Carpageddon is coming!
The Australian government plans to use a herpes virus to eradicate the country’s most devastating invasive species—common carp.
Dubbed “Carpageddon” by the government, the National Carp Control Plan will cost A$15 million to spread the virus through carp-ridden waterways.
Carp have been obliterating native fish populations since they were first introduced into Australia in 1859. They also have negative impacts on water quality.
“The common carp is a nasty pest in our waterways and makes up 80 per cent of fish biomass in the Murray Darling Basin,” Christopher Pyne, Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, said in a press release.
Following years of testing conducted by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, scientists determined that a strain of herpes—Cyprinid herpesvirus (CyHV-3 or carp herpesvirus)—specifically targets carp. Other species of fish and other animals exposed to the virus, including humans, will not be affected.
The government recently announced their intention to release the virus into the Murray-Darling river system by the end of 2018.
The herpes virus kills carp by attacking their kidneys, skin, and gills. Infected carp can transmit the virus simply by bumping into other carp, allowing it to spread rapidly under crowded conditions.
It is expected that by 2045, 95 percent of the carp in the Murray-Darlington river system will be eradicated by the virus. In the process, millions of dead fish will fill the water, so part of the government’s plan includes a clean-up program.
However, as with any virus, resistance could eventually build up. “Within a few years, it’s possible that the carp will develop their own protections against the herpes virus. And therefore we need the project to continue,” said Pyne at a press conference.
Another virus called myxomatosis was released in Australia in 1950 in attempt to control invasive rabbit populations. It was highly effective at the time, but resistance in the remaining rabbits slowly increased, and now the disease only kills about 50 percent of infected rabbits.
The National Carp Control Plan will be the first ever attempt to use a herpes virus to control an invasive species.
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