- Charles Sturt researchers led a world-first program that rescued and repopulated an endangered species of fish from the Snowy Mountains
A world-first fish captivity breeding program at Charles Sturt University in Albury-Wodonga has brought a population of stocky galaxias fish back from the brink of extinction in the Snowy Mountains.
The fish are endemic to the Snowy Mountains region. A rescue of the critically endangered stocky galaxias was carried out after the fires in Kosciuszko National Park in 2019 and ahead of heavy rainfall, which could have resulted in a significant fish kill event.
Those fish were sent to the Charles Sturt aquatic research facility in Albury-Wodonga and to the Department of Primary Industries Hatchery at Gaden, Jindabyne.
Little is known about this species and Executive Director of the Gulbali Institute for Agriculture, Water and Environment Professor Lee Baumgartner (pictured) said construction of a simulated habitat, that can mimic the temperature and sunlight regime of the Snowy Mountains, was required.
“This provided the opportunity for Charles Sturt staff to generate significant knowledge on the species whist their natural home, the Tantangara Creek, was unsuitable for them to return,” Professor Baumgartner said.
“A critical requirement was the knowledge of their spawning and reproductive needs.
“To preserve the species in the long term, it was deemed critical that the opportunity be used to see if captive breeding was possible.”
The program allowed fish to be bred and juveniles restocked to boost existing populations and possibly establish new ones.
Charles Sturt staff attempted to spawn the fish during the pandemic and while they naturally produced a lot of eggs, these did not hatch as they were not successfully fertilised. In 2022, Charles Sturt staff, led by Dr Amina Price, re-attempted to spawn the fish using a technique known as ‘hand stripping’, where eggs and milt are squeezed from the fish.
This garnered results in December and the first babies born in captivity emerged from their eggs in early 2023.
“This represents a world first and a significant step forward in the conservation of this species. No one has ever been able to achieve this before,” Dr Price said.
“The milestone was a significant achievement as the project has received limited funding, requiring staff to volunteer many hours over weekends and holidays to ensure success.”
Now that Tanatangra Creek has recovered from the bushfires, the team is exploring if reintroduction of the baby fish to their original home might be possible.
If additional funding resources are secured, the team is hoping to expand on the program and see if restocking is a suitable way to boost existing populations.
Researchers would also like to understand if large-scale production, across multiple seasons, might be possible to enhance their recovery.
“It is a successful demonstration of Charles Sturt staff, partnering with government, to work on the conservation of critical species and demonstrating we can work collaboratively to make significant steps to save our threatened species from climate change and extreme events,” Professor Baumgartner said.
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