Sunday, 22 May 2016

Nice weather for ducks

Radjah shelduck (Tadorna radjah) with ducklings
Earlier this week I noticed a heads up from Oz Cyclone Chasers about a possible "North Australian Rain Event", and was looking forward to some decent rains. Our Wet Season was well below average so the region really needed a good drenching, and the weekend has certainly delivered.

Overnight rains were particularly heavy, with Cairns Airport ending up with 118mm in the 24 hours to 9am this morning. Up in Cooktown the 9am total was a whopping 210mm, while Innisfail received 132mm. Rains eased today with Cairns Airport currently reading 12mm since 9am. The rain is set to stay around until Tuesday, with some heavy periods expected. Another 100+mm would be nice to see.


According to the Bureau of Meteorology website, Lake Morris, the main Cairns water supply, was at 82.3% on 18 May. Hopefully will see a bit of an upward spike in the next couple of days..


Saturday, 30 April 2016

Waiting to die



The bullets that will kill the Great Barrier Reef were fired long ago.

The delay between CO2 emission and its full warming effect is about 40 years. Even a complete elimination of emissions tomorrow will mean we will continue to see warming through to the middle of the century. We are, of course, not going to stop emissions any time soon. We have already committed to continued warming through until the middle of the century.

As the atmosphere warms due to our emissions, other factors will drive variability around that warming trend. While the size of that variation may not increase, the temperatures reached will inexorably rise. That variation will allow people to point at short periods and claim that the warming has stopped or even gone into reverse. They'll be wrong.

We've had the usual idiots writing in to the Cairns Post to argue that the recent high temperatures are just the result of El Nino, but of course they're (willfully?) ignorant on this point. While El Nino is causing a spike, we've given the temperatures reached due to that spike a leg up. A return to neutral or La Nina conditions will see temperatures fall back a bit, but even these will be elevated from what they would otherwise be.

Coral bleaching has struck along the Great Barrier Reef, particularly in the northern section between Cooktown and the Torres Strait. It is less severe the further south you go, but the bleaching extends south past the Great Barrier Reef, with even Sydney Harbour's two species of coral experiencing bleaching. The bleaching also extends around Australia's north to Western Australia.

Footage coming out from Lizard Island is particularly depressing. The above video shows how extensive the bleaching is. The footage of clown anemonefish in their bleached anemone struck me particularly hard. A mix of anger, depression and resignation. The burning of fossil fuels is slowly killing the Reef.

There has been a bit of anger from some quarters about media coverage possibly harming tourism. Some has been poorly worded, especially headlines along the lines of "95% of the Great Barrier Reef is bleached". Metrics are being confused, with reports of the percentage of individual reefs experiencing some degree of bleaching being misunderstood as 95% of the coral is severely bleached or, worse, dead. Things are bad, but not that bad.

A recent report from the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre on the degree of bleaching in the Cairns area of the Reef is being used by some as damage control, though it still makes disturbing reading. They measure percentage of coral cover, and how much of that is unboleached or in four categories of bleaching damage:
1. Upper surface – The least severe bleaching effect where the tips or upper surface of the
corals begin to whiten. Although the whole colony is recorded as bleached, the bleaching is only occurring on the upper surface.

2. Pale/Fluoro – The next most severe category is where the whole colony pales as it begins to lose its photosynthetic zooxanthellae. This will sometimes give the corals a fluorescent appearance. These corals are in a state of stress but still maintain some of their photosynthetic zooxanthellae.

3. Totally white – This is the most severe type of bleaching when the coral polyps will eject their photosynthetic zooxanthellae and the colony will appear totally white. Although the coral polyps are still alive they are in a highly compromised state, unable to produce sufficient energy to maintain normal functions.

4. Recently dead – The coral polyps have died and the remaining calcium carbonate skeleton will become covered with. (sic)
And here's the overview of their findings.

This is the report that some are using to downplay the damage, to put a positive spin on things. While conditions are improving, the event still isn't over. Those black bits on the bars are going to grow larger. The size of those yellow and red segments have me uttering profanities I choose not to use on this blog.

The bars are arranged from southernmost to northernmost, with Agincourt Reefs (center) being about as far as day trippers go out from Cairns. The Ribbon Reefs further north are serviced from Port Douglas and overnight trips. Cairns has escaped comparatively well, with little in the fully bleached and dead categories meaning there's a decent chance of a low mortality rate and some recovery as conditions cool through winter and, one hopes, a return to La Nina or neutral conditions before next summer.

Bleached coral can, when conditions ease, recover in time. The 2002 bleaching event, previously the worst we had had, resulted in about 5% coral mortality. It's too early to say what the mortality rate of the current event will be, but it would be surprising if it's better than it was after 2002.

In the long term the Reef faces further bleaching events. As mentioned above, we are locked in for at least another 40+ years of warming. As that warming continues, the size of an upward spike needed to cause a bleaching event will become smaller and smaller. How many more bleaching events can the Reef survive?

The Reef will change in the years ahead. Heat tolerant species will fill in some of the gaps left by other species dying off. Coral will give way to algae, corallivores will be replaced by herbivores. Some species will be driven extinct, perhaps iconic species like anemonefish. The Reef will survive in some form, but will be greatly impoverished.

If you want to see the Great Barrier Reef, make it soon. The Reef as we know it is waiting to die.

Reference:
Reef and Rainforest Research Centre and Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators (2016) Coral BleachingAssessment on Key Tourism Sites between Lizard Island and Cairns. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited, Cairns


To counter the depressing nature of the above post, here's something more light-hearted:



Monday, 28 March 2016

Cardwell Golf Club

The opening tee shot at Cardwell
On my way down to Townsville on Monday last week I decided to drop in to Cardwell Golf Club, another nine hole country course in our region. Some threatening cloud enveloped the hills behind the course, but they held off for my round.

Cardwell is a very, very flat course, and, as I found, has some drainage issues in a couple of areas of the first and second holes after rain, but the rest seemed to have dried out well. It's a woodland style course and a habitat for the endangered mahogany glider, for which the club is providing nesting boxes.

The course makes good use of a small creek that runs down it's southern edge, crossing it on the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th and 8th holes. There's also a pond on the 9th, so you may want to bring a few spare balls. The greens are unfortunately a bit unimaginative, generally small and circular, which seems the norm at small courses for some reason, but were well maintained. The fairways and rough were also in good condition.

Green fees are $20, with an honesty box system in use. As usual, photos and a brief hole-by-hole description are below the fold.

@realdenaldtrump is just trumpier than @realdonaldtrump

Travelling home on the bus today I found myself suppressing the need to laugh out loud, though I think the guy on the seat in front heard some chuckles slip out. I was reading tweets from @realdenaldtrump like:




and
There's more, so go and read.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Odontodactylus scyllarus


Unfortunately Reef HQ is undergoing a bit of a refurbishment at the moment, so a large area was closed off while a new exhibit is installed when I dropped in for my first visit in a few years. As with previous occasions, it was the smaller tanks that held the most interest for me. The pick this time was a peacock mantis shrimp that had been set up in a very nice little tank, ideal for photo opportunities.

I've had a small mantis shrimp hitchhike into my tank in live rock before, and found it a rather fascinating creature - apparently curious about the world around it and perhaps even intelligent. I'm tempted to set up a tank specifically for one, and would likely fork out the $80 or so I have been quoted for this species.


Saturday, 26 March 2016

Millaa Millaa Golf Club

Millaa Millaa Golf Club's ninth green and clubhouse
I'm on a gradual tour of the golf courses of Far North Queensland, and of course there's a fair bit of variability among them. I had previously driven past Millaa Millaa Golf Club and peeked across what I thought was essentially a dairy paddock with greens. I really wasn't expecting much from the course, but after heading up there last weekend I was pleasantly surprised.

The course was in excellent condition, particularly the greens - the best I've seen on my "tour" so far. There were a couple of patches of browner grass, but even there the ball ran smoothly and at a good pace. The area receives good rainfall and has rich soils, so the fairways and rough were also very good. There's a nice mix of holes, with the third and fourth being the stand outs.

There are no bunkers on the course, I assume due to the expense of maintaining them in a high rainfall environment. Some mounds and hollows around the greens would be a good solution and would add to the course.

Photos and brief hole-by-hole descriptions are below the fold.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Towers Hill

Charters Towers from Towers Hill
I decided to take the long, long way home from Townsville, heading through Charters Towers before heading north to Cairns. It was a long drive, and I'm glad I did it, but don't think I'll do it again. The landscape is very flat, and largely sparse eucalyptus trees with cattle roaming around. The further north you get the better the scenery becomes.

Approaching Charters Towers two things stuck out. One was a large barge/landing craft that was up on blocks in a paddock on the outskirts of the town. Painted on the side were the words "Lake wanted. Boat grumpy." I would guess it came up the Burdekin River a long time ago, but can't imagine why it was left there. 

The other thing that caught my eye was the hill near the town with what seemed to be a lookout. I made my way through town and up to what turned out not to be just a lookout, but a small theatre where each evening there is a screening of a historical film about the area. The Charters Towers area is very flat, and even from the top of a small hill one could see a long way.

Townsville at night


At about 2230 on Monday I decided to slip out for a quick scoot around Townsville, including slipping up to the top of Castle Hill. I fully expected to be the only person up there, but mine was one of four vehicles there at the time and I saw people heading back down on foot as well.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Cacatua

I headed down to Townsville for a night on Monday, and stayed at the Aquarius on the Strand. In the morning I wandered out onto my 11th floor patio and watched some sulfur crested cockatoos apparently playing in the coconut palms below. Thinking I would likely not be above such a scene again for a while, I slipped in to grab my camera and get a couple of shots.

Sulfur crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita)
It was only after I wandered inside and zoomed into a photo that I realised that it was actually a mixed group, and some of the birds were actually little corellas.

Little corellas (Cacatua sanguinea)
I suspect this is my first sighting of little corellas in the wild, though given my initial inability to recognise them perhaps I have seen them in mixed groups before. We often have cockatoos in the palms around Trinity Beach, so I may have to look more closely next time I see them.

Friday, 18 March 2016

The less objectionable option

I knew who I wasn't going to vote for quite a while, but had to wait for nominations before I knew who would get my vote.

Friday, 26 February 2016

America: A nation of idiots?

We won with young. We won with old. We won with highly educated. We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated. We’re the smartest people, we’re the most loyal people, and you know what I’m happy about? Because I’ve been saying it for a long time. 46% were the Hispanics—46%, No. 1 one with Hispanics. I’m really happy about that.
...
We have a tremendous deficit. We have a trade deficit with Mexico. They’ll pay for the wall. They’ll be very happy about it. Believe me. I’ll talk to them. They’re going to be very, very thrilled. They’re going to be thrilled to be paying for the wall.

We’re going to be the smart people. We’re not going to be the people that get pushed around all over the place. We’re going to be the smart people. You’re going to be proud of your president, and you’re going to be even prouder of your country, OK?
From Donald Trump's Nevada victory speech

Donald Trump really does do a come across as a halfwit. But perhaps it's just an impersonation. Maybe he's not that stupid, but just thinks Americans are.

Writing at Salon.com, Sean Illing suggests:
Trump’s wager was simple: Pretend to be stupid and angry because that’s what stupid and angry people like. He’s held up a mirror to the country, shown us how blind and apish we are. He knew how undiscerning the populace would be, how little they cared about details and facts. In Nevada, for instance, 70 percent of Trump voters said they preferred an “anti-establishment” candidate to one with any “experience in politics.” Essentially, that means they don’t care if he understands how government works or if he has the requisite skills to do the job. It’s a protest vote, born of rage, not deliberation.

In no other domain of life would this make any sense at all. If your attorney drops the ball, you don’t hire a plumber to replace him. And yet millions of Trumpites say they don’t care if Trump has ever worked at any level of government or if he knows anything about foreign policy or the law or the Constitution. It’s enough that he greets them at their level, panders to their lowest instincts.
It's hard to know which parts of Trump's bluster are sincere and which are hyperbole. I'm sure a large portion of the stupidity is genuine. He's a simpleton who inherited money and connections, who has had employees who have made him successful. He has been surrounded by lackeys and yes men that have sheltered him and created a narcissistic, immature showman.

A couple of weeks ago Ezra Klein penned a piece for Vox which I thought about linking to but didn't get round to doing so. In arguing that the rise of Donald Trump is a terrifying moment in American politics, Klein pointed out:
It is undeniably enjoyable to watch Trump. He's red-faced, discursive, funny, angry, strange, unpredictable, and real. He speaks without filter and tweets with reckless abandon. The Donald Trump phenomenon is a riotous union of candidate ego and voter id. America's most skilled political entertainer is putting on the greatest show we've ever seen.

It's so fun to watch that it's easy to lose sight of how terrifying it really is.

Trump is the most dangerous major candidate for president in memory. He pairs terrible ideas with an alarming temperament; he's a racist, a sexist, and a demagogue, but he's also a narcissist, a bully, and a dilettante. He lies so constantly and so fluently that it's hard to know if he even realizes he's lying. He delights in schoolyard taunts and luxuriates in backlash.
And:
Trump's other gift — the one that gets less attention but is perhaps more important — is his complete lack of shame. It's easy to underestimate how important shame is in American politics. But shame is our most powerful restraint on politicians who would find success through demagoguery. Most people feel shame when they're exposed as liars, when they're seen as uninformed, when their behavior is thought cruel, when respected figures in their party condemn their actions, when experts dismiss their proposals, when they are mocked and booed and protested.

Trump doesn't. He has the reality television star's ability to operate entirely without shame, and that permits him to operate entirely without restraint. It is the single scariest facet of his personality. It is the one that allows him to go where others won't, to say what others can't, to do what others wouldn't.


In the recent Nevada Primary, Trump polled 45% and won handily. Super Tuesday, which decides a large number of delegates and could cement Trump in the lead position, is next week. Trump is favoured to win handily. Americans can't be that stupid, can they?

There's a good chance that Trump will get to the end of the primary process with the largest number of delegates. If Trump wins the nomination. I would like to think that would hand the election to the Democratic candidate - likely Hillary Clinton. I mean, Americans can't be that stupid, can they?

Another possibility is that Trump will have the most delegates, but not the required fifty percent. A second or third round could see a less repulsive candidate, such as Marco Rubio or John Kasich, win the nomination. The general election could be close, unless Trump then ran as an independent and handed the election to Clinton.

Or Trump could get the nomination, but an establishment Republican candidate could stand as a third party or independent candidate. Fracturing the Republican vote, this would be good for the Democrats.

Maybe Trump will have a big announcement to make on the first of April, and walk away chuckling at his joke. Please, please let that be the case.

Surely Trump can't become the US President. Americans can't be that stupid, can they?

Links
Ezra Klein at Vox: The rise of Donald Trump is a terrifying moment in American politics
Sean Illing at Salon: America, you’re stupid: Donald Trump’s political triumph makes it official — we’re a nation of idiots

Monday, 22 February 2016

Ravenshoe-Millstream Country Club

My gallery on the third
On Saturday I headed up to Ravenshoe to add the Ravenshoe-Millstream Country Club to my list of Far North Queensland golf courses on which I have played. I was a little worried about rocking up unannounced on a Saturday, but it turns out that I was the only player on the course. Unlike most clubs, Sunday is the competition day at Ravenshoe-Millstream.

Millstream Falls

Millstream Falls near Ravenshoe
On Saturday I slipped up the hill to Ravenshoe for a round of golf at Ravenshoe-Millstream Country Club, which will be covered in my next post. I took the opportunity to drop in to Millstream Falls, described as Australia's widest single drop waterfall. This may be the case when the river is flowing a bit more, but our Wet Season has been rather disappointing, and at the moment the falls are picturesque but not that impressive.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Innisfail Golf Club

Innisfail Golf Club's 9th green and clubhouse
Last week I continued my slow quest to play all the golf courses of Far North Queensland, and nipped down to Innisfail for nine holes. I had wandered along a couple of the holes before, before Cyclone Larry hit in 2005 and took out the large trees along the 9th hole, but had never got around to playing.