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Bramble Cay Melomys: A Tribute to A Little Brown Rat


Mary Robinson Centre Climate Conference 'What We Stand To Lose' art exhibition, Ballina, Ireland, 4th-7th July 2023

Endemic to the small, low-lying island of Bramble Cay in the Torres Strait near Papua New Guinea, the Bramble Cay melomys was a ratlike rodent that relied upon the leafy vegetation that once covered the island for food and shelter—97% of which is said to have been lost in the decade between 2004-2014, due to rising sea waters caused by climate change flooding the island.  Having not been seen in the wild since 2009, the species’ extinction was first declared by the IUCN in 2015 and formally acknowledged by the Australian government in 2019, and is notable as the first mammal species whose extinction was caused directly by human-induced climate change. 

In 2008, a recovery plan for the species was initiated, yet was never fully implemented.  Perhaps because the melomys was not a large, well-known nor particularly ‘charismatic’ creature, it has been suggested that its demise may not have been considered by responsible agencies to be of much importance until it was too late.  Yet if this is true, this raises an unsettling question for other species—including humans—who may be threatened by climate change; what creatures and habitats will be considered important enough to save, if not the melomys and its island home?  How many other little losses must be endured before such absences are considered unacceptable?

In this collection of pieces, I aim to highlight the melomys, its appearance and characteristics in life, and the significance of its plight; not only as a worrying symptom of greater problems to come, but as a little animal we will never know more about in living flesh again.  As spoken by Tim Beshara of advocacy group The Wilderness Society; ‘The Bramble Cay melomys was a little brown rat, but it was our little brown rat and it was our responsibility to make sure it persisted. And we failed.’


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