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Can fitness tracking apps detect Covid-19?

Fitness apps may be able to let users know they are getting sick days before they are aware of symptoms. Photo: Matthew Cattin

A wrap of the biggest stories and best writing about the outdoors from New Zealand and around the world.

Outside magazine has published an article which looks at how fitness tracking apps may be able to detect virus symptoms before they manifest. 

By monitoring heart rate, body temperature and breathing data, the apps may be able to let users know they are getting sick days before they are aware of symptoms. Researchers say the findings are promising, with some apps able to detect symptoms three days before they manifest. This could be used to help guide behaviour – those who have Covid warning signs could begin isolating early and limit the spread.

How tramping boosts problem solving and creativity

Scientists have found what trampers have known for years – walking may make you smarter, at least temporarily.

RNZ’s Sunday Morning programme features an interview with a researcher who has been looking at how walking can boost creative output. Dr Marily Oppezzo has been involved in four studies looking at the benefits of walking and says walking engages cognitive function in a way that doesn’t normally happen while we are sitting. The study found creativity increased by 60 per cent when people were walking – even strolling on a treadmill appears to boost the brain.

Vandals cause thousands of dollars of damage

Vandals have caused repeated damage to facilities in two DOC forests and the department is calling on the public to name and shame those responsible.

A shelter on the Timber Trail in Pureora Forest has been damaged twice in the past year. Volunteers repaired the shelter last year after it was set on fire, but it has now been covered in graffiti. DOC’s Maniapoto District operations manager Oscar Emery says fixing it will divert time and effort away from conservation projects.

“We’d rather be spending that money, time and effort elsewhere – not cleaning up after people who’ve trashed taxpayer-funded assets,” Emery says. “We urge people who encounter damage on public conservation land to report what they’ve seen via 0800 DOC HOT – the department’s 24-hour hotline – and we’ll get one of our team on to it.”

Earlier this year vandals had also cut padlocks on bollards on the Maramataha Bridge and Okauaka Bridge on the Timber Trail and other damage was recorded to bridges and tracks.

Stuff has also reported thousands of dollars of damage to a gate at Egmont National Park.

On average, DOC spends $6500 a year addressing rubbish and damage to facilities at the park.

Cape Kidnappers walk set to reopen

The popular Cape Kidnappers walk in Hawke’s Bay is set to reopen later this year

About 15,000 people walk the track each year and DOC promoted it as one of five ‘Great Day Walks’ in 2017, but the track was closed after a landslide seriously injured two tourists last year. DOC commissioned a risk assessment and has now advised walkers can do the track “at their own risk”. 

Stuff reports that an investigation found the risk of walking the track comparable to the risk of ‘eruption hazards’ when walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. 

However, businesses that guide on the walk have had their concessions suspended and some operators are calling for their concessions to be reinstated. 

Search and rescue funding boosted

The government has increased funding for search and rescue organisations by $58.4m to help the services through a tough period for fundraising.

The government said it amounted to a 112 per cent funding boost for the service, which has helped save 144 lives and assisted 800 people last year. More than 11,000 people work in the sector, about 95 per cent of whom are volunteers.

In the past week alone, at least five teenagers were rescued while tramping in two separate incidents. Wairarapa Search and Rescue reports that four teenagers were assisted in the Tararua Range on Friday night (July 17) after setting off a PLB. The group had run out of daylight on the way to Mitre Flats Hut and raised the alert at 10pm. A search team located them on the track between Pinnacle Saddle and Mitre Flats and helped them to the hut.

A 17-year-old was also rescued after falling on Mt Arthur in Kahurangi National Park on July 15. He was flown by rescue helicopter to Nelson Hospital, Stuff reports.

Court action to stop helicopters in Paparoa National Park

Forest and Bird and Federated Mountain Clubs are taking DOC to court to stop helicopters landing in Paparoa National Park.

Stuff reports the park’s management plan allows two concessions for commercial helicopter landings. However the plan is at odds with the region’s Conservation Management Strategy, which prohibits helicopters in the park. The groups have filed a judicial review with the High Court to try to get DOC to comply with the CMS.

Breakthrough in bid to wipeout stoats

Scientists have mapped the stoat genome, a breakthrough which may help develop pest control methods that can wipe out one of the biggests threats to native birds.

The Detail podcast reports that the information isn’t being used for genetic modification, but it could help scientists develop poisons that only target stoats, creating a far more specific approach than 1080 poison. 

Meanwhile, DOC hopes a 1080 drop in Fiordland National Park last month will help save kiwi in the park. The Otago Daily Times reports the operation covered 40,000ha on Wet Jacket Peninsula for the first time, where monitoring had found almost all kiwi chicks had been predated. Unfortunately, monitoring later found three kea had been killed by 1080 during the operation.

Four people disappear in Australia backcountry

In the past 12 months four people have gone missing in three separate incidents in a 60km2 area in Victoria’s remote High Country, north of Melbourne. 

The ABC in Australia has published a fascinating feature looking into the cases. Two are suspected to have been murdered, while one may have become lost, but the fourth case is a complete mystery.