Festival to make noise to save the snapping turtle

By Ivy Shih 2 September 2016
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NSW music festival to raise funds for turtle being wiped out by mysterious illness.

NEXT MONTH, A music festival is set to make some noise to raise awareness and funding for a local native – a species of freshwater turtle called the Bellinger River snapping turtle.

The Bellingen Turtlefest is to be held on the NSW mid north coast at Bellingen, 40km south of Coffs Harbour, to raise funds to save the species from extinction. The festival already has a mascot – his name is George, a name inspired by the Bellinger River Snapping turtle’s Latin moniker, Myuchelys georgesi.

The Bellinger River snapping turtle is a unique species found along the Bellinger River catchment system. Until last year, it had a small population of around 4000 which was dealt a devastating blow when hundreds of turtles were found dying of a mysterious illness on the banks of the Bellinger River. The virus caused severe internal organ damage and blindness, making the turtles unable to feed themselves and subsequently die of starvation. Despite the formation of an emergency response team, in a few short months the virus had claimed the lives of hundreds of turtles, with at least 300 turtles dying from the mystery virus.

Bellinger River snapping turtle

Image: Dr Ricky Spencer/Western Sydney University

RELATED: Mysterious illness wiping out turtles

Even now the exact cause is still unknown, except that the illness was most likely caused by a virus that spread through the waterways upstream. The fate of this freshwater species is uncertain, with scientists upgrading the conservation level of the Bellinger River snapping turtle to ‘critically endangered’. Researchers are also working hard to analyse the virus that killed the turtles, to understand its exact nature.

Since the outbreak of the mysterious illness, the natural population has yet to recover. There is an urgent need for action to help the species recover. 

The three-day festival will be held at Bellingen Showground from 30 September to 2 October. The line-up includes live performances by well-known Australian acts such as Katie Noonan. The event will also be family-friendly with ‘The Pond’, an education hub filled with interactive demonstrations about our relationship with the environment and all things turtle.