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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Barangaroo – Sydney’s new green-space

Hasmukh Chand

For the first time in a hundred years, public access has been granted to the former shipping container site in the form of a new, six hectare green-space called ‘Barangaroo’. Framed by the iconic Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge and views of Balls Head, Goat Island and Ballast Point, Barangaroo will no doubt become a popular destination for both tourists and Sydneysiders alike. Stunning views aside, the attention to detail that went into the design and the delivery of the reserve is equally impressive and in my view, sets an international benchmark in urban renewal.

How was the ‘naturalistic’ look achieved?  The reserve was designed in such a way that it allows us a glimpse into what the harbour looked like prior to European settlement. This journey back into time is achieved through the use of 75,000 native plants, sourced from 80 different species found within Sydney harbour and Hawkesbury river. Natives such as  Eucalyptus saligna, Eucalyptus haemastoma and Glochidian ferdinandii are common features in the reserve. Further, Barangaroo’s foreshore and the contours are lined with close to 10,000 pieces of Hawkesbury sandstone, which were sourced from the site itself. Even the shape of the foreshore follows the original harbour shoreline as it was in 1836.

In an era where urban space is highly sought after by developers for commercial and residential projects, Sydney’s Barangaroo reserve sets the bar high for a different type of urban renewal; a multi-use, public green-space. Barangaroo has the potential to rapidly become one of the most popular destinations for both locals and tourists. After just one visit, it has already become one of my favourite location within Sydney CBD. Words and pictures do not do justice to Barangaroo which is why I highly recommend that people take time out to visit the reserve.

On a side note; there is free wifi in the park.

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Barangaroo foreshore lined with sandstone and follows the original harbour shoreline from 1836. Image credit: Hasmukh Chand
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The views from Barangaroo are amazing. The harbour bridge is visible from the entrance to the reserve via Walsh Bay. Image credit: Hasmukh Chand
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Sandstone and native trees which have been sourced locally for the reserve. Image credit: Hasmukh Chand
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Flight of steps going up to star gazers lawn which offers panoramic views of the harbour and surrounding islands. Steps also good for cardio training. Image credit: Hasmukh Chand

Barangaroo was designed by: Johnson Pilton Walker in association with Peter Walker and Partners Landscape Architecture.

A gracious thank you to the former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating for his determination and passion for making a reality.

Dutch Court adds momentum to climate change

Yesterday, a District Court in the Netherlands passed a judgement that is still reverberating around the world. For the first time, a group of citizens have successfully sued their government for not doing enough to protect them from the threat of climate change. The argument put forward by Urgenda, the environmental NGO representing the citizens, was that the government has a legal obligation to protect its citizens. The District Court agreed and after hearing scientific evidence of the impacts of climate change, ruled that the Dutch Government must increase its national emissions reductions targets from 17% by 2020 to between 25 – 40% by 2020 (based on 1990 levels).

While the ruling by the court is legally binding, the Dutch Government can appeal the District Court’s decision. Regardless of whether an appeal is launched by the Dutch Government, the ruling will have global significance as it may inspire similar cases in other countries. The groundwork for this has been established by the Oslo Principles (2015) which highlights the ‘essential obligations’ that Governments have in averting dangerous climate change. Already, there are reports that a similar case is about to get underway in Belgium, with about nine thousand plaintiffs.

The decision further adds to the ripples that have recently been caused by the Pope’s encyclical. The leader of the Catholic Church has reached out to the millions of followers calling for a fundamental shift from the business as usual paradigm to environmental stewardship. While climate change has been singled out (whether correctly or not) from the Pope’s message, it is grounded within the wider context of factors contributing to the current ‘human crisis’.

On its own merit, the overall bearing of the Dutch Court’s decision on the upcoming global climate negotiations may be negligible. Governments may move swiftly to curb similar court cases within their own jurisdictions. But when the decision is viewed together with the Pope’s encyclical, and the divestment movement seems to indicate that the Paris negotiations might actually (and hopefully) workout.

Tony Abbott the hyper-conservative

The Australian Prime Minister’s ideological opposition to national and international action on addressing climate change has been long standing and constant. Here are the most memorable quotes by the Prime Minister on climate change, fossil fuels and the environment. And given that his government is only half way through its term in Parliament, no doubt, there will be more memorable quotes to add to the list below.

  1. “Coal is good for humanity” (Sydney Morning Herald, 13/10/14)
  2. “Coal is essential for the prosperity of the world” (The Guardian, 4/11/14)
  3. “We have too much locked up forests” (Sydney Morning Herald, 5/3/14)
  4. “I see people (the timber industry) who are the ultimate conservationists” (ABC, 5/3/14)
  5. “I regard myself as a conservationist” (Sydney Morning Herald, 13/6/14)
  6. “When i’ve been up close to wind farms, there’s no doubt, not only are they visually awful, they make a lot of noise” (Sydney Morning Herald, 13.6.15)
  7. “The Renewable Energy Target is very significantly driving up power prices” (Australian Financial Review, 2/7/14)
  8. “The science of human induced climate change is crap” (The Australian, 12/12/09)
  9. “It seems that, notwithstanding the dramatic increases in manmade carbon dioxide emissions over the last decade, the world’s warming has stopped” (Sun Herald, 5/1/10)

Central Park – The best building in Sydney?

Sydney’s architecture is well known around the world. The silhouette of the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and Centre Point Tower are easily recognised and they have graced countless postcards, been the subject of tourist itineraries and inspired designs all around the world. The newest edition to the Sydney skyline, however, has a range of characteristics that might just make it the best building in Sydney.

Located in Chippendale, Sydney’s One Central Park (Feature image above) building was a $2 billion urban renewal project that sought to revitalise an old derelict, brewery site. The project, designed by architect Jean Nouvel and developed by Frasers Property Australia, pushed the boundaries of civil and environmental engineering and has won a number of national and international awards along the way. Last year for example, One Central Park was awarded the ‘best tallest building in the world‘ by the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

The project’s focus on sustainability is perhaps One Central Park’s most outstanding feature. Indeed, this was recognised in 2014, when One Central Park was given the ‘best sustainable development of the year award‘ by Leading European Architects Forum. So what makes Central Park one of the most sustainable buildings in the world? Firstly, the high-density building has 2100 apartments and nearly 900 student accommodations, plus a number of shops and businesses which reduces the need for urban sprawl. The site’s close proximity to Central train station and the Central Business District encourages the use of public transport.

Secondly, during construction, over 90% of the demolished materials were recycled on site. There was some controversy during the development phase in 2011 when Greenpeace found that the project was using rainforest timber sourced from Malaysia. With Greenpeace activists suspended from cranes attracting media attention, Frasers Property Australia immediately responded to the protests, initiated a strict audit of all timber and promptly switched to using Forest Stewardship Council certified timber.

One Central Park has its own tri-generation energy system (Figure 1). The natural gas that is used has a lower carbon footprint and is twice as efficient compared to conventional energy systems. With just the one system, the precinct will be able to produce heating, cooling and electricity (hence the ‘tri’). According to One Central Park’s website, over its 25 year lifespan, the tri-generation system will prevent nearly 200,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. The precinct has its own water recycling plant which utilises Membrane Bioreactors (Figure 2) to filter and recirculate water to the residential and business operations. A ‘membrane bioreactor’ works in two general stages; the first uses fine membranes to filter the waste water and the second uses a biological agent to further filter and clean the water before it is recycled.

The exterior of the building is dominated by two outstanding features which promote the overall sustainability and architecturally groundbreaking design. The first is the cantilevered, heliostat, which is a series of mirrors that reflect sunlight into the public spaces between the buildings below as well as provide natural heating.

The second outstanding feature of One Central Park is the vertical garden, which is stunning to behold on a nice, sunny day. Aside from aesthetics, the vertical garden which has over 30,000 native and exotic plants also acts as insulation, creates a micro-ecosystem which is good for attracting pollinators, creates shading and reduces the run-off of rainwater. For those living and working in One Central Park, the vertical garden appears to be a great catalyst to reconnect with nature.

Personally, One Central Park’s vertical garden is my favourite feature. Despite the use of exotic plants, the vertical garden is a stark and beautiful reminder of how nature and a functioning ecosystem can be re-introduced into an urban environment, through the use of roof-top, balcony and hanging gardens. Overall though, the groundbreaking features in terms of sustainability and architectural design might make One Central Park the best building in Sydney.

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Figure 1: Tri-generation system operating at One Central Park. Image reproduced from ‘Central Park Sydney’ website.
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Figure 2: Simplified diagram showing how the Membrane Bioreactor operates. Image reproduced from ‘Central Park Sydney’ website.

Images belong to the author, unless otherwise stated. In the above case, Figures 1 and 2 (tri-generation system and membrane bioreactor system) belong to One Central Park. 

WildEndurance – a race to save the wild

Taking place on the weekend of May, WildEndurance is a team  event which takes participants through some of the most magnificent, natural locations in Sydney’s Blue Mountains Heritage Area. In teams of between two and seven, participants walk and/or run either 100 or 50km.

WildEndurance is one of the core fundraising events for the Wilderness Society, with close to a million dollars raised over its eight year history. The Wilderness Society is considered to be one of the oldest and largest non-governmental, environmental organisation in Australia.

Over the past three decades, the Wilderness Society has enjoyed a number of prominent wins for the protection of Australia’s natural places. Most notably, the organisation led the campaign to prevent the construction of the world’s largest natural gas processing hub at James Price Point in the Kimberley, one of the most pristine coastlines in the world. The Wilderness Society is also seen as the catalyst for the establishment of the Australian Greens Political party.

This year’s WildEndurance event is incredibly poignant, as part of the funds raised will be donated to Science for Wildlife (for the training of koala detection dogs and GPS tracking devices), an organisation that focusing on the conservation of koalas in the upper Blue Mountains. Koalas were spotted in the Upper Blue Mountains only two years ago, for the first time in seventy years.

Currently, 10% of threatened and endangered native species in New South Wales can be found in the Blue Mountains. Therefore, the conservation of koalas in the area is also expected to have flow on effects on the conservation of a number of other native flora and fauna endemic to the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

The 36 hour time limit, challenging terrain and weather all combine to make WildEndurance a truly unique endurance event. A number of professional athletes have used WildEndurance to prepare for international long distance trail and endurance events. However, despite the tough conditions, overwhelmingly, the participants are your everyday, ordinary mums and dads, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. Some participate to cross it off their bucket-list, some for the opportunity to escape the urban rat race, some who seek to push their physical and mental limits while others see WildEndurance as a great way to support the protection of some of Australia’s most pristine environments.

WildEndurance is also a great way to motivate people to reconnect with nature as the event organisers actively promote participants preparing for the event by hiking outdoors. Regardless of the motivation, participants are connected by the shared sense of accomplishment when they cross the finish line and stand on the podium.

As a participant in last year’s 50km event, I understand just how tough the event can be on your mind and your body. The ascents were tough on my legs, and it was really cold and windy on the table-flats. However, it was such a surreal experience, walking with such a diverse group of individuals, who were looking forward to a fun and challenging weekend. A large part of the journey of WildEndurance last year was having my team mate and close friend, Mik Scheper to share the experience with. We took the opportunity to do some bush walks in Blackheath and the Coogee to Bondi coast walk while preparing. We helped each other stay focused during WildEndurance where some sections were particularly challenging and tested us mentally.

The views were breathtaking and descending down the Giants stairway past the iconic ‘Three Sisters‘ at night felt like we were travelling back in time. Frankly, I would not have been surprised if we had seen dinosaurs. After 15 hours of walking, my team mate and I finished, it was past midnight, we were both extremely exhausted, and there was a sense of euphoria in the thought that we had completed something extraordinary.

This year, I am working on the delivery of WildEndurance, getting a different perspective on how the event is coordinated and delivered. Somedays, i feel participating in the event seems a lot easier than the logistics work. I will be present at the event (working at event headquarters) come the first weekend in May, but i feel like a part of me will look enviously at all the participants ready to tackle WildEndurance.

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My WildEndurance team mate – Mik Scheper and I ready to head out at Dunphy’s Camp-ground.
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Finally, the start. It was raining lightly but the weather cleared up. It was still very cold and very windy at some stages. Image credit: Jessica Loi
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Could not resist capturing the amazing backdrop. I think some teams take a bit longer to finish because they are constantly stopping to take pictures.

World Parks Congress – Day 6

On day six, the rapporteurs presented their findings from all the streams and cross cutting sessions that had been taking place at the World Parks Congress. The recommendations and comments made would go towards the overarching document that will be released after the Congress in what is being dubbed ‘the promise of Sydney’.

Rapporteur: reconciling development with conservation

The first report was about reconciling development with conservation, a balance that has been extremely hard to achieve. It appears that nearly three decades on, the international community is still grappling with the concept and meaning on sustainable development.

The promise of Sydney will argue that investment in conservation should be seen by governments and policy makers as investment in ‘critical development’. By doing so, it is hoped that ecosystem services provided by the natural environment are valued. For conservation to be considered as critical development and for the highest benefits to be acquired from ecosystem services, landscape scale conservation and management must be implemented.

Rapporteur: Respecting indigenous knowledge and culture

As stated by Professor. Patrick Dodson during the opening ceremony:

“Modernity must learn about connectivity” (Dodson, 2014)

The World Parks Congress in Sydney was the first time  in the history of the congress, that the role of indigenous knowledge, culture and tradition played such a central role in the conversations about conservation. Indigenous people have been the ultimate conservationists and have had a stewardship relationship with their lands for thousands of years. Indeed, they are often now in the front-lines, working in grassroots projects to conserve, rehabilitate, protect landscapes and sea-scapes. Many, work as park rangers and have lost their lives protecting these places of natural beauty.

Rapporteur: New Social Compact

This stream reflected and reinforced the central role of indigenous culture and knowledge. However, the focus of these workshops and discussions were on the history of dispossession and disconnection that have been perpetrated on local indigenous people from their ‘tribal’ lands.

“Historical injustices of nature conservation should be addressed”

Having protected areas is not enough, there needs to be a move away from fragmentation (of both indigenous people and conservation areas) to integration.

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An interesting mural showcasing the link between people and nature

 

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