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Monkey business: taxidermy of endangered primates – in pictures

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-12-02 18:00

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 wild

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After 60 years, is nuclear fusion finally poised to deliver?

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-12-02 17:00

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.

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Hogweed magic mocks the cold snap

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-12-02 15:30

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 lee

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The $40m 'magic pipe': Princess Cruises given record fine for dumping oil at sea

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-12-02 15:08

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.

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Great Barrier Reef report to UN shows the poor progress on water quality

The Conversation - Fri, 2016-12-02 14:55
Water quality is one of the biggest threats facing the Great Barrier Reef. Tatters ❀/Flickr, CC BY-NC

The Australian and Queensland governments have delivered their progress report to the UN on the Reef 2050 Plan to ensure the long-term survival of the Great Barrier Reef.

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.


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:

  1. Direct a further A$110 million of Reef Trust funding towards projects to improve water

  2. Bring forward the review of the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan and set new scientifically based pollutant load targets

  3. Invest A$33 million of Queensland government funding into two major integrated projects

  4. Better prioritise of water quality as a major theme in Reef 2050 Plan.

What we need to do

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.

The best estimate is that meeting water quality targets by 2025 will cost A$8.2 billion. Other estimates suggest we’ll need at least A$5-10 billion over the next ten years.

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 actions actually needed to manage water quality for the Great Barrier Reef are well known and have been published in the Queensland Science Taskforce Report and scientific papers.

The most important of these are:

  1. Allocate sufficient funding (A$4 billion over the next five years)

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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.

The Conversation

Jon Brodie is also a partner in the consulting partnership C2O. See:

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China to phase out coal imports

RenewEconomy - Fri, 2016-12-02 13:09
In the long term, China’s coal demand will be fully met by domestic supply. As China reaches this balance, the coal price and coal imports will decline.
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Coalition still being led by the nose by Institute of Public Affairs

RenewEconomy - Fri, 2016-12-02 13:06
Using a technique mastered by conservative think tanks like the IPA, the Coalition's efforts on energy policy are mostly an exercise in gathering misleading information and presenting it as proof of something, in this case that wind and solar don’t work.
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Kidston solar farm set for construction, chalking up win for ARENA

RenewEconomy - Fri, 2016-12-02 12:45
Genex Power will begin construction of the solar array at its Kidston pumped hydro project after securing debt and ARENA funding.
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Energy Efficiency Market Report: Signs of recovery?

RenewEconomy - Fri, 2016-12-02 12:39
The period of steady declines in the VEEC price appears to have passed – at least for now – with November appearing to confirm the pricing range established in October.
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Great Australian Bight oil drilling plans too 'technical' for FoI release, says regulator

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-12-02 12:33

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.

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A tiny wasp could save Christmas Island's spectacular red crabs from crazy ants

The Conversation - Fri, 2016-12-02 12:32
Red crabs migrate across Christmas Island in their thousands each year. Ian Usher/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

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

The Conversation

Susan Lawler has received funding from the Australian Research Council in the past.

Peter Green receives funding from the Department of Environment and Energy

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GCL slash price of battery to be 2nd cheapest per warranted kWh

RenewEconomy - Fri, 2016-12-02 12:06
GCL has announced specification and price changes that move their cost from $0.67 down to $0.30 per warranted kWh.
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Four major cities move to ban diesel vehicles by 2025

BBC - Fri, 2016-12-02 11:59
The leaders of four major global cities say they will stop the use of all diesel powered cars and trucks by the middle of the next decade.
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UNSW smashes solar cell record, predicts doubling in 12 months

RenewEconomy - Fri, 2016-12-02 11:22
University of New South Wales team scores world’s highest efficiency rating with largest perovskite solar cells – aims to double efficiency again within a year.
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Innovative energy project to be piloted by Patterson River Secondary College

RenewEconomy - Fri, 2016-12-02 11:21
A cutting-edge new class will be introduced into the curriculum at Patterson River Secondary College next year.
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Enphase Storage System Goes Live in Landmark Multi-Dwelling Battery Installation

RenewEconomy - Fri, 2016-12-02 10:14
Enphase Energy's installation partner, Solaray Energy, has completed the installation of a rooftop solar PV system with the largest Enphase Storage System commissioned to date.
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Katharine Tapley appointed ANZ Head of Sustainable Finance Solutions, Loans & Specialised Finance

RenewEconomy - Fri, 2016-12-02 09:57
ANZ today announced the appointment of Katharine Tapley as Head of Sustainable Finance Solutions (SFS), Loans & Specialised Finance.
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Drinking too much water when ill can be harmful, finds study

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-12-02 09:30

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.

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Threatened Species Strategy - Year One Report

Department of the Environment - Fri, 2016-12-02 09:19
This report captures the progress made during year one of implementing the Threatened Species Strategy.
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Are gut microbes involved with Parkinson's disease?

ABC Science - Fri, 2016-12-02 08:51
GUT BRAIN LINKS: Changes to gut microbes can influence the development of Parkinson's-like movement disorders, according to a study of mice predisposed to the neurological condition.
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