Do Queenslanders care about the Queensland lungfish?

I’ve lived all my life in south-east Queensland, and it’s fair to say that sometimes Queenslanders can be very parochial. We grab onto all sorts of things to try to show how Queenslanders are special, especially if it makes us look better than the ‘southerners’. Parochialism isn’t unique to Queensland of course, but we can certainly lay it on thick sometimes.

But occasionally I have to wonder why we are proudly parochial about some things – like our sporting teams for example – but seem to be totally disinterested in some of the really special things that are genuinely unique about Queensland.

A very relevant example of this is the Queensland lungfish (also called the Australian lungfish by southerners who are trying to muscle in on our fish). The Queensland lungfish (formally known as Neoceratodus forsteri, just to avoid nomenclature arguments) is arguably the most scientifically significant fish in the whole world, and the only natural breeding habitat it has is in south-east Queensland.

The Queensland government, promoters of the Smart State slogan, are determined to press ahead with a dam which according to Professor Jean Joss, probably the world’s leading expert on the Neoceratodus forsteri, will almost certainly push the fish to “critically endangered” status, and in the long term will lead to its extinction in the wild.

Professor Joss gave evidence to a Committee hearing as part of the third day of public hearings of the Senate Committee inquiry into south-east Queensland’s water supplies, and the Traveston Dam in particular.

The day also had some good evidence from the local conservation group, the Wide Bay Burnett Conservation Council, as well as officials from the federal Department of Environment & Water.

But I found Professor Joss’s material the most interesting, perhaps because it put aside all the disputes about water yield, seepage, evaporation, megalitres, etc and just focused on the impact on one fish. One very significant, highly unusual, pretty damn cool fish (even if they are somewhat on the ugly side of the spectrum) – whose only breeding habitat is in south-east Queensland.

I recommend you read Professor Joss’s succinct, two page submission here.

The Queensland lungfish is “probably the oldest vertebrate species in existence”, with a fossil record stretching back around 400 million years – way older than the dinosaurs. Prof Joss says “To describe it as “scientifically invaluable” would be an understatement.

The final paragraph of her submission states

The take-home message is very simple. Neoceratodus forsteri is a species that provides unique scientific evidence for how our own distant ancestors made their way onto land. It is a scientific treasure that Queensland (and Australia) holds in trust for the whole world; the Mary River dam will destroy its spawning and nursery habitat and threaten it with extinction; and this will be a scientific scandal that the scientific community will neither forgive nor forget, and which will permanently stain Australia’s conservation record in the eyes of the world.

Why are Queenslanders accepting this? Our lungfish, the most scientifically significant fish in the world – indeed the most significant fish in the entire universe as far as we know –and we are blithely sitting to one side while we knowingly risk its extinction, after it has survived for 400 million years?!

Everyone knows we are going through major water restrictions and are in the middle of a big drought, but the dam won’t help with the current drought. Naturally the people from communities near the affected area are up in arms, but the level of protest from people in Brisbane and surrounds just a little bit further south is very low.

In the final washup, it will take a political decision to stop this dam – either from the Queensland government changing its mind, or the federal Environment Minister using the clear powers they have under the federal environment law to stop the Queensland govenment being stupid. Public pressure from people outside the area immediate effected will make a huge impact on whether this happens. I should say, as someone who played a key role in putting those powers in place under federal environmental law, in the face of some very fierce criticism (from the Green Party, but also from some environment groups of all people), I’m very keen to see that they are used as they were intended – to prevent actions that have major negative impacts on matters of national environmental signficance.

The Committee will have a further hearing on 4th June in Canberra, which should include some further evidence from Queensland government representatives.

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  1. Queenslanders, parochialism and natural history… don’t get me started!

    Why such a predominantly urban society that sees itself as being quintessentially modern should so rigorously maintain such a frontier mentality is a challenging question for the sociologists.

    There is a ruthlessly exploitative element to the Queensland psyche. Not content with being the primary villains in the ruination of this contintent’s major river system, Queensland now appears to be ready to passively acquiesce to its government’s moves that will jeopardize the future of a species of global significance.

    The political reality of Queensland is that its only protected species is the rural landholder – agricultural land rights are the only matter likely to stand in the way of the Mary River Dam.

  2. Well stated, Andrew. Parochialism completely aside, I’ve been aware of the imminent demise of the lungfish almost from the beginning of the fracas surrounding the Traveston Dam, yet the issue receives so little airing that I’m afraid to tell you yours is only the third such article I’ve noted. I’m completely unaware of just what the previous commenter infers by ‘frontier mentality’, but I’m aghast at the ignorance of the Beattie government in its ignorance of the extinction of a such a rare species by it’s (government’s) own hands.

  3. Andrew.
    On reading through the above, the information provided to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee last Friday was alarming and I particularly note the comments from the witnesses that appeared.
    There’s no doubt in my mind that the people of Queensland haven’t been provided with all information and the response from the Queensland Government will be interesting.
    However; any comment re I think, the reference to the Great Sandy Straits?

  4. Andrew
    To say the Australian Lungfish are ugly, shows you have not had much to do with them. They are beautiful. We are the only fully licensed breeder of these fish (both State and Federal Govts.) in Australia. What Jean Joss is saying is all b—s—. We are also the only Govt., proven breeder of these beautiful fish in Ausrealia and the world. Check out our webpage.
    Gordon Hides

  5. Gordon Hides writes:

    “To say the Australian Lungfish are ugly, shows you have not had much to do with them. They are beautiful.”

    I’m certainly in agreement with you there.

    But then you add:

    “What Jean Joss is saying is all b—s—.”

    _All_ of it? Or only some of it?

    As you are a recognised expert on this particular species, I think you owe it to us to tell us which particular parts of her submission are bullshit. And exactly why. In detail.

    I notice that you don’t say whether you are in favour of the dam or not. Or whether, indeed, you have any opinion at all on the matter, one way or the other.

  6. John
    We do need water to live and the dam should have been built 30 years ago when it was first proposed. I do know a bit about the area as I was married at Amamoor and my wife’s family have farmrd the area for over 100 years. and I have also been involved with Neoceratodus for about 33 years.I would say about 90% of what Jean says is bullshit, She just doesn’t know. It has never been proved that she has ever bred the lungfish and the way she says how she looks after her broodstock it is highly unlikely. She has been collecting eggs from the wild and has attempted to sell them. She is not highly regarded by fellow lungfish researchers. There has been very little work done on the breeding requirments of lungfish most of Jean’s work focuses on proving the unlikely theory of evolution, and making sure she can get some more Govt funding.

  7. They are a peculiarly elegant creature, surely only “God’s Own State” could have actualised such a compassionate and wise fish.(nb-this marvel is NOT to be confused with the far less salubrious Hagfish; of dubious and questionable personal hygeine and inter special habits).
    Is it a good feed?

  8. The fish ladders put in the Burnett Dam do not work for the Burnett River Dam and won’t work if the Traveston Crossing Dam was built. Global Warming has shifted where rain falls – SEQ is missing out and the dam would never fill short of a cyclone – if we got one, Wivenhoe and the other dams would fill and we would not need Traveston Crossing Dam. Why can’t the Qld gov accept facts and give it away?

  9. If only we are able to look beyond the immediate circle we are in then are we able to appreciate a whole lot more in life than just to be surviving on this planet. I agree water is the source to our existence but building a dam in our parched continent is a bit of a joke don’t you think? As we all (should) know this is one of the DRIEST continent on earth besides Africa. In regards to the dam, the Beattie govt is certainly not as ‘smart’ as they would like to be portrayed as.

  10. Hi Andrew

    Thanks for bringing the issue of queensland lungfish up for debate. I have actually had the opportunity to see one of these amazing lungfish…some years ago now, but i have never forgotten it. It does, however, raise another issue that is also sadly lacking in support. Being a person who fishes regularly and takes only enough for a feed it really jacks me to see the number of people these days who are taking what are definately undersized fish, yet,it has been approximately 13 years since i have seen a fisheries inspector around our area. How long will it be before other fish species become endangered? The lungfish should be more publicised in order that those fools who take what they’re not sure of, just for the sake of it when they are fishing the upper reaches of certain rivers are aware of the significance of what they are actually doing, historically, and ethically.

  11. “most of Jean’s work focuses on proving the unlikely theory of evolution” – so Gordon, are you saying that you don’t believe in evolution?

    You think we should destroy the natural breeding habitat of the lungfish? An interesting idea of how to look after a ‘beautiful’ fish.

    But I guess then we’d have to get them from people who try to make money out of breeding them? At least you don’t have a hidden agenda, Gordon – it’s all right out in the open.

    Are all those other scientists who say Jean Joss is a world leading expert “talking bulllshit” too?

  12. Adele I think you may have exposed some of Gordon’s motivation. If you hurry you might still get a decent sized lungfish from him for under a $1000. Before they go up due to scarcity.

  13. City dwelling Queenslanders are becoming increasingly detached from their environment – and who can blame them when there is so much unsustainable development taking place?

    I was out at Esk yesterday and took some snaps of Wivenhoe on the way home(it’s as dry as the proverbial):

    Instead of more dams, the government should give every primary school child a copy of the Queensland Museum Wild Guide – the latest edition is marvellous. The lungfish gets a special mention, as does the (now extinct) Brisbane River cod.

  14. Jean Joss is not regarded as an expert by most of her fellow lungfish research scientists and they can see right through her.  To see someone that knows what they are talking about, check out Recycled water put into our rivers is going to cause more problems for the Lungfish than any dam ever will and it is something I am very worried about. Of cource I make a little bit of money out of selling Lungfish, but not as much as Jean has from all her Govt grants,to cut their heads of and cut them up. I don’t believe Lungfish ever came out of the water to walk on land, they are just not built for it. Most of what we have earned has gone back into research on Lungfish breeding requirments, we have never recieved any Govt assistance or money.We have put ourselves in debt to achieve what we have. After spending most of my time for the past 20 odd years I think I deserve it. If you believe you can do it, it is not a closed shop. They are not an easy fish to breed, otherwise all the other license holders would be doing it.

  15. So building dams won’t hurt the survival of the lungfish, but putting purified water into a dam will?! If that’s your best shot at scientific assessment, it doesn’t say much for the credibility of your attacks on Jean Joss. I suggest you actually read the website of Anne Kemp’s that you linked to. She doesn’t sound very keen on dams either.

    In fact she doesn’t seem to say anything very different to what Jean Joss said in the submission the Senator linked to or from what I read in her evidence to the Committee.

    Nor does Prof Joss say the fish walked on land, in fact she says the opposite in the Committee transcript. Sounds to me like you have got something personal against her, Gordon.

  16. Gordon – To claim that Prof Joss is not considered to be an expert is ludicrous. Have a look at her publication record – there are not many scientists around the globe who regularly publish in journals of that stature. No-one can consistently fake it at that level.

    I do hope that you are not under the mis-apprehension that scientists financially benefit from their research grants. They don’t – it’s all spent on research and on administration fees. Under current arrangements, academic scientists’ salary levels are independent of their success in obtaining external grants.

    And you don’t get government research grants as rewards for past efforts. You get them on the merits of your research proposal (and on the basis of govt funding priorities) – though you do need to demonstrate a track record of conducting and publishing research of international standard.

  17. Nat B Wheatley
    The fish hoist on Paradise Dam does work, it was tested the other day.
    Adele and The Feral Abacus
    How many Lungfish has J Joss killed in her search for evolution. (in her words) 1000s. How many Lungfish will be killed by the Traverston Dam. Absolutly NONE.
    “Purified Water” I don’t think so. No minerals but plenty of hormones and steroids etc which cannot be removed by reverse osmosis or ozone. (we have tried) If it can be it will be a world first. Hormones and steroids are highly detrimental to sucessful Lungfish spawning.

  18. Thanks Andrew for posting this. I’ve been engaged recently in trying to dig out some of the history of lungfish research.

    Gordon Hide’s comment about evolution gave me a severe case of deja vu ……zoomed back to the 1860s and 70s. Gerard Krefft (who described the lungfish first in a letter to the editor in the Sydney Morning Herald… I kid you not…in 1870) was a regular communicator with Charles Darwin (Origin of Species first published 1859). Krefft found himself at odds with the anti-Darwinian trustees of the Australian Museum. He was eventually physically ejected from his position as Curator of the museum and died, penniless, of tuberculosis, just over a decade later… two days beyond his fifty-first birthday. It’s a fascinating story waiting to be told.
    As UQ’s Professor Gordon Grigg puts it, if we found a dinosaur or two still living, breathing in some hitherto unexplored corner of the planet, there would be unprecedented excitement. When we find ourselves custodians of a remnant population of under ten thousand of a vertebrate that predates dinosaurs, we decide to build a series of dams over their best breeding habitat.

    No wonder the editorial in Nature that Jean Joss referred to was so (‘scuse the pun) damning.

  19. Gordon Hides’s assertions – which, readers should note, form part of a long-running campaign against Jean Joss – really cannot be allowed to go unmet. As a member of the international research community that studies the biology and evolution of lungfishes (I am Professor of Evolutionary Organismal Biology at Uppsala University in Sweden), I know from personal experience that Jean Joss is a highly regarded expert on this subject. We look forward with excitement to her attendance at the 11th International Symposium on Early Vertebrates here in Uppsala later this year, where she will be presenting her latest findings on lungfish development. Professor Joss’s research does not focus on “proving the unlikely theory of evolution”: this theory has been accepted by the scientific community for more than a century, and already forms the central underlying principle of all modern biological research, so there isn’t much left to prove. However, her lungfish work is providing extremely interesting information about how backboned animals made the transition from water to land. As for Mr Hides’s other claims about Jean and her work, they are not only scurrilous and false, but (to my eye, admittedly with no expertise in Australian libel law) bordering on actionable.

  20. To Ian & Per
    I thought this blog was about “The Australian Lungfish” not some crazy theory about evolution, which I do believe in, just not the lungfish’s part in it. I have all of Kreft’s & Bancroft’s original hand written papers, so I do know a bit about the original history of the ceratodus. As for a libal action, everything I said can be proved. There is well over 10,000 lungfish in the wild.

  21. A better question than “Do Queenslanders care about the Queensland lungfish?” is “How much do Queenslanders Care?”

    The reality is, that a water solution is needed… if alternatives are going to cost more – then that has to be factored into the decision.

    So how much are you prepared to spend? $100 million? $1 billion? At all costs?

  22. Hinde’s comments must be challenged. For those who know Professor Jean Joss and have worked with her, these comments are utter rubbish.

    Jean is held in extremely high scientific regard by her colleagues. She’s probably lost count of the people who have approached her over the years for scientific collaborations. A quick survey of the National Center for Biotechnology Institute’s website listing scientific publications (Pubmed) pulls up 4 pages of Jean’s papers- I stopped counting at 50 co-authors, including myself.

    As well, I and many others have several years of experience collecting lungfish eggs during the breeding season at Jean’s lungfish ponds. I can’t imagine the basis of Hinde’s suggestion that ‘it has never been proved that she has ever bred the lungfish’. Again, it is simply false.

    I don’t know the reason for his ongoing and virulent antipathy towards Jean, but it does make me question all of his other comments.

  23. Who said the dam would kill lungfish Gordon? Certainly not Jean Joss. What almost everyone apart from you has said, including Anne Kemp who you referred us to as someone who knows what they are talking about, is that the dam would destroy breeding habitat and threaten the survival of the lungfish as a species, as they would be unable to breed in the wild.

    The purified water out of recycling plants does not have “plenty of hormones and steroids”, Gordon. Again, if you can’t get it right on something like that, it’s hard to believe you’re doing anything other than using this site to carry out some personal vendetta against Jean Joss, for reasons best known to yourself. The quality of some of the water going into the Mary and Burnett is hardly pristine at the moment, with all the livestock effluent, chemical use and more on various properties, not to mention the sewage discharge from some of the townships, which is treated to a much lower level than you’d get out of a recycling plant.

    Even your own commercial website calls the lungfish a “living fossil”, yet here you dismiss it is having no particular role in evolution.

    It’s no surprise your business is up for sale.

  24. After reading the above, if I were a lungfish I would resign myself to walking, quick smart.
    Species Hansonism is on the march!
    I can almost hear a Tony Abbott announcement denying welfare assistance to stranded lungfish(es)on the basis of their stranded-ness being self inflicted and entirely their own fault.
    For either not moving on from private dams, or maliciously refusing to evolve within a designated period the exact time which the government refuses to specify, on the basis of probable responding Darwinist or greeny attacks, no taxpayer largesse for these incorrrigible mud-slinging scale-wearers…
    BTW, andrew .
    Iwish you would FIX your edit facility, so that it doesn’t liquidate people’s responses if they’ve written a longer peice.
    Your thread concerning “Aussie Values” interested me, but blowed if I was going to stay seated to rewrite when I was eliminated before I could even edit the first.

  25. I think Joss is carrying out a personal attack on me through her students, not the other way around. Students allways believe their teachers, But scientists can and often are wrong in seeing all the facts. Any scientist can write and submit papers for publication, they do not have to be rightwe only have to look at some of the papers published in the past.  You had better check out the facts on recycled water and not believe what some Govt Ministers are telling us. Joss keeps saying the Traverston Dam will cause “The Extinction of The Lungfish” What absolute rubbish and scaremongering. I agree the dam could destroy Some breeding habitat but that is not going to cause extinction. The river below Wivenhoe has the highest population of Lungfish per klm than any other river.  Why is it that when David Attenborough came out here late last year to do a segment on the Australian Lungfish he came directly to me, when I don’t know what I am talking about as Johson and others claim.  But I do love my lungfish and I do feed mine, up to 1/2 a kilo per day. I hope you all down in Brisbane enjoy your daily dose of hormones and sewrage. I don’t think I will comment on this blog again as it appears no one is interested in the truth.

  26. Gordon Hides seems to be as well-informed about Jena Joss’s colleagues as about her work. For the record, Zerina Johanson and I are not, and have never been, Jean’s students. We are simply defending a respected colleague against unprovoked and unwarranted attacks. I gained my PhD in Cambridge in 1989, some 10 years before I met Jean, and have been working full-time on the origin of land vertebrates ever since; I can assure Mr Hides that I am not given to uncritically believing what anyone tells me. As for Sir David Attenborough’s views on the lungfish, I shall take the opportunity to ask him later this week, when I will be acting as his host during his visit to Uppsala to receive an Honorary Doctorate.

  27. Gordon throws some more mud, and then says ” I don’t think I will comment on this blog again as it appears no one is interested in the truth.”

    If you answered some of the questions people put bringing your criticisms into question, people might be more willing to accept your version of the “truth.” Unfortunately, all you’ve done is respond to people’s questions with more mud flinging. Your own “expert” you referred us to has a website debunking most of what you’ve said, yet you just keep ignoring

  28. Pingback: Evolving Thoughts
  29. Something that struck me as a result of this lungfish post is that whatever attempt we make to resolve our water crisis, some natural object, creature, people, and/or manmade object, stand(s) in the way of resolution. It is disturbing though that the more expensive and constructionally difficult each solution is (whilst having the least additional ecological impact when correctly implemented), the less friendly our government is to the respective solutions. Dams are, to Dr Beattie, the easy way out, but we see in this example humanity running roughshod over what is, in the context of evolutionary history, a monumental relic of at least large importance.

    I’m of the opinion that no matter what we do in terms of tanks, recycling, pipelines and reductions in consumption, the future of water security lies with desalination plants. It is thus my great hope that progress is made in the next 10 years on increasing the efficiency and output of solar desalination, at which point it can be implemented at “low” cost and take over from the temporary measures that feature as I mentioned prior.

    But where do you put any desal plant, without affecting local flora and fauna? I would commission a study into our coastal waterways to determine the least thriving (if not necessarily dead) “coldspots” of water, so that major projects can be conducted with as little damage as possible. Heck, maybe somebody has done this already! The QLD Government should have done so, in collaboration with whoever was determining the best sites for a dam (not that another dam is a secure answer to the problem). Someone please direct me to the appropriate viewing place…

    “I don’t believe Lungfish ever came out of the water to walk on land, they are just not built for it”. Gordon clearly doesn’t understand what Natural Selection is to come up with this uninformed statement. Gordon, start with Wikipedia’s definition and go from there…

  30. David Coupars’s remarks; to wit, that governments always prefer the most expensive, complex and ecologically damaging solutions to infrastructure problems hits the nail right on the head.
    Were David less of a gentleman he might have suggested a reason for this widespread phenomena. But then he would have had to have linked construction companies, “developers”, “consultants”
    and the mandatory brown paper bags filled with green papery $tuff. And all explained away under the mantra of “growth”.
    Surely not our local lovable crew of “wealth creators” and their political appendages?

  31. BTW,
    The intro asks,
    “Do Queenslanders really care about the Queensland Lungfish?”.
    As if there were only one left!
    Well, could we turn that proposition round to ask the more petinent question:
    “Do Queensland Lungfish really care about Queenslanders?”.
    How dare these scaly, slithering bottom- dwelling slime-suckers so selfishly cling to
    Water holes and catchments, denying developers a chance to make a killing building dams in areas where it doesn’t rain?
    At least the cane toad, if pressed, will get up on its four legs and head to the next waterhole, even if this means it has to wait to drop its spawn in the middle of
    What about the little children denied the right to play for hours under the sprinklers during summer?
    What about the folk whose efforts to beautify their cars result in fines for water-wastage?
    What about all the pool owners who have to make do on last year’s kiddie-pee for want of a water- change?
    I note the heading said the “Queensland Lungfish”. Not “Queensland Lungfish-es”!!!
    All this suffering on account of one measley glorified pond vaccuum-cleaner, that lacks the dignity to even swim, let alone freestyle in normal water.
    Instead, typical of its ilk, it tries to pull a swifty by WALKING. Vain creatures who get above themselves by trying to do things nature never intended them to do.
    Yes, if God had meant for people to fly He would have given us wings, and if He had intended (the last) Queensland Lungfish to walk he would have provided her with nylons, cute stilletoes and a boyfriend in a Holden V8 ute for the pick-up.
    Sinners go against the Plan of God at their peril…!

  32. You know, to look at the picture provided of it, it looks a bit like that other famous living fossil; the Coelacanth of East Africa, thought extinct for sixty million years but found alive and well in the Mozambique channel, between Africa and Madagascar.

  33. Paul: While I thank you for your support (and your suggestion I have been kind to various capital-hungry industries and individuals), I actually noted that building a dam, whilst expensive in its capacity for removing landowners and negating income from such land, is by comparison to a desalination plant likely to be quite cheap. But it seems that the cheaper the water-crisis-solving option, the more destructive it is to our ecology. I think that done properly, desal plants can be implemented in areas that will cause minimal ecological harm, and the by-products should be able to be dealt with creatively (send a bloody ship full of brine into the deep oceans, and little by little release it – if you spread it out enough, it won’t do much to alter the overall chemical balance. It’s not exactly highly radioactive is it!).

    Also, Paul: your three comments appear to have been written by three different people. Particularly amused by the divergence in tone and outlook from your second post to your third post!

  34. David, we will answer you when we finish our prolonged conference.
    ( I’ll answer him- No,sh’ddup, that’s my job- no, both of you are wrong “IM the dominant entity round here, etc, etc….”)

  35. I am still waiting for an appology from Per Alberg.(who ever he is) I have been getting a lot of e-mails from a lot of lungfish research people, Even from the US., who agree with me and I have been told of JJ”s < post edited by moderator> fooled a lot of people, especialy people in high places because of her b—s—t. Maybe some day they will wake up to her. For the sake of the Lungfish, I hope so.

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