Coastal Fontainea comeback Dianne Brown of SoS and John Nagle of LLS plant a Coastal Fontainea back in 2010 which is now 5m tall.
Coastal Fontainea comeback Dianne Brown of SoS and John Nagle of LLS plant a Coastal Fontainea back in 2010 which is now 5m tall.

Endangered species saved from the brink of extinction

TEN plants - a decade ago, that's the total number of plants left in the wild of an endangered plant species, and they were all in Lennox Head.

Those 10 plants however, were all a determined community needed to bring the Coastal Fontainea back from the brink of extinction.

Coastal Fontainea and beetle.
Coastal Fontainea and beetle.

Discovered in 1982, a plan was launched in 2010 to save the endangered species, roping in scientists, the council, land care groups, local schools and the public to help it succeed.

This week, scientists have declared the plan a success, with the number of plants increasing to 1500 in a decade.

Saving our Species (SoS) Senior Threatened Species Project Officer Dianne Brown said thanks to clear-thinking scientists, NSW Government funding and the community, Coastal Fontainea now has a far better chance of surviving.

"In 2010 we had just 10 adult trees left - only one of which was female - and genetic testing on the seedlings showed inbreeding. Safeguarding Coastal Fontainea's future was critical," she said.

The NSW Government's SoS program sought scientific advice from the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney on establishing viable populations - as a result, cuttings were taken from the 10 remaining trees and planted in small clumps across private and public land.

"Today, we have 1564 Coastal Fontainea plants, some of which have grown to 5m tall. Many are now flowering, fruiting and producing seedlings with a broader genetic pool. We are thrilled with the results," Ms Brown said.

The Garden's Senior Principal Research Scientist, Dr Maurizio Rossetto said it was yet another positive case study demonstrating successful ecological restoration work backed by science.

"It's an exciting outcome as we've taken a threatened species with a decreasing gene pool, and used simple genetic information to effectively turn the situation around and secure this species' future," Dr Rossetto said.

NSW Government funding has amounted to more than $100,000 over 13 years, with the project led by SoS since 2015. Founding organisations were North Coast Local Land Services and the Environmental Trust, and key project partners the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, Bushland Restoration Services, Landmark Ecological Services, Firewheel Rainforest Nursery, and local landholders.

Coastal Fontainea fruit – tree 401 translocation site October 2015.
Coastal Fontainea fruit – tree 401 translocation site October 2015.

Coastal Fontainea is a small evergreen tree which grows to around 8-10m in height and is only found on volcanic soils in the littoral rainforest near Lennox Head. It has shiny dark-green leaves and small white flowers.

Find out more about threatened species at www.environment.nsw.gov.au/SOS.