Weedy Seadragons

Success at Last

Weedy Celebrations

Weedy Seadragons now protected in WA!!

After a vigorous campaign success was finally achieved on 24 June 2011, when Fisheries Minister Norman Moore announced that Western Australia’s weedy seadragons (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) would be declared a protected species under new regulations to be approved by the State Government.

This news was met with great joy by Cottesloe Coastcare members and ‘weedy friends’. The photo shows a celebratory morning tea on Sunday 3 July at Mudurup Rocks, Cottesloe. This was the same place where Giz Watson, MLC, Member for the North Metropolitan Region, had launched the groups’ parliamentary petition four months earlier.

Many people will remember that the ‘weedy’ was the beautiful symbol of the Cottesloe Marine Protection Group (CMPG),  the community group that worked so hard to have the Fish Habitat Protection Area created over Cottesloe Reef in 2001. This group amalgamated with Cottesloe Coastcare Association in 2004.

One aim of the group which was not achieved at the time was to have the weedy seadragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) protected in Western Australia.

This endemic southern Australian fish was listed on the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Act 1999 as a Nationally Threatened species. By 2010 it had been placed on protected species lists in all other states, except in WA. Here, the daily recreational bag limit remained 30 a day, despite the fact that weedies always die in domestic aquaria.

In early 2010 Cottesloe Coastcare decided to start another campaign to have the weedy seadragon protected.

The two main planks of the campaign were the Parliamentary petition and a Facebook page. Giz Watson kindly assisted with advice about the petition. The weedy seadragon Facebook page created momentum for the totally unfunded campaign. Wonderful photos (particularly from Mark Binns), several videos and articles created interest and within a relatively short period 320 ‘weedy fans’ had endorsed the Facebook page. This was combined with an email and letter campaign to individuals and groups. People from dive clubs, underwater photographers, tourism organisations, school groups and many individuals printed off petitions and rallied support.

Replies to several individual letters sent to the Fisheries Minister did not give us any reason to be hopeful but the petition signatures kept piling up. By June 2011 the petitions carried almost 3,500 signatures of Western Australians calling on the state government to grant protected status to weedy seadragons. Local newspapers – the Fremantle Herald and Post Newspaper printed articles with photos,  the West Australian Newspaper printed two articles, concerning the campaign, with photos. Giz Watson, MLC and Liza Harvey, MLA, Member for Scarborough, were both supportive of Cottesloe Coastcare’s campaign.

I spoke to several community groups and several school groups. Each child from a Year 3 class at Palmyra Primary School wrote to the Premier, Colin Barnett asking him to protect weedy Seadragons. These letters were added to the Facebook page, with poems, comments, questions and photos.

 

In March 2011 I wrote to Sir David Attenborough with a plea to support our campaign. To my utter surprise and delight I received a handwritten reply from Sir David Attenborough, saying that “Weedy Seadragons are among the most astounding, beautiful and beguiling creatures on earth”. This gave us a huge boost, it made quite an impact on Facebook, resulted in some new articles in the press and may have even have helped encourage the Minister’s announcement a short time later.

As in all other states some licensees will be allowed to continue taking small numbers of weedy Seadragons for breeding research and for aquaria. The regulations concerning this trade have yet to be finalised. We hope that soon weedies will be successfully bred in captivity as are many of their seahorse cousins. Breeding in captivity and protection of their habitat with sufficiently large marine no-take zones will give them the best chance of long term survival. Weedy seadragons could become the perfect, charismatic flagship species to take a marine conservation message to the wider community.

I would like to thank the many supporters of this campaign, far too numerous to mention individually. But I have to highlight the contribution by Kerry Fletcher and Mark Binns. They were instrumental in the final success and for keeping up my sometimes flagging spirits. And, of course, a big thank you to Sir David Attenborough.

Robyn Benken, 10 July 2011