You may think they're abundant, but the eastern long-neck turtles that frequent the area, particularly on our roads after rain are actually in serious trouble, according to Eleanor Lang.
Ms Lang is an ecologist with Australian National University focusing on biodiversity on farms in the Cowra region in the NSW central west.
"Globally, turtles are the most endangered group of species alongside primates," Ms Lang said.
While many turtles are killed on our roads, surprisingly, the major hidden threat to many Australian turtles is actually nest destruction by foxes.
Foxes are thought to destroy over 90 per cent of long-necked turtle nests every year.
Nests are often laid after rain from late spring through summer, and can contain up to 20 eggs.
Any hatchling that makes the dangerous journey back to water will then need to survive up to 10 years before they can breed.
Adults can live at least 50 years, so a repeated loss of new generations has created significantly aged populations.
"This undercutting of new generations by foxes, combined with increasing adult mortality, means our turtles are now vulnerable to extinction if no action is taken," Ms Lang said.
"In the face of more frequent high-mortality events like drought and bushfires, the species' ability 'bounce back' is now severely compromised."
In light of their declining numbers Ms Lang is asking local residents to take actions which she hopes will ensure their survival.
The first step she says, is being awareness there is even something to worry about.
- If you see a turtle on the road, move it far off to the side in the direction it was heading, or to the nearest habitable water source.
- Every adult matters, and in late spring and summer, it is often females crossing roads to find nesting sites.
- Turtles do have an awareness of their local landscape, so relocating them far away from the 'territory' you find them in can make them more vulnerable.
- If you find an injured or sick turtle, contact WIRES for advice. Turtles are surprisingly resilient, and a cracked shell can be repaired - there have even been cases of eggs successfully incubated from females hit by cars.
- If you find a hatchling, release it in the nearest habitable water source; hatchlings are completely self-sufficient and do not need a parent. Never transport turtles in water, as they can drown.
On your property:
- As well as roads, turtles are also victim to overflow pipes, nets, draining or de-silting dams, and getting stuck at exclusion fences and train lines.
- Enhancing dams with snags and fringing vegetation will support a bigger turtle population and reduce the need to risk migrating to new sites. More habitat means more food sources, better protection for hatchlings, more filtration of sediments and nutrients, and a nicer dam!
- Adult turtles are often found drowned in dam overflow pipes. Placing guards on pipes or installing larger diameter pipes will prevent adult turtles getting stuck and allow pipes to remain functional.
- Consider controlling foxes for wildlife as well as livestock.
- Sightings of turtles, dead or alive, and any nesting activity, can be recorded on the mapping app TurtleSat. This app allows researchers to understand the movements and mortality of turtle species throughout Australia, and can help target fatality hot-spots. https://turtlesat.org.au/turtlesat/default.aspx
Turtles Australia Inc. for further information on freshwater turtle conservation, including advice on nest protection.
WIRES Wildlife Rescue