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More than 50 spectacular specimens of monkeys, apes, lemurs, lorises and bushbabies will go on show at the National Museum of Scotland from 9 December. The taxidermy was specially commissioned for the exhibition and is the first to show primates behaving as if they were in the wildContinue reading...
It’s been a long time coming, but the world’s top powers are now betting billions on the Iter collaboration to deliver clean, safe, limitless energy for the modern world
“We are standing on the ground that could change the future of energy,” says engineer Laurent Pattison, deep in the reactor pit of the world’s biggest nuclear fusion project.
Around him is a vast construction site, all aimed at creating temperatures of 150mC on this spot and finally bringing the power of the sun down to Earth. The €18bn (£14.3bn) Iter project, now rising fast from the ground under the bright blue skies of Provence, France, is the first capable of achieving a critical breakthrough: getting more energy out of the intense fusion reactions than is put in.Continue reading...
Wenlock Edge, Shropshire Defying the season, the flowering hedge-bank plant has an irrepressible urge to burst forth
A hogweed blooms in the violet breath of shadows on the lane. Where garden roses are bred to keep flowering compulsively in a desperate denial of the season, the hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) opens in defiance. In a frosty corner of the hedge bank cut down at the end of summer, one flower makes a reappearance.
Related: Late bloomers in the leeContinue reading...
Caribbean Princess discharged thousands of gallons of polluted bilge waste along British coast, while other ships used rigged sensors to hide contamination
Princess Cruise Lines will pay a US$40m penalty after pleading guilty to seven federal charges in an illegal ocean pollution case that involved one ship’s use of a so-called magic pipe to divert oily waste into the waters.
Miami US attorney Wifredo Ferrer told a news conference the penalty was the largest ever of its kind. A plea agreement filed in federal court also requires UK and US-listed Carnival Corp, parent company of the Princess line, to submit 78 cruise ships across its eight brands to a five-year environmental compliance programme overseen by a judge.Continue reading...
The report focuses on water quality, and managing pollution runoff, but only deals in a superficial way with the other preeminent issue for the reef - climate change.
It shows recent progress on water quality has been slow, and ultimately we will not meet water quality targets without major further investments.Progress?
The progress report claims some success in managing water quality through improved practices in sugarcane cultivation under the SmartCane program, and in rangeland grazing.
But actual reductions in sediment and nutrients loads to the reef over the last two years have been very small, as shown in the Reef Report Card 2015. This contrasts with the first five years of Reef Plan (2008-2013) where there was modest progress, as you can see below.Great Barrier Reef Report Card 2015
The positive news out of the Report Card was that grain cropping and non-banana horticulture were doing well, but these are the industries we have little robust data on.
And there’s been little progress towards adequate management practices in sugarcane and rangeland grazing as well as gully remediation in the large dry tropics catchments of the Burdekin, Fitzroy and Normanby.
The specific actions and funding promised in this area over the next five years mentioned in the progress report which have some real substance are:
Direct a further A$110 million of Reef Trust funding towards projects to improve water
Bring forward the review of the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan and set new scientifically based pollutant load targets
Invest A$33 million of Queensland government funding into two major integrated projects
Better prioritise of water quality as a major theme in Reef 2050 Plan.
However these fall far short of the real requirements to meet water quality targets on the reef, set out in the Reef 2050 Plan and the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan.
If we assume that about A$4 billion is needed over the next five years, the amounts mentioned in the progress report (perhaps A$500-600 million at most) are obviously totally inadequate.
There is thus almost no chance the targets will be reached at the nominated time.
This reality has been clearly acknowledged by Dr David Wachenfeld, the Director of Reef Recovery at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. In fact the current progress towards the targets is so poor that we will not even get close.
The most important of these are:
Allocate sufficient funding (A$4 billion over the next five years)
Use the legislative powers already available to the Australian government under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act (1975) and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) to regulate agriculture and other activities in the reef’s water catchment
Examine seriously the need for land use change in the reef catchment. For example, we may need to look at shifting away from more intensive forms of land use such as cropping, which produce more pollutants per hectare, to less intensive activities such as beef grazing, forestry or conservation uses
Continue to improve land management in sugarcane, beef grazing and horticulture but acknowledge the need to extend these programs. We also need better practices in urban and coastal development
Critically examine the economics and environmental consequences of the further expansion of intensive agriculture in the reef’s catchment as promoted under the Australian government’s Northern Australian Development Plan
Progress on water quality management for the Great Barrier Reef, as clearly reported in the 2015 Report Card is poor. There is little chance we will reach the water quality targets in the next ten years, without upping our game.
Jon Brodie is also a partner in the consulting partnership C2O. See: http://www.c2o.net.au/
National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority censors documents sought by Greenpeace
Australia’s offshore oil regulator is censoring documents about BP’s plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight on the grounds that environmental campaigners could use the information to “oppose all drilling activities” there – and that the plans are too “technical” for the public to understand.
Nathaniel Pelle, a Greenpeace campaign who requested the documents under freedom of information laws, said the decision hindered democratic debate.Continue reading...
Have you heard the one about the wasp that kills the bug that feeds the ants that kill the crabs that keep the forests healthy on Christmas Island?
If not, that’s because it hasn’t happened yet, but it is a tale worth telling.
In the coming weeks, Parks Australia will release a 2mm wasp on Christmas Island to control the island’s yellow crazy ant infestation. Crazy ants are a major threat to the island’s wildlife, including its famous red crabs.
Biological control – when we use one species to control another – is infamous for giving Australia its cane toad invasion. So, how do we know this one will work?Christmas Island and its crabs
Christmas Island is a unique natural habitat with many endemic species. The national park covers two-thirds of the island, which has been referred to as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean.
Many people are aware of the red crabs whose mass migration to the sea has been described as one of the wonders of the natural world.
Christmas Island has many other species of crabs, including the impressive robber crabs. These may be the largest land-dwelling arthropod (the group that insects and crustaceans belong to) on earth.
Together these abundant land crabs clear the forests of leaf litter and maintain burrows that prevent soil becoming compacted, creating an open and diverse forest.
But this thriving natural system was disrupted when an invasive ant species became abundant on the island.The ants
In the early 20th century, yellow crazy ants (Anoplolepis gracilipes) found their way to Christmas Island. These ants now form super-colonies, with billions of individuals across hundreds of hectares.
The crazy ants spray formic acid in the eyes and leg joints of the crabs, which immobilises them. The crabs soon die and become food for the ants.
In some cases, crabs that live in areas free of crazy ants are killed during their annual migration and so never return to their original forest. This creates crab-free zones even where the ants do not live.
With fewer crabs, the forest has become less diverse, with a dense understory and compacted soils due to the collapse of crab burrows. Other invasive species such as the giant African land snail have become common where crabs declined.
Parks Australia has been trying lots of different methods from aerial to hand-baiting to reverse the impact of yellow crazy ants on red crabs.
The impact was so severe that a chemical control program targeting the super-colonies began in 2001. This program has slowed the decline of crab populations but is expensive and time-consuming, so researchers began to look into other options, including using other species.The bug: a scale insect
Super-colonies of yellow crazy ants require a reliable food source and this is provided by yet another invasive species: the yellow lac scale insect (Tachardina aurantiaca).
Scale insects (a type of true bug) suck the sap of trees and produce a sweet secretion from their anal pore called honeydew, which ants then harvest.
It seems that the super-colonies of these crazy ants could not survive without the carbohydrate-rich honeydew provided by abundant scale insects in a patch of forest.
There is evidence that the scale insects increase ant reproduction and make them more likely to attack other species. One large field experiment demonstrated that if we stopped the ants getting access to the scale insects, ant activity on the ground fell by 95% in just four weeks.
The scale insects may need the ants as much as the ants need the scale insects. Some ants protect the scale insects in the same way that humans protect their livestock, by chasing away other predators.
The interaction between these two invasive species has allowed them to build their populations to extremely high densities, something known as invasional meltdown.
The good news is that scale insects, unlike ants, are amenable to biological control. For instance, Australian lady bugs were spectacularly successful in controlling the cottony cushion scale in North America.The wasp
The search began to find a species that could control the scale insect on Christmas Island. And we found it: a tiny wasp known as Tachardiaephagus somervillei, which attacks the yellow lac scale insect in its native Southeast Asia.
This wasp lays its eggs in mature female scale insects and kills them from the inside, producing more wasps that then lay eggs in more females. This wasp (and other predators) are so effective that the yellow lac scale insect is rare in its native habitat.
Obviously, we had to test that the wasp wouldn’t attack other species. Researchers did this in the field in Malaysia, an unusual approach that yielded excellent results. The scientists exposed eight closely related scale insects to the wasp, and none were harmed.
This proves that no other scale insect population on Christmas Island is at risk if the wasp is introduced, with the possible exception of another introduced scale insect that is a pest in its own right.
Researchers also checked that the wasps would still work when the scale insects are being tended by yellow crazy ants – and they still attacked. After years of research it is exciting to be on the verge of releasing this wasp on Christmas Island.Postscript: the toads
We all know the biological control stories that went wrong. The introduction of cane toads to control cane beetles in Australia backfired spectacularly. In Hawaii, the introduction of mongooses to control rats failed because mongooses are active during the day and the rats were active at night. In both those cases, those species were introduced without sufficient research.
But these examples changed the rules and laws around introducing species. Today governments are much more aware of the risks of invasive species. Rigorous experiments and risk assessments are required before any introduction can occur.
In this case, researchers from La Trobe University have worked closely with Parks Australia and the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia to collect enough data to satisfy the Australian government.
We believe that this is the most closely scrutinised biological control project in Australia. When the wasps arrive on Christmas Island in a few weeks, we are confident that this will set an example for best-practice conservation.
Fewer ants means more crabs, healthier trees, fewer African snails and better soil. And it will save money being spent on expensive conservation efforts for years to come.
Parks Australia has produced a special animation on the program – check it out here at http://www.parksaustralia.gov.au/christmas/news/biocontrol.html.
Susan Lawler has received funding from the Australian Research Council in the past.
Peter Green receives funding from the Department of Environment and Energy
Doctors warn excessive intake can pose risks for some patients and say medical advice needs to be more specific
The common advice to drink plenty of water when ill is based on scant evidence and can actively harm chances of recovery, doctors have warned.
Medics at King’s College hospital NHS foundation trust, in London, raised the alarm after they treated a patient with hyponatremia – abnormally low sodium – from drinking too much water to help with a recurring urinary tract infection.