1 Million Turtles

Saving the Murray River turtles through community conservation

  • YEAR: 2018
  • STATE: National
  • FOCUS AREAS: Saving Species

Environmental Challenge


What’s Threatening Freshwater Turtles in Australia?

In Australia, freshwater turtles, particularly in the southeast, are facing a dire situation with a staggering 91% decline. These turtles are crucial scavengers for river health. Yet, their existence is threatened by various factors such as nest/egg predation, habitat alteration, pollution, and climate change impacts. The Murray Darling Basin and other natural catchment regions heavily rely on freshwater turtles for maintaining river health and water quality. 




How is the 1 Million Turtles Project Saving Freshwater Turtles from Extinction?


Led by zoologist Dr. Ricky Spencer and the University of Western Sydney, the 1 Million Turtles project, supported by the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife, is an ambitious initiative which aims to rescue the Murray River turtles from extinction. By uniting stakeholders from Indigenous groups, industry partners, and NGOs, the project employs cutting-edge genetic and ecological techniques alongside citizen science to gather crucial data for conservation efforts. 

Freshwater turtles are vital for the ecological balance of the Murray River, playing a pivotal role in maintaining water quality by consuming algae and water plants while scavenging on dead fish, thereby preserving a healthy aquatic environment crucial for the myriad of other species dependent on the Murray River. 

The project not only focuses on immediate conservation measures but also aims to increase turtle and nest survival rates, enhance nationwide turtle distribution understanding, and educate communities on turtle conservation techniques. 

The project’s primary facets include research on artificial nesting sites, targeted monitoring program (TurtleSAT), field-based conservation efforts and educational initiatives with schools to release turtles back into wetlands.  

The project targets several turtle species including the Eastern Longnecked Turtle, Murray Short-necked Turtle, Manning River Helmeted Turtle, Bells Turtle, Hunter River Turtle, Mary River Turtle, and South-West Snake Neck Turtle. 



The 1 Million Turtles Community Conservation Program embodies collective dedication to turtle conservation and habitat preservation. Dr. Spencer stresses the urgency of action to protect these iconic creatures from irreversible decline. 

The project’s website serves as a resource hub, empowering locals with knowledge and tools to protect freshwater turtles.   

Photo by John Spencer/DCCEEW


How to take action for turtle conservation? 


  • Download the TurtleSAT app, where citizen scientists are making significant contributions to turtle conservation. The data collected has already influenced the development of turtle-friendly roadways and aided in identifying predation hotspots crucial for nest protection efforts.


  • Participate in the National Nest Predation Survey, providing vital insights into fox predation and aiding in the development of innovative mapping tools to predict potential nesting sites. Participate in this citizen science project to monitor predator activity on turtle nests, contributing valuable data for conservation management.  


  • Visit the 1 Million Turtles website as it serves as a hub for empowering locals with the knowledge and tools to protect turtle nests they may encounter nearby. Dr. Ricky Spencer stresses the importance of engaging with the training available on the website, which is free and equips individuals with the know-how to assist turtles without inadvertently causing harm. 





The 1 Million Turtles Community Conservation Program won the 2023 Department of Industry, Science and Resources Eureka Prize for Innovation in Citizen Science. This prestigious recognition was announced at the 2023 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, honouring excellence in various scientific fields including research, innovation, leadership and science engagement.