When the the Australian continent separated from Gondawana about 180 million years ago, our freshwater turtles began a long journey of evolution distinct from turtles in other parts of the world. A unique species, Irwin's Turtle, evolved in isolation: a pink-nosed turtle that is able to survive for extended periods submerged by extracting oxygen from the water. It lives in the beautiful, crystal-clear waters of Urannah Creek, west of Mackay.
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It wasn't until 1990 that Steve and Bob Irwin sighted a turtle they didn't recognise and photographed it. The photo was submitted to academic researchers who realised this was probably a new species. Three years later a specimen was captured and scientific understanding of this species began. In honour of the Irwins this species was named Elseya irwini (alias Irwin's Turtle)
Scientists realised that this unique species was threatened by development, especially dams. In 2009 Elseya irwini was considered for listing as a threatened species but the application was rejected because there was insufficient information about its population and range. Since then, scientists have been putting in a lot of time and effort into better understanding this species.
Jason Schaffer is a freshwater ecologist with a special interest in turtles. He will present on the work that has been done to improved scientific knowledge of Irwin's Turtle.
Dr Cecilia Villacorta Rath is a researcher at James Cook University. She is developing techniques to understand the ecology of species in marine and freshwater systems by searching for DNA in the environment.