POOR PATIENT: A sick turtle, one of many taken from Bellinger River, is examined by senior curator Greg Pickering at Dolphin Marine Magic.
POOR PATIENT: A sick turtle, one of many taken from Bellinger River, is examined by senior curator Greg Pickering at Dolphin Marine Magic. Gemima Harvey

Rare Bellinger River turtles battle illness

RARE Bellinger River turtles are fighting for their lives in Coffs Harbour as investigations into their illness continue.

Samples of affected turtles are being analysed in Sydney following the discovery of 52 sick and dead turtles between the Rosewood River and the Gordonville Crossing last week.

The sick turtles have been placed under observation at Dolphin Marine Magic but seven died on Saturday, and five on Monday.

Dolphin Marine Magic reptile educator Steve McEwan is one staff member monitoring the turtles' response to treatment.

"I've come across similar individual cases in the past, but I've never seen anything like this en masse before," Mr McEwan said.

"Reptiles take a long time to respond to treatment so unless we find a quick fix soon, it's not looking great."

Samples of affected animals are under analysis at Taronga Zoo in Sydney as part of an investigation led by the NSW Environment Protection Authority.

Water samples have also been taken, but the rising river level due to the weekend's heavy rainfall delayed investigations at Bellinger River.

National Parks and Wildlife spokesman Lawrence Orel said signs suggested the illness was related to a disease, rather than a pollution incident.

"We know there are three types of turtles in that river, and because the (affected) turtles are all of the same species, we're probably looking at a disease rather than a pollution incident," Mr Orel said.

The EPA is liaising with Bellingen Shire Council, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, WIRES and residents to investigate.

Preliminary findings are expected to be announced later this week.

FAST FACTS

  • Three species of freshwater turtle are found in the Bellinger River. Only one of these - the Georges Turtle or Elsaya georgesi - has been affected.
  • George's Turtles are amongst the rarest turtles in the world.
  • The turtles were discovered by kayakers at the Bellinger River last Wednesday, and water and other samples have been taken for testing to help find possible causes.
  • The EPA encourages anyone with information which they think may be useful to contact the Environment Line on 131 555.

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