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Oz Turtles pay horrible price of mindless market-focus: S.A. Murray-Darling

Mon Jul 14, 2008
Volunteers remove parasites from the shells of tortoises

Hundreds of Australian long-necked turtles are the latest victims of the demise of the lower reaches of the Murray-Darling Basin. [The Murray Darling Basin is Australia's major riverine system and principle foodbowl.]

Volunteers cleaning victims of worm and market-logic

Small turtle, Big message

The message is that, in the Environment Minister, Penny Wong's scheme of priorities, South Australia's southern lakes long-necked turtles, don't rate much against an irrigation incumbent from the big end of town. For Australia's cash-obsessed government, economic growth may seem to out-rate the turtle, but remember Aesop's fable about the slow and steady turtle against the hare. Thermodynamics tell us that the turtle outlives the hare due to superior thermodynamic efficiency over the long haul. Consider in this light, that respect for nature, rather than subservience to the inhuman market, carries the greater chance for the survival of humans and their civilisation in this desert country. (Sheila Newman)

(Film briefly showing worm-affected turtle but also gives good info on frightening impending collapse of riverine system.)

The turtles that live on the Murray mouth in the Coorong Lakes have been infected by a parasitic bristle worm that thrives in hyper saline waters.

A Goolwa resident, David Surmon, has organised an emergency rescue service for the turtles.
He says that he has saved something between 200 and 300 tortoises, but that he finds more dead each day.
He was reported by Bronwyn Herbert, to say that,

"In the last week I've found around about 13 or 14 dead and that's all deadly in the case of the bristle worm - because what happens is the turtles, if they can move, they get up onto the shore and they can't go any further because there's so much weight."

He added that foxes and rats attacked the encumbered turtles and killed them.

Apparently the bristle worm attaches itself to the turtles' shells and then the infestation slowly increases from then, creating a huge encrustation on the turtles upper and lower shells. The turtle can be trapped inside its shell by the growth of the encrustation. Its legs may not reach the ground anymore, or the worm-infestation may become so heavy that the weight prevents the turtle from moving.

Surmon was quoted by interviewer Bronwyn Herbert, saying that the rescue group had "...actually weighed one, one time, and it weighed nearly seven kilos. And that was a very small turtle. On the back of the turtle was around about three or four inches high of bristle worms."

Turtle rescuer, David Surmon, describes how the team he works saves as many turtles as they are able to reach by taking the turtles from the river and putting them in a big bathtub of rain water. They leave them there for about two or three hours, which is enough to kill the worm. Afterwards the volunteers liberate the turtles from their prison by scraping the dead worm and its encrustation off the turtles carapaces.

"Believe it or not pure fresh water, even tap water will actually kill the bristle worm because it is not used to living in fresh water," David Surmon says.

He said that when he had around a dozen of them, he generally took them further up-river, freeing them up above Murray Bridge.

According to Surmon, the Coorong Lakes comprise very important habitat for turtle reproduction and are the location of a significant breeding population.

Many of us would agree with David Surmon that "Without the wildlife in the river and around the river (...) All we've got is just a big, big mud pan that's going nowhere."

He sounds like a kind and thoughtful man, able to take responsibility and initiative, and to communicate something very significant about our society, our government, and our river system, by reading and interpreting important signs from generally overlooked inhabitants of this badly treated country.

Photos of turtles and their human helpers republished with kind permission from Citizens saving turtles from Murray-Darling crisis The film from you-tube was a selection by the writer.