sustainability through science & innovation

A good start to spring platypus surveys marred by litter entanglement

18 Sep 2013

Spring platypus monitoring surveys undertaken as part of the Melbourne Water Urban Platypus Program began two weeks ago. This marks the start of the sixth year that cesar and Melbourne Water have collaborated on platypus conservation. Encouragingly, the first surveys of the season conducted in Diamond Creek (Eltham) and Mullum Mullum Creek (Doncaster) both resulted in the capture of platypuses, continuing good results found in autumn. However, during routine health checks, it was discovered that two of the platypuses were entangled in elastic bands. One platypus, a juvenile female in poor condition from Diamond Creek, had two bands around her shoulder girdles and neck. An older male also in poor condition from Mullum Mullum Creek, had a single elastic band around his neck. Fortunately, these bands had not yet damaged the underlying skin and were able to be easily removed by cesar ecologists on location and the animals released back into the waterway.

Litter entanglement

Due to their body shape and foraging behaviour, platypuses are extremely susceptible to becoming entangled in a variety of litter items including fishing line, elastic bands, plastic rings and hair ties. Once entangled it is very difficult for the platypus to free itself and the rubbish can potentially get snagged underwater and drown the animal, or rub and cut into the flesh impeding foraging ability. Captured animals that have been entangled are generally in poor condition as they have been unable to forage effectively, and surgical removal of items is sometimes required. However, animals that are in poor condition will often not survive the additional stress of an anaesthetic and operation.

Increasing occurrence

This highlights one of the major issues in urban waterways and one the Wildlife Ecology team at cesar encounter far too often. Unfortunately, we have noticed an increased incidence of platypus deaths over the past six months as a result of litter entanglement, illegal fishing and dog attacks. It is important to realise that platypuses are quite widely distributed throughout urban and rural waterways in Victoria and to raise awareness of threats of litter and illegal fishing and importance of managing dogs around waterways.

The good news & what you can do

We believe the community can play a critical role in reducing some of the conservation threats and improve overall waterway health to ensure thriving platypus populations. Things you can do:

  • Dispose of litter in a safe and correct manner.
  • Cut any loops (e.g. hair ties, plastic rings etc.) before putting into the trash.
  • Be waterwise, conserve water for the environment.
  • Report Illegal fishing to DEPI Intelligence Reporting Line 13 FISH (13 3474).
  • Supervise dogs around waterways, especially at dawn and dusk. Native vegetation around waterways provides shelter, food, and stable banks for burrowing.
  • Get involved in your local friends group, water watch group, clean up Australia day.

Spotted a platypus?

Spring is a busy time of year for platypuses…its breeding season! Platypuses are most active during spring, and males can travel large distances to find female breeding partners. Accordingly, spring is the best time to spot a platypus! Platypus sightings assist in understanding the distribution and occurrence of this iconic species leading to improved conservation efforts.

You can find out more about waterway conservation issues in the platypusSPOT learning centre and submit platypus sightings at www.platypusSPOT.org