The link below is to an article that takes a look at a trek on Victoria’s ‘Fall Creek Circuit.’
For more visit:
The link below is to an article that takes a look at a trek on Victoria’s ‘Fall Creek Circuit.’
For more visit:
Victoria is struggling with biodiversity conservation, according to a State of the Environment report tabled in parliament this week. While the scorecard is bleak – not one of the state’s key biodiversity indicators ranks as “good” – the report itself gives some hope.
For the first time the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability, who prepared the report, offers proactive recommendations to the Victorian government for improving its performance, and has linked these goals to international sustainability targets. It’s an comprehensive and ambitious effort, and offers some good lessons to the rest of Australia.
Victoria is the most densely populated state in Australia, the most cleared of native vegetation, and has the smallest percentage of public land.
The State of the Environment report uses a traffic light method to summarise the status, trend and data quality of 170 indicators spread over 12 scientific assessment areas (everything from general air and water quality to specific environments such as marine and coasts, plus issues such as waste and energy).
The indicators paint a picture that does not look good for biodiversity. None of these indicators are rated “good”; seven are “fair”, 21 “poor”, and seven “unknown”. In terms of trends, just one is improving, seven are stable, and 18 are deteriorating (nine are unclear).
National park declarations have slowed substantially on land in recent years – the first Andrews government (2014-18) was the first Victorian government in a quarter of a century not to increase national parks. Not a single additional marine area has been protected since 2002.
In contrast, conservation on private land is fair and trending upward according to the report card (probably largely due to the efforts of Trust for Nature). A substantial cash injection for the trust from Victoria’s rolling fund would likely see outsized results, although this is not a specific recommendation in the report.
The reports offers two critical recommendations for improving biodiversity:
increase private land conservation and invest in local government capability to enforce existing protective guidelines, and
appoint a Chief Biodiversity Scientist to counsel the Secretary and Environment Minister to improve the impact of biodiversity research.
Creating a Chief Biodiversity Scientist is a good starting point for an area that has received decreasing effort, over the past decade in particular. However, it must be only the first step in raising the lowly position of biodiversity conservation, not only in the environment department but across the entire government.
This years report moves beyond simply relaying data in two ways: first, with 20 specific recommendations to the government, and secondly by using the United Nation’s framework of environmental accounting to tie the report to the global Sustainable Development Goals.
The report claims this is the first attempt to apply the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to a sub-national environmental report. Given the number of federated nations around the world (the United States, Brazil and Canada, for a start), putting the spotlight on state or provincial environmental responsibilities is a significant and laudable step.
In the more immediate future, the report gives the Victorian government 20 recommendations linked to the Sustainable Development Goals, across a range of categories: Traditional Owner leadership, climate change, air and water quality, land, forests, fire, marine and coastal environments, water resources, waste and resource recovery, energy, transport, and “megatrends”.
The 20 recommendations are solidly based on the findings across the 12 assessment areas. These show that only 11% of status indicators are “good”, whereas 32% are “poor”, with the trend demonstrating only 10% are improving, 30% stable and 30% deteriorating.
Why biodiversity is key to our survival
While the State of the Environment report naturally focuses on Victoria, there are plenty of lessons and ideas here for the rest of the country.
Now the onus is firmly on the self-proclaimed “most progressive government in Australia” to act.
Fish deaths in the Darling River have once more raised the public profile of incessant political controversies about the Murray Darling Basin. These divisive debates reveal the deeply contested nature of reforms to water policy in the Basin.
It feels like Australia has been here before – algae blooms are not uncommon in these rivers. In 1992, the Darling suffered the world’s largest toxic algal bloom, over 1,000 kilometres long. This crisis became an iconic catalyst, and helped prompt the state and federal governments agreeing to water reforms in 1994.
Hopefully, our current crisis may be an opportunity to shine a strong light on the complexities of governing the Basin, and initiate the meaningful reforms needed to restore public trust.
How is oxygen ‘sucked out’ of our waterways?
The rivers of the basin are unique and precious. Australia needs high quality and independent science to understand them and guide their management. Unfortunately in 2012 state and federal governments cut three important programs that provided vital research on the Basin’s rivers:
So while yesterday’s announcement of A$5 million funding to a new native fish recovery program is welcome, good science alone is not enough. Good policy processes and robust institutions are needed to apply this information. We cannot continue to ignore expert warnings.
Since a 2017 Four Corners program exposed disturbing allegations of water theft and corruption, the media has revealed a host of further probity issues.
These and a plethora of formal inquiries into MDB governance indicates a crisis of trust, legitimacy and public confidence – in short, a loss of authority.
The 2018 federal Senate inquiry documents a litany of concerns, while disturbing evidence given at a South Australian Royal Commission raised substantive doubts about failures to heed the best scientific advice in the development of the Basin Plan.
Without doubt pressure is mounting for more reforms. The Senate’s Rural and Regional Affairs Committee and the Productivity Commission have recommended splitting the Murray Darling Basin Authority into two entities – the MDB Corporation and a MDB Regulator – in order to clearly separate the Commonwealth’s regulatory oversight from other roles.
These proposals deserve critical scrutiny. Structural reorganisation can provide an illusion of government action, but can have long-term effects on the efficacy and justice of water governance.
The Murray Darling has a unique place in Australia’s history, environment, economy and culture. Agreements about its governance have their origins in debates leading up to Federation in 1901. Any renegotiation needs to respect the Constitution and the different legal powers of the states and the Commonwealth.
So reform to institutional arrangements need bespoke design. These are the legitimate remit of our discursive democracy. Nonetheless, the OECD’s 12 water governance principles usefully provide guidance about the need for clarity of roles, transparency, effectiveness, efficiency and broad stakeholder engagement.
Current calls for reorganisation focus on clarifying the Commonwealth’s regulatory role, but this is fairly narrow. Reforms are needed at all scales.
The governance challenges in the MDB require modernisation and redesign of arrangements across regional, state and Commonwealth agencies. This includes structuring “constructive tensions” that ensure transparency and accountability. Just like the police don’t control the courts, we need to more clearly define and separate roles in the water sector.
We need all water agencies to adopt a formal charter of transparency and openness. All state and Commonwealth agencies should open their books to scrutiny, rather than hiding information behind claims of “commercial in confidence” or opaque “freedom of information” processes.
Greater transparency measures should also be a condition of all water licences. It’s entirely feasible to create modern monitoring regimes, using state-of-the art digital metering coupled with annual water-use declarations. These would be similar to tax returns enforced with random audits and satellite verification of areas irrigated. If made publicly available, all interested parties could audit water extractions.
But doubts don’t exclusively focus on irrigators’ compliance. We also need to address the states and their willingness and capability to enforce regulations. Policies of radical transparency could be supported with openly available water data. With digital meters and automated gauging of river flows, we could create a computer platform where anybody could develop river models using real data, in near real-time.
Harnessing the power of citizen involvement, trust and openly sharing information has been a hallmark of Australia’s landcare and natural resource management. This is where we should look for the next generation of governance in the Basin.
Open books means communities, industries, research and educational institutions can all help monitor our institutions and ensure rivers are managed in the public’s interest.
Finally, droughts should not come as surprise. They are a recurrent feature of the Basin. With climate change, more frequent and intense droughts are predicted. As a nation we can do better than lurching from crisis to crisis each time drought returns.
We need careful deliberation about the institutions that will rebuild public confidence and restore trust in the governing of the Murray Darling. It’s time to develop a 21st century system that is cooperative, transparent and just.
Continued logging in Melbourne’s water catchments could reduce the city’s water supply by the equivalent of 600,000 people’s annual water use every year by 2050, according to our analysis.
We calculated water lost due to logging in the Thomson Catchment, which is the city’s largest and most important water supply catchment. Around 60% of Melbourne’s water is stored here.
Since the 1940s, 45% of the catchment’s ash forests (including mountain and alpine ash forest) have been logged. There are plans to log up to a further 17% of these forests under the VicForest’s existing logging plan.
Past logging in the ash forests has reduced the Thomson Catchment’s water yield, which is the amount of water that flows through the catchment, by 15,000 megalitres (a megalitre is a million litres) each year. This equates to around 9% of water yield from ash forests across the catchment.
By 2050, continued logging in these forests at the current rates could increase this loss to 35,000 megalitres each year, or 20% of water yield. This will be equal to the water use of around 600,000 people every year, based on estimated water use of 161 litres per person each day.
The city of Melbourne has some of the best quality water in the world. A key reason for this is that the city’s first water infrastructure planners closed many of the key water catchments to intensive human disturbance, such as logging.
But there also can be competition for water between different land uses in catchments that are not closed and open to logging. Indeed, it has long been known that logging can significantly reduce the amount of water produced from forests, especially those close to Melbourne.
Research on forest hydrology shows that the amount of water yielded from ash forests is related to forest age. Catchments covered with old-growth ash forests yield almost twice the amount of water each year as those covered with young forests aged 25 years. This is because evapotranspiration, the process by which trees transpire water into the atmosphere as well as evaporation from the surrounding land surface, is higher in young forests compared with older forests.
Up to 200,000 trees per hectare germinate following logging or an intense fire which burns the whole stand. Intense competition between young trees results in rapid growth rates along with increased evapotranspiration. As the forest matures, the trees thin out, and after 200 years, an ash forest can have less than 50 trees per hectare. These older ash forests release more water back into the catchment.
With logging occurring every 60-120 years, large areas of ash forest are kept in a high evapotranspiration stage of growth, therefore releasing less water back into the catchment.
Perhaps the losses in water yield could be justified if the value of the timber and pulpwood produced from logging exceeded the value of water. However, previous research has shown that the water in these areas is 25.5 times more valuable than the timber and pulpwood from ash forests.
The ash forests in the Thomson Catchment are logged primarily for paper manufacturing. Under the Forest (Wood Pulp Agreement) Act 1996, the Victorian government is bound to supply Australia’s largest pulp and paper mills at Maryvale, owned by the Nippon Paper Group, with at least 350,000 cubic metres of native forest logs each year. The Thomson Water Supply Catchment is allocated for logging under this Act.
If logging was stopped in the catchment, what is the alternative for these paper mills? The answer is to source wood from current plantations. In 2017, Victoria produced 3.9 million cubic metres of logs from plantations. This could supply the pulp and paper mills at Maryvale several times over.
A challenge facing Victoria’s forest industry is the loss of jobs. One major factor in this is out-of-state processing. Australia tends to import lower volumes
of more processed and higher value wood products, including printing and writing paper. By contrast, higher volumes of less processed and lower value wood products, such as woodchips and unprocessed logs – largely from plantations, are exported.
Redirecting plantation sourced logs and woodchips from export markets to domestic processing can address some of these problems. In fact, detailed analysis suggests doing this would have an overall positive economic impact for Victoria.
Stopping logging in the Thomson Catchment and sourcing instead from well managed plantations could both boost water supply and create more jobs. Of course, some jobs would be lost for people who log from the catchment, but this would be more than compensated for by employment in the plantation processing sector.
The first Wood Pulp Agreement Act of 1936, which legislated supply of pulplogs from Victorian state forest to earlier paper manufacturers in Maryvale, featured a clause stating logging was to cease following the designation of the Thomson Catchment in 1967. This has clearly not occurred. In fact 63% of logging in the ash forests across the catchment has occurred since 1967.
The Thomson Catchment is the only one of Melbourne’s large water supply catchments open to logging. Given the critical importance of the Thomson Catchment, our work clearly indicates the Victorian government needs to cease logging and prioritise the supply of water to the people of Melbourne.
David Lindenmayer, Professor, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University and Chris Taylor, Research Fellow, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University
Pharmaceuticals from wastewater are making their way into aquatic invertebrates and spiders living in and next to Melbourne’s creeks, according to our study published today in Nature Communications.
We found pharmaceuticals in every bug we sampled – over 190 invertebrates – from six different streams. These included caddisfly larvae, midge larvae, snails and dragonfly larvae. We also found pharmaceuticals in spiders living in stream-side vegetation.
We found 69 different drugs in the bugs, including fluoxetine and mianserin (anti-depressants), fluconazole (an anti-fungal), and non-steroidal anti-inflamatories (NSAIDs), often used to treat arthritis.
While we don’t know how these drugs are affecting these invertebrates, we know from other studies pharmaceuticals do affect the lifecycles of other organisms.
We also calculated that animals that eat these aquatic invertebrates, such as platypus, would be receiving half the daily recommended dose of anti-depressants for humans.
We know wastewater is a contributing factor to pharmaceutical contamination in aquatic organisms, so we sampled from a range of streams with different wastewater inputs. These included a site just downstream of large-scale wastewater treatment facility, and areas with ageing septic systems.
We also included a stream within a national park to attempt to obtain samples we thought would be free of pharmaceuticals. We sampled aquatic invertebrates and stream-side spiders and tested them for 98 pharmaceutical compounds.
To our surprise, we found up to 69 different pharmaceuticals in aquatic invertebrates and up to 66 in riparian (streamside) spiders. Contamination was greatest downstream of the high capacity waste water treatment plant.
Moreover, every insect we sampled contained pharmaceuticals, including at the site in a national park, possibly due to septic systems in the drainage area of the stream that contribute small amounts of waste water.
The fact we detected drugs, admittedly in very low concentrations, in this seemingly pristine site suggests finding places “free” from pharmaceutical contamination may be difficult. Recent studies by other researchers detected pharmaceutical contamination in surface water in Antarctica and in national parks in the US.
We also found spiders living on the stream edge (the “riparian zone”), also contain a wide variety of pharmaceuticals in their tissues. These animals primarily consume adult insects and are an indication other animals that eat adult aquatic insects, such as birds, reptiles and bats, may also be exposed.
We take and are prescribed pharmaceuticals to improve our quality of life. These medications are designed to be biologically active – they are meant to treat us; for example, we take paracetamol to alleviate a headache. For all the benefits drugs afford us, there is an often overlooked dark side to our extensive use of them.
When we take a pharmaceutical, our bodies do not always use all of the drug and we excrete drug residues into our waste water and the drugs then move into our sewage system. Unfortunately, waste water treatment facilities are not always designed to, or are capable of, removing pharmaceuticals. So they’re often discharged into our streams, rivers and coastal waters.
We have known from many studies over almost two decades that the drugs we take are found in waterways around the world. There are thousands of drugs available, but very little is known about their occurrence and movement through aquatic food webs.
Our research team has previously studied the effects these pharmaceuticals have on organisms living in streams. For example, we found fluoxetine, a common anti-depressant, increased stream insect emergence (the important phase of an insects’ life where it metamorphoses from a stream dwelling larvae to an aerial adult).
Platypus and trout live in or nearby the streams we studied. These animals feed almost exclusively on aquatic invertebrates. Although we did not directly sample trout or platypus, we were able to use previous studies on the feeding rates of these animals to estimate what proportion of a human daily dose of drugs they may be exposed just by eating the aquatic invertebrates we did measure in the streams we studied.
Based on these calculations, a platypus living in a creek receiving waste water could be exposed to over half of a human daily dose (per kg body weight) of antidepressants, just by eating aquatic invertebrates. Trout, too, would be exposed to these drugs, but would be exposed to a lower dose.
Studies have shown single drugs can alter the behaviour of fish, but just what consuming 69 different pharmaceutical compounds might do to a fish or platypus remains unknown and worthy of future research.
Global pharmaceutical use is increasing, with many benefits to humankind. However, our recent publication makes it clear pharmaceuticals are accumulating and moving through stream food webs and expose spiders, and likely birds, bats, fish, and platypus to a wide array of drugs. We are yet to fully understand the broader ecological consequences of this type of pharmaceutical contamination.
We know in humans, there are health risks associated with taking multiple drugs because of drug interactions. Is the same true for animals? Like so many studies, our research leaves us with many unanswered questions.
The one thing that is abundantly clear is the drugs we so frequently use are ending up in nature and are moving through food webs.
This article was co-authored by Emma Rosi, an aquatic ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.
Spectacular images of recent volcanic eruptions in Hawaii are a little disheartening – especially given news reports suggesting there is a sleeping volcano under Melbourne that could awaken and erupt at any moment.
Understanding the geological differences between Melbourne and Hawaii is really helpful in working out how we can keep an eye on future risks in Australia.
Victoria and South Australia do host an active volcanic field, called the Newer Volcanics Province (NVP). This is not a single volcano with a large single chamber of molten rock (magma) — the common image of a volcano — but a widespread field of multiple small volcanoes, each with a small volume of magma.
Melbourne lies at the eastern end of the NVP, and the most recent eruptions in this area occurred over a million years ago.
Mt Gambier in southeastern South Australia represents the western margin of the volcanic field and the most recent eruption — only 5,000 years ago.
Between Melbourne and Mt Gambier there are more than 400 small volcanoes that erupted over a period of 6 million years.
The NVP was most active between 4.5 million to 5,000 years ago and volcanologists consider the field to still be “active” with the potential for future eruptions.
We do not know when the next eruption will take place.
The NVP is located within a tectonic plate – and not along a plate edge like the Ring of Fire volcanoes (for example, Mt Agung on Bali).
Tectonic plates are large slabs of rock made up of the Earth’s crust and uppermost part of the mantle (the lithosphere) which form the outer shell of the Earth, and move around slowly relative to each other.
Curious Kids: Why do volcanoes erupt?
While Kilauea volcano in Hawaii is also located within a tectonic plate, it has several key differences with the NVP in Southeastern Australia.
While Hawaii sources large volumes of magma from deep within the Earth, the NVP only receives small amounts of magma from just below the Earth’s crust.
It’s worth noting here that the makeup of the magma is similar in both locations, with both erupting runny basalt – a type of rock low in silica, and high in iron and magnesium.
We suspect that in Australia’s NVP, magma can move very fast from its source to the surface (on a time scale of days). This can bring rock fragments of the mantle (xenoliths) to the surface as the magma moves too fast for them to melt.
Hawaiian volcanoes can erupt numerous times, but NVP volcanoes are largely monogenetic — that is, each only erupt once or over a restricted period of time.
Hawaii is located on the oceanic crust of the Pacific Tectonic Plate, which is a thin (around 7 km) layer of material that is dense and rich in iron. The magma can rise through this crust quite easily.
In contrast, the NVP is located on continental crust which is much thicker (about 30km), richer in silica and much less dense. Magma finds it much harder to travel through this kind of material.
Is there a new volcano on Hawaii?
The explosivity of a volcanic eruption can depend on availability of water.
“Dry” eruptions – where magma has little-to-no interaction with ground water or water on the Earth’s surface – typically produces mildly explosive eruptions such as lava fire fountains, showers of lava fragments and lava flows.
The most explosive, hazardous eruptions form where rising magma interacts with ground water, surface water or sea water. These “wet”, (phreatomagmatic) eruptions can produce deadly, fast moving, ground-hugging currents of gas and volcanic material – called pyroclastic surges, and send abundant fine volcanic ash into the atmosphere.
The Australian Mt Gambier eruption 5,000 years ago was a “wet” eruption, and had a volcanic explosivity index of 4 on a scale of 0-8 (where 0 represents a lava eruption, 1 a spectacular lava “fire” fountain as recently witnessed in Hawaii, and 8 represents a catastrophic explosive super-eruption).
The accompanying ash column is estimated to have reached 5km to 10km into the atmosphere.
On Hawaii explosive eruptions are rarer because the magma has a low gas content and groundwater aquifers are not as large as in the NVP. However, when lava flows into the sea there are often phreatic or steam explosions which can be hazardous to nearby spectators.
Another important factor relates to how we keep an eye on volcano risk at the two sites. Kilauea on Hawaii is extremely well monitored, and tracking magma moving underground has helped predict eruptions.
In contrast, the NVP is less well monitored, likely because there is no present volcanic activity, and it’s a huge region.
However, warning signs of an eruption are likely to be similar in the NVP to those on Hawaii – small earthquakes, minor uplift and/or subsidence of the ground, changes in ground temperature and gas or steam rising out of the ground.
Also, based on present knowledge of the NVP, there is no clear eruption pattern we can use to try to predict when or where the next eruption will be.
If the NVP were to erupt, significant impacts on our lives would likely occur. These may include:
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Further scientific research is required on active volcanic fields such as the NVP to know how fast magma travels from its source to the surface, how much warning we might have before an eruption, and how long an eruption and its impacts might last.
Heather Handley, Associate Professor in Volcanology and Geochemistry, Macquarie University; Jozua van Otterloo, Assistant Lecturer in Volcanology, Monash University, and Ray Cas, Professor emeritus, Monash University
The Turnbull government is facing fresh trouble over its energy policy ahead of a crucial meeting next week, with Victoria’s Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio warning that the state won’t be rushed into signing onto the National Energy Guarantee (NEG).
In a speech to be delivered on Tuesday, D’Ambrosio will play on dissent in the Coalition, saying: “Malcolm Turnbull is trying to get us to sign up to something that hasn’t gone to his own party room – a place full of climate sceptics”.
“Every time we get close to a national energy policy, the Coalition party room shoots it down,” she will tell a clean energy summit in Sydney. An extract from her speech was issued ahead of its delivery.
“How can we have any confidence in what they’re asking from us if it hasn’t been through his party room first?
“We won’t rush into supporting a policy that we’re not certain is in the best interests of Victorians, just to appease to coal ideologues in Canberra.
“We won’t support a scheme that leaves the states in the dark and leaves us all hostage to the extremists in Turnbull’s party room,” D’Ambrosio will say.
Victoria’s shot across the bows on energy comes as Turnbull faces difficult fallout from the government’s disappointing byelection performance on Saturday, especially in the Queensland seat of Longman, where the Liberal National Party’s primary vote plunged by 9 points to just under 30%.
This is fuelling a push from some within the Coalition for the government to abandon its policy for tax cuts for big business if, as expected, a fresh attempt to get the legislation through the Senate fails. Labor successfully exploited the company tax issue in the byelections.
Turnbull’s weakened authority will also embolden party room critics of the energy policy, led by Tony Abbott – although these are in a minority. Abbott on Monday repeated his call for Australia to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and to cut immigration.
The Guardian reported on Monday that Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg had flagged a two-stage process, as he tries to bed down a deal on the NEG. Under his timetable the NEG mechanism would be agreed on August 10 at the meeting of the Council of Australian Governments energy council. On August 14 the states and territories would get the Commonwealth legislation on the emissions reduction part of the scheme and discuss it in a phone hook up.
The key to this timetable is that it would allow Frydenberg to put the Commonwealth legislation to the Coalition party room on August 14 ahead of it being presented to states and territories. He has previously said the legislation would go to the party room.
Abbott has unsuccessfully pressed for much more party room input before any Commonwealth-state deal is done.
It is not clear whether Victoria will actually try to stall a deal next week, or is just playing politics ahead of the meeting.
D’Ambrosio will say Victoria has “acted in good faith” on the development of the proposed NEG “but it’s no secret that like many other states, we have major concerns about it.”
“We have made it very clear from the beginning – we won’t let any policy get in the way of Victoria achieving our legislated renewable energy targets. Our targets are the only real guarantee to bring down power prices”. Victoria would continue to discuss its concerns ahead of next week’s meeting.
Meanwhile, amid the uncertainty about the company tax cuts’ future, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann strongly defended them. Cormann, who has been the government’s negotiator with the crossbench, is seen as its most committed advocate of the tax plan.
“We are working with the crossbench as we speak to secure the necessary support,” he told the ABC.
Pressed on whether the government would take the policy to the election if it could not win the Senate vote, Cormann said: “That is our position”.
“The bigger businesses around Australia in many ways are most exposed to the pressures of global competition and they employ many millions of Australians directly. Weaker bigger businesses in Australia means less business for smaller and medium-sized businesses.
“It also means lower job security for the people that big business employ directly and lower job security for the many employees in the many small and medium-sized businesses who supply products and services to those bigger businesses,” Cormann said.
Federal Liberal MP Luke Howarth, from Queensland, told Sky that if the measure could not be passed it should be dropped.
Abbott, interviewed on 2GB, said he accepted the economic case for the company tax cuts but there were no votes in them.