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Saving Queensland's endangered White-throated Snapping Turtle

To help save Queensland’s largest freshwater turtle, Greening Australia partnered with Fitzroy Basin Association Inc. (FBA) and landholders to identify and monitor key habitat and nesting sites. Greening Australia was able to help protect nests and control predators, giving the endangered turtles a better chance at survival.

The Challenge

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 endangered freshwater turtle can be distinguished 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. Furthermore, 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. As such, with fewer and fewer young entering the water every year, the White-throated Snapping Turtle population is ageing.

 

Photo courtesy of Jessica Hinchliffe: ABC Radio Brisbane

The Solution

As part of our Reef Aid project, Greening Australia was working in partnership with FBA to save these endangered turtles. 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 aided to protect nests and control predators.

Although this program finished in mid 2019, Greening Australia was able to help manage the turtle’s predators as detective dogs were used to locate, track via scent and map fox dens. In addition, landholders were engaged to help control predators and fence off sections of their land to prevent cattle from trampling the fragile nesting sites.

The key nesting habitat for the turtles were identified along a 15km stretch of the Fitzroy River. These nesting sites were monitored each breeding season for nesting activity and any nests detected were protected with a mesh to prevent predation of the eggs. The mesh being 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 in the future Greening Australia can obtain more funding to implement this program again. Through increasing the number of young turtles entering the water, we can help boost the population and save these endangered turtles.

  • Main photo copyright Craig Latta turtles.net.au

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