Mary River Turtle. Photo: Chris van Wyk,
Mary River Turtle. Photo: Chris van Wyk,

Why our punk turtle is making international news

QUEENSLAND'S punk Mary River turtle - which has the ability to breathe through its genitals - is making international headlines on a new list of endangered reptiles.

The Mary River turtle, found near Gympie and the Sunshine Coast, has a head crowned by strands of algae, giving it a distinctive green mohican.

In recent years, the turtle starred in the campaign by environmentalists to save it from extinction in the face of plans for a Traveston Crossing Dam.

In November 2009, then Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett rejected Queensland's proposed new dam project, claiming the impact on threatened species would be "too great".

"After carefully considering all of the information put before me and advice from my department, it is very clear to me that the Traveston Crossing Dam project can not go ahead without unacceptable impacts on matters of national environmental significant," he said.

"I have based my proposed decision on the science presented to me, and the science shows that this project would have serious and irreversible effects on nationally listed species such as the Australian lungfish, the Mary River turtle and the Mary River cod.

"The area that would be flooded by this proposal is critical habitat for populations of these species. The evidence before me showed that flooding this habitat would have serious consequences for those species, including on their ability to breed and maintain population numbers."

The Independent in the UK has carried a Press Association report detailing the latest on the plight of the turtle.

"The turtle has gill-like organs within its cloaca - a multi-purpose orifice used by reptiles for excretion and mating - that allow it to stay underwater for up to three days,'' the report said.

"The turtle, which measures up to 40 cm, lives in just one location - the Mary River in Queensland, Australia.

"Its docile nature - more hippy than punk - historically made it a popular pet. In the 1960s and 1970s its nest sites were mercilessly pillaged for the pet trade.

"The Mary River turtle is one of the world's most endangered turtle species,'' the report said.

It is just one of species featured in the Zoological Society of London (ZSL's) Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (Edge) Reptiles list.

The Mary River turtle ranks number 30 in the league table of 572 reptiles.