Australian Aquatic Biological

Australian aquatic biodiversity research and consultancy

About Robert McCormack

Research & Aquaculture Director for Australian Aquatic Biological P/L Team Leader for The Australian Crayfish Project Director of Mid West Yabby & Fish Traders and RBM Aquaculture Secretary of NSW Aquaculture Assoc Inc Research Associate for Carnegie Museum of Natural History Honorary Research Fellow, Queensland Museum


NSW Fisheries Patrol Vehicle

NSW Fisheries Patrol Vehicle

Whilst surveying a coastal stream near Batemans Bay last week, I was sprung by the local Fishing Inspector. I was extremely happy that a passing Fisheries NSW officer saw me near a creek and took the time to bail me up and see what I was doing. I had all the correct permits and was OK but let that be a lesson to all those that are thinking of doing the wrong thing in NSW, Fisheries NSW inspectors are out there actively looking for those doing something they shouldn’t, you will get busted, so do the right thing.

If you see something occurring that’s wrong then let your local Fisheries inspector know and they will take action.

My congratulation to Fisheries NSW, it’s reassuring to know they are actively out there patrolling the creeks and streams, protecting our native crayfish and fish, ensuring the fisheries laws and regulations are obeyed.

The Crustacean Society

Engaeus cymus

Engaeus cymus

Membership to the Crustacean Society in now due. I’m a member and recommend if you have an interest in Crustaceans you should also join up. The mission of the Crustacean Society is to advance the study of all aspects of the biology of Crustacea by promoting the exchange and dissemination of information throughout the world.The Crustacean Society publishes The Journal of Crustacean Biology with free access to members. For the last 30 years they have published four issues per year, but since 2012 they have been publishing six issues per year. Check out the website and join up.



Update August 2013

This update is just to keep you all informed of how things are going and where we are up to as of the end of another financial year. Unfortunately, it’s now August, just too much happening, but better a late update than no update.                                            Cheers                                                                                                                                                                              Rob

Basin View Gardens win Academy Award

Basin View Integrated Garden

Basin View Integrated Garden

Paul Van der Werf of Earthan Group designed the integrated garden and then Paul and I built the Garden at RFBI Basin View Masonic Village back in December 2011. The gardens have central aquaculture tanks growing silver perch for food and gold fish for visual pleasure with the nutrient rich fish water being recirculated under the gardens to provide a nutrient source for the vegetables and flowers. Water flows constantly under the garden beds so the plants are self watered reducing the elderly residence’s maintenance requirements. The nutrient rich garden beds are raise so they are at a comfortable height, are narrow so easily reached from each side and set out in a maze type pattern so some memory required to navigate and locate your garden plot within the larger garden.

Since completion the gardens have flourished being the subject of praise from all quarters, and a number of scientific studies commissioned on the health benefits of the gardens for the Retirement Village Residents.

Robert B McCormack

Rob McCormack and the Academy Award at the awards ceremony

As a result of the these studies the latest good news is that the garden has been nominated for a prestigious International Academy of Design and Health Award. The International Academy for Design & Health is a global, interdisciplinary knowledge community dedicated to the stimulation and application of research concerning the interaction between design, health, science & culture. Luckily Brisbane was hosting the 9th Design & Health World Congress & Exhibition, from 10-14 July. Paul and I attended the Gala dinner and awards Ceremony being held at the Brisbane City Hall. It was my first time in the Brisbane City Hall which had just undergone it $215 million 3 year renovation.

Judging panels from across the global made their recommendations for this year’s winners, resulting in Paul’s gardens winning a Salutogenic Design Award. The criteria for this Award is for the design of a completed project of any typology, which is comprehensible, manageable and meaningful, thereby fostering a strong sense of coherence amongst its users that promotes their health and wellbeing. Submissions must show how environmental, social and economic sustainability is improved. The garden we built did all this resulting in the prestigious award. Well-done Paulie!

Euastacus urospinosus paper published

E. urospinosus

Euastacus urospinosus from the Brisbane River catchment

Paul and I have been researching a number of dwarf group crayfish and we are preparing a large number for publication over the coming months/years. The first in this series was recently published in the Memoirs of the Queensland Museum. The paper documents the extended distribution of E. Urospinosus to include rainforested streams draining both sides of the Conondale Range into the Mary and Brisbane Rivers. We document our survey results and records information on the species ecology and discuss it’s conservation status. This type of research that increases the knowledge base on crayfish species is essential, it gives our management agencies the science they need to make informed decisions and promotes the species conservation.

McCormack, R.B. & Van der Werf, P. 2013 06 30. The distribution, ecology and conservation status of Euastacus urospinosus (Crustacea: Decapoda: Parastacidae), a dwarf freshwater crayfish from the Mary and Brisbane River drainages, south-eastern Queensland. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum — Nature 56(2): 639–646. Brisbane. ISSN 0079–8835.

The Spiny Crayfish of Australia book has been nominated for a prestigious Whitley Award

a book by Robert B McCormack

A guide to Australia’s Spiny Freshwater Crayfish – a book by Robert B McCormack

The spiny cray book is selling nicely with lots of positive feedback. My thanks to the hundred or so people that have personally given me positive feedback. Only one winger so far, that was a bit disappointing but such is life. The book is designed to increase the profile of our Euastacus  crayfish and raise awareness of the beauty and unique biodiversity of our Australian Freshwater Crayfish.

The book has been nominated for a prestigious Whitley Award. The Whitley Awards are awarded by the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales (RZSNSW). The Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales is a non-profit, scientific organisation dedicated to the study and conservation of native Australian fauna. Whitley awards are presented for outstanding publications, either printed or electronic, that contain new information about the fauna of the Australasian region. Fingers crossed that the book actually wins the award, there are some fantastic publications out there so lots of competition. Even if it doesn’t win it’s good to know that others appreciate the effort to create and the substance of the book and have nominated it.

Euastacus Dharawalus conservation paper published

Rob McCormack (left) and Justin Stanger (right) with berried female Euastacus dharawalus

Rob McCormack (left) and Justin Stanger (right) with berried female Euastacus dharawalus on a cold and wet southern highlands day

Euastacus dharawalus is a rare and critically endangered giant spiny group crayfish from the Fitzroy Falls region of NSW. The Australian Crayfish Project (ACP) has been conducting studies on this species since 2006 when we first discovered invasive crayfish in the area. Since 2006 we have been extremely concerned with the future of this crayfish species and believe it may be the first Euastacus to become extinct. We have been writing this paper ever since and finally we have completed our studies and now the paper has been published by Journal of Crustacean Biology.

McCormack, R.B. 2013. Conservation of Imperiled Crayfish, Euastacus dharawalus (Decapoda: Astacidea: Parastacidae), from the southern highlands of New South Wales, Australia. Journal of Crustacean Biology, 33(3), 432-439, 2013.

I’m a member of the Crustacean Society who publishes The Journal of Crustacean Biology, and I recommend anyone interested in crustaceans join up The mission of the Crustacean Society is to advance the study of all aspects of the biology of the Crustacea by promoting the exchange and dissemination of information throughout the world.

As a result of the ACP research the NSW Fisheries Scientific Committee, has made a final determination to list the Fitzroy Falls spiny crayfish, Euastacus dharawalus as a CRITICALLY ENDANGERED SPECIES. That’s the first Euastacus species to be listed as critically endangered by any state or the federal Government in Australia and a great win for the ACP.

New records and review of the translocation of the yabby Cherax destructor into eastern drainages of New South Wales, Australia is in press.

Invasive yabby

The yabby Cherax destructor

This is the second paper we have prepared on invasive Cherax destructor into eastern drainages of NSW. The original paper in 2009 documented 20 translocation sites. This new paper builds on the original and documents over 50 new translocation sites. Yabbies are a fantastic species when in their own environment but when they are translocated into new catchments they can have dramatic negative repercussions on the endemic species so become an ecological nightmare. The papers highlights the negative impacts on endemic crayfish species, it’s in press and should be published soon.

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund Project Number 12054688.

E. clarkae

Clark’s Crayfish Euastacus clarkae

The ACP has received a research grant from the Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund. The MBZSCF is a significant philanthropic endowment established to provide targeted grants to individual species conservation initiatives, recognize leaders in the field of species conservation and elevate the importance of species in the broader conservation debate field of species conservation

We have received the grant to work on Euastacus clarkae from the upper Hastings River catchment of NSW. The aims of this Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation project are:

•             To define the distribution of Euastacus clarkae

•             Define its habitat requirements

•             Increase the knowledge base on its biology and ecology

•             Provide a taxonomic redescription of the species

•             Determine its conservation status with recommendations for listing at a State/Federal level.

•             Survey the whole Hastings River drainage to determine the distribution of all the Parastacidae species in the area

•             Attempt to understand species interactions and habitat partitioning of the eight species occurring within the Hastings River catchment

The project is progressing well and with the assistance of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service we are now moving into the final stages of this project. . The location of this project is a World Heritage Area with much of it remote and inaccessible. The areas Gondwana Rainforests include extensive areas of subtropical rainforest, large areas of warm temperate rainforest and Antarctic beech cool temperate rainforest. It’s a fantastic area to conduct research but cold and wet at the moment. NSW NP&WS are assisting with accommodation in their research huts and providing access to the none public areas which makes live much easier. This is a huge project that will result in a number of papers and all those involved have been incredibly helpful and supportive and I’d like to take this opportunity to recognise and thank them. Frederick Schram & Mary Belk – The Crustacean Society.  Nicolas Heard – Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.  Piers Thomas – National Parks and Wildlife Service.  Shaun Morris – Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority.  Thor Aaso – Port Macquarie-Hastings Council. For further information on this project go to:

Port Macquarie-Hastings Council Project 100062-2

C. cuspidatus

Cherax cuspidatus from the Port Macquarie region

Since March 2013 we have been biological surveying the coastal strip of the Port Macquarie-Hastings LGA. It’s been an interesting survey with a number of crayfish species being identified. Cherax cuspidatus is the predominant species with E. Dangadi, E. Spinifer and E. Reductus being found in the coastal mountain streams.

The project is entering the final stages with the final report in preparation and due for submission in October. This was a very important project that is fundamental to a number of further research projects. The Coastal strip of NSW has two endemic Genera of small freshwater crayfish (Gramastacus and Tenuibranchiurus). The ACP is researching both species and this Hastings-Port Macquarie project has added significantly to those two projects.

The ACP is also researching Cherax cuspidatus and the project area is the southern most distribution area for the species. The results have contributed significantly to our C. cuspidatus project and a paper is currently in preparation: Taxonomy, distribution and ecology of the cusped yabby Cherax cuspidatus (Riek 1969). Robert B McCormack, Peter J F Davie and Dean R Jerry.

Additionally, the information gathered from this project will contribute to the wider paper on the distribution of the eight Parastacidae species of the Hasting River Drainage.

Gosford City Council Ecological Research Grant 2013/14


Gramastacus sp.nov as new species of Gramastacus from coastal NSW

Australian Aquatic Biological was successful in winning another Gosford City Council Ecological Research grant. The project will concentrate on the biology, distribution and abundance of Gramastacus crayfish and invertebrates in the Avoca and Cockrone Lagoon freshwater ephemeral habitats, with the project starting at the end of August 2013.

Southern Clyde River Survey Project

Great Wall

Paul Van der Werf-Earthan Group (under the car) and David Crass – Southern Rivers CMA, repairing Robs Great Wall on another cold and wet day in Budawang National Park

Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority is major sponsoring this project which is approaching fruition. The information collected on the aquatic biodiversity from the high altitude feeder stream right down to the saltwater estuary is all included within the final project report. Additionally, the survey has resulted in a huge amount of data being collected on both Euastacus spinifer and Euastacus yanga. Information on their ecology, biology and distribution will be documented in a paper titled: McCormack RB and Crass D. New records and review of the distribution and ecology of freshwater crayfish (Crustacea, Decapoda, Parastacidae) of the southern catchment of the Clyde River, New South Wales, Australia. This paper is currently in preparation and we hope to have it published later this year.

Coffs Harbour City Council coastal Survey.

River swimming Crab Varuna litterata

River swimming Crab Varuna litterata

Tenuibranchiurus crayfish are rare and endangered crayfish in NSW. The species we have in NSW are a new unnamed species that we know very little about. We don’t have any biological or ecological information and little or no idea of where the species occur. To help fill these enormous knowledge gaps the ACP has been researching the whole northern NSW coastal strip. As part of the broader project the ACP has received an ecological research grant from Coffs Harbour City Council to biologically survey their coastal strip. Crustacean species are abundant in the area with an enormous biodiversity which makes the surveying very exciting. One of the stranger crustaceans we collected was a freshwater crab that was found with riffle shrimps Australayatya striolata and the small spiny crayfish Euastacus dangadi. I didn’t recognise the species as it’s not something ever captured before in NSW. I immediately went to Australia’s crab expert, Peter Davie of the Queensland Museum and he set me straight, it’s a River Swimming Crab Varuna litterata. Its a tropical species previously only ever recorded as far south as south east Queensland this is the first time it’s ever been recorded in NSW. An unexpected but most welcome surprise. (Seems the east coast current has delivered another new species to NSW).

The eastern swamp crayfish Gramastacus sp. nov. (Decapoda: Parastacidae) a new species of freshwater crayfish from coastal New South Wales, Australia is in press.

Photo of Gramastacus

Gramastacus sp. nov. from coastal NSW

The description of a new Gramastacus species from coastal NSW is currently in press. Hopefully in a short period this new species description will be published. Its an endangered species that occurs in the fastest developing coastal region of Australia (found from Gosford to Forster) and is seemingly critically endangered and heading towards extinction in some catchments. Once we get a name for the species future research will then be directed towards its conservation.


The Narrow Dwarf Crayfish Euastacus angustus

Photo Euastacus angustus

The Narrow Dwarf Crayfish Euastacus angustus

A new Euastacus species has been described from NSW. Jason Coughran and Kathryn Dawkins have described the new species from the Border Ranges National Park of north eastern, NSW. It is a dwarf species that is cryptic in nature and seemingly exceptionally rare.

Photo Euastacus angustus

The Narrow Dwarf Crayfish Euastacus angustus

The species is described from just one specimen collect in 2002 by Jason and he has never found another since. Then back in 2010 during routine biological surveys as part of the Australian Crayfish Project, Paul Van der Werf and myself found a solitary specimen and to the best of our knowledge these are the only two specimens in existence. At this time that makes this species the rarest Euastacus species in Australia.

The narrow dwarf crayfish Euastacus angustus

The narrow dwarf crayfish Euastacus angustus

It is very similar to other dwarf crayfish species found in the region except it has a laterally compressed carapace giving it the narrow or slender look and a small expodite on 3rd maxilliped. The specimen in the photos are of a male 11 gram in weight and 28.02 mm OCL, this represents the largest specimen on record. To date no females of this species are recorded.

The Sydney Crayfish Euastacus australasiensis


The Sydney Crayfish Euastacus australasiensis

The Sydney Crayfish Euastacus australasiensis (this old man crayfish is heavily covered in commensal worms)

Surveys in April 2013 of creeks in the Blue Mountains of NSW in partnership with Blue Mountains City Council have been very productive. Among other species we have been researching the Sydney Crayfish Euastacus australasiensis from the Leura area.

Euastacus australasiensis

Euastacus australasiensis

Euastacus australasiensis is a protected crayfish and it is illegal to have one in your possession. They are only for looking at and photographing rather than collecting and eating. Overfishing, illegal collection and translocation of invasive species are usually a result of lack of knowledge-people just have no idea they are doing anything wrong. Better education of general public is what’s needed and we will continue to strive towards better education.

Leura Falls Creek

Leura Falls Creek

We found them to be abundant in the local streams and our research increased the knowledge base on the species. Previously the largest specimen we the Australian Crayfish Project had on record was 130 gram and 60 mm OCL. That was just larger than that recorded by Morgan (1997) at OCL of 59.4 mm OCL.

From Leura Creek we recorded an Euastacus australasiensis of 143 gram and 64.75 mm OCL. That’s a new record for the Australian Crayfish Project for now, but we know from the size of the burrows we have seen that larger individuals must occur. The trouble is that these huge adults are 20 plus years old and some indications they may be over 50 years old. They have been just too smart to be captured by us (hopefully we will get smarter or luckier and catch a monster).