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We killed Bramble Cay melomys

JINOY JOSE P | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on June 15, 2016

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Another whodunnit hits stands?

This time it’s true crime. The real deal.

Oh, but why blame us?

Because we have blood on our hands. Yet, we’re not sorry.

I’m sorry, if that helps. But who’s BC melomys?

Bramble Cay melomys is a small Australian rodent which lives on a tiny island in the eastern Torres Strait. It’s no more.

A rodent?

You heard me. And, mind you, this is the first recorded extinction of a mammal anywhere in the world orchestrated by human-contributed climate change.

That’s shocking!

Last week, scientists declared that they could find no trace of the Bramble Cay melomys.

Tell me more about the little rat, will you?

Well, feels like I’m composing an obituary. The Bramble Cay melomys is also called the mosaic-tailed rat. And the only place it is — was — spotted is Bramble Cay. This small coral cay is just about 340 metre long and 150m wide, off the north coast of Queensland, Australia. The area sits about 3m above sea level, making it extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise, a key catastrophe associated with climate change. The rodent was the only mammal endemic to the Great Barrier Reef.

You mean the world’s largest coral reef system?

Yes, the region has over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands, spread over 2,300 km. Scientists have just realised that the little rodent has been “completely wiped-out” from its only known habitat. Scientists say Bramble Cay melomys had the most isolated and restricted range of any Australian mammal.

Who conducted the study?

Researchers from Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection conducted a survey in partnership with the University of Queensland to locate the rodent. They put up 150 traps on the island for six nights, and searched and studied the island and its vegetation extensively. Still, they could not find the rat. The researchers say Bramble Cay melomys became extinct primarily because of sea-level rise. Rising waters submerged the island on several occasions, killing animals and destroying their habitat.

Ouch!

Poor melomys lost 97 per cent of its habitat in just 10 years. Its existence was first recorded by Europeans in 1845. In 1978, several hundred of the rodents lived on the small island. The melomys was last seen in 2009. Now the Queensland report has recommended its status be changed from endangered to extinct.

Are there others facing a similar plight?

Scientists say this extinction is just the beginning of much bad news coming our way. Everywhere, climate change is driving species to extinction. Just last year, a study from the University of Connecticut noted that one in six of the world’s species faces extinction due to climate change. Just take the rise in sea-level which has impacted the likes of our humble melomys. Globally, the sea level went up almost 20 cm during 1901-2010; that’s a rate “unparalleled” in any period during the last 6,000 years.

OMG! We’re on a fast-lane to apocalypse!

You bet! The rate at which we lose species will also increase faster as climate impacts unravel in myriad ways. The sooner we admit the reality of climate change and take remedial action, the better.

So, there is no hope left for the Bramble Cay melomys?

Seems so. Scientists say, maybe — that’s a big maybe — an undiscovered population is resident in Papua New Guinea. The Brambles Cay melomys, or a close relative, may still live undiscovered there. But locating the species is a big ask as things stand now, given the way such regions cave in to the pressures of rising sea-levels.

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Published on June 15, 2016
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