‘New dawn’ for ‘zombie fish’ as teen and his mum create wetland that could help save species

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A northern Victorian farming family has turned a grass paddock into a wetland in a bid to help native fish survive.

It all started when 16-year-old Alby Bear and his mother, Jo, built a pond during lockdown last year.

Their ambitions quickly grew and now they have built a native wetland on their sheep farm at Loddon Vale. 

“We realised what wonderful little natives we’ve got here,” Ms Bear said.

Alby said it was a satisfying experience.

“It’s fun to know that you’ve done something to impact the world and change it for the better,” he said.

A teenager and his mum looking at small fish in a glass container.A teenager and his mum looking at small fish in a glass container.
Alby and Jo Bear inspect their new tenants.(ABC Central Victoria: Sarah Lawrence)

Endangered fish released

The project caught the attention of ecologists, who have used the wetland to release hundreds of purple-spotted gudgeon.

The small fish was declared extinct in Victoria in 1998, but 66 were discovered earlier this year in nearby Kerang.

“These guys are super passionate about conservation and right into native fish,” the North Central Catchment Management Authority’s Peter Rose said.

The fish, which grow up to 12cm, breed best in summer and like to live in dense reeds.

“Aquatic plants have been put in, snags, water delivered and managed so the aquatic plants grow, so it’s a perfect environment for them here,” Mr Rose said.

A pair of hands cradle a small fish.A pair of hands cradle a small fish.
Researchers were shocked when the species was found in a lake at the Kerang.(Supplied)

‘New dawn’ for ‘zombie fish’

Alby now checks his nets after school to see if the fish are still in the water while, his mum enjoys heading out in the morning for a moment of solace at the wetland.

“We’ve been really fortunate — we’ve had all these great people who’ve helped us create this refuge for animals, but also a refuge for us as well,” Ms Bear said.

Alby said it was “pretty fun to see all the different species of fish out here”.

All concerned hope in that in a year’s time there will be a thriving population of the fish, which, with the help of a breeding program at Melbourne Aquarium, may be released into other wetlands in the state.

“The aim is that we’ll be sort of the segue between other waterways,” Ms Bear said.

If all goes according to plan, the purple-spotted gudgeon may live up to its nickname — “the zombie fish”.

“They’re back from the dead and this is their new dawn,” Mr Rose said.