Australia How scientists and traditional owners are working to protect the wildlife of the NT's remote Wessel Islands
Indigenous leaders warn of deaths, loss of culture if COVID-19 spreads in remote Aboriginal communities
Indigenous leaders in remote communities want governments around the country to stick with COVID-19 movement restrictions until most First Nations people are vaccinated, to prevent the virus spreading "like a bushfire" to their regions when borders reopen. They want internal travel restrictions to prevent people from bringing the virus into remote and regional communities and Aboriginal homelands that have limited medical services, telecommunications and often overcrowded, substandard housing.
You wouldn't think shooting a dolphin could help to save it.
But marine scientist Carol Palmer is using a specially converted rifle to collect tiny DNA skin samples from rare snubfin and humpback dolphins and false killer whales off Arnhem Land's remote Wessel Islands.
"The Wessel Archipelago is probably one of the most unique places in the Northern Territory, because it's so remote, and because we're recording dolphins, whales, turtles and manta rays — we've recorded some amazing species here," said Dr Palmer, a Research Associate at Charles Darwin University.
The remote British island hoping for more visitors
The territory of St Helena, which has remained coronavirus-free, wants a big rise in tourists.The English couple had been sailing around the world prior to the start of the pandemic, when they arrived at the British Overseas Territory island of St Helena, in the middle of the south Atlantic.
The university and Gumurr Marthakal Aboriginal rangers have teamed up to document the species and investigate why this is a biodiversity hotspot.
They expect to prove the marine megafauna around the Wessels are genetically separate populations to those on Australia's east and west coasts.
Dr Palmer said that would mean the Wessels and other similar hotspots along Australia's northern coastline would need to be protected individually if these species were to survive long-term.
"With a few more DNA skin samples I'm sure we'll find the false killer whale population here is a coastal population, and then we can upgrade its conservation status," she said.
"Also with the dolphins, we'll be able to confirm that we have discrete populations, and then that will mean we should have a really different management approach."
Remote work is bringing the city to the suburbs
How working from home is changing the suburbs as we know them.More people spending more of their time in Watertown has meant more urban amenities, like trendy stores, coffee shops, and even a potential food co-op, for the once sleepy suburban community. Developers are buying up real estate there in the hope that it will become a destination for the life science and innovation sectors. A once defunct mall is currently being converted into mixed-use space full of retail, residences, and restaurants that act more like a downtown than Watertown’s actual downtown.
At the moment, Australian false killer whales are officially listed as "data deficient", while snubfin dolphins are considered "vulnerable".
The partners are also attaching satellite tags to track the movement of large male green turtles, which they think are declining around the islands.
Marine life facing growing threats
To Marthakal ranger Marcus Mungal Lacey and the Wessels' Yolngu traditional owners, the marine animals aren't just important creatures in their homelands, but also as ancestor spirits.
"This place is a centre point for the clans on the mainland, because of the important totemic animals that created this area and play a major part in all the cultural creation stories," he said.
At the moment the rangers have just two vessels to cover a 15,000 square kilometre area.
The Wessels are a three- to five-hour boat ride from their base on Elcho Island, 530 kilometres east of Darwin.
Washington, District of Cats: US capital first city to count its felines
A striped feline leaps from a rock under the shade of a tree on a late October morning. Shain said HRA recommends that cat owners keep their feline friends indoors only in order to keep them safe and avoid damaging wildlife. "I was pleased to see how many people actually follow that advice," she said.To count all the cats who call the seat of American power home, researchers surveyed more than 2,600 residents, analyzed animal shelter records, walked along specific routes in search of cats and set up wildlife cameras in more than 1,500 spots."This is probably the most thorough analysis of cats of any city in the world," Flockhart said.
Mr Lacey said the rangers were extremely worried by increasing threats from overfishing, marine rubbish and abandoned fishing nets.
"The main threat is from ghost nets torn from fishing boats left drifting by the current — it's pretty dangerous for the animals," he said.
The rangers and scientists are also worried about the growing threat from climate change.
"The weather is heating up and the sea is heating up, but there's nothing we can do except turn away from all the things that are causing climate change," Dr Palmer said.
Future funding hopes
The research partners are being helped by ranger groups from Kakadu, Cobourg, Darwin and the Tiwi Islands, and several other Australian universities.
They are hoping the information they collect will help convince governments to allocate more resources to protecting northern waters.
"The work that will come out from this will hopefully bring in more funding for more further work that needs to be done," Mr Lacey said.
"It's one of the last frontiers in our country and it needs to be well looked after, but we need to be able to get the work done to look after it properly."
Rising sea levels push Torres Strait Islanders Paul and Pabai to take legal action against the Australian government
In a case never before seen in Australia, Paul Kabai and Pabai Pabai's legal team will argue the Federal Court should require Australia to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level that will prevent Torres Strait Islanders from harm. Their case was filed this week in the Federal Court in Victoria.For many of the traditional owners of the archipelago's islands, the effects of climate change are a daily occurrence, with coastal erosion, storms, floods and king tides all worsening.
Dr Palmer said: "There has been so little work done across the Northern Territory in the marine world, so we are hoping that this kickstarts an ongoing program that would be equivalent to what's going on [at] Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, and the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland."
A refuge for endangered mammals
On the Wessel's rocky outcrops, the rangers and scientists are also tracking some of Australia's last populations of endangered animals, including the golden bandicoot and northern quoll.
"These places are really important refuges for our wildlife because they don't have a lot of the threats that we get on mainland Australia — cane toads, feral cats, pigs, horses and cattle," said Sam Banks, Charles Darwin University's Director of Environment Research.
"Seeing quolls, golden bandicoots and rock wallabies hopping around the beaches is just amazing.
"It's wildlife like you don't see any more in other parts of the country."
The partners are planning more bushfire prevention work after three-quarters of mammal habitat on Marchinbar, the largest of the Wessel islands, was destroyed last year.
To check whether the small size of the quoll and bandicoot populations are putting them at risk of diseases caused by inbreeding, the scientists are taking tiny DNA samples from their ears.
'Deaf ears': Wilcannia's pleas for pandemic preparation were dismissed
Leaked documents reveal a litany of failures in the system to protect Aboriginal communities, which left the remote town of Wilcannia exposed despite high-level warnings stretching back up to 18 months. Marjorie Whyman was out of options when COVID-19 arrived in her New South Wales outback town.She escaped with her family to this run-down property when the virus was detected in Wilcannia in August, two months after the highly infectious Delta strain started spreading from Sydney's wealthy eastern suburbs.
They think some of them may benefit from being paired up with different mates.
"With small numbers of animals, you can lose genetic diversity or get patterns of inbreeding happening fairly quickly," Professor Banks said.
"The Marchinbar Island population in particular actually has a very low genetic diversity."
Professor Banks said the Tasmanian devil facial tumour was an example of a disease that could come out of left field, and "you just don't have that adaptability to deal with it".
"So what's tended to happen in other parts of the world has been translocating animals from other islands, just to reintroduce a little bit of new genetic material," he said.
Traditional owners want to return
No-one has lived on the Wessel islands since the 1960s, after smallpox brought by seafarers and cyclones destroyed the small communities.
But the traditional owners' rock art chronicles thousands of years of trading with Indonesian sea cucumber fishermen, sea hunting, passing sailing vessels, dolphins, fish and dugongs.
"This is our museum and a library where everything is stored," Mr Lacey said.
"The paintings tell volumes of in-depth knowledge but highly spiritual knowledge."
Traditional owner Frank Warrindjuna Gandangu said seeing the paintings, after many years away from the islands, had increased his desire for his people to be able to return to live there.
"The land is always waiting, the land is also calling," he said.
"There's a positive energy that flows from that painting, to give strength, to say: this is your home, this is where you belong."
The climate clock: What's the world's carbon budget, and what's Australia's share?
This is the world's gameplan for averting the worst of climate change: staying within a safe "carbon budget" as we shift to green energy. But how are the numbers crunched? And how will countries divvy it up at COP26?The dinosaurs didn't have an early-warning system for their climate-changing crisis, but we do. It's been going off since at least the 1950s, when the first measurements found too much planet-warming carbon dioxide was being pumped into the atmosphere. And we've known how to fix it since the 1980s, with the emergence of renewable energy technology to replace CO2-belching fossil fuels.
Plans for island ranger base
For that to happen, the Aboriginal clans would need infrastructure upgrades, including a new airstrip.
The Marthakal rangers hope to establish a permanent ranger base on Marchinbar as a first step towards being able to monitor the environment and cultural heritage there more closely.
"We have to come back home to take care of it and work together with the rangers and all the other teams that are working to save our country," Mr Gandangu said.
Gallery: Beautiful wildlife driven to extinction (StarsInsider)
How our CBDs are likely to evolve post-COVID .
With CBDs bearing the brunt of restrictions and working from home arrangements during the pandemic, experts say they may look different in the future.He has 10 cafes in Melbourne's CBD, all underneath office towers.