Calls to classify platypus as ‘threatened species’ as observations drop by a quarter: research | The Canberra Times

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Platypus observations have dropped by nearly a quarter since 1990, sparking calls for the iconic Australian animal to be included on the threatened species register. New research from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) has shown platypus sightings have dropped by 22 per cent nationally since 1990 with New South Wales and Queensland facing the most drastic decline. NSW experienced a 32 per cent reduction while Queensland followed shortly behind with a 27 per cent decline. The research pointed to heavily modified water systems, like the Murray-Darling Basin, to explain why NSW rated so highly. While Victoria recorded a 7 per cent decline statewide, the research said the densely-populated Melbourne area experienced a drop by between 18 and 65 per cent since 1995. The ACT along with South Australia had a zero per cent change during the three-decade period but Dr Tahneal Hawke, a UNSW researcher on the study, said it was likely due to a lack of quality data. The study suggests a number of threats are to blame. Particularly, the creation of new dams, poor river management, land clearing, invasive predators, pollution and suburban sprawl are among the main factors driving the decline. But drought and increased fire weather brought on by climate change was also to blame for the drop in observations. Dr Hawke said the warming weather too presented further problems for the future. “The increase in temperature probably will become a problem for platypus, particularly in the north of the range – they get heat stress above temperatures of about 30 degrees,” Dr Hawke said. “As the climate becomes warmer, their range will probably contract to the areas where they can manage their temperature better.” READ MORE: The threats together mean the future of Australia’s platypus population is under threat. It’s led to calls to list the unique mammal as a threatened species in order to halt further decline. To do that, the platypus will need to be included on the federal government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC). “Any negative impacts [on platypus populations] that might arise from land use change or development will need to be considered before they can be approved,” Dr Hawke said. “It will really improve the recognition of these key threatening processes and there’ll be some attempt to try and reduce them, and also implement some recovery plans in particular areas.” The platypus is a one-of-a-kind species in the world and Dr Hawke said it deserved our protection because of it. “The platypus is a really iconic species, both in terms of its unique morphology and also its evolution,” Dr Hawke said. “I think it’s really a true iconic Australian mammal and I think we have a responsibility, to ourselves and to the rest of the world, to protect that.”


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Early observations of Sick Kids simulated school study reveal challenges in mask storage, crowding

Early observations from a study that looked at a simulated school day have revealed that children faced challenges in storing their masks and keeping a two-metre distance in classes that had more than 15 students. 

In mid-August, the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children conducted a two-day school simulation involving more than 190 children and 15 teachers to see how COVID-19 recommendations (mask-wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene) would work in a school setting. The simulation included students of all ages and included in-class learning sessions, lunch and recess.

While the full results of the study are not yet available, researchers at the hospital released Monday their “initial observations” which show the children were crowded at school entry points, even with staggered entry, and were uncertain where to put their masks during recess, which led to some masks becoming dirty and needing replacement.

The observations also note that it was impossible to maintain a two-metre distance between students unless classrooms were limited to just 12 to 15 students.

“As the return to school has already started, teachers across the province are likely learning, or have already learned, the same observations we made,” Dr. Clyde Matava, co-principal investigator of the study, said in a news release. “We hope the wide release of these initial findings will foster conversations between stakeholders to share invaluable knowledge about school safety that can only be gleaned from real-world settings.”

When it came to the end of the school day, the initial observations note that parents who wanted to talk with teachers in the simulation often did not wear a maskas they picked up their children outside. This forced the parents and teachers to remain at a distance and made communication challenging.

The report also lists several considerations for teachers and schools to make an easier transition into class, including using all available doors for school entry, especially if school administration requires screening at the door and for masks to be stored in clean, marked plastic bag during recess.

The observations also note that staff should limit the amount of time spent in the building as much as possible, meaning leaving immediately after school and going off-site during lunch hours if not supervising the students.

“As the school year progresses, sharing key learnings and best practices from simulations or real-world experiences could help enhance everyone’s safety measures,” said Dr. Michelle Science, co-principal investigator of the study. “Having the flexibility to adjust these safety measures will strengthen our collective response to COVID-19.”

In June, the hospital released a comprehensive guideline for schools to reopen, which included recommendations for screening before students enter the school and an emphasis on hand hygiene, while not recommending the use of face masks.

While these latest observations were not released in a peer-reviewed journal, the researchers plan to have the full report peer reviewed and published in such a publication. These observations were instead meant to serve as “helpful considerations” for schools.

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50 Years Rainfall Observations a Total Blessing(ton)

Volunteer Observer, Ian Dickenson, at the Musselboro (Elverton) Station in Blessington, Tasmania.

Blessington resident Ian Dickenson fell into the role of volunteer rainfall observer for the Bureau of Meteorology’s Musselboro (Elverton) Station in September 1969 after receiving an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“I purchased a farm in Blessington with the support of my family and arrived after the previous owners had left the property,” he said.

“I noticed there was a note left on the sink with the BOM literature advising me that this was now my job.”

And from there a second calling was discovered for the life-long farmer, one which has seen him recording weather observations for the Bureau for 50 years covering some major weather events for Tasmania, including dry periods in 1985; the floods of June 2016; and recently, the heaviest snow he can remember seeing in his five decades on the farm.

The process, he says, is an easy one that sees him head out to the rain gauge in his ute, record the daily total, enter the data into his diary then onto a Bureau data sheet later that day, before posting the sheet to the Bureau at the end of the month.

So what motivated him to do this day-after-day for 50 years?

“My father was a very generous man in respect of contributing to his community and I guess some of that must have rubbed off on me,” he said.

“I believe the information provided to all of us by the Bureau of Meteorology is important especially for the primary industries; our businesses’ viability largely depend on what the weather dishes up, so if providing rainfall records helps in some small way, I am happy to do it.

“At age 76 there are some jobs on the farm that do become more taxing, but provided I can still get in and out of my ute to read the rain gauge, this [observing] will be one of the last jobs to go.”

In recognition of his outstanding contribution, Ian Dickenson will be presented with a Bureau of Meteorology Rainfall Excellence Award at a ceremony at the Bureau’s Hobart office on 18 August.

Bureau of Meteorology Manager of Hazard Preparedness and Response South, Simon McCulloch, said Dickenson’s commitment over the last fifty years has been essential to the Bureau.

“Our volunteer observers provide an important service that the Bureau relies on to deliver crucial weather and forecasting services across Australia, as well as strengthen our long-term understanding of Australia’s climate,” he said.

“It’s fantastic to see dedicated volunteers such as Ian Dickenson taking the time to assist the Bureau in such a manner, especially as we know these volunteer duties are on top of their full-time jobs or other personal commitments.

“I want to thank him for the great work he has done for the Bureau and the Tasmanian community.”


  • Musselboro (Elverton) Station originally opened as a flood warning station (flood occurring on the North Esk River) in November 1950 with reports sent via telegram by observer Louis F Stevenson.
  • It became an official rainfall observing station in 1969 when Mr Ian Dickenson took over the Blessington farm.
  • Average annual rainfall for this station: 827 mm
  • Highest annual total: 1187.6 mm in 1970
  • Lowest annual total: 548.3 mm in 1982

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