Image: IMAS researcher Sarah Ugalde.

Research stories

The following stories relate to Tasmania’s Research sector.

Balloon threat for seabirds

Tasmanian scientists have identified balloons as the highest-risk plastic threat to seabirds, and they are 32 times more likely to kill than the ingestion of hard plastics. The research is a collaboration between the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, CSIRO and the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre. Scientists looked at the cause of death of 1,733 seabirds and found that one third had ingested marine debris. Furthermore, a seabird ingesting a single piece of plastic had a 20 per cent chance of mortality, which rose to 50 per cent for nine items, and 100 per cent for 93 items. Scientists also found that while hard plastic accounts for most debris ingested, it is far less likely to kill than soft plastics, such as balloons. Research leader, Dr Lauren Roman said: “Balloons, or balloon fragments, were the marine debris most likely to cause mortality, and they killed almost one in five of the seabirds that ingested them.”

19 March 2019, Edition 203

Tassie shines in Japan

Premier Will Hodgman has returned from his trade mission to Japan calling it “an important opportunity to showcase the best of our state and support Tasmanian businesses in this key export market". He said key advances include a new Memorandum of Understanding between Tasmania and Japan to pursue research and field trials into Japanese vegetable crop growing in Tasmania. The trade mission also included discussions with Japan’s National Institute of Polar Research on the potential for establishing an office in Hobart and enhancing Antarctic and southern ocean research exchange. Local producers also took centre stage at FOODEX, which is Asia's largest exhibition of food and drink products, along with discussions about ways to promote investment in primary industries, forestry and mining. “With more than 80 per cent of Tasmania’s international exports in Asian markets - and Japan now our second largest export market - it is vital that we maintain and enhance our connections with this key market,” the Premier said.

19 March 2019, Edition 203

Artificial kelp reefs unlock secrets

Artificial reefs could help preserve Tasmania’s famous giant kelp forests, with scientists hoping the reefs may shed light on why seaweed ecosystems are being degraded around the world. Researchers from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) in Hobart built an array of artificial reefs off Tasmania’s East Coast where kelp forests have been impacted by climate change and invasive sea urchins. They want to test how adult kelp, at different densities and sizes, modify their physical environment and influence juveniles. Lead researcher, Dr Cayne Layton, said: “Increasingly kelp are being threatened by stressors such as ocean warming, urbanisation and pollution … We built a series of artificial reefs and transplanted kelp at different densities and patch sizes, recording how the environment within these patches differed and how that influenced the juvenile kelp.”

14 February 2019, Edition 202

Engineering cousins’ global exposure

Two young engineering cousins are putting Tasmania on the international stage. Former Launceston College student Isaac Brain, and his cousin Mitch Torok, from Rosny College in Hobart, won the engineering category in a prestigious national accolade – the 2019 BHP Foundation Science and Engineering Awards – for their aWear watch prototype that gives protection to the elderly who are in danger of falling. Isaac and Mitch now head to the USA in May to compete against finalists from 80 countries at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Arizona. The cousins’ prototype watch issues an alert if a person falls, and this is sent to nursing staff via SMS. Isaac told The Examiner they developed their watch to protect Mitch’s 89-year-old great grandmother: “Our main inspiration was Mitch’s great grandmother, who lives by herself. I did the software and Mitch did the hardware.” The cousins now hope to conduct testing with residents in nursing homes.

14 February 2019, Edition 202

Boost for MS research

Tasmania continues to lead the way with research into Multiple Sclerosis (MS), with the announcement of two new projects at the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute for Medical Research. Alice Saul will explore the effects of diet on MS and said: “Many people with MS modify their diet, or use an MS-specific diet, but there is a low evidence base that what is eaten has an impact on the disease’s progression and symptoms. I will examine the role that diet has for people living with MS by working with the Auslong Study – an internationally unique group of people who were recruited soon after they had initial symptoms suggesting they would develop MS.” It is hoped Saul’s work will make a significant contribution to those living with MS by enhancing their quality of life. A second research project, led by Dr Yuan Zhou, is working to demystify why the prevalence of MS is much higher in females than males. Three quarters of all people with MS are women.

14 February 2019, Edition 202

Home batteries light up future

The potential for home battery systems to balance the supply of electricity, thereby replacing the reliance on large generators, is the focus of a research project valued at $1.8 million being led by the University of Tasmania (UTAS). Scientists will work with industry and international partners to develop the functionality of devices, such as home battery systems, to mimic the role large generators play in electricity supply. Currently, generators – including coal-fired power plants and hydro generators – work to sustain the balance in supplying electricity. Project lead and UTAS engineering researcher, Associate Professor Evan Franklin, said: “In Australia, there are currently about 50,000 batteries in homes, where two or three years ago there were practically none … Projections are one in five households will have a battery installed in the next 15 or so years.”

14 February 2019, Edition 202

Views sought on GMO-free status

Leatherwood tree with bee

Brand Tasmania Partners are being urged to have their say on what our GMO-free status means for Tasmania’s brand. Read more

19 December 2018, Partner Connections

Research to restore giant kelp forests

The Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) and the Climate Foundation are researching the possibility of restoring Tasmania’s iconic giant kelp forests, which have almost disappeared due to ocean warming. It will assess whether remaining individual healthy giant kelp, along Tasmania’s East Coast, can form the basis for both restoration and a possible marine permaculture industry. IMAS Professor, Craig Johnson, said more than 95 per cent of the giant kelp forests that once dominated Tasmania’s East Coast have been lost due to climate change: “The primary driver of the decline in our giant kelp forests has been the extension of the East Australian Current (EAC) into Tasmanian waters as the ocean climate in eastern Tasmania warmed. Over just a few decades the extensive, rich and dense kelp forests that were once an iconic feature of the East Coast have been reduced to a few isolated patches.”

7 December 2018, Edition 201

Ohio boost for Tassie devils

A zoo in the US has increased its commitment to Tasmanian devil conservation. The Toledo Zoo, in Ohio, is more than halfway through a five-year, $500,000 agreement to fund annual population-monitoring surveys of the endangered animals through the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program. The zoo has committed an additional $50,000 a year for three years, to fund targeted surveys of wild devil populations for genetic mapping. Toledo Zoo President, Jeff Sailer, said: "We've done a lot of work with them over the last three and a half years, and we're seeing that benefit the devils in a big way. It's a great opportunity for the zoo to work directly in conserving an iconic species like the devil." The Toledo Zoo is also home to three Tasmanian devils: 18-month-old female ‘Bubbles’, and young male ‘Superman’, who recently joined six-year-old male, ‘Nugget’.

7 December 2018, Edition 201

Rocks challenge Tasmania’s origin

The striking similarities between the geology of Tasmania, and the USA’s Grand Canyon, has led scientists to challenge theories about how Tasmania was formed. After five years of research, Dr Jack Mulder – a University of Tasmania graduate and now researcher at Monash University – believes Tasmania may have been connected to the west coast of America hundreds of millions of years ago, when the two landmasses were joined as part of the super-continent, Rodinia. After years of examining the rocks around Tasmania’s north west, Dr Mulder found them to be very different to those of a similar age on the mainland. An international search eventually led the research team to the Grand Canyon, where they discovered a perfect geological match. Dr Mulder theorises that when Rodinia started to break up around 700 million years ago, Tasmania travelled from the US to Australia. He told The Advocate: “We think that probably happened when the Pacific Ocean began to open, and Tasmania got plucked off the US.”

9 November 2018, Edition 200

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