Two hatchling Bell's turtles recaptured in the field!
PhD Student Geoff Hughes has provided us with a very exciting update:
"On 8th December 2018 members of the Turtles Forever Project team were processing adult Bell’s Turtles captured the night before. The team were surveying for gravid females and collecting DNA samples. I was walking along the bank of the Macdonald River near Walcha; preparing to release some adult turtles that had been measured, weighed, and marked to enable long-term monitoring of their health and population viability. While walking past a rock, in the corner of my eye I saw something tumble off into the water...
To me, that looked an awful lot like a fleeing turtle hatchling, so I began to gently sweep away the floating Azolla and other vegetation over the area. Within about 30 seconds I had uncovered a hatchling Bell's turtle! This was an important find, as juvenile Bell’s Turtles are incredibly rare, with only 11 hatchlings (less than one year old) found during hundreds of surveys conducted over the past 15 years. I was feeling pretty smug when I walked back to the others, let me tell you. The hatchling probably sensed my hubris and decided to take me down a peg, since it nipped my finger at one point. As this hatchling was not marked, it was a wild turtle, and likely one of the hatchlings that had emerged from nests that were protected by UNE student Lou Streeting as part of her Masters research. Fantastic validation that all of that hard work was worth it!"
Even more good news has arrived in November, as one of the 132 laboratory raised hatchlings released back into the river system thanks to Lou’s headstarting research was recaptured! After 8 months in the wild, NPWS ranger Sam Doak and ecologist Phil Spark were still able to clearly see the fluorescent marker on the turtle, enabling us to identify exactly who had been recaptured.
The capture of these two hatchlings is very significant, as it and offers hope that this research may help to increase juvenile recruitment for this endangered species into the future. Let's hope the finding of juvenile turtles in this river system becomes even more common in the future!
The hatchling that likely emerged from a wild nest that was recaptured by Geoff.
The hatchling that was recaptured but clearly part of the headstarting program, as indicated by the UV reflectant mark near its rear left leg.
For more information, contact Assoc. Prof. Paul McDonald