This year has been the worst on record for rakali (native Australian water rat) drownings and the second worst year for platypus drownings since 2010.

Wildlife Officer Abby Smith assessed platypus that has drowned in an opera house net. This is devastating news for two of Australia’s iconic species, and Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) Forest and Wildlife officers are bracing for the already high tally to rise with the coming Melbourne Cup long weekend.

DELWP Senior Wildlife Investigator, Mike Sverns said: “Illegal opera house nets are an issue for platypus and rakali all year round, but eight years of data show that discarded and 'ghost fishing' opera house nets are most often encountered post school holiday or public holiday breaks.

“Opera house nets trap and prevent air breathing animals, like platypus, from escaping. Platypus and rakali are vulnerable to these traps due to their underwater foraging behaviour.

“We hope to get this message out before the long weekend so that people make the choice to only use platypus-safe alternatives, such as the hoop or open top lift nets.”

It is illegal to use opera house nets in, on or near Victorian public waters. From 1 July 2019, these nets will be banned in all Victorian waterways.

“The Victorian Fisheries Authority is currently working with tackle stores to offer a free exchange program, where you can take your old opera house nets and exchange them for open top lift nets,” Mr Sverns said.

“We are urging all Victorians who own opera house nets to support this phase-out and take advantage of the exchange program.”

So far in 2018, 20 rakali and 9 platypus have drowned in opera house nets and other illegal nets. Some experts believe around 5% of drownings are reported or known about. This equates to an average of five platypus drownings per week in Victoria.

Under the Wildlife Act 1975 there are various penalties associated with taking or being in possession of protected wildlife or using prohibited equipment which is up to a maximum of $38,562 and/or 24 months imprisonment.

To report crimes against wildlife call Crime Stoppers confidentially on 1800 333 000 or online at  https://www.crimestoppersvic.com.au/report-a-crime/

A list of tackle stores participating in the opera house net exchange can be found at: https://vfa.vic.gov.au/recreational-fishing/changes-ahead-for-yabby-fishing-gear/yabby-net-swap-program