Hope in future strategies for Manning River turtle conservation efforts

Juvenile Manning River helmeted turtle. Note the 'helmet' on its head. Photo: Manning River Turtle Conservation Group
Juvenile Manning River helmeted turtle. Note the 'helmet' on its head. Photo: Manning River Turtle Conservation Group

Where there are healthy dingo populations, there are less foxes. And where there are less foxes, less turtle nests are being raided - 97 per cent of Bell's turtle nests were destroyed by foxes, researchers reported.

This is just one of the interesting facts to come out of the recent Manning River Turtle Conservation Workshop in Wingham.

While surveys revealed low numbers of the turtle in the Manning River and it's catchments, participants at the two-day workshop left feeling encouraged by actions being taken elsewhere to conserve similarly endangered freshwater turtles, and plans for future strategies to be put in place for the Manning River turtle.

One strategy in place for the Bell's turtle, which is now also being considered for the Manning River turtle, is the use of sniffer dogs to sniff out turtle nests. This then allows conservationists and landholders to place simple nest protection kits over the nests to stop foxes, goannas and pigs from raiding nests.

Ecologists and researchers who converged on Wingham for the workshop commented on the amount of interested community members who attended the open information session on Thursday noon. Landholders who allowed access to the river on their land, and the Manning River Turtle Conservation Group, also came in for praise from the visitors.

Max the detection dog has sniffed out a Bell's turtle nest. Photo courtesy Canines for Wildlife

Max the detection dog has sniffed out a Bell's turtle nest. Photo courtesy Canines for Wildlife

A big message from the event was the importance of the community becoming stakeholders in the conservation of the turtle, and landholders assuming stewardship of the river by 'looking after their own patch'.

Community engagement is a large part of the plan moving forward. Up north, primary school students are raising Bell's turtles to release back into the river. For senior students, the Manning River turtle is being introduced as a subject in the year 11 biology curriculum state-wide.

"Community consultation is most effective," Dr Ricky Spencer from Western Sydney University. "Governments and zoos are only a small part of the solution."

The Aussie Ark insurance population to be kept at the Australian Reptile Park, however, is a vital part of the turtle's future, as it is a backup should anything catastrophic happen, such as a virus similar to the one that decimated the Bellinger River turtle.

Dr Arthur Georges also spoke on the importance of communities taking part in conservation.

There is still so much more to do but it is certainly worth celebrating how far we have come.

Kerrie Guppy, Manning River Turtle Conservation Group

"You're turtle is very special," he said. "It has an ancient lineage and no close relatives that share the same attributes."

Manning River Turtle Conservation Group member, Kerrie Guppy is feeling excited for the future of the turtle.

"The first two years our focus was on community awareness, now we can celebrate that action is happening and the support our local community has provided," she said.

"For instance, local businesses supporting the Aussie Ark insurance population project, local landholders generously allowing OEH ecologists access to the river to collect turtle survey data, and the community coming along to hear Australia's top freshwater turtle experts who converged on Wingham for the recent workshop.

"There is still so much more to do but it is certainly worth celebrating how far we have come."

Join the Manning River Turtle Conservation Group in their celebratory annual Winter Solstice Lantern Walk at Wingham Brush on Saturday, June 22 from 5.15pm.