Rescuing Queensland's largest freshwater turtle

A White-throated Snapping Turtle hatchling. Hatchlings are only slightly larger than a 50c piece when they emerge from their eggs but grow to reach 45cm in length. Photo copyright Craig Latta

A rescue mission is underway in Queensland’s Fitzroy Catchment to save Queensland’s largest freshwater turtle – a snapping turtle with a distinctive white throat.

Found mainly in the Burnett, Mary and Fitzroy Catchments along the central and southern coasts of Queensland, the White-throated Snapping Turtle was formally described in 2006 and is listed as an endangered species.

Egg destruction and the construction of dams and weirs causing damage or death to the turtles have been identified as some of the major threats to their survival.

Famous for their ability to “bum-breathe”, White-throated Snapping Turtles can supplement their oxygen needs by breathing through their cloaca, a single opening under the tail used for passing of waste and reproduction.

They still have to come to the surface to breathe like other turtles, just less often.

To give the turtles a fighting chance, Greening Australia is working in partnership with the Fitzroy Basin Association Inc. (FBA), and local landholders to identify and monitor key nesting sites, protect nests and control predators.

The team has identified key nesting habitat along a stretch of the Fitzroy River. These sites were monitored from May through July and detected nests were protected with mesh to prevent destruction and increase the number of baby turtles entering the water.

Predators, particularly foxes but also including pigs, water rats, goannas and echidnas have been identified as threats to the survival of the turtles through the destruction of their eggs.

Without nest protection and feral predator control, up to 100% of the eggs are destroyed reducing the recruitment of young turtles into the population. Each female lays only one clutch of around 12 eggs per year.

Unlike other freshwater turtle species whose eggs take around 60 days to hatch, 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.

The project is supported through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme and support from the Department of Environment and Science.