke with Trenberth, coauthor of a study published on Jan. 11, 2022, by 23 researchers at 14 institutes that tracked warming in the world’s oceans.

Hurricane Ida making landfall on the Louisana coast
Hurricane Ida did $74 billion in damage from Louisiana to the northeastern U.S. in 2021. RAMMB/CIRA/Colorado State University

Your latest research shows ocean heat is at record highs. What does that tell us about global warming?

The world’s oceans are hotter than ever recorded, and their heat has increased each decade since the 1960s. This relentless increase is a primary indicator of human-induced climate change.

As oceans warm, their heat supercharges weather systems, creating more powerful storms and hurricanes, and more intense rainfall. That threatens human lives and livelihoods as well as marine life.

The oceans take up about 93% of the extra energy trapped by the increasing greenhouse gases from human activities, particularly burning fossil fuels. Because water holds more heat than land does and the volumes involved are immense, the upper oceans are a primary memory of global warming. I explain this in more detail in my new book “The Changing Flow of Energy Through the Climate System.”

Ocean heat content in the upper 2,000 meters of the world’s oceans since 1958, relative to the 1981-2010 average. The units are zettajoules. Lijing Cheng

Our study provided the first analysis of 2021’s ocean warming, and we were able to attribute the warming to human activities. Global warming is alive and well, unfortunately.

The global mean surface temperature was the fifth or sixth warmest on record in 2021 (the record depends on the dataset used), in part, because of the year-long La Niña conditions, in which cool conditions in the tropical Pacific influence weather patterns around the world.

There is a lot more natural variability in surface air temperatures than in ocean temperatures because of El Niño/La Niña and weather events. That natural variability on top of a warming ocean creates hot spots, sometimes called “marine heat waves,” that vary from year to year. Those hot spots have profound influences on marine life, from tiny plankton to fish, marine mammals and birds. Other hot spots are responsible for more activity in the atmosphere, such as hurricanes.

While surface temperatures are both a consequence and a cause, the main source of the phenomena causing extremes relates to ocean heat that energizes weather systems.

Scientists are concerned about the stability of Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier, which holds back large amounts of land ice. NASA

We found that all oceans are warming, with the largest amounts of warming in the Atlantic Ocean and in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica. That’s a concern for Antarctica’s ice – heat in the Southern Ocean can creep under Antarctica’s ice shelves, thinning them and resulting in calving off of huge icebergs. Warming oceans are also a concern for sea level rise.

In what ways does extra ocean heat affect air temperature and moisture on land?

The global heating increases evaporation and drying on land, as well as raising temperatures, increasing risk of heat waves and wildfires. We’ve seen the impact in 2021, especially in western North America, but also amid heat waves in Russia, Greece, Italy and Turkey.

The warmer oceans also supply atmospheric rivers of moisture to land areas, increasing the risk of flooding, like the U.S. West Coast has been experiencing.

2021 saw several destructive cyclones, including Hurricane Ida in the U.S. and Typhoon Rai in the Philippines. How does ocean temperature affect storms like those?

Warmer oceans provide extra moisture to the atmosphere. That extra moisture fuels storms, especially hurricanes. The result can be prodigious rainfall, as the U.S. saw from Ida, and widespread flooding as occurred in many places over the past year.

The storms may also become more intense, bigger and last longer. Several major flooding events have occurred in Australia this past year, and also in New Zealand. Bigger snowfalls can also occur in winter provided temperatures remain below about freezing because warmer air holds more moisture.

A woman stands, arms crossed, staring at a car propped on its nose against a business after the typhoon.
A resident in the Philippines looks at a vehicle swept away by flood water during Typhoon Rai. Cheryl Baldicantos/AFP via Getty Images

If greenhouse gas emissions slowed, would the ocean cool down?

In the oceans, warm water sits on top of cooler denser waters. However, the oceans warm from the top down, and consequently the ocean is becoming more stratified. This inhibits mixing between layers that otherwise allows the ocean to warm to deeper levels and to take up carbon dioxide and oxygen. Hence it impacts all marine life.

We found that the top 500 meters of the ocean has clearly been warming since 1980; the 500-1,000 meter depths have been warming since about 1990; the 1,000-1,500 meter depths since 1998; and below 1,500 meters since about 2005.

The slow penetration of heat downward means that oceans will continue to warm, and sea level will continue to rise even after greenhouse gases are stabilized.

The final area to pay attention to is the need to expand scientists’ ability to monitor changes in the oceans. One way we do this is through the Argo array – currently about 3,900 profiling floats that send back data on temperature and salinity from the surface to about 2,000 meters in depth, measured as they rise up and then sink back down, in ocean basins around the world. These robotic, diving and drifting instruments require constant replenishment and their observations are invaluable.

Argo floats keep tabs on ocean changes around the world. Howard Freeland, 2018, CC BY-ND

[Understand new developments in science, health and technology, each week. Subscribe to The Conversation’s science newsletter.]The Conversation

Kevin Trenberth, Distinguished Scholar, NCAR; Affiliated Faculty, University of Auckland

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

Green hydrogen is coming - and these Australian regions are well placed to build our new export industry

Steven Percy, Swinburne University of Technology

You might remember hearing a lot about green hydrogen last year, as global pressure mounted on Australia to take stronger action on climate change ahead of the COP26 Glasgow summit last November.

The government predicts green hydrogen exports and domestic use could be worth up to A$50 billion within 30 years, helping the world achieve deep decarbonisation.

But how close are we really to a green hydrogen industry? And which states are best placed to host it? My research shows that as of next year, and based on where the cheapest renewables are, the best places to produce green hydrogen are far north Queensland and Tasmania.

As ever more renewable energy pours into our grid, this picture will change. By the end of the decade, the north Queensland coast could become the hydrogen powerhouse. By 2040, dirt-cheap solar should make inland areas across New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia the lowest cost producers.

Renewable energy you can store and transport

Why is there so much buzz around green hydrogen? In short, because it offers us a zero emissions way to transport energy. Take cheap renewable energy and use it to split water into hydrogen and oxygen using an electrolyser. Store the hydrogen on trucks, ship it overseas, or send it by pipeline. Then use the hydrogen for transport, manufacturing or electricity production.

Diagram of uses of green hydrogen
Pathways for the production and use of green hydrogen. Author provided

All the technology exists – it’s the cost holding the industry back at present. That’s where Australia and its wealth of cheap renewable energy comes in.

Making hydrogen is nothing new – it has a long history of use in fertiliser production and oil refining. But until now, the main source for hydrogen was gas, a fossil fuel.

In the last few years, however, there has been a sudden surge of interest and investment in green hydrogen, and new technology pathways have emerged to produce cheap green hydrogen. As global decarbonisation gathers steam, Japan, South Korea and parts of Europe are looking for clean alternatives to replace the role fossil fuels have played in their economies.

Australia is exceptionally well placed to deliver these alternatives, with world-beating renewable resources and ports set up for our existing fossil fuel exports, such as coal and LNG.

In 2019, we sold almost $64 billion of black coal, with most going to Japan, South Korea, India and China. As these countries decarbonise, the coal industry will shrink. Green hydrogen could be an excellent replacement.

How competitive is Australian hydrogen?

At present, Australia is a long way from producing green hydrogen cheap enough to compete with fossil fuels, given we seem to have no appetite for taxing carbon pollution.

Does that mean it’s a non-starter? Hardly. It was only a decade ago sceptics ridiculed solar and wind as too expensive. They’ve gone awfully quiet as renewable prices fell, and fell, and fell – as tracked by the International Renewable Energy Agency. Now renewables are cheaper than coal. Battery storage, too, has fallen drastically in price. The same forces are at work on the key technology we need – cheaper electrolysers.

By 2040, the CSIRO predicts an 83% fall in electrolyser costs, according to its Gencost 2021-22 report. By contrast, gas-derived hydrogen with carbon capture is predicted to reduce in cost only slightly. That means green hydrogen is likely to capture much of the market for hydrogen from 2030 onwards.

Which states could benefit?

My research with the Victorian Hydrogen Hub) shows as of next year, the lowest cost location for green hydrogen would be Far North Queensland ($4.1/kg) and Tasmania ($4.4/kg) due to high renewable resources.

But this picture will change. By 2030, northern Queensland’s coastal regions could be the Australian hydrogen powerhouse due to a combination of cheap solar and access to ports. Western Australia and the Northern Territory could also have similar advantages, though the modelling for these areas has not yet been done.

As solar energy and electrolyser costs continue to fall, new states could enter the green hydrogen economy. In CSIRO’s cost predictions, electricity from solar is predicted to become much cheaper than wind by 2040. This means sunny areas like central and northern Queensland ($1.7/kg) and inland NSW, Victoria and South Australia ($1.8/kg) could be the best locations for green hydrogen production.

In making these estimates, I do not consider supply chain and storage infrastructure required to deliver the hydrogen. Transport could account for between $0.05/kg to $0.75/kg depending on distance.

Comparing my modelling to price thresholds set out in the National Hydrogen Strategy indicates we can produce green hydrogen for trucking at a similar cost to diesel within four years. Fertiliser would take longer, becoming competitive by 2040.

The levelised cost of hydrogen at renewable energy zones in Australia for 2023, 2030 and 2040. (source: Steven Percy, Victorian Hydrogen Hub)

Does our dry country have the water resources for green hydrogen?

If we achieved the $50 billion green hydrogen industry the government is aiming for, how much water would it consume? Surprisingly little. It would take only around 4% of the water we used for our crops and pastures in 2019-20 to generate an export industry that size – 225,000 megalitres.

Much more water than this will be freed up as coal-fired power stations exit the grid. In Queensland and NSW alone, these power stations consume around 158,000 megalitres a year according to a 2020 report prepared for the Australian Conservation Foundation. Coal mining in these two states takes an additional 224,000 megalitres.

As the cost of renewable energy falls and falls, we will also be able to desalinate seawater along our coasts to produce hydrogen. We estimate this would account for only about 1% of the cost of producing hydrogen, based on Australian Water Association desalination cost estimates.

How can we get there faster?

This decade, we must plan for our new hydrogen economy. Government and industry will need to develop and support new hydrogen infrastructure projects to produce, distribute, use and export hydrogen at scale.

We’re already seeing promising signs of progress, as major mining companies move strongly into green hydrogen.

Now we need governments across Australia to rapidly get optimal policy and regulations in place to allow the industry to develop and thrive.The Conversation

Steven Percy, Senior Research Fellow, Victorian Hydrogen Hub, Swinburne University of Technology

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

Sponges can survive low oxygen and warming waters. They could be the main reef organisms in the future

Valerio Micaroni
James Bell, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington; Rob McAllen, University College Cork, and Valerio Micaroni, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

Sponges are ancient marine animals, very common throughout the world’s oceans and seem less affected by ocean warming and acidification.

Our latest research shows they can also survive low levels of oxygen.

This is a surprising finding because most sponges are rarely exposed naturally to low oxygen in modern seas.

We propose their tolerance is the result of their long evolutionary history and exposure to variable oxygen concentrations through geological time.

As our oceans continue to warm due to climate change, they are expected to hold less oxygen.

The ability of sponges to survive low-oxygen conditions means they are likely to tolerate these possible future environments better than other organisms living on the seafloor.

This graph shows different marine organisms that live permanently attached to the seafloor and their different thresholds for low-oxygen conditions.
Different marine organisms that live permanently attached to the seafloor have different thresholds for low-oxygen conditions. Author provided

There are an estimated 8000-plus sponge species in the oceans. They are multicellular organisms with a body architecture built around a system of water canals, pores and channels allowing water to be pumped and circulated through them.

Their specialised pumping and feeding cells, called choanocytes, are highly efficient. Sponges can pump the equivalent of their own body volume in a matter of seconds.

Images of four different sponge species, with different shapes and colours.
There are thousands of different sponge species in the world’s oceans. Author provided

In modern oceans, sponges are often the most abundant organisms in rocky reef environments. They fulfil important ecological functions as part of bottom-dwelling (benthic) communities worldwide.

Sponges have many roles in marine ecosystems, but their water-processing ability and efficiency at capturing small particles is the most important because it links the water column with the seafloor. Sponges also support diverse seafloor communities by transforming carbon.

Some sponge species have been shown to be very tolerant to climate change stressors, particularly changing temperature and acidity (measured as pH). This means sponges could be future winners in changing oceans.

Sponges in past oceans

We know that sponges are ancient organisms, but recently described 890-million-year-old fossils have turned our understanding of evolution on its head.

Most major animal groups, including arthropods and worms, first appear in the fossil record during a period known as the Cambrian explosion, 540 million years ago. But if the newly-described fossils are indeed sponges, they would have existed nearly 300 million years earlier, significantly pushing back the date of Earth’s earliest known animals.

If the ancestors of modern sponges are about 900 million years old, they would have evolved and survived during the Marinoan glaciation, 657-645 million years ago, when the oceans were extremely low in oxygen.

They would have also likely experienced wide fluctuations in other environmental conditions such as pH, temperature and salinity through evolutionary time.

Sponge tolerance to low oxygen

Our recent environmental tolerance experiments support this scenario, showing they are surprisingly tolerant to low levels of oxygen.

We assessed the response of sponges to moderate and severe low-oxygen events in a series of laboratory experiments on four species from the northeast Atlantic and southwest Pacific. Sponges were exposed to a total of five low-oxygen treatments, with increasing severity (40%, 20%, 6%, 5% and 1.5% air saturation) over seven to 12 days.

We found the sponges generally very tolerant of hypoxia. All but one of the species survived in the extreme experimental conditions, and that species only began to die off at the lowest oxygen concentration. In most experiments, hypoxic conditions did not significantly affect the sponges’ respiration rates, which suggests they can take up oxygen at very low concentrations in the surrounding environment.

As a response to the low oxygen, sponges displayed a number of shape and structural changes, likely maximising their ability to take up oxygen at these low levels.

Images of sponges show they changed their shape and structure in response to low-oxygen oxygen conditions.
Sponges changed their shape and structure in response to low-oxygen conditions. Author provided

Sponges in future oceans

Warmer ocean water holds less oxygen, and ocean deoxygenation is one of the major consequences of climate change.

Warmer water also becomes more buoyant than cooler water, which reduces the mixing of surface oxygenated water with deeper layers that naturally contain less oxygen. At the same time, warmer temperatures increase the demand of organisms for oxygen as metabolic rates increase and stress responses are initiated.

While oxygen levels in the ocean are only expected to fall on average by 4% across all oceans, these effects are likely to be much more extreme locally and regionally. In coastal waters, climate-driven ocean deoxygenation can be exacerbated by a process called eutrophication, essentially an increase in nutrients. This fuels plankton blooms, and when bacteria breakdown the dead phytoplankton, they use up all the oxygen.

Since the land is generally the source of these excess nutrients, shallow coastal areas are most at risk. These are areas where rocky reefs are typically dominated by sponges, particularly just below the depth of light penetration (typically 20-30m).

Our finding lends further support to the idea that sponges will be the survivors if our oceans continue to warm.The Conversation

James Bell, Professor of Marine Biology, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington; Rob McAllen, Professor of Marine Conservation, University College Cork, and Valerio Micaroni, PhD Candidate in Coastal and Marine Biology and Ecology, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

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

They live for a century and clean our rivers - but freshwater mussels are dying in droves

Carter’s freshwater mussel (Westralunio carteri) stranded on a dry river bed Alan Lymbery, Author provided
Alan Lymbery, Murdoch University

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

Freshwater mussels are dying suddenly and in the thousands, with each mass death event bringing these endangered molluscs closer to extinction. Tragically, these events rarely get noticed.

In March last year, for example, seawater was introduced into the lower Vasse River in south-western Australia to control harmful algal blooms. This killed the entire population of Carter’s freshwater mussel (Westralunio carteri) in this section of the river.

For me, this was particularly distressing for two reasons. First, the species was recently listed as vulnerable to extinction thanks to the work of my then graduate student Michael Klunzinger.

Second, among the 3,000-4,000 mussels killed were 160 my colleagues had previously collected from the river, kept alive in cages for nine months, then re-introduced so they would survive the construction of a new bridge.

Freshwater mussels are one of the most endangered groups of animals on the planet, with 47% either extinct or threatened with extinction. Yet we hear almost nothing about the extinction crisis they face.

I want to bring your attention to why freshwater mussels are important, why many will become extinct within our lifetimes, and why this will have dramatic consequences for freshwater environments throughout the world.

Under threat, yet poorly studied

Mass death events like the one in the Vasse River are not uncommon for freshwater mussels.

In 2019, the death of hundreds of thousands of pheasantshell mussels in the Clinch River in Tennessee, USA may have been caused by a virus, and prolonged droughts have killed mussels en masse throughout the USA and Australia.

Researchers from Murdoch University taking samples from the Vasse River, where thousands of mussels died last year. Stephen Beatty, Author provided

There are 18 species of freshwater mussels in Australia. Only two of these are listed as threatened under Australia’s environment law: Carter’s freshwater mussel and the Glenelg freshwater mussel (Hyridella glenelgensis).

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean we’re doing better at mussel conservation than the rest of the world. It just means our freshwater mussels are very poorly studied. There have been no ecological assessments of the conservation status of most Australian freshwater mussels.

One of the most serious threats to freshwater mussel populations in Australia is climate change. Reduced rainfall has resulted in a dramatic reduction of water flow. In south-western Australia, for example, water flow has decreased by around 70% since the 1970s and climate change models predict at least a further 25% reduction by 2030.

This loss of flow means more of our rivers go without water over the dry season, and these drought conditions are lasting longer. Mussels can live for a short time without water by burrowing into the sediment, but longer and more severe dry spells will kill them.

Indeed, severe drought killed around 2.9 million freshwater mussels in the Murray Darling Basin between 2017 and 2020.

The livers of rivers

A big reason freshwater mussels are so vulnerable is because of their unique life cycle.

Unlike marine mussels (which release their eggs and sperm into the sea), female freshwater mussels fertilise their eggs internally. The embryos grow in special pouches of the gills until they’re released as tiny larvae that are parasitic on fish.

Many mussel species have marvellous ways to attract fish when the larvae are due to be released. For example, the US pocketbook mussel (Potamilus capax) uses part of it’s body to create a lure which looks like a small fish. This lure is waved about to attract the mussel’s host fish, bass, which are predators of smaller fish.

After spending several months as a parasite, the larvae then metamorphose into juvenile mussels and drop off their host into the sediment.

Fish near mussel
Mussels lure fish in to host their parasitic larvae. Shutterstock

Most mussel species take five to ten years to reach sexual maturity. They are slow growing and long lived, often with a lifespan of 100 years or more. This combination of characteristics means mussel populations often cannot recover from large death events.

This can have devastating knock-on effects to the freshwater ecosystem, as mussels are considered “keystone” species.

When rivers cease to flow in dry summer months, freshwater fish and other animals find refuge in the remaining pools. Freshwater mussels behave like the livers of rivers, keeping these refuges clean and ensuring animals can survive until the rains return.

They maintain water quality by filtering and removing suspended sediments, nutrients, bacteria and algae. They also deposit nutrients on the river bottom, and their burrowing activity mixes and aerates the sediment.

Take more notice

I was distressed that thousands of endangered mussels died in the Vasse River. I was also distressed, but not surprised, at the general lack of attention to these deaths. If a pod of dolphins had died in an estuary because of human actions, we would have heard an outcry.

W. carteri in a stream
Carter’s freshwater mussel on a stream bank in south-western Australia. Michael Klunzinger, Author provided

The plight of freshwater mussels illustrates a sad reality for freshwater life. Freshwater ecosystems are incredibly diverse. Per unit area, there are more than twice as many species of freshwater animals and plants than on land or in the ocean. But more than four times as many of these species are threatened with extinction.

Despite this, the conservation management of freshwater species lags far behind that of terrestrial or marine species. Freshwater environments are very poorly protected by conservation reserves and up to 71% of the world’s wetlands have been lost since 1900.

One urgent priority for Australia is to invest in freshwater protected areas, the same way as we invest in marine protected areas and terrestrial conservation reserves.

If you live near a stream, river or freshwater lake, go and visit it soon and appreciate the myriad forms of life that live below the surface. Chances are they won’t be there in the decades to come unless we develop policies and practices that protect our freshwater ecosystems. The Conversation

Alan Lymbery, Professor, Harry Butler Institute, Murdoch University

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

Avalon Golf Course bushcare needs you

We're so short of helpers we've had to cancel for the time being. Meanwhile the weeds will go gangbusters. 
We used to meet on the second Wednesday afternoon of each month. Could you come if we worked on another day or time? say a morning, or on a weekend day? 
Contact Geoff Searl on 0439 292 566 if you'd like to help. He'd love to hear from you. 

We have fun using the Tree Popper, here with our supervisor from Dragonfly Environmental. We can lever out quite big Ochnas, aka Mickey Mouse plant from Africa.  We want to bring back the bush, not let the weeds win!

Ochna or Mickey Mouse plant has yellow flowers in spring, then lots of green berries that turn black when ripe. Seedlings come up in hundreds. Ochna has a very strong taproot but the steady pressure of the Tree Popper lifts the plant out of the ground easily. The alternative control is repeated scraping and painting with Roundup, very slow and time consuming. If you have an Ochna you cant remove, you can enjoy the flowers, then PLEASE prune it so that berries can't develop.

Pittwater Reserves + others

A History Of The Campaign For Preservation Of The Warriewood Escarpment by David Palmer OAM and Angus Gordon OAM
Angophora Reserve - Angophora Reserve Flowers
Annie Wyatt Reserve - A  Pictorial
Avalon's Village Green: Avalon Park Becomes Dunbar Park - Some History + Toongari Reserve and Catalpa Reserve
Bairne Walking Track Ku-Ring-Gai Chase NP by Kevin Murray
Bangalley Headland  Bangalley Mid Winter
Banksias of Pittwater
Barrenjoey Headland: Spring flowers Barrenjoey Headland after fire
Bayview Baths
Bayview Wetlands
Beeby Park
Bilgola Beach
Botham's Beach
Bungan Beach Bush Care
Careel Bay Saltmarsh plants 
Careel Bay Birds  
Careel Bay Clean Up day
Careel Bay Playing Fields History and Current
Careel Creek 
Careel Creek - If you rebuild it they will come
Centre trail in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
Chiltern Track- Ingleside by Marita Macrae
Clareville Beach
Clareville/Long Beach Reserve + some History
Coastal Stability Series: Cabbage Tree Bay To Barrenjoey To Observation Point by John Illingsworth, Pittwater Pathways, and Dr. Peter Mitchell OAM
Cowan Track by Kevin Murray
Curl Curl To Freshwater Walk: October 2021 by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Currawong and Palm Beach Views - Winter 2018
Currawong-Mackerel-The Basin A Stroll In Early November 2021 - photos by Selena Griffith
Currawong State Park Currawong Beach +  Currawong Creek
Deep Creek To Warriewood Walk photos by Joe Mills
Drone Gives A New View On Coastal Stability; Bungan: Bungan Headland To Newport Beach + Bilgola: North Newport Beach To Avalon + Bangalley: Avalon Headland To Palm Beach
Dunbar Park - Some History + Toongari Reserve and Catalpa Reserve
Dundundra Falls Reserve: August 2020 photos by Selena Griffith - Listed in 1935
Elsie Track, Scotland Island
Elvina Track in Late Winter 2019 by Penny Gleen
Elvina Bay Walking Track: Spring 2020 photos by Joe Mills 
Elvina Bay-Lovett Bay Loop Spring 2020 by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Fern Creek - Ingleside Escarpment To Warriewood Walk + Some History photos by Joe Mills
Ingleside Wildflowers August 2013
Irrawong - Ingleside Escarpment Trail Walk Spring 2020 photos by Joe Mills
Irrawong - Mullet Creek Restoration
Katandra Bushland Sanctuary - Ingleside
McCarrs Creek
McCarr's Creek to Church Point to Bayview Waterfront Path
McKay Reserve
Mona Vale Beach - A Stroll Along, Spring 2021 by Kevin Murray
Mona Vale Headland, Basin and Beach Restoration
Mount Murray Anderson Walking Track by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Mullet Creek
Narrabeen Creek
Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment: Past Notes Present Photos by Margaret Woods
Narrabeen Lagoon State Park
Narrabeen Lagoon State Park Expansion
Narrabeen Rockshelf Aquatic Reserve
Nerang Track, Terrey Hills by Bea Pierce
Newport Bushlink - the Crown of the Hill Linked Reserves
Newport Community Garden - Woolcott Reserve
Newport to Bilgola Bushlink 'From The Crown To The Sea' Paths:  Founded In 1956 - A Tip and Quarry Becomes Green Space For People and Wildlife 
Pittwater spring: waterbirds return to Wetlands
 Pittwater's Lone Rangers - 120 Years of Ku-Ring-Gai Chase and the Men of Flowers Inspired by Eccleston Du Faur 
Pittwater's Parallel Estuary - The Cowan 'Creek
Riddle Reserve, Bayview
Salvation Loop Trail, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park- Spring 2020 - by Selena Griffith
Stapleton Reserve
Stapleton Park Reserve In Spring 2020: An Urban Ark Of Plants Found Nowhere Else
The Chiltern Track
The Resolute Beach Loop Track At West Head In Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park by Kevin Murray
Towlers Bay Walking Track by Joe Mills
Trafalgar Square, Newport: A 'Commons' Park Dedicated By Private Landholders - The Green Heart Of This Community
Turimetta Beach Reserve by Joe Mills, Bea Pierce and Lesley
Turimetta Beach Reserve: Old & New Images (by Kevin Murray) + Some History
Turimetta Headland
Warriewood Wetlands and Irrawong Reserve
Whale Beach Ocean Reserve: 'The Strand' - Some History On Another Great Protected Pittwater Reserve
Winji Jimmi - Water Maze

These hot days are tough on our wildlife - please put out some water in a shaded location and if you come across an animal that is in distress, dehydrated or injured - please contact your local wildlife rescue group:
Photo: Bronwyn Gould

New Shorebirds WingThing  For Youngsters Available To Download

A Shorebirds WingThing educational brochure for kids (A5) helps children learn about shorebirds, their life and journey. The 2021 revised brochure version was published in February 2021 and is available now. You can download a file copy here.

If you would like a free print copy of this brochure, please send a self-addressed envelope with A$1.10 postage (or larger if you would like it unfolded) affixed to: BirdLife Australia, Shorebird WingThing Request, 2-05Shorebird WingThing/60 Leicester St, Carlton VIC 3053.

Shorebird Identification Booklet

The Migratory Shorebird Program has just released the third edition of its hugely popular Shorebird Identification Booklet. The team has thoroughly revised and updated this pocket-sized companion for all shorebird counters and interested birders, with lots of useful information on our most common shorebirds, key identification features, sighting distribution maps and short articles on some of BirdLife’s shorebird activities. 

The booklet can be downloaded here in PDF file format: http://www.birdlife.org.au/documents/Shorebird_ID_Booklet_V3.pdf

Paper copies can be ordered as well, see http://www.birdlife.org.au/projects/shorebirds-2020/counter-resources for details.

Download BirdLife Australia's children’s education kit to help them learn more about our wading birdlife

Shorebirds are a group of wading birds that can be found feeding on swamps, tidal mudflats, estuaries, beaches and open country. For many people, shorebirds are just those brown birds feeding a long way out on the mud but they are actually a remarkably diverse collection of birds including stilts, sandpipers, snipe, curlews, godwits, plovers and oystercatchers. Each species is superbly adapted to suit its preferred habitat.  The Red-necked Stint is as small as a sparrow, with relatively short legs and bill that it pecks food from the surface of the mud with, whereas the Eastern Curlew is over two feet long with a exceptionally long legs and a massively curved beak that it thrusts deep down into the mud to pull out crabs, worms and other creatures hidden below the surface.

Some shorebirds are fairly drab in plumage, especially when they are visiting Australia in their non-breeding season, but when they migrate to their Arctic nesting grounds, they develop a vibrant flush of bright colours to attract a mate. We have 37 types of shorebirds that annually migrate to Australia on some of the most lengthy and arduous journeys in the animal kingdom, but there are also 18 shorebirds that call Australia home all year round.

What all our shorebirds have in common—be they large or small, seasoned traveller or homebody, brightly coloured or in muted tones—is that each species needs adequate safe areas where they can successfully feed and breed.

The National Shorebird Monitoring Program is managed and supported by BirdLife Australia. 

This project is supported by Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority and Hunter Local Land Services through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. Funding from Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and Port Phillip Bay Fund is acknowledged. 

The National Shorebird Monitoring Program is made possible with the help of over 1,600 volunteers working in coastal and inland habitats all over Australia. 

The National Shorebird Monitoring program (started as the Shorebirds 2020 project initiated to re-invigorate monitoring around Australia) is raising awareness of how incredible shorebirds are, and actively engaging the community to participate in gathering information needed to conserve shorebirds. 

In the short term, the destruction of tidal ecosystems will need to be stopped, and our program is designed to strengthen the case for protecting these important habitats. 

In the long term, there will be a need to mitigate against the likely effects of climate change on a species that travels across the entire range of latitudes where impacts are likely. 

The identification and protection of critical areas for shorebirds will need to continue in order to guard against the potential threats associated with habitats in close proximity to nearly half the human population. 

Here in Australia, the place where these birds grow up and spend most of their lives, continued monitoring is necessary to inform the best management practice to maintain shorebird populations. 

BirdLife Australia believe that we can help secure a brighter future for these remarkable birds by educating stakeholders, gathering information on how and why shorebird populations are changing, and working to grow the community of people who care about shorebirds.

To find out more visit: http://www.birdlife.org.au/projects/shorebirds-2020/shorebirds-2020-program

Aussie Bread Tags Collection Points

Collecting bread tags enables us to provide wheelchairs that change the life of disabled people in need, as well as keeping the tags out of landfill to help to preserve the environment. 

Bread Tags for Wheelchairs was started in South Africa in 2006 by Mary Honeybun. It is a community program where individuals and organisations collect bread tags, which are sold to recyclers. The money raised pays for wheelchairs for the less fortunate which are purchased through a local pharmacy. Currently about 500kg of bread tags are collected a month in South Africa, funding 2-3 wheelchairs.

We have been collecting bread tags nationally in Australia since September 2018 and now have more than 100 collection points across the country. In February 2019 we started local recycling through Transmutation - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle in Robe, SA, where our tags are recycled into products such as door knobs and bowls. Tags from some states are still sent to South Africa where a plastics company called Zibo recycles them into seedling trays.

These humble bits of polystyrene can make a real difference so get your friends, family, school, workplace and church involved. Ask school tuck shops and boarding school kitchens, child care centres, aged care facilities, hospitals, cafes and fast food outlets to collect for you - they get through a lot of bread!

All the information and signage for collecting or setting up a public collection point is on our website.

Local Collectors
Lesley Flood
Please email for address - lespatflood@gmail.com
Jodie Streckeisen
Please email for the address - streckeisenjodie@gmail.com

Surfers for Climate

A sea-roots movement dedicated to mobilising and empowering surfers for continuous and positive climate action.

Surfers for Climate are coming together in lineups around the world to be the change we want to see.

With roughly 35 million surfers across the globe, our united tribe has a powerful voice. 

Add yours to the conversation by signing up here.

Surfers for Climate will keep you informed, involved and active on both the local and global issues and solutions around the climate crisis via our allies hub. 

Help us prevent our favourite spots from becoming fading stories of waves we used to surf.

Together we can protect our oceans and keep them thriving for future generations to create lifelong memories of their own.

Visit:  http://www.surfersforclimate.org.au/

Green Team Beach Cleans 

Hosted by The Green Team
It has been estimated that we will have more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050...These beach cleans are aimed at reducing the vast amounts of plastic from entering our oceans before they harm marine life. 

Anyone and everyone is welcome! If you would like to come along, please bring a bucket, gloves and hat. Kids of all ages are also welcome! 

The Green Team is a Youth-run, volunteer-based environment initiative from Avalon, Sydney. Keeping our area green and clean.

Create a Habitat Stepping Stone!

Over 50 Pittwater households have already pledged to make a difference for our local wildlife, and you can too! Create a habitat stepping stone to help our wildlife out. It’s easy - just add a few beautiful habitat elements to your backyard or balcony to create a valuable wildlife-friendly stopover.

How it works

1) Discover: Visit the website below to find dozens of beautiful plants, nest boxes and water elements you can add to your backyard or balcony to help our local wildlife.

2) Pledge: Select three or more elements to add to your place. You can even show you care by choosing to have a bird appear on our online map.

3) Share: Join the Habitat Stepping Stones Facebook community to find out what’s happening in the natural world, and share your pics, tips and stories.

What you get                                  

• Enjoy the wonders of nature, right outside your window. • Free and discounted plants for your garden. • A Habitat Stepping Stone plaque for your front fence. • Local wildlife news and tips. • Become part of the Pittwater Habitat Stepping Stones community.

Get the kids involved and excited about helping out! www.HabitatSteppingStones.org.au

No computer? No problem -Just write to the address below and we’ll mail you everything you need. Habitat Stepping Stones, Department of Environmental Sciences, Macquarie University NSW 2109. This project is assisted by the NSW Government through its Environmental Trust

Newport Community Gardens

Anyone interested in joining our community garden group please feel free to come and visit us on Sunday at 10am at the Woolcott Reserve in Newport!

Keep in Touch with what's happening on Newport Garden's Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/newportcg/

Avalon Preservation Association

The Avalon Preservation Association, also known as Avalon Preservation Trust. We are a not for profit volunteer community group incorporated under the NSW Associations Act, established 50 years ago. We are committed to protecting your interests – to keeping guard over our natural and built environment throughout the Avalon area.

Membership of the association is open to all those residents and/or ratepayers of Avalon Beach and adjacent areas who support the aims and objectives of our Association.

Report illegal dumping

NSW Government

The RIDonline website lets you report the types of waste being dumped and its GPS location. Photos of the waste can also be added to the report.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA), councils and Regional Illegal Dumping (RID) squads will use this information to investigate and, if appropriate, issue a fine or clean-up notice. Penalties for illegal dumping can be up to $15,000 and potential jail time for anybody caught illegally dumping within five years of a prior illegal dumping conviction.

The Green Team

This Youth-run, volunteer-based environment initiative has been attracting high praise from the founders of Living Ocean as much as other local environment groups recently. 
Creating Beach Cleans events, starting their own, sustainability days - ‘action speaks louder than words’ ethos is at the core of this group. 

Australian Native Foods website: http://www.anfil.org.au/

Avalon Boomerang Bags

Avalon Boomerang Bags was introduced to us by Surfrider Foundation and Living Ocean, they both helped organise with the support of Pittwater Council the Recreational room at Avalon Community Centre which we worked from each Tuesday. This is the Hub of what is a Community initiative to help free Avalon of single use plastic bags and to generally spread the word of the overuse of plastic. 

Find out more and get involved.

Avalon Community Garden

Community Gardens bring people together and enrich communities. They build a sense of place and shared connection.


Avalon Community Garden is a community led initiative to create accessible food gardens in public places throughout the Pittwater area. Our aim is to share skills and knowledge in creating fabulous local, organic food. But it's not just about great food. We also aim to foster community connection, stimulate creative ideas for community resilience and celebrate our abundance. Open to all ages and skills, our first garden is on the grounds of Barrenjoey High School (off Tasman Road)Become part of this exciting initiative to change the world locally. 

Avalon Community Garden
2 Tasman Road
North Avalon

Wildlife Carers and Organisations in Pittwater:

Sydney Wildlife rescues, rehabilitates and releases sick, injured and orphaned native wildlife. From penguins, to possums and parrots, native wildlife of all descriptions passes through the caring hands of Sydney Wildlife rescuers and carers on a daily basis. We provide a genuine 24 hour, 7 day per week emergency advice, rescue and care service.

As well as caring for sick, injured and orphaned native wildlife, Sydney Wildlife is also involved in educating the community about native wildlife and its habitat. We provide educational talks to a wide range of groups and audiences including kindergartens, scouts, guides, a wide range of special interest groups and retirement villages. Talks are tailored to meet the needs and requirements of each group. 


Found an injured native animal? We're here to help.

Keep the animal contained, warm, quiet and undisturbed. Do not offer any food or water. Call Sydney Wildlife immediately on 9413 4300, or take the animal to your nearest vet. Generally there is no charge. Find out more at: www.sydneywildlife.org.au

Southern Cross Wildlife Care was launched over 6 years ago. It is the brainchild of Dr Howard Ralph, the founder and chief veterinarian. SCWC was established solely for the purpose of treating injured, sick and orphaned wildlife. No wild creature in need that passes through our doors is ever rejected. 


People can assist SCWC by volunteering their skills ie: veterinary; medical; experienced wildlife carers; fundraising; "IT" skills; media; admin; website etc. We are always having to address the issue of finances as we are a non commercial veterinary service for wildlife in need, who obviously don't have cheque books in their pouches. It is a constant concern and struggle of ours when we are pre-occupied with the care and treatment of the escalating amount of wildlife that we have to deal with. Just becoming a member of SCWC for $45 a year would be a great help. Regular monthly donations however small, would be a wonderful gift and we could plan ahead knowing that we had x amount of funds that we could count on. Our small team of volunteers are all unpaid even our amazing vet Howard, so all funds raised go directly towards our precious wildlife. SCWC is TAX DEDUCTIBLE.

Find out more at: southerncrosswildlifecare.org.au/wp/

"I bind myself today to the power of Heaven, the light of the sun, the brightness of the moon, the splendour of fire, the flashing of lightning, the swiftness of wind, the depth of the sea, the stability of the earth, the compactness of rocks." -  from the Prayer of Saint Patrick

Newport Community Garden: Working Bee Second Sunday of the month

Newport Community Gardens Inc. is a not for profit incorporated association. The garden is in Woolcott Reserve.

Local Northern Beaches residents creating sustainable gardens in public spaces
Strengthening the local community, improving health and reconnecting with nature
To establish ecologically sustainable gardens for the production of vegetables, herbs, fruit and companion plants within Pittwater area 
To enjoy and forge friendships through shared gardening.
Membership is open to all Community members willing to participate in establishing gardens and growing sustainable food.
Subscription based paid membership.
We meet at the garden between 9am – 12 noon
New members welcome

For enquiries contact newportcommunitygardenau@gmail.com

Living Ocean

Living Ocean was born in Whale Beach, on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, surrounded by water and set in an area of incredible beauty.
Living Ocean is a charity that promotes the awareness of human impact on the ocean, through research, education, creative activity in the community, and support of others who sustain ocean health and integrity.

And always celebrating and honouring the natural environment and the lifestyle that the ocean offers us.

Our whale research program builds on research that has been conducted off our coastline by our experts over many years and our Centre for Marine Studies enables students and others to become directly involved.

Through partnerships with individuals and organizations, we conceive, create and coordinate campaigns that educate all layers of our community – from our ‘No Plastic Please’ campaign, which is delivered in partnership with local schools, to film nights and lectures, aimed at the wider community.

Additionally, we raise funds for ocean-oriented conservation groups such as Sea Shepherd.

Donations are tax-deductable 

Bushcare in Pittwater 

For further information or to confirm the meeting details for below groups, please contact Council's Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367

Where we work                      Which day                              What time 

Angophora Reserve             3rd Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Dunes                        1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Golf Course              2nd Wednesday                 3 - 5:30pm 
Careel Creek                         4th Saturday                      8:30 - 11:30am 
Toongari Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon (8 - 11am in summer) 
Bangalley Headland            2nd Sunday                         9 to 12noon 

Winnererremy Bay                 4th Sunday                        9 to 12noon 

North Bilgola Beach              3rd Monday                        9 - 12noon 
Algona Reserve                     1st Saturday                       9 - 12noon 
Plateau Park                          1st Friday                            8:30 - 11:30am 

Church Point     
Browns Bay Reserve             1st Tuesday                        9 - 12noon 
McCarrs Creek Reserve       Contact Bushcare Officer     To be confirmed 

Old Wharf Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      8 - 11am 

Kundibah Reserve                   4th Sunday                       8:30 - 11:30am 

Mona Vale     
Mona Vale Beach Basin          1st Saturday                    8 - 11am 
Mona Vale Dunes                     2nd Saturday+3rd Thursday     8:30 - 11:30am 

Bungan Beach                          4th Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
Crescent Reserve                    3rd Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
North Newport Beach              4th Saturday                    8:30 - 11:30am 
Porter Reserve                          2nd Saturday                  8 - 11am 

North Narrabeen     
Irrawong Reserve                     2nd Saturday                   2 - 5pm 

Palm Beach     
North Palm Beach Dunes      3rd Saturday                    9 - 12noon 

Scotland Island     
Catherine Park                          2nd Sunday                     10 - 12:30pm 
Elizabeth Park                           1st Saturday                      9 - 12noon 
Pathilda Reserve                      3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon 

Warriewood Wetlands             1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 

Whale Beach     
Norma Park                               1st Friday                            9 - 12noon 

Western Foreshores     
Coopers Point, Elvina Bay      2nd Sunday                        10 - 1pm 
Rocky Point, Elvina Bay           1st Monday                          9 - 12noon
Permaculture Northern Beaches

Want to know where your food is coming from? 

Do you like to enrich the earth as much as benefit from it?

Find out more here:


What Does PNHA do?


About Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA)
With urbanisation, there are continuing pressures that threaten the beautiful natural environment of the Pittwater area. Some impacts are immediate and apparent, others are more gradual and less obvious. The Pittwater Natural Heritage Association has been formed to act to protect and preserve the Pittwater areas major and most valuable asset - its natural heritage. PNHA is an incorporated association seeking broad based community membership and support to enable it to have an effective and authoritative voice speaking out for the preservation of Pittwater's natural heritage. Please contact us for further information.

Our Aims
  • To raise public awareness of the conservation value of the natural heritage of the Pittwater area: its landforms, watercourses, soils and local native vegetation and fauna.
  • To raise public awareness of the threats to the long-term sustainability of Pittwater's natural heritage.
  • To foster individual and community responsibility for caring for this natural heritage.
  • To encourage Council and the NSW Government to adopt and implement policies and works which will conserve, sustain and enhance the natural heritage of Pittwater.
Act to Preserve and Protect!
If you would like to join us, please fill out the Membership Application Form ($20.00 annually - $10 concession)

Email: pnhainfo@gmail.com Or click on Logo to visit website.

Think before you print ; A kilo of recycled paper creates around 1.8 kilograms of carbon emissions, without taking into account the emissions produced from transporting the paper. So, before you send a document to print, think about how many kilograms of carbon emissions you could save by reading it on screen.

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 : email@narrabeenlagoon.org.au

Pittwater's Environmental Foundation

Pittwater Environmental Foundation was established in 2006 to conserve and enhance the natural environment of the Pittwater local government area through the application of tax deductible donations, gifts and bequests. The Directors were appointed by Pittwater Council. 


About 33% (about 1600 ha excluding National Parks) of the original pre-European bushland in Pittwater remains in a reasonably natural or undisturbed condition. Of this, only about 400ha remains in public ownership. All remaining natural bushland is subject to encroachment, illegal clearing, weed invasion, feral animals, altered drainage, bushfire hazard reduction requirements and other edge effects. Within Pittwater 38 species of plants or animals are listed as endangered or threatened under the Threatened Species Act. There are two endangered populations (Koala and Squirrel Glider) and eight endangered ecological communities or types of bushland. To visit their site please click on logo above.