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You can help save our turtles

A leading environmental organisation wants people in the Goulburn Valley to keep an eye on turtles around the Murray River to help stop their decline.

Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife chief executive Ian Derbyshire said a new three-year research program would use people power to pinpoint the health of turtles at every point along the Murray River.

In the past 40 years the numbers of turtles in the river — specifically long-necked turtles, short-necked turtles and broad-shelled turtles — has dropped by a staggering 90 per cent.

‘‘It is pretty severe; in South Australia the turtles have almost completely gone,’’ Mr Derbyshire said.

He said turtles were in the most amount of danger before they even hatched, because foxes had grown adept at finding and eating turtle eggs.

‘‘We reckon about 90 per cent of the eggs are getting eaten,’’ Mr Derbyshire said.

‘‘The problem is that the turtles have not found any way around that.’’

The Murray River Turtle Project aims to tap into the wealth of information from the various communities that live around the river system, and discover ways to help save the turtles.

Mr Derbyshire said part of the key to their survival was to find areas in the river where turtles were thriving, and discovering why this was so.

He hoped they might find information that could help turtles survive in all corners of the river system.

A number of interesting anecdotes have already come through to researchers, including turtles laying eggs in wastewater outfall pipes, where foxes cannot get to them.

‘‘A couple of people on the river also told me we should put boxes around the nests to stop foxes getting to them,’’ he said.

‘‘I thought that was a great community idea.’’

He said that idea came from a resident who lived near the river, who told him that people once used this method to protect the eggs so they could sell the newly hatched turtles as pets.

‘‘When there was money in it people would protect the nests, but of course you cannot sell turtles as pets any more,’’ Mr Derbyshire said.

If a way to save the turtles was not found, he said as well as the loss of species native to Australia, it would be a tragedy for the entire river system.

‘‘Turtles are very important because they are scavengers, they keep dead animals out of the river,’’ he said.

To help, go to turtlesat.org.au to input any information about turtle communities in the river, and to donate to the project go to www.fnpw.org.au/appeals/current-appeal