Coconuts: Facts, History and Science

In one ellipsoid or ovoid that looks odd from the outside, the coconut (the fruit of the palm Cocos nucifera) provides food, potable water, ingredients for a rope, and a shell that can become charcoal. In a pinch, it floats if you need assistance with that.

Legend says that the mutiny of the Bounty (an ostensibly true story turned into a Marlon Brando movie) was caused by Captain Bligh’s punishment of sailors who stole coconuts from the ship’s kitchen. Kenneth Olsen, a plant evolutionary biologist, who researched the DNA of more than 1,300 coconuts from all over the planet, found that there were definitely two types of coconuts.

Because the coconut was grown in two different areas; namely, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific basins, Olsen could trace prehistoric trade routes as well as the progression that colonized the Americas.

Bee Gunn, now of the Australian National University in Australia, was a part of Olsen’s team.

It was discovered that there are actually two forms of coconut, known as niu kafa and niu vai, which are Samoan names. The former is oblong and triangular with a large fibrous husk. The niu vai form is rounded and it is in that type is found when it is not ripe.

“Quite often the niu vai fruit are brightly colored when they’re unripe, either bright green, or bright yellow. Sometimes they’re a beautiful gold with reddish tones,” according to Olsen.

It was when DNA was introduced that things really got interesting.

Gunn and Olsen procured a National Geographic Society grant that allowed Gunn to collect coconut DNA in regions of the western Indian Ocean for which there was no data. The snippets of tissues from leaves in the center of the coconut tree’s crown were sent home to be analyzed.

Long story shortened, Gunn and Olsen’s efforts allowed them to “fingerprint’ the coconut,” Olsen said.

The most definitive finding of the new DNA data is that the Pacific and Indian Ocean coconuts are genetically different.

“About a third of the total genetic diversity can be partitioned between two groups that correspond to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean,” Olsen stated.

“That’s a very high level of differentiation within a single species and provides pretty conclusive evidence that there were two origins of cultivation of the coconut,” he continued.

In the Indian Ocean the likely cultivation center was the southern edge of India, including the Laccadives, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

In the Pacific, however, coconuts were generated in island Southeast Asia in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia and may have shown up on the continent, too.

“At least we have it easier than scientists who study animal domestication,” Olsen commented. “So much of being a domesticated animal is being tame, and behavioral traits aren’t preserved in the archeological record.”

There was one interesting exception to the general split in the Pacific/Indian Ocean groups. That was found in the western Indian Ocean, specifically the Comoros Islands and Madagascar where Gunn had collected. These coconuts are a genetic mixture of the Indian and Pacific Ocean types.

Olsen and his colleagues believe the Pacific coconuts were introduced to the Indian Ocean a couple of thousand years ago by ancient Austronesians establishing trade routes connecting Southeast Asia to Madagascar and coastal east Africa.

Today’s residents of the Madagascar highlands are descendants of the ancient Austronesians, Olsen shared.

Europeans ultimately took the Indian Ocean coconut to the New World while the Portuguese took it to the Western Africa coast. That is why the coconuts that you find today in Florida today are the Indian ocean type, according to Olsen, which is why they likely have the niu kafa form.

Pacific Ocean coconuts seem to have come in during there in pre-Columbian times by ancient Austronesians. Ultimately, the Spanish brought coconuts to the Pacific coast of Mexico from the Philippines. This is why, Olsen says, you find Pacific type coconuts on the Pacific coast of Central America and Indian type coconuts on the Atlantic coast.

“The big surprise was that there was so much genetic differentiation clearly correlated with geography, even though humans have been moving coconut around for so long,” Olsen concluded.

Interested in sampling some coconut water? Check out H2coco’s range of Coconut Water available for delivery or in supermarkets.

Increasing Demand for Watermelon

In Orlando, Florida, United States (US), exists the National Watermelon Promotion Board (NWPB) which has a website that says it has one role:  “to increase consumer demand for watermelon through promotion, research, and educational programs.”

Since 1989 when it was founded, this nonprofit group, comprised of shippers and growers, has developed marketing programs to support even better watermelon sales in supermarkets throughout the US and Canada.  NWPB also works to bring forth sales venues for watermelon in the United Kingdom (UK) as well as Japan.

The website quotes Executive Director Mark Arney, who stated, “Retail produce buyers are the gatekeepers who make key decisions regarding how watermelon is sold, displayed and advertised to consumers. We provide these buyers with key information and promotional programs to help the industry move more watermelon.”

Their marketing promotions show a significant presence on radio, television, and in magazines and newspapers.  This is not a “hard sell,” in its way, as watermelon is such a healthy, refreshing, versatile fruit. Thanks in part to its board of directors’ efforts, watermelon is not only for picnics anymore.  It is on consumers’ shopping lists enjoyed year-round and is included in a  wide range of desserts, drinks and other recipes.

In Australia one emerging company is H2melon which offers Watermelon Juice in portable sizes available to buy online and in major supermarkets.

Growers support the NWPB through assessments paid by growers, shippers and importers of watermelon in the United States.

The website features a lot of information about watermelons–how to pick and grow them and so on and has a lot of information about watermelon for healthy kids and coloring pages, word searches and so on.

International: Bangladesh Pleads Myanmar to Take Rohingya Refugees Back

Bangladesh’s prime minister has called on Myanmar to take back hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled from the Rakhine state.

In a visit to the Kutupalong refugee camp on Tuesday, Sheikh Hasina said Myanmar should “take all their citizens back to their country and create a congenial atmosphere so that they can go back”.

According to the United Nations (UN), about 370,000 Rohingya have crossed the border in the last three weeks to escape the military crackdown and village burnings, following some militants’ attack on police posts.

“And still people are trying to get into the country,” said UNICEF spokesman Jean-Jaques Simon. “The scale is quite something, the rapidity of the new arrivals.”

Myanmar continues to draw international criticism for the crisis, as the UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein described the situation as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” on Monday.

Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei denounced Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi for her failure to stop the violence. “A cruel government, at the top of which sits a cruel woman who was awarded a Nobel prize, kills innocent people, sets fire to them, destroys their houses and displaces them and no tangible reaction is seen,” Khamenei said in a speech on Tuesday. “Yes, they condemn it, issue statements, but what good does it do? They should take action. This marks the death of the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Sheikh Hasina also condemned the country’s treatment of the minority ethnic group. “My personal message is very clear, that they should consider this situation with the eyes of humanity,” she told BBC. “So these people, they belong to Myanmar. Hundreds of years they are staying there. How they can deny that they are not their citizens?”

International: $70 Million Resettlement Deal for Manus Island Detainees Approved

A compensation deal worth $70 million for over 1,300 current and former Manus Island detainees has been approved by Victoria’s Supreme Court.

The class action settlement, reached with Australia’s federal government and the Island’s Regional Processing Centre operators, sought to compensate the detainees for the illegal detention and negligence in housing and protection.

“I am comfortably satisfied that a figure of $70 million to be distributed without deduction of costs amongst participating group members is a fair and reasonable sum,” said Justice Cameron Macaulay on Wednesday.

“[We wanted] to put an end to this fiction the Commonwealth seeks to maintain for political purposes that it’s PNG [that] holds these people, that PNG has the duty of care for these people,” said Rory Walsh of Slater and Gordon, the firm who led the legal action.

“The Commonwealth settled this case and paid $70 million not to have that fiction tested in court.”

Out of 1,923 former and current detainees who are eligible for the compensation, 1,383 have registered to get their share by Monday.

However, more than 160 detainees have objected to the compensation amount, saying that it would not address the plights of those who remained in the Island. About 800 men are expected to remain at Manus Island after the detention centre closes next month.

“Getting that money is not the issue. It is not the matter of the amount of money,” Iranian refugee Amir Taghinia told ABC’s AM.

“We are still in the same situation, we are still suffering from the same conditions, under the cruel regime of the defendant, and the case is finished, the case says ‘yeah, that’s it, it is already settled’ … It is absolutely not in favour of any of the detainees in here, but it is in favour of the law firm and the defendant.”

International: Melbourne Named As World’s Most Liveable City for Seventh Year Running

Melbourne has again been named as the world’s most liveable city for the seventh year in a row.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) annual Liveability Index ranks 140 cities around the world based on healthcare, education and infrastructure – for which Melbourne received perfect scores this year – as well as stability, culture and environment. Overall, Melbourne scored 97.5 out of 100 points.

“This world record is an amazing feat that all Melburnians should be extremely proud of today,” City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said.

“This accolade is an important selling point for Melbourne internationally: for businesses to invest or move here, for the best and brightest people to make Melbourne their home and for tourists to visit us.”

Vienna in Austria followed in the second spot, while Vancouver in Canada came third. Adelaide established itself as Australia’s second most liveable city at number five, while Perth came seventh. On the other hand, Sydney’s position dropped from the seventh place last year to the eleventh with a score of 94.9.

“Sydney in Australia is another city that has seen a decline in its ranking, reflecting growing concerns over possible terror attacks in the past three years,” the Global Liveability Report 2017 stated.

Damascus in Syria was ranked as the least liveable city, followed by Nigeria’s Lagos and Libya’s Tripoli.

National: Government Threatens Mandatory Takata Airbags Recall

The Australian government may impose a mandatory recall of defective Takata airbags if car manufacturers are not doing enough to fix them voluntarily.

The malfunctioning Takata airbags, which have been linked to 18 deaths and over 180 injuries around the world, may explode and launch metal shards at passengers when deployed.

Investigation by consumer advocate group CHOICE revealed that 12,300 vehicles with faulty airbags are still on Australian roads, and even some of the replacement device are similarly potentially malfunctioning.

In a statement released on Monday, Minister for Small Business Michael McCormack warned car manufacturers that the federal government has “the power to impose mandatory recalls if necessary”.

Car manufacturers involved, including BMW, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Honda, Ferrari, Jeep, Lexus, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Performax, Subaru and Toyota are currently doing voluntary recall programs. Lexus and Toyota have admitted to be replacing faulty airbags with identical ones, and would need to refit some of the vehicles.

CHOICE spokesman Tom Godfrey said the use of potentially defective airbags as the replacement was disappointing. “With 2.3 million vehicles in Australia requiring their potentially lethal Takata airbags to be replaced, it’s clear the car companies are under pressure to fulfil their obligations under Australian consumer law,” Godfrey told News.com.au.

“However, refitting vehicles with the same dangerous airbags still leaves people driving ticking time-bombs.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has started an investigation into the matter.

Chairman Rod Sims said consumers should act as soon as they can. “Do not ignore or delay responding to a letter from your car’s manufacturer or retailer asking you to have your car’s airbag replaced,” Sims said.

International: Australia’s Healthcare One of the Best in the Developed World, Study Finds

Australian healthcare system has been ranked as one of the best in the developed world while the US’ is the worst, according to a new study.

The study, conducted by American thinktank Commonwealth Fund, found that the United Kingdom has the healthcare system out of 11 developed countries, while Australia ranked second, the Netherlands third and the US last.

The researchers found that the US performed poorly in terms of access, equity and healthcare outcomes, despite having the biggest spending in healthcare. It not only had “the poorest performance of all countries on the affordability subdomain”, but also on “population health outcomes such as infant mortality and life expectancy at age 60”.

The report concluded by encouraging the US to take important lessons from the top three nations on universal health insurance coverage. “All three provide universal coverage and access, but do so in different ways, suggesting that high performance can be achieved through a variety of payment and organizational approaches,” the report said.

The study’s results came amid the Republican Party’s attempt to repeal former president Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms.

The Senate is set to vote on the legislation in a few weeks. Two Republican senators, Rand Paul and Susan Collins, have said that they will not be voting for the repeal bill.

Sources: ABC, The Hill

National: TasWater Lifts Boil Alert as TAS Government Continues Takeover Plan

Mole Creek residents can now drink tap water safely for the first time in 70 years, as boil water alert has been lifted.

Tasmania’s water provider TasWater said the alert lift was a significant step in addressing water quality issues in 24 towns across the state, which are expected to be cleared of boil water alerts by August next year.

“The Mole Creek water supply is just one of many projects in a fully-funded, affordable 10-year-plan to improve Tasmania’s water and sewerage infrastructure,” said TasWater chairman Miles Hampton.

However, Premier Will Hodgman remained sceptical about the provider’s ability to deliver the promise in time.

“There are plenty of communities across this state that for years have been calling out for boil water alerts to be lifted,” Hodgman said. “They were meant to be fixed by now. They’ve said in the past these communities would be fixed sooner and it hasn’t been the case.”

The state parliament is set to table a legislation after the winter break to enable the utility takeover from July next year. The government said the acquisition would allow speedier infrastructure upgrades.

National: Southern Sydney’s F6 Freeway Extension to Cost $18 Billion

The planned freeway extension linking Sydney and Wollongong has been priced at $18 billion, about three times as much as the rail alternative.

Government documents seen by the ABC and Fairfax reveal that the F6 toll road’s 32-kilometre extension is also estimated to cost $1 billion more than WestConnex.

The toll road would extend from St Peters to Waterfall through the Royal National Park. The construction costs are estimated at $14.5 billion, while operation and maintenance costs are at $3.5 billion.

Roads Minister Melinda Pavey said the cost for the F6 is still tentative. “We’re still in the very early stages, so no decision has been made regarding the final alignment,” Pavey said. “There is no decision on final cost.”

NSW Greens transport spokesperson Mehreen Fahruqi described the $18 billion price as “madness”.

“$18 billion of taxpayer’s money for yet another toll road, potentially through a National Park, is just obscene.”

International: Paddington Bear Creator Michael Bond Dies at 91

Michael Bond, the creator of children literature character Paddington Bear has died at 91 years old.

Bond’s publisher HarperCollins said he died on Tuesday at his UK home after a short illness.

Bond created Paddington in 1956 after seeing a teddy bear on a shop window on his way home from work. The coat-and-hat-wearing bear first appeared in Bond’s 1958 debut book titled A Bear Called Paddington, and then went on to feature in more than 20 books, a TV show and a film.

Today, over 35 million copies have been sold around the world and translated into 40 languages. The statue of the bear also stands at the Paddington station in London.

Ann-Janine Murtagh, executive publisher at HarperCollins Children’s Books said Paddington “touched my own heart as a child and will live on in the hearts of future generations.”