Mulligans flat sanctuary: The return of Bettongs

The beautiful grassy woodlands of Mulligans flat

The beautiful grassy woodlands of Mulligans flat

It’s rare to find a sanctuary for native flora and fauna in the capital city of a country, but Mulligan’s Flat Woodland Sanctuary is one of those rarities. This sanctuary encloses over 400 hectares of critically endangered yellow box and red gum grassy woodland. But it’s the little guys who call the woodlands home that are the centre of this epic conservation effort. Eastern Bettong’s (Bettongia gaimardi) are positively cute, but they are also an ecological important for soil aeration as they dig for truffles and other fungi. Bettongs are woodland-dwelling, rabbit-sized kangaroo like marsupials. These little creatures were once local inhabitants of South-eastern Australia but where driven to extinction by our introduced predators and land alteration causing a scarcity of native grassy woodlands, one of their natural habitats. Until the mulligans flat project the Bettongs only existed in Tasmania.

This has been a serious issue for much of the Australian wildlife and the Mulligan’s flat sanctuary is one step to building a stronghold where these defenceless bettongs can be reintroduced into the mainland. A stronghold with a large predator proof fence and unsullied environment is a start but my experience with a team of researchers at the ANU shows that there is still a lot of work and research to be done to secure a future for this native Australian species.

The predator proof fence that surrounds 400 hectares of the Mulligans flat sanctuary

The predator proof fence that surrounds 400 hectares of the Mulligans flat sanctuary

Does this mean we’ve found a national solution for declining native species? I wouldn’t Bet-tong it… But it is logically and economically better than trying to trap all the wild foxes, cats and other foreign predators in areas to accommodate for safe bettong habitats. Maybe box traps for curious cats will work… maybe not.

Cat traps

There is a lot more than just letting them live and breed in this sanctuary to make this a viable conservational effort. As the bettong’s are nocturnal animal’s researchers who monitor the progress of the species in Mulligan’s flat work from around 2am to sunrise in what can be freezing cold nights, checking traps and tagging individuals while recording all manner of data of the individual. In my first night of bettong monitoring I encountered several untagged bettongs which required the full shebang of DNA collection (blood, fur, and scat) body measurements and weight. This was to see how the condition of the individuals was developing in the sanctuary. On 4 occasion in one night mother bettongs had dropped their young out of their pouch. It’s a difficult task in the early hours of the morning to try place the baby back in its mother’s pouch. In the rare occurrence where they aren’t able to do this the baby goes into care until it is able to be reintroduced to the sanctuary. It seems traumatic but the baby bettongs such as baby Erika have been successfully reintroduced to the sanctuary.

Erika the baby bettong ready to be reintroduced into the sanctuary after being cared for in the bettong 'daycare'

Erika the baby bettong ready to be reintroduced into the sanctuary after being cared for in the bettong ‘daycare’

A small sanctuary in the capital city of Australia can be a significant method to stopping the decline in some of our beloved native species.

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The tragedy of Lipotes vexillifer in China

China has vast land area, so it is rich in biodiversity. In this area, we can find several unique animal species, such as Panda and Lipotes vexillifer. Lipotes vexillifer is one of the Platanistoidea in the world, until now, there are only four kinds Platanistoidea live in the world. Lipotes vexillifer mainly lives in Yangtzi River, before Chinese government build dams to regulate this river, the population of Lipotes vexillifer is over 500 (1984).

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However, in recent year, scientist and other institutions cannot find any evidences about this special species still live in this river. In 2006, Chinese government announced that Lipotes vexillifer is extinct.

The reason of the extinction of this species is complex. Scientist find three main factors, firstly, it is due to the big dams in Yangtzi River. When Lipotes vexillifer want to reproduction, they need to go to the upstream of Yangtzi River, but the new dam, especially the Gezhouba, stoped them. It is a little hard for them to find similar habitat in downstream, so they cannot do reproduction. Secondly, because the dam release less water into river, Lipotes vexillifer cannot find enough food and cannot survive without enough water. Thirdly, it is relate to water pollution, due to the demand of quick economic development in Yangtzi Rvier and near region, some industries and agricultural practice emerged in this region. Some of them release untreated water into river cause serious water pollution. Lipotes vexillifer cannot live in this kind of water condition, so the result of this species is extinct.

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Actually, after they found the condition Lipotes vexillifer, they try hard to rescuer this species. Every year, government will give some funding to environmental institutions to catch some female Lipotes vexillifer, and transmit it to upstream to make sure they reproduction, but the effort is not clear. Government also provide money to use artificial propagation to help them reproduction, but it is still unsuccessful. They are so sensitive and in an artificial environment, they just not cooperate.

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Therefore, we always say the extinction of Lipotes vexillifer is a big tragedy. Because of human actives, this beautiful species disappeared. We lost this creature, not only in biodiversity, but also in culture part. In China, we have a beautiful love story relate to Lipotes vexillifer. In some culture, Lipotes vexillifer is means kindness and purity.

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This tragedy give us some lessons. During the process of development, we need to consider the influence to environment and ecosystem. We need a comprehensive assessment about development process. We also need policy support on environment protection to regulate people’s behaviour. Build biodiversity conservation in some area is important, it can help us protect the habitat and benefit local species.

This kind of tragedy is happened everywhere and in every minutes, such as Amazon area, even in MDB. We cannot stop the development of human being, but we can change the method of development and reduce the influence of human to other species. Each species have right to live in this planet, we should use our intelligent and ability to help them and stop this kind of tragedy.

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Towards a ‘win-win’ solution: Native Temperate Grasslands and wind farm developments in the Southern Tablelands

By Ishbel Cullen

In April this year I joined staff from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage on a site visit to a wind farm biodiversity offset site for Native Temperate Grassland on the Monaro plains in the Southern Tablelands of NSW.

The Native Temperate Grasslands of the Monaro region may at first seem dull. The naturally treeless slopes are windswept and inhospitable. You’d be forgiven for thinking they were lifeless beyond a uniform layer of grass. However, these grasslands are a critically endangered ecological community of significant biodiversity value, home to numerous threatened plant and animal species.

In the field with Office of Environment and Heritage Staff

In the field with Office of Environment and Heritage Staff

For Native Temperate Grasslands, the beauty lies in the detail. If you take a closer look, you’ll see a great diversity of grasses, daisies, orchids and scattered rocks providing shelter for a range of invertebrates and reptiles.

Endangered Grassland Earless Dragon, Tympanocryptis pinguicolla. Source: http://candobetter.net/node/553

Endangered Grassland Earless Dragon, Tympanocryptis pinguicolla. Source: http://candobetter.net/node/553

With European arrival and the introduction of agriculture, the extent and quality of Native Temperate Grasslands has decreased dramatically. In recent years a new industry has realized the potential of the Monaro landscape, with wind farms now being developed throughout the region.

Wind turbines and associated infrastructure represent a new threat to Native Temperate Grasslands. However, biodiversity offsetting policy can mitigate impacts on this endangered ecological community, presenting the appealing option ‘to have your native temperate grassland and eat them too’. But how can biodiversity offsetting achieve this?

In New South Wales, biodiversity offsetting is organised under the ‘BioBanking’ scheme run by the NSW government. BioBanking is a system of biodiversity credits that are typically sold by landholders and bought by developers. Sale proceeds are received by the credit holder, however, a portion is deposited into a trust fund. This trust fund generates interest which is given to offset managers annually to maintain conservation management actions. Furthermore, offset sites are secured in perpetuity for conservation through conditions on land title.

Royal Bluebell, Wahlenbergia gloriosa

Royal Bluebell, Wahlenbergia gloriosa

The offset property that I visited will be used to secure adequate Native Temperate Grassland biodiversity credits. The property includes areas of both high-qualilty and highly degraded Native Temperate Grassland. This presents opportunities to preserve good sites and restore poor areas to increase connectivity in the landscape. The trust fund finances will be used to realise these goals, with extensive weed eradication measures and closely monitored low-intensity grazing regimes.

A significant proportion of remnant Native Temperate Grassland exists on private property and is not managed for conservation. Indeed it is likely many of these remnants are under pressure from over-grazing and invasive weeds. As wind farms are established on properties like these, it is likely that the areas of Native Temperate Grassland would have been degraded over time anyway. Considering this, if biodiversity offset arrangements can secure areas to be managed for conservation in perpetuity, with ongoing funding, this represents a positive long-term biodiversity outcome.

Land management is a difficult balance of social, economic and environmental objectives. The BioBanking framework can facilitate outcomes that support economic development through wind farm construction while achieving environmental protection of Native Temperate Grasslands. Though biodiversity offsets for wind farms are not without shortcomings, in this context they represent progress towards a ‘win-win’ solution. And after all, these are wind farms, not coal mines.

Useful links:

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Marking blogs is one of the great pleasures of being a lecturer in Biodiversity Conservation!

I’ve just read—and marked—every blog posted by the 2014 class studying Biodiversity Conservation at The Australian National University.

Usually the prospect of marking 60+ papers has lecturers and tutors looking for an excuse to do something else, or at least reach for a coffee every 15 minutes.

This is definitely not the case for this exercise.

Undergraduates were asked to initiate and organise two days of work experience and then blog about this. Postgraduates were asked to blog about any topic of their choice.

Where did the blogs take me?

Upon diving into the blogs, I first travelled to, and learnt about, the region in which I live (Canberra, Australia). For example, several students weeded, planted and monitored at Scottsdale Reserve, which is a property that has been purchased by Bush Heritage Australia to restore Box Gum Grassy Woodland.

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Garden Skink at Scottsdale Reserve in New South Wales. Photo by Renata Magalhaes taken from her blog Conservation without borders.

Several blogs took me farther afield in Australia: the outback of western Queensland, the tall forests of Victoria and the wheatbelt of Western Australia. I learnt about minimising impacts of hydro-power, biological treatment of domestic sewage, Gondwanalink and biodiversity offsets for windfarms.

Taking some measurements

Jared Priestly in the Mountain Ash forests of Victoria as pictured in the blog Brush Tales: Studying the Mountain Brushtail Possum in the Central Highlands of Victoria.

The course attracts many overseas students

And these overseas students took me away to learn about seals in the Galapagos, oil drilling in the Amazon, parks in Costa Rica, coral in Fiji and Belize, wildlife in Tibet, connectivity in Vietnam, ecotourism in Cambodia, mining in Guyana and the last bear in Germany, among others.

Some local boat owners used to have barbed wire and nails to prevent sea lions to rest on their boats. Source: Galapagos National Park Service 2014

Some local boat owners used to have barbed wire and nails to prevent sea lions to rest on their boats. Photo from Galapagos National Park Service 2014 as appearing in the blog Can “Pachamama rights” be translated into a harmonic relationship betweeen sea lions and human communities in the Galapagos Islands?

Together, the geographic spread represented by the blogs is very impressive.

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The geographic origin of all student blogs. My Google Map of all blogs is available here.

Where students did well in their blogs

For some reason, many students write better in this medium than when they are writing reports or essays.

  • Perhaps this is because students are a bit more careful with their writing knowing that their blog could be read by ANYONE.
  • Perhaps scientific writing conventions shackle us to a writing style that is not easy to read.
  • Perhaps we should all try to write in a simple and clear style regardless of the medium or audience.

Where students need to improve

While the blogs were great, my main criticism is that the student bloggers could’ve devoted more time reflecting on where their work experience fits in the bigger picture:

  • Why were resources being invested on that issue?
  • Was this the best use of resources?
  • Would it work in the long-term?
  • What were some options?
  • Are there examples from elsewhere that provide some insight to these questions?

Crediting the source of photos is important (see the student blog from 2013 called “Conservation through the lens”). Many students still need to learn the conventions relating to writing the names of species, sub-headings can be good, big blocks of text are not good and white space (e.g., between paragraphs) helps to make the blog more accessible.

Most of the students in Biodiversity Conservation are on the cusp of a professional career, so must realise that it’s time to bring their broader reading and understanding to bare on problems and issues.

Biodiversity conservation has not been the most successful endeavour across the globe, so a new generation of critical and innovative professionals that are prepared to engage in debate is vital.

Did you get something out of this exercise?

The primary aim, however, of this exercise was to encourage students (the undergraduates in particular) to initiate and organise work with agencies and individuals that they don’t know—and thereby to commence building networks. These are core skills that everyone needs in order to break into the employment market—and to get things done once there.

I’m proud of my bloggers and look forward to working with them in their capacity as professionals in the near future.

Cheers,

Phil Gibbons
27 May 2014

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Bent views of the Eastern-Bentwing Bat

Secretly terrified, thinking the likelihood of being eaten alive by a bunch of bats was definitely in the ball park of 11/10, I had arranged to go bat monitoring with Doug Mills at Bungonia National Park, NSW.

Doug works for the National Parks and Wildlife Services monitoring the population of Eastern-Bentwing Bats from the entrance to a popular recreational cave in Bungonia National Park and another at Wee Jasper Caves. The Eastern-Bentwing Bat is found in caves along the east and north-west coasts of Australia; the caves monitored by Doug are both essential maternity and roosting caves to the species, however may be under threat due to access to the public for the use of recreational caving. The cave was closed to the public however at the time I went monitoring and continues to be for the breeding season.

It was a Wednesday afternoon, I packed my sleeping mat (prepared for the piles of supposed bat poop), my head torch, extra rations of food (in case the situation arose where we were chased by the bats until a refuge amongst the wilderness arose and it was too far to walk back to the car until morning when the bats would go back to the caves) and a drink bottle (for similar reasons). My friend (Tim) and I were picked up by Doug around 2pm and we asked questions of Doug’s fabulous life working in National Parks until we picked up Doug’s mate (who also works with National Parks and regularly goes with Doug to monitor the bat populations). We stopped for some pizza for dinner and I began questioning my reasoning to bring extra rations of food (until we started the walk down to the cave and the slight sense of paranoia kicked in, confirming my reasoning for the rations I had had in the beginning).

The first bat flew out and I panicked (however internally, as my aim was to act professional and keep my cool in front of Doug- a bat expert, and my friend who seemed to be in a whole other state of mind). After following this bat for a good couple of minutes realising that the likelihood of being eaten alive was actually more like 1/infinity I began to relax in the realisation that I was about to experience something spectacular. Which I did.
As Doug captured photos of the species using infrared technology and a pre-military missile tracking device, I sat in or awe as thousands of bats flew over our heads (the curious ones just missing our faces; feeling a stream of air brush past your cheek).

I learnt more this night than the process of capturing the population density of a species of bat; in that one moment where after looking up as the light of the flash illuminated the thousands of bats flying over-head, came the consciousness that sometimes it’s the things that seem scariest in life that end up turning out to be some of the most magnificent; in terms of approaching the complexities of biodiversity conservation and environmental sustainability, the small details or individual actors which/who seem insignificant, when placed together can combine to make a significant whole.

And that a sleeping mat in preparation of piles of bat poop isn’t as necessary as I originally assumed.

Simone Brown

- A special thanks to Doug Mills for allowing me to join him on this trip

Related website: http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/threatenedspeciesapp/profile.aspx?id=10534

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WORLD WAR M – The Invasion of the Indian Myna Bird

 

‘You can have native birds or Indian Mynas – but not both.’                                                                                                 – Ian Fraser

 

In early 2014 I had the pleasure of working with the Canberra Indian Myna Action Group (CIMAG) and its well accomplished committee members. This non-profit community group was established in April 2006, and aims to educate the public on the destructive impact of the Indian Myna bird (Acridotheres tristis) and actively reduce their numbers in Canberra.

Learn more about CIMAG and the Indian Myna here. See videos from Indian Myna conferences and Indian Myna researchers here.

Indian Myna (Acridotheres tristis) (Photo by Geoffrey Dabb; from http://indianmynaaction.org.au/)

Indian Myna (Acridotheres tristis)
(Photo by Geoffrey Dabb; from http://indianmynaaction.org.au/)

 

Why did I choose to volunteer with CIMAG?

As a born and bred Canberran, you’d assume that I’d be afraid of swooping Magpies in spring, but, no. There is nothing more frightening for me than being stared down by an Indian Myna. And rightly so! They are everywhere; and are very territorial! Feeling partially responsibility as a human for their introduction, I enlisted for the war against these home invaders and baby killers.

 

Trapping Indian Mynas – a direct way to tackle population numbers

My first day with CIMAG was spent with Bill Handke (CIMAG President). We travelled to the Canberra gaol to collect Indian Myna traps which inmates had made. Their unique design lures birds into the contraption, and there is no escape. These birds are then gassed (humanely of course) which puts them to sleep in approximately 7 seconds. Trapping has a direct effect in reducing numbers and relies on willing members of the community to trap and kill Indian Mynas in their yards. Thanks to CIMAG’s efforts, Indian Mynas have gone from being #3 feral bird pest in Canberra, to roughly #26 in only 8 years!

Indian Myna Traps – birds are enticed into the traps with food and cannot escape back through the chute.  Image from http://indianmynaaction.org.au/

Indian Myna Traps – birds are enticed into the traps with food and cannot escape back through the chute.
Image from http://indianmynaaction.org.au/

 

But are traps enough?

You’d be surprised to hear, as I was, that Indian Mynas outcompeted the cane toad in receiving the 2005 Pest of Australia award. Indian Mynas aggressively take over and defend several tree hollows, despite only using one nest. If nests are already occupied, Indian Mynas will evict the occupants (including native birds such as parrots and kookaburras, and sugar gliders), and often kill their young.

I photographed these three Indian Myna refugial nests (below). Indian Mynas use cockatoo feathers to deter other birds from invading their nests. It is presumed that Indian Mynas have learned this nest-defending technique, which portrays that one of Australia’s most aggressive bird species occupies the nest.

I photographed these three Indian Myna refugial nests (below). Indian Mynas use cockatoo feathers to deter other birds from invading their nests. It is presumed that Indian Mynas have learned this nest-defending technique, which portrays that one of Australia’s most aggressive bird species occupies the nest.

 

Original photo – this galah had a lucky escape. It is only a matter of time before an Indian Myna takes over this hollow.

Original photo – this galah had a lucky escape. It is only a matter of time before an Indian Myna takes over this hollow.

 

So, no, trapping isn’t enough! We must inhibit their breeding!

I was fortunate enough to also work alongside Daryl King, Bruce Lindenmayer and Bill Handke once again who took me around Belconnen, Weston and Tuggeranong, and Kambah (respectively). They taught me how to spot Myna refugial nests. As opposed to typical roost or nesting areas, refugial nests are usually a breeding pair’s founding nest, located near human colonisation, which are used for several years.

Original photos of natural (tree hollows) and artificial (structure – e.g. in roofs) Indian Myna refugial nest sites in Belconnen.

Original photos of natural (tree hollows) and artificial (structure – e.g. in roofs) Indian Myna refugial nest sites in Belconnen.

I established the geographic coordinates of each refugial nest.

I used geo-coders to determine the exact coordinates of trees which had Indian Myna refugial nests.  This reference is of this old Red-Box Gum (pictured with nest visible) in Ordell Street, Chapman.

I used geo-coders to determine the exact coordinates of trees which had Indian Myna refugial nests.
This reference is of this old Red-Box Gum (pictured with nest visible) in Ordell Street, Chapman.

I then geo-coded the Indian Myna refugial nests I had located, and then went home to work on inputting the coordinates into a GPS mapping system. The result (see screen shot below) demonstrates the geographic data points that I had configured, depicting the exact locations and dispersal of refugial nests against a satellite of Belconnen. Belconnen is fortunate enough to have very old trees with important hollows, however Mynas have taken over a significant number of these. Daryl and I were lucky enough to spot a breeding pair of Mynas who had overtaken a Kookaburra nest and had thrown their chicks ‘overboard’ – so to speak! These geo-coded maps of refugial nest locations will assist CIMAG in their efforts to locate and trap these birds, and disrupt their nesting and breeding patterns.

I used http://www.gpsvisualizer.com/ to create this map.

I used http://www.gpsvisualizer.com/ to create this map.

 

I hope that my work experience has enlightened you, as it did me, about one of Australia’s most active serial killers.

The Myna is not a minor problem.

 

References

Canberra Indian Action Myna Group Inc. n.d. Who are we?; An Obnoxious Invader that’s a Threat to our Wildlife; Indian (Common) Myna-Acridotheres tristis; Strategy; and Trapping Matters, viewed 14 April 2014. http://indianmynaaction.org.au/

Schneider, A. 2013, GPS Visualizer, viewed 22 March 2013. http://www.gpsvisualizer.com/map_input

Special thanks to Daryl King, Bruce Lindenmayer, Bill Handke, the CIMAG committee members, and all those who provided me with their personally recorded information on Indian Myna nesting, refugial, and roosting sites. Thank you for sharing your valuable knowledge with me. The countless hours and efforts you have all put into assisting me with my work experience is greatly appreciated.

 

Further Information

Canberra Indian Action Myna Group Inc. webpage – http://indianmynaaction.org.au/

Canberra Indian Action Myna Group YouTube site – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtM453NJsyhHhbY5DrCt7qQ

GPS Visualiser used to place geo-coded refugial sites on a satellite image – http://www.gpsvisualizer.com/map_input

Information on Myna intelligence and learning by Andrea Griffin – http://andreasgriffin.weebly.com/

 

Melissa D’Amico – U4849283

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Disappearing Ice Giants: Glaciers

Since my first exposure to ice landscapes, I have been completely captivated. Their sheer enormity seems to extend beyond horizons and through time itself. The source of this fascination eludes me and sometimes I wonder why I have come to feel this way when I was born in Africa, not a place known for its ice.

ImageThe Tasman glacier, New Zealand

ImageGetting acquainted with Fox glacier, New Zealand

ImageFox glacier’s terminal face, New Zealand

Nevertheless, as I found out, the expanse of global ice may even surprise many of you who haven’t had a chance or taken the time to research it. The extent of glaciers ranges across different latitudes and are all around us. They are more common in some places than others for example Antarctica and Greenland have more than Africa, would you believe it?

ImageHelheim, Greenland 2012 – Klaus Thymann

It is terrible and surprising to learn that these majestic naturally occurring phenomena are diminishing. There are projects that attempt to promote awareness and coverage but in Australia, these are overshadowed by the liberal governments failures. To me this is unacceptable, how is my love story to continue if the glaciers are shrinking? There are some groups such as Project Pressure which attempt to “document the world’s vanishing glaciers in order to highlight the impact of climate change, inspiring action and participation”. Klaus Thymann, the project’s artistic director speaks of it being a venture that seeks to accrue a visual archive of the globe’s glaciers, not just from an artistic perspective but from a scientific one as well. Unlike a lot of other organisations everyone can contribute to this project, through uploading their own photographs or simply discussing its importance.

This topic is of particular relevance due to the recent reports of many environmental publications about the ‘unstoppable nature’ of some glaciers. The ones I refer to are of course located in the well-known western Antarctica ice sheet/shelf. This is a direct impact of the effects of climate change and should not be news to any environment enthusiast, I hope. This will be a direct correlation to future sea level rises. However the glaciers in this area will not be the only ones affected, for example Greenland is also experiencing unprecedented melting and the majority of the African continental glaciers are diminishing at a drastic rate. The iconic Ruwenzori Mountain glaciers have diminished by 50% within the last century. This is alarming not only for my love affair, but for the global community.

These ice giants must receive greater recognition, not just because of this tragedy but also for their general importance. James Balog, a former climate change sceptic and acclaimed environmental photographer made this more of a reality when he went on a journey to the Arctic to capture these disappearing pulsing ice structures. His scepticism soon changed as he witnessed the declining phenomena and went on to film ‘Chasing Ice’ (above). “This is the story of one man’s mission to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of our changing planet.” This film illustrates the growing significance of glaciers in the face of irreversible damage that is deeper than just its beauty and vastness.

I encourage you to share the stories of these ice giants and maybe, together, we can keep my love affair alive.

Richert Ahlers (U5537966)

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