The NSW Scientific Committee has officially listed the Manning River Helmeted Turtle, also known as Purvis’ Turtle, as an endangered species.
The Scientific Committee, established by the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 made the determination on April 28, 2017.
The final determination states the turtle is listed as endangered as “it is facing a very high risk of extinction in NSW in the near future”.
The reasons for the risk of extinction are given as the turtle’s restricted geographic distribution, because a continuing decline has been observed, and the population is severely fragmented, as described in Clause 7 of the Threatened Species Conservation Regulation 2010.
The turtle is found only on the Mid North Coast of NSW, in the middle and upper catchments of the Manning River.
The turtle is very similar to the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle, and was previously considered to be more abundant than the Bellinger turtle. However, In 2016 John Cann, a recognised authority on freshwater turtles, said that the population has recently “declined dramatically”.
The report found that there is a continuing decline in habitat quality, with most of the land near suitable habitat having been cleared for beef and dairy cattle grazing.
The turtle faces multiple threats to its existence, including predation by foxes, goannas and feral pigs, illegal poaching for private collections, competition from and hybridisation with other turtles, and the aforementioned habitat degradation by humans.
Given that the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle was nearly decimated in 2015 by a disease, and that the Manning River Helmeted Turtle is very similar to the Bellinger turtle, the report said that concerns are that the Manning turtle may be at risk of potentially succumbing to disease.
The NSW Scientific committee report says “Their ability to recover from a catastrophic loss of adults caused by disease, poaching or other causes is likely to be limited”.
As the turtle is now listed as an endangered species, conservation actions will be developed for the turtles’ protection.