Coming back from local extinction – Yarra Pygmy Perch in the Lower Lakes

At the western edge of its national range in Australia, a beautiful little native fish has been in a fight for survival for over 15 years. The Yarra Pygmy Perch was first found in the Lower Lakes in South Australia in 2002, but unfortunately disappeared in this part of its range a short time later, during the millennium drought. It was last detected in the wild in 2008. This was the first known modern freshwater fish extinction in the Murray Darling Basin.

Fortunately, a few ecologists including Michael Hammer and Nick Whiterod, acted in time to save some Yarra Pygmy Perch from this population area during the drought before they were lost forever. These fish have since been bred in private landholders’ surrogate dams over the past 16 years. Now the program, managed by NGT’s Senior Aquatic Ecologist Sylvia Zukowski, has had fabulous success with recent wild reintroductions back to former habitats on Hindmarsh Island, where 7000 were Yarra Pygmy Perch were released.

To aid reintroduction success, special soft release enclosures were built and the Yarra Pygmy Perch had two weeks to acclimatise within these before the enclosures were opened and fish were released into the wild. Since the release, 16 wild Yarra Pygmy Perch have been recaptured during surveys, just two months following initial wild releases, which is great news and tells us that the fish are persisting in their natural home. Further wild reintroductions and ongoing monitoring are hopefully the beginning of the end of the local extinction of this lovely fish species.

Efforts to save the Yarra Pygmy Perch have been led through a great partnership between Nature Glenelg Trust and the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board, with fabulous support from the Big Little Four Fish committee, Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board, The University of Adelaide, Department of Environment and Water and the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal Corporation.

Thanks to everyone involved in this amazing conservation project!

Sylvia Zukowski