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SMC Heads-Up: Fluoride ruling, sea lions, measles

SMC Heads-Up: Fluoride ruling, sea lions under threat and measles warning

Issue 269 7 - 13 March 2014

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Court rejects fluoridation challenge
The High Court has ruled on a high profile court case questioning the legal right of local councils to fluoridate water.

A decision from Justice Rodney Harrison, released today, rejected all grounds of a legal challenge from an anti-fluoridation campaign group which disputed South Taranaki District council's decision to add fluoride to water in Waverley and Patea.

Justice Harrison further concluded that water fluoridation is not a medical treatment, and does not differ fundamentally from other public health interventions aimed at a wider population, such as chlorination of water or the addition of iodine to salt.

Responding to news of the decision, Dr Jonathan Broadbent, Public Health Dentistry Specialist at the University of Otago comments:

"This decision reaffirms the legal basis of the scientifically sound practice of community water fluoridation. The people of New Zealand have the right to benefit from this effective public health practice. Community water fluoridation benefits everyone, especially those New Zealanders who are disadvantaged."

Prof Murray Thompson, Dental Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Otago, comments:

"This sensible judgment affirms the important role of community water fluoridation in keeping New Zealanders healthy."

The Science Media Centre is rounding up additional expert commentary on the ruling, which we will add to our website.
On the local science radar this week... Floods,Lyttelton fuel spill, Lake Rotomahana thermal discoveries, Scion GM appeal ruling, 3D model of Christchurch, hothouse pest threat, sugar & WHO

Sea lions under threat
Numbers released this week highlight a steep decline in the number of NZ sea lion pups, prompting calls for urgent action.

A survey of sea lion pups in the Auckland Islands found only 1575, an 18% decline from the previous year.

The low tally has spurred the Conservation Minister to fast track aconservation plan for the endangered marine mammals.

Environmental groups have focused attention on changes to squid fisheries regulations in 2012, which allowed a sharp increase in fishing activity in the waters surrounding the sea lions' breeding grounds. Squid is one of New Zealand's highest earning seafood products, with export revenue of $100 million a year.

Current rules allow for up to 68 sea lion deaths as by-catch before trawling would be halted. Two deaths have been counted since the squid fishing season began this year.

Sea lion exclusion devices, or SLEDs, which allow captured sea lions to escape from trawling nets, have been hailed as a successful way to reduce by-catch in the fishery. However, whether sea lion deaths are being accurately counted is disputed by marine mammal experts.

"Based on the evidence, there is reason to believe that sea lions might not be surviving encounters with trawl nets and SLEDs are not as effective as hoped," says Dr Bruce Robertson of the University of Otago. "Recently, an international expert panel review concluded that the Ministry for Primary Industry's statement that SLED effectiveness was high was 'optimistic' and suggested that it should be revised down to a more 'precautionary' lower value."

"There is no evidence that every dead sea lion is being retained in the trawl nets to be counted. If anything, the available information says that dead animals do fall out of trawls nets during regular fishing - during turns of the net, when the net stops in the water, and when the nets is hauled up and down during regular trawling."

Meanwhile fishing industry groups have pointed to an outbreak of the bacterial disease Klebsiella pneumoniae as a leading killerof sea lion pups in the Auckland Island rookery, but experts have responded questioning the figures used.

''For NZ sea lions, disease is only one of an array of potential factors affecting population size," NIWA marine scientist Dr Jim Roberts told the Otago Daily Times.

"Others include mortalities in commercial trawl fisheries, predation by great white sharks and changes in the marine ecosystem that can affect the abundance of the species that sea lions like to eat.''

Options on the table to increase protection under the new conservation plan include "extending or creating new marine mammal sanctuaries, additional measures to reduce impacts of fishing, and exploring what interventions could reduce pup fatalities from disease," says Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith.

Measles cases on the rise
Increasing cases of measles, particularly in Auckland, have health officials worried.

The discovery of two measles infected passengers on a recent flight from Brisbane to Auckland has added to health authorities concern over the increasing number of cases.

The Auckland Regional Public Health Service confirmed the cases yesterday, with the total number of measles cases reaching 79 this year, of which, 58 have been in Auckland - and nearly half (36) have been due to an outbreak at Westlake Boys' High School.

Authorities are keeping a close eye on infected individuals and urging members of the public to check that they are immunised against the disease.

Measles is a serious illness, said Medical Officer of Health Dr Richard Hoskins, and there is no treatment. "The only way to avoid catching measles is to have had two measles vaccines after your first birthday. Please check with your GP to see if you and your family are protected."

Symptom of measles include fever, cough, runny nose and conjunctivitis lasting for 2-4 days, followed by a rash, beginning at the hairline and gradually spreading down the body to the arms and legs. The rash lasts for up to one week. It usually takes 10-12 days from exposure to the first symptom.

For more information on measles symptoms and prevention visit themeasles page at the Immunisation Advisory Centre.

A round-up of recent media coverage is available on the Science Media Centre website.

Quoted: New Zealand Herald

"It's just spectacular for a marine scientist to jump in the water and see species that have never been seen before."

Department of Conservation's Dr Debbie Freeman on marine reserves.

Policy news and developments

Subantarctic station: A new research station on the east coast of the main Auckland Island in the Subantarctic has been proposed. The station is to be named after the late Sir Peter Blake.

Subantarctic reserves: Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith this week formally established three new marine reserves covering 435,000 hectares of ocean surrounding the Antipodes, Bounty and Campbell Islands from Perseverance Harbour, Campbell Island.

Livestock exports: New Zealand and Saudi Arabia have signed an agreement regulating the export of live sheep, goats and cattle from between the two countries for breeding purposes.
Upcoming SMC Briefings: March
REMINDER: Journalists: mark your calendars. The SMC will be hosting two face-to-face media briefings over the coming month in our new facilities in Thorndon, Wellington.

12 March, Wednesday 10 am - IPCC Working Group II and III -climate change briefing with reports' New Zealand authors.

This background briefing will be an opportunity to prepare for the next major releases from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), due out in March and April this year. These forthcoming sections of the fifth assessment report will focus on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability to climate change on a global and regional scale, including specific considerations for New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific (WGII); and also options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (WGIII).

The briefing will provide a chance to meet New Zealand authors, identify key dates and times for reporters covering the releases and highlight the most important and potentially controversial areas to look out for when the final IPCC statements are made public.

21 March, Friday 10:30 am - "Ask me anything" Q&A withnuclear energy expert Prof Robin Grimes.

Visiting nuclear energy specialist Prof Robin Grimes, the current UK Foreign Office Chief Science Adviser, provided official advice on the 2011 Fukushima disaster and has been outspoken on nuclear energy in the context of climate change. He will make himself available for this informal roundtable to answer journalists' questions on nuclear energy's future, hazard, risk, technological innovation, and lessons from Fukushima.

Online and phone access will be available for reporters who cannot attend in person, and recordings will be posted to our website afterwards for public viewing.

Registration details for the IPCC briefing has been distributed to media. Expect full details for the nuclear energy briefing in the coming week. For more information, contact Dacia Herbulock at the SMC.

Sciblogs highlights

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:

Future of sex? Once derided as being like a plastic bag with the erotic appeal of a jellyfish, the female condom is being reinvented as the next big thing in safe sex. Emily Anthes from Mosaic investigates.

Kiwibots - New Zealand Nationals - Michael Edmonds reports back from the Kiwibot Nationals - where high school students build their robots to compete in a variety of tasks.
Molecular Matters

Research highlights
Some of the research papers making headlines this week.

How deep can a fish go? You won't find a fish in the deepest quarter of the ocean (8,400-11,000 m). Now marine researchers, including a scientist from NIWA, think they know why. Using fish from the bottom of the Kermadec trench, they show that concentrations of a protein-stabilizing compound, which protects deep-sea fish from the effects of high water pressure, increase in muscle tissue with depth. However fish can only carry so much of the compound, which, according to the authors, should limit bony fish to a maximum depth of 8.2km.

How soil eats hydrogen: University of Otago researchers have uncovered microbial soil processes that help ensure that the explosive gas hydrogen remains at trace levels in earth's atmosphere. Around four-fifths of all hydrogen released into the air is rapidly removed through soil activity, but exactly what is recycling it, and how, has remained unclear. Now, scientists have shown that the soil bacterium Mycobacterium smegmatis uses two special enzymes that can efficiently scavenge hydrogen as fuel at very low concentrations.

Moa muddle: Australian researchers seeking to clarify the moa family tree have found that one branch is particularly tricky. The moa genus Euryapteryx is thought to consist of at least to two species of the giant bird, but researchers studying DNA from bone, eggshell and soil samples were unable to identify a clear separation between species in the Euryapteryx genus. The authors suggest that the entire New Zealand population across the North and South Islands was in a state of flux, with breeding between subspecies.

Silky bone screws: Researchers have developed bone screws made of silk that could be used to fix broken bones. These biocompatible bone screws may offer many advantages over the use of traditional metal-based ones. The known low stiffness of silk - which is more similar to that of bone - and ability to degrade in the body make silk an attractive candidate, as shown in animal tests.
Nature Communications

Diesel fuel a threat to Antarctic zooplankton: While shipping continues to increase across Antarctica, little is known about the impact of fuel leaks on local wildlife. Australian researchers have now shown the main diesel used at the south pole, 'Special Antarctic Blend', causes significant mortality and species compositional changes in zooplankton community within four to seven days -a time frame of concern as polar ice can trap fuel spills, prolonging exposure
Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry

Upcoming sci-tech events
For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.
Brain Awareness week - Numerous public lectures and events will be taking place up and down the country - 10-16 March, various centres.
From Celestial Cartography to Asteroseismology: A Story of 1001 Nights - Public lecture from Dr Christiaan Sterken - 14 March, Christchurch.

© Scoop Media

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