Our River. Our Future.
Bellingen Riverwatch grew as a response to a severe turtle mortality event in 2015.
In February 2015, the Bellingen River Snapping Turtle (BRST) suffered a significant mortality event due to a disease outbreak in the Bellinger River in northern NSW. 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.
A total of ~430 turtle deaths were recorded.
However the numbers are suggested to be much higher. It is believed that many of the dead turtles may have been washed away in a major flood event which occurred around the time of the mortality event. 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.
Currently listed as ‘Critically Endangered’.
The BRST is currently listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Endemic to this area.
This turtle has resided in this river and only this river for over 200 million years. It occupies about 55 km stretch of the Bellinger River.
Healthy turtles were removed from the 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.
Why Bellingen Riverwatch began...
To maximise the BRST’s persistence in the wild, it is important that the river’s water quality is monitored consistently. A need to collect continuous water quality data was identified by the scientists involved in the recovery of the BRST to inform management decisions for the recovery of this species.
In 2017, eleven project partner organisations, with lead partners OzGREEN and the Office of Environment & Heritage, came together to design and develop a citizen science project to facilitate the water quality testing process with the intention to maintain and/or improve the river’s health.
What we do.
We collect monthly water quality data.
We engage 32 local community volunteers and 5 schools to collect monthly water quality data. 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.
We enable access to the data.
We enables access to the data to our partners to aid decision making, guide research, inform policy, raise awareness and improve community understanding about the environment and threatened species.
Examples of conservation activities currently underway to aid the recovery of the BRST include:
- Captive breeding program in Taronga Zoo Sydney and addition of a second juvenile population at Symbio Wildlife Park (Sept 2017)
- Ongoing surveys at the river to determine population size and distribution, monitoring of extant population by OEH
- Local BRST Stakeholder’s group and involvement in Bellingen Landcare Bellinger River program
- Development of an expert reference group for the BRST
- Status Review, Disease Risk Analysis and Conservation Action Plan for the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle (Myuchelys georgesi) developed December 2016
- PhD student from Western Sydney University undertaking studies on BRST
We educate the community.
We share the data with the community, host community workshops and promote ways to improve river health. We host school and interschool events to educate the next generation of river keepers.
But there’s a problem...
We don't have enough water testing kits!
We need nine more water testing kits to support our volunteers to gather consistent monthly data.
We're raising $3000 for one kit
We're hoping to raise $3000 which will buy us one water testing kit. This kit will go to one of our volunteers so they can test monthly at a site identified as critical by our scientists.
The data they collect is accessed by our eleven partners nationally and supports the recovery of our Critically Endangered turtle.
Your donation helps the turtle.
If you are able to donate to this campaign, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
It is hard to find the words to describe the concern our community felt in 2015 when we lost 90% of our beautiful turtles. We have been witness to the change that this program has made, in turning that concern into dedicated, constructive community action.
The situation is critical for the BRST. There are only juveniles left and it takes 5 years for them to reach breeding age. We have a 4 year mandate to monitor the river health in that time, grow community awareness and education about how to care for the river, and create nesting habitat.
The data we collect is being used by our partners nationally to inform management decisions towards the survival of this species.
Your donation goes to the heart of the program - consistently monitoring our river's health.
Our River. Our Future.