Critically endangered turtles discovered in the Baffle Creek
Burnett Mary Regional Group Media Release
Burnett Mary Regional Group (BMRG) scientists have discovered critically endangered white-throated snapping turtles in the Baffle Creek for the first time.
Researchers made the important discovery recently while assessing the waterway as part of the Australian Government’s Emergency Flood Recovery project for wildlife and habitat.
Until now, the white-throated snapping turtle’s natural distribution had been documented as the Fitzroy, Burnett and Mary Rivers.
BMRG research director, Tom Espinoza, said the breakthrough was made on a freshwater section of the creek near Lowmead with landholder assistance.
Nets were used to safely trap, record and release fish and turtle species.
“It’s the Baffle by name and baffle by nature,” Mr Espinoza said.
“The catchment has a lot of value because it’s one of the only rivers on the east coast of Australia that doesn’t have any major water infrastructure on it.”
Mr Espinoza said three turtles were found, one female and two males.
“The significance of finding three of the turtles is there’s potentially a self-sustaining population of a critically endangered species,” he said.
“It extends the area we now know the species inhabits and genetically it could be very important.
“Historically, this catchment has been rarely sampled for freshwater threatened species, and it’s free of any dams or weirs.
“It’s a largely untouched, natural watercourse.”
Mr Espinoza said next steps included more comprehensive sampling, genetic analysis and risk assessment.
“It’s potentially an important research population to look at how a species behaves in its natural environment,” he said.
“Turtles are extremely important in rivers. They’re the vacuum cleaner of a watercourse; they clean up decomposing organic material and help to maintain good water quality.
“They’re also a totem for local First Nations people.”
The white-throated snapping turtle (Elseya albagula) grows to about 45cm long and is Australia’s largest freshwater turtle. It can live for up to 100 years.
It’s known colloquially as a “bum-breathing turtle” because it can absorb oxygen through its anus while submerged.
Researcher Quotes Tom Espinoza, BMRG research director Benjamin Hoekstra, BMRG project officer Sydney Collett, BMRG project officer
It’s a very important discovery for my team because they’re young, up-and-coming scientists. It really ignites their passion. It’s a significant find for the scientific community and for anybody who’s interested in conservation of an endangered species.
Pulling in the first net and seeing the size of the large female turtle we had caught was exhilarating. It wasn’t until we started to process all the turtles, identifying the species and taking measurements did we start to realise the magnitude of catching three in this stretch of creek. It’s a highlight of my professional career and a moment that will resonate with me for quite some time.
It certainly was a highlight to see not only one white-throated snapping turtle, but three! Males and females, all looking incredibly healthy. It gives me hope that they are recovering, increasing distribution and are doing well. Often you don’t hear the success stories in conservation, particularly with critically endangered species, but it’s great to be a part of this good news.
Tom Espinoza, BMRG research director
Benjamin Hoekstra, BMRG project officer
Sydney Collett, BMRG project officer
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Some good news amongst all the gloom.
Good news indeed. Bertrand Russell’s oft-quoted protagonist, if she were alive today, would be thrilled. When after listening to a lecture by Russell on astronomy, she refuted that the earth was situated in space, instead, it sat on the back of a very large turtle. When Russell asked what the turtle was standing on, she was reported to have said “You’re very clever, young man, very clever, but it’s turtles all the way down!”
I’m reminded of a colleague years ago who cautioned me on my dealings with the public, when he said that reality, for most people, is whatever they believe it to be.
Rationalists and scientists naturally take an evidence-based viewpoint on this matter, wherever possible.