There was quite a party in early September when nationally threatened black mudfish were returned to their new home near the Waikato Expressway. It was almost exactly five years ago that Kessels Ecology Senior Ecologist David Riddell discovered the secretive and little-known creatures while carrying out a preliminary ecological survey for the planned Rangiriri section of the Waikato Expressway.
“It was just a small, weedy farm drain, but I had a close look and sure enough there were mudfish fry swimming around,” _he said. Later Kessels Ecology surveys con-firmed a dense, thriving population. Unfortunately, this was right in the path of the proposed expressway. In June 2013 David, Jennifer Price and Gerry Kessels set more nets and traps and rescued a large number of mudfish.
They were transferred to Waikato University, where Dr Nick Ling looked after them in a series of tanks. Meanwhile, at the expressway site Fletcher Construction staff were constructing new habitat. Students from Rangiriri School, local tangata whenua and other invited guests joined representatives from the NZ Transport Agency, Fletcher Construction and Kessels Ecology, as well as TV3, to welcome the fish home.
The new mudfish habitat includes a winding channel, surrounded by shallower wetland areas planted with native plants. It is more than double the size of their original area and has been designed to exclude predators, such as eels. Jennifer Price told the guests that mudfish are distant relatives of whitebait and are nocturnal. “They are an important part of our indigenous biodiversity – just like kiwis but not quite as cuddly.”