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The Top 10 Ocean Biodiversity Hotspots to Protect
By Tara Lohan
The Sargasso Sea, an area of the Atlantic Ocean between the Caribbean and Bermuda, has bedeviled sailors for centuries. Its namesake — sargassum, a type of free-floating seaweed — and notoriously calm winds have "trapped" countless mariners, including the crew of Christopher Columbus's Santa Maria.
For the past 500 years, most of the stories that have come from the Sargasso have been about stranded ships and sunken vessels. But in recent years scientists have rewritten the sea's narrative. It's not a life-stealing sea, but a life-giving one. The seaweed alone helps support 100 species of invertebrates, 280 species of fish and 23 species of birds.
That's one of the reasons why a team of scientists from 13 universities and institutions included the Sargasso Sea as one of 10 biodiversity hotspots in the high seas — areas of the ocean outside of national boundaries — that their research indicates should be considered for designation as marine protected areas.
Their recommendations, published earlier this year in the journal Marine Policy, took more than a little bit of work to develop.
Results from the global data-driven conservation planning analysis showing priority areas to be considered for protection (green) in marine areas beyond national jurisdiction. Visalli et al
Quantifying the Great Unknown
The high seas make up two-thirds of the ocean, much of which is remote. Scientists are still learning about the diversity and complexity of life there.
"We're discovering new species in the high seas all the time," said Morgan Visalli, lead author of Marine Policy study and a project scientist with U.C. Santa Barbara's Benioff Ocean Initiative.
But at the same time, her colleague and study coauthor Douglas McCauley, director of the Benioff Ocean Initiative, said there's also a lot we do know that can help guide conservation.
They began their study by reaching out to networks of colleagues across the world to help gather data.
"I was really impressed by how much we actually know — how much data we have for what is out there, biologically speaking," he said. "And also what people are doing in that space. We can't fall back on the excuse of not knowing enough."
The researchers ended up analyzing 22 billion data points — a huge data-processing challenge — to identify areas of the high seas that could warrant protection.
That included looking at indicators such as seafloor habitat, ocean productivity, diversity and richness of species, and extinction risks. They also identified certain physical features — like seamounts and hydrothermal vents — where changes in elevation and temperature help foster biodiversity.
Their results identified priority regions in nearly all the major ocean basins, with the largest areas in the South Pacific Ocean. Key areas also included the Sargasso Sea, as well as the Costa Rica thermal dome in the Pacific Ocean; the South Tasman Sea; the Emperor Seamount Chain northwest of the Hawaiian Islands; the Mascarene Plateau in the Indian Ocean; and the Walvis Ridge, an undersea mountain range off southwestern Africa.
UCSB analysis; Marineregions.org; Natural Earth. © 2020 The Pew Charitable Trusts
Their model avoided areas of high fishing activity in order to avoid what the study calls "real or perceived negative socioeconomic impacts" of setting aside conservation areas. It also took into consideration how climate change could alter biodiversity by selecting areas critical today and ones likely to be important in the future as well.
The Need for Protection
The research comes at a critical time for the future of the ocean — and the high seas, specifically.
A new United Nations treaty to protect and conserve biodiversity in the high seas is currently being negotiated, and a focus of those talks is how to create a framework for establishing marine protected areas outside of national waters. This could help ensure that unique ecosystems like the Sargasso Sea and others identified in the Marine Policy study aren't overexploited.
The current law that governs the high seas, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, was finalized in 1982. But since then, our collective impact is starting to reveal gaps in governance.
Marine shipping traffic is up 1,600 percent and plastic pollution has increased 100-fold. At least one-third of fish stocks are being overharvested, and many migratory fish species, such as tuna, have declined more than 60 percent. Technological advances have led to more prospecting in the ocean's depths for minerals and other genetic resources, as well as more destructive practices, like trawling along the ocean floor. Climate change, which is warming waters and increasing acidification, poses even more risks to ocean life.
Coral bleaching in the Gulf of Thailand. Petchrung Sukpong / CC BY-SA 2.0
This has all taken a toll.
A landmark report last year from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services found massive declines in biodiversity globally — including in the ocean, with one-third of all reef-forming corals and marine mammals threatened with extinction.
A recent study in the journal Nature, published just a few days after the Marine Policy study, suggests that we've come to a critical crossroads.
"We are at a point at which we can choose between a legacy of a resilient and vibrant ocean or an irreversibly disrupted ocean, for the generations to follow," wrote the researchers, led by Carlos Duarte, a professor of marine science at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.
They posited that with enough resources and global will, we can see a "substantial recovery of the abundance, structure and function of marine life" by 2050. But to do that, we need to scale up efforts to protect vulnerable species and habitats, reduce pollution and — most critically — curb climate change.
That's why Visalli and McCauley believe efforts like the emerging high seas treaty are important.
So far fully implemented marine protected areas span just 5 percent of the ocean. And the vast majority of these reserves are in national waters, which are only one-third of the ocean. But a high seas treaty would help create a framework to more easily set aside conservation-rich areas in a much greater expanse.
"Even though there is industry out there and it has been increasing over the past several decades," said Visalli, "there is still a lot of wilderness in the high seas, and we are at this moment where we have an opportunity to protect these wild places before industry continues to expand even further."
To truly protect and restore ocean health, scientists have been calling for a bare minimum of 30 percent of the ocean to be protected. More protected areas in the high seas are important for meeting that goal. But just as crucial as how much space, is also where that space is.
The Need for Protected Spaces
The major driver for changing and threatening biodiversity in the long term is climate change, said McCauley, which makes protecting these spaces vital in the short term.
"We are already seeing the first manifestation of these threats and we need to think about climate change and always manage the oceans — from fishing regulations to ocean parks — with that in mind," he said. "Climate change is changing where biodiversity will be in the high seas, and we can use data to plan for that."
Duarte and authors of the Nature study wrote that "Climate change is the critical backdrop against which all future rebuilding efforts will play out." But well-managed marine protected areas, they said, can help ecosystems be better equipped to handle threats from climate change, like warming temperatures and changing ocean chemistry.
Getting there won't be cheap. A global network of marine protected areas that conserves 20–30 percent of the ocean could cost $5–19 billion a year, the researchers write in Nature.
But supporting local economies, feeding communities, and fostering biodiversity don't have to be mutually exclusive. The money spent on conservation will be more than returned in economic gains from the new jobs, revenue from ecotourism, restored fisheries, and protections for coastal areas, their research found.
But establishing the policy and international agreements, like the high seas treaty, to set plans in motion will require a lot of compromise, said McCauley.
"We need that space to have an ocean economy and we need that space to have biodiversity," he said. "Can we find a sweet spot?"
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Kaufman
Some fires won't die.
They survive underground during the winter and then reemerge the following spring, as documented in places like Alaska. They're called "overwintering," "holdover," or "zombie" fires, and they may have now awoken in the Arctic Circle — a fast-warming region that experienced unprecedented fires in 2019. The European Union's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service is now watching these fires, via satellite.
<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.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.pjiv81dzvE2uWSwZVXH_hhoYKLl6go7m4QXYRodC8aQ/img.jpg" id="d48aa" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="79880bae7db4253c569739c541d26709" />Zombie fires could be awakening in the Arctic
<iframe width="100%" height="150" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode twitter-embed-1258045476731002882" id="twitter-embed-1258045476731002882" lazy-loadable="true" src="/res/community/twitter_embed/?iframe_id=twitter-embed-1258045476731002882&created_ts=1588776389.0&screen_name=DrTELS&text=Are+these+%27zombie%27+fires%3F+As+the+snow+melted+in+Arctic+Siberia+last+week%2C+a+number+of+fires+have+been+detected+by+s%E2%80%A6+https%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2FMBZbBYqA2o&id=1258045476731002882&name=Dr+Thomas+Smith+%F0%9F%94%A5%F0%9F%8C%8F" frameborder="0" data-rm-shortcode-id="4e094a6eb3039925709e345158051f4b"></iframe>
So What Happens Now?<p>In the future, fire researchers expect an uptick in zombie fires. That's because the <a is="" href="https://mashable.com/article/climate-change-business-as-usual-catastrophic/" target="_blank">planet is relentlessly warming</a>, particularly in the Arctic, which means more ready-to-burn vegetation. It's already happening. "Arctic fires<strong> </strong>are becoming more common overall," explained Miami University's McCarty.</p><p is="">And some of these fires will inevitably smolder all winter, under the snow. "With a warmer Arctic, we're more likely to see overwintering fires," noted Smith.</p><p is="">It's challenging to stop zombie fires. They can happen in extremely remote places, without any roads or means of dousing them before they erupt. "We have no way of fighting them," said McCarty. "They're often fairly far-removed. How are we going to put them out?"</p><p is="">It's a question of profound importance in the decades ahead. Preventing human-caused Arctic wildfires will be critical, emphasized McCarty. That's because Arctic fires aren't just burning trees, they're often burning through <a is="" href="https://blogs.agu.org/geospace/2019/12/06/peatlands-release-more-methane-when-disturbed-by-roads/" target="_blank">peatlands</a>, which release bounties of the heat-trapping greenhouse gas methane into the air. When it comes to trapping heat, methane is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases" target="_blank">25 times more potent</a> than carbon dioxide over the course of a century.</p><p is="">It's a vicious cycle. The warming Arctic produces more fires. More fires burn more forests and peatlands. This releases more methane and carbon dioxide into the air. This contributes to ever more planetary heating.</p><p is="">"Not stopping these zombie fires means further degrading these Arctic ecosystems," said McCarty. "Further warming leads to more zombie fires. It's not great."</p><a target="_blank"></a><blockquote><a href="https://mashable.com/article/zombie-fires-arctic/#" target="_blank"></a></blockquote>
The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases passed six million Sunday, even as many countries begin to emerge from strict lockdowns.
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By Daniel Yetman
Bleach and vinegar are common household cleaners used to disinfect surfaces, cut through grime, and get rid of stains. Even though many people have both these cleaners in their homes, mixing them together is potentially dangerous and should be avoided.
Can You Mix Bleach and Vinegar?<p>Bleach can refer to any chemical that's used to get rid of stains or disinfect surfaces. The most typical form used as a cleaner is sodium hypochlorite. By itself, bleach can damage your skin but is <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441921/" target="_blank">non-toxic</a> when inhaled. However, it can become potentially lethal to inhale when mixed with other household cleaners.</p><p>Sodium hypochlorite is made up of a sodium, oxygen, and chlorine atoms. When this molecule is mixed with the acetic acid in vinegar or other types of acid, it releases chlorine gas. <a href="https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/chlorine/basics/facts.asp" target="_blank">Chlorine gas</a> is extremely dangerous to human health. It's so powerful that Germany used it during World War I as a chemical weapon.</p><p>Vinegar isn't the only cleaner you need to be careful mixing with bleach. Bleach also reacts with <a href="https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/HealthyHome/Contaminants/BleachMixingDangers" target="_blank">ammonia</a> to create chlorine gas. Bleach can also react to some oven cleaners, insecticides, and hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>Many household cleaners contain a chemical called <a href="https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/presspacs/2019/acs-presspac-october-2-2019/cleaning-with-bleach-could-create-indoor-air-pollutants.html" target="_blank">limonene</a> that gives them a citrus smell. When bleach fumes mix with limonene, they create small particles that may be damaging to both people's and animals' health. However, more research is needed to examine these particles' potential health risks.</p>
Is it Safe to Mix Them in Small Amounts?<p>According to the <a href="https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/HealthyHome/Contaminants/BleachMixingDangers" target="_blank">Washington State Department of Health</a>, even low levels of chlorine gas, less than 5 parts per million (ppm), is likely to irritate your eyes, throat, and nose. It's never a good idea to mix these two cleaners together.</p><p>Unlike some other dangerous chemicals like carbon monoxide, chlorine gives off a distinctly <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537213/" target="_blank">pungent and irritating odor</a>. If you notice a strong smell after mixing cleaners, it's a good idea to immediately leave the area.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136961/" target="_blank">severity of symptoms</a> you develop after breathing in chlorine gas depends on how concentrated it is, measured in parts per million (ppm), and how long you inhale it.</p><ul><li><strong>0.1 to 0.3 ppm.</strong> At this level, humans can smell the pungent odor of chlorine gas in the air.</li><li><strong>5 to 15 ppm. </strong>A concentration over 5 ppm causes irritation to the mucus membranes in your mouth and nose.</li><li><strong>Over 30 ppm.</strong> At a concentration higher than 30 ppm, chlorine gas can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and coughing.</li><li><strong>Above 40 ppm.</strong> Concentrations higher than 40 ppm can cause potentially dangerous fluid build-up in your lungs.</li><li><strong>Above 430 ppm</strong>. Breathing in more than <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537213/" target="_blank">430 ppm</a> of chlorine gas can be lethal within 30 minutes.</li><li><strong>Above 1,000 ppm</strong>. Inhaling chlorine gas above this level can be deadly immediately.</li></ul>
Can You Combine Bleach and Vinegar in a Washing Machine?<p>Mixing bleach and vinegar in your washing machine is also a bad idea. Chlorine gas may be released from your washing machine when you take your clothes out. It may also leave traces of chlorine gas on your clothes.</p><p>If you use bleach in your laundry, it's a good idea to wait several loads before using vinegar.</p>
Symptoms of Exposure to a Bleach and Vinegar Reaction<p>The severity of the symptoms you'll develop after chlorine exposure depends on the amount of chlorine gas you inhale. Symptoms usually start fairly quickly. <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537213/" target="_blank">Most people</a> exposed to low amounts of chlorine gas recover without complications.</p><p>If your exposure to chlorine gas is relatively brief, you may notice irritation of your nose, mouth, and throat. Lung irritation may develop if you breathe in chlorine deeply.</p><p>According to the <a href="https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/chlorine/basics/facts.asp" target="_blank">Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a>, if you accidentally breathe in chlorine, you can experience the following:</p><ul><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/eye-health/sudden-blurred-vision" target="_blank">blurry vision</a></li><li>a burning sensation in your nose, throat, or eyes</li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/cough" target="_blank">coughing</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/chest-pain" target="_blank">tightness in your chest</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/breathing-difficulties" target="_blank">trouble breathing</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/pulmonary-edema" target="_blank">fluid in your lungs</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nausea" target="_blank">nausea</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/vomiting" target="_blank">vomiting</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/epiphora" target="_blank">watery eyes</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/wheezing" target="_blank">wheezing</a></li></ul>
What to Do if You Get Bleach and Vinegar on Your Skin or Inhaled Chlorine Gas Vapors<p>There's <a href="https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/chlorine/basics/facts.asp" target="_blank">no cure</a> for breathing in chlorine gas. The only treatment option is removing the chlorine from your body as quickly as possible and seeking immediate medical attention to treat your symptoms.</p><p>If you breathe in chlorine gas, you can follow these steps to help get the chlorine out of your system:</p><ul><li>Immediately go somewhere where you can breathe in fresh air.</li><li>Change and wash any clothes that may have been contaminated.</li></ul><blockquote><strong>MEDICAL EMERGENCY<br><br></strong>If your symptoms are severe, call 911 or the National Capital Poison Center (NCPC) at 800-222-1222 and follow their instructions.<br></blockquote><p>Spilling <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bleach-on-skin#first-aid" target="_blank">bleach</a> can cause irritation to your skin. You can take the following steps to reduce your chances of developing complications:</p><ul><li>Remove jewelry or clothes that came in contact with bleach and clean them after you wash your skin.</li><li>Rinse your skin with a sponge or an absorbent cloth over a sink.</li><li>Avoid touching other parts of your body such as your face while cleaning.</li><li>Seek immediate medical attention if you spill bleach in your eyes or if you burn your skin.</li></ul><p>Vinegar may also irritate your skin. Even though it's unlikely to cause any serious health complications, it's a good idea to wash vinegar off your skin to avoid any redness or soreness.</p>
Takeaway<p>Mixing bleach and vinegar creates potentially lethal chlorine gas. If you notice a pungent smell after mixing household cleaners, you should immediately leave the area and try to breathe in fresh air.</p><p>If you or somebody you know notice any symptoms of chlorine gas poisoning, it's a good idea to immediately call 911 or the NCPC at 800-222-1222<em>.</em></p>
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Around 500 climate activists on Saturday gathered outside the new Datteln 4 coal power plant in Germany's Ruhr region, to protest against its opening.
Climate Activists Speak Out<p>Speaking at the protest, German Fridays for Futures climate activist Luisa Neubauer said: "It's a post-factual power plant. The facts speak for themselves." She said it was a "provocation," to mark the planned coal phaseout with a new coal power plant.</p><p>"We're going to stop this power plant, we're going to bring it to a standstill, we will win this conflict," Neubauer added.</p><p>Former miners also attended the protest. "We condemn the fact that coal mining in Germany was halted and jobs were lost, only for coal now to be imported from other countries to power Datteln 4," said Sebastian Suszka, a former workers' council member.</p><p>Greta Thunberg, founder of climate activist movement Fridays for Futures tweeted that Saturday was "a shameful day for Europe.</p>
Germany's Coal Phaseout<p>Earlier this year, Germany announced a roadmap to see coal phased out, at the latest by 2038. It laid out plans for eight coal-fired power plants to be taken off the grid in 2020.</p><p>It was an important step for the largest contributor of carbon emissions in the EU — accounting for more than 22 percent of the bloc's CO2 emissions. Over a third of the electricity generated in Germany comes from burning coal.</p><p>Germany's coal commission has recommended that solutions be found for coal plants that are already built but not-yet-in-use to keep them from operating.<br></p><p>The state of North-Rhine Westphalia insisted that the additional carbon dioxide emissions from the new plant would be compensated by the closure of four other power plants.</p>
By Julia Ries
Around the world, there have been several cases of people recovering from COVID-19 only to later test positive again and appear to have another infection.
The Viral Material in Re-Positive Cases Isn’t Infectious<p>The Korean study examined 285 patients who tested positive again for the new coronavirus after they recovered from COVID-19, which had been confirmed via a negative test result.</p><p>The researchers swabbed the patients and examined the viral material to determine whether it was still actively infectious.</p><p>The team was unable to isolate live viral material, indicating that the positive diagnostic tests were picking up dead virus particles.</p><p>"[This] may speak for the fact that the virus may be dead or not be fit enough to grow — therefore the virus may not be fit enough to infect a new host," said <a href="http://www.providence.org/doctors/profile/1099717-andres-romero" target="_blank">Dr. Andres Romero</a>, an infectious disease specialist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.</p><p>The researchers also tested 790 people who'd been in close contact with the "re-positive" patients. Of the 27 who tested positive, no cases appeared to be caused from exposure to someone who appeared to have a reinfection.</p><p>The report also found that the vast majority of recovered patients (96 percent) had neutralizing antibodies, indicating that they conferred immunity.</p><p>"Whether this is indicative of a completely protective response remains to be proven. If this study holds true, then people who have recovered can get back to work," Zapata said.</p><p>In response to the new findings, South Korea eliminated a policy requiring discharged patients to isolate for 2 weeks.</p>
Conducting and Interpreting PCR Tests<p>The tests widely used to diagnose COVID-19 are called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.</p><p>The tests swab a person's nose or throat and try to pick up the virus's genetic material, or RNA.</p><p>According to <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">guidance</a> from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a positive result on a PCR test doesn't "necessarily mean infectious virus is present or that the patient is contagious."</p><p>Infectious disease experts have suspected that the test kits aren't picking up actively infectious viral material in recovered patients who test positive again, but rather dead remnants of the virus.</p><p>We see this occur with other viruses, too.</p><p>"We know other viruses like parainfluenza, human metapneumovirus, or RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] may linger for months in certain patients, and that does not represent infectious state," Romero said. "Coronavirus may be the same."</p>
We Still Need to Practice Caution<p>While the findings are promising, infectious disease experts say we still need to practice caution.</p><p>More research is needed to validate these findings and determine whether they apply to distinct parts of the population, such as those who are immunocompromised.</p><p>It's common for immunocompromised patients — such as those with cancer — to continue testing positive for a virus for longer, since it takes their immune system more time to clear the virus out of their body.</p><p>"I don't think we can be 100 percent certain of whether each recovered person is no longer contagious. Again, this may differ with distinct population groups," Zapata said.</p><p>Physicians are seeing some hospitalized patients testing positive for a month after they were first swabbed for COVID-19. It's unclear whether these patients still shed infectious virus, according to Zapata.</p><p>Everyone's body mounts a distinct immune response based on their age and overall health. Different individuals will clear the virus out at different speeds, according to Zapata.</p><p>Until we have more data and a preventive vaccine, it's crucial to continue adhering to the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html" target="_blank">safety precautions</a> laid out by the CDC.</p><p>"The reality is that moving forward, the best approach will be keeping social/physical distancing, wearing a mask, and frequent hand hygiene in order to control the spread of the virus," Romero said.</p>
The Bottom Line<p>Doctors and researchers have been unsure whether people who recover from COVID-19 who test positive again continue to be contagious, or if they could get a second infection.</p><p>New <a href="https://www.cdc.go.kr/board/board.es?mid=a30402000000&bid=0030" target="_blank">research</a> published by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that recovered COVID-19 patients who test positive again aren't infectious.</p><p>The study also found that most patients who recover have neutralizing antibodies that protect them from getting sick again.</p><p>Though the study is promising, health experts say we need more data to validate the findings and determine whether they apply to all patient populations.</p>
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By Samantha Hepburn
In the expansion of its iron ore mine in Western Pilbara, Rio Tinto blasted the Juukan Gorge 1 and 2 — Aboriginal rock shelters dating back 46,000 years. These sites had deep historical and cultural significance.
The destruction of a significant Aboriginal site is not an isolated incident. Puutu Kunti Kurrama And Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation
Not an Isolated Incident<p>The history of large developments destroying Indigenous heritage sites is, tragically, long.</p><p>A $2.1 billion light rail line in Sydney, completed last year, <a href="https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/this-is-a-tragic-loss-sydney-light-rail-construction-destroyed-heritage-site-20190322-p516qk.html" target="_blank">destroyed a site</a> of considerable significance.</p><p>More than 2,400 stone artifacts were unearthed in a small excavated area. It indicated Aboriginal people had used the area between 1788 and 1830 to manufacture tools and implements from flint brought over to Australia on British ships.</p><p>Similarly, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/27/the-rocks-remember-the-fight-to-protect-burrup-peninsulas-rock-art" target="_blank">ancient rock art</a> on the Burrup Peninsula in north-western Australia is under increasing threat from a gas project. The site contains more than one million rock carvings (petroglyphs) across 36,857 hectares.</p><p>This area is under the custodianship of Ngarluma people and four other traditional owners groups: the Mardudhunera, the Yaburara, the Yindjibarndi and the Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo.</p><p>But a <a href="https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/BurrupPeninusla/Report" target="_blank">Senate inquiry</a> revealed emissions from adjacent industrial activity may significantly damage it.</p><p><span></span>The West Australian government is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/jan/29/australia-lodges-world-heritage-submission-for-50000-year-old-burrup-peninsula-rock-art" target="_blank">seeking world heritage listing</a> to try to increase protection, as the regulatory frameworks at the national and state level aren't strong enough. Let's explore why.</p>
What Do the Laws Say?<p>The recently renamed federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is responsible for listing new national heritage places, and regulating development actions in these areas.</p><p>At the federal level, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (<a href="http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/cth/consol_act/epabca1999588/" target="_blank">EPBC Act</a>) provides a legal framework for their management and protection. It is an offence to impact an area that has national heritage listing.</p><p>But many ancient Aboriginal sites have no national heritage listing. For the recently destroyed Juurkan gorge, the true archaeological significance was uncovered <em>after</em> consent had been issued and there were no provisions to reverse or amend the decision once this new information was discovered.</p><p>Where a site has no national heritage listing, and federal legislation has no application, state laws apply.</p><p>For the rock shelters in the Western Pilbara, Rio Tinto was abiding by Western Australia's <a href="http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/wa/consol_act/aha1972164/" target="_blank">Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972</a> — which is now nearly 50 years old.</p>
No Consultation With Traditional Owners<p>The biggest concern with this act is there's no statutory requirement ensuring traditional owners be consulted.</p><p>This means traditional owners are left out of vital decisions regarding the management and protection of their cultural heritage. And it confers authority upon a committee that, in the words of a <a href="https://www.dplh.wa.gov.au/getmedia/11dd5b41-fcf9-4216-a1ac-06ece672c087/AH-Review-Position-Comparison-for-Aboriginal-People" target="_blank">discussion paper</a>, "lacks cultural authority."</p>
Weak in Other Jurisdictions<p>The WA Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 is <a href="https://www.dplh.wa.gov.au/aha-review" target="_blank">under review</a>. The proposed reforms seek to abolish the committee, ensuring future decisions on Aboriginal cultural heritage give appropriate regard to the views of the traditional Aboriginal owners.</p><p><span></span>NSW is the only state with no stand-alone Aboriginal heritage legislation. However, a <a href="https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/researchpapers/Documents/aborigines-land-and-national-parks-in-nsw/02-97.pdf" target="_blank">similar regulatory framework</a> to WA applies in NSW under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.</p><p>There, if a developer is likely to impact cultural heritage, they must apply for an Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permit. The law requires "regard" to be given to the interests of Aboriginal owners of the land, but this vague provision does not mandate consultation.</p><p>What's more, the burden of proving the significance of an Aboriginal object depends upon external statements of significance. But Aboriginal people, not others, should be responsible for determining the cultural significance of an object or area.</p><p>As in WA, the NSW regulatory framework is weak, opening up the risk for economic interests to be prioritized over damage to cultural heritage.</p>
Outdated Laws<p>The federal minister has discretion to assess whether state or territory laws are already effective.</p><p>If they decide state and territory laws are ineffective and a cultural place or object is under threat, then the federal <a href="http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/cth/consol_act/aatsihpa1984549/" target="_blank">Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984</a> can be used.</p><p>But this act is also weak. It was first implemented as an interim measure, intended to operate for two years. It has now been in operation for 36 years.</p><p>In fact, <a href="http://ymac.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Extracts-from-Evatt-Review-of-the-Aboriginal-and-Torres-Strait-Islander-Heritage-Protection-Act-1984.pdf" target="_blank">a 1995 report</a> assessed the shortcomings of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act.</p><p>It recommended minimum standards be put in place. This included ensuring any assessment of Aboriginal cultural significance be made by a properly qualified body, with relevant experience.</p><p>It said the role of Aboriginal people should be appropriately recognized and statutorily endorsed. Whether an area or site had particular significance according to Aboriginal tradition should be regarded as a subjective issue, determined by an assessment of the degree of intensity of belief and feeling of Aboriginal people.</p><p><span></span>Twenty-five years later, this is yet to happen.</p>
By Tara Lohan
The first official tallies are in: Coronavirus-related shutdowns helped slash daily global emissions of carbon dioxide by 14 percent in April. But the drop won't last, and experts estimate that annual emissions of the greenhouse gas are likely to fall only about 7 percent this year.