New South Wales is home to 7 species of native freshwater turtle, two of which are found nowhere else.
Freshwater turtles spend most of their life in the water, rivers, lakes, swamps and ponds, including farm dams and they are not able to feed out of water.
They come onto land only to migrate between water bodies or to nest.
At breeding time the female turtle dig a hole in the ground with her hind legs, lay her eggs in the hole, then cover the eggs with earth. A clutch may comprise as many as 25 eggs, depending on the species of turtle and her size. After a few months the eggs hatch and the hatchling turtles make their way to the water, where they typically take around 10 years to grow to maturity.
In NSW, freshwater turtles face many threats such as the introduced foxes and pigs that rob the turtles nests and in some areas consume over 90% of their eggs. The baby turtles that hatch from the few remaining eggs have to contend with turtle-eating fish, birds and other predators.
Adult turtles are protected by their shells from most natural predators when they are in the water, but when they venture onto land they can be killed by dogs, foxes or pigs, or crushed by motor vehicles.
The shell on a turtle is divided into two parts. The top is called the carapace. The carapace combines the ribs, spine, and about fifty bones. The bottom is called the plastron. It includes the lower parts of the ribs and the clavicle bones.
Should you come across an injured turtle please remember that an injury to the shell is extremely painful, pick the turtle up by supporting it from below, never by the shell.
Turtles are determined creatures and if removed from their home territory they will continually try to find their way back home. Unfortunately, the stress of being in unfamiliar territory will cause them to stop eating. Turtles that are unable to find their way home often die of starvation. Turtles seldom travel farther than a few km. from their birthplace.
If you come across a turtle crossing the road, pull over if it is safe to do so. Watch which direction the turtle is heading, then carry the turtle across to the other side of the road and place them in the direction they were going. You will likely have saved its life by that simple action.
Sadly in many places our freshwater turtles are declining due to hazards they encounter and the long time they take to reach an age at which they can begin to reproduce. Fox control is often an effective way to boost turtle recruitment and enable depleted populations to recover.
These ancient reptiles are diminishing in numbers around the world, mainly due to human impacts. Freshwater turtles are threatened by such things as:
- plastic bags and other waste, which the turtles mistake for jellyfish
- cigarette butts
- fishing lines and hooks
- boat and propeller collisions
- entanglement and drowning in nets, ropes, floats or traps
- habitat destruction, poor water quality and seagrass depletion
- deliberate acts of cruelty
How you can help
It’s easy to help protect freshwater turtles. Here are a few simple things you can do:
- appropriately dispose of your rubbish
- collect litter on or near the waterways
- when boating, travel slowly over seagrass beds
- report people engaging in illegal netting or trapping
- help in coastal health projects (e.g. seagrass monitoring)
reference NSW DPI