GPS data loggers keep tabs on tricky and timid turtles
3 July, 2012
Researchers from the Department of Sustainability and Environment’s (DSE) Arthur Rylah Institute (ARI) have attached transmitters containing Global Positioning Systems to Murray River turtles to study their movements.
ARI Threatened Fauna Ecologist Katie Howard said: “We have attached the GPS backpack units to 13 turtles to record the location of the turtles when they are out of the water. We believe this is the first time this technology has been used to track turtles in Australia.”
“There are three species of freshwater turtle in the Murray, the threatened Broad-shelled Turtle (Chelodina expansa), the Common Long-necked Turtle (Chelodina longicollis) and the Murray River Turtle (Emydura macquarii macquarii),” Miss Howard said.
“We’ve placed the units on nine Broad-shelled Turtles and four Common Long-necked Turtles, and we plan to process the information we gather later this year.”
“The units were purposely built for the turtles, and include a freshwater switch. This switch was designed by the manufacturer specifically for this project. It ensures the units don’t waste power trying to record locations when the turtles are under water, and the units are unable to get a ‘fix’. Customised for this project, this is the first time this switch has been used on Australian turtles.”
“This information will be used to identify and protect important habitat and nesting sites for these species. We have also gathered data during the drought to assess the response of all three turtle species to flooding of the Barmah-Millewa Forest over the past three years. This research is providing information on the health of turtle populations in this area”
“Information on turtle movements is important for the secretive Broad-shelled Turtle. This species is the most difficult to observe as it spends most of its time at the bottom of billabongs and rivers.”
“This project was initiated by the Yorta Yorta people when large numbers of turtles were found dying throughout the forest during the drought.
“The turtle surveys are conducted in conjunction with the Yorta Yorta people who have a special connection with the freshwater turtles.”
Yorta Yorta representative Lee Joachim said: “The Broad-shelled Turtle is of great cultural significance as a totem to the Yorta Yorta people.”
“We want to increase our scientific knowledge of this important species because protecting it is a cultural responsibility for our community.”
The turtle surveys are funded by the Murray-Darling Basin’s The Living Murray Program.
The Victorian Government has a responsibility under the Wildlife Act 1975 and the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 to protect threatened species. These animals and plants contribute significantly to the biodiversity of their ecosystems. The knowledge we acquire about these species helps us to then take the on-ground steps needed to ensure their survival.
A video of this work can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEZAQqYw1MQ
Broad-shelled Turtle photo by Katie Howard