May 022014
 

Original story at news.com.au

QUEENSLAND’S government is confident the dumping of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park won’t lead to the reef being listed as a World Heritage site in danger.
UNESCO says the federal government needs to reconsider approving dredging in the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: AAP

UNESCO says the federal government needs to reconsider approving dredging in the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: AAP

UNESCO says it regrets the federal government’s decision to allow dumping three million tonnes of spoil in the park as part of the expansion of Abbot Point coal port near Bowen.

The UN body regrets that the government approved the dumping without properly assessing alternatives.

This was one of a number of points sent in a draft report on Wednesday to the World Heritage Committee which is assessing whether to list the reef on its “in danger” list.

The body requested the federal government provide a new report detailing how dumping is the least damaging option that won’t affect the reef’s value.

State Environment Minister Andrew Powell says all alternatives were considered and it’s just a matter of passing this information onto UNESCO.

“A lot of work was done which showed it would be inappropriate to put the spoil on land due to acidification,” he told AAP on Thursday.

“We will certainly be making information available to UNESCO on that project and any other project.”

UNESCO has requested the federal government’s report by February 1 next year.

WWF-Australia reef campaigner Richard Leck says other options, such as extending terminals into deeper waters so ships can access them, should be considered.

“We’re not anti-development, what we want to see is development done smarter,” he told AAP.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt welcomed UNESCO’s draft recommendations, saying they show progress was being made in protecting the reef.

He said this included developing a long-term plan to protect the ecosystem and improving water quality.

Mr Hunt said the Abbot Point dredging project complies with Australia’s obligations under the World Heritage Convention and approval had been subject to rigorous environmental assessment.

Greens Senator Larissa Waters disputed his claims, saying the state and federal governments had failed to implement a long-term plan to protect the reef.

UNESCO also raised concerns that a long-term plan to protect the reef hasn’t been completed despite recent approvals of coastal developments.

Apr 272014
 

Media release from JCU

A survey about community wellbeing and tourism in Airlie Beach is about to close, and researchers are urging local residents to participate and share their thoughts.
Airlie Beach From The Air. Photo: F. Delventhal/Creative Commons

Airlie Beach From The Air. Photo: F. Delventhal/Creative Commons

The study is being conducted by Elena Konovalov, a PhD student at JCU’s School of Business, as part of her PhD research under the supervision of Associate Professor Laurie Murphy and Professor Gianna Moscardo.

“We would like to thank everyone who has already answered the survey but we need to have more responses to make sure that we can present accurate findings to the community, Ms Konovalov said.

“Your answers will help to understand Airlie Beach residents’ preferences and opinions about different styles of tourism and quality of life in the area,” Ms Konovalov said.

The survey can be found online by visiting www.jcusurvey.com and will take around 15 minutes to complete.

All the survey participants can enter into a prize draw with a chance to win one of 10 $20 vouchers from various local shops.

The same survey was conducted in Bowen a few months ago and while the Bowen survey data is yet to be fully analysed, some preliminary findings are already available.

Most of the Bowen respondents would like to see significant growth in the resident population.

When asked about different types of visitors coming to the area, most respondents wanted to see an increase in general holiday-makers and visitors on organised group tours.

Respondents’ opinions about numbers of grey nomads, backpackers and seasonal/temporary workers were mixed, with some respondents preferring numbers of these types of visitors to remain the same or decrease in the future, with others wanted an increase.

Most of the respondents believed that tourists of all types have positive impacts on the community, however some respondents did report some drawbacks of having tourists in their local area, in particular, regarding backpackers and temporary or seasonal workers.

Bowen residents were mostly highly satisfied with living and socialising in the Bowen community, with more than half of the survey respondents rating their satisfaction with their overall quality of life in Bowen and feeling of belonging to Bowen community between 7 and 10, with 10 being ‘completely satisfied’.

However, they did have suggestions for improvements to community services and facilities.

“We believe that the survey findings will provide vital information for tourism and community organisations and local governments and contribute to informed decision making practices.”

Ms Konovalov encouraged as many Airle Beach residents as possible to participate in the survey, to help ensure the accuracy of the information reported.

“Please pop on to the website and use this opportunity to have your say now.”

The survey will remain open until May 1 2014.

For more information, contact principal investigator Elena Konovalov, on (07) 4781 3130 or via email:Elena.Konovalov@my.jcu.edu.au

JCU Media contact: Caroline Kaurila, tel: (07) 4781 4586 or 0437 028 175

Apr 232014
 

Original story by Paul Willis at ABC Science

We could take steps to at least minimise the impact of climate change and population growth, but willful blindness to the current situation creates a poor vision for the future, argues Paul Willis.
Climate change is already effecting our ability to feed ourselves, but, if world population continues to rise we're going to need more food from less land. Photo: no_limit_pictures/iStockphoto

Climate change is already effecting our ability to feed ourselves, but, if world population continues to rise we’re going to need more food from less land. Photo: no_limit_pictures/iStockphoto

Most futurists seem to be bedazzled by the possibilities of the gadgets and widgets of tomorrow. But I seriously wonder if there will be a future where the tech-heads can indulge their future fantasies.

A few recent articles and reports seriously question how much longer our culture and civilisation can continue. We’re looking down the barrel of environmental devastation on a scale that could shunt us into a very different world of conflict and survival. We may even be looking at our own imminent extinction. And we’re doing bugger all about it.

Recently Canberra-based science writer Julian Cribb wrote a lengthy piece in the Canberra Times where he asks “are we facing our own extinction?” This is the subject of a book he will be publishing later this year, but this summary still covers a broad canvass in search of an answer.

His central thesis is that climate change could well do the trick but that there are huge mitigating factors in human behaviour and our response to impending peril.

Climate change has already caused at least one extinction event — the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, PETM for short, when the Earth’s temperature increased by at least five degrees, and possibly as much as nine or 10 degrees. That was 50 million years ago.

I’d also offer the Permian Extinction some 250 million years ago which snuffed out 96 per cent of all marine species and 70 per cent of terrestrial vertebrate species. In both the PETM and Permian Extinction the culprit appears to be the greenhouse gas methane which was either released from gas hydrates or clathrates or, in the case of the Permian Extinction, a bloom of methanogenic bacteria, Methanosarcina, spurred on by volcanic activity.

According to Cribb, if all the methane currently stored as clathrates were to be released, global temperatures would increase by 16 degrees making most of the planet uninhabitable for humans. There would be some areas in the far north of Siberia and North America as well as parts of Antarctica that would remain within a temperature range that would allow humans to live, but those areas would have to not only house all humanity, it would also have to produce all the food needed to feed them. That’s not extinction, but a dramatic collapse in human populations. Under this scenario humanity would probably crash to a few million people at most.

This is an extreme scenario requiring all the gas hydrates to give up their methane but it could theoretically trigger such a dramatic change within a century. And, not that I’m trying to alarm you, but the accelerated release of methane from the Siberian tundra and in the Arctic seas has been observed to be well underway. These releases occur as plumes a few tens of metres in diameter but recently plumes have been seen that are 1000 metres across. And there are thousands of them.

The predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) do not usually include triggering the methane bomb. Instead they look at the release of CO2 and other climate changing factors. The conclusions of these more gentle changes to the climate are still sobering. Even if we were to stop releasing CO2 today, a temperature change of two degrees by mid century is already locked in. Our reactions to the effects of that more modest change could spell the difference between our extinction or survival. And the effects are already being felt.

Climate change is here

The most recent report of the IPCC chronicles the effects that climate change is already having on our planet.

An article from Smithsonian.com provides a good summation of the eight ways climate change hurts humans. Threats include increases in extreme heat waves, floods, droughts and wildfires as well as a decline in crop productions leading to food shortages. On top of that there are the spread of infectious diseases, mental illnesses as well as violence and conflicts. And remember, these are not predictions for what will happen in the future, they are effects that have already been measured.

So, for example, about 500 people died because of heat in Australian cities in 2011 (and that number is projected to 2,000 deaths per year by the middle of this century) while 112 million people worldwide were affected by floods in 2011, including 3140 people who were killed.

It’s well known that some governments and institutions dismiss or completely ignore the IPCC and any of its reports, but that’s not the view of the World Bank. The bank’s president, Jim Yong Kim, is worried that climate change is affecting worldwide access to food and water. He’s concerned that there will be battles over food and water around the world within the next decade and all because of climate change. Further, he’s also concerned that not enough research is being conducted into renewable energy and other solutions to climate change.

These concerns are shared by US Centre for Strategic and International Studies in their report The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change. In their assessment a rise of 2.6 degree in global temperatures will result in nations being overwhelmed by the scale of change.

Nations will be under great stress due to a dramatic rise in migration including displaced coastal communities as well as changes in agriculture and water availability. These stresses could lead to armed conflict between nations over dwindling resources and that includes the possibility of nuclear conflicts.

We are on track for an increase of more than two degrees around the middle of the century. The report goes on to consider a world with a five-degree increase and concludes the consequences are “inconceivable”. At the current rate of change, we should be there by 2100.

Add population growth

So let’s now join climate change’s apocalyptic twin: population.

The problems of feeding the world in the future are outlined in a piece by Professor William Laurance, from James Cook University.

Unless something unforeseen happens, the world population will be around 11 billion people at the end of the century and current projections suggest that the global demand for food will double by 2050. To meet that demand using existing agricultural practices will require around one billion hectares of new farming land. That’s an area a little bit bigger than Canada. But remember that climate change and other factors will result in a decrease in the extent of arable land available for agriculture. That’s a bleak combination.

There is another scenario on offer but it has its own set of complications. The preferred future proffered by organisations such as the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization is to inject technology into the equation and ‘turbocharge farming’. This ought to be particularly effective in developing countries where crop yields on small holdings are low. Inject fertilisers, irrigation, and modern methods and equipment and we could double or even possibly triple crop yields and meet 2050’s projected food demands.

So where’s the catch to this get out of jail free card? It’s the energy required to roll out intensive farming around the world (as well as the aforementioned decline in arable land due to climate change). The link between energy and intensive farming practices accounts for the bulk of fluctuations in the cost of food. Fuel prices are most likely to go up in the future and food prices will follow. And most of the fuel used in agriculture is oil that we ought to stop using because of its contribution to climate change. We could switch to biofuels, but that then feeds back into the problem of using precious arable land to produce the fuel at the expense of producing food crops.

What’s the plan?

So let’s bring this all together. Climate change is locked in and already effecting our ability to feed ourselves. But, if world population continues to rise (and there’s no way that it won’t) we’re going to need more food from less land. I can’t see how these realities can play out in any other way than a calamity. It may not end in the extinction of our species (which is a distinct possibility if nuclear war were to break out over access to dwindling resources), but it certainly can’t end happily.

And my main concern at the moment is that no world leaders are looking at this oncoming train-wreck and planning to do something about it. There are steps we could take to at least minimise the size of the coming calamity, such as rolling out zero carbon economies and investing in agricultural research that could feed more with less. But the most common response is no response at all. Willful blindness to our current situation creates a poor vision for the future.

As Julian Cribb puts it “…humanity isn’t sleep-walking to disaster so much as racing headlong to embrace it. Do the rest of us have the foresight, and the guts, to stop them?

Our ultimate survival will be predicated entirely on our behaviour — not only on how well we adapt to unavoidable change, but also how quickly we apply the brakes.”

 

 

Apr 212014
 

Original story by Warren Barnsley, Sydney Morning Herald

Budding young filmmakers are being encouraged to shoot video evidence of marine debris affecting the Great Barrier Reef in a bid to raise awareness of the issue.

Great Barrier Reef

The Gladstone Local Marine Advisory Committee is calling on eight to 18-year old documentary producers to put together short films highlighting the problem of marine debris.

“We want young people to use their creativity to tell a compelling story about marine debris in a video no longer than two minutes,” said Gladstone LMAC Chair Blue Thomson.

“It can be an interview, documentary-style, a music video, a fictional story or animated. It’s entirely up to the creator,” he said.

Researchers say it’s a major issue for the world heritage-listed ecosystem, not only because of the negative impacts to the reef’s aesthetic qualities and hazard to ocean users.

LMAC member and Central Queensland University Research Fellow Dr Scott Wilson claims plastics are a top five pollutant causing harm to the marine environment and animals.

“In a recent study, 22 per cent of shearwater chicks were found to have plastics in their stomachs.

“Plastic bags, bottles, ropes and nets trap, choke, starve and drown many marine animals and seabirds around the world every year.”

The issue could be better dealt with if people were more responsible with their litter, including plastics, rubbers, metal, wood and glass, said Dr Wilson.

Participants will go in the running to win an iPad or GoPro Hero 3, with entries closing on May 30.

Winners will be announced on June 16.

Apr 212014
 

Original story by  Alexandra Kirk, ABC News

The National Water Commission could be axed as part of the Federal Government’s savings drive.

Reflections in the Murray, the commission which audits the Murray-Darling Basin Plan looks likely to be cut in next month's budget. Photo: James Hancock/ABC News

Reflections in the Murray, the commission which audits the Murray-Darling Basin Plan looks likely to be cut in next month’s budget. Photo: James Hancock/ABC News

The decade-old commission, an independent statutory authority which advises the Commonwealth on water policy, is “in the mix” for cuts and the ABC’s AM program understands it is likely to be wound up.

Scrapping the commission would save the Government about $30 million over four years.

Staff at the commission – which also monitors and audits programs like the Murray-Darling Basin Plan – have been told their future is under review.

Parliamentary secretary to the environment minister, Simon Birmingham, who has responsibility for water policy, has refused to confirm the commission’s fate but says it is under review.

“As everyone appreciates the Government has a huge budget challenge to bring the budget back into a sustainable shape and we’ve made it very clear that all areas of government are under review for efficiency opportunities and of course, across the water portfolio we’re looking at that,” he said.

National Water Commission

  • The commission is a statutory authority which provides advice to the Council of Australian Governments and the Federal Government on national water issues.
  • Established in 2004, the commission monitors and audits programs like the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
  • The body promotes the objectives and outcomes of Australia’s water reform blueprint, the National Water Initiative.

Source: National Water Commission

“But that doesn’t in any way undermine our commitment to deliver on key policy promises. Especially promises like delivering on the Murray-Darling Basin plan in full and on time.”

Senator Birmingham said the Government was keen to find the most cost-efficient way of receiving advice on water policy.

“The National Water Commission does some very valuable work, what’s important for us is to look at what that work is, how it can best be done and best be undertaken in the context of our policy promises as well as of course, ensuring that we have good environment and water policy advice,” he said.

“Of course, any use of consultants needs to be done as carefully as possible and be as limited as possible to ensure that we’re not wasting taxpayer dollars and that’s what I would expect any and every agency to do now and well into the future.

“Everything is being considered and looked at carefully to ensure that we give taxpayers best value for their money.”

Apr 202014
 

Original story by David Lockwood, Sydney Morning Herald

The contentious issue of marine parks and the ambitious efforts by some lobby groups to have the harbour sanctioned as one got me thinking.

Problems remain: Pollution levels in the Parramatta River remain a problem. Photo: Mike Bowers

Problems remain: Pollution levels in the Parramatta River remain a problem. Photo: Mike Bowers

What can we do to ensure our world-famous waterway remains an exemplary estuary brimming with marine life for all to enjoy?

Some whimsical, fanciful marine park utopia is off the mark. Commercial fishing has shutdown for a good reason and there are no fish species in the harbour under threat from angling.

By far the biggest problem is water quality. This isn’t rocket science. You need to ensure a clean source to safeguard the marine environment. If environmentalists spent one tenth of their energies focusing on water quality they might get somewhere.

Take Parramatta River, the very lifeblood of Port Jackson, whose sediments are so polluted that consumption of fish caught west of the Harbour Bridge is dangerous. In Homebush Bay, you are banned from even wetting a line.

Researchers have reportedly discovered that concentrations of copper, zinc and lead from stormwater and past industrial work in Port Jackson were so toxic they have rendered the oysters sterile. This is serious.

Oysters are the canaries in the mine or marine world, and less oysters mean less fish. But they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to pollution woes and researchers fear other marine critters are under great stress.

University of NSW Professor Emma Johnston said we need to find ways to lessen the problem of heavy-metal pollution because it is causing ongoing ecological damage. The most heavily contaminated estuaries were Port Jackson, Port Kembla, Botany Bay and the Hunter River.

In fact, some parts of Sydney Harbour have some of the most contaminated sediments in the world. Yet as Professor Johnston lamented, rarely is anything done about it.

Since commercial fishing was banned from the harbour in 2006, we’ve seen nothing concrete to repair poisonous Parramatta River. The problems of heavy metals and dioxins won’t go away on their own.

If everyone with an interest in the waterway banded together and directed their energies and expenditure at a pollution fix, there would surely be something to show for it.

Meantime, the harbour is hardly the pristine environment that green groups would like you to believe. In an oyster shell, we should forget marine parks and clean up our backyard first.

Weather warnings are in place for fishers and boaters this Easter, with large groundswells predicted to continue throughout the long weekend. But around the tidal estuary mouths, you’ll find plenty of healthy fish for the frying.

Kingfish, samson fish and amberjack are on the chew, school jewfish are about the Hawkesbury, while bream, luderick and whiting are milling in big numbers including along the beaches.

Easter is snapper time, with yellowfin tuna making a seasonal appearance down south, and trout get frisky in the Alps in anticipation of their annual spawning run.

Apr 152014
 

Original story by  Jake Sturmer, ABC News

Researchers in New South Wales have begun a trial to search for the “Achilles heel” of carp.
Carp Etch. Image: DAFF Qld

Carp Etch. Image: DAFF Qld

The introduced species is considered to be one of the world’s most invasive and scientists say they are Australia’s worst aquatic pest.

The project will tag and track carp in the upper Murrumbidgee River, which have played a part in the significant decline of native fish.

Scientists estimate 90 per cent of all native fish have been lost in the river since European settlement.

University of Canberra Associate Professor Mark Lintermans says the fish have had a significant impact on the waterways.

“[They compete] for food, they carry parasites that then spread on to native fish,” he said.

“There’s even a suggestion that they might be hoovering up eggs of native fish as they feed along the bottom.”

The research is being done with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and Bush Heritage Australia in its Scottsdale Reserve.

“This project is initially about gathering information – there’s a gap of knowledge of the carp in the upper reaches of the Murrumbidgee,” reserve manager Peter Saunders said.

“So we’re looking to understand what they’re doing, where they’re aggregating, what their populations are and how they’re breeding and where they’re breeding.

“Then [we plan to] expand that project into actually starting to remove them to benefit the native fish which we know are in here in small numbers.”

Local angler and member of the Capital Region Fishing Alliance, Steve Samuels, says a lot has changed since he began fishing in the river in the 1970s.

“There was Murray Cod, Golden Perch, Silver Perch – it was a wonderful place to fish,” he said.

“But today as you see it, the water’s a lot dirtier and carp now dominate as the most prolific fish in the system.”

Contact Investigations@abc.net.au

Apr 152014
 

published by the Department of Environment

Wetlands Australia: National Wetlands Update February 2014

Wetlands Australia: National Wetlands Update February 2014

Download

Introduction

The international theme of World Wetlands Day 2014 is “Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners for Growth”. For millennia, wetlands have been used directly for agriculture, and for supplying food, fuel and fibre to support lives and livelihoods. Wetlands continue to play an essential role in supporting modern day agriculture. They provide water storage, flood buffering, nutrient removal, water purification and erosion control. Sustainable practices which support both agriculture and healthy wetlands are therefore coming to the fore.

This edition of Wetlands Australia includes several feature articles on wetlands and agriculture, along with many other articles on current wetland projects and programs.

Australia was one of the first countries to sign the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (more commonly known as the Ramsar Convention), and in 1974 designated the world’s first Ramsar site: Cobourg Peninsula in the Northern Territory.  In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the first Ramsar designation, this edition of Wetlands Australia also features 23 articles celebrating Australian Ramsar sites.

If you would like to contribute to future editions of Wetlands Australia, please contactwetlandsmail@environment.gov.au

Download individual chapters

Introduction and contents (PDF – 698.64 KB)

Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners for Growth (PDF – 888.7 KB)

  • Wimmera wetland project benefits whole farm
  • Murray Wetland Carbon Storage project
  • Territory Conservation Agreements – helping pastoralists look after wetlands
  • Agricultural water supports wetlands and tourism
  • I’d like to order some bitterns and rice, please
  • Burdekin cane farmer builds a wetland for the future

Ramsar wetland management in Australia (PDF – 749.5 KB)

  • Ramsar in New South Wales – a tale of 12 sites
  • Queensland wetlands celebrate 20 years of Ramsar listing
  • Banrock Station wetland and vineyard – a perfect blend
  • Record breaking flight signals the importance of conserving wetlands
  • Environmental flows bring waterbirds to Tuckerbil Swamp Ramsar site
  • Managing weed and sea level rise threats to Kakadu’s tropical river floodplains

Wetland conservation and restoration (PDF – 807.27 KB)

  • An update on wetland restoration on private land in South Australia and Victoria
  • Protecting and enhancing the wonderful Moolort Wetlands of Victoria
  • Using historical mine pits in Western Australia to create a wetlands complex for the benefit of water bird conservation and the local community
  • Doing it together – a good news story about the fairies and the ferry
  • From little things, big things grow
  • Successful rehabilitation of a Waterbird Refuge
  • Kids tell companies to mind their business
  • Students and surf club – the clean-up team!

Water management and wetlands (PDF – 828.02 KB)

  • Environmental watering in the Lower Lachlan River catchment, New South Wales
  • To wade or not to wade – hydrological management effects on species composition
  • Partnering to restore the Mallowa Creek floodplain wetlands

Wetland management and research (PDF – 706.58 KB)

  • Queensland Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger Program
  • The Finke River- salty & lovin’ it
  • Novel ecosystem, novel approaches
  • Sixth Lake Eyre Basin Conference – cross-border collaboration

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Ramsar Convention in Australia – a showcase of Australian Ramsar sites (PDF – 2.94 MB)

  • Cobourg Peninsula Ramsar Site, Northern Territory
  • Kakadu National Park Ramsar Site, Northern Territory
  • Barmah Forest Ramsar Site, Victoria
  • Flood Plain Lower Ringarooma River Ramsar Site, Tasmania
  • Gippsland Lakes Ramsar Site, Victoria
  • Logan Lagoon Ramsar Site, Tasmania
  • Moulting Lagoon Ramsar Site, Tasmania
  • Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula Ramsar Site, Victoria
  • Hunter Estuary Wetlands Ramsar Site, New South Wales
  • Towra Point Ramsar Site, New South Wales
  • The Coorong and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert Ramsar Site, South Australia
  • Macquarie Marshes Ramsar Site, New South Wales
  • Coongie Lakes Ramsar Site, South Australia
  • Eighty-mile Beach Ramsar Site, Western Australia
  • Lake Toolibin Ramsar Site, Western Australia
  • Peel-Yalgorup System Ramsar Site, Western Australia
  • Blue Lake Ramsar Site, New South Wales
  • Ginini Flats Wetland Complex Ramsar Site, Australian Capital Territory
  • Great Sandy Strait Ramsar Site, Queensland
  • Banrock Station Wetland Complex Ramsar Site, South Australia
  • Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs Ramsar Site, Coral Sea Islands Territory
  • The Dales Ramsar Site, Christmas Island
  • Piccaninnie Ponds Karst Wetlands Ramsar Site, South Australia

Calendar of events (PDF – 482.54 KB)

Previous editions of Wetlands Australia are also available:

Apr 122014
 
The following article from Practical Fishkeeping gives a UK perspective about the hobby, but all of the issues discussed are relevant to fishkeeping hobbyists here in Australia.

Original story by Nathan Hill at Practical Fishkeeping

A handful of recent events have prompted Nathan Hill to put finger to keyboard and share some of his biggest fears of what could put an end to the hobby we all love…
Photo: Practical fishkeeping

Photo: Practical fishkeeping

Something I’ve long admired about this hobby is its tenacity. It has, over the years, been subject to all sorts of accusations, including being geeky or uncool, being unnecessarily expensive (early marine keepers, anyone?) and even being environmentally unsound.

Despite this the hobby and the supporting trade prevails, and even in the face of some fluctuating trends: not least of all that same, damning migration to online purchasing that can wither and drain bricks-and-mortar premises. More than just prevailing, in some cases it actively stands proud, is able to boast expansion, recruitment, and economic growth. Even during this ongoing global economic wobble, fishkeeping is burgeoning. Wow.

That’s not to say that we are not vulnerable, susceptible even, to factors that could pull the metaphoric rug from under our feet.

I’m often engaged in conversation with people across a breadth of different fields: anglers, wholesalers, retailers, hobbyists, environmental scientists, and so on. Talking across such a diverse spectrum, I pick up on a lot of different concerns that reside, often unwittingly so, at the backs of peoples’ minds. After sitting and brooding on these for way too long, I’d like to share my biggest fears of what could, at any time, befall our hobby and end fishkeeping.

Disease

Pathogens capable of inciting disease pandemics are a major global worry. Just look at human concerns about antibiotic abuse and the occurrence of MRSA. Look at recent worries about Ebola outbreaks. Even look at the return of diseases that could easily be prevented in humans, were people not so blinkered and scientifically ill informed about vaccines. Disease pandemics are a major fear.

If you’re a newcomer to the hobby, then whatever you think you know about fish farming – forget it. If you have images of clinical facilities where each and every fish is treated like a newborn infant, then it’s back to the drawing board time. Farms are businesses, plain and simple. The goal is to get young fish out of adults as eggs, to hatch them, and to get them up to saleable juveniles as soon as possible, and that means that pretty much anything is on the cards to get them there. Antibiotics are used where necessary (and maybe even where not), and not just the kinds of antibiotics that you or I might have access to via a vet. Different countries have different laws about what can and can’t be used, and in some it’s a bit of a medicine free for all.

Hopefully we all know the dangers of antibiotic abuse, but in case anyone is unsure, here’s a brief recap:

Antibiotics kill things indiscriminately (the very word ‘antibiotic’ literally translates as ‘against life’). The idea is that they kill bacteria at a lower dose rate than which they kill the host. So if a fish gets ill, you can poison everything in the tank with antibiotics, and the pathogens making the fish ill should die before the fish does, and then you can stop the antibiotics.

However, if you leave a few bacteria behind, they start to get immune, and can build tolerance to the antibiotic. So, the next outbreak of bacteria will be a bit ‘harder’ to control than the first lot. Repeat the process, leave a few bacteria behind, and they get harder to kill again, until eventually you end up with pathogens that are so resistant to antibiotics that you’d need to use a dose rate so high that you’d kill the host before the pathogen.

That’s the abridged version, anyway.

The problem of course is that unregulated use of antibiotics over in the farming nations could quite feasibly create a strain of bacteria that our own antibiotics have no effect against. With diseased fish coming in, and no ability to cure them, we wouldn’t stand a chance.

But it’s not just bacteria.

There are a few pathogens on the horizon that are cause for concern at this time. In coldwater fish, there are the dreaded illnesses of KHV (Koi herpes virus) and SVC (Spring viraemia of Carp), both of which have the potential to cause massive problems to Cyprinids. Not so long ago, massive wipeouts from the former blighted farms across the world, causing losses on unmentionable scales in both ornamental and food fish culture. Here in the UK, some retailers faced the furious backlash from introducing the disease to consumer’s ponds. One was even driven to bankruptcy over it.

In the tropical world, I am very twitchy about Tetrahymena pyriformis, otherwise known as Guppy disease (though this is unfair as many fish are susceptible). This disease can cause massive mortality at breakneck speeds, especially in farm, wholesale and retail environments. I’m not the only one worried about this particular pathogen, either.

What is so very infuriating is the ‘wait and see’ attitude of some traders. This is not a disease to ignore, and to do so is not just at your own peril, but that of the entire industry.

Running costs

You will recall recently that Jack Heathcote had to close down his massive aquarium because of exorbitant running costs. Agreed, his tank was huge: an absolute electricity guzzling swimming pool of a thing. But the point is, it used to be well within his outgoings to operate. Prices are creeping, across the board, and more and more of us are noticing.

Compulsory water metering, if introduced across the UK, will spell death for many users of RO water. Given that tapwater isn’t going to get better any time soon, marine keepers in particular will have the choice of either paying out for a safe supply, reverting the hardiest, nitrate tolerant specimens there are, or jacking the hobby in.

Electricity might start to play on the minds of the fiscally conscious, too. As we’re encouraged to get our own monitors in the home to calculate what’s consuming what, I suspect that many will be alarmed at just how much a decent sized tank can cost to run. A handful of frantically spinning pumps, a couple of hundred watts of lighting, and a wheezing 300W heater or two all add up to become a financial burden, and given the balance of sacrificing the tank to the cause of improved monetary household harmony, I’ll wager that some might start to seriously consider a less power-hungry hobby.

Importation costs

The tropical fish we get in the UK tend not to come from within the British shores. Many will be far eastern, along with some European, American and African contributions. Wherever they’re coming from, they’re coming via planes. A continuous squadron of winged beasts bring us boxes of fish like a hovering conveyer belt, and we’ve become very reliant upon it.

Plane freight has been insidiously creeping upwards (no pun intened) for as long as I can remember. In fact, it’s the freight that frequently constitutes the majority cost of the livestock we buy. The trade might hate me for saying it, but a farmed guppy can be bought from Singapore or Malaysia for pennies. It’s only once it’s circumnavigated the globe, whizzing from one Hemisphere to the other that it has racked up a lot of airmiles, and those airmiles all add up to extra expenditure that needs to be reclaimed.

Now this isn’t the end of the earth for fish where you can cram a few hundred into a box for transit. In that case the cost is distributed about: each and every fish carries its own little fragment of expense, to be added to a mark up. But what of larger specimen fishes? What of the larger wild catfish that come one to a box? I suspect that this aspect of the hobby is fast becoming vulnerable.

Retailers, to their credit, strive to keep retail prices down on fish. You only have to look at the glacial creep of the value of staples like Neon tetra to realise that they’re becoming less and less profitable for the trader, though the competition and the market is fierce. These fish were about £1 each ten years back, and they’re still about £1 each now. Retailers know that they can’t crack the prices of many of these staples up without dissociating themselves like pariahs from the hobby, so they suffer in silence.

Time could force a trader’s hand and we could see incremental price hikes. The big concern is where the cut off point is for the hobbyist. £3 for a Neon? £25 for a Pictus catfish? African cichlids starting at £30?

Let’s rule nothing out, because a lot of factors are at play with pricing.

Release of fish into the UK

I have spent the last few weeks scathing at the irresponsible actions of a minority of those in the industry.

I’m not sure many of us realise just what kind of scrutiny we are under as a hobby. Whether we like it or not, we have enemies, and powerful ones at that, who see what we do as a threat. Many of our opposition and detractors are those in the angling community, who can have an unbalanced and solely derogatory view of us, and the perceived threat we could pose to their own industry.

We as aquarists maintain what amount to collections of alien species in our ponds and tanks. Sterlets are far from indigenous, nor are the various gobies, catfish, tetra and so on that we keep.

This taps back in to what I mentioned earlier, vis. disease of fish. Any one of us, anywhere in the world could, in theory, be sat on the equivalent of case zero. We already know that domestic shrimps can be carriers of White tail disease, an illness currently ravaging farms of commercial food shrimp. We don’t know if there’s any risk of native crayfish picking up this disease, and I don’t want to find out the hard way, but all it takes is for some bright spark to consider putting his or her shrimps in a pond at the height of summer, to then be promptly flooded so that the shrimps get into a local river and meet a crayfish. The outcome of that encounter isn’t hard to envisage.

Is that even feasible? Well, yes. Loads of aquarists were affected by this year’s flooding, and I’m open mouthed and speechless that some people are even trying to highlight to the national tabloids that their fish escaped. Already that’s opened a forum on whether those at risk of flooding are allowed to keep the fish that they do. But the last thing we want to be doing now is drawing excess attention to it.

If ecosystems in certain rivers or lakes are impacted by fish like sterlets, who do you think will take the blame? And what then, the ramifications for our trade? Suffice to say, if someone’s escapees blight the native fish of a county, the angling lobbyists and national newspapers will demonise us to the extent that we won’t be able to walk down the roads without being spat on.

Controls are in place to stop just this kind of thing from happening. Legislation already incorporates rules and laws about where non-natives may and may not be put. Dangerously invasive fish are denied entry to the country through the implementation of the Import of Live Fish Act.

Enter the imbecile. The imbecile is someone who, upon going against all of the advice of his retailer, decides to buy a gaggle of potentially invasive, non-natives that promptly outgrow his pond. The imbecile then takes the fish, in his desire to be rid, and upends them into a local waterway.

I’m not saying that any of us should sit back and await this to happen. Rather, we should be aware of such people, and be thoroughly prepared to dob them in at the first hint of trouble. Call me a snitch for that if you like, but I’m more interested in the welfare of UK waterways than I am in some puerile, school playground code of honour.

CEFAS would be a good port of call when reporting imbeciles like the one mentioned above. Even the local constabulary, when made aware that someone is intending to release non-natives into British waterways, will be obligated to do something. The release of non-natives is an illegal act, and we should all be guarded against it.

Anti-hobbyists would seize any opportunity to extirpate our industry, and it is essential that we don’t give them an easy opening to do so.

Environment degradation

This one isn’t something that we have too much say over, but where we do, we should.

Here’s a surprise for you. Some of the fish we currently keep are extinct in the wild. Red tailed sharks, for example, no longer have a native range. It was destroyed by damming, cities, irrigation and farming. Liquorice gouramis are going the same way, as their habitat is eaten up by Palm plantations. Certain African cichlids have vanished into the maws of Nile perch.

Degradation leads to extinction, and extinction means no new bloodlines. Eventually, that means inbreeding and variation. Now that’s fine if you fancy stores choc-full of Flowerhorns and the blandest of the bland in farmed staples, but with nothing interesting to offer, the trade might will be on its knees. It’ll certainly have no substance if there aren’t any decent fish left.

Legislation

A few paragraphs above, where I lamented the release of non-natives, I drew attention to the dangers of a few rogue aquarists jeopardising our hobby on a national scale.

Worse still is that our comrades in mainland Europe could just as easily spoil things for us by releasing fish there, too. Recall the recent debacle of the Golden apple snail. We Brits did nothing wrong on our own turf, but it transpires that a snail population was released and decided to make merry in the waters of Spain. After some investigation it was argued that the snails could just as easily invade and establish into certain water of East Anglia. Just like that, legislation was drafted and the snails banned from importation and movement between EU countries.

I choke every time I read about the likes of Pacu being found in Parisian rivers, or Cabomba strangling Dutch waterways. Each of these is the produce of an irresponsible aquarist out there somewhere, and all are potential trade cripplers for the whole continent.

It’s bad enough knowing that a slip up on our own shores could warrant investigation, but to know it’s possibly wrested from our hands altogether is outright harrowing. The idea that someone could upset the Euro trade of Callichthyds by being foolish enough to put Scleromystax into Italian rivers is a troubling one. Rhinogobius found in Austrian ponds could be the end of those little cuties for all of us, and so on.

Given how high the powers of Europe go, I’m not even sure we’d have the grounding or stamina to successfully fight our corner.

Autonomy is required, though how to gain it isn’t exactly clear. It’s certainly one for the regulatory bodies to ascertain, because I’m sure that like me, you don’t want to be held accountable for problems you were never part of.

Ethics

We’re all familiar with the idea of culture shock, and cross-generation differences. With each new generation the nation produces, the paradigm of attitudes and opinions alters ever so slightly.

It happens across so many different trains of thought that I’m almost stuck for choice, so examples are rife. Let’s start with obvious points like racism and sexism. If we go back 100 years, prevalent attitudes to females and foreign ethnicities were radically different to what they are today. That’s not to say that everybody was a xenophobic misogynist, but compared to today’s standard, the percentile of people who would have happily passed off derogatory comments about either was considerably higher than it is now.

Opinions and attitudes are often languidly slow to change, but change they do. The same applies to the world of animal ethics, too. Fifty years ago, the idea that someone might be tried for abusing a pig on a farm would have been near laughable. Flash forward to 2014, and the same person could expect to be near lynched, banned from working with animals, and possibly even subject to custodial sentence.

We’re seeing gradual encroachment into pet keeping, if you keep eyes peeled. How frequently do you now see cage birds on sale? Many retailers have abandoned them, and those that haven’t yet are often under pressure to do so. Again, just fifty years back a teenager wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at his or her mother keeping a canary in a cage. In the modern day, you’ll find increasing numbers of youngsters who would brand the act as cruel. It’s a gradual process.

We’ve already witnessed campaigns to get some fish out of aquatic stores. Giants like Pacu are increasingly considered ethically unsound, with the long term welfare consideration for the fish itself now ranking much higher than the novelty of keeping one for a while.

Retailers are becoming more switched on and savvy in their vetting of potential keepers. Ethics rank higher than pound signs in some stores, who will politely refuse a sale if they think the fish in question will not have its requirements yet. People care.

None of this is to say that we’re on a slippery slope that will eventually lead to a total rejection of fishkeeping by some future generation. We can, after all, dig our heels in before it gets runaway, and this is something that we should perhaps guard against. Showing ourselves in a positive light is essential, and perhaps more essential than ever if we’re to win over the minds of tomorrow’s keeper. Young people will be the future of the hobby, and if they reach hobby age having been influenced in such a way they think the trade negative, then it’s pretty much game over. No new fishkeepers, no continued hobby.

Zoonotic illness (Disease part two…)

I should probably include the caveat ‘once grabbed by the mainstream media’ for the above subheading.

Zoonotic illness alone is unlikely to wipe out fishkeeping, in the same way that recent TB cases acquired from cats won’t be leading to a global purge on felines any time soon.

But a devastating sob story pandering to our worst fears (I needn’t say which tabloids I brand as capable of this) and highlighting the loss of a hand or foot through some badly diagnosed, ill treated and runaway case of fish TB could quite easily inflict a wound from which we’ll never quite recover

The worst situation that could befall us would be a combination of tragic events. Someone young and immunocomprimised for whatever reason, picking up a particularly nasty strain of Leptospirosis, or something similar and dying would be a disaster in every way, not least of all for the individual concerned.

We know that hygiene is essential when working with tanks. We understand that getting unprotected hands with cuts in aquaria is to invite disaster, and we can eradicate this risk at source, just by being both aware of the hazards, and being aware of how to safeguard against them.

Just bear in mind that if you’re taking risks with your health for the sake of your hobby, then you’re not just putting your own neck on the line. If it all goes very, very wrong and you end up in a bad way, then you’re potentially messing it up for the rest of us.

Likelihood?

I’m upset that most of the factors above are in many ways beyond the remit of the day-to-day aquarist. Responsible buying can help to reduce the chance of disease and zoonosis, and voting with our wallets can promote retailers to purchase better quality and responsibly sourced stock.

Expenses are beyond our control, bar lobbying MPs and embracing efficiency where we can. Championing low running cost technology over higher wattage ‘budget’ alternatives will help such lines to grow, in turn safeguarding us in the longer run.

What is definitely in our grasp, and what I consider the biggest danger to us all, is not releasing fish in the UK. I cannot reiterate enough just how damning it would be for us to have subtropical species that are only sourced through our hobby turning up in native ponds and rivers.

I’ve harped on about it numerous times, but I’m not going to miss another opportunity to do the same. If you release your fish in to the wild, or are considering doing so, then shame upon you. I will have no truck with anyone who wants to jeopardise the hobby for all of us like that, and who also shows abject disregard for the wellbeing of their livestock.

Keep fish in their tanks where they are not a risk, and I beseech each and every one of you: if you know someone who’s planning to release, call the authorities and make them act on it. It’s your hobby at stake too.

Apr 112014
 

Original story by Jake Sturmer, ABC News

A new study of Australia’s dirtiest and cleanest beaches has revealed some surprising results.

A red-footed Booby on a polluted beach in Australia. Photo: Dr Denise Hardesty, CSIRO

A red-footed Booby on a polluted beach in Australia. Photo: Dr Denise Hardesty, CSIRO

CSIRO researchers have spent two years surveying Australia’s entire coastline, counting rubbish on sections of sand and sea every 100 kilometres.

Australia’s dirtiest and cleanest beaches

NSW

  • Dirtiest: Shelly Beach, Manly
  • Cleanest: Red Rock Beach, NSW North Coast

Northern Territory

  • Dirtiest: Cape Arnhem
  • Cleanest: Cape Hay

Queensland

  • Dirtiest: Barney Point Beach, Gladstone
  • Cleanest: Mackay

South Australia

  • Dirtiest: Border Village (SA)
  • Cleanest: Nora Creina

Tasmania

  • Dirtiest: East Kangaroo Island (West Gulch)
  • Cleanest: Cape Grim

Victoria

  • Dirtiest: Pearse’s Road Beach
  • Cleanest: Gibbs Track Beach, Lakes Entrance

Western Australia

  • Dirtiest: Ellensbrook Beach
  • Cleanest: 80 Mile Beach

Source: CSIRO

The survey of more than 175 beaches found the dirtiest beach in Australia was Border Village on the coast between Western Australia and South Australia.

This was typical of the study that found remote and hard to reach beaches were among Australia’s most grotty.

Lead researcher Dr Denise Hardesty says the rubbish did not float in from polluted oceans abroad.

By using ocean current data and examining the items, researchers could tell much of the mess fell from the hands of ordinary Australians.

“In general most of what we find is from us,” Dr Hardesty said.

“No matter how remote you are, how close you are to an urban city, we leave our litter everywhere.”

Illegal dumping, irresponsible mariners and careless beachgoers are all to blame, she says.

Researchers are suggesting increased regulation and enforcement, particularly of illegal dumping.

“We aren’t doing as well as we could, as we need to be doing, in terms of waste management,” Dr Hardesty said.

More than 150 million pieces of rubbish

The CSIRO study estimates more than 150 million pieces of rubbish litter Australia’s sand and shores.

The most common item was plastic following rapid growth in global plastic production.

“More than three-quarters of what we find in terms of rubbish is plastic,” Dr Hardesty said.

This had a disastrous effect on some 600 marine species who then consumed what researchers have termed “plastic food”.

Dr Hardesty said she had found cigarette lighters, toothbrushes, pill bottles and bottle caps in the stomachs of birds.

“We open turtles that have died and see that they’re jammed full of plastics,” she said.

“I’ve found over 200 pieces of plastic in a single bird.”

Communities cleaning up Australia

Retired plastic surgeon John Hanrahan and other former professionals have formed a group to clean up the waters off Western Australia’s sunny Abrolhos Islands.

They visit once a year to clean up the mess left by tourists and fishermen over the decades.

“To me they are unique islands in this part of the world, they’re coral islands, they’re well south of the usual position and it seems to be sacrilege to let them deteriorate,” Mr Hanrahan said.

“I think we all have a responsibility to look after these islands and part of looking after them, in my view, is cleaning up the refuse.

“What I’d like to see is other people take up the cause as it were and say ‘yes all right, we can do a little bit’.”

Migratory shore birds on 80 Mile Beach in Western Australia. Photo:  Matt Brann, ABC

Migratory shore birds on 80 Mile Beach in Western Australia. Photo: Matt Brann, ABC