A new report promoting urgent climate action in Australia has stirred debate for claiming that global temperatures will rise past 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next decade.
Australia's Climate Council released the report on Thursday. The council is an independent organization of climate scientists and experts on health, renewable energy and policy who work to inform the Australian public on the climate crisis. But their latest claim is causing controversy.
"Multiple lines of evidence show that limiting global warming to 1.5°C above the preindustrial level, without significant overshoot and subsequent drawdown, is now out of reach due to past inaction," Dr. Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Prof. Christopher Field of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment wrote in the foreword. "The science is telling us that global average temperature rise will likely exceed 1.5°C during the 2030s, and that long-term stabilization at warming at or below 1.5°C will be extremely challenging."
The report is titled "Aim high, go fast: Why emissions need to plummet this decade," and as the name suggests, it is ultimately concerned with urging more robust climate action on the part of the Australian government. The report calls for the country to reduce emissions by 75 percent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2035 in order to achieve the long-term goals of the Paris agreement, which means limiting warming to well below two degrees Celsius.
"The world achieving net zero by 2050 is at least a decade too late and carries a strong risk of irreversible global climate disruption at levels inconsistent with maintaining well-functioning human societies," the authors wrote.
The report further argues that global temperatures are likely to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius in the 2030s based on existing temperature increases; locked-in warming from emissions that have already occurred; evidence from past climate changes and the percentage of the carbon budget that has already been used.
The report isn't a call to give up on the Paris agreement. It is possible that global temperatures could swell past 1.5 degrees Celsius but still be reduced by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Even if temperatures do exceed 1.5 degrees, every degree of warming that can be prevented makes a difference.
"Basically we can still hold temperature rise to well below 2C and do that without overshoot and drawdown," Will Steffen, lead report author from the Australian National University's Climate Change Institute, told Australia's ABC News. "Every tenth of a degree actually does matter — 1.8C is better than 1.9C, and is much better than 2C."
However, some outside scientists question both the accuracy and effectiveness of the report's claim. Both Adjunct Professor Bill Hare from Murdoch University and Dr. Carl-Freidrich Schleussner from Humboldt University told ABC News they have been trying to contact the Climate Council about its 1.5 overshoot claim for months. They said that it went against other major reports, including the UN Environment Program Gap Report and the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on 1.5˚C.
"The big challenge their report reinforces is the need for urgent action to get on that 1.5C pathway, [so] it's very paradoxical to me that they've chosen to attack that target," Dr. Hare told ABC News.
However, Scientist Andy Pitman from the Center of Excellence for Climate Extremes at the University of New South Wales told The Guardian that the report's assessment was correct.
"It's simply not possible to limit warming to 1.5C now," he said. "There's too much inertia in the system and even if you stopped greenhouse gas emissions today, you would still reach 1.5C [of heating]."
However, one aspect everyone agreed on involved the importance of lowering emissions as soon as possible.
"[There is] absolute fundamental agreement on the task at hand, which is to get emissions to plummet," Simon Bradshaw, report author and Climate Council head of research, told The Guardian.
About 70% of the buildings in Kalbarri were damaged and tens of thousands are without power by winds gusting over 100 miles per hour. Climate change, caused by humans' extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, is making cyclonic storms more extreme by increasing air and ocean temperatures, which effectively supercharges the storms.
"You just thought, this is it. I would have thought that when we opened the door, that there would be nothing around us except that roof," Kalbarri resident Debbie Major told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "We are a small town. Half of it has been flattened." Seroja devastated regions of Indonesia and Timor-Leste last week, where it triggered deadly flash floods and landslides.
#CycloneSeroja: homes & units before & after the cyclone hit #Kalbarri, 170kmh gusts causing major damage. #7NEWS https://t.co/WYFL2QOlwB— Paul Kadak (@Paul Kadak)1618186830.0
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Massive rainfall in Australia's most populous state of New South Wales (NSW) has brought the worst flooding in decades, forcing more than 18,000 people to flee their homes.
The rain began on Thursday, but the inundation increased over the weekend, CNN reported. Currently, 38 locations in the state are considered natural disaster areas. Some areas have seen rainfall five times the monthly average for March in just four days. The flooding comes a year after the region was scorched by record wildfires, in yet another example of how the climate crisis fuels extreme weather.
"Communities who were battered by the bushfires are now being battered by the floods and a deep drought prior to that. I don't know anytime in our state's history where we've had these extreme weather conditions in such quick succession in the middle of a pandemic," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told journalists, as CNN reported. "You've been through three or four incidents which are life changing on top of each other. It can make you feel like you are at breaking point."
Miraculously, Berejiklian said no lives had been reported lost as of late Monday, as BBC News reported. However, there has been massive damage. Photos have shown homes, roads and trees completely underwater, according to CNN. In one incident, a young couple's house was swept away on what would have been their wedding day.
"It literally floated like a houseboat, the whole house, fully intact," the couple's landlord and home's owner Peter Bowie told Australia's ABC News. "It went so fast. It went nearly a kilometre all intact, 100 per cent. This house just lifted up and floated down the river."
Overall, the flooding has prompted more than 700 flood rescues, BBC News reported.
The flooding has especially impacted the suburbs west of Sydney, New South Wales's capital, which saw its wettest day of the year on Sunday, when it received 4.4 inches of rain, as Reuters reported. The Hawkesbury and Nepean rivers have flooded much of northwestern Sydney, and parts of western Sydney have seen their worst flooding since 1961.
The NSW Rural Fire Service shared video footage of some of the areas impacted by the Hawkesbury River flooding, as 9News reported.
Many areas across #NSW currently resemble an inland sea. Once the rain stops & the water begins to reside, there wi… https://t.co/uvweRUmn1f— NSW RFS (@NSW RFS)1616376947.0
Meanwhile, rainfall has also caused rivers to overflow in the southeastern part of the state of Queensland, according to BBC News.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said Monday that around 10 million Australians living in an area roughly the size of Alaska were impacted by weather warnings. The warnings come as two systems collide and affect every mainland state in the country except one.
Around 10 million Australians in every mainland state and territory- except WA- are currently under a #weather warn… https://t.co/Ofwuxr9UnR— Bureau of Meteorology, Australia (@Bureau of Meteorology, Australia)1616394512.0
The wet weather is expected to last through Wednesday, according to BBC News. The flooding comes as Australia is experiencing a La Niña weather pattern, which typically brings more rain and storms. However, scientists say that the climate crisis is intensifying these natural variations. The government's State of the Climate 2020 report found that, while rainfall overall is trending downward in most of Australia, the intensity of heavy rainfall events is increasing.
"Short-duration extreme rainfall events are often associated with flash flooding, and so these changes in intensity bring increased risk to communities," the report authors wrote.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Sydney was the capital of Australia. Sydney is the capital of New South Wales.
By Hannah Thomasy
On its own, a single sea cucumber may not be very impressive. But get enough of these floppy, faceless creatures together, and they—or, more specifically, their poop—can physically and biochemically reshape a coral reef habitat.
In a recently published study, an Australian research team used drone surveys, satellite imagery, and observations of individual sea cucumbers to estimate how much poop the sea cucumbers of Heron Island Reef produced per year. Heron Island Reef is part of the southern Great Barrier Reef system off the coast of Queensland, Australia.
Historically, one of the major problems scientists have faced when trying to assess the importance of sea cucumbers (and their excrement) in the reef ecosystem is the difficulty in assessing just how many sea cucumbers there are in a given area, said Jane Williamson, the study's lead author and head of the Marine Ecology Group at Macquarie University.
Previous research used footage from boats or information collected by divers to estimate sea cucumber numbers, said Williamson. But boats stir up the water, making it difficult to see the animals, and divers can collect information over only relatively small areas, resulting in a high degree of uncertainty when their observations were used to extrapolate the population of the entire reef.
So Williamson and her team, which included coral reef geomorphologist Stephanie Duce, remote sensing expert Karen Joyce, and marine ecologist Vincent Raoult, wanted to try a different method. Using images captured by drones, the team surveyed sea cucumbers over tens of thousands of square meters in two different geomorphic zones (the inner and the outer reef flats). Researchers then used satellite imagery to determine the area of each of these geomorphic zones to extrapolate the number of sea cucumbers present on the entire reef. These methods indicated that there were more than 3 million sea cucumbers on the reef flats surrounding Heron Island Reef.
The team also collected dozens of individual sea cucumbers to observe their bioturbation rates—that is, how much each sea cucumber pooped in a given day. On average, each sea cucumber produced about 38 grams of poop in 24 hours. Using this information, along with their estimates of the reef's sea cucumber population, researchers determined that on a single reef, sea cucumbers produced more than 64,000 metric tons of poop per year—more than the weight of five Eiffel Towers.
By measuring how much individual sea cucumbers pooped per day and estimating the number of sea cucumbers on the reef using drones and satellite images, researchers determined how much poop sea cucumbers contributed to the Heron Island Reef. Credit: Associate Professor Jane Williamson et al., 2021, Macquarie University; Dr. Stephanie Duce, James Cook University; Dr. Karen Joyce, James Cook University; and Dr. Vincent Raoult, University of Newcastle. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-021-02057-2
The Importance of Excrement
Scientists think that all of that poop plays an important role in ecosystem health as well as in the biogeochemical cycles of the reef.
"Sea cucumbers can be considered like a long sausage, almost," said Williamson. "Sediment goes in and sediment comes out.… By eating the sediment and then pooping it out again, they're actually aerating the sediment, which makes the sediment a healthier place for other animals to live, like small crabs or polychaetes, which are worms, or small mollusks that live inside the sediment in the surface layer."
Sea cucumbers are also involved in the nitrogen cycles of the reef ecosystem. As sea cucumbers eat and excrete sediment, "they're releasing nitrogen that's trapped in between the sediments," said Williamson. "So this is really important because nitrogen in particular is a limiting nutrient on coral reefs.… The corals need nitrogen, and the algae need nitrogen, everything sort of locks it up really quickly when it's available, so the sea cucumbers are doing them a big favor in terms of the growth rate of these organisms."
Sea cucumbers could even help protect coral reefs against one of the harmful side effects of climate change: ocean acidification. "The oceans are becoming more acidic, which means that the calcium carbonate which makes the skeletons of the corals and things is less available and in some cases is actually dissolving off the corals." In addition to releasing nitrogen, sea cucumbers also increase the availability of calcium carbonate as they eat their way through the sediment, said Williamson. "So for the sea cucumbers to release more calcium carbonate that's been trapped in the sediments into the environment that the corals and other animals can use is super important."
"These little sausages are playing a really key role that people just don't think about," said Williamson.
Steven Purcell, a marine scientist at Southern Cross University in Lismore, Australia, who was not associated with the study, said that more than 70 countries harvest sea cucumbers. Because these animals are of great ecological value, it's important to keep tabs on their numbers to make sure they're not being overharvested. He noted that drone surveillance techniques like the one used in this paper could also be used to assess populations of other exploited shallow-water reef species, like giant clams.
This story originally appeared in Eos and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
Rural communities in the Australian state of New South Wales are battling a "plague" of mice that has struck the region.
Thousands of mice are invading grain silos, barns and homes and infesting the farmers' bumper grain harvest.
Farmers Share Mice 'Plague' Impact on Social Media
Videos captured on the Moeris family farm in Gilgandra — a five-hour drive northwest of Sydney — show thousands of mice scurrying from under pipes, through storage columns and over machinery.
"Winter crop sowing is at risk and there is a human health impact," the NSW Young Farmers association warned in a tweet, alongside a video showing mice running through hay bales.
#Mice numbers are exploding in many parts of NSW. Haystacks are being destroyed, silos invaded, winter crop sowing… https://t.co/leJr2VXuIj— NSW Young Farmers (@NSW Young Farmers)1615934579.0
"Mice are still causing nightmares for farmers and rural communities," the NSW Farmers association tweeted.
Mice are still causing nightmares for farmers and rural communities in many parts of NSW, as evidenced by this frid… https://t.co/gORpjIjGx2— NSW Farmers (@NSW Farmers)1615764660.0
"At night... the ground is just moving with thousands and thousands of mice just running around" farmer Ron Mckay told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
The Impact of the Mice Plague
Australia's ABC reported three hospital patients in regional New South Wales have been bitten by mice.
There was one report of a rare mouse-related illness known as lymphocytic choriomeningitis [LCM] in the region, ABC reported, quoting the region's Western Local Health District.
Farmers are also concerned the mice will destroy this year's harvest.
How Farmers Plan to Combat the Mice
Farmers in New South Wales (NSW) have asked the government for help to combat the "drastic increase" in mice.
The NSW Farmers Association wants emergency permission to lay down the pesticide zinc phosphide to treat their grain.
"This mice situation is only getting worse," NSW Farmers President James Jackson said.
Reposted with permission from DW.
Can animals, like humans, lose their culture when separated from others like themselves? A new study provides rare evidence that they can.
Every year, humpback whales migrate from polar regions to warmer waters, where they mate, give birth, raise their calves, and amaze whale watchers.
"It's about just seeing a whale, seeing some of the acrobatic surface activity, from breaching and tail slapping … to bulls chasing females, even calves being born in the area," says Olaf Meynecke of Australia's Griffith University Whales and Climate Research Program.
He says eastern Australia is a hotspot for seeing the majestic animals.
But as the climate warms, migration timing is changing. For example, in Queensland's Hervey Bay, humpbacks often arrive and leave earlier than in the past.
At the end of the season, tour boats sometimes have trouble even finding a whale.
"On top of that, we also of course have higher uncertainty in terms of weather," Maynecke says. "We actually started to get a lot more rain in the dry season because the ocean is still so warm."
That can make for a wet, uncomfortable day at sea.
Meynecke says whale-watching businesses will need to find ways to adapt – for example, by shifting the season dates or offering flexible bookings – so they can keep satisfying their customers, even as the climate warms.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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Australia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. It is home to more than 7% of all the world's plant and animal species, many of which are endemic. One such species, the Pharohylaeus lactiferus bee, was recently rediscovered after spending nearly 100 years out of sight from humans.
James B. Dorey, a Ph.D. student at Flinders University, was sampling more than 225 general and 20 targeted sites for research on native bee populations when he identified P. lactiferus among the specimens. Dorey took samples from areas around Queensland and New South Wales, two areas that have seen an increased loss of biodiversity in the past decades. Dorey recently published his findings in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research.
Prior to the study, the last publication on the bee species was recorded in 1923 in Queensland, with very little information on the bee's biology. However, the study in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research indicates that this bee is in need of special attention. Dorey asserts that the species "requires conservation assessment," due to its increasing loss of habitat.
Deforestation seems to be at the top of the list of concerns for P. lactiferus and neighboring species. WWF predicts that between 2015 and 2030, a mere 11 deforestation areas will account for more than 80% of global deforestation. Australia, specifically Queensland and New South Wales where P. laciferus resides, is in those top 11 regions. An alarming 80% of deforestation in Australia happens in the Queensland region, which threatens not only the endemic bee species but other iconic Australian species such as the koala.
However, Dorey cited bushfires as an equally dangerous threat to P. laciferus and other native bee species. Their dependence on the bushland for shelter and food nectar, coupled with habitat fragmentation from deforestation, has made the increasing intensity of Australian bushfires harder to survive. Dorey stated that "GIS analyses... indicate susceptibility of Queensland rainforests and P. lactiferus populations to bushfires, particularly in the context of a fragmented landscape."
Dorey also noted that the 2019 and 2020 bushfire seasons "burnt a greater area than in any year prior," for the habitats in which P. laciferus resides. However, the devastating bushfires of 2019 and 2020 are not only affecting the bees in Queensland, but are also potentially fueling the extinction crisis throughout Australia. University of Sydney ecologist, Chris Dickman, told Huffington Post that an estimated 1 billion species were affected during the wildfires. Compounding research on climate change indicates that the wildfire crisis is global, and P. laciferus might be next on the list of species affected.However, there is hope for this rare bee and the other species facing real threats from the world's extinction crisis. Dorey's work in ecology research, as well as wildlife photography, is helping to fuel wildlife preservation in Australia and beyond. To see more of his work with native Australian bees, click here
Savannah Hasty is an environmental writer with more than six years of experience and has written thousands of articles for clients around the world. Her work focuses on environmental news, lifestyle content, and copywriting for sustainable brands. Savannah lives on the sunny coast of Florida and is inspired by this to play an active role in the preservation of the state's marine life and natural ecosystems.
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
Crossing such boundaries was considered a risk that would cause environmental changes so profound, they genuinely posed an existential threat to humanity.
This grave reality is what our major research paper, published Thursday, confronts.
In what may be the most comprehensive evaluation of the environmental state of play in Australia, we show major and iconic ecosystems are collapsing across the continent and into Antarctica. These systems sustain life, and evidence of their demise shows we're exceeding planetary boundaries.
We found 19 Australian ecosystems met our criteria to be classified as "collapsing." This includes the arid interior, savannas and mangroves of northern Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, Shark Bay, southern Australia's kelp and alpine ash forests, tundra on Macquarie Island, and moss beds in Antarctica.
We define collapse as the state where ecosystems have changed in a substantial, negative way from their original state – such as species or habitat loss, or reduced vegetation or coral cover – and are unlikely to recover.
The Good and Bad News
Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.
Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.
Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the Murray-Darling Basin, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than 30% of Australia's food production.
The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of drinking water during the recent drought.
Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant Mountain Ash forests greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.
This is a dire wake-up call — not just a warning. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.
In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often additive and extreme.
Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.
In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a heatwave spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.
A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for this April.
These 19 ecosystems are collapsing: read about each
What to Do About It?
Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?
We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:
- Awareness of what is important
- Anticipation of what is coming down the line
- Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.
In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.
In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been removed.
"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating cultural burning practices, which have multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.
It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to warmer conditions.
Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.
For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the 2019-20 fires. Brilliantly, Zoos Victoria anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — Bogong bikkies.
Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the root cause of environmental threats, such as human population growth and per-capita consumption of environmental resources.
We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as feral cats and buffel grass, and stop widespread land clearing and other forms of habitat destruction.
Our Lives Depend On It
The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for environments globally.
The simplicity of the 3As is to show people can do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.
We simply cannot afford any further delay.
Dana M Bergstrom is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. Euan Ritchie is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. Lesley Hughes is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. Michael Depledge is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter.
Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.
Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.
Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.
Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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The Wooroloo fire, raging out of control outside Perth, Western Australia, has destroyed at least 71 homes and was expected to continue to grow.
Authorities warn the fire, already fueled by hot and unusually dry conditions, is being made dangerously erratic by winds gusting at over 45 mph and blowing embers as much as three miles ahead of the firefront.
Smoke from the blaze turned skies over the city on Australia's western coast a hazy orange, raining ash on suburban homes, and dangerously degraded air quality. Climate change makes wildfires more extreme as increased temperatures dry out brush and soil, exacerbating fire conditions. Officials emphasized that evacuation orders caused by the fire overrode the snap lockdown triggered by a COVID-19 infection earlier in the week.
As reported by The New York Times:
The fire, reminiscent of the infernos that devoured Australia's southeast coast more than a year ago, is another reminder that as climate change spurs more frequent and intense natural disasters, Australia and other countries are likely to find themselves dealing with intersecting catastrophes.
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By Georgina Kenyon
Earlier this year, the term "bat tornado" started appearing in the Australian and international media. It all started with a BBC report from the town of Ingham in the northeastern state of Queensland, where the population of flying fox bats had apparently "exploded" over the last two years, leaving residents fed up with their noise and smell.
And Ingham residents are not the only ones. Complaints are also coming from other Australian towns that have long played host to large flying fox "camps."
"It looks like a thunderstorm is coming when they fly over, thousands of these winged flying foxes arriving at dusk, just one after the other," said Justine Taylor, a retail worker who lives near the town of Grafton, New South Wales, which can host more than 100,000 flying foxes at a time.
The sound can be overwhelming. As can the stench from their urine. And flying foxes can also carry the rabies-like Australian bat lyssavirus, and Hendra virus.
The Australian Department of Health insists there is negligible health risk to humans from any bat. But the idea that they are carriers of disease hasn't helped their image.
"I used to dread them, hoping they would roost in someone else's garden," said Taylor. "They'd screech and chatter, you just couldn't sleep. Even in the day, if you were by the river, you'd hear them."
Travelers in Search of Wood and Water
The Australian mainland has four species of flying fox — also known as fruit bats — two of which are listed as nationally protected species. Some can reach a wingspan of 1.5 meters.
Flying fox camps have been likened to railway stations, where crowds of the animals come and go each day. They may travel up to 50 kilometers (30 miles) in a single night, and 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) seasonally, depending on food availability.
They also need a good source of water, drinking small amounts frequently to stay hydrated without weighing themselves down in flight. Susan Island, located in the middle of the Clarence River that runs through the city of Grafton, has become an ideal congregation spot.
But climate change and deforestation are making their movements less predictable. As their habitat is lost or water sources dry up, they seek refuge in urban or suburban areas. "They're being forced into areas they would not normally be," said Tim Pearson, an ecologist and chair of the NGO Sydney Bats.
And while some Australian towns may be seeing an influx of flying foxes, nationally, their numbers have dropped significantly.
Perishing in the Heat
Extreme temperatures over recent years have wiped out thousands — sometimes even tens of thousands — of animals at a time, with media reports showing heaps of corpses where they have fallen from trees suffering extreme heat stress.
Australia experienced the hottest November on record this year, with temperatures reaching the mid-40 degrees Celsius in some regions.
And bats are more exposed to heat in towns and suburbs where they don't have the protection of thick forest.
"This latest catastrophe to befall some of Australia's largest bat species is a symptom of a much larger problem — Australia's deforestation crisis," said Matt Brennan, head of Tasmania-based Wilderness Society. "Eastern Australia is now a designated global deforestation hotspot, alongside places like the Amazon, the Congo and Borneo."
Extending a Helping Hand
Some towns are trying to help them. Yarra City council in Melbourne has installed sprinkler systems where flying foxes come to breed in huge colonies on the Yarra River, to try and keep them cool.
And along the Parramatta River in Sydney, the New South Wales state government has helped fund a project to plant trees to provide the bats with more habitat and shade.
However, these well-intentioned interventions don't always hit the mark. Pearson says sprinklers can startle heat-exhausted animals, increasing their stress levels. And ultimately, making urban environments more hospitable to bats is no substitute for preserving the forests where they are naturally at home.
"You can plant trees to give the flying foxes more habitat, but the real problem is climate change and ongoing deforestation," said Pearson.
Bats Need Forests, and Forests Need Bats
While flying foxes suffer from loss of trees, loss of fruit bats is, in turn, bad news for trees. As flying foxes pop their heads into flowers to feed on nectar, or consume fruit and excrete the seeds, they help eucalypts, melaleucas, banksias and many species of rainforest trees and vines, to reproduce.
Pearson warns that if we don't address climate change and halt deforestation, Australia's flying fox numbers will fall so low within the next few decades, they will no longer be able perform this vital role.
"I think they will survive in some pockets along the coast where there is food and water," he said, "but they will not be acting as the pollinators and seed dispersers that are so necessary for our forests to survive."
Learning to Love Our Winged Neighbors
Pearson is among the flying fox's fiercest defenders. He's studying their vocalizations and says the din their human neighbors complain about is actually the highly developed communication of an intelligent and intensely social species.
He wants the public to stop seeing them as disease-carrying invaders and start appreciating fruit bats for the extraordinary animals they are: "It's through educating people, raising awareness about how important these flying foxes are for ecosystem health that we may be able to save them."
In Grafton, spectators now sometimes gather to watch them on their nightly search for food.
"When I realized people were coming from around Australia just to see the bats here out of curiosity, I started to find out more about them, appreciate them," said Taylor. "People actually row out to the island to see them!"
"I guess the bats are kind of funky," she admits.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
A new report about Australia's wildlife loss following the 2019-2020 wildfires reveals a staggering number. The sobering findings, calculated by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-Australia, determined that 143 million native mammals were likely killed, including more than 61,000 koalas.
Ten scientists and researchers worked on the labor-intensive report, factoring in limitations for concluding total numbers. However, an estimated three billion animals were affected by the fires, including 2.46 billion reptiles.
In the report's forward, WWF-Australia Chief Executive Dermot O'Gorman declared that the fires were "one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history."
Of the 143 million mammals, it's estimated that the wildfires killed about one million wombats, five million kangaroos and wallabies, five million bats, 39 million possums and gliders and 50 million native mice and rats, The Guardian reported.
The loss of Australia's endemic mammals is particularly stark since the country is the only place where they're naturally found.
Also lost were about five-and-a-half million lesser-known but equally important Australian mammals such as bettongs (or rat kangaroos), bandicoots, quokkas and potoroos.
The koala toll has been especially difficult. O'Gorman wrote in the report, "That is a devastating number for a species that was already sliding towards extinction in eastern Australia. We cannot afford to lose koalas on our watch."
Last month Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley decried "a serious lack of data about where [koala] populations actually are," and called for a national census of the marsupial.
In New South Wales, a parliamentary inquiry found that koalas would be extinct by 2050 without intervention to save their habitat.
Proposed solutions to increase koala numbers involve protecting koala corridors and banning logging in old-growth forests, but the severity of recent fires and the threat of future disasters due to climate change impede saving the species. However, a countrywide koala census is scheduled for next year.
Researchers intend to use koala droppings, drones and detector dogs to count the species. The last koala census in 2016 estimated there were more than 300,000 in Australia.
The report included recommendations to address future wildfire threats, such as establishing rapid response teams and improving fire prevention.
"It's really a call to arms to try and do something because under climate change these fires will happen again," University of Sydney Ecologist Chris Dickman, who worked on the project, told the Guardian.
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