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Irwin's Turtle - We could lose it without really knowing it

A person holding an Irwin's TurtleOne of Mackay’s unique species is Irwin’s Turtle. Back in 1990 the famous naturalist Steve Irwin and his father Bob were fishing near the Bowen River when Bob spotted an unusual white headed turtle. They caught one, photographed it and returned it to the wild. Later the pair sent the photos to experts for identification. It turned out the turtle they found had never been recorded by scientists.

Irwin’s Turtle is very good at hiding from scientists. It took another three years before a second was found and a proper identification made. The scientists who described the turtle named it Elseya irwini in honour of the pair who first alerted the scientific community to its existence.

Irwin’s Turtle has a very limited range, perhaps only 25 square kilometres in total. It inhabits the Bowen River and tributaries such as Urannah Creek where the water is clean and free flowing. These turtles require well oxygenated water and sandy banks to survive.

Irwin’s Turtle has evolved in isolation for 150 million years. We have known it for less than 30 and we could wipe it out in a decade. Very little is known about Irwin’s Turtle’s life cycle or the extent of its habitat, yet we may send it to extinction by building a dam on Urannah Creek.

Irwin's Turtle standing on dry landIf the Urannah Dam project goes ahead, making the river more muddy during construction and restricting the flow of water after the dam is completed Irwin’s Turtle could be sent to extinction. The sandy banks found along the streams will be flooded, so the places where these unique turtles lay their eggs will be lost.

Just this week it was announced that the federal government is spending another $10 million to make the Urannah Dam project “shovel ready”. It’s very difficult to understand why. Over the past 50 years 18 studies have been undertaken into the viability of a dam at Urannah Creek. Each and every one of them have found that it doesn’t make economic sense.

Over the past few years politicians who back the project say that it will help farmers irrigate their crops. This week’s announcement confirmed what Mackay Conservation Group’s belief that the water would be given to the mining industry. Find out more about Irwin’s Turtle and the unique environment of Urannah Creek at

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