During the month of September, the Australian Conservation Foundation want you to join in the platy-project, a citizen science campaign to get the community documenting platypus sightings.

Quietly waiting by the river, the tension builds with every stick that floats past, every bubble and splash, any movement in the water. With a spark of excitement, that ‘driftwood’ dives below the surface. It’s a platypus!

This subconscious game of platypus spotting that we often play at our local waterways now has a role in protecting our unique, native species.

This September, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) is launching the ‘platy-project’ month of action, a citizen science initiative to encourage the average adventurer, like you and I, to head out to our local waterways and record our wild platypus sightings. This data will be used to expand their interactive map of platypus locations, to help protect the species’ precious habitats and prevent further decline in numbers.

You can sign up now and you’ll be sent a bunch of helpful resources to help you make a successful sighting!


The Platypus & I

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a platypus in the wild. At the age of eight, on a family camping trip in rural Victoria, we picked up some old truck tire tubes from the rubbish tip and floated down the Nyaggeron (Archeron River). The five of us kids laughed and splashed as we jumped from one tire to the other, while our parents enjoyed the moment of peaceful play without arguments. 

Suddenly, my Dad’s gruff voice turned the giggles into silence, ‘Stop moving! There’s something in the water ahead’. Immediately we all froze in our rubber tubes, our childish minds racing to our worst fears; a snake, a crocodile, a shark? As we floated closer and closer to where he’d seen the movement, my Dad gave a little chuckle, ‘It’s a platypus! Keep quiet and it might come back to play’.

The curious platypus, now joined by a friend, swam beneath us, darting around in the clear, still water.

We floated soundlessly until all trace of these strange creatures was gone. Someone broke the silence, yelling, ‘That was incredible!’, a buzz of excitement exploded among us.

It wasn’t until I moved to Ngarigo Country (Snowy Monaro), that seeing a platypus in the wild became somewhat of a regular occurrence. Sitting by the Bombala River on a work lunch break, kayaking down the lower Durrock (Snowy River), bike riding by the Thredbo River. No matter how many times I see a platypus, it still stirs that same level of excitement I felt that very first time.

The platy-project: How you can get involved

The platypus has a very large distribution across eastern Australia, from the tropics of northern Queensland to temperate Tasmania. So you can only imagine how big of a job it is to search every waterway, up and down the eastern seaboard, for these elusive creatures.

That’s why ACF and researchers at UNSW are asking you, the community, to head out to your local waterways during the month of September and try and spot a platypus. Each time you head out to a river, creek, dam, or stream keep an eye out for platypuses, submit your sightings, and fill in the gaps on the platy map and support this unique species. 

Even if you don’t spot a platypus, this information is still super useful so researchers know where they haven’t been seen. 



Where And When to Find Platypus

Platypus can, potentially, be found in almost any waterway. This may be a dam on your uncle’s farm, suburban streams around the corner from your home, or running rivers in the wild. To find a waterway near you, check out the colour-coded interactive map and plan a trip to a strategic location. 

If possible, choose an area in which a platypus has never been sighted or hasn’t been seen since 2000, to help researchers determine if they’re still inhabiting those waterways. 

During the warmer months, the best time to spot a platypus is at dusk and dawn, coinciding with the most beautiful time of the day. In the cooler months during winter and early spring, platypuses are more active in the daytime as they forage frequently to consume more food. 

When searching for the perfect platy spot, look for sections of creeks and rivers with bush or shrubs along the banks, healthy flowing water, and pools where they’d search for food around logs and rocks. Be mindful of your surroundings, ensuring the safety of you and the platypus is top priority! Take care not to disturb the environment around you and certainly leave no trace. With a phone at the ready to take notes and catch a couple of snaps, lay out a picnic rug, settle in, stay quiet, and enjoy this tranquil moment.


Platypus Spotting – What to Look For

The story goes that when British scientists first received a platypus specimen in the late 18th century, they thought it was a practical joke from their colleagues in Australia. With the beak of a duck, the tail of a beaver, yet the body of an otter, not to mention the laying of eggs, these animals were puzzling to many.

Whilst we may recognise these wacky creatures as platypus these days, they’re still very hard to spot from a distance. Some tell-tale signs of a wild platypus include ripples in the water, either a well-formed ‘bulls-eye’ from where it’s recently surfaced or a narrow v-shape wake as it glides across the still water.



How to Record Your Platypus Sighting

The best piece of data to collect is a photo. This allows researchers to identify the platypus, distinguish it from a rakali (native water-rat), and provide information about the water condition and the environment. This also allows your phone to record the location (if your location setting is turned on in the camera app). Alternatively, jot down a couple of notes, such as the platypus’ movements, habitat, and location. 

When returning to reality and phone service, head to the platy-project website then select ‘record a sighting’ to upload your photo and record any notes you’ve written down. Finally, to help spread the word about this initiative, share your adventure on social media using the hashtag #platyproject

You can record as many sightings (or non-sightings) as you’d like during the month of September. Grab a mate, head to the bush, and make a day of it!


Mapping The Platy: How Experts are Tracking the Species With Your Help

The platy-project map has been designed to target the biggest gaps in known platypus location. By searching in waterways where platypuses haven’t recently been sighted, you can help provide information on platypus declines in population, or determine if local extinctions have occurred. This data can then be used by platypus researchers to develop and apply appropriate conservation strategies, such as managing vegetation and cleaning up habitats. 

Whether you’re riding a bike, kayaking, hiking or even ski touring near a creek or river, stop for a moment, sit quietly, and you might just be lucky enough to spot a platypus in the wild. Don’t forget to record your sighting and help protect this iconic native Australian species!


Photos thanks to @grumpyturtlefilms and @katealiice