Pupils from an Adelaide school are helping to bring back endangered species of fish

At a dam near Murray Bridge in South Australia, anticipation is growing as three schools from opposite sides of Adelaide gather to release dozens of small, rare river fish.

“I think all the kids felt like surrogate parents because we raised them from little dots,” said Kerry White, principal of Holy Family Catholic School.

It is one of the few schools in South Australia to work with the non-profit organization Aquasave to bring the southern purple-spotted gudgeon back from the brink of extinction.

Students at Holy Family Catholic School release a purple-spotted gudgeon into the wild.(Simon Goodes)

“They were declared regionally extinct between the 1970s and 1980s. No one had found them,” said conservationist Sam Hardy.

“And then in 2002 the fish was found, but it was getting rarer and rarer.”

Children fight for the future of fish

Sam Hardy says children play a vital role in turning the tide by raising the slow-moving little ambush predator many people know nothing about.

Image of a man with two female students.
Fish farm manager Gerry McCarthy helps the students release the rare fish they’ve raised.(right kerry)

“It’s a great way to get these young people involved in what we do and to get the message out that these fish are important,” the conservationist said.

For the director of fish farming at Holy Family Catholic School, it was also a personal change.

Mr. McCarthy runs a company called Teach Fish SA, which he established after four decades of leadership in teaching and education.

He first took students on a fishing trip, but when the Holy Family Catholic School gave him the green light, he set up an aquaponics farm at Parafield Gardens Elementary School.

Image of students around a fish pond.
Students Jed and Kayden start their day feeding barramundi at the fish farm.(right kerry)

It’s been a big hit with students like 10-year-old Kayden, who loves feeding the fiery barramundi.

While the well-known large barramundi are a crowd pleaser, it was the addition of the lesser-known little purple-spotted gudgeon that took the project to the next level.

The school built a series of billabongs to accommodate the growing population.

Fun learning

From designing the farm to maintaining it and caring for residents, there are many valuable lessons in the hands-on fishing center.

One of the main lessons is about sustainable food production, with water from the reservoirs being used to grow the school’s extensive vegetable garden.

“The kids most reluctant to go to school love it because they don’t see it as a school, and sometimes they’ll say almost suspiciously ‘am I learning’?” said manager Kerry White.

Image of students picking lettuce
Students pick lettuce at the aquaponics farm.(Simon Goodes)

The Fish Quarter, which includes an interactive educational facility next to the farm, has also been incorporated into more traditional subjects such as science, English and math.

The school is home to over 20 species of fish.

Photo of children doing arts and crafts
Fish farming has been integrated into the arts and cultural studies of the school.(right kerry)

Hope for endangered species

In the meantime, back at Murray Bridge Reserve, it’s time for the students to say goodbye to their first batch of home-grown gudgeons.

“I hope they will be happy in their new surroundings and stay healthy,” said Javeiria, another student participant.

Bringing endangered fish back into the wild is a challenge in South Africa, with drought and carp wreaking havoc in their preferred habitat.

Photo of children in a river.
Urrbrae Agricultural High School students free the stud they raised on the reserve.(right kerry)

“They like the slower parts of streams and faster moving rivers,” Sam Hardy said.

Previous releases at the site where they were last found in the Murray River have not taken off.

So conservationists are now hoarding numbers in more suitable sites away from the river until they can get the real thing down to zero.

Sam Hardy is confident that the students’ efforts to give the fish a fighting chance will pay off.

Picture of fish
The southern purple-spotted gudgeon was once declared extinct in the region.(Phone)

Watch this story on ABC TV’s landline at 12:30 p.m. Sunday or on ABC iview.

Comments are closed.