Birds and Collisions


I came across some interesting data last night whilst reading the June edition of Sierra magazine, and its something that I hadn’t really considered before. We hear a lot in the news (especially in Australia) how wind turbines cause untold carnage for bird populations, with unsuspecting birds being poleaxed by the rotors and associated wind infrastructure. So yes – it is true that many birds do die due to rotor strikes. But figures out of the US put bird death numbers into a little perspective. To get an idea of the rate of mortality when birds collide with man made structures in the US alone, take a look at the following estimates:

  • Wind Turbines: 573,000
  • Communication Towers: 6,800,000
  • Power Lines: 175,000,000
  • Windows: 300,000,000 to 1,000,000,000
  • Cats: 1,500,000,000 to 4,000,000,000

Sort of puts it into a little perspective, doesn’t it.

The wind industry does however need to address the problem, and are working with the American Bird Conservancy to create wind development risk maps that have the potential to dramatically reduce impacts to birds from poorly sited wind turbines. The maps highlight more than 2,000 locations in the United States where birds are likely to be particularly vulnerable to impacts from wind energy development. It identifies both concentrated migratory flight paths and key habitat locations.

Now, what to do about cats……

For more details see:


Sun ribbon and GEC genetically modified crops lecture


Inge King came to Australia in 1951 with the latest international developments in modern art. Her work underwent rapid change during this time, with monumental pieces worked from massive steel sheets: a new technique used only by the most avante garde sculptors of the time. Welding allowed King to produce bold, strong, large scale works that were not dwarfed by the vast landscape or lost in the harsh sunlight, and many that invited human interaction.
Sun ribbon, with its massive unfurling bands, is the focal point of one of the universities busiest thouroughfares and provides students with a unique resting place. It was comissioned in 1980, and is made of black painted steel.

Lecture 14 of Global Environmental Change dealt with genetically modified crops from the viewpoint of trying to solve the world’s biggest health problem – malnutrition. I never really knew how gmc worked – so it was a pretty gruesome discovery to find out what happens to the poor catterpillars. Crops (such as cotton) are sequenced with a protein that once eaten attaches to the catterpillar gut. Once there, it opens up, causing a hole on the gut wall. This happens in thousands of locations, and the catterpillar literally leaks to death.
The advantages are the reduce use of pesticides, and the targetted nature of the gm design. The levels of neurotoxins involved in crop spraying must surely be a concern, so there seems some merit in investigating the gm option. More work obviously needs to be carried out before it should be applied to consumptive crops, but it sounds at least scientists are considering side effects in their designs, and are trying to mitigate them. One such design is that the plants are not able to germinate, therefore not able to pass along any of the genetic modifications made to them. Watch this space.

You’ve all been Dupe’d


With my recent visits to the central highlands rainforests highlighting the importance to our water security, it reminded my of a fabulous skit that Yarra Valley Water put on last year. The premise of the campaign was that you can get 6,000 glasses of tap water for the same cost as a bottle of water….. Kinda like buying Bottled Fresh Air. The mock shop Dupe (Which looks like it may have been setup in Melbourne Central) sells everything from Fresh Air and Positive Thoughts to Compliments from Nanna and Little Bursts of Sunshine. The reactions on the customers faces are priceless when he tries to flog them the bottled oddities.

I don’t even bother with this air anymore…..It’s pointless.

The Dupe Video can be viewed here:

What this gets you thinking about is how priceless our Central Highlands Forests are in supplying Melbourne with the best natural drinking water in the world. Older forests produce a greater quantity and higher quality of water than a younger re-growth forest which drinks up a lot of the water that would otherwise flow into the rivers. The native forests in the Central Highlands are natural water catchments that filter and improve the quality of our water.

Every second, Melbournians are losing 1,000 litres of drinking water due to logging in areas such as Toolangi.

We need to protect our native forests from logging to ensure we have enough clean natural drinking water now, and into the future. What madness that we endanger this vital resource over some cheap photocopy paper. Its pretty simple though – get you and your workplace to stop using Reflex paper. There are plenty of substitutes available.

Find out all the facts here: Ethical Paper

On Board the Steve Irwin


For the next few weekends, the Steve Irwin (and Bob Barker) are in port in Williamstown with free tours from the Sea Shepherd crew. The tours last about 45 minutes as they show you around the vessel and describe all facets of life and times in the Southern Ocean. Its pretty enthralling, especially hearing the stories from crew members who basically risk their lives defending environmental principles.


The tour starts on the quarter deck as the crew explain the different vessels in the Sea Shepherd fleet. The Steve Irwin is the 60m flagship of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and used in direct action campaigns against whaling. The vessel was built in 1975 and formerly served as a Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency conservation enforcement patrol boat. Due to being built for North Sea duties, it is not adequately reinforced for ice breaking duties, so much care must be taken during visits in the low Southern Ocean.

Sea Shepherd had originally christened the vessel the MV Robert Hunter after Canadian Robert Hunter, co-founder of Greenpeace, but it was renamed in honor of The Crocodile Hunter star Steve Irwin in 2007. Irwin had considered joining the vessel on a voyage to Antarctica shortly before his death.


The tour then moves to the Bridge where we can admire the view from the Captains chair. The crew explain how whaling is carried out, and that five ships are generally used in the hunt, as they try to target pods that include mothers. As mothers wont leave their calves, the pods are slowed down with the youngsters, and become tired and weak as the ships chase them. They are finally speared and shot were it can then take over 30 minutes for them to die by bleeding to death or drowning. Processing ships then take over to prepare the storage of the whales.


We then made our way down to the Mess where we saw a bit of life on board the ship, the dining and where the socialisation / relaxation occurs. There were racks and racks of dvds to watch! We also watched a short film of the 2012 / 2013 summer campaign called Operation Zero Tolerance which showed some of the incredible encounters between the whaling vessels and the Sea Shepard boats. Whatever you may think about The Sea Shepherd tactics, you have to admit they are pretty gutsy when the 500tonne Bob Barker is sandwiched between the 8000tonne whaling ship and 5000 tonne refueller. The footage is amazing – the collision sequence can be seen above. Apparently this cat and mouse game went on for nine days in the freezing waters just off Antarctica. That’s quite a few sleepless nights. Apparently, Zero Tolerance was the most successful campaign ever with 768 whales saved from the Japanese quota of 1035 whales. That sounds like an impressive savior rate!

Are The Sea Shepherd just a bunch of hooligans?


The Sea Shepherd are in Melbourne for a few weeks with two of their ships, the Bob Barker, and the Steve Irwin. With ship tours every weekend, what better way to have a perspective of life on the high seas battling whalers. I have to admit, before this week I didn’t know too much about The Sea Shepherd. Not that I’m an expert now, but I did a little reading during the week and at least have a working understanding the of the international framework they function under. Its all quite interesting really.

The fact I found most interesting was that the Sea Shepherd is actually UPHOLDING international law. I thought they were a bunch of hooligans acting to a law upon themselves, but no; they have an international mandate that enables (and even demands) that they take action. The whole legal argument is terribly convoluted filled with loopholes and contradictions so that basically both sides of the whaling debate can pick and choose what rules and laws they want to follow. However, it basically boils down to two arguments:

The United Nations World Charter for Nature provides guidelines for the international protection of nature. This charter was adopted by the United Nation’s General Assembly on November 9, 1982. The relevant sections of the charter are 21 to 24:

21. States and, to the extent they are able, other public authorities, international organizations, individuals, groups and corporations shall:
(a) Co-operate in the task of conserving nature through common activities and other relevant actions, including information exchange and consultations
(b) Establish standards for products and other manufacturing processes that may have adverse effects on nature, as well as agreed methodologies for assessing these effects
(c) Implement the applicable international legal provisions for the conservation of nature and the protection of the environment
(d) Ensure that activities within their jurisdictions or control do not cause damage to the natural systems located within other States or in the areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction
(e) Safeguard and conserve nature in areas beyond national jurisdiction

22. Taking fully into account the sovereignty of States over their natural resources, each State shall give effect to the provisions of the present Charter through its competent organs and in co-operation with other States.

23. All persons, in accordance with their national legislation, shall have the opportunity to participate, individually or with others, in the formulation of decisions of direct concern to their environment, and shall have access to means of redress when their environment has suffered damage or degradation.

24. Each person has a duty to act in accordance with the provisions of the present Charter, acting individually, in association with others or through participation in the political process, each person shall strive to ensure that the objectives and requirements of the present Charter are met.

Wow. That’s pretty impressive. It basically says that in the absence of any state law, it is your duty (as an individual or collective) to uphold conservation. In fact the UN Charter was upheld in 1995 when Captain Paul Watson cited the Charter as his authority to order Spanish and Cuban drag trawlers off the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Captain Watson had been arrested in this area, outside of the Canadian 200 mile limit, by Canadian authorities and was charged with felony mischief.


So, what’s the reasoning of the whaling nations? Well, they are all a little different, but since we mainly deal with Japanese whalers here in the Southern Ocean, lets look at their defence.

International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, December 2, 1946
Article VIII

1. Notwithstanding anything contained in this Convention, any Contracting Government may grant to any of its nationals a special permit authorizing that national to kill, take, and treat whales for purposes of scientific research subject to such restrictions as to number and subject to such other conditions as the Contracting Government thinks fit, and the killing, taking, and treating of whales in accordance with the provisions of this Article shall be exempt from the operation of this Convention. Each Contracting Government shall report at once to the Commission all such authorizations which it has granted. Each Contracting Government may at any time revoke any such special permit which it has granted.

2. Any whales taken under these special permits shall so far as practicable be processed and the proceeds shall be dealt with in accordance with directions issued by the Government by which the permit was granted.

3. Each Contracting Government shall transmit to such body as may be designated by the Commission, in so far as practicable, and at intervals of not more than one year, scientific information available to that Government with respect to whales and whaling, including the results of research conducted pursuant to paragraph 1 of this Article and to Article IV.

4. Recognizing that continuous collection and analysis of biological data in connection with the operations of factory ships and land stations are indispensable to sound and constructive management of the whale fisheries, the Contracting Governments will take all practicable measures to obtain such data.

What a ridiculous loophole! This antiquated law beggars belief. Therefore, the purpose of “scientific research” (as it was initially constructed for) is to allow for the supervision of the health of the whale pods in order to promote and maintain the health of the population. And here I was thinking that there actually was some sort of “research” taking place. Nope. The Japanese are killing whales to find out if there are enough whales to return to commercial whaling practice.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg in regards to the international argument. There are various treaties, agreements, and policies that mostly justify the Sea Shepherd position. Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999 is consistently being broken by killing whales in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. This law is criminal in nature and holds sentences of two years jail. So the legal wrangling will go on for some time to come with Japan recently losing an international decision to continue whaling (even for scientific purposes), but only today issuing a statement that they will not follow the ruling, and resume whaling in the 2015-2016 summer. Watch this space!

Australia’s favourite eucalypt


The results are in, and I want a recount. Seriously, how can the magnificent Snow Gum not be Australia’s favourite eucalypt? The fantastically sublime hues of the trunk, the gnarled and stunted appearance of the canopy, and just the brashness of being able to say – Hey man; mother nature can toss all the baddest weather she wants, but I’m not going nowhere. I absolutely love snow gums, my favourite being the lone warrior on top of Dugout Bowl at Mt Stirling (see picture above). Every year I go back to meet up with the old mate (who some say may be up to 200 years old), take his photo, and catch up on the news of the past year. That is one serious dude living up there by himself.

So the Quatitative and Applied Ecology Group at The University of Melbourne have just completed a survey and found that Australia’s favourite eucalypt is infact the regal Mountain Ash (regnans in excelsis. E. regnans). Yeah, its pretty impressive with its list of credentials – world’s tallest flowering plant and all. Second was the noble Snow Gum (E. pauciflora), and third the ashen Ghost Gum (C. aparrerinja). A fine list indeed. I also love my Spotted Gum. Comes up a treat after a few coats of varnish!


The real highlight of the poll however was Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull’s command of eucalypt taxonomy. Wow – every time I see and hear about Malcolm I’m impressed more and more. He really knows his stuff in so many domains (pun intended). If only we could circumvent a way of him becoming Prime Minister….. I understand very little of the debate going on here, but it’s nice to see a knowledgeable politician in Australia. Here is a rundown on the twitter conversation:

 Twitter 1

Twitter 2

A little bit of info on Snow Gums:

Eucalyptus pauciflora is a species of flowering plant in the family Myrtaceae. It is a small tree or large shrub growing 4–8 m, occasionally reaching 20 m, and native to subalpine and lowland habitats in eastern Australia. It is amongst the hardiest of all eucalyptus species, surviving the severe winter temperatures of the Australian Alps. The bark of Eucalyptus pauciflora is smooth and white to light grey or sometimes brown-red, shedding in patches or strips to give a mottled appearance. The grey-green adult leaves are usually lanceolate to broadly-lanceolate with distinct parallel veins, but may be narrowly ovate. The tree is covered in a mass of white flowers in spring and summer. The term pauciflora (few flowers) is a misnomer, and may originate in an early collected specimen losing its buds in transit. Rather than losing its leaves in autumn, the tree is evergreen, adapting to the weight of snow by progressively bending its branches so that the outermost branches extend vertically down and snow is shed from the leaves. Snow gums occur as woodlands and open woodlands at altitudes of 1,300–1,800 m in Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, where they form the altitudinal limit of the tree line. Because of land clearing, few stands of lowland snow gum remain, and considerable efforts are being put into preserving the remnants. E. pauciflora regenerates from seed, by epicormic shoots below the bark, and from lignotubers. It is the most cold-tolerant species of eucalyptus, surviving temperatures down to −23 °C and year-round frosts.

Alpine Crossing Development

Iconic Trails

Wow – what a difference a day makes looking around the internet! After writing about the opening of the Alpine Crossing yesterday, I actually found that the Victorian Government is planning exactly what I was musing – future development along the alpine trail including private developments to allow overnight accomodation.
The following media release is taken directly from Bill Sykes’ (State Member for Benalla) webpage:

Media Releases

Monday, December 02, 2013

A Master Plan study to further develop the alpine walking route between Falls Creek and Mount Hotham will receive $50,000 from the Victorian Coalition Government’s $1 billion Regional Growth Fund. Representing Deputy Premier Peter Ryan at today’s announcement in the Alpine National Park, Member for Benalla Bill Sykes said the $50,000 Regional Growth Fund grant would support Tourism North East’s $150,000 Master Plan for the Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing project.

“The Master Plan will support the further development of this iconic walk and will include a series of detailed designs for the alignment, campsite locations and layout, areas for potential accommodation, and other visitor destinations along the intended route,” Dr Sykes said. “One possible icon, which has been drawn to my attention, that could be considered as part of the Master Plan is the Red Robin Mine and Battery.

“The Alpine National Park has been identified by Parks Victoria and Tourism Victoria as one of four ‘icon walks’ within Victoria, and this project will provide significant local and regional economic benefits.”

Dr Sykes said the project would also investigate further route options, identify key areas for accommodation, as well as recommending potential design and life-cycle costs, and minimising the need for infrastructure and ongoing maintenance. Dr Sykes said plans also included recommendations on visitor interpretation ideas and themes along the walk. Mr Ryan said the Coalition Government was proud to provide $50,000 from the Regional Growth Fund to support this important local project.

The Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing Master Plan will be lead by Parks Victoria in partnership with Tourism North East, Tourism Victoria and Regional Development Victoria. The preferred route goes from Falls Creek, around Rocky Valley dam to Wallaces hut, then across the High Plains, descending to Dibbins hut, then downstream along the Kiewa to Diamantina spur, up to Feathertop, and out to Hotham along the razorback – one exact route that I had in mind during yesterdays blog!

And so it was no surprise that a tender for the Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing Master Plan has been put out with submissions due by the end of January 2014.

Apparently, the tender documents show that private accommodation is planned to be developed, with the brief of the master plan to identify settings where opportunities may exist for potential private sector investment in on-walk roofed accommodation and/or services. An example of the sorts of development envisaged include the craddle mountain huts along the Overland Track.

A lot of consideration will need to take place before any soil can actually be turned, but in principle I think the vision is correct. There is simply not enough (read “no”) infrastructure that allows the vast majority of people to have access to these wonderful lands. Why should they be denied the opportunity of experiencing our majestic mountains?  Of course, we must make certain that the implemenatation of the vision is in the eternal keeping of the surrounds, and that once constructed, is attainable to the average person and not just a select few.