The ‘Turtles Forever’ project, now in its third year of the ten-year project, is providing protection for the endangered Bell’s Turtle which is only found in the Namoi, Deepwater, Gwydir and Severn River systems.
Martin Dillon, Northern Tablelands Local Land Services Turtles Forever Project Officer, is delighted that the project has delivered a number of significant outcomes that will enhance the turtles’ survival.
“The project involves a number of initiatives including the implementation of field surveys of turtles through a mark-recapture program; deployment of a detection dog to find and protect wild turtle nests; commencement of three postgraduate research students and their collection of valuable field and laboratory data,” said Martin.
Further initiatives include egg induction and rearing of hatchlings for release into the wild and we are working with private landholders to protect Bell’s Turtle habitat along waterways on their farms.
“We are grateful to the landholders who are participating in the program for their ongoing support and we are seeking additional landholders who are also interested in fencing off and installing alternate water infrastructure. Interested landholders should definitely get in touch,” said Martin.
Annual turtle monitoring at a total of 29 sites across four main catchments inhabited by Bell’s Turtle was undertaken by three leading experts. Together they recorded measurements and details of a total of 432 Bell’s Turtles, including multiple recaptures. Two recaptured male Bell’s Turtles had each travelled over 40 km from their original point of capture.
Detection dog ‘Bunya’ has been deployed at 22 sites and found 104 turtle nests. This included three live Bell’s Turtle nests which were protected with mesh to exclude predators, and subsequently hatched to allow 52 hatchlings to emerge and enter the water.
Postgraduate student Louise Streeting from the University of New England, protected a further six nests from fox attack. Those six nests then produced 122 hatchlings. Louise also head-started 135 hatchling turtles in a captive rearing program.
“We are optimistic that this type of management, including fox control, will prove to be effective in ensuring the turtles’ survival,” said Martin.
Northern Tablelands Local Land Services currently has a range of projects that protect the Bell’s Turtle and its habitat.
“We encourage all landholders to take the opportunity to be involved in fox management groups and aerial baiting programs that will potentially help reduce threats to Bell’s Turtles,” said Martin.