Blind shrimps, translucent snails: the 11 mysterious new species we found in potential fracking sites



An ostracod, a small crustacean with more than 70,000 identified species.
Anna33/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Jenny Davis, Charles Darwin University; Daryl Nielsen, CSIRO; Gavin Rees, CSIRO, and Stefanie Oberprieler, Charles Darwin University

There aren’t many parts of the world where you can discover a completely new assemblage of living creatures. But after sampling underground water in a remote, arid region of northern Australia, we discovered at least 11, and probably more, new species of stygofauna.

Stygofauna are invertebrates that have evolved exclusively in underground water. A life in complete darkness means these animals are often blind, beautifully translucent and often extremely localised – rarely living anywhere else but the patch they’re found in.

The species we discovered live in a region earmarked for fracking by the Northern Territory and federal government. As with any mining activity, it’s important future gas extraction doesn’t harm groundwater habitats or the water that sustains them.

Our findings, published today, show the importance of conducting comprehensive environmental assessments before extraction projects begin. These assessments are especially critical in Australia’s north, where many plants and animals living in surface and groundwater have not yet been documented.

When the going gets tough, go underground

Stygofauna were first discovered in Western Australia in 1991. Since then, these underground, aquatic organisms have been recorded across the continent. Today, more than 400 Australian species have been formally recognised by scientists.

The subterranean fauna we collected from NT aquifers, including a range of species unknown to science. A–C: Atyid shrimps, including Parisia unguis; D-F: Amphipods in Melitidae family; G: The syncarid species Brevisomabathynella sp.; H-J: members of the Candonidae family of ostracods; K: the harpacticoid species Nitokra lacustris; L: a new species of snail in the Caenogastropoda: M-N: Members of the Cyclopidae family of copepods; O: The worm species Aeolosoma sp.
GISERA, Author provided

Stygofauna are the ultimate climate change refugees. They would have inhabited surface water when inland Australia was much wetter. But as the continent started drying around 14 million years ago, they moved underground to the relatively stable environmental conditions of subterranean aquifers.




Read more:
Hidden depths: why groundwater is our most important water source


Today, stygofauna help maintain the integrity of groundwater food webs. They mostly graze on fungal and microbial films created by organic material leaching from the surface.

In 2018, the final report of an independent inquiry called for a critical knowledge gap regarding groundwater to be filled, to ensure fracking could be done safely in the Northern Territory. We wanted to determine where stygofauna and microbial assemblages occurred, and in what numbers.

Our project started in 2019, when we carried out a pilot survey of groundwater wells (bores) in the Beetaloo Sub-basin and Roper River region. The Beetaloo Sub-basin is potentially one of the most important areas for shale gas in Australia.

What we found

The stygofauna we found range in size from centimetres to millimetres and include:

  • two new species of ostracod: small crustaceans enclosed within mussel-like shells

  • a new species of amphipod: this crustacean acts as a natural vacuum cleaner, feeding on decomposing material

  • multiple new species of copepods: tiny crustaceans which form a major component of the zooplankton in marine and freshwater systems

  • a new syncarid: another crustacean entirely restricted to groundwater habitats

  • a new snail and a new worm.

A thriving stygofauna ecosystem lies beneath the surface of northern Australia’s arid outback. We sampled water through bores to measure their presence.
Jenny Davis, Author provided

These species were living in groundwater 400 to 900 kilometres south of Darwin. We found them mostly in limestone karst habitats, which contain many channels and underground caverns.

Perhaps most exciting, we also found a relatively large, colourless, blind shrimp (Parisia unguis) previously known only from the Cutta Cutta caves near Katherine. This shrimp is an “apex” predator, feeding on other stygofauna — a rare find for these kinds of ecosystems.

A microscopic image of Parisia unguis, a freshwater shrimp.
Stefanie Oberprieler, Author provided

Protecting groundwater and the animals that live there

The Beetaloo Sub-basin in located beneath a major freshwater resource, the Cambrian Limestone Aquifer. It supplies water for domestic use, cattle stations and horticulture.

Surface water in this dry region is scarce, and it’s important natural gas development does not harm groundwater.

The stygofauna we found are not the first to potentially be affected by a resource project. Stygofauna have also been found at the Yeelirrie uranium mine in Western Australia, approved by the federal government in 2019. More research will be required to understand risks to the stygofauna we found at the NT site.




Read more:
It’s not worth wiping out a species for the Yeelirrie uranium mine


The discovery of these new NT species has implications for all extractive industries affecting groundwater. It shows the importance of thorough assessment and monitoring before work begins, to ensure damage to groundwater and associated ecosystems is detected and mitigated.

Gas infrastructure at Beetaloo Basin
The Beetaloo Basin is part of the federal government’s gas expansion strategy.
Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

Where to from here

Groundwater is vital to inland Australia. Underground ecosystems must be protected – and not considered “out of sight, out of mind”.

Our study provides the direction to reduce risks to stygofauna, ensuring their ecosystems and groundwater quality is maintained.

Comprehensive environmental surveys are needed to properly document the distribution of these underground assemblages. The new stygofauna we found must also be formally recognised as a new species in science, and their DNA sequence established to support monitoring programs.

Different species of copepods from various parts of the world.
Andrei Savitsky/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Many new tools and approaches are available to support environmental assessment, monitoring and management of resource extraction projects. These include remote sensing and molecular analyses.

Deploying the necessary tools and methods will help ensure development in northern Australia is sustainable. It will also inform efforts to protect groundwater habitats and stygofauna across the continent.




Read more:
Victoria quietly lifted its gas exploration pause but banned fracking for good. It’s bad news for the climate


The Conversation


Jenny Davis, Professor, Research Institute for Environment & Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, Charles Darwin University; Daryl Nielsen, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO; Gavin Rees, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO, and Stefanie Oberprieler, Research associate, Charles Darwin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Mining companies are required to return quarried sites to their ‘natural character’. But is that enough?


Shaun Rosier, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

New Zealand has more than 1,100 registered quarries. Some of these mined sites are small, rural operations, but a significant number are large and complex, and within a city’s urban boundaries.

As part of the resource consent application for a mining project, quarry operators are usually issued with a quarry management plan, which outlines what needs to happen to the landscape once mining has finished.

Most local government bodies require quarry operators to do little more than smooth the altered landscape, redistribute topsoil across these slopes, plant some new vegetation, and manage any onsite waterways to prevent surface erosion.

But restoring the ecology of an extracted site isn’t enough any more.

My research at the Horokiwi Quarry in Wellington explores how design-led remediation projects can restore the ecology of a mined landscape as well as creating new public landscapes that can be used for recreation.

An open quarry site
The southern half of the Horokiwi Quarry has been reshaped and the massive bench to the left entirely removed.
Author provided

Conditions of remediation

Quarry management plans currently pay attention to returning the topography of a mined site to a “natural” condition during the remediation. Quarries and mines extract material from the earth, and by necessity alter the surface dramatically.




Read more:
Afterlife of the mine: lessons in how towns remake challenging sites


Often a large amount of material has to be removed first to access the desired aggregate material or rare mineral. Once remediation begins, this material is spread across the site to create a natural appearance, suitable for revegetation. The landscape is smoothed over, pits filled in, and topsoil distributed.

Likewise, the revegetation strategy remains relatively simple. Most remediation projects rely on spraying a seed-fertiliser-mulch mix over these freshly contoured slopes. In difficult conditions, this is often paired with manual planting to establish cover for pioneer species.

These strategies typically use regionally specific plants, ideally sourcing the seed stock from the area to help establish a robust and appropriate ecology.




Read more:
The uranium mine in the heart of Kakadu needs a better clean up plan


Nature and culture

These processes are all used to restore a site back to a “natural character”, but what this means is left undefined. The Resource Management Act (RMA), under which mining resource consent applications have to be made, says miners have:

…a duty to avoid, remedy or mitigate any adverse effect on the environment arising from an activity.

While the RMA does not define this natural character condition that is to be preserved or restored, it provides some guidance in the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement.

Here, natural character is determined to be underpinned by natural processes, elements and patterns. But as some planners and designers have made clear, this is still an unclear position.

It relies on a problematic distinction between nature and culture, where nature is something different and unaltered from humans. Or, as US environmental historian William Cronon writes:

The place where we are is the place where nature is not.

Problematic results

Most remedial works are successful from a biological point of view, leading to full or partial restoration of ecological processes. For example, the limestone quarry at Cape Foulwind has been relatively successful in its biophysical remediation. But the site is close to local communities and on a major tourist route, and could play a bigger role as a public space.

On the other hand, the remediation of the Mikonui Valley mine, on conservation land on the West Coast, has arguably been a failure, described as a “moonscape” by conservationists. The company paid a bond to the Department of Conservation to allow it to mine on public land, but it has not remediated the land to an acceptable degree, and likely never will.

Behind this is the larger issue that remediation was only seriously considered at the end of the extraction process. Doing so left little room for other design options.




Read more:
Mining powers modern life, but can leave scarred lands and polluted waters behind


Another approach to remediation

Recent research has called for a different approach, especially for quarries and mines within urban areas where landscape architects are involved throughout the entire extraction process.

Using their knowledge and skill sets could bring the extracted landscape significantly closer to a desirable outcome. It would also allow for new spaces, including parks, housing, recreation or ecological reserves.

A design plan for a remediation of the Horokiwi Quarry near Wellington
A proposal for the remediation of the Horokiwi Quarry would turn it into a regional park, connected to the surrounding suburbs and the cities of Wellington and Lower Hutt.
Author provided

This is an important shift for urban quarry sites. Establishing a design process that works in parallel with the extraction process would allow sites such as the Horokiwi Quarry to play a role in the public life of a city.

This large aggregate quarry has a remaining lifespan of 20-30 years, and presents an ideal case to develop remediation techniques that can bring the most out of this landscape.

The design proposal builds on the experience of a landscape of extreme scale and mass. Facilities such as sports fields, gathering spaces, relaxation and a mix of pathways all feed off the experience of the landscape.

At the same time, new ecological sites are established where appropriate to create a different relationship between visitors and the landscape.

A quarry near Wellington
Pathways are designed to give visitors a sense of the scale of the quarried site.
Author provided

Turning post-extraction landscapes such as the Horokiwi Quarry into public spaces confronts us with their scale and otherworldliness. It can change how we relate to the environment.

We have to remediate these sites in a way that moves us to recognise our relationship with extraction and consumption. This might not be pretty, but it is necessary.The Conversation

Shaun Rosier, Practice-based PhD Researcher in Landscape Architecture, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is UNESCO World Heritage status for cultural sites killing the things it loves?



File 20180709 122253 1hdx7il.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Tourists take a photo of sunrise at Angkor Wat in 2016.
Shutterstock

Jo Caust, University of Melbourne

Hoi An is a beautiful coastal town in central Vietnam that escaped the devastation of the American War. In 1999, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the charm of its original architecture, river location, and continuity of cultural practices. UNESCO recognition has made it a major cultural tourism destination. In 2017, 3.22 million people visited, an increase of 22% on the previous year.

Authorities have introduced a ticketing system for visitors, but its purpose is to raise revenue and record tourist numbers rather than control them. The streets are relatively narrow. With the influx of mass tourism, some streets are impossible to walk in and the town has turned into an “ersatz” version of itself with all buildings turned into cafes and shops to service tourist needs. Many large tourist buses park for much of the day on the edges of the old town, to disembark and collect passengers, making an ugly impression as you enter.

Tourists on the Japanese Bridge in Hoi An.
Suree Pritchard/AAP

The local Vietnamese have been forced to move from the town’s centre to live on the outskirts. Ironically, while it is an important cultural tourism destination for its buildings, the culture of Hoi An has changed completely due to mass tourism. From once being a lively trading community, it is becoming a theme park.

In Cambodia, meanwhile, Angkor Wat is a major international cultural heritage site. It received UNESCO recognition in 1992. From 2004-14 visitor numbers to Angkor Wat increased by more than 300%. While the local authorities have introduced a visitors’ ticket to ostensibly control numbers (and bring in revenue), there are challenges from “wear and tear” as visitors touch structures and walk on ancient paths.




Read more:
‘Sustainable tourism’ is not working – here’s how we can change that


The major challenge for Angkor Wat, however, is uncontrolled tourist development around the site. For instance, the construction of large hotels and the illicit tapping of groundwater have affected the water table beneath the temples, which in turn affects their stability.

Tourists at Angkor Wat in 2017.
Mak Remissa/AAP

While continuing to preserve the temples is not easy, the far greater problem is the lack of planning around the site, which has been left to the whims of the marketplace. Ultimately this unplanned development has the potential to destroy Angkor Wat itself.

The impact of mass tourism anywhere can be overwhelming, but it is compounded in communities in developing countries with less economic resources to undertake adequate protection or planning. The town of Luang Prabang in Laos faces similar issues to Hoi An. The local community is now mostly living outside the old town, which again has been given over to tourists and their needs.




Read more:
The carbon footprint of tourism revealed (it’s bigger than we thought)


Other UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world are battling similar problems in dealing with mass tourism. The number of people travelling by air internationally has increased by an average of around 7% a year since 2009. This growth is expected to continue at a similar rate.

A river boat moors at the entrance to the Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang, Laos.
Stephen Johnson/AAP

As far back as 1972, UNESCO adopted the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Two more conventions, adopted in 2003 and in 2005, further protect Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Diversity of Cultural Expression. The intent of these was to draw attention to cultural sites and practices to ensure their ongoing protection and longevity.

Achieving UNESCO status is an internationally competitive process. Nations want this recognition because they can promote a place or practice as a unique cultural tourism attraction.

Communities and nations do have obligations when they receive UNESCO recognition. They are expected to undertake various measures to protect the site or practice and ensure proper planning occurs. But while more attention may be applied to restoration or reduction of unsympathetic behaviour (for example, at Angkor Wat the authorities have introduced rules about appropriate clothing to be worn by visitors), the broader implications of increased visitation may not have been considered.




Read more:
Friday essay: war crimes and the many threats to cultural heritage


Encouraging tourism as a means to improve the economic situation of communities can, in fact, destroy their uniqueness and cultural value. With the continuing increase in tourism, the situation will inevitably worsen.

The focus is at present on earning money from the site/practices, not preserving them. Mass tourism can damage sites irreversibly. Communities and countries have some hard choices to make.

Hoi An streetscape: most locals have been priced out of the centre of town and now live on the outskirts.
Suree Pritchard/AAP

With colleague Dr Mariana Vecco, I recently published a research article about these issues. Some of our recommendations for vulnerable sites include:

  • introducing control of visitor numbers as a matter of urgency
  • tighter planning controls on adjacent development
  • querying the use of sites for any tourist activities
  • auditing sites for damage already incurred.

All of this should occur if UNESCO status is to be continued. However, there is also a bigger conversation we need to have – should tourists visit vulnerable sites and practices?

The ConversationHoi An is still a beautiful town but the presence of “wall to wall” tourists mars it. Sadly, as long as UNESCO status is used more as a marketing device than a route to preservation, the situation will continue to deteriorate.

Jo Caust, Associate Professor and Principal Fellow (Hon), University of Melbourne

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

World Heritage Sites of Australia


Australia has a total of 19 World Heritage Sites and the link below is to an article that lists them. Have you been to any of them? Please share your experiences of them in the comments.

For more visit:
http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/travel/destinations/2015/05/world-heritage-sites-of-australia

World Heritage Areas: Five New Sites


The link below is to an article that reports on five new World Heritage Areas.

For more visit:
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/06/pictures/130621-five-new-unesco-world-heritage-sites-conservation-environment/

Secluded Coastal Camping Spots Around Australia


The link below is to an article featuring 10 of the best secluded coastal camping sites in Australia.

For more visit:
http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/journal/10-best-secluded-beach-spots-in-australia.htm

The ‘Waterfall Tour 2010’


The ‘Waterfall Tour 2010’ is the name of the latest holiday/trip that I’m currently on. It’s not as well organised as my previous holiday around the state which came with a Google Map, Blog updates and photos, etc. However, this one will end up being fairly well represented. Already I have some content on the web and more will follow tonight – more photos and videos. I doubt that I will get everything ‘up to the minute’ as I did last time, as I expect most to be done in the aftermath of the actual trip.

I only decided this morning that I would go on this trip and then left half an hour later – forming the route of the trip as I went along. It is now fairly well formed in my head – I think.

When I finally get everything together, there should be content on Flickr (photos), YouTube (videos), Google Maps (map of the route), Blog posts on Kevin’s Walk on the Wild Side (my wilderness and travel Blog) and Kevin’s Daily (a Blog on which I post either a photo, video, link or quote each day), as well as content on my website at kevinswilderness.com . For Facebook and Twitter followers, you would already be getting updates from both Flickr and YouTube I think, as these sites are getting the photos and videos fairly quickly after they are ready. However, video preparation may take me a little longer now as well – I have a bit to edit and piece together.

Anyhow, as it comes together and is ready to share you can catch it all here on the Wild Side Blog and/or updates on progress in both Facebook and Twitter.

To keep you interested (perhaps), tomorrow I am probably going to see something like 4 or 5 waterfalls, if not more. I saw two today and 1 yesterday.

 

NSW Road Trip 2010: Packing & Getting Ready


It is now the day prior to the NSW Road trip 2010. I have begun packing and getting ready for the journey that lies ahead. I don’t expect to be taking a lot of gear, as I won’t be doing a lot of cooking, washing, etc, on this trip.

I have learnt that it is important to not assume that you have everything you need and then find out the day before that you may not – I already knew this of course, but having recently moved, I no longer have everything that I once did. For example, I do not presently have a sleeping bag. I got rid of the last one because it was old and smelly, and I planned to buy another. But a lot has happened since mid 2007 when I packed to move – including a near fatal car accident that put my purchasing plans well and truly on hold, and they then slipped into the area of my mind that ‘forgets.’

So now I have no sleeping bag – but that isn’t too important as I don’t believe I really need one this time round. It is a road trip, with several cabin stops along the way and only caravan parks with powered sites for the rest. I will take a couple of blankets should I need them (which I don’t believe I will – it will be quite hot in the outback this time of year).

Of course it is not just the sleeping bag that is missing. I am also missing a fly cover for the tent, but thankfully I had two tents so I’m OK there. There are a number of other items missing also, but I don’t really need them this time round. Thankfully I have spotted all this now, which means I can plan to purchase what I need for future adventures, back pack camping, etc. I had of course planned to buy these items, but with the passing of time I forgot.

Anyhow, the packing is under way and I just hope I don’t forget something I wish I had packed when I am on the journey. I’m relatively sure I haven’t – which isn’t to say That I have forgotten something.

What I’d like to remember – and tomorrow I’ll know for sure if I have – is how I packed the car, so that everything was easily accessible. I was fairly well organised for this sort of thing when I was doing it fairly regularly several years ago – but it has been a while. Minimal gear wisely packed, without leaving anything necessary behind – that’s the key for this type of journey and vacation.

This will be the first time however, that I have a bag dedicated to my online activities – laptop, digital camera, web cam, flash drives, etc. I hope to keep an accurate and useful journal online at the kevinswilderness.com website, with photos, comments, route map, etc. So this is a ‘new’ bag that I need to organise in the overall scheme of things.

Anyhow, packing is now underway and coming to a conclusion. The journey will soon kick off.