Manning River Helmeted turtle hatchlings have been spotted for the first time since surveying began for the threatened species began in 2019.
Local Land Services has been working with MidCoast Council on a targeted effort to identify priority refuge habitats through ongoing surveying to determine where the Manning River turtle may be nesting.
Senior Land Services Officer, Hunter Local Land Services, Rye Gollan said a sighting of healthy, young turtles after four years of surveying was a welcome discovery.
“Previous years, surveys to locate and protect nests for this species were not successful, with only one nest being found by a community member over several years – with no signs of hatchlings,” Mr Gollan said.
“This sighting provides valuable insight into the early life stages of these animals, in particular nesting ecology, helping us to hopefully find more of the species nests.
“Importantly, it also guides our future management practices to best protect their habitat and ensure future survival.”
Ongoing surveys to understand the population recovery, including determining breeding success, has been a key focus for Hunter Local Land Services and MidCoast Council, through funding from the Australian Government’s bushfire recovery package for wildlife and their habitat.
While surveying has been carried out to build knowledge and raise awareness of this endangered species, there has also been work carried out in collaboration with landholders to actively improve habitat condition through a range of actions along waterways including stock exclusion, revegetation and erosion control and weed and pest predator controls, MidCoast Council said in a statement.
“Foxes and pigs are a key threat to freshwater turtle nests, and to adults when they leave the water to lay their eggs. With favourable conditions following bushfires, feral pigs have experienced a massive spike in a number of priority reaches of turtle habitats, which has significantly impacted sensitive riparian areas and pose a real risk to success of turtle nests,” Mr Gollan said.
“In response, our biosecurity team has coordinated a collaborative pest control program which has so far removed over 300 pigs in priority sub catchments following the post-bushfire boom in numbers.
“Additionally, between Local Land Services, Landcare and MidCoast Council partnership projects, over 57 ha of targeted Manning River turtle habitat has been protected or enhanced to date, with more planned into the future.”
The Manning River Helmeted Turtle is an endemic species to the Mid Coast region. Dried-out rivers and poor water quality from droughts and the ensuing 2019-20 bushfires in the area put this already endangered species at extreme risk, and subsequent flood events and have further impacted the species habitat. The species is currently listed as Endangered in NSW, but following multiple climate events is currently nominated for EPBC federal listing.
“We are following up these surveys efforts by continuing to engage with landholders, provide support for targeted management actions that will protect potential nest sites, and improve habitat condition,” Mr Gollan said.
Charles Sturt University has also been involved in surveys trialling the use of newly developed eDNA technology. If successful, this method of sampling could provide a quick and efficient way to assess the turtle’s distribution and presence across the large and often inaccessible Manning catchment by a simple water sample.