What a bummer: Queensland’s ‘punk rock turtle’ at risk of extinction

The Mary River turtle has been elevated from endangered to critically endangered and a north Queensland species of gecko only discovered a decade ago has also joined the list.

Aug 17, 2023, updated Aug 17, 2023
The Mary River Turtle (photo Edge of Extinction/_Chris-Van-Wyk)

The Mary River Turtle (photo Edge of Extinction/_Chris-Van-Wyk)

According to the Australian Conservation Foundation, five Australian species were now at immediate risk of extinction and a further 41 were on course to be added to the list of critically endangered.

It adds a greater challenge to Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek and her goal of no new extinctions.

Correspondence to Plibersek from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee and released by ACF found that 27 species were on course for being listed as critically endangered.

It said the Mary River turtle, also known as the bum-breathing turtle, was facing several threats, including habitat destruction from dam and weir construction as well as foxes which attack its nests, despite there being several methods landholders could use to protect the turtle.

ACF nature campaigner Peta Bulling said the correspondence between Plibersek and the committee made one thing clear: nature in Australia was in big trouble.

“Plants and animals that make this land unique are being pushed towards extinction at a truly alarming pace,” she said.

“Plants and animals that make this land unique are being pushed towards extinction at a truly alarming pace.

“Of the 41 species identified by the committee, the majority have never even been listed as threatened under our national environment laws, yet here they are making their first appearance in the code red category of ‘critically endangered’.

“The Cape Melville leaf-tailed gecko measures is about 20 centimetres long and lives in a remote part of Queensland.

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“It has only been known to western science since 2013, when it was voted one of the top 10 new species discovered that year. A decade later and it still hasn’t been formally protected by our national environment laws.”

She said the Mary River Turtle was arguably one of Australia’s most unusual species. Only found in the Mary River, near Maryborough, it and can extract oxygen from the water through a gill-like structure in its cloaca, which is why it was sometimes known as the bum-breathing turtle.

“It also has a habit of growing algae on its head and shell, which gives it an undeniably cool punk rock look.

“Australia’s threatened species list already has more than 2,000 species on it. It’s clear our nature laws aren’t stemming the tide of extinction in this country.

“Habitat destruction is the leading cause of extinction in Australia, directly contributing to the listing of 60  per cent of Australia’s threatened species.”


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