Archive for October, 2011


SHACK 14, Goldfields, Vic.

Restore calm and balance to a busy life by immersing yourself in a pristine environment.



Hoopers Road, Chewton 
Phone: (03) 5472 1677


RIVERIA NAUTICA, Gippsland Lakes, Vic.

The location Pretty Chewton is a short drive from the gold-rush township of Castlemaine and within half an hour of Maldon, Daylesford and Bendigo. The quaint Red Hill pub and the post office are the only real hints to the little town’s existence, but beyond the main road the diggings-ravaged landscape gives way to peaceful bushy slopes traced by dirt roads and roo tracks.

The place On four hectares of private bushland that’s dotted with old mine shafts and borders Friars State Forest, Shack 14 is a secluded retreat surrounded by scenery in the soft bush colours of Frederick McCubbin’s triptych The Pioneer. In keeping with a self-proclaimed ethos of “luxury camping”, the shack – created by Glenn Murcutt-trained architect Ken Latona – is rustic yet stylish. It has two queen-size bedrooms, a bathroom, a comfortable open-plan living space and a fully equipped stainless-steel kitchen. There is no telephone or television connection, and mobile coverage is patchy at best.

The experience Kangaroos munching in the fading light scatter as guests navigate the track to the house. The day begins with rainwater showers and bush exploration, but the evening is best whiled away with a platter of local produce, a glass of red and blues strains from the shack’s CD collection. The night sky, unspoilt by the city’s glow, reveals a spectacular arc of stars, and invites viewing from the deck. Eco accommodation isn’t for everyone – take sharing the bedroom with a huntsman spider, or drinking the fresh, safe-but-slightly-murky water, for instance. Neither is Shack 14 within stumbling distance of restaurants and bars. Instead it offers a great opportunity to take time out from technology, enjoy each other’s company and explore the landscape. A trip here will end, as it began, under the curious gaze of two dozen of the grazing locals.

ZENERGIE, Wilsons Promontory, Vic.

 Don’t miss … The nearby Wesley Hill farmers’ market (Pyrenees Highway, Castlemaine) draws a crowd of locals and weekenders every Saturday. People congregate over organic coffee and stroll among the eclectic stalls offering everything from home-made peanut butter to tarot-card readings. Historic Maldon is worth a visit, too, as are Castlemaine’s Mulberry’s Delicatessen (60 Lyttleton Street; 03 5472 1651) and The Good Table (233 Barker Street; 03 5472 4400), among other outlets.  
Effie Mann

Cost: $420 for two people (two-night minimum stay); additional occupants, $60 a person a night.
about 120km north-west of Melbourne.
Sleeps: 1-4
Children: by prior arrangement, although the property is not particularly child-friendly.
Wheelchair access: no.




Chinaman’s Creek, Metung
Phone: (03) 5156 2243

The location Protected from the vagaries of Bass Strait’s winds and waters by the long strip of land that forms Ninety Mile Beach, Metung is a small village sandwiched between Lake King and Bancroft Bay, at the heart of the Gippsland Lakes system. Its position gives it an added protection – there is no through traffic to disturb the equilibrium.

HILL OF CONTENT, Phillip Island, Vic.

The place The Quo Vadis, a six-berth, 10-metre cruiser. One of Riviera Nautic’s BB On Board options for those not quite ready to embark on an overnight venture exploring Gippsland’s lake system, it remains safely moored at the jetty for the duration of the stay. A quick tour reveals a light and surprisingly roomy saloon, a compact galley and equally compact loo/shower – think old-style caravan on water and you’re starting to get the picture. Add a flybridge, small decks fore and aft, and a gentle rocking motion and the image is pretty well complete.

The experience It’s the simple pleasures that attract: birds flying overhead in the evenings; pelicans, swans and ducks diving for breakfast in the morning mist; a walk around the coast, keeping eyes peeled for dolphins. Or take a wander around the village, noting the galleries showcasing works by local artists and a smattering of shops offering Gippsland cheeses, chutneys and chocolates. Finish the day with fish and chips on board, followed by a quiet read with a glass at hand.

Don’t miss … walks along the two-kilometre boardwalk built over the water’s edge from Riviera Nautic to the Metung village, or a visit to Nungurner by water or road – this quiet, tiny bay with jetties at either end is beautiful, and perfect for a picnic.   Sally Dugan


Cost: BB on Board option: $300 a night for two (extra people, $80 each), including continental breakfast.
$1062-$1790 for two nights, including fuel and 24-hour support.
315km north-east of Melbourne.
 Children: yes.
Wheelchair access: no.



45 Kongwak-Inverloch Road, Kongwak
Phone: (03) 5657 4490
Mobile: 0409 295 657

The location As the largest coastal wilderness area in Victoria, Wilsons Promontory attracts visitors year-round for swimming, walking, kayaking and camping. The beautiful beaches of the national park also extend to seaside villages such as Inverloch, its position at the mouth of Anderson Inlet making it an excellent spot for fishing, kitesurfing and windsurfing. It also draws jazz lovers to its annual festival in March. This area offers peaceful rural and dramatic water views.

The place Owners Hess and Jennie Strengers have built three Asian-style villas on their farm, a short drive from Inverloch. Zenergie was named after their aim to provide guests with both Zen (stillness and minimalism) and energy (the life force). The villas are stylish but cosy, with double-glazed windows providing lovely views over Powlett River flats to Wilsons Promontory. Each has elegant oriental furniture and ornaments from the owners’ other business, a gift shop. The villas are also practical, with well-equipped kitchens and sheltered courtyards.

The experience Zenergie can be a place to rest or to practise yoga (including supervised partner or lovers’ yoga) or to enjoy a massage (including Hess’s speciality of “raindrop massage”, which includes essential oils being dripped on the back like raindrops), meditation, drumming on djembe drums and other activities at a purpose-built studio in the Strengerses’ home. Vegetarian or vegan meals can be ordered, with cooking classes also offered in retreat packages. Feng shui, yin yang (balance) and environmental principles such as a worm-waste system have been carefully integrated into the villas, and each has different decor. Our villa, named My Mantra, had vibrant red furniture and furnishings to represent fire, energy and exuberance. This lively decor did not detract from the soothing view of lush green paddocks. Zenergie is a great place for rest and reflection.

Don’t miss … Zenergie is a few minutes’ drive from the former coalmining town of Kongwak, now best known for its popular vintage and second-hand market every Sunday.   Denise Ryan

Cost: villas $180-$205 a night off peak; $195-$220 peak.
130km south-east of Melbourne.
Children: No.
Wheelchair access: limited.



Halls Gap
Phone: contact via web

The location The cliché about kangaroos hopping down the main street is a reality in Halls Gap, the small Victorian town nestled in the Fyans Valley. Situated at the base of the Wonderland and Mount William ranges, it’s a great destination for anyone looking for pristine bush and stunning natural settings, with trails for bushwalkers of any level.

The place Set on a half-hectare block, and with the Grampians National Park as a dramatic backdrop, Janaza is a modern one-bedroom, two-storey house with a large wooden deck. It’s just a 10-minute walk from town, yet feels quite secluded. Upstairs, there’s a very comfortable bedroom with a queen-size bed and high windows that frame the mountain ridge, so there’s no need to get up to enjoy the view. Downstairs are a small but serviceable kitchen, a bathroom and a combined dining and lounge room with leather couches and a flat-screen TV.

The experience An early-morning amble turned into an interactive nature walk with wallabies and kangaroos leaping in all directions, all over town. A weekend here can be as relaxing or as physically challenging as you like, but if you do feel like a long walk, start your adventure at the nearby Halls Gap Visitor Information Centre. This is especially worthwhile if you strike a patch of bad weather, as the centre provides a list of rainy-day suggestions. There are few dining options during the winter months, but when the weather improves, Halls Gap offers a choice of restaurants, including the Kookaburra Bar Bistro (03 5356 4222) and a couple of takeaway options such as the Black Panther Cafe Bar (03 5356 4511).

Don’t miss … a walk in the Grampians National Park, the Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre (an Aboriginal cultural centre with interactive exhibitions;, local wineries and the Halls Gap Zoo (, home to an eclectic collection of animals from around the world.   Frances Atkinson

Cost: $165 a night (two-night minimum stay).
about 250km north-west of Melbourne.
Pets: yes, but dogs are not allowed in the national park.
Wheelchair access: no.



384 Jems Creek Road, Cobark
Phone: (02) 6558 5544

The location Driving through Stratford (upon the Avon River, no less), the image of a blue-singlet-wearing William Shakespeare somehow springs to mind. The township of Gloucester is next, then the British theme comes close to manifesting itself physically as you reach the World Heritage-protected Barrington Tops National Park. All rolling hills and knobbly crags, the descent into the stunning valley is reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands.

The place Six cattle grids after the turn-off for The Tops Organic Retreat, the buildings are still nowhere to be seen. “Remote” is the word, followed by “serene”. On an 800-hectare property, the retreat is positioned between babbling brooks, lush rainforest and imposing mountains. Four timber cabins overlook the rainforest alongside four self-contained cottages. Sleeping up to four, the cabins are compact but comfortable and each has a queen-size bed upstairs and a sofa bed, log fire, polished floorboards and TV/DVD in the lounge downstairs. A spacious bathroom with spa bath adds a touch of luxury.

The experience Your morning soundtrack is the chiming melody of bellbirds and whipbirds, with an occasional kookaburra remix. From pademelons, possums and, er, leeches, to cows, chickens, horses and militant geese, there’s a mixture of animal life to meet or avoid. There’s even the rumour of a koala or two. A game of tennis and a swim in the saltwater pool are good activities, but the secluded bushwalks reveal the retreat’s best assets and the homestead’s dingo-cross, Jessie, is only too chuffed to be your guide. The superb food is where the “organic” part of the title truly comes into play, with all the chemical- and pesticide-free produce either grown sustainably on site or sourced locally.

Don’t miss … A guided horse ride ($50 for two hours, ask at reception) is the best way to experience the Tops, but if food is your primary concern, make sure to get up for the hearty three-course breakfast ($25).   Robert Badman

Cost: $275 a night, twin share; extra adult, $65 a night; child 3-16, $35 a night.
300km north of Sydney.
Children: yes.
Pets: yes.
Wheelchair access: limited.



33 Rhyll-Newhaven Road, Rhyll
Phone: 0400 940 301

The location Phillip Island is rightly famous for the bird that flies under water, the grand prix without cars and Cowes that produce no milk. Rhyll is located at the quieter north-east end, far from the madding crowd.

The place Hill of Content is a complex of five luxurious units, each offering accommodation for two – ideal for a romantic getaway. Its bushland setting is idyllic, with the upstairs loft units commanding views across the eastern end of the island. The accommodation is set among lovely gardens, which were once a potato field in the grounds of the original Rhyll Post Office.

The experience Content Cottage – the largest of the five units – comes complete with fluffy towels, bathrobes and lemon-myrtle shampoo. A great bathroom, ultra-modern kitchen, huge flat-screen TV and a king-size bed conspire to outdo all the comforts of home. Should the outdoors beckon, a whole world of natural wonders is on offer: swimming, surfing, fishing, sightseeing, nature walks, the penguins (of course) as well as an abundance of other wildlife.

Don’t miss … a dusk stroll along the mangrove boardwalks at Conservation Hill, five minutes’ drive away. And if you like fishing but don’t have the time (or skill), try the Rhyll Trout Bush Tucker Farm (03 5956 9255;, an eco-friendly, award-winning attraction right across the road from Hill of Content. You can catch your own trout or simply buy fresh (or freshly smoked) fish – no one need leave empty-handed.   Bill Farr

Cost: lofts from $250 a night; Content Cottage from $330 a night.
Distance: about 140km south of Melbourne.
Sleeps: 1-2.
Children: no.
Wheelchair access: limited.


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GM mosquitoes show fever promise

Pakistan is the latest country to see a dengue outbreak, with thousands of cases in Lahore alone

Genetically modified mosquitoes could prove effective in tackling dengue fever and other insect-borne diseases, a UK-based scientific team has shown.

The male mosquitoes are modified so their offspring die before reproducing.

In a dengue-affected part of the Cayman Islands, researchers found the GM males mated successfully with wild females.

In Nature Biotechnology journal, they say such mating has not before been proven in the wild, and could cut the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Dengue is caused by a virus transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito as it bites.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there may be 50 million cases each year, and the incidence is rising, with some countries reporting what the WHO terms “explosive” outbreaks.

As yet, there is no vaccine.

Radiation damage

As far back as the 1940s, it was realised that releasing sterile males into the wild could control insects that carried disease or were agricultural pests.

The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry dengue cannot be curbed by bednets or indoor spraying

When females breed with the sterile males rather than wild fertile ones, there will be no viable offspring, meaning there are fewer mosquitoes around to transmit the disease.

In the 1950s, the screwworm fly was eradicated from the Caribbean island of Curacao using males sterilised by radiation.

But the technology has not worked so well with disease-carrying insects.

Generally, the sterilising process weakens the males so much that they struggle to mate; the wild males are dominant.

Oxitec, a company spun off from Oxford University, uses a genetic engineering approach.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

This study is the first to show that the mosquito population could be suppressed this way”

End Quote
Dr Raman Velayudhan

Offspring of their GM males live through the larval stage but die as pupae, before reaching adulthood.

In the latest study, the research group – which includes scientists from Imperial College London and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine – released batches of GM mosquitoes in 2009 in an area of the Cayman Islands where Aedes aegypti are common, and dengue sometimes present.

A proportion of the eggs collected from the study area in subsequent weeks carried the introduced gene, meaning the biotech mosquitoes had mated successfully.

The GM males made up 16% of males in the study area, and fathered 10% of the larvae; so they were not quite as successful as the wild males, but not significantly worse.

“We were really surprised how well they did,” said Luke Alphey, Oxitec’s chief scientific officer and a visiting professor at Oxford University.

“For this method, you just need to get a reasonable proportion of the females to mate with GM males – you’ll never get the males as competitive as the wild ones, but they don’t have to be, they just have to be reasonably good.”

The GM larvae also carry a fluorescent gene that distinguishes them from wild relatives

“This study is the first to show that the mosquito population could be suppressed this way,” said Dr Raman Velayudhan, a WHO dengue expert.

“The fitness level is much better [compared with previous attempts] – it is almost the same as in wild mosquitoes,” he told BBC News.

Cognizant that genetic engineering is a technology that carries the potential for risks as well as benefits, the WHO is finalising guidance on how GM insects should be deployed in developing countries, which it expects to release by the end of the year.

The “death gene” is turned off during rearing in Oxford – and turned on in the field

The field seems to be hotting up, with other research groups recently creating Anopheles mosquitoes that are immune to the malaria parasite they normally carry, and making male Anopheles that lack sperm.

Malaria is a prime target for these approaches simply because it is such an important disease; but arguably it is more needed in diseases such as dengue where there are few alternatives.

“For malaria, there are effective alternatives like bednets, but they won’t work for dengue because the mosquitoes bite during daytime,” said Dr Alphey.

“We don’t advocate [GM mosquitoes] as a ‘magic bullet’ that will solve all dengue in one go, so the question is how it fits in as part of an integrated programme – and for dengue, it would be a huge component of an integrated programme.”

Funding for the Oxitec approach has come from a number of sources including private investors, charities, Oxford University and governments, and the Cayman Islands authorities were willing to take part in the field trial.

Death by feedback

The genetic approach used to create the mosquitoes is a system known as tetracycline-controlled transcriptional activation (tTA).

The tTA gene is spliced into the insect’s genome in such a way that the protein it makes increases the gene’s activity – a positive feedback loop.

The cells make more and more tTA protein – and in doing so, have little capacity for making any other proteins. Eventually, this kills the insects.

When the male larvae are reared at Oxitec, this process is turned off by keeping them in water containing the antibiotic tetracycline, which inhibits the feedback process.

When the males breed in the wild, however, tTA genes in their offspring are fully active.

In principle, a process that allows larvae to hatch and stay alive for many days should be more advantageous than the traditional approach of producing infertile eggs, as the larvae will consume food that could otherwise be used by viable larvae from the union of wild males and females.

The next step in the work is to demonstrate that deploying GM males does suppress the insect population enough that it is likely to have an impact on dengue incidence.

Dr Alphey said results from a project last year in the Cayman Islands suggested this had been achieved.

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Nature’s copycats flood the world

Nature has been designing the world for billions of years

Since the dawn of time, nature has been working hard, engineering everyone and everything to the highest standards on Earth.

Dragonflies that can propel themselves in any direction, sharks with skin with tiny scales that help them swim faster, termites able to build dens that always keep a steady and comfortable temperature inside – those examples are just a drop in the ocean of amazing nature-designed solutions.

Continue reading the main story

Granted, there have been a few individual attempts to copy nature’s designs.

For instance, back in the 15th Century, Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci looked at birds’ anatomy while sketching his “flying machine”.

His device never took off, but the Wright brothers did manage to build the first aeroplane in 1903 – after years of observing pigeons.

Still, several decades had to pass before businesses began realising that nature could really help them too.

Probably one of the most notable nature-inspired technologies of the last century is the well-known hook-and-loop fastener, Velcro. The man who invented it, Swiss George de Mestral, is said to have been inspired by burrs he constantly removed from his dog’s fur.

Innovation and copycats

But it wasn’t until the late 20th Century, that many firms really started to devote time, money and often an entire team of designers, specifically charged with looking at biological solutions to technological hurdles they came across.

“It is important to look at nature – after all, it has had 3.8 billion years to come up with ideas,” says Janine Benyus, a natural history writer who coined the term “biomimicry” in 1998.

Solar cells that function just like leaves on a tree are a lot more efficient and can work even in low light

Ms Benyus was the first person to really describe this emerging science in her book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.

She says that after the book went viral, entrepreneurs from all over the world started calling her, seeking advice on resolving a particular issue in a non-traditional, nature-copying way.

So the world’s first Biomimicry Institute was set up in 2005, with a team of consultants trained to help businesses.

“They come in, we learn what it is they’re trying to do, and we look for that same function in the natural world – we do huge biological literature searches,” says Ms Benyus.

“And then we say: ‘Well, that’s how nature has done it for 3.8 billion years!’

“And it’s always a lot less energy, a lot less material, no toxins – a lot better.”

Ms Benyus’s clients range from Nasa to a multitude of companies of many different domains.

Continue reading the main story

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Human beings have demonstrated a terrible track record of maintaining environmental balance in trying to solve ‘problems’”

End Quote
Lisa Welch

According to a well-known economist Lynn Reaser, on the global scale by 2025, biomimicry could affect about $1tn (£621 bn) of annual gross domestic product, and account for up to 1.6 million US jobs.

Butterfly’s wings

“There are three types of biomimicry – one is copying form and shape, another is copying a process, like photosynthesis in a leaf, and the third is mimicking at an ecosystem’s level, like building a nature-inspired city,” says Ms Benyus.

Businesses are usually interested in the first two categories, she adds – and a great example of the shape-based type is the Mirasol displays produced by a US mobile phone chip maker, Qualcomm.

Unlike regular screens with backlight or e-ink, these displays, which are still being developed, create colour by mimicking the way a butterfly’s wings reflect sunlight.

Researchers mimic humpback whale’s flippers to build turbine blades – but one day there could be biomimetic aeroplane wings, helicopter blades, ship rudders and propellers

The displays play video just like any other tablet or smartphone, but have a much longer battery life and softer-for-the-eyes effect of e-ink readers.

“The innovation has been inspired by the same natural principles that enable the reflective shimmer you see from a butterfly’s wings or a peacock’s feather,” says Cheryl Goodman, senior marketing director of Qualcomm.

Qualcomm’s mirasol displays imitate the way a butterfly’s wings shimmer

She explains that all the displays need for illumination is ambient light, thus being “both low power and viewable in a variety of lighting environments, including direct sunlight”.

The company says that the products are pretty much ready and just need some final touches before appearing on the market – with a number of firms already toying with idea of using them in their products.

Trains with beaks

Ms Benyus says that besides Qualcomm, many other companies call her team of consultants on a daily basis, asking them to sift through the lengthy archive of our planet’s extensive history.

She lists just a few examples.

For instance, a Canadian firm Whalepower mimics humpback whale flippers and uses the principle on wind turbines and fans, reducing the drag and increasing the lift.

A paint company Lotusan applies the lotus effect, mimicking the shape of the bump on a lotus leaf.

Lotus leaves are self-cleaning – they have tiny bumps that help remove the dirt when it rains.

Lodafen uses the principle in architecture designs – and in Europe, there are more than 350,000 buildings that have this kind of paint.

The design of the high-speed Shinkansen bullet train in Japan was inspired by the beak of a kingfisher

“And of course the high-speed train, Shinkansen bullet train in Japan – instead of having a rounded front, it has something that looks like a beak of a kingfisher, a bird that goes from air to water, one density of medium to another,” she adds.

Continue reading the main story

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Nature possesses infinite patience in developing and perfecting processes”

End Quote
Marc Thomas
CEO of Dyesol

“So as the train enters a tunnel, it’s quieter because there is no pressure wave as with ordinary trains; and it uses 15% less electricity, too.”

Leaves and solar cells

She pauses momentarily, and then goes on to describe in detail a process-based type of biomimicry – solar cells that copy the natural process of photosynthesis, or creating energy from sunlight, in leaves.

When Professor Michael Graetzel from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland applied it to solar cells, he won the 2010 Millennium Prize.

He called his creation a dye-sensitized solar cell, or DSSC.

The main difference from a traditional solar cell is that DSSC does not require high-energy consuming silicon, but is instead made of titanium dioxide, used in white paint and toothpaste.

Plywood made by Columbia Forest Products uses an adhesive called purebond – inspired by adhesives made by blue mussels

The dye in cells absorbs light just like chlorophyll in photosynthesis, releasing an electron that is conducted by the chemical electrolyte in the cell.

And while silicon solar cells require direct sunlight to generate electricity, DSSC uses any light, and works even in very low light conditions indoors or outdoors, and regardless of the panel’s orientation.

It can then power a broad range of electronic devices such as remote controls, wireless keyboards, mobile phones, e-readers, and much more.

“Nature possesses infinite patience in developing and perfecting processes, including those to produce energy such photosynthesis, and by mimicking and adapting [them] we can develop technology that is useful, low cost and aligns to our fragile environment,” says Marc Thomas, CEO of Dyesol, the company that makes the cells.

Colliding birds

Glass is a well-known hazard for birds, continues Ms Benyus.

On the left is how a bird would see the glass – which looks absolutely transparent to humans

A US glass maker Ornilux decided to tackle this problem by observing spiders.

Certain species of spiders, in particular the Orb Weaver, have certain ultraviolet-reflective materials in their webs’ silk, to warn birds about the web’s presence.

Birds may not see a regular web, but they spot UV-reflective materials very clearly, thus avoiding destroying the web and the spider’s prey.

“It is the reflective and transparent properties of glass that make it dangerous for birds,” says Lisa Welch of Ornilux.

“Birds do not ‘see’ the glass, but instead respond to reflections of sky and vegetation on the glass, seeing a tree to land on or a flight path to the sky.

“The way to make glass visible to birds is to create visual markers on the glass, alerting them to the presence of a solid object.”

Using UV-reflective materials on the glass was a solution – the window stays transparent to people, but not to birds.

A number of buildings around Europe and North America now sport this ingenious glass, possibly saving many birds’ lives.

“I’m sure all of the answers to what we are wanting to solve exist in some form or another, in nature,” says Ms Welch.

“Inherently, nature provides balanced, symbiotic solutions.

“Human beings have demonstrated a terrible track record of maintaining environmental balance in trying to solve ‘problems’.

“So copying nature may just be the way to go.”

Scientists study insects in order to mimic their locomotion and build insect-like robots

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The Nature Conservancy names top "Comeback" species – WCSH


BRUNSWICK, Maine (NEWS CENTER) – An organization that works to protect wild animals and the environment has listed its top 5 regional natural elements that have returned from the brink of extinction.

The list is being released as part of The Nature Conservancy’s 60th anniversary.

5. Georges Bank haddock – The Nature Conservancy (TNC) says the haddock was driven to near collapse in the early 1990s but the spawning population has increased 10 fold in the past two decades. TNC credits regional managers and fishermen for the greater haddock stewardship.

4. Wild turkey – The turkey is native to Maine but disappeared by the 1800s. Thanks to measures taken starting in 1942, the population has grown to roughly 60,000.

3. Alewife – More than a million river herring migrated up the Kennebec River this year. TNC says that’s because the Edwards Dam was removed 10 years ago. Conservationists are hoping for a similar recovery along the Penobscot River in the years to come.

2. Forests – TNC says Maine is currently about 90% forested, that’s more than a century ago and nearly as much as 17th century amounts.

1. Bald Eagles – TNC says more than 400 breeding pairs of blad eagles now live in Maine. State biologists say that in the early 60s, there were roughly 30. Conservationists say the increase is a direct result of the ban of the pesticide DDT, which causes eggs to develop thin shells.

TNC says the overall greatest recoveries are:

  • Bald Eagles
  • Eastern U.S. Forests
  • Clean Air
  • Mauritius Kestrel
  • Cuyahoga River Valley Lake Erie
  • Gray Whale
  • Gray Wolf
  • Santa Cruz Island Fox
  • Grizzly Bear
  • Southern White Rhino


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Bird and nature lovers set for an enjoyable weekend

KUCHING: It is going to be a big weekend for birds when the 4th Sarawak Bird Race kicks-off this Saturday at the Permai Rainforest Resort, and then ‘migrates’ to the Borneo Highlands Resort the next day.

It also promises to be a big weekend for bird and nature lovers, with side activities being planned for everyone, including adults and children and curious members of the public who wish to know more on birds and biodiversity.

There will also be nature talks by local and international bird experts at Permai Rainforest Resort on Oct 29, to start at 9.30am.

Nils Müller, a biology graduate from Lund University, Germany, who specialises in bird migration and genetics, will share his knowledge and experience about bird migration: why, when and how far they migrate, and how they orientate themselves along their migration route.

As a young lad, he was enthralled by the eerie but fascinating raptors while travelling through the Pyrenees, and his love for ornithology was sealed forever.

Muller believes that bird races are a great way to draw attention to the diversity of birds that surrounds us.

“Birds have the largest range of species on earth and many of them are found in our own backyard! I like to think that learning about birds means learning to appreciate nature and its value to the society,” he said.

He believes that having a majestic bird like the hornbill on the Sarawak Flag showed the inspirational power birds could give.

“With their capability to fly and cover great distances, birds can serve as a great indicator of the state of nature for example, the effects of global warming and human impacts to the fragile environment.

“As we struggle to save endangered birds, we may find that they could possibly provide solutions to save humankind from ourselves,” he said in a press release.

The Malaysian Nature Society Kuching Branch’s Bird Group is jointly holding the 4th Sarawak Bird Race with Borneo Highlands Resort and Rainforest Permai Resort. The race aims to promote bird conservation, the importance of birds in the ecosystems and bird-watching activity among members and the general public. It also aims to promote the Bako-Buntal Bay and Penrissen Range, and Sarawak in general, as ideal places for bird-watching.

Other speakers who will be on hand to share their knowledge and experiences include Dr Pilai Poonswad from Mahidol University, Thailand, who will speak about hornbill conservation, and especially about her work on building artificial nesting boxes for these majestic denizens of the tropical rainforest.

Dr. Charles Leh, the curator of Natural History and Zoology at the Sarawak Museum, will present a talk about the sustainability of swiftlets, while Dr. Lim Chan Koon, an edible nest trader and producer, will speak about edible nest.

Pilai and Leh will be speaking at Permai Rainforest Resort on Oct 29, while Lim at Borneo Highlands Resort on Oct 30 at 12.15pm.

Admission to these nature talks are free and open to the public. The orga-nisers have also invited a Singapore-based nature and wildlife photographer and educator, John Arifin, to run a workshop on using photography to capture wildlife and bird pictures.

He has travelled across Asia to document wildlife, and the culture of Asia in search of a perfect moment to freeze in time.

John has been to various parts of Sarawak and Sabah to explore the nature and birdlife of Borneo. One of the highlights of his trip to Sarawak was to photograph the extremely rare Dulit Frogmouth. The photography workshop will take place at Permai Rainforest Resort on Oct 29 at 9.30am and registration is required.

As some 40 bird-racers’ eyes will be glued to the skies and trees using binoculars and telescopes to spot and identify birds found between Permai Rainforest Resort and Borneo Highlands Resort, the organisers have also lined up activities for children and nature walks, both during day and at night, at both resorts.

Malaysian Nature Society Kuching Branch’s Bird Group secretary Susan Teal said this year’s race promised bigger prizes including an exclusive Leica binoculars valued at more than RM2,000 courtesy of HSBC.

The bird race is still open for registration and those interested are advised to email to or contact Susan Teal at 012-887 4401.

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Bat killer cause traced to fungus

Big-eared bats appear to be immune to white-nose syndrome, for reasons that are not clear

White-nose syndrome (WNS), the disease rampaging its way through the bats of North America, is caused by a fungus, scientists have confirmed.

Researchers from a number of US institutions infected healthy bats with the fungus Geomyces destructans, and found they did develop the disease.

The team also showed that the fungus can pass from one bat to another.

Writing in the journal Nature, they say WNS “has the potential to decimate North American bat populations”.

So far, the disease has killed more than a million bats in the eastern US and Canada since it was first identified in New York state in 2006.

G. destructans is usually found on the animals’ snouts, where it causes a characteristic white colouration and, more signifantly, lesions in the skin.

Although the fungus has been suspected as the disease’s primary cause, researchers have not been able to prove it definitively.

Animals sometimes contract fungal diseases when their immune systems have been compromised, perhaps by a different infection, and this has been seen as a possibility for WNS as well.

The research group, led by David Blehert from the National Wildlife Health Center at the US Geological Survey, appears to have proven the primary role of the fungus.

No ‘magic bullet’

A micrograph of G. destructans shows its branches and conidia (spores)

First, they took little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) that were fit and healthy, and infected them with G. destructans from culture.

Three months after infection, all showed lesions characteristic of WNS.

To determine how the fungus could be transferred from one bat to another, the researchers set up two different experiments.

In one, infected bats could mingle with healthy ones. Nearly 90% of the healthy ones had contracted fungal infection three months on.

In the wild, bats appear to transmit the fungus when they “swarm” in vast groups outside the caves where they will hibernate, literally rubbing shoulders and everything else with their fellows, who may be from a different species or a different cave.

In the other experiment, healthy bats and diseased ones were put in neighbouring cages separated by 1.3cm.

Here, the fungus did not spread, indicating that infectious spores are not airborne.

The researchers hope that confirming the disease’s cause will enable agencies to concentrate on ways to halt its advance.

Continue reading the main story

White-nose syndrome

  • WNS is associated with a fungus known as Geomyces destructans - and the new research confirms it as the cause
  • Once present in a colony, WNS can wipe out the entire population
  • It was first reported in a cave in New York in February 2006
  • The most common visible symptom of an infected bat is a white fungus on the animal’s nose, but it can also appear on its wings, ears or tail
  • Other symptoms include weight loss and abnormal behaviour, such as flying in daylight or sub-zero temperatures
  • Species known to be vulnerable to WNS include: tri-coloured, little brown, big brown, northern long-eared, small-footed and Indiana bats
  • There is no known risk to human health

(Source: US Fish Wildlife Service)

“There’s unlikely to be any ‘magic bullet’ that we could deploy to block the disease – diseases among free-ranging wildlife are not usually stopped in their tracks when they’re established,” Dr Blehert told BBC News.

But measures could be adopted to reduce transmission by humans, he said, by closing caves and insisting on decontamination when people do go into hibernation sites.

This would probably not stop the disease spreading between neighbouring bat populations that will normally intermingle.

But it could stop people inadvertently taking spores from one side of the continent to another, or even to other continents.

It is generally believed that WNS came to the US this way from Europe, where bats appear to be immune.

Another approach might be to change the environment of the cave subtly, so as to slow the fungal spread while leaving it habitable for bats and other wildlife.

G. destructans appears to like low temperatures and certain levels of humidity; so altering those parameters could retard its growth.

Meanwhile, research goes on into how the fungus actually kills the animals.

“It might be called white-nose syndrome, but when you look closely the most significant damage perhaps is to the wings,” said Dr Blehert.

“These are exquisite organs, external structures made entirely of skin, comprising eight times more skin than is on the rest of the body.

“They play a role in water balance when the bats are hibernating, blood pressure regulation, even passive CO2 exchange with the atmosphere – so if the wings are heavily damaged by the fungus, that might explain its lethality.”

Following frogs

The advance of WNS across North America in some ways parallels the spread of chytridiomycosis, the frequently lethal fungal disease affecting amphibians.

As with chytrid, some species of bat appear immune, or at least resistant. In North America, these include the gray bat and the spectacular Virginia big-eared bat.

Scientists want to understand why they are immune when others such as the little brown bat succumb; and, as is being investigated with chytrid, to see whether this natural immunity can be turned into a defence for vulnerable species.

Chytridiomycosis has wiped many amphibian populations and quite a few entire species off the map; and this research group warns of similar troubles ahead for bats unless WNS is tackled.

“Fungal pathogens have the unique capacity to drive host populations to extinction because of their ability to survive in host-free environments,” they write.

“Given the high mortality rate and speed at which WNS has spread, the disease has the potential to decimate North American bat populations and cause species extinctions similar to those documented for amphibians affected by chytridiomycosis.”

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Descent into darkness: Biologist Carl Herzog heads into an abandoned mine to assess the damage of the killer disease

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Dodge Nature Center, Dakota County at odds over bike trail

The 320-acre Dodge Nature Center has a diverse habitat of wetlands, prairie and woodlands. It has miles of hiking trails, and a working farm and orchard. It offers a nature-based preschool and environmental education programs for all ages.

The center, spread over three sites in West St. Paul and Mendota Heights, also showcases clean, renewable energy. It has a solar panel on display and last week installed a 20-kilowatt wind turbine to generate electricity.

One land feature the nature center does not boast is a paved trail – and its board of directors says it would like to keep it that way.

As Dakota County maps a gap within the North Urban Regional Trail, nature center officials are now saying they do not want the paved bicycle trail cutting through their property.

County and West St. Paul officials consider the route important because it would link Minnesota 110 and Marie Avenue through a natural setting.

Future trail improvements would offer additional links to the Mississippi River Regional Trail in South St. Paul.

But the proposed path would be inconsistent with the center’s vision, said James McCarty, president of its board of directors.

“We’ve wanted to at least work with (the county) – and have worked with them,” he said.

“But when you take a look at our mission and what we stand for – stewardship and environmental education – that came to the forefront for us.”

County staff and elected officials say that the nature center’s decision

came as a surprise – and that as a result, all or part of a $700,000 federal grant awarded to the county in 2008 is in jeopardy.

The county board this month asked staff to explore its legal options, including the use of eminent domain, and to continue to work with the nature center.

“We were a little bit stunned,” county Commissioner Kathleen Gaylord said of the decision. “This has been on the drawing board for 15 years….We’ve had conversations with their benefactress, Olivia Dodge.”

She pointed to a 2007 letter the center’s then-executive director wrote to convey his support for the federal grant application. It reads: “Dodge Nature Center had made a commitment to work with Dakota County on developing a trail corridor that will meet the needs of both parties. This trail is very important to this region for recreation and transportation.”

Steve Sullivan, Dakota County’s parks director, acknowledged there has never been a written agreement in place between the county and the nature center or Olivia Dodge – the late former landowner – that places the trail through the nature center property.

But, he added, “there was a common expectation through our ongoing work that we would find a way on the placement of the trail through the Dodge Nature Center property.”

The 7.7-mile North Urban Regional Trail is a planned east-west corridor that would connect Lilydale and Mendota Heights with West St. Paul and South St. Paul. About six miles are complete, mostly local trails within parks or along local roads.

The county’s 2011 capital improvement program includes the design and construction of the 1.1-mile trail through the nature center property. Tunnels were to take bikers underneath Marie Avenue and Charlton Street to Garlough Park.

County staff worked with the nature center on where to put the trail to lessen the impact on the environment and to set up fair compensation for an easement, Sullivan said.

But when the board considered the amount of volunteer time and money put into the land to restore its habitat value, as well as possible safety factors with bikes “whizzing” past on the trail, the board voted it down, McCarty said.

“A decision was made that a blacktop bicycle path would put at risk the 40,000 children that visit the Dodge Nature Center each year for environmental education – to walk the path in the woods and study nature and be exposed to nature,” he said.

The decision is especially frustrating, Gaylord said, when considering how the county board gave $500,000 of Farmland and Natural Areas Program funds to the nature center in 2008 for the protection of 156 acres, with the understanding the two parties would work together to build a trail segment. The county resolution does not specifically mention that the trail would go through the nature center.

At the time, the nature center was the first private institution accepted into the county’s land conservation program.

“I personally had to change the criteria of the program in order to help preserve the Dodge Nature Center,” Gaylord said. “So I feel a little disheartened by going to bat for them…and now I’m being told, ‘Yeah, but we don’t want to work with you on this trail.’ ”

A meeting among county staff and members of the nature center board and the county board is planned for Oct. 31.

“I’m very hopeful we can come to some resolution,” Gaylord said. “I would hate to lose this opportunity.”

Nick Ferraro can be reached at 651-228-2173. Follow him at

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