With the decline of the leatherback turtle throughout the Western Pacific region, the Huon coast is one of the last remaining bastions of the species. The major threats to turtles nesting in Papua New Guinea are depredation of nests by dogs, local consumption of eggs and occasional slaughter of adult nesting females. Monitoring and conservation work started at Kamiali beach in 1999 and has continued uninterrupted since, expanding from one to four villages in 2005 as communities came on board with the overall conservation agenda. Among the key catalysts to conservation, the potential cash influx to the community that can be generated through participation in conservation initiatives is far greater than the cash that can be earned through egg trade or barter.
This community-based leatherback turtle conservation project involved research, monitoring and practical, field-based conservation, and was supported by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, the Pacific Islands Regional Office of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, and the US Fish & Wildlife Service. It involved seven village sites along the coast Huon Coast (Paiawa, Kamiali, Busama, Labu Tale Kobo, Sabah and Salus), and was run in collaboration with the Kamiali Integrated Development Conservation Group, the Department of Environment and Conservation and the Village Development Trust.
Beach rangers patrolled the beaches each night from dusk to dawn, or until the last turtle left the beach. They recorded carapace length and width, and distance of the nests from the sea and to the nearest vegetation. Rangers also PIT tagged each turtle, and counted the number of eggs, recorded the time of day/night, weather conditions, and tide level, and nesting behaviour. Early each morning an additional survey of a greater protected beach area was checked for signs of nesting. Hatching and emergence success was investigated and nests were monitored for predation, erosion, drowning, and poaching. Conservation activities included the deployment of bamboo grids laid over nests to protect nests from depredation by dogs.
The overriding objective of this project was to maximise the number of live healthy hatchlings that reach the sea. During the second half of the 2005-2006 season, the project developed a bamboo grill nest cover with the assistance of beach rangers, which were deployed at most nests within the monitoring zones. These grids proved effective at combating dog depredation. The grids are a low cost solution to protecting the nests from predation threats faced along the Huon coast and, after a partial season of use, they appeared to be effective for local conditions. It is now seen as imperative that the use of these nest protection efforts be continued and more importantly expanded across all sites for the entire season. Our second important objective was to work and share knowledge with the local communities, and provide them with the knowledge and skills toolset to continue the conservation efforts independently in the future.
This work has been funded by the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council, the US National Marine Fisheries Service (Pacific Islands Regional Office) and the US Fish & Wildlife Service.