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Irwin's turtle. Will we lose this shy Australian before we even get to know it?

Photo supplied by Jeff Tan

For those who may have missed it Thursday 22 May was world turtle day, a special day to celebrate and raise awareness of these iconic creatures.  

Here in Central Queensland we have a wealth of sea and freshwater turtles including the unique Irwin’s Turtle (Elseya irwini). Irwin’s turtle was unknown to science until 1990 when it was discovered by renowned conservationists Bob and Steve Irwin.

Irwin’s Turtle is a fresh water turtle found only in the Broken-Bowen River system in central Queensland and has an estimated range of only 25km. Very little is known about Irwin’s turtle and there may be as few as 5000 individuals.Population studies of Irwin’s turtle have found that juvenile turtles, particularly young males, are under-represented.  These kind of population imbalances are concerning and may be caused by increased predation, making the species especially vulnerable to population shocks, habitat destruction and climate change.

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The species requires specialised habitat and is particularly vulnerable to poor water quality and interference with natural water ways. The damning of the Burdekin River in 1987 is thought to have severely affected populations of Irwin’s Turtle through decline of water quality and habitat loss.

The turtle’s highly specialised habitat requirements make Irwin’s Turtle vulnerable to declines in habitat, range and climate change which can transform river systems in times of extended drought, extreme weather events and other climate related transformations of the turtle’s home range.

Though we have only just got to know Irwin’s turtle relatively recently, the future of this unique Australian is uncertain.

If proposed projects like the Urannah Dam are to go ahead it will directly affect much of the last remaining population strongholds of the turtle and will very likely  endanger the survival of this ancient species.

Unfortunately scientists have undertaken very little research into Irwin’s turtle but evidence suggests that it is highly vulnerable and without adequate care and protection could quietly become extinct.


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