About Regional, podcast 13 – Reusable water bottles for every high school student

Peter Hannan and Kerryn Wood from the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre, present water bottles to students of Lumen Christi Catholic Collage at Pambula.
Philanthropist Peter Hannan and Kerryn Wood from the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre, present water bottles to students of Lumen Christi Catholic College at Pambula.

This week, one man takes on the garbage building in our oceans…

Every high school student in the Bega Valley will soon have a reusable drink bottle, cutting the need for single use, light weight, disposable plastic water bottles.

Over the last couple of months’ students at Eden Marine High School, and Lumen Christi Catholic College at Pambula have received a stainless steel drink bottle to refill at school taps and bubblers.

Kids at Bega High School got there’s today (May 16), and Sapphire Coast Anglican College down the road will soon have theirs.

This marine environment initiative comes from Bega Valley philanthropist Peter Hannan.

As someone who loves the ocean, Peter says he felt compelled to act after hearing of the impact plastics are having on the world.

Got yours yet? Featuring the logo of the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre.
Got yours yet? Featuring the logo of the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre.

Following last year’s Marine Science Forum, hosted by the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre, Peter made a pledge to buy 2500 reusable bottles and distribute them to year 7 to 12 students across the Shire.

Peter comes from a family of community action, his late mother Shirley, established a trust before she died to fund a national portrait prize that is held every two years, which has since grown to incorporate a youth prize in the alternate year.

See below for audio options to learn more.

My partners in this podcast are Jen, Arthur and Jake at Light to Light Camps in Eden –  offering fully-supported hikes along Australia’s most spectacular coastline, it’s wilderness done comfortably.

Thanks for tuning in, your feedback, story ideas, and advertising inquiries are really welcome, send your email to hello@aboutregional.com.au

Listening options:

Click play to listen here and now…

Or listen and subscribe via Audioboom iTunes or bitesz.com

See you out and about!

Ian

Demystifying solar power in Cooma, Eden, Ulladulla and Queanbeyan

The NSW Government are hosting free solar seminars are coming to Cooma, Eden, Ulladulla, and Queanbeyan.
The NSW Government is hosting free solar in Cooma, Eden, Ulladulla, and Queanbeyan.

The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) are hosting free ‘Demystifying Solar’ seminars for businesses and households across South East NSW.

Mark Fleming, from OEH said the seminars will explain in plain-English the different types of solar technology available and the trends in solar power use in Australia and around the world.

“We had such a positive response to the last seminars that we are again encouraging people to come along and get the info they need to make decisions that are best for their circumstances,” Mr Fleming said.

“We’ll also explain the different options available for local businesses wanting to switch to solar and save money on bills.

“Businesses and households often get unsolicited approaches from companies wanting to install solar panels and while most people agree that solar is a good thing, it’s hard to compare these offers.

“At the seminars, you’ll find out the exact questions you should ask suppliers if you are thinking about installing solar panels,” said Mr Fleming.

Mark Fleming talks to About Regional, click play…

 

Around 800 people attended the seminars held last year across the region and since then more than 50% of those surveys have either installed solar or are in the process of getting quotes.

“Our goals to make people comfortable to ask the questions on their minds and leave with a much clearer understanding as to if solar is right for them,” Mr Fleming said.

The seminars:

  • Tuesday, 16 May 2017, 2:00pm to 4:30pm @ Queanbeyan City Library, Rutledge St, Queanbeyan.
  • Wednesday, 17 May 2017, 8:30am to 11:00am @ Alpine Hotel,  Sharp Street, Cooma
  • Wednesday, 17 May 2017, 2:00pm to 4:00pm @ Eden Fishermen’s Club, Imlay Street Eden
  • Thursday, 18 May 2017, 1:00pm to 3:30pm @ Milton Ulladulla Ex-Servos Club, Princes Highway, Ulladulla.

For more information go to solarpvqueanbeyan.eventbrite.com

The seminars are free, but bookings must be made with OEH via (02) 6229 7139 or rog.illawarra@environment.nsw.gov.au

 

#Sponsored post

Making sense of Candelo’s flying foxes – perhaps we can decide to cope with them?

Flying Fox, by Craig Greer
Flying Fox, by Craig Greer

There’s a colony of grey-headed flying foxes in Candelo, in the massive old plane tree by the bridge.  On the latest count, there are around 1400 bats roosting in its branches.

There aren’t many native species that arrive on our doorsteps in such sudden, large numbers, and with such noise, visibility, and aroma.

We’ll never see 1400 wombats hanging out on Candelo Oval at the same time!

Flying foxes challenge our sense of control over our urban spaces, failing to seek our permission to take over parklands, failing to give us notice for when they will check in or check out, and failing to place an order for what they might eat from our gardens along the way.

So are they simply unwelcome guests in our town landscapes?  Why might we want to attempt to understand their movements, their presence, and our relationship to their habitat?

In the Southeast region of NSW, grey-headed flying foxes are a well-known part of the landscape:  at Bega’s Glebe Lagoon a population has existed there for years, flying at night to feed on coastal forest flowers or south-west to the escarpment to flowering eucalypts.  They pollinate native forests and are an integral part of forest ecosystems.

However, native flora and fauna have become wrapped around the human footprint, existing in the margins, in strongholds that are weakened daily by pollution, deforestation and development.

Flying foxes are one of the few species that can actually transplant themselves back onto the human landscape – but it’s not always a comfortable fit for them or us.

This summer, they have been starving. Eucalypts that provide their usual spring and summer food sources have, for the first time in years, failed to flower at the right time.

Here in Candelo, I arrived back from a trip to Melbourne in November to find seventeen dead baby flying foxes under the poplar trees by the creek.  They were tiny.  The next day, checking under the trees, I found one alive.

The baby flying fox’s wings were spread out, her 7cm-long body tucked into itself, eyes closed.  She was cold.  I did something that you’re not supposed to do: I gathered her up in my jumper and tried to warm her up, taking care not to touch her directly, and I called Wildlife Rescue.

Some people find bats strange and scary, or smelly and annoying, and most will not get the chance to see one up close.

Annie from Wildlife Rescue named the baby flying fox Katie
Annie from Wildlife Rescue named the baby flying fox Katie

This baby was only just breathing, otherwise motionless, and at the mercy of my decisions. I held her and looked up into the tree.  Somewhere up there was her mother.  She would have nursed this baby to the best of her ability for weeks, as she slowly grew weak from lack of food. Eventually, her hunger would have caused her to stop producing milk, and her baby began to starve, eventually dropping from the top of the tree to the ground.

The other babies had not survived the fall or had died on the ground from the cold. There would have been more caught in the branches that I could not see. We were witnessing a starvation event, the evidence of which was brought directly to our town.

Candelo residents have reported losing fruit crops from their trees. The bats are tending to fly out along the creek line, so people in town aren’t suffering too much bat poo on their roofs or cars. But there is a low grumble of discontent in town: why are they here?  Will they keep eating my fruit crops? Should we move them on?

Flying foxes usually eat from just over 100 native plant species.  Around half of these are targeted for fruit, but the other half are flowering plants that can be visited over and over again as they continue to produce nectar.

Local fruit trees are usually visited by the weaker bats who aren’t able to fly to flowering plants in nearby native forests. The recent food shortage has made this behaviour more common.

Hugh Pitty runs monthly flying fox surveys at the Bega’s Glebe Lagoon colony for the CSIRO National Flying Fox Monitoring Program. He says historically there has been a camp at the Candelo Showground, which indicates they will continue to visit Candelo but probably won’t stay for good.

“It’s likely that you’ll see the camp last this year, and possibly next year, but it’s likely that it won’t be here long term,” he says.

“You’ve got water here in the creek, but it doesn’t have all the attributes that the main camp in Bega does”.

There are hundreds of previous camps around NSW that aren’t used anymore. The best long-term camps have permanent water, good shade, and no risk of disturbance from below.

When in 2001 the trees across the road from Hugh’s home in Bega became the site of the largest permanent bat colony in the area, he was fascinated rather than upset. He made them the subject of an animal habitat study for his Biology degree.

Hugh Pitty and Lea Pinker of the Bega flying fox survey team standing in front of Candelo's plane tree bat colony
Hugh Pitty and Lea Pinker of the Bega flying fox survey team standing in front of Candelo’s plane tree bat colony

“I sometimes say that my bedroom window is closer than you can legally put a bird hide vantage point for a flying fox colony,” he says.

Many locals are used to the bats, and the Glebe Lagoon colony is relatively uncontroversial.

In Candelo, the flying foxes make a bit of noise and don’t smell too bad most of the time – in fact, most days I find their smell takes me back to swimming at Mataranka in the Northern Territory as a 16-year-old on a school trip (how romantic!).

But the occasional wafts and the screeching aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and the picnic area underneath the plane trees is a bit of a mess.

With winter approaching, local flying fox colonies will move on and it’s difficult to predict where the bats will turn up in a few months’ time, or what they’ll do next summer.

The question remains the same, though, how do we balance our needs and theirs?

When spotted gums flowered near Batemans Bay a hundred thousand bats arrived on the town’s council land, creating what was referred to as a community crisis.

In Candelo the colony is just over 1% of the size of the former Batemans Bay bat population, and the inconvenience is easier to put into perspective.

Perhaps we can decide to cope with them – because right now it’s the flying foxes, and not our homes and livelihoods, that are in crisis.

Words and pictures supplied by Kate Burke from Raisin – stories of regional science and innovation

‘Very soon I will crack and destroy everything’ – a 14 year old’s call for action

Tathra Surf Club pic from ABC
Tathra Surf Life Saving Club pic from ABC

It’s eleven years since Clean Energy for Eternity (CEFE) was first conceived.

On New Years Day 2006, orthopedic surgeon Dr Matthew Nott was on duty with Tathra Surf Life Saving Club, enduring the hottest day his town had ever experienced – 42 degrees.

There have been hotter days since, 44.6 degrees on January 18, 2013 is Tathra’s current record.

While keeping an eye on swimmers, Dr Nott was reading ‘The Weather Makers‘ by Tim Flannery, a look at the history and catastrophic future impacts of a warming planet.

And a warming planet we have.

The region’s run of beautiful beaches and cool mountain streams will offer blessed respite as South East NSW heads into a week of warm days, with forecast top temperatures above 30 degrees every day for most centres.

The sweaty weather is no surprise, it’s January, a month where records are set. But it coincides with news that 2016 was the world’s hottest year on record, due to the continuing influence of global warming according to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM).

Dr Nott says he remains committed to the cause of addressing global warming eleven years after that famous beach patrol but despairs that people and governments fail to respond to the mounting science.

“It’s really so terribly clear that we are hurtling towards an environmental disaster,” he says.

“That’s going to be something that has an enormous impact on my kids.”

Dr Nott is frustrated by but appreciates the fact that many people don’t understand or ignore the science.

“People think about climate change in the [same] way they think about death,” Dr Nott says.

“They think it’s a long way away and I am not going to think about it now.

“I find that really frustrating because that’s putting my kids future at risk,” he says.

There’s no hiding from the science for those who will inherit the future.

The Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) boast over 110,000 members.

Like CEFE, the AYCC recognises the opportunities climate change presents, while also warning of the total fossil fuels take on our future.

The impacts include rising sea levels and more extreme weather events and the myriad of human, environmental and security challenges that follow.

The opportunities include cleaner cheaper power production using renewable energy sources.

The understanding youth have for this issue was further highlighted to me in the run up to New Years Day 2017, when my eldest son produced a poem – at the pushing and pulling of his Bega based English tutor Elizabeth Blackmore.


Neptune Unleashed

by Jim Campbell, 14 years

I am the meanest thing on earth yet also the calmest

I have seen changes that no human could imagine

I was here at the beginning

And I will be here at the end

I am the most powerful on this earth

Nothing rivals me

Except

You

Why do you kill me? Yet you wouldn’t be alive without me

I am getting bigger

With every factory you build

With every atom that you let go

Very soon I will crack and destroy everything

I will rule again just like I did

A few billion years ago

I am the sea


Tarraganda RFS shed near Bega with solar panels installed with the support of CEFE
Tarraganda RFS shed near Bega, the solar panels were installed with the support of CEFE

Jim was just three years old when CEFE went about installing solar panels on community buildings around South East NSW.

Every community building in Tathra now generates it’s own power and puts the excess back into the grid. Countless Rural Fire Service sheds, surf life-saving clubs, community halls, and schools in other towns now do the same, all with the backing of CEFE.

Eleven years on similar projects continue, building towards CEFE’s 2020 goal of reducing the Bega Valley’s power needs by 50% while at the same time generating 50% of the Shire’s energy needs from renewable sources – 50/50 by 2020.

If you are keen to add some science to the emotion and colour of Jim’s words, the BOM’s Annual Climate Statement is great reading (and viewing) for weather nerds and paints the full picture.

In short 2016 was:

*The world’s hottest year on record and the third year in a row where that record was broken.

*Australia’s fourth warmest year on record, with the annual national mean temp 0.87 degrees above average.

*Ocean temperatures were the warmest on record, with the annual mean sea surface temperature 0.73 degrees above average.

*A year of extreme weather events.

Larsen C Ice Shelf, pic from NASA
Larsen C Ice Shelf, pic from NASA

News too this week that the crack in the big Larsen C Ice Shelf has grown by a further 18km.

Only 20km of ice now connects this 5000sq km (twice the size of the Australian Capital Territory) ice sheet to the Antartic continent. The result’s come from the MIDAS Project, a collaboration of UK universities and academics monitoring the effects of global warming in West Antarctica.

As Matthew Nott suggests, the future is being shaped now.

The science gives the facts and figures of it, my 14-year-old son gives it a voice.

As adults imagine being one of the next generation/s knowing that this is part of your future.

*Poem reproduced with permission of the author, he even made me pay an artist fee!

 

Yellow buoys off Merimbula and Malua Bay listening for sharks

Shark listening station - Malua Bay, supplied DPI.
Shark listening station – Malua Bay, supplied DPI.

The sapphire waters of the Far South Coast naturally draw your attention – forever changing, forever surprising.

This summer, just below Batemans Bay at Maula Bay and further south at Merimbula, a tall yellow buoy beyond the last line of breakers will catch your eye as your bum finds that sweet spot in the sand.

It’s a Shark Listening Station or VR4G, installed during November before the place filled up with holiday makers.

The one off Main Beach Merimbula brings the number of listening stations along the New South Wales coastline to twenty, all designed to give our feeble bodies the jump on these ‘monsters of the deep.’

Other locations include Kiama, Sussex Inlet, Mollymook, Bondi, Byron Bay, Ballina and Lennox Head.

The Member for Bega, Andrew Constance says these satellite-linked VR4G receivers record the presence of tagged sharks swimming within 500 metres of the listening station.

“Information on the movement of tagged sharks captured on the VR4Gs goes straight to a satellite and is then instantly sent to mobile devices via Twitter and the SharkSmart App.” he explains.

There are 114 White Sharks and 88 Bull Sharks that have been tagged by either the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) or CSIRO. These are the beasties that give themselves away when they swim near one of these hi-tech posts.

“Whilst we can’t tag every shark, the new listening stations will enhance bather safety by alerting beachgoers and authorities when a tagged shark is in the area,” Mr Constance says.

“They provide beachgoers with information and knowledge to help them assess their risk of a shark encounter before they hit the water.”

Shark at Bournda Island December 25,from https://twitter.com/NSWSharkSmart
Shark at Bournda Island December 25, from https://twitter.com/NSWSharkSmart

The technology is one component of the NSW Government’s $16m Shark Management Strategy and follows a run of fatal and near-fatal shark attacks in northern NSW during 2016.

Other parts of the strategy being seen locally include regular DPI helicopter patrols running between Kiama and Eden, and soon a new $33,000 viewing platform overlooking Pambula Beach.

Since the aerial patrols and listening stations became active seven local shark sightings have been reported to the Shark Smart App – all south of the Bega River mouth at Tathra.

The first alert on December 17 pointed to four Whaler Sharks near Bar Beach Merimbula, and two unidentified 2 metre sharks off Pambula Beach – both spotted by the DPI aerial team.

The most recent alert was sent out on December 29 with the helicopter reporting up to eight juvenile Bronze Whaler Sharks off Main Beach Merimbula.

In all cases, nearby authorities were notified and it was assessed that there was little threat to swimmers and surfers – sometimes simply because there was no one in the water.

If there is deemed to be a risk to people, lifesavers on the beach or the aerial patrol have the capacity to clear the water of swimmers.

Looking further north to the Shoalhaven, 13 shark alerts have been trigger during the same time frame around Ulladulla and Jervis Bay. On the Central and North Coasts, where there is a more intensive monitoring effort, 60 alerts have been issued taking in beaches between Lake Macquarie and Tweed Heads.

Unidentified sharks spotted 1km north of Tathra Beach on December 19, from https://twitter.com/NSWSharkSmart
Unidentified sharks spotted 1km north of Tathra Beach on December 19, from https://twitter.com/NSWSharkSmart

Broulee’s Andrew Edmunds, Director, Far South Coast Surf Life Saving says his organisation welcomes anything that helps lifesavers manage risk and allows people to make informed choices.

“Sharks are not the biggest risk to swimmers though,” Mr Edmunds says.

“Since the start of summer, we have had 18 deaths in New South Wales waters, none have been a result of shark interaction,” Mr Edmunds says.

“Unpatrolled beaches, rips and strong currents, not wearing life-jackets, unsupervised pools, ponds, and dams – these are the biggest risks.”

Mr Edmunds is hoping the listening stations might ease people’s concern about sharks.

“People will start to see sharks in the natural environment as normal,” he says.

“The frequency of the alerts will increase over time as more sharks are tagged, people might start to realise how commonplace sharks are.”

Shark Smart alerts as there appear on Twitter
Shark Smart alerts as they appear on Twitter

The yellow VR4G units sit high in the water and have been somewhat of a curiosity to beachgoers this summer with lifesavers taking regular questions.

“Stand-up paddle boarders have also been going out and back to investigate,” Mr Edmunds says.

The odds of being attacked or killed by a shark are said to be 1 in 3,748,067, despite the regularity of their presence in our environment that Mr Edumnds points to.

Those long odds however, are easily challenged by our active imaginations, fed by frequent news reports from the North Coast pointing to surfers bitten or killed and White Sharks snared in drum lines.

The tall yellow buoys that now sit out the front of Merimbula and Malua Bay not only highlight the physical presence of sharks but also our fragile minds when it comes to these creatures.

Glowing oceans and starry skies: Bioluminescence at Mallacoota

Sailing at Mallacoota. By Kate Burke
Sailing at Mallacoota. By Kate Burke

Warm summer nights, beach dreaming, magical skinny-dips in sparkling coastal lakes…and with every kick and splash, the dark water around us lights up like magic.

Many of us describe it as “phosphorescence”, but it is something more exciting than a mere glow – it is bioluminescence, evidence of tiny marine creatures and their remarkable way of shining a light on their predators.

Tonight, my man Pete and I are counting our lucky stars (figuratively – there are millions visible) as we leave the kids with Pete’s parents and head out in our little Investigator trailer sailer to spend the night by ourselves on Mallacoota Inlet.

Motoring through the narrow passage from Mallacoota Wharf to the main lake, red port markers blink to our left, green to our right, and up ahead the bright white beacon marking the channel entrance.

As we move away from the town, a waxing sliver moon sets behind the warm lights that glow from living-rooms and verandahs to the west.

The lake darkens, and as we set our sails and switch off the motor we are somehow sailing by the light of Venus and the Milky Way.

Even the tiniest light source suddenly seems alive, powerful, attractive.

The sky and the storms out on the far horizon are also alive. So alive that as we gaze at them as our keel runs aground on soft lake mud and we’re suddenly without steering. So alive that it happens again about ten minutes later. So alive that it takes us a good while to notice the bright green streams of water stretching out behind the rudder and fanning out like wings from the bow of the boat.

Bioluminescence at the Gippsland Lakes. By Phil Hart
Bioluminescence at the Gippsland Lakes. By Phil Hart

Pete and I tied our boat up to a jetty in ‘The Narrows’. I dropped a rock in the water. Light spattered like sparks – at first on the surface, but then settling into a gentle twinkling that revealed a sparkle all through the water.

Stars twinkled above, and the lake was its own galaxy of billions of lights, off and on, tiny.

Then we saw the hive of fish activity along the shoreline. Flickering of tails, each movement trailing a shower of light. Splats and runnels of luminescence. All movements, the paths of all living lake life, traced in shining light.

Tiny plankton known as dinoflagellates, the food of many whales, emit light – not phosphorescence but rather bioluminescence – in a clever play, a kind of lure.

But why draw attention to yourself, little plankton?  Why be a target?

It seems that it’s about a chain of events. Tiny plankton are hunted by predators such as crustaceans, and crustaceans are hunted by larger creatures such as big fish.

When crustaceans move to attack plankton, the plankton light up – “over here, over here!” – larger predators are attracted by the commotion and make a good feast of the crustaceans, effectively taking care of the plankton’s predators.

Dinoflagellates feed on algae and other plankton, and their populations can grow when there are high nutrient levels in coastal waters.

Bioluminescence is not limited to tiny organisms;  in fact, there are bioluminescent species of sharksAnd bioluminescence can hide some species instead of attracting attention (as described in the wonderful kids’ science book The Squid, the Vibrio & The Moon).

According to Ferris Jabr of Hakai Magazine, bioluminescent crustaceans called ostracods were dried for storage by Japanese navy personnel during the Second World War, then made into a paste and used as a covert light source for reading maps.

But here at Mallacoota, it’s the tiny plankton who are shining a light on their predators.

Pretty darn cool, sadly too cool for a midnight swim. Maybe another time.

All the same, Mallacoota Inlet is a stunning place to wake up.

Spineless exhibition at Mister Jones Bermagui

Oysters by Alison Mackay
Oysters by Alison Mackay

The slow, gentle process of deep observation is intrinsic to many forms of art.

It can have much in common with scientific observation; there’s attention to detail, appreciation for form, system and structure and an experience of wonder.

When we mix the two, what can we create?

A group of artists has created a showcase of squidgy, surprising subjects – invertebrates.

Invertebrates are animals without backbones, as the exhibition title suggests.

The idea of getting around without a backbone might seem odd to us, but really we’re the odd ones out because invertebrates make up 97% of animal species.

“Spineless: an invertebrate exhibition” opens this Saturday (September 17) at Mister Jones in Bermagui on the Far South Coast of New South Walse.

Spineless poster
Spineless poster

Curator Matt Chun says group exhibitions have become a regular part of the Mister Jones calendar, something he really looks forward to.

“These shows are a lot of fun and also present an opportunity for me to work as curator, with some excellent creative friends from within and outside the region.

“Launching an exhibition is also a good opportunity for a street party and these exhibitions are well-attended community events,” Matt says.

The show includes the work of 9 emerging and established artists and illustrators, interpreting the invertebrate theme through a wide variety of subject and media, including soft sculpture, illustration, painting, assemblage.

Matt says the inspiration behind the exhibition is a love of the complete ‘other-ness’ of invertebrates.

“They seem to exist at the outskirts of a person’s definition of an animal, often appearing to have more in common with plants, for example.

“And, often having no eyes or recognisable mouths, they naturally resist an artist’s impulse to anthopomorphise,” Matt explains.

Matt Chun's - Sea Things
Matt Chun’s – Sea Things

“I love bluebottles for example, as they disrupt all our expectations of what a ‘creature’ should be; each bubble is in fact a co-operative colony of individuals, both startlingly simple and incredibly complex.

“The other dichotomy of course, is a marine invertebrate’s alien beauty; often with a lolly-shop palette of colours, jewel-like luminosity and elegant movements, yet still evoking in us a deep, primitive revulsion.

“I’m also interested in the common status of invertebrates as the lowest form of life, as though they are yet to evolve true animal qualities; when in fact they are perhaps the most perfectly efficient life-forms, and may have absolutely no interest in evolving our troublesome eyes, thumbs and social graces,” Matt says.

When he’s not on artists’ residencies in places like Taipei, Sydney and Canberra, Matt operates Mister Jones in Bermagui, where he creates coffee and art side by side.  In January, Matt was the subject of abuse and vandalism after he expressed his disdain for Australia Day nationalism on a cafe chalkboard.

The term ‘Spineless’ just occurred to Matt as a funny and catchy reference to the invertebrate theme.

“It is our first exhibition since the national media furore that engulfed my business around Australia Day,” Matt says.

“So a lot of people are assuming that the exhibition title suggests something more provocative. In fact, I conceived of the show well before January, but this does add another accidental layer of humour to the proceedings.”

 

Pic 1: Oysters by Alison Mackay

Pic 2: Exhibition poster

Pic 3: Matt Chun’s Sea Things

Pic 4: The chalkboard at Mister Jones that caused a stir on Australia Day 2016

 

 

Rare Perisher possums finds strong advocate in Mark Feeney

Mark Feeney with a Mountain Pygmy Possum. Image by Mel Schroder
Mark Feeney with a Mountain Pygmy Possum. Image by Mel Schroder

Mark Feeney has a job that any self-respecting snowsportsy scientist would die for. He is the Environment Officer at the Perisher Ski Resort in South East NSW.

Mark helps connect the Resort with the National Parks and Wildlife, as well as overseeing kids’ environmental programs, and scouting for a wonderfully cute and highly endangered species.

I met Mark at the Sundeck Hotel in Perisher.

The Perisher community is small and supportive, all about good mates and lots of fun times.

Some odd traditions emerge, the Sundeck Hotel serves the best cheap lunch on the slopes with their daily kransky barbecue (including the infamous jalapeno-laden Snow Dog), but of an evening you’re able to buy an entire rack of test tubes, each holding a different kind of schnapps.

I’m always on the lookout for kitschy scienceness!

Either way, Mark’s got a good gig.  So how did he get to be there?

Mark’s interest in science was first sparked in geography class, learning about how humans and ecosystems interact.

After finishing high school he worked as an outdoor education instructor in Southeast Queensland, camping most nights of the week with co-workers whose high moral codes and environmental awareness inspired him to study environmental science at uni.

A life-changing moment came when he worked in the Pilbara, Western Australia, with indigenous rangers.

“It was a short stint but it gave me a glimpse of the traditional knowledge the Martu people have and utilise in terms of land and ecosystem management,” he says.

“Prior to then I had minimal exposure to traditional land management techniques, and it made me realise how lacking my own knowledge is…it is certainly something that has stuck with me.”

So with such a strong appreciation for environmental codes, what’s it like working at a resort like Perisher?

“I acknowledge that landscape, country and ecosystems have a right to exist purely for their own existence, there does not need to be a benefit or purpose to people,” Mark explains.

“Having said that, I will be the first to enjoy these natural areas where a balance can be made between visitation or recreation and conservation.

“In my experience, when people can relate positive experiences to something I think they are more likely to advocate for it,” he says.

Sunrise over Perisher Resort. Image by Kate Burke
Sunrise over Perisher Resort. Image by Kate Burke

A positive experience for Mark came in the form of the beautiful, tiny, endangered marsupial known as the Mountain Pygmy Possum.

Since 1986, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has conducted annual surveys of Mountain Pygmy Possum populations across Kosciuszko National Park, including at one location inside the resort boundary at Blue Cow.

A glance at the Perisher trail map shows a gully on Mt Blue Cow as “area CLOSED for Mountain Pygmy Possum protection.”

These possums are the only animals in Australia that hibernate every winter.

They need to keep their body temperature regulated during their long sleep, and they use the snow for insulation.

Possums tend to move between boulder habitats, so they are vulnerable to interactions with people and feral animals. Climate change presents the greatest threat, with the snowline already retreating due to rising temperatures.

Their situation is desperate.

Thought to be extinct until the 1960s, the NSW population was estimated to be between 500 and 700 in the year 2000.  By 2005 the population was thought to have fallen by a further 20% with a significant decline after the 2003 bushfires. By 2005 the population was thought to have fallen by a further 20%.

The Blue Cow subpopulation is particularly vulnerable, in 2008 only 6 possums were found at this location (although it’s thought twice that number may have been present). The situation has improved, with 45 possums trapped and tagged for identification in 2015, the highest number since 1997.

Having a dedicated advocate like Mark Feeney is helpful, he’s not just going through the motions.

“The Parks and Wildlife staff and volunteers involved in the surveys are passionate and have a wealth of knowledge,” he says.

“Being a part of the survey work is a real privilege, and doing this in a work capacity is something I day dreamed about as an undergraduate.”

Mountain Pygmy Possum. Image by Mel Schroder
Mountain Pygmy Possum. Image by Mel Schroder

I asked Mark how science has changed the way he relates to landscape and country.

“I (have) became far more aware on a personal level, of the impacts that my lifestyle choices are having on landscape and country.

“At the end of the day, until I am making good choices in all aspects of my life, it is unreasonable for me to have high expectations of others,” he believes.

“Often I find I have a greater sense of connection to natural landscapes and country then I do with built landscapes and large groups of people.

“I feel more content having a meal under the stars and going to sleep in a sleeping bag then I do having a meal at a pub or restaurant,” Mark says.

“If a few weeks goes by without having been camping I find I can get a bit stressed out.”

The balance between a big businesses like Perisher Resort and the delicate, local ecosystems that surround it is a precarious one.

Having an Environmental Officer who appreciates this country and its most vulnerable inhabitants can only be a step in the right direction.

Pic 1: Mark Feeney with a Mountain Pygmy Possum. Image by Mel Schroder

Pic 2: Sunrise over Perisher Resort. Image by Kate Burke

Pic 3: Mountain Pygmy Possum. Image by Mel Schroder

Accidental bonsai – Ben Boyd National Park in miniature

Epacris impressa (or common heath) by Kate Burke
Epacris impressa (or common heath) by Kate Burke

Over the weekend, in the name of taking the slow road  (and the wide view, in the style of John Blay), I walked from Pambula Beach to Pambula along the bike track.

This track runs alongside a strip of Ben Boyd National Park on the NSW Far South Coast, and the wildflowers are having a merry late-winter time of it.

There’s loads of wattle blooming as well as other native shrubs with sprays of pink, purple and red.  I’m a bit rusty on local coastal species, so this walk felt like a step into new, pretty territory.

About halfway to Pambula, the roadside forest has been cleared and mown underneath power lines.

When I see these incursions into bush I tend to shut off a bit, seeing the slashing as something to tolerate rather than to investigate. However, after a quick second glance, I saw something remarkable. It wasn’t grass that had been mown, but native shrubs, and they were blooming beautifully – in miniature.

Lady-finger Orchid by Kate Burke
Lady-finger Orchid by Kate Burke

Not only that but the most remarkable white flowers were popping up everywhere. Always single, with one long leaf growing elegantly up towards the big blue sky, like Lady-finger Orchids.

Aside from these single beauties, there was an array of what should have been much taller species growing happily, blooming in a rather cute stunted form under the power lines.

Have the local council inadvertently created a bonsai Ben Boyd National Park?

Without having to compete with trees for sunlight, these mini-versions seem quite happy and healthy.

And there are kangaroo droppings everywhere, indicating that the area doubles as a grazing ground for local native animals.

Still, this isn’t the normal way of things.

Pimelea linifolia, known as queen-of-the-bush or riceflower by Kate Burke
Pimelea linifolia, known as queen-of-the-bush or riceflower by Kate Burke

Local birds and insects rely on these plants for food and habitat, and although the mowing makes access easy for them, there’s nowhere to hide or build a nest.The plants are flourishing out of necessity – they’re resilient because they have to be.  This is a lovely surprise, but I wouldn’t call it a supportive argument for clearing forest and slashing shrubbery.

And it won’t be attracting tourists in a hurry, I’m on my knees taking photos, getting odd looks from the drivers whizzing past.  They can’t see what I’m looking at. To them, it’s just another mown patch of scrubby grass.

I’m glad I stopped for a moment to appreciate the little things – they’re beautiful.

Pic 1: Usually 1 to 1.5m tall, this Epacris impressa (or common heath) plant is around than 15cm high. By Kate Burke

Pic 2: Lady-finger Orchids by Kate Burek

Pic 3: Pimelea linifolia, known as queen-of-the-bush or rice flower.  The bark of this shrub is also known as “bushman’s bootlace”, and has traditional indigenous use as a material for twine to make nets to catch Bogong Moths in alpine regions.  This specimen is around 20cm tall. By Kate Burke

Springtime fix for region’s roadkill blight

Monaro Highway roadkill August 2016
Monaro Highway roadkill August 2016

The approaching warm weather will clear the carcasses of native animals that line the Monaro Highway between Cooma and Canberra, according to the boss of the region’s volunteer animal rescue agency.

Pete Graham is the president of Looking After Our Kosciusko Orphans – Snowy Mountains Wildlife Rescue, he says the region’s long cold winter is like a big fridge that preserves the bodies of kangaroos and wombats longer than nature would otherwise allow.

“There might be 10 or 20 (bodies) in a 50 metre strip (of road) but they have been there since April – May,” he says

“The winter roadkill stays there until it defrosts in the spring.

“Once it (decomposition) starts, the smell is horrendous,” Mr Graham says.

The cumulative effect of roadkill during the colder months is only part of the explanation behind what many motorists claim to be an unprecedented number of dead animals along the Highway.

From the About Regional Facebook page:

“In all my years driving between Bega and Canberra I can’t remember it being this bad.” – Michelle Russell

“Coming from Canberra, we counted 57 dead roos before the NSW border.” – H Yer Nie Bing

“There are parts of the road that had only a few metres between dead animals, and on both sides of the road.” – Kerryn Wood

“I counted 115 dead animals between Canberra and Cooma about 3 weeks ago.” – Lorraine Dykes

The 14km stretch of highway between Royalla and Williamsdale has been particularly notable.

“Unbelievable! I drove past on Friday and was staggered by how many there were.” – Lisa Roberts

Pete Graham, president of LAOKO - Snowy Mountains Wildlife Rescue
Pete Graham, president of LAOKO – Snowy Mountains Wildlife Rescue

Pete Graham agrees that numbers are high at the moment, and explains it in a couple of ways.

“People have the need to get to the snow two seconds before the people in front of them,” he says rolling his eyes.

“People need to knock 10km/hr off their speed.”

Mr Graham suggests that the 100km/hr speed limit along much of the highway is too fast, he believes travelling at 90km/hr would help motorists avoid carnage and expensive repairs to their car.

“We should have variable speed limits, a dusk til dawn speed limit,” Mr Graham believes.

“Kangaroos come out of a night time from the bush, they spend their day time in the bush where they rest and then they come out at night to graze.

“You just can’t convince people that 10k’s makes such a huge difference,” Mr Graham says.

The other factor that has combined with the busy ski season traffic, is the large number of kangaroos at the moment.

“The population has been exploding in the last 12 months,” Mr Graham says.

“They (kangaroos) just breed according to the conditions.”

Mr Graham points to good grass growth following regular rain over the last 12 months as being the catalyst.

With that in mind, some parts of this discussion have suggested a cull of the kangaroo population as being a fix.

Mr Graham appreciates that point of view but says as an organisation, Snowy Mountains Wildlife Rescue won’t endorse culling as a solution.

Part 1 of Pete Graham interview:

Strong numbers in the wild does pose a dilemma for an organisation that actively checks the pouches of dead kangaroos for live joeys, with the aim of later re-release.

There have been suggestions from farmers and landholders that Mr Graham and his band of 80 odd volunteers should stop rehabilitating orphaned joeys while the population is so strong.

“We do need to rescue them, it’s as simple as that, that’s animal welfare,” Mr Graham says

“It’s whether we rescue them and keep them alive, or take them along to a vet and have them euthanased.

“Sooner or later we are going to have to make some sort of an ideological decision,” Mr Graham admits.

Cleaning up the often horrific and upsetting sights that are left on the road side when vehicle and animal collide has also been part of the community discussion of late.

The president of the Canberra Business Chamber, Glenn Keys even suggested recently that the gruesomeness of the situation was bad for the region’s prized tourism industry.

At the Bega Valley Economic Summit held in Bega at the end of July, Mr Keys told the 120 local delegates that the sight of roadkill could turn some Canberra residents off a trip to the region or make them nervous about the drive.

He felt some tourists might also be likely to cut their time in the region short in order to get home before dark.

Mr Graham from Snowy Mountains Wildlife Rescue, believes any program that removes the carcasses from the side of the road is denying the problem, he would rather see better measures put in place to reduce the occurrence.

Majura Parkway
Majura Parkway

Purpose built fencing would make a big difference according to Mr Graham, similar to what’s been installed along the newly constructed Majura Parkway on the north-eastern side of Canberra and along large sections of the Pacific Highway on the North Coast of NSW.

“It’s a design that the main roads people use to prevent large animals from getting on to the road in the first place,” Mr Graham says

“It’s a standard type fence, with this extra bit.

“The top bit is basically allowed to flop over, it’s a wire fence that doesn’t allow a kangaroo to hop over it,” Mr Graham explains.

Mr Graham isn’t aware of any plans to install such fencing along the Monaro Highway.

Part 2 of Pete Graham interview:

To report injured native wildlife in the Snowy – Monaro region call Looking After Our Kosciusko Orphans – Snowy Mountains Wildlife Rescue on 6456 1313.