What is Bellingen Riverwatch?
Bellingen Riverwatch is an innovative citizen science program to monitor and care for the health of the Bellinger and Kalang Rivers. Running since May 2017, this program engages the 25 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.
Together, the aim is to build an evidence-based approach to monitoring the river health and facilitate further research to support conservation actions for endangered species, including the critically endangered Bellinger River Snapping Turtle ‘Myuchelys georgesi’.
How Bellingen Riverwatch Began...
Bellingen Riverwatch grew as a response to a severe mortality event, suffered by the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle in February 2015.
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 for the mortality event. 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.
The Bellinger River Snapping Turtle (Myuchelys georgesi) was recently declared ‘Critically Endangered’ in NSW under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (TSC Act), and nationally under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Main threats to this species include poor water quality, predation by foxes, and the past disease outbreak.
In late 2016, following a request from OzGREEN, the Office of Environment & Heritage (OEH) in association with Saving our Species program, started the motion to design a community driven citizen science project. It was quickly apparent that the project will be long-term and needed a model which can sustain itself past any funding periods. To achieve this, it was important to work together collaboratively with the groups and agencies in the area and, leverage expertise and available resources.
Eleven project partner organisations have come together to design and develop the program. All project partners contribute significantly to the success of Bellingen Riverwatch.