OzFish Unlimited volunteers recently teamed up with Richmond Landcare in search of the elusive prehistoric lungfish which was sighted in northern NSW.
Lungfish have not been in the area for millions of years and the endangered native species is only found in small sections of South East Queensland.
After the floods of 2022 caused major damage to the Tuntable Creek ecosystem, 25km north of Lismore, a resident said he saw a lungfish in the waterway and his clear description was backed up by another local and members of the Richmond Landcare group decided to investigate.
Richmond Landcare reached out to OzFish, Australia’s fishing conservation charity to see if they could do some eDNA testing to potentially get scientific verification that lungfish had returned to the area after the floods.
Lucas Kas, OzFish Senior Project Officer, said the sightings at the Terania Creek and Rocky Creek locations set the local community abuzz, and they were able to get the project funded through their longstanding partnership with Landcare NSW.
“Just like at a crime scene where we can see who’s been lurking around the place, we can do the same thing with animals through eDNA testing,” he said.
“It’s great because it doesn’t impact the environment like other forms of monitoring and is robust.
“As an animal moves through the environment it leaves all these traces - skin flakes, mucus, all the other bodily secretions. So all we have to do is come down, take a sample of the water, preserve it, send it off to the lab and then they can do some wizardry on it and basically spit back to us if there’s a presence or absence of Australian lungfish in the creek.
“The reason we’re making a big deal about lungfish potentially being sighted in this area is because they’ve only been found in two rivers in South East Queensland and that’s now been expanded due to a breed-out program.
“But never in NSW, at least for a hundred million years. There was some fossil evidence from back then.
“They’re really significant because they’re really rare but they’re also living fossils. They’re prehistoric creatures that have been around since before the dinosaurs and they basically represent an evolutionary stage that all land animals evolved from.”
Australian lungfish are unique creatures that can live up to 117 years, grow to 1.5 metres, have enamel on their teeth and have limb-like fins.
The eDNA test results were recently finalised and although it indicated no sign of the lungfish from the sample areas that were tested, it does not mean that they are not possibly inhabiting other parts of the waterways in the area.
However, the study did detect various other aquatic species, such as the longfin eel, rainbowfish, Australian bass, carp, and Australian smelt.
Although the lungfish remained undetected, this project brought the community together, fostering a deeper connection and understanding of the local environment.
The Richmond and Tuntable Landcare groups have been active participants in Lismore City Council's Urban Landcare Program as they aim to enhance regional biodiversity.
The project was made possible from OzFish’s Driving Fish Habitat Action partnership with Landcare NSW, with funding support from the NSW Recreational Fishing Trusts, and BCF – Boating, Camping, Fishing.
A dropbox of images of OzFish’s restoration work at Nymboida River is available here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/a4z5ngn1wpavnih/AAAv4pr2iGvUUUKCiE04S4tJa?dl=0
If you would like to know more about the project or get involved become a member of OzFish at www.ozfish.org.au or phone 1800 431 308.
OzFish Unlimited is a national environmental conservation charity established to improve the health of our rivers, lakes and estuaries. It is a member-based organisation dedicated to make our fishing grounds healthy, vibrant and more productive. Their active work includes; habitat restoration such as resnagging, riverbank planting, clean-ups, fishways, shellfish reefs and educational and community capacity building programs.
If you would like further information about the project or to interview Lucas Kas, please contact OzFish Unlimited Communications Manager Paul Suttor
0421 491 229 | firstname.lastname@example.org