Bush Heritage History Project research tour - Edgbaston and the red-finned blue-eye

on 19 Aug 2014 

On first sighting there did not seem a lot to recommend Edgbaston, a former cattle station in central Queensland; the land is flat with small patches of low-lying vegetation. It was our first Bush Heritage property and I admit to being a little disappointed when we arrived.

But Edgbaston is home to a unique species of fish, the red-finned blue-eye that lives in several shallow artesian springs, and nowhere else in the world. The fish, which grows up to 4 centimetres, is actively protected by Bush Heritage against predation by the aggressive invasive gambusia (mosquito fish), and against other threats.

Athough quite small itself, the gambusia, which produces hundreds of live baby fish, would destroy the far less prolific red-finned blue-eye in no time if it got the chance. The story of the fight to save the red-fin blue-eye is dramatic, and will be ongoing. We talked about the fish and the other unique creatures of the springs, as we sat around the campfire not far from one of the protected springs.

We slept in our swags on the claypan under a canopy of stars bright in a cloudless sky with no moon, and woke to birdsong, a glorious sunrise, and a day of exploration in which the landscape gradually unfolded, letting us in to discover and appreciate its hidden charm.   

I fell in love with the red-finned blue-eye, and during our short stay returned again and again to gaze at the school of fish swimming between grassy patches in a couple of centimetres of water.

As its name suggests, the fish has two outstanding features, and is an elegant almost transparent fish. The toughness and adaptability it has demonstrated over millions of years are awe inspiring. When we left I worried for the fish and its fragile habitat. In those two days I learnt about the wider threats to its existence, which include floods and drought and all the vagaries that climate change might deliver, about which Adam Kereszy, freshwater ecologist and desert fish expert, was eloquent.

And I had been opened up to the philosophical questions that Bush Heritage deals with every day. Why should we care if this fish no longer existed? Why should we protect our native biodiversity, and what does it say about our humanity, our science and our expertise, if the red-finned blue-eye does become extinct after so long? What is the price of conservation? How can we best ensure that it works? I know these are some of the questions I'll be confronting as we continue our journey around the Bush Heritage properties.