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Science Deadline: Dam Appeal, Nanoscare and melting mantle

Science Deadline: Court rejects dam appeal, experts hit back on nanoscare and melting mantle

Legal blow for Ruataniwha
The Supreme Court has denied an appeal to allow a land swap for the proposed Ruataniwha Dam project in the Hawke's Bay.

Artist's impression of the dam, before and after, Isthmus Group
The court's decision, released on Thursday, followed a Court of Appeal ruling last year that found the process of acquiring the land was unlawful.

The scheme would have flooded 22 hectares of conservation land in the Ruahine Forest Park, which the Department of Conservation (DOC) had reclassified as stewardship land and planned to swap with 170ha of private farm land.

Forest and Bird led a legal challenge against the land swap deal, arguing that the Ruahine Forest Park had high conservation value and the land's conservation protection should not be revoked for a commercial development.
If the project had gone ahead, the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council would have invested $80 million in the $900 million irrigation scheme. The project would have dammed the Makaroro River to create a reservoir for the irrigation of more than 25,000 hectares of farm and crop land in the region.
The Council still had the option of seizing the conservation land under the Public Works Act, but Hawke’s Bay regional councillor Peter Beavan told Radio NZ “there probably a feeling among councillors that they’d rather not go there”.

Massey University's Associate Professor Christine Cheyne saidthe land swap deal would have established a "dangerous precedent for the rest of the conservation estate".

"The suggestion from the Prime Minister that this framework needs to be altered is likely to draw strong public opposition," she said.

As public opinion built around the need to protect freshwater habitats and native species, "to change legislation would go against public opinion that recognises the need to protect our unique ecosystems and the services they provide."

Lincoln University senior lecturer in environmental policy Dr Ann Brower said the court had made an important decision for the conservation of New Zealand's landscapes and biodiversity.

"I think that any other decision would have risked dire consequences for well-loved lands and threatened species."

"I’d say this is a victory for conservation in the long run. It would be a brave government that legislates over the top of this decision. "

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the court's decision.


"We've never got more than a few metres on the seabed without seeing some sign of living animals.

"In 6km of seabed here, there was nothing living."
Niwa marine ecologist Dr David Bowden on the impact of the Kaikōura earthquake on marine life.

Experts dismiss nanoscare
Scientists have hit back against a lobby group claiming nanoparticles found in baby formula are potentially toxic.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported over the weekend that tests commissioned by Friends of the Earth had found the presence of nanoparticles in several Australian infant formula products.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) said it had reviewed the available information and concluded it did not contain new evidence to suggest the products posed a risk to infant health and safety. Carers of infants should not be alarmed by the report, or concerned about the safety of the products, the regulator concluded.

The University of Adelaide's Dr Ian Musgrave told the Australian SMC that "nanoparticles have become the latest boogeyman, despite nanoparticles occurring naturally".

"Infant formula is based on milk, which naturally contains calcium and phosphorus (as phosphates)," he said.

"One of the forms of calcium phosphate in milk is hydroxyapatite. So it is unsurprising that hydroxyapatite is found in dried infant formula which is predominantly dried milk powder."

Professor Ian Rae from the University of Melbourne called the report "classical nano scare".

"The clue that the investigators are pushing an agenda is in their repeated use of the phrase ‘needle like’ to describe the crystals of hydroxyapatite. It’s a ‘dog whistle’ for ‘you will be feeding your babies sharp objects if you use these products’."

“The truth is that these particles are the natural form of hydroxyapatite and they dissolve easily in the acids of the digestive system," Prof Rae said.
University of Auckland nanotechnologist Dr Michelle Dickinson told the NZ Herald that many nanoparticles occurred naturally and said, “I wouldn’t be worried about it if I was a parent”.
Writing on, Dr Dickinson said scientific jargon was being used to scare parents.

On The Spinoff, Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw explained why the latest scare story was bad science.

The report from Friends of the Earth "is not actually a scientific study," she wrote. "It’s a report by a charity that paid to have some lab tests done, so it holds little scientific weight. It is not entirely dissimilar perhaps to getting your child’s IQ assessed: fascinating to you perhaps, but fairly meaningless on any scientific level."

Guardian reporter Melissa Davey wrote that the latest scare highlighted the need to teach children health literacy in schools. "I’m convinced it’s the only way to address the proliferation of scaremongering articles in the media that misinterpret medical science," she said.

"And after several years of reporting on health and medical science, I’m also convinced it’s the only way to stop people falling victim to the pseudoscience promoted by questionably qualified but influential wellness bloggers, by the anti-vaccination crowd, and by advocates of homeopathy and other useless alternative medicines."

The Australian SMC gathered expert reaction to the report.

Policy news & developments

Science board appointment: Dr Andrew McLeod has been appointed to the Science Board for a period of three years.

Evidence in policy: The Prime Minister's chief science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman has released a report on protecting and enhancing evidence-informed policy making.

Sea lion plan: A new Threat Management Plan for sea lions has been released.

Mumps outbreak: Families are being urged to immunise their children following an outbreak of mumps in Auckland and Waikato, which authorities say is being fuelled by low vaccination rates.

Space Bill passes: The Outer Space and High-Altitude Activities Bill has passed its third and final reading in Parliament. It will set the regulatory framework for space activities and will come into effect in December 2017.

Space Centre's new boss: The Centre for Space Science Technology has appointed its first chief executive, Steve Cotter.

PM Science Prizes: Entries are now open for the 2017 round of the Prime Minister's Science Prize.

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