Press Release - The leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) is the world's oldest and largest turtle. Having witnessed the extinction of the dinosaur and the development of mankind, this magnificent sea creature is now facing extinction in our Pacific Ocean.In January, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) was contracted by the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council (WPFMC) to conduct a leatherback turtle nesting beach survey on Bougainville Island in Papua New Guinea.
The survey recorded 46 leatherback turtle nests and one false crawl. Of the 46 nesting sites found along the beaches of Bougainville, there were also 12 unidentified turtle nests, which were determined to belong to green and hawksbill species.
This survey also served to verify nesting sites recorded during an aerial survey in 2007 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Bouganville lies between Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, with all three having nesting populations of the leatherback turtle.
SPREP's Coastal Management Adviser Jeff Kinch and Paul Anderson, SPREP's Marine Conservation Analyst, spent six days traveling around Bouganville by dinghy interviewing, surveying and sharing turtle awareness with the local communities as well as measuring turtle nests along the shore.
Kinch has now compiled a report for the WPRFMC, which makes recommendations for communities, the Bougainville Fisheries Section and non-governmental organisations on possible intervention measures in Bouganville.
"There was a high density - close to 43 % of all the nests were in a 5.4 km stretch of beach between the villages of Papanoa and Naboi, this would be the most likely spot for conservation work along with some educational outreach about turtles, as these nests will likely be harvested for eggs," said Anderson. Communities in Bouganville frequently harvest the eggs of the turtles for food.
During the field testing, an education outreach program was also held with local communities on Bougainville, involving distribution of the awareness booklet Leatherback turtles: Their future is in our hands, and stickers detailing protection legislation under the PNG Flora and Fauna Control Act.
"For villagers this has been part of their diet for a long time, their diet, their cultural resource and part of their biodiversity. Like fisheries, you want to manage it well, you don't want to catch all your fish or you will have no more in the future, just like turtles. We need to help conserve them or they will disappear as a species on earth," explained Anderson.
The leatherback turtle population in the Western Pacific has declined by 95 per cent in the last 30 years.
More information on leatherbacks can be obtained in a SPREP fact sheet on the topic available from http://www.sprep.org/factsheets/index.htm