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Horizontal Falls: The power and fury of the tides

A STARLIT sky and a lone street lamp are my sole companions as I wait for the Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures (HFSA) tour bus outside my hotel in Broome. At 5am, the bus arrives, packed with travellers — some excited, others wary of boarding a small Cessna Amphibian seaplane. At the airport, young Tonnia meticulously weighs us and our bags, and assigns seats, before fastening herself into the pilot seat. It is a picture-perfect day to fly low over Broome, the Dampier Peninsula, and hundreds of islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago in Australia’s pristine north-western Kimberley region.

ICAN Expects Nuclear Ban Treaty to Enter into Force in 2019

As the world witnesses an increase in nuclear sabre-rattling in 2018, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is supporting global public movement to put pressure on governments to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. ICAN’s Treaty Coordinator Tim Wright (TW) expects the Treaty to enter into force in 2019. He commends South Korea's "great leadership" role by initiating the inter-Korean dialogue. "But true peace must be based on the total rejection of nuclear weapons by all nations, not just North Korea." The rejection by President Donald Trump of the Iran nuclear deal, he says, "undermines the non-proliferation efforts."

A tryst with nature in Broome

In Australia’s north-western coastal pearling town of Broome, the Mangrove Hotel’s garden bar is packed with visitors and there is no room near the deck overlooking Roebuck Bay. The excitement is palpable as the sky begins to turn ink blue. In anticipation, the crowd cascades into silence as the swaying branches of frangipani and palm fan the gentle autumn breeze. A silver line appears on the horizon bathed in a reddish-orange glow. A golden stairway begins to appear as the full moon makes its ascent. Immersed in the spectacle, I am almost oblivious to the photo frenzy ensuing around me. Staircase to the Moon is a natural phenomenon visible from March to November, when the rising full moon, reflecting off the exposed tidal mudflats in the bay, creates this optical illusion. Broome’s natural splendours, as much as its pearling past, are a drawcard with local and international travellers.

A nation, stumped

Australians are livid. Sport is paramount in their psyche. Cameron Bancroft’s brazen and premeditated attempt to tamper the ball, at the behest of captain Steve Smith and vice captain David Warner, has shocked and horrified Australians. These are people who espouse the tenets of ‘Advance Australia Fair’, which is enshrined in their national anthem sung with pride before every game. Ishaan Oak and his classmates at Glenunga International High School in Adelaide were crestfallen to see the ball-tampering news unfold. “We were surprised, angry and saddened because all of us looked up to Steve Smith as the captain of the baggy green,” said Ishaan, 13, who had started playing cricket at the age of four, with his father in their suburban backyard.

The pearls of Cygnet Bay

A four-seater Cessna lands on a pindan (red soil) airstrip near a narrow dirt road that leads to Cygnet Bay. It is tucked in at the tip of the Dampier Peninsula on Australia’s remote north-western Kimberley coast, where the Great Sandy Desert merges effortlessly with white beaches and the azure waters of the Indian Ocean. It was here, in 1946, that wheat farmer Dean Brown entered the pearling industry, collecting the world’s largest pearl oysters, Pinctada maxima, for their mother-of-pearl shells. A decade later, his sons, Lyndon and then Bruce, joined him. They began experimenting with farming pearls and established the first all-Australian owned and operated cultured pearling company, Cygnet Bay Pearls.

HIV seeks refuge in immune cells to avoid full elimination

Genetically-intact HIV hides in the same cells of the human immune system that are supposed to attack and destroy pathogens, scientists at Westmead Institute for Medical Research, Sydney University, discover in a new study. Previously, it was thought that HIV hides primarily in central memory T-cells during effective anti-HIV therapy. But, in the study published this month (19 October) in Cell Reports, the scientists show that replication-competent HIV persists in specific subsets of CD4+ immune memory T-cells.

Most Countries lagging on Health SDGs

Scientists warn that unless significant political and financial investments are made, many countries will not meet the health-related UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Fewer than five per cent of the countries were likely to meet targets on road deaths, childhood obesity, suicides and tuberculosis. However, over 60 per cent of the countries were on track to meet targets on malaria, child mortality and neonatal and maternal death rates, according to a study published this month (12 September) in The Lancet.Singapore ranked first and Afghanistan last out of 188 countries in terms of meeting SDG 3, which deals with ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all.

Two climate extremes: flooded cities, dry rural areas

Rising temperatures are leading to more intense storms and flooding in urban areas but drier soil in rural areas especially in Asia and Africa, says a new study. Carried out by engineers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney and published this month (August) in Nature Scientific Reports, the study analysed real-world effects of river flows and rainfall data from over 160 countries. The researchers noted that there’s a radical shift in streamflow patterns with more intense rainfall in cities, overwhelming infrastructure and causing flooding. But there’s also a puzzling observed phenomenon of drier soils and reduced water flow in rural areas. The answer turned out to be the other facet of rising temperatures: more evaporation from moist soils is causing them to become drier before any new rain occurs.

UN Treaty Against `Killer Robots' Urged

Founders of leading robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) companies from 26 countries have, in an open letter to the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), called for an international treaty to ban killer robots. Killer robots or autonomous weapons can identify and attack a target with no human intervention. They include armed quadcopters and drones where humans are not making the decisions, but do not include cruise missiles or remotely piloted drones. The 2017 letter, signed by 116 top AI founders, is the brainchild of Toby Walsh, professor of AI at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Released during the opening of the 3-day (21-23 August) International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI 2017), the letter was to have coincided with the first meeting of the UN Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems, now rescheduled for November.

Ride through history, camelback

Camels, part of the dark days of White Australia, are still walking into the continent’s sunset. Australia invokes images of kookaburras and cockatoos, kangaroos and koalas, but it is also home to thousands of camels. These camels and camel handlers came to Australia from the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century. Camels are still an enduring part of the Australian landscape. They are used in races, rides, Outback safaris, and bred for camel milk, cheese and meat.

Is this innovative program the best way to get skilled migrants into work?

Of the highly trained humanitarian skilled migrants entering Australia, few end up in jobs that make use of their skills. Some companies, however, are beginning to realise what they’re missing out on. Rami Yousifani, a graduate in computer communications engineering from the Al Mansoor University College in Baghdad, arrived in Australia under the Special Humanitarian Program last September. Despite having in-demand skills, he was one of many skilled migrants almost certain of not finding employment.

Violence Surfaces in Papua New Guinea Elections, But Not Only

Violence is one of the most pressing issues, especially in the highlands, of Papua New Guinea [PNG] - one of the world’s most ethnically and linguistically diverse nations. “Increased access to high-powered guns such as military style M16s and homemade shotguns, and breakdown of traditional rules of warfare, has amplified the effects of violence, resulting in dozens - if not hundreds - of violent deaths and thousands of displacements each year, especially in the Highlands. We are seeing wounds that one would see in war zones,” says International Committee of the Red Cross’s [ICRC] chief official in PNG, Mr Mark Kessler.

Leaders need to ensure people feel connected, heard, says Valerie Amos

Valerie Amos, director of the London-based School of Oriental and African Studies, has been a firm believer in education as the key to development and social change. Amos served as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator at the United Nations from 2010—2015. In September 2015, she became the first black woman to lead a British university. Amos was in Canberra from 18 to 20 June to speak at the Australian National University’s 2017 Crawford leadership forum. She shared her views with SciDev.Net on developmental and humanitarian challenges currently facing the world.

Sea-level rise accelerates as adaptation turns urgent

As rising sea levels threaten the very existence of low-lying, small island nations of Asia and the Pacific, a new study highlights the urgency of mitigating climate change and creating coastal adaptation plans.  Published 25 June in Nature Climate Change, the study finds that annual global sea-level rise is now 50 per cent higher — 3.3 millimetres in 2014 from 2.2 millimetres in 1993 — in just two decades due to the dramatic increase in the melting of land-based ice from glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica as a result of global warming.

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