Handfish Conservation Project



Tasmania is the last home to the Handfishes (Brachionichthyidae). Three species are recognised by the Australian Government as threatened, the best known of which is the Spotted Handfish.

The Red Handfish is on the brink of extinction. It is possible that there are as few as 70 individuals remaining, found only on two small patches of rocky reef, each less than 50 m in diameter.

We do not know exactly how many are left and at what point inbreeding may become a hurdle to recovery. Population-level  genetic studies are desperately needed, along with ongoing monitoring of population size.
We do not know whether there are still other undiscovered populations in south-eastern Tasmania. Adults are typically only ~7 cm long, live hidden under the seaweed, and are incredibly hard to find. 

We need to find new and effective ways to find other populations, including trialling DNA techniques and soliciting reliable sightings from the public. The government cannot adequately assess the risk of developments and permit approvals in south-eastern Tasmania without having a better way of knowing where Red Handfish populations exist.

Their habitat is under threat from over-abundant sea urchins and at high risk of nutrient pollution. We urgently need to protect and restore the habitat for current populations.
Ziebell’s Handfish has not been seen in over a decade. Captive breeding may be the last chance to save it from extinction in the wild, but we need to locate any remaining populations to have the chance to do this.

The Handfish Conservation Project has been established to provide the means to address these urgent concerns, and will work tirelessly, through effective collaborations between universities, government, citizen science and the public, to try to halt the decline in these iconic and unique Tasmanian marine species. 
If you've seen a Red or Ziebell's Handfish outside their known populations; report it here! 

Project Scope

The Handfish Conservation Project will focus on the following priority areas for handfish recovery.  Project Scope is drawn from priority areas defined in the Recovery Plan.  

The NHRT provides expert advice on prioritisation of actions outlined in the Recovery Plan. They then provide project proposals to the NHRT Steering Committee, which is a sub-committee drawn from the NHRT, composed of the senior public servants’ from the state and Federal governments - who are not research providers - with a third independent member from National Environmental Science Program (NESP).

Captive Breeding

Research into & application of a captive breeding & reintroduction program

Public Education & Outreach

Engagement with the public and communication of key risks to the local community

Population Studies

In-depth research into population size, genetic structure, life history traits, and habitat structure & condition

Population Detection

Application of novel scientific & citizen science methods to aid discovery of new populations

Habitat Conservation

Protection & restoration of habitat through management & implementation of artificial habitats

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