Central Otago farmers have set up a sanctuary to protect endangered freshwater native fish that don’t migrate.

The Central Otago roundhead galaxias are only found in the Taieri catchment and a few streams in the Manuherekia catchment.

Two farmers – Phil Smith of Glenspec and Hamish MacKenzie of Kyeburn Station – have fenced off a stretch of Spec Creek near Naseby, creating a cattle exclusion zone to protect them, as well as a carpark, walking track and information signs, with help from Tiaki Maniototo.

It included controlling willows and removing trout periodically.

Smith said he believed education was important.

“If we can educate people about how endangered the species is, we can then start doing something about it.”

Tiaki Maniototo communications officer Bill Morris agreed, saying the sanctuary would help more than the galaxias.

“It helps the whole community to become more aware and get more involved and to understand the issues that affect their freshwater catchment, and so that aspect of it I think is huge.

“You can’t protect any kind of native animal if you don’t even know it exists, and that sadly is the case for a lot of these little galaxiids.

“Phil himself says that when he was a kid that they just used to call them minnows and didn’t think much of them.”

The galaxias was threatened by habitat change and destruction, including the removal of streamside plants and introduced trout that compete and prey upon them.

“Otago has got more of these species than anywhere else in New Zealand and that’s really to do with the geology of Otago,” Morris said.

“As the mountains rose and as rivers were split in two by rising mountains, these galaxiid species were often separated into two populations, and over time grew into different species.”

It meant these groups developed their own unique characteristics.

“The really amazing thing about them is that scientists can look at these little fish and they can study the genetics of them and compare it with the geology.”