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Tasmania’s Stories

Art lends a helping hand

Edition 198_JaneBamford

Art is the latest weapon in the fight to save one of Tasmania’s most unique creatures – the critically endangered spotted handfish.

With the CSIRO deploying the talents of leading Tasmanian ceramist, Jane Bamford, the worlds of art and science have combined to protect this much-loved little fish.

Bamford is crafting by hand, thousands of artificial spawning habitats made from porcelain.

These narrow, straw-like spindles, will then be embedded into the River Derwent seabed by divers, giving the handfish a place to lay eggs – vital for their survival.

“This really is a case of art and science coming together in a bid to help save this amazing little fish,” Bamford said.

“It is an absolute privilege to be involved, and to use art not just in an interpretative way, but in a practical way to make a difference to the environment by helping to support a threatened species.”

This unusual creature captures imaginations.

Rather than swimming, it ‘walks’ along the seabed on modified fins. Endemic to south-east Tasmania, it was also one of the first fish in Australian waters to be documented, featuring in William Gould’s celebrated 1832 Sketchbook of Fishes.

The spotted handfish was once a common sight in Hobart’s River Derwent, but scientists fear there could be as few as 1,000 left. These are surviving in nine sheltered sites in the Derwent, including Battery Point, Sandy Bay, Bellerive and Howrah, and at the mouth of the Huon River in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel.

The beginning of their decline in numbers began in the 1980s, with the arrival of the Northern Pacific sea star in the ballast of visiting ships. This introduced pest fed on ascidians – the stalk-like invertebrates – where the handfish lay their eggs.

As the ascidians began to vanish, so too did the handfish. They were listed as critically endangered in 1996.

“In a way the spotted handfish has become a metaphor for what is happening to our marine environment,” Bamford explains.

“The way so many people from all walks of life are all pulling together to save this one little fish is incredible.”

Bamford is one of them.

As part of a three-month residency at the University of Tasmania’s School of Creative Arts, she has hand-crafted 3,000 artificial spawning habitats out of a special snow-white porcelain. 

Made to replicate an ascidian in the wild, these artificial habitats consist of two parts: a biscuit sized disc, punctured with a tiny hole through which a narrow straw-sized spindle is inserted.

The disc is embedded just under the seabed to hold the spindle in place, in the hope that the handfish will spawn around them.

“The female handfish dances around the stalk of an ascidian before laying her eggs which are attached to the base. The male will then come along and fertilize the eggs,” Bamford explains.

“But what is really incredible is that the mother will stay with her eggs, protecting them, until they hatch.”

Bamford’s work is part of the CSIRO’s spotted handfish conservation program, led by Dr Tim Lynch.

The creation of artificial spawning habitats has been central to this research, and over the past 20 years 6000 of them have been placed in the River Derwent. These, however, have all been made of plastic – and that comes with problems.

As well as the obvious concerns of introducing plastic into the marine environment, they are also flimsy and fall over.

Hopes are high for Bamford’s ceramic version, which are much sturdier.

“The work Jane is doing is really important. We need these artificial habitats to last and be maintained over the long-term, and porcelain could be the answer,” Dr Lynch says.

“But there are still a lot of variables. Will the fish prefer the ceramic artificial habitats over the plastic ones? And even if they do prefer ceramic, will the eggs survive on them?

“Only time will tell.”

Divers have just finished installing Bamford’s 3,000 artificial spawning habitats – together with another 2,000 plastic ones – just in time for September spawning.

And it won’t be long until scientists start seeing the results.

However, the fact that handfish couple – ‘Harley and Rose’ – recently spawned around one of Bamford’s porcelain ‘ascidians’ at Seahorse World in Beauty Point, instils great confidence.

“These are not a naturally rare fish, there should be millions of them. Spotted handfish used to be found right up the East Coast – as far as Coles Bay – and down south as far as Dover,” Dr Lynch adds.

“But, the good news is that these fish are hardy little buggers and they are really hanging on – all they are missing is something to breed on.”

In the meantime, Bamford’s work with the spotted handfish represents the continuation of a life-long passion for Tasmania’s underwater wonderland.

She spent a childhood exploring the seas around Hobart and the East Coast and has passed on this passion to her teenage children.

The family lives a stone’s throw from the River Derwent at Kingston, south of Hobart, and often head down the road for a quick snorkel.

“It is astonishing what you see just off the beach,” she remarks.

“We all hear about the tropical reefs, but the southern reefs, such as the ones around Tasmania, are just as remarkable.

“It is so important that we preserve our incredible marine environment, and helping to save this unique little fish is such an important part of that.”

Image Courtesy of ABC News

Watch the video below to see ceramic artist Jane Bamford create her artificial spawning habitats for the critically endangered spotted handfish:

Screen shot Spotted Han _Fish
Watch video on YouTube

12 September 2018, Edition 198

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Facts about Tasmania


Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia, located at latitude 40° south and longitude 144° east and separated from the continent by Bass Strait. It is a group of 334 islands, with the main island being 315 km (180 miles) from west to east and 286 km (175 miles) north to south.


Tasmanians are resourceful and innovative people, committed to a continually expanding export sector. In 2012–13, international exports from the state totalled $3.04 billion. USA, China, Taiwan, India, Japan and other Asian countries account for the bulk of exports, with goods and services also exported to Europe and many other regions.


Tasmania is similar in size to the Republic of Ireland or Sri Lanka. The Tasmanian islands have a combined coastline of more than 3,000 km.


The main island has a land area of 62,409 sq km (24,096 sq miles) and the minor islands, taken together, total only 6 per cent of the main island’s land area. The biggest islands are Flinders (1,374 sq km/539 sq miles), King, Cape Barren, Bruny and Macquarie Islands.


About 250km (150 miles) separates Tasmania’s main island from continental Australia. The Kent Group of Islands, one of the most northerly parts of the state, is only 55km (34 miles) from the coast of the Australian continent.


Twice named ‘Best Temperate Island in the World’ by international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler, Tasmania has a mild, temperate maritime climate, with four distinct seasons.


In summer (December to February) the average maximum temperature is 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit). In winter (June to August) the average maximum is 12° C (52° F) and the average minimum is 4° C (40° F). Snow often falls in the highlands, but is rarely experienced in more settled areas.

Annual Rainfall

Tasmania’s west coast is one of the wettest places in the world, but the eastern part of the State lives in a rain-shadow. Hobart, the second-driest capital city in Australia, receives about half as much rain as Sydney.

Annual Rainfall

Annual rainfall in the west is 2,400 mm (95 inches), but hardy locals insist there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. If you travel 120 km east to Hobart, you experience a much drier average of 626 mm (24 inches) a year.


The 512,875-strong community spreads itself across the land; less urbanised than the population of any other Australian state. Hobart, the capital city, is home to more than 212,000 people.

Capital City

Hobart nestles at the foot of kunanyi / Mount Wellington (1,270 m / 4,000 ft) and overlooks the Derwent Estuary, where pods of dolphins and migrating whales are sometimes seen from nearby beaches. Surrounded by thickly forested rolling hills, the city is home to the state parliament and the main campus of the University of Tasmania.

Capital City

Its historic centre features Georgian and Regency buildings from colonial times. Hobart is home port for coastal fishing boats, Antarctic expeditions and vessels that fish the Southern Ocean.

Land Formation

Mountain ranges in the south-west date back 1,000 million years. Ancient sediments were deeply buried, folded and heated under enormous pressure to form schists and glistening white quartzites.

Land Formation

In the south-west and central highlands, dolerite caps many mountains, including Precipitous Bluff and Tasmania’s highest peak, Mt Ossa (1617 m / 5300 ft). More than 42 per cent of Tasmania is World Heritage Area, national park and marine or forest reserves.


Vegetation is diverse, from alpine heathlands and tall open eucalypt forests to areas of temperate rainforests and moorlands, known as buttongrass plains. Many plants are unique to Tasmania and the ancestors of some species grew on the ancient super-continent, Gondwana, before it broke up 50 million years ago.


Unique native conifers include slow-growing Huon pines, with one specimen on Mt Read estimated to be up to 10,000 years old. Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King’s holly, is a self-cloning shrub that may well be the oldest living organism on earth. It was discovered in 1937.


Tasmania is the last refuge of several mammals that once roamed the Australian continent. It is the only place to see a Tasmanian devil or eastern quoll (native cat) in the wild and is the best place to see the spotted-tailed quoll (tiger cat), all carnivorous marsupials.


The eastern bettong and the Tasmanian pademelon, both now extinct on the Australian continent, may also be observed.


The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was Australia’s largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and is a modern day mystery. The last documented thylacine died in captivity in 1936 and although the animal is considered extinct, unsubstantiated sightings persist.

History and Heritage

Aboriginal people have lived in Tasmania for about 35,000 years, since well before the last Ice Age. They were isolated from the Australian continent about 12,000 years ago, when the seas rose to flood low coastal plains and form Bass Strait.

History and Heritage

Descendants of the original people are part of modern Tasmania’s predominantly Anglo-Celtic population.

History and Heritage

Tasmania was originally named Van Dieman’s Land by the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. The island was settled by the British as a penal colony in 1803 and the original name was associated with the convict era. It was changed to Tasmania when convict transportation stopped in 1853.


A resourceful island culture has generated leading-edge niche industries, from production of high-speed catamaran ferries and marine equipment to lightning-protection technology.


Tasmanians produce winches and windlasses for some of the world’s biggest ocean-going pleasure craft; large-scale inflatable evacuation systems and provide specialist outfit-accommodation services to the marine industry.


The Wooden Boat Centre at Shipwrights Point has re-established the skills and traditions of another age and attracts students from around the world.


Tasmania is a world leader in natural turf systems for major sporting arenas and in areas of mining technology and environmental management. Its aquaculture industry has developed ground-breaking fish-feeding technology and new packaging.


Tasmanians sell communications equipment to many navies and their world-class fine timber designers and craftsmen take orders internationally for furniture made from distinctive local timber.


The state is a natural larder with clean air, unpolluted water and rich soils inviting the production of 100 varieties of specialty cheeses, as well as other dairy products, mouth-watering rock lobsters, oysters, scallops and abalone, Atlantic salmon, beef, premium beers, leatherwood honey, mineral waters, fine chocolates, fresh berry fruits, apples and crisp vegetables.


Tasmania is a producer of award-winning cool-climate wines, beers, ciders and whiskies. Other export products include essential oils such as lavender, pharmaceutical products and premium wool sought after in Europe and Asia. Hobart is a vital gateway to the Antarctic and a centre for Southern Ocean and polar research.


The industries in Tasmania which made the greatest contribution to the State’s gross product in 2010–11 in volume terms were: Manufacturing (9.4%), Health care and social assistance (8.2%), Financial and insurance services (7.2%), Ownership of dwellings and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (each 7.1%).

Getting to Tasmania

Travel is easy, whether by air from Sydney or Melbourne, or by sea, with daily sailings of the twin ferries Spirit of Tasmania 1 and 2 each way between Melbourne and Devonport throughout the year.

This site has been produced by the Brand Tasmania Council © 2014

Brand Tasmania

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