Saving Nemo: how climate change threatens anemonefish and their homes


Jean-Paul Hobbs, Curtin University and Ashley J Frisch, James Cook University

Anemonefish, or clownfish, were made famous by the 2003 Disney-Pixar film Finding Nemo, and are about to play a starring role in the sequel, Finding Dory. They are well known for their special relationship with anemones, which provide a safe place to call home.

But anemonefish face a number of threats. Some researchers have warned of an increase in the wild-caught anemonefish trade, as happened following Finding Nemo.

Anemones, on which anemonefish depend, are threatened by warming seas in a similar way to corals. In fact anemones were affected by the recent coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, which recent updates show has left a third of coral colonies dead or dying in the north and central parts of the reef.

So will Nemo be left homeless?

A healthy (left) and bleached (right) bubble-tip anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor) on the Great Barrier Reef.
Ashley Frisch

Nemo and his 27 cousins

There are 28 species of anemonefish. Although some people call this group “clownfish”, technically this name is only used for one species, Amphiprion percula. “Nemo” (A. ocellaris) looks similar, but is actually known as the “false clownfish”.

Anemonefish are famous for their special relationship with anemones. Although they can survive in aquariums without anemones, in nature they rely on anemones for protection from predators.

The pink anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion) in a bleached anemone (Heteractis magnifica) at Christmas Island.
JP Hobbs.

In return for providing a safe home, the resident anemonefish will provide nutrients and defend the anemone from predators such as butterflyfish. Both the number and size of anemonefish is linked to the size and number of anemones – and vice versa. Therefore, any decrease in one partner affects the other.

The collection of anemones and anemonefish for the aquarium trade has to be managed properly to ensure the future of anemonefishes. Anemonefish can be easily bred in captivity and this provides a reliable source for aquarium enthusiasts without impacting wild populations.

Cinnamon anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus) in a bleached anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor) on the Great Barrier Reef.
Ashley Frisch

Ten species of anemones are inhabited by anemonefish. The highest diversity of anemonefish occurs in Indonesia, where anemonefish species outnumber anemones. As a result, different species of anemonefish have learnt to share the same anemone.

In most other locations, anemonefish aggressively prevent other species from entering their anemone. Anemonefish species differ in the number of anemone species they associate with.

Clark’s anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii) in a bleached anemone (Cryptodendrum adhaesivum) at Christmas Island.
JP Hobbs.

Clark’s anemonefish (A. clarkii) can live in all ten anemone species and is widely distributed throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In contrast, McCulloch’s anemonefish (A. mccullochi) inhabits only one species of anemone and occurs only on reefs around Lord Howe Island.

After hatching, anemonefish larvae use their keen sense of smell to find their preferred anemone species and avoid unhealthy (bleached) anemones.

Anemones in hot water

Anemones are closely related to corals and get their colour from microscopic algae (zooxanthellae) that live symbiotically within the tissue of the anemone. Like corals, anemones expel their algae and turn white when they become stressed.

This process – termed “bleaching” – is usually in response to periods of elevated seawater temperatures. All ten species of anemones are susceptible to bleaching, which can result in a decrease in the size and number of anemonefishes and reduced reproduction.

McCulloch’s anemonefish (Amphiprion mccullochi) in a bleached anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor) at Lord Howe Island.
Justin Gilligan.

If seawater temperatures remain high for too long, then bleached anemones will die. In 1998, a prolonged period of elevated water temperatures in Japan resulted in mass mortality of bleached anemones and local extinction of anemonefish.

In March 2016, the Great Barrier Reef experienced a severe bleaching event due to elevated water temperatures associated with a strong El Niño event. There was mass bleaching of both corals and anemones.

Marine biologist Jean-Paul Hobbs studying anemonefish (Amphiprion mccullochi) and their host anemones (Entacmaea quadricolor) at Lord Howe Island.
Justin Gilligan.

In April 2016, elevated water temperatures also caused mass bleaching of corals and anemones off north-west Australia, including Christmas Island. Bleached anemones have also recently been reported elsewhere in the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean and in the Red Sea.

The future of the bleached anemones and their resident anemonefish will depend on how quickly the water temperature returns to normal. If the temperature decreases swiftly, bleached anemones can regain their colour (reabsorb zooxanthellae) and survive.

However, the frequency and intensity of bleaching events are predicted to increase as the climate changes. Consequently, there are serious concerns about the ability of anemones and anemonefish to cope with rising water temperatures.

Reducing global greenhouse gas emissions will limit subsequent bleaching events and help ensure the future of Nemo and its relatives.

The Conversation

Jean-Paul Hobbs, Research Fellow, Department of Environment and Agriculture, Curtin University and Ashley J Frisch, Postdoctoral Fellow in Marine Ecology, James Cook University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Ten years on: how Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth made its mark


John Cook, The University of Queensland

Ten years ago, An Inconvenient Truth opened in cinemas in the United States.

Starring former US vice president Al Gore, the documentary about the threat of climate change has undoubtedly made a mark. It won two Academy Awards, and Gore won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to communicate human-induced climate change.

An Inconvenient Truth (AIT for short) is the 11th-highest-grossing documentary in the United States. According to Texan climatologist Steve Quiring:

AIT has had a much greater impact on public opinion and public awareness of global climate change than any scientific paper or report.

But has the film achieved what it set out to do – raise public awareness and change people’s behaviour in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Measuring the film’s impact

A public survey by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press found that in the months following the documentary’s release, the percentage of Americans attributing global warming to human activity rose from 41% to 50%. But how do we know whether AIT contributed to this increase?

Several studies have experimentally tested the impact of viewing the film. A UK study found that showing selective clips from AIT resulted in participants feeling more empowered and more motivated to make lifestyle changes to fight climate change.

Similarly, surveys of moviegoers and students found that watching AIT increased knowledge about the causes of global warming and willingness to reduce greenhouse gases. However, this increased willingness didn’t necessarily translate into action. A follow-up survey conducted a month later found little change in behaviour.

One novel approach found a 50% increase in the purchase of voluntary carbon offsets in areas where AIT was shown. This is encouraging evidence that the film did lead to tangible behaviour change. But again, the effect wasn’t long-lasting. A year later, there was little difference in carbon offset purchases.

An analysis of drivers of public attitudes towards climate change found a significant relationship between media mentions of AIT and public perception of the urgency of climate change. In other words, the film produced a significant positive jump in the general public’s perceptions of the issue.

This study also found that polarisation decreased after the release of AIT, pouring cold water on the claim that Al Gore polarised the climate debate. Rather, the polarised positions on climate science among Democratic and Republican leaders (one party broadly accepting the science, the other significantly rejecting it) was found to be the key driver of public polarisation on climate change.

This led the study’s author, Robert Brulle, to state:

I think this should close down forever the idea that Al Gore caused the partisan polarisation over climate change.

This body of research underscores the difficulties confronting any public awareness campaign. AIT was successful in raising public awareness of climate change, increasing willingness to change behaviour and, in some cases, actually changing behaviour.

However, the effect didn’t last long. This indicates that persistent communication efforts are required to promote sustained behaviour change.

Scientists critique An Inconvenient Truth

While AIT was effective among the general public, there is no tougher crowd for a science documentary than scientists. A survey of members of the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union found that among the scientists who had seen and rated AIT, 72% said the film was either somewhat or very reliable.

To put this in perspective, only 12% of scientists who had read Michael Crichton’s contrarian novel State of Fear rated it as somewhat or very reliable.

Going into more detail, an edition of GeoJournal had four scientists critique the scientific accuracy of AIT. Unfortunately, the panel was made up of two mainstream scientists and two contrarian scientists – a false-balance form of coverage that actually causes confusion rather than increases literacy in the context of media coverage. (For an incisive look at false-balance coverage of climate change, watch John Oliver’s statistically representative climate change debate.)

A statistically significant climate change debate

The outcome is somewhat predictable, with mainstream scientists reporting a more positive assessment of the accuracy of AIT than the contrarian scientists. Nevertheless, a useful overview of the exercise is provided by Texan climatologist Gerald North, who concluded that while there were some inaccuracies in AIT, on the whole it represented mainstream scientific views on global warming.

Ultimately, the factual inaccuracies in AIT were deemed inconsequential and don’t undermine the main message of the film.

Inspiring others

While most of the research into the impact of AIT investigates the direct effect on viewers, a potentially more significant impact is the film’s role in inspiring others to follow Gore’s example in communicating the issue of climate change to others.

Personally, I can attest to this influence. Before 2006, I hadn’t given much thought to the climate change issue. Watching AIT raised a number of questions about the human role in global warming.

With the issue salient in my mind, I got into conversations with family members who happened to reject the scientific consensus on climate change. This precipitated the founding of Skeptical Science, which led to me becoming a researcher in climate communication at the University of Queensland.

I’ve spoken to or know of many other climate communicators whose awareness of the issue dawned with their viewing of AIT. While the direct effect of the original screening of the film may have dissipated, the impact of those inspired to communicate the realities of climate change persists.

For me, the film precipitated a series of events that ultimately redirected the course of my life. An Inconvenient Truth wasn’t just behaviour-changing, it was life-changing.

No lab experiment can quantify that level of impact.

The Conversation

John Cook, Climate Communication Research Fellow, Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

World’s largest wind farm study finds sleep disturbances aren’t related to turbine noise


Simon Chapman, University of Sydney

During the Abbott government, the often recalcitrant Senate cross bench was thrown a big, juicy bone plainly intended to sweeten their disposition toward government bills which needed their support to pass. The anti- wind farm Senators were outraged with the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) 2015 report on wind farms which found no strong evidence of health effects from turbine exposure. There have been 25 reviews with similar findings published since 2003. The government may have promised these Senators the gift of the office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner which by February 2015 had received just 42 complaints about 12 wind farms, seven of which have not even been built.

In August 2015, the Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines published its report. The Committee was chaired by Senator John Madigan, an open opponent of wind farms, and consisted of eight members. Six of these had form in savagely criticising wind farms. The content of their final report was therefore utterly predictable, with Labor’s Senator Anne Urquhart’s minority dissenting report shining like a beacon of respect for evidence.

There was no greater display of the naked demonising agenda of the Madigan-aligned group’s anti wind farm show trial than the total absence in their report of any mention of the world’s largest and most important study of the question of whether living near wind farms was harmful to health.

Health Canada’s Wind Turbine Noise and Health study published its preliminary findings on October 30, 2014. Senator Urquhart’s minority report noted that many submissions to the inquiry recognised the great contribution of the Health Canada “Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study” to the body of knowledge on the potential impacts of wind farms on human health. But the 181-page report made no mention of the study.

The study data were collected between May and September 2013 from adults aged 18 to 79 (606 males, 632 females), randomly selected from each household. They lived between 0.25 and 11.22km from wind turbines in two Canadian provinces, Ontario and Prince Edward Island.

In March, the Health Canada study group published its full findings in a series of open-access papers in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, the world’s most cited acoustical research journal, and in Sleep, a leading journal in sleep research. Here is a summary of some of its chief findings.

Do wind turbines increase the prevalence of health problems and sleep disturbance?

The researchers assessed self-reported sleep quality over the past 30 days using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index and a wrist monitor to record the total sleep time, and the rate of awakening bouts and how long these last, for a total of 3,772 nights.

Averaged over a year, the measured sound of the turbines reached a maximum of 46 dB(A) with an average of 35.6. Forty six decibels is around the sound of a dishwasher operating in a kitchen.

Since January 2012, I have collected and catalogued a remarkable 247 different symptoms and diseases wind farm opponents claim are caused or exacerbated by wind turbines in humans and animals.

But the Health Canada study found that:

Self-reported health effects (e.g., migraines, tinnitus, dizziness, etc.), sleep disturbance, sleep disorders, quality of life, and perceived stress were not related to wind turbine noise levels.

Both self-reported and objectively measured sleep outcomes consistently revealed no apparent pattern or statistically significant relationship to wind turbine noise levels.

But, unsurprisingly, sleep was affected by whether residents had other health conditions (including sleep disorders), their caffeine consumption, and whether they were personally annoyed by blinking lights on the wind turbines.

Sleeping problems affect around 29% of all communities, regardless of whether they are near wind farms or not.

Do wind turbines cause measurable stress?

The researchers used a recognised scale to measure self-reported stress (the perceived stress scale – PSS) as well as recording hair cortisol concentrations, resting blood pressure, and heart rate.

However, the majority (77%–89%) of the variance in the perceived stress scale (PSS) scores was unaccounted for by differences in these objective measures. And wind turbine noise exposure had no apparent influence on any of them.

Again, the study concluded that the findings did not support an association between exposure to wind turbines and elevated self-reported or objectively defined measures of stress.

Do wind turbines annoy people?

Expressions such as being “hot and bothered” are well understood. When people are annoyed by something in their life, this can lead to the onset of symptoms. Being annoyed is not health problem in itself, but chronic annoyance can have health consequences.

The Health Canada study reported:

Visual and auditory perception of wind turbines as reported by respondents increased significantly with increasing wind turbine noise levels as did high annoyance toward several wind turbine features, including the following: noise, blinking lights, shadow flicker, visual impacts, and vibrations … Beyond annoyance, results do not support an association between exposure to wind turbine noise up to 46 dBA and the evaluated health-related endpoints.

The prevalence of residents reporting that they were very or extremely annoyed by wind turbine noise increased from 2.1% to 13.7% when sound pressure levels were below 30 dB compared to when the noise was between 40–46 dB.

So in summary, those who found the turbines annoying, tended to be those who lived nearer to them.

What factors predict who gets annoyed?

Even for the most annoying features, more than 86% of residents were not very or extremely annoyed by them.

There is much variation among our families, friends working environments in the way people react to noise. A 2014 review of symptoms related to modern technology (including wind turbines) found those who were more anxious, worried, concerned, or annoyed by a source that they believed to be a health risk more commonly reported symptoms than those without such beliefs.

In this Health Canada study, while proximity to the turbines was statistically significantly associated with annoyance, the relationship was weak. It was better explained by factors such as holding negative views about the visual impact of the turbines (not liking the look of them), being able to the see aircraft warning blinking lights, the perception of vibrations when the turbines were turning and high concern about physical safety. These are all perceptual variables that bothered some but not most.

Less than 10% of the participants derived personal benefit from the turbines (such as income from hosting the turbines). Deriving personal benefit had a statistically significant, although modest relationship to not being annoyed. The authors concluded:

these findings would support initiatives that facilitate direct or indirect personal benefit among participants living within a community in close proximity to wind power projects.

This suggests that strategies such as community sharing of rental incomes, offers of free electricity or home improvement and amenity payments may reduce annoyance.

If a Labor government is elected in July, the future of the ill-conceived Office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner is likely to be vulnerable, as it may well be with the expected departure of several wind farm-obsessed cross bench senators in the double dissolution, should the Coalition be returned.

State governments are increasingly removing wind farm planning barriers and the availability now of the Health Canada health report should drive another large stake through the forces determined to slow the growth of wind energy in Australia.

The Conversation

Simon Chapman, Emeritus Professor in Public Health, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How can your bank help reduce climate change risks to your home?


Tayanah O’Donnell, University of Canberra

Australia is a land of extreme weather. Events such as the 2009 Victorian bushfires, the 2011 Queensland floods and Cyclone Yasi in 2013 are stark examples of climate-related risks faced by Australian households. Many homes are built in high-risk locations including floodplains, coastlines and bushfire-prone land.

The Climate Institute has today released a report detailing the critical role Australian housing plays in the economy, and the risks housing faces with a changing climate.

It also sets out the role of banks and insurers in promoting risk reduction and climate adaptation for Australian housing.

Built on sand

Housing represents many Australians’ biggest financial commitment – including those who rent rather than buy. Housing accounts for up to one-third of the economy, through direct and indirect means and across sectors such as finance, insurance and construction. With population projections forecasting continued growth and attraction to risky locations, banks and other financial institutions have a crucial role to play in minimising the economic threat posed by climate change.

But while the role of land-use planning and insurance with regard to climate risks has been well documented, the role of banks as gatekeepers to housing finance has been largely overlooked.

As the Climate Institute’s report points out, banks have a “unique ability and incentive” to steer housing purchases, because they are the main providers of residential financing. As such, they have large financial liabilities if homes are lost to fires, floods or other climate effects.

There are a range of tactics banks might use to reduce or mitigate climate risk. For instance, they could favour lending on homes that meet specific risk-reduction requirements, such as raised floor levels for homes in flood zones, or fireproof construction materials in bushfire-prone regions. This approach could also be used in setting mortgage insurance premiums as well as the mortgages themselves. Another approach is to better apportion their exposure – by lending on a reduced percentage threshold of the total property value.

Westpac has a Climate Change Position Statement and both the Commonwealth Bank and NAB have committed in reducing carbon. But more needs to be done for housing.

If banks continue under a business as usual approach, they face the risk that many properties will be devalued over time, through continued exposure to extreme weather events. This represents a significant financial liability, especially when you consider that a home loan typically takes 30 years to play out – a similar time scale to the many climate impacts expected for Australia.

Banks are already making moves to restrict lending based on location.

But the report outlines several other things banks could do, such as:

  • examine climate risk exposure in their current lending practices

  • use their role as financiers to support good policy, by engaging policymakers and financial regulators

  • encourage stakeholders, including the public, private sector and civil society sectors, to develop ways to minimise climate impact risks for housing

  • ensure losses are addressed in an equitable way.

A climate insurance policy

The report also details how the insurance sector assesses risk to housing, and how it might improve its approach in the future, given the intersection of urbanisation, population trends and the trend towards living in climate-threatened areas.

The insurance sector has historically been seen as the messenger of housing market signals, because of its keen focus on assessing weather-related risk. But the 2011 Queensland floods highlighted many weaknesses in relying on insurance alone.

Many properties did not have adequate flood insurance, leaving many people without a home after losing their house to the floods. The Australian and Queensland governments and the private sector struggled to co-ordinate a cost-effective response, partly because of previous bad land-use planning decisions, but also because of the lack of adequate insurance cover.

A federal government levy helped the affected regions to “build better back”. Some chose to rebuild in the same high-risk locations.

Critically, gaps identified in building codes, land use and climate resilience still require a more co-ordinated response. The current Stage 2 coastal law reforms in New South Wales offer a potential example of how competing interests might be balanced.

At face value, this issue is a no-brainer. After all, risk mitigation is bread and butter for lending institutions and insurers, and we already know that extreme weather events are forecast to increase in frequency and severity. National resilience is required.

Quantifying this risk will be easier if financial institutions utilise access to relevant data on issues like coastal risk. Some of these data are becoming more freely available. Recognising the value of climate data is a trend that should continue. For a robust and resilient future, governments and the private sector should end their tango over who should pay for the information and agree that financial climate risks are best faced with eyes wide open.

The Conversation

Tayanah O’Donnell, Research Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Not in my backyard? How to live alongside flying-foxes in urban Australia


Justin Welbergen, Western Sydney University and Peggy Eby, UNSW Australia

The conflict between urbanites and wildlife recently developed a new battleground: the small coastal New South Wales town of Batemans Bay, where the exceptional flowering of spotted gums has attracted a huge influx of grey-headed flying-foxes from across Australia’s southeast.

In response to intense and highly publicised community concern, federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has announced he will seek an immediate National Interest Exemption to facilitate dispersal of these bats – a move that risks undermining legal protections afforded to this and other threatened species.

Similar conflicts are occurring elsewhere in NSW, such as the Hunter region, where some unscrupulous members of the public lit a fire in a flying-fox roost at Cessnock.

With the ongoing expansion of the human urban footprint, animals are increasingly confronted with urban environments. Human encroachment into natural habitats generally negatively affects biodiversity. However, urban landscapes can present wildlife with an irresistible lure of reliable food supplies and other resources. While urban wildlife can provide a range of benefits to health and wellbeing, it can also be cause for frustration and conflict.

Urban human-wildlife conflict is a growing area of management concern and scientific research. But the research suggests that the current strategies for addressing NSW’s conflicts between humans and flying-foxes might not have the intended results.

Flying-foxes increasingly find themselves in urban areas.
Justin Welbergen

Ruling the urban roost

Australian flying-foxes are becoming more urbanised, and the noise, smell and droppings from their roosts can have huge impacts on local residents.

A fundamental problem underlying current approaches to urban roosts is a lack of understanding of the extraordinary mobility of flying-foxes. They are some of the most mobile animals in Australia, with movements that range from foraging trips of up to 120 km in a single night to long-distance nomadism covering thousands of kilometres in a single year.

Nomadic movements of an adult female grey-headed flying-fox, tracked over a period of four years and currently at Batemans Bay.
John Martin & Justin Welbergen, unpublished

While roosts can remain active for decades, they are more like backpacker hostels than stable households, housing a constantly changing clientele that comes to visit local attractions. Roosts are connected into large networks through which flying-foxes move in response to changes in local food resources.

This explains the sudden influx in places such as Batemans Bay where preferred food suddenly becomes abundant. But it also highlights the importance of a national approach to flying-fox management and conservation.

Intense local flowerings of Eucalypts, such as spotted gums, produce copious amounts of nectar and pollen, which attract large numbers of flying-foxes and other species for several weeks. When a relatively small local flying-fox population that is tolerated by its human neighbours suddenly increases tenfold, it can place severe pressure on the local community.

Despite their transient nature, these influxes are often wrongly interpreted as population explosions, leading to calls for culling. In comparison, more humane tactics – such as using loud noise or vegetation removal to disperse the flying-foxes – can seem like a more balanced response. But does dispersal actually work?

Council workers in Charters Towers, Queensland, using ‘foggers’ to disperse flying-foxes from a local roost.
Australasian Bats Society

Shifting the problem elsewhere

There is now ample evidence to show that dispersals are extremely costly and can exacerbate the very human-wildlife conflict that they aim to resolve.

Most dispersals result in the flying-foxes returning the original roost as soon as the dispersal program ends, because naïve new individuals continue to arrive from elsewhere. Overcoming this can take months or years of repeated daily dispersal.

Other dispersals result in flying-foxes establishing new roosts a few hundred metres away, typically within the same urban environment in locations that we cannot control. This risks shifting the problem to previously unaffected members of a community and to other communities nearby.

Former flying-fox roost at Boonah, Queensland, that contained thousands of flying-foxes before it was destroyed in June 2014.
Justin Welbergen

While flying-foxes are often portrayed as noisy pests, they serve our economic interest by providing irreplaceable pollination and seed-dispersal services for free. What’s more, those same bats that annoy people during the day work tirelessly at night to maintain the health of our fragmented forests and natural ecosystems.

So it is in our national interest to manage conflict at urban roosts, by using approaches that balance community concerns with environmental considerations.

Flying-foxes perform irreplaceable ecological roles in our natural environment.
Steve Parish

To be considered “successful”, a dispersal should permanently reduce conflict to a level that is acceptable to the community without causing significant harm to the animals. However, dispersals are currently implemented at the local council level with little or no monitoring of the impacts in or outside the immediately affected area. This makes it hard to assess whether they have been successful.

For example, it is not uncommon for flowering to cease and flying-fox numbers to decline naturally during the period of active dispersal. This gives the community a false sense that a permanent solution has been achieved, when in fact the issues will recur the next time the trees blossom. There is thus an urgent need for urban roosts to be managed with properly defined and applied criteria for success.

Evidence-based management

Unfortunately, lack of research effort directed at “ugly” and “less popular” Australian animals means that very few evidence-based management tools are available to deal with contentious roosts.

Research targeting a few key areas would greatly help efforts to improve urban roost management. For instance, we do not know how flying-foxes choose their roost sites, which leaves us unable to design “carrot solutions” by creating more attractive roost sites elsewhere.

Intensive tree-flowering events are relatively infrequent and hard to predict. This means that it is difficult to prepare communities for a sudden influx of flying-foxes.

Furthermore, the acceptability of various flying-fox management options differs between sections of the community, so it is difficult to find optimal solutions. Social scientists are currently trying to help identify priority areas that promote long-term viability of flying-foxes while also easing conflict with humans.

The extreme mobility of flying-foxes means that a uniform federal approach for management is needed.
Justin Welbergen/WildPhotos.org

Local, state and federal governments continue to allocate considerable funds for dispersal responses, even though such actions are high-risk activities for local communities and are unlikely to provide long-term solutions. We argue strongly that targeted research is needed to better inform land managers and affected communities of flying-fox ecology and provide them with low-cost, low-risk, evidence-based tools for dealing with urban roosts.

Flying-foxes don’t care about legislative borders, and state-based responsibility for wildlife management leads to discontinuity in approaches between jurisdictions. While flying-foxes are being monitored at the national scale, this initiative needs to be combined with a uniform federal approach for managing flying-foxes in our human landscapes. Otherwise, conflicts such as those faced by the residents of Batemans Bay will continue unabated.

The Conversation

Justin Welbergen, Senior Lecturer in Animal Ecology, Western Sydney University and Peggy Eby, Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Centre for Ecosystem Science, UNSW Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Climate change, tourism and the Great Barrier Reef: what we know


Allison Anderson, CQUniversity Australia

The removal of an entire section on the Great Barrier Reef from an international report on World Heritage and climate change has been justified by the Australian government because of the impact on tourism.

The Guardian reported that all mention of Australia has been removed from the report released on Friday. An Environment Department spokesperson was quoted as saying that “recent experience in Australia had shown that negative commentary about the status of World Heritage properties impacted on tourism”.

Australia is the only populated continent that was not mentioned in the report, which was produced by UNESCO, UNEP, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. It comes in the wake of one of the Great Barrier Reef’s most significant coral bleaching events – one widely attributed to climate change.

What’s to hide?

In its purest sense, it could be argued that it is important for the world to know about the impacts climate change is having on some of its most famous natural wonders. This has the potential to precipitate national and global policy change that might ultimately help the reef.

It could also be argued that much of the damage to perceptions of people around the world has already been done. The final episode of David Attenborough’s documentary on the Great Barrier Reef – which discusses the widespread bleaching in detail – arguably has far more potential to influence would-be tourists contemplating a visit to the reef.

News coverage of the events has reached audiences as far afield as the United States and Britain. And a recent picture essay on The Conversation provides evidence of the bleaching, observing the phenomenon as “a huge blow to all Australians who cherish this natural wonder and to the tourists who flock here to see the reef”.

The impact on tourism

Given that the issues on the reef are well known and widely covered, would the UNESCO report really have had an impact?

The Cairns tourism industry is a vital export earner, not only for the region but for the nation. The region has more than 2.4 million visitors per year, contributing A$3.1 billion to the economy, with the Great Barrier Reef as its anchor attraction.

Adding complexity to the issue, there is debate locally as to how widespread the coral bleaching reported by scientists really is.

The tourism industry in Cairns has been quick to counter scientists’ claims with its own. Tour operator Quicksilver has responded with Reef Health Updates featuring a marine biologist who claims that as the water cools through winter, many of the coral are likely to regain their colour.

Tourists have also been interviewed for the campaign, emerging from the water amazed and astounded at the diversity of colour and marine life they have seen.

Regional tourism organisation Tourism Tropical North Queensland has also begun a campaign to showcase undamaged parts of the reef.

Tourism is a perception-based activity. Expectations of pristine waters and diverse marine life on a World Heritage-listed reef are what drives the Cairns and North Queensland tourism industry in Australia.

We know from past research that perceptions of damage to the natural environment from events such as cyclones do influence travel decisions, but we do not yet know how this translates to coral bleaching events.

Researchers in the region are working to collect data from tourists about how their pre-existing perceptions of coral cover and colour match their actual experiences.

This will provide evidence of the impacts of the bleaching event on the tourist experience and also shed light on what has shaped tourists’ perceptions prior to visiting. Currently, we only have anecdotal evidence from operators and the tourist interviews in the Quicksilver video on what these impacts really are.

What impact could this have on the reef?

From another perspective, tourism is particularly valuable to the reef because it is a relatively clean industry that relies on the preservation, rather than depletion, of the resource for its own survival.

The Great Barrier Reef is a resource of value to both tourism and other industries. In the past, the reef has narrowly escaped gas mining, oil spill disasters and overfishing, not to mention the ongoing impacts of land-based industries along the coast that drains to it.

It is important to remember that the original World Heritage listing was “born out of a 12-year popular struggle to prevent the most wondrous coral reef in the world from being destroyed by uncontrolled mining”. This raises questions about whether the comparative economic importance of mining and other industries could increase if tourism declines.

The message about the threats to the Great Barrier Reef is already in the public domain. Research is still being done on the true impact of the bleaching event and associated perceptions on the tourism industry, and the results are not yet conclusive.

Rather than bury information that many people globally already have access to, perhaps the Australian government could think more creatively about how it is addressing the issues and promoting this as a positive campaign for “one of the best managed marine areas in the world”.

The Conversation

Allison Anderson, Lecturer in tourism planning and development, CQUniversity Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.