By Simon Jones
Environmentalists have relocated a batch of unique killifish in a bid to save the endangered species.
A total of 49 fish were moved from Evan’s Pond in Southampton to a pond behind the 12th green at Riddell’s Bay Golf and Country Club.
The move to embark on the on-island lifeboat project came after Killifish numbers in Evan’s Pond dropped significantly.
Biodiversity officer Alison Copeland told the Bermuda Sun that the Killifish species found in Evan’s Pond were extremely unique and could represent a third endemic species of the animal.
She said: “Evan’s Pond is no longer considered an optimal Killifish habitat.
“The pond is polluted from many years of road run-off and atmospheric deposition of petroleum hydrocarbons and metals from vehicles.
“This combined with possible predation by other fish may be contributing to a decline in killifish numbers.”
She added: “This is particularly troubling as genetic studies suggest that the Evan’s Pond population is significantly different from other ponds.
“The first genetic study was carried out in 2001, with a second study carried out last year.
“The results of the second study are still pending, but initial results indicate that the population is unique enough to make it a conservation priority.”
Earlier this summer Bermuda Zoological Society researchers Mark Outerbridge and Jamie Bacon removed 49 killifish from a school of about 300 that was seen around the mangrove roots of Evan’s Pond.
The captured fish were initially moved to the Aquarium for a couple of days before they were released into the pond at Riddell’s Bay golf course.
Ms Copeland added: “The pond at Riddell’s Bay has a similar salinity to Evan’s Pond, and since it was artificially created, and not near any major roads, it does not have a legacy of chemical pollution.
“The pond is deep and supports an abundant aquatic plant community, which will allow the fish to both spawn in and avoid predators such as herons.
“As it is currently killifish breeding season it is anticipated that the new Riddell’s Bay population will lay eggs this year, so hopefully several hundred fish will inhabit the pond by next year.
“Trapping will be undertaken in the summer of 2013 to estimate the population of the Riddell’s Bay pond.”
Killifish numbers have declined across the island as a result of destruction and modification of their habitat.
Previous Lifeboat projects, where fish have been moved from one location to another to protect the species, have proved successful in the past.
In the 1970s former government conservation officer Dr David Wingate successfully seeded the two man-made ponds on Nonsuch Island with killifish.
While in the 1980s a population of Lover’s Lake killifish was successfully established in the artificially created Bartram’s Pond in St. George’s,
In the 1990s killifish were transferred into a pond created within Blue Hole Park.
Dr Bacon said: “We are extremely grateful to Riddell’s Bay Golf and Country Club for allowing us to use their pond as a lifeboat for the Evan’s Pond Killifish.
“We were able to save the Warwick Pond killifish population, which is now extinct in Warwick Pond, by relocating a small number of fish to the pond at WindReach.
“We hope that our relocating 49 of the Evan’s Pond killifish to the pond at Riddell’s Bay will prove just as successful and ensure the survival of this genetically unique population, which may represent a third endemic species of Killifish.”
Fact File: Killifish
• Killifish are euryhaline, meaning they can live in either fresh or saltwater, and are only found in a limited number of ponds scattered across the Bermuda
• They are omnivorous, feeding on small invertebrates, such as shrimp and insects, as well as plant material and pond sediment
• Female killifish lay their eggs one at a time over a period of several days in the summer
• The fry (baby killifish) hatch after a few weeks and can grow up to live for many years
• Males are smaller than females, more brightly coloured, and have a dark eyespot on their dorsal fin during the breeding season
• Most killifish average 6cm in length, although some have been found nearly 13 cm
• Killifish are a level two protected species under the Protected Species Amendment Act 2011.
This means that interfering with them can result in a year’s imprisonment or a fine of $15,000.