The Red Handfish (Thymichthys politus) is tiny – at an average of 6cm, about the size of a man’s thumb. It walks rather than swims and, alarmingly, just 100 of these beautiful fish now survive in a small area of ocean off Tasmania. Being a species of marine anglerfish which scientists know very little about, when asked for support, FAME simply could not allow this species to disappear.
Saving the Red Handfish
from extinction. In partnership with University of Tasmania and IMAS.
FAME will partner with the University of Tasmania and the Institute for Marine & Antarctic Studies to assist with captive breeding, ecosystem restoration and pest species management as well as all the associated environmental work. It is worth noting that, as part of this four-year program, our partners will attempt a world first by ‘teaching’ the fish how to survive in their relocated habitat.
Why we need to act
It is estimated that only 100 Red Handfish survive in the wild, with both populations limited to two small patches of reef. Travelling no more than 30 metres per year, the species is highly vulnerable to disappearing over the brink.
Saving this rare and unique species shores up the country’s environmental biodiversity and gives scientists an opportunity to fill gaps in our knowledge of Australia’s flora and fauna.
Threats to the species
The various species of seaweeds and seagrasses in the area form the habitat and vital shelter for the Red Handfish. Additionally, they are used to lay their eggs on. This habitat has seen major losses due in large part to a booming population of native sea urchins which feed on the weeds and grasses.
The sites in which the Red Handfish populations survive are also close to urban areas, and are further impacted by pollution, runoff, increased sedimentation, and human interference. Climate change is also another aspect suspected to impact the species.
Solution and approach
The four-year program, which will be led by Dr Jemina Stuart-Smith, will employ:
Captive breeding and, as information is gathered, adapting elements of the program.
Pest species management including removing an endemic but dominant sea urchin population.
Releasing the captive-bred fish into wild.
In a world first, “teaching” the species to adapt, improving their chances of survival in their natural habitat.
The overarching outcome is to save a critically endangered species from extinction using best practice conservation techniques especially adapted for the Red Handfish.
Other key factors for success include:
Successful captive breeding.
Developing techniques that support planning and management for marine conservation.
Continuation of a whole of-system approach to research, education, and outreach through the combination of aquaculture-based conservation strategies.
More direct engagement with the community via more focused communication and consultation.
Achieving the objectives outlined in The Australian National Recovery Plan for Three Handfish Species (Commonwealth and Tasmanian governments, 2016).
University of Tasmania (UTAS) and the Institute for Marine & Antarctic Studies (IMAS)
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