- MyUniversity a good start, but more needs to be done to restore reputations
- Do more with less
By Professor Peter Lee, Vice Chancellor:
As many in the higher education sector had predicted, the recent launch of the MyUniversity website was controversial, leaving some reputations battered.
The aim of the website is laudable and easily supported, that is, to provide comparative information to potential students about the nature of the educational offerings and experiences that can be expected at different institutions. In execution there are teething problems.
MyUniversity is a multi-campus institution based in northern New South Wales and at the southern Gold Coast, supporting around 16,000 students on campus and by distance education.
The profile of Southern Cross University is atypical. We attract both school-leavers and adult entry students, with an average age of 25. The majority of our students are from regional Australia; many are the first in their families to come to University; we are proud of our high rates of Indigenous participation. Although drawing strongly from our regional catchment we are a significant provider of distance education and attract a third of our students from Sydney and a third from south-east Queensland for this mode of study.
Our distinctive profile says a lot about our capacity to transform the lives of people identified by current government policy as those to be encouraged most into higher education. However it does not fit the tidy profile that much of the data anticipates.
Employment opportunities are greater in our cities than in regional Australia, yet many graduates actively choose the lifestyle advantages of our regions, even though this may not result in full-time employment within four months of graduating – the criterion applied in the graduate outcomes survey. There are also variations within disciplines, for example, visual arts and contemporary music studies may not immediately deliver such a traditional and arguably outmoded definition of employment, with many of our graduates creating their own careers. It may take a little longer but surely this represents a desirable outcome for our regions.
Attrition calculations include those students who switch universities, building on academic achievement at one institution to pathway to another.
University results on staff/student ratios are also affected by the methodology employed. Students taught through collaborations and partnerships in Australia are included in the total student count but the teaching staff are not. This distorts staff/student ratio calculations.
While we welcome the potential transparency the provision of accurate data promises, Southern Cross University believes it should apply to all providers of tertiary education. Already public universities and private providers are treated equally through TEQSA (Australia's regulatory body, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency) so we should be treated the same when it comes to public information sources. Given some VET providers are also offering degrees – then surely in the interests of transparency every institution should be included.
We will continue to lobby for these changes and look forward to working cooperatively with the Tertiary Education Minister Senator the Hon Chris Evans to improve the reporting through this website and ensure the objectives of the initiative are truly met.
Professor Peter Lee FTSE
Southern Cross University
By Dr Michael Gard:
If you speak to the principal of just about any Australian school, chances are they'll tell you two things about the changes they've seen in the last couple of decades.
First, they'll mention increasing pressure to improve test scores in the narrowly traditional areas of the curriculum, most obviously literacy and numeracy.
But they'll also tell you about the paper work and the ever-expanding array of policies for which she or he is accountable; bullying, sex education, child protection, skin cancer, alcohol, drugs, nutrition, obesity and mental health to name only a very few.
In other words, schools are being asked to do more and more at a time when they have less and less spare time to devote to "non-core" activities.
As a physical educator, I've been particularly concerned by the way many schools have responded to calls for them to combat childhood obesity. Small children being forced to run the dreaded beep test and being subjected to public weigh-ins are just a couple of examples of clearly ineffective and probably harmful school experiences that will do nothing to help children lead healthier lives.
It should come as no surprise to anybody to learn that in many cases, schools – particularly primary schools - bring in outside help to manage the policy burden that confronts them.
Research tells us that these services, for which parents often have to pay extra, are either poor quality or used in a one-off fashion with no meaningful follow-up. That is, they don't work.
The sting in the tail though is that these activities are not really intended to work. They exist primarily to help schools demonstrate their compliance with the flow of policies dreamed up at head office.
The point here is that our enthusiasm for dumping complex social problems on schools leaves them with few options. Lacking specialist expertise, they do what they can, sometimes devoting valuable time to in-house activities of dubious value, or bringing in outsiders whose main aim is to make a profit out of cheaply delivered programs with little or no verified history of efficacy.
None of this is a crime, but research tells us that while schools are reasonably good at helping children to pass tests and get jobs, they can do very little to stop young people from getting pregnant or fat, using drugs and alcohol or becoming mentally ill.
There are many reasons why we deceive ourselves into thinking schools are miracle factories, capable of ameliorating complex health and social policy challenges without expertise or resources. Above all, it's politically expedient and much cheaper than more decisive and yet potentially unpopular courses of action.
Whatever the case, it's bad policy and a waste of educational time. The greatest contribution a teacher can make to a child's health and wellbeing is to teach them as well as humanly possible in the subject matter they have been trained in.
Above all, we should remember that the more we ask schools to do the fewer things they will be able to do well.
Dr Michael Gard is a Senior Research Fellow with Southern Cross University's School of Education.
- How can we ensure our air transport environment supports growth?
- Budget blues
- Free cash flow or electricity?
- Catching the next wave: The rise of global surf cities
By Dr Gui Lohmann:
One of the 'Tourism 2020' national strategies is to "ensure tourism transport environment supports growth".
In order to achieve this, governments will pursue negotiations and encourage commercial operators to grow transport capacity, particularly airline capacity, to allow an increasing number of visitors to travel to and then within Australia.
While there are a number of factors that can contribute to reach this goal, it seems that, in order to increase tourism competitiveness in Australia, three matters deserve prominent consideration. Firstly, an open skies policies in the international market, secondly, liberalisation of the domestic aviation sector and thirdly, improvement in airport infrastructure.
The Department of Infrastructure and Transport (DIT) has unsuccessfully tried to encourage international airlines to offer stopovers to remote destinations such as Broome, Darwin and Cairns, by granting these airlines extra slots at busy airports. As a consequence, the Commonwealth Government should experiment liberalising cabotage (domestic flights by international airlines) in order to make these routes more attractive from the airlines' perspective, while at the same time promoting domestic tourism to isolated destinations.
Anyone trying to fly to Darwin will find an inconvenient schedule due to a lack of adequate competition in or out of the Northern Territory's capital city. These arrangements would also allow international travellers to have a stopover in the Northern part of Australia and later progressing their trips to major destinations across the country.
Furthermore, considering the increasing competition from international carriers, particularly those from the Middle East and Asia, and the unsustainable competitive advantage that these countries offer in regards to similar businesses opportunities in Australia, does it still make sense to require Qantas to be Australian owned? Is this requirement damaging Qantas business and should it be removed for the benefit of the airline and its stakeholders? Does Australia still need a national airline to represent it overseas?
While the fact that privatised airports are run in a more profitable way than in the past, most capital city airports provide inadequate service to passengers. Among the major airports in the country, with the exception of the Gold Coast and Brisbane airports, which offer both domestic and international flights in close proximity to each other, none of the privatised capital city airports compete directly with each other. Hence, what sort of specific strategies need to be put in place to increase competition among airports, while at the same time improving passenger service quality?
While the Commonwealth Government decides to turn a blind eye to these crucial air transport issues, we will miss many more opportunities to make Australia a more competitive country to travel and to do business.
Dr Gui Lohmann is a lecturer in transport and tourism at SCU's School of Tourism and Hospitality Management. He is the symposium convenor of the upcoming Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) Industry Session to be held at SCU Gold Coast campus on the 7th June (www.transport-sig.com).
By Jennifer Harrison:
Federal budget night was a bit of a fizzer – we had heard all the major details beforehand. So, I'm not writing about that budget, even though I had planned to. Instead, still in the spirit of recent news headlines, I'm writing about financial planning and financing.
Long-term financial planning is important for all businesses. For example, a start-up needs a well- articulated business plan (including a financial plan) to secure sufficient funding from investors and generate enough cash to get off the ground and experience what may be rapid initial growth. However, established businesses also need long-term financial plans, particularly if a change in strategy is being considered.
This is because one of the major advantages of financial planning is identifying how much financing may be needed and when.
Indeed many businesses have experienced financial distress or failure when a lack of planning is combined with rapid business expansion, subsequent cash flow shortages and increased debt.
There is nothing wrong per se with using debt to finance growth. It is more of a question of how much debt to use relative to equity.
Growth is most commonly financed by reinvesting profits back into the business. But often this is not enough. To work out if it is, a quick 'back of the envelope' tool is comparing your sales growth rate expectations with the business' internal growth rate (IGR).
To calculate IGR, multiply return on assets (ROA) by the retention rate, which is the percentage of profits not paid out to owners.
Say you calculate an IGR of 10%. This means you can grow your sales by up to 10% without having to get financing from outside the business (new debt or equity), while keeping profit payout and profitability the same.
If you expect sales growth higher than 10%, you need to consider your options. Most obviously, you can borrow more and/or put more equity into the business by retaining more profits or putting in fresh capital. Less obviously, you can look to improve profitability by, for example, increasing margins.
Either way, the discipline involved in undertaking a thorough three to five year financial plan that fits with your strategic plan is worthwhile to ensure you don't grow so fast that you go bust. But beware, forecasts are just that and things can change rapidly – as the Federal government has discovered.
By Jennifer Harrison:
I reckon prepaid mobile phones are great – except one time when I forgot to recharge on time. My mobile wouldn't connect in Ireland so I packed it in my suitcase, out of sight, out of mind. When I got into range 2 weeks later I had a few words to say that I won't repeat. I'd lost heaps of built up credit.
In a growing number of countries (including Australia) you can also buy prepaid electricity. (But don't forget to recharge on time or your ice cream will revert to watery sweet milk.)
In the Philippines, they are developing a prepaid electricity system that uses mobile phones to buy credit and check usage.
In Indonesia, you toddle off to a participating bank's ATM to buy a prepaid voucher, take it back to your meter, plug in the recharge number and Bob's your uncle, you can keep your Bintang beer cold.
Indonesia's state-owned monopoly electricity distributor plans to roll out 2.5 million new connections this year. And they are pushing prepaid.
Why? Well, electricity suppliers pushing prepaid argue it gives customers better control over usage.
But here is another reason that seems clear to me: improved working capital management that speeds up the cash cycle and increases 'free cash flow' (FCF) – stuff that Apple, Dell and Amazon.com had all sewn up years ago.
This is how it works. Customers move to prepaid. The electricity supplier gets the cash up front then provides the electricity as needed. Bad debts are now a thing of the past. There is no need for manpower to action a physical disconnection for non-payers. There is no need to send employees out to read meters. There is no need to send bills in the mail.
From a financial perspective this translates into an all-round win for any business. All customers now pay, reducing revenue risk. And customers pay before getting the service, reducing investment in working capital (specifically, in receivables). This means less debt is required to support the business, saving interest and increasing FCF's. Additionally, the reduction in other business cost improves profits, which also improves FCF's.
And why is increasing FCF relevant? Answer: higher business valuations.
But this move to prepaid electricity has a not insignificant potential impact on the poor. When customer incomes are low and erratic, the burden of finding cash to pay up front for an essential service can be huge. But I will leave debate of the political, social and ethical issues around electricity supply to another time. The business case certainly makes sense.
By Ian Eddie:
The global surfing industry suffered a big 'wipeout' following the financial crisis of 2008. Over the previous economic cycle the industry had built up large inventories and then as the financial crisis hit discretionary consumer spending slowed. The surf industry's response to the financial crisis was a significant rationalisation and restructuring as well as changes in the sourcing of surfing equipment with a move from high cost to low cost manufacturing countries.
The scene is now set for a significant turnaround in the global surfing industry. Traditional markets for the surf industry in North America, Europe and Australia are now stabilising in terms of consumer demand and showing signs of a return to long term trend growth.
However, the real opportunities for the global surf industry are in new and emerging surf markets. Asian countries such as Indonesia, China, Korea and India and numerous countries in South America and Africa are set to become the source of significant growth in the surf industry over the coming decade.
The surf industry broadly defined covers not only equipment manufacturing but also the elements of surf travel and tourism, surf retail, education, training and management services plus information, media and telecommunications. Innovations in surfing equipment, such as the Stand-Up Paddle (SUP) boards and in water park technology, such as that developed by Wave Garden are taking surfing into new locations and new markets.
Currently it is estimated that there are approximately 35 million surfers globally. Research suggests that surfers worldwide spend between US$47 to US$131 billion annually, based on US surfer expenditure and adjusted for other nationalities and currencies.
The global surf equipment and retail market is predicted by Global Industry Analysts to reach US$20.5 billion by 2017 representing a growth rate of five per cent that is in line with overall growth in surfing participants. If these growth trends continue then by 2020 there will be more than 50 million surfers globally.
Around the world, cities and regional areas that plan and take advantage of the future growth in the surf industry will generate employment and new industry. The surfing industry is a highly creative industry in its various forms. Employment and business opportunities in the creative industries are what will distinguish cities and regions with high incomes and enhanced quality of life in a global competition for talent and quality lifestyle.
How cities and regions adapt to new technology and build design and management expertise is what will ensure the creation of high value creative jobs and business opportunities in the future surf industry.
Ian Eddie is a Professor of Accounting and Corporate Governance in the Southern Cross Business School, Southern Cross University, and Vice President of Gold Coast Surf City Inc.
These articles were published in The Conversation. View all original articles by Southern Cross University authors.
- Anne likes Alex but not Bob: what your name really says about you
- Don't-care bears: should we be worried about polar bears?
- Health harms of asbestos won't be known for decades
- How to hunt a species to extinction
Imagine you're on a spaceship with engine trouble. Your captain knows she must land the ship for repairs. The navigator identifies two viable planets that could do the job. Little is known of either, other than the Lamonians inhabit one, and the Grataks the other.
Which to choose?
With no other information to hand, the captain, if she is like most earthlings, is likely to select the former: Lamonia. Apparently, and by virtue of their name alone, Lamonians seem "nicer" than Grataks.
The captain's decision is an example of the effect on our behaviours of "sound symbolism".
Sound symbolism is a phenomenon whereby the visual, tactile or proprioceptive properties of objects reliably predict the sound patterns (or phonemes) of the words by which they are described.
The so-called Kiki/Bouba effect is another example. Individuals who must choose between Kiki and Bouba as names for a spiky or rounded figure most often assign to the spiky figure "Kiki". Similar effects have been shown for words relating to glimmer and speed and for size.
Sound symbolism arose, it's been argued, because early languages developed as mechanisms for internalising physical characteristics of the external world. How things look, sound or are otherwise perceived was effectively internalised in the process of developing effective languages.
What is in a name?
Consistent with old-fashioned social roles for each sex, names given to girls tend to sound more decorative or "pretty". Those given to boys tend towards sounding more functional and powerful.
Using English monikers as examples, female names tend to be longer than male names, are more likely to have unstressed/weak initial syllables, and tend to end on a vowel sound. Indeed, female names also typically have more instances of the letter "i" and so contain more vowel sounds generally.
Social roles have, of course, changed. Nonetheless, there is evidence that sound symbolism persists in the names given to kids.
One reliable difference between the sexes is physical size: human female babies are typically smaller than male babies. And, perhaps surprisingly, even when they are the same size as their male counterparts, female babies are perceived as being smaller.
Smallness is captured in words by using high-pitched sounds, of which the most extreme example is the 'ë' phoneme (as in the "y" in "baby"). Real and perceived size differences in babies are reflected in contemporary name choices.
A review of the names registered for babies born in New South Wales for the years from 2001 to 2011 shows the number of different female names containing the 'ë' phoneme exceeded the number of different male names by more than two to one: 46% compared to 22%.
For the same period, the popularity of those female names as a label for new bubs was far greater than the popularity of their male name counterparts: 50% compared to 20%. That is, there were more female names than male names with sounds consistent with smallness and those names were more often given.
That pattern of naming is not new. Of all baby names given in the US for a hundred years, beginning in 1910, the proportion of female names containing the 'ë' phoneme was 40%. For males the proportion was 24%. Just as for New South Wales, those female names containing the high pitched 'ë' were more often chosen than were male names containing 'ë': 40% for females and 15.0% for males.
Your name is important
The impact of name selection extends beyond sound symbolism. Assigned names correlate strongly with a number of life choices and outcomes, a phenomenon known as nominative determinism (of which there are plenty of interesting examples).
One facet of nominative determinism is the name-letter effect: Audrey is more likely to drive an Audi than a Toyota. She is more likely to partner up with either Anna or Anthony than she is with Trudy or Tom. She is more likely to live in Acapulco or Adelaide than Tamworth or Taipei.
The mechanism by which that pattern of choice manifests seems to be associated with self-esteem. Own-name liking is associated with self-liking via unconscious or implicit egotism.
The catch is that the outcomes of implicit egotism are not always positive. For example, no one playing baseball wants to strike out. But those players whose names begin K, the letter indicating a strike-out on a scorecard, are more likely to do exactly that than are their teammates (begging the question: is Larry more likely than his teammates to get bowled LBW?).
Similarly, students whose names begin with an A or a B are more likely to have a higher grade point average than are students whose names begin with C or D! It appears the letters making up our initials can, unconsciously, be so important to us they reduce our need to avoid negative outcomes associated with those letters.
Name selection, it seems, is a high-value human behaviour. Parents beware: if you'd like your kids to be a leader in, say, business, Catherine Elizabeth Olive or Charles Edward Oakley might be a better label than Patricia Anne or Peter Alan.
The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.
Polar bears were once the icon of global warming. Twenty years ago scientists raised the possibility that a world without Arctic sea ice would be a world without polar bears. Last year's record polar melt suggests that such a future is indeed becoming a reality.
But while debate rages over what to do about shipping routes and mineral resources in an ice-free Arctic, polar bears have become a battle ground for countries, oil companies, conservationists and indigenous people.
Back in the 1950s there were thought to be only around 5,000 polar bears in the Arctic. Then in 1960 the 19 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was established, a crucial decision for polar bear protection. Now, thanks to conservation efforts like these, there are 20,000-25,000 polar bears living in 19 different populations on and around the Arctic Ocean.
While today it appears their overall population status is not of grave concern, there is also little doubt that polar bears have become increasingly endangered in recent decades. Under the IUCN the bears are now listed as Vulnerable. Indeed, eight populations are now declining, reputedly due to increasing economic development coupled with global warming.
Polar bears have a unique dependence on sea ice because that is where they find most of their prey. As sea ice shrinks, the ringed and bearded seals that provide most of the food for bears, have become much harder to catch.
Several studies have demonstrated a loss of some million square kilometres of sea ice over the last 25 years, inevitably reducing the resilience of polar bear populations.
Bears and oil don't mix
Increasing interest in polar resources has brought bears into conflict with people. Multinational oil and gas companies regard polar conservation as a constraint on their business activities, and they actively contest the need for bear protection.
In 2008, in response to these increased pressures, the US government declared the species as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Although this does give individual states (such as Alaska) the authority to protect the species, and to take action against those who negatively impact upon it, it does not come under federal legislation.
Along the coast of the Beaufort Sea, considered the core of the fragile ecology in that part of the Arctic, political and economic lobbying to allow drilling is putting pressure on decision makers. This came to a head in early 2013 when a group of multinationals put up a legal challenge to the listing of polar bears as threatened, in the hope of reducing the restrictions on the expansion of their operations.
The US Court of Appeal ruled that the protection of polar bears under the Endangered Species Act was justified, and should continue. Thanks to this decision, threats from multinational oil and gas interests will be moderated for now, giving polar bears more chance of survival into the future.
Going on a bear hunt
Polar bears were under consideration for listing under Appendix II of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which would have banned all trade in polar bear products.
Somewhat surprisingly, in March 2013 this proposal was rejected out of consideration for indigenous livelihoods. Inuit Canadians and other polar people trade in polar bear pelts, paws and fangs, creating income of over $2 million a year.
While recognising the concerns of indigenous people, the 2013 CITES meeting ruled that the decline of the polar bear population had not yet reached a "threshold of concern". This is the level of species decline at which experts intervene to declare a species in need of special protection. For polar bears, this is defined as a rate of decline of 50% over a 45 year period.
According to the IUCN, since the 1970s, polar bears have declined by 30%. This means that although conditions are rapidly changing in the Arctic, the recorded changes in bear populations have not yet reached the level of concern which would justify CITES intervention.
Thresholds of concern
This complexity of human-ecological interaction shows the need for conservation of polar bears to be holistic and interdisciplinary. Only by taking such an approach can a balanced and sustainable solution to Arctic management be achieved. A start would be to consider lowering the threshold of concern used by CITES to support their decisions.
Australia has also been supporting bear conservation, through captive breeding, and has recently celebrated the birth of a baby polar bear, the second Australia has contributed to the international gene pool. This is an excellent demonstration of how countries can play a role in global conservation issues, even if they are far removed from the problem itself.
Caroline A Sullivan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The digital age crashed into the bronze age when the roll out of Australia's high-speed broadband network was disrupted by the discovery of asbestos in Telstra pits in recent weeks.
Workplace relations minister Bill Shorten is expected to introduce a bill to parliament later today to set up national registry for residents and contractors exposed to asbestos as a result of this work. In light of the strong link between asbestos exposure and lung cancer, the register is a sensible first step in managing the health risks associated with exposure to asbestos.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral which humans have been mining for more than 4,000 years, principally for its fire-retardant properties.
Mining and production of asbestos increased substantially from the end of the industrial revolution in the middle of the 19th century, eventually peaking in the middle to late 20th century. By then asbestos was being used as a component in hundreds of everyday products such as building materials, brake linings, fuse-boxes, and pipe insulation.
Exposure to even a single fibre of asbestos dust can cause significant health problems. Every one of the six variations of the fibrous silicate minerals known collectively as asbestos have the potential to cause malignant lung cancers, mesothelioma, pleural plaques (calcification of the lungs), or asbestosis (pneumoconiosis, a type of lung disease).
Already in Australia asbestos diseases account for at least 3,500 deaths every year. That rate is predicted to rise until about 2020, with current estimates suggesting 40,000 Australians eventually will die. And it's likely these statistics will be an under estimate.
Asbestos diseases often take decades to manifest following exposure and many individuals may not even know they have been exposed. Once manufactured, asbestos can be difficult to recognise. It can be shaped and painted and so it often looks like other types of building materials.
Most problematic is that unlike, say, nuclear waste, asbestos does not have a half-life. It can be left alone for a few decades or for 30 generations and when it is disturbed it represents exactly the same health threat as it did when it was originally mined.
Those characteristics are now having impact. Asbestos diseases were once a blue-collar affliction, affecting mainly men, often decades after exposure. Increasingly, younger DIY builders and women are presenting after, often unknowingly, they've encountered asbestos during home renovations, or after it's been dumped on the footpath or in a skip.
While television renovators lustily knock down walls to rebuild a whole house in a day or a week might have had their own work sites checked for risk, drilling a hole to hang a picture at home, or having the kids build a cubby out of waste from the vacant block next door can be a risky proposition.
Not a home renovator? Even disaster zones pose potential threats after bush fires, floods and storms.
The best way to handle asbestos is not to handle it. There are experts who can inspect buildings and homes for asbestos and manage its removal. Various government agencies both state and federal have been equipped to manage the issues associated with the discovery of asbestos.
A good place to start is the environmental health officer at your local municipal council. Safe Work Australia also has published guidelines about who can remove asbestos and how that must be done. It might seem excessive but if asbestos could be in your home or neighbourhood, call an expert.
Time for a national registry
Anyone exposed to asbestos in their workplace, home, or within the community is at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. By the time the illness manifests, up to 50 years later, the world will have changed: buildings will have been demolished and businesses closed; the names of former colleagues, neighbours and witnesses long forgotten.
Australia has no systematic procedure for recording who has or may have been exposed, how exposure took place, or for monitoring their health.
Compensation depends on where and how exposure occurred. For those exposed in the workplace, compensation in the form of weekly payments is governed by the state workers' compensation scheme. Injured workers can also use the common law to seek damages from former employers thanks to the legal actions of former James Hardie employees.
For the increasing numbers of people exposed to asbestos in the home or within the community there is no home- or community-based equivalent of workers' compensation. Common law damages are also problematic with issues of causation and knowledge of risk providing significant obstacles.
We are starting to build the big picture. Buildings posing potential asbestos-related health risks can now be tracked via the National Asbestos Register. The Australian Mesothelioma Registry collects data on all new cases of mesothelioma and information on past exposure. The Australian Workers Union's National Asbestos Register contains details of more than 6,000 people previously exposed to asbestos in the workplace.
All three initiatives are important but are not enough. A national register of everyone exposed to asbestos, whether at home, in the community, or at work is needed to inform the state and federal policies required to deal with the legacy of asbestos in Australia.
Ricky van der Zwan receives funding from the Asbestos Innovation Fund for a project investigating the psychological impacts of a diagnosis of an asbestos disease for sufferers, their carers, and their families.
SCU has received funding from Comcare to undertake research into the psychological, social and economic impact of asbestos-related disease on persons with a diagnosis and their carers.
Theoretically, hunting a species to extinction should be really hard. But our new study suggests reckless exploitation isn't the only threat.
What is opportunistic exploitation?
Modern economists argue that actually shooting, catching, or chopping down every last individual would be economically unfeasible. Profits from harvesting rare species would fail to compensate for the escalating search costs as a species becomes rare.
Our study reveals a path to extinction that we've called "opportunistic exploitation". It is widespread but has been largely overlooked by ecologists as a cause of extinction.
Usually more than one species is exploited by humans, even if one species is the main target. Desirable, high-value species are harvested first to maximise profits.
The problem starts when these high-value species become scarce, and hunters switch to more abundant, lower-value species. But when hunters encounter a rare, high-value species, they are more than happy to snare the profits.
Opportunistic exploitation occurs when loggers, hunters or fishers encounter the rare, high-value species while searching for lower-value species and take it as an unplanned windfall.
Why does it matter anyway?
In the 1950s and 1960s, Antarctic blue whale populations were hunted to 0.15% of the numbers found before whaling. This hunt would have been economically infeasible is it weren't for fin and sperm whales. These whales were more common and found in the same waters as Antarctic blue whales, allowing the hunt to continue even as the blue whales became sparse.
On land opportunistic exploitation can occur in scenarios such as logging, and hunting for bush meat and large game. Other exploitation modes could include collecting butterflies, shells and corals, and recreational fishing.
So have any species actually gone extinct from opportunistic exploitation? We suspect so. Steller's sea cow, a large sea mammal related to dugongs, and species of New Zealand moa may have become extinct this way.
So what do we do about it?
Accidental exploitation occurs when a species with no economic value is taken. Incidental exploitation occurs when species of lower value are taken while pursuing target species. In contrast, opportunistic exploitation involves high-value species taken as a bonus.
There are ecological parallels in which a predator kills a prey species that might not be its primary target. However, unlike natural predators, humans can maintain and even increase exploitation of high-value species when they are scarce. Effectively, opportunistic exploitation removes any refuge a species might gain in being rare.
Published studies of the factors that increase a species' risk of extinction focus on attributes of each species without considering how that species relates to others.
In contrast, our article highlights that extinction risk depends not only on the value of the species in question, but also on other lower-value species that could subsidise continued exploitation.
So what can resource managers do to mitigate opportunistic exploitation?
We need to recognise the circumstances that allow people to exploit valuable species opportunistically. Regulatory measures could include shortlists of allowable species or species-specific catch quotas, where they can be implemented and enforced.
This article was co-authored by Aaron S. Lobo from the Nature Conservation Foundation.
The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.
Updated: 10 October 2013