The 1 Million Turtles citizen science project has launched with the aim of returning one million hatchling turtles to Australian waterways each year, with help from local communities.
The conservation effort is urgently needed as mounting evidence indicates many turtle species are declining due to widespread drought, fox predation and human activities. At least two of the three freshwater turtle species of the Murray-Darling Basin are already on route to extinction.
The 1 Million Turtles project is asking all citizen scientists from around Australia to record sightings of turtles, their nests, or evidence of skeletal remains via the TurtleSAT mobile app and website.
This will help researchers to identify hot spots where more extensive conservation methods need to be focused, to protect turtles and help them to make successful journeys to the waterways.
Project lead, Dr James Van Dyke from La Trobe University, said that without the next generation of turtles coming through, the population will rapidly decline and eventually die out.
“While there are still turtles to be found, most of them are old. There are few juveniles, as the journey from turtle egg to hatchling to juvenile is fraught with danger,” said Dr Van Dyke.
“The two biggest threats to turtles along the Murray-Darling Basin are foxes and pigs. Both predators have become very good at finding and destroying eggs in turtle nests, so spotting turtle nests early is vital in protecting hatchlings and securing the future of the species.”
While turtles are visible all year round, November is when Australian turtles emerge from the water to nest. To acknowledge this, scientists have dubbed November ‘Turtle Month’ and are encouraging citizen scientists to visit their local waterways, looking for turtles and their nests.
“It’s very important work and we are grateful to any individual or organisation that embraces the project and volunteers their time to protect the turtle population in Australia,” said Dr Van Dyke.
The 1 Million Turtles project is supported by a $500,000 Australian Government Science Grant, which will go towards turtle conservation initiatives including the National Nest Predation Survey.
Freshwater turtles are found across Australia – including the Murray and Darling Rivers and their tributaries in Victoria, NSW and South Australia.
The project is led by Dr James Van Dyke from La Trobe University with collaborating partners from University of Western Sydney and University of New England.
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