Once an untouched wilderness of hills, valleys and waterfalls, the Bellinger River National Park is now a graveyard for river turtles infected by a mysterious and deadly illness. Hundreds of sick and dying Bellinger River snapping turtles (Myuchelys georgesi) – which only inhabit this region – have been washing up on the banks of the river, on the mid-north coast of NSW, alarming local scientists and authorities. First detected in February, the illness has been sweeping its way across the river system, devastating the native freshwater turtle population.

With the threat of extinction looming heavily on this rare species, local wildlife services are furiously working to identify the cause – likely a pathogen – and find a cure. “Right now, we must wait and see what the pathology tells us, but if we sit on our hands, we will drive another vertebrate to extinction and ignore a looming ecosystem breakdown of the Bellinger River,” says zoologist Dr Ricky Spencer from the University of Western Sydney. “There are other rivers on the north coast of NSW, where species of turtle only exist. Is the Bellinger River a preview of what is to come?” MORE