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Posts Tagged ‘australia’


Photo: ABC News: Kristine Taylor
The arrival of six primary school-aged children allowed Mingoola’s (New South Wales, Australia) school to reopen.

Cousin Claire put another good link on Facebook–this one about the small Australian community of Mingoola, which was losing population and decided to welcome refugees just as its only primary school was about to close.

Greg Hassall writes at ABC Australia, “In the tiny township of Mingoola, on the border of New South Wales and Queensland, local woman Julia Harpham was grappling with a common problem in rural communities.

“The population was in decline, enrolments at the local primary school were down and farmers could not find labourers to help with manual work. Her town was dying before her eyes.

” ‘Many of us have children who work in the city and aren’t going to come back to the farm because things have been so tough on the land,’ Ms Harpham said.

” ‘You don’t like to see a community die. And there’s not much joy in a place with no children.’

“Three years ago the local progress association decided to take a leaf from the region’s migrant past and looked for refugees willing to move to the area.

“But when they began contacting refugee agencies they were told there would not be adequate support for refugees in the bush. …

“Meanwhile in Sydney, refugee advocate Emmanuel Musoni was grappling with problems in his community from central Africa. They had been displaced from Rwanda and neighbouring countries during years of bitter civil war.

“The majority had rural backgrounds before having to flee their homes for refugee camps. …

“They were resettled in cities where employment prospects were few, the environment was intimidating and many became depressed and isolated. …

“Mr Musoni led a small delegation from his community to Mingoola early this year to meet locals and see whether resettlement was viable.

“On his return he put out a call for families willing to make the move; within a week he had a waiting list of 50.

“He chose two families [with] 16 children between them. Six of the children were of primary school age, which would allow Mingoola Primary School to remain open.

“Meanwhile, the community began renovating several abandoned houses in the area to accommodate the families, who moved to Mingoola in April. …

“For those involved in this social experiment, the hope is that its success can be replicated elsewhere to help other struggling rural communities.

“Mr Musoni now has 205 families on his database wanting to move out of the cities and politicians have been watching the Mingoola project with interest.”

Read more here. And for a past post on African refugees in rural Maine, click here.

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There’s always something fun over at PRI’s environmental radio show Living on Earth. Here’s a story that ran in March about the unique bird species isolated in Northeastern Australian rainforests.

Bob Sundstrom wrote up the audio report of BirdNote‘s Mary McCann: “The Eastern Whipbird hangs out in the dense understory. It’s dark, crested … nearly a foot long and emerald-green with white spots. … The large, pigeon-like Wompoo Fruit-Dove … feathered in a stunning combination of green, purple, and yellow, [is] clearly named for its voice.

“Pig-like grunting on the forest floor tells us we’re in the company of the largest bird on the continent – the Southern Cassowary. On average, the female weighs 130 pounds and stands around 5 feet tall, looking like a giant, lush, black hairpiece on thick legs. A helmet called a casque makes it look as much like a dinosaur as any living bird.” Five feet tall? I think I know a one-year-old who would like to try riding it.

The bird sounds on the radio show were provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Hear them all here, where you can also enjoy the equally far-out pictures.

Photo: Jan Anne
Southern Cassowary

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Following up on my 2012 post about fairy circles.

Rachel Nuwer writes at the NY Times, “When Stephan Getzin, an ecologist at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, opened the email, his heart began to flutter. Attached was an aerial image of fairy circles, just as he had seen in countless photos before. But those images were always taken along long strips of arid grassland stretching from southern Angola to northern South Africa. These fairy circles — which looked nearly identical — came from Australia, not Africa. …

“The emailed photo came from Bronwyn Bell, who does environmental restoration work in Perth. She had read about Dr. Getzin’s research in Namibia and made a connection to the odd formations in her home state, Western Australia. …

“Scientists have been interested in fairy circles since the 1970s, but have not been able to agree on what causes the patterns to form. Researchers generally fall into two groups — team termite and team water competition — but there are other hypotheses as well, including one involving noxious gases.

“Dr. Getzin, like others on team water competition, explains the circles through pattern-formation theory, a model for understanding the way nature organizes itself. The theory was first developed not by biologists, but by the mathematician Alan Turing. In the 1990s, ecologists and physicists realized it could be tweaked to explain some vegetation patterns as well. In harsh habitats where plants compete for nutrients and water, the new theory predicts that, as weaker plants die and stronger ones grow larger, vegetation will self-organize into patterns …

“In the case of African fairy circles, the bare patches act as troughs, storing moisture from rare rainfalls for several months, lasting into the dry season. Tall grasses on the edge of the circles tap into the water with their roots and also suck it up with the help of water diffusion through the sandy soil.

“Although similar in appearance, Australian fairy circles turn out to behave differently, Dr. Getzin and his colleagues have found. … Aussie circles feature a very hard surface of dry, nearly impenetrable clay, which can reach up to a scalding 167 degrees during the day. Despite the differences, though, they believe the fairy circles’ function remains the same. When the researchers poured water into the circles in a simple irrigation experiment, it flowed to the edges, reaching the bushy grass …

“The new research ‘moves us closer toward a unifying theory of fairy circle formation,’ said Nichole Barger, an ecosystem ecologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

“It could be that more fairy circles are yet to be discovered in arid environments around the world, she said.

“According to Walter Tschinkel, an entomologist at Florida State University, the findings strengthen the claim that the circles are a result of self-organization by plants. He cautioned, though, that to be more certain, scientists would need to control environmental factors — water and termites, for example — to see which produce the predicted outcome.”

More here.

Photo: Norbert Jürgens
Tracks of Oryx antelopes crossing fairy circles in Namibia.

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Don’t you love it when something that is extinct turns out not to be extinct at all? Like coelacanths, which, according to Wikipedia, “were thought to have become extinct in the Late Cretaceous, around 66 million years ago, but were rediscovered in 1938 off the coast of South Africa.”

While I’m waiting for someone to prove unequivocally the existence of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, I will regale myself with Lazarus-like sea snakes in Australia.

I saw this Australian Associated Press story at the Guardian: “A species of sea snake thought to be extinct has been rediscovered off the Western Australian coast. A wildlife officer spotted two courting short-nosed sea snakes while patrolling in Ningaloo marine park on the state’s mid-north coast. …

“The Western Australian environment minister, Albert Jacob, said the discovery was especially important because they had never been seen at Ningaloo reef.

“A Department of Parks and Wildlife officer photographed the snakes on Ningaloo Reef and James Cook university scientists identified them.”

Maybe marine creatures such as sea snakes and coelacanths are more likely to be preserved than woodpeckers — hidden away in the ocean’s unexplored depths. Still, as a movie I reviewed, Revolution, made clear, the seas are threatened, too.

More on courting sea snakes at the Guardian.

Photo: Grant Giffen/AFP/Getty Images
The discovery of the short-nosed sea snake, previously thought to have been extinct, is significant because the species had never been seen in the Ningaloo marine park in Western Australia before.

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How lovable is this? Sheepdogs that protect a tiny species of penguin from predators.

Austin Ramzey writes at the NY Times about an effort to counteract “Australia’s long history of imported species’ decimating native wildlife. … The toll on Middle Island, off Victoria State in southern Australia, kept rising. By 2005, the small island’s penguin population, which had once numbered 800, was below 10.

“Today, their numbers are back in the triple digits, and much of the credit has gone to a local chicken farmer known as Swampy Marsh and his strong-willed sheepdogs.

“ ‘The powers that be wouldn’t listen to me until it got down to six penguins,’ said Mr. Marsh, whose long-unused birth name is Allan. ‘They were desperate.’

“The farmer’s simple solution — deploy a particularly territorial breed of sheepdog to scare the foxes away — became local legend and, in September, the subject of an Australian film, ‘Oddball,’ which fictionalized the story and made a lovable hero of one of the dogs. The strategy is now being tried elsewhere in Victoria, in hopes of protecting other indigenous species from non-native predators. …

“Maremma dogs are self-reliant; they can be left to defend a patch of land for long periods of time with a supply of food and water that they know not to wolf down right away. During the summer, when foxes pose the greatest danger to Middle Island’s penguins because of tidal patterns that form sandbars, the dogs can stay on the island for several days in a row, watching over the birds from a raised walkway.

“Training them for the job involves introducing them to the penguin’s distinct odor. ‘Penguins don’t smell particularly nice,’ said Peter Abbott, manager of tourism services for the Warrnambool City Council. ‘They look cute and cuddly, but they smell like dead fish.’ Gradually, the dogs are taught to treat the penguins like any other kind of livestock, to be defended and not harmed.’ ”

The article explains that “when red foxes were imported for sport hunting in the 19th century, they found the tiny, flightless birds to be easy prey.” More here.

Photo: David Maurice Smith/NYT
A little penguin, the name of the smallest penguin species. Middle Island’s penguin population, protected by sheepdogs, has rebounded to 150. 

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Dezeen magazine has an article on an apartment building in Australia that seems to change color depending on your viewing angle.

“The triangular window bays that project from the facade of this Sydney housing block by MHN Design Union appear either red or yellow, depending on the viewing angle.”

The apartment block was designed “for local developer Crown Group on a plot in Waterloo, a former industrial area that is gradually being redeveloped into a residential neighbourhood.

“The architects based the design of the facade on the sculptures of Yaacov Agam, an Israeli artist who is known for his brightly coloured kinetic and optical illusion works – which also influenced a series of rugs by London studio Raw Edges. …

“The building’s form tapers to a point at the rear, creating triangular floors that range from 10-high at the front to seven at the back. …

“The building is shortlisted for two awards at this year’s World Architecture Festival, which will be held in Singapore at the beginning of November.” More here.

Photo: John Gollings

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As usual, John has a pretty good idea of the kind of story that really floats my boat. Mysterious green balls washing up on the beaches of Australia, Anyone?

The Science Alert website reports that on the weekend of September 20, “thousands of peculiar green balls appeared on Dee Why Beach near Sydney in Australia. About 6 centimetres in diameter, these squishy little spheres are living organisms – seaweed balls known as ‘marimo’.

” ‘They’re actually a really unusual growth form of seaweed, because seaweeds mostly grow on the rocks but occasionally they get knocked off and rolled around in the ocean forming these beautiful little balls,’ Alistair Poore from the University of New South Wales explained to 7News.’It’s quite an unusual phenomenon, it’s only been seen a handful of times around the world.’

“First discovered in the 1820s by Austrian botanist Anton Eleutherius Sauter, and named by Japanese botanist Tatsuhiko Kawakami in 1898 (‘marimo’ roughly means ‘bouncy play ball’ in Japanese), colonies of these little balls have only been seen off the coast of Iceland, Scotland, Japan, Estonia and now Australia.”

See videos at Science Alert, here.

More on the green balls at Wikipedia and at Smithsonian.

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