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SA drought threatens rare turtles -

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ELEANOR HALL: As the driest continent on Earth becomes even drier, the rising salinity in
Australia's lakes and rivers is also disturbing delicate ecosystems. In South Australia's North
Eastern Riverland region, the town of Barmera has always boasted about its picturesque views of
Lake Bonney.

But the drought is now changing perceptions of the town and what it has to offer. The lake is home
to thousands of rare and protected broad-shelled turtles.

But locals and tourists are now finding the turtles sick or even dead on its shores, as Alex Parry
reports from Barmera.

ALEX PARRY: The salinity of Lake Bonney has been climbing steadily since last year and has now
reached dangerous levels. A local group called Save Lake Bonney believes its having a huge effect
on the lake's natural ecosystems.

Group member, Robyn O'Dea, works in the local newsagent. She knew something was wrong when locals
started bringing in sick and dead turtles to the shop.

ROBYN O'DEA: These turtles should not be wandering around the shoreline of Lake Bonney. We've had
quite a few members of the community come in and say that they have sighted turtles around
different areas of the lake, and their shells are quite speckled and orange and brown coloured.

The turtles basically if they're in good health should have quite a dark brown shell on them.

ALEX PARRY: While the link between the turtles' illness and the lake's salinity hasn't been proven,
science has shown that the turtles' health is restored when placed back in fresh water.

A PhD candidate in Applied Ecology from the University of Adelaide, Deb Bower, has been studying
the effects of salinity on the turtles.

DEB BOWER: Certain physiological parameters are affected, such as their sodium levels, urea levels
and chloride levels and a balance of those things is really important in bodily function, so once
they start increasing they will eventually get to levels that will cause mortality in the turtles.

ALEX PARRY: In terms of Lake Bonney, would it take a really drastic reduction of salinity to get
them back to normal?

DEB BOWER: We found that when we put turtles with extremely high levels of sodium and chloride and
urea back into fresh water, within a week they had returned to normal levels so giving a turtle
access to fresh water intermittently could certainly be one strategy to prolong their lives.

ALEX PARRY: A makeshift turtle hospital has been set up at a group member's home. A long, dimly lit
shed is lined with rows and rows of big vats and tanks to house the sick patients. It's here that
they're put back into the fresh water and nursed back to health.

ROBYN O'DEA: Basically they're in nice clean water that's being kept warm for them. There is river
weed being put into the tanks so that it's very much mimicking their natural environment. There's
two types of food that they're fed, either bloodworms or a commercial type turtle food.

ALEX PARRY: Dark marks on the pillars of Lake Bonney's jetty show where the water level used to be,
more than a metre higher than where it is now. The lake's turtles have become the face of the
lake's struggles during the drought.

ROBYN O'DEA: People love turtles, there are thousands of turtles in Lake Bonney, we believe and
Lake Bonney holds the biggest population of the rare and protected broad-shelled turtle.

ALEX PARRY: The Berri Barmera Council is trying to develop a fresh water pumping scheme for the
lake which would use old irrigation pumps already underground nearby. The mayor Peter Hunt says it
would go a long way in restoring the health of the lake, but somebody needs to pay for it.

PETER HUNT: Our lake in Barmera is a great tourism destination and that's what we're aiming for as
well, to keep it that way.

ALEX PARRY: The State Water Security Minister Karlene Maywald says that proposal will be discussed
in July. Robyn O'Dea says without urgent action the local turtle hospital may be the only hope for
the turtles.

But with the thousands of the creatures likely to fall ill in the near future, there may be no room
at the inn for some.

ELEANOR HALL: Alex Parry reporting from Lake Bonney.