BELLINGEN Riverwatch began in June 2017 in response to a turtle mortality event which killed an estimated 90 per cent of the Critically Endangered Bellinger River Snapping Turtle (BRST).
Three years on, the program is stronger than ever.
"We have 29 volunteers and five schools working together each month to cover 28 sites across the Bellinger and Kalang catchments," project coordinator Amy Denshire said.
"The dedication of these volunteers is absolutely amazing. Some of them have been with us since the very beginning."
This project brings together 11 partners, including OzGREEN, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE), Bellingen Shire Council, Bellinger Landcare and NSW Waterwatch.
The data collected is interpreted by program partners and is available online at www.ozgreen.org/br_data. Partners also distribute a free monthly e-newsletter to over 250 subscribers. Data is accessed by partners to support recovery actions for BRST.
DPIE is working with Symbio Wildlife Park and Taronga Zoo on captive breeding programs and there have been two releases of captive bred turtles to date. DPIE continue to monitor the turtles released.
17 animals were captured in March and April and appear in good health. Now the water has cooled, they continue to monitor the animals via radio tracking.
Courting behaviour has been observed in the captive populations which will hopefully lead to another good season of breeding (nesting occurs around November).
The program is a prime example of a highly successful citizen science monitoring programs taking place in Australia at the moment. It is a testament to the Bellingen Shire community's connectedness to their local waterways, and dedication to environmental stewardship and threatened species.
With less than 200 BRST left in the wild, the situation remains critical. Partners would like to give a heartfelt thank you to all the volunteers, teachers, students, businesses, and community members who have supported this program over the past three years.
"The need to continue the monitoring of the Bellinger River post bushfire and the impacts to the Critically Endangered Bellinger River Snapping Turtle is of national significance," said Nakia Belmer of the Department of Planning, Industry & Environment.
Bellingen Riverwatch is always looking for more volunteers to support its program into the future. Contact Amy on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.