The Bellinger River snapping turtle is known to occur naturally only along a 60km stretch of the river after which it is named
Back in 2015, the NSW Government’s Coffs Harbour Office began receiving frantic calls from people living along the river reporting that turtles were turning up dead and dying. Many had lesions on their bodies, inflamed eyes and other unpleasant symptoms. As more and more began appearing, it became clear the reptiles were being struck down by a highly contagious disease. Scientists responded rapidly to relocate any unaffected turtles they could find. These animals were placed into quarantine under the joint management of NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Department of Primary Industries, Western Sydney University and Taronga Zoo. Within about two months an estimated 90 per cent of the wild population was dead.
Scientists working with the community have since identified the need for regular water testing to monitor the health of the Bellinger River and support conservation actions for the turtle, which has become a much-loved icon for the Bellingen community on the NSW north coast.
The project adopts a holistic approach and is ensuring the turtle can live safely again in the Bellinger River. This involves ongoing water quality testing and working with the community to educate them on the hygiene protocols they should follow when in and around the river. Funding for this project will provide staff, contractors, and project overheads to monitor and collect data. It will also support community education initiatives and run volunteer training, riparian vegetation and monitoring, landholder workshops and environmental youth congresses.
OzGREEN (Project co-lead), Saving our Species and a number of other community organisations.
Volunteer – get in touch http://www.ozgreen.org/br
Dr Ricky Spencer