Citizen science to track platypus

A platypus in the wild. Picture: JOSH GRIFFITHS PLATYPUSSPOT

Yarra Ranges residents can help monitor platypus numbers in the upper Yarra River and other waterways as part of a new study.

The Australian Platypus Conservancy (APC) will launch the project at an information session at the Warburton Mechanics Institute at 7pm on Thursday 4 July.

The next morning, APC biologists will provide practical training for budding citizen scientists along the Yarra River, to scan for platypus.

Yarra Ranges Mayor Tony Stevenson said the International Union for the Conservation of Nature listed the platypus as near-threatened.

“Council has a long-established commitment to protect local platypus populations, which we support through our environment teams and specialised programs such as River to the Bay and community groups we support, such as the Platypus Education Group,” he said.

“Platypus can be impacted by a number of factors, such as the health of waterways and nearby vegetation, littering and use of illegal opera house nets, which they can become trapped and drown in.

“This study by the APC will give us a good indication of how the platypus is faring in our region, so we and other government agencies can plan conservation efforts.

“Platypus are also an excellent indicator of the health of our waterways, so monitoring numbers helps us to assess changes in the health of our rivers and creeks.”

The APC study will use standardised visual monitoring, where trained volunteers visit fixed monitoring sites and record the number of platypus observed, noting when animals are seen and when they are not.

These details are then calculated to become an index of platypus activity.

The APC also launched the Australian Platypus Monitoring Network, a website and app to promote volunteer participation, provide training and allow immediate uploading of sighting records from community members.

APC biologist Geoff Williams, who will present at the 4 July session, said platypus numbers had declined as a result of environmental degradation and altered river flows in recent decades.

“Fortunately, there is now a huge opportunity to bring the platypus back,” he said.

“Considerable work is being done to rehabilitate river habitats and improve environmental flows.”

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