The final chapter for the Yarra pygmy perch!

Last month, Lachlan and I had the pleasure of witnessing something spectacular…something that has been in the making for several years. Students and dedicated staff member, Kathy Bell from Millicent High School, travelled out to the newly restored Pick Swamp to proudly see hundreds of Yarra Pygmy Perch released into their new home after raising them in captivity over several years. It was the final chapter to a remarkable story, which started back in 2008, and you can relive the event here, or below:

As South East South Australia moved into a severe drought, populations of the nationally vulnerable, Yarra Pygmy Perch were at serious risk of extirpation. Urgent conservation measures were undertaken, including the establishment of breeding and education facilities at Kingston Community School and Millicent High School, along with the translocation of fish to refuge sites or dams. A partnership was established between the two schools, Aquasave (Nature Glenelg Trust) and DEWNR which would prove to provide a critical avenue for the future conservation of Yarra Pygmy Perch.

The students from Millicent High School and Wetland Ecologist, Steve Clarke (DEWNR), check the nets for Yarra pygmy perch at Mt Muirhead dam (above). Students count the fish into the transport barrel (below). Photos: Kathy Bell.

 

To demonstrate the outstanding success of the program, the initial population at one of the dams (Mathesons Pond) comprised 100 fish in 2009 and is now estimated to be in excess of 5000, with recent surveys in early 2014 capturing around 1200 fish. Concerted efforts by the students at Millicent High School to restore aquatic and riparian habitat at Mathesons Pond, as part of a Youth Creating Habitat project (funded by Caring for Country), has no doubt contributed to the breeding success of the population. The students have even recently featured on Totally Wild, sharing their story and the important role in which they have played in native fish conservation (you can view the episode at http://tenplay.com.au/channel-eleven/totally-wild). In addition to this, Kathy Bell’s commitment to environmental education was recently recognised when she received an individual award at the 2014 School Industry Partnerships Celebration. Well-deserved Kathy!

Captive breeding facilities at Millicent High School – students collect Yarra Pygmy Perch to be released. Photo: K. Bell.

The newly created environment at Pick Swamp was chosen as ideal habitat for the release of Yarra Pygmy perch. Recent and large scale restoration works of the Piccaninnie Ponds Karst Wetland complex (led by DEWNR) has seen the site transform from being essentially a cow paddock in 2006, to the fish haven it is today. Over the past few months, two fish releases have occurred, the latter of which was largely undertaken by the students of Millicent High School. The stars of the show arrived with the students on the mini bus in a nicely aerated barrel, and after acclimatising them to their new environment and building a ‘soft enclosure’, the students said their goodbyes as they lowered the barrel into the water and watched Pete, Josie, Mary and all their friends, swim away to explore their new home. As Kathy Bell put it, ‘the students and myself were rapt to be involved and what a great experience. It was very satisfying to release the fish.’

Students work together to build the soft-release enclosure (top); Lachie Farrington and Lauren Veale (NGT) talk to the students about the ‘plan of attack’; Kathy Bell (right) and students releasing the Yarra pygmy perch into Pick Swamp (bottom). Photos: Kathy Bell

As wild populations of Yarra Pygmy Perch remain in critical condition across the South East region, translocations such as these are likely to be necessary to assist the continued conservation of the species. Follow-up monitoring will be undertaken in early next year to assess how the Yarras have taken to their new home at Pick Swamp.



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