Who wouldn’t want to help out this cutie? Photo: Shane Ruming
Who wouldn’t want to help out this cutie? Photo: Shane Ruming

Citizen scientists helping turtles back from the brink

EVERY month in rain, hail or shine a group of citizen scientists make their way to 29 spots along the Bellinger River to give it a health check.

More than 30 volunteers are involved in the water quality monitoring program run by Bellingen Riverwatch, established in response to a mass-mortality event which devastated the population of Bellinger River snapping turtles in 2017.

It is estimated more than 90 per cent of the snapping turtle population perished and with less than 200 left in the wild, the species is listed as critically endangered.

This week, during National Water Week, Bellingen Riverwatch co-ordinator Amy Denshire is asking for help.

“We are launching a crowd-funding campaign for the small items that make a big difference to our program,” she said.

“Turtle recovery takes time, so we are looking long-term for Bellingen Riverwatch and are calling for sponsors to support our program into the future.”

Bellingen Riverwatch has been monitoring water quality in the Bellinger River since a mass mortality event wiped out much of the Bellinger River snapping turtle population. Photo: Shane Ruming
Bellingen Riverwatch has been monitoring water quality in the Bellinger River since a mass mortality event wiped out much of the Bellinger River snapping turtle population. Photo: Shane Ruming

The water monitoring program could play a key role in the species survival and Ms Denshire says it is up to “all of us to take care of our rivers”.

“Healthy rivers are our collective responsibility and we all have an important role to play.”

Collecting water quality data enables scientists to better understand the conditions which precede a mass die-off if it was to occur again, information which was non-existent in 2017.

Ms Denshire said the data can aid in release of snapping turtles from captive breeding programs.

NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment now coordinates a multifaceted conservation project for the turtle under the Saving our Species program funded by the NSW Government.

As part of this program, DPIE is working with Symbio Wildlife Park and Taronga Zoo

on captive breeding programs with two successful releases of captive bred turtles.

The turtles continue to be monitored via radio tracking.

“This turtle is one of the 25 most endangered turtles in the world” DPIE’s Gerry McGilvray said.

Bellingen Riverwatch has been monitoring water quality in the Bellinger River since a mass mortality event wiped out much of the Bellinger River snapping turtle population. Photo: Shane Ruming
Bellingen Riverwatch has been monitoring water quality in the Bellinger River since a mass mortality event wiped out much of the Bellinger River snapping turtle population. Photo: Shane Ruming

The data collected by Bellingen Riverwatch volunteers is shared with recovery team partners, and is available online at www.ozgreen.org

OzGreen thanked a number of local organisations including Vendart Diagnostics, the Foundational for Regional Renewal, ANZ, and Bellingen Shire Council for their support this year.

To inquire about sponsorship, email riverwatch@ozgreen.org.au, or to donate, visit https://chuffed.org/project/water-is-everything



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