Search for elusive prehistoric lungfish in waterways after floods

Volunteers check the waterways for lungfish. Photos: Contributed

The floods may have brought the endangered native lungfish to NSW waterways.

Richmond Landcare members and OzFish Unlimited volunteers teamed up to search for the elusive prehistoric lungfish, which was sighted in Tuntable Creek, 25km north of Lismore.

Lungfish have not been in the area for millions of years and the endangered native species is only found in small sections of south east Queensland. 

After the floods of 2022 caused major damage at Tuntable Creek, a resident said he saw a lungfish in the waterway and his clear description was backed up by another local. Members of the Richmond Landcare group decided to investigate. 

The group reached out to OzFish, Australia’s fishing conservation charity to see if they could do some eDNA testing to potentially get scientific verification that lungfish had returned to the area after the floods. 

OzFish senior project officer Lucas Kas said the sightings had set the local community abuzz, and they were able to get the project funded through Landcare NSW.

“Just like at a crime scene where we can see who’s been lurking around the place, we can do the same thing with animals through eDNA testing,” Mr Kas said.

“It’s great because it doesn’t impact the environment like other forms of monitoring and is robust.

“As an animal moves through the environment it leaves all these traces – skin flakes, mucus, all the other bodily secretions. So, all we have to do is come down, take a sample of the water, preserve it, send it off to the lab and then they can do some wizardry on it and basically spit back to us if there’s a presence or absence of Australian lungfish in the creek.

The lungfish potential sighting was a big deal because the fish has only been found in two rivers in south east Queensland, he said.

Here’s the elusive lungfish.

“But never in NSW, at least for a hundred million years. There was some fossil evidence from back then. 

“They’re really significant because they’re really rare but they’re also living fossils. They’re prehistoric creatures that have been around since before the dinosaurs and they basically represent an evolutionary stage that all land animals evolved from.” 

Australian lungfish are unique creatures that can live up to 117 years, grow to 1.5 metres, have enamel on their teeth and have limb-like fins.  

The eDNA test results were recently finalised and although it indicated no sign of the lungfish from the sample areas that were tested, it does not mean that they are not possibly inhabiting other parts of the waterways in the area. 

The study was able to detect other aquatic species, such as the longfin eel, rainbowfish, Australian bass, carp, and Australian smelt. 

If you would like to know more about the project or get involved become a member of OzFish at www.ozfish.org.au or phone 1800 431 308.   

Who knows, someone may spot a lungfish in the Richmond River. 

More stories about the environment here.

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