Biologist Dr Chris Fulton and Masters student Mae Noble sat around the campfire as the sun rose, looking at their frozen wetsuits.
Soon they would have to struggle into them ready for a day of snorkelling in freezing high country streams, looking for glimpses of the Murray Crayfish, the world’s second largest.
It had been a long hike the day before up into the high country west of Canberra, laden with underwater cameras and snorkelling gear. It had a confronting end as they reached their destination, the Goobarragandra River.
Dr Fulton had described to the American student the shady trees hanging over the idyllic stream of clear water gurgling over boulders he visited six years earlier.
But when they arrived, the trees had gone and only a muddy creek remained.
“It was hard to believe it was the same stream, it was pretty brutal,” says Fulton, GradCertHE ’09, a biologist from the ANU Research School of Biology.
Huge floods in 2012 had devastated the Goobarragandra, eroding the banks and choking it with silt.
As the pair began searching for the iconic crayfish with its distinctive white claws, their fears were confirmed. The population had plunged by 95 per cent.