River tours educate and fascinate
22 March 2018
It isn’t every day you have a chance to cradle a platypus. This rare opportunity was offered by Northern Tablelands Local Land Services to landholders and the community during a recent kayak tour, designed to help landholders understand more about the value of our river systems to landscape health.
Guided by ecologist Phil Spark, and facilitated by Local Land Service River Health Officer, Andrew Walsh and Bell’s Turtle Project Officer, Kelly Twigge, groups of enthusiastic landholders and town residents floated the Macintyre and Gwydir Rivers.
“These tours, assisted by the NSW Government through its Environmental Trust and NSW Catchment Action, highlighted to the community and landholders the benefits of having healthy river systems and adjacent land, otherwise known as riparian zones,” Andrew said.
Alongside discussion about methods available to protect these fragile river systems, Phil showed landholders many of the animals found in and around our local rivers, allowing the kayakers a moment with aquatic inhabitants they might not normally see.
“Phil finds bats, geckos, endangered frogs, spiders, snakes and he even sets special submerged water traps to capture what’s in the river itself,” Andrew said.
The traps revealed various fish, invertebrate and vertebrate species, including two platypuses, which was the icing on the cake for Gwydir River kayaker Joanna Low.
“We saw a range of geckos, skinks, Charlotte the water dragon, a shingleback lizard and other reptiles, numerous Macquarie turtles, the threatened Bell’s turtle and what a treat - Two platypuses. We even got to hold one. It was absolutely amazing!” she said.
After a few moments in the arms of a rapt Joanna and kayaking partner John Sheridan, the female platypus was gently released back into the river.
With a living specimen in hand, Northern Tablelands Local Land Services Bell’s Turtle Project Officer Kelly Twigge explained the life cycle of the endangered turtle, threats to its longevity and the program strategies assisting the species toward recovery.
“Bell's turtles are endemic to the Northern Tablelands and are currently under threat by predation on eggs by foxes,” Kelly said.
“The Turtles Forever project aims at locating and protecting nests to ensure juvenile turtles are getting back into the river systems.”
Andrew said it was a day of discovery for many on the trip and gave a unique perspective on life in and along the rivers.
“They’re surprised by the number of species that are endangered and Phil also talks about the ones that have gone so it’s a real educational learning process,” Andrew said.
“And getting people on the water and looking out is completely different to walking along the bank and looking in. It’s a really low-impact way of exposing people to this fairly unique riparian environment.”
To learn more about the Northern Tablelands LLS Guided River Tours or how you can get involved in the Northern Tablelands LLS Healthy Rivers and Bell’s Turtle programs, contact Andrew Walsh on 02 6720 8318.
Media contact: Annabelle Monie on 0429 626 326 or 02 6720 8317.