Bramble Cay Melomys First Species to Become Extinct Due to “Human-Induced Climate Change”

The Australian government has announced that a native rat has become the first species to become extinct due to climate change. The Bramble Cay melomys is a small, brown rat that was only found at Bramble Cay, a Cay located off the Great Barrier Reef at Australia’s northernmost point. The animal had not been seen since 2009, but after extensive conservation efforts and surveying projects, the melomys has been confirmed extinct.

The report indicated that erosion, ocean inundation of the low-lying reef and changing weather patterns most likely played a significant part in the animal’s decline in population. Furthermore, the report states that “more than 25 years after Limpus et al. (1983) warned that the survival of the Bramble Cay melomys was in jeopardy, the population has been lost. It appears likely that numbers declined from around the late 1970s, with the species eventually disappearing from the island at some point between late 2009 and December 2011, an event that represented the extinction of the only known population.”

Courtesy: Australian Geographic

 

The report ultimately concluded that “available information about sea-level rise and the increased frequency and intensity of weather events producing extreme high-water levels and damaging storm surges in the Torres Strait region over this period point to human-induced climate change being the root cause of the loss of the Bramble Cay melomys.”

Though the extinction of an animal itself isn’t something to be taken lightly, what came as a shock to most was the government’s deduction that “human-induced climate change” was explicitly to be blamed. Despite the jarring claim, the notice that announced the change in the melomys' classification was relatively quiet, included among a list of other species transferring categories by Australia’s Minister for the Environment, Melissa Price.

[It is] “incredibly disappointing when any species is formally declared extinct, and everybody has feared the worst for some time, given the Bramble Cay melomys hasn’t been sighted since 2009," said Price according to the Sydney Morning Herald. "Our agencies will continue to focus their efforts on protecting species identified as priorities, supported by the Government’s $425 million investment in threatened species programs."

Many are angered at both the casual nature of the announcement and the fact that that the government could let the extinction come about, including Queensland’s Environment Minister, Leeane Enoch and Greens Senator Janet Rice.

“We have consistently called on [Prime Minister] Scott Morrison and Melissa Price to show leadership on climate change, instead of burying their heads in the sand," Enoch said. “How many more species do we have to lose for the federal government to take action?”

"Business as usual is the death warrant for our threatened animals,” said Rice. “The extinction of the Bramble Cay melomys should be a national tragedy, and the Morrison government’s failure to protect Australia’s nearly 500 animals threatened with extinction is an absolute disgrace. The environment department says it’s learned from this extinction and takes extinction seriously, but if it was serious it should be conducting an immediate review of how this happened."

The small, humble rat is now the first of what scientists fear to be many species facing risk due to climate change. While many argue that a lack of funding for conservation is to blame, the extinction of the Bramble Cay melomys is a wakeup call to take action and protect native species before this happens again.