Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rare Golden sleepy cod threatened by TERM sand mining in Walsh River at Dimbulah

When I started this blog I had a very clear picture in my head of the areas it would cover, Ella Bay and Bramston Beach, easy peasy! I forgot to factor in one thing….MERIT!

Today’s story is a prime example, as the area I am writing about is just less than 100 kilometres west of my home but I have a historical link with this area and it faces a threat that could wipe out an extremely rare colour form of a native Australian fish that is very important to me.
Photo by Max Wingfield.

I first want to tell you a bit about this area with maps, words, photos and links and after this I will tell you about the fish!

About a decade ago the Bruce weir was a favorite nocturnal fishing spot of mine. The fishing for our native Sleepy cod Oxyeleotris lineolatus was excellent. I never went home empty handed. Words cannot describe the gentle beauty of this wild river and it would often surprise me with nocturnal wildlife like freshwater crocodiles, turtles, owls and tawny frogmouths. This magnificent river gave so much to me, today is my opportunity to give something back.

Before I start here is a photo of the Bruce Weir at Dimbulah and you can see a close up here.
Here is another photo of the river with the area that Tableland Earthmoving and Raw Materials wish to mine marked on it. Basically this consists of a 4 kilometre strip upstream from the Bruce weir.
I could do my best to tell this story but Joanne Forrest-Smith & Kevin Bartlett from the Save the Walsh Action Group (SWAG) have done a great job of telling it so I will hand you over to them.
Save the Walsh River
By Save the Walsh Action Group

Recently, an application has been made for a tree clearing permit and a sand mine in a unique environment of river and forested alluvial islands that form part of the Walsh River at Dimbulah Queensland (145km west of Cairns). A significant natural riparian habitat will be destroyed if this proposal cannot be stopped.

The extractive operation proposed under the application would incorporate 4kms of the Walsh River above the Bruce Weir. The proponents TERM (Tableland Earthmoving and Raw Materials) are publicly stating that they are ‘coming to the river’s rescue’ by dredging a silted-up weir. We contend that this is simply untrue. TERM propose to begin their mining activities 4kms upstream from the weir. Approximately 30 hectares of established islands will be devoured over the next decade. The existing water storage capacity of the Walsh River is more than adequate. Further, if there was a problem with capacity, surely a less invasive dredging effort should be considered for tender.

This stretch of the Walsh River forms part of an important nature corridor stretching through to the Mitchell River in the Gulf. Within the Walsh River, alluvial islands provide the only suitable habitat for many species of birds, reptiles and fish and are characterised by well established trees and vegetation. An entire ecosystem is at risk including the endangered native herb Cajanus mareebensis. The sand and soil banks to be removed under the application are the breeding and nesting grounds of a small but thriving population of Johnson river crocodiles and freshwater turtles, with rare sightings of platypus. During seasonal floods, these areas are a buffer from the raging flood waters and debris providing a safe nursery for river species and reducing the impact of erosion. Over 168 different varieties of birds, both aquatic and land-based, have been identified here. These migratory and established habitats stand to be destroyed if established tree stands are felled, hauled up banks and burnt, to extract and stockpile sand, .

Nesting ospreys, finch colonies, kingfishers, egrets, kookaburras, tawny frog mouths, herons and colonies of bats all find sanctuary here. The area is periodically visited by black swans, magpie geese and pelicans. It is a vital oasis in more stressful times when the western country is in drought. Virtually all of this habitation is established on the internal islands away from predatory cats, pigs and dogs.

TERM intend to extract the soil and sand banks from the guts of the river bed. The vegetation is remnant from the time of the weir’s construction not regrowth. Eucalypts 50-100 years old, grevillea and callistemon species exist in this diverse bionetwork threatened by industrial processes.

This unique ecosystem provides a natural and healthy reserve for the community and visitors to Dimbulah. Sand mining would turn this river system into a messy, turbid, eroding current as has happened at a neighbouring project at Springmount a mere 20 kms upstream. The Springmount Quarry represents an environmental disaster in a once clean riverbed. The Walsh River should be sanctioned from these degrading operations.

Sand is a important resource but there are several other sites within the Tablelands Regional Council area that contain vast quantities of sand, some already stockpiled for removal so viable agricultural land can be reclaimed.

We and many other like-minded people would be pleased to welcome and assist anyone interested in assessing the merits and conservation values of this area.

Joanne Forrest-Smith & Kevin Bartlett,
Save the Walsh Action Group (M: 0419 028 578)

Thank you Joanne and Kevin for telling all of us about this great place.

What drew my attention to this issue was an article in the Cairns Post published on 19 November 2009 titled ‘Plea to save weir’ by journalist Jennifer Eliot.
On the same day in the same paper I noticed an appeal in the letters to the Editor by professional vegetation and habitat management expert Dr Paul Williams.
Dr Williams brings up an interesting point regarding the federally and state listed endangered species Cajanus mareebensis (PDF).

This species is related to a plant I grow myself for food Cajanus cajan commonly known as the pigeon pea.
Ah but I digress…back to the endangered Cajanus mareebensis. Here are photos of the plant and its flower (PDF) taken by Andrew Ford from the CSIRO (photos copyright CSIRO)
Have a second look as endangered species have a nasty habit of disappearing!

Perhaps the wet season rains will bring this plant out of dormancy and it can be found again in this location!

Of course there are other stories on the net about this issue. The North Queensland Register online published this story.

This article contains a great photo of a sign on a trailer that Save the Walsh Action Group (SWAG) is using to promote their campaign.
The Cairns Post have again covered the issue with a story titled ‘Legal fight looms over Walsh River sand mine’ by journalist, Jennifer Eliot.

I seriously urge you to check out this link as it has a link within it to some brilliant photos by Jake Nowakowski. They are really worth looking at!

Like this one. The caption below this photo reads;

A Tableland company is trying to get approval to build a sand mine on the Walsh River. Damage to the landscape is evident at a site not far away in Springmount where Tablelands Earth Moving and Raw Materials are running a sand mine.

Now I bet that’s got you curious! Ok here’s a direct link to the photos for you.

The Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland have also thrown their hat in the ring and supported the SWAG campaign. Wildlife Queensland has never been shy about standing up for Queensland’s flora and fauna and have earned my respect with their good work.

Cairns and Far North Environment Centre (CAFNEC) have also supported this campaign with an article in their newsletter (PDF), Ecotone.

Well how great is the threat that looms over this wilderness you ask?

There’s two ways to answer that. I can yabber on for ages or I can give you some photos of the damage the same company (TERM) has inflicted on the landscape at nearby Springmount.

Here are the photos!
Not a pretty sight indeed.

Finally we are at the good bit of my Golden sleepy cod story!

As I said earlier, about a decade ago I used to fish pretty regularly at the Bruce Weir directly below the proposed sand mining area and would often catch Sleepy cod Oxyeleotris lineolatus. I consider them to be the best freshwater eating fish in North Queensland. They have sweet white fillets which would put many saltwater fish to shame.

In Asia a closely related fish, the Marbled gudgeon Oxyeleotris marmoratus is a highly valued commercial food fish.

Before I rattle on anymore I best show you what a sleepy cod looks like!
Photo by Glynn Aland.

Now for the interesting bit! Rarely and I mean really rarely, people catch a Golden sleepy cod at the Bruce Weir. The odds aren’t great but I personally know of two people who caught them, Alan Haggarty (sadly now deceased) and Mal Brown owner of Mal’s taxi service in Mareeba. I know they each caught one of these fish as they gave them to me as a gift for my fish tanks.

They were the most handsome native fish I have ever seen and their beauty was only surpassed by their scarcity. I must admit if I knew then what I know now about how rare they are I would have returned them to the wild.

The fish in the photo below were brood stock from a breeding program conducted by the Department of Primary Industries at Walkamin. Brett Herbert was the scientist running the trials.
Photo by Glynn Aland.

To the very best of my knowledge the Bruce weir is the only place in the world that this extremely rare colour form of this species has been found.

I have had a bit of a search for more information on this DPI breeding project and the best information I could find was on the Ausy fish website. Check it out as there are some great sleepy cod photos but no golden ones.

This site had this to say about golden sleepy cod:

This orange form is extremely rare in nature. Research conducted by the Walkamin Research Facility in Far North Queensland has so far not been able to reproduce this colour in commercial quantities. All off spring are brown until they reach approximately 120-150 mm. About 5% of offspring have orange blotches, mostly about the head. Only 2-3% attains full colour. This research has been suspended for the time being.

Reprinted from the web site of Ausyfish P/L at

I would like to thank Mr Bruce Sambell for sharing this information.

I located a Queensland Department of Primary Industries report on the net titled ‘Freshwater species - evaluation of sleepy cod and golden perch for aquaculture’ which mentions DPI research into this rare fish. The article stated:

Additionally, there is a bright orange colour variety of this fish, which has high potential for either food and/or as an aquarium fish. Development of a breeding line from orange broodstock will allow determination of whether the orange colour form is genetically or environmentally determined, and thus permit further development if it as an aquaculture product.

Well where to from here?

I am extremely concerned that sand mining activity upstream of this vital fish habitat may degrade it and impact severely on one of the rarest fish in Australia. If this fish was a species and not a rare colour form I have little doubt it would be listed as critically endangered or at the very least endangered, both federally and nationally. Its aquaculture potential is as yet untapped and it would be tragic to lose this fish before we fully understand it.

In the bigger picture I am against sand mining for the many reasons this story identifies.

SWAG has a web site you can visit at

I wish to ask one thing of you!

Please visit the SWAG web site and sign their guest book to show your support for their campaign. While you are there check out their photographs too.

Your visit to their web site would mean a lot to both me and future generations of Queenslanders!

Cheers Russ


  1. This is a great article, due to the fact the Walsh River is one to be saved. My husband caught a Golden Sleepy Cod at the age of 14 at the Bruce Weir he is now 38, and still living in Dimbulah. We own a farm which backs onto the Walsh River just below the Bruce Weir, so we are members of SWAG and are helping with this fight to save such a wonderful place. We are very worried are livelihoods will be ruined if this extractive industry goes ahead. Thank you again for allowing us to be part of your blog. Cheers

  2. Thank you Laura.It is a pleasure to help people who are protecting a place that has nurtured me with many memorable hours of recreation! I fully support your campaign to keep this destructive activity away from this beautiful place. I encourage anyone who reads this story to visit the SWAG web site and sign up as a supporter! I did!


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