A recent survey conducted by the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland has detected a significant platypus population in an unexpected location within the Brisbane River catchment near Ipswich.
The survey, conducted after the 2022 February flooding, identified Sandy Creek, along the western edge of Brisbane and Ipswich, as the unexpected habitat for Australia’s elusive mammal, with no other sites in the catchment recording a positive eDNA test for the animal.
The researchers examined 22 sites in the catchment and Sandy Creek emerged as the sole location where platypuses were found. The discovery highlights the importance of protecting the land surrounding waterways, particularly as the region transitions into a period of anticipated drought after several wet seasons in southeast Queensland.
Tamielle Brunt, an ecologist involved in the survey, emphasized the significance of preserving the platypus’s habitat in order to ensure their survival during dry spells. Female platypuses have the ability to burrow up to 30 meters, sometimes emerging within 30 centimetres of the surface, even in open parklands or residential backyards. Many people are unaware of the proximity of platypus colonies to their own homes.
Maintaining healthy water quality and preserving the habitat where platypuses reside are crucial factors in their well-being. The availability and quality of water directly influence their food sources, which primarily consist of aquatic water bugs such as dragonfly larvae and caddisfly larvae.
However, sedimentation and poor water quality can impact refuge pools, causing them to become shallower and reducing the diversity and abundance of these species that platypuses rely on for sustenance.
The presence of platypuses is not limited to Sandy Creek alone. Locals in Bellbird Park, a suburb of Ipswich, regularly report sightings along Woogaroo Creek. Keith McCosh, whose property backs onto the creek, expressed concern over the potential effects of a proposed development in his neighbourhood on one of Australia’s most remarkable mammals. While not opposed to urban development, McCosh believes it should be carried out sensitively, taking into account the needs of wildlife.
The responsibility of protecting the platypus population falls on local councils, as the species is considered relatively stable in Queensland.
Ipswich City Council faces the challenge of striking a balance between the demand for housing and the preservation of the natural environment. Ms Brunt highlighted the significance of maintaining platypus populations in specific areas, as once they are lost, the chances of natural migration or recolonization are rare.
Deputy Mayor Russell Milligan, who chairs the environment and sustainability committee, assured that the Council collaborates closely with developers to mitigate the impact on wildlife. Within the 2023/24 budget, Ipswich City Council has identified conservation projects aimed at improving platypus habitats in urban areas. They acknowledge the concerns expressed by residents regarding land clearing and wildlife impacts and aim to establish a balanced approach in the assessment of development applications.