According to scientists, an ancient Australian species could be at risk of extinction if we don’t act now.
Maugean skates, believed to have existed in the prehistoric period, are facing the possibility of complete extinction due to human interaction and climate change. Experts are calling for urgent action in order to protect this native animal, but they say we need to act fast.
What are Maugean skates?
Maugean skates are a native species found only in Macquarie Harbour off the coast of Tasmania. They typically live for around 10 years, staying at depths of 7-12 meters in estuarine waters, characterised as an enclosed costal area with one or more streams flowing into it.
Skates are listed as one of the top 110 priority threatened species within the Australian Government’s Threatened Species Strategy Action Plan 2022-2023. They were discovered in 1988 in Bathurst Harbour, but have since disappeared from the area completely. They are considered both an endangered and protected species.
Why are they in danger?
According to research, Maugean skate populations have dropped by nearly half over the last seven years. This is due to a number of factors including habitat loss, which has been caused by pollution from salmon farming and rising water temperatures.
Similarly, hydropower stations have affected the flow of upstream rivers, impacting their estuarine homes. All together, these factors have resulted in a decrease in dissolved oxygen levels within the water, impacting the survival rates of baby Maugean skates.
A monitoring project is currently being undertaken by Dr David Moreno and his team from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania. He has recorded declining levels of dissolved oxygen in the harbour, linking this lack of oxygen to the continued loss of skate life.
It is believed that in 2019, Maugean skate populations plummeted when a storm lifted poorly oxygenated water from deep in the ocean closer to the surface. Due to electronic trackers placed in several skates, scientists were able to link this storm to high mortality rates immediately after. Skates are also known to be killed when tangled up in fishing nets on the hunt for other marine life.
What can we do?
Scientists are calling for increased action if the Maugean skates are to be protected. This includes funding for a protective breeding program, and restrictions on recreational fishing within the Macquarie Harbour region.
The monitoring project for Maugean skates began in 2012, but is set to finish at the end of this year. Without an extension, it will be difficult to track the continued impact of these factors on the native species. Experts are determined to educate Aussies on the threats Maugean skates are facing, in an attempt to encourage action in the community.
They are also hoping to have the skate’s status bumped from endangered to critically endangered in order to reflect the urgency of the situation.
For now, Dr David Moreno and his team will continue monitoring the Maugean skates to protect them from the damages of human interaction and climate change. Experts remain hopeful that they can save these native creatures, but only if we are willing to act now.
To learn about the need to save another Australian species, click here.