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Reef Report for Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Duck-Billed Platypus Conservation Has a Local Hero

'Far from the trouble and toil of town,

Where the reed-beds sweep and shiver,

Look for a fragment of velvet brown -

Old man Platypus drifting down,

Drifting along the river.

- A. © Wildscapes Safaris B. ("Banjo) Paterson (Famous Australian Bush Poet)

We are always glad to report good news on the conservation front, especially when it involves local action. In this case we are taking a quick detour off the reef to highlight the efforts of a small group of folks working to conserve populations of the duck-billed platypus.

This unique mammal is one of just two kinds of egg laying mammals, and is found only in Australia. They range throughout Australia, but the existence of populations of Platypus in the mountain streams behind Cairns only became more widely known recently.

We know Alberto Vale through working with his touring company, Wildscapes Safaris. This small local company leads outstanding tours through the area, focusing on leading small groups into areas where they can observe wildlife in its native habitat.

In what small amounts of spare time Alberto has, he actively pursues research into the biology and conservation of Platypus, having formed the Tropical Platypus Research Group.

One of the more recent projects of his research group is the redesign of crayfish and shrimp traps, with the intent to reduce the deaths of Platypus that inadvertently get caught inside them. © Wildscapes Safaris These traps, which look like small animal cages, are commonly used by recreational fisherman in Australia to catch both crayfish and freshwater prawns. The cages are baited and submerged in streams. Platypus also target crayfish and prawns in their feeding activities on river bottoms. They can get caught in traps and drown, and because they are a protected species their deaths often go unreported, over fears of prosecution. The potential harm these traps cause Platypus populations can be significant, as even under ideal circumstance these animals are not found in great numbers.

The research group looked at altering the existing designs of traps to allow for escapes exits. The alterations were relatively simple, so that any trap owner could alter their traps themselves, by just adding a hole or holes 10cm in diameter in the ceiling of the trap to provide an escape route for platypus. Tests of the traps indicated that they still caught the target species, but allow platypus to escape.

This research is in its early stages, with a best design still to come. Following that there is still much work to be done, including a public education campaign directed at recreation fisherman using such traps. Itís a great start, and we look forward to being able to write further news here, and to knowing that "Old Man Platypus" always has a safe home.

While you are in the area you should take the time to see this unique mammal on one on Albertoís Platypus tours, which are conducted daily except Sundays:

Wildscapes Safaris Platypus Tours.

Tropical Platypus Research Group.

More Information on Platypus.

(C) DiveTheReef The weekly reef report is written by Joel Groberg of DiveTheReef.com, who compiles them from the many conversations he has with dive staff in the area, as well as† many other local sources in the dive community.

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