Archive for Australia
www.themercury.com.au 10th March 2013
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have yet again forced the Japanese whaling fleet to fall well short of their maximum quota for whale carcasses. The fleet recently returned to port with 75 whales on board compared to the 800+ it could have culled. Despite the Australian government lodging a complaint at the International Court of Justice about Japan’s continued whaling programme, citing the country’s failure to uphold its international obligations, Japan continues to hunt whales. Sea Shepherd’s fleet has grown recently and now consists of four ships. This has allowed the conservation group to be more direct in their protests. However, growing aggression has led to claims of violence and harassment on both sides. In 2010, one of Sea Shepherd’s boats, The Ady Gil (formerly of Earth Race), was almost sunk by a Japanese whaling ship.
www.guardian.co.uk 1st October 2012
Quoted from source:
‘Coral cover in the Great Barrier Reef has dropped by more than half over the last 27 years, according to scientists, a result of increased storms, bleaching and predation by population explosions of a starfish which sucks away the coral’s nutrients. At present rates of decline, the coral cover will halve again within a decade, though scientists said the reef could recover if the crown-of-thorns starfish can be brought under control and, longer term, global carbon dioxide emissions are reduced.
Coral reefs are an important part of the marine ecosystem as sources of food and as protection for young fish. They are under threat around the world from the effects of bleaching, due to rising ocean temperatures, and increasing acidification of the oceans, which reduces the corals’ ability to build their calcium carbonate structures. The Great Barrier Reef is the most iconic coral reef in the world, listed as a Unesco world heritage site and the source of $A5bn (£3.2bn) a year to the Australian economy through tourism. The observations of its decline are based on more than 2,000 surveys of 214 reefs between 1985 and 2012. The results showed a decline in coral cover from 28% to 13.8% – an average of 0.53% a year and a total loss of 50.7% over the 27-year period. The study was published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal (subscription).’
e360.yale.edu 14th June 2012
Quoted from source:
‘Australia has announced that it will create the world’s largest marine reserve, a network of protected areas that will cover 1.2 million square miles, more than one-third of the country’s waters. Environment Minister Tony Burke, making the announcement in advance of the Rio+20 sustainability summit, said the action will expand the number of Australia’s marine reserves from 27 to 60 and will protect waters of the Coral Sea and other key ocean habitats. “It’ time for the world to turn a corner on protection of our oceans, and Australia today is leading that next step,” said Burke. “What we’ve done is effectively create a national parks estate in the ocean.” Limited fishing and oil drilling will be allowed in some areas, and the fishing industry will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for reducing or eliminating commercial fishing in numerous tracts of ocean.’
LMV comment: only 1.1 million square miles of the world’s oceans were protected before the expansion, of which 310,000 square miles were in Australian waters. This move by the Australian government means that over half of the world’s marine reserves are now in Australia.
Because of the limited budget we had for ‘Plastic Shores‘, it was very difficult for us to attain footage of animals being affected by plastic pollution. For several examples, we had to make do with photographs kindly provided by photographers posting on the Marine Photobank (e.g.: see the picture below of a dead albatross by Claire Fackler). However, some of most shocking footage was provided by Paul Nicholas from Christmas Island, Australia. We first saw Paul’s footage of turtle hatchlings making their way across plastic debris on Great Beach from Tim Silverwood, founder of the Australian NGO Take 3.
Paul replied pretty much as soon as we got in contact with him. He very kindly said we could use his footage for free and it sets the tone for the horrible ways marine debris can disrupt the normal lives of aquatic creatures. We cannot thank Paul enough for his charitable contribution to Plastic Shores. Most of the plastics that wash up on Christmas Island do not originate in Australia but from the northern countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and those around the Indian Ocean and are perfect examples of how one country’s waste can affect others a long distance away. We wish Mr Nicholas all the best in promoting this important issue.
The coast of northern Australia is a beautiful environment that has been blighted in recent years by the global problem of marine debris. One form of debris in particular is causing problems: derelict fishing nets. These nets are made out of monofilament twine, a type of plastic that can last as long as 600 years in the environment, according to the US Marine Park Service and Mote Marine Laboratory. In places like Hawaii, ghost nets, as they are known, are shipped to a waste to energy facility but in northern Australia, due to the vast distances involved, the problem is harder to solve. They typically end up in landfill or are burnt.
GhostNets Australia is an alliance of 22 indigenous groups from three states in the northern part of the country. Formerly known as the Carpentaria Ghost Nets Programme, the group has been responsible for removing 7,500 nets off the beaches since 2004. Amazingly, less than 10% of these nets have originated from Australia, with the majority washing in from countries further North such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. As well as cleaning the shorelines, GhostNets Alliance has put a lot of time into finding alternative ways to dispose/reuse the nets they find apart from burning or landfill. One way is to use the tough monofilament line as a fabric thread in art pieces (see pictures) and another is to patch the nets up and reuse them again.
Ghost nets are particularly harmful in the marine environment as they carry on catching marine animals (see first and last picture). Organisations such as GhostNets Australia are doing a fantastic job preventing these nets being washed once again out to sea to cause more damage. This is why they have just won the WWF’s Creative Arts Award. We wish them every success in the future!
After years of political debate, the Australian Senate has finally passed The Clean Energy Act, a law which will see the 500 worst polluting companies taxed at a rate of A$23 per tonne of carbon emitted ($23.80; £14.80). The law was heavily opposed by several opposition parties causing the margin of victory to be extremely small. The Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, had to rely on the support of the Green Party to push through the legislation with 36 Senate votes in favour and 32 against. Opponents of the bill believe it will raise the cost of living and cause job losses but the government hope it will galvanise innovation in the renewable energy sector thereby kicking Australia’s reliance on fossil fuels. Currently Australia accounts for 1.5% of the world’s emissions and is the developed world’s highest per capita polluter. The Clean Energy Act is far stricter than similar laws in the EU where fines range between $8.70 and $12.60 per carbon tonne. Ms Gillard told a news conference, “Today we have made history. After all those years of debate and division, our nation has got the job done.”
www.independent.co.uk 28th August 2011
Torrential rainfall in eastern Australia has caused the destruction of 1,000 miles of sea-grass fields, the natural habitat and food for the country’s most endangered species the dugong, or sea cow as it more commonly known. At least 100 are known to have died so far as they travel further from their natural foraging areas to find food, putting themselves more at risk to disease, injury and death. The beds of sea grass, which makes up the largest part of the sea cow’s diet, takes 2 to 3 years to recover, and that is only if there are not any severe weather conditions in between. Sea cow populations are already in rapid decline due to pollution, escalating industrial activity and over-fishing by local populations. A new TV campaign is about to be launched to tackle the latter cause of the dugong decline. Activists believe that an overhaul of Australia’s Native Title laws should occur to prevent over-fishing and cruelty by aboriginal communities. Campaign organiser for Australians for Animals Colin Riddell says: “We have a confirmed report of a dugong calf being tied to the back of a boat, its cries bringing in the mother so they can both be killed. We have reports in our office of indigenous groups going out in motor boats with a GPS to find dugongs. Once found, they radio their mates and entire pods of dugongs are slaughtered.” Turtles also rely on sea grass as an important source of food and several hundred have been found washed up dead.
www.guardian.co.uk 16th August 2011
Quoted from source:
‘More than 2,000 protesters gathered outside Australia‘s Parliament House on Tuesday to demonstrate against government plans to make the country’s biggest air polluters pay a tax on the carbon gas they produce. The prime minister, Julia Gillard, is poised to pass the unpopular tax with the support of independent legislators and the Greens party. Protesters complained that Gillard had promised not to introduce a carbon tax when her centre-left Labor party was narrowly re-elected last year. Some called for a new election. Gillard plans to impose a A$23(£14) tax on every metric tonne of carbon gas produced starting 1 July next year. The opposition called on the prime minister to apologise to parliament for winning the election on a falsehood that her government would not tax carbon emissions. But Gillard said the carbon tax deal she struck with the independents and Greens was the best option for Australia’s future. “I take the responsibility for having made that decision. I understand that has caused disappointment among many,” she told parliament. “But you get elected to this position to make the tough decisions that are important for the nation’s future.” The protest coincided with parliament’s first session after a five-week break.’
www.smh.com.au 31st May 2011
Cate Blanchett, the Australian born actress in such films as Lord of the Rings and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, has put her name to a series of adverts for the “say yes” to a carbon tax campaign. Despite receiving several political attacks due to her decision, Ms Blanchett said, ”everyone will benefit if we protect the environment. There is a societal cost of increased pollution and that’s what I’m passionate about as a mother. That’s where it gets me in the gut. I can’t look my children in the face if I’m not trying to do something in my small way and to urge other people.” The main criticism for her role in the advert, where she appears alongside her husband actor Michael Caton, is that she is a rich person advocating a tax that would affect “everyday Australians”. The advert was sponsored by the a coalition of groups including the Australian Council of Trade Unions, GetUp!, and the Australian Conservation Foundation. Ms Blanchett was not paid for her work. The leader of the opposition Liberal Party of Australia, Tony Abbott, who opposes the Carbon Tax, accused the actress of being an out-of-touch celebrity. ”You do not give special weight to celebrities,” he said. ”You do not give special weight to people who live half the year in Hollywood where there is no carbon tax.”
www.guardian.co.uk 18th February 2011
In a surprising move, the Japanese government has recalled its whaling fleet in the Antarctic following confrontation with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The fleet was meant to stay out until the middle of March but the Japanese agriculture minister, Michihiko Kano, stated that the ships would be returning home ”to ensure the safety of lives, assets and our ships.” Sea Shepherd has made the annual voyage to the Antarctic with a selection of boats with which to harass the whaling fleet. Last year, one of the organisation’s boats, the Ady Gil, was rammed by one of the whaling boats but nobody was hurt. This year, increased resources allowed the conservationists to use a helicopter as well. Although the Japanese government has condemned Sea Shepherd as a terrorist organisation, the whaling industry in the country is not fairing well. Accusations of routine corruption and international pressure, combined with a lack of consumer interest (whale meat is sold on the open market despite the authorities claiming the whales are killed for scientific reasons), has battered the industry. Australia, one of the leading critics of Japan’s whaling practices, has welcomed the early return of the fleet. In 2010, it submitted a formal complaint with the International Court of Justice in the Hague to get the hunts banned. A decision is expected in 2013.
www.nytimes.com 8th February 2011
The latest severe drought to befall the world has hit China resulting in a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) alert warning of wheat shortages from the region. The drought is the worst for 60 years in the country, which is the largest wheat producer in the world. For Shandong province, one of the main provinces for wheat growing, the drought could be the worst in 200 years, unless substantial rain falls by the end of the month. The reduced crop yield could have wider implications for global wheat prices, which are already seen as being behind the popular protests in Madagascar, Tunisia and Egypt. The widespread droughts and wildfires in Russia last Summer, as well as the recent severe floods in Australia, have brought international attention to the wheat market as the two countries are also large exporters. However, China has previously been self-sufficient in wheat. The current droughts, which are affecting 5.16 million hectares of China’s 14 million hectares of wheat fields, will force the Chinese government to buy from abroad forcing up the cereal’s prices even further.
www.telegraph.co.uk 17th November 2010
Researchers from Aberdeen University’s school of biological sciences have discovered that Great White sharks in the Mediterranean are closely related to those in Australia. This has led the research team to suggest that the sharks got lost somewhere around the Cape of Good Hope 450,000 years ago. Their disorientation may have been the result of the warm Agulhas Current, which sweeps down the east coast of Africa. Once pushed into the South Atlantic, the sharks would have ridden the colder Benguela Current up the west African coast. Several then made it to the Mediterranean by swimming past the Straits of Gibraltar. Once there, they were effectively trapped due to the regions numerous peninsulas and channels which effectively make the Straits a ‘giant lobster pot’. According to Dr. Cathy Jones, a shark specialist at Aberdeen University, “because white shark females return to the area where give birth, once they birth in the Mediterranean they become a fixture, shaping and rebalancing the ecosystem.” Four of the Mediterranean sharks were tested for the results. In the southern hemisphere, tagging of Great Whites has shown that they regularly make the journey between South African and Australia, where they usually give birth.
www.independent.co.uk 20th October 2010
The UK has topped a recent survey by Australia’s Climate Institute thinktank that lists countries on the value of their incentives to cut pollution from electricity generation. The Vivid Economics report estimate that the UK’s efforts were equivalent to 29.30 US dollars per tonne of CO2. Surprisingly, China came in second with $14.20 per tonne due to their title as the world’s leader in clean energy investment. The USA came next with $5.10, then Japan at $3.10, Australia $1.70, and finally just 70 US cents per tonne for South Korea. The six countries make up about half of global carbon emissions. The great success in the list is China, who has been long considered as a heavy polluter. Erwin Jackson, director of the Climate Institute, said that the country’s investment in clean energy stood at US$35billion in 2009 alone compared to $18bill. in the USA and $11bill. in the UK. This figure is expected to increase tenfold over the next decade. Subsidies and the closure of dirty coal plants are all being used in an attempt to produce 15% of China’s energy by 2020. However, the report also warned that none of the countries in the list were in line to meet global reduction targets set at the Copenhagen Summit last year, with Japan lagging furthest behind ‘in relative terms’. Australia, as the world’s worst per capita polluter due to its heavy reliance on coal, is also far off target.
www.guardian.co.uk 12th October 2010
The Thames river has been awarded a top global conservation prize for its remarkable recovery over the past half century. In the 1950s, the watercourse, which flows through the UK capital city London, was a dead-zone but through numerous restoration and conservation projects the river now teams with over 125 species of fish including salmon, trout, sole, and bass. The British river fended off challenges from a hundred other applicants to win the Australian based International Thiess River Prize and the A$350,000 (£218,000) award that went with it. Competitors included the Amazon in South America, the Piddle in Dorset (Southwest UK), and the Yellow River in China. 80% of the Thames was judged to be of ‘very good’ or ‘good’ water quality due to extensive recent habitat enhancement projects (400 over the past 5 years covering 40 miles). The UK’s Environment Agency, which is in charge of the award money, plans to spend it on further conservation project son the river. Previous winners include the Danube, which has recently been contaminated with toxic chemical sludge from Hungary, and the Mersey river in Liverpool.
www.independent.co.uk 26th September 2010
The heavy rains that have followed the unpleasant and large-scale droughts of the mid-2000s in Australia have created the perfect breeding ground for the Australian Plague Locust. The sudden increase in rainfall over the last few years has allowed the pest to breed at a far higher rate than the droughts allowed resulting in three generations of the insect to grow in the summer of 2009, each one 150 times larger than the last. With the wettest August in 7 years, conditions are again perfect this year and experts fear that the resulting infestation may be the worst since records began 75 years ago. The government of Victoria alone has forecast a £1.2 billion loss in earnings in the state as a swarm of 1km size can eat through 10 tons of crop a day. Plans to combat swarms include spraying them with pesticides from planes above. However, a shortage of pilots has put the effective of this plan in doubt. Also, bee keepers have claimed that such drastic measures have adverse effects on their own type of crop. According to the University of Sydney, the states of Victoria, New South Wales, and South Queensland are likely to be the worst hit.
www.independent.co.uk 5th September 2010
Australia’s Green Party have had a successful time in the recent national elections doubling their portion of the vote to a record high of 11.5%. The left-of-centre environmental party took a seat in every state of the country as well as a critical one in the Lower House. With a hung parliament between the ruling Labor Party and the conservative Liberal/National Party the Green’s vote will be critical to pass, or turn down, proposed laws. The Labor Party, headed Australia’s first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard, have signed a deal with the Greens putting action against climate change at the forefront of its agenda. In 2007 the Labor Party took power with a pro-environment platform but the previous Prime Minsiter, Kevin Rudd, failed twice to pass his Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) through parliament. He was ousted from his position in June this year and replaced by Ms. Gillard. Mr. Rudd did sign Australia up to the Kyoto Pact, which comes to an end in 2012 with no successor yet put in place.
Australia is the world’s worst per capita polluter in the world. It is unsure whether the Green Party’s success will be able to push through any radical environmental reforms as many other independents are from more rural backgrounds and rely on farming and mining. Labor needs the support of all the independents to form a majority government.
Sources: news.nationalgeographic.co.uk 1st September 2010
Geographically separate lizards of the same species are giving birth in different ways. In the lower lying coastal lands of New South Wales, Australia, the Yellow-Bellied Three-Toed Skink lays eggs to reproduce but in the higher mountain lands further inland the same species of Skink gives birth to live young. Only two other reptile species in the world are known to use both types of reproduction. However, the transition from one type to the other poses some difficult questions for biologists. Live young require nutrients inside the womb via a complicated system involving the placenta. Young born in eggs receive their nutrients through the yolk of the egg as well as an important source of calcium from the shell. Reptiles in the process of evolving from the latter type of reproduction to the former face a potential lack of nutrients as the placenta is not yet formed and the egg is diminished. To combat this problem it seems that female Yellow-Bellied Skinks secrete calcium from their uterus walls which is then absorbed by the embryo. James Stewart, a biologist at East Tennessee State University, claims that this method represents “the early stages of the evolution of a placenta in reptiles.”
There are reptiles and fish who use both reproductive types at once. A thinner egg forms within the mother but the young hatches while still within the womb and is born live. The mother keeps the remnants of the egg within her.
Sources: news.sky.com 5th September 2010
More than 250 homes have been evacuated in the Australian state of Victoria as 200mm of rain fell in 24 hours. The heavy rainfall caused the worst flooding in the region for 15 years yet the water levels are not thought to have peaked yet. A further 40,000 homes are believed to have no power and the state government are preparing to evacuate more families from stricken areas. So far 50 army personnel have been called in to help with the situation.