Protected lungfish get room to breathe at new aquarium on the Sunshine Coast

Two protected Australian lungfish kept illegally at a Gympie property have been given a new home, in a partnership between the Queensland Government and SEA LIFE Sunshine Coast Aquarium.

Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner said Fisheries Queensland has donated the lungfish to the aquarium, following a successful compliance investigation.

“There is a clear community expectation that these iconic Queensland lungfish are protected and this is an important step for the conservation of this vulnerable species,” Mr Furner said.

“SEA LIFE Sunshine Coast will use the lungfish for the purpose of education, research and environmental protection.

“There are real benefits for both the community and the species’ future, by having these fish on display.”

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SEA LIFE Sunshine Coast Aquarium’s Displays Supervisor Denice Askebrink welcomed the donation of the lungfish which have been named Neo and Alve.

“These iconic and unique creatures are endangered in the wild due to habitat degradation and also, not many juveniles surviving to adult age,” Ms Askebrink said.

“Just as the name suggests, this fish has a lung, as well as gills like a normal fish. But the most fascinating thing about these animals is that they can also encase their body in a cocoon made of mucus to remain moist when there is a drought, so they can survive until there is water back in the creeks and rivers.

“This is what has allowed the lungfish to evolve and survive for over 400 million years!”

Since arriving at the aquarium, Alve, 72 cm long and weighing 2.28 kg and Neo who is 79 cm long and 3.22 kg, have been feasting on banana and algae wafers. They were recently moved from quarantine to their billabong display where they will live with other Australian lungfish and native fish species.

Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol officers found the two lungfish in a backyard pond when they searched a Gympie property with the Queensland Police Service in October 2020.

An investigation also revealed the resident of the property had unlawfully been in possession of Australian lungfish eggs.

The offender was fined $5,063 for breaching fisheries regulations in Queensland where lungfish are a protected, no-take species.

After their seizure, the lungfish were cared for by the Department of Environment and Science’s Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) rangers at Walkabout Creek Discovery Centre at Enoggera Reservoir.

Walkabout Creek’s wildlife centre includes lungfish, along with a range of other freshwater species, providing rangers with both the experience and knowledge needed in caring for this unique species.

Mr Furner said the case highlights the emerging black market interest in Queensland’s iconic endemic fish species such as lungfish.

“The detection of a significant quantity of Australian lungfish eggs is concerning and beyond what our fisheries officers normally see,” Mr Furner said.

Australian Lungfish are listed as vulnerable under the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC).

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