Response team forms to find what's killing Bellinger turtles

Dolphin Marine Magic senior curator Greg Pickering works on saving one of the sick turtles.
Dolphin Marine Magic senior curator Greg Pickering works on saving one of the sick turtles. Gemima Harvey

A RESPONSE team has been established by the NSW Government to determine the cause of turtle deaths in the Bellinger River.

Only Bellinger River Snapping Turtles are affected, with almost 300 severely affected or dead turtles found to date with severe internal symptoms including major organ damage.

External symptoms include blindness, leading to the inability to feed and subsequent starvation of the animals.

As a precautionary measure to limit disease spread from the lower Bellinger River, the upper catchment area in New England National Park including Brinerville has been closed to the public until further notice.

Pathologists from the nation's leading animal health laboratories are continuing to work on analysis of this disease outbreak and have coopted specialist support from interstate and overseas.

Dead and dying turtles have been removed from the river to reduce the chance of other animals moving infected turtles to other catchments and potentially spreading the pathogens.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) took samples from the Bellinger River at four key locations when the situation was first reported.

Analysis identified no pesticides were detected at any of the four sample sites.

The disease does not affect humans.

To help prevent potential spread of the disease, people are advised report sick turtle sightings but not to enter the water, handle the turtles or try to capture any turtles in the Bellinger River.

People swimming in the river are asked to swim only in one location to avoid affecting other areas.

If people are using canoes or other water craft or equipment it is recommended that they are washed down with warm soapy water and thoroughly dried for 24-48 hours before reuse.

The public is asked to telephone 131 555 to report any sightings of sick or dead turtles.

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