Spotted Handfish are an Australian spotted fish that walks along the seabed on long fins resembling hands.This species is the first marine fish in the world to be classified as Critically Endangered.
ZAA’s Wildlife Conservation Fund allocated its 2017 grant to the CSIRO Tasmania to support a project to address critical decline on the Spotted Handfish, which lives in highly localised habitats in the sandy seabed of the Derwent River estuary.
After a rigorous evaluation process, the $40,000 grant was provided 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 first collection of wild fish occurred during the breeding season in September, initially involving two individuals brought into specialist marine tank facilities in CSIRO Tasmania. In great news for the program, this pair, later dubbed Harley and Rose, bred two days later. This had never been observed or filmed before, and provided important and unprecedented insights about the breeding behaviours of this species, click here to see a video (video courtesy of Dr Tim Lynch, CSIRO Tasmania).
The female then laid around 200 eggs on the surface of a sea squirt, carefully weaving the mass along the upright surface. She guarded the egg mass for around 10 weeks, during which the researchers were able to record high definition photography of the egg development, and track the fish behaviours.
The eggs finally hatched over three to four days. As their yolk sacks are readily absorbed and the fish become reliant on access to plankton for food, researchers returned most of the juveniles to the site of the wild colony, retaining 20 to be transferred to a specialist aquaculture facility in Tasmania as founding stock for the insurance breeding population.
Elaine Bensted, the Chair of the Association’s Wildlife Conservation Fund, said:
“This early success in the program is a great result and we’re proud that the provision of funds through the grant this year has been able to support such important work. 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.”