National Wetlands Update September 2012
Issue No. 21, September 2012
Cultural conservation of freshwater turtles in Barmah-Millewa Forest
Katie Howard and Leah Beesley, Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research; Lee Joachim, Yorta Yorta Nation
Turtle nest destroyed by a red fox. (Katie Howard)
Concern for freshwater turtles in the mid-Murray River region has brought together the Yorta Yorta people and research staff from the Arthur Rylah Institute (ARI), Department of Sustainability and Environment Victoria.
The Yorta Yorta people are the traditional owners of Barmah-Millewa Forest, a floodplain north-east of Echuca, Victoria. Researchers are helping the Yorta Yorta Nation to manage the health of freshwater turtle populations and build upon cultural mapping already conducted. Scientists are learning from traditional owner knowledge and this project highlights how sharing knowledge can enhance conservation goals.
The importance of turtles to the Yorta Yorta people
The Yorta Yorta people recognise that the recent drought and insufficient external knowledge about turtle habits have contributed to the declining health of populations. This is of particular concern as one turtle species is an animal totem connected to their creation stories.
The turtle is a protector, provider and guide and they feel a moral obligation to care for their woka and walla (land and water), and the animals on it. Three turtle species are found within the forest, the broad-shelled turtle (Chelodina expansa), common long-necked turtle (Chelodina longicollis) and the Murray River turtle (Emydura macquarii).
A large number of turtle shells were found
throughout the forest during the drought.
Results to date
Three years of surveying have found that all three species respond differently to drought. In particular, the common long-necked turtle was in poor health and found in overcrowded, retracting water holes with high mortality rates. This species is more susceptible as it commonly occupies ephemeral habitats. Since the recent floods, the body condition of this species, and the Murray River turtle, have improved.
Populations of all three species are dominated by adults. This is of serious concern, as there will be fewer young turtles to replace adults and populations are likely to decline. In South Australia, fox predation can account for over 90 per cent of nest predation (Thompson, 1983) and foxes are considered a threat to the turtles of Barmah-Millewa Forest.
Yorta Yorta and ARI are working together to investigate the nesting and movement patterns of turtles. GPS data loggers have been attached to 13 turtles within the Forest.
The data loggers will assist scientists and Yorta Yorta to understand where turtles are nesting in the Forest, and how they respond to changes in water flow. This information will help direct future management actions, such as nest protection and increased fox control.
This project is funded by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority's The Living Murray Program.
Thompson, M.B. 1983, Populations of the Murray River Tortoise, Emydura (Chelodina): the effect of egg predation by the Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes. Australian Wildlife Research 10: 363-371.