The Lower Lakes


The Lower Lakes region harbours a diverse and unique native fish community. Yet, as the recent millennium drought intensified (over 2007 to 2010), significantly diminished freshwater inflows and critical water shortages placed these regions on the verge of ecological collapse. Over this period, broad-scale loss and drying of aquatic habitats and a number of freshwater specialists (such as Yarra pygmy perch) were at the risk of localised extirpation around the Lower Lakes. In response, wide-ranging conservation actions were instigated to prevent the loss of threatened small-bodied fish; namely southern purple-spotted gudgeon, Yarra pygmy perch, southern pygmy perch and Murray hardyhead around the Lower lakes. These actions undoubtedly helped to conserve freshwater fish populations and ensured a supply of individuals for reintroduction upon the return of favourable conditions. The success of these actions could not have been achieved without the formation of cross-agency collaborations, particularly between Aquasave – NGT, Arkellah Hall, Adam Watt, Adrienne Frears, Kate Mason (DEWNR), Chris Bice (SARDI) and Scotte Wedderburn (Adelaide University).

Dry times – Goolwa channel during the drought

Dry times – Goolwa channel during the drought

In 2010-2011, broad-scale rainfall and significant inflows in the Murray-Darling Basin acted to break the millennium drought and improved flow and habitat availability was realised around the Lower Lakes. Between 2011 and 2013, over 15,000 fish from four species were reintroduced into 10 suitable locations as part of the Critical Fish Project (in collaboration with Chris Bice – SARDI) funded by the CLLMM group of DEWNR (as part of the SA Governments Murray Futures program and the Australian Governments Water for the Future initiative).  Encouragingly, post-reintroduction survival and wild recruitment is evident (although in low numbers).

Southern pygmy perch reintroduction site

Southern pygmy perch reintroduction site

Continued funding from the CLLMM group of DEWNR (as part of the SA GovernmentsMurray Futures program and the Australian Governments Water for the Future initiative) will allow a collaborative project (again with Chris Bice – SARDI) to monitoring threatened fish communities around the Lower Lakes over 2013 and 2014. The monitoring will predominately focus on locations where the four threatened species were reintroduced but will also allow broad assessment of condition of native fish communities in the region (in conjunction with complementary monitoring by Scotte Wedderburn – Adelaide University). It is hoped that increasing numbers of each threatened species and strong wild recruitment will be observed during our monitoring so that greater confidence can be place in future of populations of these threatened species in the Lower Lakes – stay tuned for regular updates!

A recently published paper in the special issue of Marine and Freshwater Research focusing on ‘Recovering threatened freshwater fish in Australia’ summarises the conservation actions (and importantly it acknowledges the involvement and dedication of others in addition to those mentioned above who assisted the conservation efforts):

Hammer M. P., Bice C. M., Hall A., Frears A., Watt A., Whiterod N. S., Beheregaray L. B., Harris J. O., Zampatti B. (2013). Freshwater fish conservation in the face of critical water shortages in the southern Murray–Darling Basin, Australia. Marine and Freshwater Research 64, 807-821.

The reintroduction project is detailed in the report below:

Bice C., Whiterod N., Wilson P., Zampatti B., Hammer M. (2013). The Critical Fish Habitat Project: reintroductions of threatened fish species in the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth region 2011-2013. SARDI Publication F2012/000348-2. SARDI Report Series No 697. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide.

Click here for the full list of project related blogs