OzGREEN programs connect youth with communities to become leaders of innovative sustainable social change

MyRiver Bellinger 2016

OzGREEN worked with a dynamic group of young people from Bellingen to investigate river health. 


OzGREEN jumped into action as soon as it became evident that the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle was dangerously close to becoming extinct.  OzGREEN launched a crowdfunding campaign to support community involvement and action. An outcome of this crowdfunding was the MYRiver Bellinger 2016 program, which involved Bellingen schools and community in citizen science, learning and on-ground action to protect the turtles and restore river health.

MYRiveR Bellinger 2016 built on previous work of OzGREEN and local schools in 2011, 2012 and 2014. The results of these MYRiveR projects were disturbing with:

  • 75% of sites showing moderate to severe degradation of riparian zone
  • 75% of sites showing high phosphate and low dissolved oxygen levels

MYRiver Bellinger 2016 ran between 19-21 September 2016 and engaged 30 young people from local high schools in water testing and analysis and enabled them to present their findings at a Community Forum.


Turtles are Keepers KeepCups

The young people involved in MyRiver Bellinger 2016 wanted to find a solution for their youth action that other people can get involved in. They wanted to do something that helps shift people away from mindless behaviours like using take-away cups, and start to be more conscious about the impact of our everyday actions.

These young participants came up with an amazing Action Plan to produce and promote specially designed "Turtles are Keepers" KeepCups to distribute around the cafes of Bellingen and further afield seeking to raise funds for this cause and discourage the use of disposable cups and single-use plastic, as well as raise awareness.





To learn about and help the local environment and raise awareness of global and local sustainability issues i.e. the health of the Bellinger River and the plight of the Bellinger River Snapping Turtles.


  • Tested 8 sites on Bellinger River upstream of Lavenders Bridge 19-20 September. Testing involved a 14-point assessment of riparian zone and testing for dissolved oxygen, oxygen saturation, temperature, phosphates, pH, turbidity, Feacal coliform (that’s 168 tests!)
  • Met together at Youth Hub for 3 days to analyse our results, measure our Eco-footprints, learn about global challenges like climate change, decide on the issues of most importance to us and plan what we were going to do to create change.
  • Engaged 30 young people and teachers from Bellingen High School and Chrysalis Steiner School.


Top Concerns

The young people were all disturbed to see Dissolved Oxygen levels were so low and degraded riparian habitat. Overall our biggest concerns were:

Local Concerns

  • Pollution of the river by fertilisers and sewage
  • Habitat loss and land clearing - erosion and sedimentation
  • Human behaviour and ignorance

Global Concerns

  • Loss of biodiversity (including species extinction, overfishing, deforestation, shark culling)
  • Global warming (including CSG, impact of fossil fuels, need for a rapid transition to renewables, ice retreating)
  • Lack of government leadership (including fear about Donald Trump)

Future Plans

The young people had the following plans for the future:

  • Follow up 14-hour monitoring of dissolved oxygen at Lavenders Bridge. DO levels were very low.
  • Follow up testing of total phosphorous, biochemical oxygen demand and macro-invertebrate studies.
  • Post rain event testing of key sites.
  • Repeat the river health snapshot on a quarterly basis.
  • Get involved in on-ground actions to regenerate the riparian zone of the river and research the best ways to create turtle breeding habitat.

Community Forum 

The young people ran a community forum for the public to report on our results, our plans and our experience. We had some wonderful guest speakers including:

  • Local Gumbaynggirr Elder Uncle Michael
  • Gerry Mcgilvray and Shane Ruming from Office of Environment and Heritage to talk about the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle 
  • Alex Waldron from Bellingen Shire Council to talk about the BSC River Management Plan

Feedback from Participants

What was the experience like?

"It has been both shocking and eye-opening to learn about sustainability challenges locally and globally. It has also been exciting to learn how we can help the world and encourage others to help. It has been great learning about these issues as a group and planning activities together in a supportive way."

What did you discover?

"As the younger generation we have discovered that people have been unconscious of the impacts of their actions in the past. 
We discovered and were concerned particularly by the low oxygen levels in the river. Because the turtle’s breath underwater out of their rectum we wondered if that would affect them."

What do you want to do when you’re older?

"We are inspired to continue protecting our local environment and perhaps one day become scientists and activists."

What did you know about the Bellingen River prior to this?

"Being on the river was sad because although we spend a lot of time on the river we were alarmed to learn what was actually going on with the health of the river. We have all grown up swimming and canoeing by the river but did not know about the health."

How people can help?

"You can help reduce your eco-footprint and support the project to save the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle by buying a “Turtles are Keepers” reusable cup and donating to our crowd funding campaign on chuffed."

About the Bellingen River Snapping 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.

OzGREEN is lead partner in Bellingen Riverwatch, an innovative citizen science program adopting a whole ecosystem approach. Through meaningful engagement of the community, volunteers collect long-term, scientifically rigorous data that is accessed by our eleven scientist partners to support recovery actions for the critically endangered Bellinger River Snapping Turtle and other threatened species. Data is communicated with the community to raise awareness about river health issues, encourage healthy river practices and foster environmental stewardship. 

OzGREEN is appealing to you to donate to Bellingen Riverwatch so we can continue this important work and direct these funds towards education programs, research projects and on-ground action.