May 192014

Original story by Stephen Garnett, Charles Darwin University and Kerstin Zander, Charles Darwin University at The Conversation

Big Ritchie looks up from his pile of bananas, unperturbed by the flock of tourists taking his photo. Sprawled around him, mother orangutans* and their fluffy orange babies groom affectionately, chase each other, hang upside down, or wander off and vanish into the nearby forest canopy.
new research shows seeing orangutans like Big Ritchie in conservation areas can raise vital support to protect his cousins in the wild. Photo: CC BY-SA

new research shows seeing orangutans like Big Ritchie in conservation areas can raise vital support to protect his cousins in the wild. Photo: CC BY-SA

Fewer than 2,000 orangutans are left living in the wild in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, with nearly all truly wild ones confined to a remote site on the Indonesian border. It’s why thousands of tourists and local Sarawak people come to places like this – the popular Semenggoh Nature Reserve – to see orangutans semi-wild in a reserve or captive in a rehabilitation centre. Continue reading »

May 072014

Where: Forest Lake Boulevard Park

Date: Sunday 25 May 2014

Time: From 9am – 12pm

Cost: Free

Learn how to identify pest fish species and the impact they pose on our native fish and aquatic habitat. During the event, residents will able to fish for Tilapia, a hardy fish whose effective breeding habits can lead to it overrunning native species, other noxious fish such as carp, and ornamental fish commonly kept in home aquariums such as goldfish. To take part in the fishing activity, residents are asked to sign up at the registration marquee near the Stage area at the parklands where they will be directed to one of the designated fishing sites around the lake.

There will also be a free sausage sizzle.

Participants will be required to bring along their own fishing rod and line. Barb-free hooks will be provided to reduce the impact on native bycatch that will be returned to the water. Bait will be available on site.

As this is an outdoors event, participants should also bring water, sun smart clothing, hat, sunscreen and enclosed shoes. All children, under the age of 18, must be accompanied by an adult.

Note: Fishing in Forest Lake is normally prohibited, however Council has approval to oversee this one off event to raise awareness for and manage this pest species.

Mozambique tilapia/mouthbrooder,Oreochromis mossambicus. Image: DAFF

Mozambique tilapia/mouthbrooder,Oreochromis mossambicus. Image: DAFF

More information about pest fish is available from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

May 022014

Wildlife Preservation Society of QueenslandOriginal story by Peter Ogilvie, Wildlife Queensland

The assault on nature conservation in Queensland

Why has the Newman Government chosen to comprehensively neutralise nature conservation and its associated legislation in Queensland, particularly in relation to national parks?

There doesn’t appear to be any political imperative, as is the case in NSW where a party with the balance of power in the Upper House is demanding hunting access to national parks. The Liberal National Party (LNP) government in Queensland has had complete and unassailable control of the uni-cameral parliament since it reduced the Labor opposition to seven members following the March 2012 election. Neither can it be explained purely as a matter of ideology. Coalition governments in Queensland and elsewhere in Australia have been responsible for some significant advances in nature conservation. After all, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) was enacted by a Coalition government in Canberra, as was the latest strongly protective zoning plan for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. There has been the suggestion that the government is undoing what was created by former Goss, Beattie and Bligh Labor governments. However, several matters that have been neutralised are actually products of earlier Coalition governments. Which leaves one other possible explanation, perverse though it may be, that they are doing it simply because they can.

Kondalilla falls, Sunshine Coast, Queensland. Photo: Damien Dempsey/Wikimedia Commons

Kondalilla falls, Sunshine Coast, Queensland. Photo: Damien Dempsey/Wikimedia Commons

Nevertheless, what they have done needs to be clearly documented so this government can be held to account, perhaps sadly not in its lifetime, but by future generations that will want to know where the blame lies.

The Banishment of National Parks

Continue reading »

May 022014

Original story at

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 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

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 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.”