Found mainly in the Burnett, Mary and Fitzroy catchments along the central and southern coasts of Queensland, the White-throated Snapping Turtle formally described in 2006 is listed as an endangered species. The freshwater turtle is distinguished from similar species by the irregular white marking on its throat and lower sides of its face and its huge size (the turtle’s shell can grow up to 42cm long). Nest predation, declining water quality, habitat loss and the construction of dams and weirs are the major causes of endangerment.
Without protection, almost 100% of the turtle’s nests are destroyed by native and pest predators, including feral pigs, goannas and echidnas, but particularly European Red Foxes. The endangered turtles mature slowly, their breeding age is between 15 to 20 years and they lay a single clutch of around 12 eggs each breeding season. Unlike other freshwater turtle species whose eggs take around 60 days to hatch, the White-throated Snapping Turtle eggs can lay dormant in their nests for several weeks before starting to incubate. This provides a large window of opportunity for predators to find and eat the eggs. With fewer and fewer young entering the water every year, the White-throated Snapping Turtle population is ageing.
Greening Australia is working in partnership with FBA to give these turtles a fighting chance, with funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program and support from the Department of Environment and Science and landholders to identify and monitor key habitat and nesting sites, protect nests and control predators.
To help manage predators, detective dogs have been used to locate and map fox dens through tracks and scent. These sites will become the focus of future strategic pest management programs with landholders engaged to help control predators and fence off sections of their land to prevent cattle from trampling the fragile nesting sites.
In addition, key nesting habitat for the turtles has been identified along a 15km stretch of the Fitzroy River. These nesting sites are monitored each breeding season for nesting activity and any nests detected protected with a mesh to prevent predation of the eggs. The mesh is small enough to prevent predators from destroying the nests but large enough as to allow the young hatchlings to move through and reach the water.
It is hoped that these measures will increase the number of young turtles entering the water, boosting the population and helping this unique species to survive into the future.