A tiny island rodent is the first ever mammal to have been completely wiped out by human-induced climate change, with the Morrison government formally declaring its extinction.
The Bramble Cay melomys had its status changed from “endangered” to “extinct”, federal Environment Minister Melissa Price announced late Monday.
The federal decision to label the melomys extinct comes three years after the Queensland government warned the species had been killed off, saying in a report that its demise “probably represents the first recorded mammalian extinction due to anthropogenic climate change”.
However, environment department official Geoff Richardson said the Queensland government had at the time, lacked substantial evidence to declare the melomys extinct.
Mr Richardson told Senate estimates on Monday that researchers from the University of Queensland focused their search of melomys in their only known location on Bramble Cay, near Papua New Guinea.
Despite not identifying a single melomy there since 2014, Mr Richardson said research efforts involved a “pretty rushed trip in 2015”.
Declaring its extinction “was not a decision to take lightly,” Mr Richardson said.
“There’s always a delay while the evidence is gathered to be absolutely certain.”
The animal lived only on a five-hectare island less than three metres high, which left it vulnerable to climate change.
In 2008, a five-year recovery plan was drawn up to rescue the last melomys, with there being only dozens according to reports at the time.
Rescue efforts failed because the plan developed by the Queensland government Environmental Protection Agency, downplayed the risks.
“[T]he likely consequences of climate change, including sea-level rise and increase in the frequency and intensity of tropical storms, are unlikely to have any major impact on the survival of the Bramble Cay melomys in the life of this plan,” the five-year scheme stated.
The federal policy director for the Wilderness Society, Tim Beshara, said preparation for the plan was limited, and it was never reviewed at its completion in 2013.
“Everybody has feared the worst for some time,” she said.
“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.”
“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.”