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Our Turtle

The Bellingen River Snapping Turtle is currently listed as Critically Endangered under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The Bellinger River Snapping Turtle (Myuchelys georgesi) is a species of short-necked freshwater turtle in the family Chelidae and is iconic to the Bellinger River, NSW. Previously known as Elseya georgesi, the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle (BRST) was first observed by John Cann in 1971.

Identification

Bellinger River Snapping Turtles should not be confused with the non-native short-necked turtle Emydura macquarii which also inhabits the Bellinger River. Distinctive features on Bellinger River Snapping Turtles include a yellow stripe from the angle of the jaws, as well as distinct ‘bar-bells’ on the chin.

2015 Mortality Event

In February 2015, the BRST suffered a significant mortality event. An estimated 90% of the BRST population is believed to have died as a result of the virus in an approximate 6-week period. 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.

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.

To read more about the decline of the Bellinger River turtle see "The Conversation", with Ricky Spencer

Endemic to the Bellinger River

The BRST is endemic to the Bellinger catchment, occupying approximately 55km of the Bellinger River. Bellinger River turtles prefer deep waterholes with rocky substrate and bedrock where they can camouflage.

Photo: Distribution of Bellinger River Snapping Turtle 

Photo credit: Ian Roth- NSW, Department of Primary Industries

Nesting Habits

The Bellinger River Snapping turtle nests between October and December and lays one clutch of 10-25 eggs. Eggs are laid in excavations on the river banks. Hatchlings appear after approximately 72 days in the nests.

Diet

BRST feed on macroinvertebrates, terrestrial fruit and aquatic vegetation. They obtain a high proportion of their diet from benthic macro-invertebrate communities. As juveniles, they have strong leniencies towards carnivorous diets, while as adults they are omnivorous, commonly consuming caddisfly larvae, pyralidae larvae (moth larvae), ribbon weed and algae. Turtle nesting sites can be found on river banks in areas of sand and fine gravel. Turtle nests are often at risk from fox and goanna predation.

Threats

Main threats to this species are past disease associated with the Bellinger River Virus, predation by foxes, and poor water quality.

Alteration to water quality is identified as a threat to the Bellingen River Snapping Turtle (BRST) (see Blamires & Spencer 2013, NSW Scientific Committee 2016). The diet of the BRST includes aquatic vegetation and aquatic macroinvertebrates and these are both linked to water quality (Allanson and Georges 1999). Changes in water quality can further impact the species because habitat preferences relate to water quality (aquatic vegetation) and physical attributes of waterholes (substrate) (Spencer et al. 2007). To support recovery actions for the BRST, it is important that the river’s water quality is monitored consistently and on a long-term basis.

The Bellinger River Snapping Turtle (Myuchelys georgesi) is a species of short-necked freshwater turtle in the family Chelidae and is iconic to the Bellinger River, NSW. Previously known as Elseya georgesi, the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle (BRST) was first observed by John Cann in 1971. 


Part of a Bigger Picture

The data we collect through Bellingen Riverwatch is available for use by our partners to inform management decisions towards the survival of this species. This water monitoring program is an important part of a much bigger picture of river restoration and species recovery currently underway.  

Bellingen Riverwatch is working with Bellingen Shire Council and the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage to provide data on the health of the river to inform management of the river down the track.

The OEH Saving our Species (SoS) program is undertaking a series of actions to conserve the BRST. Actions funded by SoS includes:

    • Research into the Bellinger River Virus by the Department of Primary Industries.
    • Captive breeding and assurance populations housed at Taronga Zoo Sydney and Symbio Wildlife Park, Helensburgh.
    • Biannual surveys to estimate population size, health of turtles and population dynamics.
    • A trial release program to test release of captive-bred BRST into the Bellinger River to supplement the population.
    • Genetics research .
    • Riparian restoration program in the Upper Bellinger River to benefit the turtles through improving river health.
    • Contributes to coordination and scientific validation of the Bellinger Riverwatch program

PhD student, Kristen Petrov, from Western Sydney University is also currently undertaking studies on BRST.

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