More long-finned pilot whales were found stranded today on beaches in Tasmania, Australia. About 500 whales have become stranded, including at least 380 that have died, the AP reported. It is the largest mass stranding in Australia's recorded history.
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By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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The chief executive officer and two senior executives are being forced out of the mining giant Rio Tinto several months after investors started to revolt over the company's destruction of an ancient aboriginal rock shelter, according to CNN.
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By Gregory Moore
With massive fronds creating a luxuriously green canopy in the understory of Australian forests, tree ferns are a familiar sight on many long drives or bushwalks. But how much do you really know about them?
Ferns are often the first plants to grow back after bushfires. Greg Moore, Author provided
Ancient Family Ties<p>Tree ferns are generally slow growing, at rates of just 25-50 millimeters height increase per year. This means the tall individuals you might spot in a mature forest may be <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5426625/#:%7E:text=The%20tree%20fern%20species%20in,grow%20to%2020m%20%5B16%5D." target="_blank">several centuries old</a>.</p><p>However, in the right environment they can grow faster, so guessing their real age can be tricky, especially if they're growing outside their usual forest environment.</p><p>As a plant group, tree ferns are ancient, dating back <a href="https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/ferns-the-glory-of-the-forest/" target="_blank">hundreds of millions of years</a> and pre-dating dinosaurs.</p><p>They existed on earth long before the flowering or cone-bearing plants evolved, and were a significant element of the earth's flora during the <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/prehistoric-world/carboniferous/" target="_blank">Carboniferous</a> period 300-360 million years ago, when conditions for plant growth were near ideal. This explains why ferns don't reproduce by flowers, fruits or cones, but by more primitive spores.</p><p>In fact, fossilized tree ferns and their relatives called the fern allies laid down during the carboniferous then have provided much of the earth's fossil fuels dating from that period. And tree ferns were a great <a href="https://trove.nla.gov.au/work/9452631" target="_blank">food source</a>, with Indigenous people once <a href="https://museumsvictoria.com.au/bunjilaka/about-us/the-plants-of-milarri-garden/" target="_blank">eating the pulp</a> that occurs in the center of the tree fern stem either raw or roasted as a starch.</p><p>Until recent times, ferns were quiet achievers among plant groups with an expanding number of species and greater numbers. Today, human activities are limiting <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/28b03b9a-2b02-4a50-82d0-54697736ab6e/files/threatened-tasmanian-ferns.pdf" target="_blank">their success</a> by the clearing of forests and agricultural practices. Climate change is also a more recent threat to many fern species.</p>
Species You’ve Probably Seen<p>Two of the more common tree fern species of south eastern Australia are <em><a href="https://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/interns-2003/cyathea-spp.html" target="_blank">Cyathea australis</a></em> and <a href="https://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/interns-2003/dicksonia-antarctica.html" target="_blank"><em>Dicksonia antarctica</em></a>. Both species have a wide distribution, extending from Queensland down the Australian coast and into Tasmania.</p><p>They're often found growing near each other along rivers and creeks. They look superficially alike and many people would be unaware that they are entirely different species at first glance. That is, until you look closely at the detail of their fronds and run your fingers down the stalks.</p><p><em>C. australis</em> has a rough almost prickly frond, hence its common name of rough tree fern, and can grow to be 25 meters tall. While <em>D. antarctica</em>, as the soft tree fern, has a smooth and sometimes furry frond and rarely grows above 15 meters.</p><p>Both contribute to the lush green appearance of the understory of wet forests dominated by eucalypts, such as mountain ash (<em>Eucalyptus regnans</em>).</p>
Stems That Host a Tiny Ecosystem<p>The way tree ferns grow is quite complex. That's because growth, even of the roots, originates from part of the apex of the stem. If this crown is damaged, then the fern can die.</p><p>At the right time of the year, the new fronds unfurl in the crown from a coil called a fiddlehead. The stem of the tree fern is made up of all of the retained leaf bases of the fronds from previous years.</p><p>The stems are very fibrous and quite strong, which means they tend to retain moisture. And this is one of the reasons why the stems of tree ferns don't easily burn in bushfires — even when they're dry or dead.</p><p>In some dense wet forest communities, the stems of tree ferns are a miniature ecosystem, with epiphytic plants — such as mosses, translucent filmy ferns, perhaps lichens and the seedlings of other plant species — growing on them.</p><p>These epiphytes are not bad for the tree ferns, they're just looking for a place to live, and the fibrous, nutrient-rich, moist tree fern stems prove brilliantly suitable.</p>
Engulfed by Trees<p>Similarly, the spreading canopies of tree ferns, such as <em>D. antarctica</em>, provide an excellent place for trees and other species to germinate.</p><p>That's because many plants need good light for their seedlings to establish and this may not be available on the forest floor. Seeds, such as those of the native (or myrtle) beech, <em>Nothofagus cunninghamii</em>, may germinate in the crowns of tree ferns, and its roots can grow down the tree fern trunks and into the soil.</p><p>As time passes, the tree species may completely grow over the tree fern, engulfing the tree fern stem into its trunk. Decades, or even centuries later, it's sometimes still possible to see the old tree fern stem embedded inside.</p><p><span></span>Still, tree ferns are wonderfully resilient and give a sense of permanence to our ever-changing fire-affected landscapes.</p>
A professional cycling race in Australia is under attack for its connections to a major oil and gas producer, the Guardian reports.
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By Alex Thornton
The Australian government has announced a A$190 million (US$130 million) investment in the nation's first Recycling Modernization Fund, with the aim of transforming the country's waste and recycling industry. The hope is that as many as 10,000 jobs can be created in what is being called a "once in a generation" opportunity to remodel the way Australia deals with its waste.
Waste Mountain<p>The need for a dramatic increase in Australia's recycling capacity pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic. <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-27/where-does-all-australias-waste-go/11755424" target="_blank">Australians create approximately 67 million tons of waste a year</a>, and like in many wealthy countries, much of that was sent overseas. That all changed when China announced it was <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/10/china-has-banned-foreign-waste-so-whats-the-future-of-world-recycling" target="_blank">banning the import of a huge range of foreign waste</a> and recyclables. Soon <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/malaysia-flooded-with-plastic-waste-to-send-back-some-scrap-to-source" target="_blank">other countries followed suit</a>, and Australia was forced to look for alternative solutions.</p>
Biggest exporters of plastic. Statista
Waste Export Ban<p>Australia has adopted a strategy of taking responsibility for its own waste. Starting in January 2021, it is phasing in <a href="http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/waste-export-ban" target="_blank">bans on the export of different forms of waste</a>. By mid 2024, Australia's home-grown recycling industry will have to deal with an extra 650,000 tons of waste plastic, paper, glass and tires.</p><p>"As we cease shipping our waste overseas, the waste and recycling transformation will reshape our domestic waste industry, driving job creation and putting valuable materials back into the economy," federal environment minister Sussan Ley said in a <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-australia-waste/australia-to-set-up-132-million-fund-to-boost-recycling-following-export-curbs-idUKKBN247060" target="_blank">statement to Reuters</a>.</p>
Timeline for Australia's waste export ban. Australian Government
Trash Into Treasure<p>The benefits to the environment of boosting recycling rates are well known – less landfill, less plastic in our ocean, reduced need for virgin materials, and lower carbon emissions. The Recycling Modernization Fund initiative aims to divert more than 10 million tons of waste from landfill, part of an <a href="http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/publications/national-waste-policy-action-plan" target="_blank">overall strategy to reduce the total waste generated per person by 10%</a>, and push <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/7381c1de-31d0-429b-912c-91a6dbc83af7/files/national-waste-report-2018.pdf" target="_blank">Australia's total resource recovery rate from 58% in 2017</a> to 80% by 2030.</p><p>But like many countries, Australia is focusing on the economic benefits of better waste management as well.</p><p>"This will mean Australia converts more waste into higher valued resources ready for reuse locally by manufacturers and brands in their packaging and products," Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council, <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-australia-waste/australia-to-set-up-132-million-fund-to-boost-recycling-following-export-curbs-idUKKBN247060" target="_blank">told Reuters</a>.</p>
Green Jobs<p>The great potential of the circular economy to create green jobs is being recognized across the world.</p><p>In the UK, the Waste and Resources Action Program has launched a <a href="https://wrap.org.uk/buildbackbetter" target="_blank">six-point plan which it claims could add $90 billion to the economy, and create 500,000 new jobs</a>. Investment in the circular economy forms a significant part of the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan that Democratic candidate Joe Biden</a> is taking into November's US presidential election. And the <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_940" target="_blank">European Union has put its Green New Deal at the heart of its plans for recovery</a> from the economic shock of COVID-19.</p><p>The World Economic Forum's <a href="http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_Future_Of_Nature_And_Business_2020.pdf" target="_blank">Future of Nature and Business</a> report identifies 15 systemic transitions with annual business opportunities worth $10 billion a year that could create 395 million jobs by 2030.</p><p>As is the case with Australia's Recycling Modernization Fund, a combination of private enterprise and government investment can offer ways to get people back to work by building a more environmentally sustainable economy.</p>
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Unprecedented bushfires that ravaged Australia in 2019 and 2020 killed or displaced almost 3 billion animals, according to an interim report released Tuesday.
'Shocking' Findings<p>A previous study released in January had estimated that around 1 billion animals perished in the hardest-hit states of Victoria and New South Wales in eastern Australia. But the survey published Tuesday was the first to assess fire zones across the entire country, lead scientist Lily van Eeden of the University of Sydney said.</p><p>The survey's results are preliminary, with a full report to be released next month, but scientists said the estimate of 3 billion animals affected was unlikely to change.</p><p>"The interim findings are shocking," WWF Australia CEO Dermot O'Gorman said. "It's hard to think of another event anywhere in the world in living memory that has killed or displaced that many animals."</p><p>"This ranks as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history," he added.</p>
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By Johan Augustin
In a lab on Australia's east coast, scientists are concocting what they hope will be the solution to the steadily worsening problem of coral bleaching.
A branch of bleached coral. Jonas Gratzer / Mongabay
‘Remarkable Resiliency’<p>Water temperatures this time around didn't reach as high as during the <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2017/03/climate-change-induced-bleaching-decimating-great-barrier-reef/" target="_blank">2016 event</a>, but the bleaching was worse for two key reasons, Cantin says.</p><p>"The first is how soon it follows the 2016 and 2017 back-to-back bleaching events. The second concern is the footprint of heat in 2020," he says.</p><p>That "footprint" refers to the total extent of reef affected by bleaching. While the 2016 event had the most extreme levels of heat, Cantin says, it was limited mostly to the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef, severely bleaching 35% of the total reef area. This time around, the entire length of the reef — a span of 2,300 kilometers (1,300 miles) — was exposed to heat stress "capable of causing bleaching." That resulted in severe levels of bleaching on an additional 25% of the reefs, Cantin says.</p>
Bleached coral on the Great Barrier Reef. Jonas Gratzer / Mongabay
A tank of enhanced coral at the AIMS center being tested for their warm-water tolerance. Jonas Gratzer / Mongabay
Large-Scale Deployment<p>The hybrids have one parent from northern, warmer, parts of the reef and one from the central, cooler, part. The results show that some of the strains have inherited the northern corals' temperature tolerance and can survive when placed in cooler environments. That suggests that over time, as these cooler regions heat up, these corals will be able to tolerate the rising temperatures better than the native corals.</p><p>"We have learned key fundamental biology about coral reproduction and heat tolerance that will be important moving forward in further developing new, scalable coral restoration methods," Quigley says. "We are [also] finding that heat tolerance can be passed from parents to offspring in reproducible, persistent ways."</p><p>These research projects fall under the wider Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program, which Cantin calls "the biggest single effort anywhere in the world to develop options for intervening on the reef to help it adapt and cope better with climate change."</p><p>"These interventions are promising," Cantin adds, "but none are ready to deploy large-scale."<span></span></p><p>For the enhanced corals to have any meaningful effect across a reef that stretches the same distance as New York City to Miami, they will need to be deployed in massive volumes. Another experiment at the AIMS, the Larval Restoration Project, is looking into how to do this, but with naturally occurring warm-adapted corals rather than the gene-edited ones from the AIMS lab. It's the largest coral reseeding project in history, launched in 2016 and funded by the Australian government.</p><p>The idea is that during the annual mass coral spawning, which takes place every year during the November full moon, researchers harvest millions of coral eggs and sperm. They then grow them in enclosures on the reef to produce coral larvae, which are later released onto bleached and damaged sections of the reef to repopulate them.</p><p>The coral species that spawn this year will be the ones that survived the bleaching in March, and therefore those with proven better heat tolerance. The harvest this time around "will allow us to find reefs, populations and individuals that are particularly hardy and that will act as breeding stock for the production of coral offspring able to withstand high heat," Quigley says.</p><p>"The search for hardy and resilient corals continues, but we have already seen some very promising results," she adds.</p>
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By Shaun Brooks and Julia Jabour
Australia wants to build a 2.7-kilometre concrete runway in Antarctica, the world's biggest natural reserve. The plan, if approved, would have the largest footprint of any project in the continent's history.
The runway is part of an aerodrome to be constructed near Davis Station, one of Australia's three permanent bases in Antarctica. It would be the first concrete runway on the continent.
Year-Round Access<p>The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), a federal government agency, <a href="https://www.antarctica.gov.au/living-and-working/travel-and-logistics/aviation/davis-aerodrome/about-the-project/" target="_blank">argues</a> the runway would allow year-round aviation access between Hobart and Antarctica.</p><p>Presently, the only Australian flights to Antarctica take place at the beginning and end of summer. Aircraft land at an aerodrome near the Casey research station, with interconnecting flights to other stations and sites on the continent. The stations are inaccessible by both air and ship in winter.</p><p>The AAD says year-round access to Antarctica would provide significant science benefits, including:</p><ul><li>better understanding sea level rise and other climate change impacts</li><li>opportunities to study wildlife across the annual lifecycle of key species including krill, penguins, seals and seabirds</li><li>allowing scientists to research through winter.</li></ul><p><span></span>Leading international scientists <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/antarctic-science/article/delivering-21st-century-antarctic-and-southern-ocean-science/A5E6D29C34AA2794140C6B4966E63048" target="_blank">had called for</a> improved, environmentally responsible access to Antarctica to support 21st-century science. However, the aerodrome project is likely to reduce access for scientists to Antarctica for years, due to the need to house construction workers.</p>
Australia says the runway would have significant science benefits. Australian Antarctic Division
Australia: An Environmental Leader?<p>Australia has traditionally been considered an environmental leader in Antarctica. For example, in 1989 under the Hawke government, it urged the world to abandon a mining convention in favour of a new deal to ban mining on the continent.</p><p>Australia's <a href="https://www.antarctica.gov.au/about-us/antarctic-strategy-and-action-plan/20-year-action-plan/" target="_blank">20 Year Action Plan</a> promotes "leadership in environmental stewardship in Antarctica", pledging to "minimise the environmental impact of Australia's activities".</p><p>But the aerodrome proposal appears at odds with that goal. It would cover 2.2 square kilometres, increasing the total "<a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/antarctic-science/article/what-is-footprint-in-antarctica-proposing-a-set-of-definitions/7FBDB26F3AF2F5A6C157FCB2E6A2D996" target="_blank">disturbance footprint</a>" of all nations on the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-019-0237-y" target="_blank">continent</a> by 40%. It would also mean Australia has the biggest footprint of any nation, overtaking the United States.</p>
The contribution of disturbance footprint from countries in Antarctica measured from Brooks et al. 2019, with Australia's share increasing to 35% including the aerodrome proposal. Shaun Brooks<p>Within this footprint, environmental effects will also be intense. <a href="http://epbcnotices.environment.gov.au/_entity/annotation/174a3e6b-4f42-ea11-b0a8-00505684324c/a71d58ad-4cba-48b6-8dab-f3091fc31cd5?t=1594857491287" target="_blank">Construction</a> will require more than three million cubic metres of earthworks - levelling 60 vertical metres of hills and valleys along the length of the runway. This will inevitably cause dust emissions – on the windiest continent on Earth - and the effect of this on plants and animals in Antarctica is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954102019000440" target="_blank">poorly understood</a>.</p><p>Wilson's storm petrels that nest at the site will be displaced. Native lichens, fungi and algae will be destroyed, and irreparable damage is expected at adjacent lakes.</p><p>Weddell seals breed within 500 metres of the proposed runway site. Federal environment officials <a href="http://epbcnotices.environment.gov.au/_entity/annotation/174a3e6b-4f42-ea11-b0a8-00505684324c/a71d58ad-4cba-48b6-8dab-f3091fc31cd5?t=1594857491287" target="_blank">recognise</a> the dust from construction and subsequent noise from low flying aircraft have the potential to disturb these breeding colonies.</p>
Playing Politics<p>So given the environmental concern, why is Australia so determined to build the aerodrome? We believe the answer largely lies in Antarctic politics.</p><p>Australian officials <a href="https://www.antarctica.gov.au/site/assets/files/54470/future_science_opportunities_synthesis_report_final.pdf" target="_blank">have said</a> the project would "contribute to both our presence and influence" on the continent. Influence in Antarctica has traditionally corresponded to the strength of a nation's scientific program, its infrastructure presence and engagement in international decision-making.</p><p>Australia is a well-regarded member of the Antarctic Treaty. It was an original signatory and claims sovereignty over 42% of the continent. It also has a solid physical and scientific presence, maintaining three large year-round research stations.</p><p>But other nations are also vying for influence. China is constructing its fifth research station. New Zealand <a href="https://www.stuff.co.nz/science/113844159/scott-base-rebuild-to-cost-250-million" target="_blank">is planning</a> a NZ$250 million upgrade to Scott Base. And on King George Island, six stations have been built <a href="https://doi.org/10.3402/polar.v31i0.18206" target="_blank">within a 5km radius</a>, each run by different nations. This presence is hard to justify on the basis of scientific interest alone.</p>
Getting Our Priorities Straight<p>We believe there are greater and more urgent opportunities for Australia to assert its leadership in Antarctica.</p><p>For example both Casey and Mawson stations – Australia's two other permanent bases – discharge sewage into the pristine marine environment with little treatment. And outdated fuel technology at Australia's three stations regularly causes <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2018.02.024" target="_blank">diesel spills</a>.</p><p>At Wilkes station, which Australia abandoned in the 1960s, thousands of tonnes of contaminants have been <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/rec.12383" target="_blank">left behind</a>.</p><p>Australia should fix such problems before adding more potentially damaging infrastructure. This would meet our environmental treaty obligations and show genuine Antarctic leadership.</p>
By Manuela Callari
It can grow to a maximum of six inches (16 centimeters), change color depending on mood and habitat, and, like all seahorses, the White's seahorse male gestates its young. But this tiny snouted fish is under threat.
Building an Ocean Seahorse Destination<p>Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate coastal water worldwide, but are most abundant around Australia, China and the Philippines. </p><p>Trade in the tiny creatures is strictly regulated because of their use in traditional medicine, aquariums and their sale as dried curios. But because they are poor swimmers and cannot easily move elsewhere, habitat loss is a particular threat for these curious animals. </p><p>Seahorses wrap their tails around seagrass and corals to avoid being carried away on currents. They use the habitat to spawn and hide from predators such as crabs, while also feeding on riches of plankton and small crustaceans living in the reef.</p><p><span></span>Where corals aren't available, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.1217" target="_blank">scientists</a> found seahorses taking up residence in fishing nets and old crab traps abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. </p>
Mixing With the Locals<p>Baby seahorse mortality is high in the wild because they are easily caught, so those bred in the protected environment of the aquarium weren't ready to be released into the wild until early May.</p><p>The team released 90 new arrivals into Sydney Harbor, placing some directly into the purpose-built hotels, and others onto a net that wild seahorses had already settled on.</p><p>Before setting them free, the researchers marked each young seahorse with a fluorescent tag with unique IDs inserted just beneath the skin to track how they get on in the different environments. </p><p>"The most exciting part was being able to put these animals into the wild and then go back a month later and still see them surviving and growing," said McCracken. </p><p>The seahorses will be old enough to mate and reproduce around October or November 2020. And researchers hope that by then, they will be able to breed with the wild population. </p>
Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
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Koala populations across parts of Australia are on track to become extinct before 2050 unless "urgent government intervention" occurs, warns a year-long inquiry into Australia's "most loved animal." The report published by the Parliament of New South Wales (NSW) paints a "stark and depressing snapshot" of koalas in Australia's southeastern state.
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By Jacqui Stol, Annie Kelly and Suzanne Prober
In box gum grassy woodlands, widely spaced eucalypts tower over carpets of wildflowers, lush native grasses and groves of flowering wattles. It's no wonder some early landscape paintings depicting Australian farm life are inspired by this ecosystem.
Native yellow wildflowers called 'scaly buttons' bloom on a stewardship site. Jacqui Stol, Author provided
Huge Increase in Plant Diversity<p>These surveys were part of the Australian government's <a href="http://www.nrm.gov.au/national/continuing-investment/environmental-stewardship" target="_blank">Environmental Stewardship Program</a>, a long-term cooperative conservation model with private landholders. It started in 2007 and will run for 19 years.</p><p>We found huge increases in previously declining native wildflowers and grasses on the private farmland. Many trees assumed to be dying began resprouting, such as McKie's stringybark (<em>Eucalyptus mckieana</em>), which is listed as a <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/sprat/public/publicspecies.pl?taxon_id=20199" target="_blank">vulnerable species</a>.</p><p>This newfound plant diversity is the result of seeds and tubers (underground storage organs providing energy and nutrients for regrowth) lying dormant in the soil after wildflowers bloomed in earlier seasons. The dormant seeds and tubers were ready to spring into life with the right seasonal conditions.</p><p><span></span>For example, <a href="https://www.qld.gov.au/environment/plants-animals/plants/herbarium" target="_blank">Queensland Herbarium</a> surveys early last year, during the drought, looked at a 20 meter (65 feet) by 20 meter plot and found only six native grass and wildflower species on one property. After this year's rain, we found 59 species in the same plot, including many species of perennial grass (three species jumped to 20 species post rain), native bluebells and many species of native daisies.</p><p>On another property with only 11 recorded species, more than 60 species sprouted after the extensive rains.</p><p>In areas where grazing and farming continued as normal (the paired "control" sites), the plots had only around half the number of plant species as areas managed for conservation.</p>
Spotting Rare Marsupials<p>Landowners also reported several unusual sightings of animals on their farms after the rains. Stewardship program surveyors later identified them as two species of rare and endangered native carnivorous marsupials: the southern spotted-tailed quoll (mainland Australia's largest carnivorous marsupial) and the brush-tailed <a href="https://bie.ala.org.au/species/urn:lsid:biodiversity.org.au:afd.taxon:b6930f29-3f26-415e-a760-c12c320c2931" target="_blank">phascogale</a>.</p><p>The population status of both these species in southern Queensland is unknown. The brush-tailed phascogale is elusive and rarely detected, while the southern spotted-tailed quolls are listed as <a href="http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/sprat/public/publicspecies.pl?taxon_id=75184" target="_blank">endangered</a> under federal legislation.</p><p>Until those sightings, there were no recent records of southern spotted-tailed quolls in the local area.</p>
A spotted tailed quoll caught in a camera trap. Sean Fitzgibbon, Author provided<p>These unusual wildlife sightings are valuable for monitoring and evaluation. They tell us what's thriving, declining or surviving, compared to the first surveys for the stewardship program ten years ago.</p><p>Sightings are also a promising signal for the improving condition of the property and its surrounding landscape.</p>
Changing Farm Habits<p>More than 200 farmers signed up to the stewardship program for the conservation and management of nationally threatened ecological communities on private lands. Most have said they're keen to continue the partnership.</p><p>The landholders are funded to manage their farms as part of the stewardship program <a href="http://nrmonline.nrm.gov.au/catalog/mql:2407" target="_blank">in ways</a> that will help the woodlands recover, and help reverse declines in biodiversity.</p><p>For example, by changing the number of livestock grazing at any one time, and shortening their grazing time, many of the grazing-sensitive wildflowers have a better chance to germinate, grow, flower and produce seeds in the right seasonal conditions.</p><p>They can also manage weeds, and not remove fallen timber or loose rocks (bushrock). Fallen timber and rocks protect grazing-sensitive plants and provide habitat for birds, reptiles and invertebrates foraging on the ground.</p>
Cautious Optimism<p>So can we be optimistic for the future of wildlife and wildflowers of the box gum grassy woodlands? Yes, cautiously so.</p><p>Landholders are learning more about how best to manage biodiversity on their farms, but ecological recovery can take time. In any case, we've discovered how resilient our flora and fauna can be in the face of severe drought when given the opportunity to grow and flourish.</p>
The rare hooded robin has also been recorded on stewardship sites during surveys. Micah Davies, Author provided<p>Climate change is bringing more extreme weather events. Last year was the <a href="http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/current/annual/aus/" target="_blank">warmest on record</a> and the nation has been gripped by severe, protracted drought. There's only so much pressure our iconic wildlife and wildflowers can take before they cross ecological thresholds that are difficult to bounce back from.</p><p>More government programs like this, and greater understanding and collaboration between scientists and farmers, create a <a href="https://publications.csiro.au/rpr/download?pid=csiro:EP154278&dsid=DS4" target="_blank">tremendous opportunity</a> to keep changing that trajectory for the better.</p>
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