Scientists alarmed by discovery of diseased frogs in Royal National Park near contaminated coal mines

Scientists say they have observed signs that coal pollution in the Royal National Park could be harming the health of a population of native frogs.

The NSW Environmental Protection Authority is reviewing the license of the Metropolitan coal mine in Helensburgh, south of Sydney, after coal sludge leaked into nearby waterways last year that flow into the National Park. Real.

Scientists Shannon Kaiser and Chad Beranek have been studying the health of the local frog population as part of their work analyzing the impact of foreign chemicals introduced into freshwater ecosystems.

Mr Kaiser is currently completing his PhD at Macquarie University and said the pair observed green river frogs that appeared to be close to death near the site of the contamination.

“We’ve seen a frog that was on its back and couldn’t get back up,” Kaiser said.

“That’s a pretty strong indicator that the frog is near death and it’s actually used as an end point for a point where you would put the frog down because it’s obviously in pain and doesn’t have much time to live.

“It’s quite alarming what’s happening at sites along the Hacking River, but not anywhere else where coal sludge hasn’t been detected.”

Frogs vulnerable to pollution

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Sick frog near the polluted river

The surveys were carried out between September and December last year at Camp Gully Creek and Hacking River, one of the main rivers that run through the Royal National Park.

Kaiser said it was difficult to conclusively link the frogs’ poor health to coal pollution, however the animals were particularly vulnerable to disturbances to their habitat.

“Frogs are particularly sensitive to environmental change because of the way their skin works; any chemical that gets into the water can go right into the frog and do some pretty nasty damage,” he said.

“If this carbon sludge does that, I can’t say for sure, but it could be reducing your immune response because we have a disease that is killing frogs around the world called chytrid.

“If that disease is in the area and the coal sludge has arrived, that could have lowered the frog’s immune system and could mean they may be dying from that disease in response.”

A hand covered in thick black mud.
Dark black mud covers part of Camp Gully Creek, which flows into the Royal National Park.(Supplied: James McCormack/Wild Magazine)

The cleanup of the polluted waterways is still ongoing.

The EPA said that work had now moved from Camp Gully Creek downstream towards Hacking River.

“EPA has been collecting water samples downstream of the discharge site since mid-2022,” an EPA spokesperson said.

“These are being tested for a variety of substances to understand the environmental impact and to inform research.

“The results indicate that there is no risk to human health.

frog back in the water
This frog was observed in November unable to make a righting response, a sign that it was near death.(Supplied: Shannon Kaiser)

“EPA has not observed or received reports from the community of any impacts on local wildlife, including frogs.

“We encourage anyone with information to report it to our Environment Hotline on 131 555 so we can investigate.”

Peabody Energy, the company that owns the Metropolitan coal mine, was contacted for comment.

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