Murray River Turtles Are Fighting Back From The Brink Of Extinction
Despite severe declining numbers, one of Australia's favourite animals, the Murray River Turtles, are fighting back from the brink of extinction. Murray River Turtles have declined by 90% in the last 40 years and in some areas of Australia, are extinct. The turtles are declining at an alarming rate and unless action is taken the entire population could be wiped out. The Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife (FNPW) is currently working with Western Sydney University's Dr Ricky Spencer and his team to implement a solution that will help save this unique national species.
The Murray River Turtle's population decline is due to a number of contributing factors such as car accidents and loss of food sources. However, the biggest threat to this species are predators which mainly consist of foxes. In many areas the foxes are destroying between 90% -100% of the turtle eggs each year. What this means is, essentially, there are no new generations of turtles to continue the population. Despite previous attempts to eradicate foxes in those areas, the problem continues as any remaining foxes can do most of the damage.
According to Dr Ricky Spencer, "The problem is spreading up the Murray river and it is only getting worse. Every few years we survey 50-100 sites throughout the Murray river to check on the turtle population and track the numbers. We have worked out that some areas are not finding any turtles in an area where they should be or have been previously. In South Australia, we are seeing locally extinct populations and we are starting to see it further up the river into NSW and VIC. Something needs to be done now. Unfortunately, in Australia we usually have to wait for animals to become endangered before any action is taken and by then it is too late."
The Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife (FNPW) has been working with Dr Ricky Spencer over the past four years on the Murray River Turtles Project. Together they have been working to identify the scale of the problem and the steps that need to be taken to reduce it. The dedicated team hopes to raise enough funds to implement a variety of projects to increase the population of the species. These include:
Artificial islands – these islands (created by modular water purifying floating devices) will create a protected habitat for nesting turtles, safe from predators such as foxes. These islands can be used to protect other species also.
Breeding grounds - utilising areas like key wetlands that can become refuges and nurseries for the turtles and aid in repopulating the species in the wild
Schools - creating school programs to help breed turtles
Fox management techniques – various techniques will be implemented to deal with the fox issue. These techniques include fences, fox boxes and traps.
"The Murray River Turtles are an iconic Australian animal and we are working to get these projects off the ground. We need to solve the issue before they really become endangered. Once we receive the funding the projects will be implemented straight away and we should see a result once nesting begins in November. We are looking to release thousands of extra baby turtles into these populations, once the fox population has been removed, and hopefully not only see the emerging baby population survive but thrive," says Ian Darbyshire, CEO of FNPW.
The community can support the Murray River Turtles projects by donating at www.fnpw.org.au.
Photo: Jeremy Pike