The Broad Shelled Turtle.         Photo courtesy of NCCAMA.

THE North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA) is continuing efforts to protect freshwater turtles by implementing and trialling a targeted fox-shooting program in the Gunbower Forest area.

North Central CMA Gunbower Key Asset Protection Project Manager Adrian Martins said turtle numbers across the northern part of the catchment had declined between 69 and 91 per cent in the past 40 years.

“Recent research indicates 98 per cent of turtle eggs succumb to predation and foxes account for 92 per cent of this,” he said.

“This is resulting in significant decline in the number of turtles across the three-species range.”

Prior to December, 2014 large-scale baiting was employed as the primary fox-control method.

However, Mr Martins said preliminary monitoring results suggested that approach can be ineffective in reducing the predation of turtles and their nests.

“In resource-rich environments such as Gunbower Forest and its surrounding landscape, foxes are proving less likely to consume lethal baits due to the availability of more appealing food resources such as turtle eggs,” he said.

“To improve outcomes, targeted shooting of foxes is now being trialled during the nesting season of Broad-shelled turtles, at known nesting locations, using data sourced from the online TurtleSat database.”

Female freshwater turtles in the Murray Darling Basin leave the relative safety of their watery environment to lay and bury their eggs in preferred nesting locations near lagoons and creeks.

However, Mr Martins said foxes are quick to pick up their scent, consuming the eggs and leading to a significant decline of young turtles recruiting back into freshwater ecosystems.

“Disturbingly, female turtles are also often preyed upon directly by foxes during the course of laying eggs, or when they enter or exit the water resulting in a double impact to their long-term survival,” he said.

“In a controlled trial, fox shooting is being undertaken in two places and nest predation rates are being monitored during and following the completion of the Broad-shelled Turtle nesting period.

“To determine success, predation rates will be compared against historically submitted data which is contained in TurtleSat.”

The targeted shooting sites have included Black Swamp and Botchers Lagoon in Gunbower State Forest and Cockatoo Lagoon along Gunbower Creek.

Community input is vital to assist in building knowledge and monitoring the success of turtles breeding seasons.

Locals can record turtle sightings, nests and other information with a smart phone by using the TurtleSAT app or by visiting TurtleSAT’s website.

This North Central CMA program is being conducted in partnership with Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), Turtles Australia Inc, the University of Western Sydney (UWS) and the Australian Research Council with funding received through the Australian Government.