New virus is linked to mystery turtle deaths

VIRUS DISCOVERED: Greg Pickering of Dolphin Marine Magic examines one of the sick turtles.
VIRUS DISCOVERED: Greg Pickering of Dolphin Marine Magic examines one of the sick turtles. Gemima Harvey

SCIENTISTS at the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Elizabeth MacArthur Agricultural Institute have made a significant breakthrough and detected a new virus believed to be responsible for the deaths of more than 350 rare Bellinger River snapping turtles.

The discovery brings the NSW DPI one step closer to identifying the cause of the virus, which struck the region earlier this year.

Virologist Dr Kirkland, who led the innovative research, said the virus was discovered after other potential causes had been eliminated.

"Initial testing by a number of Australian laboratories for a wide range of infections and toxic agents was undertaken with no confirmed diagnosis, however, based on water sampling, contamination from pesticides or hydrocarbons was able to be ruled out early on," he said.

"Scientists worked methodically to hone in on the pathogen that was causing such devastating symptoms and the fact that all turtles presented with the same clinical and pathological signs suggested a single causative agent was responsible.

"All affected turtles died despite extensive attempts to treat and save them.

"There is no evidence that this virus affects other animals or people and other turtle species in this river system appear healthy."

The finding will hopefully allow further research which will help save the species in the future.

Further work will be done in spring to assess if the disease is still present in any remaining turtles in the river.

The DPI warns people not to handle any turtles in the area as this could spread the virus.

Boats and canoes should also be washed down after leaving the water.

Topics:  bellinger river dpi snapping turtles

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