Aquatic ecologist Adam Kerezy has been working for years to save the tiny red-finned blue-eye fish [Scaturiginichthys vermeilipinnis] from extinction.
It is only found in natural springs in central western Queensland.
Adam Kereszy at Edgbaston. Photo: Tim Bauer
Dr Kerezy says it is also seeking permission to move some of the remaining fish into captivity.
“So they only get to about three centimetres long, they only live in that particular group of springs north-east of Aramac,” he said.
“The crucial thing is we have got an invasive species called gambusia, or mosquito fish or bore drain fish, and they are out there too and so my job over the last six years has been basically to try and stop them [red-finned blue-eye fish] from going extinct.
“Hopefully they will be breeding up a bit, some of them will be trying to move to new springs.
“Hopefully this year we will move some into captivity and then cross fingers and toes and everything we have got and hope that they survive but for a fish that has adapted to living in these tiny shallow springs in the middle of nowhere, it might take a little bit of work to get them to adapt to captive conditions.”
A baby northern quoll. The native mammal is having a hard time across northern Australia, battling for survival against cane toads and feral predators such as cats. Photo: Parks Australia/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND
Then there is the House of Representatives Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia and the review of Water Resources on Cape York. Comments on this are due also on 25 March. That water resources review is coupled with the revocation of the water-licensing moratorium on Cape York. This was initiated with the Wild Rivers declarations, which are also being revoked. New investigations into the availability of groundwater on Cape York, particularly in the Great Artesian Basin, are now planned.
All of these initiatives are focused almost exclusively on economic development.
Having built a northern Australian business that celebrates 25 years next year, I know the importance of a strong and viable economic base. But it must be tempered by a healthy regard for the values, opportunities and constraints of the natural environment and the unique biodiversity of the Cape.
The draft Cape York Plan does not adequately address the biodiversity and environmental aspects of the Cape’s development. The draft plan has already delineated areas for development for agriculture, mining and other activities, in the absence of sound knowledge and assessment of what is in the areas, as those studies have not been done.
Recent investigative reports on the potential and limitations of northern development have cautioned strongly against development at all costs without recognising the “critical gaps in knowledge”.
A vast unknown
Cape York’s unique natural values have been recognised for a long time. Naturalists were collecting plant specimens from the early 1770s, and from the early 1800s many new animal species were described. A third (114 species) of Australia’s mammal species are known from the Cape. Despite this richness and more than two centuries of records, the status of biodiversity of Cape York is poorly known.
Fruit Bat Falls, Jardine River National Park, near the top of Cape York Peninsula. Photo: David Robertson/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND
Have they been occurring across the Cape? In short: we don’t know. The few recent studies by researchers, including myself, have shown similar very disturbing patterns on Cape York, with mammal numbers at levels that have caused alarm in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
Across the entire Cape, systematic but one-off studies of only around 230 sites have been made since 1979, most of them since 2012. These sites cover one hectare each, so the total area covered is tiny. No long-term studies of most mammals have been done for the Cape, despite known declines of some of the more iconic species, such as the northern quoll.
Many of the surveys were done for mining proposals located on areas which are now mined, and so they have no value for further study. None of the studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals, and are difficult to find even in technical studies and other reports.
Contrast this with studies undertaken in the tropics of the Northern Territory, where over 220 long-term monitoring sites have been established, which have shown “alarming” declines in many mammals over the last 20 years. There is no reason to think that these declines have not occurred on Cape York, given its similar climate, soils, pastoral history, and original fauna.
So what is being done about this lack of knowledge? Not much.
What cutting ‘green tape’ could mean
The problem for biodiversity in the plans of the Australian and Queensland governments for the Cape is that they are all about development, where the environment is seen as an impediment, an obstacle to be overcome.
None of the reviews or plans currently underway considers the unique biodiversity and environment as of prime importance to be considered on an equal footing with “realising the full economic potential of the north”, as the Prime Minister’s media release emphasised last week.
That philosophy derives in part from the Coalition’s policy 2030 Vision for Developing Northern Australia which is to “cut the green and red tape” and develop the north as a “food bowl” to help double Australia’s agricultural output. The policy is to be developed by September this year.
So what does cutting “green tape” (that is, environmental regulation) actually mean in practice? I expect it is code for removing many requirements for environmental assessment, including biological surveys of the land to be disturbed and adjacent to the projects, whether they be agricultural projects, roads, gas pipelines, dams, mines, subdivisions and others which will destroy landscapes, and thus kill millions of native animals.
Certainly, the Queensland Government is working towards restricting public objections to many mining projects to those directly affected, and no one else.
The devastating results of development without proper knowledge and care for natural resources and biodiversity can be seen in southern Australia, which has the worst mammal extinction rate in the world.
Over the past 200 years, a third (24 of 77) of all mammal extinctions around the world have occurred in Australia as a result of human impacts. There are no excuses left if we wipe out more species by poor planning for development.
Historical film footage of the now extinct thylacine, or “Tasmanian tiger”.
Extinctions are not impacts that we can repair later. There are no technological fixes, no seed banks, no magic potions to recover extinct fauna.
We know that extinctions are caused by land clearing, changed fire regimes, introduced predators, feral animals and weeds, and disease. Planning should recognise that studies are needed on the native species and habitats proposed for development to prevent this happening again across northern Australia, including on Cape York.
We simply don’t know enough about the wildlife on the Cape. That’s why the need to study them is more urgent than ever, so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past and drive more unique Australian animals to extinction.
Noel Preece is an environmental consultant in his own business, and is contracted from time to time on projects funded from State and Federal funds, as well as by business and industry. He has recently received funding from the Biodiversity Fund for a rainforest restoration project on his property. He consults to various organisations, including NRM groups. He is affiliated with Charles Darwin University as a University Fellow, and with James Cook University as an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow. He is a Chief Investigator in one Australian Research Council research project, and a Partner Investigator in another ARC research project, both on forest restoration.
“We have quite enough national parks. We have quite enough locked up forests already. In fact, in an important respect, we have too much locked up forest.”
Is he right? How much forest should be in conservation reserves, and does Australia really have too many?
Photo: Lake Judd, in Tasmania’s Southwest National Park. JJ Harrison/Wikimedia Commons
Parks and protection
Australia has a world-class system of reserves, with just over 13% of its land area currently protected. Governments of all political persuasions have created national parks and protected areas for a range of reasons, including biodiversity conservation, wilderness protection, scientific study or to protect specific natural features.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he will not support the creation of any new national parks. Photo: AAP Image/Daniel Munoz
The most recent national figures indicate that 16% of the native forest area, some 23 million hectares, is inside reserves. This includes 70% of known old-growth forests and 55% of rainforest types. The iconic tall, open eucalypt forests (greater than 30 m in height) are also relatively well protected, with 26% inside reserves.
This stacks up fairly well against internationally agreed conservation goals. In 2010, parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity agreed to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which aim to conserve at least 17% of terrestrial ecosystems. In Australia, 54 bioregions already meet or exceed the 17% Aichi target, but 35 have less than 10% of terrestrial ecosystems protected.
These reserves have generally been created on public land, but 70% of Australia’s forest estate is privately managed, including private freehold and leasehold land and land managed by indigenous people.
Some significant conservation efforts are happening on these lands. For example, 83,000 hectares of forest on private land in Tasmania have been protected through programs such as the Private Forest Reserves Program and the Forest Conservation Fund developed under Tasmania’s Regional Forest Agreement.
Biodiversity conservation goals won’t be achieved simply by creating more reserves on public lands. More of these types of incentive programs will be required to encourage private landowners to participate in conservation.
While significant areas of forest on public land are not in reserves, these forests are not simply open slather for clearing or timber harvesting. Most states have legal restrictions on clearing and timber operators adhere to a code of practice. In many cases the land is inaccessible or not suitable for other uses.
As a result, only about 6% (or 9 million hectares) of Australia’s native forest area is available for wood production.
The 2012 Tasmanian State of the Forests report indicates that 49% of the state’s native forest area (1.5 million of 3.06 million hectares) is in conservation reserves. Of the 50 native forest communities, 37 have at least 15% of their estimated pre-1750 extent protected in reserves. This includes the very tall Eucalyptus regnans (16% in reserves) and E. delegatensis forests (26% in reserves) in places like the Styx and Florentine Valleys.
Seven communities, mainly shorter-statured dry eucalypt types, have less than 7.5% of their pre-1750 extent protected in reserves. For most of these communities, the remaining extent is largely on private land.
As a result of this agreement, the previous federal government added 172,000 hectares to the 1,412,000 ha in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. But the Abbott government claims that 74,000 ha should be delisted because it is “degraded or logged”.
But it is misguided to describe harvested areas added to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area as “degraded”. Whatever your views on whether it should have happened at all, timber harvesting in Tasmania has generally been well-managed, with limited impacts on soil and water values. Harvested forests have been regenerated with the local species, and many other trees, shrubs and other life forms return to site within a short period of harvesting.
It is precisely this careful land management that has provided the opportunity to include these areas as World Heritage.
So was Abbott’s claim right?
In one sense, Abbott is correct about our national parks. We do have an excellent conservation reserve system with significant representative areas of many forest types. The vegetation types subject to timber harvesting are relatively well protected, both within national parks and outside them, by the restrictions and regulations on timber harvesting.
However, for the Prime Minister to suggest that we have “too much” forest in reserves overlooks the fact that there are many types of forest where the reserved areas do not meet national or global protection targets.
These are generally not the iconic tall wet forests adjacent to Tasmania’s wilderness areas. They are the shorter, less aesthetically appealing (to some) forest types in drier areas along Australia’s east coast. Remaining areas are often on private land, and the main threats are urban and infrastructure expansion, weeds, pests and feral animals.
Focusing the debate simply on areas in reserves also misses the need for a “whole-landscape” approach to conservation. Protected areas are just one part of the picture – areas outside reserves also need to be carefully managed so that conservation can co-exist with other land uses, such as agriculture.
This holistic approach will give us the best chance of protecting and conserving our unique native species and ecosystems.
Rod Keenan receives funding from the Victorian Government and has received funding from the Australian Research Council and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research
Small satellite-tracking devices attached to sea turtles swimming off Florida’s coast have delivered first-of-its-kind data that could help unlock they mystery of what endangered turtles do during the “lost years.”
The “lost years” refers to the time after turtles hatch and head to sea where they remain for many years before returning to near-shore waters as large juveniles. The time period is often referred to as the “lost years” because not much has been known about where the young turtles go and how they interact with their oceanic environment — until now.
“What is exciting is that we provide the first look at the early behavior and movements of young sea turtles in the wild,” said UCF biologist Kate Mansfield, who led the team. “Before this study, most of the scientific information about the early life history of sea turtles was inferred through genetics studies, opportunistic sightings offshore, or laboratory-based studies. With real observations of turtles in their natural environment, we are able to examine and reevaluate existing hypotheses about the turtles’ early life history. This knowledge may help managers provide better protection for these threatened and endangered species.”
A team of scientists from the UCF, Florida Atlantic University, University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and University of Wisconsin, tracked 17 loggerhead turtles for 27 to 220 days in the open ocean using small, solar-powered satellite tags. The goal was to better understand the turtles’ movements, habitat preferences, and what role temperature may play in early sea turtle life history.
Some of the findings challenge previously held beliefs.
While the turtles remain in oceanic waters (traveling between 124 miles to 2,672 miles) off the continental shelf and the loggerhead turtles sought the surface of the water as predicted, the study found that the turtles do not necessarily remain within the currents associated with the North Atlantic subtropical gyre. It was historically thought that loggerhead turtles hatching from Florida’s east coast complete a long, developmental migration in a large circle around the Atlantic entrained in these currents. But the team’s data suggest that turtles may drop out of these currents into the middle of the Atlantic or the Sargasso Sea.
The team also found that while the turtles mostly stayed at the sea surface, where they were exposed to the sun’s energy, the turtles’ shells registered more heat than anticipated (as recorded by sensors in the satellite tags), leading the team to consider a new hypothesis about why the turtles seek refuge in Sargassum. It is a type of seaweed found on the surface of the water in the deep ocean long associated with young sea turtles.
“We propose that young turtles remain at the sea surface to gain a thermal benefit,” Mansfield said. “This makes sense because the turtles are cold blooded animals. By remaining at the sea surface, and by associating with Sargassum habitat, turtles gain a thermal refuge of sorts that may help enhance growth and feeding rates, among other physiological benefits.”
More research will be needed, but it’s a start at cracking the “lost years” mystery.
The findings are important because the loggerhead turtles along with other sea turtles are threatened or endangered species. Florida beaches are important to their survival because they provide important nesting grounds in North America. More than 80% of Atlantic loggerheads nest along Florida’s coast. There are other important nesting grounds and nursing areas for sea turtles in the western hemisphere found from as far north as Virginia to South America and the Caribbean.
“From the time they leave our shores, we don’t hear anything about them until they surface near the Canary Islands, which is like their primary school years,” said Florida Atlantic University professor Jeannette Wyneken, the study’s co- PI and author. “There’s a whole lot that happens during the Atlantic crossing that we knew nothing about. Our work helps to redefine Atlantic loggerhead nursery grounds and early loggerhead habitat use.”
Mansfield joined UCF in 2013. She has a Ph.D. from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and a master’s degree from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami. She previously worked at Florida International University, through the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) in association with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Services. She was a National Academies NRC postdoctoral associate based at NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center, and remains an affiliate faculty in Florida Atlantic University’s biology department where Wyneken is based.
With colleagues at each institution Mansfield conducted research that has helped further the understanding of the sea turtle “lost years” and sea turtle life history as a whole. For example she and Wyneken developed a satellite tagging method using a non-toxic manicure acrylic, old wetsuits, and hair-extension glue to attach satellite tags to small turtles. Tagging small turtles is very difficult by traditional means because of their small size and how fast they grow.
Mansfield is currently working under grants from NOAA and the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate fund to conduct work on the sea turtle “lost years.”
Other members on the team are: Wyneken, Warren P. Porter from the University of Wisconsin and Jiangang Luo from the University of Miami.
Push for emergency allocation of water to save fish stocks
Government at this stage unlikely to approve request
Local water authority says running channel to Toolondo not an option
FISHING enthusiasts, together with the local community are fighting hard to save fish stocks in Lake Toolondo in the south-west Wimmera.
“Rocklands is full of carp and does not support the same ecology you get at Toolondo.” Trevor Holmes.
A group has been formed with two goals, in the long-term to shore up the future of the lake, described as the most important trout fishery in mainland Australia, and in the short-term to get an emergency allocation of 5000 megalitres of water to stop fish from dying.
One of the spokesmen for the group, Trevor Holmes, said the immediate challenge was to save trout stocks within the lake.
“The lake was restocked in 2011, and it seems silly to make that investment and then just let the fish die, when they can easily be saved with a relatively small amount of water.”
In the longer term, Mr Holmes said he wanted to see a minimum level retained in Toolondo where possible.
“It is a storage and does not evaporate quickly, so by putting in water you are not jeopardising the region’s water security.”
Mr Holmes said Toolondo had a much more significant eco-system than Rocklands, which is the region’s major storage.
“Rocklands is full of carp and does not support the same ecology you get at Toolondo.”
He said Toolondo was not only important for sporting fish but had healthy populations of native fish, eastern long necked turtles, yabbies and water-based birds and insects.
The group is lobbying Victorian Minister for Water Peter Walsh on the matter.
A petition on online petition platform www.change.org has over 1300 signatories and a Facebook group has over 1100 members.
However, thus far there has been little progress.
Minister Walsh said decisions for Toolondo’s management were made by the local water authority, Grampians Wimmera Mallee (GWM) Water.
“While the Victorian Government recognises Lake Toolondo has been providing some great fishing opportunities for recreational fishers, it is vital that the Wimmera-Mallee system is managed responsibly and as a whole,” Mr Walsh said.
“The stock and domestic supply of local landholders could be jeopardised if more water is transferred into Lake Toolondo for recreational fishing, given the current levels of Rocklands Reservoir.
“While in the past few years flooding rains have allowed for transfers from Rocklands Reservoir into Lake Toolondo, it would be irresponsible to transfer water under current conditions.”
GWM Water spokesman Andrew Rose said the short-term allocation of water would not be a prudent move.
“The water losses in running water up the open channel from Rocklands to Toolondo would be massive.”
He also said Toolondo was not a preferred storage, not because of evaporation issues as in other GWM storages popular for recreation usage, such as Lake Lonsdale near Stawell, but because of topography.
“It’s true we can get water out of Toolondo, but when it gets to a certain level we need to pump it out, which obviously will increase costs.”
Mr Holmes disputed the water security argument.
“On our calculations, based on current water levels, running the 5000mL up to Toolondo would only drop Rocklands by 3cm.”
President of the Horsham Fly Fishers and Trout Anglers Club Gary Marlow said having lived through the Millennium Drought, which crippled the Wimmera from 1997 to 2007, he understood the importance of water security.
However, he said transferring water to Toolondo was not a risk at current storage levels.
“We understand if there is just no water about then it couldn’t be done, but we believe this lake has significance from an environmental, economic and recreational perspective and should be maintained.”
Both Mr Marlow and Mr Holmes questioned water management practices, such as summer environmental flows down the Wimmera and Glenelg Rivers.
“If we are trying to mimic the natural catchment patterns, then I don’t think you would have seen water running during our dry summers,” Mr Holmes said.
He said he realised the difficulties in getting the group’s requests through given the current water management framework.
“Longer-term, we’re certainly going to be working to get a more common sense approach to managing water resources.
“I know everyone wants their own lake filled, but in the case of Toolondo, there is a really strong argument, this lake has a massive reputation among the fishing community as a showcase trout fishery and we believe it can be filled without impacting on water security throughout GWM’s area.
A listener rang radio station 4BC on Friday night to say he spotted the reptile creeping out of the creek near Banika St in Mansfield.
Locals were yesterday startled — and cynical — about the suggestion that a man-eater may have moved into the neighbourhood.
Mark Kenway, whose house backs onto the bush corridor around the creek, was cool about the possible threat.
“I’ve lived here eight years and never seen anything,’’ he said.
“Well there are some pretty big goannas around here — and some mighty pythons.’’
“Let me guess,’’ asked Terry Vogan. “The bloke who rang the radio had a Kiwi accent and was actually looking at a four-foot lizard.
“We’ve got a couple of those, some vicious wallabies and a few savage cane-toads. But I can guarantee there ain’t no ‘gators.’’
Turns out, however, that Terry’s wife Lesley has got history when it comes to croc-spotting in the suburbs.
“I grew up on Norman Creek and there were always stories that a crocodile was in there. We survived that one too.’’
Crocodiles are rarely spotted south of central Queensland but rangers captured a 3.1-metre saltie in the Mary River near Maryborough last November and a 3.5m giant is still believed to be on the loose in the same area.
Wildlife officials caught a 1.6m freshwater crocodile in Logan City in 2009. They said there were signs it had previously been held in captivity and released 1300km from its natural environment.
The Courier-Mail carried a photograph of a 3.8m crocodile which was shot in the Logan River in 1905.
Wildlife authorities are ramping up efforts to prevent a fatal crocodile attack amid a population spike in waters around Broome.
Crocodile trap in waters near Broome. A permanent crocodile trap has been installed in Dampier Creek amid an increase in crocodile numbers. Photo: ABC News, Erin Parke
The Department of Parks and Wildlife’s Dave Woods says for the first time, a $4,000 trap will be permanently installed at a popular fishing spot to help rangers deal with the increasing number of crocodiles in local waterways.
The five-metre aluminium contraption has a trapdoor system on it which is attached to a bait.
Night patrols are planned, and computer technology will be used to map where and when the animals come close to shore.
The program is part of a push to raise awareness of the risks of crocodiles, and Western Australia is looking to the Northern Territory for pointers.
“The Northern Territory have been the leaders in crocodile management for some time, and rather than reinventing the wheel, we’re pretty much drawing on what they’ve learnt,” Mr Woods said.
“We’re following a standard operating procedure that the Northern Territory Department of Parks and Wildlife is using.”
He said the department was going through a process of increasing skills and undertaking extra training.
Two Japanese men have been sentenced in Perth for trying to smuggle 30 native lizards out of the country.
Some of the lizards seized by authorities at Perth Airport in September. Photo: Samia O’Keefe, ABC News
Akio Nakamura and Yuki Okabe were stopped by customs staff at the Perth International Airport in September last year after the lizards were found inside checked luggage.
Both Nakamura and Okabe pleaded guilty to attempting to export the lizards to Japan and subjecting them to cruelty.
Nakamura’s suitcase contained 15 shingleback lizards and a skink and Okabe’s suitcase contained 13 shingleback lizards and a dragon lizard.
Nakamura was given a six-month suspended sentence for his role in helping to courier the retiles from Australia to Japan.
Okabe, who captured the lizards in the wild, was sentenced to 12 months in prison with a minimum of seven months.
Authorities said the 30 lizards could have fetched about $130,000 on the black market.
District Court Judge Anthony Derrick said he believed Nakamura’s role was limited to being a courier and he had no knowledge of the organisers of the undertaking and that he was an ‘unsophisticated person’.
But he said Mr Okabe’s role was ‘pivotal in the offending’.
“You were the person that collected from the wild a significant number of lizards, which you attempted to export,” he said in court.
“You, Mr Okabe, were responsible for the packaging of lizards into suitcases.”
The court heard the men stood to gain about $3,000 each from delivering the reptiles and about $70 to $80 on top of that amount per lizard.
The court heard the men, who have already served four and a half months in custody, have had a hard time because of cultural and language difficulties.
University of Queensland researchers, supported by staff from Sea World, Taronga Zoo and Sydney Aquarium, conduct an annual dugong health assessment in Moreton Bay. The health assessments help monitor the health of the bay’s wild dugong population and keep track of the health of coastal marine ecosystems.