'Ugly bog-dweller' honoured in national day

By Jarrod Booker

It's small, ugly and lives in stagnant bogs. If it disappeared into extinction few would even notice.

But environmental authorities have deemed the "acutely threatened" Canterbury mudfish worth fighting for.

They are even planning a series of public events in its honour.

Next month, Mudfish Day will be held in the North Canterbury town of Oxford, where it was first discovered in 1924.

Other events include a display in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens, the launch of a mudfish website, and an expert lecture at Christchurch Art Gallery.

There are five species of mudfish in New Zealand, but the Canterbury species, or kowaro, is the second most threatened native fish in New Zealand.

It is limited to only 80 known habitats, many of which are under threat from the scarcity of water and huge growth in agriculture across the region.

Freshwater ecologist Leanne O'Brien agrees the mudfish might not have the same appeal as the likes of the kiwi, but she thinks it has a beauty of its own worth preserving.

"Maybe it doesn't photograph well. I know they are a little brown fish. But most people are quite amazed when they see them. Some of them have little gold flecks in them."

Dr O'Brien said the fascination with the Canterbury mudfish was how it managed to survive even after its waterways dried up.

It lived in anything from spring-fed creeks to farm water races or stagnant bogs.

"It can survive when a lot of other fish would go belly-up."

Mudfish were rarely seen, being nocturnal, and their habitat was often not even recognised as being important.

"A drain on the side of the road full of aquatic plants is very hard to convince people to protect."

People did not need to make a lot of effort to save the Canterbury mudfish, Dr O'Brien said.

"The main hurdle is just awareness that people have it on their property, and getting over the fear that people might have of having an endangered species and the restrictions that might come with it."

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