Native to the Mary River in Queensland, Australia, the Mary River turtle, otherwise known as the ‘punk’ turtle, is commonly known to have an eccentric appearance- fleshy barbels under its chin, a crowning green algae on its head, or the fact that these turtles can breathe through their genitals for up to three days. However, as of recently, the Mary River turtle has been crowned with a new conservation status: endangered.
These turtles were known as ‘penny turtles’ in the 1960s and 70s, where ‘penny turtles’ were sold in pet stores. Around 15 000 ‘penny turtle’ eggs were sold to pet shops each year. It turns out, these ‘penny turtles’ were Mary River turtles as their nests were pillaged, playing a significant role in its endangered status.
Furthermore, water pollution has had a severe impact on its habitat. According to Australia Zoo, ‘deterioration of water quality through riverside vegetation being cleared, water pollution through situation, agricultural chemical contamination and water flow disruptions through the construction of weirs for irrigation and predation’ has had a detrimental impact on the Mary River turtle population.
As a result of illegal pet trade combined with water pollution, these turtles have become a rare species, so rare that there has never been a detailed study on the Mary River turtle since 2001 and 1998. This is most likely because this turtle species was only discovered in 1990 by Sydney researcher John Cann. With Charles Darwin University turtle researcher Marilyn Connell studying the Mary River turtles, her three-year survey has found:
- These turtles make up approximately 8% of the turtles captured in the river, equalling to about 10,000 Mary River turtles
- On average, these turtles are getting older, some reaching 100 years old
- The 480 young turtles were found to be less than 15 to 20 years old
- Catfish, foxes, goannas, wild dogs and other competing fish species in the Mary River are also contributing to their endangered status as they are found eating baby turtles
- Decreasing river levels when drinking water supplies are taken to Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast also impact Mary River turtles
However, with Mary River turtles receiving their new endangered status, it is unclear if federal funding will be allocated to implement conservation plans. Previously, there has been acknowledgement in conserving Mary River turtles back in 2009 when then-federal environment minister Peter Garrett rejected the Traveston Crossing Dam in 2009. However, this federal acknowledgement has never been reliable as the federal recovery plan for the turtle has remained in draft form since 2011. The original plan was to allocate $2.4 million over six years to improve the state of the Mary River, being Australia’s first multi-species river-based recovery plan under national environmental laws. Due to the delay, this has caused conservationists to resort to selling turtle chocolates and ask for donations from the United Arab Emirates.
As a result, your help is required to ensure funding is allocated to help implement the Mary River turtle recovery plan. Wildlife Queensland has been running a special page where you can donate to ensure the protection of turtle hatchlings and return them into the wild. This can help baby turtles from being threatened by wild dogs and goannas.
Turtle researcher Marilyn Connell has also been apart of the Tiaro & District Landcare Group, where volunteers have been running a campaign to conserve the Mary River turtles. You can find more information about their project here, along with their crowdfunding page.
Cox, L (2018)., Researchers forced to sell chocolates to save Queensland ‘punk’ turtle from extinction, The Guardian, April 19
Gibbons, S (2018)., Turtle With Green Mohawk Faces Extinction, National Geographic, April 13
Katz, B (2018)., Turtle That Breathes Through Its Genitals Lands on Endangered Reptiles List, Smithsonian, April 13
Moore, T (2014)., Pet shop sales almost wiped out Mary River turtles, Brisbane Times March 17
Moore, T (2018)., ‘They might just disappear:’ warning over ‘punk’ turtle’s future, Sydney Morning Herald, April 12
Von Radowitz, J (2018)., ‘Punk’ turtle that breathes through its genitals is under threat, Sydney Morning Herald, April 12
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