A small mousey creature is no more in the wild on Bramble Cay, an isolated coral cay at the Great Barrier Reef.
Climate change has claimed its first victim in Australia: a small rodent. The Bramble Cay melomys (Melomys rubicola), a mousey creature, has been officially declared extinct by Australia’s government in the mammal’s only natural habitat on Bramble Cay, an isolated coral cay with ample vegetation at the northern tip of the Great Barrier Reef.
Several experts have suspected for a while that the small mammal, which had not been sighted for years, might already have gone extinct, but the animal’s status was to remain listed as “critically endangered” until now.
The rodent’s demise in the wild was caused by climate change, experts say. “[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,” an official statement explains.
Local conservationists have lamented the rodent’s passing. “The Bramble Cay melomys was a little brown rat,” Tim Beshara, policy director for the Wilderness Society in Australia, was quoted as saying. “But it was our little brown rat and it was our responsibility to make sure it persisted. And we failed.”
Some environmentalists have gone so far as to label the rodent’s extinction “a national tragedy.”
“The extinction of the Bramble Cay Melomys should be a national tragedy,” Green Party Senator Janet Rice, who chairs a Senate inquiry into Australia’s animal extinction crisis, said. “Business as usual is the death warrant for our threatened animals.”
The little rat succumbed to the effects of rising sea levels in the Torres Strait region where Bramble Cay is located, experts say. Over the past two decades ocean waters have risen almost twice as much in the area as the global average, which has increased the risks of high-tide flooding and inundation.
Today a mere 6 acres of dry land, which was suitable for habitation by the small rodents, remains above the hide-tide mark in a 40% decrease in land area since 1998. And with the decrease of land the extent of local vegetation has plummeted. This deprived the mammals of places to hide from predators and forage for food.