Photographer Chris van Wyk’s images of an algae-covered “punk” Mary River turtle gained viral attention and spurred conservation efforts to protect this unique species. The Mary River turtle, known as the “bum-breather” due to its unique breathing method, is native to the Mary River in Queensland, Australia. The species faced threats when the Queensland government planned to build a dam at Traveston Crossing, which would have disrupted its habitat and breeding grounds.
Van Wyk’s viral photos drew attention to the plight of the Mary River turtle and contributed to the campaign against the dam. The photos captured the turtle’s distinct appearance, including its “hair” of green algae, and highlighted the importance of preserving its habitat. Ultimately, the government’s dam plans were overruled, helping to save the species.
The Mary River turtle had faced previous threats, including being sold as pets in the 1960s and ’70s without proper understanding of its origins. Reptile expert John Cann played a key role in identifying and protecting the species, leading to a ban on the sale of hatchlings with a shell length less than 100 mm.
While the Mary River turtle has been saved from immediate threats, its future remains uncertain. Ongoing conservation efforts are crucial to ensure the survival of this unique and iconic “punk” of the turtle world.