SA Turtle Summit brings together experts

Posted 02 March 2020.

Natural Resources South Australian Murray Darling Basin (SAMDB) hosted a turtle summit on Friday 28 February at Cleland Wildlife Park, bringing together turtle experts, wetland managers and key community members to share their knowledge about the decline of turtle populations in South Australia.

Natural Resources SA Murray-Darling Basin Wetlands Team Leader Darren Willis said concern has been increasing for our three River Murray turtle species – the eastern long-necked turtle (Chelodina longicollis), Murray short-necked turtle (Emydura macquarii), and broad-shelled turtle (Chelodina expansa) in South Australia for a while now.

“Turtles are a critical component of healthy river and wetland ecosystems, performing a vital role in scavenging decaying organic material on the river bed and accelerating nutrient recycling, and ultimately helping to maintain water quality,” Mr Willis said.

“Based on monitoring data over a number of years, and the focused investigations of several key scientific studies, it’s clear that the populations have been shrinking and, just as importantly, ageing for some time.

“The purpose of the summit was to bring together the expertise of scientists, natural resource managers, policy experts, educators and community members to discuss how to address the declining turtle populations.

“We are very pleased to be able to bring together this collective expertise to develop a comprehensive working plan to guide a collaborative effort and focussed investment into the future.” Mr Willis said.

The summit laid out the current state of the three River Murray turtle species and the threats to their populations, and considered both practical conservation strategies and the further research required.

The meeting also discussed the scope of two current grant applications; one to assist with further development of on-ground conservation initiatives along the river, and the second to support the development of the Million Turtles Project.

“The Million Turtles Project is exciting as it looks at hatching and raising juvenile turtles in schools in the Murray-Darling Basin area for future release back into the wild population,” Mr Willis said.

Western Sydney University Associate Professor Ricky Spencer said the Million Turtles program will engage communities and schools in conservation, enabling them to be directly involved in preserving, protecting and releasing turtles.

University of Sydney Professor Mike Thompson said he had been forecasting a catastrophic decline in populations of turtles in the Murray for 30 years, and now it is happening, especially in South Australia.

“The loss of turtles could result in a decline in water quality, and we are currently at a critical point in being able to reverse the decline,” Professor Thompson said.

This summit was supported by the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Natural Resources Management Board through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program and the NRM levies.

For more information visit TurtleSAT and Turtles Australia, some of the organisations working to improve the situation for turtles along the River Murray.

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