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27 February 2013

Vulnerable lungfish rescue Gympie, Queensland

Image source: The Courier Mail

It's not every day you get to save the life of a threatened species and a living fossil!

A remarkable photograph of a Gympie resident rescuing a rare lungfish from a hotel car park in Gympie after it was washed there by the flood waters that have flowed through Gympie, Queensland for the fifth time in one year.

This ancient air breathing fish can survive for several days out of the water if the surface of its skin is kept moist.  Fossil records show that the Queensland Lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri) has remained unchanged for more than 100 million years (since the time of the dinosaurs) - and is the longest surviving vertebrate species on the planet.

The lungfish became well known in the fight to stop the Traveston Crossing Dam near Gympie and may have influenced the then Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett's decision to veto the dam because it posed 'an unacceptable risk to threatened species such as the Queensland lungfish'. The lungfish still faces significant risks from the Paradise Dam on the Burnett River.  The dam has a fish transfer device (a "fish lift"!) to theoretically allow lungfish to migrate upstream of the dam wall as well as a downstream fish transfer device to allow them to migrate downstream for breeding and feeding.  There has been much debate and a court case over whether the devices are effective. It is also believed that lungfish have been destroyed when they are swept over the 62 concrete-step spillway at Paradise Dam

What is the status of the lungfish?
The Australian Lungfish is listed as a vulnerable species under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act).  Source.

Why is the lungfish threatened?
According to Environment Australia: Evidence suggests that in recent years only small numbers of young lungfish are growing-up into adult fish. In addition, changes to the quality and extent of breeding habitat appear to be reducing the likelihood of successful spawning. Two of the key problems affecting the lungfish are the flooding of suitable spawning sites and physical barriers that block the movement of adult lungfish to the remaining breeding sites.

As explained in this article from the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland:
In the words of Professor Jean Joss, Australia’s primary lungfish expert, '…the Australian lungfish provides the only opportunity to study the development and physiology of the aquatic predecessor of all land vertebrates – including ourselves. Its significance cannot be overstated. Australia is the custodian of the source of this invaluable library of information for the rest of the world.'
The Australian lungfish, previously more widespread throughout the continent, is now restricted to the Mary and Burnett River systems, the latter of which used to offer the most suitable spawning sites. Despite having survived this long, and boasting a life span of 80 to 100 years, the Australian lungfish takes 15 to 20 years to reach maturity and is very picky when it comes to the conditions under which it will spawn.  Since the construction of the Paradise Dam, these favoured sites have been flooded on several occasions and have also undergone permanent change. As a result, the faithful lungfish return every year but do not spawn and reabsorb their gametes because the conditions are no longer acceptable to them.

Hats off to this Gympie resident for saving one lungfish by carrying it back to deeper water!


Author & Editor

Tracey Bailey is the founder of Biome Eco Stores and mother of two. After working in corporate communications and starting a family, she made a choice to be part of the solution to our planet's future and started Biome Eco Stores. Tracey is passionate about educating the community about living eco-friendly and sustainable lives through her extended product, chemical, health and environmental knowledge.


- eco bird by danii - said...

Wow! I remember seeing this, so interesting! Lovely to see!

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