The Federal Government has authorised Australian scientists to stage an emergency intervention to save the red handfish from extinction by housing the critically endangered fish at breeding facilities in Tasmania during this summer’s expected marine heat waves.
The population of red handfish has halved in recent years due to degradation of the seaweed habitat it needs to breed. There are now only just 50 to 100 red handfish left in the wild.
Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek has provided a national interest exemption under national environment law for scientists to collect up to 25 red handfish, allowing the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) to take an initial collection of fish to safety.
“This amazing species gets its name from using over-sized fins for hands to walk across the sea floor, rather than swim,” said Ms Plibersek.
“Unfortunately, the red handfish is at risk of extinction this summer due to marine heatwaves.
“That’s why we’ve worked with experts to authorise the collection of an initial 25 handfish to give this unique species the best chance of recovery.
“The Albanese Government has set a goal of no new extinctions, and this intervention is critical to save Tasmania’s red handfish.”
The Government has also this week invested $239,650 to improve the condition of the species’ wild habitat and recover the health of captive animals.
This funding is on top of previous funding of more than $600,000 for the red handfish captive breeding and habitat remediation and $68,000 to support the critical actions now necessary to ensure the red handfish does not become extinct.
Over summer, IMAS will continue to monitor the remaining wild red handfish for signs of stress, and if necessary, will collect the remaining fish and relocate them to the Institute’s facilities.
Once the threat of marine heatwaves has passed, the red handfish’s habitat will be assessed to determine if they can be safely returned to the wild.
IMAS is also working closely with the University of Tasmania and the Tasmanian Government on other permits and requirements.