Hanami: A celebration of Nature

 

Hanami, or flower viewing, is an annual Japanese tradition dating back many centuries. It signifies the arrival of spring, when the landscape becomes ornamented by delicate bursts of pink, white and red cherry blossom flowers. The event is eagerly anticipated by locals (and tourists), who decorate their surroundings in splashes of pink and red. The excitement is such that even the daily weather reports on television feature segments about when and where the first cherry blossom blooms will occur.

This year, I was lucky enough to be in Japan during the peak of the cherry blossom season. During my first weekend in Japan, I made my way to Ueno Park, a popular destination for hanami. The park has been a dedicated public green-space since the 1870s and it’s sheer size is impressive, particularly for a highly concentrated metropolis like Tokyo. Despite its size, Ueno was very busy. I saw many people sitting under the pink cherry blossom canopies, enjoying food, drinks, music and games. Market stalls, buskers, and street food vendors all add to the atmosphere.

People were so caught up in the hanami that they did not seem to mind us tourists weaving our way through the mosaic of picnic blankets. The beauty of the cherry blossoms and the celebrations had me mesmerised as well. I forgot the fact that there were a number of shrines, two museums and a zoo at Ueno Park. At night, the fairy lights and paper lanterns that ornament the cherry blossoms make them more magical. The cherry blossoms captivated me even as they wilted and rained down like pink snow and littered the ground.

I must admit, I was a little envious that the Japanese people and their hanami. Seeing the delicate pink and red cherry blossom flowers stop an industrious nation made me wonder what type of impact a similar celebration will have in Australia. A celebration which transcends the occasional bushwalk or trip to the beach. One where the entire nation stops and collectively enjoys being outdoors, reconnecting with nature and their family and friends. Many organisations in Australia are actively seeking ways to encourage people to spend time outdoors. The health, wellbeing and economic benefits of reconnecting with nature are well documented.  Maybe it is time for us to come up with our own hanami.

Disposing common household electronic items

The ubiquity of electronic gadgets worldwide has made life increasingly easy. They have also created significant challenges, particularly, when it comes to the proper disposal of electronic waste once they reach the end of their life cycle. The United Nations estimates that in 2015, 75 million tonnes of electronic waste was discarded globally, with Australia being one of the worst global offenders. Nationally, it is estimated that 20 kilograms of electronic waste is generated per capita in Australia.

While some of us organise council pick-ups and try and be much more considerate in how we dispose of electronics, many of us think that leaving them on the side of the street is the norm. Walk down any street on any given day and you will just how prevalent this practice is. This is a serious cause for concern as televisions, computers, laptops, phones and batteries are made up of heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium, iron, zinc, arsenic and bromine) and persistent plastics. These materials are incredibly toxic in the environment and are classed as carcinogens.

In an effort to reduce the environmental footprint of discarded electronics and implement more sustainability into their life cycle, a number of recycling schemes have been established in Australia. Despite this though, we are still not aware of where some of the most common electronic items can be taken for environmentally conscious disposal.

I have decided to do some preliminary research and put together a list of places where some of the most common electronic items can be taken for recycling. Many of these places are common in local suburbs so best check which works for you. 

Toners

Where: Office Works and Australia Post

Comment: This is a free service provided by both in partnership with Planet Ark.

Ink Cartridges

Where: Office Works and Australia Post

Comment: This is a free service provided by both in partnership with Planet Ark.

Mobile Phones (ensure that all personal information is deleted from the phone)

Where: The Salvation Army, The St Vincent de Paul Society, Australia Post, Office Works, Council pick-up day and Marrickville Pay it Forward

Comment: You can donate your old phone to places like the Salvation Army and Vinnies. Please ensure that the phone and the accessories are in good working condition. In December, Mobile Muster donates $2 to the Salvation Army for every 1kg of mobile phones and accessories collected. Both Office Works and Australia Post provide free Mobile Muster service.

Computers/laptops/tablets (ensure that all personal information is deleted from the phone)

Where: The Salvation Army, The St Vincent de Paul, Bower Repair and Re-use Centre, Office Works, Council pick-up day and Marrickville Pay it Forward

Comment: You can donate your old computers/laptops/tablet to places like the Salvation Army and Vinnies. Please ensure that all accessories are included and in working good working condition. The Bower Repair Centre might be able to repair your computer/laptop/tablet but you need to call and check with them first.

Television sets

Where: The Salvation Army, The St Vincent de Paul, Bower Repair and Re-use Centre, Office Works, Council pick-up day and Marrickville Pay it Forward

Batteries

Where: Aldi, Ikea, Council pick-up day and Battery World

Comment: Aldi and Ikea do not accept vehicle batteries. Council pick up and Battery World accept all types of batteries, inducing ones from vehicles.

Calendar of green events

Australia has some of the most unique natural landscapes around the world, populated by equally unique and iconic flora and fauna. Over the years, a number of days have been set aside to celebrate these natural wonders. The days are also an important reminder of how fragile these ecosystems and habitats are and our responsibility as stewards to protect and conserve them.

I have put together some of the key dates in the national calendar of green events to make it easier for people to plan and participate in their own events. The list below is not exhaustive and I will add to it as more events and dates arise.

1st of March Business Clean Up Day Part of the Clean Up Australia Day campaign. Business Clean Up Day encourages businesses to register and help clean up the environment. Businesses need to pay a $150 in registration fees, with the funds going towards supporting the organisation and its volunteers. Once registration is complete, a cleaning kit is sent to the team leader containing bags and gloves to make the process easier.
6th of March Clean Up Australia Day Part of the Clean Up Australia Day campaign where members of the public get involved in cleaning up their local public spaces. Those interesting in participating are encouraged to register a clean up site online and then gather volunteers to assist in the cleaning up of that site. Once registration is complete, a cleaning kit is sent to the team leader containing bags and gloves to make the process easier.
19th of March Earth Hour Supported by WWF, Earth Hour seeks to generate public awareness about the impacts of climate change. The event encourages participants to switch off all non-essential electricity in their homes and businesses for one hour. This act is simple, yet, effective mechanism to reduce carbon footrpint. The event has evolved into an education campaign about the effects of climate change on food security, protecting natural habitats and has gained an international participation.
29th of July Schools Tree Day Part of Planet Ark’s campaign to encourage environmental stewardship in kindergarten, primary and high schools across Australia. Planet Ark provides a range of tool kits and educational resources. Given that many schools are now located in urban areas, the campaign has broadened to including urban sustainability programs such as vertical gardens.
31st of July National Tree Day Part of Planet Ark’s national campaign to encourage native tree planting in public spaces across Australia. Nearly 4 million Australians have taken part since 1996 and over 20 million trees have been planted.
13th – 21st of August National Science Week Annual celebration of science and technology, with over hundereds of events take place in various locations across the nation. The week is supported by the Australian Government, Commonwealth Science Industry and Research Organisation, Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Australian Science Teachers Association.
22nd – 28th of August Keep Australia Beautiful Week This is an annual, week-long event that encourages people to keep the beautiful, natural environment clean. The campaign has broadened in scope and scale to include initiatives such as tidy towns and even sustainable cities.
1st of September National Wattle Day An annual event to celebrate one of the most iconic and versatile native plants in Australia. The organisers encourage people to plant wattles in public spaces.
All of September National Biodiversity Month The entire month of September is dedicated to conserving, protecting and improving biodiversity in Australia. A number of events such as backyard bio-blitz and robust scientific research are promoted during this month.
All of September Save the Koalas The entire month dedicated to one of the most popular and iconic Australian natives. The Australian Koala Foundation seeks to educate the public about the plight of koalas. The organisation encourages people to plant native trees (gumtrees), protect koala habitats and donate to support koala conservation and scientific research.
5th – 11th of September National Landcare Week An entire week dedicated for Landcare Australia. Various events happen during the week including native tree planting in public spaces with the support of Landcare.
7th of September National Threatened Species Day This day is a commemoration of the death of the last remaining Tasmanian Tiger. This is a national day to educate and raise the profile of threatened Australian native flora and fauna. National Threatened Species Day is a great opportunity to learn and connect with local flora and fauna species.
11th – 17th of September Cool Australia Enviro Week An entire week dedicated to connecting school children with the wonders of nature. Schools can register and students participate in activities such as creating an edible garden, vertical gardens, planting native flora, to recycling and cleaning litter.
11th of September Sustainable House Day This day encourages people to visit some of the best sustainable/eco homes across Australia. The day is an opportunity to learn and share ideas about eco-friendly homes and life-styles across Australia.
11th of September National Bilby Day This day aims to raise awareness about the plight of bilbies across Australia. The public can fundraise to support conservation and research efforts focussed on saving bilbies.
17th – 23rd of October Aussie Backyard Bird Count An entire week that seeks to encourage members of the public to participate in bird counting surveys in their backyard. The citizen science data collection is made easier by the availability of an app for smart phones. Many local councils support the Aussie Backyard Bird Count.
7th – 13th of November National Recycling Week Part of Planet Ark’s campaign. The goal of the week is to encourage recycling and educating the public about the environmental benefits of waste reduction.

22nd of April: World Earth Day

This is one of the longest running environmental event, which began in 1970 to direct attention to the environmental degradation happening all around the world. Today, the focus of World Earth Day remains the same, but the movement has gained a global following.

North Head Sanctuary

Visitors and locals flock to Manly for the sun and surf. Manly and Shelly beach aside, Manly hides a beautiful secret, particularly, for those looking to immerse themselves in native bushland without having to travel far from Sydney. This secret is North Head Sanctuary, where some of the last remnant native flora and fauna can be found in NSW. North Head Sanctuary is also an important site for indigenous culture and tradition, containing indigenous rock art, engravings and burial middens. The location also served as a quarantine station for early European colonisers arriving by ship. From the 1930s till the mid 1940s, North Head was a military site where large artillery guns were stationed to protect the harbour city from the Japanese.

Below, is a photo essay I put together with the pictures I took while wandering around North Head Sanctuary today (17.1.16). I strongly encourage both visitors and locals to hike to North Head and immerse themselves in a location rich in both biodiversity and indigenous and European history and culture.

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The Barracks Precinct and Parade grounds showcasing the military history of North Head Sanctuary. There is a visitors centre here and an educational space where you can learn about some of the common native flora and fauna that can be found in the area. Image credit: Hasmukh Chand
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Some of the lookouts offer impressive views of Sydney and surrounding lower North Shore suburbs. Image credit: Hasmukh Chand
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Another impressive view of Sydney, this time taken from the entrance to the Third Quarantine Cemetery. The cemetery is where people who died from infectious diseases were buried between 1881 and 1925. Image credit: Hasmukh Chand
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This is what awaits those who ascend North Head and reach Fairfax Lookout. From here, you can see the Eastern suburbs, Sydney CBD, Taronga Zoo and some of the lower North Shore suburbs. The water, sky and the headlands are a priceless frame for the Harbour City. Image credit: Hasmukh Chand
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On the eastern side of Fairfax Lookout, you will find patches of shrub and trees that have been damaged by fire. Not sure if this was the result of an accident or ecological burn. Regardless, this section will recover. Image credit: Hasmukh Chand
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Hanging swamp is absolutely teeming with life. As you stand here, all you hear are birds singing, dragonflies buzzing around and the wind rustling through the trees. Image credit: Hasmukh Chand
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Located to the east of the Gun Emplacement 2, Hanging Swamp is an interest feature. The area has a pool of water which allows for native vegetation to thrive. A number of insects such as dragonflies and spiders can be found here. The metal platforms ensure that you will keep your feet dry. Image credit: Hasmukh Chand

Hope for Planet – event

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Image sourced from the Opera House event pageI

I just got my tickets for a pretty exciting event at the Opera House in Sydney. The event is called “For Thought: Hope for the Planet” with prominent environmental thinkers and leaders; David Suzuki, Tim Flannery and Naomi Oreskes discussing how we can survive on the planet given the rising challenges of climate change, population growth and environmental degradation.

If you are as keen for the event as I am, you can purchase your tickets here.

Hunt’s strict conditions look good on paper

We all breathed a sigh of relief when Malcolm Turnbull successfully challenged Tony Abbott for the Prime Ministership of Australia. A more progressive and articulate individual like Turnbull would no doubt bring about a much needed shift in the government’s recalcitrant approach to dealing with climate change and environmental issues. Even the Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt appeared to soften his stance and began advocating the importance of a clean energy future. According to Hunt, there is now ‘no excuse’ not to embrace renewable technologies. He even asked ARENA (Australian Renewable Energy Agency) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to facilitate Australia’s transition to a low/zero carbon future.

Yesterday’s decision to re-approve Adani’s Carmichael mine by Minister Hunt in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, showed that we were both naive and misguided to think that there was a shift in the government’s approach to the environment and climate change. Regardless of how progressive the leadership seems to be, it appears that nothing will stand in the way of short-term economic gains. The Federal Government has even moved to amend the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) to ensure that such large projects are not delayed by litigation. In fact, it was Adani’s Carmichael mine that drew the government to undermine such an inherent democratic right.

Minister Hunt has justified his decision by stating that the approval has ‘36 of the strictest conditions in Australian history’. A closer examination of some of these ‘strict conditions’ indicates otherwise. For example, Adani is to return 730 million litres of water per annum to the Great Artesian Basin for the first five years of the mine’s operations. The problem is, the mine will require an estimated 297 billion litres of water per annum for operations. Significantly more than the amount being returned. Additionally, it is safe to assume that the quality of the water being returned to the Great Artesian Basin may not be the same. Considering that the mining licence is for 60 years, it can be argued that Minister Hunt’s ‘strict condition’ fails to properly address the magnitude of the mine’s potential impact(s) on water security.

Another ‘strict condition’, is that Adani is to set aside 31,000 hectares as offsets for mitigation against the impacts of the mine’s footprint. Further, Adani is to provide 1 million dollars over ten years towards the management of native flora and fauna. Of particular importance are habitats for the Yakka skink, the Ornamental snake and the Black throated finch. At a glance, this appears to be an excellent ‘counter-balance’, however, offsets often do not work, as nuanced features such as micro-climates, competition and food availability are extremely difficult to replicate. The sheer size of the mine (28, 000 hectares or seven times the size of Sydney harbour) is also a significant barrier to the flow of genetic material between many species living in the area. There are also no guarantees that the offset areas will remain untouched, given the Galilee Basin’s vast fossil fuel reserves. Indeed, a number of other so-called mega-mines are in the pipeline for the Galilee Basin. The cumulative impacts of these mines will be catastrophic both at a national and international scale.  

The ‘strict conditions’ do absolutely nothing to address the significant amounts of carbon dioxide emissions that will be generated from Adani’s coal mine. At peak operation, the mine is expected to export 60 million tonnes of coal to India per annum. Burning 60 million tonnes of coal will produce roughly 130 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum. Again, it is important to emphasise that the mine will operate for 60 years. The approval by Minister Hunt therefore not only undermines Australia’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gases, but also global efforts to curb dangerous climate change.

These so-called ‘strict conditions’ appears to do very little to protect the environment, or build community confidence that the government has made the correct decision.  Minister Hunt’s decision is a lightning rod that will attract much scrutiny and legal challenges are already being weighed by some organisations. More broadly, the approval of Australia’s largest mine is a reflection of a system that is broken when it comes to balancing economic development and protecting the environment for future generations. No doubt, those (such as myself) who thought that Turnbull would bring about a more progressive approach to environmental issues are now more wary of his government.

(The author would like to acknowledge Peter Foster for his help in proof reading this article and providing suggestions)

(The author would also like to credit Eric Vanderduys for the image of the Yakka Skink used as the feature image. It was originally published by the Guardian Australia which can be viewed here.)

Shark attacks – a brief discussion

Thirteen. That is the number of shark attacks currently registered with Taronga Zoo’s Australian Shark Attack File for 2015 in New South Wales. This is the highest the number  has been in nearly 200 years of record keeping. With the peak summer season some weeks away and a high number of people expected to visit beaches, community pressure is mounting on policy makers to stop shark related fatalities. In response, the NSW government has convened a summit at Taronga Zoo, bringing together national and international experts to discuss strategies to limit human-shark encounters. Before any strategies are implemented, however, we must first understand why there has been an increase in the number of human-shark encounters. Three common theories have been debated and, while not comprehensive, provide a general insight into the issue. These three theories are interrelated and discussed below.

Firstly, population densities along the coasts have been increasing. This means that more people are likely to visit beaches and engage in water based recreational activities. Surfing, snorkeling, spear fishing, scuba diving and swimming have become increasingly popular. As more people spend time in the water, the likelihood of encountering a shark increases. Evidence suggests that surfers and bodyboarders appear to be most at risk. This may be related to surfers being most active during dawn and dusk, times when sharks are thought to be most active. However, sharks are opportunistic feeders and there is no set time of day where activity can be correlated with human interaction. This unpredictability was broadcast on live television as Australian surfer, Mick Fanning was attacked by a shark in broad daylight, while competing in a tournament in South Africa. Surfers and bodyboarders are often targets because it is believed that the silhouettes they cast paddling on the surface resemble that of seals, a popular prey for many species of sharks.

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Australian surfer Mick Fanning’s encounter with a shark earlier this year. Image reproduced from news.com.au (2015).

Secondly, as coastal populations increase and beaches become overcrowded, more people seek to escape by venturing to more remote beaches. Australia is home to nearly 35 000 km of coast, which is a significant challenge in terms of beach patrols and medical assistance during emergencies. Indeed, 90% of shark attacks over the past two decades have occurred in less populated areas (West, 2011).

Thirdly, more sharks are being found closer to shore and understanding why this is the case is important. A common misconception is that global shark populations are increasing and competition is driving them closer to shore. However, this is not the case as many species of sharks are critically endangered. It is largely believed that years of large-scale, intensive commercial fishing has been driving down the wild-fish stocks which form part of the shark’s diet. As such, sharks are altering their hunting behaviour by foraging closer to shores and estuaries. Schools of fish, particularly bait fish, become easy targets for sharks and identifying them has become part of the education campaign in Australia to minimise human-shark interactions. Bait fish depend on warm water for survival and move up and down the east coast. Entire beaches have been closed to public once bait fish are spotted such as in the Gold Coast earlier this year. By contrast, during the cooler months, the sharks follow migrating whales up and down the east coast.

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Shark caught breaching the surface as it feeds on bait fish in far north Queensland. Image reproduced from The Courier Mail (2010). Image credit Justin Duggan

With these three common theories in mind, we now move towards discussing some of the proposed minimisation strategies. Some strategies have been in place for many years, while some are more recent. The most common strategy in NSW has been the use of shark nets, which have been used in the state since 1937. Currently, fifty beaches between Newcastle and Wollongong have shark nets (NSW Department of Primary Industries, unknown). Generally speaking, shark nets of various sizes are suspended in the water, forming a barrier between the sharks and the beaches. While the concept of shark nets are simple, the evidence supporting their effectiveness still remains ambiguous.

In its annual performance report for 2014 – 2015, the NSW Department of Primary Industries found that of the ‘189 marine interactions’ with shark nets, only ‘44 were with targeted shark species’ (Department of Primary Industries, 2015). One of the most common consequence of using shark nets is that marine animals such as dolphins, turtles, whales and sea-birds can also become trapped in them. The NSW Department of Primary Industries own analysis shows that of the ‘189 marine encounters’ with shark nets, ‘73 were released alive’, while the fate of the other 116 marine animals or 60% remains unknown. If we were to assume that the 116 marine animals had died (very likely) while trapped in the shark nets then no doubt, the rotting carcases might attract the very sharks the nets are seeking to deter, ultimately becoming an expensive exercise in placebo.

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Decomposing carcass of marine animal caught in shark net. Image reproduced from Channel 7 (2015).

It is important that any strategy implemented to minimise shark attacks is careful and considered. This came to light when the West Australian government introduced active culling of sharks after a fatal attack at Cottesloe beach. A thirteen week trial was introduced at a cost of $1.3 million, where a reported 150 sharks were caught using drum lines, 50 of which were killed. Reports also surfaced that the carcasses of the sharks were being dumped offshore, which may attract other sharks to the area. After the trial, the strategy was dumped after the West Australian Environmental Protection Agency found that the evidence supporting culling was weak. Not only does a lethal response have limited effectiveness, it often lacks community support. This is reflected in a recent survey by the University of Sydney’s Dr. Christopher Neff who found that 80% of locals in Ballina (the site of the latest fatal shark attack in NSW) opposed culling of sharks.

The question that policy makers and the general public are grappling with is what an appropriate response to minimising human-shark interactions should look like. Interestingly, some of the most effective mechanisms that have been discussed at the shark summit at Taronga Zoo have already been operating for some time. First is the expansion of the tagging and monitoring of sharks. Not only will this provide an ‘early warning’ system for beach goers, but the data will also help in supplementing current gaps in scientific knowledge. Secondly, aerial surveys being conducted by services such as the Westpac Life-saver Rescue (and similar aerial patrol services) should also be expanded.

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Aerial shark patrol. Image reproduced from Sydney Morning Herald (2015). Image credit, Adam McLean.

Additional strategies such as electronic buoys, shark detecting sonar technology, cables and shark deterrent wetsuits can also form part of the response, once they reach maturity. The third and final strategy is educating the public, especially tourists, about beach and shark safety. Ultimately, it is important to understand that human-shark interactions cannot be completely prevented as coastal populations expand and shark hunting behaviours change, but much can be done about  protecting both humans and sharks.

References

NSW Department of Primary Industries., (unknown). NSW Shark meshing (bather protection) publications, http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fisheries/info/sharks/meshing, (viewed, 29.9.15)

NSW Department of Primary Industries., (2015). Shark meshing (bather protection) 2014 – 2015 annual performance report, http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/571750/shark-meshing-bather-protection-program-2014-15-annual-performance-report.pdf, (viewed, 29.9.15)

West, G., (2011). Changing patterns of shark attacks in Australian waters, Marine and Freshwater Research, vol. 62, pg. 744 – 754.

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