Stick your neck out for turtles

Jamie HearnSMALL FARMS NETWORK - SPRING 2021 - ENVIRONMENT

By Jamie Hearn
Senior Land Services Officer

P: 03 58819925 | M: 0447 420 789 | E: Jamie.Hearn@lls.nsw.gov.au

Freshwater turtles can be found in most waterbodies in our region, including ponds on golf courses, farm dams, lagoons, rivers and even irrigation channels. There are three species of turtles found in the Murray region; all are long-lived (up to 50 years), but all are also in rapid population decline. This is attributed to a range of factors, but nest predation is by far and away the main cause. It’s estimated that 95 per cent of all turtle nests are destroyed by foxes.

Turtles usually nest within 100m of their water source but have been known to nest up to a kilometre from home (depending on the species), usually on a bit of raised, open, soft ground. After digging holes up to 30cm deep, they can lay up to 30 eggs at a time. The eastern long-necked / snake-necked turtle and the Murray River short-necked turtle both nest in the late spring, with an incubation period of around 120-150 days. In contrast, the broad-shelled turtle lays eggs in autumn and the eggs can take up to 12 months to hatch.

Lifestyle blocks and small acreages around lagoons and along rivers are great nesting locations as they are often built on sand rises. Unfortunately, the use of netting fences on these properties can restrict turtle movement and even trap turtles as they try and find nesting sites.

All three species can at times be seen crossing roads and paddocks between water sources and nesting sites. This movement can be triggered by heavy rains leading up to the nesting season or the drying up of their waterbody. We need to be careful driving around roads and paddocks during these times as road kill is another major factor in their declining numbers.

Fox control by baiting is the main tool in our fight to reduce turtle nest predation; trials involving the installation of fake nests (chook eggs) have shown that intensive fox baiting around known nesting sites can improve nest survival duration. Unfortunately, baiting can be difficult in the peri-urban environment and is sometimes not an option at all. Spotlighting may be possible in some areas, and trapping has also been successful.

If you would like to help measure turtle nest survival rates in your area and be part of a citizen science project to help our fresh water turtles, information on how to set up  and monitor your own fake turtle nests can be found at National Predation Survey | 1 Million Turtles. You can also upload your findings (and any sightings) on to TurtleSAT, which will help create a national database of freshwater turtle predation sites and sightings.

For more information on our local fresh water turtles, check out the video made by the Corowa and District Landcare group here.

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