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August 2017: The Science of Dairymilking and Cheesemaking
More than 50 locals including a dozen regional educators joined Great Southern Science Council's Science of Dairy Milking and Cheesemaking talk in Denmark recently. Denmark artisan producers Malcom Hick (dairy) and Chris Vogel (cheese) shared experiences, technical knowledge and research about dairy milking using an automated milking system (aka AMS or robotic dairy) and designing the best cheese to make from local milk with relation to fat and protein content.
Malcom explained that, while robotic dairy milking technology came from Sweden, the innovation was ideally suited to his family dairy in Denmark. After three years success using AMS for his 100 cows to self-manage their milking schedule, Malcom is often free to do other work on his farm, and he has more time with his young family. "If I'm away from the AMS facility, the milking robot calls or texts me with any issue that needs my decision, for example if one of my girls isn't eating enough, or producing her usual amount of milk and I need to check her more closely."
Chris's artisan cheesemaking factory is within a few kilometers of Malcom's dairy, so milk is sourced within hours of starting the cheesemaking process. Chris explained that he and Malcom work together to fine tune their products, and since the AMS introduction, they've observed very inspiring and consistent terroir in Malcom's dairy milk. Malcom and Chris noted that the cows develop a more natural grazing behaviour when milking is self-scheduled, so a mosaic of pasture use allows the grass to keep up with grazing patterns, resulting in very consistent qualities in the milk.
"I work with the proportions of fat and protein in the milk to design cheeses", said Chris, "and it is always helpful to have a consistent, high quality milk supply so I can focus on making the best cheese possible."
This event was part of National Science Week in the Great Southern 2017, with participants taking advantage of Q&A time with the guest presenters to probe the topic and discuss community implications for technology and experience.
"I most enjoyed understanding the background to the products I consume", commented one participant, while another added, "Malcom and Chris are very knowledgeable, and I enjoyed learning about local people and local produce".
This talk was an example of the opportunities the Great Southern Science Council and its partners offer for Science In Our Community presentations, field days and discussions on topics about science, technology, engineering, maths and innovation, to increase science engagement in the region.
May 2017: Citizen Science puts some Numbers on the Critically Endangered Western Ringtail Possum in Albany
The 40 volunteers have helped with the program including community members ranging in age from 12 to 90 years old, university students, community groups and the Aboriginal Green Army.
The project involved monitoring by spotlighting for four nights at three sites on Mt Clarence/Adelaide and three sites on Mt Melville over four seasons in 2016/2017, with the final session just completed.
The number of Ringtail Possums seen while spotlighting was quite variable over the four nights and between sites, but it was not uncommon to see 8 to 12 over a one and a half hour period. There has been no clear variation in numbers between autumn and summer and mothers with young have been spotted throughout the year.
The joint project involves the Oyster Harbour Catchment Group, City of Albany, Department of Parks and Wildlife and the Centre of Excellence in Natural Resource Management at the University of Western Australia and is funded by the State government as a Natural Resource Management Project. The citizen scientists have been getting data on numbers and behaviour of these possums which is vital in aiding the Albany population's management and conservation.
The project has also supported an honours project at UWA Albany. Honours student Bronte Van Helden has radio-collared Ringtail Possums on the Mounts and found they have home ranges of just under one hectare and mostly used Marri and Jarrah at night. Daytime refuges included dreys (nests made of leaves), Marri hollows and thick ground cover. Bronte has commenced a PhD which will continue her studies of the Western Ringtail Possum.
A community survey using motion-sensing cameras is also planned in residential gardens around the Mounts to monitor possums in the urban areas adjacent to the remnant bush. How often and when the possums visit, and when the young are present in the population will be measured.
For more information about the project, please contact , Landcare Officer, Oyster Harbour Catchment Group Inc. or (Project Fauna Consultant)
January 2017: Australian Bird Feeding and Watering Study
Here is a chance to practice citizen science!
The Deakin University in Victoria and Griffith University in Queensland are undertaking the Australian Bird Feeding and Watering Study to investigate the impact of human contact on Australian bird diversity and abundance. One of the most common ways people interact with birds is through providing food and water.
The study is being conducted because the unknown impacts of providing food and water on bird ecology and diversity in Australia. While providing food and water to birds is a popular activity, little is known about which species are attracted to these resources and why people like to provide them. It is important to understand the ecological and behavioural effects of bird feeding as almost all information from other countries regarding bird feeding simply does not apply here. Feeding of wild birds is an important activity for large numbers of people and that the practice may be a significant way for many to connect with nature.
The Australian Bird Feeding and Watering Study aims to gather data on the effects of supplementary feeding and providing water for birds and the reasons why people provided food and/or water. The results from the study will be used to develop guidelines for people who feed birds to do so with minimum risk and maximum benefit to birds.
The first survey week is Monday 30th January to Sunday 5th February with another three surveys to be conducted during the following three weeks in February 2017.
Anyone interested in taking part in this study can sign up at the Citizen Science Database Feeding Birds page https://csdb.org.au/feedingbirds/home.aspx. It only takes 10 to 15 minutes to register and complete the preliminary questions in preparation for the survey. So far Western Australia is lagging behind New South Wales Victoria and Queensland in the number of people registered so there is still time to sign up!
Like the great Aussie backyard Bird Count this is a great opportunity to get involved with science and help our native birds at the same time.
October 2016: Geology in Action at The Gap
The rugged Southern Ocean coast of Albany's beautiful Torndirrup Peninsula offered cold gusty southerlies and a welcome shower to more than 25 keen adventurers for the Geology in Action event at The Gap in October. "After that first shower, the sun came out and dried up the site, but the group was very enthusiastic and keen to learn whatever the weather", said Dr Catherine Spaggiari of the Geological Survey of Western Australian and Great Southern Science Council. Catherine teamed with Dr Sandra (Sandi) Occhipinti of the University of Western Australia to encourage community members to experience the field work and meet scientists involved in a southwest western Australian geological survey field trip.
The event began with introductions of the field survey team (see below), an explanation of the Geological Survey of Western Australia (GSWA) within the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP), research at UWA (Sandi), and the visiting geologists from the Department of Geology in the Ministry of Mineral Resources from Greenland.
The large group chat included...
Thanks to Dr Catherine Spaggiari of Great Southern Science Council and Geological Survey of Western Australia for arranging this unique opportunity for regional community members to talk with scientists in the field, and to the entire team for sharing their interest, inspiration and expertise during this Science In Our Community event.
Department of Parks and Wildlife provided permits and advice to the survey team and GSSC. South Coast NRM and the Western Australian Museum Albany and Great Southern Weekender helped with promotion, and Liz Tanner donated some images from the day for participants.
Great Southern Science Council encourages adventurers to contact the organisers or on-site team for more information on anything discussed on the day.
Please complete our quick online feedback survey to help GSSC plan more and better events.
Contact the team via
August 2016: Marine Mammal Discovery Cruise aboard Sail-A-Way
More than 35 adventurers enjoyed a break in Albany's wintery weather to cruise King George Sound on Sunday 21 August in search of marine mammals and enlightenment during National Science Week in Albany. "It's a treat to be out today, with a break in the wind and some welcome sunny skies for our coast expedition" said event organisers Paul Wettin and Liz Tanner, Great Southern Science Council, as the cruise departed from Albany Marina.
Under sail and motor on the 35-foot twin hull sailboat Sail-A-Way, skipper John Woodbury, with crew Anke and Tony, made course to Nannarup Beach to find Southern Right Whales that had been in the area earlier that day. Natural sciences commentary by Deon Utbar of Department Parks and Wildlife, and skipper/educator John Woodbury, and photography and camera tips from enthusiast Keith Lightbody ensured a well-rounded program of discovery and conversation on-board.
There were at least three Southern Right Whales socialising closely in the shallow surf line near Nannarup Beach, and they were very likely courting, possibly mating. Another two individuals were spotted just offshore from Nannarup Beach, quietly resting at the surface. The weather was calm enough to see whale exhalation blows, which are wide, and sometimes separate "V" shapes from twin blowholes of Southern Right Whales or Humpback Whales.
After observing and discussing these whale pods for some time, the group agreed to venture across to Breaksea Island, where they found approximately three dozen New Zealand Fur Seals hauled out along the rocky ledges, possibly hunkering before a predicted squall coming through from Albany to the west.
Most of the animals appeared to be resting, with a few watching our vessel, a few grooming or absently squabbling, and a couple sliding into the water as we sailed past in quiet wonder. Just before heading back to Albany, toward the darkening sky and rainclouds, we spied a single Australian Sea Lion entering the water from the lower splash zone ledges.
Birdlife was quiet, with a couple dozen gannets floating either on the ocean surface or aloft in the light breeze. A pair of sooty oyster catchers and a pair of fairy terns were notable amongst the island birds, which included a handful of pacific gulls, crested terns, and fleshy footed shearwaters, all near Breaksea and Michelmas Islands.
"Deon explained research and innovations in the region that help us understand and manage marine mammals", said Great Southern Science Council Community Engagement Officer Liz Tanner, "and Deon, John and Keith helped interpret the Southern Right Whale social behaviour we were fortunate to see near Nannarup Beach. Discussions included research and technology for cetacean identification, drones, sound data, remote cameras and weather systems."
On the journey home, Skipper John Woodbury invited passengers to experience changing weather conditions in the sound as he guided the vessel from Breaksea Island though the gathering squall, and paused briefly in the heavy rainfall to feel the full effect. Numerous people drew in hoods and pulled up zips to stay out on deck with John to enjoy the full Albany coastal weather experience.
April 2016: The Science of Grapes and Wine Revealed in South West Western Australia
In February 2016 the Great Southern Science Council and South Coast NRM hosted The Science of Grapes and Wine where two experts in grape growing (viticulture) and wine making (oenology) helped unravel the science behind the production of high quality wines in southern Western Australia.
Rob Diletti, the James Halliday Winemaker of the Year 2015 and winemaker for Castle Rock Estate and several other wineries, and David Botting, Howard Park's Chief Viticulturist, both fascinated the audience with the complexity of making great wine.
David Botting explained how vineyard site selection is critical for the production of best quality grapes to produce high quality wine. Factors important in site selection and vineyard layout include:
All this goes into making what the French call "terroir". This is the complete environment that gives wines their particular regional or vineyard character. David demonstrated the effect of terroir with a tasting of riesling from two different Howard Park blocks.
David highlighted regional innovation in viticulture needed when in 2010 the Great Southern and Margaret River experienced a significant heat spike before harvest. This, combined with low humidity and wind, shrivelled grapes on the vine and tested the skills of the wine makers. This prompted David to adapt a technique apple growers use to prevent sunburn to apples to wine grape production (mvcitrus.org.au/mvcb/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Sun-Protection-Manual-for-Fruit.pdf). Apple growers spray fruit with “sunscreens” or use shade cloth systems. For the great southern grapes in Western Australia, shade cloth was placed on the western side of north-south orientated vines during berry set, yet in such a way to allow air flow to minimise fungal diseases of the grapes. This has become an important technique in maintaining grape quality during recent years.
David noted smoke taint of grapes as a big problem for wine makers. Smoke taint can give the wine unpleasant burnt flavours. Collaborative research between growers, the Department of Agriculture & Food WA and the University of Western Australia has produced an on-line risk calculator to help wine producers decide if they can use grapes that have been affected by smoke www.agric.wa.gov.au/fire/wine-grape-smoke-effect-reduction-smoke-taint-risk-calculator-star.
For Rob Diletti wine making is equal parts art and science. "I use a number of scientific processes in every aspect of my wine production" said Mr Diletti. The science is a combination of botany, microbiology, physics and chemistry, while the art comes from experience and the love of what he produces.
Pressing the grapes produces a cloudy juice that is full of solids and nutrients. When producing white wine, settling tanks allow much of the solids to sink to the bottom with the clear juice pumped from the top. Nitrogen can be bubbled through the juice to float solids which are then removed from the surface. White wines are filtered then stabilised with a protein.
Red wines get their colour and flavour from the skins. Carbon dioxide will lift the skins and solids to the vat surface and must be plunged back up to three times per day. The tannins and phenolic compounds give red wine their added "character" but this must be carefully managed. When fermentation is complete the developing wine is barrelled where slow oxidation changes and 'softens' these compounds.
Following the presentations, participants gathered for wine and nibbles in Due South, where Rob and David discussed their work and answered questions in a relaxed atmosphere.
This Science in Our Community event was an initiative of Great Southern Science Council with support from the Australian Government Initiative Inspiring Australia, Due South, South Coast NRM and our presenters, to encourage science engagement and conversations in south west Western Australia.
To get involved in future events, email .
March 2016: Great Southern Science Drinks - What is it all about?
Great Southern Science Drinks are held on a Friday afternoon about once a month, following the Great Southern Science Council monthly meeting. Science drinks are an informal get together than runs from 5.00pm until whenever you wish to leave. It's a great opportunity to meet local scientists from the Great Southern area from a wide range of different disciplines who you might not normally meet.
If you would like to get involved in Science Drinks, email and he will put you on the invitation list. Reminders are sent out a week before Science Drinks is happening to give you time to plan.