As part of the response program to the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle mortality event in February 2015, surveys and monitoring have continued with the most recent surveys being completed last week.
Bellingen Shire Council’s River & Biodiversity Projects Officer participated in the surveys which were coordinated by the Office of Environment & Heritage (OEH) in partnership with National Parks and Wildlife Service, Taronga Conservation Society, Western Sydney University, NSW Department of Primary Industries, North Coast Local Land Services, Wildlife Health Australia, RSPCA, local contractors and landholders.
Bellingen Shire Mayor, Cr Mark Troy said, “The results of the surveys are currently being compiled however in the interim I would like the community to know that survey participants were pleased to find some surviving Bellinger River Snapping Turtles in the Bellinger River although the number of adults found was extremely low”. More details will be provided after the results have been compiled.
Surveys were conducted for seven days in the Bellinger and Kalang Rivers and key tributaries using a combination of methods including snorkeling, kayaking and day and night trapping. Bellinger River Snapping Turtles (Myuchelys georgesi) and Murray River Turtles (Emydura macquarii) were captured and samples and measurements taken for diagnostic and monitoring purposes. In addition, microchipping and notching of some animals occurred for identification and security purposes. Samples were also taken from other aquatic organisms including fish, eels, invertebrates and other reptiles for diagnostic purposes related to the virus suspected to be responsible for the mortality event. All animals were released at the point of capture and all procedures were conducted in accordance with legislative requirements and industry best practice standards. Council and the survey coordination team would particularly like to thank the landholders in the Shire who allowed the team to access the river through their properties.
Residents and visitors using the river are reminded to continue to follow DPI guidelines to ‘Keep a clean routine’ to prevent the virus believed to have caused the turtle mortalities from spreading to unaffected areas or other river catchments. Guidelines include cleaning and drying swimming gear between visits and draining and washing equipment (boats, kayaks, trailers, vehicles, fishing gear etc.) with warm soapy water and drying thoroughly before re-use.
If you observe any turtles and in particular dead or sick turtles, or other species showing symptoms of the virus, please phone the OEH Environment Line on 131 555 to report it. Fact sheets are available on Council’s website or at the Administration Centre in Hyde Street Bellingen.
For those wanting to log any turtle sightings or nests, do so at TurtleSAT.org.au
And finally a great video from leading Associate Professor of Ecology at University of Western Sydney, Dr Ricky Spencer.