River landholders hold an important role in maintaining river health and supporting the recovery of the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle.
1. Restore river banks
Improving the condition of the riparian vegetation and stabilising riverbanks is important for maintaining water quality and habitat for aquatic animals in the Bellinger and Kalang rivers. Without action to protect and restore these important areas, it is likely we will see a gradual decline in the health of our waterways through reduced water quality, the loss of riparian vegetation for birds and wildlife, and the smothering of macroinvertebrates, native fish and seagrass habitats with sediments washed into the river from eroding riverbanks.
Native vegetation plays a vital role in river bank restoration. Whilst erosion and deposition of sediment are natural river processes, the accelerated rates of erosion seen today are the result of removal of native vegetation over time through land clearing, over-grazing and other development pressures. This in turn leads to the loss of productive land and valuable habitat and impact on water quality and aquatic habitats downstream. The affects of accelerated erosion are especially significant during floods.
Disturbance or destruction of river bank vegetation and weed invasion has also severely limited the ability of river banks to repair themselves through natural regeneration of vegetation between flood events.
In their current state, river banks need active assistance and management to maintain and improve their stability and resistance to erosion. Planting river banks with native species which are adapted to the pressures of this dynamic environment is a valuable way to ensure our river estuaries remain healthy.
The vegetation naturally occuring on estuarine river banks changes as the river water becomes less salty upstream. The Bellinger and Kalang estuaries have four vegetation zones characterised by particular groupings of plant species and their preferred location on the river bank. See the following for more info:
Download Bellinger River Estuary Revegetation Guide leaflet (link coming soon)
Download Ecohealth: An aquatic ecosystem health check for the Bellinger and Kalang Rivers (link coming soon)
Download Growing Lomandra from Seed, Bellinger Landcare (link coming soon)
2. Best Practice Stock Management
Best practice for stock management should address the following aspects: Fencing, off-river Stock watering points, Formed access points. Stock management is vital for riparian health to reduce:
- Damage to riparian vegetation from grazing and trampling, leaving banks exposed.
- Compaction of soil by hard hooves, subsequent erosion and degradation of the river structure.
- Pollution resulting from sediment washing into the water course from erosion sites.
- Stirring of sediment and damage to aquatic habitats caused by cattle loitering in streams.
- Pollution resulting from cattle defecation.
- Weed growth, through high nutrient loads from dung.
- Stock exposure to water borne parasites, disease and footrot.
Download “Bellinger River System Landholder Booklet: Best Practice for a Healthy River” (link coming soon)
Request a copy of the booklet from Bellingen Shire Council on firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Best Practice Fox Management
Turtle nest predation by foxes are a major threat to the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle. Wild dogs kill and maul stock, threaten populations of native animals, have a social impact on farming and rural families, and are a reservoir for disease spread.
Some misconceptions around baiting are that 1080 doesn’t work and that it kills wildlife, particularly quolls. In a 2007 baiting trial of 19 spotted-tail quoll, it was found that most, if not all quolls survived.
It is important that landholders make use of all legal control methods. These include:
Group baiting gives best control options. It is important to target optimum times of the year, be proactive, strategic, and targeted.
Trapping is a great method for follow up after coordinated baiting programs or for targeting specific dogs. There are legal requirements involved.
A recent letter to the Bellingen Shire Courier Sun by a farmer in Kalang called for more landholders in the Kalang Valley to join in our winter baiting program in 2019. To join, landholders have to do a free four-hour course with the Ag Dept to obtain a licence to bait. To enquire about the times and locations of baiting courses, contact Mick Elliott of the Grafton Ag Dept on 0408 352 174.
- “Declared Pests Wild Dogs and Foxes” presentation by Mick Elliot, North Coast Local Land Services.
- “Wild dog baiting program in Kalang” - letter to Bellingen Shire Courier Sun by Philip Robertson Smith, Oct 11 2018
4. Best Practice OSMS Management
On-site Sewage Management Systems (OSMS) are the treatment systems that collect wastewater from the home for the treatment and discharge into a septic system located within the property of unsewered areas of the shire. By maintaining best practice OSMS management, river landholders can contribute significantly to keeping our rivers healthy. For more info see:
5. Report turtle sightings
Please report turtle sightings using Turtle SAT, and report nesting sights, and sick or dead turtles at the contacts below. Learn more about how to identify a Bellingen River Snapping Turtle here. See also www.environment.nsw.gov.au/threatenedSpeciesApp.
To report nesting sites, contact (02) 6659 8200 or Bellinger.email@example.com
To report sick or dead turtles, phone 131 555
13 December 2018
Image/Video: Lisa Foote
13 December 2018
Image/Video: Lisa Foote
Taronga Zoo Sydney, 12 March 2017
Image/Video: Taronga Zoo Sydney
Western Sydney University, 29 September 2016
Image/Video: Western Sydney University
OzGREEN, 7 July 2016
Ricky Spencer, 15 March 2016
Image/Video: Ricky Spencer
Help support OzGREEN's work towards the recovery of the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle and spreading the message for this Critically Endangered species
Funds raised go towards education programs, research projects and on-ground action.
We have just 5 years to turn the health of the river around for breeding of the next generation.
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We are currently seeking Roving Volunteers and Holler Volunteers...
Each month, more than 20 volunteer citizen scientists test across 22 sites along the Bellinger and Kalang rivers. Our roving volunteers are an invaluable part of the program.
Roving volunteers support the testing at core sites and step in if our water testing volunteers are ill or away. Also, if one of our volunteers move, or their commitments change, we fill these positions from our roving volunteers, who are fully trained, thus, we have no down-time when vacancies arise.
Being a Roving Volunteers involves being called upon as needed. Water testing is conducted on the second Tuesday and Wednesday of each month and roving volunteers are given site information and kit pick-up location information with as much notice as possible.
We estimate that roving volunteers might be called upon once every two or three months to test and recommend allowing 4 hours for testing, including travel time.
Roving volunteers are trained in basic water quality testing by OzGREEN Co-Founder and CEO, Sue Lennox, and are supported by our Bellingen Riverwatch Program Coordinator, Amy Denshire. Volunteers also get to take part in fun educational workshops and events (e.g. bird spotting, aquatic plant identification, water bug blitzes etc.).
It usually requires about two or three training sessions before volunteers feel comfortable to conduct testing on their own. Please download the latest version of the Volunteer Manual here (draft version) if you would like to read up on the training prior to get a feel for what's involved.
"I’ve loved sharing the information learnt with my children, and watching them learn, asking questions, and playing an active part in it." - Skye, Volunteer
We are currently building a worldwide base of Holler Volunteers, who will help us get the word out about the plight of the turtle and help build support for this innovative citizen science project. Holler volunteers may be interested in volunteering to distribute flyers/posters, attend market stalls, collect donations, talk to prospective sponsors or assist with social media.
Register Your Interest
Register your interest below if you are interested in joining our team of volunteers. Bellingen Riverwatch Coordinator, Amy Denshire will be in contact shortly. If you have any questions in the meantime, please contact Amy on 0490 068 685Become a volunteer
Water Testing Schedule
NSW Waterwatch Sign In
NSW Waterwatch Youtube Videos
- 1. Getting started - Site selection and risk assessment
- 2. Collecting a water sample
- 3. Measuring water temperature
- 4. Measuring pH
- 5. Measuring electrical conductivity (EC) or salinity
- 6. Measuring turbidity
- 7. Measuring available phosphate
- 8. Measuring Dissolved Oxygen
- 9. How to do a Water Bug Survey - Aquatic Macroinvertebrates
- EC Calibrating - EC Dual Range Meter
For all available NSW Waterwatch videos, visit www.youtube.com/user/NSWWaterwatch.
Water Testing Results Sheet
- Volunteer Manual - (current/draft version, currently being updated for reprint)
- Site Guide - 3rd edition, April 2019
Raw Data Spreadsheet
Our current raw data spreadsheet is available here.
Where We Test
The Bellingen Riverwatch program sees volunteers take monthly water quality data at 17 core sites and 8 additional sites across the Bellinger and Kalang Rivers.
What We Test For
Bellingen Riverwatch Volunteers conduct site assessments, take site photos and test water samples for the following indicators of river health:
- Electrical Conductivity (Salinity);
- Available Phosphate; and
- Dissolved Oxygen.
This is complemented by Faecal Coliform testing by OzGREEN and bi-annual water quality testing by Scientists from the Office of Environment and Heritage.
Bellingen Riverwatch brings together an exciting array of scientific expertise in the areas of ecology, invertebrate taxonomy, citizen science project design, land management, monitoring and evaluation, aquatic ecology and water quality monitoring.
Sue Lennox (BSc DipEd)Sue is a former high school science teacher and the Co-Founder of Bellingen based not for profit OzGREEN (Global Rivers Environmental Education Network Australia Inc). Sue is providing on-ground scientific support to Riverwatch during regular testing days, training new volunteers and monitoring Faecal coliform levels. It was Sue’s approach to the Office for Environment and Heritage Citizen Science Unit in September 2016, that was the catalyst for Riverwatch to begin. She brings 30 years of experience in river health citizen science and water quality monitoring. Sue has initiated many citizen science projects that have engaged people in caring for their rivers both nationally (including Bellinger River and Coffs Coast, Hunter River, Murray-Darling, Brisbane River, Sydney Basin, Adelaide Basin, Melbourne’s Yarra River and Hobart's Derwent River) and internationally (including Ganges River in India, Nepal, Timor Leste, Guatemala, El Salvador, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan).
Rebekah is a Scientist (Citizen Science) responsible for designing citizen science projects to support the Saving our Species program delivered by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. She has an interest in spatial data analysis and the aquatic/marine environment and is keen to develop scientifically rigorous projects that involve the community in achieving positive outcomes for threatened species conservation.
Ingrid Garland is currently Director of a small consultancy – EnviroComm Connections, delivering services to clients on community engagement, citizen science, NSW Waterwatch and administrative projects in the natural resource management and agricultural sector in NSW. Instagram NSW Waterwatch Enviro Comm Connections
Peter Serov is an Environmental Scientist, Water Wetlands and Coastal Science with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. Peter is an Aquatic Ecologist and Invertebrate Taxonomist who has worked in a range of environments for over thirty years. He specialises in the identification of aquatic macroinvertebrates and stygofauna (groundwater fauna) with a particular interest in the ecological condition assessments and management of Aquatic Ecosystems. Read More
Gerry McGilvray is the Project Coordinator of the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle Saving Our Species Project and coordinates other threatened species projects for the Office of Environment and Heritage. Gerry has a Bachelor of Science (Environmental Systems) and has worked in a variety of environmental management areas in the government and privates sector for over fifteen years including waste management and vegetation management. Read More
Ricky Spencer is the Head of WildLab and Associate Professor of Ecology at Western Sydney University. Ricky has spent more than fifteen years actively working on vertebrate pests. His major current projects include an ARC Linkage Project on the 'Turtle Crisis' in the Murray River, as well as developing optimal strategies to recover the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle. Ricky is also the manager and developer of TurtleSAT and WomSAT, two community mapping Citizen Science projects. Read More
Alicia Scanlon is a fauna ecologist specialising in bats. She has worked locally as a consultant for Eco Logical Australia for the past ten years, on projects as diverse as residential subdivisions, management plans for Council reserves, fauna inventories of National Parks estate, road and rail upgrades including the Pacific Highway and monitoring of biodiversity on offset lands for the mining sector. Her work often takes her away from Bellingen and she has conducted fauna surveys along the East Coast of Australia.
Kristen Petrov is a PhD student at Western Sydney University and is studying the decline and ecology of the Bellinger River Snapping turtle. Kristen’s current research focuses on the remaining Bellinger River turtle population, its overlap in diet and habitat with the nonnative short-necked turtle, and the susceptibility of freshwater turtles to disease.
Phil Pisanu is an ecologist who has worked in Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales in research, conservation management and policy roles. Phil is responsible for monitoring and evaluating the programs of North Coast Local Land Services, which are focused on restoring terrestrial ecosystems and threatened species. Phil has been working with scientists and managers in the Border Ranges on Eastern Bristlebird recovery and will commence a vegetation monitoring project in the Jaliigirr Biodiversity Corridor in the next couple of months.
Geetha Ortac, Scientist – Citizen Science, is responsible for designing citizen science projects to support the Saving our Species program delivered by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. Her interest is to develop citizen science projects that deliver scientific outcomes supporting threatened species management. Read More
Water Testing Volunteers
A core part of Bellingen Riverwatch is the dedicated team of local volunteer citizen scientists, who undertake monthly water quality testing across 22 sites along the Bellinger and Kalang rivers. Volunteers have been trained in water quality monitoring techniques by lead scientists in the field and participate in extra optional training and workshops as the project unfolds (e.g. bird identification, water bug identification, etc). Watch video
"I recently moved to Bellingen and my niece, Skye, invited me to come along with her when she was doing the water testing. Having recently retired from a career in science I thought it would be a great way to help collect vital data needed to further understand the increasing stresses we put on our environment. Good data collection is at the core of good science so it is fundamental that we collect as much as possible.It also helps me integrate into the community and I get to spend time by the river with my niece.
"In our little town of Bellingen, we are very lucky to have the Bellingen Riverwatch project making it possible for locals to become more educated and involved. I’ve loved sharing the information learnt with my children, and watching them learn, asking questions, and playing an active part in it. I’ve loved learning from the team and seeing their passion and enthusiasm around the project. I'd definitely recommend citizen science to anyone. It’s educational, inspiring...it’s a way to get involved in science and help."
I am grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to gathering baseline and ongoing data of our local river health. Various land uses in the catchment concern me such as unmanaged stock, clear fell forestry, and excessive or inappropriate fertiliser and pesticide use. I hope that my small efforts can help add to a bigger picture that will ultimately improve our care of the local catchment area and therefore the river health, for all the life it supports.
"I feel its important to monitor the water quality of Bellingen River for the benefit of all those who use our beautiful river, particularly our native aquatic life".
"I've always loved science and the positive changes it can make to our worlds. Citizen science projects like Bellingen Riverwatch and the volunteers behind them are essential for building evidence and knowledge where our governments can't or won't act. Rivers and their health are a vital part of our local ecosystem so it's critical we care for them."
Our roving volunteers are an invaluable part of the program. Our "roving volunteers" support the testing at core sites and step in if our water testing volunteers are ill or away. Also, if one of our volunteers move or their commitments change, we fill these positions from our roving volunteers, who are fully trained, thus, we have no down-time when vacancies arise.
We are now seeking Holler Volunteers, who will help us get the word out about the plight of the turtle and build support for this innovative citizen science project. Tasks may be include distributing flyers/posters, market stalls, talking to sponsors or social media. Find out more or contact us if you are interested.
What is Bellingen Riverwatch?
In 2015, the Bellingen River Snapping Turtle (BRST) suffered a significant mortality event due to a disease outbreak in the Bellinger River. Since the mortality event, a disease investigation has identified a virus (Bellinger River Virus or BRV), previously not known to science, as the agent most likely to be responsible. A total of ~430 turtle deaths were recorded. The infected turtles suffered blindness, internal organ necrosis and developed sudden inflammatory lesions.
Prior to this event, the population size for the species was estimated at 1600 – 4500 individuals. The current Bellinger River Turtle population is estimated to be between 200 and 300 individuals and predominantly juveniles and is listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The BRST is endemic to this area and occupies about 55 km stretch of the Bellinger River.
During the mortality event, healthy BRST from an area yet to be impacted by the virus were removed from the river by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH). 16 animals were placed in temporary quarantine at Western Sydney University (WSU) and now are now part of a captive breeding program at Taronga Zoo. A second population of 19 juveniles was secured from the wild after the mortality event and will join the captive breeding program housed at Symbio Wildlife Park. The offspring from this program will be released back into the Bellinger River in future years.
To maximise the Bellingen River Snapping Turtle's persistence in the wild, it is important that the river’s water quality is monitored consistently.
Bellingen Riverwatch was born from a need to collect continuous, , scientifically rigorous water quality data to inform management decisions for the scientists involved in the recovery of the BRST.
This unique citizen science program engages 32 local community volunteers and 5 schools to collect monthly water quality data. Scientists from OEH carry out a comprehensive bi-annual water quality and macroinvertebrate survey, and assist with data analysis and interpretation. Read more
- To meaningfully engage the community to collect long-term, scientifically robust data to support recovery actions for the Critically Endangered Bellinger River Snapping Turtle ('Myuchelys georgesi') and other threatened species.
- To adopt a whole ecosystem approach and collect water quality data, monitor riparian vegetation, report turtle sightings and evidence of turtle nests, conduct water bug surveys, improve habitat and other monitoring activities directly contributing to science.
- To enable easy access and use of the data collected to aid decision making, guide research, inform policy, raise awareness and improve community understanding about the environment and threatened species.
- To increase awareness and understanding of river health and threatened species conservation leading to an increase in community environmental stewardship and responsible behaviour by tourists.
- To connect the community to expertise provided by various subject experts (e.g. scientists, ecologists, academics).
Bellingen Riverwatch has been developed and implemented by the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, Saving Our Species program and OzGREEN in partnership with Bellingen Shire Council, NSW Waterwatch, Western Sydney University, Taronga Zoo Sydney, Bellinger Landcare, Earthwatch Institute, Eco Logical Australia, North Coast Local Land Services and Jaliigirr Biodiversity Alliance.
The breadth of project partners reflects the importance placed on working together collaboratively with key stakeholders who have a role to play in catchment health and biodiversity. This partnership approach allows us to leverage the expertise and available resources of a strong group of organisations and individuals. Learn more