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 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. Read more
- To meaningfully engage the community to collect long-term, scientifically rigorous 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