The research, conducted by Western Sydney University ecologist Associate Professor Ricky Spencer as part of a study of aquatic scavengers in the Murray-Darling Basin, suggests turtles play a significant role in cleaning up waterways after fish-kill events. Turtle scavenging removes fish carcasses from the water five times faster than natural decomposition, helping to keep the ecosystem in balance by improving the river’s water quality.
This is significant in the context of the National Carp Control Plan, which aims to address the widespread issue of invasive carp dominating freshwater fish communities throughout south eastern Australia. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has named carp one of the world’s most invasive fish species and they are identified as a priority pest species in Australia.
The NCCP proposes releasing a carp herpes virus to help conserve native biodiversity in the river system, but the cost of the clean-up following this could be huge. This is where the turtles come in.
"The initial release of the carp herpes virus may actually cost up to $2 billion to take the fish out of the water," Mr Spencer told ABC News.
"We are now seeing that scavenging is performing a role that potentially would cost a lot of money to do if we wanted to clear the carp mechanically or go out with boats and nets."
Freshwater turtles once lived throughout the Murray-Darling Basin, but the impact of roadkill, invasive foxes and water-quality issues have led to a decline of freshwater turtles in recent years. This study suggests introducing more turtles to the river system could hold promise, but stakeholders are aware of the need for a plan to protect them from predators if this goes ahead.
"A lot of things must be done to prevent that from happening to control the foxes and cats particularly, but certainly anything's worth a try," said Menindee Tourism Association president Rob Gregory.
"Our '1 Million Turtles Program' is where communities can be actively involved in protecting turtle nests and creating turtle islands."
Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.