The Murray River will soon be home to floating islands and designer beaches. But rather than attracting sunbathers and holidaymakers, these slices of peace aim to attract mother turtles.
For years the freshwater turtle populations along the Murray River have been in decline.
In Albury-Wodonga, the amphibians have fared better than their South Australian counterparts but research show their population is ageing and eggs holding the next generation are all too often eaten by foxes.
On average turtles lay twenty eggs per nest and along the Murray there's an average of 100 nests made each year, but very few of these eggs survive to become juvenile turtles.
Without an influx of new blood, the species will age and die out.
Enter the Turtle Guy - more formally known as LaTrobe University senior lecturer of Biomedical Science and researcher James Van Dyke.
For a decade Dr Van Dyke has been travelling up and down the Murray River researching turtles, even going door-to-door to ask about local populations. A task that earned him his Turtle Guy moniker.
Dr Van Dyke grew up far away from the Murray in the United States, but he's always been close to turtles.
"I grew up in that States catching turtles in the farm pond and was always interested," he said.
"I did my PhD in the States and started researching reproductive biology broadly.
"I moved Australia and one of the jobs I got to do was a population survey across the Murray River system."
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What his early research found was not good. The turtle populations were in "pretty bad shape".
Of the three species in the Border region - the Broadshell Turtle, the Murray River Short-Necked Turtle and the Common Long-Necked Turtle - all are in decline, one classed as endangered and another vulnerable.
"What we found in this region in the upper half of the Murray from Mildura up to Albury, is there are a fair number turtles - not as many as there should be - but almost all of them are old adults, very rarely did we find hatchlings and juveniles," Dr Van Dyke said.
"Once the old adults die, there'll be no juveniles to replace them."
Traditionally fox control measures like baiting have been unsuccessful so far, as just one fox can damage up to 50 eggs and nests a night.
So the Turtle Guy and fellow conservationists came up with a novel alternative idea to outfox the foxes by creating man-made islands and designer beaches where turtles can nest away from predators.
"Foxes can swim but if you build floating island it turns out turtles will nest on it, and it gives them a buffer," Dr Van Dyke said.
"We're also creating designer beaches, finding areas and putting sand on them to make it look like the perfect nesting beach and then enclosing the area with fences to stop foxes getting into the nests."
Built with PVC piping, soil and sand, the floating islands are buoyant enough you could drive a 4WD across their 100sqm surface and contain plants whose roots have the added benefit of cleaning the river water.
Dr Van Dyke and his team were recently awarded a $600,000 Australian Research Council grant to bring the important project to life in the hopes of securing the future of the Murray River turtle population.
"Turtles are really important scavengers in fresh water ecosystem," Dr Van Dyke said.
"They will eat dead fish and not affected black water events (which cause fish kills) as they breathe air.
"If we have fish kills and turtles are abundant, they'll be a major clean up crew for those events by eating all dead fish, getting rid carcasses which can help prevent spread bacteria.
"They're like river janitors."
During his door-to-door travels, Dr Van Dyke discovered one thing everyone seemingly had in common - "everyone loves turtles".
Border residents and community group Albury-Wodonga Turtles play an essential role in conservation.
Through TurtleSAT, residents are able to take photos of turtles and nests and feed the information back to researchers. The data helps inform where conservationists should target their protection and research.
This latest project is a collaboration between La Trobe University and North East Water, Winton Wetlands Committee of Management, Wodonga City Council, Tiverton Rothwell Impact Company and Greening Australia.
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