High hopes held for the survival of the Jardine River turtle

The  Jardine River Turtle (Emydura subglobosa subglobosa) ‘reappeared’ last year in the Northern Peninsula Area (NPA) after almost 20 years in hiding.  First recorded  in the 1970’s, the last scientifically confirmed sighting of the turtle was in 1996. 

Key researcher of the Jardine River Turtle, Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP)’s Alastair Freeman said the turtle is currently listed as near threatened under state legislation but it is about to be up-listed as vulnerable, potentially endangered.

Also known as the painted turtle because of its yellow and red colouring, with an almost fluorescent red chest plate, the Jardine Turtle is a small, short-necked turtle, known to inhabit the freshwater swamps, rivers and wetlands in coastal areas of Papua New Guinea and the NPA.

Jardine River turtle (photo: Origin Energy)

Jardine River turtle (photo: Origin Energy)

NPA’s Apudthama Rangers, Apudthama Land Trust, Origin Energy, with assistance from Environment and Heritage Protection’s Threatened Species staff, used survey traps in August last year to look for the turtle at 58 sites.  There were 32 captures of the ‘painted’ turtle at only four of these sites, with the majority occurring at one site, all within the Jardine River drainage system.

For the Apudthama Rangers and the Apudthama Land Trust, the discovery was incredibly significant.  Ranger Coordinator, Warren Strevens, said the turtle is culturally sacred, with its own storyline.

“The rangers are working hard to continue the monitoring of the turtle with our partners, through regular patrols and threat abatement, but we need more resources to continue the work” he said.

“There are three main threats to the turtle – feral pigs, climate change and poaching for southern pet markets, with feral pigs being the major threat.  But the funding for feral pig abatement is for reducing threats to threatened marine turtle populations, rather that freshwater turtle populations,” Warren said.

Alastair Freeman said ongoing research is needed to understand the turtle and to give it the best chance of survival into the future.

“We have been continuing to work the Apudthama Rangers and are planning further fieldwork in October this year,” he said.

Alastair said that the 2015 Jardine River turtle work plan would include:

  • further surveys upstream of old crossing and into headwaters of Jardine River
  • further monitoring of known population sites that were found in 2014
  • seeking to have Jardine River turtle in Australian nominated as endangered under EPBC and NCA acts with the two years of survey and monitoring data as justification.

Cape York NRM is working closing with the Apudthama Land Trust, the Apudthama Rangers, Origin Energy and EHP to help raise awareness of this important species.  Operations Manager, Peta-Marie Standley, and Cape York NRM’s Indigenous Zone One Director Sandra Woosup (also the chair of the Apudthama Land Trust) are establishing a fundraising program to continue research into the species.

“The public will be able to make donations to ensure a future for the Jardine River turtle” said Peta-Marie.  “Once established, donations can be made through the Cape York NRM website.”

The fundraising site is set to be launched in late September.

Listen to Cape York NRM’s Peta-Marie Standley explains why more research is needed on the Jardine River turtle: