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I have a B.Env.Sc (Hons), I currently reside in Adelaide Australia. I have a broad background in botanical and or plant science. My research interests include parasitic plants (mistletoe) and blood parasites of botanical origin, particularly malaria. I recently developed a hypothesis which details the use of chlorophyll as a suggested anti-viral treatment for COVID-19 which was published in the top scientific Journal, Frontiers in Plant Science, and I'm hoping to test this for my PhD in 2021.

What really happened, yes I really was told to ‘rough it’ and miscarry on the side of the road… (part 2)

Continued from Part 1

Meanwhile, still in a hospital bed [in an isolation room] and beside myself with grief, tears still streaming down my face and still in shock, after running some simple blood tests, the doctor informed me the miscarriage had likely not been completed and that even though they were certain I had lost the pregnancy, they could not confirm the miscarriage as medically ‘complete’. Following this knowledge, I was told I was free to go, as they told me the process would continue sometime between now and the next 14 days, advising me to follow up with my doctor when I got home. After I was discharged, I had explained to one of the nurses that I didn’t know what to do or where to go and one of them said ‘Well I’m just going to close this dose [the door in the isolation room] and pretend you don’t exist for the next 3 hours until you or your partner work something out or until your partner can come and get you’. But that wasn’t a solution, so I asked for the police. Why did they discharge me? Because they didn’t know what to do with me and would rather I was someone else’s problem. Additionally, there was no policy that could allow me to stay, since I no longer required urgent medical attention, and only medical and domestic violence emergencies are covered under quarantine directive. They had no-where to put me and just wanted to pretend I didn’t exist.

All I wanted to do was be with Mike, I didn’t want to be separated from him anymore. Unfortunately, the doctors and nurses treating me were not aware of the situation that would unfold soon after and assumed other arrangements by the police would be made, my guess is that they were busy and being in a small country town not really having dealt with real COVID-19 protocol, they never imagined or understood the sheer difficulty of my situation and just assumed the authorities and police would sort something out. Since I was considered under SA state government law, a public health risk, there was no possible way for me to arrange transport to Mike as I’d be essentially putting myself and others at risk and anyone coming in contact with me or him would risk 14 days of quarantine or by some miniscule chance contract the virus that at the time no one knew I wasn’t infected with. We have since received two negative tests and await the results of the third.

I was dependant on authorities for direction, so I asked the appropriate staff at the hospital to contact SA police to ask how I can get back to Mike (I didn’t care if his parents were coming that evening or not) all I wanted was to be with Mike so we could grieve the loss of his and my first pregnancy together. I pleaded with the nurses to help me get back to Mike and to contact the police to help me, as only they could tell me what to do and how I could get back to Mike and the car. The nurses at the hospital agreed to contact the police on my behalf since I wasn’t (for obvious reasons) capable of explaining my situation clearly. The nurses then told me it was fine and that SAPOL understood our circumstances and given that technically anyone in quarantine is not allowed to be out in the public, the nurses told me that SA police would transport me back to Mike. I finally breathed a sigh of relief because Mike was a long way from the hospital, it was dark and I didn’t even know what direction he was in and didn’t know how I was going to get to him and I have never been to this town. Learning of this news from the nurses, I agreed I wanted to be discharged then and there.

However, when SAPOL arrived, two men (Berri police officers) stood in front of me and having known my full situation miscarriage and all, said the opposite to what I had been expecting: ‘We can’t transport you from the hospital, you are not permitted to travel with us and unfortunately we can’t help you’. They continued ‘Because you are a health risk, you would put our car out of commission for the evening and we don’t want to do that because that’s one less car for all of us, so it’s unfortunate we just can’t help you, but we have spoken to your partner and he is coming to get you’. At that moment I breathed what I thought was another sigh of relief, thinking Mike had somehow made other arrangements under their directive and that they had organised a means of him getting to me… ‘So you arranged something for him instead though?’ I said. To which they replied ‘No… he is walking to come and get you and you are walking back with him’. My knees started to buckle and my hearted started to pound in panic. I was essentially haemorrhaging and had no control over the process. It was hard enough to control in the hospital setting and I had no idea if it was going to get worse or if I would be able to manage the 20-minute walk. The pain was intermittent and would come on suddenly and immediately bring me to my knees and I had no control over the bleeding nor its intensity, not to mention I knew I shouldn’t be using any public bathrooms for fear that on the small chance I was more than a normal risk of having COVID-19.

Tears started to well up soaking my mask as they went, before I then said; ‘But I’m bleeding heavily, do you think it’s a good idea for me to walk that far?’ ‘I also haven’t had dinner, I’m woozy from blood loss, I’m dizzy, I’m hungry and how will we get food?’ I continued, ‘We aren’t allowed to go to the shops… I don’t know what to do?’ ‘Please, there must be something you can do, please help me, please contact someone higher up, I need help, I don’t want to walk, I’m so tired and I don’t think I can handle such a long walk whilst I’m bleeding heavily, I really need your help…’ They stared blankly at me. I paused still trying to grasp the gravity of the situation. ‘Why can’t you HELP us, I thought it was your job to help us?!’ To that they replied, ‘Well, we can’t offer the help you are looking for, it’s a small country town everything is shut now anyway, what would you have done otherwise?’ I looked at them still with a pleading look whilst I started to imagine what will happen with my bleeding as I made the journey. They didn’t even consider my personal tragedy and that walking will not be simple and that I couldn’t even get a taxi to Mike (which I would have done if things were different), and so they continued ‘It’s not our problem that your car broke down- this happens to lots of people and they get through it, we’ve all had a tough year and that’s just how it is now, that’s COVID-19, so you’ll just have to ROUGH IT’.

My head started to spin, and I thought to myself, ‘Rough it!? ROUGH IT!? But I am having a miscarriage. I am bleeding uncontrollably, I am grieving, I am in pain and I can barely comprehend my reality…’ He continued, ‘Look it’s been a tough year for all of us, that’s just how it is now, but your partner will be here to get you soon’. I stood there bemused, they were talking to me like I was property or just some other man’s problem. I was completely lost for words; these men were sexist. I tried to imagine who among the 3 of us in that moment was truly suffering and having a tough year and it wasn’t them. How was I supposed to ‘rough it’… how was I supposed to ‘rough it’, whilst my body was violently miscarrying my first pregnancy, and how was I supposed to ‘rough it’ as the process would continue even more violently, the more walking I did. How was I supposed to ‘rough it’ as my uterus violently bled at a pace and speed I could not predict and would not be able to control when it did.

In that moment I just froze, and I looked into their eye’s scanning them for a shred of empathy and just I couldn’t find it! This is one of the strangest moments in my life. I realised they simply did not have a shred of human decency inside them and did not care to imagine not only what I was going through, but how impossibly hard it was going to be to make that 20-minute journey by foot whilst bleeding heavily and uncontrollably. Overwhelmed with their total lack of human qualities I tried through exhaustion to open my mouth to speak, but they spoke over the top of me, so finally I gave up.

But this is what I had tried to say: ‘Plenty of people have not been in our situation! How many people do you know who are in a pandemic, are told to return home to a cut-off that is physically impossible to meet, who are advised to drive on a dangerous road that leads to a popped tire… how many people do you know that have not only been through that, but at the same time are also violently beginning to miscarry their first pregnancy!?’ I also wanted to say: ‘When was the last time it was considered unsafe for someone to use public spaces and amenities such as toilets and purchasing food/drink from the shop? When was the last time it was considered unsafe for one to arrange transport other than our own… ?’

Whilst I would rather health directives that are overly cautious there should never be a time when the authorities don’t know what to do with situations that are human and out of one’s control, let alone force a woman to undergo immense pain, needless suffering and humiliation simply for being born with a uterus – an organ who’s function they cannot control. So what I really really wished to say was this: ‘I am bleeding out of body and I am sorry that the fact that I have a vagina means that you don’t know how to treat me like a human being!’. Instead, I stood there in silence. Then the nurse then spoke to me and offered me some food before directing me to the waiting room where I would wait for Mike. Not wanting to cause a panic in a pandemic among people from a small country town, I asked for another option and to simply wait outside. So, in the grips of sobbing after having tried to get the two men to display even an ounce of empathy and help me, they both gestured to a park bench whilst one of them said: ‘There’s a picnic bench across the road, you can go and wait there whilst you wait for your partner to come and get you’… and that was it. Both of the officers turned around and went back inside without even looking back or with a second thought.

After that I sobbed and wailed on the phone to Mike to find out he was still 15 minutes away and so I waited in the dark afraid, because I am a woman and being alone at night is dangerous. For the next 15 minutes whilst constantly looking over my shoulder, I also watched people walk in and out of the hospital to their cars and not one person came to ask me if I was okay. I was, for all intents and purposes released into the wilderness by two men with less than a shred of empathy and human decency. Two men who also seemed to have no concept that women cannot control when they bleed and that when we do, the situation can often be humiliating if amenities and appropriate sanitary items are not around. Everybody just wanted ‘the risk’ i.e. me, to disappear into the wilderness. So like many women early in this century and centuries gone, like an animal of prey bleeding and vulnerable to predation, I was left on my own to deal with what nature had thrown at me.

Finally, and out of the corner of my eye, about 15 minutes later I see Mike, he was running to me. He did not walk to me, he ran to me, desperate to be by my side. Only then did I learn we would be going home (expected to arrive home at 4.40am) but also learning it would still be another 4 hours before the car would arrive. Unfortunately, I still had to make the 20 minute journey back to the car, the only place in public we were provisionally permitted to be in- until such time that it was logistically possible for us to self-quarantine. So until then, I surmised to myself that the pain, suffering, torture and loss of my dignity was simply not over yet. So we walked the several blocks to the edge of the town where the car was. On the way and of no surprise to me and Mike I was not able to walk well, and several times I had to stop and let the violent process that was taking place in my body continue to expel the pregnancy. Not knowing the location of and also too afraid to use public amenities to clean myself up; for fear of breaking the law and also for fear of endangering anyone with the miniscule chance I was unknowingly infected – the humiliation continued as I was forced to stop several times… Whilst having a miscarriage I was more concerned about my impact and presence in the community for fear that I may be infected and transmit the virus. I abstained from using a toilet as we passed a service station to firstly protect others and secondly because I did not want to break the law.

When we finally reached the car, I was in so much pain that I knew what was coming; and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I asked Mike to find me ‘somewhere’ where he could shield me from passing cars and in that moment ‘following the health directive’, not far from the repair place, with no amenities in site and with Mike by my side, my last shred of dignity as a woman that bleeds, gave way. There in the most private place a woman would find, in a gully hidden from the road; pants down under a huge Eucalyptus tree, I passed a 4-week-old embryo. I had completed the miscarriage. Pregnancy hormone levels, previous to and post to have since confirmed that completion indeed occurred at this point. All the hopes, all the dreams of a mother-to-be lay on the ground. All the early pregnancy advice, all the careful eating and all the sacrifices I made, it all lay on the ground underneath my body, in a pool of blood, exposed to the elements and passing cars – in Australia on the side of the road, under a Eucalyptus tree.

The trauma of a miscarriage should end at the miscarriage. I was in pain, I was not at home, nor a place of comfort and I was not afforded even the dignity of using a public toilet, as it was against the law. That night I was not considered a human being and I just have to hope no one saw me. I continue to relive the trauma of that evening in my nightmares. Every night since the incident I have had nightmares of being in a public place, naked and exposed and covered in blood with prying eyes everywhere. In these dreams I am covered in blood and trying to find a toilet. I was denied basic human rights and I felt like a farm animal. And maybe this has happened to women before me, and maybe even to some women in Australia but for as long as I will live, I will never understand why any woman in Australia would be discharged from a hospital, be completely aware they were in the process of a miscarriage but would have no choice but to miscarry under a tree on the side of the road. What’s more, I will never understand how on that night, that woman under the tree… was me. My name is Nicole Clark and I’m telling my story publicly because I want the authorities to know I want the last woman to ever go through this, to be me.

Final words and message to the South Australian Government

I will not let you sweep this under the rug! I was humiliated beyond all words, there are no words to describe what it felt like as I squatted on the side of the road, I was treated like a second-class citizen or like a dog on heat. I demand a full and formal public apology from the South Australian police. As Mr Grant Stevens stated in his Commissioners Message “you expect us to be there in times of personal and community emergencies.” It is clear this did not occur, a personal emergency occurred at the border check point, yet a lack of basic human empathy was not displayed, let alone what would be expected as a minimum from a police officer(s) who are supposed to be serving their community.

This was further evident when police were unwilling to explore any options regarding the transportation of me or potential emergency accommodation for the night. Making me walk was painful and humiliating; for a police officer to tell me that I’d have to “rough it” it for the night with no consideration for my basic human needs and the trauma I had just experienced is disgraceful. South Australian police have already made a statement saying, “it was not the responsibility of police to make quarantine accommodation arrangements,” however I would have expected the police officer to at least have made some enquiries to see what could be done for both the transportation of me and possible accommodation. This did not occur, and the police officer made no attempt, their only concern was that we either stay put in the car or make our way home somehow.

My partner expressed concerns that staying in the car all night was not an option as I needed access to a bathroom as I would continue bleeding all night, the only alternative was for my partner’s parents to drive 3 hours in the dark on country roads to come get us. My partner told the police officer he was concerned that his parents are close to 70 years old, they have to use country roads through the hills, and they would not arrive until 1am. The police officer seemed unfazed by this. My partner further stated it would mean we wouldn’t arrive home until at least 4am and he was concerned about the already long journey we had undertaken the previous day from Hay and the trauma we have both endured. Again, the police officer seemed unfazed of the severe fatigue my partner would face driving back home, and potential for another fatality on the road. This also goes against Mr Stevens message of “you want to travel safely on our roads”… how is encouraging two people to keep driving at that time of night and after what they have endured considered to be at all safe?

 

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What really happened, yes I really was told to ‘rough it’ and miscarry on the side of the road…

The following story may seem completely unbelievable, but unfortunately every word of it is true. What I’m about to tell you is a complete, full and factual recount of what happened to me, as featured on ABC News Adelaide and in The Guardian. Readers are advised that this story contains descriptions of miscarriage and pregnancy loss, hence some readers might find the following story confronting and may not wish to read on.

This story is not a light-hearted read, it is long and will take some time to digest. This story will shock you and may spark rage in you, you will question whether something like this could really happen in Australia especially if you are a woman, but it is so important that I tell it exactly as it occurred, for it is an example of what is seriously wrong with Australia right now. It is not easy to tell this story and most people who read it will question its authenticity, as it just seems so unbelievable, however all I can simply to say to that is, every word of it is true. In fact shortening the story would only create confusion – as told by the media and the public’s reaction to it over the past week. I have provided a short version below to draw you in until you can get around to reading it. I am not a journalist, so I have nothing to gain by not telling you the truth. I’m telling this story as I refuse to let this be swept under the rug! The public must know how I was treated, so I have chosen to share this story not out of sympathy but as a matter of Public Interest – nevertheless it is a deeply personal and humiliating story so please be respectful when making comments.

Brief history

Readers are encouraged to follow my journey on Twitter but in short, I am a COVID-19 scientist who was just awarded a full PhD scholarship here in Adelaide. Adelaide is a long way from where I grew up in rural NSW, so at the end of 2020 and due to border closures it had been a year since I had seen my family. With my grandfather in particular being very frail and in his late 90s and my grandmother in her late 80s and with COVID-19, we decided there may never be another chance like it. When the South Australian borders finally opened up to NSW, my partner Mike and I were eager to travel the 15 hours by car (over two days) to visit my family in rural NSW.

The very short of it

On the 01.01.21 I miscarried my first pregnancy. That’s where the trauma should have ended, but it didn’t. On the 01.01.21 I miscarried my first pregnancy AND the entire ordeal was nothing short of inhumane and utterly humiliating.

After attempting to transit through Victoria to South Australia, in which we were not permitted because of inconsistent and non-publicly available advice regarding border closures, we arrived at the South Australian border check point where officers were informed we needed an ambulance due to what we assumed at the time was a miscarriage occurring.

Not a single police officer was interested in offering compassion and assisting him nor me, despite I was hunched over in pain and sobbing by the car. No body offered me a drink, a tissue, or to use the toilet, despite being fully aware of the uncontrollable and deeply personal tragedy I was facing; and shockingly too, there were women at that site.

I was pregnant and then I wasn’t and the circumstances and the way I had to endure the miscarriage was not dignified and the hospital and the police were fully aware that I was in the process of going through a miscarriage.

As per South Australian Quarantine directives, the only mode of transport I was permitted to use was my own two legs and I was not permitted to use public spaces, this includes a public toilet- which I desperately needed.

I could not get a taxi. I could not get a bus; I had no choice but to walk for 20 minutes back to our un-drivable car to the car repair place (read on to find out why) where it had been towed. It was dark. Our un-drivable car was 20 minutes’ walk from the hospital.

Mike was not with me at the hospital at any point, I was forced to endure the miscarriage of the life we created TOGETHER in hospital ALONE he was not permitted to be by my side whilst I was in hospital, he was not permitted to enter the hospital. This means he also was not there when I was discharged.

Mike was with the car and in the car were all of my toiletries and personal belongings. I just wanted to be with Mike, and he was a long walk from me, he left the car at the repair place and walked to me to help me make the long 20 minute journey back to the car. The walk took me 35 minutes because I could barely contain the product of the miscarriage as blood soiled my clothes.

The South Australian State Government and associated departments had a duty of care to transport me safely and humanely, since I was dependent on their direction under quarantine directives. They refused to transport me despite knowing I was enduring a miscarriage and that doctors advised I should not walk.

They humiliated me and forced me to endure a miscarriage in public. This did not need to happen, I could have miscarried and bled in privacy because I knew it was not over, they knew too. I had no choice but to bleed onto the side of the road because I could not even use a public toilet.

The full story

My family, like us, were separated and protected by the countryside where they were hundreds of kilometres away from any hot spots or confirmed COVID-19 transmission. So coming from South Australia with 0 community transmission to a rural area with 0 cases and also 0 transmission; and fearing the next time may be too late, we travelled the 1,360 km and spent Christmas with my grandparents and the rest of family. Unfortunately, we would not be able to visit my other grandparent who lives in Sydney. Strangely, the previous New Year, on what also started on New Year’s Eve, [whilst visiting other family in Sydney] we became separated from my immediate family on the South Coast, by none other than the fires; and so spent the night in a rescue centre in Sussex In-let- with hundreds of other climate refugees. So, we were accustomed to foregoing New Year’s celebrations and acting quickly to any public health directives and in all types of situations.

On the 30th of December following multiple cases exploding all over Sydney (still more than 400 km from the rural town we were staying in) in the late evening, the South Australian government announced hard border restrictions were coming. On the following morning of the 31st of December (to our surprise) the South Australian government gave the directive that all South Australians visiting NSW must return home immediately before midnight or else face mandatory quarantine. The rules had changed very quickly. The previous day the borders were open, the health directive was that all returning travellers from rural NSW into SA would not be required to quarantine but simply to get tested and isolate until they received a negative test. The rules had changed so suddenly that we were not able to follow these unrealistic expectations and cut-off.

Both my partner and I looked at each other as we realised avoiding quarantine was not an option for us. There was no way we would reach the border in time, just absolutely no way. So we both needed to get home in time in order to complete quarantine by the 15th which marked Mike’s return to work; and the commencement of my PhD journey as a COVID-19 scientist. So we packed up our things immediately, said goodbye to my family within the hour, (for what will likely be another year) and we left the area to get as close to the SA border as possible (safely). We were hoping for some sort of leeway in the process, as it would take 2 days of driving to finally reach the SA border.

Additionally, I had not long found out I was pregnant. It was my first pregnancy, and I was dealing with pregnancy symptoms that lead us to stop almost every hour along the way. So again, there was absolutely no way we would ever reach the border by midnight on the 31st of December. Since the journey to SA involves passing through Victoria, we had resolved to the fact that we may have to explain our situation very carefully to allow us to pass through Victoria and onwards to home, where once reaching the SA border we understood we may need to quarantine but hopped as with other states exceptions (even for Victorians) it wouldn’t have to be the case. After spending the night in accommodation in Hay NSW, we set off first for Victoria.

When we arrived at the Victorian border, met by police we were told due to border closures it was not possible to pass through Victoria and that we had to traverse across countryside and take ‘back roads’ through NSW to reach SA. Following that directive, we proceeded to drive the extra 4 hours around Victoria to hopefully reach our destination. Since the police took our details, 2 hours later we received a phone call from the same Victorian police officer that told us we couldn’t pass through Victoria, that the directives had changed and now we can. The officer said that the information they gave us about travelling through Victoria was incorrect and that we should be able to go online and get a permit to pass through, giving us the directive to travel to Mildura and present our permit. So we began to abandon our plans to traverse across NSW, stopping frequently due to my pregnancy symptoms; and head for Mildura after filling out a permit online as directed. However, when we arrived back at the Victorian border we were again told the information we had been given previously was incorrect and again told to traverse across the country side and take the back roads through NSW. So taking a deep breath we proceeded with our initial plans as directed at the first Victorian check point. We were told the back roads should get us to our destination and we set off again.

Not more than 2 hours later following the directions given by the police officers in Mildura we arrived at a turn off to enter a 130km stretch of road in an arid zone known as ‘Renmark/Wentworth Rd’ and to our surprise less than 20km in, was a sign that said ‘unsealed road ahead’. My partner looked at me nervously as our car hit the dirt road- it is not at all designed to go off road. But since it was our only choice, looking at each other, we both shrugged and thought ‘well this is the only way, and it must be safe considering this is the path we were directed to take by the authorities i.e., the Victorian Police. The stretch of road was dangerous, we had to drive slowly, and our car struggled. Outside it was 36 degrees, phone reception was patchy, there was no shade, no trees and we were looking at a vast empty landscape in all directions. We didn’t see another car for over an hour. So if we ran into any problems, a tough potentially dangerous situation lay ahead for us. It truly was a dangerous road. Unfortunately, the unthinkable happened and only 1 km from the check point our tire suddenly popped, and Mike and I got out of the car to investigate. At that very moment I also felt a sharp pain in my abdomen and buckled to my knees, I was losing my first pregnancy right then and there.

In agony and unable to control the process, I bent down on the side of the road… and there as I called to Mike in the hot scorching sun my body started to let ‘it’ go. Not two minutes later, another car crossed our path, so I rushed to make myself decent, temporarily stopping the process with what little I had on hand. Still 2.5 hours from our home in Adelaide, but with advice from the well-seasoned off-road driver, we managed to limp to the border check point and were greeted by SA police. In agony and in tears, as well as in complete shock, I stayed in the car trying to work out what we needed to do next and more importantly what I needed to do next, as I knew I needed urgent medical attention – after all it was my first pregnancy and though it wasn’t very far along I had no idea if what my body was doing was normal or whether I was having a dangerous pregnancy such as ectopic or molar pregnancy. It definitely didn’t feel normal. Since we arrived from NSW our situation required support and direction from the authorities, we were dependant on them for direction if we were to get home and begin our 14-day quarantine. We needed a new tire and I needed urgent medical attention. Both my partner and I assumed the SA police would know what to do and would understand our situation and show compassion. Unfortunately, instead we were met with complete hostility as if we somehow broke the law when we couldn’t control the reality of being unable to meet the impossible border closures and cut-off that occurred 24 hours prior.

So, despite my partner telling the officers our ordeal, explaining that we came from rural NSW and how we couldn’t have made it to the border any sooner, with him finally also telling them I was having a miscarriage. To our surprise, not a single police officer was interested in offering compassion and assisting him nor me-despite I was hunched over in pain and sobbing by the car. We posed little more than a normal risk of transmission and certainly no more than anyone else who had previously crossed the border less than 24 hours before hand that were less than 12 hours from the border when closures begun. None of that mattered, to the SA police we were considered ‘infected’ and nobody would come near us even with safe protocol. We were not even offered a mask and ours were not on hand. Nobody offered me a drink, a tissue, or to use the toilet, despite being fully aware of the uncontrollable and deeply personal tragedy I was facing; and shockingly too, there were women at that site. One female police officer even asked ‘where is she bleeding from’ to which Mike perplexingly explained ‘from her vagina’…

Nobody knew what to do for us or what to do with us we were simply an inconvenience- since we couldn’t simply follow the health directive and drive straight home to quarantine. In fact it was Mike, my partner, who decided the only option for me was to call me an ambulance and as the ambulance arrived whilst I was being wheeled on a stretcher, despite Mike had made them fully aware, a female police officer aggressively demanded I tell her what part of NSW I had come from as Mike was reaching for my hand to say goodbye. Mike was not allowed to come to the hospital with me because a) we were considered ‘high risk’ but only by SA standards, in fact even in Victoria we were considered a normal risk and b) we no longer had a road worthy vehicle for him to travel to me and he was not allowed to use alternative forms of transport, this includes a taxi or other means.

On the way to the hospital in the nearest town, Berri South Australia whilst under the care of the hospital staff I was thankfully treated with dignity, however that soon changed when the hospital had begun the process of discharging me. They too like the police, realised that with no policy in place they had no idea what to do with me or what they were permitted to do. Whilst I was tended to at the hospital, Mike organised a tow truck to take him to the town and to the nearest repair place to arrange for a new tire- though unfortunately given the time of the year and the fact it was a public holiday we would not be able to get a new tire for likely several days.

I am not on anyone’s side and frankly I have little faith in democracy, this may sound like I am slamming COVID-19 policy or that I disagree with it but it is about consistency and this is simply a factual recount of what occurred. I was given a mask as soon as I entered the ambulance, but I was not offered one prior to this. If Mike was a risk as the police or as policy had surmised, well then they also did not ask him to wear a mask and SAPOL (SA Police) did not seem to care that the tow truck driver was also not wearing a mask either. The police told Mike we were permitted to get a hotel for the night but had to remain in the hotel room until the following morning where they expected us to arrange transport back home the following day- in a process that also presumably couldn’t be in breach of the Public Health Act. However, if you stop to think about this for a moment, you quickly realise the idea of not coming into contact with others and putting others at risk is more than the health directive requires and it goes beyond the job of a police officer enforcing a simple directive to return home and quarantine. No, instead it requires compassionate thought, innovation to adapt to the rules (safely) directives from others higher up the chain and most of all common sense- none which were evident amongst any police officer we had come across that day!

The tow truck driver was permitted to transport Mike to either a hotel or to the repair place, but there was no way for me to be transported to Mike – wherever that would end up being. What’s more, the tow truck driver was not expected to quarantine, presumably because the police had surmised we were not a risk to him? So by the time the car was towed to the repair place under the directive of SA law, Mike was forced to wait by the car whilst I lay in a hospital bed on the phone to him- desperately wanting him to be by my side, sobbing uncontrollably over the loss of our first pregnancy- whilst I struggled to comprehend I was no longer a mum to be all whilst my battery threatened to die. Unfortunately, we were refused a hotel because a) we were considered a risk to other hotel guests and any business is allowed to refuse if they feel unsafe b) because we had our dog with us. So Mike chose to make other arrangements where his parents (in their 70’s) came in two cars leaving the other car with us. Initially it was thought [due to circumstances outside their control] that his parents could not make the 3.5-hour journey from their home that night, and neither of us knew whether I’d be staying overnight in hospital or whether I’d be discharged that evening. So at that stage I had not received the update from Mike and did not know we would be going home that night. Really all I wanted to do was be with Mike and grieve the loss of my pregnancy and what to me was a baby – in that moment nothing else mattered to me nor Mike.

Story concludes tomorrow

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His name is Fousseny Traoré

This is an open letter to the people of Australia and the rest of the Western World,

I’m writing to you today because I am angry. In fact I am positively furious, and I have been for the better part of a year. Finally I have found the words to say it aloud!

I have a brother, he’s not the brother you would define, but a brother all the same because we are one and the same. Both he and I share an ancestral connection, and though this may seem trivial to some, not 400 years ago our ancestors called the same place home. Intercontinental genetic comparisons confirmed that I am 1.4% African and my grandfather is 1.5%, a deep connection I will never ignore. I have an African brother, his name is Fousseny. Let me tell you the story of my brother, Fousseny Traoré.

It is 3am, my heart is pounding, tears are flowing down my cheeks and I am crying because I feel so helpless. I receive a message – the 10th message I have gotten from him in the space of a few hours and I am crying, because now 9 months on I have no answers for him yet again. “My sister, I am not credible”. “They will not listen-it has to be you sister”. “You are white and you are from The West, I do not have a voice, for you see I am not from The West”. “Please, they do not hear me, I can’t do this anymore, they ignore me. “You must understand they will always only ignore me”.

[“My sister, I am not credible”. “They will not listen-it has to be you sister”. “You are white and you are from The West, I do not have a voice, for you see I am not from The West”.

“Please, they do not hear me, I can’t do this anymore, they ignore me. “You must understand they will always only ignore me”]

I wipe my tears away as I read the message and red hot guilt flows through my body, and I try to formulate a sentence. I want to explain that people do care, but I know that’s a lie and he also knows that’s a lie. I know everything he is saying is none other than the truth. The West doesn’t see Africa, the west doesn’t hear AFRICA, and the west barely acknowledges its existence. In the words of my brother: “They care not, Africa is the garbage dump of the West”.

[“They care not, Africa is the garbage dump of the West”]

I am exhausted and it is exhausting to write this but the first thing I have to say is this: I’m really angry, and you should be too and this is why. You stood in the streets and you screamed in protest but… there was millions you left out. When you stood in your streets and screamed that ‘BLACKLIVESMATTER’ where were the screams for BLACK AFRICANS? When you stood in the streets and you screamed for human rights, for people of colour; and for the stolen generations, where were the screams for them? When you waved your sign in the air through your masked protection, where were screams for the Mother Land? When you rose up and demanded equality for all, where were the screams for Black Africans? Where were the screams for AFRICA? All that came from the west, was only for the west and nothing more. You went into the streets and you forgot! Where were the screams for your brothers and sisters in AFRICA? You forgot them. When they silently protested on social media, did you even hear them? Did you see them? Can you even name any African protesters? Even one? If you learn one thing today let it be his name: Fousseny Traoré.

To tell you his story we first have to address the African elephant in the room. Somehow between the 80’s and the 90’s the voice for most of Africa fell off the map. Somewhere along the lines, the words: ‘Give Help, Send Help and SOS’, lost all meaning. The very nature of these words have almost become perverse, almost as if human suffering is now a crime and ‘how dare anyone send out a distress signal on my meme scattered newsfeed’. For the first time in history, our African brothers and sisters are right in front of us and they are screaming for our help and we can do nothing but ignore them. During the BlackLivesMatters protests you NEVER amplified their voice! In your anger for the injustice in The West, you forgot Africa; and they watched you through a looking glass as you IGNORED THEM.

Spend 5 minutes on a public forum and you quickly learn of the mirror they hold up to our society; revealing what it truly is, a festering selfish world full of disgusting and filthy inequality. I want to you to ask yourself how many people who ask for help don’t want help? How many people who are suffering, are lying about it? Now I want you to think about this: if you’ve had a social media post that had some or a substantial outreach; go to your posts, go to your messages and I can guarantee someone in a dire situation has desperately tried to communicate with you. They saw you as a beacon and you ignored them, because they don’t know what a scam is, they don’t know how to ask for help, they don’t know the world through your eyes. So through their oppression sending a distress signal on social media is all that they can do. Here’s the thing, it doesn’t take an intellectual to see another human’s pain and suffering, it doesn’t take a genius to verify the authenticity of a story being told, you just need to do one human thing and LISTEN, listen because it doesn’t take a genius to hear a genuine scream.

This is what I heard. Fousseny is from Bamako, Mali West Africa. In 2019 Fousseny Traoré led the FRIDAYSFORFUTURE movement, [well he usedto lead the movement but more on that soon] his last protest had an audience of 2,000 Malians – but you’ve never heard of him. Fousseny is an incredibly remarkable young man, he’s kind, generous and would do anything for anyone. He would give anyone the clothes off his back if it meant he could change anything for the better. He started numerous campaigns to fight plastic pollution and has worked for pennies to feed himself and others in his community. With only his smile and determination and with little resources, he has encouraged hundreds to clean up the streets, to plant trees and live sustainably; and caused hundreds more to take to the streets in protest for Climate Action. He’s no Greta Thurnberg, no, but he is deserving of the stature all the same, because he is a deeply oppressed Black African Muslim and it is incredible what he has accomplished so far, but he’s invisible to you.

If he was a Westerner he’d be all over the news, but he’s not and so you don’t even know his name, so I’m saying it again, his name is Fousseny Traoré. I have no words to describe how remarkable he truly is, but do you know what the most remarkable thing about Fousseny is? He’s real and it was profoundly easy to verify the authenticity of his words, PROFOUNDLY EASY, so I helped him. Here’s what I have learned from that: no-body gives a HOOT about Black Africans. Quite frankly I’m sick of it, I’m sick of the excuses, I’m sick of heartless cowards and reacts with no intentions. I’ve had an ocean full of plastic of it. I’ve had so much of a barrel of it that both Fousseny and I feel like we are screaming into a blackened void- but that isn’t even the half of it! Like most people who live in a constant state of war and unrest Fousseny’s circumstances changed, initially we were all so filled with joy for him, but sadly things did not turn out as planned.

Earlier this year Fousseny won a scholarship from a French organisation for his efforts with the FRIDAYSFORFUTURE movements, and he flew all the way to Tunisia in North Africa for a month long workshop to learn how to become a future leader in climate activism. He would take these skills back home to Mali to lead the Climate Justice movement. Sadly Fousseny never made it home and now he can’t go home. Since both COVID-19 and the military coup in Mali, we can’t get him home and out of Tunisia. Exhaustingly, I have had to explain this to countless organisations, consuls, government bodies and humanitarian agencies with no or little reply, explicitly dictating that Fousseny can’t go home. There is a war in Mali, Mali is a no fly zone, and there is a high chance he would be held at gun point and forced to do unspeakable things on threat of his life. This isn’t a joke or an embellishment, this is real life. If forced to go home, especially since he is considered a political activist, Fousseny if he goes home will in all likelihood be murdered – that’s just a cold hard fact. Fousseny is thousands of km away from home and he’s never been outside Mali until now, he hasn’t seen his family in almost 9 months and he’s never been this far from them in his entire life. Fousseny was Mali’s only hope for Climate Justice and his efforts have faded into the deep oppression into nothingness. In the space of 2 months Fousseny and his people went from running Climate Action protests to: starving, running for their lives and being murdered- and this was barely before COVID-19 had graced their shores.

Fousseny Traoré

Fousseny also speaks 3 languages, and French is his first, he’s an incredibly gifted and talented environmentalist and everything he does is selfless, he is an asset to humanity and any country should be lucky to take him! But none of that matters, because he does not have a right to seek asylum in Tunisia, apparently that’s where his human rights just abruptly end? Fousseny is a refugee. To add to this, I have even had Westerners tell me he should seek asylum in Tunisia, and that he should be grateful that he isn’t in Mali… but you can’t seek asylum in Tunisia, a refugee can’t work nor start a new life in Tunisia! That is why people die in refugee camps in Tunisia. Fortunately he is not at the refugee camp in Tunisia, because even if it comes out of my own pocket, I will not subject to him to such torture, because it is a place of misery and suffering. It is completely inhuman the way they treat refugees in Tunisia. Even in his dark room, from his 1 bedroom flat that he can barely make rent on (from small donations), thousands of kilometres from home, he is still trying to reach out and create awareness for Climate Justice and he would do this until his last breath I’m sure. Fousseny needs urgent refugee protection now! He is getting sick, and his mental health is starting to destroy his mind and body, he also desperately needs treatment for his sickle cell anaemia and left foot disability. Imagine being in a country with not-the-right to seek asylum and being expected to die there, because of a war you didn’t start in a country on a continent the world doesn’t care about. What kind of soulless being do you have to be to believe he does not deserve to seek asylum in a foreign land? Why does he not deserve to seek asylum in Australia? These questions keep me awake at night.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has done nothing for Fousseny – save issuing him a useless card and his refugee status in Tunisia only adds to his invisibility, and with it carries a certain stigma. He is completely ignored by communities that 9 months ago were singing his praises. These are the communities he is supposed to be a part of that have left him for DEAD. This is what makes me angry the most, his distress signals on social media are completely ignored! No matter how much time we spend sharing his campaign, it’s blocked from Climate Activism Groups. The Admins of these groups delete the posts, because apparently a real life black African refugee and FridaysForFuture activist, is not authentic enough to warrant their support? If only they knew his pain and bothered to hear his cries, if only they knew he is very much a victim to the very injustice they are fighting for. They refuse to help someone who has done so much for the FRIDAYSFORFUTURE movement and for Climate Justice – they refuse to help their own. They have completely forgotten him. I am incensed beyond comprehension at this injustice Fousseny is being forced to endure, all the while being completely ignored by communities that he depends on so much. I am disgusted with these groups. So I have a message for those Climate Activists and groups who have deleted his posts. To those who have broken my brother’s spirit: you should BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES, for you know nothing of his sacrifice and NOTHING of his pain! Who do you think you are and why do you ignore his distress signal? Is this not what you are fighting for after all?!

To make things worse it is because of Australian laws, and our utterly useless refugee policies, that Fousseny is not likely to seek protection from Australia. Canada, is where he wants to go because it is French speaking, but mainly because they sponsor refugees, unlike Australia! So I desperately want to fly him to Canada under refugee protection but we haven’t been unable raise enough money, not-with-standing we don’t even know if this is the correct path forward and since his Visa has expired we are afraid of him being detained by the Tunisian government. There are also legal issues as well as Tunisian taxes we can’t seem to get past. Not to mention numerous other barriers and probably many more invisible ones we also can’t seem to get a straight answer for. I want to find him a sponsor from Canada but since I’m not Canadian, this seems an impossible feat and we can’t seem to get a straight answer out of anyone! I am so disgusted with humanity, to the point I don’t even know who to be disgusted with anymore! I am disgusted with Australia for pretending that refugees like Fousseny do not exist and most of all (and I never thought I would say this) I am disgusted with the UNHCR!

My brother is fading into the festering swamp of vast human injustice and inexplicable inequality. The morale for human rights have gone, and I can do nothing but watch from the sidelines because so far no one has been able to help us, and their silence is all we can hear. I am one person and I have never felt more alone and ignored in my life, it’s as if nobody cares at all. Not a single humanitarian organisation or human rights advocacy group has come to this remarkable young man’s aid and I have no words to express my rage. He doesn’t understand why. We both don’t understand why. If people out there do care, WHERE THE BLOODY HELL ARE YOU? We need you so desperately right now, I need you, Fousseny needs you. My heart aches, because you, the readers of Australian Independent Media, are my last hope to save my brother. I have no idea what is going to happen to him, and his only crime was being born a Black African.

[‘If I die on this journey then so be it’.]

Sadly, Fousseny no longer believes there is help out there and come January or February next year, Fousseny will risk his life and attempt to cross the Mediterranean, in a tiny boat over rough seas. He is so desperate to leave Tunisia he would rather die than stay there, and I quote ‘If I die on this journey, then so be it’. Please don’t let this happen, I beg you. Please don’t let him die. How can it be this hard to get help for someone who needs it most? Is he not human enough? I am failing him and it isn’t even my fault. I am afraid no one will ever come to his aid and with that I am afraid he will die.

FOR GOODNESS SAKE, IF YOU KNOW HOW TO HELP AND YOU’RE READING THIS, DO SOMETHING AND HELP HIM NOW!

Please don’t let him die, I cannot do this on my own, someone do something before for it’s too late. I need legal aid, sponsors, humanitarian and human rights advocates, someone, anyone… just someone other than just me to do something, anything!! Why is he being ignored? Please don’t let this go on. Help me save Fousseny, please help me get him out of Tunisia before he makes this dangerous journey and before it’s too late, help him seek refugee protection. He is all alone, please don’t let him die, BlackAfricanLivesMatter.

Sincerely,

Nicole F Clark

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I’ve never been to America

Foreword: Australia has endless flaws and whilst I’m not going to paint a picture that Australia is not in many but different ways just as troubled, in just as much danger from government corruption and just as racist towards non-whites, that’s a topic for another day.

I’ve never been to America, but I can tell you the names of 30 different cities. I can tell you which accents are from what location. I can tell you the name of the “discoverer” who stole the land from the Native Americans which ultimately lead to the genocide of thousands. I can tell I was told this through a fairy tale that painted Christopher Columbus as a discoverer and a hero. I’m not American but I can tell you about how this took place almost 200 years before my own country’s Indigenous population was also subject to the same pain. I can tell you a detailed narrative about how the British Slave Trade stole and destroyed entire civilisations and how still today this deeply inhumane act causes immeasurable pain, for not just those stolen but for those of the mother land they were stolen from. I’ve never been to America, but I can piece together almost a 1/3 of the American National Anthem and I can clearly sing the first 3 lines. I’m not American but I can tell you the first president of the United States, some of the names of the founding fathers that signed the Declaration of Independence, why there are 50 stars on the flag and even some of the First Amendment rights. I’m not American but I can tell you that I’ve known all of this since I was 10 years old but I’ve never been to America.

I’ve not been to most countries, and by comparison what I know about them is little more than nothing. I can’t tell you why any other country’s flag is the way that it is, nor can I tell you the names of any cities I haven’t been to, nor their history or the path of their justice system, not like I can for America. I’ve never been to America but I know more about it than any other country and sometimes I even know more about it than my own, but unlike other countries I’ve been to, I’ve never been to America. I know jam is jelly, and jelly is jello, I know cookies are biscuits, lollies are candy and I know trash is garbage, gas is petrol; and that the joke ‘what’s the number for 911’ was not funny to me because the number for 911 was 000, and I have known all of this since before I was 10 years old. I’m not American and I didn’t learn this at school, I didn’t learn it from my parents and I didn’t learn it from text books or from an Encyclopaedia. I didn’t learn it by talking to people from America nor had I ever had contact with an American, but at 10 years old my knowledge of America rivalled the knowledge of my own country. My knowledge of American culture could be recalled in much the same way because I had learned it all from America through my television screen.

At 10 years old, I knew that America was the land of ‘the free and the home of the brave,’ the only place in the world with true ‘freedom of speech,’ where you were ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and not ‘guilty until proven innocent’ as it was for me. The place where justice prevailed and where freedom of speech never failed. America, the place where children didn’t wear school uniforms, and going to school was optional. The land of pushpops, poptarts and arcades; fast food and home to McDonalds and every movie ever made. The land of little league baseball, backwards facing caps, skater bois, after school hangs outs and summer camps. A place with cool mums and dads who let their kids do ‘whatever they want.’ America, the place with two story houses and white picket fences, rolling green lawns and playgrounds for back yards. America the home of Disneyland and where dreams were made, a place of magic and where dreams really do come true. This was the only narrative I would ever be told.

Over and over again, subliminal messages would fire from our screens as if screaming at us ‘America is great, America is perfect,’ in this never ending loop. Program after program, advertisement after advertisement we were told that even though we’d never been to America that it was everything we always needed it to be and the only thing we should ever care about. At 10 years old, despite that our parents tried to tell us it wasn’t really like that and despite deep down we knew nothing could be perfect, we didn’t want to believe them because for most of us who’d never travelled to the outside world, it was all we knew. To some kids, America was the only country in the world worth knowing about, nothing would ever compare and nothing would ever be as good, not our food, not our clothes and certainly not Australia. Sometimes we would scoff at the thought of having to watch our own TV shows, and they had to be good if they were to draw in our attention. America, the land of equality, freedom and justice for all and yet… we never knew this was all a lie.

I’ve never been to America, but now when you call 911 you’ll go through to emergency because so many children don’t know the number for 911. I’m not American, but two years ago I had to explain to the 6 year old daughter of a close family friend of mine, that Trump was not the president of the world, that he was only the president of America and that he wasn’t our president either. Then I had to explain that Australia doesn’t have a president – so entrenched are we that the perverse pattern still continues on to today. Take a good look, America that is what your country has done for you, ‘he’s not my president,’ and only when I say it, is it TRUE, because I’ve never been to America and Donald Trump is not my president.

I’ve never been to America, but I can tell you when I was 10 years old that I saw the country through my screen in much the same fashion that an authoritarian regime would seem but I’m 16,000 km away. I’ve never been to America but even today when I turn on my TV every single television station will be playing something American almost 99% of the time and hearing my own accent is a novelty. I’ve never been to America but I’m forced to feel guilt and responsibility for a nation I’ve never been a part of. For which even as I say this, you might still argue I was. For a history I didn’t write, for a time I’m expected to understand, for a reality I was never exposed to and was never made to understand. If I don’t, I am publicly shamed for this, for your situation, that I cannot comprehend. Because it is not my country, and I’ve never been and I have my own shame, reconciliation, progression and changes to make. I have my own apologies to make. Much like most Americans today, America shaped my world view, but there’s just one problem, I’m not American. My life is still dominated by American culture but that’s not the problem, and not even why I’m angry, I’m angry because, America, you are still telling LIES.

I learned a long time ago that if you want to be part of the Social Media Universe now more than ever you have to know as much as I know about America. You have to know what you can and can’t say, you have to know how not to offend and you have to know most have zero tolerance for acceptance if you don’t. Often you must give up your identity, put yourself second and you must acknowledge theirs first, and you’ll frequently be expected to know things no one outside America should be expected to know or else be patronised and humiliated with social discourse you’ve never known. And I have witnessed from some, the so-called unity that is really exclusion of all but your own. You have to know they don’t understand your culture, because unlike you it wasn’t shoved down their throats until you had no choice but to remember the first three lines of their national anthem. You have to know they only know America, and for many of them, America is the world and the only world they have or will ever know. You don’t know us half as much as we know you, America, and I don’t think we’ve ever told you this nor have you ever been expected to know this because I’m Australian, not American.

From the age of 15 was when the cracks started to show, when the days of high speed internet began to take off. That was when the false narrative was finally stripped away. No longer was I giddy, weak at the knees and nervous to speak to Americans anymore, it would seem Americans were not gods after all, they were just people like everyone else. In fact, they were a highly troubled and divided nation of people thwart with division, racism and vast inequality, trapped behind a smoke screen their leaders had projected to the world for decades. A smoke screen that was extra thick and especially perverse for my country alone. Ever since I can remember, I have known America, but everything I did know was a lie and I never knew the truth. For that I’m deeply angry and for that I’m deeply disturbed, not because I don’t care about Americans, for a deep nostalgia, unity and even love runs through my veins, but because I spent half my life being told by America that they were nothing short of perfect.

Perfect despite they have guns. Perfect despite that the only gun I have ever seen was on the belt of a police officer and I’ve never seen anyone fire a gun. Perfect but my neighbours don’t own a gun. Perfect despite no Universal Healthcare. Perfect, but going to the ER could mean death anyway. Perfect despite they trial children in court. Perfect despite mass school shootings where thousands of innocent lives have been lost. Perfect despite that police murder people in front of thousands. Perfect despite white supremacy, racism and oppression that I’d have never have imagined in my wildest nightmares and certainly not for America growing up. Perfect despite most voted in a sex offender and refuse to acknowledge a global pandemic that is killing thousands worldwide. Perfect because millions don’t believe in science nor the climate crisis, won’t mitigate its threat and won’t vaccinate for other diseases that threaten humanity. Perfect, despite too many do not even believe in the pandemic.

America, this world of oppression, this world of pain and great division and needless sacrifice. This world of suffering, mass homelessness and deaths from inadequate healthcare; and as an outsider and despite entrenched in their culture, this we never knew about. I’m angry because I had to wait to hear it from Americans themselves, I had to grow up before I learned the truth, they never truly had a voice, and never even tasted what I thought I America was, nor were they aware of these tall tales I had been told, for I continue to shock my friends with the only narrative America had ever sold.

For most of my life I only imagined their life was perfect, I had only imagined they had democracy more intact than mine but the truth is, in some ways they are every bit just like me; except they have never known basic human rights like I have. For some Americans learning I have never lived like them, is too much to comprehend and so envious are they that they lash out in pure hate. I want to say sorry for never knowing their world for what it is, but often I don’t know what to say because there are too many euphemisms and acronyms in the way. It’s all I see, it’s all I hear about and it’s deeply rooted in my identity but I cannot understand, as like a child I’ve watched them fall apart and like a child I’m naïve and never know what to say from the start. I’ve tried to imagine a need for guns, especially in schools, the First Amendment rights and why healthcare was privatised. I’ve tried to imagine the unnecessary pain they feel with COVID-19 and how many people have negligently died, but I can’t. Over the years I’ve tried so hard to understand, so much at times that I’ve cared more about their problems than my own. I have spent long nights and days agonising over their troubles that they often kept me awake at night.

I have never been to America, but for the first time in my life I don’t want to go there, and like millions of Americans I don’t want to be told lies anymore. I’m not American and that much I know because nobody is American like you. What I can tell you is that I stand with you, we only ask for your patience in return and we need that most of all. Please don’t be offended for what we do and don’t say or for what we don’t know, because despite that I still live and breathe American culture still to this day, I’ve never known America and no one knows America like you do.

When I was 10 years old I thought I knew America, but now I realise I never knew it at all and for that I’m sorry and for that I offer my strength and to you I say this: maybe you’re not the ‘land of the free,’ but by god for the BIPOC (an acronym I learned just yesterday) the health challenged and all others who aren’t at the top, y’all are definitely home to the BRAVE.

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Preventing the spread of COVID-19

A practical guide for the home

Overview

First off, there are plenty of other useful sources out there that explain the importance of washing your hands and how to wash your hands correctly, so this paper will not cover this; but please wash your hands correctly, for 20 seconds and often! Instead, this paper will cover other aspects of managing the spread of SARs-CoV-2, that I personally believe [next to hand washing, our first line of defence] are the most effective ways to combat the spread of CoVid-19*. At the end of this article, there is also a recipe for homemade hand sanitiser with a final concentration of 83.12% alcohol.

(*Please note, I am not a doctor, nor am I a medical professional but I am a scientist (published in peer review) I have a B.Env.Sci (Hons) and I am currently seeking supervisor for a PhD that focuses on zoonotic risk factors of human malaria. I have extensive knowledge of infection dynamics and pathogen control, especially parasites both botanical and blood. I am also highly skilled at both conducting a search of, as well as interpreting peer-review scientific literature, particularly literature in the biosciences and biomedical sciences, including virology. The following information you are being provided with is correct for its time and is the best information available to scientists at this time).

Disinfecting surfaces to prevent the spread of CoVid-19

What you should use

I am writing this guide in response to an in-depth review paper recently published by Kampf and Steinmann (2020), which demonstrates what surface disinfections are likely to inactivate SARs-CoV-2 using model pathogens that are most like SARs-CoV-2 and therefore more than likely can be used to prevent the spread of CoVid-19 (see table 1 below or table 2 of the article). To inactivate the virus on surfaces [number of active versus inactive virion/single virus particles] in the shortest and therefore most effective time frame possible, you need pure rubbing alcohol, 95% ethanol (which is simply methylated spirits) or failing that at least 71% or higher isopropyl alcohol (which Aussies can buy at Bunnings or hardware stores).

The review by Kampf and Steinmann (2020) indicate, both isopropyl alcohol and ethanol (methylated spirits) with a concentration that is >70% (greater than) will inactivate the virus in 30 seconds. Unfortunately, the commercially bought product Isocol is only 64%, so it’s also ineffective for this time frame, but see the tables below to see other time frames to use on less frequented surfaces of the home. Thus this is where good old ‘metho’, for us Aussies saves the day. Therefore the study indicates that you should use these products to wipe down surfaces, making sure to saturate the surface, so it doesn’t evaporate too quickly. It is really important to make sure the alcohol doesn’t evaporate before the time it takes to inactivate the virus, this means you really need to wet/saturate the surface, so don’t forget!

What you shouldn’t use

I’m only going to say this once, do not use the following. Do not use benzalkonium chloride or chlorhexidine, (the main ingredients in disinfectant or disinfectant wipes) unless they have concentrations of at least 0.1% and they will be hard to come by at this stage now anyway! It’s funny (in a morbid way) everyone who panic bought disinfectant wipes have no idea that these products do not kill the virus- they are in fact wasting their time! This is because most disinfectant wipes are only 0.04% benzalkonium chloride, or 0.02% chlorhexidine, so in fact, it can take up to 10 minutes to kill it when used on surfaces. So unless the surface is literally wet and saturated for 10 minutes, it is still contaminated!

Put simply, I wouldn’t even use them if I were you, the risk is too high! It’s a gamble we can’t afford to make. Even more shocking, is that if these concentrations are even less than 0.04% such as 0.01% then forget it, these concentrations do not work at all! In fact, it will take 3 days to kill the virus (the same time it takes for the virus to die anyway!) so don’t use them, it is giving you a dangerous, false sense of security and it is the literal equivalent to doing nothing! Additionally, if you want to know how long the virus survives on surfaces, the paper also outlines how long the virus survives on different surfaces i.e. clothes, paper, steel etc… (see table 2 below or table 1 of the paper).

It is important to understand your hands (whilst organic) are also considered a ‘surface’ so in the event of an emergency (such as if you know you have directly come into contact with someone who is infected) you can ‘disinfect’ your hands or other parts of your body. So you can essentially submerge your hands in methylated spirits (95% ethanol) or 100% isopropyl alcohol for at least 30 seconds, and it will reduce the viral load to what is known as undetectable/safe levels. Basically, you’ll reduce it to nothing. However, the catch with that is, that it will dry out your hands! So best to only do this in an emergency, and make sure you use a moisturiser afterwards! Which brings us to my next point…

Hand sanitiser

Now, I spent a bit of time working this out and came up with my own recipe to make it based on the recommendations from WHO [but if there is anyone out there who feels the ratios are wrong then please correct me]. Here is a break-down of why I strongly believe commercial hand sanitisers are probably no-where near as effective as they are believed to be! A lot of doctors and medical professionals are saying you need a hand sanitiser that is at least 60% this is completely incorrect, it’s actually 70% when it comes to SARs-CoV-2, (see Kampf and Steinmann 2020). Why are doctors saying 60%? Because these professionals are misinformed and they have NOT read the latest studies in peer review! Peer review, for anyone who doesn’t know, is basically the latest up to date knowledge in the sciences that other scientists (usually experts) have agreed and approved to.

The science of peer review is moving really fast at the moment. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly apparent to me, that more often than not, doctors and health workers DO NOT read peer review and so they are NOT up to date up with the latest scientific studies, which is critical in times like a global pandemic! How do I know this? Well because every up to date peer-review study I read, does not reflect knowledge or advice given to the public. In fact, according to Kampf and Steinmann (2020) concentrations of alcohol at 70% is not even really that effective against SARs-Cov-2 at all! Yes, it will reduce the viral load but the study demonstrates that with concentrations of 70% the virus only becomes inactive after 10 minutes, and that’s nothing to sneeze at, literally. This means the time it takes for a commercial hand sanitiser to evaporate is probably less than the time it takes to inactivate the virus to safe levels.

This might shock you but…interestingly, as I said earlier, if the concentration of alcohol is >70% it is the most effective. But something really interesting is that if we increase it from 71-75%, then the viral load is reduced to almost nothing, in… wait for it… 30 seconds! So that’s 30 seconds versus 10 minutes, which is obviously a no-brainer! So basically at 70%, you’d need to stick your hand in the hand sanitiser for 10 minutes to really get the full effect! In essence, it’s pretty useless. Whereas we know that with concentrations >70% (table 1) we see a massive reduction in the time it takes to reduce the viral load; and at 75% the viral load is reduced to undetectable levels in just 30 seconds! And here’s the really really interesting thing, most commercially produced sanitisers are a mere 70%, so isn’t it interesting that as soon as the threshold of 70% has been reached, you see a huge jump in the time it takes to reduce the viral load!?

This sort of result I would argue, suggests viruses like SARs-Cov-2 and new strains emerging from it, can develop some sort of resistance to commonly used concentrations of commercially available hand sanitiser and or household disinfectants! However, this may just be an artefact of the fact that products and their concentrations, were designed around studies such as these. Thus, is what lead us to design these effective products in the first place, however, it is a compelling argument to suggest resistance, none the less!

Now if you scroll your finger up to the top of table 2, you’ll notice the higher the concentration of alcohol the better, so theoretically you’d want a hand sanitiser with the highest possible concentration of alcohol, something that reduces the viral load in the shortest possible time frame but also doesn’t evaporate before this time. Kampf and Steinmann (2020) demonstrated saturation of the virus using differing concentrations of alcohol starting at 75-78% right up to 95-100% reduce the viral load to almost nothing in 30 seconds.

So in terms of hand sanitiser you really need something that is >71%, and it just so happens that WHO recommends a final product which is 80%. However, as mentioned earlier, we can’t keep dousing our hands in high concentrations of alcohol, not only will they will dry out but you’ll have to use a lot! Plus to get a high concentration of alcohol in that final product you need a high concentration to begin with. So we need something to both counteract that dryness and keep the concentration of alcohol at an effective level-to reduce the viral load. We don’t want to dilute it past the point of its effectiveness. To do this, we need to dilute it by adding an emollient which will counteract that dryness but also keep it lingering longer. Basically, when you are dealing with alcohol in high concentrations, you need to make sure the dilution factor will be no less than the final concentration that is required to reduce the viral load i.e. must be >71%. Therefore ideally at least 75% for isopropyl alcohol or 78% for ethanol to reach the 30-second mark (see table 1). Obviously, we don’t want to be only slightly better than commercial products, we want to be better! So to ensure the most effective outcome, we need to ensure we start with an initial concentration of 95% so that our final product is at least 80%, as recommended by WHO.

 

Table 1 Kampf and Steinmann (2020) demonstrate, it is likely that SARs-Cov-2 inactivation is most effective at concentrations of alcohol >70% (yellow) whereas surface disinfectants chlorhexidine and benzalkonium chloride (green) are ineffective at concentrations <0.2%.

 

 

Table 2 As demonstrated by Kampf and Steinmann (2020) it is likely that SARs-CoV-2 will follow a similar time frame to other pathogens.

 

References:

Kampf, G., Todt, D., Pfaender, S., & Steinmann, E. (2020). Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and its inactivation with biocidal agents. Journal of Hospital Infection. [Link to full article] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195670120300463?fbclid=IwAR0WKiJmkj2jvsrbJTe_FeCjFZRfFPAy9T5EHTOw571F-FDP-EdLdTmv8ZA

World Health Organisation https://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/Guide_to_Local_Production.pdf

N.F.Clark’s home-made hand sanitiser

*Generally speaking to slightly reduce the concentration you must have more alcohol than your solvent/emollient, generally 3 parts alcohol, 1 part the solvent/emollient. Alcohol without solvents are really tough on our hands so adding the glycerin will ensure your hands are quite moisturised and don’t dry out. Please also note that this recipe does not include hydrogen peroxide, since it is not essential to the process*

You will need:

  1. Ethanol alcohol/methylated spirits 950 ml/L (must be 95% concentration)
  2. Pure glycerine or glycerol

Ingredients

Methylated spirits (210 ml)

Glycerin (30ml) equiv. 1/8 cup

Method

Pour in 210ml of methylated spirits in a clean, dry glass bowl or jug, then add 30ml of glycerin and stir well. For the equation and for the concentration to work, your final mixture must add up to 240ml. Pour it into a spray or pump bottle and you’re done! You can also double this recipe to make more.

And that’s it, now you have a home-made hand sanitiser that is at least 10% more effective than store bought*, as peer review studies indicate concentrations such as this are far more effective at reducing the viral load than their commercially produced counterparts.

Of course that aside, nothing is more effective than washing your hands; and no hand sanitiser should be used unless in the absence of soap and water!

Chemical equation this recipe is based on: C1V1=C2V2

950×3.5/4 (which is a little bit over 3/4cup) which is the equiv. to 95%x210/240= 83.12% which is also equiv. to… 210ml= 3 quarter cups+ 1/8 of a cup… but since the final product must add up to 240ml; this means to reduce the concentration of ethanol to 83.12% then we need 30 ml of our emollient which is 1/8 of a cup of glycerin.

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Shark ecotourism -The no bull shark approach

Shark ecotourism – The no bull shark approach

Two weeks ago I was assigned the task of writing up a ‘mock briefing’ as part of one of my subjects at University. I was given the topic ‘Is shark ecotourism teaching sharks to hunt humans?’ I performed a quick Google search and scoured Wikipedia for some general knowledge on the subject. Yes, Wikipedia! It’s no secret that even scientific professionals will consult Wikipedia for a well laid out easy to read concept- before seeking the crux of deeper knowledge of scientific journals and peer reviewed books – our most trusted and trialled order; the scientific sophistication the likes of which Wikipedia will never replace. But, something shocked me, Wikipedia didn’t have anything on shark ecotourism. And, I wondered why? Then I adjusted my search to say ‘shark tourism’, ‘finally’, I thought, ‘some facts that the public has access to’. However, I was shocked; the whole definition is half a page long! There are missing citations and there is no information on it. I felt it was almost deliberate! I had this overwhelming sense of discontent; it would appear the public is blissfully unaware of both the benefits of shark ecotourism and the myths surrounding shark ecotourism. And . . . like the proverbial dribble that shrouds our crackpot science minister (or lack thereof) total (but blissful) ignorance ensues. With such uncertain frames of mind surrounding the myths of sharks and shark attacks, it’s a no wonder members of the public and private sectors have sensationalised beyond provision!

There are whole pages and completely ‘personal’ accounts of why sharks are dangerous, or why sharks are bad, or why some over stimulated sensationalist maniac ‘won’t dive with sharks’. The appalling monstrosity of modern ‘opinion’, blankets the foundations of knowledge and it drips into every avenue and gets so caught up, sometimes the truth is barely heard.

Not surprised, I braved the social media network and asked a few discerning questions about sharks, and the avid responses that came back, shook my blood and bones and you may as well have left me for dead. With conviction, I kept my cool and asked such questions ‘do you think sharks are learning to hunt humans?’ ‘Do you think sharks should be culled because shark attacks have increased since sharks have found a taste for human blood?’ I writhed inside as I asked these questions, but it had to be said, the whole thing just had to be said. Responses included ‘yes of course, what about those guys who were hunted and all of those surfers, you know those guys that got killed whilst surfing, they are definitely learning to hunt humans those things are crazy, they definitely need to do that culling sorta thing’. I couldn’t think of any story or specific time or date where these ‘crazy attacks’ took place and certainly couldn’t deduce much from the aforementioned opinions of my fellow human beings.

Ladies and Gentleman, this is what we call anecdotal evidence, it means exactly what it says ‘a personal account not necessarily true or reliable’, now I don’t blame these individuals for their ‘fear and moral panic’ but that doesn’t mean it should be the way that it is. Not to mention, not one of the varied responses I got had any connections with the word ‘ecotourism’ it was almost as if, they hear the word shark and their mind is made up! They hear the word ‘man eater, killer, hunting humans’ and all logic goes out the door.

Last week, the rawness of the situation and the sensationalist opinion that scours the internet in droves, finally got to me. I became discontent and frustrated with the idea that humans are so caught up in this false perception of a marine creature. I’m putting these anecdotal claims to sleep, and for all who will listen I am laying down the cold hard facts about shark ecotourism and it’s beneficial practices to bring to the world a new world view on the ‘tripe’ that has flooded the scientific airways for millions of Australians. Bellow is an exact account of scientific peer reviewed literature, that will instil knowledge the likes of which Mr Google and Mr Wikipedia and their unhelpful ‘non-citat-ed’ offspring have represented about some of the most ‘feared, abused and ‘attacked’ creatures the world has ever seen. So without further ado, I bring to you SHARK SCIENCE! A non scary, non fear provoking, never-to-make-it-through, non cranked up, non demoralising, non fear mongering, non-anthropomorphising – truthful view of sharks.

Now, let’s ask the question: Does shark ecotourism ‘teach’ sharks to hunt humans? First, let’s cut the bull shark, because there answer is NO, but here is WHY – the answer is NO. Because I want to be serious, I’m not going to add to the already tainted emotional context of sharks. This ‘fact check’ is the ragged shark tooth, that’s right, nothing but the shark truth!

Is shark ecotourism ‘teaching’ sharks to hunt humans?

Summary

Anecdotal evidence claims that shark ecotourism in Australia – along with the activities – is ‘teaching’ sharks to hunt humans. Activities such as choosing a site and attracting sharks to a dive site as well as cage diving create unnecessary public concern, despite a lack of scientific evidence on the subject. This briefing, reviews current scientific literature and evaluates the likely hood that shark ecotourism practices, may or may not contribute to adverse behaviour in sharks in Australian waters. These issues with public concern have the potential to impact the tourism industry, has already caused a further decline of shark populations (such as great whites) and lead to unnecessary claims that sharks-since the introduction of ecotourism are being taught to hunt humans.

Background

Like all ecotourism, shark ecotourism involves getting up close and personal with the animals in their natural environment. It allows the public to observe sharks from a safe distance to experience firsthand the behaviour of sharks – as they exist in natural conditions, with the aim to educate the public on the importance of shark conservation and dispel myths about shark behaviour (Lobel, 2008). As humans are increasingly interacting with sharks in their natural environment, there are a number of concerns regarding the impacts these activities have on sharks. Wrongful portrayal of sharks in the media have lead to the opinion that the location of ecotourism sites and cage diving, as well as the methods used to attract sharks, are instilling hunting behaviour in sharks, despite there being no scientific evidence to support this.

Shark attacks V’s shark ecotourism sites

Sharks are formidable predators, they hunt down their prey and predatory attacks occur at the surface (Martin et al, 2009).In Australia, the past 50 years have resulted in 53 shark related deaths (West,2011). Shark attack frequency is however on the rise, and scientists attribute this to a decrease in the sharks natural prey source, coupled with an increase of humans in the water, which leads to sharks to coming into contact with humans more frequently, due to a decrease in the availability of natural prey (Buzzacott, 2005). Ecotourism is situated where sharks are located, concern among the public is that, shark ecotourism locations are contributing to conditioning behaviour among sharks, increasing the risk of shark attack and sharks viewing humans as food. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this.

Studies show, the risk and or probability that a shark attack will occur is very small, with an even smaller probability it will result in a fatality (table 1), whereby studies show, the chances are negligible (West, 2011). However, most shark attacks do occur in areas where more humans are present, indicating, the probability increases when more people enter the water (Bres, 1993) (figure 1). In spite of this, scientific studies have found no direct relationship between shark attacks and the locations where shark ecotourism is conducted, likely due to the remoteness of these locations and a lack of routine when attracting sharks to a site (Cubero‐Pardo et al , 2011). Therefore, there is strong evidence to suggest, as shark attacks do not specifically occur in or around shark ecotourism sites, that no link exists between the rise of shark attacks and shark ecotourism locations. Given that there is no link, there is little evidence to confirm that ecotourism activities instil learned behaviour in sharks and therefore unlikely that ecotourism locations, teach sharks to hunt humans.

Figure 1-shark (1)

Table. 1 bellow shows the number of shark attacks in Australia from 1990-2009, showing only 22 combine shark related deaths from (NSW, Qld, WA, SA, Tas, NT) in a 20 year period with 0 shark related deaths for Victoria (West, 2011)

 

Figure.1 Above, demonstrates since the beginning of shark ecotourism, shark attacks on humans are least shown to increase with activities that are predominantly associated with ecotourism practices such as Scuba diving and snorkelling (West,2011

Figure.1 Above, demonstrates since the beginning of shark ecotourism, shark attacks on humans are least shown to increase with activities that are predominantly associated with ecotourism practices such as Scuba diving and snorkelling (West,201

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is diving teaching sharks to hunt humans?

Diving with sharks from the safety of a cage is a popular ecotourism activity in Australia, participants have the opportunity to interact with sharks, and likewise sharks have the opportunity to interact with humans (Lobel, 2008). With cage diving, members of the public are given the opportunity to view the sharks in their natural environment in scuba gear from a stainless steel cage that is kept afloat by rafts, and attached to a boat by a chain (Meyer et al, 2009). There is growing concern among the public that cage diving allows sharks to become accustomed to the presence of humans in their environment. The panic being, the next time a shark encounters a human in their environment, having been accustomed to them- will see them as a food source and target them based on this knowledge. Studies show there is no scientific evidence to support this.

Studies do indicate, sharks will not view humans as a source of prey simply because humans are present in their environment. Studies show, a shark will attack due to a number of reasons whereby not all attacks indicate a shark is hunting, instead they may be investigating their surroundings with their mouths or defending their territory by bumping or grazing humans in the water (Martin, 2007). Current scientific knowledge of shark attacks, show, a human, coupled with the act of swimming whilst wearing a wet suit, can mimic the look , sound and movement of a seal, a natural prey (Caldicoot et al, 2001). Scientists have also found, in most cases the attack is non- fatal suggesting they are ‘test biting’- implying, a possible misidentification where humans could be mistaken for seals. Furthermore, studies on shark agonistic behaviour show territorial threat displays towards humans at certain distances. Studies show, there was a critical distance to when sharks reacted and humans got too close, whereby the shark felt threatened (Martin, 2007). This demonstrates that, in the unlikely event of an attack on a human, it is unlikely related to learned behaviour, as the diver simply came too close to the shark . Therefore, sharks are not targeting divers as prey, but instead reacting to a threat in their environment (Ritter and Godknecht et al, 2001). This indicates, a shark is unlikely to be conditioned by divers, as sharks perceive a threat and not food (figure 2).

figure3-shark (1)

Figure. 2, above shows the critical distance barriers for when a shark reacts to a diver, performs a territorial threat display towards a diver, to the moment a shark is likely to attack a diver. This image indicates the shark is not hunting but instead feels threatened (Martin, 2007)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is the method of attracting sharks, teaching sharks to hunt humans?

The most common method used to attract sharks to a dive site is known as ‘chumming’ and involves throwing chum (a burley mixture of southern blue fin tuna, offal and blood) in an area where sharks are located (Huveneers et al, 2013). Chumming attracts sharks to an area by stimulating their prey sensing receptors (olfactory receptors) and luring them to the site, by appealing to the senses and alerting them to prospect of prey (Clua et al,2010).Public opinion believes, chumming will allow sharks to develop behaviour that teaches them to view humans as a source of prey. However, studies show there is no scientific evidence to support this claim.

Scientific evidence does however suggest, it is plausible that sharks may begin to associate the presence of boats with food. Studies by Fitzpatrick et al (2010), show a link between the presence of sharks and boats which have released burley. Studies show, this impacts shark ecology more than human safety, whereby sharks may become dependent on this food source, effecting natural shark behaviour (figure 3). However, the study found no link to suggest sharks can directly associate humans with the release of burley, whereby humans, could be identified as a source of prey (Ritter and Amin,2014). Furthermore, the release of burley is not exclusive to shark ecotourism activities. In fact, fishing boats and fishing charters also use this method to attract fish and ecotourism practices simulate the same process as fishing boats which have used the same methods that have inadvertently attracted sharks for decades (Clua et al, 2010). Studies have found no link between a rise in shark attacks and the introduction of ecotourism activities which mimic this same process (Meyer et al, 2009). However, there are misconceptions surrounding shark attraction in Australia, as not all ecotourism boats use this method of ‘chumming’. In Australia, Adventure Bay Charters, lure great white sharks to a dive site by acoustic means. Without chumming, irregularly pulsed signals attract sharks to a low frequency sound, and then swim over to investigate (Myrberg et al, 1969). Since acoustic methods, do not produce the same results seen with sharks and boats, this indicates current methods of shark attraction- at least in Australia, does not allow any causal opportunity for sharks to associate divers with the presence of food. With no food to influence associative learning, it is unlikely sharks will relate food with humans.

figure4-shark (2)

Figure 3, above image shows the results for a study conducted by Fitzpatrick et al (2010) noting changes in behaviour of reef sharks when boats were present and when boats were not present, suggesting sharks may associate boats with the presence of food and become dependent on this food source.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion and recommendations

There is strong scientific evidence that the introduction of ecotourism has not lead to conditioning of sharks. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that any activities regarding ecotourism practices such as shark diving, or viewing and the location of a site can, or even do, contribute to the specifics regarding the conditioning of sharks. Therefore, these activities have no current potential to teach sharks to hunt humans. However, there is scientific evidence to suggest, in certain situations, sharks do have the potential to develop associative learning and can associate food with an object such as a boat. Studies show, it is not impossible that chumming can influence differing behaviour with boats and the presence of food. However, this behaviour poses an ecological risk to sharks causing food dependence, rather than a risk to humans. Current scientific evidence indicated shark behaviour and boats does not lead to humans being perceived as food. However, sharks are dangerous, territorial and naturally aggressive animals and to air on the side of caution, to minimise impacts on both sharks and humans, the practice of chumming should be avoided. Acoustic attraction, along with the viewing of sharks from a safe distance is strongly recommended, as it will also decrease the risk that divers will experience attack phenomenona known as, test biting, territorial attacks (related to territorial threat displays) OR prey misidentification. With these recommendations in mind, it is hoped the public will shift focus away from misconceptions surrounding sharks, and focus on the much needed preservation and conservation of sharks instead.

And… there you have it! The proper scientific evidence regarding sharks, shark ecotourism and all of the myths that go with it! No more bull shark!

References

Bres, M.,” The behaviour of sharks”. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, vol. 3, no. (2), pp. 133-159, 1993

Buzzacott, P. “An estimate of the risk of fatal shark attack whilst diving in Western Australia”, 2005

Caldicott, D. G., Mahajani, R., & Kuhn., “The anatomy of a shark attack: a case report and review of the literature”. Injury, vol. 32, no. (6), pp. 445-453,2001

Clua, E., Buray, N., Legendre, P et al., “Behavioural response of sicklefin lemon sharks Negaprion acutidens to underwater feeding for ecotourism purposes”. Marine Ecology Progress Series, vol. 414, pp. 257-266, 2010

Cubero‐Pardo, P., Herrón, P., & González‐Pérez.,”Shark reactions to scuba divers in two marine protected areas of the Eastern Tropical Pacific” Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, vol. 21, no. (3), pp. 239-246, 2011

Fitzpatrick, R., Abrantes, K. G., Seymour, J., & Barnett, A, “Variation in depth of whitetip reef sharks: does provisioning ecotourism change their behaviour?”. Coral Reefs, vol, 30 no. (3),pp. 569-577. 2010

Huveneers, C., Rogers, P. J., Beckmann, C et al.,. “The effects of cage-diving activities on the fine-scale swimming behaviour and space use of white sharks”. Marine biology,vol. 160, no. (11), pp. 2863-287, 2013

Lobel, P. S., “Diver Eco-Tourism and the Behavior of Reef Sharks and Rays–an Overview”, 2008

Martin, R. A., “A review of shark agonistic displays: comparison of display features and implications for shark–human interactions”, Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology, vol. 40 , no. (1), pp. 3-34, 2007

Martin, R. A., Rossmo, D. K., & Hammerschlag, N., “Hunting patterns and geographic profiling of white shark predation”. Journal of Zoology, vol.279 no. (2),pp. 111-118, 2009

Meyer, Carl G., et al. “Seasonal cycles and long-term trends in abundance and species composition of sharks associated with cage diving ecotourism activities in Hawaii.” Environmental Conservation, vol. 36, pp. 02, 2009

Myrberg Jr, A. A., Banner, A., & Richard, J. D. (1969). “Shark attraction using a video-acoustic system” Marine Biology, vol. 2 no. (3) ,pp. 264-276, 1969

Ritter, E. K., & Amin., “Are Caribbean reef sharks, Carcharhinus perezi, able to perceive human body orientation?”, Animal cognition, vol. 17, no. (3), pp. 745-753, 2014

Ritter, E. K., & Godknecht, A. J., “Agonistic displays in the blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)”. Copeia, vol. 2000 no. (1), pp. 282-284, 2000

West, J. G.,”Changing patterns of shark attacks in Australian waters”.Marine and Freshwater Research, vol. 62, no. (6), pp. 744-754, 2011

http://adventurebaycharters.com.au/shark-cage-diving-with-great-whites/ Accessed, August 14th 2014

Humanity’s Choice

It was a cold morning in mid August in 2013 when the choice finally dawned on me, after almost 3 years at University and two ecology majors, not once before had this thought crossed my mind. Not once in the times I analysed data, climate data, plant data and all species data- had I once visited the ideal that this choice was something all of humanity had to face. When the thought settled into my mind, I was grief struck, I was awe struck, I felt sick, tangled and distraught. Not once had something hit so far home. In all the textbooks, in all of the lectures, in all of the labs ; not once had something hit me as hard as this did- in all of my time whilst doing Environmental Science had I ever even imagined. What happened on that cold morning in mid August 2013 in my lecture? I understood something that I never did before. For you to understand the concept in just the right amount of intensity that I felt at that very moment, you need to let go of the pre-conceived notions that fill you with ideas about the environment. Think about what those words ‘threatened’ and ‘endangered’ mean to both you, and to others around you.

When I ask- what does the label endangered or threatened species really mean? The first thing you think is, ‘Oh my god, extinction!’ Your first response will probably be ‘my children will never get to see rhinos and elephants- they will only be in text books’. We all know about the risk of losing species, and we all know about the attempts to save those species at risk and we all know that no attempts to save species will ultimately lead to their extinction. But, have we ever even considered what will happen if we can’t ‘save’ them all? In mid August 2013, something dawned on me.

Blinded by ideals, my class mates and I worked on the lesson task and discussed species loss. We had been given a task to devise ways to save species at risk and how they can be saved using modern Environmental Science. With a blind heart full of dreams, my initial thought was ‘all species would be saved- because surely all environmentalists will save them all’. By the end of the class, my thinking suddenly changed. Then it dawned on me, there are over 30,000 endangered/threatened species (Baillie et al, 2004), we simply cannot save them all, no amount of conservation will save them all. My heart sunk and it was then that I knew.

I was faced with the cruel raw reality standing before me. Humanity has to make a choice, in fact humanity has NO choice but to make a choice. Humanity must decide who stays or goes, my hands were shaking and I looked over at my class mates with their hearts still full of dreams and it felt like my heart stopped.

So… now I ask the question, how do we make that choice, how do we make the most difficult and the most important decision a single species (humanity) is ever going to make? Similarly, a scarier thought… what if… we had, already made that choice? What if in all the haste to save the rhino, the panda and the Siberian tiger, have we unconsciously made the wrong choice? On that cold mid August morning I was faced with the biggest reality of them all, what will humanity choose?

To understand the complexity of this seemingly endless swell, we need to explore the ideas behind species loss, and what it really means to ‘lose’, a species. What is the context of these words ‘threatened and endangered’, what do they mean? How is each label determined? Baillie et al, (2004) states, these words are used as a reference point from the IUCN list (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and are categorised according to risk intensity. Different risks for each different species can lead to the loss of an entire species OR simply extinction. To assess this risk intensity, scientists look at the number of, the increase/decrease of a population of a species over time and the relative breeding success of the given species over time. From these deductions the risk for each species is ranked into categories, serving as a reference point as to just how intense the risk of losing the species in question is.

The real question here is, can humans make the most important choice of all, can we chose to save the right species from the brink of extinction? Can we really make the right choice and can this choice be unaided by previous influence? Is it something we can do with a subjective eye? Of course we can- right? Well actually, probably not. It isn’t something we like to think about too often, least of all scientists… but, humans are bias. But just how bias are we?

Scientists now know that humans have what is called a ‘cute’ meter in our brains, it’s called ‘Baby Schema’ (Glocker et al, 2009), this means, we respond to things we deem as cute, and from the age of 3 our brain is programmed to respond to specific features that mimic a human infant . The human brain responds to features such as, a rounded bulbous head, high cheekbones and large wide bulbous eyes (Sanefuji et al 2007). So… in actual fact, since humans find these traits more appealing, where ever these traits are evident, humans have an automatic emotional response to cuddle, nurture and care for any species with similar aesthetics. Therefore, in saying this, it isn’t too surprising that the most documented and heard of threatened species management cases worldwide belong to the cute, the cuddly and the downright adorable (Smith, 2007). That is, most threatened species management goes to species such as (to name a few), the panda, tiger and rhino. Unfortunately, it is all too true, and those species which are not deemed as ‘cute’, actually do receive less attention, in fact it’s well documented that this is the case. Scientists even have a name for it, it’s called; the Noahs Ark problem (Perry, 2010).

Aside from the lack of subjectivity and clear bias, the fact is, we (the human species) are selecting cute animals to save. By simply selecting our ‘favourite species’, it is unlikely to affect the planet in droves isn’t it? No. Actually, it is likely that in making this choice to save only ‘cute species’, other species will die as a result (Chaplin et al, 2000). It pains me to say this so casually and without emotion, yes- other species will die. If we painfully ignore that concept as part of our future- on the other hand, what if choosing to let a species die could actually not just wipe out one or two species (which is sadly a given and therefore not the most devastating aspect here) – but instead an entire community and the community that depends on that community? Not only will humanity have to consciously decide which species will go extinct, humanity could unconsciously choose to let the wrong species go extinct! All, without even considering the consequence, that humanity too will suffer! Such a species like this in science is what is known as a keystone species, and if you lose a keystone species, entire communities can cease to exist (Dobson et al, 2006).

So what are keystone species? What do they do? What happens if you remove a key stone species? Keystone species are those species that mandate the function and unity of ecosystems. Keystone species hold all species in the community together in what is known as a trophic level order (Duanne et al, 2002). Any species loss is biodiversity loss and when a keystone species is lost, it is likely to cause a cascade effect, or a trophic cascade. As a result, entire communities hang in the balance. Ecosystems provide services to humans in what is collectively referred to as, ecosystem services (Chaplin et al, 2000). If a keystone species is lost, not only will an entire community collapse, humans will lose the service an ecosystem has to offer too. For example, removing a keystone species such as tuna, can affect an entire food web causing mass species extinction and mass economic welfare to the fishing industry (Chaplin et al, 2000).

Humanity has created an experiment. Not only could we make the wrong choices, but there’s nothing to say we haven’t already! There’s nothing to say, that ANY of the species we are trying to save are OR are not keystone species, just like the tuna. Consider this, it’s a scary terrifying thought to question whether saving a species such as the panda or rhino is right, but quite another to consider the possibility that a tiny little invertebrate such an ugly snail or warty toad, holds the key to the survival of every living species within the community the rhino or panda exist in. Then ask yourself, what happens if we a) never know of their existence and b) never know AND let them go extinct in our quest for cuteness? Sadly, the answer is, we don’t know. Scientists don’t know what the consequence of selecting cuteness will bring, we don’t know what the consequence of our already pre-programmed appeal to nurture and care for animals (that remind us of our own cute little infants)-will bring.

Humanity must decide, not only do we have to roll up our sleeves and open our minds to the incredibly difficult decision as to what species we will save, we also we need to be aware that our decision is pre-programmed instinct. An instinct designed to assist us in rearing our own young, which can be incredibly emotionally driven and without subjectivity (Sanefuji et al, 2007). All the while, these choices are strongly affected by the biological desire to protect all that we deem as cute. If all of the animals we want to save are all ‘cute’, which cute ones do we save (will it be the rhino, the elephant, the tiger or maybe the panda?) Nevertheless, perhaps more importantly, we also need to consider- in our quest to save cute, have the not- so -cute completely lucked out? Are we creating our own unique biodiversity loss, is there a not –so- cute keystone species being driven to extinction? If so, what will happen to the environment if we make the wrong choice? OR have we already made the wrong choice?

Humanity has a choice, this is no ordinary choice, it is a choice that hangs in the balance of our very existence. Asking the question to anyone, ‘which species should live and which species should die’, is truly shocking, but there is nothing more real about this statement. On that cold day in mind August 2013, it wasn’t the fact that some species were not going to be saved that shook me. No, it was the likely hood that humanity would make the wrong choice and would not save the right ones. For me, it’s not simply the question of asking which ‘species we save and which we should not’, for the question in its self is riddled with discomfort. It’s also not even the notion of which ‘not- so- cute’ keystone species we should save or let go- despite that it’s even more confronting and uncomfortable as the later. No, for me, it’s considering the likely hood that anything that isn’t cute- be it keystone species or not, will be forgotten and will not be saved ; going down in history as humanity’s secret pushed- to- the –corner, shame. The shameful choice, the choice that alters the future of the planet for every single living thing. And, perhaps the most confronting of them all on that cold mid August morning- the thing that terrified me the most and the thing that really hit home? That subconscious scientific affirmation that, I, as an Environmental Scientist -already knew the answer. The answer, that humanity has probably already made that choice. Because for humanity, the final decision will always be the elephant in the room (or not, depending on how ‘cute’ that elephant is) and when faced with a double-edged sword for who stays and who goes; for humanity, not unlike all species, instinct will always reign supreme.

 

Baillie, J., Hilton-Taylor, C., & Stuart, S. N. (Eds.). (2004). 2004 IUCN red list of threatened species: a global species assessment. IUCN.

Chapin III, F. S., Zavaleta, E. S., Eviner, V. T., Naylor, R. L., Vitousek, P. M., Reynolds, H. L., … & Díaz, S. (2000). Consequences of changing biodiversity.Nature, 405(6783), 234-242.

Dobson, A., Lodge, D., Alder, J., Cumming, G. S., Keymer, J., McGlade, J., … & Xenopoulos, M. A. (2006). Habitat loss, trophic collapse, and the decline of ecosystem services. Ecology, 87(8), 1915-1924.

Dunne, J. A., Williams, R. J., & Martinez, N. D. (2002). Network structure and biodiversity loss in food webs: robustness increases with connectance. Ecology letters, 5(4), 558-567.

Glocker, M. L., Langleben, D. D., Ruparel, K., Loughead, J. W., Gur, R. C., & Sachser, N. (2009). Baby schema in infant faces induces cuteness perception and motivation for caretaking in adults. Ethology, 115(3), 257-263.

Perry, N. (2010). The ecological importance of species and the Noah’s Ark problem. Ecological Economics, 69(3), 478-485.

Sanefuji, W., Ohgami, H., & Hashiya, K. (2007). Development of preference for baby faces across species in humans (Homo sapiens). Journal of Ethology,25(3), 249-254.

Smith, K. Funding Distribution of the Endangered Species Act. (2007)

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