SYDNEY – A small rodent on an island in northern Australia has become the first mammal in the world to become extinct due to climate change in a country which has one of the highest per capita CO2 emission rates worldwide.
Scientists had feared since 2014 that the Bramble Cay Melomys, or Melomys rubricola, had become extinct. But an official announcement by Australian authorities came only this week, confirming that the rodent, considered the only mammal endemic to the Great Barrier Reef, had disappeared from the planet.
Studies have pointed at the rise in sea levels and the increasing number of storms due to climate change – induced by humans – as the causes which wiped out the rodents in their only habitat, an Australian cay named Bramble. It is the northernmost point of land of Australia situated close to Papua New Guinea.
“WWF is saddened that the Bramble Cay Melomys is gone as an entire species because of climate change,” Rachel Lowry, the chief conservation officer of World Wildlife Fund Australia, told EFE.
Environment Minister Melissa Price had confirmed the extinction of the species on Monday in a statement about strengthening protection for endangered species, which included a list recommending that the rodent’s status be changed to extinct.
“The Bramble Cay Melomys has been listed as extinct on the advice of the independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee, following exhaustive surveys undertaken in all known habitat leaving no reasonable doubt that the last individual has died,” a spokesperson of the Australian Department of Environment said in a statement to EFE.
“The available evidence indicated that the anthropogenic climate change-induced impacts of sea-level rise, coupled with an increased frequency and intensity of weather events that produced damaging storm surges and extreme high water levels – particularly during the decade 2004 to 2014 – were most likely responsible for the extirpation of the species from Bramble Cay,” she added.
The species inhabited a small isolated area in Bramble, which is spread over 40,000 square meters (around 10 acres) and rises just three meters above the sea level.
The rodent was first identified by Europeans in 1845 in Bramble Cay, which is also an important breeding place for green sea turtles and various sea birds, apart from having a big cultural significance for the indigenous population of the area.
The Melomys was last sighted in 2009, when a national recovery plan for the species was released, but “the effects of climate change occurred more quickly than the scientific experts anticipated,” according to the spokesperson.
Another scientific report published on the website of the Australian state of Queensland in 2014 had recommended that the rodent be declared extinct and noted that it was probably the first mammal to go extinct due to man-made climate change.
The animal’s extinction evoked criticism from various environmental groups, which have repeatedly urged the Australian government, controlled by conservatives since 2013, to increase efforts to fight climate change.
“The plight of this small rodent should be a wake-up call to nations like Australia. We are witnessing the first wave of animal extinctions due to human-induced climate change recorded in Australia. Sadly, we will lose many more species unless we take immediate action to address climate change,” WWF’s Lowry said in her statement.
The rodent’s extinction comes amid a long-standing political debate, in which conservative groups have pressurized successive governments to maintain the production of coal, used in producing most of the country’s electricity, and even managed to oust prime ministers over the issue.
WWF urged the Australian government to develop more effective systems to protect endangered species and assign more funding for recovery plans apart from fulfilling its international commitments to mitigate the effects of climate change.
“In signing the 2015 Paris Agreement, Australia committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. However, the Government’s latest report shows Australia is on track to reduce emissions by only 7 per cent by this time,” Lowry said.