Hatching a plan to save the Murray’s turtles

Border residents gathered at the Wonga Wetlands last night to hear how they can help save the area’s endangered inhabitants. 

CSU ecology lecturer James Van Dyke told residents all three native species, the broad-shell turtle, the Murray River short-neck turtle and the Eastern long-neck turtle, were falling victim to foxes, road accidents and other challenges.

He said foxes wiped out more than 95 per cent of nests each year, meaning very few eggs survived to produce hatchlings. 

Dr Van Dyke said similar findings were seen in South Australia in the 1980s, where researchers found turtle populations were sizable but consisted of very few juvenile turtles. 

He said subsequent studies had shown South Australian turtle populations decreasing.

“There’s just not enough turtles getting into the water to replace the older ones when they die off,” Dr Van Dyke said.

“Even though in the Upper Murray we see relatively large numbers of turtles, they’re all older adults.

“South Australia might show where we are headed… if fox predation continues we are headed for a similar crash, so we’re trying to figure out what to do about that.”

Dr Van Dyke said fox baiting and shooting had been examined with various results, but were either cost prohibitive or there was little evidence more nests were surviving. 

He said because each female turtle could lay about 20 eggs a year, they could produce around 1000 eggs over their lifespan. 

“If we had a good year every 10 years, that would be enough to support the population and bring enough babies into the population,” Dr Van Dyke said. 

Dr Van Dyke and Western Sydney University associate professor Ricky Spencer said one method of nest protection they were considering, was simply taking the nests away from foxes. 

Dr Van Dyke said a headstart or stocking program, similar to stocking programs used with many fish species, would allow people to ensure eggs are protected and juveniles are released. 

He said one source population of stocking turtles could be used to help restock various areas along the river.

Dr Van Dyke said the idea was in development with funding, permits and animal ethics processes still to be undertaken.

But in the meantime, he said, residents could help create data to inform the program by using the TurtleSAT app to log turtles or nests.

“Recording what you’ve seen whether nests, alive or dead turtles helps us understand where turtles survive and where nests are destroyed,” he said.

“We can then apply that data to find hot spots throughout the landscape of where may need intervention.”

Border residents gathered at the Wonga Wetlands on Friday to hear how they can help save the areas endangered inhabitants. 

CSU ecology lecturer James Van Dyke told residents all three native species, the broad-shell turtle, the Murray River short-neck turtle and the Eastern long-neck turtle, were falling victim to foxes, road accidents and other challenges.

He said foxes wipe out more than 95 per cent of nests each year, meaning very few eggs survived to produce hatchlings. 

Dr Van Dyke said similar findings were seen in South Australia in the 80s, where researchers found turtle populations were sizable but consisted of very few juvenile turtles. 

He said subsequent studies have shown South Australian turtle populations decreasing.

“There’s just not enough turtles getting into the water to replace the older ones when the die off,” Dr Van Dyke said.

“Even though in the Upper Murray we see relatively large numbers of turtles, they’re all older adults.

“South Australia might show where we are headed… if fox predation continues we are headed for a similar crash, so we’re trying to figure out what to do about that.”

Dr Van Dyke said fox baiting and shooting had been examined with various results, but either were cost prohibitive or there was little evidence more nests were surviving. 

He said because each female turtle can lay about 20 eggs a year, they could produce around 1000 eggs over their lifespan. 

“If we had a good year every 10 years, that would be enough to support the population and bring enough babies into the population,” Dr Van Dyke said. 

Dr Van Dyke and Western Sydney University associate professor Ricky Spencer said one method of nest protection they were considering, was simply taking the nests away from foxes. 

Dr Van Dyke said a headstart or stocking program, similar to stocking programs used with many fish species, would allow people to ensure eggs are protected and juveniles are released. 

He said one source population of stocking turtles could be used to help restock various areas along the river.

Dr Van Dyke said the idea was in development with funding, permits and animal ethics processes still to be undertaken.

But in the meantime, he said, residents can help create data to inform the program by using the TurtleSAT app to log turtles or nests.

“Recording what you’ve seen whether nests, alive or dead turtles helps us understand where turtles survive and where nests are destroyed,” he said.

“We can then apply that data to find hot spots throughout the landscape of where may need intervention.”