An environmental official declared the Bramble Cay melomys officially extinct due to man-made climate change
Goodbye Bramble Cay melomys, we hardly knew ye.
A tiny tropical rat has been making big headlines, but unfortunately its most notable achievement is nothing to celebrate. Melissa Price, Minister for the Environment of the Australian Government, released a statement on Feb. 19 which quietly listed the rodent as extinct. Despite the lack of fanfare, animal lovers and environmental watchdogs took notice and are now taking strides to save other species from the same fate.
According to a 2016 paper by the University of Queensland, a 1978 population estimate counted “several hundred individuals” living on the small island in the Torres Strait near Papua New Guinea, off of northern Queensland, Australia. By 1998, the first formal Bramble Cay melomys census found approximately 93 of the small rodents left on the island, which has been continuously flooded and subject to erosion due to rising sea levels and extreme weather. The rodent’s decline lead to an “endangered” declaration by the state government.
The last known sighting of the Bramble Cay melomys was by a mackerel fisherman named Egon Stewart whose family had been visiting the island of Bramble Cay annually for three decades. He told researchers he recalled seeing “one or two” melomys scurrying out from under beach debris in 2009. In comparison, Stewart’s grandfather, Al Moller-Nielsen, said the fishing crews used to release dogs onto the island to chase the many rodents away and protect the seabirds in the early ’80s.
Since 2009, two surveys have been conducted, one in 2011 and another in 2014, but neither trap program resulted in the detection of any living Bramble Cay melomys, nor were there any signs “of the species’ current or recent presence, such as tracks, scats and skeletal material,” according to the Queensland University paper. The researchers concluded that the little rat most likely lost its habitat due to the decline in vegetation cover, which was the result of ocean inundation. “With a maximum elevation of only 3 meters … Bramble Cay is particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise and the impacts of extreme high water events.”
Critics of the Australian government’s conservation efforts believe the lack of funding to preserve wildlife is at least partially to blame for this and subsequent species’ extinction. “Bramble Cay melomys extinction from climate change is the tip of the iceberg,” says Janet Rice, the Greens party senator. “[Australian] coal [and] coal export addiction is the death warrant for many threatened animals. This tragedy was preventable — extinction is a political choice.”