Tag Archives: Australia

The Great Barrier Reef’s Great Big Complicated Story

Headlines have portrayed Australia’s bucket-list destination as dead, or dying. But that’s an oversimplification of a complex story—and the most dire threat from tourism may be what you least expect.

Page 53 of my dive log from 1992 contains the details of my 26th scuba dive. For location, I wrote: “study site, Davies Reef, GBR.” Under purpose: “Acanthaster fert expt.” 

At the time, I was a 25-year-old graduate student in marine science at the University of Southern California. I had a berth on a research cruise organized by the Australian Institute of Marine Science to the Great Barrier Reef near Townsville, about midway along its latitudinal expanse. The project’s aim was to understand the population explosion of the sea star Acanthaster planci. These prickly echinoderms have the common name crown of thorns starfish, often shortened to COTS. 

Since the 1960s, swarms of COTS have intermittently infested the Reef, eating coral with the voraciousness of locusts on crops. They were—and still are—among the greatest threats to the coral. Half of the Reef bears scars from COTS outbreaks. 

On dive #26, my job was to scan for COTS, collect them with massive barbecue tongs to avoid getting poked, and return them to the research boat for study. We induced spawning and collected the eggs in a modified giant syringe called a COTSucker. A single female, it would turn out, produces 35 million eggs a year. That kind of fertility is why population control has proven difficult. 

My search target was about the size of a dinner plate, rust- or purple-colored with 8 to 21 arms arrayed around a central disk like petals of a sunflower. During the day, COTS hide in dark crannies. Peeking into those shadows, I met nervous cardinal fish and spider-like feather stars. Sparkling clouds of blue chromis tucked themselves into the arms of branching corals. The pastel lips of giant clams kissed closed as I kicked past.

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Posted by on June 15, 2020 in Reportages


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Australia’s Fires Give Us a Glimpse of What’s Coming

The environmental catastrophe playing out in Australia provides a terrifying glimpse of the “new normal” facing a warming world. Bushfires burning since September have now incinerated over 11.3 million acres, an area bigger than the Netherlands. At the latest count, eighteen people have died, and over a thousand homes have been destroyed.

Yellow smog hangs semi-permanently over major cities, a cloud so toxic that it caused an elderly woman to collapse and later die from respiratory distress after she stepped onto the tarmac of Canberra’s airport. Millions of Australians are being exposed to carcinogenic particles; simply breathing in Sydney’s air has been described as the equivalent of smoking thirty-four cigarettes a day.

Among the devastation, nearly half a billion animals have died, including a sizable proportion of New South Wales’s koalas. Almost certainly, entire species have been wiped out, as fire has swept through ecosystems never before exposed to flames.

Scenes from the affected areas have become increasingly apocalyptic. Tens of thousands of rural residents remain without power. A state of emergency prevails in New South Wales, the third declared in the past few months. In the Victorian disaster zones, people still await extraction by naval vessels.

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Posted by on January 11, 2020 in Oceania


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Turn up the heat on climate change deniers

The new year has started with obvious signs that global warming is not an invention of scientists, as some politicians claim. Devastating bush fires in Australia, destructive floods in Jakarta and a heatwave in Norway that has people sunbathing rather than skiing are proof of climatic conditions having been shaken up.
Yet the doubters have not changed their views, putting their nations’ economies and industries ahead of international efforts to keep temperatures from rising. They need to change their ways or the disastrous consequences of their poor judgment will be ever-more evident.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, like United States President Donald Trump, is a climate change sceptic. He refuses to accept that the fires that have claimed at least two dozen lives and destroyed nearly 2,000 homes in southeastern states are the result of exceptionally hot and dry conditions brought about by global warming.

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Posted by on January 11, 2020 in Asia, Europe, European Union, Oceania


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Australia’s Shame

Let us suppose that I am the heir of an enormous estate. Stories about my generosity abound. And let us suppose that you are a young man, ambitious but in trouble with the authorities in your native land. You make a momentous decision: you will set out on a voyage across the ocean that will bring you to my doorstep, where you will say, I am here—feed me, give me a home, let me make a new life!

Unbeknown to you, however, I have grown tired of strangers arriving on my doorstep saying I am here, take me in—so tired, so exasperated that I say to myself: Enough! No longer will I allow my generosity to be exploited! Therefore, instead of welcoming you and taking you in, I consign you to a desert island and broadcast a message to the world: Behold the fate of those who presume upon my generosity by arriving on my doorstep unannounced!

This is, more or less, what happened to Behrouz Boochani. Targeted by the Iranian regime for his advocacy of Kurdish independence, Boochani fled the country in 2013, found his way to Indonesia, and was rescued at the last minute from the unseaworthy boat in which he was trying to reach Australia. Instead of being given a home, he was flown to one of the prisons in the remote Pacific run by the Commonwealth of Australia, where he remains to this day.

Boochani is not alone. Thousands of asylum-seekers have suffered a similar fate at the hands of the Australians. The point of the fable of the rich man and the supplicant is the following: Is it worse to treat thousands of people with exemplary inhumanity than to treat a single man in such a way? If it is indeed worse, how much worse is it? Thousands of times? Or does the calculus of numbers falter when it comes to matters of good and evil?

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Posted by on November 5, 2019 in Oceania


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Why Australia’s media front pages were blacked out today

Australia’s major media organisations blacked out their newspaper front pages and websites on Monday in a coordinated push for legislative change to protect press freedom and force the government to increase transparency.

According to the organisations – which include SBS, the ABC, Nine, News Corp Australia and The Guardian – a slew of laws introduced over the past 20 years have hindered the media’s capacity to act as the fourth estate and hold the government and other powerful figures to account.

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Posted by on October 31, 2019 in Oceania



Politicians’ reluctance on climate change is bizarre – action would not only be right but popular

Australians want environmental action.

As Katharine Murphy explained a few weeks back, “private polling conducted for the environment movement and for the major parties suggests community concern about climate change is currently sitting at levels not seen since the federal election cycle in 2007”.

A survey commissioned by the Australia Institute showed the majority of voters wanted to mobilise on climate “like they mobilised everyone during the world wars”. That result was consistent around Australia, with 57% of Queenslanders and 60% of Victorians agreeing that the country faced an emergency.

The ABC Vote Compass found the environment ranked as the most important issue by 29% of respondents, up from 9% in 2016.

Why, then, aren’t we seeing the parties in a bidding war to address such concerns?

We know that if focus groups returned equivalent anxieties about refugees, the campaign would devolve into a contest to formulate new techniques for border cruelty.

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Posted by on May 14, 2019 in Oceania, Uncategorized


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Can’t-do country: how Australia is on the brink of environmental disaster

The great Australian clichés: G’day; fair dinkum; dinki-di; fair go; no worries; good on yer; she’ll be right; mateship; whingeing Poms; the lucky country. Only one of these has been known to cause its progenitor any grief. The late Donald Horne’s book The Lucky Country was published in 1964 and became an Australian phenomenon, described by one critic as “a bucket of cold saltwater emptied on to the belly of a dreaming sunbather”.

“Dad was very happy that the phrase caught on,” said Dr Julia Horne, associate professor of social history at the University of Sydney. “But if he was watching TV and saw it being used without irony he would stick his thumbs in his ears and waggle his fingers at the set. A wine started using the name and he couldn’t bear it.

“Much of the luck came from the postwar mineral boom. His point was the luck of the boom would run out. He believed that Australians were forward-thinking but that their politicians and businessmen were stunted creatively and imaginatively.”

Donald Horne died in 2005. Minerals boomed again; Australia is still lucky. Gamblers’ luck. And, as a nation of punters ought to know, that is not something that repeats itself indefinitely.

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Posted by on May 14, 2019 in Oceania, Reportages, Uncategorized


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Islamophobia is practically enshrined as public policy in Australia

The worst terror attack in New Zealand’s modern history took place on Friday, and the alleged perpetrator is an Australian.

Appropriately, this calamity has started a process of deep reflection in the man’s home country. Everywhere, decent Australians are asking, how did we get here? Do we own him?

There has been extensive, international discussion about the role of the online subculture of the far right in these events – the codes, memes and signals of internet-mediated white supremacy.

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Posted by on March 27, 2019 in Oceania


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Church fate

When the royal commission sat for the final time, the church was not there. Senior figures were not present. It fell to a layperson to attend, to Francis Sullivan, whose self-critical stewardship of the Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council has been the only redemption of an institution built on the preaching of forgiveness.

“I think it would have been a real sign of solidarity with the victims if we’d had some members of the hierarchy and senior figures from the church here,” Sullivan said afterwards. “One can only assume they didn’t feel comfortable coming here.”

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Posted by on December 31, 2017 in Oceania


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The Banality of Crimes against Migrants

Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, and Arbitrary Executions, presented animportant new report to the UN General Assembly on Friday. The report is on “Unlawful Death of Refugees and Migrants” — already an unordinary focus for her mandate. In recent years, her office has focused nearly exclusively on counter-terrorism, particularly on deaths by drone attacks.

As she explains, the report concerns “an international crime whose very banality in the eyes of so many makes its tragedy particularly grave and disturbing.” The contention is rather dramatic, and we believe that it is indeed historic, at least as far as reports by UN bodies are concerned.

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Posted by on November 5, 2017 in Uncategorized


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