Doom and gloom? Here are the environment stories that cheered us up in 2017

The reappearance of the night parrot was one of the conservation stories of the year. Bruce Greatwich

Doom and gloom? Here are the environment stories that cheered us up in 2017

Don’t let anyone tell you we’re not a cheerful bunch here on the Environment + Energy desk – even if many of the stories we cover are a little on the gloomy side.

From the Great Barrier Reef to the Australian outback, and from Canberra to the White House, it’s been another less than stellar year for the environment.

That said, the soap opera over energy policy kept us pretty entertained in the meantime.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of positive, amazing and ridiculous stories out there. So for some festive cheer, here are some good news stories we covered in 2017, and a few more we would have liked to have had room for alongside the heatwaves and political hot air.

Parrots on a flyer

Rare parrots had some rare wins this year. A night parrot was photographed for the first time in Western Australia. For a bird that’s so secretive it was previously assumed by many people not to exist, that’s a solid result.

Meanwhile, scientists in Tasmania developed amazing automatic light-sensitive doors to protect the swift parrots’ nest boxes (the excellently named “possum-keeper-outer”).

Boxing clever. ANU
Keep out, sugar gliders. ANU

Yoghurt-pot-washers rejoice

If you’ve invested an inadvisable amount of your free time in washing scraps of food off cans, containers and bottles before tossing them straight into the recycling, then suffer no longer. In May we reported the exciting news that most recycling facilities can handle a bit of mess.

Our Facebook page rang to the joyous strains of readers gleefully telling their parents/partners/housemates to stop nagging and let them enjoy the sweet freedom from the tyrannical regime of spotless peanut butter jars.

Hoodwinked no longer

Have you ever discovered a never-before-seen fish species that can grow larger than a very large human? Of course you haven’t. But Murdoch University’s Marianne Nyegaard has.

Beachcombing: expert level. Marianne Nyegaard/Murdoch University

Starting with some tantalising DNA evidence that suggested there was a new species of sunfish somewhere out there, she embarked on a four-year detective mission. After a tip-off she eventually found four of them washed up on a beach near Christchurch, and named the species Mola tecta – the “hoodwinker sunfish” – in honour of its long-running disappearing trick.

When little kids say they want to be a marine biologist when they grow up, this is exactly what they mean.

We used some fancy new words

The interminable politicking over energy policy, including the Finkel Review and the National Energy Guarantee, made us want to pull our hair out at times. But look on the bright side: the endless debate brought previously obscure terms such as dispatchables, baseload, spinning reserve, inertia, and frequency control into common parlance.

As energy nerds, we’re super excited that all this stuff finally went mainstream in 2017. It’s made us so much more fun to talk to at parties. But after thinking about dispatchable energy all year, we kind of wish someone would dispatch us a stiff drink.

Whisky wonder

Speaking of which, it turns out that it’s possible to make a ten-year malt whisky in a matter of weeks, because chemistry loves us and wants us to be happy.

Swoop on this

Look, we’re not making any promises. AAP Image/Victoria Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning

Just as exciting is the news that you can make friends with your local magpies, with the help of some judiciously offered food. And because magpies are so smart, once you gain their trust they’ll remember you forever, with obvious benefits when swooping season rolls around.

They’re apparently partial to mince, and while it might seem eccentric to carry it around in your pockets, you’ll reap the rewards when the maggies aren’t making mincemeat out of your ears next spring.


Meanwhile, here are some other cheery developments we didn’t have space for this year.

Snow leopards on the comeback trail

A three-year survey that concluded in September found at least 4,000 snow leopards in the wild, moving the elusive big cats off the IUCN endangered list for the first time in 44 years.

While it’s not all sunshine – snow leopards are still considered “vulnerable” and face considerable challenges with poaching and habitat loss – population numbers aren’t declining as sharply as previously thought, and scientists say there could be as many as 10,000 prowling the Himalayas.

Snow leopards are bouncing back. Russell Cheyne/Reuters

I, for one, welcome our cephalopod overlords

In absolutely stunning footage, David Attenborogh’s Blue Planet II captured an octopus using shells to disguise itself from a shark. A dexterous animal using tools to outwit a more deadly predator? Sounds familiar.

When you combine this video with reports of dozens of octopuses crawling out of the ocean onto a British beach, it might be time to get worried. The good news is that they seem to be invading Wales first.

Noisy neighbours

Nature is cool, if not always quiet. Scientists described a kind of shrimp (named after Pink Floyd) that can kill its prey with concussive sound.

Meanwhile, another study found that orgies of Mexican fish are deafening dolphins. On reflection, this is probably only good news for the fish.

Check out this spider, man

Closer to home, and considerably more quiet, a new species of jumping spider has been found on the Cape York Peninsula.

What’s in a name? BushBlitz

In a fit of unwarranted optimism, the naming of this spider has been thrown open to the public. It’s a safe bet that most of the 700 submissions will turn out to be unprintable, improbable, or unimaginative variations on Spidey McSpideyface.