A rare Australian spotted fish that walks along the seabed on long fins resembling hands was also the first marine fish in the world to be classified as Critically Endangered. The Spotted Handfish will be helped in 2017 with a grant from the Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA), Australasia, to address the likelihood that the species could go extinct in the wild.
The Spotted Handfish lives in highly localised habitats in the sandy seabed of the cool waters of the Derwent River estuary in Tasmania.
The Zoo and Aquarium Association this week announced a $40,000 grant to support efforts of the CSIRO and National Environmental Science Programme (NESP) to save this species from extinction through implementing a multi-pronged initiative including creating a captive breeding program and releasing fish into wild habitats, as well as addressing various threatening processes, in particular, damage to habitat made by traditional boat moorings and encroachment by pest species.
The Recovery Program for this species will monitor remaining populations and determine appropriate numbers of founder stock that will be taken into SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium and Seahorse World in Tasmania where a planned breed-for-release program will be initiated with expert assistance from the CSIRO. Release sites will include locations where the Spotted Handfish has already become locally extinct.
Community campaigns will also be undertaken to raise awareness of the plight of this species, and a trial of eco boat moorings will seek to address impacts on habitat. Traditional ‘swing’ moorings abrade the handfish homes in the seabed of the estuary, so trials of eco-moorings will establish if remaining habitat can be better preserved.
Spawning females of the handfish attach masses of 100–200 eggs onto upright objects on the sea floor, including sea squirts, and will guard the eggs for up to six weeks until they hatch.
The Recovery Program will also include photographing remaining handfish, whose patterns of spots are unique to each individual. This will enable researchers to identify individuals, and understand how the numbers of handfish are surviving in the wild, as well as the status of future released captive-bred fish.
The Senior Researcher at CSIRO, Dr Tim Lynch said:
“With only one high-density local population of spotted handfish left in the wild it is now very important to re-establish a captive breeding program.”
The Chair of the Association’s Wildlife Conservation Fund, Elaine Bensted said:
“We’re proud to be able to provide a direct injection of much needed funds to support the Recovery Program for Spotted Handfish in 2017. This incredibly rare and beautiful species has been living right on the edge of extinction, and by working together with CSIRO, NESP the aquariums and the community, we’ll see if we can get it back from the brink.
“With the work we are doing on conservation, zoos and aquariums are more important now than they have ever been before in saving wildlife and protecting wild places.”
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