Turtle Egg Rescue Highlights the Plight of River Murray Turtles
07 December 2022
Fourteen turtle eggs have been successfully rescued from Martin Bend wetland after a female turtle was found critically injured last month.
The turtle and her eggs were found by local Lincoln Gore who was at the Berri Marina area to observe the rising water level when he noticed the female turtle.
“I found the turtle in the water near the mound that divides the storm water ponds. The first sign of the turtle was a bloodied shell just under the water’s surface,” said Mr Gore.
“She had a substantial injury to the forward section of the shell – whether a dog or fox caused the injury or someone threw a rock, I don’t know, but I decided to take her home to stop her from drowning and so I could seek help”.
As he rescued the turtle, Mr Gore noticed a nearby clutch of eggs in the water under some reeds.
“Not knowing what to do with the eggs, I left them undisturbed and sought advice from the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board. They advised me to take the turtle to the vet, and to get the eggs out of the water and to room temperature”.
Mr Gore took the turtle to the Riverland Veterinary Clinic, but unfortunately the injuries sustained were life threatening and she was humanely put to sleep.
The eggs were taken to the landscape board, and are now in the care of Katie Bannear, a turtle-breeder from Barmera.
“We received 15 eggs, 14 of which are fertile and are now in our incubator where the heat and humidity is controlled to suit turtles,” said Ms Bannear.
Ms Bannear said that the eggs are developing well, despite their tough start to life.
“Based on the theory that they were laid around the time the mother was discovered, we estimate that they will hatch at the end of December,” she added.
“After the turtle eggs hatch, the turtles will be moved to a holding tank with shallow water.”
Staff at the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board will then investigate the potential to release the turtle hatchlings back into the natural environment.
“We will seek the right permits so we can release them where their mother was found at the Martin Bend wetland,” said landscape board Wetland Ecologist, Courtney Monk.
Landscape Board Calls for Community Help to Track Local Turtles
The Riverland is home to 3 species of native freshwater turtle, all of which are under threat from habitat loss and predation. Nesting turtles are particularly vulnerable as they move to higher ground to lay their eggs, with the increased chance of being struck by a passing car.
Turtle eggs – which are buried by their mother before hatching - are also at risk of being dug up by a fox or wild dog. In the case of the eggs found at Martin Bend, it is likely that the turtle laid the eggs in response to the shock experienced after sustaining a serious injury.
Senior Project Officer Sylvia Clarke said that community involvement is paramount in protecting the future for native turtle species.
“Our turtles are widespread but declining in numbers. To get a really good picture of where they are, where they are most under threat and where we can act to really make a difference, we need everyone to be on the lookout for turtles and destroyed nests.”
Community members can help local turtle conservation efforts by recording sightings on a free smartphone app.
“If you see a turtle - dead or alive - or a dug up nest with scattered egg shells in sandy areas, record it on TurtleSAT via the app or website. You can also view the website map to see where others have been seen in your area to give you an idea of where to look.”
Dr Clarke, who is also the South Australian Coordinator for the 1 Million Turtles program, urged community members to learn how to protect turtle nests in order to prevent attacks on eggs.
“If you are lucky enough to see a freshwater turtle nesting after rain on your property, you can help to protect the nest by pegging mesh with 5 centimetre holes over the nest site after she leaves. We encourage community members to read nest protection webpage on the 1 Million Turtles website, which has detailed instructions to help”.
“There will also be opportunities for members of the public to help with surveys to locate important turtle nesting sites in the Riverland over the coming months.”
Community members interested in being part of upcoming turtle surveys can contact Sylvia Clarke at firstname.lastname@example.org, or register for the citizen science e-newsletter.
This project is supported by the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program and the landscape levies.
The one Million Turtles program is a partnership project led by La Trobe University and is funded by an Australian Government Department for Industry, Science, Energy and Resources Citizen Science Grant.