Helping fish to survive


This video from the Philippines says about itself:

Shallow Water Reef Dome Deployment – Dumaguete

BPI Bayan Dumaguete headed by Mr. Gary Rosales in collaboration with the Barangay Officials of Bantayan, Dumaguete City deployed 20 reef domes as artificial reefs inside a marine protected area.

June 7, 2014

Video: Mike Alano
Music: www. bensound. com

From the University of New South Wales in Australia:

Fish reef domes a boon for environment, recreational fishing

July 16, 2020

Summary: Humanmade reefs can be used in conjunction with the restoration or protection of natural habitat to increase fish abundance in estuaries, researchers have found.

In a boost for both recreational fishing and the environment, new UNSW research shows that artificial reefs can increase fish abundance in estuaries with little natural reef.

Researchers installed six humanmade reefs per estuary studied and found overall fish abundance increased up to 20 times in each reef across a two-year period.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology recently, was funded by the NSW Recreational Fishing Trust.

The research was a collaboration between UNSW Sydney, NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Fisheries and the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS).

Professor Iain Suthers, of UNSW and SIMS, led the research, while UNSW alumnus Dr Heath Folpp, of NSW DPI Fisheries, was lead author.

Co-author Dr Hayden Schilling, SIMS researcher and Conjoint Associate Lecturer at UNSW, said the study was part of a larger investigation into the use of artificial reefs for recreational fisheries improvement in estuaries along Australia’s southeast coast

“Lake Macquarie, Botany Bay and St Georges Basin were chosen to install the artificial reefs because they had commercial fishing removed in 2002 and are designated specifically as recreational fishing havens,” Dr Schilling said.

“Also, these estuaries don’t have much natural reef because they are created from sand. So, we wanted to find out what would happen to fish abundance if we installed new reef habitat on bare sand.

“Previous research has been inconclusive about whether artificial reefs increased the amount of fish in an area, or if they simply attracted fish from other areas nearby.”

Fish reef domes boost abundance

In each estuary, the scientists installed 180 “Mini-Bay Reef Balls” — commercially made concrete domes with holes — divided into six artificial reefs with 30 units each.

Each unit measures 0.7m in diameter and is 0.5m tall, and rests on top of bare sand.

Professor Suthers said artificial reefs were becoming more common around the world and many were tailored to specific locations.

Since the study was completed, many more larger units — up to 1.5m in diameter — have been installed in NSW estuaries.

“Fish find the reef balls attractive compared to the bare sand: the holes provide protection for fish and help with water flowing around the reefs,” Prof Suthers said.

“We monitored fish populations for about three months before installing the reefs and then we monitored each reef one year and then two years afterwards.

“We also monitored three representative natural reef control sites in each estuary.”

Prof Suthers said the researchers observed a wide variety of fish using the artificial reefs.

“But the ones we were specifically monitoring for were the species popular with recreational fishermen: snapper, bream and tarwhine,” he said.

“These species increased up to five times and, compared to the bare sand habitat before the reefs were installed, we found up to 20 times more fish overall in those locations.

“What was really exciting was to see that on the nearby natural reefs, fish abundance went up two to five times overall.”

Dr Schilling said that importantly, their study found no evidence that fish had been attracted from neighbouring natural reefs to the artificial reefs.

“There was no evidence of declines in abundance at nearby natural reefs. To the contrary, we found abundance increased in the natural reefs and at the reef balls, suggesting that fish numbers were actually increasing in the estuary overall,” he said.

“The artificial reefs create ideal rocky habitat for juveniles — so, the fish reproduce in the ocean and then the juveniles come into the estuaries, where there is now more habitat than there used to be, enabling more fish to survive.”

The researchers acknowledged, however, that while the artificial reefs had an overall positive influence on fish abundance in estuaries with limited natural reef, there might also be species-specific effects.

For example, they cited research on yellowfin bream which showed the species favoured artificial reefs while also foraging in nearby seagrass beds in Lake Macquarie, one of the estuaries in the current study.

NSW DPI Fisheries conducted an impact assessment prior to installation to account for potential issues with using artificial reefs, including the possibility of attracting non-native species or removing soft substrate.

Artificial reef project validated

Dr Schilling said their findings provided strong evidence that purpose-built artificial reefs could be used in conjunction with the restoration or protection of existing natural habitat to increase fish abundance, for the benefit of recreational fishing and estuarine restoration of urbanised estuaries.

“Our results validate NSW Fisheries’ artificial reef program to enhance recreational fishing, which includes artificial reefs in estuarine and offshore locations,” he said.

“The artificial reefs in our study became permanent and NSW Fisheries rolled out many more in the years since we completed the study.

“About 90 per cent of the artificial reefs are still sitting there and we now have an Honours student researching the reefs’ 10-year impact.” Dr Schilling said the artificial reefs were installed between 2005 and 2007, but the research was only peer-reviewed recently.

Where Australian bees come from


This 2019 video is called Native Australian Homalictus Bee.

From Flinders University in Australia:

Native bees’ exotic origins reveal cross-pollination

June 30, 2020

Ancestors of a distinctive pollinating bee found across Australia probably originated in tropical Asian countries, islands in the south-west Pacific or greater Oceania region, ecology researchers claim.

Describing the likely dispersal corridor for the ancestral lineage of the bee genus Homalictus will help understand the social evolution of the vibrant halictine bees, South Australian, Czech and PNG researchers say in a new paper.

It follows earlier research connecting the origin of other Australian bees to the polar south or Antarctica routes millions of years ago — helping to explain the diversity and complexity of natural ecosystems and their resilience or susceptibility during periods of climate change.

Ecologists are hopeful that the diverse origins of native bees are giving them an edge in withstanding and adapting further to climate change.

“Homalictus bees are a leading generalist plant-pollinator across Australia and as far north as southern China,” says Flinders University PhD candidate, photographer and native bee expert James Dorey.

“Our study highlights the importance of the habitat and ecology of tropical regions, including Papua New Guinea and the Fijian islands, for our endemic species and shows us how these bees might have expanded across the Pacific and possibly higher latitudes of Southeast Asia.”

SA Museum senior researcher Associate Professor Mark Stevens says the ongoing research aims to better understand the origin and radiation of insects and other animals, help environmental management during changing climates and mitigate the effects of further human expansion and habitat destruction.

“Many species historically evolved under different climatic conditions and those different histories may determine how they will cope with new climates,” he says.

“As climates change, species that have narrow thermal tolerances that are unable to adapt either track their preferred climate by moving, or become extinct. We see this in our studies on tropical bees and also in the studies of Antarctic biodiversity.”

“What has not been fully appreciated is the movement of bees in the southern hemisphere that included Antarctica as a likely dispersal corridor before it became the glacial continent that it is today.”

Antarctica was the crossroads between South America, Africa and Australia as the supercontinent of Gondwana was breaking up. The last landmass connections between Australia and Antarctica finished about 35 million years ago while the interchange with Asia began about 20 million years ago.

In contrast to the colourful tropical varieties, SA researchers have previously explored the origins of the cooler adapted and less colourful Exoneurine allodapine bees, believed to have originated in Africa but dispersed to Australia about 42-34 million years ago from Antarctica when there was still a land bridge connection to Tasmania.

Co-author on the online Homalictus paper, Associate Professor Mike Schwarz says Australia has the most unusual bee fauna in the world, resulting from three major events — the gradual breakup of Gondwana, then a period when the bees evolved in “splendid isolation,” long before humans arrived.

“Thirdly, there was a northern influx of species from tropical Asia as the Australian continent collided with Asia. “Australia’s complex systems diversity if a key ingredient for survival of our species,” Flinders Associate Professor Schwarz says.

“Hopefully, the diversity of our native bees will make them more resilient to future climate scenarios, which will be critical for agriculture in a changing world.

Old bugs, young bugs, different colours


This May 2019 video says about itself:

The green shield bug – Palomena prasina – is a European shield bug species in the family Pentatomidae. The name might equally apply to several other species in the tribe Nezarini, or if referred-to as a “green stink bug”, it might more appropriately belong to the larger North American bug, Acrosternum hilare.

From the University of Melbourne in Australia:

Bugs resort to several colors to protect themselves from predators

Colorful bugs look very different as young and adults, but why?

June 25, 2020

Summary: New research has revealed for the first time that shield bugs use a variety of colors throughout their lives to avoid predators. For years it has been thought that animals living in the same environment — like nymphs and adults of the same species — should use similar warning colors, not different ones.

New research has revealed for the first time that shield bugs use a variety of colours throughout their lives to avoid predators.

Shield bugs are often bright, colourful insects that use colours to warn off their distastefulness to predators. The paper, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that it is impossible to predict how an adult bug will look like based on their colour when young.

“We found that in most species, the same individual bug will use different colour combinations as nymphs — young bugs — and adults, going for example from red and green to yellow and green,” said lead author and ecologist, Dr Iliana Medina, from the University of Melbourne’s School of Biosciences.

“This is significant because many of these species use colour to warn predators that they are distasteful, and for years it has been thought that animals living in the same environment — like nymphs and adults of the same species — should use similar warning colours, not different ones.”

The joint research between scientists at the University of Melbourne and the Australian National University combined information on colour in young and adults for more than 100 species of shield bugs worldwide. They then used fieldwork in Canberra, with white-winged choughs, to measure how likely these birds were to attack adult and nymphs of one Australian species of shield bug, the cotton harlequin bug.

Experiments were also conducted in the aviary, training two-week-old chicks to see how fast they learned to avoid nymphs and adults, then testing whether their previous experience with adults could reduce attack rates on nymphs.

“Our experiments with the cotton harlequin bug showed that predators could quickly learn to avoid both types of colour signals from nymphs and adults, but nymphs get a larger benefit,” Dr Medina said.

“Although young and adult cotton harlequin bugs have different colours, previous experience with adults make chicks less likely to attack the nymphs. Also, chicks and wild predators that have never seen the insects before do not show much interest in eating them. The colours in these insects are a great strategy against predators.”

Many animals such as frogs, insects and sea slugs use bright colourations to advertise toxicity or distastefulness. In theory, warning signals of prey that live in the same environment should be the same because predators can learn more effectively to avoid one type of pattern, instead of many different ones.

While this idea has been used to explain the great examples of mimicry in nature, and why distantly related species end up having the same warning colours, such as black and red, or black and yellow, researchers say there are multiple examples of variation in local warning signals and an overlooked type of variation is that across life stages.

“If predators were able to learn to avoid only one type of warning colour, we would expect nymphs and adults to look similar in many species,” Dr Medina said. “What our findings show, however, is that the wide colour variation in shield bugs is probably the result of predators being able to learn to avoid different types of colourful signals.”

Nurseryfish video


This 20 June 2020 video says about itself:

Nurseryfish Dads Give Their Young a Headstart… Literally

Happy Father’s day! Today we’re talking about the fintastic Nurseryfish, which is one of the best dads you can fish for.

Thanks to Dr. Tim Berra for teaching us more about these amazing fish as well as providing such awesome pictures!

Hosted by: Hank Green

These fish live in Asia and Australia.

Extreme right Rupert Murdoch Australian media monopoly


This April 2012 video about Britain says about itself:

Rupert Murdoch’s Political Influence

What really was the relationship between billionaire Rupert Murdoch and all those British Prime Ministers?

By Patrick O’Connor in Australia:

Murdoch’s News Corp shuts down Australian Associated Press

9 March 2020

Australian Associated Press (AAP) executives announced last Tuesday that the news agency will be closed on June 26. Majority AAP co-owners and media conglomerates News Corp Australia and Nine Entertainment triggered the shutdown to both slash costs and deny news content to rival newspapers and online news outlets.

AAP’s closure will further reduce the range of available news sources in Australia, which already has one of the most monopolised media industries in the world. The newswire service’s arbitrary shutdown at the hands of Murdoch’s News Corp and Nine underscores the corporate, right-wing domination of mainstream news.

Around 180 journalists and 400 other staff will lose their jobs. News Corp and Nine executives initially sought to attribute AAP’s closure to Facebook and Google’s distribution of free news content. AAP journalists were slashed by 10 percent in 2018 on this pretext. Last month, Nine chief executive Hugh Marks reported a 9 percent profit decline, at the same time declaring that cost-cutting had to proceed in divisions of the company that were not sufficiently profitable, including “big output deals like AAP.”

Last Thursday, however, the Guardian reported comments made by AAP chairman and News Corp executive Campbell Reid at an internal company meeting. He reportedly told news agency staff that “Nine and News Corp were tired of subsidising a breaking news service for their competitors” and that “News Corp would develop its own breaking news service.” He added that Murdoch’s company was “committed to the supply of breaking news,” but stated that “we don’t have to supply it for everybody else in Australia.”

These comments pointed to the strategic calculations underlying the AAP shutdown, centring on further extending the major media conglomerates’ domination of the market. No effort was made to sell off AAP or implement alternative corporate restructuring.

Murdoch’s News Corp controls more than 70 percent of the print media, a rate that places Australia among the worst five countries in the world for media diversity. Murdoch’s publications pump out a homogenous staple of right-wing politics, promoting anti-working class austerity measures, anti-refugee xenophobia, and other forms of reactionary nationalism.

Nine Entertainment is similarly a multi-billion dollar corporation with intimate ties to the political establishment. Former Liberal government treasurer Peter Costello serves as the company’s chairman. Its assets include the former Fairfax daily newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald, Age, and Australian Financial Review, radio broadcaster Macquarie Media, various online publications, and the Nine Network, the highest rating free-to-air television station in the country.

AAP has been running since 1935. Its stories and photography are used by publications, including websites such as the Guardian Australia and the New Daily, television networks, radio stations, and regional newspapers. AAP provides 350 individual articles every day to its about 200 subscribers, as well as 300 domestic photos, 13,000 international photos, and 30 video reports.

New Daily managing director Paul Hamra reported that no effort was made by AAP’s owners to discuss options with the newswire’s subscribers, “such as increased syndication fees, restructured offerings or equity.” He added: “I get the impression News Corp and Nine just want to set up their own newswire service instead, with their own content, controlling more of the market and restricting access for new Australian journalism ventures.”

In addition to the sacking of around 180 AAP journalists and 100 contracted photographers, hundreds of others will lose their administrative positions. AAP also operates a profitable press release distribution arm, and a Pagemasters editorial production service, both of which are being closed down. …

The Liberal-National government, and the entire political establishment in Australia, is in fact a determined enemy of the people’s “right to know”.

Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese shed a few crocodile tears in parliament over AAP’s demise. Morrison declared that the end of “such an important institution” was “a matter of real concern.” Albanese added that the closure of the newswire was “a tragedy for our democracy.”

This was hypocrisy of the highest order. Neither Morrison nor Albanese proposed to actually do anything to hinder the Murdoch-Nine destruction of AAP. Successive Labor and Liberal governments have dismantled previous provisions limiting monopoly control over the media, allowing a tiny number of corporate giants in the sector to accumulate enormous wealth and power.

More broadly, the last period has seen a bipartisan assault on journalism and freedom of the press in Australia. A raft of so-called national security laws has facilitated the prosecution of numerous whistleblowers, including through police state-style secret trials in which neither the defendant nor his or her alleged crimes can be publicly reported.

Last June, Australian Federal Police raided the national office of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation over its reports on brutal Australian military war crimes in Afghanistan, and News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst, because she reported plans to legalise internal surveillance by the Australian Signals Directorate spy agency.

The sharpest expression of the Australian ruling elite’s war on freedom of speech and freedom of journalism is its support for the attempted extradition to the United States of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, on bogus espionage charges. The entire Australian political establishment is implicated in the witch-hunt of Assange, which was triggered by his exposure of US war crimes in the Middle East and American diplomatic intrigue around the world. AAP journalists were among the minority of reporters to have written objective reports on the US-led ruthless pursuit of Assange.

News Corp and Nine executives no doubt hope to expand their dominance of the media by shutting down AAP. The longer-term effect, however, will be the continued discrediting of the mainstream media in the eyes of ordinary people and the increasing prominence of alternative, anti-establishment news outlets on the internet.

Australian wildfires, climate change wildfires


This 15 January 2020 video says about itself:

Australia fires: Climate change increases the risk of wildfires – BBC News

UK scientists say the recent fires in Australia are a taste of what the world will experience as temperatures rise.

Prof Richard Betts from the Met Office Hadley Centre said we are “seeing a sign of what would be normal conditions under a future warming world of 3C”.

While natural weather patterns have driven recent fires, researchers said it’s “common sense” that human-induced heating is playing a role.

Last year was Australia’s warmest and driest year on record.

UK researchers have carried out a rapid analysis of the impact of climate change on the risk of wildfires happening all over the world. Their study looked at 57 research papers published since the last major review of climate science came out in 2013.

By Carolyn Gramling, March 4, 2020 at 12:39 pm:

Australia’s wildfires have now been linked to climate change

Climate-influenced temperatures raised the wildfire risk by 30 percent

Human-caused climate change made southeastern Australia’s devastating wildfires during 2019–2020 at least 30 percent more likely to occur, researchers report in a new study published online March 4.

A prolonged heatwave that baked the country in 2019-2020 was the primary factor raising the fire risk, said climate scientist Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, with the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute in De Bilt. The study also linked the extremity of that heatwave to climate change, van Oldenborgh said March 3 during a news conference to explain the findings. Such an intense heatwave in the region is about 10 times more likely now than it was in 1900, the study found.

Van Oldenborgh also noted that climate simulations tend to underestimate the severity of such heatwaves, suggesting that climate change may be responsible for even more of the region’s high fire risk. “We put the lower boundary at 30 percent, but it could well be much, much more,” he said.

This week, the southeastern Australia region was declared free of wildfires for the first time in over 240 days, according to a statement March 2 by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service on Twitter. The fires have burned through an estimated 11 million hectares, killing at least 34 people and destroying about 6,000 buildings since early July. About 1.5 billion animals also died in the blazes. Researchers are still tallying the damage and assessing the potential for recovery for many native plant and animal species (SN: 2/11/20).

The climate attribution study was conducted by the World Weather Attribution group, an international consortium of researchers who investigate how much of a role climate change might be playing in natural disasters. Given the quick turnaround time, the study has not yet been peer-reviewed. “We wanted to bring the scientific evidence [forward] at a time when the public is talking about the event,” said climate modeler Friederike Otto of the University of Oxford. Then the group examined how climate change altered the Fire Weather Index, an estimation of the risk of wildfires.

The climate simulations show that the probability of a high Fire Weather Index during the 2019–2020 season increased by at least 30 percent, relative to the fire risk in 1910. That is primarily due to the increase in extreme heat; the study was not able to determine the impact of climate change on extreme drought conditions, which also helped fuel the blazes.

Researchers previously have suggested that an El Niño-like atmosphere-ocean weather pattern known as the Indian Ocean Dipole, which was in a strong positive phase in 2019, may have played a role in exacerbating the dry conditions (SN: 1/9/20). Global warming may make such extreme positive phases of this pattern more common. The new study confirmed that the 2019 positive phase made drought conditions more extreme, but could not confirm this particular phase’s relationship to climate change.

“It is always rather difficult to attribute an individual event to climate change,” but this study is nicely done, says Wenju Cai, a climate scientist at CSIRO who is based in Melbourne, Australia. The link identified to climate change is reasonable, if not particularly surprising, he says.

The year 2019 was Australia’s hottest and driest since modern recordkeeping began in the country in 1910. Summers Down Under also appear to be lengthening: The Australia Institute, a Canberra-based think tank, released a report March 2 that found that Australian summers during the years 1999 to 2018 lasted longer by a month, on average, than they did 50 years ago.

Temperature observations going back to 1910 show that the region’s temperatures have risen by about 2 degrees Celsius on average, van Oldenborgh and colleagues report. The climate simulations underrepresented that warming, however, showing an increase of only 1 degree Celsius in that time.

Climate modelers previously have struggled to reconcile the disparity between recorded temperatures and simulated heatwaves: Simulations tend to underestimate the severity of the extreme events. The team noticed a similar underestimation in its simulations of the 2019 heat waves in Europe (SN: 7/2/19). Conditions not generally factored into regional climate simulations, such as land-use changes, may be responsible for the disparity. Changes in vegetation cover, for example, can have an impact on how hot or dry a region gets.

New international research has found a worrying change in the Indian Ocean’s surface temperatures that puts southeast Australia on course for increasingly hot and dry conditions: here.

How scientists wrestle with grief over climate change. Those who study nature are dealing with frustration and sadness over what’s being lost: here.

Fire disaster emergency in Australia


This 31 August 2020 video from Australia says about itself:

Canberra region calls state of emergency

The territory’s chief minister said, “This fire may become very unpredictable; it may become uncontrollable.”

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Friday, January 31, 2020

Australia in a state of emergency

THE Australian Capital Territory declared a state of emergency today as huge bushfires raged southwards.

It is the first fire emergency for the Canberra area since 2003 when wildfires killed four people and destroyed almost 500 homes in a single day.

The new threat is due to a blaze that has worked its way through more than 53,000 acres after it was sparked by heat from a military helicopter’s landing-light on Monday, the emergency services said.

Residents in the suburbs and surrounding villages were advised to prepare either to protect their homes or evacuate.

The small territory, located between Sydney and Melbourne, has about 400,000 residents.

Roads were blocked to the village of Tharwa late on Friday because the fire posed too much danger for residents to evacuate or return to their homes.

Officials said the state of emergency, which gives extra power and resources to fire authorities, would be in place for “as long as Canberra is at risk.”

Australia’s fire crisis continues while flash floods hammer northern Queensland: here.

Will Australia’s forests bounce back after devastating fires? Scientists are worried about ecosystems not used to such frequent, blistering blazes: here.

Australian bushfire smoke kills


This 17 January 2020 NASA video from the USA says about itself:

The local impacts of the Australian bushfires have been devastating to property and life in Australia while producing extreme air quality impacts throughout the region. As smoke from the massive fires has interacted with the global weather, the transport of smoke plumes around the globe has accelerated through deep vertical transport into the upper troposphere and even the lowermost stratosphere, leading to long-range transport around the globe. The smoke from these bushfires will travel across the Southern Ocean completing a global circumnavigation back around to Australia and is particularly pronounced across the southern Pacific Ocean out to South America.

By John Mackay in Australia:

Smoke haze from Australian bushfires pose serious public health threat

18 January 2020

Australia’s intense and prolonged bushfire crisis poses a significant public health threat, with major cities still experiencing unprecedented elevation in pollution.

Health experts continue to issue warnings about the negative effects of the high levels of air pollution. Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Dr Tony Bartone warned in a press release early this month that the duration and intensity of smoke exposure presents “a new and possibly fatal health risk that most of us have never faced before.”

The denser smoke haze and longer periods that people inhale it, Bartone said, means “there is a much higher risk that previously healthy people will face developing serious illness.” The AMA also stressed that respiratory health may not be the only health issue, predicting the mental health burden from the disaster on the community will be considerable.

The high level of smoke haze is unprecedented. Over the New Year period, air quality in Canberra, the national capital, reached 23 times the level considered hazardous and the worst rating to date in the city.

Canberra was registered as the worst polluted city in the world, beating Sarajevo in Bosnia Herzegovina, Lahore, Pakistan and New Delhi, India. The highest rating recorded was 5,185 on New Year’s Day, more than 25 times above the minimum hazard level of 200.

A few days before these high levels were reached, an elderly woman died after going into respiratory distress as she disembarked from a plane onto the tarmac at Canberra airport.

At its peak the poor air quality forced most of Canberra to shut down, including many businesses, shopping centres, the city’s museums and public galleries. Postal deliveries were cancelled. Canberra Hospital closed some medical and diagnostic procedures due to smoke impacting on the facility and equipment, such as medical resonance imaging (MRI) machines.

At Batemans Bay, 150 kms from Canberra, where hundreds of houses were incinerated on the New South Wales south coast, the concentration of smoke particles was nearly double that of Canberra.

In Sydney, Dr Tim Senior a General Practitioner who works at a medical clinic in the western suburb of Campbelltown, located not far from serious fires to the city’s south-west, told the ABC: “The smoke has hung around and there’s not been any relief.” We’re seeing more people coming in with respiratory symptoms—mainly coughing and a bit short of breath”

He also described how many people attending his clinic were suffering chest pain, sore eyes, runny noses and sore throats. However, it is not only patients with pre-existing conditions that have been affected. Dr Senior stated: “Some people who don’t have a history of asthma are feeling short of breath and [are] actually having to try using inhalers for the first time.”

When asked about how other communities are coping with the effects of poor air quality the doctor said: “I know it’s much, much worse for people I have spoken to down on the [NSW] south coast, where the capacity for [health] services to see people and handle their health problems has been really limited.” He continued: “It’s putting pressure on the healthcare system across a really broad area of Australia”.

The fine particulates from smoke from wildfires has been known to contain a mix of chemicals that are a concern to public health, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, fine particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds.

While some facemasks—such as P2 or N95—have been recommended as possibly helpful for those with existing lung disease, they have significant limitations in being able to provide complete protection and can make breathing more difficult.

A study published last year in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine revealed that inexpensive facemasks provided only limited protection against air pollution in Beijing, one of the world’s most polluted cities, due to poor facial fit. Masks that provide more comprehensive protection are bulky and more expensive.

Sotiris Vardoulakis, a professor of global health at the Australian National University, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC): “[T]he general message is we need to minimise exposure and there are different ways of doing that. On days with high air pollution, it’s better to spend more time indoors.”

Dr David Caldicott, a consultant emergency physician at the Calvary hospital in Canberra, told the media that there have been increased emergency admissions by elderly patients, asthmatics and those with other respiratory problems.

“The psychiatric element associated with the potential threat of fire,” Caldicott added, “is something that’s often forgotten when people are focusing on respiratory disease.” He also warned that staying indoors for extended periods can have a negative impact on mental health.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has raised concerns about the high levels of air pollution on mothers and their unborn children. College president Dr Vijay Roach told the ABC: “Exposure to air pollution in pregnancy has been linked to increased rates of preterm birth, decreased birth weight, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and gestational diabetes.”

Health experts are uncertain when the real extent of the effect of smoke exposure will present in the population.

Professor Bin Jalaludin from the Centre of Air Pollution, Energy and Health Policy research at the University of New South Wales told the Sydney Morning Herald: “What we’re finding now is that air pollution tends to affect all parts of the body… There is increasing evidence around air pollution and neurological conditions, for example Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.”

In September last year, the AMA, in line with similar positions taken by both the American and the British Medical Associations, declared climate change a “health emergency.” It pointed to the “clear scientific evidence indicating severe impacts for our patients and communities now and into the future.” In 2015, the World Health Organisation stated that the evidence is “overwhelming” that climate change is the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.

Dr Allison Hempenenstall of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine recently told the Guardian newspaper that there was “a united strong voice” demanding government action. “[W]e need to push for governmental change, prioritising climate change policy which is something that the government isn’t doing at present… the health implications of climate change are only going to be fixed by addressing climate change itself.”

Consecutive Liberal and Labor governments have done little to address climate change and deliberately disregarded the warnings of more severe weather events. The parties of big business will continue to ignore the scientific evidence and demands by health experts to address climate change, for the same political reasons in order to defend the profit system.

The author also recommends:

Australian bushfire catastrophe exposes the contempt of the ruling elites for working people
[8 January 2020]

Australia: Toxic air from bushfires rated a “public health emergency”
[23 December 2019]

The World Socialist Web Site recently interviewed Dr Luba Volkova, a senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne, about Australia’s bushfire crisis: here.

Australian volunteer firefighters interviewed


Australian firefighter Brendan O'Connor and his wife Wendy

From the World Socialist Web Site in Australia:

Australia: Balmoral firefighters say they were “abandoned” and demand better resources

By our reporters

17 January 2020

Balmoral Village Rural Fire Service (RFS) captain Brendon O’Connor told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) this week that authorities had re-directed firefighting equipment away from the community as it came under attack from the Green Wattle Creek fire on December 21. Balmoral is in the Southern Highlands and about 100 kilometres southwest of Sydney.

The ill-equipped local RFS unit, which is entirely manned by volunteers, desperately fought to save the settlement under conditions where it is not connected to the state water supply and quickly ran out of water. Twenty-two houses or 15 percent of the village’s homes were destroyed by the fire.

“On the Thursday and Friday [December 20] we had a great number of resources, but unfortunately a decision was made on Friday evening to remove all resources from Balmoral, including bulk water, and that was replaced with a small water truck,” O’Connor told the ABC.

“We were asked to remove our own trucks from the village, which I refused to do… We were abandoned during the fight on the Saturday until much later and we’ve been abandoned since… We haven’t seen any government agency, and it’s been too hard for them to come into the village and offer assistance.”

World Socialist Web Site reporters revisited Balmoral last weekend and spoke with O’Connor.

“For the first two weeks we were on our own with no official assistance from outside,” he said, “apart from the wider community through donations of water, non-perishable foods, clothing, bedding, toiletries, which was absolutely overwhelming. We’ve had Indian, Thai, Vietnamese restaurants feeding over 150 people so it’s incredible.

“It’s been a very different [response from the authorities]. Our local council didn’t even know that we were part of this shire. They thought we had town water and didn’t know that there was fire in their shire.”

O’Connor explained that most of the water tanks, which the village relies on for its water, were now contaminated with ash and possibly asbestos. Specialised trucks are required to vacuum the tanks, which have been requested but are yet to arrive. The RFS captain described the considerable dangers posed by dead trees and said that the main road through the village was only 80 percent safe with at least 100 more trees to be felled. “It’ll be months of work cleaning up,” he added.

Asked about Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s holiday in Hawaii, he said: “None of them [government politicians] were paying attention to what was going on. Everyone dropped the ball. It didn’t bother me that Morrison went on holidays but what did bother me is that he didn’t know about that catastrophic day. He should have put his hand up and said ‘I made the mistake.’

“There needs to be a massive inquiry into what has happened and it should not be allowed to happen anywhere again. There’s been too many failings and areas that need changing.

“They [governments] are definitely not looking after us, there’s too many hidden agendas. Things are not being done to make sure we’ve got adequate power or water. It’s scary where we’re going, and it seems to be happening in lots of countries. It’s a failure to look after the people.

“We’ve got to do what’s right for us as a community, a national community, and a world community. It’s people power that should make the decisions, not a few who live in a world very unrealistic to the rest of us. We’re just political footballs in a lot of senses but without the people moving, and their voices being heard, we will be forever put down.”

Charity lunch at Balmoral Village RFS

Wendy, 36, is a railway shift worker and an RFS volunteer. She had worked for 13 days at a time, on 8- to 12-hour shifts, since the Christmas period and said she was getting four or five hours of sleep and then going to Balmoral as a fire fighting volunteer.

“It’s like a blanket has been drawn over Balmoral. The village has been forgotten about. There isn’t the help that the villagers need and they don’t know who to contact or where to turn. They’re going through an emotional roller coaster because as yet there isn’t any counselling services being offered,” she said.

Asked about the millions of dollars donated to assist fire victims, Wendy replied: “The background story is that with big organisations and government agencies, the money doesn’t pass down to the little man. They’re there to assist themselves. The donations will basically go into a kitty and one percent, maybe a bit more, will actually come down to the brigades that have been out fighting or those who have been affected. They’ll be lucky if they see a cent, let alone a dollar.

“I’m disgusted by what happened here. The RFS captain was told that he and the brigade were not to stay and defend the village. What’s the point in having a rural fire service based here?

“Everybody here is a volunteer. It’s home and you do everything to protect and defend it for as long as you can, even if that means that the flames are coming in every which direction and you’re running out of water. These RFS guys are still standing, and they’ll keep doing it, and going against the wishes of the higher authorities.”

Asked about the government response to climate change, Wendy said: “Politicians are only about lining their own pockets. It’s all about making themselves look good and feeding crap to the public so they can achieve what they want, not what the people want. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Balmoral had been wiped off the face of the Earth, but we’re still here!”

Elisa

Elisa, another volunteer firefighter, said: “I’m only 24 but I’ve had a lot of experience under my belt with fires for my age. I was on property protection during the fires and helping a fellow firefighter protect his home.” She said that volunteer firefighters had little sleep. Some had not slept for over 24 hours.

“The councils don’t just allow the residents themselves to protect their own homes. We’re not allowed to clear where we think is dangerous or cut down trees. The scientists just do the numbers, but the locals mainly know what to expect, they’ve been here for many years. We need to be able to back burn more often but there’s a lot of red tape with that. Some places haven’t been burnt for 50 or 60 years, that’s probably why it was so bad.

“We need more resources and a lot more access to gear. We have our protective gear but we don’t necessarily get given new ones if they’re wrecked. You have to go down to the headquarters to sign paperwork. We should at least have two sets of boots or two sets of uniforms in case something happens.

Rita

Rita, Elisa’s mother, has lived in the Balmoral area for almost nine years. “Six years ago, in 2013 we had a fire but it was nothing like this. So the warning signs were there from 2013 but RFS head office took no notice. They used a simulation to predict what was going to happen and said it’s not going to go through Balmoral.

Rita explained that “Brendon O’Connor, the fire captain, opposed the head office’s view, spoke up and basically went against protocol. He called an urgent meeting on the Tuesday afternoon before the fires. We went up to the station and he was sitting on the chair, hand on his head—a heavy burden on his shoulders. I asked ‘What can I do?’ and he said, ‘Tell people, get out and tell people’ so I went up the road and told people what was going on and that there was a fire coming.”

Referring to the government and media response, Rita said: “The media reporting is just terrible. The premier said this place had been wiped out and they just reported it. We’re the only town that doesn’t have a water supply and we ran out of water in this humongous firestorm. How can you not think about conspiracy?

“Why did Gladys Berejiklian reduce the fire budget? Why did she say Balmoral was wiped out, when she didn’t even come?”

Australia: Balmoral fire captain labels government response a “national disgrace”: here.