General Conservation Guidelines

Platypus Conservation Guidelines for Communities and Individuals

Platypus conservation is unlikely to succeed in the absence of careful, catchment-wide management of land and water resources which recognises that streams and rivers are incomplete without their associated plant and animal communities.

Ongoing stewardship of platypus populations by the persons living nearby is an essential aspect of this management.

Listed below are some measures that can make a genuine difference to platypus survival.

1. Litter

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The wound on this platypus’s neck was caused by a plastic bracelet (shown below the animal).

Discarded loops and rings frequently end up tangled around the necks and bodies of platypus, including items such as engine gaskets, the tamper-proof rings found around food jars, elastic hair-ties, plastic bracelets and tangled lengths of fishing line. Items made of metal or plastic are particularly likely to abrade the skin and underlying tissues, resulting in severe and potentially life-threatening injuries. Through their behaviour, people can make a big difference to the likelihood that a platypus (or native Australian water-rat or waterbird or turtle) encounters noxious litter in freshwater environments.

What can be done to protect platypus:

  • Participate in (or organise, if necessary) Clean Up days along your local waterway.
  • Make it your habit to cut through all small to medium-sized loops or rings (made of metal, plastic, rubber or natural materials such as jute or cotton) before disposing of them in an environmentally responsible manner. In particular, routinely snip through all the rings of six-pack holders and the plastic tamper-proof ring seals found around the mouths of beverage bottles and food jars.
  • Make it your habit to pick up litter and dispose of it appropriately, including rubbish left by others.
  • Make sure that your children understand that seemingly innocuous items like plastic bangles, elastic bands and elastic hair-ties can badly injure or even kill a platypus if they’re dropped outside and eventually get washed into a stream or river.
  • Report any instances of large-scale dumping along waterways (old cars, building materials, industrial waste, etc.) to your local council or the Environmental Protection Agency so that prompt action can be taken to remove such hazards.

2. Illegal use of fish nets and yabby/cray traps

Platypus are air-breathing animals that can only hold their breath for a few minutes underwater before they drown. Enclosed nets and traps designed to capture freshwater crayfish and yabbies (such as opera house traps) or fin fish (such as fyke nets and drum nets) are lethal devices from the platypus point of view unless they are set partly out of the water with an air space left at the top.

It is illegal to use enclosed yabby traps in rivers and waterways in most states and territories (check local fishing regulations for details).

What can be done to protect platypus:

  • Be aware of the current regulations governing use of yabby and fish traps in your state, and immediately report the improper use of such devices to your state wildlife authority.
  • Encourage shops that sell opera house traps to display a prominent notice outlining the legal restrictions on their use. Whenever possible, purchase angling and outdoor equipment from retailers who demonstrate their responsibility by displaying such notices.
  • Spread the word among friends and acquaintances that opera house traps and homemade equivalents are responsible for drowning many platypus, Australian water-rats and freshwater turtles each year. The only reasonably safe way to set such nets and traps is to ensure that a generous air space is available at the top of the trap or net. Even then, animals may be killed if water levels rise overnight, for example after a thunderstorm.
  • Use either baited lines and a dip net or lift-style hoop nets (see diagram, below) as wildlife-friendly methods for catching yabbies or spiny crays.

illegaltrap1

3. Recreational angling

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Leaving a fishing hook embedded in a platypus bill or foot is an inhumane practice which is likely to result in the animals death

Many platypus die of stress and exhaustion each year after becoming hooked on unattended set lines left overnight to catch fish. Others die after becoming accidentally snagged on an attended line – if the line is simply cut, the animal is likely to drown when the free end of line attached to the hook gets tangled in underwater roots or branches.

In addition, hooks embedded in the bill are likely to cause enormous pain and interfere with the platypus ability to feed. Platypus also suffer agonising injuries and can die when loops of fishing line become wrapped around their neck or chest and gradually wear through the skin and underlying muscle.

What can be done to protect platypus:

  • If you notice a platypus has started feeding nearby while you are fishing, move a short distance upstream or downstream to reduce the chance of hooking the animal accidentally.
  • If you do hook a platypus, do NOT cut the line to release it. Instead, reel the animal in as gently as possible and remove the hook before releasing it back to the wild. Take GREAT care to avoid the spurs of adult males.
  • NEVER set unattended fishing lines (which are mostly illegal in any case).
  • NEVER leave tangled or surplus pieces of line behind when fishing – from the viewpoint of wildlife, abandoned line is just a deadly accident waiting to happen.

4. Pet management

Dogs and cats can and sometimes do kill a platypus.

Based on platypus mortalities reported to the Australian Platypus Conservancy from 1989 to 2009, juveniles (which are both smaller and often less cautious than their elders) are particularly vulnerable to predators. However, common sense needs to apply when seeking to establish an appropriate balance between platypus conservation and the legitimate desire of pet owners to exercise their dogs.

On the one hand, pet owners clearly need to ensure that dogs remain under their direct supervision and control while being exercised. On the other, given that platypus rarely venture from the waters edge, it’s quite reasonable to use fencing and/or plantings of dense vegetation to minimise the risk of dogs and platypus coming into contact. Similarly, there is no reason to believe that a platypus is ever likely to be attacked by a dog swimming in reasonably deep water.

What can be done to protect platypus:

  • Never let your dog or cat wander away from the immediate vicinity of your home without supervision.
  • Obey local by-laws or park regulations that restrict where pets can go or where they can be exercised off-lead. More broadly, make it your habit to keep your dog leashed or otherwise firmly under your control when walking your pet within 30 metres of water bodies where platypus are known to be present and the banks are easily accessed.
  • Try to avoid the hour after dawn or the hour before dusk when taking your dog for a swim in warm weather – these are the times of day when platypus are most likely to be active.
  • Even if you don’t like dogs, respect the fact that pets play an important part in many persons lives and that most dogs require regular vigorous exercise to remain happy and in good health. Work constructively with local dog owners to designate areas where pets can be exercised off-lead without significant associated problems arising for wildlife.

5. Household chemicals and nutrient enrichment

Household chemicals (lubricants, paints, preservatives, solvents, cleansers, insecticides etc.) that enter a waterway through storm run-off after being poured onto the ground or into a gutter can harm platypus by fouling their fur or poisoning their invertebrate prey.

Nutrient enrichment is often the most serious water quality issue downstream of where people live, including those occupying bush blocks. Dissolved nutrients (in particular the amount of phosphorus in the water) have also been demonstrated to be negatively related to the occurrence of platypus populations.

What can be done to protect platypus:

  • Household chemicals should never be poured down a drain or toilet – these normally lead to a septic system or water treatment plant, neither of which is designed to completely eradicate dangerous chemicals. Instead, check with your local council for advice on how chemical products can be recycled or disposed of properly.
  • Use only low phosphate or phosphate-free detergents to wash dishes and clothes. Measure the amount of detergent added to washing machines so as not to use more than is needed.
  • Use the minimum amount of chemicals needed to get the job done, and always consider whether there may be a less toxic or non-toxic alternative – for instance, clearing blocked drains with a metal “snake” instead of chemicals.
  • Wash your car on the lawn to prevent detergent from running directly into the gutter.
  • Maintain an effective home septic system. Don’t overload the system (for example, by doing too many loads of washing in one day) and ensure that the tank gets cleaned out regularly by a reputable contractor.
  • Apply chemical fertiliser to lawns or crops sparingly and at the proper time of year, so it’s absorbed efficiently by growing plants. Use compost (ideally made by recycling your own kitchen and garden waste) instead of chemical fertiliser whenever possible.
  • If your property is serviced by a stormwater drain, install a rainwater tank to collect water from the roof so it can be used to flush toilets, wash clothes and/or water plants in your garden.
  • Direct the run-off from paths and driveways to your lawn or garden beds. Also, consider replacing extensive areas of concrete with porous paving – concrete grids or modular plastic pavers that contain openings filled with sand or gravel to capture stormwater and allow it to drain down into the soil.

6. Reducing water consumption

Human water consumption has reduced the natural flow of many streams and rivers, reducing their capacity to support platypus and other aquatic wildlife. Changing a few wasteful habits can make an enormous difference to the amount of water we use.

What can be done to protect platypus:

  • Learn more about how you can conserve water in your home or business, and adopt at least one or two new water-saving practices each year.
  • Install rainwater tanks and/or greywater systems.
  • Replace grass lawns with indigenous shrubs or ground cover plants that require less water in summer (when natural flows are most restricted).

7. Safe use of pumps and small-scale hydro-power generators

Platypus can be killed by being sucked into unguarded inlets to irrigation pumps or mini-hydroelectric generators.

What can be done to protect platypus:

To prevent platypus and other aquatic wildlife from drowning or otherwise dying after being sucked into pumps or water-powered generators, a mesh cover or equivalent barrier should be fitted at an appropriate distance around all intake points and checked regularly.

8. Planning improvements to properties with creek or river frontage

Landholders who manage frontage along rivers and creeks can play a special role in helping to conserve platypus, by ensuring that land and water resources are utilised sustainably.

What can be done to protect platypus:

  • Develop a management plan for your property which addresses environmental issues potentially affecting economic viability as well as regional water quality and biodiversity – including protecting native riparian vegetation, controlling bank and gully erosion, and managing grazing pressure in sensitive areas by livestock and feral animals.
  • Try to minimise the amount of animal waste or fertiliser entering creeks and rivers (either directly or through run-off).
  • If your home is located near a natural water body, resist the temptation to extend your lawn or garden down to the waters edge. A much better alternative is to encourage indigenous plants to grow near the water, as this will help platypus and other wildlife.

9. Other community actions

It is important that people realise that their individual actions have a genuine impact, for better or worse, on the survival of platypus populations.

What can be done to protect platypus:

  • Help to build awareness of the fact that platypus are (or should be) living in lakes, rivers and creeks across their historical range.
  • Ensure that planning authorities consider the needs of platypus whenever a new development is proposed near a waterway. A reasonable level of development can be compatible with platypus conservation – provided that sensible precautions are taken to protect (and ideally strengthen) the quality of freshwater habitats.
  • Ensure that most fundamental requirement of the platypus – namely that adequate surface water is reliably present in creeks and rivers – is taken into consideration when changes to the flow regime in managed river systems are being considered.
  • Given the enormous amount of physical change that has occurred in these systems over time (including trees being cut down, channels being straightened, reservoirs being built in headwaters, dams being built on gully lines, and backwaters and billabongs being filled in) we consider it to be at best naive to argue that the environmental values of historically intermittent water bodies will necessarily be improved by eliminating controlled water releases along their length.
  • From the viewpoint of conserving biodiversity, a much better policy is likely to involve developing an environmental flow regime which reliably sustains refuge habitats in dry seasons for at least small populations of native aquatic fauna.
  • Support local “Friends” or Landcare groups and other community conservation organisations in their efforts to control weeds, restore indigenous vegetation, pick up litter, and otherwise improve the environmental quality of waterways.