The 12-day tagging expedition took place across three islands in the Ware region of Milne Bay, Kasamalamalawe, Kololona and Manpina in Papua New Guinea. Scientists tagged three critically endangered hawksbill turtles and four endangered green sea turtles with satellite-tracking devices. Thirty turtles also received flipper tags.
Tissue samples were gathered from all turtles to conduct genetic analysis. The information gathered on population numbers, movements, feeding behavior and nesting and hatching locations will be used to develop a long-term conservation strategy and inform community and government officials.
Subsistence hunting of sea turtles and the devastating impacts of climate change have created an urgent need for conservation efforts of the species and sustainable management of marine resources in the region. The Conservation International and Eco-Custodian Advocates expedition marks a substantial advancement in research and conservation efforts.
“These islands offer a perfect snapshot of what we’re seeing all around the world, the decline of sea turtles in the face of the impacts of climate change and human threats on our oceans. Sea turtles are great indicators of the health of an ecosystem, so the information gathered from these tags will not only help with improving sea turtle conservation, but ecosystem health as well,” says Conservation International Coral Triangle Program Director Niquole Esters.
“PNG’s sea turtles are being harvested for their meat, eggs and shells. From a scientific perspective, very little is known about PNG’s turtles and the only satellite tracking work to date has focused on leatherbacks. It is crucial we obtain baseline information on population-level migratory pathways and genetic stocks, to inform future conservation efforts,” said Geoffrey Gearheart, Ph.D., a marine biologist and oceanographer at Tellus4D Geoimaging.
“We’ve been in slow-motion for so long in gaining information about sea turtles using metal flipper tags, and this represents a paradigm shift by offering real-time information so that communities and the government can take steps to conserve and manage sea turtles,” said David Mitchell, Director of Eco-Custodian Advocates.
The tagging initiative is a collaboration between Conservation International, Eco-Custodian Advocates, the landowners of Ware Island, the Milne Bay Government and support from the Government of Australia. The program integrates traditional community knowledge and practices, science-based conservation and management practices while achieving the goal of reinforcing community environmental stewardship through the development of sea turtle conservation efforts.
About Conservation International
Conservation International uses science, policy and partnerships to protect the nature people rely on for food, fresh water and livelihoods. Founded in 1987, Conservation International works in more than 30 countries on six continents to ensure a healthy, prosperous planet that supports us all. Learn more about CI and its groundbreaking “Nature Is Speaking” campaign, and follow Conservation International’s work on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
About Eco Custodian Advocates
Eco Custodian Advocates aims that each of the peoples of PNG have a belonging to place, as custodians of the environment and with an appreciation of their cultural ties to it. Eco Custodian Advocates focuses its conservation efforts on the Milne Bay Province. The area is extremely susceptible to pressures from a rapidly increasing population, the erosion of customary knowledge, destructive resource extraction, climate change and most importantly, a lack of conservation awareness and ecological knowledge. Eco Custodian Advocates strives to empower Papua New Guinean communities to sustainably manage their important and stunning ecosystems and natural assets, which support the livelihoods of those relying on their delicate environment for subsistence living. Learn more about Eco-Custodian Advocates.