It’s a race against time for these fish of the desert.
In a stretch of the Todd River just north of the Schwarz Crescent causeway, as the water of a recent flow seeps away, hundreds, probably thousands, are dying, although the flies are having a field day.
Nearby resident Ron Sterry is doing what he can to give the fish a fighting chance, digging out ponds for them in the wettest patches.
“They’re sort of doomed, it’s a bit sad.”
As he goes, if he notices a twitch or a gasp for air, he scoops their tiny bodies back into the water. They don’t seem to last long out of it. At around 4pm yesterday most of the fish in the picture at right were alive, he says, but within a quarter of an hour they had gone.
He has seen fish in the river before but never so many: it’s not a sight he expects in a river that’s mostly dry.
But these spangled grunters, or spangled perch as some call them, are dinky-di locals, one of two fish species recorded for the Todd, the other being the desert rainbowfish, seen in the past.
The spangled grunters are the most widespread of the species native to arid NT. They are known for their exceptional hardiness but there is no evidence they can survive for long periods of time without surface water. The medium to long-term waterholes in the Todd system are thus important for their survival and artificial water bodies, such as the ponds at the golf course, now provide secure drought refuges.
Source: Angus Duguid et al, Wetlands of the Arid NT, Vol 1, 2005.
– Kieran Finnane